Monday, May 9, 2016

A Doula's Love Letter to Nurses

Having worked with obstetric, postpartum, and NICU nurses over the last couple of decades, I can honestly say that aside from the birthing/new mothers, nurses are the hardest working folks in the hospital.  I have developed amazing relationships with many of my local nurses over the years.  Honestly, having seen many a nurse catch a quick baby with skill and compassion when a doctor didn't get there in time, I know the whole system would fall apart without the skill and compassion of nurses.

These are my top reasons for wanting to shout out my love and appreciation to nurses this National Nursing Week.

1)  Nurses tend to REALLY understand birth

Because OB nurses spend far more time with a woman in labour than other medical folks, they usually have pretty developed Spidey senses when it comes to birth,  While a new medical resident may be apt to say things like, "You were 4 cm dilated only twenty minutes ago, so according to the progress of labour charts, it's not possible you want to push now," a nurse will rush around preparing the room for delivery, knowing that the sounds the mother is making means Baby isn't waiting for any chart.

I have seen doctors walk into the birthing room brusquely to ask questions of the birthing mother, and witnessed the nurse put up her hand and say, "Wait, she's having a contraction...let it end first before talking to her."  They get it.

2) Nurses set the tone

Nurses have immense power in the birthing/postpartum/NICU room.  When oxytocin flows in a relaxed way, birth and motherhood often unfold more smoothly.  When a nurse has respect for the birth/early parenting process and the family, no matter how the situation unfolds from a medical perspective, women often remember the FEELING of being tended to by a caring nurse. They carry that feeling in their hearts forever.  Even if the doctor on call that day is busy and doesn't take the time to connect while they do their medical tasks, the parents don't take it personally as long as the nurse meets the basic love and connection needs of the oxytocin besotted family.  Nurses have the opportunity to serve as the crucial emotional anchor,

Years after birth, reflecting upon their hospital experiences, my clients will go all melty and gooey when they speak of the nurse who was a kind presence in the room.   They will call her by name and use adjectives like "angelic" and "saintly" when describing her.  If nurses could only fathom the amount of love their happy patients carry for them, based on the few hours they spent together during the peak transformational experience that is the creation of a family, they would glow brightly with that beautiful sense of meaningful service.

3) Nurses are some of the hardest workers in town

Where I live, we generally do not have one on one nursing care when a woman is in labour or with her new baby.  A nurse may have two or three patients with intense needs at the same time. When things get really busy in their department, you will literally see nurses jogging from room to room.

I'm always quite amazed to see the nurses, some of them far older than I am, break apart the delivery bed and set things up with remarkable strength and speed.  As a doula, I know that supporting women in birth is a very physical job, and nurses do this ALL the time.

A nurse, in the midst of dramatic birthing or new parent/ baby moments, manages all her clinical tasks at the same time as listening to and supporting her frightened patient.  This is no easy feat.  To have head and heart engaged at the same time in the unique way nurses do, takes a level of skill I bow to.

I have also seen many nurses stay at a birth or with a tiny new patient an hour beyond their shift, because they knew their patient or little patient's parents were attached to them.  They committed to seeing them through until things settled.  In the throes of labour or worry, many parents don't notice their nurse is there after her shift has officially ended.  But I notice.

4)  MacGyver has nothing on nurses

If you want to be really impressed at the comfort measures that can be whipped out of thin air for in a pinch, come see a nurse in action.    I learn really cool tips from nurses constantly, like how to make a super efficient heating pad out of a wet towel and a placenta bag, or an ice pack out of an examination glove, or a peanut ball out of a stirrup and a pillow.  The fact that as a doula I carry very little with me in my bag besides  mouthwash and a change of clothes is because nurses have taught me the art of comfort measure innovation.

Where I live, supplies can often be low.  I have seen Baby's first diaper be made out of a Chux pad and medical tape by a savvy and apologetic nurse.  I have even seen nurses think to place a blanket near a sunny window (if the blanket warmer is busted) so it will be toasty and cozy for Mom and Baby after birth.

5) Nurses are Grace under fire

When a hospital staff runs smoothly as a team and everyone gets along, this is obviously the ideal situation for everyone. But I have witnessed shabby treatment of nurses sometimes by other staff members, or by those who manage them.  And, let's face it, not all patients are easy going and appreciative. Or, a nurse at any given moment may be reeling from a recent tragedy. As professionals, most nurses don't let on to their patients that they've experienced something crappy.  They dive into their work, and hopefully process it all later. I have sometimes walked out of a birthing room to get a coffee and beheld a nurse having a private teary moment in a stairwell.

Nursing can be a high stress, high drama job at times. It can be common for people to lose their tempers when challenged.  In my experience, it is usually the nurses who do the best job of keeping their cool.  They usually manage to continue their compassionate care of their patient no matter who is acting out that day.

The moments that have touched me most as a doula in regards to nurses are when their Grace comes through in the most human of ways.  When a birth is clearly traumatic to a mother, or if a mother has experienced less than glorious treatment by other staff members, or if there is a tragedy, I have sometimes witnessed nurses enfold their patients in their loving arms and share tears of sorrow with them, honouring their patients with their silent acknowledgement of sad truths.

To all the nurses who work with birthing and new families, I bow to you in honour for what you do.  I see you as you go about your jobs, and you have my respect and regard.  May all of you be plied with wine, chocolate, massages, and love this week.  I am grateful for you.  I celebrate you.  We at MotherWit Doula Care say THANK YOU!


Friday, May 6, 2016

5 Ways a Doula Can Help When It's More than the "Baby Blues"

Are you Pregnant?  Have you given birth within the last few months?  I want to ask you a question many people, your doctor included, may not think to ask:  how are you REALLY doing?

Recently I spoke to a lovely pregnant mama in a doctor's waiting room.  As a doula for 22 years, my Spidey senses told me something was up.  I initiated some general conversation, and after a while asked her mom-to-mom about how she was feeling . A shadow fell across her face.  "Well, you know, okay I guess."

"Yeah?" I responded, and waited.  And breathed.  In a small voi
ce she said, "Not so good. Everyone keeps telling me it's just hormones, but it's not passing.  I'm unhappy.  If it's like this now, I'm afraid of what will happen when the baby comes.  Can you get postpartum depression BEFORE the baby is born?"

The woman agreed to my gentle encouragement to speak to her care provider about getting a referral to a mental health professional, just for a check in.  If we have blood pressure or blood sugar issues in pregnancy, we get checked out.  Mental health care should be as easy and accessible to perinatal women as a childbirth ed class.  It sadly isn't, but that's another blog.

In honour of Mental Health Week here in Canada, I want to shed light upon the fact that up to 20% of women experience anxiety and/or other mood disorders like depression in the time surrounding the birth of a baby, making mental health challenges among the most common complications of childbirth.  It can happen postpartum AND in pregnancy.

When a woman experiences feelings of sadness, overwhelm, panic, intrusive thoughts, obsessive-compulsive issues, and/or anger (among others), she may be reluctant to share what's going on for her.  She can be afraid people will think she's about to harm her baby or herself, and take the baby away from her.  She often thinks her feelings are a character flaw, and that if she were a "better" person, she could pull it all together and be a "good", happy mom.

While in some cases thoughts of self-harm/harm to the baby turn into reality, the vast majority of women will not experience this extreme. But left untreated, mental health crises can and most certainly do arise, which make life feel unmanageable.  While maternal death is very rare in developed nations, suicide remains among its leading causes.  Any time someone feels at risk of harming themselves or their baby, this is an EMERGENCY, and must be treated as such.

Many women feel shame for being overwhelmed or apathetic when their pregnancies/babies are healthy.  There is a stigma around mental illness in general which deepens when it comes to motherhood.  If there appears to be nothing to complain about, many women feel guilty about expressing their pain.

But there is good news.  To quote Postpartum Support International, "You are not alone.  You are not to blame.  With help, you will be well."

A doula, being a trained, experienced birth/parenting support professional, spends ample time with her client, and can often recognize some of the signs that something is amiss. She can ensure the mother gets the help she needs as soon as possible.  Because the sooner the mother feels better, the more space she has to enjoy her pregnancy and her baby, which is healthier for the family long term.  We want to ensure a mental health professional can intervene before a downward spiral potentially happens.  Even though wait times to see one can be inappropriately long, feeling like something is done can be a relieving first step.

These are five ways doulas can help when it's beyond "the blues":

1) Doulas Listen

As a doula, I get to know the people in my care.  I listen deeply not just for the words said, but for the feelings behind the words.  I'm not afraid to ask, "Hey, how are you really feeling today?"  and am comfortable not glossing the spaces over with chatter.

If the mother is receiving messages from her friends and family that her feelings will pass, that it's "just pregnancy hormones" or "just the baby blues" even though her anxious/depressed feelings are persistent, we may be the only ones to speak up and say, "maybe this requires further investigation.  Why don't we call your midwife and you can tell her what you've been sharing with me?" Or, "I have the number of an amazing psychologist who specializes in perinatal mental health.  Why don't we call her right now for an appointment?"

A diagnosis made by a qualified mental health professional is important to get the ball rolling in the exploration of treatment.

2) Doulas Provide Resources

Professional doulas tend to be very community minded folks, and are well connected to the available maternity support resources.  A doula can share information about the importance of the woman contacting her care provider, and then help her follow up on the doctor's referrals to the appropriate mental health professionals.  A doula herself will often have a list of psychiatrists or psychologists who specialize in perinatal anxiety and mood disorders, and can share these resources with her client.

A doula will also have resources for extra support while the mother is waiting to see her mental health professional, or is in treatment.  The mom may be interested in seeing a massage therapist, nutritionist, or joining a support group for other moms going through similar things.

3) Doulas Provide Respite

Many doulas are trained/experienced in providing respite for struggling families, throughout the day or the night.  Feelings of isolation and inadequacy can make mental health struggles worse, especially when they're compounded by the exhaustion of the postpartum period.

 A postpartum doula can help mothers feel like they have a handle on things while she supports feeds, keeps the mom company, and tucks her into bed where she can rest secure knowing the doula is keeping Baby happy.  Or, perhaps Mom might need time with her baby and a little tidying or meal preparation done while she relaxes and bonds.

A doula always seeks to support bonding and to foster a sense of confidence and mastery in new parenthood. Occasional respite care can make all the difference when the mother is getting treatment or waiting to.

4) Doulas are on the Family's Side

Unsolicited advice is the bane of the pregnant/new parent's existence.  Everyone wants to tell them where it's at.  Your baby should sleep through the night at birth, you should be planning an all natural delivery, you should have an epidural, you should start your baby on a bottle right away, you should breastfeed exclusively.  Parents can feel like they'll never do anything right, which can weigh heavily on a person experiencing mental health challenges.

Doulas are there to provide parents support for their choices.  Period.  A family's life isn't played to the tune of any personal doula agenda.  Doulas most certainly provide parents with evidence based information, giving them more tools with which to make informed choices, however, they know that things must work for the ultimate health and well-being of the family.  When parents have explored their options and made a decision that contributes to the family's happiness (which generally contributes to Baby's well-being too), the doula will support them.

5) Doulas Honour Mothers

In our fast paced Western culture, we are often so busy trying to do everything "right" by finding the best information, we often forget to slow down and pat ourselves on the back for growing/birthing/parenting a new little citizen as best we can.  We are all already whole.  It's just that when things feel overwhelming, we forget.  Your doula will not forget.

As a doula, one of the things I try to do for people is uplift them with the honour I have for them.  Sometimes I will look at a mama with a new baby, tears of overwhelm streaming down her face, and I will hold her gaze for a while, seeing her in her wholeness (even when she can't see it herself). I see her tender vulnerability as well as her wild mama strength .  "I see you," I'll say.  And I will smile at her with my whole heart to show her that I uphold her as worthy an beautiful, letting her know that I believe in her.  Reflecting someone's wholeness back to them helps them to remember who they really are.

You are not alone.  This is not your fault.  With help, you will be well.

With love,

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Just had a Baby? Feeling Overwhelmed? A Postpartum Doula Can Help.

It is 4 am.  You have given birth recently, and are still in the process of recovering from that major event.  Feeding your baby isn't easy.  You aren't sure if you're doing things right.  Your baby just doesn't seem to be like the books say.  There is conflicting advice everywhere you turn.  Getting enough to eat is challenging enough, never mind getting the endless laundry done.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

MotherWit Loves Matraea!

As the owner of a couple of doula agencies and a doula trainer who teaches around Canada, I often get approached by lovely folks who are interested in introducing their products to me, asking if I can give them a shout out.

I could not resist when when I was contacted by a small, Vancouver Island product company named Matraea.  Co-founded by midwives Kate and Selina, they identified a lack of access to safe, effective, natural products to support pregnancy,birth, breastfeeding, and babies in their community.  Like the go getters they are, they took it upon themselves to remedy the problem.

These are women after my own heart...deeply experienced, fiercely committed to excellent care of the hundreds of families they've served over two decades, and hubs of their community.  I readily agreed to test out some of the products Matraea sent over here to the MotherWit HQ here in Montreal.

When the package came in the mail all the way from BC, I was impressed just by the look of the products.  They are beautifully packaged, something anyone would be proud to offer a loved one as a gift, or use themselves.  I felt great being able to provide something so pretty to my clients.

Let's start with Blooming Baby Belly Tea.  Full of deeply nourishing herbs like raspberry leaf, nettle, and hibiscus packed in a cute little tin, I thought this would be a perfect treat for my Birth Essentials Prenatal Class.  I made a pot and had it steeping before my class arrived.  When they came into the room, I got a few comments on how nice the tea smelled.

My class members all tried the tea.  The dads, too.  Quickly, the pot was finished.  So I made another.  By the end of our time together that day, three pots of Blooming Baby Belly Tea had been drunk, clearly having been enjoyed thoroughly.

I often talk about the deep, nutritive benefits of the herbs in this tea.  The issue is that many pregnant folks don't like the taste,  Combined with tasty ingredients like cinnamon and hibiscus, however, Blooming Baby Belly Tea makes getting the proven benefits of the herbs easy and enjoyable.  This doula loved it too!

I also received Matraea's Calming Spritzer and Refreshing Spritzer.  I popped them into my birth bag and used them with one of my labouring clients whom I knew enjoyed aromatherapy.  As a doula, I use essential oils a lot for balancing out the environment to support the birth.  Having some of my favourite oils premixed in such a pleasing way was handy.

I liked the texture of these sprays a lot.  Many times just water and oils don't mist well, but these sprays misted really nicely and dispersed well, having a soft quality.    And oh, the scents!  Heavenly!

The refreshing spritzer was perfect after a long night of labour.  I sprayed it in the room to greet the sunrise, and the birth attendants perked up.  It smelled like Christmas morning, soft and uplifting, absolutely right for a birthing.  The labouring mother mentioned that it make her upset tummy feel better, too.

During a couple of anxious moments, I kept the Calming Spritzer going.  It was actually a hospital staff member who commented on how good the room "felt".  Scent is a powerful thing. I have often found mixes containing ylang ylang essential oil can be very strong, but this was balanced out perfectly so that it was gentle and soothing.

What I appreciated most about Matraea products?  You can feel the love and care tucked into them.  They are crafted to nourish families and to make them happy.  I can get behind that.

MotherWit loves Matraea!


Thursday, February 11, 2016

One Hundred Thousand Contractions and Counting

Sitting in the still, quiet spaces between contractions one night while attending a birth, I did a rough calculation of how many labour contractions I have witnessed in my career as a doula.  A modest estimate is well over 100,000.

Some people prefer to use different words for this wave of powerful energy through the pregnant body.  I have heard "surges", "rushes", and "expansions".  Personally, I enjoy "contraction".  The uterus squeezes hard for its door, the cervix, to open.  The baby is strongly embraced and moved downwards by its power.  Instead of the more masculine "hero's journey" of forging outwards to find our holy grail, birth givers are drawn progressively more inwards with their strengthening contractions, guided instinctively towards their deepest coping resources.

For me, "contraction" is a good word.  As a seed is nestled in the sheltering Earth and a loved one is squeezed tightly in a welcoming hug, a contraction is an embrace leading to powerful opening.

Contractions are the steps on the journey towards delivering a baby.  Everyone has had them at some point in pregnancy, felt or not, so those who have planned Caesarean births have participated with them too. Each contraction is its own unique entity, though they flow in sequence towards their inexorable conclusion.  I liken them to a stone pathway, Each individual stone has its own shape, texture, and story although they are similar in nature and arranged in patterns ranging from the measured to the haphazard.

I have been listening to the stories taking shape within and between contractions for many years.  They are rich and varied.  Though the imprints of some last longer than others in any given labour, they always pass, being finite in number. Every single contraction wave which emerges from the oceanic tide of labour concludes on its shore, closing the gap between the states of "pregnant" and "postpartum".

Some contractions speak of a change in the nature of labour, keening at the peak, gutteral at the end, heralding a firm descent of Baby into Birth Canal.  Others are a whisper, speaking of a dance of the greatest concentration.  Some suddenly reveal to the naked light a memory of childhood not previously known.  Some trigger the grief of loss.  There are the occasional ones which can generate actual orgasms, much to everyone's delight. There are yet others which create a temporary desire for oblivion.

I have known contractions to heal patterns of self-limiting belief, changing the birth giver indelibly.  I have witnessed others create beliefs of failure and regret.  Some contractions imprint the story of trauma, others the ecstasy of triumph.  The very last contraction is often accompanied by a shout of such intense ferocity that any self-respecting predator within miles would think several times before sniffing around the birthing space.

Every contraction lends its imprint to the totality of a birth experience.  I meet every one of the stories with welcome, honouring their place in a developing labour, supporting the birth givers on their terms in this crazy dance of bringing forth a being of flesh from their own depths.

If the power of birth were to be seen as pure, white light and the birth giver/baby unit as a prism, each experience, while still light,  is absolutely unique in its appearance. Birth's expression through each prism creates a magnificent kaleidoscope of perceptions, sensations and feelings, no one birth the same as another.  Some birth stories are joyful.  Others are not. They are each a sacred unfolding of a new person Earthside, therefore inherently precious, and inherently worthy.

I am a doula, free from the tasks of being clinically vigilant and medically responsible at births. Simply witnessing one hundred thousand contractions has taught me more about the nature of birth than almost any other resource I've drawn upon for learning.  I am grateful for the teaching of each and every one of them.

I am a doula.  Imprinted by 100,000 contractions, I am rich in story.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I Can't Stand Being Pregnant...and that's ok.

The message many women receive upon sharing the news of their pregnancies can sound a little like, "Congratulations! You are now a sacred vessel of life",  as if a pregnancy somehow legitimizes their existence.

I believe the intention behind the "sacred vessel" type comment is well meaning, but the message can exert pressure upon women to match this "beatific" state with beatific responses towards the hurdles on the journey.

Many women enjoy their pregnancies, feeling beautiful and powerful. Sure, most experience some of the uncomfortable effects, but are ultimately happy.  Others for one reason or another simply can't stand being pregnant. And that is OK!  

I have been in the birth support business for a long time. I have had many mothers-to-be, truly suffering with their pregnancies (physically and/or emotionally), cry on my shoulder about comments they've received like, "Others have been trying to get pregnant for years and can't.  You should be happy," or "Your negative feelings are bad for your baby."  Essentially the suffering woman hears, "You aren't grateful enough.  Stop crying.  Get over it."  

Though for the most part my pregnancies were fantastic, the nausea in the early months for me were intolerable.  I had unmedicated births no problem, but had there been some kind of early-pregnancy anti-sickness epidural, I'd have been the first in line for it.  Many of my friends responded to my nauseated whimpers with patient comments like, "The nausea is a good sign.  It will pass," Though I knew they meant to be helpful, I didn't feel heard. Instead I felt isolated and annoying.  

As a birth doula, I was keenly aware others had it worse than I.  
The “Lucky you, your pregnancy is healthy!” message served to deepen my feelings of shame around having a hard time coping with simple nausea.  We need to realize that when a pregnant woman expresses displeasure, it doesn’t means she would trade in an uncomfortable symptom for a less healthy baby. The "Stop whining, you're a sacred vessel" message fails to honour this fact: not only outcomes, but experiences are deeply important to mothers.  Experiences are woven into the tapestries of our motherhood, shaping who we are.  

Voicing something that hurts isn’t a cry of “I’m ungrateful!”  It is often a cry to be heard.  Not fixed.  Not judged.  Just heard.  Within this listening space lies an opportunity for knots in the tapestry to be unravelled and examined, helping us to reweave our patterns of experience with more richness and beauty.

Most childbirth books don't contain a chapter called "When Pregnancy Sucks Just Because".  Someone doesn’t have to be crippled by pain or wrapped around a bowl of upchucked Diclectin pills for nine months to experience suffering (though bless you if you are). Some women are inexplicably miserable while pregnant. Is this the mark of an unworthy "sacred vessel"? Absolutely not.

Litanies of woe can get tiresome for listeners, it’s true. But what if we were to give someone the benefit of the doubt? What if they really are having a hard time and not just whining? What if we stopped letting the complaints we hear go in one ear and out the other and we tuned in with a commitment to empathy?

One day many years ago I was supporting a birth with one of my apprentices.  I was pregnant with my fourth child and green with nausea. I wanted to crawl under a rock. My apprentice touched my shoulder, looked deeply into my eyes with concern and asked, "Are you okay?"  My eyes filled with tears at her tenderness. Our client's labour was still in its early phase, so without a word she took me by the hand and sat me in the comfiest chair in the waiting room.  She wrapped me up gently and securely with her shawl, which smelled of lavender.  She rubbed my feet and spoon fed me some mashed potatoes. I felt nurtured to my very core. She said, "I've got this birth.  Don't worry.  Rest."  Not once did she remind me that the labouring woman we were caring for was likely far more uncomfortable.

After a good cry, a nap, and more mashed potatoes, I got up and we saw a lovely baby into the world together.  My student taught me much that day. Receiving love and compassion with no questions asked or expectations demanded was a great healing.  Without words being exchanged, I knew I had been absolutely heard. Something shifted in my pregnancy that day.  What she gave me remains a beautiful thread that shines brilliantly from the tapestry of my pregnancy experience.

Pregnancy can suck sometimes.  Receiving loving kindness won't necessarily make it not suck, but when we feel heard and understood, a battle of tension within dissolves, and we can relax into the truth of the experience with more strength.  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jewish transgender man gives birth and embraces life as a single ‘abba’

Jewish transgender man gives birth and embraces life as a single ‘abba’: (JTA) — When Rafi Daugherty went to the hospital for the birth of his first child, he posted a sign on the delivery room door. “I am a single transgender man having my first baby,” it read. “I use he/him/his pronouns and will be called ‘Abba’ (Hebrew for father) by the baby. Papa, Dad, Daddy,...

Friday, January 1, 2016

5 Realistic Parenting Resolutions

Ever have parenting moments when you feel like you’re failing?  Me too.  I have found myself staring at a kid in the wake of a meltdown thinking I wasn't cut out for this job.  

I have made resolutions to be a better parent such as:   "I want to stop yelling at my kids when I'm upset."  Most have fallen to the wayside, where resolutions go to die.

I am a mother of four kids. I'm also a doula, which is essentially a parent support professional throughout pregnancy, birth, and the early days postpartum.  I know well (personally and professionally) the struggle of clinging to the hope that we're good enough parents.

Only a small percentage of the things we resolve to change get changed.  There are the good intentions, but then life takes over after a few days.  You fall off the "Resolution Wagon", add "Failure to Stick to Anything" to your list of "Things to Beat Yourself Up Over", and end up feeling worse than when you started.

What you don't need are more resolutions. What you need are mindsets.

Before setting your mind to becoming a parenting rockstar, keep this principle in mind:  


When you watch a scary movie, your heart pounds, and you hide behind pillows until someone tells you it's okay to look. While your rational mind knows the film isn’t real,  your unconscious mind doesn't!  Adrenaline is released in response to perceived threat, resulting in real fear of pretend zombies.  

For your goals to work,  your unconscious mind (like an unruly child) needs to receive direction from your rational mind (firm parent).  Pathways in your brain that connect these parts need to be created.  

What needs to fuel this direction from your rational mind is INSPIRATION, which is received from your HIGHER unconscious. This is the part of you that is moved beyond words by music and gobsmacked by the beauty of a sunset.

If we have the unruly child mind and the firm parent mind, the higher unconscious is the wise elder mind, whose functions are unconditional love and connection.

Nothing sabotages your goals more than your inner critics. They are parts of you which, from past experience, believe they haven't been invited to participate in love.  You can say to yourself, "I will be a good parent" all you want, and it's about as effective as herding cats if you're not programming your brain to forge new pathways of healing connection.  

Training the different parts of your consciousness to work cooperatively takes practice and love for what your goal seeks to achieve, for whom your goal serves, and for the goal setter (you). This is why mindset is so important.

SEE IT:  State your intentions as if they are already done.  Not, "I want to be a great parent," but "I AM a great parent."  What does a great parenting moment look like to you?  Your imagination is a powerful gift.  Take time to “live” there for a while.

FEEL IT: Feel the goodness and freedom of that statement as you “see” it.  Let it fuel your brain rather than negative feelings.  Ignore the inner critics.

BE IT:  While you may still believe you have lots of parenting kinks to work out, your unconscious mind is meanwhile receiving and believing the messages of freedom and joy from your imagination.  .  As you repeat your intentions to yourself daily WITH SEEING AND FEELING, your responses to sticky parenting situations will gradually begin to change in ways that reflect your inner awesome parent!

Make it a daily practice to see and feel your parenting intentions, and the being will follow.  You will even spontaneously begin to develop goals for each resolution. Let yourself feel great about YOU. You will never be perfect.  Let that go.  But your children will notice your increased parental self-esteem, and that in itself is healing.

May these five mindsets transform your parenting from the inside out, proving to you what I already know: You are amazing!  You’ve got this.

1)  I AM a loving parent.  Even if you feel like you mess up sometimes, if this message becomes embedded, you will see that most of what you do comes from love, even if some of the lenses your love filters through aren’t yet “polished”.  Having compassion for yourself teaches your children to be more compassionate.

2) I AM a grateful parent.  Sometimes you feel so bad about something you've done as a parent, you think your kids would be better off without you.  But it isn't true.  You get to be with these little ones, and they love you so much.  Feel gratitude for your family, warts and all.

3) I AM an effective parent.  With this message nourishing your system, those moments you feel like your children are unprofessional tiny monsters who won't get into their jammies, you will gain perspective.  Instead of reacting in frustration, you will take moments to search for the most effective (and least damaging) way of dealing with the situation.  You will feel more skillful, and that feels good!

4) I AM an understanding parent.  We are always asking our kids, "Do you understand me?"   Actively seeking first to really see and understand your kids will help them develop their skills in understanding themselves, you, and others.

5) I AM a parent who cares for him/herself.   If you saw your best friend ragged, exhausted, giving everything to their children at the expense of their own dreams and well being, wouldn't you be concerned?  Take tender care of your children's precious parent. This will not breed selfish kids.  This will teach your children how to value themselves as radiant beings of joyful, balanced service to the world.

You will stray from your mindset at times. It is human nature. Forgive yourself, and like the Buddhists say with simple elegance, "begin again".

Love and Blessings,

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

4 Keys to Night Time Survival for New Parents

In parenting as in life, everything is about perspective. It is our outlook combined with basic biological factors which make the soundtrack of our lives, helping us transition through the common adjustments the postpartum period requires.

Becoming a parent is perhaps one of the biggest shifts in life, one that requires major adaptation. Not only do we adjust physically as mothers to allow room for another human being to grow and develop inside us, but we prepare psychologically to become parents. We seek out education, and look to our families, friends and acquaintances for guidance and example. But truly nothing can prepare us for the reality of early parenthood. Even the comprehensive and detailed courses that bring us information that is vital to new parenthood seem millennia away!

Awake late in the night, holding your fresh baby, much of what you learned seems out of reach. Being at home with that new little being can be overwhelming for new parents. There is so much to know and we feel often inadequate and afraid that one simple decision is the only thing separating us from calamity. Our perspective is coloured by desperate love and inexperience. The truth is that we have everything it takes. We always had it. We just have to trust it. But how?

There are four keys which MotherWit Postpartum Doulas use to help new parents develop strategies to balance life: NUTRITION, SUPPORT, LOVE and SLEEP.
  • NUTRITION is paramount to keeping a sleep-deprived, adrenaline-pumping brain in check. Accepting healthy meals from family and friends is key. Postpartum Doulas also bring food according to your needs.
  • SUPPORT refers to asking for help, calling on family and friends, asking questions, and seeking out respectful, non-judgemental resources. 
  • LOVE speaks to laughter, joy, allowing worry to melt away from time to time and relishing this new experience. It means loving yourself, your partner, and your new family member. And throw in a cart-load of forgiveness. You may as well start now! 
  • SLEEP... ah sleep.  I leave sleep for last because the lack of it is the wrench that can throw all of the above into chaos. When we are sleep-deprived our perspective can be very warped. If you have never been woken up every hour for days on end, suddenly have a tiny and extremely demanding life depending on you absolutely and completely, then new parenthood will feel like some sort of insane Amazing Race you can't get out of! Days and nights melt into each other and seem endless.
 Often family and friends can be a great support here. Having a set of arms to hold Baby as you nap can be a life-saver. But sometimes what is needed is a (nearly) full night's sleep. This is where overnight Doula support comes in.

A Doula, experienced in pregnancy, birth and postpartum care, is a great choice of person to care for you and your baby during the night hours, when things can seem even more overwhelming. Doula arrives as you are ready for bed and often spends a few moments making tea and discussing your concerns before tucking you into bed.

The Doula will take care of Baby's needs as they arise, tending to changing, burping, and soothing. If your baby needs your breast, they are brought to you for feeding, the Doula providing hand-on support and company in those challenging wee hours.  Doulas will also feed Baby with a bottle to help you get more sleep if this is your need.  A Doula will, however, know when Baby needs that comfort only mama's arms can provide. You don't need to worry that your baby will be missing you.  We can find the balance between as much sleep for you as possible, and ensuring Baby's needs for connection with you are met.

Burping, diapering and rocking are generally taken care of so the new parents can get as much sleep as possible. What is the result? It seems it is almost a miracle! Parents rise in the morning and coffee is brewing and ready. They often have time to shower before meeting Doula with a smile.

Our goal is for you to need us less, not more. Even one or two nights of restful sleep is often a turning point for many new parents. The brain is boosted with sleep, the over active adrenal glands take a break, and sweet relaxation takes over.

The many nights I have spent caring for new families in their cozy home are some of my most memorable moments as a Doula. It is perhaps the epitome of what it is to care for and nurture a new family into being. It is a sweet and gentle time, a time to move slowly and carefully. The world slows down, and in this moment space is created for your family to take its rightful place.

We no longer live in a world where "elders" are part of our cultural structure, but we can be sought out and utilized. Nothing is more comforting that sleeping soundly as the world is cared for by someone else. That is why Doulas do this work and carry this cultural tradition forward. It is important, valuable and often miraculous!

Millie Tresierra
Postpartum Doula
MotherWit Doula Care

Monday, December 14, 2015

Adjusting to Life with a Toddler and a New Baby

When we have our first babies, it doesn't matter where we come from or how well we have mastered other areas of our lives.  We all begin parenthood as newbies, and the learning curve is steep.  We fumble and falter, gain confidence and wisdom, run into stumbling blocks, and hopefully learn to forgive ourselves those days it feels like we should start making large deposits into our child's future therapy fund.

Despite what a balancing act having a child is, many of us venture to have more than one.  I went on to have four.  Parental concerns shift with subsequent babies from "How do I take care of a newborn?" to  "How will my toddler and I cope with my attention being so focused on the new baby?"

With older children it is different, because they can communicate their feelings more clearly.  Toddlers, who are often still in diapers and just learning how to string several words together, are the ones parents tend to worry about the most.

These are the most common concerns parents have about how their toddlers will cope with the new baby:

1)  What is the best way to introduce my toddler to the new baby?

Every family has different wishes for the first meeting.  Some parents experienced a rough birth and prefer their toddlers to visit when they're feeling less sore and more present.  Others want the toddler to be brought over right away.  Some are even present for the birth.  Whatever feels right for your family is likely the best plan.

What parents are often afraid of is their toddler reacting negatively to the new baby at that first precious meeting.  It can happen, and it is best to not take it personally, or as a sign that things aren't starting on the right foot.  Toddlers are unpredictable, and don't always show up emotionally in the way we hope.

Having the toddler be introduced to their sibling in the presence of someone else they are attached to is an appealing idea to many families.  If the older child becomes upset, Grandma or Uncle can be there as the safe harbour.  It is around this time many toddlers begin to see that it is not only Mom or Dad who can provide a loving haven.  And it can be hard for some parents to see this happening, as they interpret it as a withdrawal from them.  They feel guilty.  But in fact it is okay to let "the village" help.

Many parents have a tradition of giving the toddler a gift from the new baby, as a way to honour them for being a wonderful big sibling.  This can definitely smooth the rough edges for some kids.

Encouraging visitors who come to see the new baby to take time to connect with the toddler helps too. In all the new baby excitement, the older kids can definitely feel overlooked, which enforces their feelings of exclusion.

2) Will my toddler regress in behaviour?

Most likely?  Yes, to a greater or lesser extent.  Without being able to communicate skillfully with words, it makes sense they'll articulate their feelings, intentionally or not, through their actions.

It is normal for kids who were perhaps using the toilet to begin having accidents, or even giving up the toilet all together for a while. Night waking can be more frequent, and bottles/breast may be requested again.

Many parents want to have their toddlers be a little more grown up before the baby arrives, and think about stopping some of their comfort seeking behaviours. But stripping away too many of the things that may provide their toddlers with comfort (binkies, blankies, and bears, for example) at a time they may most need to have some security, may not be most helpful.

Either way a parent decides, if a new habit has been formed, regression for a while is normal.  This too shall pass.

3) Will my toddler be jealous with all the time I spend with the baby?

Yes, they will probably be jealous.  It is absolutely normal for a little one who is used to their parents' consistent attention to feel jealous when a new baby comes. We cannot reason that feeling out of a kid.  The reason parents ask this is not because they can't handle the behavioural acting out the kid will likely do as a result of their tender feelings, but because their hearts are broken at the thought of their beloved child being sad.

To minimize some of the jealous feelings, some parents play the "Being a Baby is SO Boring" game. It gently encourages the toddler to feel proud to be a bigger kid.  It goes like this: "See Baby having her milk?  Poor Baby, she doesn't get to eat big kid food like you do. She only gets milk.  And she can't understand the books we read together.  It's not as fun for Baby, because she's not big like you. How about you eat your snack and I read to you while Baby drinks her milk?"

The goal isn't to push the toddler into any given behaviour, but to suggest that it's kind of cool to not be a baby anymore. As cushy as baby life might look being in Mom's or Dad's arms a lot, baby life is comparatively limited.

4) How will I ever love my new baby as much as I love my toddler?

As a mother of four, I have learned that the heart is not like a loaf of bread.  It is not a finite thing that is sliced up into pieces and given away in increments, leaving the possibility of nothing left.  With the intense love we've shared with our older kid since their birth, we can worry we're down to the heel of the loaf.

The good news is that the heart is infinite.  It has an absolutely endless supply of love.  It has the capacity to welcome and include our new arrivals with as much intensity as we share with our older kids.

5) I hate to say this, but I find my toddler annoying.

What often concerns the birth giver most is that there can be a period in which they feel like they actually love the new baby more.  This can be unexpected and distressing, something they may not admit to people, even though it is quite normal.  Hormonally, our bodies are geared towards bonding fiercely with and protecting our babies. Toddlers can appear suddenly huge, loud, and demanding.

Let's repeat our parental mantra: This too shall pass.  In a normal situation, hormones adjust, toddlers adjust, and everyone finds their place a little more comfortably in the family.  The love will then generally not be seen as "more or less", simply as different, because our children are different people.

Parent hearts are often so very tender over the fact their toddler is having to go through some tough emotional adjustments.  As loving parents we want to spare our children from pain.  It hurts us to see them sad.  And the sadness that can be expressed in a myriad of toddler ways in response to Baby fills parents with guilt and worry.

If we think about it, almost all major life transitions contain elements of pain.  Growth can hurt.  It is a natural part of the process of being human.  Even for toddlers.  If we can connect with our toddlers time to time in the authenticity of their pain and simply love them without trying to fix the feelings we wish they wouldn't have, we honour the human growth work they are doing.

The acknowledgement, "you are sad, this is hard, and I love you exactly as you are," can be more effective in facilitating growth and healing than drowning out the reality of pain with gifts, distraction, or words like "but don't you want to be a good big brother/sister?"

While it can be hard to come to terms with the role adjustment of going from being "the baby" to being a big sibling, we do get used to it.  And we can even end up enjoying it.

Lesley Everest