Family, Pregnancy

My Thoughts On: Not Taking Maternity Leave

June 5, 2019

I’ve listened recently to a few podcasts from fellow mommas who work for themselves talking about maternity leave and setting yourself up to check out when a new baby enters your family. When I worked a traditional 40 hour/week job before Ainsley was born, I took a traditional maternity leave that entailed checking out completely from all work responsibilities for 12 weeks. It was lovely, and going back to work full-time after Ainsley was born was soul-crushing for me at best. Those first few weeks I felt so sad, isolated and sick to my stomach leaving my baby while I worked.

But! When I transitioned to work from home life and running my own businesses the concept of a maternity leave leading up to Collins’s birth looked a little different than when I had Ainsley. The first being, I didn’t really WANT to take a maternity leave, and in fact I didn’t actually take much more than a week off work (sort of) when she was born. Before you jump all over me telling me to let myself cherish the newborn stage, let’s chat through why I decided (very thoughtfully) to make that choice with Collins and why I’m planning to do the same this time around…

First things first, when you work for yourself maternity leave can look very different than when you have a traditional office job. Would I take a maternity leave if I worked a traditional 9 to 5? YES! A thousand times over and probably try to extend it to four months if I could. But the benefit of working for yourself and working on your terms is that baby gets to go with me when I work. So Ainsley spent a lot of time with our babysitter during the first two months after Collins was born, and Collins came with me to my office, where she mainly slept in a bassinet next to me and I did what I could in my sleep-induced haze to keep my business moving forward. Second, having childcare for Ainsley allowed me to spend more concentrated time with Collins. Sure, I was technically “working” but I allowed myself plenty of grace during those months to nap on my office couch with baby Collins if I needed to, and took plenty of time to respond to messages with a sleeping baby on my chest, so it wasn’t all terribly hard or grueling work I was doing.

Second, I tend to have a really hard time with the newborn stage. I wish it wasn’t the case, but it’s hard for me and I’m finally coming around to admitting that. Having the structure of at least some amount of work and focus to my days has been tremendously helpful for my mental state as I go through the transition to having a new baby in our family and increased demands on my time and energy. It may seem strange that adding one MORE thing to my plate (work) helps me feel less overwhelmed but it does! Add to that list things like running, working out, blogging, etc. and it all helps me feel like myself when I tend to feel anything but normal. Yes, welcoming a new baby into your family is a tremendously special experience and something I’m SO excited about, but it’s okay to not want to spend three straight months living in newborn-land without things like work, working out, and traditional structure. Do what works for you and what will make you feel the most like yourself.

Finally, I touched on this a bit above, but having childcare lined up and forgoing a traditional maternity leave actually allows me MORE time to enjoy a newborn, in my opinion. Although I may work and get things done while baby sleeps, there is also a lot of time to rest. Physical rest is hard to come by when you have other kiddos at home, so sitting at a computer and using my brain vs. feeling physically pushed while I’m recovering is wonderful for me, for baby, and for the girls who will get out and about more than they would with me and their new baby brother. Joe is going to be really busy in the late summer/fall with work projects, football coaching, etc. so it honestly makes me feel SO much better about our transition to three knowing I will have the additional support of our very beloved childcare provider.

So, I hope the novel encourages you to tune out the noise about what you should or shouldn’t do, and pave a maternity leave path that works for YOU and your family. There truly is no right way to do maternity leave!

Madison

Family

Breastfeeding Round 3

May 29, 2019

I’m writing this post while 30 weeks pregnant and before baby’s arrival because I’ve gotten a few questions about my plans once baby boy arrives and if I plan to breastfeed. Maybe it’s a personal question for some, but since I’ve blogged about our journey with both Ainsley and Collins, it is something I’m happy to talk about.

Breastfeeding has been a topic that has been really tough for me. I can see/understand the value that it has for baby and have made an effort to give both our girls a great start with breastmilk both times. As Joe has reminded me, even a couple weeks is better than nothing, and so I’ve made very modest goals both with Ainsley and Collins and given myself the grace to switch to formula after that point if it was what was best for me + our family as a whole.

And that’s what I want to make sure is clear first and foremost: While on paper breastmilk is certainly and undoubtedly the best nutritional choice for baby, as I’ve gone down this path I’ve realized that rarely is the decision of what is “best for baby” as clear as what is nutritionally superior on paper. It’s my main issue with the catchy “breast is best” slogan, because it doesn’t capture the complexity of what goes into being best for baby. Those other factors being:

1. Mom’s mental health and well-being. I personally have found breastfeeding to cause a lot of mental anguish and don’t feel emotionally “normal” until I wean.

2. The family as a whole. Closely tied to what is mentioned above, but each new baby is part of our family unit and it’s important that whatever decision I made in regards to breastfeeding or not takes into account what will allow me to be the best and most emotionally stable and available mom to everyone in our family, not just baby.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking/praying about what decision or posture would be best and healthiest to have toward this baby’s arrival. I’ve gone between wanting not to breastfeed at all, to wanting to fully commit to giving it an earnest try for the long haul. Instead of falling into one extreme or other other, I’ve settled on the following:

My hope is to set a small and modest goal of six weeks to start. Enough to get baby on a good start nutritionally and for me to get my feet under me a bit in terms of finding a groove that (hopefully) works for us. In my heart, I would love to experience what I haven’t experienced prior – which is a more successful long-term breastfeeding experience than I did with both girls. Not knowing if this will be our last baby or not, I find myself not wanting to have any regrets that I didn’t give breastfeeding a real, earnest try before deciding it wasn’t for me.

So, my hope is that I can make it to six months as a best-case scenario, but I’m taking the entire thing with a VERY open hand and very open mind that there is so much more to being a great momma and giving this baby my best than simply breastfeeding any self-imposed amount of time. And if I’m six weeks in and it doesn’t work for us, giving myself a lot of grace to move forward with formula and without a second thought!

Madison

Family

Traveling // La Playa Beach and Golf Resort – Naples, FL

May 24, 2019

We just returned from the most wonderful four days in Naples, Florida, where we stayed at La Playa Beach & Golf Resort and took in some much-needed SUN as well as rest and relaxation. In light of our need to cancel our trip to Iceland for Ainsley’s ear surgery we decided to squeeze in a really quick four day vacation while we could. Our days as a family of four are seeming more and more numbered, and with the girls at such relatively easy ages for travel, we wanted to take advantage while we could!

We picked Naples, Florida, because we knew we wanted to park ourselves at a beach and enjoy some sunshine. And once we settled on the beach + sunshine we decided to head to Naples to see Joe’s sister, Amber, and her family while we were there!

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the years traveling and going to the beach is that staying right ON the beach is worth every penny you pay. Especially when you’re traveling with young kiddos (who frequently need snacks + potty breaks + etc.) and not being within driving distance (aka we didn’t travel with things like beach chairs, towels, a cooler, etc.) being on the beach made our trip so fun and relaxing.

La Playa Beach & Golf Resort came recommended by a friend who is from the area and I’m SO glad we decided to stay there. While this isn’t sponsored in any way and we paid a hefty price tag for our stay there, I had to rave about the resort and share a few details about our experience since I got a lot of questions on Instagram about where we stayed!

As I mentioned, the price tag was hefty (even more so because we stayed on a ground-floor Lanai suite that walked straight out onto a patio that was just feet from the beach) but the amenities and convenience made it worth it. We stayed for three nights and four days, the perfect amount of time to feel recharged and refreshed yet ready to head back home.

Some of our favorite perks of the hotel:
1. Each day they have complimentary chair/umbrella/beach towel service and someone from the resort will set up as many chairs, tables and umbrellas as you need. This was awesome since, as I mentioned, we didn’t travel with any of our beach gear.

2. Beachside drink/food service was available each day as well. We didn’t eat our meals out at the beach (the girls were ready for a lunch break and nap time each day) but having the option was really nice.

3. FIVE swimming pools! Although pre-kids I wouldn’t have said this was necessary when you go to the beach, having the pools available was great. We spent most mornings at the beach, then came inside and cleaned up for lunch/nap time. Joe and I read on the patio while the girls napped, then we headed to the pool for the afternoon. It was amazing how quickly our days flew by with this schedule.

4. Great on-site restaurants. We enjoyed a lovely outdoor breakfast each morning, and since there weren’t a ton of families with kiddos there, we enjoyed having the restaurant nearly to ourselves at 7:30 am when our kids were already awake and ready to eat!

5. Friendly and Helpful Staff. While I can’t say the resort was “kid focused” by any means, it was definitely still kid-friendly. The staff welcomed the girls with their own little backpacks filled with a coloring book and a stuffed animal turtle, and they were all so friendly to the girls. The Pack and Play was already set up in our room when we arrived (why is this such a perk to me?! But it is! Mainly because I’ve had so many times where I have a kiddo ready for a nap and it takes a dozen calls to get a crib to the room) and there were small fridges in the room and really effective blackout shades (great for mid-day naps and keeping milk cold in the fridge).

Aside from the resort itself, we didn’t do a whole lot aside from going between the beach and the pool and back to the beach. It was so so recharging to travel with the girls at these ages and really take it slow/easy without much of an agenda for our time in Naples. We also managed to travel SUPER light this time around by doing the following:

1. We packed entirely in carry-on suitcases this time. Joe and I each took a carry-on and we each put the stuff needed for one of the girls in our respective suitcases. Since Collins is now potty trained and only needs diapers at night, it was nice to not take up half a suitcase with diapers. The hotel provided a pack and play, we bought beach toys at Target when we arrived, we rented car seats from our car rental service (Hertz) and only took a small umbrella stroller.

2. Ainsley was allowed to pack a backpack of things she wanted to take, including some toys and games for the plane, snacks, stuffed animals, etc. Joe and I also each took one backpack and that was it! It was SO nice not to be loaded down with stuff, and when we ended up delayed in the St. Louis airport for nearly even hours it was really nice to have all of our stuff with us both for travel plan changes AND to keep everyone clothed/happy/occupied while we waited.

One Last Note:

Joe and I talked multiple times over our trip about how GOOD it was to be reminded of the value of taking our girls outside of their comfort zone and making it a priority to travel with them at young ages. Even at the ages of 2 and 4 they are both experienced fliers and generally good travelers. BUT! That doesn’t mean that we don’t have our fair share of times when we wonder if it’s all worth it. Because the meltdowns happen, and the effort it takes to travel with little people is REAL. It’s work for us as parents, but it’s something we are committed to because we see the value in exposing the girls to new places, things and testing their flexibility muscles.

Even over the course of our short trip, I saw how much growth had happened in terms of them getting better about sitting still through restaurant meals. And on the flight home when faced with a seven hour delay in the St. Louis airport, a tornado warning that forced us to seek shelter in the bathroom for an hour, and getting home at 2 am, they were so flexible and adaptable. Much more than I had given them credit for previously.

So take the trips, make the memories, and know that your little ones will be better off because of it! 🙂

Madison

Family

Transitioning to a Shared Room

May 14, 2019

As we prepare for baby brother to arrive in less than three months, I’ve been on a mission to get all the “big hurdles” taken care of. There have been a few looming items that have been on my pre-baby mental to-do list. Now knowing what it’s like to transition to having a new baby in the house while also having other kiddos to care for, I think my desire to tackle these items sooner rather than later is stronger than it was when we were waiting on Collins to arrive.

The two biggest items:
1. Potty train Collins (done!)
2. Transition the girls into the same room

Now that we have potty training under our belt for the most part, I’ve set my sights on the big room transition. I’ve been under NO illusion that it’s going to be easy to get these two sleeping together in the same room, but I figure it’s better to tackle it sooner rather than later when I’m the momma of a sleep-deprived newborn.

The long-term plan for the girls is to have them share bunk beds we already have installed in Ainsley’s room (we have THESE bunks for those that are curious and hands-down recommend them!) But! We had a heck of a time transitioning Ainsley into a big-girl bed and want to keep Collins in her crib as long as possible. So our current set-up includes bunk beds + a crib in the room they will share. Eventually with the plan to move Collins into the bottom bunk when she is closer to three.

We’ve now had two nights of transitioning the girls into their shared room situation and I’ll be honest in saying that I’m writing this while currently VERY exhausted from a night of interrupted sleep. It’s not proven to be the smoothest process thus far!

One of our biggest issues is that the girls both fall asleep very differently. Ainsley likes to play quietly and usually has to come out at least once or twice for things she “needs” and eventually falls asleep with a small lamp or closet light on. Collins is used to falling asleep in a pitch black room, she usually cries and fusses a bit before she finds her groove and falls asleep on her own without any distractions, things in her crib, etc.

So, we are currently working through figuring out our groove. Both girls are usually pretty good sleepers once they fall asleep. But! The last two nights there have been unusual wake-ups and interruptions during the night as well.

A few steps we are taking next:
1. Black-out shades for the room. Collins is used to sleeping in such a dark room that I think this new lighting situation is causing some issues with her sleep at night.

2. A consistent bed time routine together. Now that they are sleeping together in the same room, we are in need of establishing a new normal for their bedtime routine.

3. Clear boundaries about bed time and wake time. They have a green OK To Wake Clock that they both use to know when it’s OK to get up/out of their room, but I’ve admittedly been a little lax the last few days about letting them get out of the room as soon as soon as they wake up.

4. Time and consistency. With more time and consistency I’m hoping they work things out on their own and get used to sleeping in the same space. I’ve heard it can take a little while for them to get used to one another.

Mommas who have been through this transition with your own kiddos, does it get better? What tips do you have for making the transition as smooth as possible?

Madison

Family

My First Experience Using a Travel Agent // Heather Christopher Travel

May 9, 2019

Hi Friends! Today I’m SO excited to share all about our family’s experience using a travel agent for the first time as we planned our trip to Iceland! But first, let me back-up and give you a bit of background on our travel history and how this all came about. Because a year ago I would have told you that a travel agent was absolutely NOT for me, and now I’ve totally changed my tune. Here’s why:

First things first, I am someone who loves to plan trips. I’ve always been the trip planner in our family – I planned our pre-baby trip to Italy all on my own, I planned a trip to Spain with my mom and cousin while in college, and have always been the coordinator of all our family vacations in the states. I love finding a great hotel and all the details that go into planning a great trip.

That said, as we looked up against our family’s trip to Iceland and how busy work and life had become I didn’t feel excited to plan our trip, I felt daunted by coordinating a trip with two littles to a country I had never been while also trying to juggle all my work and life responsibilities. I started crowd-sourcing suggestions on Instagram and Facebook, and that’s when Heather of Heather Christopher Travel reached out to me about outsourcing my trip planning to her and her amazing team!

I nearly said “no!” but then the busy, overwhelmed side of me thought it would be really nice to give Heather our travel dates, budget, and hopes for the trip and let her do the rest. And you know what? I’m SO glad that I did! I have never felt more relieved to hand something over to someone who is an expert in her field and had real-life experience in the country we were going to travel to. Going forward, I can say without a doubt that I would hands-down use Heather again for any larger trip we plan to take as a family.

I asked Heather if she would share a little bit more about how she got to where she is today and why you, too, might want to consider using her services for your own trip!

BONUS: There is a great deal on Heather’s trip-planning services at the bottom of this post just for Espresso and Cream readers!

Q: Hi Heather! Can you tell me a little bit about your background, company and how you got started with you company, Heather Christopher Travel?

A: The short version is that my family used a travel agent growing up and I was always a driving force behind our family vacation plans alongside my dad!  

I lost my dad to cancer my senior year of high school and had a dream before he passed that I became a travel agent (crazy, right?!) so I woke up that following morning, immediately researched schools and within a week had changed my college plans.  My future was sped up even faster by my then boyfriend-now husband being in the Marine Corps so when I decided the traditional college route was not for me, I got a travel agent diploma online (I even learned to handwrite airline tickets #thisdoesntexistanymore), got married and found a job at a brick & mortar travel agency in Woodbridge, VA all in six months!  I spent ten years working there; I earned awards, traveled and managed the agency before having our second daughter. We then decided to move closer to our families near Gettysburg, PA in ‘15. I opened my own agency on May 15, 2016 and here we are three years later!

Our goal is to help time-starved couples and families plan seamless vacations!

Q: What is the value to a couple/family in hiring a travel agent like yourself vs. doing it themselves?

This could be a ten-page paper so I’ll point out the highlights:

  1. Stress-Free Travel: Imagine not having to google 5000 things and get 10,000 results. Along with knowing that someone, an actual human you know, has your back in case things go wrong.
  2. Trusted Advisor: We all love to crowdsource via the ‘gram or Facebook but then you’re getting an answer that reflects that person’s experience, not necessarily the one you want to have or fits your needs/budget/time of year. Travel advisors literally travel and plan trips for a living – we are in the “trenches” day in and day out versus your well-meaning family & friends who plan one or two trips on average a year or every other. We’re getting industry related e-mails on a daily basis to keep us up to date on what’s open, what’s closed, and what’s changing in the world of travel!
  3. Time-Saving: This goes hand in hand with the first one, but most of our clients are busy professionals and/or parents that don’t have the time or energy to dedicate to planning their vacations.
  4. Value-Added: The travel industry is the business of people – it’s all in who you know. We spend a lot of time with hotels from around the world and their sales teams, meeting guides, trying out transportation companies, learning about new companies as we’re trying to match up you to the right on the ground partner! With that we get other value-added amenities at a lot of hotels – that means comped breakfast, room upgrades, early check-in and late check-out (all subject to availability + property policy, of course).

Q: How much do your services cost? Do you find people get more bang for their buck when working with you even though you have a planning fee for your services?

A: Our services range from $350 – $500 on average. We charge $350 for trips a week or less and $500 for trips longer than a week or anything within 30 days of departure. Our loyal clients pay even lower fees or nothing depending on their needs.

And yes! Our partnerships mean our clients are treated like gold and everything is taken care of so a lot less money spent on the ground because you were prepared and/or had everything pre-paid. Also, we rarely remember how much we spent on a trip unless something goes wrong, right? Most Americans take one vacation a year, so we focus a lot on how our clients feel because it’s got to hold them for an entire year, if not longer and we want you to remember how great it was!

I do want to mention that if you are a bargain hunter then working with an advisor is likely not the best fit. We want the best value for your budget, but use resources that we trust and have worked with versus just finding the least expensive price somewhere on the world wide web.

Q: Have you personally traveled to all the locations that you plan trips for?

A: 95.6% of the trips I plan, I have been there, but if not, I work with destination management companies (DMC as we call them) to plan vacations for places I haven’t been…it’s rare for me to be truly stumped on a location because of my colleagues. That being said, it is why I avoid planning trips to China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. I haven’t been and don’t have a driving desire to see those locations so I hand it off to a colleague who knows and loves it <3

Q: What is one of the biggest mistakes you see families with little kids making when deciding to take a larger trip?

Love this question! Trying to fit it all in! It’s really common, in general, for Americans to think I want to see Paris, Rome, Prague + Athens all in 10 days! We try to remind you that, you wouldn’t try to see Boston, New York, Philly + DC in 10 days – same deal in other locations. Take your list and cut 50% of it in most situations.

Going back to the above mentioned idea of memories + how you’ll feel, you don’t want to need a vacation from your vacation, especially when traveling with the littles! Room for grace is essential!

Q: What is your best piece of advice for traveling internationally with very little kids?

Snacks + low expectations! Expect the worst and I’m sure you’ll end up pleasantly surprised 😉

Q: Favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?

This is like picking a favorite child 😉

But the answer is always Hawaii.  I adore, ADORE Australia and New Zealand and can always go back to Greece and Italy, and I’ve loved every experience for a different reason, but Hawaii is my place of peace.

With over a decade of travel planning experience I have probably seen or heard what you’re asking for, I love nothing more than a couple or family saying “You made this so easy. It was amazing!”

Your vacation time and dollars are so precious and we’re appreciative of your trust with them!

SPECIAL DEAL FOR ESPRESSO AND CREAM READERS:
Heather has graciously agreed to offer all Espresso and Cream readers $100 off her trip planning fees for any trips booked between now and June 30th, 2019. Just reach out to her via email (heather@heatherchristophertravel.com) and mention that you read about her on Espresso and Cream!

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