June 20, 2020No Comments

My job, my privilege.

Part of what I've learned through therapy for my anxiety disorder is having to sit with my feelings. I mean that literally. I will find a place to sit down when I catch myself feeling especially anxious in an attempt to scan my brain and pinpoint what is causing me to feel this way. Once I identify whatever it is, I then need to confront it. Head on. This confrontation is often extremely uncomfortable and forces me to acknowledge things that were typically easier to pack away somewhere. Fears, insecurities, and wrongdoings. I tend to dread this process. But it took enough panic attacks to know that avoidance only led to the likelihood of more frightening episodes within my body and mind. And with enough practice, and patience, this process became my process, allowing me to grow, become stronger, and above all, keep myself grounded. 

The last few weeks have looked and felt a lot like this process. I've retreated, as I often do when my anxiety is high, and honestly just haven't been able to bring myself to go about life as normal - for example, sharing our daily happenings on social media. Because nothing about what is happening (and has been happening) to Black people in our nation right now is normal or acceptable in any way shape or form. So in this retreat I've attempted to really sit with it all. To keep reading, listening, learning, unlearning. As a biracial female, I've always considered myself someone who "got it" and was already doing the work. Someone who stood proudly and firmly in her own beliefs, and stood up to words and actions founded in hate and prejudice. I mean, I've experienced that hate and racism first hand along with my own siblings and parents, so of course I understood. I could empathize, right? 

Wrong. 

I think in a lot of ways being both biracial and a female did, and still does, help me sympathize, but not empathize. I have been witness to the Black experience in America but of course I have never actually lived it. The discomfort and hurt I had undergone at times in my life as a result of racism, while definitely impactful, pales in comparison to that of the daily treatment of the Black community in our country. Though I left the bubble that is my predominantly White suburban town when I headed to college (to the University of Notre Dame nonetheless, not exactly top of the list when it comes to racially diverse universities), I wasn't truly exposed to the many, many issues at hand until I moved to Philadelphia to begin my two-year stint as a young, bright-eyed educator with Teach For America.

When I look back on that time so much of it was spent being in a state of disbelief. How could things possibly be this way? How could this school system be failing these kids so badly? How was it that there was just no more funding available? The larger systemic issues beyond just the effect on the School District of Philadelphia started to become clearer day in and day out. But as much time as I spent worrying about my students' well being and future, I also spent just as much time wallowing in my perfectly manicured townhome rental on Delancey Street, exhausted by how stressful and difficult the days were on me. That, like many, many other examples, was part of my privilege. I would have to actively "check myself" so to speak when that latter thought (that I of course would never say out loud) crossed my mind. The students and colleagues I developed relationships with were some of the most amazing people I have ever met, and my experience with them changed my views in so many ways. But I'd also be lying if I said I didn't walk away after my two years were up with a quiet sigh of relief when I moved on to private education where things were just enormously easier. I convinced myself when I left that my two year commitment was more than a lot of other young professionals would ever do to give back. I had made a difference in some capacity, sure. But that guilt, that pit in my stomach I often felt when I would reunite with former students or walk by those schools, it never really left. I can't change the past and my decision to not stay, but I can continue to carry that time with me as a reminder and spark for change now. 

I'm not sure if it's just getting older and growing up, or if becoming a parent has deepened this sense of urgency and duty I have been feeling as of late. Either way, I keep coming back to one thought. It is no longer enough to just say I want a better world for Charlie; I need to actively be a part of creating it. So much of this starts at home. The last few weeks have forced Mike and I to have conversations I think many couples typically avoid (especially when it starts to feel too heavy). It's forced me to start doing more than just say "I disagree" to family members and close friends, but instead "this is not okay and here's why." It's living out the phrase "actions speak louder than words" while also being more mindful about what I do choose to say and how I say it to my son. It's remembering to practice what I preach, day in and day out.

My anxious mind has always told me to protect my child from the scary truths of this world. I've realized now, more than ever, that if I want him to truly have the best life possible, it means not being able to shield him (and really me) from the realities that exist. It is not only my job to introduce him, guide him, encourage him, and challenge him; it is my privilege. It is a privilege and role I do not take lightly, because it's the most important one I will ever have.

April 29, 2020No Comments

An insanely crazy but amazingly wONEderful year

A few weeks back I received this note from a client of mine, a new mom I had just done newborn pictures for.

Hey Rachel! Hope this doesn’t sound creepy, but I’ve been so excited for our pictures that I often find myself on your Instagram looking at your previous newborn shots! Tonight I took it a step farther and decided to read your blog posted in your bio. I never expected that my social media “stalking” would end with me sobbing! I wanted to share that I resonated so, so deeply with your post about Charlie and the “first few weeks.” I love being a Mom but it’s HARD- from the postpartum recovery, to my anxiety and nighttime baby blues, and the constant google searches and trial/error (do I burp her more? Maybe it’s a growth spurt? Is it bad If I have another glass of wine?!). This has been the most amazing and challenging 3 weeks of my life and it was so nice to read your post and feel like I’m not alone.

There I was, now wiping away my very own tears, feeling completely humbled by one of the kindest emails I’d ever received. Was I creeped out? Hell no! It felt pretty nice to hear that I’m not the only one virtually “stalking” people on social media! My husband, Mike, has said on multiple occasions he’s not sure if he should be impressed or scared by my online investigative abilities. But as moved as I was by my client’s message, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what post she was talking about.

I had to pull up my own instagram profile and click the link in my bio to refresh my memory on what exactly it was I shared with the world, a blog post I had written titled “The First Weeks - Learning to Lean In.” As I read through it, I expected to be brought back to those exact moments that I described in great detail, full of emotion and the type of rawness that only the early postpartum days can evoke. But instead, I just felt this void. A disconnection from that girl who I apparently was a few months earlier. It bothered me, thinking that there was a part of myself that I seemingly had buried somewhere so far away, as if I was ashamed of who I was during that earliest stage of motherhood. Mike and I always joke to other new parents that our motto during the first few months with Charlie was “survive and advance” but I don’t think I realized that was what I was actually doing every day, every hour, every minute; I was literally just trying to survive. During those lowest points, I truly did not think things would ever get better.

There was one moment during that blur of a time that did stick though, and feels especially fitting now. It was over brunch in the middle of a crowded First Watch cafe. I was attempting to eat my first actual meal of the day, slug my second cup of coffee, all while trying to keep Charlie asleep long enough in his little cocoon wrapped around my chest for me to catch up with my friend, Colleen. Coll and I have been close friends for years; she and her husband grew up with Mike and when I came along to their crew, Coll took me under her wing. Over a decade later, the same could be said with every other major life moment we both experienced that came after. First our engagements, then our weddings, and now our kids. At one point during our chat, I just started crying. I was a mess. I felt like I had no clue at all what the hell I was doing. My boobs ached. I smelled like spit up. And I was just so fucking tired. Like she’s always done throughout our friendship, Coll looked me straight in the eye and told me what I needed to hear. That even though I couldn’t imagine it right now, things would get better. “I promise it just will," she said. So much better that I’d probably look back on this very moment one day and laugh. And get this part - she told me it’d be so much better that I’d actually start considering having another kid! HA!

So on the eve of Charlie’s first birthday, as I sit here and blow up balloons and bake his little funfetti cake while he’s asleep upstairs, I can’t help but laugh. Just like Coll told me I would. The “better” I had so desperately hoped for in those early months arrived, and ironically, it was even better than I could’ve ever imagined. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to pinpoint when it happened; there wasn’t some major turning point or developmental leap Charlie reached that got us there. But we did. And while we won’t be surprising Charlie with a little brother or sister anytime soon, I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about it often, with excitement and eagerness nonetheless.

Having a kid changes you, completely. As a writer, I’m even at a loss for words right now trying to describe what it feels like. The way your child nestles in your chest before a nap, but looks up one last time before he falls asleep as if to make sure you’re still there. How he gently moves your hair out of your face to say hi, only to swiftly tug it back (and hard I might add) to hide and play an impromptu game of peek-a-boo. The way he sits on your lap, legs crossed, bottle in hand, living his absolute best life watching morning cartoons, kicking his feet in excitement. And God, that giggle. The one you get when you haven’t even tickled him yet, but he knows it’s coming and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. There isn’t a better sound in the entire world.

These moments that were once a constant are becoming more fleeting as Charlie becomes more independent. We can’t help but cheer him on loudly as he’s learned to stand, arms raised in the air like Superman jetting off into the sky. I’m so proud of who he is becoming and what he is achieving while also wishing I could press rewind and have him just lay still in my arms again for hours on end like he used to. Letting me stroke his cheeks for as long as I wanted, blissfully unphased while he cooed away, sometimes slipping in a quick smile. Most times now it feels like a race against the clock to get his diaper changed, or sneak in a quick hug or smooch before he’s off to the races again. 

I’ve spent this entire year watching my son grow without realizing until now how much I’ve grown alongside him. I’ve learned so much about myself because of him. That I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be. That listening to my gut is always the right choice. That my deepest worries are rooted in the deepest love I’ve ever known. That my level of patience is indeed higher than I ever anticipated (I’ll be sure to report back on this one during the toddler phase) and ultimately, that even on my not so good days, I am still doing a damn good job raising a happy and healthy little boy. A little boy who turned this once scared and uncertain girl into a brave and confident mother.

Happy 1st birthday, Charlie. I love you more than all the stars in the sky, the fishies in the sea, and all of the pizza in NYC.

Love, Mommy

June 25, 20192 Comments

The First Weeks – Learning to Lean In

I've sat down to write this blog post more times than I can count. Or remember really. Thoughts fire throughout my brain so fast it's hard to keep up with texts, emails, a blog, or life in general. How is he up from his nap already? Annnnnnd I'm leaking. Wait, did he just poop through his onesie AGAIN?

What did I expect when I was expecting? I wouldn't say I was expecting to go about my new day to day life with efficiency and grace, living out a perfectly curated mommy blogger instagram feed. But I will say this; I didn't expect life with a newborn to be this hard. How many times had I heard from other moms and dads the following sentiment about parenting before I became a parent myself:

It's the best thing but the hardest thing you will ever do. 

Well, let me tell you something. THEY. WERE. ALL. RIGHT. In less than two months I've learned more than I ever thought possible. About babies, about the female body, about my marriage, and most of all, about me.

Prepare to be completely unprepared - So many of my mama friends helped try to prepare me for what was to come. I asked all of the questions, took the classes, did my homework like the good student I am. But NOTHING could prepare me for what came. At least not really.  Charlie's heart rate dropped rapidly when I started pushing and we were told by our doctor that he had to come out fast, so if I couldn't push him out quickly, we were facing an emergency c-section.  Mike and I joked with our family and friends afterward that Charlie's delivery was like the 4th quarter of the Big East Lacrosse Championship, the score tied and the pressure on. I'm pretty sure at one point the phrase "LET'S F**KING GO!!" came out of my mouth between the oxygen mask version of water breaks. 50 minutes later with Tom Petty's "Wildflowers" streaming in the background, Charlie entered the world. It was euphoric, a high like I'd never felt. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life. But my best friend couldn't really explain to me the pain I'd be experiencing after birthing an almost 10lb child. How my face could apparently become freckled with popped blood vessels from pushing so hard and so fast. How it'd feel as if my vag was somehow going to drop to the floor when I attempted walking out of the hospital for the first time. And don't even get me started on getting back on the toilet during those first few times. I'm pretty sure I experienced some form of PTSD every time I headed to the bathroom, squirt bottle in hand, afraid of the experience I was about to face. And still three weeks later, holding on to Mike in our bathroom while Charlie cried downstairs, asking him if I'd ever feel "normal" again, because in that moment, it was hard to even remember what that was.

I wasn't prepared to not enjoy breastfeeding as much as I did. The engorgement, the latching, or the geyser that apparently somehow existed in my previously itsy bitsy sized boobies. I was told at least 10 times by at least 10 different people that there is a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. No college all-nighters matched what a night of consoling an inconsolable tiny human could do to your physical and mental state. So if you're expecting, should you still read all of the books, or like me, have 34 running tabs on your Google Chrome app researching every question that crosses your mind? Sure. Just know that nothing will truly prepare you completely until you experience the chaos that is the newborn phase yourself.

Find your tribe, love them hard - Ok, so I've always hated this quote. The inner tomboy in me cringes whenever I see it on glitter encrusted picture frames and water bottles (you know the ones I'm talking about, ladies). But truthfully this quote is the only way to really express how I feel about the other mamas in my life. I honestly don't think I could have gotten through those first weeks without the support of these women. They answered all my calls. They hugged me when I broke down (which was a lot). They truly kept me sane.  There are still times where I screenshot and save a text from a friend to look back on when I'm experiencing a difficult moment. Repeating to myself "The first few weeks are the toughest, but it WILL get better" over and over again until I force myself to somehow believe it. Because they are right. It does. And it continues to be tough, like right now as Charlie enters his next developmental stage. A phase of rapid progression that looks and feels like regression. The endless photos of his daytime smiles in my camera roll are the last thing I look at before I fall asleep partially because I am obsessed with my son, but mostly so I can remember them at 1:00, 3:30, and 5:00am when buddy boy decides he wants to party instead of sleep.

Mike: "He just wants to hang with his cool parents, babe."

I'll tell you who's about to lose their COOL in about 5 seconds if you try late night bedroom humor again. K?

But you somehow figure out a way to manage it. And you try, and try, and try again, everyday. 

The Baby Blues are real. And scary AF - I've been very open about living with an anxiety disorder so when I found out I was pregnant, I knew I had to get a leg up on preparing myself for what things could look like for me in the months to come. My therapy sessions started to include more discussions on the so-called "Baby Blues" and how it differs from post-partum depression. The warning signs Mike and I should look out for in the weeks following birth. I was told that because of my anxiety disorder, I had a higher chance of experiencing PPD and I'd be lying if I said that thought didn't scare the shit out of me. Like how I've approached much of my life, I hoped for the best but expected the worst - classic optimistic outlook of the anxiety ridden! After giving birth to Charlie, the blues did hit. And they hit hard. It's difficult to explain just how intensely sad and overwhelmed I felt. I stood in the shower and would just cry. I swear I cried more tears those days than the actual water that came out of the shower head. Mike would attempt to comfort me, asking me how he could help, reassuring me everything would be okay, and also just let me BE.

Let me hate how badly I felt.

Let me go into a complete panic, unannounced and unaware of when or if it would ever end.

Let me be distant from Charlie at times when I thought I'd feel so much more connected and close to him.

In time, things started to subside, with moments of intense sadness occurring less and less frequently. And that connection I yearned for with my son has only grown. My favorite times with him now are after his feeds, the "awake" period for newborns. The times he laughs at me, silently spits up on my shoulder and then smirks at me like he's aware I haven't noticed yet, and how he always wins every staring contest we have right before he drifts off to sleep. The room can be crowded with people but it feels like its just me and him in our own little world. But it took time to get there, and those first two to three weeks are a time I really don't like to think about and a place I really would not care to revisit, but an important one to acknowledge just the same.

Learn to Lean In - Beyond all of this, there is one thing I finally realized was at the root of my early frustrations with adjusting to motherhood. It is something I struggle with still today on a daily basis. I had a really difficult time putting my finger on it until one day when I got really upset during a disastrous nursing session with Charlie. I felt like I had been living my days feed to feed, already anxious about the next session to come with him. Somewhere in the midst of the super-soaking and the tears of discomfort (from both of us), it hit me in that moment what I had been feeling all along. A complete lack of control. The only thing I could do for our situation to improve was to simply wait. Wait for my supply to regulate. Wait for my hormones to level out. Wait for some type of sleeping pattern to magically reveal itself. Wait to just feel like ME again. But something else dawned on me then too. I wasn't alone in my frustrations. Someone else lacked even more control than I did - Charlie. Waiting for his tummy to grow so he could handle his feedings. Wait to grow out of his hard to watch gas pains. Wait for his brand new nervous system to develop enough so that he could get the interrupted rest his little body needed to thrive. As adults, we thrive on schedules, routines, and ultimately a sense of control in our day to day lives. Life with a newborn in a lot of ways is the complete opposite of that. Yes, there are methods to implement, and many proven to be helpful and effective, but so much of this time I have realized is just getting by and letting yourself lean in to the situation you are in. It's a difficult concept to grasp when you're so used to dictating how you want things to go, and when this tiny human being reminds you (on the reg) that he is the one running the show. At least, for now. By leaning in more, I've begun to allow myself to experience this wild ride of parenting for what it actually is - insane.

Insanely stressful.

Insanely joyful.

Insanely overwhelming.

Insanely inspiring.

And I couldn't have imagined it any other way. I mean, and how could I? All I know is that in those rare quiet moments, the ones where it's just me and my two boys, I can't believe there was ever a time where this wasn't my life. Because this was exactly where I was supposed to be all along.

February 8, 2019No Comments

Hudson Valley Winter Getaway guide

"So are babymoons a thing?" That's what the owner of our Airbnb rental asked us while we checked in to his Upstate NY home. We laughed along with him at the notion of this recent trend that has popped up over the last few years, which we gladly used as an excuse to get off the grid for a few days. We have a list of places we've been wanting to travel to but with me being close to the end of my second trimester and us keeping a post-holiday season budget in mind, Mike and I decided to venture somewhere closer to home.

Read more