What’s the origin of your fear?

Yesterday, I had my 15-week prenatal appointment with my midwife. During every appointment, she goes through a checklist of questions related to my physical and emotional wellbeing. This time, when she asked about how I’m doing emotionally, I paused. I told her about the anxiety I’ve felt related to violence in our area, particularly gun violence related to kids. I also talked about how my fears around COVID really flared up around the holidays and into January.

As she let me ramble, I had a major realization: my anxiety and fear actually had very little to do with COVID and the violence we’ve seen on the news. Rationally, I know that we’re safe. We make thoughtful choices, and we’re not taking many (if any) risks to put us in harm’s way. I realized that I have some unaddressed fear as a new mom that’s been compounded by the fact that I’m pregnant again. Out of shame for not living up to my own standards, I wasn’t allowing myself to express that fear, so instead I attached it to two very real, widespread and acceptable fears…COVID and gun violence.

The reasons those fears have persisted and evolved into anxiety is because I hadn’t addressed their root cause. By allowing myself to be honest about the more vulnerable cause – motherhood can be scary – I continue to accept my whole self and show myself some grace. I also have the opportunity to evaluate my own expectations. Do I judge other mothers for their fears as parents? Absolutely not. So why do I judge myself?

All that to say, our fears as parents are valid. But there’s a big difference between recognizing fears, taking proper precautions and letting them go and what I was doing…taking proper precautions and then continuing to worry.

If you find yourself caught in a fear-based cycle of feeling anxious and attempting to control situations, it’s worth checking in. Have you taken precautions? Are you still worrying? What can you let go? Know that your fears are valid, but they don’t have to control you.

One piece of advice that’s worked for me is to find an emotional anchor that you can come back to again and again when you feel yourself slipping into anxious mode. For me, that’s a deep conviction that the house we moved into a couple years ago was divine intervention. The timing, the features and the neighborhood were exactly what we wanted. We are meant to be there as a family and so we are safe.

Postpartum healing isn’t linear

Before we had our first child, I became fascinated with the postpartum period: the personal transformation that’s possible if you’re nurtured, allowed enough space to sit with the changes and probably most important of all, open to surrender. Cultures around the world have recognized this critical juncture for centuries and emphasize the need to “mother the mother” to support her transition from woman to mother. In Ayurveda, the first 42 days is considered a sacred window, a time that defines the next 42 years.

I entered my postpartum days with a list of things I wasn’t going to do…things like worrying about how my body looked, hyper-focusing on keeping our house tidy and perfect, getting out of bed, entertaining and being active too soon. Despite a couple of setbacks, the first six weeks went beautifully. I felt physically healed, at peace and so deeply connected to our daughter.

Fast forward to today, eight months later. Over the past month, my emotions started to spike, and suddenly feel turbulent, seemingly out of nowhere. My nervous system felt unbalanced. I was having dreams about flooding water and rollercoasters, an ongoing theme in my dreams when I’m feeling emotionally overwhelmed in life.

I felt myself going off track, so I started focusing more on restoring balance to my body and recommitted to my spiritual practice. I also booked a psychic reading this week with Gina Fuschetto, She talked me through several visuals she saw of my emotional state, and we talked about what the symbolism meant to me. Through that experience, I was finally able to see my emotional landscape more objectively.

In my attempt to do everything “right” in my postpartum period (and let’s be honest, my life overall) I missed the bigger picture…the importance of letting go. I held too tightly to my ideal vision of what my postpartum period “should” be that I unknowingly managed and controlled my emotions throughout the process. As a result, my inner world felt only partially acknowledged.

That realization is so liberating. I haven’t appreciated how much pressure I’ve been putting on myself. The changes I’ll make are small but profound. I am determined to be more vulnerable with my loved ones and myself about how I’m really feeling. And I’m committed to being even more transparent about my own experiences on this platform, too.

As I reflect on the past eight months of motherhood, my biggest surprise has been that the healing process (emotional and physical) hasn’t been linear…and I don’t think I’m alone in that experience. I expected the transition to be really hard for the first six weeks and then taper off in a predictable way once we got the swing of things. I focused so much on that sacred window that I really didn’t give myself permission to struggle after that. But I found that actually, there have been so many ebbs and flows…

Months 0-2 – physical healing, complete awe, crying because of deep love, not having a clue

Month 3 – feeling adjusted, starting to get in a rhythm

Month 4 – major sleep setback for baby, tired, depleted, anxious

Month 5-6 – deeper physical healing, finding a good schedule for us

Month 7 – loss of self, feelings of monotony, mild depression, disruption from teething leading to crankiness and lack of sleep

Month 8– return to balance and to self

As a first born and a perfectionist, I wanted make motherhood look easy. But I owe it to myself to let it look messy and complicated and exhausting, because it is! That’s not the lesson I expected to learn during my sacred window, but I’m so incredibly thankful that I see it now and that I can set the intention to let. it. go.

Parenting for highly sensitive people

Last week, I wrote about a new commitment to reimagine my every day rituals to better meet my needs. One of the three pillars of this goal is my spiritual practice.

I want to say at the outset that I’m going to be very honest here, and my intention is not to complain but to normalize talking about the hard parts of parenting. My friend Hana Raftery’s amazing vulnerability in sharing her experience with mothering as an HSP opened my eyes, and my hope is that by sharing my experience, I can help empower others. If we don’t take care of ourselves and our mental health, we can’t take care of anyone else.

Becoming a mom has been the single most soul-expanding, heart-filling, incredible experience of my life. But as a highly sensitive person, the sensory overload I’ve started to feel over the past month or so has been a struggle.

I’ve found that many of the aspects of motherhood are triggers for highly sensitive people (HSP); according to the Highly Sensitive Person Test, qualities of HSPs include:

  • Becoming easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input like loud noises or bright lights
  • Being affected by other people’s moods
  • Needing to withdraw for privacy and to avoid stimulation
  • Finding it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once
  • Feeling your nervous system become so rattled that you need time alone

Motherhood hasn’t been the only life phase that’s been a challenge for my sensitive nature. When I worked in an office, we had an open floor plan with literally dozens of people working at cubicles within earshot of my desk. The sounds of people on the phone, the frenetic energy, stressful deadlines and bright florescent lights made it difficult for me to concentrate and impossible to not feel overwhelmed and drained. At least once a day, I booked an empty conference room and sat alone with the lights off to just breathe, feel my feet and try to ground myself.

But the difference between my office job and motherhood is that now there are very few breaks. I can’t step away, put on headphones and turn off the lights whenever I feel overwhelmed. It’s harder to detach myself from feeling my daughter’s energy and moods as I did with coworkers, because I’m responsible for her wellbeing…and she’s literally part of me. The sound of her playing and laughing is so joyful, but the sound of her unhappy, tired, frustrated or in pain from teething hurts me in a way that’s experiential and deeply upsetting. The combination of these new stimuli plus less sleep plus giving so much of my physical and emotional energy to look after and entertain her has resulted in an emptiness in me.

Like so many things we struggle with in life, just naming it can bring healing. I’ve known I was an HSP for a decade, but I didn’t put it through the lens of motherhood until Hana started sharing her experience. Having that understanding helps me know where my feelings are coming from and explain them to my husband. So many of my friends have confided that they regularly feel a sensory overload as parents, so I know I’m not alone. Neither are you.

I’m still testing out healing spiritual practices that bring grounding, connection and insight and that work with my new lifestyle. Life my office job, I know I’ll find new ways to adapt and grow.

Parenting choices and repeating patterns

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we show up as parents based on what was modeled for us as children. As I look around at the people closest to me, I see example after example of either parents trying to replicate their own childhood or parents desperately trying to create the exact opposite of their own childhood. A selfless, guilt-ridden mom, like her own mom was. Another mom trying to create structure and order for her kids because her own childhood home was unstable. A dad who started therapy when his wife was pregnant to address and undo the trauma he experienced as a child.

We have an enormous opportunity as parents to learn from our experiences and put an end to these cycles. But it takes a great deal of strength, persistence and courage to do this work. It demands that we get really honest with ourselves about our childhood experience, a process that can be incredibly painful, especially when abuse, addiction, loss or absent parents are involved.

Usually, looking back a few generations can help you to notice patterns of behavior and better understand the present. An acquaintance of mine mentioned offhandedly that three generations of women in her family (herself included) had gotten pregnant without being married and had become single moms. I don’t believe that’s a coincidence.

In my own family, I’ve noticed a lineage of women who married unhappy, abusive men. I’ve asked myself questions like: How did those women attract that negative force into their lives? What was their father figure like? What was their lesson? How did that experience affect their children? Did their children recreate that pattern for themselves, or take a different path? Notice that these are neutral questions, not emotional ones. This is not about judgement or anger; it’s about compassion and understanding.

Give some thought to your own family and any patterns you see. Remember, the patterns you’ll find aren’t necessarily bad; consider them all as information for you…clues into your family history and yourself.

What experiences are you bringing in as a parent?

What unresolved hurt or trauma are you holding on to?

What can you let go of?

What do you need to do as a parent to end unhealthy cycles for your children?

This can be an incredibly healing meditation or journaling exercise, but I also recommend seeing a counselor, therapist or life coach if that’s an option for you. There’s a lot to be said for professional guidance and not going through the process alone. Although the process can be long and sometimes painful, you, and future generations, will be so much happier for it.

Sweet water lactation tea

This recipe is from Ysha Oakes, Ayurvedic cook and doula. This Ayurvedic lactation tea helps promote digestion, hydration, lactation and rejuvenation. I drank it throughout the day for the first two months after childbirth for lactation support.

2/3 tsp fennel seeds

1/3 tsp fenugreek seeds (I found mind at Banyan Botanicals.)

2 quarts water

Directions:

  1. Mix the seeds in this proportion in a glass jar to store for easy access.
  2. Boil water and add 1 tsp of the mixed seeds. Remove from heat, cover and steep for 5 minutes.
  3. Strain the seeds. (The seeds can be used in soups or with cooked vegetables.)
  4. Refrigerate half of the unused tea for later in the day. Drink warm or at room temperature. Make fresh daily.

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!

Ingredients:

  • 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.

The secret about morning sickness I wish someone had told me

The morning sickness I experienced with my first baby was debilitating. I woke up feeling sick and progressively felt worse throughout the day. I I couldn’t eat, keep down my prenatal vitamins or stand the smell of anything, including unlit candles. You get the picture.

That was a year ago. Since then, I started seeing an acupuncturist for postnatal depletion. (Her name is Hannah Tran for those of you in Atlanta, Ga.) After two months of weekly treatments, supplements and herbs, I have my appetite back, I sleep better and my energy and vitality are restored. I feel more like myself. Honestly, it was a total transformation.

Through this process, I asked Hannah about morning sickness. She said that true morning sickness happens, well, in the morning, and that it should be easily managed if you eat every few hours to keep your glucose stable. If you’re feeling sick throughout the day or at night, that isn’t morning sickness; it’s a sign of depletion. In other words, your body doesn’t have the nutrients it needs, and that’s a problem for you and your baby. (Side note: at the time I got pregnant, I had been on high-quality prenatal vitamins for eight months and eating healthy for years, and I still was depleted.)

The morale of the story is it’s not normal to suffer. Unfortunately many women suffer through all-day morning sickness (and painful menstruation for that matter), so we normalize it and assume that it has to be that way.

It doesn’t.

If this happens to you, know that this is your body telling you it needs support. (And if you’re afraid of needles, just go for the herbs and supplements. Every bit helps.) Do it for yourself, and do it for your baby!

Foods to avoid postpartum

Birth triggers a lot of big changes in the body, including shifts in the digestive system. That’s why cultures around the world, Chinese, Indian and Persian to name a few, have fed traditional foods to women after childbirth for centuries. These foods are easy to digest and nourishing to facilitate healing, comfort and improved breastmilk production. You can read more about foods to favor postpartum here.

According to Ayurveda, the foods to avoid postpartum fall into four categories: dry, rough, cold and stimulating. They should be minimized at least for the first six weeks postpartum because they can aggravate digestion for mothers and breastfeeding babies.

Keep in mind that this list is intended as a guideline. I’m a firm believer in listening to your body and feeding your cravings. For instance, if you’re craving red meat, eat it, but be sure to prepare it so that it’s easy to digest, like a stew or meatloaf. Mental health is also important; if you want chocolate for dessert because you need a treat after a long day, then by all means have it. My second meal after I gave birth was pizza, which includes a ton of ingredients on this list, but it was hearty and comforting and what I knew I needed at that moment.

That’s how I recommend planning your meals postpartum: eat conscientiously but also give yourself flexibility to also have familiar foods that you enjoy. I had some of my favorite recipes set aside for postpartum and simply modified them. (For instance, this beef and butternut stew is very nourishing; I would just leave out the sour cream and possibly the tomato paste if you’re breastfeeding.)

You’ll know what’s right for your body based on how it makes you feel.

THE WORST OFFENDERS:

  • Coffee
  • Soda
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Raw or undercooked garlic
  • Onion
  • Radish
  • Chilies
  • Cabbage

COLD FOODS AND DRINKS:

  • Ice cream
  • Salads
  • Raw foods
  • Generally all chilled foods and drinks

HEAVY FOODS:

  • Red meat
  • Fermented cheeses
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt
  • Excessive nuts
  • Eggs
  • Fried foods

DRIED FOODS:

  • Dried fruits (unless they’ve been cooked over the stove until soft and mushy)
  • Crackers
  • Toast
  • Chips

FERMENTED FOODS:

  • Soy sauce
  • Vinegar
  • Pickles
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Most cheeses
  • Mushrooms
  • Sauerkraut

FOODS THAT CAN CAUSE GAS AND RASHES FOR MOM AND BABY:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Sprouts
  • Greens (You can make leafy greens easier to digest by cooking them down with oil and seasoning)

LEMON AND LIME

Lemon and lime should be avoided the first two weeks postpartum.

Foods to favor postpartum

After the delivery of a baby, a mother’s digestive power is often diminished, and her digestive system is very delicate. Feeding her the best foods prepared in the easiest-to-digest ways will help ensure that she’s able to process the nutrients she needs to heal and produce milk (if she’s breastfeeding).

The following suggestions are time-tested from the ancient system of natural healthcare called Ayurveda.

PROTEINS:

  • Ricotta cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Other unfermented cheeses
  • Boiled milk
  • Sesame milk
  • Almond milk
  • Bone broth
  • Well-cooked lentils (after 4 weeks)
  • Chicken soup (after 4 weeks)
  • Fish soup (after 4 weeks)


CARBOHYDRATES:

  • Basmati or white rice (cooked with an extra 1/2 to 1 cup water per cup of rice)
  • Yams
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squashes
  • Oats
  • Quinoa


FRUITS:

  • Freshly squeezed sweet fruit juices
  • Sweet, dried fruits (like apricots and prunes) cooked over the stove until soft and mushy
  • Avocados


VEGETABLES: (all cooked until soft using plenty of oil)

  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Okra
  • Artichokes


SEASONINGS:

  • Ginger
  • Fennel
  • Cinnamon
  • Caraway
  • Cardamom
  • Cumin
  • Basil

P.S. Consider posting a sign-up sheet for meals at your baby shower or mother blessing so that you’re not having to do all the cooking postpartum. You can access an online sign-up sheet template that I created here.

Gifts to honor a pregnancy loss

In my experience, there’s so much silence around pregnancy loss and miscarriages that most people don’t know how to support women who go through them. After my miscarriage, responses ranged from blaming me for not taking care of myself to “at least you could get pregnant so quickly!” Other people immediately changed the subject without commenting at all. At the time it hurt, but I understand; miscarriages are hard to talk about, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

A beautiful way to honor a pregnancy loss is by gifting a small memento to acknowledge the baby and the mother’s grief. It can be accompanied by a simple note that says “thinking of you,” or “I’m here if you want to talk.” This serves two purposes: it helps the recipient feel supported by you and can help in the healing process. I found that having an object to look at and hold helped the baby I lost feel less intangible and helped me process my grief.

I’ve put together a short list of gift suggestions below. One thing you won’t see on the list is flowers. I received a beautiful bouquet of flowers after my miscarriage, and while the gesture was sweet, watching the flowers die and then eventually throwing them away felt symbolic and incredibly sad to me. Obviously not everyone will made that association, but it’s something to consider.

A dear friend sent me a precious figurine by Lotty Lollipop on Etsy. The shop includes quite a few options, each with very meaningful and carefully chosen designs and a card offering a sweet sentiment. I treasure this keepsake and have had it on my nightstand since I received it.

These angel earrings are small enough to wear every day and a wonderful way to symbolically keep the baby close to you always.

For babies who were already named when they passed, I think a Christmas ornament is a thoughtful tribute, especially for families with older children. An ornament gives the whole family an opportunity to remember the baby together and make it part of their holiday tradition.