Life After Birth | June, Calvin + Daisy

Life After Birth | June, Calvin + Daisy

As told by June:

I’m pretty sure there’s a book, likely long decomposed somewhere, from around first grade stating that I was going to be an artist and a mommy…or maybe a teacher and a mommy. I’m proud to say I’ve taken on all three roles & while they’re all difficult in their own way, they are me. 

I went to school for graphic design, did a few odd & some not so odd jobs in the 13 years since graduating. I mostly worked as a nanny & later as a preschool teacher, helping to raise other people’s children like they were family. Some of the kids I nannied for, early on, are out of college, which is beyond bonkers to me. They already have jobs making more money than I ever did, or probably would even want to. 

It all feels like a lifetime ago, life before babies, because it was. My Calvin, as I remember, gave me a pretty chill pregnancy experience, minus the gas…oh man, I hope I always remember that. 

His estimated due date was 6/11/2016 & I eventually started having contractions 6/16 around 4pm. I bounced on my medicine ball, watching a storm roll in. When it finally began to rain, I went outside. As the rain fell down my face, he slowly worked his way out. It was painful, it felt as though I was ripped in half from my asshole, but as soon as I held his warm, wet body against my chest at 2:55 AM, I would’ve happily done it all over again…and did 2 & a half years later. 

I struggled when he was born with my identity as a mother, still do. I didn’t understand. It was everything I had always wanted, but I don’t get to turn a switch and shut off my responsibilities as I once could. I can’t just sit in a room and paint all day, like I often times wish I could. I’ve not resented my children or husband, but more of my (and so many other mama’s) lack of community and support. I hate that everything can feel so far away and lonely, but never being alone. 

My husband takes the kids, but I am always mama. When they’re not in my eyesight, my mind creates nightmares of my children being torn from me as I read more and more about the children of asylum seeking mamas that are being separated from them each day, some younger than Daisy, unable to breastfeed, tormented. 

When I became pregnant with Calvin, I told my husband that I would take a year off to be with the babe and to work on my art. I had grand plans to make dinner each night, keep the house tidier than ever before and to become this famous artist…or something. I was going to set up a way to make a passive income for myself that I could ride until he was in kindergarten. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, especially in the first year of motherhood. 

If I was able to get out of pajamas and take a shower, I called it a success. I did go to play dates and made more friends than I had made in the 8+ years since I moving to NOVA from LA, but they weren’t the type of friendships I really craved. We talked about baby milestones and they drank or talked about drinking. Ooh wee, I could write a whole other blog on mommy wine culture and just might. 

Even if it was not my ultimate desired company, I pushed for play dates and made things happen, because there are sometimes just too many hours between the moment my husband would leave for work and when he’d return. 

Early on, Calvin slept a lot, so I would paint. I dove into abstract work, and was pretty terrible at it. It was so cathartic to put onto canvas what I was unable to say in words. I had been doing these colorful animals for years, but felt super drawn to make abstracts with him at my side. They were easier as I didn’t have to adhere to any set rules. I kept at it. Literally hundreds of paintings later &  finally I had my breakthrough piece, the first abstract that I actually liked. I want to keep it, but also feel that if someone feels a true connection with it that they should have it in their home. Before that, I was just doing it as therapy, not really showing them & often painting over them. 

The abstract work still dominates my painting time, but I have branched out a bit. When I was pregnant with Daisy, my identity as a woman and mother felt a little more grounded, I was obviously already a mother, but really spent time and energy thinking about what motherhood meant to me. 

Toward the end of July last year, I was having strong nursing aversions with Calvin during my pregnancy. I considered weaning before baby came, but really enjoyed breastfeeding overall. I knew that August was Breastfeeding Awareness Month and challenged myself to paint a nursing mother everyday for the month of August. 

It was hot. I was nauseous. I was tired, so I took a jar of gouache that I’ve had since college, 1 paint brush, & one piece of watercolor paper to the couch each day. I let Calvin watch TV for an hour & painted during that time. I sometimes had 3 done, sometimes I’d work one into oblivion and given up. 

I hadn’t painted people since high school and it was not something I was especially confident in doing, but I didn’t feel obligated to share them all. I wanted to, though. I think I did over 50 & then explored painting baby wearing & pregnant mothers, painting snuggle time and babies by themselves in the following months. I did maybe one or two in color & on canvas by the time Daisy was born in January, and a few more within her first few sleepy months. I called her my muse, I still think she is, Calvin too. He wishes I would paint more animals. I think he’s right. 

Daisy was a rough pregnancy. I had all day nausea pretty much up until 7 months. I was just so uncomfortable the whole time. She has since made up for it being just about the most chill and happy baby I’ve met, which is saying a lot…but I may be a bit biased. 

We had a rough couple months getting her paperwork in order, every bit of paperwork or file or whatever with Daisy’s name written on it had an issue. Every department, organization, agency, doctor, office, company, whatever gave me such shit over processing whatever. I stopped logging hours on the phone over 100 hours, many of which were spent on hold. I became so enraged by the whole ordeal, talking to faceless voice that never truly listened, never resolving things that needed to be resolved, so many broken promises. 

She was/is such an awesome kid and yet she seems to have slipped through every crack imaginable. It’s such a shame that she had to live those first few months of life with mom in such a tizzy. I’m so bitter when I think of everything that went wrong. I need to clear my head and that’s when painting becomes so important to me. It’s a release, a necessity. 

My art process is pretty intuitive, I sometimes do a rough sketch, but never pick colors ahead of time. The colors come to me as they can. 

I’ve always loved green, but have been living for this color I’ve named “Emerald Jungle” green since I was pregnant with Calvin. It’s his color. It’s not his favorite color now, but it’s how I saw him inside me, a little sprout. Daisy was a pale, soft green, I named “Sage Mint”. I meditated on my babies & they presented themselves to me as these beams of color (I accidentally just typed beans & that’s pretty accurate, too), and I painted with their colors. It’s a beautiful feeling, a way of connecting them into my art. 

I get into a zone when I paint ordinarily, but have to work it in while they play now, which can be extremely difficult and increasingly so as Daisy is now crawling everywhere and is caught daily with a (closed) tube of paint in her mouth. My couch heaps with tubes of paint, my rolling cart, which holds even more colors at the ready. 

Calvin asks if I can do x,y, or z with him, and many times I do, but sometimes mommy is working. Mommy is working because she has to, not so much to make us money, but for her sanity. 

I let go a bit of the drive to become a famous artist (…or something) and to even make any money. I paint what feels right and if someone else loves it, great. I’m pretty prolific, but haven’t yet had the luxury of making enough in a year to cover expenses. 

My husband works his tail off so that I can stay at home with my kids and paint, and for that (and SO MUCH MORE), I am eternally grateful. He is supportive in his way, but is not the mind reader I once thought he was. After over 10 years of togetherness, I still struggle to ask my partner (or anyone for that matter) for what I truly want & need, mostly alone time. 

I need time where I’m just an artist, so that I can focus on the tasks that seem impossible with 2 children adoringly dangling from my tired body. 

If you see me out in the world with unapologetically unkempt hair, flip flops worn nearly to the ground, overstuffed, heavy backpack/purse, & likely paint somewhere on my person, be kind. Give me that “I’m in the same boat” nod that moms sometimes give each other when they’ve been there & done that. I’m just trying my best, my hardest. It’s not everyone’s ideal, but it’s all I’ve got in me & I’ve got two adorable & happy kids to show for it. 

“She’s my mom. Her name is June and she is an artist.” Calvin once told a cashier unprovoked. 

That’s me. He’s right. Always a mama, sometimes an artist. 

June’s finished piece, “A Lot of Energy” — more at

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Images by Bergen Howlett for Two Rivers Childbirth

Postpartum Vacation

Postpartum Vacation

Ok look, we both know that the early postpartum days and weeks are nothing like a vacation. Those days, and those long nights, with a newborn are hard, hard work. They may even be some of the most challenging and transformative of your life. But when it comes to making plans for your family’s maternity leave, your baby moon, your fourth trimester, it may just help to look at it like it’s the vacation of a lifetime…

The trip is smoother when planned thoughtfully in advance. You wouldn’t wing an entire overseas vacation and your postpartum should be treated with the same care. How will you get there? What books should you read about your locale? What local guides do you need to book ahead of time? What will you eat? What special clothes will you need? What do you need to pack in advance and what can you pick up along the way? What’s the budget look like? It’s perfectly ok, often even necessary sometimes to improvise along the way, but get that itinerary outlined before you leave.

You focus on spending time together. The most important parts of any vacation are the people you travel with. The same is true in the first six weeks. This babymoon is like a honeymoon for your new family where you celebrate and steep in this new person at the center of your universe. And like you wouldn’t take just anyone with you overseas, consider your postpartum travel companions carefully. Choose those who add positivity to the experience, not those who add stress or anxiety.

You don’t do chores. No one goes on vacation to do chores. Vacation time is for maintenance only, not deep cleaning. You eat out, you pay the hotel to wash your linens, you live out of a suitcase and maybe you wear the same things a few days in a row. Take the “I’m on vacation” mindset with you into those early postpartum days and weeks. This is special time that you don’t get back. Do what you need for comfort and function and the rest will be there when you return.

You treat yo’self. On vacation you eat nourishing food that makes you feel good, and as much of it as your body wants. That spa menu looks pretty dang tempting. ROOMSERVICE. You’re recovering from your journey into parenthood and adjusting to spending your days keeping an entire other person alive so if there was ever a time for a little lux in your life, it’s now. So get that massage. Schedule the house cleaner, the dog walker and the landscaper. Visit your chiropractor and acupuncturist. Find a postpartum yoga class. Call your postpartum doula.

Your schedule is wack. Birth is some serious jet lag, friend, and you’re going to need plenty of recovery days built-in. Days and nights flow differently on vacation and in those early days with a baby, and that’s ok. Take naps, eat whenever you feel like it, watch movies in the middle of the day. Newborns don’t have schedules, so don’t fight it, just embrace the weirdest sleepover party of your life.

You keep an open mind as you traverse new terrain. Being a new parent is a lot like waking up in another country. You don’t know the language or the customs and the info from the guide books only gets you so far. The best way to learn your way around is to dive on in. You’re gonna get lost a few times, but you’ll be a local before you know it.

The landmarks all look different. There’s nothing like finally reaching a landmark that you feel like you already know from every angle from your research on Pinterest, Instagram and your friends’ travel photos: It’s never quite the same in real life as it was in photographs. The same is true for parenting milestones with your IRL baby. Uniquely beautiful, meaningful, celebrated and hard-earned, yes, but they never quite the same as they appear online.

You don’t always come back feeling rested. Have you ever taken a trip and come home worn out, needing a vacation after your vacation? There will be bumps in the road, blisters, sunburn and rainstorms. You will get turned around, maybe miss a flight or lose a reservation. But life with a newborn is just as wonderful, just as exhausting, just as frustrating and just as worth it. 

Bon voyage!

Image: Bergen Howlett Photography

Life After Birth |  Prepping for Postpartum, Kid 1 vs Kid 2

Life After Birth | Prepping for Postpartum, Kid 1 vs Kid 2

As told by Kayla:

We’re about two weeks out from welcoming our second baby, and I’ve noticed there’s a big difference in the way we’re preparing for her, compared to our first. 

Sure, there’s a lot that’s the same — pre-washing the clothes, blankets, bibs, etc.; setting up the swing; setting up a pack & play in our room; setting up changing stations; stockpiling diapers. There are small things about this process that are different – we washed everything in Tide Free & Clear instead of Dreft because our first had a reaction to fragrances and so everything had to be rewashed when she was a newborn. This time, we’re just starting with free & clear or sensitive everything – soaps, detergents, lotions… you name it, if it comes in an unscented variety, that’s the one we have. 

But the biggest difference is the way we’re prepping to make my life easier after kid 2. When you’re having your first, almost all of your focus is on getting ready for baby. At least, it was for me. I made loose plans for myself postpartum – mainly about how long I’d stay home from work and whether or not I’d be willing to respond to emails. 

But this time? This time I’ve spent more time setting myself up for a better postpartum.


Coming to Terms With Reality

Well, the first way is by embracing the reality of birthing a child. You’re going to bleed. A lot. It’s not a normal period. It doesn’t go away in 5 or 6 days, and your normal pads aren’t going to do the trick. You can’t wipe for a while after having a baby. At least, I couldn’t, not with the stitches from my tear. So a priority for this go-round was creating my bathroom baskets – each basket (one for each bathroom) has adult diapers (I found hospital-provided mesh underwear to be super uncomfortable, so I’m actually bringing some to the hospital too), the thickest, biggest pads I could find, equally large, but thinner pads, Dermoplast, Frieda Mom’s new witch hazel vag pads, and their peri-bottle. Overkill? Nope. Nothing worse than sitting down and then realizing you don’t have your peri-bottle. Or that you don’t have the right size pad you need. 

Knowing My Boundaries

During our birth class (with Bergen & Julie – you’re the best!), my husband and I both drew our ideal birth and then shared the vision. We both drew us, surrounded by our immediate family – parents and siblings (I also drew our dog, but ya know, hospitals frown on that). And, that’s what we ended up with. We were surrounded by family for the birth, and then after the birth, while we were still in the hospital, we had lots of visitors come and see us and meet our daughter. But then, while I was home alone with a newborn on maternity leave, I was alone, a lot. Which was not good for my mental health. 

So this time, we’re limiting hospital visitors to parents and siblings. We really loved that aspect, but we’re asking everyone else to wait to visit until we’re home. I had a delayed bonding with my first daughter because in the hospital, I was either trying to get her to latch or sleeping between visitors. I got very little snuggle time. This time, we’ll be doing plenty of snuggling just for snuggling’s sake. I also need adult interaction. I need people to pop by and say hi and sit with me for a few minutes and remind me that there is a world outside of diapers and sleep and bottles. So we hope our friends and family will visit throughout maternity leave. 

Getting Rid of Clutter

My hospital bag for kid 1… I actually don’t think you can call it a hospital bag.. Because we had three? I am an over-packer by nature. You name it, I had it. Cards for my husband, a bluetooth speaker, snacks, drinks, a boppy, multiple outfits, diapers, wipes, blankets, a robe, toiletries…and I’m sure I’m forgetting things.This time, I’ve fit everything (including my preferred pump and pump parts) into one bag. The essentials. The hospital will provide diapers and wipes and pillows. I know I won’t feel like changing outfits a bunch. I don’t need to pack shoes because I’m going to wear shoes TO the hospital – I don’t need multiple pairs. I’m using hospital towels because I don’t need to bring home dirty laundry.

Focusing on Outside Time

Now, kid 1 was a November baby, so a good chunk of my maternity leave was over winter, which intimidated me. She’s too little to bring outside! But let’s be real- most of November and early December is totally fine for a properly dressed baby. Even late December and January is good as long as you dress your baby appropriately. But, I had PPA that went undiagnosed for a while, and that told me outside wasn’t safe. Kid 2 is going to be an August baby, and I’m better able to identify PPA thoughts vs valid concerns. So, this go-round, I’m going to prioritize spending at least 30 mins outside every day it’s not raining. Because, frankly, it’s good for the soul. And I think it may help prevent a backslide into PPA hell. 

Planning to Pump

I spent a good amount of time prepping to direct nurse with kid 1. It didn’t work out, and I ended up being an exclusive pumper. This go-round, I’m choosing to be an EP’er from the start. I decided I don’t need the stress I associate with trying to DN, and while I know that it can be different with each kid, I also know, in my bones, it’s the best way to take care of ME during post-partum. I can split night feedings with my husband. I can drop her off with daycare and know she’ll take a bottle fine. I know myself well enough now to know I need that freedom. And, this time around, I made it easier on myself. I splurged and bought a pumping-specific bag that can also double as a work/diaper bag. Because lugging 3 makeshift bags around was awful. I splurged on a tiny Spectra S9 portable pump, and a fanny pack to hold it in. 

I know there’s some stuff here I just wouldn’t have known as a first time mom. There’s some other stuff I realized after kid 1, but wasn’t ready to put in place. This time, I’m feeling more confident about what I need and what I want. And it’s not selfish of me to name these needs and wants and set boundaries to protect them or spend money on myself to make my life easier. 

When you birth a child, you’re also birthing a new version of yourself – as a mother, and you need love and support in this new phase too. Please ask for it. Please name specifically what you need, and tell people specifically how they can help you. People want to be helpful, but are often worried about crossing social lines. Tell them what you need. And if you don’t know, say that too. Sometimes it’s just as simple as not being alone. The newborn days are magical, but also really hard. And I’ve found they’re better when you call on your village to help. 

Sending love to all the mamas-to-be, the new mamas, the veteran mamas. You’re all doing a great job.  

Find Kayla’s exclusive pumping Milk Story HERE

More about the Life after Birth Project HERE

Photo: Bergen Howlett