Self-Care & Why We’re So Bad At It…

NACEF

Most of us have this relationship with self-care that goes something like this: “When I can find the time (and the money!) I’m going to make that appointment at the spa for a full-day treatment!” Or, “I’m going to start dropping hints now, so that my honey will set up a full-day spa treatment for me – because it feels really ________ (fill in the blank: selfish, indulgent, luxurious, over-the-top) for me to do this for myself.”

I have big issues with this. First, we think that self-care means only a wonderful, but really expensive experience that’s outside of our day-to-day living. And then there’s the issue of not feeling worthy of self-care. This may be an issue for some men, but I find that it’s women, and in particular, mothers who feel like any attempts at self-care just aren’t in their new job description. So rarely, if ever, do we give ourselves permission for self-care. Instead, we take on the job of caring for everyone else except ourselves. This is not okay, ladies, not okay.

The number of Mommas I know who can’t remember the last time they ate an actual lunch they prepared for themselves, and instead just ate the leftover crusts of a PB& J sandwich and some random goldfish crackers that their toddler refused, is too many! The same can be said for all those Mommas who don’t take time out of their busy lives to exercise or get the rest necessary for this demanding job of parenting.

There are way too many women who don’t schedule coffee dates or an evening out for cocktails and laughter because they feel like they can’t leave their babies with their partners for a few hours to get a well-deserved break (or give their partners some much-needed one-on-one time with their little one! Another blogpost for another day.)

My point is that we all too often equate self-care with the big, showy displays of once-in-a-very-long-while gifts of massage, or retreats away from everything. These might recharge our batteries for a little while, but we need something more, something sustainable for our day-to-day lives. Because this work we do in raising and caring for the next generation is hard – really, really hard.

And don’t get me started on those of us who work with you Mommas! The educators, support group facilitators, nurses, doulas, midwives, therapists – we all profess over and over again how important it is for you to take part in daily self-care, but too many of my colleagues don’t take their own advice! Those of us in this caring profession are guilty of talking out of the two sides of our mouth: “You definitely need self-care, but I’ll try to get some of that self-care in when I can find the money and time to do so.” That is not okay, ladies, not okay.

When we don’t take part in regular weekly, if not daily, self-care activities our stress levels rise and our resiliency to bounce back when the unexpected, even harder days hit, goes down. Caring for others relies on us not living with too high levels of stress and an ability to be able to dig a little deeper when someone in our circle of caring needs more from us.

SO, I am unashamedly going to plug an upcoming conference as a Board Member for NACEF – Northwest Area Childbirth Educator’s Forum. It’s happening next month, May 14th, and it’s titled “Stress & Resilience.” It’s a full-day focused on stress reduction and building resiliency and I really want people to know about it! This day, in my opinion, is definitely focused on self-care and, (BONUS) it costs less than a full-day at the spa! Plus, it will provide you with the tools you need to begin to incorporate more regular self-care into your day-to-day experience.

Rhona Berens, PhD, CPCC will speak to how stress is contagious and she’ll provide us with the tools we can use to reduce stress for ourselves, our families, and the people we work with. Rhona will be covering how our own stress can be transferred to our family members and the people we work with, how to recognize that this is happening and potentially stop it. (I’m guessing that self-care will be just one of the tools she’ll discuss as a way to reduce that stress and stress-transfer!)

Wayne Scott, MA, LCSW will be giving his presentation, Strong @ The Broken Places which will focus on secondary stress. While many people who work in the profession of maternity care experience high levels of secondary stress, I think all of us who care for others can experience this secondary stress. Being able to identify the level of resiliency we have can allow us to take those necessary breaks for ourselves so that we can continue to do this most important work.

We need, all of us, to seek out those opportunities that allow us to continue to do this work of caring: caring for our babies, our partners, our co-workers, our clients, but mostly ourselves. Please consider taking the time out of your busy lives to join me at the NACEF Conference on May 14th. I’d love to see you there! If this won’t fit into your schedule or budget right now, what measure of self-care are you willing to commit to today, so that your bucket is full and you’re better able to fill the bucket of others? (Watch this if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Even though it’s a children’s book the message is for all of us, maybe especially for us as adults.)

Let me know in the comments what you’re planning to do to incorporate some more self-care into your life. I’d love to be that person who can hold you accountable and encourage you in your efforts! It’s so important!

I Love a Good Conference…

BodyBreastBaby

I was at an all-day conference over the weekend that focused on body positivity -a touchy subject for most women, especially those whose bodies have been transformed by pregnancy and birth.

There’s so much pressure for us to return to – acting, working, looking, behaving, being – who we were before the baby. This presumes two things: 1) that it’s easily achievable and 2) that it’s actually preferable to who we are now.

Motherhood changes us in profound ways – some of which are super obvious. As our bellies grow, so do our breasts, our hips, our thighs, our arms. It’s common for our entire body to change during pregnancy, not just our bellies. Yet, secretly that’s exactly what we’re all hoping for: that perfect little celebrity baby bump. When we get more than we expected, or if we feel at all like our bodies “failed” us at birth or breastfeeding, this can lead to an intense dislike – even loathing – of a body that deserves nothing but love and awe for all that it has done to bring our baby into this world.

This is not a new subject for me to write about. You can read other examples of why I think women need to celebrate their bodies here and here. But having just come from a conference completely devoted to this idea, I’m feeling the need to share the love and hook you up with the great work that the presenters at the body.breast.baby conference are doing to encourage Mommas toward self-body love.

The presenters at this conference spoke to the gamut of experiences women face being judged by how they look, rather than by who they are.

Joni Edelman, Editor in Chief of Ravishly started the day off by sharing her own personal story of being thin and miserable vs “fat” and happy. You may have seen this in your social media feed – her story resonated with women around the world! Joni talked extensively about the diet industry and how susceptible women are to buying, literally, into something that’s a lie. Her message: “Happiness does not require thinness. Fatness does not presume sadness.”

We were treated to a presentation by 15-year old, Lovinia Martin-Weber who reminded us all about how much our kids listen to us. They’re listening, really listening to what we say about our own bodies. And when that message doesn’t match with what we say to them about their own bodies, they question the validity of that message. They might start to believe that if you don’t like your body, then maybe they shouldn’t like theirs. Lovinia’s message was a wake-up call for the Mommas in the room to model self body love so that our kiddos grow up believing their bodies are strong and beautiful!

The Peachie Moms, a.k.a., Amanda Edwards and Jen McClellan, were on hand to discuss all the ways pregnancy and birth can change every part of our bodies – every part. They talked about how even if you’re a skinny Momma, a medium Momma (that would be me!) or a plus-size Momma, that feelings of insecurity about our bodies is a real struggle. Their message is that no matter our size each one of us is deserving of self-love and body positivity. Their presentation was equal parts funny and reassuring. 

A whole session was dedicated to talking about our breasts: what we thought of them before we ever had them, how we feel about them being used to sell burgers and beers, and the complicated relationship we might have with how they most likely don’t match up with the ideal represented in the media. The presentation was by Jessica Martin-Weber (mother to the body positivity activist teen mentioned above – nice job, Momma!) My favorite quote from the entire day came from Jessica’s presentation,“You can’t sell me anything if I’m happy with myself.” LOVE this statement.

At one point, I snuck out to have a quick conversation and to record a snippet of one of my birth stories with Bryn Huntpalmer, the woman behind The Birth Hour – a podcast devoted to birth stories. What a brilliant idea! If you’re like me, and you can’t get enough birth stories, being able to listen to them via podcast is about the most Momma-friendly idea ever! You can listen to birth stories while you’re nursing, making dinner, driving to and from work, etc. It was fun to chat with Bryn and tell a little bit of my 4th birth story. She is compiling all of these mini-sessions into one that will be on the show sometime in the future. Right now, Bryn’s working with Every Mother Counts on a fundraiser to support her work with the podcast and help underserved pregnant Mommas around the globe.

We spent some time talking about our monthly cycles with Tracy Puhl of Glad Rags and Susan Landa of Moon Days. It was a really interesting discussion about how we’re socialized to not talk about our periods, or to consider them gross – rather than seeing them as an important part of what it means to be a woman. Keeping the conversation open and normalizing this regular part of our lives as women is something we should all strive for. Especially after hearing woman after woman share their personal experience of how it was never discussed so they associated their periods with shame and silence.

The day ended with Laura Weetzie Wilson and Ashlee Dean Wells of the 4th Trimester Bodies Project – the organizers of this whole event. I got hooked up with this group when one of my readers (Thanks, Sharon!) read this post and asked if I knew of them. I didn’t – but when I went to their site, I knew I wanted to! These two women are doing extraordinary things by taking photographs of women with real, postpartum bodies and celebrating the beauty they know each of them possesses. Women are being transformed by these photo sessions, and I think we are all changed by looking at these beautiful, real Momma bodies!

All in all, a great day of healing and empowerment! I loved getting to hear all of these presenters speak about a subject that’s so near and dear to my heart: encouraging women to love the bodies and the lives that motherhood has given them. Please do yourself a favor and check out what each of these wonderful women are doing in the world of birth. So fun to meet all of them, and I wish them incredible success. 

Have you heard of any of these great organizations or women before today? Who else do I need to be paying attention to in the world of birth? Please let me know – I love to connect with other people who are as passionate about bellies, birth and babies as I am!

And The Oscar Goes To…

Oscar

Just yesterday, I taught a “Comfort Measures for Labor” class. It’s a short and sweet intensive class that examines the mind/body connection and the power of relaxation, rhythm and ritual as coping tools for labor and delivery. We practice the #1 comfort measure – breathing. And the class ends with a labor boot camp circuit: a hands-on practice session where we put it all together: massage, position changes, music, and breathing.

I knew over half of the group yesterday, as many of the couples had been in my classes before and were wanting that extra practice before the big day. But there were also some veterans in the group – three couples were there to use the class as a refresher because it had been a couple of years or more since they’d given birth.

As they were moving from station to station practicing different positions, I’d change up the breathing we’d practiced earlier. This was to simulate the intensity of the contraction. I’d have them do one of three levels of breathing: deep belly breathing throughout (early labor), light and shallow chest-only breathing while holding one frozen bottle of water (active labor), or chest-only breathing combined with vocalization, while holding two frozen water bottles, one in each hand (transitional labor).

I noticed right away, how the first-timers were very uncomfortable making any kind of noise while practicing transitional labor breathing. Even when I told them I would make more noise than all of them combined, they still were close to silent. But not the 2nd timers! All three of these couples quickly sunk into a remembered rhythm in their bodies, their breathing and in the noises they were willing to make on each exhale.

Now, for sure, practicing breathing and positions with a group of relative strangers is goofy! It’s a little bit ridiculous, actually. And – it’s also very true that holding one or two bottles of frozen water will never, ever be close to what a contraction feels like! But practicing with ice (or even better, ice water) gives your mind and body something to work through as you practice different positions. This can be very helpful in preparation for the real-deal.

I found it interesting how both Mommas and partners who’ve gone through this before were so willing and able to drop back into that experience. And even if they felt a little or a lot uncomfortable, they remembered how much it helps to make noise when we feel tension in our bodies. Vocalization is such a great way to release and let go, which is so important as we move through our labor experience.

When I was having my third baby, I started to want to vocalize through the tougher contractions. I’d not done this before with my first two, so this was new to me (even though I teach it all the time!) But instead of going for it, I was making these small “ooooooooooooooh” noises with each exhale.

My husband, sitting in front of me, took one look at my contorted face and said, “You look constipated. Are you wanting to make some noise, like this?” And with that he opened his mouth wide and started bellowing, “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!!!” I quickly followed suit, opened my own mouth wide and really made some noise.

And it felt good.

We kept it up through each contraction, basically screaming at one another through the peaks, and then we’d dissolve into laughter when the contraction was done, because… It was ridiculous! But oh, so helpful! Without even realizing it, my husband had become my “birth partner in crime” and given me the permission to do whatever I needed to do to continue to cope with my contractions. What a gift!

In my classes, I encourage partners to be on the lookout for any rhythms, rituals, and vocalizations that Momma is doing – and then do them bigger and louder so that she feels free to express herself fully in finding those coping and comfort measures that work best for her.

While it’s often true that the veterans in the group are the ones that are willing to make the most noise during a childbirth preparation class, that’s not always the case.

A handful of years ago, there was a woman in my class, let’s call her Nancy, who must have had some sort of background in theater. Whenever we would do a practice session, she would become a method actor. Watching her was like watching someone in a movie. She didn’t care at all that there were at least a dozen other people in the room. She was amazing! Not over the top, just fully committed to her role of “laboring woman in the throes of giving birth.” 

She gave it everything she had. Nancy’s partner had to work like crazy just to keep up with her! I’ve always wondered how she might have worked through her real labor. Was she as loud and expressive as she’d been during our practice sessions? Or was she more quiet and reserved as she found different coping rhythms and rituals that worked for her?

In my mind, I imagine her roaring through her pushes: freely expressing herself without inhibition, her encouraging partner by her side – not embarrassed, not shushing her – giving her the permission to release and let go of each and every contraction through her voice. In all my years of doing this work, I’ve ever seen anyone else so willing to dig deep and make some noise during our practice sessions. As far as I’m concerned, the Oscar goes to… her!

And to all the other Mommas and their supportive partners out there, loudly or quietly, finding their own rhythms and rituals as they bring their babies into this world.

What about you? Were you loud or quiet as you gave birth? What were your rhythms or rituals that you did spontaneously in birth that helped you cope with your contractions? Were you surprised the coping and comfort measures you chose?

What About the Partners???

Partners

http://www.animalplanet.com/wild-animals/photos/amazing-animal-dads/


I just had a private session with a couple who are expecting their second baby in about four weeks. I’d worked with them privately the first go-around due to her unique work schedule – trying to get into a one-day express class was not even an option. And while I always encourage people to take a group class if they’re able to – mostly because there’s usually such great peer-to-peer learning that can happen – if that’s not possible, I’m more than happy to meet with a couple one-on-one.

I’ve even done some long-distance pre-birth coaching sessions with women who’ve already attended a traditional class, but are wanting/needing a little bit more support as they begin their final preparations for giving birth. I ask some questions ahead of time about what they’re most wanting to learn and tailor our time together to what will work best for them. It may sound strange that these sessions are done via Skype or phone and that we never meet in person, but I’m really good at listening and hearing what doesn’t get said. And because of this, I’ve had some really great success in helping women enter into their birth experience with much more clarity, confidence and an attitude of excitement rather than fear or anxiety – even from thousands of miles away.

When I met with M & her partner Z the other night, I did what I always do and sent them an email ahead of time to ask what their specific concerns were about welcoming Baby #2. M, the Momma, answered the email and gave me some specifics that included: “I had a super gentle, slow labor last time around. I imagine things might be faster and more intense this time. Any tips around that? I’d love to have a little time to talk about how the transition to being a family four will be different… going into labor and recovering with a toddler at home who has his own set of needs… all the hidden expectations we might be carrying based on our experience of having C… I’m having a hard time envisioning this pregnancy as being unique… it’s like mentally I think I’m just having C again.  I’m sure things will be different…”

All great questions, and ones that I was happy to try and answer for her. In preparation for our get-together, I did a little searching for some resources for this couple who were obviously aware of how different it can be to move from being a family of three to a family of four. I was looking for practical, useful tips from others beside myself to normalize this transition for them, but I also wanted to share some of the more funny-but-true send ups of what it’s like to be a first-time parent compared to a veteran in the trenches. (These are listed below for your enjoyment. There are a few that made me snort, I laughed so hard.) I wanted this couple to be okay with realizing that this second pregnancy and birth couldn’t possibly be like their first.

But as I was gathering resources for them, I was getting more and more frustrated by the lack of resources for the partner’s experience of having a second child. Maybe, I just didn’t look far enough down the list results to find the good stuff, maybe the words I chose were not a part of the SEO for this topic, but I was getting nowhere! I did find a great birth story of Baby #2 from the perspective of the Dad off of the Becoming Dads website, which is always a resource I encourage expectant and new fathers to check out, but other than that?  Crickets.

And I realized again, how often partners (and especially male partners) are left out of the equation. I told M & Z that I was going to be writing a blogpost about this very subject because I was so irritated!

The partner’s experience is equally valid and as important as the Momma’s – and until we begin as a society to take that seriously, we are setting our couples up for a harder than necessary transition through birth and into the new family experience.

I recognize my own limitations here and my need to be more insistent about bringing the  partner’s into the dialogue. I’m really good about this in my classes – often I will receive feedback about how I well I “addressed the partner’s role” or “showed how important I am to the whole process.” And I’m proud of that – it matters to me. But in these one-on-one sessions, I could do better.

The reality is that most often it’s Momma who reaches out to me and sets up the session. My contact to the couple is through her – but I’m realizing that I need to begin reaching out to the partner from the get-go so that I know what their concerns and hopes are for this experience. Now, when I’m meeting with the couple face-to-face, that’s a non-issue because you know I’m going to go there!

But in my long-distance sessions, I’ve failed in the past to insist that the partner also get on the call or Skype session with me. I still talk up the role of the partner, but what is lost is their unique perspective and the chance to be acknowledged by me in front of the Momma on the importance of their role as they’re also making a huge transformation from individual to parent. It won’t happen again. From now on, they’ll both have some pre-work to do before we “meet” and I will, as I did with M & Z, create some post-work that they can do as a couple to better prepare for the birth of their baby.

I also think that I need to start writing more about the partner’s experience on my own. If I can’t find the resources online, I might as well start creating some, eh? 

And, in case any of you reading this are expecting Baby #2 (or beyond), I’m including the list of questions I encouraged M & Z to consider and discuss over the next few weeks before their new baby arrives. I told them to think a bit on these questions and set up a date night (even one that happens at home after their toddler goes to bed!) to discuss what this next experience might bring to them – both.

How do you think those of us who work in the field of prenatal/postnatal care could better include partners in this most important transition? If you felt like you had that sense of being included, why? What did your CBE, doula, or provider say or do that made you feel like your experience matters? Please share in the comments section. It’s an area where I think we could all do a better job.

Questions to consider if you are preparing for baby #2:

1)  How has parenting changed you as an individual?
2)  What changes have you noticed in each other?
3)  How has parenting changed you as a couple?
4)  What positive characteristic has your first-born inherited from each one of you?
5)  What positive characteristic are you hoping this new baby will inherit from each one of you?
6)  When you imagine the 4th Trimester (the first 3 months with your newborn), what are your biggest concerns? Biggest hopes?
7)  How do you want to build up your couple relationship? Specifically, what are some ideas for creating intimacy when the reality is that you will be parenting two small children alongside complicated work schedules?
8)  What was your most favorite part of the newborn period with your first? What are you most looking forward to doing again with your newborn for a second time?
9)  How do you anticipate the transition of going from a family of 3 to 4? What do you think will be different? What might be the same?
10)  When you imagine your children in the future, say ages 5 & 3, what do you think your life will be like?

Here are a few of the funny posts I found discussing the differences between first and second pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences:

http://www.scarymommy.com/the-first-child/
http://www.scarymommy.com/differences-between-the-first-pregnancy-and-second-pregnancy/
http://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/style/raising-first-child-versus-second-child/
http://www.scarymommy.com/second-babies-are-the-lucky-ones/