And The Oscar Goes To…

Oscar

Just yesterday, I taught a “Comfort Measures for Labor” class. It’s a short and sweet intensive class that examines the mind/body connection and the power of relaxation, rhythm and ritual as coping tools for labor and delivery. We practice the #1 comfort measure – breathing. And the class ends with a labor boot camp circuit: a hands-on practice session where we put it all together: massage, position changes, music, and breathing.

I knew over half of the group yesterday, as many of the couples had been in my classes before and were wanting that extra practice before the big day. But there were also some veterans in the group – three couples were there to use the class as a refresher because it had been a couple of years or more since they’d given birth.

As they were moving from station to station practicing different positions, I’d change up the breathing we’d practiced earlier. This was to simulate the intensity of the contraction. I’d have them do one of three levels of breathing: deep belly breathing throughout (early labor), light and shallow chest-only breathing while holding one frozen bottle of water (active labor), or chest-only breathing combined with vocalization, while holding two frozen water bottles, one in each hand (transitional labor).

I noticed right away, how the first-timers were very uncomfortable making any kind of noise while practicing transitional labor breathing. Even when I told them I would make more noise than all of them combined, they still were close to silent. But not the 2nd timers! All three of these couples quickly sunk into a remembered rhythm in their bodies, their breathing and in the noises they were willing to make on each exhale.

Now, for sure, practicing breathing and positions with a group of relative strangers is goofy! It’s a little bit ridiculous, actually. And – it’s also very true that holding one or two bottles of frozen water will never, ever be close to what a contraction feels like! But practicing with ice (or even better, ice water) gives your mind and body something to work through as you practice different positions. This can be very helpful in preparation for the real-deal.

I found it interesting how both Mommas and partners who’ve gone through this before were so willing and able to drop back into that experience. And even if they felt a little or a lot uncomfortable, they remembered how much it helps to make noise when we feel tension in our bodies. Vocalization is such a great way to release and let go, which is so important as we move through our labor experience.

When I was having my third baby, I started to want to vocalize through the tougher contractions. I’d not done this before with my first two, so this was new to me (even though I teach it all the time!) But instead of going for it, I was making these small “ooooooooooooooh” noises with each exhale.

My husband, sitting in front of me, took one look at my contorted face and said, “You look constipated. Are you wanting to make some noise, like this?” And with that he opened his mouth wide and started bellowing, “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!!!” I quickly followed suit, opened my own mouth wide and really made some noise.

And it felt good.

We kept it up through each contraction, basically screaming at one another through the peaks, and then we’d dissolve into laughter when the contraction was done, because… It was ridiculous! But oh, so helpful! Without even realizing it, my husband had become my “birth partner in crime” and given me the permission to do whatever I needed to do to continue to cope with my contractions. What a gift!

In my classes, I encourage partners to be on the lookout for any rhythms, rituals, and vocalizations that Momma is doing – and then do them bigger and louder so that she feels free to express herself fully in finding those coping and comfort measures that work best for her.

While it’s often true that the veterans in the group are the ones that are willing to make the most noise during a childbirth preparation class, that’s not always the case.

A handful of years ago, there was a woman in my class, let’s call her Nancy, who must have had some sort of background in theater. Whenever we would do a practice session, she would become a method actor. Watching her was like watching someone in a movie. She didn’t care at all that there were at least a dozen other people in the room. She was amazing! Not over the top, just fully committed to her role of “laboring woman in the throes of giving birth.” 

She gave it everything she had. Nancy’s partner had to work like crazy just to keep up with her! I’ve always wondered how she might have worked through her real labor. Was she as loud and expressive as she’d been during our practice sessions? Or was she more quiet and reserved as she found different coping rhythms and rituals that worked for her?

In my mind, I imagine her roaring through her pushes: freely expressing herself without inhibition, her encouraging partner by her side – not embarrassed, not shushing her – giving her the permission to release and let go of each and every contraction through her voice. In all my years of doing this work, I’ve ever seen anyone else so willing to dig deep and make some noise during our practice sessions. As far as I’m concerned, the Oscar goes to… her!

And to all the other Mommas and their supportive partners out there, loudly or quietly, finding their own rhythms and rituals as they bring their babies into this world.

What about you? Were you loud or quiet as you gave birth? What were your rhythms or rituals that you did spontaneously in birth that helped you cope with your contractions? Were you surprised the coping and comfort measures you chose?

Why is PAIN a Four-Letter Word?

Pain

I taught a class recently that was a little different. It only meets once and focuses on the brain-body connection, the practice of comfort measures, and how to stay in a coping mindset throughout birth. There’s no discussion about the stages of labor or when to go to the hospital. This class is like “extra” practice for the uninitiated, or in the case of one of the Mommas in this particular class, a “refresher.”

Karen* introduced herself as a “veteran.” She went on to say that she’d chosen to have an unmedicated birth with her first, but it had been “really painful!” She needed more tools to help her cope with labor this time around.

She added quickly, “Don’t worry, ladies. You’ll forget all about the pain.”

Although I appreciated her attempts to not frighten the group of newbies assembled, I’m not sure if I completely agree with her statement. Some women don’t forget the pain of their labors – at least not entirely. And I’m not sure that encouraging women that they’ll forget their pain is necessarily helpful as a preparation technique.

However, her statement did end up being the perfect segue to talking about the “P-word.”

In our culture, pain has become a nasty, four-letter word that we want to avoid at all costs. There’s a thriving multi-billion dollar industry counting on the fact that people want only to take a pill to make their pain, physical or emotional, go away.

When we talk about labor, women don’t want to even think about the pain, let alone focus on it. I’ve found that most women fall into one of three approaches when it comes to labor pain and how to cope with it:

1) “The At-Home, DIY Epidural Kit Approach,” which of course, doesn’t exist. These are women who believe that there is no way they’ll ever be able to get through labor without drugs.

2) “The Grin and Bear It Approach,” which translates to women saying no to drugs, even if it becomes truly unbearable.

3) “The Just Breathe the Right Way Approach” which some women believe will not only allow you to experience birth without the use of pain medications, but also without any pain at all!

None of these approaches sound right to me. All of them have unrealistic expectations built in. And you know, I’m not a fan of unrealistic expectations. So, I’ve come up with my own approach to labor pain and how to cope with it. I’m calling it, “The Why Don’t You Wait and See Approach.”

There is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical sensation that occurs in the body, most often associated with illness or injury. (In the case of labor, it’s important to note, there is no illness or injury – barring any complications, you are healthy, and labor and birth are normal, biological events.) Suffering represents the emotional reaction to that pain.

In, “The At-Home, DIY Epidural Kit Approach,” too many women decide long before birth ever begins, that they will never be able to handle their contractions without pain medication. Why? Because they’ve bought into Hollywood Birth. Think of the last birth you saw on TV or in a movie. What about that scene would ever make you feel like you could give birth without drugs? Actually, what about that scene would ever make you want to get pregnant?

When women only see this dramatic and intensified Hollywood version of birth, it’s hard to imagine they could ever find labor to be tolerable, let alone something to look forward to. In this mindset, women often start their labors in fear – which actually increases their sensations of pain with each and every contraction. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Making assumptions about your pain tolerance and ability to cope with contractions before labor ever begins is the surest way to undermine your real ability to remain in a coping mindset from start to finish.

But what about “The Grin and Bear It Approach?” Women adopting this approach have equated that they can only have an empowered birth experience if they don’t have any drugs – no matter what. No matter that their labor is extremely long and their baby is in a unfavorable position. No matter that there was a death in the family the same week they’re giving birth. No matter that this labor is kicking their behind and they stopped coping with contractions hours ago. They’re no longer just feeling pain with their contractions, they’ve crossed the line into suffering. These women believe that they’ll feel accomplishment after their births – and are completely shocked when instead they feel overwhelmed and like they were barely hanging on.

Many of the proponents of natural, unmedicated birth talk about enjoying contractions, finding bliss or even having orgasms while giving birth. In “The Just Breathe the Right Way Approach,” women might think they’re doing something wrong when they discover that their birth actually hurts. Maybe it hurts a lot. Talk about disappointment! They thought they’d be blissed out, having orgasms left and right, but that’s not what they’re experiencing at all

(Don’t get me wrong! I’ve actually met two women who did, in fact, have the most massive orgasm of their lives while giving birth! So, it can happen. But when I asked them how they did it, both of them essentially said, “I don’t know. It just sorta happened.” Have you ever gone in search of an orgasm while having sex? It goes into hiding – like witness protection program hiding! This might be one reason why orgasms during birth are not super common.)

We seem hell-bent on trying to avoid pain in labor and I’m not exactly sure why. 

To me, pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin. We can’t really understand pleasure, if we don’t have something to compare it to. And while I would never classify my contractions as pleasurable, I definitely would describe the breaks in between as pure bliss. I would work hard through each contraction, pushing myself to my own personal limits, and then blessedly, there would be sweet relief on the other side of every single one of them.

It’s true that each contraction grew longer, stronger and closer together. And the breaks in between definitely got shorter. But if I was able to maintain that coping mindset, I knew this meant I was getting closer to holding my baby in my arms.

“The Why Don’t You Wait and See Approach,” allows women to stop preemptively deciding what they’ll be feeling when they go into labor. No one knows what their pain tolerance is for labor, because the pain you feel with contractions is so very different than any other kind of pain you’ve experienced before.

If you’re able to stay in a coping mindset, it’s completely possible that you can get through your entire labor experience without any need for pain medications.

Most likely, you’ll experience at least some level of discomfort in the middle of a contraction. You might describe your contractions as really painful, but tolerable. You might feel like your contractions are too intense for you to continue to handle them on your own. Who knows? You might win the labor lottery and have a big ol’ orgasm!

The point is – you have no idea what to expect. So, stop trying to predict how your labor will unfold and how you’ll respond before you’re ever in labor. Be open. Remain flexible. Wait and see. Then, make your best decision about how to cope with your contractions as they are actually happening, so you can look back on this experience and feel strong, empowered and confident that you participated fully in your birth.

What was your personal approach to your birth experience? Was it spot on from before birth, or did you have to switch gears in the middle of your labor? How does “The Why Don’t You Wait and See Approach” resonate with you? Please leave me a comment. I love to hear from you!

*Not her real name.

Empty Nest

It takes a torrential rain or windstorm to blow the last remaining leaves off the trees revealing what was so well-hidden in the uppermost branches throughout Spring and Summer: one, two, sometimes up to three bird’s nests. They vary in size and shape, and I have no idea if these nests were constructed just last year for a whole community of birds to share some space together, or if they’ve been there for years and yet are so sturdy as to withstand several winters. But one morning, after dropping my kids off at school I looked up from my parked car and this is what I saw:EmptyNest

Instantly, I thought of all the families who’ve been preparing in excited anticipation for their babies arrival only to end up with an empty nest. Whether it be through miscarriage, infertility or infant death, these families don’t get to celebrate all they’d hoped for when they began their parenting journey.

Truthfully, I’ve been sitting on this post since early Fall, wondering if I’m the “right” person to talk about this. After all, my husband and I have been extremely lucky in our personal parenting journey. But, despite writing dozens of other posts, this image of the empty nest and what it represents won’t quit me. And since I first made that connection I know several people who have experienced miscarriage and infant death personally. While I may not have experienced these things directly, I do know something about the pain of it – at least, vicariously.

Working in this field, miscarriage, infertility and infant death are realities. And after 17+ years and thousands of couples, I know families I work with who have experienced all of these things. Sometimes I’m privy to this information – a family will choose to share the details of their parenting journey with me. But oftentimes, I’m not.

As their Childbirth Educator, they might not feel comfortable sharing with me (or anyone else in class) their history of miscarriage as we’re just getting to know one another. So they remain silent about any struggles they might be having with their current pregnancy. Despite feeling especially vulnerable about the health and welfare of their baby, they might not be willing or able to reach out for support.

And even if I might have played an important role in their preparation to become parents, if a family has experienced infant death, this might be just too painful to share with anyone outside their immediate circle of support.

I respect a family’s desire to maintain their boundaries and privacy around such intensely personal events. Families should never feel pressured to share their parenting journey with anyone other than whom they choose.

I’m dedicating this poem/post to all of the families I’ve known, personally and professionally over the years who have suffered through miscarriage, infertility, or infant death as a part of their parenting journey. I’m not sure how often these realities are acknowledged. But I think they should be.

Empty Arms

“We’re pregnant!”
We want to scream it from the rooftops
But, we’ve done that before
And remember what happened last time
Parents and siblings trying on their new identities:
Grammie and Pops, Auntie Jen and Uncle Matt
Friends joking, “You’ll never sleep again!”

So,

Instead we check the test results over and over again
Like a nervous tic
“Is that a plus sign?”
“Do you see one line or two?”
And we keep the news to ourselves
Locked away
Silent, mute, anxiety-excitement
Heavy in our hearts
We won’t tell anyone

Until…

Morning sickness becomes all-day sickness
The baby starts moving –
A lot
We’re past that day, that week, that month

Because…

We need to feel the weight of the baby in our arms
The emptiness has been almost too much to bear
We can’t go through it again
Everyone else’s excitement crashing down
Heavy, crippling us under their collective grief

So,

We wait
With the breath of hope caught in our throats
We wait
For the right moment to whisper
Only to a select few
“shhhhh – we’re pregnant.”
Please keep our secret – don’t tell anyone
Don’t get excited – don’t believe it
We don’t – we can’t

Not yet

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Every time I see a baby
My heart somersaults in my chest
And I wonder

“Why can’t that be me?”

If her baby is crying and she is frustrated, or angry, or too slow to respond
I wonder
How much better I would be at this:

Mothering

Because –
Why, exactly?
Because – I want it more
Because – I deserve it more

These are not rational thoughts
I’m not proud of these thoughts
But it is completely irrational that I’m not a mother
That we’re not parents

We’ve made the decision to stop trying
But we never decided that we didn’t want to have a baby
That was decided by someone – or something – else

And no matter what bargain we tried to strike
No matter what promises or prayers
We whispered long into the dark nights
Our arms remain

Empty

We still long to be parents
That desire doesn’t just go away –
That desire to be a family
Never goes away

Not ever

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I came into this place I was a mother
Because my baby was still alive
Not of this world, yet
But alive in the world created inside me

I could feel my baby’s every movement
Stretching my belly skin taut like a drum
Pushing my ribs out of place
Tap dancing on my bladder
Beautiful pain and exquisite discomfort
Now only a ghost memory

How can we leave this place now?
Arms empty
Breasts full

We have a car seat, a stroller, a bouncy seat
And there is a room in our home
A room with a dresser, a crib, a changing table, a diaper pail
All of the trappings of what was supposed to be
Our new little family

Intolerable cruelty
How will we ever get through this?

The pain is hot and sharp
It pierces and stabs
The pain is cold and dull
It throbs and aches

A constant reminder of how much
We were willing to love

How will we
How can we
Ever allow our hearts to love this way again?

Know that I grieve deeply with you if you’ve ever experienced miscarriage, infertility or infant death. And while these are such painful realities of many parenting journeys, they deserve to be shared and talked about – if and when you are ready to do so. These experiences are important chapters of your parenting story.

One national resource that might help you process is Share: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support.

I’d also encourage families to consider individual and couples counseling. There are many therapists who specialize in working with families who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss.

Lastly, I’d like to remind all those who work with families to be aware that the parenting journey may include these painful issues and our families deserve our full support and compassion wherever they are in telling their stories.

Just Dance

Dance

Childbirth Educators usually encourage their families to consider dancing their babies out. Why?

Well, it’s an upright position which helps gravity do it’s job of bringing the baby down before it comes out (essential to the process, really). Dancing allows her pelvis to be nice and loose, and every move of her hips provides a tiny bit more room for her baby to make all the twists and turns that are necessary to be born. It also allows the woman and her partner to be in a position that really promotes intimacy and connection. This, in and of itself, can increase contractions and progress the labor due to increased oxytocin production. And lastly, dancing is a really easy position which can be cranked up or down depending on the circumstance. Is she trying to get her labor to pick up speed, or does she just want a slow swaying rhythm to help keep her in a coping mindset as labor intensifies?

I usually introduce this position in class as the “Middle School Slow Dance.” You know what I’m talking about, Momma places her arms around partner’s neck and their hands rest on her hips. Because I went to a Catholic school as a child, we were told by the nuns to not get too close – we had to “leave room for Jesus!” I’m pretty sure that when you were making this baby your bodies were not three feet apart, so leave Jesus out if it for now and move in really close.

There’s always a moment of awkwardness in class when we start practicing positions – especially this one. I get it – there’s usually a bunch of other people in the room and it seems silly. But if you practice positions before labor ever begins you’re much more likely to actually use those positions while having your baby.

Once families are in position, it cracks me up that I always have to remind them that the position is called “Slow Dancing” for a reason – dance, people! That movement of hips swaying from side to side, even if only a little bit, can have a real impact by providing a calming rhythm and some movement to help the baby maneuver through the pelvic structure and down the birth canal.

We can make this position even more comfortable for Mommas if we encourage them to lean directly onto their partner’s chest and drop their arms to their sides. Making this position more comfy for the partners might mean having them lean up against a wall, or sitting them on the edge of the labor and delivery bed – positioned just at the right height – so they can feel supported as they support her.

In my classes, this is about the level of dancing I can get my couples to practice ahead of time and in front of a small crowd of people. But, I’d love for them to think about dancing for real when they’re actually in labor.

I did some dancing this weekend – it was kind of spontaneous, and it might have involved a few beers and maybe some Karaoke – but it made me feel so good. My calf and neck muscles ached a little bit the next morning, and at first I couldn’t understand why. But then, I thought back to the jumping up and down and a little bit of head-banging that went on the night before and a big smile came to me. My whole body was remembering how happy I’d felt in those moments the night before, and then – bonus! – I got to experience the residual happiness I had in the memory of it all.

I think dancing in whatever way feels good to you – to try and induce labor, to distract yourself during early labor, or to encourage rhythm and ritual in coping with contractions as they intensify in active labor – should be taught and encouraged in all of our classes. I’m even considering another certification to teach families how to dance their babies out. I found this organization called, Dancing for Birth, while I was looking for YouTube video examples of how women have used dancing to either start their labors or get their babies out.

What do you think about adding dancing into your prenatal fitness routine, your labor and delivery toolbox, and even as part of your postpartum recovery? It feels like forever since I had my last baby – only 6 1/2 years, really! But I think if I were to have another (it’s never going to happen – I’m all done!) I’d consider using much more dancing throughout the process to help bring my baby into the world. Dancing your baby out might make the whole process much more fun and enjoyable – something to look forward to with excitement. And you know I’m all about that!

Did you dance your baby out? Does this sound impossible? Or does the thought of using dance to move through your labor sound wonderful? Let me know your thoughts about attending classes that specifically teach you how to dance for birth.

HELP – I’m Drowning!

Sea

When it comes to new parenting, many of us can feel like we’re drowning in a sea of information, of impossible learning curves, of all the things we have to do to just get through the day. This old flyer from The American Red Cross about how to rescue the drowning caught my eye and, because everything I ever look at somehow connects to my work with expectant and new parents, I think the phrase “Row-Throw-Go-Tow” is a good one for all of us to consider as we watch new parents wading into this dangerous sea for the first time. Here’s how you can help rescue them if they’re drowning!

When you see a new parent out and about, and they have that slightly crazed look in their eyes that reveals that they’re operating on very little sleep, and are at great risk of being unable to hold up their end of an adult conversation – row on over to them. They’ve probably been doing a lot of reading, information-gathering, and video-watching. But all of that pales in comparison to talking to a real, live person who’s actually thrashed their way through this wild sea – and survived.

If you can, throw them a couple of lifelines! After admiring the baby for a minute make sure to ask the baby’s age and then – tell these new parents that they look fabulous! When we’re first venturing out and about with our littles, we’re not feeling like we’ve got it all together (because we haven’t!) and we’re worried that it shows in our face, unwashed hair, and potentially spit upon clothing. Maybe reveal a little bit about what your own crazy morning was like, so they can feel like you’re swimming with them in this raging sea. Help these new parents feel better about themselves – it helps them feel better about their parenting.

There are literally tons of available media for consumption about new parenting – a Google search on this topic will pull up 215,000,000 results in .32 seconds! They don’t need another referral to a website – they need a real person. Go to them and be that source of real, down-to-earth, here’s-how-it really-is parenting advice. But only if they ask for advice first – always respect the Parental Code of Honor.

Remember how scared you were and how vulnerable you felt as a new parent and help those who are coming along behind you still struggling to keep their heads above water and tow them along. Carry them close to your chest until they’re feeling like they’ve got more solid footing underneath. Knowing that they can count on you to bring them to safety will make them feel so much better, and guess what? It’ll make you feel pretty great, too!

When we feel lost at sea as new parents, it’s sometimes those strangers who “get it” and say the right words at the right time that can save us. If you feel like you’re drowning in this new parenting sea right now, look for those who are able and willing to rescue you. And if you’ve made it to the other side, then help a drowning person out – they’ll be forever grateful that you did!

Where are you in this sea of parenting? Drowning, or safely on the other side? Do you have any memories of those sweet rescuers that helped you when you needed it most?

There Is Hope

Hope

What if you really wanted to be a Momma? What if you and your partner tried for a long time to get pregnant – and it finally happened? What if you were not in the “right” relationship at the time you found yourself surprised by a pregnancy? What if you chose to do this whole thing on your own because you never found the “right” relationship? What if, no matter what the circumstances surrounding getting pregnant, you were (immediately, eventually, finally, reluctantly?) happy about it? What if you had a super challenging birth? What if your birth was fantastic?

So many questions today! But what I’m trying to get at, is that no matter what the circumstances or level of happiness you might have had about your pregnancy or birth, you might find that once the baby is born, you’re not feeling the way you had expected to feel.

Maybe you’re having a hard time getting through the “baby blues” that everyone told you about. It’s those hormones readjusting postpartum, and should taper off by about two weeks after your baby’s birth. But maybe nobody told you that this “normal” hormonal fluctuation would be so severe or random. It feels like you’re on this emotional rollercoaster – first you’re up, then down, racing through corkscrew turns at breakneck speed before starting all over again.

What if these blues don’t subside? It’s so important to check in with your partner, especially right around that two week mark to take stock of how you’re feeling. If you’re able to breathe a huge sigh of relief because you’re feeling more and more like yourself again, then you’re on your way.

But if it’s the opposite, these feelings are not lessening and being replaced by more positive feelings about yourself, your partner and your baby, then I want you to be on the lookout for a potential PMAD: Postpartum Mood or Anxiety Disorder. We used to call this postpartum depression, but now it’s more comprehensive to talk about mood or anxiety disorders because not everyone presents with depression. This term has been expanded to include other emotions like anxiety and anger so women understand they should be checking in with their provider if they’re not feeling more like themselves in a relatively short period of time after their baby’s birth.

Currently, 1 out of every 7 women will experience a PMAD following the birth of their baby, and 1 in 10 men will do the same. Hormonal fluctuations, negative birth experiences, living far from our families of origin, lacking a strong support network, societal expectations that we be back at our desks and ready to work too soon, and the pressures from social media to share only good and positive emotions could all be contributing factors to these high numbers.

It’s important to talk about this and share widely, to shed some light on this subject. Because no matter what the circumstances of our pregnancy or birth, we’ve been fed the myth that parenting a newborn child is supposed to be the happiest time of our lives. Just look at any media depicting the newborn period. Can you recall even one that doesn’t show an impossibly perfect and well put-together woman glowing as she holds her gorgeous, smiling, baby who never cries?

I’m just arguing that for most women, their reality of early parenting looks nothing like this. When the expectations for our babies, partners and ourselves are set so incredibly high then the gap that exists between those expectations and our reality must also be a contributing factor.

The symptoms of PMADs can include the following: Frequent sadness or crying, changes in appetite, not being able to sleep or wanting to sleep all the time, feeling emotionally numb, helpless or despairing, being irritable or having surges of anger, feeling guilty or ashamed, not being able to concentrate, having a lot of anxiety or panic about caring for the baby, or the health of the baby, lack of sex drive, or lack of feelings for your baby. Some of these symptoms can be experienced by almost every postpartum woman at one point or another – but it’s the frequency of experiencing these symptoms that matters.

If there’s even the slightest recognition in the above symptoms, you might be experiencing a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder – and I want to give you a message of hope. What you’re feeling at this moment does not negatively reflect on you as a parent, or on how much you love your baby. You can feel better than you do right now. There’s an amazing organization that can help called Baby Blues Connection. This is a local organization that has been instrumental in helping Mommas and families find hope since 1994. But even if you’re not local to this area, BBC has information that can help you and your partner navigate the world of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Please check it out.

One of the biggest barriers to getting help when you’re experiencing a PMAD, is the stigma of asking for help. We still tend to think that parenting is a DIY activity and that if you’re struggling with any aspect of it, you should just wear a fake smile and never admit it to anyone – not even to yourself. But once you receive the help that you need, you’ll be parenting so much closer to how you were hoping you would.

Parenting a newborn is hard, stinky, thankless work sometimes. But despite all of this, it should be something that can bring you joy. I want that for you. I hope this message reaches you so that you, in turn, can reach out for the help that you need – help that will make you feel whole and hopeful again.

Have you experienced any of the symptoms of a PMAD before? Are you just now realizing that how you’re feeling might be more than just “baby blues?” Will you reach out for the help you need to make parenting something you can enjoy?

Shhh… Baby’s Sleeping

Whisper

Those signs you receive at baby showers that are supposed to go on your front door asking people to knock softly and avoid ringing the doorbell so your baby will stay asleep are really interesting to me. Not that I don’t understand how badly it sucks when you finally get a baby to sleep to have them wake up sooner than you’d like. No, I get that. But those signs worry me that new parents might think the only way to keep their baby asleep is to tiptoe around the house in their socks and speak in a nearly inaudible whisper. That really limits what you can do as a new parent. It’s super impractical, in my opinion.

I remember images of our baby asleep in her bouncy seat. One particular time comes to mind: our friends came over with their toddler, and we ate brunch and talked in normal voices, and then the toddler had a tantrum about having a poop diaper, and then our dog went crazy and started barking – and our baby slept right through all of it. She didn’t even stir. But later, after everyone had gone home, and our dog was taking a nap, and my husband and I were reading quietly, a pen dropped off of the edge of the countertop – and our baby startled awake and began crying!

What? That doesn’t make any sense. Unless you take into account that newborns sleep patterns are different than ours and won’t look familiar until they’ve made it through that 4th trimester, about 12 weeks. For myself and my baby, I found that wearing her during the daytime hours for the first three months (and yes, it was almost constant!) allowed me to maintain normal activity during the day – with normal volume.

I listened to talk radio the whole day through. It was my constant companion aside from my first-born. I never thought to lower the volume of the radio just because she was sleeping, I wouldn’t be able to hear it! So our days were spent listening to the soundtrack of a rowdy dog plus NPR personalities keeping us up-to-date on the greater world around us. And she would wake and sleep at intervals that were pretty normal for a newborn – every couple of hours, as she needed to eat. Once we’d finished a breastfeeding session, we’d have a little face-to-face time, do a diaper-change, and she’d get another little snooze in before the whole cycle began again.

Babies can be very different one, from the next, and if you find that you have a baby that really requires a quiet house in order to sleep at all, then maybe these signs are for you. And I sincerely hope that they work and that you get some sleep while you’re baby is sleeping too.

But if you’re finding yourself feeling locked in your house because it’s nap-time, and you can’t have anyone over or listen to music or a podcast while you’re baby’s sleeping for fear of waking them up, then maybe see what happens if you strap them on and go about your day with normal volume.

You need to find the right balance for both of you. It’s important to take your baby’s needs into account, but I’d argue it’s just as important to take your own needs into account. You’ll be a much happier parent if you feel like you can maintain some form of normalcy in that newborn period.

For me, walking on tiptoe and speaking in whispers wasn’t going to cut it. Thankfully, my baby seemed just fine with daytime noises – she’d just tune them out when she really wanted to sleep hard, but if she was in a lighter state of sleep she’d more or less doze until she was ready for her next meal.

She always woke up to eat – no matter the volume of what was going on around her.

Did you have a sign that you put on your front door asking people not to knock or ring the doorbell? Did it make a difference in terms of how long you baby would sleep at a stretch?