Feed Me + Tell Me I'm Pretty
The season of love sometimes feels so overwhelming now. Valentine's Day was just glorious when I was a kid. Trying to pick the perfect valentine message to match with my friends and crushes, while also feeling panicked when the flimsy paper ripped instead of following the perforations. It was sugar. It was making boxes to collect compliments and having a fun afternoon. It was was red and pink and white and paper doilies and, did I mention sugar?
Teen angst took away some of the fun, but even with early love, Valentine's Day was still sweet. We didn't have money, so expectations were low, and it was more like it was a big deal if there SOMETHING, not necessarily what that something was.
Valentine's Day as an adult is stressful: Are we a Valentine's Couple? Are we not? What about Galentine's Day, or Palentine's Day?
Can we go back to boxes, and "RAWR means I LOVE YOU?"
Now in my mid 30's I've had enough therapy and hurt feelings to understand what has to happen around this holiday to stop an unhealthy spirial. And I'm so thankful!
I used to wait and see what my partner would do, and then feel my feelings, and see if it lived up to my unspoken rules about how the Day should go. (Same with my birthday and Christmas, just so we're clear.). It typically didn't end well for me. Both because I was a jerk, and I was a jerk with hurt feelings. Not a good look on anyone.
But. I had some heartbreak. A divorce. Some really awesome friends who helped me have new experiences around Valentine's Day that weren't at all about romantic love, and finally, that therapy I mentioned above.
Unlearning behavior is hard. We are raised by imperfect people, and unfortunately, there is a trickle of pain that travels through the generations. Learning how to regulate emotions, speak them clearly, and live inside healthy boundaries sounds so great. But we have to work at that stuff if we didn't have good teachers early on. And most of us don't.
So as adults, we get to make choices about how we act in our relationships and what we tolerate from our partners and friendships. Do you do that - do you choose how you love your people? Do you take the time to learn how they like to be seen? Do you know how you want to be nurtured?
This isn't even about that Love Languages stuff. This is about honest transparency. Are you in relationships where you can show your tender underbelly? Or is it all pent up beliefs of how you SHOULD be treated and you aren't quite sure how those got there?
Is it really about flowers, or chocolate, or dinner out? Or is it about what you think those things mean about your relationship?
I'm just asking some questions here, because, if anything, I know I don't have it all figured out.
But what I know about me, and what I have learned to express is an openness about what I want, and a willingness to hear what my partner wants too. It's pretty great.
And we're still working on it. Nothing is perfect, but we're in it together, and neither of us is going anywhere.
Hopefully, as our kids see us talking, being direct, expressing our needs, sharing our thoughts, and asking for feedback, we're slowing that trickle of pain they will heal as they grow.
Will they see we're doing the best that we can? *sigh*
Back is Best, but When Can It End?
"Back is best" is drilled into the heads of new parents.
The phrase gets stitched into sleep sacks, posted on materials from the pediatrician, and repeated over and over by hospital staff before going home from the hospital.
This is confusing because up until only a few years ago, the wisdom handed down was to make babies tummy sleepers to help with spit up and choking.
The shift to "Back is Best" is because of SIDS- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Until 1992, the recommendation had been for babies to sleep on their stomachs until the Association of American Pediatrics updated their guidelines. Before then, up to 70% of babies were sleeping on their bellies in the first year, which then plummeted to 11.3 percent by 2002.
That shift also led to a decrease in infant deaths from SIDS by half, to .057 per 1,000 live births in 2002, from 1.2 in 1992.
So the recommendation has merit and stats to back it up.
For some babies, it is pure bliss once they get old enough to roll over, because for them it was holding them back from sleeping soundly.
For parents who are trying to help their children sleep well and safely, there is a process of mitigating risks and evaluating everyday reality. Are they ready yet? So ask:
Those are all actions that can help parents feel better about their choice to not interrupt their baby sleeping soundly on their stomachs.
We are proponents of the Safe Sleep movement and follow AAP guidelines. We also know that the choice to put your baby to sleep on their stomach is one riddled with uncertainty. When is it okay to leave them be?
When can you leave your baby on his or her back to sleep?
Just as bed-sharing is a "dirty secret" of sleep-deprived parents, we often come into client's homes and hear stories of how they are just trying to survive and have been using unsafe sleep tools to eek out some rest. Bed-sharing can happen safely, and helping your child to sleep can happen in their own space too.
Some of the common unsafe things we see are:
We never want a family to make choices for their baby because they feel they have no other options. If you are starting to feel like the only place your baby will sleep is on you, or their stomach, we want to help. We come to your home with compassion and skills, information, and tools.
If it's nap help, or night-time help, let us know when you'd like more rest and we'll be right over!
Giving Birth To New Priorities
After working with so many families, I'm still appreciative of the wisdom that gets brought to the forefront about birth and parenting. Like this gem, a recent client shared at our postpartum with her 1-week-old, "The things I thought were important before going into labor just didn't seem important anymore."
And isn't that the truth?
It's wild to look back and compare the person you were before birth and the person you became after. It's bazaar and scary and - if I can insert my own experience here - very affirming. There is no telling whom you are going to meet when you dive into labor and face the reality that parenthood is on the other side of this precipice. Our gut-brain meets our logical brain, meets our emotional brain - and in the mix of anxiety, calm, intensity, and finally, DECISION TIME, which part of yourself rises to the top?
For many, including our client at this visit, they were surprised. They wanted to lean into the need for security. She started labor with confidence and was quickly overwhelmed with the pain and reality of becoming a parent (in her words). She made a choice she never thought to make before - and that's the point that I love - where someone has space and confidence to ask for what she or he wants at that moment.
This couple returned home after birth, feeling ready to start something new, only to be confronted with a new dilemma. Once at home, one of their beloved and devoted family dogs became aggressive and lunged at their new child.
Can you imagine? If you are an animal lover, can you picture the immediate shock and devastation? Can you feel the pain?
When my doula partner and I sat with them on their couch, one of us holding that precious sleeping baby, and the other petting their second family dog, we heard the story and saw the tears as they shared what happened. The realization so sudden that they couldn't take the risk, and are so sad to be losing a beloved family member.
The joy and sorrow were felt all around - with a new child and grieving the loss of their pet.
And as if there isn't enough grief already present when starting parenthood, that for this young couple, they are feeling this loss seems cruel.
We are so proud of this family. Walking with them through decision making for the last six months, and now be with them through this - making this choice to put their child first - they are figuring out what parenthood means, and how they will navigate challenges from the very start.
Sometimes the priority shift comes in becoming disconnected from friends.
Sometimes it looks like missing events, or celebrations, or for many, their regular daily schedule.
There is no way we can prepare you for all the ways your mind will alter your world after your baby is born. But we can help you as you start to try out your new parent-voice. We are affirming your choices. Asking for clarification here, or bringing attention over there, and sharing typical emotional revelations, so you don't feel like a freak.
Please don't think you will be the same person after you have a baby. Please, give yourself time to get to know your new mind and body. And please, honor any priority shift that seems out of character.
Give it attention.
Ask it what it needs.
Ask it why it's important.
Connect with this new you.
Birth is a transformation for everyone.
Every year on my babies birthdays, I tell their story. I share what I remember happening in those moments on the day they were born. I perpetually sit in two places at once on these days: in the present in awe of the growth and person, and also in my memory, reliving how they became a separate person. That incredible day each started existing alongside the family, no longer tethered safely to my body.
We get wrapped up in the celebrations of birthdays, and I love them.
I love gathering.
I love the community.
I love the love.
And I love remembering.
As a mother, I hold things constantly: I hold people, blankets, snacks, dates, and memories. I hold them all, and on these days, I get to share them with my kids, look them in the eye, and thank each for picking me to be their keeper.
I appreciate my role, and I respect my children so much. After losing a parent, my time seems laughably short with these lovable people - one day, I know, they will feel the same way about my passing. It has felt like a morbid joke I was finally let in on - it isn't "why are we here?" It's "who are we here for?" The race, the day-to-day, the script - they all have been twisted.
So every year on my children's birthdays, I tell them about their birth. I tell them about the place, the feelings, and the choices we made waiting to welcome them here. I tell them about the people who loved their father and me so well while we were waiting to meet them. I tell them about the medical staff who were great, and not great. I tell them about how I fought for them to come in a way I knew was their way. I tell them I have known them far longer than I have met them. That I dreamed of them, talked to them, and ached for them for ages before holding them outside my body.
My life has a beautiful and unique purpose, and I have loved discovering it year after year since the time I was a child. I have been brought up knowing I am unique and incredible, and I know my power in part is the story of my becoming.
I am lucky, and my children are lucky to have this origin story available to them. They have an anchor, a truth, deeply rooted in love and belonging.
I see it.
I feel it.
I do not take it for granted.
I know that as they get older, I'll be able to share more and more details with them, always focusing on the intuition and communication they had with me on that day. Still focusing on the magic. Always focusing on the power. They were aware before being aware. They were in their bodies, while in my body. And since the day they were born, they both have confidently moved through the world, as beloved beings learning about how they will come further into their own. I am so looking forward to supporting them as long as I can.
I am so glad to take part in the heartbreaking and life-affirming role as their Mother.
Happy birth day, sweet ones.
Written by Ariel Swift
"She's acting like I just dipped her in acid. Is that normal?"
I had just shown up for the night's postpartum visit, and bath time had just ended. The baby was not calm, relaxed, and ready for bed like the book said she would be.
"Is this how this is supposed to go?
"The book is telling us to set up a routine. Do we have to go through this every night?"
Mom and dad are trying to do the right thing. It is evident in every move and every choice they are making.
The baby gets dried off. A diaper is put on. A bottle is given. Baby is bright red from the night's activities. Massive tears, high shoulders, and tight fists.
Dad looks down at her and looks horribly worried. "She already hates me."
This is part of the trials of being a parent. Making choices, seeing how they go and adjusting. There are no manuals for how to care for your child. Sure there ARE manuals, but no guarantee it's for your model of baby if you get what I mean.
DOC doulas can show you how to swaddle your baby, and we can talk about more comfortable ways to bathe and dress your child. And of course, we can help you understand how to help calm a fussy baby.
There are predictable developmental stages most children experience, and having an understanding of what your child is learning, can understand, and is experiencing can help make better-informed decisions.
But it can still be hard even if you know what is happening. Some days you are banging your head against all those parenting books. Some days it's almost impossible to remember that you are the adult and you are supposed to have the answers.
What I've learned as a parent of two and doula, is that making choices, trying to meet your children where they are at, and trying again when things don't go to plan are what matter.
Being a safe place for your child to rest and show love is essential, being deliberate and consistent are crucial as well.
Regardless of age, kids need quality time together with you.
When your child is an infant, quality time looks different than when they are older, but this early foundation is so important. The bond you form with your child in the first three years is what creates the connections that are tested - wait for it - when your child is a teenager.
You've heard parents complain, "My baby wants to be held all the time!" or "She is asleep, and as soon as I put her down she starts screaming."
Building trust, letting your baby know that you will be there to provide and care for their every need, even if it is just to be held, is the beginning of a trusting relationship.
So no, your baby doesn't hate you.
It's that she has no idea what is going on. She has no way to control her emotions. And she is easily overwhelmed.
One possible thing is your child can form trusting relationships with multiple caregivers. There will be no way to replace you, but there are people that can help make it a bit easier.
For breaks, affirmation, tools for transition, and sleep let us help. We may not have the specific manual for your baby, but we have the tools to help you get started with writing your own.
Ready Chicago? We're about to get pummeled with some of the coldest temperatures on record this week, and just like any other time of the year, babies are not going to stop being born because of it.
For you and doulas alike, there are a few things you may want to have — a wholly different kind of doula bag, and more of a doula car.
Tried and true gadgets and gizmos aplenty this doula has used to get around in Chicago's winter weather:
And other supplies that a doula has on board regardless of weather:
Fingers crossed you'll be able to avoid the cold altogether.
A bit ago we got a surprise visit from my Mother-in-Law. She had recently had a small gathering and had some leftover snacks, and she is smart enough to know her son is always up for food.
It was in the evening, and I had started getting my youngest prepped for bed by putting together the bath. His sister had knocked on the door and asked if she could jump in too. So there were two kids in the tub and a tired mom squatting on a stepstool when grandma knocked on the door and asked if she could come in too.
The holidays are trying on me. I am not a grinch, but I am not Cindy Lou either and it lingers. I am just a sad and tired mom. And with one child on the verge of bedtime, I was very excited to be non-responsible. I wanted to power down. I wanted to go to a room and shut the door and just...not.
Grandma stayed in with my oldest while I dried, jammy-ed, fed, booked, and put down the baby, and then very shortly later, Grandma was off spreading more cheer to the next on her list (I imagine.) I didn't see her leave.
The next morning, my daughter came downstairs gave me a big hug, and shared the couch cushion with me, saying it was starting to get too small for us both. I said, "nonsense."
I pulled her in close and rested my head on her head, and smelled her, and told her she smelled good.
"Did Grammy help you wash your hair?" Cause I know I didn't.
"Yep, and I used Dad's shampoo, and I like the way it smells."
"Me too. Did you have fun with Grammy?"
And she went on to tell me how much fun, and how great it was she came over and how she loved showing her the decorations she put up in her room and how she helped her get dressed and, and, and...
It was just a few moments. But it was special.
My daughter felt loved and cared for. And especially in these days when I'm battling my own holiday demons and trying to hang on with tears just below the surface, it was a huge gesture of kindness and support that I don't take for granted.
My mother-in-law came over and washed her grandchild's hair, and it was the sort of gift that could never be wrapped.
There was so much energy, so many lists and suggestions for giving experiences this past holiday, and I'm all for it. Memberships to museums, movie or theater tickets, trampoline passes, or trips to places and events. Give to your heart's content.
I just hope that we recognize that our kids need experiences, eye contact, uninterrupted attention, and quality time on a consistent basis. Our kids need support from more than just their parents. Us and our kids need community, to belong, to lean on, and to celebrate with.
A Year of Firsts
For the majority of the last year, I've been seesawing between extreme joy and extreme sadness: feeling like a mess as I watch my young child move through all of his milestones in his first year of life, and coping with the unexpected loss of my own dad just a few short months after his birth.
When I was prepping for my second child's birth, I wanted to do my postpartum differently. I wanted to ask for more help. I planned to hire more help. I planned to rest more. Planned to have more honest conversations with my partner. I expected to look at my life after birth with experienced eyes and kinder expectations, all as a way to ease the grip postpartum depression may have on me if it came again.
I worked less. I took time to enjoy my baby. I helped my first born adjust to the changes in her life, and I thought things were going quite well. I had prepared, and I was ready to have a newborn in my life again.
Last December, I got several phone calls one night that didn't wake me up. And then I got one that did. My sister, who was living in Vietnam was the first person to get word that our dad had been rushed to the hospital after a fall. It was 2am. He had already undergone surgery.
By 6am my 4-month-old baby boy and I were flying to the West Coast to say goodbye to my father.
I have been saying goodbye to him since then. Milestones my son reaches are events he'll never see. Holidays and traditions are now heavy with the shadow of his missed contributions. His photos, belongings, and gifts are treasures and reminders of how he saw me, knew me, and loved me.
This year of firsts.
I have found a great deal of comfort from not being scared of my grief. What has been surprising is my grief has felt like a friend. I have imagined grief to be a horrible and wicked part of death, but for me, it isn't. And I don't know why. And it's not that I'm not sad. I am so sad. I say this feels like friendship because I'm not hiding. I'm not masking my life as it is now. I'm not afraid to explore how low it will take me.
My children have seen me cry huge sobs that come from amazing memories or waves of the enormity of his leaving. And they have seen me laugh and tell stories of him that are silly or adventurous. My grief really does feel like a seesaw, where the highs are surprising, and the lows are shattering, but both are never for very long. It is so odd to rebound between the two so often.
But in the way many moms do, I have been doing what I need to do, as things come along. My son has learned to crawl, walk, and now climb in the months since my dad died. He has kept me on my toes, kept me present with his small and significant discoveries, and been the daily reminder that my time with him is precious and finite. While I have not shielded my grief from children, I have also not irradicated any possibility of joy. It has been a year of harsh juxtapositions with death and new life overlapping for me to untangle.
This year of first steps, first eulogies, first words, and first deep goodbyes is not a story I would have picked if I were to choose. I do not wish it for anyone.
But it is my story.
I am trying to find ways to navigate life without one of my foundational pillars to offer support. I am trying to heal. I am trying to mourn. I am trying to honor.
As I was returning home after his funeral, I had a candid conversation with my dad on the flight. My son was sleeping in my lap, and we were somewhere over Iowa, I think.
And I shared with him all the things I was afraid of and all the things I was going to miss, and all the stuff I wished I could have said to him before he left. And he told me he loved me, and he was proud of me, and that I had hands and feet to do things I didn't even know were possible yet. That my brain and my heart were incredible, and that he wasn't actually gone. And I believed him.
This year of first has been the beginning of a new relationship with myself, and the people I choose to let into my life. I don't wish this story on anyone, but this year of firsts has given me an incredible amount of hope and purpose.
My dad would have turned 77 today.
He loved German chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce. He was capable and lived in service to others, and gave the most incredible hugs. His hands were like baseball mitts, and he enjoyed two-stepping and being a cowboy. And he loved me. And that love is still felt so well even now.
It is a love that has taught me a new part of the power that comes as a parent. We get to give our children an unconditional love for as long as they need it, even after we're gone.
WE all know women are tired, so why are we surprised when they need a break?
When moms do an average of 98 hours of work a week, or the equivalent of 2.5 jobs, it is no wonder we are tired. But are we getting rest? No. Of all the new parents with kids aged 0-6 months, only 5 percent are able to get a full 8 hours of sleep. And nearly half are only able to 1-3 hours of sleep that is undisturbed! Ug!
And while modern heterosexual couples do share more equitable responsibilities of taking care of newborns at night, the overall emotional baggage and day to day tasks that come along with children are being completed by moms.
Traditionally our society has not been structured as it is currently: living apart from one another, handling all matters of emotional and physical needs for our children without help. We are folk who have survived because of our development of small clans and villages. Support, neighbors, family, and other nursing women around us to help nurture and yes, feed, our children. There is a reason there are "mama tribes" all over the internet. A tribe was a way to succeed in getting a small human to adulthood. The desire is still there for closeness and community.
More and more families are starting to get help for care at night by bringing in a postpartum doula, night nanny, or newborn care specialist during their child's first year. But for long term success - one recurring topic keeps getting beat home: Mom's need to take care of themselves.
Self care. Healthy boundaries. Rest.
Women on average need 20 minute more sleep than men because of our natural multi-tasking behavior.
Just let that sink in - for you heteronormative folks, that's already a deficit if we are going to bed and waking up with our significant other.
Moms are also taking more responsibility on by earning income (ie: Having a job). There are entire sites for inspiration on how to make money as a stay at home mom.
And let's not forget the article that made it's way around the internet opening up dialogue about the emotional work women do which is seemingly inescapable and exhausting. This work especially seems to be the silent resentment builder, and a reality that many men cannot seem to truly understand. (Author of that Harper's Baazar article has a book set to release this fall called Fed UP.)
Here is a brief yet accurate list of times women have claimed to get a "break" from their responsibilities:
With all this, it is no wonder more and more women are starting to take solo vacations, or vacations with their friends, and not their families. For many, they simply cannot separate from the responsibilities and mental work load that gets spent when around their most loved family members. And then...does the family vacation actually give you what you need? Many say no.
When women are not responsible for the needs of their children, a part of their brain that is always running, like open tabs on your computer, gets to rest. Her brain gets to reboot. She gets to breathe.
We know rest is essential for good mental health. We know every person, children and adults, need the same 6 things to thrive, one of them being autonomy. But getting that is hard once you become a parent. The adage that parents sacrifice for their children will always be true in more ways than can be imagined, but losing our entire selves is not a service to our children.
There can be smaller events that can become a part of a mom's self-care regime. But more studies are showing mom's need a break from Mom-ing. Going on vacation from your children seems an act of revolt when really it is an act of necessity. Mothers, we need to take care of ourselves because no one else is going to do it.
Consider a rest or a retreat. Retreat and start again another day.
It was time to be done. It was a good run while it lasted, but it was time. Time to retire the nursing bras.
It was embarassing, really, the number of hours it had been worn. The number of times it had been snapped open and closed was a slow metronome for daily life. But the snaps and clicking are done now. The fabric is tired - an accurate representation of the time I spent not sleeping myself.
These fabric bits were an extension of me. The straps knew where to settle. I had been able to un-clasp and re-clasp the front boob flaps for sometime now. So much that even when wearing clothes that isn't designed for chest-feeding-people I could get a boob in a crying baby's mouth remarkably fast.
My bras have absorbed so much milk, spit, and tears. They have witnessed milestones in my breastfeeding journey: Learning the ropes, latching with ease, and finally mastering the night feeds where I didn't need lights to see the path to putting my baby to breast, settling him down, and getting him back to sleep.
This wireless, kinda flimsy, tired workhorse of an undergarment is ready to go to the Intimates Store in the Sky.
Fairwell friend. You did well.
I'm ready for an underwire again.
Oh, but funny enough, I don't think my boobs were ready. I thought it was time, but my boobs...they are altered. Lol...
Did you know it's normal for one breast to produce more milk than the other? Yep. Things like anatomy, slow let down or fast let down, or baby's preference can mean that one breast develops more or less milk than the other.
So finding a bra that fits well - a very frustrating process for many bra-wearing people - is a new kind of frustrating.
I put on my non-lactating-friendly bra and was so excited. I didn't care that one cup was now too loose by a smidge. I didn't care that the I needed to re-remember how to put the stupid thing on, because...
It was so pretty! The nursing bras that ended up being a part of my regular life for 8 months were beige, or black with not much going on. The bra was there to do a job (and it did very well!) not to look fashionable while doing it.
Seeing some color on my décolletage felt like an awakening. A visual breath. A boost of energy. A lacy hug.
I bought my new armor and wore it out of the store, not wanting to put my dingy dishrag back on. And then I started to do my life.
And some of the shiny wore off.
Some feelings popped up. Some sadness about what I just ended.
The realization that I was really done using my body in a way that was fought for, well earned, and natural.
Some other feelings popped up too. Not good ones. Like the poking feelings from the stupid underwires. And sweaty feelings because this new bra didn't "breathe" as well. Before my boobs were wet because of milk. Now they were wet because of confinement and suffocation.
A know a well-fitting bra shouldn't hurt. But that is all noise to me in this moment. It felt like my new pretty bra that I was so excited about only few days prior was re-introducing me into the world of sexism and objectivity - which sounds extreme, but ug...it felt extreme.
It was pretty. But I loved taking it off for the day.
My nursing bras weren't pretty, but they had started to feel like a worn in pair of jeans: soft, reliable, like a good friend.
My new bra was like meeting Susan from HR. She was trying to be nice and helpful, but really she just wanted me to say in line.
All this was months ago.
Susan is still in rotation, but only for short periods of time. I love knowing she's there. I love looking at her. And I love not wearing my worn-down nursing bra...I really am done with that part of my life.
What I've found works well while wrangling two kids at various levels of mobility (and spontaneous dance-party-ness) is life requires a certain amount of flexibility - literally and mentally. My energy at the beginning of the day is drastically different than the middle and the end, and the amount of time I want to devote to getting ready is minimal. (duh.)
And I also now know why Athleasure is a huge thing. Because ain't nobody got time for that!
It isn't for everyone, but I am so thankful that yoga wear, sporting attire, and my mothering timeline have aligned in this moment of supportive garment history.
Susan, you're pretty, but I'm gonna be Sporty Spice over here for a bit.
Written by Ariel Swift
Ariel Swift (she/her) does most of the writing around this blog, but we love having guest writers and visits!