Reframing your parenting challenges

This week, my husband has been away on a work trip. This marks the first time he and I have been apart since February 2020, and the only time I’ve been home with our daughter for an extended period of time without him. I’m spoiled in a big way.

I won’t lie; leading up to this week, I was definitely nervous. What if she had a tough growth spurt week? What if my patience faded under the pressure of around-the-clock care? What if I couldn’t juggle our daughter, our dog, managing the house and being pregnant? And aside from all of that, I actually like spending time with him 🙂 Spending that much time apart after so long seemed so abrupt and lonely.

On the first day he was gone, everything was business as usual. I stuck to the baby’s routine and before I knew it, I was starting her bath time. I was so relieved and felt confident that things would continue to go smoothly.

On the second day, something shifted. Our day flew by, and as I was putting her to sleep, I got really emotional. I wasn’t ready to put her to sleep and was struck by the realization that I was enjoying her companionship. Our relationship has shifted from caretaker and baby. We genuinely have fun together. We communicate with and without words. We laugh. And this is just the beginning of a lifetime of creating memories together.

As a new parent, it’s so easy to get hung up on the caretaker role…which is in many ways a thankless job. You can easily lose sight of the big picture and the future under the strain of the day-to-day grind, the monotony and the stress. That’s why I thought of this week with trepidation: I was focused on how I would manage. By reframing it as getting to spend more quality time with my daughter, just the two of us without dad around, it shifted from something stressful to a memory I’ll never forget.

Reframing can be a powerful tool in parenting, moving your perspective from…

….frustration about a baby’s sleep schedule to gratitude for seeing every sunrise.

…feeling unproductive in how much you accomplish every day to appreciating the opportunity to slow down.

…missing your old self and former life to welcoming growth, transformation and the new you.

It’s not always easy to reframe while you’re in the thick of a challenging situation, but if you set the intention, the right perspective will come to you!

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.

Parenting as a catalyst for personal growth

Topics related to personal growth and parenting have been on my mind a lot lately: how we’re raised as people pleasers, how to recognize childhood trauma and ways that postpartum healing is as emotional as it is physical.

Digging deep to explore your psyche, separate your true self from learned behaviors and heal old wounds is so incredibly important, especially during the challenging and transformative phase of parenthood. Under the stresses of parenting, you feel conflict (within yourself and with others) more easily and recognize really quickly when things just aren’t working. You’re reminded of your childhood and spend more time contemplating how your wounds and beliefs directly impact another person. Conflict with immediate family members might arise. Anxiety and fear often become more extreme, but so does love. It’s a time of coming to terms with a stark duality: you are both the best and worst versions of yourself.

While parenting can serve as a catalyst for deeper transformation and healing, these lessons and this work aren’t just for parents. In fact, waiting until you become a parent to begin your personal growth journey isn’t ideal; you’d likely set yourself up for a lot of added stress as well as strain on relationships with those closest to you.

That said, if you’re already a parent or about to become one and you haven’t started your journey, it’s absolutely never too late. Take it slow and give yourself permission to feel whatever arises without judgement. The results are so incredibly rewarding and will dramatically change your life.

If you’re looking for a place to begin, I highly recommend The Seeker’s Manual by Arda. You can find other resources for seekers and parents under my resources tab.

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.

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.

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.

A note on co-sleeping

Co-sleeping, or children sleeping with one or both parents, is one of the most controversial topics we’ve encountered as new parents. When I was pregnant, we had no intention of bed sharing with our baby. We planned for her to sleep in a bassinet in our room so that we could have the comfort of being near each other without the suffocation risks we kept reading about. We planned for her to sleep in our room, either in her bassinet or crib, for the first year. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room sharing until at least six months of age and preferably the first year to protect against sudden infant death syndrome).

But like most things with parenting, there are nuances. The night after she was born, we co-slept in the hospital. It felt so unnatural to be apart from her and she was fussy, so I put her on my chest. The skin-to-skin contact felt so comforting for both of us. Before we left the hospital the next day, the nurse warned us not to co-sleep once we got home. And to be honest, I don’t think we intended to. But the reality was that we all slept better when we were together. Putting her in a bassinet went against my instincts. I’m such a light sleeper that it felt safe to me. She was a full-term, healthy baby. I was also breastfeeding, which is thought to make moms sleep less deeply and more sensitive to baby’s movement. And of course neither my husband or I were drinking alcohol or taking any drugs.

When my midwife made a home visit two days later, she asked how we were sleeping. My husband and I exchanged nervous looks. I didn’t know her stance on co-sleeping and was afraid of being shamed for our decision. But she said there was nothing wrong with co-sleeping as long as we were doing it safely. Throughout pregnancy, I made a lot of progress in learning to trust my instincts and not rely on others to tell me what was best for my body and my baby. But in that very raw postpartum moment, I felt so validated and relieved. During our baby’s first two weeks, we co-slept and then she moved to her bassinet. She was ready for more independence and so were we.

I decided to write about co-sleeping not because I think it’s particularly better than any other sleep method. And not because I want to convince more people to try it. Simply, I want to raise the point that you have the right to trust your instincts and choose what’s right for you and your family without guilt or shame. And if you do choose bed sharing, do your research.

In The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth, Genevieve Howland says that two separate studies, both published in JAMA Pediatrics, indicate that as many as 50 percent of parents practice bed sharing at least some of the time. If you fall into that category, you’re not alone. Howland says, “When it comes to bed sharing, specifically, it’s not the practice itself that’s unsafe–UNICEF and La Leche League International, for example actually support bed sharing–but the way it’s practiced. In other words, there’s absolutely a wrong way to do it; when practiced incorrectly, sleeping alongside an infant can be exceedingly dangerous. Unfortunately, our tendency to lump together safe forms of co-sleeping and unsafe practices gives all forms of co-sleeping a negative connotation. This prevents many parents from talking openly about co-sleeping and bed sharing, or from seeking guidance on how to do it safely.”

For up-to-date research on co-sleeping, The Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame is a great science-based resource on bed sharing. It’s led by Professor James J. McKenna, who is recognized as the world’s leading authority on mother-infant co-sleeping in relationship to breastfeeding and SIDS. You can find their safe guidelines for sleeping with infants here. For more information, you might want to check out Dr. McKenna’s book Safe Infant Sleep: Expert Answers to Your Cosleeping Questions which was published in 2020.