5 Lessons From the First Year

MotherhoodJulia GarzaComment

12 months in, I know that there is still so much I don’t know about having a baby being a mama. But I do know these 5 things:

1. Breastfeeding is hard, and a little boring. When I took a breastfeeding class at my birth center before my son was born, the instructor asked us what we knew about breastfeeding. “I know it can be really hard,” I said when it was my turn, “even though it seems like it shouldn’t be.” Of course, I naively assumed that it somehow wouldn’t be that hard for me. It was, but I was determined to make it work and fortunately had a lot of support from my husband and the guidance of two lactation consultants. My son weaned recently, and while it’s easy to downplay the achievement because breastfeeding, did, at some point, become one of the easiest things in the world (not counting recurrent plugged ducts), I know that I should really be congratulating myself. I met my goal of nursing him for 365+ days, and that’s amazing. Surprisingly, for something that’s so challenging, especially at the beginning, breast feeding is actually quite boring. Particularly when your babe is new and nursing happens at all hours of the day and night. Yes, it’s nice to gaze adoringly into your little one’s eyes and play with the curl in their hair, but then what? Some of our nursing sessions would stretch into the 30 minute mark. Multiplied by several times a day, that’s a lot of time pinned to the couch or bed. I tried to keep myself from going stir-crazy by reading e-books and refreshing Instagram over and over, but I deeply regretted not taking my husband up on his offer of buying a television and Apple TV for the bedroom. I’m sure I could have watched the entire run of Gilmore Girls by the time my son was 3 months old if I had.

2. It can take a long time to find your new normal. Obviously, I expected some period of adjustment after my son was born. I mean, giving birth is no cake walk, and neither is caring for a newborn. But I was really under the assumption that I would find my bearings again by the time my son was 3 months, and if not then for sure by 6 months. The truth is that having a baby flipped my world upside down and it took me a long time, like 10 months long, to really start to feel like myself again. There were hormones, and getting my body back, and then feeling like I needed to reevaluate every life choice I’d ever made, and struggling to find the balance between being “mama” and just being “Julia.” It was a lot, and I did not always deal with it gracefully. Perhaps it’s one of those things that would have gone better if I had had more realistic expectations, but probably not. 

3. It’s hard to actually stay at home when you’re a stay-at-home mom. When I worked at a public library before my son was born, I would listen to the mothers with young children compare notes on the best story times at the libraries in our area. Many would attend multiple story times in one week. I didn’t get it. Surely they could read books and sing songs to their children at home? Why did they need to drag them all over town? But now, now I get it. The days where we don’t leave the house before lunch usually derail pretty quickly. The truth is there’s only so many hours of being interrupted every 7.5 minutes I can take before I start thinking about updating my resume. While our schedule of Stroller Strides and music class doesn’t allow for story time 5 times a week, I am just as guilty of carefully scheduling our week and making sure we have something to do every day, Monday through Friday.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of having a mama tribe. I joined an online due date group early in my pregnancy, and having dozens of other mamas to talk to about pregnancy, childbirth and all of our adventures and misadventures over this past year has been pretty incredible. Sometimes it’s difficult to work out exactly why your child is suddenly suffering from “infant insomnia” when you’re running on two hours of sleep. Having a group of mamas to speak from their own experiences, or at the very least offer commiseration, is huge. I know it’s not always easy to find your tribe (for one thing, you’re a little busy right now), but try. Put yourself out there. You’ll be a better mama for it.

5. Every mama gets unsolicited advice from strangers; let it go and listen to your gut. Tales of (probably) well-intentioned strangers dishing out unsolicited parenting advice abound, but I’d never experienced it firsthand until this week. I was hustling the baby into his 12-month check up with our pediatrician when an elderly lady called out to me as we passed each other in the parking lot. “Miss,” she said. “Yes?” I replied, thinking she was going to remark on how ridiculously adorable my child was, since those are the types of comments I usually draw from strangers when I’m out with him. “Put something on his head! It’s too cold out here!” she scolded me. I instantly felt ashamed, despite knowing for a fact that the temperature was in the upper 40s-- hardly weather that demanded a hat for a quick walk through the parking lot. I hurried into our appointment (where the doctor congratulated me for having only brought him in for well-checks; turns out I might know something about keeping my child healthy after all), but let her comments bother me for the rest of the day. Finally, I realized I needed to let it go. She was a stranger, and I have no idea what might have motivated her to stop me in the parking lot like that. For over a year now I’ve trusted my instincts when it comes to caring for my child, and the result is a happy, healthy one-year-old who is hitting all of the developmental milestones. There’s no reason to doubt myself now, or to listen to anyone’s advice that I don’t trust 100%. (And if I ever find myself dishing out advice to someone who didn’t ask for it, hopefully I’ll stop.)

Getting off Your Butt in the Winter

Wellness, Lifestyleanne fassnachtComment

Every year, I enter winter with the best of intentions to keep moving and exercising and then something happens and I am practically hibernating. 

This year I am aiming to change that. The challenge will be even tougher this year after our move from Northern California to Indiana. If I couldn't get moving in the mild winter, how will I ever make it happen in bitter cold and snow?

Here is my plan. I am going to get crafty, make big commitments and dig deep into resources to find ways to stay active. 

After asking around about how other people stay active in the winter I realized there are a lot of options for indoor activities in wintry areas. Options that are out of box from your traditional gym membership, because let's be real, getting motivated to go to the gym is the biggest problem I have year round. 

I have unearthed a community center with an indoor pool and track that will be a great place to let off some steam. Maybe getting into a bathing suit I can imagine I am on a sunny beach and that might even make me forget the cold. I also found a couple local ice skating rink, an activity even the balmiest areas seem to offer in the winter. I bet even Los Angeles has a holiday skating rink that will get you up and moving, and pretending you live in a winter wonderland. There are a few other activities you can try if the gym isn't getting your butt off the couch. 

  • Roller skating
  • Dancing lessons, by yourself or with a partner Dancing with the Stars style. 
  • Sledding if you are lucky enough to have some snow and a great hill. Heck, even snow angels count as moving!

Some of those examples still sound like pretty traditional exercises, but moving doesn't need to just be your traditional exercise. Many of you have, are hoping to get or have thought about some type of fitness tracker like a FitBit. If those little wrist bands aren't proof that moving doesn't need to be pilates, I don't know what would convince you. Here are some unconventional ideas to think of this winter to get you out of the house and moving. 

  • a scavenger hunt for the kids. Pick a week day and head to the mall or a museum with clever clues and burn some energy in a creative way
  • join a museum and visit it monthly with the goal to walk the entire place using only the stairs. Bonus points for joining the biggest museum in your area. You will be surprised at the new things you see each visit.

The biggest part of my plan to keep moving this winter actually does involve the gym. To make me get to the gym I had to play a little trick on myself. 

I pulled that off by I making a big commitment and signed up to run a 1/2 marathon in May. No choice but to run now! After plunking down the registration fee and telling everyone I know I am running the race I feel pretty motivated to hit the payment. My motivation is coming from not wanting to explain that I was too lazy to train. Call it guilt, call it accountability, whatever you call it I will be moving. 

The key to all of it is you have to get up and go. The best way to do that is put it on the schedule and stick to it.  Schedule a moving activity 3 times a week, keep it fun and involve others to make sure you don't bail and sit on the couch. 

Help us all keep moving this winter by sharing your out of the box ideas to keep activity in your weeks this winter.

5 Tips for Photographing Children

PhotographySam HeatherComment

When it comes to photography, there is one quote that really resonates with me:

“Photography is an art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” Elliott Erwitt


Over the last couple of years, I have come to agree with Elliott’s philosophy more and more. I’ve come to learn that photography is not about simply taking a photo, but rather about capturing a memory and telling a story. And what better memories are created than with children? I’ve worked with several families over the course of the last year and I can say that it has been one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Seeing a smiling child and a caring family wrapped up in each other’s love is a truly beautiful thing. In saying that however, capturing images of children is one of the harder forms of photography. If you’re a parent, you will know that taking photos of your child/ren can be quite the challenge. Sometimes no amount of bribery will get a child to sit still or stop dribbling all over their brand new outfit!Now while I am no expert in this field, here are five tips I’ve learnt to help manage taking photos of children.


1. Be Patient / Let go of control

The truth about children is that, as much as you want to, you can’t control them. Put them in a situation where they have to sit still and smile for an hour and you’re going to find yourself in challenging territory. The best thing you can do is to begin by knowing that you might not get the shot you want, that your child or subject may be crying the whole time and no amount of bribery will help. I have found patience to be the key to working with children. By letting go of control and letting the session run itself without your every input, children start to feel less pressured and more themselves and that’s when the real moments start to form.

2. Encourage Comfort

You also need to make sure your children/subjects are comfortable and in an environment they enjoy. You can’t expect to capture a smiling bub if they’re wearing the itchy sweater grandma knitted for them. Dress them in their most comfortable clothing, get out their toys so they can play and make sure they’ve napped and been fed so they don’t get too rowdy during the session. Furthermore, don’t force them to do anything they can’t do or don’t want to do. Let them make the shots themselves rather than you. Your photos will be more genuine because of it. And if nothing is working, take a break and come back later. Wait till they are ready and comfortable rather than the other way around.

Note: Introduce your camera to your child before you start taking photos. Sometimes a camera can be a little overwhelming for a little one.


3. Capture the Natural

My favourite family shots are those that the family or child didn’t realise I was taking. The candid, in-between moments are incredibly raw and express honest emotion. Capturing those moments are the things you will look back on with a warm heart. This may even mean that you capture a child in tears, or with a snotty nose or with food all over their top, but aren’t these the moments that truly capture the essence of a child? To me, these are the images that give a true representation of a child’s personality. Action shots are great too in capturing these moments so get you child/subject playing and interacting with the things around them (e.g. bubbles, paint, toys, etc…). 

Note: For action shots you will want to increase your shutter speed in order to freeze the movement


4. Keep taking photos

Don’t stop taking photos. Even with all the patience and comfort in the world you still run the chance of missing a great moment. So why not just keep clicking whenever you can? If you’re on digital then it’s worth taking as many photos as possible and capturing all the memories you can. With children, they’re always running around and doing cute little things, so get down to their level and keep on shooting. You will probably find that you’ve captured a moment you didn’t realize actually happened.


5. Have Fun!

This is probably the most importantly point. This isn’t an exam or a test. This is a time for you to spend with your family having fun and running around being silly. The happier you are, the happier and more comfortable your child/subject will be. Get the children involved with the shoot and make a day out of it. Go to the beach or the park and just relax. You will enjoy yourself more and your photos will be proof of that.


I hope these tips will help you in your photography endeavours. I would love to hear your tips on taking photos of children or how you’ve gone using my tips in your day-to-day photography!

Sam Heather
Photography Contributor

Sam from Samantha Heather Blog is a twenty-something Sydneysider with a passion for love, photography and exploration. She's still trying to figure out what life is all about but in the meantime she's  just dreaming big, dancing hard and drinking coffee (always!)

Every Mother Counts & Stella and Dot

Bri TowneComment

As many of you know I am a stylist with Stella&Dot. One of the biggest draws for me in joining this amazing company was how incredibly philanthropic they are. I signed up in the thick of their Breast Cancer Awareness promotion. The month after they donated a fabulous accessory to a military family with every scarf purchased. And always, every day, every month, Stella&Dot donates 100% of the proceeds from the Enlighten Bracelet to Every Mother Counts. 

Every Mother counts is a non-profit organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother. Every Mother Counts informs, engages, and mobilizes new audiences to take actions and raise funds that support maternal health programs around the world. Including right here in the US where maternal health ranks 60th globally. 60th?! Can you believe that? Are you as shocked as I am? 

This Christmas, while you're doing your holiday shopping for your family and friends, think about giving a gift that gives back. I have a personal goal to sell 25 of these beautiful Enlighten Bracelets by Christmas. You can buy yours using this link and every time you wear your bracelet you'll be reminded of all the good you're doing by purchasing one. Get one for yourself, your mother, your sister, grandmother, aunts, any mother you know or anyone who has a mother. 

This Christmas, I'm giving the gift of motherhood. I hope you'll join me.