Saturday, October 11, 2014

Postpartum Pressure

The season is upon us at MotherWit to embark upon our yearly postpartum doula training events.

I love autumn and winter for these trainings, because it gets us into the energy of hunkering down, lying fallow, resting up, and gathering power.  Every new parent needs this sacred time after birth to hibernate a little, and to process the lessons Birth has taught them. After their temporary withdrawal from every day life into the cocoon of the Baby Moon, they can unfurl like flowers in the spring, refreshed, renewed, vibrant, and confident in their new roles.

In "Westernized" societies, new mothers and fathers often eschew the more traditional approaches to postpartum healing, which include about a 40 day period of deep rest, within which the birther (and hopefully their partner/s as well) are fed, massaged and nurtured by older and wiser family members/friends/doulas, as well as kept skin to skin with Baby/ies for the vast majority of the time.

As a doula for over two decades, I do bear witness to the profound benefits to fully stepping into the Baby Moon period with the intention our ancestors supported. Parents seem to emerge from this potentially sweet and intense time having learned about how to tend to their particular baby/ies with a sense of calmness.  There seem to be less aches and pains.  They tend to have a greater sense of trust in their maternal/paternal decisions.  They seem less disturbed by the unpredictable ebb and flow of Baby/ie's needs.

Sadly, despite the tremendous benefits of taking advantage of the Baby Moon the way Nature seems to have intended, families often feel an incredible amount of pressure to do the opposite.  Much of this is fostered by the need to return to work soon after birth.  The work of sinking into the exploration of parenthood, rather than the frantic "let's figure it all out now, and FAST", is not at all honoured by our driven society which places higher value upon the power of "do".

New parents are often quite susceptible to this pressure.  They often feel that in order to be successful as parents, the house should look like it on the page of a magazine.  The parent who birthed should be losing the physical evidence of childbirth (soft tummy, extra padding, sleepiness, baby fog) as soon as humanly possible.  Money should be made, meals should be great, date nights arranged, schedules enforced, etc.  I get exhausted even thinking about it.

In my guidance of postpartum parents, we take a moment to honour their fears that the choice, if they are able, to sink deliciously into their Baby Moon is not always looked upon favourably.  There is often the fear that the very busy can be judgemental of those who do not appear to be very busy.

But let's look a little more closely at that. It is true media and community support a certain standard of postpartum "achievement" which can be rife with a sense of competition. We often applaud the person who may, for example, be in full hair, makeup, and heels bopping about town with a two day old (instead of offering her a chair and suggesting someone drive her home).  We ooh and ahh over the fact she barely looks like she just walked out of the delivery room.. We have to ask ourselves why we personally ascribe to this.

I have been there.  Often I still AM there. I have felt immense pressure to buy into the myth that the archetype of SuperMom/Dad is correct, and that to do otherwise denotes my failure as a "thriving" parent.  But what I finally asked myself was this: what if I unhook myself from that insane belief system, and realize that the one who exerts the greatest pressure upon me is ME?  It is easy to blame media, but what is my part in this? What is the worst that will happen if I take a few weeks after birth giving to simply hang out skin to skin with my baby lying down most of the time, reading, chilling, or taking short walks when I feel like it?  What happens if I make no apologies for my soft tummy, for holding court in bed without a shirt on when people visit, not getting up to make them coffee? What if I allow my older kids to watch movies without worrying about their development for a while, and let them go visit relatives for a few days at a time?  What if I say "YES" to offers to tidy up the obviously grungy kitchen and to hang diapers outside on the line to dry?  What if I commit to being present for all the crazy feelings and thoughts the postpartum period reveals without drowning them in "busy"?  What if I tell people right the heck off for encouraging me to smile because I have a healthy baby if I'm having a day that blows?  What if I trust the direction I want to take in how I gather information to parent instead of having it preached to me unsolicited?

I had the incredible privilege to think of asking myself these questions, it is true.  There are some new parents who are alone and without resources or community and must take care of all the kids and the household, finances, and errands on their own, sometimes in terrible situations.  But let us never refer to the Baby Moon as a luxury only for those who can afford it.  This dishonours its necessity for all human beings who have just had babies. We must also include in this people who have birthed and do not have their babies.  A period of healing and grieving  loss is necessary for them.  Parents who have new babies but who have not given birth also need time to adjust and get to know their child/ren.  Instead of "luxury", let us think of the Baby Moon more as an important healing option for those who want/need it,  What if there were a way we could work together to provide support to anyone who has just birthed/ received a child so they may get some hits of Baby Moon, even if it is only for a couple of hours at a time.? What if we invested in providing this support to our newly birthed citizens and their parents?  What would we look like as a society if this were considered of universal importance?

You know what happened when I took the plunge and chose to take my Baby Moon?  The sky did not fall.  In fact, I felt more thoroughly integrated, rested, and healed than I ever had with my first three children.  I felt more connected to my needs.  At one point I went for a walk, and went farther than my body wanted to go.  I tuned into the deep calling my body gave me to get back to my nest a little late, and really felt how beat I was after ignoring myself. When we give the time and space for Body to teach us, we absorb its lessons more readily. I learned many things during that exquisite Baby Moon, lessons which inspired me to encourage others to try taking their own Baby Moons, in whatever capacity they could, if they expressed the longing to do so.

Now I have the honour of training postpartum doulas, who are the keepers of the Baby Moon.  Even if parents do not want to take up this tradition in its entirety, the postpartum doula brings in an infusion of energy, a voice of support, and a whisper of encouragement to trust one's motherwit in the storm of postpartum recovery in a way that speaks to their unique needs.  Postpartum doulas listen, anticipate needs, gather information about what will bring the most energy to flagging parents (processing a hard birth, sleep, some tidying, baby tending lessons, feeding support,resource giving), and get the job done. We do this so the family has what they need to do their most important postpartum work, which is to bond with their new arrival/s, in whatever way they feel is best for them.  Sometimes a family who did not have a Baby Moon and is feeling the repercussions many months later seek out help, We can also offer them nurturing support to recreate that sacred space, if only for a few hours at a time.

Many families wouldn't give birth without a doula.  With the prevalence of postpartum depression, anxiety, burnout, and confusion, families are realizing the deep need to carve out a nest during their postpartum periods, relying on doulas to support them in this goal.  If this role speaks to your heart, join us!

Our next MotherWit Holistic Postpartum Doula Trainings are in Montreal (November  6th to 9th) and Toronto (November 13th to 16th).  If you are interested in an information/application package, email us at


Monday, October 6, 2014

Birth and Beyond Conference Memories

I am just settling back home after an amazing, nourishing, and crazy conference experience.

What I feel was the most important aspect of the feeling of supportive community the Vesta Parenting ladies (Birth and Beyond Conference organizers Shawn DeVree and Melanie Taylor) fostered, was the emphatic focus upon the person rather than their title.  All we had on our identity tags were our names.  Nobody knew if you were a doctor, IBCLC, midwife, nurse, doula, student, vendor, or conference presenter by virtue of your tag.  People took time to get to know each other, and people were seen for their smiles and the brightness in their eyes, their titles only discovered as the conversations unfolded.  I so appreciated this.  It actually helped me to heal a couple of prejudices.  I admit to a bit of concern at anything that speaks of sleep consultation for babies.  Yet I forged amazing relationships to beautiful souls without knowing in advance what they did, learning about their sleep work within the context of their compassion and beauty. Had I potentially shut down my mind a little to them (as I may have had their name tags announced what they did...sad to say, but in all honesty possibly true), that would have been a terrible shame.  I learned stuff about ways to support the real need for maternal sleep while supporting the needs of the night waking baby that I may have missed with bias clogging up my ears.

End of day wrap up!
From Left Dr. Jack Newman, Ina May Gaskin, Attie Sandink,Robbie Davis-Floyd,Nancy Wainer,
Gena Kerby, Adriana Lozada, Lisa Marie Thibodeau, Lesley Everest, Melissa Krawecki, Carol Peat

I have been a doula for over two decades, and have experienced most of the conference speakers before, but I've never hung out at length with them.  So that was fun. It meant a lot to me to pick some pretty amazing brains and express my gratitude for all they do to support families and babies.  This  conference was about being together in community as birth and breastfeeding workers/supporters/researchers rather than being among a hierarchy of professionals.  Everyone kind of hung out together and shared a lot of lively conversations.   Making deep connections with many people, sharing many passionate discussions, and holding space (and being held) throughout emotional process was as rich to me as sharing my work with the people who showed up to come hear me speak.

I loved every minute of The Healer Within workshop I gave, and appreciated the willingness the attendees showed for such a deep level of participation.  I felt like the talks I gave were well received given the lively conversation and questions.  I so appreciate those who reached out to tell me they enjoyed themselves.

Most of all, I want to give an enthusiastic round of applause to the organizers, their supporters, and those of us who were graciously drawn into their inner sanctum.  Ya'll know who you are.. You embraced me with open arms, fed me, checked in on me, plied me with drinks, invited me to hang with you, hugged me, let me hug you, shared stories, rubbed my feet, let me rub your feet,  and were fully your beautiful, raunchy, awesome, open, badass selves.   I couldn't have possibly loved you more. Butterflies.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Random Doula Tip #2: Get to Know Who Your Clients Are

I spend a lot of quality time with my clients prenatally.  I find this kind of careful attention pays off in the birthing room.  It is important for me to know who they are.

I find there can sometimes be attachment to certain "methods" of labour support.  Some doulas love Hypnobirthing, some love Bradley's, some love the Bonapace Method.  And that is great!  All of these methods contain wisdom and value.  However, and it is very important to keep this in mind: one method does not address the needs of all people.

In my doula training, a good chunk of our time is dedicated to the art of conducting prenatal meetings for birth preparation.  What do you talk about, and when?  How to you bring in the great coping skills you have learned along the way to impart to your clients?  The best way?  Listen!

Along with the important discussion topics, such as health history and talking about choices in childbirth regarding hospital routines and interventions, I like to ask: "How do you deal with stress and pain in your every day life?"  Discovering how someone copes with these things can give you decent insight into how they may like to deal with contractions.

For example if a woman replies, "If I stub my toe I like to jump around, swear really loudly, and then get a hug," this might give you the clue that your client may potentially process the sensations of labour in a kinesthetic (moving around and holding tight to people) and auditory (making noise) way.  If you wanted to explore her visual processing capacities, ask her if it would ever occur to her to visualize riding the wave of pain, or whathaveyou.  If she looks at you sideways, you realize she may not be much into imaging.  There is nothing to make a mother feel inadequate in learning coping skills if her natural faculties don't resonate with them.  Some women upon stubbing their toe will go silent, breathe deeply, and stare at a space in front of them.  USE this information to tailor personal, meaningful coping skills with them.  Many women HATE counting breaths, others need someone to speak to them gently through each contraction, and others would labour smack you if you opened your mouth made a sound.  While things can flow flexibly in labour, and as a doula it behooves you have many coping tricks up your sleeve to help your clients prepare for and cope with labour if they wish, knowing who they are can give you amazing insights into where to start.

What are some other questions?  I like to ask, "How do you envision your labour?"  or, "what concerns you most about your birthing experience?"  Exploring hopes and fears are important ways to discover what your clients' deep, internal resources are, and how you can activate their motherwit when the going gets tough.  Is it the pain she's afraid of, or is it a fear of the loss of control?  Do her expectations seem realistic given her chosen place of birth?  Is your expecting her partner to be super hands on and whisper sweet nothings in her ear appropriate when that is simply not the nature of their relationship?  Be so so sensitive to what THEY say, not to what you think they SHOULD do.  If they don't seem into what you're suggesting, move to something else.  There will always be one coping technique somewhere that will make a mom say, "Oh, yes, I think I like that one!"  Sure, sometimes women end up needing things they'd never expected, so be prepared, but having attended births for a long time, I believe they usually turn to the things they enjoy.  And those things they enjoy are usually things that are akin to how they naturally process the world around and within them. Why would she want to spend time "hoo hoo-ing" and "ha ha-ing," and looking at her partner count off with his/her fingers when everything in her longs to chant, "OOOOOOOOOPen" while keeping her mind on a still point?  Or vice versa? It is all good.

The greatest satisfaction in my work comes about when my clients are holding their babies happily and they tell me they felt deeply heard, and deeply honoured for their unique expressions.  Feeling understood and validated leads to emotional safety, and this safety is the cornerstone of doula work.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Random Doula Tip #1: TALK to Your Labouring Clients

Happy Mother's Day, Sweet Mamas!  I haven't blogged in a long while, and have missed it.  So I thought every now and then I'd throw out some random doula tips that have helped me along the way, just to throw y'all a bone.  Please know that these are my personal opinions and stories and in no way are meant to tell you what you should do if what you are doing in your practice is already working for you.  I certainly don't have all the answers.  Keeping in mind that Birth is a great Mystery which shifts every time you get cocky enough to think there is a formula, and that every vessel Birth moves through will express the energy uniquely teaching you something every time you witness it, my musings are simply ideas and shared from my heart to yours.  This will in no way replace your own knowledge and experience.


"Well, duh, Lesley," I hear you all saying.  Hear me out for a sec.  I'm not suggesting I think doulas are busting out their best mime gestures to communicate or playing  rousing games of charades.  What I am suggesting is that you need to rely on your client's voice as much (or more) than you do her words.

Just to segue in to the meat and potatoes (or tofu and yams if you prefer) of this tip, let me share that my last "real" job was as a pastry selling, coffee making counter-girl at a restaurant called La Tulipe Noire in 1991.  After having a baby and beginning my La Leche League journey, I did my doula training in Boston with what was then Informed Home Birth/Informed Birth and Parenting (IHB/IBP), became ALACE, and is now ToLabor.  Then I hung out my "doula" shingle, and have been going strong ever since, having a few more babies, gathering many more skills along the way, and teaching lots of students to "do the doula".

All this is to say that I did not begin my career in "the communication age".  We did not have a home computer with Internet until  about 1999, like many people. So there was no information on line at your finger tips (Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth by Chalmers and Enkins was the doula bible at the time), nor emailing clients to schedule. I had no cell phone.  If I was on call, I would have to check my phone messages from a PAY PHONE every hour or so.  These were the days you had to keep pockets full of change to use them.  Soon I got a pager, but I discovered that when I went on the Metro, I would not receive a page, so I had to check in via public phone every time I travelled around the city.

Now that I have revealed my dinosaur status and you can envision me rocking on my porch and shaking my head at you crazy kids and your electronic gadgets, you can imagine that it still amazes me that we can communicate by text.  Doulas receive intimate communications via invisible connections.  When I stared out, photos were still captured on film, so when I receive images of mucous plugs or poopy diapers within seconds of the image being taken, I still get little jolts of, "Wow, I never imagined this would be a possibility back when I started out!"  It is wonderful stuff.

And, we have to be careful.  Hence the name of my random doula tip.

You see, when we rely on text communication, especially when our birthing client is in labour, we miss the subtle cues the voice can reveal.  I emphasize this even more with women having subsequent babies, as their psychology can be different.  People having contractions for the first time are generally keeners. Everyone is different, which is why I say "generally", before people bombard me with how this was not their personal experience.  It wasn't mine second birth was way harder and way longer than my first. So, "generally", meaning not ALL people, but enough overall to take notice and make preparations for the possibilities thereof.  Not having experienced contractions before, and not really knowing what to expect in terms of intensity, first time contraction-ers often go to their place of birth (or call in their support) early on in the process.  Ladies birthing again tend to be much more laid back.  They have done this before, and their experience has usually told them that it is intense for a fair amount of time before a baby comes. They know that just 'cuz it hurts, doesn't mean the baby is coming. They often don't want to jump the gun. And while this is wonderful, there is often a very predictable state of denial which settles over the subsequent birther.  I see this again and again, enough that I put forth this random doula tip: TALK TO YOUR LABOURING CLIENT.

The last few births I attended, for example, were of mamas having second or third babies.  Texts revealed that contractions were far apart, that the contractions felt strong. But no no, it wasn't REAL labour, it was more that they were probably just feeling scared by the fact that the veil of partial amnesia about the reality of sensation of childbirth had lifted and were smacking themselves in the head a little bit for deciding this might be a good idea to do again.  It was all fine, just being a little wimpy, no worries, go off and do your thing and I'll call you when I think I need to go to the place of birth/call the midwife.  Doulas, this might be denial.  It is not intentional, it is not anything weird.  It just very often is a reality.  Enough that I feel it worthy to mention to newer doulas.  You veterans know exactly what I'm talking about.  After my long and hard second birth, having already been to nearly 100 births as a doula and being an experienced mama, lo and behold when I went into labour with my third, I did the very same thing.  I did not realize I was in REAL labour until ten minutes before the baby arrived.  Accidentally unassisted.  So even if your client is a birthworker herself, pay attention.  I have doula-ed doctors who themselves catch babies for a living, and they can fall into this trap too.

The last birth I attended, had I not actually called the mother to check in and relied only on her texts, she would have very possibly birthed in her car.  And I can't imagine that being very fun. The texts said that contractions were about every ten minutes, lasting maybe thirty seconds.  If you take that information at face value, as a doula you're thinking, "Oh, that's gonna go on all day, and we are just beginning," and perhaps not be on alert. Given that I don't find timing contractions very helpful when it comes to figuring if labour may be progressing, and given she told me the contractions were feeling like they were kicking her butt, I knew texts were not going to serve our purpose. I had to hear her voice to satisfy me. So we chatted on the phone, old school.  Her voice revealed right away that oxytocin and endorphins were flowing (far away and sleepy sounding between contractions), that contractions were way longer than she thought (she was only counting the peaks as worthy of notice, cuz you're often more badass the next time 'round and aren't fussed by every sensation), and were actually quite close together (she had only been counting the BIG ones, and as we doulas know about some active labours is that often Nature gives you a "butt kicker" contraction, followed by a little "cool down" contraction).  Well, those "cool down" contractions COUNT!  They do stuff.  But since they are not not as challenging, they are often reported more as just "twinges" between the "real" things.

If this had been a person experiencing contractions for the first time, it wouldn't have felt as urgent to me, but because it wasn't, and because my job is to lay out information as best I can so clients can decide what to do, I did have to let her know that while I certainly couldn't know for sure, I felt perhaps labour was more advanced than she thought.  Given a reasonably long car ride, taking that into account would be prudent.  Let's just say it was a good thing we talked.

And in my experience, though I realize other people's experience may be different, this happens SUPER frequently.  Experience has taught me (and I am a believer that it is all academic until you've actually witnessed it a few times and grounded the knowledge empirically), to be on the ball with moms who have previous experience with contractions, and to let your mouth and ears do the communicating instead of your thumbs.

Happy Sunday, and Happy Mother's Day!


Sunday, January 12, 2014

In Memory of Siobhan McKay

I have been so grateful recently for my in-person and online community of friends, doulas and other birth workers.

There are many concerns about social media, and obviously many of them are valid.  But when things like Facebook and blogs are used for the purpose of outreach with healing intent, their value becomes overwhelmingly clear.

It is astonishingly helpful in times of confusion to be able to type in a question to my online doula sisterhood and receive not only valuable information, but also loving support in the form of little hearts, smiley faces, and kind words.  This builds up my confidence and gives me strength to be a source of peace and comfort for my clients in a real way.  We are nourished by the kindness of others.  And when nourished, we give from a grounded place.

When I was seriously ill last year, I received prayers, kind words, gifts, cards, and the receiving of a massive outpouring of love, a huge percentage of that from my online community (and friends of people in that community) that it is no wonder I healed up so well.  These days, when I see a doula sister asking for support in any form, be it good energy sent, information, or talking her off a ledge, I do my best to jump in, knowing personally how deeply these gestures have touched my own life.  I try to use this gift of social media we have with the highest intent.  Most of the time, anyway.

I want to share a story that has touched me deeply.  My dear doula sister who lives in Toronto named Nicole McKay, lost her six year old daughter Siobhan suddenly on January 9th.  Siobhan had not been feeling well early in the morning, and before the day came to an end, she had left this Earthside home.

Needless to say, being a mother and a doula who deals regularly with parents and children, this story has touched me deeply.

Nicole and her husband, Siobhan's father James have expressed how it is the support that is getting them through.  In the end, it is all about community, the folks we know and the ones we don't, for we are all part of the much larger sense of community social media has to offer.  And for this right now, I am grateful.

I never met Siobhan personally, but from what I have been told and what I have seen reflected in the eyes of her mother, she was an exceptionally beautiful little soul, funny and wise.  Her favourite colours were pink and purple.  She loved to dance.  She was clearly here for big things.  When she was born prematurely, Nicole and James were told she would not survive.  She had many challenges, but overcame them fiercely and not only survived, but thrived wholly.  Though she left this world so young, the belief that she was here for great things holds fast for me nonetheless.  "Great" doesn't always mean big intentional acts of fame.  It is about how much love you bring out of people.

As I look around at the beautiful responses from people online, my heart is incredibly moved.  I like to believe that the love being poured from so many hearts in so many forms is a reflection to Nicole and James of their daughter's light.  I like to think that in some mysterious way we can't explain, the essence of Siobhan's sweetness  is working through us, making sure her mom, dad, and brother are held up during this dark time of loss and despair, bringing about massive waves of compassion and Grace from all over the globe in her memory.   For a teeny little girl to crack open people's hearts for all this love to pour forth so palpably speaks of the Great-ness of her spirit.  I feel her everywhere, a little ballerina on her star journey, but still very connected to us.

In this time of immeasurable loss, the best way to honour Siobhan is to take care of her precious family.  If I may humbly ask that if you read this, you take a small moment to send them a little love.  Light a candle.  Say a prayer if that is your wish, or envision their healing.  These things seem nebulous and ethereal, but if there were any small chance it could work to bring about even an inch of healing and comfort for Siobhan's family, it is worth a minute of your time.

On Monday, January 13th a lot of people will be wearing pink and purple in honour of Siobhan.  This standing together in respect and compassion is something I will participate in.  I also take time every day to think of her family and envision them healing, surrounded and permeated by all the love we pour forth for them collectively, inspired by their sweet daughter.

 I am a doula, who knows well the hardships my family can suffer if I cannot work.  There is no sane way Nicole can attend births right now as she grieves this unspeakable loss.  As a doula trainer who has had the pleasure of spending an intensive week with Nicole, I feel I know what Nicole's heart is made out of, and let me tell you, it is good.  I have never heard an unkindness come out of this woman.  How much she gives to others in her work as a doula and La Leche League Leader, is something to behold.  She works tirelessly to see babies into the world, providing loving attention to the creation of a peaceful environment for mothers, fathers, and babies to become a family within.  Nicole and her husband James are amazing parents, and are focusing right now on supporting their young son Cayden while he grieves the loss of his older sister.

If it feels right to you, my friend Renee Mercuri  has set up a page that enables us to contribute to Nicole and Jame's finances in this difficult time so they may focus on grieving and healing without the extra worry of lost income.

If you would like to leave a loving message of condolence or light a virtual candle, you can visit Siobhan's online memorial site.

Love, Light, and Blessings,