are you experienced?

I’ve been a fan of Dan Savage for decades, from back when he was just a fledgling sex advice columnist in the alternative papers (Kansas City’s Pitch!) truly opening the eyes of this midwestern girl. I still have the book he signed for me in 1999. I love that he’s taken on the podcast medium where I can still enjoy him on a weekly basis.

Recently* he had a call from a guy who was very interested in a woman but concerned that she was inexperienced sexually. Would she be clumsy and awful in bed? Would he have to spend his time teaching her? Basically, was it going to be an annoying waste of his time?

Dan’s answer was that experience doesn’t matter. Someone could be a bedroom newbie, or have a Guinness Book record number of partners, and it says nothing about your chemistry with that person. Experience and fit are not related. You either click and it’s amazing or you don’t! There is only one way to find out if you’re a match. If it feels right, take the plunge.

The same is true when choosing your doula. Experience doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if she’s worked with your doctor or midwife. It doesn’t matter if she’s ever set foot in your hospital or birth center.

As we were watching the World Series a few weeks back, I asked my husband what he thought—does number of births make a better doula? He didn’t hesitate and responded, “It doesn’t matter! I could step in and hit a home run as a rookie, or as a 38 year old about to retire. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been out there, it’s your approach to things.”

Other recent examples:

  • A friend who desperately wanted a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) dumped a newer doula she loved for one with extensive VBAC experience at her provider’s urging. She got the VBAC, but her doula was annoying and pushy and took away from the experience more than she helped.
  • At the very first birth I attended as a doula, the nurse told me that I was one of the best doulas she’d ever seen.
  • A doula who has attended hundreds of births over the years recently told me, “I am no better a doula than I was at my very first birth.”

So why do so many of the “how to choose a doula” articles tell you to ask how many births the doula has attended?

Well, it is something to ask. It’s something that can be measured. Culturally, we’re more comfortable with numbers than amorphous things like emotions and chemistry. But why? What information does number of births tell you? It tells you how many births a doula has attended. That’s it. No more, no less.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

In fact, one of the first lessons I learned as a doula was to not bring the previous births I’d attended into the room. It serves no one. I usually forget which hospital I’m in or if I’ve met this doctor before. Why? Because this client in this moment for this birth—that is my focus. That is what counts.

However, there may be another reason these articles suggest these questions. In an outdated approach, doulas were taught and believed they were protecting women from doctors and hospitals, trying to help them “achieve” a certain type of birth seen as better. In this case, maybe number of births and experience with certain hospitals or providers would matter, since the doula would be trying to game the system or whatever. As you can guess, that is not my take.

So what does an amazing doula do instead?

  • works with you and for you, the client
  • facilitates positive relations with the medical staff
  • tunes in to and supports you (and your partner, if applicable) in having your best birth experience
  • checks her biases at the door to support you fully without judgement
  • makes sure you are getting the information you need, are physically comfortable, and coping well emotionally

Attunement—compassion, respect, emotional intelligence—this cannot be taught. (We can be taught how to better apply our ability to attune to the birth environment.)

Then how do you choose a doula? Meet her virtually or in person to see how you connect. Ask about her approach to this work and her training. Most importantly, do a gut check after your conversation. Did you click? Your connection is the single most important factor in choosing your doula. This will tell you if it makes sense to take the plunge in working together or not, whether she’s fresh out of training or has attended a hundred births. Good luck!

Further Reading:

5 Better Questions to Ask a Potential Doula

Attunement vs. Experience

*The question comes up about 6:35 into this episode of the Savage Lovecast.

see you next year

The most common remark I get when someone wants to describe me is “calm.” I’m constantly told how chill I am in any given situation. 

So, it’s really weird that I’ve felt on the verge of a panic attack for the past week.

Like many of you, I’ve been gutted by the election results and struggling to make sense of it. It has been helpful to read articles and posts by others grappling with these questions. At the same time, the news fans the flames of panic with reports of Klan parties, white supremacists in the cabinet, Russia/FBI election tampering, and the steep increase in hate crimes, harassment, and sexual assault across the country. People trying to act as if it’s all normal and fine if we just believe enough. Media calling spades anything but, because the alternative is too horrifying. The emperor has no clothes. 
 
Human capacity is equal to human cruelty, and it is up to each of us to tip the balance. —Alice Walker
 
The US has come far in many ways. It pains me to see how easily we’re willing to drop all of that. Activists work themselves to burn out for social justice, funders organize and spend billions to save the planet from our abuses, all for teeny incremental improvements. It’s crazy that we have to work SO hard for SO long and spend SO much, just to do the right thing. AND THEN, once a battle is won, we can’t even rest. It’s just so relentless and exhausting, tipping the balance. Dragging humanity forward just to be dragged back the moment our guard slips. No rest for the weary.
I *do* see the good slowly coming of this—speaking out about assaults, abortions, and experiences means more people will understand that these aren’t abstractions. People realizing we can’t rest on the progress we’ve made if we want to keep it. Remember the conservative legislator who suddenly supported gay rights when his son came out, and we were hopeful that he’d meet a woman someday? For whatever reason, it is really hard for some people to imagine and empathize with life and experiences beyond their tiny circles and speaking out and speaking up is one way to expand those circles. 
 
In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.
—Martin Niemöller
 
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. —Edmund Burke.
 
Your silence will not protect you —Audre Lorde 
 
Speaking up is scary. The alternative is worse. We need to keep letting people know when their words and actions are NOT OK. I will do this.
 
I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. —Anne Frank
 
If she can say that while tiptoeing around an attic to avoid concentration camps, that’s something. Ultimately, I agree. We’re implored to understand those in smaller towns and rural areas who are panicking since their way of life is dying. I get it. I get that people feel abandoned and forgotten and wanted to send a big FU to DC. The part that’s hard for me to get is the willingness to throw out all standards of decency, humanity, and American values in the process. And our short memories! 8 years or a generation. I get that humans aren’t rational, but I’m not sure how to operate in a world where facts don’t matter, we can say/do/believe anything just because we feel like it. (Also, is anyone curious as to why we city folk love diversity and the promising aspects of modern changes and education and science and a social safety net and so on and so forth? These values matter, too.
 
When you’re going through hell, keep going. —Winston Churchill
 
So whatever. Here we are. For now, I’m going to reduce my time online significantly to protect my mental health and focus on other things for now like health, family, work, home, Luke Cage, decluttering, and certifications to complete. I’m here for you. I’ll wear the safety pin because I mean it and I will walk you to work or sit with you at lunch or whatever if that helps you feel safer. We’re discussing how to use our privilege to help those who are really going to suffer in the coming days/months/years. It’s the long term relationship-building and organizing that really help and I don’t have that in me right now, so it’ll have to come in different ways. 
 
Good luck and see you in the streets.
 
Things we can do and I’ll be doing:

 

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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!

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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.