live it active


Midwives v. Medicos: Is going natural worth it?

I’m 7 days postpartum. My baby is sound asleep beside me as I write. I’m in love. He’s in love. The whole fam-damily is in love. It’s been blissful.

I just had my last home visit from one of my incredible midwives and after talking to her about my most recent birth experience, I was inspired to share (don’t worry, I won’t get too gory).

My first and second labour / delivery experiences could not be more different. While both took place in the hospital, one followed the typical route (perhaps becoming less typical) with a doctor specializing in obstetrics, a team of nurses, drugs, more drugs and the other involved two midwives – that’s it. Oh, and both involved my husband and had the same end result, an amazing new human.

The arrival of my daughter was initiated by my waters breaking. As I was GBS positive, I was required to go to the hospital in the event my waters break to ensure I received my first dose of antibiotics in a timely fashion. So off we went. Upon our arrival, we were told I was to receive Pitocin (exogenous oxytocin) to get things moving as I was only 1 cm dilated. I knew this could increase the likelihood of drugs, but I didn’t know there were other options. I wasn’t told that there were more natural ways to induce labour. So we went along for the ride.

It took a while for things to ramp up, but ramp up they did. The contractions were awful (not sure there are any contractions that are great). I couldn’t sit still. There was nothing that could bring relief, not even the shower. I was frantic; the nurses referred to me as a “wild cat”. At 4 cm dilated, I couldn’t withstand it any longer and decided to receive the epidural. It brought instant relief, sleep, and allowed me to deliver my daughter pain free (while laughing – yes, laughing).

I didn’t know the doctor that delivered my daughter, nor the nurses. All were amazing, patient and kind, but given my recent experience I can now verbalize something I didn’t realize at the time, I never felt fully safe or protected. I felt vulnerable; I was never able to take off my gown and felt completely uncomfortable when they put me into the stirrups. I now understand why.

This time around, I decided to shake things up; I decided I wanted to take a drug-free course of action. Thus, I decided to request a midwife and was delighted to be accepted into my preferred practice immediately (I am forever indebted to a girlfriend of mine who made the recommendation).

Over the course of my 6-months with the midwives, I was never weighed. I was simply asked what my weight was and my belly measurements were taken. They kept me informed about my belly size; thus, I wasn’t surprised when they told me I was measuring behind (just like my first). Instead of sending me for an ultrasound and raising alarm bells (like the first doctor, and not without good reason), they let me wait one more week to see how things progressed. They instructed me to “eat” and to “watch my stress levels”. They asked about my life outside of the one they knew about; they seemed to genuinely care (now I know they genuinely do). In the end, it all worked out and no additional ultrasound was required.

Then it was time. Four days prior to my due date, I started to demonstrate signs of natural labour. No waters broke this time. We didn’t rush to the hospital. We stayed at home. I timed my contractions while we watched TV with my TENS machine on (AH-MAZING device). When the contractions intensified, I moved to the bath. And when the ratcheted up again, I called my midwife and we decided to head to the hospital. I laboured in the car peacefully. We arrived at the hospital and my contractions slowed. My midwife assured me this was normal. As I waited to be checked, the nurses wheeled in my plastic pool, put the liner in, started the water, and left. That was the last I saw of them until we needed some extra hands due to a bit of scary situation at the end of delivery.

Upon my exam, I was shocked to discover I was already 5 cm. The pain was manageable. The contractions were nothing, I repeat, nothing like the ones I had experienced with oxytocin at 4 cm. Nothing. It was then I realized I was going to be able to do this; that I could manage without drugs. It was incredibly empowering.

From that point, I switched between the tub and standing at the sink with the TENS machine on my back and butt. I had on my sports bra and a warm blanket / cape. I felt like a badass batman. In addition to water and the TENS machine for pain management, I used sounding. For any woman who has laboured before, you will be very familiar with sounds (most partners will also be familiar with labour sounds as us women can sure make some mighty weird ones). Yet, those sounds help. They helped me move through the discomfort (yes, discomfort, not pain…I never felt pain during labour).

And then it was time. We moved to the bed and I started to push. Now, this my friends, is where the pain started. Holy mother of god, this was painful. My midwife broke my waters and then s*** got real. My legs cramped. My feet cramped. My butt felt like it was about to fall off. And the ring of fire is real; oh, it’s real. But after just ten minutes, and my Tarzan hollering, I held my baby boy on my chest. It was incredible. They then allowed us to enjoy extended skin-to-skin, waiting patiently to do all of his measurements until he had completed his first feed. It was incredibly peaceful. We left 12 hours later (only because I had to stay for extended observation, otherwise we could have left very shortly thereafter).

With midwives, I also receive the benefit of home care. They come to your house, they answer your questions and concerns, they hug you when they leave. I can’t say I ever received a hug from my doctor (as nice as she was). Yet, everything aside, the greatest differentiator between midwives and medicos (in my humble opinion) is the fact that I felt respected, safe and informed throughout the entire process. I never felt “exposed” or vulnerable during the labour or birth; I felt the birthing room was my sacred space, welcome only to my “team”, my tribe. Now, let me be clear, when the doctor and charge nurse arrived on the scene, they were also incredible. They were respectful and supportive, and helped me through a very difficult moment (I just want to ensure my account is balanced and fair).

So to all the women out there who think they can’t labour without drugs, you can (if you wish to; it’s 1000x more manageable than contractions induced with oxytocin). You need alternative methods. You need the right space. You need to do some reading to help prepare. You need the mindset. But most importantly, you need the right people. And man, did I have the right people.

Any other benefits? I believe that labouring and delivering naturally has led to improved healing, mood, and overall health postpartum. Oh, and one last thing, my husband was more actively involved (and in awe) of the labour and delivery and said he wouldn’t change a thing (and he saw EVERYTHING). He was my rock and helped me in my final stretch (I couldn’t have done it without him…or my two midwives).

So who would I choose if we decide to have another baby? My midwives. Without question. The entire process from start to finish (which we haven’t reached yet), has been beautiful. I have felt informed, respected and cared for and wouldn’t change a thing for baby #3 (if that happens). It isn’t that my first experience wasn’t positive, it was. But this experience has been far richer and empowering.

Thank you to my tribe. You know who you are.

M

 

 

 

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Re-Blog: The Rejuvenation Retreat; A Monumental Success

“Transcending down into the ground of things is akin to sweeping the leaves that cover a path.  There will always be more leaves.  And the heart of the journey, the heart of our own awakening, is to discover for ourselves that the leaves are not the ground, and that sweeping them aside will reveal a path, and finally, that to fully live, we must take the path and keep sweeping it.”

~ The Way Under the Way, Mark Nepo

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Retreat participants enjoying quiet reflection at the Ghost River.

These delightfully apt words, shared by yoga guide and goddess, Tamie Murphy,  kicked off Live It Active’s inaugural Rejuvenation Retreat on Saturday, August 19, 2017. Throughout the yin yoga session, Tamie shared a variety of different poems and sentiments to inspire and ignite the imaginations of retreat participants. Ignite the senses and imagination she did; the words and metaphor resonated powerfully with me. It was a beautiful reminder that the “leaves” of life – the dishes, the appointments, the sicknesses and the deadlines – are not the path, simply distractions, and that we must keep sweeping them to stay on course (perhaps with fewer grumbles). But perhaps it resonated most powerfully, because I have finally found (and am walking) my path (more on this later).

The Rejuvenation Retreat, set in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains at The Crossing at Ghost River Retreat Facility, was attended by powerful, creative, and beautiful mommas, all at different ages and stages of their care-giving role. Following introductions and intentions, we moved into our yoga session, followed by quiet reflection anywhere on the grounds, and mindfulness meditation (during which many enjoyed a quick snooze). Massage therapy was also available for anyone interested. During quiet reflection, many participants were drawn to the Ghost River to reflect, write and read. All came with different intentions, but there was one definite overarching theme – to take a moment, to clear thoughts, and to rejuvenate.

Lunch, served in the main house, was a joy to the senses. Hearty, homemade comfort food (with a much inspired flare) adorned plates for only a brief period before being gobbled up. Gentle conversation about our babies (and grandbabies) was sprinkled with much laughter and joy (my daughter’s poop story was a hit; I’ll spare her the future embarrassment by not immortalizing it on social media).

The afternoon exposed participants to a completely different experience for the senses: Shinrin Yoku or forest bathing. All a little uncertain, the participants courageously walked into the forest with local Shinrin Yoku guide, Ronna Schneberger and accepted the first invitation, “to pay attention to all that is moving in the forest”. After 20 minutes of simply observing we reconvened to discuss our experience and receive our next invitation.

As the afternoon progressed, we (myself included) slowly began to disconnect from the rush and swirl of the day to day (even though much had been let go in the morning) and tune into the natural beauty surrounding us. Tuning into our senses allowed our brain to rest and our bodies to relax. The final invitation, to simply sit in nature, allowed participants to reflect on the day and their intentions for the day, week, and beyond. We came together, drank tea, enjoyed some goodies, and chatted about how we can find more time outside with our families.

The day was perfect – the attendees, the space, and the magic of the Ghost River helped to create the atmosphere for rest and rejuvenation. I will be forever grateful to the women who decided to attend my first-ever Retreat; from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

I sincerely look forward to what the future holds for Live It Active and myself. As I said above, I believe I’ve found my path. This path will take a lifetime to walk, yet I excitedly await the challenges, joys, and will work to relish the inevitable sweeping of those forever falling leading me to my life’s work and calling: to help people find wellness, balance, and contentment in their everyday lives.

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The mommas striking a pose.

With love,

M

~

Live It Active will launch it’s first Speaker Series: Discovering the Inner (and Awesome) Parent in You in Spring 2018. To check out our incredible speaker, Dr. Sheri Madigan, R. Psychologist and University of Calgary Professor, click here.

Acknowledgements

This day wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the following people:

  • Carol Pegg, The Crossing at Ghost River Retreat Facility
  • Karen Davis Rwankole, Photography
  • Tamie Murphy, Yoga Instructor 
  • Ronna Schneberger, Shinrin Yoku Guide 
  • Leah Haveman, Massage Therapist
  • Jenny Thompson, Website support 
  • Penny Sundstrom Mclaren, Logo Design
  • My incredibly supportive hubby

Employers v. Working Moms: Who’s getting the short end of the stick?

This week was one for the books. I started a new job and my dayhome provider had a seizure leaving us without childcare for two days (side note: she is doing well and recovering). My husband and I split time at home and a good friend came to our aid. Not having family in town always makes for a challenge when it comes to emergency situations, but we always find a way to pull through. And, fortunately, my new boss has children and was incredibly understanding. To top it off, I announced my second pregnancy to my new employer.

I closed off the week torn in two; I felt completely unsuccessful in both of my leading roles – employee and mother.

Since my return to work at the end of January, which has been fraught with a myriad of change and upheaval, I have felt a constant tug between both my professional and personal worlds. A tug that amplified this week when it was obvious I wasn’t quite living up to my potential in either capacity. My time at work was interrupted, disjointed, split between home and the office. I was stressed getting to and from the office, not wanting to be late (or absent at all) or appear anything but incredibly excited about this new opportunity.  I was stressed trying to find interim childcare and having to ask friends to support. I was stressed regarding the care of my child, uncertain of whether I wanted her returning to dayhome. I was stressed trying to accomplish deadline driven tasks in an an area completely foreign to me. So, yes, I was stressed.

This was a two day period. This wasn’t a week or a month. It was two days. And it’s passed now and we are returning to our “normal” routine. And yet, this experience has made me think, at length, about the bind that employers and new mothers experience. Surprisingly, it has made me incredibly sympathetic to employers who take a “risk” when hiring a young woman who may be contemplating a family.

Yes, I am using the word risk, because it is. Employers invest considerable time in training, mentoring and developing young talent; young talent that may leave shortly after training culminates. Young talent that may not come back. In my case, I’ll be leaving for another maternity leave (length to be determined) in just five months. That means in five months they may need to hire and train a replacement only shortly after finishing my training (I’m brand new to this role and area).

A number of moms who decide to return to work sometimes leave shortly after their return, finding the balance of work and family too challenging (Stevenson, 2012). Sometimes its after the second baby arrives – the daycare costs and time challenges are just too much. Some decide to work part-time. This, among many other factors, contributes to the wage gap we continue to hear about. It’s not that women get paid less on the dollar (seriously, that’s ridiculous and just isn’t the case…anymore), it’s that women more often than men have to make the hard decision to work part-time. And this is largely because women tend to work in roles that earn less (because they are lower risk) relative to men and thus, make more sense to leave to care for children and the home. Obviously this is shifting as we see more and more women attend professional schools and participating in more dangerous / higher paid work, but it’s a reality. Not necessarily a fair reality, as it indicates women are more than often then men at a disadvantage in the workplace, but a reality nonetheless.

So employers take a risk when investing in young female talent. Sometimes it pays off and other times, it doesn’t. And it’s not just the risk of young moms not returning after baby one, two or three, it’s young moms returning who are constantly torn between their role as employee and mother (reference first paragraph). While my husband and I work to strike a balance, I am often the one who has to stay home. I have a tad more flexibility than he does so it makes sense, but it doesn’t always feel right. Especially when starting a new role. And here’s the kicker: employers have to be accommodating, flexible and relatively nice about it. If they’re not or show any sign of frustration, they are referred to as discriminating and unjust. Maybe they are, but maybe they aren’t.

I now have a better sense to the challenges faced by working moms (specifically, dual-income families) and employers who take the risk to employ them. It’s not easy for anyone. Working moms are constantly torn between two worlds where they often feel like an impostor; employers are torn between employing / not employing young women who may leave them in the lurch or be their next EVP.

So who has the short end of the stick? In my opinion, it’s both.

M

Check out http://www.liveitactive.ca for information on my business! New or experienced mom looking for a small slice of serenity this summer? Check out the Rejuvenation Retreat, August 19, The Crossing at Ghost River. All details on my site.

 


Live It Active (the business) is Revived

I am so jazzed to announce the re-launch of my business, Live It Active, a health and wellness consultancy now based in Calgary, Alberta. Originally based out of Guelph, Ontario, Live It Active offers public education on mental health, resiliency and physical well-being and is incredibly excited to launch its Retreat series, Summer 2017.

In 2013, I (Morgan Craig-Broadwith, Owner / Operator of Live It Active), along with my husband packed up our pots and pans, duvet and pillows, and a few clothes and moved a few hundred kilometers west. Landing in Calgary, Alberta, I had to put Live It Active on hold while I settled into my new full-time gig. While I will continue to work a full-time day job that I love, I am delighted to be re-launching my business (aka my passion) that aims to support the growth, evolution and well-being of individuals and organizations.

Please stay a while on the site and peruse our upcoming retreat offerings. I cannot wait to spend some time in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains connecting with inspiring women this summer at the Rejuvenation Retreat at The Crossing at Ghost River.

To check out Live It Active in full detail, please visit http://www.liveitactive.ca.

M


Have women been sold a bill of goods?

Yesterday, in front of 275 people, I cried asking, “have women been sold a bill of goods?” to the famous Canadian rower, Silken Laumann. If I was going to have a public breakdown, this was likely the best place to do it – in front a room of supportive men and women all there to celebrate International Women’s Day. And while I am all for vulnerability, this was pushing it, even for me.

Silken’s answer was perfect, “women can have it all, but not at the same time…let go of the guilt…your children are going to benefit from having an amazing strong mother who loves her job.” And then she waved and smiled at me when she sat down. I felt pretty cool (well, as cool as you can feel after crying in front of a room packed with people).

Throughout her speech, I felt a range of emotions bubbling up inside me. I connected powerfully with her when she spoke about the frustration and rage she has felt with her children and when she finally asked for help. I was inspired by her tenacity and incredible strong will; hearing her speak brought me back to my six year old self watching her win Olympic bronze, ten weeks after her almost debilitating leg injury. I felt incredible sadness as she shared the end of her first marriage and the surprise and shock it left her with. I was in awe of her dedication to inspiring other young women and her mentorship commitments.

So I guess, when she put the ask out to the audience, “I’d like to hear from any parent who may be struggling,” I felt I needed to share. I felt I needed to share a little piece of my journey into motherhood and how I have put such incredible pressure on myself to perform. To perform as a mother. To perform as a friend. To perform as an employee. To perform as a volunteer. And not only to perform, to perform perfectly. And that right now, with my return to work and maternity leave behind me, I’m wondering if women have been sold a bill of goods about having it all. But, I couldn’t get it out. All I could muster was to ask the final question, have women been sold a bill of goods.

In that moment, and after more reflection yesterday, I realized that perhaps this is and has been much harder than I thought. Perhaps I haven’t actually given myself the space to revel in the absolute hardness of it all. I think I’ve just kept pushing and pushing and pushing. Pushing because I want to be that fabulous, awesome, inspiring mother, employee, friend and community leader that everybody idolizes. Yikes…

I’m not alone in this pressure thing. No siree. I’m pretty sure most women (and men), put an incredible amount of pressure on themselves to have it all figured out, or at least to portray they have it all figured out. We love hiding behind our well-curated lives.

So what can I do about it? No, better, what can we do about it? We can start to explore and deconstruct what Silken shared. It’s not a new phrase, we’ve heard “you can have it all, but just not all at once” before. But perhaps we haven’t actually spent time thinking about it. She also shared, “we overestimate what we can do in a day, but underestimate what we can do in a year, 5 years, 10…”. This is so profoundly true. And I think this is a good place to start.

I’m going to start putting things into perspective and working everyday to take the long view. This will be a challenge given that my dad’s nickname for me is “I want it now Morgan” and most millennials want instantaneous gratification (myself included). Below are some of my suggested actions for myself, but also for anyone interested in challenging themselves.

My Actions:

  • To make a to-do list with one bullet. Whoa. That’s going to be hard (and I’ve already broken this rule today as I sent myself an early morning email with specific action items and timelines).
  • I’m not allowed to sweat it if I don’t accomplish that action item. I either shift it to the next day or remove it completely. Maybe it’s not that important.
  • Say “no” to things that just don’t work for me right now. Be careful not to limit the long view, but work to be kind to myself in the present moment.
  • To stop aiming to perform perfectly. Notice, I didn’t say to stop performing. I’m never going to stop wanting to perform – I am an achievement oriented person who enjoys immense gratification from doing. But what I can do is stop trying to do it all right now and to stop trying to do it perfectly.
  • Continue to be vulnerable. I have shared quite a bit about my maternity leave and return to work with folks. I’m going to continue to do so. Perhaps I won’t cry in a room of 275 people, but then again, maybe I will.

So maybe we have been sold a bill of goods, but then again, maybe not. As Silken said, “we can have it all, just not all at once…and you are enough.” Let’s try to take this to heart.

M

 

 

 


The war between two selves

As I wrap up my year-long maternity leave, I am working very hard not to count down the days until my return to work. It will come soon enough and when it does, I know I will yearn for my relatively relaxed, pajama-clad mornings (and early afternoons). While I have enjoyed the vast majority of my time with my daughter, there have been moments (and days) when I have yearned for the freedom of my pre-parent, working, and somewhat carefree days. Not simply because it was easier to get out of the house, exercise, eat, go to the bathroom, connect with friends, think, etc., but because I had a fairly clear understanding of who I was.

Since becoming a mother, I have gained a new self, one that is regularly at odds with my former free, fiercely independent, career driven, funny, daring, adventurous, high strung, active, and focused self. This self is now playing second fiddle to a new one – a person I don’t know much about and, at times, don’t particularly like. This new self is chronically tired, unmotivated to exercise, unable to complete tasks in a timely or effective manner, unable to attend professional or personal events with any regularity, has little patience or compassion for the man I care most about, has limited attention span or ability to think critically, is physically limited (well, when I had mastitis and appendicitis) and often housebound to accommodate the infamous nap schedule.

It’s not all bad. My new self comes with a few positive attributes: greater patience (it’s still low, but a lot more than I used to have), new and wonderful friends, a more playful attitude, and more time to spend in pajamas. The greatest and most profound change, however, is the intensity of my love for my little girl. It’s something I could never have fathomed until having a baby. It’s magical. And a little scary.

The good news is the internal war is quieting. With less than a month left of my maternity leave, a peace treaty between my two selves is underway. I feel the clutches of time urging me to live it up, not to wallow in my lack of sleep, and to “get stuck in”, as my Dad would say. Don’t get me wrong, I have been “stuck in” (that sounds somewhat offensive) for the majority of my leave, but I have likely let too many moments and days pass without much ado.

In the time I have, I will savour the moments with my daughter and look for unique ways to enjoy our days together – visit the science centre, zoo (weather permitting) and walk in the mountains. I will schedule time for me – to be with friends, to exercise, to get pampered. And throughout, I will patiently wait to witness the merging of my two independent and inextricably linked selves – the fiercely driven, career-focused woman and the incredibly besotted and ever-vulnerable mother.

I think this new self is going to be pretty incredible when all is said and done. I know my new self will go through more iterations with life experience and change, and again, I will wait patiently to witness the emergence of a new and more powerful self.

To all the moms and dads who are also waging an internal war right now, please give yourself the space and time needed to allow a new and unified self to evolve and emerge. It will feel psychologically and physically painful at times, but it will happen and when it does, damn, it’s going to be awesome.

M

 


Parenting Win: Swearing in Public

Before you even think it, I am going to acknowledge the fact this blog has taken a massive step away from being a health blog. I hear you. More specifically, I hear your thoughts. If you’re a loyal follower (of which there are many…) who only wants to read about health related topics, I permit you to unfollow me (yes, you needed my permission). I get that hearing about the trials and tribulations of parenting may not be your schtick (it wasn’t mine prior to having one), so feel free to ignore said posts or leave altogether. I may, someday, return to health blogging.

On to sharing my parenting win: swearing in public.

I’ve now had two very public and very loud swearing outbursts with my beautiful daughter in tow. Yes, I am nailing it as a parent. Absolutely nailing it.

Both of these moments make me laugh. Not in the moment, but immediately after and in random moments when I’m allowed the time to reflect at my parenting mishaps and mistakes. I share this because I want everyone to feel better about themselves as a parent and a person; to know that it’s okay to look really bad in public and still be an awesome parent and person in private (and most times in public). And you’re still not a bad parent even when you let your daughter watch The Good Wife with you while you eat cheese and she eats your phone (you caught me, I’m confessing hoping that someone will also agree and make me feel better about my parenting choices).

The first expletive explosion was on a flight back from Ontario to Calgary. I was solo parenting which is always a dream, especially on a plane (single parents, you are angels of music – I don’t know how do it). Between nursing, my daughter removing the nursing cover and exposing my breasts to our flightmates, trying to eat, her kicking my food and associated food garbage to the ground, getting up to change her diaper 3 times in the incredibly spacious airplane bathroom, I was perhaps a little bit tired by the end of it. Oh, and my water bottle exploded on me three times. It’s one of those bottles where the spout pops open, which is relevant because as you ascend and the air pressure changes, the water really wants to escape. More specifically, it wants to escape out the spout onto your nursing cover and neighbour – a perfect water projectile. How could I do this three times? Because on the ascent (when the air pressure is constantly changing), I would pop open the spout, experience the water shower, swear (under my breath), wipe the water from my daughter’s face, close the spout, forget and do it again. Next Einstein over here.

So I was tired. I was ready to be off the plane. We landed. I rejoiced. I placed my daughter on the floor (calm down, the nursing cover was between her and the airplane carpet) in order to put on the Bjorn. Forgetting where I was – a small metal tube that is not meant for taller than average people – I stood up quickly from placing my daughter on the ground. Way too quickly. You know what happened: my head cracked the luggage compartment. I yelled F*** at the top of my lungs, as you do. Every passenger, also ready to disembark, standing, waiting, watching, heard the delightful sound leave my lips. Then I opened the luggage compartment and the contents of my diaper bag fell on me. I was thrilled.

The most recent public display was at Starbucks and it involved the Bjorn and a wasp. Standing casually, chatting, enjoying the final sun rays of the year (this happens in October in Calgary), my friend tells me there is a wasp on my daughter’s hat. Instead of swatting the wasp away from my body, I swatted it towards me, as you do. It went from her hat to my chest. Yes, right between my daughter’s face and her favourite place on earth, my breasts. I blacked out. And in that moment, while trying to undo the Bjorn (ineffectively), I yelled “Sh**! F***! Sh**!”.  I have no doubt the customers outside were delighted and encouraged by my expert parenting maneuvers. After all of this, I did manage to remove the wasp from the vicinity of my child and my important body parts.

I share this because I want to make you laugh. And, as I said above, to make you feel better when you swear in public, or drop you child (I honestly haven’t done this…yet), or accidentally let them eat stones (this has almost happened), or lick all the toys at the library (this has happened). We have winning and losing moments. We often rock it, but we also often knock it (go with it).

Happy parenting and, more importantly, happy swearing when the mood strikes.

M


Parenthood: It’s not all bad

So I’m 7 months in. I’m out of the blackhole that is the first 2 months. I am not really sleeping solidly through the night, but we’ll get there, maybe in ten years. Regardless of sleep or lack thereof, I thought it important to clarify any misconceptions you may have from my previous posts as most have focused on the hilarity or challenges of parenting. While there continues to be many moments of hilarity and challenge, it’s not all bad (I swear). If it was, why would people keep having kids?  Well, I guess because people won’t ever stop having sex. Moving on…

So what’s so good about it? Apart from spending long mornings in your pyjamas and “sexy” robe? Well, let me tell you:

  1. Spending long mornings in your pyjamas and sexy lumberjack robe. That is a major perk of being on mat leave, but it’s also a necessity when sleep continues to be the elusive beast that it is. I’m sure the tow truck man (our car decided not to start) really enjoyed my morning ensemble yesterday…perhaps the breast milk stain really got him going, I’ll never know.
  2. Not bathing. What a perk. You are no longer required to shower on a daily basis (even though you should because you are regularly barfed and pooped on), put on makeup, do your hair (not that I did this before), or put on clothes other than your sexy robe.
  3. Hearing your baby giggle. It trumps everything. It makes the world freeze and your soul sing. And you’ll do anything, anything to get them to giggle again. Whether doing jump squats to “scare” your baby on the change table or chanting “kwazzzzzzy cupcakes” (I was watching Brooklyn 99 at the time. Stop. Turn on Netflix. Watch it now) over and over, you’ll do it.
  4. Eating just about anything your heart desires. Breastfeeding, while sometimes inconvenient and uncomfortable (especially in those early days), is a great calorie burner. No, you are no longer required to shed those pesky lbs. by eating a balanced diet or hitting the gym, you can simply eat carbs and, more carbs. Should you? Maybe not. Will you? Yes. Oh yes.
  5. You have a hiatus from your monthly friend. But, to all the ladies out there, do not misconstrue this to mean you cannot conceive. If you want to avoid the dreaded Irish twins, ensure you’re being safe and adhering to the ever-appreciated advice of your high school phys-ed teacher. Abstinence. Or condoms work too.
  6. Your baby’s smile when they see you in the morning. It may have been a night from the depths of hell, and you may not really like your baby at the moment, but the smile that alights their face upon seeing you in the morning is a serious heart-melter.
  7. Everyday is Friday. This means you can go out mid-week for dinner with friends and drink like a fish. Well, not a fish seeing as you may have to breastfeed later on, but you can definitely imbibe a wee bit more than you normally would on a weeknight. Yeehaw. This wild night, however, will promptly end at 9 PM when you need to come home and sleep immediately. You never know when the baby beast will awaken. And you need your sleep. You need it so bad.
  8. You’re raising a human and it feels awesome. It’s pretty rad to have incubated, birthed, and to now be raising a tiny human; a human who will one day think independently, drive, vote, and love (among many other things). It’s also freaking scary, but this is a positive themed post so we will ignore this thought.
  9. People will love and spoil you (as they should). Never have I experienced the generosity, love, care and concern that I have experienced since having a child. My family, old friends, and new momma friends have all helped me to adjust to maternity leave in such a beautiful and honest way and have undoubtedly helped me to maintain sanity (questionable). Seriously, people are awesome.
  10. My daughter’s love for me is out of this world. It’s big sloppy chin sucks, hair pulls, laughs, smiles from across the room, snuggles in the morning, farts on my leg, loving glances, and so much more. And I wouldn’t trade it for all the sleep in the world.

There are many more positives, but the list is long enough and you get the picture. Babies are hard. Like, the hardest thing ever. They cry (so much), whine, spit up, hit, pull hair, bite, get hurt, poop, adult-style vomit, ruin clothes, furniture and basically your entire house. But they are also magic. They smile (so much), giggle, belly-laugh, roll, play with toys and you, talk, coo, gurgle, eat new things, laugh again, snuggle, hug, kiss, and love.

Seriously, it’s not all bad.

M

 


Is love enough? The link between addiction and parent-infant interaction.

When I started reading In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, by Canadian physician, Dr. Gabor Maté, I was not expecting to learn an incredibly important lesson in parenting. Instead, I thought I was going to learn about the trials and tribulations of addiction. Yet, in this captivating read, Dr. Maté elucidates a powerful connection between our early infant-parent / caregiver interactions and the propensity to turn to substances later in life.

It’s important, before getting too far into the meat, to touch on the important subject of blame. The research Dr. Maté shares and thus, the research I will write about in this post, showcase the paramount importance of early interactions between parent and child as the foundation for long-term emotional health and addiction-free functioning. This is, without question, an incredibly sensitive subject. Firstly, it challenges our heavy reliance on genes as an explanation for “bad” behaviour. Secondly, it challenges the assumption that only situations of abuse, neglect or trauma can trigger addictive behaviour. But most importantly, it places an incredible onus on the caregiver to ensure they aren’t wiring their child’s brain for addiction. This is where the blame game can come into play; however, that’s not Maté’s intention, nor is it mine. It’s simply to help us better understand this incredibly powerful process and how we influence it.

While genes play a role in the development of our stress apparatus and response, research demonstrates exposure to cortisol in utero can increase the release of cortisol in infants one year postpartum. Pregnant women who witnessed 9/11 were more likely to have infants with higher than normal levels of cortisol. Cortisol levels varied depending on the stage of pregnancy the woman was at; babies exposed in the third trimester had higher cortisol secretion than babies exposed in the first or second trimester. This highlights the role and power of the environment as opposed to a genetic transmission from mom to baby. Right from the get go, new parents need to be aware of how powerful their stress levels can impact their growing little one.

Yet, Dr. Mate spends most of his time discussing the importance of the caregiver- infant interaction and its association with addictive behaviour later in life.

“Infants have no ability to manage their own stress apparatus…they are completely dependent on the relationship with his or her parent,” writes Maté. Regular, predictable and stable contact is essential for the development of important brain circuitry, specifically our dopamine (reward) receptors and the growth of nerve endings that release dopamine. And it’s not simply physical contact and presence, it’s emotional presence as well. Specifically, whether or not we are attuned to our children.

What is attunement? As Dr. Mate describes it, “…it is literally being “in tune” with someone else’s emotional states.” To be clear, it is not about parental love. You can love your child deeply, but still not be attuned to them. It is about the “parents ability to be present emotionally in such a way that the infant or child feels understood, accepted and mirrored.” Sounds incredibly easy, yes? Me thinks not.

“Poorly attuned relationships provide an inadequate template for the development of a child’s neurological and psychological self-regulation systems,” writes Maté.  When we do not feel as though we are understood and accepted as infants, the circuitry needed for stress management and self-regulation does not adequately develop. We become less able to handle what life has to throw at us – we don’t do well with change, rejection, loss, disappointment. We may turn to external events, people, and in some cases, substances to help us regulate the turmoil we feel inside. More specifically, when we lack dopamine receptors and nerve endings that secrete dopamine, we need to find a way to increase the release of this potent neurotransmitter. And there’s no more effective way than drugs, alcohol or a highly rewarding experience such as sex, eating, or being wanted. 

Maté highlights the importance of consistency and connectedness via a study that investigated the parent-infant interaction among primates using three different foraging conditions. The first group had easy access to food; the second group had to work hard to find their food; and the third group sometimes found food easily, sometimes with more difficulty. The infants in the always easy or always hard group were well-adjusted; the parent-infant interactions were consistent, just as the foraging conditions had been. It was the infants in the third group, where foraging conditions were inconsistent, who did not become well-adjusted adults. The stress of not knowing, was enough to put these mothers on edge, to be more erratic and sometimes dismissive. These infants grew into “anxious adults, less social and highly reactive – traits known to increase addiction risk.” Our environments shape our interactions; our interactions shape our brain.

As a new parent, this sounds incredibly daunting. How can I always be attuned to my daughter? The intensity of my love, as Maté writes, does not necessarily ensure successful brain circuity development, nor protect her from addiction later in life. It is more than my love I must give to her; I must strive to mirror and connect with her emotional states in a way that she feels understood and genuinely cared for. And that, well, that’s big. It means I cannot explain away her bad behaviour based on her genetic code (which would also be partly my fault, and my parents and their parents fault too, right?). It means I must take responsibility now for her future actions and emotional well-being and strive to provide as stable, consistent and predictable an environment as I am able to. No small feat.

So what’s the overarching lesson (for me, at least)? Love isn’t always enough. 

M

P.S. Go and read the book.

~

References

Maté, Gabor. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. 2008.

 

 

 

 

 


Getting active postpartum: the pelvic floor issue

RunningBefore I begin, I realize this post is going to appeal to very specific demographic; however, I assume the majority of my readers are my female friends…and my dad. Yet, I also appreciate that not all of my female friends are interested / want to / are able to have babies. Thus, whittling my group of readers even more. Nevertheless, I think this information may be helpful (I am, of course, biased). And to my male readers, I know you can handle it, but be warned this post refers to my pelvic floor…a lot (so, my vagina).

My prenatal doctor talked to me somewhat incessantly about my pelvic floor muscles. She did this because I continued to run during my pregnancy. At around six months I had to call it quits; the human sloshing around in my uterus felt weird, to say the least. So I basically ignored my doctor’s advice up until month six. Typical. I, of course, knew better.

After having my sweet baby girl (vaginally…I warned you), I ran at three weeks, did weights at four weeks, and started postpartum yoga at five weeks. Seriously, what was I thinking? I wasn’t. While I had a very smooth labour and delivery, my body was not ready for this level of activity (please read between the lines, ladies…and dad).

Yet, if I hadn’t attended postpartum yoga, I would never have learned about my potential (now confirmed) pelvic floor issues. I mentioned a slight tightness in my inner thigh and the yoga instructor immediately encouraged me to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist. So, I did. And she confirmed the tightness was likely due to some mild pelvic floor issues / ligament looseness I incurred during pregnancy and labour. She also warned me that even with few issues right now (no incontinence, prolapse, pain, etc.), I could suffer a prolapsed uterus down the road, especially if I continue to run and have more children (both of which I plan to do).

As you can imagine, when someone threatens a prolapsed uterus, you: a) gasp, b) gasp again, and c) start listening. It’s a somewhat unpleasant thought. At lunch today, I mentioned this to another active momma and her eyes just about bulged out of her head.

I’m not sure many women know this is an important postpartum step, with our without obvious issues. I didn’t. Oh and you’re definitely not supposed to do abdominal work until six months postpartum; yes, you can split your abs. Fortunately, I avoided that issue (even though I did abdominal exercises at four weeks).

So to the mommas (current, soon-to-be), friends of mommas, and partners of mommas, please spread the word. No one wants their vagina falling out. Seriously.

I apologize for the somewhat graphic nature of this post (sorry, not sorry).

Happy exercising (in a safe and cautious manner) postpartum.

M


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