How Pregnancy & Birth Transformed Me

 

Transformation

It’s not a new idea: Pregnancy and birth are powerful, transformative experiences. But I believe this power to transform happens every single time you’re preparing to become a parent, whether it’s your first time or your fifth!

Each of my pregnancies and births taught me and transformed me anew. The focus is usually on how much the first experience of pregnancy and birth transforms a woman into a mother. And this makes sense: the first time you do anything, makes the biggest impact. Everything’s new and it ends up feeling like all the really big stuff happens the first time.

But, actually, each time we say yes to becoming a parent – biological, adoptive, even if the pregnancy ends in loss – the decision to become a parent marks the start of the transformation process.

Growing up, I would have been considered a “tom-boy.” Even though I was quite comfortable in my body (I liked being a girl!) and I was solid in my heterosexuality (I really liked boys!) I’ve never considered myself to be super feminine.

My imaginary friend as a preschooler was a baseball-loving boy named Michael. If you were looking for me I’d probably be outside climbing trees or catching crawdads in the lake. I hated dolls and never played with them (the irony of this is not lost on me!) and I’d much rather play soccer or football with the boys than do anything else with the girls. And while all of these might be pretty stereotypical examples, they’re all true.

As a kid, I was hyper-aware of how boys were treated differently from girls. Even at a young age, I figured out that this difference had nothing to do with intelligence or character – it was because they were boys. I realized early on, that there was power in being male. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I hung out with boys more than girls when I was growing up. I wanted some of that power. 

(Or it could just be a part of my hormonal make-up. Once, in a conversation with my 13-year old son, I mentioned that I might have more testosterone than most women, to which he replied, “Mom you’ve got more testosterone than most men.” Ha!)

In any case, I’ve always been aware of the power imbalance that exists between the sexes based solely on gender, and I don’t think it’s cool. 

But when I became pregnant the first time, almost immediately, I realized something:

Women are the ones who are really powerful.

Our bodies, the very same bodies that might keep us from claiming the highest positions of power in business, politics, and lots of other areas, are co-creators of human life. Being newly pregnant and making this discovery, I remember thinking how sad it was that my husband was “just a man” and would never be able to experience what real power was all about.

For instance, I created a brand new organ to nourish my developing baby because, duh – I was that cool. And by virtue of being a woman, I created my baby’s bones, her brain, all of the internal organs, her skin, a couple of ears, some hair, her fingernails, eyelashes and a bunch of other stuff. I was making a brand new human being from scratch. And even though it was incredibly demanding, exhausting, and hard work, I did it 24/7! I created this new human being while working, teaching – even while I was sleeping!

All of a sudden, my relationship with being female was completely transformed! I didn’t become any less “tom-boyish.” My testosterone to estrogen/progesterone levels have stayed about the same. But everything about how I felt about being a woman had been transformed. I made my peace with being female in a male dominated world because I had discovered the real truth: Women are powerful beyond measure!

It was unexpected, this transformation. In fact, I’d wondered before I ever became pregnant if I was going to hate the physical limitations of my pregnant body. And while I can’t say that I loved every minute of it, overall I thought that the whole process was amazing. And that I was awesome!

I’m lucky to have a partner who was willing and excited to accept this transformation. He never felt threatened as I discovered this new personal power in my female form. Too often, when the person we love most in the world starts any transformation process, instead of supporting them, we get scared. We fear they’ll outgrow us, or no longer need us, so we try to tamp it down, make it not quite so big. Without even realizing it, we tell our partners through our lack of enthusiastic support, “You can be transformed, but just a tiny little bit.”

Transformation is a big word. Webster tells us that it is:

a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance; a metamorphosis during the life cycle of an animal.

But that’s exactly what pregnancy and birth offer all of us: powerful transformation – but only if we allow it. We don’t need to go in search of this transformation, we just need to notice it when it happens.

And when we do notice it happening, try not run away from it. Don’t be afraid of it. Feel it out a little bit. Embrace it. Talk about it with your partner. Assure them that this transformation you’re experiencing is about both of you growing into your new roles as parents. And then notice and appreciate the transformation as it happens for them as well.

For every woman and her partner, the transformation that can occur is unique. It’s a culmination of all of your experiences to date. And every single transformative experience we go through, birth or otherwise, has something to teach us – if we’re willing to learn.

My first pregnancy and birth taught me what real power was and that I’d possessed it all along. My second taught me what really matters in a birth story and it wasn’t at all as I’d thought. Number three taught me that there were still lots of surprises in life and to not to get too attached to things going my way. And my fourth taught me that the mental/emotional experiences of pregnancy and birth are at least as important and in some ways, even more important, than the physical experience.

Every time I was transformed. Maybe that transformation was most obvious with my first, but even if the subsequent transformations were more subtle, they remained equally life-changing. Each one of these powerful transformative experiences taught me important things about myself, my partner – and life. They’ve been instrumental in shaping who I am and how I move through the world today. 

How about you? Did you notice any transformation while you were pregnant or after you gave birth? If you’ve had more than one child, would you agree that the first time was the most obvious transformation for you? What have pregnancy and birth taught you?

“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 You Look Like on the Outside is Only Half the Story!

Kate vs Kim

What were your expectations about how you would look while pregnant? Maybe you were hoping that you’d look like Kate whose picture gets plastered on the front of magazine covers in the checkout aisle with a tiny arrow pointing out her adorable little “baby bump.” Maybe you really look more like Kim and now you’re feeling frustrated because your baby bump is neither little nor adorable! I can’t believe that I actually have something in common with Kim Kardashian, but apparently I do! We both “carry big.”

If you’re not careful, this can lead you down a path of negative thinking about your body just by virtue of how you carry the baby that’s inside of you. I want to talk about your amazing body – no matter what size it is – because what you look like on the outside does not tell the full story of all that is going on in the inside.

It’s important to change your negative thinking about this sooner than later. Stop agonizing about how “fat” you’re getting and instead start appreciating all that your body is doing to accommodate your growing and developing baby. Hopefully, this will lessen your anxiety about how you look, and more importantly, lessen your fears about not being able to give birth to “a really big baby.” These fears are only heightened when you listen to the misinformed opinions of others who make predictions of the size of your baby based on how you look on the outside! You might start to consider an induction to avoid giving birth to a baby you’re afraid won’t fit.

A thorough search of the ACOG Guidelines (American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), found no mention of suspected large baby as a medical indication for induction. In fact, in their paper “Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery” they state:

Suspected Fetal Macrosomia (Suspected Big Baby)
Cesarean delivery to avoid potential birth trauma should be limited to estimated fetal weights of at least 5,000 g (over 11 pounds) in women without diabetes and at least 4,500 g (9.9 pounds) in women with diabetes. The prevalence of birth weight of 5,000 g or more is rare, and patients should be counseled that estimates of fetal weight, particularly late in gestation, are imprecise.

If women are of normal weight pre-pregnant, the suggested range for gaining weight during pregnancy is 25-35 lbs. For underweight women, the range is slightly more, 28-40 lbs, and for women who are overweight or obese the range is less,15-25 lbs and 11-20 lbs, respectively. Many women gain outside this weight range – and I like to use myself to illustrate this point.

My husband is a testicular cancer survivor, diagnosed only 6 months after we were married. After 18 months of chemotherapy, surgeries and other treatments, we weren’t convinced we could even get pregnant. I was just finishing the gig of being his full-time caregiver when I was surprised to find out that I was pregnant! There was no established exercise regimen – at all. I ate well and eventually I did a little bit of pre-natal Yoga and some swimming, but nothing strenuous. Over the course of my first pregnancy, despite being considered normal weight going in, I gained 45 lbs.

With my second pregnancy, I was chasing after my 2 year old. Now, if you’ve ever spent a couple of hours with a toddler than you know that it’s quite the cardio workout! Again despite normal weight going in, I still ended up gaining 45 lbs.

Before getting pregnant with my 3rd child, I’d been seeing a personal trainer. After becoming pregnant, I continued to work out at the gym three times a week until I was about seven months into my pregnancy. And… I gained 45 lbs.

With my fourth and final baby, I had completed a couple of half-marathons, and had discovered Boot Camp classes! I continued to work out in my Boot Camp class three times a week until I was 36 weeks along. Guess how much weight I ended up gaining? Yep, 45 lbs!

Apparently, no matter what kind of exercise program I’m doing while pregnant, my body thinks it has to gain about 45 pounds in order to give birth to a healthy baby. But even though I was 10 years older with my 4th baby, my pregnancy, birth and recovery were all easier than any I’d had before! Why? Because I was in much better shape than I’d been with the other three. (Disclaimer: This does not mean you should start taking a Boot Camp class while pregnant! And if you haven’t yet had any exercise during this pregnancy, don’t beat yourself up about it. Walking, swimming and pre-natal Yoga are fantastic ways to prepare for the birth of this baby and all of them can be started at any point in your pregnancy. These simple and joint-gentle exercises help you build up stamina for the hard work of labor ahead – and they’ll also make you feel good now.)

So, if they’re not interested in embarrassing you every time you step on the scale at your clinic visits, why does your provider insist upon weighing you? Because they need to track your weight gain from visit to visit. If you have a significant jump in weight, or you gain very little or no weight at all, these could be indicators for your provider to check on your baby’s development. For example, if you end up not gaining enough weight, you could end up with a baby that has a very low birthweight. If you end up gaining more than what is recommended, you could be at higher risk of having high blood pressure or gestational diabetes. It is important to be mindful of your weight gain.

But I think what surprises women more than how much weight they gain, is how they actually look during pregnancy. If you’re a woman who has a longer torso in comparison to the rest of your body, then you might be able to sneak that baby up and inside of you for most of your pregnancy. You really are one of those women who has a tiny baby bump! But believe it or not, there’s a downside to this. People ask if your baby is okay, or if they’re developing properly because you “look too small to be carrying a healthy baby!” Or they just don’t believe you when you say you’re pregnant!

I had the opposite problem with all of my pregnancies. Maybe you’re like me and my BFF, Kim. I have less than a couple of finger widths between my hips and ribs. There’s very little room for my baby to hide and there’s nowhere for my baby to go but out. People always asked me, “Are you carrying twins?” or “You have how much time left?!” And while fielding these questions is annoying, those of us who “carry big” run the extra risk of buying into the idea that our babies are huge and there’s no way we’ll be able to deliver them vaginally.

You need to stop that train of thought – now. Inside of you, there are many things at work not visible to the eye that should provide a sense of relief and a solid belief that you can give birth to the baby inside of you – no matter what you look like on the outside.

When you were first seen by your provider and they performed that lengthy and uncomfortable pelvic exam, one of the things they were trying to determine is whether there were any concerns about the size and shape of your pelvic structure. If any anomalies were discovered (which would be rare) a Cesarean birth would have already been discussed. It’s safe to assume that your pelvis is just fine size and shape-wise.

But if you still find yourself catching your reflection in the mirror thinking – “How can I possibly deliver a baby this big?” or secretly measuring your partner’s head while they’re sleeping, then remember what’s happening inside your body that will help you give birth to whatever size baby you’re carrying.

There’s a hormone coursing through your bloodstream during pregnancy called relaxin. Relaxin, which is 10x more prevalent in pregnancy, has many properties, but is especially helpful for birth. Relaxin has a softening and widening effect on your cervix and it also relaxes the ligaments in your pelvis creating some “give” for when your baby is passing through during birth. In addition, your baby’s skull is made up of five bony plates that mold together as the baby’s head passes through and out your birth canal. This allows for the smallest circumference of their head to be moving through the birth canal at any one time.

The combination of your pelvis being plenty big enough to birth a baby, the hormone relaxin on board to loosen the ligaments in your pubic symphysis, your baby’s ability to mold its head to fit the space, and the addition of positions in labor that provide even more space for all the twists and turns your baby needs to make on their way out – translates to most women being perfectly capable of giving birth to whatever size baby they have within.

Toward the end of your pregnancy, many people – including your provider – might try and tell you what size baby they think you’re carrying. They might do this by palpating your belly at a prenatal visit but at best, it’s only a guestimate. Some studies show that even when an ultrasound is used to estimate fetal size, the measurement can be off by a pound or more in either direction!

I know a woman from my classes who went through an induction for a suspected large baby, and after a cascade of interventions which ultimately lead to an unexpected Cesarean delivery, she gave birth to a 7 1/2 lb baby! Not exactly the 10+ pound baby her provider guessed it would be if she went to full-term.

Try not to compare your body with other pregnant bodies that you see in the world. Understand that your uterus can expand anywhere from 50-75x it’s original size to accommodate your growing and developing baby. And even though your uterus was considered a pelvic organ before you were pregnant, once the baby gets big enough it becomes an abdominal organ. Depending on how much space you have between your hips and ribs, that baby might have nowhere else to go but out.

Now is not the time to think of your changing body as getting “fat” – this is the time to celebrate all of the amazing things your body is doing to bring a healthy baby into this world. Celebrate those changes! Find some time to give your body and your self-image some much needed TLC.

And remember, whether you’re a “Kate” or a “Kim” what your body looks like from the outside means little compared to what it is capable of doing from the inside!

Did you have a hard time with your changing body while pregnant? Did you feel “too small” or “too big?” How did you handle the comments of others, from your friends, provider or even complete strangers? Did what you looked like on the outside actually translate to you having a “big baby?”

Facebook… I’m not always sure how I feel about you!

Facebook

I once posted a picture of myself on Facebook lying down on my living room couch, eyes red and puffy from crying, with a tampon stuck up one of my nostrils.

 Let me explain.

I’d been playing with my then 4 year old son, Félix. He was crouched on the ground and I was leaning over about to give him a surprise tickle attack and he jumped straight up into the air. His head, which is apparently made of titanium, made direct contact with my face – specifically, the center of my face – and I thought he’d broken my nose.

Of course this couldn’t have happened at 2 pm on a Saturday. No, it happened around 4 pm on a night when I had to teach. The amount of blood that happens when you have a facial injury of any sort is awe-inspiring and has been known to put many people into a state of panic. My son looked at my face as I leaned over the kitchen sink and did what all smart people who suffer from hemophobia do – he ran upstairs as fast as he could and didn’t come back down until the scene of the crime had been completely cleaned up. Alone, and needing to stop this bleeding quickly, I called my friend Lauren – who just so happens to be an RN.

Everyone in life should be so lucky to have a friend who’s in the medical profession – especially one that lives nearby. Lauren has come to our rescue and saved us many, many trips to the ER over the years. She’s been known to come over when most people are in bed asleep to examine the cuts, bumps and other ailments kids are prone to getting at the most inconvenient times, to help us determine if this is a “Go in and be seen” kind of thing, or a “Wait and see what’s happening in an hour” kind of thing. Seriously, if you don’t already have someone like this in your life, you need to find an RN or an MD and try to cultivate a budding friendship with them. They are a source of calm and can save you big bucks in insurance co-pays.

On the day that I thought my nose was broken, I needed a quick fix to get the bleeding to stop so I could still go into work and teach later that evening. I was having a hard time finding a substitute teacher at such a late hour. I called Lauren and she told me to try an old wrestling trick. In a match, if one of the wrestlers gets a bloody nose (which I suppose happens fairly often!) they can’t get back into play until the bleeding stops. So they do the usual head back, pinch the nose trick – they just add a tampon into the nostril to stop the bleeding from the inside. Brilliant. And – bonus! – it totally worked.

You might be wondering why I felt compelled to post a picture of myself looking like this on Facebook. At the time this happened to me, I rarely posted anything, let alone pictures of myself, on social media. But this was my rebellious attempt to post something real, authentic and not very pretty on a social media site that was all too often filled with the artificial, contrived, and perfect.

I consume plenty of enjoyment from BuzzFeed, so don’t be mistaken that I’m getting all snotty about the content on social media sites. And actually, this past year has been amazing in terms of making real connections with people via Facebook, Linked In and other social media sites. But I think today’s generation of expectant parents are growing up with this lens of social media dictating to them what pregnancy, birth and parenting are “supposed” to look like. They have a level of added pressure that previous generations haven’t had to deal with before.

Not so long ago, I was speaking to a young woman and her mother and I casually asked if she was a grandmother yet. Instantly, I regretted the question. The two women shared a look and then the daughter replied hastily, “No, not yet. Haven’t found the right guy!” Her mother added, “We’re in no rush. No pressure at all.” But I could tell that this was not an easy topic for either of them. The young woman went on to explain without any provocation from me, “It’s just so hard! My FB feed is all about friends finding the ‘love of their life’. And then it’s all of their wedding photos, their honeymoon selfies, their announcement that they’re expecting their first baby. Everything’s just falling into place for them. It’s all so perfect. It just makes me feel like I’m falling behind.”

Whoa.

I knew this was an issue, but just in a couple of sentences, this young woman highlighted what can be so challenging about social media sites. Rarely, do we get to read a post that speaks to the reality of our lives. I think we all know this, but still the images of happiness and perfection start to seep in and it’s difficult to remember: People only post the good stuff. We don’t get to see the REAL stuff. In addition to this, online “communities” that don’t have a moderator to really guide discussions can all too quickly dissolve into sites where personal bias and judgement reign supreme. Anyone seeking comfort and connection can soon feel the opposite if they make a statement or pose a question that goes against what the the majority believes or supports.

This issue of “social media as community” becomes even more important when the community you are talking about is made up of men and women seeking support as they begin their journey toward becoming parents.

This is not just isolated to social media sites. I sometimes look at birth and parenting websites to see what expectant families are currently concerned about and it breaks my heart the number of times I read a post from an anxious pregnant woman leaving her particular worry or concern at 3 am in the community chat box only to see that no one ever responded to her call for help. I know that it takes a lot of time and effort to curate a discussion board and that it’s challenging to staff one even if you are a big, flashy well-known website that millions of people access daily – but come on.

Embarking on the journey to becoming a parent, means experiencing an automatic and high level of vulnerability. These men and women need to have a safe place to land when they feel like they’re falling, or failing, and the internet is not that safe place for parents a lot of the time. I’m hoping that this blog (and my eventual website and book) will all be safe places for parents to land as they try to navigate their own journeys. And in the meantime, I’ll continue to do my part to encourage authentic discussion about pregnancy, birth and parenting and help share the realities of it all. Providing parents assistance in broadening their expectations of pregnancy, birth, parenting, and to shed a light on the reality of living an authentic life as a new family is both a personal and professional mission for me.

And that might mean posting the occasional picture of myself with a tampon up my nose. Not just to post the not-so-pretty, real and authentic picture, but also to provide a tip that actually works! Two-for-one! You’re welcome.

If you’re a new or expectant Dad, here is a website that I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out. Becoming Dad is based in Australia, so the workshops are not possible unless you live in that country. But there is a Becoming Dad “Dads Only” FB group that I know is a community forum that is well moderated, respectful and a place where men of all backgrounds can feel supported and encouraged in their real-life experience of fatherhood.

I’m on the search for just such a website for Mommas. I have put the call out (on Facebook! Hah – the irony is not lost on me…) to see what sites, if any, already exist out there. I will edit this post and add to it as I gather intel. Stay tuned.

Lastly, if you’re sick to death of perfect images of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and parenting and you need a good laugh – please check out “It’s Like They Know Us” on tumblr. It takes stock images of beautiful people wearing blindingly white outfits while holding gorgeous and well-behaved infants and children – and provides hysterical captions that help you break down that impossible image of perfection. I love this site so very much.

Do you have safe places to land on the internet as an expectant or new parent? A place that would feel welcoming to all parents, no matter their pregnancy, birth, feeding or parenting choices? I’d love to compile a list. Please share.

Truth or Dare!

Dare

I’m someone who always loved the game, “Truth or Dare.” I loved the idea that, if people are playing by the rules, each player can choose whether or not they want to tell the whole truth about something, or choose to keep that secret in exchange for following through on a dare. Either choice requires great courage and vulnerability. Depending on who I was playing with, I sometimes went with a “truth”, other times, I went with a “dare.” But the entire time I was playing, I would feel the zing of being completely present, alive, excited by the possibility of it all.

You might not see the connection of a game of “Truth or Dare” to pregnancy, birth or parenting – but I do. Of course, I see connections between bellies, birth, and babies with everything.

But here’s what I mean: having a baby requires both truth and daring. I remember asking my older sister when she thought they might start a family and she responded, “Not for awhile. I think we both realize that we’re too selfish to bring a baby into our relationship right now.” Whoa – there’s an honest answer! (She went on to very selflessly give birth and mother two wonderful children – once they were ready.)

Making a decision to have a baby requires people to get honest about their feelings – about themselves as individuals, their relationship as a couple, differing parenting styles. Lots of truth-seeking behavior goes on in the lead up to actually trying to make a baby. But the process of making the baby requires daring! It can either be quick and easy or incredibly long and frustrating but finally finding success requires courage! The realization of what you’ve just locked yourself into after you read the positive pregnancy test results can leave you with mixed emotions:

“I’m so excited!”

“I’m terrified!”

“I don’t know how to feel!”

There was at least one day in every single one of my pregnancies where I had the thought, “What were we thinking?!”

But you forge ahead, daring enough to think that you’ll be able to get through nine months of a pregnancy, despite morning sickness, despite limited funds for a home remodel and baby supplies, despite being thousands of miles away from your families.

You find that on some days you need to speak your truth – about how you really hate being pregnant, even though you’ve wanted it for so long! About how you’re worried about being able to provide and support for your new family. About your nervousness that this baby will change your relationship – and not in a good way.

The day of birth arrives and you muster up every bit of courage you have to dare greatly and enter into that arena*: that space of power and surrender and intuition and a truth that is so much bigger than you are. You dare yourself to move through contractions and speak your truth to ask questions and make decisions about your birth. You dare any self-doubt to step out of the darkness and into the light. And you hold your head high as you tell the truth of your birth story – it was hard, there were challenges, but you were strong and empowered and beautiful.

And as you move from truth to dare and back again in this dance of pregnancy and birth and parenting, there is one constant: you feel completely present, alive and full of the possibility of it all. See how it’s all connected?

Did you experience discovering your own truth during pregnancy, birth or parenting? In what ways did these experiences make you feel daring?

*A nod to Brené Brown whom I hope to be BFFs with someday.

PB & Bacon – don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!

PBBacon

(Peanut Butter & Bacon Sandwiches – You”re welcome!)

I remember the day I announced to my Indiana – meat and potatoes – family that I was now a vegetarian. It was the result of a pig dissection in my sophomore year of High School – I was so grossed out by that particular unit in Biology, I swore off eating meat forever. I want to be clear, this wasn’t a philosophical thing for me – I was just really grossed out. My family’s reaction was that this was just temporary, and every night at dinner, my Dad would pass me the platter of meat and ask again, “Are you still a vegetarian?” I think this went on for at least a year before he finally dropped it. I’m pretty sure my parents thought it was “just a phase.” I’m guessing they thought I would grow out of it long before I actually did – when I got pregnant with my first baby 16 years later. That’s a mighty long “phase!”

When women become pregnant there’s all this talk of cravings – the crazy things that women will want to eat while growing their babies. There’s not a lot of conclusive science as to why normal pregnancy cravings occur. Some studies point to hormonal changes during pregnancy, some refer to the heightened sense of taste and smell having some causality, there’s been some thought that the woman’s body is lacking the particular nutrients in the food she’s craving (but, then – how do you explain chocolate?) I even read one study that talked about the ambivalence women might have toward a certain food – “I want it, but I shouldn’t eat it!” An attitude that pregnancy somehow confers permission for a woman to eat the “forbidden fruit” as it were, because she’s pregnant. That somehow, culturally, it’s not only accepted, but maybe even encouraged, that she indulge in her cravings.

Well, whatever the reason…

I initially had horrible food aversions when I was first pregnant. Everything made me sick. And there was nothing “morning” to it! I had “all-day-unless-I’m-sleeping-sickness” for the first 16 weeks of my pregnancy. And it wasn’t just nausea! I threw up 10-12 times a day and I ended up losing about 15 pounds in my first trimester. Don’t worry… I gained it all back, plus some change!

But when I was finally feeling well enough to eat, I had the most intense cravings for meat. Initially, I tried to ignore it. But I had been a really bad vegetarian over the years. What I mean is that real vegetarians know how to combine different foods to create complete proteins. I never learned how to do that. I just didn’t eat any meat. In my own mind, I must have really lacking in the protein my baby so obviously needed in order to grow and develop. Or at least that’s what I told myself as I secretly gave into my meat cravings and ate lunch at the Honeybaked Ham store and restaurant housed in the mall across the street from where I worked. For two full weeks, I’d slink over at lunchtime and order a “Pounder Sandwich” – which was a full pound of meat before you added any sort of toppings to it! I would hide in a back corner shoving this meat sandwich into my mouth like someone who’s been shipwrecked for months on an abandoned island with no food. I finally “confessed” to my husband that I was no longer a vegetarian. He shrugged and said, “I never considered you to be a real vegetarian anyway!” He was right. I’d always been just a poser.

After that initial binge eating of pounder sandwiches, I calmed down a bit and realized that I could have a little meat (and the other things that I craved…) without going too far overboard. But remember, if you are wanting to stay true to your veggie lifestyle, stay far away from the gateway meat: bacon. Once you go bacon, you’ll never go back! My favorite craving while pregnant with my first became bacon and peanut butter sandwiches. It’s delicious!

I think fulfilling pregnancy cravings in moderation is okay. The more ambivalent our attitude about what we’re putting past our lips while pregnant, “I would never eat this if I weren’t pregnant! Must be the hormones!” the more at risk we can become for over indulging in foods that are not particularly nutrient rich and best for our developing babies within. But if we never satisfy those cravings, they’ll only get stronger over time. And when you finally succumb and eat more than you would normally – you set yourself up for a really weird and unnecessary shame cycle around food. Plus, not all cravings are bad. Lots and lots of women crave fresh fruit (in December, which makes it really hard on the partners…) Meat, in itself, is not bad. Continuing to eat pounder sandwiches daily for the remaining 5 months of my pregnancy however, probably would have become an issue for me!

There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that the rates for gestational diabetes is on the rise and there are many complications that can result from what is starting to feel like an all too common diagnosis in pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can lead to issues for Momma and baby not only during pregnancy and birth, but also years down the road.

So, when listening to those cravings, pay close attention to what it is you’re really desiring. If you are wanting something savory and a bag of high-fat, high-sodium chips is calling to you, maybe switch to pretzels or popcorn: either will still provide a satisfying crunch and a little bit of salt, but won’t result in excess fat or sodium. If you’re dreaming of super deluxe extra rich strawberry ice cream, maybe what you really want is the flavor of strawberries – could it be satisfied by eating sorbet, yogurt or even fresh strawberries? If you’re craving chocolate – instead of eating en entire Snickers bar, try eating one square of extra dark chocolate. The more intense flavor might mean you don’t have to eat quite as much in one sitting, but you’ll still feel satisfied.

I’m not a fan of restrictive eating. I’ve always indulged my cravings, pregnant or not. But I try to do so with moderation. Life is more fulfilling when all of our senses are firing – and that includes our sense of taste. Pregnancy and birth shouldn’t feel like punishment.

Sometimes I’ll remind the Mommas in my classes that the baby’s brain continues to develop and grow right up to the moment that he or she is born. So when you find yourself before the vending machine and your cravings are telling you to go for the Flamin’ Hot Crunchy Cheetos and bottle of Coke, maybe you’d consider some Wheat Thins and water with lemon? Remembering that what we eat, the baby also eats can be helpful in making better decisions around food. Our cravings don’t have to control us. We can indulge them – just in moderation.

Note: If you are craving non-nutritive substances such as clay, chalk, ice, soil or sand you should let your provider know. This is a condition called pica. Pica is not considered to be a normal pregnancy craving. Your provider would most likely want to check for low levels of iron and zinc as the potential cause of your pica.

Did you have any cravings with your pregnancy? Did you satisfy them? What was your most bizarre craving food combination?

Rest Assured

Rest

When I ask the Mommas in my classes how much rest and relaxation they’re getting, they usually fall silent. They know this is something they’re “supposed” to be doing, but unless the fatigue of being pregnant overtakes them, they rarely rest as a part of their day-to-day lives.

Ask a new parent how much rest they’re getting and they might start laughing – a high-pitched, almost maniacal laughing – as though rest was something they faintly remember happening before the baby arrived to take it all away.

But rest, in my opinion, is the most important thing you could be focused on for the health of your new family.

Almost everyone, including pregnant women, ignore that pregnancy exacts a physical toll on a woman’s body. The work of creating a whole new human being is nothing to sneeze at. But we insist upon ignoring this when we’re pregnant. Acknowledging how very exhausted we are while pregnant is akin to admitting weakness or being seen as whiny or anything less than thrilled with our life circumstances. The “Pregnant SuperWoman” myth needs to be busted. Women deserve and need to seek out opportunities for rest while they’re pregnant. The few stolen moments of  breathing fully can have profound impact on energy levels, and bring a sense of peace and calm to her life that is necessary preparation for giving birth and becoming a parent.

Everyone knows that sleep deprivation is part of the early postpartum period. But what you don’t know is that this sleep deprivation in those first few weeks is at hostage interrogation levels. It’s truly unbelievable! And you need to create a working strategy to get some sleep and rest with a new little baby in your life – now. You must because everything – everything – will be so much harder if you’re not getting enough rest during the day or enough sleep at night.

Sleep, or lack thereof, is a huge postpartum issue so there are all these tried and true ways of catching up on it after the baby arrives. “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” lots of people will tell you. Are you someone who naps? If so, then this is great advice for you. But you must sleep when the baby sleeps! You’re not doing dishes or vacuuming the floor or folding laundry. 

I have a theory that non-nappers can smell the pheromones of nappers and then choose one as their partner so that they’ll compliment each other as parents. My students who can’t nap, are almost always paired up with someone who can sleep anywhere, anytime. Two non-napping new parents? That’s a recipe for disaster, my friends! I have never been a napper – even as a child! For me, a nap has to be at least 6 hours long! If it’s anything less than that, I feel hungover for the rest of the day. So in our house, “Sleep when the baby sleeps” was not an option. We had to do things a little differently.

My husband would let me stay in bed in the morning to catch up on some shut-eye and then after I woke up, he could have a nap at any point during the rest of the day (we still do this on weekends even though our “baby” is 5 years old!)

When our littles were really little, I would nurse them and go to bed at around 9 pm and then Roberto would stay up to give them a pumped bottle at 11:30 while watching a little late-night comedy, and then I wouldn’t have to nurse the baby again until around 2 am. That gave me a nice long stretch of uninterrupted sleep. It made all the difference in the world in terms of parenting my baby – and made me much nicer to my partner!

Both of you will need to strategize how you’ll find times and opportunities for rest. Talk about it now and put in place all the necessary support to make it a reality.

Stagger your visitors and make sure that they all know what their jobs are (not holding the baby!) That way you can feel like resting when your baby is napping is okay because the house is relatively clean. Rest will allow you to meet your baby’s needs better throughout the day.

Figure out how many hours of sleep you need to be human – and don’t get out of bed until you’ve gotten those hours! If you need 8 hours of sleep, then the first week postpartum you might not get out of bed to “greet the day” until close to 2 in the afternoon. Don’t despair! The following week, you’ll probably only sleep in until noon. The next week, maybe only 10 am. About 4 weeks out, you’re likely to be getting enough hours in that you can actually make it out for breakfast somewhere before they’ve switched to the lunch menu.

One last resource that I’d like to offer pregnant Mommas, postpartum Mommas and their partners is something called Yoga Nidra Meditation. Don’t let the word “Yoga” spook you – there’s no pigeon or downward dog positions happening here – just conscious napping. There are lots of practitioners who believe in the power of Yoga Nidra, but I’m not sure anyone aligns this practice with pregnancy, birth and motherhood more than a woman by the name of Karen Brody. Karen is a birth advocate, playwright, and founder of The BOLD Method for Birth. She talks often about being a cheerleader for Yoga Nidra, waving her pom-poms high in the air. Helping women find rest in order to truly wake up. And she has created 3 free Yoga Nidra offerings that she’s encouraged me to share: The Pregnancy Nap, The Mom Nap and The Health Nap. You can find them all here. Just add your name and email and click “I wanna be BOLD” and your free naps will arrive in your email. I’ve done this myself, and I can confirm that it works for the non-napper! After my sessions, I feel both rested and energetic. Please check these naps out and if you’re wowed by the results (and I think you will be) check out all of Karen’s offerings (including a 21 day FREE virtual Yoga Nidra retreat) on her website, http://www.boldtranquility.com/. Remember: make time to rest.

How much rest are you getting in your day-to-day life? How often do you allow yourself the time and space to even breathe? What are your best tips for getting more rest?