The Birth of a Doula

IMG_2899.JPEG

At their most fundamental, a doula is presence personified.  Of course we offer a trained set of hands to help a birthing family through some of the most intense moments they will face:

becoming and actually BEING new parents. 

But ultimately at the end of the day, what a doula truly does is authentically, organically, unconditionally support you.  We offer you, in addition to experience and training, our most authentic selves, to inspire confidence and empowerment into the families we serve.

Trying to cram that into an elevator speech at a professional networking event is awkward at best.  The truth is though,

I don't have a fancy or funny origin story. 

It wasn't a traumatic or fantastic birth I felt the need to fix or share.  

What drove me to become a doula, and open the first full-spectrum doula agency in Virginia, is the women who surround me and inspire me to be fully present to what we can do, so the things we cannot become fewer and less significant.

The people who inspire me the most are the women who show up each day, doing the next hard, and next right thing. 

The artists, the dreamers, the doers.  The story-tellers, the wisdom-keepers, the comedians who know how to say the right thing to keep it both real and light.  It's not the fantasy of snuggling newborns all day that brought me to this work, but the real, honest and open discussions of motherhood, of both simultaneously losing and finding self, and how heartbreaking and frightening and messy it all inevitably is.

I became a doula because when I looked around, my entire life was filled with people who are always the first to show up

to watch your kid or bring you food when you are sick or tired or just sick and tired.  The ranks of my inspiration are filled with women who have no idea they are doing the impossible, Every. Single. Day.

IMG_2900.JPG

Women who fill my cup and set my soul on fire because they are real and honest, and true to themselves, whatever that means right now.  They are the people who do the hard thing in front of me, like they have no idea they are doing it.  We need more bravery and passion and work being done in the world. More mothering. More inspiring. More doula-ing.

Becoming a mother was not my doula origin story.  Watching the strongest, most amazing, charismatic women I know shoulder each other's burdens, lifting, helping, supporting.  Loving. BE-ING.  Breaking down, coming together, helping. This is why I became a doula. My history and present have been filled with authentic, genuine, presence.   

How could I not put this back into the world? 

Into families when they are their most vulnerable, most confused, most in need of these qualities?  The humor, the reality of a ridiculous and exhausting and beautiful life means that if we just show up for one another, there is nothing we can't do.

That is why I made this work my career. Why I work with families *after* they have babies and not just during labor. And why I am a great doula. 

Eyebrow, You Brow

I'm not gonna lie, the squiggle brow is just not for me. 

Between brows, lips and eyeliner, the squiggle look feels a little bit like living in the Hunger Games or Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka: too surreal for my taste.  Not to mention that there is no way you'll ever catch me with enough time to try it myself-- I barely have time to throw on my Smashbox mascara and MAC lip gloss before there are little hands reaching under the bathroom door in the morning: "Mommy!! Watcha doin'?"

And while I'm being really frank, I think that perhaps outside of artistic photography, I find it just a little... frivolous.  But here's the thing:

Frivolous can be great. 

Some people need frivolous in their lives.  Some people's blood starts pumping and have a passion to create surreal and outside the box anything, including makeup.  And passion is beautiful.

doulas in richmond

I can think it is frivolous all day long, but

my discernment for my eyebrows' shape does not immediately mean a judgement of yours.

I'll never look down on a person for squiggling their eyebrows, shaving them off, or letting them grow au natural.  What each person decides to do with their face has nothing to do with mine, other than I think we can all stand to enjoy each other's faces more.  And I'm always for women, and parents, feeling stronger and more comfortable in their own skin.

My judgement would serve no one but myself.  As a doula, my entire job is to empower people to make their own decisions, and to help women feel comfortable and confident during their most tender, most vulnerable moments

Judgement of your choices has no place here. 

As a woman and a mother, it is my fervent belief that we need to spend less time shaming and judging choices we wouldn't make for ourselves, and more time building each other up.  There are already so many message that tell us we aren't good enough, we need to buy this or that for ourselves, our kids, our diets, our hair, our family to be better.  Too many voices telling us what we need to do because my way is the right way. I refuse to engage in making people feel small because of their choices; not in person, not through my writing, and not through social media.

I'm not saying it's always easy, unlearning first instincts are hard to re-pattern. (And there is certainly a line I'm willing to cross: when your choices belittle/deny another person's humanity, I will judge the hell out of that.)  On the whole though, judgement-free support is a central tenet of who I am, who I am raising my kids to be, and how we function as supporters of families during birth and afterward.

Parenting or eyebrows: You go, Girl!  Do what makes you happy.  What makes you feel beautiful and strong.  And we will have your back.

Gifts for NICU Babies and their Families

when will my baby sleep?
My friend just had her baby early and they are going to spend some time in the NICU. What kinds of gift can I get for them?

We hear this all the time, and we've polled all of our NICU clients and a few NICU nurses to find out what the favorite gifts are for families spending time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Gifts for Babies in the NICU

Adorable preemie caps (those heads are TINY!!) or a sleeper for preemies are always appreciated.  NICU staff seems to appreciate snaps instead of zippers; they're easier to open in an emergency, and leaves rooms for wires and such.  Stay away from anything that would have to be in the crib with them-- they tend to keep the sleeping areas free from anything soft and squishy that might carry bacteria.

Something Sentimental

The minutes can feel so long, but the months and years pass quickly, and we frequently hear how the moments they never thought they would forget become lost in the fog quickly.  A special journal for NICU babies, or these adorable cards can help them record the memories so they can share them with the world and their baby as she grows at their own pace.

Gifts for NICU Mom

She (and her partner hopefully) will be coming and going all the time.  Some sweet treats and non-perishable snacks for her purse will help keep vital time with her baby to a maximum.  Hair ties, lip chap and quality travel sized unscented hand lotion (we LOVE the stuff from the locally owned LadyBurg) will help keep her hydrated in the dry hospital air and through all of the handwashing and sanitizing necessary.

Be Practical

The number one thing NICU parents tell us they appreciate is gift cards.  They are on the go all the time, sometimes quite a distance from where their baby is located.  Anything you can do to alleviate that stress is helpful.  VISA gift cards, gas cards, grocery cards, gift certificates to local places near the hospital to get something fresh to eat (you wouldn't believe how far a salad goes when you've been eating hamburgers fries and sandwiches), or pizza places that will deliver to the lobby of the hospital. Starbucks cards, or iTunes/Audible cards to help give them something to listen to during the long hours.

Also a clean house and a dinner at home that can be eaten in 30 min or less is a tremendous help.  Whether you are the kind of friend who can clean their house and leave a meal (other than pasta- EVERYONE brings pasta), or if you are more of a hire a housecleaner and drop off Panera one evening, that kind of peace of mind is priceless to a family traveling back and forth.

Presence

Sometimes our precious babies spend a few days regulating blood sugars and breathing and then are sent home.  Other times, the tiniest fighters can spend weeks and even months there.  In those longer stretches, the nicest thing you can do is to make sure they are remembered.  Visiting is nice, but sometimes distance or NICU safety precautions can make that very difficult.  There are other ways to be present:

  • set a reminder on your phone to send a "Thinking of you today" text.
  • call every few days and don't be surprised if they send you straight to voicemail.  If they do, leave a message, tell a short story and let them know you're thinking of them.  DON'T ask them to call you back or ask for details.  They will do so if they can/want to.  But just because they don't, doesn't mean your thoughtfulness isn't touching them deeply.
  • Send cards/letters to their home, so they have nice mail to look forward to when they ARE home.
  • Send photos of the outside world.  Of things that remind you of them.  Sometimes its nice to know there is more going on.

If you are a NICU parent, what were your favorite gifts or could you have used and didn't have?

How to Be The World's Best Mom

doula in richmond

Today, my 3 year old walked up to me and without prompting, gave me a big hug and said,

You are the best Mom ever.  I love you just exactly how you are. I love your beautiful cubby arms that hug me, and I love to your beautiful squishy belly to snuggle with. I love your beautiful eyes and your blue glasses, and your purple hair that tells everyone you are MY mom. 
— Kid Positioned to Quickly Become Favorite

This is not an accident.  Our kids have been brainwashed by our love for them.

Isn't that the greatest thing we can do for our kids?  To make them feel so supremely loved they only know how to love in return?  Their father and I have worked hard to create a unified front where there are boundaries for behavior, but never boundaries for our love for them.  We have literally washed their little brains in love.

Our kids aren't perfect, and so it's never easy.  And (apparently) I'm not perfect either, so I have to remember how to teach my kids that love and like aren't dependent on one another, and we aren't defined by any one emotion or decision, but how we work to control our behavior through the really hard emotions, because life has those too. 

How to be a perfect Mom (aka how to brainwash your kids in love)

1) Tell you kids you love them.  All the time.  Tell them so much it becomes embarrassing.  Tell them before they can talk.  And when they are yelling at you because their life has become too much for them to contain inside of a quiet life.

2) Be specific and genuine.  "You are the perfect NAME YOUR KID for me because I love how you go and do that hard thing, even when you don't want to."

3) Respect their boundaries for when and where they want affection, but also be willing to give it when it's needed.  This is hard, especially when they are really small (say 3 and under) and don't always have words for their feelings, but they know they will feel better if mom hugs them but mom is in the middle of nursing the baby and doing the dishes.  It's ok to ask them to wait a minute occasionally, that's YOUR boundary.  I tend to side though, on the one of more hugs now and dishes later.

Look, don't roll your eyes just yet. 

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm relatively sarcastic and my inner anxiety can manifest itself as a quick temper if its not kept in check.  So I'm not all "Oh, I love my babies all the time no matter what forever and ever and ever..."  I'm not saying "Love your kids all the time like a love-robot and life will be perfect."  I'm saying if we choose love more often than not, and forgiveness when we don't, then life will FEEL perfect.

Choose the side of love

even in the face of daily routine or life irritants, or just flat out mistakes.  We teach our kids how to deal with the big emotions by dealing with them ourselves.  If that means taking a time-out for ourselves in our room, or counting down from 10, or a few deep breaths before we continue to speak in anger, taking time for ourselves, we are showing our kids HOW to deal with the big things.  If we do this in an environment surrounded by love, we cannot go wrong.

And when you let the anger/frustration/overload get the better of you (and you will, my friend, you will), just use it as an example of how to ask for forgiveness.  Even when they are little, before they understand what that means.  Because then they will have the words for it when it comes time to fully process it.  And because you have brainwashed them in love, they will forgive you, just as you have forgiven them.

So even though yesterday was a hard one for my kiddos and I, and even through I'm pretty sure they had goldfish crackers and grapes for breakfast, and even though I MADE THEM DO THEIR CHORES, today, I'm the Best Mom In The Whole World.

Insanely Painful Breasts After Birth

clogged milk ducts

You are laying in bed, contemplating the latest eat-sleep-poop cycle your baby has presented, when you decide you're finally comfortable enough to get some sleep. You roll over onto your belly, and as you do, your chest explodes with pain, you see stars behind your eyelids, and it feels like you've just been stabbed in the boob.  With a red-hot poker.

You turn on the bedroom light, sure you're going to see a murder scene in your bed, or at least the legos left there by your 3 year old that usually cause that unexpected pain, instead you find all of your insides are exactly where they are supposed to be, but one of your breasts is very tender to the touch, and has a bright red spot.

You have a clogged duct.

Now that you have given birth, clogs aren't just for hairballs in your drains.  Milk can build up in the milk ducts, and causing a blockage in your breast tissue.  And since you can't ever really drain breasts completely, there can be a lot of pressure behind the clog, leading to a lot of inflammation and pain.  You'll want to get rid of this as soon as you can, because a blocked duct can lead to mastitis*.

Ways to help break up a clogged milk duct

  1. If you are trying to feed at the breast, keep nursing.  A baby's mouth is often the best suction available, but a pump is good too if you choose to exclusively pump.  (If you're not breast feeding, you'll want to skip to #4.)
  2. Nurse with the baby's chin pointed at the clog.  I've heard that its the greatest suction that happens when the chin points there, but I think also the motion of the baby's tongue on the tissue may have something to do with it.
  3. Dangle Nursing.  This is exactly what it sounds like-- put the baby in a safe location on his/her back, and dangle your breast over them to let them eat.  This has two benefits: it uses gravity to remove the clog, and also allows easier maneuvering of the breast so the baby can nurse most effectively.
  4. Warm compresses & massage.  We say these together because you want to use the warm compress to loosen the surrounding tissue, then massage from above the clog, through it, down toward the nipple.  Much like massage to hand express.  This is very effectively done in the shower, and keeping warm compresses on as much as possible during the day.
  5. Ultrasonic toothbrushes.  You know those fancy ones that vibrate bacteria away?  The hard end (not the brush end) right on the very tender area can help break up the clog before you express the milk.
  6. Make sure you are getting enough water. Its easy to dehydrate when you are hydrating for two, and if your milk is a bit dehydrated, that can cause clogged ducts.

Unfortunately, none of these things are comfortable, but they can help relieve the pressure until the problem resolves itself.  Some people are more prone to clogged ducts than others, but there are things you can do to set yourself up for not getting them again.

Preventing Plugged Milk Ducts

  1. Drink enough fluids.  I know I just said it above, but it stands to reason here that you want to make sure you are hydrated.  Breastmilk is a bodily fluid, and will be at its best when you are well hydrated.
  2. Let your ladies loose. When your body is balancing out its milk production (first 4-6 weeks) you want to stay away from bras that are too tight, compress the tissue much, or are uncomfortable.  Also, breast size permitting, try to stay away from underwires until your supply regulates.  (Underwires= extra pressure on the tissue). 
  3. Drain your breasts well at each feeding/pumping session. You can't ever really fully drain a breast, because its a demand and supply system.  But if you can express enough so you FEEL less full, you will help your breasts flowing freely.  That's because milk that sits for a long time has a much higher chance of causing a clog.  (Please don't go pumping after nursing in the first few weeks simply to prevent a clog.  That just perpetuates engorgement and oversupply.  But make sure your baby eats well from both sides, and that you notice a difference in the firmness of the breast tissue.)

*If you are experiencing or get any of the following symptoms (in addition to the clogged duct, right before you notice it, or right after) please call your medical care provider (your OB/midwife will see you, so will your general practitioner, as well as most urgent care locations) to get your potential mastitis diagnosed and to get antibiotics.

More Than a Woman Named Mom

The evolution that takes place over the course of motherhood truly is all-encompassing. Seasons change, the kids outgrow their baby fat, and suddenly you find yourself face to face with a stranger in the mirror. The question begs to be asked: how do you reconnect with yourself?

Food For Families: Easy Frittata Recipe

Food For Families represents our favorite easy and delicious recipes for families to make for in a rush or for when you need a meal to take to a family friend.  They're based on our personal kitchens, and ones we happily make for our clients in their own homes.