I'm not here to scare you, and you're probably already aware that in the 1950's and 60's, birth wasn't a kind animal to women. The medical industry was very excited about various "advances" in technology that left women completely out of their own birth experiences. In addition to using full anesthesia, surgeons often used forceps to deliver babies of first time mothers. This was based on bad science and I'm so grateful that we live in the world we do now, where forceps are truly reserved for times of absolute necessity.
Sometime in the late sixties, a woman named Ina May Gaskin was thrilled to give birth to her first child. Determined to be a "good patient" and avoid pain medication and forceps, she stayed perfectly quiet all through her labor and tried not to attract attention. Unfortunately for her, it didn't matter. She received an episiotomy, a forceps delivery, and was separated from her baby for the first 24 hours of her life because that was the standard protocol at the time.
Rather than submitting to the "standard protocol" for her subsequent births, she looked beyond the latest and greatest evidence and back in time to the way that women have been birthing their babies for millennia: at home, surrounded with like-minded women. She found a woman (Joanne Santana, pictured on the left) who had birthed a baby at home with the help of a midwife. This was the spark that she needed to set fire to the establishment of torturous birth.
She and her sister-friends started a commune in Tennessee that was founded on hippie ideals like peace, love, and empowerment. For forty years now these women have salvaged the vestiges of midwifery and rekindled the practice of woman-centered birth.
I spent the last seven days learning from these midwives, hearing their stories, and soaking up their strange blend of spirituality and sisterhood, and I am forever changed. Midwifery is good science with boundaries, reason, heart, and history. It offers women support to birth their babies and respects the need for intervention and surgery for those outside of those bounds.
Rest assured, this is not me recommending home birth to everyone. Instead, this is me encouraging you to read Ina May's books and discover a softer side of birth. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding, and Spiritual Midwifery.
I wish for you inspiration, empowerment, peace and love in your prenatal care and birthing experience.
I know this is possible.
There I was, in Dallas, on my way to Hawaii via Chicago. I had started in Denver.
I was going the wrong way.
In an effort to save $150 on my ticket, I had purchased it through one of those sites that compiles all airlines and gives you an itinerary that involves extraneous connections, back-tracking, and an extra helping of locating your nearest exit.
When I landed in Chicago, and debated sleeping on the terminal floor (having missed my connection), I asked myself, “WHY did I think this was worth saving $150?” This was such a valuable lesson to learn, and I'm glad I wasted a night in Chicago (and $125 on a hotel room) learning it when I was young.
I hear the similar sentiments from my mama friends. Cribs that can't get delivered. Endless cycles of hold music trying to exchange a nursing bra. Gifts that are unhelpful, unwanted, or duplicated. They beg me, “What will I do with sixteen nursing covers?”
I have few ideas.
Everyone on earth makes a product or sells a service to expecting or new parents. You're trying to buy safety, security, a natural birth, or a happy, healthy baby, and these things aren't for sale. There must be more crap flying in your direction than at any other time in your life. I do not envy you. However, I do truly believe that there are a few stores in your town that offer service, research, and products you might actually want when your baby arrives. I would encourage you to consider shopping locally for the same reasons that I do.
These are the reasons I shop locally.
I know that money is tight (I teach prenatal yoga... I'm not exactly in the market for a private island these days). For many, there isn't enough money for food. I'm not writing this blog post to address people who are truly financially insecure. This post is for you, whoever you are who made it to the end. I would love to invite you to join me in voting with your dollars. Spending a little bit more for the higher level of research, customer service, and attention that you get for loving your local friends. The more of our money we spend supporting them, the more options we'll continue to have.
So you're on bed rest. That's the pits, especially at a time when you'd love to be out preparing for baby or moving your body. If you're my yoga student, I'm going to miss seeing you in class (but it's ok, because I'll see you at Mom & Me soon enough)!
You can still practice SOME* yoga, although perhaps not a physical practice and not with us in class. It might sound a bit hokey (but that's ok, because I'm a yoga teacher and I'm allowed to sound a bit out there), but you can spend some time sending out good vibes to baby. Let them know they are in a very safe place with lots of people looking out for you two, and ask baby to stay in for a little while longer. You can focus on your breathing... sometimes when things get crazy and you can hear your heartbeat in your ears it is good to think:
Inhale: "Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in."
Exhale: "Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out."
Do this over and over again. If someone forwards you an email about something scary, delete it and then do this breath.
Try Ovarian Breath:
Imagine there is a long, golden cord wrapped around your hips and pulling into the center of the earth. That is holding you steady, just like baby's umbilical cord is holding them steady.
Now imagine that little flecks of light are rising up your spine as you inhale. Once start to exhale, allow that light to pour over your face, your heart, and back into your baby. Continue breathing in this way, never holding or restricting the breath.
There is a bit of science behind this... baby's endocrine system picks up on hormones from your endocrine system (and vice versa) so working towards the calmest state possible can have real results.
Actual physical movements*
- Ankle circles (each direction)
- Ankle extensions (push heel, ball, toe, curl your toes like you're grabbing something, and then pull the foot back to starting position)
- Wrist circles (interlace all fingers and make figure eight shapes with your wrists) go both directions
- Slow baby ab hugs. Slowly tighten your belly muscles inwards to hug your baby, then slowly release. Take several seconds for each.
- Arm stretches (using a belt, like a bathrobe belt, hold your arms overhead like the Y in YMCA with the belt between them. Move the belt forwards in front of you, then back behind you. It will kind of look like jumping rope).
- Keep the belt and do tricep stretches. Same grip, but now one hand is overhead and the other is by your low back. Your thumbs will face one another along the belt. Switch sides.
- Butterfly pose (sitting with soles of the feet together and knees open)
- Roll a tennis ball over any tense muscles you can reach, or put it into a sock and use that as a handle. Consider the hands, feet, calves, upper back, and really anywhere you can reach. You might be surprised to learn what is sore.
- Hands and knees, gentle "cat/cow" postures or just stay on hands and knees a bit
- side-lying leg lifts or stretches
*please, for the love of Pete, double check any physical activity with your provider. Bed rest can mean a number of things and can be prescribed for many reasons. Make sure you are doing what is best for YOU and YOUR babe. Take this list to your provider and verify that each and every action is ok before you try to perform it. Your provider may have additional exercises, too.
If your friends want to bring you things, say YES and TELL THEM what to bring you. Here is a fun list of things you may not have considered...
Today we got into some hearty midwifery skills, from blood pressure and pulse rate to cervical checks and fundal height. So many interesting nuances to each of these skills that I wish more people had access to! It made me think of how many of my students know the positions of their babies late in pregnancy and how many report a hands-on approach to determining this placement. I feel incredibly fortunate to have learned the tip of this positioning iceberg.
The Farm Midwives use a belly model to teach this to students before they start handling real live pregnant women, but I'm grateful to the actual pregnant ladies who also shared a few minutes of their time (and their bellies) with me.
Again, the food was great. As in, tremendous. I'll take a picture tomorrow, but it won't do it justice. Jerusalem artichokes in the salad, amazing blue corn tamales for dinner, and fun conversations, too. So many of these women are embarking on a change in their lives... some into midwifery and some into the birth world in general. It is exciting to network and hear their stories... they truly are my people.
Bea and I got to do a little bit of yoga on the porch tonight (with some mosquito friends) before it rained. The rain sounds beautiful here, through bazillions of leaves with no city sounds, no sirens, and very, very little "beeping" (did I mention there is almost no cell reception here? It's a blessing, I promise).
As I think about what it is I enjoy most about the training here, it is the rich history and intimate stories shared by the instructors. Whether they are talking about service work they have done abroad or deliveries they attended here on The Farm only days ago, the truth is captivating.
Midwives are storytellers. Teachers. They are these things not because they know so much of what is said, but because they observe the unspoken, and weave it into tradition. History. It is with deep gratitude that I am here.
The Role of a Midwife's Assistant, Infectious Diseases, Sterile Technique, and Licensing and Certification of Midwives
What a day! We started off early, early in the morning with a social hour breakfast and coffee and jumped right into what midwives assistants are expected to do. It was fun (but not surprising) to learn that the roles vary as much as the midwives... some arrive first, some second. Some take vital signs, others hang back. Some are skilled in supportive roles, and others are learning to be midwives themselves.
Because I used to work at The Southern Colorado AIDS Project, the infectious disease section was primarily review, but it was a worthwhile review anyway. Bea and I were wondering why it isn't included in more depth in doula trainings, because it is sure relevant to them too... maybe a role I can really fill!
Lunch on The Farm was amazing. Absolutely wonderful salad and soup, made from mostly local, organic ingredients. This is so much like the food that I make, except that it tastes better because I didn't have to work to make it. The break was short-lived, but so fun to catch up with the other women in the training. Of the 15 of us, 3 are from Canada and 1 is from Costa Rica... other states include New York, California, Texas, Delaware, and Georgia. I was sort of hoping to find some closer friends geographically, but it is a treat to hear about the struggles and triumphs that birth professionals have in other parts.
Sterile technique was fun for me because it was a class with one of my favorite midwives, and I really like her teaching style (although to be fair, all of our instructors have been the most perfect balance of well-informed, experienced, educated, compassionate and funny). Yes, funny. They all have a sense of humor and use it when it's appropriate (something I'm still learning how to do).
I got to help make dinner tonight, which is at one of the instructor's houses. She has a gorgeous view of the woods and a lovely garden. We helped to make a fresh, seasonal dinner out of the local sweet potatoes, tomatoes from local Amish friends, basil, soy beans, black eyed peas, and okra. I've never shucked soy beans from the plant before, but it was easy and pretty fun. I'd also never had roasted okra, but when someone makes me a local vegan meal from scratch, I try it all. I'm glad I did.
This evening we learned about the different kinds of midwifery certification organizations, and it was eye opening and a bit sobering. Can you believe that there are a significant number of states where it is illegal to practice midwifery outside of the hospital setting? I know I'll go to bed tonight with my head spinning about why this problem exists.
Got off the plane yesterday afternoon to a good omen: A WOMAN HAS GIVEN BIRTH!!! That makes my day already.
I'm thrilled to learn that Nashville is in the central time zone; for some reason I thought it was Eastern, but this is a very happy discovery for me. My body hates bouncing back and forth, and since my days will be starting at 7:30, I'm one hour happier... and so are my breakfast companions!
Our shuttle Driver, Jessie, is a permaculture teacher on The Farm and drove us in... by way of the Whole Foods. It was certainly a treat to pick up some comfort items (like kale chips and chocolate) and get a salad for dinner, since none of us was certain whether or not there would be anything prepared for us.
I learned so many things about The Farm just by driving in to the "dorm." There are lots of cottage industries here... they have a soy dairy, a mushroom spore distributing business (I don't know what you call it, but if you want to grow your own mushrooms, you can order this stuff), solar technology, radiation detection, and all sorts of unique foods.
The dorm is a tiny little cabin with seven twin-sized beds (with yoga blankets on each). It's cozy and has lots of little windows which (I thought) would let in lots of natural morning light. When I woke up at 9:30 this morning, I realized that wasn't going to work :)
We had dinner under the canopy by the store after shopping and chatting quite a bit. The store is like a cross between a country store and a mini Whole Foods (in the best way possible). Delicious, local foods, lots of options and such a friendly staff. I plan to try everything once while I'm here :)
As many of you know, I'm headed to The Farm tomorrow to learn more about midwifery assistant-ing and I'm so excited I can't even think straight enough to type coherently.
I made a rash and crazy decision in February that I wanted to learn from Ina May... I figured that she's been doing this for awhile and knows quite a bit about midwifing, but I also thought that the time of her teaching might be growing a bit short. So I drafted up an application and decided that YES I would go, even if midwifery isn't necessarily on my ten year plan, so long as they would take me.
Either I'm a compelling applicant, or the admission criteria are soft, or a stroke of luck has landed upon me. Regardless, I'm on my way. I've been packed for a week, and have two packing lists. They have mostly the same items on them, because I'm not a very creative packer.
I am determined to go sans checked bag, despite the fact that I'm bringing:
- a babydoll
- a cushion
- a towel
- a couple of textbooks
- a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope
- a heaping helping of snacks
- a yoga mat
Yep, it's all in a roll-aboard and a small backpack. Here's thanks to five years of traveling back and forth across the country like a ping-pong ball... guess I learned a few things.
I hope to blog often, and will also be sharing some pix on Instagram, so
A couple of years ago, on our quasi-annual trip to Hawaii, my husband and I decided to read the book Eating Animals, by Jonathan Saffron Foer. In case you couldn't guess, the book doesn't exactly advocate for an omnivorous diet. Upon learning his wife was pregnant, the author sets out to learn about food so he can answer questions for his soon-to-be offspring.
Hilarity doesn't exactly ensue.
After reading this (and noting a small world connection to my high school crush's father, who is quoted in the book), my hubby and I gave up dairy for a long time. Completely.
It is from this experience that I relate to you the various techniques we found acceptable for replacing dairy products in our home. Am I suggesting you do the same? Not at all. But since the most common dietary irritant of the exclusively breastfed infant is dairy (in mom's diet), I get the please-help-me-cut-dairy-for-my-baby-even-though-I-love-it-more-than-coffee plea on a weekly basis.
Step One: Banishment
Review all packaged products for the highlighted, bolded word MILK either in the ingredient list or in the allergen disclosure below. Put those items into a special place for your other family members to enjoy and use a large marker/tape to label the item so you do not consume it.
Step Two: The Cheese Situation
Refuse to eat artificial cheese. Trust me, don't bother with it. Soy cheese is horrific on a good day. Some vegans I know enjoy the Daiya non-dairy cheese made from pea protein, but I think it tastes like expensive plastic. Instead, replace cheese with things that also taste good.
Pizza: use no-cheese pesto, caramelized onions, olives, artichoke hearts, and other salt/fat combinations to replace the salt/fat you're missing from the cheese. Also note you'll need to eat more pizza because of the number of calories and amount of fat you're missing.
Quesadillas: instead of cheese, use hummus in your quesadillas. Just hummus, maybe some black beans, salsa, peppers, onions, etc. Prepare as usual. It's delicious.
Dip: this accidental invention comes courtesy of my bro-in-law who lived at our house for nine months and ate his weight in salsa every week. Combine equal parts salsa and hummus and use as a chip dip or veggie dip. No, it isn't queso, but it is rich and tasty.
Sandwich/burger/wrap condiment: try avocado, roasted red peppers, sunflower seeds, olives or other tasty treats. The exception to the artificial cheese is tofutti cream cheese. I'm sure it isn't good for you, but it tastes and feels like dairy cream cheese (and is equally unhealthy). If you're seriously craving a creamy spread on your sandwich, this will do.
Step Three: With Cookies?
There are lots of delicious non-dairy milks out there. Some are healthy, and some are essentially soda. I recommend having a variety of milks available, from soy to almond to hemp. Note that most non-dairy milks have little protein and are fortified with vitamins (and sometimes sugar). Hemp and soy have the most protein while coconut and almond are tastier. Use some for cereal/oatmeal/baking and others for a latte.
Step Four: I Will Scream
Avoid the soy ice cream and almond ice cream (I think they're icy and not satisfying) and head straight for the coconut stuff. It costs twice as much and has just as much fat and sugar as the dairy kind, and it tastes just as good if not better. Yogurt is another story. It's hard to find good yogurts, but you can find something that will do if you mix in some granola or fruit. At least we know they have their priorities straight?!
Step Five: Family Recipes
The most alarming thing we realized when we went dairy-free was how much our cooking and meal planning relied on dairy. Try some new stuff! I've found many good recipes online from sites like ManifestVegan and CompassionateCook
Step Six: Dining Out
Go ethnic. Try to find some Thai, Japanese, or Kosher food (since they will not mix meat and milk in the same meal, you know you can easily avoid dairy). Take Out!
Hope this helps!
On occasion, I receive correspondence from various people asking me how I know what I know about birth and motherhood, since I have no children of my own. They want to know where I trained and what sort of "hidden agenda(s)" I might have.
I take this as a compliment.
There is a lot of varied information out there about childbirth, motherhood, fashion, and nutrition. I'm so thankful I don't have to know everything there is to know about those things. I don't know everything there is to know about childbirth and motherhood! And if you've ever met me, you know I'm hopelessly fashionless.
My credentials are outlined on my website, if you want to know what all of the fancy letters mean (squat, in fact). So while you're here, please enjoy the laundry as I air out my closet.
The baby will come out.
It's amazing, but true. You will not be pregnant with this baby forever, and you can probably give birth vaginally. If your provider says you can't, and you want to, ask lots of questions and/or get a second opinion.
The overwhelming majority of the time, a women grows a baby/babies she can give birth to.
It does not make sense that we have lived 3.5 million years on Earth by growing babies too big to birth. It's a tight squeeze, and in very rare cases it is not physically possible.
We are lucky to have modern medicine and obstetric care.
When problems arise, babies come early, mamas get sick, or accidents happen, we are incredibly fortunate to have access to lifesaving procedures, medications, and information.
Doulas are superheros.
And worth every penny, even if you love your provider, your spouse and your mother and want everyone in the room when you give birth. What's a doula? How do you choose? How do you hire me as your doula?
You are not expected to know everything about birth before you have your baby.
And if you do, it's a waste of time. You are not going to turn around and deliver the next baby, you just need to know enough to feel confident in your team. A birth class will tell you what you need to know.
The internet is for porn.
(That's a line from a musical). The internet is not for birth or mothering advice! There are safe places where you can get good, reputable information, and great places where you can network and commiserate about how long it has been since you peed alone.
Dr. Google is not your friend.
What to Expect When You're Expecting is not worth your time.
This book is about being afraid. Being very afraid. The authors forgot that birth is normal and that everyone walking around was born. I recommend these alternatives.
Breastfeeding is normal, natural, and possible (and comes with some hurdles).
The hurdles are real and without help, it can feel impossible to move forward. Help exists. Learn about it. Please ask me.
Everyone is trying to sell you things, because you're part of a "market."
For instance, I would like you to come to my classes. Other people want you to buy things not because you need them, but because they are selling them. This includes me. You don't need prenatal yoga. You don't need a crib skirt. Right?
Boobs and a carseat are the only things you actually need before baby comes.
If you're pregnant, you're halfway there. You can buy things later, I promise.
Motherhood isn't all roses and rainbows.
Everyone has a different journey to motherhood, with different baggage. You do actually need Mom & Me yoga to form a community where you can remember that you're doing everything right (even when you do something wrong).
There are bad mothers out there, but you're probably not one of them.
Everyone tells me, "I'm such a bad mother!" Then they talk about the time they put junior in mismatched socks, or turned their back and he rolled off of the couch, or gave him formula. Everyone makes mistakes, and mistakes do not make you a bad mother.
You are beautiful.
Yep, you. Even if you're covered in spit up or your ankles are as wide as your hips. Mama lions are amazing and so are you. Rawr.
That's my agenda. I reserve the right to amend it at any time.
What did I miss?
So you're about to become a mother... what kind of mother do you think you will be? Maybe it is something you have always considered: you've always cared for children, or you've idealized a mama from your past, or you are literally just hoping that you're not “that mom” on the news.
Whether or not you know it, you have a mama archetype in your toolbox already. She's in there with all of her quirks and good graces. She's just waiting to hatch when your baby does.
Nothing to worry about? Not so fast.
Your mama archetype carries with her all sorts of good, but she comes with a shadow-side, too. It's worth peeking under the hood to see what she might look like before she arrives. How?
Consult Your Mama Baggage: We all have mama baggage. Some of us have small, day-trip bags. For instance, your mama always made you take off your shoes immediately when you came in the house. She insisted that franks and weenies be served exclusively with canned corn? Do you do the same thing now? Um hum. These are quirks. They are funny, annoying, and may possibly result in tears. But they are like day-trip baggage.
Some of us have larger bags, like mamas who had what may have possibly been diagnosable psychological conditions. If you can recall your mother seeming totally withdrawn, or yelling at you, your siblings, or a host of individuals only she could see, it is worth talking about this with a therapist before you become a mother yourself. Perhaps you've already processed the difficult situations you grew up with, but you have a new lens. Prepare now.
Some of us have second homes. Mama baggage isn't necessarily bad things your mother did, they may be bad things that happened to her. Perhaps she passed away when you were young, or perhaps she abandoned your family. This doesn't mean you don't have any ideas about what it is like to be a mother... you may have more ideas than are physically possible in one lifetime as you assembled a mother-figure from family members, friends, and media icons. You may have set a standard for yourself that is completely unattainable.
If you have the resources (like time and money), you can certainly chat with a counselor or therapist about your relationship with your mother. They might help you release the grasp on the “right” way to pack a lunch, help you anticipate any predisposition you might have for postpartum mood disorders, or support you as you build up or whittle down your idea of motherhood.
If you're not sure, you can spend a little time journaling. Write down your ideas of what it means to be a mother, great mother stories, and other relevant details. Talk with your friends about their experiences becoming mothers and what surprised them. Begin to write your own story of what the motherhood journey will look like for you.
I'm one of those people who loves making your life easier (and I believe in you). I am an experienced registered prenatal yoga teacher and a lactation educator.
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