Nearby Grandparents

For the first several years I was a practicing doula in San Francsico, I lived across the country from my mom. As I attended a couple dozen births, my own intention to become a parent solidified, but my partner and I knew we wanted to be closer to family before having our own children.

We moved to Virginia at the end of 2012, about an hour and a half from where my mom lived at the time. I re-established my doula practice here and became part of the sweetest community - including the other doulas of Bright Birthing. We welcomed Baby Bright in 2016 and as her first birthday approached, my mom found a home even nearer to us.

Our home is a cozy apartment, so it's especially pleasant to have Yaya's farm within an easy driving distance. She has dogs, chickens, quail, doves, a vegetable garden and plans for an orchard. There's a playhouse and a sandbox, a wrap-around porch for shade and fields for romping. 

Wednesday October 18 we're excited to share the love of having a nearby grandparent with folks who are able to join us at the Farm Picnic! 

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What Was Missing from my Parenting Toolbox Part 2

(*Throwback post #2 - the expected baby in the first paragraph is about to turn two!)

A couple months have passed since I wrote the first part of this blog, and a LOT has changed.  We are expecting our second child in September, my husband is starting a PhD program this fall, and we are moving!  And I thought I needed help with the first kid-o!?  In preparation for the new addition to our family, I’m thinking a lot about what I hope to do differently the second time around.  

Several years ago, my husband and I vacationed in Panama, where we spent most of our time with an indigenous group known as the Ipeti Embera.  We trekked through the jungle to visit their gardens filled with rice and corn.  We saw a neighboring tribe transporting a dugout canoe, ate fish caught in the river that runs through their village, and spent countless hours talking with the tribe’s chief about the challenges of maintaining traditions in a changing world.  There was a lot to take in!  Still, I think what left the biggest impression was the way the children were being raised.  It’s only fair to say that, as a single person yet to take on motherhood, it didn’t occur to me to ask many questions about the attitudes toward parenting.  But, I can share what I SAW.  I saw all the children in the village roaming about the land together, pretty much all the time. While mothers maintained the homes, laundered clothing in the river, and prepared meals, their children ran, laughed and played together, bathed in the river, and joyfully helped out with the chores.  And not just the older kids!  Pretty much anybody who had mastered walking and was under the age of 12 was part of this self-regulating group.  They truly took care of each other, and parents seemed to exhibit little to no concern about what they were up to.  AMAZING!  Older kids teaching the younger kids, alongside the parents, who were just going about their business of tending to daily life.  There was no perceptible stress around the tasks of childrearing and parenting.  I think it is because no one was doing much of anything alone.  They did most everything together-as a VILLAGE!

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I’m guessing most folks reading this blog are not as intimately connected to their friends and neighbors as the Embera.  Some, like myself, may be settling in to new communities or living far from family and looking for their village.  And while our lives may seem very different from those of my friends in Panama, I think we can learn something from them-we don’t have to do it alone either!

My parents and my in-laws all live about 4 hours away from me in opposite directions.  I feel so lucky over the holidays, when my husband is out of school, and we get to spend a week at a time with our families.  Those are the occasions when I feel least overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being the primary parent.  There is always someone there to prepare a snack, give a bath, read a story, and answer some of the many “why’s”.  The workload gets distributed amongst grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  There are people to reminisce with, joke with, and to join me in appreciating the beauty of my sweet child.  It’s so much more fun AND I get to take half hour showers!

So, how do I get more of those feelings of love and support when my family is so far away?!  It has taken me a while to realize that sometimes, I might just have to…ASK FOR HELP (gasp!).  As a midwifery student and doula, I have many opportunities to talk with women about our experiences as wives, mothers, and humans.  Lately, a lot of conversations have led to the realization that asking for help is actually just as much a gift to the person doing the helping as to the person doing the asking.  Asking for help let’s those folks in our lives who love and care for us in on a little secret-we are not perfect!  No matter how much we try or how busy we feel, we’ve still got raisins glued to the living room floor, a mountain of laundry to put away, and stuff in the back of the fridge that we can no longer recognize as food.  

It seems that the key is vulnerability.  If I’m gonna get help, I need to be willing to let my guard down and give myself a break.  I can’t do it all. And why should I?  Sure, I can do a lot of stuff, and some of it pretty well!  But there’s a lot of pressure in our society to be some kindof mother-goddess-badass…you know, someone who has a sparkling toilet, angelic children, and the body of a 16-year old.  For me, there’s no fun in spending all my time frantically sweeping and folding.  I’ve let some stuff go lately. I refuse to fold sheets or my son’s clothing.  I invite friends over even if I haven’t cleaned the bathroom sink for a week.  I’m already asking friends to pencil me in for a visit in late September to join our family in welcoming the new babe AND maybe bring over dinner and play with our toddler.   

It is pretty exciting to let go of the feelings that I should be doing more and I’m never doing enough.  Actually, I’m trading that guilt for stronger, deeper relationships with people near and dear to me.  By being real with my community and with myself about my shortcomings, challenges, and triumphs, the folks around me feel more comfortable sharing theirs.  We all get to be more real, and we all come to learn that we can rely on each other for the help we all need. We win!

That’s what I have needed all along, and I’ve seen it in action during my travels abroad!  I’ve even experienced it, briefly, on family visits.  The pressure on parents is immense, and no matter which way you turn, you can always find someone telling you that you would have been better off heading in a different direction.  

All of this is why we at Bright Birthing are committed to providing the perk of village prenatal gatherings to all of our clients.  This is why we will make every effort to connect parents and parents-to-be with loving, kind, supportive folks out in our community who truly wish to be part of the village.

What Was Missing from my Parenting Toolbox Part 1

*This is a two-part throwback post from several years ago*

As my husband and I prepared to welcome our first child, we only left out one thing - THE IMPORTANCE OF EVERYONE ELSE! When I found out that I was expecting, I decided to become the most well-informed mother I could possibly be. Even though my life was quite full as an intern at a wilderness survival school, followed by becoming a manager for a family business, I read. I read about breastfeeding. I read about parenting. Birth. Babywearing. Vaccinations. Midwifery. Happy babies. Sad babies. Weaning. The list goes on… As many of us do, I was looking to find my own identity as a parent. For me that meant understanding the impact of my actions on my kid as well as understanding how humans develop and how best to meet a little human’s needs. Looking back it is hard to believe that I never even thought about whom I could rely on to help me with the job ahead.

My little one arrived, and I was in love. I was keeping it together enough. My toilets were cleaned on a regular basis. Everyone in the house got food and exercise, including the dog. It seemed that I had unlimited patience and compassion for the new being that had arrived in my world.

The only real problem with my situation (you know, besides money worries, marital adjustments to parenting and feeling like knives came out when I pooped) was that I was mostly alone by the time my child was two weeks old. Sure, a family member would come by every couple weeks bringing food and love, holding the babe while I took a shower. Yes, my husband was there after work, figuring out how to balance fatherhood and career, learning what it meant to be married to a mother. But that was it. NO ONE ELSE. EVER. We had moved 4 times by our son’s 7th month on earth. That drastically alters a family’s ability to settle into a community, make friends, and get the lay of the land. We had friends, but nowhere close. We were lonely and alone, but we didn’t even realize what was missing.

As my son got older, parenting became more challenging. I realized that my ability to maintain my parenting zen was more related to the immobility of my child than my own sainthood. My naptime reading became focused on things like peaceful parenting, redirection and staying connected with my kid even when I felt like yelling or crying. Like most mammas sometimes do, I blamed myself for somehow being insufficient. Perhaps if I had done MORE yoga in my twenties I would have been better equipped for the challenges of parenting a toddler. If I had spent more time meditating, now I’d be able to visualize oceans and hear waves crashing instead of feeling overwhelmed. All of my reading was telling me that if only I’d get a better handle on my shit, I’d be an awesome mom.

Now, I’m not dissing parenting books or self-help - thank goodness for those resources. They have helped me and many, many families. BUT, I do believe that we are so focused on how to do our best as individual parents that we can easily lose sight of our very real need for connection and companionship with neighbors, friends and family. It’s like we can’t see the forest for the trees.Maybe we could focus a little less on our own responsibilities as parents and shift some of that energy into our very extended families - made up of all those folks who know and love us and would be happy to HELP us on our journeys.

A few months ago, my grandmother told me about life as a young mother in her neighborhood. She and another lady up the street had a great thing going! One of them would watch all of their kids while the other one would take care of any and all of both households’ chores - ALL of them! Cleaning toilets, doing laundry, cooking a meal, making beds. These families were REALLY close. They helped each other every day. They laughed. They cried. They laundered towels and changed diapers. And to hear my grandmother tell the story, it is clear that their lives were richer as a result of this collaboration - their willingness to HELP each other and share their lives with each other.

This realization of what has been missing for me as a parent has really felt like a big deal. It’s like finding the key to unlock the next level of parental bliss. I can’t wait to share more about this - about seeing parents working together while visiting indigenous people in Panama, about the beauty of recent holiday visits with family, about the potential right here in my chosen home community. But for now, I’m off to play trucks with my toddler. MORE TO COME!

Incredibly Sweet and Oh So Intense

Grier Lauren Post Bernard was born on June 28, 2016, but I feel our birth story starts a couple of days before that. During my pregnancy, I had attended a few births of second-time moms that had gone really fast and, as I approached the end of my pregnancy, I felt so worried that my labor was going to be so short that I wouldn’t get to enjoy it. Hannah was an amazing doula (and friend!) and encouraged me to do all of the things that I worried about missing during my labor as self-care now. It was such good advice and I did exactly that. I took long candlelit baths, read birth affirmations, listened to guided meditation and really basked in the love of my husband and family.

The week leading up to Grier’s birth I really felt like I could have a baby at any minute! Grier was moving her little head against my cervix and pushing with her legs. I visited friends in Maryland and felt like I was on the verge of having to jump in the car and drive home the entire time. We had a few nights in a row that I was either having contractions before going to bed or awakened by contractions but they went away in the morning. I got so nervous every time they started! I could feel a rush of adrenaline and I’d start shaking. It felt like my brain would not let my body go into labor. We had two blissful nights of absolutely peaceful sleep and when I awoke at 6am the following morning I rolled over and felt a little gush of amniotic fluid. So strange that this time I wasn’t nervous at all. I instantly knew what it was and was so excited knowing I’d be meeting our precious baby that day!

We had the sweetest morning! Aaron and I snuggled in bed chatting about the new little person we would meet and how lucky we were to have had two full nights of sleep. Around seven Demory joined us for a snuggle and I let Debbie (our fabulous midwife) and Hannah know that my water had broken but that labor hadn’t really started up yet. We all agreed that a walk to La Taza for taquitos would be perfect and hopefully get labor started. Demory was really excited to wear her “Big Sis” shirt and we went downstairs and knocked on the door of the room my parents were staying in. Dems was thrilled to tell them that we’d be “meeting our baby today”!

During our walk I was having some very mild contractions but was able to walk and talk through them. When we got home Demory got her little stroller and bear and the three (four including baby Grier) of us went for another walk. A few different friends happened to drive by and stop to chat while we were walking. Naturally they each mentioned something along the lines of “any time now, right?” and I was so tickled to answer, “yes, now”! Debbie came around 9am and checked babe’s heart rate and my vitals. All was well but because I had a positive group B strep test, we agreed that if things hadn’t picked up by lunchtime I’d take some herbs.

My parents took Demory out and Aaron and I stayed home to labor and enjoy the quiet house. We watched an episode of Orange is the New Black and I paced around the house and walked up and down the stairs. Around noon the contractions started getting more frequent and intense enough that I had to stop and breathe through them but if I stopped walking they slowed down a lot. I guess I’d say this was maybe the very start of active labor though I still thought it was pretty early! I got into a sweet pattern where I’d walk up the stairs and into the nursery. I’d hold the rail of the crib for a contraction and then walk back down the stairs where I’d hold the back of the couch for a contraction. I was standing pretty upright with contractions and that surprised me since, in my previous labor, that would have seemed impossible. Another thing that was very different from my previous labor was that I didn’t necessarily want to be touched. Not that I minded it but I didn’t find that I needed it. I remember telling myself many times “it’s gonna get a lot worse.” I was kneeling on the couch with my chest and head resting on the birth ball and had a couple of really strong contractions where I was feeling and lot of pressure. I texted Debbie at 2pm letting her know that I was “feeling a lot of pressure”. She asked if I was ready for her to come and I replied with a very hesitant “I think yes”. I also texted Hannah something like “Debbie is on her way so you’re welcome whenever. No hurry!” This makes me laugh, I was so certain that I was having them come too early! Debbie had been at Gwen’s house for a postpartum visit and must have moved pretty quickly (thank goodness!). It was 2:30pm when she arrived. I do remember feeling a bit relieved when I looked out the window and saw her unloading her supplies so, perhaps on some level, I did realize that I was getting close. I think it was around the same time that I directed my dad and Aaron to set up the birth tub.

Upon Debbie’s arrival I was still able to chat with her and smile and talk about the beautiful little statue she had brought from Gwen. I had a couple of big contractions while standing and I was tucking my pelvis under. Debbie told me to ground down and let everything sink down. I heard Debbie say “this will be soon” or something along those lines. She later said she could hear the “catch” in my groans even then. Norma and Hannah arrived and I gave hugs feeling so happy our team was complete!

I was so thankful that Dad and Aaron had already set up the birth tub because as soon as it was full I got in. And then the contractions just didn’t stop! It felt like it went from sweet and fine to crazy intensity just rolling through me over and over again with barely a moment to breathe. I had been right. It did get way worse! I remember Norma saying something encouraging and then saying “but she knows that” and Hannah saying something followed by “but she knows that too”. That made me laugh but it was true. I did know that my amazingly capable body and strong, precious babe and I were a good team and that we could do it together! I didn’t doubt it for a second!

I was kneeling and was very surprised when I started pushing. I just couldn’t believe that things had moved so quickly! My dad had taken Demory outside to play in the kiddie pool (where I was later told she was pretending to birth a baby) and he brought her in just in time. I was so happy to have her there and could hear my parents gently talking her through what was happening. She seemed comfortable and engaged. She was holding a cloth on my head and rubbing my hair. Having our first baby and my parents there with Aaron and I felt so special.

 I honestly am unsure of how long I pushed. I think it could have only been 15 minutes or so. The coolest part was that I could feel my babe pushing too! I could feel her using her strong legs and pushing down. Together we worked and she was born into many welcoming hands in the water in our dining room in our home at 3:34pm. I’m told that Aaron helped catch her, I know Debbie’s hands were down there and I think I helped a little too but it was all so fast it’s a bit hazy.

I was overwhelmed and amazed to have our baby in my arms, so wide eyed, alert and looking around, peaceful and calm, just taking it all in. I had wanted to discover her sex myself so had asked that no one say anything until I had seen. Aaron did see as soon as babe was out and finally said, with tears in his eyes, “Do you see what it is?!”. I looked and saw she was a girl but didn’t believe it. Everyone confirmed that what I was seeing was, indeed, a sweet little vulva. We were both thrilled to have another daughter!

It was incredibly powerful and efficient and beautiful and amazing and hard! I immediately said “that was way harder than last time” and I’m pretty sure since everyone had been there both times and they all remembered the 10 hours of active labor followed by four hours of pushing my little asynclitic babe while walking the stairs and lunging that no one believed me! Looking back on it now, they were definitely right. I also think I told them many times that “my a**hole hurts”. They were like “yeah momma, you just had a baby!” It was a perfect combination of sweet and special and crazy and intense and awesome.  







 

 

 

Gwen's book list

A good friend who's about to be a first-time-parent asked for 4 or 5 book recommendations during a catch-up chat this week. I perused the Bright Birthing lending library and came up with this short list: 

The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin is the first book I always recommend to doula clients. It is even great to have with you during labor for quick reference on variations that may arise.

Everyday Blessings by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn was a gift from a mentor of mine while I was pregnant. Reading it in the earliest days of parenting was so sweet and I am sure I'll come back to it time and again.

The Wonder Weeks by Hetty van de Rijt and Frans Plooj is another book I hadn't heard of until I became a parent myself. I have my postpartum doula, Dianne Bearinger, to thank for its introduction to my life, and Kelly Cox at Bend Yoga who gave me this copy. It chronicles the cognitive developmental leaps that a child experiences, discusses the new skills they embody at each point and normalizes the tough transitions with sleep and behavior that attend each change over the course of the first two years of life!

Hypnobirthing was the method of childbirth preparation that we decided to learn with a private teacher, but much of the philosophy and practice is within the handbook by Marie Mongan. The CD with guided meditations that accompanies this book was crucial for me.

Last but not least is the Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel. The copy I'm currently reading actually belongs to another beloved postpartum doula, Cynthia Jordan-Fisher and I promise I'll return it when I finally finish reading it! It's about raising self-reliant children, incorporating wisdom from the Jewish tradition and I love it so much so far that I've sent a copy to my sweet pregnant cousin even though I haven't yet reached the end myself. 

If you would ever like to borrow books from the Bright Birthing lending library, they are available to local friends and clients at any time!

Practitioner recommendation: Jen Waine

Before my daughter was a month old, we had a family astrology session with Jen Waine. I had attended Jen's yogastrology classes over the course of several years and appreciated her insight, so it felt fitting to spend some time with her exploring the ways that astrology indicated our baby might fit into our family.

Graciously Jen suggested that we might record the session to listen back later and as my daughter's first birthday approached, my husband and I decided to check in with the conversation and to see how the metaphors had come to fruition over our first year as a family of three. Prior to our session, Jen clearly spent a significant amount of time working through the birth charts of all three of us. She explained our natal sun signs, moons, and rising signs as well as the potential interaction and communication patterns between the three of us. Most precious of all were her suggestions for what our little Pisces might need from us as parents. 

I appreciate the vernacular of astrology and could not ask for a better interpreter than Jen. In our community she offers yogastrology for teens, special events to mark the solstices, wedding and other ceremony officiation and so much more. Today's post was inspired by her e-newsletter, which helped me reconcile yet another sleepless full moon night at our house so thanks for that as well, Jen!

If you are interested in having a chart reading or any of Jen's other services, I highly recommend exploring her website and dropping her a note. 

(from Jen's website) Jen's mission is to help people shift their anxious mindset to a more peaceful, grounded state of being. Her journey through movement, mindfulness, and spiritual practices has helped her cultivate a variety of tools that have brought her a more peaceful way of moving through the human realm which she enjoys sharing with her students and clients. Jen grew up in NYC and began to dance at the young age of three. She saw "42nd St" on Broadway twelve times. As an adult, she fell in love with the choreography of yoga. She discovered that movement is infused with a power that transports us to the realm of joy. In 2013 Jen became one of the first in the world to be certified in Yogastrology®. Yogastrology® is the melding of the ancient sister practices of yoga and astrology. We look to the Sun and Moon, who illuminate the zodiac sign that they currently inhabit. We examine the "personality" or energy of those signs, their body correlations and how to align with these energies on and off the mat to experience greater ease, joy and peace.

(from Jen's website) Jen's mission is to help people shift their anxious mindset to a more peaceful, grounded state of being. Her journey through movement, mindfulness, and spiritual practices has helped her cultivate a variety of tools that have brought her a more peaceful way of moving through the human realm which she enjoys sharing with her students and clients.

Jen grew up in NYC and began to dance at the young age of three. She saw "42nd St" on Broadway twelve times. As an adult, she fell in love with the choreography of yoga. She discovered that movement is infused with a power that transports us to the realm of joy.

In 2013 Jen became one of the first in the world to be certified in Yogastrology®.

Yogastrology® is the melding of the ancient sister practices of yoga and astrology. We look to the Sun and Moon, who illuminate the zodiac sign that they currently inhabit. We examine the "personality" or energy of those signs, their body correlations and how to align with these energies on and off the mat to experience greater ease, joy and peace.

Collaborative care: doula teams

I am so excited to be working with the amazing women of Bright Birthing! We have supported one another through so many of life’s sweetest moments from belly blessing ceremonies to attending one another’s births to helping to care for one another’s children. We have laughed together and cried together and drunk a few margaritas together. We have created a beautiful village for ourselves and our precious families. We work hard to share our village and shine our love on the community around us. We accomplish this through our work with expectant parents during prenatal education classes, belly blessings, abdominal massage and prenatal care; through our limitless love and energy during the birthing process; and through the tenderness we feel for and show to new parents during postpartum visits, birth story sharing and village circles.

 With all this love and support we already give one another and the community, it only makes sense that we would add another layer of support by providing care to our families with doula teams. Working as a doula team will allow us to provide the best possible care to expectant families while allowing us to do the very important work of caring for ourselves and our own families.  

You know we've got your back because we have each other's all the time!

You know we've got your back because we have each other's all the time!

What does having a Doula Team look like? Well, families will have TWO doulas and will benefit from the wide variety of skills each doula possesses. Families will have ample opportunity to get to know both of their doulas during prenatal visits and, together, we will develop a unique plan for each family. During labor and birth one or both doulas will be present depending on the length of the labor and needs of each family. Also, as we become more and more aware of the importance of and need for postpartum care, we are excited to include two postpartum visits as part of our Doula Team package.

 I am thrilled to continue to work with Gwen, Hannah and Sara integrating the concept of doula teams into our options for care. These doula teams will allow us to provide even more love, support and exceptional care to our community, our clients, each other and ourselves. Could it get any better?! I don’t know but we continue to look for ways to enhance the services provided by Bright Birthing. We look forward to sharing these services with our entire birthing community.