Sunday, February 14, 2016

Welcome to Heart and Wisdom Birth!

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The next Mind, Body, Baby workshop date:

"Labour and birth are truly an amazing and wise process, and every woman should be given the chance to trust her heart and the wisdom of her body in order to birth her baby, in whatever way feels right for her." -Kat Garduno

Friday, January 1, 2016

Add These Things To Your Birthing To-Do List

This post has been ruminating in my mind for a few weeks now.

It may not be eloquent, but hopefully it will be helpful.

Anyways, here goes.

When we prepare to birth our baby, we check things off our to-do lists. Each of our lists may look different, but for the most part I think it's safe to say will include one, or all, of the following (in no particular order):

  • Decorate the nursery
  • Buy stroller, baby carriers, diapers, clothes, etc
  • Attend prenatal classes
  • Help prepare siblings (if you've had babies before)
  • Attend yoga or some other exercise class
  • Pack bags
  • Fill freezer with meals
  • Hire a doula (hehe wink, wink...couldn't help myself!)

The list goes on, and like I said, it looks different for each of us.

But what is missing?

It looks pretty good! What could it be?

I promise something is missing.

Here's a clue...

Who is the one that is actually going to be giving birth?
Who is the one that will remember the birth for a lifetime?
Who is the one that will need to make decisions during pregnancy, birth and beyond?

The answer is YOU!

Where are the lines on your to-do list for preparing for the emotional and mental aspects of this journey?

We aren't usually encouraged to think of the following:

  • Have I thought and read/researched about how birth and being a parent may impact me and my emotional/mental well-being?
  • Do I have supports in place to help me through the first year of my baby's life (ideally longer, but usually the first year is the most all-encompassing)?
  • If my birth involves special circumstances (for example, VBAC, previous difficult or traumatic birth, etc) have I sought out guidance and support to help prepare me for this birth?
  • What are my beliefs about birth, the postpartum period, breastfeeding, being a parent?
  • What, if any, are my expectations when it comes to all of the above?
  • Are these expectations based on what I need or are they based on the ideas/opinions of others?
  • Have I looked at them clearly and critically/logically? Are they based on sound evidence or pure opinion or fear?
  • Do I even need to have these expectations or ideals? 
  • Are they contributing in a healthy way to my preparation or are they leading to anxiety about the whole thing?
  • How attached am I to these expectations?
  • How will I feel if they do not come to pass?
  • What do I need to do/prepare/heal/let go of to feel that however the birth experience may go, I will feel at peace and confident about my experience and my decisions?

That last one is the doozy. It's the trickiest one of all, but also the most important.

It means you need to dig deep...and not on the day your labour starts.

Well head of time, prepare your heart and your mind. Begin to explore the questions above. Be curious, not judgemental. As these things come to your awareness, you will begin to see that some things are important and some things are not. You may also realize some new things become important that you didn't think of before.

After giving birth to my own babies and supporting many women through their own babies' births, I feel that the most important aspect of preparing for birth is not how or where you give birth. Not if you avoid the epidural, or if you give birth in a hospital, or if you give birth squatting or on your back, whether you birthed vaginally or by cesarean...

These things may be important, but in the end it doesn't come down to these, because every woman's birth experience is going to be different and based on her own personal health history, circumstances and sometimes to sheer-random-birthy-luck.

After you give birth to your baby, it is true that some things will not go as you thought, some things will, perhaps some things may happen that you didn't even consider...and it's OK if you feel sad about it.

But after you give birth to your baby the thing that is going to carry you onward and forward and help you move beyond that sadness and through the whole motherhood journey is how you felt during the birth. And for that matter, how you felt during the whole childbearing months, which ultimately lead to the BIG day: the day you give birth to your baby.

If you felt fearful, if you felt you couldn't or didn't speak up about any questions you had or to ask for what you needed, if you didn't understand what was happening or why, if you didn't know you had options, if you were made to feel at odds with your body and had a hard time accepting the changes and sensations, if you felt unsupported during labour and lacked the guidance to feel reassured about what was happening...all these are possibly going to contribute to you feeling a bit confused, upset and, for some women, can be the trigger(s) that lead to them feeling utterly devastated after they give birth.

And no woman should feel that way. In this day and age, we can do better.

Women need to feel empowered to prepare themselves, inform themselves, be aware of their options, be aware of evidence-based care, so that they can make informed decisions and feel respected, heard and at peace with their birth experience.

But also, women need to understand birth.

Thankfully, mother nature has been smart and has designed birth in a way that works well and without complications, most of the time.

I do not want to start some debate, but I will likely ruffle some feathers when I say, there are way too many opinions and ideals, from one side of the spectrum to the other,  that give women the expectations that if they "do birth the right way" they will have a perfect birth. The thing is, there is no one way to have a perfect birth. In fact, we should just scrap using the word perfect to describe birth (or anything in life, for that matter).

It is my opinion that in almost all cases, birth is unpredictable in at least one way, almost always in more than one. There is a sort of randomness to birth that is yet unexplained.

There are things that we just can't completely anticipate, and that's just part of life.

These unanticipated things are different for each of us. For some it means that the intensity and duration of labour were more than they thought. For others, it means their baby is in a position that makes it hard to progress. For others it means that some health concern arises and leads to needing to make appropriate decisions to ensure a healthy mom and baby in the end. For others, the experience will seem completely "run of the mill", but then the shock will come after, with breastfeeding or the sleep deprivation....there are just so many ways our journey unfolds.

Ultimately, we may not be able to control all these things, no matter how hard we plan, how much we read, what doula we hire, what care provider we choose or where we choose to give birth. Obviously, I am not saying that these preparations are NOT important. What I am saying is that we need to make these preparations but ALSO understand that there is much more to giving birth that these.

What we most definitely CAN do and prepare and count on, is our attitude, our coping tools and our mindset. And these are the things that are harder to prepare, but well worth the effort.

There are cases, where the unpredictability of birth (we are human after all, not perfect or ideal or without faults--it's just part of the human journey) comes to pass and things go down a different path than we thought we'd be on.

It is in these cases, where being emotionally and mentally prepared is most critical. It is where mindset comes in very handy and we will be able to handle the forks and bumps in the road much more steadily. And this will set the foundation for a steady start to parenthood.

If we are clinging to expectations and ideals beyond a time that is healthy to, forcing the experience to continue down a path that it just can no longer go, and we do not know our options or are making decisions that are not fully informed, we will feel the impact of these deviations in the journey much more.

So I encourage you to dig deep.

Be willing to explore your beliefs and ideals and expectations. Be willing to prepare: knowledge, mindset, attitude and build a coping tool-kit.

Do what you need to do to be steadfast but also flexible and fluid for it is almost for certain that there will come a time that your flexibility and fluidity will be needed.

Remember that each woman's journey is her own. There is no "perfect" way to give birth, it will be unique for each of us. And that is why it's beautiful.

Remember what matters, is that we feel supported, respected, informed and well, like rock stars, because, heck, giving birth is a great feat that needs to be celebrated, rejoiced and everyone who births deserves a high-five!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Book That's Helped Me Feel Happy {Again} About Parenting

For a couple weeks I've been reading and re-reading Susan Stiffelman's new book titled "Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids."

One day I read something that was a game changer for me. I took the information in, and let it sit, processing it mentally and emotionally before sharing with my hubby.

"I read something yesterday that blew my mind."

"What!? You've waited a whole day to tell me!?"

"Yep, I needed to process it."

It was something so seemingly simple and obvious, but I'd never thought about it the way Susan presented it.

And that is the core and beauty of her new book: It presents simple yet mind blowing stuff that if taken into practice is sure to change the way you view parenting, your children and life.

While reading her entire book, I felt like I was sitting on a comfy sofa in a sunny, warm room with her right in front of me, conversing and listening to me.

Her writing style and the wisdom and advice she shares is as if you were having a one-on-one session with her (well, at least it was for me...I'm a Pisces with a vivid imagination!). But the point I'm trying to make is that unlike some other parenting advice books that talk down to parents, telling them what they should do, Susan offers insights and opportunities to gain self awareness so that we can become better parents (and people) from the inside out.

This is the perfect time to confess that for the past few months I've been feeling burnt out. I've had enough of the battles that happen every day with the kids to do their schoolwork. I'm tired of having to clean up after the 3 year old's messes that she seems not to learn to stop doing. And I'm tired, oh so tired, of having to put my needs last.

After reading this book, me, the mother of 4 who seemingly should have the hang of it by now, got 2 huge (for me) things from this book that have made me feel happy about parenting again (and these are only two of the many insights and aha moments I had while reading):

1. (This is the thing that blew my mind and took me a day to process before telling my hubby).
I tell my kids I love them every day, several times a day. But I don't think I had been making a point to consciously show them. And this made me feel sad. I realized I'm so dependent on multitasking, and actually prefer to escape from certain moments by going on my phone or computer. Susan explains that when you take some time to be totally present with your children, it lets them know you like them, you like spending time with them, and you enjoy listening to what they have to say. She does a way better job at making the point. But what finally dawned on me is that if I express my acceptance and love with my actions and most importantly, my total presence, my kids will be more willing to comply to requests without battles. I've tried it out for the past few days and WOW, it really does work. I know it's hard for some parents to get down and play with the kids. But I'm sure we can all find a way to connect with them. It doesn't have to be the same for everyone, just find something you can do together for a while and give them your FULL presence (no phones, screens, facebook or taking pictures). Think of the last time you had that sort of interaction with someone. It feels good to have that full connection with someone, right? It doesn't happen as often as it should and it leaves us feeling frustrated when we are trying to tell someone something and you know they are distracted on their phone or doing some other task. I know I get bitchy with my hubby if I think he's not listening to me. So I can relate to how the kids feel if I'm seemingly playing with them but actually I'm writing a grocery list or checking my email on the side. Gosh, I even try to do something while breastfeeding my baby, even though he doesn't nurse for long. I finally realized the message this is sending my kids. Don't get me wrong, I know as parents we have things we need to get done. But I get it now: when you have those moments of time with your kids when you really don't need to be doing anything else, give the moment, yourself and them your full presence. It is one of those things that will pay in dividends.

2. Once again, another book has made it very clear that holding on to shame and guilt lead to nothing good (the last book I read to make this message very clear was Brene Brown's "The Gifts of Imperfection"). Guilt and shame will likely lead to us not feeling confident with our parenting choices, and this in turn will lead to us not being kind with ourselves. When it comes to setting and sticking to the limits, that our kids need to feel safe and to thrive, we may feel inadequate. Giving in to tantrums or arguing with our kids ends up sending the message that there's no captain manning the ship. Again, Susan does a great job at explaining this in a way to make you go "Ah wow, I never thought of it that way." And so, I have been noticing that I sometimes second guess myself and have doubts and then guilt when I set limits. And I've noticed that, at least for me but I think this would apply to many other parents too, the key to maintaining limits is making sure we stay calm. For example, one evening my son wanted a bedtime snack. He got bread and put it in the toaster all on his own. Then he got the ketchup and mustard out. I requested he use peanut butter instead as it was a healthier choice. He complained and complained and said I wasn't being fair. I stood compassionate but firmly planted. And eventually he relaxed and enjoyed his peanut butter sandwich. If I had not taken the time to stay calm and just be present during his complaining (mini tantrum) I would certainly have given in and relented. But instead, his reaction didn't push my buttons. And in the end I was able to stay at the helm of this sometimes crazy-rocking-boat. If the captain freaks out, all is lost. I'm being a bit dramatic, but kids need to know someone is in charge. As Susan puts it,
"Children don't want to be in charge, it's just that they know somebody has to be, because they understand that life is not safe unless someone competent is behind the wheel (Parenting With Presence, pg. 51)." 
I need to keep reminding myself to see things as: if it's not an emergency, don't freak out. And even in an emergency, freaking out wouldn't help. Things will be clearer and calmer if you just stay present.

Two other things you need to know about this book. The first is that it does have ideas and insights that have to do with mindfulness, ancient eastern know, the sort of stuff in "The Power of Now." For me this is fantastic because I love that's right up my alley! I'm only mentioning it so you aren't surprised. If you aren't into that stuff, I still think you should give it a chance because from cover to cover the book is amazing (and I'm seriously not even joking here). If you have ever felt like a bad parent, have a kid who has tantrums, have a kid who pushes your buttons and triggers you, have a kid who loves (or is addicted to) screen time, have a kid who is stressed...or actually, if you have kids period....this book will have at least one thing you can take home that will help you and your relationship with your kids.

The second is that while it's an amazingly well written book that you can read within a few days, it's not an easy read. What I mean here is that you can't just expect to read it and that's it...voila all will be great. No, if you want it to help, you're going to have to be willing to do some soul-searching of your own. But this isn't a negative thing. In fact, the more you know about yourself, the better you'll be able to get to know the kind of parent you are and that can only help in the end. At the end of each chapter there are reflections and questions to ask yourself as well as ways to implement the main points of that chapter into your daily life. I tell you, Susan does not leave you hanging. She's got your back the whole time. And that's why I felt I was in a one-on-one session with her.

Now, because I love this book so much, I'm going to gift one copy to a lucky reader! All you have to do is click on over to Susan's website (here) then send me an email ( and tell me one thing you'd like to change in your parenting. I will draw a name at random on May 31, 2015. Please make sure you use an email where I'll be able to contact you if you're the winner :-)

If you want your own copy NOW, head on over to her website or Amazon.

And here is a short video in which Susan Stiffelman talks about the 3 takeaway messages from her book.

<3 Thanks for reading <3

P.S. Happy Mother's Day to all the Mamas out there!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

At Peace With Our Decisions

Know you have options and a voice, always.
Photo courtesy of Tall Grass Photography
As a doula I witness women making decisions during pregnancy and childbirth. Many times, I am invited into this process by my clients asking me questions or sometimes for my advice.

But as a doula, it is not my job to make decisions for my clients.

As a doula, it is my job to support and encourage my clients to find their own truth, their own power and to gather the info they need to make a decision they will be at peace with.

As a mother, I know firsthand how hard that can be. I know what it's like to second guess and doubt yourself. I know what it's like to make a decision when you are afraid. I know what it's like for something unexpected and scary to happen where decisions need to be made quickly. I also know what it's like to be so involved in {or detached from} the process that you just wish someone else would make the decisions for you.

Sometimes, I wish I could help a client make a decision. But then I quickly realize I wouldn't be helping because it is not my process, it is not my birth, it is not my decision...the only thing I can do is fill the room with positive, peaceful, loving intention and support.

And you know what? This is an amazingly helpful thing to do. Why? Because when a person is in the midst of making a decision (sometimes a really difficult one, that may have been unexpected, or something they didn't want to have to be faced with), they don't need judgement, they don't need fear, "what ifs" or "should haves". All they need is someone that has got their back. Someone that is supporting them, NO MATTER WHAT. Someone that will remind them of their options and help them understand more about the situation they are in. Someone that will remind them what is important (to be true to yourself, to trust yourself, to stand in your power) and to bear witness to the process. It is a soothing feeling to experience what it's like to make a decision surrounded by support. Personally, I know that being unconditionally supported and surrounded by love gave me the strength to make the decisions that needed to me made. And I was able to know right down to my core that I was at peace with my decisions, despite things not turning out the way I thought they would. I know what the opposite scenario feels like too.

Being able to encourage and unconditionally support a labouring woman, to make decisions she can be at peace with, is one of the main reasons I became a doula.

Birth is an unpredictable, mysterious, beautiful thing. And sometimes unexpected things can happen which will require us to make decisions we didn't think we'd need to make. It definitely helps if we are prepared and ready to advocate...but even then, the decision making process is hard, often one where we rely on our deepest instincts and ultimately by weighing the pros and cons of what we can be at peace with.

Sometimes we don't make decisions from that place and we may look back and feel regret. It kinda sucks. I know I've been there. And what really helped me was to realize I did the best I could in that moment. After the birth of my 3rd baby, I had a lot of regrets and anger surrounding the decision to consent to a cesarean. For a long time I carried that around. It was a process to slowly peel away the layers and get down to the core of it all. I realized I had set expectations of myself. I realized I had made decisions based on fear and based on the belief that I wasn't capable. I also didn't really consider the point of view and wisdom of my baby who was also undergoing the process. It hurt to see the truth, but there was no turning back. I began to heal and I realized my strength in the process. I knew that if I was to ever have another baby, I was now a different woman. I now knew what it felt like to make decisions I was not at peace with. I decided that from that point on, I would decide things {life stuff too, not just birth} based on MY own terms, from a place of peace and strength.

It took me giving birth 4 times to finally believe that there is no perfect way to give birth, there is only the way that is right for each of us.

I had heard it, read it and been told it before...but it's so easy to get caught up in the this-vs-that mindset.

What matters most in birth is not if we give birth with medication or without, if we have a VBAC or a repeat cesarean, if we birth at home or in the hospital...the list goes on. {It's not a competition}

What does matter is that we understand the physiology of birth, that we understand our options, that we are true to ourselves and the intentions we have for us and our babies, that we advocate for informed choice and evidence based care, that we're encouraged to trust our intuition and that we're respected and listened to throughout.

The only way this can all unfold, is if we make it speaking up, asking questions and knowing that we have options and a voice, always.

However you and your baby chose/choose (cause babies have a say in birth too!) to give birth, know that there is at least one person in the world that will cheer you on and not judge!

I want women to know and experience the strength and power they can find within themselves when they give birth. I want women to remember the day their baby was born as an empowering one.

But most of all, I want women to know that all women are in this together. Birth is a catalyst that thrusts us into the circle of beginnings and ends, of life. We join all the women before us and all those that will come ahead. And that is a powerful thing to be a part of.

We each make our own personal decisions, because we each have individual situations, health considerations, and in the end we need to own our decisions. But we are united because we all know what it's like to be ready to do anything for that tiny little human we've grown and nurtured within love someone so much more than anything we'd ever have imagined. And being at peace with our decisions during birth is the foundation to having a great start in our relationship with that beautiful little human. And that is important <3

{Photo from Tall Grass Photography, used with permission}