BREAKING NEWS!!!

“Partner’s Touch Reduces Pain For Laboring Woman”

receiving-hands-1920865_1920In a recent study published in Nature, it was discovered that a partner’s touch resulted in something the researchers termed, “physiological coupling.” The same study also found that empathetic touch from the partner contributed to an analgesic effect via the woman’s autonomic nervous system.

In other words, when a partner held the hand of the woman they cared for and a pain stimulus was activated, the couple would begin to synchronize their breathing and heart rate patterns, otherwise known as physiological coupling. In addition, the woman would report that her pain lessened while holding hands with her partner. If they were sitting next to one another, but not holding hands, her pain level would not be affected.

Obviously, this has implications for the families I teach, which is why I joke about this study being big news and something I didn’t already know about. But it’s important to share this news far and wide, because even though I’ve been preaching it for close to 20 years – “Everything you do for your partner while she’s in labor makes a difference! Even if all you do is hold her hand!” – partners still don’t seem to believe it!

Labor is not just something that a birthing woman experiences. Her partner experiences labor too, just in a very different way. For far too long, we’ve either diminished or ignored the partner’s experience of labor – to everyone’s detriment.

I’ve mentioned many times before that I have a soft spot in my heart for the partner’s experience. I realize that it makes sense to pay close attention to how a woman experiences and moves through her pregnancy, labor and birth. But if we’re not paying equal attention to her partner’s experience, we’re not setting this new family up for success. In fact, we might be doing the exact opposite.

I spend a lot of time discussing the second stage of labor (pushing and delivery of the baby) using my uterus and baby doll props to share what to expect and what it will look like from the partner’s perspective. At this point, the nurses and provider have their attention focused on the laboring woman and baby – with good reason. They need to be aware of any changes in the heart rate as the baby moves through the birth canal, and they need to remain alert as the baby’s shoulders make their way through the woman’s pelvis.

But not enough attention is being paid to what the partner experiences during this critical time. Partners need to know what a newborn baby really looks like and what the process entails so that the moment their baby enters the world it’s a moment full of joy for the whole family! When we forget about the partner’s experience, and they have no idea what to expect, that moment can result in a partner frozen with fear and in a state of shock at what they’re seeing and what’s happening – and this can negatively impact their transition as a new parent in a significant way.

Likewise, if partners don’t realize the importance their words, actions and touch can have on the laboring woman’s experience, many partners will freeze up and feel helpless as they witness the power and intensity of labor and birth. They may end up feeling as if their efforts and suggestions for comfort measures are without any effect. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth!

Sometimes I use a marathon analogy to discuss how important the efforts of the partner can be in helping a woman through labor and birth.

Imagine you’re running your first marathon. You’ve heard from friends and family how challenging it can be, but you’ve also heard about all of the “extras” along the race route that will help you make it across the finish line: the excitement and camaraderie of other runners, the music blaring at checkpoints, the mileage post signs marking your progress, the water stations providing hydration, snacking on energy-packed gummies, reading signs of encouragement from strangers, and awaiting you at the finish line, cheering crowds and some of the best peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate milk you’ve ever tasted! Now, these “extras” might not seem very important – until we take them all away.

What if I painted a very different picture of your marathon experience?

You’re told to stand at the starting line alone and when the gun goes off, run for 26.2 miles toward the finish line with nothing to help you along the way – no water stations, no music, no snacks, no encouraging crowds, no one waiting for you at the finish line… nothing.

The difference between the first scenario and the second is stark. Without all of those “extras” even the experienced marathon veteran would have a hard time completing the race. Let alone, crossing the finish line with even a hint of a smile.

So it is that every little thing a partner does to make the laboring woman more comfortable matters, and it matters immensely. Every sip of water offered, every new position suggested, every word of encouragement, every reminder to breathe, every single touch, provides comfort to the laboring woman. And partners need to know this and believe in the power that their undivided attention and connection can bring to the laboring woman.

I’m reminded of this when I think back to being in labor with my first, some seventeen+ years ago…

I had two doulas – one for me, and one for my husband! I came prepared with a full team of support for this birth. They all worked so hard to support me in what ended up being a long labor that began, as most labors do, in the wee hours of the morning. I wasn’t the only one exhausted some 20 hours into the experience – my husband had been awake and working hard just as long as I’d been. And he was getting tired.

I remember hearing my two doulas talking in a stage whisper with my husband: “Go ahead and lie down. Try to get a quick nap in now before the really intense labor begins. We’re both here – we can take care of her.”

A statement that was completely true! One of my doulas was an L&D nurse (soon-to-be-midwife) and the other was my best friend who knew my husband and me almost as well as we knew ourselves! They were more than capable of helping me through contractions, which up to this point I’d been handling really well.

Upon their urging, my husband walked about three feet away and lay down on the daybed in the labor and delivery room. And then strangest thing happened – I completely lost my rhythm and my ability to breathe through contractions! It was as though I’d lost my way, somehow. The next handful of contractions felt incredibly painful to me. So much so, that I cried out in anguish which woke my husband up and he hurried to my side and held my hand once more. And then, just as quickly, I found my rhythm, my breathing returned, and I was able to continue and handle my contractions, until I gave birth several hours later.

I know from talking with my husband and other partners about their own experiences how challenging it is to watch the person you love go through labor and birth. It pulls strongly on the heartstrings and can leave partners feeling incredibly helpless to do anything that will be effective in increasing their partner’s comfort level.

But here’s why I think the findings from this latest study are so important: it’s the feeling of shared empathy between the laboring woman and her partner that causes the physiological coupling and analgesic effect that help a woman when she’s experiencing pain.

That’s why I’ve always told the partners in my classes that even if they hired an army of the world’s greatest labor doulas, if the partner provides the laboring woman with their unwavering, focused and empathetic attention during the labor, she will tell everyone that she could not have made it through without her partner – even if all they did was hold her hand!

I love it when someone else does the research and publishes findings that support what I’ve been teaching my families for the past twenty years!

Because, let’s face it… Some partners in my classes may think that I’m just trying to make them feel better or elevate their role in the birth experience. (Which is exactly what I’m trying to do, by the way!)

But I’ve also known forever that empathetic touch – combined with all of the other wonderful comfort measures partners learn in our time together – really can help a laboring woman when she needs it the most.

And now, I have the science to prove it.

Can you relate to this post as a laboring woman? Did your partner’s touch (among other things) actually make labor and birth easier for you? What about partners – have you felt helpless in labor? Does this information about how your words, actions and touch really helped her through labor and birth make you feel any better? Let me know your thoughts. I love hearing from you!

EnCouragement

Encourage

Interview with Jennifer Fisher of EnCourage Doula Care

(NOTE: While I hope that this post will provide information and be a positive resource for women and families, it’s important to note that the subject matter of this post involves pregnancy loss and bereavement.)

B: Jen, I’m so glad that you agreed to an interview for Birth Happens. There are lots of things that we could discuss, but I wanted to interview you about your latest venture into the world of Maternal Health as a Bereavement Doula. This idea might be something that’s new to my readers, and an important offering that people might not even know exists.

First, tell us a little bit about yourself and your family. When, how and why did you begin working in this field?

J: When I introduce myself, I say that I’m working in this field because of my family. My career started when I became a mom, with a great birth. I began volunteering with Nursing Mother’s Counsel when my oldest daughter was 6 months old. She’s now an ambitious freshman in high school!

Motherhood allowed me the time to volunteer additionally with Birthright of Vancouver, Washington where I listen to women while they take a pregnancy test or come in seeking resources. I always qualify my work at Birthright, while listed as a pro-life organization, as simply pregnancy support. I have no more ability to make a mom keep her pregnancy than I have to fly to the moon. I support moms wherever they’re at. The nurturing that I learned there, encouraged me to reach further in my career to become a certified childbirth educator over a dozen years ago, and now more recently, to become certified as a doula.

Baby number two came along two and half years after big sister. She taught me patience and that pregnancy and birth goes the way it wants. That birth also showed me how women working and supporting women during labor can be life altering! I had a doula, I had a nurse who believed in my goals, and I had a partner who was willing to watch me dig deeper and fight harder for this unmedicated birth. That support broadened my expectations of what we can do for each other.

Our miscarriage occurred less than two years later and I knew at the time, while we wanted and loved this little angel, his or her birth was there to teach me compassion for other women. It was then that I learned birth is not all rainbows and unicorns. While I knew this from a Childbirth Educator’s standpoint, it was in experiencing it myself that I really understood. Our baby’s name is “Eliti” which means “gift of the sun,” and I’m so clear in my work that this baby was a gift to us.

My sweetie and I were brave a few years later and got pregnant again. And this is where support from other women who had walked similar paths carried me through the pregnancy. I distinctly remember a conversation with my good friend Mary, who had experienced numerous miscarriages, when I asked, “When will I feel safe?” And she answered, “Maybe not until you hold that baby in your arms.” Our shared stories helped build up my courage.

My last kiddo was born at home as the sun came up, his 7 year old sister there to welcome him, and his almost 4 year old sister dragging her blanket into our room wondering what all the cheering was about. My family story is so intertwined with my career, it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other ends.

B: When did you start considering doing something “extra” in this field, in addition to your work as a Childbirth Educator?

J: Expanding my career to midwifery came while pruning the heather in my backyard! Heather is one of the flowers that struck me while I was on my pilgrimage in Spain, the Camino de Santiago, and I had planted some to commemorate that experience.

I realized in Spain that my career was intended to be about the babies. While pruning the heather in my backyard, the realization was it’s about the babies… and their mommas. So midwifery became the plan. Last year, I had to let that dream go as balancing school, tending to 3 acres, and my work as an educator did not equate to me functioning at my best, for everyone involved.

B: So, how did you make the move from midwifery to what you’re doing now?

J: Well, at the same time, a beloved friend endured a pregnancy with a fatal diagnosis. It was heartbreaking. I just kept racking my brain with the question, “Who is supporting her through this?!” She had a loving partner and family, but they were in the midst of dealing with their own grief. Who was supporting her?! That marked my transition to becoming a bereavement doula.

B: Why does this work matter to you personally?

J: I have always said that if I was not in the “beginning of life work” that I would be in the “end of life work.” Both have incredibly spiritual, profound moments that our culture as a whole does not recognize. I’m now able to do the work of witnessing both – and support the family whose world has been transformed by pregnancy and death.

B: How do you think your work as a bereavement doula will impact women and families?

J: When women and families acknowledge life and death, they can integrate these experiences and begin to process the emotions around them. For some, this may be more simple than others. I’m not here to judge women and families on how they do it. I’m here if they want support doing it. Yes, family and friends will be there, but even than that does not constitute best care practices. Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, do better.” By being trained to be a doula for both birth and death, I can assist families moving through their mourning and grief. Inevitably, when we are grieving, we seem to turn on those who are closest to us. With concerted support from a professional that sits outside the circle of family and friends, maybe the blow to ourselves and our loved ones can be lessened.

The other aspect of this work is integrating subsequent pregnancies and births. When we’re mourning, and we begin to assimilate the experience and move on from the loss, that has its own set of emotions. If, and when, we get pregnant after experiencing a loss, guilt can flood in and override our emotions. As a doula, being at the next baby’s birth, even with an expected positive outcome, is as important as the prior birth. This family may have a spectrum of emotions that need to be understood and they need to be reassured that what they’re feeling is normal. Experiencing happiness is okay – it doesn’t mean we love any less.

B: How do you envision working with families in this way? What does the model of care for EnCourage Doula Care look like?

J: EnCourage Doula Care was developed this year to offer birth and bereavement doula care in the Portland/Vancouver area. I’m happy to attend births wherever this family is ready to meet – home, hospital or birth center. It’s such a privilege to witness the birth of a baby and, a new family. My philosophy is, whoever can love this baby is the perfect parent. I’m happy to support any birth and family combination.

As typical for a doula, I would like to meet first, have a conversation about birthing ideals, then attend the birth and follow up with a postpartum visit. However, in loss, especially when it is sudden, attending birth to provide emotional and physical support is my first priority. Then we would meet postpartum as well.

EnCourage Doula Care is a community resource. I see working with families, maternal fetal medicine clinics and family birth centers as my primary focus. I envision my role as a bereavement doula as backup for the nurse who may have many additional jobs that need to get done when a family is experiencing loss – and I can be there to provide the emotional and physical support to help this family as they try to make sense of what has happened.

B: What are the next steps for EnCourage Doula Care?

J: The next phase is grant writing, so I can be paid for on-call bereavement care. I’d like to try and roll this out at a local family birth center so women who are having unexpected loss have bereavement doula support as an option. Lastly, I want to design a study to look at the impact bereavement doula support can have on the birthing family. Can we lower stress? Can we integrate care to lessen the negative postpartum impact such an experience can have on a family? Can we increase options of support for this mom and family so the processing of their birth and loss are complete?

B: What do you know for sure about the work you’re doing as a bereavement doula?

J: What I know for sure about this work is that I have no inhibitions about it. When midwifery was the end goal, I spent quality time stressed out about how I would manage school/work/kids/family. Now with this doula work, I feel completely at ease, that all needs will be met and that this is the path I was meant to be on. When we discussed it as a family, my husband and kids were so supportive that this work needs to be done, and thankfully – they believe I have the courage to do it.

B: Jen, thank you so much for taking the time to provide my readers with this information. I really believe in this work and in you! I also think this is the path that you’re meant to be walking and I’m thrilled to be able to refer my families who have experienced loss to you so they can better process and integrate this experience into their lives.

How can readers get in touch? Where can they find you?

J: I’m happy to answer any questions or meet to discuss care options. Please call, text or email me at Jennifer@encouragedoulacare.com 360-241-0277. You can look me up at www.encouragedoulacare.com or find me on Facebook at EnCourage Doula Care where I share all sorts of birthy things!

Being Present

Being Present

Or, “The True Gift of Labor Support”

I got called out of retirement and had the privilege and honor of being the doula at the birth of Baby M born just over two months ago.

I’ve been asked by many couples over the years if I would consider being their birth doula. It’s always a bittersweet moment for me, as I love being a witness to birth almost more than anything else in the world. But with four kiddos, two part-time jobs, a relationship with my hubs that I like to see flourish, and this writing gig of mine – I have ZERO time to attend births.

So, when M & A asked me if I would be their doula at the end of the first night of our 4-week series, I told them what I usually tell all of my students making this request: “Oh, that’s so sweet – but I’m not really doing births. My life is just a little bit too full to consider this a realistic option right now…”

They were a little bit disappointed – but said they understood and they’d see me next week. I promised I’d send them an email that included thoughts on hiring a doula, what to look for, what questions to ask, and a few referrals for local doulas that I thought were really great.

The next week, I asked if they’d decided on a doula yet.

“Ummmm, no. We only want you.” This flattered me, but I knew when their due date was and not only would I be teaching a ton of classes around that time, I was also scheduled to leave town to go to my niece’s wedding. There really was no way.

“I really wish I could be your doula – but it’s just not going to work out. I think you should contact some of the people that I’ve referred you to and we can chat more about this next week.”

I’m guessing you’ve figured out what happened next.

Every week they’d come back and say that they hadn’t talked with any of the referrals and finally they decided that if I couldn’t be their doula, they’d be just fine on their own.

Now, I think couples can do really well on their own, but it’s hard to deny what the evidence shows about having the continuous presence of a doula during labor and delivery – statistically better outcomes for both Mommas and babies!

On the last evening of class, M & A gave me a book and a thank you card which read, in part: “We would be remiss not to formally ask you to consider if you would attend our birth. We completely understand your busy teaching schedule and travel plans and if it relieves any hesitance or pressure, we wouldn’t plan to rely on your presence. In our minds, the structure would be that if it worked out such that you were free and available, we’d love it if you would join.”

I mean, really, how could I say no to that?

This was a couple that I believed would be just fine if I wasn’t able to be there on the big day – I didn’t for a second think they were trying to say the right thing to get me to agree. They were being completely sincere and were speaking my language… I’ve always felt that when labor begins, the people that are supposed to be there to witness the event somehow end up being there. If I was meant to be at their birth, I would be there.

So, we came up with a really interesting split-fee set-up: one amount for the pre-birth “Phone Doula” work that I would provide for them which included: a formal interview about their birth wishes, some assistance creating a template for what really mattered for them in their birth experience, some questions to spark discussion with their provider, and the availability to answer any questions and advise them as they came ever closer to the birth of their baby. And if I ended up being able to be at the birth, there would be an additional fee.

The real gift of labor support is being fully present to an expectant family.

And for me, that began when they hired me. It wasn’t as if I dropped everything I was doing, but we had some regular text check-ins and a few phone calls to see how M & A were doing as the due date drew ever closer. I slept with my phone on and next to my headboard at night (I usually have it turned off, far away from where I sleep and covered up as any “Ping!” noises or even the battery light is enough to keep me awake!)

I kept my phone with me at all times and was checking it much more often than is usual and I’d get back to M & A as quickly as possible after receiving any contact from them.

And on Saturday, April 8th, I began my formal “it could happen at any moment” doula-watch. M called to report that A was having contractions and that “It might happen tonight!” While I appreciated his excitement, after hearing that they were both scarfing down Mexican food at 11 o’clock at night, I encouraged them to get some sleep as I didn’t think that they were going to have a baby anytime soon.

I received word from M in the early morning hours that A had slept soundly through the night – confirming what I thought was happening… Great early labor, but nothing to be getting too worked up about.

Over the next several days, I was in pretty close phone contact with M & A as they navigated what seemed to be prodromal labor. They were handling it so well and really only needed quick check-ins for reassurance that they were on the right path and that everything they were experiencing was normal and good work for what was to come.

On Thursday April 13th, the call finally came: A’s water had broken! I think they were both excited for this very positive sign of labor finally happening, although the contractions hadn’t progressed enough to call it “active labor” yet.

I was excited for them as well – I’ve had prodromal labor myself and I know just how frustrating it can be if it continues past a couple of days – and we were closing in on six days at this point! I was also thrilled they’d gone into labor before I left to go out of town – but, I was scheduled to teach a class that evening and I hadn’t arranged for a sub yet.

It took some finagling on my part (and a small bribe of chocolate and beer) to enlist my friend and colleague Jen to take my class for the evening – but the details weren’t figured out until about 4 pm that afternoon. During the day, M & A made their way into the hospital and I continued playing Phone Doula for them, encouraging them at one point to try some exaggerated marching through the hallways to see if they could get the labor to pick up speed. Apparently, this was a hit with all of the nurses – they loved it!

I finally arrived at the hospital around 6 pm and after saying hello, A had what was, by the reaction, her first real-deal contraction, saying “Whoa! That one was really different!” I laughed and said, “Well, now that your whole birth team is here we can get serious and have ourselves a baby!” And, in fact, about eight hours later that’s exactly what happened!

I won’t give a play-by-play of the entire labor, other than to say that, I fell in love with this couple as I watched them work together to bring their baby into this world!

The act of giving birth, watching partners support the one they love giving birth, and witnessing the birth of a family is sacred work to me. And in this sacred space, time stands still as we are all present to one another, living only in this moment together.

And while it’s nice to know a few things about breathing, and positions and other comfort measures – the real gift of labor support is in being present.

Some people might doubt how having continuous labor support can make such a difference in positive labor outcomes for Mommas and babies – but in our ever-increasingly-barely-ever-present culture, I think it makes more sense now than ever!

As a birthing woman settles into her rhythms and rituals, making claim to the strength she might not have been aware of until this moment, she’s able to ask for whatever she needs – RIGHT NOW – to realize this act of co-creation. She opens herself, both figuratively and literally, to bring forth this new life from within.

And in this moment-by-moment experience, everyone focused and working for one purpose, a miracle occurs: it’s not just a baby that is born, but also a mother, a father and a family. These people are now connected to one another, and they will be, for their whole lives! To witness this in whatever role – doula, nurse, provider, friend or family member – is also a gift that connects all of us in this one moment in time.

I was really exhausted after this beautiful birth! And I couldn’t figure out why at first – I mean, I was only there and working hard from 6 pm until about 2:30 in the morning. In the world of birth, that’s not a lot of time! And then I realized why… It had been awhile since I’d been so focused and present in a continuous way for such a long period of time. And it’s intense to be truly present to the sacred for any period of time.

But oh, what a gift!

I dedicate this post today to M & A and Baby M. I’m so honored to have played a small part in witnessing the birth of the three of you as a new little family! Thank you for your persistence in hiring me, and for giving me the idea of being your “Phone Doula.” I’m so happy to be connected to you in this way.

PS – We’re also connected in one other very important way… Baby M and my son, Alejandro, share the same birthday (only 15 years apart)! I’m pretty sure that this is another sign that I was meant to be fully present at this birth.

One Is The Loneliest Number…

one-is-lonely

Being a mom is lonely…why is making mom friends so hard? I swear it’s worse then dating. Pretty sure I’m just going to throw in the towel on having a social life until I’m old and retired and can play wheelchair races with other loner stinkies down the nursing home hallways. Raise your hand if wine is your best mom friend these days.

This was the post I read the other day on an online Facebook page that I lurk on. By “lurking,” I mean that I’m a member, but rarely do I post anything. The group is supposed to exist as a means of support for today’s super-connected new Mommas. But when I read some of the responses to posts members have written, they feel anything but supportive.

I’m not bashing the Admins for the FB page. I believe they work hard to police any comments that are out of line with the quote prominently displayed on their banner: “Whatever you do, do with kindness. Whatever you say, say with kindness. Wherever you go, radiate kindness.” (Jonathan Lockwood Huie) But when you have 15K+ members, it’s hard to keep up.

I believe that being a new Momma today is much, much harder than it was when I had my first baby 17 1/2 years ago. And the number one reason, in my opinion, is: Social Media.

Now, before you think that I’m going to tear into how “social media is the devil” and that we would all be “better off without our faces glued to a screen” – I’m not. I’m not much of a ranter, in general, but if I went on a rant about social media, it would make me a hypocrite.

I share rich and robust connections with people all over the globe… that I only know online. There are a few whom I feel incredibly close to – even though we’ve never met, or even talked on the phone! So, no… social media is not some sort of demon that we all need to try and exorcise from our lives.

Motherhood on its own is one of the toughest gigs around. But add a little social media to mothering and you’ve just made it that much harder. Here are a few reasons why I think this is so:

  • It’s too easy to sit at your dining room table and “connect” with other people online instead of getting out of the house as a new Momma to interact with people face-to-face. (Important to note that this can lead to all sorts of issues: increased feelings of isolation, increased risk of PMADs, a lack of conversational skills with someone other than your non-verbal infant, or your partner) 
  • A lack of conversational skills can make any attempts to connect with people in the real world seem super weird and awkward. (“Hi – do you want to be my new Momma friend?”) 
  • Interaction with others online only, means miscommunication is bound to happen! (“Did she just say that to me? I can’t believe she just said that to me!”) 
  • Engaging in interactions with others that are not face-to-face can be socially dangerous. (Not being able to read body language and facial expressions, means you might not understand the meaning behind the comment: they meant to convey humor or sarcasm, you interpreted it as mean and hurtful.) 
  • It’s also too easy to feel defensive about a parenting choice you’ve made and then go into attack mode if you feel your decision has been challenged by someone else – especially if they’re just a name and a profile picture on a screen. (Making parenting decisions almost always leaves you feeling a little bit uncertain and defensive. And we often will “say” things online that we would never say to a person standing in front of us.) 
  • People don’t usually share their parenting fails – or any other fails, really – online. (The virtual world is where most of us present only our very best selves, leaving out the not-so-glamorous details of our everyday life. This can lead others who might be struggling to believe that they’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough… to be able to do this Momma thing “right.”) 
  • While we all know that perfection is just an ideal, and not something that exists in reality, it’s hard to be okay with your imperfections when others are not willing to reveal any of their own. (This is what I like to call “The Curse of the Pinterest Parent.”) 
  • Despite all of this, we continue to persist in trying to make these online only “connections” with others – but we also continue to be surprised by the result. (Relationships that don’t feel very deep or authentic; relationships that end up being not very satisfying and leave us wanting something more…) 
  • It’s no wonder then that the current generation is one with the most connected group of people in history reporting the highest levels of loneliness and isolation.

Wow. How’d we get here? But more importantly, how can we get out of here?

The feelings of vulnerability that get stirred up during pregnancy are intense and very unsettling. Everything seems to be changing: our bodies, our relationships, our feelings about the world, our identities as individuals and as a couple – and there doesn’t seem to be anyplace where we can find sure footing.

It’s one thing to make decisions for ourselves, but now we’re making decisions for our baby – and we really don’t want to screw this up! We’ve either had:  A) the greatest mother in the world, which is fantastic – but an incredibly tough act to follow! or B) the crappiest mother in the world, which is awful – and we’re desperate to not repeat her sins. Either way, there’s an awful lot of pressure to be the best parent EVER!

I’ve talked often about the need to find your parenting tribe . It’s not necessarily easy, but it is easily one of the most important tasks of pregnancy and parenting preparation. And even if you’ve already had your baby, but still don’t have your tribe, then I encourage you to get out there and find them – in person!

This might sound challenging – but it’s completely worth it, I promise. Go to where other new parents hang out. There are usually New Parent groups in most communities – check them out! Usually the first couple of visits are either free, or super cheap to attend, so there’s no real investment, other than your time.

These groups are usually run by a facilitator who can help the group learn one another’s names and provide some ice breakers or discussion topics for people to weigh in on. It might take a month or more of weekly hanging out for you to make a connection, and it may only be with one or two others, but it’s a start. And even if it does feel eerily similar to dating  (Noooooooooooo!), hang in there. Going out for coffee after or meeting up early to take a walk before the group starts can give you a little bit of time to get to know one another better and see if you’re a good “fit.”

Sign up for some sort of “baby and me” class – music, messy art, reading at the library – or just go hang out at the park. Parks exist for one reason only: so parents can gather, commiserate and let their kiddos run wild and so as to not destroy the house! (I realize there are lots of other reasons… This is just the one that saved my sanity when my kiddos were small.)

But here’s the part that might be hard for some of the Mommas in this generation to hear… While you’re hanging out, trying to meet other new Mommas – Put the damn phone DOWN! Interact with your baby and the world that surrounds you. Be present. Look up and smile at another new Momma – she’s probably feeling exactly the same way you are. Strike up a conversation – about how cute her baby is, or where she got the killer stroller, or how crappy the weather’s been lately…

But after the small talk, get real.

Real connection does not occur when we hide who we really are. Real connection with another human being only happens if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You don’t have to dump on your new potential BFF, but it’s also okay to reveal a little bit about yourself that shows her you’re human, you’re not perfect. This can disarm her and her natural tendency toward defensiveness as a new Momma.

What’s the worst that could happen? You might get shot down… And if you do? That’s okay, you’re just not a good fit. But what if she responds with,“I feel the same way!” Well, then my friends you’ve got the start of something beautiful – a new friendship that is based upon shared circumstances, similar parenting styles, and cute babies that you really hope will like one another as they grow up. The potential to make life-long friends is there for the taking as a new parent – it’s just going to require a little bit of effort.

But please, please don’t give up…

The Momma who wrote that FB post did something that others might have thought a little crazy – but I thought it was beautiful and brave. She opened herself up and expressed her vulnerability about not having many new Momma friends – and she did it online, which is very taboo. And do you know what happened? As of this writing, she’s received 73 really positive and encouraging comments from other Mommas who are looking to make real, face-to-face connections. She started an online thread for all of these other women to share their own feelings of loneliness as new Mommas and it looks as if there will be meet-ups happening all over the city!

My hope is that these women make connections with one another and begin building their LIVE tribe of new parent friends – those who will be honest with one another about the challenges of parenting, and willing to share their epic parenting fails. When we realize we’re not alone on this new parenting journey, it can be so helpful!  Because trying to do this parenting thing without your tribe is hard and one can be the loneliest number.

How are you feeling in this age of “connection?” Hooked-up and well engaged? Or lonely and in need of a friend? Where did you/will you find your tribe?

For an added bonus check out this video from Three Dog Night from 1969… It’s so good in all the bad ways.

PREMADs – Do You Know About These?

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

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

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

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

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

This doesn’t need to happen.

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

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

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

Signs and Symptoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m One of the “Spokes” on Red Tricycle!

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Whoop! Whoop!

Just found out that one of my blogposts from about a year ago has been picked up and published on Red Tricycle. If you’re not one of the 8 million parents that access this site on a regular basis, Red Tricycle is a kind of go-to, online parenting website where families can discover cool things to do with their kiddos, both nationally and locally. Over the years, if I’ve had a long weekend ahead of me, I’m not scheduled to teach a class, and I need some ideas about what to do with the kiddos, I’ve definitely checked them out!

Recently, they’ve started posting articles that are not just about fun things to do as a family, but more about the experience of parenting. That’s where I come in!

I submitted a blog post I wrote about a year ago which is titled, The Parental Code of Honor. It’s my offering to get all parents – expectant, newbies, even veterans – to support one another as we try our very best to do the hardest, most rewarding job many of us will ever have: the job of raising our children.

None of us is perfect at this. Thankfully, none of us have to be.

But the first step in supporting one another in this parenting journey is to only offer suggestions and advice – when specifically asked to do so.

You can find this and other tips about how to support one another in The Parental Code of Honor published just this morning at Red Tricycle. And if you haven’t checked them out before, stay awhile and poke around. They have lots of cool ideas about how to make the most of your life with little people. Including this list of 20 awesome things to do with your kids in Portland over the long Labor Day weekend. By the way, MY family will be busy doing #14! 

PS – Have a great holiday weekend, and thanks so much for your support. 

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.