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… )

Appreciation is Key – Don’t Forget to Say Thank You!

Thank You

Let’s get real for a minute… Parenting is hard. Really hard.

And here’s where I need to give a sincere shout-out to all of you who are doing this work solo. You deserve a standing ovation. Seriously. Single parenting is double, triple and on some days I’d imagine, quadruple harder than when you have a partner to help share the load. One of the main reasons I think it’s so hard, is that there might not be someone there in the everydayness of parenting who appreciates all that you’re doing to raise the next generation.

And I’m not just talking about wiping their butts, cleaning their snot-encrusted faces, making them all their meals (no one ever tells you how much or how often they will need to eat!) or driving them from one end of the universe to the other!

I’m talking about sharing with them our most precious gift: our time.

The time it takes to sit down and feed your newborn, the time you allow for your three year old to “Do! It! MYSELF!!!”, the time you spend reading that book you have committed to memory because you read it approximately 2,000 times a day, the sleep you surrender every time you wake up in the middle of the night to soothe the hacking cough, or run in with a bowl just a moment too late when your kiddo’s sick, the time you listen – really listen – to descriptions of the Pokemon characters you’ll never be interested in (just being honest!), the concerns of starting Middle School somewhere new, the feelings of overwhelm at wanting to be really good at dance, soccer, acting, music, while still maintaining good grades and a successful social life.

If you’re doing this all by yourself, I hope you have a solid group of family and friends who are giving you the acknowledgment that you so deserve. And if they aren’t? Go find yourself some new, and better, family and friends! Because this parenting gig is challenging and we need all the encouragement and validation we can get.

But now I want to turn attention to those who do have of a partner to share in the parenting. Are you giving each other the appreciation that you deserve? Because even if you’re parenting with a partner, feeling under-appreciated makes parenting exponentially harder than it has to be.

Why? Because the little people we have committed our lives to don’t really get it. They don’t really know how to express appreciation for all that we do for them. That’s why it’s so important for your partner to acknowledge everything that you’re doing to keep the family going. Especially, if you’re the primary caregiver either working mostly or completely in the home.

In our society, we put so much emphasis on how much money a person makes, that any work done in which there’s no exchange of funds, is automatically considered less important. When, in fact, it certainly has greater importance and impact on the lives of the next generation than what vacations they get to take, or what kind of sneakers they can afford to wear.

I’m not trying to slam the parent that works outside of the home. This is a very important role that allows the other parent (when financially feasible) to even consider working part-time, or staying home entirely to raise the children. But when that decision is made, it’s important to not make assumptions about what goes on during that day at home. At least not negative assumptions.

Instead, let’s assume that the parent who is at home is working, too – doing a million different things all at once to make sure that the offspring are: clean, well-fed, not stuck in front of a screen for too long, intellectually stimulated, chauffeured to and from activities, and all the while, happy and well-adjusted.

So, maybe there are a few extra dishes in the sink at the end of the day. The floors could be a little cleaner. The laundry is starting to pile up a little bit. And if these things bother you, less-at-home-parent, then by all means do what you need to do to change this situation: 1) Pitch in and clean up the dishes, laundry, floors or whatever else is causing you stress or 2) Hire somebody else to do it.

But don’t under-appreciate all that your partner is doing to keep everything – everything that actually matters – going.

I’ve talked about my parents very happy union before – they are closing in on 60 years, and I spoke about my Dad’s musings on thoughtfulness here. But I can remember as a child, several occasions when we’d all settled down for dinner and he would stop the evening chatter to make this announcement: “Look at your beautiful mother. I want all of you to know that this family would fall apart if it weren’t for all of the work that she does to keep our family life running smoothly.”

What a wonderful model he provided for all of us! She worked as full-time parent and homemaker and didn’t get paid a dime for raising six (!) children. My Dad understood exactly what her worth was as his partner and the mother of his children, and he made sure that we all understood it too.

Take your most precious commodity of time to appreciate what one another is doing in the role of parent to your children. It’s all too easy to assume that you’re carrying an unequal load when it comes to parenting no matter who is working full-time, outside of the home. Once there, it’s even easier to begin to resent one another. This one-upping, and keeping score is ugly and negative – and it can poison your relationship.

Instead of looking for what your partner is not doing and criticizing their efforts (or lack thereof), shift your focus on finding the ways your partner is working for your family and recognize their contributions to the family you’ve created together. How and where can you pause to say thank you?

The work of parenting one or several children is not for the faint of heart. And I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t get any easier down the road. This is a lifelong commitment and you need some level of positive acknowledgement and validation from your partner that what you are doing as a parent matters.

Because, my friends, it matters so much more than you know! So appreciate one another for all that you’re doing – in and outside of the home – to make your family thrive.

Does this resonate with you? Have you been feeling under-appreciated lately in your role as a parent? We’re unlikely to get the encouragement and validation we need from the outside world, so we need to make sure we say “Thank You” early and often. Here’s a little inspiration from Sam and Dave to get you in the mood.

My Third Is Now Eleven. Wait – What?

Supergirl

It is my girl’s birthday today. She has turned 11 years old and I wonder, “How in the hell did that happen?!”

Last night, she feigned interest in listening to me read some Harry Potter to her younger brother, attempting some wacky dance moves instead. But she gave herself away when she shared, “I love it when you give all the characters different British accents!” (Well, how else are you supposed to read Harry Potter? I mean, seriously!)

After the chapter was over, I drew her in close and told her the story of her birth. You would think that given the fact that my whole professional life revolves around birth that this is something I’ve been doing with each of my children since they celebrated their first birthdays – but you’d be wrong. It’s not that I haven’t shared their birth stories with them, it just hasn’t become an annual birthday thing.

But even so, my daughter supplied the last line of her story which is: “I came out just like “Supergirl” And she did, with her hand and arm outstretched over her head, like she was flying through the sky. The memory of this makes me laugh now – but at the time, it wasn’t so funny. While a newborn’s closed fist is pretty tiny, let’s just acknowledge that in birth every centimeter counts, and I didn’t necessarily appreciate her grand entrance… although this has proven to be something that she’s quite good at.

This led me to wonder again about the topic of nature vs nurture. And I can’t help but think that the essence of who we are already seems just about fully formed before we even make our entrance into this world, grand or otherwise.

I think back to when Lucía was yet to be born. She was an eagerly anticipated baby and my pregnancy had been pretty smooth. Her older siblings were 6 and 3+ years and with one in Kindergarten and one in Preschool, I didn’t have much time to sit and dream about this little peanut growing inside of me. I was a very busy Momma already! Thankfully, I had a straight-forward pregnancy and I was boring and healthy throughout. Sure, she caused me some pretty bad heartburn (cum gastric reflux), but otherwise I was able to exercise well into my pregnancy and I felt great.

I had anticipated going past my due date with her, as I’d already done that 2x before with her older siblings. Apparently, all my babies all like to bake from somewhere between 40 and 41 1/2 weeks. (*Fun Fact- Did you know you can feel your baby’s hiccups best through the their back?) I knew from where I felt the increasing hiccups with baby #3, (due to my increasing sweet tooth!) that when I went to bed the night before my due date, it was with a baby in the best possible position for birth: head down.

During the middle of the night, I woke up, completely startled and awake, but by what? I didn’t have to pee (for once!), so I settled back to bed thinking that maybe it had been a bad dream. That bad dream became a reality when I realized the next morning that my baby had flipped overnight into a head up position – and that’s what woke me up!

I can’t even tell you how angry I was in that moment. “You have got to be kidding me!” I thought. I marched upstairs and grabbed a bag of frozen peas and promptly put it on what I thought must be her head. Then as they thawed, I switched out the peas for a bag of frozen corn, and back and forth – peas and corn, peas and corn –  all day long. But that wasn’t all! Oh, no! That night I propped myself up in this crazy position in bed with my butt waaaaay up in the air so that her head would be extremely uncomfortable compressed in my ribcage and – I waited. This was going to be an epic battle of wills.

I could tell this little person was not one to be trifled with, but neither was I! Sure enough, after a few hours, I felt a huge sea change happening and she settled back into my pelvis – head down. “Hah!” I thought, “Sometimes you have to teach them who’s boss even before they’re born!”

But, seeing as I’ve already spoiled the ending, you know that it was she who got the last laugh as she was born. I guess she showed herself to be a little bit of a boss that day as well.

And the two of us have had that kind of relationship ever since. It’s not bad, it just gets complicated from time to time. If we were dance partners, it would be to disastrous results because we both want to lead, all the time. I have come to find that this daughter who is so unique and absolutely her own person is also the one who is most like me – and as it turns out, parenting oneself can be mighty challenging at times.

She got a lot of my good stuff, but unfortunately, she also got some of my bad stuff,too.

She’s a lot of fun and really funny. But she’s also impatient and unwilling to ask for help. She is intuitive and one of the most street-smart and savvy kids I know. She’s compassionate to a fault but wants love and affection – on her terms only. I love her fiercely, but I’m only allowed to tell her that when she’s in the mood to receive it. She’s going to do big, big things with her life – as long as she doesn’t burn out in a blaze of glory first!

Lucía is but one of the four reasons I get to hold the title of “Momma.” She pushes my buttons – sometimes all at once! But she is also the one who teaches me the most on a daily basis about how to try and do this mothering thing better than I did the day before.

She is my Supergirl. And she is 11 today. How the hell did that happen?!

What about you and your babies? Do you think they are the same little people on the outside that they were when they were in utero? How much of who they are reflects nature vs nurture? I’d love to hear your comments about this! Please leave them here.

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/

What Do I Do Right?

Do Right

I’m taking part in Elly Taylor’s, Becoming Us Facilitator Training, and it’s fantastic! This training is based on her book, Becoming Us: 8 Steps to Grow a Family That Thrives. I love this book as it aims to prepare couples by presenting them with normal, realistic expectations for the transition to parenthood. Through this training, I’m learning how to “plant seeds” for my expectant couples so their transition to new parenthood goes as smoothly as possible.

This work is not necessarily new to me and the way I teach, but going through this training has allowed me to look in-depth at the incredible transition that women and their partners go through as they become parents to a newborn. This is a life-changing event, after all, and we need to do better in preparing our families for all of the changes that will be happening to them as individuals and as a couple. This is why I’m taking part in this advanced training. I’m weaving Elly’s work into my current curriculum to better prepare my families with realistic expectations that go far beyond the birth itself.

The module that I’ve most enjoyed so far is learning more about the challenges new parents have in grappling with their lowered sense of identity and self-esteem as they move into their new roles. We’ve definitely moved away from the idea of parents receiving a boost to their self-esteem by other members of the larger culture when they start a family. The idea of ushering in the next generation as a role of honor, just isn’t a part of our cultural identity any longer.

In a society that elevates the material world and success is measured in how much money you make, the work parents do to raise their children doesn’t even rate in our collective consciousness. It’s barely recognized, let alone given any extrinsic value. When we look at parenting through this cultural lens, it starts to become obvious why the identities and self-esteem levels of new parents, both men and women, take a hit.

To address this issue, I’ll sometimes talk about parenting in a way that resonates with my student’s experience up to this point: Parenting is a job. But it’s not just any job, it’s the job – the one you’ve been focused on getting for the past year at least, maybe even longer and finally, you land that job.

And it ends up being the hardest freaking job you’ve ever had.

The hours suck. There’s no pay, no vacation time. Your mentors aren’t that helpful because they were trained about 25-30 years ago, and things have changed – a lot. There are so many different manuals with conflicting information about every aspect of this job, that you just stop reading them.

If you’re lucky, you have partner to help you in this new job – but guess what? They were hired the exact same day you were and they don’t seem to know any more than you do about the right way to get this job done. Plus, they’re as sleep-deprived and resentful of the “No-Pay Policy” as you are, so morale in the office is really, really, low.

But maybe the worst part of this job? You don’t get to have regular job reviews with a supervisor that can sit you down, talk with you about what a great job you’re doing, provide helpful feedback with some of the challenges you’re facing, and ultimately encourage you to keep going. No one is there to remind you that this job is important, it matters, it has meaning, and even if the payoff is hard to see right now, it’s completely worth it.

When we come from a world where we get regular pats on the back for a job well done, being thrown into the job of being responsible for your newborn’s life without any of that regular feedback can be really hard. And in some ways, it’s harder on men who become fathers than it is for women who become mothers. Men today, who really want to be much more involved, might not have a strong role model in their own father. They might end up feeling like they’re playing catch-up to their partner who may have been encouraged in her role as mother since she was a young girl through (stereotypical) ideas of nurturance, play, and babysitting.

But studies show that identity and self-esteem of both men and women are lower after they become parents. They’re often floored by how much they don’t know about parenting, how much “on-the-job-training” comes with having a baby, and often feel like they have to defend their parenting choices, or be ready to criticize other parenting choices as a way to lessen their own feelings of vulnerability in this new role.

I think waiting for our culture to provide parents with a pat on the back for a job well done will be an exercise in futility. I’m not sure it’s worth waiting for. Depending on the relationship, we may or may not get any positive feedback even from our own parents. Which is harsh to say, but true. Still, this issue needs to be addressed as it has long-term implications for new parents as individuals, as well as their couple relationship. 

I think the obvious person we need to look to in this situation, is our partner.

Our partner is the only person that understands the level of sacrifice, the long hours, the hard work, and the immense love that we have for our children. They’re the only ones that can provide us with feedback as to how we’re doing in this new job. And studies show that what our partner says about our parenting has the greatest impact on our feelings of identity and self-esteem.

Take the time to let your partner know that you think they’re doing a great job as a parent in this shared “work project.” Try to focus on the positive – remember that this job will become exponentially harder on both of you, if you end up doing it by yourself from two different job sites. Instead of telling your partner what they could do better, focus on what it is they’re already doing really well.

We need to know that the person who is intimately connected with the work that we’re doing day in and day out, respects us and the tireless work we do to parent our newborn, toddler, tween, teenager and young adult. Because it never ends, this parenting gig. And to have a committed partner in parenting makes this job so much more enjoyable and rewarding.

Tell your partner one thing that you love about how they parent – today. It will give their parenting identity and self-esteem a very much needed boost!

This whole blog post was prompted today by this song  by Jimmie’s Chicken Shack I heard on the way to school drop-off this morning. And because everything somehow connects to the worlds of pregnancy, birth and parenting, I give you this as a reminder of how it can start to feel if we forget to tell each other what we do right as parents.

Were you surprised by a lowered sense of identity and self-esteem after you became a parent? How do you and your partner acknowledge one another in your role as parents? Isn’t every day as a parent Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?

Sex Life? What Sex Life? Part II

SexLifePartII

As mentioned in an earlier post, Sex Life? What Sex LIfe? Part I, there are many factors that can conspire to make postpartum sex a little bit tricky to initiate. But the good news is there’s only one thing necessary to have a lasting and healthy sexual relationship: direct, open and honest communication.

When you see your provider for that standard six-week postpartum visit, be prepared to talk with them about your sexuality. Nothing should be off-limits. This can feel awkward at first, but remember, your provider has studied for years about pregnancy, birth and postpartum. They’re considered experts in the care of women during this transition. Anything you feel might be of concern to you, bring it up. Don’t be shy. They’ve heard it all before, I promise.

Whatever your concerns, they’re most likely to be temporary and will resolve over time. But the anxiety of not knowing this can become a bigger deal than it needs to be. I’m a huge fan of paying to hear these experts say the three little words that can make you feel so much better: “That’s completely normal.”

If, at the end of this six-week appointment with your provider, you’ve stopped bleeding and your physical healing is complete, you’re probably going to get the green light for having sex. You’ve been examined and it’s been determined that you are physically ready for sex. But now you need to weigh that information with whether or not you’re feeling emotionally ready for sex.

Have you ever heard this joke? “Sex is like pizza. Even bad pizza is still pretty good pizza.”

I don’t think it’s very funny, either.

Sex, good sex, rarely just involves the physical. I mean, there is something to be said about just going at it! But if you think about it, the best sex of your life might have involved, but was not dependent upon: a gorgeous and romantic location, a crazy position, or the addition of some kinky sex toys.

Good sex usually occurs when there’s a trusting, loving relationship established between you and your partner. Better sex happens when you feel safe and accepted for who you are. Great sex happens when you’re able to see and be seen by your beloved.

Good sex involves a level of intimacy and vulnerability that allows the two of you to become one, physically and emotionally. It can’t happen if one of you isn’t feeling emotionally ready. It can’t happen when you’re feeling guilted into it. It can’t happen when you’re just trying to soothe someone else’s sexual frustration. It can’t happen when one of you feels resentment – sex being one more thing on your to-do list of how you serve others and not yourself.

Sex postpartum has the potential to be so much better than it ever was before your baby arrived! The reason is because you’re about to reveal to one another a level of tenderness and vulnerability that you don’t even know about yourself. It’s through that window of openness that you can begin to cultivate a new, more intimate and connected relationship with your partner inside – and outside – of the bedroom.

But communication is the key.

If you’re not feeling ready (either one of you!), you need to express this to your partner while reassuring that it has nothing to do with your desire for them as a person. Too many partners take the new Momma’s lack of desire for sex as a lack of desire for them – as if the baby has somehow taken their place.

Now Mommas, initially you might respond, “That’s ridiculous!” Before you start telling your partner to “Grow up! The baby needs me!” think about how you might feel if you were in their shoes.

If your partner was the sole source of food and most often the source of comfort for your newborn, you might feel more than just a little bit left out. So it’s possible (and I would add normal) that your partner might be feeling a bit on the outside of this new little Momma-baby dyad. It can get lonely out there sometimes.

As the partner, it’s important to remember that Momma might be “all touched out” by the end of the day. She might want her body to be hers and hers alone. She’s likely to feel overwhelmed by trying to meet her newborn’s needs and get showered before four pm. The thought of adding some sexy time into the day may not even be on her radar.

It’s helpful to take stock of one another’s perspective to understand where the other is coming from when it comes to sex – or anything else, for that matter. Perspective taking is challenging, but it makes you a much more thoughtful person. And this alone is a very big turn-on! Thoughtfulness can go a long way toward creating a much more mutually satisfying relationship.

But here’s the real-deal. For most women postpartum, it takes awhile longer than it did before the baby was born for their body to feel desire. This can be a big mismatch from where partners are.

Your partner might catch a glimpse of you before you jump into the shower and think, “Let’s do this!” But your mind is already on the hamster wheel calculating all the things that need to get done today – and sex is the last thing you’d ever think about.

Partners hear this: if you’re willing to wait until the timing is right (and it might end up being early morning now instead of nighttime – Mommas are battling end-of-the-day exhaustion levels, remember?) and if you’re willing to engage the biggest sex organ in a woman’s body you just might get somewhere. This mismatch in your sex drive can be minimized.

(Here’s the part that applies to all couples, not just those who are new to parenting!)

The biggest sex organ for a woman, in my opinion, is her brain. It’s that whole brain-body connection that I can’t stop writing about! In order for a woman to be able to truly let go, she needs to feel safe, she needs to be able to trust and allow herself to be vulnerable. It’s best if she’s not feeling too anxious or stressed out.

And even if you’re the love of her life, that doesn’t happen just because you’re lying next to one another in bed. It’s a rare woman whose feelings of desire can be turned on like the switch on a lightbulb. She might require a little more prep-work. Instead, try thinking about lighting a fire and the care that’s needed to get that spark to a full flame.

Engage her in conversation. It doesn’t have to be about profound or romantic things. Discussing with each other how the day has gone and really listening to one another (no electronic devices nearby to distract you from each other!) goes a lot farther than you’d think in terms of creating connection.

If you notice that she’s had a particularly rough day, offer to take charge of the bedtime routine, or do the dishes so she can sit down with a glass of wine and relax a little bit. If she can ease out of Momma-mode, and let some of the day’s stressors go, she’ll be much more responsive to you.

Even after all of these positive steps toward setting the mood for some loving, she might not want to go there – but she just might. How do you know?

Ask her!

I think when it comes to sex, partners are too often silent: groping and hoping that if you touch her in just the right way under the sheets she might be ready to go. Instead of this blind attempt with the potential of rejection without explanation, ask her if she’s up for messing around. Most women can gauge whether or not they can be persuaded.

If it’s defintely, “No.” Then, it’s not going to happen. Mommas it will help your partner, and your relationship, if you can articulate why you’re not into it at this time: “I don’t think it’s happening tonight. I’m _________________ (too tired, too worked up about my day tomorrow, still upset about the conversation I had with my Mom, angry about the comment you made to me last night.) This isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do, but direct, open and honest communication has to happen for real connection to occur.

If she is in the mood, she’ll let you know – with or without words (hubba! hubba!) And she’ll appreciate that you asked!

But here’s the clincher that might lead to better (and more!) sex for you both: Mommas if you’re on the fence about whether or not you feel up for having some sexy time, let your partner know that too by saying, “I might be able to be persuaded.” And then partners, do your best to persuade her!

Extra time spent catching her body and brain up to one another can make all the difference in terms of having good sex, more often. She might really want, she might really need, to have an orgasm. But unless her desire is able to fully manifest, the sex you do have might end up being one-sided, not mutually beneficial and therefore, won’t happen nearly as often as you’d like.

If you take these considerations into account however, you might find that your sex life post baby can be even stronger and more satisfying than it ever was before the baby arrived.

Last comment to all new or experienced Mommas out there: Make orgasms your new best friend! Every time you have one, it’s like going to the spa for a mini-massage. It’s one of the best ways to release tension throughout your entire body plus your brain gets flooded with that love and bonding hormone, oxytocin. Ultimately, with a healthy and satisfying sex life, you’ll experience less stress and more connection with your partner.

Your sex life postpartum may not be the most important aspect of your relationship, but it does deserve a lot of attention! You need to take care of it, and nurture it – with at least as much attention as you shower on your baby. When that happens, both your baby and your relationship will thrive.

How have you nurtured and cared for your relationship postpartum? Are there areas which deserve more of your attention? Do you need to focus more on using direct and honest communication with one another?

Sex Life? What Sex Life? PART I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

A whole bunch of reasons, like:

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

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

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