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Tiny Girlfriend’s Birth Story

June 9, 2019

From the moment I got a positive pregnancy test, I began to dream about what my child’s Birth Experience would be like. I began reading everything I could get my hands on- with the clear goal of having an unmedicated birth.

I sat on an exercise ball every day, for as long as possible. If I wasn’t on an exercise ball, I was sitting tailor style on the floor- only the best posture and keeping the pelvis open for me.

I walked 2-5 miles a day. I ate as well as I could through the morning sickness and when I finally started meds I made sure I had a really balanced diet. I drank 120 oz of water a day. I did pelvic tilts. You name it- if it was going to help prepare my body for birth, I was going to do it.

I had a low risk, healthy and normal pregnancy. I was young. I was in shape. I had the mental stamina to take this on head first and do this. I was ready to run the marathon that is giving birth to a baby. I had even talked to my doctor about not inducing until I was at 42 weeks as long as everything was healthy so that my body could be fully ready to do this thing (who wants to go to 42 weeks these days?! =p).

Then at 38 weeks my blood pressure was slightly elevated. There was no red flag thrown yet, but now, we were going to keep watching it and see what happened.

39 weeks rolls around. “Are you having contractions? Were you running late to your appointment?” The answer was no to both of these things, and my blood pressure was still elevated. Our watch continued. We scheduled a non stress test (where they hook you up to a monitor and watch baby’s heart rate, movements, and any contractions you’re having) and an ultrasound to check her amniotic fluid levels.

It was at this point that the word induction was mentioned, and I started to get concerned. This was not a part of my plan!! I had worked so hard to be healthy and avoid this. I went home and for a week did everything possible to try to induce labor on my own. I ate four whole pineapples. I walked all day. I did squats and lunges, I broke out my breast pump, I hand expressed- if it was going to kick start labor without destroying my bowels I was game to try it.

40 weeks. Same questions. Same response. Tiny Girlfriend was happy on the inside, moving just the way she was supposed to, and her amniotic fluid was totally perfect. In my head, this was great news! I was going to be able to push it for another week, with more monitoring, and keep trying to get my body ready for labor.

But the doctor looked at me and said: “I can’t make the call. With this pressure, we should send you to L&D for further monitoring and then the on call doc will make the call.”

I knew from my appointment just two days prior that the doctor I had been seeing every appointment since 12 weeks was the on-call doc that night. We headed to the hospital and I was still thinking I could go home and just come in for monitoring more frequently.

I was in good spirits- after all, Gene had never been an alarmist with me. He had been nothing but supportive of my goal for an unmedicated birth and had agreed that if nothing was wrong, we could keep waiting. He had even said if there was no imminent risk we could delay induction by a few hours so I could walk at my graduation ceremony. I still felt calm, cool, collected and in control. I was smiling and laughing with the nurses, drinking my water and watching the erratic contractions that I wasn’t feeling, taking these all as good signs that I would be headed home soon.

I then asked Nancy, the first of many incredible people who were on my team, some important questions.

If you induce me can I be up and walking around? The answer: no. If we put medicine in your body, we have to know the baby is okay. But I knew the hospital had one telemetry unit that was waterproof, so I hadn’t begun to panic yet.

Will you be able to get me the wireless monitoring system so I can walk and use the tub? I am trying for an unmedicated birth and these are things that really ease my discomfort. The answer: our one unit has been out for repair. Me: could you please see if it has come back yet?

Now I was starting to worry. My birth preferences were going south very quickly here. A very dear friend of mine recommended a book to me that I gobbled up in just one day. It is called Birth Without Fear by January Harshe. In it, Mama J emphasizes the importance of having Options, Support, and Respect. This became our mantra and rallying cry in the last few weeks of our pregnancy, and rather than having a meltdown, I began to repeat these three words to myself knowing that we could handle this new set of challenges.

They moved us out of triage and over to the room where I would give birth to my daughter. I was still a little bit in denial because Gene hadn’t told me I was for sure admitted, and Sean, my mom and I waited for the final verdict.

Bracelets were printed. Forms were signed. And Gene apologized that I was going to have to miss my graduation. I told him that I trusted him, and agreed that the safe arrival of my daughter was a far greater good, but I was going to eat this dang cheeseburger before they admitted me =p. He happily agreed and we were on our way.

As mentioned earlier, my body was not at all ready to have a baby. So the first part of my induction process was what is called cervical ripening. My nurse for the evening, Cyndi was just lights out, explaining what was going to happen and having a great sense of humor to help me be less stressed. Nancy gave me a tempur pedic mattress topper, and everyone was just being so kind. I had a brave face on, and was trying to remain positive, but I was a little bit scared. This is not the natural way to do this. I truly felt that my body just needed a few more days and would have done this on its own, but now I felt I was somewhat backed into a corner because my blood pressure made it unsafe to continue to carry my little one.

Options. Support. Respect.

We started with the first dose of misoprostol and then settled in for a long wait. Every four hours, I could receive another dose, and the hope was that this would kind of kick start the process. I slept through the first dose, and we saw no changes. I was told this was normal, and that this would be a slow process. They gave me the second dose and I began to sweat profusely. I was wide awake, watching Guy Fieri and thanking God that my mom needs a fan to sleep with at night and had brought two because I felt like I was just going to melt into a puddle of sweat. We lowered the thermostat dramatically to get that room cold, and I tried to get some more sleep. By 4:00, we had seen no change in my cervix, but my body realized something was supposed to be happening and I was having more regular contractions. This was a problem for this part of the induction process because they couldn’t administer the next dose if I was contracting, so I had to be pumped full of fluids to slow down my irritated uterus.

By 6:15 I was only 30% effaced and was beginning to feel really dejected and bitter about the whole situation. I knew that blood pressure was nothing to mess around with, but I also knew my body clearly was not ready to have a baby. My mom had stepped out of the room, and I was crying to Sean, telling him how much it sucked and how unfair this was- I had worked so hard for my whole pregnancy to not be in this situation, and in a cruel twist of fate, here we were. Thankfully he knew that in that moment I needed him to just hold space for my feelings, and he agreed that this really did suck. He redirected my attention to the poster he had made me with Mama J’s mantra: Options, Support, Respect and we set about finding ways to gain back the empowering birthing experience we had envisioned for our daughter.

Taking a line right out of Birth Without Fear, Sean looked me in the eyes and said: it’s about to be our daughter’s birthday we can choose to be happy instead of feeling like everything has gone to shit. And with that, we recommitted to celebrating every step of this journey.

At 8:00, Sean and my mom helped me out of bed and got me set up on my beloved exercise ball. I figured- this got her into the right position, maybe the forces of gravity would be on my side. We watched Billions, and I pretended that the Lemon Ice was enough sustenance to make it a few more hours.

By 10:00 I was begging for just a few minutes off the monitor, and for some food. Dr. Goldstien took pity on me and allowed me to eat breakfast and take a shower. I ate as much as I could, and that shower was just heavenly. My nurse, Kimberley even let me walk a couple of laps- which was how I had always envisioned my labor going. It was nice for even a few minutes to have what I had hoped for.

At 1:00 we checked again and had not had any progress. Once again I felt super dejected and cried a little bit more. I was beginning to get concerned that they were going to put me on some kind of clock and make me have a c section if I didn’t have the baby by the deadline. I asked multiple people, and they assured me that would only be if something went wrong on the baby’s end, but that she was tolerating everything really well, and was behaving perfectly.

At this point, I had missed my graduation and still didn’t have a baby. I was miffed but kept reminding myself that I got to choose the way this day was going to go. My sister brought me some magazines, and some snacks for when I’d be allowed to eat, and my dad came to say hi. He surprised me with my diploma, and even was able to bring his Trustees robes to the hospital! My husband, and family, as well as the amazing day time team, hosted a graduation ceremony just for me, and my dad got to present me my diploma after all. It wasn’t on the big stage as I had planned, but it is a moment I will cherish forever- and is even better than waiting for hours with everyone else.

At 4:30 I was 50% effaced and was approaching my last dose of misoprostol. The hope was that this would ready my body enough to try a gentler form of induction than just hitting me with Pitocin. I settled in for my last 4-hour stretch.

I’m sure you can guess where this went. when we had our final exam, I had made no progress, and it was decided we would be moving forward with the Pitocin. My night nurse, Allison asked if I could eat and shower, and once again, Dr, Goldstein took pity on me. I had not slept in 30 hours. I was about to perform the greatest athletic feat of my life. I was nervous but excited because even though I had heard horror stories about Pitocin, I was going to work through this pain and on the other end was going to be my sweet baby girl. I ate a cheeseburger, took another shower, and braced myself. When I got up to pee, I had what seemed to be my bloody show, and then they started the pitocin.

From 12:00 AM- 2:00 AM the contractions were manageable with the exercise ball and leaning over the bed. Then, my water broke, and they upped my dose. Allison quickly attached my penicillin to my IV, and I began a deep journey into myself. It was as if something just clicked: I was the only person that could get this baby out, so now was my time.

We called our doula, and found out that Angel was going to be a part of our support team. We were over the moon- we had met her on our hospital tour and had been hoping beyond hopes she would be on call the night we gave birth. She arrived and I was still vertical. On the ball then leaning over the bed and swaying, ebbing and flowing through the contractions. Angel helped me to try some other positions to help ease the contractions, but my legs were so tired I couldn’t really stand any longer.

Angel helped me to get the bed into a seated position and propped me up with pillows. I felt like I had been hit by a mac truck. she was helping me through each contraction, and I was sleeping between them. With tears in my eyes, I looked at Angel and told her I needed to get out of my own way, and get the epidural. I told her that after 38 hours with no sleep, and only a few minutes between contractions to sleep, I was going to have to choose between the unmedicated labor I had worked so hard for, or not having the stamina to actually push the baby out. We decided to ask for an internal exam to see how much I had progressed- and make a final decision.

I was at 4cm. I was so proud of myself for getting that far, but knew it could be hours before getting to 10cm, and looked at my support team, pulled a Dean Winchester, and got out of my own way. Around 4:15 am I got an epidural and I passed out once it went into effect.

By 6:30 am Dr. Goldstein came in to check on my progress. He apologized for waking me up, but what a victory it was when he told me I was dilated to 9.5 cm! The room was charged with entirely new energy, and I knew I was going to be able to bring this baby into the world confidently.

My epidural had begun to wear off slightly, and I was really feeling the contractions in my right hip. I hit the button, and Angel massaged my feet and legs. I slept for two more hours, really allowing my body to labor down. When I woke up, I could feel my legs and the contractions on a mild level but was not feeling any pelvic pressure. This was a dream epidural, and I could not have been any luckier for a plan that was not my original one. Angel explained to me how we were going to push, and we started to get more excited to meet our little girl.

Gene came back and told me we were going to do some practice pushes to see how things were going. At this point, I was not doing no practice pushes. Momma was ready to have this baby after 46 hours of waiting and throwing my entire birth plan out the window.

Gene explained to me again how we were going to push- hold my legs, chin to chest, deep breath and hold it for 10 seconds, three times per contraction. Back into that deep personal space I went, acknowledging I was the only one who could bring this baby into the world, and the doctors realized we would not be practicing. We were having a baby!

Everyone was so good to me. At this point, we got the birth plan back on track as much as we could. Angel had brought a mirror for me, and Gene even let me feel her head (something I hadn’t thought to ask to do!). Everyone was so excited, cheering me on, telling me how great I was doing Between pushes I was sucking in oxygen to try to regain my strength, and everyone was talking about Game of Thrones.

Before I knew it, I was on my very last push, my eyes closed tight giving it my all and Gene says: look down, look down she’s here! He scooped her up and put her immediately on my chest. Her cry was the most amazing thing I have ever heard. I looked into her eyes and said We did it, girlfriend! You’re here! Welcome to the world! Nothing could possibly have interfered with that moment. Sean cut the cord, and they delivered my placenta before I even knew what was happening. I recall Gene telling me that I had sustained a mild tear and he was going to fix me up, but I could honestly have cared less at that point. I had done it! She was here!

I kept her on my chest for over an hour, talking to her, singing to her and just looking at this perfect little being that I had just brought into the world. Nancy was our daughter’s nurse, and was so good to me- she asked if they could do her stats, and I was like no- not right now, I’d like to keep her here a little longer if I could. And she happily obliged.

I cannot say enough good things about Danbury Hospital and the team that helped me bring my daughter into the world. Words will never be enough.

I have never felt more powerful in my life than in those moments working to bring her into the world and I am so excited for all of the incredible things this little girl is going to teach me about myself, her point of view, and the world in general.

Lifestyle

I’ll Keep You Safe, I’ll Keep You Dry

April 30, 2019

Pregnancy is such a strange and beautiful process. For 40 weeks, you give up your body for the sake of someone else, allowing them to take whatever they need to start their life.

With each week that passes, and each milestone you hit, there is a sigh of relief: you’re one step closer to meeting this tiny person you are in such close contact with every single day.

You share the news with your friends and family, then you share the news with the world, and there is a giant explosion of excitement, a baby! So small! So cute! I can’t wait!

A few months later, if you so choose, you find out if the baby is a boy or a girl, and can choose his or her name. There is another frenzy of excitement as all of the people closest to you start envisioning all the adorable clothes and things and gifts that they can get you for your sweet baby. And it is so humbling and fun to get the little onesie, or teddy bear that someone picked out especially for your baby.

If it’s your first baby, you may have a shower, and be so incredibly blessed by the outpouring of love that those people who love you so much shower upon you. It’s overwhelming in the best possible way to be loved so deeply, and to know that your baby is also loved so deeply.

Then, we start to sit and wait. The doctor gives you a month long window of when the baby could safely come, and you wait.

And each day, people ask you how you’re feeling, or if there is any movement and if the baby is gonna come. And you act like the adult you are and say “I’m feeling fine, thanks, the baby will come when she is ready.” What you want to say is: “Do you see a baby in my arms? No? Then NO. The baby has not come yet.” On a deeper level, what I want to say is: “We all have waited 272 days. She has at most 22 days left. This is the only time in her life where I can keep her perfectly safe. If I eat right, and avoid the things that I was told to avoid, and exercise and sleep and take my vitamins I can keep her safe. As soon as she is born, it is all on the table. I will not be able to protect her from the world, and with each day that she gets older, there will be a new set of fears that I have to face over and over again. So no, she is not here yet. And no, I am not miserable about it because in 22 days I cannot be her perfect shelter any longer. I am cherishing these last 22 days before my heart is beating outside of my body and I have to trust that I will do my best to raise her to be strong, smart, gentle and kind, and that though I will do anything to keep her safe, I also have to unleash her light into the world, and help her to make it a better place.

But the thing that is so befuddling to me is the commentary on my body. I am now realizing that I am a very lucky woman. I shop off the rack at every store I go to, and I can usually find something in my size that I would enjoy wearing. My boobs were always small enough that I could buy bras on a whim, and my shoes are an average size that every brand carries.

But lately, people I have never even seen before stop me in whatever store I am in to tell me how much longer I have because I am carrying so high. What these people don’t know (because they couldn’t know it, since they don’t know me from Adam) is that this comment is like a dagger to my heart.

You see, at each appointment starting at about 20 weeks, my practice takes out a paper tape measure and measures your belly from the top of your uterus to the bottom of it. Its a rough guess to help see if your baby is measuring on track (it is supposed to be the same number of centimeters as you are pregnant give or take two centimeters in either direction). I was tracking along perfectly for most of my appointments.

But then 7 weeks ago, my belly stopped measuring along with my weeks. I was within the realm of normal, but my doctor said I needed to have a growth scan just to be sure nothing was wrong. He didn’t rush order the scan. And he told me that everything was likely fine. I talked to a couple of my trusted mom friends and they said I was going to be fine. But I was crushed. What had I done wrong? Was my little girl going to be okay? I had done everything right. Why was my tummy small? Had she stopped growing? Would I have to have her early to try to give her her best chance?

For two weeks I cried every time I showered. I cried to one of my friends on Marco Polo telling her I didn’t know what I had done wrong. We went to our comfort measures class at the hospital and another woman, due one day before me, looked WAY different than I did and I cried myself to sleep worrying I had done something wrong. Those two weeks were pure torture.

Then we had our growth scan. And wouldn’t you know it, my little girl had just already dropped. She was head down, and in my pelvis, tracking at almost 5lbs and was totally fine. My body apparently didn’t want to stretch since my pelvis was a good support system for her, and just put her into that position instead of keeping her floating upwards.

My belly dropped 7 weeks ago. And it is still measuring behind. We had a second growth scan just last week, and baby was still low, and had had gained a pound and change. This is my variation of normal.

So any time some random stranger tells me that I’m carrying high, or that I still have a long time to go, it brings me back to each of those moments of fear, waiting to see if my baby was okay.

My body is unique. And my pregnancy is unique, as every woman’s body and pregnancy is. And it is really strange to me that people you don’t know find it okay to comment on your body and tell you how things are going when they literally have zero clue how your body does things.

Now, let’s also make a note that the last few weeks of pregnancy are hard. I am tired, my feet hurt at the end of the day, and there are a lot of hormones and emotions floating around as I get ready to bring this baby into the world. My body is making changes and getting itself ready. I am preparing my heart for the changes that are coming, and I am trying to maintain the level of excitement for everyone else, and put up with the random strangers at the store.

I am so excited that everyone is so excited to meet our tiny girlfriend. Believe me, no one is more excited than me to meet her. I have spent the last 39 weeks pouring my literal self into the creation of this little girl, and the moment I get to see her is going to be so mindblowingly amazing I don’t even know if I will be able to handle it.

But I am also dealing with all of the fear and excitment and transition of becoming a mother. And its a lot all at once. A newfound hero of mine, January Harshe is really big on holding space for parents in whatever they are feeling. And this is really something that I want to impress on anyone reading this. This is a really big moment in my life, and I am having ALL of the feelings to go along with it. Please, be patient and gentle with me as I step into this new role.

And to the old lady in aisle 7- just shut up. I don’t comment on your flabby arms. Stop talking about my belly.

Lifestyle

A Season of Surrender

April 8, 2019

Well hey there! For the past few years, my life has been a chaotic swirl of going going going and a constantly packed calendar that was a maze of scribbled out tasks and arrows directing to where they would go if they weren’t completed in a day.

Then, as if by some mystical force, it all culminated in ONE week. I completed a 40 page thesis, printed it 5 times and presented to the local nonprofit that I had created a marketing plan for. It went so well, and the client was so happy with not only our research, but also with the presentation we had put together. I am still waiting on a final grade, but so far it is looking good. Stay tuned!

A few days later, my sisters threw me the most beautiful baby shower. It was Eloise themed, and every detail was absolutely outstanding. Everyone showed up in a big way and really spoiled myself, Sean, and Tiny Girlfriend in a big way. I am so humbled by the outpouring of love and it is really an incredible gift to have everything I could need to care for my sweet girl once she arrives.

And with that, all the pent up stress and worry that my brain had been blocking out was lifted.

And my body decided: oh hey! I’m pregnant. I kid you not, the day after my baby shower, my body just decided it was going to feel like I thought I would feel while I was pregnant. I am more tired, and can’t move as fast. I am out of breath just carrying the laundry basket up from the basement to my bedroom.

This whole process has been so fascinating to me. To grow a whole human being over the course of 10 months is mind blowing. To do it while finishing grad school, and working is something I didn’t really take into account when making my plans. But somehow, I was able to manage all of these tasks at once. But what is really crazy to me is that now that I am done with all of these things, and have transitioned to only working from home, my body is demanding rest from me as it prepares for the biggest athletic event of my life.

This has taken an immense level of surrender on my part. I know I have mentioned this before, but I often find my value in how much I have accomplished in a given day, rather than just in having an intrinsic value.

And when your body physically shuts down at 2 PM saying: hey, I’m done, let’s sit and rest; it goes against the idea that you have to accomplish a lot in a given day. And yet here I am, feet propped up, bottle of ice water in hand and watching criminal minds and letting my body build up a store of energy for Tiny Girlfriend’s birthday.

I am really focusing on taking this time to be fully aware of the incredible thing my body is doing, and stopping to be thankful for the fact that I am good enough- sitting on the couch, or out running errands.

Gene informs me that after next week, she can come at any time. After ordering some final things on Amazon, and finishing her last load of laundry today, I feel like I can rest easy knowing I have done everything I can to be ready for her big debut.

I am surrendering to this newest phase of life. And learning how to love myself in this season.

Dear Twenty-Something

One Hell of a Ride

March 22, 2019

22 March 2019

Dear Twenty- Something,

“No matter how much it hurts, no matter how hard it gets, you gotta keep grinding.”- Dean Winchester

Do you remember the summer before you went to High School? Feverish with strep, you grabbed a blanket and went down to the basement to sleep in the cool dark, and to do what you always did when you were sick, watch endless TNT and drink lemonade.

In a twist of fate you didn’t even know would get to you, reruns for a show you had never seen before came on after your mandatory Angel and Charmed watching, and you sat there, intrigued and maybe slightly horrified. That woman was pinned to the ceiling and the house burned down. The dad disappeared on a hunting trip? What is up with this cool car? Who are these cute actors?! The rest of the summer was spent watching as much of this show as you could, however you could find it (I believe you still have a season on DVD- does anyone even use those any more?).

And down the rabbit hole you fell.

School was always interesting for you. Anything relating to words always came very easily for you. But anything related to numbers, clearly did not. Geometry nearly killed you (but hey! You totally made it- great job!). And those people taking pre-calc before graduating? You knew you’d never be one of them.

But suddenly you had a constant. When you had to stay up late to study for yet another exam, or write another paper, you pulled up the monster slaying duo and entered your own world, able to focus on what you needed to get done.

When you went to college, school got harder, and with that, focusing became even harder. You couldn’t understand- your grades were fine before, why all of a sudden (I mean looking back you did go to business school… there was a lot of math… that was probably the problem =p) things were so difficult.

Late nights, headphones in, carry on my wayward son and a story of brothers. The only way you got through. But no one understood watching tv while doing homework.

Then there was an ADHD diagnoses. And things made sense. And when you told the doctor you did better work when you were watching Supernatural he told you to watch it as much as you wanted. These were called coping mechanisms. This is how YOU focus. This is how YOU will do better.

Test after test, paper after paper, the grades got higher. The GPA went up, and your confidence went with it.

These scenes became so familiar that you could recite them in your sleep. You could “watch” an episode only by listening to it, and you knew when Sam was talking, when Dean was talking, when Crowley, Bobby, Cas, Rowena, John, Mary, Jodi was talking. These were familiar faces and brought peace and harmony to an otherwise scrambled brain.

Grad school is coming to a close, and you were wondering what it would be like to not do homework while watching your show. Would your mind even compute what was happening?

One more season. One season to just sit and enjoy, and not have any need to do homework. A fitting send off for your people.

As the transitions start rolling in, know that this will always be your safe place. When it’s just too hard to focus, go ahead. Pick a random episode and start from there. Enjoy the ride all over again.

Never give up. Never stop doing your best. And always be appreciative of the gift that is Supernatural.

Cheers SPN Fam! It’s been a hell of a ride.

-S

Encounter

Human Problems

March 20, 2019

“If Christ does not change the way in which we confront human problems, Christ is just a fantasy.”

Giussani, L. (1986). Morality: Memory and desire. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

This probably could not have come at a more appropriate time. I am pretty sure my thesis group just blew up.

There is plenty of time to the due date. I know it will get done. I am not concerned at all actually. Remember? I just admitted that I know how to plow through and get something done regardless of how it affects the rest of the team (though I am working on this, and am not advocating for it unless its absolutely necessary).

Leadership and control do funny things to people. It’s like there is this metaphorical gold medal given if you get tapped as the leader of the group. The teacher seems to rely on you a little more. People look at you a little differently. You “stand out” in a class. In a program where we are all busting our asses to get a piece of paper that says we are certifiable leaders, you can see why this happens.

There also comes a time when everyone thinks they are the leader. Every last person tries to strut their stuff, and see if they have the chops to run the group. What inevitably happens, is that the person who really really wants to be deemed the group leader, winds up going a few steps too far and causes distress amongst the rest of the group.

Some people choose to interact with this by just sitting it out. Hey man, its just a paper. I’ll get my stuff in when it needs to be in, and I’ll make sure its good enough for us to get the grade.

But I have a really hard time with passive aggressive behavior that is degrading to the rest of the team. Nearly a decade ago, a friend of mine told me to give up sarcasm for lent. He said that if I couldn’t just say what I needed to say in a direct and kind manner, I probably shouldn’t talk at all because it was not worth hurting so many people. This may seem dramatic, but it really struck me, deeply to my core.

I spent those next 40 days really thinking about what it was I was trying to communicate, and how I could use words that were effective without being hurtful.

This may have backfired a little bit- I now seem to be more like Temperance Brennan from Bones than I’d like to be, but you know… you win some you lose some.

So when someone decides to deal with problems with nasty, passive aggressive texts I have an issue with it. I spent a solid 10 minutes writing and re-writing a text to the person having a problem. It was straightforward. It started with I am not sure what’s wrong but it would be easier for us to move forward if you could just state what is going on.

And then I deleted it. Over, and over. Because what came after it was, while accurate and truthful, NOT helpful.

Because if I say that I believe that Christ has changed me, then I have to acknowledge that sometimes, just turning the other cheek and dealing with the mess is the appropriate course of action, no matter how right I feel that I am.

So onwards I go. Reformatting. Filling in gaps. Editing to make everything sound like one paper. And hoping, beyond all hopes that in 7 days, my client appreciates the hard work.

Lifestyle

What a Welch MBA Gets You

March 18, 2019

A Reflection on Greatness, Humility & Success

By: Shannon Kaschak

Nearly a decade ago, I walked into Management 101 with a red book in one hand and black and white composition notebook in the other. My professor was video conferenced in from Austria, and I sat down beyond confused by what was happening: why didn’t I have an in person teacher, and why had he sent me to Barnes & Noble for a book instead of making me buy a textbook? As we worked through Jim Collins’ Good to Greatand began to dive deeper into what makes a leader stand out from the rest, taking a company well beyond good and into the realm of great, I began to understand that my professor was setting me up for a lifelong journey of becoming the best that I could possibly be, rather than just making me memorize definitions for a midterm and final exam. 

It is fitting then, that as my business school career comes to a close, it is ending with me thumbing through a well worn book- dog eared pages reminding me of the things that really stood out and margins so covered in scribbles it’s probably time for a new copy. As I finish up the work to earn an MBA from Sacred Heart University, I feel that my education has come full circle from those first days of deciding if I even wanted to be a business major. Now, more than ever, I know that I have chosen a field that is not only one known for success, but also has the potential to impact the world in a profound way. 

As I think back on all of the things I have learned in the MBA program, I can see how each of my classes will become the cornerstones for the foundation of a great manager, bringing me through the various stages of becoming a Level 5 Leader. The first level is that of the Highly Capable Individual. From Accounting and Finance, to Microeconomics and Business Law, I refreshed my memory on skills I would need to be successful moving forward. Furthermore, I established strong work habits right out the gate- focusing on time management, goal setting, and acknowledging both my personal strengths and weaknesses when it came to the world of business. The second level is that of the Contributing Team Member. After completing the pre-requisite courses, I began to truly dive into becoming a better leader. Through rousing debates, role-playing and team building projects, I began to see how working with people from all different backgrounds and personality types could create both a strong working dynamic, and also could cause large problems amongst teammates. We focused on integrity, and humility, looking at how we could influence people without the use of force or rudeness, and learned to think critically about the environment in which I was working. 

The third level is that of the Competent Manager. As I dove into the Dynamic Business Management courses, it was time to put my money where my mouth was. I had relearned what a balance sheet looked like, was able to put together a decent budget, and had learned how to work in short bursts with people who didn’t work in the same way as myself. But for six months, I would find myself challenged to my core, as I truly began to learn what it meant to be a competent manager. With the end goal of creating a product from start to finish, my teammates and I dove headfirst into the course. What I hadn’t expected was to have teammates who functioned so vastly differently from myself. Deadlines were a thing that came and went, and often we would go long stretches of time without hearing from multiple people on the team. There is a saying that communication happens 7×7 ways, and it was here that I truly learned the meaning of this. In order to effectively lead a team, I had to be able to meet everyone where they were at, and often spent hours on various social media sites to be able to help other teammates with work that needed to be done. We were given a new teammate at the start of the second semester, adding yet another personality and now needing to bring him up to speed. Looking back on this process, I can say that I was not going anywhere past the Competent Manager level any time soon. I worked always for the sake of efficiency, making sure everyone hit deadlines, and kept lines of communication constantly open. When work didn’t get completed, I just plowed through making sure it got done and could be handed in, letting resentment settle into the back of my mind, and slowly beginning to show my teammates less and less understanding. By the time I had finished the courses, I felt like I had survived a small war, and started to think deeply about what had worked, and what hadn’t worked in helping with the team. Setting clear deadlines, asking for confirmation from teammates and being open to communication in any form had worked really well. But what hadn’t worked so well was my lack of empathy towards outside situations. I had made it clear that the fraternity formal wasn’t as important to me as this project was, and that if my grade suffered at the expense of the fun of senior week, I would be fairly upset. I was standing too close to the trees to see the forest. There is more to life than  passing a class, no matter how important that 3.7 GPA looks on paper. I knew going forward that this was something I was going to have to work on, making sure that I didn’t use my INTJ, Type A personality as a crutch to excuse less than stellar managerial behavior. 

When I started the capstone of the MBA program, my goal was to take all of the positives I had learned from the Dynamic Business Management courses and apply them to my new team. I also wanted to focus on keeping things in perspective, and being more understanding to the things going on in the lives of my teammates. There had to be a healthy balance between making sure everything got done, and still showing respect to someone else’s life. For my final semester of the MBA program, I wanted to work on becoming a level four leader. The fourth level is that of the Effective Leader. Keeping in mind everything I have learned over the past three years, I have intentionally spent this time keeping lines of communication open, rallying everyone towards final goals, and mediating spats caused by miscommunication. Rather than getting myself riled up over every little thing, I have tried to take a step back to look at the big picture. Everyone has a life and a job outside of school, and while this project is incredibly important, it probably didn’t need to feel like life or death at all times. Imagine my surprise when this attitude served me far better in helping the team to work well together, and accomplish goals that we had all set together. Sure there have been hiccups along the way: complete lack of communication, missed deadlines, and scrambling to make sure things have looked just right before handing them in. But with a deep breath and a reality check, these things were not the end of the world, merely things that needed to be addressed in a timely fashion. With a more gentle tone and the use of reason, it was easier to convince everyone that the team would be better off if we all worked together, rather than demanding everything be in by a set deadline. There were other classes, jobs, vacations and family events that needed to take precedence, and somehow, almost all of the deadlines were still met. Though there were still personality clashes, I focused on building bridges, openly communicating problems that I was having, and asking for real solutions from the whole team, rather than just isolating myself and working with the people that thought just like me. 

So how do I move into the realm of the Level Five Leader? The fifth level is that of Executive. Jim Collins spends a lot of time talking about the importance of humility when it comes to becoming a great leader that can take a company from good to great as well. Humility is a trait that will take a lifetime to fully understand. There is always a way to become a better version of oneself, and there is always a way to practice humility even further. I believe that true humility is seeing myself exactly as I am- nothing more, and nothing less. I hope with each experience I have, I will find many opportunities for deep personal growth, which will lead me to be the best leader I can possibly be. 

One of my final assignments in my capstone course was to read an article by Clayton Christiansen, called How Will You Measure Your Life? This seemingly small assignment packed a powerful punch and brought me back to my very first semester of college when I was trying to figure out what direction I was going to take as I started my adult life. In five hundred words or less I had to pick something that stood out to me in this article, and what stood out the most was that this man who teaches at the Harvard Business School takes time to ask his students what they will be able to look back on and be proud of. He talks about balance between work and life, and keeping everything in perspective. Christiansen also points to the stark reality that if there is not something that you are striving towards, you end up chasing after a fleeting form of happiness and instant gratification. This idea resonates with me deeply- because at the end of the day, it’s not really about bringing home lots of money (though that is of course, a nice bonus!). At the end of my life, I should be able to look back and see that my career was a time in my life where I effected great change, made the world a better place, and became the best person that I can possibly become. 

In the next ten years, I would like to continue to broaden my horizons, and gain as many experiences in both leadership and marketing as I can, while also raising a family. In the immediate future, this will be working with The Barnum Festival to build a strong Social Media Campaign and Digital Marketing Plan. I want to continue to utilize everything that I have learned, and become even more proficient in my chosen field. I want to continue to foster strong communication, and build connections with the many amazing people that I get to interact with on a day-to-day basis. I would like to continue to work from home, building a portfolio of work that is both powerful and creative, and brings about impressive results, and a strong return on investment for any company that I work for. I never want to forget the strong work ethic that got me through this program: always making sure to give everything my most sincere effort, and never being afraid to ask for help if I didn’t know how to do something. I want to be quick to apologize if I make a mistake, and make sure I always find a way to make things better than when I started a project. I hope that at each place I work, I make an impact, and make the lives of the people I work with better and brighter. I want to continue to foster strong communication skills, not be afraid of conflict, and be a voice of reason when seeking a resolution. I want to be a role model for other young women, who also want to work in the field of business and raise a family, proving that there are no limits on success when you put your mind to it and give it your all. Most of all, I want to make sure that I always remember what is important in life, balancing work and family and overall not just doing well, but, doing good. 

Beyond these first ten years, I want to take all of the things that I have learned and will learn, and apply them to being a great leader. I want to be the leader that encourages people to keep things in perspective, to look at the big picture and to gauge success not just on numbers and dollar signs, but also on happiness, and overall life satisfaction. I will achieve this by taking all of the things I have learned, and all of the things I will continue to learn with each passing year, and make sure I live a life of greatness. I will foster a strong corporate culture that cares for its employees, and will think of others before myself. 

If I can achieve these things, I will be able to look back on my life and feel that I was not only successful in my business career, but also that I had made an impact on the world. 

All of these people deserve hand written cards all over again, but a special thanks goes out to:

Dr. Ruesch, for confirming that business was the right choice after all, and never letting me forget it.

Professor Rankin for your advising for all those years, and for celebrating all the small victories with me along the way.

The international business program of Spring 2013- you reminded me to take life a little less seriously, and to enjoy each moment as it came.

Linda, for the chocolate, as I sat, sobbing in your office begging you to help me understand the accounting ( I promise to bring you chocolate once the baby is here so you can eat chocolate and see a cute baby!).

Mary for staying with me that night till 11PM, and telling me I could do it, no matter what, and for putting me in touch with Grace.

Grace- where would I be without you? Your calm, level headed analysis of my transcript, and recommendations for which classes to take next were invaluable. I doubt I would have made it through the program without you.

Ian- for continuously inspiring me, and reminding me why I had fallen in love with not only business, but marketing in general.

Val- your steadfast direction and take no shit attitude is inspiring, and you are truly one of the greatest professors I have ever had.

My Family- for the many nights of tears, glasses of chardonnay and reminders that my self worth was not found in a spreadsheet.

My Husband, Sean. I would be nowhere without you. From coffee to dinner, sacrificing time with me and listening to my woes, you are the real MVP. I promise that over the next year, I will be here to take the night time change before your final, buy your favorite beer, and listen to everything you hate about being back in school.

And finally, my Dad. Thank you for teaching me what it means to be a good man in a storm. For being my ultimate role model and for reminding me to never give up. Thank you for the shoulder to cry on, the ear to rant at, and for the laugh always just when I needed it.

These have been the hardest and most exhausting three years. Until my sweet daughter is here, this is the thing I am most proud of in my life. In 9 days, I will present my thesis and hand Val her long awaited thank you card. In 54 days, my sleeves will be a little longer, my hood a little more drab, and that coveted piece of paper will be mine.

And this whole thing will be over- a distant dream as I welcome tiny girlfriend into the world.

To the young woman wondering if she should do this: do it. Give it your all and never give up. You are strong, and you are more powerful than you realize. I believe in you.

Encounter

The Ultimate Delusion

March 13, 2019

“Thus, the first point that gives the fundamental tone to our Christian personality is this: the living awareness that salvation, liberation—words that mean the same thing— are found in a reality that is already present in man’s life: Christ. The opposite of this first point is seeking salvation, that is the meaning of our actions and those of others, the meaning of time and of the world, by establishing it in something made by our own hands. This happens in our personal life, for example, when we cry over our dreams or when our plans do not work out. We delude ourselves because we have placed all our hope in human strength.”

Giussani, L. (1986). Morality: Memory and desire. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Every year for the past 8 years, lent has been a serious period of reflection for me. Without fail, there has been something that has caused me to question if I actually trust God, and the plan that he has laid out for me.

It always hits me like a ton of bricks- I am just living my life, doing my thing and casually thinking I trust God. I blindly follow Him into the desert, thinking “hey, I’ve got this. I am happy and trusting God and theres no issues here.” Then he gets me out there and I swear, every single year he just like *POOF* up and disappears.

And I look around, and theres nothing but sand as far as the eye can see (my worst nightmare) and I feel deeply alone.

As my carefully constructed universe comes crashing down around me, I come face to face with the truth that lies deep within me. As a Type A person, I always have a plan. And a back up plan. And a back up plan for that too, actually. Every hour of every day is carefully accounted for, work, school, prayer, community, volunteering, read a book, write for the blog, buy milk. The list goes on and on.

And when things don’t go according to my plan? I get more and more anxious. I start to shut down and then get nothing done which further spirals me into more anxiety because nothing is getting done. I put my trust in my ability to get shit done, on time and to the best of my abilities, at all times. I place all my hope in my human strength.

You can see how this a recipe for disaster in this season of reflection and purification we have embarked on… right?

Well friends, lent started a week ago. Just like most lents, it started in a packed church (well, gym this year, but I digress) with lots of people waiting to get their ashes. And I didn’t think much of it, except to commit to finding God in the center of my mess. I said this so cavalierly, like “oh hey, its no big deal. I’ll just find God in everything and that will make it a good Lent.”

Oops.

You can guess what came next… right?

School got hard. My group seems to be on the brink of destruction every time I turn around. Did I mention that we have our capstone due on March 27th? Nobody’s schedules line up. There’s additional meetings, and things need to get done. I need to print out how many copies of the 30+ page thesis? And put it in tabbed binders with a deck as well? Who am I, Rockefeller? Sheesh!

I am still trying to get my house ready for a baby to come home to. I am so blessed that I have so many people who love me, and want to gift me with the things I need to take care of my little girl. And right now, I am frantically cleaning and purging to make sure I have room for all of these things.

I have a class at the hospital with the doula program. I have a class at the hospital on breastfeeding. I have to get stuff together for a baptism and did you know you have to go to a class for that too?

And then there is just the whole being pregnant bit. No matter how many books I read, how many vegetables I eat, or how many kick counts I do, this whole thing is kind of out of my control. And that is one of the scariest things I have ever had to experience.

Ultimately, I can plan all I want, but it doesn’t matter. I have to trust that God gave me this tiny person for a reason, and that He will not lead me astray.

As I enter into the craziest weeks of my life thus far, I am certainly entering the proverbial desert.

But I am reminding myself that God would never lead me into a desert that He does not intend to lead me out of. And that even if I feel alone, He is always there.

Here’s to hoping that this lent leads me to a deeper understanding of the true meaning of trust.

Lifestyle

And Ode to The Changing Table

March 11, 2019

I have been a big sister for a lot of years. In fact, I consider myself very lucky to have had siblings that are 6 and 7 years younger than me. It was like having a living baby doll, and my sister right below me and I had so much fun dressing them up and helping my mom feed them or get things like pacifiers or diapers.

I have also been a babysitter in some capacity for over half my life. I have changed many diapers, in many strange situations (child in the dirty diaper, standing up, in the mall parking lot anyone?). I have picked a pacifier up off the ground, popped it in my own mouth and given it back. I have potty trained and dealt with more poop than I ever wanted to deal with. I have fed baby purees, cut food into strips for baby led weaning, mixed formula and warmed breastmilk under my armpit when the power went out. I have worn a baby in a long stretchy piece of fabric tied around my body, and would not have survived the croup episode of 2018 without an Ergo baby. I learned how to swaddle, the right amount of shushing, and that a baby is like a dog and can smell your fear. Just take a deep breath so they feel the same zen vibes you’re feeling (thanks Fred- I still owe you for that trick!).

But something that I had never considered was a changing table. Some of the families I babysat for had a changing table. Some didn’t. And a lot of my friends deem changing tables unnecessary, as you’ll have to change your baby in all sorts of places and you won’t want to have to walk all the way upstairs just to change a baby.

Before I got pregnant, I had these really grand ideas of how I would be as a mom. I was gonna be the most low key, trendiest, minimalist instagram worthy mom that ever existed. I would only have certain pacifiers, and my kid would be dressed in all gender neutral clothes and I was NOT gonna buy a changing table. Because I would be changing my baby all over the house and who needs more furniture?

Then I babysat for a family that had a changing table. And since I babysat long hours, I got to know the beauty of the changing table. Any time I had to change the baby, I marched my butt up those stairs, and put him on the changing table. My back didn’t hurt. He was at my height. The diapers and wipes were already there, in a nice stack and I just had to reach over to grab one.

Slowly, in the deep recesses of my heart, I decided if I ever was lucky enough to have a baby, I was going to buy a damn changing table. Because I sincerely appreciated changing someone else’s baby on the changing table.

Then I found out I was having a baby! And I asked all my mom friends something they could do without… and you guessed it! Everyone said a changing table!! Imagine my internal conflict, I had already decided I was going to get one. I did a little more digging, and again realized that people didn’t want to have to go to one certain part of the house every time they needed to change the baby.

What was I to do? I’ll tell you what. I put a changing table on both floors of my house. One is more of a topper for a dresser that will be the kids dresser for many years to come. And one is an actual changing table, from IKEA that matches the rest of my espresso colored IKEA furniture that I already have and fits in a tiny alcove by my steps that usually is just a collection of my purses sitting on the floor (honestly a conversation for another day… I am a bag lady HARDCORE). I also installed the changing attachment on the pack and play so in the middle of the night I can just change the baby in my bedroom but not on my bed. I apparently really like changing tables.

I have carefully stacked a few diapers and a package of wipes at each station. I know I will need hundreds and hundreds more, but I think I have enough for about 8 days currently open and waiting for baby girl’s big arrival.

I think this is probably a really good look at all of the ways I am going to not be the parent I thought I was going to be a mere four years ago. I think I have like… 4 gender neutral outfits. Everything else has ruffles, bows, glitter and flowers. And there is a LOT of pink involved. I am not going to be one of those cool hipster instagram moms. My kid is going to look like every other baby girl for all of history because those tiny pink outfits bring me so much happiness and pretty soon she will be dressing herself and I won’t get a say.

I have no idea what kind of pacifier my child will take. And you know what? If the thing won’t match the nonexistent hipster outfits, that is A-OK (but no wub a nubs. those things get grimy and freak me right the heck out lol).

I’m not buying glass bottles and I probably won’t give her ceramic plates till she is a little older. Look how Montessori I am now.

And I bought the changing table. Because there will be plenty of situations where I have to change her on a park bench, or in my car trunk, or hell, maybe even standing up in a mall parking lot. And if the changing table makes my life a little easier while I am at home, I am not gonna be a hero.

Its crazy to think that in 5-8 weeks all of my preconceived notions are going to go out the window. I am going to be staring at a tiny person who needs me for everything, and I am going to have to make decisions on the fly because I will be just trying to survive the newborn weeks.

But at least I’ll be able to change her while standing up ;).

Dear Twenty-Something

You Are Capable

March 8, 2019

8 March 2019

Dear Twenty- Something,

“When my daughter is living in my belly
I will speak to her like
she’s already changed the world
she will walk out of me on a red carpet
fully equipped with the knowledge
that she’s capable of
anything she sets her mind to”
-Rupi Kaur

Sometimes being a woman is hard. There are so many societal norms we have to subscribe to. There are so many mountains we have yet to climb. There are so many things that need to change.

But today, we celebrate you. The strong, fiercely independent, loyal, hard working, take no shit, beautiful woman that you are.

Today we take a step back to look to all of our fellow women, and lift each other up.

To the girl chosen last for the pick up recess game because you are a girl- keep going. Play your heart out, and give em hell.

To the girl who is picked on for reading a book during recess instead of skipping rope- dive deeper. Don’t let anyone tell you that the things you love to do are not worth doing.

To the young woman who feels defeated because the number on the tag of her pants is bigger than all her friends- cut the tag out completely. Your worth is not found in a number on a tag. And the world is against us anyways- none of the stores actually have consistent sizes and it’s not worth the heartache.

To the young woman studying in a male dominated field- raise your voice. Don’t sit quietly letting only the men answer. Jump into the debate. Present the opposing point. Make them think and let them know you’re here to stay.

To the young woman coming home from yet another disappointing date- it does get better. Keep your standards high- know who you are, and what you want and do not settle till you find a life partner who grabs your hand and runs at life head first with you.

To the young woman looking at her pregnant belly, wondering how she can bring a daughter into this world- breathe deep. Watch that tiny girl move and know that you are bringing the change into the world. With the power of all of the women that came before her, and the love and support of all of her sisters, she will move mountains.

Sister, be the change. Let’s make this world a better place, each day by empowering each other, and having each other’s backs. Let’s bring light into a world so often surrounded by defeat.

You are strong. You are beautiful. You are irreplaceable. Don’t ever forget it.

-S

Encounter

Come and See: Lent 2019

March 6, 2019

“Every year the Church proposes this time to us as an opportunity to look at our lives, at our days, and for each of us to ask ourselves, “Am I following Jesus inside the story in which He presented himself to me? From what signs do I see that I am following Him?” (https://english.clonline.org/cm-files/2019/02/28/carrón-soc-notes-2-20-2019-final-watermark-pdf.pdf)

And with that, Lent is upon us once more. I don’t even know where the time has gone. Maybe the time just evaporated. More likely, I wasn’t paying attention and now here we are.

I’ve noticed that Lent can become a bit of a contest amongst my catholic friends. Who can give up more? Who can add more? You aren’t fasting (News Flash- NO, I am not, actually. I am 7.5 months pregnant I don’t have to fast)?! All of these things so often leaving me feeling like I am less of a Christian for not having some big ole master plan to turn into a Desert Father and be hermit for 40 days while living on bugs and honey and wearing a shirt made out of hair.

So Lent rolls around this year and I have to ask myself- what am I missing? What is the greater point of this beautifully desolate season we are embarking on?

As I was reading through the notes for School of Community (SoC), this line struck me to my core (the link above will take you to the full notes if you’d like to read them as well!).

Am I following Jesus inside the story He presented Himself to me? From what signs do I see that I am following Him?

With these questions I began to wonder if how I saw Lent has been wrong all along anyways. It’s not about giving up chocolate or Facebook. Sure, these things are good sacrifices, and when our time spent aimlessly scrolling through social media becomes filled with moments of encountering the living Christ they become well worth it.

But if I give up social media, am I really spending the hour per day that my phone says I am on my social media apps in quiet prayer? If I give up food am I really turning that back on itself and thinking of God? Or am I sitting there pissed off that I can’t have the dark chocolate because I gave it up for Lent? Worse still, do I feel that God is going to kick me to the curb if I do eat the chocolate or check my Instagram account?

Since the New Year I have been trying to establish healthy habits before my daughter gets here. Making sure the kitchen is clean before I go to bed. Doing the laundry before the pile becomes a tripping hazard. Brushing my teeth for two full minutes, morning and evening. Journalling the things I am grateful for every evening. Eating three square meals a day.

And yet, not one of these things has been a thing to increase my time spent with God. They are things that bring me peace, and ultimately allow me to be a better person. But they don’t specifically scream THIS IS TIME SET ASIDE FOR GOD.

My husband and I were chatting about Lent and what we wanted to do to help us strengthen our spiritual habits before the baby gets here. And I tossed around a lot of ideas. Hell- I even said morning prayer this morning because I saw it sitting on my end table and thought- why not (and low key- I really enjoyed being back in the psalms, as I always do)?

But then I come back to this question: Am I following Jesus inside the story He has presented Himself to me? And I realize that this lent is so very important for me as a person.

Jesus is with me in the piles of boxes that show me just how loved my daughter is. Jesus is with me in the 4th load of laundry, ensuring I get my steps in for the day because I have to keep going up and down to get everything situated. Jesus is with me in the late night editing of my thesis. Jesus is in my instagram feed- where we celebrate each other, and add more beauty to a dark and scary world. Jesus is in each text message I send, making sure someone knows just how loved they are.

How easily I had forgotten that He is there. The point of this whole love story in which He has presented Himself to me is that He is always with me. He is with me in the mess, He is with me in the trenches. He has never abandoned me, and I have never had to do this alone. How easily I had forgotten that I am not a one woman show. I was not meant to take on the weight of the world, and all I had to do was remember that He was there to take on most of the burden for me.

So this Lent, I am recommitting to finding Jesus in every moment of my day. I am promising to remember that I am not alone, and that He wants to be there with me. I am not giving something up. I am not adding in more than I can handle. I am simply going to remember that He is here, and that my life needs to be a living, breathing testament to this fact. I am going to spend more time being grateful, and make sure that everything I do is a resounding “Come and See” about the guy that makes my life as beautiful as it is.