My toddler wears 90% secondhand clothes, but when I do buy new, I aim to buy from ethical children’s clothing brands. These 10 boutique brands are some of my favorites, for heirloom pieces made from natural fabrics or simple basics made from 100% organic cotton. Continue reading “Ethical Children’s Clothing // Shop Small with these 10 Boutique Brands”
Reading to your children seems like such a simple thing, and truly it is, but like most worthwhile things, it doesn’t happen unless you make it happen. Especially when children are young and unable to read to themselves, a time for reading has to be created and then fostered. I think every parent wants their child to grow up with a love of books and reading, especially in this age of technology, so I’m sharing a few tips on how I’m encouraging and prioritizing reading in my house.
TIP 1 // SURROUND YOURSELF WITH BOOKS
At home I like to be a (semi) minimalist about everything, with the exception of children’s books. Lewie has books in every room of the house. A basket in the living room. Books tucked in our nightstand for bedtime. Books in his bedroom. I even put books in his toy box. I want him to grow up surrounded by books.
Books don’t have to be an expense, most of the books we have I bought at thrift stores or were my own books as a child. You can also buy used books online. Obviously Amazon has millions and I also really like Discover Books and Thrift Books.
TIP 2 // CREATE A TIME & SPACE FOR READING
Every night before bed we read to Lewie. This is natural time for most parents to read with their children and it’s such a simple and beautiful rhythm to close the day. I also like reading in the morning and before nap time. Reading is also a great way to help Lewie calm down when he’s upset.
To me, just as important as time to read, is a space to read. We often read in my bed, but I also have an oversized bear by his bookcase and a floor pillow in the living room. You don’t need much space, any tiny nook will work as a reading corner.
TIP 3 // PRACTICE WHAT YOUR PREACH
I spend a lot of time trying to encourage a love of books for Lewie, but it recently occurred to me that Lewie rarely sees me read. I actually love reading, but I typically read at night after Lewie is in bed. But just like any skill or lesson I’m trying to instill in my child (gratitude, patience, politeness) it has to start with me. So whenever you can, create some time for yourself to read, even if it’s just a few minutes here and there. Children watch and do.
TIP 4 // READ BOOKS YOU ENJOY
Yes of course letting your child pick their own books is a great way to encourage kids to read. Take a trip to the library and let them choose away. And while you’re there, pick out some children’s books you find interesting as well. The truth is I’m much more likely to read to Lewie if I enjoy the books I’m reading. And if i’m enthusiastic about the book, chances are he will be too. If I let my toddler pick out all his own books, we would only read about trains. But just like food, it’s important to introduce your child to new topics they probably wouldn’t choose on their own.
Right now, we’re reading a lot about Summer. I’ve been intentionally picking books that will help us notice and celebrate the season. In addition to our summer reading, here are some favorites we’ve been loving lately. All these books are very picture-centric, but have an actual story, so they’ve been really great transition toddler books, from baby board books to longer-style children’s books.
Anything by Richard Scarry. Our favorite is Cars and Trucks and Things that Go.
Tuesday I grew up on this book. It’s so strange and imaginative. Lewie loves the frogs.
Where the Wild Things Are A classic for all ages. This one never fails to entertain.
The Little Engine that Could If you have a child that loves trains, this one is a must!
And, alphabet books. Lewie is really into learning the alphabet. There are an abundance of amazing alphabet books including, Touch Think Learn (this one would make a beautiful baby gift) Animalia (so imaginative for all ages) Quentin Blake’s ABC’s (super whimsical with rhyming text) and Winnie-the-Pooh’s ABC (simple and beautiful intro in the World of Winnie the Pooh).
What about you? What children’s books is your family reading right now? I’m always on the lookout for new favorites!
I’m beyond excited that my friend Britney is sharing her story for my second motherhood interview. Britney is truly one of the sweetest, and yet also strongest women I know. Britney and I met in college and back then she had a crush on a boy named Elijah. Now, a decade later, Britney and Elijah are married and live in Nashville with their three beautiful children, including twin girls, born at 25 weeks.
After the twins early arrival, Britney spent months away from her home, husband and eldest child to be with her baby girls in NICU. Below she’s sharing her story about learning to thrive in the midst of uncertainty by fighting fear with strength.
Hi Britney! Let’s begin with your first child, Avett. Can you share a little about him?
Yes! Avett just turned five and is my absolute sunshine. He, like me, can be SO stubborn and hot-tempered. But then he can turn around and say the most heart-melting things. We often clash during the day and he has been our most difficult child (which is saying a lot when you know the girls’ story!) but at the end of each day I feel so completely blessed to be his mama and best friend.
How did you feel after becoming a mom for the first time?
My husband says the first thing I said when Avett was born was “I have been waiting SO long to meet you!” We have been best buddies since his birth and we’re pretty much inseparable. Until he was two and a half when the girls came, we had never spent more than a few hours apart from each other. Being my first baby, I had to let go of a lot of expectations I put on myself and learn to adapt to a child who is so similar and yet so different from me.
It taught me a lot about motherhood being more “rerouting” than mapping out ahead.
Did you know you wanted more children after Avett?
I vividly remember telling Elijah a few moments after Avett was born, “That wasn’t so bad! I could totally do that again!” to which he nearly passed out! I think having a natural birth was a bit more traumatic for him than it was for me. To me, it’s one of my most beautiful memories.
But it was around Avett’s second birthday before either of us really felt ready to add to our family. Hardly a couple weeks later I was taking a test and already feeling the morning sickness! I had a feeling baby number two was a girl, or that there was more than one baby, but all my friends said I was crazy.
BUT, you were right, on both accounts! I remember you writing somewhere that you always thought “I never want twins” and then, you found out you were pregnant with twins! What was your first reaction?
The night before we went in for our first ultrasound, I told Elijah, “Heads up, there are going to be two babies in there.” Elijah said the hormones were getting to my head. Then at the ultrasound the first thing the nurse said was “Well it’s your lucky day! You have TWO babies!”
I babysat a few sets of twins growing up and remember thinking how cute they were, but that I never wanted to actually be the MOM to twins. Too many tv show twin mixups had ruined that for me. Plus, the fear of never being able to give either twin the full attention you want is terrifying. But almost as soon as they were born, I knew that our family couldn’t possibly be our family without identical twin girls. They somehow fit so perfectly that I can’t imagine only having one second baby.
Your twin girls, Margot and Meryl, were born at 25 weeks. Can you talk a bit about those first few days?
I went in for a routine ultrasound, which was happening about twice a week at that point, and they said everything was shockingly normal. The girls are identical which means they were at risk for twin-to-twin transfusion (one twin “donates” all the placenta to the other twin, leading to fluid overload in one and malnourishment in the other) but so far no signs of that happening were present.
Then, three days later I went in for another ultrasound and my fluid levels had changed so drastically, they told me to drive the five hours to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital immediately. The plan was for me to undergo surgery (something they couldn’t do at our local hospital) that would split the placenta and allow the babies to continue to grow at their own rate.
I ended up going into labor before the surgery was performed and decided an emergency c-section was our best shot at saving either or both babies. It was surreal, being thrown into a situation we had feared, yet had thought we were miraculously in the clear for.
Mostly the memories of those days are filled with suffocating uncertainty. Uncertainty for when I would see Avett again (he was at my in-laws), if the next nurse to come to my room would have bad news, when I would get to see my babies who were rushed to the NICU within seconds of being taken from me, how we would pay for everything, how Elijah would keep teaching back home, if our family would be separated for days or weeks or months.
But God sustained me through every single moment. I remember thinking that this is how people make it through those unimaginably hard stories we hear about, knowing that as long as you are ok in the present moment, that is all that matters.
Each moment turns into the next and somehow you are still there, still crushed by fears and grief, and yet still there.
During the girl’s stay in the hospital, you stayed at a Ronald McDonald House. What was your experience like there?
Ron House (as we have affectionately come to call it), saved my life. Within two days of being released from the hospital, the staff called and said they had a room for me for as long as I needed it. I was really skeptical but reluctantly went to check in. However, I was in shock from the moment we drove in the gates and promised never to slander a McDonald’s again.
Not only are the facilities at the Cincinnati Ronald McDonald House beautiful, but the people take care of every need you could possibly have. I wasn’t just physically cared for with a free room and meals, I was nourished to my soul by the love and genuine care each volunteer showed me. They absolutely care for the whole being there.
Since there birth, there have been enormous medical challenges with Margot & Meryl. Can you talk a bit about each child & where they are now.
When we were deciding whether we should do a c-section at 25 weeks, we had several conversations about the developmental (physical, emotional and mental) impact it would have on the babies. Not only were they just barely viable at 25 weeks, they were smaller than normal since they are twins.
Speech delays, brain bleeds, lung development, heart defects, cerebral palsy, permanent disability, blindness- all these were “casually” thrown out as significant possibilities by the doctors and nurses.
But when you are looking at the lives of your babies, the question for us was not how to avoid disabilities, but how to keep them alive long enough figure out the next steps.
Immediately after they were born, both babies were rushed to the NICU and plugged into more life-saving machines than I knew existed plus a million monitors reading every vital sign and pattern. They each weighed barely a pound.
When you see that, it’s hard not to imagine a life full of doctor appointments and tubes and wires and tests and diagnosis. Over the past two years, we have been through 37 surgeries, eight therapists, a six month NICU stay, seven months of 24/7 home nursing, and four months of daytime home nursing. Margot has had a tracheostomy, full airway reconstruction, a g-tube, and an eye surgery. Meryl has had a brain shunt placed, a g-tube, a handful of airway surgeries, and multiple eye surgeries.
Not every day held progress, actually most days had what felt like incredibly large steps backwards with only a few forward creeping days. But the girls grew faster than we imagined, and have gradually graduated all medical equipment except for the shunt and an eye contact for Meryl.
I love this phrase you wrote on one of your blogs – “fighting fear with strength”. Can you share what that means to you?
That is one of my favorite phrases- fighting fear with strength- and something I have been training myself to embrace daily. About three months into the girls’ lives, I became really depressed. I stopped eating, I stopped sleeping, I stopped allowing myself to be excited by milestones the girls were meeting.
I was so sick of being afraid every moment and realized that living permanently in fear was not living but more a walking state of comatose.
I became obsessed with the idea of fighting my fears- no matter how small or big- with strength. I started weightlifting before bed to help me sleep better and to improve my mood during the day. I started digging into my Bible for every truth I could hang onto in times of doubt or fear. I started pushing myself to stop reacting to news from the girls’ doctors and instead research their answers and suggestions and own the role of being a mom to medically-complex twins. It was obvious at that point that the girls would be coming home with multiple medical needs and I was tired of fearing that.
Can you share any advice for moms with medically-complex babies?
Never underestimate your gut and never be afraid to be an advocate for your child. You know them the best as you have been to every different doctor and specialist and therapy session and ER visit and have the biggest picture of their overall health. Ask questions always, research on your own, voice your fears, share your suggestions, and don’t let doctors or nurses bully you. While I don’t recommend ignoring your doctor’s advice, I will always push for the right to be involved in every decision and to be fully informed. You are so much stronger than you realize and there are almost always multiple solutions to a problem. Just knowing that can be so strengthening and empowering!
What are Margot & Meryl’s personalities like now as toddlers?
Margot is our introverted bookworm who loves food and wants everyone to just love her. Meryl is Avett 2.0- outgoing, extroverted, emotionally volatile, and Avett’s biggest fan. They are so opposite in personalities, quirks, preferences and even looks that it’s hard for me to reconcile their being genetically identical!
On top of raising three children, you also own your own business! Tell us about your business & why you started it.
I have always been motivated by the idea of owning my own business and about a year ago it finally started to take shape. The girls were finally stable, we no longer had nurses living in our home, doctor appointments were less often, and we were looking at the last big chunk of medical bills to be paid. So we went for it.
I started off by selling produce and homemade goods at local farmer’s markets, and organized a five family CSA from our backyard gardens, as well as coaching a couple friends with their first gardens. I now sell my homemade granola at markets and stock it at a local brick and mortar store, and am selling more produce and seedlings at local markets.
One day I would love to open floral studio using only my own flowers and offer healthy cooking and gardening classes for those with lower incomes. I have always loved food and plants. When the girls came home from the hospital and life was contained to our home in Nashville, I found my release in the garden and kitchen. Any day started with my plants is a good day!
How do you balance it all? Are you super organized and plan out your days, or do you take it one day at time? Alternative reading: how do you stay sane?
Both! I function at my best when everything is planned out and organized on my Trello boards (an organization app that has my whole heart forever), but with three kids, a business, gardens, chickens, and a house in the mix, I have learned to roll with each day. I plan out each day pretty rigidly but view that plan as a dream day plan. Almost every day throws curveballs, so when I view my list as a dream day, I feel less frustrated and behind when something unexpected is added to the mix.
Plus, my husband is also the best partner I could dream of. He often helps with cooking and has never been afraid to take all the kids out so I can work on a project. Without his willingness to care about the things I value and push me to go for the things I dream about, I would be a hot mess. We have always tried to support each other in our dreams and goals and realize that there are seasons when each of us is the helper or the doer.
One thing I love about your IG is that through everything, the unbelievable challenges, you are always smiling & full of wonder & gratefulness. How do cultivate this attitude?
I think a lot of it stems from my desire to find beauty in all things. As an individual, my personality seeks and craves beauty and that has helped me to both create and find it in my days.
I want my kids to look back on their childhood as being filled with wonder, joy and beauty and I know a lot of that comes from my attitude.
Throughout this whole experience God has showed us his unconditional love no matter how much we rage against him or question his goodness in the midst of all our pain. He has brought us to a place where we can truly know his goodness despite the outcome- because God didn’t give us the miraculous healing we prayed for.
We spent six months in the hospital fighting for the girls’ lives with the best doctors in the world and we still ended up with more medical devices than I originally thought possible. But I without doubt know that it is His love and blessing that has allowed us to remain a family through this nightmare. We have gone through incredibly low and high points in our relationships the past two years, but without God’s faithfulness and strength, I know we would not have come out on the other side as strong as we have.
Thank you for sharing Britney! If you want to keep up with Britney and her sweet family, you can follower her on IG @britneyammen. And make sure to check out her website Dinner:Unprocessed for healthy recipes, resources and local events around Nashville.
When Lewie turned two we took him to his first movie. We assumed he would last 15 minutes but to our surprise he was enchanted through the ENTIRE MOVIE, eating popcorn like a pro and everything! It sounds silly, but it was truly a magical experience. One of those “firsts” you never want to forget. I actually saved the movie stub for his baby book. Curious what movie?
Paddington 2! Which, is you haven’t seen, you need to remedy immediately. It’s unbelievably charming. Here is a great review about why children and adults need more movies like Paddington 2. Also this quote from the Wall Street Journal made me laugh, but it’s also true:
“Paddington 2 is “The Godfather Part II” of Peruvian bear movies, a sequel that surpasses the superb original.”
Completely impressed by Lewie’s attention span through the movie, we decided to implement family movie nights on Friday evenings. Of course we can’t do it every Friday, but when we can I like having a sweet ritual to mark the end of the week. I usually make something simple for dinner, pasta or pizza (the best pizza dough recipe here) and eat in front of the telly.
I pretty much always make popcorn too, which is one of my all time favorite foods. It’s a very simple routine, but I’ve found that it’s something to look forward to. While Paddington 2 tops this list, here’s a few more family movies we’ve found worked with Lewie, aka not too scary, and that we also don’t mind watching on repeat.
Cars & Cars 3 – Underrated Pixar movies, especially Cars 3 which has a sweet message.
Toy Story 2 – Toy Story is terrifying through toddler eyes. Toy Story 2 is pretty perfect.
Monsters Inc. & Monsters U – Both have a couple scary parts, but overall super fun.
The Muppets – The newer one, although I would love to re-watch the classics too.
Mary Poppins – This movie is way too long for toddlers, but the parts we watch he loves.
And some movies on the watchlist: Lady & The Tramp, Lost & Found & Fantasia.
My all time favorite movie as a child was Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang, but watching it as an adult I realize it’s pretty terrifying, so I’ll probably wait a bit before letting Lewie watch the whole thing.
P.S. – Here is an easy recipe for homemade popcorn. There is a ton of popcorn advise out there that involves extra steps that I never do. I just throw in some coconut oil, let it melt, add the popcorn and shake. Does it burn? Sometimes, a bit. Do I eat it all anyways? Absolutely. Finish with her favorite seasoning and try to share.
What about you? Do you do family movie night? What are your current favorites?
For my last birthday my dear friend and fellow mama, Kelly, flew down from Oregon so we could both enjoy a desperately needed kids-free vacation. We drove to the mountains for a mini getaway.
We drank whiskey in the hottub, saw the late showing of a movie and made the best waffles I’ve ever eaten. It was wonderful.
It took me well over a year to leave Lewie overnight, but I wish I had prioritized a kid’s-free vacation sooner, even if it was just one solo night away. Being away gives you the opportunity to do the things you once took for granted, like enjoying a dinner out without a squirming toddler, staying up late reading, drinking HOT coffee while it’s still hot, you know, the little things.
We also decided to take a few photos while were there. I recently realized that my entire camera roll is essentially pictures of my child. Recent pictures of me are basically non-existent, but I want to have photos for my children to took at one day. Don’t you love looking at old photos of your parents when they were young? As a child it was one of my favorite things to do.
And mostly, being away makes you realize that all those little things you missed when you were child-free are truly just that — little things — and can’t compare with the joy of raising a tiny soul. BUT, sometimes it takes a night, or a few nights, away to remember this. How about you, do you take kids-free vacations?
P.S. Our cabin was in Idyllwild, a sweet little mountain town a couple hours east of Los Angeles. I highly recommend it for a quick city escape!
P.S.S. If you are planning on taking a vacation and need a new swimsuit, check out this Guide for Conscious Swimwear.
Birthdays. Baby showers. Holidays. No matter what time of year, there’s always an event that require a kid’s gift. But the next time you need a kid’s gift, try thinking outside the box with your gift giving and gift wrapping. These simple and sustainable kid’s gifts are just are fun, thoughtful and guaranteed to please parents too.
// Forget the Toy //
Instead of buying a toy, gift an experience. Experiences are by far my favorite gift to give and receive. Do some research and find out what’s close to you. Kid’s museums are a great bet or annual passes to a local garden are perfect for the whole family. If you have a local theater, giving tickets to see a show would be super sweet and you can’t lose with movie vouchers for a fun family outing. My absolute favorite birthday gift for Lewie was tickets to Disneyland.
// Make or Bake //
If you can sew, make your own sustainable kid’s gift. There are so many cute ideas that can be made out upcycled fabric. If you can’t sew, or simply don’t have the patience for that (like me), there are still options, like this adorable lego set made with a thrifted lunch tin or naturally-dyed play dough. Think about the child’s favorite activities and get creative.
Or you can always bake something. Chances are someone was going to make cake for that birthday party so it might as well be you. Coordinate with the host and bring something delicious. This is great option especially if the invite says no gifts, but you still want to do something nice.
If the above options are not your thing, no worries, go ahead and buy the kid a toy. Kids love toys and there is no guilt in buying a gift. But there a couple simple ways to make buying a toy a more sustainable and eco-friendly affair.
// Shop Secondhand //
Here’s the thing, kids, especially younger kids, do not care if their toy is new. Lewie reacts the same if he sees a train in a thrift store or in target. Buying secondhand is great if you’re on a strict budget, because you’re going to get more for your money. Try thrift stores, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. One of my absolute favorite baby gifts was a friend’s selection of her own kids favorite baby books handed down to me.
// Support Small Business //
If you do want to buy new, search your local kids store first and try to buy something that will last a long time. If you don’t have a local kid’s store, here some of my favorite online kid’s stores for unique gifts:
Shop Merci Milo // If you live in LA, this adorable store has a brick-and-mortar in Eagle Rock.
Bella Luna Toys // I adore their arts and crafts section, perfect for inspiring creativity in elementary aged kids.
The Little Market // For babies, The Little Market has the sweetest selection of fair-trade animals and rattles.
Etsy // Etsy has a huge selection of beautiful handcrafted toys. You can also shop based on a custom location. I love putting in my state to see what’s made close to me.
TIP: Most online shops will have a notes for seller section. I always ask (nicely) to please use as little plastic and packaging as possible. And speaking of packaging…
// Pick Frustration Free Packaging //
And if you’re running late and need to use trusty Amazon Prime (we’ve all been there) search toys with Frustration Free Packaging. Frustration Free Packaging just means way less packaging is used and what is used is recyclable. Just a quick search gave me lots of great toy options. A few favorites:
Green Toys Dump Truck // Green Toys are a favorite in our house. They’re durable, great for indoor, outdoor and water play, plus made with 100% recycled plastic. Below Lewie is playing with his Green Toys Firetruck.
Plan Toys Tea Set // A tea set is a childhood staple. I love how sturdy and unisex this one is!
Wooden Croquet Set // I grew up playing croquet ever summer so this toy is super nostalgic for me.
Bead Coaster // I’ve never met a toddler who doesn’t love these things. It’s one of the very few toys Lewie will play with basically everyday for whole minutes at a time.
// Forgo the Wrapping //
And lastly, find a creative way to wrap your gift. For baby showers, I love wrapping my gifts in swaddles or baby blankets. Or just sort through the recycling to find something to wrap your gift in. Chances are you’ll find a box or paper that will work. And if you have kids of your own, let them help decorate. Or stick the gift in a reusable bag. And if all else fails, just forget the wrapping all together and gift it with a smile. In the end, the kid won’t care.
What about you? What are some of your favorite tips to making gift-giving more sustainable?
When I first started dreaming up The Fair Finch blog, I knew I wanted to do mother interviews, specifically with moms who have a unique perspective on motherhood. So I’m beyond thrilled to introduce you to my first motherhood interview with Jessie Love.
From the moment I met Jessie, I had a huge crush. Her down-to-earth personality was so refreshing and her openness, honest and moving. About a year and a half ago, Jessie lost her second son to a rare disease when he was eight days old. Now, she’s eight months pregnant with her third. Below she shares about honoring her son while healing, explaining loss to a toddler, plus some amazing advice for all mothers.
Hi Jessie! You’re currently pregnant with your third child, CONGRATS! Can you introduce us to your first two children?
Oh my goodness, yes I can. My firstborn is Troy. He’s almost four and his heart is so kind it takes my breath away. It’s not even something I can take credit for as a mother — that’s all him. He’s always been gentle, empathetic and he’s pretty easy going. When he first met his newborn cousin, he held him and whispered, “I got you. Shhhhhh, it’s okay. I got you.” And all of us burst into tears. He’s just a kind, loving soul.
Franklin is our second child. He defied so many odds when he was born. He was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, which a quick Google search will tell you the odds were never in his favor. My specific risk of having a baby with Trisomy 18, after looking at my age and such, was .003%. 72% of those babies don’t live past 13 weeks, either by miscarriage or termination. But my Franklin lived to 36 weeks, he was born alive and he lived for eight full days.
He lived when the medical community said he wouldn’t, he fought when they thought he couldn’t, and he left a scar on my heart that I never want to go away.
The very first time I met you, you actually talked about Franklin and I was so impressed by your openness in person, and also on your Instagram. Can you talk about deciding to share your experience?
When we got Franklin’s diagnosis, we did struggle with what we were going to do — whether we were going to announce it or not, and if we did, what our intentions were. Being faced with a situation like ours caused us to take a deep, hard look at how we use social media.
On the one hand, we’ve become accustomed to sharing so much that NOT sharing something as big as this would feel like living a lie and almost denying Franklin’s existence. On the other, would sharing about Franklin feel attention seeking? Are we doing it so people feel sorry for us? To use it for likes? We did end up sharing about him. For me, I shared about him on IG for a couple reasons.
I wanted his story to be told. I wanted him to live outside the four walls of my house. I wanted his memory to be wider spread than my circle of friends and family.
I also shared because I needed support. I needed a place to put my thoughts about him and work them out and have people tell me, “You’re doing great. You’re a great mother. He’s a strong boy. We love you. You got this.” And my community showed up.
I had complete strangers show me a level of generosity, kindness and love that still humbles me. One IG friend donated to a Trisomy 18 organization in Franklin’s name. Multiple IG friends sent me physical gifts in the mail. Dozens messaged me with stories of their own grief and loss, knowing that sometimes only someone who’s been in your place knows just what to say. I consider it an honor to have heard and be trusted with those stories.
Now, a year and a half later, sharing about him is less about needing support and more from the simple fact that he’s my son and a giant part of our lives, just like my other kids. When we got his diagnosis, the main thing I worried about was him being forgotten. I knew his life would be short and I didn’t want him to become something that was big for a while and then no one really talks about or acknowledges. That could very easily happen. If conversation leads to it, I’ll talk about him just as I would my other kids.
I don’t ever want to feel like I’m hiding him or embarrassed or ashamed to talk about him. I need to know that for my own heart’s sake.
When in your pregnancy did you receive Franklin’s diagnosis and how did that effect the rest of your pregnancy?
We got the first trimester blood results back probably around 14 weeks. They said, don’t worry, it’s probably a false positive. They sent us to have an NIPT (Non-Invasive Prenatal Test) done, which is a more specific blood test than the general first trimester blood test. Then those came back positive. We researched how often these tests can come back with a false positive, and still held onto hope that maybe, maybe we could defy the odds.
It wasn’t until we had an ultrasound that plainly showed his anomalies we realized there was no denying it — it showed his heart defect, his omphalocele (his intestines grew outside of his body), his bent wrists and strawberry-shaped head. We left that appointment with tear-streaked, swollen faces and tight chests and sick to our stomach. The rest of my pregnancy didn’t look much different.
We had to make impossible decisions during my pregnancy, the main one being: Do we choose interventions or not?
The medical community calls it choosing between peace and hope — peace being allowing your child to live comfortably for as long as their body lets them, usually hours, and letting them go in peace. Choosing hope means medical procedures, surgeries, medicines and interventions that give your child every chance at living a longer life, but one full of tubes and discomfort and a life out of your arms and in incubators.
It’s an impossible decision to make and I want to be clear — in no way do I have any judgement for mothers and fathers who choose peace, who choose hope, or who choose to terminate their pregnancy early on. All decisions are made with love for their child and there is no decision that feels good. They all feel like pits in your stomach and broken hearts.
You and your husband choose hope and after Franklin was born he lived for eight days. On your IG you share about those eight days with #8daysofgratitude. Can you talk more about that attitude in the midst of such deep pain and loss?
They say that the “firsts” are the hardest in the year after losing someone — the first Christmas without them, the first would-be birthday, the first anniversary of their death. And boy are they right. I dreaded his birthday and anniversary of his death.
We decided for his eight days of life, August 23rd to August 31st, we would go away just the three of us — me, my husband and Troy. We went somewhere quiet to reflect, enjoy each other’s company, and just remember him. #8daysofgratitude was my husband’s idea.
Instead of letting depression, heartbreak, and mourning completely take over that week, which it so easily can, he wanted some structure to force ourselves to find something to be grateful for each and every day.
In doing so we felt that honored Franklin’s memory in a way we felt good about. So every day we each found a moment separately to step aside, be still, think about him and find something to be grateful for.The first couple of days were easier for me — the obvious ones like Franklin, my husband, Troy, modern medicine — and then towards the end, it started to get hard.
I started to throw mental fits when I had to sit down to write these dumb posts because in reality I was so, so sad. I didn’t want to be grateful; I was upset that instead of holding my son in my arms I had to be writing about him and his life and his death. But like most hard things, I’m so glad we fought through and finished.
Eight Days of Gratitude is something our family will do every year and it may not always look the same, but it’s a tradition that will grow as our other kids do, and keep Franklin’s memory here with us instead of fading as the years go by.
How did you explain Franklin’s death to your son Troy, who was just a toddler at the time? And how does Troy think of Franklin now?
Troy was just over two when Franklin died so he didn’t comprehend much more of an explanation than, “Say goodbye to Franklin. He’s going bye-bye and we won’t see him again.” But that boy has continued to break my heart into a million pieces when he talks about his brother all this time later. He’s three and a half now and still — STILL — brings him up out of the blue. He was so young when he died I’m still baffled that he thinks about him on his own to be honest. I mean, I’m still having to remind him five times a day to wash his hands after he pees.
Even just recently we all sat down together at the table to eat dinner and Troy holds out his hands and says, “Let’s pray, guys.” We don’t actually pray with him that often so it struck us odd when he said that.
My husband asked him, “Troy, who taught you how to pray?” Troy looked at him matter of factly and said, “Franklin. Me and Franklin pray all the time.”
Then he just closed his eyes and bowed his head and meanwhile my husband and I stare at him dumbstruck. That moment still gives me chills when I think about it.
He’s just now starting to ask why Franklin isn’t here, and I thought my husband gave him a perfect answer, he said Franklin had a special body that only let him live for eight days. We have to be careful not to use the word “sick” because we don’t want him to think if one of us gets sick it means we are going away and are never coming back. We also don’t want him to be afraid of death. It takes a lot of thought to fully decide on how you’re going to present such a big life lesson to a three year old. We can only hope we’re doing it right.
Do you have any advice for other mothers who are healing after the loss of a child?
For mothers who are also healing: they say it’s a club no one ever wants to be a part of. First, there is no thought you could ever have that’s wrong. Try not to pile on guilt on top of any grief or pain you are already feeling. I guarantee every mother who has buried their child has had dark, selfish thoughts that they wouldn’t want to repeat to anyone. And that’s okay. It’s perfectly okay.
Second, time doesn’t heal, but it does change things.There will come a day when you get through the entire day without crying.
Then you’ll have new thoughts like I’m a terrible mother for not crying for my child, but we’ll take those new thoughts as they come. It won’t always feel this way.
Third, accept help. If someone wants to send you groceries or watch your other children or clean your house, let them. As a last point, support groups can be immensely helpful. It’s also okay if you don’t want to go. Try groups in person, try groups online, call a friend, journal, start a hobby, try anything — but just try. You can do it.
And how about advice for friends who want to be supportive but don’t know how?
To those friends who know someone grieving and don’t know what to do, I would encourage you to not take anything personally because I promise, it’s not you. Even if that friend is flat out yelling at you, it’s still not you. It’s the pain. It’s the grief.
Looking back, I can confidently say that doing something, even the wrong thing, is better than doing nothing.
I think you’d rather your friend look back and say, “I wish they had done something different” rather than “My friend didn’t even show up.”
Another piece of advice — I know every person who says this phrase means well and wants to help, but the phrase, “Please let me know what I can do to help” is actually not very helpful at all. Now it places the burden on the hurting friend to think of something for that person to do, overcome the guilt of asking for help, wondering if it’s too much to ask or attempting to coordinate it, and it becomes more stress than if you hadn’t offered to help at all.
I know it can be hard to guess what a person needs, but the basics are still there — send over takeout, have groceries delivered, offer to watch any other kids so the parents can have a quiet moment, send gift cards, send flowers, pay to have a house cleaner come. But I find it better to be specific instead of general. In a time where literally everything feels overwhelming, just having friends just take control was really nice for me.
If you’re looking for something nice to send, I really like what Laurel Box is doing. They’re a company who specializes in gifts for the grieving woman, and they’re so beautifully curated and thoughtful. I love what they stand for and highly recommend them.
After Franklin’s death, was there a point you and your husband knew you wanted to have another child?
I always knew I wanted to try again to have another baby. I just needed to know my body could have a healthy baby. I also didn’t want to end my child rearing journey on the death of a baby. Even though I always knew we would eventually try again — and I think my husband did too — we weren’t ready to talk about it for about a year. It was too painful to even talk about, and we needed to do some healing before we opened our hearts again to the idea. For us, the year mark was when the idea stopped taking our breath away quite as strongly, and we started to have more discussions towards adding to our family.
This time around you’re having a girl! Having only boys, how are feeling about adding a girl into the family?
Juniper is our baby girl due April 4th. Everything with her this pregnancy has been more than her brothers — more nausea, more food cravings, more movement and kicks in the belly. She’s going to be a little spitfire, I know it. I kind of love it and then also she makes me nervous, haha. Even though I mainly grew up with girls, I’ve been so accustomed to boy-land with super heroes and trains and Power Rangers that a girl feels so foreign to me. Pink? Princesses? Ruffles?
I’m so looking forward to the dynamic she adds and I can’t wait to see what a strong, confident woman she’ll become.
In preparing for a new baby, I imagine Franklin is on your mind a lot. How has that experience changed this pregnancy?
Oh man, this pregnancy has been night and day different. For one, I don’t take anything for granted. Nothing. With Troy, all the tests and screenings I assumed would be clear. They almost felt annoying to have to go through. But with Juniper, when we got our NIPT test back normal, I hung up the phone, sat on the couch and just burst into tears.
I had no idea how much stress my body had been carrying waiting for that test to come back. No longer do I assume any test to come back normal, any stage to be normal. Health is the number one thing we care about. This baby could have been a boy, girl, purple, spotted, 11 fingers — as long as it was healthy and not in pain.
I’ve also gone through stages where I feel guilty, like I’m moving on from Franklin, cheating on him by bringing in another baby into this family. But as my husband reminded me — we can’t live in sadness forever; we just can’t. It’s not fair to ourselves, it’s not fair to Troy, it’s not fair to Franklin’s memory.
We’re not replacing him. We’re not erasing him. We’re becoming a family of five and making him and Troy big brothers.
Another thing I learned about you early on is you’re an avid knitter! How long have you been knitting? And what attracted you to knitting?
I’ve been knitting for about 13 years now, ever since I graduated high school. I’ve always been an old, retired grandmother at heart and knitting is one of the hobbies that stuck. In the beginning I loved just making things with my hand and knitting proved to be everything I needed — tactile, portable, not a ton of supplies or parts.
But now as I’ve grown and evolved it represents so much more — it represents slow fashion, the spirit that lies within something that’s been crafted by hand, creating lasting and quality pieces in the best materials I can afford and a minimalist / less is more mentality.
I love the feeling and calm I get from working with natural materials, whether it’s the wool of the yarn or the metal or wood of my needles.
I love spending time thinking about color, stitch patterns, design, the softness of fibers. I’ve found an absolutely lovely knitting and fiber community on IG and I’m continuously inspired by everyone’s talents. It’s a place for me to get lost a couple moments a day and inject some inspiration into my day-to-day routine.
A few months ago you actually took a solo vacation to attend a knitting conference. Can you talk about that experience, and being away from your child for that long?
Am I a terrible person if I say it was amazing? HAHA. My husband sent me to Norway, a country I’ve always wanted to visit, for my 30th birthday. Franklin was actually born on my exact birthday, August 23rd, and my 30th birthday also would have been his first birthday. I had been dreading that day the entire year.
Turning 30 is hard anyway, but all I kept thinking about is — he should be here.
My husband gave me the airline tickets on the day of my birthday (ugly tears) and I planned the rest of my trip in the months that followed. The Oslo Knitting Festival was in October, and I used that as a jumping off point to plan my trip. I started off in Oslo, then took a train across the country to Bergen, which is a seaside fishing town that’s as picturesque as they come.
In the six months or so before my trip, I had been struggling with depression. It’s not something I normally struggle with, but I felt a general sadness most of the time. Even the smallest things gave me anxiety and I just felt so…incapable. But traveling is great at giving fresh perspectives and being able to navigate a foreign country by myself gave me a boost of confidence and made me feel capable again.
I don’t want to say that traveling cured my depression because I think that’s a dangerous statement, but exploring a foreign place by myself with total control of my time is something I desperately needed. I didn’t worry about Troy because I knew my husband was taking great care of him and I just focused on myself. If I wanted to sleep in, I did. If I wanted to spend three hours in a coffee shop, I did. If I wanted to travel all the way across town to go to a viking ship museum, I did.
I landed in Norway feeling nervous and self-conscious and anxious, and I left feeling empowered, fulfilled and ready to come back home to my people.
If you’re feeling stuck or in a rut, changing up your environment is the best thing you can do. It doesn’t have to be an international trip — even a part of town you’ve never been to or a hike up a local trail can breathe some fresh life into your blood.
What are knitting right now that is exciting to you?
When I was in Norway I started a Marius sweater, which is a very traditional Norwegian pattern that dates back hundreds of years. I still haven’t finished it but once I do it’ll always remind me of my time there.
Also knitting for Juniper has been therapeutic, moving my hands when my head and heart are antsy but have nowhere to go. It makes my heart beam to build up her handmade wardrobe and I can’t wait to wrap her in wool the second she’s born.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve found raising a family in Los Angeles? And also what is one of your favorite things?
We used to be cool and hip and happening and lived in a loft in Downtown for a couple years, but after a while we sold out for the driveway and a backyard in the ‘burbs. What can I say — carrying ALL your groceries and cutting off the circulation in your fingers while waiting for the elevator gets old after a while.
I do wish Troy had an opportunity and the space to just explore. Now, I’ve never lived anywhere like this, I’ve basically always lived in a suburb of some kind, but if what I see in movies and on vacation is accurate, then I imagine Troy being able to go off and explore on land — like real, dirt land without cement covering most surfaces. I wish he had access to a little more nature that wasn’t so curated.
However, one of my favorite things about living in Los Angeles is the exposure to different cultures, ethnicities and experiences he wouldn’t get living in a smaller town.
Everyone looks different than he does — his preschool is a beautiful blend — and he’s never questioned it. Maybe he’s too young to quite tell a difference, but something also tells me he’ll never really notice. Troy has also developed a taste for Thai food, dumplings, curry and a wide array of foods that I’ll attribute to having such easy access to. And to parents who can’t get enough stir fry.
Do you have any favorite places to take kids in LA?
The California Science Center is a great little gem — Troy is too young to really understand the science behind all of it, but it’s free to get in and if you take the Metro then you don’t have to pay for parking. Troy LOVES taking the train so it’s a perfect day excursion when I want to feel like a good parent and have a big day. There’s a touch tank with aquarium animals and tons of fun things to just let them explore.
But if I’m having a day when I absolutely need some space I head over to Giggles N Hugs indoor play place in Glendale (creepiest name but best place ever). It’s normally $12 per kid to get in, but Wednesdays are half-off days. They’re also a restaurant and serve organic entrees (like mac and cheese with pureed squash in the sauce — those suckers don’t even know they’re eating vegetables), lattes, beer, wine and desserts.
Also, what’s your favorite LA gem just for you? And date spot?
Fiore Market Cafe in South Pasadena is my favorite quaint little spot. They fresh bake their bread every day and it is soft and absolutely from heaven. I always get their roasted chicken sandwich and an oatmeal raisin cookie. My mouth is watering as I type this. They have tables outside and it’s just a perfect, quiet, quaint little garden environment to enjoy the SoCal sunshine and indulge in some comfort food.
As for a date place, Downtown will always have a soft spot in my heart.
Colori Kitchen is a hole-in-the-wall Italian place that looks underwhelming from the outside but secretly contains the most delicious Italian food inside. It tastes like food from actual Italy, like there’s some Italian grandmother in the kitchen cooking up her tried and true recipes. The menu is creative and fresh and you can bring your own bottle of wine. And for dessert the cheesecake is like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. Instead of dense and thick, it’s light and fluffy and they pour a raspberry sauce over it to complement the cream cheese — it’s a perfect treat to complete your meal.
Lastly, what’s the best piece of advice, or something you want to share, that’s really impacted the way you mother?
With the amount of sharing we do as mothers over social media these days, it can be SO easy and tempting to compare. But the fact of the matter is, you can’t do everything. We can’t all champion everything. I feel like people nowadays have certain things they feel very passionate about — cooking and eating organic, home organization, DIY projects, decorating the perfect home, shopping secondhand, budgeting perfectly, homeschooling, yoga. The list goes on.
My advice would be to always remind yourself that you can champion a couple things well, but we can’t all do it all.
It’s impossible and we’re going to wear ourselves out. If someone is really passionate about eating organically and meal planning, they probably aren’t also going to have a perfect capsule closet and all the patience for their homeschooled kids and a spotless, bohemian-inspired home.
This blog post from Wonderoak called Mom Guilt is a Liar sums it up superbly — I highly recommend this read. Let’s not take ourselves so seriously and know we all have something in common — we love our kids fiercely. The end.
Thank you so much Jessie for sharing on this motherhood interview! If you want to connect with Jessie and see more of her beautiful family and impressive knitting you can find her on IG @thebonvivant.