Pregnancy Connection Circle

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I have been so excited to make this announcement! Dandelion Birth Services will be offering a new opportunity for pregnant women to feel empowered and centered starting in January of 2016. This isn’t a class, and it isn’t a workshop. For lack of a better name, I’m choosing to call it the Pregnancy Connection Group, because connection is what it’s truly about: connection with our spirits, bodies, and intuition; with our babies; and with one another. And, yes, I did say “our”, which brings me to the second part of my announcement! I am expecting my 5th baby in June of 2016! When I first settled into the news, I realized I felt a real need for a specific kind of connection, which is exactly why I designed this group opportunity.

I spent quite a bit of time meditating, dreaming, and writing about the question “What sort of gathering would I want to take part in?” The answer was a picture full of warmth, love, honestly, questioning, exploring, and pampering. As with each Dandelion offering, this one is truly holistic, based on the truth that we live in mind and body, heart and soul, and that we all need care and support from others.

Each week of the group will include time for:

*Physical self care (stretching, gentle exercise, massage, healthy snacks)

*Internal reflection (writing, mediation)

*Creativity (drawing, coloring, building labyrinths, sculpting)

*Connective group dialog and sharing

*Intentional connection with our babies

I think each of us feels a deep need for connection and it’s often hard to find the time, space, and safe feeling to fully engage in a meaningful way with ourselves and with those around us. My intention is to create a space for us to build community, to learn from and with one another, and to feel truly held and heard as we grow (both visibly and invisibly!) This can be a special time you set aside for yourself each week for the physical and spiritual pampering you crave and deserve. Each week of the group will be centered around a different theme to hone our focus.

Week 1: Going Inward, Birthing Outward

Week 2: Fears and Affirmations; Shadow and Light

Week 3: Vulnerability and Strength; What to surrender, what to cultivate

Week 4: Potluck (All members of the group will help contribute to the snacks and activities as driven by the previous 3 weeks work together.)

I will provide healthy snacks and beverages for each group as well as all supplies for activities and a few other treats. The cost for the 4 week session is $100. (As always, I don’t want anyone to feel they can’t take part if cost is the only barrier. Please contact me to discuss payment options, etc.)

When: Tuesdays in January, 2016

If the idea of taking part in a circle of connection speaks to your heart, please contact me to register! I am so excited to share this journey with some special mothers. Blessings to all of you.

 

For Fathers, From Fathers

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Much of my work is about supporting and educating mothers wherever they are on their parenting paths. But, many don’t realize how much a doula and childbirth educator also works for the partners of expectant mothers. As Father’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fathers I’ve been blessed to meet and work with. I wanted to do something to honor them, and all of the amazing fathers out there who make a difference every day. So dads, this post is for you! (I’d also like to recognize that not all labor partners or parenting partners are dads. But, since it’s Father’s Day, this post is aimed at fathers. I plan to do another post soon for all partners, regardless of sex or title.)

In Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May Gaskin says, “It does a man good to see his lady being brave while she has their baby-it inspires him.” I have certainly seen this to be true. But, it’s important for men to understand that this goes both ways. It does a woman good to see her man being supportive, loving, and involved in the pregnancy and birth of their child! As a doula, some of the most beautiful moments I witness are those first moments of becoming for the parents…the look on mom’s face, the look on dad’s face when they meet their newest family member for the first time…these moments are priceless and unforgettable. I am brought to tears every time by the tenderness, joy, surprise, awe, love, and pride I see cross fathers’ faces during labor and birth. It is always a deep honor to witness these moments and they continually inspire me.

I also truly enjoy and appreciate the participation of dads in my Prepared for Birth classes. The entire series is built not just on preparing women for labor and birth, but also on preparing partners to feel comfortable with the process and to know how to provide presence and support in a way that is meaningful to both of them. Partners offer a unique perspective and I always learn a lot from their input and questions. I feel grateful that we live in an era in which dads are welcome and encouraged to participate fully in the process of childbirth education and parenting. It bodes well for the children being born to two parents who are involved in such a loving and eager way!

But, enough about my perspective on fathers in the birth world! What we really want to hear is what the dads have to say! At postpartum visits and in surveys, I often ask partners, “What do you wish you had known before this process began? What did you learn that you would share with other partners?” I’ve gotten some great responses ranging from hilarious to game-changing. What I’d like to share in this post is some of the words of wisdom about that specific moment of *becoming* a father and the early days of parenting. Because I’ve gotten so much great response from this question, I plan to write another post soon with pregnancy and labor advice for and from partners.

I also asked the 2 wonderful men I am lucky enough to co-parent with and received some awesome insight from them both. I’ve added theirs in the list below.

With no further ado, here are fathers on becoming fathers:

“I can’t believe how much I love her. I never could’ve anticipated how much I would like things like dancing her to sleep or wearing her (in a baby carrier). My daughter is really fun to be with.”

“I know you talked a lot in class about how dads can do skin-to-skin time with the baby too and how important it is for bonding for the dad and the baby. That was really important to me and I think it helped a lot to do that right from the start whenever S couldn’t hold him.”

“At the baby’s birth, in a way unlike any other time, fathers don’t have nursing to automatically plug them and baby into each other and time near stops. Finding the way to be with their folk in those moments is a potentially deep quest, and remembering we were like that, and our fathers, etc…”

“It was so wild! I couldn’t believe it was over when she pushed him out and he was here. It went so fast (for me!) It was just the best feeling when he was out. That whole process of having a baby is so amazing. I can’t imagine not being there for that moment.”

“The first night in the hospital, you and your partner are in charge of the baby. When the baby is up in the middle of the night, you’re up. I always imagined a nurse would come in to respond, but that is not the case. Very naïve on my part but just something I didn’t know. And the guy is not supposed to say that they are tired to the birth partner the days after labor. Because the one who gave birth will be much more exhausted and in recovery.”

“Don’t expect to sleep and don’t think that if you get one good night of sleep that the next will be the same. In the words of Douglas Adams, ‘Don’t panic.’ Just relax, enjoy, appreciate, and marvel. Oh, and make yourself useful. (I don’t always agree with that cheeky train but in this instance it’s appropriate.”

“I wish I had known how hard it would be to go back to work after he was born. I just wanted to be home with them. I couldn’t think about anything else at work. I kept calling her to see what he was doing.  Dads should really get more time off to be with their kids too.”

“Relax, because you care, because you tried, you learned, and you love…You will do your best, in labor and in fatherhood… Allow the experience, and the ultimate outcome to overwhelm you and enjoy the true paradigm shift that naturally takes over when your child is born.”

“Be prepared for the most grueling and rewarding experience of your life.”

“Enjoy every second. It will be over before you know it so try to take a moment and take in the awesomeness that is the birth of your child. Trust me it is an experience you will not want to forget.”

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Heartfelt thanks to all the dads who’ve welcomed me as part of their family’s birth teams and an extra shout out to the dads who shared their words of wisdom and love.

Fathers, what thoughts do you have to share about your experience of “becoming Daddy”?

Letter Writing as a Tool for Healing (and Maybe Changing the System!)

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the brave, beautiful women who’ve shared their stories with me in the Birth Baggage workshops I’ve facilitated over the last year. Unexpected and unwanted events in their births left them with so many painful and crippling feelings: anger, grief, guilt, fear, betrayal, and more. With each workshop I lead, and each woman whose story I’m honored to hear, I learn more about the needs of women in postpartum trauma, and continue to tweak and develop tools and processes for healing. For so many of the women who tell me their stories, I notice that they have a lot of anger and betrayal and various emotions in the direction of others who played a role in the events, whether it was a nurse, a doctor, a spouse, or someone else. They often feel like they aren’t able to tell these people how they really feel out of fear that it won’t make any difference, fear of hurting the relationship, or because it just never occurred to them that they had a right to their own voice.

I recently had an “Aha!” moment when I realized that one of the tools I’ve been using for healing and connection for as long as I can remember could also be used for healing from painful birth experiences, especially the aspects surrounding other people’s roles in our stories. What’s more, this is a tool that can cause ripple effects by changing the way birth happens in our community. It’s so simple, but so powerful! I’ve been contemplating sharing this with the participants of the most recent Birth Baggage workshop, because they’ve been in my mind and heart so much, but realized I needed to spread the love further.

So, with no further ado, let’s talk about the fine (and all but lost) art of Letter Writing! Here are some ways to use this towards the purpose of healing and/or affecting change.Letter

  1. Give yourself permission to vomit out whatever arises without trying to edit it.  As Anne Lamont tells us in “Bird by Bird: On Writing and Life”, it’s incredibly important to write “shitty first drafts”. If we spend too much time worrying that the words won’t be reasonable or articulate or coherent, we don’t allow ourselves to even get started, let alone to allow the most intense feelings and thoughts to come through.  The first draft of your letter is for your eyes only.  Think of it more as a journal writing exercise than a letter at this point.  Let it take whatever form it needs to: outline, phrases, curse words, scribbles.  This is for you.  Just getting it all out on paper is very therapeutic.  Consider the paper (or computer screen) a safe space where there’s no such thing as “wrong”.
  2. Give yourself plenty of time to let the first draft “air out”.  This is not the version you’ll be sharing with anyone else.  After it’s out, you may feel lighter or more open than before.  You may feel a sense of release or relief.  Or, you may feel like you opened a door to lots more hurt, things you hadn’t shed light on previously, and now you need some time to be tender with those new sore spots.  Sometimes, we feel so empowered by the intensity of emotion we’ve released that we want to send it off right away.  This can end up causing more trouble than good! So, for now, just sit with the initial version of your letter and give it time.
  3. Consider your audience and your goal.  Are you writing to let someone know that you were hurt by their actions?  Are you hoping for an apology, a change in the way they’ll treat you moving forward, or just to explain why you’ve chosen to discontinue using their services?  Think about what sort of information this person needs to have from you, and in what form it will be most effectively received.
  4. Rewrite your letter as many times as needed with your aim in mind.  I once wrote a letter to someone who had caused me deep pain at a very traumatic time in my life.  My first draft was ten pages long, full of insults and threats, and indignation.  I broke all the “rules” of fair fighting by bringing up past events unrelated to the situation at hand, making personal attacks on the person’s character, and saying things to try to hurt her like she had hurt me.  As soon as I read that version, I knew it was just a therapeutic tool.  The second draft was much calmer, but still read like a laundry list of the intended recipient’s wrongdoings, and never really made any roads towards solutions or change.  By the third draft, I was able to say how I had been hurt, to explain how it continued to affect me and affect my relationship with the other person, and to describe what I hoped would happen so that we could repair the relationship.  The overall tone of the final version (which I eventually sent) was actually very loving, hopeful, and solution-focused.  While I knew that I couldn’t count on this person to come through with the apology and changes I needed, I had experienced profound change within myself just by speaking up for what I felt and what I needed, thereby showing myself respect and compassion.  I was also able to take ownership of my story, and responsibility for my part in the events.  So, no matter what the other person’s reaction was, I had already made things better for myself just by writing the letter.
  5. Actually send the final draft of your letter.  Get the contact information for the intended recipient or recipients.  Some good contacts may be: the nurse manager at your hospital, the office manager with your care provider’s practice, the customer service manager at your insurance company, the actual doctor or midwife who provided your care, and even the administrators of your hospital.  (As a childbirth educator at a hospital, I’ve heard many times, straight from the CEO of the hospital, how important patient feedback is to him.  He wants it all—good and bad—to come to the administration so that they can use it to know what they need to improve so they may provide the best care to every patient.  And I have seen changes made based on patient input many times.  It CAN happen.  This may not be the policy or practice at every hospital but it doesn’t hurt to try!)  Address your letter and send it!  It can be via email or on paper.  Mail it or hand deliver it.  Just be sure to do your story and your feelings justice by sharing what needs to be shared.

I have heard hundreds of birth stories from women who’ve been hurt in very real (physical and emotional) ways by care providers and professionals who acted in a disrespectful or even downright cruel manner. Women whose birth outcomes and even lifelong health were affected by providers practicing based on convenience, habit, or routine rather than on what was actually safest and healthiest for the birthing mothers. So many of these women don’t ever speak up about what has happened to them. Many because they’re in the thick of caring for their families while healing their bodies, too busy in the reality of the immediate postpartum period. Later, they may choose not to communicate their stories because they feel too much time has passed for it to count. Or, they may feel they don’t have the right to speak up after so many people have told them, “Why are you still upset about your birth? You have a healthy baby and that’s all that matters.”

If even a tenth of the women who had unsatisfactory or traumatic birth experiences took the time to contact their care providers, nurse managers, hospital administrators, and anyone else involved in the chain of command, eventually the message would be too loud to ignore. Our birth experiences and our feelings around them are important. By speaking up for what we feel and need, we show ourselves respect, and may also pave the way for change in the system. What if your letter could make a difference in how another woman is treated in her birth? What if your letter could change a policy or a procedure? What if your letter could change how you look at your experience by empowering you and opening the door to healing?

How will you know if you don’t try?

Start with a shitty first draft.

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Unpacking your birth baggage-NEW workshop format

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I am so thrilled to be able to share with you that I will be offering the Unpacking Your Birth Baggage workshop this spring with a whole new format.  While the feedback from past workshops was quite positive, I never liked the way our good work together was interrupted by time constraints when it was held over the course of two sessions a week apart.  So, I have revamped the format and tweaked the workshop plan to be held on one full Saturday.  We’ll have a beautiful, intimate space in which to share or time together; a break mid-way for lunch and community building; and a more relaxed schedule to open up room in our hearts and minds for exploration and healing.  The goals of the workshop remain, with some new ones being added.  What we’ll do together includes:

-Delving into the buried feelings and beliefs about birth that cause us trauma and grief, and finding ways to dig them out in order to make room for empowering and healing truths;

-Learning tools and practices for increasing self-love;

-Using art, visualization, affirmations, and more to increase our inner peace and joy; and,

-Building safe space with other women who understand that your birth and your feelings about it really matter.

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This workshop is for you if you have had a birth experience that left you with grief, trauma, guilt, or any other painful reactions.

Registration is limited to allow for a safe, intimate setting.  Feel free to contact me if you have more questions about the workshop.  I am so excited to be sharing this process with a new group of mothers!

The details:

When: Saturday, March 21, 2015 10:00 am-4:00 pm

Where: Full Circle Holistic Women’s Health-care, Bardstown Road

Cost: $75, includes a delicious vegetarian lunch and all supplies (please bring your own journal or notebook)

Register here

Baby’s First Bath: Who, When, and Where?

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In the discussion of what interventions and procedures may be offered for your baby postpartum, the first bath rarely makes the list.  You may wonder why it should!  A bath is perfectly harmless, right?  Could it really be considered an intervention?

If an intervention is defined as anything that intervenes in the continuous physiological process of labor, birth, and breastfeeding, then the in-hospital bath certainly qualifies as one.

Ultimately, the “burden of proof” for any intervention should lie on the intervention itself.  Are there any real benefits to a first bath being given in the hospital by a stranger?  If so, do these benefits outweigh the risks?  Rather than framing the discussion around risks of an in-hospital bath, though, let’s look at some of the wonderful benefits of delaying your newborn’s first bath, which include:

The Magic of Vernix At birth, your baby’s skin will be coated with a white, waxy or cheesy substance called vernix.  Depending on how many weeks your baby gestated, there may be a little or a lot of vernix on the skin.  Vernix provides protection in the womb from contact with the amniotic fluid (so that baby’s skin won’t wrinkle like ours does after a long bath).  Vernix also provides antibacterial protection, a true benefit in a hospital setting.  Vigorous scrubbing and bathing can remove this protective layer.  Rather than washing this natural barrier away, you can massage it into baby’s skin like lotion.

Breastfeeding Instincts Baby uses the smell of amniotic fluid on his or her hands to help initiate breastfeeding.  You may notice your baby nuzzles her hands against her nose as a cue that she is ready to nurse.  Washing away the natural smells on the baby’s skin will also get in the way of the signals provided by these smells which kick start instinctual breastfeeding and bonding processes.

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Together is Best for Mom and Baby Mother and baby both benefit from uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for the first several days after birth.  This closeness helps with regulating temperature, heart rate, and stress hormones, as well as increasing bonding hormones, and helping to establish mom’s milk supply. Baby’s other parent is the next best habitat when mom needs a break; familiar sounds and smells are comforting and calming to baby.  Removing baby from the loving arms of his parents for a bath interrupts this bonding time.

First Bath is a Lovely Ritual Giving baby her first bath is a sweet privilege that parents can enjoy when they are ready.  Bath time can be a good way to transition to a change in setting once the family leaves the hospital and settles at home.  Or, it can wait until days later when intuition says it’s time.

Who will give your baby his or her first bath?  When and where will it occur?  This choice is up to you!

I’m Positive! (How to use affirmations for pregnancy, labor, and beyond)

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Affirmations and visualizations are proven ways to affect thoughts and beliefs (which, in turn, affect actions and outcomes). These techniques aren’t just for “crunchy, new-age types”; athletes, executives, spiritual leaders, and many others have benefited from practicing positivity for ages. These are some useful tools to have in your kit, not just for pregnancy and birth, but in any life situation for which you desire confidence and positivity. And, best of all, there are no negative side effects! Here are some tips and points to remember for enacting these simple techniques.

*Is there a certain worry or concern which seems stuck in your head and is holding you back from feeling confident and free? Turn that negative thought on its head and make it into a positive affirmation. For example, if I am feeling very worried that I won’t know how to be a good parent, I might use the affirmation: “I am the perfect parent for my child.”

*Creating affirmations requires POSITIVE NOW LANGUAGE. Notice the affirmation above is in the present tense and framed in the positive, (rather than “I am not going to mess up as a parent.”) Our brains latch on to the negatives in a sentence, giving the opposite results we desire. And if we’re using a future tense, the desired outcome will always be ahead of us, just out of reach.

*Many of us react more intuitively to images than words. If you can add a picture or image to your affirmation (even a simple symbol, doodle, or stick figure), it can make it easier for your mind to connect  with the positive thought.

*Sometimes we become discouraged when working with affirmations because we have a hard time truly believing in the positive statement. Start by sitting with your affirmation and envisioning the positive outcome. How does it feel in my physical body if this statement is absolutely true? Focus on that feeling and let it wash over you.  Each time you read the affirmation, bring yourself back into that feeling and the good way your body reacts to it.

* Place your affirmations/images in places where you’ll see them often throughout the day: on your bathroom mirror, your car dashboard, or the refrigerator door, for example.

*Try writing each affirmation ten to twenty times a day. Repetition and writing are both powerful methods for auto-suggestion.

*It can also be helpful to make a recording of your own voice or of a loved one reading your affirmations and then listen to them when your mind is relaxed such as when you’re driving or falling asleep.

*Positive visualization is another form of affirmation. For this technique, spend time visualizing your dream labor and birth scenario in as much detail as possible. Add plenty of sensory input to your visualization. Feel warm water on your skin, the smell of lavender massage oil, the sound of your favorite relaxing music in each moment of your imagined story. You can add some of these details in “real life” as you visualize in order to strengthen the association, and then later use these same relaxing sensations in your real labor experience to increase pleasure sensations and to “cue” positivity. Your visualization story can also be written or recorded.

During pregnancy, heart and mind are often “open doors”. Take care that you only let in positive, empowering thoughts and feelings at this time. The choice of what you let through the door is yours.

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Just like many other techniques that are useful to us in labor and birth, these tools can continue to serve you in other areas of life beyond this time.  This is a wonderful opportunity to learn these skills for use on your continued parenting journey.

Check out my other posts on this blog to see specific affirmation ideas!  Please contact me if you would like to purchase your own set of beautiful laminated affirmation cards for your own enjoyment or to give as a special gift to an expectant friend!

Packing Your Hospital Birth Bag

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One of the questions I am asked most often is, “What should I pack to take to the hospital?”

I have heard many great suggestions from students and clients about the things they’ve found most useful to have in their hospital bags. I have also heard often that many mothers find they’ve “overpacked”, not using half of the things in their bags. In general, my response to the question of what to pack is, “Don’t stress about it. You can always ask the hospital staff for stuff you forget or send someone home to pick things up after baby arrives.”

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However, those notorious nesting instincts make many of us feel the urge to have a definitive list to check off in order to feel truly prepared.

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So, without further ado, here is “The List”. Please feel free to add your own necessities in the comments section!

-Any toiletries you need for your own comfort. (Face cleaner and moisturizer, lotion, shampoo, cosmetics, hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, deoderant)

-Lip balm (this gets its own spot on the list because it can also be used as a labor comfort device!)

-Bed pillows in bright cases which won’t be confused with the white hospital pillows

-Medications and supplements

-Robe, sweater, or sweatshirt

-Slippers/slipper socks/socks

-Pajamas with easy breastfeeding access or other comfortable clothes such as yoga pants and nursing camisoles

-Breastfeeding support pillow (I love the My Brest Friend pillow for nursing support. The Boppy isn’t as sturdy for this use but it does make a great pillow for sitting on to avoid pressure on sore bottoms after birth.)

-Any labor coping tools you plan to use. This could include massage tools, tennis balls, rice sock, yoga ball, massage lotion, affirmation cards, focal point, meditation mandalas, battery-powered “candles”, essential oils and diffusers, music players or speakers, etc.

-Snacks and beverages for labor and postpartum (Your hospital “doesn’t allow” eating and drinking during labor, you say? Check out this article for evidence-based information on making a choice about if this is a beneficial policy for your needs.)

-Camera, plus extra batteries or charger

-Phone and/or laptop chargers

-A couple of changes of clothes for baby (including something special for photos if these will be taken in the hospital)

-An outfit for you to wear home from the hospital (Maternity clothes are still the best option for fit and comfort immediately postpartum.)

-Breast soothers (Soothies or other brand) and nipple ointment (lanolin and coconut oil are both popular choices.)

-A white noise machine or app to drown out some of the constant noise of the hospital.

-An empty duffel bag in which to carry home supplies and gifts you receive while in the hospital.

Hospitals generally provide many of the care items you will need for immediate postpartum comfort including witch hazel pads for soothing hemorrhoids, ice packs, large pads and mesh underpants, stool softener pills, cooling spray for a sore perineum, perineal wash bottles, etc. You can also take many of these things home with you; just ask your nurses what’s available.

Packing for Partners

Partners will want to pack their own bags for comfort during labor and the postpartum stay. This should include many of the same items listed above, with the obvious deletions! A button down shirt that can be worn during skin to skin time with baby is also nice to have in the bag. They may also find it handy to have the handbook from your childbirth education class and/or a copy of The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin.  Or, this great cheat sheet.

I would love to hear from you if there are other “must haves” for the bag. What were the things you were glad to have on hand? Were there items you found just took up space?