how motherhood changed my body image

When I was a perfectly normal and healthy 11-year-old girl, my mom and I kept a journal where we would write letters back and forth.

I had a lot of concerns to share. Most were extremely silly, such as worrying that my favorite British actors wouldn’t like me if we met in person because of that whole 1776 American Revolution thing. So maybe ‘perfectly normal’ is a stretch, but I was at least reasonably healthy when I had a more serious question.

“Please be honest. Am I too chubby?”

I described the concerning little pouches of fat around my armpits and tummy. My mom wrote back, reassuring me of my health and normalcy, promising that my residual baby fat would soon melt away entirely.

For the purposes of this blog post, I don’t need to spend much time on the cultural sexism and obsession with appearances that create this kind of problem for women and girls. We can all feel the galling, constant, nagging comparison of our real bodies to the ones we hold in our minds. Too chubby. Too tall. Too skinny. Too jiggly.

During pregnancy, I felt the comparison between good bodies and bad bodies more keenly than ever, because a good body meant I was a good mother, too.

I kept a close eye on the scale at every appointment, and whether I felt a twinge of pride or shame at the pounds I had gained or lost (in the first trimester, due to morning sickness), it bothered me that my emotions were attached to the spinning number.

It bothered me even more when I received compliments based on my size and appearance as a pregnant mom. “You look like you’ve swallowed a basketball! Good for you!” The words felt good, but I knew that not every woman or every pregnancy has a cute, tiny, Blake Lively baby bump. If my 21-year-old, easily pregnant body was good then would a future, bigger, older pregnant me be bad?

If my future pregnancies were less ‘basketball’ and more ‘shopping cart’, I knew those compliments would dwindle as my body ballooned. I didn’t like the thought. I didn’t want my size to correlate with my quality as a mom, because I was terrified that after birth, my body (and my pregnancies) would never be the same size again.

After my baby was born, the changes were dizzying. Comfortingly, the pregnancy weight had dropped off by my 2-week appointment, but breastfeeding did not play a strong defense. I began to notice that my long days at home snuggling my baby were resulting in a bigger, softer tummy than ever.

Sure enough, my pre-pregnancy clothes didn’t fit anymore. The idea was so hard to accept that it wasn’t until Rory was 9 months old that I finally managed to hand down my old favorite sundresses to my younger sisters, a task that was made even harder by their sentimental value.

Each sundress had made some very sweet memories. My first kiss. The time Kyle surprised me with Valentine’s Day in January because he was about to leave for his second semester of law school. The one I had transformed from an ugly old dress into one that Kyle loved on me.

Letting go of those dresses felt like letting go of the person who used to wear them, who was spontaneous and romantic and girly and in love. Since entering parenthood, all of those things became a lot harder. I’ve had to painstakingly rediscover who I am and what I think about myself in my personhood, my marriage, and my physical self.

Being a wife and a mom has fundamentally changed the way I see my body. The temptation to compare and weigh and cover is still there, but I’ve learned to talk myself through those feelings and impulses and remind myself of what really matters.

Being a wife and mom has taught me these truths. When I struggle with my appearance (like, every day), this is what I repeat to myself:

  • My body sheltered my growing baby for 9+ months and brought him safely out into the world. I have a long, purple scar under my stomach (and, you know, an awesome kid) to prove it.


  • My body feeds and comforts my baby. I’m bigger, softer, and squishier than I used to be, but to Rory, I’m the coziest, happiest, most beautiful thing he knows. For bringing such love and security to my baby, I love my new body.


  • My body is sexy and beautiful to my husband. He has always been so sweet about making sure I know it, but I still used to stress about wanting to look a certain way so I could feel desirable. Until I had a breakthrough: no matter how I felt about my body, having sex with him is still great. The world objectifies our bodies, sending the message that being slender and toned is necessary for sexual gratification. But when we’re enjoying that unity with each other, it transcends our appearances. We don’t worry about rolls of tummy fat or jiggly thighs.


  • My body weight doesn’t matter.  We don’t have a scale at home, which has been really good because whenever I come across one in a friend’s bathroom or at the doctor’s office, I’m tempted to weigh myself and obsess over the number. That’s not healthy. Recently, I read an article in which a mother who had always struggled with her relationship to her weight would always step on the scale backwards and ask the nurse to not tell her the number during her pregnancy checkups, unless it was of concern. This is so smart, and I’m doing the same for my current pregnancy.


  • My body is powerful. I may not have a six pack, or any abs to speak of for that matter, but Kyle and I started running together last summer and. You guys. The feeling of your body toughening and strengthening is seriously cool. The first time I ran a whole kilometer without stopping had me so excited I started whooping there in the park. When we started that felt totally impossible but now I know I CAN do it and I’m excited to keep improving my time and endurance. BUT, that said:


  • My body is not a priority for my time. When I get that feeling, that guilt, that little part of my brain trying to promise that tomorrow I will work out more and eat less, I give myself a reality check: could I spend more time and effort trying to look a certain way? Yes. Do I want to? Hell, no! I want to spend my free time reading to my baby and cooking nutritious meals with my husband and catching up with friends and news on Twitter and reading Flannery O’Connor and watching British dramas and learning new songs on the ukulele. A ‘perfect’ body might be possible, but it would be a full-time job with all the ~healthy~ food prep, running, weight lifting, and Instagramming. I’ll be over here eating ice cream and enjoying time with my family, kthxbye.

Because bodies are wonderful, but their value is not in what they look like but rather, what they can do. I may not fit into those cute little sundresses anymore, but my body can still kiss my husband, feed and snuggle my baby, hug my friends, cook food, drink beer, and do a million other things that define me beyond what I look like.

That’s my body image.

rory and mommy

The Birth Story I Needed to Read: Motherhood Tabutiful

Despite (because of?) the boom in mommy bloggers, it feels like there are some stories of parenthood we just aren’t supposed to tell.

Ashley Woolsey turns those taboos into beauty.  She has created a space for parents to share their voice and find support, even for the harder, messier parts of raising children.

Today my story is on Motherhood Tabutiful.


the rory story: how a wolf brought me my baby

It was really important to me that Rory’s birth be as natural and intervention-free as possible. That didn’t happen. I still believe 100% in the power and beauty of natural birth, but not every birth is like that. Mine was discouraging and exhausting. A wolf materialized. It was scary. But stork-like, it still brought me a precious baby and I wouldn’t change a thing.

My pregnancy was really great. I didn’t have any serious health issues and my little guy kicked along, growing and developing organs and (best of all) beating his tiny heart every time we listened.

I read hundreds of birth stories. Some were about mothers who also wanted natural births but had to settle for interventions and c-sections. In fact, one pretentious author went so far as to argue that a baby born via cesarean section could not celebrate a birthday, just a delivery day. 

That wasn’t going to be me. The pregnancy had been so healthy, and my mom had fast labors. Plus, Rory had been head downward and facing my spine for weeks –the perfect position. I studied everything I could about natural birth.

My October 5 due date arrived, sans baby. The midwife tactfully explained that their policy was to only wait for one more week. Begging for a little extra time, I made the induction appointment for 41 weeks and 2 days.

Kyle and I went for long walks every evening. I tried climbing stairs and hills, and curb stepping. The fall weather was perfect.

When we finally had to head to the hospital early in the morning on Friday, October 14, I was still really optimistic. We took a Snapchat with huge smiles. “It’s baby day!”

After changing into my hospital gown, I marveled over the baby equipment. Soon, my baby would be wearing that tiny diaper and striped knit cap.

My wonderful nurse cheerfully placed my IV and set up the belly monitors. Chatting with her put me at ease. The entire hospital staff was amazing. They talked through every new procedure with me and I felt so comfortable with every decision they made.

The first midwife on duty arrived around 9am. I was 0.5 cm dilated, just like I had been at my last appointment, and the baby was at -2 station, but I was 70% effaced, so that was good! She said that they would be giving me prostaglandins in order to try and soften my cervix to get it ready for labor. It would take about 12 hours.

I wavered.

“Could the baby be born earlier than that, though?” I asked her. “Well, anything is possible, but it’s not likely,” she answered, adding that her shift would end that afternoon and she wouldn’t be back at the hospital until Sunday. “Hopefully there will be a baby by then!”

This was my first clue that it was not in fact “baby day”.

Kyle and I chilled. We watched Parks and Recreation, ordered surprisingly good hospital meals, played Portal, and texted our loved ones updates. I was barely feeling anything more than mild period-like cramps.

They set up a portable baby monitor so I could wander up and down the halls of L&D, trying to give myself a boost. Annoyingly, the monitors would often slip out of position or Rory would roll over, sending a nurse straight to our room and me straight to bed so they could keep a close eye on his (very steady) heartbeat.

At 10pm, the Cervadil was removed. I had dilated to 1cm. I was contracting on my own every couple of minutes, so they decided to wait a couple of hours and see if I went into labor on my own. I was excited and hopeful! We watched a mini Harry Potter marathon.

Nothing was happening by 2am, so we started a slow drip of Pitocin. Around 6am, I lost part of my mucous plug and they started me on Penicillin because I was GBS+ and they wanted to be ready to potentially break my water soon. I dozed on and off.

At 9:30am on Saturday, I was put on a clear liquid diet. The occasional graham cracker the nurse pretended not to see was not enough to keep my spirits up.

Some friends arrived with La Croix for me and an invitation out to lunch for Kyle. I was glad he got to go enjoy himself and eat some good burgers. Being in the hospital for over 24 hours with nothing happening was no fun for either of us.

That afternoon, I tried walking around some more. Still nothing happened.

Eventually, they decided to take me off of Pitocin because it wasn’t working, and too much can desensitize the body’s receptors. This meant I could unhook from the baby monitors and IV drip, take a luxurious-feeling shower, and eat a proper meal.

“I feel soooooo good and I haven’t even eaten the grilled cheese and tomato soup I ordered,” I texted my family. “It’s fabulous to not have any monitors or cords hooked up.”

The hospital staff told me that they were hoping that after a few hours off, re-starting Pitocin would have a stronger effect. Everyone was very reassuring that sometimes, these kinds of inductions could just take a long time.

At 7pm, they decided to try Cytotec, hoping it would be more effective than Cervadil, and encouraged me to try and sleep. The snack station for the patients didn’t have any calming teas so a nurse snuck me some chamomile and lavender from the nurses’ station. She joked that a nurse on duty shouldn’t try and relax, anyway.

After four hours, the first dose of Cytotec hadn’t done much so I took another.  At this point, I had been in the hospital for almost 48 hours, taking different drugs to start labor with next to no results. It was really discouraging. Finally, by 6:30 Sunday morning, I had dilated just enough for the midwife to break my water.  

It finally worked.

Immediately, I began having strong contractions. My perfect, natural labor was here! I could finally use all the techniques I had been studying and mentally picturing. We called our doula, Ashley, and my hero Kyle began helping me through each contraction.


They were strong enough that I was proud of having worked through them, but mild enough for me to feel incredibly chipper about it. Kyle kissed me during each one and put counter pressure on my hips as oxytocin flooded through me. Labor ain’t no thang!


A nurse popped her head in and asked if we would like to have Communion. We eagerly accepted.


With perfect timing between contractions, a Eucharistic minister from Blessed Sacrament arrived and prayed the Our Father with us as Kyle and I received. This was such a meaningful part of my labor. I briefly meditated on the Body of Christ entering my own and bringing me His strength and peace for whatever lay ahead of us that day. Then another contraction started.


I sat on yoga balls, spooned with peanut balls, and schlepped back and forth between the bed and the cool toilet seat.


Contractions continued to get stronger and stronger, and Ashley helped Kyle put pressure on my back and hips. For a while, I was able to work with them and tell them exactly the right places, but eventually the contractions were too strong. I remember slapping Ashley’s hands away during one because she was pressing about a smidge too high on my back and that was worse than not at all. I felt bad. It was probably one of the more high-maintenance moments of my life.


Screaming tenses up your muscles and hinders progress. You want to stay relaxed. So I worked on moaning through each contraction, trying to loosen my body. I thought I was doing well, until they checked me for dilation again around 10am and I hadn’t made any progress.

That was really hard to hear. My contractions were about 1 minute long every 2-3 minutes, and not only were they absolutely miserable, they weren’t even working. I was wearing down.


By noon, I was reallyyyy hoping for some better news. There wasn’t any.

I made a deal with myself. If I still hadn’t made any progress the next time they checked me, I would get an epidural. I couldn’t continue to labor without the motivation of knowing that I was getting closer to meeting my baby.


Looking back, my story reads like I was becoming discouraged too quickly, but remember that I had already been in the hospital for more than two days. At some point I found out that they had also been supplementing my contractions with Pitocin to make them more effective, and laboring unmedicated with the unnatural strengthening of Pitocin was never on my bucket list.

As contractions got stronger and stronger, I found myself vocalizing through each one. Sometimes I would start to lose my grip and it would become a wail, but my doula and the midwife would remind me to keep it low and relaxed.

I had heard of women having mental pictures appear to help them focus through contractions. They are beautiful, such the thought of a flower opening, or the pulsing waves of an ocean. I liked the idea, but I’m not a very dreamy or dramatic person so I didn’t expect it to happen to me. But it did, and it wasn’t a blossom or a beach.

My labor was a wolf.

Despite everything I had read and pictured about natural birth, I could not see my contractions as friendly “rushes”, working to bring my baby into my arms. They were a vicious beast, ceaselessly charging at me. In my mind, the only thing protecting me was my own howling, so I moaned as loudly and deeply as I could, keeping it at bay.


In my mind, I was in a dark forest with the moon filling the sky above it and the wolf somewhere in the trees, stalking me. It was getting stronger, and my voice couldn’t save me anymore.

This was, in hindsight, an obvious sign that I was not laboring successfully, I think. I was trying keep my hands relaxed, to cooperate as the nurses helped me switch positions, and to follow my doula’s suggestions, but my body was beginning to shake uncontrollably and I was really tense.

At 3pm, after over 8 hours of intensity, my cervix actually regressed. It was beyond time for an epidural.

I was a little scared, having heard horror stories about needles slightly off-center causing spinal damage, and my uncontrollable shaking made me worried that I couldn’t hold still enough. I had also been told that if I decided I wanted an epidural, it could take up to an hour, between calling the anesthesiologist, prepping, and waiting for it to take effect. Mercifully, it felt like things happened incredibly fast at that point and I soon had incredible relief.

My epidural felt like I was wearing the coziest, fluffiest pair of tights and was toasting my toes by a fireplace, but for once my restless legs were calm. They were content to lie there in the most comfort I have ever experienced. I was SO happy with my decision.

“Glorious epidural saves the day,” my poor traumatized husband texted our loved ones. “Gonna nap for a few hours.” We sent Ashley home for a break, promising to update her with any news.

Within an hour, I had shot up to 7cm dilated. I was thrilled. The midwife promised that they could turn down the epidural when it came time to push so I had more feeling. We were so excited. It felt like the baby could be here any minute.

Then everything stalled again.

A few hours later, I was still at 7cm. I was once more shaking uncontrollably. The doctor came in and ordered that I be given an oxygen mask. Rory’s heartbeat started to drop. At 10:30 pm, my sweet OB/GYN named Dr. Kimberly Kongkasuwan explained that we couldn’t wait any longer.

Someone commented that Rory had shifted positions and even if I did finish dilating, it would be “a hard push”. I had no energy left for even an easy push. Somehow, I had known for a while that my dream of vaginal delivery had gone a long time ago. Snatched by the wolf.

Crying a little, I clutched my rosary as the doctor reassured me that this would by no means prevent me from having more babies in the future. I really appreciated that she would take a moment to say something so calming.

Suddenly, the room was full of people prepping me for surgery. Kyle was instructed to gather our belongings and dress in paper scrubs. Although he had to wait for them to come get him, someone joked that they hadn’t ever forgotten a husband yet.

I was wheeled to the OR. So many new people began working to help me birth my baby, and every single one was so nice and comforting.

They put up a tent so I couldn’t see my stomach, and Kyle was brought in and seated by my head. He had been warned not to peek behind the screen lest he pass out, a warning he obeyed carefully.

I was warned that I might feel some tugging. They were prepping my stomach, perhaps pushing around to properly position the baby. The tugging got more intense, but I was still waiting for a warning when, at 11:18pm on October 16, 2016, a baby cried.

Kyle and I looked at each other, stunned. A smushy, pink face was held over the tent for a brief second so we could see him and then he disappeared again, swept away by the NICU team to the table just behind my head. “We’ve got a cute one!” declared Kyle, excited and relieved.

I gave myself a crick straining my neck to watch as they wiped him down, suctioned his mouth, weighed him, and measured him. 8lbs, 11oz. APGAR 9/10. On the table, he was practically doing pushups. “He’s so strong!” commented one doctor.

Then he was bundled onto Kyle’s chest for kangaroo care, right next to me.

“Hi,” I told him, over and over. “You’re here. You’re so beautiful.” It was the most unbelievable moment of my life. “Does he have all his fingers and toes?” I asked Kyle. He did.

Rory was rooting around, wanting to nurse. I watched Kyle hold him as they closed my stomach. Then I was finally able to hold my baby. After 62 hours of labor, the wolf was defeated, gone.


We were wheeled into the dimly lighted recovery room where Ashley was waiting for us. She helped me try and nurse Rory, but he wasn’t interested anymore. We snuggled and took pictures. I got to drink some juice and eat some graham crackers while I tried to wiggle my toes.



Eventually it was time to move into our new hospital room. Kyle and Ashley carried our stuff and I held Rory. I was worried that the brilliant lights of the hallways would hurt his eyes, open and bright since birth, but he twisted and fought my shielding hand away.

There is so much to see out here and I’m not missing one bit of it.

Rory Nathaniel Helmick, we love you so much.







Thank you for reading! I would love to hear about your birth, especially if you also had a c-section. What was it like? Let’s chat in the comments!  

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

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.


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


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.



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.


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


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.


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.


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!

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.


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.


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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