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Relaxation (Labor like the PROS, Part 2)

We talk about relaxation like it’s so simple to achieve. “Just relax!” But for many of us, relaxing is not so simple.  Whether it’s due to a busy schedule or an inclination towards anxiety, figuring out how to relax can be a challenge.  Relaxing can take practice, and since it is such an important part of truly enjoying and coping with your labor, I definitely encourage students and clients to begin that practice as early in pregnancy as possible. What does it even mean to be relaxed? Is it possible to relax during labor? How do we practice relaxation?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Relaxation is a state within your muscles AND your mind.  Each component of the PROS package is intertwined. We are better able to relax when we are in a state of comfort or pleasure, and feeling secure and loved.  (Keep reading the series to learn more about the other components!)

I spend time in each class of the Prepared for Birth series leading my students and their partners through various relaxation techniques that can be practiced further at home to prepare for use in labor.  In the first class, we enjoy a simple but effective head to toe tension release exercise.  This is something you can do on your own, or can have a partner talk you through, or you can even download tracks with guided relaxation scripts.  (What are some tracks you enjoy for relaxation? Please share them in the comments!) The purpose of starting the series with this technique is to really help folks understand exactly how their bodies feel when relaxed. How do muscles feel? What is the pace and depth of the breath when we are relaxed? What does it sound like in our thoughts once we’ve taken the time to relax? All of these bits of information are helpful in letting us know what state we can rest in to between labor contractions (and for some folks, even during contractions.)

We also practice a similar exercise with the simple addition of touch (after gaining consent). Partners can gently massage or rub the tensed muscle group to show pregnant people where to release. In labor especially, touch can be a more direct and effective way to support relaxation. You can easily practice this at home as well. Just sit face to face with a partner and have them pay attention to where you are tensing your body, and then to use their hands to help you relax that area.  Discuss with your labor support team what areas of your body tend to hold tension when you are experiencing pain or stress so that they can be on the lookout for how best to care for you. Some common tension spots in labor are the jaw and brow, shoulders, hands, and lower back and bottom. You can also talk to your team about what kind of massage pressure or touch you enjoy (as well as what to avoid!)

A final tip I like to share is that we can add in our favorite sensory pleasures (discovered from the first post in this series) whenever we practice relaxing, so that our subconscious can begin to connect

the experience of being relaxed with these sense details. For example, if you are lying on the couch practicing deep breathing, turn on your labor play list and your essential oil diffuser. Then, when you are in labor, starting that same music and scent combination will trigger an automatic relaxation response, as if your brain is saying, “Hey, I know what to do when I hear and smell that! I relax!”

Obviously, relaxation can be much more complicated than can be summarized in just a few paragraphs. For more information and support in adding relaxation techniques to your labor tool box, you can join me for an upcoming series of Prepared for Birth. You can also hire a doula to join your team for active guidance during your labor. Learn more about my classes and services here.

Keep reading the series to learn more about how our magic love hormone Oxytocin is part of this great dance!

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Pleasure: Labor Like the PROS (Part 1)

This post is the first in a 4-part series of simple ways to think about maximizing your enjoyment of labor by remembering how to do it like the “PROS”:

Pleasure

Relaxation

Oxytocin

Security

 

Pleasure Principles

pleasure (noun)- 1. a feeling of happiness, delight, or satisfaction, 2. sensual gratification: gratification of the senses, 3. recreation, relaxation, or amusement, especially as distinct from work or everyday routine

The benefits of pleasure in labor:

-pleasure sensations can help “shut the gate” to the uncomfortable sensations of labor

-many things which cause pleasure also increase oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is the hormone which drives labor progress AND brings on relaxed, loving feelings. (We’ll get into it more in the third part of the PRO series.)

-pleasurable feelings aid in the ability to relax which can greatly decrease pain.

-pleasure shifts our perspective of the sensations of labor.

Grab a pencil and paper and jot down whatever thoughts come to mind about the following questions:

What brings you pleasure? (Think about your five senses.)

Sights:

Smells:

Tastes:

Sounds:

Touch: (think texture and temperature)

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

What makes you laugh/smile?

 

What other things make you feel good, happy, or satisfied?

Now, using the list you’ve made, think about what sorts of supplies you can have on hand to increase the pleasure principle in your labor.  Chocolate, candles, massage oils, essential oils, access to a bath, comfy pillows… whatever is on your list.

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Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

While this might sound too simple to work, you may be surprised to find how effective even “the little things” can be.

For more information about the importance of pleasure during labor, and to actually practice using pleasure to cope, register for a spot in an upcoming series of Prepared for Birth.  Engaging, holistic, evidence-based childbirth education really brings together all the pieces of the puzzle.

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In the meantime, stay tuned for Part Two in this series to learn more about preparing to enjoy your birth!

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Crafting Ceremonies: Honoring our sacred moments

Weaning.

Menopause.

Separation or divorce.

Moving house.

Stillbirth or miscarriage.

There are so many important moments in our lives that hang heavy with emotions that may feel as if they have no outlet.  Can we find ways to mark these moments for ourselves and in community?

Our culture and/or specific religious tradition may have given us a guide for navigating some important life events: marriage, baptism, naming, burial, to name a few. But perhaps these traditional ceremonies don’t quite fill the spots in our hearts we’re longing to fill due to outdated or incomplete language, symbolism, or other factors. Is there a way to refresh these ceremonies for our own meaningful use?

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(Image courtesy of Rebecca Frederick)

Often, in my work supporting families through the journeys of trying to conceive, pregnancy, birth, parenting, and self care, I hear people speak of their desire for a way to honor or recognize important events.  They may feel confusion or frustration or grief at the many deep emotions they’re holding around their life transitions that are not formally “recognized” by those around them.  This can be a lonely and overwhelming feeling, not to have our own significant life events be honored for what they are.

After many times of suggesting to people that they find a way to mark these moments with rituals or ceremonies, I realized it was time to help them find the tools to do just that. Towards that end, my dear friend Mandy Olivam and I have designed a workshop to provide instruction and inspiration for crafting our own ceremonies in safe community. Mandy is a writer, retreat facilitator, and mother of two.

In our time together, we will explore our feelings and goals around our sacred moments; we will work in teams to create ceremonies with meaningful parts, and will share lunch and community together.

When: Saturday, March 25, 10am-2pm

Where: Directions to workshop location will be sent directly to registrants.

Cost: Suggested $20-$50 love donation.

For more information, please contact me directly. Or to register, click HERE.

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New Mamas Group-Join us!

I am so thrilled to announce that, beginning in February, I will be facilitating the weekly New Mamas group at Mama’s Hip.

This group is about the values that Mama’s Hip AND Dandelion Birth Services are built on:

-We all do better when we all do better. Building up others in strength and confidence is where it’s at!

-We need each other. Supportive communities are vital to our wellbeing.

-Each of us is full of the perfect amount of love and wisdom for the job; sometimes we just need our community to remind us and strengthen us.

 

The group will meet each Monday at noon with a rotating series of topics:

The New Normal How do we find our sea legs on this new journey? Is this normal? What can I do when expectations and reality don’t meet?

Nighttime Parenting How do we get more sleep? How do I cope with less sleep than I’m used to? Is our current nighttime situation the best fit for our family?

Support Systems How can I get the best support from my partner and family? Do I need extra help at this time? Who do I turn to in need?

Baby Care FAQ We may cover anything from feeding to diapering to babywearing to illness to infant development. Google is great, but face to face support from other mamas is even better!

 

This group is for those who are expectant or with babies up to 6 months of age. There is no cost to attend.

For more information or questions, call:

Jenny Claire 502-396-7500,

Or Mama’s Hip 502-384-8805.

Mama’s Hip is located at 1559 Bardstown Road in Louisville.

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Pregnancy Connection Circle

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.) Register HERE.

If you have any questions, please contact me! I am so excited to share this journey with some special mothers. Blessings to all of you.

Added 2017, feedback from a participant in the 2016 Circle:

“It was a pure gift to be part of Jenny Claire’s pregnancy circle on my second pregnancy journey.  I was put at ease by her kind hospitality, grounded compassion, broad knowledge, and mystical wisdom. Jenny Claire personifies the many important dimensions of the demanding work of preparing for and giving birth: humility, strength, humor, reflection, careful attention, fortitude, and love.  Her skill in creating a nurturing space is multifaceted and met our diverse needs beautifully: we laughed, we cried, we shared deeply, we received and gave wholeheartedly, thanks to her effortless and authentic example… What a wonderful way to prepare for the hardest and most rewarding lifework, to find gifts within me alongside new friends and such a capable guide.” -M.O.

 

 

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

I’ve been thinking a lot about the brave, beautiful folks 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 person whose story I’m honored to hear, I learn more about the needs of people in postpartum trauma, and continue to tweak and develop tools and processes for healing. For so many of those 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 people 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. People 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 parents. So many of these folks 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 people 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 birthing person is treated? 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.

(For further inspiration for writing your letter, check out this sample written regarding a traumatic incident during a birth. http://birthmonopoly.com/obletter/)

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Unpacking your birth baggage-NEW workshop format

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