Maternity and Breastfeeding Tops Review for A Mother’s Boutique

Way back in July I agreed to do a review for A Mother’s Boutique, on a nursing top. Smunchie was still at the breast frequently and I was certain I’d get plenty of mileage out of a nursing top even at 20 months. What I didn’t count on was getting pregnant that next cycle and sick before I even peed on a stick. Enter not wearing much of anything but pajamas for the next 6 months and a gradual decline in interest in breastfeeding by Smunchie. My most common fashion accessory became an IV line and when not one but two tops arrived from Judy, the most I could tell you about them was “you can access my port easily enough.” Figured you smart ladies wouldn’t find that so helpful.

I could also tell you they are pretty, check out the Shawl Tunic/Mini Dress and the Front Rouche Top in Bamboo which I now have in black and purple (or eggplant) respectively. Smunchie did breastfeed a few times in each top but they seemed too nice for my no-showering self and spending all day on the couch with my puke bucket so they got little wear. Then I lost 16 pounds and it looked like I was a little girl playing dress-up in my mom’s clothes. What I could tell you in those first few months: both tops were incredibly comfortable and I could easily breastfeed in them. Which was of course the point. Now that I’m starting to get my feet under me a bit more and actually pay attention to what I put on myself, I can tell you even more and Smunchie still breastfeeds here and there so I’ve been able to try them as both maternity tops and breastfeeding tops.  (Sorry for the crummy pics, self portraits with my phone while breastfeeding and hooked up to an IV.)

The first time I really wore the shawl collar tunic top and actually had the energy to care about what I was wearing was to go see Earth Baby, The Storyteller, Lolie, and The Piano Man in The Nutcracker. Loaded up with my drug cocktail to get me through the evening I gussied myself up in the top. By then my PICC line was placed and the stretchy fabric of the top made it easy to hide the somewhat bulky port on the inside of my arm without drawing attention to the site. Feeling a bit adventurous and excited to actually be leaving the house (hey, I was excited to lift my head off the pillow!) let alone with lipstick on, I went with the mini dress style and high heel black boots. The simple detail of the dress lent itself well to a wide range of accessory options and I went for my grandmother’s Korean War era garnets and a scarlet made-by-me cashmere cloche decorated with an art-deco black mother of pearl button, a treasure acquired during a visit to Paris.  (Another bad self portrait!)

I must have looked hot in real life. The Piano Man was playing piano when I walked into the intimate setting for the show and he got a little, um, distracted, when he saw me. After 5 months of feeling and looking like death it felt really nice to distract my husband. Through the dinner, the performance, the fundraising talk, and the post-show excitement I was comfortable in the top. My nursling wasn’t with me so I didn’t get to give the breastfeeding function of the top into use but the top was already a favorite just in comfort and style alone.

Blurry pic but the only one I have of me and my ballerinas from The Nutcracker.

Since that evening I’ve worn both the shawl collar top and the front rouche top several times and not just on my couch. Both have held up well to washing, line drying, machine drying, and the inevitable spills. They still look and feel like new. Soft, comfortable, and beautiful, they are both tops I reach for when I need to be really comfortable and look put together. I packed both these tops for a month long training with my job where I had long days and couldn’t exactly go around in my pajamas all day. The rich purple of the front rouche top hasn’t faded a bit even with line drying and to my amazement the top gladly released the tiny bit of white acrylic paint I accidentally got smack dab in the middle of my Sugarbaby bump and though I’ve dropped all kinds of food on it (baby bellies make the perfect crumb ledge) there are no stains.


Some details:

The Front Rouche Bamboo Top- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  Because I swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

30 weeks pregnant, eggplant front rouche bamboo top

Dreamy soft and with a perfect amount of stretch so it returns to it’s shape well. The front rouching is perfect for a post-baby belly and even way beyond, I can see wearing this long after pregnancy and weaning are over. Easy to dress up (I like it with a simple black skirt) and just as comfortable more casual. The access for breastfeeding is simple to use and can be done one handed even with undoing a nursing bra. I don’t have anything bad to say about the top, it’s so versatile and comfortable. Living in Houston often fabrics that would be comfortable elsewhere are too hot here but the bamboo rayon breathes well and I have been fine in 80+ degree weather in the the 3/4 length sleeve top and was just as comfortable wearing it in Illinois in the middle of January. This will be an all seasons top for me, particularly since Houston has a thing for over air conditioning everything in the middle of the summer. The ugly for me is the price. I’m admittedly a make my own or thrift store/bargain kind of girl so the $89 seems really steep for me. However, I recognize that not everyone has the fear of spending money that I do and more and more lately I’ve been seeing my wardrobe as more expensive than I realize because things don’t last all that long and I have to replace pieces, meaning I spend more than I think. Now I haven’t had or used/abused the top long enough to say for sure (though a good amount of time already and it looks amazing), but it seems like this top will hold up well and for a long time. If that’s the case, then for a specialty top (maternity AND breastfeeding top) that can be worn all year long and features style versatility, it’s a worthwhile investment. If, let’s say, you get the top mid pregnancy and continue to wear it for the next 2 years while breastfeeding (hopefully longer) the top averages out to $3/month. If you keep the top as a permanent stylish option in your wardrobe it’s even less. As a specialty item that can extend far beyond it’s specially this is completely worth the upfront cost for the long term investment.


The Shawl Tunic/mini dress- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  Because I swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

20 weeks, black shawl tunic/mini dress

Side detail of black shawl tunic/mini dress

31 weeks, black shawl tunic/mini dress

Not quite as soft as the bamboo top (something I wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t have the two to compare so it doesn’t really matter), the Shawl Collar Top has a beautiful silhouette that looks great with or without a baby bump. The wrap detail of the shawl collar give it more style than a simple stretchy tunic top or dress without overpowering the classic lines and it looks great as a mini dress, or a tunic top over leggings, jeans, or long pants. Combining both comfort and style, the stretch and drape of the cut and fabric makes it easy to dress up or down and you never have to sacrifice feeling good for looking good. Breastfeeding access is easy, the shawl panels providing coverage if you want it and again, I was able to get my breast out one handed even with a squirmy toddler impatient for her “bobbies.” I have long arms and am often frustrated with the length of my long sleeves. This top actually had long enough sleeves for me arms but with the stretch in the fabric I don’t think the sleeves would be too long for those with more normal length arms. This top is the perfect go-to, able to be the little black dress (or other color) staple for your closet. Whether with grandma’s garnets or blue jeans, I get compliments whenever I wear it out. With just enough gathering on the sides, it will be comfortable and forgiving at any stage of pregnancy and postpartum. It goes back to it’s shape well and I know I will be wearing this top frequently when I have a new nursling going with me to events and have lost the baby bump. The bad was minimal, the shawl collar doesn’t always lay smooth over the breasts, particularly after sitting with a baby bump but a little adjustment and smoothing was all that was required to unruffled the look. The ugly is the same, a costly upfront investment but I have actually paid around $79 for a little black dress option and that one doesn’t work for maternity or breastfeeding like this one does and there’s no way it could be paired with blue jeans. For many people $79 wouldn’t be much to drop but for our family budget it’s high so I’d have to make sure I’d be able to get my money’s worth in a top like this. Thanks to the versatility, the fact that it’s a great non-maternity/non-breastfeeding option as well as being functional during those times, and it’s comfort, I would consider that a $79 well spent if I could bring myself to get over the initial sticker shock. I’ve been wearing it regularly for the last 3 months and occasionally a couple of months before that and it looks brand new still. Regular wash and wear, it has taken me from an evening out to a day in blue jeans with ease. So assuming I can wear it through the entire pregnancy and for 2 years breastfeeding (likely more) it would average out to $2.55 per month, going down if I continued wearing it long after pregnancy and weaning. As both a dress and a tunic top it has a long life. Last, but not least, I would wear it primarily during colder months, however it would still be a go-to piece for special indoor events in the summer as the AC always makes me freeze inside during the summer.

Beyond the tops themselves though, I know that great customer service can make or break a shopping experience. Whether getting to shop her brick and mortar store in person in Wexford, Pennsylvania or shopping online, Judy Masucci, the owner of A Mother’s Boutique, is known for her fantastic customer service. Offering virtual fittings, you can send her your measurements and get bra fittings and size suggestions as well as specific articles that would work well for your body type. Patient and helpful, Judy aims to go above and beyond in helping her customers make great investments in garments that last, provide comfort, and flatter. Poor Judy has had to wait forever for this review, understandably impatient for me to share about the products she so carefully selects for her store. I spent some time the other day browsing her shop and encourage you to check it out. She has some fantastic sale prices right now and is celebrating her birthday and sharing Cake! Be sure to visit A Mother’s Boutique’s FB page and take advantage of the celebration.  You can get there by clicking the button on the right and take advantage of the discount for Leakies while you shop.

Why find out?

After sharing my thoughts on the sex of this baby and finding out (Blue hair, ultrasound, 5 girls, and Sugarbaby) I had a lot of questions asking if we don’t care what the sex is, why find out?

I’ve talked before and openly about my pregnancies and having to deal with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) through out them.  To sum it up, HG is severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, beyond the normal morning sickness levels, that usually results in a more than 10% weight loss for the mother, poor nutrition, dehydration, and other complications.  It’s like food poisoning that stretches on for months, for me personally it’s looked like vomiting 20-30 times a day and getting down to as low as 83 pounds.  Thanks to aggressive preventative care, this time I’ve only lost 16 pounds and with regular daily fluids through my PICC line, I’ve not dealt with severe dehydration.  At this point (over 20 weeks) I’m doing better than I ever have in one of my pregnancies and am down to vomiting 3-4 times a day and  for the most part I am able to function.

Still, it’s not easy and I have to admit to feeling more like I’m managing an illness than like I’m having a baby.  Because right now, that’s exactly what I’m most focused on, managing an illness.  Sugarbaby moves and kicks a lot and my belly is growing but I feel far more connected to my PICC line than I do the child growing inside of me.  I’ve even considered naming it, the line that is.  I have named my puke bucket in the past, so deep was the connection there.

There are reasons to be concerned about ultrasounds and like many in the natural birth community, I have my reservations about routine ultrasounds in pregnancy.  I’d share links to articles and research on the issue but I’m avoiding them right now since I’m about to go have one.  But do a search, there are plenty out there.

So why would I do an ultrasound if I have concern about their safety in pregnancy?  Aside from the fact that it’s only one ultrasound we plan on having during the entire pregnancy unless medically indicated otherwise, I have my reasons.  In my experience I have seen that a pregnant woman’s mind can greatly influence her pregnancy and her birth.  We have not had ultrasounds with each of our babies, with two we felt there was no medical reason to do so.  But then we discovered something: I struggled more with depression and feeling connected to my baby both during and immediately following the pregnancy when we didn’t find out than when we did.  There comes a point where I need something to help me start knowing the person I’m growing and connecting with them more than I’m connected to my IVs.  Knowing the sex of the individual growing inside of me is like a surge of power between me and my baby, energizing my connection and helping me get excited about having them.  That excitement helps make managing my HG this small challenge along the journey of getting this person.  The tiny potential risk of one ultrasound that gives us that connection as well as the peace of mind that the medications I’m on aren’t causing my baby to grow a second head means lower stress levels, higher endorphins, and begins the emotional journey from “I’m sick” to “we’re having a baby!”

With each of my pregnancies I find I worry more that something is wrong with my baby.  I used to think it was that I know more but now I think it’s not that complex.  We’ve had 5 healthy babies (Smunchie does have a minor heart defect and it was difficult and scary for a few months) and I start thinking there’s no way we’re going to have a 6th healthy baby.  Each time I imagine something worse.  Silly?  Probably.  Very real to me?  Yep.  And so, to help me sleep and to lower my anxiety, silly though it may be, we get the scan.  What if we do have a baby that is going to have special needs?  Well, things will proceed as already planned and we’ll start learning about navigating the world of parenting a child with special needs.  That’s not the problem for me, it’s the not knowing and the imagining that is.  Boy, girl, perfectly healthy, or special needs, this baby is ours and we love it very much, none of that’s going to change.

One more question that I’ve been asked frequently and I know goes unasked even more frequently: why keep having babies when you’re pregnancies are so rough?  The short, easy answer is because I’m crazy.  The longer, more complicated answer is that for me personally, I didn’t want HG to have the say in our family planning.  Our family didn’t feel complete.  We considered adoption and had actually planned on adopting but that didn’t work out.  So here we are.  It has been a difficult decision but one I don’t regret.  Getting through each pregnancy is hell, I won’t lie, and I hate the stress it puts on my family.  But we weren’t done, so we’ve walked through it.  I know it’s not for everyone and I grieve with my HG sisters that want more children but can’t make the HG journey again.  I feel incredibly blessed.

Please, if you or someone you know struggles with vomiting and nausea in pregnancy, please visit for information on HG.  While care and treatment of HG is improving, it has long been misunderstood, left undiagnosed, and poorly treated.  Check this list to see if what you’re dealing with is normal morning sickness or HG.

Blue hair, ultrasound, 5 girls, and Sugarbaby

This past week I dyed my hair blue.  Well, really teal and only chunks, not all of my hair.  I did this for no other reason than I wanted to and I needed to do something fun for me.  Being sick this long with pregnancy can get draining and getting in touch with my fun, pretty, living side seemed like a good step at the half way point of this pregnancy.  I thought nothing of it, dyed my hair, snapped a few pics, and shared with friends, family, and the online world.

Two things happened that surprised me.

1.  Some people were shocked, apparently they thought I was normal?

What does that even mean?

2.  I was asked if this meant we were having a boy.

Hmmmm… I never saw that second one coming.  The thought didn’t even occur to me, though I probably should have guessed some people would think that.  I am well aware, painfully so, that our culture places a heavy emphasis on blue for boys and pink for girls but since we don’t personally buy into, encourage, or support gender specific colors at all in our family, I sometimes forget that other people do.  But in our family, we all rock the colors we love just because we like them.  A favorite phrase around here is “pink doesn’t have a vagina and blue doesn’t have a penis and they don’t care what you have.”  We truly don’t believe that even a quick look at history or cultures reveal that color preference has any bearing on a child’s developing understanding of gender, who they are, and if they are male or female.  Nor do we believe there is any reason that one’s gender has any bearing on one’s color preference.  So instead of embracing what has essentially becoming a marketing gimmick designed to increase sales through “gender specific” individualized items, we just try to like what we like and be who we are.  Even if that means I have blue hair.  In our house, all colors are gender neutral, they are, after all, just colors.  By the way, we apply the same thinking to sparkles, flowers, bows, trucks, cars, trains, music, and any other inanimate object and our daughters interact with “boy” and “girl” play things equally.  We have what some would consider “girly girls” and some “tomboys;” both terms I hate since I don’t understand why they can’t just be “girls.”  They are each so different, so them, that their sex seems inconsequential.  Besides, this whole pink for girls, blue for boys thing is relatively new in the history of humanity.  Meaning it was all made up in the last 100 years anyway.  I love this article from looking at the history of assigned colors for specific sexes, specifically for baby boys and girls.

“It’s really a story of what happened to neutral clothing,” says Paoletti, who has explored the meaning of children’s clothing for 30 years. For centuries, she says, children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6. “What was once a matter of practicality—you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached—became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted,’ ” Paoletti says.  

I have to admit, I just find that whole fear the kid will be “perverted” if they are dressed in or play with items of the “wrong” color just silly and potentially seriously damaging.  The biggest problem I see with this whole ridiculous gender color thing is that much of society buys into the marketing hook line and sinker which means if you have a boy that loves pink and has a thing for sparkles he’s likely to face merciless teasing and unfortunately not just from his peers but likely from the adults in his life as well.

So far we bat for “team pink.”  Which I think is a stupid way of saying we have all girls.  Not thinking of the sexes as teams playing against each other in the great game of life I don’t understand this analogy nor do I quite grasp the desire for one sex over the other either way.  I know it’s real and I see many times parents hoping for a boy/girl and sometimes dealing with what has been called “gender disappointment” when they discover they’re not getting what they hoped for in terms of their expected child’s sex.  But I can’t even begin to identify with it.  Even more confusing is the fact there are quite a few people that assume The Piano Man and I know it all too well, that we are grieved to not have a son.  Worse, is that so many assume we’re having another child in an attempt to have a boy.

I’m not going to lie, this assumption angers me.  Chest tightening, face flushing, royally pisses me off.  In spite of telling myself these people mean well and are just curious, all I really hear is that we should somehow, for some reason be disappointed that we only have girls.  That this disappointment fuels our family planning decisions, the quest for having a child with the “right” genitals justifying adding to our family.  We have never considered having another child just because we wanted the other sex and we never would.  Back when we were adding baby #5 I had become practiced in hiding my feelings when such stupidity flew out of insensitive people’s mouths until one day when our 4 big girls were with us and we experienced a conversation that went something like this:

Woman:  “My, that’s a lot of girls, I hope dad is finally getting his boy this time.”

Me:  “We’re excited to be adding another little girl to our family.”

Woman:  “Oh you poor man!  You’ll just have to try again, so outnumbered.”

The Piano Man:  awkward laugh “I’m ok, love my girls.”

Woman:  “Of course, but every man needs a son, it’s just not the same.”

We awkwardly move away, ending the conversation.

The Storyteller, then age 8, comes up to The Piano Man and sliding her hand into his says:  “I’m sorry I’m not a boy daddy.  I wish I was a boy so you wouldn’t be disappointed and so alone.”  In a flash he held her close, looked into her eyes, and told her that woman was ridiculous.  The girls proceeded to tell us how they felt like everyone felt sorry for their daddy because he must be sad to not have a boy.  He assured them that he never had wanted a boy, he had only wanted them.

I never hid my feelings again.  Regardless of how well intentioned they are, someone says something insensitive about how we must want a boy, and they have positioned themselves in the direct line of fire of my pink and blue fast ball of correction as to just how stupid that assumption is and how hurtful it can be to my daughters.  If my daughters are present for the exchange it is possible I will be even more forceful and look for an apology directed to my 5 fabulous girls that my husband and I don’t regret in the slightest.  And don’t you dare pity my husband, he’s not outnumbered, this is his amazing family and we’re all on the same team.  “So screw you and your narrow minded views” might just be my ending flourish.  Not exactly eloquent but pretty to the point.

We are in no way, nor have we ever been, disappointed that we have not had a boy.  Nor have we ever decided to have another child in an attempt to have a boy.

Please note, I don’t look down on, judge, or think I’m better than someone that has been disappointed with not having the sex they had hoped for.  Everyone’s feelings are their own and just are what they are.  Given our society’s obsession with how we define the sexes, I don’t think it is surprising that some would be disappointed to not have one or the other.

For many people it is a big deal, I get that.  I understand it, even if I can’t identify with it.  Socially it is accepted that we’re going to at least want one of each sex and all that we associate culturally with the different sexes.  Sugar and spice and everything nice = girl.  Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails = boy.  Yes, we think it’s bullshit but for many it’s very real.  How I wish we could let go of our expectations and the marketing and just accept our children for who they are, not some narrow list of culturally defined expectations based on their sex but a rather embrace a complex range of individuality that may be influenced by their hormonal makeup without being all that is to them, their tastes, their activities, and their preferences.  Male and female are biological, masculine and feminine are cultural.  The range of masculine and feminine is huge, if we must pigeon hole them we need to at least recognize that the hole is so big we can’t even begin to narrowly define it.  I know how damaging it can be to individuals; as a woman that has long struggled with not enjoying being “nurturing” and other typically feminine defined character traits and interests, I’ve dealt with insecurities that maybe I’m not a “real woman.”  And I’m married to a man that is incredibly nurturing and not strong on many typically masculine defined character traits and interests, he’s dealt with insecurities that maybe he’s not a “real man.”  I can assure you, he is most definitely a real man and he tells me that I am most assuredly a real woman.

Tomorrow we find out Sugarbaby’s sex, provided Sugarbaby cooperates during the ultrasound, and yes, we do this even though we don’t care what sex this baby is (I explain why this is important to us here.)  I’ll go out on a limb and say what I think it is, knowing full well I could be wrong.  Since I first suspected I was pregnant I have felt this baby is another girl.  In fact, I feel I’ve known her name since I was in labor with Smunchie.  Even though I’ve been correct with all 5 girls before now, I wonder often if I’m wrong and “girl” is just my default setting after having 5 girls.  But I could be wrong and I would be more than fine with that.  Because it doesn’t matter to me.  All the big girls think girl too but they are open to having a brother, there will be no disappointment either way.  If Sugarbaby is a boy I would look forward to The Piano Man and I getting to raise a counter cultural son, just like we have enjoyed raising counter cultural daughters.  Another child embraced to be who they are, to buck cultural constructs defining their sex, and to enjoy discovering their unique personalities and interests.  Whatever sex, Sugarbaby is going to greatly enrich our family.

See Sugarbaby’s pregnancy announcement video here.

There are people rooting for us to have a boy, I know.  They want to see us have to “deal” with the shock having a boy would be after all these girls and think it would just be fun.  I figure having a boy will be a lot like having a girl, particularly at first and since we don’t plan on parenting differently based on the baby’s sex but rather adjusting our parenting based on the child’s individual needs the way we see it is it’s going to be an adjustment no matter what.  A wonderful adjustment, boy or girl, change is change and adding a family member is always a transition.  For a long time we always said we saw ourselves as “girl people” and even before we had children, we only imagined ourselves with girls.  Now I’m not even sure what that means, nor do I care since our daughters have taught us “girl” offers a huge range in personalities, interests, and actions.  Given that I’ve had my girls do all the typically considered “boy” things, including a big sister talking a little sister into getting into the toilet and flushing it to see what would happen, I’m confident we’ll be fine no matter what Sugarbaby throws at us.  Bring it kiddo, let’s have fun!

There is one major challenge I see if Sugarbaby is a boy: names.  Other than the one boy name we’ve had in our back pocket for the past 13 years of having babies, we just don’t have a boy name we love and we never have.  We joke that if Sugarbaby is a boy we’ll end up with Ophélia, Lavinia, Helena, Evangeline, Cosette, and Bob.  Or maybe George.  But Bob or George, there will be no fear of pink (or blue) here!

We will probably make an announcement of Sugarbaby’s sex at some point once we know but it will be a while yet.  Here’s what we did for Smunchie’s:


Simply Wonderful Sweet Stuff

Our family has a little treat to share, hope you enjoy, we sure did!

Tone, filters, and information

Photo by Bas Silderhuis

Whenever I see articles talking about the importance of nutrition in pregnancy I get a little tense.  When recent articles came out about research findings that moms that eat a diverse diet of healthy foods during pregnancy expose their babies to flavors that can help them to be less picky and eat a wide range of healthy foods later, I had a momentary twinge of guilt.  With articles like that I find myself thinking “I guess I screwed up” and then “actually, they eat pretty darn well, thank you.  They turned out fine.”

I eat like crap when I’m pregnant.

An article like this one about how physical activity during pregnancy gives babies a “head start on heart health” cause me to want to curl up in the fetal position and cry that it must be my fault that Smunchie was born with a heart defect and I’ve probably taken years off her life because I didn’t exercise much during pregnancy.  In fact, I hardly got off the couch.

It’s not easy to hear that what we have done as parents may actually give our children a disadvantage or worse, hurt them.  In fact, it can be darn near crippling or lead us to defensive responses of anger.

Those articles all hit a sore spot for me, the vulnerable spot of the reality of my pregnancies.  With every one of my pregnancies so far I have battled hyperemesis gravidarum.  Due to extreme nausea and vomiting I lose tremendous amounts of weight and usually don’t even get back to my prepregnant weight by birth.  With my worst pregnancy I was down to 83 pounds at 5 months pregnant.  Instead of a diverse diet of healthy foods, I can’t even keep down prenatal vitamins and pick what I will attempt to eat based on how it will come back up.  (FYI, ginger burns like hell and saltines rip up your throat and make it bleed.)  Regular IVs, PICC lines and an impressive drug cocktail closer to a cancer patient’s regime than anything pregnancy related get me through my pregnancies sometimes along with TPN and NG tubes.  Usually with multiple hospitalizations.  Kidney failure, liver problems, gall bladder problems, and permanent heart damage from severe dehydration have all come with having my babies.

This article just about broke my heart and the possibility that my children may experience long term health and behavioral issues as a result of my pregnancies is a tough reality to face.  I hate it.  It makes me angry.  I may even get defensive.

Sometimes all I want is someone to tell me it’s ok, that nutrition really isn’t that important and all that matters is that the baby is growing.  Not to dismiss the suffering of HG but to somehow alleviate my fears that artificial nutrition is really not that bad and that poor diet in pregnancy isn’t going to ruin my children for life.  After all, I want to say, Lactated Ringer’s and TPN (total parenteral nutrition) are specially formulated to be just as good as real food, right?

No, no they’re not and they come with some very real risks.  I really don’t want people to lie to me and more importantly, I don’t want to lie to myself.  It’s not even close to “just as good.”  But it is as good as I can get.

I’ve tried it all.  Eating the “right” foods, avoiding the “wrong” foods, detoxing, homeopathy, gut healing, a variety of testing, cleanses, herbs, chiropractic, acupuncture, positive thinking (can’t convince me I’m not puking though), prayer, supposed miracle drugs and so much more.  Nothing has worked.  Some have made it a little less awful.  Every time I’ve been afraid of what the medications will do to my baby but more afraid of what not being on them would mean for both of us.  It is not what I would choose and I grieve the loss of the pregnancy experience I had hoped to have.  And, I have to admit, sometimes when I hear that someone else has the perfect pregnancy with no problems and never even took a Tylenol I not only get a little jealous (or a lot, as in completely green… again) I may even get defensive even though what they’ve said really has nothing to do with me.

Do those articles set out to make me feel guilty that I barely eat during my pregnancies?  No, they are just sharing information and sometimes aim to encourage and inspire moms.  Do the moms celebrating their beautiful pregnancy experience do so to punch me in the gut and knock me down?  I’m pretty sure they are just excited about their own experience.  Does the fact that I have very little physical activity during the prenatal stage of my mothering make me a bad mom?  I don’t think so but it doesn’t mean I don’t wonder from time to time or that it doesn’t hurt a little when I’m faced with the reality that it really isn’t a good thing and could be putting my children at risk.  Blaming the information though doesn’t help me or make my reality better.  Hiding it, or worse denying it, doesn’t help anyone else either.

But maybe I have an acceptable reason that gets me off the hook?  Maybe because I had no choice and couldn’t move off the couch or do a prenatal work out with my IV I “shouldn’t feel guilty.”  (I thought this blog post from Analytical Armadillo about telling others they shouldn’t feel guilty was interesting.)  Some may say that but just as soon as some try to make me feel better about the reality of my situation, others will tell me I “should’ve tried harder.”  In fact, when I was pregnant with Lolie I had multiple psych evaluations and was told that if I just wanted my baby and if I would make up my mind to stop throwing up I would be able to eat.  If only that had worked.  It was in moments like those that I felt like nobody really heard me and my suffering and that maybe I was a really bad mom and didn’t deserve my children.  Where is that line?  When is the problem real “enough” that it  doesn’t deserve criticism?  And who gets to decide that?

What if I had just decided to be that way though?  What if I didn’t have HG and just had a normal pregnancy with normal pregnancy fatigue and nausea and I didn’t eat well or get off the couch?  I’m sure the harsh criticism would have been significantly more and maybe even deserved.  But what if there were other factors that others couldn’t see?  What if my husband wasn’t supportive of my pregnancy and I struggled with wanting my baby but having no support?  What if depression was already an issue for me and pregnancy changes led to more of a mental and emotional health battle?  What if no longer feeling in control of my body brought flashbacks of my sexual abuse history?  What if I was totally terrified at becoming a mother, giving birth or that if I moved wrong I’d hurt my baby?  What if I didn’t tell anybody what was really going on and instead I let people think I was selfish and lazy?

Harsh criticism only goes so far.  Occasionally it will inspire people to change but usually it inspires people to become defensive.  It’s hard to listen from a defensive position.  Dialogue, information sharing and genuine care, on the other hand, help people explore their own situations and choices honestly.  It is important to remember that the tone with which we share information can make a difference, making it personal towards someone else’s choices rarely is effective.  At the same time, when reading and receiving information readers bring their own baggage and filters to the message.  Remaining objective is incredibly challenging particularly when we live in a world where much of what we see and read is intended to rile us up and get a reaction.  A form of entertainment.  Even fairly objective peer reviewed studies can be reported in the news with headlines that immediately spark controversy and raise emotions that really have nothing to do with the study.  One I linked above reads as though women who love their babies will be doing prenatal work outs, leaving unsaid but certainly implied that not working out indicates a woman does not love her baby.  With tones like that the actual message can be a bit hard to accept.

Yet these caveats should not preclude us from sharing information.  In fact, we have a responsibility to share it.  My training as a midwife required me to learn a lot about prenatal nutrition and the impact it has on pregnancy, child birth and the health of the baby.  It took a while but I got over the urge to write in every margin on prenatal nutrition “but not always…”  Because ultimately that response was about me, not the standard, normal, healthy, low risk pregnancy these texts were talking about.  Over time I even developed sympathy for women dealing with normal nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, able to offer up suggestions that could help with their discomfort that never touched mine.  These days I can also legitimately celebrate with those that have healthy, normal pregnancies, gain weight without problem and enjoy food and I don’t take it personally or feel the need to remind them “not everyone can, you know.”  They’re not making a personal indictment against me and even if they were too, life is too short for me to dwell on that and let it get to me.  I know they legitimately don’t understand.  Frankly, I’m glad they can’t, I wouldn’t wish my pregnancies on anyone.  But I risk isolating myself, winding up in a dark, lonely hole of guilt and anger if I remain defensive towards the information and the people sharing it.

Whether we’re talking pregnancy health, birth choices, breastfeeding, formula feeding, or just about any other subject related to the choices we as parents have to make, sensitivity and recognizing our own filters in the conversation go a long way.  We should still share information, we should still read information and we hopefully do this in a safe community where processing the information can happen through trusting and supportive dialogue.  I hope that by keeping in mind the fact that we do not know everything there is to a person’s back story and why they make the choices they do we can remember to be more sensitive in how we share information.  I hope that by keeping in mind the fact that we all bring our own baggage to any topic we can remember to try not to take information sharing as personal jabs.  It is through these steps that we can support one another and make a difference for others.

The Semantics of the Sisterhood: How We Can Promote Breastfeeding Honestly and Positively

Today I’m pleased to bring my readers a lovely guest post by Lara, CLEC and the woman behind TLB Sponsor Mama Pear Designs.  Let’s consider how we talk about breastfeeding!

When you are pregnant, you must give birth to the baby, there’s no alternative.  And while there are various birth options available to women the end result is the same – you will give birth to a baby.  Until relatively recently, and in many parts of the world still today, the same was/is true for breastfeeding.  There was no alternative to breast milk to nourish and sustain a baby.  Either you or another lactating woman, had to put your baby to breast for its survival.  Today however, we know that breastfeeding is not a given, and as such we need to offer more support to pregnant women because they can choose not to do it.  Perhaps they make the choice not to, simply because they do not have enough information to make an informed one.  I am in no way saying mothers who choose to use artificial baby milk are in the wrong, I support their choice to do so.  I do not think that anyone should be forced to breastfeed, the choice is a personal one that must fit every mother and her new family; sometimes that means choosing artificial baby milk, and no mother should have to justify her choice to anyone. However, I do believe that prenatal breastfeeding education is lacking in many ways, and as such many mothers who might breastfeed miss out an on the opportunity because they are not given the information.  In addition, postnatal breastfeeding support can be hard to come by for some, and the combination of the two can be detrimental to women who have the very best intentions.  The reality is once you choose not to breastfeed it is a decision that is difficult to reverse.  For these reasons we need to offer support to women in need, so they do not get caught in a situation they did not anticipate.

So who am I talking about, who is “we”? Well everyone, really: all healthcare professionals, employers, friends, and family.  Specifically though I want to address the sisterhood aspect of the support scenario.  And by sisterhood, I mean the mother-to-mother support, such as the friend who hosts your baby shower and brings you dinner while you are “babymooning” after your baby’s birth, or whom you call when your baby has its first cold, first giggle, or rolls over for the first time.

What we say to each other and how we say it can be very powerful, both in a negative and positive way.  I want to raise awareness and create consciousness about these conversations involving breastfeeding.  I truly believe it is time to re-examine the language we use when we talk about the breastfeeding experience to women who have never done it, who are considering it, or who are in the throes of it.  If you have professional lactation training, you are sensitive to this.  You never phrase anything so that the mom feels like she has done something wrong, and you try to get a sense of her confidence so that you have the correct approach for her individual situation.  But the rest of us, well we could use a little guidance.  I have been a breastfeeding mother for four years, and recently became a Lactation Educator, so now I am able to participate in both sides of the conversation.

The first thing I would like is for people to stop telling breastfeeding moms is that it is hard.  Does the word “hard” word motivate you? Probably not, and especially not if you are worried about how the baby will be born, when will it be born, will your pre-pregnancy body come back, what is sex like after the baby, will your swollen ankles ever go away, etc.  Pregnancy is hard, and you do not want to hear that once the baby comes, more “hard” is waiting for you around the corner.  (A TLB post asking if Breastfeeding is hard “Breastfeeding Hard?” and another listing 25 things women commonly face that are harder than breastfeeding.) I think we can be honest, but careful with our words.  Breastfeeding can come with challenges and many questions, but there are ways to overcome those challenges and professionals and friends alike, can help new moms find the answers.  A conversation with a pregnant friend really should not sound like this:

Me: So, you are going to breastfeed, right?

Friend: Well, I think so, but I am not sure.

Me: Well it is hard, I had cracked and bleeding nipples, thrush, I leaked milk for months, but it was worth it.

Friend: Ummm…okay. (exit pregnant woman, running for the hills)

First of all, even though I have the best of intentions, I made the assumption that she was going to breastfeed and asked in a tone that made it seem like she was wrong if she chose not to do so.  I do not believe she is wrong for choosing not to breastfeed, should that be the case.  Remember, she is entitled to make her own decision on how to feed her baby, I really just want her choice to be a well-informed one.  So while I was trying to be honest, and I did tell her it was worth all of the early obstacles, I just scared her nipples of her poor swollen boobs, because she stopped listening at  “bleeding nipples”.  After that she heard nothing else. Guaranteed.

So maybe here’s a better way to approach the conversation:

Me: I just wanted to let you know that if you decide to breastfeed, I am always available to help you in any way, I’ll be glad to help you answer questions or help you find some reliable resources.

Friend: Oh thanks, I am not sure yet, I have heard that is it really hard, so I will probably try it, but we’ll see.

Me: You know just like learning anything with a new baby, it can have some challenges, but most women find that with the right support they are able to overcome the obstacles breastfeeding poses for them.

I did not use the word “hard,” but I did not make breastfeeding seem like it was going to be as natural as some assume it to be.   I also offered to support her, and hopefully she now knows that she can ask me when the time comes should she have any questions.

Using language that makes breastfeeding seem unfavorable, words like hard, hurts, and painful, really does not do a great deal to sell the idea to women who may be on the fence regarding breastfeeding.   I talk to women all the time who say, “Well I hear it’s hard, but I am going to do it anyway.”  What a wonderful attitude, she is committed from the get-go.  The problem is that if she thinks it is going to be hard, it will be.  If you have read anything I’ve written before then you know that my sister was my biggest supporter as I began to breastfeed my oldest son, and I was smart in that I really only turned to her for advice.  One reason was that I was the first among my friends to have a baby, but the main reason was that she was successful in breastfeeding my nieces, and she never told me horror stories, she just offered positive support.  And you know what? I never had any major problems.  A couple of times I had plugged ducts, but nothing too serious that could not be solved by a twenty four hour nurse-a–thon.  I had an overactive Milk Ejection Reflex, but eventually my babies grew and were able to keep up with mama’s fast flow! Essentially, I just tuned out the naysayers and focused on my cheerleaders: my sister, my husband, and my growing baby boys.

One of the other things with which we need to learn to be okay, is approaching the topic of breastfeeding in the first place.  Pregnant women are often subject to invasive questions, and even unwanted belly groping, we are all aware of this phenomenon.  It is commonplace to ask, “Do you know what you are having? (A human is always a great answer), or “What are you naming your baby?” (I always responded with “Chuck Norris”).  I said before that my only hope is for women to make well-informed decisions about choosing to breastfeed.  It is possible to offer your help, your sisterhood guidance, in a way that does not put the mother-to-be in an uncomfortable position.  I approach pregnant women, perfect strangers, all the time and discuss breastfeeding.  As a Lactation Educator, I cannot help myself – I am like a moth drawn to a flame.  However, I am very careful about the language I use.  I never ask their plans for feeding, I just offer my support and information.  I usually say, “If you are considering breastfeeding, I would love to have you in my class.  Here’s my information (on a business card), please contact me if you have any questions about my class or breastfeeding, either now or after the baby arrives, as I love to help moms and have a great list of resources to share.”  Done.  If she has chosen not to breastfeed then she can say, “Thank you” and throw my card away, or if she has (and I am glad to say most moms say they are going to try) then she has met one person who has offered to help her.

And last but not least, let us stop asking moms with older babies if they are still breastfeeding.   Even if we mean no harm, improper emphasis on the word “still” can make a mom feel like she is doing something wrong, when in reality if she and her baby/toddler/preschooler are still nursing happily, then they are doing everything right.  We are all aware that there are many people in society who are okay with a woman breastfeeding a newborn, or a baby who is four or five months old.  But with the eruption of teeth, moms start hearing suggestions that maybe it is time to wean, and certainly if a baby or toddler can ask for the breast the time has come to wean, right?  Wrong.  Is your breastfeeding relationship anyone’s business? Why does it matter if a mother is breastfeeding her 12 month old, or her 22 month old, or her 32 month old?  Quite simply, it does not.  It has no bearing on anyone whatsoever.  The problem is most people, including “first-generation” breastfeeding moms do not realize that it is normal to breastfeed children, not just babies.   When most people use the words “still” and “breastfeeding” together, it is merely so they can then comment how it is time to wean, that the relationship has run its course.  (Except me of course, if I ever meet you and ask you this, and you say yes, no matter how old your child is, I will congratulate you!)  So while I support talking openly about breastfeeding, I think the details of your relationship should remain as private as you like.  Should someone ask you a question that you do not want to answer because you anticipate that you may receive unsolicited advice about weaning on someone else’s timetable, then I suggest you reply with this question: “Why do you ask?” It will usually put people in their places without them even realizing it.

So are you in? Can we start rethinking and rewording how we offer our support to our breastfeeding mama friends, our “sisters”, in need of a little advice? I hope we can let go of the negative words that are a turn-off and instead be honest in a positive way, while showing our friends where to turn for help, either in their local communities or online.

Breaking up

Dear Vintage Style Beautiful Green Tweed Pumps,

I’m afraid this is good bye. I never intended to part like this, if ever at all but sadly, I suppose all good things must come to an end and seeing as my toes now press uncomfortably against you, this is the end. A sad and tragic parting of what was once a beautiful relationship.

It’s not you, it’s me. Things change, people change, feet change. Particularly after pregnancy. I was warned but I didn’t heed the advice of all those naysayers telling me it wouldn’t work, that my feet would probably get bigger and be too much for you to handle. My feet are now bigger than you and I know you don’t mean to but you’re hurting me, stifling me and crowding my freedom to run and dance. You can’t help it, it’s just the way you are. So it’s over, we’re done. I’m so sorry, you just can’t stop change. And I’ve changed but you haven’t.

We had 7 good years, the first 4 were really great and you and I went through a lot together: office drama, fundraising dinners, date nights at cute little bistros, so many memories. I will never forget spotting you in that chic little boutique consignment shop in Montrose. Love at first sight. Adorable and vintage, you seduced me with a great price and classic style. I pictured myself the crisp librarian type, coquette and studiously fun. Flirting with you for a while I knew almost instantly you’d be coming home with me. Even though it was obvious that you had a few flaws and would be inflexible to a fault perhaps in your structure, it all just added to your charm. So I brought you home and our love affair began. How I loved you. It became clear over time that we couldn’t shop together, that always ended in disaster and dancing was such drama from you that I always made sure to choose a different partner. But we made it work. Compromise was the name of the game, I knew your strengths and weaknesses and you knew mine. Eventually though, specially after baby #4, we just started growing apart. I admit it, I used you only for work, to get something done. If I wanted fun I reached for another pair, never you. I’m sorry, it was just that I couldn’t enjoy myself with you like I once could. Flip flops understand casual, sneakers know what I need for support, and strappy sandals totally get being cool and having a good time.

I tried to make it work even when we both had to admit things were awkward and uncomfortable when we were together. Really, I tried. It just didn’t work. Then came totally sexy, amazing killer heels and I just stopped trying. I know that is what killed us. But I couldn’t help it, they are a full size bigger and were $2 at a yard sale and made my heart go pitter-patter. How can you compete with those curves? That height? The alluring toe cleavage? That bling? Call me a cheap hussy, fine, but I have to be true to myself. I’m in love even if I know they aren’t good for me. Today I went out with you for nostalgia’s sake but it was then that I realized we really are over. I’m sorry.

You’ll get over it, you’ll move on, I know you’ll be fine. There happens to be an 11 year old I know that I think could be ready for her first real relationship with an amazing pair of shoes. We’ll get to see each other once in a while, I hope we can still be friends. You will always hold a special place in my heart.



Aching Love Celebrates

I wrote this poem for a friend as she celebrated and remembered her 4 babies born prematurely. One she holds here and 3 she holds now only in her heart. Grace is the name of the daughter that survived. Recently, 2 more wonderful families I know have gone through pregnancy loss and my heart aches for them as well. I have changed the words some to fit more moms that have experienced pregnancy loss, stillbirths, or premature little ones that did not make it. With this I honor all my friends that have lost children far too early and remember theirs and my own 3 pregnancy losses.

Aching Love Celebrates

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Sweet hope, please stay

This path you trod, do not take

If I could spare you with my fragile breath

I would not hesitate





Love is breathing

Songs to sing

Wishes can not replace

The loves taken wing

Grace is but a gift

One imagines not to hold

But in the eyes of Grace we see

Joy and Grief, elegant and bold

Aching love celebrates

What some pretend is not

Empty womb knows true

Arms missing burdens lost

From her body early denied

In her heart they still survive

Miracle Grow for Boobs

They came out of nowhere. I was in no way expecting them. Just woke up one morning and boom baby! There they were. I had porn star boobs. Like someone sprinkled Miracle Grow on my chest.

I always just assumed I’d breastfeed my babies. The truth is, I never thought about it, never questioned or considered that there could be another option. I knew formula was available and as a frequent babysitter had mixed and given quite a few bottles myself. But it just seemed, well, natural that I would breastfeed. I knew very little about breastfeeding other than “breast is best” and my mom enjoyed nursing my sibs and I and I knew that I would do it myself. I kind of figured that you have a baby and that triggers the faucet and voila! Milk!

So when I got pregnant I had zero idea of the changes that were coming. I understood certain changes related to pregnancy, thought I looked forward to morning sickness (HA!), the glowing skin, knew to expect swollen ankles, odd cravings and a host of other almost cute changes indicative of the growing life within me. What I was unprepared for though, among other things, were the boobs. Upon getting the two lines on the stick I peed on I started imagining myself with a round belly and cute maternity tops, anticipating the attention I’d receive as a woman heavy with child. I thought I couldn’t wait to go shopping for new clothes to accommodate my earth mother figure.

Within a few weeks, however, I had a tummy flatter than a pancake sporting an almost 6 pack thanks to the vomiting sessions and the 10+ pound weight loss. True, I did need new clothes but not because of my growing belly but rather because of the giant melons that now occupied the space on my chest where my little A cup, Hershey Kiss breasts had been. I’m telling you, Miracle Grow. Thinking it would be a while before I couldn’t see my feet, I was shocked to discover that the sore growths on my chest already obstructed the view. The Piano Man only once casually mentioned my increased chest size and then only when I complained about my bras not fitting and he suggested I go shopping, acknowledging that maybe they were a little bigger. I cried.

I marveled at the candy stripped appearance of my boobs as bright red stretch marks streaked the once smooth, even skin. I worried my husband would think me less attractive, what with my constant puke breath and neon sign striped boobs but he assured me I was still beautiful, greasy hair, puke breath and red magic marker streaked breasts and all. Smart man. Thinking he and I were the only ones that noticed my newly acquired body parts I tried not to let them bother me and go about my business, puking and pretending I didn’t have breasts nearly hitting my chin and keeping my arms from resting flat against my sides. But we weren’t the only ones aware, oh no, not at all. The 6 year old boy I babysat noticed and he finally couldn’t help himself, he asked me where those things on my chest came from. He totally did say “those things.” Scarlet, head to toe. I could feel my cheeks burning. They were still burning minutes later when, not getting anything but a blushing response from me, he took off to go play. But I caught him, more than once, staring at them. Seriously though, I was weighing in at 93 pounds with D cups, how could he not? I couldn’t help but stare at them myself sometimes and I legitimately did worry they were going to cause me to topple over.

When we finally started telling people we were expecting most of them told us they already figured it out, between the puking and all. The “and all” meant my newly found rack. Ok, fine, pretend you don’t notice them, we can just ignore the elephant tits in the room. Only one other person said anything: our gay best friend. I knew it was bad then. I really was just a pair of pasties away from looking like a stripper. My cup over-floweth had a totally new meaning to me, an uncomfortable, awkward, knockers meaning. I couldn’t wait for my belly to at least catch up with my bosom. My very ample bosom. The belly did catch up, finally, very near then end and I was relieved. There was a nice little shelf between my breasts and my belly and I was finally earth mother. I loved my curves, they were beautiful.

Then Earth Baby was born. Watermelons. Watermelons that shot milk when I sneezed, Earth Baby cried, I made chocolate milk (from cows), slept, had sex, thought about having sex, thought about Earth Baby or went out in public. Porn star cow boobs in nursing bras. And I still couldn’t see my feet. Miracle Grow for boobs, it must have been a whole bottle of the stuff.