Author: Sarah Clarke

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, I now find myself living in a 19th century home named Bittersweet, in the middle of Dutch Country Pennsylvania. With me are my best friends: my husband, Michael; our son, Atticus; Milo the pup; and a flock of spoiled chickens!

Teal is the new orange

Halloween is such an exciting time as a kid! Picking out a cool costume, staying up late and getting free candy – what could be better? But for families with food allergies, Halloween can be tricky. Most traditional Halloween treats are not safe for kids with life-threatening food allergies, which leave parents to wonder – should I even take my child out trick-or-treating?

Luckily, there is a solution to ensure ALL kids are included and kept safe! The Teal Pumpkin Project purpose is to raise awareness for food allergies and promote inclusion by providing non-food treats for trick-or-treaters. By painting and displaying a teal pumpkin in front of your home you can let food allergy families know that non-food treats are available.

teal2The Teal Pumpkin Project started in 2014 in a small town in Tennessee. Each year, more homes across America have participated and last year set a record at over 18,000 participants! My family has been participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project since 2014 and each year Cam (our food allergy kiddo) paints his teal pumpkin proudly.

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I would love to participate but I don’t have time to paint a teal pumpkin: No problem! The Food Allergy Research & Education website has free printable signs you can post on your front door or window.

I’m not sure what non-food treats to pass out: Erasers, glow sticks, pencils, spider rings, stickers and bouncy balls are just a few of the super cool items you could pass out in addition or in lieu of candy this year. Let’s face it, even after we raid our kids Halloween stash they still have more candy then they’ll actually eat. Kids really enjoy these little trinkets and toys!

Can I still pass out candy? Sure thing! Keep your non-food treats and food treats in separate bowls. Each year SnackSafely.com comes out with a Halloween list of safe candies and treats. Some brands known for being allergen friendly are: YumEarth, Skinny Pop, Enjoy Life, Tootsie Roll and Tootsie Pops, and Free2B.

So grab a paint brush and some teal paint and support a great cause! The only thing that should be scary on Halloween is the costumes!

For more information on the Teal Pumpkin Project please visit Food Allergy Research & Educations website: www.foodallergy.org

Punk Mama Jessica shared her family’s food allergy story earlier this year on Punk Mamas, here. We’re thankful she has decided to share the Teal Pumpkin Project with us all and provide some tips for keeping our little ones safe this Halloween!

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Dear Diary: My 3rd Trimester

Punk Mama Ashley M. welcomed little Eloise on September 16th, 2017. This is her third Dear Diary installment. If you haven’t read her previous entries, start here.

June 30th, 2017 – Third trimester, how did we get here? I HAVE NO IDEA, but, here we are! We get to meet this bebe in a few short months and somehow that feels like tomorrow and a thousand years away all at once.

July 5th, 2017 – I stayed home and I didn’t go to any parties, and I didn’t mind because I got to spend this time at home with my husband working on crafts for the nursery. I have spent a lot of time trying new crafts (none of them perfect) to help pass the time. Instead of being social today, I ended up stepping on a bee, having to take Benadryl, falling asleep while watching Titanic, and wetting the bed. Partying hard takes on a new meaning in the third trimester.

July 8th, 2017 – I found out about halfway through my pregnancy that a very close friend of mine was also expecting her first child. If you ever want to feel less clueless about becoming a first time mother or just being pregnant get yourself a pregnant friend. Mandy has been my savior – reminding me that no question is a stupid question and that no matter what weird thing that your body is doing, someone else who is pregnant has also had that same very strange thing happen to them [see previous entry about peeing the bed after a bad bee sting followed with allergy medicine; I feel better about this already (Thanks, Mandy!)].

July 31st, 2017 – Each time we see this babe during a sonogram appointment, it feels like she is more ours. The ultrasound tech switched to 3-D on us and I’m not trying to brag or anything but she definitely has my nose. 3-D ultrasounds are insane, kind of creepy, but so sweet. It’s hard for me to associate the extra weight that I am carrying around with the fact that an actual human is growing inside of me so seeing her helps with that, and each time it takes my breath away.

August 1st, 2017 – I went to a show at the Ottobar earlier in the pregnancy, but attending shows later in this pregnancy absolutely has me stressed. Bless my old bones, pregnant body, and just as old friends – we decided to cough up the extra money for seats. Granted these shows were not at a tiny bar but at a much larger venue, I was SO MUCH MORE comfortable. I got to live out my teenage daydream, seeing two of my most favorite bands – all while sitting on my butt. I recommend springing for the seats this late in the game but if seats aren’t available I wouldn’t let this stop you from having a good time. I just as easily could have survived standing – I just would have been an exhausted lady the following day. I will say that my tolerance for being surrounded by drunk morons dropped significantly from my early pregnancy show to this one. Yikes, people sure do get on my nerves pretty quickly these days but like I said – I survived. And bonus – I enjoyed myself!

August 6th, 2017 – Two very close friends of mine got together and threw us a baby shower; it was hands down one of the sweetest days of my life. Everything was perfect. To have friends and family together to celebrate Eloise was eye opening – she is so loved already. If you choose to have a baby shower, please choose to have someone else load up your car and their car because the amount of stuff you will receive is INSANE and overwhelming. Take the time to soak it in because (I’m not kidding) I’ve never felt so overwhelmed with gratitude in my life – not even at our wedding. The love that was present and in the air brought me to tears several times. I am a lucky person, this is not lost on me – I can’t believe that I get to raise Eloise surrounded by so many kind, generous, creative, inspiring, and incredible people.

August 20th, 2017 – I took a few days to be overwhelmed by the gifts that we received at the shower by stuffing them in the baby’s room and keeping the door shut to ignore the mess. When I was finally feeling brave enough, I went in ready to tackle the task. Over the course of about a week and a half I very slowly washed all of the clothes, organized all of the books, put everything where it needed to go, made space in the hallway closet, and the list goes on. I’d be lying if I said everything fell into place and was perfect and I never looked back, but I’m still rearranging trying to get everything to feel just perfect.

August 21st, 2017 – We did it! We graduated from baby classes! Wooooo! I cannot recommend baby classes enough. Most of what we learned was common sense or just like we were taking an advanced health class, but the classes left me feeling a little more confident in my ability to care for a child and for my body postpartum. This was also a great bonding experience for my husband and I – sounds cheesy but I’m just being honest.

September 1st, 2017 – One of the reasons I started this journaling is because no one really discusses all of the weird stuff that happens to your body. And maybe I’m naïve, or maybe I just haven’t read enough, but, wow, who knew that your vagina would feel like it was beaten with a bat and then was left to just fall out of your body. Ow, ow, ow, OW, OW OW. This does not make rolling over in bed easy, getting out of bed doesn’t feel great, and moving around at a regular pace is just cruel. So if you’ve never been pregnant and you want to do everything in your power to prepare, this is my heads up to you, a warning if you will, your vagina is going to feel like one huge bruise. Yep.

September 6th, 2017 – I haven’t stopped peeing in days, and days, and days. We preregistered at the hospital and I 100% recommend doing this if given the option. Handing all of that paperwork in early helped me feel less stressed while also providing me another chance to ask any questions at the hospital.

September 7th, 2017 – I met with my doctor today and we came up with a plan for induction. I trust my doctor wholeheartedly and have much love for her, so I left my appointment feeling very confident in our plan and what to expect in the upcoming week. I shared these plans with a few close friends/family members and soon began to feel less than confident, upset, and angry. Here’s the deal – your body, your rules. No exceptions. It took me a few days but I got over it and then I was very clear that I would be sticking with my initial plan. My body, my limits. Don’t let people make you feel like you aren’t in control of your body. Don’t let people make you feel less confident in your choices. The only people that have opinions that matter with regards to laboring are you, your partner, and your doctor. At the end of the day, do what makes you most comfortable, ask as many questions as you want, and don’t be afraid to let people know how you feel. If I could do it over I would have only shared our hospital plans with my husband and doctor. Some may choose to tell the world, some may keep it to themselves – but everyone should do what makes them feel best. Something else to note about this appointment, it was the first time I was checked to see if I had dilated at all. I read a lot of the internet about this being painful but honestly it was not painful at all and was over within seconds. I really hyped myself up and was so nervous but honestly this was the least stressful thing.

September 11th, 2017 – I didn’t write about these individually because they were no big deal but starting at 36 weeks I had to have non-stress tests and ultrasounds done twice a week because of my weight. These are irritating because you’re at the baby’s mercy. They are annoying because they’re boring and you’re hooked up to a machine and can’t move much. Anyway, I passed them all with flying colors, and today was my last one. One step closer!

September 13th, 2017 – MY LAST APPOINTMENT! I was checked, we went over final plans, and I asked all of my questions. I cannot believe that tomorrow is induction day. In a few days we will get to meet our daughter, and our world as we know it will never be the same. Here are my final thoughts going into this journey and leaving pregnancy behind:

  • Time flies – I’m not kidding! I feel like I just found out ten minutes ago about being pregnant. Time flies and then the last three weeks will go so incredibly slow you might think that you’re losing your mind. I have lost a lot of sleep these last few weeks due to being uncomfortable but also because I’m so nervous and so anxious about becoming a parent.
  • Ultimately at the end of the day only YOU know what is best. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you don’t know best. You did it – you carried this baby every step of the way and only you have experienced every movement, funny feeling, and ache. No one else did this for you. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to feel defeated, like you’re not going to make it and that it’s never going to happen, but I promise you, you will reach the end of pregnancy and it will be worth every awkward poke at your body and every ache and pain.
  • I would like to thank Punk Mamas and Sarah Clarke, for asking me to keep a journal of my pregnancy. I wouldn’t have written this much down if they hadn’t asked, and I am already so thankful that I will have this journal to reflect back on.

Birth trauma survey

Punk Mama Jennifer Lynn Frye is a student midwife finishing her didactic work at WomanCraft Midwifery. As part of her advanced course, she is studying various forms of trauma in birthing persons during the childbearing year (pregnancy, birth, and three months postpartum). She has created a survey that will help her learn more. The survey is open to the public to participate, as long as you are over the age of 18 and have given birth; in or out of facility (birth center or home), with midwives, obstetricians, or unassisted, etc. Jennifer is looking to better understand how women are treated during pregnancy and childbirth by care providers – so whether it was how you were spoken to, made to feel, or treated at any time, your feedback can help her better serve families in the future. The survey is totally anonymous and voluntary and you may cancel participation at any time. She is not asking for any identifying information and these answers will only be used for school related research.
To participate in the survey, please visit: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdfKgQLebjh5dDPPfkekEVBzP81_0nYwnk5sDTdCnuJVCeJCw/viewform?embedded=true 

Punk Mama fundraiser for Carry the Future

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The cloth diaper pin is a collaboration between Punk Mamas, Lemon Lightning, and Good Good Pins. 100% of the proceeds from this purchase will go to Carry the Future to buy diapers for Syrian refugees.

The Punk Mamas crew was inspired to do something to help refugees after being inundated with image after image of injured and dead Syrian children in the media. One mother’s feeling of utter helplessness spawned a group-wide discussion of how one could make a difference to those suffering on the other side of the world. As the group brainstormed ways to help, they discovered Carry the Future, started by a mother, and felt a strong connection toward the non-profit’s mission to, “stand in solidarity with refugee families worldwide by providing humanitarian aid to ease their journey while creating meaningful opportunities for global volunteers to be a collective force of action and hope.” Having successfully completed a massive effort of collecting over 18,000 gently used baby carriers and distributing them to Syrian refugees, Carry the Future is now focused on providing baby boxes full of essential baby items (bedding, clothes, toiletries, diapers, etc.). Lemon Lightening and Good Good Pins have kindheartedly collaborated with Punk Mamas to create, produce, and distribute this cloth diaper pin. With your purchase, 100% of proceeds will go directly to Carry the Future to provide disposable diapers for Syrian refugee babies in Jordan.

As seen in the USA Today article, Punk Mamas Rock Motherhood

Dear Diary: My 2nd Trimester

Punk Mama Ashley M. has just passed into her third trimester and has shared her second trimester diary with us! If you didn’t read her first trimester diary, start here. We look forward to the next installment as she welcomes her little one!

March 13th, 2017 (12 weeks & 4 days) – First trimester screen. I was nervous about this all weekend and the entire day leading up to the appointment. I mean at this point, I literally just have no idea what to expect anymore. My husband asked if I wanted him to work a half-day and come with me, and like the brave wimp that I am, I declined (I’m learning rather slowly that even though I don’t think that I’m going to want him there I should just say yes). I was so sad that he missed this appointment. This test was an ultra sound and a finger prick. Finally, an external ultra sound! But, it kind of hurt? It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting but in a good way. Within seconds, I saw the head! Two arms! Two legs! Holy cow, there aren’t many things in my life that I would actively go back and change if I could but this is one of them. I wish so desperately that could have had my husband there. This baby would NOT STOP DANCING. Hands in the air waving them around like it just didn’t care. And then! The heartbeat. I heard it for the first time and just couldn’t stop laughing. I think this is the first time that I’ve actually felt a connection. Oh, sweet little baby – I was all of a sudden flooded with the possibilities and in that moment everything was just perfect. The finger prick is a footnote; it felt like a paper cut but I didn’t mind because all that I could think about was that dancing baby.

March 15th, 2017 (12 weeks & 6 days) – If this metal taste does not leave my mouth, I am going to lose my mind.

March 17th, 2017 (13 weeks & 1 day) – Monthly check up. This went terribly, I gained four pounds over the last month and my doctor was NOT HAPPY. I cried the entire time and for a few hours after. The appointment lasted about two minutes, if not shorter, honestly. Just a check-in, rather than check-up. Enough time to leave me feeling like garbage.

March 22nd, 2017 (13 weeks & 6 days) – I walked 11 miles today, E-L-E-V-E-N, whoops. The walking was great and the day was great – I got home and laid to relax and wow (!!) – I can feel my ligaments stretching. This isn’t excruciating yet; it is uncomfortable but it is what it is. Feels kind of funky.

April 4th, 2017 (15 weeks & 4 days) – Disclaimer: I realize that this second trimester I’ve been doing a lot of complaining; it feels like all that I do. I don’t feel pregnant. All of my symptoms have subsided. I’m a chunky monkey so I’m not really showing yet. Some days I probably could forget that I am pregnant.

April 7th, 2017 (16 weeks & 1 day) – First show while pregnant, I was close to the front and right before the band started to play I freaked out a little bit because it was a hometown show. The crowd was excited and I didn’t want to take an unexpected elbow to the stomach. But, guess what? Everything went smoothly – I danced and I had a good time, so Baby Miller’s first show was a complete success! I did, however, sleep the entire next day. I had a blast but boy was I wiped out!

April 15th, 2017 (17 weeks & 2 days) – My cat died a few days ago unexpectedly, and I know that you’re thinking, what does this have to do with anything? Well, it has a lot to do with everything. Max was my best friend, we have been together through so much and he’s been my support system for years. I think that Max knew that I was pregnant before I knew. The first few weeks he was glued to my belly or always by my side just purring and loving on me. For those of you who knew Max, he wasn’t particularly loving to anyone but myself and my husband. This is key though, on the autumn night that we decided to try to have a child our two major pros on our PROS/CONS list: 1) we’re ready; and 2) we wanted our child to have time with Max to be able to look back and remember him. They were going to be best buds, paling around because Max was the best pal. The love I feel for Max will never go away and losing him has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to work through in my life, especially while pregnant. The dreams I had following were weird, a combination of cute and awful. Pregnancy dreams are so bizarre. They’re what I imagine being stuck in a psychedelic trip is like. Wonderful, bizarre, and dark. I cry all of the time; I cry all of time when I’m not pregnant, so now it’s just constant streams of tears. Plain and simple, it sucks.

April 16th, 2017 (17 weeks & 3 days) – The morning after my cat passed away I had my monthly checkup! What fun! What fun! I desperately wanted to reschedule, but at this appointment I was also told that I would be scheduling my gender appointment, so I went in. I had blood shot eyes, a swollen face, and streams of tears. This appointment lasted an hour and a half – I can’t tell you why as I’m not sure myself. They took blood, but I was so dehydrated from crying that it took forever to find a vein. Despite the circumstances, this appointment was far less traumatizing than the last. I actually lost fifteen pounds (this is normal if you’re overweight), the doctor was incredible, and I left feeling much more comfortable about my choice of providers.

April 17th, 2017 (17 weeks & 4 days) – I was lying in bed minding my own business and shoving approximately my tenth peanut butter cup in my mouth for the afternoon and (drumroll, please) I felt the first kick! I gasped and Steve (figured I should stop calling him my husband and give him a name) asked me what was wrong: “Nothing! I think that I felt the first kick, QUICK GET MORE PEANUT BUTTER CUPS.” I didn’t feel the baby kick again for a few days but I did overdose on peanut butter cups. YIKES.

April 24th, 2017 (18 weeks 4 days) –Pregnancy brain is REAL and a constant struggle.

May 7th, 2017 (20 weeks & 3 days) – I spent the day see-sawing back and forth “Is it a boy? Is it a girl? Boy, girl, boy, girl, AHHHHHHHH I HAVE NO IDEA.” I also spent the day easing my nerves with some friends going through some of the old wives tales – all signs pointed to a girl. My gut felt that this little bebe was a girl, but my head was screaming boy boy boy boy! I closed out the evening going through baby pictures of myself because, well, I was a cute baby.

19807446_10213041883669471_1858655869_oMay 8th, 2017 (20 weeks & 4 days) – For some stupid reason I scheduled my appointment at the end of the day, I have no idea what I was thinking (pregnancy brain?). I couldn’t concentrate all day; I was nervous, my appointment was all I could think about. I was actually more nervous about the anatomy scan than the gender scan because like a fool I feel into a Google hole of things that could be go wrong. The time finally arrived so I met up with my husband and to the doctors we went. We got to the room and they explained everything to us and started the scan. I was SHAKING – I just get so nervous all of the time. About twenty minutes in the tech asked what we thought it was and I blurted out “probably a boy.” Her response is something I don’t think that I will ever forget, mostly because my husband laughed so hard, but it was “Well, I can tell you that it’s a girl”. I still cringe when I think about what I said next but my husband and the tech laughed so here it goes, I came back with a “SHUT UP” and I just started sobbing. A baby girl! The first in my family, since me, the cutest baby girl ever of course. We finished up, scheduled a second anatomy scan because sweet little bebe wouldn’t stop dancing around and moving (it seems she was just as excited as we were), and off we went. Immediately after the appointment we headed to Old Navy and picked up our first flowery dress. I was on cloud 9. When we got home we shared the news with our friends and family who were just as nosey and excited as we were!

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May 12th, 2017 (21 weeks & 1 day) – Routine appointment, I think that because the first appointment this trimester was SO BAD that every appointment since has been just golden – the bar is low after that first one. Everything looked fine so I scheduled my next appointment and then they sent me on my way!

May 17th, 2017 (21 weeks & 6 days) – The DREADED glucose test. As I previously mentioned, I am a chunky monkey, so they did this test earlier than usual. Everyone talked this up to being the worst experience that I was honestly just so nervous I thought I was going to barf. I got to the lab, they took the first round of blood, and then they handed me the sugar drink and explained that I had ten minutes to finish. I took a deep breath, and I’m sure that my years of drinking cheap vodka had prepared me for this because I drank it all in one shot – about fifteen seconds. If you’re given a choice, choose the lemon lime flavor – it’s like your roommate put the Sprite back in the fridge after not screwing the cap back on and you’ve stumbled to the fridge first thing in the morning for a nice refreshing drink and you end up with ice cold flat sugary sprite – not the worst situation, but also not the best. Anyways, drawing blood three more times was far more traumatizing than drinking the sugar drink. I finished up and they let me know that my doctor would call if there were any issues with the lab work. (Update: My levels were fine, they just wanted to test me early because I’m overweight.)

May 20th, 2017 (22 weeks & 2 days) – We had a list of boys names prepared, even had narrowed it down to one or two but we had absolutely ZERO girl names picked out. We checked a few books out from the library and spent a few days paging through them. The first name that we scribbled down ultimately was the name that we ended up picking. For us it just felt right. Another thing checked off of of our to-do list, but it feels like her name has been Eloise from the beginning.

May 22nd, 2017 (22 weeks & 4 days) – Maternity clothes are the bane of my existence. A growing middle makes it hard to love the way that you look in anything even if everyone is pointing out how “cute” your bump is. This bump doesn’t feel cute, nothing feels cute, my body feels like a water balloon and I want to cry about it pretty much all of the time.

June 3rd, 2017 (24 weeks & 3 days) – We had booked a vacation the same day that I found out that I was pregnant. We decided to drive, because we’re crazy or something, but in the days leading up to the trip I was becoming increasingly more nervous about being an annoyance and about having to stop so much. I spoke to my doctor at my last appointment and he gave me the go ahead with simple instructions: 1) Move your legs while in the car even if it is just pressing them up and down; 2) Stop every two hours and walk a few laps around the rest stop; and 3) Drink plenty of water! First trip with bebe in the womb! Not bad at all, we stopped about every 1.5 hours, I drank A LOT of water, and just bounced my legs the whole way there and the whole way back. There was a lot of walking on our trip so I ended each day a little sore but really, it was nothing to write home about. Overall, if you’re thinking about taking a trip while pregnant, I recommend it! It was nice to step away from the reality of everything for a week and just relax with my husband and close friends before the chaos of a new baby.

June 5th, 2017 (24 weeks & 4 days) – Second anatomy scan to get a clear picture since bebe wouldn’t sit still the first time. Well, she wouldn’t sit still this time either, so valiant effort but no luck. HOWEVER, because I am overweight I am considered high risk, so as I was checking out the receptionist asked me to schedule my non stress test appointments for the last month of pregnancy. Two a week, plus a regular check up every week for four weeks. I almost fainted. That’s so many appointments! WHHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYY? (Obviously I know why but I just like to complain so let me have this.)

June 14th, 2017 (25 weeks & 6 days) – Everybody has an opinion on what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. If they’re not your doctor and you didn’t ask for their advice tell them to be quiet.

June 22nd, 2017 (27 weeks) – A couple days after we returned from Maine I developed a tingly/burning sensation under my armpit and covering half of my right breast. I kept asking my husband if there was a rash, had I been bitten, was it splotchy? Each time he looked at me like I was insane replying “Nothing here, like last time.” Around the same time my migraines became increasingly worse but for some reason pregnancy brain clouded my judgement and I was unable to tie these things together. A few days later I developed a rash in the same space where the burning had been earlier (however I was still too clouded to tie all of these things together). My husband said it looked like poison, maybe from Maine, and we smacked some Calamine on it and called it a day. Here’s the thing, I’ve never had a reaction to poison (I am allergic to E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.), so I spent the week thinking about how strange it was that I was having a reaction now, but then again, stranger things have happened while being pregnant. This rash was borderline unbearable but I felt insane saying that because it didn’t look that bad. It felt like someone was just rubbing sandpaper made out of glass shards all over my side twenty-four hours a day. Once I explained it this way my husband explained that this was not typical of poison but could be SHINGLES. I got into my doctor’s the next morning and sure enough – shingles. As I was sitting in the doctor’s office explaining my symptoms to my doctor I began to connect the dots of this shingles experience and boy oh boy I was pretty ticked off at myself for missing all of the signs. I was prescribed a medicine to help kick this thing faster and the doctor explained that sometimes pregnant ladies just get shingles. WELL, isn’t that JUST my luck. I would not wish shingles on my worst enemy, it is single handily the most painful thing I have ever experienced.

June 24th, 2017 (27 weeks & 2 days) – …and just like that the morning sickness has returned. I welcome you third trimester with open arms (and extra barf bags).

Second trimester thoughts – With the second trimester came a lot of information, even more than in the first. So many exciting things happened in the second trimester that it was just too much to share. I am ending this trimester feeling so much better than I felt at the beginning. I struggled a lot but in the end I know it will be rewarding. It’s hard to believe that we are living in the same season that our baby will be born in (summer!). My heart is so full and the final countdown has begun!

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RIP Max xoxo

Punk Mama interview with the Evening Sun

Last week the Evening Sun shared an interview they did with a few of our mamas. Shawna, Ahna, Ashley, and Sarah met with Lindsey from the Evening Sun to talk about the group and an upcoming fundraiser we’re doing for Carry the Future. To read or watch the interview, click the link or photo below!

‘Punk Mamas’ rock motherhood together thanks to New Oxford woman


Hana’s journey to motherhood through adoption

Punk Mamas’ Hana RW has shared her story of becoming a mother with us, which is heartbreaking, frustrating, raw, and honest…but has a happy ending! This past Mother’s Day, our Punk Mamas Facebook group was made aware how hurtful holiday ads can be to adoptive mothers, as they tend to only target mothers who have physically given birth. And until it is pointed out to you, it’s not something you notice. We are very grateful that Hana has shared with us her journey of motherhood. It is important to us that we show there is more than one way to parent, there is more than one way to welcome a child into the world, and there is more than one way to be a mother. SC

My husband and I had been married for seven years before we felt like we were “ready” for a baby. This is really a different story, but it leads me to my birth story – so, here we go. After about six months of casually trying to conceive, I got pregnant; it was right around Mother’s Day. Along with the usual first trimester blahs, I was excited and nervous and we blissfully went to the first OB appointment with the intent of hearing our baby’s heartbeat. After an annoying amount of paperwork and questions and waiting, we both stared at the monitor waiting to see the little blob on the screen. I’d really been looking forward to getting the sonogram picture and was excited to tell all our friends and family about our new addition. Within seconds, I could see something was wrong on the doctor’s face. She had no poker face at all. Her mouth was taught; her eyebrows furrowed together. Her eyes squinted at the screen and she frantically moved the wand around. She didn’t speak and I didn’t breathe. It probably lasted fewer than thirty seconds, but it felt like thirty minutes. She said, “I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” I heard my husband inhale sharply, but I couldn’t take my eyes away. The doctor and nurse fumbled and someone said they needed to get another doctor to confirm. I thought, “oh good – go get another doctor, because clearly you’ve made a horrible mistake. You are wrong. I feel pregnant, so clearly you don’t know what you are doing.” The second doctor burst in there was more poking and face scrunching and screen staring. He took my hand and said, “I’m so sorry.” And then he walked away.

I can’t really describe what that’s like. It’s devastating. It’s isolating. Not many people knew about the baby we lost, so I felt like I had to put on a brave face and just act like everything was fine and normal. I had to go to work and move forward with my life when all I wanted to do was cry and scream. Those that did know, said things to me like, “just try again” or “this was god’s plan.” My mom patted me on the back and said, “maybe next time.” Maybe next time? These comments were hurtful; hearing them was horrible. Possibly the most unhelpful thing said to me was the nurse at the doctor’s office, who within minutes of being told that my baby had died said to me (as she was drawing blood or I may have punched her in the face), “this is nature’s way of saying the baby wasn’t healthy. It happens.” Thanks, nurse. It does happen. Needless to say, I never set foot in that doctor’s office again. Anyway, after two years of trying to conceive and one year of seeing fertility specialists and countless painful procedures, I threw the white flag up and said I had to stop. I literally couldn’t do it anymore and I had no interest in pursuing invasive procedures and putting myself and my body through any more.

Should we call this phase two? Phase two – adoption. My first thoughts on adoption were this: do some paperwork, blah blah, home study, blah blah, get a baby – pretty basic. I quickly learned, it’s anything BUT basic. It’s exhausting, time consuming, anxiety producing, stressful, and expensive. Adoption forces you to be a parent way, way before you are a parent. You have to jump with both feet, without looking, into the unknown, no matter what the outcome. You have to prove your worth to social workers, to an agency, to a judge, to a birth parent, birth parents, or birth family. You have to prove that you are healthy, financially stable, and mentally prepared. You have to go to counseling and have a social worker come to your home for an inspection. You have to convince many people that you deserve to be a parent, and that you are worthy, when you may be feeling the opposite of that deep down. I felt like a failure. And here I was, trying to put on a smile and convince everyone that my marriage is perfect, my home is perfect, my job is super flexible, and we are a stable family. It took nearly six months to get all of our paperwork in order, clearances done, physicals completed, and home study approved. We had three failed adoptions, before a successful one. Each one was a loss of its own. We lost those babies, though they were never truly ours.

On May 11, 2016 I got a call from our adoption social worker that a birth mom had found our profile on our agency’s website and out of hundreds of families, she wanted us. This being the fourth time we were matched, I was already tired, skeptical, and burnt out from loss. But in adoption, you have to be enthusiastic even when you are not. You have to be ready even though you are terrified. You have to be confident even though you know that this could fall through. Olive’s due date wasn’t until June, so we assumed we had six weeks to prepare. WRONG. Olive’s birth mother went in to labor less than two weeks later.

May 21, 2016 was a Saturday, and like most Saturdays, I was getting ready to go around the corner to our local farmer’s market for my weekly shopping trip. My phone rang around 9am and I saw the number and my heart skipped a few beats and I felt like puking. It was our adoption social worker notifying us that Olive’s birth mother was at the hospital and that we needed to get to Kansas today (we live in Pennsylvania). I panicked inside. I’m not a flexible person. I’m not spontaneous. I’m a planner and a scheduler and an organizer. This wasn’t the first time we were dropping everything to fly across the country, either. This was taking a toll on our bank account, our jobs, our emotions, and our life. I’ve never, ever packed like a hurricane before. I called people. Someone came and got our dog. Oh, and my packing job was terrible, but thanks, Target, for saving the day (I ended up boxing most of what I bought and shipped it home). We flew almost all day, and on our third flight, Olive was born, but she wasn’t Olive yet, and she wasn’t mine yet.

We got to the hospital at around 1am on Sunday. The nurses at the hospital treated me like a threat. They whispered about me. When I entered the birthing ward, I had to say, “Hi. I’m the prospective Adoptive Parent for X-baby” (because that sounds totally fucking natural – it’s not invasive at all). Everyone knew who we were, and either completely ignored us or were very awkward with us. They acted like they had never seen an adoptive couple before, which felt really strange. The nurse walked us to a room as our social worker had arranged for us to have a hospital room just like mothers who birth have. She stood in the doorway and pointed to the bathroom and towels and asked us if we needed anything. Then she said, “let me see if I can get the baby.” In my head and my dreams, I have been wondering for years what this day is like. But after so many losses, I found it hard to be anything but scared. I didn’t want to bond to this baby, because what if like all the other babies – she wasn’t mine. After a few minutes, the nurse returned with Olive. She was swaddled in a little blanket and had a bow on her head. I didn’t know what to do or how to act. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t excited. I just did what I thought I should do. I picked her up and held her. The nurse gave me a bottle, so I fed her. Or I tried to. I either wasn’t good at it or she wasn’t hungry. I don’t know, I just assumed I wasn’t doing it right. The nurse didn’t offer any advice – in fact, she just walked away, which was unexpected. To be honest, I was so tired. I had traveled all day, and I wanted to take a shower, and I desperately needed sleep. The nurse soon came back and took Olive to the nursery so we could sleep, and I was glad for it. I didn’t want to be with her, because I was terrified of losing her. I was also doubting myself that anyone should trust me to take care of a newborn. My head began to fill with doubt and negative thoughts and self-defeating words…don’t attach…she will change her mind…protect yourself. My head was telling me that I should run away…this is too scary…you need to leave. I started to have a panic attack. And all night long, I didn’t sleep. The next two days were much of the same on repeat. I was absolutely TERRIFIED anytime my husband would leave me alone, even if it was only for fifteen minutes to run and get us food. And I mean, this was an intense feeling – the feeling that I was going to die. My anxiety had NEVER been so bad before. And the hospital was of absolutely no help to me. Nurses came in and out to check on Olive, but never offered any advice, let alone look me in the eye. Aside from being terrified, I worried about Olive. She was small and she wasn’t eating great from the bottle. She was gassy and I didn’t know how to burp her the right way. The nurses ran out of the room as soon as they were done checking on her, and I felt too tired and timid to chase after them to ask for help. I felt so defeated and scared that I was going to fuck up and not be able to care for this tiny human. Further, the hospital had only given me a wrist band that matched Olive. That meant that I had to be in the room with Olive at all times. Shawn (my husband) did not get a wrist band, so he could not be alone with Olive. I asked if he could have one and I was told that they only print three, and typically that is two for the parents and one for the baby. One was on Olive’s birth mom, one on me, and one on Olive. That’s it. Not only was I in limbo, but I was trapped. I couldn’t go for a walk. I couldn’t get fresh air. I couldn’t go to our hotel and unpack. I really, really felt like I needed to nest in our hotel. My instincts were calling to me to go to that hotel room and organize and control that environment because everything else was out of my control. But I could not. I was chained to the hospital room and my anxiety. No escape. I was away from all our family and friends, too. There was no one there to help. In between all the other thoughts, I thought of Olive’s birth parents and birth family. They were going to experience loss like I had. I cried for them and for Olive. I was glad that they had agreed to an open adoption, and I vowed to do everything I could to maintain those relationships.

On the third day, our room was filled with attorneys and social workers. This was THE day. The day that I would either become a parent or go home with nothing but a loss I was already well acquainted with. In between my horrible thoughts and anxiety, I had to smile. I had to meet Olive’s birth family and pretend I was over the moon in love, so ecstatic to have her, when what I was feeling was shame, fear, guilt, and remorse. I had to smile at social workers and attorneys. See my big smile? See how good I am doing? Olive’s birth mother is an amazing woman and she lovingly trusted us with her on that day and forever. With the stroke of a pen, the signature of an attorney, and the seal of a notary, we were given guardianship. A few days later, we had to go to court in front of a judge where we were granted temporary custody, and full custody pending we meet the obligations of our post placement visits back home – we would have full legal custody in a month. Although there was a huge burden lifted off of me, I didn’t get the relief that I expected I would from the successful adoption. It took me many, many months to bond and to feel comfortable and to feel ok with being called Olive’s mom.

We had to stay in Kansas for two more weeks in a hotel before all of our paperwork was cleared and we could return home.

Punk Mamas had a few follow up questions for Hana. We knew that Hana had started a Facebook support group for adoptive mothers, and we couldn’t turn down this chance to get it out there! 

How has your confidence in being a mom changed over the last year, and were there any moments that made you stop and think about just how far you’ve come? Did your husband experience similar feelings in the beginning of parenthood as you did?

The first few months of being a new mom were really, really hard. I had a very hard time bonding with Olive. I really lacked confidence. But, I think the more I did things for her and found ways of being successful as a parent boosted my confidence. There were a lot of struggles; for instance, she was a car seat/car travel hater between the months of three to seven. She would scream and cry until she vomited in the car, and that really limited my ability to get out of the house and get shit done. It was also a really hot summer when she was born, so I felt like my outside time was very limited. I think by month seven or eight, I felt like I had really bonded with her. The ever changing schedule of a newborn and the inconsistency and lack of a routine for the first few months were difficult (as they are for any new parent). The sleep deprivation was the hardest. SO HARD. I didn’t feel like I had as much support from my family as I would have received if I had given birth. My perspective is that they assumed I didn’t need much help or assistance because I did not need to PHYSICALLY recover. I don’t think they understood the emotional toll that becoming a mother and caring for a newborn took on me, and my mental health was not in the best place. I think by month seven or eight, I was at Target shopping alone, and had a “holy shit!” moment – I was out with my kid, in public, doing fine and feeling confident. I often have anxiety about being out in public alone. I had anxiety that someone will catch me doing something wrong and call me out, or that Olive wwould have an epic meltdown in my favorite store (Target!) and I’d never be able to go back. But, the more and more that I went out, the less anxious and more confident I felt. Now, I feel totally fine about going out alone. I still struggle with anxiety and depression, but I feel much more in control and I know how to challenge my thoughts when that happens and I start to think irrational thoughts.

Shawn, my husband, did not feel the same way. In fact, he really struggled to understand my anxiety about being a new parent. He really, really helped me so much and I attribute my abilities to get my shit together and parent to him. He would take Olive to another room and let me sleep all night. He would take her when she would start to scream and cry and I was overwhelmed. He really listened to me when I would tell him all the anxious and distorted thoughts in my head and tried to make sense of them, even though they didn’t make sense at all. He would help me ground myself back to reality and back to normal, rational thinking. He bonded with Olive instantly, and I still feel like they have a really solid relationship since the get-go.

For anyone reading this who may be having infertility issues, what are some resources (support group, website, book, etc.) you would recommend to help them navigate the process of deciding to go the route of adoption? 

For anyone who is struggling with infertility or has experienced loss, I’m sorry that you are going through that. It has really been one of the hardest issues of my adult life to cope with. There are tons of Facebook support groups, and also in-person support groups for infertility and loss. Some are religious, some are not. I would encourage you to join a few and find one that you feel is a good fit for you. I’ve made some amazing “friends” through groups (I’m looking at you, Lindsay!). It was extremely helpful to me to be able to share my thoughts and have them reflected back to me. To hear that what I was thinking and feeling was normal and ok. I highly would recommend that if you are interested in adoption that you join a support group; that is one thing I didn’t do until after our adoption. Even if you are in the beginning stages or just thinking about it, people are very willing to answer questions and provide feedback or just show you support. Another suggestion is to take a class or training on transracial adoption, if you are pursuing the adoption of a child that is of a different race. Also, don’t be afraid to seek out an outpatient counselor who specializes in infertility and/or adoption – that was a really good choice for me!

If you are interested in joining a non-religious adoption support group, Lindsay PJ and I started one on Facebook that you can join here: Non-religious Adoption Support

What is the extent, if any, of the contact you have had with the birth family since the adoption?

We have an open adoption with Olive’s birth parents. That can mean different things to different families, but for our family we agreed to pictures and letters/emails and the possibility of in-person visits when Olive is older if that is what she chooses to do. Right now, I typically send emails to Olive’s birth parents and her paternal aunt weekly with a little update about what she’s been up to, what new skills she learned, etc. I print pictures and a letter and snail mail them twice a year.

Do you have any friends that have also adopted and is their experience similar to yours?

I do have several friends and family members who have adopted, but everyone’s experience is different! No adoption story is ever the same. Some of them did domestic infant adoption like I did, some did foster care adoption (or are still foster parents hoping to adopt) and some did international adoption. The different types of adoption offer vastly different perspectives and experiences, each unique to their own family.

If you knew someone that was planning to adopt, what one piece of advice would you give them? Is there one thing you wish you knew?

Find a core group of people who best support you and make sure you have that crucial support system set up from the start.

Thank you, Hana!

Food allergy awareness is important this week and every week

I have known Jessica since high school when she hung out with the “older” punk crowd, and so I always looked up to her. I moved away after high school and fell out of contact with most everyone I went to high school with, but with the rise of social media, I have been able to reconnect with so many people – Jessica being one of them. It has been a pleasure “watching” her become a mother (with her high school sweetheart by her side!) and see the love she has for her two sons. I know food allergy awareness is close to her heart and I am so happy she has decided to share her family’s story with us. SC

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When I sat down to write this blog post I had no idea where to start. This topic brings up so many emotions and thoughts and I want to share them with you all. It is Food Allergy Awareness Week, which is near and dear to me because my five-year-old son has a peanut and tree nut allergy. I hope that by sharing a bit of my family’s experience with you, I can shed light on life threatening food allergies and help bring awareness to everyone who may be reading.

Before my son Cameron was diagnosed with a peanut allergy, I was completely ignorant as to how serious food allergies are. I always figured “just don’t eat the food your allergic to – it’s that easy, right?” No!

Cameron was just 15 months old when his daycare provider gave him a peanut butter cracker and he had his first anaphylactic reaction. I arrived to pick him up and found him in a playpen, crying inconsolably, his face was red and blotchy, and his lips beginning to swell. Everything that followed was a blur – I ran out of their house with Cameron on my hip and my phone to my ear as I called Kaiser Hospital. We immediately hopped into the car and drove straight to the emergency room.

I knew something was very wrong, and although at that time he had no known allergies, I am glad I trusted my gut and took him straight to the hospital. Once we arrived at the hospital they gave him Epinephrine and Benadryl and watched him for a couple of hours to make sure he wasn’t having any trouble breathing. Although we assumed this reaction was caused by the peanut butter crackers it would be another twelve days before would could have any testing done to confirm that he did have a food allergy; we had to wait because the antihistamine he was given in the hospital could return false results. But two weeks later, his allergy was confirmed.

This moment changed the lives of our family FOREVER. There is never a second that Cameron’s allergy is not in the forefront of my mind – it has to be. Every time we leave the house I run a list through my head: do we have safe snacks? Do we have both epi-pens? Is the Benadryl packed? We must always be prepared. We do everything in our power to make sure that Cameron is safe at home, at parties, during holidays, and on vacations, and we try hard to make sure that he sure that he never feels excluded. Having one child with food allergies and one without can be a challenge – I never want Cameron to feel left out because my other son can eat peanuts and tree nuts. To prevent this, we never have any of his allergens in the house and stock up on safe snacks so there is always something yummy and safe for either of my sons to eat.

How do you protect a child with a life threatening food allergy? Educate yourselves, your family, and most importantly your child. My husband and I have been talking to Cameron about his allergy since the age of two and he is well aware of what can happen to him if he eats one of his allergens. Because of the open dialogue we have with Cameron about his allergy, he is aware of what he is eating at all times. He will ask “Did you eat peanuts?” before a family member leans down to give him a kiss on the cheek because he knows the food proteins on their lips could cause a reaction. He will refrain from petting a dog we don’t know in case they ate peanut butter or had a peanut butter dog treat and accidentally lick him (he has had a reaction caused by this in the past). It has been over three years since we opened this discussion with him, and I’d say we are doing a great job educating him on his allergies.

EVERY LABEL. EVERY INGREDIENT. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. It’s not enough to say, “this cereal was safe two months ago so it is probably still safe” – NOPE. You always have to double check because allergy warnings change all the time. I have become a very diligent label reader over these past four years, but I have become an even better ingredient investigator! Believe it or not, not all companies label for shared lines or “may contain” and sometimes there isn’t even an allergy statement on the packaging. So, when your five year old is freaking out because he really wants to know if he can have the cotton candy that his brother is eating what do you do? You call the company/manufacturer (check for a phone number on the packaging) or email them and wait for a response. Luckily, companies are getting better about putting their allergy information on their websites, but sometimes you still have to dig. We like to joke that allergy moms do better research than the FBI – this just might be true. 😉

There are days when I get really overwhelmed. Days where I realize that his life will never be “normal” and he will not be able to just pick anything from a shelf and eat it because it could literally kill him. I try my best not to think about those things, because when I do, I can’t stop myself from crying. There is NO CURE for food allergies but scientists are working every day to find treatments for Cameron and other kids like him. As his mother and his advocate, it’s my job to support Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) in their research efforts and to bring awareness to life threatening food allergies, so that is what I will continue to do!

To find out more about food allergies or how you can support research, visit the Food Allergy & Education website.

 

 

How to juggle graduate school with a newborn

I know a lot of mothers consider the pros and cons of going back to school while raising children, and whether or not they can be successful in doing so, so I wanted to share my story of completing graduate school with a new son while it is fresh in my mind. But first, let’s start at the beginning…

I didn’t do the college thing after graduating high school in 2003 – in fact I had this naive attitude that I didn’t need school and I’d be better off without it. However, once I decided to move on from working at a Whole Foods Market in 2006 (who was a great employer, BTW), I had a tough time finding a job with the salary I felt I was worth. For the positions and salaries I was interested in, I didn’t meet one basic requirement: a Bachelor’s degree. I was living in San Francisco when I decided to give college a chance and started taking a class or two at the City College of San Francisco (CCSF). At this time, all of my roommates were either in school or recently graduated, so they (unknowingly) provided me with the inspiration to attend. One even took a psychology class with me at CCSF (if you see this Phil – thanks!)! I had an interest in early childcare and special education, so most of my first classes were on these subjects. For a couple of years, I was very casual about college, taking only a class here or there and only in subjects that I had interest in.

When I made the moved to Maryland in 2008 to live with my boyfriend (now husband), I was inspired by him to do better and to get more serious with regards to school. He was almost finished with his Bachelor’s degree and it suddenly seemed more important to start working towards an actual degree. I enrolled at Frederick Community College (FCC), in their General Studies program and was able to transfer all of my classes from CCSF as electives which was good, but also meant to get my Associate’s I would need to take all of the required courses which I may not have interest in. My math skills were rusty and I had to take additional math classes to get up to speed which was very discouraging. I chipped away at it, taking two classes each spring and fall semester and in December of 2011 I received my Associate of Arts in General Studies. I had also been accepted into the University of Maryland University College’s (UMUC) English program. It felt like I was FINALLY moving along with this school thing!

I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I loved reading, so studying English literature seemed like a safe bet for someone obsessed with Jane Austen and reading as much as I am. This program was completely online, and I enjoyed the classes I during the first semester. Prior to the start of my second semester, I decided to start going to school full-time, on top of working full-time. This was relatively easy to do as I enjoyed the subject matter, but I often procrastinated with writing papers and always felt rushed on Sunday nights when most of my assignments were due. Sunday night deadlines seem typical of online classes in my experience, but having a weekend to finish things up is helpful. During this time, my husband and I got married in 2012 and started discussing our plan to have kids, which was loosely schedule around the completion of my Bachelor’s degree, which was as far as I was planning to take my college experience. In May of 2014, I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in English from UMUC summa cum laude – with honors! During my time at UMUC, I realized exactly what I wanted to do as a career, and it made perfect sense! I wanted to be a librarian and help people fall in love with reading while providing essential services to the community. I applied for and was accepted into Clarion University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Science in Information and Library Science (online) program.


This is where things start getting tricky…

As with UMUC, I wanted to test the waters with two classes at Clarion before attempting to go full-time in addition to working full-time. But, I learned after the first semester that two classes were my limit as the workload and subject matter took a lot more time for me to understand and complete. This meant that I would complete the program in three years instead of two, and committing to that amount of time seemed daunting. In spring of 2015 my husband and I tried and successfully became pregnant pretty much immediately, and two months into the semester I found myself battling near constant morning sickness. In fact, the week I found out I was pregnant I went on a school trip to DC where I had zero appetite and nausea spells, all while walking all around the city, going on tours, and getting to know classmates I had never met before! The rest of that semester I struggled with handing work in on time and concentrating. Working on school work at the end of a workday while I was nauseous was the last thing I wanted to do. When I feel sick, the only thing that seems to help is crawling into bed, falling asleep, and dreaming about non-stomachache things. Outside of work and school there was suddenly so much to do and plan for in my personal life – a baby on the way! I planned to read every parenting book under the sun (HA!). Luckily, throughout the semester I was able to pace myself and even request a few extended deadlines. When requesting an extended deadline, I always gave a reason why, told them exactly when I would have it turned in by, and acknowledged that I understand I would lose some points on the assignment – which seemed to work; I tried really hard not to do this often. My professors were always very understanding and one, who is also a mother, often would check in with me to see how everything was going, even after birth!


While I was still trying to figure out a plan of attack for the fall semester, as I would be having my son in November when classes would still be underway, my university made some changes and for the first time ever were offering seven-week condensed classes as an option! YES! Typical semester classes are 15 weeks long, so this meant I could take two condensed classes and be done in October and have all of November and December to concentrate on giving birth, recovering postpartum, enjoying the holidays, and getting to know my son. The only downside was that I’d be cramming TWO full courses in half the time – EEP! Luckily, morning sickness had passed and I had a relatively easy pregnancy. I was able to complete all my assignments and get most of my required reading completed, though, I couldn’t really enjoy myself on weekends as there was too much to do. I was open with my instructors about the pregnancy, on the off-chance my son came early or there were complications, but neither of those things were an issue. I finished my condensed semester in a blur and then my days leading up to my delivery crept by. You can read about my delivery here: Sarah’s birth story. It was SO nice to enjoy almost two months of no school AND no work after my son was born.

Mid-January I was due back to class and shortly after work as well. This was the semester where things got tricky! On work days, I would wake up at 5:30am after a night of a routine mid-night bottle feed and the occasional wakeful baby. My husband and I would get ready ourselves ready for work and get our son ready for daycare, which meant making bottles of formula as I wasn’t breastfeeding. We would drop him off at daycare and then carpool the hour drive to work. We would work 8 hours and then we’d go pick up our son from his grandparent’s house (his Grammie was spending a couple of hours with him each afternoon), and we’d all get home around 6pm. We would eat dinner, cuddle and hang out with our son, and put him to bed between 8:30pm and 9pm. At this time, I would try to get a little school work in if I felt up to it before bed, but I pretty much never felt up for it after a long workday. It was during this time that I felt a LOT of guilt that I was spending such little time with my son during the work week – only a few hours each day. The guilt that hits you as a mother is no joke, and I’m constantly trying to tell myself that I’m justified in what I’m doing that causes it. So maybe my son only gets a few hours with his parents each night, at least he’s at a trusted daycare, with grandparents who adore him, and he’ll have a highly educated mom in the near future, who will hopefully be able to provide him lots of opportunities in the future. Surely that’s a good tradeoff…right? During this period I felt like I had no “me time,” and the few times I decided to take “me time” I felt SO incredibly guilty. I felt guilty I should have been spending that time with my son, or my husband, or the dog, or cleaning the house, or doing homework. There was a lot of weight on my shoulders all the time, but I took each week as it came and counted down the 15 week semester. I don’t think my husband ever fully understood how much this weighed on me, as I don’t think he has ever felt this degree of guilt while away from home. I’m not sure why that is, maybe because society still places more responsibility of raising children on mothers than fathers? Anyway, my husband was very supportive and often took our son to his parents’ house on most Sundays so I could buckle down and get work completed and turned in. He offered help in many other ways, but again, I felt guilty asking too much of him. A few friends even offered occasionally, but again – the guilt. The semester passed surprisingly fast, which was a blessing because it was ROUGH. But I did it, and I knew it could be done, and I knew it wouldn’t be forever.

Summer break was fabulous and I felt like I could breathe again.

My 2016 fall semester was a little trickier, but I was also a little more relaxed and rested. By this time, our son was sleeping through the night and my husband and I felt like we got the hang of this baby thing (as much as anyone can). We also started putting our son to sleep a little earlier, so that was helpful for evenings I needed to get any kind of work in. But, he was also crawling at this point, and then walking, and eating solids, and still on formula, so all these things meant a little more physical work on our end as far as meeting his needs goes. I told myself that this semester I wouldn’t wait until last-minute to complete assignments, and that I would be happy earning a B and not working as hard to maintain a 4.0 if it meant more family time…but neither of those went as planned. I found I am incapable of turning in an assignment I am not 100% happy with, and that I work best under the pressure of having hours remaining to complete something! Procrastination is my best motivation! Much like last semester, my husband stepped up and allowed me quiet time to get work done and also offered “me time.” In case you’re wondering if the guilt got any better – nope, it didn’t, in fact, I think it was even worse because now I had the potential of missing milestones.

Spring 2017 was my final semester, and also the one where I had to figure out how I was going to manage parenting a toddler, maintaining a happy marriage, working full-time, commuting two hours each day, taking one graduate course, and logging 135 internship hours (wtf, right?). I planned ahead starting in December by arranging an internship with my place of work. My internship would be creating a website for the library I worked in, not something I was especially excited about, but something that would allow me to intern from home during hours that suited my schedule best. It averaged out to roughly nine hours a week, so I could knock a few out on select weeknight evenings, and the bulk of the week’s hours on a weekend day. Again, my husband was SO helpful, and even his parents helped out with the occasional weekend childcare while I logged my hours. I had a big reflection paper due at the end of my internship that I started working on early and each week added another page (why didn’t I start on large assignments early every other semester?!). The day my paper was due, I was about to read through it for the 100th time, but for the first time ever, I said “fuck it” and turned it in “early.” I was lucky that my final graduate course was on the easier end and wasn’t too time-consuming so I could really focus more of my time on my internship. Somehow, by counting down the weeks again, I made it! I’m the first person in my family to earn a Master’s degree, and all while maintaining a 4.0! And as silly as I feel sharing this, I’m going to: the only reason that I wanted to attend the commencement ceremony was so I could take pictures with my son afterwards and have the memory of him coming to my graduation with me!


Now that I am finally done with school (at least for the near future!), I need to find a way to shake that feeling of dread I get on Sunday mornings, when I knew I have hours’ worth of homework would need to be completed before I going to sleep. I need to remember that I no longer need to squeeze in family time, which I knew would heighten my homework anxiety and created a more serious time crunch for me in the evening. And, I also need to own up to my own forgetfulness now for not getting things done around the house or forgetting to call someone – “sorry, I’m swamped with school” is no longer a valid response! I can also ease back into doing things I enjoy, like reading fiction, or things I have put off, like knitting a blanket, because I felt guilty adopting a new hobby with so little time. I can’t begin to explain how excited I am for this summer – spending the evenings outside in the yard with my son chasing the dog and chickens, or making spontaneous stops on car drives on weekends to try a new ice cream spot. I am so incredibly happy to have time again – it is so precious.

If I could do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I had a blast as a young adult and valued my freedom. I got to live where I wanted, travel where I wanted, and other than work, didn’t feel constrained by deadlines. As a mature adult (HA!), I feel I took college more seriously than I believe I would have right out of high school. I felt more comfortable making big decisions, like choosing a school or choosing a major, and a poor grade wouldn’t upset my parents (because they wouldn’t know!). College was and still is expensive, and I will be repaying loans for years to come, but paying for it myself made it that much more important to succeed. And as far as having a baby smack in the middle of graduate school – it was the best decision ever. My husband and I were both “ready” and our son has brought more joy to our lives than ANYTHING else could have. We KNEW it was the right time, and meeting our son on the day of his birth reaffirmed that. As guilty as I felt not spending time with my son so I could do school work, I don’t think he suffered one bit. He spent that time with people who loved and cared for him, and when we did spend time together, we made the most of it! He knows who is mama is!

So, my advice to anyone with children that may be considering going back to school is this: if it’s something you want to do, just do it!

Before starting, look into your different school options: is there somewhere nearby you can attend, or a program online? Make sure you consider how long the drive to and from school is beforehand, because that drive could be precious time. Evaluate your schedule: how much time do you have after your child goes to sleep and before you do? Do you have a lunch break at work you can take advantage of? Can you get an audio version of your text books to listen to in the car? Are there options for condensed semesters? Start with baby steps: after the first semester, consider your course load and adjust how many classes you will take next semester. Find support: do you have a partner at home who will support you and willing to take on extra duties? Discuss this with them and make sure you’re both on the same page. Do you have family nearby willing to help? Do you have someone you can call to babysit last-minute in case something falls through? Be ready for guilt: you’re going to be stretched for time and you’ll have to make sacrifices, but this will hurt you more than anyone else. I’d like to say to just ignore the guilt, but for me that was impossible. So, expect guilt, and learn to live with it. Remind yourself of all the ways you and your family will benefit from your education, and repeat them anytime you feel that guilt coming on. And lastly, take care of yourself: make sure you find time each day to have a special connection with your child. Make sure you get a little “me time” at least once a week – whether it’s reading a book, exercising, grabbing coffee with a friend – anything. And remember, it won’t last forever! It will be TOUGH, but it can totally be done!

The things she carries

Leaving the house as a first time mama was intimidating!  Not only was I not used to having another human completely depending on me – but I had to figure out how to get around while having everything I could possibly need to take care of my little one.  This meant having a car seat in my car, a stroller or carrier to hold my little one once I got to my destination, and then having everything on hand in case anything from a blow out to a fever happened!  There is an art to packing diaper bags – you want to be prepared for anything, but you also can’t carry the entire nursery room with you.  So, a few Punk Mamas have shared what is in their diaper bags to help any new mamas out there get a better sense of what to plan on toting around!


(Pictured above) “Wipes (we use the same wipes for everything), burp cloth, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, lip balm, dirty diaper bags, size two diapers, size four diapers, two cups with water, change of clothes for baby, changing pad, wallet.  Usually I have some snacks in there, too.”  – Erika B., mama to three: 5yo, 2yo, and 2mos.


(Pictured above) “A friend made this for me years ago, and it became my main diaper bag.  I use a backpack too, but this bag is special to me.  It doesn’t leak when I forget to close something tight enough, it’s roomy, matches my wardrobe, and there’s no way to mix it with someone else’s.  Extra outfits for both kids, boogie wipes, butt wipes, burp towel, size four and size one diapers, scented plastic bags, and cream.”  – Amelia P. M., mama to two.

(Pictured above) “Diaper holder with mat, three diapers and Honest Co. wipes, extra clothes, sticky place mats (we use them at restaurant and stick them right on the table for him so he can eat food right off the surface and to clean up you just peel it right off!), Augie and Lola pouches with snacks, Tylenol, one book, one toy, face wipes, boogie wipes, sanitizer, sunblock, panty liner, tampon, and chapstick!  Before leaving the house I may throw in a hoodie depending on the temperature and also a sippy cup with water.”  – Sarah C., mama to a one: 15mos.

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(Pictured left) “We have changing pad, wipes, diapers, extra clothes with light jacket in case it’s chilly, light blanket, small umbrella because weather in SoFla is crazy! Boogies wipes, cleaning wipes, hand sanitizer, small trash bags for diapers if were not by a trash can, portable charger for our cell phones, toys, lotion, sunscreen, teether, burp cloths/bibs, snacks and a spoon, and a bag with small first aid kit and Tylenol/thermometer.” – Laura T., mama to one: 8mos.

“My bag’s pretty minimal!  We use a backpack.  We don’t go out much yet; we pack diapers, wipes, changing pad, change of clothes, two flannel blankets, pacifier, spare nipple shield, burp cloth – I think that’s it!”  “UPDATE!  Mine grew since last post: diapers, wipes, Sani-wipes, hand sanitizer, changing pad, plastic bag for dirty whatever, soft blanket, burp cloth, winter hat, spring hat, car seat toy add ons, paci, nipple shield, Muslin swaddle for cover up if needed, 2 changes of clothes (one outfit and one sleeper).” – Ashley P., mama to one: 2mos.

“Never used one!  Sometimes I had extra pants in the car and wipes just in case, but never carried any kind of baby supplies in a bag or anything like that.  I’m a weirdo and we didn’t do diapers. [Elimination communication]” – Brooke A., mama to two.

(Pictured above) “I don’t even have a diaper bag!  I carry a medium sized Vera Bradley quilted tote.  I really should get a properdiaper bag and wet bag set.  I parcel all of her solid food out into small glass mason jars.  It’s easy to pack, easy to hold and easy to clean.” – Sarah H., mama to one: 9mos.

“I don’t really carry one!  Just throw diapers, water, a change of clothes and a credit card into a bag!  Good to go!”  – Esther M., mama to two.

17342983_567082996123_2620762598037064153_n(Pictured right) “Diapers, wipes, extra clothes (the one time I forgot to bring extra ones she shit all over everything 🙃) toys, nail clippers because you never know when you’ll need them, bottle if we’re out for a long period of time, then I have stuff for me! Tea tree cream because I wash my hands so much they get so dry, snacks, phone charger!  It’s usually a lot more organized.” – Cailah M., mama to one.

“Cloth diapers, a dirty diaper bag, a teether, wipes, hand sanitizer, a spit up rag, and 2 extra outfits.” – Melissa K., mama to one.

“So happy my girl is five and we now leave the house with a thermos and my wallet.”  – Elisabeth N. W., mama to one; 5yo.