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Thursday Tidbits: Everyday Sheroism in Birth and Life

February 2016 005Do you know how many days have gone by in which I’ve said: “well, I didn’t write my dissertation today?”

This past Monday I got to say: I *DID* WRITE MY DISSERTATION TODAY!!!!!!!!!

It may be a first draft rather than a final submission, depending on suggestions from the reviewers, but there is a huge qualitative difference between someone who is writing a dissertation and someone who has submitted a dissertation and who might need to make revisions. It is 187 pages and 88,000 words and involves one year of original research with 100 pages of collated research results. Five years of classes, study, and contemplation, with also doubling my amount of offspring during this time. I grew this dissertation project at the same time I was growing Tanner from a tiny newborn to a walking, talking toddler. And, I feel like I just pushed out the biggest baby of my life. I cannot even describe the energy expenditure this required of me. I feel so satisfied and very, very proud of myself.

At Red Tent last week, when we passed the rattle, we each had a moment to share something we needed to be “compassionately witnessed.” After making a good effort at doing daily dissertation work throughout December, I’ve been semi-half-hearted on it since, averaging one “good” day of intensive work on it per week. I was hoping to have it finished before we go on a trip this month, but I was feeling so strained and drained and tense that adding it to my to-do list felt almost cruel and possibly ridiculous. When it was my turn for compassionate witness, I shared with the circle that I had reached a point in which I could no longer distinguish whether finishing my dissertation was self-care or self-harm.

After making manifestation bracelets together at Red Tent.

After making manifestation bracelets together at Red Tent.

Now, in hindsight, I recognize the “transition” stage. I’ve known for a while now that it is part of my personal process with big projects to have to be able to have a time and a place in which I am able to say, I don’t know if I can do this. And, to have that fear and self-doubt, and vulnerability simply witnessed. And, then, do that thing anyway. It is hard to find a space in which this is “allowed.” Very often well-meaning suggestions are to cut myself slack, to lower my expectations, or to give myself a break. I have discovered that just like these comments are not actually helpful to a woman in labor, they are not helpful to me in “labor” with other big projects either. In fact, I think there is a secret “dark” side to many popular self-care messages, primarily because what we sometimes might pass off as “self-care” is actually a “shadow comfort” (to borrow Jen Louden’s term) and is actually a meanings of inhibiting ourselves, holding ourselves back, or sabotaging ourselves (or those around us, when we offer the “out” of quitting or not following through…of letting ourselves down). When I was able to let out the fear and doubt, only for a few minutes, and have it simply received, it was as if something unlocked within me and suddenly I knew I had it in me after all. Only a few days later, after several focused bursts of intense writing, I submitted my completed project.

Anyway, a long story just to make this point: I felt SO good after submitting it. I may never have been so proud of myself. I was giddy, thrilled, exhilarated, excited, and exuberant. “What if I had QUIT?!” I yelled, “then I would never have gotten to feel like THIS!” When I lower expectations, sure, I might meet them, but when I keep my expectations high…and meet them. There is nothing that can replace that feeling. And, guess what, it keeps stretching me to reach just a little higher and a little higher. And yes, the self-harm shadow side of continuous life-stretching is that I can be trapped into “striving and striving and never arriving,” but the self-care amazing life side, is that I prove to myself that I can do incredible things and that I accomplish that which may have felt impossible for a time.

Bringing it back to birth, I read this post about ten things not to say to a woman in labor and the first reminded me of my own big “push” to finish the dissertation and how compassionate witness is infinitely more valuable than sympathetic shadow comfort enabling:

Scenario 1: If a woman is trying to make a rational and educated decision while in labor (a very difficult thing to do when in pain!) about whether or not to get an epidural (which is a big deal, by the way) by saying “you don’t have to be a hero” is playing to her emotions and vulnerability which isn’t fair. If she’s questioning this choice instead of immediately signing up for anesthesia, she likely has a reason for the hesitation. I guarantee she doesn’t want an unmedicated birth to become “a hero”. Maybe she was hoping for a natural birth, or wants to reduce the chance of further interventions like pitocin, or maybe she’s wanting the best start for her baby. I don’t know. But by saying “you don’t have to be a hero” to help her make a decision is basically blowing her off when she is in a very vulnerable position. It’s a low blow.

Source: 10 Things to NEVER Say to a Woman in Labor | Mother Rising

And, here’s the deal…women in labor and postpartum are heroes. They are incredible. They are amazing. We should never deny them that knowledge, particularly if all we are offering in return is a patronizing platitude masquerading as compassion. This “One Day Young” photo project captures that sheroism:

These goddesses headed to a WIC peer counselor's office this week.

These goddesses headed to a WIC peer counselor’s office this week.

“In those first 24 hours, it’s like this warrior comes out in women,” says Jenny. “They gain this inner strength to protect the child and you can see it in the photos. “They’re like those heroic pictures of soldiers on the battlefield or the footballer after the match, still full of the adrenaline of achievement. This moment isn’t often captured in women, but what they’ve just achieved is just as important as that goal or that battle, and that moment deserves to be recorded and celebrated in the public arena.”

Source: Empowering Photo Project ‘One Day Young’ Reassures Women That Childbirth Is Nothing To Fear

At the same time, birth can be very hard work and the recovery can be intense and long-lasting. Culturally, while we may minimize, invalidate or deny women’s power, strength, and amazingness in birth, we also often minimize, invalidate, and deny their vulnerability after birth.

We don’t talk about postpartum pain — bleeding, stitches, not being able to stand upright, or easily walk around. We don’t talk about the struggles of early breastfeeding: cracked and bleeding nipples, mastitis, and worries about producing enough milk. We are only beginning to talk about postpartum depression and anxiety. And it almost seems as if new fathers and adoptive parents don’t matter at all. The rhetoric from those who don’t want change paint a rosy picture of motherhood, but the realities of these anti-family policies are much more grim. In a recent TED talk, I share a number of heart-wrenching personal stories from women who have suffered as a result of having to return to work too soon.

Source: Maternity Leave Policy Postpartum Pain – Susan Crowe

After submitting my dissertation, I was heard to say that I felt like I needed a long nap and maybe several large gifts. After the intensity and unpredictability of giving birth, a ceremony might be in order, either a sealing ceremony like I experienced, or a birth reclaiming ceremony as is described in this article:

“I wasn’t at the birth, but it was super quick and the mother felt traumatised. I came in on a Monday, and the baby looked a little pinched. I asked the mother about feeding and she said she thought it was going okay. I offered to change the baby’s nappy – I took it off and it was bone dry. I asked how long it had been on and it was over 12 hours. The maternal health nurse was due over that day, so we had a bit of time to suss what was going on, since I was a breastfeeding counsellor as well. From chatting, we realised her milk had not come in and the baby was clearly not getting anything.

The mother was super stressed and her baby was about a week old — and clearly not in fabulous shape. I talked about a birth reclaiming ceremony and we ran her a lovely warm bath. It was daytime, so we closed the curtains and played soft music. As she climbed into the bath, I saw her high, tense shoulders drop right down and she let out a big sigh. When she was ready, I stripped her baby, and placed the baby on her chest. We sat quietly, not saying a word. The mother started to cry, then sob, totally overwhelmed by the responsibility of being a parent and not doing a good enough job. All the while, looking at her sleeping baby, holding her.

As the mother eventually finished crying… her milk started to roll down her breasts. She looked at me, so surprised, and said, “Is that what its meant to look like?”

Source: Birth Reclaiming Ceremony – Could It Help You Heal? | BellyBelly

Finally, I like to share this link. I haven’t actually watched any of these, but for people who like TED Talks, this sounds like an interesting round-up!

11 TED Talks for Pregnancy and Birth — Tulsa Birth Doula, Bethanie Verduzco, CD(DONA) – Hello Sunshine Birth Services

February 2016 022What else is up with me this week:

  • The etsy shop is on limited inventory until March 1.
  • I’ve been working on the materials kits for both the Red Tent Initiation and Womanspirit Initiation courses that I have coming up. They’re beautiful and I’m so proud of both of them. Every time I pack up a kit, I feel so thrilled. Both trainings begin March 21st and still have spaces available for registration if you’re interested!

February 2016 116

Tuesday Tidbits: Breastfeeding Wisdom & Social Context

December 2015 029Like all of life, breastfeeding occurs in a context. While it is easy to simplify it down to a matter of “personal choice,” the issue is really much broader than that and people often overlook the powerful influence of the systems surrounding them on the accomplishment of women’s breastfeeding goals.

This article takes an in-depth look at why breastfeeding, and the benefits of breastfeeding, don’t need to be “debunked” or have a “case” made against them. (My only critique of the article is that it falls into the comfortable default of “formula as the norm,” by saying things about how babies that breastfeed have a health advantage. Actually, they don’t. What they have is a normal species-appropriate immune system developed in direct response to a diet of species-specific milk.) It is a long read and covers a lot of important ground so settle in…

What the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and many other organizations failed for too long to note, however, is how difficult breastfeeding can be. Yes, they showed the world how beneficial breastfeeding was, and, yes, they helped design policy to ease the transition back to work. But the messy, exhausted moments that change a mother’s mind about breastfeeding? The bleeding nipples, the crying baby, and the paralyzing fear that the baby’s not eating enough? The back-to-work struggle and the boyfriend who thinks breastfeeding is dirty?

Those were, for a long time, left out of the breastfeeding conversation beyond a cursory, “Yes, it will be hard, but it will be worth it.” It’s this difficulty, and the fact that it remains unaddressed in many ways, that drives so many women to start supplementing with formula or to stop nursing altogether.

The most frequently cited challenges associated with breastfeeding include pain, supply issues, work-related pumping issues, and lack of support.

Source: The case for breastfeeding: what skeptics miss when they call it overrated – Vox

Luckily, breastfeeding also develops species-appropriate cranial development, jaw structure, and facial development. This also in-depth article looks at how the motions of breastfeeding shape and develop the skull and jaw muscles for life (at the end it also has some interesting comparisons of the shape of infant skulls after chiropractic adjustment soon after birth). Again, it uses language that implies breastfed babies receive a “benefit” in this area, while in reality breastfed babies simply have normal craniofacial development.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BREASTFEEDING – A Craniopathic Perspective | Speaking With Major

When we swing too far towards the science of breastfeeding though, we overlook the intense emotional impact of new parenting and the widespread lack of sociocultural support for healthy parenting, especially parent-baby togetherness. This is the context in which breastfeeding occurs and it is often one that actively or passively sabotages the breastfeeding pair. This mother writes heart-wrenchingly, and all too familiarly, about her postpartum experience:

I have many days when I feel truly well, and I have other days when I wonder if I’m still climbing. But in the meantime, I’m living life, I’m enjoying lots of moments and not enjoying others and learning to be fine with that. Because when well-meaning people tell you to “enjoy every moment” they are setting an unrealistic goal for any parent. Many aspects of parenthood are simply not enjoyable. Instead, I focus on feeling every moment, good and bad. If I feel afraid, that’s okay, I just sit with it and let it pass. If I feel sad, I allow myself to cry. And if I feel happy I clutch that joy to my chest and absorb it into my soul, and try to keep it safe forever.

Source: I Can’t Enjoy Every Moment – Postpartum Progress

Another powerful systemic variable is our national workplace culture and the lack of reasonable parental leave:

When it comes to women and work, the largest myth of all is that working is somehow optional. Like men, women work for personal fulfillment and a passion for their job. Also like men, women work to support themselves and their families, and always have. The reality in the United States today is that earning money is an absolute necessity for the vast majority of women. And the sad truth is that we aren’t doing anything to support them or their families — not because we can’t, but because we won’t.

Source: We act as if work is optional for women. It’s not. – The Washington Post

I often feel puzzled and angry with myself about why I can’t do everything in one day. “Is it really so much to ask?” I say, waking each morning with the optimistic faith that during that day I should surely be able to eat adequate food, exercise, play with my kids, spend time writing/reading/personally enjoying something, work on my many projects, and go to bed/wake up at a decent hour every day. Unfortunately, it apparently is too much and the most we can hope for is to “pick three”:

This sounds harsh, but it’s true, according to a recent interview with Storenvy founder Jon Crawford on Founder Dating. “Work, sleep, family, fitness, or friends–pick three. It’s true. In order to kick ass and do big things, I think you have to be imbalanced. I’m sure there are exceptions, but every person I’ve seen riding on a rocket ship was imbalanced while that rocket ship was being built. You have to decide if you want it,” Crawford declares.

Source: Work, Sleep, Family, Fitness, or Friends: Pick 3 | Inc.com

And, while picking three, things slip away. As I’ve written before, my daughter fell asleep with her head on my arm every night for nearly four solid years until Tanner was born. Now, her opportunity to fall asleep on my arm is hit or miss, depending on whether my arm is occupied with him, and increasingly, even when I do wiggle an arm free for her, she only lies on it for a few minutes before she says, “I’m going to lay in my own bed now,” where she then lies, snuggling her pile of pandas, until she falls asleep.

…I tried.

I tried to capture her smallness. I tried to hold on to the last breaths of her babyhood. But try as I might, it has slipped right out of my grasp. Despite my efforts to slow down and enjoy every moment since everyone told me it goes so fast… all I have left are memories and photographs.

But it doesn’t mean that I can re-live it. Not really. Some of my favorite memories of her as an infant will always be of bedsharing. She always started the night in her own bed, but after her first wake-up of the night, I’d scoop her out of her room and bring her into our cozy nest to feed her and quickly soothe her back to sleep. And for the most part that meant that we all got more sleep… except for the times I’d find myself staring at her while she slept. I’d watch her tiny chest move up and down, and memorize every little detail of her perfect little face. I’d think to myself this is crazy, what are you doing, go to sleep. But those memories, in the dead of night, the ones where there aren’t any pictures – are the clearest in my mind’s eye.

Source: The Beauty In Bedsharing | The best season of my life

This nighttime savoring may also be due to actual addiction to baby-head-sniffing…

Most of the women struggled to pinpoint the baby smell, although they generally said it was a pleasant one. Their brains, however, told a different story. When sniffing the baby pajamas, the dopamine pathways in a region of the brain associated with reward learning lit up, LiveScience reports. Other odors, like those of delicious foods, trigger this pathway, and the same dopamine surge is also associated with satiating sexual and drug-addiction cravings. This mechanism influences us by triggering “the motivation to act in a certain way because of the pleasure associated with a given behavior,” Medical Xpress writes.

Source: The Smell of Newborn Babies Triggers the Same Reward Centers as Drugs | Smart News | Smithsonian

December 2015 006Other related posts:

My Rainbow Girl is FIVE! (plus, pandas)

January 2016 036Five years ago today I was snuggling my new baby girl on my futon nest in the living room. It is hard for me to even describe what joy and healing she brought to me. When I look back at pictures of myself from the days following her birth, I see such radiance. While I have exulted in the births of all my children and they all rank as the most transformative, meaning, joyous, and loving occasions of my life, Alaina’s birth was possibly the most truly, bone-deep sensation of relief and happiness that I have ever experienced.

I feel like I have missed out on a lot of the last year with her after having Tanner. We were a tight-knit little unit until he was born, she would fall asleep with her head on my arm every night, we played and read together every day, we cooked together and did laundry together every day, and I often did little fun and special things with her. I felt like we actually had a “balanced” family in the sense of “mom and Alaina” + “dad and the boys.” Tanner’s birth changed a lot and she had the hardest time adjusting to the “displacement” of a new sibling of anyone. My boys have each other. They give each other attention. They are each other’s best friend. They play and talk and learn together. They have each other’s backs. While it is an adjustment to make room for an additional brother, their tight bond and unity is intact and unchanged, basically impervious to the addition of more siblings. Alaina, fifteen months after Tanner’s birth, still gets upset about whether or not she can go to sleep with her head on my arm (if he’s nursing, she can’t, she has to snuggle by my back and gets sad and dejected. If he isn’t nursing, she can and is happy). She spends a lot of time waiting for me to play with her and often seems very attention “starved,” in a way that makes me feel sad, guilty, and irritated all rolled up in one. In the family structure now, there are the brothers, mama and Tanner, and then Alaina, kind of floating around by herself wishing for someone to play with her or read to her or pour milk for her, etc. (Apparently, Mark is also displaced in my family structure sense right now!)

There never seems to be enough time for me to give her everything she needs and wants and even though she is still pretty little herself she often has to wait for Tanner to be helped, or has to put things away because he is destroying them, and so forth. We are finding Tanner to be a super high-need and pretty destructive toddler and in the “need hierarchy,” he ends up “winning” even when she legitimately needs things too. I find myself feeling a real sense of almost grief at the disappearance of the last year of my other kids’ lives. I have long been frustrated by “you’ll miss this when they’re older”-style commentary, but it has become even more poignantly evident to me lately as Lann rapidly catches up with me in height, that the specters of “missing this,” often seems to be raised only with regard to babies and young children. I rock at the baby-momming. I don’t miss anything. They sleep on me, ride along with me, feed from my body, and are a part of me. I cherish them daily—drawing up long breaths of their hair, admiring their little hands and chubby bodies, cradling them to me, but as I do this very thing, make sure I am not missing out on any tenderness of baby-momming, I am actually, in a very real sense, missing out on what it was like to have a four year old girl in the house. The only four year old girl who is ever going to live in my house as my little daughter is now five instead. I am also missing out on what it is like to have twelve and nine year old sons. They are older and while I’m not dwelling fruitlessly in my memories of their baby selves, I am actually missing their current selves. It is passing me by right now, because I have a one year old December 2015 012who simply needs me more, requires more from me, and is quite literally more in my face. I feel like the people who say to “enjoy it now, it passes so quickly,” when they see me with Tanner, are completely missing out on the fact that I have three other kids who are also passing quickly by. Is it only babies and toddlers that we fear missing out on? Not cherishing enough? Forgetting what it is like to have? I feel like comments like that actually devalue older children—like, aren’t they good enough and interesting enough now that I don’t need to pine back for their babyhood?

Luckily, in the last two months, Alaina and Tanner have started playing together. They push doll strollers around, play with pretend food, play a chasing + laughing game, play in boxes together, build with blocks, and she also likes to bundle him up and pushes him around on an office chair. I Lann's Phone 390hope they are soon going to be on the same “team” and be buddies who can count on each other, rather than obstacles in each other’s path.

While I have managed to scrape up a little bit of time to play with her almost every day since he’s   been born, it has often been distracted, hurried, or halfhearted. However, we have started a new thing just this month in that we have specific playtime together every night after dinner. We are having tons of fun and she seems relieved to have some time to count on getting with me, rather than just waiting and hoping I’ll get to her. She seems charged up afterward and is thrilled to get to that part of the day. The irony of having a home-based life in which we spend almost all day in the company of all family members is that focused time together is rare—it is diffuse, scattered around, fragmented, because everything is always happening at once, in the same space. There are no boundaries between our lives, work, relationships, etc. This saturation factor means it both feels like we all spend “too much” time together, while also not Lann's Phone 423quite having enough time for one another.

Interestingly, this morning she slept until 11:00, just has she has been “programmed” to do since birth. She was born at around 11:00 in the morning, actually, rarely went to sleep before midnight through her entire infancy (often being awake and happy until 1:00 a.m.), and usually sleeps until 10 or 11 in the morning, after falling asleep between 11:30-12:00. Due to this night owl bedtime, Alaina and I have also found some time for us at night after everyone else has gone to bed. After I’ve read to all the kids at bedtime and Tanner has fallen asleep nursing, Alaina and I stay up sitting in my bed, Tanner sleeping next to me, and we color in coloring books or make bookmarks or cards, and chat and talk. She likes to choose an oracle card with me and write a Womanrunes symbol on her arm. I mostly just listen to what she has to say and agree and exclaim at the right places and she colors and colors, content in my finally undivided presence.

So, anyway, this five-year-old girl. She’s tall. We checked her height on the door frame compared to brothers and she is the same size or taller than they were at her age. She wears 6-7 size clothes, but is extremely choosy about them. Pants are an issue because they can be loose at all, so she is fond of pairing size 6 shirts with size 4T pants that are faded and high-water. She has definite ideas about what clothing meets her criteria for comfort and stylishness and we almost always just let her choose and decide her own ensembles for the day, unless we are going to town, and even then, I usually say, “sure, too small striped leggings will be great with that dress!” because, truly, it really doesn’t matter as long as she feels good in what she is wearing. After visiting an exhibit about China at the Magic House last year, she fell in love with pandas. She likes wearing black and white clothes and calls December 2015 035herself Panda Girl. My mom adopted a World Wildlife Fund panda for her for Christmas and she carries the stuffed panda the adoption came with around with her everywhere. My aunt got her a great panda hat that she loves to wear (along with a [non-panda] poncho my mom crocheted for her and a handwoven silk scarf that she helped my mom weave. When I feel guilty about not doing all the special things with her I’d like to do every day, I remember that she also has lots of opportunities, including helping to make and glaze real pottery cups and bowls and weave on full-sized looms using silk yarn with her talented grandma, that many little girls her age never have!).

We planned an epic panda birthday party for her yesterday. I labored over homemade marshmallow fondant icing the day before, even using specially ordered non-artificial black food coloring that cost me $12. I ranted extensively as I kneaded and kneaded the fondant the about how I could instead be one of “those people” eating frozen Taquitos and watching TV and what possesses me to always overperform and overdo. I yelled at the kids, had to have Lann come drag Tanner away of me as he hung from my legs crying while I couldn’t pick him up because my hands were covered in black powdered sugar cement). Why do this to myself and to the household atmosphere?! I’ve said before that I’d rather be the mom that does cool and fun stuff with her kids and sometimes yells while doing it than a mom who doesn’t yell, but who doesn’t do cool stuff because she’s afraid she might yell, or maybe because she doesn’t have ideas to share with her kids. (Of course, an awesomer option, would be to be the mom who does cool stuff and also doesn’t yell, but I’m not holding my breath on that one!)

After I constructed the first tiny panda and saw how cute it was and how excited she was about her cake, I felt such a sense of thrill and triumph. I thought that if I hadn’t decided to do it and make it easier on myself, sure, I wouldn’t have yelled, but I also wouldn’t have felt the empowering sense of having done exactly what I imagined doing and I would have taught my daughter to give up on hard things and new things and trying it anyway. And, isn’t that just like her birth, in the end? I could have done it differently and maybe more easily, but nothing compares to sinking down on my knees in my futon nest holding that rainbow baby girl in my own bloody hands. Those pandas too, while less earth-shaking and life-changing, were birthed from my own love and effort into my black-icing hands, and my willingness to do it myself, for the ones I love.

January 2016 030

Happy birthday, dear one!

January 2016 059

Tuesday Tidbits: Joyful Birth + New Year Resources

“As mothers, we discover that we love our children in whatever form they are in: a kicking bulge in our womb; a baby sucking at our breast; a toddler leaving play-doh crumbs on the couch; a pierced and tattooed teenager blasting rap music at midnight. We love them when they’re I’ll and when they are damaged. We love them long after they haw died. And in discovering this, we open to a kind of love that transcends form and time. It’s at the heart of our humanness, yet you might call it divine.”

–Susan Piver (Joyful Birth)

I found myself feeling startled at several points during the holidays. One moment came in looking at my “memories” from Facebook and seeing pictures of myself last Christmas with my tiny bundle of a sweet new baby against my chest. This year, he opens presents and crows, “yaaaaaay!”

December 2015 029

Still plenty of eyebrow action a year later!

The second moment was in talking to my sister-in-law about homebirth + composting toilets (not an ideal combo, fyi). When Zander was born in 2006, we were living in our temporary shop house and didn’t even have a composting toilet, just a not-very-nice outhouse. I remember having to walk out there in labor and feeling like it was not a fabulous thing. I looked over at Zander, now nine, and had such an intense moment of remembering what it was like to be that mom in that temporary house with my new little baby and my other toddler son. That version of me seems far away now, as does that baby-version of Zander, and yet, here I am still nursing a small boy to sleep and throughout the night…

“For me, giving birth was more gritty than romantic–and much more potent. Like a lotus that rises up from the mud, joy at seeing my daughter blossomed from the experience of reaching my physical and emotional limits.”

–Susan Piver (Joyful Birth)

I see this face a lot--the "uhhhhhhh!" pick me up, face.

I see this face a lot–the “uhhhhhhh!” pick me up, face.

This morning I read an article about why everyone deserves a doula:

Doula and mother-to-be form a relationship with each other throughout the pregnancy. The doula meets with the expectant mother, talks to her, and earns her trust and affection (or in my case, a full on girl crush). Whether the mother hopes to give birth hanging from a tree by her armpit hair or is planning an elective caesarean, the doula is there. Whether she wants an epidural from the onset or plans on going utterly drug free, the doula is there. Completely without judgement, she only serves to support the mother in the birth that she desires.

Source: Why Everyone Deserves a Doula — Pregnant Chicken

And, this quote about the physical intensity and potency of birth and the joy that accompanies it:

“Giving birth, in fact, is a messy business for any mother. Whether you have a midwife or a doctor, a homebirth or a hospital birth, a natural birth or an assisted birth, birth has a physical intensity, involving blood, pain, uncertainty, and risk. It is a physical, mammalian experience, organic, animal, earthy, direct. Yet in that very earthy messiness, as we are pushed to our limits, there’s the potential for joy. By Joy, I don’t mean a superficial pleasure that comes and goes and depends on conditions being to our liking. I’m talking about a different joy, tinged with sorrow. It is the tender heart of love.”

–Susan Piver (Joyful Birth)

I have been enjoying the relatively quiet days between holidays and read this post about the silence of this time of year, the lull, the liminal space before the birth of a new year (is this the rest and be thankful phase of the year?).

The most subversive thing is silence. In this odd interregnum, in the days caught between Christmas and new year, the world suddenly falls quiet. Unless you are determined to face dubious sales, there is nothing more to buy. Travel, especially if you use public transport, is curtailed. We are forced to look at ourselves, to our own company, and those nearest us.

Source: With Christmas gone and new year approaching, now is the time for silence | Philip Hoare | Opinion | The Guardian

And, I enjoyed this post about the value of solitude for parents (and the difficulty in carving out time for it):

Solitude is like punctuation. A paragraph without periods and commas would be exhausting to read. In the same way, conducting relationships without the respite of solitude can lessen the benefits of those relationships. Downtime is important for you and your kids. They benefit from solitude too. Taking care of your own solitude will not only help you restore yourself but also show your kids this positive model of self-nurturance

Source: Solitude is Going Extinct: The Stress of Modern Parenting

On the porch of the former clubhouse turned tiny temple/workspace for me to work in solitude.

On the porch of the former clubhouse turned tiny temple/workspace for me to work in solitude.

I’ve started working on my 2015 review for my 2016 Shining Year workbooks and am feeling a certain resistance towards doing it this year (I also got my 2015 Year in Review from wordpress: Your 2015 year in blogging). I found this worksheet for kids on doing a year in review and I printed it out to do with my own kids on New Year’s Eve: 2015 Year In Review Printable – Skip To My Lou Skip To My Lou

The Brigid’s Grove etsy shop is open again with limited inventory. We will be back with our complete assortment of sculptures and ceremony kits (plus, new surprises!) after the first of the year.

The next section of my Womanrunes Immersion course begins on January 5th. This course takes you on a 41 day journal through the runes and includes journal and photo prompts, worksheets, full moon and new moon rituals, and access to the 2016 Calamoondala class.

December 2015 006“To parent well, you have to have the gentleness and courage of a warrior.”

–Carol (in Joyful Birth by Susan Piver)

Tuesday Tidbits: Postpartum Planning

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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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Thursday Tidbits: Recovering from Birth

December 2015 029“Before I had children I always wondered whether their births would be, for me, like the ultimate in gym class failures. And I discovered instead…that I’d finally found my sport.”

–Joyce Maynard

People often use running a marathon as a metaphor for birth. Turns out that science has discovered that birth is actually more difficult…

“The researchers used MRI equipment typically used to diagnose sports injuries to explore the full scope of trauma that a woman’s body experiences during childbirth. The MRI images revealed that almost 25 percent of women had fluid in the pubic bone marrow or fractures that are similar to stress fractures that athletes often suffer. And 41 percent of women had pelvic muscle tears.

Also revealed by the study is the startling statistic that 15 percent of women never fully recover from the birth-related pelvic injuries.”

Science Says Childbirth Is Harder Than Running a Marathon – In The Loop Tips & Advice | mom.me

The same research was covered in this post as well:

Childbirth, as anyone who’s been through it knows, can feel very much like an extreme sport. And, it turns out, some childbirth-related injuries are surprisingly like sports injuries, including the very long time they need to heal.

The bottom line, Miller says, is: “if women don’t feel that their body is back to what they expected after six weeks, it’s not in their heads. Women do some self blame or feel like they’re not as robust as their sister or friend. But they may have one of these injuries not visible on clinical exam.”

Source: Childbirth As An Extreme Sport — And Why Its Injuries Can Take So Long To Heal | CommonHealth

I do have to admit that I perhaps would have re-titled the articles: “Science Reports Something Most Women Have Known Since the Beginning of Time,” but, oh well. Picky me.

I’ve written about birth and marathons in several past posts. Giving birth is the original “extreme sport.” One that tests your reserves, your endurance, your courage, and your stamina like nothing else. Truly, we have the comparison wrong. Running a marathon is kind of like giving birth, rather than vice versa! The first older blog post of mine isn’t related to childbirth/sports injury, but instead the emotional satisfaction of finishing your “marathon”:

She goes on to share: “I want that feeling of going beyond what you think is possible for laboring women. If you let go of control and allow the process to unfold, you are so proud of yourself. Then pride morphs into self-confidence and trust. What a perfect combination for parenting. When it comes down to it, you have to do this by yourself, be it labor or running. You might hear other laboring women around you or have the support of crowds in a race, but it’s still up to you. there’s a start and a finish and only you can see it through. Fortitude brings a new self-awareness and strength that feels overwhelming…I know one of my greatest challenges in the vocation of perinatal education is getting women to trust the process and her own capabilities before labor. My practice runs helped prepare me for the marathon, but there is no practice run for labor. Women must rely on their confidence and the legacy of the many women who have birthed before them…”

Source: Births & Marathons | Talk Birth

Women giving birth often experience a sort of post-race euphoria:

Those who push themselves to climb the last hill, cross the finish line, or conquer a challenging dance routine often report feelings of euphoria and increased self-esteem…women who experience natural birth often describe similar feelings of exaltation and increased self-esteem. These feelings of accomplishment, confidence, and strength have the potential to transform women’s lives. In many cultures, the runner who completes the long race is admired, but it is not acknowledged that the laboring woman may experience the same life-altering feelings… —Giving Birth with Confidence (by Lamaze International)

Source: Birth Feelings | Talk Birth

And, they can draw on those feelings for strength again and again:

“Whether it be the thick memory of enduring a non-medicated labor and finally pushing our third child into the world, despite feeling as though I hadn’t an ounce of energy left, or the meager sprint I managed as I neared the finish line of the marathon…, I hold tight to these images as proof that I can and will be able to rise to the occasion–again and again, if and when I need to-–because the ability to do so is in my very bones. Because I am a woman.”

Source: Woman Rising | Talk Birth

Mothering can also feel like a marathon:

“My body? I was ashamed to admit that, after two powerful homebirth experiences, I no longer felt intimately connected to my body. Pregnancy and giving birth were all about every little feeling in my body; mothering felt like a marathon of meeting everyone else’s needs and rarely my own…Most days, the question I asked was, ‘How are their bodies?’ My body was in the back seat, unattended, without a seatbelt.”

Source: Tuesday Tidbits: Birthing Bodies | Talk Birth

This article about recovering from a Cesarean Birth After Cesarean (CBAC) is packed with helpful information:

As we have discussed, everyone celebrates a VBAC but many CBAC mothers feel alone and unsupported, both in their physical and emotional recovery. This needs to change.

Source: The Well-Rounded Mama: Physical Recovery After CBAC

And, this article has some ideas to share about lowering back and pelvic pain during pregnancy: The Birthing Site – 5 Things you can do to Help Lower Back and Pelvic Pain in Pregnancy

All of these posts and topics remind me of the importance of planning wisely for postpartum:

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.

Source: Planning for Postpartum | Talk Birth

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Wednesday Tidbits: Life

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Tanner’s hair is fuzzy and sticks straight up in the back. He is thirteen months old now and doesn’t say many words any more, just grunts and points (I remember this from others kids, so I’m not worried about the “regression.”) He wants to spend as much times as possible with me, ideally simultaneously destroying something I like at the same time. 😉 He helps stir when I’m cooking, he throws laundry into the machine, and he tries to put goddesses and business cards into purple bags.

We promoted ourselves to real adults and got our first ever brand new stove. Our other one had started to shock us somewhat roughly at random intervals (usually while cooking something in a saucepan with a metal handle. This went beyond a static electricity shock and into, “malfunctioning electronic equipment is electrocuting you” territory). We’ve never had a stove manufactured within the last three decades before! Exciting stuff!

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Talk Birth hit ONE MILLION HITS. I never would have dreamed that when I started this site for my local childbirth classes that it would reach this kind of growth. I was waiting for the day it hit one million (like watching the odometer on a car roll over to 100,000, or is that only me?!), but I missed it by 7,700 hits. Oops!

We put up our tree over the weekend and of course, I had to add Gingerbirth Mama back to the tree:

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My Little Women dolls also decorated my grandma’s dollhouse (gifted to me through the efforts of multiple relatives and their relatives earlier this year in a massive undertaking of travel from California to Missouri).

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We somehow shipped 360 orders in the month of November (ranging from one to 30 pieces)! It was a beautiful, thrilling, exhausting, exhilarating, overwhelming, inspiring, heart-expanding journey to create so many special ornaments and other treasures for our customers this season. We’re closing the shop for a winter break on December 20th and look forward to returning refreshed and energized from our own celebrations at home.

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This photo was shared by one of our customers and I LOVE it so much!

We’re also going to do lots of brainstorming and work in our new Leonie workbook bundle that arrived at the end of November. I’m thrilled to get it, but too busy with the biz to really look at it yet!

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We enrolled in the Academy this year and it dramatically improved our business life, even though I feel like I’ve still barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer.

Alaina wanted to make “bear claw” cookies a few days ago so we made no bake cookies and stuck in slivered almonds for the claws:

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I’ve been having fun using my kids’ gel pens to color designs for bookmarks. I incorporated ‪Womanrunes into some of the mandalas from our goddess greeting card freebie bundle.

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You can easily get your own cards to decorate (or just print and use!) here. We have a fun birthy one included too! (Mark drew all of them.)

peaceonearthAnd, speaking of Womanrunes, if you’re interested, I have a fun free 101 class available: Sign Up for Introduction to Womanrunes.

Happy December!

(*Affiliate links included to Leonie’s stuff. Because it is Amaze.)