#Adaptation: #1 Job Requirement in Parenting

adaptation

Today we all have a choice: We can take risks and actions to ensure that we adapt with the constantly changing times or we can hope for the best and do nothing. Adapt from within or you may be forced to adapt from without. Are you ready? #Adaptation

This is the latest “instigation” from Linda Rottenberg as part of a really cool program I’m involved in during the moth of December to envision how I will try to do “business as unusual” in 2017. If you’re interested, check it out – there’s still time to join me on this Quest. I’ve been writing a lot in response to these prompts (this one is #8), but sometimes they’re more personal and end up in the private Quest 2017 Facebook forum. But sometimes an instigation like the one above, fits so well with what is asked of new parents, that I feel compelled to share the response here.

I can think of no other time in my life where I’ve had to adapt more than when I first became a parent. Starting in pregnancy I felt like I had to adapt constantly month by month, week by week, day by day, hour by hour, and so on…

We are creatures who appreciate the usual, our known norm. We like having expectations about how our lives will flow from one day to the next because it allows us to wake up in the morning and get on with our day.

If the world was an uncertain mess (which, really, it kind of is) and we focused only on the not-knowing-what-to-expect-ness of it all, we’d likely become paralyzed – doubt, fear and concern about what’s going to happen next weighing us down.

I was incredibly sick with my first pregnancy. I threw up about 10x a day until I was sixteen weeks along. I lost fifteen pounds during that first trimester. I had to adapt, and adapt quickly, to this huge change in how I felt all day, every day, until my body finally decided that the “foreign body” growing inside of me was not my mortal enemy and we could co-exist without attacking one another. It wasn’t easy!

Then I had to adapt to the fact that once I could eat, I wanted to eat EVERYTHING not nailed down. I made up for lost time, that’s for sure! I ended up gaining 45 pounds over my starting weight (which really means, I gained 60 pounds if you count the original fifteen that I’d lost due to all my puking!) and I had to adapt to my ever-expanding and changing body as the baby took up more and more space, making it harder to breathe and move about in the world.

I had to adapt to having to pee every 15 minutes throughout the day (and night!), and eventually I had to adapt to start eating Tums before, during and after every meal because I could never be sure what would trigger my intense heartburn.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, I had to adapt to wearing a belly band because my round ligaments were so tired of trying to hold up my belly throughout the day. Finally, in the last weeks of my pregnancy, I had to adapt to crawling or being carried up the stairs at night when it was time for bed because my sciatica would shoot searing pain down my backside.

Know this: expectant Mommas are ALL about adaptation!

The process of carrying a baby in our own bodies, forces us to adapt from within from the earliest days of our pregnancy. And in this way, we have both an advantage and disadvantage over our non-pregnant partner.

How is this a disadvantage? Puh-lease. Re-read paragraphs 6-9 above if you haven’t already figured this out… All of the physical and emotional changes that happen during pregnancy can be incredibly challenging. And I’m going to say it – sometimes, pregnancy sucks! Not everyone loves it all of the time, and some of us really don’t like it much at all. Pregnancy takes it’s toll on us as women, but we often don’t even acknowledge this.

We just – adapt.

We keep going. We roll with it. We throw up right before teaching a class, hold it together for two hours, say goodnight to our students and make it to the bathroom just in time to throw up again after they’ve left.

But this also is where we have an advantage over our partners. We’ve been adapting for nine+ months before the baby arrives. We’ve already gotten a taste of what’s to come, what will be asked of us as new parents – because we’ve already been doing it for a really long time. This means that we’re a tiny bit more prepared than our partners might be for the rapid fire adaptation that is a requirement once our baby is ex-utero.

Today’s prompt states that today we all have a choice: we can take action in order to adapt to changing times, or we can hope for the best and do nothing.

But in new parenting, I’m not sure that there really is a choice! You must either adapt (and quickly!) on your own, or your little six pound peanut will make sure you adapt in order to satisfy their needs for survival. There really is no “hoping for the best and doing nothing” option when it comes to your role as a new parent. But by the end of “The 4th Trimester” it’s hard to remember what life was really like before the baby came.

Those first three months are intense and packed with so much to learn in such a short period of time. It’s hard to take stock of how many different ways you’ve adapted to this new role of parenting because even though at twelve weeks in you might feel like you’re no longer crawling through the trenches of new parenting, it never really ends.

You really are amazing, you know that?

As a new parent, you’re learning hundreds of new skills each and every day, applying them and testing them out in real time. Sometimes with great success! Sometimes? Maybe not so much. But either way, you should be super impressed with your overall ability to adapt to this new role as well as you have.

It’s not easy to become a whole new person, while caring for a whole new person, and being in relationship with a whole new person. Navigating this new terrain is challenging, to say the least. But it’s not something you can just refuse to do. It’s required of you. This is your new normal, your new reality.

Adaptation will become your constant companion. 

Because this parenting gig is based on a relationship. A relationship you share with your child –  someone who is changing and adapting to their own environment as they grow and develop from a wailing and hangry newborn, to a cooing and babbling infant, an unsure and unsteady toddler, to a walking, talking, running child, an independent and sometimes sassy youth, to eventually end up a distinct individual with their own thoughts, feelings and passions (that may or may not match up with your own.)

Adaptation will be necessary even into adulthood because you’re both forever changing from one day to the next. Adapt from within or you may be forced to adapt from without. Are you ready?

How can I help you?

I’m asking this question because I really want to know how I can better serve the people I care so much about: parents.

As part of my personal and professional Quest, in the coming year I’d like to make some adaptations, as well. I’ve got a few ideas of my own that I’m considering… a newsletter, podcast, live Q & A sessions, an interview series with leaders in the fields of pregnancy, birth and parenting.

But I really would love to hear what you would like to find here on my blog. How can I help you adapt better in these constantly changing times? Please help me, help you – and share your ideas and comments with me here by answering this super quick survey. Thanks so much!

Named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News and one of TIME’s 100 “Innovators for the 21st century,” Linda Rottenberg is considered among the world’s most dynamic experts on entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership. Ms. Rottenberg is author of CRAZY IS A COMPLIMENT: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags and co-founder and CEO of Endeavor, the world’s leading organization supporting high-impact entrepreneurs. A graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, Linda lives in Brooklyn with her husband, author and New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler, and their identical twin daughters.

Twitter: @lindarottenberg

Becoming Mother – The Interview

stg-interview

I can’t remember how I found Sharon Tjaden-Glass and her book, Becoming Mother, but I’m very glad I did!

Becoming Mother is the book that Sharon wished had been written when she became pregnant for the first time: “I wanted the book that I eventually wrote. I wanted someone to be authentic with me. To talk about more than the physical. To go to the dark places. To show me what was hard and what was wonderful.” And Becoming Mother does all of this and more.

I recently sat down with Sharon via Skype and interviewed her about her book, pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences. The following are excerpts from that interview.

Barb: I found it interesting that you included your weight gain (and eventual loss) at the start of each mini-chapter of the book. It wasn’t focused on, or even called out – but why did you feel the need to include this as part of Becoming Mother?

Sharon: As women, I think we struggle a lot with body image and self-acceptance in American culture, and so this drives many of us to have that question in the forefront of our minds when we become pregnant: “What’s going to happen to my body? Will I gain a bunch of weight and never be able to lose it?”

The reason that I included the weight gain and loss in numbers was because I thought it would give pregnant readers realistic expectations for what that physical change is like. Of course, after having gone through the whole experience of having a baby, I understand at this point that the physical changes of pregnancy are not as monumental as the other changes. However, I wanted to meet pregnant women where they are when they first start reading this book.

B: That’s one of the things that I enjoyed most about your book – the focus on realistic expectations, the authenticity of it all. When you were newly pregnant, how realistic do you think your expectations were for after the baby arrived?

S: I wasn’t married to the idea that we had to take minimal time off, but I did know that it was important to me to keep the identity of my pre-mom self alive, even after the baby was born. Once she was born, we were more forgiving of ourselves in terms of going easy on not keeping up with the previous expectations. But we both held true to our commitment to “not totally lose” our previous selves.

B: In follow-up to this question, can you speak to that shift that occurs as a woman becomes a mother and her self-identity can become secondary to her new role as mother?

S: I sensed that it would be possible that I could “fall down this hole of parenthood” and lose my identity, not totally understanding that I’m a dynamic self and that I would always be changing, regardless of what happens in my life. Taking on this role as a mother has reorganized so many facets of my identity. It has also filtered how I see and experience the world. It’s impossible for me to tease apart “mother” from my other identities because it has affected all parts of my life. At the same time, I’m aware that I don’t want this role to “wipe out” my other roles, the other aspects of myself that make me who I am. Because I know that one day the all-encompassing role of “mother” will narrow and narrow as my child grows up. And soon they won’t need me in the same way that they need me now. So I want to make an investment in myself by cultivating those parts of me that will endure past this season of my life. Like with teaching and writing and maintaining friendships.

B: Early on in the book, you talk about  about “surrendering” as the first step in this journey. This is what I’m talking about! I’m not a fan of plans so much, but love the idea of surrendering to the process. Vulnerability during pregnancy is so intense – what do you think about this?

S: I think pregnancy is a constant reminder that you are not in control. And it serves a purpose. The further along you get in your pregnancy, the more control you lose: how much weight you gain, how sore and achy your body gets, your ability to stay asleep all night. Labor intensifies that message that you’re not in control. You’re in so much pain and there’s nothing you can really do about it. You can’t go backward. The only way is forward.

And then after the birth, it starts to click about how these physical limitations that reduce your control help your mental state. You’re much more pliable to giving in to what your baby needs. Whenever it needs you. Whatever you need to do, you’re open to it. It’s not so jarring after pregnancy and labor. Because you’ve been prepped for the past 10 months.

B: “On the hard days, I think – We have made a big mistake.” I so relate to this sentiment! In fact there’s been at least one day during all four of my pregnancies where I have not only thought this, I’ve said it out loud! It’s so important to normalize feelings of ambivalence toward pregnancy – even when it’s a wanted pregnancy. Did you ever talk about this with other pregnant Mommas? Or did you feel like you needed to stay quiet, not tell anyone how you were feeling?

S: I did, (talk to other Mommas) but always in a joking way. I think humor about these feelings helps bridge into those conversations about how tough motherhood can be. You hear it in conversations all the time—when mothers want to “complain” about something, they use two popular methods. 1) Use humor or 2) Use qualifiers: I love my son, but sometimes…

I’m really not the kind of woman to pretend that everything’s okay, especially to people that know me. People that know me and ask how I’m doing, they know I’m going to be honest about how I’m doing. So I didn’t feel like I had to keep up a positive face for everyone to reassure them that I was happy about being pregnant or becoming a mom. If I was having a hard time, I owned that hard time and shared it. The problem with this is that some people feel that your statement that you’re having a hard time is actually an inquiry, or a signal that you’re seeking advice. I’m not. I’m hardly ever seeking advice. And if I want advice, I preface my comments with, “I really want your advice.”

B: If only people understood this! “When I want your advice, I will ask for it. Thank you very much!” I always say that unsolicited advice is usually not very good advice, anyway…

You do a great job writing your birth story.  And while I’ll encourage people to read Becoming Mother for all sorts of reasons, in particular, reading your well-written account of one woman’s journey – emotional and physical – through giving birth is intense, profound and not without challenges. I know you’re pregnant again and want to know how you might be handling things differently this time? What has changed for you?

S: It (self-advocacy) was extremely challenging (the first time). Robbie Davis-Floyd talks about this very thing—the authority of knowledge in childbirth. That doctors possess more scientific knowledge about childbirth and so we often defer to their judgement. But on the other side of this, women often don’t give any weight to their own bodily knowledge, their own intuition about what’s going on. It cannot be trusted. And I definitely felt like this. That if I pushed my own bodily intuition too far that the doctor would lash out at me. I felt like there was a drive for the doctors to have “birth be this one way.”

We have changed providers and place of birth because of this tension with the doctors. I wanted to have a provider who would allow my birth to be what it will be, rather than forcing it to be something that it’s not.

B: Which would you say was harder for you: birth or breastfeeding?

S: Breastfeeding by far—because my body was not responding in the way that it should have. Some women have labors in which their bodies cannot get the baby to descend or dilate enough or fit through the hips. That’s how it was with me and breastfeeding. Always like trying to thread the frayed end of a thread through a tiny needle.

B: I love that image. It conveys so well the level of frustration you feel about something that ends up being so challenging when you think you “should” be able to do it no problem…

How about your relationship with your husband, Doug? How was the first year post baby on your couple relationship? Is there anything that you wish you’d known before that you found out the hard way?

S: I wrote about this in detail on my blog in my post, “When I Became Real to My Husband.” I think this demonstrated to me that loving someone did not depend on what you have to offer the other person. (This is a great read for an authentic, real look at the postpartum couple relationship – Barb)

I wish I would have known that it would take close to a whole year for sex to be really enjoyable again.

B: Right? All the books say “Six weeks! Six weeks!” Well, not my book…

Last question: What do you think about the great American myth of being Superwoman on the other side of becoming a mother?

S: Do you know Brené Brown? (Do I ever! She’s my future BFF – she just doesn’t know it yet…Barb) She talks about shame triggers, body image and motherhood. I feel like the myth of Superwoman in motherhood is just one more way to control and shame women. “Women are judged by their willingness to follow the rules and men are judged by their ability to break them.”

Well, Sharon Tjaden-Glass broke a few rules herself in that she wrote her book, Becoming Mother, even as she was going through her own pregnancy, birth and early parenting journey.

For Sharon, “Being creative isn’t something that I have to work at. It’s something that I am. I just have to make time for it. If I don’t make time for it, I feel blocked and unfulfilled.” And we are all the better for her commitment to staying creative and sharing her account of what it was like for her as she was Becoming Mother.

I want to thank Sharon for taking the time to talk with me about her experience and encourage readers who are pregnant now or know of someone who is, to consider this book as part of their overall preparation. It’s a well-written, honest account which provides realistic expectations (of which I am always a fan!) of what it’s like to move through pregnancy, birth and new parenting. You can purchase a copy of Becoming Mother here. And you can follow Sharon Tjaden-Glass on her blog here.

PREMADs – Do You Know About These?

premads

I read this article by Juli Fraga from the Washington Post: “Prenatal Depression May Be The Most Severe Form of Maternal Depression” and it got me thinking… There are probably lots of pregnant women out there who don’t even know that PREMADs exist. What are PREMADs? PRE-natal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. It’s a word I came up with to describe what happens when a woman experiences a mood or anxiety disorder prenatally, during pregnancy.

Our focus in the field of maternal mental health has primarily been on raising awareness of PMADs – Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders. And rightly so! According to PSI International, 1 in 7 women suffer from postpartum depression, and 1 in 10 men do as well.

A recent search I did for information about the rates of prenatal depression yielded this information from a 2009 ACOG report that states somewhere between “14-23% of women will experience depressive symptoms while pregnant.” I would guess that now that we’ve expanded the umbrella of postpartum depression to include anxiety, OCD, PTSD, bipolar and psychosis, that the percentage of women who might be experiencing one of these anxiety or mood disorders during pregnancy has expanded as well.

In the past several years, I’ve witnessed an increased awareness across the board from OBGYNs, midwives and nurses for the need to screen women postpartum for mood or anxiety disorders. And I can speak directly to how much more time Childbirth Educators spend talking about this issue in the classroom.

But I’m beginning to think that there’s a hole in that education and screening, as the focus continues to be on a mood disorder waiting to happen to a women until after her baby is born. What if she’s experiencing anxiety or depression right now – while she’s pregnant? PREMADs might be getting overlooked entirely (seeing as I just made up the word today!) and women end up suffering in silence during their pregnancies hoping that they’ll eventually feel better. I’m afraid this might be leading to higher rates and more intense mood disorders in the postpartum period.

This doesn’t need to happen.

The symptoms of PREMADs might get overlooked during pregnancy because they’re chalked up to just being a part of the hormonal ups and downs of pregnancy. These will all even out in the 2nd trimester, or after childbirth classes begin, or whatever. But they don’t.

We all have days during pregnancy that are really stressful – we may even question whether this pregnancy was a great idea! (Personal confession: In each of my four pregnancies I had a day where not only did I question whether it was a good idea, I actually said it – out loud, to other people. “This was a bad idea. A very, very bad idea.” All four times. No lie.)

But if you’ve been experiencing any of the following symptoms pretty consistently over a two week period, you should really be touching base with your provider – or someone else you trust who can get you the professional support you need.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Being sad most of the time and not being able to “shake it off”
  • Feeling anxious or worried about the pregnancy, the baby, the birth, your relationship… the list goes on and on
  • No enjoyment in the stuff you usually like to do
  • Sleeping a lot – or not being able to sleep very much at all
  • Not being able to focus for very long periods of time
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Thinking about harming yourself
  • Feeling hopeless

Again, after a stressful day at work or following a recent fight with your partner, you might be able to say yes to a few of these symptoms – but they go away after some time has passed. It’s when any of these symptoms are persistent or nearly continuous over a two week period that you need to be checking in with someone.

You don’t have to have all of these symptoms to seek help. Even one of these would be an indication to be talking to your provider so they can screen you further and then create a treatment plan that might include lots of different things that have been shown to help: exercise, diet, support groups, acupuncture, getting more sleep, herbal remedies and Omega 3s, individual psychotherapy and medications.

Please take note of these symptoms and ask your provider to screen you during your pregnancy for your risk of PREMADs.

There’s no reason to not get help as soon as you can. Because if you seek and receive support now, you might not be so overwhelmed in the first few days, weeks and months of postpartum with your newborn.

My biggest concern is that women who are experiencing an undiagnosed PREMAD now, are at a greater risk for a PMAD after the baby is born. Add in a challenging birth experience and the normal – but huge – adjustments involved with new parenting and these women may end up experiencing a PMAD that’s much more severe than it would’ve been if it had been addressed prenatally.

I’d love to see screening for PREMADs become part of the routine care for women as they prepare for birth and parenting. Help me spread the word by sharing this post far and wide so that awareness of PREMADs can be something we’re all on the lookout for when we, or our friends and family become pregnant.

Find the support and care that are available to address anxiety, depression or other mood disorders experienced during pregnancy. Learning how to lessen feelings of anxiety, sadness and fear, might increase feelings of enjoyment of the pregnancy experience. This can lead to feelings of anticipation and joy for the upcoming birth which might translate into an easier postpartum transition. It’s a win-win-win-win-win situation. (That’s a lot of winning!)

Thanks for spreading the word. And I hope that this mini-PSA of mine finds a few of those women who might be wondering if their feelings of anxiety or sadness are beyond the usual hormonal changes brought on by becoming pregnant. Even if only one woman reads this post and seeks support, I’ll feel like raising awareness for PREMADs made an important difference.

Do you know any women who you think might be suffering from something beyond the usual hormonal fluctuations that happen during pregnancy? And now that I’ve named it PREMADs, do you, or someone you know, recognize that this is what was happening at the time? How would seeking help during pregnancy have helped you in the postpartum period? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment here.

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.