All posts by blogabbie

The Ultimate Amazon Gift Guide for Kids (2019)

Hello!

I can’t BE-LIEVE how long it’s been since I’ve pressed publish on a post here (seriously, if you don’t already follow me on Instagram, and you give even the slightest bit of flip about keeping up with M is for Mama, head over there…it’s my “blog” at the moment).

And honestly, I briefly considered letting this year slide without doing an Amazon gift guide (in case you missed it or need a refresher, you can see last year’s here). But I’ve already been asked multiple times if I’m doing it this year, and, once I got going, I was finding all kinds of cool stuff to share. So! Here I am.

And here you are!

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If you buy even one thing from this list for any child in your life, make it this one:

Every single one of my children (including Shiloh, even though he’s not actually allowed to play with them) LOVE these. They all make elaborate creations with them and have even been known to sport silly brain flake crowns. And when their friends come over? Yep. They love them too!

Oh, and here’s a version with a lot more pieces.

Another favorite around here are these magnetic shapes, which are a much cheaper alternative to name-brand Magnatiles.

These wooden magnetic shapes are a lot of fun too.

Basically, one week earlier this fall, when Theo and Honor were, shall we say, demonstrating their need for distraction during homeschooling hours, I hopped on Amazon and started ordering sensory + stem toys (hence the tiles and brain flakes above).

My brief binge of all things little boy distracting was rounded out by a bit of kinetic sand.

Yes, it’s messy, but I dump it in large plastic bins and let the kids more or less go to town, and it keeps them happy for quite a while. And you know what they say: when the 2-year-old’s happy, Mama’s happy. Or…something like that.

The next several items all fall into the “wood toys that look way prettier than their loud plastic counterparts” category, but that’s a rather unwieldy title, so let’s skip the categorization and head straight to the toys.

I can see Honor playing with this for a good long while.

And Shiloh’s a fan of these:

And this:

And I’m genuinely considering these for Honor who has a typical little boy’s obsession with all things that go vroom.

I don’t think he’d complain too much about this cute wooden bus situation either.

This stick horse is another little boy-pleaser. We’ve had several versions of these over the years, and while I can vouch for the fact that the sound effects don’t last long (and the batteries can’t be changed), I can also vouch for the fact that that will be juuuuuuust fine with  all the mamas.

This brightly colored stacking rainbow is a fraction of the cost of the name-brand version. It may not be “heirloom” quality, but I can vouch for the fun pop of color plus open-ended play it provides.

For the babies in your life…

These adorable neckerchief bibs are such a fun alternative to conventional versions.

And I have this exact set of muslin blanket and can attest to their extreme softness after a few washes. I use them for nursing covers, and all of my babies have preferred them as their sleeping blankets. They make a fantastic gift!

Another fun baby item are these fringed Minnetonka moccasins.

And for the little girls in your life…I had these on my list last year, but this year’s patterns might be even cuter!

Oh! And these velvet bows are adorable and affordable. I just got some for my girls for family pictures, and they are great quality!

Speaking of velvet, this super-plush stuffed peacock comes in multiple sizes and color schemes and has an Anthropologiesque vibe.

Oh, and to keep the girl gifts coming, these nail art pens have surprisingly good reviews (although it sounds like it’s best for ages 10 and up or with close adult supervision).

Another fun one for girl tweens are these washable “hair markers.”

I don’t know if your kids are anything like mine, but I’m guessing a love of carrying things is pretty universal because all 7 of mine who can express such a preference have been allll about that “pack-pack” life. Skip Hop makes a version for little kids with cute animals/shapes and great reviews!

Speaking of carrying things…I kind of want one of these adorable crossbody bags in my size.

My kids looooooove craft supplies, which means they would be ecstatic to get this Crayola craft kit.

Kids (at least mine) aren’t the best at putting things back perfectly in those awesome craft cases they come in, which makes this cute little art caddy a nice companion to all of those shiny new art supplies.

Another favorite around here: Bananagrams! Even the twins (who are seven) play, so it makes for a great family activity.

You might have noticed a particular demographic that I’ve neglected on this list and that is the tween boy (I’m not even trying very hard to hit the teen+ demographic here). I happen to have a couple of those, and, while I know every kid is different (Ezra and Simon are polar opposites in some ways), both of my boys would love to get a pair of these (extremely well-reviewed!) binoculars. (Of course, so would my 4-year-old).

They would also really dig these fingerless camo gloves as rad accessories for their chilly, epic Airsoft battles.

I could keep going, but I’ll leave it right here. I sincerely hope this helps you knock out a couple of gifts for some kiddos on your list. I’ll be back very soon with my Under $20 for Women post.

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Shiloh’s Birth Story (Part 2)

Sorry to leave you guys hanging for so long. As I’m sure you can imagine, things are a bit on the busy side around here, but you have waited long enough for part 2 of this crazy birth tale, so here goes…

(Side note: my midwife told me at Shiloh’s 2 week checkup today that I needed to hurry up with the 2nd part of this whole shindig, and I said, “Why? You were THERE!” :) To which she replied, “Yes, but I still love reading them.” Now, THAT is a born midwife!)

So, where were we?

Oh, yeah. That pesky bio-physical 42 week sonogram. The entire time the sono technician was doing the exam, I was basically staring blankly at the wall in a semi-catatonic state. I’ve had several sonograms with this guy, and he’s a super pleasant, chatty, funny fella. Usually, Shaun and I banter with him, but I just didn’t have it in me at the time.

I had put on the exact same outfit that I wore to our movie date the night before–down to the same earrings I wore–not because I felt like dressing up (quite the opposite) but because it required zero mental energy. So, while I looked fairly normal–probably a little too dressed up, given the circumstances–I felt anything BUT normal.

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{This was my date night/birth outfit…definitely the fanciest thing I’ve ever worn to labor in}

Thankfully, the sonogram didn’t reveal anything alarming. Yes, my placenta was starting to calcify, as 42 + week placentas are wont to do, and my amniotic fluid was a tad low (again, typical for “overdue”) but nothing that would require me to give birth immediately. I would say I was relieved, but I think “numb” was a little more accurate.

Once the sonogram was over, my midwife asked me to tell her how I was feeling.

My answer? “Trapped.”

I didn’t feel physically capable of doing childbirth, but I still wanted it done because I couldn’t imagine staying up all night again with contractions that did nothing. I just couldn’t seem to figure out how to make that happen.

AND, as had been the norm for the last two days, I felt like an elephant named Anxiety was sitting on my chest.

Melena proceeded to do what she does best–listen, assess, commiserate, and suggest something practical.

In this case, that something practical was a homeopathic tincture called Rescue Remedy. It’s supposed to help with stress and anxiety. I had no idea if it would work, but I was willing to try just about anything new at that point.

Within a few minutes of taking the tincture, I had a hard contraction. Not that I cared. I’d had plenty of those over the past week plus. So, I basically just ignored it. Melena told me we needed to talk about logistics for the next several hours and days. She had scheduled a shift (she’s a nurse as well as a midwife) for that Thursday and told me that, if I didn’t have Shiloh by Thursday morning, I wouldn’t be getting her as my midwife. The prospect made me sad, but I still wasn’t processing anything normally, so I don’t think the information completely registered. Somewhere during this conversation, I had another contraction. These were the two single closest together contractions I’d had since they started over a week before. But I still wasn’t feeling hopeful.

was, however, feeling a little better. The Anxiety elephant had lost a few pounds, and my chest didn’t feel nearly as smothered. It wasn’t much, but it was still an improvement. It appeared the tincture might be working.

Of course, then Melena suggested my taking something to help me sleep and going home to try to rest. My response to that was viscerally negative. I couldn’t imagine lying down again in my quiet house and trying to go into labor.

I told her as much, and she asked me if I was sure that I wanted this baby to be a home birth. That stopped me short. Well, that and another contraction–the 3rd in 15 minutes. I told her that I didn’t want a hospital birth if I could avoid it but that I didn’t know if I could avoid it if I kept on like I was. Melena told me she wasn’t worried about a home birth–just wanted to make sure it was still my desire–and then asked if I wanted to know how dilated I was.

I sort of didn’t, but I said yes anyway. I told myself that I would be happy with any progress, but I was really hoping I was at least a 4. Turns out, that’s exactly what I was. Huge sigh of relief.

When Melena left the room to check on something, Shaun told me that he had every confidence that, even though I didn’t feel like I had the energy to do labor, the Lord would give me what I needed when the time came.

By this point, I didn’t feel nearly as physically depleted or stressed as I had even half an hour earlier, and I said something like, “I know he will. But I feel like, if I could just do something completely different–something that would shock my mind out of this rut of hopelessness that it’s in–my energy would come back.” I wondered if I should call up some girlfriends to go to dinner, or…something. I still didn’t have an appetite, though, and, the prospect of dinner with friends while contracting wasn’t super-appealing.

At that point, Melena came back, and I had yet another contraction. She beamed at me and said, “You know…you could just stay here and have a baby if you want.”

YOU GUYS.

It was such a light bulb moment. In that instant, it occurred to me that I didn’t want to go home. THIS was the something different that I needed to get out of my funk. My energy levels and excitement started to rise.

I stared at her for a second. “Wait…are you serious?”

“Sure!” she said, still smiling. “Why not? Let’s go upstairs so you can see the birthing room.”

I followed her upstairs and took a brief “tour” of the birth room…something I had never done since all of my midwife births have been at home. It was just like the rest of Melena’s lovely practice: homey and welcoming, with pops of color and rad mid-century modern furniture. I felt immediately at ease. Anxiety, the elephant, had shrunk down to the size of a mouse and scampered away. And he didn’t come back again.

Just as if they’d been planning to do this all along, Melena and her awesome birth assistant, Rachel (who–believe it or not–had followed my blog for years before we ever met and had been pregnant with me at the same time as both Honor and Theo) settled into chairs in the birth center and proceeded to chat with me in the most relaxed fashion, while I continued to contract steadily.

It felt like we were just three girlfriends (plus Shaun) hanging out…with a side of labor pains.

Between contractions, Rachel ran me through a series of Spinning Babies positions (inversions + stretches to help get the baby in optimal position), and, at some point, Shaun left to grab a pizza. He’s always such a steady source of support and encouragement during my entire labors, no matter how long they are. But man cannot live on Lara bars and Clementines alone (all I had been able to choke down all day), so he was definitely in need of some more substantial sustenance.

By the time he came back, I’d been contracting regularly for a good three hours, since that first one after the sonogram. The contractions still weren’t much closer together, but they were getting stronger, and at least they hadn’t stopped.

Until they did. Whomp, whomp.

Okay, so that’s not completely accurate. But at some point, they started coming  fewer and farther between, and I started getting a little worried. I wasn’t anxious, exactly, but I did start feeling a little silly sitting around chatting, waiting for a contraction every 10 minutes. I despise inconveniencing people. Pretty much to a fault. And for the hour that my contractions slowed down, I felt very much like I was holding my midwives hostage, which made me antsy.

Of course, then Melena reminded me that a) this is normal for my slow body and b) she was there doing what she was paid to do, so I had no need to feel like a mooch. Duh. It’s amazing how much our hormones can obscure some pretty obvious facts when they’re out of whack.

After a few more spread apart contractions, I knew what I would have to do to get them going again, so, as much as I dreaded it, I forced myself to climb in the bed, lie flat on my back, with my legs butterflied out, just like I had in the wee hours of the morning for three hours, and just breeeeeeathe the contractions down.

A note about this position: the general response to lying flat on one’s back and contracting is one of horror and disbelief. “What?? You labor on your back?! Why would you do that? Don’t you know that’s the most painful position in the world? And the most unnatural? Why wouldn’t you let gravity do its job???”

But here’s the thing: after 7 labors, I have discovered something about my body. I can spend the vast majority of my labor marching and squatting and swaying and such. And I do. Every time. I definitely let gravity do the majority of the hard work. And I’m not afraid to get in positions that really make those contractions effective. Or at least I’m not anymore (it took a few labors to get rid of that fear).

HOWEVER. There comes a certain point in every labor in which I am not making as much progress as I should because I have gotten a little too good at controlling the pain. And lying on my back forces me (now that I’ve learned how) to relax every muscle in my lower body and just let the contractions do their job.
Is it fun? Nope. Not at all. It’s very vulnerable and unpleasant in many ways. But can I tell that it’s working? Yup. Every time. And when you have long labors like mine, you learn to embrace the contractions that get you the baby just a bit faster.
So! I stayed there and focused on breathing the baby down and mentally turning all of my lower muscles into Jell-o for a good (bad!) 2 and 1/2 hours. As the contractions increased in intensity and duration (at the end of this session, they were almost 2 minutes long), Shaun lay beside me on the bed, occasionally squeezing my hand when my breathing got really labored but mostly just being there, which I love.
I kept telling myself I could make it another 30 minutes, until, finally, I decided that 11 PM was my limit. I would ask my midwives to fill the birthing tub then.
The best part about all of this? In between contractions, my mind was completely free of worry and exhaustion. I felt so present, and even though the contractions hurt like the Dickens, they weren’t overwhelming me. This felt like such a gift after days of fighting mental overwhelm.
My midwives had been downstairs, giving me space, during the majority of this whole contracting-on-the-bed business, except to come up and regularly check my vitals and Shiloh’s heart tones. But when I asked for the pool to be filled, Melena offered to check me for progress. I knew I’d made some but was thrilled when she announced that I was almost an 8.
It ended up taking about an hour for the birth pool to fill up because someone had lowered the thermostat on the water heater without Melena’s knowing it, and we ran out of hot water about halfway through. So, I walked around contracting and squatting through some pretty intense pains…still feeling very self-contained and calm in between each one.
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(So calm. So self-contained. So ridiculous in my improvised birth “toga”)
With every labor except one (Honor’s, which was really intense for the last section, thanks to the fact that my water was broken), each time I’ve attempted to labor in the water, it has killed my contractions. I was hoping that trend wouldn’t continue this time.
And it didn’t.
When I first got in the tub, it seemed like maybe my contractions had indeed been scared away, since I didn’t have another one for a good 7 minutes. But then, they started/kept coming…albeit more spread out.
So spread out, in fact, that, for the four hours that I stayed in that tub, they never came closer than 5 minutes apart.
You better believe it was a nice break after hours of constant contracting. But it was also a bit frustrating.
Just in case you’ve never labored in water, it does an amazing job of alleviating pressure and the pull of gravity, while still producing effective contractions.
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Except. (Why is there pretty much always an “except” in my labors??).
Except, I basically spent those four hours feeling like I was fighting to push against…not much. My contractions had shortened and were gone before I could really get some good traction for pushing. It was also hard to tell whether my body was pushing on its own. It was definitely bearing down a lot in the sort-of-sitting-sort-of-reclining position I was in. I would even feel a good deal of bulging/burning with each contraction. But they never lasted long enough to actually engage his head enough to get him out. With each half hour that passed, the contractions increased in intensity…as did my exhaustion. Not so much physical. I still felt fine. But I was getting sleepy, yo.
So was everybody else. At one point, Melena had me get out of the tub to pee, and I experienced the dreaded “toilet contraction” (the world’s most vulnerable position other than lying flat on your back). It was pretty terrible. But I discovered something rather disappointing. His head still wasn’t engaged enough to trigger that automatic pushing urge.
I got back in the tub, thinking that surely it would eventually intensify enough to pull the trigger. But that sleepiness was a very real thing at this point, and I was nodding off in between contractions. During one of those drowsy moments, we were all suddenly jerked back to consciousness by a loud WHAM!!
Turns out my sweet, devoted, stays-up-all-night-while-I-labor husband had fallen dead asleep on his perch on a stool behind me and fallen back, slamming his head against the wall.
Don’t worry, he was fine. But it was quite the jolt of adrenaline (and humor) for all of us. 
Once I was fully awake again (thanks, babe), I was just ready to get the show back on the road. I didn’t know whether I was fully dilated, but I was guessing so, and I knew that, as hard as the contractions were in the tub, they were going to be even nastier out of it, which would finish the dilation double-quick if necessary.
I gave myself a deadline of 4 AM to get out of the tub, but my midwife sent me to pee once again around 3:45. I didn’t have a contraction immediately like I had before, but I forced myself to wait for one, leaning my head against the wall and just surviving it as it came. Even so, I still didn’t experience that big shift I was waiting for.
I walked around through a few more brutal contractions, and then Melena suggested that I try a hands and knees position with the birthing ball under my chest. I honestly didn’t want to. I’ve labored on hands and knees before, and I don’t love it.
But I make it a policy to at least try whatever position my midwife suggests because I trust her.
I positioned myself on the birthing ball and felt a contraction start. I could tell it was going to be a doozy and fought everything in my brain that screamed, “Tense up! Control it!!!”
Y’all.  That was the single most painful and effective contraction of the entire labor. I felt the baby literally descend like a stick shift being moved into gear. The sound effect in my brain as I type this sentence is Ker-KLUNK.
It was NO fun, and, as much as I felt completely trapped in that position, since I could practically feel him crowning, I also wasn’t looking forward to doing another one of those.
Thankfully, that huge shift was the worst of it. Melena, midwife that she is, was euphoric, saying things like: “Now, that was a good contraction,” and, “Hey, look at that! You’re finally making noise!” (She likes to tease me that she has a hard time telling how bad my contractions really are because I don’t vocalize much, but there was definitely some panting/gasping/whimpering going on here).
The next 20 minutes or so was pushing with each contraction that came (they still weren’t on top of each other; more like 2-3 minutes apart), but the contractions were frustratingly short. I kept running out of contraction before I was done pushing. Each time, Melena would tell me to stop pushing if I didn’t still have a contraction (because I tend to try to muscle it through if possible). But after he had descended and then regressed several times, I gave the biggest push yet through a strong contraction and felt him crowning. The contraction waned, but I heard Melena ask me to keep going. Her voice was calm, but I knew that if she was encouraging me to push without a contraction, something was up.
I would love to say that he just slid out, but, instead, I fought for several long moments, breath held, chin to chest, eyes squeezed tight as I felt him emerge bit by bit (such an excruciatingly strange sensation). Throughout it all, I could hear Melena gently encouraging me to keep going, and Shaun, whose hands I was gripping in a death-vice saying, “He’s almost here! You’re almost done! You’re doing so great!” (Whoa. I just unexpectedly teared up remembering that part…hence why I take the time to write all of this down in ridiculous detail).
Finally, he was out at 4:17 AM, and Melena handed him to me, producing this moment, which I’m so glad I have captured forever.
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{Best. Feeling. Ever}
Is there ANY better feeling in the world than holding your baby for the first time? I think not. Of course, realizing that means you’re not pregnant anymore is a close second…for me, at least.
When I asked Melena what was going on at the very end there, she said that Shiloh’s heart rate had dropped dramatically, and I really needed to get him out. As scary as that was to hear, I was grateful for having been able to have an entirely uneventful labor (assuming we ignore all of the lead-up stuff) up until those last few minutes.
And I was even more grateful that the Lord hadn’t answered my prayers to get the labor going before I got to the birth center because I couldn’t have imagined a better place to have this baby.
Of course, even though I was still wearing the earrings that I’d arrived in a good 13 hours before (because I was a wee bit too focused on getting a baby out to remember to take them out), I didn’t have any other clothes–either for me or for Shiloh. We didn’t even have diapers or a car seat or anything. So, after literally hand-feeding me the last two pieces of leftover pizza (which tasted HEAVENLY) and having some bonding time with his 5th (!) son, Shaun drove home–dead tired, poor man–and got a few necessary things, so we could head home for good.
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{I am always amazed at how much better I feel immediately after birth…shaky, yes, but it’s night and day}
To say that I’ll never forget this birth is a bit of an understatement. The whole experience stretched me in so many ways (many of them literal #ringoffire), but I’m so grateful for how the Lord orchestrated each detail–even the ones that I didn’t love at the time.
Only he knows whether he’ll bless us with anymore kids, but I know that, if he does, I’ll be rereading this story as a testament of his faithfulness in the smallest (and largest) of circumstances.
Anybody else ever “accidentally” given birth somewhere they hadn’t planned on? Were you wearing earrings? ;) I’d love to hear your story!
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