Self-Help Books For The Self-Help Skeptic

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Just the words “self help,” may make you squirm. Trusting a stranger’s advice about what will make you happy is certainly questionable. If you’re a self-help skeptic, I encourage you to dabble in these three books. Each of them uplifts and informs, without arrogance. All three have changed my life.

Follow Your North Star by Martha Beck

The one life guru I turn to above all others is Martha Beck. Other people must feel the same way, because she’s wildly popular.

Beck’s fascinating life-story took her from Mormonism to Harvard to raising a son with Down’s Syndrome, to inventing the career of life coach. She’s intelligent, down-to-earth, and above all, authentic.

Beck’s tone sets her apart. She’s not preachy. She’s not lofty. She’s not out of touch with real life; quite the opposite. Beck offers practical advice that’s easy to immediately integrate into daily life. If I have a problem that feels unsolvable, I inevitably Google the problem with Beck’s name attached: “grief Martha Beck,” “forgiveness Martha Beck,” and so forth. The search always leads me to a candid and deeply helpful article that not only makes me feel less alone and gives me action items to improve the situation, but that also makes me laugh at her and at myself. When I read Beck’s work, I feel like she is speaking directly to me.

Of all her articles for O, The Oprah Magazine and of all her books I’ve read, the audiobook Follow Your North Star is the most powerful for me. In it, Beck leads you, the reader, through the process of listening to your inner voice and letting it guide you toward the life you were “meant” to live, a life full of energy and freedom. I’m not sure I would have become a stay-at-home mom had I not listened to this audiobook, and that life decision brings me more joy than I knew was possible. Follow Your North Star is also available on iTunes.

The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer

Of all the spiritual books I’ve read, New York Times Bestseller The Untethered Soul takes the proverbial cake for putting me in touch with the spiritual side of life. Unlike similar books, it’s not repetitive, and the language is concrete. Singer’s masterful use of metaphor enables the everyday lady like me to truly grasp and wallow in profound concepts about our human existence on this planet. And he even teaches you how to let go of past pain. Wow.

Stand Up For Your Life by Cheryl Richardson

Look past the cheesy cover (sorry, Cheryl), and you’ll find a book full of practical tools and exercises to help you build courage and trust in yourself. In my early 20s, Stand Up for Your Life boosted my self-confidence as I entered the workforce and became a “real adult.” I haven’t cracked it open in years, but I think back to its key tenets often: how to view “negative” life experiences in a constructive way, when and how to speak up for yourself, how to silence defeating thoughts, and how to resist shying away from your own greatness. Richardson is a self-help rockstar.

If you find yourself wandering to the self-help section at Barnes and Noble, don’t be embarrassed, my friend. There’s no reason to be ashamed of improving one’s self. Or, if you are too embarrassed, just order them on Amazon.

You might also like Trust Your Instincts and The Truth About C-Sections.

The Truth About C-Sections

I’ll be honest. Having a c-section was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. And I’m a tough cookie. I don’t mean to scare you. I merely hope my experience will help one mom stand brave in the face of an unanticipated c-section.

I was determined, as I’m sure many of you are, to have a vaginal delivery. I assumed because I’m young and healthy, my delivery would be fairly routine. But after my water broke, I failed to actually go into labor. Despite the doctor’s best efforts to induce contractions, nothing happened for hours and hours and hours. It was time to get the baby out.

The anesthesiologist discussed the c-section process with my husband and I. She calmly explained that they’d inject me with a local anesthetic, we’d wait 45 minutes for the numbing medicine to work, and then the nurses would wheel me into the operating room.

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That’s not what happened. Instead, the doctor arrived and quickly wheeled me into surgery without the numbing injection. This sent my tired mind into an irrational tailspin of fear. I convinced myself that the medical staff wasn’t going to properly numb me — that I’d feel all the pain.

As the doctor pushed my hospital bed down the hall, I turned around to find my husband, who was right behind me. He was gone. I panicked. I mean, really panicked. What are they doing to me? This is all wrong. Where’s my husband? I can’t do this. I have to go home. I really can’t do this. Who are all these people? I don’t trust them.

I looked up at the doctor as he wheeled me along. “Are you going to numb me, like the lady explained?” My voice was shaking.

“We’ll numb you,” he said.

Eventually the nurses allowed my husband in the room. He was a rock of support throughout the process, as he always is.

I still don’t know what changed with the anesthesia, why they didn’t inject it 45 minutes prior to the operation. Instead, the medical staff numbed my lower half in just a few minutes, immediately before surgery.

They pumped the anesthesia into my body and poked around on my stomach, which I couldn’t see behind a curtain. “Can you feel this?” they asked repeatedly.

“Yes, I feel it,” I answered over and over again, fearful that they wouldn’t give me enough anesthesia.

“When you feel a small touch, we’re actually pinching your skin very hard.” I guess that was supposed to assuage my fears.

As they performed the procedure, I felt tugging and pulling, but no pain. I knew they must be violently twisting my skin this way and that.

Whether it was the medicine or the nerves or both, my body would not stop shaking. During a c-section, the mother is supposed to hold her arms out in a T. It required all my mental and physical strength to keep my arms in a T. Every ounce of my being told me to curl them in, curl up, and go home. I really, really can’t do this. This is too much. It’s never going to end. Adding to my nerves, I heard the doctor training a medical student, guiding and correcting him as he cut through my body.

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And then, all of a sudden, it happened. He was born. My baby boy. They held him up so I could see him, and it all just clicked. That’s why we’re doing this. This is for my son. My son. My beautiful, silly baby boy. There he is. He is part of me. This is wonderful. I felt as though the whole world was one big beautiful firework.

I had been so self-centered during surgery, so focused on what they were doing to me, that I completely forgot why they were doing it. It was for my son. My joy. My little man.

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My husband held him for the first time. We all looked at one another with wonder. It seemed as if the three of us had always fit together, matching puzzle pieces, since the beginning of time. I felt then, and have continued to feel, utterly bonded to my husband, my baby boy, and to all mothers past and present.

In retrospect, I’m quite impressed by the nurses and doctors who performed my surgery. Thank God for modern medicine. Who knows what would have happened to H and I, had we not been in the care of such talented people.

I know now that I shouldn’t have assumed I’d have a vaginal delivery. If I could do it over again, I would learn more about what to expect during a c-section. Knowledge is power. Power is calming.

However your baby enters the world, I wish you health and as much calm as you can muster. Look forward to your firework.

C-Section Resources

Baby Center: Giving birth by cesarean section
WebMD: Planned and Unplanned, Risks, and Recovery
Cesarean Birth Video Animation

You might also like Trust Your Instincts and Handmade Hobby Horse: Wise Family Tradition.

Choosing a Pediatrician

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Choosing a pediatrician feels like choosing a third parent for your child. You’re entrusting this person with your baby’s life, after all. Truth be told, I was quite intimidated by the process. Eventually I dove right in, researched several doctors, interviewed two, and chose the best pediatrician in town. Hopefully, you’ll have as much success finding the right doc for you as I did. Here’s a little bit about our process:

Gathering Names

We gathered potential candidates by asking friends, checking St. Louis Magazine’s top doctors from the last few years, and identifying clinics near our house.

Researching Candidates

Time and again, people recommended the same two children’s clinics. I researched the doctors at those two clinics using Angie’s List and HealthGrades. This helped me narrow the search to two doctors. I try to keep in mind, though, that some fabulous doctors don’t care about promoting themselves online or in magazines. Just because a doctor doesn’t have many recommendations doesn’t mean they aren’t quality.

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Interview

I scheduled a meeting with each doctor. My husband and I came prepared with interview questions from BabyCenter. Most pediatricians are used to conducting informational interviews, and they answer all of your questions before you have to ask them. After the interview, before we even drove out of the parking lot, we jotted down a few notes in the car. Here are the items that were most important to us:

  • Does the doctor see newborns at the hospital or wait until the first office visit?
  • Do you offer same-day appointments when my child is sick?
  • How often will we see other doctors in this clinic versus see you, our primary care physician?
  • What do we do if we have questions after hours?
  • Are the staff and nurses helpful and patient?
  • Is the waiting room pleasant and kid-friendly?
  • Do we feel comfortable with the doctor?

Choosing

H’s pediatrician stood out for a few reasons. First, we had a great rapport with him; he’s funny yet informative. Second, the clinic is five minutes from our house, and you frequent the pediatrician a lot, especially in the first few years. But most importantly, we like that H’s pediatrician would be the doctor actually seeing us, not any random doctor at the clinic. We trust the other doctors, but building a relationship with H’s primary care physician is important to me. Our pediatrician will more intimately know H’s medical history and our family. We really couldn’t be happier with our choice.

If anything about your current pediatrician just doesn’t feel right, keep shopping around. You aren’t married to him or her. You’re free to search until you find someone worthy of caring for your little miracle.

You might also like The Happiest Baby on the Block and Trust Your Instincts.

10 Ways to Find Mom Friends

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You have work friends, high school friends, and college friends, but what about mom friends? With so many women choosing to have children later in life, or not having them at all, it’s hard to find girlfriends who can relate to your mommy side.  No one better understands the trials, tribulations, and humor of parenting a newborn than others who are doing the same thing. That’s why it’s so important to reach out to other mamas. Spend a naptime searching for mom groups, and dive right in. You aren’t alone, and groups like this will remind you of that.

1. Breastfeeding Support Groups

Between La Leche and hospital groups, you’re sure to find a gaggle of ladies who get together to chat all things breastfeeding and babies. For my breastfeeding advice see Top 10 Breastfeeding Must-Haves and How I Stored 300 Ounces of Breastmilk in 3 Months.

2. Hospital New Mom Groups

Many hospitals offer a time and place for new moms to gather. My hospital’s new mom group provides guest speakers on topics from college savings plans to home safety. Give your hospital a call to see if they offer a similar service.

3. Gymboree Play and Music

Though pricey, Gymboree is tons of fun. The music, puppets, and parachute put a smile on H’s face. Classes incorporate discussion among parents to help you get to know one another. The first class is free, so give it a try to see if it’s right for you and your babe.

4. Little Gym

Believe it or not, Little Gym accepts babies as young as 4 months old. The classes focus on body awareness and movement. They’re quite affordable, and some locations are free for the first few months.

5. Swimming Pool

Baby-mommy swimming classes are a surefire way to meet other moms. If taking a full-blown swimming class isn’t your thing, look for pools with time set aside for open swim for babies. It’s easy to meet other moms with so many adorable waders splashing around.

6. Baby-Friendly Aerobics Classes

StrollFit classes cater to moms of all fitness levels and enable you to bring your baby along. If you don’t have StrollFit classes nearby, don’t fret. Many gyms offer baby-friendly exercise classes. Mom friends who sweat together, stay together.

7. Neighborhood Organizations

When H was born, I didn’t know any young moms in my neighborhood. A Google-search led me to discover a thriving local moms group. I now have oodles of activities on my calendar. Search Facebook, too, to find mommy organizations in your area.

8. MeetUp.com

MeetUp is a giant network of local groups. You can easily search for playdates in your area and sign up to receive emails when new playdates are formed. Through MeetUp, I discovered Hip Mamas St. Louis, a group with over 90 members.

9. Library Story Time

Story time is a good excuse to get out of the house and meet new people. Ask the mom next to you if she wants to grab coffee afterwards. It may feel like you’re asking her on a date, but that’s kind of what making new friends feels like.

10. Mom’s Club

Mom’s Club is an international organization. Each local chapter has its own personality, but most of them offer playdates, mom’s night out, and Facebook groups you can turn to with parenting questions. No Mom’s Club in your area? Consider starting your own chapter.

Making new friends can feel awkward for anyone. Just remember that the other moms are in the same boat you are. They’re out and about to meet people too, so why not be the first to speak up. Your babies provide you with plenty of conversation starters and entertainment.

You might also like Trust Your Instincts and Farewell, Stretch Marks: Beauty Tips for New Moms.

Farewell, Stretch Marks: Beauty Tips for New Moms

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Beauty may be the last thing on your mind when you’re diapering, feeding, and cuddling your new one 24 hours a day. Do yourself a favor: give Dad or Grandma a chance to hold the baby, and take a few minutes — or seconds — for yourself. Call me crazy, but I think feeling good about your appearance helps you be a better mom. The following beauty tips make me feel if not beautiful, at least human.

Wear Your Hair Natural

What a time saver that natural, messy hair is popular right now. Take advantage, mama! Throw some product in your hair and let it air dry. As a curly haired gal, I’ve tried every curl-enhancing gel on the market since New Kids on the Block was popular. I can tell you with utter confidence that Aveda Be Curly Enhancer is the best product for my curly or wavy sisters. It gives curls definition without making them hard and crusty. Use Aveda Be Curly from root to tip to keep your locks bouncing and behaving.

Tackle Stretch Marks 

When it comes to stretch marks, I’m not going down without a fight, and you shouldn’t either. I recently bought Palmer’s Cocoa Butter due to its rave reviews on Amazon. I’m a huge fan. Apply it liberally and often, starting during pregnancy if it’s not too late. My stretch marks look much better, but beyond that, the cocoa smell is to die for.  Be warned: if you put it on before bed, you’ll nod off craving chocolate. Worth it.

Lotion Those Hands

Changing dozens of diapers and washing bundles of bottles wreaks havoc on your poor skin. Before your knuckles dry and crack, apply hand lotion multiple times a day. For me, it doesn’t get better than good old fashioned Nivea Hand Cream, but whatever floats your boat will do.

Wear a Little Makeup

Don’t judge, but I apply makeup on days I don’t even leave the house. I can’t help but conceal those dark circles, even if the only person I’m impressing is my newborn with blurry baby vision. For advice on a quick day look, I turn to Carmindy’s book The 5-Minute Face: The Quick & Easy Makeup Guide for Every Woman. Involve your baby in the morning makeup routine by stroking his cheeks and hands with makeup brushes — it’s sure to elicit smiles.

Be Kind to Yourself

Avoid the temptation to see your altered body as a burden. Yes, you probably weigh more than you did before you gave birth. Yes, you probably have less time for primping. But, confidence is beautiful. You’re keeping a newborn baby alive and happy; nothing can give you more confidence than that.

If you’re the type of lady who needs a good workout to feel beautiful, the Nike Training Club app is a must have for a new mom. Learn more about it at 5 Apps for Pregnant and New Moms.

Lipstick, workout, or none of the above, just remember pretty mama, through your newborn’s eyes, you’re the most gorgeous woman in the world.

You might also like 10 Perfect Gifts for New Moms and An Uncensored Look Inside My Diaper Bag.

Photography by Andy Wise.