Happy Birthday, Baby

I used to say, “nothing says ‘I don’t care’ like a store bought birthday cake.” But, since I cannot compete with an airbrush and neon icing colors, I now buy birthday cakes because, well, my kids love them.

Neon cake poised and ready to go, we had a birthday party for my oldest child last week. Birthday parties are always busy. I ran around, trying to make sure the baby had his dinner, that my preschooler was not stealing presents from the birthday boy and that our friends and family had something to drink. It was

a warm and humid august evening and the mosquitoes were giving us all a run for our money as I shuttled food from the kitchen to the outdoor table.

I adjusted citronella candles and handed out bug spray. I turned around and cut meat into tiny pieces and then paused to talk with a friend before realizing that I had left one of the side dishes in the refrigerator. It was a great night, the family was happy to celebrate my little boy and relished in his joy in his birthday presents.

As someone else was clearing the dinner plates (paper of course), I went inside and started to un-box the cake. My kitchen was quiet. I un-boxed the cake in all of its themed, artificial color and flavor, glory. I counted out the candles, one, two, three, four…. and then I remembered, one, his mostly toothless grin and the striped bib, two, the bulldozers and dump trucks, the blond, almost white hair that is now sandy, three, the excitement over gifts and trips to special places…. I remembered as I put each candle in the cake, one by one, year by year.

I lit the candles and as they burned, I carried the cake out of the kitchen to the boisterous and happy crowd outside and I said a prayer of gratitude for every year, every month and every day that I have been a mother.

Sip and See

I attended a ‘sip and see’ today. Although, they are more common in the south, these parties to meet new babies seem to be making their way into our northeastern culture. The baby was almost four months old, but I still consider that a newborn. As is typical in our culture, everyone wanted to hold the baby. I wanted to talk to the mom. I wanted to know how she felt about her birth. Not what happened during her birth, how she felt about it.

I wanted to know how she was feeling. How she felt about having a second child.   But, as is typical in our culture today, no one asked about the mom. Here she was, surrounded by women who love and want to support her, but everyone was distracted by the baby.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a cute little baby. I love the way they smell and the way they feel, but a new mom doesn’t need me to love her baby. My mom friends need me to love them. So, the next time you go to a baby shower, or a sip and see, or a first birthday party, see what you can do to help the mom. Sometimes that does mean holding the baby, but sometimes it means leaving the baby in her arms and holding her champagne glass to her lips, so that she too can drink to just how fabulous she is.

More Lube is NOT the Answer

The six-week postpartum check-up is failing women in many ways and the bedroom is a big one. The visit is often too little, too late, when it comes to breastfeeding, mental health and pelvic health. Most women leave their appointment with a green light to return to life as normal including exercise and sex.

And then, so many women say that sex is painful after childbirth. This goes for moms who had Cesarean births and women who have had vaginal births. No matter how you birth your baby, painful sex is not normal. It’s not normal before you have a baby and it is not normal after you have a baby.

 

It’s not normal, but it’s really common. Like problems with breastfeeding, maternal mental health and other pelvic health issues, we aren’t talking about it. Women who are brave enough to bring up the issue are often told to use more lube, drink a glass of wine, and chill out. But most new moms will suffer in silence and too often their caregivers are also under-informed about what can cause pain during sex (dyspareunia).

 

Some common issues that can lead to pain with intercourse (dyspareunia) after baby:

  1. Presence of scar tissue, either from a tear, or episiotomy in the pelvic floor, or from a Cesarean-birth incision.  Scar tissue will bind muscle and fascia down and prevent normal expansion and contraction of that tissue.  Tissue mobility is required for non-painful intercourse (and most certainly for being able to have an orgasm).
  2. Muscle spasms in pelvic floor or deep hip stabilizers.  Spasms throughout the pelvic muscles are quite common and can be the result of imbalances that existed before becoming pregnant or birthing a baby.  They can be made worse by a host of variables that come with childbirth – and especially with a very quick or very long pushing phase.  
  3. Vaginal dryness.  Hormonal fluctuations during the postpartum months and with breastfeeding contribute to dryness which contribute to irritable tissues when friction is introduced.  That irritability will then lead to muscle spasms.  (See #2)  If lube is being use and pain persists, it is likely secondary to a spasm or scar tissue issue.
  4.  Fear. Anticipation of pain turns the protective part of the nervous system up, which is likely to cause a bracing effect of muscles throughout the body.  Super contracted PF muscles and intercourse don’t mix well.

 

So, What can you do?

 

  1. Get comfortable with your anatomy – get a mirror and look at it and then use your finger and feel it. Yes, I just told you to put your finger in your vagina. It’s a good test to see how things feel. If your finger is causing pain, you probably don’t want anything else going in there.  If something doesn’t feel right, see your healthcare provider and get it checked out.
  2. Just because your doctor said that you can go for it, doesn’t mean that you should. Some women feel ready for sex at six weeks, some women feel ready at six months. Six weeks means that soft tissue should be healed (and for some women it may take longer). In my informal and unscientific polling, women without complications, who wait about 10 to 16 weeks, seem to feel positive about their first post-baby roll in the hay.
  3. If you have pain, get help from your midwife, OB or a Physical Therapist specializing in Women’s Health. If you get advice to “just use more lube and drink some wine,” and it doesn’t work, get other help. Keep advocating for yourself. You are worth it – sex after baby should be just as great as sex before.

The above is not intended to be or to replace medical advice from a licensed healthcare provider. The information above is general in nature and should not be used to diagnose or treat any problem or disease.

Information for this article was provided by women’s health expert, Anne Duch of Physical Therapy for Women.

Mushy and Squishy

I teach a couple yoga classes every week. After my last baby, I went to teach my first class. A student approached me, “Have you lost all the baby weight?” The question hit me sort of hard, right in the chest. It was an abrupt entry into the “real world,” after my maternity-leave. I thought for a second about my response. Was I ashamed that I hadn’t? Did this person need a lecture about manners? Maybe. Did she need my entire story? No. I responded, “Nope, this is what I look like with about 15 extra pounds, but I’m not really worried about it.”

Photo: Kelli Wilke

I wish I could have come up with something more eloquent.

I wish I had said, “Today I am not the same weight that I was when I became pregnant with my last child. My bottom and thighs are rounder and my tummy is soft and squidgy. My breasts are the biggest they have ever been and I feel so good that they are full of milk for my baby this time (because one time they weren’t).

I am mushy and squishy in every way right now. My brain is mushy and squishy. It’s been altered (possibly permanently) by a cascade of hormones throughout pregnancy, birth and now – to help me understand, respond and bond to my baby.

My heart is mushy and squishy because when it felt like my body was going to break apart in birth, the thing that really broke apart was my heart – making room for the love that would come with this child.

Photo: Kelli Wilke

Everything is as it should be right now. My body, my mind and my heart are perfectly poised to nurture my baby. To hold him against my soft warm belly, to feel that my heart might burst as I feel his breath light and soft against my chest. To understand that my mind has stilled – to allow me to sit; to be still and quiet with this infant – fresh from heaven.

I am raw and healing. Something the size of a bowling ball came through me. My nipples ache and burn. My mind is raw – I don’t get a lot of sleep and hormones make me cry at every sappy ad on TV. My heart is healing around this new space, around this new person and the new family we have created – but it is raw and tender and vulnerable and intensity of my emotions is electric.

So, when you ask me if I have lost the baby weight, you discount what has happened to me. You discount that I am a new person, a different person. I am not trying to “get my body back,” or “get back to the old me.” With each child I have, I am born again as a new mother. I am stronger and bigger (on the inside and out). I carry that birth with me, physically, mentally and emotionally. I am in a process of growing and healing. Please do not ask me to go back. I’m having a wonderful time being mushy, and squishy, and raw, right here, and it feels amazing.

Why I ‘do’ Yoga

I was dragged to my first yoga class. And by dragged, I mean literally. I shuffled my feet on the sidewalk on the way to the studio, but thankfully, my friend was stronger (willed) than I was and managed to push me in the door.

I generally do not like exercise. I do not enjoy most team sports and anything with a ball is really a disaster for me.

I am not a slim bodied person and I was nervous about being in a room full of svelte people twisted into pretzels. I didn’t really know anything about yoga. I didn’t understand the friendly, non-gym atmosphere – but, I liked it. This was not a competition, this was not a race, this was not just exercise. Here was a way to move my body that was loving and nurturing and not about competition, or winning, or doing something ‘right.’

As I bounced around the country in my 20’s, I started visiting different studios, I started reading about yoga. I went to Kripalu for the first time. As part of that journey of moving my body, I began to understand the rest of yoga. That Asana (the poses) are just a small part of the entire practice.

I am still developing my yoga practice and it is constantly changing. When I come to my mat, for the physical practice, sometimes it is to move in a way that feels good, sometimes it is to move in a way that is challenging, sometimes it is to be fully present in my body, in a way that is easier to find on my mat than during most of my daily routine.

The physical practice of yoga helped me find enjoyment in other exercise and some sports. Although I don’t think I will ever enjoy playing basketball or soccer, I have found some sports where I can enjoy moving my body and the intense focus that comes from doing something physical.

Like so many others, yoga has helped me make peace with my own body. My body is not something that I need to fight, or mold, or deprive, or beat. My body is a gift that deserves to be loved and nurtured. That doesn’t mean that I sit still and eat Twinkies. What it does mean is that I try to honor my body with my choices and actions.

At The Mothers’ Space, our classes are based on this principle of honoring our bodies (and also our minds). Many times that means honoring the amazing transitions that our bodies go through as mothers. Our movement classes are about finding a home in your own body, not “getting your body back.”   You never lost your body. I never lost mine. It just took a good yoga class for me to understand how close I was to home, and how great it could feel to be there.

Moving More

By Kristen Abercrombie

*Before you start an exercise program read 3 Things You Need to Know Before Exercising Postpartum

It’s July.  Summer is in full swing.  My body is nowhere near “bikini ready” – whatever that means.  I am proudly rocking a very nice tank suit.  I’m not sure that a bikini is in my future and I don’t really care…not enough to give up french fries anyway.  It might sounds like a defeatist attitude, but in reality, I just know my priorities.  I have stopped shooting daggers out of my eyes at new moms who are immediately back into their skinny jeans and I remember to honor my own amazing and strong postpartum 

body.  The purpose of my exercise regimen is not to achieve a certain look, it’s to be healthy and strong, both mentally and physically. 

Although I have always been an active person, it took me awhile after having my daughter to find the balance between being a mother and wife, and finding the time to move my body in a way that made me feel strong and helped me manage my stress.  Now that my schedule is dictated by this cute little tyrant, I can’t just dash off to the gym anytime I want.  I have to get creative in order to incorporate more movement into my everyday life, especially when getting to the gym isn’t in the cards.  

So now, almost two years out, I’m the mom doing lunges down the sidewalk while my toddler is strapped to my back, or using the playground equipment as my own personal gym while my child runs around like a maniac.  I’ve gotten a few raised eyebrows from strangers, but hey, it’s working for me.    

I know that many new moms experience the same difficulty in trying to incorporate more movement into their lives.  Here are a few ways that I stay moving, even when I can’t make it to the gym.

I think outside the gym.  

  1. When I still had a pre-crawler I looked for classes specifically designed for new moms and babies.  I was a devotedmember of Anne Duch’s Mama/Baby Bootcamp.  Other classes such as Barre Babies and Itty Bitty Yogis at The Mothers’ Space are also great opportunities for movement.  
    Kristen leading a Barre Babies Class
  2. I recruited my posse of mom friends.  We alternate houses and mix up the workouts with each other.  
  3. I found the local Hike-It-Baby group.  These hikes are designed for moms and baby and offer hikes for all skill levels.
  4. When my daughter just wanted to be held, I did lunges and squats down the hall and danced to the Raffi station.  So much for that expensive rocker I bought.  

I walk more.

  1. My stroller lives on my front porch and has a diaper, wipes, and hand sanitizer stashed in the basket.  It’s ready to go at a moment’s notice.  
  2. My daughter has always been an early riser.  I have gotten in the habit of having my walking clothes ready to go in the morning and loading her in the stroller still in her PJs and hitting the road for an early morning walk.  You won’t believe how many morning commuters will stop and say hi to a baby in PJs!   
  3. Again, I recruit my mom posse to join me.  It’s a great opportunity to catch up on conversation while babies are napping in the stroller.
  4. Walking to the coffee shop or the drugstore are ways that I get errands done while squeezing in movement.  
  5. Investing in a quality, ergonomic baby carrier has helped us take our walks to non stroller friendly terrain.  Used, inexpensive carriers can often be bought though babywearing Facebook pages such as Babywearing on a Budget
  6. I always struggled with filling the time between dinner and bedtime with fun activities (mostly because by that time of day I am just DONE), but getting the whole family out for a walk has helped us fill the time.  It often turns into a social event, as other families have the same idea and is a great way to meet other families with young children in the neighborhood.

Mommy tummy time

  1. When Kat was young I would put her on her activity mat and work on my own moves while she was doing hers.  I kept a resistance band and hand weights stashed under my couch for easy access.   Now that she is bigger, I look for any opportunity when she is playing by herself to put on a YouTube workout.

 I cut myself slack.  

As we all know of motherhood, some days don’t always work out like expected, so if I have a day that I haven’t moved much I try not to feel too guilty over it.  Tomorrow is a new day and NOT beating-myself-up is as important for my health as getting in those 10,000 steps.