Life Lessons

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Last weekend, Vivi had her first ever sleepover away from home without me.

It was at her grandparents’ in Long Island, so she wasn’t terribly far, but I’m sure you can still appreciate the momentousness of the milestone.

From the moment Vivi existed, she has been with me. Of course, she has had babysitters and even spent a full day with her grandparents before, but it was a strange experience to be truly separate for more than 24 hours.

Honestly, I was fine. I don’t beat myself up about the fact that sometimes it’s nice to get a break from parenting. Parenting is the world’s most constant job when you’re on, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need a moment to not be “on” now and then. To be fair, I kept myself very busy cleaning the apartment and even having a night out with friends (without worrying about the babysitter at home! So novel!). But I do think I could have been okay even if I had spent the entire time watching reality television at home.

It’s such a funny thing how so many people in the world are more than happy to jump down your throat if you even imply that you might enjoy doing something other than doting on your child all day. I think this perception is getting better (or maybe I just surround myself with people who are more compassionate and, let’s be real, honest), but I still feel it engrained in my own thinking sometimes. I actually had moments of guilt for not wishing Vivi was with me every second she was away. Like I should feel bad about enjoying being the person I was before a baby, even if only for a few hours. I’m going to try not to be so hard on myself about those feelings anymore.

That being said, I was SO. HAPPY. when Vivi came home. I swear that little stinker got even more gorgeous while she was away. And it was nice to see that she had missed me just as much.

I’m pretty proud of both of us.

I thought of this post while I was trapped under my sleeping child at 4:40 on a Tuesday afternoon. (But if you follow me on Instagram, you already knew that.) One arm firmly wrapped around Vivi’s snoozing body, I tapped out a few sentences to help myself remember it with one thumb on my phone, my very least favorite way to communicate. (Seriously, it gives me legitimate anxiety having to type so slowly. Anyone else?)(I may have a problem.)

I had not intended on taking a 30-minute breather on my couch at 4:40 that Tuesday. I had plans for my afternoon. Vivi and I had spent late morning at the park, where she was to run out all her energy before returning home, eating a nutritious lunch of ground turkey and sweet potato chili, and then taking a 2-hour nap in her crib while I worked and prepped dinner for that evening. It would be relaxing, satisfying, and totally stress-free.

It was also, it turns out, entirely not how the day went.

The park was fine, as it almost always is. But I made the mistake of staying ten minutes too long, leaving me with a hungry, cranky babe for the short walk home. By the time lunch was heated and ready to eat, Viv’s #hanger got the better of her. She ate most of the turkey and almost all of the sweet potatoes, but at least a third of her food was swiftly chucked onto the floor for Bogey to enjoy. Perfect.

As for the 2-hour nap…I tried to put her down around one. No dice. I tried again around 2:00, diligently making myself ignore my swiftly approaching 3 o’clock deadline for the site I edit to launch. Again, she wailed for a solid 20 minutes until I brought her back into the living room.

Not that she was happy awake, mind you. She wasn’t. She fussed and rubbed her eyes and griped at me about just about everything.

If only there was a simple way to solve all her problems. Like, oh, I don’t know…going to sleep.

I was so frustrated. I felt tempted to call off our evening plans, so certain was I that Vivi would be an absolute terror if we took her anywhere.

Finally, at 3:30, I laid her down and resolved to let her cry out her feelings a bit. Within 10-15 minutes, she was sound asleep. (I firmly believe that babies always know when they are going to break you and when they are not.) I was able to get most of my work for the launch done, but Vivi woke about 40 minutes later and started crying immediately.

I held her in my lap as I finished up my work, and all of a sudden I realized that she was sound asleep again. So I laid down on the couch without thinking to put her in a more comfortable position.

It was then that I realized I was now trapped. And work wasn’t done, dinner wasn’t prepped (we usually eat around 5:30), and I wasn’t anywhere near ready for our meeting that night (we have to leave by 6:40 to make it on time).

My first instinct was to feel frustrated — I had done everything right! I had a plan! Why was everything being so mean to meeeeeee.

But, in an effort to be more patient, I decided instead to take a breath and take a moment to stare at this beautiful creature sleeping on top of me. And in those 20 minutes I was her captive, I realized a few things:

1. Vivi has the longest eye lashes, but her eyes are so bright, you only really notice the lashes when the eyes are closed. You know, like they are when she’s sleeping.

2. I truly don’t think there is anything sweeter than a peacefully sleeping baby.

3. It’s okay that I’m not in control of everything. And even if it’s not, it’s just how life is now, and I may as well get on board.

Motherhood makes you slow down. It forces you to be flexible. It reminds you of your insignificance and humbles you beyond belief. But it also builds you up, speeds up time, and refines you in a way nothing else can.
Ultimately, things worked out just fine. After I was sure she was really, deeply asleep, I was actually able to slide out from under Viv and leave her sleeping on the couch (I put a million pillows on the ground in case she rolled, don’t worry). It’s a move I will never, ever be able to complete successfully again, so I basically felt like a ninja in that moment.
Then I finished my work, got dinner in the oven, and even curled my hair. Vivi woke up right before dinner, ate happily, and was an absolute dream at the meeting that night.
It’s a hard thing for a lifelong planner to accept that most of her planning will be for naught, but I’m trying to embrace the unpredictability of this new life. One day, I will miss the days when Vivi would fall asleep on my chest, her chubby arm resting lightly on my shoulder, her sweet, warm breath puffing gently against my collarbone. When I think about grown-up Vivi, I already miss these moments. And I can almost guarantee I will never again think about whatever it was I was supposed to be cooking for dinner.

Most people who know me know that I love organizing. I even tried to start an organizing business a few years ago. It didn’t end up taking off, but I still “freelance” organize for friends and family from time to time. (Not letting the dream die!)

Yes, what I’m saying is that I organize for fun. And, like the sicko that I am, I really, really do enjoy it.

Which leads a lot of people to think that my home must be super organized all the time. And it is with great shame that I must admit…it’s not. ALWAYS. I do my best, I really do. Joey will tell you that I’m quick to toss any errant object and my favorite question is, “Do you still need this?”

But I live with two other people (and a Bogey), which means I can only do so much when it comes to paring down our belongings.

Recently, I’ve gotten on a tear about our closets. Some of you may remember from my moving-in post, but our apartment is a weird labyrinth of winding hallways and strangely shaped rooms. It also has nine closets.

NINE.

This is unheard of in New York City living. And while it’s great for storing stuff out of sight (yay!), it also means it’s wayyyy too easy to hoard things we don’t really need.

“Hmm, what to do with all these extra bits and bobs from IKEA? Let’s just put them in this drawer in case we need them later.”

“Dang, these kitchen items don’t fit in the drawers…let’s tuck them in here for now.”

“I mean, I might need eleven tote bags at some point, so I’ll just put them in this closet until that day arrives.”

You see how this can become a problem.

For a long time, I’ve intended to clean out one of our back closets that I lovingly refer to as The Junk Closet (TJC). TJC has become the home of everything from old paintbrushes to baby-proofing items to Joey’s hockey equipment, and it’s safe to say I got stressed out just thinking about looking for anything in there. I also had a sneaking suspicion that the seven or so things I have “lost” in the last year were probably buried somewhere in its depths.

Finally (fortunately), Joey had a few days off this week, so he was able to watch Vivi while I attacked the closet. And, I’m pleased to tell you, it has been brought into order and is actually super functional now. It actually thrills me to open the door and look inside.

I ended up throwing out two full trash bags of junk and did find those missing items. I also learned a few lessons along the way:

1. Waste not…unless it means creating more useful space.

Listen, I get it. You don’t want to just throw out something that, at some point, you paid good money for or that technically someone else could probably use. (Just not you.) I think the hardest part about cleaning out a closet for most people is that feeling on, “But it’s not broken…” So you tell yourself that you could use it someday. Or sell it. Or find someone who could use it. And you put it back in the closet and it sits for another couple of years until you pull it out and have the same internal struggle yet again.

You need to change the way you are thinking about this. That useless thing is actually bringing down your life. It’s taking up space that could be used by something useful to your actual life. Throw. It. Away.

2. But if you really can’t just toss it…

Okay, okay. Let’s pretend you have a really good reason for not just ridding your life of this space-sucking object. Put it in the sell or donate pile and set a deadline for yourself. That means you have exactly one week to sell or donate said item. If that deadline passes, it goes in the garbage. Ain’t nobody got room to store an item they are actively trying to get rid of for more than a week. I currently have three items for sale in my Poshmark closet that are on rapidly dwindling deadlines — and then they will immediately join their pals in the “donate” pile.

3. And if you MUST save it…

Set a space limit for yourself. I’m not a total sadist — I understand that sometimes you really will use something in the future, even if you can’t use it now. You just shouldn’t dedicate an entire closet (or, *shudder*, room) to these items. I let myself have one bin of items that could potentially serve a purpose in a different apartment or house. But you have to really mean it. In my bin, I have a pair of white curtains, a few wall hooks for keys and coats, and a ceramic deer head. Like I said, limits.

4. When you’re done, label everything.

Now that you are purged of junk and neatly organized, you want to keep everything that way. I am the biggest fan of chalkboard labels because they allow for the possibility that one day you will no longer need a bin of baby-proofing items but will instead need a bin of lightbulbs (or something). And since chalkboard labels can get a little pricey when you need a million (because you will want to label everything once you get started), I love this chalkboard tape. It works just like masking tape and can be cut to fit any size bin or drawer.

What are your tips for conquering TJCs in your life?

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It’s a funny thing, this “living your life online.” This blogging about lifestyle (also know as life). This building an “Instagram brand.” This being a brand.

My mother never had to worry about this. I think about that whenever I have a chance to look through my baby book. These 50-odd photos of baby me. Sadly and blissfully all I have to know about what I looked like, what we did. It makes me both grateful for and disgusted by the literal thousands of photos and videos I have of the first year of Vivi’s life. At least 300 are perpetually available with a swipe of my phone.

I don’t talk a lot about how much what I do tires me. How much the internet and technology and the gratuitous, frivolity of it. One because I’m exhausted by over-earnest blogging. Funny, right? Because I also love it.

I love the catharsis of pouring out your heart, the lift in sadness and despair that comes from finding a tribe of people who do so much more than just “like” your honesty; they hold up mirror images of your pain and say, “I thought I was the only one.”

I also have a hard time whining because I recognize the privilege of complaining about the superficiality of what I do. Poor me, working from home on a flexible schedule so I am also able spend hours cuddling my sweet baby girl and dedicating so much time a week to my volunteer work. The internet, in all its obnoxious glory, lets me do that.

I struggle with the self-promotion. I think it’s a difficult thing for Christian, Midwestern, female people to do. It goes against the traits those types are usually bred to project.

So I try to soften the blow with self-deprecation, humor, and, often, bluster. But I’m still uncomfortable sometimes. Because I’m still acutely aware of every person in my life who hates me for being a blogger. Who hates me for every smiling Instagram photo, every snapshot of something pretty or Pinterest-worthy (which means…what, exactly? Didn’t we just call it “pretty” a handful of years ago?). Of every person who openly refuses to follow me or, even worse, follows but never likes, or, even worse, does none of the above but still looks at my public posts or watches every single Instagram story I post. Those people make me really sad, honestly. And my awareness of the people I do know about continually pokes a finger in another gaping insecurity: How many more are there out there that I don’t even know?

The internet is a big place, and hate is usually only a keystroke away.

This post has been buzzing around in my brain for a while, but it took me a while to find words that sounded right without sounding like I was complaining. I don’t know why I feel like I need to tell you that I’m in on it — I know the promoted posts, the self-promotion is annoying sometimes. I need you to know that I try to make them not that way.

And then I roll my eyes at myself because why do I care so much? I truly believe that, in life, you either attract or repel people. And I would rather repel someone by being who I really am than attract them by pretending to be something I’m not.

Often, I fantasize about stopping it all. You know that. I can’t really, though, because it is my job. It is my golden ticket to stay-at-home/work-at-home mom life, to full-time volunteer service. But I do sometimes imagine a life where I could do those things without doing these things. Because as much as I actually love blogging and DIY and style and cooking, the hate wears me down.

You, person who looks at my stuff and never likes, who mocks and says nasty things and seethes even though I’m not hurting you (or even thinking about you, often times). You wear me down.

But if I pretend to be the person you would be happy to see me be — self-loathing, bitter, failure — I would be attracting the wrong person with the wrong things.

Because there’s so. Much. Pressure. Guys. Pressure to be perfect. Pressure to be imperfect. Pressure to be perfectly imperfect. To be raw, to be polished. To be funny, to be sincere. And to be all those things all the time. It helps to remind myself that probably all business owners feel this way. And, in so many ways, this is my business. Entrepreneurism is not for the thin-skinned, the faint of heart.

I started this blog because I wanted to be a writer, and I still cringe a bit at the word blogger. (I mean, could we have picked a word that didn’t sound like loose mix of swampland and mucous?) Today, I am a professional writer, so maybe I’m not doing everything wrong.

But I’m also a blogger, for better or worse.

And bloggers will always bother someone. Honestly, I spend a lot of my life trying not to bother anyone. I speak quieter to Vivi when we’re being silly in public, trying not to be THAT mom that needs everyone to see how great she’s doing. I’m hyper-aware of people on the sidewalk, dodging and hugging the wall to keep from jostling anyone, trying not to be THAT person who is so self-centered. My emails read like a textbook of “woman in meeting” speak, trying not to be THAT in-your-face jerk. Maybe it’s more honest to say that I spend a lot of my life trying not to be a cliché.

The thing is, I really don’t want to bother anyone. So, if this blog bothers you, if my internet presence bothers you, I implore you: Ignore me. Stop following, stop looking.

But if you like looking at my stuff, I welcome you with open arms, fist bumps, and a round of celebratory drinks.

Do other people feel like hate is this visceral, tactile thing? Sometimes I look at a person and feel it radiating off of them like steam. It oozes from nasty comments, sparks out of sharp-tongues. I’m immediately put off when I feel it; I retreat like a spooked animal, a knot in my gut and a rush of adrenaline coursing through my veins. Danger, these people seem to whisper.

Do you know what I think about every time I post anything? Those three people who I know don’t like me. I’m not exaggerating when I say “every time.” They are my last thought before hitting “publish” or “share.” The anxiety those three people give me is embarrassing for me to admit. It would be so nice to not have to deal with that anxiety.

I know what you’re thinking (especially if you’re one of those three people): So, why don’t you just quit then?

I totally get why you think that. Because I want to quit.  Often. But I can’t because of Vivi. I can’t teach her that we go as far in life as the people who hate us the most want us to go.

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Instead, I want her to be brave. I want her to be kind. I want her to be the antidote to all that nastiness. And the only way I’m going to get her there is by trying to be those things myself.

So I’m going to try to focus on the people I actually like anyway. The people who love and support and get it and get me. Who like what I do, who like reading about the things I like talking about. And, you know what? I think that can be enough.

Whew! That was a lot of feelings. And, honestly, I don’t know if I’m making anything better by calling them out. I don’t even know if this all makes total sense — I wrote it over a series of emails to myself in the car. But I think I feel a little better. The aforementioned catharsis and all of that. The point is, if you feel this way too, you are not alone. And I think we can both be a little bit more of that kindness we want to see. To those of you who do and always have supported me and shown me so much love, I thank you from the very bottom of my heart. You are the greatest.

It’s funny how life teaches you things. Sometimes, they are profound things. Sometimes, not so much.

A few months ago, I started having doubts about our living room arrangement. When we first moved into our tiny two-bedroom, we struggled with a few things.

For one, this apartment is really weirdly shaped. Ignoring the labyrinth hallways leading back to the baby’s nursery, even our “open” spaces are strangely laid out with a variety of weird pockets and wall extensions that leave us with very few open expanses of wall.

Our initial idea was to use our couch to create a bit of separation between the kitchen and the living room. We also weren’t sure where to put the TV, and the one big open wall seemed like the best option.

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That’s an old picture (we didn’t even have the rug down yet), but you get the idea.

But as time went on and Vivi became more and more mobile, the couch breaking up the room seemed like less and less of a good idea. For one, if I tried to do a few dishes in the middle of the day, it was hard to keep an eye on Vivi if she was sitting on the carpet. And if she wanted to get to me, it meant getting her tiny body around our 7-foot couch.

So I started making plans to move the couch to where the TV had been and the TV to the wall with the window. It’s still not perfect, but the end result is much more open.

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But this isn’t a style post or even a DIY post. This is a story post. Because, let me tell you, rearranging your furniture is a regular excavation for stories.

Here are a few things we learned whilst shoving our stuff around:

If you ever think you’re not important enough to have a long-term impact, try breaking a glass in your apartment. You will find shards of glass for the next calendar year.

A few months ago, I broke a jar of salsa. I had just bought it and was putting away groceries when it slipped from my clutches and smashed onto our tile floors. (Side note: Those are the moments in life when you honestly think about just getting in your car, stepping on the gas, and never looking back. Where do you even BEGIN?) Because I have a dog and a baby, I’m especially conscientious about trying to keep, you know, hazards from lurking around on the floor. So I cleaned up the salsa, swept, vacuumed, and then got down on my hands and knees with a wet paper towel to try to scoop up and remaining splinters of glass. I did this for the better part of an hour.

I STILL find pieces of that dang glass jar from time to time.

And when we moved our couch last week? GLASS CITY. I don’t even know how pieces of glass got where they were without having actual legs to walk there. We may never know.

The point is, broken glass. It’s there, you just have to find it.

You really should measure everything before you try to move it. And then measure again. And did I mention you should measure?

I wish I could tell you it only took us moving one thing (and then having to move it back) for us to learn this lesson. But it took about three things.

If you ever want to feel real dumb, make the same mistake three times in the span of about an hour. And be SHOCKED every time you get the same result.

But after moving our file cabinet and then having to move it back and then moving our pantry and having to move it back and moving pictures and having to move them back, we finally got it. Life lessons, folks.

Babies make even the simplest tasks harder.

I know, you’re STUNNED by this revelation. But, seriously. I think most people expect that having a baby will make going out to dinner harder or saving money harder. But if you think you’re going to move your couch from one side of the room to the other in one fell swoop, you’ve got another thing coming.

Vivi was in some kind of mood when we were trying to move things and wanted to be held every second or she would scream her fool head off like she was being murdered. We would have to move something for a few minutes (while she wailed), then hold her for three minutes (while she sulked), and then put her down and repeat the process about a dozen times until everything was in place.

At one point, I was like, “Should I just strap her to my back while I move this 200-pound couch?” And then I realized that was insane and put her down again.

Sometimes they gotta cry, folks. That’s the life of a baby.

But these difficult lessons aside, we got the room rearranged. And it’s one of those changes that makes you smack your forehead and wonder why you didn’t just do this in the first place. Because now we can open our bathroom door all the way (we moved the bar that had been slightly blocking it next to the couch), use our gateleg table more easily (it can also double as extra counter space in it’s new location), and fit more people around the coffee table for dinner (there is SO much more open floor space).

You live and you learn, right?

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Today in statements you definitely already knew, I had a baby a little over seven months ago. The experience taught me so much about pretty much everything — myself, my marriage, my friendships, and what was important to me.

It also taught me that there are a lot of clueless (and even downright rude) people out there.

Also, people are kind of cliche — they all like to tell pregnant women the same things over and over.

I’m actually a pretty hard person to offend, so while I wouldn’t say anything anyone said to me actually ruined my day or anything, there are a few things that actually could ruin someone’s day or at the very least stuck in my craw long enough that I’m still thinking about it seven months later.

So in the spirit of spreading the wisdom, I’m sharing the four things that I find it really annoying for people to say to pregnant women/new moms — and what we should all start saying instead.

#1: You should sleep when the baby sleeps.

A) DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO YOU’RE NOT MY DAD. B) Oh, yeah? Should I? So I should not only be able to control my mind and body enough to drop off at will, but I should also just give up on accomplishing anything for the first three months of my child’s life? I don’t know about you, but if I truly slept every time Vivian slept, I would have literally been living in squalor. My husband works full-time, and my mom was only with us for the first couple of weeks. Should we just not have clean clothes or washed dishes or food stuffs? It’s not practical to sleep when the baby sleeps (and your body is so out of wack anyway, you might not be able to), and all it does when people tell you this is reinforce that there is yet another thing you are doing wrong. Not. Helpful.

Instead, say: I’m free tomorrow from two to five, so I’m bringing over dinner. And maybe I can throw in a load of laundry for you if you have any?

(SHE WILL ALWAYS HAVE LAUNDRY. Plus, she might actually take a cat nap if she knows you’re holding the baby and that dinner is taken care of.) Basically, don’t be the person that says, “Let me know if I can help!” Be the person that says, “Here is what I’m doing to help. I gotchu.”)

#2: You’ll never get your body back.

I had about the same reaction to this as I did when I was getting my engagement ring sized and literally three people told me that I shouldn’t size it down to fit because I would definitely gain a bunch of weight after I got married and/or had a baby. So apparently the assumptions start early.

But you know what? I didn’t. And, as someone who has struggled with weight issues in the past, I found statements like this to be almost equivalent to some kind of terminal diagnosis. (I know that probably doesn’t make sense, but weight issues mess with your sense of reason, yo.)

The point is, who are you helping when you say things like this? I truly think most people who said this kind of thing to me meant it in a “don’t beat yourself up if you can’t lose the baby weight — it happens to everyone!” kind of way, but it always, always, always sounds a little bit…mean. Well, maybe not mean, but at the very least like a subtle dig.

And you know what? My body did come back — I actually think my tummy looks better than it did before because I burned up a lot of belly fat whilst pregnant. That isn’t intended to be some loosely veiled humble brag. I’m just saying, you don’t really know how your body will react to pregnancy, so don’t let people stress you out. Pregnant women should take care of their babies and take care of themselves. That’s really all that matters.  

Instead, say: You look amazing! 

(Because she probably does look amazing because pregnant women are gorgeous. And because there has never been a pregnant woman who didn’t want to hear this.)

#3 Hoo-boy, are you in for it!

You know that guy in your office who loves to shoot down ideas during brainstorms by saying things like, “That won’t work” without providing any helpful alternatives? Something about #3 just makes me think of that guy.

Granted, no one actually said the words, “Hoo-boy, are you in for it!” to my when I was pregnant, but I like to think of this for a placeholder for every stereotypical negative remark people make to pregnant women. “You’re going to be so tired!” “Get ready for a lot of screaming!” “Guess this means your social life is over!”

I mean…unless said pregnant woman is new to the planet, I’m pretty sure they have an idea what they’re in for. Like, it’s kind of a thing that newborns don’t sleep for long stretches and cry fairly often and you probably shouldn’t go clubbing as a new mom. But you’re not really helping anything by pointing this out. Especially if this particular pregnant woman is already feeling kind of down or worried about the negative aspects of a new baby.

Instead, say: As soon as you feel up to it, I’m coming over with a bottle of wine and holding your baby while you tell me all the gory details.

What’s that? The negative aspects of a new baby can be funny? Or at least a good story later? Not unlike #2, sometimes a pregnant woman or new mom just needs reinforcement that her life can be similar to how it was before — not just a ribbing reminder of everything that is about to/has just changed. Be the good friend who helps her focus on the positives — and who proves that they’re still your friend despite the changes.

#4 You can’t do that when you’re pregnant/when you have a baby.

There are exactly two exceptions to this rule: 1) if you are the woman’s health care provider, and 2) if you are explicitly asked by said pregnant woman what you think.

Because, you know what? In our culture, pregnant women and moms are dumped on, you guys. We are made to feel like pregnancy and babies are the ultimate burden, and virtually every aspect of becoming a mother is made twice as hard by societal implications. Think about it: Maternity leave rarely comes with pay in this country, meaning women who love their jobs have to choose between leaving young children in daycare or giving up their careers. Public breastfeeding is routinely looked down upon, meaning women are essentially shamed into staying home rather than continuing to live their lives. People make comments like, “You’ll never get your body back,” reminding women that they’re only as good as they look and their contributions as mothers and therefore the creators of future society are valueless. (Or am I the only one hearing that when people say things like, “You’ll never get your body back”?)

The fact is, there are very few things you finitely cannot do when you are pregnant and/or have a new baby. In most cases, even medical professionals agree that all things in moderations are generally fine. (Except, I don’t know…arsenic. But, really, that was probably not a big part of your life before pregnancy anyway.) I’m a fairly crunchy pregnant person/new mom, but what other moms choose to do is their business. If I have opinions, I’m almost always going to keep them to myself. (Unless, you know, you’re trying to eat arsenic. In which case, we will have words.)

Instead, say: How are you feeling?

Because actual concern is always a better place to start — and much more helpful — than judgment. 

Pregnant ladies/new moms out there, what did I miss? What are your least favorite things to hear?