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More Baby Prep & Meal Freezing

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Last week was a bit of a debacle because I was without a phone for a brief stint (I dropped it one too many times and went from I'll Just Continue Using My Phone Despite This Giant Crack in the Screen to I Can Literally No Longer Operate My Phone and Must Get it Fixed ASAP within seconds). No phone meant no pictures, which means a delicious vegetarian lasagna was constructed from scratch but there is no photographic evidence to share on the blog. Just know that after our baby arrives, the lasagna waiting for us in our freezer is a cheesy masterpiece stuffed with homemade seitan, mashed sweet potatoes and spinach. Also as you can see in this post, I did have my phone around when I was making a vegetable barley soup. All is not lost.

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For this vegetable barley soup recipe, I turned to The Vegan Pregnancy Cookbook. This book was instrumental to me, especially early in my pregnancy. As I've mentioned before, I couldn't even THINK about dairy or eggs without getting sick during my first trimester. I became a default vegan until I could stomach the ingredients again. My egg and dairy consumption remains significantly less than what it used to be, but I'm now back to eating non-vegan ingredients at least a few times a week. During early pregnancy, though: no way. This book was a godsend.

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Tomorrow I will be 37 weeks pregnant. I can reasonably expect to give birth in 1-5 weeks. Making it this far into pregnancy is surreal because here I am, uncomfortable and cumbersome, foreign in my own body, the most unlike myself I've ever been. On the other side of all of this a tiny person will greet me and become my own. I'm so excited about motherhood because I feel like in some ways it's the most "me" I'll ever be. The love I have for this baby is ready to pour out of me. In the meantime, I sit here uncomfortably waiting.

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Today I read an article about the idea of becoming a mom without becoming a mommy, i.e. entering motherhood without losing a sense of self-identity. In some ways pregnancy feels like a losing of oneself, which I assumed would translate mainly to my body. I've found it's seeped into other facets of my life, too. I've lost interest and drive in certain areas, though I'm not convinced that this is entirely bad. As a writer I've always had a scrappiness that's allowed me to devote myself to projects even when they didn't fully hold my interest. In pregnancy I feel too tired for all of that. I'm too tired to sell myself to editors or to try and write in a way that matches the vision of a company that's not my own. I don't feel like spending my hours doing work I don't love right now. That's a gross and privileged thing to say — let me own that upfront. It's also a true thing to say. Pregnancy is a weird process that brings up a lot of pure and crystalized feelings. I'm too tired for the rest. Am I really losing myself or am I becoming more myself than ever? 

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I love the idea of becoming a mom and not a mommy, of loving and nurturing a human without denying the interests that drove me long before baby came along. I think in particular for women who plan to stay home, the danger of immersive baby and kid culture is real. One minute you're a writer, runner, cupcake baker and book lover. The next you're a mom and housewife whose daily schedule revolves around a tiny human. I'm not saying I'm not excited to care for this tiny human — I am, more than I can even express. I'm saying there's a lot of pressure these days to become a certain kind of mom — the one who packs lunches that look like pieces of art and volunteers to coach all the activities and makes homemade costumes for playtime and hosts weekly playdates that include laboriously prepared appetizers and drinks for the other moms and joins all the Mommy & Me groups and goes from activity to activity and stays up all night gluing pieces from Pinterest-inspired art projects and dresses her kid like a mini fashionista and documents every moment on social media, all while keeping up with the housework and making nutritious yet delicious dinners (and breakfasts, lunches, and snacks) every day. If I become that kind of mother, when will I ever write another book? When will I go for a run? When will I spend time with my husband? When will I sit down with my child and just read and cuddle and be there and not worry about going somewhere or doing the next thing on the list?

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By mentioning any of this, I've already entered the dangerous territory of coming off like I'm judging other mothers. There is nothing wrong with Pinterest-inspired craft projects. There is nothing wrong with volunteering to lead your child's activities. There's nothing wrong with wanting to make your kid's sandwich look like a frog or pirate or ladybug and there's nothing wrong with keeping a clean house. Where things get tricky, I think, is when that pressure seeps in to try and do ALL THE MOM THINGS to the detriment of some or all of the Woman In the World things/ friend things/ spouse things/ independent person things. 

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Do I plan on being ridiculously devoted to my child? Am I ready to give away my time and space and energy and love in a way I never have before? Absolutely. I'll be the first to say it: this little person is going to be my world. I will do anything and everything I can to keep this person safe and happy. But I also want to write another book. I want to return to running. I want to read and bake cupcakes and spend time with my husband, family, and friends. I don't want to feel like a housewife (I frankly already feel like a housewife. It's impossible to work from home and not devote a big chunk of time each day to housework. It's there, in front of you, always.) I don't want to feel like MORE of a housewife. I want to feel like a person who has some semblance of balance despite the level of devotion required for this motherhood position. 

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I think that everything I'm saying is important for me, but I think it's important for my child, too. I want my kid to look at me as a complete person. I remember all the Mom and Dad moments from my childhood, but I also remember my mom as a potter and self-employed businesswoman. I remember my dad as a newspaper editor and tennis player. I remember our shared love of Mexican food and family bike rides, of road trips to Colorado and time spent outdoors. My mom made me a lot of clothes and Halloween costumes, but she had both the skill and desire to do so. My dad made a lot of elaborate meals, but he had both the skill and desire to do so. I do not feel that either of them lost themselves to parenting and although I've never asked, I hope they don't feel that way either. (Perhaps if I did ask, I'd learn a few things. Maybe someone wishes all those Saturday afternoons on soccer sidelines were spent in a yoga class instead. Maybe someone wishes another caregiver had been in rotation to give respite from the endless afternoons with us running around. I don't know, although I'm now curious and will make a point of asking soon.) Maybe it's impossible not to lose yourself just a little in the act of parenting, or maybe I'm blowing the entire thing out of proportion. I won't know until I get there.

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I'm going to have a baby soon and I cannot wait. I'm also going to keep writing, though not necessarily for other people. I'm already giving so much of myself to this one person — maybe I'll try and retain a little bit of my writing identity and make something of it in my own way. Financials are always scary but giving myself away to something I don't truly believe in is scarier. I'm going to believe in my own abilities. I'm going to believe in the relationship this sweet baby and I are about to form. I'm going to believe in our ability to navigate and figure out this new world together. I'm going to believe that I'll find my place again while remaining at home with a child. I'm going to believe that all-consuming "mommyhood" and devoted motherhood are not one at the same, and that I can be good at one without losing myself to the other. 

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Prepping For Baby: Freezing Vegan Mac 'n Cheese

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Today I am 35 weeks pregnant. This means I can reasonably expect to no longer be pregnant and have a baby in my arms within 3-7 weeks. Three to seven weeks! It's crunch time. 

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Luckily, I'm feeling more prepared than ever. This is thanks in huge part to the shower my mom and sister threw for me this weekend. We had such a lovely weekend — my parents-in-law flew in from California, my sister and her family came in from Phoenix, and a sweet group of friends gathered at my parents' house. I like the term "shower" because I truly felt like I was being showered with love and generosity. Our baby is starting life with so many nice things thanks to the incredible people we know. 

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This week I decided to prep and freeze a big batch of vegan macaroni and cheese from the cookbook Hearty Vegan Meals For Monster Appetites. A monster appetite is exactly what I'm expecting to have when I start breastfeeding. 

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Symptoms I've been experiencing a lot lately: back pain, overheating, breathlessness. I still wake up every morning with Mike because I like the ritual of sitting down to eat breakfast with him before he leaves for work, but I often go back to bed for a few hours once he's gone in an attempt to quell some of the fatigue that's clung to me throughout pregnancy. 

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As my body grows, I feel increasingly vulnerable each time I step outside my front door. Vulnerable is a word I've frequently used to describe my pregnancy. My belly has become a magnet. People openly comment on it and stare at it. I'm carrying the thing I'm most protective of on the front of my body and I don't trust people not to crash into me or invade my space. I want to walk around with a bubble surrounding me at all times. I imagine this instinct will only grow once there's a baby in the flesh. I rarely thought twice about walking down a street alone before I was pregnant. Now this precious thing I'm carrying is prominent and visible. My physical abilities have slowed. My defenses are up. Walking through the aisles of a store feels like a battle.

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The bigger and rounder my belly gets, the more I like my pregnant body. I don't know how I'll feel after birth, but in my pregnancy I've noticed that the desire or pressure to look a certain way has decreased dramatically. I do not feel weird about the weight I've gained. I do not care that I don't wear makeup or style my hair most days. I do not care that there are only a limited number of outfits in my closet that work for me at this point in my pregnancy. There are people who find the physical changes of pregnancy incredibly stressful and I thought I might be one of them, but I'm just not. I'm tired. I'm excited. I'm hopeful. I love thinking about the future life of my little one. I love taking naps and eating good food and taking care of myself during pregnancy, which I know translates to taking care of the baby, too. I see my big belly and I don't know how to be anything but amazed. A little person is living inside that belly. If my thighs and butt have grown bigger in the process of pregnancy, so be it. I can't find the energy to begin to care. 

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I know I say this often, but I'll repeat it once more: having a pregnancy that coincides with a presidential election is stressful. I'm making a big effort to take care of myself and stay calm and keep my energy level positive because I think my baby is absorbing all of it. With so much negativity and toxicity surrounding the election in general and a certain candidate in particular, it can be difficult to not get pulled down with frustration and unease. I'm hopeful about the outcome of all of this and hopeful that I'll bring my baby into a more positive world, but in the meantime there's a lot of negativity and grossness that I'm trying to be informed about while absorbing as little as possible. I know a lot of the frustration and fear has crept in despite my best efforts, and I just hope my baby isn't picking up on too much of it. 

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We missed this week's birth class because we attended a wedding on Sunday and I'll be honest: there's a little less stress in our lives this week. It's not that they don't do their best to comfort and reassure us in the class. It's just that despite the comfort and reassurance, the fact remains that this body and mind of mine will be giving birth to a child soon and I can't really think of anything more vulnerable. There's that word again: Vulnerable. 

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The tofu in this recipe contributes to the creamy texture. This recipe may seem complicated, but from start to finish I don't think it took any more than 30 minutes to prepare.

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For several months now, I've more or less been waking up every hour to pee. It's an annoyance I'm grateful for, since I know it is training me for all those times I'll be waking up with my baby. Having our first child is such a strange experience because I can imagine all the things that are about to happen, but until the baby's actually here it's just a faraway vision.

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Is there anything more comforting than a creamy pasta dish? 

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Last night I went to a reading at Powell's with a small group of my friends. The reading was great but oh man: I was so hot and breathless. I don't know how much longer I can keep up normal activities as I delve further into the depths of a third trimester pregnancy. It may seem simple to sit in a chair for an hour, but when the pool of sweat and feeling of "Am I about to pass out?" hits, the idea of being propped up on pillows on my couch at home grows more enticing. 

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Creamy goodness!

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It feels like there is still a lot to accomplish before our baby arrives, but nothing at this point seems insurmountable. Thanks to an incredible support network of family and friends, we went from having NOTHING to an entire house filled with baby things. What does one even do with that much love? 

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I don't know exactly when this baby will arrive, but regardless of the exact date this is for sure our Thanksgiving baby. I've never been more thankful for anything in my life. For all my fears and worries, I'm mostly excited to meet the person I've been carrying inside me all these months. I know this person will become an individual entity completely separate from me, but right now the connection between us in undeniable. We are inhabiting the same skin. The baby is me is the baby, for now. 

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We're getting ready for you, Little Cupcake. We hope you like our home and our family. We hope you like the smell of a pasta casserole baking and the feeling of our arms wrapped around you. We absolutely cannot wait to meet you. 

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This world is kind of a crazy place, but there's so much love waiting for you when you get here. 

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Good Enough For Now

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I have never been a perfectionist.

I spend most of my days makeup-free with my hair in a wet bun.

I prefer candid pictures, even the ones with the weird expression on my face.

I have no problem wearing sweats to the grocery store.

Whether is's a class, skill or recipe, I have no expectations of greatness when I try something new.

I do not get paralyzed with Writer's Block (though I do sometimes get paralyzed with laziness).

I don't think my day of mostly healthy eating is ruined if I eat a few cookies.

I do not spend hours getting ready.

I practically live in my robe.

I've gone to a few adult painting classes and I've found the experience incredibly fun, though I never created a masterpiece.

I've published imperfect essays and lived to tell the tale.

I'm not afraid of self-care the way so many (way too many) women are; I have no problem saying no to a social invite if I know that what I need more is some time to rest.

I'm not overly concerned about what others think of me now that I'm in my thirties.

I'm wearing no makeup and sweating profusely in my last two years worth of Facebook profile photos.

I care about food presentation enough to try and spread out my colors but not enough to try and cut my food in cute shapes, clean up the spills on the side of the plate, or try to make it look restaurant-worthy.

I don't make my income as a model and therefore do not think I need a model's body.

I do not make my income as a photographer and therefore do not think I need to take more than one picture to get it right.

I rarely use filters on Instragram.

If I'm moved to make something delicious and homemade for a potluck I will; if I'm moved to pick up a salad from the deli or a bag of chips and some salsa, I'll do that instead.

I don't feel the need to be perfect and I definitely do not feel the need to present myself as perfect.

I'm not perfect and I'm totally okay with that.

Enter pregnancy. You see, here's the thing about pregnancy (or at least the particular pregnancy I am experiencing): I'm so very tired. My energy level is on par with someone who just smoked a lot of weed and is now binge-watching seven seasons of a TV show. My energy level is on par with some of the residents I used to work with at a retirement center, the ones who would shuffle in their walkers for only a few steps before needing to sit down to catch their breaths. My energy level is nonexistent.

What I'm saying is this. I never made any attempts to be perfect before I was pregnant, but now that I'm here even my super basic way of living feels a little too high-maintenance. I do not want to extend any of my precious energy toward any of the following: making semi-elaborate meals, going grocery shopping, doing chores around the house, getting dressed, chasing after work assignments, or getting everything organized before the baby arrives.

This is what I want to do with the precious amount of energy I do have at my disposal: Sleep and eat. I want to sleep as many hours per day as possible and I want to eat whatever food happens to be most readily available. I want pizzas delivered to my house. I want to wear a mumu. I want to ignore my hair and sometimes skip my shower and I want to do all my work while slightly reclined on the couch (which I'm currently doing)  instead of sitting upright in the office. I want to be fed. I want the laundry and dishes to magically clean themselves. I want to turn on the Food Network and read weird celebrity gossip and eat ice cream sandwiches. 

I've never been a perfectionist but until pregnancy I was always a Good Enough-ist. The kitchen didn't have to be sparkling, but all the dishes would be put away and the counters wiped down. I didn't have to look flawless, but I would put together some semblance of an outfit before going out. I didn't need to be a gourmet chef, but I put effort into making foods with lots of fresh ingredients. I didn't need every post to be uh-mazing, but I did make an effort to consistently post on my blog three times a week. 

Then pregnancy came along. Good Enough has become a thing of my past. Now I'm more about Just Do One Productive Thing Each Day. There are so many days when I feel like that one thing is all I have energy for.  If I get to the grocery store but don't return all my emails, good enough. If I take a shower but never actually get dressed beyond a robe, good enough. If I get my work done but only after pausing for a 3-4 hour nap, good enough. Maybe my standards are low but my energy level is even lower, so I say good enough, good enough, good enough.

I'm so thankful I've never had the desire to be perfect. I've always enjoyed making cupcakes even though I've never learned to frost them in a way that looks anything other than drizzly. I've always enjoyed writing and I don't allow myself to be crippled by the fear of rejection; I just send my work out and see what happens. I've always enjoyed running and it's probably because I'm not measuring myself against anything — I'm just getting out there and enjoying the fresh air and the time to think. 

If I felt like I needed to be perfect — or even great or heck, even good — right now, I think my pregnancy would be miserable. But I'm just not into that. I'm not into torturing myself for the sake of presenting myself well to others. I'm not into feeling like I need to be more than I am. Right now I am tired. Very, very tired. Tired people should rest. Tired people should not spend entire days on their feet, running from one thing to the next. I'm a tired person, not a perfect person. Today I got this blog post done, and today that's good enough for me. 

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Super Brain

Baby Brain? Nope. Super Brain!

Baby Brain? Nope. Super Brain!

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I'm a huge fan of the One Bad Mother podcast. Hosts Theresa and Biz are big advocates of taking the judgment out of parenting and instead trying to be supportive of each other. They always make a point of saying "You're doing a great job" to each other and encourage their listeners to extend that message to other parents. When you see a mom dealing with a child's temper tantrum at Target, for example, tell her she's doing a great job. Parenting — and life in general — is difficult enough without dealing with the judgments of the so-called "mommy wars." When we're kind and patient and supportive with each other, things work out better for everyone. 

In an early episode (it was episode 14 if you're interested) of the podcast, Biz and Theresa talk with author Anne Kreamer about what happens to the brain after pregnancy. They discuss how they don't really like any of the terms commonly used to describe the brain shifts that take place with a baby on board. They don't like Mommy Brain, Pregnancy Brain or Baby Brain, all of which have a derogatory edge. They decide to come up with a new way to describe the hormonal, emotional, and chemical shifts. The term they come up with has a much nicer ring: Super Brain. 

"Pregnancy and childbirth actually cause your brain to shrink in size," Kreamer says on the show before noting that it can take up to six months after birth for the brain to go back to its original size.

Theresa points out how absurd it is that "as you're gaining responsibilities and adding more things to your life that you need to be responsible for and take care of and understand, your brain is actually shrinking."

Kreamer goes on to explain that from an evolutionary standpoint, it was never meant to be a mother's role to deal with the demands of a job after childbirth; it was her role to deal with the demands of her child. A child's survival depended on the mother's ability to care for him or her. In our modern world, or course, there is the expectation of parents to return to work as quickly as possible after childbirth and to juggle the roles of the job along with the responsibility of raising a child. 

"It's like going back to work with both hands and your legs tied behind your back," says Kreamer.

The biological responses of parenting are not limited to mothers. Kreamer points out that in men, there is a spike in the nurturing hormone prolactin and a plummet in testosterone. Add in the effects of sleep deprivation (mothers lose an average equivalent of four months of work in lost hours of sleep when they are nursing, Kreamer says) and the result is this: "If 4 million babies on average are born in the States every year, that means that there are 8 million parents at any time in the workplace completely emotionally gaga."

Parenthood changes the brain biologically. These changes start taking place during pregnancy. It's become a big cultural joke to make fun of the way women have a tendency to get emotional or spacey or foggy during pregnancy, but I've found that it's less hilarious when actually living through it. It is a fact that I am not thinking as clearly as a pregnant woman as I did before I was pregnant. One of the very first things I did early in my pregnancy was accidentally shred a check that was sent to me. Since them I've had a series of follies ranging from misplacing my keys to not being able to remember why I walked into a room to straight-up being unable to focus on some of the tasks I used to perform well. Every day when my husband gets home from work, our kitchen is half cleaned. It's like the part of my brain that remembers to finish cleaning the kitchen once I start has just shut down. My whole life has become a series of half-finished errands and projects. I get myself to the store, but then I forget why I'm there. I sit down at my computer to write, but then my brain goes blank. 

One theory I have about this is that parenthood in general and first-time parenthood in particular is so overwhelming that there's absolutely no way I could prepare for it if I was still as focused on all these other aspects of my life. This is the time when we need to be making decisions about the things we need for our baby, the life we'll provide for our baby, the way we'll set up our baby's room, and more. As hard as I try to focus my attention elsewhere (and I realize I'm overstating everything here and of course I have been able to write essays and blog posts and perform tasks and it's not as if my brain has completely stopped working), my focus just isn't there right now.  It is more difficult than ever to pay attention to the topics being discussed at social events or the events going on in the world. 

My brain is being used for such a super-sized task that I agree the only correct way to refer to it right now is Super Brain. I have a Super Brain because, in spite of how distracted and crazy I sometimes feel, I'm still getting some things done. And though the responsibilities we're facing now are nothing compared to what we'll face in a few months, it's true that we are taking on a lot right now. Getting prepared to have a baby has to be one of the most emotionally (not to mention financially) overwhelming things a person can do. We are incredibly excited but we are also like: Whoa. This is a lot.  

I'm giving myself some credit because it IS a lot. The financial cost is a LOT, as any parent can attest. The emotional cost is a lot. We're going to have a whole new person living with us — not just any person, but someone who we want to have the BEST life possible. This baby is going to be our family for the rest of our lives. That is huge. That is monumental. If I get a little overwhelmed thinking about it to the point where I forget about some of my other life responsibilities, I think it's okay. I think it will all balance out somehow.

Whatever you do, don't ask if I have Mommy Brain or Pregnancy Brain or Baby Brian. I have Super Brain, plain and simple. (On an unrelated but possibly slightly related note, I also have a bum knee every since last week's fall. Between my shrinking brain and swollen knee, I'm doing all right for myself.)

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I Fell Today.

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I fell today. This is the third time I've fallen running in a period of nine years. The first was about two weeks before my best friend's wedding, when I was all set to walk down the aisle as a bridesmaid. My twisted ankle was swollen and painful for a long time, but somehow magically felt fine on the big day. The second time I fell was about a week before my own wedding. I scratched myself up but didn't experience any major injuries. You can see a scab on my elbow if you look closely in my wedding photos, but other than that everything was fine. 

Today was my scariest fall because it was the first time I fell with a baby on board. The injuries to my own body are obvious from the picture above: I really scraped up my elbows and hand. The skin is raw and painful and because the knee injuries hit right where my knees bend, walking today has been a bit of a challenge. But obviously I wasn't thinking about any of that when I picked myself up and dusted off. Obviously I was worried about the baby.

In talking to a nurse at my doctor's office, I've learned there are a lot of good signs to my fall. First, the heavy scrapes on my knees and hand mean that I braced myself somewhat and therefore my belly didn't absorb all the impact. Secondly, I haven't experienced any scary symptoms like cramping or bleeding. Finally, I'm still feeling movement from my little one inside my belly. Tracking this movement has been difficult because I've only felt sporadic movements up until this point, but I am very happy to report that since the fall I have felt a few more sporadic movements today. Thanks to a lot of amniotic fluid and the still-small size of my baby at 24 weeks, my nurse (in consultation with my doctor) feels confident that the baby is okay. 

That news is wonderful, but it was still a terrifying experience. The irony is not lost on me that in trying to stay active and do something healthy for my baby, I ultimately put my baby in danger by losing my footing. As much as I try to eat healthy foods and use healthy products, I know I'm still ingesting things in the environment that have the potential to be toxic. There's no such thing as control here. (Side note: I've never considered myself someone who felt like she *had* to be in control, but when it comes to the health and safety of my baby it's true I want to control as much as possible.) But in the end, it doesn't matter how obsessed I am about avoiding certain ingredients or getting regular exercise or trying to put my best foot forward for the little cupcake in my oven. Sometimes my best foot forward trips on gravel and knocks me down in the dust.

I know this is only a preview of what's to come — there will be so many scenarios beyond my control when we're raising a child. But with the child still in my body, I'd like to think I can keep things as healthy and safe as possible. When I can't do that, I feel a little defeated.

But what matters is this: The baby is moving. I am not experiencing any scary symptoms. I think I shook both of us up a little today, but from the outside it seems we're both okay. As for me, I won't be attempting to run again until I'm fully healed. And even then, I think I'll get myself to a park or somewhere with softer trails and take it super easy. I love running and I think the running I've done until this point has benefited my baby, but as always I'll listen to my body and do what seems best for my little running buddy. 

Until then, Baby and I are resting with feet propped, ice pack on, and everything erased from the to-do list for the rest of the day. 

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How to Start a Self-Love Revolution

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As I've mentioned many times in the past, I'm a big fan and follower of Fit Girls Guide, an online fitness community that promotes clean eating and self-love. For each monthly challenge with Fit Girls Guide, there is a new mantra. This month's is I Am The Revolution. I love this phrase because it encourages us to look inward for our own inspiration instead of seeking it elsewhere. 

At the same time, I know a lot of people are confused about where exactly to start when it comes to starting a revolution. Telling someone to "just love yourself" is not enough to get them going on a journey of acceptance and self-compassion. What does that actually mean and how does one practice it daily? 

I thought I would share a few concrete ways I started a self-love revolution for myself. This is a process that began four or five years ago and continues daily. I know this kind of revolution can seem daunting at first, but I think you'll see from the examples I'm providing that it can be a lot simpler than you might first realize.

1. STOP READING WOMEN'S MAGAZINES

This one pains me as a writer. When I was younger, I aspired to write for these types of publications. Also I don't want to miss out on the incredible writing I know lives in the pages of these magazines. (For the latter I have a solution: read the articles online.)

A lot of quality content can be found in women's magazines and I don't want to underscore this fact, but I also want to point out that the barrage of images — both from the magazine's photoshoots and the included advertising — are not healthy for even the healthiest woman out there. Flip through the pages of a women's magazine and the message you will find over and over again is that you are not enough. You're not thin enough or your hair isn't shiny enough or your fashion budget isn't big enough or your skin isn't clear enough or your body isn't toned enough or your nails aren't bright enough and so on and so on.

These magazines exist to sell  products. Magazines want you to believe that the pop singer with the flawless skin didn't get that way through airbrushing; she got that way because she uses X brand of makeup. That model's hair isn't the result of three hours with a hair professional; it's because she uses Y hair product. We would all be a little prettier and happier if we just bought this outfit or that eye cream or this self-tanner. 

Remove yourself from the cycle of comparison by just saying no to women's magazines. I used to read them religiously (probably at least five different magazines a month) and it's amazing what happened when I stopped several years ago. I no longer felt like I HAD to go get my hands on a certain beauty product because I was no longer aware of that beauty product's existence. I no longer looked at pictures of celebrities or models and compared them to the way I looked in my own life. Eventually, when I did pick up a magazine again, I was struck by the skewed ratio of quality content versus selling. I decided to become a person who didn't want to be sold anything. I decided to accept myself the way I already was, without X miracle beauty product or must-have outfit. Once I ditched the constant exposure to beautiful airbrushed models, I felt a lot less pressure to look a certain way and a lot more comfortable just being myself. 

2. EAT FOODS THAT MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD

I know I'm getting into tricky territory with this one. On the one hand, I hate the way that food is moralized and we're made to believe there's such a thing as good versus bad when it comes to the way we eat. This society puts way too much pressure on everyone, specifically women, to look a certain way and be a certain size and we're often sold the message that the only way to be happy is to not be overweight. I don't buy any of that. I think people should eat what they want to eat, wear what makes them comfortable, and live their lives the way they want to live their lives.

That being said, there is no denying the fact that for me, eating healthy foods makes me feel one way and eating unhealthy foods makes me feel another. Processed foods exacerbate my fatigue. Fresh foods and veggies combined with lean proteins and whole grains give me energy. Does this mean I never consume chips or cupcakes or other so-called "bad" foods? No! It means that balance is always my goal and I strive for a diet that relies mostly on healthy foods and minimally on less healthy ones. To me this has nothing to do with wanting to look a certain way. It has nothing to do with self-punishment. It has everything to do with checking in and realizing that I simply cannot finish off a plate of greasy nachos and feel great afterward. I feel weighed down, lethargic and listless — which is fine if those greasy nachos are an occasional indulgence and those post-nacho symptoms are an occasional side effect. When junk food starts taking over my life, though, it has a huge impact on the way I feel both physically and emotionally. I am far more prone to get an upset stomach or head after polishing off a cookie than I am after eating an apple. 

On the other hand, when I feed myself food that fuels me with the nutrients and vitamins and minerals my body needs, I operate better. My thoughts feel clearer. My energy is bigger. I feel more equipped to take on life challenges that arise daily. So while I don't turn down a piece of birthday cake and don't recommend that you do either, I also make a conscious attempt to fill my life with leafy greens and quinoa and tofu and almonds and garden-fresh veggies and berries. I do this because my physical and mental health depends on it. I simply can't love myself as much when I don't even have the energy to move. 

3. CULTIVATE YOUR OWN STYLE

There are a lot of style rules out there dictating that this type of body needs to wear this type of swimsuit and that type of body should avoid that cut of dress and if you weigh X, cover yourself up and if you weigh Y, go about your days half-naked. To me it's all nonsense. When it comes to putting clothes on your body, I think it all boils down to wearing what you like, what makes you comfortable, and what makes you happy. Period.

If you're 250 pounds and want to wear short shorts, don't let anyone stop you. If you wouldn't be caught dead in a dress even at a friend's wedding, own it. If you want to wear a bikini but are worried what others will think, screw what everyone thinks and wear it with pride. If you want to wear nothing but sweats and T-shirts, go for it. If you get dressed to the nines every day and wake up extra early to do your hair and makeup because that's what makes you happy, do that. Wear what you like. Wear what makes you comfortable. Wear what makes you happy. Follow trends if you think that's fun. Avoid them if you don't. Wear jeans. Wear skirts. Wear the skimpiest swimsuit imaginable. Wear a conservative pantsuit. Show your cleavage. Cover your cleavage. Wear something tight. Wear something loose. Wear something that elicits compliments. Wear something that nobody else likes. It doesn't matter as long as you like it, you are comfortable, and you are happy.  

4. TREAT YOURSELF THE WAY YOU'D TREAT A CHILD

This one is huge because women have a tendency to say horrible things to themselves. Every time you look into the mirror and tell yourself how fat and hideous you are, turn around and picture yourself saying those exact same words to a small child. Nobody — child or adult — deserves to be treated with hatred. Nobody includes YOU. You do not deserve to be treated with hatred. If you would forgive a child for accidentally breaking a plate, forgive yourself for eating an unhealthy meal that left you feeling depleted. If you can forgive a child for saying something inappropriate, forgive yourself for whatever missteps you made today. You can skip your workout and still be a wonderful person. You can weigh more than what society tells you you're supposed to weigh and still be a wonderful person. You can try on an outfit you don't like and refuse to tell yourself you have a gross body, opting instead to realize that all outfits fit all people in all different ways and this one just didn't quite work out. Hug the child in your life, hug yourself, and move on. 

Several years ago I read this piece by Sarah Koppelkam and it became the Bible for how I treat myself and others. Now that I am pregnant, I've been thinking about this concept anew. This is a short piece of writing and I encourage everyone to read it from start to finish. If you want a revolution of self-love and body acceptance, this is the way to get there. Use this as a guide for talking to your daughters and sons. Use this as a guide for talking to yourself. Memorize the words. Tattoo them on your body. Live them. There's your revolution. 

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Running Half Marathons With a Cupcake in the Oven

6 weeks, 8 weeks, 15 weeks, 18 weeks and 22 weeks pregnanat

6 weeks, 8 weeks, 15 weeks, 18 weeks and 22 weeks pregnanat

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In the years before I became pregnant, running became a huge part of my life. It was my go-to source of stress relief as well as my favorite physical activity. I've never been very sporty or athletically inclined, but in running I didn't have to be either. I just needed to put one foot in front of the other. In the year 2015, I ran a race every month, ranging from 5Ks to a half marathon. For 2016, I had two goals: to continue running a race a month for as long as I could, and to get pregnant. I knew that if I achieved both goals, they would cross over at some point and play into each other. So far this year I've run seven half marathons — one for each month — and five of them have been with a baby on board. I'm planning on running a few more, and then I'm planning on taking the last few months of the year off. I may do some light running during that time, but I definitely won't be racing. 

Before getting pregnant, I sought out a doctor who would support me with both my baby and my running goals. I was lucky to find someone I relate to and feel very comfortable around; I feel confident having her as my doctor and I think she understands me and what's important to me in a way that not everyone does. She ran throughout her pregnancies, so I knew she would support me during mine. 

Pregnant running is vastly different from non-pregnant running. The goal is no longer speed. My pace has slowed dramatically and it continues to slow each month. I'm also not able to attack certain obstacles (specifically hills) in the same way, or often at all. I never shied from a hill before I was pregnant, but now I slow to a walk every time I encounter one. I don't want to get my heart rate too elevated, I don't want to get overheated, and I don't want to get breathless. This means that I'm going slower (sometimes completely slowing to a walk), I'm skipping the hills, and I'm taking everything at a much easier pace. 

An unexpected side effect of all of this is that during pregnancy, running has actually become more fun. I'm no longer chasing any time goals, so I'm free to go out and just enjoy my runs. Whereas before I would become frustrated if I got tired during a run, now I just slow down, guzzle my water, take in my surroundings, and enjoy the fact that I'm out in the open air. I don't even pay attention to my pace anymore. I stop a lot during my runs to pee. Sometimes I'll stop in the middle of a run and have a snack. I've changed my routes to stick to flatter terrain. During my pregnancy runs, I've noticed more in my neighborhood than I ever did before. Now that I've slowed down, I see more.

Another benefit during my first trimester was that running helped to quell my nausea. There were a few days when I felt too sick to go out, but once I finally got out there I felt so much better. Running has helped me to keep in touch with my pregnant body. I haven't been able to easily maintain strength training or some other forms of physical activity throughout pregnancy, but walking and running are movements I've been able to keep up.

So why run half marathons while pregnant? First reason: I signed up for the races before I was pregnant. Secondly, why not? I was in strong enough condition to run frequent half marathons before I was pregnant and I wanted to maintain that level of fitness for as long as I could. So far, it's been doable. Each of my five pregnant half marathons has been a little slower than the last and I know they'll just get slower, eventually getting too difficult to keep up. 

If I could do it again, I'd probably focus more on slower distances like 5Ks and 10Ks. But I have no regrets about the half marathons I've run. I'm proud of all this baby and I have accomplished together. I'm excited to see what we can continue to do. And I'm thankful that my stress level throughout pregnancy has been manageable thanks to our regular runs. 

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