Real Mama: Regina Bailey

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am from a loving Italian family of six and was raised in the western suburbs of Chicago. I graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2007 and then joined Teach For America’s Houston corps, where I taught Pre-Kindergarten at a Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter school for two years.

While working in Houston, I met my husband Paul on, and you can read about our story here. Paul is an engineer with CalFire based out of St. Helena, California, and he also owns a private wine tour company, Napa Valley Wine Excursions, which specializes in private tours and tastings of boutique wineries throughout the Napa Valley.

Currently, I work full-time on Teach For America’s Professional Recruitment Team as a Manager of Acquisitions. 

In June of 2012, I gave birth to our first child – our daughter, Gianna Maria – and she is truly our greatest blessing. She’s an incredibly athletic, agile, pensive little girl, and I’m so grateful for her loving, easygoing personality.

Where is home?

Given that I was raised in Chicago and that my parents still reside there, a large part of me will always see that as my home. However, my husband’s jobs are based in the Napa Valley, so this has been my new home for the past three years.

We have started to raise our family here, but I’m very blessed to be able to travel back to Chicago for two-week-long visits every eight to ten weeks. This has given Gianna plenty of opportunities to travel, and she and I have flown solo to and from Chicago 15 times now since she was born!

What are your secrets to balancing your life as a full-time work at home mama?

I work full-time for Teach For America, a national education non-profit. While I often put in over 50 hours during each work week, I am blessed to be able to work from home.

We have a wonderful nanny who takes care of Gianna at home every weekday while I am working. She has been so hands-on with her and is careful to ensure that she stays on her schedule, which I truly appreciate.

My secrets to balancing working so much and being a mommy? I’d say that I have two, and they are as follows:

-Wake up 45 minutes before Gianna so that I can get dressed, put on my makeup, and enjoy my coffee and breakfast. This allows me to feel beautiful and put together throughout the day, and that quiet time in the morning to think through my day and to take care of any little household items before Gianna wakes is absolutely priceless. I feel like this helps me start off every day on the right foot.

Plan weekly meals on Saturday. I love to cook, and I grew up in a household where my mother always cooked delicious meals every day and had cookies or some other baked good on hand for an after-school snack. This is one of my favorite childhood memories, and I swore that I’d provide this kind of home and memory for my husband and for our children.

As a working mom, though, I need to make sure to plan meals in advance, and I don’t usually have time in the evenings to go out and shop for the ingredients that I need.  So every Saturday, during Gianna’s nap, I take out my cookbooks (or check out my absolute favorite and most highly-recommended website for mama’s, Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food) and plan out which meals I will cook that week and make a list of the necessary groceries.

Then, once Gianna wakes, we head out to the store to pick up everything. This way, I know that I have everything I need for the whole week and can look forward to cooking each meal without worrying about having to pick up the ingredients at the end of a busy work day. 

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My father. Hands-down. He is a devoted husband, father, and medical doctor and is truly the most selfless person I have ever known. He lives to serve his family and his patients, and I’m inspired every day by his kindness, generosity, brilliance, and completely self-sacrificing love.

My husband and I plan to name one of our sons (if we are blessed with one) after him because he is the kind of person who I could only dream of being.

What has been the best advice you’ve received as a mama? What do you feel is the best advice, if any, that you’ve given as a mama?

My mother has been a wellspring of incredible parenting advice. Like me, she had to manage being a wife and homemaker with a husband who was gone for significant periods of time, so she really mastered the secrets of running an organized household! She gave me three pieces of advice that I saw as game-changers, and I constantly pass these points on to other new moms:

#1: Don’t put up with something even one time that you wouldn’t be able to put up with forever. In essence, this advice taught me to nip unsavory behavior in the bud right away and to develop strong, permanent solutions. If Gianna gets fussy in the grocery cart while I’m shopping, I know that I can hand over her favorite snack – Baby Mum Mums – and she’ll stop whining and be perfectly happy. But while that helps me in the moment, it actually makes things more difficult in the long term, as she will internalize that fussing gets her a snack. So it should not be surprising if she fusses when we are in church or when we are at the mall in hopes of being placated with a snack.

Or when we were having a very difficult time getting her to eat baby food off of a spoon (which we discovered was because she wanted to get out of the high chair and play, not because she didn’t like the food), I would go through a very complex, unsustainable ritual of walking around the kitchen with the food on the spoon and dancing before feeding it to her. While that may have eventually helped to accomplish the goal of feeding her, it taught her that she needed someone to put on a show for her in order for her to eat something. And it took me 30 minutes to feed her one jar of baby food.

Once I adopted my mom’s advice, things really changed. I learned that Gianna was old enough and smart enough to understand that an “angry mommy face” and a shake of the finger, accompanied by the words “No-no,” meant that her behavior was not pleasing and that it needed to be changed.

If I knew that she was fed and dry and well-slept, then I could expect her to behave in the grocery store. I might need to give her a pacifier before I go into the store, but once I’m in there, I can expect her to behave. I work to talk to her more while I’m shopping and to engage her in what I’m doing or buying instead of trying to placate her when she gets fussy. And if she does get mildly fussy, I distract her with something in the cart and ignore the behavior so that she knows that she won’t get attention for it.

With respect to the feeding issues, it just took a few days of just putting the food in Gianna’s mouth despite her protests and acting completely neutral so that she could come to understand that feeding time was feeding time, and that she would not be permitted to leave the high chair until the jar was empty. It only took three days, and she began to eat perfectly.

#2: This baby has come into your household. She needs to adapt to the schedule and lifestyle of the family – not the other way around. A nurse told this to my mother when she was at her wit’s end with her first child – my older sister – at two months postpartum. I think that so many first-time moms feel like they can never make a plan again because a baby makes things so unpredictable.

Well, this piece of advice has made parenting so manageable and enjoyable because it helped me to recognize that I could schedule Gianna according to what would work best for our family and our schedule. A 5:00 a.m. wake-up call with multiple, unpredictable intermittent naps throughout the day would never work for our lifestyle, so I decided right away that I needed to work on establishing a schedule and routine that kept Gianna happy while ensuring that our family had normalcy and predictability.

After a lot of hard work and sleep training, we had Gianna on a very tight schedule in which she would wake up at 6:30 a.m.; play until 10:00 a.m., nap from 10:00 a.m. until noon; play from noon until 2:00 p.m.; nap from 2:00-3:30 p.m.; and then play until 6:30 p.m., which was her ultimate bedtime.

After a 10:00 dream feed, I could be confident that she would sleep through until the next morning. She has now dropped the morning nap and takes one nap from 11:00 until about 1:30 or 2:00, but the wake-up and bed times have stayed consistent.

Success on this front took a great deal of patience, persistence, determination, and, frankly, sacrifice. I gave up many lunch dates, play dates, and dinner outings early on to ensure that her schedule was never broken even once during the early months of schedule training so that it would become deeply ingrained. Now, if the occasional event crops up in which her nap or bedtime needs to be pushed a little later, I can be confident that it won’t throw her off in any major way.

#3: Protect the nap. I don’t think this requires much explanation, and I feel like most mommas live by this mantra. But it truly revolutionizes management of little ones. If I know that Gianna has napped well, I can be confident that I can take her anywhere, and she’ll be cooing, happy, and well-behaved.

Are you the kind of mama you thought you’d be?

Interestingly, yes, I really am. I have always been an ultra-organized, highly-structured person, and I function on the highest level when everything around me is scheduled, predictable, and organized. While motherhood certainly taught me very quickly that I could not plan everything, I would say that I have been able to create structures, schedules, and systems in our household that keep things predictable and orderly 97% of the time. I knew that I would need to do that in order to manage being a wife, mother, homemaker, and full-time employee of a major non-profit organization, especially in light of the fact that my husband is away between 72 and 96 hours every week at the fire station.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I constantly remind myself that God’s ways are not our ways and that His time is not our time, so I try not to become too attached to my future plans. At this point, however, I envision being a mother of at least three or four children and earning a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd through the Aquinas Institute of Theology. It would be a joy to teach that at my children’s school.

If you could have lunch with anyone famous (dead or alive), who would it be?

I always struggle with this question, but if I had to choose one person whose life I would love to emulate, it would be Mother Teresa. Her commitment to protecting life from conception until death and to living a life entirely built on service is so inspiring.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

I would want the ability to overcome any irrational or unkind emotions/reactions and to act and respond with perfect love and charity in every situation.

Was your birth experience all that you hoped it would be? If you could go back and change anything, what would it be?

Thankfully, I am an extremely practical person, so I was not too terribly disappointed that Gianna’s birth did not go just as I had planned. Like most women, I had hoped to go into labor before my due date; to labor at home for several hours; and to arrive at the hospital with enough time to labor safely prior to a natural delivery.

Unsurprisingly, I went well past my due date, and when my doctor realized that I was still barely 1 cm dilated, she sent me to the hospital for a dose of Cytotec. From there, the plan was to monitor me for a few hours and then send me home with the expectation that I would then go into labor within 24 hours.

However, roughly 20 minutes after I took the pill, I had a long contraction, and Gianna’s heart rate plummeted. Five nurses rushed in to put me on oxygen and to stop the contraction, and one was preparing to call the doctor for an ultra-emergency c-section. Thankfully, they were able to stabilize her, and after that, they decided to break my water to see if my labor could progress on its own. After 17 hours of back labor and no progress, the doctor tried one tiny dose of Pitocin, at which point Gianna’s heart rate dropped dramatically again.

At this point, the doctor knew that there was a significant issue with the cord and that she was being strangled in utero with every contraction, so a Cesarean was our only option. Gianna was born shortly thereafter via Cesarean with the cord wrapped twice around her neck and once around her waist.

While the anxiety was high throughout the process, I trusted my doctor and the nurses implicitly, and they made all the right decisions and delivered our healthy, beautiful baby. Given this, if I could change anything, I would have worried less and prayed even more during the whole process.

Do you have a mama mantra? Or something you find yourself repeating over and over when times are tough?

I have to believe that a lot of mothers do this, but whenever Gianna is driving me to distraction, I take a deep breath and remind myself that she will only be this tiny once and never again. She’s already grown up far too quickly, and once we have more children, I won’t ever have just this one baby and the time to focus solely on her. It’s priceless time, and the difficult moments will pass. They don’t last forever, but neither do the amazing moments, which are far more abundant than the difficult ones.

Is there anything else you wish to share with the Mama Say What?! audience?

God made you to do this incredible work of being a mother, so anything that seems impossible or insurmountable isn’t really at all. “I know that God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” (Mother Teresa)

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