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managing intense relatives 101

You’re pregnant. Your baby’s coming soon. You’re wondering how you’ll be getting any sleep with a newborn in the house, among countless other things.

The good news is: your mother-in-law* wants to come help! The bad news is: your mother-in-law wants to come help! [*or whichever big personality relative is about to descend upon you]

The thought of it is so stressful you’re ready to bury your head in a platter of macarons and eat your way out.

What can you do? Is there a way to get the sleep you need and maintain your sanity while not totally alienating your MIL?

Absolutely.

When managing big personalities, there are some tools you can use.

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“back in my day, we did everything exactly the opposite and you all turned out fine!” omg stfu

1. Your partner needs to be the heavy and run interference. She or he is your personal security detail. If you’re a single parent, you may need a trusted friend to play this role—helping you strategize in advance how to manage the visit and distracting the intense relative when possible. Your bouncer needs to step in and protect your space when you say your safe word, like “get your mom outta here before I murder someone.”

2. Brainstorm tasks and activities that can be a useful distraction. What are her skills? Organizing a minimalist nursery? Prepping some freezer meals? Setting up baby gadgets? Running around the city for the perfect new carrier? Planning a bris? Finding the right balance between allowing her time with baby and keeping her busy with tasks she enjoys that make the most of her strengths will benefit you both. 

Maybe MIL can hold the baby so you can get that all too important daytime nap in. Maybe she will help you hire a postpartum doula (similar to a baby nurse, but more mother/family oriented) so you can get more nighttime sleep in those early weeks. See if you can make the most of the things she likes to make the visit more bearable. See if you can find the win-win.

3. Practicing your best nod and smile will be helpful, too. “Thank you for the suggestion!” Repeat ad nauseam. The main key to managing big personalities is remembering: would you rather be right or be happy? Let it slide, as much as possible. Vent to your sympathetic friends later. 

4. Take care of yourself. I know, it is a cliché and triple hard as you adjust to life with baby. But making sure you’re eating, getting rest, and otherwise honoring your needs as much as possible will go miles in terms of helping you survive a challenging visit.

Before you know it, you’ll be getting a fresh pedicure and breathing a sigh of relief to have your space to yourself again. A little planning will help you get through that initial visit during the newborn days, with the sleep and sanity you so desperately need.  

Choose happy, choose your battles, choose a more peaceful way to get through the visit in the best way possible. It will be over soon and you WILL survive. And who knows, MIL may even really step up and surprise you. That would truly be some good news.

building a better birth class

A few months ago in anticipation of teaching a new type of childbirth class, I created a survey and shared it across the land to ask parents why they had or hadn’t taken a class, and to find out what was most useful, what was lacking, and what was a disappointment for those who did take a class. I was concerned about launching a class amidst online forums full of parents saying birth classes were a waste of time (note: there are also many who loved their classes!).

The results were incredibly helpful and I’m eager to incorporate such useful feedback to make the class stronger and more relevant to what expectant parents most need and want to know. Many classes have been structured around what we think you should know. Since this is based on peer feedback, it’ll make a huge difference. This knowledge, coupled with the personalized Your Birth Experience (YBE) approach, builds a childbirth class perfect for busy New Yorkers.

There are so many choices out there— Lamaze, Bradley, HypnoBirthing, Birthing from Within, and various private instructors and hospital-based options. How do you know which class is right for you and why choose a YBE class with me?

This class is for you if you:

  • are busy (who isn’t?)
  • want to get clear on your personal wishes for your birth,  versus what the interwebs and your family wishes for and believes about birth
  • want a better picture of what to expect in labor and how to best manage it
  • want to understand the various options that will come up through the birth process, which you prefer, and communicating this with your birth team and medical staff
  • want to leave the class with a draft birth plan to review with your doctor or midwife, and a plan for handling those early weeks with a newborn

The small group class is one 4-hour class with a follow up call for further questions. If 4 hours is still too long, you can always opt for a shorter private consult with a tighter focus on your unique concerns.

For more information, visit our page on childbirth education in New York City.

postmodern childbirth logo

 

 

 

speedy slaw

With a rare day off from doula work in New York City, I was running errands when I spied a package of shredded cabbage and had a sudden craving for coleslaw. Not at all seasonal (no pumpkin spice?!), to be sure, but since my cravings are usually for sugary treats, I decided to roll with it. I bought a package of the shredded veg (green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots), and did an internet search for coleslaw dressing when I got home. Five minutes later, I was satisfying my craving.

speedy slaw

adapted from easy coleslaw dressing

all measurements are approximate suggestions—you can eyeball it, this is hard to mess up

Ingredients:

  • one package pre-shredded cabbage and/or carrots
  • fresh baby spinach leaves, roughly chopped (optional, about a large handful)
  • sliced almonds (optional, about 1 – 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise (Just Mayo is the best)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (I keep a bottle in the fridge)
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
  • salt and pepper to taste (I like lots)

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the mayo, sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Whisk until combined.
  2. Add the shredded cabbage, and spinach and almonds if desired. Toss. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
  3. Eat it up.

 

cool people I know: Iryna!

Iryna Sosnovska
Iryna and her daughter.

I met Iryna over a year ago. I was instantly struck by her warmth and professionalism, and of course her gorgeous photos (you’ll find several on this site). I have since had the pleasure of working with Iryna in her photographer role, so I can personally attest to her gentle skill in coaxing flattering shots from someone who is rather camera shy. She even managed to get some smiles out of my cranky toddler. If you’re looking for a family or portrait photographer, you can’t go wrong with Iryna behind the lens.

1. What drew you to family photography? How do you approach this work?

Through my journey as a photographer, I’ve photographed pretty much everything (except sports). For years, I worked in journalism as a reporter and photographer in Eastern Europe. I always loved telling stories. Back then, I would never have considered becoming a family photographer. Well, that was before I became a mom… Without exaggeration I can say that becoming a parent changed the way I looked at things and life in general, and what was truly important. When I create family portraits, I am in the same mindset– that I’m telling someone’s incredibly important story that shouldn’t be forgotten. When I work with families, I see and feel this importance. Their kids and partners are everything to them and documenting these relationships and milestones, I believe, is the greatest gift I can give to people.

2. What surprised you most about becoming a mother?

That it’s doable and how much I loved it! I was the last of our family and friends to become a parent. So I saw a lot of babies growing up in front of my eyes. I looked at their parents and saw a lot of struggle. There was of course joy, too, but I was seeing that parenthood was NOT easy. And I always loved being independent, my husband and I are passionate about travelling, and when I imagined myself having a kid, I thought I would not be able to do most of the things I loved in life. NOT true! We travel, and my daughter is an amazing person. She is 4 and she is the smartest , funniest, and most easy-going kid I’ve ever known. She indeed is the best thing that ever happened in our lives.

3. What would be your #1 piece of advice for a new mother?

Listen to yourself. There is so much information out there, so many different approaches to parenthood. Everyone will have an advice for you. Read, listen, ask different sources, but ultimately truly listen to what your heart tells you. That will be the best way to go.

4. What are some things you and your daughter love to do in NYC?

We enjoy so many things NYC has to offer to families. We love going to libraries for story time and then looking through the books and choosing a dozen to bring home. In summertime, there is really nothing better for a 4 year old than exploring outdoor playgrounds. We especially love two playgrounds in Central Park (one on 59th St on the west side and the other on 190th St on the east side). The Bronx Botanical Garden and Bronx Zoo are among of our favorites, too. As an indoor creative place, Children’s Museum Of Arts  in Tribeca is hands-down our favorite.

5. If someone would like to find more information about working with you, what should they do?

If you would like to learn more about how we work and plan your photographic experience, the best way to start is to call us at 917.370.9741. Then, you’ll find out more about us and we will discover all the wonderful things about you and your beautiful family and what you love about them. Portrait photography is such a personal experience, so we need to make sure we are a good fit. I want my clients to have the most amazing photography experience they can imagine. And the photo shoot is only a small part of that!

Learn more:

Iryna Sosnovska Photography
Turning memories into art

info@sosnovska.com
917.370.9741

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cool people I know: Dawn!

I’m also a firm believer that “getting organized” is a skill that anyone can learn with patience and practice.

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Dawn Falcone, the “Chaos Liberator”

I have heard Dawn Falcone‘s name for many years as we live in the same neighborhood, but didn’t have the pleasure of meeting her until recently. She’s smart, warm, funny, stylish, and fantastic at what she does– helping you clear clutter and get organized to liberate yourself from chaos and stress and have more time for the good things in life! This can be especially life-saving when you are reorganizing your living space to bring home baby or want help setting up a cute and efficient nursery.

Dawn is kicking off a paper clutter challenge on Monday. Join the group for support and a week of daily challenges. My desk and I will be participating.

Here is a little bit more about Dawn, her work, being a mom, and how to find her!

1. What drew you to organizing? How do you approach this work?

I’ve organizing since I was a kid. I spent many a rainy Saturday clearing out our family fridge, kitchen cabinets, and junk drawers. Keeping things organized wasn’t my mom’s strong suit so I jumped in and took over in that area.
 
I approach this work from the inside out. I try to get to the root cause of the clutter so my clients can see their patterns and we can work from there. I’m also a firm believer that “getting organized” is a skill that anyone can learn with patience and practice.

 

2. What surprised you most about becoming a parent?

How truly exhausting it is – especially in the beginning. Friends and family told me it was but I didn’t believe them. Take naps with your baby, delegate, don’t stress about having a perfect clean house. Take time to bond, heal, and get into your parenting groove. [here’s where a postpartum doula can help!– Rachel]

 

3. What would be your #1 piece of advice for a new parent?

Go with the flow. Let go of the vision(s) you had about how parenthood was going to be. Things don’t always go according to plan but it will all work out and most of the time it’s even better than you imagined. 

 

4. What are some things you and your son love to do in NYC?

We both love visiting the MET. He loves the Egyptian rooms and suits of armor. We’re a baseball family so trips to Yankee stadium are always a hit. My Monkey Boy is very active so we explore playgrounds and parks. NYC really has so much to offer kids and families.

 

5. If someone would like to find more information about working with you, what should they do?

You can check out my website dawnfalcone.com or come and join my super supportive Facebook group where I pop in daily and offer up organizing tips (Chaos Liberators)!
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Dawn and her family as Prince and the Revolution for Halloween, 2013. Awesome!

 

the doula as spanish tortilla

Once upon a time, my husband (then boyfriend) and I were able to spend time taking short trips around Europe. Since we were vegetarian at the time, and most places in Europe weren’t super veg-friendly, we learned how to ask for a cheese sandwich in every language.

In Spain, where they like to slap some pork on everything, we were sustained by tortilla. We ate SO MUCH tortilla. I had never heard of it. Tortilla Española is not the flat flour or corn-based circle we are used to here in the US for quesadillas and such. No. Not even close.

It is great for any meal or snack. It tastes amazing. It is probably impossible to mess up. I couldn’t get over the deliciousness. What is in here? I wondered. Is it REALLY vegetarian? It just tasted so rich, I thought there MUST be something else there that the Spanish were keeping hush-hush.

But no! It is a deceptively simple concoction of potatoes, onion, olive oil, eggs, and salt. That is it. While I know potatoes are sent from heaven, I never would have believed that something so yummy came from this short list of common ingredients. Thus, the Spanish tortilla is always what I think of with regard to the phrase: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Because that is exactly what I think whenever I try to explain doula work to someone! It can appear that a doula is just someone to hold your hand, whisper encouragement, get you a snack, and so forth. And it can be all of those things, or at least, it looks like that on the surface.

What you DON’T see is how I’m carefully watching you and your support person. Reading how you’re feeling. Figuring out what might be helpful, and if the time is right to suggest it or if silence is best. Thinking about HOW to say something in a way you’ll find useful. Finding the balance between fading into the background and being a strong presence. Willing the right words to come out of my mouth at the right time. Remembering that what worked like a charm for a previous client might be annoying as hell for you. Knowing when to use a supportive touch. Translating labor and your needs for your partner, and letting your partner interpret you for me.

After digging deep into my knowledge, experience, intuition, and tuning in to your unique family, your preferences, and your particular situation, squeezing your hand might be the end result. That’s the part you see. 

A good doula is greater than the sum of his or her parts. The best doula makes it deceptively simple. You might think I’m just a standard issue Idaho potato, but  you’re gonna get a tortilla that will blow your mind.

 

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Lila Phillips, 1924 – 2016

 

nana
Lila Tatelman, late 1930s or so.

My grandmother died Monday morning. I want to talk about her as I knew her, as her granddaughter.

Nana was a wonderful grandma in that she was always so full of life and energy and fun. We would go visit her in Miami frequently while growing up in the Midwest, where she lived for over four decades. I have so many fond memories of days at the beach, walks to feed ducks, playing in her pool, getting manicures with her, having the run of her apartment, playing on the balcony and scaring the old folks down below. I can still remember the smell of the building lobby, and the garbage chute, the hallways and her home, and Miami in general. We’d fight over the right to push the button to her floor so my dad would suggest selecting 13. I remember playing with her cats, Sheba and then Rocky. I remember how my legs would stick to the white vinyl dining room chairs around the glass dining table. There were mirrors everywhere— my brother ran into one full speed in the lobby once. I remember meeting her friends, and her third husband who we called Grandpa as he was the only grandpa we’d ever know. I remember my brother Danny and I hiding behind her couch and making a list of every word for “butt” that we knew. I would raid her giant stash of perfume samples in those tiny glass vials. I was her first grandchild, and for nearly 2 decades, her only granddaughter, so she called me Princess until my cousin Sarah came along and the crown was passed down.

I remember when I was in third grade and innocently drawing swastikas not knowing what they were— just copying from a kid in school who probably also didn’t know what they were. The ferocious lecture I got left quite an impression. She would later tell me how awful it was to live through war time, how happy everyone was when WWII was over.

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Brothers and I playing on Nana’s balcony, 1980-something.

I remember going with her to interior design shops and later to Raymond’s various places— some rich guy she worked for as an assistant for a time. We even inherited some of his furniture along the way. Her life seemed glamorous. Her hair was always red and her make up always perfect. In the morning, she had to “put on her face.”

I would share her king sized bed with her when I’d visit. She’d snore like a jet engine on ‘roids. There was usually a Reader’s Digest in the bathroom. She took bubble baths.

She could obliterate you in Scrabble. Sadly, I did not inherit the Scrabble gene (also sadly, I did inherit the snoring gene). In fact, she was sharp til the end. She played bridge several times a week and read voraciously, especially mysteries. She was always ready to talk and kid around. Just days before she died, she was asking me what I thought about Trump and telling me that the hospital food was a joke. She had a HUGE infectious laugh. Her favorite book was The Diary of Anne Frank.

When I had a short hospital stay in second grade, she sent me a flower arrangement of lilacs in the shape of a poodle.

If you mentioned that someone wrote a book, she’d say, “I guess she had something to say.”

She lived a long life and had her ups and downs. She was widowed with 4 young children. She also buried a daughter and later a grandson far too young, and of course her parents and older siblings and a niece, and friends. When I explained to her about doula work a few years back, I was curious about her births. She had no memory of any of them. It was the era of twilight sleep.

Like most of us, as I got older, I didn’t see her as often. I did visit one New Year’s in the late ’90s with my friend Betty and her sister. Nana let us stay with her and do our own thing. I saw a whole new side of Miami, with South Beach and Cuban dancing. It was wonderful.

I also went down once to help her out after a cataract removal. I remember being so exhausted that I literally started falling asleep over dinner. She didn’t take it personally and just wondered why I didn’t say anything.

Marc and I went down in the spring of 2007 to visit her and take in some baseball spring training games. I was pregnant with Jonah. We went again four years later with Jonah and I was pregnant with Leo. I’m glad we had those visits. She usually came to visit around Thanksgiving. But this past Thanksgiving, she was unable to make it.

I’m a little surprised at how hard this is hitting me. I wouldn’t say we were particularly close, but we did keep in touch and saw each other once a year at least. It was hard to carry on a conversation as her hearing got worse. She was a huge part of my childhood, and the only grandparent we got to see regularly. As a kid, I didn’t understand why she would cry whenever it was time to say goodbye at the end of a visit. I would think, “What’s the big deal? We’ll see her again soon.” Now I get it, and know we’re only on this earth a short while. To state the painfully obvious, there’s something about death that is just so very … final. You can never hug them again or hear their voice or make a new memory.

Luckily, I had a work trip to Miami last week and added on a few days to visit with her. I didn’t get time with her as I’d hoped since she was unwell and in the hospital.But I’m so glad I got to see her and help a little bit. She was happy to see me, and I am happy I got to see her.

Thanks for being an awesome grandma, Nana.

dad me jonah nana nov 2007
Four generations: my dad, me and Jonah (3 months), and Nana, November 2007.

 

 

 

learning birth stuff

In the months and weeks leading up to your first baby’s arrival, it can feel like your to-do list is a mile long and there are 5,000 baby supplies that you MUST have and what do they do and where do you put them? Add to that the emotions and unpredictability of this major life change and it can feel like a bit … much.

Somewhere on most people’s lengthy list is taking a childbirth class. Maybe you are hoping for a certain kind of birth or maybe you just figure you should know a little more about what the hell’s going to happen on the big day or maybe your friends suggested it. In any case, you find one, pay up, and hopefully find it useful.

On an online message board for parents, someone was recently seeking advice about which class to take. Some people replied with strong recommendations, but most thought that the classes were a waste of time, that anything they learned flew right out the window once labor set in. This caught my attention as I now offer childbirth ed and I sure don’t want anyone to feel they’ve wasted their time and money. New Yorkers are busy as fuck and have no time for bullshit. This is why I chose to train with Your Birth Experience. I wanted to be able to offer clients something tailor-made, worthwhile, a perfect fit for anyone’s budget, availability, and questions. Something that cuts through the crap and offers the best information to support them through their birth experience.

While every course is individualized, it’s still helpful for me to hear what worked and what didn’t for others. Whether you took a class or not, it would be great if you could take and share this survey! You even get a chance to win an amazon gift card! My clients and I thank you for your help.

CLICK HERE FOR SURVEY AND CHANCE TO WIN! Good luck!

stacking the odds

I knew I wanted a “natural birth.” I didn’t know exactly WHY I wanted that, or WHAT it meant exactly, or that it would be such a BIG DEAL to want that. I had a lot to learn. I knew that birth could be unpredictable and potentially complicated, but I wanted to do everything possible to increase my chances for a positive, healthy, natural birth.

The way we approach birth says so much about our personalities, families, cultures, and histories. Maybe you asked friends and family about their experiences (or you didn’t have to ask because they bombarded you with stories and “advice”), maybe you jumped in and forged ahead following your gut, maybe you went solely with advice from a trusted midwife or doctor. Maybe, like me, you read 101 books and solicited advice from online forums and a few select friends.

One of my trusted friends gave me the first of the many birth books I’d read, The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence. She’d had a positive natural birth and found the book helpful. I also highly recommend it, and found it very accessible and practical, good for anyone who wants to, well, give birth with confidence.

As someone who needs facts and data, I liked how they built the case for the best things you can do to have a healthy birth. Drawing on the meta-analyses of the respected Cochrane library, they distilled and simplified the data into their six healthy birth practices. Visit their website for more information on each practice, including short videos.

Following these practices are no guarantee, but they greatly increase your odds of having a birth that’s positive, safe, and healthy for you and your baby. For me, following these steps worked well. I knew I couldn’t control it all, but I wanted to feel in control of the things I could. Just like life.

One key step that isn’t mentioned here (but is addressed in the book) is to do your best to find a midwife or doctor and birth location that you trust. Ultimately, you’ll be working with your care provider to make decisions and having a trusting relationship will be critical. Good luck!

Lamaze_6HealthyBirthPractices_Infographic_FINAL

 

 

handled

In 2002, I was planning a wedding and looking for the perfect dress. I went to all the main places in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. I finally found one I loved at a wonderful boutique shop, but the price was … high. Very high. Like $3K high. My very generous parents were covering the wedding and told me not to worry about it, they were happy to be able to pay for it. But it felt so gross to pay such so much for a dress to wear for one day.

So, I kept looking. I met with a dress maker and corresponded with another seamstress to see if they could make something similar. I felt embarrassed and silly but my mind kept coming back to that dress. I really did love it. My parents continued to insist that I just get it, but I felt extremely anxious about the whole thing. Who knows how many hours I spent hand-wringing about it. I finally rationalized the purchase deciding that I would sell it through eBay or consignment after the wedding and at least be able to reimburse some of the funds to my parents.

When all was said and done, the dress cost over $4K. I still felt bad, but went ahead. I loved the dress and am so happy I got to enjoy it for that day.

After the wedding, we went on our honeymoon for nearly 3 weeks. When we stopped by my parents’ place for a night on our way back to New York, after catching up on our trip, my mom got a tragic look on her face and told me she had some bad news.

Mom had taken the dress to a bridal specialist cleaner to do a professional cleaning and storage set up while we were away. When she called to see when she could come pick it up, they kept putting her off. Finally she just went in and asked to see it. They acted all weird and mortified but finally brought out the dress. The dress looked like it had been attacked by Cinderella’s stepsisters, run over by some monster trucks, and used to clean a few public bathrooms. It was bad. No one knew what had happened.

Mom was furious on my behalf. My new husband was so upset that I wouldn’t get to wear it again for more photos (dude, once was enough). But I was THRILLED. The cleaners were insured, and I had saved every receipt. We were able to submit them and my parents got back every dime. And I got to enjoy a dress I loved.

I just love how things work out like that sometimes, don’t you? It’s like it’s all being handled.

The dress designer was Peter Langer. I’d never heard of him before, but I still think his stuff is gorgeous. Someday, I’ll have him design all of my gowns.