A Dream Come True

Dream

This time last week, I saw one my dreams come true. Not everybody gets to say that – I’m so lucky! This was a dream that took hold about four years ago. And a lot has happened in that time to make this dream a reality…

I met Elly Taylor online in a Facebook forum for Relationship Focused Birth Professionals. Now, I’d only been on Facebook for a couple of years. And I hadn’t really realized the power of using social media for anything other than personal fun and connection at that point.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I started to understand the implications of using platforms like Facebook for my professional work. The name of this forum intrigued me, because even though I’m not a therapist or counselor, I’ve felt for years that my work has way more to do with the relationships I’m helping to foster and strengthen than it does with teaching folks how to give birth.

Don’t get me wrong – I love what I do! But the truth is, a baby will come out of you, with or without assistance, one way or another. Certainly, I help couples figure out how they’d like that process to unfold, and I help them become decision-makers in this experience -to their level of comfort. But really, for almost two decades my “Childbirth Preparation Classes” have just been a cover for doing lots of other important things:

  • elevating the role of the partner and making sure that they feel included and honored
  • creating a sense of community among students in my classes so they don’t feel so isolated and alone in their experience
  • encouraging couples to stop planning birth and start participating fully instead
  • suggesting that embracing their feelings of vulnerability will allow for maximum transformation through this birth experience
  • preparing them realistically for what life will be like after the baby has arrived – and what this means for their couple relationship

Cue Elly Taylor and her book, Becoming Us.

I’ve written about Elly and Becoming Us before, here and here. But what I might not have revealed so clearly is that from the moment I met Elly online, I had a professional crush! I mean, here was this woman on the other side of the world that had spent fifteen years researching and writing a book on how to potentially prevent relationship dissatisfaction (that a whopping 92% of couples report in the first year following the birth of their baby) – AND she had an Aussie accent!

Now I call it a crush, because it kind of was. I’ve never had an online relationship with anyone before, so I didn’t exactly know how to go about it… But, I was determined.

First, I started commenting on anything she wrote about in the forum, thrilled with every response she wrote back. Eventually, I bought her book and dove into the information about how and why relationship discord happens in the first place after a baby is born. And as I was reading, there were all of these lightbulbs going off! All of these “Ah-Ha!” moments that I’d been trying to share with my families for years! The dots were in place and I was starting to make some important connections like: support of one another in your new parenting roles is extremely important and can lessen the risk of developing a Perinatal Mood Disorder during pregnancy or the postpartum period.

Elly and I developed a friendship that became very dear to me on lots of levels. I feel like I’m about 4-5 years behind her in terms of my own work within the birth field and consider her to be an important mentor as well.

I’m gaining traction and collaborating on the issue of birth “planning” and starting to speak out more about how planning instead of participating in birth can give couples a false sense of security to lessen their feelings of vulnerability – and that while this is okay, exploring and embracing these same feelings can lead to incredible transformation through pregnancy, birth and new parenting.

I’ve got about 70K words written for my own book about these topics and more that I’m editing (and re-editing!) as I discover the message I’m most wanting to convey. And I’m just starting the arduous task of turning my blog into an actual website.

All this time, I’ve been watching Elly from a distance as these things have fallen into place for her – and it’s been an inspiration for me to keep going!

I can’t remember the exact day when our Facebook message marathon happened, only that I was in the middle of cooking dinner for my family and Elly was commenting that her work, while being so well-received by birth professionals, wasn’t making its way into the minds and hearts of expecting families. I know I wasn’t the only one to say this to her, but I do remember asking: “Why don’t you train us to teach them?”

Elly created an online training program for birth professionals to become Certified Becoming Us Facilitators. It’s an excellent program that allows birth professionals to really grasp the how and why relationship dissatisfaction occurs – and more importantly, how we can prevent, or lessen it from happening to the families we serve in the first place.

I completed the training last year and added “Certified Becoming Us Facilitator” to my list of credentials. I’ve partnered with Legacy Health System here in Portland, Oregon and taught my first class in early April. And I LOVED it!

The class was engaged from beginning to end, couples were sharing parts of themselves with each other and with the group in a way that was both insightful and revealing. I could see all of them connecting their own dots and taking all of this information in as a way to safeguard their relationship against the normal, expected challenges that occur when you move from couple to family. 300+ new skills are being learned in a very high-stress environment with little sleep and lots of uncertainty – it’s no wonder so many couples report having issues!

I’m the first person in the world to be teaching these classes and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

It was so fulfilling to me – to see Elly’s work translated and shared so there are now six more couples in the world who won’t be completely blind-sided when they give birth to their babies and become a family.

But the real “dream turned reality” happened a week ago today, when Elly Taylor flew in from Sydney, Australia to be the presenter for the NACEF Conference (NACEF – Northwest Area Childbirth Educators Forum is a local, non-profit organization dedicated to offering quality education to perinatal professionals. And I’m the current President.)

I could hardly believe that she was here, in person, presenting to a group of close to 60 birth professionals (both live and virtual!) about her work and the importance of letting families know what to expect, how to work with these normal challenges, and create a family that thrives. It was SUCH a great conference! (And there’s still a chance to snag a virtual seat if you’re interested.)

What I can tell you is: This work matters.

Yesterday, out of the blue, a Momma from my first Becoming Us class series wrote this about her experience:

“So far our time at home has been going smoothly. Some of the discussions that spawned from your class really helped us to prepare for our time together as a family. We have been very gentle with one another which has been beautiful and positive for our relationship.”

Isn’t that amazing? I didn’t ask for any testimony, it was just something she chose to share with me.

And this is a dream come true.

 

I’ve got several Becoming Us class series slated for the 2017/2018 year. If you as a couple or a couple you know would benefit from taking these classes in preparation for becoming a family, get in touch with me and I’ll get back to you with all the details.

Please share this post widely… the more professionals who are doing this work, and the more couples who are receiving this message – the better off we’ll all be!

(And because I might have gone dancing with Elly after the conference and it might have been an 80s Dance Attack theme here’s a video that fits today’s blogpost… )

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.

Traveling WITHOUT Children

Traveling

It’s 5:03 am Chicago O’Hare time and I’m trying to find some free Wi-Fi that actually works. I passed a Starbucks on my way to the gate and I can imagine my chai tea latte (extra hot!) in about an hour, when the place finally opens.

I’m able to sit and write uninterrupted for the next couple of hours and I’m amazed at this list of things I don’t have to do:

  1. Listen to Thing #1 complain pretty much non-stop about how bad the Wi-Fi in this place is “I can’t even stream my music, Mom!”
  2. Argue with Thing #2 that even though he thinks he “didn’t sleep on the plane at all!” he actually did – I saw him, and I know he’s tired, I’m tired, we’re all tired
  3. Navigate the obstacle course that is Thing #3 ’s collection of markers, colored pencils and fashion design books strewn all over the floor
  4. Chase after Thing #4 as he swings on the bars attached to window ledges and asks over and over and over again, “When’s it our turn to get on the plane?”

Traveling without children isn’t something that I get to do very often. And so it’s still a bit of a novelty to me. When you have four kids, traveling is usually quite the production!

You know your family is “big” when you take up two full rows on the plane. The first thing we always do is decide who’s sitting next to whom. This is not as easy as it sounds.

My hubby and I usually do some form of Rochambeau to determine who’s sitting with the littles and who’s sitting with the teens. It’s obvious who loses this game as one of us ends up having to come up with as many adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs as we can, to then listen to the resulting Mad Libs story at a deafening volume you can hear over the roar of the airplane’s engines.

We bring electronics people, I’m not going to lie. Apple products are some of the world’s greatest inventions when it comes to traveling! We download movies onto the iPad – but we have to figure out what Things 1 & 2 will both want to watch vs Things 3 & 4. It’s hard to find movies that all of our kids ages 16, 14, 10 & 7 actually like and are willing to watch again for the umpteenth time.

Plus – there’s only so many movies that can fit on a portable electronic device, so we can’t just rely on movies as our main tactical maneuver for traveling bliss. Oh, no. I have to make sure that each one of them has a book, but it has to be the right book: long enough to last most of the trip – without weighing 15 pounds! But I can’t forget all the other books: coloring, work, sticker… whatever will distract and entertain.

We try to take up two rows on the same side of the plane instead of side by side. We do this to avoid the looks of irritation from strangers who continue to a) get a kick in the pants no matter how many times we remind our kids to “Stop kicking the seat in front of you!” and b) get whacked in the head by a steady stream of our bags being sent across the aisle. 

And then there are the snacks. Holy crap! You’d think we were flying one-way to a deserted island somewhere with no hope for a food drop, based on the amount of food we bring along! Food is one of the best ways to keep kids on a plane happy though, so it’s got to be a good! I try to bring a mix of sweet and savory, with plenty of protein and nutritious stuff thrown together with a few “plane only” foods. These will inevitably get eaten on the first leg of the trip first and then the whining begins, “Why does he still have Oreos?” (Because your Dad has learned the art of delayed gratification, my friend.)

There must be gum available for takeoff and landing – not because it actually helps that much with ear pressure, but if I put a big enough wad in my mouth, I can distract every kid on the plane as I blow bubble after bubble while they laugh as it pops on my nose and cheeks.

Almost always, the flight attendants remark as we’re getting off the plane how well behaved our four kids are. And they’ve been saying this since the days when they were all under the age of ten. I’m not trying to be smug, here. The trick to successful travel with children is to remember: YOU’RE TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN!

You might get to read that novel from your book club or the latest O Magazine when you get to your final destination, but no way are you doing any of that on the plane! When I fly and I see kids really acting up it’s usually because THEY’RE CHILDREN, and their parents have forgotten this.

Traveling for hours strapped into an uncomfortable seat, with no legroom, a tiny little window that looks out into nothing, and where the only place to wander off to happens to be the world’s smallest toilet is hard enough on us adults! But when you have children with you it means you have to rally and be ready to parent every second of the flight – or at least until they fall asleep.

Sleeping children on the plane is always worth striving for! If they’re still nursing, it’s a little bit easier because they might end up sleeping the entire time – as long as there’s a nipple in their mouth! (Which may be the best argument for extended breastfeeding ever!) But if they weaned several years ago, you have to be prepared to help them make it through the flight and the best way to do that is to be as present as possible.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s incredibly exhausting! But it usually prevents most of the meltdowns that are likely to occur if you forget that you’re traveling with children!

I’m aware of how easy this is for me to write about today, seeing as I have none of my brood with me. But this is really just a reminder for me to pack well – as we will be traveling with all four of them, on a very, very long flight in just a couple of weeks.

And I need to be prepared.

How do you entertain your kiddos while traveling? Any pearls of wisdom to share about how to keep the littles distracted and happy for those of us who will be facing a big trip this Summer? (Hint – I’m talking about me here, and I could really use some new ideas before mid-June. Help a Momma out!) Bonus points if the idea doesn’t take up any room in the carry on bags. May you all have safe and relatively pain-free travels. Don’t forget – you’re parents, now.

Educating Educators!

TTR

Here, I’m making an important point about increasing student engagement…

I had the pleasure of working with a room full of Health Educators a few days ago for a training session I’d developed to help these professionals increase the level of engagement they have with their students.

No pressure, or anything, but when the title of your presentation is: “Teach to Reach: Six Rules of Engagement,” you’d better be able to bring it! Thankfully, I think I did. The evaluations were really positive: most attendees were wishing that the training had been longer, and I’ve already been asked to come back. So, that’s good.

I love doing presentations and trainings. There’s a reason why this is such a good fit for me. I’ve said it many times before, but it bears repeating – I am the most extroverted person I’ve ever known. So, getting up in front of a group of people doesn’t rattle me at all. I have no nerves in this situation.

In fact, the bigger the crowd, the more excited I get. The original number of people attending this training was supposed to be about 20. The day before, I found out it would be closer to 35. For some presenters, that might make them freak out. But not me – I was psyched! The energy from the audience totally feeds me.

The idea of being an “efficient communicator,” intrigues me. The larger the group, the more people receive the message I’m trying to convey at one time. Getting the most “bang for your buck” is a personal credo of mine!

And I really enjoy working with other educators, too. There’s a shared understanding of what it is to do group facilitation and to do it well. We communicate in the same “language” and can dive right in and get to work.

I’m especially interested in encouraging health educators to work harder at their craft because so much of our message we want or need to convey has the potential to be truly life-changing for the students in our classes. But not if they’re bored or checked out!

I started the training by asking participants to identify their greatest challenge as an educator. But I also asked them to claim ownership of their greatest strength. I think it matters as an educator, presenter, or human being, really –  that we take stock of what we’re really good at and then capitalize on that skill because it comes relatively easy to us and it also authentically represents who we are.

Participants shared that they were great listeners. That they had a lot of knowledge and expertise. They shared that they were able to connect well with their students. And my personal favorite, some felt they were able to make good use of their sense of humor while teaching. It’s a great feeling to be among such a strong group of professionals.

But there’s a little bit of extra pressure when you’ve been asked to train members of your own tribe. What if they already know everything? How can I make this information new and something they’ll actually be able to use? How do I keep them engaged and with me for two solid hours?

Turns out, these are the same questions we, as educators, should be asking about every class of students we teach, members of our tribe, or not. But, still – I knew that this particular group of people would be able to tell where the holes (if any!) were in my presentation and would be ready to point them out to me on the class evaluations. Which is why it matters even more that they were really positive.

My hope is that in some small (or potentially big) ways, what I offered this group of fantastic educators will help them get their messages out into the world with even greater impact!

If you’re an educator or work with educators who might benefit from having me present on this or other topics to increase student engagement and the impact of their message, please contact me here for more information.

Educating educators is just one more thing I love to do – it’s usually a lot of prep-work, but always a lot of fun!

PS – I’ve been asked to present at the ICEA Conference in Denver in the middle of October. My presentation there will be very Childbirth Educator focused and is titled: “Birth Plans: Helpful or Harmful?” I love getting the opportunity to be in front of my peers, create new presentations and content, and be a part of the conversation about topics that matter.

Lucky me!

Whether you’re an educator or not, take stock of your greatest challenges, but also remember to take stock of your greatest strengths! These are the ways in which you shine – let others see your light and bask in its warmth and glow! Claim your gifts TODAY!

And The Oscar Goes To…

Oscar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it felt good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About the Partners???

Partners

http://www.animalplanet.com/wild-animals/photos/amazing-animal-dads/


I just had a private session with a couple who are expecting their second baby in about four weeks. I’d worked with them privately the first go-around due to her unique work schedule – trying to get into a one-day express class was not even an option. And while I always encourage people to take a group class if they’re able to – mostly because there’s usually such great peer-to-peer learning that can happen – if that’s not possible, I’m more than happy to meet with a couple one-on-one.

I’ve even done some long-distance pre-birth coaching sessions with women who’ve already attended a traditional class, but are wanting/needing a little bit more support as they begin their final preparations for giving birth. I ask some questions ahead of time about what they’re most wanting to learn and tailor our time together to what will work best for them. It may sound strange that these sessions are done via Skype or phone and that we never meet in person, but I’m really good at listening and hearing what doesn’t get said. And because of this, I’ve had some really great success in helping women enter into their birth experience with much more clarity, confidence and an attitude of excitement rather than fear or anxiety – even from thousands of miles away.

When I met with M & her partner Z the other night, I did what I always do and sent them an email ahead of time to ask what their specific concerns were about welcoming Baby #2. M, the Momma, answered the email and gave me some specifics that included: “I had a super gentle, slow labor last time around. I imagine things might be faster and more intense this time. Any tips around that? I’d love to have a little time to talk about how the transition to being a family four will be different… going into labor and recovering with a toddler at home who has his own set of needs… all the hidden expectations we might be carrying based on our experience of having C… I’m having a hard time envisioning this pregnancy as being unique… it’s like mentally I think I’m just having C again.  I’m sure things will be different…”

All great questions, and ones that I was happy to try and answer for her. In preparation for our get-together, I did a little searching for some resources for this couple who were obviously aware of how different it can be to move from being a family of three to a family of four. I was looking for practical, useful tips from others beside myself to normalize this transition for them, but I also wanted to share some of the more funny-but-true send ups of what it’s like to be a first-time parent compared to a veteran in the trenches. (These are listed below for your enjoyment. There are a few that made me snort, I laughed so hard.) I wanted this couple to be okay with realizing that this second pregnancy and birth couldn’t possibly be like their first.

But as I was gathering resources for them, I was getting more and more frustrated by the lack of resources for the partner’s experience of having a second child. Maybe, I just didn’t look far enough down the list results to find the good stuff, maybe the words I chose were not a part of the SEO for this topic, but I was getting nowhere! I did find a great birth story of Baby #2 from the perspective of the Dad off of the Becoming Dads website, which is always a resource I encourage expectant and new fathers to check out, but other than that?  Crickets.

And I realized again, how often partners (and especially male partners) are left out of the equation. I told M & Z that I was going to be writing a blogpost about this very subject because I was so irritated!

The partner’s experience is equally valid and as important as the Momma’s – and until we begin as a society to take that seriously, we are setting our couples up for a harder than necessary transition through birth and into the new family experience.

I recognize my own limitations here and my need to be more insistent about bringing the  partner’s into the dialogue. I’m really good about this in my classes – often I will receive feedback about how I well I “addressed the partner’s role” or “showed how important I am to the whole process.” And I’m proud of that – it matters to me. But in these one-on-one sessions, I could do better.

The reality is that most often it’s Momma who reaches out to me and sets up the session. My contact to the couple is through her – but I’m realizing that I need to begin reaching out to the partner from the get-go so that I know what their concerns and hopes are for this experience. Now, when I’m meeting with the couple face-to-face, that’s a non-issue because you know I’m going to go there!

But in my long-distance sessions, I’ve failed in the past to insist that the partner also get on the call or Skype session with me. I still talk up the role of the partner, but what is lost is their unique perspective and the chance to be acknowledged by me in front of the Momma on the importance of their role as they’re also making a huge transformation from individual to parent. It won’t happen again. From now on, they’ll both have some pre-work to do before we “meet” and I will, as I did with M & Z, create some post-work that they can do as a couple to better prepare for the birth of their baby.

I also think that I need to start writing more about the partner’s experience on my own. If I can’t find the resources online, I might as well start creating some, eh? 

And, in case any of you reading this are expecting Baby #2 (or beyond), I’m including the list of questions I encouraged M & Z to consider and discuss over the next few weeks before their new baby arrives. I told them to think a bit on these questions and set up a date night (even one that happens at home after their toddler goes to bed!) to discuss what this next experience might bring to them – both.

How do you think those of us who work in the field of prenatal/postnatal care could better include partners in this most important transition? If you felt like you had that sense of being included, why? What did your CBE, doula, or provider say or do that made you feel like your experience matters? Please share in the comments section. It’s an area where I think we could all do a better job.

Questions to consider if you are preparing for baby #2:

1)  How has parenting changed you as an individual?
2)  What changes have you noticed in each other?
3)  How has parenting changed you as a couple?
4)  What positive characteristic has your first-born inherited from each one of you?
5)  What positive characteristic are you hoping this new baby will inherit from each one of you?
6)  When you imagine the 4th Trimester (the first 3 months with your newborn), what are your biggest concerns? Biggest hopes?
7)  How do you want to build up your couple relationship? Specifically, what are some ideas for creating intimacy when the reality is that you will be parenting two small children alongside complicated work schedules?
8)  What was your most favorite part of the newborn period with your first? What are you most looking forward to doing again with your newborn for a second time?
9)  How do you anticipate the transition of going from a family of 3 to 4? What do you think will be different? What might be the same?
10)  When you imagine your children in the future, say ages 5 & 3, what do you think your life will be like?

Here are a few of the funny posts I found discussing the differences between first and second pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences:

http://www.scarymommy.com/the-first-child/
http://www.scarymommy.com/differences-between-the-first-pregnancy-and-second-pregnancy/
http://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/style/raising-first-child-versus-second-child/
http://www.scarymommy.com/second-babies-are-the-lucky-ones/

Happy World Doula Week!

WDW

I can’t let this week go by without a shout-out to all of the wonderful women I know personally, and professionally, who’ve taken up the call to become a doula. A doula is a woman trained to assist other women in childbirth and/or to support a new family following the birth of their baby. And this is the week we are celebrating women all over the globe who do this incredible work!

Over 20 years ago, I was working as a temporary office monkey between jobs and wondering what it was that I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Across my desk one day came the company’s monthly newsletter and on the front page was an article about “doulas.” I’d never heard of this word before, and the concept intrigued me.

A few days later as I drove home during my lunch hour, there was a story about doulas on NPR’s show, “Talk of The Nation.” I had a “driveway moment” and couldn’t get out of the car until the story was over. My curiosity was growing. 

But it wasn’t until my best friend announced her pregnancy and asked me to be at the birth that I got serious about this idea: “Maybe I should become a doula!” I’m not an overly woo-woo person, but all of these things seemed to be pointing me in the direction of birth.

After some searching, I found out that The Seattle Midwifery School (300 miles North of my home in Portland) was offering a doula training that would conclude before my friend’s due date. Everything seemed to be lining up – so I signed up. I was hooked on birth immediately, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I never went so far as to complete the work of being certified as a doula. Finding scheduled evening and weekend hours as a Childbirth Educator kept me in the world of birth and allowed me to focus on having my own family. But every now and again, I’ve had the honor of being a doula at the births of friends, neighbors, or women who had no support or financial ability to pay for a doula.

It is such a gift to be with a woman when she’s giving birth. Helping her find her inner strength and witnessing the parents and the baby lock eyes on one another for the first time – it’s one of the most awesome experiences ever (that word is so overused in our culture, but this is one area where it’s completely appropriate)!

So,thank you to all of the women who’ve answered the call to become doulas. You are very special women, indeed. You have an immense capacity for nurturance, calm, strength and advocacy. You’ve got incredible stores of flexibility, skills and knowledge and you’re somehow able to continue to do the hard work of labor support on little sleep and not a lot of food. You are the best example of how continuous physical and emotional support can make all the difference as this couple transforms into a family.

I have nothing but the utmost respect and praise for the work that doulas do in the world of birth. But don’t just take my word for it. Google “benefits of doulas” and you’ll get 359K hits in about a half of a second. There aren’t any studies that I know of that show anything other than positive results of having a doula with you in birth. If you’d like to read more about the benefits of doulas, read this article written by Rebecca Dekker on Evidence Based Birth.

Having a doula at your birth can be linked to:

  •  Reducing the incidence of c-sections      
  •  Shortening the length of labor      
  •  Reducing epidural and analgesic requests      
  •  Increasing breastfeeding initiation and continuation     
  •  Increasing mother’s satisfaction of birth experience      
  •  Reducing the incidence of postpartum mood disorders     
  •  Increasing new parents’ confidence in the care of their newborn

There’s really no downside to having a doula with you in birth or postpartum! A doula is worth her weight in gold. If you’re interested in finding a doula for your birth or for postpartum, one place you can look is the DONA International website. Other places to look would be your friends and co-workers. A lot has changed in 20 years! Many more women are using doulas in their birth and postpartum and personal recommendations can give you so much more than a website directory! Many CBEs also have referrals they can provide, if you ask.

My tips for hiring a doula: Don’t get stuck on how many births they’ve attended, or what “extras” they might provide (photography, massage, etc.) These might be wonderful additions, but I think it’s more important you feel you can hang out with this person for 24+ hours. A professional doula won’t have an agenda for what your birth “should” look like. She’ll be willing to support you, and your choices in birth. Make sure your doula and your partner can work together. If you’ve chosen well, your doula will help your partner feel like they had just the right support so they could be involved in the birth at the level they were most comfortable with.

Doulas can be an amazing support when a birth goes really well, but even more so they when a birth goes rogue. Your doula can help you remember what matters most to you in this birth experience and help you get as close to that as possible. On the other side of giving birth, you’ll share a bond with this woman forever and she’ll be an important part of the birth story you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Doulas are amazing women and I’m happy to publicly honor them in this way! A special shout-out to Liesl & Kathie (doulas) and Beth & Marilyn (midwives) for all of the doula-ing they provided me and my husband during the birth of our four children. I mean this honestly when I say it – we couldn’t have done it without them!

If you know a doula, please take time to honor them in some special way this week!