Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Doodle.com: Organize your friends

Doodle.com is a website I wish I had thought of creating myself. It satisfies the conundrum most of us face when trying to rally our friends together for a social event: how do I find a time when everyone is free? As the event organizer, you can create a poll, send it to your friends, and immediately see if and when everyone is available.

Here are the reasons I love Doodle:
1) It's free.
If it were not free, I wouldn't use it.

2) It's super easy to set up a poll as an event organizer.
It has taken me approximately 3 minutes to set up polls, about as long as it might take to send an email requesting the same information.

3) Poll respondents do not have to create a Doodle account to answer your poll.
I think this helps guarantee most, if not all, guests will reply.

4) There are lots of poll options. 
 I haven't experimented with all these yet, as the default poll settings generally have worked well for me so far, but I appreciate options such as, "Ifneedbe," another choice respondents can select in addition to the traditional "yes/no." The "Ifneedbe" option is apparently the only way a group of my girlfriends and I could find a weekend when all of us are available for a trip.

5) The poll tallies for the event organizer exactly who is free when and encourages more democratic scheduling.
I sometimes find that trying to schedule a group event via email can lead to scheduling bias. Because I don't have the raw numbers (compiled by a computer) starring me in the face, I might unintentionally choose a date that is not actually the most convenient one for the greatest number of people. There's something about seeing the unfiltered scheduling results on Doodle that makes me feel a little more democratic.

6) People respond to Doodle polls quickly.
The few Doodle polls I've administered get 100% participation usually within a few hours. This is way different from email, which I feel like people open, mean to respond to, don't respond to immediately, and therefore ultimately forget to respond to at all. There's some interesting psychology behind this one, no doubt, and here's my personal theory. To make an analogy, email is like an essay test, and Doddle is like a multiple choice test -- people just think multiple choice is easier, so they do it first. If you want fast results, use Doodle.

I haven't been this excited about an online tool in a long time. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My body, 15 months later

Disclaimer: This is a totally vain post. Just thought I should point that out.

I could have titled this post, "My body, 12 months later" because the information is the same now as it was several months ago, but obviously I do not keep up with blogging the way I used to, so this will suffice.

Nearly a decade ago, long before I had any remote desire to have a child, I remember finding myself in a doctor's waiting room, thumbing through a random magazine which contained a large photo of a woman with all kinds of arrows pointing to all her various body parts, showing how her body would never be the same once she got pregnant and had a baby. Her feet would permanently swell, going up at least one shoe size. Her stretch marks would be there for life. Her weight would increase at least 5 pounds for every baby she had. The information in this magazine was probably loosely based on some scientific research, but even if it was entirely made up, it was enough to convince me I didn't want a baby any time soon.

So, in case you haven't been through the pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding experiences, I thought I'd share my story about how those experiences affected (or didn't affect) my body to offer you some glimmer of hope that you too can get your old body (mostly) back after you go through these events.

The short answer to, "How has my body changed?" is: Not much. I got back to my pre-baby weight within 12 days, thanks to breastfeeding, genetics, and the fact that I gained a healthy amount of weight slowly during pregnancy. I also avoided stretch marks, probably thanks again mostly to genetics and healthy weight gain. My feet did not grow, so those four pairs of shoes I bought while pregnant still fit perfectly.

Here, though, are some less awesome noteworthy details:

1) Although my weight was back to normal super quickly, I retained extra fat on my stomach until I stopped breastfeeding.

This makes sense, given the fact that a breastfeeding mother's body needs to hold on to fat deposits gained during pregnancy in order to help sustain the baby. So, I stopped breastfeeding Natalie when she was 10.5 months old, and by the time her first birthday rolled around my stomach was as flat as it was pre-pregnancy. No one had told me that they got their stomach back when they stopped breastfeeding, but I have a feeling I am not alone in this experience.

2) It turns out I grew a lot of extra hair on my head that then fell out postpartum and is now growing back.

I have these new "wings" of "baby hair" especially noticeable (to me) on either side of my head. These wings of new hair just sprouted in the past few months. Thanks in part to the insanely curly nature of my hair, I didn't realize while pregnant that my hair was in fact getting thicker. Then I didn't realize I was losing more hair postpartum. Now, though, the evidence is pretty obvious, especially when I pull my hair back (which is why I'm trying to keep my hair down as much as possible).

3) My c-section scar is significantly less noticeable now, but it's only just beginning to get back to normal.

Prior to my c-section, I'd never had any kind of surgery. I'd never even had stitches. Having this huge red, bulging scar ripping across my lower abdominal region was making me pretty upset. Plus, my scarred region would hurt when I would lean over Natalie's crib or sometimes even when the air pressure would change. Now the pain is virtually gone (though when the weather changes I sometimes feel a twinge of discomfort) and the scar itself is closer to the color of the rest of my skin and it is hardly raised. No doubt this is just part of the natural healing process, but I also started applying BioOil to my scar around the 6-month-postpartum mark. I wish I had thought of this way sooner, but I'm glad I started using it regardless because I think it did speed up the healing process.

4) My boobs are smaller.

I didn't think this was possible, but it happened. After I stopped breastfeeding, my boobs didn't just get smaller compared to how they were while I was breastfeeding (they were fabulous, thank you very much). They became smaller than they were before I got pregnant. I had vaguely heard  from some other women that this could happen. And it did. Whatever. Twelve-year-old me would be upset, but after a year and a half spent as a temporarily well-endowed woman thanks to pregnancy and breastfeeding, I can at least say life is easier with smaller boobs.

That's it. Really. Not that bad. I knew pregnancy and childbirth and breastfeeding would mean a lot of sacrifice of my own body, and I was willing to do it, but I'm happy to say it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dreams for my daughter

There's no good way to start a post like this, so I'll just say it: our friend Megan passed away on March 21 and life is not the same. We first heard about Megan's diagnosis with stage IV stomach cancer last July while we were on vacation in New York on that ill-fated trip. There were no words then and there really are no words now. What I can say, though, is that in the face of death I think a lot about life. Knowing Megan's attitude and personality, I think that's what she would want her broad circle of friends and family to do.

I think about looking out at the women who surrounded me at my baby shower in November 2011 and seeing Megan standing there. What I wanted to say to everyone there (but couldn't quite get out) is how fortunate I am to be surrounded by so many strong, successful women, and how I am so glad that Natalie will have such a powerful circle of women surrounding her, teaching her how to be strong and confident and smart and funny. Megan isn't physically present in that circle now, but there are lessons I take from Megan's personality and her life that I hope I can help Natalie embrace as she grows older.

Find balance in your life.
Work hard, but not too much. Read things that are serious but also things that are silly. Eat healthy, but let yourself have the cupcake you earned. Value solitude as much as you value amazing parties. Participate in a variety of activities you enjoy. Have strong opinions, but learn when to speak up and when to stay quiet. Experience gratitude each day, but recognize that you're human and it's OK cry or complain, too. Explore new opportunities, but allow yourself time to lounge around the house.

Take pride in yourself and your life.
Take pride in your appearance: look good and you'll feel good. Take pride in your home: keep it welcoming, clean, and comfortable. Take pride in your schoolwork and your job: always do your best work.

Recognize that the most important thing in life is other people.
Stay in close contact with the people who matter. Make plans; keep them. Organize events; bring your friends together. Tell people that you value them. Send cards and thoughtful gifts. Be a role model in your workplace. Nothing is more important than giving people your time and talents.

Even though Natalie was alive for over a year of Megan's life, Natalie won't remember the little things, like the time she spit up on Megan's silk shirt when Megan kindly offered to feed her and instead of being upset Megan just brushed it off, saying, "I knew what I signed up for!", or how Megan made silly faces and noises to entertain Natalie during an in-the-car meltdown when Meg was in the midst of chemo, or how Megan tried to trick me and tried to buy Natalie's baby food one day when we were out grocery shopping after Megan's diagnosis. One day when the time is right I'll tell Natalie more about Megan. No doubt that time will be many years away. But Megan will always be, among a host of infinite things to many people, an example of strength to inspire my daughter.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A baby registry with 20/20 vision

I get a lot of questions about creating a baby registry. I wrote about our experiences choosing a place to register and choosing some of our main registry items when I was 20 weeks pregnant. Now that I'm a mom of a nearly 15-month-old girl, I'm able to look back at our registry experience with clearer vision. Here's our experience and my advice.

We'll start with baby-registry philosophy:
1) Borrow as much as you can.
Seriously, that baby stuff gets used for such a short period. Some items to consider borrowing: Snap n Go stroller frame, bouncer seat, swing, exersaucer, infant gym/activity mat, infant tub.

2) Put any splurge item on your registry. You never know, someone might (and probably will) buy it for you.

3) Anything that sounds unnecessary while you're pregnant probably is unnecessary once you have a baby. Think: wipe warmers, bottle warmers, bottle sterilizers, baby food makers (use a blender), nursing covers (use a blanket). We tried to limit how many baby-specific items we brought into the house. You hear it so many times, but it is true that babies just really don't need THAT much.

4) Resist the urge to buy a bunch of 3-month baby clothes because that's what everyone's going to get you.
5) Consider registering with Amazon. Although we solely created our registry through Buy Buy Baby (still totally hate that store's name) and we had a good experience, now that the majority of people I know order their gifts from an online registry I think Amazon is the way to go. 
6) Do not open/use anything before you need to and save all gift receipts. We definitely could have returned some items if I hadn't been so determined to have everything cleaned and ready to go before Nat was born.

Now on to categories of items:

1) bottles - 3 4oz and 3 8oz. We like Dr. Brown's bottles.
4) I'd hold off on buying a breast pump, if you're considering breast feeding, and rent the awesome ones from the hospital if needed. I'd hate to have a $300 pump lying around that I never used. You can always buy later. (Edit: After publishing this, Matt reminded me that breast pump rentals are now included under Obamacare, so rent away!)
5) hands free pumping bra - bring this to the hospital just in case
6) a few nursing-related starter items, like nursing pads and lanolin 
8) Boppy pillows -- I liked using these while nursing and while bottle feeding. We own one and borrowed one. Get an extra slipcover.

1) crib
3) crib mattress pad (2)
4) crib sheets (2 or 3)
5) Pack n Play is great to have for travel and/or bassinet sleeping (we got the kind with the bassinet insert that Nat slept in inside our room for first six weeks)
6) Pack n Play sheets (2), we like the quilted kind
1) rocker and ottoman
2) dresser that can serve as a changing table (put a changing pad on top [these can be screwed into the furniture], and don't forget 2 changing pad covers).
3) bookcase
4) organizational items (baskets, etc. for closet/toys) -- We have my childhood toy box, and it's one of the best baby items we own.
5) clothes hamper

1) people love to give blankets, so try not to put too many on your registry. We got one set of 4 Aden + Anais swaddle blankets and that was more than we needed. You could put one set on your registry but don't add more (because you might get a bunch you want to return)
2) Kiddopotamus SwaddleMe -- these are like little baby pods that take the guesswork out of swaddling. Start with 2.
3) Halo sleep sack-- start with one or two in different sizes. Fleece for wintertime is nice, and the newborn ones with wings for swaddling are nice.
4) Aden + Anais muslin sleeping bags for spring/summer -- again, start with one or two in different sizes.
5) A few infant gowns for making night diaper changes super easy in the beginning.
6) White noise machine -- we have the Cloud b Sleep Sheep, but a simple idea is to take an old iPod and inexpensive speakers and load up some white noise apps.

Bath time
1) infant bath tub (if possible, borrow)
2) several baby wash cloths
3) a hooded towel -- This was the most common gift we got after Natalie's birth. We received 5 in addition to the 2 we already had on hand. Don't buy too many of these.
4) a body wash/shampoo combo. We like Burt's Bees.

Gear (for much more specific gear advice, check out Baby Bargains)
1) Stroller -- Start with one stroller. Consider your lifestyle seriously. Are you really going to jog with your baby? If so, good for you, and definitely get a jogging stroller. But if you are like me and had zero intention of jogging with your baby, do not waste the money or space on a jogging stroller. We started with a Maclaren Triumph umbrella stroller and are still using that as our one and only stroller. Many friends have used convertible strollers that have a space for the infant car seat (or an add-on attachment that holds the infant car seat) and then the child can sit in the main stroller part when it's older and can sit up better (most likely around 6 months old).
2) Infant car seat -- at first I thought our car seat was huge in our old, small car. Then we bought a new, big car, and our car seat still seems big. We have also used other car seats in SUVs, etc. Moral of the story: No matter what kind of car seat you get, they are big. We got the Graco Snug Ride 35 and Nat is still in it at nearly 15 months. At least we haven't needed to buy our next car seat yet and we're getting our money's worth out of the Graco seat. For what it's worth, babies are now recommended to be rear-facing for the first two years. So, when you buy your second car seat (likely a convertible when your child is between 1 and 2 years old) it will still ideally be backward-facing. Pain.
3) extra car seat base
4) Ergo carrier -- Not a necessity, bit of a splurge, but I love this thing (makes shopping way easier!), and Nat can still fit in it and it doesn't cause me discomfort. Buy or borrow the infant insert.
5) Pack n Play (see Bedding above)
6) High chair -- still loving our Stokke Tripp Trapp, though Nat would probably tell you that anything that is meant to contain her is something she does not like. We bought the Stokke Table Top (an expensive plastic place mat that we fortunately found on a major sale) and Stokke Tripp Trapp Baby Set. I am so glad we don't have a traditional high chair that takes up a ton of space. A good alternative to the Stokke sets is a booster seat (with an attached tray) that can snap on to a chair at your dining table.
7) a place to put your baby when you're showering -- this is one of those items I recommend borrowing. An inexpensive bouncer seat will do the trick.

1) no matter what type of diapers you use, you need a place to dispose of them/save them for washing. We didn't go with the Diaper Genie because 1) we use cloth diapers and 2) I think they're ugly. We just have a trash can that serves as a diaper pail, and we use a smaller pail for dirty wipes.
2) diaper rash cream -- We like Burt's Bees.
3) diaper bag -- I think this is a fun place to splurge, especially if you get one that looks like a purse but has all the helpful compartments/insulated pockets for bottles/food
4) diaper bag should come with a portable changing pad inside, but if it doesn't, register for one you can put in your diaper bag and/or give your husband when he goes on adventures without you.
5) an essential if you're cloth diapering, but even a good idea if you're not: a wet bag. Easy to wash, eco-friendly, a medium-sized bag can hold a few diapers and a couple dirty outfits (lest you experience a blow-out diaper outside the home, which destiny seems to indicate you will).
6) if cloth diapering, I recommend the Bum Genius Diaper Sprayer.
7) wipes -- I like getting the Huggies Natural ones that are sold in bulk at Costco.
8) enough disposable diapers to get you started -- you'll probably need some newborn-size diapers, but you'll likely need way more size 1 diapers. The hospital will give you some, and guests visiting you right after you have the baby can always bring some along, too.

1) humidifier -- Crane Cool Mist is the one we got.
2) humidifier filter
3) thermometer -- we opted for rectal. The theme with thermometers seems to be: more expensive = more likely to break. Go for a cheaper digital option.
4) saline nose drops
5) baby Tylenol
6) nail clippers -- some people believe in baby nail files. I say, how do you plan to file your baby's nails? Never seen it done.
7) comb and brush
8) set of 2 Soothie pacifiers, just in case!
9) AngelCare Movement and Sound Monitor -- this made me sleep well knowing my baby wasn't dying of SIDS. 
12) outlet covers
13) cabinet locks

Clothes -- seriously, do not buy baby clothes. Everyone else wants to buy you baby clothes. Your job is just to fill in the gaps and get your clothes-shopping fix when your kid is 9 months old and everyone has forgotten about you and your kid. That said, here are some items for the beginning:
1) Kimono-style long-sleeve T-shirts -- for baby to wear before the umbilical cord stump falls off. The Gerber brand has fold-over sleeves.
2) A pack of 5 onesies, size 0-3 months, to wear under clothes
3) Trumpette socks -- These are still the only socks that consistently stay on Nat. I would add 2 sets of these to a registry (a set contains 6 pairs). They are fun to buy and expensive, so they made a great gift. 
4) borrow some zip-up newborn onesies. After you have the baby you might buy some more. Having about 5-7 of these on hand will keep you from doing laundry every day.
5) no-slip baby clothes hangers -- I think we have about 50.

My philosophy here was to put some of each on our registry so that people would get a sense of our "style." I don't know that this actually happened, but it has been helpful for me when buying for friends. For example, my friend who put 20 wooden toys on her registry clearly wants wooden toys. All the books we put on our registry helped reduce how many duplicate books we received.

Parenting books/items
3) a free BabyLog app 
4) If you have a digital SLR camera, I'd recommend getting the 50 mm f/1.4 lens for your camera for indoor and action shots. This is the single best item we have for our family.
5) A subscription to Amazon Prime.
6) A Netflix subscription or another stock-piled collection of several seasons of several shows you plan to watch while your baby sleeps 18 hours per day during its first few months of life.

Clearly, our experience is not universal, and what worked for us may not work for you, but I hope this list helps get you started!