On building mental stamina, owning my birth, & redefining how I want to live and work

On building mental stamina, owning my birth, & redefining how I want to live and work

Sun & Moon Signs:

I’m a Scorpio Sun, and Capricorn Moon and Rising.  Rafael is a Taurus Sun, Sagittarius Moon (like his dad) and Taurus Rising. 

PREGNANCY

What was important to you when it came to your pregnancy?

Feeling strong and healthy in my body, and feeling connected to the growing baby in my belly.  Also, my mental health.  I cherished creating more space for moments I could tune into my body and savor this life experience.  I found the responsibilities of my outer world to be very demanding at times during this sensitive period and I knew I wanted to create as much space to explore this beautiful process of pregnancy as I could.  Six weeks before my due date I did a 3-day silent meditation and went on maternity leave two weeks before my due date to enjoy the end of my pregnancy and to be mentally and physically ready for birth.  The last thing I wanted was to go into labor while my mind was still on a work deadline—I wanted to be in it mind body and spirit.    

What forms of exercise did you do? 

Leading up to the pregnancy and the first month after conception I was practicing ashtanga.  As I got into my 1st trimester I slowed down quite a lot and kept up a modified practice at home.  I returned to the studio in my 2nd  trimester. Coming back and hearing the cacophony of ujjayi breathing almost brought me to tears.  I was home again and so elated to be practicing with others again. That group yoga experience is really special. 

In my third trimester, it became more difficult to physically get to the studio so I started doing a modified home practice again.  Lots of hip opening poses, squats, and utkatasanas! 

Ashtanga yoga is a very athletic and rigorous type of yoga.  My practice at the time was almost 90 minutes.  It helped me build physical and mental stamina that was really useful during labor and birth.  As they say, birth is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. 

I also walked a ton and continued biking to the office into my 2nd trimester until my legs bumped up too much against my belly. I haven’t biked since and I miss it!

BIRTH

What was your birthing experience like?

I wanted an unmedicated birth in water.  In the end I didn’t go into labor naturally and had to be induced so I was only able to labor (not give birth) in the pool.  Amazing how just one medical intervention can throw a woman’s birth plans off course, right?  I waited as long as I could—16 or 17 days past my due date (of course making sure that everything was alright with Rafael along the way) before I decided to pursue the induction.  All along I felt the choice of when was mine to make and felt very empowered making the decisions with all the info that I had at hand and carefully considering all my options and the recommendations from the hospital. I did go outside of hospital policies in terms of timing for the induction, but I still felt taken care of, safe, and that my decisions were respected.

I was first induced with a vaginal prostaglandin and then when contractions didn’t come I was put on Pitocin.  My labor was about 20 hours and quite efficient, meaning my dilation was pretty stead over that time..  I labored in water, on a birth ball, on all fours on the bed.  The most incredible part was my husband’s physical and emotional support, not to mention this deep kiss we had at one point that gave me a surge of oxytocin—the high from that kiss gave me that extra stamina and support to stay the course.  I was determined to labor without anesthesia and at one point almost gave in. I remember Aran talked to the midwife on call about what we could do to get over this bump. At that point they checked my cervix and I was either 7 cm or 9 cm dilated which gave me the motivation to keep going. It’s also amazing how well you can do if you just focus on one contraction at a time. We really can do anything for a minute!

Of course, the most memorable part that I will never forget is holding my son in my arms for the first time.  The midwife placed him right on my belly and he was so slippery and beautiful.  Just a perfect little baby. 

Did you have any fears around giving birth?  How did you view your birth differently after? 

Growing up I remember fearing it—mostly fearing the pain.  And then some fears developed hearing my mom’s stories.  She said her pubic synthesis split by a couple centimeters and that she was in the hospital for 2 weeks after to heal.  It’s strange, but I don’t remember her talking about the pain of labor and birth as much as I remember her experience right after.  But my midwives quickly explained that it’s not how wide the hips are that creates the birth and that the baby is rarely ever too big for the mom’s pelvis. 

After I gave birth, I remember feeling like a lioness—incredibly powerful.  I had never felt that way before.    

Did you have a specific kind of birth experience in mind?  Was your actual birth experience a bit different? How did you approach any decisions that were outside of your initial plan?

I believed that with the right support and frame of mind I could labor and birth without any meds.  Enough women in my life had unmedicated births and so I believed that if they were able to do it, so could I.  While I didn’t know all that I know now as a childbirth educator, intuitively I knew that the type of environment I had during labor and birth influenced the birth experience for mom and baby. So I wanted to birth in water and I wanted a dark and inviting environment. 

Rafael had his own plans though.  I ended up being induced, so had to be hooked up to electronic fetal monitoring, to make sure the little guy was doing okay throughout the labor.  As a result, hospital policy prevented me from birthing in water, but I could still labor in water if I wanted to.  While I gave birth on the hospital bed, my husband and I were able to control much of the environment around me—keeping the room dark and quiet, diffusing essential oils, etc. Once we decided to go with the induction, we focused on all the things we had within our control, and that was empowering.

I didn’t like the idea of being induced and starting off with a medical intervention, and I waited as long as I felt safe for me and Rafael.  Perhaps if I had a homebirth or had some more expert support to get my body into labor naturally I wouldn’t have had the interventions that I did.  I did try pumping, induction massage, chiropractic care, and induction acupuncture, but none of it seemed to get me into labor.   I do think it still prepared my uterus and my body for the medical induction though.  The universe works in funny ways.  In the end, I had a really positive experience and felt heard and supported by both my husband and my care team at the hospital.  

 What was the biggest thing that you did or that’s part of your lifestyle that helped you prepare for birth and/or motherhood?

I read a few books, sought out positive birth stories, practiced yoga, practiced meditation (though I wish I had the resources I have now like the GentleBirth app), and took a Bradley Method birth class with Susanna Noon who is now teaching in Beverly, MA. (I didn’t know about GentleBirth at the time and I found out about Bradley through a yoga student of mine).  All of this helped me get my body and mind ready. 

Would you do anything different now that you've gone through your pregnancy and birth? 

I would have had a doula attend my labor and birth.  I met with one doula, but didn’t feel we needed to make that investment because Aran seemed to be quite well prepared through the Bradley childbirth class.  In the end, he was prepared, but given the induction and my 20 hour labor, a doula or another birth partner would have given him that chance to rest and refuel while I received her support.  Rafael was born at 4:49am so it had been a long day and night for him and I was making him work by having him press on my sacrum literally almost every contraction.  Right before pushing when my contractions were a minute apart he was trying to rest—poor guy!  He was totally fine once baby came, but I think having that support would have offered him a more rested transition into parenthood. 

MOTHERHOOD

What were the first several weeks postpartum for you like?  Is it something you thought about and prepared for?  

I don’t remember preparing for my postpartum too much. My husband decided to take 5 weeks off of work to be with us and help with the transition – and our move to a different town two weeks after Rafael was born!   I trusted that I would get lactation support if I needed it, but again, just like in labor I had the support of my thoughtful and loving husband.  I know I’m lucky that he, first off, wanted to be with us those first transitional weeks, and secondly that he could be with us.  Most partners don’t have that luxury or perhaps even feel equipped to take care of the new mom and babe.  I know guys (and female partners too) are experiencing their own emotional rollercoasters during this time. 

Two weeks after Rafael was born we closed on a house in Worcester, where Aran grew up.  We moved right next to his sister and brother-in-law who have two kids and his parents live about 2 minutes away.  It felt like a village and I was so grateful to have family nearby.

Other than family, I didn’t want any visitors.  The first 6 weeks postpartum is such a sensitive time for both mom and baby.  I feel most nourished in the quiet.  Moving and signing all the papers on the day we closed  on our house was far from that and there was a night or two also when Aran still slept in our old apartment so he could pack up all the boxes.  So I wanted to create as much peace, stillness, and quiet, in our new home, and Rafael’s new world, as I could those first several weeks. 

I had heard of the “confinement” period in some cultures, where, for example, it’s just the parents with the newborn for the first 6 weeks and no one else.  I totally see the virtue in that and I wonder if this also makes for a much smoother transition for the newborn especially when they’re in a very protected, dark, and warm environment the first 9 or so months of their existence.  While Rafael cried often during the “bewitching” hour, I too wonder if everything around me, including I, was peaceful, serene and quiet, if he had responded to his new “home” differently.  If anyone reading this chose this type of postpartum experience, I’d love to hear about how your baby responded and if you feel it made for a much smoother transition into motherhood.

How has becoming a mother shifted the way you work, or how you view your job? 

The first 15 months were emotionally challenging, but filled with moments of grace.  I returned to work after my 3-month maternity leave – which I would have loved to extend, but succumbed to the expectation to return to work.  I wasn’t ready to return mentally or emotionally—I know many new moms feel this way.  I kept doing what was expected during that first year or so and it took a toll.  I continued to breastfeed while my mom or my parents-in-law stayed with Rafael.  This was a joy, but I felt so torn between two parts of myself—the nurturing, present mother and the high-achieving, giving, hard-working career woman.  Rafael would inevitably venture toward me throughout the day (I worked from home for the most part) and I loved picking him up and nursing him. And then he would crawl away distracted by his grandmother, a sound, or something he wanted to put in his mouth.  Despite these “interruptions” or perhaps because of them, I was working longer and harder, trying to “make-up” for the intuitive need to be a mother.  Now I realize how healing that motherly side was for my own self-evolution and becoming. 

At 15 months, we enrolled him in a full-time day care.  It made a huge difference. I pumped once a day at that point—it wasn’t much, and then stopped pumping after I fell sick one day 4 months later.  I could barely eat so I no longer produced as much milk.  I did continue to breastfeed though (milk does come back!), and at the time I’m writing this I still am, and do so at times during the day and at night.  I know part of it is just habit, but I honestly love it (most days!) and I love the natural oxytocin high and being able to soothe and comfort him this way.   

Those first 15 months weren’t easy, and pumping wasn’t fun or easy either, but I’m glad I stuck it out and kept enjoying the ever-changing process.  Nothing is forever.  I figure I might as well enjoy it as much as I can.  And now that I’m not pumping, it doesn’t affect my life as much, though I am often the one still nursing him to sleep at night and for naps on the weekends. . 

I love delving deep into all kinds of experiences, so this is probably why I also became a childbirth educator and got trained in prenatal yoga.  This little person not only introduced me to a new way of being and living, but also inspired some new passions. 

How do you take care of yourself / attend to your self-care needs as a mama? 

My self-care practice has both evolved and gotten non-negotiable over the years, especially now.  It used to just be my full 80 minute ashtanga yoga practice.  Now, yoga and moving my body in this way is still non-negotiable because it brings me so much joy and sets me up for the day mentally and physically, I just don’t get to do it everyday and most of the time I just do 10-15 minutes in the morning (either 5 Sun A’s and 5 Sun B’s or 5 Sun A’s and whatever poses my body is calling for that day). 

I’ve also integrated meditation into my daily regimen.  It started with 10 minutes at some point in the day of just focusing on breath.  Now I’m doing 15 minutes at least once a day, but usually twice a day—one in the morning and one before Rafael comes home.  I’m exploring both Ziva Meditation and the 10% Happier App.  I wish I knew about the GentleBirth app during pregnancy and for those first few months postpartum—but, I will definitely use it if we have another baby.

Both yoga and meditation are practices and I love that there’s no end in my progress in each.  They help me tune in, rest my mind and body, de-excite my nervous system, and leaving me feeling like myself, instead of a crazy stress ball.  

I also get acupuncture and can feel the difference in the state of my health and well-being, especially around the time of my period. 

And I’m working on taking days “off”.  The first week of the new year I took a “no responsibility” day.   I did yoga, read magazines (which I never do anymore) and rested my mind from planning, responsibilities, and obligations.  From this space I had new ideas come up, and I reignited my creativity.  I am scheduling more days like this and starting with one every 3 months.  We’ll see how it goes, but I think they’re necessary, no matter where you are in life, or what you do.  We cannot sustain our energy and potential to succeed if we don’t let ourselves just be and float every once in a while. 

What feels challenging to you right now? What are some ways you’re tackling it? 

The days when I’m on my own, especially in the evening, when my husband is off at a catering event feel challenging.  I dreaded them when Rafael was younger and I still dread them, but I have a different mindset about it now.  There are still those moments when I need to cook dinner and Rafael wants to go outside and play, and he cries and cries.  Continuing to breastfeed has been a saving grace in those times, as it helps to calm him down.  But, sometimes I still get frustrated and angry and I know he picks up on that.  I’m working on tuning into my body and coming back to a place of peace and equanimity at those moments.  It’s a practice.  I also changed around my thoughts from “Why does he have to leave me all by myself” and “He’s having the time of his life away from home and us!” to realizing that my thoughts are influencing my emotions which influence my reality.  So now my thoughts are more like “This isn’t easy, but I know if Aran had a choice between working a catering event or staying with us, he would choose us.”  And “I can and am taking days for myself for work or play so it’s a balance for the both of us.”  And honestly, changing my thinking and feeling more compassion for myself and the situation has made a huge difference and makes those moments when emotions are about to get out of hand more short-lived.