Family

Baby Juliza: Month 3

I’ve been taking monthly photos of little Miss Juliza, and she’s 3 months old today! I realized I hadn’t been sharing these photos on the blog, though I did share them in black and white on my breastfeeding story. Anyway, I’ll be sharing them here from now on. Here’s my three month old jellybean:

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Her expression is just priceless! My little lady loves to laugh, but I was lucky to capture this one because it’s hard to get her to do it on command. Of course. That’s also why the photo is a bit blurry. I had to hurry to lift the camera and capture this one before she stopped laughing. I like to think I have cat-like reflexes.

Still, I confess, I cheated a bit this month. I couldn’t decide between two photos, so I’m using both of them.

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I love the look on her face and her fingers. It looks like she’s saying “You talking to me?” Like she’s grown or something.

At three months, she’s not quite sitting up on her own, but she does really well when propped up, and she does try to pull herself into a seated position when she’s on her back. During tummy time, she can lift her head and chest and hold it for quite some time. But the biggest milestone is that she can already roll from her stomach to her back! She doesn’t do it all the time, but she can definitely do it when left to her own devices.

I can’t believe she’s getting so big and grown already!

Because I didn’t share them previously, here are her 2- and 1-month photos, so you can see just how big she has really gotten:

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Considering that she started as a tiny 6 lb. 12 oz. newborn, it really feels like she’s come a long way :)

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I knew the moment I found out I was pregnant that I wanted to breastfeed this time. I stated as much publicly a few months ago. Having tried, and given up, with my first daughter, I thought of it as a do-over.

I prepared myself and did a lot of reading on the subject, but putting it into practice is a lot different from thinking about it conceptually. Thankfully, one of my labor and delivery nurses helped baby Juliza latch on right after she was born, and we’ve been going strong ever since. By strong, I mean that we’re still doing it 11 weeks in. Not that there weren’t challenges. Because there absolutely were. There were triumphs too, though, and I thought I’d share both here in hopes of helping other first time breastfeeding moms.

Triumph 1: Juliza Latched On Well

This is honestly due to absolutely no help from me, because I had no idea what I was doing. The L&D nurse positioned newborn Juliza on my chest, and she immediately found my nipple and did her thing. In in the following days, I did do a little reading about the best positions for feeding, but without my assistance, she always latched well.

I know because nursing never hurt. Yes, the sensation was unfamiliar and a little uncomfortable at first, but I had very sensitive nipples long before I had any babies. Still, this time around, feeding was never painful. It just took some getting used to.

The hospital’s lactation consultant came to see us the day after Juliza was born seemed really pleased with our progress. I could hear baby swallowing from the very beginning, and she had more than a couple of wet and dirty diapers in the first 24 hours. The consultant did correct her bottom lip, because Juliza had a tendency to curl it inward. After correcting her a few times, she latched on that way naturally.

Challenge 1: Engorgement is a B!&$%

Like most women, my milk didn’t “come in” until a few days after birth. I expected that. But when it did come in, it came in strong.  I mean, wow. I was incredibly engorged and my breasts were hard and painful. Juliza was still feeding like a champ, but I was suffering.

I tried pumping for relief, but it was fruitless. Because my let-down reflex had not yet become — well, reflex — I’d pump and pump and nothing would come out. I tried expressing milk with my hands, in the shower, etc. Nothing worked. Finally, I resorted to laying a cold towel on top of my boobs to relieve some of the pain. Thankfully, that helped quite a bit. Plus, it’s a lot easier to keep a towel cold than it is to keep one warm.

Juliza never really ate enough to empty my breasts, but feeding did give me some relief, at least for a little while. But patience was my friend. Within about a week, the constant engorgement subsided. I’d still feel “full” sometimes, but not all day and night.

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Challenge 2: Overproduction & Hyperactive Letdown

However, shortly after the engorgement subsided, Juliza started to get really gassy. As in crying for an hour straight at 2 am because her tummy hurt. This was easily the most frustrating part of the breastfeeding process.

We gave her gripe water and gas drops, both of which would help, but only for very short periods of time. Her stomach was hard and distended a lot of the time. We starting praying for her to pass gas and stool, because that was the only thing that gave her relief. I’d do bicycle legs, massage her tummy, and let her take naps on my chest skin to skin because the warmth seemed to make her belly feel better.

I finally figured out, though, that overproduction was the likely culprit. Also, I was feeding her religiously on both breasts, even if she didn’t finish with the first. Everything I read had recommended that I feed her on one side for a few minutes, then feed her on the other. But in my case, doing this meant she was getting a ton of foremilk, which is full of lactose, and not very much of the fattier hindmilk. Her delicate newborn tummy couldn’t handle all the lactose, and it made her gassy and miserable. If she was awake (and wouldn’t you know, that was mostly late at night), we were trying to comfort her. It was exhausting. This was probably the only time I considered quitting. I really thought my milk was hurting her, and I beat myself up about it. Add to that the fact that the lactation consultant was unavailable for a few days, and I was really pulling my hair out.

But once I figured out the issue, I did what I do best: I read everything I could find on the subject. I started nursing her on only one breast per session, known as block feeding. I was producing so much milk that she still never really emptied the breast, but she got a better balance of fore- and hindmilk. Except there was another issue: When my letdown reflex finally kicked in, it was really strong. She actually started choking when it happened because the milk flow was just too much for her. So I started taking her off the breast when I felt a letdown coming and letting it flow into a towel. I also tried the football hold and feeding her in a more upright, almost seated position propped against a pillow, because gravity helped her handle the milk flow better as well.

It took a few weeks, but these few interventions finally started working. Her digestive system soon was better able to handle the milk and she grew into my letdown. She’s still a really gassy baby, but now, she doesn’t cry when she goes. In fact, her favorite time to poop and pass gas is when she’s nursing, perhaps because the suckling comforts her.

Triumph 2: Nursing = Bonding

This is what everyone says, but you never really know what they mean until you try it. Now that we’ve gotten past the biggest challenges, I genuinely love breastfeeding. It’s my special time with Juliza, and I feel like a superhero knowing that I am nourishing my baby. The fact that she’s been growing by leaps and bounds only makes me feel better.  Look at the difference between her size at 1 month and 2 months:

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She was 6 lbs. 12 oz. at birth, and by 2 months, she was 13 lbs. 3 oz. Really.

I love the fact that she knows what it means when I pull up my shirt, and I talk and sometimes sing to her when she’s eating. Mushy, but true. I’ve recently started feeding her while we both lay on our sides, and it’s amazing. Especially during her 3 or 4 a.m. feeding.

Lastly, I tend to get hyperfocused when I sit down to work, so having to feed her every 2-3 hours means I’m forced to get up and stretch every so often and give her 100% of my attention. That has proven to be good for my creativity, because I step away from a project and come back to it with fresh ideas.

Of course, there’s a flip side to every coin…

Challenge 3: Nursing is Demanding

Every time I take Juliza to the doctor, they ask if I’m breastfeeding exclusively (as in not supplementing with formula), then sound surprised when I say yes and lavish me with congratulations. Don’t misunderstand: I love the praise! What mom wouldn’t, right? But after they did it a few times, I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. Until I realized just how demanding it is to nurse exclusively.

The vast majority of the time, I am the only one who can feed my baby. So when she’s screaming, I have to be the one to soothe her. This is both empowering and exhausting. This means I’m up with her at night, pretty much every night. Though, praise be to God, she’s FINALLY started going to bed at a decent hour — 10 p.m. Her previous preferred bedtime was 2 a.m.

I could pump, but honestly — pumping sucks. I only have a single pump, and it’s not nearly as effective at getting milk out as Juliza. I have to pump for 20-40 minutes to get a few ounces.

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Also, my boobs are almost always sore after I pump. It’s just not my idea of a good time. Still, I do pump at least a few times a week just so I’ll have some milk frozen in case of an emergency or in case I want to escape for a couple of hours or even go to the grocery store without worrying that Juliza will starve in the meantime. And she will take a bottle, so at least I have that option sometimes.

But for the most part, I am the physical source of all her meals. I’d gotten used to the fact that my 8-year-old is capable of feeding herself and has been for a while. She even cooks — usually breakfast or things that can just go in the oven, but still. This is…new.

I’m not complaining though. I’m learning to work with it and around it. In fact, I’m taking Juliza with me on a few work trips, and I’m just thankful that the companies I’m working with are flexible enough to let me do that.

Triumph 3: Breast Milk is Free & Always Ready

We spent a small fortune buying formula for my oldest daughter, and we switched brands more than a few times trying to find one that didn’t upset her stomach and break out her skin. That was 8 years ago. I can’t even imagine how much formula must cost now. I do not miss the expense. At all. Plus, I know breast milk is the best food I can give my baby, even if we did have to work through some challenges in the process.

And did I mention it’s free? Yeah? Well, it’s worth mentioning again. ‘Cause formula ain’t cheap.

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The other part of this is that I never have to fix a bottle. When she wakes up for her nighttime feeding between 3 and 4 a.m., I just pick her up from her co-sleeper that’s attached to my bed (thanks again for that, Renee!), feed her, and put her back down to sleep. She roots around or cries, and I pop out a boob. Simple as that. No waiting for a bottle warmer or anything else. My sleep deprivation would’ve been considerably worse than it already was during the first few weeks of her life if I had to get up to prepare a bottle every time. And it was plenty bad. Whatever extra sleep breastfeeding afforded me was well worth it.

Triumph 4: Breast Milk Burns Calories

Within a few weeks of giving birth, thanks to breastfeeding, I was just a few pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight. I can honestly say I’m not super concerned about that and got on the scale only out of slight curiosity. I was genuinely surprised that I’d lost so much so soon, because it didn’t exactly happen that way with my first pregnancy.  I was also back in a most of my pre-pregnancy clothes within a few weeks. But notice I say was.

I admit, I fell back into bad habits about eating, and I’ve been eating pretty much whatever I want. Which means I’ve gained back a few of those pounds. But frankly, I’m giving myself a break for a while and I’m not sweating it. I’ll get back on the wagon soon, enjoy my body in the meantime and just be thankful that breastfeeding is burning some of those extra calories I’ve been eating (and drinking. Smoothie, anyone?)

The Unknowns

One of things I was most worried about when I was pregnant was how I would feel about nursing in public. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of experience with that yet, even after all these weeks. I work from home, so most of the time, that’s where she eats. A lot of other times, she gets hungry while we’re in the car on the way somewhere, so I just feed her in the car when we’re stopped. I also try really hard to feed her right before we leave the house (or more accurately, we try to leave the house right after she has eaten), so we often make it back home before she needs to eat again. I’ve only fed her in other situations a couple of times: At my niece’s basketball game, and at my brother-in-law’s house during my niece’s birthday party.

At the basketball game, I tried to cover with a blanket. That made both Juliza and I hot and uncomfortable. We were already struggling to find a comfy position to nurse, because we were sitting on hard bleachers with zero back support, and I didn’t have a pillow or anything else to prop her up. The blanket kept slipping, and in general, it wasn’t worth the trouble. I made myself more conspicuous trying to hold on to the blanket than I wouldn’t been if I’d just nursed her discreetly without it.

So the next time, at the birthday party, I just sat in a corner faced away from the little kids and fed Juliza without a cover. I also was armed with a blanket that I folded and used to prop her up. Much easier, much less fuss and noone even realized what was happening. I’m fairly certain I’ll just forgo a cover in the future. And hope that I won’t have to read (ie. cuss out) any person who tries to check me about feeding my baby. Fingers crossed it never comes to that, because I’m not sure how I’d react.

For my upcoming travels, I have invested in a breastfeeding diaper bag from a company called Warm Milk that comes with a built in nursing pillow. (aff)

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Soon, when Juliza is better able to hold herself up, I probably won’t need it, and when that time comes, I can remove the pillow and just use the extra pocket for storage. But it will be nice to have for nursing in the airport or in flight. During the trips, a lot of feedings will be done while we’re out and about, so we shall see how it goes. I’ll let you know what I think of the bag once I receive it.

However, a friend of mine recently clued me in to a magical idea: Nursing while babywearing! What?! I didn’t even realize that could be done! Juliza and I love her Moby wraps (including the Moby wrap clone I DIY’ed), and I’ve been told that once she has better muscle control, it is entirely possible to feed her while wrapped or in a sling. I am determined to learn how to do this!

OK. I’m done sharing. For now. I hope that this will help another mama who is breastfeeding for the first (or perhaps second or third) time. The overall takeaway is this:

Breastfeeding is worth it.

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The photo above is my happy, laughing baby a few minutes after eating. This is a regular occurrence. She either falls asleep at the breast, or turns into happy, giggly JuJu. Both are fine with me.

Of course, I will never judge any woman who is unable to breastfeed or who just chooses not to. Do you, boo. Really. No judgement from me. But I can honestly say it was the right choice for my jellybean and I, and I hope more women will give it a chance.

Spring Break means one thing around here. Well, it means a couple of things, but the most important one is that warm weather is finally returning. Which means that we can go outside! My daughter has been itching to ride her bike since mid-January, and now that that temps have been creeping up into the 70s some days, she’s determined. When Walmart challenged me to share a spring break project, I thought it’d be a great time to break out the bike. Even better, we’re going to make it all fancy like :) Hat tip to Sophie’s World for some great ideas.

Decorating a Bike

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Really, you’re limited only by your imagination! But here are a couple of ways you can go about it with a few inexpensive supplies from Walmart, including:

  • Ponytail holders or rubber bands
  • Ribbon
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Streamers
  • Tape

Make Ribbon Streamers

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All you need is two elastic bands and some colorful ribbon. We used ponytail holders, but rubber bands would work great as well. Cut about 24 pieces of ribbon, 14″ in length, in various colors.

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Simply attach the elastic band to something that will anchor it. We used a bottle of olive oil, but it could be a bottle of water, or even the wrist of a helpful assistant.With the elastic band around the bottle, tie each piece of ribbon securely to it, alternating colors. You should have 12 pieces of ribbon tied to each band.

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When you’re done, remove the ponytail holders from the bottles.

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Then simply secure the elastic band to the end of your the bike handles, doubling the elastic if you must.

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I personally think this looks worlds better than the cheap plastic streamers that usually come on kids’ bikes, and they’ll no doubt last a whole lot longer!

Deck Out the Spokes

For a splash of colors when riding, decorate the spokes of the bike wheels. And all it takes is some pipe cleaners.

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Literally, all you have to do is wrap colorful pipe cleaners around a few spokes.

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I wouldn’t do every single one, because it can be time consuming. So we did every fourth spoke, and that pattern both saved us time and looked amazing when we were done.

Wrap the Frame

We thought the bike looked great after that, but we wanted to do something extra. The solution? We wrapped the frame in simple streamers. You know the kind you’d use to decorate for a birthday party? Yeah. Those.

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My daughter wrapped the middle of the bike frame in a couple of colors to coordinate with her bike’s paint job.

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These three simple projects left us with a bike that my daughter couldn’t wait to ride. Want to see the difference? Check out the before:

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Not bad at all, but the basket was hanging on by a thread, and you can always make something more colorful, right?

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So of course, I had to let her take it for a quick spin :)

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If these ideas don’t tickle your fancy, I can think of a handful of other ways you could spruce up your bike with items from Walmart‘s craft or bike departments:

  • Weave ribbon through the spokes
  • Add new reflectors
  • Switch out the seat
  • Add a basket
  • Give the frame a new paint job
  • Paint colorful stripes on the tires

Are you planning to fancify your bike or your kids’ bikes for the spring? I’d love to see them if you do!

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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When I was a little girl, there was little I loved more than books. Maybe music or sugar, but that’s about it. Books were my friends and the pathways to my (very active) imagination. You could always find me with my head in a book — even at the dinner table or in the bathroom. That last one may have been TMI, but you get the point. I absolutely loved to read.

As parents, my husband and I do everything we can to instill a love of reading in our kids, and that can be a challenge in this day of electronic everything and a million distractions equipped with a screen. So I was happy to learn that March 3 is Read Across America Day, a day recognized by schools nationwide to promote literacy. Many schools will also take the opportunity to celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday with a variety of events and activities.

Dr. Seuss has been a staple of my reading collection since I was little, and when I had my oldest daughter, his books became a staple of hers, too. We have everything from “The Cat in the Hat” to “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” and “Oh Say Can You Say.” They are the kind of books that kids can read by themselves pretty early on, and they also make for hilarious story time, especially when the reader gets into character.

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As you can see, my daughter has already made it her mission to help baby Juliza love Dr. Seuss and reading as well. Juliza isn’t the most attentive listener (yet!), but nonetheless, Ja’Naya enjoyed reading a new addition to our Dr. Seuss collection, “Happy Birthday to You.”

Walmart is doing its part to celebrate Read Across America Day and Dr. Seuss as well. In honor of the occasion, all regular priced Dr. Seuss beginner books will be on sale for $5 (normally $8.99), and Dr. Seuss board books will be $3.50 (regularly $4.99).

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Your child can also sign up for Dr. Seuss’s Birthday Club, an online membership that comes with a ton of cool benefits, including exclusive birthday-themed activities and crafts, activities based on a monthly Dr. Seuss Birthday Book of the Month, and a chance to win the ultimate Dr. Seuss Birthday Party prize pack.

So, do you plan to celebrate Read Across America Day with your kids? How do you instill a love of reading in them every day?

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

My Birth Story

I’ve been meaning to publish for weeks, but that’s taken a backseat because newborn :) Finally though, here you go!

It was the coldest day of the year…

I’m really tempted to start my birth story this way, because alas, my baby girl was indeed born on the coldest day of the year, during the height of the “polar vortex”, when the temperature in Georgia dropped to a bone-chilling 7 degrees. But I’ll start at the beginning.

The first sign…

The local school system had already decided to call off school the next day because of the ridiculously cold weather forecast. So my husband and I decided we’d better go to the grocery store to stock up on some things in case the weather took a turn for the worse.

We went to Kroger around 6 p.m., but couldn’t find a single thing on our list — mostly because it seemed like everyone else in our county had the same idea. My husband suggested we instead go to Walmart — further away, but where we knew we’d be more likely to find what we needed.

As we made our way back to the door, I stopped dead in my tracks with what I can only imagine was a look of utter shock on my face. My husband, obviously worried, wanted to know what had happened. And I told him. Either I had just peed my pants or my water broke.

It really did come out in a gush, just like you see it in the movies, and I stood there frozen in the aisle for a few seconds. I felt like I was in some romantic comedy and someone was going to hustle me straight to the delivery room. Then I came back to reality and hustled to the bathroom to see if what I thought had happened had really happened.

It had. And my husband looked like a deer in headlights.

I, on the other hand, was slightly more level headed. I wasn’t in any pain, and at my OB visit a few days before, I was only 2 centimeters dilated. So while I waited for a call back from my doctor about this new development, I suggested we go to Walmart anyway, because broken water or not, we still needed groceries.

Change of plans…

Of course, my doctor called back when we were halfway to Walmart and told me to go ahead and check in at the hospital. Not exactly what I wanted to hear since I knew I was nowhere near active labor, but I took her advice anyway.

You see, with my older daughter, my water never broke. In fact, that was the only intervention the doctors had to perform. They broke my water during active labor. So I really had no experience in how to handle my water breaking. If I had, I would’ve gone home and slept in my own bed for the night.

In my inexperience, though, we turned around and went home so I could grab a shower and my hospital bag (which was only half packed), and to pick up the kids. Still, no pain. Not a single contraction. Still, I wasn’t nervous. Not really. Everyone else was, though. So I threw the rest of my necessities in the bag and we got moving.

We checked in and went up to labor and delivery. They didn’t check my cervix right away, but they did test the fluid  to see if my water really had broken. It felt like forever when the nurse finally came back and said I was indeed leaking amniotic fluid. My doctor wanted to admit me.

The hubby and I shortly after arriving at the hospital. The proverbial calm before the storm.

The hubby and I shortly after arriving at the hospital. The proverbial calm before the storm.

She wanted to wait overnight to see if I would go into labor on my own. If I did not, she said they’d start me on Pitocin early the next morning to get labor started. I was not a fan of this idea, because I really didn’t want to be induced. But I after doing some reading while I waited, I realized that with my water bag ruptured and in a hospital environment, the longer it took to go into labor, the higher the risk of infection.

So my husband and I spent a nervous, restless night at the hospital hoping I’d go into labor on my own, but nothing happened. Nothing. At. All. Hence, why I wished I had just gone home and slept in my own bed.

Around 8:30 the following morning, the nurse started me on Pitocin, and contractions started almost immediately. Those early contractions were really irregular and manageable. So while I did tell the nurse that I wanted an epidural, I wasn’t in any real hurry to get it. She said to let her know when I was ready.

I labored for several hours without pain medicine, because I liked the autonomy of being able to walk around, go to the bathroom, etc.

But that’s when things got real…

Within a few hours, the contractions started to get good and strong. When I could no longer talk through them, I called for the anesthesiologist.

What happened next was a real indication of how my entire birth experience went. The doctor inserted the catheter that would deliver the pain medicine to my spinal fluid. But when she pulled back on the attached syringe, she was getting a tiny amount of blood back. She said it was nothing serious, but she’d feel better if she removed it and reinserted the catheter. I wasn’t happy about this, but I didn’t want to take the chance that those few drops of blood would create complications later. So she took it out and did it again. No problem the second time.

However, that wasn’t the first time since I’d been admitted that a nurse or doctor had had to redo something. My first nurse had to insert my IV twice, because my veins wouldn’t cooperate. The second nurse — after the shift change — came in to draw blood and had to poke me a couple of times because, again, my veins wouldn’t cooperate.

It would’ve been fine if that were the end of it. But alas, they were just a precursor to the epidural, which didn’t cooperate either, though it took a while for that to be apparent.

Me in ignorant bliss right after getting the epidural.

Me in ignorant bliss right after getting the epidural.

During the hour after I got the epidural, I was basically numb from the waist down. I could still feel the pressure of the contractions, but they weren’t painful.

That only lasted for a sweet, brief time though. Soon (like maybe within another hour), I started noticing that I was feeling some real pain in my lower right pelvis. Like the epidural just decided to skip that area. My legs were numb by that point, but it didn’t matter. I was still feeling very definite pain on my right side. The nurse recommended I lay on that side, in hopes that gravity would help the epidural medicine migrate to the right area.

Yeah. That didn’t work.

In short order, I was literally screaming my way through consistently longer and stronger contractions. It was all I could do to catch my breath between them.  The anesthesiologist returned to try repositioning me and gave me another type of pain medicine, but it didn’t even take the edge off. So I labored for the last couple of hours or so (don’t even ask me what time it was) feeling Every. Single. Contraction. In spite of the epidural. That had to be inserted twice. And it sucked. Hard.

I could only feel pain on my right side, but that was more than enough. I was grabbing my husband’s shirt and twisting it just to get through each pain. Because remember, I’m freaking allergic to pain. I will not soon forget the way these pains felt, and I’m in no hurry to feel them again. Anyway, I soon felt the overwhelming urge to push.

The nurse checked me, and I was fully dilated, but Juliza’s head had not yet descended. So for at least 20 minutes — maybe longer, because it felt like an eternity — the nurses urged me NOT to push with each contraction.

I repeat. They told me not to freaking push. And I swear, that was the most difficult part of labor. Because I didn’t just want to push. It was an instinctive, primal urge that took every ounce of concentration to fight. I was almost in tears because I wanted to push so badly.

But finally…

Time to push!

My doctor walked in the room and I swear I heard angels singing from on high. She couldn’t get ready fast enough! But — irony of all ironies — when she finally did and the nurses and my husband managed to get my very numb legs into the stirrups, I went limp. Seriously.

After all those super painful contractions, my brain wouldn’t talk to my muscles. So instead of effective pushes, all I could muster at first were some weak attempts and screams. My doctor looked me in the eye, and said, deadpan, “Jennae, please stop screaming.” Her calm in that moment was such a stark contrast to the chaos I was feeling that it almost made me laugh. Almost.

Still, that brief interruption worked. Or maybe it was the look in her eyes that told me it was time to focus. Either way, with my husband and a nurse each helping me brace a leg, I tucked my chin to my chest and really pushed.

And lo and behold, it took only two good pushes for the baby’s head to emerge. My doctor told me to look down (yes, really) through one more push, and Miss Juliza was out! Three pushes, y’all! Even before I heard her cry, I heard angels sing. The relief from what felt like hours of constant pain was immediate.

My baby!

The first thing I saw was a full head of jet black hair. And then the fact that she was really small. It took a few seconds for her to cry, and they felt like an eternity. But finally, she let out some good wails, and they suctioned her, wrapped her up and let me hold her for a bit. I felt delirious snuggling this small, warm bundle in my arms, but she immediately felt like mine.

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I wasn’t happy when they took her away to clean her up, but I did still have to deliver the placenta and get a few stitches. Not the most enjoyable part of my afternoon, but by comparison to everything else, it was completely bearable. Plus, I just wanted my baby back.

The nurses weighed and measured her, and my initial impression was spot on. She looked a lot like Ja’Naya as a newborn, but born at 37 weeks, Juliza was considerably smaller. Just 6 lbs. 12 oz. (Ja’Naya was 8 lbs. 5 oz.) and 20 inches long (her sister was nearly 22 inches long).

All I wanted to do was snuggle her :)

All I wanted to do was snuggle her :)

When they gave her back to me,  I mentioned that I wanted to try breastfeeding but had no clue how to get her to latch on properly.

The nurse laughed and literally popped Juliza on my boob. She latched on so quickly and naturally that I almost missed the moment. The nurse reminded me that babies know what to do even if we don’t. And there was no pain. It was definitely a new sensation, but not a painful one.

That very first, successful feeding session was the perfect way to cap off my birth experience.

All told, it took about 7 hours from the time I received the Pitocin until the moment I saw Juliza for the first time, and I wouldn’t change those 7 hours for the world.

Ok. I lied. If I could change anything, I would make the doggone epidural work the way it was supposed to, because those pains were no fun. But maybe — just maybe — I’m willing to believe that, pain and all, my birth went exactly the way it was meant to go. And I do have a healthy, gorgeous baby to show for it.

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He’s in love. We all are :)

Culture and history are extremely important to my husband and I. Because we are raising our children hundreds of miles from where we grew up, it is really important to us that we share stories of our heritage with them. So, in honor of Black History Month, when Walmart asked me to share how we preserve the beauty of our heritage, I was more than happy to share.

Both my husband and I are originally from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, a place where only one of our children has ever visited — and that happened when he was just 6 months old. And while my husband has visited in recent years, it has been a whopping 13 years since I’ve been home. I’m almost ashamed to say that.

Still, we do everything we can to teach them about where we came from, because growing up in the Caribbean offers a vastly different cultural experience from growing up in the States. We like to share as many snippets of that experience with them as we can:

The Food

Nothing is a bigger reminder of growing up in the islands that the smells and tastes of Caribbean food. My husband can throw down in the kitchen, and I’m not so bad myself, and our most popular meals, by far, are Caribbean dishes. From stew chicken to macaroni and cheese pie, fish and fungi to johnny cakes and plantain, they love when we give them a history lesson on a plate.

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My stepson also fancies himself a cook, and he has been experimenting with some Caribbean-influenced dishes of his own. It’s fascinating to watch him finding his way around dishes that remind my husband and I of home, and my daughter is developing an interest in cooking them as well. We love the fact that they’ll then be able to pass these recipes on to their own children one day.

The Music

If you take a look through our music collection, you’ll note that easily 50% of it consists of reggae, calypso and soca. Let’s just say our tastes run far deeper than just the Bob Marley fare you might hear on the radio. While we’re still working on my stepson, my daughter is deeply in love with Caribbean music and can be found listening to it on her own, or singing along with pretty much any song we play. The fact that my husband is a reggae artist and songwriter pushes that love even further, giving the kids a real connection to the music that their dad makes.

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But it wasn’t enough for us just to listen to the music. Both my husband and I played steel pan in our youth, and a few years ago, my dad sent us a tenor steel pan. While we play a variety of musical genres on the pan, from reggae to classical and R&B, I have taken great pleasure in teaching my daughter the history of an instrument that is firmly Caribbean in origin.

The Culture

There are some things about our heritage that are just hard to share short of taking the entire family on a trip back to St. Thomas (which we really need to do as soon as possible). The next best thing for us has been exposing our children to as many Virgin Islands and Caribbean events as we can.

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The most notable of those is the yearly Caribbean carnival in Atlanta. There’s nothing quite like being around thousands of other people who share parts of your culture. The symphony of accents from various islands is a beautiful sound, you can feel the music in the deepest parts of your soul, the food is like none other, and the parade and costumes expose them to an experience that is uniquely Caribbean. So while it isn’t exactly like carnival back home, is it is pretty good approximation, and we look forward to celebrating as a family each year.

Our Dual Heritage

In addition to our Caribbean heritage, we are also African American, and that comes with its own set of cultural identifiers and conversations. My husband and I always challenge the kids to learn more and do more. The sad truth is that they will learn precious little about black history in school, and generally only in February, if then. There are so many rich stories that they’ll never hear in a class lesson, and it is our responsibility to teach them.

We regularly watch movies, read books and even share news stories not just about historical figures and events, but about current events that speak to race and race relations, both positive and notsomuch. We challenge them to research the people and subjects that they find interesting, and to write about what they’ve learned.

Our Beauty

But by far one of the most positive ways my daughters and I celebrate our heritage is with our natural hair.

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For the longest time, the singular standard of beauty for black women was to have straight hair, generally achieved with the use of toxic chemical relaxers. I made the personal decision to forgo that standard and embrace my naturally curly hair. As a result, my older daughter has learned to do the same, and we will work to consciously pass that love of our inherent beauty to the baby.

This beauty is written on our brown skin, and though we don’t see reflections of that in popular culture often enough, it is my husband’s and my job as parents to make sure that not just our daughters, but our sons, see it and cherish it.

Overall, the goal in all these things is not just for our kids to know from whence they came, but to be proud of it. We don’t have the luxury of doing this only during Black History Month, so we do it all year long.

How do you help your family preserve your cultural heritage, regardless of what that is? You can read more from Walmart about celebrating African American beauty. And if you’d like to join in, you can share photos of your beautiful heritage — your mom, your grandmother, yourself and your kids — on instagram with the hashtags #MyBeautifulHeritage and #WalmartBeauty. And you can see the photos others have shared. (aff)

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

My newest little addition was born on the coldest day of the year. As in single digit temperatures. In Georgia. To say that I was ill-prepared would be an understatement. In spite of my January due date, I never anticipated it would be that cold when it was time to bring baby home.

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Thankfully, temperatures had climbed into the 30s by the time we left the hospital, but the situation made me consider whether we were properly equipped to take a newborn out into the cold. So when Walmart challenged me to share how we’re handling this unusually cold winter, I thought I’d share my top 6 cold weather essentials for babies:

1. Cozy Blankets

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I found it almost impossible to find a coat to fit a newborn, and I knew a snowsuit would be overkill, particularly when traveling in the car. Infants overheat pretty easily, so warmth is best delivered in layers. When it’s really cold out, and the wind is icy, warm blankets are the Holy Grail of baby care. I’ve been dressing my little lady in layers, wrapping her in one warm blanket and using another to cover her car seat. All of these are easy to peel away once inside a warm car or building. I personally love this Garanimals zebra print fleece baby blanket. The pattern makes me smile, Juliza loves the cozy fabric, and it cost just $9.88. (aff)

2. Warm Hats and Socks

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I would venture to say that all newborns will wear hats and socks, but during the winter, they’re really not optional even if you have an older baby. The challenge is finding both that will fit, and stay, on a brand new baby’s tiny hands and feet. My daughter has a habit of kicking off her socks, sometimes within mere seconds of me putting them on. These newborn socks from Gerber have a tight knit ankle, so they tend to stay in place better than looser knit socks that fold down. And when it comes to hats, be sure to buy the right size for your baby’s head. Juliza has a small head (good for mama, not great for fitting things). So it’s absolutely imperative that we buy newborn size hats like these cute ones from Gerber. (aff)

3. Swaddle Wrap or Sleep Sack

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I hate the idea of my little one falling asleep in a cold sleeper without a blanket. But you can’t put a young baby to sleep with a blanket or any other type of loose bedding because of the risk of suffocation. When they’re a few days old, swaddling blankets work wonders for keeping them calm when sleeping. But Juliza likes to move her hands and legs, which means that no matter how secure the swaddle, it would eventually come undone. Instead, we switched to SwaddleMe wraps like this organic one for $12.39 from Walmart, which can be wrapped over the arms, or under them if your baby likes to use her hands like mine. We’ve also been using sleep sacks, which do not wrap as tightly, but still give her warmth throughout the night. For the moment, she prefers the swaddle, but when she’s a bit bigger, the sleep sacks will come in handy. (aff)

4. Moisturizing Skin Care Products

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My own skin gets really dry in the winter, and Juliza’s skin was doing the same. It’s always a great idea to have some good, moisturizing baby lotion and ointment on hand. My favorites are from the Shea Moisture Baby product line. Their Raw Shea, Chamomile and Argan Oil lotion and head-to-toe ointment smell amazing, and they do a good job of keeping my little lady’s skin smooth and supple. (aff)

5. Wrap Carrier

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I knew when I was pregnant that I wanted to take up babywearing this time around, but I never really thought about it in the context of keeping her warm. However, wearing your baby close to you is a great way to keep them not just calm, but cozy. This works well when we’re at home, but also when we’re out and about. In fact, she tends to sleep the whole time I’m wearing her, so it’s great for outings because she’s not fussy. My personal favorite is the Moby Wrap carrier, available for $48.79 at Walmart, because it’s extremely comfortable to wear and the weight is evenly distributed across your whole back and both shoulders and hips. (aff)

6. Nasal Spray and Aspirator

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We’ve been using all the products above to keep Juliza warm since birth, but she still managed to develop a mild case of the sniffles. We obviously have no intention of giving her any medicine, but we do want to be able to ease her discomfort when she gets stuffy. The first line of defense is a good nasal aspirator, which does a great job of removing any loose mucus. But when that doesn’t help, we have some Little Remedies Little Noses saline nasal spray on hand to help loosen any secretions. We haven’t had to use it yet, but we’d rather have it and not need it than to wind up needing it, and not have it. (aff)

Did you have a winter baby? What are some of the products you relied upon to keep your little one warm and comfortable?

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

So…remember two weeks ago when I wrote my 36 week update, I said that I was in no hurry for baby to arrive? Well, apparently, God was listening and he has a huge sense of humor.

Because 20 days before her due date, someone decided to make a surprise appearance.

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It is my pleasure to introduce you to Miss Juliza Ann Petersen, 6 pounds, 12 ounces and 20 inches of joy personified.

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Seriously…

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Her name, Juliza (pronounced Ju-Lee-Za), means “free spirited and beautiful in one’s own way.” She has quickly proven that she has every intention of living up to her name.

We are all deeply in love with this little character already, and we’re amazed by how much we feel like we know our little lady (seriously, she’s tiny) in just a little more than a week.

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I will share my birth story another time, but here are three details to keep you wanting more:

  1. My water broke completely unexpectedly in the middle of the grocery store. I felt like I was in a romantic comedy for a half second, before I realized I was probably going to go into labor soon.
  2. I had my epidural. And it sucked. As in it worked only on one side. As in, damn, labor hurts!
  3. She’s completely healthy and we came home almost exactly 24 hours after she was born.

More details from the delivery room to come next week.

In the meantime, here are some Instagram snapshots from my Ju Ju’s first week of life:

Suffice it to say we are smitten. We think we’ll keep her :)