Mind The Gap!

MIND THE GAP

“Mind The Gap” This is a phrase that was introduced in 1969 as part of the London Underground to alert passengers of the space that exists between the subway platform and the train.

But what about the gap that exists between expectations and reality? I call it: “The Disappointment Gap.” The larger the space between expectation and reality, the more potential there is for disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong… Expectations are important tools that help us move through our day-to-day lives.

We need to go to bed in the evening, with the expectation that our alarm clock will go off on time the next morning and get us out of bed to start our day. It’s helpful to have the expectation that our water heater will be working so we get to have a nice, hot shower. We have a set expectation about how long it takes us to drive to work, and that allows us to know when we need to leave in the morning to make it in on time. And so on, and so on.

But have you ever had days where these very basic expectations were not met?

The alarm never went off – or if it did, you groggily hit the snooze button and slept right through it! Your teen switches things up and takes a morning shower, and your husband runs the dishwasher at the same time, and now your shower is anything but nice and hot. You hop in your car and start your morning commute, only to get caught in terrible traffic because there’s an accident miles up ahead.

If we went to bed the night before knowing our morning routine was going to be so disrupted, we probably wouldn’t sleep very well. We might even have a sense of dread about getting up the next day. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine calling in “sick” before hitting the hay, just to avoid all the unmet expectations that are sure to ruin our day.

Expectations are important, even necessary, to function daily!

But there are a few life experiences where having set expectations can cause long-term disappointment. The life experiences where the gap between expectation and reality has the most potential for causing long-term disappointment are: pregnancy, birth and parenting. Take a look at these three examples to see what I mean…

PREGNANCY

EXPECTATION REALITY
I’ll have a tiny, cute, little baby bump. EVERYTHING is huge – my belly, my arms, my face, my butt, my feet, etc.
Maybe I’ll have a little morning sickness, but not too much. Unless I’m sleeping, I’m puking my entire insides out – All.Day.Long.
Exhausted? A little bit…  I mean, it’s hard work making a baby! I shouldn’t be allowed to drive or operate large machinery. I’m a danger to myself and others!
We’re fully prepared to welcome this little person into our lives. We’re becoming a family! (Happy sigh.) How did this happen? I’m not ready for this – are you ready for this? We either have to remodel or move. And we’ll need a bigger car.

BIRTH

EXPECTATION REALITY
I will have an unmedicated, zero intervention birth. I ended up with a very complicated labor and and a Cesarean Birth.
I will breathe my baby out – I’m going to have an orgasmic birth experience! WTF?! This hurts! This hurts A LOT!!! Breathing? It’s not working, people!
I’ve had an easy pregnancy, and I’m in great shape. I’ll probably have an easy, fast labor. I’m really looking forward to it! My labor was really, really long. I was so exhausted and had no idea it would be so hard. I pretty much hated it every minute of it.
I’ve done my research and written my Birth Plan, so I know how my birth will play out. My birth looked nothing like what I’d written in my Birth Plan!

PARENTING

EXPECTATION REALITY
Our baby will sleep through the night at 8 weeks postpartum. At 12 months, we’re still getting up at least twice a night to settle our baby down.
Breastfeeding will be easy – it’s the most natural thing in the world! OMG – this is so hard! Fingertip feeding, SMS kits, nipple shields… Who knew?
Parenting is instinctual and I’ll know what to do… Most of the time. How do people do this? I’m supposed to know what to do? Well, I don’t.
Having a baby will bring us so much closer together – becoming a family will be wonderful! I feel like having a baby blew up our relationship! It’s driving us apart.

These are extremes and I’m not writing this to scare anyone about pregnancy, birth or new parenting – far from it! What I’m interested in sharing is how your expectation and reality of these life-changing transitions can be two very different things.

And, more importantly, the farther apart your expectation is from your reality the more likely you are to feel disappointment, disillusionment and – maybe even a sense of betrayal.

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me it would be like this? Why was I so unprepared?”

I think many who work with expecting families are concerned that if they speak openly and honestly of the challenges that might be a part of the pregnancy, birth and new parenting experience they will frighten families.

But my experience has been completely the opposite.

I think when families have a realistic idea about what to expect, overwhelmingly they are grateful for the information that best prepares them for what might happen.

The realities expressed above are just examples of the extreme. In real life, the gap between expectation and reality might be far less. But, the actual distance between expectation and reality is not the heart of the issue.

The real issue is whether or not you’ve allowed your brain to even consider other outcomes for any of these experiences.

Allowing your brain to consider different possible outcomes – unexpected or even undesirable – will not make them happen. But even just considering them provides a buffer if your expectations are not fully met. The gap between expectation and reality has been bridged – even slightly – and your level of disappointment will be lessened, for sure.

I’m one of the most positive and optimistic people you’ll ever meet… I believe in working toward everything you’re hoping for with your pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences! 

But I also strongly believe in knowing what lies ahead. Feeling prepared for the different ways your pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences might play out and not feeling tied to a set of expectations can go a very long way in closing The Disappointment Gap.

And then you’re freed up to be curious, present, and in the moment as these life transitions become reality for you. When you’re able to be here – now – and not mourning the experience that should have been or worrying about the experience that is yet to come, you’re more open to the transformation that can happen as you move through these experiences.

And – BONUS! – you just might learn a thing or two about resilience.

Resilience is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

The changes that are coming your way as you embark on starting a family are monumental. These changes happen at the speed of light and all at the same time. Being a resilient parent will help with you cope with all of these changes you’ll face in your new role. It will help you adapt as an individual, as well as a couple, to the sometimes minute-by-minute, changes that occur as you’re learning how to parent your newborn, toddler, child, tween, teenager and adult.

I’ve said it before – parenting is not for the faint of heart, and it never ends! It’s hard work and oftentimes, it’s the not-knowing of what exactly lies ahead that makes it so challenging.

If you can allow yourself to loosen the reigns on this experience, and begin doing so as early as possible in your pregnancy, the gap between expectation and reality will not be so far apart. And instead of feeling the pain of disappointment, you can bask in the joy of satisfaction: satisfaction in all that is messy, imperfect and normal about real life.

Overcoming the normal challenges of real life builds resiliency. And the satisfaction of “bouncing back” or being able to “weather the storm” builds confidence in your ability as an individual and as a couple to navigate what it is to become a family.

And that helps to make The Disappointment Gap simply disappear.

If you’re expecting a baby or are newly parenting and you feel like working with someone who will set you up with realistic expectations about pregnancy, birth and parenting check out my Parent Coaching page and get in touch! I’d love to have you in one of my classes, work with you one on one, or schedule some long-distance sessions with you and your partner. I’m committed to closing The Disappointment Gap and building confident and resilient families that thrive!

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… )

On The Night You Were Born…

writer

Last week, I wrote about wanting to clone myself because I have so many things I’d like to do and just not enough “me”s to get it all done! I just want more time to help women process their birth stories, is that so wrong??? But because cloning is not possible, I’ve tried to do the next best thing and ask a small beta group of Mommas to test out my “Retelling and Reclaiming Your Birth Story: An Exercise to Give Meaning to Your Experience.”

Today’s guest blog post comes from one such beta tester, Jessica Hardin. Her beautiful birth story is written as a letter to her now 5-month old son, George.

I’m honored that Jessica shared her story with me, and now with you. If you’re interested with help in processing your own birth story, please take part in this quick 4-question survey for your FREE download. If, after you’ve gone through this exercise and you’re wanting to share your birth story with me, I’ll follow up with a personalized email reflection.

Here’s what Jessica had to say about going through this experience of writing her birth story and my written reflection back to her: “Thanks for your thoughtful response – even 5 months later it’s still nice to hear these things. I’m happy for you to run the story. I enjoyed writing it and without your encouragement, I may not have.”

Reframing birth stories is something I’ve been doing for almost two decades. I feel it’s one of the best ways to help women give meaning to the transformation that happens during birth. I’d love to help you reclaim this experience as your own.

Grab a cup of something delicious and read on. And thank you, Jessica for sharing your birth story! Eventually, it will live here on a new page, “Real Birth Stories,” as an expansion of offerings here at Birth Happens.

Jessica’s story begins with an induction process called a “membrane sweep” performed at her clinic appointment. We get to read about her early labor at home, trying to figure out when to go to the hospital.  With the assistance of her doula, Megan, her midwife, Linda, and the continuous love and support of her husband, Greg, Jessica continues to labor without medication. It’s not until late in labor through the challenges of pushing that her own physical and emotional limits are tested. Jessica’s story is shared here as she’s written it, word for word. I love this birth story – it’s raw, real and provides insight into the struggle between expectations and realities of birth.

“When you were about two weeks old we read the book, On the Night You Were Born. I cried, you ate. This story felt real – on the night you were born the whole world changed. At least my world.

On the night you were born I felt scared. I felt loved. I felt supported. I felt powerless. I felt weak. I felt strong. I felt present in a way I had never been before. You were in my body one moment, and then you werent. I felt as if I had to push through flesh, flesh that had no opening for you to come. I didn’t know how to, but I did.

The night you were born started the night before. You were due on January 8th. We went to see the midwives, they suggested sweeping my membranes and scheduling an induction because it took about a week to get on the schedule. I agreed, I was afraid of an induction so I agreed to the membrane sweep. I expected it to hurt, it didnt. I texted our doulas, they told me not to get my hopes up.

Your Dad and I had a day together. We ate at Pok Pok, eating my favorite – the boar collar, too spicy for your Dad. We came home, trying to get all the oxytocin flowing – Dad gave me a massage, we watched movies that made me cry and laugh – we ate more delicious food. We walked to the brewery nearby and bought a growler. At this point, you were just theoretical. Birth would start, but I didn’t thinking imminently. Then around 10 pm, I started getting crampy. I thought that when people said that labor started at night it meant I would be able to sleep. But that’s not what happened.

The cramps progressively grew until morning. Dad went to sleep. Id lay down, doze off for 20 minutes then awaken from the cramps. Get up, pace the hallway, breathing more loudly every time I woke up. At some point, I started having to move my body differently, swaying, stopping when I was walking. I woke your Dad––probably around 3 am, maybe later. I walked the hall, heaving breath with rhythm. At some point, I started throwing up. Id walk the hall, stop at the sink, heave into the sink and with each heave came some of my mucus plug, dropping on the floor in the kitchen. I remember hearing that vomiting was goodfor labor. I showered, and then repeated the whole sequence. Repeat. Repeat. Dad and I talked several times about calling the midwives, when was the right time? We didn’t know. We finally called the midwife on call, she asked me to rate my pain. In hindsight, this seems so silly – 10 doesn’t happen till much, much later – for me when I was pushing you out – I thought I was 6 cm. I didn’t know any better.

***

You’re next to me now, in a buzzing bouncer, ready to eat, kicking and punching the air. My heart swells thinking of the night you were born, and the beauty that is you now.

***

Just after sunrise our doula, Megan, and her student, Claire, arrived. They had coffees, and fresh attitudes. It felt like something new. We labored in the house a bit, then we decided to go to the hospital. Megan advised on how to manage the car ride – she packed some puke bags, told me to face backwards. I did. It was hard. We arrived and I had contractions while waiting to go up to labor and delivery. Laboring in public – all of a sudden being seen – didn’t matter at all. All that mattered was coping, keeping the contractions moving, manageable.

We were checked in quickly to a suite – I was nervous about getting a room so I was relieved. The windows were big, the room was grey-bluish. I remember feeling like, “Okay, Im here to do this.” The nurse seemed nice, but not like a participant in the birth.

I changed, arranged some food, drink, and bags in the room. I found out I was 6 centimeters. I felt like I had accomplished something by laboring at home for that long. Then I waited. It was normal for contractions to slow down when you arrive at the hospital, right? The contractions continued but didn’t get any stronger. The nurse strapped a monitor to my belly – the fabric around my belly made the feeling of contractions worse. The doula had kept track of time so told me if was time to take it off, even though the nurse hadn’t returned. I was grateful to be relived of it, to be free to move around.

Time passed, it was still light out. There was a number of interactions with the nurse and the midwife, and the midwifery student. The one I remember most clearly was about the monitor. The nurse wanted to keep me monitored the whole time, the midwife said it was unnecessary. I was grateful that the midwife interceded.

The tub was set up, it was calming, soothing. I labored in the tub. Things plateaued. In hindsight I see this time as a time to recoup energy, to rest. At the time it made me nervous that I wasnt progressing.As it got darker, I was also worried about being exhausted. I hadn’t slept, or eaten, I was afraid of what was to come. I walked, and talked – to your Dad, the midwife, and the doulas – should I get an epidural? What if I didn’t have the stamina to make it through to the end?

I decided to get an IV of fluids in the meantime while I sat in the tub as a way to generate some energy. I was eager for things to progress and worried about what was normal – I was worried when things didn’t keep moving at the same pace. I was so worried I couldn’t rest as much as I would have liked.

I got out of the tub when the fluids were done. I decided to be checked again to see how much I had progressed. I was 8 centimeters.

To get things moving, our doula Megan advised us on positions and then things started grooving. I used the bar, I knelt on the labor bed, I cried, I yelled, I panted. I worked. The anesthesiologist visited––he liked to talk to patients even if they weren’t planning on having an epidural, just in case. I remember holding on to the top of the bed, kneeling, panting and looking at him from the sides of my eyes. He told me I was doing great and he hoped I didn’t need the epidural. I felt strong.

I remember most vividly kneeling on the bed, facing the top of the bed, holding your Dads hands, or forearms. I breathed, loudly. At some point I started to think of you, the thought of meeting you made me cry. I cried out loud, overwhelmed with emotion and the physicality of our bodies working together. I locked eyes with your Dad. He was present, the most present I’ve ever seen him. He looked into me, intensely, with empathy,, with admiration. He was right with me – my steady mirror – showing me I was strong, letting me be weak, tired, and scared all at the same time. I cried more. I felt I could do this. This was birth. This is what I imagined and prepared for. I felt prepared, crazy pain, intense consuming emotion. I felt supported and rhythmically connected to you. I felt support.

Then I hit 10. The midwifery student checked. 10. I did it! It felt anticlimactic. I did all this work, now I had to wait. The room flipped, the bed changed, the pediatric machines came out of the cubbie. The pediatrician arrived. The midwives stayed––they had only been checking in before this point. Two nurses stayed. Then I was there. Waiting. No more contractions, just waiting.

 I thought you were imminent. I thought it was over. Birthing classes didn’t really focus on pushing, and I had heard things like it was a relief, or it was like passing a bowel movement. I thought the hardest part was over.


I don
t really remember when it started. I remember sitting on the toilet and lots of people staring at me. I remember being foggy, confused, anxious, and vulnerable. The pain was a sensation I didn’t know how to cope with. I was waiting for a physical feeling that was clear, but I didn’t have clarity – I didn’t understand the physical sensation. It was noise. If contradictions were rhythm, pushing was cacophony. It was overwhelming sensation.

I started to lose that feeling of support. There were many voices directing me telling me how to push, how to vocalize. In hindsight, I see there might have been some personality differences between me and some of the staff. At the time, I just thought something was wrong with me. The new midwife student was too directive, the new labor nurse was the same. In hindsight I wished I had cleared the room, but I was too foggy – too otherworldly.

After sometime on the toilet, I was moved to the bed. Im not sure how long I was there – faces all around me. Telling me only to push with contractions (I couldn’t feel the contractions even though I didn’t have any drugs), and to use my voice differently. I was yelling, like as if I was in acute pain – they wanted me to deep belly yell – yell in a way that moved your body. I couldn’t feel rhythm, only noise.

At some point they gave me oxygen, they were worried about you. They monitored your heart dropping. They were going to put a monitor on your head, but they didn’t. The midwife said we might have to have interventions – a vacuum extraction or forceps delivery – I wasn’t exactly scared – but flooded. I had never considered these interventions. I was terrified.

Whatever it took to make the experience over is what I wanted. There were lots of voices, coaching but I couldn’t listen. Then I heard the midwife – she said we had two pushes or we would have to bring in the OB. She put her hand on your head and for the first time, I could feel where to push. I pushed. I pushed with no agenda, no sense of what next, only to feel. Feel something directed. She said she had to do an episiotomy. She apologized, saying she only did a couple of these a year. It was because of the way you were coming out. You crowned. They asked me if I wanted to feel your head. I didnt. They asked again. I refused again. I couldn’t bear the thought of curling my body around to touch your head, I couldn’t stand to be in my body.

It burned, like fire, I asked for help. I could feel the desperation in my face. I had to wait until the next contraction. I cried, I felt like pleading – as if Megan would be able to fix it. I remember saying, “Help!” Then the moment passed and I could push again. A few more pushes – pushes that consumed me. Linda, our midwife said, “If he comes and he isn’t crying well hand him over the pediatrician.” I was so afraid you would arrive and be damaged, hurt.

Then white noise. You came out, and there was a warm rush, a gush. You cried. White noise. They put you on my chest, they didn’t know if you were a boy or a girl. They chicken-winged you while you were on my chest. A boy. Your chin quivered. Your cry pitched. Your chin continued to quiver. I stared at you. Still connected to me. I was afraid to move you, for fear of what tugging on the umbilical cord would feel like. Your Dad was over my shoulder. Linda shushed you. I felt like I had no idea what to do with you. A baby, my baby. Quivering, crying. I asked why your nails were so purple. I was worried from the start. Megan helped you move to my breast and within minutes you latched. I watched as if I wasn’t in my body. Quietly inundated. Legs still spread, but the sensation was over.

The next hours are even more blurry. There were injections, I pushed the placenta out. The midwifery student showed it to us -it was purple, red, large. They inspected it. They gave us a little while before repairing me. They stitched me up. It hurt, I squeezed your Dad. I remember feeling like a helpless puppy, looking at him for sympathy. He gave it, and told me he was proud of me. They took you, weighed you, checked you out. You were perfect. Linda talked to me after. She said, “Most women, 85%, experience pushing as a relief. The others sense it as the worst pain they have ever experienced.” She said, “That was you.” I felt validated. Not alone.

Then the room cleared. It was quiet, just us three. It felt empty. Another nurse came, she helped me dress. I was confused by simple questions. She put me in a wheel chair. I was bloody, my legs bloody, my fingernails dirty, meconium stuck to my torso. I was covered in birth. She wheeled me through the halls with you in my arms. I felt so proud, so different.

We arrived in the postpartum ward and I felt so overwhelmed by the experience – surprised with how scared I was, how much I felt I had hit my limits as a body, as a human. I told your Dad I wouldn’t do this again [days later I recanted and started planning our next baby]. I was shaken, and still frightened, like I had touched the line between life and death, like I didn’t know if my body was safe.

You were with us, but I felt I didn’t know what to do with you. Luckily, you slept. It was probably after 10 pm when we were settled into the postpartum suite. I was still foggy. The nurse helped me pee, I passed a clot. I cried because I was scared as the warm mass dropped. I was scared. I bled in bed, I passed another clot. I was afraid. I had lost a lot of blood. I slept. Dad woke up with you when you woke. The next morning they gave you to me and you ate. We were together.

The postpartum room felt sweet. I laid in bed, food came, pain meds came, you were right next to me. I learned that I had lost a lot of blood, which helped explain my confusion. I learned my uterus was boggy– it slowed down because the labor was long. I was in pain from lacerations, I couldn’t move my core. I bled. I slept. It was hard to move. But you were there, quiet, interested in eating and sleeping on my chest. I felt complete in the bed – I didn’t need anything but help being with you – food, clean cloths, a shower, the loving and proud gaze of your Dad. We settled in.

For days and weeks after I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed that I had felt inundated, embarrassed that I was scared and unable to dynamically feel through the pain of pushing. I felt embarrassed that I needed help. For feeling helpless. I didn’t feel like the rock star of the birthing stories I had read.

For the next few weeks I felt I couldn’t talk about the birth without crying – both from shame, pain, and fear. The fear lingered. Meeting my ends felt like being on a different plane, one that I didn’t consent to. I wanted to feel like I succeeded, like I rocked it. But I didnt. I just did it – ugly, dirty, beautiful, and blissful. Bliss in the sense of out-of-body-ness, sappy loveiness, complete sensation. Flooded, inundated, sensation.

The birth continued for months – recovery was manageable but a daily physical reminder of the trauma of birth. The episiotomy meant I used a sitz bath for a few months. I managed my body carefully, with food, baths, and eventually exercise. Caring for my body made caring for you hard.

But with the help of your Dad, and others, it was possible.


If I get to do this again, I will try to remember that even if I feel I cant cope, I am still birthing. I can still move through it. The unknown is part of the process of bringing life into the world. I will remember that rest is a gift, not something to worry about. I will remember to trust myself.”

2016-05-01 14.35.30 HDR-2

PS – Here’s a video clip of the reading of “On The Night You Were Born” Jessica refers to in her birth story. Enjoy!

To Clone or Not to Clone?

Dolly

That is the question… Well, not really.

I’ve often wished that I could clone myself – not for any weird reasons, I think there really should only be one unique version of us in the world. It’s just that there’s an awful lot I’d like to accomplish in this one, wild life I’ve been given and sometimes it feels like too much for just one of me to try and get it all done.

One thing I really wish I had time for is helping more Mommas process their birth stories.

On a small scale, I’m already doing this. My families know how much I love birth stories. When my classes gather for reunions, I spend time listening to the birth stories of everyone gathered. I’m on the lookout for key information to help them reframe their births, if needed. I want them to know where they were strong. I want them to acknowledge who supported them and how, specifically.  And I want them to be proud of their level of participation in this life-changing event.

In short, I want all women to have a birth story they can look back on as a positive experience. One that informs who they are now as a woman, mother, partner, friend, and professional. I want all women to recognize what they’ve gone through in the ultimate Hero’s Journey that they’ve traveled in a matter of hours or days, that marks their lives as forever different, forever changed in ways both obvious and hidden – even to themselves.

So… nothing too important!

I’m happy to say that most of the women I’ve had the honor of working with over the years have a positive birth story to tell – despite it looking anything like that on the surface. The majority of this has to do with her individual attitude, flexibility and openness to responding to birth as it unfolds in real time. But, I’d like to think that they learned a little bit about this from being in my classes. I’d like to think that the preparation I offered around expanding expectations, and embracing vulnerability before birth helped them process the reality of their birth experience.

But what about the women who haven’t had a positive birth experience and haven’t been in one of my classes? Maybe their birth happened just last week, or maybe 20 years ago. All too often, these women are told that a “healthy Momma, healthy baby” is all that matters and they don’t get to finish processing this event in a way that allows them to move forward in their parenting journey. It’s my theory that these women continue to process their birth stories (as I feel they must, until they can come to some form of closure) with unsuspecting and extremely vulnerable pregnant women.

I hear about it all the time in my classes. Mommas will complain how all they hear are the “horror stories” that other women, many of them complete strangers, tell them about their own birth experiences. I think this is happening on a subconscious level. I don’t believe for a second that a woman processing her birth is intentionally trying to scare pregnant women with a negative birth story. I just think it’s the loop that they find themselves in as they try to make meaning from this experience that was life-changing, but not in a positive way.

Oh, how I wish I could meet all of these women! I’d love to be able to sit with them and listen deeply to their stories. I’d let them process as much or as little as they felt comfortable with sharing. And maybe in the retelling of their story, I could try to help them reframe and then reclaim their birth story as their own. I’d love for them to see, maybe for the first time, where they were strong, who supported them and how. Maybe they could finally begin to integrate this experience into the woman they are now. Maybe, in the process of this reclaiming, they could finally stop that negative birth experience processing loop with younger, vulnerable pregnant women.

To that end, about six months ago, I created a document that I’m calling: “Retelling and Reclaiming Your Birth Story: An Exercise to Give Meaning to Your Experience.”

I’ve had a few Mommas from my classes go through the five step process and a few have agreed to share the results here as future posts. It’s been a desire of mine to share some birth stories on my blog. Real birth stories from real women but with an eye on being able to acknowledge birth as a positive experience, even if it didn’t go according to plan.

I think my invitation to retell and reclaim your birth story can be helpful as a tool to get the details of your birth down in a way that has structure. This can be a beautiful gift to your child. You can remember and reflect on their birth-day every year, and they’ll have something to refer to in preparation for the time when they’re ready to have children of their own.

I’d also like to extend this offer to any woman who’s had a negative birth experience that they’re still trying to process. I believe it can be a tool for healing and integration. I’m not a professional counselor, I make no claims about this. But in the busy-ness of our daily lives, we have forgotten the power of story and how it can transform us.

I think every woman deserves that opportunity for transformation.

If you, or anyone you know, might benefit from taking part in this exercise, please take this short four-question survey and I will send a pdf file of the “Retelling and Reclaiming Your Birth Story: An Exercise to Give Meaning to Your Experience” out to you as soon as possible. Please feel free to share this offering far and wide – I’d love to help as many women as possible!

Thanks for your support. And thanks for allowing me to try and accomplish even more with my one, wild life (this way I don’t have to clone myself!)

I CAN’T Do It All! (And I’m OK With That)

Nope

I’m having a conversation online about how feminism might have screwed us. But before everyone gets all worked up, let me plead my case.

We’re supposed to be able to “do it all” but too many of us (all of us?) are finding that it’s impossible to live up to that ideal in our mothering, working inside and outside of the home, being a wonderful mate for our partner, etc.

In some ways, I feel lucky that my job (which is, after all, a calling and one that I absolutely love) allows me to appear as though I’m able to “do it all.” Even when that’s only an optical illusion. Let me explain…

I’m the one who drops the kids off every day to school and picks them up every afternoon. I’m able to hit those field trips that appeal to me (I’m no dummy!) and claim work commitments for those that don’t (again, no dummy!) My work is very part-time, but it allows me to have my cake and eat it too – a little taste of it, anyway.

Because I’m a contracted employee and never work enough hours to even be considered part-time, I have no benefits. And while my hours have always meant not paying for childcare, it’s also meant that I’m gone a lot during evenings and weekends. So, I end up missing out on the fun: soccer games, swim lessons, dance and acting performances.

Ironically, it’s my paycheck that allows our kids to take part in all of these extracurriculars. All the extracurriculars that I usually don’t get to take part in. Hmmmm… It’s clear to see that even in my very Momma-friendly job, I can’t do it all either! Sometimes, it ends up feeling like we’ve all been had.

It’s challenging to live in a time and place where raising the next generation is not valued in the same way as professional work. Many parents aren’t able to make decisions about how they’d like to raise their children that truly reflect their personal choices. Instead, they might feel bound to only consider what they can afford.

I’ve talked about it before. The fact that the US is the only developed nation without mandatory paid maternity (and paternity!) leave is a joke. Just at the moment when our families are feeling most vulnerable, when they’re most in need of a chance to catch up to this huge life change that’s been thrust upon them, they’re required to skip that break and instead, add a part-time or full-time job onto their already full-time+ job of learning how to parent a newborn baby!

And we seriously wonder why our numbers of women and men who experience a PMAD – Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorder – are so high? Statistics tell us that one out of every seven women, and one out of every ten men will experience a postpartum mood disorder following the birth of their baby. Personally, I’m surprised these numbers aren’t even higher!

What can we begin to do about this?

Be real. If we’re being completely honest, none of us is “doing it all.”

Not one of us can say that we’re able to give 100% to our children, and 100% to our partners, and 100% to our jobs – let alone, 100% to ourselves. Math is not my strongest subject folks, but even I can read that last sentence and realize that you can’t give 400% when you’ve only got 100% to start with! It just doesn’t add up.

We need to give voice to this discussion by reading and sharing great posts like this one from Courtney Smith at Mother Nurture. But I’m wanting to add a different perspective to this conversation about making feminism work better for all of us…

Something happened a long time ago when little girls like me were being raised on the Enjoli perfume commercial. While I was being told that I could “bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man!” (a completely unrealistic claim, by the way) my male counterparts were not being raised with any messages that might allow them to redefine all that they could aspire to as grown men.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that a lot of men feel displaced in today’s culture. Now, I think women can often be too quick to respond to this with, “Poor babies, they’ve been dethroned.” And I can understand this reaction, as we’re still very much living in a “man’s world” in terms of who’s making policy, feeling fully supported in the workplace, receiving equal pay for equal work – I could go on…

But the voices of enlightened men, those men who are wanting to contribute, need to be a part of this discussion for any real change to occur. They need to be welcomed into what is still considered to be mostly “women’s work”- the raising of our children.

I can feel it emanating from the the soon-to-be fathers in my classes. They’re eager and excited about becoming Dads, but feel scared, uncertain and all too often, completely left out of the discussion.

We’ve pressed upon them how important their role is in helping the woman get through her labor and birth, but have we really considered their needs and feelings about becoming a father? Do we address these concerns when we see them in our obstetrical or midwifery clinic settings? As Childbirth Educators, do we truly support them in their role or send subtle messages that their experience is secondary and doesn’t matter as much as the mother’s?

It’s no secret that I hold a soft spot for the men in my classes – I care about them and their experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting as much as I do the Mommas! But most of the time, their uncomfortable displacement can get in the way of them truly being transformed by this experience if we don’t work to welcome and include them.

Women are already able to do pretty much anything a man can do in our society. Plus, they can co-create a brand new life, pass it through their bodies, and feed it the perfect food. For the first time, maybe ever in their lives, men realize all that women are capable of – and this can challenge their core identities.

When I ask expectant fathers what their goals might be for the class, all too often I hear, “I just want to do everything I can to make things better for her.” Which is sweet and wonderful – but what do you want to get out of this class? A sense of confidence? Knowledge of what a real baby looks like, so you don’t think the worst when your baby is blue, covered in goo and not breathing at the moment of birth? An understanding of how your relationship might be affected by this little person, because you’re scared your partner might end up loving the baby more than she loves you?

Their job in this whole female experience is to remain very stereotypically male – stoic, unfeeling, strong – when inside, they’re entire sense of who they are is being broken wide open. For most men, if we welcome them to fully participate in these pregnancy, birth and early parenting experiences, they’ll emerge on the other side of it all completely transformed.

In this day of shifting definitions of what it means to be feminine and masculine, can we not also redefine what our roles of parenting might involve? Can we encourage men to throw off the mantle of strength and posturing so that they can be soft and present to this experience which allows them to embrace the role of father for their newborn baby?

Because, really, it’s only through vulnerable and connected co-parenting that any of us have a chance of pretending we can “do it all.” Even when you have a committed partner in parenting, being able to do it all, still requires 400% effort – when combined, you only have 200% to give.

So, be gentle with yourselves. Be honest. Don’t believe the hype. And stop striving for an ideal – as a woman or a man – that’s never been realistic. Make “I can’t do it all!” your personal motto. And encourage others to do the same.

Are you exhausted by the societal pressure placed upon you to “do it all?” If you’re an expectant or new father, what has your experience been in feeling welcomed into this “world of women?” How has becoming a parent expanded your definition of “doing it all” into “doing enough?” I’d love to hear what this post brings up for you.

How Pregnancy & Birth Transformed Me

 

Transformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women are the ones who are really powerful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopelessly Devoted to You…

Devoted

de·vot·ed
/dəˈvōdəd/

adjective
adjective: devoted
1. very loving or loyal.
“he was a devoted husband”
synonyms: loyal, faithful, true, staunch, steadfast, constant, committed, dedicated, devout; fond, loving, affectionate, caring, admiring
“a devoted follower of the writer”
2. given over to the display, study, or discussion of.
“there is a museum devoted to her work”

I love this dictionary entry for “devoted.” I would consider myself a very devoted Momma, partner, friend, daughter, sister, employee and Childbirth Educator. When I’ve found someone or something that I believe in, then it’s deserving of my full devotion. I resonate with both of these definitions, because I don’t think it’s enough to say that you’re “very loving and loyal” to a person or an idea. I think you need to show that devotion through action, which is where, “given over to the display, study or discussion of” comes in.

But being devoted to someone or something might mean saying or taking action that’s not very popular. Sometimes, being devoted means standing up for your own truth – even when others, maybe especially when others, try to tell you your truth is wrong or has no merit. Being devoted doesn’t mean that you always agree. Being devoted to a person or an idea, means you have to be the mirror at times. In wanting this person or idea to reach full potential, you have to be willing to shine a light in the darkness. Being devoted is both thrilling and frightening at the same time. But it’s not usually easy to be on the giving or receiving end of real devotion.

I can remember a few times in my marriage, where my incredibly devoted husband told me what I needed to hear. Let’s be very clear: it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. And I’m sure he can tell you some stories about my job as his personal mirror: “This is what I see. This is not who I know your best self to be.” Not easy discussions to have, but they can be game-changers, in my opinion.

When it comes to my work with expectant families I am devoted to the overall well-being of new Mommas, partners and their babies on their transformative journey of becoming a family.

But sometimes, that devotion can look a little bit more like “tough-love.”

I’m very devoted to the idea that women have positive and empowering birth experiences because I feel like this moment in a woman’s life can truly be transformative. It can set the stage for how well she moves into her role of Momma. It can either positively or negatively affect the couple’s relationship right from the very start. She can end up parenting from a place of inner strength, wisdom and confidence – or spend her entire parenting journey second-guessing every move. Her birth experience might only be a day in her life, but it can affect the rest of her life.

Wow – that’s big stuff.

And now for the tough-love talk. (Please remember that this is coming from a very loving and loyal place.)

Women need to start taking more personal responsibility for their births.

There are some providers, nurses and hospital policies that can get in the way of a woman’s positive and empowering birth experience. And there are plenty of other birth advocates decrying this very issue. But that’s not the whole issue. Women need to recognize their role in all of this. They need to take more personal responsibility for their birth experiences because if they don’t, birthing women, their partners and the families they’re trying to create together end up paying the price.

Women giving birth today, are doing so in a climate where information is everywhere and available all the time. Even though “Dr. Google” is not a great resource, it’s who they most often turn to for information – much of it biased, out-dated, and not evidence based.

Our maternity care system has become “us against them” when it comes to birth. I’m not sure it’s even possible to have a positive and empowering birth experience if you believe that having a hospital birth is going to suck. But if you really do feel this way, than take some personal responsibility for yourself and make different choices about where and with whom you’ll be giving birth. Your reaction might be, “It’s not that easy.” I know it’s not easy. I’m not saying that it is. What I’m saying is that it’s vital to own your role in the birth experience – even when it’s not easy.

When I was pregnant with my second baby, I had to make some big decisions. My beloved provider had moved out of town and our insurance had changed. So, I was going to have a choose a new provider and place to give birth.

Instead of doing my own research, I listened to a colleague and chose a midwife at a hospital that didn’t have the best reputation in town: too big and impersonal. Red flag #1 The clinic was pretty far away from where we lived, which meant my toddler and I had to deal with 40 minutes of driving for an appointment that lasted only 10 minutes. I hated it. Red flag #2 The hospital tour guide focused more on the big-screen TV than answering my questions about birth balls and squatting bars. Red flag #3 My midwife was part of a group practice, so it was not guaranteed that I would have her for my birth. Red flag #4 Now, none of these might pop up on your list as red flags – but they were on mine and I chose to ignore all of them. I knew, at several points along my pregnancy journey, that this was not the right choice for me, but I refused to take personal responsibility for this. And although my birth was quick and easy, my overall birth experience was very negative.

I hadn’t done my due diligence to make the best decisions for myself when and where I could. And it was this piece that I struggled with most in my early postpartum days with my newborn. I look back and realize my negative feelings around that birth experience had nothing to do with the birth outcome. It had everything to do with how I had dishonored myself and failed to make the best (although not easy) decisions I could to set myself up for the best experience possible.

Writing a Birth Plan is not enough. Having good intentions is not enough. Hiring a doula is not enough. You need to understand just how much work is involved in making this birth experience positive and empowering for yourself. No one will be making that happen for you. You need to make it happen. And that means getting real with yourself before you ever put pen to paper to capture your birth preferences.

Are you making choices that resonate with you? Don’t concern yourself with what your sister, BFF or members of your book club would choose. What do you want? Make some decisions for yourself. But don’t stop there! Get some quality, unbiased, evidence-based information that supports these decisions as being right for you. And then own those decisions – at least until you go into labor.

Once labor begins, you have to be prepared to make some decisions in real-time, as birth unfolds. Birth is too big to be planned out on an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper! And that scale you used to weigh benefits and risks in the classroom doesn’t get to come into labor and delivery with you. You get a brand new scale that you’ll have to use to weigh the benefits and risks all over again to make the most informed decision you can – while you’re in labor.

You must be a full participant in this birth from the very beginning all the way through to the end in order to feel that transformative strength and empowerment. My own personal experience, coupled with 20 years of working with thousands of couples, allows me to make this statement from a place of confidence: Feeling empowered and positive about your birth experience is less connected to how your baby is born, and more directly linked to how you feel as your baby is being born.

When you give birth from a place of confidence that you did everything you could in the moment to honor yourself and your process, it’s hard to feel anything but empowered. There are moments throughout your pregnancy and birth where you’re called to stand up and make a decision that might not be easy, that might not be popular, that might not even be what you wanted. But in honoring yourself in this way, you can claim full participation and own your birth experience.

When you do this, you show devotion to yourself, your partner, your baby, your family – and this is where it all begins.

What are you devoted to? Does this resonate with you? Are you still able to feel my deep devotion to you (despite my tough love)? I really do only want the best possible experience for you. And I can’t use this title for the post without giving you this link to the ever wonderful ONJ singing her heart out – enjoy, you’ll be singing it all weekend.

This was part of an exercise from The Writing Den, where we were asked to define what we are devoted to. Bringing more personal responsibility into the birthing experience is one of those things I’m devoted to. If you’d like to find out what your true devotion is, come join this group of committed individuals answering the call. It’s an inspiring place to be!