Search Results for: Postpartum

Sacred Postpartum, Week 1: Birth Stories and Vow

Backtracking a little into week one of my current Sacred Postpartum class, for the first week’s assignments in reviewing our own birth and postpartum experiences, I set up a mini sacred space and put on some of my birth power bracelets (Mark and I started making these recently and I love them! It is like carrying a mini-mantra, birth power reminder with me every day).

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I did my vow page and then a collage of reminders to myself. I made a birth stories page and then printed out copies of each of my kids’ birth stories and stapled them to the back of one journal page per story, including one for my third baby who was born in a second trimester miscarriage (the stories are all available on my blog here. I didn’t include pictures of the actual print outs! ). Then, I did a page on the front of each birth story with pictures of each kid and significant words/lessons from their stories. I ended with a collage of myself as I prepare for my upcoming birth at the end of this month (39 weeks now, 37 when I did the assignment) and took a picture of a blank page as well as a symbol of the story yet to be written…

(click for bigger pix)

I also just have to pat myself on the back again about having enrolled in these trainings at this point in my own pregnancy. It was a stroke of genius! And, while I knew I would benefit from them, I had no idea how very deeply I would do so.

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Sacred Postpartum, Week 2: Ceremonial Bathing

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My Sacred Postpartum class began last week, though this is my first post about it. One of the assignments this week was to prepare a ceremonial bath.

Despite the deceptively simple sound of the assignment, this bath was an incredibly surprising and illuminating experience. I originally put off doing it because I had “too much to do” and then when I started getting it ready and setting up a little altar and doing the smudging, I felt both nervous and kind of apprehensive. I told my husband, “I think this is the first real bath I’ve ever really taken.” I’m not really a bath person. I took baths as a little kid and then moved on to showers and never took baths again except while postpartum with each of my kids. And, that is when I had my “breakthrough” moment. My eyes were prickling with tears and I said: “I associate taking baths with being weak and wounded.” I associate baths with cleaning blood away from myself and gingerly poking around for tears in my most vulnerable tissues. I associate baths with crying and holding my empty belly after the death-birth of my third baby in my second trimester. In fact, the last bath I remember ever taking in my current home was the one following his birth in which I sobbed my sorrow into the water and bled away the last traces of my baby’s life. (I think I probably did take a postpartum bath after the birth of my rainbow daughter the following year, but I don’t have a memory of it. The only bath I remember ever taking in this house was my post-loss, grief bath.) I associate baths with strings of blood and mucous floating away from me through the water and feeling injured, hurt, damaged and invalid. Deconstructed, taken apart. Lost. Shaking. Barely being able to lift my legs to get myself back out. Having to call for help and be dried off. Hollow. Changed forever.

For this bath, I set up an altar space, turned on my Sacred Pregnancy playlist, smudged the room and the tub. My husband brought me my October 2014 004mother’s tea (a blend I made last week with friends using the recipe intended for later in this class). I added salts from the salt bowl ceremony at my Mother Blessing. I added a little bit of my sitz bath mix. I added almond milk and honey. My husband went and picked a rose and scattered the petals in on top of me after I was in the tub. As I settled into my milk and honey bath, I felt restless at first, but then I calmed and my mind became more still. I went through my previous bath memories and I cried a little bit. I completely relaxed and sank lower into the water. I touched my body gently and honored what she has given and where she has been wounded. I rubbed my wiggling belly and talked to my baby about having a gentle, easy, smooth birth with a gradual emergence. My thoughts turned to my possible plans for water birth for this baby. I realized that my own “weak and wounded” bath memories are probably, in part, related to why I don’t feel particularly attracted to water birth (though I wasn’t really attracted before I ever had any kids either, so it isn’t all related to those past bath experiences). Can I be strong and powerful in the water, or is that just where I bleed and cry? I’ve been planning to try water during this upcoming birth because I’ve never done it before and because it might help prevent the issues with tearing that I’ve had in the past. However, I have had trouble actually picturing myself doing it. As I stilled into this peaceful, non-wounded, ceremonial bath, I could picture a safe, secure water birth better than ever before.

And, later that night we set this up in the living room…

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(glowing pumpkin head courtesy of the kids decorating for Halloween, not for Sacred Atmosphere!)

And, to finish the assignments for this week’s class, we made and enjoyed Thai sweet tea for dessert after dinner!

Tuesday Tidbits: Science, Mother Blame, & Postpartum Psychosis

“There is nobody, out the other side of that sort of strong birth, who is not better prepared to meet the absolutely remarkable challenges of parenthood. When the power and trust is transferred to the mother, when she delivers her child, rather than ‘is delivered’ when she chooses, rather than ‘is allowed’, no matter what sort of technical birth she has, she is stronger, fiercer, and better…”

–Stephanie Pearl McPhee (The Yarn Harlot)

August 2014 019Just a short Tidbits post for today…

Over the weekend, I appreciated reading this article about an unusual topic: postpartum psychosis.

Two weeks previously, Jessica was in perfect health, enjoying a career as an actress, comedian and writer and at the end of a straightforward pregnancy with her actor husband Matthew Bannister.

“I describe Albert’s first weeks as ‘peace and war’,” she says. “The birth was gentle; I delivered Albert myself in a pool in our dining room. I remember looking down as he was born, seeing this baby blinking up at me under the water, and feeling such love. Then came a tidal wave of terror.”

The first days of parenthood were the blur of joy and shock common to most. “It was a time of epic contradictions: you’ve lost so much of yourself and you’ve never been more whole,” Jessica explains. Yet by day three she began to display symptoms of a rare illness affecting one to two in every 1,000 UK mothers…

via Postpartum psychosis: How Jessica Pidsley was driven to the edge by the rare illness – Features – Health & Families – The Independent.

I also read a significant article about epigenetic research and motherblame:

So why is it that the complex science of human development, in particular, is so readily distilled into this single, unhelpful message: “It’s all about mom”?

Of course, science is influenced by values in all sorts of ways: in the questions we address, the conclusions we prioritize, and the applications we pursue. But when dealing with complex causal processes and the assignment of causal responsibility “it’s the mother!”, values can affect the conclusions we draw from science in an especially pernicious way. That’s because we think of causal claims as simple descriptive facts about the world — as value-free. But a growing body of empirical work shows they’re not. In fact, the way we make causal claims depends a lot on how things normally happen and on how we think they should happen.

via Using Science To Blame Mothers : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR.

This in turn reminded me of my own past post about asking the right questions, which I shared on a friend’s Facebook page in response to all of the recent media attention being paid to newly developed date rape drug detecting nail polish.

We MUST look at the larger system when we ask our questions. The fact that we even have to teach birth classes and to help women learn how to navigate the hospital system and to assert their rights to evidence-based care, indicates serious issues that go way beyond the individual. When we say things about women making informed choices or make statements like, “well, it’s her birth” or “it’s not my birth, it’s not my birth,” or wonder why she went to “that doctor” or “that hospital,” we are becoming blind to the sociocultural context in which those birth “choices” are embedded. When we teach women to ask their doctors about maintaining freedom of movement in labor or when we tell them to stay home as long as possible, we are, in a very real sense, endorsing, or at least acquiescing to these conditions in the first place. This isn’t changing the world for women, it is only softening the impact of a broken and oftentimes abusive system…”

Asking the right questions… | Talk Birth.

And, while not completely related to the topics at hand in today’s post, but absolutely relating to quality mother care, I wanted to share a link to a fundraising project from my doula, Summer:

Who's <br /><br />
Your <br /><br />
Doula?” width=”365″ height=”490″ /></a></p>
<blockquote><p>“…Smyth comments that ‘the role of mother is not immediately intelligible to those who find themselves inhabiting it’ p. 4. This is certainly borne out in the confessional writing and memoirs of young feminist women, who try to make sense of their experiences as a new mother. They write of a crisis of selfhood, feeling undifferentiated in ‘a primordial soup of femaleness’ Wolf 2001 and of experiencing a gendered, embodied and relational self for the first time Stephens 2012…”</p>
<p>via <a href=Tuesday Tidbits: Story Power | Talk Birth.

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Sacred Pregnancy Week 4: Honoring, Sealing, & Postpartum Care

“I am the strength of all women who have ever birthed a baby and I am ready to join that tribe.”

–Anni Daulter (Sacred Pregnancy)

August 2014 055Me to my husband last night: “so, I know I might look like I’m just dancing around with flowers in my hair, but I’m really getting certified.”

<Mark wisely refrains from wide-open joke opportunity>

Yesterday, I finished the last assignments for my Sacred Pregnancy class. While I primarily took this class for personal reasons and am glad I did because I truly think it was the absolute BEST thing I could have done for myself to get ready for Tanner, to spend some time focused on my pregnancy, and to get ready for another mindful birth and postpartum experience. I have also completed all the work needed to be a Certified Sacred Pregnancy Mini-Retreat Instructor. On October 1st, I start the Sacred Postpartum training program—again with a dual purpose of personal enrichment and professional development.

I completed some of the activities out-of-order and finished the silk painting and honoring crown from week 3 in conjunction with the postpartum and “sealing” work of week 4.

I chose to use my drumstick as my stick around which to wrap my silk, since the drum is one way I express myself. Bringing the words painted on the silk into my drumming seemed like a logical companion. My silk power was bold fearlessness! Zander and Alaina also worked on small pieces of silk with me.

I’d delayed making the flower crown I thought because I’d told myself that I’ve already had several flower crowns at different ceremonies and so making another one for “no reason” felt kind of redundant. However, after I finished my second silk painting, I looked behind me and saw some wildflowers and I realized I did want to make a crown and I wanted to be with real flowers and not artificial. I’d been going to do artificial since I have some and thought then I could at least check it off the list. I don’t like fake flowers though, I like real ones. As soon as I realized that there were enough wildflowers scattered around the yard that I could make a real one, I got excited about the idea. My daughter helped me find and cut the flowers and then we put it together. And, then took some picture with my new silk and the crown together.

“The first few months after a baby comes can be a lot like floating in a jar of honey—very sweet and golden, but very sticky too.” –American College of Nurse-Midwives

I love the idea of a post-birth sealing ceremony SO much. This is similar to a mother blessing, but it is held postpartum to help “seal” the birth experience and welcome the baby and the mother into motherhood (or mother of however-many-children-hood). Absolutely wonderful. I also love the song Standing on the Edge from the Sacred Pregnancy CD. I identify with it so much as I prepare for my next birth as well as to welcome a new baby who I wasn’t expecting to have. As I’ve noted often in recent blog posts, I’m working very hard to wrap up a variety of projects so that I can cocoon with my new baby and give him and me the time and space I know we will need after birth. I have gotten better and better at taking care of myself postpartum, in asking for what I need, and getting very, very clear with my support people about what is most important to me.

We actually made the flax pillows for the sealing ceremony at the beginning of the week and then used them on Sunday (Alaina and I made the PPD tincture together the same day as the pillows). My husband tucked me in with the flax pillows and scarf and draped the silk painting across me as well. I lit my pregnancy candles and listened to Standing at the Edge. I spoke aloud the things I celebrate myself for–all the projects and children I have given birth to.

As I was setting up my wrap and pillows, my almost-11-year-old son had said he’d like to do it too. So, after my own sealing experience, each of my kids in turn got sealed in the scarf with the flax pillows. And, then they went and got my husband and we sealed him too! For each, I offered a blessing: “I’m glad you were born. I’m glad you are my son/daughter/husband. I love you. Thank you.” I placed my hands on different parts of their bodies as I spoke and then ended with kiss on the forehead. They all loved it and were very calm and contemplative. I think it was good for all of us and was, in its way, a “sealing” of their births and our relationship.

While I always have had a mother blessing ceremony before the baby’s birth, this time I’m going to make sure to do a postpartum sealing ceremony as well. The birth I actually sealed most consciously was the second trimester birth-death of my third son. On my due date with him, which also happened to be my birthday, I did a ceremony outside by our little labyrinth and the tree where we buried him. I spoke aloud, “I am not pregnant anymore,” and took time to hold and honor the powerful, honorable, birth and release I’d given him.

I’ve written a lot about my own postpartum thoughts, experiences, and feelings and they are grouped under the appropriate category on my blog here.

I also want to share a picture of my new mother-of-four goddess pendant! This pendant, too, has been part of my personal emotional preparation to integrate the new baby into my maternal identity. It took a long time for us to get the cast right for this sculpt and I’m so happy to have it to wear now.

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 The Sacred Pregnancy online retreat training experience was a very positive one. Lots of personal benefit as well as professional development! I’m so glad I decided to go for it!
August 2014 070Past posts in this series:

Sacred Pregnancy Week 1, Part 1: Sacred Space

Sacred Pregnancy, Week 1, Part 2: Connecting

Sacred Pregnancy Week 3, Part 1: Fears & Forgiveness

Sacred Pregnancy Week 3, Part 2: Empowerment and Self-Care

 

 

Tuesday Tidbits: Postpartum Mamas

As Americans, we are under the impression that new moms are ‘Superwomen’ & can return to life as it was before baby. We must remember to celebrate this new mother and emulate the other cultures that honor new mothers by caring for them, supporting them, & placing value on the magnificent transformation she is going through. This is the greatest gift we can give to new mothers & newborns…–Darla Burns (via Tuesday Tidbits: Postpartum Mothering)

“The first few months after a baby comes can be a lot like floating in a jar of honey—very sweet and golden, but very sticky too.” –American College of Nurse-Midwives

The United States are not known for their postpartum care practices. Many women are left caught completely off guard by the postpartum recovery experience and dogged by the nagging self-expectation to do and be it all and that to be a “good mother” means bouncing back, not needing help, and loving every minute of it.

This country is one of the only utterly lacking in a culture of postpartum care. Some version of the lie-in is still prevalent all over Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and particular parts of Europe; in these places, where women have found the postpartum regimens of their own mothers and grandmothers slightly outdated, they’ve revised them. The U.S. seems only to understand pregnancy as a distinct and fragile state. For the expectant, we issue reams of proscriptions—more than can reasonably be followed. We tell them what to eat and what not to eat. We ask that they visit the doctor regularly and that they not do any strenuous activity. We give them our seats on the bus. Finally, once they’ve actually undergone the physical trauma of it, their bodies thoroughly depleted, we beckon them most immediately to rejoin the rest of us. One New York mother summed up her recent postpartum experience this way: “You’re not hemorrhaging? OK, peace, see you later…”

…“A culturally accepted postpartum period sends a powerful message that’s not being sent in this country,” said Dr. Margaret Howard, the director of the Day Hospital for Postpartum Depression in Providence, Rhode Island. “American mothers internalize the prevailing attitude—‘I should be able to handle this myself; women have babies every day’—and if they’re not up and functioning, they feel like there’s something wrong with them.”

via Why Are America’s Postpartum Practices So Rough On New Mothers? – The Daily Beast.

Via First the Egg, I then read this powerful reflection prompted by the article above:

In the piece, one woman mentions that women are literally still bleeding, long after they’re expected to “bounce back” and reclaim their old lives and be totally self-sufficient. Our bodies haven’t finished healing, and we’re supposed to look and act as though nothing even happened here, it’s all good. It’s all just the same as it was.

Secretly, I’ve been the slightest bit ashamed of all the help I’ve needed.

via Eat the Damn Cake » bleeding time.

I also read this raw, honest, and touching look at the “betrayal” experienced by women who enter into the mystery of birth expecting a blissed out, earth mother, orgasmic birth experience:

…But inside my head, I could not believe what was happening. How painful it was. How terrifying. I felt helpless. And degraded and humiliated by there being witnesses. And at the same time, I felt so, so alone. I remember at one point saying, completely out of my mind, “I don’t understand why no one is doing anything to help me! Please help me!” Della reminded me that what I was feeling was the baby coming. That I was doing just what I was supposed to, having the baby, right then….

via Mutha Magazine » S. LYNN ALDERMAN’S Ugliest, Beautiful Moment (Or, Fuck Ina May).

And, that made me think of my own thoughts about birth regret and how we may hide it from the pregnant woman we perceive as vulnerable in her beautiful, fleeting state as Pregnant Woman:

I’ve come to realize that just as each woman has moments of triumph in birth, almost every woman, even those with the most blissful birth stories to share, have birth regrets of some kind of another. And, we may often look at subsequent births as an opportunity to “fix” whatever it was that went “wrong” with the birth that came before it. While it may seem to some that most mother swap “horror stories” more often than tales of exhilaration, I’ve noticed that those who are particularly passionate about birth, may withhold or hurry past their own birth regret moments, perhaps out of a desire not to tarnish the blissful birth image, a desire not to lose crunchy points, or a desire not to contribute to the climate of doubt already potently swirling around pregnant women…

via Birth Regrets? | Talk Birth.

Which then made me think about the women who know...

Where are the witches, midwives

and friends

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Circle of women sculptures as gifts for my women’s group. Yes, there’s a crack—“the world cracks everyone”—but that is how the light gets in…

to belly dance and chant

while I deliver

to hold me and breathe with me

as I push

to touch me and comfort me

as I cry?

Where are the womyn who know

what it’s like

to give birth?

via Where are the women who know? | Talk Birth.

Thinking about that reminded me of the chant we sang around the fire at the festival I just returned from on Sunday night:

Dance in a circle of women,

Make a web of my life,

Hold me as I spiral and spin,

Make a web of my life…

via Goddess Chants – Dance in a Circle of Women by Marie Summerwood.

May all pregnant women and tender postpartum mamas dance in a circle of women!

I’d hoped to have time to post a festival recap and some lessons learned, but other responsibilities take precedence at least for today, so I’ll leave you with one of the pictures my sister-in-law took on a misty morning, sunrise stroll around the lake and another that I took in the Temple at the festival:

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See also:

Postpartum Survival Tips

Timeless Days: More Postpartum Planning

Mothers Matter–Creating a Postpartum Plan

Planning for Postpartum

Some reminders for postpartum mamas & those who love them

Birthing the Mother-Writer (or: Playing My Music, or: Postpartum Feelings, Part 1)

Postpartum Thoughts/Feelings, Part 2

Postpartum Feelings, Part 3

What to tell a mother-to-be about the realities of mothering…

Tuesday Tidbits: Postpartum Mothering

Some honest, nitty-gritty, lovely, and poignant looks at motherhood today…

Beautiful print of a babyloss mandala by Amy Swagman. My mom surprised me with this for my birthday after thoughtfully contributing to our Amethyst Network fundraiser and receiving the print as a premium.

Beautiful print of a babyloss mandala by Amy Swagman. My mom surprised me with this for my birthday after thoughtfully contributing to our Amethyst Network fundraiser and receiving the print as a premium.

First, I very much enjoyed this article about the painfulness many women experience as they transition into motherhood. This may be re-experienced/re-visited with each baby, or perhaps the initial challenge fades into the background of memory, unless you actively acted to preserve it.

…For me, and for many other women, being a new mother is hard. It can be hard in a million different ways: painful physical recovery from a difficult birth, breast-feeding problems, colic, tensions with your partner, sleep problems. It’s also just hard on its own, on top of and in between all these other challenges. As a friend of mine said, “I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know what ‘hard’ would feel like.” We thought it would be sitcom-style hard—not necessarily with a feel-good resolution at the end of every episode, but at least punctuated by those frequent moments of uplift indicating that, in spite of everything, life really is beautiful, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure it’s like that for some people, but for many of us, it’s not. For many of us, it’s not good hard, as in a “good hard workout”; it’s bad hard, as in, it sometimes feels like something bad is happening to you…

Before I Forget: What Nobody Remembers About New Motherhood – Jody Peltason – The Atlantic.

I recognize that many mothers do not have difficult transitions in postpartum, but I certainly did, and the period of time following the birth of my first baby remains fixed in my own memory one of the most pivotal, painful, challenging, and transformative times of my life as a woman. Perhaps it is more fixed, because I did write about it and the rawness and the struggle is preserved in those words from the past. This article reminds me of my own past thoughts:

When I had my first baby, I would see women who were pregnant and feel almost a sense of grief for them—like, just wait, you have NO idea what is coming. I also told my husband more than once: “this is both more wonderful and more HORRIBLE than I ever could have imagined.” The fear of being thought a “bad mom” is SO powerful that it keeps us quiet about many things. I’ve felt more than once that my kids were “torturing” or me or literally trying to crush my spirit/soul. It sounds horrible to type it out, but that is how I feel sometimes! I’ve also written about how it interesting to feel both captivated AND captive. Bonded and also bound. I discovered that there was a whole new section of women’s rights I hadn’t even been aware of prekids–mother’s rights. I do think many, many women have written about this, but when you start out you feel like you’re the only one whose “daring” to mention the ugly side [she'd also mentioned, "why doesn't anyone write about this?" Um, they totally do. A lot]. Start reading “momoirs”—they’re a lifeline! So many good ones out there. I have a big collection of them. Oh, and start reading Brain, Child magazine. The best look at real mothering I’ve ever know.

via What to tell a mother-to-be about the realities of mothering…

See also:

Postpartum Survival Tips

Birthing the Mother-Writer (or: Playing My Music, or: Postpartum Feelings, Part 1)

Postpartum Thoughts/Feelings, Part 2

Postpartum Feelings, Part 3

The time of danger, what needs to be survived, comes at different times for mothers. For me, it came early — during my [child]‘s infancy.” ––From Sleeping Beauty & The Fairy Prince: A Modern Retelling By Cassie Premo Steele

Ever since my first child was born over nine years ago, I’ve been talking about writing an article about the tension between choices and that whatever it is you’re doing, you can be blamed for the outcome later—i.e. “you let me co-sleep, and now I have lifelong sleep problem” OR, “you didn’t co-sleep and now I have lifelong abandonment issues!”

So, I appreciated this humorous look at how you’re doing everything wrong:

Everybody’s always trying to figure out how to do it right.

What’s “best” for my children? What can I do to raise the healthiest, most well-adjusted kids possible?

How can I do it “right?”

Well I think we should reframe this whole discussion into a simple recognition that we’re doing it all wrong.

Everything we do, it’s wrong.

Every decision is the wrong decision. And I have proof. Check this out.

via So basically, you’re doing everything wrong always – renegade mothering.

In a happier tone, I very much enjoyed this sweet post about the end of the breastfeeding relationship:

I’m hoping that buried in the corners of my children’s minds, along with all the other lovely things, there are some memories of breastfeeding that will be there all their lives. As for me, it’s not so much a corner of my mind as an overflowing treasure chest.

via Lonely Scribe: Of milk and memories: how my breastfeeding story ends.

I was very grateful for my own breastfeeding relationship last week when we took Alaina in for her dental work under general anesthesia at an outpatient surgery clinic. After it was over, we nursed and nursed and nursed. It was healing and renewing for us both and it meant I didn’t have to worry about her getting enough to eat or drink after being groggy and having a sore mouth. Interestingly, while she was under, we went ahead and had her upper frenulum clipped (I’ve thought for a long time that she had a upper-lip tie) and it has made such a surprising difference in how comfortable it feels to nurse her. I think I had adapted to a low-level of irritation and discomfort throughout the entire two years that I’ve nursed her.

The day after surgery: showing off new teeth (the previously poorly repaired ones WERE able to be saved!) as well as a new baby chick!

The day after surgery: showing off new teeth (the previously poorly repaired ones WERE able to be repaired and saved! I went in thinking we’d be coming home with a [more] toothless girl) as well as a new baby chick!

Tuesday Tidbits: Hemorrhage & Postpartum Care

March 2013 068“A bright red ribbon of blood weaves women together. We are blood sisters. We bleed and bleed, and we do not die. Usually.” –Susun Weed

These Tuesday Tidbits all come from the current issue of Midwifery Today. It is an excellent issue with tons of great information. As I referenced before, however, it is literally making my uterus ache and contract to read it since the theme is Hemorrhage. I’ve had to read it in small doses—5-10 pages at a time—and then come back to it later because the contractions/crampiness in my uterus and lower back get too intense for me to continue. I’ve always known that I have an intense response to blood, but this is the first time that I’ve really tuned in to the body memory my pelvic bowl still holds with regard to excessive postpartum blood loss. That blood loss is one of the things I don’t blog about, but today I’m writing about hemorrhage anyway (even though my back/uterus is starting up again as I type this). I guess you could call it “psychosomatic,” but I call it uterine memory.

Robin Lim’s article about postpartum hemorrhage in Bali includes a nice list of preventing and managing hemorrhage, one of the most significant being to minimize prenatal “scare” as much as possible. She writes about good prenatal nutrition and nurturing prenatal care and she also recommends this essential:

Build layers of support and trust for the mother in pregnancy and labor to help her cope with any social, psychological or spiritual challenges that she might be carrying…

Lim also says that laboring women use “qi” while laboring and birthing, which is our life force, our energy. She says that if women run out of “qi,” they have to dip into their “jin,” which is, “one’s God-given lifespan”:

“If a mother uses all of her qi to bring her baby out, then she has none left to bring her baby out and to close her uterus properly…As birth-keepers it is our job to maintain the qi of pregnant, laboring, birthing and breastfeeding mothers. The mother who maintains her qi and does not use up her jin can still be glowing and full of energy after having five children…the mother who has dipped too deeply into her jin, due to having depleted her qi, can be dangerously run down after having just one baby…”

While one might interpret this as being a little too esoteric for the practical mind and perhaps a tad too close to the victim-blaming “you create your own reality” thought processes that grate on my nerves, I really appreciated the idea of the responsibility of birth-keepers to guard mothers’ life-force energy and to act to preserve mother’s natural resources and reserves of strength.

On a midwifery education note, I love the writing of Sister MorningStar and I loved reading her thoughts on midwifery education, especially her observation that

…I’m dreaming of a way and time when women are as healthy as deer and mothers birth in the night before professionals arrive. Don’t misunderstand, I want and am willing to talk at any roundtable about midwifery education. We need everyone who cares about birth at such a table, including mothers. We need a global table with a global voice, passion and wisdom. I am not saying that birth and midwives are not made better with midwifery education, but I am saying that I have many questions about modern midwifery education and its effect on the experience of birth.

And, moving on to postpartum care, loved this quote from Darla Burns in an article by Allie Chee:

As Americans, we are under the impression that new moms are ‘Superwomen’ & can return to life as it was before baby. We must remember to celebrate this new mother and emulate the other cultures that honor new mothers by caring for them, supporting them, & placing value on the magnificent transformation she is going through. This is the greatest gift we can give to new mothers & newborns…

I appreciated that Chee included information about postpartum recovery from miscarriage and stillbirth as well, rather than assuming that postpartum care is a need only following a live birth. Consistent with my own experiences and observations she notes that, “in the case of miscarriage and stillbirth, a woman is usually sent home with no postpartum care instructions other than perhaps a list of negative signs to watch for that may indicate further complications with her health. In these instances, many friends and family members, often not knowing how to respond, leave the mother to grieve alone and to recover physically by herself.” Other interesting notes with regard to postpartum recovery after miscarriage or stillbirth include these two:

  • The depression and anxiety experienced by many women after a miscarriage can continue for years, even after the birth of a healthy child….
  • [with regard to postpartum recovery/"lying in" time in other cultures]…Amy Wong, an internationally acclaimed author and expert on postpartum writes, “Natural delivery requires at least 30 days of rest, while cesarean delivery, miscarriage and abortion require at least 40 days…”

Of course, this made me reflect on my own experiences. I feel fortunate that I was cared for with a lot of love and tenderness in my own miscarriage postpartum, with my mom bringing us food and providing child care and support, and my doula organizing and delivering meals from friends as well as offering a loving and supportive listening ear. That said, I was back in front of the classroom two weeks postpartum and felt like perhaps I was taking “too long” to get back to “normal.”

Definitely make sure to check out the complete issue! Midwifery Today is my favorite birth publication and is a treasure trove of information as well as personal experiences and reflection.

March 2013 040

Timeless Days: More Postpartum Planning

“Understand that the tremendous energy going through you during birth is the same sort of power as the force of ocean waves moving towards shore. Know that just as a bird knows how to build its nest, and when to lay its eggs, you too will build your birthing nest…” –Janice Marsh-Prelesnik (The Roots of Natural Mothering)

So, after writing about postpartum survival tips and about what to share with mothers-to-be about the realities of motherhood, I found some more postpartum notes saved in my always overflowing drafts folder from the sidebar to Time in a Bottle by Beth Bailey Barbeau in Spring 2011 issue of Midwifery Today (p. 44).

  • Encourage realistic contact between mothers-to-be and new mothers to help them shape more realistic expectations of postpartum life.” Yes! This is why I strongly encourage mothers to come to LLL meetings before they have their babies.
  • “Use language that shares your expectations and gives parents a vocabulary to articulate the demanding needs of their new infant.” Like Barbeau, I find it helpful to bring in the concept of the fourth trimester. The first three months are the “fourth trimester” during which baby pretty much wants to live on mom’s chest and replicate the womb (i.e. almost constant feeding–like the umbilical cord–constant holding and lots of motion, like being in the uterus, as well as being able to hear your heartbeat). After the fourth trimester passes, babies “wake up” even more and start really interacting with the world. I explain in a light-hearted way that even if you hold your baby for 12 solid hours a day following birth, that is a 50% reduction in what she is used to. And, I let them know that while the adult’s brain thinks, “how can this baby be hungry, I just fed him 30 minutes ago?!” The baby’s brain thinks, “it is has been 30 minutes since I’ve EATEN ANYTHING!!!!!” I also reinforce the idea that a baby that wants to be held and snuggled and nursed is a smart baby, not a manipulative one. And, of course, I also describe mother’s body as baby’s natural habitat after birth.
My husband and first baby during the first tender postpartum days.

My husband and first baby during the first tender postpartum days.

  • Remind new parents that most cultures around the world have some sort of ‘lying in’ period, typically lasting 30-60 days or more.” Truly the things that support both a healthy birth and healthy postpartum are contrary to the expectations and habits of mainstream society. See Kathleen Kendall-Tackett’s handout on how other cultures prevent postpartum depression.
  • “Matter-of-factly inform the family, especially the extended family (if you have your client’s permission), that mama is going to be encouraged to stay in bed for a while after the birth and that she’s not ‘being lazy.'” Mothers can have a lot of difficulty giving themselves this permission and it can help to have the acknowledgement and encouragement to family members coming from an outside source.
  • “Remind them that a true six-week postpartum window allows for the placenta site to fully heal and supports minimized bleeding and stronger recovery.” An excellent tip for educators and doulas from Barbeau is to illustrate size of placental site healing area with hands like small dinner plate—if this was outside the body, how would you care for yourself
  • “Encourage preparation for postpartum success!” I write about the idea of postpartum expression instead of postpartum depression. See ample past articles about postpartum planning and a nice specific story about creating a nest here.

“Although pregnancy and birth is a richly intuitive and instinctive process, a woman will prepare her ‘nest’ and birth according to the style of her culture, in the same way that a particular species of bird will build its nest with whatever is available.”

–Pam England

Let’s help make sure her nest is rich, resourceful, blessed, and beautiful!

Postpartum Survival Tips

“In western society, the baby gets attention while the mother is given lectures. Pregnancy is considered an illness; once the ‘illness’ is over, interest in her wanes. Mothers in ‘civilized’ countries often have no or very little help with a new baby. Women tend to be home alone to fend for themselves and the children. They are typically isolated socially & expected to complete their usual chores…while being the sole person to care for the infant…” –Milk, Money, & Madness

324I recently shared this quote on my Facebook page and a reader responded expressing her fear at preparing to face this exact situation. I responded that it is an unfortunately realistic fear and suggested she check out some resources for postpartum planning that might help work through the fear as well as plan for a nurturing postpartum instead of a stressful one. She then responded that she has a very minimal local support system and that got me thinking about postpartum survival tips for when one’s local support system is limited…

My ideas:

  •  Suggest to your out-of-town friends and family that they contribute to a “babymoon” for you and all pitch in to hire a postpartum doula.
  • Tactfully remind people that even if they’re too far away to bring you a meal, they can certainly call up a local restaurant and order a delivery for you! I think a lot of us forget that is an option for a long distance family member (that we would bring food to if they were local). In my experience, getting enough food is a huge issue postpartum! I remember long distance friends having babies a variety of times and wishing I was close enough to bring them dinner. Duh. Many restaurants do, in fact, deliver food!
  • Be your own “best friend” by preparing and freezing meals and snacks now. I know I sound obsessed with food, but it is totally one the hardest things to take care of postpartum, but so important!
  • Put together a mama survival kit for yourself that you can then open up when you need it. Some ideas here and more ideas of variable quality here.
  • If you don’t have a sense of community work, actively work on building one—go to La Leche League meetings, Holistic Moms Network, Mothers of Preschoolers, Attachment Parenting International, or other mothers’ groups. Go BEFORE you have your baby if you can.

Other ideas for helpers:

  • In addition to my idea of ordering delivery for a postpartum family as a way of bringing them dinner long distance, is to order a dinner through the mail via the business Spoonful of Comfort. They will send fresh chicken soup, rolls, cookies, and a baby present via Priority Mail (packed with freezer packs). I send it with a note saying, “this is me, bringing you dinner!” Friendly tip from unfortunate personal experience: if you are doing this for a friend make SURE you enter THEIR address as the shipping address and not your OWN address, or you will then be forced to enjoy their postpartum meal and feel like a total idiot at the same time.
  • Don’t forget about other meals—breakfast = awesome. Muffins = awesome.
  • Pay it forward–I think sometimes people feel like they don’t know someone well enough to bring them food, or maybe they even do a mental “tally” and think, “well, she won’t be bringing me food ever, so why should I take time to bring it to her” or, “she didn’t make anything for me when I had my last baby, so I’m off the hook on this one.” When I had Alaina, a mother who had literally JUST moved to town and that I had not yet met, sent a hot breakfast casserole to me (that my lovely doula delivered to my lovely mother at the snowy end of my gravel road).  I think of that generosity when I bring a postpartum meal to a mama from whom I will never end up getting a reciprocal meal. Who cares. She needs it. You can do it!
  • Another doula commented on my post: “Do you know a mom that is about to have a baby? Or maybe a momma who just gave birth recently? Don’t even ‘offer’ just show up with a bucket of cleaning supplies, a bag of healthy food, and maybe something nice for her. Go tuck her in bed with baby, and get to work on her home.. When she wakes, she has nothing to do but nurse that baby. (If she has other kids, delegate chores with them, if to young, call mutual friends to sit for them! Our Mom’s need this, up through 6-9weeks pp, Mom’s need help, even longer for some. There is a reason the US has the highest postpartum depression issues in the developed world… Create your community! DO IT!” I would add that if you do not know mom well, do not plan to engage in a deep cleaning project and stay for a long time doing such project.

I also posted to the Citizens for Midwifery Facebook page asking for contributions for postpartum survival tips when your local support system is limited. What beautiful, helpful women we have on that page! While I didn’t get many suggestions specifically for minimal local support systems, I did get a nice collection of survival tip ideas:

  • Trust your own instincts. Many women have great advice but if your heart is telling you something else, go with it.
  • Craniosacral therapy… one session for you and one for the baby.
  • In addition to lots of suggestions to hire a postpartum doula, there were lots and lots and lots of shout-outs for placenta encapsulation. I echo it myself.
  • Get out of the house alone! For me, it’s been crucial to my sanity to leave my home, by myself, even if only for an hour or two between nursings. Just a Target run was therapeutic!
  • Kangaroo care for high needs babies.
  • Lots of mentions of it being okay to accept help and okay to ask for help.
  • A lot of new moms get really overwhelmed by family and friends coming by to see baby, and it’s important for them to remember that they can always put out a sign that says “mom and baby sleeping!” (even if they aren’t) anytime they need a break.
  • Watch only positive stuff without violence on TV (cooking shows, home improvement) as regular TV is really violent for new mamas and she may be watching more with all the nursing/healing.
  • Have homemade high protein frozen meals (and snacks) in the freezer before birth so anyone can warm them up for the household after birth. If breastfeeding, get much more rest than you think you need from day one to ensure an abundant milk supply (*note from Molly: it is true that prolactin receptors are “laid down” during the first days of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding “early and often” makes sure that there are an ample supply of receptors in your brain.)
  • Have a sign up sheet for family and friends to choose which chores to help with, gift certificates to a cleaning service, stocking up on disposable plates and dinnerware…
  • A new mommy group can be a life saver. Just knowing that other mommies are going through the same thing help
  • Food registries such as mealtrain and mealbaby. Not enough families know about these amazing and free services. (*note from Molly: we often use Care Calendar locally.)
  • Plan ahead and freeze several of your favorite freeze-able meals. Let the clothes be a little wrinkled. Use paper and plastic ware instead of worrying over dishes. Stay laying down first 3 days postpartum (preferably naked: it gives a certain message and is better for baby anyway) and the first week stay in pajamas. Enjoy frequent rest times, even if you can’t sleep.
  • Baby wearing….lots of time in bed, sleeping cuddling and feeding babe skin to skin…brest friend nursing pillow
  • Send a subliminal message to the limited visitors you’ll have (set limits early with partner) by wearing your robe for several weeks
  • Eat well, accept all offers of help and food, get out of the house alone!
  • I loved getting meals brought by friends, but I didn’t always want to socialize. So, someone to run interference, or maybe a drop-off location for leaving food. (*note from Molly: my doula was the perfect person for this job.)
  • Ask for help! No one will know what you need if you don’t speak up.
  • Don’t go without showering for more than four or five days. Brush your teeth once a day no matter what, even if it ends up being at a weird time. Take your vitamins/ herbal supplements/tea. HYDRATE! Nap with baby if you need to, arrange childcare for older siblings sometimes, but also listen to your instincts—one of my worst baby blues moments was with my third when my older two were gone and I wanted them home!
  • LOVE yourself, nap when you can , Yes you are doing it right, No it’s no ones business (breastfeeding/cosleeping/pumping etc.) allow opinions and advice to slide off, drink lots of water , eat small snacks/meals, love your baby look into their beautiful eyes and connect, skin to skin whenever even with dad or siblings (safely) cherish these moments they don’t last forever, the laundry will get done, the dishes will be get cleaned …
  • Take a “babymoon”. Put on a robe when someone comes to the door–even if you have real clothes underneath. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Don’t answer the phone. Remember, self-care is essential for you to be able to care for your baby.
  • I loved having herbal soaked pad (frozen) to wear afterwards, felt soooo good. Have easy one-handed snacks available and a BIG water bottle.
  • In those last few months of pregnancy I prepare meals to freeze (I start about month 5 or 6). I make up 6 weeks worth of dinners (they always last longer since we have a great church family and friends that bring us meals). After baby is born I can put 2-3 dinners in the refrigerator (to thaw) a few days before I need them. Then all I have to do is pop one in the oven and BAM….dinner’s ready. I love “Don’t Panic, Dinner’s In The Freezer” I & II. The recipes are amazing and all freeze well. Hope that helps!
  • Skin-to-skin in bed for as long as possible; 40 days of rest, recuperation, establishing breastfeeding, bonding, limited visitors, and limited activity; drink when the baby nurses; sleep when the baby sleeps; nurse on demand; learn to wear your baby; and use a peri bottle when peeing! A postpartum herb bath and massage are nice, too.
  • Hot water bottle for afterpains
  • Placenta encapsulation and WishGarden Herbs ReBalance tincture!
  • Chiropractic adjustments, ASAP
  • Call in your mom. My mom’s job after my second was born was to keep me fed and to spend some quality time with my older child.
  • Drag oneself outside and BREATHE! :)
  • Water…..hot tub, shower, steam, pool, raindrops, snow, sauna, bath, river, stream, ocean, lake! If you can, immerse yourself, if you cannot, imagine yourself floating :-)
  • Lots of water, lots of protein and healthy fats, placenta encapsulation and low expectations of anything other than bonding time with baby.
  • Don’t try to impress others with how quickly you can get up and going, even if you can, just take it easy!!!!
  • It’s not in the asking for help; its in the accepting…
Surround her with support!

Surround her with support!

Check out these previous posts:

Mothers Matter–Creating a Postpartum Plan

Planning for Postpartum

Some reminders for postpartum mamas & those who love them

and a great one for helpers written by my own doula:

The Incredible Importance of Postpartum Support

And, remember…

“The first few months after a baby comes can be a lot like floating in a jar of honey—very sweet and golden, but very sticky too.”

–American College of Nurse-Midwives

This article is crossposted at Citizens for Midwifery.

Guest Post: Mothers Matter–Creating a Postpartum Plan

This guest post is part of my blog break festival. The festival continues through December, so please check it out and consider submitting a post! Also, don’t forget to enter my birth jewelry giveaway.

I connected with today’s guest post author, Rachel Van Buren, via Facebook. Rachel has a passion for postpartum support and so do I. When she mentioned that she was teaching a postpartum planning workshop, I asked if she’d consider writing up her notes into a post to share and she did!

“Mothers matter” – Creating a postpartum birth plan
by Rachel Van Buren

The Neighborhood Doula

I feel compelled to state the obvious: Society fails to meet the needs of the laboring, birthing, postpartum woman. Because these women lack the support that seems obvious for those around them to give, they assume their feelings are not normal. I am here after having birthed 4 children over the last 13 years to reassure you that your needs are normal. So normal, that I can read ten thousand threads in one afternoon of women who are crying out for support during the postpartum months. Why is it that we dismiss our feelings, and label ourselves as “ungrateful, needy, or weak” because we read one perfect looking blog, or Facebook post? Don’t misunderstand…the 4th trimester is beautiful. It really truly is. But it’s also life changing. Have you ever experienced a life change without experiencing anxiety? Of course not.

My message here is this: Women need to plan for the postpartum time period. It is essential. We get so wrapped up with birth, we forget about what happens when we bring baby home.

There are 3 areas of importance to explore before you bring baby home: Dealing with friends and relatives, how to delegate without guilt, and the importance of self-care.

Let’s explore these topics together.

How to deal with relatives and visitors during those first few weeks:

  • Have a clear vision of what your postpartum time will look like. If you aren’t sure, have that discussion with your partner now. Do not wait.
  • Set clear boundaries: Everyone does better when they know what to expect.
  • Set phones to go directly to voicemail.
  • Change your outgoing voicemail greeting. For example: “You have reached the _______ family, we are sorry we can’t take your call right now, as we are busy enjoying some quiet time together as a family. We are all doing well, and really appreciate your thoughtfulness in calling. We will return your call when we have the opportunity to talk, or are ready to expect company. So good to hear from you, and have a great day!”
  • Stay in bed.
  • Stay in pajamas.
  • Do not offer beverages. Visitors will be less likely to overstay if you are not in the entertaining mode.
  • Have partner or Postpartum doula mediate and advocate to well-intentioned but pushy friends or family. A BFF, parent, or close relative shouldn’t serve in this capacity. Prepare with them an “elevator speech” regarding visitors “Their Doctor/Midwife has encouraged the family to take a postpartum “Baby Moon” and they are really taking that advice to heart.”
  • If mom is breastfeeding: A gentle reminders to others, that she is nursing the baby about every hour(maybe even more) and are spending lots of time skin to skin, so visitors are just not practical right now.
  • Use social media to the fullest…

Update your Facebook status as a way of giving a “heads up“.

Delegating without the guilt: I find it interesting to meet a lot of women that perceive themselves as feminists; they have no problem advocating for a natural/intervention free birth, defending their right to an elective Ceserean, or advocating for their future right to nurse in public. However many of these women come home after birth, and suddenly find themselves struggling to find their inner voice. Suddenly things become sticky because we’re now dealing with people that we have relationships with on a personal level. Boundaries can be tough to establish and maintain because our desire is really to our loved ones. Here’s when guilt creeps in. Perhaps guilt over losing exclusive relationships (first child, partner, or even self). Guilt of not living up to our mother’s example, our friend’s example, or the “perfect” mother on Pinterest who is sewing her own postpartum maxi pads and cloth diapers.

I’m a believer in learning to delegate. It decreases levels of guilt from not being able to be Mrs Cleaver. It lightens our load. Whether it’s with our partner, or our children, we need to do it. The days are gone where we can “do it all”.

Here are some simple steps to practice in order to delegate without feeling guilty:

  • Set your ego aside: There is more than one right way of doing things. Yours is not the only way. Invite the possibility that they might even do the task better or faster than you.
  • Stop waiting for people to volunteer: It is your job to communicate your needs. Partners are not mind readers. Just because they don’t offer, does not mean your needs aren’t normal.
  • Ask and you shall receive: Get to the root as to why you struggle with asking for help (shame? guilt?). Learn a different way. Learn to ask for help.
  • Delegate the objective – NOT the procedure: Dignify the person helping you by allowing them to do it as they choose, but make clear what your desired end result is. This will stop you from being the ever annoying micro-manager. After all, you are not training a robot, but a human being who can adapt and improve.
  • Be patient: The person you delegate will make mistakes, it is part of the learning process. Work consciously to keep a positive and realistic attitude.
  • Recognize your helper: Make sure they hear you brag about them to your friends or family. Everyone loves praise, and when they are appreciated they will be more apt to tune into your needs and want to help. Say THANK YOU! Let partner know that it makes you feel so special that they are working so hard to meet your needs.
  • Avoid controlling partner’s feelings. It doesn’t build up the relationship, and only adds resentment. (“I won’t ask partner to load the dishwasher because I don’t want to hear complaints. I’ll just do it myself to avoid the argument”) Partner has feelings, and is entitled to them, whether you perceive them as “good or bad”. Feelings are not facts. They are interpretations of the facts.
  • It’s OK to feel guilty. NO ONE has ever died from guilt!! (excellent mantra during particular moments of delegating)
  • Avoid saying “yes” when you really mean “no”.
  • Change your “normal”. Embrace the fact that the next 3 months are truly a time to expect the unexpected.

Self care:

Postpartum self-care is an absolute necessity. Get in the habit now of taking care of yourself. I firmly believe that how we take care of ourselves is learned behavior. Surround yourself with women who value their physical and mental health. Watch them, and copy them.

Here is a list of self-care ideas for your physical postpartum recovery:

  • Ice packs for perineum
  • Postpartum massage
  • Belly binding
  • C-scar massage
  • Herbal bath (with baby too!)
  • Lots of sleep
  • Ask for help
  • Eat nutritious living food
  • Stay hydrated
  • Listen to your favorite music.
  • Avoid any negative television.
  • If you are already caring for a child with special needs, make sure that support is already in place to continue caring for them during those first few months until you are back into somewhat of a routine.
  • Create a network. Women want intimacy. Do not isolate. Isolation breeds anxiety.
  • Stick to your spiritual routine (whatever that looks like) Feed your soul daily.
  • Avoid stress triggers (if overbearing mother in law is coming by, let partner and baby spend time with her. Go take a shower, or get some rest)
  • Hug your partner. A lot
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine. These both will be very tempting, and can be OK depending on your circumstances. If you are feeling blue, or have a history of depression, I recommend avoiding during the 4th trimester.

And most of all, listen to your instincts. Don’t compare yourself to others. Believe in yourself. Postpartum is a special time in which we evolve, allow yourself to be transformed.

Be empowered: create a postpartum plan today!

Rachel Van Buren is a birth and postpartum doula living in Charlotte, NC with her husband and four children. Visit her online at The Neighborhood Doula.

Originally posted at The Neighborhood Doula,
Dec 6, 2012

You can read past Talk Birth posts about postpartum here:

Planning for Postpartum