Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Emerson Lily: A Natural Birth Story

This post has been a long time coming. I knew I wanted to tell the story of Emerson's birth, and now that she is almost 12 weeks old I'm finding it gradually easier and easier to get things done during naps (she's asleep in my Lillebaby carrier as we speak). I'm not going to go light on the details, so if you're grossed out by things like breast pumping, mucus plugs, or water breaking, then go watch a funny video of a cat.

This story starts when I was around 20 weeks pregnant. Before becoming pregnant, Dan and I had decided we wanted to keep things as natural as possible. Growing up, I always thought women who decided not to get epidurals must be insane. Why would you choose what is described as the most painful thing the human body can endure when you have an option to numb the pain? But the more I read and researched, the more possible complications I found. Eventually I decided that if women had given birth without medication since the beginning of time, I could do the same. Skip forward to my 20th week of pregnancy. Thus far, we had been seeing nurses and doctors with the intention of delivering at a hospital, but at this particular appointment, after seeing that we had a healthy girl bun in the oven, the nurse began going over common hospital practices with us, one of which is the practice of having an IV needle inserted in your arm the entire time just in case you needed fluids. This healthcare practice was already on my bad side after incorrectly diagnosing me with a pregnancy complication around 10 weeks and telling me I would likely not go full term and may not be able to carry other children. They were completely wrong and had it resolved in 24 hours after some tests, but those 24 hours were heart-wrenching and could have been avoided by not jumping to conclusions. So while this protocol may seem insignificant, the idea of trying to labor naturally and breathe through the pain while having a needle in my arm was enough to convince me that a hospital full of procedures might not be the best place for me.

During my first trimester, I had begun reading Ina May's Guide to Childbirth which introduced me to the idea of a birth center. Unsure if I was walking into a den of hippies, I decided to set an introductory appointment with the first birth center that came up in a local search. At the first appointment, Dan and I were greeted by name, given a tour, and had the opportunity to sit and ask questions without feeling rushed. We were empowered and assured that I would be the one delivering the baby, not a doctor, nurse, or midwife. The control was put back in my hands, and I loved that feeling. With each appointment, I became more and more sure that we had made the right decision by switching practices. I'm so thankful for the individual care I received, full of patience and love, rather than feeling like a random name on a clipboard.

My pregnancy was smooth, and besides being told I was carrying a boy or twins by multiple strangers each day, I have no complaints. The weeks came and went, and suddenly I found myself 40 weeks pregnant. Without a single contraction. I began to worry. Why wasn't I having any signs of labor? Was this baby ever coming out? My full time job became trying to have a baby. I went to a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, and I marched laps around our neighborhood. But nothing happened. Each morning I woke up crying that I was still pregnant. Then 41 weeks arrived. After an ultrasound (where I had the tech double check I was, in fact, having one girl) confirmed that baby was still healthy and happy in there, my midwife, Audrey, began suggesting some natural ways we might be able to induce labor. More chiropractic adjustments, more acupuncture, and the use of a breast pump to bring on contractions. At 9 days overdue, this combination finally worked.

I had been power pumping all day, and around six o'clock in the evening on November 2nd, I texted Dan that I thought I was starting to feel something. It still wasn't bad, and I remember thinking, "oh, is this all labor is?" Still not convinced that anything was really happening, I was a little surprised to have bloody show. I quickly called Audrey to give her a heads up, but she said that, while this was definite progress, it could still be quite a while before real labor started. But that wasn't the case. I was lying on my side in bed that night, feeling the baby move, when all of a sudden a real contraction hit. I doubled over in pain. I couldn't breathe! I flapped my hand at Dan trying to get his attention as I could no longer speak. And when that contraction ended I jumped out of bed, frantic to make sure I wasn't in that same position when the next one hit. And it did, way sooner than expected. I had been told that labor would start slow and easy. That I'd have time to get used to the contractions before they got close together. Blame the red raspberry leaf tea, the dates, or the black and blue cohosh, but that was not the case for me. We timed contractions for about an hour, noting that they were only about 6 minutes apart and were so awful all I could do was brace myself and try not to scream, and then we called Audrey. She was very calm and seemed to think I might be exaggerating the intensity. She recommended that we try to get some sleep and to call her again when the contractions got closer together or more intense. For the next two hours, Dan and I moved around the house trying to find a way to make the contractions more manageable. I tried sitting on a birthing ball, lying down, standing against a wall, leaning into Dan, but nothing was working. At 2 AM on November 3rd, the contractions were coming only minutes apart, so we called Audrey again. This time she suggested we meet at the birth center to see how things were progressing. With quite a bit of struggle, I got into the SUV and we made the drive to the birth center.

Once we were settled in, Audrey asked if she could check my dilation. I was expecting to be several centimeters dilated, but as of 3 AM I was only 1 centimeter along. I was shocked, and Audrey told us that I'd probably be laboring for another 24 hours and could head back home if we wanted to. Something in my gut told me this wasn't going to be the case, so I told her I'd like to stay and use the tub. It's around this point that everything became a blur for me. I know I threw up at some point from the pain. I know that Dan sat behind me on a step in the tub for hours while I dug my fingers into his calves every time a contraction hit, and I remember around 5 AM I asked Dan to get Audrey again and she discovered I was already 5 cm dilated. Upon realizing this was going much faster than she thought it would, she called the other midwives who would be assisting with the birth. Hearing that it was moving along was exactly what I needed. Up until this point I had been overwhelmed by the pain, panicking and telling Dan I couldn't do it even though he continually, lovingly told me that I could. I had read that every contraction has a peak, and that after that midpoint the pain would begin to go down like a wave, but my contractions had two peaks and as soon as I recovered from the first, the next would hit even harder. But as the dilation continued, I began to find my rhythm. I could tell myself as I felt the next contraction beginning that I just needed to get through four deep breaths and it would be over. In between waves, I leaned back against Dan in a trance-like state, getting what little rest I could.

Around 8 AM, I was stuck at 9 cm dilation. Nothing had changed in over an hour, and I was completely spent. Although the water felt amazing, we decided to move to the bed to see if a change in position could finish dilation. After another half hour of labor, we had made no progress, so Audrey suggested that we manually push down the last bit of the cervix to bring the baby's head past it. That took the help of only one contraction and then I had permission to push.

Until you've given birth, it's hard to imagine how terrifying pushing is. I'd heard from friends that pushing was the easy part. Maybe that's true if you're partially numb to it, but for me it was probably the scariest moment of my life. At first, I couldn't get the timing right. I had been inhaling and exhaling deeply and rhythmically for hours, and now I was being told to take a deep breath, hold it, and use the contraction to move the baby down and out. Contraction after contraction came and went and it was still so unnatural. I felt like my body wasn't ready, but I was trying to push against it. During one particularly hard push, my water finally broke, and then it became much easier to work with the contractions. It still wasn't fun, and I was still telling Dan that I couldn't do it, when I felt my baby's head begin to come out. Yes, that is just about as pleasant as it sounds. "Wow! She has so much hair!" and "her eyes are out!" helped me continue to do what I so badly wanted to not do anymore. I just wanted it to be over. With one great push, Emmy's head was out, and at that point, my body completely took over and I didn't have to try to push anymore. My body knew what to do and in a few more moments, she was out. I cried out of relief and then joy as I saw them lift my little baby and place her on my chest. She was absolutely perfect. I distinctly remember grinning through tears and telling Dan that holding her on the outside, I could still feel those same curves and bumps I'd felt on the inside for so long. I knew this baby already. I was hit with such a wave of endorphins and oxytocin that I suddenly felt nothing but joy and love. I looked at my baby, I looked at Dan, and everything was exactly as I had imagined it, but better.

In the end, my labor was about 11 hours total to give birth to my 7 lb 13 oz and 20 inch sweetheart. I can honestly say that I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I'm not eager to do it again, but I wouldn't change it for the world. Thinking of what my body did is the most empowering thing imaginable, and knowing that God designed it to work this way blows my mind.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

My Newborn Must-Haves (that I wish I'd seen on other lists)

I love research. Scouring the internet for information and lists is what I do best, which is why I probably read a few dozen newborn must-have lists before Emmy was born. You've got the classic parenting website list with things like "a carseat" or "a crib" on the list, as though you didn't know the law or that babies eventually need somewhere to sleep. Then you've got the typical trendy list on a mommy blog with things like swaddle blankets and some over-priced European brand bath toys. The things I stocked up on per these suggestions have not turned out to be what I truly needed as a new mom. I know every baby is different, but since I love a good list, here are my newborn must-haves in no particular order.

A Baby Carrier

The months after a baby is born is nicknamed the fourth trimester for a good reason. Your tiny human has just spent her entire life hearing your heartbeat and being carried around. It's no surprise then that many newborns don't enjoy being set down, even for naps. Within the first week of Emmy's life, I realized that holding her on my chest for the entire day wasn't going to work if I wanted to clean the house, do dishes, or even eat a meal. Luckily I had fallen in love with the Modern Wrap long before Emmy was born, and so I was able to tie the wrap on and then pop Emmy into it as soon as she fell asleep. You'd be amazed at how good you get at squatting super low to avoid leaning forward when you're doing tasks around the house.

After about a month, Emmy began to get too heavy for me to carry her for long periods in the wrap, so we upgraded to the Lillebaby All Seasons carrier. This carrier is perfect for when your baby is ready to have her arms and legs free. I know there are a ton of carriers out there, but we went with the Lillebaby because it works from birth to toddler age without any additional inserts. I love how easy that is! Lately I've been eyeing Wildbird.co Ring Slings, so maybe I'll be adding one of those to my carrier collection soon. Use around the house is wonderful, but I also enjoying wearing Emmy when we go out. For some reason, people have no personal space when it comes to babies. When you have your baby against your chest, people would have to get uncomfortably close to you to get in your baby's face, so it's great for keeping germy strangers away. No matter what type of carrier you choose, I have found it to be an absolutely must-have for a newborn.

The NoseFrida

Although this item is pretty widely known for it's effectiveness, I refused to buy a snot sucker. I know there's a filter, but the idea of sucking snot out of my baby's nose disgusted me. That is, until one night when I woke up to hear Emmy breathing loudly through a very stuffy nose. Bulb aspirators did nothing, and eventually I caved and combined a steam in the bathroom with a NoseFrida. I placed one side in my mouth and lined the other up with Emmy's tiny nostril, and like magic, the gunk came out and she was able to breathe. I would think a baby would hate this feeling, but I think Emmy knows I'm trying to help her because she stays very still and then grins after. No matter how gross sucking snot sounds to you, buy the NoseFrida before you actually need it.

The Windi

Along that same line, and by that same company, you should have the Windi on hand. Without going into too much detail, this product seems pretty gross but is an absolute miracle at helping your baby pass gas. Babies tend to get pretty gassy in the first few months because their muscles aren't strong enough to handle the job all the time. Emmy is a pretty happy baby, but one day this week she was miserable. I tried feeding, changing, rocking, walking around, bicycle kicks, gripe water, and basically anything else I could think of, and yet Emmy continued to fuss with a pained look on her face. One look at her tummy and the cause was clear. By the afternoon, she had been awake and fussy for hours and I was also in tears from spilling 4 oz of fresh milk when trying to hold her and get her a bottle. I finally broke down, called Dan, and asked him to come home early and to buy the Windi on his way. In mere seconds with the use of the Windi, Emmy went from miserable to her normal happy self. Once again, no matter how gross it sounds, buy the Windi.

A Wipe Warmer

If you're like me and interested in saving money, you'll commonly find a wipe warmer on a list of things you don't actually need for a baby. I beg to differ. For the first few days, we didn't use a wipe warmer, and Emmy would let out a cry out of shock every diaper change. She wouldn't stay upset for long and has generally always liked changing time, but when you want to change a diaper without fully waking up your baby, undressing them and then touching them with something ice cold isn't a great idea. Our first solution was to simply hold the wipe between our hands for a minute before using it, but that minute seems like an awfully long time when you're hoping your baby will wait until a new diaper is on before making a mess. When my mom ran to Babies R Us to pick up all the other things I didn't think I'd need (bottles, a bottle rack, steaming bags for said bottles) I also asked her to get a wipe warmer. I wasn't sure how a warmer would work with cloth wipes, but it's perfect, and this warmer also has a nightlight, ideal for midnight changes. We got ours for about $10 with a combination of coupons, so it's really not a huge investment. Save money somewhere else and buy your baby a wipe warmer.

A Baby Monitor

This is another item that many people will argue is unnecessary, especially if you live in a single story home. If anyone could do without a monitor, it's us. We live in a house that's about 1,000 square feet so we can get from one end to the other in five seconds flat. The reason I love having a monitor so much that it made this list is that I don't want to wait until Emmy is crying to pick her up. It must be pretty scary to wake up all alone when you fell asleep in someone's arms, so as soon as she starts to wiggle and doesn't settle back down within 10 seconds, I know it's time to peek in on her. If her eyes are open and she's starting to bop around, I like to pick her up and snuggle her as she fully wakes up and then have a bottle ready before she's wailing. If you're okay with either constantly checking in on your baby while she naps or letting her cry to signal it's time to pick her up, then you can cross this off your list. For me, a good video monitor is essential.

I'd love to hear your newborn must-haves, so leave me a comment with your thoughts.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Lessons From Emmy

I've been writing this post in my mind for over a month now, basically since the first few days I spent with Emmy on the outside. As a planner and someone who likes things a certain way, becoming a mom has been quite a change. From my baby arriving 9 days late, to challenges described below, life has been a bit different from the way I pictured it. Amazing, but different. I thought about various ways I could structure this post, and in the end, what you'll find below is simply paragraph length clips of our first weeks with Emmy. Think of it as me journaling some things I'd like to remember. These confessions are deeply personal, so read on only if you have a gentle, understanding spirit. Otherwise this is not for you.

Rose-Colored Glasses Aren't Flattering Anyone

Having a baby is hard. I don't just mean the physical act of pushing a baby into the world, which will be a post all on its own. No, I mean those first days, weeks even, when you suddenly realize that everyone with children deceived you. Everyone tells you it will be hard, but nobody accurately captures how terrifying and exhausting it really is. You go from being pregnant, napping whenever you want with no guilt, eating which automatically feeds the baby, taking a dozen "last date night for awhile" dates with your man, to suddenly being more physically drained than you thought possible, having the worst cramps of your life, and being responsible for a tiny person who depends on you for everything. Add in crazy hormones and it's pretty much the hardest thing in the world. Now, I can see why people want to sugarcoat that fact. First, no one would have kids. Second, it doesn't last that long, and much like childbirth, the pain fades and you forget. But I wish someone had warned me, truly warned me, that I would need help. I felt like a failure and wondered if I was cut out to be a mom for that first week because no one had told me it's normal to feel like you don't have a clue, and to wonder if you were doing things right. Like I said, that does fade, but now that I know, I'll be that friend who brings over meals and holds the baby for a few hours just so the mom can take a shower and sleep for more than 30 minutes. Let's stop hiding behind perfect pictures of napping newborns on Instagram and admit that becoming a parent is overwhelming. Thankfully the love you have for your new baby is equally overwhelming and makes it all worth it.

Your Best Might Not Be What You Planned

I'm hesitant to even write this because it's still painful, but when I was pregnant, I was so sure that I'd nurse my baby that I was too proud to have formula, bottles, or pacifiers on hand. It's got to be the most natural thing ever, so why would I need a backup plan? When Emmy was placed on my chest immediately after birth, it didn't take long for her to start rooting. She got right in place and looked like she was going to latch, but she couldn't seem to get a hold. Hours later, nursing continued to be a nearly impossible struggle. She'd latch, gum on me for awhile in such a way that I wasn't sure she was getting any food, and then she'd fall asleep again. First we tried hand expressing and spoon feeding, but after realizing that wasn't going to be enough, I asked my mom to run to the store and get formula. At that point, I didn't care that "breast is best" or any of the other nonsense I'd let myself believe when I was pregnant. In the end, when you have a hungry baby in your arms, feeding them is best. We later found out that Emmy had a tongue tie, and even after a revision, she has never had a successful latch. It's taken a lot for me to accept that she may never nurse. It was a hit on my pride as well as my dreams. Today, at her one month appointment, we found out Emmy is in the 85th percentile for length and weight. Maybe I had to change my plan and give formula before I was able to pump and bottle feed as we are now, but hearing how healthy she is and how well she is growing is my new pride and joy. All that matters is that you're doing your best for your baby.

You Can't Account for the Postpartum Hormones

Although I have nothing but praise for the birth center where I delivered, there is one thing I'd change. I went into labor around 10pm and labored all throughout the night, delivering the next morning. Then I was awake all day with my newborn, and discharged that afternoon. The theory is that when you sleep, you should be home to sleep so you can really rest. Well, when Dan and I arrived home with our tiny baby, we were deliriously exhausted and starving (I vaguely remember trying to eat spaghetti while holding Emmy). Once we had eaten, it was time to get that recovery sleep. Great idea, right? Except when we tried to sleep, I realized that I couldn't put Emmy down. The very idea of Emmy not being in someone's arms made me panic and rest wouldn't come. You see, my plan was that Emmy would sleep in a bassinet by our bed, and I had never considered that I might not be thinking rationally after giving birth. My amazing mom came over to stay with us and she, Dan, and I took shifts for five nights so that Emmy was always held. Call me crazy, but that's what I needed those first few days. Now Emmy does sleep in her bassinet, but it was gradual and I had to wait until I was ready.

Love Takes on a New Dimension Anyone who has children will tell you that they never knew that level of love existed. I loved Emmy from the moment I saw her tiny heartbeat in the ultrasound, and while that love grows with every smile, coo, and midnight feeding, I expected it. What completely caught me off guard is that I now love Dan in a whole new way. Having his support during labor when I was sure I couldn't do it, and the look he gave me the second Emmy was born opened up a broader spectrum of love. Dan was simply made to be a dad. He changes diapers (we're using and loving cloth by the way), gives bottles at 4am, reassures me that I'm an amazing mom, and tells me I'm beautiful when I'm wearing the same sweatpants for the third day in a row. I'm so thankful for the man he is, and while I was already completely crazy about my husband, I'm now also in love with him as Emmy's dad.

If you have children, you probably relate to this post. If you don't but you're thinking about it, I hope I haven't scared you away. My biggest advice to any expecting mommas out there would be to recruit help, go easy on yourself, and when you feel like you can't possibly function you've had so little sleep, listen to all those country songs about how time flies, have a good cry, and then snuggle that baby.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Natural Alternative to Dirty Laundry (Detergents)

With just three weeks and five days left until Emmy's due date, I'm in full baby prep mode. Unfortunately, life has a way of throwing curve balls when you least expect or desire them, so while I'd love to be scrubbing the house from top to bottom and baby-proofing everything, I'm stuck with furniture pushed against walls, and needing to switch out bowls of water catching leaks from our ceiling. Don't worry, our landlord knows and is having it fixed (hopefully before we're bringing an infant home). Just one of the fun challenges of a rainy September in an older house. But while I can't control everything, one thing I can do is make sure all the baby clothes, towels, sheets, and other fabrics that will get anywhere close to her are freshly laundered in a safe detergent.

If you follow me on Instagram (@Coffee.Clothes.Repeat) you probably saw me post a picture of soap berries earlier this year with the promise of a review. Well I'm finally following up on that promise, and bonus, I've decided to review three natural alternatives to traditional laundry detergent. Now at this point, you may be asking what's wrong with good old Tide, right? In my first trimester, when the natural impulse to avoid anything that could possibly harm baby took over, I read up on the most toxic items in the typical household. Near the top of almost every list? Laundry detergent and dryer sheets. I'm not a scientist, so I'm not going to attempt to explain each unpronounceable ingredient, but if you're curious, check out the Environmental Working Group's guide to laundry detergents. You can search the specific brand you use and see how it rates on health and environmental impact. If you need more convincing, the study referenced here linked prenatal exposure to chemicals found in dryer sheets and air fresheners to a decrease in the child's IQ. Having worked in public education, including our school's gifted program, I can tell you that a 6-7 point difference is kind of a big deal. I know it's nearly impossible to avoid exposure to all harmful chemicals all the time, but the way you do your laundry is such an easy thing to change, I believe it's totally worth it.

Now let's get to the good stuff. It's worth noting that I have been using soap berries (brand linked below) exclusively since May and only recently decided to branch out to other natural brands. However, although my exposure to Planet and Molly's Suds is limited, I've done enough laundry with each to give an honest review.

Soap berries by NaturOli

1. First Impressions

The first time I heard of soap berries was on an episode of Shark Tank when a specific brand, Eco Nuts, pitched a detergent alternative found in nature. Soap berries are the outer shell of a berry that grows in the Himalayas and they work by breaking the surface tension of water to penetrate into clothes, removing dirt and grime. They have a very mild, almost apple scent, but leave clothing completely scentless after washing. After some research, I ended up ordering my soap berries from NaturOli on Amazon. I'm sure many brands are similar, but I was looking for a good starter kit and the price was right. The main things to look for are that they are seedless and not sourced from China where they do not meet the USDA's regulations.

2. Ease of Use

Soap berries are used 5-7 at a time in a muslin bag. As they agitate in the washer, they start to break down and lose their "soapiness." For that reason, you'll need to change them out every 5 or 6 washes, although this number is different for everyone depending on the size of the load and the heat of the water. I ended up switching out the soap nuts more often just to be on the safe side. If you're not into using the muslin bag method, there are recipes online for creating a liquid detergent that can then be frozen in an ice cube tray. I ended up doing this about two months ago and greatly prefer popping an ice cube into the washer over changing out the muslin bag and trying to remember not to throw it into the dyer.

3. Product Effectiveness

I've never noticed any problems with soap berries as our only detergent. Clothes, towels, and sheets are all left completely scentless, absorbent, and soft. One thing I will note is that without optical brighteners, white laundry does start looking a bit less white, even when washed separately in hot water, but I don't think that can be blamed on this product. Thankfully there are natural solutions such as sunning your whites every so often.

4. Cost

As you can see, I purchased my soap berries for $18.95...back in May! We still have at least 20 loads of detergent left, so let's just say this product has lasted us five months. That's only $3.79 per month on detergent, or about $0.15 cents per load given around six loads of wash per week (which is a modest estimate if I'm being honest). Clearly this product is extremely cost effective.

5. Closing Thoughts

If you can get over the fact that this soap literally grows on trees, this is about as natural as you can get with laundry. It is just as effective as any other detergent I've used, and I like that there is absolutely no need for a fabric softener.

Molly's Suds Laundry Powder

1. First Impressions

If you've looked into cloth diapering, you've probably come across Molly's Suds before since they make a product specifically for cloth diapers. Since I'm going the easy flats, prefolds, and fitteds route of cloth, I don't need a specific detergent, so I decided to pick up the normal powder. If you're like me, the first thing you do when you get a new detergent is to take a big whiff. Do not, I repeat, do not do this with Molly's Suds. Although the product is artificial fragrance free, it is scented with peppermint essential oil and it is strong. Overall, I like the packaging and that it comes with a cute little scoop for the powder.

2. Ease of Use

After going to the freezer to grab a detergent ice cube for a few months, simply adding a spoonful of powder to the washer is super easy. I will say that Molly's Suds could work on their resealable packaging though, because it's not exactly easy to close.

3. Product Effectiveness

At first I was worried that the strong peppermint scent would linger in the clothes, but I was pleasantly surprised that it disappears after you run the washer. I decided to put this detergent to the test right away by first using it on a batch of beach towels that may or may not have been left in a ball to dry. Gross. After a scoop of Molly's Suds and a hot water wash, the towels smelled fresh and clean with only the tiniest possible hint of peppermint. Keep in mind that I have a super sense of smell thanks to pregnancy. I've also used this detergent with cold water on clothing and didn't notice any lingering smell. Score for Molly's Suds!

4. Cost

A bag of Molly's Suds, which is 70 regular size loads, runs $13.99 at retail price. Normally I'm a huge believer in the theory that the more you have on hand, the faster you'll go through it, but with measured things like laundry detergent, I know that you can typically save a lot of money by buying in bulk. If you have a Thrive Market subscription, the cost of a bag of Molly's Suds drops to $9.95. Let's say you buy five bags at a time to qualify for free shipping, and you've saved $20.20 by buying in bulk. Since a not-so-natural brand such as Tide is also around $10 or $11 for 64 loads, I'm willing to bet you'd at least break even by switching to Molly's Suds.

5. Closing Thoughts

There's something appealing about the brand overall, possibly the cute owl on the packaging. Compared to how long soap berries have lasted, this might not be quite as cheap, but I'm willing to drop a few extra dollars on a product that I feel truly gets the job done. After the beach towel test, I believe this is one of those products!

Planet 2x Ultra Laundry Detergent

1. First Impressions

This is the most traditional looking of all the products I've used since it's a simple liquid you pour into a cap and then into the washer. It also suds up the most, which I know a lot of people associate with better cleaning power. However, this is my least favorite "scent" out of the three. It doesn't smell bad, but it kind of smells musty, and slightly like plastic.

2. Ease of Use

Pour to the first line for a normal load. Pour to the second line for a large load. Can't get much easier than that!

3. Product Effectiveness

Much like the other products, this one leaves no smell, so the initial scent doesn't really matter. I decided to test this on a load of baby clothes in cold water and then our sheets in hot water, and both came out clean, soft, and scentless. Maybe it's the bubbles, but I feel like this product would do pretty well on some more heavy duty laundry, so I'll be sure to update this post if I'm less than satisfied once I've had the chance to wash some gym clothes.

4. Cost

Planet Laundry Detergent retails for $12.99 and can be found on Thrive Market, Amazon, and in some Wholefoods locations. I ended up ordering the 2x Ultra variety, which is supposed to contain 32 loads, from Thrive Market at their member discount for $7.95. If you don't have a Thrive Market membership, another option is to subscribe to this product on Amazon for $8.34 per jug. Either way, this product is definitely the least cost effective of the three, though still not bad when you consider how much better it is for your health compared to typical detergents.

5. Closing Thoughts

I have yet to decide if this is a detergent I'll re-purchase, even though it works very well. One cool thing about the jug itself is that is is 100% recyclable and is made from mostly-recycled materials. Based on cost, scent, and brand-appeal, I'm more likely to return to soap berries or Molly's Suds, but this is still a solid option and the most "traditional" if you're looking to make a very easy transition into natural detergent.

What about dryer sheets?

With all three natural detergents, your clean clothes are left completely scentless. I'm fine with that, but if you'd prefer a traditional "clean" smell to your clothes, one option is to use essential oils on a wool dryer ball. Wool dryer balls, like these, are a natural way to soften laundry and reduce drying time. Mine just stay in the dryer (except when they get caught in a fitted sheet) and run with every load. After letting your clothes dry completely, you can add scent by putting a few drops of your favorite essential oil on one of the dryer balls and running a heat-free spin cycle for 5 minutes. The quality of essential oil does make a difference, so don't go cheap! Use a reputable brand that you'd feel comfortable breathing in during aromatherapy, because you'll basically be doing the same thing by breathing it off your clothes. Cheaper oils can also leave stains on your fabrics, I know from experience, so save yourself the pain and use a good oil.

I hope you've found these reviews helpful! I'd love to hear about your experience with natural detergents, and whether your favorite made my list.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cloth Diapering: What and WHY?!?

As soon as I found out we were expecting, the research began. At some point in those early weeks, I stumbled upon, and decided to go with, cloth diapering. That announcement always gets a reaction. Some people are genuinely excited to hear our choice to cloth, and eagerly want all the details. Other people respond with disgust, as though I had just announced we had decided to give up all technology and live in a hut. My husband has heard, “I give it a week” from many co-workers, to which I respond, “they clearly don’t know me.”

Just like everything else related to pregnancy, birth, and babies, people seem to have very strong feelings one way or the other. Now I’ll be honest, I can’t exactly remember what made me decide to cloth diaper, but as I look back, here are some of the main reasons we are going with cloth. This is based on my own opinion, lifestyle, and research, so if cloth is not for you, I’m not trying to say there is anything wrong with disposable diapers. But if you’re on the fence, maybe these are some reasons worth considering.

*I am 34 weeks pregnant, so I’ll come back and write a follow-up once we’ve actually started cloth diapering. However, for those who don't personally know me, I tend to be over prepared and over-researched on topics that interest me, so I feel pretty confident posting this before we actually start cloth diapering. Here’s to hoping I don’t eat these words later.* :)

My Reasons to Cloth Diaper

1. Cost
Pretty much anywhere you look on the topic of cloth diapering, you’re going to find wild claims about how much less expensive cloth diapering is. I’m always a bit wary of such extreme claims ($500 rather than $3,000!) and figured I better do the math for myself. The first thing I have to admit is that I am not a bargain shopper. I don’t clip coupons. I don’t hunt for deals. And I also don’t pick a brand just because it’s affordable. I have plenty of friends who are amazing deal hunters and probably spend as little on disposables as I will on cloth, but I know myself, and I know that would not be the case for me. Also, after researching the different types of cloth diapers, we decided to go with flats, prefolds, and covers, with a few all in one diapers for when we are out and about, so our cloth diapering style will cost us around $13 a month if Emmy is in diapers for 24 months. Maybe that can be done with disposables with the right amount of coupon stacking, but I think $13 sounds pretty amazing, and I’ll take it.

2. Health
The first point and second point are very connected for me. The main reason I’m not a coupon clipping bargain shopper is that I try to be health conscious with everything I buy. Before becoming pregnant, I was already switching my personal care products from traditional brands to organic brands. At the risk of sharing too much online, I switched to organic tampons and pads as well. Now, if I’m going to be that careful about what goes on my body, why would I feel comfortable slapping a mainstream diaper on my newborn? Many of the materials and substances in diapers, what makes them so absorbent, are chemicals that I can’t pronounce and that don’t seem very safe when you research them one by one. Babies spend at least their first two years of life constantly in a diaper. That kind of exposure to chemicals I’m not comfortable with is an option I’d like to avoid. To choose organic “green” disposable diaper options would more than triple the cost of disposable diapers for my baby, so back to point one, cloth makes more sense for my family. It's worth noting that the quality of cloth diapers can vary quite a bit, but we're choosing organic options for the cloth that will actually touch the baby's skin.

3. Cuteness
If you’ve never looked into modern cloth diapering, look! I know I haven’t even started diapering yet (6ish weeks to go!) but I’ve fallen in love with the variety of styles and prints available. From tiny newborn all in one’s by Lil Joey’s, to watermelon printed covers from Thirsties, there is something undeniably adorable about cloth diapering options. Enough said.

4. Fewer Blowouts and Rashes
The majority of people I know who cloth diaper, but who have also experimented with disposables, swear there are fewer blowouts and rashes with cloth. My mom old-school cloth diapered four children, two at once most of the time, and said she never experienced problems with either. Although the look and functionality of cloth has changed since then, the absorbency and comfort of natural fibers hasn’t.

Now that we’ve covered my main reasons for going with cloth, here are a few of the FAQ’s I’ve been asked by curious family/friends.

1. What about the cost of electricity and water? Won’t that undermine your savings?
This is a valid question and something I looked into extensively. With the addition of any family member, you’re going to have more laundry. However, with the flats, prefolds, and covers I’ll be using, I’ll only be adding three small loads of wash per week, and line drying. Because we had already switched to an organic, natural detergent, baby clothes can be washed with mommy and daddy clothes in our home. I know many families use a different detergent for their baby, so I imagine three extra loads of wash a week is pretty standard for all homes welcoming a new baby. So in short, no, I don’t see our water or electricity bills going up because of cloth diapering.

2. What about the poo? Why would you want to deal with that mess?
Newsflash about babies, guys. They poo no matter what kind of diaper they’re in. Now, the great news is that exclusively breastfed babies have water soluble poo. Those first six months of diapers get a rinse in the wash and then a normal wash cycle. Easy! After food is introduced, I’m hoping to be messing with less poo than I would in disposables simply because we won’t have the diaper blowout issue. At that point, my plan is to use organic disposable liners inside the diapers until the poo becomes the solid sort that can be flicked into the toilet.

3. What about when you’re out and about?
Wet bags. Just like you’d politely tuck a soiled disposable diaper into a plastic baggy and put it in your diaper bag to dispose of at home (because who wants to stink up a family member or friend’s house?) cloth diapers get tucked into a reusable wet bag. Once you get home, you can simply drop the diaper into your diaper pal, and throw the turned-inside-out wet bag in there as well. They get washed and you’re ready to repeat.

4. Well that’s cool, but what about daycare or staying with family members? They won’t use cloth.
Actually, just like day care and (hopefully) family members will give breastmilk rather than formula in a bottle if you provide it, most daycares have no issue with the pocket or all in one styles of cloth diapers. They’re exactly the same as disposables except you drop them in a wet bag instead of a trash can once they’re changed. If you provide it, and possibly give a quick tutorial to the staff if they’ve never cloth diapered before, you shouldn’t have a problem using cloth on your child.

Our Cloth Diaper Stash
We have been lucky enough to find some amazing deals and also have been given some generous gifts to help us get started with cloth diapering. Because we'll have enough changes to get used to with a newborn, I decided it would be worth it to have a dozen all in one diapers to make nighttime changes easier. Our current stash should last us quite a while, but adding the next size up of covers and organic prefolds will be under $150. Rumor has it that many cloth diaper suppliers have good Cyber Monday sales, so you can bet I'll be shopping those!

12 Newborn size all in one diapers (Lil Joey’s and Bumgenius)
12 Newborn (5-10 lb) size prefold diapers (Osocozy)
12 flat diapers (big squares you fold into diaper shapes…it’s actually really fun!)
12 Infant size (6-15 lb) prefold diapers (Osocozy)
4 Newborn size diaper covers to go over the flats or prefolds (Rumparooz)
6 size one (6-18 lb) diaper covers (Thirsties)
2 one size all in one diapers (Thirsties)
1 size one pocket diaper (Applecheeks)
3 Snappis (these hold the prefolds and flats in place like a modern safety pin)
36 cloth wipes (although we will be using the free Honest Company samples we got first)

I hope you've enjoyed this post on why cloth diapering is the right move for our family. Once again, if cloth diapering isn't for you, that's totally fine! I appreciate when people don't judge my choice to go old-school, so I also respect anyone's choice to embrace disposables. If you have any questions, or maybe recommendations if you're an expert cloth diaperer, leave me a comment below!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Stephanie For Emmy

This weekend, I decided to take the plunge on two adventures.

First, Dan and I decided to reveal what we will be naming our daughter. Emerson, or Emmy for short! No, we don't have a middle name picked out yet. For some reason we both instantly fell in love with Emerson, but haven't had that reaction for any middle names.

Second, I decided to finally open an Esty shop. I've been toying with the idea for awhile now, several months in fact, since I found out I was pregnant and started using my crafting powers for all things baby related. You see, I don't think having a baby means you suddenly need to compromise on style. My daughter will spit up and drool, I get that, but I can at least have cute accessories for when she does. At first, I was sewing these accessories, burp cloths and bibs to be exact, for myself. Then, my sister-in-law requested a few sets, and I had multiple people tell me that when they're ready to have kids, they want in on the action. Hoping there are more people like them out there, I decided to select a few fabrics that I love, and sew some sets to share with the world.

The first print is a personal favorite. I'm not sure why, but I just love bright yellow lemons on baby stuff. Maybe it's because I've never looked good in yellow that I just love what I can't have. But now I can have it, because what child won't look adorable in that bib? This is a great option if you're not sure if a friend is having a boy or girl, but you still want to give her something unqiue.

Next up is for all the mamas of boys out there who want an adorable way to protect baby's outfit, and her own! This cactus print is so precious I may actually have to use it with Emmy too. If I put a bow on her head, people will still know she's a girl, right?

The last print is a gorgeous watercolor floral. I love this print and wouldn't mind throwing that cloth over my shoulder, which is my number one goal in these creations. I'll just be waiting for Emmy to spit up in public so I have an excuse to pull it out of the bag, but even if she doesn't, I'll make sure she's rocking her bandanna bib anyway.

If you like what you see, check out my shop over here!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bump Style

It's been awhile, but I promise I think about blogging all the time. Typically in the middle of the night when I wake up inspired, consider getting my laptop, and then think better of it.
For those of you who know me in person, this should come as no surprise, but to you long-distance friends, I have some exciting news! I'm almost 28 weeks pregnant!

Those of you who are really good at math can probably figure out pretty quickly that I stopped doing outfit posts long before becoming pregnant, and for that I must apologize. Dan and I both changed careers, and our schedules no longer line up for daily photo sessions, but I promise I'll throw in some bump style soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to bring you my insights on maternity fashion and what I've realized along the way.

1. There's a good solid three months (or more) of not fitting in your old clothes, but not filling out maternity clothes.

I wish I would have known that before the bump, you get the bloat. At just a few weeks pregnant, my pants stopped fitting comfortably. For a little while, I was able to use a hair-tie to create an extended button loop, but soon even that wasn't comfortable. I felt like anything constricting would just make me nauseated. I remember somewhere around twelve weeks, I decided to try on maternity pants, just to see if I could get away with it. The answer was I definitely could not. Had I known this ahead of time, I would have done what I ended up doing a lot sooner. I ditched pants and invested in a few maxi dresses. Not only were they super comfy, but because of the looser style I chose, I was able to hide that unflattering pooch when you look like you'd had a few donuts instead of started growing a baby. The dress below turned out to be one of my favorites. At 13 weeks as pictured, all I had to do was move my hand and the bump vanished under the fabric.

2. You don't need to spend a fortune on maternity clothes.

Being the person I am, I always assumed that when I got pregnant, I'd go out and buy a whole new wardrobe so that I could still look/feel cute. Nine months is a long time after all, right? Wrong. As mentioned above, you probably won't need maternity clothes for the first third or more of your pregnancy. Now that I'm six months along and truly looking pregnant, there just doesn't seem to be a point in investing in too many clothes. Don't get me wrong, I'm rocking maternity styles now, but I ended up creating a sort of capsule that I'll go into below. For the pieces I did end up buying, Poshmark and ASOS sales turned out to be my best friends. I was able to score secondhand maternity jeans for $10 and a few versatile dresses for under $25 each.

3. Maternity Capsule Wardrobes are Easy!

Just like in non-maternity clothes, a maternity capsule wardrobe is a selection of items that go together in multiple combinations to create many outfits from a limited number of pieces.
My capsule currently contains:
Four tops (black tank not pictured)
Two pairs of pants
One maxi skirt
Six Dresses
Sweaters and Scarves that are non-maternity

I know dresses aren't as re-mixable as other items, but they're so comfy, so let's just let it slide.

Using as many accessories and layering pieces from your usual wardrobe as possible will help stretch your maternity clothes so much farther (pun intended). Although they're not in my capsule photo, I've been able to use chunky necklaces, light scarves, belts, and cardigans to make the same dress look completely different. Easy, right?

If this post wasn't enough of a warning, I might as well come out and say that I'll be taking a new direction with my blog. I still plan on doing frequent style posts, but there'll be a definite sprinkling of mommy/baby stuff in there too. I know many of you are in that phase of life, or headed there soon, so I hope you won't mind.
Until next time!