It doesn’t matter how you gave birth

“Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby”  That’s all that matters, right?  I hear it all the time, “Well, it was okay because I had a healthy baby.”  Yes, we all agree, having a healthy baby and a healthy mom is important.  But, in our baby-centric culture, “Healthy mom and healthy baby” often means, “healthy baby, living mom.”

After birth, we dismiss the emotional and physical challenges of birth (before birth we  don’t talk about birth at all or we find the most horrific stories possible to scare moms) . Mothers who experience complications, discomfort, or pain often get a message that their particular concern is invalid, because they have the gift of a healthy baby.   We assume the recovery from a surgical (cesarean) birth is ‘normal’ because many women experience that type of birth.  But healing from surgery is not ‘normal.’  It’s different from healing from a vaginal birth, just as healing from a five minute second stage may look very different from healing from five hour second stage.

In addition to the obvious physical differences, there are also emotional differences.  A mother welcoming her rainbow baby at thirty seven weeks has a different experience than a mother at 40 weeks birthing her fourth baby from her fourth pregnancy.

Women on the other side of birth are looking for ways to process their experience and heal from the emotional and physical events.  They are often met with platitudes and unrealistic expectations to “bounce back.”  Birth is a big deal, yet in our culture we want women to instantly become competent and confident mothers all while instantly returning to their pre-baby bodies and schedules.

For most women, healing from birth requires time.  It requires space.  More for some, less for others, but every woman deserves to have her birth story treated with honor and respect.  Birth can be an amazing, transforming event in a woman’s life and it can also be disappointing, difficult and even traumatizing.  There needs to be space for a discussion of the experience, good, bad, painful, and exhilarating.

So, if you come up against a well intentioned platitude about birth, remember:   It doesn’t matter how you gave birth.  Birth is a big deal.  Your birth was a big deal and Your experience of birth matters.

Reclaiming Postpartum

Changing What We Are by Changing What We Say

What do you think when you hear the word Postpartum? For most people, the word has come to be synonymous with Postpartum Depression or Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs).  But, Postpartum is not a disease or disorder.  It is a timeframe.  A timeframe of a year that every woman who births a baby goes through.

Today, in our culture, the only word that we have to describe the sacred time after a woman has a baby has been conscripted as shorthand for a disorder.  I hear all the time, ” I think I had a little Postpartum.”   What she means is, ‘I think I might have had a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD).’  You don’t have Postpartum, You ARE Postpartum.  We’ve taken the only word that describes this vulnerable, magical time of transition and changed it into a disease.  And we wonder why there is so much pressure for women to bounce back, get back to work and get back in shape.   

So, what do we do?  In my case, we take cute phrases like ‘4th Trimester’ and ‘Newborn Mothers’  so that we can discuss the Postpartum period without making everyone think that we are talking about mental health issues.  But, I don’t like doing that, because those phrases fall short. They imply a time period of about three months and Postpartum is a year.

So, I am making an effort to use the word, ‘Postpartum,’ and the acronym, PMADs when I speak.  I want all the women I meet to have a way to talk about the amazing, transformative and sacred time that is the Postpartum period.

I want there to be a word that embodies everything that we hope for a postpartum mother.  That she is cared for, supported, and pampered.  That she has good food, and time to rest and heal.  That she is recognized as a whole person, separate from her child, but no less worthy.  And that she is given space to evolve and grow into herself as a mother.  Maybe that word is Matrescence or maybe it really is Postpartum with all of its’ baggage and misuse.

Regardless, let’s stop using ‘Postpartum’ as a way to say PMADs.  It’s one step on the way to honoring the amazing transition as a woman becomes a mother.  Because no matter what you call it, the time after a baby arrives is sacred.  So, let’s use our language to create space.  Let’s create space for women to rest, heal and grow after the birth of their babies.

Stretching for Balance

Dr. Alexandra Sacks, recently did a TED talk on the word matrescence. She explains that similar to adolescence (describing the period of transition from child to adult), ‘matrescence’ is a word that we need to describe the transition to motherhood. And she goes on to say that, this time of change, physical, mental and emotional is not easy, in fact, it is hard.

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It is hard because we are now constantly pushed and pulled between the ever present needs of our children and our own needs and desires. And our society tells us that if we are not blissfully happy with this new balancing act, then we are selfish, ungrateful, un-motherly and unwomanly. With the arrival of Millennial Mothers, we are starting to have real conversations about what motherhood is really like. We are starting to be honest about the constant push and pull of motherhood, careers, marriages, and last, but not least, ourselves.

As these public conversations were beginning, Courtney and I created 4th Trimester. In the past three years this class has been informed by experts in our community and beyond and it has changed as our own experiences and practices have grown and changed. This fall, we are refocusing on the 4th Trimester Series and Itty Bitty Yogis, bringing the practices of yoga to newborn mothers in an accessible and realistic way.

If you are in the middle of rocking a screaming baby, sitting down to feed for the 45th time today, or feeling like you would pay obscene amounts of money for an hour of sleep, you may wonder how yoga is going to help you. Yoga helps you stretch and balance. The physical practice of yoga can help stretch and balance your body, but the larger practices of mindfulness can help you find balance amid the push and pull of motherhood, without pain and without suffering. Join us in a safe and welcoming place to explore your own matrescence and the amazing, messy, beautiful world of motherhood.

Measuring Motherhood

After I had my first baby, I found myself in a weird sort of limbo-land. I had taken a maternity leave from my job. I was expecting a break. A break where I could complete some decorating projects around my house and catch-up on some books I had wanted to read. I did not understand how life changing and soul altering having a baby would be, that I would be all of a sudden be caught between my old life and a new life. That I would now constantly try to balance the old world of deadlines, budgets, schedules and achievement with a new world of nurturing and caring without firm measurements for success.

In my old life, success meant staying on budget and on schedule. With a baby, no one was measuring my performance and responding with feedback for improvement or a bonus for exceeding the project metrics. And so I grasped for things to measure. I grasped for things that I could nail down. I tried to figure out what made a ‘good’ mom, what made a ‘great’ mom and what dragged a woman down to the horrible range of average. So, I created a schedule for my two week old baby, I breastfed through pain because it was the ‘best’, I cooked organic, from scratch meals, I learned new ways to fold fitted sheets and I bought videos on baby sign language.   And guess what – it didn’t work. My son cried, he didn’t sleep on schedule, I had to supplement with formula, he didn’t sleep through the night and by four months, he wasn’t making one sign.

I had failed. I had failed at being a ‘great’ mom. And I was miserable. I was so wrapped up in making sure that I was meeting my own arbitrarily imposed standards, that I was missing the best parts of being a mother – or at least what I had heard about the best parts.

With my subsequent children, I did things differently. I deepened my yoga practice. A practice that does not subscribe to ideas of judging and labeling, or of competition or success, a practice that constantly seeks to balance the ideas of effort and ease, surrender and action. 4th Trimester is about bringing these concepts to newborn mothers as they seek to find their own balance between their old world and their new world. It’s about honoring each woman’s experience as unique and valid.

For me, being a ‘good’ mother meant finding a new way of being. A way that is softer, more flexible and more open. In letting go of my desire to measure, compete, rank and judge my performance, I found more joy, peace and fulfillment in my journey as a mom. And this ‘letting go’ is a constant practice, one that feels easier some days than others. I’d love to have you come practice with me.

Good Fences make Good Relatives

A friend of mine is having her first baby. I was inquiring about what she wanted for shower gifts and I made a joke that a roll of fencing would make the best present, because good fences make good neighbors and relatives. And although I’m not planning to give her a 30’ roll of 12-gauge welded wire mesh fencing as a shower gift, I do think that creating and maintaining firm personal boundaries is one of the keys to a restorative and fulfilling postpartum period.

 

We spend so much money, time and attention on buying stuff prior to the arrival of a baby. I found out when I had my first baby that I didn’t need that much stuff. What I did need was time to sit, reflect, and form intentions and guidelines (a.k.a boundaries) to serve me in birth, postpartum and throughout my journey as a parent. I spent time setting up a registry, painting and assembling cribs, but I didn’t realize there was a whole other side to preparing for a baby – a side that doesn’t lead to ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ at showers; a side that makes you take a hard look at yourself, your relationships and decide what will best serve you in this phase. Who and what is nourishing and affirming? What do I need to put aside or keep away right now?

Photo credit: www.angiegray.com

Having a baby is like putting a magnifying glass up to yourself, every hang-up, bad habit, piece of emotional baggage, every fear, every bad relationship from the past can come roaring up to the surface during what may be the most vulnerable point in your life. Yes, vulnerable – because no matter how your baby enters your world (via your vagina, an incision in your uterus or via an airplane from China), it rips you in two. It’s like an explosion that rips open your heart, your body and spills the contents of your brain out onto the floor (you get to collect that in 2 years or so).

So along with onesies, swaddles and swings, start to look at what you want and what you need. Where do you want to be? What place feels safe and nurturing? Who will care for you? Who is a nurturing presence in your life? Who sucks your energy like a vampire? Do you thrive on company or solitude? Do you get cabin fever easily or is it scary to go out? Who can you call for help?

When you have some answers, write them down. Discuss them with your family. And then start to set up some guidelines for yourself and your family around visiting, meals, sleeping and events that help you feel comfortable, protected and ready to welcome your baby. Set your boundary and then learn to say ‘no’ with clarity, kindness, and firmness.   When you get off track, go back to your intentions and adjust your plan so that you can rest, heal, and nurture yourself and your baby. What you want and what you need to make it through the biggest transition of your life is important because you, mama, matter.

Why I Hate Baby Showers

When I had my first baby, I had three baby showers. Yes, three. I should have felt like the luckiest woman alive, but instead those showers felt like an obligation. I felt happy that everyone wanted to celebrate my baby, but something in these exquisite lunches with beautiful cakes, fancy decorations and generous gifts felt false.

At the time, I didn’t know why, but now I realize that a modern baby shower is just part of the way we lie to pregnant moms. We don’t mean to lie, but we don’t want to scare her. We don’t mean to lie, but being honest, being real about motherhood is too gritty, too invasive for living rooms filled with daisies and lemonade. The modern baby shower with candy baby booties, pink and blue balloons and games with diapers and nursery rhymes is cute, but it feels like a façade masking what we really need to be doing.

New moms don’t need specialty onesies, expensive strollers and unsolicited advice on their birth choices. They don’t need a barrage of trite  and potentially damaging phrases like, “Enjoy every minute,” “you’re going to love being a mom,” “It’s the best job ever,” “you’ll be so in love the minute you meet your baby.”  What they really need is support. Empathetic, compassionate and honest support that makes space for both the new baby and the new mother that will emerge from the birth. For me, the ‘guess the size of the belly’ game did not feel like loving, non-judgmental support.

When I had my second and third babies, I had baby showers, but they were different. They were gatherings of very small groups of friends and family, they were opportunities for my tribe to surround me and say, ‘we will support you’. And at those gatherings, my friends agreed to provide support in ways that were meaningful to me, not by purchasing smocked rompers and deliciously soft stuffed animals, but by promising to call and listen, to stop by and rock my baby so that I could get a shower, to force me to go on a walk, to bring me a hot meal.

They were gatherings where each woman could share her thoughts and prayers for me as I embarked on the next phase in my journey as a mother. We didn’t play games, we joined hands and worked to strengthen our connections as women, mothers and friends.

So, now when I go to a baby shower, I think about the mom. What will serve her best. What does she really need? Diapers? A fancy stroller? A hot meal? New pajamas? I attend with the express purpose of lifting her up, of saying, “I support you.” And if I have to sit through ooohhing and aaawing over tiny little clothes, I remember that I can provide real, honest support just by being there. Even if it’s not my thing, I go and I say, “I will support you.”

On Saturday, I’m going to the ‘Baby Shower’ for The Birth Center (but it’s really a Community Gathering). Yes, there is a need for stuff, but there is also an opportunity to lift up this amazing organization as they move into their next phase. The Birth Center has been at the forefront of creating a space for real, honest and non-judgmental conversation about pregnancy and birth for over 35 years. Thankfully, I will not be subjected to the dramatic opening of a Sophie the Giraffe, but I will be there saying, “I will support you.” Come out and join me!

The Birth Center Baby Shower and Family Fair

Saturday, April 21st 9 am to 1 pm

Hockessin Montessori School