Social Media Fast

Day 1 Sunday 9/26/19

The second I deleted the social media apps off my phone, I felt a moment of panic.
“What did I just get myself into?” I shook my head and deeply sighed…but there was no going back. It’s hard to back out after a public declaration, precisely why I made it so in the first place. 

All day, I caught myself reaching for my phone in order to try to check social or to post to my Instagram story but realizing I couldn’t. I felt a little lost about what to do in my spare time. It was the first time I objectively understood how much I relied on social media for something to do in my spare time or to “unwind.” 

Day 2 Friday 9/27/19 

I worked the entire weekend, Friday to Sunday. Not having Instagram as a distraction at work was a downer, especially when the clinic was slow going. Instead, I started reading Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave and caught up on evidence-based nursing articles. 

Day 5 Monday 9/30/19

I had a day off! I woke up bright and early at 6am. My mom came over shortly after to hang out with Zoya. My grand plan was to clean out my closet, go through all the containers in my basement and get out my winter clothes…as well as finally get rid of all the clothes I had been hoarding for years in bins in preparation for that garage sale I would have one day. Without the constant interruption of notifications on my phone, I was able to get everything in my closet perfectly hung and folded by 9am. I spent the next hour and a half going through all the bins in the basement, separating what I could possibly consign and what needed to go straight to Goodwill. Zoya was napping by then, so my mom helped me carry giant  packed garbage bags of clothes to my car. I drive a sedan…but that thing was packed to the brim! Seeing how much stuff I had been holding on to was equal parts shocking and shameful. I could only imagine how much money and time it all amounted to…not to mention the sheer excess. 

At 11am I drove to Crossroads Trading Company in Evanston and consigned what I could. Afterwards, I took the rest straight to Goodwill and broke a sweat loading it into their blue plastic wheelie bins…but it felt so good to say goodbye. Kind of like breaking off a bad relationship. I rewarded myself with an iced tea and pastry from Collectivo Coffee (sustenance is vital, after all!). 

Without losing momentum, I also cleaned out our office and recycled a bunch of old paperwork that I had been saving from the era of nursing school. Another giant box of stuff gone. 

My legs were buzzing by the end of the day but I felt so accomplished. I know for a fact that if I had been allowing myself to take “breaks” to watch Instagram stories, I would have never been as productive.

Day 8 Thursday 10/3/19

I made it one week! My withdrawal from social media was officially gone and I decided to keep going for a bit longer. 

Thursday was date night, planned by Vlad. We had his mom come out and stay in the house with Zoya while we went out to Found Kitchen and Social House. It’s a really cute small plates and cocktail restaurant with eclectic and bohemian decor. We cozied up on a loveseat and ate lamb meatballs and truffle fries and talked. No phones in sight, no documenting on social media…just quality time. 

Day 9 Friday 10/4/19

I was reflecting on my social media break while taking a much deserved shower after an  intense workout. Aren’t long, hot showers some of the best places to ponder life? Not having social media accounts to check and post to every day, multiple times a day was truly liberating. My productivity level skyrocketed in these days. I was more intentional and mentally present while spending time with family and friends. I also wasn’t sharing my life moments on my Insta feed, which made me realize how accustomed I had grown to doing that…and to seeking validation through my sharing. When I needed someone to celebrate a life win with, or someone to comiserate with about a rough morning, the easiest solution was to post about it to my story. I knew my post would generate several responses in my inbox. I could get the instant gratification of just about anything in my life being publicly affirmed with just one snap of the camera. 

It’s less vulnerable than prayer or talking. It’s also cingey and hard to admit, even in the solitude of the shower.

There were also good parts of social media that I really missed, like being able to keep up with my friends in other parts of the world. And seeing everyone’s silly, sarcastic Instagram story posts. 

I began to see clearly that it’s not the social media that’s the problem, it’s the misuse that becomes unhealthy. The mindless scrolling, the low-key affirmation fishing, the comparisons – those are the issues. 

That’s a lot of deep thought for one shower!

As my social media fast comes to an end, I am grateful for the desire I had to do it in the first place. Giving something up is never easy, even if it’s outwardly superficial. Removing myself from social media gave me clarity on how easy it is to become dependent on it, and the faulty tendencies within me. Hindsight is always truly 20/20. 

Going forward, I hope that this experience will serve as a gauge for me. I want to maintain a healthy boundary with social and seek to connect with people in an organic fashion.

I want to be comfortable with my choices simply because I made them, not because my Insta friends sent me a clapping hands emoji.

Certainly, I won’t be perfect. Figuring out how to balance technology with in life is a challenge everyone faces in the world today. For every amazing advance and incredible new platform, there are so many possible pitfalls. 

I’m no exception. I’m just happy to be learning. 

Resolutions for a More Intentional Life

It has been two months since I last wrote, not because I haven’t wanted to, but because I needed the mental break. I wanted to spend the end of summer enjoying our little family to the fullest, not agonize over posts and editing. I also took a purposeful step away from the pressure of “delivering content” to reaffirm within myself what it is that I want to write about. This blog was started with the vision of authenticity, not posting to keep up a following or attain sponsorships. 

Lately, I have been taking very similar steps back in multiple areas of my life. I am uncertain what brought this bought of introspection on; possibly a mix of having a baby and turning 30. 

This is such a cliche, but time really does speed by once you exit your twenties and have kids.

Zoya recently turned ten months and is actually fun to hang around with so my days no longer drag endlessly. In fact, Vlad and I both agreed the other night as we were performing our nightly ritual of cleaning the kitchen, time is now running at the clip of an Olympic track star. 

Given the speed of its passing, these past two months I have been contemplating a lot about how I want to use my time. I want my days to amount to more meaning and purpose than simply getting by. Taking a blogging break was one way to pare down for a moment. It has become apparent to me that there are certain unhealthy habits I need to let go of and certain life-giving ones that I must prioritize much more.

What better way to keep oneself accountable than by sharing on how I plan to use my time with more wisdom and intention in my thirties? 

First, for the habits I want to ditch:

Social media.

Let me just say that there is nothing wrong with social media in its purest form. I think its an amazing way to keep up with friends and an avenue for creativity. But guys, we all can acknowledge that it can be such a time suck. Not to mention all of the insecurities that arise from the unrealistic standards social media purports, and the superficial sense of being connected. Some are better at controlling their usage than others. Admittedly, I am not one of those “better” people. Vlad has called me out countless times and I am finally at the point where I am done making excuses. In fact, I cringingly admit that I am a somewhat irresponsible user who habitually and mindlessly scrolls through social at any point when there is a perceived lag in the time. I don’t even want to know how many hours I’ve wasted looking at other people’s lives instead of living my own. Having said that, I am going on a one week total social media fast (gasp!) in order to detox. Once the week is over, I will resume usage in a (hopefully) more curtailed fashion. 

Netflix.

Again, nothing wrong with it on its own. Vlad and I love to watch psychological thriller or crime shows together after Zoya goes to sleep. It’s a fun way to indulge together…but I also tend to mindlessly watch shows in my free time during the day. I typically find myself flipping on the TV during Zoya’s naps in order to fill in the void of silence and end up half-watching a few episodes while simultaneously scrolling through Instagram, of course (face palm!). Before I know it, an hour has passed by. It’s neither productive nor is it truly restful. Therefore, along with my social media fast, I am also doing a one week personal streaming services fast. Here goes nothing!

Shopping.

OK, so this is a big one for me. Going into stores to browse as a recreational activity is one that I have really started to question lately. It wastes my time. It wastes my money. It feeds into the consumer driven cultural lie that buying something or treating myself will lead to a deep, satisfying and lasting joy. Reality is, all it leads to is piles of stuff that was a great bargain or I thought would be needed one day cluttering up my closets and basement. 

I was recently reading on blogger Meg Hall’s pledge to No Shop ‘19, a year in which she doesn’t shop for any new clothes whatsoever and only buys new toiletries when current items run out. You can read more about her decision here. It’s really inspired me to re-think my buying habits. I don’t know if totally not shopping is a feasible feat for me, but being more intentional with my purchases is possible. This resolution will hopefully not only free up our funds for other types of spending (or saving, cause that’s cool too) but challenge me to stop seeking contentment in a shallow place. 

And now the habits I want to cultivate:

Quiet time: 

I made a whole post about the importance of a regular quiet time, yet I am still on the struggle bus! The reason being not lack of desire, but lack of hours in the day. I am excited to see how cutting out Netflix and social media will impact my ability to really dig into the Word and having quality prayer on a daily basis…and how that will, in turn, affect my spiritual growth and walk on a practical level. 

Reading.

I used to be one of those kids who came out of the library with a giant stack of books every week. Reading helped me learn English as a second language, opened up my worldview and given me a passion for writing. There is so much research available on how sitting down with a good book is so, so good for you. Since getting married, having Zoya and going to grad school, which sucks all the fun out of books, making time to read for fun has been increasingly difficult. I’m not counting non-fiction books I have read on theology for small group and personal growth. The most time I have spent reading for pure fun has been on beach vacations, which we don’t take all that often. That’s just sad. It’s time for a change, so I have been taking time in the evenings after Zoya’s bedtime to just sit and devour a good book. My most recent one has been We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter; it made me laugh and cry and feel all the feels. Hopefully my next one will be just as juicy.

Exercise.

I already work out on a regular basis but not having shopping or social media to serve as distractions will free me up to be a more focused and committed gym member. Crossing my fingers for this one, guys.

I am planning to keep you all posted of my progress and inevitable mishaps via this blog. Once my week-long social media and Netflix fast is complete, I will be putting up a dear diary style post of how the detox went and all the things I accomplished with my free time. I am also gearing up to do a major closet and storage clean-out in order to pare down to a more capsule-style wardrobe and will be documenting that adventure as well. 

It’s going to be radical. 

Until next time! 

A photo of me spending time partaking in a worthy activity: eating spicy fried chicken!

Sleepy Baby

Sleep. It’s so precious, especially so for new parents. I have shared tidbits about our journey to sleeping through the night with Zoya on social media and have gotten a lot of questions and requests for a post on methods used.

Before I begin to share, I want to preface with a few disclaimers:

I do not see myself as a baby sleep expert(although they are out there and they are fabulous!). The following is not so much a how-to on getting your baby to sleep well as it is a record of what Vlad and I did to reach that point in our family.

We did not follow any one particular sleep training method. Instead, we did a lot of research on all of them, as well as the science behind infant sleep, to come up with a strategy that made sense for us and one we were comfortable with. I think this really helped us stay unwavering on the path even when things got bumpy. After all, its really hard to follow through on anything you don’t understand or are having trouble reconciling in your head.

I give you a list of strategies, in no particular order, that we used that I believe were most paramount to our eventual success.

  • Build a bedtime routine & keep it consistent: Babies love this and widespread supporting evidence exists to back it up (BabyCenter, 2019). When we first brought Zoya home from the NICU, she had to eat every 4 hours around the clock no matter what – so we were waking her up constantly. As soon as we got the all clear from the pediatrician for her to feed on demand, we began implementing a bedtime routine and allowing her to sleep as long as she wanted (around 6 weeks, 38 weeks gestation adjusted for her premature age). The routine consisted of a final bedtime bottle, diaper change and a fresh pajama, and a song or book. The routine began paying off quickly – she realized that all of these steps, in their sequential order, meant bedtime and started sleeping at least 6 hours at a time. We were thrilled! Having sleep is a valuable commodity to us, so we constantly make sacrifices in order to keep things consistent – this means leaving parties early and scheduling other activities accordingly in order to make it home for bedtime. I see it as a classic “doing what’s best for your child” parenting moment; certainly difficult at times but ultimately very rewarding for all involved.
  • Create an association between the crib and sleep:Piggybacking off of bedtime routine creating a cue for sleep within a baby, I wanted Zoya’s crib to create the same effect. Although this was difficult in the newborn stage, I tried my best not to let her snooze in anything but actual designated sleep areas that were flat, hard surfaces: her crib, bassinet or pack n’ play. When she would fall asleep in a swing or my arms, I would quickly transfer her¹. Adding to this, I keep the crib as a sleep only zone – no toys, playing or hanging out allowed. I’ve definitely been tempted to use the crib as a playpen while I got things done but refusing to give in has yielded awesome results. When she’s in her crib, Zoya knows what needs to happen.
  • Learn & listen to sleep cues:Yawning, rubbing eyes, a suddenly cranky mood – all of these are signs that Zoya (and most other babies) is ready for sleep (Karp, H., 2019). We learned to watch out for those cues and respond to them quickly by ceasing activities and putting her down for a nap. Initially, we would try to stave off naps and bedtime with the thought process that if she would sleep less or stay up later during the day, she would sleep longer during the night. We quickly found out that this was not the case. If sleep cues went ignored, Zoya would get very frustrated, tearful and eventually, overtired. This made it actually harder to get her to go to sleep and stay that way! If you have done any baby sleep research, you have probably heard the phrase “sleep begets sleep”, coined by Dr. Mark Weissbluth (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, 2015). As we progressed along our journey to quality sleep, Vlad and I both noticed that when we quickly responded to Zoya’s sleep cues, she would take longer & better naps. The better the daytime naps, the easier time we had with her during the day and at bedtime. Paying attention in an effort to not allow her to become overtired actually led us to the decision to move her bedtime up from 9:30pm to 8:30 to 7:30…until we finally hit the sweet spot of 6:30.
  • A calming environment before bed is gold:Zoya has major FOMO (aka Fear of Missing Out, for those unaware). She wants to see and do it all, no matter how tired she actually is. This desire to keep participating despite exhaustion also makes it very easy for caretakers to miss her sleep cues. We had to understand that just because Zoya keeps playfully interacting does not mean that she is not tired. It’s totally unfair then to expect her to shut herself down instantly when its time for bed. When we are out and about, leaving any area with a lot of activity and things to look at for a few minutes allows her to settle, leading to great stroller naps. During bedtime, we intentionally destimulate her and create a calming atmosphere. This involves stopping rambunctious games, singing and speaking in soft voices, blinds down and dim lighting while implementing the bedtime routine. If you have not done this previously, I would probably suggest to destimulate even earlier, up to half an hour prior to bed.
  • Ditch the sleep crutches:This was probably the most difficult aspect to our sleep journey, and the one that stood in the gap between Zoya and sleeping through the night. As explained by Dr. Shana Christian, my amazing pediatrician, a sleep crutch can be anything (or anyone!) the baby uses as a “step” to help them go to sleep. When they hit the light sleep stage of the sleep cycle and wake themselves up, they feel the need for the “step” of the crutch in order to fall back asleep. Habits start to really take hold at 6 months and up, at which point it becomes more and more difficult to wean from sleep aids. Thankfully, we were always pretty good about not letting Zoya spend a ton of time sleeping in our arms or in bed with us¹. After the bedtime routine, we would place her in the crib, sing the goodnight song and walk out. When she was really little, she would sometimes cry at this point so we would sit with her for a little, sometimes picking her up to soothe for a minute or so. Ultimately though, we would always make a point to exit while she was still awake so that she would learn to get herself to sleep on her own. This worked really well but there were still a few other sleep crutches we needed to get rid of. Namely, a tight swaddle, a paci and a nighttime bottle. If you want me to go into detail about the transition from a swaddle and saying goodbye to paci, I will be happy to do this in a subsequent post. However, since this one is already lengthy, I will just resort to saying it was done successfully. The bottle was the hardest to let go – in part because of all of Zoya’s crutches, this one was massive (plus we waited a bit long – 8 months) and in part because I was so used to ensuring her growth progress as a preemie with consistent eating. I consulted my friend, NICU nurse and certified infant sleep consultant Kate Arquilla (follow her @bumble.baby on Insta!), who calmed by anxieties by saying that as long as babies are over 12lbs and eating over 24oz per day, they are ready to go through the night without a bottle. We started by going in to her room for quick soothe sessions when she would cry for her bottle at around 3amevery night. This worked initially, but after a week she would only calm down while we were at her bedside and become absolutely hysterical upon our exit. I guess I expected to keep soothing her successfully until she realized she needed to sleep through the night, when in reality I was supposed to phase out the soothing and let her figure it out. When, after two weeks of no progress, we finally made the executive decision to let her cry it out, it took about two nights for her to grasp the concept of self-soothing and sleeping through the night. Here is where you find us today…

Zoya goes to sleep at 6:30pm; she knows her bedtime like its her mantra & will begin asking to be put down even if she’s been in an active and playful mood all evening. She will sleep until anywhere from 5:30 to 6:30am, at which point she wakes up and begins babbling in her room to get our attention. We wake up, change her and feed her a morning bottle. Most mornings she is not quite ready to wake up for real, so after she has breakfast she goes back to sleep until around 8:30am. This is phenomenal because it gives Vlad and I the chance to either sleep in a little, have a productive “adults only” morning or for our childcare provider to get settled in the house. Throughout the day, Zoya has two naps consistently; that sometimes gets adjusted to three depending on what’s going on – again, we watch and follow her sleep cues above holding to a rigorous schedule. In fact, there have been times that she has napped pretty much up until her bedtime. We were very skeptical about her going down successfully for a night during a day like that, but lo and behold – she does.

If I do have any advice that I can confidently give out as “advice” and not just a retelling of my story, it would be this – There are going to be times when things are really, really tough. I would be lying if I said I didn’t cry in bed at least a few times during the stage when we took away the bottle and Zoya was having a fit in her room.

Support during those times is everything. Whatever method you choose to follow, or if you blend techniques, arrive at a united front with your partner. Talk to people who care for baby when you are not around so they are also on the same page. Have people in your life who have been there to reach out to during the tough moments and to reassure you that you aren’t breaking your baby. Speak with your pediatrician or an infant sleep expert and let them be your personal guides. Armed with knowledge and support, be confident that you are teaching your baby, growing them, and ultimately setting them up for success.

Remember that every baby is unique. I understand that what worked for Zoya may not be the perfect formula for our next little (whenever they may arrive) or your current one. Allow for trial and error as you figure out what works in your particular situation.

Keep in mind that any good thing takes time. It took us pretty much eight months to get to our current situation. We didn’t institute all these routines and principles in a single night. In fact, we would usually only introduce one big change at a time, allow her to get used to it and slowly move into the next phase. We had no expectations on timeline. Zoya took two nights to figure out she didn’t need a paci to sleep but almost three weeks to be fully sleeping through the night without a feed. I always just prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.

Also expect setbacks. Sleep regression is real, just as travel, teething, or just simply rough days can throw make all your efforts seemingly go out the window. I assure you that your work is not wasted if you don’t let it be. Stay consistent and power through the hard nights.  The more consistent you will be despite circumstances,  the less confusing it will be for baby. You will arrive back at a good place faster than if you allow exceptions to the rules you set. I am telling you honestly that there are times even now when I am tempted to give Zoya a paci because it seems like the easy way out of a bad situation…but I resist because I know I will be setting her back in the long run. Vlad and I have resolved to have a “no going back” mentality.   

Having achieved Zoya sleeping through the night has been a dream pretty much since the day she was born. It’s hard to believe we have actually arrived. One challenge down, about a thousand more to go…am I right?

If you have any specific questions, as always, don’t hesitate to reach out via email, comments or Insta. I don’t know if I can find a solution, but I am always happy to lend an ear.

Footnote:

¹Per the safe sleep guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants are to be put to sleep on their backs, on a flat, hard surface without any soft pillows, blankets or toys (2016). Incidentally, a lot of items and practices not supported by the AAP such as DockATots or cosleeping can actually be considered sleep crutches that you will eventually have to work on weaning. The only exception to this would be a paci, which when used appropriately, is shown to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. We noticed that following the AAP guidelines actually helped us develop Zoya’s healthy sleep habits with less bumps in the road.

References:

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016). SIDS and other sleep related infant deaths: Updated 2016 recommendations for a safe infant sleep environment. Pediatrics: 138(5).

BabyCenter. (2019). The basics of baby schedules: Why, when and how to start a routine. https://www.babycenter.com/0_the-basics-of-baby-schedules-why-when-and-how-to-start-a-rou_3658352.bc

Karp, H. (2019). There’s a ‘golden moment’ for putting your baby to sleep. Happiest Baby: https://www.happiestbaby.com/blogs/baby/signs-your-baby-is-ready-for-sleep.

Self Care on a Sunday

Confession: I had a little bit of a meltdown the other day.

There was no particular trigger. Instead, tiny little details took up residence on my shoulders, wearing me down until I broke. Work, figuring out dinner, sleep training, my phone constantly buzzing with brand new text messages coming in from well-meaning friends…suddenly it was all so overwhelming and exhausting.

I came home wailing to Vlad that I needed a break from life. I did the thing I promised myself I wouldn’t do – grin and bear it all until I could no more.

As a extroverted introvert, I love to be around people but ultimately, when I need rest, I have to be alone. I guess I didn’t realize until this very moment that being home alone with Zoya didn’t constitute as true alone time. It’s not like we were having deep soul conversations for hours on a daily basis, but caring for a human depending on me for her every need was pretty depleting. I would try to stop and take a break during her nap times (they are pretty epic and can last as long as 2 hours). Yet, somehow, sitting on the couch surrounded by teething toys and thinking of the pile of dirty dishes in the sink was not very restful. Do you catch the sarcasm there?

I needed to intentionally take time away. From Zoya, from Vlad, from my IPhone.

Self care is so important – this I knew and proclaimed from a pedestal to others, yet I had a very hard time putting it into practice. Looking at things objectively, I had an irrational guilt about leaving my fully capable husband at home with our daughter while I went and did “me”. I cringed at the thought of being thought of as selfish, unproductive or inattentive.

Finally confessing all of this to Vlad in a tearful jag in our semi-lit kitchen at 9pm one night helped reaffirm that not only were my anxieties just that, but that self-care is imperative. It’s like putting on your oxygen mask on first before helping those around you. And it looks a little different for everyone. Together, we made a plan that I would take intentional time away on a regular basis in order to breathe and re-center myself, whatever that meant.

Through this experience, I was also reminded that the ultimate self-care comes from outside oneself. I don’t want to get all cheesy women’s Bible study here, but regular time in the Word coupled with heartfelt prayer renders within me what no amount of candlelit baths or pedicures can. It feels like letting out a sigh of relief. Or putting your head on a familiar shoulder and closing your eyes.

I admit that prior to having this little introspective moment, I had been struggling to find time for a quality quiet time. If Jesus is the living water, and fellowship with Him through prayer and reading the Bible is the way believers can drink of this water, then I was literally running on empty.

“Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.”

That verse is Psalm 119:49-50. This particular psalm paints a beautiful picture of the beauty of dependence and delight in God’s Word. A cure to a lackluster Bible reading experience, if you may. The psalmist confesses to having strayed away at one point and implores God to open his eyes so that he may find true delight in the Word. He then points our numerous reasons the Word is to be delighted in. Reading it has been so relateable and relevant, I may as well have written it myself.

A few weeks have passed since I hit the reset button. I’d love to say that since then I have achieved perfect marks in having a quiet time and generally pausing for some self care. Reality is, it’s still a challenge for me. However, I consider just being mindful of my need a win. Little steps lead to big accomplishments, after all.

As for Vlad, he is ever supportive and encouraging. Today, after a great Sunday morning at church and spending time with sweet friends, he told me to get out of the house. I got in a great workout at the gym and then drove to our local Panera Bread, where I am now sitting and drinking a lemonade (or spilling on myself, depending on which point you catch me at). Also involved was an almond croissant, flaky and delicious. I can honestly say that I feel recharged and excited to come back to the hamster wheel that home can sometimes be.

It’s not an elaborate spa day…but who ever said it had to be?

Mommy, the Nurse

A day on the calendar that got crossed off not too long ago marked the three month mark of my return to work. I even got a “Congrats on making it 90 days!” email from my the job I started once my maternity leave was over. The need to celebrate feels appropriate as this hasn’t been the easiest or smoothest transition.

Compared to other developed nations, the maternity leave standards in the United States are pretty barbaric. Just as I was settling into a good routine and starting to enjoy the mom life, I had to figure out how my career fit into the picture. I had a brand new, very promising, job opportunity that I was grateful for…but I was also nervous and a little guilty over the reality that I would be throwing my energy into an entity other than the home.

I lamented for many days over how women were forced to choose between their family and their career…and about how vicious the judgement is whether a woman stays home with the kids, or works full time, or tries to balance both. I hear it everywhere,
“She could have been something. At least now she has it easy at home.”
“She can’t possibly give her kids the kind of attention they need with that job.”

The lip pursing. The head shaking.

I will be the first to admit I’m guilty.

There is no perfect lifestyle that all mothers must aspire to. Yet we are consumed by a social media culture that tells us otherwise.

I’ve spoken with great, false, confidence about my life choices – all the while looking for affirmation from my peers. And when another’s were so very different, I could not help but feel threatened.

Sigh. It’s exhausting.

All of these thoughts were constantly spinning in my head as I trekked to and from work, pumped in treatment rooms, washed bottles and made new ones for the next day upon returning home when I just really wanted to collapse on the couch. In the beginning, I missed my old job a lot – not necessarily because it was so great, but because it was so familiar, like a second home. I also freaked out constantly over Things I Could Not Get Done (this has now become an official running list and therefore deserves the status of a proper noun). I worried over how Z was doing with my parents and got a little sad every time I came home too late to put her to bed. Everything around me seemed too, too new and unfamiliar.

I read a lot of articles and heard people tell me that the sense of mourning was normal during big life transitions. The sense of loss I felt over all that had passed and my slowness to warm to my new circumstances were not unique. Validation was sweet. It was nice to know I was not the only one with misgivings about the working-new-mom life chapter.

Yet there was so much more to this season. It really feels wrong to write it off as simply a transition period, to focus on only the sad parts. Or the parts in which I felt like a total, unglued mess. In all honesty, there were a lot of really, really wonderful parts.

Vlad and I am blessed with an amazing childcare arrangement with my parents, so much so that I never truly have to wonder if Z is OK. She’s better than OK with them.

My new job has led to an incredible expansion of my skillset as a nurse over the past months and has also allowed me to meet some phenomenal people. I am challenged with the work I do, look forward to my days there, all while simultaneously still working “normal” hours and not coming home totally wrung out as I did when I was with the Emergency Department.

I have been challenged by the lack of free time that is suddenly present in my life and am therefore learning to be very intentional with the hours I am given. Having Zoya has opened my eyes to how precious time is and how quickly it passes. I consider this a blessing because it is definitely possible to go through all of life and not have this realization until its very end.

There is a very fine line between acknowledging a season of mourning and wallowing in self-pity.

It is easy to move from being real to being real bitter.

I confess that I have enjoyed a good wallow on more than one occassion. Now I want to choose joy. I want to savor it all, even the not-so-sweet parts. I certainly want to find better ways to spend my time than playing endless comparison games or agonizing over my life choices.

This season has been a kind of non-stop merry go round but looking back at it via this post, I can confidently say that I’m not mad about it. Some days have left me entirely exhausted…but also in awe of the wonder that Z is, of the strong teamwork that Vlad and I have developed over the past months and how it has strengthened our marriage, and also of just how much I can handle when earnestly drawing on strength from the Lord. A poor attitude can contribute to exhaustion just as much as a busy day can, if not more, so I am learning to let go of the little stuff and take the crazy in stride.

So when people ask me how being a working mom is going, I’m going to be honest and say that it’s really freaking hard. And there are days I want to quit it all (not just the working part). But hard is not synonymous with bad, or wrong or remorse. Going back to work has been far from a regrettable choice. Assuming the title of both Mom and Registered Nurse simultaneously has been the catalyst to professional and personal growth that I would not have seen otherwise. I am very interested to see what is in store for the family as Zoya gets older and I establish myself with my current company.

As I am writing this, I am laughing out loud over picturing myself as the Disney cartoon Pocahontas in her canoe, having braved the rapids and waterfall, majestically waiting to see what’s around the river bend. Except in real life I am probably closer to Meeko the raccoon…dark circles around the eyes, constantly looking for snacks, and always getting into some sort of situation. Oh well.

More calendar days will get crossed off. I don’t know what’s next but I’m sort of eagerly anticipating whatever it is while also relishing the now. It’s a pretty sweet little spot.

Z and I enjoying a day off – in our jammies, of course.

Sarah Thompson

Dear friends,

When I initially began my blogging journey, my goal was to put the spotlight on women who inspire me, challenge me and are all around fabulous individuals. With pleasure, I share with you my very first interview of a dear friend and mentor – the wise, loving and glamorous Sarah Thompson. She took the time to sit down and share how Hope, her gorgeous and equally glamorous daughter, came to be part of the Thompson clan through the miracle that is adoption. Her story is an incredible testimony to how the love of God is reflected in a family unit.

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G: Hi Sarah! Thanks for taking the time for this sit down. To kick us off, tell us about yourself and your family.
S:
Heyyyyy! I am a stay at home mama and a pastor’s wife and a perpetual volunteer. I’ve been married to Jeffey for 17 years and we have three kids, Judah, 11, Elias, 8, and Paulina Hope who’s 5.

G: I know (through our past conversations) that your involvement with the organization Safe Families was instrumental to constructing your family unit into what it is today. Tell us more about what Safe Families is and does.
S:
Safe Families for Children is a compassionate movement to keep kids safe and families in tact. They are available in moments of crisis for families with a network of support and temporary hosting of children while their folks get back on their feet. They are a preventative service to keep kids from out of situations where abuse or neglect might occur and come in before foster care might be an option. It’s a super cool organization. We found it while we were in the process of adoption, hoping to care for kids in need while also getting to learn how to love a child from different genes with different backgrounds.

G: Talk to us about your story with Hope. How did she come into your life and what ultimately led you to the decision to adopt?
S:
I found out I have PCOS (Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome) when I was 16 and so had known for a long time that having biological children might be a challenge for me. We jumped through a 1000 hoops over the course of several years to get pregnant with Judah. I didn’t want to go through that again and we started our adoption journey.
Right when we had completed the process, I found out I was pregnant with Elias! You hear about stories like this from time to time, but it’s actually super rare! It was a huge surprise. And we had gotten really excited about adoption at this point and so decided to continue to pursue it for our third child. We chose domestic adoption, because there were so many kids right here that need homes! Our only stipulation was that we wanted to keep birth order, so to have Elias be a big brother too.
We were chosen by four different birth moms over the course of a year and they all chose to parent themselves. This was a hard year for us, though we were soooo glad and grateful that these birth moms were each able to come to that decision in a positive way. To keep our focus on the prize, we started hosting children through Safe Families!
We were blessed to keep four kids at different times over the course of the year, the shortest being for just a day and the longest being three months (which was the longest a child would stay in a host home through Safe Families). This was challenging in a completely different way and also a huge blessing. Our case worker at Safe Families knew we were waiting to adopt and so when there was a baby girl who’d been in the program whose mom had decided she wouldn’t be able to parent, she got in touch with us. Safe Families goal is always to keep families intact. They are not an adoption agency, but of course sometimes extenuating circumstances make it difficult or impossible for a family to continue to raise their child. This was one of those very rare occurrences.
We met with Paulina’s birth mom and hit it off right away and she chose us to parent Paulina! We found out about Paulina one day, met with her birth mom the next day and a day after that brought her home. It was a whirlwind after all the waiting! And after she’d been in our care for six months we were able to make Paulina Hope an official part of our family!

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Paulina’s 6 month photo, the first picture we ever saw of her.

G: How did you go about sharing your decision to adopt with Judah & Elias? With extended friends and family?
S:
Our family and friends had been in on our journey with us from the beginning, through our struggle with infertility and coming to the decision to adopt.

Life takes a lot of support, you know?

We needed a community around us for the ups and downs! We are so grateful for our families (church family included) and friends.
With the boys, we have always been open that God sends kids to families in different ways: sometimes through a mom’s tummy and sometimes through adoption, where, for whatever reason, a mom or dad can’t give the best care to their child and chooses to love them by putting them in the care of a family that can give them the care they need.

G: I’m sure its impossible to pick just one “best thing” about adoption – but share with us some of what you feel are the greatest parts of it for you and your family.
S:
Having Hopie (as we now refer to Paulina Hope)! She is a jewel, a precious, precious gift. She is a tangible expression of God’s grace and love for us. While we were so far off and so different from God, he chose to love us as his children. It’s a far smaller jump for us to love a child with different genes/background and we are completely humbled and honored to do it.

G: What would you say was the greatest challenge? How did you overcome that challenge?
S:
The waiting was hard. But that’s life for everyone, right? Whether we’re waiting to get pregnant or get a job or find a life partner or whatever: the process is the same. Rely on the Lord and trust his perfect timing and provision.

Sometimes God wants us to want him more than we want his provision. Sometimes we are not ready for the thing we are asking for and the wait brings us closer to it. But whatever it is, God’s ways are better than our own.

Secondly, we leaned on our friends and family. We were so blessed by the love and support of others. And we practiced what we wanted by serving with Safe Families.
I’d say there’s a lot of other challenges in adoption too, like learning to really love a child that in some ways is just completely different than you, or how to have a relationship with the birth family, or how to incorporate our child’s culture into our family… it is a lot. But we did our homework and researched and asked a lot of questions before we ever laid eyes on Hope.

G: Does Hope know her story? If yes, how did you tell her? If not yet, how are you planning to explain it to her?
S:
Yes! Most domestic adoptions are open adoptions, meaning we can know her birth family. We knew Hopie’s birth mom loved her so much and still desired a relationship with her, even though she couldn’t take care for her. Plus, it is generally seen as healthier for a child to grow up knowing and feeling like adoption is normal and just a part of their story. So we started telling Hopie her story before she ever understood the words. And we talk to “Mommy Shay” (as we refer to her birth mom) every week, on the phone/FaceTime or over text. Paulina Hope is blessed to have lots of family that loves her and wants the best for her!

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The day we adopted Hopie.

G: What is one thing that you wish people would know or understand more in regards to adoption?
S:
I wish people would stop saying “gave up” or “put up” their child for adoption. It isn’t giving up to choose adoption for your child. It’s choosing to love and to put the child’s life and needs first. And by using language like [“gave up”] we are perpetuating a stigma that it’s a bad thing or worst case or something to be ashamed of. It is not. It’s a beautiful thing.

G: Do you have a Biblically centered view on adoption/foster parenting that you could share? What encouragement can those that are hoping to enter into this role or are in it currently draw from Scripture and the Gospel?
S:
It was Matthew 19:14 where Jesus says “Let the children come to me” that first piqued my interest in adoption. God’s Word is living and active and never returns void. So here’s a bunch of scripture that helps to form my view of adoption:

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”– Romans 5:8

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”– Romans 5:10-11

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” – Galatians 4:4-7

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” – Ephesians 1:3-10

“But when Jesus saw it, he… said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. – Mark 10:14-16

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”– John 14:18

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”– James 1:27

Now for some fun questions…

G: Its summer in Chicago! YAY – finally! What are some fun activities that you and your family have done or are looking forward to?
S:
We LOVE being a city family and taking advantage of all Chicago has to offer. We go to the beach. We bike the Lake Shore path or the 606. We head to the Chicago Botanic Garden at an attempt of a more peaceful day. We hit up a lot of playgrounds/parks – Maggie Daley is awesome, but Oz Park and Welles Park are a couple of other favorites. We try to get museum passes from the library and go to at least one museum every summer. We usually hit up Lincoln Park Zoo a few times. We go to Lickety Split for the world’s greatest frozen custard and Miko’s for Italian Ice! And the Chicago Park district has a ton of really great affordable programs. I could for sure keep going. There’s a lot to do and see in this city!

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G: What is the funniest thing your kids have said to you this week?
S:
Hahaha! They say funny/gross stuff all the time! But out of the blue Hope said the other day, “Stop calling me Mr. Ham!” No one has ever called her Mr. Ham. We all died.

G: Describe your perfect way to unwind after a crazy day.
S:
Hit a yoga class, go home and have Jeffey already put the kids to bed and sit and read or watch a show with him and one of the stellar cocktails he makes. Then have sex and still make it to bed by 11pm. Lol goals

Final thoughts from Sarah:
It’s amazing to think about how I’ve seen God’s overarching faithfulness in my life. His provision and perfect timing has guided my every step and led me to be the woman I am today: mom, wife, follower of Jesus. Some times have been really hard! But God has ordered my steps and proved himself good again and again.

Got more questions about Safe Families or how to get involved?

Visit their site here!

Pumping 101, Part 2

Finally, after a prolonged absence due to a smidge of travel (Zoya had her first road trip – yay!) and a cold that swept our whole family, I am back to write the second installment of my top tips for pumping success!!!

To read part one, you can access the earlier post here. Those ready to dive into part two, let’s do this!

5) Create a milk organization system that makes sense for you and your family early on in the game. Any sort of confusion surrounding storage of breast milk is just plain stressful.
When I initially began pumping, I inadvertently had an oversupply because my tiny NICU baby only required about an ounce per feed. I was doing a lot of freezing, but did not have a systematic method to the process. In fact, I did not even realize the necessity to record the amount of ounces in a bag (face palm)! My freezer was a disorganized mess.
Pinterest has a wealth of information on maintaining a beautifully organized freezer stash as well as user-friendly ways to store fresh milk the fridge. There are also a lot of apps that help keep track of the running total of pumped and frozen milk; Pump Log is a favorite. Once I figured out a system that worked, I needed to go back and reorganize my deep freezer. This was an hours-long process that could have been avoided had I done my homework ahead of time.

4) Find your support system. We can’t do any of this mom stuff completely on our own, so this is imperative. For me, the central support figure was definitely Vlad. He woke up in the middle of the night to feed Zoya so that I could pump simultaneously. He washed pump parts. He bought me a deep freezer. He was invaluable.
However, a partner certainly does not have to be the main support (or at all, if they aren’t present).

I had girlfriends who had done the pumping gig come alongside me, nurses in the NICU who cried with when I was engorged and frustrated, and a whole other slough of people I drew from when I needed to.

Funny enough, someone suggested joining a pumping support group on Facebook. Even though I thought it was kind of silly, I went ahead and requested to be a member of the Exclusively Pumping Moms group – and it was a great decision. A whole community of women who were going through exactly what I was going through, sharing tips, stories and humor opened up to me. Having that network proved to be ever so important as I ran into problems or just needed someone who had been there to hear me out.

3) Never quit on a bad day – this was a saying prevalent in the pumping support group. I found myself repeating it to myself fairly often.

Truly, there are going to be days that you want to quit and never look back. Days on which you need a shower but can’t get one, days on which there are more tears than smiles, days that you can’t find a bit of the beauty of motherhood everyone talks about.

I know I had all of those days – more than just once. They evoked some very intense emotions that I knew could cloud my rational judgment and ultimately influence my commitment. The last thing I wanted to happen was to quit out of frustration and be wrought by major regret. If I was going to wean, I wanted to come this conclusion when I was truly ready, not at a time when I was overwhelmed by a crappy day. Looking back over the months, I am confident that sticking to the resolution of not quitting when I felt like it most actually allowed me to keep pumping way longer than I have otherwise.

2) Walking up a hill is so much easier than climbing Mt. Everest, is it not? Therefore, set small goals for yourself. Out of the gate, I thought I was going to pump exclusively for a year. As I realized how truly tough exclusively pumping was, one year seemed impossibly far. I frequently told myself,

“Just get through this day. Ok, now get through this week.” Reaching these seemingly tiny goals was actually a big deal because of the created a sense of accomplishment. Plus, every small goal completed is really just an excuse to celebrate your hard work and reward yourself accordingly. Now, I know we can all get behind that.

1) Finally, if you do nothing else, simply acknowledge that your pumping journey is unique. Comparison is the ultimate joy thief – especially when it comes to freezer stashes, post partum bodies, and the like.

Your merit as a mother is not measured in ounces.

You are doing the best that you can and working hard to provide food for your little one. You know what is best for you and your family – more so than any other human. Don’t allow others to disregard the hard work that you are doing. Or to set the rules on how you should be doing it. Use any ignorance regarding breastfeeding or pumping that you come across as an opportunity to educate others.
Remember to give them grace, and save some for yourself as well.

Thank you for allowing me to share the bits of wisdom I have gained on this topic as I have gone through the months exclusively pumping for Zoya. Our journey is drawing to a close. However, I am still available as a resource to anyone who may need it. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need advice or just to vent – it can be very therapeutic, trust me!

Pump on, ladies.