It is amazing how after months of pregnancy and then a peak transformational experience such as birth that exerts our bodies, minds, and hearts to their maximum, we are required to step up to the tiring task of caring for a helpless new little being.
Lots of support from loved ones is essential. We can also support our recovering systems with special foods that are amenable to the postpartum state.
A body that has just birthed a baby suddenly has more “space” in it. This can feel discombobulating to a delicate and raw feeling system. The sweetness and grounding of the root vegetables helps to soothe the sudden changes within the body and mind. The warming spices aid digestion that may be challenged by all the internal pressure changes, hormonal fluctuations, and possible medication side effects. The carbs fuel the depleted body and give it energy, as well as easy to digest protein. This is love in a bowl.
- 6 cups water (or 2 cups water and 4 cups broth of your choice)
- ½ cup whole mung beans (rinse them well and soak them overnight in hot water)
- ½ cup basmati rice (brown rice has more nutrients)
- half a chopped onion
- 2-3 cloves of finely chopped garlic
- a thumb sized piece of ginger root, minced
- 1 cup chopped carrots
- 1 cup chopped squash or sweet potato
- 1 cup veggie of choice
- 1 cup leafy greens, (spinach, kale, beet greens, or Swiss chard, etc….cut leaves off the ribs if necessary, and chop roughly)
- 2 tablespoons oil (ghee, olive, avocado, or coconut)
- ¾ tablespoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon cardamom
- ½ teaspoon curry powder
- ½ teaspoon salt (more if you prefer)
- juice of one lemon
Bring the water/broth to boil. Add the mung beans to boiling water, turn down to a strong simmer and cook uncovered until they begin to split. Bring the water to a boil, throw in the rice, turn it down to a lower simmer, half covered, and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil again, add the vegetables except for the leafy greens, and bring down to a low simmer, and cover, checking occasionally and giving a stir to prevent scorching.
Heat the ghee/oil of your choice in a sauté pan and add the onions, garlic, and ginger and sauté until clear. Add the spices and cook 5 more minutes, stirring constantly. You will have to add small amounts of water frequently as you stir to prevent the mixture from drying out and sticking . Add this to the cooked rice and beans. Now add your leafy greens and cover, allowing them to soften and wilt. Continue cooking until veggies reach a desired consistency. Scoop out 2 cups of the mixture, let it cool a bit, and mix in a blender for extra body and creaminess. Return to dal. Squeeze in some fresh lemon juice if you like things to have a tangy flavour.
Serve topped with yoghurt or a drizzle of apple cider vinegar
Double this recipe and freeze in portions for easy, nourishing post birth attending or postpartum meals
Early this May I finally took the grey hair plunge. I cut off all of my bottle-brunette hair down to its vulnerable salt and pepper roots. Not only was it a radical palette change, but the crowning glory that had cascaded wavily past my shoulders was whittled to the shortest of pixie cuts one can have without actually shaving one’s head.
At the age of 30, when hairdressers were beginning to try to convince me to extinguish the growing bursts of silver in my long dark hair, I felt rebellious. “No way!” I said. I had birthed three children by the age of 29, and felt I had earned each one of those greys. They were my badges of wisdom, my commitment to nonconformity. They were political, damn it! But by the time I was 35 and pregnant with my fourth child, I began getting increasingly uncomfortable with how I was feeling an “ageing” woman. An OB had suggested an amniocentesis because of my “advanced maternal age”. Bouncing back to a pre-baby body, which had happened without so much as a thought after my first two kids were born, became an insurmountable task after my third and fourth. I felt that instead of illuminating my hard gleaned maternal wisdom, the grey hair was now a testament to the unconscionable tarnishing of my youth.
Once my fourth baby was born, I switched from doing the occasional dark henna to semi-permanent dyeing. There came a point when the semi-permanent dye was no longer providing enough coverage for my bright, wiery silver strands. Despite the promise I had made to myself to refrain from the monthly “chasing of the white stripe” ritual that millions of women succumb to in the name of maintaining the comfortable front of youthfulness, I bit the bullet and turned to permanent dye. The cheap kind.
I would hear friends in their late 30’s, who had as much grey in their hair as I had had in my 20’s, extolling the badassery of their choice to not dye. It’s easy to love your grey when it’s a cool novelty. “Just wait until people begin thinking you’re older than you are,,” I’d say to myself silently in response to their self-satisfaction. This was admittedly unkind of me, as women can often feel towards each other when internalized youth-favouring beauty standards are triggered and the shame of not living up raises its ugly head.
In 2012, one day after my 43rd birthday, I received the devastating diagnosis of advanced cervical cancer. A hysterectomy wasn’t going to be the cure for me as it often is, luckily, for women whose cervical cancers are not as invasive. Mine was too far gone. I was informed I had to undergo six weeks of daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy as well as some other intense procedures I will refrain from freaking anyone out over.
A friend of mine who’s an OB/GYN happened to be in the hospital on the day of my diagnosis. He walked into the shared room and closed the curtains around us for privacy. One of the first questions I asked him after, “am I going to die?” was NOT, “how will the quality of my life be affected?” nor “can you tell me more about how this crazy fast-tracked menopause is going to go down with all these treatments?” I didn’t even ask him to give me a hug. No. I asked, “am I going to lose my hair?” He smiled and responded as if it never failed to surprise him, “this is among the first questions almost all women ask when faced with the prospect of chemo.” Oh, how vulnerable we are when our identities, so deeply tied in with how we perceive our looks, are threatened.
In preparation for chemo, I decided to cut my near shoulder length mane short. I had been informed that with the type of chemo I was getting hair loss was probably not going to be much of an issue, though it could get thin, brittle, or patchy. I wasn’t interested in thin, brittle, or patchy. Before my treatment began, some of my beloved friends took me to a salon and held my hands while I succumbed to a pixie cut.
It was sad, but I felt braver facing cancer treatments that way. The ritual of cutting my hair off was symbolic of shedding all of the patterns I needed to let go of to heal. Others find different symbols to support their healing journey, of course, but for me the cutting of my hair was not as much about vanity as it was about fostering release, resolve, and courage. Even so, there was indeed a modicum of vanity involved because you can bet that before getting that super short hair cut I dyed my hair to the hilt with no greys showing.
That vanity didn’t last long once the treatments started happening. The intense pain, hours spend in the hospital waiting for and getting treatment daily, complications, sickness, being constantly high on narcotics and 30 pounds of weight loss from my small frame really put things into perspective. Until, of course, I got well and started to care about my looks again. The things that had seemed absolutely pointless to worry about in the face of cancer, pain, and fear of death started beckoning with the gleam of importance again.
The return of some vanity was a sign that I was back in the land of the living. I felt good again, and wanted to look as good as I could too. I do believe that caring about our appearance to a reasonable degree is a sign of wellbeing. I grew my hair long again and simply disassociated from the shocking amount of silver that could be seen shining close to my scalp a mere two weeks after a fresh dye job.
About three years after healing from cancer, I started to think, “hmmmm. Maybe it’s time to let my hair be grey.” I’m not sure what precipitated this thought, but I felt on the verge of a major transformation that a head of frosted hair would lend gravitas to. I would still, however, feel quite defensive when people responded, “do it! It’s liberating, it’s flipping the bird to the beauty industry, it’s cheaper, it’s healthier, it’s authentic, smash the patriarchy!” I felt defensive because while cancer and healing from it had been such an insight laden journey of growth for me, there were things I had lost too. Though I had personally never planned on having a baby in my early to mid-forties (as awesome as it is that many people do), the fact that the cessation of my cycles was provoked before its natural schedule put me in the ranks of post-menopausal women.
I was worried that more than usual grey hair for a forty-something year old and menopausal changes would make me present as a prematurely aged woman. Having been through cancer and survived you’d think it wouldn’t have mattered, that facing my own mortality would have given me a pass from the drive to subjugate myself to our weird, culturally generated ideas of what looking good means. But it did matter. Now don’t get me wrong. I see so much beauty in the lines, soft faces, and silvered hair of mature women. I just didn’t want to be one of them yet as I was still young-ish, despite menopause and grey roots. Yet something in me was beginning to whisper that it was time to accept the fact that a type of crone, or at least a baby version of one, was crying to be born and seen.
I began observing the hair of women in their mid 40’s and older. I was generally able to tell who dyed it at home out of a bottle or who likely had time and money to go to a salon. It is AMAZING how many visible grey roots there are out there when you look. Around 75% of North American women who are going grey dye their hair apparently. Because a) it needs to be dyed regularly every few weeks to hide the fact that you’re dyeing and b) many women simply don’t have the time and/or money to do it as regularly as it needs to be done to keep it fresh. the fact that so many of us are trying to cheat the natural softening of age is TOTALLY OBVIOUS! Most people, especially if they’re taller than we and able to look down at our roots, (which in my case is the vast majority of adults) know we’re “fudging” Nature’s designs upon our locks as evidenced by the telltale silver strip at our crowns.
One day, sitting in my stylist’s chair correcting a home dyeing mistake that had left everything about my hair flat black except for two inches of carrot orange at the roots, I began to wonder if it was worth it. The mistake was so drastic that it had to be taken care of, at a great financial and chemical cost, gradually over a few visits. I sat there under the bright lights and caught a glimpse of the the brilliant fairy flecks of silver just beginning to peek out from my hair part, sparkling beguilingly like the precious flashes of fireflies on a summer night. “I am kind of thinking the silver looks pretty,” I said shyly to my thirty year old stylist.
“I am NOT letting you go grey!” she exclaimed with a quick ferocity. “I will tell you when it’s time. It’s not all silver yet. Salt and pepper hair is ugly. Here’s the bottom line: do you want to look like you’re in your 30’s or in your 60’s? Because you WILL look way older than your age if you let your hair be grey.” Now please don’t get me wrong. My stylist is a lovely woman. Truly. We go way back. But as a beauty industry representative who is also in the glorious throes of enjoying luscious silver thread-free locks, she was obviously deeply triggered by my flight of fancy, and felt it was her duty to shield me from being judged as “old”. She had been tending to me as a youngish looking mother of four. She was just trying to protect my image, bless her. Or at least her internalized image of how she thought a woman my age should choose to look if she could.
I began to see how deep and insidious this attachment to image was. When I mentioned I was thinking of going grey I received a wide variety of opinions. “Do it!!!!” was definitely one of them by the women who felt liberated by the end of their own dyeing journeys. Young women who found the idea of chemically torturing their gorgeous hair into the state of “granny grey” I had been trying to cover up for years thought the idea was super cool. However, a lot of responses were, “but Lesley, you are so youthful. I can’t see you with grey hair.” I liked the super honest responses. “You ARE getting older, and the darkness of your hair is starting to make your face look harsh.” It was true. The dark hair was weighing me down.
I became pretty caught up in the agonizing vacillation about something that seemed on the surface to be so frivolous. I hated feeling so trapped in the game of vanity. My husband was wise enough to refrain from giving too many opinions about it, though I knew he had some concerns about having a suddenly shorn, grey haired, potentially elderly looking wife. It is not that he thinks elderly women are unattractive, but he had unspoken thoughts about how it might feel if I did, indeed, appear more elderly than I actually was. He himself has maybe two whole grey hairs on his head and we’re the same age. My kids became increasingly bored with my “should I or shouldn’t I?” Facebook posts. “It’s just hair!” they exclaimed. “It grows, you can colour it if you don’t like it. It doesn’t mean anything. MUM!! Who cares?”
The decision was made before my conscious mind knew it. I simply continued to put off going to my regular hair trim and root touch up appointments. Frankly my stylist scares me a little. My roots became screamingly obvious. I was afraid she would “tut tut” me for having waited so long to tend to them. And then.. I began to like them. I mean really really like them. At first I wore the “headband of shame” constantly to cover up the evidence of age and imperfection because I thought other people would be ashamed for me. But it didn’t last long. My signature teeny bangs grew out and I flipped them back so my roots showed more. I started feeling quite proud of them. But it is one thing to have nifty roots you flash flirtily and another to cut off a mane of long dark hair that has been part of your identify for years.
But one day I just knew. It had to happen. Before booking the appointment (not with my stylist) I became a bit obsessed with how I was going to dress myself and what colours would look good on me with “cooled” hair. I doubted myself, and thought I had to maybe switch to clear, bright colours I’m not generally fond of, or avoid wearing black like the plague so as not to look sallow and washed out. There is a lot of bullshit on the internet that suggests fair-ish Caucasian women with warm undertones to their skin like I have look the worst with grey hair. Then it hit me: does anyone ever try to feed that crap to men? Did anyone ever tell George Clooney his hair clashed with his face? No! He is upheld as a “silver fox” (rightfully so). I decided I would wear whatever the heck I liked. So I booked my appointment, slathered on bright lipstick, grabbed a friend, and off I went back to the salon that had held me so kindly when I got my pre-chemo shearing five years earlier.
Now here I am, mowed down to the silver quick. The process itself was painless, but there is always that horrible “reveal” moment you must do over and over again when you meet with someone you know who witnesses you looking radically different from how they last saw you. I decided to get most of it over with on Facebook by posting a “before….” and then an “AFTER!” photo.
The weirdest and most unexpected thing happened. I have never in my years on social media received as many “likes” and glowing comments as I did revealing my “after” photo. And I have made some pretty awesome posts in my life (some in which I have looked way cuter, too)! I have done some things I am quite proud of, if I do say so myself. I have trained hundreds of women to be doulas. I have contributed heavily to the pioneering of doula support in my city. I am one of the few doulas in North America who has been invited to guest lecture in the medical program at a major university as part of their curriculum on effective support for birthing families. I get to help shift the difficult parts of our birth and mothering culture from the inside out. I have built a family and a business and a brand. I have birthed four spectacular humans and have been married to my dearest friend for 27 years. I am an ordained interspiritual minister and coach who provides insightful support for extraordinary transformation Even my posts about being a cancer survivor had not been met with such wild enthusiasm.
Does this mean that as a society we’re so very shallow that the silver pixie cut of a woman of a certain age elicits more “Oh my God, you’re awesome!” than “Yay, I have no more cancer!”? No, I don’t think it does. What it makes me think is that it’s NOT “just” about hair. Except for a few close male friends, the hundreds of responses I got were from women telling me I looked fabulous. What I think resonated among the women who commented was a respect, whether they liked the idea of grey hair for themselves or not, for a wee act of rebellion. They saw an act of silver disobedience.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of courage in my life. I’ve been witnessing childbirth for a quarter of a century. I have been with parents taking their baby off life support or having to make very difficult decisions in high risk pregnancies. I have worked with people who are at the end of their lives and are facing death with unfathomable grace. I have witnessed women kicking addictions and getting out of abusive relationships. I am asked to create ceremonies for people confirming their true genders and re-naming themselves to the public. These things take real courage.
Getting a haircut down to the natural roots ain’t that brave. And yet it resonates so deeply with so many in spite of all the wild and wonderful things women are capable of. In a world where age tends to be fought tooth and nail as evidenced by all the money and pain we sacrifice upon the altar of the western standards of beauty, we sometimes yearn for a different feeling, a different story from the droves of young women who claim to not want babies because it will “wreck” their bodies, or from the tales of war against the white hair stripe. While the stories will not end until circumstances strip us of the caring about measuring up to “standards” (heck, even my 98 year old Oma doesn’t want to be seen before putting on her green eyeshadow every morning) there are moments we feel tired with the burden of upholding them.
When some random woman decides to bust a move to lay down her fight against the grey “ravages” of the clock because she’s tired of it, sometimes…just sometimes (if there’s not been a major catastrophe in the world that day and there’s nothing good on tv) there’s a breakout standing ovation. And it’s not because she’s “real” brave, like in the fireman brave kind of sense. It’s because for one shining moment she is noticed choosing to release a bit of a falsehood she’s been keeping. She is witnessed claiming an identity she still fears. She is seen embracing that strange phase between “mother” and “crone”, that less talked about time in a woman’s life when she’s not quite elderly yet (when a silver crown seems more acceptable), but is not exactly brimming with youth, either. She is upheld digging down into her audacity, despite her anxiety about getting and looking old, to own it.
So with trembling heart, shining eyes and silver hair, I take up the mantle of this new eldership-without-apology and invite all you women to love yourselves. Right. Fucking. Now. Exactly how you are. Keep on dyeing your hair if that makes you feel sexy. You’ll know when you want to quit if ever, and it’s fine if you never do. You’re gorgeous. Let it be wild and grey if you’d rather. Throw on a crop top and low rise jeans with your crepe-y, stretch marked mama belly and Cesarean scar sticking out proudly. Wear blue eyeshadow up to your un-plucked brows. Let your hair frizz BIG. Get butt cheek implants. Wear loud lipstick you love even if it makes your teeth look yellow. Inject fillers into your naso-labial folds if you like. Let your holy breasts sag to your belly button. Fill your face with holes and weird hardware. It doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter because we KNOW the standards of beauty and the way we participate with them are only illusion. It’s all just made up. It’s a theatre and we’re all just putting on costumes. May you, Beloveds, love the costumes you put your fine selves n. It is the owning of your finery, no matter what it is, that makes you beautiful.
When a whole bunch of women doing different things to achieve their own sense of “damn, I’m fine” stand for another woman to applaud her choice to go grey, or stand for a woman in cancer treatment stepping out in a great wig (or another who chooses to bear her shining scalp), or applaud a friend getting the breast implants that make her feel amazing about herself, or congratulate a sister who gets a Botox injection because it brings ease to her aging anxieties and makes her feel good, or clap for someone who feels like a boss in her mom jeans and oversized sweatshirts with cats on them, wool socks and clogs…something unspeakably wonderful happens: we override the unkindness and competition we’re programmed to feel towards each other in order to feed the beast of beauty capitalism. We jump off the beast for a moment, give it a kick in its horrible underbelly before going back to the game, to celebrate together.
In each ovation we give, we see more deeply into each other as we are in our true magnificence that outer looks do not touch. We connect through the simple act of honouring someone owning her own brand of beauty. We accept and respect each other for personal choice, even if we wouldn’t choose the same thing in a million years.
Even though we go back to living in the illusions of our chosen costumery, whether in support or in rebellion of the beast, we know deep down the impetus for so many women to “like” a Facebook post about grey hair isn’t just about hair. In the kindness shared, we experience the most beautiful beauty of all; the beauty of love and honour unfettered by condition. And we know it is what real freedom feels like.
Has trying become trying? When pregnancy just isn’t happening…one doula’s foray in Fertility (or the lack of it)
If you clicked on this post, then it’s probably because the title resonates with you, and you know this feeling. Maybe it’s been a few months for you, or maybe a few years. Or maybe longer. Maybe your efforts have been successful and you’ve finally had your precious baby(ies). Or maybe not. Either way, you are not alone. Its reported that 16% or 1 in 6 of Canadian couples suffers from a fertility issue, either medically diagnosed or not. If you’ve unwittingly found yourself in this percentage group, a) I’m sorry, and b) welcome! You’ve found your people.
Because we are a people. We are the frantic underwear checking people, who monitor our own secretions for any changes that mean `it’s GO time`. We are the people who are dropping $20 on those devices-of-the-devil that line the pharma industry’s pockets (read, ovulation tests), frantically peeing on said device and desperately looking for that smiley face or pink line (or 2!) that signals `the egg is about to drop!`, as if we are hens in a henhouse. We are the people who fiddle about with thermometers every morning, looking for variations in our basal body temperatures, another indicator that it’s time to take your partner by the hand, etc etc – you know where I’m going here. (and no I’m not alluding to doing a barn dance).
It’s a certain select group who find themselves taking just about every supplement under the sun, following all kinds of complementary therapies that they`d previously thought were the domain of New Age hippies, and doing all kinds of fitness and wellness regimes that they would`ve never previously considered, in the hope that they might just make them feel relaxed (or healthy!) enough to conceive. Or that have found themselves taking Robitussin (you! Yes, you!) in the hope that it will thin out your body mucus. And still, even after all of our best efforts, good old Aunt Flo still shows up like an unwanted ex at a wedding, like clockwork every month, reminding us once again (as if the media doesn’t do a good enough job of it already) that our bodies have failed us once again in what we`re told by society from a young age is one of our main goals – in fact, almost our raison d’etre as women – becoming a mother.
My own fertility journey began some 10 years ago. Having waited what we considered a respectable amount of time in terms of having `us time` after our wedding, myself and my husband proudly told all and sundry that we were about to start trying. BIG mistake. Having been aware of my own mothers struggles to have children (albeit due to a different issue than the one I would later discover of my own), I was prepared for things to take a while. In my Generation-X mindset, `a while`equated to a maximum of 6 months. I had no idea at that stage what being patient really meant. I was about to learn a hard lesson.
One of my closest friends started trying around the same time as me. 3 months later she was pregnant. We later joked that it took me pretty much the same amount of time to conceive in years that it took her in months. `Take your time and savour this precious time of no responsibility whilst you can `, I kept reminding myself. ‘It will happen`. However, with each passing month, I became increasingly anxious. Id say my anxiety probably peaked at about 9 months of trying to conceive, when I really started scouring the internet and any available book I could get my hands on, eager to see if there was any trick that I was missing. I went to my family doctor, who referred me for initial blood work to check my hormone levels, all of which came back within the normal range. Later I would go for highly uncomfortable invasive tests, which also came back with results that were supposed to reassure me that, yes, everything was fine, it was just taking a little longer for us. My poor husband of course played his part, and did his tests, which, apparently, are pretty similar to how its portrayed in the movies. I even splashed out on a trip to an exclusive Harley Street based `Gynaecologist to the stars`, who, after taking $1000 of my hard earned money, sent me off telling me everything was fine – I just needed to loosen up, chill out, drink more wine and cook my man a steak on a Friday night before my next effort to conceive. Oh – if only it was that simple! We would have had a mini Army by that point if it had been that simple, buddy!
More time passed, and one by one all my friends and colleagues became pregnant (or so it seemed. Im sure if I really think about it, not everyone I know was conceiving, but its funny how you perceive things when you’re so consumed by something). I began to feel increasingly isolated. I was convinced that people were keeping their own happy news of conception success from me because they knew we were trying and not succeeding, and indeed I was right in some cases. One of my good friends even didn’t invite me to her son’s birthday party, as she wanted to spare me the awkwardness of choosing whether or not to go. I became to rely increasingly on my single and childless-by-choice friends (most of whom have subsequently had kids, incidentally), and started to avoid family gatherings because I couldn’t bear answering questions as to why I wasn’t drinking. No, it wasn’t for the reason we all wished it was for. More to do with the fact that I was trying to lead the healthier lifestyle Id convinced myself was the key to fertility.
I’m sure this anxiety around social gatherings for fear of avoiding well-meaning (but insensitive) questions from Great Aunt Vera such as `So when are you going to have a baby? You’re not getting any younger you know!` is something anyone who has ever experienced a fertility issue can relate to. I found it handy to have a couple of retorts lined up in these situations, along the lines of `well, it’s been over 2 years now and still nothing. What would YOU suggest we do? Any good positions to try?’ or just simply `I’d rather not talk about it right now`. Its funny how quickly people start pushing adoption too, once they realise that conception isn’t happening, as if adoption is such a quick and simple solution. My response to these suggestions was usually `What are your personal experiences of adoption? Why didn’t YOU adopt?`
Eventually, having stumped all the medics as to my failure to conceive, I underwent minor surgery, where I was diagnosed with a bilateral fallopian tubal blockage. One miscarriage (we are still unsure quite how conception happened in the light of that diagnosis, but there you are) and unfair dismissal from a job because of the miscarriage later (don’t worry, we went legal, and won), I was accepted onto the NHS IVF programme. Given we were only eligible for one free cycle of IVF, so much hinged on this cycle. I was convinced it wasn’t going to work, given the success rate of approx 16% that we were given, but my boss at the time told me to think positive.What was to say I couldn’t be in that 16%? She was right, and I started to feel brighter about it. For that I will always be eternally grateful to her.
I will never forget when the package of IVF drugs arrived in the post. I remember looking at my husband and saying `what on EARTH are we doing?` Never a huge lover of needles, it took a huge effort of will to plunge that first syringe into my butt cheek, and I soon became covered in bruises from all of the injections that we had to take every day. After that started the rollercoaster of hormonal changes, hot flashes, mood swings and the highs and lows of going through the various stages of the cycle, where news can go from awesome (we made 9 embryos the first day after egg collection) to devastating (we only had 2 left 4 days later) in a matter of days, if not hours in some cases.
In an almost superhuman suspension of disbelief, a lot of love, and a little bit (well, let’s get real – a lot) of science and against all odds, we found ourselves in that lucky 16%. We welcomed our beautiful daughter in November 2012, 3 and half years after deciding to try for a baby. 3 years later, we welcomed our son after another IVF cycle here in Quebec. How I came to be a doula after these 2 births is a whole different story, which you can come to our monthly Meet the Doula nights to hear. But I digress.
Infertility is hard. It is tough. It is brutal. It sucks, and it is completely arbitrary and totally unfair. Yes, I was eventually lucky enough to complete 2 successful cycles and to have 2 beautiful children as a result of ART and all of its magical machinations, but the journey changed me fundamentally. As a previously goal-oriented person who made lists and (generally) achieved the things on them, this was a very difficult but fundamentally invaluable lesson to learn. Life doesn’t always go to plan. Sometimes you need to live in the moment, and learn to adapt. Still there is only so much living in the moment and adapting one can do, especially when the desire to become a mother can be so fierce and undeniable. There were some very dark moments for me. I can honestly say I contemplated some pretty horrifying thoughts at points. For those that say `but you’ve still got your health`, please be aware that living with infertility can sometimes make you feel like you`re dying inside. It’s a quiet unspoken grief which can manifest in various ways. I am sure that, even if you personally are not suffering infertility, that you know many people that are, whether you are aware of it or not. Kindness and awareness is key. I remember being highly volatile, emotional, and downright aggressive and unpleasant at times. I was not easy to be around.
ART, whilst it is tough, uncomfortable, unbelievably invasive, and a total rollercoaster of emotions, is something to be embraced. There are some moments of real black humour involved, if you are able to see the (often very) funny side in the midst of the stress and anguish. Yes I can think of more pleasant, less stressful, and frankly far less expensive ways to conceive, but for some of us, this is our best (and sometimes, only) option.
For anyone who is on this journey right now or about to embark on it, I see you. I salute you. I wish you all the love and luck in the world. I understand you. I am here for you. This is our truth.
Birth and Postpartum Doula
MotherWit Doula Care
MotherWit hosts a free monthly Fertility Peer-to-Peer Support Group in Montreal on the 3rd Tuesday evening of each month 7-9 pm
There are times our physiology simply does not support our philosophy. We see it all the time in birth and parenting. You may have very much wanted a birth with timely pain management, only to have delivered too quickly before receiving it. Perhaps you wanted with all your heart to breastfeed your baby exclusively, only to find that no matter what steps you took or professionals you saw for help, your baby needed supplementation. This can also happen when it comes to your hopes of happily tending to all of your baby’s needs on your own.
In over two decades of supporting birth and families, I know with certainty that parenting decisions are made from a place of love and concern.
Parents’ hearts get full of sadness and self-doubt when they can’t tend to their babies how they want. They often blame themselves (no matter what you tell them) and are worried they are causing irreparable damage to their child’s future (they aren’t).
The scientific literature pertaining to infant sleep points to the physiological and psychological importance of tending to Baby’s needs around the clock, and most parents feel up for that challenge. It is normal for toddlers to wake up with needs to connect at night too. Without even sharing this literature, parents are intuitively drawn to snuggle and love on their little ones, and usually feel out of sorts when they are not able to be with or comfort their child happily when they call out. Those cries are meant to tug our heartstrings, and they do so with great efficacy.
But what happens if you reach a dangerous level of sleep deprivation and those cries turn into unpleasant feeling triggers for you? To put it into perspective, we do expect new parents to be very tired. Before developing circadian rhythms, babies up to three or four months often awaken at all hours around the clock, and this is normal. Tending to them lovingly regulates their vital signs and their emotions. It is lovely work for most people, as challenging as it is. Most children have a biological need to receive some night parenting well into their early childhood, though the intensity of it lessens over time when conditions that nourish development are optimal for the family.
From an evolutionary perspective, new families were, before we started to live in such social isolation, nurtured and tended to by “the tribe” without worry of financial, home, and community contributions for a while (because hello, tending to a precious new citizen is honoured and highly valued work). But now? Most of us are left to fend for ourselves from the get go, leaving us shattered by exhaustion. It is not that a baby’s needs are abnormal, it is the condition within which we are expected to meet them that is highly challenging.
Today’s parents are often fuelled by anxiety about the very real concerns of hearth, home, and sustenance. Without the need (NOT a luxury) to be tended to gently themselves in the early days, weeks, months, and even years of early parenthood fulfilled, exhaustion can potentially become a serious problem for the whole family. Friends will often chant “sleep when the baby sleeps”. But as a mother of four and a long time family supporter, I know this is not always possible when you’re at home alone with Baby and nervous about what will happen if you withdraw your attention for a while. Or, there are other children to tend to as well. Or you are back at work within a few weeks of giving birth.
In a state of chronic sleep deprivation, our physical and mental health can suffer greatly, as well as create unsafe conditions for parenting. This is a real symptom of modern parenting. The needs of Baby wear more and more upon us and we can potentially get desperate, thinking the advice we receive to alter Baby’s level of outward demands is the only key to the “way out”. For some parents, this will be the truth, and honouring parent choice with empathy is essential to providing true support.
But what if we took a deeper look? Babies are sensitive little souls. Any wise old grannie, never mind a PhD in Child Psychology, will tell you that our stress affects our little ones. The need to be tended to not just automatically, but nurtured intentionally by an emotionally present parent, is important to little ones for optimal development. Demanding much? Indeed! They don’t call parenting the hardest job in the world for nothing. There is nothing that brings forth all our impatience and frustration at kids’ high demands as feeling overwhelmed ourselves. So what if, instead of seeing the baby as a problem or judging parenting approaches, as a society we could simply take more compassionate care of parents? What if we shifted our views around wanting to alter babies as seen through a societal lens forged by physical and emotional depletion? What if we could experience greater enjoyment and peace at the privilege of shaping the architecture of a brain and the empathy of a little heart if we were physically and emotionally nourished ourselves?
This is a scenario I’ve encountered a lot: I get a call in the wee hours from a new mom or dad whose birth I’ve attended. They sounds shaky. In the background, I hear a baby yelling the roof down, and possibly the sound of an adult sobbing too. “The baby won’t stop crying. We just don’t know what to do.” These newborn parents are calling to be parented themselves in this moment. I get them to breathe first and foremost, to “put their oxygen mask on”, beam love and compassion at them, and then strategize from that decompressed place. Very often before I even get to feeding or soothing troubleshooting, I am informed that, “just talking to you has made us feel so much better.” I’m not magic. I’m just a reassuring voice in the night. While it is normal in our modern culture to night parent as newbies alone, in no way is this normal on an evolutionary level. Before I hang up the phone I ask the new parents if they can call upon a savvy Grandparent, Sibling, or Friend to come be with them for a couple of nights to provide opportunities for rest and reassurance.
When our physiology (exhaustion, edgy adrenals, challenged immune system, and high cortisol levels) does not support our philosophy (to tend to all our babies’ high demands with a reasonable calm and connectedness, for example), and family/friends are not available to help, it is time to shout out for what we at MotherWit Sleep Essentials call a Critical Sleep Intervention (CSI).
Instead of rushing in to try to fix what you think might be your broken kid or lacking parenting skills, a MotherWit Night Doula will make sure you get SLEEP. We do this in ways that honour your approach. If you will feel best having your baby brought to you when they are hungry so you can breastfeed, your doula will sit with you to reassure you and support you. It is often in these wee hours that our deepest fears are brought to light and dissipated in the compassionate listening your doula provides. When Parents and Baby/ies are fed and reassured, Doula takes over care, doing the diapers, wearing, soothing, whatever is needed to keep your baby happy. Even if baby is NOT particularly happy, your doula will provide loving support in case there are tears.
If you are happy having your baby bottle fed throughout most or all of the night so you can get a full restorative night’s sleep, or if your doctor has prescribed sleep medication for exhaustion and anxiety, perfect. Let your worry go, and all your baby’s needs will be cared for with love and attention. When you awaken, there will be coffee and breakfast.
Sleep is medicine.
Sometimes no matter what your want to do for your baby, your immediate need for sleep trumps everything. It is human. A Night Doula can fill that gap between your physiology and your philosophy. The good news is that we have seen even just one or two nights of intensive parent nurturing and good sleep shift the turbulent tides, bringing in fresh perspective and a new lease on life. As powerful a medicine sleep is, the far reaching healing in being loved and nurtured exactly as you are cannot be underestimated.
Sleep Well, Gentle Parents.
I have posted a still image of this, calling this a "midwife" birth because a doctor can provide gentle midwifery care. He places himself below her and uses the rebozo. A supportive team her prioritizes her needs. I had the pleasure of connecting with this OB – a gentle soul. Brazil has an 80-90 percent c-section rate in private hospitals and 45 percent in public hospitals, which makes this just heartwarming. A woman deserves to be loved no matter where she chooses to birth. Watch a longer version at https://vimeo.com/210036191 Thank you Dr. Alencar.edit- revised stats
Posted by Human Birth Project on Saturday, March 25, 2017
I love this video. I don’t know if this baby catching dude is a doctor or a midwife, but I like his style, especially given they’re in a hospital. The things I particularly love here: he is sitting lower than the birthing woman. He understands his place..to be vigilant and do his job within this medical context, yes, but not to loom over her and her partner as the authority over their experience. The family is the locus of power here. I love that he is included in the deeply intimate birthing space, a rebozo wrapped around him, staying quiet. He is not “letting” her birth this way, clearly she is letting HIM have the privilege of being part of this deeply intimate moment. She trusts him, and she feels safe to smooch her partner and relax in his proximity. He is so chill, not at all put out by being on the floor or being pulled on while she births. In fact he seems to appreciate that he can serve in such a physical/emotional, not just clinical way. I love how gently he holds the baby out, and how mom takes it from him.
Guess what? Midwives have been doing this for millennia. I am not singling this man out because he’s a guy who’s innovating anything. He is not. He is not more special in his actions than any average midwife. Praise to those who taught him. And kudos to him for finding the sense in what he’s observed and emulating it with such a present and lovely spirit. It is sad BECAUSE he is a man that a lot of people will take notice of this and give him a ton of praise and go “aaawwwww”. (not that that is his intention, and not that he’s less deserving of it than any other awesome birth keeper…I love this guy). Hopefully this is a great use of male privilege…to show mindful, loving, respectful, family centred, intimate, trusty family care and open eyes where some would have sadly remained closed.