Friday, May 3, 2019

On the End of Maternity Leave

I wrote the following right before I went back to work.  I knew it would be a huge shift to go from being home with the girl all the time to working full time again, and I was right.  It hasn't been without its challenges, but there have also been a lot of really great moments.  Now that I've been back at it for a few months, I'll have to share my experience with that, too!


Eleven and a half weeks ago, I stood in a dimly lit hospital room, changing a tiny girl out of a white cotton shirt and into a soft pink floral sleeper. I had packed a hat that matched, but it was too big for her. My hands were shaking and my heart was pounding as I placed her into her car seat and spent way too much time adjusting the straps. We were going home... as a family of three. I couldn't believe they were letting us take her home. Our girl. Layla.

That first evening was a whirlwind of wonderfully loving family supporting us and a hot dinner in our living room and another contender for “best shower of my life” and time spent in awe of the person we had made. Eventually we went to bed and it was so nice to sink in against our own pillows and blankets and linens (I may have--okay, definitely--cried in relief). Layla was pretty easy on us during our first night home… but I still didn't sleep a wink. Try as I might, there were no visits to Dreamland for me.

And the sun rose anyway. When Layla woke up at 3:30am and then again at 6:00, I felt grateful to my job for making me a morning person. I felt grateful to have Tom's support, grateful to be with someone who was already such a devoted dad. Sure, I was exhausted as hell… I had carried Layla to term and gave birth and spent 3 nights in the hospital and then came home with our newborn daughter. And yet, I was somehow fueled on adrenaline and wonder, wide awake taking in the sight of Layla in my arms. We got comfortable on the couch, cozy with blankets and pillows, and settled in to watch WGN Morning News.

We spent the first two weeks of her life holding on for the ride. After Tom's paternity leave (I am so glad he had the time; I only wish it had been longer), I still had 10 weeks left of leave. February felt like a lifetime away. So Layla and I started finding a rhythm, continued getting to know one another. I loved her endlessly the very moment I laid eyes on her, an emotion only magnified when they put her on my chest for the first time. Somehow I manage to love her more with every passing day.

Before I realized it, 10 weeks turned into 8, and then 6, and then 4. All the while, Layla continued to grow into this amazingly intuitive and sweet baby girl. Now, she smiles at me when I walk into the room and you should see the joy on her face when I lift her into my arms. She is starting to be aware of the world and the things going on around her. It is SO wild to witness! And so incredibly special.

Right now, she is sound asleep on my left arm as I type this on my phone with my other hand… I could probably put her down but I don't want to. I'm comfortable, and so is she. Friday will be my last week day of maternity leave… and then the next Sunday, it'll be my first shift in over 12 weeks.

I blinked and 12 weeks passed and my little girl began growing. I've gone on some adventures with her, but I've honestly spent a lot of time inside. Having a baby during the winter and the height of cold and flu season, plus the normal anxieties of going out with a newborn, turned me into a bit of a homebody. And I've been okay with that because I so love being home with her… but I know that I do better when I have a routine and am interacting with others. As much as I really don't want to leave her, I am lucky to love what I do, and to set an example for her of hard work and having goals. I won't be gone forever, and large parts of my routine with will stay the same. This will be good for all of us, her dad included. I am ready for the next part of this adventure, wherever it will lead us as a family of three.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Two Months

So... somehow, sweet Layla is two months old now!  What?  That's ridiculous to me.  I did okay on the 10th, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't tear up about it once or twice...  like when she fell asleep on me as we rocked in the glider, her head on my chest, my shirt balled up in one of her tiny hands... or when I was looking at pictures from her birthday (a rabbit hole I probably should have avoided).  She is growing before my very eyes, but it was never more obvious to me than when I compared two month old Layla to barely even 24 hours old Layla.  I kept seeing this quote this week: time is a thief.  I never really understood it until I had a daughter.  Now I get it.

I also teared up when I was in the shower, remembering the first one I took after she was born.  It was the next morning (she wasn't even 24 hours old yet) and after I gathered all of my travel bottles of shampoo and conditioner and face wash and soap, I turned the water up as high as I could stand it and gingerly stepped inside.  In a way, I still couldn't believe the previous two days--the 21 hour marathon of laboring and delivering our girl--had actually happened.  It was the moment we had been waiting for and preparing for and anticipating with bated breath for months... and now Layla was here.  The thought was almost too much to bear and in that moment, as I rinsed the conditioner out of my hair and steadied myself against the support rails in the shower, I began to cry.

I felt so profoundly lonely.  It knocked me over like a tsunami.  Two nights before, while Tom slept by my side in the most uncomfortable recliner, I lay there suspended in a half awake, half asleep state and watched the monitor, Layla's heartbeat and my contractions (contractions I couldn't feel personally, but my hands were resting on my belly and I knew they were happening through my palms).  I dozed off listening to her heartbeat, trying to savor each second, knowing that these were the last moments we would spend together like this.  That with every minute that passed, we drew closer and closer to meeting.  I didn't want to forget this.  For all the discomfort and the anxiety and the worry, I knew she would be worth it.

Two months later, I haven't forgotten how it all felt.  And the loneliness I felt at suddenly being singular again?  I'm happy to say it has faded relatively quickly.  Because her presence in our world has filled my life with such brightness and joy.  I can't believe she's ours!  It is so hard to see her grow up so quickly, it is happening so gradually but it is happening, and yet... to watch her learn and to begin to understand the world?  That is something else.  She is so easy going and cheerful.  And sassy, already.  And sweet!  I feel so fortunate to be on the receiving end of all of the smiles she dishes out.  It's a pretty spectacular thing, being Layla's mom.

I'm going back to work in a few weeks.  Really, that deserves a post all of its own.  I have a lot of mixed feelings about it, a lot of emotions I'm still sorting through.  I am so sad maternity leave is almost over--it has FLOWN by.  I will miss being with her all day...  However, I know it will be good for me to get out of the house and put on real clothes and talk to adults, and it will be good for Layla, too.  She will be in good hands.  And I will be okay, too.

Layla is teaching me that the laundry, the dishes, can wait until later.
She's teaching me to be flexible, to be confident in my abilities, to trust myself.
There's a big beautiful world out there, and I can't wait to see it through her eyes.

Here's to the first two months of being her mom, and all the rest yet to come.

Friday, January 4, 2019


I missed beer... and wine.  And spirits I suppose.  I mean, there's something satisfying about an ice cold beer on a hot summer day, or pairing the perfect wine with dinner, or a cocktail shared with friends.  Plus, a large part of my job involves libations.  Come find me at work and we'll talk food, we'll talk wine, we'll talk beer.  I was, of course, more than happy to abstain for Layla's sake; over the course of my pregnancy, I had a nominal amount of alcohol (and she doesn't seem to be any worse for the wear from it).

The first thing I had when I got home from the hospital was a bottle of New Glarus Brewing Co. Spotted Cow that had been waiting for me in the fridge.  My sister held tiny newborn Layla who fit right in the crook of her arm and I sipped it slowly, savoring it.  (Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit about Layla being that small... she was almost 9 pounds at birth!  But you know what I mean).  Probably the best beer of my life, the second being the beer I had after the Chicago Marathon.

I missed coffee, too.  Being that my schedule has always been pretty variable, with early mornings and late nights, I've always had a healthy relationship with coffee and caffeine.  I could and did drink it when I could after I got pregnant, but that truly was not very often because caffeine left me feeling pretty crappy.  Depending on the day, I might be able to drink a whole latte, or... I might get just a few sips into my demo sized cup of coffee after just getting to work and have heart palpitations and nausea.  It was a crap shoot and for that reason, I pretty much just stopped.  Now that I'm no longer pregnant... and a parent to a newborn...  coffee and I are best friends again.

I missed sleeping more than two hours at a time.  When I was pregnant, I was up frequently to pee.  Or to switch positions.  Because moving required heaving my belly over to the other side, along with any pillows I might be utilizing, and was often enough activity to wake me up.  Layla would frequently keep me up with her dance parties, too, so I'd wake up in the middle of the night and then she decided she wanted to be up.  Sometimes there was just no going back to sleep.  Makes sense, considering I probably rocked her to sleep all day with my constant walking around at work. 

Now that she is here, Layla is a pretty good sleeper at night and generally, thankfully, gives us a 4-6 hour chunk at night.  We are still tired (because it's not particularly restful sleep) and we're probably not going to get a full night of sleep for many years, but we know we are lucky.  Now that she is here, I miss her keeping me awake like that (it was a little more pleasant than being woken up with screaming haha) and feeling her move inside my growing belly.  I was so uncomfortable but there was something so reassuring about those kicks and flips and her (GIANT, as I discovered when she was born) feet in my ribcage... feeling her hiccups in various parts of my midsection. 

For everything I missed while I was pregnant with her, I realized after her birth that I wasn't really missing anything, that I actually found so much more.  I didn't really realize how magical it would be to look into her eyes for the first time, or to get that first big REAL smile of recognition (or to watch her smile like that at her dad).  I didn't know how amazing it would be to watch her learn and grow.  This is going so fast and I am trying to savor all of it and I wish it would slow down... yet, I know to even be on this journey, I know I'm lucky.  It is a gift.

Being a mom is the hardest thing I've ever done, the most vulnerable thing I have ever done--but it's also the most rewarding and the most beautiful and the most fulfilling.  There's an old adage I love about your baby being the only one who knows what your heart sounds like from the inside. Well... now I know what it's like to have my heart walking around outside of my body.  She and I are bound together by that and she is unequivocally worth all of it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


On a sunny December afternoon, just over five weeks after she was born, I nursed my daughter for the last time. The living room was bright and warm and quiet and calm. When it was happening, I didn't know it was the last time… but it's a beautiful, perfect moment, one I will preserve for all time.

I struggled with breastfeeding from the very beginning. Going into it, I promised I'd go easy on myself in regards to my successes or failures. I knew there were women who nursed successfully from the start, some who struggled along, some who went with formula from the beginning. I have always believed the notion that “fed is best” and like my pregnancy and my childbirth plan, I knew I needed to go with the flow and see what might happen.

Layla was born on early on a Saturday afternoon and though we attempted to nurse during the golden hour (like, I'm pretty sure she latched and probably nursed a little bit, but I can't say for sure), we were both a couple of rookies with no idea what we were doing. That afternoon and evening passed in a dream-like state, the two of us getting acquainted, starting to figure one another out. Nursing was a challenge, though. My milk had not come in and she was would not latch for more than a few minutes at a time. As the evening progressed, my frustration over the situation and my worry that she was growing hungry grew. We eventually had her sent to the nursery so we could get some sleep for a few hours.

That night, and throughout the next day, I kept trying with the help of a few different nurses, who all suggested alternative ways of getting her to latch, getting her fed. I tried every 2-3 hours to nurse but there were instances where she just wasn't interested, where she would just fall asleep or where she would scream the whole time. I was probably more worried about it than the nurses, but kept on trying.

The next morning, Monday--after another night of having Layla sleep in the nursery--found me in tears. Again, she wouldn't latch and just screamed at me (with my boob in her mouth). Granted, I was a brand new sleep deprived parent with a LOT of hormones in my system. But I also felt like I was failing, like there was no way it was ever going to work.

Not even 30 minutes after Layla's and my collective meltdown, we got a visit from the lactation consultant. The night and day difference was sudden. The nurses were great, but the LC was so wonderful and so helpful and hands on--she demonstrated step by step how I could successfully get Layla to latch, to eat for more than a few minutes before she fell back asleep. She explained that it could take 3-5 days before my milk came in but that there was a very real possibility that the postpartum hemorrhage was affecting my supply.

This was the first time anyone had said that to me and it felt like a bit of a lightbulb moment. She was not worried, though. She gave Tom things to do to help get Layla latching and also gave us formula to start supplementing her.  This was hugely helpful and also gave Tom a way to help us out. Though Layla had properly nursed, I did notice that the formula helped fully satisfy her… and I was grateful for the assistance, because I didn't want her to go hungry.

Monday evening we were discharged and went home. The LC sent me with a rented, hospital-grade breast pump and instructions to pump in between every feed so that I could induce my supply (I had a pump but she wanted me to take home the “big guns” to get things going). This meant nursing or pumping every hour or two. It was exhausting. Combined with the fact that she still was having latching issues, I felt a little disheartened from the start. Tom and I decided to try the Little Journeys Infant formula from Aldi and Layla took to it right away with no issues. This helped relieve my anxiety about her not getting enough to eat, but I still struggled. Nursing, pumping, supplementing--lather, rinse, repeat.

My milk did eventually come in a few days later. I was so excited! However, it was clear from the start that my supply was lackluster. In the beginning we were nursing pretty regularly but gradually had to start adding in more formula--she just wasn't getting enough from me. I was pumping too, in addition to nursing, but I really wasn't pumping much. Most days I was only pumping 2-3 ounces over the whole day, barely enough for one bottle and definitely not enough to start up a freezer supply. I drank my weight in water. I ate oatmeal every day and made lactation cookies to try and up my milk production. I tried to keep up with the pumping, but found it difficult to pump when at home by myself during the day (because Layla inevitably would wake up or need me as soon as I would start).

The whole time, Tom was so encouraging of whatever I wanted to do--he was quick to remind me that Layla was thriving and healthy. I knew he was right. Though I hadn't been able to keep her fully fed from my breast milk, I had been able to give her something. In addition, formula meant that he could assist in feeding too, that he could have those opportunities to bond with her as well. I tried to stay positive about it. He encouraged me to go to the breastfeeding support group at the hospital, and shortly after Layla turned a month old, I checked it out.

It was an enlightening experience. We did a weighted feed, and she only transferred ⅔ of an ounce. Not even close to the 3-4 ounces she was eating per session with formula. I had a heart to heart with the lactation consultant and explained everything. She was very gentle and kind with me, but expressed concern with the fact that Layla was almost 5 weeks old and that was all I was producing. She suggested either nursing or pumping, but with as much formula as I was giving her already, to continue nursing and pumping was probably causing more stress than it was worth.

Her suggestion was to do either or, or that I could stop altogether and Layla would be no worse for the wear. “We really want you to enjoy this time. She is only going to be this little once... and look at her. She is healthy and growing and happy. You're doing a good job with her.”  Her voice was so tender and gentle, and I had to fight back the tears at being treated so sweetly in such a vulnerable moment. I had been able to give Layla breast milk, to provide her with the benefits of breastfeeding in those important crucial first days. And she was thriving, even in spite of my lack of supply.

I left with what I knew was my answer… I wasn't exactly happy about it and had a lot of anxiety and sadness. It was causing me a lot of stress but I wanted so badly for breastfeeding to work. I wanted to be able to provide her with everything she needed. I felt like my body had failed me. Except that it hadn't, it has not, failed me. My body grew a beautiful, healthy girl and brought her safely into the world. Breastfeeding might not have worked for us but my body was, is, not a failure.

After all, my body keeps her safe and warm. My arms hold her close and my legs walk her in laps around the apartment. She stares up at me with those big blue eyes of hers when I give her a bottle and she falls asleep easily curled up against me. There are so many ways to bond and just because we aren't nursing doesn't mean we aren't still bonding with one another, learning to trust one another. She is also getting the opportunity to bond more with her dad, now that he can more equally help with feeding her. Making the decision was hard, initially, but ultimately I know this is the right one for our family. 

Though this didn't go the way I planned, I know she will not lack because I chose to stop nursing. I am so glad I gave it a shot for both of us. But breastfeeding is HARD. I knew it would be, but I didn't realize how tough. I have so much respect for mamas who breastfeed and stick with it--and for those who don't, or can't. Breastfeeding is not a requirement for motherhood, just like a “natural” childbirth is not, either. Fed is best! I was not able to produce a full supply for her, but this does not make me any less of a mom, and I am so happy, and relieved, that I can still provide for her. She and I will be fine; we will have so many moments and memories together... and I will treasure those she spent nursing, tucked in against my chest.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

On Motherhood (at five weeks)

Layla is over a month old.  Sometimes I feel like I blinked... how could she possibly be over a month old already?  Other times... the days really do feel rather long.  Still, I'm grateful for all of it.  Being her mom...  how could I ever have imagined how powerful that would be? 

She is the best thing that has ever happened to us.  Frankly, I don't really even remember anymore what life was like without her.  Before her.  I mean, I have these vague notions, but compared to the technicolor wonder of her mere existence, they pale in comparison.

I attempt to do a few self-care type things every day... this is better for my sanity as a mom and better for Layla, too.  One thing I always try to do is take a shower; I haven't been brave enough to attempt it solo, while she naps during the day, but when her dad is home after work, I'm generally able to find the time.  It's like the one moment during the day where I have a few minutes to myself...  I am so happy to share my days, and my whole self, with Layla, but I am still making the transition into this new role... so sometimes it's nice to be able to stand under the hot water and take a deep breath and be still and be singular.  Usually, I miss Layla and her dad already by the time I've put in conditioner and started washing my face.  I guess that's just the way it goes.  I even miss her when she's sleeping sometimes.

I'm lucky that I had a, relatively speaking, complication free pregnancy.  I definitely don't take it for granted.  I found out that I was pregnant on the morning of my 30th birthday (a day I will never, ever forget).  I was so sick in the beginning--I remember a phone call with my mom, where I cried to her that I felt so awful that I couldn't even keep down water, that the only thing that sounded good was cake.  Her response?  "Eat the cake."  Morning sickness was definitely a misnomer for me, but by the time that I got into the second trimester, I started feeling better. 

There were times where I struggled mentally and emotionally with being pregnant...  I loved our kid more than anything in the world, but I felt pretty rough some days. The changes were hard to process, and I felt really uncomfortable in my own body.  As she grew, though, and as I began to feel her move around more often, I began to feel more secure in what was happening to her and to me, more comfortable with being pregnant.  Now that she's here, I find it to be true that I miss feeling her move around in my belly.  I'm glad I have videos and photos to document that connection.

The third trimester was not without its issues...  I ended up having to go to PT because I was experiencing intense back and rib pain, thanks to the girl.  I had to spend time being monitored at Labor and Delivery because I caught a stomach bug and was unable to keep anything down for hours.  They hooked me up to 2.5 bags of fluids and it was probably the most sick I have been in years...  how terrible it felt physically, but also to be that sick while carrying Layla.  I knew she was fine--she had been monitored too--but I felt so protective of her.  I was glad I followed my instincts,

The last month was tough; I kept going to my OB check ups and not having any progress.  Layla was doing great, which was the most important thing... but I was ready to be done, ready to meet her  As the weeks passed I felt more uncomfortable, felt more worse for the wear...  but looked no closer to giving birth.  And as the week of her due date came, and then the actual date itself, and we didn't seem to be ready then yet, either.  Who knew the next day would be the day? 

Being pregnant didn't come naturally to me.  It was hard.  I spent 2017 training for and running the Chicago Marathon, and that was the hardest thing I'd ever done--until I became pregnant.  I wouldn't trade it for anything, and hopefully we'll have the opportunity to do it again in a few years, give Layla a sibling.  Marathon training probably prepared me for this whole thing, if I'm really being honest.  Still, how I always imagined it would go, and how it actually went were pretty different. I am so grateful that my experience laboring and delivering her went so well (even the things that didn't go to plan).  In a series of life-changing moments, our world shifted beyond comprehension.  There she was, the reason for everything.  It made it all worth it.

And, much to my surprise and delight, being Layla's mom came easy for me from the very start.  Even those first days in the hospital, those first few nights where I didn't sleep because every squeak and whimper woke me up (spoiler alert, she's a baby so she's constantly making the most ridiculous noises, even when there's nothing wrong at all!)... those moments where I doubted myself and cried because she just wouldn't latch or she wouldn't quiet down from being fussy or I felt overwhelmed... I never felt like I couldn't do it.  I felt like I was afraid of letting her down, maybe, or like I was afraid I wouldn't be able to console her quickly enough.  But I am hers and she is mine, beyond a shadow of a doubt.  I knew I could do it, that I would, that I would just need to be patient with her and patient with myself.  And so far, we're getting along just fine.  She makes it easy.

Now that she's five weeks old, it's even more wonderful than it was in the beginning: she is waking up and recognizing us and starting to become a little more active in our world every day.  I was so concerned before she got here--I didn't know how to be a mom, how was I supposed to take care of a baby?  I was so worried but it turns out that knowledge, the fundamental role of being one of her keepers, was inherent within me all along.  Being Layla's mom is probably the most natural thing I've ever done, the most important job I've ever had.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Welcome to the World, Layla Eleanor Grace

This is long and it's probably slightly hazy on the very minute details (remember that I'm not getting nearly as much sleep as I used to, haha) but there are moments here that I remember so clearly that they must have just happened and more than anything else I have ever experienced in my life, I needed to write it all down.  It's perhaps the most important story I've ever told.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Hello, friends!  It's been a while...   A lot of really crazy and wonderful things have happened since I wrote last.  I turned 30 and celebrated with the perfect night downtown, we moved from Edgewater to a two-bedroom in Evanston, Tom ran two marathons (DNF one, but victoriously finished the other), he got a new job, and I gave birth just 10 days ago to our firstborn daughter.

(Photo thanks to Tom)

Say hello to Layla Eleanor Grace!  Born November 10 at 12:10pm--8 lbs 13 oz, 19.75 inches long.  The most beautiful thing I've ever seen.  The sweetest, most laid-back little one.  She's only been with us for 10 days but it feels like we've known her forever.  Already I cannot imagine my life without her.

Though I haven't done any writing here the last nine months, I have been keeping up with it!  In July, I started keeping a journal for Layla and have been writing her letters since the second trimester.  I've continued writing to her now that she is born.  I also documented my pregnancy via my Instagram, which you can find @veilsandstarlight, lots of short-form writing, bits and pieces of the adventure of growing a daughter.

I am still looking for the words to perfectly capture how I am feeling about this new stage in our lives, but suffice to say, I am delightfully sleep-deprived, I am more in love with my husband than I thought possible, I am head over heels about this tiny girl.  Somehow I really do feel like I've woken up from a deep sleep to a bigger and brighter and more vibrant world, and I'm finding my voice again in this place, with her in it.  More to come soon!