While December greeted much of the country with above-average temperatures, don’t be fooled — winter is coming, and this year, it’s more important than ever to have your gear ready. For me personally, daily walks have become part of my afternoon ritual with Nolan – a way to reset, reflect and regain a sense of calm during uncertain times. If you’re looking to stock up on cold weather essentials for a little one in your life, here are six items to cozy up to:

  1. UPPAbaby CozyGanoosh: Meet a stroller accessory that’s comfy, cozy and just plain fun to say. Rest assured this splurge is worth every penny, with its cocooning effect that magically lulls my little guy to sleep every time we take it for a spin. While this model is designed for the ever-popular UPPAbaby brand of strollers, universal bunting bags from CozyMe and liuliuby have top ratings at a lower price point.
  2. The North Face Thermoball Bunting: Bundling up baby is one simple zip away with this gender neutral bunting that’s complete with rollover mitten and foot cuffs. With insulation made from recycled materials and a plush faux shearling lining, this is sure to be a feel-good favorite from the inside-out. We loved it so much that we repurchased this in a larger size for Nolan’s second winter.
  3. Hat & Mittens: Bundling is never complete without a hat (and mittens) to match. This Carters set is economical for the inevitable day when one of your little one’s mittens goes missing. Being polar vortex survivors, we’re also big fans of the trapper hat for the ultimate warmth and each have our own. 🙂
  4. Zutano Fleece Booties: Whether your little one is mastering tummy time or getting on their feet, these booties are a must-have through toddlerhood. Available in a range of colors and sizes, the fleece/cotton blend is soft and breathable with a snap closure and gentle elastic that keeps these booties where they belong. We’ve given less expensive options a try and have found them to be bulkier, itchy and easier to pull off, making the Zutanos a better value in our book.
  5. Carseat Cover: Since bulky winter coats and car seats do not mix, be sure to have a warm carseat cover on deck to make those transitions to-and-from the car more comfortable for your baby. We made it through Nolan’s first Chicago winter with a JJ Cole brand that I shared with you in this post, and love this similar option featuring an even more plush exterior.
  6. Plush Blanket: Here’s a blanket you’ll want in your size – the Sherpa Baby Blanket from Pottery Barn Kids. We first used this as a receiving blanket to bring Nolan home from the hospital, and it quickly earned the nickname as “the magic blanket” for its sleep-inducing superpowers. I’ve also been eyeing this version that features cable knit and delicate tassels.

There’s no doubt, these are overwhelming times. And for anyone with a newborn or expecting one soon, doubly so. As a first-time mom, I hope my experience can help alleviate at least part of that equation.

Leading up to Nolan’s arrival, my weekends were spent toggling between countless product reviews and recommendations, only to find my list growing longer and more muddled. Not only was I outlining what I needed, but also navigating between brands. The number of options are dizzying. After substantial research, and perhaps more importantly, trial by fire, below is the list of newborn essentials that we have in constant rotation whether it’s time to eat, play, sleep, or get changed.

For Eating:

  1. Dr. Brown’s Original Bottles. If you choose to bottle feed exclusively or even on occasion, you’ll want to have a set of 6-8 newborn bottles on hand. We went through quite a few options before trying Dr. Brown’s, and I only wish we had discovered them sooner. While breastfed babies like Nolan are said to potentially take better to wide-set bottles, he actually took much better to the narrow shape of these Dr. Brown’s. The straw insert also prevented him from swallowing excess air that can cause quite a bit of tummy discomfort.
  2. aden + anais Bibs. Dribble, drool and the inevitable spit up are all part of feedings, and increasingly so as your little one becomes more engaged with the world around them. My favorite dilemma is when Nolan wants to drink and smile at the same time, allowing milk to pour out of the side of his mouth. These bibs are by far the softest and most absorbent of any we’ve tried – plus, the prints are so cute!
  3. Burp Cloths. Initially, I stocked up on Burt’s Bees burp cloths, only to find that they were somewhat small and not as absorbent as I had hoped. I ended up using them as shields during diaper changes instead (#boymom 😅), and switched to muslin burp cloths or these plush kitchen towels for feedings.
  4. A Nursing Pillow. If you’re nursing or plan to, a designated pillow can really help in the early days. I have a Boppy as well as a My Brest Friend Nursing Pillow, and found the latter to be more comfortable and secure. There is a bit of a learning curve to being able to clip it in place while holding a hungry baby, but once you get the hang of it, it really does help with proper positioning.

For Playing:

  1. “Tummy Time” play mat. As we’ve shifted toward a “Back is Best” protocol for safe infant sleep, caretakers are now instructed to put babies on their tummies regularly during awake time to build up their neck and shoulder muscles. While there are quite a few play mats out there, this option by Skip Hop has been a hit with Nolan, complete with an overhead activity center for sensory development.
  2. Baby GUND Singing Toy Elephant. You may laugh and think, Is a singing toy elephant really an essential? For us, the answer has been a resounding yes, as it was the first (and for a while, the only) toy that Nolan engaged with from his earliest days (thanks, Mimi Mary!). Push one foot and you’ll be singing along to “Do Your Ears Hang Low;” push the other foot and you’ll have an instant game of peek-a-boo. And yes, both recordings will get stuck in your head for hours.
  3. Tiny Love Soothe ‘N Groove Mobile. I bought this mobile for Nolan’s crib in hopes that it would entertain him long enough for me to run to the bathroom. 11 weeks later, and it’s consistently kept him engaged for over a half hour at a time. The battery-powered mobile easily and securely attaches to the side of the crib and spins at a soothing pace to the tune of 18 different songs. Nolan loves it so much that I’ll find him laughing at the characters as they spin round and round – it’s truly priceless. The mobile portion can be removed and used simply as a music box (sound machine) down the road.

For Sleeping:

  1. BIBS BPA-Free Pacifiers. While I had stocked up on the popular Soothies Pacifiers prior to Nolan’s birth, I was in for my first lesson in baby essentials with this one: don’t buy anything in bulk until your baby has tried it! Nolan made a game of spitting out Soothies, requiring us to physically hold it in his mouth until he’d fall asleep. Enter BIBS brand. Upon a recommendation from a NICU nurse (check her out at Bumble Baby), BIBS pacifiers are designed more like the real thing so they stay in the baby’s mouth. They’re also BPA-free and oh-so-stylish (they come in every color).
  2. HALO Sleepsack Swaddles. If you’re like I was, you may be leery about putting your newborn in what appears to be a straight jacket. But rest assured, swaddling is life-changing – and safe. Wrapping your baby like a little burrito helps prevent what’s called the startle reflex (when your sleeping baby involuntarily wakes themselves when their arms shoot up to their face). Translation: swaddling can promote uninterrupted safe sleep. While you can swaddle with a properly folded blanket, I’ve found these HALO Sleepsacks to be more convenient thanks to their easy zipper and velcro arm closures. Bonus: they transition into an arm-free wearable blanket when your baby outgrows their startle reflex.
  3. Hatch Baby Rest Sound Machine. Did you know that infants are exposed to significant, constant levels of white noise in the womb? To ease the transition into sleeping in the real world, a sound machine can help. We’ve loved this option from Hatch, which has tons of sound options (I’d recommend the ocean waves or television static, which most closely resemble true white noise) and a night light that takes on the color of your choosing. You can control both the sound and light through an app, as well as on the control panel on the sound machine itself.
  4. Infant Optics Baby Monitor. A fan favorite for its quality and ease of use, this video baby monitor offers a clear picture, great coverage range and full tilt, pan and zoom controls with the push of a button. (I have mine sitting in front of me as I write this.) We’ve loved being able to add additional camera units into the system, which supports up to 4 total.

For Changing:

  1. Onesies – with feet and mitten cuffs! This was perhaps the only item I had a shortage of when we brought Nolan home from the hospital. While I had a bunch of kimono tops and bodysuits, I hadn’t realized just how convenient a full-body onesie would be. No need for pants, socks, or booties; protection against sharp fingernails; and best of all, easy access for diaper changes. Once you welcome your little one and know how big they are, consider having about a dozen of these on hand. Keep in mind, they’ll likely be worn hard and outgrown quickly, so reasonably priced options will be your friend. Some of my favorites have been: Burt’s Bees organic cotton onesies; Target brand Cloud Island sleep ‘n plays; and Carter’s 2-way zip up onesies (more on Amazon here).
  2. The Changing Table Trifecta: Diapers, Wipes and Disposable Changing Pads. It goes without saying that you’ll need diapers, but the brand can make a big difference. After putting Pampers Pure and Huggies Little Snugglers to the test, Huggies won out thanks to its elastic band across the rear to contain messes and prevent blowouts (I thought those would never happen to my baby…first-timers, take note: they will happen to you, and you’ll want to prevent them). Speaking of protection against messes, we use Peekapoo Disposable Changing Pad Liners to make clean up easier. And of course, you can’t get your baby fresh and clean without wipes. Pampers Sensitive Wipes have worked great for us – just the right amount of moisture, softness and durability to get the job done without skin irritation.
  3. Newborn Bath Insert. While everyone has their own preferences for baby’s bath time, we’ve had a great experience with the Angelcare Baby Bath Support for sponge baths and “big boy” baths alike. The insert sits comfortably in a bath tub, large sink, or in our case, a pop up baby tub that we situate on our laundry room counter, providing Nolan with the support he needs to sit up while we bathe him. It’s also easy to dry off and stow away after use.

Last week, I put away my breast pump for the last time. And I cried.

My breastfeeding journey was anything but smooth: 10 weeks of almost-exclusive pumping mixed with a handful of guilt-tinged nursing sessions, topped off with formula. Sounds messy, right? It was. Blood, sweat and tears isn’t even an exaggeration – it was reality. But like childbirth itself, I told myself that I had to power through. That it was better for Nolan. That it was what everyone said I had to do. But what about what I wanted to do? In a society where the “breast is best” message rings louder than ever, honoring anything but didn’t feel like an option.

Let me preface my story by saying, like all things related to motherhood, every journey is different. What works – or doesn’t work – for you may be the complete opposite for another mom. And that’s ok! My hope is that by sharing our stories, we can create an inclusive dialogue that demystifies the “hush hush” topics we google in the dark. This is one of them.

Back to the top. My experience with breastfeeding started off on shaky ground. Postpartum complications had me depleted in more ways than one. But that didn’t matter. All the nursing staff needed to know was that my records showed I intended to give breastfeeding a try upon my baby’s arrival. Perhaps had I known that I’d be recovering from a severe hemorrhage and blood transfusion within hours of delivery, I may have re-evaluated, but I wasn’t given the chance.

And so began round-the-clock nursing from the moment my hungry newborn made his big debut. I nursed through the transfusion. I nursed through emergency blood pressure checks as my numbers rose, and fell, and rose again. I nursed through horrendous night sweats. And then we were discharged and wished the best of luck.

Once we got home, my body was screaming for sleep. My husband insisted that I rest through the night feeding while he gave Nolan formula. I wish I could say I slept through that feeding. Instead, I laid in bed awake, flooded with guilt that I wasn’t nourishing my child. I felt like a bad mom, and this was only Night 1.

In retrospect, what happened next may have been the most defining moment of my breastfeeding journey’s fate. I got up, determined to be present to care for this new life that was now solely in our hands. I had ringing in my ears, occasional blurry vision and felt generally very weak, but the only place that gave me peace was the nursery, where I rocked Nolan to sleep to the faint sound of the early morning commuter trains in the distance. Fast forward several hours and I was re-admitted to labor and delivery for severe high blood pressure.

My re-entry to the hospital did not bode well for nursing. I was separated from my barely 3-day-old baby. My milk hadn’t come in yet. And yet, amidst the constant monitoring, the medical staff seemed almost more concerned with my breastfeeding situation than my blood pressure issues. The moment I got situated in my hospital bed, in came a giant breast pump on wheels. The nurse patiently introduced me to this intimidating machine, which I was instructed to use every 2-3 hours through my hospital stay. She laid out a myriad of vials and containers that I was to fill, label, refrigerate and eventually, take home for Nolan. I followed instructions and felt guilty for resenting the minute when the clock read “pumping time,” over and over again.

Some would say my dedication paid off. I returned home with a collection of colostrum (aka the antibody-rich “liquid gold” that precedes milk), and my milk had come in. But what should have been a time of rest in the hospital had felt like another intense mission. Sleep they said. And yet I hadn’t been able to go more than 2 hours and 59 minutes before waking for another pumping session. Their message was contradictory and confusing.

As I settled back home, I re-attempted nursing as I had done a few days prior. My little guy didn’t show even a trace sign of what I had been warned of – nipple confusion (difficulty nursing after feeding from the bottle) – and his latch remained what two lactation consultants had deemed beautiful. And yet, the moment he latched, my body screamed “nooooo!” My body craved rest in a way I had never experienced before. It craved a moment to itself. A moment to process the intense trauma it had just sustained. And yet, I felt too guilty to honor any of those feelings.

The weeks that followed were an overwhelming, sleep-deprived and emotional fog. Nursing sessions were lasting over an hour, a mix of frantic (and often painful) pulls at my body and sleepy lulls, only to be met with my son’s cries for more just 30 minutes later. I was sore, cracked, and engorged – all par for the course, as I was unsympathetically told by many a medical practitioner. In hopes of taking back some control over this feeding frenzy, I moved to exclusively pumping. While being tethered to a breast pump for 30 minutes at a time, 6-8 times a day, was hardly freeing, it was somehow easier for me mentally. Perhaps knowing that I could push the “off” button subconsciously calmed me. And yet, coordinating when I would pump while caring for a newborn was an awkward dance that I never quite mastered the steps to.

In a last-ditch effort to make pumping easier, I invested a hefty $500 of my HSA savings into the supposedly revolutionary Willow. The hands-free, wearable contraption looks as if Apple made a breast pump, and touts that you can “pump anywhere, in any position.” From first-hand experience, I can tell you this is not true. I could barely lift Nolan from the crib without painfully displacing the pump, let alone get in a “downward dog” yoga position as its website notes. The lowest suction setting had me blistered and in more pain than those initial days of nursing. I broke up with the Willow after it introduced me to my first case of mastitis (it’s an infection of the breast tissue – don’t google it).

Defeated and at my wits end, I was back to juggling this breastfeeding game with my trusty Spectra pump and occasional nursing sessions when the thought of washing another bottle or pump part was just too much. Unknowingly still damaged from the Willow, Nolan’s nursing only made it harder to heal, leading to yet another and more severe case of mastitis a week later – just in time for his baptism. With family in town and staying in my home, I dealt with the unpleasant symptoms of fever, chills, extremely painful inflammation and blockage, all behind the closed-door confines of my bedroom. That’s when I made the executive decision that I’d be weaning once the infection cleared and the antibiotics had run their course.

Three weeks later, I can tell you that weaning was the absolute best decision for my mental health. And it was not a decision I took lightly. Breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural thing and has countless benefits, from the transfer of mom’s antibodies to decreased risk of SIDS. I’m proud to have given my son those benefits for the first 10 weeks of his life, and commend moms who are able to do the same for any period of time. But for me, it was time for a change.

The journey to nourishing and caring for my son has hardly ended – it’s only just begun, with a slight fork in the road. While some may say I’ve forgone the ability to bond with him during a feeding, our bond has only deepened, as he locks eyes with mine until the last drop of milk is gone. It’s in these intimate moments, his bright blue gaze met with my amazed stare, when all self-doubt melts away and I’m filled with pure and total bliss. It’s a feeling I wasn’t able to fully comprehend until now. And that makes every step of my journey leading up to this point worth it.

I’ll end with this. I’m a firm believer that “fed is best,” whatever that means for you. If you’re exclusively nursing, pumping, formula feeding, or some combination of the above, more power to you. You’re nourishing your child in the way that best works for you, and that in itself is commendable.

Life lately looks a lot like yesterday’s leggings and a comfy fleece jacket – quite the departure from my former uniform consisting of high-waisted black jeans and a blazer. While I’ve always embraced athleisure for weekend errands, and dare I say it, actually working out, my new love of loungewear is admittedly a product of mom life (and my daily hope that maybe, just maybe, I’ll get on that treadmill during Nolan’s short lived nap…).

If you’re looking for the best of form meets function, check out my top picks of the athleisure pack below:

  1. Leggings: These Zella Live In High-Waisted Leggings are my everyday go-to (emphasis on everyday 😀). Between the flattering high waist that pulls everything in, and the ultra smooth fabric that’s the goldilocks of thickness, I feel confident and comfortable the minute I put these on. I have them in black and navy blue and wish I had 10 pairs.
  2. Fleece Pullover: Meet the newest addition to my athleisurewear: the Alo Blackcomb Polar Fleece Half Zip Pullover. Given my longstanding daily uniform has always consisted of black and lots of it, it was only a matter of time until this piece found its way into my closet. Truth be told, I was looking for a pullover with a pocket for my phone since I’ve lost it in my house one too many times when I don’t have it safely tucked away (new moms take note: you’ll also be down one or both hands 99% of your waking hours so pockets will become your best friend!).
  3. Cozy Top: If you’re looking for the comfort of a sweatshirt but don’t want to sacrifice on fit, check out the Alo Haze Long Sleeve Top. The flattering cut is cozy without being oversized, bringing together details like a high-neck, ribbed and slitted waist band, and pleated back so nothing sticks.
  4. Versatile Bag: Finding a bag that’s casual yet not unpolished, roomy yet not engulfing, and durable yet stylish is a tall order and this bag stands up to the task. The Sherpani Rebel Coated Canvas Cross Body Bag has been my travel companion, gym buddy and now, a member of my stroller brigade on walks with my little guy. I love being able to carry it with the shoulder strap or top handles depending on the task at hand.
  5. Seamless Tanks: Nursing or not (I’m in the process of weaning now – that’s a post for another day…), these seamless fitted tanks will be in my wardrobe rotation for months to come. Their long length make them perfect for layering whether you’re pulling them over leggings or tucking them into jeans. This particular set delivers a comfortable body-con fit that you can wear pre-, during and post-pregnancy.
  6. Sneakers: You already know that I’ve long been a fan of my trusty Nike Frees, but when I’m in the mood to change it up for a clean, classic look, I turn to these all-white Pumas. They truly go with anything which makes getting dressed that much easier.

At 34 weeks pregnant, I tackled one of the most important milestones of the third trimester: packing your hospital bag. As a first-time mom and someone who has been teased for over-preparedness pretty much all my life, honing down my packing list was overwhelming to say the least. Mommy-baby matching PJ/swaddle sets, feminine supplies for care down there (spoiler: the hospital will give you everything you’ll need!), makeup for hospital room photos (because who doesn’t want their photo taken after birthing a child?!) — the list goes on. Turns out, there are some things I absolutely needed and a couple things I wish I had had. If I were to do it all over again, here are the essentials I wouldn’t leave home without: 

  1. A Comfortable Nightgown. Aside from my hospital gown, I wore this blue polka-dot nightgown for the majority of my hospital stay. Here I thought I’d be in the mood to change into a different outfit everyday – yeah right! It was all I could do to change into my joggers to go home. While I had packed three different sets of PJs and loungewear, I found my nightgown to be more practical than pants for the frequent abdominal and vaginal exams that followed delivery. (And c-section mamas, you won’t have to worry about any elastic waistbands.) Size up for added comfort and consider darker colors to avoid staining. 
  2. Three Sets of Onesies for Baby. It took about 3 seconds for Nolan to “tinkle” on the first outfit we dressed him in. His timing was perfect too, as the hospital’s newborn photographer had just walked into our room. We (as in Evan) frantically changed him into our one and only backup option, which did not have mittens on the sleeves. Our little guy had quite the set of nails when he was born, and while we did bring an emory board, we hadn’t had time to give him a proper baby manicure prior to this photo session. Go figure, Nolan’s hands were like magnets to his cheeks and he managed to scratch himself good just in time for his close-ups. The lesson: while all those precious doll clothes are tempting, leave them at home in favor of the ever-practical and oh-so-adorable front-snap onesie. (The front snap – or zip or magnetic – closure ensures it isn’t too tight across your baby’s healing belly button.) Bring a few, and make sure they have mittens built in to preserve your baby’s flawless skin from scratches. I love these organic cotton onesies from Burt’s Bees. Consider packing both newborn and 0-3 month sizes to be sure you’ll have the right fit for your little one. 
  3. A Swaddle Blanket and Hat. If your hospital is like mine, then you’ll have a newborn photographer show up the day after delivery to take professional photos in your hospital room. This admittedly was not the first thing I was in the mood to do after 20 hours of labor and postpartum complications. That said, I felt like I’d be a bad mom to turn down my first opportunity to document my kid, so I rolled with it. To really get the full effect of these mommy and me photos, I had a matching swaddle blanket and hat for Nolan to wear. While I was excited to find my polka dot ensemble, let’s just say I think there is a huge market opportunity for companies to offer cuter matching options for boy moms – just saying! 
  4. Machine Washable Slippers. While you’ll likely be spending the majority of your time in a hospital bed, you’ll want something on your feet to walk around your hospital room, bathroom and perhaps even the hospital halls if you’re mobile while laboring. I opted for this cozy pair of white slippers that have non-slip soles and are machine washable. I threw them in the wash when we got home from the hospital to avoid tracking in any unwanted germs from the hospital floor.  
  5. A Warm Robe. Maybe it was just the sterile vibe of the hospital, but it felt about 10 degrees colder than we keep our home. Enter: my favorite fleece-lined robe. I have it in two colors and rotate them whenever one is in the wash.     
  6. An Extra Long Phone Charger. I personally wasn’t on my phone much while in the hospital (and not at all during the labor process), but you’ll inevitably need a charge at some point over the typical 3-day stay. Opt for an extra long phone charger that extends from those hard-to-find outlets to your hospital bed so you can power up and catch up with loved ones at the same time. 
  7. Essential Oils. I’m a big fan of lavender scents, especially at bedtime when I’m looking to wind down. To help find my inner zen, I brought along my lavender neck pillow and wore it from the time I was admitted. Did it take the pain of my contractions away? Heck no, but it did give me an ounce more comfort and I was willing to take all the help I could get. 
  8. A Soft Blanket. I had planned to bring a fleece blanket, but in an effort to par down our belongings, I ditched it at the last minute. I regret it. The hospital blankets were fine, but let’s just say they don’t use much fabric softener 🙂 
  9. An Eye Mask. For as much as the nurses tell you to try and get some rest, the hospital ironically is not very conducive to shut eye. Between the constant beeps and light from any number of the monitors and screens throughout the room, you’ll be hard-pressed to sleep much if you’re sensitive to light or sound. I can tune out repetitive noise pretty easily, but lights are another story. I ended up using my lavender neck pillow (see #7) to cover my eyes, but wish I had had a true eye mask to snag a precious few hours of sleep before the baby arrived.   
  10. Convenient, Healthy One-Handed Snacks. I was able to order three meals a day, but the food didn’t always arrive when I was able to eat. Between a hungry newborn whose appetite took precedence and the parade of hospital staff checking on any number of things in our room, it was tough to enjoy a two-handed meal. Luckily we had packed a number of convenient snacks like my all-time favorite Larabars (peanut butter and blueberry are my two favorite flavors) to munch on when I needed extra fuel.  
  11. A Water Bottle with a Straw. I don’t think I’ve ever been as thirsty as I was in the 48 hours postpartum. The hospital provided me with a large plastic mug and straw for ice water, but I do wish I had used my Contigo insulated water bottle that’s become a daily staple since I got home from the hospital. Breastfeeding mamas, did you know that nursing causes you to release a hormone that triggers thirst? Keeping a water bottle within reach while breastfeeding helps keep you hydrated while you nourish your little one.
  12. A Journal. I packed my pregnancy journal and admittedly didn’t have the energy to write much in the “delivery notes” section until days after I had arrived home from the hospital. But I wish I had. Looking back, there is nothing like documenting your emotions (and you will feel many!) in real time. Even a week’s worth of sleep deprivation made it harder for me to recall the exact feelings I had experienced after meeting Nolan for the first time and witnessing a series of many firsts in the confines of our hospital room. If you can, jot down even one phrase or sentence a day to chronicle those raw emotions forever.
  13. A Polaroid Camera. Here’s another thing I ditched at the last minute and wish I had packed. While our cell phones have largely replaced the need for separate cameras, there’s something about the old school nature of a polaroid camera to capture real, unedited moments better than its digital counterpart. While the hospital photographer was a nice touch, part of me wishes we had snagged a few more photos with an analogue, unposed feel.
  14. A Parred Down Cosmetics Bag. Simple is the name of the game here. If you’re looking to freshen up for photos and/or visitors, skip the full-coverage foundation, bronzer, highlighter and blush in favor of a light BB or CC cream, concealer, mascara and lip balm. (My personal faves are: SUPERGOOP! Daily Correct CC cream, IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Under Eye Concealer, Benefit Cosmetics BADgal BANG! Volumizing Mascara, and Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment in Rosé.) I also brought along a pack of my trusty Neutrogena face wipes so I didn’t have to worry about washing my face if I was too tired. 
  15. Going Home Outfits for You & Baby. I’ll never forget being told we were discharged to go home. Part of me felt that it was all-too-soon to be releasing us to the real world, while another part of me could. not. wait. to get home. A crucial step in heading for that exit door is dressing the part, for both you and baby. Think head-to-toe here, especially if it’s chilly out. I opted for comfy drawstring joggers, a cowl neck sweater and my tried and true Nike Frees. (Stick with lace-ups as you may experience swelling in your feet for a couple weeks postpartum.) For Nolan, we had planned to dress him in an adorable white kimono outfit that he tactfully stained, so our back-up footed Magnetic Me onesie did the trick. We also swapped out his hospital hat for a warmer white fleece hat. Given the strict rules around dressing your baby for a car seat, no need to layer them in winter jackets or buntings. We did have an adorable blue bunting on deck for Nolan’s going home ensemble, but the nurses never would have let us past our hospital room door if we had dressed him in it.
  16. A Receiving Blanket. In the absence of a cute bunting, we had an extra warm receiving blanket personalized for Nolan and wrapped it around his precious little body for extra insulation in his car seat. Little did we know that we’d call this the “magic blanket,” as it still makes Nolan fall asleep the moment we swaddle him in it. 
  17. A Car Seat and Car Seat Cover. Last but certainly not least, be sure you have a car seat properly installed in the backseat of the car you plan to leave the hospital in. If you’re unsure how to install the car seat or would like a certified professional to double check your handy work, head to your local fire department where someone can likely help. We went with the UPPAbaby Mesa car seat that fits into our UPPAbaby Vista stroller system without an adapter. Keep the newborn insert in place until you know just how big your little one is (the UPPAbaby newborn insert is recommended for babies 4-8 lbs, although we used it for Nolan and he was over 9 lbs). While the hospital will likely allow you to pull right up to the entrance so you don’t have to bear the elements with your newborn, it doesn’t hurt to have an extra barrier of protection by using a car seat cover. Since it was the heart of winter when Nolan arrived, we opted for this blanket-style car seat cover to keep him toasty warm. 

Despite all the forecasting, guessing and planning, babies have a funny way of defying expectations and arriving on their own timeline. That couldn’t have been more true in my case as we awaited the arrival of our baby boy just over six weeks ago.

Rewind to December. My 37-week ultrasound made it clear that our little guy wasn’t looking so little. My doctor wanted to schedule an induction for no more than 3 days past my due date out of precaution for his estimated size. And go figure, Nolan was in no rush to come on his own, so it’s a good thing. On the evening of December 26, my husband Evan and I headed to the hospital to start the induction process.

So what exactly is an induction? In layman’s terms (to be clear, I am no doctor), it’s medical intervention to kickstart labor. Depending on how much the mother’s body is showing preparedness for labor, you may need a more involved overnight induction or simply can jump into a Pitocin drip. While I had been told I’d likely need an overnight induction, the first of many surprises was to find out I arrived at the hospital 3 centimeters dilated (if you’re new at this, you give birth at 10 cm). The doctor started the Pitocin drip and said things should start progressing relatively quickly. It was 8pm.

By midnight, my contractions were picking up. I had joked that my so-called birth plan was pretty simple: get an epidural, so the nurses said there was no reason why I shouldn’t get one at the onset of uncomfortable contractions. By 2am on the 27th, I figured I had gutted out enough discomfort to understand what labor feels like and green-lighted the epidural. The anesthesiologist arrived relatively quickly and administered it without issue. Within five minutes, I felt a rush of warmth take over my body, but primarily on my right side. I asked if it was strange that only my right leg was numb, but the team insisted that it was normal — that sometimes, depending on how you’re laying, gravity can cause the drugs to affect one side more than the other. The nurses diligently rotated me from side to side every 20 minutes or so. Five hours later, the contractions on the left side of my abdomen had gone from uncomfortable to nauseating. Concurrently, the doctor on staff determined it was time to break my water to move things along. That’s all it took for those contractions to turn up to an 11 out of 10 on the pain scale. I started throwing up and my whole body was involuntarily shaking. Evan and I insisted we see an anesthesiologist to address what clearly was an issue with the epidural.

Turns out, the placement of an epidural can be too high or too low depending on your anatomy. Some unlucky few will need it re-administered higher or lower in the spine to be more effective. An even unluckier few will feel some level of pain despite the placement. I was hoping a redo would do the trick.

The second epidural took the edge off, but for whatever reason, I continued to feel quite a bit of pain on my left side. Over the course of working through it, labor progressed and by 2pm it was time to start pushing.

I’ll spare you the details of the pushing phase. Let’s just say the epidural definitely didn’t work correctly for me…every time I thought I had experienced the worst pain of my life, it got worse. (It was not just “pressure,” which they said would have been normal.) But I told myself the only way to it is through it, so I powered through, with Evan by my side the whole time. I must have blacked out for the worst of it, because my memory goes from what felt like a re-enactment of June’s birthing scene in Handmaid’s Tale to me being handed our healthy 9 lb 3 oz baby boy, Nolan, at 3:49 pm. At that moment nothing else mattered — I was completely overtaken by a kind of love I’d never experienced before, and a dose of disbelief that it was happening to me.

Little did I know that my finish line was still quite a ways away. While in recovery, routine checks had one of the nurses suspicious. I felt off, too. While my epidural had been removed and I regained feeling in my legs, I was still quivering and had a tinny ringing in my ears. The nurse went to get the doctor, and before I knew it, I was swarmed by no less than 8 medical staffers. I was hemorrhaging blood, and fast.

Within seconds, every limb of mine was jabbed with needles — a concoction of drugs to control the bleeding — while the doctors tried to get things under control. Just when I thought I’d experienced a new ceiling for pain, it was shattered — and then some. With my epidural removed, I had no pain management as the doctors did a number of invasive things to stop the bleeding internally. I needed an emergency blood transfusion to keep me from going into shock. I had lost over 2 liters of blood.

About an hour later, I was stable, although my psyche was totally traumatized. I threw up, cried, and almost couldn’t believe I survived. I was so grateful to be alive, but so sad that those precious first minutes of my baby’s life were spent with him helplessly laying in his bassinet in the corner of the delivery room while all medical attention was directed toward saving my life. The cause is still unclear — I was told that some women who deliver big babies are just more prone to bleeding issues. It felt like such a simple explanation for such a life threatening complication.

I promise I’m almost done with this birth story. The last chapter of this ordeal came when my formerly very low blood pressure took a turn and became elevated above normal levels right after the hemorrhage. Again, no real explanation other than “some women experience postpartum hypertension due to massive fluctuations in hormones.” I was discharged on schedule and told to follow up with my OB one week later.

My first day home, I took my blood pressure after feeling off. I owned a cuff due to low blood pressure issues I had throughout pregnancy (oh the irony), and had a rude awakening when the number read 165/105. My mom, who was staying with us to help out, insisted I get to the ER immediately.

I was readmitted to Labor & Delivery for two days while my blood pressure was stabilized. If I had any doubt about whether the baby blues are real, I sure experienced my fill as I laid alone in the hospital room while my newborn was at home with my husband and mother on New Year’s Eve. I had to turn off the TV so I didn’t see another segment of people gathering in Times Square to watch the ball drop. I meditated and prayed that my blood pressure would drop so I could be discharged and sent home to ring in 2020. And by some miracle, it did. For that, I am forever grateful.

I was put on a low dose of blood pressure medication to treat what was deemed “postpartum hypertension.” Most cases resolve on their own within 12 weeks. Within 1 week, my numbers already started to drop closer to my regular readings, and within 2 weeks I was fully off the medication. The road to postpartum recovery was hardly over, but it felt like I could finally close the doors on the tumultuous portion of the journey.

I’m still working on feeling back to myself, but I know that will take time. If you’re a new mom, know a new mom or are a mama-to-be, extend grace. Remember that it is no small feat to bring a new life into this world, no matter how “perfect” the experience is. Postpartum recovery is no joke. Go easy on yourself and let yourself feel however you want to feel. For as joyful as having a newborn is, it can be equally if not more overwhelming, especially when you are recovering. Make sure you have the support you need in order to take care of yourself. A healthy newborn starts with a healthy mama, so don’t be afraid to make you a priority. 

How times have changed since my last post. In the course of three years, I’ve gone from pressing “publish” on my then-boyfriend’s sectional sofa on a lazy Saturday morning to sitting at my kitchen table watching our 6-week old baby boy nap on our infant monitor.

Life has been a beautiful whirlwind in these three years. I’ve navigated the ins and outs of a new job, newlywed life, homeownership, and most recently, pregnancy and motherhood. These milestones have all changed me, and while I stepped away from this platform as they unfolded, the distance has given me clarity. It’s only in retrospect that I’ve been able to process how these milestones have shaped me, and how I can be a resource to those about to embark on them, too.

So, hi, I’m back. If I’ve met you before, thanks for coming back! If you’re new, welcome! Stay tuned for all that’s to come.

This Saturday night, I found my dream apartment. It comes with exposed brick walls, golden light fixtures worth more than my car and a full service kitchen and bar. Not to mention a living room set up complete with navy tufted sofas and coffee table succulents.

The spot: Presidio Chicago, a Bucktown-area lounge that’s unfortunately not taking renters’ applications. They do, however, serve excellent cocktails and just the right mix of hot-spot meets chill vibes. The menu, inspired by owner Patrick Cullen’s hometown of San Francisco, offers a mix of Northern Cal dishes and pours, infused with local Chicago flair. My girlfriends and I toasted to the weekend with three cheers for the Boystown Royale, Logan Square Cooler and Beckman Rhone Red Blend.

I’ll be back for another round.

Photo credit: PresidioChicago.com
Photo credit: PresidioChicago.com

What’s sour and sweet and leaves you thirsty for more? Beyoncé’s Lemonade, the superstar’s sixth solo album, which dropped Saturday after a one-hour world premier on HBO.

Lemonade is spiked with a distinct taste of vengeance — one that we’re not used to hearing so loud and clear from the artist who brought us feel-good anthems like XO, Love on Top and Crazy in Love. Beyoncé’s departure is layered with the pain of a love lost, and the empowering realizations that hers is a love to lose.

A little bit country, a little bit R&B, a little bit fem-powerment, a little bit f-you, Lemonade is a new recipe for Queen Bey — a mix of raw imperfections that go down easier with each replay.

All the while, I’ll wonder if this recipe is a PR play to engage America in the rollercoaster relationship that is Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Listening to the sultry Sorry and 6 Inch (feat. the Weeknd), I couldn’t help but feel unsettled, voyeuristic even — like I was watching something perfect corrode. But is it all for show? Only time will tell. In the meantime, download Lemonade on Jay-Z’s Tidal.

Have you ever pondered the meaning of life within the three walls of your cube? Does your Instagram feed range from post-college sorority squats to engagement announcements and friends’ new babies? Are you considering an existential crisis because of the gap between your expectations and reality for what life would be like in your 20s? If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be experiencing a quarter life crisis. But don’t worry, because as Samantha Jayne puts it, the struggle is real.

Jayne is a 26 year-old freelance art director, actress and author of the book Quarter Life Poetry, due out April 5. The premise is strikingly relatable for anyone living through their 20s in the age of digital adulting. In video promos for the book, Jayne captures the essence of a life stage in transition, and how the professional and personal intersect along the way.

The New Jersey native graduated with a degree in ad design from the Fashion Institute of Technology and worked in a number of internships before landing the title of art director at KBS in New York and Swirl in San Francisco, Adweek reports. Her work now involves part-time projects at MullenLowe, in addition to those on a freelance-basis.

Jayne told Adweek that the book trailers are admittedly autobiographical, albeit depicting a slightly younger version of herself. “I really hope people take away that they’re not alone.”

For more of Jayne’s witty take on Millennial life, follow her Instagram account Quarter Life Poetry and feel instantly better about staying in this Friday night to bake some banana bread. I know I will.