Liam's 1st Birthday

Well, as quickly as it came, Liam's birthday also went on December 18.

I feel a little bad, since his actual birthday was not much to write about. The night before his birthday, we went to the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights to see the Christmas lights and Santa, so that was a fun excursion.
Having the best time?

On his actual birthday, we left to go home to Iowa for the holidays that afternoon, so he spent much of his birthday in the car. :( But, we woke him up with big smiles, lots of kisses, and he opened a couple of presents from me and Bryan. We arrived home in the early evening, Liam had a little dinner, and then it was time for bed!

BUT, the next day, we made it up to him with a birthday party!

Ah, the first birthday party. I went back and forth about this. I know many moms out there go completely overboard, making the first birthday party the most incredible, Pinterest-worthy shindig ever, creating all the decorations themselves in an effort to make this the best party the kid will ever have. I have no problem with that, and to those parents, I say good on ya!

But for us, we decided to keep Liam's birthday party relatively tame, knowing that he will not remember it. We want to save the over-the-top, DIY, themed parties for later years when Liam can remember them and appreciate them. Personal choice.
A little unsure at first, but he got the hang of it!

So, we kept it simple. The guest list was our family and close friends in the area (which still totaled about 40 people). Being that his birthday is one week before Christmas, not everyone could make it, and that was totally fine. We ordered pizza, had beer and wine for the adults, provided cupcakes for the guests and a smash cake for Liam, and called it a day!
I did have a theme, which was courtesy of Etsy and Hobby Lobby, and kept with Liam's favorite animal: MONKEY! I was able to find a few cute decorations from Hobby Lobby, got some balloons from the grocery store, and that was that for decorations.

I had the invites done from Etsy and they turned out super cute. We opted to ask people for no birthday gifts, mainly because the chid needs nothing, but also because we knew he would get a haul for Christmas and we only have so much room in the car! Knowing that people would want to do something, we offered them a way to donate to Liam's college fund. I was so happy that most everyone followed our wishes! He did get a couple toys, so it was the perfect balance.

I did also have this chalkboard piece made to display at the party, and Liam took some photos with it a few weeks prior to his birthday. I love the way it turned out!

He had a great time and that's the most important part. It was wonderful to be surrounded by our family and friends as they loved on Liam, and also celebrated US - because hey, we did it!

Enjoy this photo of Liam eating his's too cute!

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On Your First Birthday

My sweet boy, Liam.

It seems impossible that one whole year has gone by since I went to the hospital, in more pain than I ever thought possible, and that just 10 hours later, at 7:25am on December 18, 2014, you came into the world.

It all happened so fast, and so agonizingly slow at the same time. One minute you were inside my belly, and then there you were. The moment they placed you on my chest, all legs and arms and warmth, I knew I was a changed woman.

I didn't get to hold you again for a whole 24 hours - they had to take you to the NICU for tests and then I had my own complications. Your poor Daddy, torn between the two greatest loves of his life. I urged him, needed him, to be with you. To let you know that you were not alone in this great big scary world that you had just become a part of.

From the first breathe you took, you have been a strong, alert, adaptable little boy. Every time over the past 12 months that I've been anxious or nervous about how you will react to something, you surpass any expectation.

This past year has been unlike anything I could have imagined. Watching the world through your eyes is, in a word, amazing. From your little view, two-feet off the ground, everyone deserves a smile, every day gets a belly laugh, and every thing in your path begs a name, a thought, an explanation. Everything, and everyone matters to you. I hope that always remains a part of your character.

You have a catalogue of noises, smiles and expressions, different for every person or occasion.
You have a roar that turns into a scream that turns into a giggle that turns into a belly laugh that will forever melt my soul.
You are sneaky and mischievous, too smart for your own good, knowing already how to walk the line between being naughty and cute.
You laugh in my face, openly, when I tell you No, and I will never be able to stay mad at your adorable face. Manipulation has never been more sweet.
You are messy and dirty and fearless and destructive, and my sweet little boy, all at the same time.
You still fit perfectly in the crook of my arm and in the space between my chin and my chest.
Your cheeks are amazing.
You are so very smart. Pride is a word I didn't know the true meaning of until I see you taking things that you learn from us and putting them in action.
You are so strong, "The Hulk" we call you, yet so small and fragile in the grand scheme of things.
Your hugs and kisses are addicting, and even if I got 1000 of each every day, it would never be enough.

This first year with you has been nothing short of an adventure. It's been the best of everything. It was challenging, and continues to be so, but we'll keep adapting. As much as I teach you, you are teaching me. I've never done this thing before. You are our world, but we are yours. We're in it together.

And if you ever forget, my love, how much I love you (and you will, most likely in those teenage years that I'm already dreading), know this: There is nothing I wouldn't do for you in this whole world.

You made me a mom, and I have never felt so lucky. You will forever occupy a place in my heart where no one else exists. You are my greatest joy and easily the best thing that I have ever done.

I love you, little one. Happy first birthday!

Love, Mom
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A Letter to My Pre-Mom Self

Tomorrow, our little one will have his infamous first birthday. And I'm feeling all of the feels.

One whole year. Of getting to know each other. Of loving him. Of being a mom.
At times, it felt like the longest journey. But really, it went by in the blink of an eye.

Seeing the changes in him in the past year, and knowing how in the next 12 months, he will change even more, blows my mind. Before my eyes, he will - he has - become less and less of a baby and morph, somehow, into a little boy. A talking, walking, tantrum-throwing, sloppy-kiss-giving little boy.

Getting to the end of first year has a bit of a "We made it!" feel to it. As in - we didn't have a fucking clue what we were doing. We were exhausted, anxiety ridden and clueless, but somehow, we figured it out and we are here. We have a happy, healthy boy, and holy shit - we kept him alive!

It's a definite mixture of pride at how far we've come and sadness about how quickly he's gone from "baby" to "toddler."

I've been reflecting on the past year, thinking about milestones we hit and those we didn't. (Like how is it possible we went 12 months without him rolling off the bed or changing table?!) I never thought I could experience so many emotions, and I never could have anticipated the ways life would change. The happiness, anxiety, joy, worry, guilt. The way a baby changes a marriage. The way a baby changes your priorities, and your outlook on life, and the world.

I love how much more confident I look in the picture on the right. It's a perfect way to depict the past year!

But I'm also reflecting on my first year of motherhood. The ways I've changed. The ways I am a different mom than I thought I'd be, and how I'm a better mom than I thought I'd be.

I can't say I would change a thing about the past year. But I do know that hindsight is 20/20, and if I could, I would say these things to the hugely pregnant, in-unbearable-pain, waddling, heavy-breathing, freaking-out me that walked through the hospital doors one year ago:

Your body will be different. For nearly 10 months, you grew a human. Then, you either pushed that human out of small opening, or you had it cut out of you while your internal organs looked on. So give yourself grace. Don't be so horrified when you aren't back to your pre-pregnancy weight right away. Parts of you will be bigger, other parts will be smaller. You may never really feel like you are "back," and that's OK. Be proud of your body and embrace it - it has done an amazing thing.

Ask for help when you need it. It takes a village, they say, and it's true. Ask your husband, friends, parents, siblings, caregivers, doctors - ask whomever you need, if you need something. You're not alone, and you don't have to do everything yourself.

Your marriage will be different. Inevitably, having a baby brings a slight imbalance to your marriage. The way your spouse does things will never be quite "right" at first. As a mother, you'll feel like you do everything, and he does nothing. You'll get jealous of the sleep he gets. You'll get angry he doesn't have boobs. You'll wish he understood the hormonal imbalance and anxiety pulsing through you. Date nights will be few and far between. Your sex life will bottom out for a while. But, you'll also gain a new respect for one another. You'll fall in love in a new way, marvel together at how you both created the most amazing person either of you have ever known. You'll accept that you don't have to do things the same way, as long as you're doing things with the same goal in mind. Tell him if you need help. Trust him. Do not keep score. Appreciate each other, and be grateful.

Try not to obsess so much about sleep. You will be tired beyond measure. You will be amazed at how refreshing a 4-hour stretch of sleep can feel, and also at how you wake up at every breath or movement from that baby when you used to be able to sleep through a freight train. The 4-month sleep regression will be a game changer. You will drive yourself crazy over when your baby will sleep through the night, and the things you can do to get him there. Don't. Sleep will eventually find you again. And when it does, it will probably not stick around for long. So until the day comes that you get consecutive good night's sleep, take naps when you can, trade nights with your parter and drink coffee. You will survive.

Don't Google so much. The Internet is your best friend and your worst enemy. While you can find some helpful information, many times, you'll also end up finding the worst case scenario and calling your doctor in a panic because you're sure your baby drank too much bath water and has drowned his internal organs and is going to die in his sleep. So just don't. Talk to your mom, your sisters, your brother, your friends, your Facebook groups. Find real advice and information instead of relying on Google.

Stop reading tragic, sad stories. Perspective on the world changes the moment you become a parent. The world becomes scarier. Life is more fragile. The saddest story takes on new meaning because now you imagine it being your reality. Try to focus on the happiness in the world. Pray for those who have gone through something, and embrace every precious day you're given.

Focus on what works for you. A lot of people will tell you what you "should" do. Take it with a grain of salt, and instead of overanalyzing what you SHOULD do, just keep doing what works for you. That's all that matters. Don't let all the nebulous "shoulds" out there weigh down your mothering mentality.

Breast milk is not the end all, be all. Breastfeeding and breast milk, while important, are not the only way to feed your baby. Do not stress yourself out if it takes some time to figure out how to do it. Don't feel guilty when you decide to stop pumping and breastfeeding because your milk supply is down. You do what you can, for as long as you can or want, and stop beating yourself up about it.

Don't be so hard on yourself. You will criticize and question every choice you make, from your choice to use a pacifier to whether or not you should go to dinner with your girlfriends. But remember that every decision you make is with your baby at top of your mind, and for that reason alone, you're amazing.

Stop comparing your baby to everyone else. It is so incredibly easy to look at other babies and compare your child to them. Stop. Literally every baby is different, and yours is not any better or worse for hitting milestones early or late.

Take time for yourself. You want to be there for every bedtime, every bottle, every moment. You don't want to miss a thing. And that's OK. But it's also OK if you do. Time for yourself will take a backseat, but do your best to take time every now and then to have dinner with friends, happy hour with co-workers, or a pedicure on the weekend. Take a weekend getaway if you can. You aren't a bad mother for doing this - in fact, you'll be a better mother because of it.

About maternity leave... It's OK if you don't "do anything" with the baby all day. It's OK if you take a shower and leave babe in his crib. It's OK to wear the baby around the house. It's OK to put him down for a nap. It's OK to lay in bed all day nursing and sleeping and watching DVR. It's OK to take walks and leave the house. Remember that to your brand new baby, every ray of light, every dust particle, every movement is new. Don't put pressure on yourself or your baby to get everything figured out in the time you have off work. Don't freak out about getting baby on a schedule. Just relax, and enjoy your baby. The weeks will go incredibly fast. And also, know that going back to work will be horribly hard, but will get easier with time.

Always remember, this too shall pass. There will be so many hard moments in your journey as a mother. And each time you encounter one, it will seem horrible and never-ending. But try to remember, in every moment, hard or not, good or bad, this too shall pass. You will get through it and figure out.

You will be different. Suddenly, the eyes with which you view the world are skeptical and worried. From this point on, you will forever see the world through the eyes of a mom. You will long for parts of your former self, and try to find a balance between her and this new person you've become. You'll long for time alone but when you get it, you'll miss your baby. You'll be super overprotective, but think that you're actually pretty laid back. And over time, you'll realize that you can't control anything, and that expectations have no place in parenting. You'll surprise yourself with the things you care about now. You'll wonder what you cared about before.You will grow. You will adjust. You will re-adjust and adjust again.

Know that you are enough. Do not compare yourself to other moms, especially the ones on Instagram whose babies are dressed in adorable outfit every day, whose babies are always smiling, who share pictures of 24 oz of breast milk in one sitting, whose babies are sleeping peacefully. Do not start or end sentences with "Mom Fail," or "I'm a bad mommy," or "I'm a lazy mommy, " or any similar phrasing. You are a GOOD mommy. The best mommy. Nothing more and definitely nothing less.

More than anything, I'd want my pre-mom self to know this:

You will be filled so much love you won't know what to do with it. You'll feel like you're spilling over with it. You'll feel it all the time, and it will find you at random moments. While you're watching him take his first steps. When he first smiles at you. When he gives you a slobbery, open mouthed kiss. When he shares his food with you. This kind of love can feel paralyzing, but embrace it. Embrace all of it. Find humor where you can, and smile, because you are the luckiest to be this child's mother. And he's the luckiest to have you.
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Parenting in One Word

Momentous occasions are always met with required follow-up commentary and questions. When you get engaged, people ask how it happened. When you get married, people ask if it feels different. When you get pregnant, people wonder how you're feeling, when you're due and are you excited?

Having a baby is no different. Along with congratulations on your child's beauty and asking if you're getting any sleep, people with kids usually ask how you're feeling, And people without kids ask:
What's it like being a mom?
Is it possible to sum up what it feels like to be someone's entire world in one sentence? Or one word?

When people ask me what it's like being a mom, my short, one-word answer would be this: Overwhelming. In every. single. way. you can possibly imagine.

You are overwhelmed with responsibility. With happiness. Overwhelmed with gratitude. With anxiety, and hormones. Overwhelmed with fear. And more than anything, with love.

Overwhelmed is not (always) a bad thing. It is just to say that everything you feel after having a baby is amplified. Bigger, sometimes heavier. You're at your most vulnerable, and suddenly, every choice you make directly affects more than just you.

So when people ask me what it's like to be a mom, or how I feel, the long answer I'd give, is this:

I'm overwhelmed with joy when I walk through the door and his face lights up like he has never been, will never be, happier than he is at that instant, at seeing his mama walk through the door. At the distinct "Mama," followed by a slur of jargon that only a parent could understand. Joy can be overwhelming.

I'm overwhelmed with guilt, at times. For not being the mom who makes all of her baby's food or buys only organic. For being the mom who buys frozen meatballs and serves Spaghettio's. For feeling like I'm never giving enough but knowing I can't give any more. For buying him things that I know in my heart he doesn't need, and for not buying him everything despite that. Guilt is overwhelming.

I'm overwhelmed with pride when he takes wobbly, hesitant (yet confident) steps, one hand holding on to his ear like he's holding a boombox, while the other is extended, like he's from The Walking Dead.

I'm overwhelmed with options. What is the difference between the convertible car seat that costs $100 more than the other model by the same brand? What is the difference between natural and all natural? Should his diapers be sensitive or cruisers or baby dry? Choices are overwhelming.

I'm overwhelmed with awe when I think I about how just one year ago, my baby was growing inside my belly. With the idea that my husband and I created him. With the way my heart feels when he looks up at me and in his eyes I can see happiness, wonder and love. To be constantly in awe of something or someone, is overwhelming.

I'm overwhelmed with fear. That something terrible, tragic and horrible is going to happen to me, my husband or my baby. Overwhelmed with grief and sadness when I read about other mothers, ones who are diagnosed postpartum with cancer or rare diseases. Parents whose babies died, for no reason at all or for the most unimaginable reason in the world. Isn't any reason unimaginable? Fear is crippling.

I'm overwhelmed with relief that right now, in this moment, me, my husband and my baby are alive, healthy and thriving. Then again, I'm overwhelmed with guilt at feeling this way at another family's expense.

I'm overwhelmed with information, about everything from when to start solid foods to how to wean off a bottle or pacifier to how to get the baby to sleep through the night, right down to what shoes are best when baby starts to walk. Knowledge, and my lack of it, is overwhelming.

I'm overwhelmed with nostalgia, thinking about my own childhood; traditions and memories with my parents and family, and the desire to create those same moments with my new little family. Nostalgia at my "old" self, and the notion that doing anything on a whim is no longer possible and that getting drunk on date night is not as fun when you know you still have to wake up and be a parent. (Hello again, guilt, at longing for a time of life when the baby wasn't here.)

I'm overwhelmed with time, both the sheer lack of it and the pace with which is moves by, so quickly.

But mostly, I'm overwhelmed by love. Incredible, all-encompassing, take-your-breath-away love that is shocking, really. A kind of love so great and so big, it's frightening, but wonderful...and indescribable.

Parenting is overwhelmingly hard. Overwhelmingly rewarding. And if you ask me what it's like to be a mom, or how I'm feeling - I'll tell you the short version.

And I'll hope that someday, you know just what I mean.
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10 Things I Was Before I Was "Mom"

As most any mom will tell you - they love being a mom. But I think we'd all be lying if we said we didn't think about, miss -- sometimes even long for -- the period of life before we lost a bit of our former selves.

Times we didn't appreciate. Times my kids will likely never know about, and if they do, never believe. Times that I'm willing to bet, our closest friends didn't appreciate, either. (My friends LOVE drunk Rachel. And they miss her.)

So kids, if you're reading - here are some things you should know about your Mom:

1. Before I was a mom, my Instagram featured something other than you. I know it's hard to believe, but "Mom Me," my Instagram looked like anyone else's: Poorly "styled" food photos, snaps of the alcoholic beverage I was consuming, overused hashtags, my dog, and trips from travels.

But then I got pregnant and my baby bump took over the feed. And then you actually arrived and I totally became the mom that I swore I never would be on social media. #BLESSED (Just kidding, I have never and will never use that hashtag.)

2. Before I was a mom, I used to sleep. On the weekends, you could find me going to bed between the hours of midnight and 4am. I'd rise for a quick hangover fix between 10-11am and then go back to bed and stay there, drifting between states of consciousness, before I got up and did it all again. I napped when I wanted to, woke up when I wanted to and that's right, went to bed when I wanted to.

3. Before I was a mom, I wasn't annoying. Not AS annoying, anyway. I certainly wasn't doing things like talking baby talk, making up songs about stinky diapers, dancing like a fucking idiot to make you smile, and following people around saying "No thank you!" as politely as possible when I really want to say "Don't touch that, god dammit!"

4. Before I was a mom, I used to be kinda cool. That's right.  I was COOL AF. Nevermind. I wasn't cool. I'm still not.

5. Before I was a mom, I judged other moms. Kids throwing tantrum in public? Kids wearing mismatched clothes? Moms in public looking disheveled? Helicopter parenting? NOT ME. NEVER.

6. Before I was a mom, I used to party my ass off. Oh, the stories I could tell. The stories my friends could tell. I got five underage drinking tickets before I turned 21-three of those were in one week, and two were in one night. (No drinking until you're 21, kids!) The night I did turn 21, I took 21 shots to celebrate and lived to tell the tale. I was voted to have the "Best Party House" in high school. I passed out before noon on St. Patrick's Day, woke up three hours later and STILL went out to party the day away. Know this.

7. Before I was a mom, I was athletic. Well, kind of. I worked out on a semi-regular basis. I ran (a) half-marathons. I did a Tough Mudder. I was pretty much a badass.

8. Before I was a mom, I cursed like a motherfucker. I'm trying to get better at this, especially while I still have the luxury of you not really being able to talk. I'm sure hearing you mutter, "God Dammit" will not only give me the chuckles, but I will think it's adorable and impossible to scold you. That is until you start dropping F bombs. (And even then, let's be honest...)

9. Before I was a mom, I was put together. I curled my hair. I straightened my hair. If I styled my hair one way and didn't like it, I'd try the other. I had time for these things. I did my makeup.  I wore jewelry. I tried on multiple outfits, worried about parts of my body other than my post-baby mom pouch. Now that I go to work, I am a *little* closer to being put together, but if you bet on my outfit on any given day, if I were you, I'd include "hoodie" and "yoga pants" in your wager.

10. Before I was a mom, I never knew how much how much I wanted to be one. Most of us spend our life trying NOT to get pregnant. We're scared of it. Even when we decided we wanted a baby, it was terrifying. But that moment you, my first baby, entered the world, you took it over. Life split into two halves: before you, and after.

Life before you was wonderful. I'm grateful for it. But I wouldn't trade one moment of this "after" life with you.
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As we're in the throes of holiday season (my favorite time of year) and also approaching Liam's first birthday, I find myself super emotional these days. I have so many words and thoughts waiting to pour out of me, and can't wait until I can dedicate a few hours to just writing through all these feelings! (If only there were, like...double the hours in a day.)

We celebrated Thanksgiving last week in Iowa with both of our families. We were home for a long weekend and looked forward to spending copious amounts of quality time with friends and family -- but unfortunately, the sick Gods had other plans for us.

Thanksgiving night, Liam spiked a 104.5 degree fever that wasn't coming down with Ibupofen. We waited a bit, gave Tylenol, and finally, his temp came down to a way less scary degree. We agreed we'd take him to urgent care in the morning if it kept up. Needless to say, we were up all night with a hysterical child. His fever kept climbing and we brought him in right away on Friday morning. Poor guy has his first ear infection.


So, it was a rough couple of days with not much sleep for me and Bryan, and lots of rest of Liam. Which is to say, we basically stayed home ("home" being with my older sister) and made people come to us to hang out.

Being home is always difficult with both of our families being there. There are three sets of grandparents, four sets of aunts/uncles and multiple cousins to fit in to not enough days (especially with Liam being on a schedule, still.) Of course, we know it's a greater blessing than it is a curse to have so much family around, but it's hard for us to ever feel like we get enough time with any of them. We always complain when we are home that we can't relax because we are bouncing from house to house. But then over Thanksgiving when we didn't leave much, we felt like we should be seeing people. Double-edged sword, I suppose.

By the end of the weekend, Liam's antibiotics began to kick in and he was getting back to his happy self. We managed a trip to the children's museum, which he loved, and Bryan and I even squeezed in a date night with some of our friends.

Liam also took his first steps over the weekend! Completely nonchalantly, I just glanced and saw him take about 4 steps! We kept encouraging him to do it again and again, and he was getting frustrated by us picking him up and setting him down. The steps I happened to capture were after multiple attempts, so he is hysterically crying, but I kind of love it and think it's hysterical! (and, real life.)

Work has me working all kinds of crazy hours these days, taking up my normal evening blog time at home, but I promise to come back soon with details on what we are doing for the 1st birthday (hint - not much), and I'll finally write down some of those FEELINGS I'm grappling with as we close out 2015, and our first year as parents.
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