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The unexpected gifts that came along with my daughter’s special needs

You quickly put things in perspective and learn what really matters.

The unexpected gifts that came along with my daughter’s special needs

My fiery little light was born eight days after her due date, the exact same timing as her older brother.


Her entrance into this world was much like a Super Bowl half-time show—there was explosive excitement and the show ended nearly as quickly as it began. She made her swift appearance with purpose, intention and a fury of determination.

It’s a day that I’ll forever remember as a day filled with pride in my most instinctive natural abilities as a woman.

Two weeks later my daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF).

I’ll forever remember this as the worst day of my life, the day that my heart shattered and a small amount of joy crept from my innermost being.

The following weeks were filled with tears, doctor visits, specialists, battles with insurance over our move to a new state and more grief than any individual should ever be forced to bear. Not only was I a sleepless, hormonal mother trying to adjust to her second child, but we had moved 1,000 miles for a new job when my daughter was just 5 weeks old.

I don’t know how else to describe the emotional pain other than to say that it was suffocating and most days felt like more than I could handle.

I spent the first eight months of my daughter’s life frantically researching alternative therapies for CF. I knew almost nothing about it, but quickly accepted it as an incurable genetic disease severely impacting the lungs and pancreas. CF is a disease that requires an abnormally large investment of time in order to stay well, which required that we abruptly acclimate to our new norm of morning and night chest physical therapy, nebulized medications and a whole slew of supplements and herbs that are helping to support my daughter’s health.

Adjusting to life with a second child felt hard enough, but accepting this new reality was even harder.

At some point during the latter part of my daughter’s first year I was able to start talking about her disease without immediately bursting into tears. The open wounds weren’t feeling as tender and I was able to see my daughter as a vibrant being, not just a person with the limitations of disease. When your child is so young and you’re so overwhelmed by the intensity of their care it’s hard to view them in any capacity beyond needing your help. But, as she grew older, I got to know the energetic little human that has become my greatest inspiration in life.

I’m learning that the most tumultuous events in life also present the greatest gifts, a truth that a friend once called “the gifts from the darkness.”

Her hope was that as I grew accustomed to disease management that I would begin to see the most beautiful rainbow emanate out from the grey cloud that enveloped my family.

What can I say? There’s nothing like a life-shortening disease to teach you about gratitude for the things that matter most in life. Since having my daughter, my family has made some major changes.

We’ve adopted a minimalist approach to living in that we’ve gotten rid of most of the clutter that prevented us from engaging in activities that are truly meaningful.

Our diet was good, but not this good. I believe that basic self-care through diet, exercise, stress management,and sleep exist at the cornerstone of health for every individual, especially those suffering from disease. My commitment to this diet got me a book deal from a major publishing company last year.

My daughter just spent her second birthday admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics and all I could think about was how much my husband and I argued before her admission. I’m now stepping back from work to spend more time enjoying my family and nurturing the most important relationships in my life.

I have a new perspective on what’s important and my family is a top priority.

I exercise almost daily. Enhanced fitness will be hugely beneficial for my daughter, so I’m trying to set the bar that I hope she surpasses.

I could go on to tell you about the other numerous gifts such as faith, intuition and confidence that have emerged from this darkness, but I have to admit that when I take time to reflect on the improvements that had been made in my family’s life, I can’t help but think that it’s at the expense of my daughter.

I feel guilty that our gain is from her loss. Life just doesn’t feel fair.

Will my daughter grow to resent these gifts? Or will she learn to embrace the goodness that can come from such devastation? Only time will tell, but, for now, I’m going to continue to grow in my relationship with her and her disease in a healthy way that promotes strength, compassion, and gratitude. I’m going to mindfully push these thoughts of guilt out of my head, because the guilt perpetuates life in the darkness. I want to teach her to find inner strength from her disease, which means I also need to find strength from her disease.

As parents, we have to learn to set the example we hope our children follow. For me, in this chapter of life, it means embracing the gifts from the darkness and being thankful that life has taken this unexpected course.

It means choosing to live in the light, even when the darkness is nearby.

10 must-have registry items that will change your life, mama

The baby gear heavy hitters that should be top of your list

Calling all mamas-to-be! It's a fundamental truth of (impending) motherhood that your prepping-for-baby To Do list can feel a mile long, but really the best way to feel organized is to sort out the most important item at the top of your list: your registry. Sure the items you choose to include will end up running the gamut from nice-to-haves to absolutely essential game-changers, but mamas in the know quickly learn one thing: Not all baby gear is created equal.

So while you can and should pepper your registry with adorable inclusions that aren't necessarily can't-live-withouts (go ahead, add 'em!), you should make sure you're ticking the boxes on those pieces of baby gear that can be absolute life savers once you're in full-blown mama mode. From car seats to bouncers and playmats, your play and travel gear will be some of the most obvious important items on your list, but so can unexpected things, like a super comfy baby carrier and a snooze-inducing white noise machine. So to help you sort through the must-have options, we turned to the holy grail of motherhood that is buybuy BABY and handpicked 10 of the very best essential pieces that will change your life, we promise.

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9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.

$79

Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.

$30

Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.

$32

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.

$37

The Snoo bassinet

Snoo

Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!

$1295

Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

best baby sound machine

The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.

$59.99

Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!

$46.99

Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.

$259.00

Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.

$27.95

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

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