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.
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 Am A Lighthouse
It's been a tough couple of weeks. And after the tough summer we had in Colorado, these weeks are even harder than they would have been on their own.
After the mind-numbing-jaw-dropping horror that happened last Friday, I went to see my parents sing a concert. I used to love this as a child, because I would snuggle into my big coat, in the dark, and I would sleep. It was the most restful sleep I think I've ever had. The kind of sleep that crashes over you and gently pulls you under.
Between my head-bobbing and my husband's unapologetic snoozing we heard a song that made me think about mamas-to-be in a new way:
"...I am a lighthouse
in the desert and I stand alone
I dream of an ocean that was here a long time ago
and I remember his cool waters and I still glow..."
As we approach the darkest time in what has been a dark year, we turn to you, mamas-to-be, to remind us of what is possible. To be a lighthouse in our desert.
Because even when you feel overwhelmed by nausea, hormones, stress about the changes that are about to happen, you are accomplishing what so many of us struggle to accomplish.
You step forward. You remind passers by of what is possible. I know enough after meeting with students each week, that you're concerned about cribs, in-laws, and things that don't fit. There's nothing wrong with that at all... you're doing what mamas do, which is worry and fret and balance and juggle.
And, without even knowing it, you're affecting everyone with whom you interact.
Because you glow.
Song "Lighthouse" by Antje Duvekot
Whose Body Is This Anyway?
Have you seen People magazine lately? Do they always have so many photos of pregnant celebrities or stars with their brand new babies? We know the babies are cute, but the celebrities themselves can often make us feel, well, ordinary.
This is because they have personal trainers, nannies, nutrition professionals, tailors, and other artists whose job is to make them look this way. I promise you, if you had personally custom-tailored maternity clothing, you'd look like that too. Have you ever seen what a celeb looks like first thing in the morning? Take a look in the mirror, love, because that's what they see, too.
In the 1950's doctors recommended that pregnant women gain 15-20 pounds during pregnancy. Many of our mothers and grandmothers (who lived through this era) hold that mentality as their fundamental belief and might not support the healthy changes that your body is making. Tell them that they are not helpful, and then tell them (lovingly) to go sit on a tack.
Want to know the current recommendations? They build upon your pre-pregnancy body and depend on how many buns are in the oven.
Body image is no small matter these days, and if you've always been fit it can be particularly disconcerting to watch your body grow in new and profound ways.
Find role models: there are some women who love their bellies and feel more feminine than they have ever felt. Observe their grace and try on what they are doing. If it doesn't work for you, try complimenting them and letting them know how much you appreciate their comfort with their bodies. If you can't identify any, find a picture of a happy pregnant woman who seems comfortable in her body (not a skinny pregnant woman or a supermodel). Find one that seems maternal, cozy, warm, exhuberant and joyful (they do exist).
Wear clothes that fit: Nothing makes you feel worse about how you look than ill-fitting clothes. This is true whether or not you are pregnant, but it is much more noticeable when nothing in your closet fits. Unless you are a seamstress, it doesn't make sense to alter your clothing, but it does make sense to find clothing that makes you feel good about yourself. Maybe that is a scarf or sweater, or some lovely jewelry that will fit no matter what. You might consider renting something for a special day, or even for a period of time if it will help you feel more comfortable and confident.
Focus on nutrition: This is no time to restrict calories or adopt a limited diet, so focus on eating according to the recommendations of your provider. They are most likely to suggest lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and water because these are the most nutritious foods. Try cooking new recipes that focus on nutrition and consider what you are really hungry for. If you are eating to cope with stress, try something else to remove the stress because baby is feeling it too.
A few of my favorite recipes?
Aloo, Gobi and Chard
Hurry, Curry (lentil dip)
Believe in miracles: Because you are one. No, I'm not being a silly yoga instructor here, you are literally creating another person out of the food that you eat and the thoughts that you think. What impression do you want to give to your child? That they wrecked your body, or that they were your first experience of a true miracle?
Genes Work, Jeans Work
Borrowed from http://runningahospital.blogspot.com
Every time I do anything even remotely ingenious, dorky, or with the aid of a list, my father says, "Genes work!"
When I was younger, I was embarrassed by this, thinking that the comment was heavy on the "dorky" and light on the "ingenious" because my father shares my penchant for self-deprication. But as I've grown up a bit more, I realize that he's saying this as a compliment. He's proud of his achievement.
Biologically, scientifically speaking, we are a legitimate species if we can produce reproductively viable offspring. In plain-speak: we all want to be grandparents. I think this goes beyond weekends at grammy's, cookies and fishing. In fact, I think it goes far beyond biology.
While my father takes pride in passing along my genetic code, including my Lithuanian green eyes and my exceptionally long monkey toes, I believe that the true source of his pride lies in the things he taught me both explicitly (the genius of list-making and preparedness) and accidentally (geek-speak). Although he always threatens to write a memoir, my father isn't a big writer. He's a story teller. As am I (and I'm equally terrified to write anything actually significant).
Perhaps what scares me most about possibly becoming a parent, is the fact that I'll be sharing not only what I hope to share with my children (my world-class packing skills), but what I might inadvertently share (my irrational fears of news media, basketball, cats, and the body scan at the airport).
I believe that children pick and choose the best parts of their parents and other adults and emulate what they can. I also know that some darkness transfer is unavoidable. But I believe it is our duty to our species and our planet to leave things better than we found them. To weed through the muck and hand over a slightly better version of ourselves to the next generation.
Prepare to be an AWESOME Grandma/pa:
1. Identify the habits that you are least interested in sharing with your offspring. Perhaps there is some disordered eating behavior in your past or a love of slot machines. Consider getting professional help managing these issues, rather than hoping you will hide them from your children. Remember when your parents tried to hide things from you? Exactly. It doesn't work.
2. Get rid of the things you don't want your children to find. Perhaps there are some juicy love letters that you'd rather not share with your 13 year old. Get a safety deposit box or off site storage unit now.
3. Tidy your relationships with your partner, parents, siblings, and neighbors. Unless you want your toddler to call the crotchety neighbor "Mr. S#its," as you have, clean it up now.
4. Cultivate your quirks. Aside from their teen years, when they are most likely to harbor intergalactic parasites, your child has the potential to love even the weirdest things you do and consider them normal. Do you remember going to junior high and realizing that no one else had parents who wrote the date on everything coming into the house? Do you remember how normal your parents' behavior seemed to you?
5. Open yourself up to new ideas and foster a willingness to let your children change you. As a family, you'll get to create new norms and values.
My best friend gave birth to her son ten years ago, my flower girls are graduating from high school, and people I used to babysit for have children who can speak in full sentences. And yet every time I see each of these babes I think to myself:
1. Who are you and what have you done with the two year old I loved
2. I am now that old lady I used to hate who would say "my, how you've grown!"
There are days when I can't believe I'm not five years old.
We all know that babies grow too quickly. People tell pregnant women this very thing every day, "treasure every moment," or, "hold on to this sweet age as long as you can," or, "I enjoy nude parasailing in Niagra Falls, and you should try it, too."
Ok, maybe they don't say the sailing bit, but it makes just about as much sense. You can't possibly hold onto every moment that goes by, because if you did you wouldn't have time to watch it (or you would be making a video of you watching a video). It is the slimy paradox of easy camera access these days. Have you traveled to any of the local wonders in your town and experienced the tourists taking in the beauty of the Garden of the Gods or Malibu Beach or the Biggest Gumball in Texas? Have you noticed that each one is hiding behind a small, squarish box made of metal and glass, squinting one eye?
This may be how your child remembers you, if you're not careful.
Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't take pictures of your children. You should. You should take lots of pictures, videos, sound recordings, and you most certainly will want to encase parts of them (the children) in cement or dough (briefly) to preserve just how tiny that little hand or foot was. But you should also write stories, do interpretive dances (together), have private moments and just be. Because the beauty of a photo is that it remains the same forever. It can be touched up to hide those unsightly wild hairs or colorized and digitally remastered to appear old timey or even more fabulous. But it can never get any sweeter, the way true memories do. Unless you're steadfastly attached to grudges about all of your exes, you probably think better of them today than you did the day you broke up, right? The same may be true of your favorite memories.
Just as yoga exists between the asana, the beauty of life exists between the photographs.
Hire a pro. I know that there are dozens of apps for taking and forging images out there, but nothing compares to the quality that a professional can get. That's why they are professionals. They will make sure you look natural and fabulous, and you'll be glad you did.
Spend at least as much time on each side of the lens. Even Hitchcock made an appearance in each of his films, and so should you. Otherwise when baby looks back 50 years later they will wonder what you looked like and why you were so intent on harassing them in every moment of their lives.
Back them up. Print them, email them, store them on hard drives. You decide your privacy factor, but make sure that whatever you're doing doesn't live exclusively in your iDevice or at one place or another. One of the best games for a rainy day? Look at old photographs (this requires old photographs).
Share the LOVE. However you choose to do this is up to you. Perhaps private albums on Picasa or Facebook, or publicly as the face of your product. This helps those of us who live far away avoid the "Oh my GOSH have you GROWN UP!" comments that every child fears.
Give them the power. In the hands of a child, anything is possible. Once they can manage the complexity of iPhotography, hand them the brick and let them shoot. See the world through their eyes. You might be surprised by what you see!
Let me be clear: this post will not address paternity woes, suggestions for "keeping things fresh," or sutras of any kind. This post is an introduction to life once baby arrives and your current household transforms from a twofer into a threefer.
Think back to the time that you and your partner began to co-habitate. It probably started off all nachos and dance parties and then evolved slowly into dish disputes, towel arguments, and misplaced mail warfare. Then (as you are now expecting a baby) something probably took a turn for the better again. You devised some sort of system, whether it involves pre-printed lists on the fridge or not. Knowing that Thursday night is poker night for your partner, you take the opportunity to paint your toenails in your dainties and rock out to Stevie Nicks. And every other Saturday you hike into the wilderness together to talk about the Big Dreams you have for the future and other relevant relational business. Three kinds of time: mine, yours and ours.
With the impending growth of your family unit, you will begin to experience the same sorts of growing pains as you figure out your time alone, partner's time alone, the two of you together, you and the baby together, and your partner and the baby together. You've just doubled the flavors of time that are essential to a balanced and healthy home, and you have few positive examples of how this works successfully. In fact, most sit-coms and romantic comedies are based on the principle that when three people try to be in a relationship together it is both epically hilarious and desperately tragic all at once.
Tips for Doubling Your Fun
Define your six flavors of time. Before baby arrives, decide what time you need that is sacred, what time your partner needs, and what time your relationship needs in order for it to thrive. What are the activities that you do that fill in these three flavors? Write them down in a list so that you may refer to it after baby arrives (color coding is optional).
Recall your weak spots. Remember what you used to (or still) fight over? These may be the areas that crop up again. If they are simple, make a concerted effort to meet your partner half way by emptying the garbage occasionally or not returning empty packaging to the refrigerator. If the issues are more complex, like say sex or money, this might be an excellent time to enlist the help of a good financial planner or therapist.
Dream BIG. Start brainstorming the things you've always wanted to do with your child, both as a couple and individually. These are great lists to make, too. Once baby arrives you can start to try on or craft new traditions.
Give baby time to grow into. There is a magical seventh flavor that won't develop for awhile, but it is important to parent as though it already exists: baby's time alone. It is critical for the emotional health of your family that your baby learn to spend time alone. Now, I'm not recommending that your infant be left unattended, but I am suggesting that baby learn to entertain her as she grows without the constant feedback of an adult. This is where your child will explore and develop her personality. If you know how important your alone time is to you, you'll respect the necessary alone time of your child as well.
And that's the recipe for a successful threesome.
Fairy Tale Birth Story
My mama, doing a little yoga a few years ago.
What do you think of on your birthday? Most people (myself included) think of cake, the blessing/curse of aging, and monumental years passed: 16, 18, 21, 30, 40 etc. Every year my mom calls and says “Happy Birthday! You had the BIGGEST HEAD EVER,” and by that she means my actual cranium was in the 90th percentile and my body in the 5th. Thank goodness I've balanced out a bit since then. She hopes I experience the same blessing when I give birth. This has always been the way I experience my birthday, with a sigh of relief that I've made it around the sun yet again, and a curse disguised as a blessing. However, after chatting with a friend today, I've started thinking of my birthday a little bit differently.
Let me digress for a moment (I promise to bring it all back around). Expectant mamas usually have some idea of what their birth story will look like. In fact, those of use who work with mamas strongly encourage the development of a birth plan which includes the who/what/where of birth from generalities like “board certified obstetrician should be handy” to specifics like “no tweeting, no matter what.” We script it out from beginning to end with little addenda like a flight attendant letting the team know what they'll need to know just in case.
Days and years later, we tell the story from the same perspective, in the same order, with a surprise ending like “huge head” or “100 year blizzard,” or “fainted dead away on the floor.”
I think we're doing it backwards. Or rather, we should be.
Think of all of the greatest memories you have. They usually don't go like this:
“I planned the perfect trip to Paris, which I took, and then I went home.”
They don't go like this, because this is a boring, terrible story. Even if you end with “...and then I fainted dead away,” or “...and then I stepped in gum,” or “...and then I found five dollars,” it doesn't get any better.
But, if you tell it like this: “Let me tell you how I met my partner after the worst trip of my life. I went to Paris and the trip went mostly as planned, but on my trip home we were diverted to Tuscaloosa, where I was marooned in the airport awaiting my connection to Knoxville. To make matters worse, my bags somehow ended up in Alberta. After three tries to get home via air, I finally gave up and took the bus. Because I took the bus instead, the airline said they weren't responsible for my bags, even though they sent them to the wrong country! Well, Marty was working at the lost luggage center in Alberta, and because he's Canadian he felt sorry for me and offered to drive and meet me halfway. Well, three weeks and 2,000 miles later we met up in the middle of Iowa and it was love at first sight.”
If there is one thing I can guarantee you beyond all others, it is that your birth story will not be the same as your birth plan. Unexpected things will happen, but each of those unexpected things will be another level of color in your wildly exciting and amazing birth story.
My tips for recording your birth story:
Consider the byline: based on the true story. Your child's birth story is your birth story, too. Consider which details are helpful to you and to baby and which can be modified into other characters, symbols, and images. Rather than “your lazy butt couldn't find the exit, so this ended in a traumatic C-section,” try something like “the doctor saw that you were lost and created a magic door.” Maybe this sounds silly, but it can profoundly affect the way you view the story, your baby, and your scar. In my opinion, necessary C-sections are magical.
Channel your inner impressionist, not your journalist: Sometimes photos are appropriate, but just as I've found in travel, you never really get a picture that captures the most meaningful moments. Don't fret about it, recreate it. Perhaps everyone who was there can make an image from their memory, whether they create a stick figure drawing, a painting, or something abstract. You can add in the relevant photos you have, but sometimes drawings are even better.
Remember: start with the happy ending. The end of the story is your baby's birth, so start there in your mind. Your most pivotal memory could be something like “...and then, after nine months I created a beautiful, perfect human out of the very best parts of me, and that perfect human, was YOU.”
When your next birthday comes around start with the memory that by some miracle, you were formed from tiny bits of ancient stars and the energy of the mother who bore 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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