Saturday, August 31, 2013

Countdown to TTC: Week 48

Stair masters

Getting Fit:  Stairs!

Now that the first month of prep has passed and I have gotten myself into the right mindset and set the backdrop, it is time to get serious about getting healthy for a potential pregnancy in 11 months.  Over the last couple of years I've made significant improvements to the kinds of foods that are in my diet and have increased my physical activity substantially, but I could still benefit from fairly substantial weight loss and fitness training.  I am not obsessed with getting to a specific weight or strength level before I get pregnant, but the healthier I can be the better.  So my plan is to continue the good things I've been doing but also add on some additional strategies throughout the year to boost my wellness.  

Although I intend to slowly build up to new goals like target amounts of weekly strength training, it's important to me to begin with stuff I can stick with and add to throughout the remaining months.  I already boosted my water intake to try to meet the target 8 glasses a day (I am still struggling with that but tend to hover closer to 7 now, rather than 6), and this week I added another challenge that takes advantage of my natural environment and activities:  stairs.  Every time I have to go somewhere on a different floor, I am now challenging myself to walk up at least one flight, if not all of them.  

Why not commit to taking advantage of all the stairs I come across?  Admittedly, it is a combination of my lack of fitness and embarrassment.  One of the buildings I spend a lot of time in has 5 floors, and for my current fitness level it is a bit challenging to walk up more than 2 flights of stairs at once, so I think I'm more likely to stick with it if I say I at least have to do one floor and then just plan to add on if it's not too daunting.  Also, I get pretty winded after 2 or more flights and often other people I know will see me and talk to me in the stairwell.  I find it embarrassing to have this happen and then be unable to keep up talking because I am out of breath, so I will get off at a different floor just to avoid that situation.  Hopefully, once I commit to going up more stairs every day and week, I will have more endurance for climbing and won't have this motive to avoid stairs anymore.  

I started the challenge this week and already the first day I found myself cheating and using the elevator, although admittedly it was because I was carrying a bunch of things that I was at risk of dropping.  But I think it will be a good challenge to keep my mind set on the idea of fitness and a healthy lifestyle.  I also think it would be even more motivating if I could see exactly how many steps I'm adding to my day and how many more calories I'm burning, so I think sometime in the near future I will buy a simple pedometer to start taking with me (I'm considering the Omron HJ-112 Digital Pocket Pedometer, which gets very positive reviews).  A handy, inexpensive gadget seems like a good way to add a sense of accomplishment to what might otherwise be a fairly thankless process.  Although maybe just being able to walk up a couple flights of stairs without getting winded will be reward enough!

What about you?  What steps are you (or did you) take to get fit before pregnancy?  What do you wish you were doing (or had done) more of?  How do you stay motivated, especially if you aren't the type of person who easily loses weight or develops lean muscle?   

For more in this countdown series, see last week's challenge about Meeting Parents. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Countdown to TTC: Week 49

Celebrating with 101 Play Group and Bob the Builder

Meet Some Families in Your Community

 As a fairly young prospective parent and a graduate student whose peers are still fairly unsettled in terms of career and family, I have found it somewhat difficult to get to know people who are parents.  I suspect that most people naturally meet other parents when they are expecting a first child and continue to develop those relationships as their kids grow, but I think it could also be helpful to begin incorporating parents and children into my social network before I have baby #1.  With that end in mind, I incorporated two challenges into this week of my countdown.  

First, I agreed to babysit.  It can be difficult as a non-parent to mingle with families with kids because of the limited shared social opportunities that are available.  Since it doesn't seem like a great idea to be the creepy stranger who shows up at parks or kid's soccer games (for good reason), I realized the best way for me personally to meet parents around me is to serve them.  This can be especially easy if you are part of a church or a student--just put the word out there that you are available to help and you are likely to start getting requests.  This weekend, DH and I agreed to watch two kids for a family that we know from naptime to bedtime.  Admittedly, we have been babysitting for this family for a couple of years now so it wasn't a completely new item for my countdown, but lately I have started to look at these experiences as an opportunity to learn about and prepare for future parenting situations.  If you decide to try this too in your prep for TTC, bonus points if you can get your significant other to go with you.  It is always great for me to see DH interacting with children and imagine what a wonderful father he will be.  Babysitting can have the added benefit of reminding you to appreciate your current life stage.  The kids are adorable and fun, of course, but it's a good reminder of how much work it is to care for little ones full time. 

Of course, not everyone has opportunities to babysit and some people may worry that they aren't prepared to care for someone else's children because of their lack of experience.   If that describes you, it may be especially beneficial for you to seek out some parents for your social network and there are other ways to connect with them besides child care.  My second challenge for the week meets those criteria: in addition to babysitting, I decided to volunteer for the meals ministry at my church.  This group provides a service to new parents and others in our congregation who are currently in need of some extra help getting meals together for their family.  It's a new experience for me and the first informational meeting hasn't happened yet, but I'm sure I will feel good meeting others' immediate needs and may even have a chance to develop friendship with some of the families.  There will probably be plenty of opportunities to offer help and to listen in addition to just dropping off food.  Plus, I will be getting a chance to contribute to a service I plan to use in the future and will be inspired to start perfecting some healthy family recipes.

Here are the benefits (as I see them) of getting to know some families before you have kids:
  1.  Becoming a first-time parent can be stressful and it is nice to know you have some experienced guides to support you.
  2. Pregnancy and the early parenting days might be at least slightly less intimidating when you know what to expect and have some clue what you're doing.  You might never be totally prepared, but interacting with and observing other kids can definitely provide some perspective and confidence.
  3. Helping out parents in whatever way you can is a good way to figure out what kinds of help might be available to you when you become a parent.  New parents can miss out on valuable community resources if they don't know about them or aren't sure how to request assistance.
  4. Pregnancy isn't the best time to completely overhaul your social network.  You want to have support from people you know and have build lasting relationships with when you are starting a family.  Incorporating some parents into your group of friends before it's a practical necessity might not totally solve this problem, but could help you get used to balancing friendships with people at different life stages.  It might also help you figure out how to plan activities that friends with and without kids both enjoy, so you don't drift away from your non-parent friends after having a baby.  
  5. It never hurts to help someone out!  Even if you don't become best buddies with any of the families you meet, you'll have made some new acquaintances, established some goodwill, and made a positive difference in your community. 
What about you?  Do you know a lot of parents, or did you before you had your first child?  Do you think there are any benefits?  Do you struggle with maintaining friendships with people who are in a different stage of life?  How can people maintain a thriving social network regardless of their current marital or parental status?     

For more in this countdown series, see last week's challenge about Saving.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Countdown to TTC: Week 50

Piggy Bank

Saving Up for the Baby Circus

Even the most frugal parents find that a new baby--especially a first child--comes with a lot of swag.  I refer to all the accoutrement that accompany each tiny bundle, as well as the hilarious show that is often put on by parents attempting to juggle all of these objects, as the Baby Circus.  Each little prince or princess requires a substantial up-front investment in terms of furnishings and supplies, as well as a lifetime of age-appropriate updates and upgrades.  Must-haves include a place to sleep (possibly 2 if you want to keep LO close to but not in the parental bed for some amount of time), a car seat, diapers (disposable or cloth), and clothes.  These are just the bare minimums and by themselves can add up to an investment in the hundreds (with good deal hunting) or considerably more.  Then there are some of those nice "luxury" items like a stroller, toys, breast pump, bottles, high chair, swing, etc., etc.  I don't feel that buying all of these items will make one's child happier or more well-adjusted, but they certainly seem like they would make life with an infant a bit more convenient and manageable (at least until you are so overwhelmed with objects that you have a hard time remember it's all about having a happy, well-loved child).  

Just thinking about all of the supplies needed for the great Baby Circus makes my cash hoarding instincts kick in.  Since I have the benefit of a full year to prepare for trying to conceive, I figured now was a good time to start preparing financially for having my own darling money pit, while researching sensible ways to save and cut back too.  Step one of my plan is modifying the monthly budget to incorporate a small savings each month for future conception, pregnancy, and baby expenses.  In addition to my various other savings stashes (#1 of which is saving monthly for a down payment for a future home purchase), I have now added to the monthly budget a $25 savings for pregnancy and baby.  When I have more left over each month, I save more and distribute it across my different savings categories.  It may not be a huge amount, but now I know that by the end of this year of waiting I will have at least $300 saved that is ready to be dedicated only to baby-related expenses.  If nothing else, that's at least a good amount to get started amassing a cloth diaper stash. 

I want to mention here that if DH and I didn't already have a monthly budget, I would have put that as step number one and would instead have spent this week taking action to get a financial plan in place for us (or at least to buy some books about it).  After going through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University a few years ago and then taking a class at the local university on financial management (many community colleges and schools of continuing education offer such courses for $100-$200 dollars), I began tracking our monthly expenses and also deliberately saving for specific purposes.  We don't follow a strict system or cut off our expenses in a certain category each month because we are over budget, but I do like to stay aware of our money and feel like it is working for me and not the other way around.  At the start of the year I make a tentative budget outline (in Excel) and then after a couple months of expenses I download all our banking activity and fill in a monthly spreadsheet of our income and costs (lately I have been using the free trial version of Microsoft Money, but there are many fancier options if you are willing to pay an up-front cost for the software).

My second step for this week's theme has been to establish a designated cash envelope for future baby expenses.  This is a more opportunistic savings vehicle.  Whenever someone pays me back for something in cash or I get paid for babysitting (another activity I highly recommend as part of your preconception prep), I will stash it away in this envelope.  I'm sure some money will inevitably flow out of this fund when it turns out we actually needed some of the cash we stashed in it, but I think over the course of a year there will be a definite net gain.  Then this on-hand cash will be great for all those baby bargains I can't wait to buy--good-condition used baby supplies and clothes at consignment shops, Goodwill, and on Craigslist.

What about you?  How much do you think is a good idea to save before getting pregnant?  Are there any important expenses I'm forgetting about?  Do you have any tips for saving money on pregnancy and baby stuff?

Update:  After a great discussion on Baby Center about saving up for baby, I thought I had better mention an alternative baby savings plan that could be great for some people.  It's called the 52 Week Money Challenge and it involves putting away a different dollar amount each week that corresponds to the current week number in your countdown.  That is, week one you save one dollar, week two you save two dollars, etc. up until week 52 when you put away 52 dollars.  It sounds really manageable because the amounts aren't individually large, but by the end you save almost $1400 dollars!  This especially sounds like a good plan for reluctant savers who benefit from seeing their stash growing over time, which motivates additional saving.  Given my preference for having a set budget, though, I think saving a set dollar amount each month is personally more my style.  

For more in this countdown series, see last week's challenge about Hydration.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Countdown to TTC: Week 51

Hydrate Like a Pregnant Lady

Last week I prepared for conception (now in the not-so-distant future) by getting ready spiritually.  While I am continuing to read and pray, I also wanted to start doing something to get my body ready for the process.  I'm always hearing that the most physically demanding thing most women ever do is go through pregnancy and childbirth, and I definitely wouldn't say I'm in the best shape for such a marathon right now.  I have been on a journey for some time to eat healthier and get fit, but the actual weight loss and muscle gain associated with those changes have been minimal.  Now that I have a target date and a specific fitness challenge to prepare for, I am hoping to make some slow but positive change in the next 51 weeks.  When I go to the doctor for a preconception checkup, I want to be able to report that I've been doing everything I can to prepare for a healthy pregnancy.  

However, overhauling my life all at once seems like a stressful way to approach the situation.  I am starting early, so why not take things a step at a time, starting with something easy?  

The first "easy" task that came to mind was hydration.  It's simple, it's easily measurable, and it's important.  Plus, fluid intake needs increase significantly during pregnancy and low amniotic fluid is a common reason for term inductions.  I recently saw several episodes of A Baby Story and Baby's First Day on TLC in which women were induced at term for low amniotic fluid--a situation I'd like to avoid.  Admittedly, these inductions may not be necessary (see this great article on Science & Sensibility on the topic for more info), but it's also possible to reduce the risk of getting a diagnosis of low amniotic fluid in the first place by staying well-hydrated.  But apparently staying well-hydrated at term means drinking 2.5 liters (that's nearly 11 cups) of water per day!  So getting used to drinking plenty of water before getting pregnant seemed like a good idea.

Following that thought process, I set a goal for this week of drinking 8 glasses (64 oz) of water a day.  I am already a SparkPeople member, so tracking my water intake is as simple as clicking on an arrow each time I finish another cup.  Unfortunately, it turns out actually drinking that much water isn't as easy as I thought it would be.

I'm currently only on day 3 of this challenge, and so far I haven't met my goal.  Turns out I like to drink 5-6 glasses a day and anything more than that feels unpleasant.  It's not my ideal to have to pee every 30 minutes for half of the evening either (because I am trying to make up for not drinking during the day).  I'm sure I used to drink a lot more without issue at one time, but I have gotten into bad habits in the years since I went off to college and no longer had a ready supply of cool, filtered water and ice.  But I think by the end of the week I'll have achieved my 8 glasses a day and figured out some strategies to make it less challenging.  And I guess eventually one's body must become used to the better hydration and keep some of it in longer!  Here's what I've tried so far:

  1. Buy a water bottle that keeps liquid cold for a long time and doesn't sweat.  I decided to go with the Trudeau Cool Off 24-Ounce Hydration Bottle because it is fairly affordable, has air insulation that prevents sweating, includes a straw so it doesn't spill all over you when you drink out of it but can still be closed, and comes in a cute pink color.  I drink a lot more using this than I do with smaller bottles, even though it is a bit large for carrying around.  And the fact that the water stays cold really helps. 
  2. Figure out a good way to track your intake.  You think you will know how much you are drinking, but I found that method leads to extreme overestimation on my part.  The water bottle I got holds exactly 3 cups of liquid, so that way I know if I drink all of it and fill it 3 times during the day, I have exceeded my goal.  I also recommend using a ticker or counter throughout the day so you don't start fudging the numbers come evening.  As I said earlier, I like the one on the SparkPeople nutrition tracker.
  3. Distribute your consumption throughout the day!  This is my main problem--I think I am drinking at work but I get distracted and then realize I have only had one cup of water in 5 hours.  If you are then determined to make up for it the rest of the day, you will find yourself in the same bladder-busting situation I did.  

What about you?  Do you have any suggestions on how to drink more water?  Any pregnancy stories about hydration?   What do you think I should do in the next 50 weeks to prepare for conception?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Countdown to TTC: 52 Weeks of Preparation

Week 52:  Pray Like a Mom

I am still planning to post the remainder of my Countdown to TTC Checklists, but a more pressing issue has inspired me to start writing another series.  DH and I are finally ready to start trying to year from now!  Although we've always wanted a family and just celebrated our 3-year wedding anniversary, the timing just hasn't been right.  We are both graduate students on an uncertain completion timeline.  But it looks almost definite that DH will be finished within the next 2 years (maybe in only a year) and I am confident I can wrap up by then as well if I have a sufficient incentive (like a massive baby belly and a fierce desire to stay home with my newborn). That means a TTC start date one year from now would allow us to get pregnant no sooner than both of us should be wrapping up our studies--and because of the academic job market we would already know about DH's job by then too.  On the other hand, we are well aware that things don't always work out like we plan and we want to trust God for His timing, so we are approaching this decision prayerfully.

By now it is probably clear that I like to approach challenges with organization and thoughtful preparation, and this one is no different.  I downloaded my countdown clock which is ticking away in the corner of my computer right now (check out TimeLeft if you want to start your own -- the first countdown is free)  and now I am ready to start preparing for whatever God and my body have in store.

At first I struggled with what to do my first week, since it would set the tone for the rest of the year.  Should I do something easy, to smooth the way and make me feel capable of seeing through the other 51 weeks?  Should I go with something health-related since one of my biggest goals is preparing for a healthy pregnancy with minimal complications?  Then I realized that of course the first thing I should do, really any time I am preparing for such a big life change, is pray!  I want these habits I take on each week to extend throughout TTC and pregnancy, and being prayerful and connected with God should be first and foremost among those.  Everything about becoming a parent can be scary and stressful, but if I am getting my strength from my Creator, the one who formed me in the womb, I know I will have peace and assurance throughout the process.

So, this week I combed the Old and New Testaments for verses about conception, birth, parenthood, children, and God's sovereignty over them all.  I am planning to read at least one verse every day for the next year and meditate on it, as well as praying for God's guidance.  Below are some of the verses I found that most spoke to me: 

God, the Creator:  As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.  --Ecclesiastes 11:5 

God's Timing:  Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will help you. Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act.  --Psalms 37:5,7 

Infertility:   He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord.  --Psalms 113:9 

Preconception Health:  And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”  --Judges 13: 3-7 

In the Womb:  For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  --Psalms 139:13-16 

Childbirth:  A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; But as soon as she has given birth, she no longer remembers the anguish, For joy that a child has been born into the world.  --John 16:21 

Parental Instruction: Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  --Deuteronomy 11:18-19


What about you?  Do you have any favorite inspirational words for prospective mommies and daddies?  What are you or did you do as you counted down to trying to conceive?  What do you think I should do in the next 51 weeks?