My birth story with Camille

I always heard that childbirth rarely goes as planned, which was certainly the case with our first baby, Aurelia, and it turns out our second child’s birth was equally unpredictable. I’d wanted to give birth to Aurelia at home but after 24 hours of labor I was dehydrated, exhausted and not progressing, so I decided to transfer to the hospital. Since my transfer wasn’t an emergency, we had the luxury of choosing the best (not the closest) hospital, and so we went to North Fulton Hospital on the recommendation of my midwife. The care Aurelia and I received there was outstanding, and to be honest, it restored my faith in empowered hospital birth experiences.

On the same day as Aurelia’s six month well visit with her pediatrician, I confirmed what I already knew: that I was pregnant with our second baby. I shared the good news with my midwife and let her know that I wanted to try a home birth again. I had several reasons for wanting a home birth, but I desperately wanted a water birth, and hospitals that allow them are hard to come by.

My pregnancy was blessedly uneventful; in fact, I felt significantly better than I had while I was pregnant with Aurelia. I felt so good during my first trimester that I convinced myself I must be having a boy (if you believe the old wives’ tale that morning sickness is worse with girls). In my case, morning sickness was worse when I was depleted, and the weekly acupuncture visits and a few supplements that I started after Aurelia was born made me feel healthier than I had in years.

I took our good health for granted because everything was going well…until my 37 week appointment. My midwife heard an irregular heartbeat and urged me pretty insistently to drive directly to the hospital for monitoring. Fortunately, after a couple of hours of monitoring, the hospital’s midwife told me that the baby’s heartbeat was steady and strong and that sometimes babies can get “worked up” so their heartrate fluctuates. Regardless, the experience left me shaken. I drove home, burst into tears and told my husband that I no longer wanted a home birth. It actually wasn’t the fear of something going wrong that changed my mind; I’d had a nagging feeling throughout my pregnancy that something didn’t feel right about a home birth. That day, driving home from the hospital, I realized that I’d chosen to do a home birth sort of by default, without really considering what I wanted for this pregnancy. I wanted to do a home birth to prove to myself that I could, not because it was the right choice for this baby. I also wanted to give birth at home to minimize time away from Aurelia since I’d never spent the night away from her…again, not because it was right for this baby. After making the decision to deliver again at North Fulton, I felt a weight lift.

Because of the change in plans, I found a new midwife who was allowed to deliver at the hospital and my previous midwife remained on my birth team as my doula. During my first appointment with my new midwife (at 37 weeks!), I found out, to my surprise and delight, that North Fulton actually allows water births. Finally, my birth plan felt right.

Over the following weeks, I had several labor false starts. The day before my due date, my husband took matters into his own hands and made eggplant parmesan to try to bring on labor. Within two hours of eating it, at about 8:00 pm, I let my midwife and doula know that I was starting to feel contractions. At first, they were mild and irregular, but by 10:00 pm, they had become more intense, a minute long and about 12 minutes apart. By 10:30, they were about 90 seconds long and six minutes apart, so my husband packed the car with our overnight bags, my yoga ball, snacks for me during labor and gifts for the nursing staff and my birth team. We met my midwife at her office at 12:30 am; she said I was 4 cm dilated and that we were ready to go to the hospital. By the time we drove to the hospital and got settled in our room, about 15 minutes later, I was 6 cm dilated.

The nurse attached a fetal heart monitoring device to my belly. In order to qualify for a water birth, the baby’s heart rate had to remain normal for 30 minutes, which fortunately it did! After that, the nurse removed the monitor and I was free to get off the bed and move around the room. I labored on the yoga ball and then in a standing position leaning over the bed for about an hour. My midwife gave me a cold towel with peppermint essential oils which significantly helped keep my nausea under control, and my doula applied counter pressure on my hips and sacrum during contractions which made the sensations so much more bearable.

At around 2:15 am, my doula suggested a change in position to keep labor moving, so I went to the bathroom to labor on the toilet. I jokingly asked “do I have to?” This was my least favorite position when I was laboring with Aurelia because it really strengthens contractions, so I was prepared for more intensity. Once I sat on the toilet, I threw up from the pain almost immediately, but the change of position worked; I felt almost a thud when the baby dropped even further down.

At this point, I asked my doula “what’s the plan?” because I was ready to get into the birth pool for some relief. She and my midwife both agreed that I was ready, so I got in around 2:45 am. WOW…the birth pool was incredible. The warmth of the water was so therapeutic, and the almost weightless feeling helped with the pressure and discomfort. It definitely didn’t mask the pain (I still threw up again) but it took the edge off and gave me the support I needed for the last phase of labor. I remember talking to the baby and asking him/her to work together with me during the last phase of labor. During contractions, my doula urged me to use sound to push energy downwards, helping move the baby and helping curb my nausea as well.

About an hour later, around 3:45, I moved into a side lying position in the water. My midwife and doula said that this was a good position for pushing, and I realized for the first time that I might actually pull this off! It seemed too good to be true. A few minutes later, my midwife and nurse brought in the receiving table for the baby, a mirror and a light on a stand to shine into the pool; until now, the only light in the room was from twinkle lights hung on the wall around the birth pool and bathroom. I couldn’t believe I was getting so close!

A few minutes later, I started feeling the urge to bear down, and I knew I had made it to the pushing phase of labor. What came next felt so primal. My body completely took over during contractions and started pushing on its own. The sounds I made were guttural and almost animalistic. While I was pushing, my water broke. It felt and sounded like a champagne cork shooting out of a bottle. I had my eyes closed and was so focused that I was surprised by the sensation and looked at my doula. I had no idea what happened!

My doula told me that I could reach down and feel the baby’s head, which was another boost I needed for the last few pushes. After that, the baby’s head started to crown and I felt the infamous ring of fire as my body stretched to fit around the head. Now, just six weeks later, I don’t remember the pain. I just remember being ecstatic and in complete awe that I was about to meet my baby and that I finally got the water birth I wanted.

I had a big contraction, which turned out to be the last during labor, and it felt right to kept pushing after it was over. My midwife said “LOOK, Lindsey!” because my eyes were shut tight and I was about to miss the baby being born! It was 4:22 am. I’ll never forget how she looked coming up from the water with her eyes open. My husband was supposed to announce the gender but I was closer to her and shouted “it’s a GIRL!” When they handed her to me, my first thoughts were 1) this is a big baby, and she feels so strong, and 2) she’s so calm. She was looking around and quiet; we had to work very hard to agitate her enough to make her cry. I absolutely believe that she was so calm because of our birth experience and the environment.

My midwife asked me to reach into the water to grab the umbilical cord to see if it was still pulsing. Once it stopped, she helped my husband cut it, then she helped me out of the water and into the bed while my husband did skin-to-skin time with the baby. Then he handed her to me to nurse. I held her for about an hour, then another nurse came in to measure the baby. She was 8 pounds 10 ounces and 22 inches long and perfectly healthy. While the baby was with the nurse, my nurse helped me go to the bathroom. After having an epidural with Aurelia, I have to say that it was so nice to be able to walk on my own immediately and not have a catheter this time around.

Throughout the entire process of labor and delivery, I felt so focused, in control and present. While the sensations were incredibly intense, I didn’t try to run and hide from the pain like I had with Aurelia. With each contraction, I made the decision to run toward the intensity because I was more afraid of a long labor (my first was 34 hours) than I was of the intensity of one contraction. I credit that mentality with my steady progression and short 8 hour labor.

At one point in the labor pool, I remember joking with my midwife and doula, and then I realized because we’d been talking, I hadn’t had a contraction in a few minutes. I wanted to keep labor moving, so I decided to bring on a contraction, and instantly, one started. In that moment, I understood the mind-body connection in a new way and truly appreciated how critical your mentality is to the labor experience.

That’s why your birth team, your state of mind and your environment are such critical elements to the outcome of your labor experience. If I can offer one piece of unsolicited advice it’s this: don’t settle into auto pilot when it comes to creating your birth plan. Dig deep. Get honest with yourself about what you want. Be picky about who’s by your side when the time comes. And if necessary, be prepared fight like hell for yourself and your baby. You can’t control much about the miraculous, beautiful, transformative event that is the birth of your child, but you can control that.

Advice & resources for an evidence-based birth

When I was pregnant with our daughter, I started researching standard of care practices in prenatal care as well as labor and delivery. My research started with curiosity about ultrasounds, and from there, I really started questioning everything. Into my second pregnancy, I’m still doing research and finding new information all the time. My biggest takeaways from the experience are:

  1. Quite a few care practices, even ones that I assumed were perfectly fine, are considered controversial because of the health outcomes for mom and/or baby. I realized really quickly that my most important job as a pregnant mama was doing my homework so that I could make educated decisions. Knowledge is power.
  2. You have the right to decline care. Regardless of how information is presented to you, you have the final say. Fight for your rights, and enlist your loved ones and/or birth worker to advocate for you.
  3. Once you decide which care practices you are and aren’t comfortable with, find the best providers that align with your vision. Not everyone has a ton of options based on location, insurance and other resources, but try to make the most of what’s available to you. You’ll find so many differences doctor by doctor, practice by practice and state by state. For instance, during my first pregnancy, we lived in California, and I was put under an enormous amount of pressure to do prenatal testing….and they made us jump through hoops to opt out. In Georgia where we live now, prenatal testing is more of an opt-in approach.

In terms of care practices to research, I recommend starting with:

  • Ultrasounds, particularly the 20-week anatomy scan 
  • Glucose test during the third trimester to test for gestational diabetes (There are alternatives to the typical formula; my midwife gave me grape juice.)
  • Daily baby aspirin (81 mg) for birthers over 35 years old
  • RhoGAM shot during pregnancy for people with a negative blood type
  • Methods for inducing labor
  • Medications given during labor such as epidurals and Pitocin
  • Episiotomy
  • Delayed umbilical cord clamping
  • Hepatitis B vaccine for newborns, administered immediately after birth
  • Vitamin K shot for newborns, administered immediately after birth, and the alternative oral Vitamin K treatment
  • Antibiotic eye ointment for newborns, administered immediately after birth

This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope that it illustrates the point: you have the right to question what goes into your body and the body of your baby, particularly if your gut instinct says “no.” For instance, my OBGYN told me at the end of my first trimester to start taking Baby Aspirin every day because I was considered geriatric at 35 years old. She said that it has been shown to decrease the risk of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a very serious condition, but one that I don’t fit the risk profile for. And as someone who rarely takes medicine when I’m not pregnant, the idea of taking medicine every single day for my last two trimesters made me very uneasy.  I followed her advice and began taking it but stopped after a couple of months because I had a nagging feeling in my body that it wasn’t the right thing for me. Listen to that voice and find resources that help you make informed decisions that are right for you.

Doing your homework is critical, regardless of whether or not you follow medical advice. One decision that was especially complicated for me was the  20-week anatomy scan. Ultimately, the uneasiness about exposing the baby to the ultrasound outweighed any benefits of the scan for me. It was a difficult decision. In fact, I scheduled and then canceled multiple appointments. I was torn because at that point in my pregnancy, the birth center where I wanted to deliver couldn’t take me as a patient unless I agreed to the 20-week anatomy scan. (The birth center made it very clear that their requirements were set by the state, and that in most cases, not evidence based). Knowing that one decision would change my entire birth plan made it especially complicated. (You can read my birth story here.) Make sure you know those details in advance so that you can make tradeoffs for yourself. 


My midwife recommended the website Evidence Based Birth, and I found it incredibly balanced and helpful. I’ve also started listening to their podcast.

Natural birth books are another really great resource to find out more information on your care options, the pros and cons of each and alternatives to standard practices. Whether you plan to have a medicated or unmedicated birth, you will learn so much about all aspects of birth, pain management and how to feel empowered throughout your pregnancy. My favorites are listed here. They’re super informative and non-judgmental.

Gift for mom to honor a rainbow baby

I’m not a huge fan of the term “push present,” a gift given by a loved one marking the occasion of “pushing” a baby into the world. But I love the sentiment of honoring the birth of a baby and mom’s transition into motherhood.

My husband and I agreed that I would look for something I liked to commemorate our daughter’s birth, but after eight months of looking on and off, I’ve really struggled to find something that captures her essence.

Today, I came across a really unique rainbow necklace by Bryan Anthonys that might work perfectly. Our daughter is a rainbow baby, a baby that was born after a pregnancy loss. But she’s more than that definition. She’s our miracle. Like a rainbow, she brings so much light and joy. Her birth brought heaven down to earth. Like childbirth, rainbows can be explained by science but they’re still downright awe inspiring. They’re both a reminder of the sacredness and beauty of life.

How are you commemorating the birth of a baby?

My Atlanta-based pregnancy team

Pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period are incredibly vulnerable, raw and transformative times for birthers. Now is not the time to settle with substandard care. You should feel supported, safe and free to be honest about your questions and concerns. If you aren’t happy with your provider, find a new one. And if you have the resources, consider building a team of support, or at a minimum, do your research so that you have contacts on standby as needed.

In choosing my pregnancy team, I did a ton of research and also paid attention to what I instinctually felt about the caregivers I found. My physical therapist is an hour drive from my house but I connected with her on a deep level, and I knew we needed to work together. I had the luxury of choosing chemistry and comfort over convenience.

Here’s the dream team:

MIDWIFE – Margaret Byrne, Empowered Birth Atlanta

I’m a big believer in the midwifery model of care for pregnancy and childbirth and have so much to say about how empowered and genuinely cared for I felt during my own experience. During each of my monthly appointments with Margaret, I met with her face to face for an hour. She got to know me and my husband very well, and she was an amazing resource with tools and wisdom that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. We talked about my physical health, but she also understood that my emotional health was just as important. She was by my side for 18 hours during my labor, she fed me my first meal after delivery and she came to our home two days later for a postpartum check in. She’s exactly what I needed to feel prepared, safe and seen.


I highly recommend seeing a chiropractor throughout your pregnancy and postpartum. I’d never been to a chiropractor before I got pregnant, and I was super nervous when I first started going during my second trimester. But I can honestly say each appointment instantly made my back, pelvic and sciatica pain disappear. Seeing a chiropractor regularly towards the end of pregnancy can help optimize the baby’s birth position, which is key to a smooth birth experience. I have small hips, and the chiropractors at The Brainery helped relieve tightness in my pelvic area and improved my pelvic position to allow more room for the baby. Our postpartum visits have helped with my back pain from lifting, carrying and breastfeeding the baby. My baby also gets adjustments, they immediately addressed early signs of torticollis when she was first born and have helped us support her physical and mental development. If you decide to work with a chiropractor during pregnancy, make sure to find one that’s Webster certified.

ACUPUNCTURIST Dr. Hannah Tran, Tran Acupuncture

I started seeing Hannah at about four months postpartum to address my depletion and regain my vitality. Her acupuncture treatments and supplements she prescribed totally alleviated my sleep issues, lack of appetite and exhaustion and helped me feel like myself again. I saw major results in the first two weeks, and after six weeks, the difference was dramatic. Now that I’m entering week 10 of my second pregnancy, I’m happy to report that I’ve had basically no morning sickness with this pregnancy, and I truly believe Hannah’s care has made all the difference.


If you’re planning to breastfeed, it’s a good idea to have a lactation consultant’s number saved in your phone, just in case. We met with a lactation consultant in the hospital, but only for a few minutes, and things seemed to go okay until we got home. Turns out, our daughter had trouble latching due to tongue, lip and cheek ties. My midwife recommended Atlanta Lactation, and it was such a relief to have an expert meet with us in the privacy of our home, see the actual chairs and pillows I was using to breastfeed, troubleshoot with us and make recommendations on methods and products to try.

PHYSICAL THERAPIST – Dr. Jennifer McGowan, ReGenerate Physiotherapy

Dr. McGowan did so much more for me than address my pelvic floor health during pregnancy. She gave me exercises to help prepare my body for birth. She introduced me to the concept of postpartum depletion. She asked about my mental health postpartum and gently let me know that anxiety can show up in a lot of different ways during the first months after birth. She diagnosed my diastasis recti and designed a recovery program to rebuild my strength; within six months, my diastasis was healed. Fortunately, my tearing and pelvic floor healed on their own over time, but having Dr. McGowan confirm that things were normal gave me such peace of mind. If she’s taught me anything it’s that you don’t have to suffer with pain and incontinence after having a baby, and there’s a lot you can do preventatively if you have the right support. If you decide to work with a physical therapist, definitely look for one who specializes in women’s health and the pelvic floor.

Healing herbal bath tea for postpartum

Herbs can be incredibly effective at reducing inflammation, soothing perineal tissue and healing tears after a vaginal birth. The blend I’ve chosen below is made up of beautiful and fragrant blossoms that are uplifting, soothing, healing and antiseptic.

A fresh bath can be taken once or twice daily for three to five days after a vaginal birth. (If you’ve had a Cesarean birth, a lavender or rose foot bath is an excellent alternative way to pamper yourself.) These herbs also aid in healing of the umbilical cord stump, so baby and birther can take this healing bath together.

In addition to using this blend in a bath, it can be used as herbal compresses, peri-rinses, sitz baths and frozen maxi pads, as directed below.

I found all of the herbs for my bath tea certified organic at Mountain Rose Herbs. They sometimes do sell out, so plan ahead!


  • 1/2 cup (15 g) comfrey leaves
  • 1/2 cup (18 g) dried lavender
  • 1/2 cup (5 g) calendula blossoms
  • 1/2 cup (130 g) sea salt

Directions: In a medium pot, bring 6 cups (1.4 L) water to a boil. Add the comfrey, lavender and calendula, remove from heat, and let steep for 30 minutes, covered. Strain the tea water.

For herbal bath: Add tea directly to the tub, along with 1/2 cup of sea salt while filling with warm water.

For peri-rinse: Transfer the tea into a peri bottle. Use it to cleanse the entire area between the legs, especially after going to the bathroom. This helps with inflammation and stinging.

For sitz bath: A sitz bath is a nice alternative if you don’t have a bath tub available or if you don’t feel like fully immersing into the tub. A sitz bath is a basin that fits into your toilet seat. Simply fill the basin with tea and soak for 10 to 15 minutes or as long as you’re comfortable.

For compresses: Soak a washcloth in the tea and apply warm or cold to the perineum as needed to reduce tenderness and swelling.

For frozen maxi pads: Dip the maxi pads into the tea, one by one. Twist each pad gently to wring out the excess, then place them side by side on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer. When the pads are frozen, stack them in a zip-tight plastic bag and return them to the freezer. You can sit on a frozen pad for 7 to 10 minutes at a time.

For partners: how to prepare for labor

For most people, labor is hard work. It also can be incredibly powerful and transformative, particularly if both the birther and her partner feel present, prepared and supported. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I’m a big advocate for empowered births, and a partner’s role in enabling an empowered birth is critical. Most birthers spend hours laboring at home before going to the hospital, so in most cases, you (the partner) will be the only support she has during that time.

Below, I’ve outlined four ways for a partner to show up and support the birther during labor, directly impacting her physical comfort, emotional state and the overall labor experience.

  1. Do your homework. It’s so important to understand the phases of labor so that you can best know how labor is progressing and how to support the birther according to what she’s experiencing physically and emotionally. Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon is an amazing resource that describes each stage of labor according to what’s happening physically as contractions open the cervix and prepare the body for childbirth. The book then describes the emotional roadmap of labor, describing the emotional signposts –excited, serious, self doubt — that alert the partner to a very reliable map of the experience of labor that post people have from beginning to end. Understanding all aspects of labor — frequency of contractions, length of contractions and emotional signposts — collectively is the only way to accurately determine how labor is progressing, which is critical to effectively coaching and supporting the birther.
  2. Be her advocate. I’ve heard so many birthers express disappointment about their birth experience because they felt their wishes weren’t being heard by hospital staff. For soft-spoken or non-confrontational birthers (myself included), that can be a legitimate concern. My husband is direct and fearlessly protective of me, so for that reason and many others, I was relieved to have him by my side during labor. While I was pregnant, we spent a lot of time reviewing my birth plan, not only what I wanted, but what I desperately wanted to avoid. We got familiar with the consequences of routine hospital care like sweeping membranes, epidurals and Pitocin so that we could make educated decisions in the moment. Even if your plans change, you’ll be so glad you had the conversation in advance. I cannot stress how important this simple discussion was for us, particularly after 24 hours of labor at home when my birth plan went sideways.
  3. Ease her discomfort. There are so many ways to help the birther feel more comfortable and at ease, particularly during the early stages of labor. Foot massages, back rubs, cold washcloths, heating pads and guided breathing seem simple but can go a really long way. Once my contractions got more intense, I was surprised how effective the famous hip squeeze was as counterpressure to lessen my pain. Labor loves movement, so knowing a handful of good positions to labor in can help keep the birther moving and labor progressing. The Doula’s Guide to Empowering Your Birth by Lindsey Bliss is a great, accessible resource on tools like these for labor.
  4. Talk her through it. Words of affirmation can be incredibly powerful. When I was creating my birth plan, my midwife said that she often asks her clients to write a list of positive phrases that they’d like to hear during the more difficult phases of labor to give them strength and comfort. Meaningful, heart-felt encouragement can go far, especially if “words of affirmation” is the new mom’s love language. Another way to help the birther through discomfort is by guiding her through contractions, either through breathing, guided visualizations (like waves crashing on the shore or a flower blooming) or both. Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way is a good resource for examples of guided visualizations to use according to different stages of labor.

Pregnancy timeline for health and wellness

When I was pregnant with our first child, I created a “pregnancy by the month” note in my phone where I kept a running list of classes, books, wellness activities and other milestones so that I could consolidate all of the things I’d read from 100 different sources in one place. Looking back, it was definitely my unique form of nesting, but it was also super helpful.

Below is a less detailed version of my list that I’m hoping will be a helpful starting point for you as well. Note that before 18 weeks, I started doing 30-minute walks and some form of yoga, barre or stretching every day, which I did throughout my pregnancy.

Postpartum recovery from tearing and what worked for me

Tearing, the dreaded “T” word that seems to come up during every conversation about childbirth. But it’s by no means a necessary evil of labor. In The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth, Genevieve Howland states that “anywhere from 40 percent to 85 percent of women delivering vaginally will experience some level of tearing, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives, although the severity can vary widely.”

Midwives recommend prenatal activities like daily squats and perineal massage in the weeks leading up to childbirth to prepare the tissue and reduce the risk of tearing. You also could consider a natural birth, since epidurals and Pitocin are both associated with a higher risk of tears.

I was fortunate and only dealt with a mild degree of tearing. The following products worked beautifully in managing my discomfort and helping me heal.

Peri bottles are great to have postpartum for rinsing the vaginal area after using the bathroom. I used these Peri Bottles, and they’re fantastic. Unlike most peri bottle designs, this one comes with an angled nozzle that makes it so much easier to aim. I used a mix of witch hazel (known to reduce swelling and pain) and water. You can find a recipe for a soothing herbal blend here.

This Herbal Perineal Spray by Earth Mama is safe to use postpartum and super convenient to use. (It even has an upside-down sprayer.) It’s made with cooling cucumber, organic witch hazel and organic herbs traditionally used for postpartum relief. Great for use immediately following the witch hazel peri bottle rinse or any time you’re feeling discomfort.

I can’t say enough good things about these postpartum cold pads. They’re a mix between a maxi pad and an ice pack, which means they’re both cooling and absorbent. My physical therapist recommended this brand, and they’re 10 times better than the version I was given in the hospital. Worth every penny.

I used this routine constantly for two weeks postpartum, and it helped so much with discomfort and swelling. One note: I also purchased a sitz bath like this one but ended up not using it, partially because I didn’t like the idea of sitting in an upright position for longer than I had to and partially because my peri bottle/spray/pad routine was working so well. So well that I didn’t take the Ibuprofen the hospital sent home with me. If you do find yourself needing something to take the edge off and are breastfeeding, midwives often recommend arnica, a homeopathic pain reliever, as an alternative.

The art (and gift) of resting postpartum

Around the world, traditional cultures have honored a strict rest period for new mothers for centuries. Ayurveda adheres to a 42-day postpartum window of care for moms. In the Chinese culture, mothers stay inside and rest for 40 days. These traditions encourage women to heal, bond with their baby and make the sacred transition into motherhood in a cozy, nourishing and peaceful environment.

Contrast that image with the reality for most women in the U.S.; the pressures to be on their feet days after delivery, to entertain friends and family, to look their best for a newborn photoshoot and of course to fit into their pre-pregnancy clothes are enough to make anyone feel inadequate. Our parental leave policies reinforce the message that parents shouldn’t have to skip a beat after childbirth; the U.S. is one of only a few countries that doesn’t offer some form of paid family leave. In contrast, Britain offers 39 weeks, Sweden 68 weeks and Japan 52 weeks or more. Sigh. I digress.)

This isn’t a paid vacation. There are physical and emotional consequences when women don’t take the time they need to heal. In Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin says, “Stay close to home, don’t entertain, and rest. This is your best way to prevent extra bleeding and the emotional-physical crash that often follows being up and around too early. There are lots of good reasons why traditional cultures all over the world respect the need for new mothers to take some time to allow their bodies to make the transition from pregnancy to new motherhood.”

In The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother, Heng Ou says of new moms, “And the experiences she had during pregnancy and birth may have left her mentally and emotionally shaken. Chinese lore says that if the complex thoughts and feelings that come up after birth are left unaddressed, or are suppressed under waves of busyness and distraction, chi will get blocked and illness will set in. Viewed through another lens, this might be called anxiety or depression.”

“Busyness and distraction.” Sound familiar? Our culture rewards and romanticizes productivity, achievement and overwork. I’ve been trained as a postpartum doula in the Ayurvedic tradition and I fully embrace the midwifery model of care, but even as mentally prepared as I was to rest and replenish in the weeks following my daughter’s birth, I struggled with the urge to do.

In retrospect, I was doing a lot. Recovering from a 32-hour labor. Getting to know my newborn. Breastfeeding and pumping for hours a day. Trying to make time for rest and self care. But working against that knowledge was the almost 15 years I spent in the corporate world, the addiction to ticking through a to-do list, verbal recognition, the illusion of control and having something tangible to show for my work.

I did happily spend my first week postpartum in bed. The memories my husband and I have with our daughter in our bed that first week are my most treasured. They were so sweet, so pure and so raw. I would’ve spent two weeks in bed with my mom as my caregiver, but she broke her foot the day after we got home from the hospital, so by the second week, I needed to be on my feet to prepare meals and help out more around the house. Looking back, this abrupt shift from bedroom nest to real life was a jolt for me. I began obsessively cleaning and organizing. I chalked it up to leftover nesting urge from pregnancy. Friends and family gave me positive feedback. I didn’t think twice about it.

I went to see my physical therapist four months after I delivered to evaluate my diastasis recti, and she asked how I felt emotionally. She said that postpartum anxiety can often show up in strange ways, like excessive shopping or cleaning. In that moment, I realized that my behavior was a byproduct of anxiety. I see now that my cleaning and organizing was absolutely a coping mechanism to help me feel whole, put together, in control and productive.

After that realization, I spent a lot of time trying to unpack and process the past year of and all of its emotions. They’re complicated, and other people will often spot anxiety and depression before you’ll see them in yourself. Bottom line: if you have the opportunity to rest, heal and bond with your baby, but resist it, I urge you to dig deep to find out why. Talk to a therapist, doctor, yoga instructor or friend that you trust. Your resistance could stem from restlessness from lack of “productivity” to wanting to establish an illusion of “normal.”

Ina May Gaskin says, “Even when everything goes well in giving birth, the first days and weeks after birth can be more stressful than you might realize. This is especially true if you were a real get-things-done person in your life before children. You have twenty-four-hour-per-day responsibility for a helpless new human being, seven days a week […] You will probably be more tired than ever before in your life. […] You want to do a perfect job — a phrase that will just make your life harder than ever.”

Whatever the choose, I encourage you to make informed decisions and consider the possible consequences.

In his book The Postnatal Depletion Cure, Dr. Oscar Serrallach says, “If a new mom isn’t allowed to fully recover from the demanding requirements of pregnancy and birth, the aftereffects can last for years. I’ve treated women who were still depleted 10 years after their babies were born.”

The Ayurveda tradition goes even further: a woman’s first 42 days as a new mother lays the foundation for the next 42 years of her life. Consider how you want to show up as a mother and make the decisions that work best for you. It’s a gift to yourself, your family and your community.

P.S. If you’re a mom but not a new mom and are feeling emotionally, physically and/or mentally depleted, Dr. Serrallach’s book also offers advice for you. He looks holistically at the longer-term impacts of depletion and gives really thorough steps on how to regain your vitality.

9 healthy habits for pregnancy and childbirth

One of the most important decisions during pregnancy is where you plan to deliver. When I found out I was pregnant, I didn’t give much thought to it. I automatically assumed that I would give birth at the hospital where my OBGYN practiced. During the first couple of weeks of my second trimester, my husband and I made a cross-country move. In the time it took to pack up, move and unpack, I had completely changed my mind. It’s a long story, but suffice to say that I discovered the Free Birth Society podcast, and the birth experiences it shared really resonated with me. It nudged me to stop to consider my personality, my circumstances and what scenario felt most peaceful and supportive to me.  I’ve never loved clinical settings (despite the fact that my mom worked at a hospital for 30 years and my father still does). I’m soft spoken and not great at standing up for myself and was worried that my wishes would go unheard in a busy maternity ward. Plus, COVID-19 was a factor.

Ultimately, my partner and I decided to try for a home birth. I had the luxury of going part time at work for the last part of my pregnancy, so I was able to fully commit to studying and preparing for labor. At the time, I thought it was important to learn as much as possible because of the homebirth and the added responsibility you take on when you choose that path. In hindsight, I think it’s equally important for birthers who choose a hospital birth. It’s essential for your ability to advocate for yourself and for your baby and to make the best decisions for you.

The following is a summary of what I learned: ways the experts recommend that you take care of your body during pregnancy and in preparation for labor. This list is a combination of advice from my midwife, advice from the prenatal books I read (listed here) and what worked for me.

  1. Herbal teas. My midwife recommended NORA tea, named for its ingredients: Nettle Leaf, Oatstraw, Raspberry Leaf and Alfalfa Leaf. I purchased the individual herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs and brewed a quart every day beginning about halfway through my second trimester, although you can begin anytime after 16 weeks. The  tea can improve the strength of contractions, release of the placenta after birth, lactation and bleeding postpartum. My midwife prefers NORA tea to the more mainstream Red Raspberry Leaf tea, although I used that too in a pinch. NORA tea is a bit of an acquired taste; I added the herb Lemon Balm to add some variety of flavor towards the end of my pregnancy. This article provides an in-depth description of NORA tea’s benefits as well as the recipe I used.  
  2. Dates. A small study published in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology suggests that eating six red dates per day from 36 weeks onward appears to result in shorter, easier labors. Noor dates are preferable; if you use Majool dates instead, then reduce the number to 3 per day.
  3. Squats. According to Ina May Gaskin, the most well-respected midwife of our time, squats are critical to a healthy pregnancy. In Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, she says, “I suggest daily squatting as part of your morning routine. Start with ten on the first day and increase that number as the days pass. Three hundred a day would not be too many. I have noticed that first-time mothers over thirty tend to have shorter labors since I began sharing the virtues of squatting.”
  4. Yoga. Prenatal yoga was so beneficial to me, particularly in alleviating the late-pregnancy aches and pains. Yoga can help with the baby’s position in the womb, which is critical for a healthy delivery. In Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, she says: “Good posture and movement will make it less likely for your baby to settle into a more challenging position in the final weeks of pregnancy.” If you decide to do yoga during pregnancy, it is vital to find an instructor who understands the pregnant body so that he or she can guide you with appropriate modifications and prevent injuries. Regardless of your fitness level, there are certain poses (like twists) that are contraindicated for pregnancy. Your body also produces a hormone called relaxin that loosens your ligaments, giving you a false sense of flexibility, which can lead to strained muscles. Bottom line, find an expert to help you navigate these changes and strengthen your body in preparation for labor. (You might also consider YOGA Birth Method which includes yoga poses appropriate for each trimester and during labor as well as breathwork suggestions for each phase of labor.
  5. Perineal massage. Between 34 and 36 weeks, you can begin a daily massage of the tissues between the openings of the vagina and the anus. Prepping this area for labor can help reduce tearing, reduce the number of stitches and soften existing scar tissue. My physical therapist shared this animated how-to video with me, and I found it really helpful. I used sesame oil mixed with a couple drops of geranium oil.
  6. Walks. Make time for 30-minute walks outside every day. It’s good for the body and the soul.
  7. Nutrition. One of the most important ways to prevent complications and improve your health during pregnancy is to eat a nutritious diet. Drink water, limit preservatives and ensure that you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables, particularly dark, leafy greens and orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes and yams) since they contain important vitamins that you need during pregnancy. You also should aim for 50-75 grams of protein per day. The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth is a great resource for meal planning because it explains what nutrition your baby needs each week based on its development. Ultimately, listen to your body. Your cravings are clues that tell you what your body needs more of.
  8. Stress. Chronic stress impacts every system of the body; a growing fetus is no exception. If you don’t already have a daily practice like yoga, breathwork, meditation, walking in nature, devotional or journaling, I highly recommend starting one now.
  9. Hollywood labor. In Western parts of the world, all we know of labor is what we’ve seen dramatized on tv and in movies; as a result, our associations with birth are fear and pain. Unlike our grandmothers and great-grandmothers who were accustomed to home births, we’ve likely never seen birth up close. In Birthing from Within, Pam England addresses the misconceptions and fear that first-time parents have of labor and childbirth. Midwives, including my own, stress the importance of reframing the pain of labor and instead, focusing on the intensity of the sensations and working with them, not against them, to birth your baby. I highly recommend that you watch videos or read accounts of actual births to reset your expectations. (The Free Birth Society Instagram account and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth are both good resources.)

I cannot stress enough the value I’ve found in the midwifery model of care and how it contributed to my pregnancy, labor and childbirth. The advice is so logical, holistic and accessible, and it spans not just physical health but emotional health as well. If you have the option and the resources, I highly recommend hiring a midwife or doula to support you during your journey. The attentive, supportive care you receive helps you feel healthy, strong, confident, prepared and empowered every step of the way.