12/12/2018

Inspiring Women x Miranda Bennett

As the year comes to a close it seemed fitting to share my last interview for 2018 with sustainable fashion designer Miranda Bennett. December has always been a month where I like to step up my gratitude by celebrating and engaging in the spirit of giving. One of my favorite ways to do that is by supporting small, women owned businesses that actively participate in making our environment and communities better.

When I was first introduced to the concept of naturally dyed clothing it made so much sense to me. In the wellness space there is a great deal of talk about what we put into our bodies with the foods that we eat as well as the body care/make up products that we use. What hasn’t become as mainstream is the concept that what we put on our bodies, that the clothing we wear matters too and in many cases has even farther reaching implications for the health of our planet.

Thankfully, Miranda Bennett and her women run creative studio based in Austin, Texas are leading the way in making beautiful, modern, pieces that make you feel good from the inside out. Every time I wear one of her dresses or tops I feel a sense of ease and grace. I also feel like I am connected to something so much larger than myself as her clothing is made in partnership with several different organizations who implement Zero Waste initiatives, employ refugees with fair wages and are rooted in local permaculture. When you shop with Miranda Bennett you support an entire chain of sustainability and look effortlessly chic at the same time. As a new mom who doesn’t have lots of time to get ready, I love being able to put on one of her dresses with a sweater or coat and head out the door quickly!

I had the pleasure of having tea with Miranda a couple of years ago in Los Angeles and I was thrilled that she took the time to share some of what inspires her, working with the non-profit Open Arms, how she gets unstuck, and what it is like running an ethical, sustainable business. And, big news, if you’re in or near Austin, she just opened her first brick and mortar location and it looks incredible! Be sure to follow along on Instagram too. Oh and one last thing for all my mamas out there, her nursing dresses are everything. Putting it on my wish list for 2019, it’s going to be perfect for traveling with babe in tow x

I read in your Garmentory interview that you have been sewing since the age of 14, why were you so drawn to making your own clothes?
It honestly stemmed from a lot of factors. I remember being on my own a lot as a kid, and
from an early age I sought allies in my clothing. I would name individual garments and
change several times a day, partly to assuage loneliness, to create and define a space for
myself, or to support a strung together narrative of these garments as actors in my day.

Once I was a teen, I think there was still that element of companionship, coupled with a real
need for an outlet, a form of self expression, and the practical reality that there wasn’t the
money to purchase a whole lot of new clothes, or much access to clothing that I related to.

How do aesthetics influence your life and work?
Honestly, this is the area in my life and my work where I am OCD to the max. I am so
sensitive to aesthetics, and always have been, but didn’t have the language for that impulse
until fairly recently. It’s taken a lot for me to feel valid in this need, to not minimize it in
favor of more practical decision making. What I like about where I find myself now is that it
has led to the creation of this larger entity that others can benefit from, whether it’s my team
working in an environment that feels good, or the women purchasing MBS clothing that
makes them feel good, presenting our world in all manners of visual content, or the just-so
layout that defines our online shopping experience.

Read more…

9/7/2018

Baby Blessing Reflections

 Baby Blessing x Ashley Neese

Three weeks ago I was fortunate to have my first baby blessing. I’ve been to many baby showers over the years which I have enjoyed. It’s always a treat to celebrate new mamas, their babes and growing families. When it came time for me to consider how I wanted to be celebrated through this transition, a baby blessing felt very aligned, like the perfect choice.

I chose a baby blessing because it brought together elements that are very close to my heart. One of the most important elements in my life is community. The baby blessing created a safe space for my friends to share what is on their hearts and touch into their own vulnerability. Another aspect of the blessing that speaks to me is the act ritual. I am a big believer in building ritual into our everyday lives and especially into moments when we are stepping from one place to another. I also chose a baby blessing because it was a stretch for me to reach out and ask for that much support, attention, and care during this grand and inward facing time in my life.

Baby Blessing x Ashley Neese

Baby Blessing x Ashley Neese

There are many ways to hold a baby blessing. If you are considering a baby blessing versus a baby shower, know that you can make your blessing ceremony whatever will serve you and your babe the most. I knew that I didn’t want a bunch of baby gifts or a party type vibe. What I wanted was to sit in circle and be in connection with the women who have been instrumental in my life. I wanted an opportunity to honor them, the way they have touched my heart, and they ways that they inspire me. I also wanted to give them a chance to hold space for this tender and powerful transition I am in.

I chose to ask my dear friend and doula Erica Chidi Cohen to lead the blessing ceremony. Erica and I have been friends for years and she knows me on a soul level. She also is a deep and grounded space holder as that is her work in the world so it wasn’t even a question in my mind when I thought about who I wanted to ask to facilitate this ceremony. I was so grateful when she said she would do it and the second I arrived at LOOM, the incredible center she co-founded in L.A. on the blessing day I knew I was in for something much more healing than I anticipated.

As a person who teaches and holds space for many people, it was a very different experience to sit in a circle of women who showed up solely for me. A big part of my journey these last couple of years has been to practice receiving the love and support that is around me. I am hardwired to take care of the people in my life and my body entered this world with a major imprint around processing other people’s emotions. It has not been a smooth or easy road learning how to navigate asking for more and leaning into my chosen relationships. A huge part component of my pregnancy has been to reconcile these aspects of myself and learn in a very visceral way just how much help I actually need and then to begin the process of letting it in.

Baby Blessing x Ashley Neese

Baby Blessing x Ashley Neese

Baby Blessing x Ashley Neese

Baby Blessing x Ashley Neese

On an intuitive level I knew I needed to have a baby blessing to support this part of my journey and to help heal my past. I was a little taken aback at just how vulnerable it felt and just how much of my past collapsed into that ceremony to be integrated in such a restorative and healing way. Real alchemy took place in that circle and for the first time in my pregnancy I was able to let go of my vigilance around the experience and soften into receiving the medicine that shows up when I sit in connection with women who love and support me.

Since the blessing much has shifted in my heart, psyche, and energetic body around the pregnancy, upcoming birth, and movement into the next phase of motherhood. I’ve been working through some big pieces around my own birth trauma, imprinted fears from my lineage, and trusting the instinctual yet often quiet places within my own body. I’ve been given opportunity after opportunity to show up as my adult self these last weeks and I’ve made some mistakes along the way. I am practicing trusting the tender voice within, taking responsibility for what is mine, and showing up for challenging conversations because the reality is this is the only way for me. As a parent I can’t just put my head in the sand and hope things will go away. I have to get up, stand tall, and respond to myself and to others with as much compassion, kindness, and forgiveness as possible. There is no room for hiding out when you have a little human on their way in who will be depending on you for literally everything. And there is something in that knowing as well as the strong community of women surrounding me through this process that is giving me the courage to rise.

Here’s to honoring ourselves.
Here’s to letting ourselves be held by people who have the capacity to hold us.
Here’s to receiving the love that is present.
Here’s to trusting the quiet voice within.
Here’s to rising.

Photos x @lanitrock

8/31/2018

Why We Aren’t Finding Out The Sex Of Our Babe & Gender Creative Parenting

Now that I am really showing at nearly eight months pregnant I am getting asked daily if I know the sex and of our babe. When I reply with a nope we’re having a surprise! it is often accompanied by a look of confusion. This is quickly followed up with the person telling me they can already tell the sex or gender just by looking at the way I am carrying the babe. I mostly just smile and nod and try to remember that this person is just having their process that has nothing to do with me.

And other days I am in total awe by how many people in our culture are obsessed with knowing the sex of babies. When women tell me there is no way they couldn’t find out or that they only want a girl or boy I find myself feeling super uncomfortable and wanting to exit the convo as fast as possible.

In a time when gender reveal parties are front and center from the U.S. to Australia I find myself wondering if our fixation on sex and ultimately gender roles is causing more harm than good. I ponder this for several reasons, the largest one being that sex doesn’t predetermine gender, so the very concept of a gender reveal party is honestly disturbing to me. Just because a baby is born with certain sex organs, doesn’t mean they are going to identify in a particular way. I also feel strongly that these types of parties which stem from a cis, heteronormative, outlook on life continue to widen the gender divide between all of us and leave no room for children to blossom into who they are, not who their parents or society says they are or should be.

I had a woman tell me that she needed to know if she was having a girl or boy so that she could paint their room color accordingly. It was in that moment I realized just what a bubble I live in with all of my mama friends choosing neutral tones for their babe’s rooms and many of them moving toward more gender neutral names. As our babes grow up they will face an onslaught of messages and cues telling them how to behave, dress, speak, and live in a world according to the restrictive cis gender culture we live in. Given how much babies and kids absorb it feels very important to Nic and I that we start them off in the most neutral space possible so that they can feel free to explore who they are without us showing or telling them.

Theybies are becoming more popular in some communities which is where the parents raise their babies in an environment free from gender bias and often don’t tell their children what sex they are until a determined time. While I fully support this, we’ve decided at least for now, that we are open to telling our child about their sex and creating a safe environment where they can explore gender roles with our love and support.

As humans we are hardwired to categorize, which is part of how we have survived for so long. I am simply posing the question, is it necessary to categorize for a baby or child? To me this need to organize babies and children in this way speaks volumes about our culture and the way we choose to parent. While the sex and gender obsession seems to start with many as soon as they find out they are pregnant, I question, if we, as a culture, are ready for more creative parenting when it comes to finding out the sex of our babes and gender roles?

Babies + Gender Creative Parenting x Ashley Neese

The facts are that women still earn roughly 20% less than men across the board in the U.S. and this number increases significantly for women of color and in high paying jobs. 1 in 3 women in the U.S. have experienced physical abuse from their intimate partners.

The facts are that trans and non-gender conforming kids often grow up with very poor mental health outcomes and 48% of trans young people had attempted suicide and 80% reported self-harming.

When I look at the stats and take time to reflect on the gender norms I grew up with it feels really clear to me that actively participating in strengthening my creativity around how I want to parent is an incredibly important responsibility. A few of the things that Nic and I are doing to take action in this direction is that he is going to stay home with me for the first few months postpartum and we have agreed that when I am ready to go back to work we will both work part time so as to spend half our time with the babe and half at work. Of course this is all subject to change depending on how the birth goes, etc. but the point is we are already engaged in these types of discussions to create a more dynamic, gender fluid environment for our little one.

“The gender binary must not simply be smudged but wholly eradicated from the moment that socialisation begins, clearing the way both for their child’s future gender exploration and for wholesale cultural change”. – Alex Morris

When I think about common phrases I’ve heard over the years (especially in the south where I grew up) like ‘I don’t want to raise a sissy boy’  or ‘girls don’t know how to do math’ I think about how much space I want to hold for this little one to express who they are without all of these intense cultural imprints. And I know so much will happen that is out of my control. I also know that it is my responsibility along with Nics to establish a safe environment for them to explore who they are.

Boys can be soft. Girls can be tough. And everything in between. Spend time with any kid and you will experience how intelligent, creative, and curious they are about life. Shouldn’t our role as parents be to simply let them be kids? When I think about this babe growing inside of me who will be earth side in the coming weeks I am giddy with excitement to get to know them. I can’t wait to learn what they like, don’t like, what they are interested in, how they love. I want to look at them without a predetermined lens of a specific gender role, and see them instead as the beautiful, open, and inquisitive explorer that they are.

Imagine a world where children felt as free to explore their gender expressions as they do their future career choices?

That is a world I want to help create.

I want to really see them for who they are.

x

Photo x @mariellevchua + @paigegeffen

8/22/2018

Why I’m Talking To My Bump Daily

Why I'm Talking To My Bump x Ashley Neese

Somewhere between emerging from the first trimester haze and seeing our babe during the 20 week ultrasound, I started having conversations with the tiny human growing in my uterus. It seemed like the most natural thing to do, and over the last few months has brought me a great deal of unexpected comfort and strength.

When a friend asked me in my second month of pregnancy if I felt connected to the baby and if I was talking to it, I said no and immediately felt like there was something wrong with me. Why wasn’t I connecting with the baby? How could I be so intuitive in all these areas in my life and feel no real connection to the fetus living and developing in my own body? I felt so much connection when the baby was in the spirit realm before conception and I began questioning if something was wrong, why didn’t I feel something, anything, about this baby?

I went through a few waves of shame before I remembered what I read in the Spirit Babies book and it brought me a tremendous amount of comfort. In the book Walter Makichen writes about the major transition that happens when the baby moves from the spirit realm into the physical one. He says that it’s normal for the level of communication to shift, especially in the early months of pregnancy because of how much work/energy is involved in the creation of human life. When I was able to recall that wisdom and let it fill my body and heart, I quickly dropped the shame of not feeling like I was in touch with the baby and settled into the present.

As I’ve shared, I was also very ill the first trimester so much of my subtle body awareness shifted during that time as well. I didn’t feel like I had as much access to my energetic body because my physical and emotional bodies were front and center. Easing into the second trimester, without a cue from anyone, I began saying hello to the baby in the mornings and sharing what we were going to do that day. I took a cue from the Spirit Babies book and didn’t bother the baby by bombarding it with questions, I simply shared what was on my mind and heart and let the baby know how much it was wanted and loved.

Each time I look down at my belly and speak directly to the little one growing inside, my brain completely reorganizes. It has been incredible to feel and witness this huge change happening within my body and mind. The more I communicate with our babe the stronger our connection feels and I am able to tap into a deep well of inner strength that I’ve never made contact with before. When I sit and breathe into the massive changes that are taking place each time I reach toward making connection with our baby, I orient myself in the direction of motherhood. I experience a full body sense of joining the millions of women who came before me. I become the archetypal Mother. It’s surreal on many levels and at the same time feels like exactly what is supposed to be happening.

“You don’t become a mother when your baby is born, you grow into becoming a mother during your pregnancy.” – Virginia Bobro

Why I'm Talking To My Bump x Ashley Neese

The more I talked to my bump the more curious I became about fetal development. I was full of questions like at what week does the baby start hearing sound? What are the benefits of playing music for the baby or reading to the bump at night (something Nic loves doing!)?

After loads of research I was in awe of just how much babies absorb in utero and how essential it is to be talking to them and/or reading to them each day, especially from the 6 month mark forward.

 

According to a study by Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, babies have the ability to recognize and remember sounds they’ve heard in the womb, even after birth, including music, noises, and voices. Because these findings support the notion that babies can learn and remember before they are born, it may be beneficial to talk to your baby or expose them to more sounds while you are pregnant.  – Romper.com

////

“The mother has first dibs on influencing the child’s brain,” said Patricia Kuhl, co-author and co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington. “The vowel sounds in her speech are the loudest units and the fetus locks onto them.”

Previously, researchers had shown that newborns are born ready to learn and begin to discriminate between language sounds within the first months of life, but there was no evidence that language learning had occurred in utero.

“This is the first study that shows fetuses learn prenatally about the particular speech sounds of a mother’s language,” said Christine Moon, lead author and a professor of psychology at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash. “This study moves the measurable result of experience with speech sounds from six months of age to before birth.” – Washington.edu

////

Talking, reading, and playing a variety of music can help stimulate baby’s senses and improve her brain development, according to Dr. Michael Roizen. “Exposure to different sounds and scenes is essentially what helps establish connections from one set of neurons—the nerve cells of the brain—to another. This is how we all learn.”

A study at the University of Oregon found when pregnant mothers were given a recording that included a made-up word to play near the end of pregnancy, the babies were able to recognize the word and its variations after they were born. They could discern this by neural signals emitted by the babies that showed they recognized the pitch and vowel changes in the fake word. The babies who heard the recording most frequently displayed the strongest response, suggesting that infant language learning begins in utero. – Greenchildmagazine.com

There are also several studies that show reading to the baby in utero will cause a drop in fetal heart rate, which in turn regulates them and brings a sense of calm. I’ve found that reading is an incredible way to strengthen the bond with this babe and Nic has expressed that as well. What’s nice about reading too, is that it’s something the other parent can participate in.

What I can tell you after months of daily communication with our babe is that I can feel them (we don’t know the sex yet, more on that later!) respond to my words and tone. Often times when I say hello and tell them about our day they move around. Two weeks ago at our appointment with our midwives Nic did a test with the Pinard horn (fetal stethoscope). He listened to the heartbeat of our baby and asked me to talk to them. When I started talking to them in a sweet, excited voice their heart rate went up significantly. This brought tears to our eyes as it was such a direct confirmation of what we already intuitively know and feel, this little one is in tune with us and very responsive to our communication.

Talking to this magic little being growing in my body over these last months has been such nourishing balm for my emotional and energetic bodies. Each time I slow down, tune in, and share with this little one what’s going on for the day, how much I love them, or read them a story, I strengthen our connection and feel myself becoming more and more of a Mother. Just like babies, Mothers are born. I had no idea how healing and life altering it would be to embody creation at its essence and be in communication with life force itself as it makes its way from the spiritual realm into this physical world.

x

Photos x @mariellevchua

8/17/2018

Pregnancy Safe Skin Care

Pregnancy Safe Skin Care x Ashley Neese

Early on in my pregnancy I switched out a few of my skin care products to make sure everything that I use is safe for growing a tiny human. It’s amazing how fast the little one goes from an embryo to fetus and with skin being the largest organ I wanted to be sure I was nourishing myself and this tiny human in as many ways as possible.

Within just a few weeks of being pregnant I noticed my skin was going through big changes. It was drier than usual, I had dark circles under my eyes and my body temperature was rising which created more sweat than I was used to. Out of all of the body changes that pregnancy has brought on, the higher temperature has been welcomed as my constitution tends to run cold and I have zero complaints about constantly having warm feet! Needless to say, I decided to add deodorant into my skin care regime which to be honest I never wore very much before pregnancy.

There are many conflicting studies in the dermatology field about how much our skin absorbs and what percentage of the products that are used actually get into our bloodstream. Our skin has multiple layers and varies in thickness depending on what part of the body we’re looking at. For example, the soles of our feet tend to be thick therefore won’t absorb nearly as much product as our face or head which has a 5-10% higher absorption rate. I’m not a scientist or dermatologist, but there is plenty of research out there that certain chemicals in skin care like retinoids/retinol (especially taken orally) are toxic to growing babes. Here is a great list of ten common skin care chemicals to avoid during pregnancy. I’ll add that these are great chemicals to avoid even when you’re not pregnant!

All of the skin care products I’ve been using for the last 6+ years are clean and chemical free. A few of them have ingredients that haven’t had enough testing to be sure they are 100% pregnancy safe. When I found out I was pregnant it was a matter of switching out  those products and adding a few new ones in.

My main motto during pregnancy with skin care has been less is more which isn’t that different from my pre-pregnant philosophy. Refining my skin care routine has been a good practice for me and helped me become more of a minimilast with my skin care routine. I’ve also really been enjoying creating new skin care rituals as a way to take care of myself and enjoy alone time connecting with myself. I know when the babe gets here I’ll be lucky to get a shower so I am spending more time in these skin rituals!

Below are my go-to pregnancy safe skin care products that I use daily (aside from the shampoo as I only wash my hair once a week).

Also, I haven’t been using a salt scrub much during pregnancy and have instead gone back to dry brushing a few times a week. It’s been great for my lymph, circulation, and keeping my skin soft and smooth.

Pregnancy Safe Skin Care x Ashley Neese

Face Wash
My favorite face wash for the last three years that I’ve been using throughout the pregnancy is Annee de Mamiel’s Restorative Cleansing Balm. The aroma is incredibly grounding and I love the ritual of wiping off the balm with a warm cloth. My skin is left well hydrated which means I don’t need to use as much oil afterwards. When I first started using it, I wasn’t sure how well the balm was going to clean my face as I had been using cleansers that stripped more oil from my skin. Once I got used to it, I noticed a huge difference in how my skin glowed and have been a devotee ever since.

Toner
The two toners I’ve been loving during pregnancy are I-Sun Soothing Relief Face & Body Mist and my old standby Heritage Rose Water Toner. The I-Sun mist is cooling cucumber and has been wonderful in this summer heat. I typically use this one morning and night before I put my face oil on. The Rose toner I keep in the fridge and give myself a few spritzes when I’m home and wanting to cool off. I also carry this one around in my bag and use throughout the day to refresh myself. Now that my sense of smell is super heightened from the pregnancy I’m enjoying the toners as a way to relax too as their scents are so restorative.

Face Oil
I’ve been a True Botanicals fan for a couple of years now, using their Clear line and loving it. When I got pregnant their co-founder Hillary suggested I switch to their Hydrate line which is 100% pregnancy safe and very gentle on the skin. I was reluctant to stop using the Clear oil and serum as I had experienced such epic results with them, but I trust their knowledge and integrity. I made the leap to the Hydrate oil and have been super happy with the results.

I’ve also used Annee de Mamiel’s Pregnancy Facial Oil and have enjoyed that as well. I’ve been switching back and forth with the Pregnancy and Hydrate oils and have nothing but good things to report. Both companies use the highest quality ingredients, are masterful with their essential oil blends and have made my skin very happy.

Serum
I’ve stuck to the True Botanicals Hydrate serum since week three of the pregnancy. It’s light, easy to apply and when you use it after your face oil it penetrates deep into the skin for ultimate nourishment. Since the serum is traveling father into the skin it is key to use one that is completely safe for pregnancy. This serum also blends beautifully with the True Botanicals Vitamin C Booster which I have used 1-2 x per week during pregnancy to give my skin an extra collagen boost and keep it bright.

Pregnancy Safe Skin Care x Ashley Neese

SPF
Given that Vitamin D is essential for fetal development I haven’t been wearing sunscreen on my body while pregnant. I have been going in the sun as often as possible to get as much of this vital nutrient as I can. On days when I will be in the sun for more than 30 minutes I have been using the True Botanicals Everyday Sheer in Light on my face. I just apply it once on top of the face oil when I leave the house and that’s all I’ve needed. I tend to like a little sun kissed glow on my face in the summer and aside from a few extra freckles haven’t had any issues.

Shampoo + Conditioner
I’ve been using the True Botanicals shampoo and conditioner for the last year and haven’t found the need to change because they both work really well. I’ve probably tried at least 10 other brands of clean/organic/etc shampoo and I am a big fan of the lather that True Botanicals has been able to achieve. Also, products that you use in the shower go right into your lungs as you are breathing them in through the steam so it is essential to use non-toxic products in the shower.

Soap
I am totally obsessed with the Bathing Culture soap. I like to joke that it is the modern day Dr. Bronner’s. It has a complex scent which might not be for every pregnant person, but I love how earthy and woodsy it is. Super sudsy, refreshing and biodegradable.

Belly Butter
I did a ton of research on stretch marks during pregnancy and everything pointed me to Shea butter. I love the blend created by URB Apothecary that is specifically for pregnancy. It smells great and works well. I use it on my belly, boobs and hips, basically any place that is growing and stretching! When went through 4 jars of that belly butter and now I’m using the Sun Potion Shea Butter and am loving it. It comes in a larger size which is great and I am enjoying the simplicity of using a single ingredient. I use this shea butter in all the same places after showering. It is thick and takes a while to absorb but as of now I have no stretch marks!

Body Oil
My go-to body oils are Jiva Apoha Happy and Mother. The oils are the highest quality and the scents from essential oils are next level. Applying them on my arms and legs post shower is so relaxing and restorative. I also will apply on my neck instead of wearing perfume. Jiva Apoha also makes a Baby oil which I cannot wait to get for infant massage when then babe gets here. People constantly tell me that I smell good which is also a bonus!

Deodorant
Last year I was given the No B.S. Ursa Major deodorant and used it a handful of times. I liked it, but as I mentioned, wasn’t much of a deodorant user until I started sweating so much in pregnancy. This one is amazing because it’s safe, it works, and unlike many natural deodorants I have tried it doesn’t stain clothes. Double points for this in my book!

*Please note this is not a sponsored post. These are products I’ve been using love to share about.**

Photos x @mariellevchua x @paigegeffen

© ASHLEY NEESE 2018