Mind The Gap!

MIND THE GAP

“Mind The Gap” This is a phrase that was introduced in 1969 as part of the London Underground to alert passengers of the space that exists between the subway platform and the train.

But what about the gap that exists between expectations and reality? I call it: “The Disappointment Gap.” The larger the space between expectation and reality, the more potential there is for disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong… Expectations are important tools that help us move through our day-to-day lives.

We need to go to bed in the evening, with the expectation that our alarm clock will go off on time the next morning and get us out of bed to start our day. It’s helpful to have the expectation that our water heater will be working so we get to have a nice, hot shower. We have a set expectation about how long it takes us to drive to work, and that allows us to know when we need to leave in the morning to make it in on time. And so on, and so on.

But have you ever had days where these very basic expectations were not met?

The alarm never went off – or if it did, you groggily hit the snooze button and slept right through it! Your teen switches things up and takes a morning shower, and your husband runs the dishwasher at the same time, and now your shower is anything but nice and hot. You hop in your car and start your morning commute, only to get caught in terrible traffic because there’s an accident miles up ahead.

If we went to bed the night before knowing our morning routine was going to be so disrupted, we probably wouldn’t sleep very well. We might even have a sense of dread about getting up the next day. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine calling in “sick” before hitting the hay, just to avoid all the unmet expectations that are sure to ruin our day.

Expectations are important, even necessary, to function daily!

But there are a few life experiences where having set expectations can cause long-term disappointment. The life experiences where the gap between expectation and reality has the most potential for causing long-term disappointment are: pregnancy, birth and parenting. Take a look at these three examples to see what I mean…

PREGNANCY

EXPECTATION REALITY
I’ll have a tiny, cute, little baby bump. EVERYTHING is huge – my belly, my arms, my face, my butt, my feet, etc.
Maybe I’ll have a little morning sickness, but not too much. Unless I’m sleeping, I’m puking my entire insides out – All.Day.Long.
Exhausted? A little bit…  I mean, it’s hard work making a baby! I shouldn’t be allowed to drive or operate large machinery. I’m a danger to myself and others!
We’re fully prepared to welcome this little person into our lives. We’re becoming a family! (Happy sigh.) How did this happen? I’m not ready for this – are you ready for this? We either have to remodel or move. And we’ll need a bigger car.

BIRTH

EXPECTATION REALITY
I will have an unmedicated, zero intervention birth. I ended up with a very complicated labor and and a Cesarean Birth.
I will breathe my baby out – I’m going to have an orgasmic birth experience! WTF?! This hurts! This hurts A LOT!!! Breathing? It’s not working, people!
I’ve had an easy pregnancy, and I’m in great shape. I’ll probably have an easy, fast labor. I’m really looking forward to it! My labor was really, really long. I was so exhausted and had no idea it would be so hard. I pretty much hated it every minute of it.
I’ve done my research and written my Birth Plan, so I know how my birth will play out. My birth looked nothing like what I’d written in my Birth Plan!

PARENTING

EXPECTATION REALITY
Our baby will sleep through the night at 8 weeks postpartum. At 12 months, we’re still getting up at least twice a night to settle our baby down.
Breastfeeding will be easy – it’s the most natural thing in the world! OMG – this is so hard! Fingertip feeding, SMS kits, nipple shields… Who knew?
Parenting is instinctual and I’ll know what to do… Most of the time. How do people do this? I’m supposed to know what to do? Well, I don’t.
Having a baby will bring us so much closer together – becoming a family will be wonderful! I feel like having a baby blew up our relationship! It’s driving us apart.

These are extremes and I’m not writing this to scare anyone about pregnancy, birth or new parenting – far from it! What I’m interested in sharing is how your expectation and reality of these life-changing transitions can be two very different things.

And, more importantly, the farther apart your expectation is from your reality the more likely you are to feel disappointment, disillusionment and – maybe even a sense of betrayal.

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me it would be like this? Why was I so unprepared?”

I think many who work with expecting families are concerned that if they speak openly and honestly of the challenges that might be a part of the pregnancy, birth and new parenting experience they will frighten families.

But my experience has been completely the opposite.

I think when families have a realistic idea about what to expect, overwhelmingly they are grateful for the information that best prepares them for what might happen.

The realities expressed above are just examples of the extreme. In real life, the gap between expectation and reality might be far less. But, the actual distance between expectation and reality is not the heart of the issue.

The real issue is whether or not you’ve allowed your brain to even consider other outcomes for any of these experiences.

Allowing your brain to consider different possible outcomes – unexpected or even undesirable – will not make them happen. But even just considering them provides a buffer if your expectations are not fully met. The gap between expectation and reality has been bridged – even slightly – and your level of disappointment will be lessened, for sure.

I’m one of the most positive and optimistic people you’ll ever meet… I believe in working toward everything you’re hoping for with your pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences! 

But I also strongly believe in knowing what lies ahead. Feeling prepared for the different ways your pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences might play out and not feeling tied to a set of expectations can go a very long way in closing The Disappointment Gap.

And then you’re freed up to be curious, present, and in the moment as these life transitions become reality for you. When you’re able to be here – now – and not mourning the experience that should have been or worrying about the experience that is yet to come, you’re more open to the transformation that can happen as you move through these experiences.

And – BONUS! – you just might learn a thing or two about resilience.

Resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

The changes that are coming your way as you embark on starting a family are monumental. These changes happen at the speed of light and all at the same time. Being a resilient parent will help with you cope with all of these changes you’ll face in your new role. It will help you adapt as an individual, as well as a couple, to the sometimes minute-by-minute, changes that occur as you’re learning how to parent your newborn, toddler, child, tween, teenager and adult.

I’ve said it before – parenting is not for the faint of heart, and it never ends! It’s hard work and oftentimes, it’s the not-knowing of what exactly lies ahead that makes it so challenging.

If you can allow yourself to loosen the reigns on this experience, and begin doing so as early as possible in your pregnancy, the gap between expectation and reality will not be so far apart. And instead of feeling the pain of disappointment, you can bask in the joy of satisfaction: satisfaction in all that is messy, imperfect and normal about real life.

Overcoming the normal challenges of real life builds resiliency. And the satisfaction of “bouncing back” or being able to “weather the storm” builds confidence in your ability as an individual and as a couple to navigate what it is to become a family.

And that helps to make The Disappointment Gap simply disappear.

If you’re expecting a baby or are newly parenting and you feel like working with someone who will set you up with realistic expectations about pregnancy, birth and parenting check out my Parent Coaching page and get in touch! I’d love to have you in one of my classes, work with you one on one, or schedule some long-distance sessions with you and your partner. I’m committed to closing The Disappointment Gap and building confident and resilient families that thrive!

A Dream Come True

Dream

This time last week, I saw one my dreams come true. Not everybody gets to say that – I’m so lucky! This was a dream that took hold about four years ago. And a lot has happened in that time to make this dream a reality…

I met Elly Taylor online in a Facebook forum for Relationship Focused Birth Professionals. Now, I’d only been on Facebook for a couple of years. And I hadn’t really realized the power of using social media for anything other than personal fun and connection at that point.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I started to understand the implications of using platforms like Facebook for my professional work. The name of this forum intrigued me, because even though I’m not a therapist or counselor, I’ve felt for years that my work has way more to do with the relationships I’m helping to foster and strengthen than it does with teaching folks how to give birth.

Don’t get me wrong – I love what I do! But the truth is, a baby will come out of you, with or without assistance, one way or another. Certainly, I help couples figure out how they’d like that process to unfold, and I help them become decision-makers in this experience -to their level of comfort. But really, for almost two decades my “Childbirth Preparation Classes” have just been a cover for doing lots of other important things:

  • elevating the role of the partner and making sure that they feel included and honored
  • creating a sense of community among students in my classes so they don’t feel so isolated and alone in their experience
  • encouraging couples to stop planning birth and start participating fully instead
  • suggesting that embracing their feelings of vulnerability will allow for maximum transformation through this birth experience
  • preparing them realistically for what life will be like after the baby has arrived – and what this means for their couple relationship

Cue Elly Taylor and her book, Becoming Us.

I’ve written about Elly and Becoming Us before, here and here. But what I might not have revealed so clearly is that from the moment I met Elly online, I had a professional crush! I mean, here was this woman on the other side of the world that had spent fifteen years researching and writing a book on how to potentially prevent relationship dissatisfaction (that a whopping 92% of couples report in the first year following the birth of their baby) – AND she had an Aussie accent!

Now I call it a crush, because it kind of was. I’ve never had an online relationship with anyone before, so I didn’t exactly know how to go about it… But, I was determined.

First, I started commenting on anything she wrote about in the forum, thrilled with every response she wrote back. Eventually, I bought her book and dove into the information about how and why relationship discord happens in the first place after a baby is born. And as I was reading, there were all of these lightbulbs going off! All of these “Ah-Ha!” moments that I’d been trying to share with my families for years! The dots were in place and I was starting to make some important connections like: support of one another in your new parenting roles is extremely important and can lessen the risk of developing a Perinatal Mood Disorder during pregnancy or the postpartum period.

Elly and I developed a friendship that became very dear to me on lots of levels. I feel like I’m about 4-5 years behind her in terms of my own work within the birth field and consider her to be an important mentor as well.

I’m gaining traction and collaborating on the issue of birth “planning” and starting to speak out more about how planning instead of participating in birth can give couples a false sense of security to lessen their feelings of vulnerability – and that while this is okay, exploring and embracing these same feelings can lead to incredible transformation through pregnancy, birth and new parenting.

I’ve got about 70K words written for my own book about these topics and more that I’m editing (and re-editing!) as I discover the message I’m most wanting to convey. And I’m just starting the arduous task of turning my blog into an actual website.

All this time, I’ve been watching Elly from a distance as these things have fallen into place for her – and it’s been an inspiration for me to keep going!

I can’t remember the exact day when our Facebook message marathon happened, only that I was in the middle of cooking dinner for my family and Elly was commenting that her work, while being so well-received by birth professionals, wasn’t making its way into the minds and hearts of expecting families. I know I wasn’t the only one to say this to her, but I do remember asking: “Why don’t you train us to teach them?”

Elly created an online training program for birth professionals to become Certified Becoming Us Facilitators. It’s an excellent program that allows birth professionals to really grasp the how and why relationship dissatisfaction occurs – and more importantly, how we can prevent, or lessen it from happening to the families we serve in the first place.

I completed the training last year and added “Certified Becoming Us Facilitator” to my list of credentials. I’ve partnered with Legacy Health System here in Portland, Oregon and taught my first class in early April. And I LOVED it!

The class was engaged from beginning to end, couples were sharing parts of themselves with each other and with the group in a way that was both insightful and revealing. I could see all of them connecting their own dots and taking all of this information in as a way to safeguard their relationship against the normal, expected challenges that occur when you move from couple to family. 300+ new skills are being learned in a very high-stress environment with little sleep and lots of uncertainty – it’s no wonder so many couples report having issues!

I’m the first person in the world to be teaching these classes and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

It was so fulfilling to me – to see Elly’s work translated and shared so there are now six more couples in the world who won’t be completely blind-sided when they give birth to their babies and become a family.

But the real “dream turned reality” happened a week ago today, when Elly Taylor flew in from Sydney, Australia to be the presenter for the NACEF Conference (NACEF – Northwest Area Childbirth Educators Forum is a local, non-profit organization dedicated to offering quality education to perinatal professionals. And I’m the current President.)

I could hardly believe that she was here, in person, presenting to a group of close to 60 birth professionals (both live and virtual!) about her work and the importance of letting families know what to expect, how to work with these normal challenges, and create a family that thrives. It was SUCH a great conference! (And there’s still a chance to snag a virtual seat if you’re interested.)

What I can tell you is: This work matters.

Yesterday, out of the blue, a Momma from my first Becoming Us class series wrote this about her experience:

“So far our time at home has been going smoothly. Some of the discussions that spawned from your class really helped us to prepare for our time together as a family. We have been very gentle with one another which has been beautiful and positive for our relationship.”

Isn’t that amazing? I didn’t ask for any testimony, it was just something she chose to share with me.

And this is a dream come true.

 

I’ve got several Becoming Us class series slated for the 2017/2018 year. If you as a couple or a couple you know would benefit from taking these classes in preparation for becoming a family, get in touch with me and I’ll get back to you with all the details.

Please share this post widely… the more professionals who are doing this work, and the more couples who are receiving this message – the better off we’ll all be!

(And because I might have gone dancing with Elly after the conference and it might have been an 80s Dance Attack theme here’s a video that fits today’s blogpost… )