Search Results for: postpartum plan

Tuesday Tidbits: Postpartum Planning

December 2015 017

My post from last week about recovering from childbirth sent me on a blog-excavation mission for all the posts I’ve written about postpartum care. This is just a sampling (I’ve written a lot on the subject):

“I needed a maternal figure, a dedicated and present midwife, dear and loving friends. I was blessed with one out of three. It could have been worse. The only people I know who did just fine in the postpartum period are those who score the triumvirate: well cared for in birth, surrounded by supportive peers, helpful elders to stay with them for a time. The others, wild-eyed at the supermarket, prone to tears, unable to nurse or sleep or breathe, a little too eager to make friends at baby groups – I can spot them at 20 paces. We form a vast and sorry club…”

via My friend breastfed my baby | Life and style | The Guardian.

Source: Weekly Tidbits: Birth, Postpartum, the Triumvirate, and Anthropology | Talk Birth

Other, experienced women can be our most powerful source of support:

Women around the world and throughout time have known how to take care of each other in birth. They’ve shown each other the best positions for comfort in labor, they’ve used nurturing touch and repeated soothing words, and they’ve literally held each other up when it’s needed the most…

–The Doula Guide to Birth

Source: Tuesday Tidbits: Postpartum Recovery | Talk Birth

I’ve spent a lot of time talking and writing about the culture that surrounds us and the resultant impact on our birth, breastfeeding, and early parenting experiences:

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.

Source: Tuesday Tidbits: Postpartum Mamas | Talk Birth

It isn’t just me writing about the impact of culture on maternal mental health, this post calls it like it is:

Let’s stop torturing mothers. Let’s stop ignoring the problem of expecting new mums to get back to normal. They are not normal, they are super important, and we need to value them and treat them with the greatest respect, if we don’t want them to break into a million pieces, shattering the lives of all those around them.

Source: Torturing new mothers and then wondering why they get mentally ill. | Mia’s Blog

This insightful article full of helpful tips for supporting postpartum women by my friend Summer got a lot of attention when I re-shared it on Facebook last week:

An unfortunate by-product of our society’s refusal to see birth as a monumental event is the lack of a babymoon or restful, supported postpartum period. Most of the time, moms and dads are expected to pick up with their everyday lives almost immediately.

The Incredible Importance of Postpartum Support | Midwives, Doulas, Home Birth, OH MY!

I offer some survival tips here: Postpartum Survival Tips | Talk Birth

And, one of my favorite guest posts that I’ve ever hosted on this site is this one about postpartum planning: Guest Post: Mothers Matter–Creating a Postpartum Plan | Talk Birth

When considering postpartum planning as well as talking about it to others, I find that visualizing the placental site that is healing can be a helpful jolt reminding us how important good postpartum care is:

“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…

Source: Timeless Days: More Postpartum Planning | Talk Birth

And, some final reminders about good postpartum care for women themselves and for those who love them:

I recently finished a series of classes with some truly beautiful, anticipatory, and excited pregnant women and their partners. I cover postpartum planning during the final class and I always feel a tension between accurately addressing the emotional upheavals of welcoming a baby into your life and marriage and “protecting,” in a sense, their innocent, hopeful, eager, and joyful awaiting of their newborns.

This time, I started with a new quote that I think is beautifully true as well as appropriately cautionary: “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

Source: Some reminders for postpartum mamas & those who love them | Talk Birth

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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!

Guest Post: Mothers Matter–Creating a Postpartum Plan

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!

IMG_5598“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…
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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: Alaina064

  • 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

Planning for Postpartum

I have been meaning to share this article on my blog for a long time. Now that I’m rapidly approaching another “babymoon,” it feels like a most excellent time to review my own reminders about planning for postpartum!

—-

Planning for Postpartum

By Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, CCCE

Originally published in The Journal of Attachment Parenting, 2008.

When my first baby was born in 2003, I had a made a classic new mother error—I spent a lot of time preparing for the birth, but not much time truly preparing for life with a new baby.

I had regularly attended La Leche League (LLL) meetings since halfway through my pregnancy and thought I was prepared for “nursing all the time” and having my life focus around my baby’s needs. However, the actual experience of postpartum slapped me in the face and brought me to my knees.

My son’s birth was a joyous, empowering, triumphant experience, but postpartum was one of the most challenging and painful times in my life. I had not given myself permission to rest, heal, and discover. Instead, I felt intense internal pressure to “perform.” I wondered where my old life had gone and I no longer felt like a “real person.” A painful postpartum infection and a difficult healing process with a tear in an unusual location, left me feeling like an invalid—I had imagined caring for my new baby with my normal (high) energy level, not feeling wounded, weak, and depleted. And yet, at five days postpartum I was at the grocery store, at seven days at the post office resuming shipments for my small online business, at two weeks attending meetings and fulfilling responsibilities with an organization (though I still had difficulty walking normally due to pain), at six weeks hostessing at a fundraising ball, and at eight weeks teaching a volunteer training workshop. In retrospect, I have no regrets about how I cared for my baby. He was always with me and I was sensitive to and responsive to his needs. What I regret is how I cared for myself, what I expected from myself, the demands I placed upon myself, and how I treated myself.

I actually slightly delayed having a second child, not for fear of mothering two, but for fear of experiencing the overwhelm of postpartum again.

In 2006, I gave birth to my second son at home. This time I had planned realistically and specifically for a “babymoon.” My husband took four weeks off of work and I stayed at home for the majority of the first month of life with my new baby. Though I again experienced an unfortunate tear and a painful recovery from it (which was still much quicker and less traumatic than the first time) and also some rapidly shifting mood changes along with some tears and anxiety, I look back on this time with my second son with fondness instead of regret. Instead of rushing to rejoin the world, I allowed myself the time, space, and permission to rest and cocoon, knowing that I would be “real” again soon enough.

Reflecting on my two postpartum experiences leads me to offer the following suggestions for postpartum planning:

  • Try to minimize your out of home commitments in advance. Put a hold on projects and “retire” from committees and responsibilities. I joke that with my first baby I thought I needed to get my responsibilities squared away for six weeks and with my second I realized I needed to try to get them squared away for two years.
  • Have a good book on hand about postpartum. When my first baby was born, I was well stocked with baby care and breastfeeding books, but none about the transition into motherhood. My favorite postpartum book is After the Baby’s Birth by Robin Lim. It offers such gems as, “you’re postpartum for the rest of your life” and “when the tears flow, the milk will flow” (with regard to the third day postpartum). Other good postpartum readings are The Post Pregnancy Handbook by Sylvia Brown and The Year After Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger. A classic for support people is Mothering the New Mother by Sally Placksin.
  • Prepare and freeze a lot of food in advance. Batches of nutritious muffins are a favorite of mine—freeze them and the reheat one as needed for a quick breakfast or snack. These are great for nursing mothers!
  • Plans to spend three to seven days just in bed with your baby. Skin-to-skin is even better.
  • Everyone is familiar with the “sleep when the baby sleeps” advice, but even if you don’t feel the need to sleep, stay in bed and use the quiet time for reflection or to read or write in your journal. Rest is definitely essential every day, but it doesn’t have to be actual sleep to be restorative.
  • If you have other children, arrange for plenty of help caring for them. Do not feel like you “should” be able to handle them all right away. Of course, you could do it if you had to, but you and your new baby will benefit from an extended period of cocooning together. Plan quiet projects that you can do in bed with your older child while the new baby sleeps (a favorite with my older son was making puppets and masks out of felt. I cut them out while still lying down. He actually started calling our bed the “party deck” because we did lots of fun projects there while I was resting with the new baby. I have no idea where he got the phrase!).
  • Give yourself permission to rest and be off duty.
  • When people ask what they can do to help, give them a specific task (go grocery shopping, pick up pictures, bring me dinner, etc.).
  • Ease back into “real life.” Resist the temptation to catch up with email and so forth. Respond to email or phone requests for time or help with a firm, “I just had a baby and I’m not available right now.”
  • Become comfortable asking for help (I vastly prefer being the helper to being the helped and this is particularly hard for me).
  • Similar to a birth plan, make a written postpartum plan that includes a list of the people in your support network, arrangements for help with household duties (or a plan for what can be left undone), people to call for meals, and so forth. List what each person is willing to do—laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, childcare, meal preparation (notice that “holding the baby so you can work” isn’t on the list!). An example postpartum plan is available on DONA International’s website.
  • If you have relatives coming to help after the baby is born, make sure they know that their job is to take care of you and the house while you take care of the baby. It is not acceptable for you to be fixing meals and sweeping floors while grandma “helpfully” rocks the baby—it needs to be vice versa!
  • Prepare your partner and anyone else in your support network that you will be Queen for a Month and let them know what you will need from them (also, get it fixed in your mind that being Queen is okay!).
  • Expect to be “nursing all day long.” It is okay and good for you both (10-14 nursings in 24 hours is perfectly normal and acceptable!).
  • Encourage your partner to take as much time off as possible—either saved up vacation time or unpaid FMLA time. He can benefit from an extended period of cocooning with his newborn too!
  • Explore the idea that postpartum can be a time of postpartum expression rather than postpartum depression—letting all of your emotions flow, expressing your needs clearly and assertively, and being aware of and accepting of your continuum of feelings are ways to be expressive. (This concept comes from the excellent, but little known book Transformation Through Birth by Claudia Panuthos.)
  • Plan a few special things for yourself—have a little present for yourself to enjoy during postpartum (a new book, good magazine, postnatal massage, whatever is self-nurturing and brings you pleasure. Personally, I do not encourage TV or movie watching because it can become a passive time filler that distracts you from enjoying your babymoon. Some people may include favorite films as their enjoyable postpartum activities though).
  • As postpartum stretches on, if you experience decreased libido, it is okay to honor and accept that.

Planning for a restful, nurturing, “time out” with your new baby is way to honor this new stage in your family’s life cycle and a way to honor yourself as a woman and mother. I hope you will create space in your life for a time in which vulnerability is accepted. Postpartum is a time of openness—heart, body, and mind. I hope your experience is one of tenderness and joy.

Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, CCCE is a certified birth educator and activist. She is editor of the Friends of Missouri Midwives newsletter, a breastfeeding counselor, and the mother of two young sons and a baby girl on the way. She loves to write and blogs about birth at http://talkbirth.me, midwifery at http://cfmidwifery.blogspot.com, and miscarriage at http://tinyfootprintsonmyheart.wordpress.com.

This is a preprint of Planning for the Postpartum Period an article published in The Journal of Attachment Parenting Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 28-29. Copyright © 2008 Attachment Parenting International. API’s website is located at: http://www.attachmentparenting.org.

Weekly Tidbits: Birth, Postpartum, the Triumvirate, and Anthropology

IMG_3501My sister-in-law shared a link to a really potent article from The Guardian about birth, midwifery, postpartum, and supportive friends. When she shared, she brought tears to my eyes by thanking me for being part of her own “triumvirate,” described by the post author as…

I needed a maternal figure, a dedicated and present midwife, dear and loving friends. I was blessed with one out of three. It could have been worse.

The only people I know who did just fine in the postpartum period are those who score the triumvirate: well cared for in birth, surrounded by supportive peers, helpful elders to stay with them for a time. The others, wild-eyed at the supermarket, prone to tears, unable to nurse or sleep or breathe, a little too eager to make friends at baby groups – I can spot them at 20 paces. We form a vast and sorry club.

via My friend breastfed my baby | Life and style | The Guardian.

I’m lucky enough to have also scored the triumvirate (I find it takes pretty careful planning and active attention to put it into place!). When my midwife came to visit me postpartum and commented that I was looking good and I replied that people kept telling me that, she said that rather than just saying “thank you,” I should point out my looking good was directly related to having excellent postpartum care. And, she was right. I did not look, feel, or sound depleted, exhausted or overwhelmed precisely because I was being taken care of. I had great prenatal from my midwife along with six weeks of postpartum follow-up visits. I had a postpartum doula for immediately post-birth support and several follow-up visits as well as meal calendar coordination. I had my mom, who cooked for us and cared for our other children. I had my sister-in-law who came to stay for several days and helped with cooking and cleaning. I had friends who brought me dinners and took my kids to playgroup. I had my husband, who got to enjoy our new baby with me because he wasn’t trying to do all of the above!

When I think of my triumvirate, a specific moment comes to mind. I am sitting in the bathroom holding my brand new baby, still attached to me by his cord. We are waiting for the placenta to come. My midwife is close by, peeking over, but not being hands-on or aggressive. My mom leans over to take pictures. My doula is standing in our bathtub to make room. My husband is kneeling near me and my other children are gathered around to cut the cord. In the driveway outside, my friend waits with her three children to take my kids to playgroup. This is what birth support looks like. I am surrounded with love and care.

The author of the article quoted above did not have the same experience…

Two weeks later, I gave birth at home, after a 13-hour posterior, or back-to-back, labour, which the long-practising, well-respected midwife did not bother to attend. Frankly, it felt like staring death in the face, by which I mean an altogether normal and intense physiological process that has nothing to do with the ordinariness of daily life. Throughout, my husband and doula repeatedly called and texted the midwife, whom we had found privately. She told us it was “probably” early labour. From inside the grip of what turned out to be very active labour, I managed to flat-out demand that she join us, speaking at the phone while the doula held it to my ear. The midwife sounded annoyed, vaguely put-upon. It was another three hours before she arrived. Minutes later, with a great and unbridled roar, I delivered my son into bathwater.

We wept with joy, held him, kissed him, named him. Eventually, I got out of the bath. My husband lay in bed with our new son on his chest. I showered in a state of trembling, happy shock. The midwife perched on the sink and told me a story about her estranged sister. She handed me a towel, and I remember commiserating, trying to comfort her about her unfortunate relationship with her family, as though we were two cool girls hanging out in the bathroom at a party. One of us just happened to be naked and bleeding, immediately postpartum. I didn’t care; I was too ecstatic. Having just given birth, I felt omnipotent. Epic. Heroic. Unstoppable.

via My friend breastfed my baby | Life and style | The Guardian.

I wrote about the value of breastfeeding support here:

But, what happens after the birth? I’ve often thought that my role in breastfeeding support, while less “glamorous” or exciting than birth work, has had more lasting value to the women I serve. Breastfeeding is the day in, day out, nitty-gritty reality of daily mothering, rather than a single event and it matters (so does birth, of course, it matters a lot, but birth is a rite of passage, liminal event and breastfeeding is a process and a relationship that goes on and on for every. single. day. for sometimes years). Anyway, sorry for the brief side note, but I enjoyed reading this article about the celebrity culture surrounding pregnancy and birth with its obsession with who has a “bump” and then how after the birth the main deal is losing that weight and having a fabulous bod again! Woot!

via Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Thoughts | Talk Birth.

IMG_3686

I shared this pic on Instgram this week in honor of the theme of “self-care” in the online Equinox 15 event I’ve been taking part in.

I’ve only recently recognized that while I was surrounded by excellent support for birth and postpartum, I’m not really giving myself much credit lately for still having just had a baby. Yes, Tanner is almost 5 months old, but that moment in the bathroom was only five months ago. I still need quite a bit of help and that normal and okay. I need to recognize what I’m capable of, which is a lot, while also still recognizing what I need and what the pace of my life can be and can handle at this point in time. I also recognized that I have difficult admitting or expressing how difficult it feels sometimes to be incorporating a new baby into the family, to be working around “baby time” again, and to be physically bound to a baby again. It is hard to admit, because Tanner is such a treasure of a baby and I enjoy him so much and love having his adorable, babiest of babies self in our lives. However, it also sometimes feels hard to be doing this all again and I often feel “old” and kind of worn out and ragged lately.

This brings me to a lovely article about vulnerability as strength (something my doula reminded me of several times following Tanner’s birth):

…Today I stood swaying my daughter to sleep in my mommas group shedding tears because of the intense sleep deprivation over the last 6 weeks. My tears fell and I was held with empathy, no one solved my problems; women just heard me and held me in my challenge. We heard each other, others cried, we softened, we opened ourselves up to the wisdom that each expressed and afterwards our hearts felt happier and lighter. Something sacred unfolded. I was in a container that was safe to share my soul, to be naked in front of these women, to admit I was not perfect and I didn’t have all the answers. And I felt better. I was not alone.

The more I allow myself to be vulnerable, the more I receive, the more I soften, and the more I open myself up to support. We are not meant to mother alone. The first year of our child’s life is a raw experience. It is amazing; it is illuminating, joyful, and raw.

via Vulnerability as a Strength | Mothering Arts.

This container is so important. Though, I will also acknowledge that for my personality, being told to “take it easy” or to “lower your standards” or “don’t have such high expectations of yourself,” often registers for me as being told: You’re not capable. I don’t believe in you. Give up. So, I personally, when trying to create a container of safety or support for other women I will not usually use those sorts of phrases.

Related to the idea of postpartum tenderness and triumph, I enjoyed this photo series of newborns and mothers: Born yesterday: mothers and their newborn babies – in pictures | Life and style | The Guardian.

Bringing the discussion around to anthropology and birth though, this interesting recent article suggests that it is the mother’s metabolism (and energetic reserves) that creates the human gestation length rather than the size of the pelvis as often commonly theorizes:

We’ve been doing anthropology with this warped view of the male pelvis as the ideal form, while the female pelvis is seen as less than ideal because of childbirth,” she said. “The female births the babies. So if there’s an ideal, it’s female and it’s no more compromised than anything else out there. Selection maintains its adequacy for locomotion and for childbirth.

via Long-held theory on human gestation refuted: Mother’s metabolism, not birth canal size, limits gestation — ScienceDaily.

In a past article about the wise women behind and around us, I included this interesting quote from Tsippy Monat:

“Anthropology describes trance as a condition is which the senses are heightened and everyday things take on a different meaning. Communicative competence with other people may increase or may not exist. Facts of time and place are revealed differently than in normal everyday consciousness. This description reminded me of situations encountered at birth because birth is a condition in which the mind is altered. When I accompany births, I experience the flooding of oxytocin and endorphins. In Hebrew, the root of the word birth can also mean ‘next to God’” (p. 49).

via Thesis Tidbits: The Wise Women Behind, Within, and Around Us | Talk Birth.

And, speaking of historical experiences of birth support, I re-visited this guest post about birth witnesses:

The only way to understand birth is to experience it yourself. The ONLY way? That comment stayed with me, haunted me. I became a doula after my daughter’s birth because I wanted to be able to provide women with support and knowledge that could give them a different experience, a better memory than what I had. I just couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a way to understand birth at all except to experience it firsthand. Certainly there wasn’t always this fear and unknown around birth that we each face today. Not always. I began studying that idea. What about other cultures? What about our culture, historically? What about The Farm? There wasn’t always this myth and mystery about birth! I realized there was a time (and in places, there still is) when women banded together for births. Mothers, sisters, cousins, daughters, aunts, friends. They came together and comforted, guided, soothed, coached, and held the space for one another during birth. These women didn’t go in it alone – they were surrounded by women who had birthed before them. Women who knew what looked and felt right, and what didn’t. Women who could empathize with them and empower them. In addition to that, girls and women were raised in a culture of attending births. Daughters watched mothers, sisters and aunts labor their babies into this world. They saw, heard, and supported these women for the long hours of labor, so when they became mothers themselves, the experience was a new, but very familiar one for them. Birth wasn’t a secretive ritual practiced behind the cold, business-like doors of a hospital. It was a time for bonding, learning, sharing and sisterhood. Girls learned how women become mothers, and mothers helped their sisters bring forth life. It was a sacred and special part of the birthing process that has become lost in our institutionalized, over-medicalized, isolating and impersonalized system today.

via Birth Witnesses | Talk Birth.

And, another regarding women’s rites of passage:

“I love and respect birth. The body is a temple, it creates its own rites, its own prayers…all we must do is listen. With the labor and birth of my daughter I went so deep down, so far into the underworld that I had to crawl my way out. I did this only by surrendering. I did this by trusting the goddess in my bones. She moved through me and has left her power in me.” ~Lea B., Fairfax, CA (via Mama Birth)

via Rites of Passage… Celebrating Real Women’s Wisdom | Talk Birth.

In just a few hours, I’m headed into town for our first local Red Tent Circle. I took this photo yesterday in honor of the spring equinox and the themes of manifestation, intention, and creativity. May we walk in harmony with each other and may we be surrounded by circles of support.

Happy Spring!

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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: 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

August 2013 011

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:

Sept 2013 090

Sept 2013 036

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…

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.

Postpartum Thoughts/Feelings, Part 2

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

After posting my “playing my music” essay containing an exploration of my postpartum feelings after the birth of my first son, I went back and forth about continuing to explore the subject. I’ve written about it a lot, but the feelings are scattered throughout a variety of locations—including partially written articles and also blog posts from my first, no-longer-updated blog. I actually wrote this post last year, immediately after my part 1 post, and then ended up not sharing it, but moving straight on to Postpartum Feelings, Part 3 instead.

Weird thoughts

Anyway, I wanted to briefly address the weird/intrusive thoughts that I experienced postpartum with both of my boys. I think one of the reasons I have trouble broaching this topic on this blog is that to look back at my thoughts and feelings is to begin to acknowledge to myself that I very likely experienced a postpartum mood disorder, even though I—perhaps purposefully—did not identify it as such at the time. With my first, I had a recurrent image of the bookshelf in my computer room at the time falling over and squashing me. I also had the sense that the baby was trying to “squash” me—as in stamp out my life spark (actually, who am I kidding, life with kids still makes me feel like this is their goal sometimes! ;-D) and the best way I could come up with to describe my feelings at the end of a long day was that I had been chewed up and had my bones spit out. This is a pretty intense description that some people might feel is ridiculous or over-the-top, but is the way I would have described it.

When my second son was a baby, I planned much better for postpartum and experienced a fairly pleasant babymoon at home with him. I felt like in general, mothering him was easier than mothering my first and as he grew, I frequently would say (and feel) that having a second child was the best thing I’d ever done. Despite those feelings, I had a recurrent image that would pop into my mind unbidden of falling backwards through a grate, my body dissolving into water as I fell and dripping through the grate and the skin of my face remaining a “mask” on the grate, eventually also dissolving/dripping through. I also had a weird, recurrent sensation that my shin bones were fragile somehow and I would imagine them snapping.

So, after typing this out I officially felt mentally ill, and that is why it hasn’t been posted until now.

The current

With my second son, I described my mood to my husband in this way: There is a current that underlies all of my emotions. I feel like I can “dip” into this current and test out how it feels, beneath the mood that I present outwardly or how I feel on the surface. My current lately is always sad—even when I am happy and feeling/acting happy, if I take the time to “dip” beneath, what I feel is sad. I used to actually chart the feelings on my calendar, with a little notation for the surface feeling and a different notation for the current. I tried to explain to him that I did not feel like I had a neutral point and that I would like to feel “even.” However, I also acknowledged that if to feel “even” or neutral as my “current” would mean trading in all peaks of emotion, rather exuberant or despondent, I’d rather have the ups and downs. During this time I looked up various mood disorders, thinking that I might possible qualify as having cyclothymia.

Wal-Mart “angel”

Then, one day, when my second son was perhaps a year or so old, I had an interesting experience at Wal-Mart with a very friendly and cheerful checker. She chatted along with us and was just very nice and pleasant to be around. That night I had a vivid dream that this checker was actually an angel and that she had come to “heal” my feelings. When I woke up that morning, I had very dramatic sensation and announcement of sorts in my head, “you are not depressed anymore” and indeed, when I dipped into the current it had become a wellspring of joy, rather than sadness. Since this time, my “current” has never again shifted back to sad. While I definitely have sad or “down” moods or get distressed about things, I now feel like it is only that surface emotion that is being buffeted, but that what waits underneath is always doing all right. Perhaps you have to know me in real life to understand how strange of an experience this is for me to describe. I have never had another “angel” experience and do not connect with angel imagery. The word “angel” is not one that I use to describe anything, really, and I feel extraordinarily skeptical and uncomfortable when other people say things about having guardian angels. I suppose if I did have PPD, it could be looked upon as a “hallucination” almost. However, I do not have a way to describe what happened to me without using the word. Indeed, I feel so oddly about it, that I have never actually told anyone else about this—I told my husband about the current shifting, but left out the “Wal-Mart angel” piece of the story.

Why tell it now?

As I noted, I’ve been waffling about posting this. It is close on the heels of another post that may seem woo-tastic. It makes me feel vulnerable and embarrassed. Why? Why bother sharing things that bring up these sorts of feelings? My answer was almost, just don’t, and then I read a fabulously amusing essay in the winter issue of Brain, Child magazine about a woman’s experience teaching “sexuality and the new mother” workshops at Babeland in New York City. In her postscript closing the essay, Meredith Fein Lichtenberg writes the following:

“…writing this now, years after it happened, I still felt that sharing something personal cast stark light on the Inner Vat of Chaotic Shit I Haven’t Figured Out Yet. The desire to hide that is amazingly strong; I see it in my students, and I see it in myself. But I also see that when we bend our lives’ stories into words to be shared, everything changes. Sharing stories reminds us we’re not alone with our icky mess of doubts and questions. In the light of day, frightening concerns and general weirdness become more understandable, forgivable, human.”

Reading this, I knew I wanted to share after all. And, it reminded me of another quote, this one by Carol Christ, a thealogy scholar that I love:

“When one woman puts her experiences into words, another woman who has kept silent, afraid of what others will think, can find validation. And when the second woman says aloud, ‘yes, that was my experience too,’ the first woman loses some of her fear.” –Carol Christ

Postpartum Feelings, Part 1

Postpartum Feelings, Part 3

Birth Plan Item #1: Leave My Cervix Inside My Body!

Some time ago I read several articles in Midwifery Today about birth in the Ukraine. Apparently, it is a routine practice immediately postpartum to use two “shoe horn” shaped devices to pull the cervix out of the woman’s body to examine. Yes, I think that warrants repeating–manually pulling out the cervix to look at! (no pain medications). This is so patently horrible and unnecessary that I had a visceral response to reading about it–my uterus hurt.

U.S. maternity care routines

However, as I reflected on my reaction, I began to wonder if the practice is any more strange or disturbing that some U.S. maternity care routines? I still feel like cervix-pulling-out ranks pretty high on the horrible factor, but I also recognize that it is filtered through my cultural lens of what I’m used to—“normal” (i.e. culturally acceptable) birth practices in the U.S. (such as Pitocin injection immediately following most normal births regardless of indication and so on and so forth). We have any number of questionable medical care practices in this country too, but because I’m used to them they register as “normal.” Of course, this doesn’t mean I approve of them or fail to notice that they are not evidence-based, but I accept them as possible occurrences and I’m certainly not surprised to read about them over and over again, or shocked when my clients experience them during their births.

One of the articles was about birth in a Ukrainian “birth house” and the other was a composite of observations about birth in the Ukraine in general. Sometimes there is a tendency amongst midwifery supporters to romanticize birth and midwifery care in other countries and to vilify the U.S.—if you are a Ukrainian woman, this is clearly misplaced!

My first thought when reading the essays was, “Wow! The U.S. system isn’t so terrible after all!” But then, I tried to imagine the U.S. birth culture seen through completely fresh eyes, as I had just viewed the cervix-pulling technique. How would facets of hospital birth care in the U.S. appear to me if I was just hearing about them for the first time? As gross human rights violations?

Though I cannot make it have the same raw emotional and physical shock to me as cervix-pulling-out, I can only imagine how an episiotomy might sound to my imaginary fresh eyes: “then the doctor took some scissors and cut through the skin and muscles at the base of the woman’s vagina.” Or, the same with the not uncommon addition of, “as she begged ‘please don’t cut me! No!'”

I also read with sadness and dismay about the emotional maltreatment of Ukrainian women in labor and how (in hospitals) they are frequently denied the companionship of their husbands. Is this really more awful than women being coerced into unnecessary cesareans or even more basic, being denied food and drink throughout their labors? No, not really, just less familiar.

What do all women deserve?

While it is nice to recognize that there are things that women birthing in U.S. hospitals can be very grateful for, there is not an official continuum or hierarchy of “better” bad things to happen to birthing women regardless of country of residence. Humanized care is humanized care. Women worldwide deserve a safe environment, a respectful caregiver, continuous emotional support, physically responsive care, evidence-based medicine, and to have their cervixes and uteruses left inside their bodies.

(P.S. In case anyone is interested, “cervices” or “cervixes” and “uteri” or “uteruses” are both acceptable plurals)