Ask Yo Mama: Does Size really matter?

askyomamaOkay, so before you delete this and think it’s a crazy porn site, let me extrapolate. I got an email from a mama this week and wanted to respond more fully on this site so that all can be served from this nonsense.

Dear Yo mama,

I’m hoping you might have some thoughts/advice as it’s looking like I’m turning out to be a statistic… Yesterday, they did a special ultrasound to figure out how my baby is. She weighed in at 8lb 10oz (at 38 weeks 1 day). I’m dilated ½ centimeter and not hardly effaced although baby has dropped pretty well. I’ve had my membranes swiped twice now and have been aggressive with acupuncture and chiropractic to bring on an earlier labor…. All that said, it has been pretty strongly recommended I go for a c-section based on the size of the baby. Because I’m not very effaced and hardly dilated, they are not even recommending medical induction as it seems it could well lead to unscheduled c-section, considering how not ready my body seems to be, despite baby’s size. (Baby is very healthy with healthy placenta and amniotic fluid levels and it seems she’d be happy to float around for 2-3 weeks more, gaining ½ to 1lb/week, so I’m told….)

As it stands now, I’m scheduled for a c-section next Monday and of course my hope is I go into labor before then… I was just wondering if you have any specific thoughts or ideas and/or if based on your experience you agree with this view.                        Signed, Big Baby

Dear sweet Mama (and Big Baby),

WTF.  Sorry, but this is one of the most crazy-making parts of the birth industry right now.   I will highlight what you yourself wrote:  “Baby is very healthy with healthy placenta and amniotic fluid levels and is seems she’d be happy to float around for 2-3 weeks…”  SO LET HER!  I’m going to take a few moments on my virtual soap box here, but I am so frustrated with this ‘cesarean or induction based on size’ thing that I gotta have some words.

here are a few quick facts:

1.  BIG BABIES ROCK.  They nurse better, sleep better, and basically come out like big bouncy buddhas.  They are fully cooked, lovely munchkins and are a delight to be around (in general).

2.  Big babies navigate the pelvis beautifully!  Sometimes even better than a smaller baby, because of reason #1.  ANY baby of any size can get stuck in the pelvis, and very tiny women can rock a vaginal birth of a big baby with no problem. (my delicious daughter was almost 10 pounds, and I am on the smaller side of mamas)

3.  Ultrasounds have no idea how big your baby is.  Ultrasounds have been known to be multiple pounds off.   So, to say we have to induce or do a cesarean birth based on this ultrasound is nonsense.  It’s like making a map with GPS points in Wyoming while you’re in Colorado.

4.  Babies do better who have labor.  Even if it ends in a cesarean birth.  Apgar scores are higher in babies that had a trial of labor before a cesarean birth.  The contractions are essential for helping baby transition into this new world.

So, Big Baby, Here’s the conclusion.  I don’t know if your doc has a little hawaii vaca planned or is having his/her in-laws to visit, but this recommendation is not in the favor of you or your wonderful (and potentially small) baby.  Take your time.  Say no thank you.  Hold steady.   Your baby will pick a perfect birthday, and on that day, you’ll both see how you can navigate getting baby through your pelvis.  Stay active (see Happy, Healthy Pregnancy) so you can walk and do a lot of stairs in labor.  And potentially, if you and your doctor keep not meeting eye to eye, consider making a switch.  I know it’s super late in the game, but as long as you’re not in labor, it is still possible.  (See Three Steps to A Great Birth).

And if you can, avoid empty calories like refined sugar.  These do tend to make babies a little fluffier.  Eat five colors of veggies a day, eat good proteins (vegetarian or meat).  Think of each day as the potential day that your great birthing adventure will begin.

Sending you all my love and patience, to you and your gloriously big baby.

Yo Mama

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Ask Yo Mama- Where should I give birth?

askyomama Dear Yo Mama,

 As you know, our baby catcher’s practice just closed. We were thinking of another hospital based midwifery practice, but discovered that the hospital has a higher C-section rate than we are comfortable with.

 You come across as an expert in this area, and we would like to ask you what you would do if you were in our place. We’re considering a Freestanding Birth Center, but it’s expensive and may not be covered by our insurance — however, we may look into insurance options if it seems like the right path. Home birth feelss scary to us, but making a decision based on fear isn’t always the best one.

Would you mind providing us with advice? We’re just lost on what to do.

Sincerely,

Belly without a Baby Catcher

 

Dear Belly,

I’m so glad you reached out to me!

It’s a hot topic right now, with so many feeling ‘lost’.  And midwives and doctors are human- sometimes something changes that forces them to not be able to carry out their original commitment to ‘catch’ your baby.  Choosing a care provider (and birth place) is tricky– it’s a little like dating- which is not very fun-  but if you use the same feelings of ‘chemistry’ along with some good research, you can find your way to a choice that fits your family.

I think the first thing to consider is where both you and your partner will feel the most safe.  With choices like whether or not to use an epidural- you, as mama, get 100% of that vote.  With birth place, I would say it’s 60% (mama)/40% partner.  both of you need to feel that it is a safe place for you and baby.  Since you have to push a baby out that day, you get an extra 10% of the vote.

Safety can be found in different ways.  For some, it is knowing that every possible medical intervention is at your fingertips.  For others, it could be knowing that the medical interventions are as far away as possible, or at least used as a last resort.  For many, it can be knowing that they feel at home with the environment- smells, sight, and feel of the place.  Looking at cesarean birth rates is one important factor for sure.  Most hospitals, nationwide are around 33%, which is shocking, but true.  So you want to look at individual practices within each hospital (Nurse midwife practices tend to be more like 10-20%).  Out of hospital birth centers tend to be 6% or even lower (Ina May’s center is 1.5%- but that’s a long drive to Tennessee).  You are in a good birth class, and preparing yourself with good tools, so you should be in a good position to avoid a Cesarean birth (see my post:  3 most important things you can do to Have a Great birth)

It’s also super important to consider the care provider or team you’d be working with.

And I tend to go both for the letters by their name as well as the ‘gut instinct’   I would ask yourself the following two questions after you meet with a care provider:

  1. would I go on a road trip with this person?
  2. would I go into a one-stall bathroom with this person?

Birth is long and winding like a road trip, and as intimate as any bathroom event you’ve had so far.  If you couldn’t imagine taking your pants off in front of someone- they might not be the right fit for your birth.

Freestanding Birth Centers can be a wonderful option.  You have Certified Nurse Midwives, and a beautiful facility, and medical interventions are truly a last resort.  Home birth can also be great, but is not for everyone.  I think some of the pluses are:  not having to drive while in labor, the postpartum care is extraordinary, and you’re in your ‘own space.’  And for any higher-risk pregnancies, or those that feel the ‘safety net’ of medical intervention should be close by for any reason, a Hospital based midwife or OB practice is usually the best way to go.

I would meet with individual care providers and feel into how you could imagine your birth experience with each of them.  Ask all the questions you want, listen to the answers.  And then listen to your inner answer.  Your belly will know.

Thanks again for reaching out!

All the best,

Yo Mama

 

ASK YO MAMA welcomes your letters and questions- please email katie@yomamayoga.com with ASK YO MAMA in the subject line.  We will edit your letters and respond on the blog.  We respond to as many as we can.

Motherhood Slapped Me in the Face

slapMotherhood slapped me in the face.  What I expected to be really good at, instead leveled me to the ground, in a fetal position, sobbing.  I was supposed to be the expert.

By the time I gave birth to my son, I had seen over 150 babies born.  I am a doula:  which is a Greek word meaning one who will clean up your puke while you’re having a baby, and love every minute of it.  I am the crazy birth lady. I can be with a wild laboring woman as she screams, “I think the baby’s coming out my butt!” like I’m having tea on a Sunday afternoon.

I’m the pregnant woman’s BFF.  I opened a yoga studio just for moms and I created my own childbirth education program.  I stand by women’s sides as they give birth.  I swaddle up their newborns, and say to them proudly “Welcome to Motherhood.”

I did all of that for ten years before I became a mother.

Each time I witnessed a woman stepping into motherhood, I’d think- Someday that will be me.  Someday I will walk across those coals, and everything I’ve learned will pay off.  Me and my babies (tons of them) will thrive because of my years of becoming an expert.

So you can imagine my shock when motherhood slapped me in the face.

In pregnancy, instead of barefoot and blissed-out, I was needy and neurotic.  When labor came, I felt terror.   Here I stood, the expert who should’ve known better.    I could describe cervical dilation in many different metaphors:  A flower opening, a cashmere turtleneck slipping over the babies head, sucking on a lifesaver till it melts away.  I had spent many hours demonstrating how a ripe cervix is like your cheek and an unripe cervix is like your nose.  (I know you want to try that now, it’s okay, you can)  But all my expertise was doing nothing for my stubborn, first-time-mama cervix.  I could describe labor, but I couldn’t do it.

The first day of labor, I chanted, meditated, hugged a few trees.  I felt so proud of myself, thinking “I knew I’d be good at this!” The next day was Mother’s Day.  Of course, I would give birth on Mother’s day!  I paged my midwife, knowing she’d rush right over, and catch my baby as the sun set over the flatirons.

Her voice was distant on the phone line:  “tell me what exactly you’re calling contractions?”

My heart sank.  We talked about my “labor” in quotes now, and I felt like a big fat newbie.  I was physically and emotionally drained, and I was only at the beginning.  I’d been dancing all around base camp like a moron, wearing myself out before the actual climb began.  And I’d told women the exact same things she was telling me!  “Have a glass of wine, take a bath, sleep is so important.”   I wanted to throw the phone into the birth tub. I wasn’t having a baby by sunset, I wasn’t even having a baby that weekend.

I spent a few hours resting, and then the next 36 hours grunting and clawing my way towards motherhood.  I was in the tub, out of the tub, scaring my neighbors, scaring myself, and dropping choice phrases like ‘Jiminy Crimminy”  and the occasional F-bomb.

After the birth, I felt a deep triumph, but I also felt trauma and betrayal. To add a little salt to my wounded pride, my baby girl- we didn’t check, but I was about 80% right in guessing the gender of my client’s babies, so I just knew she was a girl- until she came out with a penis.  She- was no she.  And I- was no expert.

If birth was a slap in the face, new motherhood was a knock out.  My career and expectations stood over me waving their fist, as I lay on the floor- in a fog of depression and anxiety.

My husband would ask me questions like “when should his umbilical cord fall off?” or “why do you think he’s crying so much?”  And I would stare at him wildly, and say, “I don’t know!  I’ve never had a baby before!”  I knew how to reassure mothers, but I had no idea it would rip out my heart every time my baby cried.

I didn’t know who to ask for help.  If I was struggling, I would lose street cred.  When my husband gently suggested that I call a therapist, I felt like a failure.   So I just muscled through each day.  I’d show up for my students, with all the answers, and I’d go back home and sink into my sea of self–doubt.

One afternoon a man, looking like Fabio, pulled up in front of my yoga studio on a Harley.  I had my diaper bag in one hand, and my six-month-old in his car seat in the other. I wanted to drop both, hop on the back of that hog, and whisper into Fabio’s scruffy cheek:  “Take me away, take me far away from here.”

But I stayed.  Even though, I felt that motherhood might be killing me slowly, shaving years off my life with every 4 am feed- I wasn’t going anywhere.  I was completely in love with this baby.

And I did get better.  By the time my son turned two, I was back.  My sense of humor, delight in life.  And I could actually smile when someone told me they were pregnant with their second child.   One January morning, I told my son to go wake up daddy and tell him we were having another baby!  As he ran out of the bathroom, my knees buckled.  Didn’t I learn my lesson the first time?

I started to prepare, for a hurricane, more than for a baby.   I didn’t want cute fuzzy booties. I wanted sandbags of support.  I hired postpartum doulas (2 of them), midwives (3 or them), birth doulas (four of them- because clearly you can never have too many doulas).  I hired a massage therapist, a hypnotherapist, a psychotherapist, and a psychiatrist, just in case.  I was going to be ready this time, when this freaking baby arrived.

I expected to fail, and I had support in place to hold me up as I did.

If my first birth was a slap, my second was a cool cloth, easing the sting.  I gave birth not from a place of knowing, but from the deepest surrender I had ever known.  In six hours of easy labor, on international peace day, my baby girl swam into my arms, surrounded by a powerful circle of love.  Outside, in the warm autumn sunset, neighborhood kids wrote out in chalk, Welcome Baby.

With surrender and support, I’m starting to feel the sweetness of being a mother. I know my second is only seven months old, and it’s a tight rope I’m walking, a balance of yoga, self-care, and therapy. And I certainly have days that I fall off the rope.

But I know this now:  that being an expert is baloney.  As a mother, I’m always going to be a beginner, as my children change and grow.   And I know I need help.  From maybe not just one, but two or three villages.

And still I am grateful for the opportunity to constantly be learning.  Forever blessed that these two sweet souls picked me as their mother, and I said yes.

I remember meeting a guru back in my pre-motherhood days.   My friend said, just approach him with the humility of a child.  I walked up and said proudly, “I know nothing.” He smacked me across the face.  Twice.  After the second slap, I got it.  He was calling my lie. I said I knew nothing, but I thought I knew everything.  “Do you know that hurt?” he said to me with kind eyes. “Yes,” I said, truly speechless.  “Okay,” he nodded, “start there.”

So maybe that slap of my initiation into motherhood, was more like the hand of a loving guru saying:  You don’t need to know what you are doing.  That’s not what motherhood is about.   Start with how much you love this baby.  That’s all your baby needs.  Just love.  Nothing more.  Stop trying to do it right, you just might miss it.  All the books in the world mean nothing when you look into the eyes of your newborn child.  Forget your expertise, and remember that every mother begins on day one.

And being a mother is a whole lot more powerful than being an expert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane of Grace

ImageI had a dream I was preparing for a hurricane.   It was named Hurricane Ona. I was on a mountain face, with only a small jacket that could be made into a tent.  There were a few other people near me, and we were all just waiting. As the hurricane approached, I was surprisingly calm.  When it got close enough to see, I could see in the center of the hurricane a tiny baby.  (I know, my subconscious is a little obvious)   In the morning I looked up the name Ona and it was a girl’s name meaning Grace.   A hurricane of Grace is coming my way, in a very short time, in the form of a little baby girl.

The first time I was pregnant, even with everything I knew as a doula, I had no idea what I was getting into.  I was surprised by how hard labor was.  But when it came to postpartum, I was downright shocked at the reality of taking care of a baby day in and day out.  It was exhausting, upsetting, un-nerving and never-ending.  I just couldn’t fathom that all my clients and students had gone through this as well.

This time around, we are preparing in a totally different way: Less excitement, more hyper-vigilant planning and preparation.  Less folding onesies, more meeting with a team of people to support me on every level: Biologically, psychologically, and socially.   Less fantasy, more reality.

Last time, I was planning to have a postpartum doula for one or two visits.  This time she will be with us 2 or 3 times a week for two months.  Last time I had a loose list of folks who had offered to bring a meal. This time the care calendar is already in place, and the meals started coming in last week, two weeks before my due date.  Last time I was stubborn about facing and treating the low-grade postpartum depression that I suffered with for almost two years.  This time I’m seeing a therapist and psychiatrist before she’s even here.  Last time I was the only one to feed my son at night, and I didn’t stop night nursing until a year and a half.  This time I’ve got Grandma Baba and Daddy lined up to help feed her so I can get some sleep.  And although in some ways it feels less ‘magical’ and a lot more ‘practical,’ I am confident this kind of preparation and low expectations could actually create a more positive postpartum experience.

Through my process the first time, I became even more passionate about serving mamas beyond pregnancy, beyond the grand climax of birth, and into that postpartum year.  (yes, it’s at least a year)  Now at Yo Mama, we have Milk club twice a week, Mommy and Me yoga almost every day, Family yoga, workshops and support groups for mamas (coming soon).  We are mom’s second home after baby arrives, a place where you can show up with spit up on your pants, breastmilk all over your shirt, tears in your eyes, and receive nothing but love.  I love my mommy and me yoga class, where all the moms realize that they are not the only ones feeling crazy in the juggling act of taking care of a newborn.

And  this time, I am giving myself that same room.  To not be perfect.  To not hold it all together.  .   To not have all the answers, all the theories, to read the right books that are going to make me a perfect mom.  To accept the divine imperfection of motherhood, and know that I am enough.  To take in all the lessons that this little girl has for me. To allow others to hold me, as I hold this baby, this postpartum period, this hurricane of grace and grit.

The next time I write to you all, I may have a baby in my arms, and I look forward to continuing to share this journey with you

Beyond Hee-Hee Hoo-Hoo: Choosing the Right Childbirth Class

Two generations ago, if you’d asked women what childbirth education was, they would have looked at you blank faced.   One generation ago, they would have started doing the ‘hee-hee hoo-hoo’ breath of Lamaze.  (this seems to be the only coping tool that Hollywood knows about, as every movie and tv show shows mamas panting like dogs as they give birth)  Through great leaders like Lamaze and Bradley, families began to look at birth as something you could get prepared for, with tools to help!

Now families have so many choices, it can be hard to slog through all of the different options, and feel confident that you are making the right choice.  As with all of the decisions that you will make for your child, it’s important to make an informed choice, gathering as much information as possible, and finding the right choice for you.  Families that begin making decisions this way in pregnancy find it easier to make the tougher decisions like vaccines, and where to send your child to preschool (believe me, these decisions are closer than they sound!)

And forget the images you might have about childbirth education.  No longer a passive lecture lead by a woman with a tight bun and stirrup pants, your class will most likely be dynamic and fun.  Hopefully, it will be one of the best memories you have about preparing for baby!

When selecting a childbirth class, there are a couple of important things to keep in mind.

1.    What kind of tools do you want to learn?

From the ‘hee-hee hoo-hoo’ breathing of Lamaze, we’ve come a long way.   Childbirth classes of today may have hypnosis, yogic breathing, visualization, birth art, massage, birth positioning, videos, hands-on-practice and more!

If you know that a certain tool is something you might respond well to, seek out a class with that tool.  If you want a broad class with a ton of information for both you and your partner, and time is not an issue, a Bradley class might fit you well.  If you want to dive into your creative side, you might love Birthing from Within.  If you want to really harness the power of your mind, a Hypnosis based class like Hypnobabies or Blissborn might be perfect for you.

It can be hard to know what you will need in labor, so it’s nice to find a class with multiple tools, so you’re covered no matter what labor brings you!  Our signature Inspired Birth Classes cover the best of Bradley, Birthing from Within, and has a customized hypnosis program.

2.    Where do you want to take your classes?

There are classes offered in and out of the hospital setting. There are a few advantages to taking a class in the setting you will be birthing in, like getting used to the space.  However, hospital classes are often limited in what they can share, and focused more on making you a great patient, familiar with their protocols, and all the possible detours that can happen in birth.

Taking a class out of the hospital will ensure that the teacher can tell you everything, including things that might not make you the best ‘patient’ but will give you the most empowered birth. (like the fact that you can lock the bathroom door to create privacy, or ask for things like delayed cord clamping and no IV)

3.    When do you want to take a class?

As far as timing, some mamas start their classes as early as 24 weeks and others start as late as 35.  (which is a little tight) Many classes run for 4-6 week sessions over a six week time period, although a few (like Bradley) are 12 weeks. I would say the best thing to think about for timing is when you’ll be really to dedicate time to getting ready to give birth. You’ll usually have some ‘homeplay’ between classes, so having some time outside of the weekly class is helpful.  Taking the class later in your pregnancy, some advantages are a ‘freshness’ to the information. However, the later in pregnancy, the less practice time you have after class is over, and the more uncomfortable your body feels in class.

4.    What kind of experience do you want?

There are very ‘nuts and bolts’ classes, and even one-day workshops that will walk you through the basics of childbirth, and the possible interventions.

Then there are classes that have a more spiritual side, coming from a deeper place, encouraging connection with your partner, and focusing on birth as a journey, and bringing you closer to your partner and birth team along the way.

Some classes even offer a home study course, although I recommend going to a class, for the community, and hands on practice.

At Yo Mama, I am thrilled with the quality of classes that we offer.  I truly feel we have the best of the Childbirth class offerings.  We offer Bradley classes with Judith Nowlin, Hypnobabies with Cassie Friesen, Blissborn with Kimberly Love, and coming this fall: Birthing from Within with Rebecca Chenowith!  And we continue to have packed classes in our Inspired birth series, created by me, and co-taught with Maria Gonzalves Schimpf.

I created my Inspired Birth series after getting frustrated with the options out there.  (9 years ago).  I (being the birth addict that I am) used to go with my doula clients to their classes if they were taking a class that was new to me.  I sat through probably 25 different classes, trying to decide which method was ‘best.” Some methods had great fun exercises, but lacked the grounded information.  Others had tons of information, but presented in a fear-based philosophy.  I also watched as mamas would go into labor how sometimes their class would fit perfectly the kind of birth they had, but other times, their birth wouldn’t quite fit the skill set they had prepared for.  It’s hard to know what you are going to need, since birth unfolds so differently for different folks.

So, I ended up creating my own.  Inspired birth has a very unique set of coping tools:  Hypnosis, Birthing From Within, some from Bradley, Massage (for partners to learn), Labor positioning, etc.  The hypnosis program I designed to supplement the weekly classes and support the breathing techniques and tools from class, as well as offer you great coping tools in labor.  The program also includes a ‘hypno-doula’ track that families can use during labor, having my voice cue you surge by surge through your laboring process.   I love hearing women say “Your voice lead me through labor all night!”  and I was at home sleeping. 🙂

Couples also find it a great time to connect and get ready for baby.  And the overall philosophy of class is affirming birth as a natural, normal, and sacred event, in any setting.  I would say the class is geared towards natural birth, but with plenty of wiggle room and space for other choices.

The partners usually like the down to earth humor and gentle approach to preparing for childbirth.  One dad said “I had no idea I would laugh so much getting ready to have a baby!” I have seen hundreds of couples move from a place of fear to a place of excitement and adventure getting ready for their birth.  And I really love the community that is created in class.  Some of the classes have continued to meet weekly for a long time after class is over.  Some of the moms have ended up creating moms groups to connect as their baby grows.

Here is the webpage link, with the upcoming classes: http://www.yomamaboulder.com/inspired-birth/

I can never decide which part of my job is my ‘favorite.’  When I’m teaching yoga, I think that’s my favorite, and when I’m at a birth, I think ‘being a doula is my favorite.”  but I truly love teaching childbirth classes.  It seems to bring all the aspects of my past career as a comedian, my deep passion for birth, and my desire to share all that I have learned and continue to learn as a doula to give folks the most inspired, empowering birth possible.

And here’s what Jen, who just graduated from class had to say:

Inspired birth offers a variety of techniques (hypnosis, breathwork, visualization, hands-on support) for helping your labor be as smooth and comfortable as possible – in other words, you don’t have to want to have a natural birth to take the class, although the class is designed to support you in that process. It does a really good job of creating a strong connection between you and your partner around the birth/labor/postpartum process and supporting you and your partner in becoming the best team possible. The contagious energy of the facilitators and their love and passion for the birthing/laboring process create such excitement around an event that can easily be viewed as scary.
If you have questions about which class might be best for you, please feel free to contact me for a chat!

All the best,

Katie

Not So Ambivalent

(note:  this is back-published from last fall.   For those of you who know my more recent news, all is well. )

Today I had the funny sensation of mourning over my period. I’m guessing this isn’t a new feeling for many women, but it felt new for me.  I’ve had other periods in the past that I met with enormous relief and gratitude. And I’ve had a ton that I’ve met with nothing but a shrug, and a trip to the cabinet for a pad.  The first time I ever missed a period, I was pregnant with our son.  Our first conception happened on a wing and a prayer (and one try), so I only had shock that time:  surprise, shock, and excitement as I saw my first positive pregnancy test.  And then I had almost two years of no periods through pregnancy and nursing, a strange time, a break of sorts.  And I remember the feeling of excitement and sadness when my period came back 13 months after my son was born.  A funny combination of honoring that my body was my own again, and ironically ready to give away to another baby.

This time, as I saw blood, I had realization.

I have been flirting around with the idea of baby number two for almost a year now. I’ve been treating it with distance, callously, with jokes about how other people’s second pregnancies sound like a cancer diagnosis to me.   I would look at women exclaiming their joy at expecting number two, and inside I was thinking  “Was it on purpose?  Can anything be done now?  Is it treatable?”    I have been playing off my fear with ambivalence, and not being in relationship with all the unknown (and known) terrors that come with a second baby.

But today I learned something big. Aside from all the logistical stuff, the financial stuff, the sleep deprivation; In spite of all the heartbreak that is almost guaranteed when you open your heart to loving a child;  In spite of all the questions I have about my ability to do it, or at least to do it well, and in spite of the invasion into the sweet loving relationship between me and my son, and the feelings of betrayal I fear my son will feel watching me love another child,  in spite of the massive ‘rug pulling out’ insecurity that comes with expanding our family, I know now… in spite of all that.

I want a baby.

I’ll say it. I want another child to grace my body and my belly with it’s presence. I want my diastasis to rip open again (well, maybe not that part). I want to expand and laugh and feel my belly shake like a bad Santa at the mall. I want to feel my belly touch my thighs as I sit.  I want a baby soon, and I’m afraid of the space, the question marks around when and how and if. My mind dances around useless thoughts like “well, I am three years older now…” and “those eggs ain’t getting any younger.” I find myself in moments feeling like an outsider in my own studio, unsure of what to say to these mamas in full bloom, while I feel a little like a wilted dandelion.

It sounds silly even as I write it, as this last cycle could in no way be called an honest “try.” My husband and I threw a long shot pass five days before ovulation.  Those swimmers would have needed Olympian strength and magical powers to reach my egg. And yet, the feelings of loss are here. It feels like I can’t deserve to feel that way after such a short effort. It feels like I’m overdoing it. It feels unfair when I know the immense heartbreak others have experienced on their path to motherhood. It seems like I could blame it on hormones. You can always blame it on hormones.

I guess the gift here is knowing BEFORE getting pregnant, just how much I want it. So hopefully those two pink lines won’t feel like the soul earthquake I felt when I saw it the first time, or the empty disappointment at the single pink line this week. Hopefully I will feel the gratitude, that one more precious soul, on it’s miraculous journey, has chosen me to be it’s mama. The greatest, hardest and most blessed role on earth.

Until then, I’ll just let myself cry, tapped into the longing, pinned down by my own truth. I am not so ambivalent about baby number two.

The Princess and the Invisible Dragon

A fairy tale for the not-so-fairy tale experience of post partum depression

Not so long ago, and not that far away, in a land of angels, there was a beautiful Princess who wanted nothing more than a baby of her own.  Her Prince had not arrived yet, so she helped other mothers have their babies. Each time she watched a baby being born, she would say to herself quietly, ‘Someday, I will be on the other side, and the baby will be mine.’

She searched high and low for the father of her would-be children, but she lived in a strange land where the Princes were very busy with their hairstyles, and their Prince out-fits, and none of them seemed to be the right one. So the Princess kept at her calling, her work with mothers, and waited as patiently as she could, counting the days until her baby would come.

One day, the Princess met her Prince. She didn’t know right away, but the Prince stayed close, and in time it became clear they were destined to marry. Just 12 days after the wedding, the Princess welcomed a baby into her belly. There was much joy and celebration. Finally the Princess had her dream. A baby was coming to her!

One thing surprised the Princess very much. From her work, she thought she had a deep faith in birth and mothers. She expected to feel bliss, anticipation, and calm delight as she waited for her baby to arrive. Instead, she was very scared. She went to the woods and sat under a wise tree and asked the tree what she should do. Only silence came back to her.

So she began to gather the things she needed to have a baby. She built a place where all the mothers could come together to learn, and talk, and listen to one another. She learned she was not alone. She found a wise woman who would stand by her and help her birth her baby. The wise woman’s house was built into a tree, and she smelled like burning pinon bark. The wise woman said to the Princess: ‘I cannot carry you over the coals to motherhood. You must walk there alone.’

The day came when it was time for the Princess to give birth. She was very nervous. She tried to put it off. For days, she fought her body. “Not now, not now’ the Princess said. ‘Please, please, I want to bring your baby to you’ her body pleaded. ‘One more thing, one more task’ the Princess busied herself with distractions, scared to begin the walk.

Soon the Princess’s body began to take over. The Princess began to walk the birthing walk, not sure if she would make it through. The wise woman arrived and built a fire. She didn’t look at the Princess, but sang a simple song and busied herself. The Prince and the Princess worked through the pains together. The Princess couldn’t believe that everyone else was so calm. She was sure she was not going to have a baby. Something had to be wrong.

Finally the Princess found a place to bury her head so she couldn’t see anyone. She and her baby began to work together. She could hear the voices around her, but she was no longer listening. Her hand was on her baby’s hair. With each push, she knew he was closer. Soon her baby was at the gate, pressing towards his first breath, and finally she knew she could do it. The Princess was becoming a Queen, a mother, the mother to a tiny perfect son.

His eyes were her light. His smell was her breath. His life was her purpose.

They were in love.

In the days after the birth, The sun poured down on the healing Princess and her tiny boy. The little baby began to thrive, but the Princess did not. There was a darkness that seemed to hover around her. Her body had weakened after the long birth and her mind struggled to find its new way. Her baby needed milk at all hours of night, and the exhaustion took the Princess to a dark, dark place. Her tears flowed heavy. Her eyes became vacant. Months passed. The Queen, as a mother, felt older and sadder than she ever had as a Princess. How could this perfect angel boy, the love of all of her life, be bringing this sadness to her?

Then she remembered the Invisible Dragon.

There was a Dragon in the kingdom that could never be slain, because he was invisible. Many had tried, but he would always get away. He would enter a house, and sit very close to one member of the household and breathe his cold, nervous breath into their own breath. Slowly at first, and then more and more, until his breath was in their own lungs, and their own thoughts were no longer their own. The Dragon had visited her sister and her father, and each had taken a year to fight him out of their house.

The Queen took a deep breath. At the end of the breath, she felt it. It was the only way to know that the Invisible Dragon had arrived. If you took a very long breath, the Dragon’s breath could only fill part of your lungs and then the rest of your breath was your own. As her breath returned, the Queen felt a warm sadness as she connected to herself for the first time in a long while. She must have been too busy with the baby, and missed the cold gust of air as the Dragon entered her home.

The Queen knew what she had to do. She began to breathe. Full, deep breaths of fire. Soft slow ujayu breaths, all the breaths that she had learned from the kingdom’s breathing teachers. And the breath that the Dragon hated the most. The breath of loving-kindness. The Queen would picture herself in her own heart, calm and happy. She would surround herself with golden light. The Dragon hated this because he was a sad creature and couldn’t live that close to happiness. It made him sick.

Next, the Queen walked into the sunshine. Every day, she let the sun’s warm rays spill across her face. The Dragon really hated that. She breathed in Satisfaction. This caused the Dragon to cough and sputter. She looked into the eyes of the people around her, her son, her loving Prince, and her family. She asked them for help.

She began to nourish her body with the Kingdom’s best foods. She brought in the women who mothered mothers, and they prepared nourishing feasts for her. Dark green leaves from the kingdom’s garden, Saffron rice, warm coconut pudding. She filled her belly with good lentils and mung beans, and broths to nourish her blood. The village healer added herbs for her adrenals and her liver.

She went into her belly and drew the muscles back from the soft home she had created for her son. She knew her belly must be strong to leave no space for the Dragon. She went to her yoga practices and breath by breath, stretch by stretch, she found her body.

She taught her baby to sleep. She told him how much she had loved their special time together in the night, but that now it was time for both of them to sleep. That very night, her little son kept his eyes closed until sunrise. The Queen woke up happy.

And last, she talked to the Dragon. ‘Listen,’ she said, ‘I know why you’re here. I was moving very fast and needed you to teach me about slowing down and taking rest. I needed to face this darkness so I could guide others back from their own darkness, and know the darkest corners of my heart. But now I am ready to love and celebrate this baby that I have waited my whole life for. I cannot do that with your breath in my body. I thank you for your teaching, and I need to let you go. I will take your lesson of stillness with me. I will tell the other mothers about the ways to move through the darkness, and the importance of support, good food, and healers. I will take time every day to focus on my self, my breath, and my heart.’

The Dragon shed one invisible tear on the ground and galumphed out of her door. He was sad to go, as he loved the Princess, but he knew that what she said was true. Where true happiness was, he could not survive. He was a creature that fed on the dark. He went back to his cave and curled up in his cold stone bed.

The Queen felt something change. Her room looked different. She lifted the dirty clothing off the floor, and dusted off her shelves. She threw out a vase of putrid water and dead flowers and replaced it with three white daisies. She sprayed rose water into the air. She lifted her voice in a simple song that she used to sing to the baby while he nursed. She placed a picture of her beautiful son and her loving King near the window.

And she placed a velvet cushion in one corner to honor her breathing time and her stillness.

Just then she heard peals of laughter. Her King came in, their bright bubbly son in his arms, and gave her a kiss. He noticed her eyes were bright and calm. They gazed deep into each other’s eyes. “Mom-mom-mom-mom-mom!” her son said with a squeal.

Yes honey, I’m your mom-mom. She said and kissed him on the nose.                                                                                                                    

Epilogue:  This fairy tale came about when I was trying to write about Postpartum depression. Writing about depression is difficult, as I didn’t feel like myself during that time.   I didn’t journal, I didn’t blog.  It’s like writing about a dream.  Somehow the fairy tale structure felt more appropriate.  I never expected to suffer from Postpartum depression.  I had seen it in many mothers before me.  I knew what to look for. But strangely when it hit, I didn’t recognize it.  Partly, because I was depressed.  And partly because I didn’t know what depression felt like.  Like birth itself, I knew far more about diagnosing it from the outside than I knew about the inside.   I know that in the next pregnancy and post partum period, my husband and I will create a lot more support, and a clear game plan, should that Dragon rear it’s ugly head again.  And I’m already seeing my acupuncturist (www.drjakefratkin.com) to prepare (and repair) my body even before conceiving, and will continue that care throughout.   As well, we will employ a post-partum doula to help after the birth, and a sleep consultant to help sleep happen as close to six months as possible (my son didn’t sleep through the night until seventeen months, which had a profound effect on my mental health.)  I can happily say now, a week away from my son’s second birthday, that the Dragon has gone, and the joy is back.  I wish for every mother to know how important it is to be mentally healthy during the time of childbearing and to find a great support team to help make that happen.

  

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