Feeling stuck

I am running on nothing.

Last week’s conference was a huge success. I need to write about it, about the people, especially, but I can’t even get my head around how to do that right now.

blogfest group shot 2016

There’s always this crash that happens after. It usually takes me about a week to recover from Blogfest, but this year has been extra special.

We went straight to Tahoe (so long, steamy Austin!), and the adjustment has been rough.

I am wiped out. Mackenzie is wiped out.

mackenzie bear suit

It’s the HAF. The dreaded, cacophonous HAF (high altitude flatulence), which strains and contorts Mac’s little body, and keeps us bicycling and bouncing through the night.

It’s the dark moments pre-dawn, when despair gives way to melodrama.

I’ll never sleep again.

I am sure of it, each time I start a new set of bicycles on her squishy little thighs.

It’s the pediatrician’s raised eyebrow as he says, your 6 month old is physiologically capable of sleeping through the night.

mackenzie merlin

It’s the moment when I look at my to-do list, rich with exciting projects I’m so inspired to charge into, especially after the heady dose of energy the conference always injects me with.

But I look at that list, and I just want to crawl away and hide.

It’s that Tigger died last week, and I pretended it didn’t happen so I could get through the conference without making everyone listen to me talk about my dog. Oh, and so I wouldn’t spend all weekend bawling my eyes out. 

tigger in the sand


Post-conference, I’m flirting with the denial phase of grief and also, occasionally, bawling my eyes out.


A photo posted by Alyse Mason Brill (@alysemb) on

Every time I walk into a room, I miss his outsized ears swiveling around to meet me, hopeful with the promise of playtime.





Every time I crawl into bed and have enough space and somewhere to actually put my feet, I miss the warm heft of his always-in-the-way body.

tigger on the pier

Every time I look at the lake, I miss him.

tigger pinecone

Every time I spot a pinecone, I miss him.

Every time a toilet paper roll needs changing, I miss him. Every time I finish a plate or bowl that could be licked clean, I miss him.


I know it was his time. He made cancer his bitch and lived 3 times longer than any of the professionals projected. More than once, they told us they were astonished he was still alive.

Nothing we can do. We’re not even sure how he’s still walking. 

I’m sure that in just this one week he’s spent in doggy heaven, he’s already blown past his personal best of 3 tennis balls in his mouth at once.

tigger 3 tennis balls


This feeling will pass, I know. I will sleep and we will get another dog and Mac will delight in her ability to fart independently.

In this moment, I’m sad. Tired. Stuck.

Wait, there's more!

Upgrading my gold star chart

When it comes to tracking my goals, I’m a big picture kind of person. All I really want to know is: did I exercise today? Yes or no. I don’t care how long, how many calories, if I went with friends or if I was thirsty or if I loved my playlist. I want the 10,000 foot view. Yes or no.

For years, I’ve been using basically a grown up version of a gold star chart (yes, like you had in kindergarten) to track activities I wanted to do on a daily basis. And by grown up, I mean when I ran out of stickers, I used a highlighter to give myself props for the day.

However… I found myself adding more and more rows to my chart, and it stopped being so visually compelling. When you start adding gold stars for exercising, flossing, hydrating, tummy time (for Mackenzie, duh), pumping, (I’m really invested in building up my freezer supply. Milk in the freezer = freedom for mama), and about 10 other things, it turns into too much data. It’s too hard to spot trends, like “bam, lady, you exercised 6 times this week! Let’s get some ice cream!”

And honestly, seeing those trends is what I’m really interested in. I don’t want to think too hard or crunch too many numbers; I just want to see the gold stars piling up. GIVE ME THE REWARDS, PEOPLE.

So. Long story short, I found an app that gives me exactly what I want. Except the stickers, but I’ll give them a pass on that. I’m totally obsessed with Strides after one week, so much so that I upgraded to their premium version within a few days of using it.

strides app

Each day, I check off my accomplishments, and it shows me high level trends and data if I want to see it … but I also don’t have to look if I don’t want to.

I get pretty obsessed with earning my gold stars. One day I flossed twice in a row just so I could cross off my goal for the day.

Watch out, world, I’m about to earn a lotta ice cream. Or some grown-up frappuccinos.

This might read like a sponsored post. Guess what? It’s not. I just really like this app.

Wait, there's more!

My own personal frappy hour

Years ago, when Jamie and I used to work out of various cafes around San Francisco, one of our regular haunts was the Starbucks on Fillmore. Wifi, seating, and available outlets were our main criteria.

sweat pink laptop skins starbucks

We’d usually begrudgingly order the same old tea with steamed soy, day after day, so sick of drinking tea but so aware of what a steal it was, in terms of rent cost.

I’ll never forget the day when, at the usually quiet-ish hour of 3pm—3:13pm to be exact—the store started filling up with all sorts of people. And these people behaved very strangely. Instead of going up and ordering, or avoiding eye contact with the baristas and grabbing a seat or an outlet without plunking down at least $1.85 for a tall coffee, they just stood there, near the counter, but not close enough to order.

Image Source

They coagulated in the open area where a line usually forms, all of them just… waiting. No one stepped up; no one elbowed through to be first in line.

We watched this bizarre group coalescing until 3:30pm on the dot, when suddenly the horde rushed for the counter. Moments later, they left, one or two at a time, with giant, frothy, whipped-cream topped beverages and satisfied grins on their faces.

Image source

We later learned that was the first day of Frappy Hour, and we soon came to know that every day, eager sugar-hungry people would arrive just before 3:30 and wait, counting down the seconds until their blended concoction was available at half price.

Naturally, we took great delight in the spectacle of frappy hour. Who were these people, and why did they care so much that they arrived early to wait for frappy hour? Was this the best part of their day? And why, oh why, did so many people LIKE frappuccinos?

We took turns coming up with the most ridiculous sounding beverage, and threatening to order it for one another. We’d say, “I’m going to get you a venti mocha orange creamsicle mint cookie blast with apple caramel crumble and make you drink it!”

Mockery and juvenilia aside, I secretly wished I liked frappuccinos, especially as I ordered my boring hot tea day after day. I love the idea of an iced blended treat, and of adding in some variety into how I paid my rent; I just hated the taste and how the sugar content turned my stomach into a roiling queasy mess.

The fact is, I’m super boring when it comes to food and beverages. (Maybe purist is a kinder word). I like my coffee strong and black. I’ll take my nut butters without the sugar and oil and other additives. I think flavored yogurt is a crime against nature. I stick to a tried and true smoothie rut: frozen berries, spinach, plain yogurt, plain protein powder, almond butter. I know, I know, it’s almost criminal how much fun I am. 😉

mackenzie with berry smoothie

Done and done.

raspberry smoothie selfie

The other day, I was out of all those things. No yogurt in the fridge. No berries in the freezer. Nothing in the house but a fussy baby and a hangry me. I decided to improvise a smoothie without berries or yogurt (SAY WHAT?!).

I’d been using, and loving, Bob’s Red Mill protein powder—the unflavored one, thankyouverymuch—and scoured my pantry for anything, anything, I could add to turn plain ol’ protein powder into a meal.

berry smoothie bob's red mill protein powder
Did I mention I ONLY drink berry smoothies?

I found, first, the cute little card that Bob’s Red Mill sent with the protein powders, with various recipes on it. I happened to have all the ingredients for their oatmeal cookie smoothie (well, no dates, but hey, close enough).

Bob's Red Mill smoothie recipe card

Hmm, I thought. That sounds like something I’d hate. But maybe it’s worth a go. What do I have to lose?

Answer: half a cup of oatmeal, a cup of almond milk, and a scoop of chai protein powder that I had not yet opened and already decided I disliked. 

In went the ingredients, with some almond butter to make up for the missing dates, and some peanut butter granola on top for an extra crunch.

oatmeal cookie smoothie

Guess what, guys? I fucking loved it. It was a fucking perfect afternoon treat that made me feel all yummy inside and kept me full until dinnertime. It tasted exactly how I wanted a frappuccino to taste, only so much better. It tasted like a grown up, balanced, healthy frothy beverage that just happened to have protein powder in it.

I loved it so much I had a second one for dessert later that night.

And then I tried all the other Bob’s Red Mill flavors that I had so judgily decided I didn’t like, and I fucking love those too.

almond mocha smoothie
This one’s called an Almond Mocha. I should categorically HATE it, but I can’t get enough. I would totes show up early and wait in line for this.


That plain flavor that I swore by when I first got my package is sitting, lonely and abandoned, in my pantry while I celebrate healthy frappy hour in my kitchen on the daily.


bob's red mill chocolate smoothie
With cacao nibs and hemp hearts on top? Hellz yeah.


I’m revising those frappy threats into a way more positive version:

I’m going to give you a chocolate peanut butter / oatmeal cookie / vanilla frappy and be jealous while you drink it.

This post was sponsored by Bob’s Red Mill. All opinions & strong language are my own. I really do love this stuff, and I also love it when you support the brands that support the Sweat Pink community.

Wait, there's more!

Our get out of the house morning routine

Nathan and I have split up childcare by time of day, meaning I take Mackenzie in the mornings and he takes her in the afternoons, so we can each get some work done. (More on how that’s working, or not working, in an upcoming post!)

I’ve found that for the sake of my sanity, we have to get out of the house in the mornings. Otherwise I end up still in pajamas, with makeup creased down my face, and the crazies in my head spinning out of control.

alyse mackenzie warrior 2 zilker park
Yay, we made it to the park!
tigger stick at zilker
Tigger loves this routine, too.

Of course, getting out of the house with a baby is an art that for first time moms, takes some practice to get used to. Some mornings, just brushing my hair feels like a major accomplishment—forget loading up the baby, stroller, and diaper bag into the car and getting ourselves somewhere else. My sunglasses and keys always seem to be in different rooms, and I never have enough hands to pacify a screaming baby, find my stuff, and get out the door.

That said, over the last few weeks I’ve been consciously working on a routine that seems to ease those roadblocks to getting out. Here’s what’s helped us:

Collect your belongings the night before

alyse mac tigger with diaper bag
I learned the hard way you always, always need your diaper bag with you. Whoops.

Every night after Mac falls asleep, I spend about 10 minutes collecting all the rogue items that have scattered around the apartment: pacifier, my wallet, headphones, diaper bag, water bottle, baby carrier, etc, and load them back into the diaper bag so that’s ready to go in the morning. I also restock  the diaper bag with diapers, burp cloths, and backup outfits.

Have a get-everyone-fed routine

We start the morning with Mackenzie’s (fourth) breakfast, then after a diaper change, I put her in her bouncy chair so I can make coffee and a smoothie. Feeding and caffeinating myself is so important and really affects the rest of our day.

alyse mackenzie smoothie

My smoothie is a protein explosion that also includes oats and spinach to help with milk supply.

manitoba harvest hemp protein smoothie ingredients

manitoba harvest hemp protein smoothie and baby

I’m super in to the new Hemp Protein Smoothie from Manitoba Harvest – the berry flavor is delicious, and it includes greens. One less ingredient to pull out of the fridge!

Just fucking go

It’s really easy to get caught up in “oh, maybe I should wait until after her next meal / diaper / nap before I go” decision fatigue. Whenever I find myself waffling, I remind myself to just fucking go. Nursing, diaper changing, and naps can all happen in the car / in public / wherever they need to happen.

mackenzie napping postnatal yoga
This nap happened during our postnatal yoga class. She’s so good at savasana.


alyse mackenzie at zilker
This is also a nap. Funny thing, we get way better nap results when we’re out and about.


So that’s how we’re doing it, so far. It’s far from perfect; it still takes us an embarrassing amount of time to leave the house and also to come back in. But at least we’re out and about. :)

Wait, there's more!

How to make postpartum fitness more fun

I’m 11 weeks postpartum and am back into working out, but definitely not BACK in terms of frequency, intensity, or fitness level. It’s strangely motivating and demotivating to discover how deconditioned I’ve become. For example, I can’t even do a single chaturanga on my feet, and even though I did deep, delicious backbends throughout pregnancy, I can barely get into one currently.

Fitting back into some of my clothes has also helped motivate me to get back into the game. It’s so pleasurable to wear something other than the 3 shirts I wore on endless loop for the last few months of pregnancy, and the lounge clothes that I lived in for the first fuzzy postpartum weeks.

I still have a long way to go until I feel like I’m back to where I was, pre-baby, but here’s what I’ve found helps me get going and keep working at it:

Get your partner on board

My husband knows all too well that I’m much nicer to be around when I’m regularly exercising, so it’s in his own self-interest to make sure I get time for that. Since we’re both back at work, and don’t have any outside childcare (more on how we’re managing—or not—to come), finding time to work out requires some creativity, and Nathan has been nothing short of amazing at helping make it happen.

I’ve been doing a lot of Baby Strong Workouts, since that’s childcare + sweat in one easy, portable package.

sweat pink prana baby strong
Wearing: prAna top and tights. These have been the kindest, most flattering options for my new body!

I’m also dipping my toes back into running.

Since I don’t run very far, that’s a super quick way to get some endorphins. :)

Once or twice a week, I make it to a yoga class, and make it home just in time to feed a screaming baby. The benefits I get from even a very reduced practice balance the guilt I feel about leaving her, and leaving Nathan with only a bottle to console her. (She’ll take the bottle, but she definitely prefers the boob).

Use fitness as a way to find community

I’m desperate to meet other new moms, especially those who have babies around the same age as Mackenzie, so I’ve been exploring mommy & me fitness opportunities, from postpartum yoga to stroller fitness classes.

stroller stretching tahoe

Confession time: I have signed up for TWO Stroller Strides classes and have made it to neither (sorry, instructor!). They’re morning classes, and well, both mornings that I intended to go, shit happened. Literally.

There’s always next week.

Make sure you have clothes you feel confident in

Most of my pre-baby workout clothes were form-fitting pre-baby. That means that post-baby, they create some unfortunate bulges that my ego just can’t handle taking out in public. Luckily, a few of my go-to pieces still work. I’ve found that of all the brands I own, my prAna clothes have been the most accommodating and flattering throughout this journey. Take, for example, this amazing top:


sweat pink prana

4 months pregnant

prana top during pregnancy

11 weeks postpartum

prana sweat pink
These prAna tights also worked at 4 months pregnant; I just rolled the waistband down to accommodate the belly.


I end up wearing the same outfit over and over again, because it’s the one I feel most confident in. And we all know that feeling good about how you look is key to actually getting out there. Vanity is a powerful motivator.

psst: in case you need an excuse to try out some prAna gear yourself, they’re offering a 15% off discount that ends TODAY: prAnaSpringStyleS16. In addition to the items I’m wearing here, I LOVE their swimsuits. 

Try something new

Not just for the novelty or the cross-training: trying something new can also save your ego. It’s HARD going back to the activities you used to do and discovering just how much your body has changed and how much work you have to do to get back to where you were. (I’m looking at you, yoga!)

I was able to go skiiing a couple of times this winter, and while it’s not technically new to me, it’s an activity that I have zero ego attached to (I’ve always been a beginner at best).

skiing tahoe

I really enjoyed getting outside without seeing any noticeable difference in my skills. The glute workout was a nice bonus, too. :)

I’m doing my best to get into a routine, even though destroying routines are what babies do best. My goal I’ve set for myself is to be able to hold my own in all the celebrity workouts at BlogFest this year. I’ve got a few months to make it happen!


Wait, there's more!

No mo’ muffintop

Well, I’m 9 weeks postpartum, and I’m just starting to wean myself off the couch and back into activities.

I found out at around 5 weeks that I had diastasis recti—fancy speak for my abdominal muscles having succumbed to the pressure of my pregnant belly and separated.

When I first found out, I did the dumb thing: I googled, then freaked out.

Then I did the smart thing: I got on the phone with the founder of Baby Strong Workout, and she calmed me down in a matter of minutes. I’m keeping an eye on my abs and not overdoing any dedicated abdominal exercises, but am otherwise easing back into fitness without any restrictions. In fact, I got back on the mat  (humbling, invigorating), and I’ve been getting back into strength training and cardio in an entirely new and fun way.

My main goal has to do with strengthening. Thanks to breastfeeding, I’ve lost a fair amount of the 42 pounds I gained, just by sitting around being a milk machine. I’m not down to my pre-pregnancy weight, but some of my looser clothes from that era are starting to fit (yippee!).

That’s where the good news ends, though. I may be able to button my jeans, but they don’t feel or look quite the way they used to. They pinch in unflattering places, and I’m softer, flabbier, jigglier, and more muffin-toppier. Right now, I’m less concerned with losing weight and more concerned with regaining the muscles that began softening over 9 months of pregnancy and then fully disappeared during the last 7 weeks of couch-sitting milk-machining recovery.

So here’s what I’m up to:

I’m taking the #babystrongchallenge

I’ve got this super handy (droolproof!) deck of baby-friendly workouts thanks to Baby Strong Workout.

baby strong workout deck closed
Tiger socks not included. ;)


Each of the moves in the deck has you use your baby as the weight—and the moves get really creative with mommy and me exercises.


Each day, I’m doing some light cardio, as in, I’m carrying Mackenzie while I walk. No carriers, no strollers, no husbands to help; just me and the baby, taking a little tour of the outside world.

baby strong workout walking


Then I’ve got a prescribed strength training workout, along with some stretching.

baby strong workout hinge and serve

I love the variety of moves in the deck: I’ve been doing the workouts for two weeks now, and as someone who REALLY STRUGGLES with self-motivation around home workouts, this was crucial. All the cards are color-coded with the type of move, too, so it’s easy to find a core move or a lower-body strengthener with one hand.

baby strong workout deck open closeup

Since all the workouts include—no, depend on—Mackenzie, I don’t have to figure out baby sitting, or feel guilty for taking some me time. (Which I DO feel guilty about, even though I know I shouldn’t, but that’s another post for another day.)

baby strong workout bridge

You can check out my daily workouts on Instagram, so come on over there and follow along … or, better yet, join me in the challenge, and make sure to tag #babystrongchallenge so I can follow your workouts! It doesn’t matter how old your baby is—just keep in mind that the heavier they are, the more intense the workout. :)

baby strong workout side lunge left

One move that’s not in the deck that I think qualifies as a total body move is trying to roll up and grab your yoga mat, in the wind, while holding a screaming baby. 😉

baby strong workout yoga mat move

I started feeling stronger after just a few days of just using Mackenzie as my weight. And since you can do a full workout in less than an hour, it’s easy to squeeze one in between nursing sessions.

The biggest change this deck has prompted for me, though, is what I do with all the weird little pockets of time you get with an infant. So many times I’ve put her down, pulled out my computer to do some work, and then immediately had to reverse course and pick her up again. She knows exactly when I’m about to dive into something and chooses that moment to demand attention.

So, instead of pacing while I’m trying to soothe her in the middle of the night, I do one of the Baby Strong moves.

sweat pink baby strong challenge
Just wall sitting in my pajamas at 3am. NBD.

Instead of just sitting there and cheering her on during tummy time, I’ll stretch or do another move—all while still cheering her on, of course. Just adding those one-off moves into my daily life has made me feel happier, more awake, and more in control (such an elusive feeling with a baby) of my day. Each day, I pull out a couple different moves and leave them as reminders in key places: next to the changing table, next to Mackenzie’s bouncy chair, and on the bedside table.

You can find the Baby Strong Workout deck here – it’s a full postpartum fitness plan for less than a Barry’s or Soul class. Or a babysitter, for that matter. 😉

Wait, there's more!

Save the nipples!

You’ve been warned: this post is about boobs in the least sexy way possible. If that doesn’t appeal, head on over to this more lighthearted post. 

Up until shortly before Mackenzie was born, it never occurred to me that breastfeeding would be hard. Intuitively, it just makes sense that the way humans have survived and thrived must be natural and easy.

NOT TRUE. As a cursory internet search and the proliferation of La Leche League chapters will quickly demonstrate, breastfeeding is rife with challenges.

My first month was difficult. Mostly in the pain department. There were weeks when each feeding found me gritting my teeth and curling my toes and whimpering under my breath as tears streamed down my face. There was that weekend when I could only bear to latch her on the right, and that other time when the left was the only one I’d let her near. There were the blisters and the bleeding and the elaborate pillow arrangements and the early morning despair.

mackenzie milk drunk 2 weeks
Her milk drunk face is the only thing that kept me going.


Six weeks in, I’m happy to report that while the girls are still (STILL!) healing, we’ve gotten through the worst of it, and I wanted to share what helped me survive those first excruciating weeks. Here are my save the nipples breastfeeding essentials:

Lactation consultant

I saw lactation consultants while in the hospital with Mackenzie, so when Nathan suggested that I make an appointment with a private LC, I was skeptical at first. I’d already gotten instructions and help latching; what else would they do?

But I reached a point of desperation and finally called one. Gamechanging. She was worth her weight in gold. In one appointment, her guidance totally reversed the direction we were headed in, helped me back down from my breaking point, and helped prevent additional damage to the girls.

Ameda ComfortGel Pads

ameda comfortgel pads

Lifesavers, these things. When you’re in pain, these offer a cooling barrier between your nipples and your bra. When you have open wounds or new skin that is attempting to heal, these protect you from those grabby fibers in your bra or clothes. If you don’t know what I mean, just trust me.

I’ve tried all the brands on the market, and the Ameda pads are hands down the best. The Medela and Lansinoh pads are a little too sticky for my taste; I wanted a barrier, not a bandaid. The Ameda pads are more expensive than the other brands, but they do last longer. Even if they didn’t, they’re still worth the extra cash.

NUK Lanolin

nuk lanolin with avocado

This was a gift from a mama friend, and I’ve restocked a few times already. Soothing, lubricating, and safe for baby. Win.

Golden Salve

the golden salve

I used this to help heal wounds. The lanolin is a great moisture barrier, but the Golden Salve will actually promote healing. Bonus: if you’re chafing in, ahem, other areas, thanks to wearing diaper-sized maxi pads for weeks on end, this helps out that situation, too.

Advil, advil, advil

Just do it. You need this.

My brest friend pillow

brest friend

I add this one to the list reluctantly, because truth be told, I have a love-hate relationship with this pillow. Or really, more of a I-need-it-but-I-hate-it relationship. After I first saw the LC, every time Mackenzie was hungry, I would religiously get into my glider and use no fewer than 3 folded up towels plus this pillow to help us get the latch right. I loathed having to go through this ritual 10-12 times a day, but being diligent about positioning and support did help me heal.

The pillow is really not made for tall ladies; I need several other pillows or folded towels propping it up underneath to get it to the right height. All that arranging is fucking annoying, especially at 3am when you really just want to be in bed and your baby is frantic. The “lumbar support” is more uncomfortable than supportive. But the waist strap at least helps it stay closer to your body than a regular old pillow would.

Support from your family and friends

Everyone who helped us in those early weeks was really supportive of my breastfeeding Mackenzie, and very sympathetic to the challenges. My husband would help me get set up in my glider, then hand-deliver a hungry baby so I didn’t have to manage the set up while also wrangling a starving, screaming baby. He’s the one who originally encouraged me to see the LC, and he was right.

My mom, my mother-in-law, and my sister-in-law, all of whom came and stayed with us and helped in those early weeks, were all so supportive and empathized with the frustrations and challenges of establishing breastfeeding. Their encouragement and willingness to listen to me vent went a long, long way.

If you have any items to add to the list, please share—I’m still in the process of optimizing this ritual, 8-12 times a day.

Wait, there's more!

Mackenzie’s birth story

Consider yourself warned: this is LONG. Potentially graphic. Includes just about every bodily fluid you can imagine. 

The night of Monday, January 11 was different than most other nights, but only because we stayed up way past our bedtime having dinner with new friends. I flouted all sorts of pregnancy rules and ate sushi and drank a tiny bit of champagne and listened to my friend’s birth story. Short version: her water broke two days before her due date; her midwife (who also happens to be my midwife) put her on a castor oil and vodka regimen, her contractions started, and the next morning her son arrived, happy, healthy, and at home.

“Well,” I joked, “if I follow your example, I guess I’ll be having Moonshine tomorrow.”

Just a few hours later, I woke up at 3am to pee (no surprise there), walked out to the kitchen to get water (totally normal also) and then felt myself peeing all over my legs, unable to control or stop the deluge (big surprise there).

It was, of course, not urine but my water breaking. Moonshine had clearly been taking notes during dinner.

20 minutes later, my parents were on their way to the airport, I had marching orders from my midwife, and I was back in bed, doing my best to fall back asleep despite the overwhelming awareness that sometime in the next 24-ish hours shit was going to get real real.

I spent that day waiting for labor to start on its own, and to cross off all those last minute things on my work transition list. I was grateful to have a few hours to tie up loose ends before labor really kicked in, and the looming deadline amped up my productivity into an exhilarating frenzy.

By evening, I was still contraction free, still leaking amniotic fluid. I knew that as recently as a few days before, I hadn’t been dilated or effaced at all, so my body had a lot of work to do to get this baby out before time ran out.*

Time to jumpstart this process.

Around 6pm, I started my prescribed regimen of breast pumping, stair climbing, and herbs. My mom, good sport that she is, climbed up and down the dreary emergency-only stairwell in our building with me.

stair climbing in labor
Stair climbing in birkenstocks, because those are the only shoes that still fit my swollen feet.


After having taken it easy on the exercise front for 9 months, and with an extra 40 pounds to lug around, those stairs were hard. My 20 minute sets of climbing left my legs shaky and burning, in an almost-pleasant, remember-what-exercise-feels-like? kind of way.

At 9pm, it was time to pre-party: I shot two ounces each of castor oil and vodka. 

shooting castor oil labor
I think my shirt pretty much sums up the whole situation.

Having exhausted all my labor-starting tactics, I woozily watched a Jennifer Aniston rom-com with my family, kept downing electrolytes in anticipation of the castor oil’s powers of dehydration, and waited for contractions to hit.

I’d been advised that the best way to handle early labor was to take on some kind of project: to make a meal, take a walk, go to the movies. Basically, distract yourself until the contractions draw you in and blind you from everything except that moment and that sensation. I’d imagined my project would be to take a very slow walk along the lake with Nathan, or maybe take Tigger out for a hike. Something in nature, but not too far from home, sounded perfect.

Reality was a little different from that vision, and not just because it was 11:30pm: my unchosen but absolutely mandatory beginning of labor project was to station myself on the toilet, leaking from just about every orifice. There in my tiny cubicle, as my insides liquefied faster than I could chug electrolytes, I had some bloody show, and the contractions sprung into action at a brisk 5 minutes apart, lasting between 45 seconds and a minute each. In under an hour, they were 2-3 minutes apart and lasting at least a minute each. Meanwhile, I was still toilet-trapped, practicing my yoga breathing as my body did its best to turn itself inside out. 

When the castor oil had finally exhausted my body’s capacity for elimination, I draped myself over my yoga ball and called my midwife.

She arrived around 1am and checked my cervix. I was a 3.

I was disappointed by the results; even though I’d only been in labor for an hour and a half, it had been a gung-ho hour and a half. Since the contractions had leapt right over those warm-up hours, into the frequency you expect in active labor, I’d (foolishly?) hoped my cervix would keep pace. She suggested I get into the bath, and let me know that even though she usually goes home when a woman in labor is only a 3, she was going to stay with me.

early labor
Thrilled to be a 3. :/

At that point, I realized, without admitting it to myself, that something wasn’t right. We’d talked extensively about the bath for relaxation and pain relief, and she had consistently told me we’d save that luxury for transition. But I hopped on in.

That was when the back labor reared its ugly head: a searing, vise-like pain in my lower back that intensified with each contraction but, unlike the contractions, didn’t release in between, and was only made bearable by the counter pressure dutifully applied by my mom or Nathan as each contraction ramped up. No matter what position I tried—kneeling over the bed, sitting on the edge of a chair, leaning on my yoga ball, hands and knees, etc—there was no escaping it. More often than not, one of my support team would take my back while the other held a trash can or towel for me to puke in. God knows how there was anything left to puke up after my castor oil adventures, but time and again, my stomach reliably delivered back its contents.

My midwife checked me again. I was a 5, and starting to be effaced.

Again, disappointment. She was really encouraging about the progress I’d made and suggested I get back in the tub to help me relax and get energy to keep going. She assured me I’d come very far in very little time, but I couldn’t help but think, only halfway there, and I’m already feeling pretty ragged.

labor in the tub
Next time, I’m going to get an actual birthing tub rather than lining mine in plastic. It was so slippery it was hard to get comfortable.


A while later (who knows how long?! Time was unintelligible by that point) I got back out of the tub, and sat on the edge of the bed, knees wide, leaning forward so that Nathan could have access to my back, and the trajectory between my throat and the trash can was short enough to reasonably ensure successful deposits. My midwife checked Moonshine’s heartbeat and heard some deceleration she wasn’t comfortable with. She had me lie on my side in bed, where Moonshine’s heartbeat picked back up, but where I crossed into a new threshold of pain.

tigger during labor
Tigger definitely thought I was dying at this point.


The sounds coming out of my mouth were at a pitch and urgency I didn’t know I was capable of making. Nothing that I’d read about or practiced seemed to help. Yogi breathing, hypnobirthing breathing, vocalizing, counterpressure, surrendering to the pain: it all felt inadequate to the unrelenting and pulverizing pain in my back. I needed a way out of my body. With each contraction, I felt myself tensing and curling and begging for a change in position, a way out. As much as I tried to surrender to the sensations the way all my childbirth books had taught me to do, I simply couldn’t. I was stuck in the intensity.

I had all too recently been pronounced only halfway through this first phase of labor, but I took that feeling of desperation as a glimmer of hope: maybe I’d made it to transition? Maybe this hitting the wall was a sign that I’d arrived at the worst of it, and if I could just moan and bear it for a little while longer, this would all be over.

She checked me again. A 7. Not in transition yet. That meant it was only going to get worse.

My midwife started an IV to help replenish the fluids I’d lost over the last few hours, and not too long after, she was kneeling beside me, gently but firmly telling me that we needed to transfer. In the least alarming way possible (I can’t for the life of me remember how she communicated the message so gently, but she was a master at it), she let me know I was too dehydrated; Moonshine’s heart rate decelerations were alarming; and we weren’t close enough to the finish line for her to feel comfortable proceeding at home. She asked Nathan how much longer he thought I could go on. When he estimated 6 hours, I wanted to scream, fuck no, I do not have another 6 hours in me! but the contraction mangled that sentence into yet another primal wail.

By that point, I had zero preference about how it happened as long as I could get this baby OUT. “Let’s go,” I said, never more certain of anything in my life.

She suggested we call an ambulance but Nathan insisted he could get us there faster.

The driving time to the hospital was mercifully short: 4 contractions, 7 minutes. The only position I could handle contractions in was on my hands and knees, so our trip was punctuated by me sinking to hands and knees to groan through another wave in all sorts of unlikely places:

  • The hallway outside our apartment, waiting for the elevator
  • Inside the elevator (much to the confusion of a FedEx delivery person)
  • On the ground in the parking garage, halfway between the elevator and our car
  • 4 times in the backseat of the car (even my safety-officer husband let me slide on not wearing a seatbelt)
  • Inside the revolving door at the hospital (a crawling and contracting two-for-one)
  • In the hospital lobby
  • In the hospital elevator (I lurched out of the wheelchair, elbowed some space for myself, and made my unfortunate fellow passengers hold the door at my floor until it passed and I could get back into the wheelchair).
  • On the labor and delivery bed, as the anesthesiologist stood behind me, needle poised for entry as soon as the contraction passed

Let me tell you, crawling in a revolving door, then lurching into a hospital lobby and immediately falling to your hands and knees while moaning will get you the speediest attention and care you can imagine. They even called a code for me over the loudspeaker: “Dr. Stork to the lobby!”

As I waited for the epidural to kick in, I once again had to be on my back. Nathan and my mom held my hands as I groaned through each contraction. My mantra between contractions became, “Not as bad as the last one. Not as bad as the last one. This is almost over. Almost over.”

At last, the drugs and the IV worked their magic, and I found my body relaxing into itself again. I watched the contractions happening on the monitor, blissfully unaware of their impact in my body. They had me lie on my side with a big pillow between my legs to try to encourage Moonshine to rotate; apparently she’d wiggled into a new position again and that was causing the back labor.

after the epidural
This smile brought to you by drugs.


The next time they checked me, I was an 8, and 90% effaced. The easiest centimeter yet.

I continued laboring for a few more hours, the only reminder of the pain a hotspot in my lower back. It was just a shadow of what had once been, a continual reminder to be grateful for the epidural.

The nurse checked me again and said, “Oh! There’s the baby!” I’d labored her down to station 3 (basically, right about to crown).

The pushing started almost immediately. That was the strangest sensation: I had 4 or 5 people holding my legs, giving me instructions on how to push, and I had zero feelings below the waist, so it was all physical guesswork. But eventually it all worked out, because suddenly there was this baby being handed to me, a baby with a head full of dark hair who promptly pooped on my chest and then was whisked away from me.

mackenzie's skin to skin

I’ve lost the memory of the next few hours almost entirely. I remember being stitched up as sensation slowly returned to my legs; I remember the nurse in my postpartum room hustling to get me to the NICU before they closed for shift change; I remember my mom waking me up at 1am and wheeling me through the hospital because the NICU team had just given us the green light to hold Mackenzie.

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Seeing her in the NICU was the most surreal experience: here was this human whom I’d created and then evicted from my body, only to find her on a mechanical life support, covered in tubes and tape and breathing apparatuses. I could scarcely believe she’d come out of me, could scarcely fathom why she was there, could scarcely connect the dots of the last few hours.

It took me several days to piece together how it all happened, and to come to terms with the major change of plans. I’d wanted a home birth not so much because I wanted to be a martyr, or because I particularly relish pain, but because I found the idea of letting a natural process take place so beautiful. I read everyone from Ina May Gaskin to Ricki Lake and eagerly lapped up what they were selling. I wanted what biology intended: that cocktail of hormones that help prepare you for birth and that help you bond with your baby and help your milk come in. I didn’t want a cascade of interventions that may or may not be necessary. I wanted the experience to be on my terms, not on a malpractice-shy and policy-and-procedures-driven doctor’s terms. I loved the thought of never leaving home, but just snuggling up with our newborn, in our bed, with all our creature comforts around us.

2016-01-25 12.27.08

As it turned out, the things I most feared happened:

  • I ended up in the hospital
  • I delivered on my back, with my legs in stirrups
  • I had the ‘cascade of interventions’: an epidural, pitocin, stitches
  • I had a second degree tear
  • Mackenzie was taken away from me after just a few seconds of skin to skin; it would be hours before I would see her again, and days before we’d go home together

And it all turned out for the best, despite all those things I’d wanted to avoid happening. I had the most incredible support team, and I’m so grateful the NICU doctors were right there to help Mackenzie start breathing. (Apparently it took her a good 45 minutes and a lot of effort on their part to get her to pink up).

The question I haven’t answered for myself is what I would (or will) do differently next time. My midwives gave me the most beautiful prenatal and postnatal care: personal, non-interventionist, holistic. I’m grateful that I experienced at least part of a natural labor. That edge, where I was convinced my pelvis would shear in half, was one I wanted to experience (though I probably would have been fine with a little less time spent there!). I wanted to know what my body was capable of, and I wanted to know what I was capable of. That said, I’m honestly not sure if I could hack it all the way through, or if I’d want to. Maybe if I’d eased into labor rather than slamming right into that intense frequency, I would have made it to the finish line? 

I don’t know. In any case, that epidural was fucking magical. I’m not ruling out a repeat just yet.

And, of course, the most important thing is this: we all made through the experience healthy and happy. Mackenzie had her own agenda in birth, just as she did when she was in the womb, and she must have known that she’d need a little extra support once she made her debut, and she found a way to make it happen.

*Hospitals will usually give you about 24 hours from rupture; the midwives were comfortable with about 36. Either way, my deadline for a natural delivery was fast approaching.

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How to lose 20 pounds in one week

Step 1: Get pregnant, gain 40 pounds

pre pregnancy and post pregnancy splits


Step 2: Have an 8 pound baby

2016-01-13 15.40.21

Step 3: Sweat profusely at night.

Get all those extra pregnancy fluids out. Soak through your pajamas and sheets and all those stray burp cloths floating around your bed. (Are they clean? Dirty? No one knows.)

Yeah, no pictures here, folks.

Step 4: Breastfeed that baby like it’s going out of style.

mackenzie sleeping on my chest
She prefers to be fed hourly, on the hour.


There you have it. That’s how to lose 20 pounds in one week. Easy peasy, right?

Some side effects you should be aware of:

  • Losing all those pregnancy fluids will mean you are dry, dry, dry. I’m talking skin, lips, hair. Bring on the chapstick and the lotion and the constant hydration efforts.
  • The remaining 20 pounds will likely be heavily concentrated in your belly. When you lie on your side, it will puddle next to you in bed like a soft little pet. It’s the perfect cuddle buddy for your baby (for all you cosleepers out there).
  • Through no effort of your own (besides getting knocked up) your boobs will be rock hard and your stomach will be boundlessly voluptuous and pillowy.

In all seriousness, I’m planning on sharing the trials and tribulations of postpartum fitness, weight, and body here, because, um, fitness is kind of what I do. Or used to do, before all of the above took place. 😉

I was shocked to see myself 20 pounds down after just one week, especially because the day we came home from the hospital, I had only lost 7 pounds. As in, LESS than the weight of the actual baby.

I’m sure these next 20 will be a different story. I’m not in any rush to hop on any diet or weight loss plan, not least because my hourly milk machine duties leave me ravenous, but once I’m cleared for exercise, I do have some plans, and a few tricks in my back pocket, for how I’m going to recover some of my missing muscles. (Abs, I’m looking at you).


Also, coming soon: Mackenzie’s birth story. This one is taking me forever to write, but it’s in the cooker, people.



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My external version experience

If we’re connected on social media, you’ve probably seen me fretting over the last month or more about how Moonshine was stubbornly, happily breech, and how I was doing everything I could to encourage her to rotate head down.

I swam.

I did yoga for days.

I did all the exercises on spinningbabies.com.

I went to the chiropractor for the first and second time in my life.

My husband even angled our couch for me since we didn’t have an ironing board for me to recline on.

inclined couch
Truth be told, I didn’t last here for very long; it was too hard to breathe.


I went to a therapist in case it was an emotional problem. (More couch time!)

I spent as much time as possible standing or bouncing on a yoga ball instead of sitting.

My family (BEST FAMILY EVER) even made me a video on Christmas, when I was moping about being alone in Austin instead of home with them. You HAVE to watch the latest from Jamie King Productions:

Are they the best or what?!

And despite all those efforts, Moonshine happily persisted in headbutting my ribs.

So it came down to doing an ECV, or external version.

I shouldn’t have read the stories on the internet about the procedure, but of course I did. They overwhelmingly fell into two categories: failures that led to C-sections, and catastrophic outcomes that led to far worse.

I was pretty anxious leading up to it, not least because the optimal day to have it done (right at 37 weeks) was on Christmas Eve, and shockingly enough, that day was hard to schedule. Waiting for my appointment to be confirmed basically ruined my (possibly overly optimistic?) plans to go home for Christmas, and also shot my nerves for about the whole week leading up to it. Good thing my midwives are used to nervous first time moms…

Anyway. My appointment finally got scheduled for the Monday after Christmas, when I was 37 weeks and 4 days. (They won’t do the procedure before 37 weeks, but recommend doing it as close to 37 weeks as possible, because smaller the baby is, the easier she is to turn).

My mom heard the 1% risk of it leading to an emergency C-section and decided that risk was too great to … er… risk, so she flew out for the procedure. I’m so grateful she was able to come and hold my hand. But I get ahead of myself.

We showed up at 10am as directed, only to discover that I’d been rescheduled for 2:30pm – and no one had bothered to let me know. Normally these things don’t drive me crazy, but in this case I hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink since 10pm the night before. So hungry. And now I had several more hangry, parched hours to go. For someone whose pregnancy has been characterized by constant snacking, this was a really. big. deal.

ecv experience
No, I am not panicking about the prospect of many more hours of no food or drink. Not panicking at all.

We ran some errands and generally tried to distract ourselves for the next few hours.

Don’t tell my doctor or anyone else at the hospital, but I totally broke the rules. I was NOT going to make it a total of 20 hours without some kind of liquids. I drank some SOS Mango – a decision authorized by my mom, an R.N.  That was possibly the best decision I made all day and it officially never happened.

My appointment time finally rolled around again, and we showed up again, only to be told by a very stern nurse that I could only have one person in the room with me. I almost fell apart at that point. My mom had flown out from California just for this; of course my husband had to be there; and my midwife was coming as well, and I definitely wanted her in the room. Making a pregnant lady go for 16 hours without anything to eat or drink was already bordering on cruel and unusual punishment, in my book, and I did NOT want get bullied into some dumb policy.

We put our foot down—or rather, my mom, who is a hospital administrator and knows how that shit works—put her foot down. I always knew that if for any reason I needed bulldogs to back me up and represent my interests during labor, my mom and my husband would be a fearsome combo. Luckily, the hospital backed down pretty easily, and despite protests that there wasn’t enough space, ushered us into a very spacious labor and delivery room.

Getting set up with an IV and answering all sorts of questions took about an hour. So hungry. They attempted to draw blood but I was literally too dehydrated: nothing came out of my IV, so the nurse gave up.

Finally, it was time to get this show on the road. So hungry. They gave me a powerful cocktail of fentanyl, phenergan, and terbutaline. The effects were almost immediate: I could feel myself slipping into a deep, foggy relaxation. I was awake and aware of what was going on, but my body felt totally blissed out and asleep.

The doctor oiled up my belly (olive oil. Who knew?) and got to work. After all I’d read online about how awful versions are, I have to say, I was expecting way worse. It had moments of really intense pressure, but not horrible. I kept my eyes closed and focused on my breathing (thanks, yoga) and there were just a few times when I gasped or moaned in pain. I’m really grateful for the drugs; I can’t imagine what it would feel like if my body was actually alert and capable of tensing up in response.

My husband, who watched the whole thing, said she got deep down into my belly, and that my face was registering pain. While I could certainly feel the baby moving through my abdomen, I wouldn’t really call it painful; more just pressure with some uncomfortable moments. #thanksdrugs

My support team was perfect. My mom held my hand, and Nathan whispered in my ear what a great job I was doing. I’m so grateful they were both there, and knew exactly what to do in the moment.

After the doctor finished, I had two more hours of monitoring before I could go, and one more hour before I could eat. I passed out as soon as the procedure was over and slept solidly until my husband woke me up with a plate of falafel.

This was the weirdest part. I was desperate for something to eat, but my motor skills were completely shot. Picking up a falafel was more than I could handle. Bringing it to my mouth was out of the question. My support team fed me one small bite at a time. Even chewing took some serious concentration, and I still ended up with hummus all over my face.

The nurse came in to check on me after my required two hours of monitoring were up, and said that Moonshine wasn’t responding enough for us to go home. By this point, I was feeling like a hot, sticky, sweaty mess, uncomfortably sitting up in that bed, and every time I tried to shift positions I’d cause the fetal monitors to drop and thus my stay would get extended just a little longer.

I really, really wanted to get out of there, even though my ability to stand up was dubious, but I stayed chained to that bed for another two hours, waiting for Moonshine’s heartbeat to register more consistent activity.

Finally, nearly four hours after the procedure finished, we got the green light to go home. I was still pretty unsteady on my feet, my motor skills were making a slow but steady recovery, and my head still felt pretty spacey.

Overall, I’m so glad we went forward with the version. I nearly backed out after reading horror stories online (and that’s partly why I’m sharing in such detail here – hopefully this story will help counteract some of those), but I’m so grateful that it worked and that I again have a chance at the home birth we are hoping for.

The biggest downside is I’ve been banned from doing yoga or any kind of inversions for the remainder of my pregnancy. My midwife doesn’t want to give her any opportunities to flip back. I was so happy to be still practicing at this stage, but it’s worth it to me to step off the mat for a few weeks and put away my maternity yoga pants for good.

Things I learned:

  • Stand up for what you want. I’m really glad we didn’t cave in to their “one person in the room” policy. I ended up being in that room for 7 hours, and for most of that time, it was just me, my husband, and my mom. The doctor’s presence lasted all of 15 minutes; the nurse was probably there a total of 1.5 hours. Otherwise, it was just us.  It would have been so silly and frustrating for them to have to switch spots over those 7 hours.
  • You may not have the capacity to stand up for yourself, so bring your bulldog. I’m conflict averse as it is; having been deprived of food and drink for 17 hours AND being anxious about the upcoming procedure had pretty much depleted any sticking up for myself reserves I had. I needed my mom to step in and stand up for us, and she did a damn good job. :)
  • I am so, so, appreciative of what modern medicine has to offer. I am grateful for the ultrasounds that let me know Moonshine was hanging out head up; I am grateful for a skilled OB who successfully turned her around; I am grateful that if the version hadn’t worked, that I would have had a choice about whether to attempt a vaginal breech delivery or to opt for a C section.
  • All that said, I confirmed that I don’t want to be in a hospital for her birth unless there’s a medical need for us to be there. I don’t want to have to fight against ‘policies’ about who should be in the room while I’m at my most vulnerable. The worst part was not the procedure itself, but the feeling trapped by fetal monitors and held hostage to that strip.
  • Drugs really, really affect me. We were there for almost two extra hours getting monitored. At one point, Nathan was playing hokey pokey with my legs to encourage blood flow and get Moonshine to respond. (It worked). I was still super zonked out and glassy eyed when they let us go, and pretty wiped out the next day, too.
  • Drugs kept affecting Moonshine for about 36 hours. She didn’t get back to her normal, kicking, feisty self until Wednesday morning. Poor girl had her first hangover with none of the benefits of a wild night out with friends.
  • Because we’re both so susceptible to drugs, I feel newly recommitted to trying for a non-medicated birth. This is NOT a judgment of anyone else’s decisions, and I reserve the right to change my mind when I’m in labor. But now that I’ve seen how how long the recovery was for drugs that are likely less potent than an epidural, I’d like to avoid a repeat if at all possible.

… And that’s all, folks. If you made it this far, cheers to you! :)




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