Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to Create a (non) Nursery on a Budget

As I wrote about previously, I wasn't able to "nest" at all during my pregnancy with little S. Instead, I was packing up our spacious two bedroom apartment and preparing to move... somewhere. Until two weeks before she was born, we had no idea where we were going. When D accepted the job in Williamsport, the great apartment search began. It became pretty obvious that we would only be able to afford a one bedroom apartment, which didn't seem ideal with a new baby arriving soon. Two days before S was born, D found our new home: a nice one bedroom apartment within walking distance of his work. I love our new apartment, but I didn't see it until we moved in two weeks after S's birthday.

All this uncertainty about our living situation meant that I couldn't prepare a space just for the baby, and this was hard. Especially with so many of my creative and organized friends posting pictures of their cute nurseries with matching crib sets/hampers/diaper bags and adorable wall clings. Yes, I had nesting jealousy (and still sometimes do!) But, in reality, our situation ended up being really good for me in several ways:

1) We don't have the disposable income to spend on decorating... well, anything. So no matter how many cute baby nursery ideas I stumbled across on Etsy, I was able to save tons of money and avoid the temptation simply because I didn't have a room to call a "nursery." 

2) I wanted to avoid getting overwhelmed with too much stuff. We had several baby showers and were very blessed with many great things for S, but without a room to fill I had a good excuse for not getting all of the so-called "necessities" that baby stores try to push on you. I wanted to avoid the rampant consumerism that has become parenting (well, as much as possible...) and not having an actual nursery made this a lot easier!

3) It kept things in perspective. Sure, it would be great to have a separate room for the baby, where I could rock her to sleep and then lay her in her crib, turn the baby monitor on, and go spend some alone time with my husband. But that idea is a luxury; in many places around the world, families of many generations share a room out of necessity (if they even have a room to share). While this isn't as common in the US, I think my complaints about not having a second room just for our infant seems pretty minimal on the global scale of problems.

Anyway, all that is to say that one part of our bedroom is now designated as the "non-nursery." This is where I keep all of S's clothes, diapers, toys, etc. And when she no longer sleeps in our bed, she'll sleep in the pack n play, in our room. The best part about our "non-nursery": it was totally free. Everything we have in the space was either used elsewhere in the house pre-baby, or was a gift. Here's a tour:

The Non-Nursery

Cloth diapers in the blue bin (which used to hold hats & gloves), baby wipes, and all of her toys, extra warm blankets, and 6 month & older clothes in the white bin (which used to hold winter clothes).

This wooden stand we bought at a yard sale three years ago for $2 (it used to hold tools) is the perfect size.
On top of the wooden night stand is a basket of diaper covers, a basket of socks & hats, and then some first aid supplies and the baby monitor.
The first shelf has wash clothes, towels, and light blankets. The second shelf has her clothes sorted out by size (a pile of newborn, a pile of 0-3 months, a pile of 3 months, and a pile of 3-6 months - everything else lives in the white bin for now, and will for the next few months.) The bottom are the sheets for the pack n play.
These are the only decorations in her space. The wall hanging was D's when he was born. The cross I made in college (it used to hang in the kitchen).
The Willow Tree figurines and the autographed plate were gifts, and add a little something to the windowsill.
Little S enjoying her dragonfly toy.

We use a pack n play instead of a crib, because it didn't make sense for us to have a crib AND a pack n play stored away somewhere to use on trips.

This room arrangement works out really well for now. Since S sleeps in our bed for the time being, the pack n play is really only used for diaper changing and naps, but sometime in the next month or two we'll probably transition her out of our bed. (She'd probably be okay with it right now, but I love cuddling with her at night, and it makes night time feedings much easier!)

As for the baby items that don't fit in our room, they are scattered around the house (hopefully in a charming, well-organized way and not a "oh my goodness a baby exploded" kind of way.) The rocking chair and her swing are in the living room. We find this arrangement works really well because it allows us to rock her and still spend time together (or throw on an episode of Mythbusters during a fussy time and calm her without losing our minds). I nurse her wherever I am when she needs it; in the rocker, on the couch, or in bed. She has a bouncy seat in the kitchen, so when I'm cooking I can still talk to her and she can still see me. Her bathtub lives in an alcove in the hallway (our bathroom is too small for it), and any other items we have for her that she's not big enough for are stored in my closet.

Note: the two things that you don't see in the above pictures that are also in the nursery space are a trash bag for wipes and a laundry basket for dirty diapers. Since both had dirty items in them, I thought they didn't need to make it into the picture. Right now, I just use a regular laundry basket for her diapers because that's what we had, but I might transition to a closed bin of some sort if I get the chance (so I don't have to see her dirty diapers every time I walk into the room).

Here are some tips I found for keeping it cheap (or free) when preparing for baby:

  • Register carefully. Don't fill your registry with too many "frills." If you only put on what you need, then you will get exactly what you need and not have to spend money on your essentials. Of course, it's not a bad idea to think big when registering either. I knew we would need a baby monitor; I thought it would be helpful to have one with video. So I put that on the registry with a note that any baby monitor would really be fine, and ended up getting the nice video one I requested. (This doesn't always work - the stroller on our registry is super expensive, and we never got it. But since I wear S in a wrap most of the time, a stroller wasn't one of our top priorities and, especially at this age, I wouldn't use it much anyway.)
  • Figure out what your essentials really are. We did this by not getting a crib and just going with the pack n play. When we tried to register at Babies R Us, they gave us a list of "necessities" that had over 100 items on it. I found this to be a bit ridiculous. Really, a baby doesn't need very much... it's the parents that want these things to make our lives a bit easier. Nothing wrong with that, but if you're on a tight budget and not blessed with overly generous family members, keep in mind that babies really just need to eat, sleep, and be loved on. Oh yes, and get lots of diapers (But that crib-side wipe warmer? Maybe not...)
  • Re-purpose old items. Shifting around some storage space gave me the chance to use some bins and baskets for baby items. Old t-shirts make great spit-up rags or diapers. Be creative!
  • Hand-me-downs are your best friend. S's first doll is a rag doll my mom made me when I had my tonsils taken out at age five. The wall hanging by her pack n play was made by D's aunt when he was born. Many of her blankets and toys were given to us from friends whose children had outgrown them.
  • Think outside the (matching) box (set). Many baby things are sold in matching sets - sheets, blankets, towels, wall hangings, diaper holders, hampers, etc. If you don't have the budget to be all matchy-matchy, then remember that this nursery "ideal" is only ideal if it fits your budget. I am quite pleased with the way S's space looks, even if it isn't color coordinated or have a homogenous look. And if you do want everything to match, remember that many things sold for babies are most likely sold (cheaper) in other departments of the store.
  • Don't be afraid to be a bit "ghetto."  If we had not received a pack n play, S's sleeping space would probably have been a laundry basket or a dresser drawer. I can guarantee she would not have known the difference. Also, while we got a lot of clothes for her, we got them in many different sizes. She only has so many outfits that fit over her cloth diapers and still fit her well at 5 weeks and 10 pounds (almost too big for newborn, still too small for most 0-3 month), and since she spits up after every feeding (or so it seems), we can go through several outfits a day. The solution? Naked baby! It's summer, it's hot, so whenever we're in the house she hangs out in a diaper. (Bonus: cloth diapers come in cute patterns so she's still adorable.) I dress her when we go out, but that's basically it. It saves me from having to buy her an excessive amount of clothing (and then having to find a place to keep it now, and then store it later when she outgrows it), and it also saves me from doing full laundry loads of onesies.
  • Don't compare your stuff to your friend's stuff. This is probably the biggest tip I can give. I spent many a pregnant evening with the blues when I heard of other expectant friends picking out the paint colors for the nursery, coordinating crib sheets, getting monogrammed blankets, and so on. This led to a lot of unnecessary (hormone-related) doubt about my ability to provide a good home for my daughter. I know that sounds insane, and now that my hormones aren't nearly as haywire I am almost embarrassed to admit it.

I was nervous about not having space just for the baby, but it is working out really well. She has become a part of our lives pretty seamlessly, even with all the transition we've gone through. She is learning to sleep when there is noise, or when a light gets flicked on in the middle of the night (at least, for now). And because we all share a space, I believe this facilitates D's interactions with her, as well. When he gets home from work he spends a lot of quality time with her, but if she's napping he can still be in the same room with her without having to seclude himself from me.

I know a lot of people who are waiting to have children until the time is "right," usually referencing having more money or better living conditions (buying a house, getting a bigger apartment, etc.) To be honest, I am so glad we were blessed with little S before we thought we were "ready." If we had waited until our medical bills and student loan payments are manageable, or until we made enough to live in a bigger place or buy a house, we would have never had children! Trust me - I know I am only six weeks into motherhood, but it is entirely possible to have a baby and be happy without a lot of extra money (especially if you have generous friends and family) or lots of extra "space." After all, all a baby really needs space-wise is a pair of loving arms:-)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Samantha's Birth Story

The night before Samantha was born, I took a long walk through the woods, made mountain pies over a campfire, and played a few rounds of Dutch Blitz. It was a Friday, and I had just come back from a midwife appointment where I had declared that nothing was happening with the baby and she probably wouldn't come until next week. I had been having some mild cramping since the day before, but thought it was stomach related and didn't process them as contractions. After my appointment at the birth center that Friday afternoon, my sister jokingly remarked that we should plan to return to the center either that night or the next morning to have a baby. I thought she was being rather optimistic, since I really had no other indications that labor would start anytime soon. It wasn't until about 6pm that evening that I realized the cramps actually were contractions, and they were coming every 8-15 minutes. Erin and I went for a long walk through the woods at BRR, and climbed the steps up from the lake (there are over 100 of them; steps are great for helping labor!). D and Isaac (my oldest nephew, who accompanied my sister on her trip) built a campfire and we made pizza mountain pies and S'mores. The contractions were still irregular, but weren't going away when I changed activities. I was trying not to get my hopes up; after all, I have heard so many stories of "false labor" or "pre-labor." I wanted to save my energy for the real thing. So we all played a few rounds of Dutch Blitz until about 10 pm. The contractions were getting stronger by now, but were still irregular. I still did not have any other signs that labor was coming, but it helped me to focus on the game (and yes, I did win) to get my mind off the contractions.

By around 11 I was pretty sure I was going into labor. My contractions were still pretty far apart, so I tried to sleep. I woke up at 1 and started timing the contractions. They were about 5-7 minutes apart now, but were starting to wake me up. At around 3:00, my contractions were 4-5 minutes apart. D declared it was time to call the midwife. As it turns out, there were no rooms at the birth center! The birth center only had two birthing rooms, and apparently the weekend that Samantha was born was the weekend for everyone else to have a baby, as well. Since my contractions were still pretty consistently five minutes apart, Mary Beth (the midwife on call) suggested that I take a warm bath or shower and to call back in a little while. A shower had never felt so good! Immediately a lot of the pain was eased just by having hot water running down my back. I stood in the shower for about twenty minutes as the contractions seemed to lessen in intensity. After that, I was able to fall asleep for about an hour. At 5am, my contractions suddenly got a lot stronger and were now three minutes apart. D called the midwife back, and she told us to come in. At the birth center, they were frantically preparing the staff room to improvise a third birth room for us. Fortunately (for me, at least), one of the women who was laboring wasn't progressing very fast, and she went home to sleep for a while before coming back in. This freed up a birth room right as we arrived, which means we had full access to the tub, the shower, and the variety of birth stools/balls available.

At 5am I was at 5cm. My sister arrived, and of course D was with me the whole time. I tested positive for GBS, so I had to have IV antibiotics. Honestly, this was the worst part of the whole experience (I REALLY hate needles), but that didn't confine me to one spot. I decided to get into the tub, since the shower had helped so much earlier. I changed into my "water birth" clothes (a birth skirt and a sports bra) and took off my glasses so I couldn't see the clock. I was mentally prepared to let things happen in their own time and to not feel rushed. I labored in the tub for several hours. I drank Gatorade and chatted with my sister, while D took a nap in the rocker (he had not gotten any sleep that night, and I told him to sleep now because I was definitely going to need him later!) The midwives switched shifts, and now Karen was attending to me. She came in every once in a while to check on me and monitor the baby's heart rate, but mostly just let things run their course. I was fully prepared to have a water birth - this had been the plan all along. But after four or five hours in the water (I think - like I said, I wasn't watching the clock), I was turning into a prune. While the buoyancy felt great for the first few hours, it got tiring to support myself after a while. I eventually got out of the tub to use the bathroom, and decided not to get back in the water. I changed out of my wet clothes into one of D's old T-shirts. Being out of the water meant that I was lot more exposed, but I eventually hit a point where I just didn't care about modesty anymore. I was getting exhausted. I tried sitting on a birth stool, and laying on a birth ball, but my legs just couldn't really support me anymore after all the hours in the tub. I tried to sleep between contractions as much as possible.

Eventually, I guess I felt the urge to push. This part is really all a blur. I remember Karen suggesting I sit on the toilet to try pushing. I thought this was awkward, and was determined not to have my baby on the toilet, but eventually just sucked it up and tried it out. D sat in front of me and held my hands, and this is where my water broke. The good news about the toilet: no mess to clean up!

Because women in my family have a history of quick deliveries after their water breaks, and because the squatting position can result in a very fast delivery that might result in tearing, Karen asked if I'd feel comfortable moving to the bed. I laid down on my side and tried to sleep some more between contractions. There was a bit of a relief here, although the hard work hadn't even begun yet. I was ready to be done, and was wondering why the baby wasn't coming as quickly as I had hoped. At noon, I was at 8 cm. In seven hours, I had only dilated 3 centimeters!

From this point on, I don't remember much. I remember D on one side of the bed and my sister on the other, each holding a hand. Erin would occasionally put some counter pressure on my back. Karen got out some lotion and gave me a foot and leg message, which I remember thinking was odd but really nice. I was really hot during contractions and freezing between them, so I kept kicking the blankets off and then pulling them back on. Everyone was incredibly patient with me. The midwife and nurse just waited, and occasionally monitored the baby's heartbeat. As it turns out, I am very vocal - and what started out as low moans meant to just help me keep my muscles from clenching turned into rather loud noises that even people in the waiting room could hear. I pushed for about an hour, with one of my legs on Karen's shoulder. She applied warm wash clothes to help my tissues stretch (and this, seriously, was THE most helpful thing since I was not going to give birth in the water - it felt good and the warm pressure helped alleviate the fear that I was also going to push out other things... I highly recommend it if you're not having a water birth!) I pushed for about an hour. The baby decided to move slowly, and when Erin and the midwives exclaimed they could see the head, I was hopeful that we were close. But really, they could only see the bulge of the head - pushing, then retreating, then pushing, then retreating. This was frustrating (even though it was for the best, since it was slowly stretching the tissues). I was exhausted and just wanted to be done! 

And then, suddenly, I just got to this point of fierce determination. I was going to do this. I didn't rest much between pushing, I just knew I had to get past the pain and deal with it. It took an hour, but at 1:17 pm Samantha Dare was born. Once her head was out, Karen told me to stop pushing, and her body naturally followed. (This, along with the warm wash clothes and the slow delivery of the head, preventing any tearing or need for stitches afterwards). The baby was put immediately on my chest. I wasn't wearing my glasses, so she was a bit blurry. I was expecting a rush of emotion, and perhaps even tears, but I was too exhausted to feel much of anything. I just kind of stared at this little baby laying on my chest in disbelief. I was a bit traumatized by the whole experience, to be honest. It is amazing to me how strong our bodies are, and what they are capable of doing.

Once the cord stopped pulsing, D was able to cut it. Originally, he wasn't going to, but he changed his mind in the moment.

Not much later, I delivered the placenta (piece of cake, comparatively). The worst part of that experience was when they pushed down on my belly to get any clots out, but other than that it was fine (no one really talks about this stage of labor...)

Karen then showed me how to get the baby to latch on, and she started nursing right away. D, Samantha, and I were left alone for about an hour to nurse and bond. At no time did Samantha leave my arms during this time, and it was amazing! Even though I didn't have that flood of emotions that everyone talks about, it was perfect. (It took a little while before I really started to feel bonded to the baby, but the love was there from the beginning).

After she was done feeding, Samantha was weighed and measured. She was 7 lbs 7 oz and 20 1/2 inches long. We opted not to have a Vitamin K shot for her, or the eye ointment. She did have a bit of a tongue tie, but it didn't really interfere with nursing (we got that clipped when she was about 10 days old). She got to meet one set of grandparents (my parents, who arrived in time for the birth, but at that point I was already pushing and so focused that I didn't want anyone else in the room). Four hours later, we took our beautiful, healthy little girl home, ate pizza with the family, and settled into our new life!

At the time, the birth kind of traumatized me. I'd always heard that all the memories of the pain go away as soon as you see your baby, and that was not true at all. In fact, when Samantha was only a few hours old, I declared that she was going to be an only child. But, in time, those memories do fade. After about two weeks I found myself focusing more on the "I did it!" feeling from the birth rather than the pain. After a month, I am ready to (sometime in the future) do it all again, because it was well worth it!

D and I made the choice to switch to a birth center instead of a hospital about six months into the pregnancy. Looking back, here are all the reasons I am so very glad we did:

*In most hospitals, the idea is for labor to progress at about 1 cm every hour. It took 7 hours for me to dilate 3 cm. In a hospital, I would have been checked frequently, and, if found to not be progressing "on schedule," interventions would have been made (pitocin, epidural, etc.) I was only checked twice - at 5am and 12pm - at the birth center. At no time did I feel rushed or like I wasn't progressing.

*One of the interventions that likely would have happened in a hospital setting is artificial rupture of the membranes. At the birth center, this was allowed to happen naturally. This is particularly important for Samantha, because, as we discovered after she was born, the umbilical cord was not attached properly to the placenta. It's called a velamentous cord insertion, where the cord attaches into the surrounding membrane of the placenta. This makes the blood vessels extremely vulnerable to rupture, and is one of the causes of stillborn babies. If my water had been broken artificially, there is a chance that the blood vessels could have ruptured and the baby could have bled out and died.

*The comforts of the birth center far outweigh those of a hospital setting. I gave birth in a bedroom-like setting, with access to a large jacuzzi tub, an awesome shower, and a variety of birthing aids (stools, ball, etc.) The queen-size bed was comfortable. The lighting could be adjusted. There was even a curtain to close off the tub area in case I wanted more privacy.

*Samantha's birth was considered a natural process. I had minimal checks, and the times they checked up on the baby never interfered with my comfort (they could even check the heartbeat in the tub). Most of the time, my midwife and nurse weren't even in the room (at least for the first few hours). When they were, they helped as needed but mostly just observed. This gave me the confidence that everything was going just fine, and it allowed D to step up into the role as my main support person so we could really share the experience together. (The only intervention I had was the antibiotics for GBS; I was given the choice as to whether or not I wanted them, but we decided the risk outweighed my aversion to both needles and antibiotics.)

*My baby was placed immediately on my chest, and we started breastfeeding right away. We were left alone to bond. She wasn't taken from me to be scrubbed down and measured. At no point did she leave my room (even when it was time for her to be weighed).

*We were able to go home after four hours. Some people asked me if this was overwhelming; it wasn't. It was wonderful. It made the transition into motherhood feel seamless (as much as possible). I wasn't stuck away from home for several days, and I didn't have a bunch of doctors and nurses coming to run tests on me and the baby. We were deemed healthy and sent home with an informational packet and the 24 phone number of the midwives (which I did call at 3 am with a question, and everything was just fine).

Overall, it was a wonderful experience. I am so thankful for a healthy baby, and for the positive support we had from the midwives and family (before, during, and after the birth). I am a bit disappointed that we now live in a new town and I won't be able to deliver any future children at Birth Care, but hopefully we will find something else just as wonderful if we get to that point.

I believe nothing can truly prepare you for birth - no matter how well informed you might be! (Although I strongly advocate being well informed about all of your options and the decisions you want to make!) And in the moment, it sometimes seems terrible. But looking back, I gained so much confidence from the entire experience. And, of course, I got a sweet, cuddly baby out of the deal:-)

Samantha at five hours old.

Samantha at one month.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Meet Samantha Dare

It has been about a month since my last post, and a lot has happened. I am no longer employed, we moved to a new town, D started a new job, and - oh yeah - I had a baby. Posts about all of these life changes are (hopefully) forthcoming, especially our little girl's birth story, but for now I just wanted to introduce my daughter and share the story of her name. The naming process was a big deal for us. We talked about names almost non stop, but could never settle on one that felt permanent. We went into the birth with a short list of possible names and decided to wait until we met her before deciding. I was convinced we would name her Cora (my top choice from the short list). D liked the name Autumn, and we were both fond of Savannah. The name Samantha was not even on our back-up list. But when our little girl was born, none of our names seemed to fit her. D was anxious to name her as soon as possible, but I was too exhausted to even think about it. Several hours later, after a hot shower and some baby cuddle time, the name Samantha popped into my head. I knew that D would go for it as soon as I said it, so I waited a bit before bringing it up. I have always liked the name Samantha (in no small part due to the American Girls character Samantha Parkington when I was a young girl), but both D and I know quite a few friends with that name. I didn't want to name the baby after anyone, so I never seriously considered it. But I just knew - my daughter's name was going to be Samantha. Of course, D liked it right away. We looked up the meaning, and found that it means "good listener." Immediately after this, our midwife came in to check on us. She bent down to speak to the baby, and upon noticing the baby's alert reaction to her voice said, "Oh, she is such a good listener!" We still weren't totally sure on the name yet though, so four hours later we went home with a no name baby. We didn't mention on our name idea to anyone else, but before my family left for the night my sister randomly commented that the baby looked like a Samantha. She and my oldest nephew spent the drive home coming up with various nicknames if we did pick that name. So, with all these factors combined, we decided that clearly her name was meant to be Samantha. D calls her Sam, but I prefer the long version for now. The middle name, though odd, was easy. It is a shortened version of D's name, and also something unique in case she (like her mother) goes through a phase where she finds her regular name boring. This name was my idea, and one I thought of back when D and I were dating. I just thought it would be sweet for her to be named a little after her Daddy. I didn't think D would go for it, and it took a while for him to come around to the idea, but the closer we got to the birth, the more he liked it. So that is how Samantha Dare got her name. Occasionally I call her Squeaker because of the high pitched toy-like squeaks she randomly makes, but to the rest of the world she is Samantha:-) My apologies that this post doesn't flow well; it has taken me several days to get through because I am typing it on the iPad one-handed while nursing the baby. When I get two hands back and a little more time, I will write about Samantha's birth story:-)