Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Sometimes. And other random weekend thoughts.

I’ve been feeling a bit foggy lately, so I thought I was dreaming my metaphoric fog into reality last night when I woke up to a house full of smoke, but it turns out I wasn’t. My house was really full of smoke at 1 am. Thankfully there was no fire (anymore); I guess apartment 9 was doing some late-night cooking and something didn’t go right. If I didn’t smell smoke every other day from this particular neighbor, I would have thought that was strange, but it totally made sense when my husband returned from downstairs where the night security told him that’s what it was.

It made me realize how vulnerable we are when we don’t have all the information, and how crazy it can make us. I thought back to the apartment building in London that was recently ravaged by flames, and the people who couldn’t make it out in time, knowing their fate, and just having to come to terms with it. Morbid thoughts for 1 am, I know, but sometimes I can’t help it.

Sometimes – most times, actually, we don’t really have all the answers, and – depending on how we usually let our brains wander – that can lead to negative unintended consequences. This is a phrase I’ve come to respect, since listening to Michael Bierut’s TED talk, and now I recognize it everywhere; in day-to-day decisions, when I’m cooking one thing and end up with another, and most usually when I allow myself to go down the road of either a positive or negative-thought process. Sometimes we don’t even have the right questions. And, sometimes, we doubt ourselves so much in the process of getting to the right answers that we derail a good thing before it even has a chance to get started. So, for now I’m trying to create more positive unintended consequences (does that negate the unintended part?) and I guess the best place to start is by getting all of the bad mojo out of the way and thinking only in love and light.

We’ve been stuck in the house lately. Partly because it’s Saudi Arabia in July and there’s nothing more than malls and restaurants to keep us – and the rest of the population – busy, but also because our car was rendered undrivable by an accident last week. It doesn’t really get to me until it does, if that makes sense. I can go about my days just fine – yoga, coffee, breakfast, baby naps, cleaning, exercise, cooking – and then suddenly, I realize how cooped up I am, like a cat, but without the luxury of just eating and sleeping. Netflix has been keeping us company a lot more, too, which I don’t think is too much to brag about, but it is what it is.

When I think of home, I miss a lot of things, but the ability just to leave the house at a moment’s notice (well, you know, within the hour now with a 10 month old) is one of the things I usually miss the most. Freedom of movement is important, but having somewhere to go is even more important. For the time being, I’m working on creating some of my own spaces and places to go. I can’t be the only one yearning to make a home away from home, right?

Love is… Peeling Tomatoes

Marriage is hard, ya’ll. I’m only two years in and it’s been pretty amazing, but not without its fair share of challenges.

My husband and I had a whirlwind romance. From talking to dating to engaged to married within 6 months. It was one of those things that just worked; there was no agonizing back and forth or anxiety over whether I was doing the right thing. I was – and still am! – completely at ease and comfortable with the decision I made. I’m from California, he’s from Lebanon, and neither of us had ever visited each other’s home countries before meeting. Yet, somehow the fundamentals of our thinking mesh. Most of the time. There are plenty of disagreements and misunderstandings and times when I feel like we’re speaking different languages (and times when we are…). Add a kid into that, and there are times when we might as well be from different planets. Like, when I first realized that he wanted me to peel the tomatoes every time I made a salad, I couldn’t help but calculate the minutes I would spend in the next 50 years, hunched over the kitchen sink skinning tomatoes. I mean, some nights I want to forego the salad all together. But I (usually) don’t.20160219_142347.jpg

A very wise woman who I had the pleasure of knowing since I was 6 years old always told me that marriage isn’t about love and passion. Those things are great to have, but the cornerstone of any solid marriage is respect. Without that, you’ve got nothin’. There are many things that go into making a marriage – or any relationship – work, but if you don’t have respect for the other person, then you’re not going to get anything positive out of it. Along with respect, I would say, comes gratitude.

Look, I get that when you’ve had a sick, fussy baby attached to your leg/boob/hip all day and your husband walks through the door, the first thing you want to do – feel entitled to do – is to throw baby and lock yourself in the bathroom for an hour. (That’s not just me, right?) But to respect your spouse and the hellish day they’ve also had means that you sit and suffer through the next two hours until bedtime together, then lock yourself in the bathroom. (Kidding. Kind of.)

I often see posts about women not needing to thank their husbands for watching their own children and taking offense to calling it babysitting when it’s their own flesh and blood. Girl, I feel you, I do. And, without getting into the semantics, let me just say that if your husband thinks that he’s doing you a favor or putting himself out in any way by watching his own children every once in a while, then you’ve got a bigger problem than I can tackle in this blog post.

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BUT. I do believe in saying thank you. Not because it’s a grand gesture or a huge favor, but because gratitude is important in a relationship, even if it’s for the things that should come naturally. Everyone loves to feel appreciated. Everyone needs to feel valued. I’m grateful for my husband as a partner. I’m grateful for the support, encouragement, cups of coffee, and affection he gives me, even when I smell like spoiled milk and haven’t washed my hair in days. I’m grateful for the little things he does for me, and the huge things he provides for our family. I know the pressure on men doesn’t always seem equal to that of a woman, but it still exists, and we’ve got to be aware and proactive in making our partners feel understood.

We chose our partners at one time, and all things considered, we’ve got to make the effort to continue choosing them every day. So, say thank you more often, even if you feel like it’s a silly thing to appreciate. You may even be shocked to see that gratitude brings out an even softer, more generous side of your partner.

Thursday Thoughts

What a week. It’s Ramadan – for those of you who don’t know what that is, here’s a couple of nice pieces explaining it – so the whole country is operating on an upside down schedule, which is always a great and not-so-great thing. Great because it means that we get to spend a lot more time with friends, eating good food (and let’s not forget the sweets!), and together as a family. Not so great because it means being social every single night, cleaning up and cooking (and eating) a ton more than usual, and sleeping/waking up later than responsible grown ups should. Also, Adam considers his 10 pm sleep a nice little nap that boosts his energy for the rest of the night.

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Ramadan sweets – @mama.fil

Spending so much time in the kitchen and cleaning up around the house can get really dull, so I really try to use it wisely and enrich myself spiritually, you know, filling up the cup so I can give to others, blah blah blah. TED talks to the rescue. If you don’t know what TED talks are, like, what? How? Where have you been? They’re great, short(ish) lectures given by inspiring(ish) people on cool(ish) topics. I add the (ish) because, as with anything, what you get out of them really depends on where you’re at mentally and emotionally and whether or not there’s a screaming baby tugging at your shirt or trying to eat/murder/love the cat. This week’s listens have actually inspired two blog posts, so it’s been really productive(ish).

The first talk was something that really hit home with me, because I have been going back and forth about whether to start a few projects for far too long now, and it really gave me the push I needed to finalllyyyyyyy get started. In a nutshell: Tim Ferriss is prone to depressive episodes that have left him teetering on the edge of suicide too many times, and the one thing that he said scared him the most after the most recent one was how everything just came down to chance. If he hadn’t done xyz, he for sure would have gone through with his plan. So, as a business-savvy man of logic, he decided to kind of study the things that were likely to push him over the edge – which, like most of us revolve mainly around the decisions we face and the likelihood of failure –  and came up with a set of worksheets to analyze each decision not based on what his goals were, but based on the likelihood for failure, and by imagining the worst-case scenarios for each decision. So, instead of defining your goals, he asks you to define your failures and kind of work through those scenarios in your head until you’ve got a grasp on what that reality would look like.

Wow. Now, I’ve heard of such an activity before, especially while researching activities in controlling my anxiety, but this is different for a couple of reasons. First, because he actually set out a plan of how to consider these scenarios and gives you something tangible to write down, a guide to think it through. This is important because a lot of times people make abstract comments like, “change the way you think,” or, “refocus your attention on the positive outcomes,” and it’s like, if I could do that so easily, don’t you think I would have? Tim actually coaches you through it, so it makes it a little more manageable.

And that brings me to the second reason why I think this is different: because while you’re going through these worksheets – asking yourself to fully explore not only the absolute worst consequences if you take action, but also if you don’t take action – it gives you a little space to kind of feel yourself out. Through all of this, you remove the pressure of having to listen to yourself, which gives you the distance you need to hear yourself and feel out your intuition, which usually provides all the insight you need to make a choice (under normal, mentally-stable circumstances, of course, which are not always what we’re working with). Sometimes trying to listen to your gut can give you even more anxiety because you’re so close to the situation that you can’t get a real idea of what you’re feeling, or because there are so many emotions mixed up that it can be really difficult to get a straight answer from yourself.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Also don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @mama.fil, and Snapchat @kelisep

I did it for the ‘gram

Instagram is weird. You post snapshots of your life, and people like them, follow you, and have this idea of who you may be, but most likely aren’t. And we love it. Any glimpse into someone else’s life somehow becomes so much more interesting than ours, even if it’s pretty much the same thing. People have made their entire careers from being Instagram famous, and some don’t even venture outside of that; they’re just “social media influencers” because they get a lot of likes and I find myself asking often, “but, like, what do they do for a living?”

That being said, I love Instagram, and it’s obviously a huge component of my blog because, well, people like to look at cool shit, so I try to take pictures of cool shit. But there are a few things that really bother me about the world of social media, and the main one is how easy it is to pretend to be genuine. Look, you’re not gonna see any pictures of my messy house or the cake I burnt the crap out of because I don’t want you to. But I won’t shy away from discussing the anxiety that rears its ugly head quite often, the hard parts of motherhood and marriage, and the typical mundane days I have living 7,000 miles away from my family. And I get that people buy into the social media influencers’ lives because we wish our lives were that perfect, but the fact is that nobody’s life is that perfect.

I have a lot of respect for the bloggers who create content based on what their fans want, and who are so incredibly real and down to earth. I think there is enough pressure on women to be perfect without adding the unrealistic expectations of comparing ourselves to the people we look up to. Remember, comparison is the thief of joy, and the world needs all the joy it can get right now.

I don’t have a lot of respect for the people on Instagram who hire companies to post on their behalf (come on, one misplaced heart emoji can make you look really dumb), or the ones who sign up with apps to follow then unfollow accounts that will likely get them more followers. The whole point – the real point – of Instagram is engagement, to connect with people. Why would someone want to cheapen the little bit of social interaction we have left by automating it?

Anyway, that’s just my two cents. I’d love your feedback if there’s something I’m missing!

Biting babies and emergency rooms

My boobie-biter is back to his original (and then some) naughtiness!

The last week has been one for the books. It started out with what we thought was a really horrible bout of teething; we could actually see the little tips of the canines poking through and of courseee I had prepared for some sleepless nights and clingy days, but what came next was the kind of thing that makes you want to sink into a bubble bath with Netflix and a cigarette for the foreseeable future. First there was the night waking, which made any possibility of A sleeping in his own bed actually impossible and seem like a distant fantasy that I could expect sometime between the ages of 3 and 23. But then there was a fever, which I also knew could happen with teething, but this thing was relentless. Fevers scare me, and fevers that don’t go away – and keep rising, like up to 102, 103.1 – no matter what we do scare me even more.  So it was off to the ER for us, which brings a whole new set of fears when you live in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has many great things to offer expats and locals alike. Unfortunately, organization, professionalism, and up-to-date technology in hospitals are not typically among them. Each doctor we saw had a different course of action to take, a different suggestion, and by the time we were back in the ER two days later with an even higher fever, the doctor who looked at him for an entire 12 seconds decided he was dehydrated because he was crying but there were no tears and that he needed a full blood work up. 7 nurses and 4 pokes later, they couldn’t find a vein and I was holding my kid like some rabid mama bear and wouldn’t let anyone anywhere near him.

Mamas, when something like this happens – and this can happen anywhere, in any country – and you feel uncomfortable, or you want them to stop and take a moment to breathe, speak up! It doesn’t matter if they’re nurses, doctors, the president (or especially if it’s the president these days…); ask questions until you’re comfortable, and ask them what other options you have. One doctor (on the third trip to the ER when Adam hadn’t peed in over 13 hours) saw how upset I was and, instead of calming me down and reassuring me of the situation, flippantly suggested that we admit Adam to the hospital and give him IV fluids until he peed. If I hadn’t calmed down (OK, OK, hubby forced me to calm down, but still…) and asked what other options we had – which included just waiting it out because it actually wasn’t an urgent case yet – I would’ve been subjecting poor Adam to even more than he’d already been through completely unnecessarily.

Too often our intuition gets squished down because it ‘doesn’t make sense’ or because there’s no ‘real’ evidence of what we’re feeling. But that doesn’t mean what you’re feeling has no place in the discussion. You know your baby best, and if something feels off, it probably is. Social decorum and not offending someone who has an MD after their name should take a backseat when it comes to taking care of your baby.

Anyway, we’re on the other end of it now, thank God, and if you’re wondering what it was that made little A so sick – German Measles! I didn’t even know it was a thing that kids could get, and was super upset to know that he would have been vaccinated for it at 9 months, which he turned yesterday!

Also, did you ever notice baby’s personality changed after being sick? I swear the kid has developed some new not-so-desirable traits, some more grouchiness, aaand some extra rude nursing habits (aforementioned boobie biting being just one of them), all of which I’m hoping mellow out in the near future so this mama isn’t so mentally drained by the end of the day. Is there any hope? Also, any tips to get the biting to stop, please and thank you!

No sharp edges or pretty things

When A was born, I was so scared to hold him. Newborns are really floppy, and I was always scared that I would bend him the wrong way and he would just snap in half and, well… they were never good thoughts. I loved how tiny and cute he was, but also kind of wished he’d grow up a bit. Then when he did, I couldn’t wait for him to be able to roll over. Then sit up on his own. Then crawl. And now, we’re in the he-can-walk-holding-things-but-not-quite-by-himself stage. And now I can’t wait to have a house NOT decorated by brightly-colored alphabet mats and floors slick with drool.

You know that really classy, chic coffee table you found while vacationing in Morocco that you just HAD to have, no matter how much of a small fortune it cost to ship home? The one with all the abstract and cool sharp edges that jut out this way and that? Ya, that’s gotta go. Along with any low-hanging shelves, decor within 2 feet of the ground, those Bath and Body plug-ins that make your house smell less like dust and milk, all of it. Gone. Stuffed away into the closet (which also, by the way, needs to be dealt with because baby can reach all those dresses that you never wear anymore because they don’t have quick boob-access, which is pretty much what determines your outfits these days). Bye, bye.

Not to make it sound so negative, because I’m sure there is a lot to look forward to once baby starts crawling, then walking, then I can never sit down again because he doesn’t even sit still now and he can’t really move that much so what will it be like once he can move BY HIMSELF. Where was I? Right, baby-proofing. So ya, that’s where we are. Packing up anything cool and hip and trading it in for soft, squishy, and drool-proof.

What about you, mamas? Was it hard to transition your house to be baby-friendly or did you find it totally easy?

Ya, I think I am

Here is part 2 of my breastfeeding chronicles.


Being stuck in the house with the baby attached to my boob was not how I envisioned spending my first 6 weeks postpartum, which led to another slew of emotions that I wasn’t prepared for – and I will discuss in another post 🙂 – but eventually (like after a long, hard time) I managed to find ways to enjoy the time that I wasn’t feeding Adam and still feel human. Downloading books on my phone helped, as did my subscription to Netflix and moving the TV to the room where I nursed the most. Letting go of the idea that I would still get to hang out with my husband all the time also helped a lot, as did asking him to just sit with me a couple of feeds a day and have an adult conversation not about poop, gas, or nipples. Also, making time to take a shower changed my attitude instantly.

And then there were the infections. I had mastitis three times in my son’s first 3 months of life, not to mention I dealt with thrush from day 1. I could barely even lift the baby to feed him, but I did, because that’s what I had to do to keep everything running normally while the antibiotics did their thing. It sucked. I was in excruciating, toe-curling pain, and barely had enough energy to keep my eyes open. The first two times I took antibiotics (which you don’t always need, mamas; check with your doctors and doulas to see what is best for you) it really messed with the baby’s stomach, so I requested a different antibiotic the third time, which seemed to be a lot easier for him to handle. And take a probiotic. I was actually on antibiotics during labor and should have been on a probiotic as soon as I left the hospital, but I didn’t know any better and trust me – once the yeast gets in, it goes EVERYWHERE, hence the never-ending thrush and yeast infections.

By this point I was in touch with Karen AKA the angel from LLL Dhahran and had joined The Cleavage Club. I learned that I had an oversupply caused by a combination of pumping too early and the baby’s ever-changing feeding schedule. Karen sent me all I needed to know about something called block feeding and asked me to get back to her in a week to let me know how it was working. I had finally gotten on track with breastfeeding and was starting to get the hang of it. Without her support, and the support of my husband and mom and in-laws and friends, I would not have survived. It really does take a village, and you have to surround yourself with people who will step up to the plate when you need them to. If that isn’t your partner, find someone else in your family, group of friends, or even an online community who can cheer you on and give you good advice. You are tough, mama, but you aren’t meant to carry everything on your own.

Listen to your gut, explore your options, and get a variety of advice from people who you trust and who have your best interest in mind. Remember that what worked for one family may not work for yours. There are so many things to consider while breastfeeding, and the things I discussed in this post were just a few of the major ones. Sleeping arrangements, childcare, and returning to work are some other things that impact the decision you make when choosing how to feed your baby.

As long as this post was, this is still only a condensed version of my breastfeeding journey – which has led to a beautiful relationship with my son – and I know yours is or will be just as unique and complicated. Above all, the closeness I feel and the strength I draw from being able to nourish my son with my body is indescribable. I also know that nursing is about so much more than just being fed, and I relish in the fact that my closeness can bring comfort to my son when nothing else can. I would recommend trying to nurse based on these two things alone, let alone all of the benefits to your baby’s health, and yours! Again, I know it isn’t an option for every woman, and I’m sorry for that, and want to say one more time that it doesn’t make you any less of a loving mama if you can’t or choose not to breastfeed. But if you do, and if you can overcome the inevitable challenges that such a task presents, I can promise that it will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

If you want to reach out, or you have any questions, drop me a line below or send me an email. I am happy to help/support/listen/whatever you need 🙂

Am I Doing This Right?

This is part 1 of 2 of my breastfeeding journey. Yes, it’s going to take two whole posts to cover all that happened, and yes I will probably leave some things out – either because I forgot in order to actually be able to go through this whole process again with the next baby, or because I just really don’t want to scare you. I added a ton of links throughout the post that can help if you’re interested, so click away!

On September 5, 2016 I thought I was giving birth to a healthy baby boy. It turns out, I was bringing into the world yet another boobie barnacle.

This is not a list of dos and don’ts. I can’t provide that because your experience will be totally different than mine because you gave birth to an entirely different human than me. But I do want to share the details of my experience in hopes that if my story is anything like yours, you can see something that will help.

Now, before I go any further I want to make something clear: there is no disagreement that breast is best. It is. That’s just the fact. But that doesn’t mean that breastfeeding is going to work out for everyone – for whatever reason – and that doesn’t mean that formula is bad. Formula has kept millions of babies healthy, well-fed, and ALIVE for years. I don’t care how you feed your baby, and I am not here to shame you. Frankly, I think it’s sad and a huge testament to the state of the mommy community that I even have to preface my post with this. Feed your baby. Be proud of the choices you make. You are a warrior, mama, and nobody is here to make you question yourself. Breastfeeding is what I know because that’s what I did, and so that’s what I can talk about. I am passionate about breastfeeding because I had a really difficult time getting to the point where I loved it, and I want to share my experience with the hope that it can help other women love it too.

If you can’t breastfeed, but want to, and this information helps you, that’s great. If you can’t breastfeed, or you don’t want to, that’s great too. Regardless of how you feed your baby I would love to be able to meet up for a cup of coffee one day and laugh about how, even though we totally adore our kids, they can be super assholes sometimes.

Breastfeeding does not come naturally, contrary to what we are led to believe. Breastfeeding is something that most women are able to do, but it is not something that we immediately know how to do. And that’s the part that a lot of us can’t understand. If our bodies are able to create milk and our babies are able to suck as soon as they’re earthside, why doesn’t it always work?

I read everything there was to read about having the baby and virtually nothing about breastfeeding. Why? Because I didn’t think it would be that hard. In reality, it’s been the hardest part about motherhood so far. Why? Because I didn’t think it would be this hard.

I was absolutely shocked how much my son wanted to nurse. Boobie barnacle is not hyperbole. This kid did not leave the boob for 6 weeks. He would suck a little, sleep a little, suck a little, sleep a little, and if I tried to actually remove him from my breast, he would cry. A lot. The inner dialogue in my head was on a loop – Was my milk enough? Was he still hungry? Should I give him a bottle of formula just in case? Maybe I should go buy a scale so that I could weigh him before and after each feed. Am I doing this right? These thoughts that flooded my brain are the same thoughts that every new mom whose boobs are suddenly responsible for sustaining life has.

Now, I am not a doctor or a lactation consultant, but I am a mom who has talked to lots of other moms and the one thing they all said: this is normal behavior for newborns. It’s also normal behavior for new moms to call the doctor and ask a million questions and want to make sure their baby isn’t starving. My only advice when you’re worried if your baby isn’t getting enough to eat would be this: ask, check, consult, but make sure you’re asking the right person. Just because there’s an MD after their name doesn’t make them an expert on or an advocate for breastfeeding. My right person happened to be a local La Leche League leader and a Facebook group dedicated to helping mamas breastfeed, led by an amazing IBCLC/Doula, Cass Romero-Schroeder. These websites also helped – and still do! – a lot.

The fact is that we won’t know how much our baby is getting when they’re breastfeeding and if it’s our first time, we are going to be plagued with worry over the issue. But the number one indication that your baby is getting enough to eat – aside from his growth – is the number of dirty diapers he is having. Other things – like how full your breasts feel, how fussy the baby is, how well (or not) he’s sleeping – don’t necessarily mean you don’t have enough milk

After Adam’s first check up and weigh in, I knew that he was OK, and that my milk was enough. His doctor – who was encouraging and supportive of my decision to exclusively breastfeed – told me the best thing I could do is just keep feeding him whenever he wanted to eat, which was still all the time. She also told me that I needed to eat all the time and drink a ton of water and rest when I could, and that my body would know what to do. Our bodies know what to do. You are enough. 

One thing that I had heard a lot about before having the baby was different supplements and herbs that could help make more milk. They came in all forms – from pills to teas to cookies – and all had roughly the same ingredients. I’m not going to tell you that these don’t work, but I am going to tell you that the evidence that they work is anecdotal at best, and many of the ingredients may do more harm than good by irritating baby’s tummy. The best way to increase your supply – if you even have a low supply to begin with, which you probably don’t! – is to nurse baby all the time and take really good care of yourself. Eat A LOT of good food, and indulge in a little chocolate and ice cream, too. Take vitamins. Drink tea. Eat cookies. Do some yoga poses or take a walk. Do these things because it’s good for your body and soul, not because it will increase your milk. KellyMom has a great overview on how and when to take supplements, but I would really recommend getting in touch with an IBCLC if you’re worried about your supply. There are other issues that could be impacting your nursing relationship that an IBCLC would be able to discuss with you, too, such as lip and tongue ties. 

Overall, the more our milk is removed, the more it’s produced. That’s just how the boobs work. So feeding the baby is the best way to make more milk. Pumping is also a great way to kickstart the remove – produce cycle, but be warned: oversupply is a real thing and it is not fun. You know best what your schedule is going to look like, and if/when you have to return to work before baby is 6 weeks, pumping may be necessary. But inform yourself first and look out for cues of oversupply. Discuss your options with your person, and make a plan from there.

Look out for my next post all about my oversupply issues, the problems I had because of that, and how I was able to correct it, resulting in a happy boobie monster and happy mommy.

And then there were three – my birth story

Delivering a baby is messy, however the little peanut comes out of your body. It’s hard, it’s painful, for first-time moms it’s scarier than anything we’ve ever experienced, (yes, even more than graduating college) and yet, to the doctors and nurses, it’s a standard procedure; there’s a checklist, protocol, things you should say and a timeframe things should follow. All things considered, though, the ladies laying on that hospital bed are human, and deserve to be shown kindness and comfort during labor and delivery. I didn’t get a doula for my delivery, and I regret it every single day.

My birth story isn’t one that will make you sob (unless you went through the same thing, too, and thought nobody else had experienced it), but it is one that will hopefully teach you a couple of important lessons: that your experiences are your own, and that it is so important to understand that as much as you prepare yourself for everything when it comes to having a baby, you will never be prepared for what’s to come, and that’s OK.

First let me preface this whole story by saying that I read everything. I had a birth plan, a hospital checklist, I knew what to bring and what I wouldn’t need, I read the gory birth stories, and the beautiful ones. I wanted to have a doula, but they’re few and far between in Saudi Arabia, and one was off having a baby of her own, while the other was on vacation in her home country. When I learned that I would have to be induced (which I would not agree to again unless it was a medical emergency; our bodies know what they’re doing mamas!), I knew what that meant, and I figured that while we were waiting for the induction to do it’s thing – and even when the epidural was in and we were then waiting for the baby to make his appearance – my husband and I would just chill. So, I packed like I was going on a staycation. Seriously, people, I had face creams and spritzes in case I felt flushed, hair ties and headbands that wouldn’t mess up my hair so I could take flawless pics once the little one was earthside, books, movies downloaded, my iPod, I think I even threw in a pack of cards because, hey, why not? If you’re wondering if I got around to using any of those things: I did not. At all. Ever. I could barely unpack my bag once we arrived home from the hospital out of sheer humiliation and seething anger that nothing had gone how I thought it would.

I also want to say that I think the strength of women is incredible. Like I said before, our bodies know what to do, and the transformative experience of childbirth is just such an incredible journey to be able to take and I am blessed and truly grateful that I was able to carry my son for 9 months and then deliver him. This story I’m about to share doesn’t serve to diminish that in any way.

There have been plenty of times in my life when I’ve felt alone; when I left for college, and when I moved to Saudi, just to name a few. But the only time that the full autonomy and separateness of my body, mind, and spirit really hit me was when I was in labor. I was forced to have an unmedicated, vaginal delivery. (I don’t say natural here because I don’t want to diminish what c-section mamas go through, because they, too, are rockstars!) When I say forced, I mean that I didn’t want either of those things.

Now, I believe that some women have fantastic experiences with unmedicated vaginal deliveries, and I think their stories are beautiful and empowering and a true testament to the aforementioned strength of a woman. But I also believe in a woman’s right to make her own choices and me? I wanted drugs. And it wasn’t until I was in the height of pain that I was told I wouldn’t be able to have an epidural. I was in tears from the contractions, out of my mind with what I thought was the worst pain (it got worse…), and holding out because I wanted to show my husband how tough I could be. Even in this moment that he would never be able to experience because his body wasn’t created in the same awesome way as mine, I wanted him to be proud. Crazy, I know, but that’s where we were. The doctor’s words weren’t registering with me. I couldn’t have an epidural? Something about my platelets. The pitocin hadn’t even been administered yet, so I knew that the pain I was feeling was about to get 30 times worse, so it just didn’t make sense. What did she want to give me then? They had gas, an injection they would be able to give me every 6 hours, my husband could massage me. But I didn’t understand how I would deal with the pain. So, in a moment of clarity, I did what any sane, rational-thinking woman with my expectations going into labor would do: I told her I would just have a c-section. I think she actually laughed a little. I couldn’t have a c-section because I didn’t need one. Yes, yes I did because I couldn’t deliver this baby with nothing. Again with the gas, the injection, the massage. And then it hit me: I wasn’t going to have an epidural, and I wasn’t going to have a c-section. Adam was on his way and I had to deal with it all by myself.

This is the point where, to put it bluntly, I lost my shit, and where a doula really would have been able to step up to the plate and do her thing. I was in hysterics; screaming and crying and yelling at the doctor and telling my husband to call my other doctor (who was on vacation in Italy and worked for an entirely different hospital). I was in so much pain and so determined to put myself into a medical emergency just so they would have to give me the c-section that I started saying no to everything. No, they couldn’t monitor me or the baby; no, I did not authorize them to start the pitocin; you are absolutely not going to strip my membranes or break my water. After two hours of refusing everything my husband finally snapped and said, “fine, let’s go home.” I looked at him, shocked that his usually calm demeanor was so harsh, and realized the ridiculousness of what I was doing.

Once the pitocin was started and whatever shred of dignity I had left had exited the building, it took another 16 hours for the baby to come out and, in all honesty, pushing him out was the least painful and the most relieving part of the whole ordeal. The injections they gave me only served to make me so high that I would pass out in between contractions – which were less than 2 minutes apart the. whole. fricken. time. – and the gas they gave me did absolutely nothing but annoy me that it was even a suggested.

I was euphoric once Adam came, of course, but I was traumatized, too. The first two times I tried to fall asleep that night I was jolted awake in panic, because that’s all I knew the last 16 hours – dozing off only to be awakened by excruciating pain. In those moments, I had become pain. No prayer or saying or comforting look from my husband could remove what I was feeling during those nearly minute-long contractions, and the way the doctors made me feel about the whole thing – that it was completely normal and that I was somehow supposed to just suck it up and deal with it – only added to the isolation, and later, to the anger. I felt that way for a long time. It didn’t help to hear people telling me that I would forget about it (I didn’t), or that I should be grateful that I didn’t have a c-section (I am and I’m not). I didn’t begin to come to terms with what had happened until I had joined an online breastfeeding support group called The Cleavage Club (if you’re breastfeeding or wanting to in the future, go join now!!! They’re on Facebook, based in Southern California, but have ladies from all over the US and the world) and was told by ICBLC and Doula extraordinaire Cass that it was OK to feel what I was feeling because that birth experience was mine, and I didn’t have to adjust it for anyone. Nobody else could have known what I felt, even if they were right next to me for the entire 16-hour experience (God bless my husband!), and it was OK to hate what happened. It doesn’t make me a bad person, or ungrateful, it just makes me a human that went through something quite traumatic and who has actual feelings about it.

Everything about my labor and delivery taught me that nothing is what it seems when it comes to childbirth and being a mom, and everything since Adam was born has only served to confirm that notion. Breastfeeding was incredibly hard – I will post more about this in the future – and I stuck with it only because my mom encouraged me not to quit on my hardest day, and because I had the support of groups like La Leche League and The Cleavage Club (on Facebook) to work things out with me. The first few weeks felt like 50 years. Adjusting to the overwhelming responsibility of taking care of a tiny human every second was beyond difficult, and it’s still a learning process every single day. Being a mom isn’t easy or cheap – it comes with a hefty price tag financially and emotionally. But I can’t think of anything else that I would rather be doing with my time, energy, or love.

Please leave a comment below to let me know what your birth experience was like, or if you would like any information about delivering a baby in Saudi.

Throwin’ it way back – Fake it til you make it

So I have a confession to make: I’ve tried this blogging thing once or twice before. I’ve always had something to say (my mom and husband can totally vouch for that), but for whatever reason – or, more like a billion small reasons – I never really stuck with it. But as I was looking through some of my old content, searching for something still relevent, I found this gem from almost 8 years ago, my pre-graduate self; I had no idea what I was in for, but I was pretty sure it was going to be one hell of a ride. Enjoy 🙂

As I face the last 70 days of my college career, my brain is a little frazzled. Every time I reflect on the stress of keeping up with six classes, trying extremely hard to resist senioritis and scrambling to map out a plan once December comes along, I feel dizzy and nauseous. About eight months ago a friend of mine (who recently graduated in May) summed it up in one simple statement: “We’ve been in school all our lives; of course the real world is scary as shit.” And that’s exactly what it is: scary as shit.
I have been lucky enough to be surrounded with competent and caring professors that coach their students on how to build a portfolio and how to knock your first interview out of the park, but what about all the other things that along with the transition from college to career? There’s house-hunting (apartment hunting for most of us), adjusting to a new city (or sometimes a different country/state), figuring out the best commute route and learning how to deal with life away from most of the friends you’ve enjoyed the last four to 12 years with. I’ve come to the conclusion that professors don’t mention these things because it sucks and there is really no getting around it. Yes, I’m saying this from someone who has yet to actually experience all above things, but I just don’t see any other outcome.

I pride myself on being a strong-willed and independent individual, but when push comes to shove, sometimes I really just want to curl up next to my mommy and hear her tell me everything will be OK. And then I realize that the fact that I’ve had so many caring people encourage me along the way may be all I need. If I’ve made it this far, why would I not make it all the way?

Maybe that’s what life is all about. Learning the hard way so we can one day teach our children how to make the best decisions possible, only to have them turn around and ignore us and learn the hard way themselves, of course.

For now, it’s kind of comforting to be scared because it means that I still care and have not been jaded by our crazy, chaotic world. It means that I do believe in my dreams and want to succeed more than anything. It means that my family did something right along the way and that, in the end, I’m going to be OK. I hope.