One of the questions I have gotten the most around my pregnancy is how my struggle with Crohn's has impacted my fertility, when to try to conceive and my pregnancy in general. Since it is World IBD Day, I figured what time could be better to get into this topic.
I will start by saying that I came into trying to conceive already pretty discouraged after years of being told it was going to be difficult for me because of my health. I had gotten and read so many mixed messages about how IBD can affect pregnancy. I came to the conclusion that no one really knew for sure and we were just winging it really (kind of like a lot of other things with autoimmune diseases). The biggest takeaway I got from my doctors though, was that my body would not be able to sustain a healthy pregnancy if I was not healthy myself.
Our plan was to wait to start trying until I got my health to the best point it could be. I continued with Remicade, focused on what I was eating and tried to manage my stress. This had always been my approach though so I wasn't sure how even with an increased focus, this would change my situation. I truly think it was the mental/emotional shift that moved my health in the right direction. I realized that IBD had more of just a physical impact on me; I had to deal with the emotional impact as well. I started therapy to deal with the guilt issues and there were a lot more than I thought... Guilt around being sick, anxiety around my health, fear of being able to be a good mom. The biggest thing I had to tackle was my inability to have faith that anything could go right for me health wise since it seemed as if there was always something else wrong I had to deal with. Now looking back, I don't even know how I could go into pregnancy with this belief that I was doomed for failure. I developed tools to handle getting difficult medical news and dealing with adversity in a more manageable way. I was in therapy for about a year when I finally felt ready to try to get pregnant. During this year I also worked through stress management and developing healthier ways to cope with stress, which I think made one of the biggest impacts on my IBD. I re-prioritized my life as an effort to reduce stress and focus more on my health and I definitely saw an improvement in both my body and mood. My Crohn's was never technically in remission, but when I felt like I had done all I could, I decided we couldn't wait for perfection or we would be waiting forever. It was time to trust myself; trust that my efforts were beneficial and trust that my body would know when it was time.
Luckily, that time came. If you read my post about figuring out we were pregnant, you know that the month it happened was actually the month my doctor said to STOP trying because she was worried about a thyroid issue. Well the universe and my body wanted what it wanted because we got a big fat positive. I was terrified at first that something would go wrong with the pregnancy and that my body wasn't well enough to sustain it. I went off all of my medication to control my symptoms besides Remicade. This was an adjustment, but certainly worth it to keep baby healthy. We will get into Remicade more later.
During the first few weeks, as I not so patiently waited for our first doctor's appointment, I was very worried because of pain in my abdomen. I couldn't decipher whether the pain was from my Crohn's symptoms or something being wrong with the pregnancy. My pain is pretty consistently on my lower right side so of course, whenever I consulted Google, I was certain I had an ectopic pregnancy. I was so blessed when at our first appointment, my OBGYN said things were looking fine.
Throughout my first trimester, I felt downright horrible between pregnancy nausea and constipation along with my regular Crohn's problems. I also felt very limited on what I could eat since nothing besides carbs were appealing to me and because of my IBD, I don't eat gluten. Around 8-9 weeks, I started to develop increased Crohn's symptoms which made it even more difficult to eat. I ended up losing a significant amount of weight in my first trimester which my doctor was concerned about. I was also very worried that my inability to eat would result in my baby not getting the nutrients he needed. Since all of these concerns were valid and related to my IBD, I began seeing a high risk OBGYN in addition to my OBGYN. I have and will continue to get growth scans done at that facility to track baby's growth in more detail to make sure my IBD symptoms or Remicade aren't negatively impacting him at all. In conjunction with the high risk OB, I also started to see a genetic counselor. We were already planning on seeing a genetic counselor for genetic testing, but she was able to go more in depth with us into the risks/benefits of my Crohn's medications.
Not only was it comforting to have additional medical professionals to consult with, but they also provided me with a lot of information so I feel confident making my own decisions especially around medications to stop or continue.
In addition to the trouble eating and maintaining my weight, I would say the biggest challenge has been figuring out what to do about Remicade. This is another area where the mixed messages are abundant. When I switched to Remicade about three years ago, I did so in part because I would be able to stay on it through pregnancy. From what my doctors had told me, this was the safest Crohn's treatment for me with the most studies around pregnancy. As I moved into my second trimester, I started to have more in depth conversations with my doctors about what my Remicade schedule would look like. No one really seemed to be on the same page with what to do. Mind you, at this point my symptoms were worse, but my blood work was the best it has been in five years because WHY would I expect anything with IBD to make any sense. My high risk OB told me to ask my gastro and my gastro said to ask my high risk OB. There are studies that said Remicade passes over the placenta in the third trimester which could be risky and then there are studies that say that it isn't harmful. I have spent countless hours researching Remicade since it seemed to me that I would have to be the one to make the final decision. Being neither a gastroenterologist or an OBGYN, this is terrifying. After a lot of back and forth, I decided with my OB that it would be best for me to continue on Remicade so as not to risk a Crohn's flare, especially since I was already having some issues. Basically, it is less risky to have a bit of the Remicade pass on to the baby in order to keep my body healthy and to be able to nourish him. The decision was made.
And then Covid happened. From my understanding, the risk Remicade poses to the baby is having a weakened immune system once they are born. In the old world, this wouldn't have been such a concern, but now, bringing a baby into the world with an already compromised immune system seems like one of the most terrifying things I could do. More conversations and back and forth's occurred between me and all of my medical team and there was talk about discontinuing the Remicade, with my last infusion being last Friday (21w5d). I came to terms with this decision and started on Apriso, in addition to my Remicade, so that I could have that to keep my inflammation at bay once I stopped Remicade.
As more studies come out, I am realizing that there really is no answer on what to do when you are pregnant with Crohn's and on Remicade during a global pandemic. Now we aren't sure what is best for me and the baby. Try to get one more Remicade infusion before he gets here? Stop all together just to be safe? As much as my medical team is working to provide me with the best advice, everything is uncertain now and I don't think there are any straight answers to give.
That is where I am at in my pregnancy/IBD journey at this moment. I'm trying to stay nourished, minimize my stress and figure out what my decision will be around continuing Remicade.
I am only a little more than halfway through my pregnancy so I'm sure there will be a ton more twists, turns and medical changes along the way. Right now, there is no indication that my Crohn's will prevent me from having a vaginal birth since I haven't had any surgeries to resection my intestines. As of my last appointment, the baby is growing on schedule and I have my next appointment to check on him again in just a couple of weeks. I pray everyday for our baby boy and I thank God that despite what was stacked against us, the baby and I are doing well.
I wanted to post a quick follow up to my Sephora Sale Pregnancy Must Haves that went live yesterday. I got a few questions about how to sift through all of the recommendations and decide on just a few products that you can order so you don't break the bank.
I put together a few suggestions that will give you some great products while sticking to a reasonable budget. One of the things I love about Sephora are their mini sizes which allow you to try new products before investing in the full size versions.
The Acne Trifecta
When hormonal acne hits, this trio has been what has worked for me. In my original post the spot treatment I recommend is the Belli Acne Control Spot Treatment which is pregnancy approved. This is what I am currently using but I have used the Umbrian Clay Mask by Fresh as my go to spot treatment before I was pregnant. I actually ran out and figured out I was pregnant before I had a chance to restock so I went with a new one from a pregnancy brand. After doing some more research, I believe the mask from Fresh should also be pregnancy approved (still double check for yourself, I'm not a doctor!). If you aren't pregnant, no worries then and you should be adding this amazing gem to your cart right now. You can also get The Deep Cleanse from Tatcha and the ACV Peel that I recommend in mini sizes to try out. You can get all three for under $50 during the sale!
Best Bang for Your Buck
For under $100, you can revamp your whole skincare routine with The Littles set from Drunk Elephant. This set contains 8 products from the line that are total game changers. It contains the Marula Oil, Protini Cream, and Umbra Sheer Physical Sunscreen ,all three of which are on my master list for pregnancy. According to Drunk Elephant's website, all of the other products are pregnancy safe but I have been shying away from the Glycolic Night Cream due to the salicylic acid. You can always save that for after your little bebe is born or if you aren't pregnant than you don't have to worry!
Top 3 For Glowing Skin
You can get these three items (all on my favorites list) for just a little over $100. These are the perfect combination of products to achieve glowy skin and if you were going to only invest in three basic products, these are what I would recommend. The duo from Drunk Elephant gives you their bar cleanser and exfoliant (both of which I love). These you can start with in the mini size since a little really does go a long way. The Water Cream from Tatcha I would go big on from the start. You will be lathering this everywhere morning and night. Last is the Healthy Glow Tinted Moisturizer from Charlotte Tilbury which I have been living in instead of foundation during quarantine.
This post was super quick and I just wanted to get it out there to answer some questions! If you have any other questions I didn't answer or additional suggestions, just drop me a message!
In quarantine I have been capitalizing on every little exciting thing that is happening, making it something big to look forward to. Well this week I don’t have to create my own hype because the excitement for the Sephora Insider Sale is REAL. For VIB member is starts on Tuesday, April 21st and I am ready.
Swapping out your regular beauty routine for pregnancy safe products can be expensive so this is a great time for mamas to be to stock up. Just digging through the crazy advice on the internet to decide what you are comfortable with ingredient wise is a hassle enough, at least when actually buying the products you decide on you deserve a break.
I’ve went through my fair share of products as I’ve experimented through these first 18 weeks of pregnancy so I want to share with you all what has ended up actually working for me. Unfortunately not only have I had to make the usual pregnancy product swaps, but I also was blessed with some crazy pregnancy skin. I had the “pregnancy glow” for maybe two weeks until it turned into hormonal acne and stretch marks, so don’t worry, I have products for those too.
I know going through a list of all of these products can feel overwhelming, but remember I am a product junkie so I love trying new stuff and budget each month for it. Don’t feel like you need everything at once. Try a few that feel most relevant to what you need and go from there. This is by no means a list of things you MUST have, just a list of things that have worked for me. I also am not a medical professional so always check with your doctor if you are unsure about a product or ingredient. These are the products I have choose to use based on my research and conversations with my doctor. There are enough crazy mommy blogs out there shaming you into spending $500 on a new beauty routine so you don’t “harm your baby” (and most of those are bullshit in my opinion). After almost falling victim to that myself thanks to all of the guilt I started feel, I have made an effort to be super careful about how I word these posts. I want the takeaway to be, “here is what worked for me, hope this helps” because none of us are experts and even the actual experts have conflicting advice! The best we can do is make informed decisions based on our research, so I hope my trial and error can help you narrow down what you may want to purchase, and keep you from wasting money on products that don’t get the job done. I also have to say, a lot of these products I was using even before I was pregnant and based on what ingredients I am okay with, they passed the test to be used during pregnancy as well. I didn't decide, oh I'm pregnant, lets buy new everything. That is totally unrealistic, so I urge you all to take a look at the products you already have and see what you can make work. I'll say this again for the people in the back, these are just recommendations for the swaps you do want to make or when you are out of a product and looking to restock!
As I am super excited for the Sephora Sale, not every product I love can be found at Sephora, so I have included links to those too. Most are not super expensive so won’t break the bank even without a sale ticket price. A lot of these products can also be purchased in mini sizes so if you want to try them out before you invest, these are prefect. I find out about most of my favorite products through sample sizes and purchasing the mini versions. This is also a great way to stick to your budget if you want to try a few things at once instead of splurge on one big item.
This Tula Purifying Face Cleanser Is a product I used before I found out I was pregnant and luckily could continue to use into my pregnancy. I love Tula products because they are formulated by a gastroenterologist and the line focuses around probiotics. This cleanser is gentle but gets the job done so it is perfect for everyday use.
In pregnancy I have limited my chemical exfoliants big time so I started to notice more build up on my skin. Especially as I started to break out more, I also noticed these tiny bumps on my face, neck, and chest that could only be remedying with some good, old fashioned, physical exfoliant. The JuJu Exfoliating Bar from Drunk Elephant has become my 'go to' because I feel like I can really feel it making a difference. It leaves my skin feeling noticeably smoother but not irritated. I use it on my face and down to my chest.
Moisturizers are where I will spend the big(ger) bucks. I am a true believer that the right moisturizer is a game changer. After trying so many, these three have really stood out as hero products since I've been pregnant. The Protini Polypeptide Cream from Drunk Elephant is my usual night time moisturizer. I will layer the Virgin Marula Oil from Drunk Elephant under it when I need a little more love in the hydration department. My favorite daytime moisturizer is The Water Cream from Tatcha. It is so light weight and soothing, plus it really makes a difference on how makeup lays on your skin. For a while I was wondering if Tatcha was worth all of the hype and the price but after trying a sample size and falling in love, I have to admit, it is worth every penny.
Drunk Elephant's Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser is the easiest way to remove makeup. With a little bit of this stuff, your makeup will just slide off of your face. No pulling or scrubbing and it works really well on stubborn mascara too. I first discovered this product in one of Drunk Elephant's mini sets. I love these because you get to try multiple products for less than $30 and decide which ones you like. In this case, I ended up also falling in love with the moisturizer that came with it. The Protini Polypeptide Moisturizer is one of my favorite moisturizers, so you can try out two of my favorites for only $22. I am always surprised with how long these tiny products last for too. Tip: Even if I end up purchasing the full size product, I save the tiny containers so I can refill them for traveling.
These Josie Maran Bear Naked Wipes are so soothing and are prefect for lazy nights when you can't imagine leaving your comfortable bed to get up and wash your face. I leave these in my nightstand for convenience. These wipes are my favorite because they slide smoothly over your skin so you aren't pulling or rubbing to wash the day off.
Pregnancy fatigue is NO JOKE. I looked in the mirror when I was about 8 weeks pregnant and it looked like I hadn't slept in three months. Well I know I'm only going to get MORE tired once baby gets here so I'm locking this in as a long term staple in my skincare routine. While mamas to be may have to limit their caffeine intake, that doesn't mean we can't use a little on our skin. The Rose Glow & Get It Eye Balm from Tula is a savior. It is cooling, brightening, and moisturizing. With a mixture of caffeine, hyaluronic acid, and rosehip oil (nature's retinol) this eye balm helps to treat your tired eyes while making them immediately look better.
Even though I have been more acne prone during my pregnancy, I still also have issues with hydration. I love the Jet Lag Mask from Summer Fridays because it is hydrating without making your skin feel oily. This is a must for me to have whenever I fly and during the cold winter months. This is another product I used prior to being pregnant so I was thrilled I would be able to continue using it through my pregnancy.
Another hydrating favorite from Summer Fridays is their new Lip Butter Balm. Hydrating, not sticky, pregnancy safe, pretty self explanatory.
No chemical sunscreen was the first pregnancy skincare rule that I learned. Basically every product I had for daytime, whether makeup or skincare, had chemical sunscreen in it. I would say the chemical SPF was the number one reason for many of the makeup products I had to swap out. I am big on sun protection so I needed to find an alternative quickly, especially since in my first trimester I was vacationing in Hawaii for two weeks. The Physical Defense Protection from Drunk Elephant is the best physical sunscreen product I have found so far. I put a little on in the morning mixed with my moisturizer for everyday use. For serious sun exposure I use this on my entire body. It is light weight and didn't make me break out, which is always a big concern for me when it comes to sunscreen. There was a bit of a learning curve when applying it because it is a lot thicker than my usual formula. A little goes a long way with this stuff!
I know there are mixed reviews when it comes to getting spray tans during pregnancy. I decided against it based on the conversations I had with my doctor. As someone who religiously was getting sprayed, I was desperately searching for a comparable option. My search for these products was also escalated due to my first trimester trip to Hawaii. Both of these products have exceeded my expectations in delivering a bronze glow. I usually add the D-Bronzi Sunshine Drops from Drunk Elephant into my moisturizer to use on my face and neck. I use the Isle of Paradise Self Tanning Drops in Dark for the rest of my body. I mix these in with my daily body moisturizer for easy application. I've also used the Isle of Paradise drops on my face which worked out perfectly fine as well. The Isle of Paradise drops pack more of a punch in delivering an immediate and darker tan, so I used these on my face while we were in Hawaii and will probably start to do so more in the summer. The color lasts about a week so you really only have to apply once a week which is super convenient. The D-Bronzi Drops are better for daily use in my opinion since they have more of a subtle, buildable color.
The Acne Trifecta
Pregnancy acne is NO JOKE. At first I thought a few little patches of hormonal acne would be no big deal. I was used to some weird break outs that corresponded with my Crohn's flares so I thought I was prepared. Well, I wasn't. I realized that the heavy hitters I was using to knock out my breakouts before were not safe to use in pregnancy. This lead me on quite a journey to identify what the heck I could actually use and what worked. I finally feel like I have things under control and I have seen a big improvement.
First off I had to bring in a bit of a heavier exfoliant to use every other day. The Deep Cleanse by Tatcha has really helped with the tiny bumps I have been getting and has been especially useful along my jawline. All of my usual peels were off the table, as were my spot treatments so I had to really get creative here. My doctor recommended trying to stick with benzoyl peroxide products for acne treatment but BP always does a number on my sensitive skin so that was not going to be good for me. Instead I use the Volition Apple Cider Vinegar Peel Resurfacing Pads once per week, specifically concentrated around where my hormonal acnes is occurring. Every other night I use Belli's Acne Control Spot Treatment. Belli is skincare specifically formulated for pregnancy and this specific product uses sulfur as the acne fighting ingredient. This spot treatment works great, but can be a bit drying, hence why I am using it every other night. The other nights I make sure I am focusing on hydration and usually layering my Murula Oil under my Protini Polypeptide Moisturizer.
So far Palmer's Coconut Oil Body Lotion has been my 'go to' for hydrating and trying to fend off stretch marks. I know they are pretty inevitable which was proven as over the past three weeks, despite my struggle to gain weight during my pregnancy, new stretch marks have made themselves at home on my sides. I am on the hunt for another product to add into my routine in conjunction with this body lotion, but nothing can replace this tried and true staple. This is also great to mix your tan drops in with and it smells like a vacation.
I've really paired down my everyday makeup routine thanks to never having to leave the house. This has made making my routine pregnancy safe a lot easier since I've eliminated a lot of steps. These products are the ones I have been wearing when I do wear makeup. This is all you will see me wearing on Instagram these days as well. As much as I love getting glam, I am holding off until I have somewhere to be.
Nail Polish (What I Have Been Using in Quarantine)
Last, but not least -- nails. I won't lie to you all and say I was going to stop getting my SNS Dip manicures while I was pregnant. I stopped getting them because I am in quarantine and can't leave my house. If you know me, you know my nail tech, Tracy, is an angel of a woman and has been doing beautiful things to my nails since 2017. I have consistently seen her every 3-4 weeks since July 2017, until now. I am a little lost and on my own since it has been a while since I've painted my own nails (first world problem, I KNOW). I remembered that one of the brands I loved when I was DIYing my nails was Deborah Lippmann. Well, not much has changed and the products are still great. As a plus they are also a lot safer when it comes to ingredients and they don't require UV exposure. I also am very horrible at painting my own nails and I can actually make them look decent with this kit. I recommend the Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro base and top coat as your initial investment. You can purchase full size Deborah Lippmann polishes from Sephora, but I really like the set of mini polishes since I rarely ever use a whole bottle anyway. These have been the six colors I have had on rotation since the beginning of quarantine.
I know this was a long one, but I hope it helps! I have really been so excited to share these products with you all because I know how challenging it can be to find advice on what to use during pregnancy. The Sephora Sale was just the icing on the cake to make this post that much sweeter since that makes a lot of these amazing products more affordable.
I am also working on a post detailing new items that I want to try and purchase from the Sephora Insider Sale and a post breaking down the best combination of products to get on a budget.
As always, let me know if you have any questions and I can't wait to hear what you all buy from the sale this week!
I hope everyone is getting through quarantine alright. If you saw my post on Instagram, you know that unfortunately I had to relocate to my parents' house to quarantine for the safety of me and Baby P. You can catch up on the whole story here but the overall gist is that my husband is a nurse and on the front lines helping Covid-19 patient. I am so incredibly proud of him, but heartbroken that we will be living apart until things settle down.
Although it feels like this pandemic is the only thing going on in the world, life is still moving along, and mamas are still pregnant! Today I wanted to talk about something on the lighter side and share the 'must have' items for pregnancy so far. I've pulled together items that have helped me through my first trimester, most of which I still use now 17 weeks in. Whether you are currently baking a little one or are hoping to soon, take a look through my list and rest assured you can safely order all of these online without leaving your quarantine.
My Favorite Pregnancy Tests
Up until I was frantically trying to decipher a positive vs negative results, I didn't realize there was such a thing as a favorite pregnancy test. I also didn't realize why there are so many different ones out there until I started really getting familiar with the whole testing process.
First Response Early Result, in my experience, was best when you were testing before your missed period. They are very sensitive and help decrease that nerve wrecking time you have to wait between ovulation and when you can accurately test. What I didn't realize was that if you are testing very early on, the second pink line may be faint. Even a faint line can mean a big fat positive and it darkens as the pregnancy hormones increase in your body.
If you are a crazy person like me and know you are going to take a ton of pregnancy tests at every moment you can to see if there are any changes in 'your line', I highly recommend stocking up on some more cost effective options like the Accumed Pregnancy Test Strips. There are 25 tests in a box for only $8. They aren't as fancy as the pricier options but they get the job done.
Once I got some promising pink line tests, I confirmed with Clearblue. At first when First Response was picking up a positive, the Clearblue digital tests weren't since it was still early. Once I was technically supposed to have missed my period, the Clearblue tests starting reading positive and gave a very clear 'PREGNANT'. These are very straight forward and there is really no way to misinterpret these, so they are a great way to really confirm you are, in fact, pregnant.
My 'Go-To' Prenatal
I started taking prenatal vitamins before I actually found out I was pregnant since we were trying to conceive. I already took Ritual multivitamins so I easily switched my subscription for the prenatal. The Ritual prenatal doesn't make me nauseous and it easily packs everything I need into two pills. I also love, especially now that I can't go to the store, that they come via subscription so I never have to worry about running out. With pregnancy brain in full force, this is definitely helpful.
So In the first trimester you may not even start to actually show but you will feel bloated and uncomfortable in basically anything you own besides sweatpants. About 6 weeks in, my bloating was out of control so I needed to invest in some basics that would make me feel more comfortable. These maternity tank tops are great because they are longer than usual tanks so they accommodate your growing belly and can cover things up if you need to start unbuttoning those jeans more often. Underwear was also something that just felt entirely uncomfortable to me. On a whim, I ordered these 'under the bump' underwear that were a total game changer for me. They are SO comfortable and don't feel restrictive at all. I can't recommend these enough, even if you don't think you need them, you do.
I debated waiting until I got bigger to buy a pregnancy pillow but I am very happy I got one early on. As someone who always sleeps on their stomach, this helped me get used to side sleeping. It also is great for getting comfy when lounging on the sofa, which you will be doing a lot of in your first trimester. Later on in my pregnancy I may upgrade to one with more support but this is perfect for beginning stages and under $40.
My Everyday Savior
Staying hydrated is so important when you are pregnant but it was certainly not one of my top skills. I literally need to have cold water accessible via a straw to me at all times to enforce hydration. That is exactly what I made happen. I love these Simply Modern tumblers so I ordered the blush pink/baby blue one along with some reusable straws the I ONLY use for water. With my senses (taste + smell) going wild, I needed a cup that would be free of any other smells or flavors. Water only please. This cup keeps my water cold, travels well, and is a fraction of the price of other ones on the market.
That is my roundup of the what you need in your first trimester! I will continue to update with more of my favorites as my pregnancy progresses. If you have any favorite products that mamas to be should check out, feel free to drop them below!
So, if you follow along on Instagram, you know 2020 has been a big year for the Pickens so far. It is weird to be going through one of the most exciting times of our lives while simultaneously the world feels crazier than it has ever been. We announced very exciting news that we are expecting, about a week before social distancing got serious here in Maryland. We had the first 12 weeks to share all of our emotions just with each other and close family and friends. We had been trying to get pregnant so this news was not a shock to us, but the timing kind of was.
I had a visit with my primary care doctor about a cough/cold that wouldn’t go away back in December and during my visit she expressed serious concern about my thyroid being enlarged. She told me to put a hard stop on trying to get pregnant since a lot of issues I was having, lead her to believe that something was wrong. Matt and I were so upset when we heard this news and I started scheduling my follow up appointments and tests immediately so that we could figure things out and get back to baby making ASAP. After already having Crohn’s that played into my fertility and pregnancy concerns, I was terrified of having another hurdle to jump.
Well, I had my imaging done and as I was waiting for my appointment with my endocrinologist we had a little surprise. One weekend after a few glasses of wine at dinner with our friends, I started feeling horrible. I was in bed all weekend feeling exhausted and like I had the worst hangover of my life. I didn’t worry about our boozy dinner out because, well, we had put trying on hold per doctor’s orders. It isn’t uncommon for me to feel like total trash for a few days thanks to my Crohn’s, so there was nothing super alarming about this. What really tipped Matt and me off, was our dog Rhaegar. Usually Charleston is attached to me 24/7 and Rhaegar is a daddy’s boy through and through. Up until this point I was his peasant who cleaned up after him and fed him, but he’s so freaking cute I dealt with his obvious disinterest in me. Well all of a sudden, he wouldn’t leave me alone. He had to be touching me at all times and spent most of our time together just laying directly on top of me. At night he migrated to my side of the bed and just laid on my tummy. At this point I told Matt that I was either dying or I was pregnant because this was so out of character for Rhaegar.
Thanks to his strange behavior I took a test. Well, I took a lot of tests and it was still very early so I had basically a lab set up in my powder room comparing test strips and how dark the two lines were. At first the second line was very light and I thought maybe I was going crazy. I kept taking tests like a crazy person everyday and made Matt go out to get different kinds of pregnancy tests to be sure. Well the ones he got, I read on a mommy blog that they were not the best, so while he was sleeping I ordered 40 more on Amazon. I am not kidding… I ordered 40 more pregnancy tests. So as Matt considered revoking my Amazon priveleges, the new tests arrived and of course, the first one out of the 40 was a BIG FAT UNDENIABLE POSITIVE. I took a few more just to be 100% sure. Now, I didn’t do a whole ‘reveal’ for Matt. He was with me every step of the way, examining my pee sticks, so romantic. But it was for real… we were having a baby!
I made my initial appointments, all the while freaking out because of course this happened the month we were NOT supposed to get pregnant. I was so worried something was wrong with me or the baby. Everything checked out with the OBGYN and my endocrinologist said to put everything with exploring my thyroid on hold until after giving birth. She said to be thankful and enjoy that I was on track with a healthy pregnancy and if there were issues, as long as they weren’t affecting the baby, we were fine. This still really freaked me out, but I understood once she explained if there was something seriously wrong, I wouldn’t have been able to get pregnant in the first place.
It took me a little to get that this was actually real and accept the beautiful fact that we were on track with a healthy pregnancy. With so much anxiety due to my health throughout our whole journey of trying to conceive, it seemed so unreal that this was actually happening.
Our anxiety continued as we would wait from appointment to appointment to make sure our little gummy bear was on track and doing well. It has eased up with milestones like hearing the heartbeat, seeing the baby move, and making it out of the first trimester. Of course, the anxiety still is with us (especially me) but I am learning to cope better and better.
While the first trimester was full of anxiety, it was also full of enjoying our little secret together and even escaping to relax in Hawaii for a couple weeks. I couldn’t wait to share the news with everyone in our lives and especially you all who have been here with me through everything in the past few years.
I’ve had a ton of things I have wanted to share about this journey and I have been taking notes all along the way. I wanted to start sharing all of the details and behind the scenes as soon as we made the news public, but with Covid-19 wreaking such havoc on our world, it took the backseat. After a few weeks in quarantine, realizing this is the new normal, I decided I need to start sharing. It feels uncomfortable talking about anything but the pandemic right now, but I know I have value to share in my experiences and now more than ever us pregnant mamas have to lean on each other.
This is the first post of many and I am going to be completely candid and vulnerable throughout this whole journey just as I am with pretty much everything here. I am beyond thankful to be able to share this story of bringing baby Pickens into the world. If I get too much into it I’m going to start to cry (love those pregnancy hormones) so I’ll put a pin in that for now. Thank you to everyone who has supported us so far in this journey and continues to do so. Your kind words and love mean so much to us.
Woah… how things have changed since my last post less than a month ago. Things have quickly escalated and I am writing this now from my 13th day in quarantine. As we go through this challenging time, I’ve been sharing updates along the way on my social media — some about the positive things this self isolation has brought and others focused on my frustrations around how my fellow humans are handling this pandemic. I’ve been trying my best to remain positive and manage my anxiety as much as possible as life has continued to evolve. I decided this afternoon, after my remote therapy/meditation session, that I wanted to use my platform to share some ways I have been coping with #quarantinelife.
I know this time is difficult, especially for those who struggle with anxiety or depression. Isolation can be very triggering as can living life without a set routine. In a time where it can be easy to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, it is more important than ever to be ready when those feelings come up. This has been a common theme in the chronic illness community, not just during the COVID-19 pandemic, but in everyday life. Due to health conditions beyond our control, sometimes we are forced to isolate. I have been able to live an active lifestyle in the past few years, but unfortunately, not all who are suffering from a chronic illness are so lucky. Now the world is getting a taste of the loneliness and fear those with chronic illnesses suffer with everyday. It makes me so sad that more people have to experience this, but we are all in this together. When I think about my darkest days of suffering and being sick, the online community of those in similar situations was one of the things that got me through it. I am hoping now that our fellow humans can now see the incredible benefit of coming together, sharing vulnerabilities, and lifting each other up during extremely challenging times.
I am no expert, but I have three habits I am implementing to help control my anxiety during these unprecedented times. The habits I am sharing are ones that are a bit out of the norm from the usual stuff you will read — exercise, meditation, walking outside — those are all things I am doing, but these dig a little deeper if you are ready to go there.
1. Different rooms for different things
I noticed myself spending all of my waking hours in my living room. My desk and computers are in there, my sofa and main tv are in there, my dogs like to be in there. It is the hub of our house, but spending so many hours in the same place day after day can be agonizing, especially when there is no separation of work and relaxation. I am making a conscious effort to have activities happen in various rooms. For example, when I meditate in the morning, instead of doing it on my sofa, I can do it in my master bedroom. When I take conference calls I can take them from my guest room. When my husband and I watch a movie, we move to the basement. If you don’t live in an environment where it is feasible for you to move around, at least try changing your space. Light a candle or put on different background music to switch up the vibe. You can even just move your chair to a different location or change the seat you usually pick to sit at on the sofa.
2. Set your intention for the day
When I was talking to my therapist, I was explaining that working from home is normal for me and I can do it well. I explained that actually being at home is comfortable for me, so I am fine with that. The anxiety inducing feeling that is coming up for me is not knowing what my purpose is each day. I have my ‘to do’ lists for work and I am knocking them out, but things are admittedly different. The world seems slower, which can be a good thing, but for someone who feels the need to always be in maximum production and self improvement mode, this is dangerous. My therapist suggested I included setting an intention for my day in my morning meditation. Basically I decide what I want to get out of the day and own it. Somedays it is going to be, my intention is rest and I want to lay on the sofa and cuddle with my dogs while we watch Netflix all Sunday….and that is okay. It can feel okay because I am choosing to set that as my intention and owning it. I realized that I naturally do this at the beginning of my work day, but my personal priorities seem to slip from my intentions when work is the focus. Now I will focus on what my intention will be outside of just being a productive employee. Will my intention to be more mindful and take an half hour break to enjoy tea on my back deck? The intentions I set will be around larger feelings than just completing daily tasks. By focusing on these intentions everyday, I can feel accomplished in my own way. I hope that this is a habit I can form and carry on once we resume regular life.
3. Do not feel guilty about sometimes focusing on the trivial things
I have so fallen victim to this mentality. These are really sad times. People are suffering, the world is in an unprecedented state, and yeah, things are really scary. I feel guilty allowing myself to think of trivial things like painting my nails or ordering something online during a time of such tragedy. I realized that this is not helpful and has caused me to just become more of an anxious mess. In order to take care of myself the best I can, I need to make sure I am preserving my mental health. Life hasn’t stopped just because of COVID-19. It is okay to laugh with your friends (via FaceTime) or order some new nail polish to boost your spirits. I cannot punish myself for what the world is going through or take on the pain of everyone else. There are folks who aren’t taking this thing seriously and who actually need to focus more on the gravity of the situation, but is you are taking the time to read this, that probably isn’t you, and you are a self aware gem just trying to cope.
I will provide more frequent updates on this COVID-19 journey via my Instagram. I hope that some of the content I share helps you through this time. As I’ve checked in with other spoonies around the world who I have met, I am heartbroken by what just the domino effect of this virus has done for their lives and health, but at the same time I am so inspired by their strength and positivity that never fades. That is why, even when it is easier to put my head in the sand and try and wait until this passes, I want to put myself out there to be vulnerable about what is going on and offer support to you all in this time. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you are struggling. We are all in this together.
Written while wishing I was back on a beach in Hawaii.........
I just got back from the most relaxing trip I think I have ever taken. It was also the most needed vacation! Matt and I met my mom on Oahu and we spent a little over a week getting a big dose of R&R at Disney's Resort, Aulani. That is a whole amazing experience to share, but in this post I want to talk about what is lingering over our heads these days when we talk about travel. Coronavirus.
We had planned this vacation far before the threat of coronavirus crossed our minds, but of course as the outbreak and fear heightened, it was very much on our radar to consider when traveling. Especially being immunosuppressed, these are things that I have to worry about. Flying during flu season already peaks my anxiety and requires extra precautions, but a potential worldwide pandemic... yikes. We have to keep in mind that my travel decisions were made a month ago now and the virus/spread has evolved since then. I had to make decisions based on the facts I had and the advice from my doctors. My gastro gave me the green light to continue with my travel plans, since the flu still seemed to be much more of a threat. I was to still move forward with my regular precautions and things should be fine. Matt and I weighed our options and made the decision that we were still going to go.
Since I've been back, I've chatted with quite a few people who have upcoming travel plans and are in the same exact debate we were in just a month ago. Should they go or not? I am in no way a medical professional so all I have are my opinions. The kind of scary thing though is that is lot of the advice that is being given out by medical professionals, opinions. We are finally getting some hard facts or the spread and fatality of coronavirus, but without the depth of studies we have on other viruses, advice stems from opinions. That being said, you have to make the decision for yourself on whether or not you will travel. For me, we weighed a lot of things before deciding. Once we made the decision that we were going, I did everything in my power to research proper sanitation and prevention protocols so we could feel confident we were doing what we could to avoid the virus. If you are traveling in the near future and are looking for some tips, that is what this post is here for. I've done posts before about staying healthy while traveling (vitamins, hydration, etc.) but I have never highly focused on disease prevention, until today. You have probably read similar things on the CDC website, but I'm sharing the specifics on how I navigated the situation in hopefully a lot more interesting and easy to digest way.
WHAT TO PACK
Don't fail to be prepared here! It is better to have some extra items instead of being the one begging fellow passengers for a Clorox wipe. For this trip here are things I brought......
Large pack of Clorox wipes- I went for the large pack because I could use these to wipe down our hotel rooms too. Make sure to store the package in a plastic bag to avoid any leaks in your carry on or purse.
Multiple hand sanitizers - I opted for one easy access bottle on my husbands backpack and a spray sanitizer for my purse. Having the easy access one is perfect for busy locations (like the airport). The spray is super user friendly and very kid friendly since you are less likely to get a ton of extra product on their hands. They also barely have to even rub it in.
Face masks - I know there are mixed findings about whether these are effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus, but I always opt for a mask while flying during fly season. To me, being immunosuppressed, it is worth the extra precaution. These can be difficult or expensive to get your hands on now, but you can try asking your doctor's office if they have one or two they can give you for your trip. This may not work, but it is worth a shot. Luckily we always have a supply of these in our home (who would have ever thought Crohn's would lead me to possess one of the world's hot commodities?!).
Socks- I know I am usually talking about how I need my aloe infused spa socks for long flights. Well, those are still preferred but being completely serious here, you need just any pair of socks, on your feet, at all times. I will explain as we go through things.
Pillow + Blanket- BYOB. Bring your own blanket. You do not want to be asking for the pillows and blankets they give out on flights. As sanitary as you may feel they are, I am not trusting it. You know you are going to have that thing next to your face for the duration of your flight while you try to snooze, so do yourself a favor and bring your own. I found this travel pillow/blanket on Amazon for around $20. It worked out great, and now I can wash it upon returning home and use for my future trips.
GOING THROUGH SECURITY
Okay, so you're in the airport, checked in, hopefully you sanitized after using the touchscreen kiosks, and now you are entering security. I made the mistake of not taking my jumbo pack of wipes out of my bag before going through TSA. They are totally cool if you bring them, just make it easier and separate them for your other belonging before sending them through the x-ray machine. Also, PLEASE WEAR SOCKS. You are walking on a floor that so many toes have been on. Give yourself a barrier and at least wear some socks while you take your shoes off to go through security. Once you pick up your belongings make sure to sanitize your hands. At this point I also wiped down my cell phone. Those things are nasty.
Once you get on the plane and get to your seat, the real fun begins. Whip out those Clorox wipes and get to cleaning. Airlines do the best they can to clean up in between flights, but let's be real, they are not sanitizing every seat. That's your job! Make sure to wipe down the seat, the tray table, the seat belt, the seat belt buckle, armrests, your air vent, and if you are sitting next to the window, the window and the wall. I know this potentially sounds excessive, especially the window/wall part, but listen up... how many times have you caught yourself on a flight with your head against the wall while in the window seat taking a quick nap. Your face is very close to that window and that wall, okay? From what I've read, the best seat for optimal air circulation (hopefully less germs) is the window seat. This in flight positioning also gives you the least contact to other passengers which will help prevent picking up germs. So grab that seat and get to sanitizing. Also, make sure to put your mask on.
WHILE IN FLIGHT
Relax, take a nap, watch a movie. Just remember to try and keep your hands off of your face, sanitize before eating, and sanitize after coming back from the bathroom even though you've already washed your hands. Also, do not go barefoot frolicking through the plane. This is a personal issue I have with unsocked feet on planes, but it also a medical concern. Socks are a barrier between your feet and all of the germs swirling around on the airplane floor, so wear them! I still always put on shoes if I am getting up to walk to the bathroom though. Utilize your self provided pillow and blanket instead of the airline issued ones. Also, make sure to keep your mask on as much as possible (aka whenever you are not eating or drinking).
As I said before, I am by no means a medical professional, these are just the precautions I took during my most recent travels. There is really no full proof way to prevent you being exposed to coronavirus, but we have to do what we can. Even if we weren't on the verge of a worldwide pandemic, these tips would still be relevant for preventing the spread of disease in general. Now more people are just tuned in!
Immunosupressed or not, I am interested in hearing your take on the coronavirus and its impact to travel. Are you worried? Do you think the news has over hyped things? What, if any, extra precautions are you taking?
Since we entered 2020, I've heard a lot of people's New Year's goals have to do with reading. Some are trying to clock more hours with a novel instead of in front of the TV and others are aiming to use the knowledge they gain from hitting the books to help them with personal development. Either way, bravo to you for building a habit that is great for your brain and also a fantastic way to destress (at least for me!). If you follow the blog pretty regularly, you know that reading is one of my favorite ways to spend leisure time. I've worked my way through plenty of self help, fiction, and non- fiction novels over the past year or so and I'm always adding to my list of favorites for my Amazon page or for posts on the blog. Since a few friends have reached out for recommendations, I got the idea to put together some of my top picks that I would recommend to my best friends and to all of you. I broke things down into a few categories so you can skip right to the section or sections that interest you the most.
Pretty much all of these books are available as physical copies, Kindle books, and on Audible via Amazon. I've traditionally been a fan of physical copies of books, but finally made the switch to reading via my Kindle app on my iPad. While it took me a little to get used to the switch, it definitely beats lugging eight different novels around on vacations. My husband who is also a big reader has a Kindle which he swears is his most prized possession. Either way, we both give a big thumbs up to opting for digital copies these days. I also have the Kindle app downloaded on my phone, so if I get stuck in a doctors off or other unexpected situation where I have idle time, I can keep myself busy with whatever I'm reading. If reading isn't your thing, I recommend trying out Audible. You can get all of the great content from your reading list, just delivered easily through your AirPods on your commute, while you clean your house, or while working out. All of these little conveniences make it so much easier to integrate reading into our already hectic, busy, and jam packed lifestyles.
I am also gearing up for a long flight next week, so any recommendations that aren't on my list, please send my way! I love discovering new books and new authors to fall in love with.
It’s the middle of January and, let’s be real, a lot of those big resolutions that were set into motion for the New Year have fizzled out. I’ve been in that boat many times before, not because I haven’t wanted to make big changes, but because the goal was so large and I didn’t have a plan to get there. Now I take a different approach to making changes and especially resolutions. Instead of saying things I am NOT going to do, I choose habits to fill my routine with positive little actions that can add up. To really get specific, I break down the year into three month increments and have specific things to focus on during each of those times. The goal is to have these little changes become habits so every few months I can build on the progress. I pick one to two simple things in a couple different categories: mind, body, spirit, and business. I have a journal that I track my habits in each week and record how I am feeling.
Okay, so lets get into how I actually come up with these small habits. I brainstorm my intentions for the next few months and decide on my top words or phrases that speak to me. For example, my intention statement for these next three months is: “Level up. Comfort. Intention. Building trust and confidence by keeping promises to myself.” Once I am clear on my intention, I can come up with habits or small changes that will help me to get there. The more simple the better, because you are more likely to actually do these things. Making small changes that build over time is way more effective than setting out for a big change without a plan you can execute on. Try things like, “meditate for five minutes everyday” instead of aiming for what might be your ultimate goal of a half hour per day. The more you get used to these small habits, the easier it will be to build on them and get closer to your ultimate goal. It also builds your excitement and confidence when you can actually achieve the goals you are laying out for yourself.
I also find that the way I word my small changes also has a big impact on my mindset around them. This might not be for everyone, but for me it really make a difference. Instead of working the habits as things I have to do, I word them in a way that makes me feel like each action is serving me. For example, if I am trying to work out more, instead of saying, “I want to go to a workout class at the gym x amount of times per week”, I say “move my body in ways that feel good x amount of times per week”. This takes away the feeling of “having to” and also allows for some wiggle room. Having a little wiggle room in some areas is key for me. Life can get crazy, plans change, and especially with my health I need to have ways to adapt that don’t get me down and discouraged. If my goal is to move my body in ways that feel good, that means when I wake up with body pain on a Sunday morning, I don’t just ditch the gym because I can’t do that specific class I was aiming for. Instead I listen to what my body is asking for and can substitute yoga or pilates. I am keeping with my habit and serving my body.
So far since I have implemented this style of making changes and forming habits, I have been really pleased with the results and my overall mindset. This is just an overview of how I set these goals and stick to them, but if you want more details and specifics I can definitely share more. Just shoot me a message to let me know! I can also send you the details on how I lay out my journals.
This is a newer area for me to dive into on the blog, but as I’ve gotten more into achieving better mental health in the way of balance, I have become super interested in things like this. I read a ton of books and articles, which I take ideas and approaches from and adapt them into what works for me. It took me a while to find these specific things that really speak to my soul and just work, so I want to spread the love and hopefully my method can help someone else!
2019 has been a year of transformation for me. Probably one of the most emotionally/mentally transformative years I’ve had. It was a fucking hard year though and I haven’t had one of these “transformative” years since 2009. A decade later I went back on a journey to dig deeper in myself to find more happiness and be a better wife, friend, daughter, sister, and hopefully eventually mom. I became more spiritual in a sense of truly believing in the universe and a higher power’s plan. I’ve reached higher self acceptance and found grace within my mistakes and flaws. I’ve developed more love and understanding for those around me. I believe in myself and trust myself more than I ever had.
2009 was the first time I was strong enough to seek a better understanding of myself. To make a fully committed effort to deal with difficult shit and better my life for the future me I didn’t even know was ahead. Making the choices I did in 2009 set me up for the year of emotional exploration 2019 gave me. And I hope the work I have done this year will set my up for the me I will be in another 10 years. The past decade has given me some of the worst, lowest, and most confusing times of my life but also some of the best, most rewarding times I’ll cherish forever and all of those have shaped me as a person. I feel like we can mostly all say that in regards to a decade, especially one that spans almost your entire 20s.
Looking at the me in 2009 - little, fierce, scared but brave at the same time, confident in the future but so unsure about myself. Then I could never imagine what my life would be today because the journey has had many twists and turns. But now looking back I see the fight and passion in 2009 me and I can see how I made it to where I am. Although this isn’t what I imagined, it is better and what I am meant for in every way possible. I am thankful for the experiences both good and bad that have shaped me these past ten years and I know there will be equally and more emotionally turbulent events that this next decade brings.
Starting this next decade I wish for myself to continue to trust in a higher power, to gracefully accept things I can’t change, to use my passion to do good for others, and to fully appreciate every little gift life bestows me. Instead of going into the New Year with resolutions and things I want to change, my goal is to be the best me I can be everyday and be confident that doing that is enough. I want to leave behind expectations of what I "should" be and appreciate every bit of who I am and who I am becoming.
I hope that as you read this, you are thinking of what you have done to make yourself proud this past decade. I mean, you made it this freaking far, that is an accomplishment in and of itself. I for someone this is an inspiration to channel their strength into dealing with some difficult shit they are going through in hopes of a better future. I hope that someone is reading this and is like YES GIRL I am with you in this journey, because the journey is a beautiful place to be.
I am so ready for the magic this next decade has in store for us and I am feeling stronger than ever as I embark on this new adventure.
Blonde babe. Maryland native. Crohn's crushing puppy mother to two sweet rescues.
Welcome to my unfiltered commentary on crushing chronic illness in your 20's and everything that goes along with that.