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D-MER {No, You Are Not Crazy}

D-MER {No, You Are Not Crazy}

Newborn Nursing

We all hear about the joys of breastfeeding. The bonding, the flow of love hormones, and the feeling of accomplishment that often comes to mothers upon reaching goals. Breastfeeding can be tough the first weeks of your baby’s life (or longer), but after that it is smooth sailing right?

This promise of positive emotional connections to breastfeeding is true for the majority of women who breastfeed. But there is a small population of women who experience just the opposite – for seconds to minutes – every time their milk lets down. It is not a physical sensation (such as nausea or pain, which can happen with strong letdowns) and it is not a psychological reaction to breastfeeding (not an aversion or part of PPD or baby blues). It is also not related to past abuse or history. It is a purely hormonal response that is independent of any other stimulus.

D-MER stands for Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex.To break that down – you get a feeling of dysphoria (negative emotions) just as your milk “ejects” (lets down) and it is a reflex – meaning the mother cannot control this. It can come in degrees – from feeling disconnected to feelings of self-loathing. There is also a spectrum of types of emotions the mother can feel – which are fully explained here.

So what causes D-MER in the first place? Preliminary studies suggest that the natural drop in dopamine at the start of a feeding, which happens so that prolactin can rise, is sharper in women with D-MER. Dopamine is the mood “stabilizer” of our bodies and prolactin is the hormone mainly responsible for milk production and let down. Normally, this small drop in dopamine is never noticed by mothers and it stabilizes again a few moments after the initial let down of milk. But in D-MER mothers the drop is larger, faster, and noticable in the wave of emotions that wash over them right before and as the milk lets down but quickly dissipates as the milk begins to flow.

Nursing d-mer

The treatments, both natural and medical, are based on the assumption that the dopamine drop is the cause of D-MER. Some of the treatment suggestions include:

  • Education – many times a woman with mild or moderate D-MER is able to manage the episodes better simply by knowing what is happening and that they are not “crazy”. Mild to moderate cases also tend to resolve on their own within 3-6 months.
  • Tracking your episodes. How often do you have them, and what were you doing before the feeding or let down? Does pumping effect you the same as feeding at the breast? Do you get D-MER with spontaneous let down (you know, the kind where you hear a baby cry in the store or watch a sappy commercial). Things like stress or dehydration can also aggravate the condition, so it is important to note those in your log.
  • Herbs used to treat D-MER: (ALWAYS consult with your care provider first)
    • Rhodiola or Golden Root: this builds dopamine in the body naturally and has a marked effect on D-MER.
    • Evening Primrose Oil: increases levodopa in the body, which converts to dopamine.
    • Ginkgo: helps with blood flow to the brain and may help dopamine flow better as well.
  • Supplements and Diet Changes:
    • B-Complex: B6 is needed for brain function and B-12 promotes dopamine activity in the brain.
    • Adding young Fava Beans to your diet – these contain high levels of levodopa.
    • Other foods which help dopamine production include chicken, turkey, almonds, oats, dark chocolate, yogurt, bananas and several others – full list here.
  • Placenta Encapsulation
  • Acupuncture
  • Distraction – find a way to distract yourself for the start of the feeding. Reading, TV, and talking on the phone, etc.
  • Exercise can naturally increase dopamine and receptors in the brain.
  • Prescription treatments options are available – see options and discussion here.

While there are a few published studies out, the full documents are not available online for free. In any case – the evidence in those studies and even more information is available on this wonderfully helpful site: D-MER.org

The newest edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding has a section on D-MER (which is a great read for those who plan to breastfeed in any case). For those mother’s interested in herbal treatments for D-MER (with consultation from your care provider of course), the book The Nursing Mother’s Herbal by Shelia Humphrey is a great guide to start your research.

Reaching out to a support group, be it on Facebook or a local breastfeeding group is highly recommended as well. And above all – know that you are not “crazy” and you are not alone. You can get through this with support and love. Your choice of treatment, even if that means weaning, is one to research and approach with an open heart and armed with information.

Ashley Nursing

*Pictures shared by Anna M. and Ashley O. Do not copy or use images without permission.

The Myth of the “Perfect Mother” {Have Grace with Yourself Mama}

The Myth of the “Perfect Mother” {Have Grace with Yourself Mama}

As mothers, we have all experienced that moment. I know I have. When the second line popped up on the pregnancy test that I so desperately desired to see, I immediately began thinking about the future. I began thinking about what kind of mother I’d be.

I had dreams of being the perfect mother. The mother who ate only the best, natural food during pregnancy. The mother who only gained 25 pounds during pregnancy and lost all the baby weight immediately after the birth. The mother who’s baby slept through the night. The mother of the toddler who used impeccable manners, answering questions with “yes ma’am” and “yes sir”, and always saying please and thank you. The mother of the teenager who loved school so much that they would ask for extra homework.The mother who had it all together, cheerfully shuffling children from piano lessons, dance lessons, soccer practice, private tutors and youth group. The mother who gracefully had a healthy, delicious meal waiting on the table with patient children, for my husband to enjoy upon arriving home from work.

Although everyone’s idea of the perfect mother will vary, there is a time in motherhood where the innate desire to be perfect sets in. To be the best. To be sweet and caring. To never get angry. To live everyday as if the tasks day in and day out were joyous, never tedious and always fulfilling.

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There comes a time when we catch ourselves doing the exact thing we said we would “never” do. To never formula feed, to never yell, never grow impatient, never go sit in the bathroom floor, alone to escape and eat a cookie with tears streaming down your face. These moments do happen. They catch us off guard, because our desire to be the best mother we can is sometimes stepped on by reality. The reality of the workload of motherhood and the reality that sometimes it isn’t glamorous.

We all want to be a wonderful mother. And that is spectacular! There comes a point in time where we need to learn to forgive ourselves for our own humanity. We need to be gentle on ourselves. We need to give ourselves grace, so we can teach grace and forgiveness to our children. Setting the bar high for your moral conduct is a noble thing. But don’t be afraid to admit when things aren’t going as perfectly planned out as you had hoped. It is not your fault. It is just how life is sometimes. Use those moments as teaching tools for your children and allow yourself the healing and peace to learn from it.

If you find yourself doing something “imperfect”, such as yelling at your child for the twentieth time to stop climbing the counter, excuse yourself from the situation. Find a quiet space in your home. Sit there in the peace and remind yourself that you are doing the best that you can. Give yourself some moments of love. Tell yourself that you are a wonderful mother and that these moments do not define you. After you have calmed yourself, loved yourself and praised yourself for all that you have done that is beautiful, find your child. Tell your child that you are sorry for losing your temper. Tell your child you love them and that they do not deserve to be talked to in that way. That sometimes Mommy makes mistakes, too. Ask  your child how they are feeling. Validate their emotions.

mom playing with son

As for other “imperfections”, such as motherhood not being how you thought it would be, this is something many mothers experience. It is easy to pick out what type of mother you will be before you have children. Try to wrap your mind around the fact that the work in motherhood, though sometimes boring and lackluster, is divine work. It is okay not to enjoy every minute of diaper changes and back talking adolescents. Adjust your expectations for the current season. Don’t make huge commitments or plans a year or years in advance. Allow your family to grow at the pace that it needs to. At the end of the day, being a mother is the most important job you will ever have. If it were easy, we probably wouldn’t be doing it right. Have grace with yourself, mama. It is okay to be human.

Photography credit:

Gage Blake Photography

&

Belle Verdiglione Photography

Cord Clamping {Give Me All My Blood!}

Cord Clamping {Give Me All My Blood!}

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The Third Stage of Labor is one that is often forgotten. This is the span of time between the birth of the baby and the expulsion of the placenta. The typical medical birth looks like this for the third stage: baby emerges, cord is clamped immediately, baby is taken by a nurse to a warmer, mother is injected with pitocin, cord is tugged and the placenta is pushed out through force such as a nurse or the doctor pushing on the abdomen.

While I find a lot wrong with that whole picture I want to focus on the part that really effects your baby the most (in my opinion) – immediate cord clamping.

First, and fundamentally – when the cord is cut within seconds this allows that baby to be taken from the mother. It is proven that skin-to-skin directly after birth, and for the first hours, is best for mother and baby barring medical emergency. If the baby is still connected to you, they can’t take baby and you get skin-to-skin.

But the most important aspect of cord clamping to me is the loss of blood to your newborn. “Blood Loss?” you might say – after all, the cord is clamped off at both ends, so this is not a messy process. The blood loss I am talking about is all the blood that has been left in the cord and placenta, and that belongs to your baby. Up to HALF of your newborn’s blood is still waiting to go into the body when the cord is clamped immediately.

Let us get a quick education in how the cord reacts if left alone. The cord will normally pulse (deliver blood to the baby) for about three minutes after the birth – sometimes longer. The cord then clamps itself. Yep, that’s right – it does the job for you.

This amazing cord contains Wharton’s Jelly. During pregnancy and birth this jelly protects the arteries and veins in the cord – this is why knots and tangled babies are fine the majority of the time – the Wharton’s Jelly keeps the cord firm and unable to collapse. After the birth the Jelly slowly “clamps” down on the arteries first, then the umbilical vein. The cord will slowly turn from heavy and firm (and colored) to limp and white. At this point it can be cut with little to no mess at all – no medical clamps needed!

Now back to the immediate clamping of the cord – which is common medical practice.

The immediate effects of this are pretty common sense – after all, what would you do with half your blood missing? Your body could not move oxygen as well, could not clean out impurities as fast, and your iron levels would be horrible. Oh, and you would most likely need major medical care. Luckily newborns are pretty tough – but why do we take the risk?

To get the “visual” of this issue, here is a great and quick video that shows visually the blood volumes we are talking about here. I also have found an amazing resource in this group of videos by an OB/GYN who lectured on this subject during Grand Rounds. It is in four parts and long, but very worth the time to watch. (And perhaps to pass along to your OB/GYN?)

Jaundice is one of the big questions that comes up with delayed clamping. After all, doesn’t more blood mean more blood to “clean” to get rid of bilirubin? In fact, when women talk with me about what their doctors have to say about delayed cord clamping, they normally say this is brought up as the #1 reason to not delay.

However, studies show that while jaundice is slightly increased, it is a benign increase. In other words – more “tan” babies but no increase in SICK babies. After all, not all jaundice is harmful, in fact it is pretty normal. There was no increase in the amount of babies needing phototherapy or other clinical issues relating to jaundice.

Blood iron levels are something that pediatricians watch in little ones. Many parents are told that infants need extra iron during the first six months, be that from formula (which has added iron) or from drops given to the breastfed infant.

However, one has to wonder if this issue has cropped up due to the practice of immediate cord clamping, since studies show better iron levels in infants who have delayed cord clamping. Even better – this effect lasts until about six months of age – the age many babies are ready to start solids and therefore get more iron in a natural way.

When studies looked at infants within 24 hours after birth, at 2-3 months of age, and at six months, all the studies showed higher iron and ferritin levels for those with late-clamping. This seems to say that our babies were made by design to store enough iron to keep themselves healthy until they start solid foods. Of course, this only happens if we let nature take its course as intended.

Another effect of early cord clamping is less oxygen. This makes sense – after all, your blood carries your oxygen. If you don’t have enough blood, you don’t have enough oxygen. This is why many midwives will call the cord/placental unit a “resuscitation kit” – if baby is having trouble starting up right away that extra blood and oxygen from the placenta and cord can help the lungs get to work – and provide the baby with oxygen in the meantime (like the placenta has been doing for the past 40 or so weeks).

These studies even show that preterm infants are better off getting delayed clamping if at all possible. Cesarean section births were included and the benefit is pronounced for these infants as well – no doubt due to the higher instance of resuscitation needed after cesarean sections.

Loss of oxygen and proper blood flow at birth could also be a risk factor for Autism later, though no major studies have been done relating to cord clamping and Autism.

With all the evidence pointing to leaving the cord alone for at least 3 minutes (or heck, why not until the placenta emerges – or longer!) – even for a cesarean section or preterm infants – why are we still cutting cords willy nilly? Your guess is as good as mine. But the good news – we can change this – talk to your care provider, show them the information. Change some minds – and maybe some births.

Resources used for this post:

Third Stage of Labour – Benefits of A Natural Approach; By Dr Sarah J Buckley, (c) 2005

Late vs Early Clamping of the Umbilical Cord in Full-term Neonates – Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Controlled Trials; By Eileen K. Hutton, PhD; Eman S. Hassan, MBBCh, 2007

Effect of delayed versus early umbilical cord clamping on neonatal outcomes and iron status at 4 months: a randomized controlled trial; Ola Andersson, consultant in neonatology,  Lena Hellström-Westas, professor of perinatal medicine, Dan Andersson, head of departments of pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, Magnus Domellöf, associate professor, head of pediatrics; 2011

 

The Hole {A Poem about PPD}

The Hole {A Poem about PPD}

Caitlyn shared this poem and picture about her stretch marks with BWF almost a year ago. It was received with love and appreciated by many. She now opens herself and writes this poem about post partum depression {PPD}. Many of you may be able to relate and feel that you are not alone.

The hole ppd

 

The Hole

 

There’s a hole that sits within my chest

I cannot quite explain

for it’s just there and I’m not sure

exactly when it came.

 

Somedays it’s black and hollow

or it’s small and hard and tight

and others it’s not there at all

replaced by joy and light

 

I want to love each moment

as I watch you grow each day

but somedays I can’t find energy

to sit with you and play

 

From the moment you lift your lashes

to the time you fall asleep

I have to count each breath I take

so I don’t fall and weep

 

Each task becomes a struggle

and soon I fall behind

which only makes the guilt I feel

more present in my mind

 

But still I want the world to see

as I walk around with grace

pretending life is perfect

with a smile upon my face

 

when inside I might be crumbling,

tears just behind my eyes

anxious that my face might fail,

revealing my disguise.

 

I don’t want to feel broken

and I don’t want them to think

that just because I have this hole

I’m sitting on the brink.

 

“Please everyone, I’ll be alright

in time I’m sure it’s true

but for right now I need to know

that I can trust in you

 

to remember that this little hole,

too small and dark to see

does not take away the fact

that I am still ME

 

Because even with the bad days

my life is filled with joys

I get to spend each of my days

loving my two sweet boys.”

 

You make all of this worth it

you’re the reason for the light

which brings with it the happy days

and gets me through the night

 

That moment when I hold you close

and smell your sweet, soft hair

when I know I’m all you want and need

and you know that I’ll be there

 

when all the hurting goes away

as I hold you to my chest

to savor your sweet peacefulness

and forget all the rest.

 

Caitlyn Blake
November 25, 2012

Photography by Bean to Baby.

Birth and Post-Birth Plans: Drafts to Download, Customize and Use!

Birth and Post-Birth Plans: Drafts to Download, Customize and Use!

Your little one is about to be born. Nothing compares to nesting with your newborn

canada, birth tourism, british columbia, petition e-397

And to get there takes some work. And some planning.

Many women design birth and post-birth plans to clarify – both for themselves and for their care providers – the kind of birth and postpartum care they need. Birth plans are practical, tangible and written; if the mother feels sure that her plan will be read and considered, she feels safer in entering an altered state during labour. They can be helpful for all kinds of births, from elective cesareans to unassisted.

It can be difficult, even scary, to think about what could happen during birth and how you would want it to be handled. But planning for practical eventualities can actually help us to live in the moment: to disconnect from the external reality and go inward, to draw from our inner reserves of strength and have spiritual, ecstatic experiences (yes, it is possible! Yes, you deserve it!). Presenting your care provider with a birth plan ahead of time is also a good way to test the waters: will he/she listen to you during labour? Does he/she share your vision of birth and those precious newborn hours?

Why is this a concern? And what should a birth plan say, anyway? Judith Lothian, a New York-based childbirth educator says, “Tension between health professionals and patients caused by birth plans reflects the larger problems with contemporary maternity care: conflicting beliefs about birth, what constitutes safe, effective care, and ethical issues related to informed consent and informed refusal. The focus of birth plans should be to answer three patient-focused questions: What will I do to stay confident and feel safe? What will I do to find comfort in response to my contractions? Who will support me through labor, and what will I need from them?” (Lothian, 2006)

Big questions. Elizabeth {a BWF mom} shares her birth and post-birth plans. She says, “I got my birth plan from my doula, who got it from a client of hers. My OB/Gyn LOVED it (not to brag or anything) but she said she’s had couples come in with three and four pages of ‘demands.’ My plan was one page for labor and delivery and one page for postpartum.” To download an editable copy of the birth plan, click here. For a copy of the post-birth plan, click here.

Birth Plan
[Parent(s) Name(s)]
Baby [boy/girl/surprise!]: [child’s name]
Estimated Due Date: [guess date]

Hospital/Birthing Center: [location name]
Mother’s Physician: [Doctor/midwife name]
Doula: [name]

We desire a labor & birth that results in a healthy baby and healthy mother.
We would prefer:

  • To have a vaginal delivery over cesarean
  • To have as few medications and other medical interventions as possible
  • To use a hep lock instead of a continuous IV
  • To have as much freedom of movement and position as possible during labor, including during the pushing stage
  • To labor in water as soon as [mama’s name] needs to and Dr. [name] says it’s ok
  • To use intermittent FHM or, if continuous FHM is deemed medically necessary, to use a portable or wireless fetal heart monitor
  • That labor augmentation techniques not be used
  • That the membranes not be ruptured artificially
  • To allow [mama’s name] to push with the urge
  • That pain medication is not offered
    • [Mama’s name] will ask for pain medication if she thinks it’s necessary
  • To risk a tear to the perineum rather than have an episiotomy
  • To have a local anesthetic in the perineal area if [mama’s name] deems it necessary
  • To allow the placenta to deliver naturally

 

Birth Plan
[Parent(s) Name(s)]
Baby [boy/girl/surprise!]: [child’s name]
Estimated Due Date: [guess date]

Hospital/Birthing Center: [location name]
Mother’s Physician: [Doctor/midwife name]
Doula: [name]

If medically possible, we would prefer:

  • To hold and bond with our child immediately after birth
  • To delay cord clamping and cutting until after the cord has stopped pulsating
  • To initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth, including in the recovery room in the case of cesarean delivery
  • To delay newborn procedures and tests until after the initial breastfeeding and bonding
  • For at least one parent to be present for all medical procedures
  • That [baby/baby’s name] room in with us at all times during our hospital stay
  • That no bottles, pacifiers, artificial nipples, formula or water be given to our child at any time during our hospital stay without our consent

For a family centered cesaren birth plan, visit here.

A Small Lesson on Female Etiquette {I’m not pregnant, just fat!}

A Small Lesson on Female Etiquette {I’m not pregnant, just fat!}

So there I am in the middle of enjoying a lovely afternoon with my boys, rounding it off with a quick stop at the grocery store to grab a few items for dinner when my fantastic mood is brought to a screeching halt. This is what happened…

We get in the checkout line and my four-year-old son begins to help me unload the cart onto the conveyor belt, while my one-year-old son babbles on excitedly. As we approach the clerk, she starts to make polite small talk and asks my older son about his day, etc, etc…

Before we can complete the transaction and get on our way, she throws out the most dreaded question she possibly could, “So… how far along are you?”

Mind you, I am not currently expecting, so she basically just called me “fat” to my face.

At this point I’m torn between my two possible (and justified) reactions; blow it off and pretend like it’s no big deal (even though it is, because, what the heck, she just called me fat!) or be mildly confrontational and make a point to demonstrate how insulting the person just was and let them know that, “No, it’s not a baby, it’s just a big, fat belly. Thanks.”

Why do people put themselves into that much of a conversation with random strangers anyway? For the record, the photo below shows what my belly looks like when I am actually pregnant (around 27 weeks) and it looks NOWHERE close to my stomach currently. Yeah, I still have some of my baby weight from my most recent pregnancy, but I would say that my size would definitely put me more into a “questionable category” rather than an “oh-yeah-she’s-obviously-packin’-baby-in-there category.”

Which leads me to my point; if you can’t tell that someone is pregnant and they do not offer up said information, then there is NO need to ask. Period. Any woman who has ever been pregnant will either choose to keep that blessed information to themselves, because honestly, it’s intimate knowledge and isn’t any of the clerk’s business! Or she will be shouting it from the rooftops, anxious to inform all she meets about her wonderful news. Basically, unless a woman is actually HOLDING a baby and standing on a corner SHOUTING about her pregnancy and labor details, do not pry into her life and potentially ruin everyone’s day.

My youngest son is now 16 months old and I have probably been asked that question by roughly 12 people (read: strangers) since he was born. Sometimes this even happens when I’m having, what I believe to be, a “skinny” day and feeling really good about my body, only to have that come crashing down by six tiny words. You might think that after so many instances I would be able to laugh it off, and trust me, I have a pretty keen sense of humor, but no, damn it, it isn’t funny the second, third, or ninth time!

(Okay, so it IS a bit funny when you sarcastically thank them for calling you fat, and make them feel horribly uncomfortable, but it only lasts for a moment…)

So, please, heed my advice and spread it to all that you know: If you feel compelled to ask, YOU SHOULDN’T! Seriously. Just don’t. This is good advice for many facets in life. I promise that if a woman is indeed expecting and deems it necessary for you to know about it, then you will whether you want to or not!

Lose the Post Partum Pounds Dancing to Kid DVD’s…

Lose the Post Partum Pounds Dancing to Kid DVD’s…

Not kidding.

So, I’ve had a lot more free time the last week being off Facebook. It’s been rad. Really. My days are low stress with extra time to focus on things I like to do (read, play with kids, make yummy food, blog) and even for things I don’t like so much (cleaning anyone?!).

One of the things I’ve needed to work on for the last year is the weight I gained post partum {you read that right} because of severe post partum depression.

I haven’t done a damn thing about it and I’m unhealthy…really unhealthy. However, I have a great excuse. I have 5 kids. Oh no, I have more. I live in an area that is not pleasant to walk outside. And I have 5 kids. I own a chiropractic office. I blog. I have a very busy church calling. I have 5 kids. But, but, but.

You get the point.

So today, after sharing and pinning some posts on Pinterest, making food, cleaning up, texting hubby to see how it was going with patients, I turned on the Wiggles for the baby because he is their BIGGEST fan. Instead of finding other things to do like I usually do, I decided to hang out with my boys (ages 19 months and 7).

We didn’t just watch the Wiggles. We partied with them!

See…not kidding! For 30 minutes I danced like a monkey, made fruit salad, hammered things, did the shakey shakey and just had a wiggly fun time. WHAT. A. WORKOUT. Knee lifts, squats, turns, arms all over the place. I worked up a sweat and felt the burn.

And I laughed. My 7 year old had a blast doing dances with mom and my 19 month old got down and giggled and roared. (We had a lot of tickle time too).

I definitely got a workout today. To a Wiggles DVD. With my kids.

Move on over Jillian Micheals. This mama found a new way to have fun with her kids and get a workout in! I highly recommend it!

~January

Mothering the Mother: 40 Days of Rest

Mothering the Mother: 40 Days of Rest

“The role of the midwife is to be mother to the mother.” (Unknown)

We’ve all heard that ‘all that matters is a healthy baby’. We hear it before we give birth, and we hear it after. We hear it when a mother’s had a cesarean and a subsequent infection, when she has Post-Partum Depression and when she is reeling from trauma. But it’s not true. A healthy baby is not all that matters.

Mothers matter.

Of course infant health is important. But the mother-infant relationship is symbiotic. If the mother is not healthy and happy, her infant will suffer. Moreover, isn’t her suffering itself worth our consideration? Isn’t it worth our attention and our outrage? In posts online, from friends and in the books I read, I hear over and over again that, in fact, the needs of new mothers and birthing women are not acknowledged. We’ve got in-laws who come over to empty the fridge, ogle the baby, and drive home. Husbands and partners who pretend to sleep when they hear the newborn’s cries; and a basic lack of essential post-natal care in the American medical system (a 6-week follow-up phonecall is not nearly enough). We have lost the will to mother mothers.

In the past, women were surrounded by their own mothers and other older women during and after birth. The midwife played (and sometimes still plays) the role of ‘mother’ in supporting the birthing woman, often staying afterward to assist her in housekeeping during the post-partum weeks. According to Tina Cassidy in ‘Birth: The Surprising History of How We are Born’, the terms midwife and grandmother are synonymous in many languages. But in a country where families are fractured, motherhood is undervalued, and most babies are delivered through a broken and dangerous medical system, this sense of safety and security is lost. And nobody calls their grandmother the equivalent of ‘obstetrician’.

But that kind of caring is the kind of attitude we need to cultivate.

While many people believe that, “Women from [fill-in-the-blank random ‘savage’ culture] just have the baby in the fields then get right back to work,” in reality  most traditional cultures, including those throughout South America, Europe (Greece), the Middle East and Asia, a 40-day rest period is considered mandatory after an infant’s birth. In this time the mother is not expected to leave the house, cook food, or do anything but bond with her infant. American healthcare providers know well that Latina mothers often miss post-natal healthcare check-ups because they take this tradition, which they call ‘la cuarentena‘ (like ‘quarantine’) so seriously. It is that important.

Women from the mother’s community stop by her place to offer support, childcare for older children, and to bring food. While we have maintained some of these elements in mainstream American society (think 1950s suburban housewife and her ever-present tupperware casserole), we fall far too short in giving new mothers what they need. New mothers need support, love, tenderness; good healthcare and maternity leave. While some feel ready to do so, most of us don’t need to work out, hop back in the sack, or feel compelled to present a perfectly made-up face to the outside community. If women were able to follow the 40-day tradition, and were encouraged to truly rest during that time, it would be so beautiful. While 40 days of rest is not realistic to those of us who need to look after other children, go to school, or work to pay bills, we can change our attitudes about what is expected of ourselves and other women post-partum.

And we need to do something, because the birth practices of our country – with its 33% cesarean rate, and the average woman being twice as likely to die in the perinatal period than her mother was – need recovering from. While I enjoy writing and reading birth plans, I would like to see more post-birth plans. Instead of flimsy bassinets, wipe-warmers and the racket that is the ‘themed’ nursery, I would like baby registries to list things like a week in a plush hotel, gift certificates to local restaurants (that deliver!), and housework coupons. I would like to see partners and families allocate some funds to this period; for it to be acknowledged as the special, difficult, tear-filled, milky mess of a time that it is.

*Photography used with permission. By (top picture) Earthside Birth Photography and (bottom 2 pictures) MW Photography.

**Svea Boyda-Vikander is a mother, psychotherapist and visual artist. She works with mothers and other creative people in facilitating healthy parent-child relationships and artistic practices. In February of 2011, she gave birth to her first child at the Côte des Neiges Maison de Naissance (Birthing Centre) in Quebec. This experience opened her eyes to the powerful healing and spiritual potentials of birth, and it quickly became her passion. She is now conducting research into perinatal depression, loss, and cross-cultural infant care practices at Goddard College, VT. Svea believes motherhood is a political act deserving of support, acknowledgement and endless tubs of mascarpone cheese.*

I am NOT Okay, and THAT’S Okay

I am NOT Okay, and THAT’S Okay

One of the most (out of many) horrible things about having post-partum depression (PPD) is the silent battle you are constantly fighting, against yourself, alone, while at the same time hoping like crazy that nobody notices that you might be unhappy/stressed/overwhelmed/anxious/you name it. I’m always nervous for people to randomly drop by my house for a visit should they happen to notice the puffiness of my face from crying “for no reason,” or how dirty my hair might look from being in my third day of a “rut” where I just don’t care to wash it, or the unclean dishes piling up in my sink; a sure sign that I’m obviously failing as a mother.

Not every person who has PPD gets it to the same degree; nor does that beast rear its ugly head in the same regard to each woman. With my first born, I mainly dealt with severe crying fits, feelings of failure, and overpowering hopelessness. Whereas with my second child, I have major anxiety, feelings of intense anger, and a loss of self-worth – on top of the crying and feeling overwhelmed.

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With my first child, I did not bond with my baby at all when he was first born. It was not until he was around five months old that I finally realized how incredibly in love I finally was with my little person. I didn’t dislike my baby, I just felt like someone had suddenly stuck me with this tiny, little stranger whom I had expected to immediately fall in love with and understand the solution for each and every whimper. And I think I had a slight grudge against him for it, like he wasn’t really doing his part either. “Come on, baby, make me love you!!”

On top of that, I was constantly hopping from one foot to the other, trying my damnedest to make it look like I had everything under control. In reality, things couldn’t have been farther from the truth. And my inability to admit that I was struggling and craving to appear like “The Perfect Mother” was making it far worse. Looking back on those days, especially in old pictures, I can tell how insane that idea was making me. My house was spotless!

Let me make this perfectly clear: I am not judging anyone on how often or not one might tidy up, but a brand new mama, with a tiny, new baby, should be doing nothing more than eating, drinking, and tending to their new little person. She should not be scurrying around the house all day long, bouncing from one task to another and making herself exhausted.

But I couldn’t do that. I felt like every dirty dish had to be washed right away and every dinner should still be homemade and on the table by five. I wanted everyone to believe that I had my shit 100% together and to be amazed by my natural ability. On the inside I was hollow. I wouldn’t understand wholly the reasons why, but my birth had left me feeling like a total failure. Lacking, somehow.

I felt even worse when I thought about how I “should” be happy. “You should be happy. WHY aren’t you happy??” I had a loving and supportive family, a wonderful and devoted spouse, and an adorably perfect new little boy.  But I just wasn’t, and it wasn’t until around six months post-partum, at the urging from my husband, that I would finally ask someone for help. It was very difficult for him to watch me go through this, and my random outbursts were draining on our relationship.

After seven months of jumping from one antidepressant to the next, I discovered that diet and exercise worked best for me, and I started feeling better and better each day. It was as if someone was slowly lifting a veil away from my eyes and I started to find more and more joys in my daily life. My son was about 18 months old by then and we had grown much more accustomed to our routine. So this mothering business was not beyond my grasp! I CAN do this!

When I ended up getting PPD again with my second child, I couldn’t help but wonder if there really was something wrong with me. Even with all my learning and understanding that the surge of hormones can make the situation nearly unavoidable, I felt like, “if only I had handled xyz differently” maybe things wouldn’t have ended up back here. I was in a dark spot for about eight months before finally deciding to handle this round of PPD with a new approach. Instead of keeping everything to myself, I was going to tell people that I wasn’t “fine,”  I wasn’t going to keep my life under the veil of “The Perfect Mother, “ and I wasn’t going to pretend like I didn’t need anyone’s help.

When people would ask me how things were going with the new baby and ask if they could help, I would tell them the truth, even if it made them uncomfortable, “He’s very healthy, but he’s not sleeping well and I could really use a nap if you’ve got time,” or, “I’m not able to pay enough attention to his older brother and am overwhelmed, would you mind taking him to the park for me, please?” I’m overwhelmed, I’m stressed, I’m tired, I need a shower but would rather sleep. I’m not going to bother cooking a whole meal today, and yeah, my three-year-old is just going to eat Wendy’s for dinner tonight.

Instead of pretending that I wasn’t drowning, I was up front with everyone about what was happening. “These tears? They’re inevitable these days. Yeah, it’s my post-partum depression, but it isn’t all the time or every day. I have good days and bad days with it. It’d be great to have a kid-free day if you have time to take them to the zoo for me.” Being open about my PPD hasn’t cured it, by any means, but at least those close to me can better understand why my laundry might be piling up or why I look like a hobo that day (no offense to any hobos…). It’s because I’m overwhelmed by everything in my life at the moment, and you know what’s truly liberating? IT. IS. OKAY. It really is, I promise.

When things get really tough for me, I try my best to reason with myself. I ask myself three basic questions:

1.)    Are my kids happy?

2.)    Are my kids healthy?

3.)    Do they know that I love them?

As long as I can answer “yes” to those three questions, I feel like we can make it work. Years from now, when my PPD is gone and they look back on their childhood will they remember all the times I might have cried while making mashed potatoes or will they (hopefully) remember all of the times we laughed? Will they focus on the times where I might have gotten more upset than necessary with them and had to apologize? Or will they remember the times we took, each day, to snuggle?

FAMILY is important, not this sickness or the circumstances it might find you in. And having to deal with this sickness is NOT MY FAULT. I am NOT okay and THAT is okay… because eventually we will BE okay! The most important thing is admitting that you are having a tough time and getting the help that you need. Regardless of how little you hear about it or how that one mom friend you have on Facebook might be making herself look like she’s got it all together (honestly, how often does anyone advertise their day to day “failings” on their Facebook wall?), you are NOT alone! You aren’t. All mothers will go through a bout of baby blues at some point post-partum, despite how small or large it might be. And if you are having a tougher time than another mom, IT’S OKAY! It does not make you a bad mother, nor does it make you a failure for admitting it.

We need to end this stigma of immediately being able to gracefully, flawlessly enter a new situation when having our first, second, third, and so forth, babies. Why are we expected to all of a sudden know exactly what to do and how to handle it when we’ve never done any of it before? Parenting is NOT easy and anyone who tells you otherwise either needs to cut the bullshit or put out a damn manual!

Listen, mamas, do yourselves a favor; If you’re reading this post and nodding and thinking, “Yes, that’s me, I am having a tough time!” Go into your bathroom, look yourself in the mirror and say, “Things are tough right now and that is okay! I am a good Mommy!” Say it a couple times. Say it until you can believe it. Then, say it to your partner or a family member, or to a trusted friend. The more you say it the more you will believe it and the less those tough times will add to your stress. And remember that I am sooo right there with you.

If you find yourself in my boat, don’t lose hope. Take things one day at a time. Find things to make you laugh and laugh out loud. Ask for help and don’t be afraid to do so. Don’t hide behind the “I’m fine/everything’s fine” veil. Get a shower (at least) every other day – it FEELS GREAT! Force it if you need to. Eat good food and stay hydrated. It helps, it really does. Maybe if we all stop pretending that everything is okay, the pressure to be “perfect” will take a hike!

 

*Mama Queenly is a wife to her best friend of 15 years and SAHM to two young boys in Midwest, USA. Her passions include, but are not limited to:  writing, cooking, baking, and all kinds of music (both recorded and live).  Having had both an induced, med free vaginal birth in a hospital and a birth center transfer turn emergency cesarean, she has very strong interests in pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. She shares the belief that knowledge is our best defense when fighting for our basic rights and feels that she has much to share with other women about her own experiences. “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.*

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