A Journey to Health: Part 1

A Journey to Health: Part 1

A few months ago, I got a phone call that changed my world. Immediately after this phone call, it was like I put on a pair of glasses and saw clearly again for the first time in a long time.

My doctor said I had Stage 4 liver fibrosis into cirrhosis. A quick google search will show you that the majority of people who are told this don’t live past a year, and this test had been done months before the phone call. So how much time did I have left with my daughter and my husband? I had no idea… But what I did know was that I would make it count. I have and I will.

The Art of Adventures Orlando Photographer and Blogger

Me making a wish to be healthy so I can watch this girl grow up

Fast forward through many more specialists, several extremely intense procedures and a few ER visits, and now my health picture is more clear. I’m happy to report that not only is my prognosis better but also I’m keeping those rose colored glasses on. And I’m going to encourage you to put them on too. And please, please do not let a major scare be the reason you have to put them on. Make your time count, now.

The Art of Adventures Orlando Photographer and Blogger

Spending quality time together is my favorite thing to do

The good news: My specialists were able to act quickly and identify the issue. In conjunction with some lifestyle changes I made, my test results showed a more positive prognosis just 6 weeks later, right in time to start their recommended treatment.

My diagnosis is Autoimmune Hepatitis. Spoiler alert: it’s not contagious. I wouldn’t want to worry anyone about being around me so I wanted to start there. Hepatitis, in this instance, is just inflammation of the liver. My immune system was so good at what it did that it got a little wild and started attacking (autoimmune) my liver which became very inflamed (hepatitis).

Did I do something to get this? The short answer is no. While genetics or environment can have an impact, there’s no one reason for AIH. And it’s not related to other forms of Hepatitis, alcohol, diet (although I always believe in striving for healthier diet), drugs, etc.

Do I need a transplant? No, not right now and hopefully never. You cannot live without your liver (I’ve become a liver lover). But the liver can regenerate if it is not in full cirrhosis. So, if caught soon enough with no liver failure, you would not need one. Only a doctor would be able to diagnose that part. Currently, my liver is in good enough condition that there is hope for healing over transplant. Please consider making sure that you are registered organ donor to help people who do need a transplant.

What do you say to someone going through a major medical issue? You know, I’m still not even sure myself. But to all my friends and family who reached out with anything from an “I’m here to help” or “I’m praying” to those who were able to help us through this, it is so incredibly appreciated. Showing kindness and compassion and a willingness to help really does mean everything when going through something so big.

I have never had cancer so I can’t say for sure, but I’d imagine being told you have Autoimmune Hepatitis is a lot like being told you have a “good” cancer with a good prognosis. Without treatment for AIH, you could die within a year, in fact the chances of that might be up to 60% according to medical journals. However, with treatment, which will wreak havoc on your body, you are almost sure to improve and survival rates are near 100%. So that’s something to be really thankful for, and also not to mess around with. The medication has a long list of pretty rough side effects ranging from gaining weight and mood swings to medication induced diabetes but it also improves your chance of living a significant amount and I would say that’s worth it!

Right now I’m in the early part of the treatment and I’ve already learned a lot. Having my Master’s Degree in Clinical Health Psychology and having studied alternative pain management and using positive mental health tools to help improve the prognosis of medical diagnoses, I actually *enjoy* reading medical journals. I love having all of the information and also find joy in navigating through all of this with ways that my lifestyle can support my overall health. What kind of information would you like to know about the liver or Autoimmune Hepatitis? I’d love to be able to share more awareness of this disease and share some of my liver love. Next, I plan share some of the things I did to get my bloodwork to improve.

Going through this at any time of life I would imagine would be difficult. But being told this when my daughter was just one and a half has been very scary. It reminds me every day that I am so thankful for the opportunity to blog and do photography. These are things I do while also being able to raise my daughter and be able to spend our precious time together. I have not missed any of our big moments as a family and have nothing to regret. Thank you for reading my blog and for hiring me as your photographer which allows me to find the balance of work and being able to be home with my daughter. Truly with all sincerity, thank you.

The Art of Adventures Orlando Photographer and Blogger

Thankful to have continued breastfeeding through this journey

I’d also like to credit my friend, Laura Mitchum, for taking these photos for me and letting me edit them. She graciously offered to make sure I got some photos of Elodie in before I started all of my testing and treatment, knowing that not only my appearance could change but that I may have to stop breastfeeding. Fortunately, I have not had to stop completely. Especially through all of the procedures, it would have been easier to just wean. But I could also tell that Elodie was not ready and I came to a decision that worked for our entire family and reduce our overall stress during a stressful time.

The Art of Adventures Orlando Photographer and Blogger

Breastfeeding has been a beautiful part of my life

Also, short disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and all of this information is based on my own experience. Please seek guidance from your medical team before making any decisions about your own health.

My Four Hour Labor & Home Birth: What I Did To Prepare

My Four Hour Labor & Home Birth: What I Did To Prepare

Yup, my labor was four hours. Four incredibly intense hours.  I always love a good birth story so I’ll include some of my actual labor and birth story but this post is mainly about what I did to manage my labor at home. As a doula, I went into pregnancy and childbirth with a lot of knowledge and I was very prepared.  I’m happy to be able to share that information with you today!

It’s important to recognize that my pain management and labor management started months before the day my baby was born.  So I’ll start with my pre-labor preparations.  These lists aren’t exhaustive but may give you a good start if you’re planning a home birth.  If you have any questions after reading this, let me know!

Mental Pre-Labor Preparations

I started by doing the home study of Hypnobabies. I have a Master’s degree in Clinical Health Psychology which is included a lot alternative pain management including hypnosis.  So I knew that hypnosis would work well for me and I believe that Hypnobabies is the best clinically based childbirth hypnosis available.  In addition, I also read and watched many birth stories that were similar to the one I was envisioning- mostly with the use of hypnosis and birthing at home. I hung up a “Born at Home” onsie in the living room and every day I pictured my sweet girl being born safely and comfortably at home when it was the right time. This was my mental, emotional, spiritual getting ready for birth.

home birth onesie

This is the visualization I hung in my living room to keep me motivated and envision my safe home birth.

Physical Pre-Labor Preparations 

I also prepared physically for birth in several ways. I walked regularly when I was pregnant, at least once a day.  I found a short prenatal exercise video that included affirmations and did that every day as well.  I did some prenatal yoga as well as just some prenatal yoga moves and stretches throughout the day.  As soon as I was cleared for a home birth, at 37 weeks gestation, I also added in high step walking (this sometimes caused cramping so I chose not to do it earlier). I did belly mapping through spinningbabies.com and also The Miles Circuit to make sure that my baby was aligned in the perfect position for birth.  If you’re doing your own research for labor and birth, Spinning Babies will be an excellent resource overall on ways to make sure that your baby is in the optimal position for birth.  I worked as a doula for several years and can tell you that this will be one of the most important parts of ensuring a more comfortable, easier and quicker birth – if baby is in the optimal position.

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea

Mama Needs Some Red Raspberry Leaf Tea

Other Pre-Labor Preparations

I drank iced red raspberry leaf tea at the “medicinal dose” level my midwife recommended which was a large handful of the tea leaves steeped for at least an hour in a quart Mason jar.  I drank about a Mason jar or a little less everyday for the last few weeks of my pregnancy.  I was instructed I could have started the higher dose earlier but that’s when I felt comfortable starting.  Also, I think this really helped with my breastmilk production and it’s good for uterine toning which is also important after birth so I kept drinking it after baby was born.

I read affirmations daily. I created affirmations on cards and decorated them a bit.  I made two sets: one for pregnancy and one for birthing time. I also made my lock screen an affirmation with a picture from an ultrasound and a little outfit I looked forward to baby wearing.

I organized everything for my birth prior to 36 weeks.  This made me feel safe, knowing I was going into my birthing time prepared and organized.  I had the supplies from my home birth checklist from my midwife all lined up in the baby’s room and ready to go when needed.  The midwife and my husband knew where everything was. Although I didn’t have an official birth plan printed, I had some of my general wishes written down on a card and hung up on the fridge.  Everyone knew everything I wanted and what to expect and that gave me a lot of peace going into my labor.

Home birth supplies

Home birth supplies ready to go!

When Labor Started 

For several days I had some contractions on and off.  They’d pick up and slow down.  Then all of a sudden I knew something was different.  I had a little leak that showed up as not amniotic fluid on the little strip test but my contractions seemed to be getting a little more noticeable.  I called my midwife and she said basically relax and maybe I’ll see you later.  So I immediately sat on the toilet backwards.  I wanted labor to progess, it was daytime and I had energy. Had I not wanted labor to progress I may have done something else like rest or lay down.  But I wanted labor to move forward. Sitting on the toilet is one of the best ways to get contractions to be productive and help move things forward if baby is in the right position in my experience.  So that’s what I did. I also said to my husband, “Under no circumstances let me get in the shower any time soon. Just help me in other ways for now.”  This is because water can actually act as “nature’s epidural.”  Water can be so soothing that if done early in labor it can slow things a little versus later in labor it can help relax the body and move things along.  For this reason, I always recommended women attempt to save hydrotherapy as a pain management technique for active labor and not early labor. About 5-10 minutes later, I gave my husband a serious look and sad, “turn on that water!”  He started to say “But…” but did not get much out as I told him – “NOW!”

home birth bath tub shower birth ball set up

My bathroom set up – shower with the birth ball and bath tub close by

My Labor

My contractions were very close together, I had essentially very little break between them.  This took me by surprise but I was prepared.  I got into the shower and used a birth ball in the shower to take short breaks whenever I could. A birth ball (exercise ball) provides great positions for labor and so it was better than a shower seat.  I used towels to help stabilize and prevent slipping. I could easily stand up, lean on the wall in the shower, have my husband do counter pressure on my lower back, etc.  I had my Hypnobabies tracks playing in the background but mostly I was in my own zone.  I used a mantra in my head to keep myself focused and calm.  I went very “inward.” It was as though the outside world was very present.  I stayed focused and talked to my baby regularly in my head.  While I was doing this my husband called my midwife and she rushed over.  When my midwife got here, I had just gotten into our bathtub.  I labored in the tub for a about a half hour with my husband and my midwife pouring water over my belly or back depending on my position.  I moved into a more upright position and a few minutes and a few pushes later our sweet girl Elodie was born in our bathtub, caught by her daddy.

Birth Ball in Shower

The birth ball set up in the shower

Elodie was born

It was the 4th of July in the evening.  The midwife and her assistant helped me move to my bed so I could be more comfortable.  They performed the belly massage which I didn’t even notice much of – the adrenaline high was so high. They did the newborn exam in our bed while we listened to the 4th of July fireworks outside.  Like magic fairies, the midwives cleaned up the bathroom and bedroom so it looked like nothing had happened except leaving some towels and sheets still drying when they left. We snuggled up with Elodie, I ate a hearty pasta meal and we drifted off sweetly into our new life as a family of three.

My sweet girl born at home

My sweet girl born at home

Labor and Home Birth

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Tips for Attending a Baby Show like The Prego Expo

Tips for Attending a Baby Show like The Prego Expo

When you got engaged, you may have gone to a bridal show. So when you’re pregnant, you may look into going to a baby show. Here are some reasons to go and some tips on what to do when you go.

A baby show usually showcases some things like your birth options, how to get a breast pump, some amazing people who can help capture photos of your pregnancy and newborn baby, baby gear like car seats and carriers, samples of things like formula and more!

The Prego Expo Baby Show Orlando FL

A Mom Mocktail at The Prego Expo

When I was growing up, my mom used to joke that there was a parenting book which totally you exactly what to do.  Kids in her class would say that all parents would do the same things and she would say of course – that’s in Chapter 3, that’s why.  Then when I became a parent, I wished I had another master’s degree just in baby gear and the first year alone – car seats and baby wearing and formula and baby food and breast feeding – oh my! There is SO much to know.

Going to a baby show can give you a great deal of really good information in a short period of time.  Things that would take hours to Google or I wouldn’t even have known to Google, all in one convenient location – yes, please! In my opinion, attendance at one of these shows is a great idea, especially if you’re a first time mom and would like to get a lot of information in just a few hours.

If you go to a baby show like The Prego Expo, here are a few quick tips  to make your experience easier and more enjoyable.

  1. Check out the expo website. Make sure you’re generally familiar with where you’re going, what time it starts and any special instructions they may have offered.  This will take some of the stress out of trying to figure things out on the day of the event.  And moms need less stress for sure!
  2. Know what vendors you will not want to miss.  Start there.  If there will be a newborn photographer there that you’ve already been interested in or a lactation consultant who seems really knowledgeable, you’re not going to want to miss those booths.  Make a list of the people / booths you do not want to miss and try to start by seeing them first.
  3. Get there early.  Some times the lines are long and the first people in will sometimes get more samples and just more time in general.  Parking and getting in can take time too, so just allow for extra time, again less stress!
  4. Have a way to stay organized.  If you see something you want on your registry or a business you want to hire, make sure you have a way to record this.  You can do this by taking photos on your phone or have a note pad with you. Taking business cards can be helpful but they sometimes get lost, so I recommend having another way to store information about things you really want to follow up on after the show.
  5. Ask questions. No one expects moms to know everything so if you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Car seat safety and breastfeeding were two categories I asked lots of questions about when I attended a baby show for the first time. Don’t be shy!
  6. Pack snacks. If you’re like me and need to eat every hour or two, make sure you pack snacks! There may be some samples and also a place to buy food, but if you’re busy at the show, you’re going to want some quality snacks quickly. Moms, pregnant, breastfeeding, etc. just need to take care of themselves so do not forget this important aspect. You may also want to bring along a reusable water bottle too.

I recently attended The Prego Expo in Orlando.  I personally find The Prego Expo to be one of the best, most organized and fun baby shows.  For me, the value in this show is meeting people like photographers, doulas, lactation consultants and more.  They also offer sessions from medical professionals, a model show of beautiful dresses for pregnant women and some really amazing giveaways! If you have The Prego Expo near you, I highly recommend checking it out!

The Prego Expo Baby Show Orlando FL

Jennie from Goodnight Sleep Site Florida at the Prego Expo

The Prego Expo Baby Show Orlando FL

Central Florida Hynobabies at The Prego Expo

The Prego Expo Baby Show Orlando FL

Pin for Later or Share this Post with Friends! 

Thank you to The Prego Expo for hosting me.

5 Reasons I Chose a Home Birth

5 Reasons I Chose a Home Birth

Home birth has been making a bit of a comeback along with other historical ways of parenting such as breastfeeding and co-sleeping after many of these decisions were discouraged for various reasons in the last few generations. There’s been a large stigma around and, in my experience, a lot of fear about home birth.  You have many choices in giving birth including the location. Many families chose between the three most popular locations: hospital, birth center and home. All three have pros and cons. I worked as a doula for several years and witness first hand the differences. For me, the pros of a home birth were the strongest and today I’ll share with you why I chose to have my daughter in my home.

home birth baby

Elodie was born happy, healthy and at home.

1.  Home is where I feel safe. When asked: Where is the best place to give birth? My answer is always: Where you feel safe. I knew from the moment I saw the positive line on the pregnancy test that I would feel safest giving birth in my own home, in my own space. I do not feel comfortable in hospitals, around many people and machines. The power of relaxation and comfort in birth is undeniable. Bodies that feel safe, relaxed and comfortable have a significantly easier time giving birth. My body was always going to feel safest at home. So this was a really important reason for me to consider home birth.

2. I trusted my midwife.  The midwife I chose made me feel at ease and comfortable. From the first day I met her, she was confident and secure in her own decisions. She told me immediately that she would never make a decision she wasn’t comfortable with and would not support me being at home for my labor and birth if she felt like it wasn’t safe for me. She also had extensive experience including working in remote areas with no medical access which made me feel like she, without a doubt, could handle my birth with running water, electricity and a hospital nearby.

3. I didn’t have to get in the car.  You may think to yourself at first: this isn’t a reason. But it really is! Firstly, I honestly can’t imagine myself having to get into a car while I was in labor. I could not get out of the water or stop moving. Having to drive to a hospital or birth center would have felt horrific to me. Secondly, knowing what I know about women’s bodies in labor, it’s likely that this would have felt unbearable and also may have stalled my labor. The discomfort and change of scenery, added machinery and people I didn’t know would have likely made me so uncomfortable, it wouldn’t have been surprising for me to slow down my labor. Thirdly, if I had gotten into the car, it’s a real possibility I would have had a side of the highway baby. My birth team barely made it to my birth because my labor was so quick and intense. I’m glad they were the ones in the car coming to me and I was able to stay safe and calm in my bathroom waiting for them. In my opinion, a home birth with a skilled midwife is much safer and more comfortable than birthing in a car. I’m so happy I didn’t have to get in the car!

4. I believed in myself, my intuition and my body. Some of this came naturally and some of this I worked on. I studied Hypnobabies and spent every day preparing my mind and body for labor and birth. I treated birth preparation like a part time job. I did affirmations, my Hypnobabies tracks and exercised with birth in mind, everyday. I think all of this really helped me have a quick and uneventful labor. I knew that birthing at home was right for me intuitively, and if that had changed at any moment I would have vocalized that and my whole team including my midwife and husband knew to listen to me.

home birth onesie

This is the visualization I hung in my living room to keep me motivated and envision my safe home birth.

5. I ate pasta in my bed while my husband laid next to me holding my daughter.  Probably not the best reason to have a home birth, but also my favorite. After I birthed Elodie in our bathtub and my husband caught her, my midwife did all of our exams in our bedroom. After my birth team left, it looked like nothing ever happened (it’s magic how midwives are able to make birth “mess” disappear). We laid in bed as a family. My husband made me a hearty and warm dinner to nourish and replenish my body after all the work of labor and then he snuggled our baby next to me while I ate. Then we all slept comfortably in our master suite, with a king bed, our cosleeper for Elodie and my comfortable bathroom close by. This was amazing for me compared to being in a hospital bed with my husband sleeping on a chair and Elodie in a cot, nurses or machines waking us up. We didn’t need any of that medically, luckily. So we got to jump right into our new family routine in our own comfortable space.

home birth baby

Elodie and me in our bed, within an hour of her being born.

These reasons will not make home birth right for everyone. Some families will feel safer in a hospital or birth center. Some births are medically necessary to be in a hospital. There is no right answer for where you are meant to have your baby. But if you’re considering a home birth, I hope that this perspective on home birth helps you.

I would love to know: Would you consider a home birth or did you have a home birth? Tell me in the comments!

Did you know your home birth may be covered by insurance? Check out this post and contact your insurance today!

Home Birth Insurance Coverage

Home Birth Insurance Coverage

One question I’m asked frequently is: Where is the best place to give birth? My answer is always where you feel the most comfortable.

Having a home birth can be a beautiful and peaceful experience. I chose to have Elodie at home because it is where I felt safest.  I absolutely loved my home birth and to date, is one of the proudest and happiest moments of my life.

 

home birth

For several years I was a doula and birth photographer. I saw a variety of births in different settings and went into my own birth with my eyes wide open. I still knew that where I would feel most comfortable would be in my own home. I’ll share more on my decision to have a home birth and my own home birth experience soon.

Today, I’m happy to share some information about insurance coverage for home births.  Insurance companies are recognizing that low risk births for women who feel comfortable and safe at home are very safe and are starting to provide insurance coverage accordingly.

Cigna is now covering some home births through insurance. To find out if your Cigna plan will cover your home birth, I recommend you contact them directly. If you are looking for general information on their coverage, they provided me this link with additional information about current coverage on some plans. https://cignaforhcp.cigna.com/public/content/pdf/coveragePolicies/medical/AD_A002_administrativepolicy_home_birth.pdf

One of my favorite resources for evidence based information on the safety of birth in different settings and other things related to giving birth is Evidence Based Birth.

 

home birth

Feast of the Seven Veggies

Feast of the Seven Veggies

Have you heard of the American-Italian tradition “Seven Fishes?” My husband’s family honors this tradition and when we spent last Christmas in Connecticut, the whole family had a huge seven fishes feast. The feast is rooted in Catholic tradition of A Christmas Eve vigilia di magro (“lean feast”) abstaining from meat consumption on certain holidays and the sea-faring Italian people’s love of fish dishes. Although you’ll find varying explanations of how American Italians came to celebrating on Christmas Eve with the number of seven fishes, it has been a time-honored tradition in many families. Families honor this in different ways. Some make a soup with several fishes in it and have a few other fish dishes, totaling seven kinds of fish in one meal. My husband’s family has certain fish dishes that each family makes and they bring along to all meet at their grandmother’s house. They enjoy a fun Christmas Eve full of family time, great food, games, presents, singing, wine and most of all joy. It’s truly a beautiful tradition.

This is a family tradition we would love to continue but I have been eating plant-based for the last 15 years. And this year, we will actually be in Italy for Natale!  So I thought it would be fun to put a vegetable-based twist on this tradition and have our own Seven Veggies Holiday Feast. It still honors the roots of this feast and also is a compassionate and healthy way to honor the tradition. Even if you don’t want to do all veggies, this may give you some ideas of dishes to add to your holiday meal. If you have family or friends attending your holiday celebrations that eat plant-based, this may help them feel welcomed. With compassion, eco-consciousness and health as a priority all on the rise, so is plant-based eating. The chances of you having someone in your family who prefers to eat vegan, vegetarian or even just more plants than anything else, is high. This post will offer you an idea of how to do a completely plant-based celebration or just add a few veggie dishes to your meal.

The Feast of the Seven Veggies

FEAST of the Seven Veggies

Our Feast of the Seven Veggies

For our Seven Veggies Feast, we decided to pick some of our favorite vegetables that were available to us locally.  There are some other considerations you may want to make when planning your feast.

  • Having a salad and/or soup can be an easy way to start the meal with some light and easy veggies. An easy and delicious soup is butternut squash – a favorite in our house!
  • Crudités is another way to do a quick and easy starter.  Perfect for while the food is still cooking.  You can make one dip or a variety of dips and add some fresh cut veggies and you’re done.
  • Broccoli Rabe is the Italian “Christmas broccoli” so you may want to consider having a Christmas broccoli as part of your meal.
  • Having at least a few hearty, roasted veggie dishes as part of your meal is important, especially if you’re only eating veggies.
  • If you wanted to make this even easier, you could do a several veggie stew and a few other veggie dishes and have only about 3-4 dishes total. This is commonly done with the seven veggies within some families.
  • Most seven dishes feasts include a pasta (Italian!) so you may want to include a traditional pasta or spiralized veggie in your feast. We did both to make sure we had enough food that the kids would eat.
  • Consider adding nuts and seeds to some of the dishes to add a flavor variety and some extra protein.  Although most veggies have plenty of protein, this will add healthy fats and proteins to complete your meal.
  • Consider adding different spices, sauces and fruits to the dishes to make your dishes stand out.

Here are the courses we chose:

  1. Rainbow radish salad with a lemon basil vinaigrette Radish Salad with Walnuts and Lemon Basil Vinaigrette
  2. Roasted eggplant with tahini sauce and pomegranate seeds Eggplant with Tahini Sauce and Pomegranate
  3. Roasted cauliflower with dill, harissa tahini sauce, dates and pistachio Cauliflower with Pistachio
  4. Roasted beet steaks with aged balsamic, seasoned Roasted Beets with Balsamic Vinegar and Spices
  5. Broccolini with garlic and lemon Broccolini with Garlic and Lemon
  6. Spiralized zucchini spaghetti with a homemade tomato sauce Spiralized Zucchini with Tomato Sauce
  7. Roasted sweet potatoes with onion and seasoningRoasted Sweet Potatoes

We also had foccacia, crudités and a vegan chocolate mousse dessert to round off this plant-based Feast of the Seven Veggies.

Foccacia

Crudites Veggies and Dip

Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Pomegranate and Pistachio

Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Pomegranate and Pistachio for Dessert

 

I hope you give this a try or this gives you some ideas of veggies to add to your holiday meal this year!  What do you think?  Will you add in some veggies or do a whole Feast of the Seven Veggies? Tell me below! I’d love to hear if you give it a try.

Happy holidays to you and your family!