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.
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.
Since the restrictions of 2020 changed the experience of hospital birth so dramatically all over the world, many more women have turned to homebirth as their way of having the birth experience they want. Others have wanted to, but for one reason or another, not gotten that experience they so desire.
Some of you may know that I had a homebirth with my second. What you may not know is that I wanted one with my first, but thought I couldn’t have it because Medicaid didn’t cover homebirth midwives in Ohio, and my husband had been laid off for several months due to a natural disaster, so we had very little funds at the time. I probably could have found a way to make it happen if I’d had the support and knowledge then that I have now. I hear similar stories all the time, where the mama wanted to have a homebirth, but didn’t think she could afford it, or her insurance wouldn’t cover it.
If you want a homebirth, sometimes you have to work for it. It shouldn’t be this way in the US and other countries around the world, but it is. The important thing is that you know there are options, and if that is what you really want, you can have it. For instance, in Florida, homebirth midwives ARE covered by medicaid. There are still guidelines and restrictions put in place by governing bodies that limit the access to them for VBAC, plus size mamas, breech, twins, etc, nearly everywhere. But there are oftentimes ways around this as well. Sometimes, simply seeing an OB one time, regardless of what they tell you regarding their opinion on homebirth, is enough to satisfy the requirements. The red tape and hoops you may need to jump through can vary depending on your insurance, provider, and location. Seek out your local birth network and talk to birth activists in your area to find out more about ways you can advocate for your right to a homebirth.
Read on for more of my personal homebirth story:
Planning Makes it Possible
I planned to have an unassisted homebirth with my second daughter. I knew, even before I got pregnant with her, that it was the birth experience I wanted to have. I got involved in my local birth network, studied numerous books, took a course on homeopathy, attended a workshop for birth professionals, and just generally soaked in as much information about birth as I could. When I finally saw that second line, I knew I could do this.
A few weeks before my guess date, a doula and student midwife friend of mine lent me her birth pool. We cleared a space in our living room for it, behind our couch. It was a cozy corner, where I hung up red Christmas lights and a double-heart light. My friend hosted a mother’s blessing for me, and I had brought home several beautiful drawings and quotes from friends, which I hung on the walls. I also put up a family photo with my husband, my oldest daughter, and myself, as well as a photo of my grandma from when she was younger, which we had displayed at her funeral just days before I found out I was pregnant. She was my rock, and I wished I could have had her there for my birth, but this was the next best thing.
Pardon the fuzzy photo, this was the only one I managed to salvage after issues with my camera.
I’m in labor!
The night I went into labor, I had been sitting on the couch watching TV with my husband, and we were about to go to bed. I had been having contractions off and on all night, the same as I had for the past 3 months. Suddenly, I realized one of them made me sit up straighter than usual. After 2 more, I felt the urge to go to the bathroom, and knew that it was time. I spent the next 2 hours laboring on the toilet, which brought me considerable relief (They don’t call it the porcelain birthing stool for nothing!).
I called my friend around 2AM, who I had planned to have there as my doula. She told me to call her back when I wanted her there. I had no idea when I “should” have her there, but I wanted her there then. Since she clearly didn’t want to come right then, and I felt bad about it being 2AM, I just said ok and we hung up.
I went straight from the toilet to the birth pool. I just draped myself over the side of it without any water for an hour or two. Once I started feeling the need to vocalize through contractions, I had my husband begin filling the pool. We only filled it halfway for the first couple of hours. The contractions were easier to handle when the water was over my lumbar. My baby’s spine was facing mine, so I felt significant pressure in my back. I tried to hold off on filling the pool, so that the water wouldn’t get too cold too soon. I had my husband put on some music to help me relax in the meantime.
My friend called around the time we got the pool filled, and reminded me to have my husband bring me food and drink. I had been sleeping in between contractions, and he had too. He made me some scrambled eggs and brought me some chocolate coconut water, which took me a good hour to fully consume.
It’s Time to Push!
About 10 hours after that first contraction that made me sit up straight, my vocalizations became much louder and more frequent. My mom, who lived with us, came out of her bedroom because she could tell something had changed. Our daughter woke up and came out of her bedroom. We told her that her sister was coming. She stayed until the next contraction, but said that my vocalizations were too loud, and retreated to her room again. I began to feel the urge to push. About forty-five minutes later, she began to crown. My husband saw her forehead, but saw her pulling back in a bit in between each contraction. I went slower and panted through a few contractions as her eyebrows began to emerge. My husband told me to push, and I told him to shut up. I was listening to my body, and it was telling me that it needed time to stretch as we reached “the ring of fire”. A few minutes later, her head was free, and my husband worried about her trying to breathe under the water as he saw her mouth opening and closing. I assured him that she was fine, and she would not try to breathe yet, and she was still getting her oxygen from the umbilical cord.
I did it!
At almost exactly one hour from the first push, she was free. I had spent the entire labor on my knees, hanging over the side of the pool because my body wouldn’t allow me any other position. I was so relieved to finally be able to sit down properly. My husband helped me bring her to my chest. She was covered in vernix. He brought us a blanket to put over her to keep her warm against my chest, as the water had gotten colder than I had realized. This was when I finally decided to call my friend and tell her to come over. We spent a few more minutes in the pool, giving me a chance to rest. Once I had delivered the placenta, we placed it in a bowl, still attached to our baby, and moved to the couch, where we laid on chux pads together, with the bowl near my head.
My favorite photo ever. I feel it truly embodies the tranquility and connection felt after a homebirth.
(yes, I wore a Wonder Woman camisole as my birthing gown)
I placed her on my belly and allowed her to do “the breast crawl”. It only took her a few minutes to find the breast, but she needed a lot of help with latching. My first had needed help, and I just thought it was similar, her mouth was too tiny and my breast was so big that it was hard for her. I later found out she had tongue and lip ties. But with a little help from me, she was able to get enough colostrum to fill her tummy and she drifted off to sleep peacefully on my chest.
So teeny tiny in comparison! Drifting off after a nice meal ♥
A Happy Ending
About two hours later, my friend and my midwife showed up and worked together to get me cleaned up and baby checked out. My friend brought a cord burning box and some candles. Around 10PM, my husband and I decided it was time to go ahead and burn the cord. We tied it off with some string left from the anklets I made for myself and my daughters at my mother’s blessing, then we got it situated in the box and began to burn through it. It took a lot longer than we expected, and dripped a lot, so we were glad we had the box to support the candles and catch the dripping.
A sacred family moment
The Less-Pretty Details (TMI WARNING!!!)
There were a few things I didn’t include in the actual story itself. I feel these need to be mentioned, however, to show that even the most beautiful experience can include trying times.
My Tailbone Broke
After about half an hour of pushing, I felt and heard my tailbone break. My mom asked me what happened, and I told her my tailbone just broke, and she told me that there was no way it broke. I began to lose my patience with everyone after that, and used some colorful language when telling both my mother and my husband that I was doing things my way and they needed to stop trying to tell me what to do. After a few weeks of postpartum agony, my chiropractor did an x-ray and proved that my tailbone had indeed broken, and it was due to a deformity caused by a childhood injury. This felt very vindicating.
After delivery, my friend showed up before my midwife, and urged me to get up and go to the bathroom. I had tons of chux pads ready so that I wouldn’t need to worry about this. I didn’t feel I had the strength to get up, and she had to support most of my weight when I finally relented and went. As soon as I sat down on the toilet, I dropped two big clots, and started to fall asleep. My mom panicked and started to call 911. Thankfully, my friend was able to wake me and get me up and back to the couch and hydrated, and my mom told them it was a false alarm. I drank copious amounts of coconut water over the next hour and took several doses of homeopathic remedies. This helped me regain my strength and begin to rebuild my blood volume. I personally think I should not have gotten up when I did, and could have avoided such trouble if I had listened to my body telling me to wait a little longer, rather than my friend urging me to get up, but there is no way to be sure of what was actually the best thing to do in that moment, or if the hemmoraging could have been entirely avoided either way. Had the coconut water and homeopathics not shown effective, the next step would have been to cut a small piece of my placenta off and stick it in my cheek. The placenta contains hormones that signal the uterus to contract, which would have helped to stop the hemmorage as well.
One thing no one seems to mention when preparing for birth is the afterpains. The contractions after delivery felt so much stronger to me because I had nothing to push against them anymore. They lasted for nearly an entire day, with the worst of them happening over the first six hours or so. Taking homeopathic Sabina helped greatly, but the pain was still pretty intense. My midwife did a massage on my uterus to try to help it contract (part of the reasoning behind the “breast crawl” as well), and it HURT. I was not prepared for that at all. Clearly, I had missed a few things in my research!
If you would like to learn more about your options for homebirth, with or without assistance, here are a few great resources to check out:
It occurs to me that, even in the community of Birth geeks that I inhabit, we all too often focus solely on the Birth and not enough on the Pregnancy. We focus on the Pregnancy sometimes, sure; we focus on how to get through it. We focus on how to attain it. We focus on how to get it over with. We focus on how big our bellies get. We focus on how many weeks we are. We focus on how much pain we’re in. We focus on how hard it is to make our clothes fit.
We should focus on how amazing it is that we are creating an actual life. A tiny Person that someday will be grown. Someone with a future, hopes, and dreams of their own. A new generation that will shape the future of the entire world. And WE are doing that! WE are creating it! Our bodies are so immensely POWERFUL! These human beings we are growing inside of us are the future. And the kind of Mothers we are determine what kind of future that will be. Not entirely, of course. Everything else in their lives will help to shape the kind of People they become, but we are laying the foundation for that!
We should be celebrated! We should be treated as the incredible beings we are. We are in the process of an immensely difficult task. It drains our energy, our nutrients, our bones, even our brains at times. We are strong, capable, independent, fierce! But we also deserve to not have to be all the time. We deserve to be able to lie back and let our walls down and let someone else take care of us for a moment. Because, in the grand scheme of things, Pregnancy is but a moment. We deserve to enjoy it. We deserve to feel loved and valued and even occasionally pampered. Yes, seeing our beautiful Babies’ faces at the end is all the reward we could ask for. But just because we don’t ask for it doesn’t mean we don’t deserve it.
Do me a favor. The next time you see a Pregnant Woman, thank her. Just tell her “thank you for giving your body to create another”. Thank her for creating the future. Let her know that she is appreciated, and she is gorgeous. And there is nothing more valuable than what she is doing right now.
I’ve always felt born to be a Mom. I mothered all my friends. I mothered my own Mother from the age of 3. I mothered my Husband from the moment we moved in together. But becoming an actual Mother, a tiny Life depending on you for every single thing, 24/7, after two and a half decades of only being a Mother to my friends when they needed guidance, not wiping their butts or putting food in their mouths… that was a huge change!
I watched my Husband go to work every day, come home and play video games, eat all the unhealthy crap he wanted, snore his head off and sleep without waking. I watched my friends go about their daily lives, as if nothing had changed. Because for all of them, it hadn’t. But for me?
My entire life was completely upside down. I had this tiny thing attached to me. I was responsible for every aspect of its life. I had to focus all of my time and attention on it. I had to respond to its every noise and movement. I couldn’t play video games all day. I couldn’t go anywhere I wanted anytime I wanted. I couldn’t just slip on my shoes and go for a run. I couldn’t roll over and go back to sleep until 4 in the afternoon if I still felt tired when I woke up. I couldn’t binge on brownies and cake all day if I wanted to. My life was all about this little being that was and always will be a part of me. She was now my entire world. I couldn’t do anything without thinking about how it would affect her.
I was happy to do it, it was what I had wanted, longed for, ached for, for so many years. But being a Mom is hard. There were definitely times when I questioned if had made a mistake. If I was crazy for wanting this. If I was good enough. If I could handle it.
I still have those thoughts sometimes, nearly 4 years later and pregnant with our second. They’re normal. It doesn’t matter what it is, when you make a drastic change in your life, you’re going to have moments of doubt, of regret, of despair, especially when it gets hard. And even when it’s easy, you can still miss the way things were before at times. Being a Mom is hard, but when it comes down to it, I absolutely would not go back and not become a Mother if I had the chance. That doesn’t mean I don’t have moments I question whether that’s true. We all fantasize about things being different than they are at times. And that’s okay. It doesn’t make you any less of a Mother. It doesn’t make you wrong or crazy. It makes you Human.
So go ahead, cry. Cry and scream and make plans to run away. Think out the details. Think about the greasy diner you’ll work double shifts in, in some tiny, backwater little town where no one knows you. Think about how you’ll go to night school and get a law degree and become a rich, successful lawyer, all on your own. Think about all of that and more.
Then, after you’ve had your fill of fantasy, come back to reality. Think about getting through the day without having to change your spit-up covered shirt more than three times. Think about how, tomorrow, Baby might take her first step. Think about next weekend, when your Husband surprises you by changing a diaper without being asked. Think about 10 years from now, when your Child surprises you by doing something you didn’t think a 10 year old could do. Think about seeing your Child driving for the first time, getting married, having her own Children. Think about her calling you in the middle of the night, crying because she is having all of the same thoughts that you are having right now. Think about telling her that she’s okay. Think about telling her that it’s normal, that being a mom is hard. Think about how you will tell her that you thought and felt it all yourself, and you got through it. Think about how you will tell her how much you love her, and how you wouldn’t change any of it for the world.
Being a Mom is hard, even when it’s easy. There is no job in this world that is more difficult or rewarding. So be happy when you can. And let yourself be miserable without feeling guilty about it when you need to. It’s okay. I promise.
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 shows 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.