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.

Sex Life? What Sex Life? Part II

SexLifePartII

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?

“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?

What’s Your “Love Language?”

Love

My parents have been married for close to 60 years! Isn’t that incredible? Even more incredible is that they are still very much in love with one another. There’s is not a story of staying together just because they have a shared history and six children, fourteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, to consider. No, I’m certain that if asked they would say they’re more in love today, almost six decades later, than the day they married. How is that even possible? If you were to ask my father I’m pretty sure he’d tell you that it all boils down to this: being thoughtful.

We have a very romanticized view of what love is supposed to look like and feel like. That image gets planted like a tiny seed when we’re little kids. Disney is full of romantic stories where true love always wins the day. And adult depictions of love aren’t any better. Any rom-com worth seeing will show impossibly gorgeous people who overcome all obstacles put in their paths, to then drive off into the sunset together – a life full of incredible sex and romance to keep them happy all the rest of their days.

That’s a pretty amazing and idealistic view of love, but I’m guessing that even if you’ve had the good fortune to swoon in the early days, when you were just forming that romantic attachment to your partner, that you’ve also realized that this type of love is not super sustainable over the long-haul. There has to be something else to fall back on as a couple to allow the waxing and waning of romantic love to flow as it does over a lifetime of loving one another.

So how does “being thoughtful” fit into this idea of love? It doesn’t sound very romantic.

I think thoughtfulness is the foundation for the concept of “Love Languages.” Have you heard of these? Dr. Gary Chapman has written a whole book based on this concept. Basically, there are five different ways people express their love to one another: Physical Touch, Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, and Receiving Gifts,. If you’re interested, you can read much more about “Love Languages” here in an article written just a couple of days ago on lifehacker. I feel lucky that my husband and I figured out each other’s love language before this concept had ever been discovered! I think speaking one another’s love language can really help a couple keep communication and intimacy happening during the normal waning period of romantic love. Something to tide you over until that romantic love returns again.

Early on in our marriage, I would go out of my way to pick up my husband’s dry cleaning so that he wouldn’t have to do it later in the day. When I came home and handed it to him with a flourish, he’d barely acknowledge what I’d done and would mumble a quick, “Oh, thanks.” And I would fume silently. “Doesn’t he appreciate me and all I do for him?!” Clearly, I’m an “Acts of Service” kind of gal. I express love by doing things for other people and I feel especially loved by others when they do things for me.

In contrast, my husband used to say nice things to me all the time, “I love that dress!” and I’d respond with, “What this? I’ve had it for years – I think it’s old and ugly.” And I’d watch as he deflated before my very eyes. See, he’s a “Words of Affirmation” dude. He expresses love by telling others what he thinks is wonderful about them, and feels most loved when he is acknowledged by others through verbal affirmation.

Once we figured this out, and started trying to speak one another’s love language, instead of defaulting to speaking our own, things began to change. And today, I take the time to let my husband know when I think he looks extra sharp going off to work. Or better yet, when I tell him what a great Dad he is to our children, he stands about three inches taller! And if he sees that I’ve had a long day, pours me a glass of red wine, offers to put the kids to bed and finish up the dishes while I sit and watch some bad reality TV? He’s probably going to get lucky later on, because he’s definitely speaking my language!

In my classes I have couples do a quick 5-minute assessment that I’ve created based on the actual quiz that you can find here. And I challenge them to start consciously speaking the other’s primary love language. At first, honestly it can feel completely fake and cheesy. But a really interesting thing starts happen as you’re actively working to speak in the language your partner responds to best: you are practicing thoughtfulness. You are thinking of your partner deliberately and trying to show them how much you love them. And oftentimes, they respond with more thoughtfulness and this lovely circle of positive feedback starts to surround you both.

Then 60 years go by and you’re even more in love than the day you met!

Okay, so there’s probably going to be a lot more stuff that goes on between speaking one another’s love language and being happily married for 60 years, but I think it’s a great place to start. Give it a try as a couple – it only really works if you’re both willing to invest the time and attention this deserves. I think you’ll find it really helps to strengthen your relationship. This is a great thing to do even before baby arrives – but it’s never too late to try to speak to each other with love.

Have you heard of “Love Languages” before? Have you ever tried “speaking” your partner’s love language instead of your own? How did it feel for you? Did you find that it strengthened your relationship?