No one really tells you what life is like as a parent. And they can't. Really. It's different for all of us. All we can say to each other is "ugh" and "totally" and " oh, I know..." And we really mean all of those things! Sometimes we mean them negatively and sometimes we mean them in the most amazingly unbelievably positive and exciting way possible. Parenting brings out the best in us: the best times, the best feelings, the best impression of our own parents' voices that we swore we would never use... it's an endless adventure that will continue for the rest of our lives.
My own adventure this week was full of ups and downs and round and rounds. Here are some highlights:
~ I was told "I love you" by a four year old who was in the middle of pooping.
~ I cooked up some caramelized onions and grated some maple cheddar to up the classiness factor of hot dog night.
~ I removed approximately 157 pairs of underwear from the legs of inside out pants. (Ok, this is an exaggeration, but it was a lot... every. single. pair.)
~ I said "Dude, your penis doesn't go in your bowl..."
~ I also said "Hot wheels stay on the tracks... let's keep them out of your diaper."
~ I was told "I don't like you and I am never washing my hair ever again!"
~ The movie Home made me cry. Again.
~ I sat on the couch and drank a glass of wine and talked with my husband about our plans for the basement bathroom, his interview next week, and how amazing our kids are.
Some days I think "Oh my god, what the hell?" or "Why is no one sleeping in this house at 3am anymore?!?!" And that's perfect. It's all about balance, friends. If I didn't have those days, I might not appreciate those other amazingly unbelievable days where my kids tell me knock knock jokes while we are driving and they kiss me for no reason and they tell me they love me 180% when the KD is ready and we play cars for hours and no one puts their penis in a bowl or a hot wheels car in their diaper.
You know that moment when you see a positive on your pee-stick... the moment your world kind of stops, yet continues to twirl around you? Your thought process is along the lines of, "Whoa! I'm pregnant! I'm going to have a baby!" I find that, that whole processing thing takes a while... a really long while. I would go as far as to say it takes almost your entire pregnancy. Even when you're feeling your baby jam into your ribcage and the heartburn is in full force, until that baby is on your chest and in your arms, it's hard to completely "get it". You're having a baby.
I remember my midwife talking about breastfeeding. I remember learning about it in prenatal class and reading about it here and there when I was studying up my birth books. I wasn't too worried about it and I was much more focused on having the baby and making it through the birth. Little did I know what breastfeeding entailed and what it would take to get me through that. My mom did it! Why couldn't I? It was easy. Put the baby on and they figure it out. "Even with a breast reduction history? Don't worry, you'll be able to nurse. It's natural". Let me tell you, it is not natural. The act of it... absolutely. The art of it... nope. It takes practice, patience, understanding, tears, and a lot of love. No one warned me that it would be the hardest thing I ever had to do.
My birth was fairly text book, a beautiful birth. I've told people my birth story and can see the glimmer in their eye wishing and hoping they could have a birth like mine. Simple, fairly quick (minus the posterior baby and back labour), 5 hours of active labour until being in my arms, at home, in water, and in my bed not shortly after. Picture perfect.
We nursed in bed after I got out of the shower and that was when I first noticed some trouble. My breasts weren't built for breastfeeding, in the sense that I had very flat and somewhat inverted nipples. My baby could not latch and she kept slipping off. I chalked it up to her being small and tired. We'd try more later.
We made it through the first night no problem, but as the days rolled out I started dreading every hour. My baby would not latch, I couldn't really hand express, I did not understand anything that was happening. Thank God for my doula and midwife's texting support and all the resources they were giving me. My doula (who I didn't hire until two weeks before baby arrived) even brought me a breast pump on day five, when we realized my milk still hadn't come in. I spent my time in this fog searching websites like, Kellymom, Babycentre, and Le Leche League trying to find answers. There's nothing more thrilling than trying to learn something brand new while you're in the thick of it. Sleep deprived, and hormones swirling around like a tornado, I remember kicking myself emotionally for not doing my homework. I battled myself for not preparing, for not being good enough. I felt so confused because I was the problem, but I was also the solution. I felt powerless however, and that is no place any woman should be in her first days postpartum.
I started babywearing and I began using a nipple shield. I took herbs, I pumped and I had a prescription to support my milk production. My supply built up, but the diapers didn't. My doula, my (emergency) lactation consultant and my midwife were my new pit crew. They lined me up with the resources to find milk donations and that was what carried us through to finally have my baby gaining again. The next 12 weeks were hours spent trying to nurse, then topping-up with finger sucking and syringe feeding, and more pumping, all the while trying to sleep in between sessions. It took a lot out of me.
This experience is what really encouraged me to become a doula. My doula was essential to my well-being and resources in these first few weeks. I myself obviously had a few things working against me (flat nipples and a breast reduction), but I can't tell you how often I talk to women who have had similar or equally difficult breastfeeding experiences, and it all boils down to lack of support, experience, and education.
This is something that we can work on as a community as doulas, mothers and friends, to help educate and support one another. It is so necessary and crucial to your postpartum experience and transition into motherhood. My friend (who I met after my first child and who helped support me through my second nursing relationship), had written an article and I remember reading it months after I finished nursing. She said something along the lines of, "We all know how to ride a bike because we see people riding bikes - but we don't know how to breastfeed because we don't see each other breastfeed."
Now, I'm one for doing what you're most comfortable with. This statement doesn't mean if you want to cover, you shouldn't. Do what works best for you. However I think seeing breastfeeding and normalizing it is so important. I wish, in hindsight, I had seen more of it as a child and as an adult woman. I am now in a community where I see it non-stop. Actually I don't even see it: it just is. Baby's nurse and I barely notice it. Every once in a while I'll catch the mama adjusting a latch or repositioning baby. These subtle things are what is so important for us to subconsciously learn as new mothers. Instances like this, along with doing some pre-baby education are incredibly essential to your success in your breastfeeding relationship. Remember that you have to have the baby first, but then you have to breastfeed that baby for months afterwards. You can do this! Just do your homework. ;-)
Successfully nursing my baby boy: breastfeeding round two! <3
Meeting your newborn baby for the first time is a sweet and pure moment. All the anticipation of your new little one is swaddled in joy, wonderment and relief. Both of you have created a perfect little being. You feel its soft skin as you brush its cheeks and wisps of hair. You count each and every finger and toe for the first time. The instant relief that your baby is now here with you and the anticipation of getting on with your new normal life is insatiable after you settle into your postpartum.
Feelings of disappointment, depression, anxiety or bonding issues from a birth not going as planned or complications occurring beforehand, during, or even after the birth can greatly impact the postpartum experience. No matter what, helping families be realistic and prepared for a variety of scenarios and ensuring a variety of tools are in the hands of the new parents’ repertoire can be essential in helping them develop coping skills for their transition to parenthood.
As a doula, I reside mostly in a culture where birth is seen as a beautiful transformation. In Birth Matters, Ina May Gaskin states, “No matter how much pressure our society may bring upon us to pretend otherwise, pregnancy, labor and birth produce very powerful changes in women’s bodies, psyches, and lives, no matter by which exit route- natural or surgical- babies are born. It follows then that the way that birth care is organized and carried out will have a powerful effect on any human society.” Birth has a way of taking you to the depths of your being and challenges you to move past all fears and uncertainties, to trust in the process of moving forward onto a new adventure; releasing your infant and leading you into parenthood. While giving birth can be a rite of passage that leads to empowerment, triumph and strength, it can also be one of disempowerment, leaving women feeling stripped of their own power and strength of self, mind and body.
The majority of families come through their birth experience with the discovery of personal strengths and endurance that they never thought they had in them. Most parents find their adjustment to this new role with ease and grace. For others, however, it just isn’t the same path -- every step comes with more challenges. Every step requires learning new ways to cope and manage the ever changing moments that life with a newborn brings. Every step is a struggle to find new approaches to stay on top. For these parents the phrase, “ease into parenthood,” isn’t one that they would use to describe their experience.
As doulas, we sometimes are and sometimes aren’t, privy to what unfolds upon new parents returning home. When we come for visits, we can see only what our clients wish for us to see and hear only what they wish to share with us. It is a privilege that leads us into the lives of families and glimpse what their journey with their infant looks like, for that moment. However, we may never see the daily struggle to keep their heads above water in the current of sleepless nights and crying babies. Sometimes a lack of support around them can strain relationships between spouses or friends.
Holding space for our clients’ reality and helping them to find balance in a world that may have been turned upside down, may help our clients process. Gaining acknowledgement from others, may also help validate their experience.
During my career, I have supported families, seen a variety of experiences, situations and dynamics. Each are as unique as the families themselves. Over the years I have noticed common elements and traits that may help contribute to a new parent’s adjustment and transition.
1. CREATE COMMUNITY
Create your support network. This can be your immediate family, friends or other mothers you may have met prenatally or through a related event. Isolation is a huge factor for new parents and getting out of the house is essential to mental health and wellbeing.
2. PLAN, ORGANIZE & PREPARE
Before your guess date take the time to prepare and stockpile food for the freezer. Prepare your lunches or arrange a meal train from friends for the weeks following birth. Organize a postpartum plan that addresses who is responsible for what in the house. Arrange visits from people you can “be real” with and find activities weekly or even daily for you to do with the new baby and someone who will keep you accountable to attend. Read all about breastfeeding, newborn care and night time parenting, more than birth preparation, so you’re fully aware of all possibilities.
3. OPEN & RECEIVE
Allow yourself to receive help and to nurture yourself. After all, you are healing from giving birth. If you have someone you can rely on to help out, go and grab a tea at a nearby coffee shop by yourself or take the time to have a bath, the trusted people in your life are capable of caring for your baby for a short period of time.
4. PROCESS YOUR EXPERIENCE, OVER & OVER
Talk to someone who is a good listener. Let them hear your story and your parenting experience. Do not be afraid to let it all out. Ask questions of your provider if something is bothering you or you are unsure as to why it unfolded the way it has. If possible, debrief with those who were present at birth. Let all the feelings out and look for ways that lead you to a place of peace in your situation.
5. REACH OUT
Seek professional support from a therapist, counsellor or postpartum specialist if you are not finding resolution and peace from your birth experience or struggling with your adjustment to your new role as a parent.
6. BE REALISTIC. LOWER EXPECTATIONS
When we truly let go of expectations of a clean house, dishes done and laundry folded, our focus and priorities change. Allow yourself a grace period. You are transitioning into parenthood. If it helps you stay sane and money isn’t the issue, hire help in the first few weeks or enlist friends and others when they ask you what they can do to help. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you really need.
7. STRENGTHEN RELATIONSHIPS
Find a way to connect with your partner and your friends. Discuss what you appreciate from one another. It is easy in the chaos of parenting to lose touch and shift into survival mode. Your relationships, particularly your relationship with your partner, are the foundation that everything rests on. Do what you can to keep them strong.
8. RESIST THE URGE TO COMPARE
It is natural to want to compare your experience, your baby, your body, your healing period and recovery to the experiences of others. Remember, this is your journey, not theirs. Everyone and every thing has its own way of unfolding, and in their own time. Remind yourself often.
9. PARENTING IS A PROCESS. NO ONE KNOWS IT ALL
There is no genetic template to being a parent. We all question ourselves and attempt to analyze a better way or solution to our everyday concerns and struggles. Be realistic and honest with yourself and accept mistakes as a part of the learning curve. Trust your intuition first and foremost; it doesn’t matter who told you this way or that. Only you are the expert on what is best for you and your situation and trial and error is part of the learning. Be gentle on yourselves. No one is perfect.
10. ACKNOWLEDGE WHERE YOU’RE AT
Know that not everything will have a solution or reason all the time. Those around you who care may not know what to say or do at all times. They may not have the knowledge or skill to help. Those around you may say the wrong thing; after all, they are only human. Don’t feel like you have to accept what doesn’t serve you. Be truthful with what your feeling and where you are at emotionally with everything. Dismissing your feelings or stuffing them inward will only compound matters more.
The above list is not the end all and be all. Each and every situation will lend various methods and approaches for postpartum healing and recovery. The road to recovery is a complex process influenced by many factors and processes. Not every road is paved smooth, however if you take the steps forward, any path can be navigated.
Love note to doulas:
As doulas the best thing we can do for those weathering the storm is be available for them -- not for just a short period of time, but for as long as needed. Check in with your families often, even just to say hello and show them that you care about them. Help families develop resources and skill sets that may help them better cope with the changes they are enduring. Listen attentively, without feeling the need to voice an opinion or solution. Most of all, be genuine, authentic and compassionate. After all, people can sense otherwise.
Who doesn’t love a good cookie, especially when your doula is recommending it! These hefty biscuits are loaded with nutrients to provide you with the extra calories you’ll need as a postpartum breastfeeding mama. But here’s a little secret... you do not have to birth a baby to enjoy them! So now that the entire family can partake in the pleasure, let's get baking.
How do food choices support milk production?
Certain foods have been touted as galactagogues, whereby consuming them may increase your milk supply. Go nature! Do you even need a galactagogue's assistance though? More commonly than not, your baby is in fact getting everything she needs, because that's how this intrinsic process is designed. For hundreds of thousands of years homo sapiens have been breastfeeding without supplements, medications, galactagogues, or nursing gadgets. So please... I urge you to trust your body's capability and regard this recipe as tasty, supportive food, rather than one more intervention or bandaid solution. If you do feel your milk supply is in fact low, I recommend consulting with a well-versed, breastfeeding-friendly, lactation professional.
The postpartum period is a restorative time, and it's important to be consuming nutrient-rich foods. As Hippocrates said, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." If a woman is fuelling herself with the building blocks her body requires, then one of the many aspects of milk production will be in place, to assist with successful breastfeeding.
Let's review some of the ingredients...
When a nursing mama has low iron or maternal anemia, her milk supply can suffer. Why not replenish iron stores with foods that won't irritate the stomach lining? Nuts and seeds are great sources of iron, protein, fiber, calcium, and magnesium, along with B vitamins, and trace minerals. This recipe includes key players such as almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, flax seeds and hemp hearts. Brazil nuts are also wonderfully high in selenium, which is required for healthy thyroid function.
Avena sativa, commonly known as oats, are a nerve restorative which can help relax the brain and nervous system, all the while aiding in the let-down reflex. Oats also contain plenty of iron, protein, fiber and magnesium. Brewer's yeast contains iron, protein, trace minerals, and B vitamins, however it won't potentially negatively impact your milk ejection reflex, the way that alcohol can.
Please note: this recipe is flexible and forgiving. You may substitute ingredients as you see fit, or simply use the following as a template for your own creative baking venture. Also, I will always do my best to pass on more than meets the eye, so I've included additional links within this recipe.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. I find it's easiest to do so by hand, to ensure all dry goods are properly coated. (I don't bother mixing wet and dry ingredients separately prior to combining, however you may do so if you wish.) Roll a heaped tablespoon of the mixture between your palms. Gently press onto a greased cookie sheet or parchment paper, then bake for 12 minutes. Allow the cookies to sit roughly 5 minutes, prior to transferring them onto a cooling rack. This recipe yields approximately 2 +1/2 dozen cookies. These can be made ahead of time and frozen. Enjoy!
Angela Esplin is a labour and postpartum doula, as well as placenta encapsulator with Full Circle Birth Collective. She has been serving families since 2000, and has recently transitioned back home to Mission, BC.
Click here to read more about Angela.
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