The Gift with the Greatest Impact

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My oldest daughter is almost 7 years old. I still remember those first few days after she was born. I remember her being mesmerized by her sweet beauty. I remember how often she woke me up at night. And I remember, quite vividly, how I was scared… (for lack of a better term) I was Scared Sh*tless!!

This tiny human was entrusted in my care. What if I didn’t feed her enough?? What if I fed her too much?? What if I coddled her?? What if I was too harsh with her??

We were surrounded by loving family, church family, and friends. We were showered with wonderful gifts, both practical and adorable. We were blessed with hot dinners for an entire week. And we knew exactly whom to call if there was anything we needed.

I am exceedingly grateful for how many blessings were poured out to us in those first days of parenting. But the one gift that has made greatest impact was not a burp cloth or hot meal. The greatest gift was not a thing at all, but five small words.

(I hope that you are all at the edges of your seats. Perhaps you’re trying to figure out what those words were.
“How can I help you?” “Here’s what worked for us.” “Hey, call me any time.”)

Nope. Though those words were nice…

You ready for it?

Here it is:

“You are a good mom.”


Yep that’s it. So why these words verses other words? Why are these so important?

Because all the other words and gifts, at their core, are ways other people can help. What other people can do. How everyone else can assist me.

“You are a good mom” empowered me.

Yes, you will doubt yourself. You will change your mind a million times. You will always have someone disagreeing with you. But no one, not a single soul, can love this child as deeply as you do. No one will have your keen awareness of how to meet this child’s needs.

Moms, as you read this, I encourage you to let these few simple words sink in. You are a good mom. If those words guide you, and you act in the love that you have for your kids, they can empower you to do what is best for your children.

Friends and family of new moms, please empower new moms. Chances are, their all just as scared as I was. Say it with heart, make a point to see all the good in her, “You are a good mom.”

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I agree. But that village is not in charge of doing everything a parent will do. That village is in charge of supporting and empowering those parents.

You are a good mom.
Yes you are.

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Rites of Passage

There are many significant events that happen in life. Many of these events shape us as people. They can help us feel more empowered, completely ignored, powerless, or anywhere in between.  A few examples: getting a driver’s license, passing a difficult class, graduating, running a marathon, getting married, and having a baby.

Each of these events are often seen as a rite of passage. They require planning and effort and are chalk full of expectation.

Take for example, running a marathon.  There is training involved.  There are expectations and hopes.  The runner hopes to, not only finish, but to finish within a certain time frame.  Suppose the runner suffers an injury and is unable to finish the race.  Would he not feel frustrated, saddened, and discouraged?  He has worked hard to achieve a goal, and was unable to meet the goal.  But if he succeeded, if he finished the race, even if he had to crawl across the finish line, imagine the sense of accomplishment he would feel.

What if a well intending person happened to be driving by as the runner was struggling.  What if he took it upon himself to shove the runner into the passenger seat and drive him across the finish line?  And when the runner protested, the driver proudly said, “All that matters is that you make it across the finish line.”

Graduation marks a transition from life as a student to life as a career person.

Suppose a college student was working almost full time to pay her way through college.  Finals week comes along during a busy week at work.  She has to pass all the same exams as her peers.  She has to write all the same thesis papers, and finish the same amount of field experience.  But, because of her job, she is met with extra challenges that some of her peers do not face.  Maybe in the midst of all this she receives a call that her grandmother had passed away.  Now she also grieves. The funeral will be held in a week, which is when finals week is over.

Imagine what this student might be feeling.  A sense of unfairness. She might feel overwhelmed.  But if she can, despite everything stacked against her, pass her finals; imagine her sense of accomplishment.  Suppose her roommate sees her struggle and helps her study.  Maybe her roommate takes over the cooking and cleaning because she isn’t overwhelmed with finals.  Those acts of kindness would be so helpful for this student.

But, let’s suppose the roommate took it a step farther.  Maybe she sees how rough life is for this student and decides, “I’ll write all her papers for her!”  Maybe this poor student is so desperate, she allows her roommate to write all her papers.  When graduation day comes, and she walks across the stage, chances are she’ll have a greater sense of guilt than accomplishment.  And as she begins a career that requires this degree, she might wonder, “Am I even qualified for this job? If I didn’t have all those odds stacked against me, I might have been able to graduate on my own… or maybe not.”

The end goal of a wedding is for the two to be married at the end of the day.  We affirm the bride and groom that none of the other details really matter in the grand scheme of life.  But nearly every married woman I know wishes to re-do at least one aspect of her wedding. Especially now that Pinterest exists!

Wedding days are chalk full of expectations.  Some brides spend years planning the “perfect day.” While other are content to show up at the courthouse.  It’s not the style or size of wedding that matters.  The expectation, and the feelings of met (or unmet) expectations, will stand out in her memories.  Some examples of unmet expectations: a family member shows up drunk, the bridesmaids argue the whole time, the best man loses the ring, or the flower girl falls and rips her dress.

If the woman begins to share her feelings of the experience and the frustration of unmet expectations, imagine how frustrating it would feel for her to be told,  “You set your expectations way too high in the first place, every wedding has at least one thing go wrong.” Or, “All that matters is that you’re married.”  These might be spoken with good intentions, but what we often hear, is, “Your feelings don’t matter.”

This is why I am so passionate about birth.  I don’t know why our culture tends to diminish how giving birth is a rite of passage.

To give birth is physically exhausting.  It is a marathon.  There are times when we don’t need someone to drive us across the finish line, but to instead, cheer us on, and hand us a fresh drink of water.

To give birth marks a transition from dreaming about this child, to being responsible for raising a child.  Pushing an intervention on a mother can cause her to wonder if she is really cut out for this role as mother.  Are there times when there are odds stacked against us, and an intervention can save a life? Yes.  But that doesn’t mean we won’t have feelings of loss, even if everyone is healthy and “happy” in the end.

If there are unmet expectations while giving birth, let’s give each other the grace to hear the feelings of loss, frustration, guilt, and powerlessness.  Lecturing that the expectations were unrealistic will not bring relief, but only add frustration.  Struggling to understand our feelings does not mean that we are ungrateful for what “really matters.”  We won’t all have the same feelings, just as we didn’t all have the same expectations.

So instead of assuming we know how someone feels, or telling someone how they should feel, let’s just listen and let the feelings speak for themselves.

Holding Space

One of the greatest tasks of being a doula is the act of Holding Space.

This isn’t a common phrase in our culture, but I hope it’s one we can all embrace.

What does it mean to hold space?  I’m not sure I can accurately describe it.  It boils down to being a safe presence for someone in the midst of a life-changing event.  It’s when someone allows us to be.  When one welcomes each emotion as we journey onward without passing judgment or condemnation.

I’ll never forget when someone held space for me.

When I was in high school, there was a student collapsed in gym class, he was rushed off by ambulance, but he died later that day.  

I remember hearing the sad news in morning announcements. Counselors were made available to anyone who needed one.  At first, I was in disbelief; a fog.  Then, the sadness hit me during 3rd period gym class.

On the average day, I was “one of the guys”.  We would joke and chatter and lift weights together.  But on this day, I just didn’t feel right.  It didn’t help that most the guys kept asking, “Dude, what is your problem today??” As though I owed it to them to be fun and outgoing every day.

But, one classmate just came and sat beside me.  I was expecting him to interrogate me.  I was defensive at first.  I had no idea how I would answer him.  I didn’t know what I was feeling.  But he just sat there.  Neither ignoring me, nor imposing.

It felt as though an eternity had passed and all the silent confusion was allowed to speak for itself.  As class time was near its end, he asked me, “Is this about Ryan?”

“Yes.”

“Are you scared?”

“No. Just sad.”

And there we sat, for another eternity, allowing the sadness to speak for itself.

Holding Space is essential for times of grief.  But it also has a place in times of great joy.

Pregnancy, labor, and childbirth can bring a wide-range of emotions.  Many of the emotions that arise can be so unexpected that it scares us.  For some, there is shame attached with these confusing emotions.

When we have someone available to Hold Space, we allow the feelings to exist.  We don’t push those feelings to define us, but they are part of our journey.

If you are looking to hire a doula, I highly recommend interviewing in person.There are many wonderful qualifications and skills that can be written on paper.  But finding a doula with whom you connect on a personal level will almost always outweigh any other deciding factor.  As you interview each other, ask yourself, “Is this doula Holding Space for me even during this interview? Will she Hold Space for me while I’m in labor?”

Have you been shaped by an experience where someone has held space for you?

Breastfeeding Research Tips

Breastfeeding Research Tips

Mama’s please do your research on breastfeeding. I’m a huge fan of breastfeeding, but I’m an even bigger fan of moms making informed decisions.

That being said, please be aware that there are many articles, flyers, ads, etc. that are written by formula companies.  Many of these articles appear to be supportive of breastfeeding, but are skewed in such a way as to inspire doubt in a woman’s ability to breastfeed.

Yes, there are rare cases where women cannot breastfeed exclusively, so please don’t bash on women who choose to feed differently than you did. We all have our reasons.

I’m writing this in hopes of helping women who have been given incorrect or misleading information.

Tip #1. Know the value of colostrum. Look it up, it’s amazing stuff. Some women are advised to give formula until their milk comes in, as though the babies are just starving in the mean time. Colostrum has many benefits all on it’s own.

Tip #2. Be familiar with how it’s normal for babies lose some weight after birth. 9 months of nourishment before birth, and the poo piles up. Most babies don’t poo until after they’re born, and this will cause a bit of weight loss.  Also, for women that were given IV fluids during labor, babies will become bloated with water weight, which means they will lose even more weight after birth than the average baby.

Tip #3. Look up the size of a baby’s stomach at birth and in the following months. It doesn’t take much to fill a stomach that is the size of a cherry. Try not to get discouraged if your baby wants to eat often. Having a sense of how quickly a tummy can fill, and then get hungry again will give some good perspective.

Tip #4. Know where to find a lactation consultant. Even if you don’t have any questions now, it’s great to be familiar with a person who can help you, if a need arises.

Tip #5. Read the labels on formula and understand how those ingredients affect the health of your baby.  There are a few major brands that are well known for making formula, but those aren’t your only options. Many stores have an organic food section, and sometimes they even sell organic infant formula.  If you chose to formula feed, please be sure to know what’s in the formula.

Tip #6. Have a goal in mind. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least six months. This doesn’t mean that you have to stop at six months. The average age of when most children stop breastfeeding across the entire world is 4 years. This average includes many places where no one breastfeeds at all.   Does that mean everyone should breastfeed for 4 years? No, but it’s good to weigh the benefits and challenges on how long to breastfeed and make the choice that best works for your family.

Tip #7. Look into what things will make milk change.  For example: In the summer months, your body is designed to produce watery milk to supplement baby with extra fluids to make up for extra sweating.  Babies who are sick, will have germs in their saliva, your breasts can detect those germs and produce antibodies to help your baby get better. Also, what you eat will effect your milk.  These changes are more obvious for women who pump.

Tip #8. Do your research on breastpumps before you go to shopping for one. There are plenty of cheap pumps that seem more reasonable than the big fancy pumps.  The problem is that many of those cheaper pumps are made by the same companies that make formula and/or bottles. They’re complicated, made with cheap parts, and have terrible customer support. They can become a stumbling block, causing women give up breastfeeding, which, may be the desired effect. Also, many of the cheaper pumps can cause damage to the breast tissues and milk ducts because the suction strength is too strong. (Even a simple hand pump from Medela can fill a bottle faster than an electric pump from a less reputable brand, and the suction strength is safer.)

Tip #9. Find ways for your husband/partner to assist you. Whether it’s washing pumps parts and bottles, bringing you a snack, or holding the baby so you can run to the bathroom. Find a way, or several ways, to share the load.

Tip #10. Do your research on how to store pumped breastmilk.  Print an extra copy so you can post one on the fridge and have one to keep with the breastpump.

After you’ve done your research and made your choice, try not to take things personally. There will always be someone with a different opinion. Some who think breastfeeding is just gross, and some who wouldn’t even think of offering anything but the breast for feeding or as pacifier.  Whether you’re on one extreme or the other, or somewhere in between: make your choices based on your own personal research and choices. Feed your baby in a way that works for your family, even if the people around you don’t get it.

Oils in Labor

I’m learning some great things about essential oils for health and wellness.  I’m quite excited that they are also helpful during labor.  Some oils can also help with breast-feeding.

If you’re looking for a natural way to help relax during early labor, Lavender is calming for most women.  It can help calm your mind and conserve energy for labor.  It can be applied topically, or diffused in the room.

For women suffering from back labor, many doulas use black pepper oil to reduce back labor pains.

If labor stalls, Clary Sage can help regulate contractions.  Clary Sage is also used to help increase breast milk production.

These are just a few oils that are used.  

*Be sure to clear all oil usage with your doctor or midwife.  These suggestions are not to be used in place of medical advice.

If you would like to order some oils, check out this site.

Valley Hospital

If you’re looking to have a hospital birth, I recommend Valley Hospital. From the moment I walked into the building I was just in awe of the personal care. The doctors I met and saw on action were respectful of their patients, explained things clearly and openly, and they were willing to work through challenges as they came up.  The anesthesiologists were kind, patient, and friendly. The nurses were quite supportive and knowledgeable.  Everyone did their best to keep the birth as the parents wanted it, yet, when unforeseen things arose, they handled it with grace and optimism.
Thank you so very much Dr. Nathan Meltzer, Dr. Olivia Sementi, nurses: Cindy, Nancy, Kathy, Leah, anesthesiologists: Tim, and Chris, and a quick thanks to Rachele that brought in the room service meal. You are all such a blessing to our birth community.