the rory story: 9 things i’m glad i did when i was pregnant

1. a little globe-trotting.

We pictured ourselves as young and madcap adventurers who would see the world together. Rory changed that plan a bit, but he didn’t stop us! Although our parenting journey had begun, we still pulled off some crazy schemes and ran a little wild.

I got to wander solo around Dublin for a while, hitch a ride with some kind Irish strangers when I got lost, and meet the most hilarious tour guide who showed us around the city and taught us some naughty Irish words. We had to sadly pass on his invitation to a pub crawl in Temple Bar because of pregnancy and freezing weather.

We explored the parks in Oxford, spent hours and hours in the museums, and stumbled into a fascinating lecture at the Bodleian Library about the preservation of old manuscripts and libraries (I suppose this one doesn’t sound particularly wild but we’re nerdy like that).

We meandered around Rome without much of a plan, lived off of toaster pastries, cheap pizza, and gelato, and, oh yeah, managed to meet Pope Francis and receive his blessing on our marriage and our baby.

Our mini tour of Europe was unforgettable. We are definitely going back someday with our little(s), but it was perfect to have this one trip to ourselves.

2. read ina may’s guide to childbirth.

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I am incredibly serious about this. In my opinion, it is THE must-read book for pregnancy! Ina May Gaskin is a professional midwife and an incredible human being.

The first half of the book is exclusively birth stories written by mothers. They are gritty, honest, and oh-so-beautiful. Ina May takes up the second half, walking you through the birthing process, and sharing anecdotes from her work as a midwife. She is hilarious. “There is no other organ quite like the uterus. If men had such an organ, they would brag about it. So should we.” Classic Ina May.

I promise, read this book and you will feel like the life-giving goddess you are. YESSS, you will think, I CAN TOTALLY DO THIS BIRTH THING!

That’s the best possible gift you can give yourself during pregnancy. Read. This. Book.

3. postpone graduate school.

I loved studying child development and was hungry for more as my senior year wrapped. George Washington University in DC has a Master’s program in Early Childhood Special Education. They accepted me, but surprise! Baby on the way!

My original plan was to move forward with graduate school, get a summer semester under my belt, and then take a break to have Rory. I wanted to be one of those awesome moms who go to school while raising their kids. Those moms are my heroes.

But we talked about it and I realized that I wanted to stay home with Rory for at least a year, and it didn’t make sense to take out loans for a degree I wasn’t ready to use.

I feel so grateful that I was able to stay home, and I wish every new mom could afford to make that choice if she wanted to. I have loved caring for Rory and getting to know him. Looking back, I’m not even sure that Early Childhood Special Education is the direction I want to take my career. Staying home has allowed me time to reflect on my goals and think carefully about how I want to use my life.

I’ve also been able to visit our families for extended periods of time so Rory can get to know them, and I’ve fulfilled my dream of starting a blog! When I do go back to school, I will have a much better plan for why and how.

Postponing was 100% the right decision. Plus, it made time for some other pregnancy adventures.

4. teach preschool summer camp.

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Cashier at Trader Joe’s: “What are all these beautiful flowers for?” Me: “uhh………….” *flash forward to small children cutting them up with scissors*

When I moved to Virginia, I found a gorgeous Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool in the area and contacted the director. We built a great relationship and I began to substitute teach at the school. They hired me to teach the 3-4 year olds at summer camp. It was so much fun!

We studied flowers, built cardboard castles, painted anything and everything, splashed in water and mud puddles, gardened, looked for butterflies, made popsicles, and had a VERY popular visit from my guinea pig, Toby.

Several of the families at camp were expecting or welcoming new little siblings. One little fellow talked constantly about his sister, insisting that she was named “Strawberry” (she wasn’t). Everyone had babies on the brain.

“Babies come out through a cut in your stomach!” shared a sweet girl one day, confidently. “Yes, some babies do,” I agreed. “But not every baby.”

“How else do they come out?” she wanted to know. I tried to make the explanation truthful, but age appropriate. “Some babies come out from between the mother’s legs.”

“What??” she was shocked. “Do they have to make a cut there, too??”

I assured her that there was already an opening. Thankfully content with this explanation, she ran off to jump in the sprinklers.

Sharing the experience of pregnancy with my precious campers and their families was such a joy. I loved talking with them and hearing their frank comments about my growing belly. Hopefully Rory will get to experience the excitement of expecting another little Helmick someday, too!

5. download pokémon go.

This super fun app gets the credit for probably 90% of the walking I did after it was released in July 2016. Kyle and I were instantly hooked and explored lots of nearby parks and neighborhoods, eagerly trying to “catch ’em all”.

One of the best features is a tracker that incubates eggs based on how far you walk. We tried to apply this method to my pregnancy because Rory was a week overdue, scheduled for an induction, and showing no signs of hatching. We walked and walked and walked, racking up Pokémon eggs, hoping Rory would decide to arrive.

It didn’t work, but that’s a story for another time. Pokémon Go still got me to exercise while pregnant and have fun with Kyle while doing it.

6. request children’s books.

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Just a few of our favorites!

We asked people to bring their favorite children’s book to our baby shower (this idea probably originated on Pinterest somewhere) and it was so much fun seeing what everyone chose! It was a beautiful mix of funny, sweet, paper, board, vintage, and new books. As a preschool teacher, I already had a good collection, but we were missing some old favorites.

Recently, a good friend hosted a read-aloud party and asked guests to bring favorite passages to share. While I did appreciate the others’ selections of Wordsworth, Chesterton, and Lewis, I brought what I know best: Martin Waddell’s Owl Babies and a hilarious excerpt of A.A. Milne. Good children’s literature is enjoyable for everyone.

7. paint a cute nursery .

I found a Pinterest idea that I LOVED and Kyle sweetly helped me recreate it in Rory’s room. There are still a few finishing touches needed (and Rory is how old?) but when it’s all finally DONE I will do a nursery tour. I can’t wait to share it with you! It turned out so beautifully, and it’s by far the cutest room in the house. Even though he doesn’t sleep there yet, I’m so glad we have this special space for Rory.

8. store meals in the freezer.

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Frozen burritos, enchiladas, chicken pot pie, pizza, and ice cream: your 5 basic food groups.

We were happy to have easy meals to cook (and clean up!) in the first few weeks of Rory’s life. Some of the meals turned out better than others, but chicken pot pie and enchiladas both handled the freezer like champs.

I still make enchiladas for a quick meal that Kyle likes to pack for lunch the next day, but they are a little more difficult now that Rory has arrived.

Start laundry, change a diaper, and put the baby to bed while you roast 3-4 boneless skinless chicken thighs at 400F for 30 minutes. Leave the oven on, shred while they’re still hot (makes it easier), and mix with about 2/3 can of red enchilada sauce and a few handfuls of shredded cheddar. Quickly wash hands and dash to replace fallen pacifier into baby’s mouth.

Roll a couple of spoonfuls of the mixture in each tortilla (I typically use ~10), arrange them in a greased pan, and pour over the rest of the sauce. Soothe baby with promises that you’re almost done and will pick them up in a moment.

Sprinkle with more cheese and bake until the tortillas are toasty and the cheese is gooey, about 20-25 minutes.  If you freeze them before baking, increase the time to about 40-45 minutes.

Enjoy while the baby is finally sleeping or being held by your partner.

9. have too much fun packing for the hospital.

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My #flatlay skills leave much to be desired.

This is hilarious to me now. I have no idea why I thought that Rory would need four onesies, a sleeper, two pairs of pants, a sweater outfit, three pairs of socks, two pairs of mitts, and three blankets. Honestly, he barely wore clothes the entire time we were in the hospital. We kept him wrapped in hospital blankets and snuggled with me in bed most of the time.

BUT the important thing is that I had fun choosing newborn clothes and packing the little outfits and tiny socks. They don’t take up much room. I was so excited and ready for my little guy and I wanted everything to be perfect. So I went a little crazy. I don’t regret it.

What are you glad you did while you were pregnant? Please let me know in the comments or tweet me!

For more blog posts like this one, you can subscribe to my emails here!

the rory story: how pope francis blessed our baby

We did a lot of things wrong when we went to Rome.

Somehow, we didn’t eat any great food.

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This was sadly not very good pizza. It had hot dogs on it?

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Mostly, we ate this. No regrets.

We went to so many churches without knowing anything about them. Does “Saint Whoever-This-Is, pray for us” even count as a prayer?

We went to the Vatican and did not go into St. Peter’s Basilica (the line was about a mile long and twenty people wide, we had been standing in the sun for five hours, we were starving, and we had tickets for the Musei Vaticani. some have strongly suggested we made the wrong choice).

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We did find San Giovanni in Laterno and loved it so much we returned for Sunday Mass. It’s the most beautiful church I have ever seen.

We walked the Musei Vaticani after said five hours of standing in the sun (I was pregnant and in heels and have never been in so much misery surrounded by so much beauty). We spent the rest of that day in bed watching Italian Netflix.

We felt like idiots after hours of wandering around pointing at different columns and things, wondering, “Is that The Forum? Is THAT The Forum? Oh, THAT must be The Forum!” before realizing that like, everything around us composed The Forum. Heh.

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Tourists, amirite?

 

Worst of all, we wandered down some abandoned train tracks at midnight trying to get to our BnB and accidentally interrupted a meeting of the mafia probably. Not pictured.

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We did take some beautiful pictures of the city but none of the mafia.

Despite our ignorance and mistakes, it was still the unquestionable highlight of our otherwise serene and wonderful European tour. Here’s why.

Thanks to a well-timed negotiation competition for law school, Kyle had school-sponsored flights to Dublin and back for the week of spring break in March 2016. Of course, I had to go along. After Dublin, we planned an economical exploration of Oxford, to see some good friends, and Rome, to see the Pope.

Rory’s godfather and his lovely wife had honeymooned in Europe just a couple of months before. They managed to obtain tickets for a special audience with Pope Francis for newlyweds in which he blessed their marriages and they had their pictures taken with him. Apparently this is called a sposa novelli.

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Our dear friends Jamey and Ellen meeting Pope Francis.

Although we couldn’t be in Rome for a sposa novelli, the Vatican was holding the Year of Jubilee audience in the Piazza San Pietro while we were there. We heard that couples wearing their wedding clothes would be ushered to the front row and have the opportunity to meet the Pope. We couldn’t get tickets, but our friends told us that just being dressed as bride and groom was enough for them to be escorted in by the Swiss Guard, tickets unchecked. We had to try.

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Plus, this dress fits well in a suitcase.

We showed up outside the Vatican the morning of the audience, looking like we did on our wedding day seven months earlier (minus the fancy hair and makeup), and found ourselves at the back of a huge security line. Everyone else was clutching big green paper tickets.

When we got to the front, I looked around for the closest guy in stripey blue and yellow and we sanguinely presented ourselves. Miraculously, he unhooked the velvet rope and waved us past the crowds of thousands upon thousands of people, without any mention of tickets. A few people noticed us and called out, “Felice Matrimonio!!”

We ended up alongside and behind the stage, separated from the front by two rows of chairs and two wooden barriers. Although we were confused and a little worried that we would be blocked from meeting Pope Francis after all, we weren’t going to question the guards. A few more newlywed couples showed up.

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We didn’t picture His Holiness squeezing through rows of chairs to see us.

Eventually they moved us up one row, and then a little while later all the way across the piazza to the other side of the stage in the very front row.

We could hear Pope Francis long before we could see him. The Popemobile slowly looped through the throngs of adoring pilgrims who were cheering and screaming and waving yellow and white flags as he passed on his way to the stage.

His Holiness gave a short but beautiful Easter message. You can read the whole transcript here.

“By washing the feet of the Apostles, Jesus wished to reveal God’s mode of action in regard to us, and to give an example of his ‘new commandment’ to love one another as He has loved us, that is, laying down his life for us. John repeats this in his First Letter: ‘By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.'”

He concluded with special greetings.

“I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including those from Ireland, the Philippines, Canada and the United States. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. With prayerful good wishes that the present Jubilee of Mercy will be a moment of grace and spiritual renewal for you and your families, I invoke upon all of you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you all!”

His final few words were especially meaningful to us.

“Dear young people, learn…how to defend the values in which you believe; …and you, dear newlyweds, may you be God’s collaborators in the task of raising your children.”

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Children, you say?

 

Dozens of pilgrimage groups were presented to him, each one joyfully hollering from their corner of the multitude as their affiliations and locations were read. We even recognized a few names and places, like Christendom College, the alma mater of several close friends.

It took about an hour from when Pope Francis finished the address until he reached us. He loves to meet people and touch them. A guy in my RCIA class was part of the Pope’s security detail on his trip to the United States in 2015. According to him, it’s a very difficult job because His Holiness always wants to reach out and be amidst the crowds who are drawn to him everywhere he goes.

Finally, Pope Francis was making his way toward us along the wooden barrier separating us from the stage, greeting and blessing each married couple. The air itself was buzzing with the excitement of the crowds, magnetized to his radiating presence. “Papa Francisco! Papa Francisco!” they screamed.

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Papa Francisco paused and looked straight into our eyes. He treated us like we were the only people there in that moment as he stopped to bless us. I could feel the immense, life-giving love of God pouring through him to the millions of people whom he is called to shepherd, love brimming with grace and peace and deed and truth.

So I did a kind of embarrassing thing.

Rory wasn’t showing yet, and determined to tell His Holiness about my baby, I pointed to my stomach and coerced Latin, Spanish, and Italian into an awkward plea.

“Benedictus por bambino!”

The Pope looked kindly at me as he responded.

“Where are you from?”

Oh. Yeah. I probably could have used English. Kyle answered, “America.” Still recovering, I sheepishly blurted out, “California!”

The Holy Father smiled at us and said a blessing over our baby.

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Then he reached out his hand and touched my belly, smiling.

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It was probably about thirty seconds in total, but that moment with the Pope truly felt like a tiny piece of Forever.  In the end, he solemnly asked us to pray for him and we promised. He moved on to the next couple and we just looked at each other, overflowing with joy.

Afterward, while talking to another bride who was there, I shared that Pope Francis had blessed our baby. Her face lit up. “That means everything is going to be all right,” she declared.

And it was.

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Other beautiful couples from Mexico and Italy, featuring a disapproving background lady. Also, the only picture of me that has been taken with a selfie stick.

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Super grateful to this sweet couple for sharing their pictures with us! We didn’t take very many. This one features another disapproving background lady, who is eating a sandwich.

What would you want to say if you met Pope Francis? Tell me in the comments or tweet me @careyhelmick!

For more blog posts like this one, you can subscribe to my emails here.

the rory story: how we found out

The Rory story begins while I was Christmas shopping in 2015.  A boutique at the mall sold this little brown pair of leather baby shoes with white stitching that looked just like Kyle’s favorite pair of loafers in miniature.  

I couldn’t resist wrapping them up, just for fun, planning to tell him that they were for “someday”.

On Christmas, “someday” didn’t seem quite so far. I had begun to suspect that I actually WAS pregnant and made Kyle stop at the drugstore between family celebrations.

My anxiety was spinning its wheels, convincing me that I was right, but in the aisle of pregnancy tests I found myself checking reality–and price tags. Realizing how devastated I would feel if a small but surprisingly expensive piece of plastic callously denied my suspicions, I decided to leave and wait it out a little longer. No one wants to be close to tears in a CVS on Christmas morning.

My period started later that day. I wasn’t pregnant.

Fun fact: the 40 weeks of pregnancy are, for precision’s sake, counted from the first day of your last period. So, although I technically wasn’t pregnant, that was still the date I would remember and write on every medical form throughout the next 9 months. Rory’s story had begun.

In January, our neighbor texted me: “I just made chocolate chip cookies! Do you want some?” Oh. My. Word. Yes. I wanted those cookies more than anything. More than I had ever wanted anything. I told her so and she immediately responded, “CRAVINGS?? Are you pregnant??”

I think Catholic moms just know.

After anxiously awaiting the arrival of a sensibly priced 25 pack of tests from Amazon (we’re Catholic! we’ll use them, right?), it only took one stick and two little pink stripes to finally confirm what my body had been trying to tell me for a few days.  

We immediately booked tickets to go home and tell our families the next month. Until then, we told our close friends, and I made an appointment with a midwife. I bugged the insurance company (still through my family at that point) with several phone calls trying to figure out if their billing or documentation would give the surprise away to my parents too soon.

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We could not get enough of staring at this tiny bean!

Over the next few weeks, I tried SO hard to keep the exciting secret, but during our layover en route to California my mom texted, “Were you nauseous on the plane?”

I knew she would figure it out.

The plan had been for her to unwrap a baby board book with our first sonograms tucked inside. I gave her the gift anyway once we were home and gathered with everyone in the living room. She played it cool.

“Aw, is this for us? Did you buy one for yourselves?” she asked, holding the unwrapped book.

“That one is for you guys,” I told her.

She read the title, smiling. “I Love You As Much!” Finally, I had to prompt, “You should open it.”

Out came the sonograms. “Oh my goodness!” my mom exclaimed, totally surprised, “Oh my goodness!” Dad peeked over her shoulder. “Oh…My…GOODNESS!” he almost shouted, then turned to my little brother, trying out his new title. “Uncle Jere…” My sister, tuning in, began to yell “ARE YOU SERIOUS?” over and over.

As the rest of my sisters figured out what was happening, many happy hugs were had and assurances given that yes, we were serious. “You silly people,” joked my dad.

My mom vows that despite her prescient text message, she had no idea.

I’m the oldest of six children. Jere is the youngest and the only boy. Kyle also happens to be the oldest of six children and the only boy. His youngest sister, Madison, has prayed devotedly for his safe travels ever since he left home for law school. After every mealtime blessing, she adds, “…and please make Kyle come home safely!”

The next morning, at la Casa del Helmick, I pulled her aside and told her the news, showing her the images of her tiny nephew. She pledged her secrecy, and solemnly agreed to help. We dragged the entire family out to lunch, despite conflicting sleep, work, and school schedules. 

As our fish tacos arrived, we prayed as usual. But this time, Madison confidently piped up, “And please make Kyle’s and Carey’s baby safe!”

A brief, incredulous pause followed, broken by Kyle’s mom. “Are you serious??” Once again, we assured everyone that we were serious. Huge smiles developed all around the table and everyone wanted to see the pictures Madison had seen first. Kyle’s dad says that he knew something was up because of just how insistent we were that everyone go to lunch (he even toyed with the idea of writing ‘I’m a Grandpa!’ on the t-shirt under his button-up to show off his prediction skills after our big reveal).

We made phone calls to grandparents and shared the news in person for another month or two. Finally, we decided it was time to use a joke we had been dying to make since we thought of it months before Rory even existed. My dad would say that was when he was just a twinkle in our eyes.

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We had no idea what a beautiful, amazing, hilarious twinkle you would be.

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How did you tell your friends and family that you were pregnant? Please let me know in the comments or tweet @careyhelmick! I would love to hear!

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raising helmicks: first things

HELLO and welcome to your new favorite blog! Raising Helmicks is devoted to the idea that children are incredible, growing up is really hard, and parenting well is even harder. You can read a little about me here. As I chronicle my journey as a parent, I’ll be writing about child development and my experiences in designing a beautiful life for my family and making a better world for babies.

But first, a story.

Above is a pretty nice picture of my family, plus Yoda. However, please notice Rory’s tightly clenched fist, darkly furrowed brows, and vice-like chomp on his fingers. As of late, my happy, sunny baby has become a little rain cloud.

Not long ago, we had a very tough night. Rory used to sleep soundly, but he spent this one blaring like a fire alarm. Seriously, he would let out a wail of misery and then fall silent, appearing to be peacefully asleep, only to let out another loud one in a few seconds. I spent almost the entire night in a kind of horrible half-sleep, never able to fully wake up or rest. 

Kyle was fortunately able to hibernate through most of the drama and got up early to go make the doughnuts. Rory had also managed to get enough shut-eye to stay wide awake through the morning. I felt like hell.

But the baby was not finished. His morning was a mixture of insistent fussing and growling at me for hours while I desperately cycled through soothing ideas. Nursing? Playing? Teething? Rocking? Nursing while snuggled with me in bed? Nursing on the OTHER side while snuggled with me in bed? Switching arrangements every ten seconds, trying to find one that would get him to calm down and fall asleep? It reminded me of that month I did vinyasa yoga because we went through the same positions over and over, hoping for quick results. And I was also wearing yoga pants.

Some intense prayers for patience later, I tucked a lightly snoozing Rory into his snug rocking bassinet and stumbled out to the living room. “This is the most worn out and frustrated I’ve ever been as a parent,” I texted Kyle (all the more experienced parents are laughing at my pain, I know).

Kyle was having a slow morning at work, so after expressing sympathy and solidarity, he did some research and found this article. Apparently, age 19 weeks is acknowledged to be pretty rough, because it tends to correspond with an intense developmental leap. Babies at this age are acquiring the abilities to sit upright and perform complicated tasks such as switching toys from one hand to the other. The rapid brain changes happening can cause babies to be fussy and unfocused while feeding, sleep restlessly, and want to eat more at night than during the day. “Go figures,” Kyle noted, sending me the link.

As I read, my mood transformed. It was one of those things where you feel like a random article or story has been written specifically about you (or, in this case, your 19-week-old miracle). They probably have a specific word for that in some endlessly sophisticated Nordic language.

“Clinginess, crankiness, and crying, those are like his middle names right now,” I said, in whatever is the texting equivalent of a wail. “I wanna cry. This is SO him.”

It was enough to pull me out of feeling sorry for myself and picture what it was like for poor Rory to be going through the most traumatic experience of his short life. I mean, I could still feel my soul wither a little when he awoke and roared for me from the bedroom (eyes screwed shut, cantankerous, and inconsolable), but it gave me new resolve to face this tough milestone. My job was to soothe him as he worked through the accelerated development of his brain.  

It’s not fun to feel stuck rocking and feeding an unhappy baby for hours on end, but it does help to pretend that it’s the plan.  

………………………………………….

The more I study about children, the more I realize that being a baby is probably the hardest thing a person ever does.

We have so much we want these tiny humans to learn and do as they grow, but we also have the tragedy of being human ourselves.  A baby’s world is shaped by their parents, family members, teachers, home environments, communities, and cultures.  Each one of these is imperfect, hurting, or dysfunctional in some way. Each one leaves its mark while their little brains are still learning how to even BE brains.

I have loved seeing how my degree in human development informs and enlightens my experiences in teaching children. My education has been so valuable to me in providing tools to help children learn to succeed. I know I’ll use those skills (along with a healthy dose of Google) over and over again as I learn to parent.

That’s why I’m adding my voice to the blogosphere; to spread information, spark discussion, support parents, and make the world a better place for babies.