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.
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
Sleep. We all need it, and babies need a lot of it! So...why do they seem to fight it so hard?
Passing out from exhaustion is not a sustainable way to ensure your body has the rest it needs, and that is why helping our children learn how to sleep is an important part of their first year of life.
For babies younger than 4 months, it is not recommended to introduce sleep teaching, or sleep training. But don't fret - there are still ways to help your littles. Here are some not-so-secret secrets to helping your baby while they are in their first months of life!
Routine VS. Schedule
For parents who are weary and trying to understand how they can help their infants with sleep, one way to give them comfort and increased secure attachment to his or her caregiver is to have a routine. A routine is not a schedule.
A routine is a predictable plan that your child can become accustomed to. It helps them understand what is going on around them, it can introduce them to words that are associated with specific activities, and it can prepare them for what is coming next.
For instance, infants older than a month, and younger than 4 who are at a healthy weight can usually begin a generalized routine of sleeping, eating, and "playing." Playing can also be awake time where your child is exploring their surroundings.
This gental routine does not need to have specific times associates with it to be effective. A routine is not a schedule.
When sleeping, try to place your child to sleep in the same location and beging a sleep routine. You can tell them it's time to take a nap, then draw the drapes together, turn on a sound machine, change their diaper, swaddle them for comfort, and lay them down.
When it's time to eat, you can feed them in the same chair or location of the house.
When it's time to be awake, it is not in the area where they sleep to help signify the difference.
It may seem silly, but your baby will pick up on these cues!
Watch for Signs of Sleepiness - And Make Naps a Priority
Babies need a lot of sleep! And they will let you know when things are beginning to be overwhelming if you watch and learn to interpret the signs.
A tired baby may start to be irritated, may not be able to settle, or may make more obvious cues like yawning and rubbing their eyes. If these occur, begin your sleep routine!
Babies from 0-3 months old need a recommended 14-17 hours of rest a day, including naps! For young babies, it may feel like they are sleeping again right after they ate - which is not a typical - eating food can mean they are expending an incredible amount of energy!
In line with learning cues - being sensitive and aware of how easily a baby can become overtired is a way to help them learn to sleep without needing a bottle or nursing session to settle down.
Having several restful sessions of sleep during the day will help with more restful sleep at night.
It may seem counterintuitive - but sleep begets more sleep for young ones.
Having knowledge that your baby is satisfied nutritionally can give peace of mind to know they are not fussy because of hunger. If you are a nursing mother, it becomes important to make it clear when your baby is nursing for nutrition, and when they are nursing for comfort.
There are many ways to keep track of feedings both electronically and traditionally (with paper!)
Tools we love are Baby Connect - available for both iPhone and Android, and Everyday Mother*.
*Discount code for 10% off Everyday Mother order: "BAARIEL"
Try to Avoid Comparisons
While having feedback from other parents is helpful, and recommendations for what you should do can be a great guide, your baby may not respond well to what worked for another baby. Even if it was a sibling! The first months are not only for your baby to begin to understand the world around them, but also to learn and develop trust in you! You also are learning about this new individual. Guides are just that - guides. Just like one position may not be good to help burp your baby, it makes sense to try a new method, not believe your baby is broken.
Your baby may need help to figure out to sleep soundly, but you are there to offer comfort, preditability, and safety. You can do it!
Patience and Help
Learning your baby will require patience. To have it, you may need help to delegate other responsibilities, or to have a break yourself.
As the adults, we have the cognitive ability to reason, and choose how we want to respond in situations. We we are tired, it makes responding appropriately more difficult.
If you need sleep, you need help. Help to re-prioritize, help to complete tasks, or help to reduce the worry and possible shame associated with life a new expanded family.
Nannies, doulas, family support, and regular self care are ways "successful" parents have learned to acquire the help needed. The myth of the "do-it-all" parent simply won't go away. That parent is hanging on by a thread. We want to help you weave a healthy and stable safety net of support so both you and your child have what they need.
Written by Ariel Swift
Rite of Passage: Noun
1) a ceremony performed in some cultures at times when an individual changes his status, as at puberty and marriage 2) a significant event in a transitional period of someone's life It is seen as a rite of passage to be sleep deprived in early parenthood. I'm here to tell you that is a lie.
It is not a rite. It comes as a slow delineation of adequate support. This thinking comes from being apart from families. It comes from feeling like we are the masters of our universe... and then a new human arrives who doesn't acknowledge our superiority.
But just like babies don't play by the rules, you don't have to do parenthood alone like the current "rules" teach you. You don't have to be sleep deprived at night so you are in a state of constant catch-up during the day.
Being tired will not feel like a badge of honor, so lets stop selling it like one.
Guess what we do.
We come to your house. We help and teach in the early days. We encourage and guide. We offer care and support. We are postpartum doulas and a new family's secret weapon for having a smooth transition from pregnant to their new normal.
We are postpartum doulas and we genuinely care about the success each family is striving towards. With each overnight shift, each swaddle we wrap, and each time we give comfort to a child that has not yet found his or her way to sleep through the night - we are trying to soothe.
Having support in the hours when you are tired doesn't seem like a huge deal before labor. It's just night time, right? But those lonely hours when it's dark and quiet are usually when the ugly voices come out.
A new mom may start hating herself for not being able to get her baby to feed at the breast.
It is right there! Just put it in your mouth and suck!
A new mom may wonder why they let her take this new human home when she doesn't have any idea what to do.
She's crying! She won't stop crying and I've done everything I can think of.
What if, instead of feeling alone and ill-equipped, you had a caring person to be with you? Someone to say "That is perfect. You are doing exactly the right thing. This just takes some time and you are doing so well as your baby is learning."
What if you had a person that was able to bring your baby to you, help you get her to latch, bring you a glass of water in the middle of the night, then swoop out of the room when the baby was done, to complete the burping, diaper changes, and ease your baby to sleep?
Being a parent is hard. Being a new parent is really hard.
You deserve to be equipped with tools that help you feel confident in this new stage of life.
You deserve to give your baby the best, and a parent who is rested is a better version than a parent who is tired.
New moms and dads do go through a rite of passage when they become parents: that is labor. That is birth.
The nights that follow are life, and you don't have to go through life and parenthood alone.
Written by Ariel Swift
Does this sound familiar?"She was sleeping fine and now I can't put her down!"
"I don't know what's wrong. He is fussy all the time and he acts like he wants to eat, but then he doesn't eat. Is he okay?"
"She was on a great schedule and now I can't seem to get her back in sync!"
As much as you plan and as much as you read, parenthood will never go the way you think it will. We get into patterns. We start to rely on certain behaviors from our children. We think we know what is coming next.
And that's when it happens - the organized world you worked so hard to create starts falling apart. Regardless of your parenting philosophy, your baby is going to go through life and experience what experts are now calling mental leaps. These are periods of development and learning that babies go through where (it seems) all of a sudden, they didn't know something, and then they do.
"Research has shown that babies make 10 major, predictable, age-linked changes – or leaps – during their first 20 months of their lives. During this time, they will learn more than in any other time." explains the Wonder Weeks Team.
You may have called them growth spurts.
Growth spurts occur between 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 9 months (more or less). And they continue on into adolescence and teen years. But because your baby can't tell you what he or she is feeling, as parents, we'll see the cues (or not) and try to meet our babies where they are.
So what are the cues? Each child will respond to these developmental changes a little differently, but some common behaviors are:
You may be reading a book about your child's behavior at the same time they are going through one of these changes and not put two and two together.
Because when your baby is fussy, and you are tired, or you need to get work done, or dishes, or laundry, or a shower, it can be difficult to stop and remember,
"OH! My baby just learned that he has hands!
... And he can operate them!
...And that means he can grab that toy that I've been shaking in front of his face!"
So if your baby need a little more of your time, it's for good reason. If she seems to require a bit more attention and caring and love, try to remember that she may feel like she just jumped off a cliff, and needs some help finding a safe way to land.
Our Postpartum Doulas are just a call away if you need help for a few days, or long term support. We are well aware of the trials that come with leaping babies and we will help you, and them, every step of the way.It's a wide, wide world. You are your child's guide through it- itty bitty steps to great huge leaps.
Written by Ariel Swift
Ariel Swift (she/her) does most of the writing around this blog, but we love having guest writers and visits!