I see you, stressed parents. Your stress, your fear, your overwhelm, your feelings of not being good enough. I see it all. And I’m here to tell you that you are good enough.
Born to Be Stressed Parents
So many of us lived childhoods full of unpredictable emotions exhibited by our parents. We learned how to overreact to the smallest things. Then we learned how to blame others for it, and inflict our anger on everyone around us. Children learn by example. How could we not learn these behaviors when our parents showed these uncontrollable emotions? Previous generations, just like ours, were still learning. They didn’t understand the effect of their behavior on their children’s mental processes. Emotional intelligence was for hippies. They dismissed it as “woo”. After all that, even the most enlightened among us can still struggle to fight these unconscious patterns that were taught to us.
Do Stressed Parents Always Have Stressed Kids?
No! Just because we learned those unhealthy patterns from our own stressed parents parents doesn’t mean we have to teach them to our children. Even when we struggle, and feel like we’re failing, we can teach them how not to take on our stress. Those less-than-savory outbursts of ours can become educational moments to teach them how to handle their emotions in healthier ways than we have. By including them in our healing journey, we can help foster increased emotional intelligence and support them in learning healthier ways to process their emotions.
How Can We Teach Them Better?
This starts by learning how to recognize these moments, and acknowledging them. When we acknowledge them, we can explain to our children what was wrong about our behavior and why. Then, we can tell them what we could have done better, and what we will try to do next time instead. They will learn healthier ways to handle their emotions, and we will learn increased accountability for our own. When they have their own struggles with their emotions, they’ll start to model the same process, and begin to come up with their own solutions of how to handle their stress. Over time, they may even start to help us recognize and correct our own reactions. Healing ourselves while teaching them will help them to learn even faster, and really cement the lessons we are teaching them.
But How Can You Heal?
Healing isn’t necessarily a destination, but a journey. For many people, it may not be possible to ever consider themselves fully “healed”. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. Working with a trained therapist can help you to explore your childhood and the effects it may have on your behavior and parenting. They can help form a plan to heal any trauma and retrain your brain to create new, healthier patterns. A coach can also help you to discover ways to rewire your brain and create those healthier patterns.
The most important step, however, is examining your own behavior and recognizing its effects on others. Once you’ve done this, you can start to puzzle out which behaviors you need to eliminate from your subconscious. Understanding the reasons behind those behaviors can help to make the changes needed, and make them more likely to stick. But, even if you are unable to figure out why you react the way you do, you can still train yourself to make healthier choices and model healthier behavior for your children. If you need help learning what healthier choices are, I highly recommend consulting a therapist or coach that can help you find the approriate solutions for your unique situation.
Want More Support?
Visit nami.org to find a trained mental health professional serving your area if you’d like to speak with a therapist regarding your struggles. If you don’t feel that your situation warrants a mental health professional, you can book a discovery session with me to explore what your goals are and how we can reach them. I can help you identify what changes need to be made, as well as formulate a plan for how to make them. Click here to schedule your session now.
♥ Super Nourishing Oat and Buckwheat Breakfast Bowl Recipe ♥
When I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, I found out I had developed all kinds of gut food allergies, thanks to having a leaky gut. I had to do a complete overhaul of my diet. This meant avoiding almost any foods I had eaten in the past year, while still nourishing my growing baby and body. This was my favorite breakfast bowl recipe.
It contains all sorts of nutrients like healthy fats, protein, fiber, potassium, iron, magnesium, vitamin B6, selenium, and more. It’s creamy and feels very indulgent, despite being healthy.
Adding fenugreek seeds or powder during breastfeeding (consult your provider regarding consumption during pregnancy) can help boost lactation, manage blood sugar, and add more maple syrup taste.
Add oatmeal and buckwheat groats and reduce heat to medium
Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes
Add seeds and nuts and cook and additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
Remove from heat and let stand 2 minutes
Move to serving bowl and stir in coconut oil, molasses, maple syrup, and almond milk
Sprinkle cinnamon, raisins, and peach slices on top and serve
You can adjust the ratio of water to grains according to your preference, and omit the almond milk if you prefer a less creamy oatmeal. The amount of sweetener, nuts, and fruits, can also be adjusted to your tastes.
Coconut oil can be replaced with your favorite nourishing oil like avocado or flaxseed
You can substitute any of your favorite nuts and seeds
Maple syrup can be replace with organic demerara or turbinado sugar, but remember that sugar doesn’t contain the nutrients of maple syrup
Almond milk can be replaced with your favorite milk product like cashew milk, coconut milk, or oatmilk
Peach and raisins can be replaced with your favorite fruits like apricot, banana, apple, blueberries, or pomegranate seeds
For a healthy sweet tooth indulgence, replace the fruit with 1 Tbsp of your favorite nut butter and 1-2 tsp of raw cacao powder
Special Note (Important!):
All grains, nuts, and seeds need to be soaked prior to preparing. Some need to be dried, as well. To save time and dishes, you can soak different ingredients that follow the same process in the same container. You can learn more about this process from the following links:
You’ll see a lot of different opinions about breastfeeding if you look on social media. Some people will tell you that it’s easy and everyone can do it without putting in any effort. Others will tell you breastfeeding is hard and they don’t know why anyone would even try. The reality is often somewhere in the middle, and the ease of it will vary over time. Here are a few things you can do to make it feel easier and less overwhelming during the challenging times.
Feed Early and Often
We’ve all been there. The baby is crying so hard, you can’t even get them to latch on, even though you know they’re hungry. You’ve been trying to get them to just take the nipple for nearly half an hour, but they’re just so angry, they refuse. Every time you think they’ve got it, they push away again and swing their fists like a tiny boxer. You’re at your wits end at this point, begging them to just calm down. In the end, you have to wait for them to tire themself out to the point they’re half-asleep before you can get them to nurse.
It’s okay. It happens. But it shouldn’t happen on a regular basis. This should describe a once-in-a-while event. If this is happening regularly, chances are that you’re missing your baby’s early hunger cues. Feeding your baby when they first start to show signs of hunger makes it much easier to get into a good position with a proper latch. If you wait until baby is crying before offering the breast, they’ll become so upset that they can’t control themselves, and may rage themself halfway to sleep before accepting any kind of comfort.
If this happens in between scheduled feedings, you may want to evaluate why you’re feeding on a schedule and consider feeding on demand instead. There may be some very rare instances when strict scheduled feedings may be part of a medical treatment plan, but in most cases, there’s no reason to deny feeding a baby when they’re hungry. If you’ve been instructed by a medical professional to follow a strict schedule, and baby is getting this hungry between feedings, let them know. Ask if the schedule can be adjusted to make baby (and you!) more comfortable. Get a second (and third and fourth!) opinion if necessary.
Learn to Recognize the Cues
Here are some hunger cues that you can use to recognize when your baby is getting hungry before they start crying. I’ve organized them in order from early to late.
Licking their lips and making smacking or sucking sounds
Opening and closing their mouth
Sticking their tongue out
Sucking on anything nearby
Rooting – digging their face into any nearby skin or fabric and moving it around
Turning their head and opening their mouth
Bringing their hand to their mouth
Fidgeting or squirming
Trying to get in position for nursing
Hitting you repeatedly
Making frantic, agitated movements
Crying and turning red — too late!
Create Helpful Habits
When I nursed my babies, I offered them the breast any time they fussed. Eventually, I got in the habit of offering it any time they moved while I was holding or wearing them. This became sort of an automatic reaction that I performed without even thinking about it.
It also created a funny story that my best friend and I like to retell our daughters who were born only a few months apart: I was visiting my friend for the day. She had asked me to hold her baby for a few minutes while she got dinner started. My daughter had already nursed herself to sleep and was taking a nap. Not long after my friend walked away, her baby started to wiggle and, without thinking, I started to unsnap my nursing tank. I caught myself quickly, but not before my friend saw and began laughing hysterically. Then I told her how I had almost done the same with with the new puppy we had just gotten a few weeks before. She nearly died laughing!
Beyond providing you with some much-needed laughter, my point is that, by paying attention to my baby’s cues and making a habit of feeding at the first sign of hunger, I was able to relax more. It alleviated the stress of trying to calm my baby when she had gotten too hungry to nurse, or wondering if her cries were from hunger. This made breastfeeding so much easier for me.
Make a Plan
When you’re out of the house, be sure to watch baby for these hunger cues, then decide where you’re going to nurse, and get there before the hunger gets too overwhelming for them. If you’re comfortable nursing anywhere, anytime, go ahead and offer the breast right away.
Make sure to always wear a top that provides quick and easy access. There are a plethora of cute nursing tops these days. But you don’t have to spend a fortune on special clothes to wear just for nursing. Many tank tops are stretchy enough to simply pull your breast out of the top without harming the fabric. If you prefer more coverage, you can wear another shirt over it, and just pull it above your breast while nursing. Once I got comfortable with nursing in public, I just pulled T-shirts and blouses up from the bottom. My baby blocked the view of nearly all of my exposed skin. You could also carry a small blanket with you to use to cover any areas you don’t want seen.
For long car trips, make sure to plan to stop an average of every two hours or so, according to your baby’s usual feeding times. Allow for enough time to feed and change baby at each stop. Being in a rush only creates extra unnecessary stress, which also interferes with your body’s oxytocin production, and can make feedings take longer due to delayed let-down.
Don’t Stress Over Time
You may have heard some people say things like “breastfeeding is hard because it takes too much time.” The truth is that bottle feeding takes much more time when done properly. The bottles need to be sterilized, as does the water used to prepare formula. Then it needs time to cool to body temperature. After all this has been done, you then have to hold the bottle and ensure that baby isn’t drinking too fast, and take frequent breaks for burping.
Breastfeeding doesn’t have to take all of your time. You don’t have to boil your boobs and then let them cool (I’m wincing just at the thought of that!), and babies don’t need to stop to burp as often during feedings directly from the breast. Not using bottles does mean that you are the only one that can feed baby, though. You could pump and allow someone else to bottle-feed baby if you want, but if you’d rather not, then there are ways to get things done while nursing, too.
Babywearing has become increasingly popular over the last couple of decades, and for good reason. It frees up your hands and allows you to get things done without needing someone else to care for baby. With a front-carry in a wrap, sling, or other carrier, you can nurse hands-free. This gives you the mobility and freedom to do dishes, laundry, care for your other children, or write that book you’ve been working on.
Get More Rest
Okay, so you can get the housework done, but what about sleeping? Good news! The Lullaby Trust has some excellent guidelines for how you can safely co-sleep with your baby. This can allow you to get more sleep at night. This way, you don’t have to get out of bed when you hear baby crying. Remember, crying is too late, and this can make it take longer to feed baby. You can respond to cues much sooner when baby is in bed with you. If you sleep with your breasts exposed, you might even find baby helping themself without even waking you!
With side-lying or laid-back breastfeeding, you can even get in a nap while nursing. Follow the safe co-sleeping guidelines even for naps, or anytime you feel so tired that you think you might fall asleep while nursing. Sometimes our bodies will produce hormones that make us fall asleep during nursing sessions. Normally, this is meant to help us fall asleep after feeding, but when we are already sleep-deprived, our bodies may ramp up production of it too soon. I fell asleep during every nursing session throughout the first week with my oldest. It’s important to listen to your body. If this is happening to you, go with the flow (no pun intended!) and just allow yourself to nap while nursing. It can be helpful to keep this in mind when scheduling your day whenever possible.
Seek Out Solutions
How many times have you heard of someone that simply said “breastfeeding is hard!” and then gave up sooner than they had wanted to? I’m betting a lot. Many of them probably tried to ignore issues they either didn’t realize were common but solvable, or didn’t know where to look for help. Some probably tried to ask for help once or twice but didn’t receive the help they needed. Most of them probably didn’t even know anyone who had breastfed their babies.
If you’re experiencing pain…
If you’re experiencing pain while breastfeeding, you may have thrush, clogged ducts, or mastitis, or your baby might have lip and/or tongue ties. It could also just be from bad positioning or a bad latch. A little pain is normal at first, especially if you have large breasts, as your baby’s tiny mouth is still learning how to navigate feedings. But if it goes on for more than a few days, or gets to be too much to bear, you should get advice from a qualified professional. This could be a lactation consultant, pediatric dentist, speech therapist, or ear, nose, and throat specialist. You might even want to consult all of them. A second (or third or fourth!) opinion never hurts, either. You don’t have to suffer in silence.
Listen to your intuition…
I was surrounded by birth professionals and consulted multiple specialists with my second daughter. All of them told me that her latch was fine. This was not my first baby. I knew this pain was not normal. My mothers’ intuition told me that she had ties. After doing my own research, I was convinced she had both tongue and lip ties. Thankfully, I didn’t let them talk me out of seeking help. I eventually consulted a pediatric dentist that was highly recommended in my state. He was able to diagnose and treat her ties. Imagine how much harder my journey would have been if I hadn’t persisted until I found a provider willing to listen. I may have just given up and regretted it for the rest of my life.
If baby isn’t gaining enough weight…
If your baby is not gaining weight, or isn’t gaining quickly enough, don’t immediately resort to formula. There is always a reason. That reason is only very rarely because you are medically incapable of producing enough milk. It’s almost never that your breastmilk is inadequate in comparison to formula, unless you are severely malnourished yourself. Supplementing with formula can sabotage your own milk supply, as well, leading to more difficulty. If the issue has nothing to do with feeding, formula won’t make a difference, either.
Your baby could have tongue and/or lip ties, and be unable to physically suck enough milk from your breasts without expending too much energy. In this case, even bottle feeding, done properly, could still be insufficient for baby to gain weight any faster. Remember that story about my second daughter’s ties? Unfortunately, it took until she was six weeks old before we were able to get her ties revised. During that time, I suffered through the pain of feeding her as often as possible, while also giving her pumped milk using a spoon and then a fingertip feeder, since she was unable to take in enough milk from my breast or a bottle. If I had just given up and formula fed her, it still wouldn’t have solved her issue. Then she would have had even more troubles, including later in life.
Baby also just might not be getting enough milk due to scheduled or too-short feedings. Our bodies are made to respond to our babies’ needs. When we interfere in that process, their needs may not be adequately met. Remember that nothing about babies is one-size-fits all. Breastfeeding is hard enough without trying to fit it into a neat and tidy box.
Don’t Try to Fulfill the Expectations of Others
Chances are, nearly everyone is going to have an opinion about your breastfeeding journey. You’ll hear lots of well-meaning advice, as well as not-so-well-meaning marketing from formula companies. A lot of it may discourage you and make you feel like you’re “doing it wrong”. But that isn’t necessarily true. Our society is very focused on image. If it doesn’t get likes on social media, people don’t want to talk about it. This can make you feel like you’re the only one struggling. It gives the impression that completely normal situations are rare instead of common. Trying to live up to these impossible ideals is enough to make anyone feel inadequate. So stop putting that pressure on yourself.
When you let go of the expectations of others, you’ll feel a lot less stress. You will be free to find your own way. Every breastfeeding journey is unique. Maybe your baby wants to nurse every hour for twenty minutes during the evenings when you get home from work, but refuses bottles while you’re gone. Or maybe they prefer to nurse for over half an hour every four hours around the clock. What works for one baby won’t work for all babies. You are the only one who can decide what works for you and yours. And you are the only one that should.
Accept That There Will be Times When Breastfeeding is Hard
I know I make it sound easy. It really is, a majority of the time. But even the easiest breastfeeding journey has challenges. You need to accept their existence. You’ll only frustrate yourself if you expect it to be sunshine and rainbows all the time. There will be ups and downs, just like any journey. Celebrate the good times. And hold onto them during the bad ones. Believe in yourself. Know that you will get through them. Breastfeeding is only a season of our lives. It will be over before you know it. Learning more about the history of why we think breastfeeding is so hard might help.
Build Your Support Network
You can overcome any obstacle in your path if you seek help when you need it. Don’t ever suffer in silence. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that you should. Talk about your troubles. Keeping it bottled up inside will only make it worse. Asking for help is not shameful. Everyone needs help now and then. It takes a village, after all!
The clue here is that she was working hard. She was “doing” too much. Throughout the story, she mentioned how her baby was still too high, and wouldn’t come down. She felt him hitting her pubic bone, unable to get past it. And she kept trying to force him down. She never mentioned trying to help him go back UP to readjust. The thirty minute ride to the hospital, she spent upside down with her face pushed into the gurney. All her baby needed was the space to come back up and readjust himself, which she gave him on the ride to the hospital. Because she did that, he was finally able to come out on his own, without any help, or her “doing” anything.
This is a lesson I learned with my first birth. I “did” too much. I tried too hard to “help” her come out, only causing her more distress, and making my body stop labor every time it became productive. Sometimes, we need to just let go. We need to stop “doing” and just relax. This mom became anxious and panicked when her labor stopped itself.
A Better Way
With my second birth, I stopped “doing” after I realized how silly it was to try to pressure my baby with homeopathics, essential oils, exercises, etc. This time, I didn’t want to stress myself and my baby out. I wanted to have a relaxed birth. By the end, I had practically forgotten I was pregnant.
At 42 weeks and 3 days, I had spent the day as though this were simply how my life had always been and would always be. Then, just as I was about to go to bed, labor began. I didn’t panic or worry or get anxious. Instead, I just thought “huh, I think I’m in labor… cool.” My husband prepared the birth pool while I went to the bathroom to allow my body to “clear out”. I spent a couple of hours laboring on the toilet (they call it the porcelain birthing stool for good reason!), which eased the pressure of the contractions. Then I got in the birth pool, leaned over the edge, and slept between contractions. I had my husband put on a couple of albums that facilitated my sense of inner peace and connection with myself.
I didn’t try to rush anything. Nor did I do anything to try to “speed up” the contractions. I simply relaxed, rested in between contractions, and waited for my body to do its thing.
Another Mama’s Experience
Another mama I know didn’t push at all during one of her births. She labored in a cast iron tub and just relaxed and gave herself over to the process. Her body pushed her baby out without any effort from her (this is called the fetal ejection reflex, and it’s how babies can be born even when the mama is in a coma). She knew that birth happens, and it didn’t need any help from her.
This is How Birth Should Be
It doesn’t need to be a big production. It is life at its most basic. Relaxed birth is the most connected a person can be with the universe. When you relax and let it happen, it is the most beautiful thing you’ll ever experience.
How Can You Relax in a Society Filled with Fear?
1. Turn off the TV.
The news is full of tragedy and heartbreak. So-called “reality” shows only show you what’s dramatic, what will give you an adrenaline spike through fear or anger. The same goes for social media when your feed is full of panic-ridden taglines. Studies have shown that too much screen time can increase the risk of depression. It can also cause a lack of sleep and increase of anxiety, particularly during pregnancy.
2. Get more sleep.
As shown in the study above, getting more sleep can help decrease anxiety levels. It also gives your body more energy for growing that precious life inside you. Not to mention the boost your immune system gets, which helps you to avoid getting sick, and recover faster when you do get sick.
3. Avoid scary stories.
I know I have a habit of speaking out against the “good vibes only” mentality, but during pregnancy is the one exception. Many people, myself included, find that their intuition calls them to avoid negativity during pregnancy. And it’s for very good reason! Constantly hearing stories about what could go wrong, or what has gone wrong for others, during pregnancy can increase fear and anxiety. It sows seeds of doubt in ourselves and our bodies’ abilities. Therefore, protecting your mental health is just as important as protecting your physical health, and helps you to achieve that goal as well.
4. Surround yourself with positivity.
Read positive birth stories. Listen to podcasts that share positive birth stories. Ask your friends to share their positive stories of their own births. Envision yourself having a beautiful relaxed birth. Picture how you want the environment to look and feel. Listen to music that makes you feel happy and relaxed. Draw or print out affirmations and pictures to hang up around you that make you feel confident that you will have a relaxed birth.
5. Educate yourself.
I chose the name Baby Led Enlightenment in part because enlightening (educating) ourselves on topics that arise during pregnancy and beyond is one of our duties as parents. Not only that, but knowledge is the best cure for fear. If you find yourself afraid of any specific situation, research how to handle it. For instance, once you’ve learned how to treat an illness or condition, resolve a shoulder dystocia, or stop a hemorrhage, you’ll feel a lot more confident in your ability to move past these issues with ease instead of panic. It’s a lot easier to relax when you’re confident that you can handle anything that comes your way.
What if I don’t Want a Relaxed Birth?
That’s okay, too. Some mamas prefer to have a powerful birth experience. They want to feel like they could wrestle a bear while they’re in labor. And that’s totally cool! What’s important is that you align your process with your goal. If you want a relaxed birth, you have to learn to trust the process and let go. If you would rather have a powerful birth, take charge and go for it! We are actually simultaneously at our most powerful and most vulnerable during birth. Both experiences are beautiful in their own way.
Pregnancy is amazing. It’s an incredible time in your life, and leads to the most precious gift of all: your baby. It’s also messy, painful, and at times downright miserable. These facts are not mutually exclusive. You can love your baby and be grateful for their existence without enjoying the aching hips, the inability to keep food down, and the mood swings that make you cry at how cute something is, then want to smack your partner for trying to give you a compliment because you’re absolutely certain they said it sarcastically and think you look like a beached whale that’s been tarred and feathered. Toxic positivity can make you feel ashamed for these valid feelings that are completely normal during such a tumultuous time in your life.
What is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic positivity is a sugar-coated form of gaslighting. It is a way of invalidating a person’s genuine feelings and making them feel shamed for them. It is the belief that a person should maintain a positive mindset regardless of their circumstances, and that any voicing of negative emotion makes them responsible for those emotions’ very existence.
A Phenomenon on the Rise
Lately, I have been seeing an increase in the number of pregnant moms hurting because their family or friends have invalidated their feelings for the umpteenth time. One mom said that her grandmother told her that she had a miserable time when she was pregnant with her oldest daughter, then later that day, told her she needed to “stop complaining and just love her baby” when she tried to vent about how tired she was feeling on her own personal facebook timeline. Another told of her aunt who would tell her she needed to stop being ungrateful and “suck it up” every time she heard her mention anything not 100% positive about how she was feeling. I have heard the anguished cries of loss mamas, shamed into suffering in silence by toxic positivity, unable to seek support from their friends when they needed it most, as they went through their pregnancies with their rainbow babies.
Every Mama’s Feelings are Valid
This treatment is not okay. Just because she is having a hard time does not mean she doesn’t love her baby, and we as a society need to stop pretending it does. I love my girls with all of my heart and soul. They also drive me up the walls at times. And that’s okay. It doesn’t make me an ungrateful mother to wish they were able to see things from my perspective once in a while. I would never dream of telling another mama that she didn’t love her children just because she didn’t always love their behavior.
The Double Standards Need to Stop
Have you ever been so incredibly annoyed by something your partner did, but still loved them anyway? Unless you live in a fictional world or have never loved anyone, you probably have. Why can the same principle not be applied in parenthood as in relationships? Would you tell a woman she couldn’t possibly love her husband if she felt hurt that he chose to go out for an impromptu drink with his friends while she was at home puking her guts out after having to cancel plans with her friends because she felt so sick? Maybe you can see it from both sides, and think maybe he just thought she wanted to have some peace and be alone, but he should have asked her if that’s what she wanted instead of assuming. But you probably wouldn’t tell her “You should stop whining and be glad you have a husband!” or “It isn’t good for your marriage to get so stressed out over everything, you need to calm down!”
Trauma Is Not Healed By Positivity
A growing number of women suffer from trauma of one kind or another during pregnancy and birth. Many more have experienced it prior to pregnancy, and will experience it after. Some of us will even develop PTSD from our experiences. Being positive does not erase the trauma. The only way to heal from it is to process it. Yes, therapy is extremely important, especially in cases of PTSD. But support from your friends and family is, too. Shaming or shunning someone because they have unhealed trauma might make your ego feel better about your own trauma, or allow you to wrap yourself in a bubble to avoid facing it altogether, but it can be incredibly damaging to the other person, and can serve to deepen and reinforce their trauma. If the goal is to help them develop a positive mindset, this is entirely counterproductive, not to mention cruel.
A Positive Mindset Does Not Exist in a Vacuum
Yes, during pregnancy and immediately postpartum, it is important to protect your emotional space and try to keep a positive mindset. It’s important for success in all areas of life. Having a positive mindset, however, doesn’t protect us from all possible negative feelings and experiences. The human brain needs to be able to process the things that happen in order to move forward. To do this, we need to talk about them. Holding it all inside can foster resentment, anger, fear, and a whole host of other negative feelings. Letting it out can help to release those feelings, allowing them to be replaced by more positive ones.
How You Can Help
Don’t invalidate a mom’s feelings and experiences just because they are unpleasant. Empathize with her. Try to understand what she is going through and hold space for her to talk about it and process it. Allow her to speak on it and seek to better understand her through it. Let her know she is not alone. Make her feel heard and validated. Support her. If you see someone participating in toxic positivity against another (or even themselves), gently remind them that all feelings are valid and deserve the space they need to be processed. That is how we change lives and make the world a better place.
I am calling on my followers to learn more about the abysmal treatment of black women and transfolks in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, and what you can do to help.
“There is much evidence to document the impact that generations of imperialism, colonialism, racism and white supremacy has had on African people in general—and on Black women in particular… Black mothers, children and families… are unseen and unheard in a health system driven by the remnants and realities of institutionalized racism.” ²
According to the most recent CDC data, more than half of maternal deaths occur in the postpartum period, and one-third happen seven or more days after delivery. The majority of initial postpartum appointments don’t happen until four-to-six weeks after birth. These are also frequently the only postpartum appointments that occur. Anyone that has had a c-section, pre-eclampsia, depression, or is taking anticoagulants needs to be seen sooner than four weeks after birth. Black women and transfolk are far more likely to experience all of these things, sometimes more than twice as likely as white women. In one study published in 2017, two-thirds of low-income black women never made it to their doctor visit.
The high risk of death surrounding black birth spans all income and education levels. It happened to Shalon Irving. It almost happened to Serena Williams. Their education and money did not change the way that their providers brushed off their concerns and ignored them. This shows that the problem does not stem from race, but from racism.
All of this was even before COVID-19 came along and highlighted the disparities even more.
What Can You Do?
If you are a black mother or a care provider, read this guide for how to acknowledge and address racism in prenatal and postnatal care.
If you are a care provider, pay attention to your unconscious biases that may arise when serving black women and transfolks. Work hard to be mindful and overcome them. Talk about them with others in your field, to help them give voice to their own unconscious biases, which is the first step to removing them.
Support the NAABB in their mission to “combat the effects of structural racism within maternal and infant health to advance black birth outcomes.”
Speak up and speak out. Raising awareness of black maternal mortality rates helps inspire policy changes, targeted funding, additional training for providers, and other solutions. Vote for candidates that support these solutions. Talk about these issues with your friends.
Share the IRTH app with your black birthing friends and acquaintances, so that they know about this resource for reading and sharing reviews of black care providers. This helps black birthing people make informed decisions when choosing their care providers.
Have a look at the anti-racist reading list and other black maternal health resources offered by Every Mother Counts, an organization working for equality in maternal health care around the world.
Support National Advocates for Pregnant Women, an organization working protect constitutional and human rights for women of all races, but primarily focused on black and low-income pregnant and parenting women. They provide legal defense and advocacy services.
If you are black and have a passion for helping pregnant women and babies, consider becoming an OB/GYN, midwife, pediatrician or other medical specialist, or doula. Currently, only 4% of doctors are POC. According to a review in 2019, the mortality rate is cut in half when black babies are cared for after their birth by doctors of the same race.
Remember to Share Positivity
It’s easy to share the scary articles and statistics surrounding black birthing women and transfolks. But sharing and celebrating the positive stories is just as important. There are lots of beautiful, peaceful, relaxed, and/or powerful black births that happen every day, and they deserve to be recognized, too. Black birthing people need to see the happy stories and know that they can have those kind of stories themselves. The media likes to share things to scare everyone into believing there is no happiness or joy in the world anymore. Even Google brings up only horror stories and dismal statistics when searching “black birth”. That means it’s up to us to prove them wrong.
You can tune into the podcast Birthright for inspirational black birth stories.
The podcast NATAL Stories also provides positive black birth stories alongside empowering ones that tell of overcoming the issues that black women face.
Homecoming Podcast is a podcast focused on black home birth, working to dispel the myths that hospital birth is safer than homebirth and that black people don’t birth at home.
Warning: This post contains very personal and not-pretty details regarding my anatomy, sex life, and bodily functions. If you don’t like TMI, you may not want to read it. Then again, you may not even be here to begin with in that case!
“OH! NOW I see the problem!” — not words you want to hear your doctor say when they’re digging around in your lady bits.
But I did. And after 5 years of being told nothing was wrong, it was simultaneously terrifying and incredibly validating.
I gave birth in 2015, to an amazing baby girl. The birth was incredible. It was also incredibly physically traumatic, thanks to a deformity in my tailbone caused by a childhood injury I didn’t even remember. I only pushed for one hour when giving birth to her, but the first half of that was spent pushing against my tailbone until it finally broke to allow her through. All that straining caused some serious issues. I ended up diagnosed with stage 3 pelvic organ prolapse, specifically uterovaginal prolapse.
I knew things were a mess down there. You expect them to be after giving birth, right? But there are some messes that are a bit harder to “clean up” if you know what I mean. I didn’t tear; I just had a couple of small skid marks at the edge of my perineum. My midwife checked me out and said everything was fine. Even my broken tailbone was denied until my chiropractor did an x ray for me and proved what I already knew. I went to my family doctor a few months after birth, asking her to give me a referral to a pelvic floor physical therapist for pelvic organ prolapse because I knew I had it. She did a quick exam and told me everything was fine, and I had no prolapse. I felt dismissed. She gaslighted me. She wasn’t trained in pelvic organ prolapse. She didn’t even know the right ways to check for it, much less diagnose it. I asked her again a few more times over the next year, and was always dismissed. I gave up. I resigned myself to the new troubles I was having as a new way of life.
Over the years, it would improve for a while, especially when I was more sexually active. But during the times when I was not, it would worsen considerably. A student midwife friend of mine told me I just needed to “use it” more. She might have been right, but it’s hard to get in the mood when you’re in pain, or your cervix is hanging out of your body.
In early 2020, I broke my ankle and spent 4 months unable to walk. I only really had sex one time during that timeframe, and it didn’t last long. Without any reminders, my vagina seemed to forget where it was supposed to be. I found myself having to “tuck myself in” more often, and had to wear my period panties all month long because of worsening leakage when I coughed or sneezed. I had more difficulty with urinating and bowel movements, regardless of their consistency, because my rectum was fighting with my bladder for the open space in my vagina. My vagina would bleed after bowel movements, because it would get over-stretched and the walls would tear a little each time, unless I remembered to “splint” it. I had to urinate much more frequently while on my period, when my cervix was at its lowest in my cycle. Whenever I tried to have sex with my husband, I would have to stop very quickly and then curl up in bed, crying in pain after he hit my uterus, so we stopped trying to have sex at all.
Finally, as I recovered from my injury and began walking again, I got determined to demand the care that I needed and deserved. No one deserves to suffer the way I had. I got a new doctor, who referred me without even doing an exam because she knew she was not qualified to diagnose pelvic organ prolapse. At first, the specialist I saw sounded like she was skeptical of my symptoms. I’m young and relatively healthy. I couldn’t possibly be having this much trouble. My body couldn’t be doing the things I said it was doing. Bodies simply don’t work that way.
Halfway through the exam, I finally got the validation I’d been seeking for 5 years. “OH! NOW I see the problem!” That’s what I heard her shout from between my legs, as she poked and prodded and told me to bear down. The tone of shock in her voice sent a chill up my spine, and filled me with dread, while a wave of relief at finally being vindicated washed over me at the same time. She concluded the exam, and had me hold a rubber glove by two of its fingers. She held the other end, and gestured to the palm of the glove. “This is your vagina,” she said. “And these are the ligaments that hold up the top of your vagina,” she continued, as she pointed to the fingers I was holding. “And this is what is happening to your vagina,” she explained, as she had me move the tips of the fingers to meet her hand at the bottom of the glove. My vagina was collapsing because the ligaments that hold it up had become stretched and lax. She showed how I was correct that it was my cervix that was protruding from my vagina and having to be tucked back in. She explained that it was blocking my urethra, making it difficult to urinate or fully empty my bladder. The harder I’d try, the more blocked it would become. My uterus was hanging down and filling the space, putting it in the path of my husband’s penis. She told me that it was technically stage 2 prolapse, but would feel like stage 3 to me because of the protrusion of my cervix.
We wanted to have another child. This news was devastating. I can’t even perform the act of trying to get pregnant, much less carry a baby, with everything trying to fall out of my body! And surgery to repair it would make it dangerous to attempt pregnancy again.
Thankfully, she did give me hope that a pessary and physical therapy could improve things enough to make it possible to have another baby, and pregnancy might even help hold things in place as my uterus got too big to fall into my vagina anymore. So we scheduled my pessary fitting, and she referred me to a pelvic floor physical therapist.
Unfortunately, at my first visit with my physical therapist, I was informed they will no longer take my insurance beyond the end of this month, and there are no insurances I could switch to that they will take. The next closest one is over an hour and a half away. I can’t drive 3+ hours round trip multiple times a week! I have a business to run and children to care for. It simply is not feasible for me.
Lucky for me, and for anyone reading this and going through similar, but unable to get treatment, I won’t give up that easily. Stay tuned for updates on my journey as I learn more about pelvic organ prolapse and ways to treat it without a professional physical therapist.
“It hurts to feel separate. We are wired to seek connection and belonging—to feel like we are part of something larger than ourselves. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I believe it also takes one to sustain an adult. We were not built to live in isolation, hidden behind apartment doors, phone screens, and dead eyes. We thrive when we feel like part of a tribe, when the people we share space with become part of ‘us,’ not ‘them.'” ~Lori Deschene
Yesterday, a friend of mine made an unsettling post. She had clearly been going through a rough time, and had lost her sense of self-worth. This was not a friend I knew well, but something in me felt this was a cry for help. I took some time to look through her recent posts and made a few supportive comments, hoping it would help uplift her. Later that evening, a mutual friend of ours (whom I had never really spoken with directly either) contacted me and expressed concern for her because her profile had been deleted. He didn’t remember anyone else that was on her friend’s list, and only remembered me because I had been the last to comment on her last post, which he still had up on his screen.
I spent the next several hours reaching out to people I remembered were mutual friends. I contacted the two people I knew who lived in the same area as she, and asked if they knew her. It took several hours for either to respond, during which time I was trying to find a phone number that might belong to her so that I could try calling her. It was getting late, and I began to struggle with worrying I may be bothering someone at/near/after bedtime if I called, and worrying that my friend may not be safe. I started thinking maybe I should call the suicide hotline or local police and ask for a well-check to be done on her instead, but then what if that caused CPS to get involved and remove her kids because they considered her a threat to THEIR wellbeing, and suddenly I’d have destroyed the life of the person I was trying to help?
Thankfully, one of my friends in the area responded as I was wrestling these competing worries, and told me she knew her and would reach out. I felt immense relief, and trusted that I had found the right person, and that my friend would be taken care of. My other friend local to her responded a few hours later, in the middle of the night, and reached out to her immediately as well.
It took until morning for me to find out for sure that she was okay. I also now had several other friends worried and waiting for an update.
Did I do the right thing by getting so many people concerned? Did I go too far in considering calling this person I called friend, though barely knew, and had never spoken with face-to face? Was it ok that I stopped when I received a response from someone who knew her? Will our friends that know her in-person be able to provide her with the support she needs?
I don’t know the answer to any of these for sure. I don’t even know if my friend will be ok emotionally long-term. But I know she is alive, and I know she now knows that many people care about her enough to worry about her late at night. I am a firm believer in following your intuition, and mine had been trying to tell me all day that something was wrong and she needed intervention.
If it were me, I would probably be embarrassed, but I would also feel touched to know so many people went out of their way to check on me and were worried for my safety.
She might have been ok if we had not come together to inquire for her wellbeing. Or she might not have. I would prefer to feel guilt for action rather than inaction. I would have felt far worse to have woken up a week from now to a tragic announcement and wonder if I could have done something to prevent it. Who knows? It still might happen. Emotions and mental health are unpredictable and difficult to stabilize at times. Humans are complex creatures. But I’m never going to let that stop me from trying to help a fellow hurting human.
If you see someone who is struggling, please take the time to stop and support them. Clicking “care” isn’t enough. If you’re close enough to support them in-person, please reach out to them. Don’t wait for them to ask for help. Most people won’t. Send them a message, leave a kind comment, ask them questions that help guide them to see their situation from a healthier perspective. Listen to your intuition and act when you hear warning bells going off. Don’t ignore their suffering because it makes you uncomfortable.
“Good vibes only” can lead to a lot of people losing the support they so desperately need. Yes, it is important to protect yourself from the negativity of others, especially if you feel it is taking a toll on your own mental health. But if you are someone who has the good fortune to be resilient and always look for the goodness in things, consider that maybe you have been given these gifts in order to be able to help those who cannot help themselves. Don’t shut out everyone who shares their struggles, as I have seen many do. Invite them in, and share your goodness and happiness and resilience with them.
That is how we change lives and make the world a better place.
For free resources when you need someone to talk to, you can dial 211 for the United Way (within the US), which can connect you with local free or low-cost mental health resources or even just for someone to listen to you.
If you or someone you know show signs of suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) from within the US, or visit their website. Even if you don’t feel that you are at immediate risk of suicide, they can also help connect you to local free or low-cost mental health resources.
Breech is when the baby is in a number of positions that are head-up. There are many different breech positions and presentations. Some babies are breech until just a few weeks, days, or even hours before labor. Others are breech until sometime during labor. And a small percentage of babies are born breech.
Many doctors will try to tell you that breech is an indication for c-section. This is simply not true. Breech is just a variation of normal. Midwives are much more likely to have experience with facilitating the birth of breech babies than obstetricians are, because obstetricians are surgeons. Obstetricians get paid more for performing surgery than they do for vaginal births. C-sections are also more convenient for them, as they don’t have to show up at the hospital at whatever random time a mom shows up in labor when they schedule the c-section in advance. They can plan their vacations and golf games easier this way. They can afford their fancy cars and private schools for their kids this way.
I recently had an extensive exchange with a mom who sounded terrified of having a c-section and all of the repercussions that came along with it. This was worsened by COVID-19 restrictions at her hospital and limited leave for her husband to be with her, leaving her to be alone for the majority of her hospital stay, and unsure of how to care for her infant and dog at home alone while her husband was forced to go back to work. However, her doctor never told her that she had any options beyond scheduling a c-section. She simply told her, at 35 weeks, that since her baby was still breech, she would schedule her for a c-section. She gave her no advice for encouraging the baby to turn, and never told her that vaginal breech birth was possible. Once I had informed her that she DOES have options, she seemed to be determined to avoid having a c-section. She went to her doctor the next day, ready to question what she had been told. Or so she thought. When I spoke with her a few hours later, she had again resigned herself to having a major surgery for no reason beyond the doctor’s convenience unless the baby magically turned on its own before the scheduled time (39 weeks, not even allowing the baby the chance of going to true full-term), with no effort on her part.
She will likely end up having that c-section, feeling defeated and powerless. She will spend multiple days in the hospital, alone for most of it, unable to keep her baby in the room with her the entire time, not knowing what is being done with or to her baby while out of her sight. She will struggle to take the dog outside, possibly pulling a stitch or worse as she tries to. She will have difficulty caring for her baby on her own while she heals from major surgery. She may have issues with her supply and getting the baby to latch. She may have difficulty bonding with her baby and develop post-partum depression. If she manages to overcome her depression through counseling, drugs, and/or any number of mindset-shifting events, she may find the strength to forgive herself . Or she may not, and wrestle with depression for the rest of her life, borne of a self-hatred for not advocating for herself and her baby. She may not even realize these feelings, or where they stem from.
This happens far too often. Moms are pressured to ignore their instincts and accept many possible risks, including infection, injury to the baby, scar tissue, lengthened recovery time, excessive blood loss, increased risk of post-partum depression, difficulty breastfeeding, difficulty bonding with their baby, and many more, up to and including death. They are not informed of their options. They are brushed aside when they learn about their options and attempt to exercise their rights to choose them. They end up with severe complications and feel angry at themselves, regretting not standing up for themselves and their babies. They have a hard time processing the trauma of what they experience, and the feeling of powerlessness that goes along with it.
It isn’t their fault. They have been groomed for this kind of mistreatment and disempowerment their entire lives. That is what our society does. Anyone who questions what they are told and seeks to educate themselves gets shamed, ridiculed, and laughed at. They are made to feel as though they know nothing, and pressured to trust that the given authority figure knows best, so they should simply accept whatever they tell them without question. The media teaches us to reinforce this, and seeks outliers to make examples of, encouraging others to judge and shame them for making choices different from those they would make for themselves.
We need to fight back. Question parents, question teachers, question doctors, question lawmakers, question the media. The United States is going through a massive upheaval right now. We are questioning the status quo. It’s time to stand up and speak out. No more lying down and taking the abuse that they give. Change begins within each and every one of us.
If your doctor tells you that you are going to have a c-section because your baby is breech, tell them you know your options and you will make the choice that is right for you. Educate yourself, listen to your intuition, and make your own choice. Knowledge is the best cure for fear, and fear is the most common ingredient in a recipe for disaster.
Here is a list of resources to learn more about breech presentations and your options if your baby is breech:
As always, do your own research and listen to your intuition, and do not allow anyone, regardless of the letters after their name, to pressure you into making a choice that you do not feel comfortable with.
Everyone seems to be under so much more stress these days, or at least they believe they are. This has brought the concept of self care out into the spotlight and made it a major buzzword. There are entire communities built around it. It is a booming market for many retailers, with whole stores built upon the idea of self care. There are many voices extolling the virtues of selfcare, and a quick scroll through any social media can show you many examples of people doing various things in the name of self care. But what is it, really? Read on to learn more about it!
Why is it Important?
Self care is the concept of taking care of yourself, in order to have the strength, energy, and motivation to take care of others. Any flight attendant could tell you that it’s important to take care of yourself first before taking care of those that depend on you. If you burn out, how will you be able to take care of anyone else? As a Mother, it’s easy to overlook your own needs while attending to those of your family, but when you have tiny lives depending on you, you have to be sure you keep enough fuel in your tank to keep going.
What is it NOT?
It is not finding excuses to avoid responsibility. It is not drinking a bottle of wine for breakfast because you’re overwhelmed by constantly being needed in today’s shut-in lifestyle world. It is not sleeping halfway through the day because you stayed up all night playing video games or binge-watching a new show. It is not spending everything in your savings account on bath and beauty products. These things are called excuses, rationalizations, laziness, and in some cases even addiction. Indulging yourself a little once in a while is fine. Finding a “reason” to do it every day is not. Engaging in unhealthy, unwise, and at times unsafe behavior is NOT taking care of yourself, and it does NOT fill up your tank.
How Can You Practice REAL Self Care?
Keep yourself healthy — inside and out. Eat well. Participate in healthy activities that keep your brain and body moving. Set up a routine that fits your needs and schedule. Take regular, short breaks from anything you do that takes a long time. Have someone to talk to when you need to vent. Don’t hold it all in.
Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself for mistakes while also learning from them and using them to make better plans in the future. Don’t wallow in sadness or guilt for things that haven’t gone the way you had hoped. If you snap at your kids because you’re under so much pressure that the fifteenth “Mommy” you’ve heard in two minutes pushes you over the edge, remember that you’re only Human.
Hold yourself accountable. If you make a commitment, don’t allow yourself to make excuses for skipping out on it. Make plans with friends, family, and/or coworkers and keep them. Set goals for yourself and keep yourself on the path to achieving them.
Set healthy boundaries. If there is someone in your life that is asking too much of you, it’s okay to tell them no. That includes your Partner and your Children. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so make sure not to pour all of yours out into someone else’s.
Ask for help. If something is too much for you, or you’ve otherwise found yourself with a heavier metaphorical load than you can safely carry on your own, stop. Set it all down. Take a moment and think about the many things you are carrying. Do YOU need to be the one carrying all of them? Is there something that you can relinquish a little bit of control over in order to allow someone else to help you with it? Find ways that you can stop doing everything yourself and get help from others.
Seek professional advice. If you feel that you are struggling and nothing you’ve tried seems to be helping, don’t hesitate to hire a professional to help you. This could be a life coach, therapist, fitness guru, doctor, yoga instructor, naturopath, or even just a professional cuddler (yes, it’s a thing). You may even be lucky enough to know someone who could be your mentor without requiring payment. My first mentor was my school librarian in elementary school, whom I lived next door to for a time and spent many afternoons with. My second one was the leader of my local birth network; she took me under her wing and shared all kinds of life wisdom with me until she, sadly, moved across the country and we stopped connecting as often. My third, I hired; she runs a business empire based upon helping people get motivated to get doing. All of them have had a profound impact on my life and helped to shape who I am today as a person. I would not be where I am today without any of them. There is no shame in admitting you don’t know how to help yourself and asking someone else to guide you to find your own answers.
Where Can You Get More Inspiration on Ways to Practice Self Care?
You can search #selfcare on your favorite social media platform or just search the internet for self care ideas. Lately, I’ve been enjoying posts from:
For free resources when you need someone to talk to, you can dial 211 for the United Way (within the US), which can connect you with local free or low-cost mental health resources or even just for someone to listen to you.
If you or someone you know show signs of suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) from within the US, or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Even if you don’t feel that you are at immediate risk of suicide, they can also help connect you to local free or low-cost mental health resources.