Teach Your Children Well

Teach Your Children

In light of Charlottesville, I’ve been struggling with what, where and when to comment in the public forum. It wasn’t until I came across this meme in one of my friend’s FB feed that I realized I needed to say something:

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

After leaving her a personal message in the comment section, she responded with this:

“It’s an opportunity to make the next generation better even in the wake of this current state. Ultimately, I think we will be better for it, as long as we survive.” (A.F.)

I’ve also read this quote in several different places, including a three-part tweet from former President Barack Obama:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (Nelson Mandela)

And once again, I’m reminded how we, as parents, are our children’s first and most influential teachers. Our babies come into this world ready, eager, and needing to learn everything. EVERYTHING. And it’s our number one job to teach them.

We teach them how to eat, sleep, walk, talk – even how to go to the bathroom.

But more importantly, we teach them values like kindness, tolerance, honesty, caring, love, compassion, acceptance of others, empathy, goodness, and trust.

Or not.

This week, I’ve read about many parents who are unsure of how or what to say to their children when something terrible happens in the world. They don’t want to say anything for fear of hurting them, or causing undue fear and anxiety, or because they feel their children might be too young to understand.

But there are many parents who don’t have the luxury of not discussing tough issues with their children at any age – because it’s a matter of survival for them. Those of us who don’t have to live that reality need to make sure that we’re having these discussions, too. Even when it’s hard. Even when we’re not sure exactly what to say. Even when, maybe especially when, it makes us uncomfortable.

Because saying nothing will not change anything.

Maybe you don’t have to go into all of the details (depending on the age of the littles you have) but there is no better time to discuss how you and your family will respond to these tragedies in our world, then when they are going on right around you.

Teach them to love – not hate. Teach them to care for others – not turn their backs on them. Teach them compassion – not cruelty. Teach them to trust – not be afraid of those who are different. Teach them how to be kind, honest and caring children so that they will (hopefully!) grow up to be kind, honest and caring adults.

Parents: Teach your children well.

But be humble enough – shut your mouth and listen long enough – to learn lessons from your children, as well. Many in this generation of young people seem to understand so much more what it means to be tolerant of others, to “Let them live their life!” – even if that life looks a lot different from their own. They seem better equipped to handle change, as change has been a mainstay for most of their lives.

Don’t dismiss their ideas outright – take some time to consider your reaction. Why are you so against this new way of thinking? What do you have, really, to lose? Why are you so afraid? Check your own values against what they’re trying to teach you and see where they might align – even if it makes you uncomfortable to do so.

Children: teach your parents well.

I woke with this song on my heart this morning. And even though it was released on the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album, Déjà Vu in 1970, the words and meaning are even more relevant today. The lyrics are here for you to consider, but you should really go watch them perform it live right here.

“Teach Your Children”

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

Teach your parents well,
Their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

 

How are you talking with your children about Charlottesville? About other tragedies occurring in the world? I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks for sharing and commenting.

Who Needs Sleep?

Who Needs Sleep

In my family of origin, I’m kiddo number four – with two older brothers, one older sister, and two younger sisters. My younger sister and I are only eighteen months apart. So, that means Mom got pregnant with her when I was only nine months old! This fact blows me away if I think about it too much.

My own kids are 2.5 years, 3.3 years, and 3.9 years apart – all by design. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a mother of a newborn, and to also have a nine month old at the same time… But what I can tell you, is that this fact probably contributed quite a bit to me being fiercely independent from a very early age.

Don’t get me wrong – I have no issues with this. No angst or regrets about my birth order, at all. In fact, I’ve always maintained that as the fourth kiddo, I had the best placement in birth order: I wasn’t the oldest, I wasn’t the oldest girl, and I wasn’t the baby – perfect.

But despite having an independent streak that may or may not have begun with my sister’s birth, there was an interesting thing I did throughout my childhood which might question my reputation as someone who didn’t really need others that much. 

Most nights, after heading to bed on my own without issue, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and climb into my parent’s bed. At least three mornings a week, my parents would wake to find me nestled asleep in between them. And I did this until I was about 10 years old! I needed them – but on my own terms. And being able to snuggle up with them, even as they slept, made me feel safe, secure and able to explore my world with fierce abandon.

I’m interested in writing about this topic for a couple of reasons… To explore how children intuitively know what they need and how creative they can be in finding ways to meet those needs. And to reassure any parents out there struggling with kids and sleep (or, lack thereof) that eventually the vast majority of them figure out the whole sleeping through the night thing, and those precious hours of sleep you’ve lost will be yours again. I promise.

I’ve just finished a couple of classes where we discuss postpartum issues and then brainstorm solutions. Sleep is always a hot topic for these soon-to-be parents as they’ve heard how challenging this particular issue is and just how little sleep they’ll be getting once the baby arrives.

But I’m always amazed at how panicked they are at the prospect of having a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night from Day One. They seem terrified that this will translate to having a clingy, dependent child who will never sleep through the night – let alone graduate, leave the house, or get a job.

Now, I do tell all of my families that getting more sleep has to be priority number one – because everything else in the postpartum period will be much harder than it has to be if they’re seriously sleep deprived. (Need I remind you, sleep deprivation is an actual method of torture during times of war?) And while some temporary changes in sleep patterns are to be expected in the short-term, coming up with creative ways to get the necessary sleep that allows you to be a functioning human being is extremely important.

But some of their anticipatory frustration can be curbed with a simple suggestion. I encourage my families to take note of the size of their newborn’s closed fist – because it’s about the same size as their belly. This sometimes helps parents realize why their baby is waking through the night. They need to eat. And they need to eat often, as their belly fills and empties pretty quickly when it’s so tiny!

Thriving babies are those who wake throughout the night to get the nutrition they need to grow. As they grow bigger, their bellies grow and these babies will be able to sleep for longer and longer periods of time. But sleeping for an eight hour stretch might not happen consistently until the baby is at least six months old. (Some will be able to do this earlier, some won’t be able to do this until much later.)

This is NOT what expectant parents want to hear. And sometimes it’s not fun to be “the realistic expectations police.”

But I’d rather they enter into this new parenting gig with an understanding: the days of sleeping eight hours straight are over! At least temporarily. But eventually, your baby will figure it out. And that same baby, toddler, or child who insisted upon climbing into your bed in the middle of the night three times a week, might be the same adult who ends up living a very independent life thousands of miles away someday!

And this might explain why I’m so mellow about my little guy’s tendency to still climb into bed with us at the ripe, old age of eight. I’d say his record is pretty close to my own. Most mornings we wake up and… there he is! This morning was no exception. In fact, I took a look at the clock and saw that he was actually earlier than usual. He usually climbs in with us about 5 or 6 am. But this morning, it was just before 4 am, and I couldn’t get back to sleep.

So I had time to consider the issue of sleep and children… With each of our babies we did a little something different when it came to bedtime routines. We tailored the routine to each one of them because they’re unique individuals and seemed to need different things from us when it came time to go to sleep.

Let me be clear, I’m no sleep expert! And most of what we eventually adopted as our own routines would never be touted as great ideas in the books that seem to fly off the shelves when it comes to this issue. But what we did worked for us, for our family, and I can now claim to have three children ages 12, 15 and almost 18 who are really great sleepers (and they have been for years and years!)

But this last one? He’s our “fourth and final” we like to say. His birth order matches mine. And maybe, just maybe, that means he’ll continue his nightly visits several times a week – for the next couple of years.

(This last sentence just shot dread and fear into the hearts of all new parents who are still in the middle of having to wake and feed and diaper a newborn every couple of hours. So sorry, that was not my intention. But honestly, if this ends up being the case for us, I’m okay with it.)

This morning, when I couldn’t get back to sleep, instead of being frustrated and angry with my boy, I found myself looking at him in the early morning light… His eyes were doing that flickering thing that happens when you’re dreaming. I could smell the garlic on his breath from the pizza he’d had for dinner the night before and wondered how well he’d brushed his teeth before bed. I curled his little hand inside my own and kissed his sweet cheek – knowing all too well that his need to be this close to me could end at any moment.

The result? I’ll have yet another great sleeper, another wonderfully independent person exploring his own world with fierce abandon (and one who will go on to graduate, leave the house and get a job someday, I promise!)  

And, believe it or not – this will be so bittersweet.

How is the sleep/no sleep situation working for you? Is it straight up frustration or is it mixed with a little bit of wistfulness? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And if you need a little musical interlude to capture these nights of little to no sleep? Check out this song

Sea Turtles Laying Their Eggs

Sea Turtles

It’s a “Labor of Love”

 

We get off the boat and walk single file through back alleys and across the soccer field in the tiny town of Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Fernando, our guide, leads us through the grass and mud, pointing out the larger puddles so our group ranging in age from 8 to 48 might make it back to our hotel later, close to midnight, as dry as possible.

We trek for what feels like hours and finally stop at a covered structure in the middle of the jungle. We aren’t allowed to have our phones, or any other light source other than the ones our guides provide. The Costa Rican jungle is a very dark place – especially in the middle of the rainy season with the moon only sporadically peeking out between the clouds.

We’re met by a man dressed completely in black: hat, shirt, pants, shoes. The only light seen is the small red dot flashing from his walkie-talkie. Fernando gathers our small group together to give us instructions and explains what to expect next: “We’ll wait here until the scouts on the beach find a sea turtle which has made her way out of the ocean and is moving up the beach to begin the process of laying her eggs. We only have two hours of time to get the chance to see this happening, and we have no idea if we’ll be lucky tonight or not. If we hear from one of the scouts, we’ll begin our walk through the jungle immediately. It might be a short hike, or it might be a very long walk – we won’t know until we get the call. Until then, we wait.”

I ask a lot of questions and our guide is happy to oblige me. Fernando, is a local Tortugueran who lives in this small town on Costa Rican’s Caribbean Coast. He’s been guiding tourists through the rainforest-covered sandbar of the Tortuguero National Park  for years as a part of the Sea Turtle Conservancy. Their mission is to help protect the world’s endangered sea turtles. I can tell how much he loves these magnificent creatures that have been around since the age of the dinosaurs. Fernando is 65 years old and has been doing this work for over half of his life. He’s a wealth of information, and I’m an eager student – especially given that we’re here to see something that’s right up my alley – birth.

While we’re waiting for the call, I get a tutorial about sea turtles and how they lay their eggs. Sea turtles return to the beach they were born on to lay their eggs, season after season. There are several stages that a sea turtle must go through as they nest:

  1. She must first emerge from the ocean and ascend the beach. Sea turtles are very heavy creatures and they have to crest a wave large enough to get them out of the surf and onto the beach. She’ll be looking for “just the right spot.” And if she doesn’t feel like she’s found it, she’ll turn around and head right back into the ocean. The perfect place will be one that’s dark, quiet and has the right temperature variation so her released eggs will develop into an equal number of male and female baby turtles. The depth of the track that a sea turtle makes in the sand speaks to how heavy these creatures are. (The largest sea turtle on record was close to 9 feet long and weighed over a ton!)
  2. Once the right spot has been chosen for the nest, the sea turtle begins the digging process. She creates a “body pit” by using all four of her flippers. First, she removes the dry surface sand which will be used to cover up the nest once she’s done laying her eggs. After she’s created the body pit, next she has to dig the egg chamber using only her rear flippers and alternating between the right and the left, to scoop out all of the damp sand.
  3. When the egg chamber is deep enough and her flippers can no longer reach down farther to scoop out any more sand, she pauses and begins to have contractions which make her rear flippers rise up off of the sand.
  4. She then enters into a trance-like state and begins to lay her eggs. With each contraction, she might release anywhere from 1-4 eggs at a time. She continues to fill the egg chamber almost up to the top. (On average, sea turtles will release 110 eggs with each “egg clutch” and the range for egg clutches is 2-8 per season.)
  5. When her egg clutch is complete, she’ll close up the nest using her rear flippers the same as she did to dig the egg chamber – only in reverse. She places damp sand on top of the egg chamber and fills up the hole completely. She then presses the damp sand down with her massive body and lastly begins to camouflage the egg chamber by throwing the dry surface sand behind her as she moves forward. This is done to protect her eggs from predators.
  6. Finally, she makes her return trip, dragging her heavy body along with her front flippers and then waits in the surf for a wave large enough to carry her back into the ocean. She does not tend this nest again. Her job is done.

All of a sudden, the flashing light on the walkie-talkie goes off and there are some whispered instructions from one of the scouts: some turtles have made their way up to the beach and Fernando is given the coordinates of where to find them.

We break up into smaller groups and head off through the jungle again in single file with only the light from Fernando’s headlamp to guide us. When we get to the beach even that light is extinguished and we’re told not to talk above a whisper and to not move any closer as nesting sea turtles can feel vibrations through their bellies on the sand and will avoid nesting if they feel a potential threat or think a predator is nearby.

We huddle together at the tree line and wait for the scout on the beach to give us the go ahead to move in closer. We’re told that it’s important to not move in until she’s in the process of releasing her egg clutch. Once that part begins, it can’t be stopped until all of the eggs have been delivered. Her trance-like state during delivery would allow us to have a closer look.

After what seemed like a really long time, we’re told to come out of our hiding place and move in closer – but not because the sea turtle is laying her eggs. She’d started the nesting process and had found what appeared to be a great spot, but changed her mind and was now heading back out to sea.

We keep a safe distance, but are able to watch and follow this magnificent creature as she makes her way down the beach. She’s massive! Her shell is at least 4 feet from top to tail, and while we have no scale to weigh her, the track she leaves in the sand is several inches deep!

I’m struck by how intense this process is. She’d already put in so much work! She dug her body pit and even began scooping out her egg chamber – but something was just not right. Maybe the temperature of the sand was off by a degree or two, maybe she felt the spot was not as well protected against predators as she’d like – but for whatever reason, she stopped the process mid-birth and turned around to go back into the water.

I find out from Fernando, that each sea turtle only has a few days to release an egg clutch. He couldn’t be sure, but she might have one or at most, 2 more evenings to try and make her way back to the beach and find a better spot to lay her eggs. Those eggs, once released, will sit in the nest she’s created for about 45-55 days, on average. The eggs themselves are usually oval in shape and have a “pouch” of air to allow the baby sea turtle to breathe as it makes its way up and out of the sand. When the sea turtles begin to hatch they do so en masse, all of them working together to break free from their shells, causing the dry sand to spill out and around the other eggs causing them to rise to the surface together.  Sometimes this process is called a “turtle boil” because the sand looks as though it is bubbling up like water boiling.

Baby sea turtles are “phototactic” and use the reflected light of the moon off the waves in the surf to guide them back into the ocean where they spend their early years hiding and growing, hopefully into adulthood. Where they will begin the process of fertilizing and laying their own egg clutches back on the beach where they were born, and so on. Sadly, it’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 baby turtles will get this opportunity.

I feel so lucky to have had the chance to witness an endangered sea turtle’s process of nesting. I was so impressed by this Momma’s willingness to do everything she needed to do to give her babies the best start in life. Even if that meant getting half-way through the process, only to determine that the conditions were not ideal and carry herself back out to sea and try again the next night.

It makes me think about how motherhood is so strikingly similar across species!

We, as birthing women, also need to have ideal conditions in order to give birth. And whether we realize it or not, we’re using all of our senses – including our gut – to determine if things “feel right” before contractions can begin in earnest. Only then are we able to move into the trance-like state of active labor and bring our babies into the world. And once our little ones have been born, how hard we also try to protect them and bring them safely into adulthood!

If you ever get the chance to witness any part of the sea turtle nesting process, go for it! Sitting quietly on the beach of Tortuguero National Park, with the ocean waves crashing on the shore, and a raging storm miles away providing us with a spectacular light and sound show, we got to watch these strong, determined, and powerful Momma sea turtles do the hard work of labor and birth.

And this is something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

I dedicate this post to our amazing Costa Rican trip guides, Gabby & Fico, as well as our incredibly knowledgeable and passionate Sea Turtle Conservancy guide, Fernando. The work that Costa Rica is doing as a whole to help preserve and save endangered species is of huge benefit to us all. Thank you.

BREAKING NEWS!!!

“Partner’s Touch Reduces Pain For Laboring Woman”

receiving-hands-1920865_1920In a recent study published in Nature, it was discovered that a partner’s touch resulted in something the researchers termed, “physiological coupling.” The same study also found that empathetic touch from the partner contributed to an analgesic effect via the woman’s autonomic nervous system.

In other words, when a partner held the hand of the woman they cared for and a pain stimulus was activated, the couple would begin to synchronize their breathing and heart rate patterns, otherwise known as physiological coupling. In addition, the woman would report that her pain lessened while holding hands with her partner. If they were sitting next to one another, but not holding hands, her pain level would not be affected.

Obviously, this has implications for the families I teach, which is why I joke about this study being big news and something I didn’t already know about. But it’s important to share this news far and wide, because even though I’ve been preaching it for close to 20 years – “Everything you do for your partner while she’s in labor makes a difference! Even if all you do is hold her hand!” – partners still don’t seem to believe it!

Labor is not just something that a birthing woman experiences. Her partner experiences labor too, just in a very different way. For far too long, we’ve either diminished or ignored the partner’s experience of labor – to everyone’s detriment.

I’ve mentioned many times before that I have a soft spot in my heart for the partner’s experience. I realize that it makes sense to pay close attention to how a woman experiences and moves through her pregnancy, labor and birth. But if we’re not paying equal attention to her partner’s experience, we’re not setting this new family up for success. In fact, we might be doing the exact opposite.

I spend a lot of time discussing the second stage of labor (pushing and delivery of the baby) using my uterus and baby doll props to share what to expect and what it will look like from the partner’s perspective. At this point, the nurses and provider have their attention focused on the laboring woman and baby – with good reason. They need to be aware of any changes in the heart rate as the baby moves through the birth canal, and they need to remain alert as the baby’s shoulders make their way through the woman’s pelvis.

But not enough attention is being paid to what the partner experiences during this critical time. Partners need to know what a newborn baby really looks like and what the process entails so that the moment their baby enters the world it’s a moment full of joy for the whole family! When we forget about the partner’s experience, and they have no idea what to expect, that moment can result in a partner frozen with fear and in a state of shock at what they’re seeing and what’s happening – and this can negatively impact their transition as a new parent in a significant way.

Likewise, if partners don’t realize the importance their words, actions and touch can have on the laboring woman’s experience, many partners will freeze up and feel helpless as they witness the power and intensity of labor and birth. They may end up feeling as if their efforts and suggestions for comfort measures are without any effect. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth!

Sometimes I use a marathon analogy to discuss how important the efforts of the partner can be in helping a woman through labor and birth.

Imagine you’re running your first marathon. You’ve heard from friends and family how challenging it can be, but you’ve also heard about all of the “extras” along the race route that will help you make it across the finish line: the excitement and camaraderie of other runners, the music blaring at checkpoints, the mileage post signs marking your progress, the water stations providing hydration, snacking on energy-packed gummies, reading signs of encouragement from strangers, and awaiting you at the finish line, cheering crowds and some of the best peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate milk you’ve ever tasted! Now, these “extras” might not seem very important – until we take them all away.

What if I painted a very different picture of your marathon experience?

You’re told to stand at the starting line alone and when the gun goes off, run for 26.2 miles toward the finish line with nothing to help you along the way – no water stations, no music, no snacks, no encouraging crowds, no one waiting for you at the finish line… nothing.

The difference between the first scenario and the second is stark. Without all of those “extras” even the experienced marathon veteran would have a hard time completing the race. Let alone, crossing the finish line with even a hint of a smile.

So it is that every little thing a partner does to make the laboring woman more comfortable matters, and it matters immensely. Every sip of water offered, every new position suggested, every word of encouragement, every reminder to breathe, every single touch, provides comfort to the laboring woman. And partners need to know this and believe in the power that their undivided attention and connection can bring to the laboring woman.

I’m reminded of this when I think back to being in labor with my first, some seventeen+ years ago…

I had two doulas – one for me, and one for my husband! I came prepared with a full team of support for this birth. They all worked so hard to support me in what ended up being a long labor that began, as most labors do, in the wee hours of the morning. I wasn’t the only one exhausted some 20 hours into the experience – my husband had been awake and working hard just as long as I’d been. And he was getting tired.

I remember hearing my two doulas talking in a stage whisper with my husband: “Go ahead and lie down. Try to get a quick nap in now before the really intense labor begins. We’re both here – we can take care of her.”

A statement that was completely true! One of my doulas was an L&D nurse (soon-to-be-midwife) and the other was my best friend who knew my husband and me almost as well as we knew ourselves! They were more than capable of helping me through contractions, which up to this point I’d been handling really well.

Upon their urging, my husband walked about three feet away and lay down on the daybed in the labor and delivery room. And then strangest thing happened – I completely lost my rhythm and my ability to breathe through contractions! It was as though I’d lost my way, somehow. The next handful of contractions felt incredibly painful to me. So much so, that I cried out in anguish which woke my husband up and he hurried to my side and held my hand once more. And then, just as quickly, I found my rhythm, my breathing returned, and I was able to continue and handle my contractions, until I gave birth several hours later.

I know from talking with my husband and other partners about their own experiences how challenging it is to watch the person you love go through labor and birth. It pulls strongly on the heartstrings and can leave partners feeling incredibly helpless to do anything that will be effective in increasing their partner’s comfort level.

But here’s why I think the findings from this latest study are so important: it’s the feeling of shared empathy between the laboring woman and her partner that causes the physiological coupling and analgesic effect that help a woman when she’s experiencing pain.

That’s why I’ve always told the partners in my classes that even if they hired an army of the world’s greatest labor doulas, if the partner provides the laboring woman with their unwavering, focused and empathetic attention during the labor, she will tell everyone that she could not have made it through without her partner – even if all they did was hold her hand!

I love it when someone else does the research and publishes findings that support what I’ve been teaching my families for the past twenty years!

Because, let’s face it… Some partners in my classes may think that I’m just trying to make them feel better or elevate their role in the birth experience. (Which is exactly what I’m trying to do, by the way!)

But I’ve also known forever that empathetic touch – combined with all of the other wonderful comfort measures partners learn in our time together – really can help a laboring woman when she needs it the most.

And now, I have the science to prove it.

Can you relate to this post as a laboring woman? Did your partner’s touch (among other things) actually make labor and birth easier for you? What about partners – have you felt helpless in labor? Does this information about how your words, actions and touch really helped her through labor and birth make you feel any better? Let me know your thoughts. I love hearing from you!

EnCouragement

Encourage

Interview with Jennifer Fisher of EnCourage Doula Care

(NOTE: While I hope that this post will provide information and be a positive resource for women and families, it’s important to note that the subject matter of this post involves pregnancy loss and bereavement.)

B: Jen, I’m so glad that you agreed to an interview for Birth Happens. There are lots of things that we could discuss, but I wanted to interview you about your latest venture into the world of Maternal Health as a Bereavement Doula. This idea might be something that’s new to my readers, and an important offering that people might not even know exists.

First, tell us a little bit about yourself and your family. When, how and why did you begin working in this field?

J: When I introduce myself, I say that I’m working in this field because of my family. My career started when I became a mom, with a great birth. I began volunteering with Nursing Mother’s Counsel when my oldest daughter was 6 months old. She’s now an ambitious freshman in high school!

Motherhood allowed me the time to volunteer additionally with Birthright of Vancouver, Washington where I listen to women while they take a pregnancy test or come in seeking resources. I always qualify my work at Birthright, while listed as a pro-life organization, as simply pregnancy support. I have no more ability to make a mom keep her pregnancy than I have to fly to the moon. I support moms wherever they’re at. The nurturing that I learned there, encouraged me to reach further in my career to become a certified childbirth educator over a dozen years ago, and now more recently, to become certified as a doula.

Baby number two came along two and half years after big sister. She taught me patience and that pregnancy and birth goes the way it wants. That birth also showed me how women working and supporting women during labor can be life altering! I had a doula, I had a nurse who believed in my goals, and I had a partner who was willing to watch me dig deeper and fight harder for this unmedicated birth. That support broadened my expectations of what we can do for each other.

Our miscarriage occurred less than two years later and I knew at the time, while we wanted and loved this little angel, his or her birth was there to teach me compassion for other women. It was then that I learned birth is not all rainbows and unicorns. While I knew this from a Childbirth Educator’s standpoint, it was in experiencing it myself that I really understood. Our baby’s name is “Eliti” which means “gift of the sun,” and I’m so clear in my work that this baby was a gift to us.

My sweetie and I were brave a few years later and got pregnant again. And this is where support from other women who had walked similar paths carried me through the pregnancy. I distinctly remember a conversation with my good friend Mary, who had experienced numerous miscarriages, when I asked, “When will I feel safe?” And she answered, “Maybe not until you hold that baby in your arms.” Our shared stories helped build up my courage.

My last kiddo was born at home as the sun came up, his 7 year old sister there to welcome him, and his almost 4 year old sister dragging her blanket into our room wondering what all the cheering was about. My family story is so intertwined with my career, it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other ends.

B: When did you start considering doing something “extra” in this field, in addition to your work as a Childbirth Educator?

J: Expanding my career to midwifery came while pruning the heather in my backyard! Heather is one of the flowers that struck me while I was on my pilgrimage in Spain, the Camino de Santiago, and I had planted some to commemorate that experience.

I realized in Spain that my career was intended to be about the babies. While pruning the heather in my backyard, the realization was it’s about the babies… and their mommas. So midwifery became the plan. Last year, I had to let that dream go as balancing school, tending to 3 acres, and my work as an educator did not equate to me functioning at my best, for everyone involved.

B: So, how did you make the move from midwifery to what you’re doing now?

J: Well, at the same time, a beloved friend endured a pregnancy with a fatal diagnosis. It was heartbreaking. I just kept racking my brain with the question, “Who is supporting her through this?!” She had a loving partner and family, but they were in the midst of dealing with their own grief. Who was supporting her?! That marked my transition to becoming a bereavement doula.

B: Why does this work matter to you personally?

J: I have always said that if I was not in the “beginning of life work” that I would be in the “end of life work.” Both have incredibly spiritual, profound moments that our culture as a whole does not recognize. I’m now able to do the work of witnessing both – and support the family whose world has been transformed by pregnancy and death.

B: How do you think your work as a bereavement doula will impact women and families?

J: When women and families acknowledge life and death, they can integrate these experiences and begin to process the emotions around them. For some, this may be more simple than others. I’m not here to judge women and families on how they do it. I’m here if they want support doing it. Yes, family and friends will be there, but even than that does not constitute best care practices. Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, do better.” By being trained to be a doula for both birth and death, I can assist families moving through their mourning and grief. Inevitably, when we are grieving, we seem to turn on those who are closest to us. With concerted support from a professional that sits outside the circle of family and friends, maybe the blow to ourselves and our loved ones can be lessened.

The other aspect of this work is integrating subsequent pregnancies and births. When we’re mourning, and we begin to assimilate the experience and move on from the loss, that has its own set of emotions. If, and when, we get pregnant after experiencing a loss, guilt can flood in and override our emotions. As a doula, being at the next baby’s birth, even with an expected positive outcome, is as important as the prior birth. This family may have a spectrum of emotions that need to be understood and they need to be reassured that what they’re feeling is normal. Experiencing happiness is okay – it doesn’t mean we love any less.

B: How do you envision working with families in this way? What does the model of care for EnCourage Doula Care look like?

J: EnCourage Doula Care was developed this year to offer birth and bereavement doula care in the Portland/Vancouver area. I’m happy to attend births wherever this family is ready to meet – home, hospital or birth center. It’s such a privilege to witness the birth of a baby and, a new family. My philosophy is, whoever can love this baby is the perfect parent. I’m happy to support any birth and family combination.

As typical for a doula, I would like to meet first, have a conversation about birthing ideals, then attend the birth and follow up with a postpartum visit. However, in loss, especially when it is sudden, attending birth to provide emotional and physical support is my first priority. Then we would meet postpartum as well.

EnCourage Doula Care is a community resource. I see working with families, maternal fetal medicine clinics and family birth centers as my primary focus. I envision my role as a bereavement doula as backup for the nurse who may have many additional jobs that need to get done when a family is experiencing loss – and I can be there to provide the emotional and physical support to help this family as they try to make sense of what has happened.

B: What are the next steps for EnCourage Doula Care?

J: The next phase is grant writing, so I can be paid for on-call bereavement care. I’d like to try and roll this out at a local family birth center so women who are having unexpected loss have bereavement doula support as an option. Lastly, I want to design a study to look at the impact bereavement doula support can have on the birthing family. Can we lower stress? Can we integrate care to lessen the negative postpartum impact such an experience can have on a family? Can we increase options of support for this mom and family so the processing of their birth and loss are complete?

B: What do you know for sure about the work you’re doing as a bereavement doula?

J: What I know for sure about this work is that I have no inhibitions about it. When midwifery was the end goal, I spent quality time stressed out about how I would manage school/work/kids/family. Now with this doula work, I feel completely at ease, that all needs will be met and that this is the path I was meant to be on. When we discussed it as a family, my husband and kids were so supportive that this work needs to be done, and thankfully – they believe I have the courage to do it.

B: Jen, thank you so much for taking the time to provide my readers with this information. I really believe in this work and in you! I also think this is the path that you’re meant to be walking and I’m thrilled to be able to refer my families who have experienced loss to you so they can better process and integrate this experience into their lives.

How can readers get in touch? Where can they find you?

J: I’m happy to answer any questions or meet to discuss care options. Please call, text or email me at Jennifer@encouragedoulacare.com 360-241-0277. You can look me up at www.encouragedoulacare.com or find me on Facebook at EnCourage Doula Care where I share all sorts of birthy things!

Being Present

Being Present

Or, “The True Gift of Labor Support”

I got called out of retirement and had the privilege and honor of being the doula at the birth of Baby M born just over two months ago.

I’ve been asked by many couples over the years if I would consider being their birth doula. It’s always a bittersweet moment for me, as I love being a witness to birth almost more than anything else in the world. But with four kiddos, two part-time jobs, a relationship with my hubs that I like to see flourish, and this writing gig of mine – I have ZERO time to attend births.

So, when M & A asked me if I would be their doula at the end of the first night of our 4-week series, I told them what I usually tell all of my students making this request: “Oh, that’s so sweet – but I’m not really doing births. My life is just a little bit too full to consider this a realistic option right now…”

They were a little bit disappointed – but said they understood and they’d see me next week. I promised I’d send them an email that included thoughts on hiring a doula, what to look for, what questions to ask, and a few referrals for local doulas that I thought were really great.

The next week, I asked if they’d decided on a doula yet.

“Ummmm, no. We only want you.” This flattered me, but I knew when their due date was and not only would I be teaching a ton of classes around that time, I was also scheduled to leave town to go to my niece’s wedding. There really was no way.

“I really wish I could be your doula – but it’s just not going to work out. I think you should contact some of the people that I’ve referred you to and we can chat more about this next week.”

I’m guessing you’ve figured out what happened next.

Every week they’d come back and say that they hadn’t talked with any of the referrals and finally they decided that if I couldn’t be their doula, they’d be just fine on their own.

Now, I think couples can do really well on their own, but it’s hard to deny what the evidence shows about having the continuous presence of a doula during labor and delivery – statistically better outcomes for both Mommas and babies!

On the last evening of class, M & A gave me a book and a thank you card which read, in part: “We would be remiss not to formally ask you to consider if you would attend our birth. We completely understand your busy teaching schedule and travel plans and if it relieves any hesitance or pressure, we wouldn’t plan to rely on your presence. In our minds, the structure would be that if it worked out such that you were free and available, we’d love it if you would join.”

I mean, really, how could I say no to that?

This was a couple that I believed would be just fine if I wasn’t able to be there on the big day – I didn’t for a second think they were trying to say the right thing to get me to agree. They were being completely sincere and were speaking my language… I’ve always felt that when labor begins, the people that are supposed to be there to witness the event somehow end up being there. If I was meant to be at their birth, I would be there.

So, we came up with a really interesting split-fee set-up: one amount for the pre-birth “Phone Doula” work that I would provide for them which included: a formal interview about their birth wishes, some assistance creating a template for what really mattered for them in their birth experience, some questions to spark discussion with their provider, and the availability to answer any questions and advise them as they came ever closer to the birth of their baby. And if I ended up being able to be at the birth, there would be an additional fee.

The real gift of labor support is being fully present to an expectant family.

And for me, that began when they hired me. It wasn’t as if I dropped everything I was doing, but we had some regular text check-ins and a few phone calls to see how M & A were doing as the due date drew ever closer. I slept with my phone on and next to my headboard at night (I usually have it turned off, far away from where I sleep and covered up as any “Ping!” noises or even the battery light is enough to keep me awake!)

I kept my phone with me at all times and was checking it much more often than is usual and I’d get back to M & A as quickly as possible after receiving any contact from them.

And on Saturday, April 8th, I began my formal “it could happen at any moment” doula-watch. M called to report that A was having contractions and that “It might happen tonight!” While I appreciated his excitement, after hearing that they were both scarfing down Mexican food at 11 o’clock at night, I encouraged them to get some sleep as I didn’t think that they were going to have a baby anytime soon.

I received word from M in the early morning hours that A had slept soundly through the night – confirming what I thought was happening… Great early labor, but nothing to be getting too worked up about.

Over the next several days, I was in pretty close phone contact with M & A as they navigated what seemed to be prodromal labor. They were handling it so well and really only needed quick check-ins for reassurance that they were on the right path and that everything they were experiencing was normal and good work for what was to come.

On Thursday April 13th, the call finally came: A’s water had broken! I think they were both excited for this very positive sign of labor finally happening, although the contractions hadn’t progressed enough to call it “active labor” yet.

I was excited for them as well – I’ve had prodromal labor myself and I know just how frustrating it can be if it continues past a couple of days – and we were closing in on six days at this point! I was also thrilled they’d gone into labor before I left to go out of town – but, I was scheduled to teach a class that evening and I hadn’t arranged for a sub yet.

It took some finagling on my part (and a small bribe of chocolate and beer) to enlist my friend and colleague Jen to take my class for the evening – but the details weren’t figured out until about 4 pm that afternoon. During the day, M & A made their way into the hospital and I continued playing Phone Doula for them, encouraging them at one point to try some exaggerated marching through the hallways to see if they could get the labor to pick up speed. Apparently, this was a hit with all of the nurses – they loved it!

I finally arrived at the hospital around 6 pm and after saying hello, A had what was, by the reaction, her first real-deal contraction, saying “Whoa! That one was really different!” I laughed and said, “Well, now that your whole birth team is here we can get serious and have ourselves a baby!” And, in fact, about eight hours later that’s exactly what happened!

I won’t give a play-by-play of the entire labor, other than to say that, I fell in love with this couple as I watched them work together to bring their baby into this world!

The act of giving birth, watching partners support the one they love giving birth, and witnessing the birth of a family is sacred work to me. And in this sacred space, time stands still as we are all present to one another, living only in this moment together.

And while it’s nice to know a few things about breathing, and positions and other comfort measures – the real gift of labor support is in being present.

Some people might doubt how having continuous labor support can make such a difference in positive labor outcomes for Mommas and babies – but in our ever-increasingly-barely-ever-present culture, I think it makes more sense now than ever!

As a birthing woman settles into her rhythms and rituals, making claim to the strength she might not have been aware of until this moment, she’s able to ask for whatever she needs – RIGHT NOW – to realize this act of co-creation. She opens herself, both figuratively and literally, to bring forth this new life from within.

And in this moment-by-moment experience, everyone focused and working for one purpose, a miracle occurs: it’s not just a baby that is born, but also a mother, a father and a family. These people are now connected to one another, and they will be, for their whole lives! To witness this in whatever role – doula, nurse, provider, friend or family member – is also a gift that connects all of us in this one moment in time.

I was really exhausted after this beautiful birth! And I couldn’t figure out why at first – I mean, I was only there and working hard from 6 pm until about 2:30 in the morning. In the world of birth, that’s not a lot of time! And then I realized why… It had been awhile since I’d been so focused and present in a continuous way for such a long period of time. And it’s intense to be truly present to the sacred for any period of time.

But oh, what a gift!

I dedicate this post today to M & A and Baby M. I’m so honored to have played a small part in witnessing the birth of the three of you as a new little family! Thank you for your persistence in hiring me, and for giving me the idea of being your “Phone Doula.” I’m so happy to be connected to you in this way.

PS – We’re also connected in one other very important way… Baby M and my son, Alejandro, share the same birthday (only 15 years apart)! I’m pretty sure that this is another sign that I was meant to be fully present at this birth.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Pyramid

“Last day of school – Yay?”

There are plenty of Mommas out there who can relate to this – I know I’m not the only one!

I love my children and I’m looking forward to all that Summer Vacation means for our family – but if I’m being honest? I’m kind of dreading it as well… Can you relate?

For about six hours a day, I know exactly where my kiddos are and I have the time and space to be get a lot of stuff done. Even though I work outside the home as well as within the home, my life resembles that of a stay-at-home-parent.

I wake everybody up, jump into the shower on days that I don’t work out, and on the days that I do, head into school sweaty and without any trace of vanity to drop my kids off where they need to be. Most days on time and with everything they need to be a successful student.

And then? Well, let’s be real – I don’t go home, pop my feet up, eat a few bonbons and catch up on my Netflix! I’m not even sure why the term “stay-at-home-parent” exists! I’ve yet to meet the parent who’s the primary caregiver that even spends much time at home. Okay, when the kids were young, I might have orchestrated my days around their nap schedules, and then preschool drop off and pick up, and now, elementary school drop off and pick up – but I’m rarely “sitting around.”

My 8-year old son actually said to me the other day, “I’ve often wondered what it is you do all day while I’m at school.” He said this with complete innocence and sincerity – and I wanted to throttle him for even hinting that I might just be “hanging out.”

I responded with, “Dude, if you were here on any given day to watch all that I get done while you’re away at school, you’d be exhausted!”

All of this makes me really wonder (with true admiration!) how families where parents work full-time outside of the home find the time to get anything else done?

Just going to the grocery store can take two hours! (No, I’m not making this up…) When I’m at the checkout and the cashier asks if I’d like someone to help me out to the car, it takes everything in me not to yell, “NO! I don’t need someone to take this stuff to the car! I need someone to come home with me, haul it all into my house, clean out my refrigerator of old food that’s been hiding and silently turning into a science fair project, rearrange my cabinets and then put all of the food away! Don’t you understand? I’ve only got four more hours of daylight before my full-time Momma duties resume!”

But instead, I just smile and say, “No thanks – I got it!”

On the rare days (like this one) where I don’t have anything work-related, or volunteer Board-related, or field trip-related, or “I-need-a-tri-fold-poster-board-for-my-project-that-I-just-found-out-about” (two-months-ago!) related issue on the calendar, then I get a short little window of time to say, return a cowboy hat to Target that I got months ago because it was so cute when I tried it on and then became seriously not cute when I got home, go to four (!) different stores in search of the stupid trifold poster board that apparently EVERY other one of the 1,600 students at my son’s High School all needed in the last week of school, go the grocery store and buy ALL the food, and maybe, just maybe, do a little bit of cleaning.

This leaves me with even less time to devote to the creation of my new website (under construction and coming SOON – Wahoo!), to write a quick blogpost, or explore writing an essay about pregnancy, birth and parenting for the new book idea that I’m super excited about.

Sigh.

This is my real reason for dreading the last day of school.

On Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you’ll see that “creativity” is right at the very tippy top of the pyramid. And there are a lot of levels to attend to first before you even get to consider fulfilling those needs (And yes, being creative is a need!) I started craving this need about five years ago and in all this time, I’ve attempted to fit it in around my role as primary at-home parent. As Momma, I spend an inordinate amount of time making sure that everybody else’s pyramid gets attended to.

Translation: Historically, MY pyramid doesn’t get as much attention during Summer Vacation as it does during the school year. Just a quick review of my blog over the past several Summers confirms this. The amount of posts on my blog go down between the last day of school and the first day of school. During Summer Break, just finding the time to sit, be still and create anything becomes much harder for me.

So, don’t blame me for not being 100% excited about the school year ending!

I’m looking forward to more time with my kiddos, I swear! I’m acutely aware that my oldest will be heading off to college who-knows-where in the Fall 2018, and this makes me very conscious of just how fast time is moving forward, and that I only get them for a short while, and that I should enjoy them while they’re still living under my roof, etc., etc. But…

This year, Summer Vacation is going to be different.

My personal goals for the months of June, July & August this year, entail not ignoring my own pyramid of needs. I’m putting it out there right now that even though I will, of course, continue to attend to my children’s pyramids – I’m going to make sure that my needs continue to be met. I’m going to attend to all the levels of my own pyramid – even those at the very tippy top!

Will you join me in this, fellow parents?

It might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s so much easier to make sure the kiddos are getting all they need, when we make sure that we’re getting all that we need.

Each one of the levels in this pyramid matter. YOU matter. Create those boundaries and model the behavior that you’d like your children to adopt. And then? You might be as excited as they are for the last day of school. And bonus – you might discover that this song is not quite so annoying!

Happy Last Day of School!