Friday, May 27, 2016

Hold Your Pee: Pelvic Floor Exercises for Moms & Moms-to-Be

I am one session away from completing my pelvic floor physical therapy, or as I like to put it, one final exam away from graduating from “stop peeing myself” school. I've already written about my experience discovering that Kegel exercises were worsening my hypertonic pelvic floor during my pregnancy and my road to recovery. I want to follow up with some specific tips and exercises that I learned through my months of physical therapy.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, medical professional, nor expert on the pelvic floor. I am simply a patient who wants to share what I've learned. This advice is free, so you get what you pay for. If you want to learn more, visit your doctor or a specialist.

Also, if you're squeamish about female anatomy, you may want to avoid reading on.

There's a Floor to my Pelvis?

When I first started physical therapy, I didn't know what my pelvic floor was. I had practiced Kegels and knew how to contract the muscle that allowed me to hold in my pee, but that was the problem. I was hypertonic, so I knew how to hold it but not how to release it. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I wasn't aware of that muscle in my body.

Above all else, physical therapy allowed me to learn that this muscle exists and that I can control it. This was useful not only for holding in my urine, but also for childbirth prep and sex. Most of my postnatal care focused on toning the weakened muscle after vaginal birth.

Big Belly Blows

Among the first exercises I learned was called the big belly blow. We've all been taught to inflate our stomachs when we breath in and deflate when we breath out. Instead, with a big belly blow, we keep our stomachs inflated when we exhale. This releases the pelvic floor muscle and allows it to widen more easily.

In the chaos of the end of labor, when the nurses coached me to hold my breath and push, I ignored them. Instead, I did a series of big belly blows to open my pelvic floor. I didn't feel a ring of fire and my baby was out in three pushes. And I barely tore.

The Rounds

We all have moments of weakness. For me, it's my sneezing fits first thing in the morning before I've had a chance to pee. When we're most vulnerable is when we need our skills the most.

The rounds consist of four steps that I do at the start of every physical therapist appointment: 1) Squeeze tightly and release. 2) Cough and release. 3) Squeeze tightly, cough while holding, and release. 4) A small push. Not to get uncomfortably graphic, but the doctor first observes me doing the rounds with eyes only, then she feels my strength and range doing the rounds with her finger inside of me. My progress going through the rounds allows the doctor to assess how far I've come and what I still need to work on.

Coughing, laughing, and especially sneezing were killer for me. My husband used to jokingly ask me every time I sneezed whether I had peed myself. He no longer asks because I no longer do.

In Motion

Most of the physical therapy exercises I learned consisted of contracting, holding, and releasing the pelvic floor while in motion: legs opening and closing, one leg lifted and lowered, squatting and standing, and even moving with a yoga/exercise ball between me and a wall. There was a time when I would pee myself squatting down to pick up something from the floor. Not anymore.


The most useful physical therapy technique for me for me was mental. I was to imagine that my vagina was picking up something small like a bean or ping-pong ball. Still imaginarily grasping it, I pulled it up through a series of levels until I reached the top of my pelvic floor elevator. Then I'd bring it back down. Pick up, to level one, up to level two, really strain to get all the way to the top at level three, then back down again, stopping at each level before finally letting the ball go. There was no real ball, of course, nor are there discrete levels in my pelvic floor. Eventually I got to the point where I could bring my pelvic floor from rest to top and back down in two flowing motions.

The Final Exam: Endurance

My last challenge requires stamina. I am to tighten my pelvic floor and bring it to a maximum, hold it for ten seconds, then release. When I can that, I'm to try for 20 seconds. One would think that this would be easy because I routinely hold my pee in for longer than 20 seconds. However, when we hold in pee, we're not at maximum. Bring my pelvic floor all the way to the “top of the elevator” and staying there takes tremendous focus and a good deal of strength. Hopefully, the next time I'm in my physical therapists' office, I can do it.

If you are a mother or mother-to-be suffering from urinary incontinence, I highly recommend seeing a pelvic floor specialist! Not only am I essential back to my pre-pregnancy normal, I no longer experience pain during sexual intercourse, which still amazes me. You carried and birthed or are about to birth a baby. Take care of your fabulous body!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Lessons Learned Attending a Professional Conference with a Baby (Part 1)

I've never seen a baby at a professional conference before. Prior to having my own baby, it never would have occurred to me that a mother would choose to take her child with her. Now that I have a baby of my own who refuses a bottle, my only choices are to participate in my profession with the baby or not participate at all. Yesterday, I chose to stand out from the crowd.

I didn't know how anyone would react to my presence with the baby. Worst case scenario, I thought I'd be denied entry or asked to leave. Second-worst case, I thought the baby would scream, causing me to miss most of the conference I paid for. I didn't know if anyone would stare at me or make a negative comment about how unprofessional or disruptive it was to bring a baby. I prepared to defend my choice, if necessary.

Fears are usually all in our head. Not only was I welcomed with the baby, I received so many compliments! By the end of the day, at least four people told me that they hadn't heard a peep from her and she was the most well behaved baby they had ever seen. It's not that she didn't make a peep, it's that I contained her well. She kept me on my toes!

I learned a new wrap style for the occasion: outward facing carry. I still wrap her in a sling style when nursing discretely, but my 5-month-old no longer wants to face my chest. She wants to see the world! The outward facing wrap is the most secure wrap style I've learned yet and was truly hands-free. It was perfect for times when I needed to walk around and mingle such as during the talk breaks and exhibit hall networking.

To my surprise, I did not spend all of my time standing and bouncing her along the wall. Instead, I found a back corner away from foot traffic and closest to the bathroom. There I laid out a small blanket and some toys, plugged in my laptop, and sat on the floor to listen and work. It was ideal! I may have looked silly to others, but this really was the best possible arrangement. The baby kept herself well occupied, I could work without holding her or constantly moving her active hands away from my laptop, and we were completely out of the eyesight of all conference attendees except those walking along the back of the room.

Playing with free conference swag!

In retrospect, it was a wise move on my part to wear pants instead of the cute pencil skirt I had wanted to wear. Sitting on the floor with legs in any direction would not have worked well in a skirt or dress. It was also smart of me to wear a cowl neckline for easy access.

Listening to the conference speakers uninterrupted only happened when the baby was napping. Unlike a normal day, she only dozed off for short periods of time – no long naps. Applause would wake her, usually just for a moment, but sometimes stirring was enough to snap her out of her slumber. As a result, at no time was I away from my baby and able to attend the conference as a normal professional except when two of the college-aged conference volunteers asked to hold her.

I was able to attend all of the conference talks (except when I stayed in the exhibit hall for too long during a break). Even though I was in and out a lot, I was able to get a lot out of attending. I live tweeted and I took notes. I got the gist out of the conversation. I was surprised at how much of the conference I could actually attend.

As someone put it yesterday, a baby and a dog in a crowd have similar outcome: people flock to you for the cuteness. A baby is an effective networking aid. Colleagues and strangers alike approached to meet the baby and, secondarily, me. She was a natural conversation starter. The one negative was that because time was short and the baby was easy to talk about, I didn't talk as much “shop” as I would have liked. Part of that was also the fault of the conference schedule: too few and too short breaks. I had hoped that the 6:00 networking session would make up for it, but by that point, the baby had had enough and it was time to go home.

Astronaut Baby!

It's always a concern when going out: a diaper blow-out (or poop explosion, if you prefer). We had one. We survived. I packed plenty of diapers and wipes as well as a spare change of clothes. Thankfully, none got on me. I cleaned her up and no one noticed.

Overall, taking my baby with me to a professional conference was a success. I tear up when I think of how supportive my work community is. So many positive comments and words of encouragement! I want to thank every one of you who helped me to get over my fear of negative judgment and do what works best for us. I feel so blessed to have such beautiful people in my life.

This local conference was practice. The test is next week's three-day out-of-state conference. Stay tuned!

Also, Josephine got to meet her fifth astronaut and take additional photos with ones she had already met. And she went to Mars!

Baby on Mars!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How I Work At Home with a 5-Month-Old

During the difficult earliest weeks of motherhood, I wrote a detailed schedule of what my day was like. Endless breastfeeding, short naps only while we held her, screaming fits, and precious little free time. It seemed the baby was constantly attached to me. Time just disappeared.

Now at 5 months old, she's a lot easier to care for. She's aware of the outside world and can independently play. She's not on my boob forever. Her naps are longer. We're better at communicating so she doesn't cry as much. I'm able to get a lot more done in the day as a work-at-home mother.

I kept track of my Monday to see where the time goes. Follow along with my day, if you'd like.

8:00 AM
The baby is awake for the day. My husband takes her to change her diaper while I slowly get up. We usually get up anywhere between 7:00 and 9:00, without an alarm, so this is an average day. Sometimes I awake before the baby and can get a little cleaning done before she arises.

With her in the bouncer chair, I straighten up a little. Time for another diaper change. I try to focus on one area of cleaning per day and today is a laundry focus, so I strip the bed.

My husband leaves for work. There are days when he works from home [such as today – Tuesday] which changes my schedule. I'm more likely to eat lunch out when he's home, for example. And there's also adult fun time when she naps.

I settle with the baby in my indoor office, also known as my sitting room couch. While nursing her, I catch up with email, social media, and industry-specific news. I read some of the news aloud to her. When not nursing, she plays in my lap or on the floor next to me.

The baby falls asleep while nursing. Her mid-morning naps occurs anywhere between 10:00 and 11:30. I successfully transfer her to the swing chair. I'm free! I shower, dress, and apply make-up.

The mid-morning naps usually last 15 to 30 minutes. Very unusually, this one lasts an hour. I take advantage of the extra time by starting laundry and straightening up a bit more. I'm rarely hungry in the mornings, but I ate a banana at 10:45. I prep dinner and start the slow cooker. I even prep my lunch sandwich before she awakes.

The biggest issue is preventing her from wacking the laptop keys!

I move us to my outdoor office, also known as the lounge chair on my back porch. While she nurses or plays, I work on my laptop. I set her up on the chair cushion in front of me or on a towel on the ground beside me. I completed my first work task of the day, then read some more industry news.

The cats have learned to stay out of reach of those tiny grabby hands.

The baby is getting antsy. We take a break to walk around the house, change her diaper, and start the next load of laundry.

With the baby playing on the ground, I get back to it and complete work task #2.

Who knew paper was so fun?

While my turkey, cheese, and cucumber melt is heating, I clean a bit more. The baby chills on the kitchen floor. I take lunch back outside and read more, this time paper: Sunday's church bulletin and a parenting magazine. The baby plays one of her favorite games: rip up the paper and try to eat it.

After I clean up from lunch, I make the bed with clean sheets.

Back to nursing the baby and back to work. I make a work-related phone call. While on hold, I carry the baby around the house and clean some more.

Hard to work with such a distracting cutie!

That task is done. Back to nursing and reading industry-related news. The baby plays in my lap and on the ground. I try to get more work done. But she is fussy. Nursing her only calms her temporarily while I work.

Back inside to change the scenery. I put away laundry while she's in her swinging chair in the bedroom with me. She can't decide whether she likes it or not.

Finally, she naps!

I get 5 minutes into a hands-on project. The baby screams. I leave that project for another day.

Back to nursing and working. I complete work task #3. The baby falls asleep in my lap and I don't dare try to move her.

I work, read news, write a blog entry for my industry-related blog, and catch up on social media. I read some fun blogs and articles. The baby wakes every so often, snuggles for more nursing, then falls right back to sleep.

The baby stirs, and I wake her. I've had to pee for the past hour. While up, I put in another load of laundry, walk the dog and get the mail, change her diaper, and move my stuff back inside the house.

No, we haven't baby-proofed the house yet. Obviously.

The baby plays on her mat next to my pole while I work out for 20 minutes: 15 minutes of pole fitness and 5 minutes of stretching and yoga. I don't bother to change clothes or get out my yoga mat because time is precious. Baby fusses so I pause for a few second every couple of minutes to give her another toy or distraction.

By this time, my husband is home from work. I catch up with him.

Hold the Door!

I settle on the living room couch and watch yesterday's episode of Game of Thrones with the baby playing or nursing on my lap. Wow, that's an emotional episode. I watched the Inside the Episode summary and give myself time to recover from that ending.

I relax with the baby for a little while on my laptop catching up with social media. My husband has gone out for a late afternoon run, so dinner will be later than usual.

I relocate us back to the bedroom, baby back in the swing, me back to putting away laundry while listening to an industry podcast. Another diaper change.

Back on the couch. I work for 10 minutes, then read the news and play with the baby.

My husband is home from his run so I prep for dinner (slow cooked pulled pork with celery and carrots) while he showers. We eat out a lot. Once or twice or thrice a week, we might spend our evenings at our local sports bar with our baby and our laptops. We sometimes spend our late afternoons at the beach until dusk. Even when we cook at home, we don't always eat at the dining room table. Today we did, with a candle in the middle and everything. The baby was content to be held while we ate.

After dinner clean-up, I'm back on the couch with the baby while my husband makes a quick trip to the store for something he wants. I browse social media while nursing the baby to sleep. I take advantage of her slumber and clip her long fingernails. I bathe her every-other-day, and this was an off day, or else a bath would have been in order.

My husband makes himself an adult beverage while I make myself a mint chocolate milkshake. We cuddle on the couch while watching an episode of Orange is the New Black. The baby wakes after a short while and cuddles with us on the couch. There's a pause for the last diaper change of the night.

My husband watches the last bit of a basketball game while I read on my laptop. The baby is not the slightest bit sleepy and is in a great mood, so we take turns playing with her. I try to nurse her to sleep, but she's wide awake. She's all smiles, giggles, and happy squeaks.

The baby is getting tired but refuses to sleep while nursing, so I put her in her swing. She seems happy to be rocking.

Finally asleep! I transfer her to her crib next to our bed. I stay up on my laptop until 12:30 AM when my husband joins me and it's lights out. But we stay up talking for a little while longer. I'll be awakened throughout the night to feed the little one, but never for very long.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

I Fought My Health Insurance for my Home Birth and Won (Mostly)

When I chose to attempt a home birth, I knew the financial side of my decision was going to be a fight. I read story after story online of home births rejected by health insurance or covered after long fights. I prepared myself for a battle, and a battle I got. These insurance firms are horrible on purpose to encourage customers to give up. But I kept at it. And I mostly won.

I have UnitedHealthcare, one of the two worst health insurance companies I've ever had. And I've only had two. They've both been horrible. I would never voluntarily choose UnitedHealthcare, but it was my employer-provided insurance last year and it is my husband's employer-provided insurance covering the whole family this year. It's a terrible company that hires almost entire incompetent employees. But, if I wanted my home birth to be covered, I had to deal with the UnitedHealthcare headache.

My policy while I was pregnant did not specifically cover and did not specifically forbid home birth. I live in Florida, and Florida state law requires maternity-covering health insurance to cover home birth. So, one would think that my insurance would cover my home birth and that would be the end of it. Not even close.

No home birth midwives were considered in-network in my area (a 50 mile radius). My licensed and certified home birth midwife had gotten approved by UnitedHealthcare many times previously to be covered in-network, but because UnitedHealthcare is awful, they classify her as out-of-network by default. They require customers to jump through hoops to get her approved every single time. The approval process is called a gap exception. My midwife suggested I use a third party company that handles health insurance companies. This third party filed a gap exception for me. Easy!

It was denied. The reason: the gap exception needed to be submitted by an in-network service provider. In other words, they erected a nonsensical barrier in order to make it difficult for me – on purpose – in the hope that I would give up. And I almost did give up. My obgyn wouldn't submit a gap exception for me even though they approved me for a home birth because it would be helping their competition. I don't have a general physician to talk to. I do have an orthodontist who I've known for two years. She told me no. I had no one else. I didn't have a relationship with an in-network service provider who would submit this paperwork for me.

Finally, through my doula, I found a chiropractor (who could help sooth my pregnancy-strained back) who supported home births. He agreed to help me. He's British. In Europe, home births are much more common. His wife had had two home births. I wrote a gap exception letter for him, he signed it, and I mailed it off. The whole situation was a ridiculous barrier that UnitedHealthcare put in my way, but I didn't let it stop me.

Finally, I got my approval letter! UnitedHealthcare agreed to cover my home birth midwife in-network! This was great news because in my policy, out-of-network expenses would not be covered at all, but in-network would be covered 100% after a deductible. I won. My work should have been done. But of course it wasn't.

After the birth of my child (which ended up being a non-emergency hospital transfer), I shouldn't have had to worry at all about health insurance. But to my surprise, my midwife's claims for my prenatal care and her time and equipment during labor were denied. The reason: she's out-of-network. The morons at UnitedHealthcare had conveniently forgotten that they approved her in-network, despite the copy of the approval letter that my midwife submitted with her claims.

Every single week shortly after the birth for eight consecutive weeks, I called them. I spent hours on the phone with UnitedHealthcare representatives asking them to please resubmit the four claims. Each phone call meant being passed around by different call representatives because my old policy was special. Each phone call meant time wasted explaining that my child was born in December but my policy changed in January, so this goes under the old policy, not the new one. Each phone call ended with the representative assuring me that he/she would personally handle the situation and call me back. None ever did. I did talk to some very nice employees over the course of those eight weeks, and I feel bad that good people work for such a bad company.

Finally, two months after my baby was born, three of the four claims were resubmitted and approved. The fourth one was denied. This one was my midwife's fault. She had neglected to give me two medical codes to include in my gap exception letter. My gap exception approval only covered codes listed in my letter. Two codes were missing. The healthcare representative assured me that those codes would normally have been covered. She advised me to write an appeal letter asking for my gap exception to retroactively cover those two codes and for the fourth claim resubmitted.

Yesterday, two months after I sent my appeal letter, it was denied. The reason: my midwife is out-of-network. The moron who read my appeal letter ignored where I had explained my gap exception. The moron who read my appeal letter also ignored the copy of my gap exception approval letter which I sent along with my appeal letter. Conveniently, that appeal decision is final. UnitedHealthcare refused to cover the fourth claim because they employ idiots and/or they purposely play the part of idiots to steal money from their customers.

In the end, UnitedHealthcare covered all of my hospital fees and 83% of my home birth fees. I'm calling that mostly a win. The next time around, I'll be attempting home birth again, and I'll need to prepare to battle the greedy health insurance firms once more. Not looking forward to it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Motherhood & Career Sacrifices: No Tours for Me

(Taken while pregnant at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building.)

My nearly 5-month-old refuses to take a bottle. She used to, now she doesn't, preferring to scream and starve if given the option. And in fact she did go on a hunger strike for around 8 hours when I left her with my husband for a day, which is how we made this discovery. Therefore, I cannot be physically apart from my baby for more than 2 hours without feeling exceptionally bad for the adult caring for her (i.e., my husband).

I am given the choice to participate in my profession with my baby or opt out. I've been choosing to participate when I can. I'm just as competent, passionate, and ambitious in my career with my baby as I was before. However, there are limitations to what I can do at the moment. Some plans are on hold. Others are delayed or take more time. And some opportunities, as much as it pains me, must be sacrificed.

I have sacrificed two conferences/meetings this year and was ready to sacrifice a third before I jumped on-board with the planning committee to help out. I love this particular conference, and although I was prepared to miss it, I really didn't want to. So, I committed, with my baby. In 15 days, I'll be on a plane to Denver, traveling with my child and no other adult, determined to make this work during the three-day conference.

I won't be able to participate as widely as I usually do. I'm willing to sacrifice the opportunity to listen to every speaker or to hear every word coming from their mouths. I've already sacrificed the chance to present a poster because it would be too much to handle with the baby. I'm willing to sacrifice networking time if I need to change a diaper instead. I'm prepared to leave for the airport earlier and set aside more time to allow myself to eat. I know I'll sacrifice sleep; that goes without saying for the parent of a young one. And, unfortunately, I'll need to sacrifice special opportunities to see things I may not ever get the chance to see again.

I got excited when I saw the news: a chance to tour a local company's facilities! Cool! I'm a visual learner. I learn by seeing and by doing. I jump on the chance to take tours, to experience the atmosphere around the work being done, and to ask question after question of the tour leaders. I'm their favorite kind of visitor because I'm engaged, learning, snapping photos (when allowed), tweeting, and getting the word out. I soak it up.

But the baby. How could I take a tour with the baby? They probably wouldn't allow me to bring her because of safety standards or some other policy. What if I need to walk her away from the crowd to calm her down? What if she spits up over their equipment? What if I need to do an emergency diaper change? In a hotel banquet hall, I can take care of her. On a company's secured property, it would be a lot harder. Could I even safely take her on the tour bus without the car seat anchored to the vehicle?

Sadly, I decided to sit that one out. But then, a second tour! Another local company's facilities, this one I liked even more. And oh, how I wanted to go. I thought about it, thinking of how I could make it work. I even started composing an email asking if I could bring her. But the same issues arose again and again in my head. I just can't.

Usually, I'm all about asking forgiveness rather than permission. But in these cases, even I don't think I can justify asking permission. As a working mother, I make sacrifices for my child. This is one of them.

How do other women do it?

Monday, May 16, 2016

My Momblog Journey Thus Far: Tips & Annoyances

This is a photo of the recent Mercury transit, not blogging. I don't have a photo for every occasion.

I've just read Dear Mommy Blogger and I felt inspired to write the entry I was going to write anyway at some point. I started this blog a month and a half ago and the associated Twitter account shortly after that. The good news: I've finally found active mom bloggers! If you read my earlier entry on my struggle, I was coming up with inactive blogs or none at all, only articles on how to make money blogging. It was frustrating and lonely.

I started this blog because I couldn't find other work-at-home moms in professions. I wanted to know if such a feat was even possible and how those impressive working moms succeeded. I wanted advice on in-person meetings with children, phone calls with children, conferences with children, professional networking events with children, and sexual discrimination in the workplace. I couldn't find these mom bloggers, so I started my own blog in the hope that they'll find me. I haven't yet succeeded in my search. If you're out there, professional work-at-home moms, I'm still looking for you. I'm only 4 months into this work-at-home mom gig and I seek advice, tips, support, and feedback.

I have been successful in finding mom blogs of all sorts, though! I really should have used Twitter as a resource from the start. Ah Twitter, how I love thee. Twitter is how I connect with colleagues around the world, so it made sense that I'd connect with moms that way as well. Through Twitter hashtags and retweets, I've found women from all over the world. From links within blogs and guest posts, I've found even more.

Oddly, many of them are new like mine. There seems to be a high turn-over in mom blogging. Women blog for a short time, then stop. I've been blogging elsewhere for 14 years and my baby is young, so I'm in this for the long haul. I'm looking for others to connect with who also want lasting friendships through blogging.

Despite being a blogger for 14 years, I'm learning some new tricks. I've always been a fan of photodocumenting my life, but I can see the benefit to creating cute photo titles. Thanks for that tip. I dislike the proliferation of perfect stock photos and therefore only use my own imperfect photos. I tried to make my blog a bit more colorful and interesting with photos while still keeping it simple.

I always strive to be a better writer and communicator. I'm turning away from a more diary style and toward more a more themed style. Instead of recounting my days, I'll write about how I feel or what I've learned about a subject that may be of interest to others. By reading mom blogs, I've become a better blogger myself.

What I was surprised to find was the sheer amount of noise: blog entries and social media postings devoid of real content. While many blog entries were interesting and genuine, too many were sponsored product reviews or the same ten “interesting” tips I had read in 100 other places about newborns, baby sleeping, baby eating, etc. If a blog entry is just repeating what it read elsewhere, why wouldn't I read more original, educated sources on the matter instead?

Social media postings are full of nonsense and redundancy. Too many pleas for attention. Why are you stealing my time, my most precious resource, to ask me for the fifth time to read a blog entry I read the first time? Or to read an old Christmas entry in May? Or to subscribe and follow you on other social media platforms, despite the fact that I know how to find you on Facebook if I wanted to? Or to thank a complete stranger for following/liking/”interacting”? Each time I read one of those nonsense postings, a little bit of my life has been stolen from me.

There's some exceptionally bad advice out there. I read one mom blogger advising other mom bloggers to follow 2000 users, unfollow whoever doesn't follow you back, then follow thousands more! If you're following users to gain more followers, you're not a genuine follower and your new followers likely won't be genuine. You aren't reading your followers' content and they're not reading yours. What's the point? I block anyone who pulls that stunt.

I also unfollow anyone who repeatedly posts the same entry or link over and over and over. All scheduled, of course. When questioned, they say that Twitter posts have a life of 20 minutes. No. Twitter posts have an indefinite life, and if you think your followers don't know how to scroll down, you're part of the problem. So much clutter. So much unnecessary noise.

I'm enjoying writing my mom blogging and Twitter microblogging so far. It's an outlet for words I don't want to put on social media attached to my name. But it's flawed. It's tiresome to sort through the trash. I'll probably deal with it until I reach a breaking point, then purge the irrelevant noise-creators.

On a positive note, so far I have found around 100 interesting moms (and a few dads!) to follow. I'm slowly going through their blog archives and subscribing for new entries. It is nice to know that there is a mom community out there online for me, even if an imperfect one.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Preparing Our Sand-Eating Beach Babe

We've been taking our beach babe to the ocean since she was five weeks old. Now that the weather is ideal, we've been going at least once per week. Josephine is old enough now to interact with her surroundings. I put a bit more thought into our beach trips now.

What to Bring?

What do you usually bring to the beach? For us, it's beach blankets/towels, sunscreen, a beach umbrella, a folding chair, sometimes sand toys, and a cooler with beverages of our choice. We don't bring anything special for the baby. Here in Florida, she wears her baby sunglasses every time we go out during the day. I carry a portable changing station in my purse. I leave my purse in the car and take the car seat to the beach to sit in the sand, just in case she falls asleep and I want to put her down in it.

The Hot, Hot Sun

The Florida sun is brutal! Sunscreen isn't recommended for young babies. We pasty white people burn easily. What can we do to protect our child from the heat and burn?

We no longer go to the beach during the hottest part of the day. We wait until the late afternoon, staying until dust. Baby sunglasses are a must, the kind with a band that wraps all the way around the head. We have used hats, but they fall off our tiny baby's head easily and get in her face. Instead of hats, we now use blankets, beach umbrellas, and our own bodies to shade the little one.

Sand Indigestion

Our little person isn't even eating solid foods yet. What would happen when she inevitably ingested sand? Nothing, as it turns out. I don't let her shovel handfuls into her mouth. But her fingers get covered and brushing it all off isn't easy. My nipples seem to attract and capture sand grains despite brief flashes in the air uncovered. The baby isn't yet stable sitting and likes to face-plant on the towel. Milk with a side of sand is going to happen no matter how hard I try otherwise.

As Calm as a Roaring Ocean

It never ceases to amaze me that such constantly turbulent, violent, powerful waves are so peaceful. When I take my little girl in my arms and stand in the crashing waves, she is instantly calm. Even if she was just fussing, she quiets right down, staring at the flowing water around her. The roar resembles white noise and can put her to sleep when we're lucky.

Edit: Sometimes hats do work well at the beach instead of sunglasses, especially for cute photos!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday Question: Am I a Bad Role Model for My Daughter Because I Stay Home?

Do You Feel Like a Bad Role Model to Your Daughter by Staying at Home?

No. I am showing my daughter that I was given a choice: take on full-time work outside of the home or spend as much time with her as I could. I'm thankful that I have this choice, and right now in this stage of my life, I choose this. I may choose to work full-time out of the home later in her life. But for right now, I'm a career woman who just so happens to be building my own business in my home part-time while caring for my baby. I want my daughter to know that she too may some day be offered that choice. I want her to know that she can choose to have a career and still also be a mother if that's what she wants.

Current Challenge

Fussy bedtimes. She's tired. It's past the time she usually falls asleep. But she fights it. She'd rather fuss and cry than give in to sleep. This exhausts me at night. I have this fantasy that I get some work done in the evening, but after struggling to get her to finally drift off, all I want to do is snuggle on the couch with my husband and veg out.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Like Mother, Not Like Daughter: Please Don't Pull Out Your Hair

Her bright, curious baby eyes stare at me, observant and alert, taking in everything. Feeling the pressure of her stare, I reach up to my scalp and move my fingers around, feeling the strands of long hair. I twirl a few pieces in my fingers absentmindedly. Finally, I find just the right one, my target. I isolate it and pull. Then I do it again, and again, and again, letting the broken strands fall around me. One lands on my baby's face as she's still staring up at me, watching my every move.

And I feel so guilty for letting her see this, even though she's too young to understand. I don't want her growing up thinking this is normal. Or worse, mimicking me, pulling out her own beautiful red hair. Yet I can't stop.

I have trichotillomania, an obsessive compulsive disorder giving me the urge to pull out my hair. I've had it since around puberty, diagnosed at 16. I have a mild case, prevalent enough to be annoying but not enough to need a head scarf, wig, or any of the aids others use to hide their affliction. Trich is more common than people realize. It's hidden because it's embarrassing and poorly understood. Even the so-called experts can't explain it. No one understands it except the trichsters, those who suffer from it.

Trichsters are diverse, but we're mostly women. Urges to pull are equally diverse. My focus areas are primarily scalp and pubic. I shave down there daily to rid myself of that temptation, but I don't go bald as some of my fellow trichsters do. I keep it secret. The most observant hair sytlists notice, but no one else does. The burden is on me to vacuum frequently to avoid pile-ups others can see.

When I was a teenager, I was judged and mocked when I revealed my secret, so I've learned to keep it well hidden. My parents took me to a psychologist who had never heard of trichotillomania and was completely unhelpful in explaining and treating it. No, I'm not depressed. No, I'm not anxious. No, I'm committing self-harm, any more than cutting hair or shaving is self-harm.

Each trichster is different, but to me, my urges are an extreme expression of grooming. I seek the “bad” hairs to rid them from my body. Bad can mean too dark, too crinkled, textured oddly, knotted, split at the end, or commonly these days when I'm in front of a mirror, white. My own mind seeks perfection in appearance. So I pick. And this pursuit of perfection leads to tiny bald spots, many short hairs of new growth, and piles of hair on the floor.

Because I've been blessed with mild urges, I don't suffer from any kind of social anxiety. I'm an extrovert, I have friends, and I love going out. But I don't typically pull around others. I pull when I'm alone, when no one is watching, when I can focus my mind on reading or watching something while my fingers do as they please. Idle hands. But who is around to judge?

My baby daughter has changed my life in so many ways. I am thankful to spend my days with her every day. She brightens my life and lifts my heart. And now that she's more aware and interactive, she's more fun. But she also watches everything I do, her little sponge-like brain absorbing it all. She can't judge my trich because she doesn't know any better. She doesn't know what normal is. And that's the problem.

I'm not suggestion that trichotillomania is genetic. I don't think my daughter is more susceptible because of my genes. But is she more likely to copy what she sees me do? When her delicate hair grows longer and her fine motor skills improve, will she reach up to play with her hair as she's seen mommy do? Will she pull out a strand or two? Will she develop trich at a young age because of me? I can't risk it.

Mom guilt would be immense if I gave my daughter the curse of the hair pulling. My only option is to stop. I've tried stopping countless times before. I've always failed, after a day, after a week, after a month. It's a difficult, time consuming hobby to quit, taking all my focus and willpower to even notice when I'm about to pull, let alone stop. But maybe this time, I can do it. Maybe this time, for the sake of my daughter, I can defeat trichotillomania.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What I Learned Taking My Baby to a Professional Luncheon: Pre-Conference Prep

Since the beginning of my work-at-home journey four months ago, I've had an ongoing inner dialog:

“Is it unprofessional to bring my baby to a professional event?”
“Why would it be unprofessional?”
“But I've never seen anyone else take a baby to this event.”
“Just because it's uncommon in our society doesn't make it unprofessional.”
“Will colleagues think less of me?”
“It's their bias if they do. Why am I trying to impress them? Some love seeing the baby.”
“It would be easier not to bring her.”
“The alternative is to skip the event and hide from my professional community.”
“I want to go. I just don't want to stand out as being the weird working mom.”
“I've never been all that conventional anyway.”

Lately, the conversation has concluded with this definitive statement:

“In a few weeks I'll be taking the baby with me, alone, to an out-of-state conference for three whole days. I need to get over it.”

So, today I took my baby to a monthly professional luncheon with a guest speaker. Previously, I'd ask my husband to watch her, but he couldn't today. Rather than skip the event, I brought her with me. If people were going to judge me, let them.

Although I must admit, I felt nervous during the long walk from the parking lot to the door with my baby in arms, dressed in professional attire. My baby would stick out. I would stick out. There was no way to do this under the radar. I just needed to own my actions and stand tall.

The first person I saw as I opened the door was a friend of mine, a few years younger than I am, who loves seeing photos of my baby on social media. Seeing his warm face as he greeted my child made me feel at ease. One right after another, colleagues and strangers approached me to meet the baby and say hello. She was an instant conversation starter! I'm a good networker, but it helps to have people flock to you.

A colleague of mine who I see as a bit of a mentor said to me, “I used to bring my kid to these kinds of events.” And I felt even more at ease. When I was pregnant, another mentor of mine told me that he took two years off from his career to be a stay-at-home dad when his kids were young. These stories from people I admire in my profession help me to feel not so odd and alone.

So, how did the baby do during the luncheon and talk? She was a people observer at the start, staring at everyone and everything as I walked around greeting and conversing. The kind man sitting next to me plated my salad and poured my water. The baby started getting fussy as I attempted to eat said salad.

I took her to the bathroom to wrap her, and with my boob hanging out so she could nurse mid-wrap, a woman walked in and offered to help me if I needed it. Not sure what kind of help she could give me, but it was a sweet offer. It's notable that I'm at the point where I no longer care if a stranger sees most of my boob in the women's bathroom.

Blissfully sleeping during the luncheon. For a short time, anyway. - May 10, 2016

Once I had my baby wrapped and feeding, she was a lot easier to care for. But I still couldn't sit down long to eat without complaints. So I stood by the doorway and bounced. She nursed until blessed sleep came. Then I was able to eat my lunch in peace. She woke up during the talk, so I resumed bouncing her by the doorway and walking her along the wall. She was great until the very end when she started happily babbling. Even happy sounds are noise, so I took her out in the hallway for the last five minutes. She was happy and babbling away and I said goodbyes after the talk.

As usual at professional events, may people made appreciative comments about me bringing her and no one said anything negative about it. One colleague even texted me after to thank me for bringing her, saying it was the first time he had seen a baby at one of these events. My fear of being negatively judged, while probably real, is mostly in my head. I need to remember this as I'm carrying my baby around a conference in a few weeks!

And because we were in the area, we stopped by the port to see a reusable rocket stage that launch to space on Friday and then landed vertically on a ship in the ocean. I love my profession.

The recovered SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket state at Port Canaveral, Florida. - May 10, 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Real Story Behind Pinterest Crafts: My Baby Cutsey Mother's Day Gift

I love arts and crafts, though for obvious reasons, I haven't done anything since the baby was born. While nesting, I bought my first hot glue gun and made some beautiful things. I'm not a professional artist and I'm not even great at it, but I try.

Sometimes I use Pinterest as my inspiration. I never try to directly copy the Pinterest-perfect craft. Instead, I use it as inspiration and make it my own.

While I was still pregnant, my mom sent me a Pinterest craft pin for the nursery. I thought it would be the perfect thing to make for my mom for Josephine's first mother's day.

Here is the original Pinterest picture from Etsy.

First I needed to remove the back from a frame I already had. This was easy enough to do with a razor knife. I then cleaned the smudged glass. I held the edges as I used Windex and paper towels to make it shine. And I cut my fingers twice. Ouch.

Originally I thought if I smothered something greasy on my baby's feet, I'd create footprints on the glass and decorate the other side. In my first attempt, my baby squirmed. I needed to clean the glass again.

Next attempt was when she was asleep. It's easiest for me to ease her into a nap while we're nursing on the couch. I waited until she had drifted off, then replaced my body with a pillow. Success! Sleeping baby feet are much easier to handle than awake baby feet.

Unfortunately, the oil was just too slippery to make a good print. And to my disgust, one of the cats jumped onto the couch and started to lick the oil off her feet. Ick! I thought for sure she'd wake, but baby sleeping powers are resilient. And back to cleaning the glass, again.

Attempt #3 was a tried and true method: an ink pad. Thankfully I had one large enough to cover her feet. Using blue ink near a white couch was not ideal, but I wasn't going to try to move her. Finally, success! I had a pair of perfect ink footprints for this Pinterest project. And as a bonus, I can add the paper to her scrapbook which I plan to start making soon.

With the glass over the paper, I traced the footprints in Swarovski crystal beads: little ones on the outside, larger ones on the inside, darker colors to represent darker ink, clear ones to represent a light touch, and large to small beads for large to small toes. It was slow, delicate, deliberate work. Hot glue is a challenge to work with to keep the glass free of dried glue strings, but I did my best.

I used puffy paint to write on the glass. My handwriting isn't great to begin with, but puffy paint on glass is awkward. My six didn't quite look like a six and my attempt to fix it only made it worse. Oh well, it's Mother's Day 201[blob]. Finally, it was done!

Second-to-last step: cleaning the glass for the last time. I pulled out my Windex and made a big mistake. Windex detaches tried hot glue from glass! A third of my beads fell off where I sprayed. The baby was awake and in my husband's arms and he was unsympathetic to my craft dilemma, urging me to hurry up. There was much cursing.

I reglued the beads, using even more this time. Finally, the last step: gluing the glass to the frame. Easy! It wasn't Pinterest-perfect, but it was better than I expected. My mom would love it: her daughter's art using her granddaughter's feet.

Speaking of, the blue ink didn't immediately wash off of my baby's feet. Oops. Two days later and the blue has faded, but it looked pretty funny for a while.

Happy Mother's Day to all the Pinterest-worthy and Pinterest-unworthy craft recipients out there!

My mom admiring her gift. Note her finger on the glass where there is now a smudge!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday Question: Considering Work Outside of the Home

Would I Ever Go Back To Work Outside of the Home?

Yes, if the right opportunity was presented to me. Last week a colleague asked me when I thought I might return to work full-time. Maybe soon, maybe never. This week a colleague presented me with an interesting opportunity to do something I love part-time, likely flexible hours, hopefully with the option to bring the baby to work with me at times. That's a job I'd consider! The flexible schedule and ability to bring my kid with me is of high importance to me at this stage of my life, even higher than salary.

Current Challenge

My 4-month-old has learned boredom! It's no longer enough to put her down somewhere. Now I have to give her toys or objects to play with, move her to new spots, and pick her up to provide her with human entertainment at times. I have to watch her most closely near the pets since she has learned how to pull out clumps of fur in her little fists. Uninterrupted work only occurs when she's napping.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

In Search of the Mythical Moms Group

Many ideas popped into my head last year when I discovered that I was pregnant. Among them, not at the top but somewhere down the line, I thought that I might have the opportunity to make mom friends in a way I wasn't able to do as a childless woman.

My mom made lifelong mom friends when I was a baby. Every July when I was growing up, we'd attend a picnic hosted by one of the couples. Another mom who attended told me every year about how she and my mom were pregnant together. These women are are unlike each other and took different paths in life, but they shared pregnancy and young children in common and remained friends throughout the decades.

One of the first things I did was look into the large “birthing circle” in the area, a group for mothers who want to nurse and parent more naturally. I joined their Facebook group and planned to attend one of their monthly meetings. However, that plan only lasted a few days.

My first red flag was when group organizers openly promoted amber teething necklaces, a fraudulent product based on fake science meant to steal money from desperate parents. Several moms responded about how much they love their amber teething necklaces. I was the lone voice of reason on that thread to even suggest an alternate point of view. I didn't argue, but I was shocked by the mass ignorance and could not believe that the organizers of this group were irresponsible enough to promote fraud.

The nail in the coffin for this mom group was an even bigger irresponsibility: not taking a stand against a fraud so large that it has claimed the lives of many children. One of the moms on that group posted her anti childhood vaccination viewpoint. The anti-vaxxer mentality has killed and continues to kill children in the developed world and is 100% based on a lie. I asked the group leaders whether they take a stand against anti-vaxxers. They responded that they're neutral on the issue. I left the group immediately and never looked back.

Next I looked into another popular mom group: the local La Leche League. I wanted to breastfeed my child if I could and it seemed like a good place to find like-minded moms. I joined their Facebook group with the intention of attended a meeting. I didn't last long there, either.

It wasn't anything that they did wrong, exactly. But there was one post after another almost militantly declaring their intention to fight anyone who thinks that toddlers and young children are too old to be breastfed. Each post was accompanied by a photo of a toddler or young child breastfeeding. I'm all for breastfeeding for a year, or two, or whatever is medically necessary. But there's a line where it turns from sweet to creepy for me, and several of those posts crossed that line. I didn't fit there.

I then turned to Meet-up and found two local groups for moms with young kids. Both required approval to join. The first one got back to me immediately and looked really promising, until they told me that there was an annual membership fee and a requirement to host an event every month. Not only would I be too busy as a new mom to host an event every month, but I also didn't want to join a group where all the members hosted events every month. That would mean events nearly every day, and likely low turn-out at each event.

When the other Meet-up group finally got back to me, they informed me of an annual membership fee even higher than the other group. I didn't see the need to pay for friends when sororities were recruiting in college and I don't see the need to pay for friends now. What do those membership fees go to, anyway? I'd rather directly pay for something that I want, rather than someone take my money and choose for me. The whole concept turned me off.

I took a free birthing class at my local hospital. The other pregnant moms in attendance were teenagers, some attending with their moms. I was 31-years-old. I didn't have anything in common with those young ladies except conceiving a child. There was no class introduction or chance to mingle with the other moms, so I didn't get to know any of them.

I took a multi-week birthing class taught by my doula attended by two other couples. We were all planning home births and using the same midwife-doula team. This seemed like the best opportunity to make mom friends. And we even connected with each other on Facebook after! But I haven't seen or talked to one mom since the last birthing class. The other one I've run into three or four times unplanned, and each time she acts awkward around me. So much for that idea.

At the end of my second trimester, I connected with the Catholic Nursing Mother's League. I'm Catholic, and I've found a lot of my friends through Catholic groups, so I figured I'd try it. I was pleasantly surprised! Even though I didn't know any of them and my baby wasn't even born yet, I was welcomed with open arms by supportive, knowledgeable young mothers who I could connect with. There's still hints of crazy at times – twice I've seen amber teething necklaces on babies – but there has never been any official promotion of crazy. There's no drama, no gossip, no tension. The mothers all seem sane, warm, and friendly. I've been attending ever since.

The group only meets monthly and it's difficult to get to know the ladies well in a short time, but I connect with most of the regulars on Facebook to get to know them better. A lot of the moms with older kids get together for playdates, field trips, and even a homeschool co-op. When my baby is older, I'll be able to hang out with them that way. Most of the moms live a little far from me so this isn't the kind of moms group where I can casually hang out on the local playground or take stroller walks, but that's okay. I'm just happy to have connected with other young women who also call themselves mom!

May's Catholic Nursing Mothers League meeting. Older kids were running around out-of-shot.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Pregnancy & Peeing: Why Kegels Didn't Work for Me, But Here's What Did

To be a fully grown woman, mature and sophisticated, and to pee myself in line at the grocery store is such an embarrassment that I never told anyone, not any store employees, not even my husband. I couldn't keep my urinary incontinence a secret at home, however. My husband asking, “Did you pee yourself?” any time I sneezed became a running joke. I'll never forget the evening I had to tell a restaurant waitress that I had both vomited and peed on their bathroom floor, because once liquid started spewing from the front, I could no longer control liquid from the bottom. I was a mess, just like many other women in pregnancy.

I have no medical training, so I tend to believe the medical advice I read by doctors and professionals. Every single general pregnancy book and many pregnancy articles I came across suggested Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor. Simply contract the muscles down there as if holding in pee, then hold, then release. Simple, right? I started doing them more and more as my wetting problem worsened. Each time I had to change my panties mid-day, I took it as a failure on my part to practice Kegels.

In my early third trimester, I admitted to my midwife that my pee problem was affecting my sex life (I won't go into detail). She referred me to a specialist, a physical therapist that specializes in women's pelvic floor health. There are just over 200 such doctors in the entire United States, and as luck would have it, one of them worked just 30 minutes away.

It didn't take long for my new doctor to diagnose me with hypertonic pelvic floor, a condition she sees frequently. I was always contracting, forgetting or not knowing how to release. Kegel exercises made my situation worse! Each time I practiced Kegels, I forced my muscle to contract more and more. Full release never came. All of the advice advising Kegels for incontinence was one-size-fits-all that probably helped a majority of ladies out there. But for me, this advice did damage that we needed to undo.

I began seeing my physical therapist weekly. I needed to learn to unclench my pelvic floor muscle and control it before I could learn to strengthen it. Each appointment, she would stick a finger in me to evaluate where I was. With the help of various breathing techniques during pregnancy and strengthening exercises postpartum, I learned not only how to control my pelvic floor, but I was surprised to learn that the muscle has such a large range of motion!

I fully believe that seeing a pelvic floor specialist for the last two months of my pregnancy is what led to pushing out my baby being the easiest part of my labor by far! Labor was long and horrific, but pushing was one-two-three-out! My daughter was pushed out so quickly that the doctor and nurses weren't even ready to catch her.

Added bonus: sex isn't painful anymore! I had resigned myself to believing that penetration would always hurt for me, that it was just part of how my body operated. Intercourse hurt so badly that I could not lose my virginity the first time I tried, nor the second time, nor the third time. I just thought it would always be that way. But toward the end of my pregnancy, I was amazed to discover that sex didn't hurt! With a breathing technique called a “big belly blow” and other exercises, I learned to relax my vagina and allow what I wanted in.

Since around 7 weeks postpartum, I've been seeing my physical therapist and her assistants every-other-week. Today's appointment may be my second-to-last because I've almost regained full control. My “guard” reflex is gone, my scar tissue isn't tender to the touch, and I can control my bladder when I sneeze or bend over to pick something up. Sexual penetration is still painless. From my point of view, it's a miraculous turn-around from where I was six months ago.

If you or another woman you know is having difficulty with urinary incontinence pre- or post-birth and Kegel exercises don't seem to help, talk to a specialist. You never know when you'll be the exception to the common advice.