Am I Really Planning a 1st Birthday Party?

Is it just me or was Forrest just born, like, three days ago? A week? Maybe 2? It can't be 10 months, right? I can't possibly be realistically looking at decorations and invitations and how to make a 3-layer cake with a removable top layer to be his smash cake, right? I'm just having some kind of fever dream, I'm sure. This is one of those weird postpartum dreams where I wake up and I've been sweating out all the fluid I built up over 9 months. Right? Right.

Except no, Forrest really is 10 months old now. I really am doing all of those things. I really am pinning Fall-themed birthday cakes. I really am thinking about ordering invitations, baking cakes, making little acorn-lookalike candies. 

When it comes to parenting, I feel like I'm always writing in astonishment. Can you believe that Forrest ate a SANDWICH? By HIMSELF? It stuns me that he is old enough to chew, to pick up food and eat it, to stand up on his own. It really does feel as though he was born yesterday. 

But it also really feels like, well, he was born a year ago. The months are both incredibly short and the longest of my life.

Babies grow up. Part of me is sad about it (what happened to my smooshy little newborn?) but another part of me, a bigger part of me, is so exhilarated to see what he's like, what he enjoys, how he talks, that it's ok. So I'm gleefully planning his first birthday party, even though I'd always said I wouldn't throw a big shindig. 

If you'd like to follow my party planning for Forrest, you can follow my 1st Birthday board on Pinterest

5 Products I Love (Right Now)

The things I use on a daily basis change as I try new things and settle into different routines. As a mom, I budget really heavily, but there are some non-necessary items I like to include in our lives every day. These are them. 

1. Plum Organics Baby Hello Morning Cereals

Forrest loves these cereals. They're little packets of baby-friendly oatmeal: not too sweet, but not too bland (like a lot of baby food tends to be). They're actually made from both oatmeal and quinoa, which means he's getting a pretty good helping of oatmeal as well. He's quite partial to the apple cinnamon & banana blueberry flavors. 

2. NYX HD Photo Concealer

Concealer is extremely hard to find at an affordable price point, but, per usual, NYX comes through. The best part is that the lightest shade matches my skin perfectly, instead of being an unsightly orange color. (What is with pale foundations ending up orange?) 

3. Tazo Organic Chai Tea

I tend to bop back and forth between drinking tea and then not for months at a time. I recently have been struggling with anemia and started needing caffeine in the afternoon to keep me awake. I started drinking chai tea again and I wonder really why I ever stopped. 

4. e.l.f. Studio Contour Palette 

When I first tried this palette, I was not impressed--but the more I've used it, the more I fall in love with it. Contour palettes are expensive, though, and for $8 at Target, this one is a winner. I thought I wanted a cream palette, but the one I ended up getting, I found difficult to blend. With the right brushes (I use a fluffy eyeshadow brush to apply and then a kabuki brush to blend), this one is easy to use and looks great. 

5. Happy Tot Organics Smoothies

Another baby food product--but I use these ones as well. These smoothie blends, meant for toddlers, are great for watering down and giving to Forrest in a sippy cup (I'm hoping it motivates him to hold the cup himself). As well, adding one to my own smoothie adds an extra helping of fruits and vegetables, which is a win-win! They taste pretty good too. 

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5 Meals for Baby-Led Weaning

By the time I had Forrest, I hadn't heard about baby-led weaning. Which is surprising, because I'd read about just about everything else. I didn't learn about baby-led weaning (or, BLW) until almost 6 months later, when moms in my mom group were starting to introduce solids (or talk about the unnecessary introduction of purees, same difference, I guess). 

I introduced solids at 5 months (I know, blasphemy), which is pretty controversial in the mom world. Most pediatricians recommend not starting until 6 months OR when a baby can sit up. Well, Forrest wasn't sitting up by 6 months, but he WAS eating me out of house-and-home with formula, so, you know what? Solids it is. 

We started with purees and kept with purees for a long time. Whole foods made me nervous. Babies can choke on just about anything, including rice cereal, which is approximately the texture of thinned out Elmer's glue, so I wasn't 100% sold on the idea of handing Forrest a piece of chicken. 

As Forrest got bigger, and started eating stage 2, 3, and 4 purees, I realized he was ready. He was ready to try this BLW thing. He was 7 months old by then and eating just about everything I offered him on a spoon. 

We started having toast in the mornings with him--toast with avocado or just butter or occasionally peanut butter--and he loved it, often eating an entire piece of toast on his own. Forrest has only choked on one thing and that's a meatball; and, to be honest, it's because he was shoving pieces of it into his mouth as fast as he could. 

I recently was writing down the foods he has the easiest time eating and I realized other moms who are nervous nellies about introducing table foods might appreciate these. Here they are. 

1. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Who doesn't love a nice grilled cheese? I make Forrest's two different ways: either with olive oil, 1 slice of bread (cut in half), and cheddar cheese; or with cream cheese and mashed fruit. He likes both and while yell if I don't hand him pieces fast enough. 

2. Quesadillas

A common thread among these foods is that they are easy to pick up and chew on for him. Quesadillas are one of those things. I usually mash up refried beans, avocado, and cheese (plus any veggie puree I have on hand to make it healthier), spread on half a tortilla, top with the other half, and then grill until a little crisp, but still soft. He will eat the entire thing if I let him. 

3. Toast

Toast, like sandwiches and quesadillas, is easy to pick up. We do avocado on toast, mashed banana on toast, fruit puree on toast, peanut butter, butter, jam, cream cheese... whatever I've got on hand, if it spreads on toast, he's probably eaten it. 

4. Roasted Carrots

Okay, this isn't really a meal, more of a snack. Available finger food baby snacks out there are very... binding. It's rice puffs or corn puffs or generally processed stuff that kind of, well, gross. And if it's not rice puff things, it's straight up choking hazards; those yogurt melt drops for babies are seriously gag-worthy and I've heard of way too many babies choking on them! I cut up two big carrots into sticks, roast them, and keep them in a container in the fridge. I can microwave them for a few seconds and give them to Forrest to gnaw on while I finish his dinner. 

5. Fruit Smoothies

Fruit smoothies are easy to make and it helps babies learn to use a sippy cup. I make mine with a pouch of fruit puree (usually whatever is leftover from breakfast), a scoop of Greek yogurt, a bit of apple juice, and water to thin it. I just shake it up in Forrest's sippy cup and let him go. If you use a puree pouch, it often has veggies in it too, so you're basically supermom. 

Have baby-led weaning tips of your own? Send them to me on Twitter!

On Going Back to Work

I went back to work January 4, after about 14 weeks away. In those 14 weeks, I had had an emergency induction, had Forrest, spent at least 500 hours pumping (seriously, that's about 24 days in total), and had attempted to rapidly adjust to my life as a new mom. 

At first, I went back part-time and we settled into what I like to think as a Very Good routine. However, as Forrest got older, his sleep deteriorated and I was left feeling just as sleep-deprived and vulnerable as I had in the beginning... with the added bonus of being the sole content marketing team member at a promising startup (and wearing multiple hats, like Content Entry Specialist and Graphic Designer and Marketing Strategist/Analyst/Copywriter, etc.) After we decided to sleep train, things improved rapidly, though

The best part about Danny being a teacher is that he gets summers off. At the end of June, Danny started staying at home with Forrest full-time while I went to work. The role reversal has been eye opening for both of us. 

What Danny's Learned

I don't write this to call Danny out or anything, but he really didn't understand how difficult it was to stay home with Forrest all day, provide 100% of the care, and not get any help in the evenings. It's a really common attitude among men, especially new fathers (and even experienced fathers!). The logic Danny had was that he was at work, while I was at home pumping, feeding, and taking care of a baby--all while watching TV. Was it that hard? In the evenings, if I asked for help, Danny would often respond that he was 'tired' or he had had a 'long day.' Which very well might have been true--but I had long days with Forrest too. In fact, every day was a long day, even if there were fun parts. Cooking, cleaning, getting groceries with a newborn, pumping, feeding bottles, holding him for hours and hours of naps... it wasn't a walk in the park. 

I think to Danny, he really didn't think that taking care of Forrest all day would be difficult or tiring. In fact, I think he thought he would have all kinds of time for things. 

The first day though, the minute I walked into the house, Danny said, "I'm sorry I wasn't nicer to you." He genuinely meant it and, you know what? He wasn't nice to me during my maternity leave, or even when I was a part-time  stay-at-home-mom. He expected me to do the majority of the housework, the cooking, and all of the care for Forrest, just because he went to work. He didn't seem to understand that being a mom and dad are 24/7 jobs--even if you go to a "real" job the rest of the day. I forgive him, though, because everyone has to learn sometime. 

And I like to think I'm being nicer to him than he was to me. 

What I've Learned

I have a very difficult time finding balance in my life even at the best of times--but especially now. My day starts at 5am and I don't really stop working or taking care of Forrest until he goes to bed at 6pm. And then, once I have time for it, I find myself putting off housework. I bounce between work-Michelle, mom-Michelle, and rest-Michelle--without ever being able to stop and do the things I need to, like vacuum the house or make the bed or fold the laundry that's been sitting at the end of the bed for a week. 

Working full-time is a true challenge for me. But I also find myself being happier than I have been. I love being able to go to work, to succeed  in my career while also being a great mom. I find a lot of personal satisfaction from working and having a career--and as much as I love Forrest, I'm not totally willing to give up being both a competent mother and writer. Being both, however, is a real challenge. 

What We've All Learned

Every day, around 1:30, right as I'm starting to pack up my office... I get a text message that says, "Forrest misses you." From 6:30am to 1:30pm is about as long as Forrest can go without seeing me. I'm sure if he had his way, Forrest would be able to spend all day playing on me or near me, but that's not the world we live in, kiddo, sorry. 

A few other lessons include the fact that, when I let go of things, Danny is perfect capable. Danny has so far kept Forrest fed (both bottles and table food, although he's nervous about feeding him things other than Gerber puffs) and has kept him entertained. They've also done lots of fun stuff together, like read books, go on walks, and drive into town.

I worried when I went back full-time in late June that Danny wouldn't be able to handle things without me--but the reality is, it's harder for me than it is for him. 

Let's Move on from Jungle-Themed Baby Stuff

What's one terribly random problem I encountered when I was pregnant with Forrest? The fact that everything for babies is jungle-themed. 

I have nothing against a nice jungle theme, but sometimes, I just want to get a piece of baby equipment that isn't decked out with monkeys. Especially when it comes to boy stuff, it seemed like it was jungle or nothing at all. 


This is something Danny and I really struggled with. We wanted things that were gender neutral and theme neutral. I don't like monkeys, in general, and I wasn't 100% sold on having them covering everything in our living room. We did well on most things, opting for a neutral swing (no jungle animals hanging from it) and neutral toys (limited monkeys). 


Things got difficult, though. Our Fisher-Price Kick'n'Play mat was only available in a jungle theme. Our Fisher-Price Sit-Me-Up chair was cheapest in, you guessed it, a jungle theme. I was willing to give in on those two items. We spent hours searching for an activity center, a bouncer that didn't have a rainforest or jungle theme. We settled on a Finding Nemo bouncer that seemed like a safe middle ground. 

This leads me to a very important question: what is it about jungle theme? What about it is so appealing to toy producers? Why not forest themed or water themed? Why is everything jungle? Why not just plain shapes? 

When I think about something like our Fisher-Price Kick'n'Play mat... I have to wonder why it had to be a jungle. Why not just a plain colored mat with the plain colored keyboard? The toys that hang off of it don't have to be animals: they could be plain colorful shapes, shaky toys, and ropes. They don't have to be animals. 

I'm ready for more neutral baby products. That's all I want: basic, simple, pretty baby products. 

I Promise Not to Wish It Away Anymore

I told myself I would take tons of great pictures of Forrest. As soon as he is sitting up, I thought, I'll be able to take him outside for photo shoots all the time. Well, the sitting up came later than I expected. The first three months of his life passed both agonizingly slowly and insanely fast. I blinked and suddenly he can ride in the seat of the shopping cart and he can hold and feed himself teething biscuits. 

He went from being a barely sentient lump to having likes and dislikes, favorite toys and songs and sounds. This is exactly the stage I hoped for when he was first born. 

And yet (of course there's a "and yet" here), I find myself wishing I hadn't spent those first few months wishing, wishing, wishing for the time to go faster, for him to grow up. I still find myself having those wishes: I wish he could sit up; I wish he could talk and tell me what's wrong; I wish his stomach could hold more milk at once; I wish he napped better; I wish he slept through the night. 

I wanted him to grow up... and he did. And (here's another), I wish I hadn't rushed it. 

As difficult as they were, I miss the days I spent on the couch with him, holding him as he slept, feeding him bottle after bottle, two hours on the dot without fail. I miss his sleepy faces and accidental smiles. I miss being able to swaddle him and lie with him in bed. I wish I'd taken advantage of that--to watch movies, to read, to whatever--instead of wishing he would get bigger, faster. 

On Saturday, I struggled to get a 9 month size onesie over his head. He ate pumpkin, banana, and oatmeal for breakfast. We played and read a book and sang a song. We went to Eugene and he rode in a shopping cart. I took his picture and I thought, I can't believe he's so big. 

Suddenly, I realized that time was drifting past me, whether I felt like it or not: time had gone by and I'd wished it. I don't have any professional photos of Forrest as a baby--only ones taken on my iPhone and a few vague attempts of my own. I dragged Danny outside to take pictures I'd been imagining in my head for months. 

"He's only little for so long," I said, very early in Forrest's life. While I believed it, I also, in the back of my mind, couldn't wait for him to just get bigger

I look at him now and all I can think is, just a few more days of this. A few more days before you crawl, before you stand up, before you walk over to me, before you talk. I can't wait to experience every day with Forrest; I can't wait to hear everything he has to say. But I also want just a few more nights cuddling, a few more long naps on the couch, a few more days where he refuses to hold his own bottle as he eats. 

Just a few more days with my squishy baby before he becomes a rambunctious little boy. 

Moving On from Pumping

Feeding Forrest ended up being more complicated than I ever thought it would be. In the past 6 months, Forrest has eaten over 5,000 ounces of milk. I have pumped approximately 3,100 ounces. I have pumped for a total of at least 400 hours.

I have washed bottles until the backs of hands are so dry I can't use hand sanitizer or scented lotions, until my knuckles crack and my nails split.

I have sanitized bottles two or three times a day for 6 months. I have gone through 4 bottles of dish soap.

I have read hundreds of articles on how the movement to normalize breastfeeding is both a positive and a negative. I have used the hashtag #fedisbest and been told, repeatedly, that fed is not best by the worst of the breastfeeding advocates.

I have cried more times than I care to admit. I've given up on dreams of nursing, on dreams of exclusively feeding breast milk. I have given up a lot of my expectations and accepted the reality of the baby I have. 

I have pumped until one of my nipples was bruised and the other was bleeding. I have pumped through thrust, mastitis, clogs. I have pumped through an infected Montgomery gland. I have worn terrible, ill-fitting nursing bras for 6 months--even though I don't even nurse. 

I have toted a heavy, stupid pump back and forth to work for three months. 

I have taken supplements that upset my stomach, that taste like actual vomit. I have tried every trick in the book, from massage to cheesecake and everything in between. I have spent an embarrassing amount of money on different shields and supplements and tools. 

I have gone without sleep to pump. I have mentally calculated, over and over, the amount of milk I have in my fridge and freezer. I have stressed over how much to feed Forrest. I have woken at 3am to pump; I've interrupted meetings and doctors appointments and oil changes. I have pumped in my car, in offices, on the floor, in the bathroom. I have pumped in a weigh station on the side of US 20 headed into Ontario. 

I have pumped and pumped and pumped. 

And it's over. It's done. (Well, not totally.) 

The truth is, the Montgomery gland is part of what did me in. I can handle a lot of things--but I can't handle an infected Montgomery gland. (Did you know there was such a thing? I didn't--until one got infected. It's worse than a clogged duct or a dreaded milk bleb, at least in my opinion.) The infected Montgomery gland, the repeated dips in my supply every time my body was under any stress, the constant worrying, the constant need to pump... it was too much. 

I decided to wean one day and I just started--before I could talk myself out of it. Not that I'm really weaning anything. "Weaning," typically, suggests transitioning a baby away from nursing, but that's not the case. Forrest will just, one day, get all formula, instead of half. One day, it will just be gone. No more breast milk! Just typing it makes me sad. 

But the sadness I feel doesn't really overwhelm the feeling of being completely and totally done. The hardest part is knowing that, if things had been different, if Forrest has nursed from the start (if I hadn't gotten preeclampsia, if my milk had come in on time instead of days later, if he hadn't have had jaundice...), this wouldn't be happening. Looking at the "what ifs" and moving on from them is still something I struggle with. 

Watching the amount I pump each day (even though I'm doing it on purpose) is a struggle too: I inherently begin to panic when I think, I won't have enough milk... But that's the point. I won't have enough milk for Forrest--and it's okay. But I have to remind myself that it's okay, or else I'll panic. 

When I look at Forrest, I want to apologize to him: I'm sorry I couldn't give you more of this. I'm sorry we didn't get those quiet, special moments to bond. I'm sorry I'll never know what that's like. I'm sorry I couldn't keep going. I'm sorry. I will always try to give you everything in the world, anything and everything you want--because I couldn't give you this. 

There is a tendency, I think, for mothers to feel they have to martyr themselves. Most mothers (and maybe this is a generalization on my part) would lie down their lives for their children. In many ways, for the last 6 months, I have attempted to martyr myself: I keep pumping, through pain and unhappiness and anxiety and depression, for the simple fact that I felt guilty about it. I felt like I was a bad mother for all the things I couldn't change (the preeclampsia, the jaundice, the rough start)--so I would do the absolute best at the one thing I could do, breast milk. But my body fought me every step of the way. 

At a certain point, I had to accept the truth: I couldn't fight my body, and punish myself, anymore. It was time to move on from being mommy martyr and just be a mom. 

Packing up the little bottles, the tiny colostrum bottles I first pumped into, the SNS I dutifully taped to my boob every night in the hospital, the little Similac bottles we gave Forrest his first 20 ml bottles with, was one of the hardest parts. But I did it: I bagged them up and put them in a box. In a week, I'll probably pack my pump back into the box and store it in the garage.  I will defrost all of the milk I have in my freezer. 

One day, very soon, Forrest will get his last bottle containing any breast milk. There is a part of me that thinks, we can reverse this! We can pump frantically again! But I know it's not worth it, emotionally, for me anymore, as much as it hurts to think of Forrest not getting anymore milk from me. One day, it will just be gone, over, done. And we'll just have to keep going, like we have the last six months.

And the best part is, one day, this won't even matter. One day it won't hurt to think of the "what ifs", the "I could have..." One day, this will just be a memory and I won't have to feel guilt over it anymore. 

All The Things I Wish I'd Known

I wish I'd known how tiring it would be to have a child. Not how hard--I knew raising a child, and taking care of a baby, would be hard work. I knew I would dedicate hours every day to doing things I didn't necessarily want to do. But I wish I'd known how absolutely overwhelmingly exhausted I would become: the kind of exhausted that a good nap or a good nights sleep won't cure. I wish I'd known that my days would start at roughly 4:30am and I would not stop, with a break for myself, until I fell asleep at 9pm that night. 

I wish I'd known that my hobbies would cease to be hobbies, but rather activities that I fondly remembered. I wish I'd known I would have to ask for help, for time for myself. I wish I knew how to ask for it without getting angry. 

I wish I'd known the right things to research. While I scrutinized mattresses and the amount of diapers I would need, I should have read about breast pumps, breastfeeding holds, and nursing pillows. I should have understood how to breastfeed better and maybe I would have been more successful. I wish I'd known that it's not as easy as it seems: there is more than just putting the baby to your chest. I wish I'd known it was ok to not succeed that this particular endeavor, that there are other (just as good) ways to feed a baby. I wish I'd known how to stand up for myself in the hospital better. 

I wish I'd known how all-encompassing a tiny person would be. In my long days of pregnancy, I imagined nap times and nights in the crib. I imagined a world that was completely different from how things ended up. I wish I'd known to stop planning, to stop having expectations for what would happen, what would come next. I wish I'd known that, regardless of where the baby sleeps, my work would never really stop. 

I wish I'd known, earlier rather than later, that no matter what happens, no matter what amount of planning goes in to having a baby, things will always change. The baby will or won't sleep; the baby will or won't eat the way you want them to; the baby will or won't follow the "guidelines" for development. I wish I'd known that babies change their schedules as rapidly and suddenly as everyone else on the planet: they are criminals of spontaneity, making you think one thing and then doing another. I wish I'd known to throw the plans, everything I ever thought about having a baby, out the window. 

Mostly, I wish I'd known to savor more: to stop crying about breastfeeding in those early weeks and, instead, cuddle with my little baby who is now not nearly as little; to let myself co-sleep from the beginning without worrying; and to stop worrying about every little possibility and just allow myself to enjoy the time I had. 

I wish I'd known that being Forrest's mom would be the most challenging, rewarding, demanding, and exhausting thing I've ever experienced--but I wouldn't change it for the world.