In late June 2021, I received an email from the editor of People Health, a health-focused special edition of PEOPLE that's distributed in doctors' offices around the country, with a print run of 500,000 copies. He wanted to know if I would be interested in sharing my battle with shingles and be on the magazine's cover.
My initial thought was that this can't be real. I researched his email address to make sure it was from the Meredith Corporation (it checked out), reread his email a dozen times, talked it out with my husband who convinced me to take the plunge.
"When else will you get a chance to be on the cover of a magazine?" He made a point.
Over the course of a month and a half, I was interviewed, I scouted “shooting locations” around our home and outdoor spaces and sent photos back to the photo editor and shopped for outfits for our family. When I would have conversations about tasks with my husband, Steve, and say things like, “People magazine wants me to send over outfit options,” we would both giggle.
On the day of the photoshoot, a crew of five people set up around our house, front yard and backyard. There was the hair and makeup person, the photographer, her assistant, and two guys in charge of lighting. A huge breakfast that could feed an army was delivered to our home at 7 am and set up outside. I was glammed up, Steve was helped to “look like he had slept for 15 hours.” The photographer gave a Facetime tour of our property to the photo editor who was in New York.
There was a wind machine, dance music, the photographer telling me to jump and swing my arms and smile big with my chin down (which feels very unnatural to me). Every 15 minutes, my nose was powdered, lipstick reapplied, stray hairs tamed. It was all very surreal.
Any latent hopes I may have had about becoming a model were quickly dashed as I exclaimed, “Modeling is too hard! I feel silly and awkward and I’m doing a terrible job.” Needless to say, I was NOT a natural.
After 2 hours of taking pictures, during which time Luna was our most cooperative child, we ended the photoshoot with a water fight in the backyard and it was amazing. I finally felt comfortable and in my element.
I never could have expected something as painful and terrible as Ramsay-Hunt Syndrome to happen to me and at the time, I felt like I was passing through actual hell. But I also could never have anticipated what I received in return: a much greater appreciation for my health and my incredible support system, the value of rest and self-care and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share my story and be featured in a national publication.
I had to cut out all of the magazine except for the pages with my story so the file would be small enough to post on this blog, but you can read it here:
Before March, my days were full of a buzzing noise of all the places I had to be, things I had to do and people I needed to see. In fact, in March, I had a social commitment every day of every weekend, sometimes even two commitments a day.
I was feeling overwhelmed and stretched thin, but I had no idea what to do about it. I have an impossible time declining invitations because I feel an immense sense of loyalty to my friends and family. Not only do I enjoy spending time with others as an extrovert, but I feel a huge amount of guilt at the thought of letting people down. On some level, I believe that if I don’t show up for my friends’ events, they won’t want to attend mine or be my friend anymore and I cherish my friendships too much to let that happen.
For that reason, I was a “yes mom” for as many brunches, parties, play dates, dinners and birthdays as was physically possible (and sometimes even more than was truly physically possible). I didn’t realize how stressful it was and what a toll it all took on my mental and emotional well-being until it was all stripped away.
My nonstop days of going to the park, to the zoo, to the library, to get coffee, to go shopping, to grab lunch with one friend and dinner with another were replaced with lots and lots of nothingness at home. The days got slow and quiet. One day melted into another until six months had passed by.
As an extrovert who feels tortured being at home, the last couple of weeks have been almost unbearable emotionally and mentally. The things that normally fill my cup--being around my friends and family, going out to events or other activities with people and having a fulfilling, productive day at work--have all been taken away. When birthday parties, weddings and music festivals are cancelled, how can we find happiness? It's so hard to focus on the good when all that seems to be left right now is fear, anxiety, sickness and death. These are the things that are making me feel even a little happy right now in the midst of all the terribleness going on in the world.
Lessons I learned from labor and delivery the second time around: Women are warriors. Our intuition is magic. If we can learn to listen and trust ourselves, incredible things can happen.
People say that every pregnancy, labor and delivery is different and I wasn’t sure I believed them until I experienced it myself. With my first, I only had nausea and food aversions from weeks 7 to 9, an easy, breezy pregnancy overall and a long 30-hour labor that started spontaneously at 39 weeks and 3 days. With my second, I had nausea until 15 weeks, was in so much pain with symphysis pubis dysfunction (a common condition in subsequent pregnancies) that I had to go to a prenatal chiropractor twice a week starting at 20 weeks and physical therapy, and I made it to 40 weeks and 5 days gestation with no baby.
On Wednesday, December 4 at 9:30 a.m. (at 40 weeks and 5 days pregnant), I went to my weekly check up with my midwife. When my nurse took my blood pressure, like she does at every appointment, she discovered that it was high (146/102) and it wouldn’t go down even after rest. My nurse pointed out that my belly was very low, that the high blood pressure meant that my body was reaching the end of being able to carry the baby and that I would probably be delivering today. After that, I saw my midwife and we decided that she would do a cervical exam and, if I was dilated at all, she would perform a membrane sweep. When she did the cervical exam, she discovered I was already 3 cm dilated so she did the sweep to help move things along. At that point, it was 10:30 a.m. She said that cramping and bleeding is normal and, if my body and baby are ready, that labor would start within 48 hours. She also wanted me to go to the labor and delivery ward at the hospital to monitor my blood pressure in case I needed to be induced for preeclampsia.
I left the office, called my husband to come home from work and headed home to finish packing my hospital bag. Today was finally the day!
My first of three miscarriages was in January 2017 after an unexpected positive pregnancy test. We hadn't been trying to get pregnant but we also hadn't been preventing since coming home from our honeymoon in October 2016. I didn't even think or know I was ready to have a baby until the positive test was staring back at me. And in that short week, between finding out that I might be a mom to miscarrying, my life had already changed--I had already dreamed a lifetime of dreams and hoped a lifetime of hopes, all of which came crashing down.
In an attempt to make myself feel better, I wrote the following list of reasons why I didn't want a baby yet (based on preconceived notions of what I thought motherhood would be like). I was scared that becoming a parent meant leaving everything I loved about my pre-baby days behind. Since our first baby joined us, I’ve discovered that it's a lot easier--and way more fun--than I had expected to introduce him to the activities we enjoyed together before he came along or having grandparents babysit him for us to go out and do things that he can’t do yet.
Before I share my misconceptions of motherhood (and my present-day rebuttals to pre-baby me), I want to preface the list to say that I am completely aware of my privilege and I know that many of these things would not be possible if I did not live close to family and did not have their support and a very hands-on partner in my husband. On the other hand, I'm a firm believer that we can design the exact life we want for ourselves through commitment, hard work and planning.
Yay I'm officially 30! Two years ago, I wrote an extremely ambitious list of 30 things I wanted to do before 30 and was able to do cross off 15 items in those two years. Not too shabby.
I'm a firm believer in the law of attraction (and focus and hard work) so I make a lot of lists. Writing down exactly what I want to achieve helps me clear my head and focus on my goals. Below is my list of 40 things I want to do before 40. Feel free to use it as inspiration for your own goals.
Taking time to reflect and plan ahead is extremely important to me. It's not so much about nostalgia but of learning from my past self and deciding how to intentionally move forward in my life.
For me, journaling has been a crucial part of my life for 18 years. It's my therapy and has helped me deal with and overcome a lot of trauma. It's also where I allow myself to dream and tell the universe exactly what I want out of my life. By goal-setting every year, I make sure I express what I want to achieve, what I want my life to look like, even if I fall short sometimes.
Today I turn 30 and over the course of the past several weeks, I've been reading my journals from my twenties to reflect on this decade, see how I've grown, which (if any) of those goals I still want to pursue and plan for the decade ahead. While I was reading my journals, I found an entry from seven years ago, when I was about to turn 23, entitled "For Christina on her 30th Birthday."
I had totally forgotten about it but sentimental 23-year-old me had the foresight to know that 30-year-old me would find this to be so special. Here's the letter I wrote to myself for my 30th birthday:
After telling my birth story to a dozen women and being met with awe and disbelief, I’ve come to realize how unusual my natural childbirth experience truly was. And I know how easily and quickly my labor and delivery could have turned into the one I had been dreading.
A quick recap of how it all went down: On the morning of Valentine’s Day, I felt a contraction which caused what I thought was my water to start breaking (no one ever figured out when it actually broke because the amniotic sac was still intact at 6 cm dilated). Throughout the day, I had irregular contractions associated with early labor. I went to lunch with my friend, got my nails done (my manicurist asked me how far along I was and I didn't want to tell her that I was already in labor haha), finished packing my hospital bag and spent the remainder of the evening resting at home all while timing my contractions. Steve went to Trader Joe’s to buy salad, cheese, crackers and snacks on his way home from work. Some of that ended up being our romantic Valentine’s dinner since my contractions were getting too strong for me to feel like I could enjoy our dinner reservations.
Around 1:30 am on February 15, my contractions were 3-5 minutes apart and lasted for one minute. At 3 am, we left home and headed to Kaiser Sunset. My husband called our doula who joined us at the hospital. My midwife's shift at the hospital started at 9 am so I was put in the care of the OBs and nurses on duty until then. After exams, they determined that I was 2 centimeters dilated and 75% effaced and said that it could still "be days" before I deliver. They were concerned because our baby’s heart rate was dropping with each contraction. They admitted me, hooked me up to an IV of fluids to see if dehydration was causing it, put me on continuous fetal monitoring and told me that if things hadn’t progressed in a few hours, they would have to induce me.
The dreaded word: induction! They offered me medication to deal with the contraction pain and I rejected it. By 5 am, I was in my delivery room, laboring in whichever way felt comfortable. I used a peanut ball, walked around, ate some snacks. Every fifteen to thirty minutes, someone came in to check how I was doing and offered to administer pain medication. “We have something that could take your pain away,” they said. I turned them down every time, but I could see how tempting it would be and how someone could feel pressured to accept.
After reading dozens of "30 Books to Read Before Turning 30" or "30 Books to Read Before You Die" lists to find one that resonates with me, I have decided to simply create my own. Who else knows my wants and needs better than me? My list of the 30 Best Books to Read Before 30 is partly borrowed from other lists, includes older books that I have been wanting to read for a long time and others that I have just discovered or that were recommended by friends. There is a mix of self-improvement and career books, non-fiction, classics and modern literature. If it suits you, feel free to read along or use my list of best books to read before 30 as inspiration for creating your own reading list.