Thanksgiving with Food Allergies

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Everyone in my family knows that I don’t love cooking, that’s Mark’s department. I’d rather bake yummy goodies than make dinner any day of the week. The one exception to this is cooking for the holidays. I like planning big meals to share with family and friends. Something about sharing our table with friends and family brings it out in me. If you follow our blog you know that we have Food Allergies. Often people express shock and awe that we are able to handle it. I don’t feel like a superhero because you just do what you have to because that’s how life works. But I thought I’d share some things that we’ve found that help around the holidays.

Over the years I’ve found a lot of substitutes for “normal” foods, we have the daily stuff down pat. Around the holidays it becomes a new challenge to find replacements for the usual holiday fare. No one wants to have to skip out on the pumpkin pie because of their dairy allergy! Since it’s November, I’m thinking a lot about Thanksgiving, so I’ll share some of our recipes for Turkey Day.

One thing I can’t stress enough is to check your labels, every single time because they change all the time. Just because it was safe last year doesn’t mean it will be this year.

The Turkey

Did you know that sometimes grocery store turkeys have “stuff” added to them? I sure didn’t until I read a label. So if you’re trying to cook an allergy-friendly turkey, just make sure to check the label. Sometimes there is gluten or soy hiding in there. I’ve had the most success with brands that are labeled “natural” and oddly enough generic store brands rather than the big names. And let’s be real, I want my turkey to be turkey, so I’ll skip the added soy, thank you very much.

Also remember, that anything you stuff the turkey with can potentially cross-contamination it making it unsafe. One year, I stuffed my turkey with my grandmas stuffing recipe using bread that had soy in it only realizing that was a problem 2 hours into the cooking time. That was the year Oliver didn’t get to eat turkey. Hey, we all make mistakes.

For turkey recipes, we live by Alton Brown, a brined bird is a happy bird. You can find our favorite recipe here.  Make sure to watch your Turkey Stock for hidden allergens! Something about starting the cooking time at 500 degrees makes the bird amazing. I’m seriously hungry just thinking about it.

The Sides

As important as the turkey is, part of Thanksgiving to me is having so many sides you run out of room on your plate. One thing I can’t stress enough is that if you’re cooking for someone with an allergy, it’s OK if there are a few things that aren’t safe for them. Believe me, we totally appreciate being able to eat anything! So if you can’t make the Cheesy Broccoli Casserole dairy free that’s ok. And I’ll be honest, especially when my kids with allergies were younger, most of the time, they’re not going to eat most of the food anyway, and I always felt bad when Grandma made the mashed potatoes without butter and then all my kid ate was two bites of turkey and a roll.  Below, I am just going to post the things we modified, closer to Turkey Day be on the lookout for a post with our full menu.

The DF GBC

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From scratch, dairy free, cream of mushroom soup.

Last year I decided that my kids were clearly missing out because green bean casserole was not dairy and soy free. I love me some green bean casserole. The classic recipe has soy sauce (which we skipped and it was totally fine) and cream of mushroom soup, both contain soy and/or dairy which are no goes. I don’t know why, but the thought of making my own cream of mushroom soup was so daunting! I scoured the internet and settled on this recipe. It turned out great, much to my surprise. I subbed Unsweetened Original Ripple Pea milk (our current favorite milk replacement) for the soy milk. It wasn’t that hard either, obviously, it’s easier to open a can, but whatever. After all that work, my kids didn’t even like it. In fact, Eli asked for green beans without (insert wide gesture of disgust) all this stuff on them. Typical.

The Perfect DF Mashed Potato

Dairy-free mashed potatoes was another challenge for me.  I love butter, it’s fricking delicious. I am pretty sure I could spread Kerry Gold on a piece of cardboard and it would be down-right gourmet.  Usually, I would make regular mashed potatoes and then a small amount of sad non-dairy mashed potatoes.  My kids were totally getting the short end of the stick because they were not good.  Last year I decided that I wasn’t going to be making a regular and allergy friendly version of stuff.  It was JUST TOO MUCH.  I was already cooking a billion things.  I am here to tell you I cracked the code to ah-mazing DF mashed potatoes.

First off, I was using the wrong kind of potato, you want to use russets for the best texture.  I had been using whatever I found in a bag, whoops. Second, I learned that you have to heat the “milk” before adding it, again I used Unsweetened Original Ripple milk.  Game changer. For that buttery taste, I used copious amounts of Earths Balance Soy-Free “buttery spread” it’s not Kerry Gold, but it was good.  If I wouldn’t have told you they were dairy free, you wouldn’t know the difference.

Stuffing – The Evolution of Grandma’s Recipe

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Everyone has their own ideas about stuffing.  It’s been a great debate between Mark and I, for years, about how it should be.  His family puts sausage in it, SAUSAGE people. Mine (obviously because that’s wrong) does not.  For me, it was important to use my Grandma’s recipe for the stuffing. (It’s a basic Sage Stuffing)  I still have the index card she wrote it on for me many years ago, which is really special now that she has dementia and likely couldn’t write it out or remember how to make it.  Her recipe had Oleo in it, which has dairy and soy in it so that was out.  It also used store bought white bread which is always hard to find that is safe for us, it also kills me a little inside to make a $5 loaf of bread stale. What I ended up doing was using Earths Balance for the Oleo and our regular whole wheat bread recipe we make in our bread machine.  It turned out great.  This year we have a new challenge since I (and Mark in solidarity) went Gluten Free, I’ll be modifying it yet again. Wish me luck!

Desserts

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The only thing better than 400 sides on Thanksgiving is having more desserts than people.  It’s tradition.  Zoe loves everything pumpkin spice.  When she went dairy free there were tears over pumpkin pie.  IT’S NOT THANKSGIVING without pumpkin pie.  So I scoured the interwebs for a recipe.  The first year it was a total flop, so don’t use that recipe.  The next year I used this recipe and it turned out awesome. I cheated and used a store-bought pie crust, this one worked for our allergies.  For whipped cream, I made my own coconut cream whipped cream with a can of coconut milk using this recipe. Cue happy Zoe.  Mark thought it was pretty awesome too. (I don’t eat pumpkin pie)

One of my favorite pies for the holidays is a Jello Pudding Pie.  I was surprised when I read the ingredients of the Jello pudding mix, there isn’t any dairy in it.  So it was easy to sub out a non-dairy milk to make the pudding. Then I again used the whipped cream recipe from coconut milk. Finding a safe crust was a little more challenging I was planning on having to make one, but I stumbled across one while at Super Target in the baking aisle. SCORE!

I know it can be totally overwhelming when you are cooking a big meal.  Even more so when you find out that one or more of the attendees, has an allergy.  Remeber, we (people with food allergies) do not expect you to make everything safe for us.  We expect to have to pass on some (or have to bring our own) foods at gatherings.  Honestly, we come for the company, not to challenge you.

October – Hello Fall

What the heck happened to October? My plan of blogging and posting weekly was thrown out the window. We were so absurdly busy, I feel like we barely had a second to breathe.  At the end of September the kids tracked out (a short break from year-round school) and the time flew by.  Here’s a little update on our adventures.

FARE’s Food Allergy Heroes Walk

If you read this post, you know that this year I volunteered to help organize the Food Allergy Heroes Walk.  Helping turned into becoming the Walk Chair, because go big or go home right?  It consumed a little more of my time than I expected but it was good.  It felt great for me to be involved in something that I am passionate about again.  Which I didn’t realize that I missed until now.

It was a crazy busy day.  I was so thankful that my brother and (new) sister in law came into town to help out.  They woke up early, schlepped tables and boxes, took pictures, and kept an eye on the kids while I was busy running around like a mad woman. Their support means a lot to us!  I don’t know that I can thank them enough.

With the help of others in the Triangle, we raised $9,173! It was a little short of our goal, but still really awesome.  If you would like to donate to FARE and to our team there is still time, we are accepting donations through the end of the year.

http://fare.foodallergy.org/site/TR/Walk/HeroesWalk?team_id=14046&pg=team&fr_id=1311

The Wilkinson’s Take the Beach

Directly after the FARE Walk, we woke up the next morning and drove two and a half hours to the coast for a much-needed, week-long beach vacation.  I love the beach, it’s my happy place and I want to live there.  Last year I hinted to Mark that I wanted to go for my Birthday (10/12) and I forgot that he doesn’t take hints well and we didn’t end up going.  This year I took matters into my own hands and in January we booked a place at our favorite beach (and I won’t tell you where because I want to keep our quiet island, quiet.) for My Birthday Week ™.

This trip was extra special because my brother, sister in law, and my parents met us there.  This was the first time that my parents had ever been to the NC Coast and being Michigan Lake People, I knew they’d love the island vibe.  My brother and sister in law had never been to the ocean EVER! So we were excited to play host and show them our favorite place in the state.

The weather was pretty great, despite us visiting the NC Coast often, we’d never been in October.  I’ve decided that it’s my new favorite time to be there, not too hot, the sun isn’t as intense, and the beach is practically empty.  We played on the beach ate fresh seafood every night, and generally had a great time.  It was also really nice to spend time with my brother and sister in law, I feel like we haven’t ever really gotten to spend that much quality time together since we’ve been adults because life is so busy.  They also got to spend a lot of time with our kids, which I know they really enjoyed. I hope to make this an annual thing.

I was not ready to go home at all, besides getting an awesome tan I really enjoyed us all being disconnected for a week.

A Plague on Your House

While all of this was going on, Eli decided it would be the perfect time to get antibiotic resistant strep.  After a trip to Urgent Care, 2 trips to the family doctor, 3 oral antibiotics, 1 antibiotic butt shot, strep swabs for the whole family and serious talk of removing his tonsils, we finally got a negative strep test. So he gets to keep those tonsils, for now.

The poor kid hasn’t felt good for an entire month and I feel like he is just now getting his “Eli” back.  By some miracle, no one else in the house has gotten it.  Of course, now that I’ve said that out loud and put it on the internet, everyone’s going to get it.

Fall Baseball

This year we decided to sign Oliver up for fall baseball.  He’s been playing in the Spring for the last three years, the league that he is currently on does fall baseball as well.  The benefit of the playing in the fall is that there are fewer kids so there is more time to really work on the basics.  It’s less competitive and there is more of an emphasis the basics.

He had a really good season and we saw a lot of growth. Especially in his batting, in fact, he got the team “Batman” award for the most improved batting this season.  I love watching him play, but I am always glad when it’s over because adding baseball three days a week adds a special kind of crazy to our lives.

Fall Festivities

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I love fall.  Everything about it.  The weather here in NC is beautiful, still warm but the oppressive humidity of the summer is gone.  Besides being my Birthday Month, it kicks off the Holiday Season for me and getting the house all fun and decorated.  We also have a plethora of Birthdays (Mark, Zoe, Oliver) that happen from October to January.

In between the FARE Walk and our vacation, we did all out usual fall stuff.  Pumpkin Patch field trips, getting pumpkins at the North Carolina State Farmers Market and making Halloween costumes.  Of course, we also went Trick or Treating and this year we participated in a Teal Pumpkin (read more about why we love Teal Pumpkin here) Trunk or Treat that was really fun.

Back to School

This track out was over in a flash.  I think part of it was how busy we were, but there another part was because we traveled right smack in the middle.  It broke up the three weeks really nicely.  By the time the kids were driving each other nuts it was time to go back to school.  It’s crazy that all three have only been in school full time for 9 weeks and I have already gotten used to the kind of calm with just me and Bits home most of the day.  Man, four kids are loud together!

We had that usual transition week where we got back into the swing of homework, getting up in the morning, and getting to bed on time.  We survived to the second week, which brought us Zoe’s first fifth-grade chorus performance. So we had extra rehersals after school for that.  She did so well!  It brought back a lot of memories of when I was in middle and high school choir.   I am secretly am hoping she keeps it up.

Over 1,000 words later, that’s what we’ve been up to.  I promise to be better about blogging.  I have a few posts swirling in my head that I hope to work on through the end of the year, including Zoe’s Birth Story (for her 11th birthday!), how to make a beach trip with kids easier, and a little about how we do the holidays.

The Teal Pumpkin Project

Food allergies, 15 million Americans suffer from them, 1 in 13 of those are children.

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If you read this post you know that we have one child with a life-threatening peanut allergy and in this post, I talked a little about how food allergies complicate our lives.  As we approach the Holidays, food allergies are more at the forefront of our minds.  It’s October and we are on the cusp of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and a ton of other food sharing centered holidays.  It requires careful planning and doesn’t come without anxiety.

The Teal Pumpkin Project

Since Oliver was diagnosed with food allergies, Halloween has been has become stressful.  Once it was one of my favorite holidays.  Growing up in Michigan it meant the smell of leaves, sweaters, cool nights. I still love decorating the house with pumpkins and spiders, making the front porch festive with hay bales and cornstalks, and picking out costumes for the kids (and sometimes making them).  However, now it all leads up to “the night” where we are surrounded by allergens.  We spend a good part of the weeks ahead reminding Oliver not to reach in a candy bowl only hold out his bucket, he absolutely can not eat a single piece of candy until we go through everything.  There are peanuts and peanut contaminated foods everywhere.

In 2014, I stumbled across a new movement, The Teal Pumpkin Project.  It was an amazing concept.  Of course, we decided we would participate.  The kids had a great time picking out little trinkets and non-food items to make our bags.  On Halloween, we proudly displayed our Teal Pumpkin and asked our Trick or Treaters if anyone had an allergy.  There were no takers until later in the evening a mom and a little girl came up to the door.  When we asked if her child had food allergies her eyes welled up, she said that she did and that she likely wouldn’t be able to eat anything in her treat bucket.  She was so thankful when we pulled out that bag with non-food items for her daughter.  It made it worth it.  I was that mom, newly diagnosed, scared and anxious.

We have faithfully participated in The Teal Pumpkin Project since.  If I can help one parent worry less, it’s worth it.  If I can teach my kids that inclusion is important, it’s worth it.  If I can make ONE child’s night, I’d do it again 1,000 times.

How Can You Help?

During Halloween, get a teal pumpkin!  Way back in 2014, I had to pain my own, but now I have seen them at several major retailers such as Target, Michaels, and Walmart. Or you can always grab a can of spray paint and craft your own.  FARE has some cool Teal Pumpkin branded merchandise that you can purchase as well, this years garden flag is super cute! You can also donate to FARE directly here.  We usually head to the Target Dollar Spot or Dollar Tree for fun stuff for our bags, this year we have rubber spiders my kids are going crazy over! It doesn’t have to be fancy, we usually do some stickers, bubbles, pencils, and erasers.

We also try to get more allergy friendly treats to give out as well.  Kids with Food Allergies has a good list here.  Skittles, Starburst, Swedish Fish, and Sour Patch Kids are easy to find readily available treats.  Remember that choosing to participate means you could be the person to make that one mom’s night by including their child.

Birth Story: Elijah Griffin (Eli)

The Pregnancy

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This was about 12 week. If I was a better mom and this wasn’t the 3rd child I may have had a 20 week picture that was clearer.

If you read Isabel’s Birth Story you know that we had a miscarriage directly before becoming pregnant with Elijah.  I had a D&C three months prior to becoming pregnant.  The Dr that we were seeing at the time told us that was the amount of time we needed to wait so we did and got pregnant easily that first cycle we tried.  I honestly wish we would have waited longer.  I don’t think that I was even remotely emotionally ready for another pregnancy.  I was not in the right headspace at all.  In my mind, getting pregnant again with make it all better.  It would take away the terrible pain, it would fix me.  I was very broken after that miscarriage.  Even now, six years later it affects me.  Again, these are things no one talks about. 

We were fairly certain that our preceding loss was due to low progesterone levels.  The OBGYN and Midwifery practice we were seeing at the time didn’t “believe” that progesterone therapy made a difference in outcomes and their policy was not to prescribe it.  We had been planning on having a home water birth with our third pregnancy anyway so this was just the last push we needed to find new providers.  I had been in contact with a few homebirth midwives and they recommended some local providers that were supportive of Homebirth and would be willing to see me early for HCG and Progesterone testing and prescribe progesterone support if needed.  I emailed one OB and told him my background, he promptly responded and told me to call the office the second I got a positive test and he would call in labs and we would go from there.  He knew that my plan was to see him as a backup to a Homebirth Midwife and was fine with that arrangement.  

Days after that email I got a positive pregnancy test after feeling absolutely bone tired for days and nauseous, I was shocked and terrified.  I called that day and went and got blood work.  As with my miscarriage, my HCG levels were on the lower end of the spectrum and my progesterone was very low.  The Dr saw me the very same day and I started progesterone.  I was terrified that we would lose this baby as well.  We had a couple incidents of spotting.  The OB we saw was so reassuring and supportive of my nerves.  He was compassionate, caring, and just what I needed.  He did several early ultrasounds and lots of followup bloodwork and everything looked great.  

By 12 weeks we had seen the heartbeat several times and felt that we were likely in the clear.  We still had not told many people that we were pregnant again.  The last time, we had shared the news here and there by about 8-10 weeks only to have to un-tell everyone which was like a knife in the heart, every single time.  I suspect that most people figured it out by the time we announced at 14 weeks. 

During this time, the original Homebirth Midwife we hired had to step down from her practice so we were in the process of interviewing a replacement.  Michigan is a lot different than North Carolina, there were dozens of choices, all legal and regulated.  We interviewed several and decided to hire Stacia with Trillium Birth Services.  Personality wise I couldn’t have asked for a better match.  Plus, we both had roots with the same Borders Books store.  We started care with her around 16-18 weeks.  

My pregnancy was hard.  I was emotional, a nervous wreck, and in constant fear that we would have another loss.  I was also very sick.  I had never had such nausea in pregnancy before, it was all I could do to care for Oliver during the day and I spent most of the days on the couch.  I was sick enough that I finally relented and started taking meds when I was having a hard time staying hydrated and eating regularly.  Let me tell you, Unisom and B6 are a godsend.  I was able to at least eat and not be puking all day long.  It wasn’t a cure, but it helped.  The only plus side to being so sick is that I lost weight through the first trimester and only ended up gaining 12lbs.  I had to continue taking them until the day I delivered, I never got that relief most women get in the second trimester.

The Birth

Sunday, September 23, 2012 – 6 days overdue

Tired of being pregnant, cranky, and generally not fun to be around I spent most of my day sulking because I had slept through the night and not woken up in labor.  That weekend we all had just lounged around the house; Mark decided to tackle the Mountain of Laundry that had piled up over the past week. The kids played, made messes, and irritated each other most of the day. And I was still pregnant, much to everyone’s dismay.  Oliver was born 3 weeks early. No one thought I would be overdue this time.

After lunch I was sitting in the living room and just could not get comfortable on the couch, I was moving from lying down, to sitting and getting more and more grumpy that I could not get comfortable at all. My lower back was aching, and my whole body was just tired. Mark mentioned that maybe I would feel better if I took a nap. I wasn’t really tired so I stayed on the couch and whined for a while longer. At this point, I had noticed that baby had been quieter than was normal.  I knew that could be a sign that labor was coming, but didn’t get my hopes up because I had decided I was going to be pregnant FOREVER.

At about 2:30pm, Mark again mentioned that maybe I would feel better if I took a nap. I was so uncomfortable on the couch I figured I had nothing to lose by going and laying in bed, even if I didn’t sleep.  I layed up there a while, browsing the internet on my phone and I did eventually doze off and slept hard.  Remember, the best nap of your life almost always means labor is looming. 

At about 3:30pm I woke up with a contraction.  I had been having lots of “fake” contractions for weeks, but this one was different, more intense and slightly more painful. I decided to take note of the time but ignored it. If it was real labor, I would know and I wouldn’t be able to lay in bed through it. By 5:30 when Mark came upstairs to see how I was feeling about dinner I had had several more contractions as I drifted between sleep and awake.  They seemed closer together. However, I still hadn’t been timing them. I was hesitant to even say anything since I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, (especially mine) but casually mentioned I was having some contractions.

I got up to go to the bathroom and was planning to go downstairs for dinner. There was the sign I was looking for that labor was coming soon, bloody show. I think this is the only time in my life I was excited to see bloody mucous. I let Mark know that he was probably not going to work tomorrow, and decided to put my birth team on alert. I sent texts to my doula (and great, longtime, childhood friend) Melissa, Birth Photographer, and called our Midwife Stacia.

I decided that I wanted to take a shower and see if that made my contractions stop and if it would help with my sore lower back. The water felt great on my back and I had several more contractions in the time I was in the shower, I was starting to think this could be the real deal. The contractions were starting to get a little more intense and I was having to stop what I was doing to breathe through them. I still didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. I putzed around upstairs doing my hair and getting dressed (read that as put clean pajamas on) the whole time having more contractions and more bloody show.

By the time dinner was ready at about 6:30, I was seriously doubting that I should be eating the spicy enchiladas we had planned earlier in the day. On my list of things that could be unpleasant if throw up I think enchiladas are on the top. I also wasn’t sure I was going to be able to sit through the meal with my contractions. I knew this could be my last chance to eat and that I would need the energy in case this was real labor. Luckily, just being around the kids slowed my contractions down and I was able to eat between them. I did have to stand up from the table every time one hit though.

Mark and I decided that it would be an early bedtime for the kids because we were pretty sure labor would pick up once they were in bed.  Mark started the bedtime routine while I retreated upstairs and discreetly packed small overnight bags for the kids, just in case.  I didn’t want them to see anything was going on.  We still hadn’t decided if they were going to stay home for the birth or not.  I wanted them there but didn’t want them to hinder my progress.  I felt a sort of instinctual need to keep the whole family close by for some reason. We had several plans for the kids should we need to send them away, but for now I wanted them home.

At this point, I was pretty sure it was the real deal, and of course, it was because the house was an absolute disaster. There was clean, folded laundry spread all over the living room and the kitchen still hadn’t been cleaned from dinner. I had been keeping the house spotless for WEEKS since we had a slew of people coming for the birth.

I called our Stacia again and told her it was time, she suggested that we set up the pool so that when I was ready the pool would be too. I wasn’t quite ready for her to come yet but told her I would call when I was.  As soon as the kids were in bed Mark set to work inflating the pool and filling it with water while I paced in the bedroom and “supervised”.  He was very patient with my backseat driving while he set up and filled the pool because he was obviously doing it all wrong.

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Once the pool was filling and I was satisfied Mark was doing it my way, I went downstairs to sit on my birth ball to time contractions. They were getting closer and more intense and I really wanted to get in the shower again, but couldn’t since we were going to need all the hot water we could get to fill the pool. I spent the next hour or so pacing the lower floor of the house, going upstairs to check on the pool, and on Facebook chatting with my friend Carrie. I was starting to get anxious and I figured that this feeling probably meant it was time to call everyone.  I sent Melissa a text telling her it was time to head over at about 9:30 pm, and then shortly after called Stacia to let her know I was ready for her.  At this point, I had forgotten all about calling the Photographer.

Mark had finished filling the pool at this point and it was ready to go, we were shocked that it only took one round of hot water and it was still slightly too hot to get in. He covered it with a blanket to keep the heat in and then tidied up the house a bit. Melissa arrived and we milled around the kitchen for a while, chatting between contractions. After a bit I needed to move back to the yoga ball in the living room, things were picking up.  

I was starting to get anxious that Stacia hadn’t arrived yet, and she must have felt that because she walked in about two minutes later. She watched just a few contractions and announced it was OK to get in the pool. I was shocked because that meant she felt I was already progressing well, and I still didn’t feel sure it was time to have this baby. It’s a funny thing about labor, no matter how many times you do it, you can still be unsure.

The pool felt amazing. It was the perfect temperature and took the edge off the contractions, I still wasn’t in serious pain yet, but I knew I would be soon enough.  It was probably about 10:45 pm at this point, and this is where time gets foggy. While I was in the pool, Melissa sat at the side and was there to remind me during the contractions not to tense up, relax my shoulders, and stop clenching my hands into fists. Relaxation is not always my strong point, so I needed the reminder. She also kept a supply of tea and water between contractions and a cool washcloth on my head and neck.

Mark played the good host, making coffee, fetching me water and letting the rest of the birth team in the house.  The Midwife Apprentice, Cynthia arrived and was beginning to set up the supplies and get everything together. Thankfully Stacia thought to text my Birth Photographer and let her know it was time for her to come because I had totally forgotten about her at this point.

My contractions continued to get closer, stronger, and more painful.  Stacia and Cynthia intermittently monitored the heart rate which was steady at about 150 bpm. I was starting to feel like maybe I needed to push, but I wasn’t 100% sure.  I tried a few pushes and it just wasn’t feeling “right”. I knew I was probably complete because I was starting to worry about seeing those enchiladas again.  I was also starting to shake from the hormone rush. My water still hadn’t broken and the baby was moving all around and I could feel the head low in my pelvis turning against my cervix.

Monday, September 24, 2012, 12:00 am

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I’m pretty sure Stacia could see I was struggling, she suggested that maybe I flip on my hands and knees and try to push that way. Up until then, I was on my back leaning on the side of the pool, I knew this was not the optimal position, but it’s what I found comfortable at the time. I flipped over and pushed another 20 minutes or so and it still didn’t feel right. Around this time, I told everyone that I was done and I couldn’t do it and I’d like an epidural. Stacia was great and told me that was fine, but I’d have to get out of the pool, get dressed, and drive to the hospital. It would probably be faster just to push the baby out. I begrudgingly agreed that was probably true. She then offered to check me to see what was going on, this was about 12:45 am or so.  

When she checked I was 10 cm, but had an anterior lip on my cervix and baby was so high she could barely feel his head. She had me flip back over and offered to hold the lip back while I pushed past it. At this point, I was getting tired, and I was ready to be done. We waited through a few contractions and I continued to push, and my water broke. She checked me again and I still had the lip, I told her to hold the lip back.  It hurt, a lot, but I got the baby to move down slightly.  When the baby came down she could feel that there was still a bag of water over baby’s head. I pushed some more with no progress, and she offered to break my water the rest of the way. I told her to do it, I was ready for this baby to be out.

As she was trying to snag the amniotic sack with the amnihook she mentioned how strong the bag was. I would like to attribute that to my cravings for grapefruit juice, oranges, and lemonade.  Once she got my water to break, things moved quickly. Instantly I felt the overwhelming urge to push. That was what I was waiting for, it was almost like before my water broke everything was too squishy and cushioned so I couldn’t feel what I was supposed to do. Baby came all the way down while she was still trying to hold back that anterior lip. I didn’t know at the time, but he was posterior and when he came down she could feel that and she rotated his head and turned him manually. I was told it was quite the site to see.

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I pushed for what seemed like forever, with each push I could feel him moving down but just not as fast as my other two births. At one point I said that this baby is a lot more work.  I kept pushing, soon I could just barely feel a small patch of the head when I reached down, progress. They told me they could see that the baby had dark hair. We were minutes away from knowing if the baby was a boy or a girl and who he or she would look like. I started pushing really hard, I just wanted to be done. Stacia asked me to slow down (which I had warned her that I tended to push way too fast), so I hopefully wouldn’t tear this time. I breathed through a few contractions and I kept reaching down to feel if that soft patch of the head was getting bigger, and it was.  Cynthia, moved in to help guide the baby out and slow the baby’s head down.

(I didn’t know at the time, but this was the very first baby that Cynthia had caught in her apprenticeship. And now, five years later she has her very own Midwifery practice.)

Then I felt that telltale feeling, the “ring of fire” and the head was out. Mark moved into position to catch once he was fully born. I still had to push a few more times to get his shoulders out, Cynthia helped maneuver them and then the body was born at 1:46 am. Mark lifted the baby out of the water and onto my chest. As I put my hand on the baby’s bottom I was pretty sure I could feel that it was a boy, I peeked between his legs and sure enough, he was! It worked out well because the boy name was the only one we could agree on, Elijah Griffin, he looked like an Eli to me.

He pinked up right away, but never really cried. He was amazingly alert and wide-eyed and looked just like his sister! Except for his amazingly chubby cheeks, he looked like a little squirrel with cheeks stuffed full of nuts. We hung out in the pool for while until I started to get a little grossed out by all the blood in the water and was ready to get out. His cord was done pulsing so we had Mark cut the cord and take over holding his new son while I worked on delivering the placenta. They had set up a birth stool for just that purpose, which was a good thing because my legs were so tired and shakey. I could barely lift my leg up to get out of the pool.

From there I dried off and moved to the bed.  With some help, I got him latched on and he nursed for about 30 minutes. I was amazed at how big he looked, I had predicted that he would be long from all the stretching I felt inside but he was for sure bigger than my other two.  We all placed our bets on weight and weighed him. He was my biggest baby, bigger than Ollie by nearly three pounds at 9 lbs 2 oz. He was also long at 22.5 inches with a 14.75 in head circumference. No wonder he was a bear to push out. I felt like a rock star! He was HUGE!

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Stacia and Cynthia evaluated him and he looked great. I was in pretty good shape too, a small abrasion, and a second-degree tear that we decided not to stitch up. All in all, I felt pretty good, considering I just delivered a small linebacker. Someone brought me a snack and Melissa decided to head home as well as the photographer. They were followed by Stacia and Cynthia at about 4:30 am.

Once everyone left it was surreal, I was all tucked into my bed everything was all cleaned up and I had this new little person. The whole time I was in labor my two big kids slept peacefully just across the hall in their rooms, not knowing that in a few short hours they were going to wake up to a new baby brother. I could never have imagined the birth would go so fantastically. Stacia was a perfect match for us, low intervention when I wanted her to be, but able to help things along when I needed it. I laid there in the dark with Eli next to me and watched the sun come up, too high on endorphins to sleep.

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His birth was just the healing experience that I needed following a late first-trimester miscarriage. His birth taught me how to trust in my body again and trust in myself. He is exactly the Rainbow Baby I needed. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better birth.

A New Family of Five

I would be lying if I said that those first days, weeks, months were easy. We had a rough start. There was a lot going on in general plus we added a newborn and were suddenly outnumbered. We had a lot of breastfeeding issues due to lip/tongue tie and low milk supply. I spent a crazy amount of time worrying about feeding him so he would grow which didn’t help make it any easier. The jump from two to three to kids was a hard one for us.

Despite our rough start Eli has grown into the sweetest boy. He is so caring and protective of his sisters. He’s generous and always wants to help or “do a job”. He is always looking for a snuggle and to sit in his “special spot” next to me.  He has a special knack for being the annoying little brother and knows just how to get under everyone’s skin especially his older siblings.

This year he’s tackled full-day preschool at the kid’s elementary school and is thriving. He will be a pro by the time Kindergarten comes next year. He’s decided he wants to be an engineer when he grows up and I can totally see it. He loves to build things.  Happy Birthday, Elijah! 

Solo Parenting

I’m incredibly thankful that I have an amazing partner to help me survive all the crazy. I’m also so lucky that he has an amazing job that keeps him home with us most of the time. He also does just as much around the house and takes just as much of a part in raising our kids as I do. So when he does have occasional travel, it’s rough.  Its four against one alllllll day long.

I have an immense amount of respect for those moms that have partners that travel regularly or have military spouses. They’re better women than me. I honestly don’t think I could do it. Even now when I know that Mark has travel coming I dread it. Everything in our daily lives is set up for a two-parent household. We divide and conquer a lot. One of us will make dinner while the other is taking Oliver to Baseball. Mark takes Zoe early to chorus one day a week so I don’t have 45 minutes to kill between drop-offs. It’s what works for us.

Survival Mode

Currently, I’m on day one two three (that’s how long it took me to write this post) of a seven-day trip to Seattle for Mark. When the kids went to bed tonight I started looking at my calendar for the week and instantly felt totally and completely overwhelmed. It’s not that this week is any busier than any other week, it’s pretty normal, but looking at it as the one person responsible is a lot. That’s actually how I describe much of my life. A lot. A lot of kids, a lot of commitments, a lot of expectations.

Since this trip wasn’t a surprise, I’ll tell you how I’ve prepared for it. My secret is lower expectations. It’s saying, “that’s just not going to happen” and being ok with that. (Read here how I learned to say no to balance my life.) It’s being realistic about what I’m actually going to be able to get done.

For example, mid last week I got a notice that it’s conference week at the kids’ school. Surprise! (That’s a whole different rant.) I just can’t. I can not take four kids, especially the feral two-year-old, to conferences for three kids by myself, that’s a minimum of three hours. Nope. Just not happening. There is a phone conference option, but unless their teachers want to hear me yelling at the kids the whole time or they want to call after 8:30pm it’s not going to work. So, I said no. My two kids that don’t need it, I checked in via email, and the one I feel needs more support we will have a conference next week. When I have backup.

We meal plan, which I swear I’m going to post about one of these days. When I was planning out this week, I aimed low. That meant planning Dino nuggets, breakfast for dinner, and rotisserie chicken from Kroger rather than the usual, more involved meals. I also planned my more complicated meals toward the beginning of the week and knowing from experience that my “fuck it” level would be high by Thursday. It’s also knowing that I’ll probably switch it up a few times through the week just because life happens.

It’s also no secret that I tend to be a type A personality, planner. Last week I tried to get all the extra “stuff” done that I could. This meant going to the grocery store before Mark left. Making sure I was caught up on laundry. (Don’t worry, I didn’t fold it, it’s festering in baskets in the hall.) Doing any big cleaning projects ahead of time. Truth is, there’s pretty much zero chance I’m cleaning a toilet this week or vacuuming unless a glitter bomb explodes in my living room. My goal is to keep the house standing and the garbage from overflowing. And you know what? That’s OK. I’m giving myself permission to “slack off”.

Expect a Little More

As I pulled away from the airport I said to the kids “Alright. We’re going to have a good week, as long as we can all hold it together. I know you’re going to miss your Dad, but we can do this.” The big two know that they are going to be expected to help more than normal. That may mean watching Bits while I take a shower or be more on top of picking up after themselves.

And typically the big kids will step up to the plate. For example, this morning Zoe got up, got herself ready and once she was done with breakfast and when I wasn’t down with the boys and Bits, she had started making lunches. If she had made the coffee it would have been a perfect morning. Oliver took the initiative this morning to get all his baseball stuff together for tonight. I’m a firm believer, that if you set up the expectations they’ll rise to the occasion. For the most part, that’s how it’s worked for us.

Remember to Breathe

It’s easy to get super caught up in all the things that everyone else needs and forget about you. If you read this post, you know that I’m trying to be better about self-care. My goal for this week while Mark is gone is to not totally lose myself. I’m not talking about my nightly glass of wine as self-care. I am going to try to make sure that I actually stop and do some things for ME this week. I am not exactly sure what that is yet, I’ll try to update as I get through the week. Maybe a girls night in? Maybe I’ll wonder Target with Bits while the big three are in school. Mostly, just try not to lose my shit while I count down the minutes until Mark is home.

When You Get a Case of Mom Burnout

We’ve all been there. The kids are making us crazy, we’re short tempered, we’re exhausted, the house is a disaster but it’s just not getting picked up. Everything and everyone is on our last nerve. It’s not any one things that contribute to us getting to that point, but what can we do to keep from getting Mom Burnout? I’ve never planned on being a Stay At Home Mom. I honestly feel like I’m not very good at it. I am not a domestic goddess by any means. I don’t particularly enjoy play dates or mommy and me classes. I like having my own “thing” that gives me a purpose. Previously that was my job or volunteering with Safe Kids as a CPST. Currently, I’m working with FARE to coordinate the Triangle NC Food Allergy Heroes Walk (Learn more about why here). But I still feel like I get that Mom Burnout feeling from the daily grind.

A lot of the time, it sneaks up on me. I’ll notice that I’m snapping a little more at the kids or Mark. Or I’ll find myself irritated with little things, like the tiny socks I seem to find all over the house. Or it’s just a general feeling of the “can’t evens”.

How do you keep from getting to the breaking point? I’ve found that it’s important for me to try to head it off at the pass. Life with four kids (or any kids for that matter) gets crazy. It’s easy to let the week fly by in survival mode as we coordinate baseball schedules with chorus practice, make sure homework is done and everyone eats at least one meal a day with vegetables. Often when I look at the schedule on Saturday as I’m meal planning I think it’s going to be a long week but in reality it flys by.

Self-care

Self-care is a big buzz word in the mom community right now, but you know what? It’s important. When we’re rushing through the week and I’m trying to take care of everything and everyone else it’s easy for my needs to fall by the wayside. You can’t fill from an empty cup and I can bet if you asked 10 moms, 8 of those would admit to Mom Burnout and the other two are probably lying.

How do I do self-care? Sometimes it’s little things like watching trash TV during nap time instead of folding laundry or retreating to take a long hot shower with Pandora on loud while Mark does bedtime. Or maybe it’s saying “fuck it” to making that pan roasted pork loin for dinner and popping in a big old tray of Dino Nuggets because vegetables are overrated.

Sometimes I need to get out of the house alone. Grocery shopping, coffee (alone or with another mom), or getting my nails done, running some errands where I don’t have to buckle and unbuckle the car seat 37 times. Heck, even going to get an oil change on my Swagger Wagon can help. Sometimes it feels good to just have a little space to breathe without someone trying to climb back into your body (Eli and Bits are the most guilty of this) for an hour or two or four.

Date night is another way I do self-care. That seems sort of weird right? Being on a date is not by yourself, but being connected to my spouse helps keep me grounded. We need time when we’re Mark and Crystal instead of Mom and Where is Mom. We are better parents and better partners when we take that time for us. (Read more about how we stay connected here)

Have a Moms Night Out. Sometimes you need to get out with your “tribe” and relax a little. Have some drinks, talk about all the absurd stories about the shit your kids pulled this week. These are the people that get it because they’re in the trenches too. Remember 8 of your 10 friends need it because they’re suffering from Mom Burnout too.

Just Say No

There was once a time when I was absolutely over-committed. I was the master of taking on too much. Make cupcakes for school? SURE! Go on that field trip? ABSOLUTELY! Volunteer for that school committee? WHY THE HELL NOT? I’ll tell you why….. Mom Burnout.

Something I have learned in my old age is that it’s ok to say no. When someone asks you and you don’t want to do it, don’t. There is no need to feel guilty that you just can’t make 75 SunButter sandwiches cut into triangles for the preschool picnic. Three kids with school conferences in one week? It’s ok to skip conferences for the kid that is doing great in school and to check in by email instead. It’s ok to skip that play date because, for the love of God, you just need the baby to take a nap today. Protect your time, it’s ok.

There is no reason that you should feel guilty for being realistic. There is only so much you can take on and it’s ok because you’re human. Stretching yourself too thin is a disservice to yourself and your family. Everyone already has enough stress in their lives. Don’t add to it because you feel obligated to do all the things. So what if Jimmy’s mom is on the PTA?

Next time you look at your calendar and you have 5 things scheduled for Tuesday night, I want you to say no to at least 3 of those things. Practice saying “That’s just not going to work for us.” It feels good, I promise. And next time you start feeling that hint of Mom Burnout, as soon as your partner gets home, take that glass (bottle) of wine up to your bathroom, close and lock the door, blast your own Pandora station (with swears!), fill the tub and take a second to breathe and center yourself again.  You’ve got this!

Food Allergies – When Take Out Is Anything But Easy

There are sometimes when I want to phone it in as a mom. This week for example, Sunday we were in the ER with one sick kid who was home from school until Wednesday. (He’s fine, weird virus that mimicked appendicitis) I’ve been battling a cold since late last week, by Monday it hit me full on and I couldn’t deny I was sick anymore. Tuesday night, I didn’t want to feed anyone dinner. I was just drained. What’s a mom to do? Order carry out!

But it’s not that simple. Pizza you say? Well, we’d have to find something gluten (this is currently a dietary choice more than allergy, but a consideration for now), dairy, soy, nut and tomato free. How about boxed mac n cheese? That’s three kinds to meet everyones needs. Dairy free Daiya, gluten free Annie’s, and regular Annie’s. Frozen chicken tenders and fries? One kid has a potato allergy, so we have to make regular and sweet potato fries, plus gluten free and regular chicken tenders. At that point is it really easier??

Eating out presents the same challenges. We have a handful of safe places and we tend to stick with those. Those options are often not cheap either, ever feed a family of six at Chipotle? That’s a $40 affair, easy. Especially as the kids get older, the bigger two are at the weird in between stage, where a kids meal isn’t enough and the adult meal is too big.

I have people ask me a lot how we manage with our food allergies. I never really have a great awe inspiring answer. We manage because we have to, it’s our life. We cook from scratch most of the time, not because I’m a super awesome amazing mom, but because finding safe convenience foods is not an easy task. We tend to make healthier choices because of it. I’m grateful for that, but damn, sometimes I just want to pop a frozen pizza in the oven.