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, August 30, 2015

Adding Images and Text to Candles

It's really easy to add a personal touch to plain white candles and customize them for any event. I'm sometimes wary of projects I find on Pinterest because they are often a lot harder and more expensive than they appear. There's a reason there's a whole website devoted to Pinterest fails. Not these! Follow these simple instructions and you'll have candles that look a lot more fancy than plain, white candles. And the total cost for me was zero.

I'm getting ready for Autumn's Baptism on September 13th, and wanted to add something to the white candles that I was going to put in a candle holder that my Mom bought. More accurately, I wanted to buy fall colored candles, but didn't want to spend the money, so I searched for a way to upcycle them.


Step 1
Chose an image or wording. I chose both,, so they weren't all the same.

Step 2
Cut white tissue paper to fit the paper in your printer and tape it, glossy side down, to the paper. Make sure the matte side of the tissue paper is facing up, to be printed on.

Step 3
Print image on paper and cut it out.



Step 4
Wrap wax paper around candle and use your blow dryer to heat it up until it brightens. The image will be fused to the candle at this time. One reason you don't have to worry about this project being a pinterest fail is because it takes more heat than you realize, and you can always go over it again if it still seems to be on top of the candle instead of fused to it. 



Step 5
That's it! They would also make great gifts.



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Autumn's Three Month Update

I am convinced that Autumn has inherited my Mom's easy-going, happy, demeanor. She is such a delightful baby; an absolute joy. Other than a few times which I can count on one hand, she never cries for more than 5 minutes. When she does get a little fussy, it means something. Usually, that she is hungry or tired. She sleeps through the night and when she wakes up, she starts babbling and makes cooing noises.



Last month, we took her on her first vacation, to spend three weeks with her paternal grandparents in Oregon. We had some great times. Autumn is pure joy and things like seeing her on a pony for the first time were so amazing. But the loss of Mom is ever-present, looming. I can't shake the feeling that life would be ideal now if I just had Mom. It's painful to see mother-daughter relationships that are strained or stressful. When I think of how great Mom was and try to hold those qualities close, well...I miss her even more. "We wouldn't be like that" I think, and it pains me. 

I don't believe in the idea of catharsis. Not just because I can't stand Freud, but because intentionally trying to upset yourself so that you can heal and move past something is just silly. And in a therapeutic setting, it can be downright detrimental. However, there may be something to at least the idea of allowing yourself to be sad because I didn't "let" myself get too upset while pregnant for fear of hurting the baby. And now here it is, stronger than its been in awhile.

My Dad points out that I'm Mom now, and I don't want to be this way for Autumn. I want to be how my Mom was for me: energetic, happy, kind, patient, fun and 100% in my world. I'm doing what I can in the wake of the greatest loss I have ever experienced, and will report on some of the work I'm doing with a therapist in one future blog post instead of in every blog post. This posting is starting to seem too much like the last. 

I don't want the loss to be the focus, just as I don't want this sadness to prevent me from enjoying this precious time with Autumn. She is such a blessing to us, and I consider her quite a miracle. I have the feeling time with her is fleeting even while in the midst of it, just like I did on outings last summer with Mom. Enjoy it, soak it up I tell myself as I take in the smallness of her and study her smile. Her eyes smile when she does and I feel a warmth that's almost tangible. 


Bye Autumn, have fun!
Butterscotch
And so in that spirit, I am going to try to focus on what we do have, not what we don't, at least for the purposes of this blog. And I'm going to try and update a little more frequently so I don't ever forget what this special time was like.

Her involuntary movements are slowing and she's more in control of her arms and legs. She's just starting to reach for things, but doesn't quite have control, she's mostly batting at them. She's on the verge of being able to giggle but hasn't just yet. She's sleeping through the night and has been ever since Nathan left for Oregon two days ahead of me. It was my first night alone with her, and she fell asleep at 9pm. I waited up to feed her, but when she didn't wake, I moved her from her cradle in the living room to her co-sleeper in our bedroom. I figured she would wake me up soon after I fell asleep, but woke up at 5am in a panic. I checked on her and was relieved to see the rise and fall of her chest. I fell back to sleep, and she woke me up after 6am. Turns out, Nate's nighttime "baby duty" had consisted of him rousing her for one feeding a night for quite some time. 

Some things about this age that I never want to forget:
  • When we wake up in the morning around 7:30 and she falls back asleep on my chest after a feeding for a few more hours.
  • The sounds she makes when she's drinking out of her bottle.
  • That she loves looking at trees on our walks, and the moon.
  • Just how big her smile is.
  • How she furrows her brow.
  • Feeling her fall asleep on me while I'm in the recliner/rocker.
  • Her cooing - lots of oohs and ahhs, and how she moves her mouth.
  • When she gets sleepy, she sucks her thumb, and plays with her hair with her other hand.
  • How happy and content she is, and how she delights in small things.

Routines we're establishing:
  • Singing. I sing You are my Sunshine to her multiple times a day, but we save Amazing Grace for bedtime (I'm still learning the words).
  • Play. Morning play time under her gym.
  • Outside. I spread a blanket or put her in her snug-a-puppy bouncer and she watches me water our newly-planted garden (a little late, I know), planes or birds.
  • Talking. I talk to her all the time, even when changing her diaper.
  • Baths. Every three days so her skin doesn't dry out. She seems to enjoy them and has just started "touching" the water.
  • Reading. I just joined a book club and read her my books, for now.
  • Prayers. I grew up with: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. I'm changing the second verse to the more common May angels watch me through the night and wake me with the morning light.
  • Crafting. She's not much help just yet, but I think she likes watching or being close to me while I hold her in her Ergo 360.
  • Walks. We walk 3 miles every night and she has never once fussed.



Is it just me, or is she getting cuter with each passing month?



Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Two Months Postpartum

Autumn is almost two months old. So far, it has been much easier than I was expecting. She's such a happy, content baby. Until a week or two ago, she was sleeping close to 23 hours a day, and its only in the last few days that she's had periods where she is awake more and fussy. I'm still learning what she needs when she cries and haven't yet learned to tell the difference between when she is bored, overstimulated, or tired. 

I imagined myself sleep-deprived and frazzled, with barely enough time to return texts or emails, let alone shower. Instead, I have had a lot of time on my hands, which I'm not used to. Nathan took two weeks of paternity leave and then went back to work for two weeks until his summer break started at the end of June. While he was working I felt a little lonely and...dare I say, bored. 

Now that he's off for summer it's better because I have company, but still an adjustment. We have been watching her in shifts. He stays up with her until 5 am, and I go to bed around midnight. This allows me almost 7 hours of sleep. Plus, then I go back to sleep after I feed her, and finally get out of bed around 10am. Now, before you start feeling bad for Nathan, I will say that it is less of a sacrifice than it sounds. He loves staying up late during summer anyway, and is able to play his PS4 while she sleeps for 3-4 hours at a stretch. He plays Call of Duty while on baby duty. Of course I'm grateful nonetheless, six or seven hours of uninterrupted sleep is something most new Moms only dream of.

Still, my pace of life has slowed considerably. I've gone from working, socializing and trying to find time to work out to just staying home almost all the time. Not being allowed to work out those first six weeks was incredibly tough. When you keep yourself really busy, there's a lot you don't have time for. Mainly, thinking too much. 

In these quiet moments of reflection as a new Mom, I'm missing my Mom more than ever. This is something I didn't really deal with during all the build up and excitement that comes with pregnancy. There's so much I wish I could ask her. So much that I wish I could share with her. Although I'm thankful for this parenting interview I did with her after my first failed IVF embryo transfer, I've thought of a thousand questions since then. Why didn't I make it longer and ask her more? 

And then there's the guilt. I know we did a lot to make the most of the 14 months she lived after her diagnosis, but every day, some type of guilt creeps in. It usually strikes when I'm trying to fall asleep at night, or when I'm feeding Autumn. Learning that the cancer was likely growing for a decade prior to her diagnosis, I ask myself why I didn't have her get a scan back then and wonder if it would have helped. Yes, it would have. They always say catching it early is key. 

I know guilt is something a lot of people go through, yet knowing that doesn't change how I feel. I have a master's in counseling, but it's different when you try to apply things to yourself. I've been trying to counter it and re-frame it and still, it remains.

Thinking about Mom has also caused me to think about my own mortality more than usual, and leaving Autumn like Mom left me. How will she cope? A little silly to think about since it seems so far off, yet I do. And this naturally leads into spending a lot of time thinking about my faith, or lack thereof. I want to believe, I really do, but it does not come easy to me. Never has...I've always been a skeptic. Now, more than ever, I am motivated to believe in God and heaven so that I know Mom is somewhere and that I'll be reunited with her. 

But I still struggle to believe in something I can't see, hear or feel in a concrete way. I go to mass every week, pray, and read to try and cultivate my faith. Nathan and I have discussions, which help me because while he may not agree with all the teachings of the Catholic church, he does believe in intelligent design. It helps me to think that while an older white man sitting up in a throne judging us may not seem plausible to me right now, neither does the idea that all this beauty and life is completely random and just happened. Intelligent design really does seem to be at work. The complexity of life, even just the formation of Autumn, is pretty incredible. How can all that be just put into existence by chance? Plus, there do seem to be things that are inherently right or wrong. Moral laws that just seem to exist, not just because our society says so. How to account for this? These are concepts I've never believed before and can now buy into. I guess I have made progress, even if I'm not where I want to be.

Autumn and I leave for our first flight Thursday to spend three weeks in Oregon at his parent's home on a small lake. Nathan left today, to make the 14 hour drive with our two dogs, suitcases and baby accouterments and I already miss him. I'm thankful to have the change of scenery and company; it couldn't come at a better time. It's going to be a full house. I'm excited that his brother from DC and new wife will meet Autumn for the first time, as well as his uncle Don who is 83 years young and flying in from Pennsylvania. His twin sister, husband, and Autumn's two cousins will also be there, JP who is 2 1/2 and MK who will turn one in September. Oregon is a place we plan to return to twice a year for the rest of our lives, and I can't wait to get pictures of her around the property which someday, she will own part of.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Emails to Autumn

I am ten years older than when my Mom had me. While Mom's life was cut too short and I hope to live longer, there's a chance Autumn could loose me when she's around my age, even if I do live a decade longer than Mom did. Right now, anything that has Mom's writing on it is at a premium to me. I treasure my baby book, a paper (below) describing what I could say and do as a 1 year old, and any birthday and Christmas cards I saved with her writing. But that's all I have. What will Autumn have? I've been filling out her baby book and a first year calendar and of course taking a ton of pictures. While we are being really good about backing everything up since we finally have cloud storage, a babybook or journal could get lost or destroyed in a fire. It's also something that only I contribute to.


So when a friend in Canada (hi Lindi!) told me they created an email for their newborn as a way of preserving memories, it was right up my alley. This way, family and close friends can send emails to her over the years with their thoughts, pictures or memories. I would love to have something like that right now from my Mom because I wonder almost daily what being a new Mom was like for her. What was it like for her on my first day of kindergarten? My 16th birthday?

While I have not read any of Autumn's emails, I was happy to find two emails to her, one from Andrea with the subject line Happy First 4th of July and one from my friend Sandy The First Day I Met You.  She has one from me too. Below is my first email to her.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Megan Swanek <megan26.2@gmail.com>
Date: Sun, Jun 28, 2015 at 2:17 PM
Subject: Today is Nana Paula's Birthday
To: AutumnSwanek@gmail.com


My Dear Autumn,
I'm sitting here at the computer wearing you in a baby wrap. You're snuggled tightly to my chest, and fast asleep. I can hear you softly breathing. Daddy is still asleep; it's just the two of us. 

This is the first year that my Mom hasn't been here for her birthday and it's a tough one. She was my very best friend, just like you and I will be one day. She loved you so, even before you were born. You see, it was always a given that I would have children and I would talk about it with my Mom. We would talk about you, imagine what you would be like and I always thought she would be a part of raising you. She loves you still, from Heaven, and through me...because every part of me that is nurturing and good and kind comes from her. So even though she won't be babysitting you as you get older, she is still very much a part of raising you, because she raised me. She was the very best Mom and I hope you will say that about me someday.

Although this first year without her is a sad one, it won't always be that way. That's not how she would want it. You see, she was the happiest person I have ever known. Your grandma Paula was never in a bad mood, even when circumstances may have warranted it. She never complained. She loved to laugh and be silly. She was very hardworking, but you would never know it, because she made everything she did look easy. Many sacrifices were made by her, for her family and she was happy to do it because to her, family was the most important thing in the world. She was the best listener and never put people down or made fun of them; she saw the good in every person and in every situation. She was a selfless optimist.

This June 28th, we are starting a tradition of honoring her on her birthday by doing what she would love. Soon, Dad and I are taking you to The Olde Ship, a British pub that I went to with her. Together, over the years, we will always remember and honor her on this day. We will go for tea, explore thrift shops, get a pedicure, have fish and chips, do some gardening, attend a play, learn to crochet or cook together or maybe even go to the casino. When you're older, I hope to take you to London and where she grew up, in Reading. Celebrating her birthday is a tradition that I hope you will keep after I'm gone with your children. She would love that, and so would I.


Paula Mary DeWitt (Mangan)
June 28, 1951 ~ October 8, 2014

-- 

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!


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