I was in denial for a solid month before Ayla started daycare. I just chose not to think about it. It seemed easier than dealing with how difficult it was going to be. But, inevitably, Ayla’s transition plan showed up in my inbox one day and I had to face reality: my maternity leave was over and it was time to hand my child over to someone else’s care. This entire period seems a little unfair: going back to work, sending your child to daycare for the first time and celebrating a first birthday--a glaring reminder that their infancy is somehow over. It’s a lot to process. You may not be surprised to learn that I cried every day for a week leading up to my return to work. It wasn’t the work part I was upset about; it was worrying about Ayla. Would she learn to sleep at daycare? Would they be able to meet her needs? Would she be happy? Did we make the right decision? Was she ready? Should I have extended my maternity leave and kept her at home for longer? Would she feel abandoned? All of these questions played on repeat in my head. But, inevitably, time marched forward, and before I knew it, I was dusting off my work clothes and putting my professional hat on after a year of messy buns and stretchy pants.
Ayla began eating solid foods at five and half months. We started with vegetables, slowing introducing each food group until she had tried most things by the time she was ten months old. I was thrilled that she seemed to be a great little eater, rarely turning down new foods that were offered (with the exception of broccoli). We primarily chose to follow the methods of baby led weaning, but threw a few purees into the mix as well. All in all, Ayla was exposed to numerous textures and flavours by an early age. She didn’t experience any obvious allergies or intolerances and we moved confidently forward, much to this nutrition nut’s satisfaction.
I have learned over and over again that, when it comes to babies, nothing lasts forever. If you’re going through a challenging phase, most of the time it will pass and you just need to put your head down and shoot for survival. Alternatively (and unfortunately), if you’re experiencing a good phase, learn to enjoy every moment… because there’s a good chance it won’t be sticking around either. Knowing all of this, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Ayla began to turn her nose up at most foods. It all began around 12 months (she is now 13 months). Trusty, staple foods were being left on her tray or thrown to the ground. Lunch time would result in very little food being eaten at all. Ayla began to create a rather short list of acceptable food items and before we knew it, we had entered the dreaded picky eater stage.
I thought for sure I had another year before hitting this phase of our lives that most mothers talk about. If I’m being honest, I was thinking maybe we would even avoid it altogether… you now… because I was using all of the right techniques and nutrition is "my thing". Spoiler alert: even if you think you’re “doing it right”, your child is their own person and will do exactly what they damn well please, whether you like it or not. And that is precisely what the universe is taking the opportunity to teach me, yet again. And one more note on "doing it right": we loved BLW, but Ayla’s current favourite foods are smooth or pureed. So if you went down the puree route, don’t worry too much about your baby having a “texture” issue later on. We are a prime example that it can happen either way.
So, how am I navigating this phase of Ayla’s nutrition journey? The biggest thing I do is try to keep my stress levels in check. It’s easy to be concerned about whether your child is getting all of the nutrients and calories they need when they seem to be surviving on yogurt and bananas alone. But trust that, if you remain calm, and continue to be their nutritional guide, they will get what they need. Even with a short list of acceptable food items, there are still little daily hacks that you can use to boost the nutritional profile of each meal. For example, as you may have guessed, one of the foods that Ayla is currently always down with is yogurt. Yogurt is a great food in and of itself. If you choose the right brand, it is high in fat, protein and probiotics. I flavour it with different foods so she continues to be exposed to various tastes (nut butter, unsweetened applesauce, mashed berries, cinnamon, etc.). I also always add a fat like chia seeds or hemp hearts. This is also where I toss in Ayla’s vitamins, like fish oil and D. So, although yogurt may seem like a simple food, it can be a catalyst for a ton of other nutrients. Another hack I use is adding things like grated zucchini and eggs to oatmeal! If you make your oats on the stove top, you can stir in an egg until cooked without changing the flavour or texture of the dish much at all. So, although Ayla doesn’t currently enjoy eggs on their own, I know she’s getting the benefits of this nutrition powerhouse in other ways.
The other main thing that we continue to do during this picky period is expose Ayla to a variety of foods. This can be frustrating, preparing food that you are fairly confident is going to be left on the plate. But I encourage you not to give up, because exposure is the only way they will ever have the opportunity to enjoy new food items. It may not happen tomorrow or even next month, but you can bet it won’t happen at all if they are never given the chance to try it. I try to choose foods that we are already eating for dinner and preparing anyway, or add simple foods to her plate like sliced cucumber or cheese (hey Ayla, remember when you liked both of those things three months ago? Good times). I am not a child-specific nutrition expert. My training is primarily rooted in adult nutrition. But I have done extensive reading on this topic, as it has definitely become a passion since becoming a mother, and the one word that comes up time and time again is exposure. Just keep at it. Build it and they will come…
Dave and I work very hard not to have any sort of an agenda during meal time (easier said than done). We serve Ayla a meal that includes a few (but not too many) flavours and textures, providing her with some choice. We try not bring many items of food to her mouth for her (even though we’re sure that, if she just got a small taste, she would love it!) and we try to keep the mood light. This may sound kind of dumb since Ayla is only 13 months old, but I am very confident that babies can read your mood and that she understands a great deal more than she can communicate to us. This is also just a practice that I hope we continue well beyond Ayla’s toddler years, in hopes that it will help her develop a healthy relationship with food. We eat as a family as often as possible so that she sees us enjoying a variety of foods and has proper eating behaviours modelled for her daily.
Finally, I try to keep in mind where we are in our lives right now. I just returned to work four weeks ago after a year of maternity leave, and Ayla began daycare. She cut her first teeth and has been hit with about 37 viruses since being exposed to so many new children (feels like 37, anyway). All of these things have the ability to drastically affect her appetite, which makes sense. I remember that she won’t have the same hunger levels every day, just like we don’t, and that’s ok. It will take time to fully adjust to our new routine, and once she’s accepted it as her new normal, we may see another shift in her eating.
So, that’s where we’re at! If you are experiencing anything similar with your little one, know that I feel your pain. It can be a huge source of worry and frustration as a parent. But know that you are doing great. Our children are not robots. They are likely still getting most, if not all, of what they need and their eating habits will probably change again before you know it. Remember the old saying: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Keep pushing forward, as I will be, and let’s all take a deep breath together….
Parents of picky eaters, unite!
I am always looking for fun snack recipes for Ayla. I want them to have a good nutritional profile, but they also have to be tasty for her to show any interest. I had seen lots of cookie recipes that used chickpeas in place of flour and thought that sounded like a great place to start for a winning, healthy snack. But as I began looking around, I couldn't quite find a recipe that I was happy with. So, taking ideas from a variety of sources, I got to work on my own creation. Generally speaking, this hasn't worked out for me in the past, so when I gave my first batch the official taste test, I was shocked that they were actually quite tasty! And to make things even better, these cookies are packed with fibre, and are gluten, dairy and refined sugar free. But none of this mattered if the ultimate taste tester didn't approve. Luckily, Ayla gobbled them up! Huge mom win. I can't tell you how many hours I have spent in the kitchen coming up with what that I think will be great dishes for the babe, only to have her turn her nose up at them. I needed an ego boost.
What I love most about this recipe is that you throw all of the ingredients in a blender at once, making the prep work really quick and easy. You can have these cookies prepped and cooked in less than 45 minutes. They really do resemble the peanut butter cookie of my childhood, but with more nutritious undertones. I wanted them to be baby friendly, which means low sugar (natural or otherwise) but if you are making them for yourself or an older child, there a couple of alterations you can do to make them a bit of a sweeter treat. I used 2 tablespoons of 100% maple syrup as my sweetener, plus a banana. You could up the maple syrup for an extra kick of sweetness (perhaps 1/4-1/2 cup), as well as stir in chocolate chips just before scooping them onto your cookie sheet. Chocolate chips tend to go a long way in elevating most cookie recipes. The first batch I made definitely had a more "rustic" look to them. The second time around, I used damp hands to create more uniformed shapes and pressed down on the tops with a fork to resemble a more traditional peanut butter cookie.
Find the recipe and instructions below and let me know what your family thinks!
1 can drained, rinsed chickpeas
1 cup quick oats (or oat flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1 ripe banana
3/4 cup natural peanut butter (you can swap out for another nut or seed butter)
2 Tbsp 100% maple syrup (more if you want a sweeter cookie)
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
Optional: 1/4 cup chocolate chips
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add all of the ingredients into your blender (minus chocolate chips, if using--stir in at the end) and blend until combined. The batter will be thick, so add water 1 tablespoon at a time as needed. Use a tablespoon to scoop the dough onto the cookie sheet and bake for about 25 minutes or until they start to turn golden brown. For a more aesthetic cookie, dampen your hands to shape them and gently press down on top with a fork.
I admit that I didn’t understand the excitement that offering peas and carrots to someone for the first time could bring until I had a baby. It was actually embarrassing how excited I was to start Ayla on solid foods. So when she began to show readiness signs, the nutrition wheels immediately began turning in my head. What should her first food be? Should it be a puree or finger food? How slowly should I introduce each new food? Do I want to hold off on anything for a few months?
I am a planner and a researcher at heart. I have always liked to have all of the information before I get started on a project, and I instantly become a sponge for knowledge. My favourite research topics are health and nutrition related, and over the years, I have done a lot of related reading. But when it came to the world of baby nutrition, I was a pretty blank slate. Sure, lots of basic nutrition principles apply to all of us, regardless of age, but I knew there was a whole world of baby-specific nutrition articles and healthy mamas to be inspired by for this chapter of my life.
The first step was to decide: purees or finger foods? There are arguments for both, but in the end I decided to go with… both. Just like nutrition “labels”, I’ve never liked to limit or pigeon hole myself into one category of eating. The same was true when it came to feeding Ayla.
I loved the concept of baby led weaning (or baby led feeding, as it is sometimes referred to) for several reasons. Because baby is in charge of what goes into her mouth and how much, it fosters a positive relationship with food from the very beginning. The self feeding method supports fine motor development and offers a variety of sensory experiences. Even though constant supervision is required, of course, it frees up mom and dad’s hands so they can eat at the same time. That means that family meal time can be established from the get-go, allowing parents to model eating skills at the dinner table.
I, by nature, am not an anxious person. That was, of course, until Dave and I decided to start trying for a baby. Suddenly, I was ridden with anxiety and self doubt--a feeling that was very foreign to me. It was one of the first “goals” in my life that I could not achieve simply through focus and determination. There was, of course, the obvious act necessary to make a baby that I could participate in, but beyond that… I couldn’t will my body to conceive the moment I was ready. It became quickly apparent that a Type A personality was not going to play in my favour when it came to making and raising babies. The root of this? Control. Or lack there of, I should say.
I am writing this from a very vulnerable place and it is not something that I am fully comfortable with. To shine light on a time when I felt out of control and less capable is, in fact, a very uncomfortable thing for me to do. I think as women, but particularly as mothers, it can be hard to show others that we battle with self doubt and mental health. For some reason, we feel there is this expectation to be Super Woman at all times. But, from everything I have learned through this experience, I can say with confidence that every mom feels this way at some point in her journey, if not on the regular. It is my hope that, by sharing my story, I will help other women climbing similar mountains know that they are not alone and that, with time, and maybe a little help, this too shall pass. You may feel weak, but you possess endless amounts of strength and wisdom. Know how I know? Because you are a mom. And no one can love or care for your child like you can. No one can know and understand their needs better than you. You are a mother. And that is synonymous with strength.
I recently shifted the focus of Eat.Move.Live (the name of this blog) from ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle’, to the more general term of ‘Health and Lifestyle’. Not that health in the general sense hasn’t been important to me in the past, but since becoming a new mom, a few events have really ignited my passion for a holistic approach to achieving a healthy lifestyle. Since the beginning of my journey into nutrition, my interests have broadened to include physical and mental health, and an understanding that this is achieved differently by everyone. I hope that I can capture my ongoing journey through posts on nutrition, but also mental health, life as a mom, finding balance, supporting Ayla's optimal health, and more. If you have any topics you would like to see me write about, please shoot me an email or comment below!
Baby's come with a lot of stuff at the best of times. So you can imagine that packing for a two month trip with our 4 month old presented a few challenges. Dave and I had many conversations about what to bring and what to leave behind prior to leaving. We read online blogs by families who had done similar trips and gathered the opinions of friends and family members with children. Our goal was to ensure we had everything we needed, but nothing more. Here’s what we decided on:
Baby Bjorn Travel Crib
This was absolutely essential. We needed to ensure Ayla had a comfortable place to sleep no matter where we were. I also liked the idea that she would have a consistent bed, despite the fact that we would be staying in several different locations. It doubles as a pack and play and is worth the extra cash. This crib comes with its own carrying case and, as our travels continued, we learned to take full advantage of this feature. When leaving each destination, we would add all of Ayla's sleeping essentials to the bag, making for an easy bedtime set-up when we arrived at our next accommodation (think: pj's, sleep sack, diaper, wipes, stuffy, etc.).
Baby Bjorn Carrier
This was an absolute must-have for us. Ayla loves being toted around on our chest. She can stretch out and see everything that’s going on around her. She spends more time in the carrier than in her stroller. We use it every single day. It’s also great if you’re visiting a city that isn’t overly stroller-friendly (think: lots of cobblestone).
Jolly Jumper with doorway clamp
For us, the jolly jumper was an absolute must. Aya is a very active baby and happiest when jumping. Sanity saviour for mom and dad! Shout out to my sister in law, Kim, for sourcing the door clamp version from Once Upon a Child for $20. It’s super light-weight and easy to pack.
Even if you don’t plan to rent a car, if you are taking a taxi from the airport, you need a safe way to transport your baby. If you do plan to rent a vehicle, it’s possible to rent a car seat through the rental company. Personally, we wanted the peace of mind knowing that we had a carseat that Ayla was comfortable in and met our own safety standards. We did, however, leave the base at home, opting to use the seat belt technique to secure it in the backseat.
Since we were planning on such a lengthy trip, we decide that taking our full size, Uppababy stroller was important. Ayla would be spending lots of time in it and we would also use it to carry things like groceries home from the store. However, with an older baby and/or a shorter trip, a more compact umbrella stroller may be more suitable (and easier to transport). Most airlines will give you the option to check your stroller at bag check, or take it with you to the gate. This is nice if you're well organized and have arrived with lots of time to spare before boarding. You can comfortably cruise the terminal and baby may even have a pre-flight nap.
Travel high chair
Kim also suggested that we purchase a travel high chair, as Ayla would be approaching the age when she would begin eating solids. This would be a nice way to include her in meal time and get her familiar with the idea of sitting at the table with us. In the end, we were so happy that this ended up on our packing list, as Ayla was clearly ready to explore solids several weeks before we were scheduled to return home. We found ourselves embarking on the journey of baby food a little sooner than anticipated! We ordered this one from Amazon and have been happy with it so far. It’s also great to bring along to restaurants that may not provide you with a high chair. The only downfall of these types of chairs is they are very difficult to clean on a daily basis. We ended up disassembling it every few days and throwing it in the washing machine. For this reason, I am excited to get home to our (very) inexpensive, plastic Ikea version!
White noise machine and baby monitor:
Ayla was used to sleeping with a white noise machine at home, so bringing it along was an easy decision. It would help recreate a familiar sleep environment, no matter where we were in the world. As it happened, our Airbnb in Valencia, although beautiful and in a great location, tended to be a bit noisy at night. There were restaurants and bars just below our apartment which drew a crowd in the evenings. We were happy to have the white noise machine drown this activity out and help Ayla have a peaceful slumber. Our monitor was a must-bring as well, since her room wasn't always in hearing distance of the common area where Dave and I would spend our evenings after she had gone to bed.
Lotions and potions
We chose to bring Ayla’s regular diaper creams with us, because we were comfortable with the ingredients and knew they worked. For day-to-day use, we like the brand, Earth Mama Angel Baby and for any signs of diaper rash, we’ve had excellent results with Matter Company's nappy ointment. Once in Valencia, we sourced out a great organic spot that had tons of awesome baby products and stocked up on a couple of things for the remainder of our trip. Still, creams and soaps were easy to pack and I have no regrets bringing along our favourites. We did, however, run out of our regular baby shampoo, but spotted Waleda, another trusted brand from home.
What do we wish we had brought?
The only item we truly missed in a few of our destinations was a baby bath. Ayla isn’t strong enough to consistently sit up on her own in the tub, making it difficult to hold her and bathe her simultaneously. We made do by one of us getting into the tub with her and acting as a human baby bath. Really not a big deal, and kind of a nice mother or father-daughter moment. That said, finding a very light, portable baby bath would be ideal if taking a long trip, possibly like this one. Otherwise, we would probably recommend just making do. Alternatively, you could purchase an inexpensive solution upon arrival that you don’t mind leaving behind.
What can you leave behind and purchase when you arrive?
This would really depend on where you are traveling to, but as we are hitting very well established European cities, here’s what’s on our list:
Diapers: bring enough to get you through your flights and the first day or two. Otherwise, they are easily accessible at the local grocery store or pharmacy.
Wipes: these are also available at the grocery store and we found a brand we were happy with at the local organic health food store. We did, however, make sure we brought a couple of packs from home to get us by for a few days.
What do we wish we had left at home?
Travel Bassinet: One of the things we were a little concerned about was Ayla sleeping on our overnight flight. She slept well in her crib at home and we weren’t sure if she would sleep on us on the plane (or if we wanted her on us the whole time!). We didn’t purchase a seat for her (not necessary for children under two), and thought a bassinet would offer us a bit of insurance should she want to lie down. We had the bulkhead seats, which provided a bit of additional leg room and some space to put the folding bed. In the end, there wasn’t a lot of room for the bassinet at our feet, comfortably. Plus, as mentioned in my previous post, she fell asleep on me during takeoff and I was too nervous to make the transfer in fear that she would wake up. Of course, we had other flights booked, but none with the extra space for a baby bed. Ayla was also rolling around in her crib at night, so it didn’t work as a full-time sleeping solution throughout our trip. In the end, although it would have been hard to anticipate earlier, we didn’t need the bassinet. That said, it was inexpensive and very lightweight. So if this is something you could see yourself using, it’s a fairly low-risk purchase.
So, there are our baby packing essentials. I hope this list of must-haves comes in handy when planning your next big family adventure!
Valencia will be our longest stay in one city. We really wanted to find a place where we could settle down and live like the locals. We spent many nights pouring over books and travel blogs, before finally deciding that Valencia was the perfect spot. As the third largest city in Spain, it was not only beautiful, but less touristy than Madrid or Barcelona. It was less expensive than a prolonged stay in Italy or France, but offered culture, comfort and warm days by the ocean. So, knowing little more than that about the city, we rolled the dice and booked our stay.
We would be flying overnight from Toronto to Valencia with a four hour layover in London, Gatwick. We made it through check in and security with a happy baby. Goal one: achieved. Next on the list was to put Ayla in the stroller and walk around the airport until she fell asleep, as it was her usual bedtime. No such luck there. I quickly become accustomed to things not going as planned. Looking back, it was probably best that I learned this lesson so early in our travels. Maybe it was because we were on such an exciting adventure. Maybe it was because I knew I had Dave by my side to tackle the parenting tasks as a team, but I quickly became far more relaxed in my ways (i.e. I took the type A personality traits down a few notches, to everyone’s relief, I’m sure).
We booked the bulkhead seats, with the plan to place a small travel bassinet at our feet in which Ayla could sleep during the flight. However, during take off, she had to be in my arms. She, of course, fell asleep before the plane left the tarmac and I didn’t have the confidence to make the transfer without waking her. So, there she slept for seven straight hours. This wasn’t the most comfortable for mom, but I was just happy not having to apologize to the passengers around us for a crying baby in the middle of the night.
We made it to London at 4am Toronto time. Ayla woke when it was time to get off of the plane, but we lulled her back to sleep with a walk in the stroller a couple of hours later. Things couldn’t have been going smoother, and Dave and I were breathing a pretty big sigh of relief. The next flight was only a couple of hours, and Ayla slept for about half of it. She was happy to cruise the aisles in my arms the rest of the time. I was exhausted from my own lack of sleep, but more than happy to oblige if it meant a happy baby.
What do you say when your husband suggests taking leave from work, renting out your home, and moving somewhere else in the world for a couple of months to join you on maternity leave? I admit, when Dave posed this idea, I thought it was a bit of a pipe dream. I responded with muted excitement over the prospect, but figured it was too good to be true. It was, most likely, not something we could pull off.
Fast forward two months, and I, of course, am writing to you from beautiful Valencia, Spain.
If I have learned anything in the last decade, it is to never underestimate my husband’s ambition. He has big dreams and will do anything to make them happen. I’m just the lucky one who gets to go along for the ride. We are both ambitious in our own rights, but his crazy dreaming paired with my practical sensibility make for a great team in so many ways. Traveling together is no exception.
Unlike our past travels, this trip would be different in a few ways: first and foremost, we would be bringing along our four month old daughter, Ayla. I can’t tell you the number of sleepless nights I had about this. So many worries that were quickly forgotten, beginning when she slept for seven straight hours on the flight over. Time change included, it was all downhill from there. Ayla has proven to be a very chill travel buddy, and super resilient in all ways imaginable.
Secondly, we planned to be away for two months, a far cry from a simple week’s vacation. Two months as an adult is one thing. Leaving with a four month old baby and returning with a six month old is something completely different. There were many things to consider, including clothing sizes, developmental changes, and the introduction of solid foods. Despite these considerations, among others, we decided this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Before we knew it, flights were booked and AirBnbs confirmed. We were headed to Europe for two months to live as a family of three!
First stop: Valencia, Spain.
Next, find out how we managed Ayla's jet lag and encouraged her to become a pint-sized travel bug, all while maintaining a schedule abroad.
p.s. we're vlogging this journey! Check out The Mundy Family on YouTube and subscribe (Yes, I am now a blogger and vlogger--exhausting social media as my creative outlets)
The Birth Story
It turns out, when you have a baby, projects take five times as long to complete as they would have, pre-child. I began writing this post when Ayla was six weeks old. She is now almost four months! Time flies when you’re parenting. There is so much I want to share about life after baby--my experiences to date, the amazing and the terrifying, the daily ups and downs. There are many moments when new mothers feel lost and alone, but if I have learned anything over the past four months, it`s that you are never alone in motherhood. Whatever it is you are going through, whatever you are feeling, there are a million and one women who can relate. Today marks a new chapter of this blog and what I hope to be the first installment of many, where healthy living meets child rearing. So, starting from the beginning, here is the story about the day I became a mother.
I write this post from a very different perspective than my previous blogs: as a mother. It’s crazy to think that this tiny human I now hold in my arms was growing inside of me just a few short weeks ago… and that Dave and I created her! Wild. After months of wondering what giving birth would feel like, how it would feel to become a mother and what life with a newborn would look like, I finally know. So here I am to spill the beans: the amazing, the bad and the ugly. Let’s just lay it all out there, shall we? If for no one else but myself, I’m excited to debrief and document the birth of my daughter, transitioning into life as a stay-at-home parent, finding my new normal, and comprehending the magnitude of love that I feel for this little person that I get to hang out with on the daily.
That’s a lot of material to cover. So for now, let’s start at the beginning.
Ayla Claire Mundy was born exactly one week past her due date (the longest week of my life, to date). She arrived after a grueling 23 hours of back labour, 19 of which were drug free (you better believe it didn’t end that way). I woke up on January 13th around 12:45am with contractions that were more than a little uncomfortable. Dave was sleeping soundly beside me, so I snuck down the hall to the bathroom, turned the light on and concentrated. Were these real contractions? Were they timeable? It quickly became apparent that the answer to both of these questions was yes. Using an app (there really is an app for everything), I determined that they were coming anywhere between six and seven minutes apart. I knew from speaking with my midwife that this was not close enough to be rushing to the hospital any time soon and I also knew my water had not yet broken. I figured I had better settle in, because I probably wouldn’t be going anywhere for another few hours. It should be noted that, in my naivety, this meant around maybe 9, 10am. In hindsight, this guess was actually laughable.
I woke Dave up and casually told him that I was in labour. Contractions were still fairly far apart, but I would not be able to sleep through them, so I was going to hang out in the guestroom and do the best I could. But he should sleep. I figured one of us should be well rested. Dave tentatively agreed and tried to get some rest for a few more hours. I worked through painful contractions for the next 6 hours using breathing and visualization techniques learned, pre-labour (I really expected these to be more helpful than they were). By early morning I was convinced it was time to page my midwife. After a brief phone conversation, she basically told me (in a kind but clear manner) that I needed to buckle down and get ready for a long day, because I wasn’t even close to active labour. I’m sorry… what? I’m ready to go! The bags are packed and this really hurts! No dice. Dave got up around six, and by this time I was starting to enter what we like to call the pain cave. It’s a deep, dark place that no one really likes spending much time in. The labour was felt primarily in my back. I soon needed Dave to help me get through every contraction. He got me standing, leaning against counters, tables--anything to try to relieve some of the pain. He would push on my lower back while supporting me with the other arm under my ribs. By 11am, I told him I couldn’t do this anymore and that I needed to go to the hospital (I’m also fairly certain this is about the time that I started to request, in a very polite and dignified way of course, that I get an epidural). Just after noon, my midwife arrived to check my progress. As I lay in agonizing pain on the couch, head in Dave’s lap, she delivered the devastating news that I was only 2cm dilated. I cried tears of defeat. How would I make it through this? The high pain tolerance and strength that I thought I possessed didn’t seem to stand a chance against this beast of a task. The fact that I hadn’t slept since the night prior wasn’t helping my case either. My midwife gave me a shot of Gravol in the leg in hopes that it would help me relax and doze between contractions, and told me to get in the bath. I needed to rest to help my labour progress. Between contractions, Dave got me upstairs and into a warm bath. The Gravol was hitting hard, so he put a travel pillow around my neck in hopes that this would prevent me from drowning. Smart. Contractions would still hit like a ton of bricks, but I would immediately pass out between them. It was like having 5 minute sleep cycles. The worst.
After about what I assume was an hour, I somehow pulled myself out of the tub, grabbed a heating pad to lay on and climbed into bed. Although I was still struggling to keep my eyes open between the bouts of pain, I was convinced that contractions were finally getting closer together. I started timing them again. Four minutes, three minutes, two minutes, three minutes… I wasn’t making this up! I yelled for Dave (he had fallen asleep on the couch while I was in the bath, certain we would not get to go to the hospital until the next day and that we were in for one of the longest nights of our lives). He jolted awake and ran upstairs. Although I was still drowsy, the contractions were so close together that I couldn’t labour without his help. He would breath on my skin in an attempt to guide and slow my breathing which had become fast and out of control. He told me how strong I was and that I could do this in moments when I told him I couldn’t. In short, he was my absolute rock. I don’t know how I would have endured the pain for as long as I did without him. I have never needed or loved him more than I did through this process. He called the midwife and, finally, we were given the green light to get on the road. Between contractions we, somehow, made it into the car and drove the 15 minutes to the hospital. You don’t know how efficiently you can work in one minute intervals until you’re in labour. Getting up to the labour and delivery floor was the next challenge, walking as far as I possibly could before the next contraction hit. I refused a wheelchair (which several passerbys offered) since sitting made everything worse. I needed to lean against the wall while Dave continued to put pressure on my lower back. It took some time, to say the least.
Upon pushing through the doors, Dave ran passed me and threw our bags into the delivery room. I can’t say for sure, but I’m fairly certain the first thing I said (yelled) as soon as I saw a nurse (I think she was a nurse anyway. I really didn’t care at this point) was, “I want an epidural!” They assured me our midwife had called ahead and the anesthesiologist had been notified. As I continued to stumble towards the room, now with the help of my midwife and nurses, I suddenly heard, “Mrs. Mundy!” I looked, hazily, to my left only to see the mother of two of my past students. Heather is an OB, and for months before leaving on mat leave, we joked about her being the doctor on call when I went into labour. “Can you imagine?” we’d say. I was unable to respond, as another contraction rolled in and I grabbed the wall railing. Heather, immediately recognizing back labour, ran to my aid and put counter pressure on my lower back to help carry me through. It was at that moment that I knew I was going to survive. There were people here who were going to do everything in their power to make me as comfortable as possible. After 19 hours of hell, I welcomed the light I saw at the end of the tunnel.
Getting into the delivery room, my midwives (I had two, plus a student) sprang into action. Dave was finally able to step back and take a deep breath, knowing I was in good hands. The news was delivered that the anesthesiologist wouldn’t be able to administer my epidural for an hour. This was crushing, but less so when the nitric oxide was offered up. I was able to breath this magical gas every time a contraction hit (which seemed like every minute on the minute). Although it didn’t do much for the pain, it did deliver a serious temporary high that took my mind to a special place for a short period of time. After a few minutes, Heather popped in to say she made a call and, in fact, my epidural was on its way. It pays to know people, am I right? I couldn’t tell you the name of the anesthesiologist, or what she looked like, but I can tell you that she quickly became my favourite person in the room. A needle of that magnitude tickled in comparison to what I had been feeling. Soon, my body relaxed and I was met with the biggest rush of relief that I had ever felt in my life. Being released from the kind of pain that I had been enduring for that long was beyond any feeling I could imagine. I knew I would be getting a baby soon, but in that moment, nothing else mattered but being able to rest.
Within 20 minutes, I was a new woman. Cracking jokes and everything--a special cocktail of lack of sleep and drugs. But the energy in the room quickly changed when my midwife saw that the baby’s heart rate was elevating. After a few moments, she called Heather back in for a consultation. It was quickly decided that the baby was likely running out of space and they would need to break my water. I immediately gave up any and all control to the professionals. I knew I would let them do whatever was needed in order to keep my babe safe. So, my water was broken, which lead to the response we were hoping for and baby’s heart rate stabilized. However, it was at this time that they saw meconium in the amniotic fluid. This meant that, at some point in time, baby had pooped in utero, a common response particularly for babies who are overdo. This wasn’t overly concerning, but my midwife decided to take precaution and call in the pediatric and respiratory doctors for delivery, as extra suctioning would likely be needed. The next scary moment came when baby’s heart rate dramatically dropped. Again, Heather came quickly into the room, followed by a sea of nurses. But, after a few quickly guided position changes on my part, her heart rate stabilized once again. We all breathed a sigh of relief.
Soon after, my midwife checked my progress, and faster than any of us had anticipated, it was casually suggested that I could probably try pushing. What? Now? Both Dave and I thought we had another few hours of mental preparation left before this moment, but I guessed it seemed as good of a time as any. So, after a few very brief instructions and a bit of position change (I basically gave birth on my side, since that was the position that seemed to work best for babe), I was ready to go. I should note: there were no leg stir-ups. You know the things I’m talking about? That women get to put their feet on in the movies? Ya, turns out it was going to be a bit more relaxed than that. Ok, fine. I quickly found I was able to give three good pushes within each contraction. I made fast progress and soon, baby’s head was making an appearance! Dave got in on the action, watching our little girl make her entrance into the world with each push, all the while encouraging me to keep going and reassuring me that she was almost here. Much to the amazement of my midwives (and to myself), it took less than 10 minutes of pushing before I was suddenly holding this tiny, crying human on my chest. I couldn’t believe that she was finally here!
Before I could even process this moment, she was swept away and taken to the warming table across the room where our team of doctors and nurses got to work. She did, in fact, require quite a bit of suctioning due to the intake of meconium, but the mood in the room remained calm and positive. Dave went over to be with our daughter while I remained on the hospital bed, ready to deliver the placenta and then get cleaned up. After 20 minutes, Heather came over to my bedside and calmly explained that Ayla had taken in quite a bit of meconium--we would soon learn this was called meconium aspiration--and that they were taking her to the special care nursery to ensure she was receiving all of the oxygen needed. As I was still confined to the bed, Dave and I insisted that he go with her.
The hour that followed was very strange. I was so drained and taken aback from everything I had just gone through, I was having a difficult time processing it all. I had just had a baby, and yet, was suddenly left in this quiet room without her. After about half an hour, Dave returned with an update. Ayla was doing well, but she had been put on oxygen and a vacuum had been fed through her mouth into her lungs to clear the congestion. We were also faced with the difficult decision to put her on antibiotics in case the meconium in her lungs had caused an infection. We wouldn’t know this for 48 hours, once her blood cultures returned from the lab. Pressed for time, we quickly asked our midwife what she would do if it was her child. She told us she would take the meds. If the cultures came back positive and we hadn't yet started the antibiotics, we would have a very sick baby on our hands. We decided the benefits outweighed the risk, and (somewhat reluctantly) decided the start the medication.
Dave had been keeping our parents updated all day and we had told them not to come until morning. I called my mother as soon as I had a quiet moment and told her that our babe had finally arrived. I vaguely recall giving her the foggy details of Ayla’s health concerns, but honestly, I’m not sure how accurately I portrayed the situation. The drug/sleep deprivation/emotional roller coaster hangover was real (Ex. I announced Ayla’s birth via text to one of my best friends and told her her birthday was September 17th. Not even close).
After being released from labour and delivery after what felt like an eternity, Dave was able to wheel me to the special care nursery where Ayla was being carefully monitored. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I arrived. My sweet, innocent babe was lying on a warming table, hooked up to a million machines, with a tube down her throat, a mask on her face and an IV in her hand. My heart broke into what felt like a million pieces. I immediately began to cry, but was assured that she was doing well and that this was the best place for her. She would not be staying in my room overnight, as she would remain under close observation by the special care nurses and the pediatric doctor.
Reluctantly, I returned to my room. As much as I didn’t want to leave her side, I hadn’t slept in 48 hours and knew that I just needed to close my eyes for a few hours in order to process everything that was happening. Dave tucked me into bed and told me he was going to go stay with Ayla, which I supported entirely. I drifted off to sleep almost immediately and woke three hours later. It was 6am. I rolled out of bed, gingerly got myself to the bathroom, changed from the hospital gown to my own pajamas and began the walk back to the special care nursery. Dave had just stepped out of the room to call his family and wasn’t there when I arrived. I walked around the corner to see my little girl lying helplessly on the table, still hooked up to all of the machines in the world. With the clarity brought by a few hours of sleep, I began to process what we had just been through and the tears came immediately. We didn’t know how long Ayla would need to stay like this. I didn’t even know when I would be able to hold her. This was supposed to be one of the happiest moments of our lives and I felt helpless and heart broken.
I hadn’t been there for more than a few moments when the nurse who had been caring for Ayla through the night came into the room. She was a straight shooting woman. Not the warmest, but smart and seemed to recognize what I was going through. She, very matter of factly, told me Ayla had been doing very well. The oxygen being provided through her mask had already been reduced significantly. The good news continued as she quickly decided that I could try skin to skin. I was elated, as five minutes ago, holding my child seemed like a distant dream. The nurse worked to maneuver the many wires attached to Ayla. She pulled up a large chair to the table and told me to sit. Then she carefully lifted my baby off the table and placed her against my chest. At that moment, Dave came into the room to this scene and I think it was a very special moment for both of us. One I will never forget. We stayed like this for about an hour. Soon, the pediatrician began his morning rounds. The good news continued as he decided she was ready to try breathing on her own. Her mask was removed and, to our relief, her breathing was strong and stable. The next nurse on duty told me I could try breastfeeding, which she helped me do for the first time. Although foreign to both Ayla and I, it couldn’t have gone smoother. Another sigh of relief for mom and dad.
We stayed with her the rest of the day as our close family members arrived to meet our new addition. The visits were a bit of a blur, but everyone, although concerned about the extra care needed and all of the unknowns, was thrilled to finally meet our little one. By the end of the day, our straight shooting night nurse was back and told us that, if all continued to go well, she would unhook Ayla from the remaining monitors and bring her to our room at midnight, where she could stay. Antibiotics would be administered manually through her IV to allow for this. She gave us strict instructions to go back to our room and sleep for a couple of hours, which we agreed to. As promised, she delivered Ayla to us at midnight and she slept on my chest for the rest of the night. It was bliss.
The next 24 hours were a blur. The baby brain is real. I was given a lot of information over the course of this time, 20% of which was absorbed. It was like words were going in one ear and out the other. Thank God for Dave, who, recognizing my brief but very obvious drop in IQ, was an absolute rockstar and made sure all important information was communicated to him. He took care of everything that wasn’t breastfeeding, essentially (although, honestly, he helped with that too, any way he could). Looking back, we are thankful for our unexpected extended hospital stay in many ways, as it provided us the opportunity to speak with numerous nurses, doctors and lactation consultants. We learned a lot, particularly around breastfeeding. Ayla continues to be an amazing nurser, and we attribute much of our strong start to the information given to us by these professionals.
After 48 hours, we were delivered the good news that we had been praying for: Ayla’s blood cultures had come back negative for infection. She was taken off of the antibiotics and we were free to head home. This was amazing and terrifying all at the same time. Were we ready to leave the cozy, safe bubble we had created over the past two and a half days? Take this baby into the real world without the help of a team of professionals? We were about to find out.
With that, we packed ourselves up, put Ayla in the car seat (with minimal tears on all of our parts), and walked out into the world as a family of three, ready to embark on our biggest adventure yet: parenthood.