4.16.2017

adoptive moms can get the baby blues, too

Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine who is also an adoptive mother. We were discussing the way society seems to believe adoptive mothers simply bounce back after baby, as if they are immune from the anxiety and the depression (and the the fear and chaos and sleep deprivation) that mothers who gave birth tend to experience. It was an a-ha! moment for me because I realized then how right she was. We had a great deal of support from friends and family during Carmen's entry into our family, and I was fortunate to escape the baby blues (this go 'round) that often accompanies new motherhood -- but not everyone shares that same luck. I've been told before how lucky I am to have the joy of a newborn without the pain of giving birth, and as someone who has also given birth I can understand the intention behind the comment.

After all, I had a c-section with Ethan that was a far cry from routine and my issues continued into the postpartum period for sometime. Of course, my husband had a nice chunk of paid paternity leave following the birth of our child so I wasn't alone at home and, moreso, I'm pretty sure we had visitors every moment of every day bringing by food, helping out. Our pediatrician was on call for all of my new mom questions and when I cried to my OB that I was feeling very depressed and anxious about breastfeeding failures, I got the support I needed -- including a handy phone number to a counselor who specialized in postpartum depression and anxiety. While, no, I didn't just have my body stitched back together when I strapped Carmen into the car seat upon hospital discharge, I still had a newborn in my care who we were just beginning to start the bonding process with. No one was sleeping, I had another child at home desperate for normalcy and my attention, and life was just supposed to snap back to where it was -- including my husband having to go back to work right away. I won't pretend I didn't cry those first few nights from the exhaustion and stress of it all, the conglomerate of happy disbelief and overwhelmed exhaustion wreaking havoc on my body.

For many adoptive mothers, the bonding begins when the baby comes home. You don't have the option of caring for the child in utero. You don't get those moments bonding over food cravings and sleep patterns, or the way the baby moves to the beat of a certain song. You don't particularly know whose baby photos she resembles more, or whose allergies she has inherited. In our case, we visited our daughter in the NICU and she still legally had a different last name than ours. Most of the nurses were understanding and knew we were adoptive parents, but there were a couple of greeters who explained in great detail we would need parental permission to visit. Ouch. You do a lot of explaining and guessing in those early days, which is really unnatural in terms of mothering. I felt admittedly very self-conscious about having to answer "I don't know" to most of the questions on our newborn check-up at the pediatrician because I was her mother -- how could I not know? I'm pretty sure I legitimately brought a family tree print-out to Ethan's first visit with everyone's allergy or ailment clearly marked. For me, as someone whose body carried a terminally ill child and who gave birth to death and then delved into the pits of infertility, I struggled mostly with wanting to feel accepted as a mother. I wanted people to stop asking me if I wanted their breastmilk -- a well-intentioned offer that read more like a reminder of all the ways my body was inferior to everyone else's -- and to stop speaking to me like I found a baby on the side of the road who I had no connection with ("do you think she knows who you are?"). There's that anxiety when the baby cries and you don't know how to calm her -- in Carmen's case, it was silent reflux -- when logic falls by the wayside and you're wondering if she doesn't accept you as her mother and what if she doesn't love you with the unconditional love that you're already pouring all over her? For some adoptive mothers, bonding is hard and bonding takes time. For some adoptive mothers, mothering begins as a routine and an adjustment period until one day it just becomes as natural as breathing -- but sometimes that takes time, and sometimes it takes work. Sometimes it causes great stress and great sadness and there is no OB who pulls you aside to slip you a little piece of paper with a counselor's phone number written on it.

For me, when Carmen first came home, everyone seemed to want to know about her birth family. While I was quick to ensure no one ever shook their heads with disgust upon the assumption she was an unwanted or discarded baby, it felt very dismissive. With Ethan's arrival, people asked if we were sleeping or eating or how much he weighed or if we needed any help with anything. With Carmen's arrival, people asked about her birth parents and were they teenagers and why did they decide on adoption and is it an open or closed adoption, anyway? For some adoptive mothers, and certainly myself, the guilt in those early days was palpable and stressful. Being bombarded with inquiries that concerned no one else but us was intense and a major trigger for my anxiety. "But how much did it cost?" people asked as I tried to let my oldest have some normalcy time at the playground. No.

When you bring home a baby you gave birth to, you bring home a baby into your home and settle yourselves into your own routine and schedule. When you bring home a baby through adoption, you have to clear your calendar for post-placement visits and finalization dates. One time in particular, I had to rush Ethan home from art class as he wailed he wanted to stay because we had to rush home to meet the social worker. And then you wonder if your house is clean enough, if they're going to mark you off for your lack of laundry skills or the banana peel browning on the kitchen table that you overlooked. You're going to wonder if they can tell you haven't been sleeping or if they're going to take your dirty yoga pants and mom bun as a sign you're failing at motherhood because you just can't look as put together as you wanted to for this occasion. You're going to have to answer questions about your relationship and life and children and make sure you have clear answers from the pediatrician with the baby's measurements and vaccination records. You just want to pass every test because you love your child so much, you do, and you don't want anyone to doubt you.

I was fortunate enough to have friends who put together a Meal Train for my family and so we were fed for those first couple weeks -- but from my research, not all adoptive mothers receive that level of care. I had missed a dentist appointment that I forgot about in the chaos of the adoption process and, when the receptionist called to scold me and reschedule me, I blurted out we just adopted a baby and I'm so tired and sorry. She was quick to point out that I didn't have the baby so my mind should be a lot sharper. She meant it as a joke, but I wasn't laughing -- and I found a new dentist, too. I began to quickly fall behind in Ethan's schedule, with his lessons and classes and playdates as well as his homeschool activities. There was a lot of pressure to bounce back, snap back, integrate myself back into everyday life because my body wasn't healing. I was apologizing a lot in those days and beating myself up with what I thought were failures but now I see was just normal life with a newborn in tow. Because a newborn is a newborn, no matter how the baby came to be.

When there's no OB appointment to follow up with every few weeks, there's no one to ask how you're doing or notice your tears. There's no one to ask how your mental health is. There's no one looking out for the warning signs of depression or anxiety in adoptive mothers as there are in women who have just given birth. I've come to realize that adoptive mothers spend a lot of time trying to remind people that they're mothers and those early days are no exception but somewhere in the exhaustion and chaos and diapers and bonding, you don't have the words for your feelings. Sometimes you're just sad. Sometimes you're just scared. Sometimes you wish you had a village huddled around you as someone who gives birth has, reminding you that you just brought a baby home and to be gentle with yourself -- and asking how they can help, if you're eating, if you're sleeping and if you're doing okay.

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easter 2017

Is it totally weird to say, as a completely non-religious person who doesn't even hail from a Christian family, that Easter is totally one of my favorite holidays? It's true, though, at least since becoming a mother. There's just something fun about setting my alarm to ensure a before-the-kids wake up and hiding plastic eggs in the yard to be found by an excited basket wielding child. There's something fun about making baskets and all things bunnies and chocolate, and then seeing them all through the eyes of a child as well. I also like that Easter is far more chill than the other holidays, at least at our house. Last Easter, Carmen was new and laid on a blanket in the backyard while Ethan busily hunted eggs around her. This year, I was sure she would be walking by the time Easter rolled around but although she's so close, she's not quite there yet. Still, Ethan had a blast hunting for eggs in the yard alongside his crawling companion. They just fit so beautifully together, these two. I love their love.

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4.15.2017

easter baskets: ages 5 and 1

I meant to have this post up days ago but, like most of my big ideas, that sort of flopped -- or at the very least, fell victim to the kind of chaotic schedule that accompanies two small children. Alas, it's the night before Easter and the plastic eggs have been stuffed (shout out to Bitsy's Brainfood for my sugar-less alternatives!) and the baskets are finished.

I like to try to keep as much sugar and junk out of the baskets as possible just because there is so much sugar circulating around at all of the parties, classes and events leading up to an actual holiday. The last two years, I gave Ethan the joy of a chocolate bunny as my one sugary exception. For the most part, I like to stick with simple basket themes: things to do, things to wear, things to read. Here's a little peek at what is waiting for the kids tomorrow morning!

Carmen, age 1:

Inside Carmen's basket, you'll find:

  • A new t-shirt (Cat & Jack is life, am I right?)
  • Haba brand wooden rainbow clutching toy
  • Two board books
  • Monkey Feet moccs
  • Box of Ella's Kitchen organic snacks
  • Joovy Pengoo straw cup
  • Battat keys toy
  • Green Sprouts first toothbrush

Next up is Ethan's basket, age 5 (*gulp* almost 6):

In Ethan's basket, you'll find:

  • LEGO Easter chick building set
  • Lush Rainbow Fun and golden egg bath goodies
  • Three new beginning readers books
  • New hat
  • Tickle Me Plant seeds
  • Seedles Wildflower seed bombs
  • Tie-Dye kit (from Amazon)
  • Pals Socks -- mismatched socks because "it's fun to be friends with someone who is different." I'm obsessed!


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4.13.2017

fun times at the brand new legoland beach retreat

We love Legoland. Forget the other theme parks that Central Florida is known for -- our family has major Legoland loyalty. We've been members for a couple of years now and frequently make the not-too-terrible day trip (two and a half hours each way) often. A couple of years ago, we got to take a sneak peek at the Legoland Hotel and were so impressed that it was hard to contain our excitement at the news that Legoland was set to open their brand new Beach Retreat! The Beach Retreat is now open, but we were honored to be able to take another behind the scenes stay to check out the property prior to the public opening. Unlike the hotel which is located on theme park grounds, the Beach Retreat is conveniently located across from the theme park. This gives it a more vacation-y (work with me) feel and really gives it the full #BrickBeach effect. If you're thinking that staying adjacent to the park is an inconvenience, think again -- because literally everything about the Beach Retreat screams convenience (especially if you're a parent).

For starters, as soon as we drove onto the Beach Retreat property we were greeted by check-in staff. Yes, you read that correctly: it's a drive up check-in. No getting out of the car, yielding luggage and overly excited kids. Everything is done from the car. Once checked in, you are given directions to the cove where your villa is located. The villas, keeping in typical Lego theme, are bright and bold and colorful.

Each cove has it's own playground and I feel the need to touch on that, because the focus on play that Lego and Legoland always brings to the table makes my heart so happy. Play is always the focus when it comes to Legoland -- imagination, creativity, all of it -- and I love that so much about the park. The Beach Retreat is no different. As I mentioned, each cove has it's own playground, nestled in the center of a cluster of villas. This means that parents can sit on the little porch, sip coffee and watch the kids burn the last of their energy. Our villa in particular had a beautiful lake view. You don't really think picturesque views when you think theme park hotels, but that's one of the things that sets the Beach Retreat apart -- the view was very scenic and relaxing!

Once we entered the villa, Ethan was the first to notice the flower leis on the bed which totally tied in the tropical vibe! A big box of brand new Duplo blocks awaited both kids who couldn't wait to tear into them and get building. The villas have a main bedroom that includes a safe, drawers, a refrigerator and a coffee maker (a necessity when traveling with kids, of course). To the left is the kid's nook which actually sleeps three, as the bottom bunk is also a trundle bed. There is a privacy curtain that you can pull closed to give both parents and kids some privacy and a good night of sleep. The bathrooms are also pleasantly big and I loved that the toilets included a kid-sized toilet seat! (It's the little things.)

We changed the kids into swimsuits and then made the short trek to the main resort lobby which houses a gorgeous (and gigantic!) pool. I love that the pool had a beach-style entry so kids could walk in at their leisure -- and play with all of the big, floating Lego bricks. In addition to an awesome pool, the pool area (which has floors made of sand to perfectly keep with the beach theme) also has a walk-up bar, live music (which encourages kids to join in the fun with some percussion instruments), a popsicle cart and an incredible playground.

Inside the lobby itself is the resort restaurant, as well as a gift shop (that carries all of the essentials parents inevitably forget, even pacifiers). After getting the kids changed back into regular clothes, we checked out the restaurant for dinner. Even with our food allergies (my husband has Celiac disease and must be gluten-free), everyone was able to find something to eat. Dinner was buffet style and there was something for everyone: Carmen went the black beans and rice route, whereas Ethan opted for Italian food.

As soon as you enter the restaurant, there is a massive Lego structure for kids to build. The little hands and little minds never stop! This building activity was especially fun for Ethan the next morning while I talked to friends and fellow bloggers after breakfast (which was also delicious and I wholly recommend the French toast sticks).

Check out was just as easy as check-in, and done as a drive-through service on our way out of the hotel and into the park. All Beach Retreat guests receive early access into the park which is a perk in itself when you have early risers. The new Beach Retreat is fantastic and is a definite must to check out for your next trip to Legoland Florida. We promise -- you'll get hooked as much as we did! At Legoland, everything is awesome -- and the new Beach Retreat is no exception!

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3.22.2017

time waits for no one and other unbelievable truths

I have always been a self-proclaimed tortured soul, dating back for as long as I can remember. As a preteen, I discovered black eyeliner and the picturesque way it drips eerily down your face when you cry while writing poetry and, well, I was home. I would always call my grandmother to rant and rave about my woes and troubles, as she was somehow always the only person who didn't attempt to solve my problems or trivialize the ache I was feeling. For hours, she would listen to me read poetry about heartbreak and loneliness tied up in neat little analogies that showcased death and cyanide quite often. She never tried to give me advice, although I wouldn't be surprised if she was rolling her eyes on the other line as we spoke. The one thing she did always slip into every conversation was: "just try to enjoy your life. It goes so fast." As a teenager, it didn't go very fast. As a college student, well, it didn't go very fast, either. It wasn't until I became a mother that I realized just how loose my grip on time truly is.

I became a mother before most of my friends and, as a mother, I struggled to meet people who I was comfortable letting into my truest self. Due to all that and also our decision to redshirt Ethan, he is a good year older than most of his friends and a couple years older than some of the friends he's made in his extracurricular activities. As a gentle giant, this doesn't phase him. He seems to not notice that he towers over the children in his gym class, which would probably happen anyway because he's tall for his age, too. But around me, my friends are all filled with relief they have another year of preschool before Kindergarten. And around Ethan, his friends are all gearing up for the final round of preschool come the fall.

...And then there is me, with Kindergarten taunting me on the horizon and me crying myself to sleep 4/7 nights per week in utter disbelief that this is here already. I mean, I can still feel the sensation of my water breaking as Ethan made his surprise entrance into the world. I can still remember the burning exhaustion and newness of those first days as a clueless new mother. I can still feel those meandering afternoons spent at the park, wasting the hours until dinnertime because each moment felt too precious to waste sitting at home. They felt like they would last forever, those long days. It felt like there was always time. Other people would post their children's first day of school pictures and I felt like I had dodged a bullet because we had forever to go.

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If two years ago you had asked me to imagine what my life would be like now, two years later, I never would have pictured this. I wouldn't have pictured prepping one almost-six year old for Kindergarten and mommy and me classes with my one year old. I wouldn't have pictured like rolling so smoothly -- too smoothly -- into the next phase as if it was the most normal thing in the world. But then I guess it is the most normal thing in the world, children growing up and life going by in the blink of an eye. "I'm independent now," Ethan told me this morning as he slipped his legs into his favorite pair of whale leggings. "We're still a team, though. I can be your baby when I'm 100. I'm just independent right now because I like to put my own pants on."

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