Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Birth Story & First 2 Weeks

Our Autumn Mary Swanek was born via csection on Tuesday, May 26th at 1:03 pm weighing 8 pounds, 4 ounces and measuring 20 1/2 inches long. 

Three days old and ... a dimple!?

We checked in at Hoag at 10:30am and waited in a room. A nurse came in and started an IV, we met the anesthesiologist, and changed into our gowns. I didn't know if Nathan would be able to stay with me for her birth because he feels nauseous and faint when medical procedures are involved. About a year ago, during an IVF informational seminar, Nathan left the room and was gone for quite awhile. Thinking he had been gone too long for the bathroom, I went to check on him and found him sitting outside, feeling like he was going to pass out. He has also passed out giving blood before, in front of a young girl who will probably always remember that day and what smelling salts do. 
 While I hoped he would be able to stay for her birth, I didn't have my hopes up too high because of this. As 12:30pm approached, they took me into the operating room to give me my epidural while he waited outside the room. I've heard that needle is really long, but fortunately cannot confirm or deny this. It was pretty quick and painless. As my legs were starting to feel warm and go numb, I heard someone say "Let's bring the Dad in early, to see how he does." We had warned them of his condition, and if they were going to be picking up his passed-out body, I suppose they wanted to do it sooner rather than later.

They didn't have anything to worry about. He remained by my side the entire time, reassuring me. In what felt like no time at all, someone from beyond the blue sheet said "You're going to feel some pressure" just like his sister told me they would when it was time for the baby to come out. But, it seemed too soon for baby. I turned to Nathan and asked that can't be it, can it? And then we heard her cry. A strong, beautiful, healthy cry which was so reassuring to hear. That's her! That's our baby Autumn! Nathan left my side to take pictures, and before I knew it, a nurse asked if I wanted to hold her, and she was placed on me, skin to skin. 




Nothing can prepare you for how holding your child for the first time feels. No amount of dreaming and imagining it over the past 10 months or even a lifetime prepared me. And no words can do it justice either. Anything I try to come up with to describe how I felt seems beyond inadequate. Suffice to say, holding her was the moment my world changed and life finally felt complete. This is all I need; all I will ever need, I thought.

So much of our lives are spent on reaching goals. And once we reach a goal - graduation from high school, for example, we move the goal post a little farther back and set our sights on a new one. For the first part of our lives, high school graduation and officially becoming an adult seems the end-all-be-all. But no sooner do we switch our tassel from right to left and we have a new goal: graduating from college. Once that is complete and our degree is in hand, we realize we need to attend graduate school. Then, we want a job in our chosen career and oh yeah, on to finding a husband.

But now that I have Autumn, I don't need anything else. It seems my whole life has been spent working toward this one moment. So much time and effort spent achieving my own goals, finding the perfect man to be a husband and father, creating her, and now, finally, holding this new life in my arms. And all of the potential and hopes and dreams and possibilities that she represents and has laid out before her. Life could stand still forever now and that would be just fine with me. Seeing Nathan holding her after leaving the operating room melted my heart. He was staring at her and when I asked him to look up for a picture, absolutely beaming.

I could have been a Mom long ago, but not with the right person. Not with a person who would be the right kind of father: the kind of father she needs and deserves. Someone who is kind and patient and loving and funny. Someone stable, who is already planning for her future, giving her the house we live in now and half of the property in Oregon. Someone who treasures her. Finding him was worth the wait, and so was she.

After a short time in recovery, we were taken to my room where I would stay for the next three nights. When we were back in my room, Nathan gave me my "push present" a recent invention probably brought to you by the same women behind babymoon. I unwrapped a beautiful diamond and emerald necklace (our birthstone, since we're both born in May) to be passed on to Autumn when she's older. I love how sentimental he is, and Autumn will too someday.








Autumn was still sleeping on me skin-to-skin when we started receiving visitors and I just couldn't give her up until they had to take her to weigh and swaddle her. Nathan's Mom was there, my Dad and brother visited, his sister Brittany stopped by as did my friends Delia and Ann-Marie. Some people limit visitors the first day, even family - but they love Autumn just like we do, and were a part of the journey. 

Starting in the hospital, Nathan was a huge help and a lot more hands-on than I expected. Even when a nurse was there to help, he took charge changing and swaddling her. They gave us the option of sending her to the nursery, and Nathan declined. She was a complete doll and only became fussy on day three because she was not getting enough nutrition from me. As soon as we started supplementing, she started seeping like, well, a baby.



We stayed in the hospital four days and three nights and it was so exciting coming home that Friday afternoon. On the ride home, I sat in the back with her, so I could watch her. We went for a walk that night, just around the block, with Nathan holding her in his arms. The first of many. We have walked with her in the stroller every day with the exception of the day I had a fever of 101 from mastitis. 
First walk

Nathan continued helping that first week home, and even took many of the night shifts, staying up until 4am with her and bringing her to me when it was time to feed and changing her afterwards. I was prepared to be completely sleep deprived and stressed out. I imagined us taking turns pacing around the house at all hours trying to console our crying baby with only our limited knowledge from a 15 minute Happiest Baby on the Block video we watched. "Shushing" her loudly, swaddling her tightly and getting out the vacuum cleaner or blow-dryer for the white noise. I wondered if we would have time to shower, eat or even talk to each other.

But, it has been amazing and I have to say, pretty darn easy compared to what I was bracing myself for. This further credits my theory that low expectations are the key to happiness. I thought we would be searching for ways to console her and instead, we have a perfect angel that has to be woken up half the time to be feed! Not to say those times won't come, but as for now, she is sleeping over 20 hours a day and only cries when she's hungry. Then, she's right back to sleep.  

The only struggle we had was breastfeeding, which I really wanted to do. I threw in the towel after my second failed lactation consultation at Hoag during which she only received 4cc of milk, when she has been consuming 3-4 ounces. My production was super low in spite of pumping every 3 hours around the clock and I had scabs. Yes, scabs. They said redheads are much more sensitive and I was truly in pain with every attempt. What was supposed to be a bonding experience was torture for both of us, with her becoming frustrated as I tried to get her to latch deeper by pushing her tiny, crying face to me. As soon as I let go of the emotional this is what's best for her and I have to do it part, things have been much better. Nathan is able to stay up with her and I'm able to sleep more. She sleeps more soundly because she is satiated. 

We treasure the times when she is awake, because they are so few and far between. We talk to her and tell her about all the adventures she has ahead of her while she holds amazing eye contact with her furrowed brows. We love singing "You are my Sunshine" to her and earlier this week, she has began responding to our voice. While on a walk the other night, I said her name and she moved her eyes to look at me. We love watching her fall asleep, how she sometimes sleeps with her tiny fists both up by her ears and how she stretches when she wakes up. Sometimes, she dreams, and makes the cutest sounds and movements. We wonder what she is dreaming about since her experiences are so limited. I love the sounds she makes when she's drinking the bottle, and how her little hands wander up to her face, but grip your finger tightly instead when offered to her.

I know this newborn phase will pass far too quickly, and so I am trying to soak in every moment and commit every little thing she does to memory, or at least social media. 



Sunday, May 24, 2015

Selfie + Bump = Bumpie

We all know what a selfie is. A bumpie is just like it sounds: a selfie of your growing bump. Obnoxious though it may be, I worked very hard to be able to join in on this annoying trend. Finally in the club, I did my best to document the growth every week, starting at 11 weeks, when I felt like it was too soon to tell. At 15 weeks, I remember being very proud of what I finally saw as a bump and captioned it on instagram: My bump is out in full force today. Not compared to what was coming! From week 30 on, I just didn't think I could get any bigger, and sure enough every week, I did.

This will be my last posting until baby Autumn arrives! I am scheduled for a csection Tuesday, May 26th at noon. Check in time is at 10am. We could not be more excited to meet her! I can't wait to see what she looks like, what color her hair will be, and what her cry will sound like. Most of all, I can't wait finally to hold her.

Baby Autumn arrives in 2 days!



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Giveaway! Positively Oakes


I'm teaming up with Jess from Positively Oakes to offer my blog's first giveaway! Jess is a self-described Mom Boss who also struggled with infertility for years, and is now expecting her first baby, a girl named Blake, in July.

Even before I realized our parallels, I fell in love with her signature top knot headbands for babies. I see these as an alternative to those flower headbands you see attached to 9 out of 10 kids under the age of two. Her headbands are adjustable, and she has a demo on her blog about how to re-tie them so that the 0-6 months size can also work for 6-12 months.

Our top knot headbands are made with the softest stretchy material, while durable and long lasting for those busy babies + toddlers. They are adjustable and made to untie for the perfect fit, while leaving them extra comfy for your little's head! The best part about these headbands, we've found that most babies don't even notice they're on! 

But that's not all that her boutique has to offer! She also has handmade clothing from leggings to tees for baby, toddler and even Mom. Seriously, how cute is this cuddle tank top set? Head over to Etsy to check out her full line.






Two simple ways to enter: 
  • Share my blog or any blog posting (past or present) on social media.
  • Visit Positively Oakes on facebook.
That's it! The first one can once a day for multiple entries. Contest closes at 12am on May 26th. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, May 11, 2015

DIY Faux Taxidermy Elephant Head

"The bond between a baby elephant and its mother can be correctly described as the closest of any animal on earth. If it is a female baby, she will typically remain with her mother right into her own adulthood and will likely never once be separate from her until the mother dies of old age." ~ ConserveNature.org

Her nursery needed a whimsical statement piece

I pin things on Pinterest all the time that I never get around to cooking, making, baking or buying. But for some reason, seeing a white faux taxidermy head on the wall of a nursery stuck with me and I just had to have one. Everything else in her nursery is pretty...normal and typical. This elephant head would add just the right amount of playful whimsy. Or so I tried to convince my husband, who insisted it didn't match anything, and was skeptical.

They are pretty expensive at ZGALLERIE, about $250 plus tax, shipping, and an oversize charge of $19.95. Other places have them for around $100. 

But you can find resin ones of all different kinds of animals over at Amazon for around $50. I chose this one. My brother had just asked me what I wanted for my birthday. At first, I gave the usual "I'm not sure..." response and then "Oh wait - a resin elephant head!" My brother is becoming skilled at getting me gifts that my husband isn't on board with, like the DNA test kit for my dog that he gave me last Christmas. 

I was so excited when it arrived! I unpacked the box, and this is what I found staring back at me:


It was a bit larger than I expected: 19.5 x 16 x 11 inches and almost 8 pounds! Excited to get started, I went to Hobby Lobby and bought some flat white spray paint, metallic gold paint and a cheap sponge brush, under $10 for all three.


Here it is after one coat. There's a lot of nooks and crannies, so you'll want to give it several. The paint dried in 10 minutes, so I just kept spraying until the can ran out.
You can tell it still needs several more coats.

Once she was completely white, I painted the gold tusks. This was the best part! Make sure you get a metallic paint, so it shines and stands out from the flat white.

I could not be happier with the results. It was only after I had it hung up that my sister-in-law Rebecca's Mom told us how elephants mothers bond with their children for life. I didn't know this when I picked an elephant, but it makes the choice that much more relevant. 






Saturday, May 9, 2015

Our Nursery, on a Budget

When you become pregnant through IVF, keeping baby-related costs down is important. I'm pretty proud of the fact that we were able to keep costs down in several different ways which I'll share with you, and still end up with a nursery beyond what I have always envisioned. 

My hospital bag is packed. I woke earlier this week to find the stroller out of the box and ready to go, and her car seat installed in my Jeep. Tomorrow I will be 37 weeks, just over 9 months pregnant. My due date is June 2nd, but we have a feeling she's going to be close to 10 pounds. If that's the case, she will be delivered via c-section at noon on May 26th. It all finally feels real, and I could not be more excited! I currently have zero anxiety or fear of the process, though that may change as the date gets closer.

Her nursery is almost done; just a few finishing touches are left, like hanging up the window panels for the french doors. And of course no nursery is complete without a DIY faux taxidermy elephant head, which I will be working on this weekend (thanks Glen!). This will, of course, warrant its own blog entry, view-able here.

Our first step was to have french doors installed, leading out to our back yard. This brought in a lot of light and really opened up the room. The trade off of course is less wall space, but it's totally worth it. And when she's older, we'll have easy access to lots of fun activities in the back yard. We bid the job out to two different contractors, and found someone very reasonable - contact me if you want his information (we are in Orange County, CA). Nathan also searched to find doors that were on sale. We saved a few hundred dollars on doors that were higher quality.


Doors being installed, far left.
Trevi is curious about the new view.
Our next step was painting, putting up a chair rail, crown molding and baseboards. This did cost a few hundred dollars in materials, but I will tell you it has made a world of difference. We were lucky enough to have someone offer to put them up for free.






























Now, to pick a pink! I picked up some $3 samples at Home Depot., an extra step I wouldn't normally do. Make sure you do this! The color I was sure I wanted looked too bold and bright when painted on the wall with all of the light. I ended up going with the color on the far right, when I was certain I wanted the one in the middle. 

Next, we began our search for furniture that we knew we needed. We started this early, so we had time to find deals. This also helped us space out the spending. I'm happy to report that we didn't pay full-price for anything! I knew I wanted a large, overstuffed recliner, but we ended up finding two, one for the nursery and one for the living room, for less than we were planning to pay for just one. This was because we happened to wander into Ashley Home Furniture and find floor models on sale for only $150! I think I will be spending a lot of time in these, and by spending time I mean sleeping.


Actually, our search for furniture began even earlier when I was given a crib by a former co-worker. Cathy, who I used to work with at the museum, posted that she was getting rid of her crib on facebook and I was first to respond. This was back while I was undergoing treatment for my second round of IVF! Important: Before getting a used crib, be sure to review this website, especially if it was manufactured BEFORE June 28th, 2011 when new federal safety standards were put into place. 






When we were at Ashley Home Furniture, we looked at dressers but they were too expensive, and not great quality. Instead, we decided to look at Home Consignment Center in Newport/Irvine, a place I've been going to for years. A lot of their furniture comes from model homes. We didn't want a small nursery or child's dresser, but instead, one that can eventually go in our guest room. We found the perfect one, and it was new! We paid under $500. We also found our changing table there. Even though it was almost $100, the ones I saw at Babies R Us were more money and again, lower quality.
Next up - a closet organizer! This was Nathan's idea and something I wasn't sure we needed and viewed as a splurge. But now that we have it, I can't imagine leaving it the way it was. It almost doubled our space for hanging her clothes, and added a lot more storage. Six shelves (there are three above the top bar, out of view) and four drawers. Always the bargain hunter, this was a Home Depot deal of the day. It's this model by Martha Stewart which usually goes for over $300, and Nathan found it for under $200. He also received airline miles for it, something he loves doing.


Nathan was kind enough to humor me and get our little girl a chandelier. He replaced the ugly, brown ceiling fan. You can find the same one here for under $100. Even though this was more than reasonable, it did not save us any money because the process of installing it caused the electricity to go out in half the house. We live in a 1958 ranch-style house, and as it turns out, when you switch off all the power to install lighting, you're likely to blow a breaker. If this happens, you may find that part of the electrical panel needs to be replaced. Five hundred dollars later...



I couldn't be happier with the finished product. Some final touches: The netting over the crib will just stay up until she starts using it or standing, and was under $12 on Amazon. I framed the 8x10 photo of my Mom holding me that I saw for the first time when I visited her sister outside of London, with a frame from Target which cost $16. I put up the Celtic cross that she used to have in the living room. My bedding is from Buy Buy Baby, which my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were kind enough to get for me.

Autumn will be sleeping in our room for the first few months in the Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper, but it feels so good to have her nursery set up and organized. 

Did we save a little? Yes. But of course we could have saved more. I thought we did a pretty good job, until my husband, who is in charge of our finances, saw the title and responded with "Our nursery on a budget, my a$$." What he is not so eloquently saying is that the arrival and preparation of a child is an expensive process no matter what. 

But hopefully, with starting your shopping early, you can find deals, discounted items and freebies to help lower the overall cost and provide a cushion for the unexpected costs that are sure to come up, like hiring an electrician. Maybe we could have done better, but I love it! And she will too. Plus, it looks great in photos.



View from outside.