The Problem with Mental Health Care: How Our System is Failing Mothers (and Everyone Else for that Matter)

As many of you know, I’m an open book. I’ll openly talk about my uterus, breastfeeding and  discuss the mistakes I’ve made over the course of my life. It’s why I started this blog. To share as a way to help myself heal, remind myself to laugh, and to hopefully inspire others do the same along the way. While I usually don’t leave anything off limits, I’ve never found the courage to openly discuss…the real me.

Every once and awhile I feel inspired to disclose my secret when I read a story by one of the many people who live, feel and experience life the way I do, yet I can never put my thoughts into words quite as eloquently. Because let’s be honest, anxiety and mental illness is hardly ever eloquent. Whether this comes out as beautifully written as a Shakespeare play or as confusing as a grade one journal entry, it’s time to create something with these words.

While I’m sure  through initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk Day and campaigns from the Canadian Mental Health Association you’ve become aware that mental health patients have few resources in our country, you may not be aware that our system is completely failing them.  Each and every day people seek help and fall tragically through the cracks. While you read this, here are some important stats to keep in mind:

  • 1.2 million Canadian children live with mental illness
  • In any given year, 1 in 5 adults in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness, but only 1 in 3 will receive treatment
  • 1 in 13 women report experiencing depression during the postpartum period

Mental health has long been recognized as a fundamental aspect of one’s health, however under our current health regime the majority of mental health services do not meet the eligibility requirement of “medically necessary.” Unless received in a hospital, psychological services must be paid for out-of-pocket or covered by private third-party insurance. This means that weekly visits to psychiatrics or counsellors come at one’s own expense. With the burden of paying for one’s mental health left to the individual, it is not surprising that so many Canadians put mental health concerns on the backburner.

We can’t do this anymore. We need to take a stand. 

So, here I am taking my stand and calling bullshit on the whole system.

Three weeks ago I was faced with a daze and emptiness I haven’t experienced in a very long time. Be it the collective emotions that came with my new role as a working mom, prolonged sleep deprivation and pregnancy hormones or hell, just the stress of living and thriving in our social media dominant, mess of a world, something caused me to die a little inside.

In a moment of desperation, I put my life on pause – an opportunity moms rarely have. I called in sick to work, brought my son to daycare and went home for a date with Netflix, a cup of coffee and my couch. Instead, when I walked in my house I wrapped myself in a blanket and I cried. I cried and cried, then sobbed, and then I hit rock bottom.

You should know, this is not a good time for me to lose it. I have a loving and supportive husband, a beautiful and healthy son, a silly and quirky dog (yes, I love you too, Louie) and a little bean inside my belly – all of them need me. Now is not the time for my mind, body and soul to scream “I’ve had enough.” But you can’t argue with truth.

As much as I want to wallow in self pity, life doesn’t pause and let you heal. Bills need to be paid and babies need to be snuggled. In an attempt to nip this overwhelming sense of… well….feeling overwhelmed, I did something I never do and asked for help.

I Googled “support for moms in Halton Region”, and results flooded my screen. There were mommy support groups, a crisis hotline, even a warm line at a local hospital that provides 24 hour support to moms in the first year of their child’s life. All incredible resources, right? I thought so too. Then I started dialing.

Between tears, I dialed numbers, trying to find a program to help me cope with all the unorganized thoughts and emotions flying through my mind.

I’ll save you my feedback on the 7 publicly funded organizations I reached out to – in short, they have a lot of work to do.

While initially it seemed like there was a world of help and support for an overwhelmed, new-ish mom like me, there really isn’t. At some point along the way, each and every resource let me down. They listened to me through tears, told me self-care was critical, and failed to provide any resources they promised to.

And here’s the sad part, I’m not alone. People used to say that it takes a village to raise a child. Today, some of us are lucky to have support from our extended family but this village you hear of costs approximately $2000+ a month in daycare costs, maids, nannys, therapy, takeout and bottles of wine (when mommy has just had enough).

Our society today provides moms with little to no support. We literally grow and birth a baby, get a high five and are sent on our way. No one prepares us for the worry (is my baby eating enough? are they happy? is their poop supposed to be that colour? why are they crying? why aren’t they crying? what is that spot on their leg? THEY HAVE THE MEASLES!). No one prepares us for the weeks, months, sometimes years of being up around the clock. No one prepares us for breastfeeding failure, drifting from our friends and partner, or coping with zero – and I mean ZERO time for ourselves. No one prepares us for the work + life + baby balance.  No one prepares us. We’re expected to shower, smile, eat, stay fit, work, clean, maintain romance, maintain friendships, maintain our eyebrows, raise a tiny army, run an envy worthy Instagram page AND stay sane through it all? Nope. Not happening. Maybe I’m doing something totally wrong. Maybe I expect too much of myself – but this whole system isn’t working for me.

There needs to be more resources.

There needs to be more support.

And we can’t continue to treat mental illness like a separate entity to our health.  It’s not.

Our mind is our being, it’s apart of who we are and it’s a big part of how we love, laugh, function and remain healthy day to day. Our country can’t continue to turn a blind eye to the millions of children, adults and mothers who silently struggle every day, trying their very best not to lose it.

With all that being said, here’s my call to action: if you feel the way I feel, I encourage you to speak about it. More importantly, I encourage you to tell all levels of government about it. Demand they make changes to our system and stop failing our people. In the meantime, I encourage you to be kind to others, to kind to yourself and to bring back the village.

Back to Work: I survived. It was one hell of a week, but I survived. 

This past Sunday my sweet baby turned one. A whole year old.

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A year where the first 6 months felt never-ending as I navigated the unknowns of motherhood. And where the last 6 months felt like my entire life was flashed before my eyes, as I watched my boy learn, grow and develop into what would be a happy, hilarious and tiny toddler.

As I reflect on my year with Jack my heart hurts. There were so many moments I neglected to enjoy as I struggled with postpartum hormones and sleep deprivation. My heart also hurts because it’s beaming so much with love and pride, a hurt that can only be felt when you truly love someone more than yourself.

While sitting on my couch this Tuesday morning at 3 a.m. the memories from this year, both good and bad, flew through my mind like you expect your life to flash before death. Indeed, I felt like a piece of me was dying – more specifically, a piece of my heart. In only a few short hours I would be bringing my son, my one very true love besides my husband, to a facility –  leaving him in the arms of a stranger while I spend my day in a cubicle making money for The Man. My heart ached and I cried.

As if this wasn’t torturous enough – abandoning my baby – my mind also questioned how we would survive?

If you’ve talked to me about my son recently, you would probably know he doesn’t sleep. If you’re inside my close social circle, you’d know I haven’t slept longer than 2 hour stretches in the last 8 months. This is no exaggeration, and yes, we’ve tried pretty much everything. Returning to work meant not only giving up my necessary afternoon nap, but it also meant a stranger holding, consoling and rocking my baby as he struggled to sleep.

If you’ve talked to me recently, you’d know my husband and I are expecting our second child. Another little being, who we are elated to meet. If you’re inside my close social circle, you’d know I found out I was pregnant when my son was only 8 months old and I was battling some serious postpartum hormones. Returning to work meant putting myself another peg lower on the totem pole, and not fully healing before the arrival of our sweet baby bean.

If you talked to me this week, you’d know my first day back to work was an absolute shit-show. I began my day on 3.5 hours of sleep and ended it with a scene out of a horror movie – though now that I’ve healed, it seems more like a comedy show. I picked up Jack and we scurried home for dinner and snuggles. Not knowing exactly what he had eaten at daycare or how much he had eaten at daycare, I filled him with his favourite ravioli. Note to parents making this transition; ALWAYS ask your care provider when your child last ate and how much. When I picked Jack up out of his high chair, he instantly projectile vomited on my shoulder which went in my hair, down my shirt and made its way down my pants. In return, my disgusted and pregnant self couldn’t contain my dinner and joined him in emptying my tummy. Cue the dog –  who decided it was time for his dinner. Dave walked in to not one but two babies, crying on the bathroom floor, naked and covered in vomit…and a very happy dog.

It was then and there on that bathroom floor, after just one day of trying, I decided I wasn’t cut out for this whole working mom thing. I decided I wasn’t strong enough and I decided the only logical answer was to quit. If I quit I could continue to make home-cooked meals for my family,  take my naps,  fuel my son’s mind, grow my young bean, be a kick-ass wife for my husband and heal my very neglected soul.

As all these thoughts went through my mind, I remembered a feeling from that day I hadn’t felt in a year – the feeling of being a useful, intelligent, strong individual and woman. The feeling of being proud of myself for providing for my family, communicating as an adult, and inspired by things I’m passionate about (outside my family).

In reality, as hard as it is to crawl out of bed after a restless night of (no) sleep, drive my son to daycare and wave goodbye to him (and his tears) in the arms of kind and loving women, not all of this experience is bad . Parts of it are challenging while parts of it are refreshing – and I’m learning I’m capable of so much more than I’ve ever given myself credit for.

Although I’m only at the beginning of my short jaunt as a working mom (kudos to the mommies weeks, months and years into this journey), I’m quickly learning that with anything, balance is important and putting yourself first is priority. Moms are seriously wonder-women – but do you hear me here? Putting yourself first is priority. There will be days I’m going to call in sick because I need a day to calm my mind or play with my son, there will be days I’ll order takeout because I simply don’t feel like making dinner, there will be days Jack and Dave won’t have my full attention because my heart needs it more and there will be days, like this Tuesday, where I just want to quit.

Being a mom and a (pregnant) working mom is no easy feat. It takes time to adjust to new roles and routines but be kind to yourself, as I’m learning to do now. Life at home with Jack was hardly ever glamorous. We had our fun and I would jump back into that stay-at-home mom role in a heartbeat, but 5/5 days of the week Dave would always receive a subtle “when are you coming home” text when I was at the end of my rope. Neither being home with your kids all day or working full-time is glamorous.

Here’s a big (virgin daquori) cheers to you mommies, you bomb-ass-do-it-all-babes.  I’ll be taking notes from you as I dredge through this messy new chapter in my life and learn a whole new way to balance (I seriously was just getting the hang of having a kid).

 

Introducing Jack Josef

Four days ago, on August 6 at 4:59 p.m. my husband Dave and I welcomed our first child and son. We are overjoyed and so very proud to introduce you to Jack Josef:

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Jack was born at 38 weeks 4 days gestation, and in true Jack fashion – wanted to make his entrance into the world one to remember.

The day before Jack’s birth I was a ticking time bomb. I literally spent the entire day sobbing. My mom called me, I sobbed. Dave called me from work, I sobbed. Jack had dropped into position at 31 weeks and by this point I was having the “I’m done with pregnancy” feeling many Mom’s experience in their third trimester. Although I had been uncomfortable for weeks leading up to Jack’s birth, I had not experienced such a rush of uncontrollable emotions – thankfully Louie was around to lick up all my tears before I drowned in them.

That afternoon Dave decided to lift my spirits by treating me to what would be our last date-night as “just us two”. We polished off too many servings of all-you-can-eat vegetarian sushi  and made our way to Canadian Tire to stock up on some final items before Jack arrived. It appears all the sushi left little room for Jack because as soon as I stepped out of the car I felt a pop in my abdomen. I turned to Dave to tell him something felt wrong (seriously, I thought my bladder exploded) but before I could get the words out – gushes and gushes of water began pouring out of me in the middle of the parking lot. Side note: this dramatic gush only happens in about 10% of pregnancies. Two 15 year old Canadian Tire employees looked at me with fear and horror in their eyes – I began laughing uncontrollably – super clean Dave grabbed whatever towels/blankets he could find in his car and lined his front seat before loading me in. Off to the hospital we went!

This is how we arrived at the hospital – I was pre-contractions – Dave was convinced I was a rockstar – we had no idea what kind of agony I was about to undergo.

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Since I wasn’t contracting, the hospital sent me home and told me to return when my contractions were four minutes apart. Within one hour, my contractions were four minutes apart – and let me tell you – contractions = not fun. I laboured at home for 6 hours before I found myself vomiting on our front lawn from pain. It would be a total of 17 hours of labour and one hour of pushing before we would meet the baby boy who had been living in my belly.

Since the arrival of Jack my heart has exploded with love in more ways than I can imagine. I’ve become even more obsessed with Dave, as I watch him transition into the most incredible father. This man was literally rubbing chapstick on my lips and giving me sips of water between each pushing cycle, he’s changed 99% of our sons diapers, and he’s up with me each and every night to help me feed our especially sleepy baby.

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We are so thankful for all of the support extended to us during our pregnancy and now, with the arrival of Jack. We cannot wait to share this new adventure in our lives with you.

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Pregnancy Update: 37 Weeks

WE DID IT!

Well folks, we did it! Today officially marks 37 weeks pregnant and we’re in the safe zone for delivery. New bets have been placed on when I’ll deliver (officially due August 16) and all to-do tasks are done! We’re ready!

Baby Stats

Baby boy has been measuring a week ahead of schedule and weighs (approximately) just under 7 pounds. He’s expected to gain half a pound per week until his due date. With three weeks left this could put him in the eight and a half to nine pound range. Pray for me.

Highlight from the Week

Bed rest is officially over. With an okay from my doctor, I was able to fulfill my maid-of-honour duties for one of my closest friend’s wedding this past (hot, hot, hot) Saturday. Baby boy was a champ and allowed me to party hard until 9:30 p.m. WOO.

Annmarie was a beautiful bride and her wedding left not one dry eye in the house. We’ve been friends for the last 16 years and to watch her marry the man of her dreams was truly a blessing. 20160723_204132

Mama & Baby’s Health

Yesterday morning I happily told Dave I hadn’t reached the “I feel miserable” stage of the third trimester.  Well, I jinxed myself and my body laughed at me. Everything and I mean everything started to hurt come mid-afternoon.  Getting back on my feet after being off of them for 6 weeks has introduced some new aches and pains but it’s nothing a good bubble bath can’t fix.

Overall, Pork Chop is doing very well.  He’s grown a little reputation for himself at the hospital as “the swimmer” (we’ve become well known from all of our visits). He’s always moving and grooving, making it difficult at times to take proper measurements – but a moving baby is a happy baby.

Cravings

Bring me all the watermelon and white flesh peaches!

New Symptoms

I really struggled with insomnia during my first trimester and it seems to have come back in full swing. If I’m lucky, I’ll score about 4 combined hours of sleep (between the tossing and turning and frequent bathroom visits). Despite all that I seem to be keeping my sanity and making it through the days fairly well with only one power nap.

I’ve also been experiencing loss of appetite and a ton of pain in my hips. Thankfully I have a kick-ass (and should I add, incredibly handsome) husband, who has literally gone above and beyond anything I could have expected.

On Saturday he offered to follow me around in an air-conditioned car while we snapped pictures outside for my friends wedding. He brought Popsicles, snacks and frozen bottles of water to ensure baby and I were well hydrated, well fed and avoided the dangers of the heat. Bless him.

That’s all for now – I expect my next post will be our birth story – so stay tuned and stay cool!

Thoughts on Pregnancy as it Comes to a Close

At this exact moment last summer my fiance and I were cruising down the highway with the windows down and fine wine sitting in the back seat waiting to be sipped on a dock at sunset – we were living the life. We were two mid-20 somethings in the middle of planning a wedding and buying our first home together. We had dreams about the life we were about to embark on as husband and wife, and a large part of that dream was to become parents.

This summer is a world different than last. Dave and I are married, we’re moments away from becoming “mom” and “dad”, and the spontaneous days of wine-filled weekends are only a distant memory.

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I’ts been a little while since I’ve put pen to paper…or keyboard to screen, if you will. I’ve been caught up in experiencing these new and different summer nights. Caught up in listening to crickets chirp at sunset, and sipping tea on the porch while my husband sips his caffeine. Caught up in anticipation for the arrival of our son. And most recently, caught up in my thoughts.

Pregnancy has broken and healed my heart repeatedly over the last 34 weeks.  It pains me greatly to admit that my pregnancy has been challenging and difficult but I have never carried my son without gratefulness, I have never stopped counting my blessings. My blessings extend beyond our son to our family and friends, who have rallied around us and provided us with an outpouring of love and support.

There have also been moments where people’s comments and questions have caught me off guard. Moments that have strengthened me and my ability to hold my composure when faced with great ignorance.

Although my pregnancy has been emotionally draining and although I’m scattering these words across a page while on bed rest due to an escape attempt by my son 9 weeks earlier than his anticipated arrival – I sit here in awe, in love and in wonder of the journey the last 8 months has taken us on.

From the moment two pink lines on a stick dissolved all my worries of ever carrying a child to discovering we were having son that may have a chromosomal micro-deletion, to tears we cried when we learned he was healthy and the fear that filled us when we learned he is impatient like his momma, to this moment right now, where I feel him roll and flutter and kick inside my body which has become his home. All of it has been surreal, humbling and life changing.

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Until my son started powerhouse kicking me in my ribs, squishing my lungs, and sticking his bum straight out of my belly, there were many things I hated about this miraculous experience.   I hated all the hardships we had to experience and I hated feeling out of control. However something has overcome me in the last few weeks. Maybe it’s the fact that my son could arrive at any moment or the lesson’s I’ve learned over the last 8 months – but I am so incredibly grateful for every lesson Dave and I have been volunteered to learn.

Last summer we thought we were living the life – but today, we are living our destiny. It may be without wine, it may be without spontaneity, it may be with my feet permanently kicked up and my child’s head so low in my cervix that I nearly cry every time I have to move, but this is where we’re meant to be. Every hurdle we had to cross – it was meant to be. Every tear we cried in fear – it was meant to be.

I really questioned whether or not I’d want to do this all over again, carry a child. Whether my 16x20 sunshine print yellownext pregnancy will be as difficult as my first – but one of my cousin’s wisely advised me that one day this will all be a memory, and my son will be my reality. I will hold him, I will love him, I will care for him, I will look at him in awe and know he is the reason I was able to survive. We know parenting will be filled with many more learning experiences that will challenges us, but as we grow closer to meeting the little boy who strengthened our relationship, strengthened our faith, strengthened our love for our own parents and grew our hearts, we grow more certain that he will be a force that will continue to better our lives each passing moment.

Feelings of a First Time Mom

This morning I found myself tuned into a talk radio show on pregnancy and parenthood. Like anything these days that has to do with parenting, my ears perked up and my attention was drawn. One of the hosts was weeks away from her due date and sharing her excitement of becoming a first time mom. My heart smiled. I feel you, sister. Her co-host laughed, quickly deflating her optimism with some real-life advice:

“Parent’s lie about how wonderful parenting is” he began. “We want other people to be sucked into our misery.”

The insight to the chaotic reality of parenting went on for minutes, officially ending with an awkward laugh from the pregnant host. For first time parents, the “end of life as you know it” comments are a dime a dozen. And as naive as we may be to the demands of parenting – in this moment, as our baby is safely swaddled in our wombs, we’re elated…and we’re terrified.

I remember the exact thoughts I had the day Davey and I found out we were going to become parents.

I can’t believe this is happening. 

Holy shit, a product of my broad-shouldered husband has to make it’s way out of my body in 9 months.

Who decided we were adult enough to be the sole providers for a human life? 

My life and my heart are officially complete. I’m so in love. 

And since that day, the feeling has relatively stayed the same.

20160511_215058The idea that the actions, words and decisions my husband and I make will form the development, safety and happiness of a human is daunting. The thought that we chose to bring a life into this world and are now responsible for the stable upbringing of a child is immensely overwhelming. I often question my ability to be a strong mother. Wonder how the hell my belly can grow any larger without exploding. Mourn the loss of Dave and I being “just us two”. Fear the pain, discomfort and unknowns of labour.

On the flip side of this fearful wonder is breathtaking thrill. A keenness to explore the world through a new set of eyes.  An appetite to teach our child about humanity and hopefully raise him or her to be compassionate. A wonder and imagination for the traits we’ll share and what they will look like. A dream about our new adventure as a family of four (we’re counting Louie).

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Between all my doubt, anticipation, wonder and excitement there is love. An emotional equation I believe all parents experienced their first time around. And although seasoned parents may snicker at my naivety – I know there is no shame in the naivety I hold.

I trust parenting won’t be easy. I trust my relationship will change, that I’ll go days un-showered,  live solely off caffeine and fondly reminisce the days of freedom. However, the concept of becoming a mother makes me so excited I could pee my pants (if I wasn’t already peeing a little from my baby’s pressure on my bladder).

So ease up, folks. Let us first time parents be naive. Let us be optimistic. Let us learn the hard way. We’re already afraid of what we’re losing yet so eager for what we’re gaining. In those moments of weakness, those endless nights of crying, we’ll need you to reminisce with us. We’ll lean on you to soak in those moments of chaos. But for now, just like we’ll live the world through a new set of eyes, relive your first time in becoming a parent through ours. Because for us, it is pure magic.

 

 

 

 

Pregnancy Update: Week 24 – Viability

Women live by milestones in their pregnancy and this week is a big one – 24 weeks is when a baby is considered to be viable, meaning if it was born at this time it has a reasonable chance for survival. The baby’s rate for survival will continue to grow at 2-3% per day until week 27, as baby continues to pack on the pounds and develop organ maturity.

Baby Stats

At 24 weeks I feel and look pregnant. This belly has officially popped. At least once a week someone will tell me how big my belly is and how gigantic they think Pork Chop will be (thank you by the way, both Pork Chop and I are flattered). All joking aside, Pork Chop has been growing in leaps and bounds and as of Friday weighs 1 pound, 6 ounces and is a little over a foot in length.

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Left: 11 weeks  Right: 22 weeks 

 

Highlight from the Week

At 24 weeks I’m able to tell the difference between the magic of pregnancy gas and the baby moving. And let me tell you, this kid loves to move. Pork Chop has literally turned my uterus into a dance floor and is constantly wiggling and kicking about. Not only has Dave been able to feel Porky’s powerful punches but we can actually see the baby move when we lay in bed at night. The baby’s movement has quickly made me love being pregnant. Keep in mind, pregnancy is demanding both physically and emotionally, so this feeling can change on any given day.

Each and every time Pork Chop gives me a nice big kick in the bladder, my heart literally explodes into a million pieces. It’s these special moments that calm my anxiety and make everything worth it.

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Louie has become very attached to me lately and is obsessed with his baby.

 

Mama & Baby’s Health

The active movement of the baby has kept me on my toes and landed Pork Chop and I in the hospital on Monday. Being a first time Mom I’m really not sure what to expect in a pregnancy and with all the high risk testing Dave and I have been through, I’ve been on high alert. Last weekend after a very active week in my belly, Pork Chop decided to take a three day hiatus from dancing. This stop in movement also came with cramping and with that, a very worried Mama. Although a baby’s movement isn’t consistent until 28 weeks, a quick call to Labour and Delivery validated my concerns. As soon as I shared my symptoms with the hospital, I was told to immediately head to the hospital’s prenatal clinic.

When I arrived at the hospital I became so overwhelmed with worry and the lack of parking that I sobbed in my car. Wooo, hormones! Once I was able to collect myself, I made my way to the prenatal clinic and was immediately hooked up to monitors. All of our records were transferred over from our high risk doctor and genetic specialist, and within fifteen minutes, we could hear baby’s very regular heartbeat on the monitor. I was soon released but had to return a few days later for additional testing.

The doctor’s at the hospital we’ll be delivering at have decided they would like to continue to monitor the small amount of fluid in Pork Chop’s brain but told us their concerns are minimal.

Cravings

Peanut butter and chocolate. I seriously can’t get enough of it, guys.

New Symptoms

Overall, I’m feeling great which is a big change from the first trimester. My emotions have started to balance out (I think a big part of this is being released from high risk care) and my energy is coming back in full swing. Three to four times a week Dave and I will spend at least an hour walking around our neighbourhood or a park. It feels great to get back into a routine and have enough energy to make meals for my man.

One symptom that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon is my dislike for meat. Most days I still border on being a vegetarian. In this regard, Pork Chop does not live up to their name.

Oh, and, my innie is now an outie, hollaaa.

Baby Purchases

We’re trying to keep baby purchases minimal and based on necessity. Although we haven’t made any recent purchases, we did set up Pork Chop’s nursery this week which still needs some art. Once our baby’s gender is revealed – in a month (yay!) – I’ll be doing a whole feature on the nursery, so stay tuned!