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Prepping for Your Home Birth Without Fear {The Ultimate List}

Prepping for Your Home Birth Without Fear {The Ultimate List}

One of the most common questions about homebirth from those considering it is, “What do you need?” While the list of supplies varies from midwife to midwife, there are some basic things that almost everyone is going to need to gather in preparation for the birth. There will also be things you will (probably) want to do for your comfort and peace of mind before “go time”. This is meant to be an Ultimate (I hope I thought of everything) List, but please don’t stress yourself to cover all the little extras. Birth really is pretty basic. This list is long and detailed so that you have a chance to consider everything you might want to do, not everything you have to do.

Early Prep

While not everyone plans a homebirth from the start, many women do. If you can get a head start on a few things it makes the final months much more peaceful. After you have lined up your midwife, get a head start on your prep.

One of the first things you can do is to create a peaceful space. (Right about now mothers of small children are laughing). If you know which room/area you plan to use then work in the early months to slowly declutter and create your space. Your nesting urge will come in handy with this as well.

If you have older children, you will want to decide if you want them at the birth or not. If you do there are things you can do to prep your child for the birth. Some things will depend on their age – for instance a one year old won’t need the same prep as a 5 year old. Older children may be interested in the mechanics of birth and understand more. You know your children best. Birth can be a beautiful family event if you decide to have your children there. And if you don’t think you want them there – no guilt! Everyone labors differently.

For younger children helpful prep includes books, videos, and role playing. There are a few children’s books out there that discuss homebirth, one of my favorites is called Hello Baby by Jenni Overend. It is beautifully illustrated and is great for little ones. Birth videos are also great for prepping kids. I previewed many, many homebirth videos on youtube and created a little playlist of those I thought my son could see. I included water births, “land” births, quiet moms, loud moms, and especially videos that included the whole family.

Speaking of “loud” moms – this is where the role playing comes in. While I was a very quiet laborer with my first born, I wasn’t sure if I would be again. We never know how labor will go (and I wasn’t quiet the second time, by the way). So we discussed as we watched the videos that mommy may “Roar”. I talked about roaring like a dinosaur or a lion. We had a lot of fun roaring at each other and I explained that if mommy roars it is okay – I am not hurting and it just means the baby is coming soon. Apparently this worked really well since my two year old was not phased at all by my roaring at the birth – and I was loud!

Another opportunity for prep and role play with little ones can include your midwife visits. Many homebirth midwives do home visits for prenatals or have offices that are child friendly. I made my son a little midwife kit of his own, including a little plush placenta I whipped up with some felt. During my appointments in our home he “helped” my midwife and we talked about the baby. All of this helps children feel included in this life changing event.

plush placenta

Now whether you decide to have your children at the birth or not, I highly suggest lining up a support person for them. If they are going to be taken somewhere else for the birth be sure they are comfortable at the location and with the support person. Also try to pick someone with a flexible schedule who can be “on call” for the birth.

If they are going to be staying with you for the birth then you need to pick a special person. You need to pick a person who is there just for the child/children. This means that if they need to leave the house or room and miss the birth, they will be 100% okay with that. I would suggest clearing this specifically with them, since in some cases support people at home births might be signing up in the hopes of being a spectator. This isn’t the point of a support person for the older child. Be sure to acclimate them to your routines and places they can go with your kids. Discuss car seats if they need to drive the children anywhere. While this may seem over-kill it will give peace of mind in the last weeks and while in labor. It also clears up your support team to work just for you during the birth and not have to split their attention.

You will also want to consider if you want a doula for your home birth. Be sure to set up an interview and get someone who you feel is comfortable in your home and is preferably experienced or knowledgeable about home birth. Another part of your team to consider is a birth photographer. Again, interview them and be sure they make you feel comfortable. It also helps if they understand home birth or have shot one before, since they have different highlights and flow than a hospital birth.

Almost to the Finish Line!

Once you hit about 32 weeks, order your birth kit. This may seem a bit early, but some companies take a few weeks to ship. Or, if you are lucky like me, it will get lost in the mail because apparently your house is invisible to UPS. This also gives time to clear up any issues if the order is wrong or missing something. You don’t want to be stressed at the last minute!

There are many places to order birth kits and your midwife may have a custom kit set up with a particular company. You can also order kits of your own making or a basic kit from places such a In His Hands or Baby, Birth and Beyond. *

Basic Supplies Include:

Now that is just a starter list, and as I mentioned above some midwives will want more or less or different items. Some additional items might be an herbal after bath, different herbal items (for cord care or afterpains), Depends-type underwear, and a “birth certificate” and foot printing kit. You can also take off items from a premade kit on most sites, and substitute in your own items. For instance you may get your own postpartum pads and “depends” (hey, those are handy the first day or so!). The one thing I suggest not skimping on is the chux pads. Most births require a good amount of them, and they are handy after birth too. I tend to use them for a couple months under my sheets to protect the mattress from breastmilk leaks in the night.

Once you have ordered your birth kit it gets exciting! You have all these cool things ready to go, so what do you do with them until the big day? Enter the plastic tote.

boxes

I love “totes”. Really – my house is full of these lovely plastic boxes. It makes everything look organized, even if you really just threw stuff in there eight years ago when company was coming over. But I digress. Plastic totes are perfect for organizing your birth supplies. The above picture is actually my birth supplies from my second birth. The top tote has all the little stuff. Here was my personal list:

  • Everything from the basic list above, plus a few additional items from my midwife’s list
  • Several hair ties (in a small plastic baggie, taped to the inside of the box)
  • Chapstick (in the small plastic baggie as well)
  • A roll of paper towels
  • My heating pads, both the plug-in version and my rice heat pack
  • A bath robe

The bottom tote has all the linens I would need. For the bed I had a fitted sheet and flat sheet, a plastic bed protector (I actually scored that at the dollar store), and a really old holey fitted sheet. I gathered four or five old towels I didn’t mind getting dirty or stained (none of them ended up stained) as well as several wash cloths. I also threw in a few pairs of underwear and a pair of socks. This box wasn’t so much about needing things set aside for me, it was more about having it set aside for my birth team. This way I could just say “check the tote” instead of explaining where my sock drawer was.

A note about the bed, and more experienced homebirth moms will know this already – prepare the bed whether you want to birth there or not. Labor is a funny thing and may not go the way you planned (as I found out myself!). The most convenient way to prepare the bed in my opinion is to make what I think of as a bed sandwich. When you go into labor, have your partner strip the bed. Then put on a fitted sheet and flat sheet that are clean and nice. Over this, put the plastic mattress protector (or large plastic shower curtain liner). Then over this put the crappy/holey/old fitted sheet you don’t mind messing up.

If you birth on the bed or get anything on it, you simply strip off the old sheet and protector and VOILA you have a clean and ready made bed underneath! It may sound odd but this was one of the best things after the birth was over. I ran to shower off and when I came back the bed was totally ready with minimal effort for my birth team.

Another great place to store your birth supplies for easy access is the pack-n-play or crib:

tamara birth supplies

Okay – so that is your supplies covered! That was easy.

The Last Weeks

Now there are just a few additional things you may want to do. One is a list. This list will be for your main birth partner. On this list include the steps you want them to take once labor starts. For me and my husband the list looked went something like this:

  • Call midwife (include number)
  • Call photographer (include number)
  • Call child care to give a “heads up” (include number)
  • Make bed
  • Empty washing machine
  • Hook up hose attachment for filling the birth tub, start to fill tub if in established labor

This list meant that I could concentrate on labor and not have to direct anything. I could get in “the zone”. I included the numbers on the paper just in case he couldn’t find them in my phone or his or if someone else was there doing the list instead. I didn’t include “call family” since we agreed we would not call family until the midwife had arrived and I gave the go-ahead. This was a lesson learned in our first birth that sometimes alerting family at the start of labor isn’t always the most peaceful thing to do if labor is long.

If you have a support person for your child, create a little cheat list for them of your child’s routine and favorite foods if they are not familiar with all of that. While the lists might seem over-kill, trust me that the less questions directed at you in labor the happier you will be. It also helps you avoid the little mini-panic that tends to happen in the last weeks when you realize that life is about change in a big way and you want to scream “I have no control” – yes, most pregnant mamas have been right there with you!

The next thing you will most likely want to do is a trial run on your birth tub, if you are using one. My friend and I both were very glad we did a dry run. For myself, we found out the tub had a slow leak and we created a plan for dealing with it. For my friend, she found this:

tamara tub hole

Yes – that is a giant hole. Apparently the plastic of the tub got brittle from the cold of the trunk it was stored in and it cracked. Since she looked at the tub around 36 weeks she had time to get a new tub from her midwife and do a dry run with that tub. Imagine if she had not inspected the tub until she was in labor! Doing a dry run also lets you see where you want to set it up and make space. Keep in mind you want room around the tub for your team to work and have access to you. Also figure out how you are going to fill the tub and think about how much hot water you will need. Some sinks may need an attachment to put a hose on it or may not have good water pressure. You can also fill your tub from the hot water heater or shower. If you are using your own built-in tub in your home, put some nesting skills to use and give it a good scrub down or have your partner do it (I vote for the partner).

tamara tub test

Another thing you may like to work on is affirmation cards. This would be a good activity for a quiet evening before baby comes or even as part of a baby shower or mother blessing. You can hang the cards around your birth space and even put some around the house where you will see them in the coming days (like on your bathroom mirror).

One of the final things you might want to do is be sure a space is clear for your midwife. Most midwives like to lay out their supplies if they have time before the birth is imminent. This can simply be a good patch of clean counter top or space on a bed in the birth area. If your kitchen looks like mine, a clear bit of counter space may mean moving your stand mixer under the cabinet or storing the blender or clearing the kitchen table (mine always ends up as a catch all). If you don’t have time to do this (or birth catches you by surprise) don’t worry, your midwife will find a good spot. Again, remember this is the Ultimate List – not the “stress about everything” list!

krystal midwife prep

You can also take a moment to set up all your postpartum supplies in the bathroom and by your bed. Myself and another friend I know created a breastfeeding station – nursing pads, nipple butter/lanolin, a good book, children’s books and small goodies (for the older child), and a nice water bottle. Some postpartum supplies you might like are a peri-bottle, pads in easy reach, herbal preparations (like those sold by Earth Mama Angel Baby), and over the counter pain medications for after pains (or herbal preparations). Always discuss medications or herbal options with your care provider.

krystal postpartum supplies

A small note about the cleaning that needs to be done. One midwife described it to me this way: “Clean like your Mother-in-Law is coming for a visit.” Basically, clean like you are having an overnight guest and then just take some extra care in a couple key places – your birth space and the tub/shower you may want to use. There is no need to over sanitize and totally tear apart your home in preparation for a home birth, just keep clean and neat. A great investment if you have it in the budget (or have an amazing friend) is to have someone come in and do a nice deep clean around 36 or 37 weeks.

Now you have all the preparation done. You have a peaceful birth space; you have your tub ready to blow up and know how you are going to fill it. You have your support team ready and affirmation cards made. Now you can relax and focus on that moment. That sweet, sweet moment when you hold your baby for the first time. Birth Blessings mamas! Did you do anything else to prep for your home birth? Let us know in the comments!

krystal home birth

*Please note Birth Without Fear does not have an affiliation with any birth supply companies and these are only suggestions.

**Last three photos credited to Aperture Grrl Photography.

Did you do anything else to prep for your home birth? Let us know in the comments!

The Nursing Babe

The Nursing Babe

My daughter is currently 5 1/2 months old. I haven’t introduced solids on a regular basis yet, and really don’t plan to until after she is 6 months old.

When I was pregnant my whole family was against breastfeeding. “How are going to feed her in public?”, “Breastfeeding will get old, you will never get a break.”

Then once I had Venice, every time she whimpered they would say, “It’s the breast milk making her cry, you might need to try formula!”

I got offered formula on a daily basis and I even starting receiving formula in the mail! I was so confused. My head was spinning with thoughts like, “Maybe they’re right, maybe she isn’t getting full”, “maybe she’s not gaining weight.”

Though my heart and my gut said “Sara, this may be your first child, but you know what is best. You know she’s doing fine.”

Then two weeks after birth, she wouldn’t latch. I was having to use nipple shields and I was very stressed. I thought I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t get positions down, she wanted to nurse herself to sleep. It was exhausting. But I didn’t quit, nor do I pump. I am here for her when ever she needs. Whether in public or in bed.

I can’t explain to anyone how overwhelmed I am with the fact that I did it. I am doing it. I am a mother. And it’s easy…I want to. I have a incredibly strong bond with this little stinker and I would never do anything besides breast.

The Nursing Babe 1

The Nursing Babe 2

Nursing Babe 3

Circumcision Doesn’t Beget Circumcision {One of These Things is Not Like the Other}

Circumcision Doesn’t Beget Circumcision {One of These Things is Not Like the Other}

Yes, you read that right, we’re going to talk AGAIN about circumcision, but this post is a little different. I’m not writing this to try to tell you what to do. In fact, this post is actually going to start off with a confession; the day after my first baby was born I had him circumcised.

Whew. Okay. We got that part out of the way!

When I was pregnant with my oldest child, I must have read everything that I could get my hands on. I was very strict with myself and did everything that I could to maintain my weight, to avoid every item on that list of no-no foods (deli meats, sushi), and struggled through headaches and pains to avoid using medications like Tylenol even though my OB said it was fine. I started a pregnancy journal and had the baby’s full name picked out by 14 weeks along.

pregnancy second baby

When I got to the chapter in my pregnancy how-to book about circumcision, we had just found out that the baby was going to be a boy and I remember reading about the detailed procedure and cringing, picturing them doing this to my tiny, new baby. I had never really read anything about circumcision before, and not only that, but I literally knew NOTHING about foreskin. Like many new moms-to-be, I decided to leave that decision up to his father, figuring, “Well, Dad’s got a penis and I don’t, so he will know the correct decision to make here.”

Well, it turns out that my husband was reading FAR less about this baby than I was and without researching any part of it, or even reading the chapters I had so nicely bookmarked for him, he told me that we would have it done because “that’s just what you do” and “we don’t want him to look different.” Even though the description had made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I didn’t argue with him.

I ended up being (unnecessarily) induced and after 12 hours of Pitocin, our perfectly healthy baby boy came torpedoing into this world. The circumcision was performed the following day and we listened closely as all of the aftercare instructions were explained to us. They even sent us home with a whole packet of information about how to care for it and danger signs to look out for in case he got an infection. (Whoa, wait… an infection?? Isn’t that what we were trying to avoid? We’ll get back to that.)

Have you ever seen a freshly circumcised penis? It’s basically an open, raw wound that you smother with Vaseline and hope that it keeps it moist enough to not stick to the diaper. Have you ever skinned your knee open? Imagine the feeling of peeling a gauze bandage off of it when it gets stuck. Now imagine someone pouring warm, acidic liquid all over it; because that’s what’s happening to this brand new, little person every time they urinate. Then that wetness gets to just sit there. You ever wear a moist Band-Aid over a cut?

Every time our new baby wet his diaper we immediately had to change him because it hurt him so badly. And when he would poop, well, that was a whole different ball of wax! Cleaning poop off of a penis and a set of testicles (especially when it’s a learning experience with a less than one week old) is one thing, but having to do it while your child is screaming bloody murder in your face because he has feces covering his raw, sensitive glans is quite another.

Fast forward a few years and now he is almost five. We are constantly reminding him to clean himself and have had to teach him to be sure to tug on his “foreskin” (basically just the remaining bit of skin that was leftover) and pull it away from the glans because it is constantly trying to reattach itself. As our son has gotten older, we have had issues with the “foreskin” trying to reconnect and also teaching him how to keep himself clean.

So when we got pregnant with our second child, I was in a different spot with the medical side of birth. I had not had a good experience with my first delivery and therefore spent a lot of time reading more than just baby books and fear-mongering websites. I started to look into the facts about birth, the facts about induction, and even the facts about circumcision. We found out that we were having another boy and the decision of circumcision came up after a prompting from our care provider.

Like I have already stated, my husband was not into researching everything pregnancy like I was and so it wasn’t something that he was concerned with. He had automatically assumed that because we had circumcised the first boy that of course we would be doing the same with the second. All those complications involved with the first baby? Yeah, those weren’t necessarily complications at all! They were just snags that happened when you leave the glans open and raw like that. Those issues we had with our first baby in the first several weeks we were all learning how to be a family were totally “normal” and were all listed in our handy little info packet that was sent home with us.

In reading up about circumcision I was very surprised to learn that, with the exception of Israel, the United States has the highest rate of circumcision. Most countries don’t practice it, in fact many have had the procedure banned. In some cases, circumcisions are botched, leaving men with noticeable scarring or sexual dysfunctions – and that is in mild cases: baby boys sometimes die from the complications of circumcision.

I also took the time to learn about the many functions of the foreskin and how having one intact would benefit my child. It might be tough to think of it like this, but the foreskin can easily be likened to an eyelid or a pair of lips. One of its main functions is to protect the sensitive skin underneath and to keep that area clean and moist.

Along with keeping the area underneath clean and moist, the foreskin is actually adhered to the glans and won’t even start to detach until around age three! So all that stuff we had heard before about it being “cleaner” to cut that part off was total BS! It’s attached! That means when your baby has one of those really big poo-splosions and craps up the back of his onesie, you won’t have to also deal with carefully and calmly wiping poop off of a swollen and painful wound. With a baby who is NOT circumcised the foreskin does a fantastic job of keeping everything covered, so you don’t have to worry about it getting inside at all! You just clean it off like a finger (likely how you’ll clean up your own finger after checking for poop) and go about trying to remove said onesie without resorting to scissors.

Then there came the whole deal with him not only looking different from his Daddy, but also looking different from his older brother. Well, when you really get down to it, they’re already going to look different in so many more obvious ways, does it really matter? For instance, our oldest boy has green eyes and his younger brother ended up with blue ones. His older brother has light brown hair while his head is covered in pale, blonde locks. They are different heights, different weights, and have vastly different personalities, so why in the world would anyone be worried about their penises looking the same, which they probably wouldn’t anyway.

circumcision decision

I was asked about what we would do when he was teased about his foreskin in the locker room at school and I honestly had to laugh at that one. First of all, adolescent boys are going to tease one another about SOMETHING, so for me to be worried about that NOW seems a bit pointless. Secondly, the circumcision rate in America is going down every year, so chances are he will not be the only boy with foreskin. And lastly, because I will explain to him why we left him intact when he is old enough to understand, he will be able to educate his friends and tell them how when he’s older, having a foreskin will make sex feel better for both himself and his partner, allow him to masturbate without needing lotion, and add girth to his penis. What adolescent boy wouldn’t want that?

And while we’re on the topic of sex we may as well just get it all out there right now: “Anteater”, “turtleneck”, “Water Snake”; the list of horrible, sex-shaming nicknames goes on. It’s a disgrace that we would alter a baby’s body so drastically just to make it more aesthetically pleasing for ourselves. Yet if someone wanted to start trimming the labia from the genitals of baby girls I am positive that people would be totally up in arms. Has it ever occurred to anyone that the basic function should override the supposed aesthetics?

I have also been asked about what I will say to my oldest son if he should ever ask me why I decided to have his foreskin removed and not his brother. Well, I plan on telling him the truth. I thought that I had read all of the right information and, at the time, I thought I was doing what was in his best interest. However, if I am truly honest with myself, reading about the procedure made my stomach turn. That feeling was human instinct and I plum ignored it. I thought I knew what I was doing and I was wrong. I felt in my heart that going through with the procedure was a bad idea but did not feel like it was truly up to me to make that decision.

And truth be told, it wasn’t. It wasn’t up to me and it shouldn’t be up to the Daddy either “just because he has a penis”.

So, okay, they say that circumcision is “cleaner” and “healthier” and will keep your child from “being made fun of.” Well let’s just say you believe all of that (which is fine, and it might be what your care provider has told you); where does it say that this procedure HAS to be done within the first week of your child’s new life outside of the womb? Isn’t there already enough going on? Chances are you’ve got a birth you’re healing from, other children to care for, breastfeeding (which can be quite stressful for some) to learn, and you’re probably hungry and sleep deprived. WHY in the WORLD would you want to add in “caring for an open wound”?

Where does it say that the offer to be circumcised will expire after the first two days? Why can’t it just be left up to the person whose penis status is being questioned to decide? A lot of people will get a child’s foreskin removed because of the possible risk of infection. But what about tonsils? Appendix? TOENAILS? All of these things can become infected yet we make no mention about having them removed at birth. Many people will research more about their newest cell phone upgrade than they will about their own pregnancy and labor, and even fewer will research about circumcision.

brothers

If I were to wish one thing for you, it would be for you to read, read, read about circumcision. Don’t just read about it in the US, check out what they say about circumcision in other countries, where it is seen as a barbaric practice. Or do your baby a solid and watch the procedure being done on YouTube. Arm yourself with knowledge and if anything, wait until the child is old enough to be given proper pain management for such a painful procedure. Even better, leave them intact and allow them to decide it for themselves.

It makes me sad when I think about what I have taken from my oldest son by having him circumcised, but I feel like I have all the opportunity in the world to help make it better by passing on what I have learned to others. Hopefully, with the correct information, they will make better choices than I did. I have looked into the information on foreskin restoration so that I may pass it on to my son should he be interested in it one day.

Having circumcised one child does not mean that you have to circumcise them all. Even if you have FIVE boys that were circumcised you can TOTALLY leave the next intact! None of our children will be exactly like the next. Even if their genitals don’t match Daddy’s or each other’s they will always be brothers and that is what’s important. I leave you with a quote that has always resonated with me about our decisions regarding circumcision:

forgiveyourself

Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.” – Anonymous

Photography Credit: http://earthmamaphotography.com

Further reading:
http://www.thewholenetwork.org/index.html

http://www.cirp.org/library/

http://www.catholicsagainstcircumcision.org/

http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org/

http://www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org/

http://www.mothersagainstcirc.org/

http://circumcisionresources.org/

http://uncutting.tumblr.com/compilation

http://www.publichealthinafrica.org/index.php/jphia/article/view/jphia.2011.e4/html_9

http://www.noharmm.org/anatomy.htm

http://www.icgi.org/2010/04/infant-circumcision-causes-100-deaths-each-year-in-us/

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201109/myths-about-circumcision-you-likely-believe

I Am Strong Because I am Doing What I Feel is Right {An Extended Breastfeeding Journey}

I Am Strong Because I am Doing What I Feel is Right {An Extended Breastfeeding Journey}

I had my first baby when I was 24 years old. From the moment I got pregnant I had made the decision that I wasn’t going to breastfeed. My reasons were selfish, but when my son was 2 months old, I regretted that decision and I suddenly felt so heartbroken that I did not nurse him. I made a promise to myself that I would breastfeed my next baby and this is why I am strong.

I am strong because I am not afraid to admit that I made a decision I now regret.

I gave birth to a beautiful healthy baby girl 5 years later on September 16, 2011. I nursed her just a few moments after she was born and that was the beginning of the journey we are still on today. I am strong because even on my toughest days with sore and swollen nipples, I refused to give up.

The first month was so hard. I spent hours staying up all night nursing and trying to comfort my baby, but she would just scream and scream. I hit a breaking point one morning when she had been up crying for close to 7 hours and my husband found me sobbing and exhausted on the couch. I knew there was something wrong, but several doctors said she was fine. I am strong because I ignored those doctors and got a second opinion. My daughter was diagnosed with reflux at 4 weeks and we finally had an answer so we could make her feel better.

I unfortunately had to go back to work at 9 weeks and I pumped three times a day to try to keep up with her demand. I remember I cried the first time I had to pump at work. The sound of the machine pumping my milk could not compare to the soft sounds my baby makes while nursing. I am strong because I struggled with my supply those first weeks back to work and had to battle through blocked milk ducts, but I never gave up.

I continued pumping for my daughter for 11 months at work. I had always wanted to donate my milk so even after I no longer needed to pump for my daughter, I still continued pumping for 2 more months to build up a stash to donate. I am strong because I was able to donate 100 ounces of my milk to a mom who could not breastfeed and that was truly such a huge blessing.

My breastfeeding goal was originally 12 months, but as my daughter was approaching her first birthday, I became very sad at the thought of having to forcefully wean her. I had already been dealing with the typical question from others, “how much longer are you going to breastfeed?” I felt like I had a lot pressure to wean my child. There were days that she would still nurse like a newborn and other days, it was only when she was sleepy or hurt. It was obvious that she still needed to be nursed. I am strong because I continued to breastfeed past my goal of 12 months, despite the criticism I got from others.

Since my daughter was just an infant, I had wanted professional breastfeeding photos. She is my last baby after all and I wanted to remember this journey. A local photographer was having a mini session for World Breastfeeding Week and I decided I was going to finally get my pictures. These are the pictures that I am sharing with you

today. I am strong because I am still breastfeeding 23 months later and will continue to until my daughter decides to wean.

I am strong because I am doing what I feel is best for my child.

Jennifer's I Am Strong Post, Extended Breastfeeding

Jennifer's I am Strong post, extended breastfeeding

Birth of New Parents – Photo Story of Adoption

Birth of New Parents – Photo Story of Adoption

This has got to be one of the most touching stories I’ve ever heard. Sebastian was born on June 20. When he was 4 days old some unfortunate circumstances arose and his parents were no longer able to care for him. Unless a family stepped forward immediately to adopt him, he would be going into the foster care system. Brandon and Summer had very recently decided to become foster parents when this opportunity landed in their lap. They followed their heart, trusted God and jumped in with both feet! A few days later, they were parents! Summer says, “It has been so amazing how many simply MIRACULOUS things God orchestrated to make this happen. The natural birth community and church community have stepped up and made everything possible. We’ve received donations of baby items and breast milk, as well as an adoption attorney on a minute’s notice.”

Summer is a student midwife and was in attendance at the twin birth I recently blogged about. The attending midwife, Heather, called me a couple weeks ago and asked me if I’d be willing to photograph something like a birth session for Summer, Brandon and Sebastian. She said she had asked Summer who she would like to do it, and Summer picked me. I was so incredibly touched by that. It sounded like such a sweet (and unique) idea that I said yes without any hesitation. Heather wanted Summer to experience the bonding that happens between a mama and her newborn the way so many of their clients do. And so we photographed Summer and Sebastian in the birth pool having a relaxing bath together. We weighed him and Summer and Brandon discovered he had gained nearly 2 lbs. since they’d joined his family. We got his footprints done. And we took some lovely skin-to-skin shots, as well as a few with a beautiful afghan around them, symbolizing warmth, and a joining together forever as a new family.

As a birth photographer I witness some incredible things, obviously. This was no different. Seeing how Sebastian looked at his mother, and how she cared for him, and how soft Brandon was with him – it warmed my heart to the brim. In fact I think it grew a few sizes! I truly enjoyed capturing this special time in their lives. – Leilani Rogers, Photographer {http://www.photosbylei.com/}

Baby in Water with Mom

Food Budgets and Meal Planning {Challenges of Motherhood}

Food Budgets and Meal Planning {Challenges of Motherhood}

Food. It’s important (just a little) and we all have to buy it. Most of us have to cook it as well (or at least make sure someone in the house cooks it). But when a family sits down to budget – or figure out where the money went – we can usually plan on a large sum going to food. How do we keep this spending controlled and purposeful? [Side Note – click the photos in this post for more recipes!]

Meal Planning.

Why plan meals? One of the main reasons is that it keeps you from playing the “What’s for dinner?” game each night. That game can lead to ordering out or going out which means more money spent. Lets look at an example – ordering pizza. For most families, ordering pizza is going to be around $30 – possibly much more depending on family size. That same $30 can buy my family breakfast foods for at least 2 weeks (including farm-fresh eggs from a local farmer), especially if I pay attention to sales and coupons. When you start to break down your budget in these terms, you may be shocked at how the math plays out.

Another good reason is that you spend less time running to the store. This saves you money in a couple ways – less gas used in the car and fewer chances for impulse buys (those $1 here and $3 there purchases really add up). It also helps your home run more smoothly. Everyone knows what is for dinner and there is less chance for arguing.

Meal planning at first can seem daunting. I remember when I decided to start and I got bogged down in the details. Many blogs and books are dedicated to this subject and include everything from freezer options (cooking once or twice a month and freezing it all) to spending a whole month in your crock pot. Then you add in couponing (which I totally don’t understand by the way, at least not the extreme couponing) and it can feel like too much to consider.

I promise, you can make this simple! First you want to look at your situation with your “reality glasses” on. I am not talking about your ideal life and cooking situation. I mean look at your cooking and meal time plans as they actually tend to happen. Do you and your partner both work long days, leaving little prep time when you get home? Do you stay at home and have time to prep and cook each day? Would crock pot or freezer meals work better for your time management? Do you have sports activities for the kids that require being gone around dinner time?

Chicken Teriyaki

With those answers in mind, here are the steps you want to take:

  • Make a pantry list. What is in your dry goods area and spice cabinet? This list will be important when planning and shopping.
  • Make a list of items you have to buy each week – milk, eggs, bread – the essentials for your house.
  • Call a family meeting and make a master list of favorite meals.
  • Decide on the method that would work for you – a larger portion of freezer meals or crock pot meals, cooking fresh each day, or a mixture.
  • Decide how far in advance you want to plan. Start with at least a week at a time. Some families plan the whole month at once.

Now for the really fun part! You get to make your plan for the week or whatever period of time you decided on. This is where you get out some paper (I use a cheap spiral notebook) and start digging through your ideas. My meal ideas come from several places in any given week. Pinterest is a favorite now, and most people have a recipe or food board – so actually put all those pins to work! I work from family recipes – meals I have made for years and are a hit every single time. I check out cook books from the library – you would be amazed at how many cook books libraries usually have. This is very cost effective – you can get endless recipes without buying a book yourself (and I am sure others can relate to how frustrating it is to buy a cookbook and find you only like a few recipes in it). We even have a post of quick meal ideas here.

You start with dinner for each day and go from there, writing down each recipe name. Some families plan every meal and snack, some don’t. I personally do not. I write down breakfast and lunch ideas for the week at the bottom of my dinner plan list though, especially for my husband who takes his lunch to work each day (a huge money saver by the way). I also plan that my son and I will most likely eat left-overs for some lunches.

Chicken Enchiladas

Then you take this list and look at the recipes for needed ingredients. Make your grocery list, while also checking your pantry list. By checking your pantry list you can avoid buying something for a meal when you already have it at home. You can also avoid that moment where you think you have a certain spice in the cabinet only to find you don’t…while in the middle of cooking!

Then head to the store! If you make your list in sections – produce, meats, spices, pastas, canned goods, etc – you will save time at the store.

Let me do a short example (just a few days). I find examples to be much more helpful than descriptions!

Now I take this list and check my recipes and make my grocery list.

  • 1 bag baby spinach
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 onion
  • 5lbs bag potatoes
  • 3 ears corn
  • Apples (check sales)
  • Grapefruit
  • 2 lbs ground turkey (I am replacing the ground chicken in the chili with ground turkey – I like the texture better)
  • 2lbs chicken breasts OR rotisserie chicken (I check prices and get the cheaper of the two!)
  • 1lbs ground beef
  • large tortillas
  • mild salsa
  • 2 cans fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can white beans
  • 2 blocks Monterrey Jack cheese
  • Lunch Meat (check sales/deli)
  • Oatmeal
  • Bread
  • Granola Bars
  • Almond Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Chicken Nuggets
  • ***Pick up eggs

Some things I have left off my list. For instance, I didn’t include rice b/c I have it in bulk at home. I didn’t include the tapioca from the chili recipe because I will serve it with rice instead. I have the ingredients for cornbread at home, so I left those items off. This is when your pantry list/inventory comes in handy! And I actually do make notes to myself on my list about checking sales since I tend to forget when I am in a rush to get my toddler out before his “timer” is up. Now I am able to walk into the store and get everything I need in one trip!

Chicken Parm

Some tips I have learned over my time meal planning:

Keep it organized. Have one notebook or binder and develop your system. There are a ton of “printables” online for meal planning with different set ups to suit each family. You can simply fill these in and stick them on your fridge for the family to see. Try to pick one grocery day a week if you can. Mine is Saturday during nap time most weeks so that I can go without my toddler. I plan our week out that morning and then shop that afternoon.

Create a recipe binder for your family. I am currently working on ours, and I am having a ton of fun with it! Personally, I am typing up my recipes, and then I will put them in a binder with dividers (breakfast, chicken, beef, party, holiday, etc). Some families just write them down (or cut them out/print them off) as they go and stick them in a new page protector. This will not only build up a collection of tried and true recipes for your family, but is a great bit of history to pass down one day.

Plan meals based on “extras” or “left overs”. For instance, if I find a great deal on whole chickens I will get one or two of those for the meals that week that need chicken. I will boil them or bake them one morning and then pick off all the meat. That meat can then be used for anything needing pulled or diced chicken for the rest of the week. Or I make chicken salad for sandwiches, or freeze the extra for meals another week. You can save a lot of money doing this if you plan accordingly.

Give yourself the nights off that you need! I know that Fridays are usually days we don’t cook, and typically I skip this on our meal plan. Some Fridays we still stay in and just make sandwiches or something easy. Some Fridays we go out to McDonald’s and let our son play in the play area, or do something similar at the mall where they also have a play area. If you have busy nights in your week, plan for them! Your meal plan should not make you feel like you have to cook every single night. This is about making your life easier and more on budget, not stressing you out!

Check your grocery sales and coupons. I will admit I am not an avid couponer, but I am working on it. But everyone can check the grocery sales. For instance, if they are having an amazing sale on whole chickens, pick a meal that can use it that week. If they have eggplant on sale, make some eggplant parmesan or ratatouille that week.

Create a learning experience. If your children are toddlers or older, you can use your meal plan to educate. For instance, pick a week and make regional foods – this could be from your area (maybe visit some local landmarks that week too), your heritage, or pick a country or region. Perhaps you could have a week of Italian food or Chinese foods? Does your family have an Irish heritage? Pick a week to learn about and cook the foods from Ireland. You could also pick themes like colors or letters for little ones. Maybe one night have all “orange” foods – mac-n-cheese, steamed carrots, and orange cupcakes. Or have all “B” foods one morning – blueberry pancakes and bacon anyone?

Get creative! Meal planning can really expand your menu choices and cooking skills. When you play the “what’s for dinner?” game, you usually fall back on the same things again and again. When you plan in advance you are giving yourself time to plan to try new things. This makes dinner exciting and may just get you interested in cooking if you never have been before now. I try to make an effort to cook one new meal a week, at least. It is also fun to try one new ingredient a week. Have you never used barley? Find a recipe one week and try it! Have you always wanted to learn to make lasagna? Do it!

Stay on budget. When you meal plan, you have a great chance to lower your food costs. Not only by watching sales but simply by keeping your plans within your budget for the week or month. If you know your budget can’t handle steak every other night, then don’t plan for it! But you can look for alternatives like grilled chicken if you are craving some grilling time. I have learned over time how to “cheapen” recipes as well. I know when I can sub out expensive cheeses for cheap ones, or more expensive cuts of meat for cheaper ones (your crock pot is a great way to make cheaper cuts of meat just as delicious). I have also found that taking the time to grate a block of cheese versus buying shredded cheese saves me about $2 each time – and we use a LOT of cheese around this house!

Bonus! I am going to add a couple recipes from my collection just for you! These are simple recipes I turn to again and again.

No-Rise Pizza Dough – Fast, easy, and cheap and you won’t want to order out again!

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tbsp honey, heaping
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, heaping
  • 1 tbsp dry active yeast
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  1. Combine water, honey, oil, yeast, and garlic salt. Stir to dissolve honey.
  2. Add 3 cups flour, stir until combined.
  3. Knead dough a few times, roll out into large pizza size. Top however you like.
  4. Bake on cookie sheet for 12 minutes at 475*F or for 8 minutes on a preheated pizza stone.

**You can also use this recipe for calzones (longer baking time at 350*F – about 20 minutes) or personal size pizzas. Be sure to use a liquid measuring cup for the water, it really makes a difference for this recipe.

Baked Oatmeal with Raisins and Pecans – you can add whatever fruit/nuts you want in this

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • brown sugar for serving
  1. Preheat oven to 350, lightly grease 9×9 baking dish.
  2. Combine all ingredients except brown sugar. Pour into dish and bake 20-25 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
  3. Serve hot. Enjoy your homemade and delicious oatmeal!

 

The Skinny Mom: Does She Think She’s Better Than You?

The Skinny Mom: Does She Think She’s Better Than You?

“When my daughter was about a week old I was at the grocery store and a woman asked how old my baby was, I told her one week with a smile. Her response was “well you don’t look like you f***ing had a baby a week ago.” and turned and walked away from me. It hurts to be ostracized by other mothers in that way.” – Jonelle, of Aware Beginnings Doula Services, commenting on Mothering the Mother Part II: How Postpartum Care Helps Us Love Our Bodies

I’m a skinny mom. Not too skinny. But on the slender side.

I gained about 25 lbs in each of my two pregnancies and shed it within a few weeks of giving birth.

When I’m pregnant, people tell me I don’t look it.

I fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans until seven months in.

I wore a short black dress to a party a few days before our second was born.

party

My K’taan is a size small, I can still squeeze into the back seat between my two babies’ carseats, and I still have no stretch marks.

Do you hate me yet?

What if I told you that I don’t diet and my only exercise is babywearing? Would you hate me then?

My body looks the way it does for a number of reasons (including socio-economic status and access to real food) but mostly because of a genetic lottery. In the eyes of our society, it’s a lottery I’ve won. But ‘winning’ isn’t everything. I have a history of starving, purging, cutting, and risking my body. This history is invisible when you look at me. It can be covered up by a short black dress and gold high heels.

Maybe you assume that I have my shit together, that I am in control; maybe you think I’m happy.
Maybe you assume that I am superficial.
Maybe you assume that I diet constantly.
Maybe you assume that I diet constantly even when I’m pregnant and therefore do not have my baby’s best interest at heart.
Maybe you assume that I’m mean and manipulative.
Maybe you just know that I think I’m better than you. (I don’t. And I don’t think the skinnier mom standing next to me is better than me, either.)

Other people’s ugly assumptions aside, I know and enjoy the advantages of being a skinny mom:

I still get to be seen as cute and slightly sexy (even though I’m a mom, which is, apparently, the least sexy thing in the world).
I don’t have to buy a new wardrobe when I get pregnant.
When I look at pictures of mothers in magazines and advertisements, they look like me (I also happen to be caucasian and able-bodied. Bonus!).
I wasn’t automatically classed as a ‘high risk’ pregnancy due to my weight.
I could satisfy all my pregnancy cravings without feeling guilty.
I receive most of the advantages of being a skinny girl – I get served first at deli counters, customs officers are always nice to me, my in-laws think me an appropriate match – but since I’m a mom, these days I get a lot less harassment from skeezy men.

These are important social advantages. It will be hard for me to lose them as I get older. But they’re all from the outside. Inside is a different landscape.

Some nights I tell my husband I don’t want to have sex because I’m tired and covered in milk and I imagine my body has been taken over by a hungry parasite who just also happens to be a baby I love. It feels there is no more space in my body for receiving or giving anything.
If I do compare myself to the mothers in an advertisement, they are still thinner than me, happier than me, prettier than me, less milk-stained than me. I am still lacking.
I wasn’t classified as ‘high-risk’, but I had to pay three months’ rent for out-of-pocket for decent healthcare during my last pregnancy. It was hard to convince myself that my baby and I were worth it.
I could satisfy all my pregnancy cravings without feeling guilty, but I didn’t (I still satisfied them – I just felt guilty).
I don’t do it anymore, but I have thrown up or skipped more meals than I can count. Other people liking your body doesn’t make you love your body.
I’m a happy person but I still feel out of control sometimes – especially when my toddler is eating spaghetti with a spoon.
I love breastfeeding now, but when I first lactated colostrum, I felt disgusted by my pregnant body.
The flip side of being told I don’t look pregnant is people thinking that I am not my baby’s mom. “Is this your baby?” they ask, and I try to take it as a compliment but I know there’s an edge in my voice when I answer, “Yes, this is my baby. This is my baby.” This is my body that birthed this baby and I hate that you looked at it and thought otherwise.

My body is real and I am learning to love my postpartum pooch (below: a few days PP in ye olde disposable panties).

Postpartum

My claim is not that, “I too, my full-bodied sisters, am a daily victim of unfair physical ideals!” I know that, on the whole, I benefit from them. And I’m not saying that BWF should have a ‘skinny moms’ day for every plus-sized mama day. I know that every day is ‘skinny mom day’ in all the rest of social media. I’m just saying that in a country where at least 80% of women dislike their bodies and Miss America is perpetually malnourished, we are all capable of hating ourselves. You don’t know how someone feels about their body just by looking at them. You only know how you feel about their body. And your own.

In my better days, this is how I like to think of my body: as a powerful vessel. A vessel for my thoughts and actions; a vessel for my creativity; and of course, a vessel for my babies. It is through this body that I show my love for other people. This body lets me laugh. This vessel has (love) handles but it is tall and deep. It will get old and its enamel will crack. Someday it will disintegrate entirely. I can only hope that when it does, I’m not worried about how it looks.

So, do you hate me yet?

Finally a Diagnosis {Endometriosis: A Series}

Finally a Diagnosis {Endometriosis: A Series}

I got my first period when I was nine years old. I had no idea what was happening to me because no one had explained menstrual cycles to me yet. But why would they?? I was nine, for Pete’s sake!! I had to have my period explained to me by the school nurse because it started in the middle of class; I got blood on my chair and the kids talked about it for months. I was so distraught over what was happening because I legitimately thought that I was dying.

Me at age nine

By the time I was fourteen my cycles had doubled in frequency and intensity. I would have such heavy, painful periods that I would have to stay home from school for the first day or two. I had a doctor’s note in my school file that was laminated because that had become standard for me. I would lose so much blood that I would pass out and the pain often made me vomit the whole first day.

My mother started taking me to the gynecologist when I was fourteen because she didn’t know what else to do and our family doctor wasn’t qualified enough to handle the issue. At fourteen I had my first pap smear which was scary, awkward, and painful.

Over the next few years we would get several “educated guesses” as to why my cycles were so horrendous; they ranged from plausible to preposterous. One doctor told my mother that I was actually twins at one point, but that I had absorbed my twin. I had to have my kidneys checked to make sure I only had one set and doctors warned me that I might expel teeth and nails from my body when I was older. The longest running one being that I had a very real condition known as uterine didelphys (as shown in graphic below, diagram A), which is when a woman has more than one uterus and cervix. Can you imagine hearing news like that when you’re only 14 years old? I thought I was a massive freak. I remember explaining it to my first boyfriend and examining his face for judgment.

udidelphys

That was the diagnosis I believed for close to six years. I believed that I would never have children and also that if I were to maintain a pregnancy to full term that one or both of us would die. I had originally wanted to have six children and had names picked out for all of them, of course. I come from a family of six and my mother had made it look so easy. Hearing that I would never be able to become a mother on my own was heart breaking!

me-18

When I was 19, a reproductive specialist who was performing a cervical leep on me for cancer cells confirmed that I indeed only had one uterus and cervix, respectively. He mentioned to me then that I might have endometriosis, but that he would have to look inside of me to make an actual diagnosis and because of my age he preferred to “wait and see” instead of performing a laparoscopy.

He also told me that if I should ever get pregnant that there was a large possibility that my cervix would no longer be strong enough to support the pregnancy and that I could be at risk for pre-term labor. He gave me a 30/70 ratio of survival for any potential pregnancies. I took a break from school and moved home because I couldn’t handle all of the stress.

handstied

Fast forward through two healthy pregnancies and thirteen years later I found myself dealing with ovarian cysts and fibroids and having to have a laparoscopy to find out what exactly was going on. The cysts and fibroids were causing unbelievable amounts of pain! I didn’t know what was happening! Some days I would be fine and then suddenly I would not be able to even stand up without doubling over from the intense, stabbing pain. The cysts would cause very heavy bleeding too (usually if they happened to burst) and it was very scary; I would bleed so much all at once that I feared I was hemorrhaging. Finally a doctor confirmed what other doctors had suspected in the past; that I did in fact have endometriosis.

Endometriosis is not uncommon, but has varying effects depending on the woman. It is when the uterine tissue grows in other areas of the body outside of the uterus and most times causes abnormal bleeding, pain, and can sometimes cause fertility issues.

endo4

The most common complaint from sufferers is pain, which can come in varying degrees and at different times, not specifically during their menstrual cycle. Some may experience pain during a bowel movement, while others might experience it during or immediately following intercourse.

For me, I have a large build up of tissue behind my uterus so when my cycle is coming I will get severe lower back pain that is freakily reminiscent of back labor. It was always difficult growing up with cycles as severe as mine because I have had to opt out of a lot of activities. I would have to miss out on things because the pain and bleeding were so debilitating and I was often criticized for overreacting over “just having your period.”

Other girls could never really relate to me because their cycles were not affecting their quality of life; they couldn’t understand the severity of what I was experiencing because their cramps didn’t make them vomit for hours, they didn’t need prescription pain killers to function, and they could wear tampons with confidence and not soak through a tampon and overnight pad after just a few hours. (Yes, I would wear them together to make the pad last just a little bit longer. It was the only way I could get through the school day.)

Even when I’m not dealing with a cyst and I don’t have my period, I have constant abdominal pain from the tissue build up from past cycles. I have so much blood loss during my cycles that it usually takes me about a week or so to start feeling better after my cycle has ended. Now that I have two boys under the age of five, it is increasingly important that I can function normally on a day-to-day basis.

endometriosis-1

Over the past year and a half I have had to rely heavily on friends and family to help care for my boys when I am ill so that their father can go to work without worrying about what might happen while he’s away. But people aren’t always available and we both worry about me passing out from blood loss and possibly traumatizing my oldest. A boy who is old enough to understand that something is seriously wrong with me and has asked more than once if I’m “going to die” and if I “will be with him forever”; questions so much bigger than I’d prefer him to worry about at four years old.

I recently sent in all of my medical records and applied for an appointment with the University of Michigan’s Endometriosis Center and Pelvic Pain Clinic and am looking forward to finally getting some answers! While I was filling out their exceptionally thorough application, it was amazing how relevant their questions were to me!

questionnairecollage

On the form they asked about my mood, my sleep habits, and my energy level; there are so many different ways to answer questions about pain level and frequency, as if they understood that it is varied dependent on the patient. Their packet was full of questions that no one has ever really touched on before; it gave me a glimmer of hope about my situation that I haven’t felt in years.

I invite all of you to join me on my journey to the University of Michigan to find these answers. I plan to journal about my experience in hopes that some of our blog readers may also feel that glimmer of hope and that they won’t feel like the only person going through their unbearable “just a period” cycles anymore! Be on the lookout for a post about my first appointment!

Further reading:

Staying Ahead of the Mess {Challenges of Motherhood}

Staying Ahead of the Mess {Challenges of Motherhood}

Let me start with a big fat disclaimer. I am not a perfect housewife. Pretty far from it actually! But, as time goes on (7 years cohabitation, almost 5 years of marriage, 2 years as a mom) I am finding what helps me keep a “groove” so that the housework does not drown me. Because lets face it – most moms are in serious danger of getting taken down by mountains of laundry that seem to spring up from nowhere. I am even going to include pictures of my own house – without cleaning any more than normal.

Kitchen

So how how do I keep up? Schedule, organization, and learning to let go.

My first step is a schedule. At one time I thought that housekeeping schedules were just a bit much. After all, it is the same things over and over again and I should be able to remember them. Right? Wrong. I started to realize that my “clusters” of mess were created by forgetting the small chores many times over. Then you end up with much bigger mess. After looking at many different “systems” on the internet, I sort of mashed them into my own that works for my family.

  • Create a list of tasks that need to be done each day. For our home that would be dishes, vacuuming downstairs, picking up laundry (it never makes it in the basket), toy clean up, and wiping down tables/counters.
  • Create a list of tasks that need to be done once a week. This might include changing/washing all the bed sheets, washing towels, and cleaning toilets and tubs.
  • Create a list of tasks that need to be done once or twice a month. My list includes vacuuming all of the upstairs, cleaning the fridge, and reorganizing spaces such as the diaper changing area and toy space.

Some systems also go into tasks you do once or twice a year, but I don’t include those. One big reason is that we are renters and many of those type tasks are more on the home maintenance level. If you have tasks that need to be done a couple times a year or in certain seasons, feel free to make a list of those too. A good way to keep these lists is in a house management binder. I will admit, I don’t have one of these yet – but one day Pinterest will show me a cool printable one and I will do it.

Now look at your lists and daily/weekly schedule. How can you fit in your daily tasks into your daily routine? Think about how often you need to do dishes (do you have enough that they must be done at each meal throughout the day?). Think about how often toy pickup needs to happen to make your space livable. When is the best time to vacuum? Jot these down in schedule format – not so much with actual times but more like “before nap” or “after lunch”.

Now we need to fit our weekly tasks in. These are the tasks that tend to really get away from us. Changing sheets on all the beds once a week keeps us sleeping soundly and cleanly (just google how much the average person sweats at night and you will see what I mean). Pick one day a week to do this task – change sheets, wash the dirty ones, fold and put away. For my family this task is done on Monday. Towel washing day is Wednesday. On those two days, I don’t do any other laundry usually unless I need to throw in some cloth diapers (which is easy laundry anyway).

Closet

Now fit in your monthly or bi-monthly tasks, and you are set to go. These I usually have to mark on the wall calender to remind myself. I have even created a “Magic Eraser Day”. On that day, I bust out that life saver and attack scuffs and scrapes and marks all over the house. This cuts down on the general grime (like the floor boards, corners where little hands touch often, and fridge handles). You know, the grimy spots that you suddenly see one day and go “OH MY GOSH” and irrationally feel like you live in a garbage pit? Yeah, no more of that if you attack that stuff once a month.

Now put your daily and weekly rotation (two separate sheets) on the fridge. Write your monthly tasks on the calender. You are ready to go!

You will notice I didn’t focus on clothes laundry. I left this out because everyone has a different laundry volume. My family of 3 (almost 4) is going to have a lot less laundry than a family of 7. You know your volume of laundry, so decide how often you need to wash to stay on top of it. Do you need to do at least one load a day? Two? Every other day? Figure that out, and fit it into your schedule. (*Just a side note on the picture below – those things hanging over the washer/dryer are the “lost socks”. If I keep them right there in front of me, I find the matches much faster!)

laundry room

Here is our basic schedule for the day:

Daily Schedule

Of course some days this changes. For instance, on Mondays instead of loading clothes in the wash, I strip the beds and wash the sheets. Sometimes we pick up toys before bath instead of after; it depends on the time. In the evening we also do some things at the same time – for instance bath/dishes are on the same line because whoever is not doing the bath is doing the dishes. This way we kill two birds with one stone and our evening is basically open after that. The point is that you have a basic guide to your day.

Eventually this all becomes second nature and you don’t have to look at your schedules. That is when you have hit your “groove”. You will also learn what you can fit in during other tasks. For instance – bathroom cleaning doesn’t make my list anymore, because I clean the bathroom during bath time.

My second step was organization. This is pretty self-explanatory. The more organized you are, the easier it is to clean. Some basic things to implement are really going to have to do with the kids in your home.

  • PURGE the toys. Watch your kids for a few days and see what they play with again and again. See what they are just making a mess with (for instance, just dumping a basket of small toys but not playing with them for long). Then get rid of toys – lots of toys. The less you have, the less you have to clean up. The less you have, the more creatively your kids will play with what they have.
  • Create a place for everything. Cars go in a car bin, blocks go in a block bin, books go on a book shelf. Puzzles are put away with all pieces in place (and if they don’t have all the pieces, toss them). Not only will this help your home look more orderly, but it helps your kids clean up and play more efficiently. For instance, if they are looking for a car, they don’t have to dump a whole toy box – they just go to the car bin and get that car.
  • Create play zones. Set up a small table just for coloring and keep those supplies there. Buy (or make!) a car rug and store the cars near it. Again – organized toys and supplies makes for less clean up.

Living Room

Now, my last tip. Learn to let go.

Not everything will get done every day. Some days you will be tired. Some days your child will be sick. Some days you won’t be home. This is when we need to take a deep breath and realize that we have not failed and our home will most likely not explode. Forgive yourself if the clothes pile up – they will eventually get done.

There is a fine line between keeping your schedule and going crazy because of it. This is why I have kept my schedule basic and flexible. Some home organization and cleaning systems have so many steps and so many rules…and it was just too much. Create enough structure to keep you on track, but not so much that you feel guilt.

Learn what is most important to you. Are dirty dishes the one thing that really makes you nuts? Then make sure those are at least done before bed, even if you let other things go. If you really need a made up bed, make sure that gets done for *your* sanity. Everyone has that one thing that makes them feel like they have a clean home. Figure out what that is for you.

Now I want to hear from you! What do you do to keep up with the mess of life? Do your older children help, and if so how did you instill those helpful habits? What is your “one thing” that makes you feel like you have a clean house? Share your tips and hints in the comments.

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