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Moods of Motherhood: Co-Creating at Home

Today’s post is part of the Moods of Motherhood blogging carnival celebrating the launch of the second edition of Moods of Motherhood: the inner journey of mothering by Amazon bestselling author, Lucy H. Pearce (published by Womancraft Publishing).

Today over 40 mothers around the world reflect on the internal journey of motherhood: raw, honest and uncut. To see a list of the other contributors and to win your own copy visit Dreaming Aloud.net

Moods of Motherhood_cover_front_300
I work at home in two capacities: I teach online as a faculty member for a college and I co-create Brigid’s Grove with my husband. I also teach outside of the home once a week at a branch of the same college that is located on a military base about 40 minutes away from our house. All my preparation, grading, students emails, etc. for the in-seat class also take place at home. Beginning in July 2013, my husband took a significant leap into being a “free-range human” and now works at home with me. This was a leap because my teaching is on a contract basis and I make 1/3 of the money that he made when he was working full-time, but, I only have to leave the house for seven hours a week, leaving two parents home full-time the rest of the week with our homeschooled kids.

Shortly before Tanner was born, I posted the following on Facebook:

I heard back from the [campus] yesterday and they approved my proposal to teach my January class as a modified hybrid, which means I’ll be able to leave at 8:00 and get out the back gate (saves me 30 minutes drive time!) to get back home to my baby, rather than having to drag him + caregiver to class with me til 10:00 the way I did with Alaina!

(Of course, it also means I’ll have hours of extra online posts/grading about controversial  topics, but I can nurse a baby and diplomatically moderate discussions simultaneously…)

I’d also like to take a minute to be grateful that, even though we’re a bit on the edge financially over the next couple of months, that we have the opportunity and ability to *do this*–have two parents home full-time, except for that one night to the [campus] for me each week! Lucky! (And, with some hearty dashes of good planning and creative other multiple streams of income.)

New Etsy Pictures 217I got a comment that gave me some pause for consideration: “living the dream. We’d love to be able to do what you are doing.” While I want to be thankful that we are in a position to make this choice, I also want to acknowledge that it isn’t always “shiny” or dreamlike! Nor did it come from only “luck,” since I want to be clear that our current household financial structure would be unlikely to work if we lived in a more expensive geographic region OR if we had household debt (Something we avoided, yes, luckily, in thanks to my grandma for a debt-free college and graduate school education, but also thanks to our own financial management and good savings habits that allowed us to pay cash for our land and to build our own home using only money we saved from Mark’s work as a computer programmer, rather than having a loan.)

So…when Lucy Pearce asked for contributions for a blog carnival celebrating the release of her second edition of the book Moods of Motherhood, I knew that I wanted to write about the moods of self-employment and co-creating a business with my husband

The in-the-flow mood: August 2014 025

We light our intention candles (yes, really!) and set up a mini-altar on the floor with items of significance to us. Cups of tea or hot cider are in our hands. Our kids are at my parents’ house, leaving us to have two hours on our own to talk shop and brainstorm ideas. We lay out our Amazing Year planner and many colored markers and review our biz goals for the month, goal-set for the following month, and the ideas start to flow. We feel in perfect synchronicity. Our collective creative energy is humming, our ideas are bubbling forth effortlessly, we are literally on the “same page.” One idea bounces off another, notes fly fast and furiously in our “book of amazing possibilities” (again, yes, really, this is written on the top of the first page of the notebook in which we brainstorm our ideas), and it feels like something alive, this process of co-creation. It feels vibrant. It feels limitless. It feels sacred.

In the pause between note taking and idea flowing, we hold hands and just sit there for a moment enjoying each other’s company. And, at that very moment, our eyes meet in the thrill of hearing the etsy app make its cha-chiiiing sound notifying us of a sale in a way that feels just like the universe is acknowledging and blessing the success of our work together…

The real-life-sucks-sometimes mood:

We accidentally sleep until 9:30. The kids eat Hot Pockets for breakfast. We argue over who gets to take a shower first. I feel dragged down in molasses by the vastly different energy levels we possess—I’m a morning person who immediately wants to hop up and get moving. Mark and our kids are not. Mark claims to be getting ready to pack orders and yet he is really looking at Imgur or sorting through Magic cards. I claim to be starting my grades for the week, but instead I fiddle around on Facebook and then speak snappily with a light dash of martyrdom. I slip into “lecture mode” about what a better job we could be doing with our house, our lives, our parenting. The kids whine and bicker. I suddenly decide that they should do excellent homeschooling work immediately, even though we’d all rather be doing something else. I try to submit my grades for the week, while also having eight other windows and/or documents open on my computer for things I’d also like to work on, while simultaneously attempting to answer questions about their worksheets. The kids bounce from parent-to-parent with their questions while Mark tries to pack up the night’s orders for mailing and Alaina sits on the floor saying, “why is nobody playing with me?” in a plaintive tone.

In my multi-tasking frenzy, I suddenly decide to add our online banking to the open windows on my computer and see, unfortunately, that we are behind $500 in our bank account and I won’t get paid for another three weeks…

Here are some things that make working together from home difficult:

Score-keeping. I was terrible at this when Mark worked full-time and I am still pretty terrible at it. By this I mean mentally keeping track of who has spent more hours doing what, who has had more time alone, who has come up with more ideas for dinner, and who has done more of what with the kids.

Different styles/types/routines/schedules/patterns. Part of this comes from personality, part comes from how we each spent the prior ten years working. I spent the ten years prior to 2013 as the primary at-home parent, with the scattered focus, multitasking, and “mother-sized jobs” that that role requires. I became very used to having to snatch at free moments to work frenziedly, accomplishing a great many tasks in a small window of time, because I don’t know when my next chance is coming.  Mark spent those ten years (as well as many before that in other workplaces and in the public school system) with a structured existence in which starting and ending times for work activities were clearly defined and the impetus for tasks/goal-setting comes from external forces rather than being self-directed by the individual. We continue to approach our days at home together with similar, somewhat discordant, habits.

IMG_9941Different energy levels. Being the “driver.” Related to the above, I have spent my entire life being essentially self-directed and self-motivated. I’m not sure how much of this is personality, birth-order, or environment (me: type-A-ish, oldest child, homeschooled. Mark = laidback, youngest child, public schooled). I have tons of energy pretty much all of the time. I am constantly popping with ideas and bubbling with “steam” for projects. I rarely settle down and relax. Productivity is my middle name and my default mode. I never drink anything caffeinated, I always get at least eight hours of sleep, and I’m always buzzing around doing stuff. I wake up in the morning with one million ideas of things I’d like to do that day and I want to start immediately, if not sooner. I think I exhaust people and I can be wearing and controlling. Mark works in focused spurts of concentration. He is slow to start in the morning and I rarely, if ever, have seen him “buzz” about anything. He takes his time. He stops to rest. He is stable and calm and methodical. He lets ideas percolate and form. He doesn’t need to talk about everything. He watches videos to learn things and after he has let information soak in, he tackles new and complicated tasks with complete focus and usually total success. He is patient and if something fails, he will learn more about it and try again. He is rarely, if ever, critical of himself or of me (I am self-critical enough for both of us, plus). He is also very used to working in environments where he does not have to be particularly self-motivated and, again, whether it be personality-based or environmental/socialization, this often puts me in the position of family “driver.” Sometimes this feels fine, sometimes I am completely sick of the role of household manager and motivator.

Never being “off.” Still related to both of the preceding two points, as someone who is used to working from home around and between my small children, I never feel like I’m off. There is always something more to do. Mark works until he is finished and then stops, even if there is something else that could be done. At home, together, all the time, neither one of us truly ever gets to be off. Kids keep needing things, dinner needs to be fixed, and I keep coming up with one more thing to “finish” before bedtime. When your life and work are entwined so deeply, there is no clear distinction between “work time” and “home time” (or family time). This is something we want to work on differentiating more firmly in the coming year.

Haphazardness. We do not have a clearly structured daily schedule which leads to a feeling of haphazard effort and randomness through the day. (Also on list for coming year.)

Introverted personalities. We are both introverts. When Mark was at work all day, he worked on his own much of the time. When I was at home with kids, I still had two hours a day on my own each day while my kids visit their grandparents. Now, neither one of us actually ever has time alone. I wrote about this in a past post:

I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on the household navigation of being an introvert mama with now having my also-introvert husband home full-time. Turns out that both parents home doesn’t magically extend the hours in a day actually seems to shorten them and it means both parents end up feeling pretty maxed out by kids and in need of somewhere quiet to recharge! I love having a “free-range” husband and I’m blown away by our joint creativity, which is an energy we’ve never experienced before at this level in our 19 year relationship because he was always at work all week and we had to squeeze everything else in around the edges. I also notice these interesting facts about having us both home all of the time: the house is way messier, we consistently stay up “too late” and sleep “too late,” it seems harder than ever to cook/figure out meals, we have less time to spend on homeschooling !!, we still don’t feel like we have enough time to talk to each other, I seem to have less time to write and focus on writing, I feel like I give my kids less attention than I did when I was the only at-home parent because I now have Mark to pay attention to too and I really like him, it is perhaps harder than ever to get the TWO HOURS I desperately need, I feel as if I have less time to focus on my teaching work, we argue more over household and parental responsibilities, we laugh way more and have more fun with each other and with our kids and we do more spontaneous, relaxed and fun stuff with our kids. It has been an interesting experience!

via Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Art, Retreat, and Free-Range Husbands | Talk Birth.

IMG_0076Homeschooling. Neither one of us really thrives in the role of homeschooling parent. We homeschool because we can’t really envision another alternative that is good for our kids, not because we uber-love homeschooling and are amazing at it. It often feels like a bit of a competition for who can not be the one to do the homeschooling with the kids that day. I have never felt like I thrived in the role and so sometimes it feels good—or like, “I told you so”—to now share the responsibility (and the failures). It is hard to work with multiple ages of kids at the same time. It is hard to be patient. It is hard to do stuff that is boring because we feel like we should maintain a minimum standard of official “schoolwork” each week. Our kids can be very frustrating, obtuse (perhaps deliberately), and are often extremely distracted and appear to be purposely driving us crazy. Homeschooling also means that working from home must always be done around the edges of family, again making there be no distinction between home time and work time. We often feel only partially present and often feel preoccupied and distracted, since there is never a break! We are also in near constant contact with all members of our family all day every day and this can wear. The total immersion the lives of our kids can be exhausting, diminishes the “cherishment factor,” and leads to a sensation of oversaturation with our kids (and them with us!). Somehow we still never feel like we have enough time with each other though, again because, like our business, our relationship has to fit in the edges around very energetic and noisy children.

Here are some things that make working together from home work:

Goal-setting and regular review. We have a biz meeting a minimum of once a month. This is incredibly important in helping us stay on track and focused.

Looking outward together in same direction. Our motto from the time I was 16 and he was 18. This has been a guidepost in our marriage, lives, and now our business.

August 2014 092Capitalizing on each other’s strengths/having complementary strengths. In addition to the differences I’ve referenced in the list above, we have complementary strengths that make us work extremely well together and in a way that often feels effortless. I am good at communicating with others, with writing, and with keeping up with tasks. I write all of our etsy listings, I answer all emails/messages from customers, and I do all social media work, as well as lots of other tasks. This does not feel like a chore for me, it does not feel “unfair” (nor do I scorekeep over it). Mark does all order fulfillment, packaging, and shipping as well as the hand-finishing of everything we make. He also is the one who learns the new skills we need to move forward—I may make the original sculptures, but they wouldn’t go anywhere without his willingness to handle hot metal, study how to make molds and then go for it, and learn the chemistry of resin-casting. When we wrote our Womanrunes book, I joked that if Mark was in charge of it, it would have had an excellent cover and great images, but no text. If I was in charge of it, it would have been a Word document with good text, but nothing else.

Appreciating one another and enjoying each other’s company. Not much else to say about this one. We like each other a lot. We have been together for 19 years. We have a symbiosis and a relationship that works and works well. 

Shared focus/mutual benefit. In the years that Mark worked outside of the home, there was often a sensation of competing for “free time.” When we are working on projects together, there is no sense of “competition” when project is a shared one. When he goes to pour new goddesses, it feels like working together. When I make new sculptures, it feels like working together.

Self-direction/self-motivation. As referenced, a lot of this still feels like it comes from me, but it does really help our business and our lives move forward.

Financial management skills and mutually compatible simple living goals and strategies. We decided a long time ago (way pre-kids) what is important to us and we naturally and easily continue to make good financial decisions that are in harmony with one another. We drive crappy used cars, have only used furniture, don’t have credit card or other debt, etc. This only works when both people are completely on board with the goals and purposes of living consciously within a fairly frugal simple living framework and spending accordingly.

Grandparents!!!!! A factor beyond personal control, having my generous, loving, connected, supportive parents one mile away cannot be undervalued. Our kids go to visit them for two hours (or a little more) every day except for Thursday. How much of a gift is this? Invaluable. And, lucky. August 2014 071

Kids that like each other. Also a factor beyond personal control, having sons that are best friends with each other and who therefore get to play together all day long and enjoy each other’s company is invaluable in creating a home atmosphere that is conducive to a rewarding, home-based life.

We’ve still got a lot to work on! We also have a lot of amazing goals for 2015 and look forward to carrying them out together.

We’re also still working on this…

I envision a life of seamless integration, where there need not even be a notion of “life/work” balance, because it is all just life and living. A life in which children are welcome in workplaces and in which work can be accomplished while in childspaces. A life in which I can grind my corn with my children nearby and not feel I need apologize for doing so or explain myself to anyone.

via I just want to grind my corn! | Talk Birth.


Somewhat related past posts:

Releasing Our Butterflies

Homeschooling Today Part 2 of 2

Imaginary Future Children

Tuesday Tidbits: Blogging, Busyness, and Life Part 2

Happy Father’s Day!

I just want to grind my corn!

New Etsy Pictures 474

Releasing Our Butterflies

This post is part of the Carnival of Creative Mothers celebrating the launch of The Rainbow Way: Cultivating Creativity in the Midst of Motherhood by Lucy H. Pearce

The topic was Nurturing a Culture of Creativity at Home

**********November 2012 109“This book is an attempt to put language to the reality of being the most fabulous, and misunderstood of creatures: a creative mother. One who answers the callings of her child – and also her creativity. A woman who says: I cannot, I will not choose. I must mother. I must create.

–Lucy Pearce, The Rainbow Way

I feel as if I have a long and creative dance as well as a long and creative struggle to balance mothering with my other work. I recently decided that I’m done apologizing—to myself, to others, or in writing—about my twin desires to care for my children and to pursue my own work. I’ve been parenting for ten years. Though I’ve tried for what feels like forever to “surrender” to motherhood during these ten years, I just cannot stop creating other projects, birthing other ideas, and participating in other work while at the same time engaged in the deep carework, motherwork required by children. I do both and I’m done apologizing. My life includes my children and my AND. That’s okay with me. As I’ve been reading Lucy’s book The Rainbow Way, reflecting on my own work, and looking around my home, I’ve had a realization: While I have struggled and cried and planned, while I have given up, and begun again, and surrendered, and refused to quit; While I have been present and been distracted, created and been “denied” the opportunity to create, while I have nursed babies and “written” in my head the whole time; While I have been filled with joy and filled with despair and while I have given myself permission and berated myself and then berated myself for self-beratement, my husband and I have created a home and family life together that is full of creativity. I told him as I prepared my thoughts for this post: if we are doing anything right as parents, it is this–our home is a rich, creative portal all the time. Within the last month, I’ve heard myself say, “get your painting shirt” to Alaina more times than I can count, and paused to appreciate, finally appreciate the fact that in our house there are painting shirts by the table that are never put away. I gripe about clutter and I struggle to be Zen, but my kids always have the opportunity to put on a painting shirt. It is at the ready and it is saying YES.

In 2008, when my second son was two, I dissolved into the nursing chair in one of those moments of surrender and self-beratement and a spontaneous vision filled my mind: I was walking to the top of a hill. At the top, I opened my hands and beautiful butterflies spread their wings and flew away from me. Then, a matching vision—instead of opening my hands, I folded their wings up and put them into a box. I wrote then as he nursed to sleep and I slowed my breathing to match his:

So, which is it? Open my hands and let my unique butterflies fly into the world. Or, fold their wings and shut them into a box in my heart to get out later when the time is right? Do I have to quit or just know when to stop and when to go? When to pause and when to resume?

What are the ways in which my children can climb the hill with me? To be a part of my growth and development at the same time that I am a part of theirs? How do we blend the rhythms of our lives and days into a seamless whole? How do we live harmoniously and meet the needs of all family members? To all learn and grow and reach and change together? Can we all walk up the hill together, joyfully hold up our open hands with our butterflies and greet the sun as it rises and the rain as it falls? Arm in arm?

via Surrender? | Talk Birth.

Some time ago, in the days in which I had a totally different blog, I re-read a book called Big Purple Mommy by Colleen Hubbard. The subtitle of this book is nurturing our creative work, our children, and ourselves. It was in the reading of this book that I realized that being a writer is my primary means of creative expression and is my creative work. She talks about how painters “see” paintings as they go about their days, dancers choreograph, and musicians compose. I know my own very creatively gifted mother “sees” patterns in nature or life and imagines them as felted pictures or woven pieces (or whatever her current area of focus is at the time). Me—I write essays in my head. Just about every day I compose some sort of essay or article in my head as I’m going about my life. Probably only about 10 percent of those actually make it onto the page even as notes and even less than that actually are fully born. In the past I have acknowledged that this process of words being born within me and dying before they make it to the page can feel like it literally hurts.

From the book I saved this quoted quote from Emily Dickinson: “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.

And, one from Naomi Ruth Lowinsky: “Women who become mothers find that it is often in the crucible of that experiences in what is in so many ways a sacrifice of self, that she touches the deepest experiences of the female self and wrestles with an angel that at once wounds and blesses her.”

As I wrote in my Surrender post, I guess rather than balance per se, it comes back to mindfulness, attention, and discernment—knowing when to hold and when to fold. Just as I continue to return to my image of grinding corn, I continue to return to this inner vision of joyfully releasing our butterflies together.

As I considered the theme of this week of the blog carnival (nurturing a culture of creativity at home), a picture I took a couple of months ago kept coming to mind: in it Alaina is at the table painting with two paintbrushes at the same time. I couldn’t find the actual picture, but I did find an endless stream of other pictures that, irrespective of my own moments of guilt and endless mental machinations about how and why and am I doing a good job at this mothering thing, clearly show me a family successfully releasing its butterflies together. The majority of the photos in this gallery were taken on just one day. And, in taking them, I purposely didn’t get anything out to take a picture of. I just took pictures of what was already out, what was already on the wall, and what was already happening around me... (In my search for the two-paintbrush picture I did go back into my saved pictures and find some others included below that were taken on different days as well.)

This is a large gallery—click on an image to see the caption and to go through the pictures as a slideshow. Or, skim through them to the bottom of the post because at the end is my grand finale, concluding-thought picture! 😉

As I set down Lucy’s book and the cauldron of my mind bubbled with ideas and the pictures I’d just taken of our home and how we nurture a culture of creativity within it, I started talking to my husband. Getting ready for bed, I excitedly explained to him about how we are getting something right here with our kids. Really right. And, as I took off my shirt to put on my pajamas, he started to laugh. I said, excuse meI’m all serious here with my deep insights. Then, I looked down and I laughed too, because this is what I saw on my belly…

November 2013 085

“Womb of Creation” art installation by Alaina. 😉

I see butterflies.

Related past posts:

Rebirth: What We Don’t Say

Birthing the Mother-Writer

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

**********

ORDER YOUR SIGNED COPY of 

Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble

or order it from your local bookshop!

Other posts in the carnival:

  • Carnival host and author of The Rainbow Way, Lucy at Dreaming Aloud shares an extract from the chapter Nurturing a Family Culture of Creativity.
  • Lilly Higgins is a passionate food writer. Now a mother of two boys, she’s discovered a new calling: to instil in them a love of food and creativity in the kitchen.
  • DeAnna L’am shares how visioning the New Year with your child is an invitation to be inspired: use creativity and resolutions to create a fun road map for the year ahead.
  • Molly at Talk Birth on Releasing Our Butterflies – balancing motherhood with creativity.
  • Laura shares some of the creativity happening at Nestled Under Rainbows and a few thoughts about creativity.
  • Georgie at Visual Toast celebrates her own unique culture of creativity at home.
  • Esther at Nurtureworkshop spreads the love of the ordinary, the delights of everyday things that can be an adventure of the imagination.
  • For Dawn at The Barefoot Home creativity is always a free form expression to be shared by all in a supportive environment where anything can be an art material.
  • Naomi at Poetic Aperture is a mother, artist and photographer who tries to keep her daughter away from the expensive pens and paints.
  • Aimee at Creativeflutters writes about keeping your sanity and creativity intact with small kids in the house in her post: Mother + Creativity – They Must Coexist.
  • Amelia at My Grandest Adventure embarks on a 30 Days of Creativity challenge…you can too!
  • Becky at Raising Loveliness explores creating with her smaller family members.
  • Jennifer at Let Your Soul Shine reveals how children help us connect to our souls, through music and movement.
  • Mary at The Turquoise Paintbrush shares her experiences of creating with kids.
  • Joanna at Musings of a Hostage Mother explains why creativity at home is important to her in her post “I nurture a creative culture.”
  • It took until Amy at Mama Dynamite was pregnant aged 35 to discover her dormant creative
    streak – she has found lovely ways of tuning into it every since.
  • Emily at The Nest explores how creativity runs through her family’s life together.
  • Jennifer at OurMuddyBoots sees that encouraging creativity in children is as simple as appreciating them for who they are: it just means overriding everything we know!
  • Lisa from Mama.ie has discovered that a combination of writing and traditional crafts can provide a creative outlet during those busy early years of new motherhood.
  • Anna at Biromums shares what nurturing a culture of creativity means to her.
  • Zoie at TouchstoneZ argues that the less they are interfered with, the more creative children become as they grow up.
  • Darcel at The Mahogany Way celebrates creating with her kids.
  • Sally (aka The Ginger Ninja) of The Ginger Chronicles is continually inspired by her own mum and grandmother.
  • Just being creative is enough, says Nicki at Just Like Play, as she ponders her journey of nurturing a creative family.
  • Allurynn shares her creative family’s musings in her post “Creativity… at the Heart of it” on Moonlight Muse.
  • Laura at Authentic Parenting explores how being creative saves her sanity.
  • Mama is Inspired talks about how she puts an emphasis on the handmade in her home, especially in the holiday season.
  • Kirstin at Listen to the Squeak Inside shares with you several easy ways for busy mamas and dads to encourage their children to be creative every day.
  • Mila at Art Play Day always lived in her dreams, sleepwalking through life … now she is finding out what creativity is all about…. her inner child!
  • Sadhbh at Where Wishes Come From describes how picture books can nurture creativity in young children.
  • On womansart blog this week – nurturing a creative culture at home.
 

Birth on the Labyrinth Path: Anniversary Book Giveaway!

BirthontheLabyrinthPath_300x250-ad_2Last year, while browsing through the Kindle store on Amazon, I made the chance discovery of a delightful little treasure of a book called Birth on the Labyrinth Path. Written by Sarah Whedon, the editor of Pagan Families, the book was very affordable and so I snapped it up and devoured it right away! (I don’t think I had any idea that it had  literally just been published within a few days of my purchase.) The book’s lyrical explorations inspired a brief blog post, through which the author then discovered me. After some time spent enjoying each other’s writing on our respective blogs, she invited me to become a contributor at Pagan Families. While I don’t actually self-identify as Pagan, but instead as something more unwieldy like a Panentheistic Goddess-oriented Unitarian Universalist, I was delighted to begin contributing and find that I have stretched my horizons and come to learn new things about myself through the process of writing for a collaborative project. This week we’re celebrating the anniversary of Sarah’s lovely book with a fun giveaway and a series of thematic posts.

****Giveaway is now closed. Michelle was the winner****

This post is a companion giveaway to the book birthday celebration! You can enter to win your own e-book copy of Birth on the Labyrinth Path. The giveaway will end this Sunday at midnight, so make sure to enter soon 🙂 I’m not fancy enough yet to figure out a Rafflecopter giveaway, so I’m doing this the old-fashioned way. To enter, just leave a comment sharing anything you’d like to share about labyrinths or birth or the two together! 

Also, make sure to check out my long post today at Pagan Families on the subject of life and labyrinths—perhaps better titled, “labyrinths I have known and loved,” or “labyrinths as birth art.” Here’s an excerpt:

It took me a little while, but I eventually discovered that a labyrinth is a perfect metaphor for birth and could be of potent use during birth education, as well as a tool for birth preparation and for processing one’s birth story, feelings about birth, and birth experiences. I was inspired by Pam England’s work with the LabOrinth and began to incorporate the concept into my own birth classes. Most couples seem to connect with it, regardless of their own religious background, though I think on the surface it feels a little too “New Agey” to some of them. Labyrinths are actually ancient (oldest found is 3500 years old!) and have been found in many cultures and places. According to England, they were used by midwives in England 500 years ago as tools for healing. And, centuries ago, mosaic labyrinths inlaid in the floors of churches were walked by pilgrims on their knees (those who could not actually make pilgrimages to the Holy Land in person, would crawl through the labyrinth in the church on their knees as their pilgrimage). I use the crawling example in class to explain that in the “labyrinth” of birth, you can go at your own pace and speed and you can even crawl if you need to! You can also find your own way blindfolded or walking or running or dancing.

via Book birthday party: of life and labyrinths.

On our last vacation day at Pismo Beach, my husband and I drew a labyrinth in the sand together with our toes and then we walked it with our family.

Blog Circle: Tender Mercies, Unexpected Gifts

The Amethyst Network blog circle for April is on the subject of Tender Mercies:

Blessings, Magic, Tender Mercies, Grace, whatever you call it, there are these moments, times and experience of light in the darkness. Sometimes they are very small. Just a moment where you see a little bit of magic, or a blessing wrapped in the grief. Sometimes it is significant, like close friendships made with people you may never have had the chance to meet otherwise.

For our Blog Circle this month (April) please share your own experiences of grace, tender mercies, magic, blessings, or gifts that your miscarriage has given you. If you have not experienced a miscarriage, please feel free to participate. We all know someone who has miscarried and therefore have been touched by miscarriage in some way.

via April Blog Circle ~ Blessings, Magic, Tender Mercies, Grace… » The Amethyst Network.

As soon as this theme was picked, I knew what I wanted to write about. It was the experience of an unexpected gift from my little baby Noah. It was one of the only moments of “communication” I ever felt from him after his death-birth. I sort of expected or hoped to have some dreams or some other sorts of “metaphysical” sorts of experiences with him, but I didn’t have that, he was simply gone. I did, however, have this one little gift (originally posted about on August 11, 2010)…

This past weekend [August, 2010]…We went to visit my friend M whose baby recently died and was born at a similar gestation point to Noah. While we were there, she showed us the memory box she’d put together for her baby and then she brought out the folder she’d received from Angel Whispers (source of the birth certificate that I got for Noah and that I like so much). She held it out to me silently, and printed on the front was, “this folder was made possible by a donation in memory of sweet baby Noah Remer, November 7, 2009.” Oh. My. Goodness. How could it be that I made a donation to Angel Whispers back in May ([2010] for my due date), the check traveling all the way to Canada, and yet, this folder somehow finding its way back into my life and into the hands of my dear, grieving friend? It was an amazing feeling.

I sent a donation to cover three folders. I wonder who has received the other two? We came up with all kinds of possible reasons for this “coincidence,” but none of them were very logical (she lives in IL, I live in MO-–it isn’t like they saw our addresses and though, “ah ha! We’ll send this one!”) and we were left with the only option to be just to marvel at this simple little gift. :)

In more current tender mercies, Noah’s memorial tulip tree is about to bloom!

20130412-141712.jpgIt is in a shaded area behind the house and thus is a little off-schedule from the rest of the trees like this in the area. My parents have a matching tree and theirs is fully blooming now:

20130410-155034.jpgSeeing these flowers each year is really meaningful to me and that’s why I used a photo of the flowers as the cover image on my miscarriage memoir. new_coverThinking about this post made me dig around in my archived photos where I found some not-often-before-shared photos of the ritual my mom and friends had for me near my birthday (Noah’s due date), during which we planted said tulip tree. Under the tree I buried the embryo from my second miscarriage and also the hospital bracelet from my ER trip following Noah’s birth. At the time of these photos I was tentatively hoping I might possibly be pregnant again and, in fact, I was justatinybitpregnant with the future Alaina!

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Placing the tree in a barely scratched out dip in the rocky soil!

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My mom adds a scoop of dirt.

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My doula!

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I feel lucky to have a supportive mom who does things like this for me! 🙂

And, after I prepped and scheduled this post, I took this photo of the almost opening bloom…

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And then, the day before it was scheduled to post…YAY! A full flower!

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Not picked, just stabilized for photo op.

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The Amethyst Network February Blog Circle ~ Sharing Our Stories: A Confusing Early Miscarriage Story

We have chosen the theme for the month of February to be Sharing our Stories as we all have a story to share. By sharing our stories we have the opportunity to heal ourselves, heal each other, and break the taboo surrounding miscarriage and pregnancy loss. Story telling is a powerful tool of healing.

Every year I try to come up with a word to focus on. One year it was JOY. One year it was HOPE. This year I was contemplating what word I needed to focus on. Simplify? Prioritize? Gratitude? Service? But the recurring word that has come up for me over and over is STORY TELLING. I admit, I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. I always have a story to share about whatever is being talked about. Clearly I need to work on keeping my mouth closed! Maybe my word needs to be listening? Listening is an art as well and a valuable tool of healing. Maybe I need to work on listening to others stories? I digress here. The theme of story telling has come up over and over. And we would love to hear your stories.

Please share your stories on miscarriage, pregnancy loss, hope, healing, the journey to your baby, the journey to a rainbow (garnet) baby, the journey to decide to be done. Whatever story is in your heart needing to be shared, that is the one we want to hear.

February Blog Circle ~ Sharing Our Stories » The Amethyst Network.

As soon as I learned the theme for this month’s Blog Circle with The Amethyst Network, especially since it coincides with the month of my second miscarriage experience, I knew it was time for me to finally try to share my story of my second miscarriage.

In January 2010, I experienced a sort of “mysterious surprise” conception. We’d been planning to try again after having lost Noah, I kept waiting and waiting to ovulate and “never” did. I had a dream that I was pregnant and decided to take a pregnancy test just in case. It was positive. I still have confusion about how it happened and how long I was pregnant. I did eventually find the embryo from the pregnancy, which seemed consistent with a 5-6 week embryo, so that I how I define the loss. On February 1 of 2010, I began to bleed red and I knew that my slender hope of a viable pregnancy-after-loss was bleeding away. This miscarriage was a crushing blow, one of the lowest and darkest experiences of my life. While I’d found courage, strength, and even joy and purpose in Noah’s miscarriage-birth, the second miscarriage brought me to floor in despair and confusion. Because there wasn’t a clear-cut “birth event” and there was no baby to hold, name, and cry over, it seemed ambiguous, amorphous, and just so confusing. This miscarriage actually dragged on for almost the entire month of February, with positive pregnancy tests up until a week before I started another period. For some time I even held out hope that I was somehow still pregnant, despite the bleeding and the tiny embryo. In my journal I wrote the story of my feelings:

…I feel dissolved. I am disconnected from this experience and feel unreal and unmoored….I feel so foolish—WHY did I think I could do this again. Why did I open myself up to this again so soon? Why did I let Noah’s birth get run over by this new loss that I fear will eclipse the lessons, gifts, strength, and wisdom he brought to me….I do not want people to have to feel sorry for me again so soon. I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want people to forget Noah and what he meant. I don’t want him to be lost in a string of recurrent losses…I told Mark I am done after this, at least for a good long while. We now have been trying to have another baby for over a year. AND, I have been pregnant during at least part of every month since July 2009…

As it turns out, I did decide I was willing to open myself up to pain one more time and after the February loss, conceived Alaina in early May, meaning I had technically only one “non-pregnant” month between July 2009 and January 2011. Whoa. No wonder I felt so confused and unmoored.

I continue in my journal…

I started to bash myself today about how I have felt so trapped by motherhood on so many different occasions and have yearned for “freedom.” Well, now I’ve got it. My kids steadily need me less and less and I am more mobile and free than I’ve been in six years and so now what?! I can’t believe Zander was the last—last to nurse, to sleep in our bed, to be carried in the Ergo, to watch crawl and learn to walk, to hold in scrunchy newbornness. I’m NOT DONE YET. Or am I? My body is saying yes [I’m done] and my fear is that my subconscious somehow made it so—perhaps the unconscious message I’ve been sending about having another baby is a NO instead of yes.

I do not want to end our family’s childbearing experience on this note of heartache. I do not want my boys to associate pregnancy with dead babies and a crying mama.

I feel like my career ends here too. And, my joy for other women.

I’m also embarrassed to have tried again “too soon” and “failed” again. I really wanted to be pregnant again to fix myself. To right the “wrongness” of being non-pregnant. To show myself (and my kids and the world) that I could still do it. But, I couldn’t after all. What a hideous realization. I think I feel more shame than sadness…I am back to not knowing who I am and not feeling like a good enough or worthy person. I felt a fundamental sense of worth after Noah and I lost it—it has evaporated.

In the night as I laid awake for two hours thinking, I had a lot of memories of how deconstructed I felt after L & Z were born. How NON and how captive and bound. It was HARD for me to transition to motherhood and to give up so many pieces of my identity and sense of myself. And now, I’m on the other side (??) of my childbearing years and suddenly it seems like a FLASH. Like those captive, denied, blocked, not allowed moments have evaporated into nothingness, leaving me both with new clarity and yet nothing tangible.

I just want to say two things again:

  1. I do NOT want people to feel sorry again for me so soon.
  2. I feel DUMB
Burying the embryo and planting a memorial tulip tree during a mizuko-kuyo ceremony planned by my mom and friends.

Burying the embryo and planting a memorial tulip tree during a mizuko-kuyo ceremony planned by my mom and friends.

I do not feel like I am handling this well or with strength. I just feel numb and dumb and done and done for. I am bottoming out right now. Bottom. Pit. Despair.

It is hard for me to read this again, to type it out, and to remember these feelings. It still feels strange or confusing to me about how Noah’s birth was “easier” for me to cope with emotionally—even as it was the most fundamental and profound grief I’ve ever experienced, it was clean. It felt meaningful. It also had a distinct physical, embodied connection via having given birth to him. The second miscarriage felt like being kicked while I was down and being erased.

On my old miscarriage blog I explained my feelings about this miscarriage like this:

…this miscarriage experience was very different from my experience with Noah. It was extremely confusing and not clear-cut and was very personally undermining. My sense of body failure and almost “shame” was much, much higher. It was confusing as to when I got pregnant, how pregnant I was, and when I stopped being pregnant—I kept having positive tests for almost a month after I started bleeding, etc., etc. Very confusing and hard to come to terms with—because there is so much I don’t understand. It was a terribly painful blow right on the heels of Noah’s loss and I just couldn’t DEAL with it. I had thought I was ready to handle a new pregnancy, but I definitely was not ready (emotionally or psychologically) to handle another loss. The physical experience was, in its way, “no big deal”—it was the semi-mythological “heavy period” type of m/c, though even less crampy than a normal period—though I was stunned when about six days after the first bleeding, I found the tiny embryo (smaller than a grain of rice—maybe 5 weeks?). I really expected to see nothing and it was terribly shocking to suddenly see it. Since Noah’s birth was so much a birth, in a way this experience was harder to deal with, because it was very prolonged and had no clear-cut beginning or end. Very strange experience overall. I hesitate to even talk about it. I was surprised by how very DUMB I felt about having tried again. For having opened myself up to loss again so soon. For “cheapening” his memory by dumping another loss right on top of it. For thinking I could just pick back up where I left off and be “fixed” by a new pregnancy, etc., etc., etc. It was a very isolating experience and I also felt like it “undid” some of the good and positive things that came from Noah’s birth.

I was taking an online class in how to lead Birth Art sessions when I experienced my second miscarriage and I decided to create some birth art about miscarriage. This was my drawing:

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Birth Art is about “process,” not product, so it is not supposed to be beautiful or even interpretable. The dice refer to our feeling of “tossing the dice” one more time—the numbers 3 and 4 show on the dice—and having those tosses end in blood. The question mark is self-explanatory with the squiggles representing all my reading and efforts to understand. The night I realized that I definitely going to have another m/c, I lay in bed and kept picturing a bridge that I was going to have to cross alone—-leaving behind the safe and familiar. A song kept running through my head, “keep walking in the light….keep following the path…” So, the little figure walking across the bridge is that. Tears are running down below her. The little bubble with other stick figures in it is the women who have gone before me—who are close to me, but I still have to cross alone. The happy pregnant woman behind me represents the “other side”—the one I can’t go back to. The naïvety. The certainty that a positive pregnancy test will result in a baby nine months later. She is all the other women who haven’t “been there” and I am forever separated from her by a wall (the thick line above her head). Or, she is the former me—falling down, down, down and away. The the right is my uterus, weeping both tears and blood. The ovaries and inside the uterus glow with energy. There are some purple dots inside to represent each of my babies—the largest one is actually a little “baby in my heart” image, like my pendant. It is larger because of my feeling post-Noah that I would always be a “little bit pregnant with him.”

So, there it is. My second miscarriage story in all its confusion, sadness, and nearly crippling despair. Thanks for listening.

Blog Circle: New Beginnings and Most Significant Events

The January Blog Circle at The Amethyst Network has the theme of New Beginnings. This is perfect for me, since my pregnancy-after-loss “rainbow baby” was born in January. The Amethyst Network was named for the infant sister of one of the founders. Her name was Amethyst. We use “Amethyst babies” as a way to identify and label loss stories on the TAN blog and we are using “Garnet babies” to refer to babies born following loss. Garnet is the January birthstone and several of the founders have January rainbow babies. Several of us also have February miscarriages (amethyst is the birthstone for February). While this obviously isn’t a universal experience, this is how we personally make the connection between our choice to use gemstone names and our own experiences. Here’s the info about this month’s blog circle:

The loss of a baby is the end of something but it is also the beginning of something new. It takes time to find that new, to navigate and find your way in this new world you have been thrust into and to navigate and find your way into this new normal.

The New Year is also an opportunity for New beginnings. Many people set Goals and New Years resolutions to focus on for the year. It may be a time of letting go of the old and focusing on the new.

We have chosen the theme “New Beginnings” for our January Blog circle. The decision was based both on the New Year as well as the new beginning for the Amethyst Network. We have been redoing our website, redefining our mission and creating a space of hope and healing and a place of information for those who in the miscarriage/babyloss community.

We would love to have you participate in our January Blog Circle. The theme is New Beginnings. Was your loss a new beginning for you? Your next baby? How do you feel about the New Year? Are you in a place of letting go? Or embracing?

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A lot of hopes and dreams rested on this little body!

My first loss was, in fact, a new beginning for me in many ways. That miscarriage-birth changed my life forever. It changed my worldview, it changed how I work with women, it changed my understanding of the world, it prompted a spiritual awakening, it changed the trajectory of my work and my focus, and it broadened and deepened the scope of what I’d like to offer in service to others. It was BIG. It was important. It was hard, it was scary, it was emotionally and physically painful, and it lasted a long, long time. It took the birth of my pregnancy-after-loss baby in January of 2011 to really feel “healed” from the scars of loss and so in this way, she was definitely a new beginning as well. I remember thinking during my pregnancy that there was so much riding on her—a lot for a little baby to shoulder—all of our hope, our fears, our very future of a family felt like it rested in her. And, I remember telling her, shortly before her first birthday—you, you healed me. In our conversations among The Amethyst Network board members, I’ve also shared that I didn’t feel completely healed until she reached her first birthday—until we taken one whole turn of the wheel together with her in my arms. And, in that way, I’m also not sure that we ever completely heal from loss—I know that one of the factors behind our decision not to have more children is a still, small, lurking fear of what if it started all over again? That would suggest that a scar on our lives remains (that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our scars are part of the landscape of being–of loving, living, risking, losing, learning, and changing).

Considering this topic also brought me an old question, previously posed in response to a midwife’s blog post, in which I ask the following:  What is the most significant event that shaped your life as a woman? As a mother? Are your answers to the two questions different?

My own answers have in fact been different. And, they have changed. Pre-loss, I described my postpartum journey following my first birth as the most significant event shaping my life as a mother. After the miscarriage-birth of my tiny son, the texture of my response and my definition of my life experiences shifted:

When originally writing this post, I was pregnant with my third son. That pregnancy ended very unexpectedly in November, rather than May, when my baby was born after almost 15 weeks of pregnancy. Interestingly, my experience of miscarriage has supplanted the birth of my other two sons as essentially the most powerful/significant and transformative event of my life. (My sense that his birth has “replaced” the birth of my other children as most significant makes sense to me, because though it is classed as miscarriage, it is still my most recent birth experience—all of their births stand out as special, important, and meaningful days and I will remember each with clarity for the rest of my life, but his birth is the freshest and most recent and came with the additional transformative journey of grief. And thus, when I think of giving birth or when I think back to birth memories or birth feelings, his birth is the first one that comes to mind.) Though I still “vote” for postpartum as the most significant event in my life as a mother, I now “vote” for my birth-miscarriage experience as the most significant event in my life as a woman.

Interestingly, my answer has evolved again since writing the post above and I would now include the entire pregnancy-after-loss journey as the most significant event in my life as a mother. It was hard, people. It was day in and day out and never-ending and so, so delicate. So tinged with hope and fear and so laden with meaning. As a woman, though, I’m not sure that my answer has changed. I need to think about it more deeply, but I think that miscarriage-birth is still it. Just as life divides cleaning between before kids and after kids, there is a dramatic, pivotal before miscarriage and after miscarriage that has shaped my female identity and understanding of myself.

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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