Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Loving Lately - 2020

 It was a wild year (see my last two posts!) with an abundance of the months spent at home with far too much time to contemplate things I've enjoyed this year. I mostly draft these thoughts while nursing, which is a good chunk of my day, so I've had time to ponder what I've actually been enjoying lately...here it comes. Another basic favourites post as if it's still 2010!

I'm generally a scrub fan (OUAI's Scalp and Body Scrub is a staple in my million-step process of my weekly hair wash), but I've dabbled in exfoliating bar soap before from Tatcha. It had very gentle grit, barely noticeable in its impact and always left my skin feeling a little tight. After using this bar a few times, I understood why I liked its semi-aggressive grit. The biodegradable bamboo powder offers a solid level of abrasion on the skin that salt- or sugar-based scrubs don't because the salt or sugar crystals tend to melt and dissolve almost immediately in water. The bamboo powder seems to hold up when running the bar along damp limbs and the solid bar format hasn't melted away from residual water exposure. It is possible to overdo it when it comes to applying pressure while scrubbing with this bar, so go easy on yourself. The scent is the same as all other Body Hero products, with the bar offering major fragrance throw in your shower. You better love the Body Hero scent if you're committing to this product. It has left my usually scaly skin quite even and soft. I do follow up with a body moisturizer because it's winter and I live in Ontario. Enough said. I'd repurchase to use on heels alone since it's subbing in well between pedicures (thank you, lockdown #2). Did you know Glossier is on Rakuten now? Get that cash back, honey.

Deodorant is a funny thing. I previously wrote about going green with my deodorant choices during pregnancy. I was reading the label of my Drunk Elephant deodorant and noted that mandelic acid was to credit for the formula's odor-fighting ability. Instead of sticking to the almond-scented formula, I started googling to learn more about the cult of people using acids as deodorant...and then I started doing it myself to discover it really works. I still use the Drunk Elephant deodorant if I'm topping up midday, but ultimately start with this serum on clean, dry skin after showering. Bonus: no ingrown hairs and my underarms are smooth and hydrated. Worth giving it a whirl if you're tired of trying endless natural deodorants that don't really work well, especially given how reasonably priced this serum is verus many of the alternatives out there. Note: I'm still contending with hormones as I'm a few months postpartum, so it takes a lot to battle body odour these days and this serum does the trick. 

I dug this up to use on our baby girl after noticing a few dry patches on her arms. We aren't dealing with anything overly scaly or concerning, but rough to the touch compared to her surrounding baby-soft skin, so I figured her current bath products may not be hydrating enough for her skin (I've always found castile soap very drying; that's what we were using before). Fortunately, her skin has responded very well to this range (we use the wash and body lotion), which is approved for use with babies as young as two weeks of age. The shea butter definitely helps soothe her skin and keep it hydrated. I don't think La Roche Posay is on the radar for new parents, but I've always had a positive experience with everything I've tried over the years (and I'm counting down the days until I can recommit to my all-time favourite retinol)...all in all, the Lipikar range has worked well for us! Check it out if dry skin is really plaguing you. 

A friend gifted this unassuming lip balm to me when she was expecting, about a year before I was on my own pregnancy journey. When someone claims a lip balm is the best, I think I have a healthy level of skepticism because superlatives are so subjective. That being said, I bow down to this lip balm. I stocked up at a local shop that focuses on greener brands (the by-product of living in a hippie town) and adore how clean the ingredients are (sunflower seed oil, coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter... you get the picture) and how smooth and nourishing the formula is without feeling greasy. It wears well under lip colours (not that I've been wearing lip colours much, let's be honest) and has basically kicked the ass of all other balms in my life, and it's reasonably priced versus many other balms I've tried in my day (I think I paid $11 CAD for my last stick). I now have one in my bathroom and in my purse, which I can't say I've ever bothered doing with any other lip balm before (buying multiples for different areas of my life). Get into it. 

Honourable mention for makeup in these unprecedented times:

I had been stalking this gel lip tint for a while in its original shade, Bisou, but always figured it would appear a little too dark on my already-pigmented lips. It wasn't something I was willing to take the gamble on (not a big buy-and-return person in these times when that would mean sorting out return shipping, etc.). When this shade dropped, I felt even more compelled to try it since it has a pinkier undertone and is a bit more rosy than its redder/burgundy counterpart. It was love at first swipe, offering a my-lips-but-better colour with a bit more flexibility in terms of building up the shade. I also love that it's a gel stain, so it wore well under masks without transferring like crazy. It's not drying, it doesn't fade in a weird way, it's not sticky (I wear the aforementioned balm lightly dabbed on before applying this)...it doesn't transfer to my kid's face when I kiss her. Big fan! 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

We Out Here: The Fourth Trimester

I think it’s practically obligatory to start a blog post by saying I don’t know where time has gone. Since welcoming our daughter in September, I really don’t know where time has gone because we have made it through the first three months of her life and with each weekly photo that we take of her each Sunday, I’m left feeling so bittersweet. Every moment is temporary, which I suppose has always been the case, but there’s nothing that makes me feel more mortal than knowing that our baby is growing and we are getting older simultaneously. I used to have no qualms about wishing time away to hope to get closer to a specific date on the calendar for a trip or an event. Now I’m so aware that each passing day means she’s a little bit bigger and it’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking because it means she’s a day closer to her own independence, which is a mixed bag of feelings in and of itself.

The fourth trimester has been an unforgettable experience for so many reasons. I’ll try my best to share my thoughts in a semi-organized fashion. As always, kindly note I’m not a medical professional and I’m really just sharing this so I can reflect back on it down the road and possibly give comfort to any new moms in my life that may need a bit of reassurance that things settle down in due time. This post is full of TMI moments, so if you're not into that, then by all means, close this tab. I’ll share my labour and delivery story, postpartum care approach and anything else that feels worth noting. I suppose I should also note that this is our experience welcoming a baby about 6 months into the pandemic and lockdown life. We were fortunate to still have help and be able to see some family members. I know that’s not the case for everyone; we are very lucky to have support around us.

Labour and Delivery Prep
As you may recall from my last post, my pregnancy was not exactly uneventful. I had a few concerning things on the go (fetal ovarian cysts that were being monitored via ultrasound, increasingly high blood pressure that made me super concerned about developing preeclampsia, a prematurely calcifying placenta). While everyone around us encouraged us to wait to go into labour spontaneously, my OB and I discussed the idea of induction. After talking it through with my husband, we decided to schedule an induction just after I would pass 39 weeks. I would go in for cervix ripening on September 13 and then start Pitocin on September 14 if the cervix ripening went well the day before. Those are usually very big “if” statements for first-time moms. I had talked to my dad, a retired anesthesiologist, and he encouraged me to explore the idea of an induction. He also gave me the tip that if I was receiving Pitocin, I should try to get the epidural shortly before the Pitocin drip started or as soon as possible thereafter. Pitocin is the artificial version of oxytocin, which is our feel-good hormone. It pushes your body into labour. As you can imagine, that may cause pain or discomfort as contractions start and ramp up. The epidural can help you relax, but it also means you won’t be mobile. This insight was useful in helping me prepare for the unknown.

This was all a part of my probably excessively thorough research phase of mentally prepping for labour and delivery. I wanted to try my best to educate myself on all the variables so that we could make informed decisions as they were presented to us as labour progressed. I didn’t want to be caught off guard or having to make decisions with minimal info and even less time to figure out what would be best for us. We made a birth plan, but ultimately a lot of our birth plan details and specifics were things that are considered standard practice in Canada (for example, skin to skin is basically a given, your birth team will surely encourage it for both parents). I don’t think we even gave our birth plan to our medical team, which is hilarious because I insisted on having hard copies printed when I was still a couple months out from delivering. Did I mention I’m a little Type A?

Looking back, it feels necessary to just come out and say it—the way it shakes out is the way it shakes out. In retrospect, for us, the true purpose of making a birth plan was to discuss everything as soon-to-be parents so that we could be on the same page with each other. The objective of our plan was always to get our daughter out safely, whatever that required. I’d still say it’s a good exercise for couples to work through if they have not gone through labour and delivery before!

Labour and Delivery For Real
My last OB visit before delivery was Wednesday, September 9, during which I opted for a cervix check. That was probably the worst feeling I had experienced in a while (I’m also not a huge fan of paps, quelle surprise!). My husband was miraculously able to attend this final OB visit with me after a bit of pleading (it was his first and only visit that he came along with me for during the entire pregnancy due to COVID protocols) and it was purely to discuss the induction details and answer any questions we had. He witnessed my full-body tensing and flinching during the cervix check and was pretty concerned about how I’d handle the induction since I was so rattled about the cervix check (it wasn’t even a proper cervix sweep). I began spotting after the cervix check and, after much inquiring with mom friends, I learned that was normal. I had a massage scheduled the next day (September 10) and my RMT had actually helped induce labour before when her clients had sought her out to do so, so I did the same. She focused on acupressure points in the lower half of the body and wished me luck as we wrapped up our appointment. I began experiencing signs of labour on Friday, September 11, right at 39 weeks pregnant. I had random contractions that day, but nothing too noteworthy or worth timing. Contractions picked up the next day. We had decided to go for a walk and grab a late lunch. At lunch, we saw a couple with an infant sitting at the table across the patio from us. It was kind of like looking ahead at our future. We snapped some photos of the two of us with my belly round as ever around 4:00 p.m., not knowing what the next 24 hours would hold.

Unknowingly less than 24 hours
away from delivering our baby 

It was a rough middle of the night Saturday, September 12 going into Sunday, September 13 with contractions picking up around 11:00 p.m. on Saturday, spurring me to call the triage and ask if we should come in since they were definitely every 4-5 minutes for an hour. We were told to wait until they were 2-3 minutes apart since I was a first-time mom and early labour can often be a lengthy process. This was sort of surprising, as every prenatal course or literature we had read references the 5-1-1 rule (when contractions are five minutes apart, 1 minute in length for 1 hour, you need to get yourself to the hospital).

We went to the triage at 1:00 a.m. and the nurse and OB on call confirmed I was 2-3 cm dilated (not enough to be admitted), and they sent me home after a shot in the thigh to help with pain. They said that the injection would buy me 4-6 hours of relief. They did do my blood work and had me sign epidural paperwork before I left so that things would run smoothly upon my eventual return, which was smart on their part and a step I’d recommend if that’s offered (or even if it’s not - suggest it!).

I went home and told my husband to sleep in our bed and I sat in the nursery in our soon-to-be-nursing chair with a heat pad on my lower back. I started having back labour (our baby was apparently sunny side up at that point) and I was really having a time with that pain. It was pretty tough, but not unbearable for the stretch of time that I endured it. Counter pressure is the best way to get through back labour, which I didn’t know at the time and frankly couldn’t really do much about as we drove to the hospital. I was rubbing my back as best as I could while remaining safely buckled up. We had packed the car up with the car seat and our hospital bags before our last outing to the hospital, so we were basically ready to be admitted if labour was progressing enough.

The nurse and OB in triage were spot on, as we went back at 5:30 a.m. (my sleep-deprived husband was stuck waiting in the car as I did these hospital visits solo due to COVID protocols). The same kind nurse confirmed I was 4-5 cm dilated and she excitedly said, “Do you know what that means? We can admit you and you can get an epidural!” I was admitted right away and did the epidural at 6:00 a.m. (my husband wasn’t even in the hospital at that point, and honestly, the pain was at a level that made me not want to wait for him). The epidural was magic. It allowed me to calm down and from what I recall (it’s a bit hazy), we just kinda waited it out. I was 8 cm dilated by 8:30 a.m. I was 10 cm by 11:30 a.m. Sometime in there,, they broke my water. We had to wait for baby girl to drop down into position, which they gave me a small dose of Pitocin for and she thankfully rotated and dropped down. I started pushing at 2:00 p.m. and had to stop pushing at 2:07 p.m. to wait for the OB to join us in the delivery room, and she was born at 2:11 p.m. as Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played in the background.

Nine days postpartum

What I Took Away
You know that saying, “We make plans and God laughs”? That’s basically how I’d sum up labour and delivery. Any preconceived notions you have about labour and delivery can and should fly out the window. Do your research to feel informed and confident as you approach the end of pregnancy, but know that being flexible is key and that regardless of what happens, you are in capable hands of professionals who do this every single day. Advocate for yourself, and know that the best part of the whole situation is that you will have your baby in your arms in due time. My motto going into the homestretch of pregnancy was, “You can do hard things” and our prenatal course featured a reminder that any pain I would feel could not be greater than me if it was coming from within me. These two notions served me well, even when I had a mild meltdown right before we started pushing. What can I say? It was a big moment and I had big feelings about it.

My husband said the two days we spent in the hospital after our daughter arrived were the best days of his life, and while I was dealing with a lot emotionally and physically (hormones are insane), I’m inclined to agree. It was like being in a hazy, loving bubble. Granted, there were a few learning curves on the go for us (breastfeeding, diapering, hearing our daughter’s cry for the first time and trying to decipher what each cry meant), but it was full of baby snuggles with this little nugget that we had waited so long to meet and that was truly awesome.

What to Expect - Postpartum Care
I debate being super upfront or being a little more muted about this part of motherhood. On one hand, I feel like people don’t share enough info about what to expect. On the other hand, I suppose it’s important not to scare people away from having a baby. This all goes back to the notion that postpartum recovery, like everything, is temporary. You do heal eventually, physically and mentally. Your hormones will settle down in time. Your physical tearing will heal. Everyone’s recovery experience obviously ties back to their delivery. I had a vaginal delivery and an epidural. I experienced second degree tearing, which is very much the standard level of tearing. Was it painful after? Yes. Was it unbearable? No. Did it feel a bit trickier when factoring in the notion of also nursing? A bit. Here’s the lowdown on postpartum recovery after a vaginal delivery in my experience, as well as other random tips that have helped us get through the fourth trimester:
  • Have overnight pads (cotton ones - I would avoid Always pads personally, as the top layer can sometimes stick to stitches; I personally am allergic to Always pads, so they aren’t an option for me regardless) or Depends on hand in your house and hospital bag for postpartum bleeding, as lochia can be a wild ride. My hospital provided the initial pads and then you were on your own for postpartum care - your hospital may differ in what they offer! Find out when you submit your preregistration paperwork! Make padsicles if you want. I did and didn’t use them much, but I did use the FridaMom cooling pads and witch hazel liners (friends gifted these to me - thanks y'all!). They’re worth the investment, the liners especially, if you want to feel some fast relief!
  • If postpartum bleeding persists past your 6 week postpartum check-up, speak up! I wound up getting a D&C almost 11 weeks postpartum to remove retained product of conception (aka placenta or other lingering tissue from pregnancy) since my bleeding persisted. All that is to say - if it doesn't seem to be improving, tell your OB and keep an eye on your symptoms.
  • A peri spray bottle is essential to take the edge off when peeing and keep your perineum area clean in the early days and even weeks after delivery; my friends hooked me up with a FridaMom spray bottle and it was superb, but the hospital-provided one is perfectly fine. Lukewarm water is likely most comfortable for this!
  • If you are nursing, and even if you aren’t, eat. Eat everything that is nourishing and healing, eat protein, eat healthy carbs. Your body needs energy for recovery. I couldn't eat a ton in the third trimester due to heinous heartburn, and I didn't have a crazy appetite after delivery, but looking back, I definitely wasn't consuming enough calories in the first few days after delivery and I think my nursing journey was harder because of it. 
  • Drink water. Drink way more than you think you normally need to. It’ll help flush your body of any meds that were administered. Your body may be swollen if you opted for an epidural and/or received an IV drip, so do your best to keep up on fluids. Your feet will eventually go down in size. No comment on if they will actually normalize to your pre-pregnancy shoe size! That’s a true toss-up. Sad truth!
  • If you’re nursing, pee before you feed your baby. You’ll be experiencing contractions while nursing as your uterus shrinks down to its former size and emptying your bladder beforehand helps reduce discomfort you’ll feel in those initial days of nursing.
  • Sitz baths with Epsom salts and/or witch hazel are great to soothe and promote healing. I found it hard to find time to fit this in to my day in the early weeks between nursing and the hard decisions of whether to shower/sleep/eat when given a few spare moments, but do what you can to prioritize your own care. If you can’t take care of yourself, you cannot effectively take care of anyone else. Baby is important, but so is mama.
  • I’d read that postpartum bowel movements can be intense. This is where avid water consumption and a few other tricks comes into play. Your pelvic floor also has a role in this (another reason to seek out pelvic floor physiotherapy before and after delivery). I stuck to my prenatal probiotic through pregnancy and delivery and had no issues after birth and delivery in this department, but I’d encourage anyone struggling to seek out prune juice and prenatal probiotics instead of opting for laxatives. 
  • Feeling sad or like you kinda blew up your life that you were perfectly happy with before baby is pretty common in the first two weeks. Those first two weeks are an emotional rollercoaster dubbed the baby blues. I told my husband that if I was struggling past that point, he should push me to find help, whether it was counselling, therapy, medication, whatever I needed. I did exactly that and am still speaking with a counsellor via public health and it has been helpful to process the transition from being an individual with no dependents to being a mother. There’s no shame in admitting that things are difficult or weird or that you’re feeling unsettled. Everything improves with time, but definitely know that in that transitional period, you’re not alone and talking through whatever you’re feeling will inevitably help you process the wildly multi-faceted changes you’re experiencing.
  • Bonding with baby may feel instantaneous or it may take time. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t spend every waking moment loving your new role as a parent. It is hard work taking care of a tiny human. Try to get on the same page as your partner about how you can support each other as you navigate your new roles as parents. I am lucky my partner stepped up to take on the responsibility of managing the house and cooking while working from home as I focus on nursing and figuring out her routine and daytime activities/naps while still doing a handful of chores, like the ever-present amounts of laundry. He still spends a ton of time with our daughter and we were able to get through those overnight feeds without completely losing our minds (the sleep deprivation has thankfully subsided) because we approached them as a team.
  • Accept help and try to nap. Lack of sleep exacerbates any anxiety or feelings of sadness you may have. It can be hard to accept help, but ultimately, you will implode if you don’t give yourself the chance to take some pressure off yourself and step back, even if it’s just for an hour. Start small and take baby steps with this. Try to rationalize with yourself when your hormones put you in Mama Bear mode and you feel territorial. Remind yourself that you may feel how you feel because you need a break.
  • Practical baby tips: Struggling to burp your babe? Try making a zig zag motion with your hand on their back from the base of their back to the base of their neck. An osteopath gave me this tip and it’s remarkable how well it worked for us. If your babe experiences diaper blowouts more than a handful of times in the span of a week, it’s probably time to size up. You will be amazed at how quickly your baby sizes in and out of diapers and clothes. A damp washcloth draped over your baby during bath time will keep baby warm and quasi-content.
  • Maybe this is the pandemic talking, but all we *really* needed for our kid was diapers, wipes, a bum cream of some kind, sleepers, swaddles, a car seat (couldn’t leave the hospital without one) and a safe place to put baby down to sleep (bassinet then crib). Everything else is largely superfluous (cutesie outfits included), but I do suggest expectant parents get a wipeable change pad, white noise machine (for everyone’s benefit in the beginning - babies can be really loud sleepers in their active sleep phase from 3:00-7:00 a.m.) and somewhere to safely hold baby (we have our crib on the top floor, a Baby Bjorn Bouncer on the main floor and a Snuggle Me lounger on the ground floor because we have 3 storey house to contend with) when you need your hands free for a moment.
  • Don’t worry about how you sleep or how your baby sleeps in the beginning. Just follow baby’s lead and know that the the early weeks are pure survival mode. Do yourself a favour and learn what your baby’s wake windows should be based on their age (spoiler alert - newborns should be awake for 60-90 minute windows). It’ll help curb a cranky baby and give your day a bit of structure. Explore baby wearing, as that’s how many babies find contentedness and you appease your need to get shit done around the house. Also, don’t compare baby’s sleep to that of other children. It’s a fruitless exercise that will only lead you to question if everything is going as it should and that can lead to guilt, shame and anxiety as a new parent. Sleep training is probably a great thing to seek out, but there’s a reason they say that babies aren’t ready to sleep train until 4-6 months of age. It takes time for babies to figure out how to sleep and get into a routine or rhythm of any kind. Just know there are lots of options as far as sleeping setups go, so do what works for you and your family.

Like I mentioned above, we intended to try breastfeeding after delivery. I went in knowing that it may not be automatic, that it may take time. Our baby latched right away and ate for a good 30-40 minutes after being placed on my chest for skin to skin. I was admittedly relieved that she was so keen to eat. They monitored her eating and weight and eventually, our nurses suggested we stay an extra night in the hospital to switch nurse (nursing on each side alternating 3 times through the course of a feed) to stimulate my milk supply and get the hang of nursing. I’m glad they suggested we stay another night, as it did help build my confidence in feeding our baby.

Overall, it was a bit of tough start. Our daughter lost about 12-14% of her birth weight by day 4-5 of her life (average is 10%). This was very stressful, as she wasn’t a big baby to begin with. My milk took time to come in, and my hormonal shifts made it a very emotionally and mentally draining stretch. As irrational as it was, I didn’t want to see anyone or have anyone come over, pandemic or not. We still had family around and I struggled with handing our baby off or wanting to see people face to face. When people came over, I felt like I was losing my connection with the baby when other people held her (this was semi-rational; keeping baby close to mom helps bring her milk in, which was still a work in progress/concern for us).

Our family doctor met the baby the Thursday after she was born and mandated that we supplement with formula, following a triple-feed approach of nursing on both sides, supplementing with formula and pumping every two hours. This schedule was absolutely gruelling and we easily reflect on the 2 days we were given to help our baby gain 60 grams (which isn’t that much weight in retrospect, but at the time it felt like Everest) as the most stressful 48 hours of our lives. She ended up gaining a whole pound in 2 days. From there, nursing got better and we dropped the formula supplementation by week 3 of her life. At this point, she's exclusively breastfed and things are going well.

Baby has recently decided to reject the bottle, so I’m not even really pumping at this point or using a Hakaa to collect letdown on the opposite breast. I was never keen on pumping, as freezer stashes made sense to me in a pre-pandemic life, but honestly, these days, where am I going without her for more than an hour or two? All in all, we found our rhythm and it was not without struggles (leaking milk, milk blisters, blanched nipples, spilled milk from the Hakaa gone absolutely everywhere....stop me if you must because I could certainly go on) or support from our hospital’s lactation consultant, who I called every Monday for the first 4-5 weeks with questions. Our daughter had a huge growth spurt between 4 and 8 weeks of age that certainly was a huge vote of confidence for me. I don’t know how long I’ll nurse in the grand scheme, but I’m happy to feed our baby even if it sometimes feels like it’s the vast majority of my time spent with her. 

Huge, endless love and gratitude to my husband for supporting me in every aspect of pregnancy and postpartum care, including breastfeeding. One day, he made it very clear that he understood that he couldn’t do what I was doing (nursing!), and that he was happy to do all the other things around the house because I was nourishing our daughter. This was a moment of clarity for me, as I was trying to help with food prep and run around the house doing my usual chores, but priorities have certainly shifted for me and I accept that this is a temporary stretch of our new reality that entails a lot of other stuff being moved to the back burner while I prioritize feeding our kid. I still have house stuff that I tackle as much as I can. It’s not nearly what I did before, but it’s working okay for us.

What To Remember
I suppose that’s a lesson - give yourself a goddamn break. 
Whatever frustration you’re feeling is fleeting, as is the moment that is causing your frustration. 

Parenting is hard, nursing is hard work and that’s without a pandemic dragging on and on to limit what you can even do on a daily basis outside the house with your child for your own sanity. Just be nice to yourself and each other. 

Try to enjoy your kid because they change every day and no day is the same, even if the early days are a total blur. 

The days are long, but the years are short.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Pregnancy in the time of COVID-19 (with a splash of "must-haves")

When your blog goes dormant for about four years, it’s sorta random to start up again out of the blue. I guess a new life experience or chapter is all the more reason to write; processing the changes as they happen through writing feels like a reasonable thing to do. I’m currently nearly 39 weeks pregnant with our first child (a girl!), and have always found advice from my beauty pals of yesteryear that have entered the threshold of motherhood very helpful, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on my pregnancy so far. 

This year has obviously been a bit of an odd one as far as pregnancy goes, as it isn't exactly the norm to trudge through this massive life change whilst the world faces a pandemic. I'd been diligently keeping notes on how pregnancy has felt from week to week; from March onwards, I found myself writing more and more about thoughts on COVID-19 than my pregnancy. The note-taking kind of fell off from there, but thoughts have found their way into some paragraphs below. As usual, probably worth noting I'm not an expert on anything medical, let alone pregnancy and it's also worth stating every single pregnancy is different and that comparing one person's journey to the next is largely pointless. In my experience, it doesn't make it less engaging to read about someone's journey - I find every story related to pregnancy, labour, delivery and the fourth trimester fascinating because of the nuances, but that's just me. 

First Trimester Thoughts
We found out I was expecting by way of chance. We had been trying for a while (I chalk it up to only having one fallopian tube - my right tube was twisted and damaged in 2000; we imagine stress also factored in) and were about to begin cycle monitoring as we entered the new year. Cycle monitoring is when you visit a fertility clinic for an internal ultrasound and bloodwork from day 10 of your cycle every other day until you ovulate in order to pinpoint when you and your partner should try to conceive. With the help of basal body temperature tracking and PreMom ovulation predictor testing strips/app (pretty clutch), I knew that I ovulated late in my cycle, so the concept felt both daunting and invasive, knowing I’d probably be looking at 5-7 visits until we successfully detected ovulation each month for...as long as it would take, I suppose. We learned about cycle monitoring on January 6 and I was instructed to call them on day 1 of my cycle, aka when my period would start (which was due to start any day thereafter), and we’d be slotted in for appointments to monitor my ovulation progress thereafter. Days passed and my period never came. 

The hilarity/absurdity of early pregnancy is that the signs of pregnancy are basically identical to the signs of your period starting. I had cramping, I was fatigued, I felt all the usual menstruation symptoms I had each month for years. I decided to take a home pregnancy test the morning of January 14 and had a very faint positive. I contacted the fertility clinic that was going to conduct cycle monitoring for us. They offered to confirm the home pregnancy test results with a blood test later that week. On Friday, January 17, I went in for bloodwork first thing in the morning and that afternoon, I received a text saying a new message was awaiting me in the clinic's online portal. I logged into the portal to see that I was indeed pregnant with strong hCG levels. I screencapped the message and texted it to my husband. Soooo 21st century pregnant millennial, I know. We confirmed that my hCG levels were still on the rise with another blood test the following Monday, and away we went, determining I was about 4 weeks along already.

For me, pregnancy was pretty foreign territory. We weren't ready to share news widely, so we rode that wave together. In my experience, the level of exhaustion I felt was overwhelming. I could get through the work days, but by 7:30 p.m., I was out like a light. Hormones are working overtime to support embryo development until the placenta fully forms in second trimester, so that’s basically why first trimester is largely devoid of energy or desire to do just about anything. I took a step back from exercise entirely, eventually mustering up some ability to push through a spin class here or there. 

We went to Florida for a few days at the end of January to visit my mom (she had been there since the holidays); I spent most of it horizontal on the couch, staring at the ocean. Right before we went to Florida, we had an ultrasound that showed us two yolk sacs and two fetal poles and one heartbeat. We were potentially looking at a twin pregnancy. It was a lot to process, and not the easiest thing to fathom that early on in the pregnancy (we were about 6 weeks along at that point). As time went on, Baby A continued to grow and thrive while Baby B's heartbeat never developed and eventually, Baby B's yolk sac diminished and was no longer visible in our ultrasounds, a phenomenon known as vanishing twin syndrome. Our ultrasound tech urged us to focus on the notion that having one healthy baby would mean less complications than having twins that may struggle throughout the pregnancy. It wasn't easy to get past and our minds occasionally went to Baby B, but we were grateful that Baby A was growing on track. A couple of weeks later, we also found out that I had subchorionic hemorhagging and went on bed rest for a while. That was a curveball we didn't expect, which was a bit tough on our nerves. We also discovered that we couldn't do any NIPT testing or find out the gender of the baby before the 19-week anatomy scan because of the vanishing twin syndrome. It was a weird trimester and things were only getting weirder in the news cycle. We were away as COVID-19 entered Canada with the first known case officially surfacing the exact day we flew to Florida. From there, the cases mounted and we made a conscious effort to stay in or closer to home as the weeks passed in February.

First trimester was kind of like a sleepy, foggy haze cast over regular life. Habits were shifting or falling to the wayside (what was exercise or clean eating?), I personally hadn’t really processed the mental or physical changes I was about to undertake and it all felt straight-up odd because there was so much unknown with so much to learn ahead of us. Pregnancy was somewhat isolating at this point by our own choice to not share news until we were ready to do so. I wonder if we would make the same choices to withhold news and not socialize much during first trimester if we knew how unusual and isolating the rest of the pregnancy would be. We basically didn't socialize from Christmas onwards with anyone except family, which, unbeknownst to us, would become our norm for a while.  

Second and Third Trimester Thoughts
My dad, a retired doctor who had been following the pandemic perhaps too closely (he’d been housebound due to a recent knee replacement), instructed us to stock up on food and supplies to last us three months. I was rattled by his advice and thought he was projecting his anxiety onto us. Turns out he wasn’t entirely off the mark. We thankfully haven’t touched our emergency stash of nonperishables, but it’s been a surreal experience to be pregnant and not be able to fully embrace and utilize our final months as just the two of us the way we probably would’ve. I always envisioned many meals out and a trip or two to celebrate spending time with simply each other. I was in the midst of baby shower planning for July, which we then cancelled upon lockdown. I had never touched a stroller before, I’d never picked up a car seat or explored baby clothes or gadgets before. We've gathered everything we need with the help of family and friends. It’s sad that this pregnancy has largely been in lockdown, and that we couldn’t celebrate as intended, but we have had many loved ones rally around us with so much excitement for our baby girl. Shoutout to our coworkers and friends that held virtual baby showers for us and our kiddo - they were incredibly heartfelt! 

There have been moments of frustration and upset brought on by the circumstances we have found ourselves in for this pregnancy. It's been wildly isolating to largely commit to essentially only going to OB appointments and ultrasounds by myself with no support person due to COVID restrictions. At the anatomy scan, we found out the gender, but instead of sharing that moment together, my husband had to wait in the car. I asked if I could call him or FaceTime him or have them write it down on a piece of paper that we could read together. I was told 'no' to all of the above, so instead, he waited in the parking lot and I walked out and verbally told him when I handed him the sonogram photo. It was not the moment we had in mind. We told our families on a Google Meet (very fun to coordinate with the 65+ crowd). It was kind of devastating to not be able to hug any of our family members when we told them our baby's gender. There were lots of moments that we simply were not afforded, but that's life, isn't it? At times, it has felt like it's one thing after another that we're contending with in terms of concerns related to the baby's health and I suppose I've come to terms with the notion that that's what parenthood is - a steady current of worry and concern that underscores your days and nights. Mixed emotions and pregnancy twists/turns aside, we are incredibly grateful we were able to conceive at all and that our little lady is almost here. 

Pregnancy is weird in the best of times, but being largely out of sight and out of mind has made this time fly by for me, personally, while others largely lose track of how close we are to welcoming our daughter into this world. Many friends ask how many weeks we have to go and when we say it could be any day now, they're shocked. I imagine we're all shocked given that we started sharing our news via text in March (as the video calls started mounting) and it's now September and we're still largely spending time at home (well, we are, as we're quarantining prior to labour/delivery). We know it'll remain this way for a while for us as our kiddo arrives and develops her immunity. We will do everything we can to ensure she's safe and healthy, so we're settling in for a fairly quite fall. 

I've mulled on things that have made my pregnancy more bearable through the different trimesters. Here’s a brief rundown of things I found useful:

Physiotherapy (ideally specializing in Pelvic Floor Therapy)
We were well into lockdown when I started experiencing groin tightness and tenderness that was extremely uncomfortable. It was particularly tough in the evenings and overnight to get past, so I reached out to a physiotherapist friend and asked her if she knew anyone that was doing virtual sessions. She connected me with a colleague who specialized in pelvic floor therapy and was indeed treating patients virtually... and she was also pregnant! We had 3 appointments total before she went on maternity leave for her own daughter’s birth, but the impact she made on my pelvic floor health was tremendous and so greatly appreciated. Everything I had read related to pelvic floor health and pregnancy could be summed up in two words - “Do Kegels!” That’s good and well, but ultimately, I was experiencing an overactive/tight pelvic floor, so simply “doing Kegels” wouldn’t actually benefit me since I was already so tense. I’m incredibly glad I listened to my instincts to not just keep marching forward with this wild pain I was experiencing (legitimately couldn’t walk without discomfort or get out of bed without pain before seeking treatment). I’ve been keeping up with my stretches and I’ve also found that a pregnancy body pillow has helped minimize the discomfort as well. My physiotherapist also hooked me up with specific stretches and exercises to do from week 34 onwards to help prepare for labour/delivery, so I’m feeling like I have some good structure to follow as I prep physically for delivery. I think this is also a great thing to explore pre-delivery as it can help analyze and assess where your pelvic floor strength is before labour to help plan for post-labour stretches/exercises that can be done. 

I think being proactive when it comes to pelvic floor health is important when it comes to pregnancy. In order to prepare for my postpartum care, I sought out a local pelvic floor physiotherapist for in-person treatment before labour/delivery to clearly establish correct perineum prep to stretch/relax these muscles leading up to our due date and to have a physiotherapist to turn to postpartum (specifically after the 6-week post-delivery mark). Regardless of how anyone delivers their baby (vaginally or via c-section), the pelvic floor has worked overtime for 9+ months carrying extra weight and could likely use some dedicated time/attention/therapy to heal. I've been told this multiple times and now I'll preach it even before I've experienced it because honestly, I don't know that I need to delivery a baby to understand how important this is - don’t overlook your own health once baby arrives. Healthy mom is as important as healthy baby. I'm carrying this sentence with me into the fourth trimester - believe that. 

Lululemon Align Super High-Rise shorts/pants
As a person who has owned Lululemon Align pants since the initial launch in 2015 (I still have my first generation Align pants kicking around that I have worn during this pregnancy!), I was a touch skeptical that my pre-pregnancy size could actually fit me throughout my pregnancy. I’m now mere days out from my due date and can confirm my size 10 pants are holding up increasingly well! I also picked up the Align bike shorts (size 10) in a 10” super high-rise inseam (bold choices that could potentially look disproportionate on my 5’3” frame, but turned out just fine!), and I love them. They were great for the summer heat, painfully on trend (oh well!) and the compression is minimal yet still supportive for the belly. 

I also have dabbled in pregnancy-specific gear like Blanqi belly-support leggings and tanks (read: these seem to go on sale randomly, do not pay full price for them!). They smell absolutely strange (like...fuel?) and the smell never really subsided with my initial leggings and tank order despite multiple washes. I DM’d the brand about this on Instagram and they sent a replacement set without me even suggesting it, no questions asked, no exchange request, nothing. They just issued a new order immediately before they even replied to my direct message. It was great customer service (albeit a bit extreme?!), ...but the new set smelled the exact same. Stench aside, the support is pretty good, but it’s hard to get past the weird scent when your sense of smell is super heightened and on par with a blood hound thanks to pregnancy. I have still worn them plenty when I know I’m going to be stationary for a good chunk of the day at my desk (they are high-compression and minimize swelling), but I have found that by 3:00-4:00 p.m., I can’t keep wearing them! They just sort of slowly drive me nuts, which I suppose makes sense, as I am more compact in the mornings and gradually expand as I eat/consume fluids all day. I ordered a large in the tank and leggings and probably could’ve gotten away with a medium for the tank. The sizing was a bit large at first, but I’ve filled these garments out as I’ve moved towards the end of this pregnancy. Overall, if you luck out and don’t get a Blanqi purchase that smells like chemicals, enjoy the support! The fabric is quite compressive and thick, so I'd recommend these more so for pregnancy that doesn't stretch into the summer. 

Gin Gins (especially for first trimester)
I have been fortunate enough to not have thrown up at all (so far! we'll see how labour goes) in pregnancy. Nausea, however, was a steady challenge for a good stretch of my first trimester. Gin Gins ginger chews (pick your flavour or texture type - they’re all good) and organic ginger tea were the only saving grace. I found my appetite was pretty strong in the early weeks and then it was a “carbs are helpful, how did I ever eat salads daily?” stretch. I found I ate a lot more when I was at work, commuting back and forth. I think one of the important things to note is you only need 200-300 extra calories per day to support a singleton pregnancy (i.e. one embryo/fetus). I didn’t really understand why I’d always hear that deciding what to eat next was so challenging in pregnancy....then I started experiencing nausea and understood it entirely. One bad choice and it can throw off your whole day. I still have little bouts of nausea here and there and have stuck to mini meals and snacking over larger, proper meals, as they just don’t really appeal to me. This has remained true through third trimester thanks to raging heartburn. Tums should probably eventually go on your shopping list, too. 

HMF Prenatal Probiotic
I was seeing a naturopathy doctor for a while in 2019, as I was trying to regulate my hormonal health after well over a decade on the birth control pill. She put me on a HMF Genestra probiotic that helped balance out years of stomach challenges (I grew up lactose intolerant, I also had been on antibiotics for appendicitis and other infections over the years) and as soon as I discovered I was expecting, I sought out the prenatal version of the same probiotic on well.ca and started taking it daily. I’ve been very grateful that my digestion has been pretty consistent throughout pregnancy, which is not usually the case in pregnancy for many! Highly recommend this if you’re a person who already grapples with digestion challenges pre-pregnancy.

Province Apothecary custom facial serum
Switching up skincare was something that felt sort of hard to do when it came to pregnancy (and knowingly into postpartum). I have been a devoted user of retinol since 2013, so having to step away from it felt like such a shift in normative behaviour. I’ve taken short breaks from it before and have instantly seen expression lines deepen on my forehead where I raise my eyebrows. It’s a part of my routine that I am so steadfast about that cutting out virtually all actives felt like a weird compromise in my identity, which sounds so dramatic, but I think that’s pregnancy in a nutshell. You’re sharing your body, you’re making decisions that effect two lives, it’s all a huge shift that gradually prepares you for parenthood (if one can ever actually be prepared for such a shift). During lockdown around my 33rd birthday, I ordered a few hand sanitizer bottles from Province Apothecary and discovered that they offer custom facial serum blends. I filled out the questionnaire to determine what my skincare needs were and purchased the trial size. This stuff balanced out my skin in a way that was almost hard to believe. My breakouts vanished. I still had an abundance of post-acne hyperpigmentation (no actives meant no diminishing those for a *while*), but my skin was smooth, even in texture and hydrated so well. It’s not a small price to pay, but every other product I had been using was not agreeing with my skin, so I was happy to find something that finally did. It was a small victory that made me feel more like myself again, which is also something I was low-key hellbent on - not losing myself entirely in this very different stretch of life.

Natural Deodorant
There are lots of reasons to use natural deodorant, which I touched on years ago. I’ve flipped back and forth between deodorant and antiperspirant dependent on circumstances and weather. I usually opt for antiperspirant when working in an office space or in the summer months. That being said, It’s been a great stretch (working from home) to shift to a natural deodorant in order to get through the adjustment period. I’ve read that natural deodorant may not cut it when it comes to postpartum hormones and how they impact body odour (it’s apparently to help your baby identify you!); that being said, I’ve been using and surprisingly enjoying Drunk Elephant Sweet Pitti Deodorant Cream. I had never tried a formula that featured mandelic acid before, which is pregnancy-safe (hallelujah!); I am not a huge almond extract or essence fan normally (no, not a marzipan fan either), but I appreciate that there isn't a bold or fresh or 'spa-like' scent associated with this deodorant. It agreed with my body chemistry as soon as I tried it and it holds up pretty well (even through the ridiculous heat waves we've had this summer). Fingers crossed it continues to hold up in the fourth trimester and beyond. 

Pregnancy Pillow
As I entered the third trimester, my husband heard from a childhood friend that suggested we get a pregnancy body pillow. I had been resisting this so hard for a multitude of reasons. I felt like it was such a temporary stretch that I'd use a body pillow, I hated the idea of an object occupying such a huge chunk of our bed (I had already put a memory foam mattress topper on half the bed in order to spare my hips and shoulders when sleeping exclusively on my side)... the list goes on. Well, a 20% off coupon at Bed, Bath and Beyond later and this pillow was on its way to us. I wasn't even that big when it arrived, but I can say with confidence that I wouldn't be able to sleep at all without (not that I'm really sleeping that steadily these days in the homestretch). It provided support in places I didn't realize I needed it and I imagine I'll find uses for it postpartum as well. It's proven to be worth it's price given that sleep is seriously choppy as pregnancy progresses and you don't really sleep through the night. The short stretches you do get need to be sound, and I feel this pillow really helped me make the most of the brief periods that I can actually sleep.

I'd load this post with a bunch of photos, but honestly? I'm pretty wiped. Sleep is scarce already (anyone who says you should sleep before the baby comes is full of it), my body is tired and achey from carrying extra weight and I'm impatiently awaiting our baby's arrival. I hope this was somewhat useful for someone out there! 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Loving Lately - September 2016

Man, where to start? September has been a zoo of a month, with a ton of family time and lots of early mornings/late nights working on projects. We started the month with a long weekend spent working with a splash of family get-togethers for good measure. That was followed by a brief but packed NYC visit for a few days; I walked around 5 miles each day, just exploring the city like I never even did when I lived there. I met up with my dear Marina for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, mentally reenacting a scene from RHONY all the while.

It was a great visit, even with the absolutely heinous heatwave. We naturally took in a Jays game, knowing they were in town for a series with the Yankees.

Once we returned to Toronto, I wrapped up a digital magazine endeavour I had been working on since July for a fab company called Milni, which connects South Asian couples with wedding vendors of their dreams. Check out the first issue right here: http://bit.ly/MilniIssue1

We've had new additions to the family this summer, two very sweet nieces. I am completely enamoured with how tiny and peaceful and absolutely beautiful these babies are. Here's the latest addition, who was born the morning we flew to NYC. She is a little doll and makes my hands look like that of a giant. I love her to bits.

I also started a new gig that has been a wonderful experience, so it's been an amazing month. Tiring, but super fulfilling! Onto the products that made me feel a little bit more polished and presentable than usual:

This product has been out for a year now, and I've always been drawn to it purely because I wasn't into the finish of Skinperfect, a primer/SPF offering from Dermalogica. I love Hydrablur for exactly why you'd think - it's hydrating and it smoothes the skin's surface out, making skin a now-perfect canvas for makeup. It is loaded with silicones, but it also contains fruit oils and sunflower oil to balance the formulation. There's a "tint" that is released once the product is applied to skin, but it is virtually nonexistent so I imagine this would work on all skin tones without leaving a white cast. It's a real keeper as we move into cooler mornings/evenings, so I'm officially softening my "no primers ever" stance.

Y'all. I love a good makeup brush. Majority of my brushes that I reach for the most are made for the masses; Real Techniques and EcoTools have been in high rotation for years, accented with the occasional high-end brush. I admitted got sucked into the hype of Artis brushes, but the hype is real. This brush is awesome for foundation and concealer without absorbing all your product (glaring at you, BeautyBlender). I'm happy I chose this brush size in particular to pick up, as the larger brushes (Oval 8, Oval 10) all look like they would do a great job of quickly distributing product, but I reckon it'd be a little bit on the messy side. This size allows me to do concealer/correct under my eyes and around my nose with ease, so it's a real multitasker in my experience.

I don't commit to a lip colour for a full day of wear. I usually start with a lip balm, follow up with a lip stick or lip liner (sometimes both) and then as that combo of products wears off, I tend to reapply balm only, not usually feeling inclined to add more colour as the day goes on. I'm simply not a touch-up person; I've never carried a makeup bag in my purse (probably because  my preferred size of purse is usually smaller than most makeup bags out there) and it's simply an unappealing idea. All that being said, this lip colour has made it into my bag for trips to and from the office because I genuinely enjoy wearing it! It's a comfortable, creamy formula, so lasting power is certainly variable based on food/drink consumption, but the colour is a perfect colour for my pigmented lips and it simply livens up my face. Slim packaging is streamlined if you are a fellow small-purses-only person, and the formula doesn't settle into lines. Perfect fall treat.

Do you see that hint of duochrome-y goodness up there? It's a packshot, but there's a sense of sheen and shine in there, no? This peachy-pink-gold cream shadow is really beautiful when swatched. It looks underwhelming in the pot, but once it's on the skin, it comes to life! 

The out-of-focus nature of this shot is with purpose - it best captures the shimmer. The shimmer particles are certainly leaning towards the larger side of the scale, meaning it's definitely a shadow that catches the light, but it can certainly be mellowed out with powder shadows or other cream colours on top. I love wearing this on its own or with winged liner. It's a little on the summery side for some people at this time of the year, but so what/who cares/it's really pretty. Really looking forward to pairing this with Tom Ford's Honeymoon eyeshadow quad, which was my eye obsession earlier this year. I suspect they'll be a match made in heaven. 

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