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Posts Tagged ‘becoming a mother’

To conclude our series on giving birth after sexual abuse, we’ve decided to share the story of Erica, a survivor who contributed to Mickey Sperlich’s advocacy. Erica shows the evolution experienced in her four births, and shares how each progressively moved her through the healing process, and to a place of true empowerment.

The atmosphere I grew up in was wide open and sexually supercharged. I don’t remember ever not knowing about sex, and based on my parents’ behaviors, it seemed to be the entire goal of adult life. My father was by far the most powerful person in our home, so for survival, I adopted his view of the world. I learned to see my body as my currency — it was what I had to surrender to be wanted. My mother taught me to be careful of the tender feelings of men, but no one taught me that I had the right to say no to sexual advances, or that I might actually want to. As a result, I began experimenting sexually when I was 10 years old. It began with pornography magazines my older brother gave me, and moved into partners who were boys and girls my age or a little older — usually my parents’ friends’ kids.

When I was 12, I was seduced by an older man — a med student who was the son of my parents’ friends. Years later, he nonchalantly shared with me vivid details about the experience, commenting on how none of his girlfriends ever “let” him do such things — though I don’t even remember all of these “things.” It was all very antiseptic, very calculated, and I had no frame of reference to know that it should be different. I had my first pregnancy scare when I was 13, and continued to live the only way I knew — seeking the attention of men.

The summer after my sophomore year in college, I became pregnant. I didn’t think I had any other choice but abortion. I believed that once I had given birth, I would no longer be desirable to men. So, I dutifully marched myself down to a clinic and aborted my baby. The unexpected outcome of having an abortion was that I stopped caring so much if a man wanted me. In fact, I stopped caring about pretty much everything. Given my mental state, it is not surprising that I didn’t give the next guy I met a lot of thought. Nor is it that difficult to understand why it took me years more of running to realize that he was the man I wanted to marry. Or that it took me a few more years after that, even into the marriage, to realize that I really did love him.

Almost immediately after marrying Bill, my desire to get pregnant became overwhelming. I wanted a baby so badly, but he wasn’t ready. When I finally did get accidentally pregnant, I was ecstatic. I thought I knew so much about pregnancy — I assumed that if I told my doctor I wanted natural childbirth, I would have a natural childbirth. I wanted to deliver my own baby more than anything, to finally feel like I was a real woman — to finally heal the wounds that had accumulated over the years.

Four weeks before the end of a healthy pregnancy, my doctor discovered that my baby had turned breech. A c-section was quickly scheduled. Once again, I climbed onto a table and let a doctor cut my child out of me. I came home with my baby and a frozen heart.

By the time I became pregnant with my second child, I had already embarked on the long, exhausting process of revisiting my past through counseling — I had let the tears out, and was set on planning the birth I had always dreamed of. Twenty hours of active labor and four hours of pushing would have in most cases earned me another trip to the surgical suite, but I was lucky to have wonderful, caring midwives who believed in me — and instead of another cesarean, I gave birth to my child naturally at home. As I held my sweet son, a surge of something came over me that I’d never felt before: true power. Power that came from having done something difficult and important, not the false power that I had experienced in the past as men used my body.

I believe that God used the birth of my first child (and the loss of a lifetime of dreams that came with it) to take down the walls that I built to survive my childhood. My second birth — it began the reconstruction process.

My third labor and birth was the sort that women would forfeit body parts to experience. I had learned something from the previous two births. I had learned to relax into it, so much so that I was able to doze between contractions. I essentially woke up ready to deliver, and the midwife didn’t even get her coat off before my daughter slid into the world. I was the first to notice she was the daughter I had longed for, that I had wondered if I was too unworthy as a woman to deserve. Again, fear too deep to name dogged me, but each birth restored a damaged part of me. I sat in my rocker for a month straight with my daughter, so incredibly delighted I didn’t want to move.

When I was 42 weeks pregnant with my fourth child, the midwife did a heavy-duty manual exam to see if we could get things going, and discovered that I was having another breech baby. We were living in Dallas at the time, had no back-up doctor, and not much time to make any decisions. We went through with the birth as planned, since we both thought this baby would be relatively small. I remember this labor as a time of song — I was overwhelmed with a supernatural peace. While it wasn’t quite as fast as my previous baby’s birth, the breech birth was in some ways less difficult. When it was all over and we weighed my “littlest” baby, she was a full pound heavier than my firstborn breech — the one who doctors said I could never have delivered myself. I laughed such a laugh of freedom, of pleasure, and yes — of power.

Each birth brought back a piece of me that had been distorted by the fear and shame that resulted from my turbulent sexual past and abuse. Each birth reaffirmed, in a way much deeper than just knowing so, that women are powerful — extremely powerful.

Erica’s story was repurposed with permission from Mickey Sperlich’s blog, Survivor Moms Speak Out.

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Mickey Sperlich, well-known midwife and childbirth advocate, speaks about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in sexual abuse survivors this week. Mickey shares with us her experiences with “survivor moms,” and provides hope that post-traumatic stress can become post-traumatic growth with a safe, healthy, fulfilling birth.

MA: Many women who experience sexual abuse suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Can you tell us about your experience with PTSD?

MS: I’m a semi-retired midwife. I had a home birth practice for 20 years, and my interest in working with what I call “survivor moms” really grew out of my practice. So, some very powerful experiences that I had with my clients caused me to realize that survivor moms were bringing particular issues to the whole childbearing process, and needed care and attention that I wasn’t necessarily educated to give them [at the time].

I can give you the example of working with a woman who was pregnant for the fourth time. I’d helped her with three babies prior to that, and they were all boy babies. Everything had been super smooth for her first three pregnancies. This time around, she intuitively sensed that she was carrying a girl. We ended up having an experience late in pregnancy where I was examining her, and she suddenly flashed back to being a little girl. I was no longer her supportive, loved midwife that she knew really well — I was her abusive mother. And, that was a really challenging experience, not only for her obviously, but for me too — to be cast in that role where it certainly wasn’t my intention. Thankfully, I had enough trust established with her that we really worked on this and what had happened. … What she had experienced, that re-experiencing or flashback, that’s one of the hallmark features of post-traumatic stress disorder — which I found out later, in the process of trying to educate myself about this. This happens quite frequently to women, so I just determined — I’m going to find out everything I can.

MA: Speaking of survivor moms, tell us a little bit about your book, “Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing After Sexual Abuse.”

MS: I started a survey project around the country where I began asking women, “How do you feel that your history as a survivor of sexual abuse has affected your pregnancy, or your birth, or the post-partum period, or how you feel about yourself as a mother?” I got hundreds of responses, and then I invited those women to write their story in a narrative form, and eventually published a book on that — which is the result of their stories. More than 80 women reported their life story to me within this context. … I was [then] fortunate to hook up with my co-author, Julia Seng, who is a certified nurse midwife, and got her Ph.D. looking at post-traumatic stress disorder and its affects on childbearing outcomes.

For more information on “Survivor Moms,” please visit Midwifery Today.

MA: How would a pregnant woman or her care provider recognize PTSD?

MS: One of the hallmark features would be the re-experiencing … it may be that they feel as if the trauma is happening all over again. A classic example during pregnancy might be if a woman has to have an internal examination for some reason, and in the midst of that, feeling as if she’s triggered back to a rape scenario. And even some of the terminology we use, like telling her to relax and all of that — it seems like a good thing for us to say, unless you consider the [possible] context. When was she told that before? So, some of the language we use can really be triggering. Women, when they’re pregnant, can [also] feel sort of invaded by the baby — out of control. One of the features of having been traumatized, especially sexually traumatized, is feeling like it [the situation] was out of your control. Being pregnant for some women is just a very wonderful, rosy situation, and for other women, they feel like: “Here’s my body — not under my control again.” That would be an example of the re-experiencing.

Then you also have the numbing — that’s another feature. So, feeling like you’re not there, like you’re not connected to what’s going on. Some women might report, “I don’t really feel pregnant,” or just feel really disconnected from their bodies. … Also, just anxiety, fear, anger, irritability — those things come along, as well.

MA: In the wake of PTSD, how can women empower themselves to move forward — specifically during pregnancy and birth?

MS: Something that I’ve found while practicing midwifery is that pregnancy is a wonderfully gestating transformative time — just in its very nature — so it actually is a really good time to work on your psychological issues, and to seek help. Many women reported to me in the narrative project that they saw a great opportunity to stop the cycle of abuse. They were like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to be a mother. I know that I don’t want to be this kind of a mother — that’s real clear. I know what that looks like, so how can I envision how I do want to be?”

And they’re going to need a lot of support, so reaching out — that’s where maternity care providers can really be helpful, by modeling healthy relationships, listening to women — that’s key, being listened to. When you look at the data about who is resilient or not growing up in an atmosphere of abuse, a little girl or a little boy needs to have one adult in their life who they trust, and who they know really deeply cares about them and wouldn’t harm them. And it doesn’t have to be a parent. It can be a teacher, it could be a friend — it doesn’t matter, but we have to be able to connect in that way. And so, being able to connect in that way is one of the things that allows us to connect with the infant, to be able to attach with the infant.

MA: Is it actually possible to move beyond PTSD?

MS: Absolutely. There’s a lot of talk now about post-traumatic growth. One very cool thing is that many women have reported to me how utterly healing becoming a mother was. Especially for women who had been sexually abused, and that’s how they developed PTSD. To take this space that was formerly violated — a violated space — and to have this beautiful transformation of the baby coming through. Growing a baby, and then birthing that baby, and then having this precious life that you fall in love with — that that in and of itself was transformative, and healing, and fostered their growth — their post-traumatic growth in ways that they had never dreamed possible, actually. And that’s a wonderful opportunity we as midwives have, to foster that, to protect that space for the woman so she can have the kind of pregnancy and birth experience that would allow for something like that.

This interview, originally video-taped for Mindful Mama, was transcribed and re-purposed with permission from Mindful Mama.

Mickey Sperlich, a certified professional midwife with nearly 20 years of experience, helps women on the journey of pregnancy and birth. Mickey is the mother of two grown children, and has been married since 1980. She appreciates being a midwife and mother, and learning so much from the women and families she has served, and also from her own children. Mickey is recently retired from full-time midwifery, but continues to focus on women’s health issues. She currently manages various research projects that look at the effects of post-traumatic stress on childbearing at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Read more on Mickey’s blog, Survivor Moms Speak Out.

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This week, we want to hear from you!

For many women, labor and birth can give rise to strong emotions — from common fears about the unknowns of labor to the re-emergence of traumatic wounds from the past. What are the common and more difficult emotions you have worked with in the context of birth? How did you — or your caregivers help you — navigate through this challenging experience?

To join the discussion, simply write in the comment field below.

And… stay tuned next week (January 17th) for a guest post by Mickey Sperlich, author of “Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing After Sexual Abuse.”

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Karen Brody, brilliant playwright, birth activist and mother of two, gives us a glimpse into her stirring play, birth movement and ‘My Body Rocks Project’ in this week’s blog. We’re excited to present her empowering voice and ventures that are undoubtedly making an impact.

MA: Your journey began with the play, ‘Birth,’ evolved to the BOLD movement, and has led to The My Body Rocks Project. Can you tell me a little bit about each, and how they evolved from one to the other?

KB: I became a mother in 1999, with my first son, Jacob. I had been a writer for the last 10 years, and when I was pregnant with him, I was going to take a break from it. My next project was going to be my son. I had a very profound birth experience with midwives in Little Rock, Ark. — it was a home birth, and it went very well. I was in tune to, and very much in power with my body, and had a lot of clarity about what I wanted. I didn’t know anything about the politics, what the birth culture was, or that women were going into the hospital with their eyes halfway or completely closed, until I sat on the playground with my son. Moms would tell me their birth stories, and I was horrified about how many (educated) women were having bad birth experiences.

I began to interview women about their birth experiences, and thought I’d write a book about it, or at least a magazine article. I was very close to writing a magazine article about it, when the editor told me that her senior editor has stopped the article because he said, “We’ve done childbirth,” which seemed completely inaccurate to me. So, I decided that I was going to write about it definitely, then I just started feeling it as a play. A book wasn’t going to have the impact I wanted, and I wanted to put women’s voices front and center — the experts and statistics were there, but what wasn’t were women. I wanted to put mothers’ voices center-stage.

I wrote the play, ‘Birth’ from the interviews, and it had a really positive response, but not only from the birth community — I realized it was a movement. The stories were really so poignant. Storytelling is such a powerful medium — the impact stays with the audience. I wanted people to go in with one frame of mind, and come out thinking more deeply about birth.

I put ‘Birth’ out in 2006 on Labor Day weekend, for whatever community wanted to produce it. Some 20-odd locations produced multiple shows over the 4-day weekend — it was all over the world, from India to Bozeman, Mont. to Seattle. My goal was to raise awareness and money for maternal care, and BOLD (Birth on Labor Day) has brought in more than $250,000. Everyday, it astounds me how many people are using the play to rally their local community to raise awareness, and to hear mothers’ voices. The power women have in a good birth experience is a moment in the life that they can take, and a make into a forever power center within.

This is where The My Body Rocks Project comes in. I want to help women feel their personal power — in their own lives, in their families, in their communities, and of course, in the world. I help women get to that place through movement, performance and storytelling, and yoga nidra, an ancient yogic sleep technique that’s really a guided meditation as you sleep. The My Body Rocks Project comes from a character in ‘Birth,’ Amanda, who knew she was in power and that her body rocked as she gave birth. She kept chanting, “My body rocks.” When you know your body rocks, your authentic voice shines. You know your options and keep your eyes wide open.

MA: You interviewed more than 100 women to collect stories for your play, ‘Birth.’ What did you learn from those women that surprised or motivated you?

KB: Well, I think I learned a lot. There was a lot more coercion of pregnant and birthing women than I had suspected, and it was very subtle. Many of these women interpreted something a professional said in a negative way — whether it was meant that way or not — and it heavily influenced the women in their birth experiences. I learned that words matter — what we say when a woman is giving birth can influence a woman so much. I also learned that it’s important to keep a birth space intimate and positive, and affirm that a woman can do it. The women who brought that into their birth rooms could achieve what they wanted to achieve. They set the intention, which made it possible.

I also found it so beautiful to hear women talk about how transformative a good birth experience was — until then, I don’t think I had really analyzed my own birth experience much. I knew it was great, but hadn’t thought about how transformational it was. For a woman to have the birth she wanted was transformational and very important.

MA: Why is it important to empower women to share their birth stories?

KB: Well, I think it’s critical that others share their birth stories for a couple of reasons. One is sisterhood. Certainly all mothers are different, but we are all mothers, and if we don’t connect on this level of being mothers, it’s very lonely — we need the sisterhood. Also, to have your birth story witnessed is so profound. I’m finding it so much in the BOLD Red Tents, and then in The My Body Rocks Project workshops. Women thank each other so much for listening to their stories. They need a place, especially because we have such a high percentage of women who experience birth trauma. We need to have a safe place for women to tell their birth stories, so they feel witnessed and honored.

MA: How does The My Body Rocks Project prepare women for birth, both physically and emotionally?

KB: Well, we’re not a childbirth education organization, although I do think it’s a form childbirth of education. We don’t do kegels, but certainly do a lot of movement to prepare for good births. We also help women prepare spiritually and emotionally by ‘walking through birth baggage.’ A character in ‘Birth,’ Jillian walked through her birth baggage, and got to a place where she was in power at the end of the play. That’s what I’m trying to get women to do before they have a baby for the first time, or if they had an experience that wasn’t what they wanted it to be the first time. We need to be empowered to know who (and what) we want at our birth, who (and what) we don’t want, and to know the truth of our body, voice and actions. That’s the mantra of the project — we experience it in the body, give it a voice through storytelling — whatever comes out, a word, a dance — then we commit to an action by the end of the session. It really is magic, because when a woman does the work, she has an opportunity to really be in her power, in a way that is so different than where she was at before.

MA: How have your two births inspired your activism?

KB: I think it was good to have more than one birth, because I said, “This is how I give birth,” then I had another birth and said, “That’s not how I do it at all!” My first birth had a very long pushing period — just over two hours — and my son did swallow meconium, so there was some concern. My other labor was very short, but much more painful. I had horrible back pain, but he came out in about eight minutes when I actually went to push. I experienced a really different pushing stage — I was in a different place.

These two experiences made me feel very connected to women — to mothers in particular — and made me realize how miraculous this moment is, how important it is to believe birth is normal, that women should always be respected when giving birth, and that we must, we must, we must know that our bodies rock. When these things happen, women can have a pleasurable birth. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a world of women giving birth in pleasure?

Karen Brody is a writer, activist and mother of two boys. Her critically-acclaimed play about childbirth in America, ‘Birth,’ and BOLD Red Tent storytelling circles are seen by thousands of people worldwide every year as part of BOLD, an arts-based global movement raising awareness and money to improve maternity care for mothers. Brody is the founder and Artistic Director of BOLD. In 2010, Brody founded The My Body Rocks Project, with the mission to help mothers connect with their bodies, voices, and then take action. She teaches workshops around the world and has a private guided meditation practice, focused on helping mothers. Karen can be contacted at: Karen@mybodyrocksproject.com.

We would love to start a community dialogue that empowers women to embrace their bodies, so please share with us: How does your body rock?


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You have done everything possible to ensure a smooth, healthy pregnancy — but what about labor and birth? Mary Oscategui, baby planner, birthing options advocate and mother herself, joins us this week to share ways pregnant women can cope with the stresses of an approaching birth. She encourages mothers to acknowledge their fears — for the health and well-being of both themselves and their babies.

As a health practitioner, baby planner and single mom, I understand the challenges and stressors that can affect an expectant mom in preparation for birth — trust me, I’ve been there! Your baby is soon to arrive and the excitement is present, but along with that excitement can come many different emotions — some easy to cope with, and some not. You may be feeling anxious and stressed with a lot of questions and uncertainties weighing on your mind. Will I feel pain? How long will my labor last? Will my baby be OK? What if he/she is not breathing? What if the cord is wrapped around his/her neck? What if I have complications? Will I be able to handle motherhood?

As an expectant mom, your first reaction may be to hide these uncomfortable feelings — you may feel ashamed or embarrassed to share them. Giving birth is our natural birthright, however, that does not mean we also don’t have the freedom to experience some fears or doubts. Suppressing such feelings of anxiety and stress can not only take a toll on your body, but on your baby as well. It’s important to be aware of your fears, anxieties and stressors — and to address them. Doing so will only improve the health of you and your baby, and the outcome of your birth.

How do stress and anxiety affect a pregnant woman and her baby?

When an expectant mom feels anxious and stressed, her nervous system causes physiological changes in her body. Adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol, release into her bloodstream, causing her body to react in a fight-or-flight response. As a result, her digestive system slows down, which prevents essential nutrients from being absorbed into her body and passed on to her baby. Her muscles become very tense, making it difficult to think clearly and relax. These physiological changes can lead to premature labor, or even complications during labor.

Babies exposed to a variety of stress hormones, toxins and malnutrition inside the womb may develop a host of problems during their fetal growth and after they are born. Their bodies have to undergo certain biological changes in order to cope with a high-stress environment. In October of 2009, The UK Times reported new research that shows exactly how stress can harm a baby’s development, and how that stress can lead to long-term problems.

According to research by Vivette Glover, a professor of perinatal psychobiology, maternal anxiety affects the placenta by reducing the activity of the main barrier enzyme that hinders the hormone cortisol from reaching the fetus. The babies of women who were stressed during pregnancy had lower birth weights, lower IQs, slower cognitive development, and more anxiety than those born to the other women in the study.

How can women cope, and prevent stress and anxiety?

When I was pregnant, I found a few things essential to my (and my baby’s) well-being.

Acceptance

I had to accept and feel comfortable with my feelings, and not to try to resist them. It is perfectly normal to have some doubts or fears surrounding labor, especially if you are a first-time parent. Once you allow and invite your feelings to be present, you will be able to take the steps you need to take care of yourself and your baby, while reducing — if not eliminating — stress all together.

Support

I sought support. This could be through an expectant mom’s group, a childbirth education class, or a qualified professional — such as a birth doula. By working with a birth doula, or attending a birth education class or expectant mom’s group, you can prevent or reduce stress levels dramatically. Birth doulas are trained to provide expectant moms emotional and physical support in preparation for labor, and are also present during labor for support. Childbirth education classes are designed to inform expectant mothers of their options for labor and birth, and prepare them for the journey. An expectant mom’s group can also be another great resource, as you will be able to relate to and share all the uncertainties and fears you are going through with other women who are going through the same process.

Sleep and Relaxation

I made it a priority to rest. It is so important to make sure you are getting as much sleep as your body needs, as well as taking some down time throughout the day. Your body repairs itself during sleep, and also works to restore any imbalances that are occurring. When you compromise sleep, you become more susceptible to stress, as your immune system has to work harder to maintain proper levels of functioning throughout the day. Also consider taking some down time through a yoga or meditation class, a brisk walk, bubble bath, or even by lightening your workload.

Nutrition

I found that nutrition played a very powerful role in both coping with and the prevention of stress while I was pregnant. Caffeine, sugar and processed foods can trigger stress, so it is best to avoid them. Eat whole, fresh organic foods: fruits, vegetables, protein, and healthy fats that are easy to digest, and contain bio-available nutrients that are especially high in B vitamins and minerals. Exposure to sunshine for a few minutes of day will help your body absorb these nutrients. Of course, be sure to consult your midwife, doctor or nutritionist for your specific dietary needs.

Should you seek medical help?

If you have tried everything and find yourself helpless or depressed, it’s always best to seek medical attention. There are many professionals who are dedicated and committed to supporting you through your journey, and can provide you and your little one on board with the necessary help.

Mary Oscategui, CBP [IABPP], CPT, is the founder and CEO of The International Academy of Baby Planner Professionals (IABPP). She is an international business consultant and educator specializing in maternal health, fitness and going green. She is also the founder of TheBabyPlanner.com, EcoFit Mom and Physical Awakening. Mary is a writer, speaker, coach, author and birthing options advocate. She enjoys empowering, educating and supporting expectant and new parents to know all their options, so they may confidently make the best decisions for themselves and their baby in the most objective, healthy, safe way. Through IABPP, Mary introduced a new approach to the baby planning industry by focusing on the needs of her clients through parental education and emotional support.

How did you cope with the stresses of anticipating labor? Did you utilize a support group or birth professional? What tips do you have for other expectant moms?

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Standing up for the birth you want is a feat on its own (be proud!), but is really only the beginning of defending and implementing what’s best for you and your baby. This week, Amy Romano, birth advocate and midwife, shares her journey to finding the confidence to nurse in public.

You’ve just accomplished the most miraculous feat: You’ve given birth. You fought for the birth you wanted — the birth that was best for you and your baby. Wise mothers will tell you that fighting for your birth is the first frontier. What’s next?

The first moments after birth are essential — they’re when a mother and her baby bond, skin-to-skin, and begin the journey to nourishment: breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is such a personal act, an intimate dance between baby and mother (much like giving birth). Slowly (sometimes excruciatingly slowly), mother and baby find a rhythm, and open up little by little to the outside world. Rituals and routines established in the early days — I sit on this area of the couch with these pillows, looking for the feeding cues, and finally get the latch just right — give way to a looser, more organic relationship.

When the universe widens just a bit, other breastfeeding moms are the perfect guests to invite in to share your dance and best of all, support it. When I give breastfeeding mothers advice, I almost always say, “Find a group of breastfeeding moms to socialize with in the first few weeks, and nurse around each other.”

The first time I nursed in public, I was at a La Leche League meeting. What a perfect way to be initiated to nursing around other people. Then, when my baby was just 2 months old, I went to my first Lamaze conference. I nursed in educational sessions, the exhibit hall, and around the hotel during breaks. I shared a hotel room with women who were well past their childbearing years, and yet welcomed having a baby at the slumber party (and no, my baby most definitely didn’t partake in the “slumber” part). Then, I had to report briefly to the board of directors about a project I was working on, and I breastfed my baby at the boardroom table while I presented to the board members.

I look back on this time now and I realize how fortunate I was. My earliest experiences of opening my baby’s and my universe to others reinforced that nursing is normal, joyful and important. In a way, it was totally unremarkable to nurse my baby while addressing my supervisor and her board of directors. But at the same time, it was something to be celebrated. The people at the table weren’t weirded out that I was breastfeeding. They loved it — reveled in it. We even took the time to talk about how important it is to have babies at our conferences — after all, our work affects them!

My son weaned 4 months ago, ending what had been more than 6 years of continuous pregnancy or nursing. I have nursed in more places than I could ever begin to count. Wherever I’ve been when my babies happened to become hungry, I’ve nursed. And only once — ever — did I overhear a negative remark. I was sitting in a coffee shop nursing my then 18-month-old son, and a 20-something-year-old guy behind me said to his friend, “You know what I hate? Babies who breastfeed.” I saw his comment for what it was — ignorance mixed with an “I’m-an-‘ironic’-hipster-trying-to-impress-my-friend” demeanor. It didn’t bother me personally (at all!), but I can only imagine a new mom (who hasn’t yet gained confidence in her breastfeeding) hearing that and feeling like an outcast.

When I look back on that moment, I mostly just feel sad for him — and others like him — who fear breastfeeding, who fear birth, who fear these things that are completely normal, natural and beautiful. And it makes me all the more thankful for all of the advocates out there who provide irreplaceable support.

On that note, I’d like to thank the wonderful folks at La Leche League for instilling in me the early confidence to breastfeed in public. I’d like to thank all of the Lamaze leaders with whom I was so incredibly fortunate to share my early mothering. And lastly, I’d like to thank the birth advocates. What an amazing network of remarkable people, standing up for such an amazing cause — what a gift.

Amy Romano is a midwife and expert in evidence-based maternity care. She manages Lamaze International’s award-winning research blog, Science & Sensibility. A frequent contributor to online and print journals, Amy believes that with a better understanding of the research and scientific evidence, we can improve the health and care of women and infants in pregnancy, birth and beyond. Follow her on Twitter at @midwifeamy.

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When we’re giving birth and becoming parents, we often forget to breathe. As we’re anticipating the shift into motherhood, focusing on making it as perfect as possible, and waiting for it to all fall into place, we wait with bated breath. This week’s guest blogger, Elena Brower, shares with us the important bond that she and her son built after birth. The bond that allowed them trust in each other, that gave them peace, and that allowed them both to relax and enjoy the invaluable experience of birth, and the relationship a mother has with her child.

Somehow, two days have passed. I’m in a hospital bed, listening to myself breathe in the middle of the night, watching the lights of New York City twinkling outside. The impossible scent of my hours-old son asleep on my chest is making me grin, despite the ache of healing my abdomen. I’d become feverish after 30 hours of laboring with miconium present; the baby had started showing signs of dangerous exhaustion. Instead of dwelling in disappointment, I use the sound of each inhalation as a reminder that the journey from the Birth Center to a fully rigged hospital bed to motherhood was one of necessity and sweetness, and that it profoundly strengthened me. Each exhalation is intended to infuse me and my newborn with trust. Nothing else exists.

Somehow, two weeks have passed. With my son asleep in a sling across my chest, I am currently placing salt-water shot glasses over each nipple to keep infection and pain at bay. Make no mistake; this is funny. I’m laughing at myself in the mirror, surrounded by homeopathic remedies and essential oils and the breast pump, when I hear myself breathing again. I take a deep inhalation and send healing light into my belly, easing the sting in my nipples. I exhale long, finding confidence in myself; I decide to rest, trusting that I will have enough milk for Jonah and some humor leftover for my husband, despite the fact that I’ve embarrassingly not made the bed yet. And it’s 4 pm.

Somehow, two months of motherhood have passed. My breastfeeding is much easier, though I am still married to that pump. I’ve just spent eight weeks with Jonah sleeping on my chest every night, waking to feed him in the darkness and silence of the night. The weight of this baby’s body is making me stronger, fortifying my arms and abdomen. He has already begun smiling and turning over. I am convinced that allowing Jonah to sleep on me thus far has been of great benefit to both of us, but my intuition tells me we’re ready. I’m about to put him down in his perfect little oval crib for the first time — and I cannot breathe. He begins to nod off and I inhale, inviting clarity. When I exhale, I send this clarity directly into his heart, and somehow I can feel his trust. And time goes on. Somewhere in the space of an exhale, I become a mother.

Elena Brower, Certified Anusara Yoga Teacher, is the founder and co-owner of Virayoga, and mama to 4-year-old Jonah. Teaching for more than 13 years, she’s been featured in the New York Times, Yoga Journal, FitYoga and the Element Yoga Beginner DVD series.

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