Uncategorized

Pumpin’ Ain’t Easy

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It was a Thursday afternoon in gym class with my grade 3/4s when I felt my water break.

I lined them up at the door, told them to get ready for recess early, and bolted for the nearest staff washroom.

A couple hours later, I was in the labour and delivery wing of the Owen Sound hospital, being discharged from the care of my midwives and informed by an OB that I was going to have a premature baby.

I felt like my head was on the verge of exploding.

Over the next week and a half of bedrest, I mentally prepared myself for a long stay in the NICU. But nothing could have prepared me for the challenges of breastfeeding I was about to face.

After Kieran was born, I would visit him every 3 hours in the NICU to feed him. “Breastfeeding is hard for preemies, but he’ll get the hang of it,” I was told as I tried unsuccessfully to latch him over and over again.

For the first little while, I would try to nurse him for the first 10 minutes or so, and then inevitably wind up feeding him through the tube that ran from his nose to his stomach. That is, until I was informed that the sooner his feeding tube was removed, the sooner we’d be able to go home.

Suddenly, bottle feeding was looking really appealing.

And that was the beginning of the end of our breastfeeding relationship.

Kieran’s latch never did improve. The bottle was just sooooo much easier and more appealing to him.

By the time I realized this, it was almost impossible to recover. I started using a supplemental nursing system, hoping that the illusion of greater milk flow would motivate him to latch. And it did work — for about four days, until he realized he could get milk out of the tube by sucking without actually latching. Clever little stinker.

In the end, I was so exhausted from spending so much time feeding him and then pumping after each feeding, that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I accepted my fate as a pumping momma.

At the time, I thought pumping would be easier. And, arguably, it was easier than my hour long feeds followed by a 15 minute pump session. But I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

For the first few weeks, I tried to pump 7 times a day, skipping one session at night to allow myself some rest. But I quickly realized that sticking to an every-three-hours pumping schedule was next to impossible. The baby only wanted to nap on me — as soon as I would put him down so I could pump, he would wake up. And as he got older, he became more alert, and wanted to be entertained when he was awake. On top of this, I had a dog that needed to get out at least once a day for a walk, laundry and dishes to do, snow to shovel, errands to run, a house to maintain, and bottles and pump parts to sterilize. So my pumps per day quickly dropped from 7 to 6.

For an undersupplier, I knew 6 pumps per day was never going to be enough to increase my milk supply — it was only about half of what I should be doing if I wanted to feed K more of my milk. I felt guilty, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice cuddles with him, giving him my full attention, and precious sleep to pump. And so, I resigned myself to being an undersupplier and continued to supplement his diet with formula and donor milk.

If you’ve ever pumped milk before, you know how insufferable it is sitting there, not moving, milking yourself like a cow. Then washing and sterilizing the pump parts. Now imagine doing this 6 times or more every.single.day.

It’s mundane. It’s tedious. It’s inconvenient.

And it’s the ultimate sacrifice.

You do it to give your baby the gift of perfectly crafted nutrition, ideal for his development.

You do it to know you did everything you could to support his immune system.

You do it because you believe it’s going to give your baby the best possible start in life.

You do it because you can’t breastfeed, no matter how hard you try.

You DO NOT exclusively pump by choice.

Because it’s hard. It’s way too fucking hard. And if you could choose, you’d choose to breastfeed every time.

You’d choose to have that magical bonding experience with your baby that pumping just doesn’t give you.

You’d choose to not have to pack bottles every time you go out.

You’d choose to feed your baby as soon as he showed signs of hunger instead of listening to him cry while you wait for a bottle to warm up. And you’d choose to stay in bed so you can feed him while you’re both half asleep and then put him straight back to bed after.

You’d choose to go right back to bed after feeding baby, instead of sitting for another 15-30 minutes listening to the mechanical whir of the pump.

You’d choose not to drag your pump with you if you’re going to be out of the house for more than a few hours, or you’d choose not to rush home so you can pump on time.

You’d choose not to stress and watch the clock when your appointment takes longer than you expected and you’re late for your pumping session.

You’d choose not to spend countless hours washing and sterilizing bottles and pump parts.

You’d choose a life of more freedom and convenience.

To all you pumping mommas out there: We may not have chosen this life, but the end goal — a healthy, thriving baby — keeps us going.

Whether your pumping goal is 3 months, 6 months, a year, or beyond, kudos to you, Pumping Momma. You’re amazing!

And when you finally wean yourself from that god forsaken pump, I hope you indulge in a ceremonial and over dramatic goodbye to it. (My fantasies include lighting it on fire in a parking lot, putting holes in it at a shooting range, and shot putting it into the lake.)

I didn’t choose the pump life, the pump life chose me.

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Motherhood, Uncategorized

Loving Your Body After Baby

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I love Pinterest.

I use it pretty much every day for everything from recipes to travel inspiration.

But despite my love for Pinterest, it has always bothered me that it’s inevitably become one more tool to put pressure on women to be perfect.

One of the things that pissed me off the most during my pregnancy were all the pins that popped up about having a “belly-only pregnancy” and “shedding the baby weight FAST”.

It can be hard enough to cope with the changes in our body postpartum without being bombarded with media pressure to “get our body back”.

If you’re gung-ho to lose the baby weight, good for you — no judgment here. But if you want to get better at loving and accepting your body the way it is, keep reading! I hope you’ll find these tips helpful.

Tip #1: Stop Comparing

The mom whose body bounced back in a week? Your 20-something-year-old cousin who’s never had kids? Yeah, just stop right there. We all wish our body could always be as tight as Jennifer Aniston’s, but the reality is we aren’t all genetically blessed like her. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Jenn works hard to maintain what she’s got, but what she’s got naturally is probably better than what 90% of us look like in the best shape of our life.

Sadly, most of us didn’t win the genetic lottery when it comes to having a smoking hot bod, but if you look around you — I mean really look — you’ll see you’re not alone. Most of us have average bodies (hence the term “average”) and there is nothing wrong with that, despite what the media would like you to think.

Comparison is the devil. I always feel good about myself until I see a Victoria’s Secret commercial.

Put down the magazine. Turn off the TV.

And remember — variety is the spice of life! If we all looked the same, had the same interests, ate the same food every day — life would be pretty boring.

Tip 2: Wear What Makes You Feel Good

Newsflash: Most people aren’t all toned underneath our clothes! That’s the beauty of clothing — we can wear what makes us feel good, and use it to draw attention to our more flattering features and away from the places we’re self conscious about. I actually feel best in a pair of leggings and a chunky knit sweater. It’s cozy and cute, and the only person who can tell what my tummy looks like under there’s is me.

If you need to go shopping for some new clothes that fit you better, do it! Nothing will make you feel like crap like trying to squeeze into a pair of too-tight pre-pregnancy jeans. You’re a different size now, but luckily, a size is just a number and does not determine your worth. Just as your life is different now, so is the size of your waist and hips. Does anyone besides the tabloids really care what size Beyoncé is? Uh, no, cause she’s friggen beautiful and totally kickass. Also, Taylor Swift is probably a size 0. That doesn’t make her likeable. And Taylor, if you’re reading this, for the love of god, eat a hamburger!

Tip #3: Eat Healthy

When you eat junk, you feel like junk.

I know it’s hard to eat healthy when you’re run off your feet taking care of a tiny human, but it will make such a difference.

When I’m eating healthy and working out, it doesn’t even matter if I lose weight — I automatically feel better about myself!

Fruit is a healthy snack that can be eaten on the go. Pick up pre chopped veggies at the grocery store (if you’re like me, if they aren’t prepped and ready to go, you won’t eat them). Ask your friends and family to make you some healthy freezer meals for days that are too busy for cooking.

Tip #4: Acknowledge What Your Body Did

On my online baby group, one new mom wrote a post that struck me. She was only 5 or 6 weeks postpartum, and she was writing to share how crappy she felt about her new body — a sentiment I’m sure many mommas can relate to.

Here is what I wrote to her:

“Try not to be so hard on yourself! Think of what your body just did — the most amazing thing — it gave life! So love that belly! And remember this body is just a vessel, our worth shouldn’t be defined by what we look like. Change is the only constant — we won’t be young forever. Eventually we will also have wrinkles and grey hair. We have to learn to come to terms with these natural changes that our society makes us think are repugnant. It isn’t easy, but change is evidence of transformation. Think of how you’ve already transformed and all the other beautiful transformations to come as a mother! ❤ xo”

I think it’s incredibly sad that as women, we don’t even tend to give ourselves credit for the amazing feat our body has accomplished by carrying a baby inside of us for nine months and then bringing him safely into the world. All we can focus on is our stretch marks, our tummy, our loose skin. Thanks, media.

Once my belly started to show, I was in awe of my body — something I’d never experienced before. I was blown away when I thought about the tiny person growing in my belly. As much as I joked about being “fat”, when I looked at my belly, I saw my baby, not a fat person.

Even now, postpartum, when I look at my belly and loose skin, I am not ashamed. I see a body that has created the miracle of life, a body that is nurturing a young soul.

And despite knowing I’m a rockstar for what my body did, I still have my moments when I wish I looked different. Once again — thanks, media.

When you look at yourself in the mirror, remind yourself that your body is miraculous. Every stretch mark, every roll, is there because you nourished a tiny life for 9 months. You’re not going to magically feel better about yourself overnight, but with consistent positive self talk, you will start to be more loving and accepting of your body.

How do you feel about your postpartum body? Is there anything you would add to this list to help yourself love your body more? Share in the comments below!

Motherhood

Why I Gave Up On Breastfeeding

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Breast is best.

There is no doubt that breast milk is the best source of nourishment for your child. It is chock full of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and antibodies — all in the perfect combination for your baby’s optimal growth and development.

So why in her right mind would any mother throw in the towel on something so important?

While I’m sure the answer is slightly different for every mom who decides to quit, for me, it boils down to this:

I was driving myself into a depression.

Before Kieran was even born, the lactation consultant was shoving pamphlets at me promoting breastfeeding and citing all the studies about all the ways breastfeeding is beneficial, from improved bonding between mother and child to reduced incidence of childhood leukaemia.

Of course, the thought that I would be incapable of nursing my baby boy never even crossed my mind at that point. I suppose I knew it would be a possibility, since I’d had a breast reduction surgery in my early 20s and that was one of the risks, but at that point I wasn’t ready to go there.

When Kieran arrived almost six weeks early, the lactation consultant in the hospital encouraged me to try to nurse him, but explained that many premature babies have difficulty latching at first.

And he did.

But I was determined to give my baby the best. I spent hours feeding him, sleeping only about 45 minutes between nighttime feeds, with very little success. I did this until I was chastised by one of the NICU nurses, who stormed over with a syringe of formula for his feeding tube, saying that our feedings were taking too long and I was wasting his energy trying to nurse him.

In that moment, I felt more ashamed, humiliated, and devastated than I had ever felt. My face was hot and flushed as I tried unsuccessfully to choke back the tears.

These would be the first of many tears I would shed over our breastfeeding difficulties.

On the advice of the lactation consultant, I tried a nipple shield. It was moderately successful — he would latch about 50% of the time with it, but even then, he wouldn’t suck consistently, likely due to my low milk flow. My midwives suggested using a lactation aid at the breast, which involved filling a syringe with my pumped breast milk or formula and shoving a little tube in his mouth after he latched to motivate him with greater milk flow. This was extremely cumbersome, but I did my best.

Just before Kieran was five weeks old, he developed a fever and was admitted to hospital with meningitis. There was a time when we weren’t sure if he would make it. Day after day, I watched him through the clear plastic of his incubator. He didn’t move or open his eyes, and he needed a tube down his throat to help him breathe. To say it was stressful would be a gross understatement. I was a complete mess.

I continued to pump breast milk while he was in critical condition to try and maintain what little supply I had.

When he was well enough to try and feed again, I had an extremely knowledgeable nurse help me with breastfeeding. With persistence and the lactation aid, he latched!  I was ecstatic. I thought my dream of nursing my baby might finally be coming true.

We had a few good days in hospital with him latching and feeding, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, he stopped. I would try to latch him for 45 minutes, shoving him screaming onto my breast over and over. I found myself angry and resentful towards him. I was exhausted from lack of sleep. I would stay in bed most of the day and ate very little. I didn’t even want to see my family when they came to visit. I berated myself for having a body that was fundamentally flawed. If only I hadn’t had that breast reduction. If only my nipples were shaped differently. If only he hadn’t been born prematurely.

Seeing a pattern here? I was beating myself up for things that were completely out of my control — things I couldn’t change, no matter how hard I tried.

It wasn’t until a kind nurse opened up and told me she quit trying with her second child after nursing successfully with her first, that I finally admitted I had no energy or desire to continue breastfeeding.

I could see how much it was messing with my head. I could see that it was not helping me to bond with my newborn baby — in fact, it was having the opposite effect.

Once I decided to throw in the towel after nearly six weeks of trying every trick in the book, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I no longer dreaded feeding my baby. I could relax and look into his big, beautiful eyes as I gave him what he truly desired: a bottle.

While I still wish things had been different for us, I had to accept that it was not in our best interest to continue trying to breastfeed. Kieran needed to eat, and he needed a mommy that was strong, happy, and had energy to care for him. If I’d continued to attempt to breastfeed, I honestly think I would have plummeted into a severe postpartum depression.

I still feel some guilt over my decision to quit, and I still feel envious of my friends who gently and lovingly nurse their babies anytime, anywhere. Yes, it is a lot of work for me to pump milk all day. Yes, it is extra work to pack a bottle. But with my low milk supply, I would’ve had to do these things anyway. So the way I see it, I’m actually saving myself time.

I’m working on letting go of the guilt by focusing on the positives of bottle feeding. I can leave him with my family for a few hours while I run errands or get together with a friend. It is faster than what we were doing before — we’re usually done in 15 minutes. I can enjoy him more now that I’m not stressed about trying to breastfeed. I get to spend more time cuddling him and playing with him. And I’ve actually bonded with some other moms who weren’t able to breastfeed their babies either.

I have been lucky enough to find a few milk donors so that I only have to supplement Kieran with formula at night. And Kieran’s paediatric neurologist has reassured me that the most recent studies show no significant differences in IQ or disease rates between breastfed and formula fed babies. It encourages me that my sister was fully formula fed, and she is way smarter than me!

The problem with the breast is best thing is that it places an enormous amount of pressure on moms to breastfeed. And those of us who can’t end up suffering tremendously over our inability to nurse. I have talked to several women who are sure their difficulties breastfeeding gave them postpartum depression.

This isn’t right.

And yet, this is just one example of how much pressure moms face every day. How much judgment from other moms, and unreasonable expectations to somehow be the perfect mother.

We need to do a better job supporting each other. There are many books on parenting, but there is no one definitive right way of doing things. We need to embrace our differences and reach out to moms who are struggling. I felt so alone until other moms opened up and shared their experiences with me.

There is no perfect mom. And if you think you are the perfect mom, you need a reality check.

To all the mommies hustling out there, struggling, crying, questioning their mothering abilities — I feel you. And I am with you.

Reach out. I assure you, you are not alone.

Did you struggle with breastfeeding? What made you decide to continue or stop nursing? Comment below!

Conscious Living, Spirituality, Wellness

How I Use My Phone for Personal and Spiritual Growth

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We all know what a huge distraction our smart phones can be. I confess I have wasted countless hours of my life scrolling through Instagram and Facebook. (OK, maybe it’s not a complete waste — I consider the meme below to be an excellent use of my time. You know what they say, laughter is the best medicine!)

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I’m betting for most people reading this, checking your phone is one of the first things you do after you wake up, am I right? I’m certainly guilty of it.

Breaking the phone habit is extremely hard to do. So what if we used our phone to our advantage instead?

There are so many awesome apps out there that can actually become an integral part of your daily self care practice. Here are a few of my favourites.

Stop, Breathe & Think

This is the first meditation app I ever used. There are so many things I love about it!

Before you start to meditate, you do a “check-in” to rate how you’re feeling both physically and mentally before you start meditating. You can choose up to five feelings, and then the app makes a suggestion for a guided meditation based on how you’re feeling. There are free meditations for stress, anxiety, sleep, focus, forgiveness, even pregnancy! The meditations are generally between 3 and 7 minutes long, making it easy to fit them into your busy day!

There is also the option to do a simple timed meditation with no guidance. The benefit of this is that the app tracks how often and for how long you’ve meditated, and it even motivates you by awarding you with “stickers” for your progress!

After your meditation, you have the option to check in again and see how the meditation has impacted your mood.

Jiyo

The person responsible for this app is spiritual master Deepak Chopra. This is usually the first app I open in the morning.

Jiyo includes guided meditations, health tips, short yoga sequences, healthy recipes, and even poetry to reflect on. Selections are organized into “Bits”, and Jiyo suggests different Bits to you every day. Regardless of which Bit you choose, it’s a calming way to start your day off on the right track, and it only takes a couple of minutes!

I highly recommend Deepak’s readings of Sufi mystic Rumi’s poems to start or end your day. His voice is super relaxing to listen to, and Rumi’s poetry is always beautiful and thought provoking.

#Truthbomb

After I check Jiyo, I load up my daily #truthbomb. The #Truthbomb app was developed by inspirational speaker and bestselling author Danielle Laporte. Each day, the app gives you a short, snappy motivational quote (all of them written by Danielle). Some of my personal favourites are, “love is always the right thing to do”, “let yourself be shattered”, and “transformation begins with the radical acceptance of what is”. I love this app because it starts off my day by giving me something to reflect on, and helping me remember what’s really important.

Hay House Daily Affirmations

Affirmations are a great way to change your thinking from positive to negative and manifest your desires. This app is a compilation of daily affirmations from bestselling Hay House authors like Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, and Doreen Virtue.

Since affirmations are most effective when repeated, you can set notifications for as frequently as every 5 minutes (seems a bit excessive, but who am I to judge?) or just every 4 hours. I recommend every hour or two for best results and to not have your phone constantly blowing up.

What apps do you use on a regular basis to further your personal or spiritual development? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

Conscious Living

How I Let Go of My Attachment to “Stuff”

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How many times have you looked at your bank account and thought, where the hell did all my money go?

Let me assure you, you are not alone. The cost of living is expensive, yes. But if we really took a good look at our cash flow, most of us would find that a substantial chunk of our money is spent on stuff. Clothes, shoes, appliances, books, home furnishings, fancy coffee… we’re addicted.

Allow me to preface this post by saying that there is nothing wrong with having stuff, or even wanting stuff. It’s just that our attachment to this stuff is what gets in the way of lasting happiness.

Seriously, how many times have you said, “I need those shoes”? Have you ever felt the pressure to own a house, but you haven’t even thought about why you should own one?

We are conditioned to think that once we “get” things, we will be happier. We usually aren’t even fully conscious of this — we just feel a buzz after we buy that new shirt, or admire our new piece of furniture.

And sure, buying things does work temporarily. But eventually the buzz wears off and we’re right back where we started.

So how do we break the cycle and shed our attachment to stuff?

I admit I am far from perfect in the area of non attachment, but I have found some strategies over the past couple of years that have worked really well to help me let go of the need to constantly buy, buy, buy and have the best of everything.

If you’re ready to quit your addiction to material things but don’t know where to start, read on!

Tip #1: Stop shopping

After divorcing a man who made six figures, I could no longer afford $130 Lululemon sweaters and $250 Ray Ban sunglasses. Yes, I realize how shallow this sounds, but I was actually super in love with the man in question and the fact that he made a lot of money never mattered to me until we split up and I was forced to adjust to a lower standard of living.

So, I had to quit shopping cold turkey.

I am not going to lie to you and say it wasn’t hard. Because it was. Really freaking hard. But I did it. I made sure to surround myself with non materialistic people while I was quitting my shopping addiction. We spent time together doing fun things that cost little to no money (cooking dinner together, going for walks, wine/movie nights) and it made the shopping habit much easier to kick.

It is still challenging to fight my impulse to buy something pretty just because it’s pretty, but it gets a little easier every day. Each time you say no to an unnecessary purchase, it gives you strength to say no again in the future.

Tip #2: Go backpacking

If you want to experience a minimalist life, go backpacking. Living out of a backpack forces you to evaluate what you actually need and pack accordingly. Do you really need 3 pairs of shoes? Or can you survive with one and a pair of flip flops? Does your skin care regimen actually need to be a four-step process, or can you cut it down to soap and moisturizer?

It may seem like a challenge, but I swear to you, having only one bikini is not going to take away from your trip. When you travel, your enjoyment comes from the places you go, the things you see, and the people you meet. Most days, I didn’t even bother wearing make up when I was backpacking. And newsflash: neither does anyone else. And second newsflash: no one cares!

If you can do an extended backpacking trip (I’m talking a few months), even better. You’ll be so accustomed to living without luxuries that it will make transitioning to a minimalist lifestyle that much easier when you get home.

Tip #3: Spend money on experiences

When you are constantly doing cool things, you will naturally want to spend less money on stuff and more on doing cool things.

Remembering the amazing trips I’ve taken, the Jays games I’ve gone to, the fun nights out with friends… that’s what makes me think twice before shelling out money for something I don’t really need. Seriously though, would you rather spend $1000 on an area rug or a week long trip zip lining and surfing in Nicaragua? $1000 got me about 5 weeks in Mexico last year, and that included a yoga and meditation retreat.

Tip #4: Meditate

Meditation makes you vibrate at a higher frequency. Each time you meditate, it brings you closer and closer to Love. The way you look or the things you have fade into the background as you connect with the present moment and a higher level of consciousness. The feeling of being part of something greater makes your stainless steel dishwasher seem pretty meaningless and unimportant.

Tip #5: Evaluate your needs

There may be some things for you that will always be worth spending a little extra money on. And that’s OK! For me, it’s my house.

As a Cancer, home is where the heart is. No matter how unstable my life is, it gives me so much comfort to have a cozy place to come home to. Does my house need to be big? Nope. Does it need to be perfectly decorated? Absolutely not. It just needs to be a refuge. I have a comfy bed where I can rest my head after a long day, a cozy couch to lie on while I snuggle my baby and dog, and a little kitchen to prepare yummy, nourishing food for all of us and for any friends or family who stop by. To me, my home is worth every penny. I’m willing to spend a little more on my housing costs and forfeit brand name clothing and a nice car. I buy most things secondhand so that I can have a cozy nest in a nice neighbourhood for my little family.

 

How did you break up with your attachment to stuff? I’d love to hear your strategies, so please share in the comments below!

 

 

 

Motherhood

4 Books that Changed My Views on Pregnancy and Birthing

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Unlike most moms, my reaction when I read “Pregnant, 2-3 weeks” on that pee stick was mixed. Although I’d always known deep down I wanted to be a mom, the timing and circumstances were less than ideal. I was single, had no fixed address, and had planned on spending the next year of my life travelling Latin America.

But, as the universe keeps teaching me (over and over and over…), plans are subject to change. And, what you think you want may not be the best thing for you.

So there I was, standing by myself in my parents’ foyer, waiting for my friend to pick me up for a workshop about how to make malas (prayer beads), with a million emotions careening through my mind and body and tears of joy, guilt, and awe spilling from my eyes.

When the shock wore off, I knew I had to get my life together for this baby. Where could I even start? I began to house hunt, buy secondhand items for the baby, book appointments, and, of course, READ.

I already knew the mainstream views on pregnancy and birth. I wanted some alternative perspectives to be able to make informed decisions.

During my 8ish months of pregnancy, I put down my spiritual texts and novels, instead educating myself as much as possible about pregnancy and birth.

And with that, I give you the four books that left a lasting impact on me and changed the way I thought about pregnancy, labour, and giving birth. If you’re expecting, or you’re planning on conceiving, I hope you’ll give them a read and see if they leave an impression on you too!

 

1.  Expecting Better by Emily Oster

This book is basically Mythbusters for pregnancy. I read this years ago when I was married and trying to conceive.

Prior to reading it, I believed that pregnancy had to be super restrictive in order to be safe — no coffee, alcohol, deli meat, tuna, undercooked meat and eggs… I’m sure you’re familiar with the list.

Enter Emily Oster, an economist and professor at the University of Chicago.

Why would I trust what an economist has to say about pregnancy?

The answer is simple: research.

This woman is obsessed with research and statistics. And during her own pregnancy, she dug deep to find the truth behind pregnancy rules. Like me, she wasn’t satisfied when she asked her doctor questions and the answer was a vague, “It’s probably fine.” She wanted hard facts and research to guide her decisions. And, just like decision-making in economics, she combines the research with her own “plus or minus preferences”, meaning that what’s right for one person during pregnancy won’t be right for someone else.

Case in point: To me, the risks of eating sushi were low enough that I felt OK treating myself to it a few time since during my pregnancy. Other women might feel that there is no safe amount of sushi to eat when pregnant — it comes down to the individual’s comfort level.

 

2.  Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

Ina May is considered to be the authority in midwifery and natural birth in the United States.

The first half of the book is filled with positive stories of natural birth. My heart would race as I read these, thinking about how this would soon be me.

The second half of the book addresses pretty much every other topic related to birth, including the different stages of labour, the mind-body connection, medical interventions,  things to consider when choosing a caregiver, and what Ina May refers to as “Sphincter Law” — how relaxing the muscles in your face can help your cervix to dilate faster.

There are tons of awesome suggestions and techniques for natural birth in here. I incorporated many of them into my labour and birth experience and found them really helpful.

 

3.  Sacred Pregnancy by Anni Daulter

Don’t let the title throw you off. It may seem a bit “hippie-dippie” to some, but there is so much wisdom in this book. Sacred Pregnancy was recommended to me by a friend about halfway through my pregnancy. I only wish I’d started it sooner.

Our current culture makes pregnancy almost 100% about the baby. We shop for the baby, prepare their nursery, read baby books on everything from nutrition to parenting. And while it is definitely important to get all your ducks in a row before baby arrives, where is mom in this equation?

The only consideration given to pregnant mothers in our culture is aesthetics — having a “belly only” pregnancy, dressing in cute maternity clothes. But what we fail to acknowledge is that pregnancy is the last time a woman will ever be completely autonomous. Pregnancy is THE most life-changing event a woman will ever go through, so why don’t we do a better job as a society of making sure women are prepared for the enormous transition into motherhood?

Sacred Pregnancy is a book/journal combination that leads mothers through each week of pregnancy with a focus on — GASP — themselves. Topics include body image, cravings, exercise, intimacy, forgiveness, and nurturing yourself. Each section provides suggestions for coping through each stage of pregnancy, as well as journal prompts and space for writing reflections. This book makes mom’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being just as important as baby’s, and in fact, suggests that they are intertwined. It helped me slow down and take time to address the massive emotional and physical changes I was going through. I noticed a huge improvement in my mood and overall outlook once I started reading this book.

 

 

 

4.  Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan

Although I never planned on strictly following the hypnobirthing approach, I loved Marie Mongan’s idea that birthing doesn’t need to involve pain or fear, and that the body is capable of giving birth peacefully, without force or strain. I experienced this firsthand during my own labour, when my body gently pushed the baby’s head into the birth canal on its own, before I even knew my cervix was completely dilated and effaced — no pushing.

Hypnobirthing emphasizes the mind-body connection. Marie Mongan believes that fear of labour and birth is what causes pain. The whole idea behind “hypnosis” is that words create thoughts and emotions, and those thoughts and emotions can either be positive or negative. If they are negative, our beliefs and experiences are negative. This is why many women are afraid of giving birth — they have been conditioned to believe that it is painful and even dangerous.

If you plan on having a natural birth, I highly recommend the relaxation exercises in this book. The CD that comes with the book has a guided relaxation led by Marie Mongan that is super effective — in fact, when I practiced with it prior to going into labour, I was able to enter a deeper state of relaxation than I’ve ever experienced in my life. This is what they refer to as “hypnosis” — a deep and complete state of relaxation when the mind is extremely suggestible.

I used these relaxations in the earlier stages of my own labour and they helped me take my mind off the pain and discomfort of contractions. The exercises never completely eliminated the pain, but they certainly reduced it — to the point that I was 9 centimetres dilated before I was admitted to the labour and delivery unit in the hospital.

 

What were your favourite pregnancy-related books? Share in the comments below!

Motherhood

My Birth Story, Part 2

IMG_0735.JPGOn Thursday, October 26, I woke up in my hospital bed with mild cramping. As the day went on, the “cramps” became more intense, and by late afternoon, I noticed they were coming fairly regularly. I started timing them, and they were coming about 7 minutes apart, lasting 45 seconds to a minute. Early labour! — or so I thought…

Soon, they were coming every 6 minutes, then every 5. I called my doula that evening, and my nurse took me down to one of the labour and delivery rooms.

After my doula arrived, the contractions continued to increase in intensity and frequency. They were coming every 3-4 minutes now, and I found myself needing to really focus and breathe through them. I could feel it a lot in my back, so my doula was applying counter pressure to my back during contractions. In between waves, we chatted like normal.

Around midnight, I took a hot shower. The water felt soothing, and I stayed in there riding out the waves, focusing on the warmth and wishing there was a bath tub I could lie down in.

After my shower, my contractions slowed, and eventually stopped, much to the surprise of my doula and the nurses. I was sent back to my room that morning and felt normal, except there was a lot of pressure in my pelvic region and it was difficult to pee.

Fast forward to the morning of Saturday, October 28: the OB on duty, Dr. Caulley, came to check in on me. I told him about my difficulty peeing, and the discomfort I was feeling in my pelvis. He said it was normal and that the baby’s head was likely engaged. The cramping had started up again, but I didn’t bother mentioning it to him, since it didn’t feel any different than my “false labour” on Thursday night.

As the day went on, the cramping worsened. Damn, I thought to myself. If you can’t even handle this false labour cramping, how are you going to handle REAL contractions?

So, I meditated and put on my hypnobirthing relaxation CDs to try and find some relief. It was getting harder and harder to stay relaxed.

By the time my mom came to visit me that afternoon, I was struggling. I couldn’t get comfortable in any position, and peeing was next to impossible. (It is SO unsatisfying to sit on the toilet when your bladder feels full and hear nothing but a trickle in the toilet!) “I think you better tell a nurse,” she suggested.

I buzzed, and my nurse joked that if I was going to “misbehave”, I had to do it down in Labour and Delivery. So she wheeled me down there, and one of my favourite nurses, Jocelyn, got me hooked up to the monitors for a Non Stress Test to check on the baby.

“When was the last time someone checked your cervix?” she asked me.

It had been the day I was admitted to the hospital. Since my water had broken early, they hadn’t been checking it for fear of introducing bacteria.

Jocelyn decided to check me. She did it twice, “just to be sure”.

“You’re not going to believe me if I tell you this,” she said.

“What?” I asked, expecting to hear that I was still only 2-3 cm dilated, like I was the day my water broke.

“You’re 9 cm dilated,” she responded.

We stared at each other for a minute, stunned. How was this possible that I’d reached almost full dilation without even realizing I was in labour?

“Look how strong you are,” she said to me.

The whole time, I’d been thinking the exact opposite. Those words stayed with me for the rest of my labour and delivery.

“You’re going to be pushing soon,” she told me, and she hurried around, prepping the room and calling other doctors and nurses.

Still in shock, I called my doula to tell her the news.

“I’ll be there in 30 minutes,” she said, and I could hear her rushing to pack her bags in the background.

Shortly after, my contractions reached a whole new level. I was lying on my left side, gripping the bed rails, breathing deeply and groaning, trying to remember Ina May Gaskin’s advice to keep my jaw soft and my muscles as relaxed as possible.  My doula arrived and started applying counter pressure, but at this point, it wasn’t helping me and I didn’t want anyone touching me. I started to feel nauseous, and Jocelyn arrived with a little bowl just in time to avoid a pukey mess on the floor.

The OB came in and started trying to talk to me about some things in my birth plan, but at that point, I was in a whole different world. All I could focus on was getting through the contractions, each one more intense than the last. Suddenly, I felt my body move the baby’s head into the birth canal, and I knew it was time to start pushing.

I wanted to be on all fours to work with gravity, but the OBs and nurses weren’t having it. I was forced to lay down almost flat, which made it challenging to fully feel my contractions and work with my body to move the baby down. It was uncomfortable, but I didn’t have the energy to stand up for what I wanted. My only concern was getting the baby out.

Jocelyn stood on my right side and helped me feel for contractions. Although I was unmedicated, the position I was in, combined with the adrenaline rush of delivering a baby, made it difficult to fully feel the contractions. She counted to ten calmly while I pushed. My doula stood on the right and spoke calmly and encouragingly to me, giving me sips of ice water in between pushes and putting a cold wash cloth on my forehead.

Each push was progress, but my OB encouraged me to push harder and get the baby out faster. This wasn’t what I wanted, because I knew delivering him too fast would increase my risk of tearing, and I didn’t want to force my body to do anything it wasn’t ready to do. But when my doula said she could already see the baby’s head, and that it was covered with dark hair, I knew I was so close to meeting my babe. I pushed with everything I had, and felt pressure as the baby crowned. It wasn’t exactly the “ring of fire” that people talk about, but it was definitely the most intense part. With one more push, his head was out, and relief washed over me as the OB pulled the rest of him out. Suddenly, there was a screaming, crying, tiny little baby on my stomach.

I was in a daze as I cut the umbilical cord and they whisked my baby away to be examined by a team of doctors. My midwife, who came to the birth in a supportive role, gave me a shot of oxytocin in the leg (yet another decision I had to make on the fly after the OB scared me by saying that I could possibly bleed to death without it) as I waited for my placenta to detach. After I delivered the placenta, my baby was returned to me briefly before being taken to the intensive care nursery. He stopped crying as I held him in my arms. We looked into each other’s eyes for the first time, and I knew then I was different. I was this tiny human’s mom. He loved me and needed me. I was the most important person in the world to him, despite any of the mistakes I’ve ever made in my life, despite my imperfections. None of it mattered anymore. I was his, and he was mine.

They told me he weighed 5 pounds 3 ounces, and that he didn’t need any help breathing. He was healthy. I felt so relieved to know he was OK. I knew my little guy was strong; he was a fighter.

We spent the next week and a half in the NICU while he learned how to feed and gained weight. He still hasn’t mastered nursing, but I am hopeful that with persistence, eventually something will click.

My plan from the get-go was to have a natural birth. There is nothing natural about giving birth in a hospital with an obstetrician delivering your baby, but I was at least able to stick to my wish to forego an epidural and have a medication-free birth. I believe this played a role in my babe entering the world so alertly and with no complications or interventions.

As grateful as I am to the staff at the Owen Sound hospital and for the skill of the obstetrician who delivered my son, I can’t help but feel like the medical system needs a tune-up when it comes to birth.

Unfortunately, with the circumstances surrounding my birth (my water breaking early and a “fast” labour), I had to make some decisions on the fly that I was not prepared to make. Generally, I like to research important decisions, but in this case, I was presented with some options that I did not have time to look into. For example, even though I tested negative for Group B strep and had just finished two rounds of antibiotics, the OB present at my sons birth insisted that the risk of infection to him was high, and that he should receive antibiotics following birth. When I asked for a statistic, he couldn’t give me one, and just kept repeating, “very high”. I had just given birth and did not have the confidence or the clear head to make such a decision. I had to quickly weigh the pros and cons. Since I had already destroyed my own intestinal flora with my antibiotic treatments, I decided it would do more good than harm to give him the antibiotics. Looking back, I don’t know if I would have made the same decision if I’d had time to research the actual risks of infection to a premature baby. But I was scared and felt pressure to go with the conventional recommendation from a doctor I had no relationship with.

Another decision I was scared into was getting an oxytocin injection after birth. I wanted to wait and see if my bleeding would stop on its own, but the OB once again scared me by telling me about a woman who had almost bled to death after refusing oxytocin. So I caved and got the shot.

Finally, after making preparations to have my placenta encapsulated, they refused to let me take it. Yep, that’s right, they denied my access to MY OWN ORGAN. Obviously the medical staff were biased against placenta encapsulation, because even with a release of liability form and offering to let them cut off a piece to send to pathology, they refused. This was the most frustrating part of my hospital birth. The OB later returned to tell me all the reasons why I shouldn’t ingest my placenta instead of respecting my right, as an adult with free will, to make my own decisions regarding my health. Regardless of what anyone thinks about placenta encapsulation, I should have the right to make my own choices about my own body. Medical professionals need to adjust accordingly.

Despite almost nothing going the way I’d hoped, the birth of Kieran was an incredible experience I would never take back. Giving birth to him was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. It was so powerful to have such a supportive community of women in the room with me, including my mum, my doula, my midwife, and my nurse, Jocelyn. There were lots of people in the room, but we maintained a calm, supportive atmosphere just like I wanted. I feel like a total badass that I made it to 9cm dilated without complaining of pain, and that I went through the whole thing fully alert and without pain medication. Since I could feel every push, I was in control, and my recovery was fast — I was walking around within a couple hours of delivery, and I felt back to normal within a few days. I fully believe that my mindset around labour and birth helped me accomplish this, as I always approached natural birth as something that was not only possible, but positive. I repeated positive birth affirmations daily, and did lots of reading to prepare myself for a natural childbirth. I’m happy that, in the end, my wish for a natural birth free of interventions came true.