Happy World Doula Week!

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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?

Sex Life? What Sex Life? PART I

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I looked through all of my old posts thinking I must have written about postpartum sex on my blog, and even though the search term “sex” yielded 10 posts (!), none of them was specifically about postpartum sex. How can this be? It’s one of my all-time favorite topics to cover in my classes because 1) my soon-to-be-parents don’t realize they’ve already set expectations about it and 2) even though all of them are curious, they won’t ask about it in front of a group.

So without further ado, here’s my take on sex after the baby arrives. (But even if you’re not pregnant or newly parenting, read both Parts I & II – later this week. I swear there will at least one tip in here you can take away to improve your sex life no matter if you’re babies are all grown up, or even if you’ve never had a baby!)

It seems that all of the books written so far about pregnancy, birth and babies (mine will be the exception!) say new Mommas should wait until six weeks postpartum before having sex again. So, why six weeks?

This usually coincides with a new Momma’s clinic appointment with her provider where they’ll check to make sure postpartum bleeding has stopped and that any stitches in the perineum have healed nicely. When the provider gives the green light for sex to resume at this six week checkup, they’re only addressing physical readiness – not emotional readiness.

But this gets overlooked so often that it’s been translated to mean: All new Mommas should be ready to have sex again at six weeks postpartum. It’s become a set expectation for many couples. How do I know? Because, I ask them.

“How long do you have to wait to have sex again after your baby is born?”

What follows is a chorus of male and female voices echoing throughout the classroom: “Six weeks! Six weeks! Six weeks!” In all my years of teaching, I’ve never heard anything else. I feel compelled to address this issue and help them set realistic expectations about what their reality might be when it comes to postpartum sex.

To be sure, there are some women for whom the six week waiting period is actually a trial – they’ve been feeling pretty randy, riding the waves of those Oxytocin hormones and ready to get back at it even before that first postpartum visit with their provider. But not everyone feels that way.

During pregnancy, a lot of women read about the six week waiting period and think, “A month and a half? I’m sure I’ll be ready for sex by then.” But there are lots of factors that she can neither predict nor control that might delay her readiness for postpartum sex. That six week mark might come and go and she might be surprised by how not ready she is for sex.

But if the only information these new parents have heard is “Six weeks! Six weeks!” this can become the expectation about when they’re supposed to get back at it – ready or not. 

Sexual desire postpartum varies from woman to woman, but I find that new Mommas have lots of outlets to talk about this topic with other new Mommas. Partners? Not so much. And if we’re talking specifically about new Dads, maybe not at all.

For a lot of men, when they find someone they’re wanting to spend the rest of their life with, what they do in the bedroom stops being a topic of conversation with their buddies. And so, if their sex life has not resumed by six weeks postpartum (the only information they have on this subject), they might start to think there’s something wrong with their relationship. They might feel like the baby has gotten between them as a couple, that the baby has changed everything.

The vast majority of the time this is simply not true. In fact, watching her partner be tender and vulnerable in this new role of parenting their baby can actually be a real turn-on for a lot of new Mommas! But that doesn’t mean they’re ready to have sex just yet.

Why?

A whole bunch of reasons, like:

  • She might not feel all that sexy as a new Momma. No matter how much weight she put on during pregnancy, when she leaves the hospital, a new Momma is likely to look about six months pregnant. Only now, her belly isn’t tight and firm, it’s super jiggly. And her breasts? While impressively larger than they were before, are now being used for a completely different purpose. They might be off-limits in terms of her sexuality – at least for a little while.
  • She is exhausted. She is soooooooooo exhausted. And when weighed on a scale, “Sex vs Sleep” sleep will always win. Always.
  • She might be terrified that having sex will hurt like hell. And for a lot of women, it might. For those that don’t feel pain with sex, it still might take awhile for it to feel good again. Breastfeeding can cause vaginal dryness, so some sort of lubrication will be necessary for most women. Remember –  she just pushed a pretty large something out of her vagina. Putting anything back inside her vagina can be a really scary thought for new Mommas. And fear is a pretty big turn-off.
  • She might be worried about getting pregnant again. Note: breastfeeding is not a form of birth control and you’re always fertile before you know you’re fertile. So don’t mess around with this one – make sure that you have an idea about how you plan on preventing a pregnancy if you’re not ready to have your babies super close together!
  • She might be having a hard time reconciling her sex-kitten self, with her new Momma self. Can those two roles even coincide with one another? Do parents still have sex? Do my parents still have sex? Why did you make me think about that???? You can see the dilemma that some women have with reconciling these two ideas.
  • She’s having a harder time concentrating and might find it difficult to let go. The stress of being fully responsible for another human being’s life weighs heavy on a new Momma. While she might be able to rely on you as her partner and co-parent, it’s her body that’s in full recovery mode and trying to make the food that’s necessary for her baby to live. It’s kind of a big deal. And she worries about this stuff a lot more than you think she does.
  • Maybe her sense of self-esteem and self-worth has taken a hit now that she’s “just” a full-time Momma. She’s grappling with this new identity that conflicts with what the world says a successful woman looks like. Does the work she’s doing now as the primary caregiver have as much value as the work she did in her office just weeks before?
  • She might have no libido – zero, zilch, nada. And while this has to do with shifting hormones, and usually resolves itself after some time, this can be a tremendous blow to the woman who used to have a healthy sex appetite before her baby was born.

Stick with me for Part II of this post, because it ends on a much more positive note, I swear it! It also includes some thoughts about how to make your sex life better in the short and long-term.

Are there any other issues I’ve missed that might make a woman hesitant to have sex soon after having her baby? How long before you had sex post-baby, and how long before you enjoyed sex post-baby? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments.

The Eyes Have It

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There’s an article that I just read from the BBC about a project called “One Day Young” from London photographer, Jenny Lewis, who for the past seven years has been capturing a stolen moment in time in the lives of new mother/baby pairs within 24 hours of birth. I encourage you to look at all of the photos she’s taken for this project. Then come back and read the article and see if you agree with what I’m about to say.

All of her photos are mesmerizing to me and I recognize my own self as new Momma in the disheveled hair, the still pregnant looking bellies, the exhaustion visible in every pore. I love that the photos are not retouched and appreciate that the photographer has really attempted to show a more realistic image of new motherhood.

But to be sure, I see myself more in the faces of the women who have a slight smile on their lips, maybe a bit of a gleam in their eyes – those women who seem to be thinking, “I can’t believe I just did that! I’ve got a secret… I totally kick ass, and this baby is my proof!” At least that’s how I felt after the birth of my first baby and I’m pretty sure a picture taken at that time would have reflected my inner rock star.

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(Photo by Jenny Lewis)

But the images that linger in my memory, are ones like this:

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(Photo by Jenny Lewis)

“I am not entirely sure who is to blame for the rose-tinted vision of motherhood. It doesn’t matter how many times someone tells you how tough it is to have a baby. Before you have one, you never quite get it. I often think about vulnerable mothers in tough circumstances and how they manage.”

Gitta Gschwendtner, mother of Til

There are photos in this collection where there are no Mona Lisa smiles. These are the ones that show a different set of emotions: “I have no idea what I’m supposed to think of you, let alone how to take care of you.” Or, “My birth was traumatic and I feel ripped off!”

You can sense the fear, anxiety or anger behind those eyes that are averted or avoiding direct eye contact with their baby. And while there are only a few pictures from the entire collection that have connected narratives in the original article from the BBC, they seem to complete one another perfectly. The image and words just fit for that baby’s first day of life, that woman’s first day of mothering.

But this leads me to ask a question… Oftentimes, new Mommas suffer from PMADs (Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders) in complete silence, their outside demeanor belying what hell they’re going through on the inside. How does this happen? If during those first 24 hours a photographer can capture these images, what are we missing? Because I’m sure you’ve seen the photos of women who’ve been struggling with a PMAD months after their baby’s birth and in all the pictures from that time, you’d have a hard time knowing it: they look joyful, happy, as though everything is wonderful – while inside they’re falling apart.

But in these One Day Young photos, the difference between the women who are suffering and unsure, versus those who look eager and excited to take on their new roles is obvious.

It’s purely speculation on my part, because I haven’t interviewed any of these women and have no idea about their medical history or how their births turned out, but I would be willing to guess that unmet expectations definitely played a part and contributed to their looks of disillusionment and overwhelm.

This is not their fault. Like Gitta says above, there’s a rose-tinted vision of motherhood that is pervasive in our culture and this doesn’t do anybody any favors.

Parenting is hard. It’s the hardest thing that I’ve ever done in my life on every possible level. And we need to be sharing this message with more people and more often.

There might be naysayers who cry out, “You don’t want to scare them!” But realistic expectations are not scare tactics. Different aspects of parenting will be more or less challenging for each individual (as an example, for me,  it was the entire year each of my children turned three…) Knowing that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns allows women to understand what they’re getting themselves and their partners into.

Even though I’m just supposed to be talking about getting a baby born in my classes, I throw in some info now and again about the realities of life with a newborn, so that they’ve at least heard it from one person before the baby arrives.

This is going to be hard. There will be days that you hate it. There will also be days that you can’t believe how much you love it. You’ll be stretched to your absolute limit – multiple times. You’ll have a mirror held up before your face every.single.damn.day and even though you try your hardest to be the best version of yourself, oftentimes you’ll fail and be a version of yourself that you really don’t like that much. You’ll compare yourself to others, but why? You, your partner and your baby are unique and the only “right” way to parent your baby is the way that’s working for your family – today. Because, it’s not going to work a month from now. You will never “arrive” as a parent. Because it never ends. There will always be a new challenge to learn from.

The photos of these women in their first 24 hours with their babies are raw, they’re real, and these women have just gone through the most intense transformative experience of their lives and they’re not able to mask their true emotions and vulnerabilities.

And I think we need more of that. All of us. We need to put down our armor and share openly, first with ourselves, and then with those people we love, about what’s really going on inside. But then, that circle needs to expand.

We need to be willing to share with other new parents our highs and our lows of parenting. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Find your tribe now. Find that tribe of people who will celebrate your parenting successes, and listen to your parenting fails – followed up by sharing a few of their own.

Knowing just how challenging this parenting job can be and having realistic expectations about what’s to come, is empowering to new families. When they feel prepared and armed with realistic expectations about their roles, unfettered by rose-tinted visions, they’ll end up feeling less isolated, alone and incapable and more able to partner and parent with confidence: all the things we should want for our new families.

How can you bring more realistic expectations into the work you do with new families? If you are a parent already, how could you help expectant parents have more realistic expectations about this time in their life? If you are a new parent, how could you reach out to other parents to find your tribe?

Today’s Top 10 List: Ways to Support a New Family

Top 10

Top 10 List of Things YOU Can Do to Make
Our Lives as New Parents Easier

  1. Please stop by the store and pick up the following: (Provide a specific list) (Include the basics that you know you’ll go through in a week and at least one yummy treat you only buy every once in awhile as a special snack. This is not supposed to be a full shopping trip! The person spends $20 on the things you actually need and you’ll appreciate this so much more than receiving another onesie – no matter how cute it might be.)
  2. Please buy me some postpartum panties – a six-pack would be great! Color: black, size: (You might need a size up from your usual, as your body will still look and feel about six months pregnant in the early postpartum period) (This request might fall to a specific person in your life, not just someone random… You know who that special person is!)
  3. Bring us dinner! Here’s the link to our Meal Train account: (the url web address linked to your account) Please drop it off in the cooler on the front porch and leave without knocking. You can text us at this number: (cell # so you won’t have to answer the door) to let us know it’s been delivered. We will sing your culinary praises as we eat your yummy food. We so appreciate your understanding that the pressure of entertaining anyone feels overwhelming right now as we’re still getting the hang of this parenting thing.(Food is THE single greatest postpartum gift anyone could ever give you. Accept all offers until they run out!)
  4. If you can spare an hour or two in the early afternoon it would be amazing to have you come by and hold the baby so I can take a nice, long, hot shower. If you’d consider tucking me and the baby back into bed together and then folding a load of laundry before you leave? I will love you forever! (You will not believe the amount of increased laundry one eight pound little human can produce!)
  5. If you’re more of a morning person, you could come by to make me a quick and easy breakfast (not too early, please) – and then clean out my fridge. If this could happen on a (the day of the week you usually put out trash and recycling) that would be even better! (If they’re willing to take the bins to the curb for you before leaving, let them! That’s one less chore partner will have to take care of this week!)
  6. If you want to vacuum and straighten up while I sleep with the baby it would be like a dream come true for me when I wake up to a cleaner house. Thank you! (Too many Mommas clean house while the baby sleeps, instead of resting or sleeping while the baby sleeps. Having someone take care of a few housecleaning basics is a tremendous gift!)
  7. Are you an animal lover? Have we got the job for you! Come and spend some time giving our pet(s) a little extra TLC. (Pet’s name) is feeling pretty neglected right now and it’s breaking our hearts. (This is a challenge for lots of new parents, you don’t need to add “felling guilty about not taking the dog for a walk” to your new normal. Have someone else do this for you until you can figure out a new routine.)
  8. Come over and hang out with me during the most challenging part of the day (sometime between 5-10 pm). You can pretend to be (partner’s name) and help me out so that he/she can get out of the house and take a break to do something fun by him/herself or with friends. (Having some downtime is so important for BOTH Momma and partner. You will come back feeling rejuvenated for your work as a new parent.)
  9. Do you like to shop for clothes? If you’d head over to Goodwill and pick me up a couple pairs of pants in this size (pant size should 1-2 sizes up from your normal) that would be fantastic! (Mommas hate wearing maternity pants when they’re no longer pregnant, but it makes no sense to buy another whole wardrobe when your body might just need a little more time before fitting into your old clothes. Having someone pick up a few items that you can wear that have a button and a zipper – not stretch pants – helps a new Momma feel better about herself and her postpartum body.)
  10. Come over and hold our baby so we can get out of the house and do something together. It will probably be less than 2 hours (unless we check with you and the baby’s still asleep) It’s so important that we get to do something just for us. (This “date” might not be anything more than a walk around the block at 1 in the afternoon, but you must look for opportunities to connect with one another away from the baby. If for no other reason than to talk and listen to one another uninterrupted.)

Feel free to add to this list or write your own Top 10 List to hand out to friends and family so they have concrete ideas of how to help you in the postpartum period. Lots of people make offers of support – but as new parents, we either don’t know what to ask for in those first few days/weeks, or we feel badly about reaching out for help when we need it the most. Your Top 10 List helps eliminate both of these issues. Make sure to have it hanging on your fridge in the last weeks of pregnancy as well, so visitors are prepared to provide you with the specific support that you know you’ll need!

 

With a nod of appreciation to Elly Taylor for sharing this blogpost by childbirth activist, Gloria Lemay, I’ve come up with this version of the “Top 10 List of Things YOU Can Do to Make Our Lives as New Parents Easier.” It’s an attempt to encourage expectant parents to create their own list of ideas so friends and family can support them in the immediate postpartum period.

I’d planned only to create something to use in my classes, but after I’d written it out – it seemed appropriate for it to land here as well. Read it as intended: a worksheet where couples make it their own by inserting specific information in the blanks. If nothing else, I hope it’s an assist to expectant couples so they can feel more comfortable asking for help that’s practical and allows the giver to feel wonderful by completing one of these small acts of service that will be so appreciated by the receiver.

Did I miss anything? What would you add to this list? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

 

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?

A Little Goes A Long Way…

Joy

I’ve been away from my role as Momma to my four children for the past five days. I’ve been at an amazing writer’s workshop and retreat at the Mohonk Mountain Resort with seventeen other writers discovering the heart of the Story that we feel we must tell. It was an awesome experience, and I mean that in the truest definition of the word, not the overused junk word that this has become – “Omg, these pancakes are awesome!”

I was at times completely and utterly in awe – gazing out at the gorgeous reds, yellows and browns of the Catskills as dawn’s sunrise bathed the hillside with gold. I was in awe as my body hiked and ran the trails of this incredible place. I was in awe as the true heart of my Story was revealed, and I now have a lot of work to do because I can no longer write a book without this at it’s center. I’m in awe that this realization of needing to infuse that heart’s story into the 70,000+ words I’ve already written, has not caused me to breakdown and cry. And I sat in rapt awe last night and listened as my new tribe opened their hearts to share their own Stories. There was so much talent, power and healing in that room, it was palpable. 

The word that echoed in my mind all week long was gratitude.

Gratitude for the people of Tracking Wonder who put this experience together for all of us, gratitude for all the participants who were willing to be open so that incredible connections could be made. But mostly gratitude for my husband, Roberto and my four children, Elisa, Alejandro, Lucía, and Félix, who love me enough to let me go and have this time away to be more than Momma and wife. Their unwavering support will ultimately be the reason why my book, my Story, will be told.

It’s so important that all of us, especially parents, remember to do things that bring us joy every once in awhile. After we become parents, it’s all too easy for us to get swept up in the day-to-day grind of changing diapers and late-night feedings – the insistence of it all – that we forget that joy is something that each one of us needs in order to do this parenting work.

It doesn’t have to be a steady, constant joy. It doesn’t have to be big and dramatic (like getting away for five days in upstate New York). It can come in small bursts and fits – as long as we’re ready to recognize it. Prolonged, unceasing joy isn’t very realistic or something that we would be able to sustain. It’s the joy that comes along to interrupt the day-to-dayness that matters. When we can get glimpses of who we are aside from the various roles we play, we feel that joy in concentrated amounts.

We don’t always need a lot of joy, but we do need some of it. Ask for it. You will find that (after your body clock resets from the three-hour time difference) you’ll come back to your parenting with a renewed sense of purpose and – dare I say it? Joy.

How do you find joy in your day-to-day life? If you’re feeling stuck in the day-to-dayness of your parenting role, how can you ask for the time and space to feel some joy away from your role as parent? If your partner is not having moments of joy, how can you help them find some?