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.

Snow Dazed and Confused

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My kids were home from school two days last week because of snow.

In Portland, Oregon.

It’s kind of a big deal when that happens around here.

I remember when I first moved to Portland from Indiana a long, long time ago. My first winter, I called home laughing about the fact that the Mayor(!) had come on TV to ask that all “non-essential” employees stay home because of “hazardous weather conditions.” I think there was maybe four inches of snow on the ground! People were abandoning their cars on the highway!

(Granted, it rarely snows here, so people really don’t have a lot of experience or knowledge about driving in it, and teaching folks to turn INTO a skid is super counter-intuitive… Plus, I think PDX only has two snowplows. I might be exaggerating here, but we don’t have nearly enough to dig out an entire city!)

In contrast, when I was a kid, I’d gone to a Catholic High School in Indianapolis, one where the Jesuit Priests lived on campus. The joke was that if they could walk down the halls, there was going to be school that day. My friend Bridget and I had to dig her huge van out of more than one snowbank on the way to school – and we’d still get a tardy slip and a snarky, “Should have left home earlier!” from the school secretary once we finally made it in.

Even though it’s hilarious that the whole family gets a snow day when the PPS School District closes (sometimes based on only a potential forecast of snow) – I’m not complaining! I love snow now even more than I did when I was a kid!  Probably because I only get to play in it a couple of days each winter…

So it was that I spent over two hours sledding on the hill at the park down our street this past Thursday – even though you could still clearly see the grass beneath the inch of white stuff on the ground. And, as usual, my kids were ready to call it quits and head home long before I was!

Kids: “Mom, we want to go home and have some hot chocolate!”

Me: “One more run down the hill!”

Kids: “Mo-om, you said that five runs ago…”

Sometimes I wonder what they’ll remember about me after I’m gone and they’re all grown up: “Do you remember how Mom would go flying down that sledding hill? Even when she was six months pregnant with Felix? She was always such a spazz about that kind of stuff…”

Day two of our unexpected school break wasn’t quite as much fun. Snow has a way of turning into ice pretty quickly around here. If the temperature rises by just a few degrees during the day, it starts to rain. Then overnight, the temperature drops below freezing and that’s when you end up with an entire city encased in ice.

The result is something reminiscent of the castle of the White Witch from Narnia – beautiful, but oh-so-cold and dangerous. Our lights flickered on and off throughout the day and we lost all electricity (and heat!) for a few hours at a time. 

Being stuck inside the house and unable to go anywhere only occurs every once in a long while (years can go by before this will happen again – or it might happen again tomorrow. We’ll see…) But every time it does, I think to myself: “I’ve got to order a pair of Yaktrax!” Because I have GOT to be able to leave my house!

You see, the rest of my family (and really, most other people) enjoy a little at-home hangout time. My husband, for instance, loves nothing more than to stay in his PJs for weeks at a time. But I’m not him. I find it really, really hard to not be able to leave my house for even one day. I need to get out in order to feed the beast within that craves social interaction with others.

There are many people today who might feel as though they’re getting a lot of their social interaction needs met through the mighty inter webs.

I’m not one of them.

The irony that many of my readers will find this post through a social media site is not lost on me. And I have to acknowledge that I’m currently traveling with this incredible online community of creatives looking to do business as unusual by taking part in Quest 2017.(there’s still time to join us, if you’re interested.) I also have to admit that I’ve made some incredible friendships through and because of my online presence.

But I’m still so grateful for my local, real-world “tribe” – work colleagues, the NACEF Board, friends and framily (typo intended), especially my Momma-tribe: those co-parents (who are not Roberto!) that I can get together with on a semi-regular basis to see and be seen, to listen to and be heard, to share in something different that’s not captured in an email or text. What I mean by “something different” is that we engage one another in real-time conversations that are often messy, give and take, back and forth, meandering, untamed, free-for-all discussions about whatever comes up as a natural (and sometimes unnatural) extension of the topic at hand.

For an extrovert like me, this is where I do my best work. It’s where I get my free therapy. It’s how I make sense of the world. It’s where I find the intimacy, honesty and authenticity that I believe is so important in our ever-increasingly techno-obsessed world.

I had lunch with a small group of co-workers the other day, and we were discussing the idea that people might be losing the ability to speak face-to-face or rather, heart-to-heart, with one another. Then I came home from that gathering and read this amazing piece of writing that talked about that craving for real-world connection from one of my friends, Brenna Layne. (An aside: Brenna and I met on-line a couple of years ago and have never met in person. But, as it turns out… we’re twins! No, not really. But it feels like we are when she somehow writes All The Words tucked away deep inside my brain and my heart without me even knowing they were there in the first place. She is lovely and a shining example of my conflicted feelings about online connection vs real-life connection.)

Through these two experiences, I felt inspired to write about something that concerns me very much: We are losing the art of conversation.

The members of my tribe are still wanting to meet face-to-face. They are willing to set aside all other distractions and just be together, sharing time and space. In fact, we talk about how much we all need to do this more often than we already are!

And even though I work hard to make sure my children are able to look people in the eye and engage in a conversation with others that lasts longer than a few minutes, I wonder will they have friends who are able to do the same? Will they find their own tribe not just willing, but wanting to share in that same level of real-time face-to-face intimacy and interaction?

So, here’s another thing (maybe a much more important thing) that I hope my kids will remember about me after I’m gone and they’re all grown up: “Remember how Mom would take us on “dates” spending one-on-one time with each one of us? And then, how she would always ask us about the Big Things – like what we thought about God, who we were crushing on, or what happens after you die? She was always such a spazz about that kind of stuff…”

The art of conversation is just that: art. It needs to be protected and cherished like all great masterpieces. And I think we should be encouraging our children to engage in it from birth. They need to get their hands messy with it, create it and shape it in real-time, unaware and unhindered by the self-consciousness that can sometimes be so paralyzing. If we don’t do this, I’m concerned that this art will be lost forever. And being our children’s first teacher, I think it’s up to parents to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Because our world needs this honesty and authenticity, it craves this intimate interaction and engagement now, more than ever before.

How do you engage your own children, even your baby, in the art of conversation? Do you think this is a topic worthy of discussion, or am I too “old-school?” I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Please share them with me in the comments section below.

LOVE – It’s The Secret Ingredient

turkey-soup

Turkey & Rice Soup (Several days later and still sooooooooo delicious!)

There’s a certain alchemy that can happen in cooking… It’s not just about putting flavors together and being satisfied with delicious results. Sometimes, if a recipe you’ve watched your Mom make too many times to count, a recipe that’s never been written down before, suddenly turns out *just* right, it’s possible to be instantly transported back in time to your childhood.

Here I am, at age four looking up at my Mom standing at the stove, careful not to have it turned on high heat yet because I’m so close to her hip. I watch as she’s trying to fit the turkey carcass into our big, fat silver soup pot. She uses the kitchen shears, a knife, sometimes just her fingers, to break the bigger bones up into smaller ones to fit – just so – into the pot. Mom never liked to throw out anything that still had so much to offer.

Here I am, a couple of years later, standing on a kitchen chair and asking, “Can I add the carrot and the onion and the celery? Please? I’m old enough. I can do it.” But I would have to wait a few more years before I got the job of chopping the vegetables into big chunks to help flavor the broth as it started to boil. How high the heat should be and how long the broth should simmer on the stove always depended on two things: what time my Mom began this whole process, and how much patience the rest of the family had to wait before eating.

Pulling the meat off the bones would have happened in earnest a day or two before – on Thanksgiving. But only after the crowds of people had left and after the kids had gone to bed. My immediate family always lived far from aunties, uncles and cousins, so our gatherings were always a wonderful mix of “framily” – those people whom we’d adopted, or who had adopted us for the holiday meal. I wonder if my Mom ever found enjoyment in discovering just how much meat there would be to add to the year’s batch? This was always the unknown variable… Would the soup be thin and mostly broth? Or more like a thick and hearty stew? It was dependent on lots of different things: how big of a turkey we could afford in any given year, the number of guests we’d invited, how many appetizers and sides they’d brought to share, and – how hungry my teenaged brothers were.

As a tween and teen, more interested in eating the soup than actually making it, I would salivate as the smells of turkey goodness filled our entire house. Only then would my Mom turn the burner off, strain the solids from the broth and pick through the remains once more. She would want a mostly clear broth seasoned to perfection before adding anything else. And then came my favorite part: adding the rice. “Plink, plink, plink!” The individual grains would splash and get sucked into the depths of the pot, only to resurface as the heat got turned back on and the broth began bubbling again.

I never understood how my Mom knew when to finish the soup so the rice was cooked just right. Confession: I always cheat on this part and use the rice cooker and add the finished rice into the pot right before serving. The rice turns out pretty close to perfect, but alas! no wonderful “plinking!” sounds. At some point, Mom would declare the soup to be “Finished!” And then add in the turkey meat and a jar or two of tomatoes. She’d give one last good stir to mix everything together and then ladle the soup into our bowls, while we sat at the long dining room table ready to gobble it all up (no pun intended…)

My Mom’s “Turkey and Rice Soup” might not be something you’d find in a fancy restaurant, or pay top dollar for – but the best food in the world rarely is. This recipe is so much more than just a delicious way to transform Thanksgiving leftovers. And this year, at first taste, and after 26 years of trying to re-create the experience, I almost wept (almost – I’m not really a crier…) as I was instantly transported back to my childhood kitchen watching as my Mom created something that over the years became a symbol of love, of comfort, of home to me.

That’s the kind of alchemy that I’m talking about. There’s a certain magic that you can actually taste in a meal that’s been cooked at home. Whenever my own children find something that I’ve made for them especially delicious and then ask me what’s in it, I list off all the ingredients and then say, “But there’s a secret extra special ingredient added! Can you guess what it is?” They’ve heard this from me so many times now that even as they roll their eyes, they still respond: “LOVE!” 

Yep, lots and lots of love. Heaping tablespoons and cups spilling over with love.

I’m not sure why this ingredient has been missing from this recipe over the years. Or, more importantly, how it finally found it’s way into my own soup pot this year some 2,264 miles away from my Mom – but I’m so glad that it did.

I feel like the last three posts I’ve written, have had more than a little bit of wistfulness to them, their unifying theme a longing to be closer to my family this year. I thank you, dear reader, for indulging me.

Typically, I write about issues that are of importance to pregnant, birthing and new parenting families. But one of the things that becomes more important over time, I think, is acknowledging that who we are as parents originates in how we have been parented. The families we are creating for ourselves now, find their roots in the families of our birth. Sometimes, and in some particular ways, we may choose to break away from that family of our birth to create our own, new definition of family.

But sometimes we look ahead and wonder if our own children will ever tell their children about how turn a tupperware full of Thanksgiving leftovers into something so much more.

Spoiler Alert: It’s all about that secret extra special ingredient.

Do you have any holiday recipes that have been passed down in your family that hold such power? Is the recipe written down? Or can it only be brought together through a lifetime’s worth of memories? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share them in the comments.

I Believe…

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This is the famous quote from author, Marianne Williamson.

I read this for the first time printed in The Oregonian on a random page apropos of nothing – it wasn’t part of a larger article or a highlighted quote. Someone, for some reason, spent what would have been a bit of money back in the day, to have this printed up in the paper for me to find. It was misattributed to Nelson Mandela (which, apparently happens ALL the time!) And for some inexplicable reason, I felt compelled to cut this 3×6 inch section out of the paper and place it prominently on the front of my refrigerator.

That was about 20 years ago.

It has a few grease stains on it, and there’s a strip of tape along the top. It has yellowed and bears the mark of time all along it’s tattered edges. Yet it remains (more or less) intact. This quote is what I look to whenever I’m needing to be reminded that all of us – every single one of us – has the capacity for darkness.

But it is our light that holds true power. And that light is not just in some of us.

It’s in everyone.

May our collective light shine.

 

Happy World Doula Week!

WDW

I can’t let this week go by without a shout-out to all of the wonderful women I know personally, and professionally, who’ve taken up the call to become a doula. A doula is a woman trained to assist other women in childbirth and/or to support a new family following the birth of their baby. And this is the week we are celebrating women all over the globe who do this incredible work!

Over 20 years ago, I was working as a temporary office monkey between jobs and wondering what it was that I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Across my desk one day came the company’s monthly newsletter and on the front page was an article about “doulas.” I’d never heard of this word before, and the concept intrigued me.

A few days later as I drove home during my lunch hour, there was a story about doulas on NPR’s show, “Talk of The Nation.” I had a “driveway moment” and couldn’t get out of the car until the story was over. My curiosity was growing. 

But it wasn’t until my best friend announced her pregnancy and asked me to be at the birth that I got serious about this idea: “Maybe I should become a doula!” I’m not an overly woo-woo person, but all of these things seemed to be pointing me in the direction of birth.

After some searching, I found out that The Seattle Midwifery School (300 miles North of my home in Portland) was offering a doula training that would conclude before my friend’s due date. Everything seemed to be lining up – so I signed up. I was hooked on birth immediately, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I never went so far as to complete the work of being certified as a doula. Finding scheduled evening and weekend hours as a Childbirth Educator kept me in the world of birth and allowed me to focus on having my own family. But every now and again, I’ve had the honor of being a doula at the births of friends, neighbors, or women who had no support or financial ability to pay for a doula.

It is such a gift to be with a woman when she’s giving birth. Helping her find her inner strength and witnessing the parents and the baby lock eyes on one another for the first time – it’s one of the most awesome experiences ever (that word is so overused in our culture, but this is one area where it’s completely appropriate)!

So,thank you to all of the women who’ve answered the call to become doulas. You are very special women, indeed. You have an immense capacity for nurturance, calm, strength and advocacy. You’ve got incredible stores of flexibility, skills and knowledge and you’re somehow able to continue to do the hard work of labor support on little sleep and not a lot of food. You are the best example of how continuous physical and emotional support can make all the difference as this couple transforms into a family.

I have nothing but the utmost respect and praise for the work that doulas do in the world of birth. But don’t just take my word for it. Google “benefits of doulas” and you’ll get 359K hits in about a half of a second. There aren’t any studies that I know of that show anything other than positive results of having a doula with you in birth. If you’d like to read more about the benefits of doulas, read this article written by Rebecca Dekker on Evidence Based Birth.

Having a doula at your birth can be linked to:

  •  Reducing the incidence of c-sections      
  •  Shortening the length of labor      
  •  Reducing epidural and analgesic requests      
  •  Increasing breastfeeding initiation and continuation     
  •  Increasing mother’s satisfaction of birth experience      
  •  Reducing the incidence of postpartum mood disorders     
  •  Increasing new parents’ confidence in the care of their newborn

There’s really no downside to having a doula with you in birth or postpartum! A doula is worth her weight in gold. If you’re interested in finding a doula for your birth or for postpartum, one place you can look is the DONA International website. Other places to look would be your friends and co-workers. A lot has changed in 20 years! Many more women are using doulas in their birth and postpartum and personal recommendations can give you so much more than a website directory! Many CBEs also have referrals they can provide, if you ask.

My tips for hiring a doula: Don’t get stuck on how many births they’ve attended, or what “extras” they might provide (photography, massage, etc.) These might be wonderful additions, but I think it’s more important you feel you can hang out with this person for 24+ hours. A professional doula won’t have an agenda for what your birth “should” look like. She’ll be willing to support you, and your choices in birth. Make sure your doula and your partner can work together. If you’ve chosen well, your doula will help your partner feel like they had just the right support so they could be involved in the birth at the level they were most comfortable with.

Doulas can be an amazing support when a birth goes really well, but even more so they when a birth goes rogue. Your doula can help you remember what matters most to you in this birth experience and help you get as close to that as possible. On the other side of giving birth, you’ll share a bond with this woman forever and she’ll be an important part of the birth story you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Doulas are amazing women and I’m happy to publicly honor them in this way! A special shout-out to Liesl & Kathie (doulas) and Beth & Marilyn (midwives) for all of the doula-ing they provided me and my husband during the birth of our four children. I mean this honestly when I say it – we couldn’t have done it without them!

If you know a doula, please take time to honor them in some special way this week!

Sex Life? What Sex Life? Part II

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As mentioned in an earlier post, Sex Life? What Sex LIfe? Part I, there are many factors that can conspire to make postpartum sex a little bit tricky to initiate. But the good news is there’s only one thing necessary to have a lasting and healthy sexual relationship: direct, open and honest communication.

When you see your provider for that standard six-week postpartum visit, be prepared to talk with them about your sexuality. Nothing should be off-limits. This can feel awkward at first, but remember, your provider has studied for years about pregnancy, birth and postpartum. They’re considered experts in the care of women during this transition. Anything you feel might be of concern to you, bring it up. Don’t be shy. They’ve heard it all before, I promise.

Whatever your concerns, they’re most likely to be temporary and will resolve over time. But the anxiety of not knowing this can become a bigger deal than it needs to be. I’m a huge fan of paying to hear these experts say the three little words that can make you feel so much better: “That’s completely normal.”

If, at the end of this six-week appointment with your provider, you’ve stopped bleeding and your physical healing is complete, you’re probably going to get the green light for having sex. You’ve been examined and it’s been determined that you are physically ready for sex. But now you need to weigh that information with whether or not you’re feeling emotionally ready for sex.

Have you ever heard this joke? “Sex is like pizza. Even bad pizza is still pretty good pizza.”

I don’t think it’s very funny, either.

Sex, good sex, rarely just involves the physical. I mean, there is something to be said about just going at it! But if you think about it, the best sex of your life might have involved, but was not dependent upon: a gorgeous and romantic location, a crazy position, or the addition of some kinky sex toys.

Good sex usually occurs when there’s a trusting, loving relationship established between you and your partner. Better sex happens when you feel safe and accepted for who you are. Great sex happens when you’re able to see and be seen by your beloved.

Good sex involves a level of intimacy and vulnerability that allows the two of you to become one, physically and emotionally. It can’t happen if one of you isn’t feeling emotionally ready. It can’t happen when you’re feeling guilted into it. It can’t happen when you’re just trying to soothe someone else’s sexual frustration. It can’t happen when one of you feels resentment – sex being one more thing on your to-do list of how you serve others and not yourself.

Sex postpartum has the potential to be so much better than it ever was before your baby arrived! The reason is because you’re about to reveal to one another a level of tenderness and vulnerability that you don’t even know about yourself. It’s through that window of openness that you can begin to cultivate a new, more intimate and connected relationship with your partner inside – and outside – of the bedroom.

But communication is the key.

If you’re not feeling ready (either one of you!), you need to express this to your partner while reassuring that it has nothing to do with your desire for them as a person. Too many partners take the new Momma’s lack of desire for sex as a lack of desire for them – as if the baby has somehow taken their place.

Now Mommas, initially you might respond, “That’s ridiculous!” Before you start telling your partner to “Grow up! The baby needs me!” think about how you might feel if you were in their shoes.

If your partner was the sole source of food and most often the source of comfort for your newborn, you might feel more than just a little bit left out. So it’s possible (and I would add normal) that your partner might be feeling a bit on the outside of this new little Momma-baby dyad. It can get lonely out there sometimes.

As the partner, it’s important to remember that Momma might be “all touched out” by the end of the day. She might want her body to be hers and hers alone. She’s likely to feel overwhelmed by trying to meet her newborn’s needs and get showered before four pm. The thought of adding some sexy time into the day may not even be on her radar.

It’s helpful to take stock of one another’s perspective to understand where the other is coming from when it comes to sex – or anything else, for that matter. Perspective taking is challenging, but it makes you a much more thoughtful person. And this alone is a very big turn-on! Thoughtfulness can go a long way toward creating a much more mutually satisfying relationship.

But here’s the real-deal. For most women postpartum, it takes awhile longer than it did before the baby was born for their body to feel desire. This can be a big mismatch from where partners are.

Your partner might catch a glimpse of you before you jump into the shower and think, “Let’s do this!” But your mind is already on the hamster wheel calculating all the things that need to get done today – and sex is the last thing you’d ever think about.

Partners hear this: if you’re willing to wait until the timing is right (and it might end up being early morning now instead of nighttime – Mommas are battling end-of-the-day exhaustion levels, remember?) and if you’re willing to engage the biggest sex organ in a woman’s body you just might get somewhere. This mismatch in your sex drive can be minimized.

(Here’s the part that applies to all couples, not just those who are new to parenting!)

The biggest sex organ for a woman, in my opinion, is her brain. It’s that whole brain-body connection that I can’t stop writing about! In order for a woman to be able to truly let go, she needs to feel safe, she needs to be able to trust and allow herself to be vulnerable. It’s best if she’s not feeling too anxious or stressed out.

And even if you’re the love of her life, that doesn’t happen just because you’re lying next to one another in bed. It’s a rare woman whose feelings of desire can be turned on like the switch on a lightbulb. She might require a little more prep-work. Instead, try thinking about lighting a fire and the care that’s needed to get that spark to a full flame.

Engage her in conversation. It doesn’t have to be about profound or romantic things. Discussing with each other how the day has gone and really listening to one another (no electronic devices nearby to distract you from each other!) goes a lot farther than you’d think in terms of creating connection.

If you notice that she’s had a particularly rough day, offer to take charge of the bedtime routine, or do the dishes so she can sit down with a glass of wine and relax a little bit. If she can ease out of Momma-mode, and let some of the day’s stressors go, she’ll be much more responsive to you.

Even after all of these positive steps toward setting the mood for some loving, she might not want to go there – but she just might. How do you know?

Ask her!

I think when it comes to sex, partners are too often silent: groping and hoping that if you touch her in just the right way under the sheets she might be ready to go. Instead of this blind attempt with the potential of rejection without explanation, ask her if she’s up for messing around. Most women can gauge whether or not they can be persuaded.

If it’s defintely, “No.” Then, it’s not going to happen. Mommas it will help your partner, and your relationship, if you can articulate why you’re not into it at this time: “I don’t think it’s happening tonight. I’m _________________ (too tired, too worked up about my day tomorrow, still upset about the conversation I had with my Mom, angry about the comment you made to me last night.) This isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do, but direct, open and honest communication has to happen for real connection to occur.

If she is in the mood, she’ll let you know – with or without words (hubba! hubba!) And she’ll appreciate that you asked!

But here’s the clincher that might lead to better (and more!) sex for you both: Mommas if you’re on the fence about whether or not you feel up for having some sexy time, let your partner know that too by saying, “I might be able to be persuaded.” And then partners, do your best to persuade her!

Extra time spent catching her body and brain up to one another can make all the difference in terms of having good sex, more often. She might really want, she might really need, to have an orgasm. But unless her desire is able to fully manifest, the sex you do have might end up being one-sided, not mutually beneficial and therefore, won’t happen nearly as often as you’d like.

If you take these considerations into account however, you might find that your sex life post baby can be even stronger and more satisfying than it ever was before the baby arrived.

Last comment to all new or experienced Mommas out there: Make orgasms your new best friend! Every time you have one, it’s like going to the spa for a mini-massage. It’s one of the best ways to release tension throughout your entire body plus your brain gets flooded with that love and bonding hormone, oxytocin. Ultimately, with a healthy and satisfying sex life, you’ll experience less stress and more connection with your partner.

Your sex life postpartum may not be the most important aspect of your relationship, but it does deserve a lot of attention! You need to take care of it, and nurture it – with at least as much attention as you shower on your baby. When that happens, both your baby and your relationship will thrive.

How have you nurtured and cared for your relationship postpartum? Are there areas which deserve more of your attention? Do you need to focus more on using direct and honest communication with one another?

Childbirth Educator? Rockstar? Do I Have to Choose?

Rockstar

If wasn’t a Childbirth Educator, I’d be a Rockstar!

Not that I’d actually be a Rockstar, I’m not that good – but I can dream, right?!

I just came off of a “Work Weekend.” My job as a Childbirth Educator is all evening and weekend work. It’s one of the things that makes this position so incredibly family-friendly. During my days, I’m a Stay-At-Home-Momma. I’m sure there are plenty of people at my kids’ school who are completely unaware that I work outside of the home in addition to the work I do inside the home as primary caregiver for our four children.

I’m almost always there for drop-off and pick-up, and I’ve gone on a fair number of field trips over the years (although, these tend to be the ones that involve ballet or theater performances. The Zoo in rainy April? Not so much). I appreciate the flexibility of my work schedule so I can be at home, but still maintain a career and not have to pay for childcare. If we had to cover those costs, I’m pretty sure I’d have to work a full-time job just to pay for it! (I realize this is completely absurd and how many families have to do just this. It shouldn’t be a luxury for families to choose more flexible work hours in support of raising their children in a way that remains financially feasible. But that’s a post for a different day…)

This past weekend, was a full work weekend. This means on Saturday, while everyone else was still asleep, I tiptoed around the house getting ready so I could be at my workplace by 7:30 am – a little earlier than usual, but we’ve had a few AV issues I needed to address so the full-day Saturday Seminar class would go smoothly. And it did! Twenty-one couples, three observers, two educators and nine and half hours later, evaluations were gathered and I’m happy to say they reflected the passion that my fellow educator and I have for the work we’re honored to do with these expectant families.

Sunday rolled around and I was back at it again, only this time “teaching” four mini-classes: Maternity Tours. I can’t help it, even on a tour I find ways of providing education about pregnancy, birth and parenting. Tours are just another opportunity for me to do what I love most in the world. But it meant another full day which started at 10 am and didn’t end until 5 pm. Now, before anyone starts feeling sorry for me – don’t. I set my own schedule, for the most part, and I purposefully set up these full work weekends so that even if I’m away from my family for two days in a row, there will be less weekend days worked overall in any given month. Plus – I love my work, so there’s no reason for me not to want to work weekends (but it does help when the weather is crappy and cold as opposed to sunny and warm – I’m not going to lie).

No matter the size of the group I’m teaching, I try to give them 110% of my attention and energy to keep them engaged and learning. I want to share with them what I consider to be most important in our interaction with one another:

Birth is a normal, physiological process and it’s not only their right – but their responsibility – to fully participate in their labor so when they look back on this event, they remember it as a positive, empowering experience. I want them to have a birth story they are proud to tell – where they are the hero of their own epic journey. 

This requires a lot of energy output from me. Being the most extroverted person on the planet, most of the time this works to my advantage. I get energy back from being with a group of people – especially if that group contains at least one other extrovert. More energy coming from the group, just means more energy pouring back out of me. Actively engaged participants who respond positively and obviously to my use of humor, or otherwise engage by asking lots of questions, helps keep that energy transfer balanced.

After my full Saturday class, I felt pretty good. The class was with us the whole day and I felt that strange post-teaching buzz that can happen when the flow of energy has been moving back and forth freely. This continued into Sunday morning’s two tours as well. But my two afternoon tours were not balanced in the same way. I was searching for a little more energy transfer from these groups – and it was not forthcoming.

So by the time the day was done, I was feeling zapped of energy. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, because I could go home to the bosom of my (crazy!) family and find respite (and lots of energy! Everyone in my family is an extrovert.)

But on this particular day, a friend of mine was celebrating her 40th birthday with a gathering of girlfriends at a place called VoiceBox – a set of private suites that allow small groups of people to have their own Karaoke parties.

What to do?

I was beat. I’d been talking for the past six hours, and my voice was shot. So I texted my friend to say I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to come out for the party. She responded with, “Please rally.”

And then it happened.

The pull of spending a few hours doing my other dream job, being a Rockstar, won out and I rallied. Oh, yes I did. At first, I just drank my beer and sang along while others grabbed the mic. But eventually, I got up to do my best with a few songs that I really love to sing. Songs that are all in my wheelhouse: I know the lyrics and can hit the notes. I’m pretty sure I said, “I love this song!!!” as each was cued up and ready to play, no matter who was singing. The sense of exhaustion was erased with every note.

This might sound really obnoxious but when I’m up in front of my classes and I’m teaching, I kind of feel what I think a Rockstar might feel when they’re in the groove and singing a crowd favorite. Everyone is listening for those parts that they know by heart and letting the parts that are true for them settle in their souls – happy for a moment to be with this group of people who are all in the same place, at the same time, experiencing the same thing.

And I can tell when I’ve hit the exact, right note – that my words have landed not just with the folks in the front row, but the people all the way in the back of the room.

And it’s the greatest feeling in the world!

So. While I’m not a Rockstar – figuratively or literally – it sure is fun to pretend to be one at a friends’ 40th birthday party, and I feel lucky to get a glimpse of what I think it might be like to be one when I’m really in the flow and in front of my class.

And for your listening pleasure, here’s the latest song I love to sing when I’m needing to feel like a Rockstar in my off hours. And if you’re ever in Portland, Oregon you have to check out Karaoke From Hell – this is karaoke on steroids as you’re singing live in front of an audience backed by an amazing full band. It’s as close as you can get to feeling like a real-deal Rockstar. I’m sure this will not come as a surprise – I love it!

PS – As it turned out, one of my former students was at the Karaoke party the other night. It was so much fun to have my two worlds come together this way!

What is it that you do in your day-to-day world that makes you feel like a Rockstar? What could you be doing differently in your off-hours that could fill you up in this way? (Note: You don’t have to be an extrovert or sing Karaoke to get this feeling!)