Tell Me What You Want – What You Really, Really Want

spice-girls

So for the past two years, I’ve taken part in the Write 31 Days project – in fact, it’s how I really got my start as a blogger. Because, “Go Big or Go Home!” seems to be a personal motto of mine. The deal is that you commit to writing and publishing a blog post every day for the month of October!

It was great way for me to get into a regular, daily writing practice – but it’s a little grueling, I’m not going to lie. There were a few times in year #1 that I hit the publish button at 11:59 pm – just barely making it under the wire to be counted for the day. Year #2 was much more organized and much more specific – I wrote all about the 4th Trimester, those first three months home with a newborn. It was great to have more of a particular focus and I really enjoyed writing about this part of the pregnancy, birth and parenting picture that gets short shrift.

Well, here it is September 30th and the Write 31 Days project begins anew tomorrow. And historically (can I use historically when I’m really only going back two years?) this has been the day that I’ve announced: “I’m starting tomorrow and here’s my topic!”

But I’m not doing it this year.

I’m a little bit saddened by this, but also proud of myself for recognizing that this year, with everything that’s going on in my personal and professional life, it just doesn’t make much sense for me to jump on board again. This is not an easy thing for me to say no to… In fact, I have a hard time saying no to lots of things. It’s not in my nature – I tend to not only say yes, but to scream it from the top of my lungs!

This can be both a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing because some of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life have been a result of me saying yes: Climb a mountain? YES! Go Skydiving? YES! Be the “hood ornament” on the raft in Class 4 rapids? YES! Walk a marathon? YES! Write a book? YES! Be one of the chairs for the school auction? YES!

It’s a curse, because I tend to say yes before I realize fully what I’ve committed myself to!

Climbing a mountain is haaaard work, people! Who knew it would take eight hours and that even my eyelashes would ache the next day? (Everyone else who’s ever actually trained to climb a mountain knows this, that’s who!) How often does the one-way speaker go out on the helmet you’re wearing as you let go of the plane 3,000 feet up in the air for your first solo jump? (Not very often. But it’ll scare the crap out of you, that’s for sure! I can attest to that!) If I sit in the front of the raft as the “hood ornament” for extra weight, I won’t have to paddle. Ohhhhh, I might fall out because of the wall of water that I’ll be the first to encounter – no wonder nobody else raised their hand. How long can it take to train for a marathon? I mean, we’ll be walking it – not running it. Oops – didn’t realize that our training walks would take 4+ hours on the weekend. It doesn’t take that long to write a crappy book. But if you want to write one that’s actually worth reading? Well, that’s a different story. So is the fact that as you get farther into the telling of said story, the focus gets more refined and the 70K words you’ve already written need to be rewritten. Who says that having four kids in four different schools this year and chairing an auction is a dumb idea? (Everyone. Absolutely. Every. Single. Person.)

You see? I’m a “Let’s DO this!” kinda gal and I leap before I look a lot of the time. I don’t have any regrets – for real – but that’s why this decision to not bust out another 31 days of writing is both hard for me, and smart of me. I’m feeling a teensy bit more mature than I was feeling this time last week as I was trying to figure out what the focus was going to be for year #3. Nope. Not going to do it.

Instead, I want to toss this back to you, my readers, and ask if there’s anything that you wish I would write more about or maybe write about for the first time. I’ve published 136 posts (137, if we count this one) and they’ve been all over the map about pregnancy, birth, parenting, couples relationship, sex, the 4th Trimester, partners, and birth stories (the links here are to a few of my personal favorites from each category…) What else would you like me to explore within those subjects, or outside of them?

I’ve kept my posts primarily focused on the experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting of young children, newborns in fact. But I have a 17 year old girl, a 14 year old boy, an 11 year old girl, and a 7 year old boy (hence the four kids in four different schools…). I can talk about what it is to parent older kiddos, the chaos that I asked for and usually embrace as a Momma to so many, the life-work-creativity balance of trying to do all that I’m wanting to do in these three realms and what that messiness looks like (because it is mess-sy, my friends!), maintaining a loving relationship of 20+ years, what is means to be in conflict with the age that my driver’s license says I am vs what I feel like on the inside… Oh, there’s lots of things I could write about!

But I really want to stop and listen to what my readers are wanting. How can I make this blog more useful to you? What can I write more – or less – of that would speak to you and the people you know about this experience of being human? I would love to hear from you about this. I really do want to know what you want, what you really, really want.

And now, for your listening pleasure, an ear worm from the late 90s, Wannabe by The Spice Girls. I guarantee you’ll be singing this one all weekend long. You’re welcome.

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The Power of the Mind/Body Connection

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Okay… Here’s the deal. It’s probably going to take you a long time to have your baby. Hours and hours and hours. Longer than you hope it will take. Way longer than you expect it will take. Way, way longer than you think it should take.

Don’t kill the messenger – I’m just trying to help you realize something: Giving birth is a B.F.D. It’s a once (maybe more) in a lifetime opportunity where you get to bring a brand new human into being. Through your body. When I put it into those terms, does it start to make sense how it might take a little while?

We live in an age where if our download from Netflix is not complete in less than three minutes, we’re either screaming at our screens, or switching to another TV show! Information – all of it – is available at the touch of a button! We’ve become accustomed to life happening at the speed of Now! and we just don’t have much collective patience anymore for the things that really count. And when anything – even giving birth – takes longer than we think it should, we freak out!

And therein lies the problem: not that birth might take a long time, but that we freak out when it does.

When we’re in freak out mode over something that we cannot control (like birth, for instance) we take a process that is physical in nature and exquisitely designed to work just about every single time, and move it out of our body and up into our brain. I hate to state the obvious here, but babies don’t come out of our brains – they come out of our bodies. The brain needs to stay out of the whole process. But that’s not how the brain likes to do business.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the brain! I love how it acts like it knows everything! I love how it interacts and reacts to outside stimuli. I love how it tries to tell our bodies a story that may or may not even be true. I love to watch how our bodies respond to that story. I really do love the complex interconnectedness of the brain and the body. The mind/body connection is endlessly fascinating to me!

Had I held this same fascination when I was pregnant 7+ years ago I would have offered myself up to the neurobiological study of the pregnancy brain and its effects on the body from conception through the end of the 4th Trimester! What happens during this time is incredible and we know very little about it, really. But here’s what we know about how it works when we’re giving birth.

The uterus is made of smooth muscle tissue, the same kind of muscle tissue that comes in other pre-programmed organs like the esophagus and the stomach. These are two organs that don’t ever need to be told what to do. When you eat a sandwich, you don’t have to tell your esophagus to begin to contract and break down the bites of food into smaller bits and then move them down into your stomach. Once there, you’re not required to tell your stomach to release acid and begin to further break down food into the nutrients that are kept for your body and the waste products that are to be expelled.

Your body just does it – BECAUSE IT ALREADY KNOWS HOW.

The same is true for your uterus. It’s designed to hold your growing baby – up to a point. Then it’s designed to begin to contract and bring your baby down the birth canal and into this world. Without a whole lot of input from your brain, I might add.

When a Momma is calm, cool and collected – meaning her brain has been lulled into a state where it’s either pleasantly neutral or otherwise distracted and decidedly not in freak out mode – she creates the perfect environment for two hormones called Oxytocin and Endorphins to work their magic during birth. Together, they are unstoppable! Oxytocin fuels the contractions and keeps the contractions going, while the body’s natural pain killers, Endorphins, increase over time to help the birthing woman meet the challenges of her labor. They’re like two gorgeous dance partners, stepping in perfect unison with each other, anticipating each other’s next move.

When our birth doesn’t go according to plan: labor is too early or too late, too long or too short, too complicated, too painful – basically, not what our brain expected it to be… Our brain starts to tell our body a story. And it’s usually not a good one:

“Attention body! Listen up! This is not a drill! This is an emergency! There’s no way I’m ever going to survive birth! Somebody needs to make it stop! And stop now! I’m scared! I’m not in complete control! And I don’t know what’s happening to me!”

Such a negative story! And, unfortunately, the body listens to every single word. The body starts to buy into this story. It starts to believe what the brain is saying. And the body starts to react.

When our brain stages a birth coup, our body pays the price because everything we wish was moving faster can’t help but begin to slow down. When the brain is in freak out mode, there’s another hormone, called Adrenalin, that starts to seriously screw up the love fest going on between those two other hormones – Oxytocin & Endorphins.

When the body reacts to the negative story our brain is telling, a ton of Adrenalin gets released into our bloodstream. Adrenalin is like the drunk guy at a frat party who jumps in between Oxytocin and Endorphins and whisper-shout-slurs: “Hey, ken I dance with u guys? I like to dance! Watch my muufs – I’m umblieve, unbelief… I’m rilly, rilly good.”

Oxytocin and Endorphins want absolutely nothing to do with this guy, Adrenalin. They run away in opposite directions, leaving the confused body to wonder, “What the hell?” That awesome blood flow and oxygen that had been pumping into the uterus to help it do its thing, seems to shut down almost completely – to the point of the uterus not being able to function very well.

And then, what story does the brain try to tell the body?

“See what I told you? You can’t do this thing… Nobody can. It’s too hard, it’s too long, it’s too dangerous, it’s too – whatever.” The body doesn’t want to believe, but…

I don’t want any of you to be unconscious while you’re having your babies! I want just the opposite: I want you to be superconscious of what’s happening at all times in that brain of yours. And I want you to be ready to interrupt that overbearing and all-too controlling 3-pound organ that’s attempting to run the show. But how?

Learn to calm the beast within before labor even begins.

Anytime you feel anxious, worried or frightened – check in with your body and try to gauge whether or not the situation really, sincerely calls for an Adrenalin dump. Here’s a hint to figuring this out: If you’re not actively being chased down by a deadly predator, then the answer is most likely “Not really in need of much Adrenalin at this time. But thanks for the offer, brain. Catcha later.”

Then see if you can calm yourself through breathing. Close your eyes if you have to, and take in nice, deep belly breaths through your nose to a slow count of four “In – 2,3,4” and then exhale through your mouth, “Out – 2,3,4” and do this for a couple of minutes just to see what happens. The body sometimes forgets it’s ability to reverse the effects of a brain takeover. Once the brain settles down and realizes that it’s not actually in any real danger, the body can continue to go about its business without interruption.

Our brain is like a toddler in full tantrum when it’s in freak out mode. Logic very rarely works to calm a screaming toddler. In fact, sometimes it only makes the screaming louder! The same is true with your brain. But holding a calm, quiet space while breathing can really help. It settles the brain and cuts off that flood of Adrenalin to just a slight trickle.

There’s good reason for Adrenalin to be hanging around. When it spikes right before the actual birth of the baby, it’s ends up being really beneficial. It helps to heighten awareness and can assist in initial bonding between Mommas and babies. Adrenalin isn’t bad – it’s all about timing and striking the right balance between these three hormones: Oxytocin, Endorphins & Adrenalin.

It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, but it sure is simple:

Calm the brain and watch what the body can do!

Have you ever noticed how your brain wants to be in control all the time? What kinds of stories does your brain tell you? Are they negative, stress-inducing stories? What other ways have you tried to settle your brain so that your body can do its thing?

Five Minute Friday: LISTEN

5minfriListen…

Sometimes I feel like the brokenness of our world could be fixed through this one little word: listen. It seems like we’re always talking – sometimes screaming – at one another, trying to shout over each other to be heard, to be right.

But what if we all just shut up for a moment and tried extra hard to listen to each other instead? What if we recognized that no one has a monopoly on the truth? What if we took a little time to sit, be still, and listen to one another’s stories? What if we discovered that our differences are minor in comparison to how much alike we really are? What then?

I think much of what is broken in the birth world could also benefit from listening to one another. The “us vs them” shouting matches are divisive and do nothing to reconcile what we all want at the end of the day: happy & healthy Mommas, happy & healthy babies, happy & healthy families.

We cannot achieve this shared goal when we’re too busy. Too busy to show up. Too busy to be still and quiet. Too busy to ask the right questions. Too busy to practice patience and wait for the answers. Too busy to listen to one another for what is being said, and what is not being said.

Listening is a skill that I’m afraid many of us are lacking and it’s in dwindling supply. It’s like a muscle that might atrophy if we don’t exercise it more often. Daily? Maybe even by the hour.

How can you show up today and listen? Who will benefit from your gift of focused time and attention? What might you discover if you will only truly listen?

*This was my reflection for Five Minute Friday. There is a word prompt, and you write for 5 minutes – that is all. You can find out more about this right here. I visit their Facebook page from time to time just to see the prompt. I was unable to resist the word for today. I guess you could say that “listen” spoke loudly enough for me to hear it – and then write about it.

What do you think about the value of listening in the world of pregnancy, birth and parenting (or any other work that you do)? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this word today, or to hear how you exercise this particular muscle in your own particular worlds. Share your comments here. Thanks!

PREMADs – Do You Know About These?

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I read this article by Juli Fraga from the Washington Post: “Prenatal Depression May Be The Most Severe Form of Maternal Depression” and it got me thinking… There are probably lots of pregnant women out there who don’t even know that PREMADs exist. What are PREMADs? PRE-natal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. It’s a word I came up with to describe what happens when a woman experiences a mood or anxiety disorder prenatally, during pregnancy.

Our focus in the field of maternal mental health has primarily been on raising awareness of PMADs – Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders. And rightly so! According to PSI International, 1 in 7 women suffer from postpartum depression, and 1 in 10 men do as well.

A recent search I did for information about the rates of prenatal depression yielded this information from a 2009 ACOG report that states somewhere between “14-23% of women will experience depressive symptoms while pregnant.” I would guess that now that we’ve expanded the umbrella of postpartum depression to include anxiety, OCD, PTSD, bipolar and psychosis, that the percentage of women who might be experiencing one of these anxiety or mood disorders during pregnancy has expanded as well.

In the past several years, I’ve witnessed an increased awareness across the board from OBGYNs, midwives and nurses for the need to screen women postpartum for mood or anxiety disorders. And I can speak directly to how much more time Childbirth Educators spend talking about this issue in the classroom.

But I’m beginning to think that there’s a hole in that education and screening, as the focus continues to be on a mood disorder waiting to happen to a women until after her baby is born. What if she’s experiencing anxiety or depression right now – while she’s pregnant? PREMADs might be getting overlooked entirely (seeing as I just made up the word today!) and women end up suffering in silence during their pregnancies hoping that they’ll eventually feel better. I’m afraid this might be leading to higher rates and more intense mood disorders in the postpartum period.

This doesn’t need to happen.

The symptoms of PREMADs might get overlooked during pregnancy because they’re chalked up to just being a part of the hormonal ups and downs of pregnancy. These will all even out in the 2nd trimester, or after childbirth classes begin, or whatever. But they don’t.

We all have days during pregnancy that are really stressful – we may even question whether this pregnancy was a great idea! (Personal confession: In each of my four pregnancies I had a day where not only did I question whether it was a good idea, I actually said it – out loud, to other people. “This was a bad idea. A very, very bad idea.” All four times. No lie.)

But if you’ve been experiencing any of the following symptoms pretty consistently over a two week period, you should really be touching base with your provider – or someone else you trust who can get you the professional support you need.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Being sad most of the time and not being able to “shake it off”
  • Feeling anxious or worried about the pregnancy, the baby, the birth, your relationship… the list goes on and on
  • No enjoyment in the stuff you usually like to do
  • Sleeping a lot – or not being able to sleep very much at all
  • Not being able to focus for very long periods of time
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Thinking about harming yourself
  • Feeling hopeless

Again, after a stressful day at work or following a recent fight with your partner, you might be able to say yes to a few of these symptoms – but they go away after some time has passed. It’s when any of these symptoms are persistent or nearly continuous over a two week period that you need to be checking in with someone.

You don’t have to have all of these symptoms to seek help. Even one of these would be an indication to be talking to your provider so they can screen you further and then create a treatment plan that might include lots of different things that have been shown to help: exercise, diet, support groups, acupuncture, getting more sleep, herbal remedies and Omega 3s, individual psychotherapy and medications.

Please take note of these symptoms and ask your provider to screen you during your pregnancy for your risk of PREMADs.

There’s no reason to not get help as soon as you can. Because if you seek and receive support now, you might not be so overwhelmed in the first few days, weeks and months of postpartum with your newborn.

My biggest concern is that women who are experiencing an undiagnosed PREMAD now, are at a greater risk for a PMAD after the baby is born. Add in a challenging birth experience and the normal – but huge – adjustments involved with new parenting and these women may end up experiencing a PMAD that’s much more severe than it would’ve been if it had been addressed prenatally.

I’d love to see screening for PREMADs become part of the routine care for women as they prepare for birth and parenting. Help me spread the word by sharing this post far and wide so that awareness of PREMADs can be something we’re all on the lookout for when we, or our friends and family become pregnant.

Find the support and care that are available to address anxiety, depression or other mood disorders experienced during pregnancy. Learning how to lessen feelings of anxiety, sadness and fear, might increase feelings of enjoyment of the pregnancy experience. This can lead to feelings of anticipation and joy for the upcoming birth which might translate into an easier postpartum transition. It’s a win-win-win-win-win situation. (That’s a lot of winning!)

Thanks for spreading the word. And I hope that this mini-PSA of mine finds a few of those women who might be wondering if their feelings of anxiety or sadness are beyond the usual hormonal changes brought on by becoming pregnant. Even if only one woman reads this post and seeks support, I’ll feel like raising awareness for PREMADs made an important difference.

Do you know any women who you think might be suffering from something beyond the usual hormonal fluctuations that happen during pregnancy? And now that I’ve named it PREMADs, do you, or someone you know, recognize that this is what was happening at the time? How would seeking help during pregnancy have helped you in the postpartum period? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment here.

I’m One of the “Spokes” on Red Tricycle!

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Whoop! Whoop!

Just found out that one of my blogposts from about a year ago has been picked up and published on Red Tricycle. If you’re not one of the 8 million parents that access this site on a regular basis, Red Tricycle is a kind of go-to, online parenting website where families can discover cool things to do with their kiddos, both nationally and locally. Over the years, if I’ve had a long weekend ahead of me, I’m not scheduled to teach a class, and I need some ideas about what to do with the kiddos, I’ve definitely checked them out!

Recently, they’ve started posting articles that are not just about fun things to do as a family, but more about the experience of parenting. That’s where I come in!

I submitted a blog post I wrote about a year ago which is titled, The Parental Code of Honor. It’s my offering to get all parents – expectant, newbies, even veterans – to support one another as we try our very best to do the hardest, most rewarding job many of us will ever have: the job of raising our children.

None of us is perfect at this. Thankfully, none of us have to be.

But the first step in supporting one another in this parenting journey is to only offer suggestions and advice – when specifically asked to do so.

You can find this and other tips about how to support one another in The Parental Code of Honor published just this morning at Red Tricycle. And if you haven’t checked them out before, stay awhile and poke around. They have lots of cool ideas about how to make the most of your life with little people. Including this list of 20 awesome things to do with your kids in Portland over the long Labor Day weekend. By the way, MY family will be busy doing #14! 

PS – Have a great holiday weekend, and thanks so much for your support.