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.
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!
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.