2020 Coping Skills: Perfecting Your Vision for Pregnancy and Birth

A potential client reached out to me asking, “How are the pregnant moms you have worked with recently handling being pregnant during this ridiculously rough year?” Man, this is a good question. From COVID-19 to the devastating struggles we’re experiencing with racism, this year is high stakes with a lot of added pressure, especially if you throw pregnancy into the mix.

From what I have personally seen, I think people are handling it all in a myriad of ways, which is exactly what I’d expect. I’ve had clients who dropped off completely and decided to go it on their own (which I totally get). I’ve had others who have really leaned in and wanted more from me, especially dads seeking more in-depth virtual training so they can more intentionally support their wives in labor.

I have seen some mamas who are incredibly anxious and hyper vigilant over social distance and other safety measures. I’ve spoken to others who are feeling depression settle in due to the constant strain of anxiety, stress, and long separation from friends and family. I’ve sent distance resources to a mama who tested positive for Covid when she went in for an induction. I’ve watched from a distance as my clients grapple with changing hospital policies and their roles as parents in a broken world. As a doula, I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to fears, encouraging, and validating, (which is my favorite part of the job anyway).

Overall, the people I’ve seen who seem to be coping well are the ones who have leaned in and made a concerted effort to control what they can control. They are the folks who dig in and do the work ahead of time to make sure that they’re physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared for birth however it plays out. (Side note, these are the same types of people who rock their births in times when there’s not national upheaval around every corner. Nothing can replace preparing your whole person, heart and mind for birth. Ever.)

Ultimately, my takeaway is that if we’re not intentional about identifying where we’re feeling tender, where we feel fear and sadness, or where we have experienced trauma, then we’ll carry all of that into childbirth with us. A tense body has a harder time in labor, as pain is felt more acutely through tense muscles. We need to be relaxed in order to open up and deliver our babies, so it’s imperative that we do this hard mental work ahead of time, pandemic and social unrest or not.

So, how do we do that? What does it look like to prepare for birth during such a tumultuous time? Here are a few of my suggestions:

Get physical! This is the time to double down on those fundamental health habits like eating well and getting plenty of exercise. I know it’s maybe not fun or easy to focus on our health when we’d much rather cry into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, but it is necessary and truly pays off in labor. We can’t control the pandemic or politics, but we can control how we treat our bodies, how we build them up and prepare ourselves physically for birth. At the end of the day, pregnant bodies are gearing up for some serious physical work, so it never hurts to keep moving and well-nourished.

I always recommend that my clients do the daily activities from Spinning Babies. I also love @mamastefit on Instagram for lots of awesome info on exercise during pregnancy and prepping for labor, as well as some fantastic explanations of pushing positions.

Exercise those mental/spiritual muscles, too. Pregnant or not, when the world is in turmoil this is when we need to lean into the word of God. Beginning a practice of studying sacred scripture and filling your heart with God’s truth is incredibly important and helpful for all of us, but particularly for expectant parents. Besides the Bible, a great place to start is Mary Haseltine’s book Made for This: The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth. I also recommend looking up @liturgiesforparents on Instagram for some particularly beautiful breath prayers that are absolutely perfect for labor.

Be careful about what you’re allowing in. There are so many unknowns. Information keeps changing and bad news keeps rolling in, so it’s incredibly important for expectant parents to protect themselves mentally and to be intentional about what they’re allowing into their minds and hearts. I don’t mean that pregnant mamas should hide under a rock and pretend everything is fine, but I do think it’s wise to know when to step back from the news and/or social media.

Give yourself grace and be creative. So much of navigating this tumultuous time is found in taking things day by day and giving ourselves tons of grace. Gobs of grace. Mountainous piles of grace, grace, grace. You may not be having the pregnancy you expected and you’re annoyed. Give yourself grace. Your labor and delivery experience might not end up looking like what you’ve envisioned and you’re feeling very afraid. Grace. Maybe you’re struggling more than you think you ought to or you’re less than excited to be pregnant right now. Give yourself the grace you need to feel all that.

You are allowed to mourn and be bummed, angry, scared, or frustrated. You’re allowed to struggle with things and to feel your feelings. Mr. Rogers said so.

Moving forward through those emotions, I truly believe that the key to navigating the current climate is to approach every situation and person with an open heart and a creative spirit. Now is not the time for a hard and fast birth plan with no wiggle room. It is the time to think outside the box and find new ways to prepare for baby. You might focus on how to better communicate with your spouse, research alternative labor and delivery options, or take advantage of the virtual birth prep resources your hospital or provider offer.

Perhaps consider making a list of birth intentions rather than a traditional birth plan. For example: “I will let go of my expectations of this day and embrace however imperfectly it unfolds” or “I will welcome my baby into a sacred space where she is treated with dignity and care.”

I offer virtual Birth Brainstorm sessions that I’ve found to be particularly helpful to clients especially recently. A Birth Brainstorm is a guided discussion that offers a chance for parents to check in with each other, narrow down their goals and intentions, and polish communication and support techniques so that they’re on the same page when labor comes. These are some of my most favorite sessions to do with couples because it is such a gift to see couples come together in such an important way.

At the end of the day, we all need to approach every situation and unknown with a sense of curiosity and creativity and give others the benefit of the doubt. Everyone is doing her best right now. More than anything we need to extend grace to ourselves, our fellow humans, and then get cracking on finding creative solutions!

Control what you can control. Take responsibility for the things you are truly responsible for and let the rest go. The world is deeply hurting and incredibly broken. You are not responsible for fixing it all on your own. You are responsible for doing your part. You are not required to fight injustice in the same ways or to the same capacity that others are. During pregnancy, you may only be able to have limited involvement in causes you’re passionate about, and that’s okay. Let whatever you’re able to do be enough. Remember that the world didn’t get broken overnight, so we’re playing the long game in fixing things. One day at a time.

And ultimately, do you know what the world needs most? Your baby. Your wonderful, perfect baby is the way you’ll impact the world most and it is incredibly necessary that you honor the importance of that work. So much of the vocation of motherhood is easily swept under the rug and chalked up as “just” taking care of kids, but it is the very work that will affect change for generations to come. Your work as a mother may seem little, but it is little by little that greatness grows. By all means, you should write the letters, send the texts, read the books, donate, speak up, and be involved if you feel up to it, but please don’t let the world tell you that “just” focusing on your pregnancy or home life isn’t enough. It is the most important work you can be doing right now to make the world a better place.

How are you coping with present-day pregnancy? What have you found to be particularly helpful?

As always, I’m here if you need me! I’m happy to help you navigate this crazy world as best I can, to offer resources, virtual services, and lots of heartfelt encouragement and planning assistance.


Faith Over Fear

So much of birth is about becoming vulnerable. We spend months prepping and planning, but when it comes time to actually labor and deliver our babies, the most integral ingredient to our births is vulnerability. Only through submitting ourselves to the process of birth can we move through pain, fear, and uncertainty into the beauty of new life. Birth is a real watershed experience that requires us to lay it all out. We must completely lay bare everything; our bodies and all the notions we have about them, what we’re capable of, our anxieties, our expectations, all of that must be surrendered until we’re left with the very essence of ourselves stretched out in vulnerability and sweating from the effort. Only then can we be open enough to deliver our babies into the world.

And gosh, laying it all out is scary. It’s complicated and requires us to let go of control. It means that we might lose some things that we previously thought were guaranteed and that more may be asked of us than we feel prepared to give. Laying it all out means that we have to trust that this story is a lot bigger than we are, that we’re swept up in a story that is cosmically bigger and intimately more detailed than we’ve ever imagined.

It’s a lot to ask of a person, to ask of a family.

I find myself in a similar position with my doula business. I’ve been studying and pursuing doula work since 2015, slowly inching my way into the industry. Gosh, I love it, but I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t been struggling. It’s been so difficult to find my niche, so hard to know where I fit into a community of other doulas who are just rocking it, hard to decide which avenues I should pursue, how to gain a following, and attract more clients so I can serve more families.

A lot (read most) of my hesitancy has come from fear and imposter syndrome. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make myself fit the mold of some ideal I’ve created by observing the absolute best that doulas in my area have to offer. But here’s the thing: I can’t be the best of everybody else. I can only be the best of me. Every time I’ve tried to mimic what other doulas are doing, it comes up short and is completely unsatisfying.

I’ve recently had time to do a lot of thinking, soul searching, and praying. And the thing I keep coming back to is something that has echoed in my heart for months and months and months. I can’t separate my faith from my work. I am a Christian and a Catholic and separating my identity as doula from my faith feels impossible. Or rather, it feels impossible to be a doula without integrating my faith into my work.

But faith can be alienating for a lot of people and I totally get that. It seems counter productive to limit my doula practice to such a specific group of people, especially when my main goal is to build it. It’s also difficult to market Christianity without being lumped in with a lot of ideals that I don’t necessarily subscribe to. My Jesus is not cheesy or an upper middle-class white man, but when I think, “Christian doula,” that’s kind of what I picture, to be honest. I obviously have my own biases to contend with. Branding myself this way contains certain risks, either way.

And yet.

And yet I feel more excited by this idea than I ever have before. I feel certain that this is an opportunity to speak truth to a community that needs me. I feel called, plain and simple, uniquely called to serve a specific group. While I haven’t heard the audible voice of God booming around me or speaking from a burning bush, I’ve felt tug after tug after tug on my heart. I’ve had clients tell me that they’re hiring me because they know I’m Catholic. I’ve seen God speak to me through post-it notes and chapstick. Over and over I’ve heard Him say, “Faith over fear.”

So, what does this mean for my business? It means that I’ll be writing and speaking about how to integrate the physical aspects of birth with the spiritual. I’ll be creating content specifically from a Christian and Catholic perspective, sharing scripture and prayer, talking about Saints, blessings, and Jesus.

This does not mean that I won’t take on clients who don’t subscribe to my belief system. You can certainly achieve beautiful, healthy birth without being Christian or Catholic, and I love to love on families regardless of their faith background. Not a shred of my heart for birth has changed, I’m just removing the filter and it feels really good.

Maybe I’ll get more clients or maybe I’ll miss out on a ton of opportunities. I’m good with that. I am not the doula for every single person and that’s okay. At the end of the day, this isn’t my work, it’s God’s. The success of this business isn’t solely dependent upon me being in control, but rather in me being obedient to God’s will. What a relief.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. If you’ve got questions, please feel free to reach out. I’m genuinely so jazzed about where I’m headed and I can’t wait to see where the Lord leads me and where He leads us.

Much love,

Mary Susan


Bring Your BRAIN to Birth

There’s a popular acronym in the birth community that I absolutely love. It’s just as simple as remembering to bring your BRAIN to birth!

When making any decision prenatally, during labor, or even postpartum, run it through this rubric:

Benefits – What are the benefits of making this decision? Whether it’s scheduling an induction, trying a new prenatal exercise video, or deciding whether or not you’ll opt for an epidural, take a minute to think about what good the intervention or decision will do you.

Risks – What are the risks? Are there any ways this decision could negatively impact your pregnancy or birth? Does it line up with your birth plan or could it potentially set you off on a path you’d rather avoid?

Alternatives – What other options are on the table? Sometimes thinking outside the box is just what the doctor (or midwife) ordered!

Intuition – What does your gut tell you? If you’re not feeling peaceful about a decision, take note. It’s important to validate your intuition and trust your instincts.

Nothing – What happens if you do nothing? Sometimes the best decision is no decision at all or just to wait for an hour and then revisit it. In many instances, just giving yourself some time can help you sort out pros and cons and feel confident in the direction your birth is headed.

That’s it! Short and sweet…just like I hope your labor will be! 😉

If you want to get your hands on a BRAIN birth shirt like this one, head over to The Birth Shop on Bonfire…she’s even got it on a mug, which would be perfect for a home birth, eh?