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Sunday, June 10, 2018

chronicles of a decade of uterine fibroid woes

"You may not be able to have children," my doctor said to me, after telling me I'd need surgery to remove a grapefruit size tumor from my uterus when I was 24 years old, unmarried and not even thinking about kids yet besides knowing to my core I wanted them someday.

That was the day I learned what a uterine fibroid was... and the start of my 11 year journey of dealing with those annoying, painful monsters inside my body. From Googling, I realized that 80% of women get these things but they barely bother anyone. It's more like 20% of us who are bothered by them with painful symptoms like excess bleeding, excruciating periods, clotting, needing to wear extra layers, bloating like you can't describe, gaining weight, problems with fertility, etc.

I learned that typically women don't get these things until they are in their 50s... not their 20s. I learned it meant I possibly wouldn't be able to get pregnant.

Fast forward to last summer where I had a hysterectomy, my sixth and final surgery because of fibroids. I'm stronger, healthier and freer now. I've lived through all of this chaos in my belly, and hope to share with you my experience so you feel less alone if you're going through this or another health issue.

Above: My swollen bloated fibroid filled belly last summer before my surgery... looking and measuring from the doctor to be about 5-6 months pregnant size. 

Fibroids, now what?
I ended up having a surgery in the summer of 2007 to remove a grapefruit size fibroid from my uterus in order to preserve my baby-making parts for my future. Fibroids just keep on growing, so typically you need to deal with them. Every six months I was scheduled for an ultrasound to see how things were going in there, and during my first post-surgery ultrasound they found that 5 more fibroids had grown to the size of a grapefruit together... so I was scheduled for a second surgery the following winter. It was terrible.

When I went in for my first surgery they were planning to try for laparoscopically, two small incisions on the sides of my belly while inserting cameras to do the work, shorter recovery. When they tried that way, they saw my fibroids were larger and more invasive so needed to open me up in a surgery called myomectomy. When I woke up from full anesthesia, very groggy in and out of recovery, I said to the nurse, "Kids? Kids?" She asked me if I wanted to see my kids? I repeated, "Kids? Can I?" Asking if I could have children, or if they'd had to remove parts of my reproductive organs during the surgery, a risk I'd signed off on before the surgery and one that terrified me. It was all I ever wanted, the reason I had these surgeries, to preserve my insides for when I was ready to have babies.

Myomectomy surgeries are painful, worse than a C-section, as they cut a tumor out of your body versus removing a baby from a sac. It's an 8 week recovery. They send away the fibroid tumor after the surgery to test for cancer, but 99% of the time or so they are benign tumors. Still, that fear is always there.

When you have fibroids, you may not ovulate regularly, you may have longer periods so less of a chance to ovulate. When you get pregnant, it could implant in the wrong location due to the location of fibroids, raising your risk of life threatening situations like ectopic pregnancies. I was told if I do get pregnant, to see a doctor right away to ensure that the egg implanted in the right location.

So I had two surgeries, and my doctor told me to start making babies sooner rather than later or else I'd just keep making fibroids.

Fibroids can be hereditary. I learned my grandmother had them. They can be based on your color of your skin, weight gain and hormones.

I had ultrasounds every six months to ensure the fibroids weren't growing too large. They tested my iron levels often to prevent anemia and I had to take iron pills often to deal with the loss of iron from so much extra blood loss with periods.

Fibroids are a pain physically and metaphorically. I was grateful to have strong doctors who were proactive in helping me preserve my fertility with those two surgeries. My surgeon was incredible. It's to him that I credit my ability to have had my three children.

Fibroid Frustrations
Because of fibroids, I carried extra pads and liners with me everywhere. It took me months after my last surgery to get rid of them all - in my purse, glove compartment in the car, diaper bag, office desk drawer, work bag, lunch bag, every bathroom in the house, gym bag, ETC. I kept them everywhere, at all times needing them just in case. I had spare clothes available at all times. I slept uncomfortably.

Extra strength Tylenol helped with cramps. Staying home some days helped as well, just curled up and resting. Drinking lots of water helped. Decreasing the hormones in my body helped slightly- getting off birth control pills, never drinking milk at dinner, eating low-dairy diet and changing over to organic meats made small differences. It was all-consuming, it was always something I had to focus on, deal with, consider. Fibroids consumed my life - times I couldn't work out because of the bleeding, times I worried about how far I could walk heading to a restaurant without bleeding. It was ridiculous how much effort and energy these monsters took from me.

Above: The day before my hysterectomy surgery, my three miracles hands on my uterus saying goodbye and thank you for bringing them into the world for me. I'll never forget this moment and all it symbolizes that I went through to have these beautiful babies. 

C-Sections and Preparing for Hysterectomy
Because I'd had two prior myomectomy surgeries to remove uterine fibroids, this meant I needed to have C-sections scheduled for my three births of my children. It's a lot safer this way after having had surgeries. I didn't mind this, I was just so grateful to have the babies!

During my pregnancies, they monitored me closely as a higher risk pregnancy with my history. There is a strong link to fibroids and miscarriages. A person who has already had prior uterine surgeries has a strong chance of delivering pre-term or having uterine rupture if going into labor. These are life threatening conditions. I had ultrasounds every month during my pregnancies, which was a tiny bonus to having fibroids- seeing my babies more often and ensuring their growth. Fibroids feed off of hormones, which you produce a lot of during pregnancy... so in some cases the baby can compete against fibroids to take the hormones and food, leaving some babies not growing as they need to be. In my cases, the babies kicked the fibroids butts in there, thankfully, growing normally!

I had a miscarriage a few months before I got pregnant with my third baby. We can't be sure what caused it, but possibly the fibroid. After that point, I met with a few different doctors, trying to decide if we should go for another pregnancy or remove another fibroid that was growing to be mid-to good size already. I decided, after so much consideration and praying with my husband, to go for it... it was a scary decision, knowing the fibroid in me was already mid-size and could cause issues.

After my last pregnancy, where there was a large fibroid growing alongside the baby, I experienced degeneration of a fibroid. It was the most excruciating pain I'd ever felt. It was sharp contractions over and over and over all day long for a week, but they weren't real contractions. I thought I was going into labor. This was about 5 months along, I think. I was in bed most of that week, calling out of work a few days. It hurt to walk, I couldn't sleep. Sharp shooting pains in my belly because the fibroid was being cut off from blood supply, degenerating, dying. I had read that this could be a good thing, that the fibroid may shrink and go away after this painful experience... I had read that it could put me into pre-term labor... I was terrified. My doctors monitored me closely, but found it was just a process the fibroid was going through and nothing I could do about it, but the baby was just fine. He was kicking away in there totally oblivious, thankfully. It passed and all was OK. It didn't end up eliminating my fibroid though, which was a disappointing point.

I delivered my healthy baby boy, after many scares directly related to my fibroid - worry about lack of growth, lack of movement, not being able to measure the baby correctly for tests because the fibroid was in the way, scheduling to deliver two weeks early instead of one week due to my prior surgeries, etc. Thankfully he made it!

After my last c-section though, I never stopped bleeding... for 9 months straight, many health scares, visits to the doctor, ultrasounds and terrible tests and procedures, my doctor determined it was time for a hysterectomy. It was a very long, moody and scary time in my life... all the while caring for a newborn.

Bye, Bye Uterus and Fibroids
The hysterectomy was a really big decision to make. I knew we were done having children. I'd had my tubes tied during my third c-section. We were complete. Our family was perfect with three kids, and I felt my health and body couldn't handle another child anyway so we were happy with this decision. No regrets.

However, when I signed the papers to have a hysterectomy... that was difficult. It was so final. I cried on the ride home. My husband talked me through it on the phone, saying how lucky we were to have what we have. I knew this. I was ready to be done, physically, but emotionally it's hard to imagine closing a door you'd had opened for a long time.

The hysterectomy recovery wasn't fun but wasn't the worst surgery either. I had to rest a lot, taking two naps a day for a few weeks, and not lifting my 9 month old was challenging of course that summer. I couldn't go swimming the entire summer... but I instantly felt so much better, no bleeding and carrying on with my life.

Now, almost a year later, I'm stronger, 10 times healthier, more active and fit, and so much happier. I'm able to chase my kids around now. I have 1000 times more patience and focus. I have not regretted my decision to go for hysterectomy one single minute. The recovery was tough, I won't lie... but I'd been through 5 surgeries before that, all of those were harder than this. I had finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel. That was worth it.

I didn't realize how bad things were for me, how preoccupied by fibroids I had been for a decade... until they were gone and I was so much happier - less hormone fluctuations of course now - and healthier. I'm grateful for my journey, as it brought me my three miracles in the order they were supposed to come to me. Even my miscarriage taught me so much, that I don't regret having to survive that experience.

I'm just glad it's all DONE now! Here's to being strong and happy for many years to come with my amazing family. So grateful my husband stuck by me the whole time with so many mood fluctuations and health issues. He was my rock for sure.

Picture below is me a few days before my hysterectomy surgery. I see a mom who just wanted to so desperately to be happy with her kids, exploring, outside, jumping and having fun... but who was always consumed by health issues and exhausted from the blood loss and iron deficiencies. I tried my best to keep up with three kids and a job, but it was hard. I was so scared before that surgery.... I was terrified something was going to happen to me.

Fast forward a year out and I'm so much stronger now. I'm free of those issues and able to be here, really be here for my children. I'll write more in another blog about hysterectomies, as they are a large thing in themselves.

This journey was harder than anything I'd been through, and I'm so grateful it's complete. Now, on to a FUN and busy adventurous summer with my kiddos! No surgeries!

Monday, May 28, 2018

teaching a baby to sleep through the night

I'm getting caught up on some old post ideas I've had and this one has been on my brain for years to actually write and put to words. Getting a baby to sleep through the night is the hardest thing ever. It's something all moms talk about, all moms work toward and strive to figure out, because well, we NEED sleep. The lack of sleep thing with a newborn is the hardest part of parenting it feels like. I was a zombie during that part of our lives.

I've taken years to post this, because, well, I hear so often from parents who are in the thick of not sleeping that they just cannot do anything to fix the problem, it is what it is, they're just dealing with not sleeping for a year or more. They think it's normal and they feel judged or bad mothers if you suggest anything else. I've never wanted to judge, only teach. I want you to take this information as helpful tips if it can be for you. No judgment at how your path has gone up until now.

After three children who slept through the night at 5 weeks, 8 weeks and 9 weeks consecutively I've learned a few things I'd like to share in hopes that it helps you teach your little one to sleep through the night early on.

NOTE: This post is written for new parents starting out with an infant or parents starting out with their second, third etc. and wanting to ensure they sleep better than the last. If you need advice on how to help an older baby/child sleep through the night after a pattern has already been established to not sleep please consult with your pediatrician and a sleep specialist such as the Baby Sleep Geek in Maine

Sleep Philosophy
I think it helps to start with hearing a little about where I'm coming from in my belief and philosophy about sleep. Notice the title of this article, "Teaching a Baby to Sleep Through the Night." I don't subscribe to the philosophy that some babies just decide to sleep through the night. I think it's different for all babies, yes, but for the typically developing, healthy baby I believe you need to teach them to sleep through the night. I think there are conscious things you can do to help your little one sleep longer stretches early on.

To me, it's a parenting choice you need to make for your sanity and your own health, as much as for baby's learning experience and overall wellbeing. When I talk to parents of babies who don't sleep through the night at 9 months, 12 months, 2 years old, there are typically things they've done or not done to get there. That's not to place blame, in fact it's a good thing, once you know what's not working you can work toward fixing it to something that does work and gets all of you more sleep. It's the same as any other situation that doesn't work for you- exercising or being out of shape, buying fruits or not, having a clean car or not. If it's your priority, something you're working on, it may have a better outcome than not focusing on it.

I also believe that it's OK to want to sleep. It doesn't make you a bad mother if you work hard to help your little one sleep - without nursing nonstop and without putting them in your bed. If you want to do those things, that's great, I don't judge you. But I think it's completely OK and nurturing and wonderfully bonding to have your little one sleep through the night and take bottles instead of needing to nurse every hour in your bed. I think there's this shame or something for moms who talk about needing to get that sleep, and that's just ridiculous.

A well-rested mother is a better mother, end of story. I think we'd all agree to that. So just give yourself grace if you want sleep, it's normal. It is not a badge of honor to say you're nursing nonstop and staying up with your baby. You don't HAVE to do that to be a good mom. 

Of course, those who do ARE great moms, and those who sleep longer stretches are great, too, just like those who use formula are awesome and those who nurse are, too. Everyone's experience is different.

Tips for Teaching Your Baby to SLEEP: 
Note: These tips are for the typically developing, healthy baby. I realize that all babies are different and those who have an extenuating circumstance like sickness or colic or something along those lines may have a different challenge with sleep to address with their doctor. Growth spurts? Do your best to keep to routine, but remind yourself it's NORMAL for babies to eat more and need to be held more during those times. The key here is to TRY to follow some of these suggestions and to make better sleep a priority versus something that you expect to just happen. 
  • Set a routine in the hospital. Feed every two hours. I learned this one by chance. When my doctor left the room the first day after settling me in with the newborn after my c-section I asked how often I should feed the baby. He said every 2 hours. So I did that. On the dot. Of course, if baby was hungry sooner, that was fine, but I kept it routine from day one every 2 hours. Regulating the feeding pattern naturally regulates the sleeping pattern. So feed baby every 2 hours- nursing or bottles, whatever, it works the same. If baby is sleeping when 2 hours comes along, wake them with a diaper change and feed to keep routine. Yes, I know you aren't supposed to wake a sleeping baby.... but during the day all bets are off because YOU need your sleep at night. If you feed a baby every two hours during the day, you get more sleep at night because baby is fuller during the day and not as ravenous when he wakes up later. Feeding every two hours I kept up with the same ounces also. Nursing or bottles, this works the same. 
  • Start early… I start helping my babies sleep better in the first few days of life by feeding them on a routine… that leads to sleeping on routine. But at least by 6 weeks, you should be thinking about teaching them to sleep. It won't be perfect, it won't be succinct, but you HAVE to work toward a routine. It doesn't just happen. I believe we need to teach babies to sleep, just like we teach them to walk and to use a spoon at breakfast. Help them by setting the scene and routine early on. 
  • Keep to the schedule. Schedule with a newborn? haha Yeah right! I know, I get it. It's not always on cue with a newborn. Butttt the more you stick to feeding on a routine, then sleeping happens on a routine. So make your #1 priority be that you are feeding on a routine. This means you schedule play dates and doctors appointments and things around the feeding routine as MUCH as possible. Not always possible, of course, but do your best. It means you wait to go to Target until you know you can feed baby first and then go, and then shop and change diaper in the parking lot and then nurse in your car so you're on routine. Think of it like your job right now is to keep this baby fed, healthy and happy- which includes sleep, too. It's OK to let other things go by the wayside. 
  • Don't pick up right away. If baby wakes in the night, don't pick her up immediately. I know that is your instinct, but sometimes babies wake up. That's normal. They don't always need something. Shush them, rub their face, re-wrap the swaddle around their body from the bassinet, but don't pick up if they aren't really crying. 
  • Don't offer food right away. Sometimes they just need to be held upright to get a burp out. Sometimes it's a wet diaper. Other times their sock fell off and they are cold. Don't instantly go for more food. Yes, of course many times it's food in the beginning, particularly through a growth spurt, but don't always immediately think that. Try a pacifier. Try shushing to sleep on your shoulder. My kids were very routine with eating because I set it up that way from day one in the hospital- feeding every two hours, so when baby was crying at 45 minutes to an hour after I fed them, I knew it was not food they needed so I'd help them fall asleep. IF baby is hungry, of course feed them. But don't always rely on that being the case. 
  • Dream feed at 10-12 at night to fill up, and make it a bottle. This is a big one that helped us. Staying up later at night in those first few weeks and waking baby to feed him before you go to sleep at 11 or 12 at night helps you to get longer stretches during the time you'd be going to bed. Babies don't go to bed at 7 at night or even 9 at night, if you do that they will be up in a few hours. Of course, my babies would fall asleep by 8ish at night and then we'd just wake them with a diaper change and a bottle. Bottles fill them up longer than nursing, so this last feed at night I pump and Dad fed a bottle. Then we'd all go to bed at midnight to get in a few hours during our normal sleep pattern. This worked great. 
  • Start bottles and pacifiers in week one for soothing and filling baby up more. Pacifiers are a must in my opinion. Babies need to suck and soothe. They do NOT need to use you or a bottle for that purpose. We used a bottle by 5 days old with every child of ours. Two of the three nursed perfectly, one never nursed to begin with. Same with don't always go for offering food, sometimes baby is just fussy and needs soothing instead of more food, so give a pacifier. Waiting to use bottles until the week before you return to work after maternity leave is a BAD idea. Many, many moms and babies struggle with this, I see comments about it all the time in our Facebook group. Avoid that by using these tools early on before baby has a chance to get confused by them. If it's all baby knows from the beginning, they won't be confused or bothered by using any option- breast, bottle, pacifier. 
  • Bottles from 12-4 am only. No nursing during this time. Bottles fill babies longer, three kids and that's our experience. Talking to other moms who use bottles, this was the case for them also. This also avoids the case where you nurse at 1 a.m. and baby is sleepy in the dark setting and doesn't nurse on the second side so isn't full and so needs to nurse a half hour later. Nope... bottles only so they fill up and get back to sleep. 
  • Teach them where they will sleep. Lay baby down for at least one nap a day in the place where you want baby to sleep at night… bassinet, crib, etc. NOT just swings or rock and plays, etc. IF you want baby to sleep in the bassinet in your room at night, you need to teach them it's a good place to sleep during waking hours where they can see in the light. If you are moving from bassinet to the crib in the next room, then during the day put baby in the crib to lay around awake while you fold laundry or put them down for a nap in there - even after they've fallen asleep in the swing move them to the crib for example. It's about comfort and teaching them this new place to sleep. I held my newborns while sleeping multiple times a day just because they grow so fast and it was so sweet. My routine idea doesn't suggest you don't hold your babies. It's just that you need to try at least a few times a day to help them sleep where they will sleep when older, in a setting they will sleep in when you return to work, for example. 
  • Keep the sleep routine short and simple. I've heard of people having these elaborate sleep routines, like bath, lotion, nurse, rock, song, music, massage, etc. It sounds lovely, but it's too long and not something anyone can duplicate. Make your sleep routine simple, something that anyone can step in and recreate - in case you want a night out and Dad's in charge or you are heading to a wedding and grandparents step in, or perhaps you go back to work and daycare provider needs to repeat this routine. Make it easy, only 1-3 steps, and less than 10 minutes long, 5 is ideal. I know this sounds harsh... but you won't only have this one child typically, and when second child comes along it'll be hard to keep this up. So stick to pajamas and diaper change, rocking while singing a song, and into bed or something along those lines. 
  • Don't start anything you can't finish or continue as part of the sleep routine. This involves things like the rock and play - babies grow out of these quickly and then are used to rocking to fall asleep so struggle in cribs I've heard. I had a friend who was going to give me one of these for baby #3 and I refused it, afraid we'd create a habit we couldn't break. I never swaddled my kids for sleep, because I'd heard WAY too many stories of babies outgrowing swaddles around 5 months old and freaking out crying and not sleeping when they weren't swaddled since they were so used to it. I avoided this altogether, mostly because baby #1 taught me he didn't like his arms in the swaddle, and then purposely with kids 2 and 3. We'd swaddle their body tightly but keep their arms out so they were used to that part. Be conscious about your sleep aids and routine- if you can't continue it past only a few months, don't start it. It's one less thing to deal with. 
  • Night time is NOT play time… don't talk, don't turn on lights, move swiftly and quietly when doing a diaper change and getting a bottle out or when nursing. Day time is for lights and playing. I'd put the hallway light on, not the baby's room light on. I'd rock in the dark to nurse or bottle feed. I'd pick baby up crying and shush them and whisper that it was ok, that I was here, but no cooing and talking after that. Keep it a quiet setting so they can easily fall back asleep. 
  • Have help, let dad in on the process too. You don't have to do it all in the night. NO way! This is another reason I use bottles in the night. It's OK to want some sleep yourself. You don't have to be the ONLY one helping your baby. Teach your partner whatever you are doing with your routine so that you aren't the only one who has to always do it. Start by showing them during the day for naps. 
  • Noisemaker - these are must haves. They make noises like in the womb that are comforting for baby. They block out your own noises of snoring and moving side to side in your bed, or a cough that could wake baby. These are great. 
  • Think basic needs: are they cold? is there light in their face? is it too dark? too noisy, not noisy enough? diaper change? need to burp? take care of these things for a happier baby to sleep. Do these things when baby wakes and before putting baby to bed. Diaper changes in the middle of the night - YES. I know some people don't do this, but you can do a diaper in less than a minute if you need to to keep baby sleepy. It'll help them sleep longer if you give them a fresh diaper, then feed. It'll also wake baby to be alert to feed appropriately so they get filled up longer before you put them to bed again. 
  • Don't let all naps be in car seat or driving around with motion. Yes, these are great places for sleep, my babies slept wonderfully in the swing and in the car. BUT it should not be your go-to. If baby falls asleep while nursing, then swaddle and put into the crib once a day so he wakes up there. If baby falls asleep in the swing, great! But go over and shut off the motion of the swing after a few minutes. If you know baby typically sleeps at this time or that, don't go out in the car, stay put so she can learn to sleep in her bassinet. 
  • Don't take the easy way out. It's so much easier to never think about sleep and to just go through the motions letting baby sleep all day long in the crib for hours and to just nurse every time you hear a fuss from the baby. It's so much easier to whip out your breast than it is to pump a bottle in the night. I get that... but long term that's not easier, it's not helpful for you. It's harder to think it out, be proactive planning ahead and teaching your baby when you're so freaking tired already. I get that... but it's hard for about two months maybe versus the long term hard of not sleeping through the night for over a year.... think of it that way. 
  • Put to sleep groggy, but not asleep. This comes with time, usually after the six weeks mark. It's really good to help put baby into bed before she's asleep so she gets used to falling asleep. Babies wake a zillion times a night, it's normal for them. So to help them fall asleep on their own in the night, you need to help them fall asleep during the day too. So feed them, burp and rock, and quickly put into bed, with music and noisemaker if you wish. Let them stay there. In the beginning they may not fall asleep, but they get used to this and it's good for them to learn. 
  • Go longer stretches without feeding when they get a little bigger. After about the 6-8 week mark, give or take, you can start to eliminate those 2-4 am feedings by doing a diaper change, shushing them to sleep, rocking, or decreasing the amount of food they get. This only works for a healthy baby who's back above birth weight and when you know they aren't needing to be fed just tired from waking up too soon. Never prevent a hungry baby from eating, of course! Just be more conscious as they grow bigger- do they really need to eat or is this just fussy crying from waking up a little too early? 

Getting Your Zzzzzzs
Of course in the beginning you're doing all you can and juggling too many things, including your hormones. If you use the swing more or you nurse more or hold baby to sleep more - it's OK! My second fell asleep to her bottle every single night for months and months, probably like 9 months old we were doing that as our routine, it just happened she'd fall asleep. It's OK! Just do your best to set up a routine that works and to be more conscious about teaching your baby to learn this skill of sleeping through the night.

It may sound harsh or strict or too routine for a newborn... but it's the same thing as going to take your child for immunization shots or teaching them to potty train or reminding them not to use bad words. YOU have to teach them, and then you have to be consistent in that routine so they learn it. It's NOT something that just happens.

You have to make a conscious effort those first two months especially to help your baby sleep, to get him on a routine so that he's able to sleep better and so you get the rest you need. 

Think of anything else in your life - at work, with your family, with your other children - if you do something haphazardly, randomly, not planned and then all of a sudden six months later (typically when most parents are losing their mind from lack of sleep and desperately want their kid to stop waking up in the night) you decide it's time to change it up and force them to sleep and even make them cry it out... how's that going to go for you? How's that going to go for your baby?

I've not had to cry it out a single day with any of my children. I understand why some have to do this, but it's not ideal for me. If you can avoid it by teaching your child, by YOU being consistent and planned and more thoughtful from the start, that's ideal for you and baby versus crying - both of you crying typically through that process. It just takes effort, patience and thought. I do not suggest these things lightly. I know they take time and a lot of effort during a time where you are sooooo exhausted and can barely pour your coffee. I get that. So enlist help, talk to a friend, get your partner on board to assist you. If you do this, you have a couple of tough weeks or months of lack of sleep and putting in more effort - versus a year or two of NO sleep.... pick your battle here.

Yes, it's more effort at first, it'll feel exhausting thinking this much.... but it's worth it in the end. I swear.  I'm one of those people who needs sleep to be a good mom. I rest daily on the weekends even for 20 minutes to lay down and close my eyes. I'm not patient otherwise. It's OK to recognize this in yourself. Helping your baby sleep helps you, too, momma, and that's a good thing.

Happy resting! :)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Disney magic : character meals

Oh, character meals at Disney: they're so much fun! I've done some posts already this spring on my favorite Character Meals, but here is a list of others I've heard are amazing that I hope to try for at some point in our future.

  • 1900 Park Fare- This is at the Grand Floridian. You see the evil stepmother and two evil stepsisters, and sometimes Winnie the Pooh or Mary Poppins it sounds like. I believe you see the Prince Charming as well. It looks like a fun experience. 
  • Hollywood and Vine- Hollywood Studios. This one sounds super fun! It's all the Mickey characters dressed up fancy for a night out on the red carpet! Mickey and Minnie and a couple of others. 
  • Be Our Guest - This is Beast's castle at Magic Kingdom, inside the park. You only see Beast at dinner though, good thing to know. However, getting an early morning breakfast reservation gets you in the park before everyone else gets there - great picture opportunities and you can get in line for 7 Dwarves Mine Train (next to the restaurant) earlier and skip lines hopefully.
  • Cinderella's Royal Table- This is inside the Magic Kingdom park and actually inside the castle itself. It sounds like a must-do experience for girls for sure. You see a few princesses and it just looks beautiful. 
  • Tusker House- Located in Animal Kingdom. This one is on my list for sure, as I've heard the food is awesome. It's Mickey, Goofy, Donald and Daisy I believe dressed in safari clothes. 
  • Ohana- This one has the best sweet rolls and delicious food I've heard. It's located at the Polynesian Resort. It is on the monorail and close to Magic Kingdom. Lilo and Stitch, Pluto and Mickey greet you here, very fun. 
  • Garden Grill- This is located in Epcot. You visit with Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale at this one. 
  • Cape May Cafe - is at the Beach Club Resort and features Minnie, Goofy.
  • Bon Voyage with Princess Ariel and Prince Eric and Rapunzel and Flynn Rider. It's located at Disney's Boardwalk. 

Hope you find something fun and take lots of pictures with these characters!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Disney magic : pros and cons of staying OFF property

With our trip to Disney World this year we stayed off property and LOVED every second of it. It worked perfectly for us! We had originally wanted to stay on property, as it's all we'd heard people do there. We booked our trip too last minute though and could not find anything reasonable on property, so decided to find a condo off property. We were about 5-10 minutes from Disney World parks with our off property condo. It was super easy to get tp the parks. I hope this post helps you in figuring out what is best for you.

I send a note to you now letting you know that we have not ever stayed on property, I only have this off property experience to share. I've done a lot of research and talked to people though about their on property experience, so I have a little info to compare. Hope this helps.

Our kids each had a room, but they decided to share one together. The decorations just made things more fun.

We loved being able to have our own space, not have to be quiet like in a hotel room. Our kids are up early so it was nice not having to shush them all morning before others may wake up. We loved having the ability to shop for groceries (we went once to Wal-Mart the first day, it's 2 minutes from the condo) and pack lunches and eat breakfast at home. We saved SO much food money that way and ate healthier.

This was the largest pool at the property, a 5 minute walk or 1 minute drive to the pool house. There is a water slide, lots of shade and sunny areas. It was perfect for our pool days.

Below is the pool that is directly attached to our condo! THIS was the #1 thing we looooooved about staying off property. Every night after the sweaty exhausting days at the parks, we'd put the kids to bed and head out for a dip in the pool or hot tub. It was a daily date night for us! We never would have been able to do this if we'd been on property, as you share a pool with others and can't leave your kids behind in the hotel room of course. This was such a perk for us. We had our kids swimming in the mornings, at night before bed, etc. It was awesome.

We didn't mind renting a car. Yes, it was money, but it's affordable and allowed us the opportunity to go to other locations that we were planning anyway, like visiting my uncle at his place in Lakeland and like heading over to Disney Springs. It also meant we were NEVER waiting for a bus or other transportation to take us back home. We simply got in the car.

Yes, we paid money for parking daily, that's an expense. To us, with a stroller, it was worth it. If we didn't have a baby and stroller, I'd say the tram parking and taking a bus is fine. But for us with a stroller, cooler, baby stuff etc it was just fine having a car to pack and unpack each day.

We had a big huge deck area to eat outside, an indoor kitchen area and bar stool counter top where we did breakfast most days. Also a dining room table that we didn't even use. The condo was immaculate, the cleanest I'd ever seen. They provided towels, blankets and sheets, toilet paper and dish soap to start, dishwasher, laundry machine etc. This was awesome with kids. We did all of our laundry before we left for home so that when we got home we didn't have to do anything!

This condo had four bedrooms, plenty of space.

We loved staying here!

The pros and cons of staying OFF Disney property:


  1. Private pool- We loved this for evenings to spend time solo and relax without a zillion people around. 
  2. Meals- We could make dinners a few nights, lunches daily for the parks with our cooler we packed, and breakfasts at home are WAY cheaper than going anywhere else. Because we made our meals, we ate a lot healthier than if we'd eaten out every meal for every vacation day. 
  3. Less crowded- When you are on property you are always in lines, in crowds, with others. There is enough of a large crowd when visiting the parks, we DO NOT want to be in a line or crowd when eating three meals a day, using restrooms, getting in the pool etc. For us, this worked better for more privacy and a quieter, less busy experience. 
  4. Car- We like having our own transportation to get to different restaurants, a store, and to visit my uncle in another town. We liked at the end of a tiring park day we did not have to wait for a bus. One night, we waited for a bus from Epcot to Port Orleans for dinner at a resort... it took an hour from the moment we got in line for the bus, waiting for bus, riding bus, off bus and in line to get food at Port Orleans... it was such a long time with tired kids. 
  5. Space- We are not the family that could pile up in a hotel room and call it good. Our kids need space to fall asleep, otherwise they're up for hours talking if in the same room. We have a baby and then big kids, going to bed at different times. We want time to talk to each other after our kids are in bed. For us, a hotel room would not allow us these opportunities, so being off property where everyone can have space from one another is helpful. 
  6. Cheaper- It's a cheaper nightly rate to stay off property. Yes, we added some more to our bill with a car and parking at the parks, but it's still cheaper overall. 
  7. Easy to have guests- It's easier to invite guests to visit us and spend time in our pool when off property vs on property where they need bands etc. 
  8. Laundry- We essentially could bring less luggage with us next time we go to an off property condo because we could do laundry there. If we stayed in a hotel, everything would need to be reused and have enough outfits for each day, so it's nice knowing being off property with laundry machines we could cut in half what we packed. 


  1. Can't FastPass until 30 days out- If you stay on property you can get FP options for park rides 60 days out, so you can get more rides you want. However, I'll say that even doing this 30 days out, we were only unable to get ONE ride we wanted- 7 Dwarves Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. I got EVERY other ride we wanted- Pandora, Frozen Ever After, etc. 
  2. Packing food nightly- It took us 15-30 minutes every night to pack our cooler and lunches for the next day. It was not a huge thing, but was one more thing to deal with. To us, it was worth the money we saved, knowing we did not have to wait in food lines at the parks- which took people between 10-40 minutes from what we saw, no thanks! It was worth it also because we ate a lot healthier. We also could give our kids snacks throughout our day wherever we were, instead of having to find another food location and stop to eat. 
  3. Security line- People who stay on property tell us about how nice it is to go through a smaller and quicker security line at their hotel before heading to the parks. This saves time when they arrive at the park. For us, the security lines took us 5-10 minutes max staying off property, so the same amount of time people spent staying at hotels. We found this to be totally a nonissue. I put it in the con section to be fair to those who think it's a perk on property. 
  4. Rental Car- Of course paying money for this and parking and gas. We used a half a tank of gas the entire trip, including driving to see my uncle an hour away. This was not a huge issue. It is more money though to rent a car than take free busses from the property, however you pay a lot more nightly rate to stay on property than off so to us it's a wash. 
  5. No activities- On property there are all kinds of activities for kids like face painting, crafts, games, movies etc. We don't get that off property. However, you are welcome to visit any resort you want so can participate in some of those anyway. For us, the parks were enough. We did not need more activities. We needed rest!
  6. Expensive character meals- If staying off property you cannot get the Disney dining plan. This means you pay out of pocket for character meals. They are EXPENSIVE! This was one thing I want to consider again if we go, perhaps staying on property for a couple of days to get the dining plan for those character meals, wondering the savings there. 
  7. Wal-Mart trip- We had to spend 1.5 hours shopping at Wal-Mart the day we arrived to get our food for the week. This was tiring and not something you prefer to do on vacation, but it was not a huge thing. We got two carts, split up the list and went separate ways to gather everything we needed. 
  8. Disney planner- IF you stay on property you can access a Disney planner who knows everything and can help plan your entire stay. This is a HUGE perk of course, especially for a first trip if you don't know much about where you are going. We did not get this and had to do lots of research. I can see how this would be helpful to have.

Overall, for us we preferred being off property. It worked great for us. We loved where we stayed, having our own private pool and mostly escaping the LARGE crowds on property and everywhere associated with Disney. It was nice being separated from that and having our own privacy. We definitely intend to stay off property again in the future. I have said though I'd like to stay on property for two nights to just see what it's like, the experience and how different it is. Animal Kingdom Lodge is definitely on my list- what a cool place.

Wherever you stay, it's going to be fun and awesome. It all depends on your family and what works for you for whether on or off property will be helpful to you.

Dear 6 year old Addisyn

Dear 6 year old Addisyn,
Happy birthday sweet girl! We can't believe you're swiftly moving past the big FIVE already, into SIX world! It's awesome and crazy. I looked at all of your baby pictures the other day and thought, HOW, WHEN did we get here so fast?! You are our middle princess of the family and so it seems things to faster with you there. We just adore everything about you and appreciate the beauty you bring to our family.

You love to snuggle- your parents, your siblings, a blankie and all the stuffies you can find. You have about 10 stuffed animals or babies sleeping with you every day in your bed. You take something or someone with you every time we leave the house. Every time, a baby or stuffie is with you.

You lost your first teeth this year, a few months before your birthday, what an accomplishment! You played basketball for the first time and loved it. Heading to Kindergarten has been no big thing for you. You were tired the first month, slightly cranky, but overall LOVED every second the rest of the year. It's been your favorite thing being in Mrs. Abbott's class. You are a lover of learning. You read daily to your babies in the morning when you wake up. We swear you'll be a teacher or librarian someday with all you teach your dolls. It's so sweet.

You are feisty and strong, brave and determined. You don't give up. You work hard and pick yourself up with a little help and keep going. You think you are a real superhero girl and wonder woman, and we agree. You won the literacy contest for your writing piece about being a superhero and how girls can do anything boys can do. We are SO proud of you!

You even get sassy with us somedays, stomping your feet on the stairs, saying "uh yeah" in this sarcastic teenage voice that scares us for what the future brings. You get tired easily and whine when it's hot. But overall you are the kindest and sweetest, and we can't believe our ears when you listen the first time we ask you to do something. It's amazing.

You are a good friend, but sometimes bossy to peers. You like to do your thing and don't care if others don't want to join in, Miss Independent for sure. We love this! You loooove dancing and singing, nonstop princess attire around here. You love getting dirty too and playing outside. Collecting rocks is your favorite thing in the whole world. We find them in your backpack, jacket pockets and pretty much everywhere.

I love that you find beauty in everything you see. You make something little become something big. You make it all magical just because you believe that it is. I've never met anyone like you, my dear, and I love that.

Stay brave. Stay kind to others. Ask more people to be your friend. Keep smiling and keep asking a thousand questions. I hope you always love learning how you love it right now in Kindergarten- reading up a storm, we are so proud.

Know you are always loved, little one. We hope you and Owen get to be better friends and that you find more patience for him and that he plays with you more. We hope that you always are the best big sis to Quinn and that you help him along the way.

We can't wait to see all that you do in this next year - learning to run and jump, joining Girl Scouts with me (I'm so excited!), artwork etc. We love your paintings and drawings of smiley faces and rainbows that we find every single day in your bag.

Keep growing, my love. Don't forget to reach out for a hug every day. We count on you for that.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Disney magic : it's not ALL magic and that's OK

So here's the thing about Disney World (DW), it's not all magic, Tinkerbell glitter, and mouse ears that fit snugly. When you bring kids in tow anywhere, mess up routines, travel, stay in unfamiliar territory, and eat different foods PLUS add to that super hot and sweaty bodies and weather, and crowds like you've never seen before... well, let's just say things won't be picture perfect.

My friend warned me before going on our first trip as a family. She said it wasn't the Disney we knew as kids. I wasn't naive. I was not in la la land dream world imagining every moment to be blissful. I am a realist when it comes to raising kids. I get that it's hard, I talk about it being hard on this blog, I don't pretend all is perfect with parenting. And yet still, I was surprised and taken aback at how not so perfect Disney was on our first park day.

THIS (above) is what traveling with kids looks like, for real.
And then equally as often, this (below) is what traveling to a fancy new place with kids looks like, too... 

I share this with you today a little bit hesitantly. I don't want to burst your magic wand bubble of how amazing your first DW trip is going to be. It's going to be AMAZING. It IS going to be the best trip ever. You're going to laugh and tear up and have fun and do all those twirling moves that you see on Disney videos. You WILL get awesome pics of your kids smiling in matching Mickey outfits. 

It'll be awesome. BUT it won't be perfect... and the sooner you accept that fate the better your trip is going to be. 

Being perfectly honest: some moments sucked. Some moments I closed my eyes and wished I was back home. Some moments I questioned why the hell we'd spent so much money on this trip when our kids were clearly not grateful. Some moments I snapped at my husband and he was frustrated with me. Many moments the five of us were NOT on the same page about where to go or what to do or how to deal.

Our first day at Magic Kingdom (MK) was our worst day of our entire trip. I think because we were new at everything, we didn't know everything - despite all the research I'd done ahead of the trip. It's one of those things you just cannot explain or learn before it happens to you. I liken it to pregnancy or having a newborn. You can read and see and watch others do it all you want, but until you go through it you can't fathom how it'll be. That's Disney.

Our first park day was too rushed. We felt pressure to get it all in, see everything, go everywhere, get on all the rides. Even though we had planned a second day at MK, we still felt this pressure. I yelled, my husband sighed, the kids cried, there were melt downs. It was frustrating. We all were taking it all in differently so it was hard to make a next step that worked for all five of us. We were new at it, it was overwhelming.

The crowds were like nothing I'd ever seen before. It was like being in a mall on Christmas Eve times 1000. I'd never felt it before, it was too much!

We quickly regrouped that night, talked it out in the pool after dinner and while the kids were sleeping, and had a different game plan going into our second day at a Disney park. We got a good night's sleep, and purposely went a bit slower the next day.

All I'd wanted at MK was to walk Main Street and check out all the scenes, find the Mickey ears, take pictures in front of the Walt Disney statue. My only thing I wanted the entire time at the parks was to get to the Main Street MK bakery to get a cinnamon bun. Literally I could care less about souvenirs and t-shirts or any other food, that's all I wanted and we didn't do it... and that's all my fault, nobody else's, because I was trying to make sure the family had a good time and we got to everything.

It was all just too much. I felt smothered by my own plans for this trip. Eek. And I didn't go overboard, I wasn't obsessed with planning, honestly, it just felt like pressure when we got there. It was the heat, crowds, moving stroller out of people's ways, juggling naps and eye meds for the conjunctivitis we learned the baby had like five minutes before our trip, and diaper changes and snacks and FastPass times, app checking= too much. It was overwhelming. I don't go grocery shopping with my kids ... so of course going to a park with so much to consider is going to be hard. This is not like a regular park, you don't just show up and enjoy the rides. You have to plan and get FP etc. You're also spending a billion times more money on this trip than you would say going to a theme park or zoo back home.

It's like a wedding... of course you look back at your wedding day and think oh how wonderful, that was awesome, amazing right? But the planning and chaos of people with wedding stuff is difficult. That's the same as Disney. And it's OK to say so.

So here's the thing I reminded myself of after that first tough day at MK. Here's what I held onto the rest of our trip so it made things much more enjoyable for all- and we DID have that awesome trip! I hope these tips help you as much as they helped me get through the rest of our trip smiling and staying slightly sane.

Tips to enjoy your IMPERFECT trip to Disney:

  1. You're at Disney. That's enough. The colors, flowers, atmosphere, weather, etc. is enough to make kids smile. Stop pushing yourself to get on all the rides. 
  2. You CAN'T do it all. It's impossible so stop trying. This is a MUST to remember. Definitely plan two days for Magic Kingdom, but otherwise realize you cannot do everything. We got park hopper and did not use it once with our younger age kids. It's OK! We picked and chose rides that we could do anywhere- like the carousel or the second Buzz ride, we had to skip some things so chose a few things that we were OK missing.
  3. You will go back. You imagine this is the only time you are going to Disney, understandably since it probably took you years to get there this time. But you WILL go back... it's OK if you don't do it all today. My co-worker told me this and she was SO right, you feel like this is it, this is the one chance you get to do everything. Well, it's not. Most people go back, so tell yourself if you don't do it this trip it's all right and you'll do it next time.
  4. I don't think this is the most magical place on Earth, sorry. It's just not. It's stressful and tiring and overwhelming... Even if it IS the most fun place on Earth, I'll give you that, it IS super fun. And of course there's an element of magic in there, TONS of magic.... but when you say it's the most magical place on Earth I feel that pressure to make it perfect.... and Disney is NOT perfect. It cannot be perfect with young children in tow who are tired and impatient. Our kids were extremely well behaved on this trip, and it was still super hard. I think it's OK to just tell yourself this is a trip, an awesome magical expensive one, but it's just a trip. It's OK if not every single second is full of smiles and magic.
  5. Nothing in this parenting journey is perfect. Why do we set ourselves up to think Disney will be? Yes, it'll be great. Yes, you'll make the kids happy. Yes, it's worth going and making memories. BUT it's NOT going to be perfect and it doesn't have to be. It's like having a newborn.... most incredible experience, life changing, bliss.... yet you'd love more sleep, and can't stand the sound of screeching baby during diaper changes and sucks to be puked on. 
  6. Plan and prep ahead. Do all you can ahead of time to make this a smooth trip. We packed snacks and lunches to avoid waiting in more lines. We did FastPasses for as many rides as possible to get more in and avoid lines. We took breaks on the sidelines for ice cream daily so we could cool off and rest a bit. We got good night's sleep going to bed early the night before our trips. Do what you can.

IT'S OK to express that it's not all perfect at Disney. It's OK to say you hated waiting in line with a toddler who hit your face or screeched "mine" for your water bottle. It's OK to say you got a headache and sunburn when you forgot to take care of you after changing another poop diaper on the ground because the line for the bathroom was going to be about 15 minutes and you had a FP to get to. It's OK to feel angry, impatient, frustrated, annoyed, sad even at times on this trip. I hope those things don't happen to you... but it's normal if they do. And you need to know that.

 We were soooo tired in this picture above... parenting in Florida is exhausting!

It's hard to accept that we don't make something perfect for our kids, right? You build it up so much in your mind, you plan this trip for months, stress over and figure out every single detail, but remind yourself: they are still KIDS. They are kids who are now on the most expensive vacation ever, but still KIDS.

Kids complain about walking because they have short legs.
Kids hate heat because they are too young to know how to deal with it or to recognize it'll pass.
Kids are impatient, they don't have long attention spans and don't realize that it'll be worth it in the end if they wait for 185 minutes for a single 2 minute ride.
Kids don't understand the concept of time, so when you say "it's only a 40 minute wait" they think WTF in their kid ways.
I'm so sorry to report to you, but kids are selfish. They don't express gratitude as well as older people or like you deserve for shelling out so much money. They have no concept of how hard you worked, how many years it took pinching and saving money to get to this trip. They don't get it, so you preaching to them in the gift shop won't really help.
Kids think of themselves- that's NORMAL. They don't think of what ride you want to go on. They don't care that you haven't eaten, they just want their own ice cream, NOW.

Remind yourself you are there for the kids. It's hard to accept at points on this trip... but it's what you're there for. And whatever happens, it's going to be great. It's going to be fun and messy, just like parenting is. It's going to be rewarding but chaotic and totally overwhelming- just like having kids is every other day. So don't set yourself up for perfection or overload. Set yourself up for the reality of going to an incredible and magical place with your busy impatient kids. Breathe. Remind yourself it's ALL OK.

I swear we loooooved our trip.... but the honest mama in me needs to share with you the reality that it's not supposed to be perfect. Hugs to you, those embracing this trip. May it be filled with a realistic dose of magic and lots of icy cold treats to help you get through the hot or crazy moments.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Disney magic : character meal - Garden Grove

We stumbled upon Garden Grove for a dinner one night when we had a bunch of family gathering together and needed a space big enough at last minute. My sister is so savvy when it comes to Disney, she scored us a reservation for like 15 people very last minute at Swan and Dolphin hotel at the Garden Grove restaurant. The restaurant is in the Swan section of the hotel, this massive place. It was really beautiful inside, with a large tree in the middle of the restaurant. It was basically empty the whole time we were there, and the food was excellent. We were all very pleasantly surprised.

This is not a Disney property so they do not accept the dining plan. Because of that, many families aren't going there, and it's actually an amazing place.

We didn't even know there were characters at this meal, so that was even more fun! Because it's a smaller restaurant and it wasn't packed, the characters spent a lot of time with us, hugging, playing on the floor, taking pictures, etc. It was amazing! The food was cheaper than other restaurants also.

We met Goofy and Pluto at this restaurant. They spent so much time with our kids, which was super fun. I don't have a ton of pictures of the character greetings, as they were with our cousins and I don't want to post other kids on the blog... but it was SO fun to see these characters up close and personal without having to rush.

There is a buffet salad, soup and bread bar that you start with, including a station where the employee can chop your salad with a mixed dressing. This was delicious! They don't have a lot of on the menu, but the prime rib was fantastic- all of our adults ordered this for the most part. They had some fish and chicken items as well, and a kids menu.

We all got dessert items, various cookies and puddings, cakes, etc. from the buffet.

It was overall a great experience! I definitely recommend this restaurant if you have a bigger family you'd like to go out to eat with.