Pennel to Paper is now– Life With Laylan!


I can’t believe it’s been nearly two years since my fingers graced this blog. For that, I am sorry. I have been busy. I have both good news, and bad news. The good news is that Adam is incredibly healthy. 13 months seizure free and doing so well. He’s volunteering and job searching and caring for Lo full-time. She, now three, is insanely smart, precocious and keeps us on our toes. Now for the bad news. I have recently found myself unemployed. We won’t go into the specifics, but it is what it is and it’s time to move forward. And now that I have all this free time, it’s time to get back to my love of blogging, which I have left on the back burner for far too long. 

Pardon our mess while we change some things around, upgrade our look and get things feeling spiffy. We’re going to have a lot more to see and do on the blog in the coming weeks and months, so I hope you will stick around, bring a friend, settle in with a cup of coffee and enjoy yourself!




In sickness and health

I recently bragged that Adam was six months seizure free. And then he had three… in a month. Once I heard him crash to the ground and scream. He had hit his head and his eye was blackening and swelling. The baby was terrified- she was in his arms when he went down, but he had the presence of mind to set her down before he crashed to the floor. I worry, and I cry, and I become defeated.
We are constantly in this gut-wrenching dance, holding our breath and hyper-aware of what his body may do at any moment. It’s a glance or a flick of the eye that is all-knowing to be on alert for what may come. It’s happened so many places- from the movie theater, which starts toward the last 1/3 of the movie, his skin flares hot and his hand twitches, and I spring into action and dig through my purse for a pill.

The other day- his legs gave way and he fell- into a pile of mud, with lots of people around. He always worries about what people might think- is he drunk? Did he slip? But I don’t care what anyone else thinks and I wish he wouldn’t either, although I know his pride is bruised every time it brings him to his knees. I got him to my car quickly where he continued to have a seizure, covered in mud, with the crowds all around us, completely oblivious to what was happening.

I face debilitating anxiety when my mind gets the chance to quiet, listening for his breathing and split seconds of terror, thinking tonight- or tomorrow- will be the last day he’s alive. This sounds dramatic, but I’ve been with him during grand mal seizures when I cried over his limp and clammy body. I’ve seen the blood gush from his head when he falls, when he needs stitches or causes a black eye that takes weeks to heal.

I know I could have 40 more years, or 40 more days with Adam. I know that he could be healthy for months and then pass away from a seizure, or SUDEP, or his heart condition, with not even a moment’s notice. And that’s what terrifies me- because this last year I’ve witnessed friends and acquaintances lose their spouses shockingly quickly, with no idea what was coming. And I can’t bear to think of a life without Adam, who is the only person who has so fully and completely understood my mind, heart and soul. But I worry. And when we go to the doctors, I ask them to give me some sort of guarantee that his conditions aren’t fatal, that he won’t be leaving my side any time soon. They dance around the question. They never give me a guarantee. They are not in the business to make promises, especially ones they know they can’t keep.

And I’m always keeping track in my head, how many weeks has it been? Silently celebrating when it’s been more than a month, or two, or three, and then he has three seizures in a week. I can’t live a normal life because this is always bubbling under the surface, keeping me on edge, waiting for the house of cards that we’ve very carefully built around us, thinking we have a normal life, to fall. And it always falls.

I put on this brave face for everyone, my family and my friends, even Adam, to assure them all that I’m okay, that he’ll be okay. They need that from me- they worry about us. Adam worries, but I try to keep his fears at bay. I don’t share with him the research I’ve read, the inexplicable link between epilepsy and his heart condition, the rates of death from SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death from Epilepsy).

This story doesn’t have an ending. My anxiety continues. I’ve often kept these stories close to me because I don’t want my family to worry about us.  This is the raw and unedited narrative of our lives, and oftentimes, it’s not pretty. Often, it’s medication and seizures and ruined nights out, the terrified look on Adam’s face when I can see it’s about to overtake him.

It wears on you. But when I married Adam, I took my “in sickness and health” vow seriously, and I live that way every day. I hope I will get fifty more years.

8 Must-Have Baby Registry items (and what to skip!)

7 Baby Items That Our Sanity


Compiling a baby registry can be incredibly overwhelming for a first time parent. I remember adding items blindly to my list, not really knowing if it would have any use in the first several months of mommy-hood. Now that I am an expert (ha!), I can share with you the top items that I utilized frequently in the first days of baby Lo.

1. Swaddle Me Pod Sacks- When you go home with your baby, you will probably try to swaddle like they did at the hospital. But if you just gave birth to a Houdini, like Lo, then this can lead to a lot of sleepless nights as your new baby tries to get comfortable outside the womb. Enter the stretchy Swaddle Me Pods, which I think is a good equivalent to the amniotic sac. That startle reflex that many babies have, that jolts them awake, is muted by these sacks, leading to blissful sleeping for both of you.

2. Baby K’tan- My baby k’tan, holding the baby close to the thump thump of your heart, was a lifesaver in those first few weeks. After the baby starts gaining some weight, it’s harder to navigate and it’s hard on your back. For those times I recommend a Lillebaby, which you can use to wear your baby 6 ways! Back to the k’tan- I even breastfed in the k’tan, and it was easy for me and baby! Definitely worth the add to the registry so that you can get some things done around the house with your hands free, too!

3. Baby Shusher- Now, you can really get any sort of white noise machine (even Youtube videos do the trick) but the Baby Shusher is super cool and it’s the best one out there. I was first turned onto the Shusher at Lo’s newborn photo shoot when she just wouldn’t sleep. It’s kind of loud and deafening, but the baby LOVES it because it mimics the jostling that she felt inside your belly!

4. Nose Frida- Look, I know this is gross. It just is. But when you’re dealing with a sick baby that can’t blow her nose, you’re going to thank yourself for putting the ickiness aside and buying the Nose Frida. Don’t buy the Neti Pot one, stick with name brand on this one. Plus, with proper cleaning and replacement filters, the gross factor goes way down.

5. Avent Bottles – Even if you plan to breastfeed, there’s a good chance you’re going to need bottles. These are my favorite- easy to put together. We started out with Dr. Browns but there are SO MANY PIECES and it just wasn’t worth it for us to have to deal with, with a hungry baby. Easy to clean, too!

6. Portable Changing Pad- There will be times when you will need to change your baby on a dirty bathroom floor of a restaurant. Let’s just face those facts. Not every bathroom is equipped with a changing table, know that now. Here’s what I like to do- first, put down a disposable paper changing pad, and then lay your nice plastic (easily cleaned) one on top of it. Double protection from the icky germs. Then, gingerly lay your flailing child down and hope they don’t roll off into the abysss of the gross floor. When you’re done, throw away the paper pad and sanitize your portable pad later.

7. Rock ‘n’ Play – This was one of my very favorite buys when we had a newborn- it’s portable, it vibrates, and you can manually or automatically rock it back and forth. It also snugs your child just close enough to combat that pesky startle reflex- and if your child has acid reflux, an added bonus is that it elevates the head- allowing your baby to nap comfortably.

8. Diaper backpack – Mama, I know you want that super cute Petunia Picklebutt $200 diaper bag. Here’s what you need instead. You need a diaper backpack. Because you want something that you can put on your back without it swinging forth and hitting yourself with it. Your husband can put it on and not feel (totally) emasculated). Also, these are great diaper bags because they come with pockets for bottles, a wipe case, and a portable changing pad! Win win win!

What you can SKIP on your registry:

1. SKIP the Blankets: you’re going to get baby blankets out the wazoo. Might as well not register for them, because everyone and their mom is going to get you a baby blanket.

2. SKIP the Clothes: By the time you curate your perfect registry and the baby shower guests visit it, the clothes could be gone, on clearance, out of season, or nowhere to be found. PLUS, people are going to get you clothes anyway- don’t waste your time adding them to your registry.

3. SKIP the Baby food maker: When you’re a new mom, making your own baby food sounds fun, but you can do that with a regular blender or food processor. Also, look into baby-led weaning. By the time my baby was 6 months old, I had her on regular table food and we skipped the pureed phase completely!

4. SKIP the MamaRoo: The MamaRoo looks really cool, but babies either love it or hate it. And if your baby happens to hate it, and you just spent $400 on it, you won’t be happy. An alternative: buy one second hand! Those mamas that spent the $400- they are selling them now, for a fraction of the cost. We bought ours for $100 and when Baby Lo preferred a $40 swing instead, I turned around and sold it for $80. Another mama was happy to take it off our hands! Scour your local Swap & Shop Facebook Pages & Craigslist for the best deals!

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Facing my fat addiction

This blog post is more than twenty years in the making. It’s raw and uncensored because that’s the way this story needs to be told. It’s about being fat- a struggle I have been fighting, silently and not so silently- since I was 8 years old.   

I have been overweight since that year, the first in my 3rd grade class to get a hot pink training bra. I can trace my eating back to that summer- bowls of buttery popcorn, cracking can after can of the Dr. Pepper my dad stocked for me in the garage fridge. What could have been viewed as baby fat was something that I never grew out of- and I am finally ready to call this endless battle what it truly is- an eating disorder.  

Most people have fight or flight. For me, it’s eat or flight. Sometimes my flight leads to eating. But when the baby is screaming, the boss is demanding, I’m fighting with Adam, when my anxiety is at an all time high, I look to food. And the weird thing is- that when I’ve driven through the drive thru to get a McChicken- my anxieties and my fears cease, even for just a few minutes. Food is my drug, and it’s a drug you encounter several times a day. And I’ve been an addict for over twenty years and haven’t yet cracked the code on how to break the spell.  

When I encounter food in the break room, I feel like I have to eat- even if I’m not hungry. Probably because I’m stressed at work and looking for that crutch to get me through an anxious time. But it’s not just work. I think about food constantly, from breakfast to dinner, planning the next day’s meals, it’s endless and exhausting.  

About a year ago, when battling the severe case of post partum depression that I’ve detailed on this blog, I was put on a new medication that helped immensely. My doctor warned me- you’ll gain weight, he said, make sure to watch your portion control. So I’m on this medication and I become a feral beast looking for food in my household- eating chocolate chips out of the bag, scouring for a late night snack when my anxiety has won’t let me sleep. And gain weight I did. 50 pounds in a year. Either sanity or a svelte figure, you choose!  

I’ve tried to dissect why I feel this way and why I can’t seem to lose weight. Somewhere, in the last twenty years, I have somehow buried deep inside me the notion that I don’t deserve to be thin. Maybe that I’m uncomfortable feeling sexually attractive since I developed at age 9 and spent time trying to avoid boys snapping my bra at school. The unwanted attention I got from teenage boys later made me cover up as much as possible, then later, in college, oversexualize myself with low cut tops. I was happy being the funny fat girl, but is that because I never granted myself the opportunity to be anything more? 

Maybe I don’t think I deserve the happiness or attractiveness and it’s manifesting itself in my daily struggle with food. It’s a vicious cycle when I wake up in the morning: I hate the way that my clothes look, but stress drives me into the breakroom for snacks. I come home, make dinner, but feel ravenous even though I am full. Stress at home often leads to eating takeout. The cycle circles around yet again the next morning.  

I am not writing this because I need your weight loss advice. I don’t need your Plexus or your Shakeology or your 21 Day Fix. I need to lay my fears bare- that I’m not worthy of being thin- to fully face them head on. Because I have a daughter now, and I’ll be damned if she lives her childhood watching Mama going from diet to diet, Weight Watchers (I’ve been a member since age 13), to Atkins to keto to cabbage soup diet. If I can get to the root, that scared 9 year old girl not going out for soccer that year, staying at home and shoveling food in until sometimes she’d get sick, I can recover. This is an addiction, and I think I will fight it every damn day for the rest of my life. But it’s a battle- and a war- that I’ll try to win.  

Low Carb Pumpkin Cake!

Low Carb

It’s fall, y’all! Or at least it feels like it here in Pennsylvania! Along with cooler weather, football, knee high boots and longer sleeves- what else is there? PUMPKIN SPICE EVERYTHING. Adam and I look forward to September 1 every year for everything pumpkin related. This year, my dear friend Sarah, who is rockin’ at the keto lifestyle, needed a keto friendly birthday cake, and I stumbled across one at  Keto In the City.   I really wouldn’t call this a birthday cake, but instead a super-awesome autumn cake.

I made a few adjustments, and I am calling it a low carb pumpkin cake because it was difficult to locate some of the keto sweeteners that the recipe requires. This can easily be made keto, just switch out your sweetener! These are great for breakfast or dessert!


Low Carb Pumpkin Cake 

  • 5 Eggs
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 can pure pumpkin puree
  • 1 tbs lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 cup xylitol/ 1/3 cup Truvia Baking Blend
  • 1 tbs pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice
  1. Combine wet ingredients and mix well.
  2. Combine dry ingredients and mix well.
  3. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix together until smooth. Pour into an 8″ cake pan or cupcake pans.
  4. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes.

Cream Cheese Pumpkin Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese (softened)
  • 4 tbs butter (softened)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 dashes pumpkin pie spice (approximately 1 tsp)
  • Sweetener of choice to taste. (Powdered sugar or Swerve is best!)

Mix all frosting ingredients together until smooth. Spread over cake once it’s cooled.

I regret breastfeeding.

I regret breastfeedingThis post has been a long time coming, and I’ve needed time to roll it over in my head- exactly what I want to say- before actually putting it on paper. I’m ready to share my story and I hope others will be able to laugh, cry and nod as you read my story. I’m just a normal mom, who was standing in front of a hungry baby, asking her to eat.  

I believe life gives you warnings when your body knows something isn’t right. And my first warning came to me when I was still in the hospital- mere hours after giving birth. I was ready to  breastfeed- I took the class and read the books and got the pump and did everything I was supposed to do- but when I tried to get this tiny baby to latch, I started crying. I found out later that I had D-Mer, which is a very unpleasant sensation that you feel when your milk lets down. It was as if the world was closing in on me every time my baby needed to eat. I felt sick to my stomach.  

The day I brought my baby home, my milk hadn’t come in and my mental health was already starting to wane. I was stubborn and steadfast, insisting to my pleading mother who offered formula, that I was ONLY going to breastfeed and stop TRYING TO GET ME TO FEED MY BABY FORMULA POISON. I remember the looks on their faces, my mom and Adam, as I wept over my 3 day old child, who just wanted to eat, but my body wasn’t cooperating.  

And it was weeks of waking to pump, pumping several times at work, each time feeling this awful feeling, never making enough milk for my baby, still having to supplement and feeling like a complete and utter failure every day. My mental health was slipping, because I felt guilt, and sadness, and nausea every time I had to feed. But I did it because I had convinced myself that mothers who CAN breastfeed, SHOULD breastfeed. I envied the mothers who exclusively breastfed to a year, who were so proud of their accomplishments. I wept, often.  

I was confined to my house because I didn’t want to attempt to feed in public. If I had a little extra milk, we’d take it with us, but when we’d run out- which we always, enviteably did- I’d feed in the back of the car, tears running down my face.  

It was at four months post partum that I decided to stop breastfeeding, or, perhaps, the decision was made for me. I was at my breaking point and I needed to quit, I needed to stop torturing myself, and I quit cold turkey. I felt better immediately.  

My body and my mind was telling me that this was not the right decision for us, but my mind kept me in mom guilt mode. YOU MUST BREASTFEED, said everyone. BREAST IS BEST, everyone said. On formula, my skinny baby thrived, filling out with chunky thighs and cheeks. My mental health improved, I slept better, I ate more. I could breathe again.  

So why regret? Why not just chalk it up to a life experience? Because I regret not having the wherewithall to control my mind and body. To feel pressured by everyone from the lactation consultant that visited me three times in the hospital, to the pediatrician that said he “hoped I was breastfeeding”. To all the moms who congratulated me for breastfeeding, when I was slowly dying inside.

The  breastfeeding regret comes with wisdom to trust my instincts, to understand that what’s right for everyone else might not be right for me. If this can be a cautionary tale to any mama who’s struggling, who’s trying to reconcile what society thinks and her own mental health and wellbeing, then I succeeded in my mission.

The day I met you

Lo turns one year old in just over a week; one year ago at this time, I was about to go into labor. What. A. Year. In honor of her first birthday, I’m going to continue a tradition that my mother has carried out for the past 30 years of my life: the re-telling of her birth story on her birthday.

But don’t worry. I’ll leave out the gory details. Only good memories of that day.

The morning of July 8, around 1:30 am, I woke up with contractions. I woke my mom up and we decided to venture to the hospital around 4 am, where I was told that I was only 1 cm dilated and that I should go home. Frustrated, as I was already experiencing back labor at that point, I went home, napped, and met my doctor at my appointment at 9 am. She told me that I was not even in active labor at this point- they couldn’t register the back labor contractions on their machine so it was as if nothing was happening.

I was sent home… again, to get some rest until the contractions became closer together. When we called my doctor at 3 pm, she didn’t answer her office or cell phone- and didn’t return my call. I decided to go back to the hospital, where they also tried unsuccessfully to reach her. It was in this moment that I knew she wasn’t coming- and that I was going to be delivering this baby without the doctor that I had hand-picked. I chose not to be angry- even though I have since felt let down that she took the weekend off and didn’t bother to tell me.

I ordered my epidural at 4 cm dilated, around 6 pm. The doctor came in, inserted the epidural needle and…. I could still feel my legs. He tried again… and the same thing. I was feeling the contractions become harder and stronger and I was terrified that I was going to have to give birth naturally- which I was not mentally prepared for! When he came in the third time, I knew this was our last chance- I was already dilated to 8 cm. He brought out the holy grail of pain medicine: fentanyl- and glorious, sweet, dead leg relief was mine.

I was instructed to take a nap, before we started the grueling pushing phase. I closed my eyes, but I could not sleep. Because all I kept thinking was, “She’s coming… my baby will be here soon!” And the reality of everything hit me like a ton of bricks. My mind was going a million miles an hour.

Around 1 am, the nurse told me that it was time to start pushing, but that it could take two or three hours for a first time mom. She prepared the table and lights and with my mom and Adam holding my hands, I began pushing at 1:15 am. That very first push- my baby’s hair was visible. She was ready! I heard the nurse make a call to the doctor, and I knew we were within minutes of meeting my baby. marlowe1

I pushed only a handful more times- when my doctor said, “Laylan, look down here,” and into my arms was a crying, chubby-cheeked, dark haired, baby Lo. The tears immediately streamed down my face. Adam looked shocked, stunned, deliriously happy. It was 1:38 am on July 9, 2016.

The nurse said later to me, “I was scared you weren’t going to be able to get your epidural. But you handled it well- I think you could have done it without it anyway.” Ha- while I appreciate her vote of confidence, I didn’t sign up- or even want- a natural delivery.

After we held her, cooed over her and I began breastfeeding, she got her first bath and I sent Adam and Mom home to get some sleep. I remember how in awe I was of her in those first days- how beautiful she was, how much hair she had, how she could sense that I was her mama and that I could comfort her.

Those first few months were rough, because as my friend said to me while I was pregnant, “Having kids is like knowing a secret that you can’t explain until the other person experiences it too.” It truly was that way- a new level of sleep deprivation, and with my post partum issues, which didn’t fully emerge until 4 months post-partum, I felt like I wasn’t enjoying the younger months as much as I should have. But after darkness, comes light.

When I look back on her photos of the new, fresh baby, I can’t believe that this child has grown so much in the last 12 months. She amazes me every day- and everything about her gets better with each passing week. She’s so smart, sweet, and fun- I always say she looks like Adam but acts like me. marlowe2

(My mom and I: 1987 and Lo and me, 2016)

Now that we have made it to one year, I look forward to watching her grow even more over the next. Although, I already miss those 3 month onesies, the endless sleeping throughout the day (mama needs a nap!).

So, baby Lo, here is your birth story- one that I plan to repeat to you every year of your life, just like my mama has done for me.

I love you, my darling girl. You amaze me.