Mindfulness Tools For Releasing Fear in Pregnancy

On April 10th at Radiance Yoga, I’ll be guiding a group of pregnant women through a workshop on Birthing Free From Fear.  We will share and listen to one another, while diving in deep within ourselves to reflect and learn some of these mindfulness tools for shifting out of fear.  I want to share this with you because fear is an important topic that almost no one escapes in pregnancy, and yet it’s never addressed in mainstream culture.  (check out another blog post I wrote about fear of childbirth in America) As a prenatal yoga teacher and birth doula, fear is a major part of discussion.  Fear has no place in the birthing room.  Our bodies are wired specifically NOT to give birth when we are feeling fear.  Opening up about our feelings, truly identifying them and detaching from them, is the first step to freeing ourselves from fear so that we can birth and mother with confidence, strength, and trust. 

As a yoga-momma, I believe feelings that keep coming up should not be ignored or pushed down inside us, but rather honored (even with our children).  Feelings tend to be magnified in pregnancy.  We are vulnerable in pregnancy, carrying another life within us.  We know that being vulnerable is scary, but it also carries the potential for utter self-transformation and personal growth.  There’s an unveiling in pregnancy.  A surfacing of raw unprocessed emotions.  Every aspect of our self, our relationships, and our life is inspected and analyzed as we work out how to be a mom and take care of a baby.  This is the necessary inner work to becoming a mom.  Birthing From Within author, Pam England states, “Worry is the work of pregnancy.”  This can be unsettling.  It’s not easy.  Pregnancy and motherhood is a time that calls for self-compassion.   Fear and anxiety is a part of this great pregnancy/motherhood journey, and so are love, compassion, and grace.  Let’s be easy with ourselves as we are stretched (literally) outside our comfort zone. 

Resisting these feelings of fear can create deep suffering.  There’s a Buddhist equation that I find helpful:  Fear x Resistance = Suffering.

 You may not realize that you’ve been resisting fear.  Unprocessed feelings come back again and again.  If you’ve been stuck in a circle of fear, chances are you’ve been resisting.  Other feelings like to go for the ride.  Namely, guilt and shame are big offenders that weave themselves into thoughts making it hard for you to address what’s truly at the root of the issue.  It may be easy to never fully process your feelings, because you aren’t really sure what’s what.  Patterns and mental habit are triggered when we are faced with big issues.  A web of stories has been spun.  You are trapped in the thoughts. 

What do pregnant moms fear? 

The fear of pain of childbirth is a big one.  I wrote a separate blog post you can read here. Moms fear change, being a bad mom, or losing their identity.  Another big one is the fear of losing the baby.  Some second time moms have fears of what went wrong in their first birth.  Birth trauma is a real thing.  Deep trauma deserves professional help beyond mindfulness.  Seek help if you are experiencing trauma.   

What is fear? 

Sometimes, it can be difficult to realize what it is you are actually experiencing.  You know something’s wrong, but you haven’t quite named it.  Or you realize it once you heard it or read it.  Fear is a contraction and standstill.  Cut off from Love.  Fear is the opposite of love.  Identifying what you are feeling is the beginning to mindfully, honestly processing the emotion.  You take the power out of it when it’s identified, “I am feeling fear.”   

Stay with the Fear 

Once you’ve identified the feeling, can you get curious about your fear?  Mindfulness suggests we not ignore our feelings and harbor them away.  Those pushed down feelings get amplified.  Instead, stay with the feeling and investigate.  Go beyond the reaction of fear and choose to observe it.  Fear tends to be a primal or habitual reaction instead of rational.  Mindfulness is using the frontal cortex, or the rational/logical brain.  It brings us out of the story loop of the thoughts, and into observer mode.  What can you observe about your fear?

Check your identity

Are you struggling with emotions being your identity?  Many pregnant moms that tell me, “I’m an anxious person.”  Notice the power given to that one emotion.  “I AM ____(fill in the blank emotion).”   Did you lose the rest of who you are?   Identifying what the emotion is, and then how you relate to it can help you de-charge it from its given power.  

Check your inner mantra

Do you repeat negative words or phrases in your head?   “I hate being pregnant.”  “I’m tired.”  “I’m fat.”  “I hate my body.”  Our thoughts can dig ruts of mental patterns that we repeat over and over.  Noticing is the first step to change.  Notice when you start the mantras.  Stop.  Breath.  Wait for the shift.  Direct your attention to your body.  Find your feet.  Can you feel yourself grounding into the present moment, rather than your thoughts?  Tap into the body to get out of your head. 

Once you are in your body

Can you allow notice what else is present?  Can you release tension and you allow yourself to feel the tingly warm sensation of love?  Do you believe you are worthy of love?  Remember the opposite of fear is love.  Rest in love. 

Be easy with yourself, dear Momma. These are tools to help bring you back to your Self –free from fear.  Practice takes practice.  Take it one day at a time. 

If you are in the Alexandria, VA area, please register for Birthing Free From Fear Workshop.

 

Radical Acceptance For New Moms

My best friend, Chandra, wrote me a pure and honest email recently.  She had her third baby seven months ago, and she's in the throws of caring for a baby, plus all the other things, while working full time.  My blog, Dear Desperately Seeking Self Care, on actions to help moms retain their center and sanity didn't work for Chandra.  Her comments back to me were so insightful and real, I asked her if she'd write a blog in response.  If you have comments you'd like to share on this topic of Self Care for Mommas, please email.  Let's keep this conversation going!  Here you go....  

A couple of weeks ago, Jessica wrote a blog all about self-care.  While she had some great ideas for taking care of ourselves as mothers, her suggestions didn’t seem possible for me, a full-time working mom of 3 boys, one of which is a nursing 6-month-old. 

One suggestion was to get up early to exercise, do yoga, and rejuvenate before small people can emerge from their bedrooms asking for cereal.  I already get up at 5 am, and even that is sometimes not early enough to get a shower before the baby cries for milk. Another idea was to eat an earlier, lighter dinner, a suggestion I thought would be a great way to ease the stress of the evening routine.  Unfortunately, that also requires shifting the larger meal of the day to lunch, a time when I am at work, sitting in front of a computer screen and strapped to a breast pump.  While I would love to implement these ideas, they didn’t ring true for me.

Self-care is a hot topic for moms these days, but for me, reading about self-care just makes me feel like there is one more thing I am not doing right.  One more thing I “should” fit into my schedule.  One more thing to fail at.  Why can’t I get it together enough to get a pedicure with friends?  Soak in a hot tub?  Exercise regularly? Why can’t I take care of myself when I know that it is key to taking care of my family?

Sometimes reading about self-care makes me feel like a mom on a budget looking for money saving tips and reading that she should cut out her morning latte.  Moms on a budget don’t have a morning latte, and moms like me certainly can’t get up any earlier.

So how can a working and nursing mother with an hour + commute and occasional business travel practice self-care? Most days I think I can’t.  I don’t have time.  It’s too hard.  My schedule is already too packed. 

But when I think more deeply, I realize two fundamental truths.  First, for a mom like me, radical acceptance is self-care. I take care of myself by accepting that perhaps early morning yoga isn’t in the cards for me right now.  I still have a goal to exercise three times a week, but I also know that it probably won’t happen.  These days I celebrate just getting my yoga pants on and doing ten minutes of a video before my son wakes from his weekend nap.

I may not be able to get up earlier to exercise, but I can breathe deeply and turn my face to the sun while riding over the Potomac on the metro each morning.  For that minute and a half, I am taking care of myself.  Someday I will be able to do more, but for now, I accept where I am.

And this brings me to my second realization.  This time of motherhood is a season. I am not saying this to advocate savoring the moment or to say, “the days are long but the years are short” (although they are).  I am saying it because this is the key to acceptance.  In prenatal yoga we are taught to focus on the breath.  We learn that in labor our contractions will come like waves washing over us, intense one moment, and then receding the next.  We need only to focus on our breath, knowing that grace and rest follows. We need only to accept.  

And so it is with motherhood.  This moment won’t last forever, this working mother wave of intensity will crash over me and I will ride it into rest. Just as with each contraction we are taught to breathe through it, so too must we breathe through this. I may not soak in hot tubs, my nails may be ragged, and I may not do a single downward dog for the next five years, but I can breathe deeply, knowing that one day I will. Learning and accepting this is my self-care.

A couple of weeks ago, Jessica wrote a blog all about self-care.  While she had some great ideas for taking care of ourselves as mothers, her suggestions didn’t seem possible for me, a full-time working mom of 3 boys, one of which is a nursing 6-month-old. 

One suggestion was to get up early to exercise, do yoga, and rejuvenate before small people can emerge from their bedrooms asking for cereal.  I already get up at 5 am, and even that is sometimes not early enough to get a shower before the baby cries for milk. Another idea was to eat an earlier, lighter dinner, a suggestion I thought would be a great way to ease the stress of the evening routine.  Unfortunately, that also requires shifting the larger meal of the day to lunch, a time when I am at work, sitting in front of a computer screen and strapped to a breast pump.  While I would love to implement these ideas, they didn’t ring true for me.

Self-care is a hot topic for moms these days, but for me, reading about self-care just makes me feel like there is one more thing I am not doing right.  One more thing I “should” fit into my schedule.  One more thing to fail at.  Why can’t I get it together enough to get a pedicure with friends?  Soak in a hot tub?  Exercise regularly? Why can’t I take care of myself when I know that it is key to taking care of my family?

Sometimes reading about self-care makes me feel like a mom on a budget looking for money saving tips and reading that she should cut out her morning latte.  Moms on a budget don’t have a morning latte, and moms like me certainly can’t get up any earlier.

So how can a working and nursing mother with an hour + commute and occasional business travel practice self-care? Most days I think I can’t.  I don’t have time.  It’s too hard.  My schedule is already too packed. 

But when I think more deeply, I realize two fundamental truths.  First, for a mom like me, radical acceptance is self-care. I take care of myself by accepting that perhaps early morning yoga isn’t in the cards for me right now.  I still have a goal to exercise three times a week, but I also know that it probably won’t happen.  These days I celebrate just getting my yoga pants on and doing ten minutes of a video before my son wakes from his weekend nap. I may not be able to get up earlier to exercise, but I can breathe deeply and turn my face to the sun while riding over the Potomac on the metro each morning.  For that minute and a half, I am taking care of myself.  Someday I will be able to do more, but for now, I accept where I am.

And this brings me to my second realization.  This time of motherhood is a season. I am not saying this to advocate savoring the moment or to say, “the days are long but the years are short” (although they are).  I am saying it because this is the key to acceptance.  In prenatal yoga we are taught to focus on the breath.  We learn that in labor our contractions will come like waves washing over us, intense one moment, and then receding the next.  We need only to focus on our breath, knowing that grace and rest follows. We need only to accept.  

And so it is with motherhood.  This moment won’t last forever, this working mother wave of intensity will crash over me and I will ride it into rest. Just as with each contraction we are taught to breathe through it, so too must we breathe through this. I may not soak in hot tubs, my nails may be ragged, and I may not do a single downward dog for the next five years, but I can breathe deeply, knowing that one day I will. Learning and accepting this is my self-care.

Your Partner, Mother, Best Friend, is NOT Your Doula

I’ve heard this from pregnant mommas several times now –“Oh, my husband is going to be my doula.”  I think there must be some confusion.   Doulas are not partners.  Partners are not doulas. 

There is a clear role that doulas fill that is not the same as the partner, or mother, or best friend.  A doula can only be a doula.  The confusion is not anyone’s fault.  The doula role is confusing.  Doulas are a relatively new thing in our society.  Our mothers didn’t have doulas, but you know what?  Our grandmothers might have.  The role of the doula several generations back was more cultural than professional.  Women would support women while giving birth.  It’s that simple.  Sisters, friends, mothers would gather around to protect and support a birthing mother.  And that’s probably part of where the confusion lays.  However, that is very different from the current, professional doula in today’s society. 

 So what does a doula do that’s different from my friend, partner, or mom? 

Nowadays, doulas fill in for the great gap in maternity care in our health system.  Doulas provide the bridge of support that is currently broken in our society.   If you haven’t heard, The United States has pretty terrible outcomes for mothers. 

The US has the worst maternity mortality rate.

1/3 of all births are c-sections

 Half of all births are scheduled  

25-34% of women say their birth was traumatic

So technology has advanced, but outcomes for women and babies have gotten worse.  This is a major problem.   Cue the doula. 

The concept of a doula being the continuous labor support person was created when Dr Marshall Klaus and John Kennell conducted research on the birth outcomes for mother and baby when a support person was present.  They found that outcomes were greatly improved if a woman had doula support. 

If a Doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.
— Dr. John Kendell

Doulas are one of the few evidenced-based options for labor.  A recent large study found women who have doula labor support are more likely to have a vaginal birth with less interventions and better outcomes for both mother and baby.  Doulas provide the much need emotional, physical, and mental support that a nurse, doctor, and even partner, best friend, and relative cannot provide.  Doulas are highly knowledgeable about the physiological birth process, hospital practices, medical interventions, evidenced-based practices, positions, comfort measures, techniques, and the emotional journey that occurs when a woman becomes a mother.  

 Doulas free up the partner to be the partner (relative to be the relative, best friend the best friend) without the pressure of being a birth expert and advocate AND the partner.  

The role of the doula cannot take the place of any other person in a birthing women’s life.  A birth team may do similar things or have overlapping tasks, but each person has their own place.  Partners do not count as the continuous support person.  Partners are super important to supporting a birthing woman, but they do not influence the outcomes in the same way a doula does. 

As a birth doula, I’ve seen these outcomes in my own work.  I’ve attended surprisingly few c-sections and inductions compared to the national average.  My clients are well educated on making wise choices for a better birth experience without as many interventions.  The number one most important choice that affects the outcome of the birth is the place of birth and the care provider.  Doula magic can only go so far when a birthing woman is faced with birthing at a hospital that has a 40, 50, and even a 60 percent c-section rate.  It all comes down to making informed choices to empower yourself for a better birth experience. 

If you are pregnant, do yourself a favor and find an experienced doula to support your birth.  And please, for the love of birth, choose a woman-centered care provider with a low c-section rate.  In these times, the evidenced is clear, no woman should  birth without a doula. 

 

Dear New Momma, Desperately Seeking Self-Care?

Dear New Momma,

 How are you feeling... really?  Early motherhood is all about adjustment.  Are you adjusting to your new body?  Your new identity?  It's always in adjustment even if this isn't your first baby.  Are you desperately seeking self-care?  Just because you had a baby doesn't mean you should feel crappy about your looks, pee in your pants (pelvic floor issues?), not exercise, and generally not take care of yourself.     

Remember back when you were pregnant and you exercised at least once a week?  Remember when you took long walks?  As a yoga teacher and doula,  I meet pregnant women all the time who are doing "all the things" for themselves and their pregnancy, but once that baby comes they never seem to find the time.  And I'm speaking from experience here.  I was one of those mommas -especially after my second baby.  But finally, after I had several near breakdowns, I started to put myself back together.  For me, the hardest part about early motherhood was little sleep and a lot of stress.  So what changed?  I got a therapist and slowly learned the only thing I could change was myself.  I learned I physically and mentally HAD. TO. DO. YOGA.  Yoga is my major stress reliever, my reset, my coming home.  I had allowed my crazy life to get in the way of my practice.  I lost touch with myself.  Why?  For the all the same reasons you are probably feeling.  I wanted to be the best momma I could.  I pushed myself to do more for my kids.  I wasn't trying to be perfect, I was just trying to do too much. 

After I had these major realizations, I committed myself to my yoga practice and doing less.  I was out of alignment with my own truth -who I wanted to be, and how I showed up for my kids.  We all have our own motherhood journey, but dear Mommas, it doesn't have to be this hard.   

Recommit yourself to self-care, self-love, and come home with a few habits that will change your life.  

Morning Routine

How do you wake up now?  Do you wake up and immediately look on your phone?  Do you wake up to the sound of your baby crying?  Do you immediately start a negative mantra of "I'm so tired”?  Does it feel like Groundhog Day every morning?  I know the feeling.  

Try waking up just 30 mins before your baby/kid alarm clock goes off.  Set your day on your own terms with a positive mantra, "Today is going to be a good day."  Avoid looking at the phone and getting sucked into a dark rabbit hole.   Go straight to the kitchen and drink a big glass of water -maybe with lemon.  Allow yourself to wake up slowly, mindfully.  Think about your dreams, maybe write them down.  Set your day with a short meditation -even if that's breathing calmly in bed before getting up.  

Physical Moment Everyday

Even though I'm a yoga addict, I didn't always have a super regular yoga practice.  Instead, I would rush out of the house after my husband got home three times a week (if I was lucky) to hit up someone else's yoga class.  If my husband had to work late, or if dinner needed to be made, or the kids were upset - I wouldn't go to yoga.  It was hit or miss.  It wasn't until I join a Yoga Health course when I learned the art of a daily home yoga practice.  I learned that I had to truly carve out time to make this work.  I went to bed earlier, and woke up before the kids to practice yoga for a minimum of 20 mins everyday.  This changed my life.  Instead of feeling grumpy and super tired, I felt proud of myself.  A glow is formed when you practice yoga before the kids wake up.  You magically become on top of the world because you already practiced yoga before anyone has asked you for cereal.  Now, instead of freaking out with all the many demands from little mouths, I feel calm and grounded.  I can't recommend it enough.  Yoga, or some physical moment -just 20 mins- everyday. 

Eat An Earlier, Lighter Dinner

Here's the thing.  You need more sleep.  You also need to carve out time for yourself.  You might be thinking, "there's no way I can get to bed earlier."  Here's the trick, it all starts with an earlier, ligher dinner.  Eating an earlier, lighter dinner sets up the evening routine to be smooth and easy.  This is often the key habit to create your deep self-care practice.  All kinds of beautiful things happen when you eat an earlier, lighter dinner.  You sleep better, and wake up less groggy.  You lose weight.  You feel good.  Aim for ending dinner at least three hours before going to bed.  Soup and salad, or what you had for lunch in a small portion, is a simple and easy way to meal plan.    

Get A Sitter

I remember when a therapist told my husband and I to get some babysitting help, I thought he was crazy.  Babysitters are expensive, and we are broke. We went years without having a reliable babysitter.  No date nights.  No coverage for school meetings.  It sucked.  Honestly, getting a regular sitter was the best thing I ever did for my marriage, my family, and myself.  We now have an au pair, which certainly sounds like we have turned into the 1%, but this help was essential for our mental health and self care.  Worth. Every. Penny.  


I hope these simple habit changes help you along the path to deep self-care.  It's possible to take care of yourself while you are taking care of your littles.  It starts with the belief that you deserve to feel good, and the willingness to put in the effort.  You are worth it.  

Wanna learn more about deep self-care?  Click here to schedule Your Private Yoga and Health Consult Program.   

What's Worse Than the Pain of Birth

How many times in your life have you heard that childbirth is painful?  Most of us have grown up in a culture that primarily portrays childbirth in one light and one light only—as the most painful, terrible experience of one’s life.  How many times have you watched a scene on TV where a pregnant woman’s water breaks and it’s a full on emergency?  In fact, many aspects of being a woman are portrayed in a negative light in our society.  Were you ever told that sex would be painful? Or that sex is certainly not for female pleasure.  Or that having your period is horrible?  Our female body parts are so taboo that many women do not know what their reproductive system is or how it works.  Many of us grew up not being told about our female body, or using proper labels for our body parts.  It isn’t surprising, then, that many women are terrified of giving birth.  This fear often is hidden away behind the smiles and glow from the extra attention our culture gives to pregnant moms.  Pregnant women politely nod their head listening to all the negative birth stories and horrors of childbirth that perfect strangers feel perfectly comfortable sharing.  Pregnant moms don’t know how to react.  We all have a story of another woman over-sharing about a terrible birth experience.  Why?  Why don’t women talk about the positive aspects of birth, or their period, or any of the myriad unique aspects about being a woman?  Our male dominated society has affected how we think about what it is to be a woman.  We live in a culture where the very things that make us uniquely powerful and amazing have been disempowered and disrespected.  This saddens me and makes me scared for how my daughter will think of being a woman.  How many more generations of women can go through this? 

nicole-adams-198431.jpg

Fear about childbirth is a symptom of a system that takes away the truth about birth.  The truth is that childbirth is, or can be, one of the most amazing, most powerful experiences of a woman’s life.  It is the moment of exhilaration, ecstasy, and ultimate empowerment.  Women deserve to be free from the negative illusions and propaganda about birth.  Women deserve the right to own their birth, to take it back, to see their birth in it’s full glory. 

Yes, this is a soapbox for sure.  But, it’s a worthy one.  I often find myself softening what I truly feel about birth and this negative system that we live in.   It’s scary when a woman speaks up.  I do consider myself a “birth activist.”  I spread the word to women that birth is special, and it’s worth fighting for.  Birth matters for women and for our future generations.  But, we live in a culture that isn’t set up to uplift birth as truly special for a woman, and we certainly don’t have a medical system that even understands birth.  Our hospitals are anti-birth centered.  There is nothing about the hospital experience that is in alignment with how women physiologically give birth.  Our hospitals are set up for doctors, not for women.  So yes, childbirth is painful, especially when faced with the many interventions and interruptions from the hospital system.  Childbirth barely has a chance to be positive and empowering unless a woman sets herself up with a care provider and birth team that is woman-centered, a team that listens to her wishes, understands her needs, and respects her and her body.  It is difficult to find this, but it is possible. 

monica-melton-469458.jpg

As females, we grow up with these negative stories and messaging that birth is painful.  We hold this within our bodies as we grow.  We lose innate trust in our bodies.  We lose connection with our bodies.  So, yes, childbirth is painful.  We have so much to undo, to unravel, to discover, and release.  If we taught our little girls that their bodies are important, that they matter, that they are special, and powerful, they wouldn’t need to overcome all the inner fear of birth—they wouldn’t even need to  take classes on childbirth!  Our children will already know all they need to know for their birth—that they are made for this. 

Labor Prep.jpeg

On Feb 10, I will host my Labor Prep workshop.  During these workshops, I always ask expecting couples to think about their birth influences and where they come from?  Are they negative?  Positive?  What were the stories they heard growing up?  What was their own birth story?  This is the process of uncovering the layers of conditioning we’ve all gone through.  Once this has been brought to light, expecting couples can better understand how they’ve been influenced, and how to break free from the past negativity.  Fear lives in illusion.  The opposite of fear is trust.  Once trust of childbirth and the woman’s body is established, then a couple can truly tune into Love.  Love flows throughout an uninterrupted, protected birth.  A birthing woman will experience oxytocin, the love hormone, rushing through her body more than any other time in her life.  Fear holds us back and keeps us disconnected from our true nature.  With fear, birth hurts … really bad.  With trust, birth is a portal to another world.  Birth symbolizes a woman’s transcendence into Motherhood.  When we honor our female bodies, we honor birth.  When we open ourselves to trusting our bodies, we will feel the full realm of sensations—pain and pleasure of all levels. 

My deepest hope is that all women know the power of their bodies, that they are beautiful, unique, and special.  They deserve to be respected.  As a doula, and birth activist, I work to help pregnant women to shed their fears, to surround them with positive support, and to create a loving birth team, guiding them through this rite of passage.  It’s not about epidural vs. un-medicated.  This is about a woman releasing fears harbored since childhood about her body and birth, to allow her to know and trust her body and to birth without fear. 

How To Kill A Cold for Kids and Moms

Cold season has hit my house.  I’m wiping snotty kid noses, and sneezing like crazy.  It’s no fun.  But, instead of running to the drug store, I hang out in the kitchen reaching for natural remedies that don’t create negative side effects, have yucky food dyes, or chemicals.  I’m not interested in adding any more chemicals into my kids’ body than they already get in our modern life.  If you are pregnant and sick, over the counter (OTC) medicine is generally a no-no, as many are not safe for babies.  The same goes for young children.  It’s important to remember that a cold is a virus, and viruses must run their course.  There is no “cure” to a virus, but you can help reduce symptoms and may shorten the length of it.  If you are used to taking these meds pre-pregnancy, it can be a struggle to figure out what to do to kill your cold.  Here’s your chance to learn natural ways to heal yourself and your babies!

Over the years, through out my two pregnancies and postpartum, I’ve invested many hours and dollars into learning how to naturally keep healthy and balanced for my growing family and myself.  In the last few years, I’ve been obsessed with Ayurveda, the ancient Indian health system.  This system looks at health on a macro level with the seasons, as well as micro level to your unique constitution.  As the weather changes, your body will need different things in order to feel in balance.  In the winter, when cold season hits, inner warmth works to burn off illness. 

In western culture, we tend to believe that our bodies will crave what we need.  However, a core concept from Ayurveda is, like increases like and opposites balance.   We tend to eat foods that our constitution is geared for, however this creates imbalance in the system.  Generally speaking, grounded people tend to eat heavy and sweet foods, light and airy people tend to eat light foods, and spicy, driven people like spicy and acidic foods.  To cultivate balance, we need to train ourselves to eat foods with the opposite qualities we tend to eat.  When we catch a cold, we need to build up heat in the body to burn it off. 

Here are my go-to, Ayurveda inspired natural remedies for winter colds :

Chicken Bone Broth Soup – Traditional cultures from all over the world use bone broth as a healing food for health and wellness.  You have probably heard about bone broth.  It’s the new rage in the American health and wellness field –and for good reason!  It’s full of minerals, amino acids, collagen, healthy fat, and protein.  There are tons of benefits to drinking bone broth: 

Reducing inflammation in joints

Building blood and soft tissues

Increasing hair, nail, skin health

Healing gut lining

In Western culture, chicken soup has long been a food served when sick.  Unfortunately, now chicken soup is most often served from a can and doesn’t have any health benefits whatsoever.  To bring back the nourishment in our house, we are in the habit of roasting a whole chicken about every other week.  After eating the meat, which usually lasts at least two meals for our family of 4, we save the bones and carcass to make broth.  I can usually get at least two batches of broth from one chicken carcass by freezing the bones for future use. While many bone broth recipes use beef bones, I have found chicken bone broth tastier for eating on a regular basis.   

Chicken Bone Broth Recipe:

Add a whole chicken carcass in a large pot with:

3 Tablespoons salt,

-10 peppercorns,

 -two bay leaves,

- one chopped carrot

- one chopped celery

 -and one chopped onion

Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer between 2-48 hours.  I realize 48 hours is a long time, and not super safe.  Longer simmer time increases the likelihood of getting the nutrients out of the bones.  I use a pressure cooker, which cuts down the simmer time to just a few hours.  I usually roast my whole chicken with onions and lemons and then add the whole thing to the pot for broth.  Be careful with adding too many lemons, as it will make your broth bitter. 

After the broth cools, I either put it in glass canning jars and stick in the fridge for later, or I create a soup to eat that day.  To make the soup, I simply add whatever veggies I have on hand.  I might spice it with some cayenne for a kick, or a squeeze of lemon for acid.  Most of time, it’s already got plenty of flavor.  

I serve the broth to my kids as often as possible.  Most of the time, they love it –especially when not feeling well.  Drinking broth rather than eating heavy foods helps lighten the digestive system so that the body can fight. Dehydration is a major issue in the dry fall and winter months.  It’s good for children to be given many different liquids in order to stay hydrated.  And, they are getting plenty of cold fighting nourishment! 

Honey Spice Candy –This is a quick and easy cold buster that everyone in the house loves.  I adapted this from my Ayurveda teacher, Cate Stillman of Yogahealer.  I serve this to my kids with a spoon.  They can have as much as they want.  Many times, I’ve seen a cold disappear after 1 day of eating some of this. 

Recipe:   ¼ cup of honey, 1 tsp turmeric, ¼ tsp cloves, ¼ tsp ground ginger (or fresh –even better), ¼ tsp nutmeg.  Mix all together.   Keep covered on counter.  Mix a bigger batch to keep on hand.

Essential Oils –EO has become my substitute for OTC meds.  To break through congestion, I mix Breath Deep from doTERRA with a carrier oil (usually coconut oil) on the chest and drab on throat near lymph nodes.  Breath Deep is a blend with melaleuca, peppermint, and other oils that open up the sinuses.  It’s refreshing and minty.  We also use a cool mist humidifier in the children’s room (they share a room and it’s so cute) and put 15-20 drops of On-Guard

Lemon water –Drinking warm water with juice of a whole lemon throughout the day can be a great way to get in more liquids.  Warm liquids are soothing for the throat, and lemon helps for flavor and adding more vitamin C. 

Gargle with warm salt water –Studies show that cleaning the throat with salt water can help reduce cold symptoms.  Salt water acts like a natural detoxifier, cleaning the tongue of germs.  While it won’t cure your cold, it can help ease the soreness in your throat. 

 Avoid dairy and wheat –According to Ayurveda, dairy is cooling to the system, which doesn’t help when it’s cold outside and the body is fighting off a virus.  Dairy is hard to digest, which taxes the system.  Children are naturally mucus makers –and so are pregnant moms! Backing off on all dairy products will help reduce mucus and congestion while keeping the digestive fires warm to fight off the cold. 

Utilizing natural remedies from traditional healing systems attunes you to back into balance and health in your own constitution.  Reaching food healing foods rather than OTC medicines will help you have more tools in your toolbox (or natural meds in your pantry) when you get sick while pregnant or when your kids get sick. 

 

Own Your Birth with Ten Questions to Ask Your Care Provider and Yourself
shop-2607121_1920.jpg

Generally, when a woman decides to get pregnant she already has a provider that she sees for her well-woman check ups.   Most women see an OB/GYN, but there are several options.  The tendency is that if she likes her current care provider for the well-woman check ups, she sticks with that person or practice for her pregnancy and birth.  This can be a huge mistake without even realizing the consequences. 

Here’s a secret –doctors and midwives are in a consumer market and you are the consumer!  They offer a service (pregnancy and birth management) and a product (the provider).  If you don’t like the service or the product, it’s time to go shopping! 

Just like any other market, you have choices and you can take your business elsewhere.  But, for cultural reasons, women in this country rarely change their care provider in pregnancy.  It’s a power issue.  We tend to give up our power to the provider, and we don’t realize that we have the power to change providers.  Even after women have subpar or worse pregnancy/birth experiences with their care provider, they tend not to change practices for their next pregnancy. This is a serious cultural issue that needs to change.  We as women need to own as bodies through pregnancy and birth, and own our choices.   The truth is many of our local OB/GYNs have very poor outcomes for birth.  Some hospitals in the Northern Virginia area very high c-section rate (40 percent) compared with the national average (33.5 percent) So how do you know what kind of service you will get, or what kind of product to expect?  Simply conduct a short interview with your current provider to see if you are truly a match.   This is an important step in owning your birth.  It’s also a great way to investigate your own feelings and believes about pregnancy and birth.   How much do you trust your body?  How much support do you need through out this process?  How much education would you like?  And, most importantly, what do you believe about birth?  This simple question often doesn’t come up in our culture unless you are lucky enough to have witnessed a birth, or have friends or family that has given birthed before you.  

doctor-medical-medicine-health-42273.jpeg

With these 10 Questions to Ask Your Care Provider, you will have the words to create a conversation with empowerment, thoughtfulness, and information.   These questions are conversation starters.  Take notes.  The answers to these questions give you insights into how the provider actually practices.  Hopefully, they are honest with you.  And be honest with them about how you are feeling, and what you are thinking for your birth.   After this conversation with your doctor, use the next 10 Questions to Ask YOURSELF About Your Care Provider.  Sit with the answers.  See what your intuition is telling you.  

pexels-photo-263370.jpeg

If you feel positive about your current provider… Great!  Now you know for sure you are a good match, and you’ve learned more about them.   If you aren’t feeling so positive, then…  its time to go shopping!  Start your investigative hunt by learning more about your options.   Have you looked into a midwife practice?  How you thought about a birthing center?   What about homebirth?  There is actually a wide range of options in this area.   As you are research-shopping, ask your friends, listservs, and other complimentary providers (acupuncturist, chiropractor, yoga teacher, doula) who would they recommend.   Really good providers tend to get recommended again and again.   And when you find a few options, set up a consultation.  See how many of these questions you can get answered. 

By taking a little more time interviewing and investigating, you will feel satisfaction that you mindfully, thoughtfully choose the care provider for you and your baby.  You will have taken the first step to advocating for your birth, and analyzing what is meaningful to you in your pregnancy and birth.  This feeling of satisfaction and ownership has another word…  Empowered!  You are now empowered!  Watch out world!  Empowered Momma coming through.  This is all part of the great journey of self-transformation.  Step into who you are becoming and go interview your provider! 

Click Here to download Questions

 

Ten Questions to Ask Your Care Provider

1.     What’s your birth philosophy?

2.     What is the induction rate at your practice? Episiotomy rate? C-section rate?

3.     How many deliveries do you/your practice perform per month?

4.     Do you classify certain women as “high-risk”?  How does your care change if “high risk”?

5.     How do you regard written birth plans?

6.     At what point in pregnancy do you start thinking about induction?

7.     If I have PROM (premature rupture of membranes) and my labor begins with my water breaking without contractions, how long can I stay at home before coming to the hospital. 

8.     If I’m GBS positive, how long can I stay at home before coming to the hospital?  

9.     Do you support a woman who desires non-directed pushing? 

10.  Do you believe in putting laboring women on a 24 hour time clock after their water breaks? 

 

Ten Questions to Ask YOURSELF about Your Care Provider

1.     How do you feel when you are talking to your care provider? 

2.     Do you feel positive about the birth experience with this provider? 

3.     Do you understand the standards of practice of your provider?

4.     When you visit your care provider, do you have ample time to ask questions?

5.     When you do ask questions, are you satisfied with the answers?

6.     Do you know and agree with your care provider’s philosophy of birth?

7.     Do you feel respected by your care provider and his/her partners?

8.     Do you feel safe?  Do you trust the care given? 

9.     Do you feel empowered by your provider to make decisions about the birth, your body, and your baby?

10.  How do you feel about the birth location and its birth outcomes? 

10 Simple Ways to Nourish Yourself and Reduce Stress

 Pregnancy and motherhood can add new stresses to your life.  That’s not news.   Many Mommas are struggling with learning how to be a mom and taking care of a baby.  It’s all part of the process.  Maybe it’s a little too much of an American rite of passage.  Stressed out Mommas are almost a cliche.  A reality nonetheless.

Stress is something I know a lot about.   With two kids under 2.5 years, and my oldest with Autism, I was one stressed out Momma.  And, I’ll be honest.  Drinking a big bottle of red wine really appeals to me when I’m super stressed out.  I have a history of using alcohol during times of turmoil and hardships–like after I realized I had a miscarriage with my daughter’s twin.  Wine has been my coping tool, my comfort food, and my emotional escape.  Unfortunately, it has never truly made me felt any better. 

Recently, when my childcare situation fell through (again).  I worked at all my spiritual and mindful practices trying to keep the stress level down.  However, I was still lacking in the deeper self-care tools that I needed not to feel emotionally exhausted.  I found myself turning, once again to old habits.  It slips in very slowly, and before I know it, I’m drinking several glasses every night.  It’s a pattern that has repeated itself many times.  I stay up too late at night because I’m drinking and “relaxing,” then I skip my morning yoga practice here and there, then I feel terrible all day and decide I should have a glass of wine.   What a cycle, huh?  It’s not very logical, and yet I still do it.  Many of us use food and alcohol to help us feel better.   It’s very much a part of our culture.  Eat more, drink more, shop more–then you’ll feel better.  Can you relate? 

Breaking these habits can be difficult, but they can be done.  Observe and acknowledge if you have an unhealthy coping tool.  That’s the first step.  After I acknowledged I had slipped into my old unhealthy coping habits, I decided to start adding in simple acts of self-care and nourishment on a daily basis in order to help me through this time.   These small acts added up toward feeling true stress relief.   These ideas can be easily integrated into your life at any time to help you build resiliency for life’s many ups and downs.  Pick one or two that call out to you, and give it a try.  I dare you not to feel stress relief!  Add this in on a daily basis and bask in healthy, nourishing, self-care.   You deserve it! 

1)   Have Sex!  You might be thinking, “Yeah right!  Like I got time and energy for that.”  But, studies show sex can help be a great stress reliever.  Physical touch and your loved one’s presence can make you realize you aren’t alone, and you are loved.

2)  Listen to Music and Sing Out Loud!  Remember when you used to listen to music all the time?  Now, you might only listen to NPR.  Changing the dial back to your favorite songs from 2008 (the best indie rock year in my opinion) and belting it out will lift your spirits and bring a smile to your face. 

3)  Give Yourself a Home Facial!  Okay, this one might take a bit more time, but you are worth it.  Start with an extra long bath or shower.  Add in some essential oils like lavender or jasmine, and spend more time washing your hair.  Then, use a natural clay mask on your face or hair, and grab a book or magazine.  Ah, heaven!  Sit for at least 10 minutes before washing off the mask, and going straight to bed.

4)   Sesame Oil Self Massage!  According to Ayurveda, sesame oil has naturally grounding, nourishing qualities and is good for most skin types.   The art of self-massage is actually super simple.  Just use about a quarter size amount of oil and spread it all over your body.  Rubbing in circles at your joints is helpful, and up and down along your bones feels good.  Sesame oil absorbs pretty quickly and is great on your hair or face.  It’s a great alternative to lotion, which often is loaded with chemicals.

5)  Go to the Library!  Sitting in a quite public space is a rare gift.  Pick up a few interesting books or magazines, and bask in the quiet, calm environment.  I often find great inspiration when I go to the library.  It shifts me into a creative state of mind.

6)  Go for a Walk!  Walking in nature is incredibly healing.  After just minutes of hiking or walking in a park, I feel the city stress melt away.  Trees absorb all of the toxic energy and noise that we bounce around.  Let the sounds of the birds singing, and wind in the trees, take over your loud thoughts.  Breathe fresh air and take in all the smells. 

7)  Drink Bone Broth or Hot Tea!  Sip your warm liquids and look out the window instead of your phone.  Feeling the warmth in your hands, take a sip and trace the warmth down into your belly.  Nourish yourself from the inside out. 

8)  Make a Green Smoothie or Green Juice!  Green is the color of pure nutrition.  A simple green smoothie/juice is kale, celery, apples, and lemons.  Either blend together or put through a juicer.  The taste is sour, which wakes you up and energizes you.  Chew your liquid to feel full and alive!

9)  Write in Your Journal!  Go ahead, dust off that journal.  No one is judging you for neglecting it for so long.  Writing–especially stream of consciousness—writing can be a great way to let off some steam, and brain dump thoughts loaded with stress.    

10)  Get Eight Hours of Sleep a Night!  A good night’s sleep makes a huge difference in my outlook on life.  While eight full hours might seem like a dream, do whatever you can to get to bed early for your best shot at a good night’s sleep.   Eat a light dinner so that your belly isn’t full of food to digest.  Practice a few of these self-care ideas before bed to help wind you down.  Sleep is the most important element to your health and well-being. 

I hope these ideas spark motivation for you to take care of yourself and begin to reduce your stress.   Need more support in your life?  Check out my prenatal/postnatal doula and yoga services!  

 

 

Mommy Wars and Yoga: Lay Down Your Judgement

Guest Post: by Chandra Whetstine

Two weeks ago in prenatal yoga, Jessica started the class with a discussion of judgement.  We talked about times we felt judged for our pregnancy or parenting choices and times when we had been judgmental ourselves.  These days the “mommy wars” are everywhere, and with so much parenting advice at our fingertips, it seems impossible to always make the right choices.  Everywhere we look, we feel judged.

It occurred to me that in this regard, parenting is a lot like yoga.  The first time I went to a yoga class I was furtively looking around at the other students, mostly to see if I was doing it right, but also secretly judging their form against my own.  Oh, are you supposed to be doing it like that?  She can’t even get her knee down, at least I can do that! Her downward dog is so perfect.  I must look ridiculous…

It is the same in parenting.  Seeking advice or guidance, we can find ourselves judging other moms.  I read that breast is best, how can she be bottle feeding? I would never grab my child’s arm like that in public! Did she really give her kid an iPad in a restaurant? In our own insecurity, or perhaps our ignorance, we mistake a right way of parenting for the right way of parenting, and somehow, we buy in to the culture that if we just work harder, if we just follow the right philosophy, we will be good moms.

In reality, we are all just built differently.  In yoga, perhaps I can get my knees down in bound angle pose but I couldn’t possibly touch my toes in a forward fold.  It is just how my body is made.  Someone else’s downward dog will always look better than mine, and I must learn to be okay with that.  Being a mom is the same.  Our individual personalities, experiences, and life circumstances inform our parenting choices.  It is just how we are made.  Perhaps I am a champion breast feeder, but my toddler watches TV while I nurse the baby.  Maybe you are the mom always ready to volunteer at school but can’t quite stop yelling at the dinner table. 

The thing is that both yoga and parenting happen in the moment.  You can study a pose, you can watch your teacher or a video, but until you are on the mat you don’t know what your form will look like.  In parenting, we can read all the books and ask all our friends, but we don’t really know how we will react to our toddler’s very public tantrum until we are in the moment.  Judging our own behavior – or that of others – based on theory is easy, but to put theory into practice is very, very difficult.

This isn’t to say that we can’t get better – at yoga and at parenting. I am sure if I did sun salutations every morning my downward dog would get at least slightly more presentable.  And if we make the same kind of effort at our parenting, we can change our ways there, too.  But the key is to keep our eyes on our own work.  My downward dog is never going to look good if I am constantly craning my neck to see how others are doing, and I am never going to be able to stop yelling at my kids if I am constantly comparing myself to mommy bloggers, Pinterest queens, and child development experts.

As in everything, it is about accepting ourselves for who and what we are today and at the same time growing into who we are becoming – as yogis and as mamas. 

 

Parenting with Intention

Recently, I've been inspired to be a better mom.  During one meltdown with my son three weeks ago, I finally hit a tipping point.  His aggression triggered aggression in me that I never want to see again.  I can do better.  Overtime, I lost my anchor, my intention to be a deeply attached, connected parent.  I decided to recommit to preserving my relationship with my son, to parent from a place of love, respect, and kindness.  

Pregnancy is the perfect time to dream about what kind of mother you'd like to be, and what kind of child you'd like to raise.

Reflecting on how you were raised can be a helpful way to think about parenting that you might like to carry on, or completely end.  Without being very intentional about your parenting, you'd be surprised how much you'll parent just like your own parents did!  I can personally speak to that.

Yes, the child that comes into your life will always surprise you, and parenting is not easy, but you can strive to stay true to the values and qualities you want to teach.  Parenting is a spiritual practice.  And it can also be a chore, full of reacting, and just surviving.   You choose.  Without being intentional, we lose sight of our deepest desires for our family and our children’s future. 

The yogic philosophy of self-inquiry can be applied to parenthood.  By analyzing our thoughts, actions, and feelings with our children with an observer/witness frame of mind, we can become clear on the roots of our behavior.  Then, ask the question, “Am I in alignment with my true intentions as a mother?”  By practicing self-inquiry we open ourselves up, and peel back what no longer works –or who we no longer are.  We are in constant evolution.  This is the journey.  These are the precious lessons our children are here to teach us. 

A few journaling questions are:  What qualities would you most like your child to have?  (For example: compassion, empathy, independent thinking)  What values are currently most important in our family?  And how was I raised?  What qualities do I most appreciate from my parents, and which ones will I avoid for my own kids.     

To learn more about this, check out the practical book Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, and the more spiritual book Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting.

 

The True Benefits of Prenatal Yoga Part 3: Community

In the past several blog posts, I’ve outlined the deeper benefits of prenatal yoga.  If you missed the previous posts, please go back to learn more

Have you ever been to the gym and not made eye contact with a single person?  Have you been to a yoga class and barely said a single word?  This doesn’t happen in prenatal yoga.  In prenatal yoga, we are all about the community experience.  In the beginning of each class we talk, checking in week after week with how the pregnancy experience is going.  We discuss the deeper questions like, “What are you afraid of?  How has the pregnancy affected your partner?  What qualities do you most want to teach your child?”  I call my prenatal yoga student community a sisterhood.  It’s rich with the bonds of familiar support and similarities as we share and nurture the motherhood process together.    

Pregnancy can be a little lonely at times.  While people try to relate to you, if they aren’t actually pregnant at that moment it doesn’t feel quite the same as talking to another pregnant mom.  Co-workers, strangers, friends, and family all mean well when they ask about your pregnancy.  However, all their opinions and comments like, “Wow!  You’re as big as a house.” (Yes, someone really did say that to me one time) do not land well when you are only 6-months pregnant.  While talking to another pregnant mom, there’s no need to explain why you are so tired, your feet are swelling, and you’ve cried five times today—they just get it.  In prenatal yoga, we bring together pregnant women to share their experience in an open, honest way.  Here’s a group of women that you can relate to.  It helps moms realize they aren’t alone in this experience. 

In this culture, going to the OB or midwife appointments is the closest we come to having a ritual during pregnancy … except for prenatal yoga.  Prenatal yoga is special.  There’s no other place like this where pregnant women gather every week. The weekly or more prenatal yoga class offers women a stable ritual to look forward to each week.  In prenatal yoga, we celebrate pregnancy while creating a space for inner-connection and introspection.  As I mentioned in my previous post, most women who come to prenatal yoga are beginners.  Many women start coming to yoga during the end of their first trimester, after they stop feeling as tired and nauseous.  They end up coming nearly every week for their entire pregnancy!  This consistency brings rhythm and reverence to their pregnancy journey.  It’s a time set aside just for them to move their body, check in with their baby, and breathe.  As a teacher, I feel honored to be a guide, to hold space for each mother as she grows and changes with every passing week.

Women who are present and participate in weekly or more classes will often create lasting friendships from the class.  They share resources, research, and fun finds with each other.  They might get lunch or a coffee after class.  Pregnancy and early motherhood is a shifting time that affects all parts of one’s life.  Social networks will change and expand as women seek out the friendship of other moms.  It’s important for women to be a part of a tribe of other women they can trust and rely on for support during this unique and sometimes challenging time. 

 Pregnancy and early motherhood is a time often full of advice and judgment from others.  Women do it to each other without even realizing it.  Everyone seems to have an opinion.  All moms are the targets of judgment, but especially in the early years.  In prenatal yoga, we practice the art of deep listening.  Great shifts are made when women realize how normal their own thoughts, worries, fears, concerns, and physical discomforts are.  While sharing, women learn all different kinds of perspectives, choices, beliefs, and values about motherhood and birth.  We do not judge others or force our own beliefs on others.  We support one another.  By listening without judging or offering advice, women learn how to open their minds and maybe expand their own previously held beliefs.  In this way, we learn from each other.  We come together, honoring each other and this great rite of passage as unique and individual, while also reflecting on it as the universal experience it is.

There are so many benefits to prenatal yoga. I hope you can see how this class offers women so much more than just exercise.  We are a community, a sisterhood, and we welcome all. 

If you are pregnant, and haven’t already checked out a prenatal yoga class, I hope I have convinced you to try it.  Please check out a class in your local area.  If you aren’t pregnant, please share this with your community.  When women are supported, we create culture change and everyone benefits.

The True Benefits of Prenatal Yoga Part 2:  Because Contractions

By: Jessica Watts

 Two weeks ago, I wrote the first part of this series called “The True Benefits of Prenatal Yoga: Beyond Boot-Camp,” explaining how prenatal yoga is more than exercise.  It’s about connecting to your body, mind, spirit, and baby.  If you haven’t read it already, please check it out.

 Preparing for your birth goes beyond exercise, taking birthing classes, and picking your care provider.  Like it or not, contractions are a REAL part of birth.  A huge part of being prepared for labor is about learning how to work through contractions, and how to think about contractions.  Prenatal yoga teaches many tools for how to calmly cope with and even enjoy contractions.

 Free movement during labor is a key way to reduce pain and assist the body in opening and releasing for birth.  Lying on your back without moving is a sure-fire way to increase pain and discourage natural progress of labor.  Now, I realize this a paradigm shift from how mainstream culture thinks about birth.  Movies and TV shows picture laboring women on their backs screaming with pain and in total panic.  It’s a full emergency!  Luckily, when women are  empowered to listen to their bodies, that’s not how physiological birth really is.  Our modern culture has forgotten that the female body is built to birth using full range of motion of the hips.  Getting up and moving with the contractions is empowering and reduces pain.  

 During prenatal yoga, we practice poses and movements that are practical not only for pregnancy, but also for birth.  Hip opening poses like Child’s pose, Garland pose (squat), one legged squats, and deep lunges can accelerate labor and ease the nervous system.  Practicing these poses daily will help to make space within the body, stretch and tone the pelvic floor, and rebalance the psoas (hip flexor).  By moving in labor, you work with the body to open up.  Staying connected to the body is essential for an easeful birth.   

 To simulate contractions, and practice coping tools, we move into intense poses–deep stretching or strengthening.  Poses like Pigeon Pose, Goddess Pose, and Frog Pose are big hip openers that stimulate powerful sensation.  It takes great focus, concentration, and lots of deep breaths to release into the pose instead of resisting it.  This is practice for the big day.  While in an intentional yoga pose, ask yourself:  Where does my mind go?  Do I have a mantra running that is negative?  Where am I holding tension in my body?  Where am I resisting?  Does fear come up?  Yoga gives us the opportunity to observe ourselves in tough spots.  How do you react physically, mentally, emotionally?  Guess what?  That all comes up during a contraction.  The labor and the nervous system are intimately connected.  The more relaxed you can make yourself, the less pain you will feel.  By taking deep breaths, or “labor breaths” as I explained in my last post, to cope and even control those sensations, you practice the art of enjoying contractions.  Now you are allowing the contractions to take you on a sensory journey.  What comes up can be incredible.  

 Ok, is your mind blown?  Are you scratching your head in disbelief.   I speak from experience here.  I used the power of prenatal yoga to experience an amazing labor with both of my births.  One of my favorite memories from my birth with second born Luna was when I asked my best friend/doula to blow in my face.  With extreme heightened sensation, I felt  actual pleasure with her breath tickling my face.  The rolling contractions sent me to another universe of birth bliss.  

 Before my births, I learned about the possibility of enjoying contractions from the classic birth book, Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth  and the documentary movie, Orgasmic Birth.   Here’s a great quote defining what they call an orgasmic birth from the Orgasmic Birth website:

 Orgasmic Birth can be the blissful waves in between contractions. One can enter this altered state and ride the waves of sensation, expanding into the pleasure and increasing sexual energy and the hormones consuming one’s being. Riding the wave creates a peaceful, total body sensation that lingers as energy is exchanged between you, your baby and your partner. Birthing in love is a state of filling your entire body and being with oxytocin, the love hormone, and surrendering to the power within. Dr. Sarah Buckley writes in Ecstatic Birth: The Hormonal Blueprint of Labor “Such high levels (of beta-endorphins) help the laboring woman to transmute pain and enter the altered state of consciousness that characterizes an undisturbed birth.

I believe it is every woman’s human right to have a pleasurable birth. It all comes down to how you define it.”

After my first birth with my son, Nico, I could feel the oxytocin rushing through me for days.  Four days after Nico was born, I rushed back to my prenatal yoga class to tell them all about my birth experience!  Women need to know birth is not all pain and suffering.  I don’t mean to idealize birth.  Birth can also be traumatic and scary.  But everyone already knows that part.  That’s what we’ve been raised to think birth is.  The wonderful parts about birth have been stripped away from us and hidden … until you come to prenatal yoga!  

I mentioned before poses that are useful during pregnancy and labor.  We also use poses to strengthen the body in preparation for labor.  Labor is often long and very physically challenging.  Physical and mental endurance is required to birth a baby.  Certain poses that strengthen the body can also help you when it comes time to push a baby out.  Chair Pose and Goddess Pose  are very strengthening for the glute muscles.  Cat Pose,  and all pelvic tilts engage the transverse abdominals.  These muscles are key for the pushing stage.  Moving into a squat in the beginning of the pushing stage can be a great way to move the baby down.  However, I recommend Tabletop Pose  when it comes to the actual crowning and birth of the baby.  Tabletop Pose decreases the chance of tearing and brings less stress to the pelvic floor.  

I’m truly grateful to the practice of prenatal yoga and all of its teachings.  When you know the true benefits of prenatal yoga it can change not only how you birth, but also how you think about birth. Using the tools of deep breathing and releasing into intense yoga poses prepares and teaches us to cope–maybe even enjoy–contractions.  

Have I convinced you yet?  Click here to practice prenatal yoga with me!   

 

The True Benefits of Prenatal Yoga: Beyond Boot Camp

Most people who come to prenatal yoga have never done yoga before.  This is unique from most other kinds of yoga.  The word has gotten out that yoga is something good to do in pregnancy, but the true reasons why prenatal yoga is beneficial might surprised you.

The analogy that birth is like a marathon gives many the mindset that prenatal yoga should be all about physically training for the big event.  Many pregnancy fitness classes tout this with their boot camp-style classes.  Sure, there’s a place for exercise in pregnancy.  And birth is like a marathon because it requires endurance, inner and outer strength.  But pregnancy and birth can move you through a profound personal and spiritual transformation, as well.  Rather than focusing on whipping your body into shape (which may cause more harm than good), prenatal yoga is a practice that offers teachings on all parts of the self–not just the physical—guiding women through this life-changing journey.   

Prenatal yoga is a practice for mind, body, spirit, and baby.  The true benefits of prenatal yoga are not just that it’s a good exercise, an alternative to running, or hitting the gym.  In the next three blog posts I’m going to reveal my trade secrets on the true benefits of prenatal yoga.  These include the 3 C’s:  Connecting, Contractions, and Community. 

                 Connecting: Mind, Body, Spirit, Baby

Life is busy. Life is loud and very distracting.  Prenatal yoga is a set time (calendar it in, people) to go within, to cultivate a connection with your baby.  I use the word “cultivate” because I know not everyone feels oneness with her unborn right off the pregnancy stick.  How do you cultivate connection?  Start by listening.  By getting still, and quieting the mind.  When you turn off the reactive mode of the mind, and become present with what is, that is connecting with your baby.  Cultivate a connection with your baby while freeing yourself from judgment.  Feel nothing?  That’s ok.  Motherhood is a process.  With my first pregnancy, I was deeply connected to my child.  Not a day went by that I didn’t center every thought on, “I am pregnant!”  As my child got older, I went through times of wondering if I really knew him.  I wasn’t sure who he was.  I lost my connection.  It hurt.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it.  But, with time, we moved through it and reconnected.  Patience and non-judgment was my yoga practice during that time.  A huge benefit of prenatal yoga is the dedicated time to breathe, to listen, to come home to yourself, as you are now, free from critique.  Call it meditation.  Call it centering.  Call it just sitting.  Each class I teach includes time for you to cultivate a connection with your baby.  It is a practice, and I believe it’s vitally important. 

One tool we often use to cultivate connection is belly breath.  The breath is a wonderful tool for calming the mind, tuning into the present moment, and connecting with your baby.   “Belly breathing” is a technique that applies both to pregnancy and labor.  Place one hand on your belly and one hand over your heart.  Inhale breathing down into your belly and baby.  Let the belly rise, breathing to your baby.  Exhale to your heart.  Cycle this breath pattern for 10 breaths, feeling the connection of your breath bringing oxygen and love to your baby.  Use this technique in pregnancy to connect with your baby, reminding yourself of how interconnected you both are.  In labor, especially during contractions, the baby needs more oxygen.  Use controlled deep breathing, imaging you are sending oxygen to your baby, to keep the baby’s heart rate strong throughout labor.  As a birth doula, I have found many moms respond receptively to this technique, realizing the importance of the breath and their physical connection with their baby. 

Asana (yoga poses) enhance the experience of living in your body—even with a big pregnant belly.  Moving your body into different shapes acts like gestures for emotions, creating subtle energy and mood changes.  This is simply body language taken to another level.  Yoga is an awakening to the deep layers of the body and spirit—to feel your body in ways you haven’t in a long time or ever before.  Breath, body, and mind all flow in alignment.  The nervous system begins to move you into a relaxed state.  Ease takes over, and actual bliss becomes possible.  Feeling bliss in pregnancy?  Yep, it can happen.  Prenatal yoga poses are specifically geared to bring your pregnant body back into alignment.  There are plenty of aches and pains in pregnancy.  The body takes on weight and changes shape with heavy pressure on the pelvic floor.  This can create low back pain, sciatica, pubic symphysis dysfunction, and many other physical issues.  Yoga is not a cure-all, but it can do wonders for some.  There are simple poses for nearly every symptom that comes up in pregnancy.  Swelling legs and feet?  Try Legs Up the Wall pose.  Leg cramps?  Try Triangle pose.  Round ligament pain?  Try Puppy pose.  I can go on and on … but that’s for another blog post.  Prenatal yoga poses open you up, to help you feel comfortable and at ease in your rapidly changing body.

There are remedies beyond poses that yoga offers.  Mantra is another very useful tool through pregnancy and especially through birth.  Mantra acts like an invocation to the spirit.  Chanting a mantra, such as “Om”(primordial sound of life), through a contraction (more on that next in part two), either out loud or silently, can help focus the mind and open the cervix.  A great mantra for pregnancy is, “I trust my body.”  Any time you notice yourself running a mantra of stress and negativity, try replacing it with trust and love.  Mantras are a great tool for connecting to your higher self, reminding yourself who you truly are. 

I have noticed both of my babies responded to mantra.  When my first born was barely two years old, he chanted “guru dev,” over and over, latching on to part of the mantra “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo” that I would sing throughout the day.  Listening to me sing and chant mantra has been a part of my kids’ lives since they were in the womb.  I believe it brings continuity to them when they chant the Oms with me, a sound that always was and ever will be.  In prenatal yoga we chant the Oms for ourselves, for each other, and for our babies.  Babies begin to hear around Week 18.  Chanting a mantra is a great way to connect to your babies.  Studies have shown that babies can be calmed by hearing familiar songs that were routinely sung in utero!  Read more on the benefits of singing in pregnancy here.

Prenatal yoga is competition-free.  Comparing yourself to another mom doesn’t help either.  Prenatal yoga is a safe space for being honest and open, working through the social pressures and expectations that come with motherhood in our culture.  For many, pregnancy brings up a lot of emotions.  Pregnancy is a time of great sensitivity.  Rather than sweep this sensitivity under the rug and marginalize it as “just hormones,” this is a great opportunity to get in touch with what is coming up for you.  Fear, sadness, grief, insecurity.  These are all feelings that are very common in pregnancy.  Working through these feelings is important inner-work, that helps to shape the mother you will become.  In many classes I teach, we discuss what’s coming up for us.  We normalize these feelings and allow for them.  Sound like therapy?  In a sense, it is.  Prenatal yoga is a safe space for these feelings and a practice for connecting with your truest self to guide you towards what you need. 

There are amazing tools for pregnancy and birth taught in prenatal yoga: breathing, mantra, yoga poses, meditation are all practical, accessible ways to connect with your baby, your body, your mind, and your spirit.  Next week I’ll post part 2, True Benefits of Prenatal Yoga: Because Contractions.  Stay tuned!

Lauren's Water Birth Story
 
 

From the early days of my pregnancy, I wanted to feel empowered through my birth experience. Although, I wasn't quite sure what that meant. I read Ina May Gaskin's "Guide to Childbirth" which presents an alternative birth narrative to what our culture feeds us. And I had enough friends with negative and even traumatizing birth experiences to know that I wanted to do this on my terms. Although my goal was to have an unmedicated birth, I was also prepared for the possibility of interventions, I just wanted to be in control of the decision-making.

In my second trimester, I started to experience a lot of anxiety around becoming a mom - what that meant for my career and my place in society, how I would juggle this new responsibility with the rest of my life, how it would all change me. It took months of rehashing the same conversation with my friends who balanced work and kids, yoga (!!!), and lots of books about feminism and childcare for me to begin to shift my thinking. I finally came to the realization that in order for me to be empowered as a new mother I first needed to be supported. 

Looking back on it now, I realize that birthing Ray was a manifestation of this idea of support leading to empowerment.

Baby Ray was pretty prompt. On the night of my due date, I was drifting off to sleep when my water broke. Thinking that it could be hours or even days before I actually went into labor, I told my husband and my dear friend Dorna (who was staying with us to help with the birth) to go to sleep. Of course, I was wide awake. I sat in bed and wrote a letter to my baby, expressing all of my excitement to meet her. 

Then I felt the first pang. It was a like a light cramp, but definitely unmistakeable. I texted Jess to give her a heads up and then started timing the contractions on my phone. They were hardly painful, but started coming consistently and closer together. By 3AM they were regularly coming at only a few minutes apart, although still pretty bearable. The app started blinking red and told me to head to the hospital. I called Jess and asked her to come over, then I woke up my husband, JP and Dorna. By the time Jess got to my house, everyone was dressed and the lights were on. I was totally amped and ready to go. But instead of rushing to the car, she turned off the lights, put on my labor mix, lit a candle and helped me relax. We ended up spending the next three hours in my living room. I worked through the contractions on a yoga ball (best purchase ever) and put JP to work in the kitchen making lactation cookies and bread (he loves to bake). 

Ray-Birth-1-2.jpg

As the contractions started becoming more powerful, I began vomiting, something that continued until I got to the pushing stage.

Around 7AM, the contractions were for real and I started feeling the urge to bear down. Knowing that we were about to hit rush hour, I figured if we didn't leave now, we might not make it. We loaded everything into the car and headed to the hospital. I kneeled backward in the front seat, hugging the back of the chair and looking at the floor throughout the 20 minute drive. Jess called the midwives to tell them we were on our way and they let us stay on speaker phone throughout the drive. In the background I could hear a woman pushing and then "It's a girl!" I tried to resist the urge to bear down and focused on not giving birth on the side of the George Washington Parkway.

When we got to the hospital I beelined straight for the elevator. I vomited again at the registration counter and got to skip triage. They monitored me and checked my dilation - 7 cm! After about 40 minutes on the bed, I was free to move around again. 

The GW Hospital Midwife program has a couple birthing rooms with tubs. Since you can't reserve them, I hadn't specifically planned on using it, but as soon as someone asked if I wanted to labor in the tub, I was a definite hell yes. It would take some time to prepare it, and so Jess suggested that JP and I get in the shower. 

We turned on the warm water, turned off the lights, and I proceeded to take the most intense 60 minute long shower of my life. There was a bar to hold onto during contractions and the sensation of water on my back was just enough to help distract me from the pain. JP fed me Coke so I'd get some energy back. It was really quite special to have that time alone with him. Until that point, I was relying much more on Jess and Dorna to guide me through contractions. I felt like he didn't really know what to do and I wasn't in the mood to guide him. But having the quiet intimacy as my labor progressed felt really special and a great preparation for the next stage of labor.

When they finally filled the tub and it was just the right temperature, I waddled over and got in. It felt amazing. I was able to squat and move around so easily in the water. Since we hadn't really been planning on using a tub, neither JP nor I thought to bring swimsuits, or even a sports bra. Instead, I spent the next few hours au natural, something I could never have imagined I'd actually be comfortable doing. I've never been super confident with my body, and to be naked in front of so many people for so long would have been terrifying in another context. But something about the experience of pregnancy and birthing changed the way I thought about my body. Even today as I am trying to lose all that baby weight, I feel more confident knowing that my body is capable of amazing things.

So, we turned on the labor tunes (I definitely recommend everyone make a playlist for their labor - mine had songs that made me feel relaxed or gave me a warm gushy feeling). Hanging out in the tub while everyone else was standing around felt sort of luxurious - like it was my private hot tub.  But soon I started really feeling the urge to bear down. At some point, JP got in the tub so that I could relax against him in between contractions. Dorna sat on the other side and we put a scarf around her waist for me to hold onto when I pushed. We must have done that for an hour or so. Having something else to hold onto really helped the pushing feel more productive. And I also appreciated having others play a more active role - it felt like I wasn't going through the labor alone but I had all this active support

One of the strangest things about labor was my experience of time. I really had no idea how long things were taking. I remember asking the midwife a couple of times if I was progressing fast enough. She just smiled and said I was doing fine and no one was on a schedule. Really, my only gauge was hearing songs from the playlist begin to repeat themselves. 

Laboring in the pool was really quite special. I totally entered this zone where I was 100% active during contractions and then 100% relaxed in between. I was lucky to have long 5 minute breaks which really allowed me to let go. I felt like I was totally in control of my body and knew exactly what to do and when. I loved that feeling. In fact, I never had that feeling of "Oh my god, I can't do this" or "Where is the goddamn epidural"... until the very end. The last ten minutes were absolutely the roughest. Once I could feel the baby's head poking through I changed positions. This time, Dorna held me up from the outside of the pool so that JP could watch me push the baby out. It was all hands on deck as the nurses, midwives, and Jess all gathered around. But the last several pushes were not the same as what I had become used to at this point. I entered the Ring of Fire, as my skin stretched with each push. The burning sensation was so intense. It was the one time that I wanted to just give up and push the baby back in. Thank god for good coaching. I really needed the motivational speeches at the end to get me to just push through that burning feeling. With each push I felt the baby's head poke through a little more. And then, suddenly, the baby seemed to slip right out.  

I will never forget the feeling of relief/disbelief/amazement/joy/wonder that I felt in that moment as I held my baby on my chest for the first time. It was spectacular. It was a minute or two before someone told me to check the sex. After getting the umbilical cord out of the way, I turned her around and announced that she was a girl. And just like that, all of the pain disappeared. It's amazing how in one moment I was going through the Ring of Fire and then I just forgot about it (well, almost).

I was so happy to have had the birthing experience that I did. I felt totally supported and like I had the space to have my own agency throughout. I know that I never would have felt that sort of confidence without the preparation I did in yoga and with Jess and without the support team cheering me on. Even when I was deep in the zone (eyes closed for 20 minutes at a time) and unaware of what was happening around me, I knew that I had a great team looking out for me.

Jess has talked a bit about how being a doula and prenatal yoga instructor is a feminist act and I totally get that. I grew so much as a woman throughout my pregnancy and birth. I came to understand my body differently (more positively) and tapped into a source of strength that I had never experienced before. And that sense of empowerment has continued into the fourth trimester as I now figure out how to be a mom. 

 
 
You Will Always Be Postpartum
 

My mind has turned to all things postpartum as our community needs have shifted, and so many moms have recently “graduated.”  I’m treasuring my private postnatal yoga sessions, as I listen to all things related to infancy, sleep, and breastfeeding.  Early motherhood is more than a challenge.  I had many ups and down, even really dark days.  Luna was born right around the time I first sensed something was going on with Nico, my first-born son and center of my heart.  While I was lucky to have had an easy and quick recovery from Luna’s birth, as the months went by and Nico’s Autism developed more and more, I drank a lot to deal with my stress and deep grief of what felt like losing my boy.  There were many mornings I was hung over from drinking through the day.  My fight or flight response was in high gear.  I lost chunks of my hair.  I remember having a nervous breakdown, and calling my mom just to cry.  After that call, my mom dropped everything and flew up to be with me.  That same day we decided I needed to see a therapist.  It was the best thing I had done for myself in a long time. 

Nico and Mommy

While it might not seem that grieving when your child has something “wrong” with them is a postpartum issue, I believe it is.   The Postpartum Period really never ends.  You will always be postpartum after giving birth.   You will forever be processing, digesting your birth experience, moving from one adjustment period to the next as your baby grows and changes.  The fact is after you give birth, you will never be the same.  There is no such thing as “bouncing back.”  That’s regression.  In Motherhood, we are always expanding, moving forward, shifting, and growing -through all the ups and downs. 
 
I was recently asked how do I give so much to this community when I have so much going on with my family.  Truth is if I didn’t have this community, I wouldn’t be able to be strong for my family.  I wouldn’t be the mother I want to be.  It’s the sisterhood that keeps me going.  There’s nothing compared to seeing another mom and knowing she’s gone through something very similar to you.  Pregnancy, Birth, Postpartum.  This is our rite of passage as women.  None of us are alone in this, as isolating as early motherhood can feel sometimes.  When I teaching yoga, or attend a birth, or visit a recent mother, I feel our strength, and it keeps me going. 
 
I am deeply grateful for all of you.  You all have inspired me in so many ways both for my career as a birth worker, and as a mother.  I’ve recently been inspired to become a postpartum doula.  I’ll take the training in 3 weeks, and begin my services right away.  Check back on my website for Full Service Doula.  I’ve moved more and more towards supporting women for the whole birth year.  I’ll also be taking a pelvic floor and diastasis recti training.  And infant massage training!  May will be a big month for extending my knowledge so that I can serve Mommas! 

 
Michelle's Birth Story
 
 
 

This week we continue our celebration of positive birth experiences.  Busting through the fear based culture around birth!  I'm happy to share rockstar Momma, Michelle's birth story.  Each birth story has lessons and moments of inspiration.  In Michelle's story, we learn how bonding the birth experience was for her and her husband.  They prepared for labor with workshops, classes, books, and more.  Putting it all to test when labor came.  Birth is a sacred experience with the partner playing a vital role, setting the stage for a team- parenting path.  

I love Michelle's story, especially the honesty of mistaking labor pains for Mexican food gas!!  Read on to learn more! 

"I had my 40 week appointment the day before my due date, which also happened to be inauguration day.  During the appointment I decided to have my membranes stripped.  It can reduce the likelihood of being induced so I was all for it.  I was not a fan of being artificially induced, since it increases your chances for a Cesarean and of course I was so anxious to meet baby Nicholas.  The membrane stripping was painfully uncomfortable and I remember thinking if this is what labor feels like I’m not going to make it. Ha!  But of course there was no turning back now. 

Michelle

Exactly twelve hours later I woke up feeling a little uncomfortable.  I thought about how this could be the start of labor and remembered that everyone says to go back to sleep to get more rest, so I laid back down and slept for an hour.  I woke up to an odd feeling that could be a contraction.  It felt like gas-- not the resounding wave of cramping that I had read about in text books.  I waited a bit and felt it again, so I decided to time them.  Sure enough the pain was coming consistently every 15 minutes and it was so uncomfortable that I decided to wake my husband because I couldn’t focus on the pain and press the contraction counter on my phone at the same time.  Within 30 minutes the pain went from every 15 minutes to every 5 minutes but only lasting about 20 seconds, so at this point I was telling my husband that this is either gas or false labor.  I remember being told that before heading to the hospital the contractions should be 3-5 minutes apart for 60 seconds long.  I was also kicking myself for having that comfort Mexican food the previous night leading to this horrendous pain.  My husband decided that my reaction to the “gas” didn’t seem normal and made the call to labor and delivery.  They advised to take a warm shower for 30 minutes to see if the contractions became longer.  After about 10 minutes and me still saying “it’s just gas” while writhing on the tub floor my husband called labor and delivery again.  They heard me go through a contraction in the background and told us to come to the hospital.  At this point they were three minutes apart but still only 20 seconds long.  I fumbled through trying to get my clothes back on while doing my cat/cow poses during contractions.  My husband was frantically running around getting the car packed.  I’ll never forget getting a sweet kiss from my dog who knew something just wasn’t right.  I guess even she knew it wasn’t “gas.”  

We took what seemed like the longest 15 minute drive to the hospital.  I was cringing as I saw the clock inch toward every three minute mark.  When we made it to the hospital, I could barely walk and was hunched over trying to make it to a wheel chair.  I was put in the triage room and checked to find out that I was 4-5 cm dilated and 90% effaced.  I started crying thinking that they were going to send me home because I wasn’t over 5 cm.  The nurses quickly assured me that I would be admitted.  They asked my pain management method and my husband recalls me yelling “epidural” like a scene from a movie (I don’t quite remember it that way)!  An IV bag and two hours later I was finally seeing the nurse anesthetist.  Yes, two hours later!  I always thought the epidural would come much quicker, but it turns out you do need to be prepared to get through the contractions since you don’t know how long you’ll labor at home thinking it’s “gas” or if the nurse anesthetist will be busy in the operating room when you arrive.  My husband helped me breath through the contractions focusing on “blowing the candles out” on a birthday cake.  Before I received the epidural I knew I was heading into transition because I had the urge to vomit.  I asked the nurse how often the contractions were coming and she said they were every three minutes for 90 seconds long.  Apparently at home I was only counting a contraction as the peak, which was about 20-30 seconds.  Whoops!  So, I woke up with pain at 2:30AM, was admitted to the hospital around 7:30AM, received my epidural by 9:30AM, and by noon my doctor came in to break my water.    Did I mention it was inauguration day and my doctor, who is also a family friend, had off for the day?  I felt horrible making her come in when she had three little ones of her own to spend her rare day off.  So, we broke my water to get the show on the road.  By 2:30 she checked me and I was ready to push. 

With the help of my stellar nurse crew and my amazing husband, my coaches got me through the pushing.  I had no idea how intense that would be.  Thirty minutes later a healthy baby Nicholas was born at 3:19PM.  The nurses mentioned that was the fastest pushing for a first time mom they had seen.  I credit it all to my prenatal yoga of course.  Seeing Nicholas for the first time and watching my husband see him come into the world brought such joy to my heart.  Having my husband there coaching me through every contraction was such a special moment in time that I will never forget. Our bond not only grew stronger by being forever linked by Nicholas but solidified that we can do anything as a team in the future." 

Jen's Powerful Birth Story
I truly felt, in that moment, that I could do anything.
— Jen Ushe

In today’s culture new moms and soon-to-be moms are marketed to through guilt and shame.  Moms are taught they should feel guilty if they have a cesarean birth, formula feed, go back to work, or even if they have a positive birth!  Guilt and shame result in moms feeling deeply insecure about their capabilities.  If moms don’t feel good about themselves or the way the parent, the whole family is affected. 

In effort to fight the cultural norm that birth is scary, and new moms should feel guilt and shame for their births and parenting choices, I’ve decided to post positive birth stories about rock star mommas! 

I’m thrilled to share Jen Ushe’s powerful birth story.  I met Jen when she was very early in her pregnancy.  I couldn’t have been happier when she asked me to be her birth doula.  As a prenatal yoga teacher and doula, I’m honoring to witness the deep inner transformation of each student that occurs during pregnancy into motherhood.  It was very special to see Jen grow and change throughout her journey, from fully accepting her pregnancy to deciding what kind of birth she wanted, to facing her fears.  It is my dharma (life purpose) to foster this journey, guiding Mommas through the emotional, physical, and spiritual ups and downs, twists and turns that is rich with life’s lessons.

Here’s Jen’s birth story: 

Jen Ushe

“A week before I was due, I started to feel a bit off. I didn't think anything any thing of it, but we made an appointment to make sure everything was okay. I was checked by the doctor and found out I was in early labor. We were shocked...the doctor said we could go into labor that night or in a week. We had been told by everyone that new moms typically delivered late so I couldn't believe the news! Sure enough, that night, my contractions got stronger. We labored on our own for a few hours until Jessica, our doula, came over and labored with us for a few more. I think this is when it became real!

At 1:30 am, I decided it was time to leave for the hospital – we packed our bags, put on my baby playlist (which makes me cry when I listen to it now!) and arrived 15 minutes later. The rest of the night seems like such a blur now. I had some of the most intense, consistent pain I've ever felt in my life. The support I received from Jessica, my husband Kuda and the nurses helped me tremendously. I had wanted to give birth without an epidural and there were several times where I almost asked for one. Jessica kept reminding me that I could stick to my plan and to stay strong. After more than five hours of trying different positions to relieve my pain, I was ready to push and bring my little girl into the world. This was the most exciting part for me because I had worked through the contractions unmedicated and I was going to meet my daughter soon. I'm not sure for exactly how long, but I think I pushed for a little over an hour.

The second they put her on my chest all of the pain and worry went away. I have never felt so accomplished in my entire life. I truly felt, in that moment, that I could do anything. I am almost 2 weeks postpartum as I write this (while I'm nursing, no less) and I can say that the experience of birth prepared me for the ups and downs of motherhood. I've always been a worrier and have needed to feel in control. Giving birth made me realize that there are so many things I cannot control and that worrying is only going to take away from enjoying the important things in life.

Throughout my pregnancy, everyone would tell me how excited they were for me and always with a big smile on their face. I could never understand why until now.  Giving birth to a healthy baby is hands down the best experience of my life and I am so excited for the journey ahead."

Thank you so much, Jen, for sharing your birth story with this community.  I hope it sparks inspiration in all those pregnant mommas who are struggling to understand the possibilities that birth offers.  Jen’s story highlights that important birth is for women, “I truly felt, in that moment, that I could do anything.”  This lesson is so important for all mommas.  Fight the guilt and the shame, because you can do anything! 

Meet Zahara Katherine Ushe   born     March 31, 2017

 
My Doula Tips for Aromatherapy in Labor

As a birth doula, I’ve got loads of tricks and tips that I like to use to make labor a more enjoyable experience.  One of my favorite doula tools is my mini essential oil kit.  When it comes to aromatherapy, I’m a beginner.  There’s a whole world of knowledge out there about how different essential oils affect the body, mind, and spirit in various ways.  In my experience, I have learned that essential oils are very powerful.  Smells and birth go hand-in-hand as the olfactory receptors exist in the same part of the brain that birth resides in–the limbic system.  It makes sense that smell plays an important role in birth, as birth is one huge sensory experience (Hint: It can actually feel good).  Not a birth goes by without me using essential oils in someway.   

For birth, I like to keep it simple.  I stick to a few tried and true smells that I know most moms like.  I’m not loyal to any brand.  I’ve bought the more expensive doTERRA, or random brands I find on Amazon.   I have noticed doTERRA seems to have brighter smells, but mostly I can’t tell a difference once it’s in the air or on the body.  

I’m currently using 4 main essential oils during labor:

 

Peppermint

Peppermint is helpful for those not-so-glamorous, but totally normal, nauseous moments.  Vomiting in labor is real.  It really sucks, I know.  I vomited up coconut water in between every single contraction for at least 2 hours towards the end of my birth with my first born, Nico.  But vomiting is also a good sign.  It’s common for it to come once labor has shifted into “active labor.”  This happens when contractions are from 3-5 mins apart.   Often, this is when moms might transition to the hospital –which makes car rides super fun.  I take out the peppermint oil and mix it with just a dab of carrier oil, and put it on her pressure points Tip:  I use sweet almond oil as a carrier oil because it’s light without any of it’s own smell.  Generally, closer to the face works better, so I go for the eyebrows, the temple, and upper neck.  I may dab some at her wrists so she can hold the smell right to her nose.  Using a washcloth with a few drops of peppermint is nice too.  Tip: Find the pressure point in between the thumb and forefinger and hold it for 3 seconds at a time to help reduce nausea.  While vomiting in labor is real, peppermint really works to reduce nausea. 

 

Lavender

Lavender is soothing and very relaxing with a clean, bright smell.  It’s a smell that almost everyone loves.  However, I always check in to make sure that moms are enjoying any smell I bring out.  I usually add the oil to a cotton ball and have the mom smell it first to see if she likes it.  It’s normal for moms to change their mind, as labor gets more and more intense.  Remember that it’s easy to wash off a smell if it’s not jiving at any point.  I love to use lavender mixed into massage oil and rubbed over the lower back, shoulders, and across the eyebrows.  Massage is a great comfort measure to help moms relax through contractions.

Bonus: Ask your partner to prepare for labor together by giving you lots of massages!  Simply squeeze a quarter size amount of oil in the palm of your hand.  Add a few drops of essential oil and rub your hands together to mix and warm.  Then, immediately massage into the skin to soothe muscles and waft the scent around.  Deep pressure feels really good during labor.  I instruct partners to think about downward motion when massaging.  Moms need grounding touch during labor.

Hospital rooms tend to smell like strong cleaning supplies.  As soon as I enter the labor and delivery room, I spray the sheets with lavender.  This will give the room a nice smell, but it won’t be over powering.  I put about 10 drops of oil in a spray bottle with a cup of water.  Shake to mix. 

I also immediately bust out my favorite aromatherapy tool –the diffuser.  I have a nice diffuser that glows with a soft light that changes colors.  It’s a relaxing mood setter plus it mists out any essential oils you add to it.  Labor does not like bright lights.  It goes against the instinctual brain.  For mommas to get deep into their birth, they need darkness, quite, and lots of love.  Another favorite doula tip is to put the diffuser into the shower, get in there with your partner and turn off the lights.  It’s very spa like with the humid air and calming smells.  Birth can be a romantic, bonding experience.  And the more those love hormones are going, the faster and easier labor goes.  

If at any point, mom isn’t digging the smell I just turn it off.  No problem.  The smell goes away very quickly.  Hospital staff tends to love it when they walk into a nice smelling room.   It’s pleasant to everyone, and it signals that you are a special momma. 

 

Lemon

is a key energizing scent.  I tend to use this oil when moms start telling me “I’m so tired.”  Nearly every birth gets to the point where the mood is low.  Moms might even start to say, “I’m not sure I can do this.”  That’s my cue to pep things up!  I utilize the “Take Charge” method, and get eye-to-eye with mom.  I tell her with all my love and seriousness that I know she can do it, and we’ll work on taking it one contraction at a time.  I whip out my lemon essential oil, and dap it a few times on a cold washcloth.  I have the mom breath in the smell while I dap her face, neck, and upper chest.   I change the birth music to something more booty shaking, and we change positions to be more upright.  When contractions are very close together, and moms start questioning themselves, this is the transition stage of labor.  If you have chosen to not use a doula (which, of course, I highly recommend you do), it’s important to memorize the stages of labor (click to get a handy PDF).  Transition signals the end is in sight!  Lemon oil is a great way to freshen things up, lifting spirits, and mentally preparing for the pushing stage.  

Clary Sage

Lastly, clary sage is the all around women’s essential oil.  Not only is it relaxing to the nervous system, it’s a toner for the uterus.  It can help contractions stay regular by signaling the body to produce labor hormones.   This makes sense because clary sage is also used as an aphrodisiac.  This may surprise you, but the same hormones that got you pregnant are the same hormones used to get the baby out.  Birth is sexy in a lot of ways (after you stop vomiting).  This special oil can be used at any point in labor mixed in with lavender, or by itself.  It can be helpful to bring on labor if you’ve experienced a labor stall, where contractions have slowed down.  Doula tip most people don’t know about: Use clary sage to help during the pushing phase.  I mix in a few drops with carrier oil on a washcloth or dry cloth.  Then I rub all around the perineum to help moms stretch and reduce tearing.  Clary sage is used to relax muscles while also being an antiseptic. 

I hope this has given you lots of ideas for how to use aromatherapy in labor.  As a doula, I strive to educate people on the importance of normal psychological birth, and all it’s mysterious benefits and potential positive affects.  I love sharing my doula tips to empower mommas for a better birth.  Interested in learning more about my birth doula services?  Contact me for a consultation! 

 

 

 

 

 

Connecting to Mother Earth in Pregnancy

I find pregnancy to be a great time to connect with the natural world.  As a pregnant woman, you are the embodiment of creator.  The change of seasons brings a shift, a transformation to our outer world, our ecosystem, as well as to our inner world, and internal ecosystem.  As we celebrate the first week of spring, pause and sense what’s changing within yourself.  We change mentally, physically, and spiritually to meet each season.  Spring is rich with symbolism representing new life, abundance, creativity, hope, and potential.  Tuning in to the subtle changes around us and within us, is an opportunity for personal growth.  Seeing the trees pregnant with buds soon to blossom, spring reminds us Mother Earth is full of life.  We breathe in oxygen from the plants, breathing out carbon dioxide back to the plants.  Our bodies crave different food, as our ecosystem produces what’s in season.  We eat what grows from the earth.  Our breath and our bodies change as we take in from the changing plants around us.  We are interconnected to our ecosystem, to the seasons, to the cycles.  

In pregnancy, you and your baby are a reflection of this meta interconnection we have to the natural world.  You nourish your baby with all that you take in—breath, food, water, sound, and emotions.   Your baby is naturally in sync with you—the Mother.   You are abundance, creativity, hope, with pure potential.  

As you move into this new season, here is a meditation to help you connect with the natural world as yourself.  Maybe one day, you’ll share this meditation with your child and remind them of their first spring while in your belly. 

 

Pebble Meditation

Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community

 

Breathing in, I see myself as a Flower

Breathing out, I feel Fresh

Breathing in, I see myself as a Mountain

Breathing out, I feel Solid

Breathing in, I see myself as a Still Water

Breathing out, I Reflect things are they are

Breathing in, I see myself as Space

Breathing out, I feel Free

Empowered Birth

The concept of having an Empowered Birth may be new to some people, so I thought it would be useful to write about it again this week.   Wherever you are in your pregnancy, it’s never too early to think about empowerment.  Choices you make have lasting impacts on how you feel in your pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. 

How we feel about birth, very often, is a product of what we know.  And very often, what we know is from popular culture, our friends, and family.  However, there are other ways of viewing pregnancy and birth.  It’s helpful to analyze where our beliefs come from to ensure that we are making choices that are truly authentic to ourselves.

I define an Empowered Birth as being an educated advocate for yourself.  I’m going to break this down to be clearer. 

Why Would You Want an Empowered Birth?

1)   We have some of the highest cesarean rates in the country.

According to a study by Consumer Reports, two Northern Virginia hospitals are among the U.S. hospitals ranked with highest c-section rates in 2016.

Hospital

C-section Rates
(First-Time Mothers, Low-Risk Deliveries)

Rank

INOVA Alexandria

35%

15

Virginia Hospital Center

33%

24

INOVA Fairfax

INOVA Fairfax did not report their cesarean rate in 2016. Since they are considered a “high-risk” hospital, it’s likely they have a high cesarean rate.

At one point, Virginia was a leader in the country in obstetric data transparency, but the Virginia Department of Health has stopped collecting this data on cesareans. This data was only updated as recently as 2012.  I am including it here for historical comparison.

Hospital

C-section Rates
in 2012

INOVA Alexandria

41%

Virginia Hospital Center

42%

INOVA Fairfax

45%

Check out the full list here

2)   Many care providers do not practice evidenced-base care.

Evidenced-based care is backed by statistics that show that a specific practice is the most beneficial to the health of the mother and baby.  Here is a table that shows examples of how some routine care is not evidenced-based. 

Learn more about evidenced-based vs. routine at Evidence Based Birth (https://evidencebasedbirth.com/updated-table-on-the-state-of-maternity-care-in-the-u-s/)

3)   Birth can be traumatic.  

This is a quote taken from the Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth (PATTCh) website, written by Penny Simkin:

Between 25 and 34 per cent of women report that their births were traumatic. A birth is said to be traumatic when the individual (mother, father, or other witness) believes the mother’s or her baby’s life was in danger, or that a serious threat to the mother’s or her baby’s physical or emotional integrity existed.
From: http://pattch.org/resource-guide/traumatic-births-and-ptsd-definition-and-statistics/

Let’s prevent this terrible statistic by being an empowered advocate for yourself. 

4)   Set yourself up for a positive early parenting experience.  

When you learn to advocate for yourself in pregnancy and birth, you are advocating for your baby.  You will feel more secure, well prepared, and more confident about being a mom when you’ve had an empowered birth.  You have less risk for having perinatal mood disorder.  Approximately 21% of women experience major or minor depression following childbirth. (Wisner KL, Sit DKY, McShea MC, et al. JAMA Psychiatry 2013)

Educated: Ignorance Is NOT Bliss

The number one most important choice you make is choosing your care-provider.  Very often, the person you go to for your yearly exam is not who want to help deliver your baby.  How do you choose?  First, look at the two models of care.  The medical model of care vs. the midwife model of care.  Decide how you feel about birth.  Do you feel pregnancy and birth should be managed and treated?  Do you feel birth is a normal, physiological event?   Some care provider practices are attempting to blend the two models.  For example, the Physicians and Midwives practice in our area. 

While choosing the model of care that best suits you is important, remember that the providers still have to follow hospital policies.  This is why the second most important choice you make is the location of your birth.   If you like your care provider, but they practice at a hospital with a high cesarean rate, then you may want to reconsider that location if a c-section is not a part of your birth plan.       

How to Get Educated?

Once you’ve decided you want an Empowered Birth, you need to educate yourself with the positive resources.  Seek out non-fear based books, birthing classes and workshops, evidenced based websites, positive birth stories, and doulas in your area.  Here’s a link to a list of my favorite resources to help you get started: Jessica’s Favorite Prenatal Resources

When you are educated you …

  • know your choices

  • are confident in the birth process

  • have less fear

  • are an active participant with your body/trust your body/believe in yourself

  • make choices that suit your needs and desires

  • know the questions to ask for provider

Steps You Can Take to Advocate for Yourself

  • Write a birth plan (or birth desires)
  • Write a list of questions before prenatal visits
  • Discuss your concerns
  • Learn the B.R.A.I.N method to make informed decisions
  • Hire a doula to teach and remind you to advocate for yourself

You are the consumer.  Policies will not change unless the market demands it. Discuss your desires.  Listen to what the care-provider says.  If you can’t compromise or agree, then you need to find another care provider.

When you advocate you …

  • are empowered in your birth
  • are advocating for your baby and learning how to advocate for your child’s  future
  • influence future changes in routine care
  • have your voice heard
  • reduce birth trauma

Can I still have an Empowered Birth if I have medical conditions, planned/unplanned induction, planned/unplanned C-section?

Absolutely!  No matter what kind of birth you plan—or end up with—you can advocate for yourself, making the best choice for you and your baby.  Check out my Empowered Induction Tip-Sheet.  Consider asking your care provider about having a “Family-Centered Cesarean” otherwise known as a“Gentle Cesarean”.  The key is to be educated so that you can advocate for your birth and baby. 

I hope the idea of an Empowered Birth is helpful to you in someway.  My goal is not to preach or be biased about the choosing one type of birth over the other.  My goal is to be an instrument in improving births for women and babies.  Better births make happier families.