Sunday, February 14, 2016
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
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
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.