Hopelessly Devoted to You…

Devoted

de·vot·ed
/dəˈvōdəd/

adjective
adjective: devoted
1. very loving or loyal.
“he was a devoted husband”
synonyms: loyal, faithful, true, staunch, steadfast, constant, committed, dedicated, devout; fond, loving, affectionate, caring, admiring
“a devoted follower of the writer”
2. given over to the display, study, or discussion of.
“there is a museum devoted to her work”

I love this dictionary entry for “devoted.” I would consider myself a very devoted Momma, partner, friend, daughter, sister, employee and Childbirth Educator. When I’ve found someone or something that I believe in, then it’s deserving of my full devotion. I resonate with both of these definitions, because I don’t think it’s enough to say that you’re “very loving and loyal” to a person or an idea. I think you need to show that devotion through action, which is where, “given over to the display, study or discussion of” comes in.

But being devoted to someone or something might mean saying or taking action that’s not very popular. Sometimes, being devoted means standing up for your own truth – even when others, maybe especially when others, try to tell you your truth is wrong or has no merit. Being devoted doesn’t mean that you always agree. Being devoted to a person or an idea, means you have to be the mirror at times. In wanting this person or idea to reach full potential, you have to be willing to shine a light in the darkness. Being devoted is both thrilling and frightening at the same time. But it’s not usually easy to be on the giving or receiving end of real devotion.

I can remember a few times in my marriage, where my incredibly devoted husband told me what I needed to hear. Let’s be very clear: it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. And I’m sure he can tell you some stories about my job as his personal mirror: “This is what I see. This is not who I know your best self to be.” Not easy discussions to have, but they can be game-changers, in my opinion.

When it comes to my work with expectant families I am devoted to the overall well-being of new Mommas, partners and their babies on their transformative journey of becoming a family.

But sometimes, that devotion can look a little bit more like “tough-love.”

I’m very devoted to the idea that women have positive and empowering birth experiences because I feel like this moment in a woman’s life can truly be transformative. It can set the stage for how well she moves into her role of Momma. It can either positively or negatively affect the couple’s relationship right from the very start. She can end up parenting from a place of inner strength, wisdom and confidence – or spend her entire parenting journey second-guessing every move. Her birth experience might only be a day in her life, but it can affect the rest of her life.

Wow – that’s big stuff.

And now for the tough-love talk. (Please remember that this is coming from a very loving and loyal place.)

Women need to start taking more personal responsibility for their births.

There are some providers, nurses and hospital policies that can get in the way of a woman’s positive and empowering birth experience. And there are plenty of other birth advocates decrying this very issue. But that’s not the whole issue. Women need to recognize their role in all of this. They need to take more personal responsibility for their birth experiences because if they don’t, birthing women, their partners and the families they’re trying to create together end up paying the price.

Women giving birth today, are doing so in a climate where information is everywhere and available all the time. Even though “Dr. Google” is not a great resource, it’s who they most often turn to for information – much of it biased, out-dated, and not evidence based.

Our maternity care system has become “us against them” when it comes to birth. I’m not sure it’s even possible to have a positive and empowering birth experience if you believe that having a hospital birth is going to suck. But if you really do feel this way, than take some personal responsibility for yourself and make different choices about where and with whom you’ll be giving birth. Your reaction might be, “It’s not that easy.” I know it’s not easy. I’m not saying that it is. What I’m saying is that it’s vital to own your role in the birth experience – even when it’s not easy.

When I was pregnant with my second baby, I had to make some big decisions. My beloved provider had moved out of town and our insurance had changed. So, I was going to have a choose a new provider and place to give birth.

Instead of doing my own research, I listened to a colleague and chose a midwife at a hospital that didn’t have the best reputation in town: too big and impersonal. Red flag #1 The clinic was pretty far away from where we lived, which meant my toddler and I had to deal with 40 minutes of driving for an appointment that lasted only 10 minutes. I hated it. Red flag #2 The hospital tour guide focused more on the big-screen TV than answering my questions about birth balls and squatting bars. Red flag #3 My midwife was part of a group practice, so it was not guaranteed that I would have her for my birth. Red flag #4 Now, none of these might pop up on your list as red flags – but they were on mine and I chose to ignore all of them. I knew, at several points along my pregnancy journey, that this was not the right choice for me, but I refused to take personal responsibility for this. And although my birth was quick and easy, my overall birth experience was very negative.

I hadn’t done my due diligence to make the best decisions for myself when and where I could. And it was this piece that I struggled with most in my early postpartum days with my newborn. I look back and realize my negative feelings around that birth experience had nothing to do with the birth outcome. It had everything to do with how I had dishonored myself and failed to make the best (although not easy) decisions I could to set myself up for the best experience possible.

Writing a Birth Plan is not enough. Having good intentions is not enough. Hiring a doula is not enough. You need to understand just how much work is involved in making this birth experience positive and empowering for yourself. No one will be making that happen for you. You need to make it happen. And that means getting real with yourself before you ever put pen to paper to capture your birth preferences.

Are you making choices that resonate with you? Don’t concern yourself with what your sister, BFF or members of your book club would choose. What do you want? Make some decisions for yourself. But don’t stop there! Get some quality, unbiased, evidence-based information that supports these decisions as being right for you. And then own those decisions – at least until you go into labor.

Once labor begins, you have to be prepared to make some decisions in real-time, as birth unfolds. Birth is too big to be planned out on an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper! And that scale you used to weigh benefits and risks in the classroom doesn’t get to come into labor and delivery with you. You get a brand new scale that you’ll have to use to weigh the benefits and risks all over again to make the most informed decision you can – while you’re in labor.

You must be a full participant in this birth from the very beginning all the way through to the end in order to feel that transformative strength and empowerment. My own personal experience, coupled with 20 years of working with thousands of couples, allows me to make this statement from a place of confidence: Feeling empowered and positive about your birth experience is less connected to how your baby is born, and more directly linked to how you feel as your baby is being born.

When you give birth from a place of confidence that you did everything you could in the moment to honor yourself and your process, it’s hard to feel anything but empowered. There are moments throughout your pregnancy and birth where you’re called to stand up and make a decision that might not be easy, that might not be popular, that might not even be what you wanted. But in honoring yourself in this way, you can claim full participation and own your birth experience.

When you do this, you show devotion to yourself, your partner, your baby, your family – and this is where it all begins.

What are you devoted to? Does this resonate with you? Are you still able to feel my deep devotion to you (despite my tough love)? I really do only want the best possible experience for you. And I can’t use this title for the post without giving you this link to the ever wonderful ONJ singing her heart out – enjoy, you’ll be singing it all weekend.

This was part of an exercise from The Writing Den, where we were asked to define what we are devoted to. Bringing more personal responsibility into the birthing experience is one of those things I’m devoted to. If you’d like to find out what your true devotion is, come join this group of committed individuals answering the call. It’s an inspiring place to be!

Boys (And Some Girls?) Don’t Cry

BoysDontCry

My six-year old son stood in front of me with tears streaming down his face and his lips in a full downward pout – so different from his usual dimpled, teeth-just-coming-in, goofy grin. He was crying because he’s feeling anxious about starting up swim lessons again. In January.

I knelt down to make eye contact and said, “It’s okay you’re feeling anxious – but buddy, January is far away and there’s so much life to live between now and then. When it’s January 9th, we can revisit how you’re feeling, okay?” He asked, “Have you ever felt this way?” I answered immediately, “Of course! Lots of times!” And that’s when he said, “Yeah, but I’ll bet you’ve never cried about it before. You never cry about anything.

Ugh. He’s right. I don’t hardly ever cry about anything. For real. I’ve been this way my whole life. It’s not that I don’t have feelings – I feel very deeply – it’s just that my feelings rarely ever bubble up to the surface and spill out of my eyes. That’s all.

But – I cried at each and every one of my births. Big, loud, wracking sobs with tears easily flowing down my cheeks. No checking in with myself about how I was feeling or what I was feeling or if these feelings actually merited tears or not, just wet saltiness streaming down my face as I locked eyes with my baby in that inexplicable moment between before and after.

Before you were a dream, an imagined little person floating around inside of me as our hearts beat as one, connected in the way only a mother and her unborn baby can be. After you are here, now, and we are meeting face to face for the first time. You are the living definition of miracle.

I wish that my children could remember me crying at our first meeting because it would mean all that much more to them knowing me as I am in their everyday life: strong, resilient, able to handle anything that’s thrown my way, and as my 13 year old son likes to tease, having “more testosterone than most men.”

I find that curious, really. The fact that I don’t cry is seen as such a masculine trait. How sad for all the boys and men out there who happen to cry easily! They’re seen as too sensitive and encouraged from far too young to “Stop that crying!” All too often on the receiving end of that stupid phrase that gets thrown at them when their tears start to flow, “Man up!” Men are taught from such a young age that to be a real man, they need to act a certain way.

I’m uncertain if that’s where my own challenges with crying comes from. I’m a girl and I’ve always identified as being female. But I was a huge “tom-boy” as a child. You could count on finding me in the middle of the field, captain of the pick-up football team, long before I’d be caught dead playing with dolls on the sidelines. Maybe I, too, picked up on the social cues that were handed down by the dominant culture to my friends – most of whom were either boys or other “tom-boys” like myself. Maybe I adopted that same code and misidentified being strong with being able to hold back tears.

But, the gorgeous thing about being fully present during birth is that there’s no way to stay completely hidden or protected from feelings of vulnerability and surrender. If you are fully present the wonder, the crazy intensity, the recognition of the part you are playing in the birth of this miracle just plows into you – and you are transformed.

I’ve seen it happen to many couples over the years. She might find a strength that she didn’t even know she had. And he might find a softness that had always been there but had been locked away for far too long.

I’ve witnessed this (only in reverse) four times for me and my wonderfully already sensitive and easier-to-cry-than-me husband. He’s stepped up and provided me with exactly the strength and confidence I’ve needed so I can let go and rediscover my softness and vulnerability that stays hidden most of the time. Allowing yourself to let go of any pretense, any plan of how things should look, sound or feel and instead just be in the moment is where the real power of birth happens.

A few years back, I was invited to meet a baby not even a day old by the new parents who’d been students in my class. As the new Momma was getting some key points on lactation from her nurse, I turned to her proud partner and asked him to tell me about the birth from his perspective.

This very masculine, business-minded, Ironman tri-athlete looked at me and said something I’ve never forgotten, “Watching her give birth and seeing the baby come into this world just broke me wide open.” I could feel the shivers of recognition run down my spine. “Yes!” I felt the exact same way in all of my births. Broken. Wide. Open.

These words might intimidate the uninitiated. It might even scare the hell out of you. But I encourage you to embrace those feelings so you might experience that same level of transformation. It’s nothing short of breathtaking.

You might even find yourself crying from the miracle of it all.

If you do cry easily, were you amazed to find that despite any tears that were shed, how strong you felt after giving birth? If you are not an easy crier, were you surprised by how easily your tears fell at the moment you first saw your baby? I’d love to hear your responses below in the comments.

And for your listening and viewing pleasure, you knew this was coming, right?

“I’m getting so fat!”

I'm Getting So Fat!

I had two class series that began this past week. Night one, we discussed anatomy and terms using a set of slides that show the changes that occur in a woman’s body from before she was pregnant to just about to pop – 37-39 weeks along. My goal is to have these Mommas walk out of the classroom that evening with a deeper appreciation and respect for their bodies and all the changes that have happened. I want them to be impressed with themselves. And, I’ll admit that I want their partners to be a little bit in awe of them.

The uterus starts out as a pelvic organ, but it’s clear to see by the end of pregnancy that while it might still originate in the pelvis, it has greatly expanded and is now shoving out of the way and applying pressure on all the other organs housed within the abdomen. Depending on how much space a woman has in her torso, the space that exists between the bottom of her ribcage and the top of her hips, greatly determines how she’ll carry her baby: tucked up and inside, or way out in front. Both situations have their drawbacks, believe it or not, as I talked about in an earlier post that you can read here.

I know that I’m fighting a bit of an uphill battle in trying to get women to feel more positive about the physical changes that are happening during pregnancy – but I’m determined to try. I’m someone who had issues with my own body image as a young woman, and sadly I’m not alone. But it was pregnancy and birth that transformed the relationship I now have with my body. 

I was a “tom-boy” as a child and I grew up thinking that at least some of the power men seemed to possess was, in due part, because of their masculinity. Until I got pregnant, that is. Then I remember thinking almost every day during pregnancy – “I’m so freaking powerful! I’m creating a brand new human being – inside of my body! And after my body opens up to birth this baby, my body will make all the food my baby needs. I am incredible. My body is amazing!”

In my youth, I wasted so much time wondering if I was carrying too much weight, or how my body looked as I tried to wear whatever fashions were the most popular, even if they weren’t the most flattering for my particular body type. I still work out and take care of my body today but my focus has completely changed. It’s not so I can be a certain size or see the “right” numbers reflected back to me from my bathroom scale. I work out so that I’ll be healthy and strong enough to keep up with my four children now, and hopefully, I’ll still be around to enjoy my grandchildren someday. This marks a huge transformation for me.

I want that same transformation to happen for the Mommas in my classes. But the issue is that too many women view their bodies negatively during pregnancy. They catch themselves in the bathroom mirror or their reflection from a store window and think to themselves, “I’m getting so fat!” Now is the time to stop berating your body and instead give it some well-deserved love and respect. Now is the time to go out in a bikini and strut your stuff – without concern of your tummy sticking out. There’s no way you could suck it in if you tried, so why not show it off instead? What I’m trying to do is switch out the negative tape that’s been playing in their heads with a positive one instead because I think all of this follows us into our births.

It’s hard to feel strong in our birthing bodies if we feel shame in our pregnant bodies.

I know this message resonates with my students because I can see partners nudging the pregnant Mommas and whispering things like, “See? What did I tell you?” Sometimes I’ll even notice a Momma whose eyes are full of tears – it just happened again this past week – and I know that I’ve obviously struck a nerve.

I’m not trying to make anyone cry, but I am trying to get them to switch out those tapes. I can’t think of anything else that we get to experience that has the possibility of such incredible transformation. Pregnancy and birth allow for both personal and relationship transformations that can forever change how you view yourself as a woman, as a mother or father, and as a couple.

And this transformation begins in how we view our bodies while still pregnant. You are not getting fat – your body is changing to create space within you for that transformation to start even before your baby is born.

How has pregnancy changed the way you feel about your body? Has this been a positive or negative change for you?

Mmmmm… Bacon

Bacon

Just four days ago the mighty Internet screamed at us “BACON CAUSES CANCER.” Actually, the report was about red and processed meat, but every news story written about this subject had a big picture of bacon attached to it. (What can I say? I’m so on trend.)

Was it sheer coincidence, my rebel without a cause tendencies, or both that contributed to our family eating red meat not once, but twice in the past four days? Beef Stew on Tuesday and Butter Noodles with Beef on Wednesday – both were dee-licious! The fact that we hadn’t cooked red meat in our house for the past six months, was a little ironic.

Initially, my kids were worked up about the dinner offerings this past week – which allowed us to have a great discussion about hype, and media coverage, and ratings grabbing behavior, and how to read studies with a critical eye that looks beyond the headlines.

These are also great things to remember as new parents. There will almost always be something that you should or should not be doing at any time for fear of really screwing up your children. Sometimes these things flip flop and end up in direct opposition to one another. So it behooves you to read headlines not as gospel truth but as an article to read yourself and determine if a) it’s sound scientific and evidence-based information b) it builds on the studies that have come before and is adding to mounting evidence for or against something c) it’s statistically significant and the risk of doing this behavior or avoiding that behavior will make a real difference in your quality of health or life.

I’m not going to list out specific parenting decisions here. Why? Because, I’ve got my own way of parenting. And the parenting decisions I make are likely influenced by a lot of different things: my family of origin, my friend circle, the books I’ve chosen to read, or the pediatrician that my children see.

If I were to state my opinion about “Parenting Issue A” one of two things might result: 1) someone reads it but they parent exactly the opposite of me and feel the need to argue about it or 2) someone reads it and feels like I’ve just endorsed something as the “right” way to parent their child. That’s a little too much responsibility, for me. And quite frankly, it doesn’t place enough responsibility on you as new parents. That sounds harsh and I’m sorry if you’re picking up on that tone, but it needs to be said.

I want you to parent your child the way you feel is right for your family. It doesn’t have to look at all like how I did it, or your siblings did it, or how your own parents did it. And while it makes sense to pay attention to what studies say about “best practices” and parenting, those best practices might not work for you and your family.

An example that comes to mind is how we chose to let our babies stay up with us until we went to bed (after the craziness of that initial 4th trimester had settled down, mind you). My husband wanted to be able to see and hold his baby after he got home from work. My first ate every two hours around the clock until she was eight months old. It didn’t make sense to us that we’d put her down in a crib upstairs while we hung out together watching TV in the basement, only to have to get up with her every couple of hours. So, we just kept her with us the whole time. I would feed her, then my husband would snuggle her until she fell asleep on his chest or in his arms and he’d keep her there until she wanted to eat again. When we were all ready to go to sleep (we’re night owls in this house!) we’d go up to bed together.

I can assure you that this will never be listed in any book or study about being a “best practice” on how to get your baby to sleep at night. I can also tell you that there are lots of people who will read this and think that we were completely crazy! But, still, it was a practice that we repeated with each of our four children and it worked beautifully for us as a family.

I’m not looking for validation or vilification for making this choice in how we parented our babies around the issue of sleep. I’m just sharing with you how we came up with a solution that was right and worked for our family. I want you to consider what’s working for your family along with all the scientific evidence and best practices out there and remember that almost everything extreme is not good for you. There is such a thing as drinking too much red wine, or eating too much dark chocolate, or – yes, it’s true – scarfing down too much bacon. But there’s also such a thing as using your common sense and realizing that moderation is key. Try to keep this in mind even as headlines are using extreme tactics to gain your attention.

Finding out what works for your family, those unique parenting decisions that you make that are “just right” for you, boosts your new parent confidence level in a way nothing else can. Not even bacon.

Have you come up with any parenting decisions that sit outside the “norm” or hide in the shadows of the headline grabbing new trend? How confident do you feel about making some of your own decisions about the best way to parent you child?