Setting Up Sweetheart – Shouldering the Load

A Postpartum Support Series For Loved Ones – Part Two

Who is the new mother in your life? Is she your wife? Your girlfriend? Your sister? Your daughter? A friend? And even beyond the blood lines and the way you know her, what role does she play in your life and the people in hers? Is she the one to organize every social event? To count-on to carpool with? Is she the sounding-board? The cheer-leader? With a brand new babe in her arms is she still all of those things? Does she still wear all of those hats?

The importance of taking it gently physically after childbirth is fairly well communicated by care providers more often than not is seems. If a midwife or obstetrician has ever shown you a placenta after birth and strongly emphasized the size of the massive wound on the inside of the mother’s body the point likely came across quite clearly. Take it easy! In postpartum doula work we often encourage new mother’s to spend the first week around the bed, the second week around the home and the third week around the block. Exerting themselves beyond that can prove to be too much. Many new families embrace a 40-day lay in period of rest and recovery with minimal company and virtually no to-do list. All of these things are amazing but what about taking it gently mentally & emotionally as well? The mental load of new mother’s is often over-looked and very seldom is it shouldered.

Mothers carry quite the mental load. Whether she has a 16 year-old or is 4 weeks pregnant there is so much that goes on upstairs that is unheard & unseen. She plans meals, makes the grocery list & hands in the field-trip permission slips on time. She does her best to balance and organize the family’s calendar, never miss a birthday, an ultrasound or soccer practice and to make sure that date night actually happens. She makes sure there are snacks in her bag before she leaves the house and that the littlest ones stuffed bunny never gets left behind. She worries. She worries about his bad dream last night, her refusal to eat anything but yogurt and if she has everything she needs for when the new baby comes. Did they clear their plates away? Say thank you to Grandma for fixing their blanket yesterday? She researches why her son is suddenly stuttering and investigates why her oldest doesn’t want to play with Billy anymore. Every day.

Outside of managing a home and raising littles there is also considerations with aging parents, finances, careers, siblings, friendships, health and LIFE. Does all of that stop when she has a newborn in her arms? Hours old? Days old? Weeks old? Pile on a lack of sleep and tracking input & output and it’s a lot!

So when we stop and think about what those first days and weeks should or could look like for a new mama (in addition to the physical recovery) and what we want for that new mama we love so much, it becomes very clear that she needs much more than an occasional nap or someone popping by once and awhile to shovel her driveway. New mothers need to be reprieved of much of those 500 things in her head that circulate and take up space and that’s what shouldering the load is all about.

 

“We can endure almost anything if we have someone at our side who truly loves us, who is easing the burden and lightening the load.” – Jeffrey R. Holland

 

When we can shoulder her load she can focus all of her energy & her heart on the baby, her recovery, her partner and the family’s adjustment. In time all that other stuff can come back into the picture but for now it’s about the transition. New families need this time. It’s not just about waiting until the bleeding stops and being expected to get ‘back to life’ there is a whole lot more happening here and there’s a lot to process and adjust to. There is also a lot of things a loved one can do to help with that transition and to shoulder that huge load.

 

1. Have Understanding

Have respect for where she is at and what is going on right now in her world. Try not to feel offended if she doesn’t return your text for a few days or doesn’t answer your call. If she confides in you her struggles do your best to listen wholeheartedly, you don’t need to have the answers or solutions. Know she is on her path and will find her way. She needs to be heard, understood and validated in all of this.

Understand that if you touch her newborn’s face without washing your hands it might cause her stress. She also may not want to let her baby go for very long or at all. She may not be ready for company and that can be very difficult for family who want nothing more than to love on her and that new bundle, but she knows best.

Watch your comments as new mom’s can be sensitive. Maybe a joke about her waddling around might have been well received or appreciated a month ago but maybe not so much now. It’s a different time in her life though not very far away and she needs support from all the ones she loves.

 

2. Be Conscious of Mom-Guilt & Give Her Time to Let Go

Often times, accompanying the massive adjustment that comes with being a new mother (each and every time a woman becomes one) is a big dose of mom-guilt. A lot of the things she used to have time for, she no longer does. A lot of the relationships she used to put in the forefront she no longer can on her own without help.

Giving her ten minutes alone with her toddler to read a few books or taking the dog for a walk when you get home from your day can work wonders is alleviating a lot of the guilty feelings. It’s difficult to feel torn between the 24/7 that is caring for a newborn and all of the needs of other family members.

The balance and priorities can be difficult to navigate at first but it always comes around. There is much that needs to be let go because no new mother can continue to be everything to everyone and come out the other end peaceful. It might be hosting family dinners or continuing to ski this year that needs to go by the wayside for a while and it will become clear, although not always easy. Know that it takes time to figure all this out. Be gentle and patient with each other while you get it sorted.

 

3. Create the Space for Her to Be Rather Than Do

It is important to have seriously realistic expectations of what postpartum will be and part of that should include not expecting too much from a new mother. New motherhood, much like labour & birth is largely instinctual. Combined with a lack of sleep and lack of energy it’s easy to understand why mothers do not spend a whole lot of time in the neo-cortex or ‘thinking’ part of their brain in those first weeks.

It can be beneficial to just do, rather than ask. Figure out how to put together and turn on the new baby swing and then just tell her where the on switch is. Make the grocery list and just go to the store without calling her to debate brands of rice. Make the dog his vet appointment and take him. Do the banking. Clear the schedule. Clear the counters.

Allow her the opportunity to just be a new mother to a new baby. Calling her to vent because you had the worst day ever, or waiting for her to co-ordinate and organize your parents 50th wedding anniversary at this point isn’t fair.

4. Show Love

She cannot pour from an empty cup so find ways to fill her up. Tell her she’s doing an amazing job and she was born to be a mother and say it in front of other people she loves. Tell her she’s beautiful. Bring her tea or coffee while she nurses in bed. Support her choices, her intuition and priorities. Ask her how she’s feeling, how her night was and what she needs. Love her like you always do.

 

5. Take Care of Yourself Too

It is just as important for new fathers and partners or any support for a new mother to take care of themselves too. Do your best to get your rest, feed yourself well and take time away for yourself every day. Just as mom has a full-time job in caring for the new babe, you have a tonne of responsibility and craziness in shouldering that load.

Before you know it, everything will become normal and start to feel normal and it will all fall into place as it should. You will have done amazing things is promoting a calm and more peaceful transition for your family and loved ones and you will all be on your feet sooner because of it.

 


 

Who is the new mother in your world and what could be shouldered for her today? We love it when you share!

 

Talking About Maternal Mental Health

A friend very dear to me told me a few months ago what her experience with postpartum depression was like. Exhausting. Terrifying. Lonely. She talked about feeling so angry and sad & waking up every day wondering when it would stop. If it would stop. What was the most difficult thing to hear amidst all of her struggles was that she had experienced all of this tough stuff at the exact same time that I had … and I had no idea. I love this woman fiercely and I saw her every single week for almost the entirety of her maternity leave and I didn’t know. She didn’t know. That broke my heart. We had been living the very same & scary story with postpartum mood disorders but we walked it alone. Why? We talked about the kids’ routines and killer crock-pot recipes and we talked about all of the other emotions, elation and struggles that come with new motherhood but we didn’t talk about ‘that’. Our daily struggle with postpartum depression & anxiety never came up.

In light of my personal experiences with postpartum anxiety and of Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” and their wonderful program designed to break the silence and the stigma around mental illness I wanted to share this post. I do not have a PhD in Psychology but I’ve travelled this road twice now and have supported many women through their experiences. I do not feel you have to be an expert to weigh in on something so important that affects so many new families. It is so vital to communicate that they are not alone and how they can get help.

What makes Maternal Mental Health a little different is that in a lot of ways there are more layers to it. New parenthood is ‘suppose’ to be one of the happiest times of your life, right up there with your wedding day & your first trip to Europe, but for many new mothers and fathers the transition to their new lives with a baby is not the joyful story they anticipated. It’s difficult not to feel guilty and shameful of that, especially when the baby has been yearned for. It is not easy to admit that reality and fears of being seen as ungrateful or an un-fit mother can fuel the silence for many of what is really happening.

Sometimes well-meaning comments can reinforce those fears. How much harder would it be for a new mother to confide or make the realization that she does need help when her efforts to communicate her concerns and fears are invalidated or ignored? ‘I just don’t feel right’, ‘I thought this would be very different’ or ‘I’m terrified he’s going to stop breathing in his sleep’ should never be met with ‘oh honey you just need to get more sleep’, or ‘be grateful, there are so many people who would give their left arm to be where you are right now’, but this happens. We need to be more aware.

Many mothers and fathers’ experiences with postpartum mood disorders go uncommunicated and unsupported because they maybe do not fit the box of what a typical postpartum mood disorder experience might look like. My postpartum anxiety hit me when my son was 7 months old and my daughter when she was over a year and in neither one of those situations did I even realize what was happening at first. Postpartum mood disorders can also affect new father’s as well and this is not always common knowledge and can very easily go undetected and unseen.

When I think back and try to figure out why I didn’t ever bring it up with anyone other than my husband, I think it comes down to never wanting to be seen as less than. I didn’t want to have to feel shame because people were looking at me like I was missing out on my motherhood or my life because I was battling this postpartum anxiety. A very wise woman helped me to see that although my challenges in motherhood were different than many they were of no less value. If I had broken my arm as a new mother I would have needed more support and this was no different. I needed to change my perspective to start to heal.

I can’t even imagine how different recovery would have been for myself and my friend if we had known we were in the same boat. How powerful could it have been to be able to call her up and tell her ‘you can do today, I’m right here’ or to have her show up and say to me ‘give me a hug, let’s do today together ok?” YES!! So let’s talk about this and let’s work together to make it safe for new parents to talk about this.

As a society we must understand that maternal mental illness is an important thing to not only be aware of but to get comfortable talking about. The stigma needs to go. People struggling with postpartum mood disorders are not bad parents and it is not their fault. They are not alone and they deserve to get help and be supported. Give them a genuine opportunity to get help. Watch the kids, make dinner & fold the laundry when she’s out at therapy or he’s at a support group. Take time off work if you can to help her get her feet on the ground and talk about it. If you love them, do not be afraid to ask, “Do you think you could have postpartum depression or anxiety?”. Be there and help them get help. There are a lot of incredible professionals and organizations with a passion for supporting new families. See below for some.

From Belly to Bloom!

Canadian Resources;

Bell Let’s Talk; https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/

Pacific Postpartum Support Society; http://postpartum.org/

Canadian Mental Health Association; http://cmha.calgary.ab.ca/mental-health/understanding-mental-illness/post-partum-depression/

 

Calgary Resources;

Families Matter; http://www.familiesmatter.ca/programs/family-mental-health

Birth Narratives; http://birthnarratives.ca/

Alberta Health Services; https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/services/page15072.aspx

Belly Bloom’s Top 4 Christmas Gifts for New Mother’s

Making Mama Spirits Bright!

Christmas is just around the corner and we have compiled for you our top 4 gifts for new mother’s, all in the spirit of making her holiday season a little more bright and a lot less demanding!

These well thought out gifts and plans all work towards finding new mother’s more time and more importantly an opportunity to focus on the things she values most. Her family!

1. Hire a Housecleaner

I don’t know any new parents who wouldn’t squeal at the idea of not having to clean their home after the holidays (or even before). Having someone come out and tackle all of those things you know a new mama has no time or desire for (think blinds, kitchen cupboards or kids’ closets) would go a long way in reducing that holiday mind clutter. You can hire a professional team for a couple hundred dollars or even send mom out the door and become the team yourself.

2. Organize a Meal Service

Spending a few minutes to make a call and line up a week’s worth of healthy meals and having them delivered to your door for the days following Christmas will result in a lot more sledding, skating and snuggling by the fire watching Frosty the Snowman (or Hockey). Most companies will easily cater to gluten, dairy and other sensitivities and you’ve just bought yourself hours more holiday cheer!

3. A Half a Day Away or a Half a Day to Stay

A full day on her own might be too much for most new mother’s to swallow but half a day or even a couple hours is usually very feasible and what a wonderful idea to load those hours up with something that fills her heart! It could be a trip to the spa or to a workshop on something she adores like gardening, painting or even beekeeping. For those mom’s who find it too much to venture too far there are many mobile massage and spa services that will come to the house. Clear the schedule, the house and top it all off with a tin of her favorite tea!

4.  A Professional Service to Make Parenting Easier

Hiring a postpartum doula, infant massage educator, breastfeeding counsellor, babywearing consultant or any professional who can coach, teach and guide new parents with new skills to make their days easier is an incredible gift to anyone.

 

What is the most amazing gift you have recieved as a new parent or gifted to new parents? We would love to know!

 

Resources:

Dashing Dishes

Spuds

Sunterra Market

Setting Up Sweetheart – A Replenished Nest

A Postpartum Support Series For Loved Ones – Part One

What can be done to support a new mother through Postpartum? How can you really help?

When I was pregnant with my first baby, a friend of my mother’s told me late one night around a campfire that as long as I had a laundry basket and my breasts that I would get through those first few weeks after birth just fine. I remember thinking ‘What? A laundry basket?”. I mean I had every last baby item and gadget one could possibly imagine unwrapped, put away and ready to go. Every drawer and corner in my place was loaded. A Moses basket, infant swing, onesies in every size and receiving blankets galore. I even had a wipes warmer! I know right?! I thought I was set. Ready to rock postpartum, no problem. Turns out that sure, basics like diapers and wipes were a must but I also learned very quickly that what I really NEEDED for our well-being and recovery was not the fancy stroller or the collection of newborn socks. It was (believe it or not) the laundry basket.

While my mother’s friend used her laundry basket to put her first baby to sleep in (they were very young, broke and that’s what worked) I needed it to unload my life into. In my laundry basket I could keep everything I needed to get through the day and night. Diapers, wipes, cream, lip gloss, receiving blankets, extra outfits, my vitamins, a water bottle, thank you cards, a book, my journal. Anything. Everything. It wasn’t about the stuff, it was about where it was and that it was all together. The laundry basket was my command center. It grounded me. I could bring my basket with me wherever I needed to go in the house and it gave me the opportunity to truly rest. No more waddling around searching for things. Brilliant! I did not start my motherhood journey brilliantly though. This ‘brilliance’ was actually a stark contrast to how I started out. I remember desperately wishing Mary Poppins would magically appear and sort me right out with her finger snaps & carpet bag.

As a first time mother to a newborn I drastically underestimated the amount of time I would spend caring for my little boy AND recovering myself. Feeding him was at least a 30 minute commitment each and every time and he ate 9-12 times a day, which was anywhere from 4 1/2 to 6 hours a day. That shocked me and I’m pretty sure it’s all I talked about. I am sure that I had read that somewhere in the 15 maternity books I had once upon a time but even so, that was hours of sitting together while we figured it out and hours of only being able to use one hand. It was hours of not doing any of the 20 other things I felt I needed to do that day. Not to mention how physically unprepared I was to get up and tackle anything other than going to the bathroom, and even that was a bit scary. As someone who is a do-er that was really hard for me.

I did a lot of things backwards in those first days forsure. When my son needed his diaper changed I never had anything nearby, I would make my way around grabbing what I needed as I went. I would forever feel bad asking my husband to hoof it up the stairs AGAIN because our son just spit up all over his sleeper, and AGAIN five minutes later because he just blew out his diaper and I was covered up to my elbows in poo. He never minded but man were we tired. My son would fall asleep on my chest and I would stay there (wherever that was) for as long as he needed to sleep because I was afraid of waking him. I was hungry, exhausted, needing to go to the bathroom and dreaming about having a bath.  We learned our lessons as we should, got organized and changed the way we were doing things pretty quickly. Thank goodness for that laundry basket.

In doula work this idea of a command center of sorts and keeping it well stocked is often referred to as ‘replenishing the nest’. The best thing about it is that it is something a dad, partner or loved one could very easily take charge of. Ensuring this little basket of goodies is constantly stocked is an incredibly practical way to help and support a new mother. Before going to bed at night or leaving for work in the morning leaving a little insulated lunch-kit filled with chopped veggies, fruit, cheese, nuts and seeds on mama’s nightstand is promoting her recovery and wellness and is also an incredible way to show love. If she wakes hungry in the night or in the morning and doesn’t feel ready to get out of bed yet, she doesn’t have to. Keeping that little basket stocked also prevents mom from having to search for wipes when baby has a blow out in the middle of the night and everyone gets more rest. You’ve set sweetheart up!

Those first days and weeks at home with baby are amazing and scary all at the same time and for new dad’s or partners and many loved ones the big question on their minds is ‘How do we really help?’. As difficult as it may be to truly prepare for such a major moment in life, there are many things one can do to make the transition easier for new moms and new parents and replenishing the nest is a great one.

Rest, nourishment and taking it slow are all incredibly important aspects of recovery and care for new parents and anything that can be done proactively to promote that is very valuable. Replenishing the nest is just one of those very small things that helps to take the pressure off and gives new parents the opportunity to truly rest and recover and to take care of each other.

 

 

Do you have any postpartum tips or tricks to share? We would love to hear from you.

 

 

Heart & Hands; The Power of Support in Birth

How does having an attendant or doula in birth positively impact a families experience? And why are doulas SO effective?

Labour & birth is an intense and emotional experience for birthing persons and their families. It is also a time of great vulnerability and that can be tough. Strong support during this special time can drastically affect a families perspective of their experience, greatly improving the chances of having a positive one. But what is a positive birth experience really? It can be very different for every person. One woman’s cesarean birth and another’s natural vaginal birth can both be equally positive, empowering and satisfying experiences, depending on the life experiences they brought to the birth and more importantly how supported, respected and cared for they felt they were by their birth teams. A birth experience can also be traumatic to a person regardless of the type of birth it is, especially if the birthing person feels they were disrepected, discluded, unheard or mistreated. Continuous support is one of the most important and most basic needs of birthing persons. If a woman is continuously supported, both the mother and the baby are more likely to have better outcomes in their own minds and much research has indicated just that.

The Purpose of Support

The purpose of labour support and having attendants in birth is to nurture the birthing person and the partner, creating a safe space and to uphold a mother’s choices and vision for her birth and the birthing process. It is also to promote the physical and mental health of a mother and her loved ones.

This is the role of a doula. What is a doula anyway? The word ‘doula’ is a greek word meaning ‘woman servant or caregiver’. A doula is a companion who supports a birthing person before, during and after labour & birth. She provides continuous one-on-one care as well as information, physical support and emotional support. The role of a birth doula encompasses the non-clinical aspects of care in childbirth and the variety of needs women have during this time, including consistent and continuous reassurance, comfort, privacy, encouragement and respect.

A partner is most of the time the very best person to support a mother in labour. Truth! A father, partner or incredibly supportive loved one is invested and they know the mother or birthing person better than anyone else in the room. They will be in the best position to read her reactions and to communicate her needs and their presence is so important for the birthing person’s well being & sense of safety. This important role carries with it a lot of pressure and emotion as well. Partners & fathers will often benefit greatly from professional birth support themselves.

There is much to be said for having a person trained and experienced in birth support accompany a birthing couple on their journey as they navigate their way. A doula is a calm and reassuring presence and she works to reduce fear and anxiety, promote the couple’s vision and preferences, maintain a conducive labouring environment and provide physical and emotional support. She gently guides the partner’s support efforts to ensure they are effective, softly suggesting, demonstrating and supporting position changes and various comfort measures. She will keep the lights dim and the door closed. She ensures the birth team is fed and hydrated and that processes are explained and questions are answered. She is an extra set of hands with a lot of wisdom and a warm heart.

As someone trained and experienced in birth support, a doula is intuitive as to what a labouring mother needs. Things the nurse or midwife may not have time for or that a partner might not pick up on or know how to tackle. The doula’s primary responsibility is to her clients and according to the DONA International Birth Doula Code of Ethics ‘she should promote the general health of women and their babies, and whenever possible, that of family and friends as well’. A doula leaves her own opinions at the door and fully embraces the agenda of the birthing woman and her family.

The Value of a Doula’s Support

In 2017, Bohren et al. published an updated Cochrane Review on the continuous support of women during childbirth. They combined the results of 26 trials that included more than 15,000 people. According to this review, people who received continuous support were more likely to have spontaneous vaginal births and were less likely to have any pain medication, epidurals, negative feelings about childbirth, vacuum or forcep-assisted births and cesareans. In addition, their labours were shorter by about 40 minutes and their babies were less likely to have lower Apgar scores at birth. The review also reported that for most of these outcomes, the best results occurred when a birthing person also had continuous support from a doula – someone who was NOT a staff member at the hospital and NOT part of their social network . When continuous support was provided by a doula, women experienced a;

  • 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin
  • 28% decrease in the use of Cesarean
  • 12% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth
  • 9% decrease in the use of any medication for pain relief
  • 14% decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery
  • 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience

It is difficult to dispute that continuous labour support results in a reduction in the use of interventions and an overall more positive perspective of birth by birthing families. There is a massive benefit to having attendants support birthing persons in labour emotionally, physically, in terms of making decisions and also for the partner.

The Impact of Emotional Support

Given the long-term emotional effects births can have on mothers, their partners and their babies, a doula is a very valuable asset to any birthing team. Her continuous presence, reassurance, affirmation, encouragement, praise, positive perspective and validation through the tough stuff is invaluable. Emotional support helps a birthing person to feel cared for and contributes to a sense of pride and empowerment following the birth and these feelings can easily continue on into the postpartum period as well. A doula helps families to work through fears and anxiety and creates a space where the labour hormones can do their work and this builds a couple’s confidence.

The Impact of Physical Support 

Doulas are well versed in natural pain management. Rebozo, massage, counter-pressure, breathing techniques, hydrotherapy, warmth & cold, position changes, movement, visualization and relaxation techniques and ensuring mothers are hydrated and nourished and much more. The addition of physical support allows the birthing person to maintain a sense of control, confidence and adds comfort. It is a welcomed distraction from the intensity of the contractions and birth.

The Impact of Support on Accessing Great Care 

Doulas are trained to help families connect with evidence based resources so they can  ask questions and make informed decisions about their birth. A doula does not make decisions for or speak for a client, however she works to keep a birthing couple informed about the events of their labour and provides access to information about their birth options. She also creates the space and time to ask questions and facilitates communication between families and birth teams. A doula’s informational support contributes greatly to more individualized care for the birthing couple and a more positive experience on the quality of care by the couple.

The Impact on the Partner

In a McGrath & McKennel study, the women and their partners who had a doula overwhelmingly rated their support as positive, with 93% rating their experience with doulas as very positive and 7% as positive. Partners & fathers feel a doula’s support complemented and reinforced their own support. With the complexities of supporting a birthing partner as well as the major life event in the birth of a child, fathers and partners appreciate having their questions answered and their work and efforts guided as they have their own journey they are taking as well. There is a big weight that is lifted from them in being the only person relied on to help their wife or partner through.

Why Are Doulas SO Effective?

A doula’s support is continuous regardless of how the birth goes or what decisions are made and she fully embraces the wishes and vision of the birthing couple without judgement. Having a familiar face present who is there to support and care may enhance the physiology of labour & birth and also contributes much to a woman’s sense of control and confidence in her ability to give birth.

Doulas are also a form of pain relief. With touch, massage, counter-pressure, water, position changes and more a doula works to relieve as much of a mother’s discomfort as possible. Reducing fears and anxieties works to release tension and lessen the perception of the pain that the birthing person is experiencing as well. By relieving some discomfort in a variety of ways, a doula promotes the efficiency and progress of the labour. Her ability to help a mother feel more calm, relaxed and in control enhances oxytocin production, promotes natural endorphin release and so reduces pain.

A doula can help to maintain the right birthing conditions. Although the hospital is the right place to birth for many mothers it is not the ideal place for labour hormones to do their work. Routines, needles, interventions, unfamiliar staff, people coming and going, other birthing families, bright lights and hospital gowns can all be quite intimidating, especially in such a vulnerable state. These things can slow labour. Doulas act as a bit of a buffer between the birthing person and these more harsh and less ideal conditions by providing continuous care and working to minimize their impact. Some music, dim lights, a lit candle or a warm robe to cover up with are all little things that can go a long way in giving a birthing person confidence and comfort.

The Big Picture

The impact of continuous labour support has proven to be extremely beneficial both emotionally & physically and in making informed decisions about birth options for birthing persons and their families.

It’s Heart & Hands.

A heart full of compassion and the drive to care for birthing people and the ones they love most so they have the best chance of having a positive story to tell. That they can say they were supported and cared for, affirmed, nurtured and respected, made to feel comfortable, encouraged, communicated with and heard. And hands to hip squeeze, to massage a sore back, grab a sandwich at the cafeteria and hug them when it’s over.

 

Have you had an experience with a doula? How do you feel it impacted your birth experience? Leave your comments, we would love to know.

 

References

  • Dona Birth Doula Code of Ethics
  • http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/continuous-labor-support-reduces-risk-cesarean-section-other-adverse-outcomes-women-1397061.htm
  • https://evidencebasedbirth.com/the-evidence-for-doulas/
  • http://www.cochrane.org/CD003766/PREG_continuous-support-women-during-childbirth

 

Mindfulness in Motherhood

Mindfulness gives mothers the opportunity to get rid of the ‘noise’ and to let go of the things that do not matter and the ability to focus on what does. The bedtime snuggles, the book your three year old wants to read 12 times this morning, to watch the stars or carve the perfect Mickey Mouse pumpkin this halloween. To revel in the little moments and truly watch your children grow and become and to pour into them with all your mama heart. Your peaceful mama heart.

I find that most women have a desire to embrace a more mindful and peaceful approach to life. Women in their childbearing years generally have a lot on their plates. There’s something about becoming pregnant and becoming a new mother that inspires deeper change forsure. There is often a desire to invite more of the things we want or that are important to us into our lives and to live more on purpose. Maybe setting goals to parent much like our own parents or nothing like our own parents. Some mothers start to work towards making healthier eating choices, exercising and being more active, mending or ending certain relationships and even watching less TV. For many women the road to a more mindful way of life is not quite as proactive. Many women would say they more or less were forced into it by the massive mountain of overwhelm, chaos and negativity looming in front of them. Maybe it was a troubled marriage, struggles with health or just that you have three kids under the age of 5. Sink or swim. The motivation to invite change and peace into their lives comes from a place of fear, anger, disappointment or desperation.

Regardless of what the motivation might be to welcome mindfulness into your life, or the events and experiences that lead to that point, the truth is, that a slower, calmer and more aware approach to life with children can prove to be very powerful.

There is no right or wrong way to get to a place where mindfulness becomes important. You don’t need to be an masterful yogi or have a calm & patient temperament. You also do not need to be extremely stressed out to reap the benefits. No matter who you are, where you come from or what your story is, mindfulness can add value to your life and to the lives of the ones you love most.

 ” Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart”. – Author Unknown

What is Mindfulness?

More or less, mindfulness is a state in which you can focus your awareness on the present rather than the past or the future and you can calmly accept any feelings, thoughts or bodily sensations that come up. It’s paying attention to right now, on purpose. You can interpret each situation you encounter from a better place because it is from a place of awareness and because you have more information available to you as you are paying attention to what your senses are trying to communicate.

There is no jumping to conclusions, no reading other people’s minds, no blame, no guilt, no shame, no overwhelm, no anger. Just curiosity. Eventually there’s some peace too. You learn to approach experiences very much as a child would. With interest and curiosity, like you have never experienced it before.

 

 Why Mindfulness in Motherhood?

Motherhood is amazing and so rewarding but sometimes the experience of motherhood and the transition into it can be quite overwhelming. There is much required. That may not be every woman’s experience but no one can deny that there is a lot to know and a lot to do. Some days are tough and some days are exhilirating and every day is BUSY.

There is a lot to balance. Healing, learning to understand your baby and to feed your baby while your body adjusts to post-pregnant life. There’s hormones, fatigue, making plans so you’re not alone a lot of the time, making time for your partner. Sometimes there’s baby blues or postpartum depression. There’s dinner, laundry, dishes & playdates. Birthday parties & soccer and family vacations. Some babies are premature. Some babies are twins! As babies grow, mothers add on balancing their roles as mothers, with their roles as wife, girlfriend, sister, daughter and granddaughter. They balance work life with home life and may even find time to squeeze in something they love. Painting. Reading. Hiking. Dragonboating. Beekeeping.

In all the craziness that are the days of parenting littles, our experiences are paving familiar paths in our minds. When you re-live an experience many times, the emotions you attach to it come along for the ride, again and again. When you’re folding a pile of laundry the size of Mount Everest you’re likely feeling a little on the lower side of your happiness scale. Soon enough, that’s the same feeling you experience every time you fold laundry. Familiar emotions attached to familiar thoughts about familiar experiences. It becomes a pattern and for some it can spiral. Mindfulness allows you to start to break down the patterns and create a new perspective. Thank goodness.

My start to my own motherhood experience was a bit rocky. I wouldn’t change any of it for anything but if I’m being totally transparent, that’s what it was. Rocky. I had always wanted to be a mother more than anything. When my husband and I got married I could not start trying to have a baby quickly enough. My expectation was that I would have a baby bump in no time but that was not our story.  There was a lot of peeing on sticks with no plus signs and I started to worry. We miscarried right after Christmas and it broke my heart. In the spring we found our joy and the baby bump I had yearned for so much started to grow! Our sweet son was born in February and my dream came true. I loved him fiercely right from the start. Then, when he was 7 months old I got slammed hard with postpartum anxiety. My natural tendency as a worrier ramped right up and I started to anticipate that anything bad that could happen, was about to. The anxiety sat in my chest and morphed into panic over time. Our daughter was born 2 and half years later and life got even busier. Balancing being a mother with managing this new experience with anxiety was a big challenge.

As someone who is extremely sensitive, generally loves quiet and easily finds themselves feeling touched out or needing alone time, motherhood was a major adjustment for me. That really surprised me at the time. Especially since I grew up in a dayhome and have always loved kids. Looking back now, I guess it really shouldn’t have been such a shock but my start to parenthood was not what I expected it to be. That sucked. I’m somewhat of an introvert, a home-body and I love slow but my life was the polar opposite of all of those things. I was happy, I loved being a mother, my husband was my rock but the day to day ‘to-do’ list and the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with raising toddlers pushed me farther than my body was willing to go. My adrenals were taxed, my thyroid levels were off and I struggled. But I worked through it.

Initially in an attempt to overcome, my plan was to move to Lethbridge. I don’t know why, but at the time it made sense. I was trying to run. One night, when the kids were asleep I blew the dust off my yoga mat. I used to hang out with my mat daily but it had been a long time. I threw a pillow down on top of it, sat down and said a prayer. I took a lot of deep breaths and closed my eyes. I probably cried, that wouldn’t be unusual. And then I felt better. Why? Because it was the first time in 3 years I had taken the time to connect to myself. There it was. My ‘AHA’ moment. Mindfulness here we come.

On my road to learning to embrace a more intentional, on purpose, reflective and calmer approach to my life I have learned a lot. I have so much more to learn I know, but so far it has helped me to let things be without struggling against them so much. I have more compassion for myself and I am much more gentle and patient with myselftoo. My relationships with the ones I love are much stronger and I’ve also let go of the ones that don’t serve me anymore. My anxiety is much less and it’s great.

Mindful practices do much for me in my motherhood journey. Not every day though. If life throws me a curveball sometimes I slam the door right in mindfulness’ face and it feels really good. For a day or two I just want to feel sorry for myself because I don’t have the energy to attempt to control what I think or feel. Sometimes I just want to FEEL all of it and that is alright. Mindfulness though, in my experience, waits for me outside that door I slammed shut and when I’m ready to open it, it’s there. I can always come back to it. It’s not upset with me.

The ability to be truly present in our lives is a gift and allows us to approach life with a nonjudgemental heart and being accepting, compassionate, curious, gentle and connected. There is much to be said for getting to a place where you can truly be comfortable with the unknown and not knowing the answers to everything. It’s definitely worth the work.

The Work: Incorporating Mindfulness Into Every Aspect of Our Life

Mantras & Words

Mantras can be powerful but also very intimidating if using them is something new. I adore yoga but I’ve never been one to embrace it traditionally. I kinda do my own thing and it works for me. Typical yogic mantras in Sanskrit always sounded beautiful to me but they didn’t resonate. Mantras are in essence just words and words are something almost everyone is very familiar with. Speaking them outloud gives them more meaning.

In working through my anxiety, phrases like ‘this too shall pass’, or ‘I am safe’ helped move me through tough moments but a mantra can be used at anytime. It doesn’t have to be only when you are struggling with something. Mantras are about speaking truth so when your husband comes home from work with flowers, saying ‘this makes me feel loved’ is speaking your truth and it immediately affects they way you both feel for the better.

The word ‘shine’ has always been one that spoke to me. Probably because it was something I felt like I should be doing but wasn’t. I wanted to shine, to feel light and vivacious and peaceful. I speak those words all the time.

Listening to Our Mama Hearts

This starts even when you are pregnant, you absolutely do not need to wait until little feet are waddling down the hall. Ask yourself “What do I need right now? After the kids go to bed?”. ” Do I need more sleep?”. “Do I need more quiet, or more time or less things on my plate?”, “Do I need a hug?”, “Do I need to pray?”. Listen to what your body and your heart says it needs and give in. Notice how it affects you when you do give in. How does it change your day? Your week? How does it affect your partner and your children? Connecting to yourself daily is so important for every part of you.

Breath

I was at a yoga workshop last spring and the instructor Noah Maze (who rocks by the way) told a story of breath. In the story, all of the senses were arguing as to whom was the most vital and whom the body could never do without. They decided they would each take some time and leave the body in an attempt to prove which sense was in essence the most vital. Sight was the first to go. He left for one year and when he returned was disappointed to discover that the others had got along just fine after some adjustment of being without sight. Hearing was the next to leave. Again, she left for one year and was also disappointed when upon her return she also discovered that the others had got along just fine after learning to live without sound. Taste left, followed one year later by touch and both experienced that same disappointment upon return. Breath was the last to go, and as he turned to leave the body, the others cried out. “No, do not go. For we know that without you there can be no us”. There is no life without breath, it is life itself. Taking the time to pay attention to it is inviting calm, peace and a slower pace into your life. Breathe in, breathe out and just notice it.

Move

Movement can be anything you enjoy. Maybe you love to walk, or dance, or workout. I equate stepping onto my yoga mat with stepping into the sand with my bare feet, it elicits the same emotion for me and instantly brings me peace, makes me more relaxed. Making the time to be physical in some way that you enjoy is a great way to invite more peace, calm and purpose into your life.

Let Go

The idea of letting go can be broad but letting go of things that no longer serve us can be profound. Just because something served me last year does not mean it still serves me today. What does that mean?

As human beings we grow and change and the experiences we have can easily lead to a change in priorities or a change in perspective. A girls night out may have been incredibly important to you last month and so you made sure it happened, but this month your son has been struggling in school, your daughter is still battling a cold and your husband has been out of town a lot. Suddenly the girls night out isn’t a priority.  That is totally okay. What you need to let go of though is the feelings of guilt you have about cancelling on your friends. The guilt no longer serves you. Your family comes first and others understand that.

Are there relationships with people that drain you? Make you sad? Cause you stress?Make a list. Can you change the dynamics of the relationship? See them less often? Set boundaries? Pick your battles? Or do you need to let go completely?

Forgiveness is a huge part of letting go. Sometimes the resentment we harbour over something that happened can cause us more stress and negativity than the person who inflicted the wound. Sometimes it is forgiving someone else and sometimes it’s forgiving ourselves. Can we learn the lesson and truly move on?

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense”. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Simplify

Get rid of the excess.

Do you have a lot of clutter? A lot of stuff? Last year my husband and I embraced a little minimalism. We started following a blog by a man named Joshua Becker https://www.becomingminimalist.com/most-popular-posts/ and incorporated a number of his suggestions into our life. We let go of a lot of things that we felt took away from our days more than they added. We started with our kids toy room. The amount of time we spent cleaning up mass amounts of toys took away more from our time as a family then what they added. Our kids would actually dump entire buckets of toys on the ground to get to the ONE they wanted at the bottom. That pile would stay there all day, never touched and then we’d put it all away before bed. And we’d do it all again the next day. What could we be doing with that time we were spending cleaning up the same toys that served no one? What about the mental clutter it created too?

How busy are you? What would happen if you didn’t register your children in any activities for a year? Or you didn’t offer to volunteer next weekend? Or you asked your sister-in-law to cook Christmas dinner this year? Would the walls fall down around you or could it possibly, just possibly bring a little more calm and peace into your home?

Meditation

I have been meditating for a year. I don’t even know if I do it ‘right’ to be honest and I don’t know if I would even say most days that I am all that focused. What I do know though is that a meditation practice, over time can give us the ability to see the world a little differently. To have a thought and not always attach an emotion to it. Nothing has to be good or bad, right or wrong, happy or sad. It can just be and it can come and go. This brings a great deal more calm into any mama’s heart.

Clara Roberts-Oss is a yoga instructor out of Vancouver that I have followed for some time. I find it easy to connect to her. I sat through an online meditation she guided awhile back that really hit home for me and I start meditations with it often now. She said to imagine there was a jewel next to your heart that was tarnished. Imagine it being polished a little bit more, a little bit more. In the end sit in clarity with the image of the jewel shining so brightly into the world. So brightly that anyone who came up to you could see themselves in it. This leads us to connection.

Connection; Exhale Compassion & Loving Kindness

What happens when you let yourself soften? What is a warm heart? What do you feel when you put yourself in another mother’s shoes? Is it harder to judge? Harder to put down? That’s connection on some level. I have found the more compassion, understanding and kindness I put out into the world and the more I focus on seeing others as humans with strengths & struggles just like me, the less I feel the need to compare myself or to see what makes us different from each other. There is more of a desire to reach out, stand with and to lift others up. In doing that I feel I am definitley inviting more peace into my own life and I can start to shine a little!

 

” Remember that sometimes not getting what you want, is a wonderful stroke of luck” – Dalai Lama

 

I am grateful. Thankful for the chaos that the last 5 years has been for me and my family and for all the things that I have learned and the people who have loved me no matter what. I hope that in some way my story and experiences can add value to your life and lift your mama heart.

How do you invite mindfulness and peace into your life? I would love to know!

 

References;

Well Rounded Care in The Childbearing Years

There are a number of professionals that you can enlist to help you work towards the healthy pregnancy, empowering birth experience and gentle postpartum transition you are hoping for.

 

Having the support of a knowledgeable and trusted caregiver during pregnancy is vitally important to ensure your health and the health of your baby (or babies). Whether a family physician, obstetrician or midwife, if you have asked the right questions in order to confirm that your goals and birth preferences pretty well align with theirs and you feel good about it, you are on the right track.

But what about that nagging feeling that there could be more to prenatal care than the periodic visits to determine nothing seems out of the ordinary? That nothing is wrong? What if optimal health is something you value? Or you are hesitant to take any pills in fear of what impact it can have on your infant, even for an underlying condition? Could the aches and pains be better managed? Do you struggle with anxiety or depression? Do you want to do everything in your power in hopes your baby will have the best start possible?

Even if you lucked out with the most compassionate, forthcoming & passionate care-giver you have ever met (and many are just that and more), there is no doubt that there can be limits to their practice. When does their care end? Are they available to you emotionally? Can it be challenging to get in to see them last minute? How accessible are they?

While the knowledge and expertise of your care-provider should never be replaced, it can certainly be complimented in many ways. There are a number of professionals that can contribute much to the well-being and optimal health of pregnant, birthing & postpartum women.

Whether their specialties are considered complementary medicine, alternative medicine, traditional medicine or just a more holistic approach, the following professionals have much to offer you and your family. Their services can begin and end whenever you see fit and are often covered by many insurance plans. Sometimes those benefits can run out quickly and so if cost is ever an issue, gift certificates are usually available and can be gifted to expecting and new mothers instead of (or in addition to) baby gift registry items etc. I don’t know about you, but I would have appreciated an extra chiropractic or acupuncture treatment or even one day with a postpartum doula SO much after my children were born.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractors offer an amazing service to pregnant, laboring & postpartum women and their families. Chiropractic care is considered a more complementary type of medicine and focuses on the disorders of the musculoskeletal & nervous systems. Think pain in your back, neck, joints, limbs and head. No doubt, some or even all of those body parts are screaming at you while your growing child is displacing most of what is inside of you. Chiropractors use gentle spinal manipulations to restore mobility and loosen muscles, allowing tissues to heal and the pain to lighten.

In pregnancy, labour & in postpartum, chiropractors can help women maintain a healthier pregnancy, relieve discomforts and work to hopefully help baby get into an optimal birthing position.

A Webster Trained Chiropractor is one who has been specially trained in the Webster Technique or trained to facilitate the mother’s pelvic alignment and nerve system function. Misalignments can restrict the amount of room a baby has inside the uterus, which can make it difficult for the baby to get into an optimal birthing position. Breech and posterior positions can make laboring more challenging and more often leads to interventions. Having a chiropractor support you throughout your pregnancy and even right up until the day you go into labour is a massive step in the right direction.

In postpartum, chiropractors can also be instrumental in helping a woman’s body re-adjust to as close to it’s pre-pregnant state as possible and without question a chiropractor will know a pelvic floor specialist if you have a major issue with Diastasis Recti (separation of abdominals) or other postpartum challenges.

Naturopathic Care

Naturopathy looks at the healing powers of nature. Practitioners use nutrition, behavioural changes, herbal medicine, homeopathy & acupuncture to promote wellness. Naturopaths more or less look at the big picture. The mental, physical, emotional & spiritual aspects of your life are taken into consideration when developing a treatment plan. Naturopathic care can offer many solutions to common and more complicated concerns in pregnancy, birth & postpartum. Headaches, fatigue, nausea, vitamin deficiency, anxiety and many other pregnancy complaints can be overcome or managed through naturopathic care.

Many naturopaths provide homeopathy as a service. Homeopathy functions much in the same way as a vaccine does. A substance that causes adverse reactions when taken in large doses can be used in small amounts to treat those symptoms. Highly diluted energetic remedies stimulate the body’s vital force to heal itself. Many midwives promote the use of certain homeopathics in labour and birth.

Acupuncture & Acupressure

Acupuncture is 4000 years old and is a natural treatment that helps to balance Qi (the universal life energy in the body). It can reduce stress, increase energy, improve sleep, decrease discomforts, help prepare the body for fertility and also for labour. In acupuncture, certain parts of the body are stimulated, most often with a needle to help treat conditions.

Acupressure is a technique that generally utilizes the same areas of the body as acupuncture but pressure is applied as opposed to tiny needles. Acupressure is believed to assist with relieving nausea, back pain, labour pain, headaches and also to help naturally induce labour. In labour there are points on the buttocks, hands, ankles and feet that can have pressure applied to them. They can sometimes assist with vomiting in labour, ‘failure to progress’ or ‘unestablished labour’, a cervical lip and also induction.

 

Aromatherapy

In aromatherapy, essential oils are used to promote healing. These oils are concentrated extracts from roots, leaves, seeds or blossoms of plants. Aromatherapy is often used in pregnancy and in postpartum promoting calm, relaxation, reducing stresses and even nausea, constipation and heartburn. Many products are utilized throughout birth as well, not only for their relaxing and calming effects but a number of products also help to reduce fear and boost contractions or ease pain.

One must be cautious as many products contain therapeutic chemicals and it is wise to discuss any purchases or usage with a certified aromatherapist.

A Birth or Postpartum Doula

While a doula can in no way provide you with any medical advice, she will absolutely be in your corner emotionally. She is available anytime day or night to listen to you as you process the many emotions of pregnancy, labour, birth and the postpartum period.

In birth, a doula can help support families in having a safer and more positive birth experience. In general, women who have birth doulas were are likely to have a cesarean section, pitocin to speed up labour, use pain medication and also less likely to rate their birth experience as negative. She will help you navigate your way through your birth by helping you to ask the right questions, by suggesting positions and comfort measures to promote a shorter and more efficient labour and reduce anxiety and stress by normalizing the process and being the calm in the room.

A doula’s work in postpartum is to promote rest & recovery, calm & relaxation and to reduce anxiety and stress. She can cook you a healthy meal, tidy your home, help tackle that breastfeeding latch, give you a chance to take a nap or bring you a tea and some flowers while you nurse. That goes a long way both physically and emotionally as a new mother. Women who have postpartum doula support feel more secure and cared for, are more successful at adapting to new family dynamics, have greater breastfeeding success, greater self-confidence, less postpartum depression and a lower incidence of abuse.

A doula is also a great resource for all things birth and postpartum. She will have a long list of trusted practitioners she can recommend to you to help you overcome any challenges or unique circumstances.

It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold & silver. – Mahatma Gandhi

Visit our Resources page at www.bellybloombirthservices.ca or contact us at bellybloombirthservices@gmail.com to learn more about who we recommend to mama’s in Calgary, Okotoks & High River.

While all of these professionals are respected as practitioners within the birth world, be sure to consult your primary caregiver before undergoing any treatments in complementary, traditional or alternative medicine.

 

Have you found alternative or complementary medicine has benefited you in your childbearing years? Tell us about it.

References;

  • The Apothecary http://www.the-apothecary.ca/Aromatherapy-101_ep_3.html
  • http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/continuous-labor-support-reduces-risk-cesarean-section-other-adverse-outcomes-women-1397061.htm
  • https://spinningbabies.com/learn-more/techniques/professional-help/
  • https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy-acupuncture.aspx
  • https://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/

 

From the Belly Bloom Kitchen – Zupa Ogorkowa (Pickle Soup)

I can remember just two short weeks after my son was born, my mother-in-law handing him to me so I could nurse him and her saying ‘Okay, now i’ll make you your pickle soup’. My heart did a flip. Excited! What a wonderful woman! It’s the kind of stuff that is so good you lick the bowl. Especially when you’re sleep deprived and too caught up in baby coo’s and learning to breastfeed to make yourself lunch.

My husband and his family are from a small town in Poland called Nysa and there (like many places in Poland) pickle soup, or ‘Zupa Ogorkowa’ is a favorite of pregnant and postpartum women and now it is not only my favorite dish on earth, it’s also one of my favorite meals to prepare for new mama’s (and new dad’s too).

‘Smacznego’ as they say in Polish or ‘Good Eats’!

Makes 6 Servings

 

6 cups water

3 chicken bouillon cubes

2 medium carrots, chopped

1 bay leaf

10 black peppercorns

1/2 tsp salt

3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped

4 medium dill pickles

1 tbsp all purpose flour

1/2 cup sour cream

Place water and bouillon cubes in large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add carrots, bay leaf, peppercorns and salt. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, uncovered for 20 minutes. Add potatoes and cook until tender. In a small bowl, combine flour and sour cream until smooth. Stir one cup of broth into sour cream mixture and return to soup. Simmer for 5 minutes (do not boil). Serve hot. You can add dill pickle juice to taste if you like.

 

My Mama Tribe, And Yours

I adore the author Brene Brown for many reasons, one being that she is so transparent, and I find this quote speaks volumes to why mothers need other mothers in those childbearing and child rearing years.

 ” If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback” – Brene Brown

Why a Village Means so Much in Motherhood

No one can truly understand what it is like to stress over your 2-year-old who literally will not eat anything but yogurt and goldfish crackers than another mother of a 2-year-old who literally will not eat anything but pickles and rice cakes. And where your girlfriend from college can imagine how that might be concerning, her attempts at comfort or heartfelt solutions can somehow seem void of validity. But this other mother truly gets it. She feels you. She also might have a suggestion that will have your toddler chowing down chicken by dinner tomorrow. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Now I’m not saying that anyone who is not a mother no longer has a place in your life or your heart. Not at all, of course they do. It’s just that mothers need other mothers because of that unspoken level of connection on the basis that you are both living a similar story right here and now. It’s the connection. This connection is key.

The connection can dispel shame, guilt, and all sorts of negative emotions that can run rampant in new mother’s hearts. How hard would it be to still feel horrible over choosing to lock yourself in the bathroom for 10 minutes to drink your coffee before it got cold versus building yet another block tower for your toddler to knock down, when the woman sitting across from you is laughing her head off because she did the same thing two weeks ago? (Except she hid in the pantry with the chocolate and was running away from changing another doll’s outfit). Probably pretty hard. We cannot tell a story from a place of vulnerability and still feel negative emotions when someone responds to us with empathy, compassion and understanding. It’s impossible. That is the value of a mama tribe. Now how long would either one of these women carried around that guilt of stealing a few minutes away for themselves if they would not have shared it? How could that have manifested into their days?

Who is Your Mama Tribe?

Whether you drink coffee, tea, wine or green smoothies, it doesn’t matter. It’s just when you’re together it feels amazing. Every time I spend some time with someone in my mama tribe I am reminded of how much I need it.

I was born into the bulk of my mama tribe. My two younger sisters and I all had our babies within 5 years of each other (6 babies in 5 years) and then my brother went and married an incredible human a few years back and they are expecting their first by Christmas and so I got to add a third sister later in life. I am a lucky one. My parents live down the street. My best friend has four little ones and we’ve known each other for 24 years and throughout my motherhood journey I have stumbled across some other amazing and strong women who have become part of my village. Some I know after caring for their children, another I met at my son’s preschool and yet another I connected with quickly after our oldest two professed their love for each other at soccer one Saturday morning.

Maybe your mama tribe looks like this, or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe your tribe lives in the same neighbourhood or maybe some are scattered across the world. I’ve learned that truthfully, it doesn’t matter where they are or if there is one person in your mama tribe or 28. Maybe you only have one thing in common with another mom (like you just bought the same car, your oldest kids are both 7 or you both speak Polish). Whatever it is that has brought you together is irrelevant, what matters is the value you can add to one another’s lives.

Value can be added in so many different ways. Last week I called my mom and she dropped her yoga session instantly to come rescue me and my littles after I locked us out of the house in 34 degree weather. After my daughter was born, my friend offered to drive my son to preschool for a couple of weeks and I have a friend who’s cousin send her take out gift cards for when she knew her husband was going to be out-of-town for a long haul, just so she could have a couple of nights where she wouldn’t have to cook. These kind acts have helped to shape the day for each one of us.

Not everyone in your mama tribe will play the same role. One mom you could open the door to in your robe and there would be no judgement. She would come right in and pull your baby out of her high chair to wash the mashed banana off her face so you can pour yourself a coffee. Another mom will text you first thing in the morning to see how you slept and another you can call for tips on how to set your 5-year-old up for his first day of school. Some will be the ones to organize a mom’s night out so you can get away for a few hours. Some might ask REAL questions and others may not. One woman’s question “how are you doing?” might set off a river of tears and another’s may not. Every role is needed and every relationship is needed. One-on-one and as a group.

It has to be authentic. I remember scrolling through my Facebook feed after my son was born and seeing groups of moms planning mom trips to Vegas and Mexico. Other groups were planning late night dinners and drinks and I remember longing for the relationships but hesitant to want to participate because of the activity. I would have been much happier having a board game night or some tea and a conversation over a really good book in my fuzzy socks. I wanted to connect but with a group of people who felt more like home. Somewhere that I could be myself. Turns out some of those same women were more than happy to meet me for coffee too. Vegas wasn’t my jam but that didn’t matter.

The Benefits

Creating a village for yourself will generate more positive feelings day-to-day. You will likely feel happier and less lonely overall. It’s nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of and to have conversation with on a daily basis. Other mothers are a goldmine of experience and valuable advice and knowledge. Even if your parenting styles don’t quite mesh or your kids are not the same age, you can take and apply what you think aligns with your values and leave the rest. That’s ok. You can talk about things that you can’t in most circles, the colour of poop is not a taboo conversation among most mothers. Your kids will make great friendships too.

The Barriers

It requires courage to reach out to others and there is often a fear of rejection. What if she doesn’t like me? What if our kids don’t get along? What if she thinks my house is too messy or my kids don’t eat healthy enough? You have to make yourself vulnerable and open your life up to let someone else in and that can be very scary but without people around to witness you living your life it can sometimes start to feel like you aren’t actually living it.

The term ‘Mommy Wars’ has become a hot topic in circles all over the country and as a result some women are afraid to talk about a lot of day-to-day parenting stuff in fear that their way will be perceived as the ‘wrong way’. While I find the majority of mothers to be quite supportive of one another there is no denying that from time to time when making comments about sleep training, food allergies, organic food, birthing preferences or vaccinations in certain company you better be prepared to go to battle. As much as avoidance of all of this can be a major motivation for sticking to yourself, in my experience a mama tribe is actually the cure for it.

There is also the notion that everyone else already has a tribe set up and there is no room for you and this can be a deterrent to reaching out. It may serve you to adjust the perspective on this one. You may be the one at the playground who hasn’t brushed your hair today, is still wearing her pajama shirt and forgot to pack a snack looking across the wobbly bridge at a woman who is dressed nicely, shouldering a perfectly stocked diaper bag and holding a green smoothie that for sure has kale in it and you might be thinking ‘oh we would never jive’. Ask yourself first, ‘what if something I have been through and worked through and overcome in the past few years as a mother, wife, sister or friend is what that woman is struggling with right now?’.

It isn’t always easy finding your village or mama tribe. Often we find ourselves in a situation where we are searching for our mama tribe when we haven’t a spare minute to our day or energy left in the reserves but the funny thing is that this is absolutely the time when you need a village the most. So how do you find that village?

Connecting, Reaching Out & Finding Your Tribe

Pay attention. Is there a super shy woman at preschool drop off? Does she seem like an introvert? Could there be a language barrier? Never jump to conclusions or make assumptions about whether you could or could not be friends and start a conversation, you never know where it might lead. It is difficult but let yourself be vulnerable and open to ask another mother ‘how are you?’, ‘do you live close to here?’ ‘do you come here often?’. It might sound a bit like pick up lines at first but chances are that woman wants to ask you the same things.

Keep trying. You may not succeed at making connections with every person you strike up a conversation with but you will not make any headway unless you put the effort in. When my son started preschool last year I made an attempt to connect with two mothers at drop off every day. One I managed surface conversation with about the school but could never really progress past that and the other I hit it off with but she moved to another province 4 weeks later. For the next five months I dropped my son off two days a week and never attempted anything more than a hello with any other mother there. The last week at school one of the mom’s approached me and said that her son talked about my son every day at home and how much he loved playing with him. I knew this woman had just moved to Canada a few years prior as she had told me the first week of school that her english wasn’t too great and I believed her. In my own insecurity of my ability to communicate with her I never even tried. Today we get together once a week for our boys to play together and she has become a great friend and part of my mama tribe and we communicate just fine.

Ditch the judging goggles. This is way easier said than done but do your best to never disclude. Just because she wears her baby and you don’t even know how to put a wrap on, or because you breastfeed and she never even tried, or you had your baby in a blow up pool in your kitchen while Enya was playing and she had a planned cesarean birth doesn’t mean there is no common ground there or that either one of you is a better mother.

Put yourself in situations to meet other mothers. Yes there is always social media and a Facebook group for everything but the connection you make online is never the same as it is face to face.

“Cultivate the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle and connected to each other through a loving and resilient human spirit; nurture the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we let go of what we are supposed to be and embrace who we are.” – Brene Brown

Motherhood is an Experience

Motherhood is an experience. No doubt. It is beautiful, transformational and so rewarding and also chaotic, stressful and limiting all at the same time. Chances are before motherhood, most women had no idea those same feelings could exist all at the same time.

The ups and downs are present most days. The distinctive sweet smell of your newborn, little belly laughs, precious toddler curls and those soft and gentle little fingers pull at your heart-strings all day, and at the same time the mound of laundry, sink full of dishes, the trail of Cheerios and the exhaustion pull at your body and mind.

What makes the experience of motherhood so distinctive is the element of time. There is a learning curve to every new experience in life of course, such as riding a bike. You cannot expect to hop on by yourself and travel quite a distance on your first attempt and motherhood is really no different. What makes it such a unique human experience though is that you cannot turn it off, you cannot hit pause or say ‘I just don’t feel like giving it a go today”, like you very much could with your bike. A little one needs you to care for them and love them all day. Because a mother is so emotionally and intellectually invested in the role it becomes a significant experience in her life and that is why having a village or mama tribe is so valuable. It humanizes the experience and validates it, all 24/7 of it.

In our society today where up to 16% of new mothers are battling postpartum depression and anxiety I strongly encourage all new mothers to either embrace the mama tribe you already have or make a strong effort to build one. Reach out to one another. I need my Mama tribe and I need yours too.

 

Have you found your Mama Tribe? Where did you find it? How does it fill your mama heart?

Yes, You NEED Your Postpartum Period, You are Not a Water Buffalo!

Water Buffalo’s are herd animals and are precocial, meaning they are up and mobile right from birth, as are their mothers in order to avoid predators. Although human mothers are mammals there isn’t exactly a lioness waiting for us in the tall grass across the street. Our infants are born significantly less mature than babies of other mammals and they require a lot more time to become active, mobile and independent in any way. Humans are considered ‘carry mammals’ as we carry our infants with us for a considerable time following birth in order for them to complete the development many other mammals complete during gestation. Our young are incredibly dependent on us for survival and so the hurried, on edge and migratory lifestyle of a water buffalo does not exactly jive with what a human mother and infant’s postpartum needs are. It is not what we were designed to do. So if the design and intention is for new human mothers and their babies to recover slowly, than why do so many mothers across the globe function in their postpartum period like they are water buffalo running from a lioness?

There is a great deal of pressure on for mother’s to get back to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible. Where that pressure comes from is likely different for every mother but it is not uncommon in North America to find mother’s up cleaning the kitchen, folding laundry, exclusively caring for their older children, cooking dinner for their extended family or even hosting a ‘meet the baby’ event days after the birth of a child.

Some women are blessed with an incredibly supportive circle of family and friends, other mothers and young families who go out of their way to run errands, freeze meals, bake muffins and mow the lawn all in the spirit of helping the new family adjust and this is incredible! In many cultures the postpartum period is seen as a special time that lasts for 30-40 days and a mother is expected and encouraged to rest and recover at home. I believe in Hindi this special time is referred to as ‘Jaappa’, and many Latina mothers refer to it as ‘La Cuarentena’ (as in quarentine) and they take it very seriously.

In our North American culture though we definitely lack any sort of tradition or ritual that provides extended support and nurturing to a new mother as a larger group and we also fail to see the postpartum period as a point in time that is separate from every day life and we are failing to meet the needs of mothers in the postpartum period.

For many women, once the baby shower is over and the flow of family and friends stopping by has slowed to a trickle she can start to feel a little forgotten. Her husband or partner has gone back to work and she is suddenly on her own to figure out breastfeeding, pack lunches and cart older children off to school, feed herself and worry about her baby’s output. The load is not lightened, there is not enough rest (let alone any extra), there are no other mothers there to mentor her or offer support and she likely has no idea what resources are available to her in her community and doesn’t even know to look. Her newborn is just 10 days old and although she may be going through the motions and living her life as ‘back to normal’, there is no question that she doesn’t feel back to normal.

Who is asking new mother’s how they are, I mean how they really are? We’ve all heard the comment ‘all that matters is a healthy baby’ but how much truth is in that statement? Is that really all that matters? Are the needs of a new mother not worthy of acknowledgement? Of course the health of the infant is important but the mother-infant relationship is interdependent and if the mother is not feeling healthy and happy, her infant will not be.

There is a great deal happening to a woman and her body following the birth of a baby. Her hormone levels are changing, there is a major adjustment to her blood volume, her uterus that was once the size of a watermelon when it carried the baby is continuing to contract itself and shrink back down to the size of a pear, and her body is creating milk. Her daily routine and sleeping patterns are disrupted as well and even the most educated and informed mother can find it very surprising to feel so emotionally and physically exhausted, overwhelmed and burnt out.

This burn out in new mothers is becoming more and more prevalent and the cost in the end is profound. The postpartum period is suppose to be a time of joy, happiness and elation and many families are finding it is just not as they race to keep up. According to the Pacific Postpartum Support Society, 8-12% of pregnant women experience depression and 10-16% of women experience depression in the first year after birth. While burn out cannot be the only source, I have a hard time believing it doesn’t play a major part and mother’s deserve so much better. Mother’s NEED their postpartum period to be so vastly different than all of this. There is so much focus on healthy mothers and healthy infants in pregnancy and that needs to continue into the postpartum period as well.

The postpartum period should be a time for rest, regaining strength and recovering. Women truly need a fourth trimester and they deserve to be pampered, nurtured, cared for and allowed the time to heal and transform and truly discover their newborn. They deserve companionship and mentorship from others who are there to help them feel comfortable, nourished, relaxed, appreciated, valued and respected. Someone who cares how many times the baby woke up last night and what colour his poop was this morning. Someone to hold the baby so she can have a bath by herself and someone to do the dishes and make her some lunch. Someone to be there to answer her questions, provide reassurance and encouragement and affirm her because she already knows what she needs to do. She needs validation. She needs time.

This is a monumental time in a mother’s life. She carried this child for months, worked incredibly hard to bring this child here and at the very least she should be afforded the opportunity to sit in that space and revel in it.

 

So What Does a Mama Do?

Thank goodness for grassroots movements and individuals that see the gap and seek to meet the NEEDS of postpartum women. I believe that we will see the day when extended postpartum care is the standard and norm but these things take time. There is still much we can do now in considering a mother’s need to recover and recuperate after the birth of a child and we will see a lot more healthier and happier moms as a result. Since we cannot rally our health system to make these changes overnight than what does a mother do? Here are some thoughts.

 

Savour Your Babymoon

The postpartum recovery period is a very special time. It is often referred to as your ‘babymoon’, relating it in a lot of ways to what a couple experiences on a honeymoon. There is so much build up to a wedding just as there is to a birth, and the short period of time after the big events are more often than not full of wonderful emotions, love, a sense of relief and profound gratitude and it is so worth it to embrace this once in a life-time experience and to savour it.

Make that Postpartum Plan

Set yourself up for success. Many families spend most of their pregnancy planning for the birth and the postpartum period does not get much more thought than the long list of baby supplies to purchase.

It can involve a little preparation but in the end it can prove valuable to consider what is important to you during this time. Keep your recovery and family bonding at the forefront and discuss anything you can do to make this time easier on you and the ones you love.

Consider how much time you would like together before you invite others around, whether or not you will have family coming into town and where is the best place for them to stay in the spirit of your recovery? Who will take care of the dogs? Run errands? Care for older children so you can rest? Who will pay your bills? Where will the baby sleep and how are you planning to feed him/her? How can you keep your relationship as a couple a priority?

It is so important to have realistic expectations.  Plan to recover for a month. When you have that as your healthy expectation you are more likely to be gentle with yourself and do it versus trying to tackle too much too soon. Do what you can to try to gain an idea of what postpartum recovery might actually look like for you. Talking to other mothers you know may help you get some valuable insight and working out your plan and/or speaking to your partner about it will go a very long way.

You will Benefit From Staying In Bed

Stay in bed for three days. You either just participated in the most physically demanding event a human being ever will or you are recovering from major abdominal surgery. Either way, staying in bed promotes bonding, establishes breastfeeding and encourages rest and recovery.

Have someone you love bring you and the baby anything you need and don’t get out of bed except to use the bathroom. Utilizing calendula ice packs to reduce swelling and taking a shallow bath 2-3 times a day in epsom salts can aid healing as can using a peri bottle with calendula tincture. Consult your caregiver of course before using anything but these things are amazing. If you have had a Caesarean, keep your incision clean and do not lift anything heavy, take short walks and get some vitamin D (a.k.a sunshine).

Make Sleep a Priority

Think about how much sleep you need right now and make it a goal to maintain that throughout the early days of motherhood and beyond. Usually 8-9 hours a night is great, maybe a little more in the beginning. New parenthood has such a learning curve and doing what you can to maintain that throughout these early days of new motherhood will work wonders in the short term and long term. A lack of sleep can increase stress hormones, make you feel moody and affect your relationships. It can create less of a desire to engage in physical activities, it drastically affects your immune system and also increases your chance of depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.

There are many different approaches a mother can take to ensuring she is getting enough sleep. We have all heard the age old advice to sleep when the baby sleeps and very valuable advice it is. Some mothers will not get out of bed until they have reached their goal for hours of sleep. Regardless of how many times baby wakes or for how long, she will keep lying back down to sleep until she has reached her goal. Neither one of these approaches may be an option for mothers with older children of course and hiring a postpartum doula or other caregiver can be incredible. Having a mother, sister, cousin or younger babysitter come for a few hours a few days a week so you can have a nap can make a big difference as well.

Self Care & Time Away for Yourself

Take some time to just be yourself. There is so much to learn in new motherhood and it doesn’t take much to find yourself feeling as though your adrenal glands are taxed and you feel disconnected from yourself. Take some time to tune in and reflect on all that is happening each day and how you are feeling both physically and emotionally.

Although it can be challenging to step out of the house on your own if you are exclusively breastfeeding, even a walk around the block with the dog or 15 minutes undisturbed on the deck in the sunshine can work wonders.

Newborns love to gaze up at their mama’s from a yoga mat or snuggle up in the carrier while she reads her favorite book or chats with her best friend on the phone. Don’t forget to do things that make YOU happy.

See this Belly Bloom Article for more ideas on embracing Self Care; A Self Care Summit

Breastfeed If You Can

Breastfeeding, although seen more of a task or challenge for many mothers initially, over time becomes a relationship between mama and baby and while nursing, oxytocin (known as the love hormone) flows freely between both, promoting ‘feel-good’ vibes and overall wellness.

Breastfeeding forces a mother to slow down. For 20-30 minutes numerous times a day she has to sit and rest and relax and she gets to reconnect with her baby. Again and again and again. It truly is one of nature’s many ways of encouraging a mother to be gentle with herself.

Consider Your Relationships

Not every relationship is healthy, many are extremely toxic and others are just negative. In this postpartum time, accommodating visits and contact from people in your life that do not always have your best interests at heart or will honestly always take more than they give may not be the best choice in keeping your families overall wellness in mind. Simple comments can go a long way in keeping this time special for you family. Comments such as; ‘We are just taking this time to adjust here to life with a newborn and look forward to seeing everyone soon when we are feeling more ready’ or ‘thank you so much for getting in touch, once mom and baby are recovered and acquainted we’ll give you a call’ , or even ‘we are just taking one day at a time right now and we’ll see about being in touch when we’re feeling more rested’. You can deal with difficult relationships however you see fit after your babymoon.

Avoid Major Life Changes

Avoid making big changes in your living situation around the time of birth. Moving, legal transactions, changes to your relationship status or career changes are all best to be set aside until well after the postpartum period if at all possible. These life events are highly emotional most of the time and often stressful. It is best to avoid these changes for now and focus on recovery.

Find Community Resources

Who can you get in touch with if you find yourself face to face with a challenge you are not sure how to approach or if you have a question you urgently need answered?

Birth and Postpartum Doula’s are a gem in this sense. If they don’t know the answer they definitely know where to go to find it. Many doula’s are childbirth educators and/or breastfeeding counsellors and in addition to having such a knowledge base, chances are they have the contact information to a large number of resources in your area. Lactation consultants, mom & baby groups, postpartum depression support services, chiropractors, baby-wearing instruction, herbalists, pediatricians and much more.

Let Nature Nurture You

Get out of the house once you feel rested. A change of scenery, sunlight and just being in nature can provide an incredible boost for both your physical well being and your mental well being. It can combat mental fatigue, stress, concentration and promote creativity and immune health. We’re so lucky here that the Rocky Mountains are a quick 30 minutes away but even a walk in a nearby park or green space can do the trick.

Let Them Help!

There is much you can do to plan and prepare for mommin’ like a boss after birth but the reality is that it is SO hard to do it alone.

Many mother’s feel that in asking for help or in accepting help from family and friends they are being a burden, or asking for too much. Chances are during your childbearing years your parents are still working or caring for their own parents, your siblings work and may have their own young families as do most of your friends and so asking for favors can seem like a lot.

The truth is that most people want to help even if it isn’t easy to ask them. Especially if it is something so small most loved ones would love to know if there was some practical way they can make this new adjustment easier for you. Specific requests seem to be the most beneficial. Asking your mom to grab a few things at the store on her way, your brother to walk your dog before he leaves, your sister to stop by once and awhile on her way to work to hold her niece while you shower or your best friend to drive your son to kindergarten on her way for a couple weeks can change everything. It may seem like a lot when you add it all up but to each individual person it isn’t much and most are more than happy to help you.

Some families are so lucky in the sense that they have extended family very close by who pop in carrying a fresh lasagne and a bottle of wine, give you a kiss on the head telling you you’re doing a great job and leave carrying your dirty laundry which they will bring back clean tomorrow to then put away and head out back to mow your lawn. Not everyone is this fortunate however. Many people have families who live halfway across the world.

Seeking out the assistance of a Postpartum Doula can be everything for some families in getting off to a great start. Having someone there to support you who you do not need to entertain is amazing. She can support your breastfeeding, do your dishes, put your laundry away, listen to your concerns, hold the baby while you have a shower and make you breakfast!

Sometimes it is in everyone’s best interest to learn to let some things go. Getting to know your baby and learning to understand each other takes time and some other things will suffer. This can be a very difficult adjustment for some women but try to remember that at the end of the day color coordinating the baby’s outfits in the dresser drawer pale’s in comparison to another hour of sleep.

Be Aware of Postpartum Emotions

It can be shocking and scary for women if they find themselves feeling depressed or anxious during pregnancy or after the birth and often feelings of disappointment can accompany them as well. The expectation is that pregnancy and the birth of a child is a joyous time and for most women it is but that’s not everyone’s story.

Over 80% of women experience baby blues 3-5 days after birth. They will feel happy one minute and sad the next, feel helpless, worried, anxious, have troubles sleeping and cry for no reason. These feelings are normal and should disappear within 2 weeks of the birth.

According to the Pacific Postpartum Support Society, up to 16% of women struggle with postpartum depression within the first year of birth. 1-2% experience a debilitating imbalance with postpartum psychosis. Postpartum depression is the most common complication in childbirth and symptoms can start anytime during pregnancy or during the first year. A woman may lose interest in things she used to enjoy, sleep a lot more or less than usual, eat more or less than usual, withdraw from family and friends and lose contact with other people. She may cry for no reason, be restless or have little energy, find it hard to concentrate or make decisions, have thoughts that she is a terrible mother, feel guilty or worthless. She might feel very sad almost every day,  feel angry, irritable, hopeless or overwhelmed and have frightening thoughts that keep coming back about her harming herself or the baby.

Many women who feel depressed will also feel very anxious.  A racing heart, feeling on edge, too much or unrealistic worry, upsetting thoughts or visual images of harm to the baby. Some women may feel the anxiety without the depression.

If a mother experiences any of these symptoms at any point in her pregnancy or postpartum she should not hesitate to reach out for help right away. There are many incredible resources available and a Doctor can diagnose Postpartum Mood Disorders. Not all women can pull themselves out of a depression and may need help.

There is a stigma that comes with PPMD’s unfortunately. They are not something you choose, or can just ‘snap out of’. Many women experience these things and know that something is wrong but they don’t talk about it. They are afraid they will be judged or seen as an unfit mother. Families need to spread the word that it is a medical condition. Mental health is just as important as cardiovascular health.

Counselling, medication, support groups and self-care is usually suggested and some incredible resources for Postpartum Mood Disorders in Calgary include;

  1. Pacific Postpartum Support Society – http://postpartum.org/
  2. Families matter (403)205-5178 / http://www.familiesmatter.ca/
  3. Calgary Distress Center 403-266-HELP

Never Underestimate the Value of Coffee, A Good Sense of Humour and Staying Connected

Coffee is a beautiful thing (not too much of it of course) but the best part is not what is in the cup but who is there to share it with you. I hope it is someone who has a great sense of humour and with whom you can make light of your sleepless night, colicky babe or terrible hairdo (those postpartum baby hairs are brutal). Someone who will give you a hug as you cry, will do your dishes and get your toddler some cheerios as you feed your newborn. Never judging and endlessly encouraging. Often this person is your best friend, a sister, your mother, a great aunt or one amazing postpartum doula.

It doesn’t really matter who it is, or how long you have known them for or where they come from. Having them as part of you ‘Village’ is what matter most. It is so important to be able to confide your feelings to your partner and other mothers. If you don’t have a circle or a village you can absolutely create one. Join mom groups,  attend La Leche League meetings or library programs whatever, just find a way to stay connected.

Take back your postpartum period, you are NOT a water buffalo and you are so worth it Mama.

 


 

What helped you through your postpartum period? We would love to hear.

 

 

Written by Jenn Dabrowski

Belly Bloom Birth Services