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Park & His Parents

Just about everyone I know has heard me say how thankful I am for the relationships my career has given me and this little family sits pretty high on that list. Ali and I learned to shoot film together in 2011 and have remained close ever since. We got to share the news of our pregnancies with one another on the same phone call and became even closer as we ventured into motherhood. It’s strange that we have never lived near each other because I have always felt like she was right there with me and for me. Friends who get you like that are pure gold.

So before I start crying alone at my desk, meet Park, his daddy Matt and his insanely talented momma, Ali Harper
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Six Months

You’re six months old and already more beautiful than I ever could’ve imagined. Your smile is everything and you share it so generously. You’ve never met a stranger and you effortlessly light up everyone you come in contact with. You are happiest with other kids around and your laughter is intoxicating. You are already such a flirt and even kissing the little boys at church! But daddy is still your favorite.

You are incredibly strong. You have a killer grip and can already sit, crawl, pull up, stand and even walk if we balance you by your hands.  You still kick your happy feet endlessly making it easy to see why you’re so happy in the pool. You’re also quite a fan of the swing at the playground and our new ergo 360!

Bath time is easily your favorite time of the day. Each evening, we look forward to watching you splash and giggle in your tub as you try to eat your toys. You don’t even mind it when we pour the water right over your little head. When daddy’s on duty you even get to finish up with a blow dry which I am not sure if you love or hate.

You’re fuzzy hair and perfect porcelain skin are so darling. You’ve already got one little freckle on your left arm and I hope there are many to follow.

You still aren’t a snuggler but I can sneak a few cuddles in during your bottle time. I love feeding you because your mannerisms are so precious when you’re calm. You twirl your hair and reach up for mine. You look up at me with the sweetest expression and gently touch my face. It melts my heart and leaves me in awe of how so much beauty could live in such a little person.

You get excited about food which we both can relate to! Just this month you’ve tried avocado, peas, zucchini, carrots and sweet potatoes. So far we think zucchini is your favorite.

We have big plans for our adventures together! So far we’ve already taken you to Nashville, Atlanta & Aspen as well as Miami and Tampa. You love traveling  because of all of the people you encounter along the way.

God has so obviously gifted you for big things and it is our prayer that we can guide and inspire you to pursue Him and His plans for you. Since you’ve arrived, He has opened my eyes and heart in ways deeper than I thought possible and continues to use you daily to shape and refine me. I know He is molding me into the best mommy for you and I can’t wait for the day that you realize how much He and I (and Daddy) love and cherish you.

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Photos above by my dear friend, Ali Harper.

Lisa O'Dwyer - So glad I got to Mae and her mommy and daddy during Mae’s trip to Aspen! She is a darling and will grow to be a lovely lady with the love of her awesome parents! Hugs to all of you!August 17, 2014 – 2:42 pm

Working & Pumping

Milk-Makin

I never imagined being a working mother would be easy. However, I also never imagined how much of a challenge it would be to maintain a milk supply by exclusively pumping while traveling, shooting weddings and being home alone with a baby. So whenever I hear about nursing mothers working or any mothers exclusively pumping, I am compelled to bow my head and give them a very slow clap. Hats off girls. Pumping, especially several times a day, is not easy. Physically or emotionally. Add the stress of being mom and/or having a career to that and it can seem insurmountable. I get it. But as we all know, the sacrifices we make for our families are always worth it.

Being a wedding photographer who travels, I have found myself precariously pumping on several occasions. Airplane bathrooms, parking garages, parking lots, in front of male family members, with the paparazzi a stone’s throw away and plenty of times while driving. I don’t have a lot of dignity left but Mae was allergic to every formula we tried so breast milk was our only option.

Through the craziness, I have managed to find a few things that have helped make life quite a bit easier so I wanted to share in case it helps another mamma

Ten Pumping Essentials for Moms on the Go

1. Medela Pump in Style Advanced  and Manual Breast Pump – So if you don’t already have a pump, I would suggest investing in both of these. The double electric because it gets the job done as efficiently and effectively as possible (and comes with that handy cooler) and the manual pump because there are just times when you are on the move and can’t fuss with lugging and hooking yourself up to the entire electric pump station. Like if you’re sitting next to your father-in-law on a plane.

2. Hands Free Breastpump Bra – I seriously cannot fathom pumping without one of these. I have two of them and when they are both in the laundry I use a sports bra with holes cut in it but it’s definitely not as comfortable or discreet.

3. Quick Clean Breastpump Wipes  – These are a must-have for pumping in your car, or really anywhere that doesn’t provide you access to soap, water and a drying rack. I keep them in my pump bag at all times. Just pump, wipe and your ready for the next pump. I know moms that keep them by their bed for in between those late night pumping sessions.

4. Freemie Cups for Medela pumps – GENIUS. These babies are amazing for pumping in the car or anywhere else you may lack privacy. They slip right into your normal bra so not only are free to wear whatever you want, they go pretty much unnoticed by innocent bystanders. They will make you look quite a bit more busty but there’s no harm in that.

5. Pumpin’ Pals – I use these exclusively when I am not using the freemies. I never sit straight up so the standard pump flanges always leaked for me. These are angled so they allow you to recline a bit and sit like a normal human when pumping. They also come in three sizes so if you are a bit more or less endowed than the average mamma they are a better fit than what comes with the pump.

6. Breast Pump Parts Kit  – You will want to get at least one of these. First, because it will save you needing to wash your parts after every single pump and second because the parts all eventually wear out or get lost.

7. Motherlove Organic Nipple Cream  – whether it’s your pump or your baby is gnawing at your nips all day, this little potion helps sooth soreness. I keep one in my pump bag, diaper bag and by my bed.

8. Car Power Adaptor with USB – if your pumping in your car, you will need one of these to power the pump (and charge your phone) but word to the wise, don’t leave it plugged in when you’re done pumping because you’ll find yourself with a dead car battery at the end of the day. Happened to a friend…

9. Nursing Cover Just in case you don’t want everyone around watching you pump uncensored.

10. Breastmilk Storage BagsFinally, you’ll want something to store the milk in, these are what I use and I haven’t had any complaints. They fit great in the Medela cooler (see item one) and freeze great too.

So beyond that, I’d suggest always having a tall drink of water close by and trying your best to just relax and be grateful that your body is producing nutrition for your baby even if it takes some extra work on your part.

Anyone else have some pumping goodies or tips that have helped? I’d love to hear them!

Five Months

Well I am pleased to say I think we may be turning a corner. Finally.

All along I have felt in my heart that something just wasn’t right for poor little Mae. If you read my post a few months ago, you will know what I am talking about.

Anyone in my life could tell you that my vocabulary has pretty much been reduced to the following terms:

  • reflux
  • colic
  • thrush
  • food allergies
  • formula
  • high needs
  • exclusive pumping
  • lactation consultant
  • donor milk
  • gluten free
  • dairy free

And some abbreviations too…

So needless to say, it’s been a challenge.

We saw pediatricians, chiropractors, lactation consultants, a nutritionist, a gastro specialist, and some baby-wearin extreme breastfeeders. We also tried NAET and CST. I googled every single possible scenario/remedy. Nothing seemed to help. Mae still spit up and fussed most of the day, rarely napped longer than 20 minutes, arched her back and fought our every embrace and had a tough time sleeping through the night.

Not to make this about me or sound overly dramatic, but having a baby who appears to be in constant discomfort no matter what you do (or don’t do) is extremely difficult. Obviously emotionally, but physically, mentally, professionally and even spiritually. It was like my heart was being broken every single day. I lost hope that there was a solution, I grieved the loss of the mother-baby experience I’d dreamed of, I cried, I got angry, I prayed, stopped praying, talked to friends, stopped talking to friends, and more.

I was beginning to wonder that since nothing helped then what if nothing was actually “wrong”?  What if Mae’s issues were simply temperamental? I bought Dr. Sears fussy baby book  and joined the facebook group for “high needs” babies. Many of the moms there said arriving at this conclusion helped them because they adjusted their expectations and parenting styles to cope. But for me, it just made me more frustrated, and even less patient with Mae’s irritability. So I didn’t give up.

After multiple failed formula attempts and countless tearful nursing battles, I gave up and went back to pumping exclusively so I was at least able make sure she was getting enough to eat. Well as our luck would have it, (and due to two previous lumpectomies) my milk supply wasn’t responding well to all the stress so we had to figure out something to supplement with. Since Mae couldn’t tolerate any of the formulas (even the hypoallergenic ones) we were limited to breast milk and I just wasn’t making enough. So I sought out donated breast milk and was able to find some that was dairy free but not gluten free. We tried that a few times and it didn’t seem to be working and I knew the chances of finding a breast milk donor that was both gluten and dairy free were slim to none.

“When we are in over our heads we touch the depths of God.” – Ann Voskamp

I am definitely in over my head daily trying to balance all of this along with my business and marriage. Lately, I have just been treading water and reminding myself that I’ll be able to swim soon.

But over the past couple of weeks, we have seen some really exciting improvements! Mae has had two visits with a new chiropractor that treats lots of infants with issues like hers and I believe it has made a dramatic difference in her overall comfort level. Also, I went out on a limb, paid a small fortune, and ordered some organic goat’s milk based formula from Europe. She loves it and has had no adverse reaction! I have been mixing it with my milk but starting today we are going to see how she handles it by itself and then maybe, just maybe, I will be able to put this pump away. (It seriously talks to me and I think it is starting to call me mean names…)

I am looking forward to the day that when asked how we’re doing, I can honestly smile and say “great” for the first time in her life. I cringe when I think of the countless unsuspecting souls I have bored with our story just because I couldn’t lie when asked. If you are one of those people, thank you for listening.

With that, here are some snapshots from recent adventures c/o my phone:

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Arielle - So glad that little baby Mae (and her mama) are doing better – My little guy was extremely colicky (which sounds like a breeze compared to the heartache you must have experienced!) and now, at a year, we are doing great! Sending you love, Mama!June 17, 2014 – 12:30 pm

Joshua Sheats - What a challenge! How great to write it all down…someday your baby will read it and realize how much you love her! May you know an abundance of God’s grace today.June 17, 2014 – 1:14 pm

Andrea - Thank you so much for sharing your struggle in such an honest way and an open forum! I have to tell you that my best friend SWEARS by camels milk that she gets from an organic farm in Ohio. Her baby NEVER and I mean never spits up, and she used it as an alternative to her breast milk when she was unable to breastfeed and was having trouble with her baby in a very similar way that you are. I’m glad you’ve had success with the goats milk. Just wanted to say I’ve really been enjoying following your blog on your journey through motherhood. You make motherhood look beautiful! SO glad you and Mae are doing well. xxJune 17, 2014 – 1:20 pm

Sarah - Hang in there, Jess, if anyone can do this, you can!! Woman warrior!!! I look forward to the day when little Mae is old enough to understand that mumma loves her so much that she had to up and buy European goats milk formula to ensure her proper nourishment 🙂 xxJune 17, 2014 – 2:45 pm

Courtney Martinet - Amazing, SO challenging and yet inspiring! Way to hang in there, Jess. And I’m so glad to hear things are turning around. 🙂June 17, 2014 – 5:53 pm

Erika - Jessica, you photographed our family at The Breakers for my mom’s 60th. As I read your post, I really truly teared up as I felt like you were writing our story. Madison is 7 months old and I’m dragging. I have zip zero energy left. She wakes every 2 hours at night and wakes crying. My husband and I try to calm her, she arches, I try to nurse her, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. At 3 weeks old, I felt like I was failing her as a mother, I couldn’t calm my crying baby and she never slept. With the encouragement of a lactation consultant, we saw a GI specialist and she’s been on prilosec every since. But we still battle the sleep. I love our precious little girl, and I am exclusively breastfeeding, but it’s getting harder to keep my supply up. I am dairy free as she is extremely sensitive (though the dr said she’s not allergic). I haven’t attempted gluten-free (I do think soy is another irritant). Do you recommend the chiropractor? Do you notice a difference? As I read your sentence about your response to peoples’ comments when they say “isn’t motherhood wonderful!”–I haven’t felt that yet and it makes me sad. I love her with all my heart and I’ve always wanted to be a mom, but I am beyond breaking.June 17, 2014 – 6:51 pm

Alisia Thompson - Thank you for sharing your story! Motherhood is so all-consuming and the infant stage is crazy, but I second the comment above that you make it look so so beautiful! I’m encouraged by the way you’ve fought for solutions and been her biggest advocate. I always look forward to seeing your sweet photos of baby Mae! Those smiles… 🙂June 18, 2014 – 12:32 am

Carolina Charm - Such great news about the goat’s milk formula. I know the days are super long and hard but you are doing such an awesome job. I’m so happy there have been some improvements. I’ve had lots of supply issues and one of my girlfriends sent me your “8 crazy weeks” post and I’ve been so inspired by you. Mae is absolutely gorgeous and things can only get better! Hang in there, mama!June 18, 2014 – 5:26 pm

Hannah - Oh Jess, my heart truly goes out to you. Mae is infinitely blessed that you’re her mom; all if this takes so much strength to walk through and though it may not feel like it most days it’s obvious from what you write that you’re doing so with such grace. That day (the one where you’re genuinely doing great) will be here soon!June 22, 2014 – 8:11 pm