Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hummingbird Cake Smoothie | Silk

My husband makes smoothies every morning. The whir of the blender echoes through the house and I know that there is some combination of bananas, strawberries, greens and protein powder happening in that blender jar. Nutritious, yes, but also ho-hum.

I'm all for smoothies, but it's easy to get into a rut and enter the realm of "Blender Boredom." And there's just no excuse for such things, especially when a little creativity is all that's required to make something that's exciting to sip on.

Left to my own devices, I can't help but create smoothies that resemble my favorite thing: Dessert. 

I mean, it's not like I'm tossing a piece of cake in the blender along with my fruits and veggies... but I see nothing wrong with making my mouth think I am. 

What happens when you combine banana, pineapple, vanilla, cinnamon, pecans & creamy Silk Cashewmilk? You get a Hummingbird Cake smoothie.

Hummingbird Cake is a popular Southern spice cake that happens to have many of the same ingredients that work well in a smoothie. The tender cinnamon-spiced cake is anything but dry with mashed banana and sweet crushed pineapple incorporated into the batter and smooth cream cheese frosting slathered on top. Crunchy pecans lend some texture and nuttiness to this yummy dessert.

Eating a slice of Hummingbird Cake on-the-go? Probably not the easiest task. But whipping up a tasty {and guilt-free} alternative for the road? Totally doable.

So, if like my dear husband, you're going to blend up a smoothie every day... why not make it an enticing one?

Silk's recipe page has a multitude of exciting "Smoothie Solutions" made to banish "Blender Boredom": Lemon Cream Pie Smoothies, Chocolate Covered Cherry Smoothies, Silky S'mores Smoothies... you won't know if you're in your kitchen or at a bakery!

Have some creative ideas of your own?  Silk's Smoothie Solutions contest, live from May 4 to June 5. {Nab a coupon by signing up for Silk's Newsletter!}

Hummingbird Cake Smoothie

1 banana {frozen for a creamier texture}
3 tablespoons crushed pineapple
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
4 ounces Silk Original Cashewmilk

1. Place all ingredients in a high speed blender. Blend until smooth.

2. Pour into a glass and garnish with extra pecans, if desired. Enjoy!

This conversation is sponsored by Silk. The opinions and text are all mine.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Motherhood Monday: Postpartum Depression & Social Media

When I was scrolling through my own Instagram account a few weeks ago, I noticed something: my pictures of life with a baby do not always reflect reality. I mean, sure, there's a reason why I spare you from the diaper explosions and {our, collective} crying fits. {You're welcome.} But the end result of trying to depict life in tiny thumbnails can also be also a bit deceiving.

One of my favorite bloggers, Julie from Willow Bird Baking, once wrote a post about "social media real talk" that struck a chord with me {not that that's unusual, many of her posts do}. Real Simple also started a movement called Women In Real Life, where women are encouraged to share photos of the not-so-rosy moments of their days. I love these reminders that what we see in a newsfeed is an edited version of someone's reality. That it's not the whole story. Because we are constantly being bombarded with images that can make it easy to compare or question if we are/do/have enough.

So, here's some "real talk" for you on this Motherhood Monday: Being a mom has not come naturally to me. I've had to work hard to get to the place where I am right now. And I'm sorry if, in the excitement of capturing a moment that fit into the mold of what I've hoped motherhood would look like, I led you astray.

Because yes, there have been beautiful moments in my story, but there have also been so many tear-streaked, heartbreaking, doubt-filled ones that filled in the gaps between the ones I've shared publicly.

These past 5 months with my baby boy have been an eye-opening time for me on many levels. I'm still processing it all little by little, and our story is "to be continued" indefinitely. But today, I'm here to tell you a little about my own personal experience just in case you, New Mama, find yourself scouring the internet at 3 a.m. hoping that you are not the only who is struggling between the smiles you post for all to see.

Truth: It's Not Always Love at First Sight

This was my profile picture on my personal Facebook account. 
Did you know that a woman might not instantly turn into a giant mushball of maternal love immediately upon giving birth? Did you also know that that same woman can still be a good mother? You wouldn't think it was possible from scrolling down your Facebook feed and seeing post after post written by mothers who wax poetic about their unpreparedness for the amount of instantaneous love they felt for their children; a beautiful testament to parental love, but a hard pill to swallow for those who struggle from the beginning.

Even though I've always had very realistic expectations of what motherhood would have in store for me personally, the truth is that deep down inside, I hoped I'd be wrong about how I'd truly feel once it was all said and done. I hoped that all those people who told me, "Just wait until he's here. Nothing else will matter." knew me better than I know myself. I prayed that I'd automatically fall head over heels in love with my child the moment I laid eyes on him; that I'd suddenly be perfectly content with spending my days rocking a tiny one to sleep.

But if you ask me truthfully if I felt this way immediately after giving birth, I'd have to say... no. This is one of the most difficult admissions I've had to make to myself, so you can imagine how hard it is to put in in writing for the world to see.

The moment that Cole was born, I did have that rush of adrenaline and endorphins as I stared at his tiny, wiggly body. It's hard not to after the experience of giving birth. I immediately felt a sense of responsibility to care for this little person to the best of my ability, even if that meant that I might be slightly miserable while learning to do so. {Ahem, breastfeeding.} When I looked at my sweet baby boy, I felt a lot of things: pride, amazement, protectiveness. But I also felt some things that you don't often read about: disconnect, fear, doubt.

I had a baby, and instead of my heart exploding out of my chest with love as many claim it does, it continued to beat steadily {though maybe a bit more rapidly with anxiousness} in its rightful place.

Though worries began to bubble up to the surface, I was able to suppress those feelings for the first few days after his birth, mostly because I and was too busy keeping up with his day-to-day needs to give it much thought. Soon, all of my helpers went back to their normal lives and we were alone. Just Cole and me. And suddenly, I was overwhelmed by the truth -- that I didn't instantly bond with my baby. That I wasn't sure that I ever would.

Truth: Depression Can Look Like Productivity

Exactly 3 weeks after I had Cole, I received an email from someone asking if I'd be interested in guest blogging on her site because it seemed to her that I could offer some words of advice about "finding the balance" in being a working mom. As flattered as I was, I also felt a bit like a fraud, knowing the truth about how I was feeling inside. I must have been doing a good job of making it seem like I had a clue.

That was the first time I realized that I wasn't doing anyone any favors by keeping it all together. On the outside, I continued to blog, snuggled my baby, smiled for pictures and yes, posted to social media. But on the inside, there was an ugly avalanche of self deprecation happening that only a few people knew about. I was not taking care of myself. I literally survived on Christmas cookies and adrenaline for weeks {which is probably not uncommon, but also not advisable}. Worst of all, I was avoiding facing my problems.

From left to right: Our first date night after baby {1 week postpartum}; Proving I can still bake. {1.5 weeks postpartum}
Holidays still happen when you're depressed. {2.5 weeks postpartum}
You know what I discovered I'm really good at during this crazy time? Keeping busy. Not the good kind of that makes you productive, but sneaky kind that is really just avoidance in disguise.

To say I hit the ground running after having Cole would be an understatement. Getting back to "normal" was my way of exerting some control on feelings that I had absolutely NO control over. Keeping busy meant I didn't have time to think, because thinking would make me sad. When there was "quiet time" I'd begin to feel myself sinking into a dark, scary place. A place that told me that I was not worthy of this precious gift and that wasn't a good mother because I didn't feel like everyone described I would. A place that I'm not familiar with because I'm a generally happy and positive person.

So... I just kept going, going, going.

Though I knew that I still didn't feel right, I chalked it up to hormones and lack of sleep -- certainly not "the D word."  I had always assumed that being depressed looked like days filled with tears and dark rooms and hiding under the covers. For some people, it does. {And don't get me wrong, there was productivity, but there were also tears. Lots and lots of tears.}

One particularly overwhelming afternoon, I Googled "postpartum depression." And wouldn't you know it, I felt like I could have been the author of many of the stories I read. I learned that it was completely possible to be depressed AND functional... in your own dysfunctional way.

On one hand, it was frightening to me that I could be struggling with depression; on the other, I was relieved to find that I wasn't alone in my experience and there was hope for feeling "normal" once again.

Truth: The Truth Shall Set You Free 

Shared on Instagram on January 20, 2015. {2 months postpartum}
You see this picture? It's one of my favorite pictures of  Cole. Not because he looks adorable {though he does}, or because it shows a genuine moment of goofiness, or because it happened so unexpectedly that it elicited the first real laugh that I'd had in a long time. I love it because it's the first picture that made me feel like what I thought I would feel as a mama. It was also the first time I made public mention of the fact that I had been struggling emotionally. And both of those things felt amazing.

There is NOTHING wrong with sharing the cutest, most swoon-worthy parts of parenthood in pictures as many do. The only problem with doing so is that those images of gummy smiles, angelic sleeping faces and chubby little thighs create unspoken standards and expectations of what things should be like. And if your reality doesn't match up with the snapshots that are emblazoned in your mind, then it's easy to begin to think that something is wrong with you. But when you find that you're not alone, there is instant comfort in knowing that someone else understands.

After I discovered the Postpartum Progress website, I felt like a weight had been lifted. When people would ask, "So, are you just LOVING being a mommy??" I took it as an opportunity to share the truth and heal little by little rather than as a dagger to my already tender heart. My response is not always what people expect to hear, but I am happy to say that the response that I've received has almost always been supportive.
"Real" pictures can be beautiful, too.

Caption from my Instagram: "Super Tired Sunday". These cuddles look sweet, but they're the result of late night visit to the emergency vet for our very sick pup, a restless baby that couldn't get into a deep sleep, & an anxious mama that gave up on rest. A sleepless night in our household may give way to an unproductive day ahead, though there's much to do. 

Most importantly, the support I received from my husband, friends and family was what started to set my world straight again. By the time Cole was about 3 months old, I was feeling much more equipped to accept my feelings and move forward. Once I stopped punishing myself for things that were beyond my control, I was able to start enjoying motherhood as I hoped I one day would.

Truth: Love Conquers All

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense: Some of us fall in love instantaneously, while others develop a slow, deep love that comes with time. I didn't even fall in love with my husband right away! {We were friends for two years before we even dated.} Loving Cole slowly did not mean I loved him any less. And belittling myself for having my own unique experience?? Pointless and unproductive.

You know how I know that Cole is loved, even if my love for him didn't start like I thought it should? He studies my face and smiles a toothless smile of comfort and happiness. He has outgrown much of his clothes, filling out quickly because he is fed regularly {thanks to both breast milk and formula, in case you were wondering}. He soothes almost instantly in my embrace. {Unless he's having a moment. It happens.} He sleeps peacefully, with his arms spread out to his sides like he has nothing to fear.
Real smiles. {5 months postpartum}

And he has every reason to believe that he is safe and loved because -- no matter how it looks in a photo or on a newfeed or to someone walking by -- it is THE TRUTH.

Note: Postpartum depression is different for each person who experiences it. A woman struggling with PPD may require medical or psychological evaluation and assistance. Though I did not seek professional help or counseling, many people benefit from doing so. It is important to judge each instance separately and do what is right for you and your family.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Gluten Free Spinach and Chicken Sausage Mac & Cheese | Horizon Organic

Now that I have a kidlet of my own, I find myself wondering what his eating habits will be like when he's older. Will he give us a hard time with eating his veggies? Will he appreciate homemade birthday cakes? Will he be ok with the fact that the only "happy meals" we'll most likely give him are the ones where we're smiling at the dinner table?

I'm sure he'll have his moments. All kids do. Like when a toddler insists on ONLY drinking out of the princess cup, or when all you can get the child to eat is Mac & Cheese for like 3 months straight.

Knowing these moments are inevitable seems like half the battle so that you're not putting yourself down for an epic parental fail. But, there are ways to turn your "lose" into a "win-win-win" -- the perfect dinner trifecta. Good ingredients, kid-friendly taste and convenience for a mom and dad who might just be at the end of their rope!

In our house, gluten-free cooking is a must because of my husband's sensitivity to wheat. To be honest, it's become such second nature to cook "gluten-free" dinners that I don't even think to call them that anymore. It's just how we eat! {I still do a lot of conventional baking but the husband avoids those foods.} So, whether or not our son has the same food sensitivity, he'll grow up with a mostly gluten-free lifestyle. And I'm sure he'll have questions... or days when nothing but the comfort of Mac & Cheese will do.

Products like Horizon Organic Gluten-Free Macaroni & White Cheddar Cheese are a lifesaver to have in the pantry for those parenting moments that require calling in the reinforcements.

Just because it comes out of a box doesn't mean you can't add your own flair {and *shhh* nutritious twist!} for a quick, kid-approved dinner. Does your kiddo turn up his or her nose at anything but the classics? How about letting them innovate their own {parent approved} add-ins to get the ball rolling on broadening their picky palates?

I think getting kids to be hands on in the kitchen is a great, skill-building teaching tool that helps them take ownership of their own eating habits. Letting kids become kitchen helpers is a wonderful way to open up the dialogue about food and nutrition.  Kids are naturally curious, why not play up their inquisitive nature by inviting them to participate in their food lives?

- Explore different cultures and what they eat, then try out some of the flavors of their cuisine in your own cooking.
- Buy safe, tot-sized tools that kids can get their little hands on to help in the kitchen.
- Set up a station with different {parent-approved} ingredients and let kids choose some of the items to add to a meal.
- Make the process of buying food exciting by taking a stroll through the farmer's market or grocery store and letting your littles help you select good-looking fruits and veggies.
- Take a parent/child cooking class together or set up your own "class" at home with your kids and maybe even some of their friends.

There are tons of ways to pique kids interest in food... Starting with a dish like this one might just pave the path to a lifetime of educated eaters! Follow Horizon Organic on Twitter,  Pinterest or Facebook for more great mealtime solutions!

Gluten Free Spinach and Chicken Sausage Mac & Cheese

1 box Horizon Organic Gluten Free Macaroni & White Cheddar Cheese
2 organic chicken sausage links, removed from casings
2 big handfuls of fresh, organic spinach

1. Prepare Mac & Cheese as directed on box.
2. Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium high heat and cook chicken sausage until browned.
3. When the Mac & cheese is done cooking, stir in cooked sausage and fresh spinach. Stir until spinach leaves are wilted.


This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Horizon Organics. The opinions and text are all mine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The IRS Cocktail

It's Tax Day! Errr... It's Tax Day. Are you among those who are breathing a sigh of relief that forms have been submitted? Or are you doing some nail biting over deadlines and monies owed?

In our household, we have 3 businesses between the two of us, so it's always an interesting time trying to keep things organized so our accountant doesn't want to wring our necks by the time April 15 rolls around. {We're not always successful. Sorry Michele!} To tell you the truth, just the thought of all the forms and numbers and calculations is enough to make me break out in hives. Math has never been a friend of mine.

Unless Cole becomes a childhood entrepreneur, 3 businesses to file for is plenty to keep track of for now, thank you very much.

Hopefully, your filing was straightforward and today is just another April day. But, whether you're awaiting a refund check or writing one to Uncle Sam, one thing's certain: You can probably go for a cocktail.

My friends at Blue Chair Bay Rum sent over a little "tax relief" in a bottle last week, and I got to work creating the perfect cocktail to celebrate your fiscal responsibility: The IRS Cocktail.

Immediate Rummy Satistfaction

Mango nectar, fresh squeezed citrus and Blue Chair Bay Coconut Rum come together to create a cocktail that tastes like a little ray of tropical sunshine.

Maybe you're wishing you could run away to paradise, or perhaps you're already booking your island vacation with that refund check in mind. Either way, one sip of this drink and "taxing" thoughts will be the last thing on your mind!

Enter to win your own bottle of Blue Chair Bay Rum below! {Must be 21 years of age or older.}

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The IRS Cocktail

1 ounce mango nectar
2 ounces fresh squeezed orange juice
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
1 1/2 ounces Blue Chair Bay Coconut Rum

1. Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker; top with ice.

2. Shake vigorously & strain into a glass. Garnish with a slice of orange if desired.

Contest listed at Contest Heat.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cheesy Couscous-Crusted Chicken Tenders with Creamy Salsa Sauce | Sargento Cheese

I'm going to be completely honest and say that competition shows are not my favorite part of Food Network. I find them slightly irritating and can only watch a few minutes at a time before I'm over it. If I want to watch people scramble down grocery store aisles, I'll head to Costco on a Sunday morning.

BUT... there is something about the show Chopped that sucks me in every time. Maybe it's the anticipation of what will be lurking in the mystery basket. Perhaps it's the way the judges deflate the egos of some of the overly-confident chefs that strut in from their top-notch kitchens. I don't know what it is, but I find myself glued to the edge of my seat when I come across an episode.

Will someone lose a finger? How will they use those goat brains in the dessert round?? ARE THEY GOING TO FINISH IN TIME?!

I can get myself pretty worked up, short of yelling at the television screen like I'm watching a high-stakes football game.

I'm almost certain I'd have a meltdown in the Chopped kitchen and find myself in the corner by the ice cream maker curled up in the fetal position while Scott Conant sneers at me from his seat. Something about red onions, he's yelling... :::shudders:::

Anyway, I always thought it would be sort of fun to try my hand at a Chopped-style cooking project... but in the safety of my kitchen. And wouldn't you know it? Sargento® is hosting a friendly little competition called "Chopped at Home", where they're asking you to get creative with their Off the Block Shredded Cheese and come up with a dish worthy of the grand $10,000 prize!

The recipe must contain these items from the "Mystery Basket":

-Sargento® Off the Block 4 Cheese Mexican
-Boneless chicken tenders

Armed with the required ingredients, I headed to the kitchen and came up with this: Mexican Style Couscous-Crusted Chicken Tenders with a Creamy Salsa Sauce.  And believe it or not, they were quite delicious! 

Tossed together with Sargento Off the Block 4 Cheese Mexican, couscous makes a unique coating on these seasoned tenders. The  Though they're flavorful enough on their own, I used the salsa to create a creamy, tangy dipping sauce made with plain yogurt. The best part of this meal might just be the quick prep and easy cleanup -- fabulous when the clock is running out or on any busy weeknight!

So... what would you make with these 4 ingredients? I'm dying to know!

Give it a shot and submit your entries over at the Chopped at Home Challenge page, and you might just find yourself with an extra $10,000 in your pocket!

Meanwhile, make sure to try out my dish... I hope it's one for the dinner table and not the "chopping block!" ;)

Cheesy Couscous-Crusted Chicken Tenders with Creamy Salsa Sauce

For tenders:

1/3 cup cooked couscous {follow package directions}, cooled
1/3 cup Sargento Off the Block 4 Cheese Mexican Shredded Cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided
 1 package boneless chicken tenders
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

For Creamy Salsa Sauce:

1/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt {Greek-style, if you'd like a thicker sauce}
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup favorite store-bought salsa

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare 2 baking pans by covering with foil and spraying one with non-stick spray. Set aside.

2. On the unsprayed pan, toss together cooked couscous, 1 tablespoon of cilantro and shredded cheese until uniformly mixed. Set aside.

3. Season chicken tenders with salt, onion powder & cumin. With tongs, place each chicken tender in the couscous mixture and roll around until fully coated. This may take a little bit of pressing to adhere the mixture. Place coated tenders on sprayed baking pan. Repeat until all tenders are coated.

4. Bake tenders for 18-20 minutes or until cooked through. The coating should start to become golden in some parts.

5. Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together yogurt, mayonnaise and salsa. Pour into a serving bowl and serve along side hot chicken tenders.

A side salad or avocado & tomato salad would make this a great meal!

Product Info: Available in 30 versatile varieties, unique blends and distinct cuts, Sargento Shredded Cheese is always cut from blocks of 100% real, natural cheese. For more inspiration, check out the Sargento Pinterest page or visit for more information. The Chopped at Home Challenge gives viewers a chance to create their best recipe using the selected basket ingredients, including Sargento Shredded Cheese, for a chance to win $10,000!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Sargento. The opinions and text are all mine.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Sparkling Mint Limeade

It's already really hot outside. Like, sweating in funny places from a stroll to the mailbox kind of hot.

Why, Florida, why? Just when I have solidified an outdoor exercise routine.

I've been walking about 5 days a week and it's been a nice change of pace to being a hermit spending the majority of my waking hours indoors these past few months. {The months where the weather was perfect. Go figure.} Yes, there is unnecessary sweat -- I mean, it's walking for heaven's sake, not an Ironman competition -- but it's been worth it for a few reasons.

Cole and I stroll about 3 miles most days, giving me a break from trying to entertain my sweet child indoors. A few times a week, I have a {grown up} walking buddy who walks 6 miles with me. During that time we basically have therapy sessions and figure out how to right the world's wrongs. It's therapeutic and terribly efficient if you ask me. {Plus, way cheaper than real therapy.}

Any exercise where I don't really think about the fact that I'm actually exercising is my favorite kind. Because you still burn calories, but you also get to have fun. And if you're constantly running your mouth like I am, you probably burn double.

Speaking of calorie burning, I've got you where I want you last 5 pounds of baby weight! While I'm not all that bothered by the extra pudge, I'm fairly certain that my collection of JCrew and Lilly Pulitzer shorts total to a few hundred dollars worth, and I'm not okay with letting them go to waste. Clearly, my priorities are in order.

But I digress. Hot weather = cool drinks. That's where I was going with all of this.

When I had some girlfriends over for lunch a few weeks ago, I threw together this Sparkling Mint Limeade just because I had mint and limes, not really expecting for it to be all that great. But I actually really enjoyed it.

Sweet, tart, bubbly and refreshing. Reminds me of a mojito, only I can sip it during the day without concerned glances. {After 5pm, I'm sure a little splash of your favorite spirit wouldn't do any harm to the flavor. Wink, wink.}

Bring on the heat.

*Note: Any time I make these types of beverages, I estimate the amounts or add ingredients to taste. This is an approximation, so alter to suit your taste buds!

Sparkling Mint Limeade

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
3 sprigs of mint
Juice of 3 limes
Juice of 1 lemon
Approximately 1 1/2 cups water
Lime flavored sparkling water

1. Make the mint syrup: Stir together sugar and water and bring to a boil in a small saucepan. Boil for about a minute, then remove from heat and toss in mint sprigs. Let mint steep for about 10-15 minutes to develop mint flavor. Press on mint leaves to extract the last of the flavor, and disgard.

2. In a pitcher or desired container, stir together lime juice, lemon juice and cooled mint syrup. Add about 1 1/2 cups of water to dilute. {This is where you may want to start tasting and deciding how strong you prefer it to be.}

3. To serve, pour limeade into a glass filled with ice {about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full}, then top with lime sparkling water. Garnish with a lime wheel and mint if desired.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Motherhood Monday: A Labor Story {Part 2}

Last week, I kicked off my Motherhood Monday series with the beginning of my birth story. But, much like the actual event itself, it was waaaay too long! So, here's Part 2!

By the time I was officially in "active labor", it was late afternoon on Thursday. We got set up in the room and I felt amazing. The adrenaline rush of knowing that I was really in labor was enough to dull the strong contractions. I got in bed and tried to get comfortable, turning on my HypnoBirthing affirmations and trying to relax.

The nurse assigned to us was absolutely wonderful. She was completely on board with everything we wanted to do and so sweet and helpful. {Thank heavens it wasn't nurse "What makes you think you're in labor?" Whew.} Over the next few hours, I spent time on the birthing ball, waddled walked around the room, tried to watch TV, had my mom and in-laws drop by for a visit and spent time in the jetted tub. Meanwhile, Steve just stayed by my side doing anything and everything to make me more comfortable {and also taking video of how much more subdued my contractions were when I was practicing my hypnobirthing techniques, which he got quite a kick out of}. Just having him there was the biggest help. Aside from squeezing my hips really hard during contractions for the better part of an hour, there wasn't much he could actually do.

Several hours later {I think. It all gets pretty hazy from here.}, close to 3 a.m., my doctor stopped by to see how I was doing. I was barely hanging on to sanity, not so much because of the pain, but because of not being able to rest. {Remember, we were going on day 3 of no sleep.} He brought up the big question: Pain relief.

We had talked at length about keeping things as natural as possible, but I had also let him know that if things got extreme {read: I was in labor FOREVER}, I wasn't opposed to an epidural. For that reason, I had met with the anesthesiologist when we pre-registered so that I could be cleared ahead of time in case I opted to go that route.

The doctor asked me how I was feeling {um.} and asked if I wanted to be checked and have my water broken to speed things up. The only downside would be the intensifying of contractions, which I was fairly certain I couldn't stand right then. He said he figured I felt that way and asked if I had thought about an epidural. Why, yes. Yes, I had. Several times. But I didn't want to do it. I was trying to avoid it as long as possible, but after 2 days and 12 hours of what I had experienced, I wasn't sure how much longer I'd last without hurdling myself out the window.

It was at this point that I was so glad that I switched doctors at the 11th hour and that I found someone who was so understanding. We talked over the pros and cons of the epidural and he asked me {in my delirious state} why I didn't want one. I was honest and said that I wasn't a fan of the thought of needles in my spine, numbness or strong medicine in general. I don't even take Advil unless my head feels like it's about to explode. He expressed his concern about my pain levels continuing to exhaust me to the point of rendering me useless when it was time to push -- a place you definitely don't want to find yourself in the tiring process that is labor.

After talking it over with Steve, we decided that without knowing how much longer I'd be laboring, an epidural was the best course of action for getting some rest before the big moment. I was relieved, but terrified... and frankly a little disappointed at that moment. But good ol' Hypnobirthing affirmations popped into my head: "I am prepared to meet whatever turn my labor takes." Maybe it wasn't the path that I hoped for, but by the time the anesthesiologist came in and administered the epidural, I was at peace with the decision.

{By the way, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I barely felt a thing, though I'm pretty sure I squeezed the crap out of the nurse who let me hold onto her while the whole thing was going down. The anesthesiologist -- let's call him, "Mr. Personality" -- was super quick and impressed with my getting to 6 or 7 centimeters without meds. I wasn't interested in trophies or chatter.}

As it turns out, labor with an epidural is a cake walk. Had I not been exhausted to the point of lunacy, I probably could have gone back to baking. {Except, of course, for the fact that I was numb from the armpits down and couldn't stop shivering for some reason.} Incidentally, not everyone goes completely numb when they have an epidural -- but I did. From my chest down I didn't feel a thing. I could slightly move my left leg but not my right. It was dead weight. A few times it fell off the bed and I had to ask Steve to pick it back up because I couldn't lift it myself. So weird.

The rest of the night went by slowly... but with no pain; just a strange sensation that remains when your belly contracts.  4 a.m... 5 a.m... 6 a.m... Still progressing ever so slowly.

The sun rose on Friday morning, and I was still waiting to be fully dilated. On the positive side, I'd gotten to rest a tiny bit {as did Steve, poor guy}, and I was feeling more capable of putting together a sentence, not to mention pushing out a baby. Did I mention that my parents-in-law, brother-in-law and mom had all stayed in the waiting room overnight?? I felt terrible that they were sitting out there exhausted, but no one wanted to have news of progress more than I did.

Our doctor came in and chatted with us in the morning. There was progress, but I STILL wasn't at 10 centimeters. I asked him how pushing would go if I didn't have any way to feel contractions and he assured me that my body would know what to do. If you say so!

Around 10 a.m., I was checked one last time and the doctor announced that it was time to have a baby. I was excited, but the nurse kept telling me that I was about to start a process that was no picnic. Anything seemed easier than what I had just been through in the past 3 days!

I had hoped to push the baby out in a comfortable position, but because of the epidural, I was stuck with the typical "hold my legs" stance. As I had imagined, pushing was not the easiest without any way to feel when a contraction was coming or any other sensation besides pressure. But I went with it. Because, you know, I wanted to get the kid out before his first birthday.

Meanwhile, the doctor, nurse and Steve chattered away as I huffed and puffed trying to find a rhythm and catch my breath. It was such a strange thing to be somewhere but feel like I was outside the situation. I remember staring at one part of the pattern on the wallpaper with such focus that I thought I might bore a hole into the wall with my eyes. Steve kept on leaning in and whispering words of encouragement and letting me know that I was almost there. {I didn't believe him.}

After just under an hour of pushing {it didn't seem that long... time sort of does weird things when you're in that kind of scenario}, at 10:53 a.m., Cole Thomas made his way into this world and finally graced us with his presence. After THREE DAYS!

They plopped him on top of me and I looked at him in disbelief -- I couldn't believe I did it. That he was finally here. That this was the little tot that was kicking me and doing somersaults in my belly for 40 weeks. That we had a son.

It is true that no matter how tired you were before, the adrenaline you feel after such an experience makes you feel like you could jump up and run laps. That is, if your legs aren't limp noodles. But, more likely than not, you'll opt to stay exactly where you are and stare at your baby like you've never stared at anyone else before because suddenly there is another person in your family.

Steve doing the "Daddy Stare".
Cole was healthy, strong and very squished. Three days of being wedged in a pelvis will do funny things to your face. {I'm happy to say his face has now returned to normal.} He weighed 6 pounds, 13 ounces. The perfect little peanut.

So, that's how my labor went down. The thing I'd been thinking about for months on end. It was pretty incredible and I'm so thankful that even though things didn't go exactly how I had imagined {does anything ever?}, the end result was more than I could hope for. Getting through slow labor wasn't easy, but I give all the credit to my amazing husband, my incredible doctor, a fantastic nursing staff and HypnoBirthing. I can't imagine what this experience would have been like had it not been for the strong support I received!
Proud dad & awesome doc!
And that's how I officially became a mama. The end to this chapter of the story and the beginning of a lifetime of new experiences. These past few months have been a whirlwind of happiness and tears and learning and insomnia. It's been a challenge to juggle bottles, baking, blogging and life... but we're getting the hang of it {most days}.

Photo courtesy of my talented friend at Erica Dunhill Photography
I have a lot to share about how motherhood has changed my life -- the good, the bad and the spells of ugly crying {mine, not Cole's}. Every day is a new adventure for sure, and I hope that these posts will be able to help other moms out there.

Moms: Feel free to leave me a comment and tell me about your birth experience. Was it what you hoped for?