The things you learn…

holding hands

I’m a total planner.

I like to have things organized. I like to have goals to work towards. And I like it when things go according to (my) plan.

So when this baby decided she was going to come via C-Section, my whole world become one big unknown in the span of 24 hours.

I had no idea what to expect from the procedure itself. And I had little to no idea of what the recovery process would be like. I tried to read a few articles here and there, but most of them just talked about taking pain medication, walking as soon as you could, and waiting for the doctor to clear you for “activity” of all kinds. Until then, it was a whole lot of gray.

Now that I’m 3+ weeks into the recovery process, there are (more than) a few things that surprised me.

Recovering from a c-section

The swelling. Oh, the swelling.
The last 4-6 weeks of my pregnancy were filled with swelling. I totally had Shrek feet. Clothing became super tight in the legs (goodbye skinny jeans, hello leggings and yoga pants). I stopped being able to wear my wedding bands. And three fingers on my right hand went numb.

To say that I was excited to have this baby so the swelling would go away is an understatement.

Sadly, the exact opposite happen. The swelling got WAY worse before it started to get better. Meaning, my entire body (and face) ballooned up and I was super uncomfortable. It’s finally gone down to the point where my feet aren’t swollen and I can actually get my weddings bands back on.

Glory. Hallelujah.

The bump…stays.
I’m not sure what I thought happened immediately after giving birth, but it didn’t really include having a pregnant looking belly still.

I know, I know. Rationally, it makes sense that the belly doesn’t just immediately disappear. But, seriously. It really doesn’t go away that quickly. Thankfully, I packed my favorite yoga pants and maternity leggings so I was comfortable in the hospital and on the way home.

At 3 weeks postpartum, I look about 3-4 months pregnant and am still in my maternity clothing.

I am seriously happy at how the bump has started to go down and am actually beginning to recognize my body again.

Abdominal bands.
The one things I did read about with regard to a C-Section was how helpful abdominal bands like the Belly Bandit* are when it comes to recovery.

I can confidently say that this was a godsend. Not only did it help with the whole compression of the incision thing, it also helped to keep all my parts together when laughing, coughing, or sneezing. I’m not sure I could have been quick enough on the draw to grab a pillow like they recommend.

Thankfully the hospital provided a band for me when I asked, so didn’t have to go out and buy one. But I totally would have gone out and bought one otherwise.

The joys of breastfeeding.
It seems like all of my deepest fears about pregnancy and parenthood revolved around breastfeeding. I have no idea why this was the target of it all, but it was. Add surgery into the mix, and holy crap did this get even more intensified for me.

It took a lot of trial and error to figure out what was most comfortable.

Suffice it to say the football hold made a huge difference. As did lots of pillows—instead of the Boppy*—in the very beginning because of the incision and the way my belly was still big, and using the My Brest Friend* nursing pillow when we got home.

It also took a lot of work to let go of the huge amount of guilt I felt around taking pain medication while breastfeeding.

Oh, and whoever tells you that breastfeeding doesn’t hurt in the beginning is LYING. That first 10-20 seconds are torture. It does get better over time, but the first few days to week(s) are intense. Like eyes-rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head intense. I took to singing ridiculous songs like Row, Row, Row Your Boat just to distract myself.

Holy hormones, batman.
It’s one thing to know about the Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression. It is another thing entirely to experience it.

I had a major hormone crash while in the hospital (that kind of sent me into a tailspin), and a few others once I got home. So weird to be crying hysterically, knowing that there is nothing wrong but not being able to stop it.

Naps and breastfeeding seemed to really help balance me out. As did the pain medication.

The ravenous hunger (and thirst).
I thought I knew what hunger was. Then I became pregnant. And really thought I knew what hunger was.

Yeah…nothing compares the hunger I am feeling while breastfeeding. I wake up ravenous. I go to bed ravenous. I feel ravenous immediately after eating a big meal.

And thirsty. So thirsty, in fact, that I’ve taken to keeping not one but two water bottles on my night stand (along with a handful of snacks), because inevitably, one isn’t enough.

Living life in 2-3 hour chunks.
This has probably been the biggest adjustment for me. I am so not used to having to plan my life in 2-3 hour chunks. And am finding that my brain is having a really hard time with this one.

Pre-baby, I would just wake up (after 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep), shower, have breakfast, and then go sit in my office and work for 6-8 hours with a small break for lunch, before stopping to make dinner.


I have to decide whether I want to shower or eat or nap before feeding the baby again. And then IF I’m lucky, get a 20 minute stretch at the computer (if she’ll nap in her crip and not on me). The rest of my time is spent feeding the baby, huffing her head, and cuddling with her.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m loving every second I have with the baby. I’m just adjusting to our new normal.

Granny panties.
I’ll admit that I thought it was a weird suggestion in all of the “What to Pack for the Hospital” lists to have cotton underwear that was a bit…higher waisted.

Now that I’m on the other side, I totally get it.

Having a bikini line incision, and then trying to wear bikini cut panties is like a special kind of hell. I had to dig deep in the underwear drawer to find some suitable options that weren’t going to irritate my incision.

My recommendation, don’t be vain. Get the damn granny panties and be comfortable. You’re not exactly going to feel like having sexy time (nor will you be cleared for it) for a while.

Emily and Anna

And there you have it. The first three weeks of life with a new baby.

I’m learning a little something new—about motherhood, myself, The Hubster—everyday.

Also feeling like my heart is going to explode with sheer happiness every time I look down at the beautiful baby in my arms.

Life. is. good.

PS—Didn’t have a chance to read about how Anna came into this world? You can find it here.

PPS—The * indicates where there is an affiliate link on Amazon.

PPPS—Many thanks to My Mama, Janet Towbin, for the gorgeous photos.


Pittsburgh Guest Blogger Event 2014: An Unexpected Mother

This post comes from Shannon of A Librarian’s Lists and Letters , and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. You can see my post over on Don’t Forget to Eat, where I am sharing some delicious ideas for putting together your very own refrigerator oats collection.



When I was assigned to write for Emily’s blog in this exchange, I was a little intimidated. So much of what Emily writes is to inspire others, to shine light on the world, and to give voices to wonderful women that not everyone knows.

But that moment of intimidation was fleeting and I soon knew what I would share with her and her readers.  See, I’ve had a big change in my life in the last year and I wanted to be able to share my story. Because stories come in all colors. And motherhood can be found in all shapes and sizes.

This time last year I was the most single of single women.

I was the 30-something silently, and not-so-silently, judging the slew of Facebook moms over sharing their child’s world and feeling like society only placed value on women who grew up, got married, and popped out a few children as quickly as possible.

Quite honestly, I sometimes felt like there was no place for a woman like me:  professional, witty, intelligent, and single but not by choice.

But life has this really funny habit of turning our world’s upside downs.

And just when I finished celebrating my 10-year college reunion and accepted that I might be the perpetually single friend, I fell in love. And the man I fell in love with is a dad. And now I live with two funny men: one in his 30s and the other just shy of one.

So now I wake up to little giggles coming from the next room over, let someone hold my hairbrush while getting ready for work in the morning, pack lunches for daycare, give the best tickles in the house, cheer excitedly for small milestones, pretend to eat bites of food for encouragement, sing endless rounds of baby tunes, dance the freeze dance, coax steps across the living room, and hush a tired little boy to sleep as he curls up in my lap every night.

And when he leaves us to spend the other fifty percent of the week at his other house, I miss him. I long to hear his laughter.  I think about what he’s up to. I wonder if he misses us. I love him when he’s near and I love when he’s far.

But I didn’t give birth to him.

I didn’t adopt him.

And because his dad and I aren’t married yet, I don’t even have the flimsy and unsentimental title of step-mom.

I’m an unexpected mother.

An unexpected mother doesn’t go to doctor’s appointments or talk to daycare teachers. And an unexpected mother can’t call and talk to her little baby when he’s gone and she misses him. And an unexpected mother can get hurt by the reactions of friends and acquaintances.

People, even the ones closest to me, don’t always know how to react to my situation.

A year ago I might have felt the same. But now, as unexpected mother, I wish these things for my friends and myself:

  • For the friends closest to me to think of me as a mom and to ask me about my family.
  • For them to celebrate the new loves of my life and look forward to that day when our baby will start talking.
  • And when he does hit those milestone, for those same friends to help me discover what perfect name or title he should call me.
  • For people not to judge without knowing the full story. Not every single dad was a philanderer.
  • For me to stop worrying so much about what I cannot control.
  • For me to share this experience with others.

The more loving families in the world, no matter their composition, the better we all are.

But this is one journey that’s just beginning and we all need as much as help as we can get.


Participating Blogs:

Caroline Shannon-Karasik + The Gluten-Free Revolution (Giveaway)

Well Hello There | Sincerely Caroline

Today is a bit of a hybird Everyday Heroes post and an interview with Caroline Shannon-Karasik, author of The Gluten-Free Revolution. Caroline is a fellow health coach, foodie, and the founder of the popular gluten-free lifestyle site, Sincerely Caroline.

When Caroline first reached out to me to review a copy of her cookbook, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical. I have never loved gluten-free cookbooks, finding that they either contain a ton of specialty ingredients, or the recipes are so far out there that the general population would not be interested in making them.

When the cookbook arrived, every skeptical thought and doubt was erased by the sheer awesomeness of the book. From the first chapter where Caroline talks about her journey into Gluten-Free living, through the recipe section, and into the final pages of The Lifestyle section.

Then I had the opportunity to speak with Caroline. We talked about living with food sensitivities, how the changes one makes as a result involve more than just the food you consume, and how very important it is to create healthy and delicious meals so that you don’t ever feel like you are missing out.

I asked Caroline if she would be comfortable sharing some of the “lesser known” details about her journey into a gluten-free lifestyle, to which she graciously agreed.

She also (graciously) agreed to give away a signed copy of The Gluten-Free Revolution to one lucky reader. Details to follow the interview.

Carline Shannon-Karasik

Name: Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Job/Title: Author of The Gluten-Free Revolution // healthy lifestyle writer and health coach
Where you call home: Pittsburgh, PA
Twitter: @SincerelyCSK

When did you first find out that you had Celiac disease?

I was diagnosed in late September 2010. My husband and I were living in Dayton at the time and had decided to spend a lovely fall weekend at an annual Oktoberfest celebration. We had a breakfast of stuffed homemade crepes at our friends’ nearby home and then made our way up the hill to enjoy music, local vendors and, of course, beer. Within the hour I was doubled over in pain.

This wasn’t the first time I was plagued by a host of digestive issues after eating and/or drinking. In fact, now that I know and understand the symptoms of celiac disease (or a gluten intolerance) I can see red flags dating back as far as my childhood.

That day, however, was the last straw. For much of my 20s, I had been to doctor after doctor trying to figure out what was wrong with me and received little to no answers. My white blood cell count was out of control, my immune system weak and the digestive pain was persistent. I was always tired and I had migraines that would last for sometimes 5-6 days at a time. But despite having been tested for every autoimmune condition under the sun –– lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and more –– it wasn’t until that fall in 2010 that my answer finally came: I had celiac disease.

What was life like prior to your diagnosis?
My symptoms of a problem with gluten really came to a head during my early 20s, right around the time I first started dating my now-husband. I always tease him and say, “Why did you still like me?!” because so many of our dinners ended with me on the couch, nauseous and in pain.

Like so many people who have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, I suffered from digestive upset, migraines, lack of energy, persistent illness, joint pain, foggy brain and more. I spent more time in the bathroom than I would ever care to recount (nor would you care to hear about).

What changed for you once you cut gluten from your diet?
As so many of us know, our digestive system can take years to truly heal after removing gluten from the diet. However, within two weeks I started to notice that my migraines had significantly decreased and I had much more energy. I wasn’t waking up in the morning with nearly as much joint pain and I was finally beginning to eat a meal and not run to the bathroom immediately after I had finished.

Tell us about your new book, The Gluten-Free Revolution.
The Gluten-Free Revolution susses out the difference between gluten-free food and healthy gluten-free food. The growing awareness of gluten-free diets has been largely beneficial to those of us who suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but it has also caused large manufacturers to latch onto the fad-like nature of the “gluten-free” label. It’s also resulted in a lot of misconception about what a gluten-free lifestyle looks like. Packaged snacks and overly processed foods are always unhealthy –– gluten-free or not.

The Gluten-Free Revolution brings readers back to basics and shows people that a gluten-free diet looks like any healthy diet minus the inclusion of very specific ingredients (wheat, barley, rye and contaminated oats). I don’t subscribe to an all-or-nothing lifestyle (with the exception of always eating gluten-free because of having celiac disease), so the book also relies on my philosophy that you can have your green smoothie and gluten-free brownie too –– and I wholeheartedly believe that.

I chose to include fitness in the book because I think that so often we focus on our gluten-free lifestyle as the defining characteristic of this big, beautiful life we lead. And I don’t completely blame us for that –– being gluten-free has had a huge impact on my life and has clearly shaped my dietary choices. But this gluten-free life of mine involves so much more than the food I consume on a daily basis! And fitness, for example, is a large aspect of the healthy life I choose to lead.

I want people to see that shaping their best gluten-free lives involves the whole picture: healthy foods, fitness, meaningful relationships, discovering a level of serenity, and so on. All of those things won’t always be in check –– and that’s OK. But it’s important that when we are seeking health, we address each aspect of our lives and not just the food we eat. Otherwise, we set ourselves up for feelings of disappointment –– gluten-free or not.

What has been the most impactful part of the journey for you?
Meeting other people is hands down my favorite part of this experience. Even though I have been traveling this path for a bit now, I am consistently inspired by the people I meet along the way. I love hearing their stories of how they discovered a gluten-free lifestyle and learning more about what is important to them as the journey forward. It helps me in the kitchen and it fuels my want to continue sharing information with readers.

What’s on tap for you next?
I am passionate about working with the pre-college/young adult crowd and they are definitely on my radar in terms of how I am shaping my future projects.

Famous last words—share your favorite inspirational quote, thought, image, or idea.
It’s cheeky, but couldn’t be a truer way to live your life. I remind myself of this Cheryl Strayed quote on a daily basis: “The best thing you can possibly do with this life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.

The Gluten-Free Revolution by Caroline Shannon-Karasik

The Giveaway!

One lucky guy or gal will win a signed copy of Caroline’s book, The Gluten-Free Revolution.

You can do any or all of the following to enter. The more you do, the more chances you have to win. Capiche?

  1. Comment on the blog tell me why you want your very own copy.
  2. Tweet the following (click here to tweet):
    Hey @emilylevenson and @SincerelyCSK, I want my green smoothie and gluten-free brownie too! »
  3. Post about it on Facebook, and then link back in the comments.
  4. Instagram it! Make sure to tag me (@emilylevenson) so I see it!
  5. Blog about the giveaway and/or what gluten-free living means to you, and then link back in the comments.

Giveaway officially ends on March 13th at midnight (ET). Winner announced on March 14th.

Get your own copy.

And if you don’t feel like jumping through the aforementioned hoops OR want to get a copy for all of your friends (which I highly encourage you to do), you can purchase The Gluten-Free Revolution here.

The Underbelly of Pregnancy

The Underbelly of Pregnancy(Original Image Source: Huffington Post)

Spoiler Alert: This post is going to be full of things that could be categorized as TMI. If you’re squeemish about bodily functions, or just don’t care about anything related to pregnancy, feel free to skip this one.

I’ll be the first to admit that I went into this whole pregnancy thing with a very basic knowledge of what happens to the body.

Some of it I learned in the brief period I was pregnant last year, the rest vicariously through other’s pregnancies. And while I felt like I knew what was coming, the reality is most people don’t share the full picture.

I mean, who really wants to spend precious girl-bonding time talking about embarrassing bodily functions?!

And while this list is based on my current experiences and an easy pregnancy to date (i.e.—no morning sickness, minimal indigestion, limited discomfort), there are a few things that I’d wish I’d known. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk candidly with other women (including a childbirth educator) who have filled in some gaps.

Oh, and one more note: every pregnancy is different. So if you aren’t experiencing any of these things, that’s okay. Trust your body and your doctor.

The Underbelly of Pregnancy: 10 Things No One Will Tell You, But Should.

1. Pregnancy nose and nose bleeds.

I’m not sure when they first started for me, but I’d be hard pressed to remember a time when I didn’t wake up congested or see blood in the tissue after blowing my nose. Most of the time the blood has been dried, but there have been a few times where it’s been a full-on nosebleed that’s hard to stop.

Maybe it’s because everything gets dried out, or that the body is running on overdrive for the baby. Either way, it’s a simple fact of pregnancy life. Better invest in good quality tissues (you know, the super soft kind with lotion), or you are going to have a red, raw nose for 30+ weeks.

2. Constipation like WHOA.

I have never in my life been more constipated than during pregnancy. And we’re not talking any regular old constipation. We’re talking the haven’t-pooped-for-days-and-when-you-finally-go-you-want-to-die variety of constipation. There have been times when I’ve actually been afraid that I’m going to hurt the baby (or push her out) because the bowels are so difficult to pass.

The bigger you get, the more painful and uncomfortable it gets.

3. Speaking of poop…

One of the mantras on repeat during our first Confident Birthing Class is poop means progress. And we’re not talking about pooping during pregnancy like we were when talking about constipation. We’re talking pooping when you give birth. It’s normal, natural, and a good sign that things are progressing.

Your body, after all, has to make room for the baby to go down the birth canal. Just know that it can happen as early as a few days prior to going into labor all the way through giving birth.

4. Your body image will be tested.

As someone with a healthy view of her body, I have been rattled by how pregnancy has made me feel about my body from time to time. On a general whole, I have been loving watching my body change and my belly grow with each passing week. But there are definitely days where I feel massive, ugly, and just plain uncomfortable in my own skin.

It has also been hard to watch the scale go up 20-30lbs, even though I know rationally that it’s necessary and good. The Hubster has been great about showering me with love and complements about how amazing I look, but it doesn’t always matter.

Just know that even when you’re happy and confident and in love with what’s happening to your body, it’s possible (and normal even) to have a bad day or three.

5. The ravenous hunger.

There comes a point during pregnancy where your body just tells you to eat. Even after you’ve just finished two helpings of dinner and had a slice of pie.

It hit for me around 26 weeks and hasn’t really let up since. I’ve tried to keep it healthy by having lots of fruit and other “good” snacks around like hummus and veggies. I also try to add in more water, since I’m always thirsty. But, sometimes a girl just want a brownie. And cake. And…pretty much everything on Pinterest.

6. Oh, the invasive questions and sharing of opinions.

I am always a bit shocked at the kind of things people will ask a pregnant woman. And I’m not talking about conversations with friends, I’m talking conversations with people in the grocery store while waiting to check out.

You know, the people who ask you if you plan on breast-feeding your baby, because it’s __________ (the best thing ever, the only appropriate way to feed a baby, completely disgusting…). Also, everyone feels the need to load you down with advice about what (or what not) to do as a parent.

I mostly just smile and nod, and then walk away knowing that we are going to do what’s right for us.

7. Sneezing feels like an attack on your life.

Every few weeks or so, my ribs feel like they are about to pop open. Add sneezing into the mix, and holy WOW does that hurt. I swear the last time I sneezed, I thought I cracked 3 ribs.

Even when your ribs aren’t feeling stretched to capacity, sneezing requires bracing yourself and pains shooting through your body. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

8. Fear of the unknown.

The emotional side of pregnancy has probably been more difficult for me than the physical stuff.

And I’m not talking about mood swings or meltdowns (though, those do happen). I’m talking about the fear of the unknown. This has shown up mostly for me around things like “how on earth will I keep this baby alive?!” and “how can I plan for anything when I don’t know what life is going to be like after April?!”.

Everyone says you just figure it out. Which I’m sure is true. But how?!

9. When the baby moves, it hurts.

The first time I felt the baby moving, it was magical. The fluttering, the knowing she was in there, the constant awareness that she was there…all fabulous. As she got bigger, her “kicks” got stronger. And there have been times when it’s been extremely painful and near impossible to sleep.

Also, not all kicks are felt in the “belly”. I feel a lot of kicks “down there”, which is a very polite way of saying she’s kicking my ass and my girly bits.

I’m not going to lie, the first time it happened I was terrified something was wrong.

So, I Googled it.

Don’t do that.

10. The guilt.

Maybe it’s part of my training for becoming a Jewish mother, or maybe it’s the nature of pregnancy, but guilt has been an ever present emotion over the course of this pregnancy.

Guilt for saying anything other than how wonderful pregnancy is, considering how long it took us to get here. Guilt for not being able to focus more on my business. Guilt for not having it more “together” or being able to set goals for 2014. Guilt for having an easy pregnancy while so many others suffer. Guilt for eating out too much. Guilt for not being able to cook more or help around the house. Guilt for needing a break…You name it, I’ve felt guilt as a result of it.

I do my best to stay present, but some days are still more successful than others.

Is there anything I missed?

What did you learn the hard way about pregnancy, or wish your girlfriends had let you in on prior to getting pregnant?


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