breastfeeding, Life

Am I Doing This Right?

This is part 1 of 2 of my breastfeeding journey. Yes, it’s going to take two whole posts to cover all that happened, and yes I will probably leave some things out – either because I forgot in order to actually be able to go through this whole process again with the next baby, or because I just really don’t want to scare you. I added a ton of links throughout the post that can help if you’re interested, so click away!

On September 5, 2016 I thought I was giving birth to a healthy baby boy. It turns out, I was bringing into the world yet another boobie barnacle.

This is not a list of dos and don’ts. I can’t provide that because your experience will be totally different than mine because you gave birth to an entirely different human than me. But I do want to share the details of my experience in hopes that if my story is anything like yours, you can see something that will help.

Now, before I go any further I want to make something clear: there is no disagreement that breast is best. It is. That’s just the fact. But that doesn’t mean that breastfeeding is going to work out for everyone – for whatever reason – and that doesn’t mean that formula is bad. Formula has kept millions of babies healthy, well-fed, and ALIVE for years. I don’t care how you feed your baby, and I am not here to shame you. Frankly, I think it’s sad and a huge testament to the state of the mommy community that I even have to preface my post with this. Feed your baby. Be proud of the choices you make. You are a warrior, mama, and nobody is here to make you question yourself. Breastfeeding is what I know because that’s what I did, and so that’s what I can talk about. I am passionate about breastfeeding because I had a really difficult time getting to the point where I loved it, and I want to share my experience with the hope that it can help other women love it too.

If you can’t breastfeed, but want to, and this information helps you, that’s great. If you can’t breastfeed, or you don’t want to, that’s great too. Regardless of how you feed your baby I would love to be able to meet up for a cup of coffee one day and laugh about how, even though we totally adore our kids, they can be super assholes sometimes.

Breastfeeding does not come naturally, contrary to what we are led to believe. Breastfeeding is something that most women are able to do, but it is not something that we immediately know how to do. And that’s the part that a lot of us can’t understand. If our bodies are able to create milk and our babies are able to suck as soon as they’re earthside, why doesn’t it always work?

I read everything there was to read about having the baby and virtually nothing about breastfeeding. Why? Because I didn’t think it would be that hard. In reality, it’s been the hardest part about motherhood so far. Why? Because I didn’t think it would be this hard.

I was absolutely shocked how much my son wanted to nurse. Boobie barnacle is not hyperbole. This kid did not leave the boob for 6 weeks. He would suck a little, sleep a little, suck a little, sleep a little, and if I tried to actually remove him from my breast, he would cry. A lot. The inner dialogue in my head was on a loop – Was my milk enough? Was he still hungry? Should I give him a bottle of formula just in case? Maybe I should go buy a scale so that I could weigh him before and after each feed. Am I doing this right? These thoughts that flooded my brain are the same thoughts that every new mom whose boobs are suddenly responsible for sustaining life has.

Now, I am not a doctor or a lactation consultant, but I am a mom who has talked to lots of other moms and the one thing they all said: this is normal behavior for newborns. It’s also normal behavior for new moms to call the doctor and ask a million questions and want to make sure their baby isn’t starving. My only advice when you’re worried if your baby isn’t getting enough to eat would be this: ask, check, consult, but make sure you’re asking the right person. Just because there’s an MD after their name doesn’t make them an expert on or an advocate for breastfeeding. My right person happened to be a local La Leche League leader and a Facebook group dedicated to helping mamas breastfeed, led by an amazing IBCLC/Doula, Cass Romero-Schroeder. These websites also helped – and still do! – a lot.

The fact is that we won’t know how much our baby is getting when they’re breastfeeding and if it’s our first time, we are going to be plagued with worry over the issue. But the number one indication that your baby is getting enough to eat – aside from his growth – is the number of dirty diapers he is having. Other things – like how full your breasts feel, how fussy the baby is, how well (or not) he’s sleeping – don’t necessarily mean you don’t have enough milk

After Adam’s first check up and weigh in, I knew that he was OK, and that my milk was enough. His doctor – who was encouraging and supportive of my decision to exclusively breastfeed – told me the best thing I could do is just keep feeding him whenever he wanted to eat, which was still all the time. She also told me that I needed to eat all the time and drink a ton of water and rest when I could, and that my body would know what to do. Our bodies know what to do. You are enough. 

One thing that I had heard a lot about before having the baby was different supplements and herbs that could help make more milk. They came in all forms – from pills to teas to cookies – and all had roughly the same ingredients. I’m not going to tell you that these don’t work, but I am going to tell you that the evidence that they work is anecdotal at best, and many of the ingredients may do more harm than good by irritating baby’s tummy. The best way to increase your supply – if you even have a low supply to begin with, which you probably don’t! – is to nurse baby all the time and take really good care of yourself. Eat A LOT of good food, and indulge in a little chocolate and ice cream, too. Take vitamins. Drink tea. Eat cookies. Do some yoga poses or take a walk. Do these things because it’s good for your body and soul, not because it will increase your milk. KellyMom has a great overview on how and when to take supplements, but I would really recommend getting in touch with an IBCLC if you’re worried about your supply. There are other issues that could be impacting your nursing relationship that an IBCLC would be able to discuss with you, too, such as lip and tongue ties. 

Overall, the more our milk is removed, the more it’s produced. That’s just how the boobs work. So feeding the baby is the best way to make more milk. Pumping is also a great way to kickstart the remove – produce cycle, but be warned: oversupply is a real thing and it is not fun. You know best what your schedule is going to look like, and if/when you have to return to work before baby is 6 weeks, pumping may be necessary. But inform yourself first and look out for cues of oversupply. Discuss your options with your person, and make a plan from there.

Look out for my next post all about my oversupply issues, the problems I had because of that, and how I was able to correct it, resulting in a happy boobie monster and happy mommy.

Childbirth, Life

And then there were three – my birth story

Delivering a baby is messy, however the little peanut comes out of your body. It’s hard, it’s painful, for first-time moms it’s scarier than anything we’ve ever experienced, (yes, even more than graduating college) and yet, to the doctors and nurses, it’s a standard procedure; there’s a checklist, protocol, things you should say and a timeframe things should follow. All things considered, though, the ladies laying on that hospital bed are human, and deserve to be shown kindness and comfort during labor and delivery, something I can’t say I saw until the last of 3 doctors arrived during my labor.  While I’d planned to have everything done a certain way, I had very little say in the matter once push came to shove (no pun intended). There is one thing, however, I dis have control over and really dropped the ball on; I didn’t get a doula for my delivery, and I regret it every single day. 

Maybe that’s why I’m now pursuing to become one myself, because one of the reasons why I didn’t have one was because there were only two available, and one was off having her own baby, while the other was on vacation and could only guarantee to be back in time for the delivery if I was sure I wanted her to be there. And I wasn’t. The cost was higher than I had anticipated, I was understandably overly emotional and thought my husband should be the one in the delivery room with me (I was under the impression I could only have one or the other, not both), and I just couldn’t commit because I wasn’t sure I wanted or needed one. I mean, I had written my birth plan, which, at its essence revolved around me getting an epidural, so what would I need a doula to support me with then? 

My birth story isn’t one that will make you sob (unless you went through the same thing, too, and thought nobody else had experienced it), but it is one that will hopefully teach you a couple of important lessons: that your experiences are your own, and that it is so important to understand that as much as you prepare yourself for everything when it comes to having a baby, you will never be prepared for what’s to come, and that’s OK. 

First let me preface this whole story by saying that I read everything. I had a birth plan, a hospital checklist, I knew what to bring and what I wouldn’t need, I read the gory birth stories, and the beautiful ones. When I learned that I would have to be induced (which I would not agree to again unless it was a medical emergency; our bodies know what they’re doing, mamas!), I knew what that meant, and I figured that while we were waiting for the induction to do it’s thing – and even when the epidural was in and we were then waiting for the baby to make his appearance – my husband and I would just chill. So, I packed like I was going on a staycation. Seriously, people, I had face creams and spritzes in case I felt flushed, hair ties and headbands that wouldn’t mess up my hair so I could take flawless pics once the little one was earthside, books, movies downloaded, my iPod, I think I even threw in a pack of cards because, hey, why not? If you’re wondering if I got around to using any of those things: I did not. At all. Ever. I could barely unpack my bag once we arrived home from the hospital out of sheer humiliation and seething anger that nothing had gone how I thought it would.

I also want to say that I think the strength of women is incredible. Like I said before, our bodies know what to do, and the transformative experience of childbirth is just such an incredible journey to be able to take and I am blessed and truly grateful that I was able to carry my son for 9 months and then deliver him. This story I’m about to share doesn’t serve to diminish that in any way.

There have been plenty of times in my life when I’ve felt alone; when I left for college, and when I moved to Saudi, just to name a few. But the only time that the full autonomy and separateness of my body, mind, and spirit from any other living being on this planet really hit me was when I was in the throes of labor. I was forced to have an unmedicated, vaginal delivery. (I don’t say natural here because I don’t want to diminish what c-section mamas go through, because they, too, are rockstars!) When I say forced, I mean that I didn’t want either of those things.

Now, I believe that some women have fantastic experiences with unmedicated vaginal deliveries, and I think their stories are beautiful and empowering and a true testament to the aforementioned strength of a woman. But I also believe in a woman’s right to make her own choices and me? I wanted drugs. And it wasn’t until I was in the height of pain that I was told I wouldn’t be able to have an epidural. I was in tears from the contractions, out of my mind with what I thought was the worst pain (it got worse…), and holding out because I wanted to show my husband how tough I could be. Even in this moment that he would never be able to experience because his body wasn’t created in the same awesome way as mine, I wanted him to be proud. The doctor’s words weren’t registering with me. I couldn’t have an epidural? Something about my platelets. The pitocin hadn’t even been administered yet, so I knew that the pain I was feeling was about to get 30 times worse. It just didn’t make sense. What did she want to give me then? They had gas, an injection they would be able to give me every 6 hours, my husband could massage me. But I didn’t understand how I would deal with the pain. So, in a moment of clarity, I did what any sane, rational-thinking woman with my expectations going into labor would do: I told her I would just have a c-section. I think she actually laughed a little. I couldn’t have a c-section because I didn’t need one. Yes, yes I did because I couldn’t deliver this baby with nothing. Again with the gas, the injection, the massage. And then it hit me: I wasn’t going to have an epidural, and I wasn’t going to have a c-section. Adam was on his way and I had to deal with it all by myself.

This is the point where, to put it bluntly, I lost my shit, and where a doula really would have been able to step up to the plate and do her thing. I was in hysterics; screaming and crying and yelling at the doctor and telling my husband to call my other doctor (who was on vacation in Italy and worked for an entirely different hospital). I was in so much pain and so determined to put myself into a medical emergency just so they would have to give me the c-section that I started saying no to everything. No, they couldn’t monitor me or the baby; no, I did not authorize them to start the pitocin; you are absolutely not going to strip my membranes or break my water. After two hours of refusing everything my husband finally snapped and said, “fine, let’s go home.” I looked at him, shocked that his usually calm demeanor was so harsh, and realized the ridiculousness of what I was doing.

Once the pitocin was started and whatever shred of dignity I had left had exited the building, it took another 16 hours for the baby to come out and, in all honesty, pushing him out was the least painful and the most relieving part of the whole ordeal. The injections they gave me only served to make me so high that I would pass out in between contractions – which were less than 2 minutes apart the. whole. fricken. time. – and the gas they gave me did absolutely nothing but annoy me that it was even a suggested.

I was euphoric once Adam came, of course, but I was traumatized, too. The first two times I tried to fall asleep that night I was jolted awake in panic, because that’s all I knew the last 16 hours – dozing off only to be awakened by excruciating pain. In those moments, I had become pain. No prayer or saying or comforting look from my husband could remove what I was feeling during those nearly minute-long contractions, and the way the doctors made me feel about the whole thing – that it was completely normal and that I was somehow supposed to just suck it up and deal with it – only added to the isolation, and later, to the anger. I felt that way for a long time. It didn’t help to hear people telling me that I would forget about it (I didn’t), or that I should be grateful that I didn’t have a c-section (I am and I’m not). I didn’t begin to come to terms with what had happened until I had joined an online breastfeeding support group called The Cleavage Club (if you’re breastfeeding or wanting to in the future, go join now!!! They’re on Facebook, based in Southern California, but have ladies from all over the US and the world) and was told by ICBLC and Doula extraordinaire Cass that it was OK to feel what I was feeling because that birth experience was mine, and I didn’t have to adjust it for anyone. Nobody else could have known what I felt, even if they were right next to me for the entire 16-hour experience (God bless my husband!), and it was OK to hate what happened. It doesn’t make me a bad person, or ungrateful, it just makes me a human that went through something quite traumatic and who has actual feelings about it.

Everything about my labor and delivery taught me that nothing is what it seems when it comes to childbirth and being a mom, and everything since Adam was born has only served to confirm that notion. Breastfeeding was incredibly hard – I will post more about this in the future – and I stuck with it only because my mom encouraged me not to quit on my hardest day, and because I had the support of groups like La Leche League and The Cleavage Club (on Facebook) to work things out with me. The first few weeks felt like 50 years. Adjusting to the overwhelming responsibility of taking care of a tiny human every second was beyond difficult, and it’s still a learning process every single day. Being a mom isn’t easy or cheap – it comes with a hefty price tag financially and emotionally. But I can’t think of anything else that I would rather be doing with my time, energy, or love.

Please leave a comment below to let me know what your birth experience was like, or if you would like any information about delivering a baby in Saudi.

Life

Throwin’ it way back – Fake it til you make it

So I have a confession to make: I’ve tried this blogging thing once or twice before. I’ve always had something to say (my mom and husband can totally vouch for that), but for whatever reason – or, more like a billion small reasons – I never really stuck with it. But as I was looking through some of my old content, searching for something still relevent, I found this gem from almost 8 years ago, my pre-graduate self; I had no idea what I was in for, but I was pretty sure it was going to be one hell of a ride. Enjoy 🙂

As I face the last 70 days of my college career, my brain is a little frazzled. Every time I reflect on the stress of keeping up with six classes, trying extremely hard to resist senioritis and scrambling to map out a plan once December comes along, I feel dizzy and nauseous. About eight months ago a friend of mine (who recently graduated in May) summed it up in one simple statement: “We’ve been in school all our lives; of course the real world is scary as shit.” And that’s exactly what it is: scary as shit.
I have been lucky enough to be surrounded with competent and caring professors that coach their students on how to build a portfolio and how to knock your first interview out of the park, but what about all the other things that along with the transition from college to career? There’s house-hunting (apartment hunting for most of us), adjusting to a new city (or sometimes a different country/state), figuring out the best commute route and learning how to deal with life away from most of the friends you’ve enjoyed the last four to 12 years with. I’ve come to the conclusion that professors don’t mention these things because it sucks and there is really no getting around it. Yes, I’m saying this from someone who has yet to actually experience all above things, but I just don’t see any other outcome.

I pride myself on being a strong-willed and independent individual, but when push comes to shove, sometimes I really just want to curl up next to my mommy and hear her tell me everything will be OK. And then I realize that the fact that I’ve had so many caring people encourage me along the way may be all I need. If I’ve made it this far, why would I not make it all the way?

Maybe that’s what life is all about. Learning the hard way so we can one day teach our children how to make the best decisions possible, only to have them turn around and ignore us and learn the hard way themselves, of course.

For now, it’s kind of comforting to be scared because it means that I still care and have not been jaded by our crazy, chaotic world. It means that I do believe in my dreams and want to succeed more than anything. It means that my family did something right along the way and that, in the end, I’m going to be OK. I hope.

Life

The baby is OK. Usually.

Some days I mess up. A is OK by the end of the day, thank God, but I’ve had many of those too-close-for-comfort, wow-what-was-I-thinking moments. The last time was when he decided to flop around like a fish until he was within an inch of falling off the bed. He had just gained the amazing and exhausting (for me, never for him) ability to be able to move around pretty well and I left him on the bed for nap time, thinking that the fortress of pillows on the sides of the bed would somehow deter him from falling down. And they did, kind of. Until they didn’t. In usual psycho-first-time-mommy-style, I ran back to the room as soon as I heard him make a sound and found him flopping around like an oblivious, chubby fish on the nightstand on hubby’s side of the bed. He had traversed the entire bed including one wall of pillows, and somehow managed not to topple over onto the floor. Moments like these make me wonder why the hospital let him come home with me without some kind of test (like, seriously, did you know they just give you the baby once you’re discharged? No strings attached, he’s just yours to keep and take care of, and they don’t even ask you if you know what you’re doing!) and they also make me grateful that we’ve made it this far.

It hasn’t been a perfect 7 months, and I’ve had plenty of self-doubt along the way (read: every. single. day.), but I take comfort in the fact that he will literally not remember any of the stupid things I do. What he will remember, though, or rather what he will carry with him throughout the rest of his life is a sense of confidence, love, independence and the bond that we have and that we’re building every day. So that’s why instead of focusing on the dumb things I do (seriously, Krystle, leaving a crawling, rolling, MOVING baby on the bed by himself?!), I focus on the silly moments we have, singing songs and playing tickle monster, the fun we have at bath time, the way he looks up at me for assurance when he tumbles over as he learns to stand, the way we snuggle close as he nurses or sleeps; these are the moments that leave lasting impressions on the core of who he is and who he will be, the times that matter in the long run.

All too often we put pressure on ourselves to be perfect, to get it right the first time. Instagram, Snapchat, mommy blogs, and any other social media we’re exposed to on a daily basis don’t help the anxiety; the way they all portray curated images that make it seem like perfection is so easy to attain, when in reality, those moms are struggling and learning as they go, just like us.

So take it easy, mama. Slow down, enjoy the moments that matter, and don’t be too hard on yourself for the ones that don’t.

Life

Hospital beds and laban – and a charcoal face mask

So here’s a funny story to kick your week off: my husband and I weren’t at our own wedding.

Now, if you know anything about Arab culture, it’s that they know how to get down when it comes to weddings. And the entire family/neighborhood/sometimes district comes to eat cake, dance a little, and, obviously wish the bride and groom well. But hubby and I? Ya, we couldn’t make it that day.

Rewind to a month before the wedding – we didn’t even want to have one. We were torn because while most of his family is a quick two hour flight away in Lebanon, mine is all in the US, meaning that at most only a few of my people would be able to attend our big fat Lebnani wedding. So we decided to nix the whole thing and just host small, intimate dinners for each of our families when we saw them.

But, once we arrived in Lebanon it was clear that EVERYONE was expecting a wedding, and we did not want to be the ones to let them down. We had a week, which, with everyone offering to help, didn’t seem like such a challenge. And then I got food poisoning. Now, this wasn’t an isolated event. The sickest I had ever been in my life was the first time I visited Lebanon, after my then-fiance had already left, which meant his parents were tasked with nursing me back to health. It was awful. I thought I would die. They kept feeding me laban (sour yogurt) with raw garlic and I wanted to scream, but it did the trick.

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You would never guess that I was throwing up between takes

So, 3 days before the big event, I came down with another case of food poisoning that was quickly taking over as the sickest I’d ever been, and it sucked. Aside from the whole experience of wedding planning being something so different than what I’d imagined – which was simply because I was from California and not in California, so it was just a whole other ballgame – I just didn’t have the energy to really get into it. By the time the wedding rolled around, I barely had the strength to walk, let alone smile, dance, and interact with people.

Now let me just say, even though the fact that the bride and groom were stuck in a room inside the venue didn’t stop anyone from partying, everyone was so understanding and really sympathetic. There was some speculation that it was one of the cousin’s who had bought the raw meat the day before the wedding for this Lebanese specialty – it wasn’t! I was sick a few days before that – so he felt horrible and kept apologizing. There was a sea of faces in and out of the room wanting pictures and to give us their well-wishes, family doctors bringing syringes full of different cocktails to stick me with to help stop the vomiting, and a whiff here and there of the delicious food being served. Then the time came to cut the cake and I used every ounce of strength I could muster to walk out in my 5 inch heels and wield the traditional sword to cut a slice of cake (that I couldn’t even eat, btw). To my credit, I lasted about 7 minutes before throwing up in front of everyone and making the final call that we needed to go to the hospital ASAP.

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The night ended with hubby and I both hooked up to IVs (he was sick too!) in separate beds at his parent’s house, laughing about how ridiculous the whole thing had been.

 

From that moment on, I decided to be proactive when I visited Lebanon and ordered an arsenal of supplements that would toughen up and flush out my stomach, should the need arise. One of those things was activated charcoal. Since I was pregnant the next time we went to Lebanon and couldn’t use it, I had a whole bottle just sitting around, and decided to see what other uses I could find for it. Which leads me to today’s DIY: charcoal face mask!

This mask is one of my favorites and it’s so easy to make. I open a few capsules of the charcoal tabs, mix it with a drop or two of essential oil – lavender or tea tree, depending on how my skin is feeling that day – and a tiny bit of aloe vera gel, paint it onto my face, wait about 10 minutes, then rinse it off after exfoliating with my clarisonic and a drop of sweet almond oil. You can also add some rose water if you have it laying around.

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My trusted and beloved Clarisonic, Now Foods Sweet Almond Oil, Nature’s Way Activated Charcoal, Lily of the Desert Aloe Vera Gel, and Woolzies Essential Oils

The ingredients in this mask are really great for acne-prone skin, if you have blackheads, or if you just want to get rid of the gunk that builds up over time. I would caution you to test it out on a small patch of skin first, especially if you’ve never used tea tree oil before.

Head over to my instagram @mama.fil for more pics of the products I used and to let me know how it worked out for you.

Enjoy!

Life

Get on the bus.

 

I had a History teacher in high school who told the most amazing stories. I can’t remember a time in my life where I was so captivated by the words coming out of someone’s mouth (aside from when I met my husband, of course!) than when Mr. Welch told us stories. Marie Antoinette, the Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials; things that your average high schooler wouldn’t really care about, except we did. A lot. Because we had a teacher who brought those tales to life. One of my closest friends in high school can still recall the time I animatedly narrated the story of ill-fated Queen Mary I and her hysterical pregnancy that ended not in a prince being born, but rather in a large, foul wind and utter humiliation.

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Me (left) in high school

Mr. Welch had a story for everything, but the thing that really set him apart from other teachers was that he listened to our stories as well. As high schoolers, not many people took us seriously, but Mr. Welch did. Not many people thought the events in our lives mattered – the every day he said/she said was seen as just unimportant fodder that we wasted our time on. But Mr. Welch cared. He listened to us, asked us about our weekends, our future plans, our families. He shared details of his life, too, and made us feel like he was invested in us. To the overly-emotional teenager whose single mom was busy with work much of the time, whose closest sibling was 8 years younger, and whose dad lived 2,000 miles away, this meant a lot.

So when Mr. Welch told us the story of the bus, I listened.

The story goes something like this: each and every one of us will go through life, day by day, slaving away at whatever dream-of-the-month we’re dedicated to at the time. If we’re lucky, we love what we’re doing, if we’re not, well, we still get by. But at a certain point in everyone’s life, a bus is going to come. The bus will look different for all of us; for some it will be a covetable internship in a field we’d never dreamed of, for others it will be an invitation to a party with people we’d never get the chance to socialize with that will lead to a big career break. To get on the bus would seem like the craziest idea in the world. You may not have the money, it may not be logical, your parents would probably get upset. But some part of you, no matter how small or how quietly, will be screaming, “GET ON THE BUS!” And that’s when you have to make a choice. Will you risk getting on the bus, and maybe make the biggest mistake of your life, or will you stay, doing what you’re doing, and keep on keepin’ on? Mr. Welch’s advice? (and I quote…) “Get on the damn bus.”

So I did. When the chance to go to Saudi Arabia to teach English presented itself, I went. It was crazy. It didn’t make any sense; I was from Roseville, California and had never traveled by myself. I had no business going to a country where women couldn’t drive and where even in the most liberal of towns we were expected to don the abaya. My parents were scared and furious, and tried every play in the book to get me to stay. But I didn’t. And you know what? It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

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Me and my sister, Katlynn, the night before I left for Saudi Arabia

I’m not saying it has always been easy, or that I didn’t want to run home a billion times over the last 6 years. But the hard times built character, and the good times hold amazing memories. I met my husband, forged strong friendships with amazing people, and experienced unforgettable journeys all over the world, from Amsterdam to Hong Kong.

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Adam, hubby, me September 2016

And the adventure isn’t over yet. As I enter into motherhood, I realize that the world is still my doorstep, and as each challenge presents itself, I can’t help wonder what kind of storyteller I will be for my kids. Will I leave the same impression as Mr. Welch? Will my kids feel captivated by me or just humor me because I’m their mom then laugh about it later? Either way, I’m determined to make our life one with lots of stories to tell. I may not end up telling my kids the most exhilarating stories, but I’m determined to be right there next to them making the most amazing memories.