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On Receiving

Mama, you don’t have to do it alone. I know you’ve probably been fed a steady diet of American culture your entire life. You’ve been taught to value independence, hard work, self-sufficiency, and stick-to-it-iveness. If you happen to be a Texan like me, you were brainwashed at an early age to respect those who don’t aren’t dependent upon others to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get shit done.

 

But, Mama, what if I told you that’s all an impossibility? What if I told you that, while life does call on us to dig deep and be our own heroes from time to time, it’s often the grace of receiving that truly pulls us through.

 

It is hard to receive, so hard to accept help when it’s offered, much less dare to ask for it ourselves. So many of us would prefer to struggle under our burdens with forced smiles rather than to accept assistance when it is offered.

 

Why?

 

Because accepting help is admitting lack. Admitting lack. Everything in me recoils at the thought of that, of admitting that I’m lacking. There it is again, the culture rooted deep telling me that I’m supposed to have it together. I’m supposed to have it in me to be self-sufficient. I’m supposed to have, not lack.

 

But, Mama, we do lack. We do and that’s okay. The illusion of doing it all, juggling all the things, being self-sufficient, above all not being needy, it’s all a lie. It’s all an impossibility designed to alienate and isolate us.

 

I think it’s difficult to receive for a number of reasons. I struggle with it quite a lot, that feeling of shame for needing and lacking. But I think that receiving well pushes us out of our comfort zone beautifully. It’s hard to admit that we’re lacking in any way, and yet I don’t believe that “lack” has the power to change anything about our personal value or our identity, not in the way our culture would have us believe. Friend, the amount we do, the things we accomplish, the items we tick off our to-do lists, the amount of laundry folded (not put away, let’s not go completely crazy here), none of that truly speaks of our value as people. And more than just people, our ability to achieve or the fact that we lack bears no reflection of our worthiness as human beings carrying souls inherently anointed with dignity.

 

Obviously, I’m asking you to swim against the current. I’m asking you to reach out in a world that shames you for needing. But, Mama, I think we can both agree that we’d like to raise children who are able to ask for help when they need it. We want our kids to reach out to us when they need something, whether that’s demanding another trip to the bathroom (during which they’ll tell us to leave), or to help navigate middle-grade friendships, or to ask our advice on how to soothe their new babies so their wives can rest. If we want to raise these people, we have to be these people ourselves.

 

Receiving well requires humility. We have to be okay with our own lacking. We have to own our story and be willing to be vulnerable (for more on that, go read all the Brene Brown you can). And there’s always the argument that allowing people to help us is a blessing to them. Receiving big things from others is an opportunity to allow others to practice charity, something sorely needed in our communities. If someone offers something to you, whether its a small thing like a meal or something of more monetary value like an expensive stroller or a flight to visit your family, they’ve offered that thing because they wanted to, because they love you. The people in your life want to bless you. They really do or they wouldn’t offer.

 

All of this rambling to say, Mama you do not have to do this alone. You are allowed to want and need help. Hiring a postpartum doula or a housekeeper is not admitting defeat, it’s practicing good self care and allowing another person to provide for her own family, which is an amazing gift in and of itself. Using formula instead of breastfeeding is not “taking the easy way,” it’s choosing the right  path for your baby and body. Texting a friend with the hard, harsh, honest truth about how you’re feeling is not being needy, it’s finding support when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Seeing a mental health professional is not a sign of failure, it’s a sign of strength.

 

Mama, you don’t have to do any of this on your own. You may be lacking, but it is our lack that makes us beautifully real. Our lack is not a deficit, but an opportunity. If you’re struggling to receive, don’t make snap judgements. When you’re offered something (a gift of time, money, assistance, etc) take a moment to think through why you’re inclined to turn it down. Is it because of shame? Shut that liar up. Is it because you feel like an inconvenience? Remember that people wouldn’t offer unless they truly wanted to give the gift. Is it because it genuinely wouldn’t be a help? Respectfully decline and feel free to be vulnerable and tell that person what would actually be helpful.

 

Are you turning down help because you don’t feel worthy? Mama, you are worthy. You are so worthy of time and love and acceptance and rest. Be gentle with yourself. You were not made to do it all. You were not made to transform into a doormat, beaten down, and weary from your vocation. You were, however, made for community. You were made for friendship and sisterhood. You were made to give and receive help. You just have to open yourself up to it.

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5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Hire a Postpartum Doula

Wondering if a Postpartum and Infant Care doula is right for your family? You may want to take the following into consideration while making your decision.

  1. You Live in a Village. One question I get asked quite often when someone finds out I’m a Postpartum and Infant Care doula, is: “Why would I need a postpartum doula when I have my mom?”  It’s a very honest and legitimate question. Here is my answer. If you are blessed enough to have a mother (or other close relative or friend) willing to help you out after having a baby, great! That’s wonderful, and I am so happy for you. But family isn’t always close by. Families are now spread out, not only across the country, but across the world! Gone are the days of having relatives down the block, able to pitch in at a moment’s notice. We are separated by distance now. Furthermore, even if a relative could make the trip and be with you after giving birth (or if they happen to live nearby) many have responsibilities of their own to take care of. They have jobs and families of their own to get back to. They may be able to offer you a few days, maybe a week’s worth of help, but that may be it. A nice respite, sure, but hardly sustainable. A postpartum doula steps in to fill this need  for as long as the family needs.
  2. You Never Need Help. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, meal preparation, older child care, pet care…plus getting to know and caring for a new baby all while healing from labor and delivery? “No big deal”…said no mother ever. The fact of the matter is, we all need help sometimes. A postpartum doula is there so that you can spend more time healing and bonding with your baby and family, and less time worrying about the laundry. Each visit from a postpartum doula will be tailored to fit your family’s unique needs that day. Need someone to care for baby while you take a much-deserved shower and nap? We do that. Need someone to fold laundry, wash dishes, or meal prep while you tend to baby? We do that. Need help handling older children and a new baby? We do that. Need a non-judgmental, supportive ear and a shoulder to cry on? We do that. Our goal is to see the family experience a smooth and joyful transition during this time.
  3. You Never Have Any Questions or Doubts. If you never have any questions concerning postpartum recovery, breastfeeding positions, latch, bottle-feeding, reflux, bathing, co-sleeping, or a myriad of other questions that come up during the postpartum stage, then you may not need a postpartum doula. However, if like most of us you do have questions, a Postpartum and Infant Care doula offers a wealth of information and non-judgmental support during this confusing and overwhelming time.
  4. You Never Need to Sleep. Let’s face it: Most of us need adequate sleep in order to feel our best mentally and physically. Unfortunately, the time when you need rest the most-a time when your body and mind need to take time to recover-is when most families experience the least amount of sleep they’ve had in years. A postpartum doula is here to guarantee that you get the rest and sleep that you deserve and need. Whether it’s a cat-nap in the afternoon, or a few hours sleep at night (yes, postpartum doulas offer night-time care as well! Sleep well knowing your baby is being lovingly cared for.), a postpartum doula will make sure you get adequate rest.
  5. You are Wonder Woman. Actually, scratch that. I’m sure even Wonder Woman could use unbiased support and a chance to ask questions and voice frustrations without fear of judgment. Everyone needs someone in their corner cheering them on.

 

Stacie

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We’re Expanding!

66F3604F-4979-4E11-B65E-7C49638D3A1FSometimes life hands you a friend and things just click. It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to a dear friend of mine. Stacie Loughrin is a birth and postpartum doula, homeschooling mama of four, and essential oils guru. Stacie and I began our doula certification journeys roughly around the same time and she has been my right hand girl for so many moments. From watching each other’s kids, to backing each other up on births, to late night coffee dates discussing all things birth, we’re two peas in a pod.

 

 

We recently teamed up for a birth and loved it so much that we’ve decided to join forces! Bright Birth Doula Services will no longer be a solo gig, but the combined talents of both Stacie and me. We’ll be able to expand our services, giving clients double the expertise, double the access to information, and double the support. Birth clients will have access to both Stacie and me for prenatal meetings and text support and we will take turns being on call when birth month rolls around. If a client has an especially long labor, we’ll be able to sub in for one another ensuring that clients get the best care we can possibly give.

 

93CEE140-588D-4A2F-BBD5-C17D3C0404B4Between the two of us we’ve personally given birth to eight babies with experiences ranging from external versions, epidurals, unmedicated births, home births and hospital transfers, and even an unassisted homebirth (I told you Stacie is amazing). We’ve supported women in home and hospital births, medicated, unmedicated, and c-sections, and Stacie’s experience as a postpartum doula is an incredible resource for families. Together, we’re passionate about evidence-based research and guiding families in making decisions that will get them to their best birth, whatever that looks like for them.

 

Both Stacie and I are thrilled to be working together and we’re just brimming with ideas for the future. Be on the lookout for more digital resources and services, and make sure you’re following us on Facebook and Instagram so you can catch us on live videos and be a part of the community we’re working to foster online. We’re so grateful for our clients and we’re looking forward to serving you and walking with you on your journey to your own bright birth!

 

To learn more about Stacie or myself, check our About page!

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Quiet

It’s been pretty quiet around here lately. I attended a 15 hour birth last Sunday, a weird cold has slowly been circulating through the kids and finally settled in on my husband and me, and we’re still settling into the back to school shuffle of drop-offs and practices and early mornings. Basically, I felt like I was playing defense all week, just reacting to the circumstances happening around me, constantly running late and feeling completely spent from being spread much, much too thin.

 

So, I made comfort my priority this weekend. I baked and cooked and snuggled feverish babies. We all laid on the couch and did the absolute bare minimum to get by. We ordered pizza and I worked on an embroidery project and we all watched way too much TV. The kids build marble runs and wrote notes and we read Ramona and hunkered down until we felt more like ourselves again.

 

And I’m telling you all this because sometimes I think we need to give ourselves permission to say no. We need to allow ourselves to heal from the hectic craziness of our lives and just focus on the relationships that are closest to our hearts. Often, in the absurd paradox that is life, those are the relationships that get the least amount of attention and bear the brunt of our exhaustion and crankiness. It’s so easy to be impatient and ugly with my husband and kids and pour my nicest self out for everyone else. It’s easy to mindlessly stare at Facebook and be bratty about my family “bothering me.” Luckily, my family loves me unconditionally. But if I’ve learned anything from the movies it’s that life is fleeting and we shouldn’t take our families for granted. And if I’ve learned anything from Brene Brown, it’s that easy isn’t always best, even when it comes to self-care. (Maybe especially when it comes to self-care.) Scrolling Facebook for hours isn’t fulfilling. I don’t feel fed or really very rejuvenated after doing that…so I took the app off of my phone so that I’m not tempted to waste my time in that manner. I can’t tell you how much better I feel about myself and my life. Choosing smaller amounts of higher quality self-care rather than hours of unsatisfying junk has made a huge difference for me. (Don’t freak out, I still have a serious Instagram addiction…baby steps, y’all.)

 

So, as we head back into another week, let’s be gentle with ourselves. Let’s take the time to snuggle up and feed our spirits with quality quiet and truly restful rest. Everything else can wait, but bodies and families and babies need tending. We need tending, friends. At the very least, sit for a minute outside and feel the sunshine soak into your skin. Feel your breath fill up your lungs and cleanse your soul as you breathe it out. Sense your feet sinking into the ground, your back supporting you, your fingertips relaxing… sit for a minute and just be. And while you’re just being, just for that minute, remember:

You are joyful

You are kind

You are lovely

You are brave

You have self control

 

You are worthy, my friend. Wherever you are, whatever this week has in store for you, know that you are an incredible human being with incredible purpose and potential. I’m praying that your week is wonderful and you’re intentionally kind to yourself and the people in your care.

 

Blessings,

Mary Susan

 

 

Photo by the incredible Erin Bedenbaugh Photography.

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Why You Need a Blessingway

Ask anyone what you “must do” to get ready for a new baby and you’ll probably end up with a list that goes something like this:

  • read some childbirth books
  • take a class
  • visit the hospital/order your home birth supplies
  • pack a bag
  • have a baby shower
  • prep Baby’s nursery, clothes, and accessories
  • figure out the car seat

 

Few people will tell you to have a Blessingway and yet it’s one of the single most valuable things you can do to get your head and your heart prepared to welcome your newborn earthside.

 


So, what is a Blessingway?

A Blessingway, or Mother Blessing, is a modern take on an ancient practice. Basically every culture has traditions tracing back thousands of years that honor the “birth” of a mother. However, our Western culture, particularly in America, has become very baby-centric. Prenatal and postpartum care focuses primarily on babies and, while we obviously want to ensure the health and safety of our children, we do mothers a huge disservice by treating them as though they are merely a means to an end. Mothers are not baby making assembly lines, machines that grow and produce new humans. Conception, pregnancy, and childbirth are sacred, person-changing events in women’s lives and as such, should be honored and treated with the reverence they deserve.

 


Enter the Blessingway

Birthing mothers in our culture crave community. They need to be mothered by women who have gone before them. More specifically put, a Blessingway is an event that gathers community around a birthing mother. It is an intimate gathering of trusted friends and family during which a mother is surrounded by encouragement, support, and love. She is held in a safe space where she can acknowledge her fears and where people who know her well can speak powerful love and truth to her heart. It is an event that focuses solely on the incredible transformation that she is about to embark upon in labor.

 


So, what do you actually do at a Blessingway?

Here are a few ideas, though scouring Pinterest will give you a kazillion more options (as Pinterest is wont to do):

  • Have a potluck brunch with 10-15 of your closest friends and relatives, comfy clothing and foot soaks required. This is a good chance for someone to paint your toenails or massage those tired legs!
  • Ask all invitees to bring a bead with them that symbolizes a strength, characteristic, or virtue that they see in you or think will serve you well in labor. String these beads on a necklace or strand to wear or hold during delivery.
  • Have everyone write or decorate birth affirmations for you to hang up or look through in the last days of pregnancy. You can even take these to the hospital to focus on during contractions.
  • Give each guest a candle to light once you go into labor. The knowledge of candles lit simultaneously will remind you that you are carried and held by your sisters.
  • Have everyone share their best “Bad Mommy” story to remind you that perfect mothers don’t exist, but a good sense of humor makes a world of difference.
  • Hire an artist to do henna on your belly or create a belly cast (these make amazing props for newborn pictures).
  • Ask your guests to share a prayer, poem, quote, or affirmation as they lay a hand on your shoulder.

 

The variations are endless. Blessingways can be customized for any circumstance, religion, season, or culture. What’s important is that the mother feels honored, valued, seen, and held by her community. I think Pam England sums it up best in her book Birthing From Within:

All ceremonies symbolically destroy one world to create a new one. A Mother Blessing acknowledges the mother’s new status, and also helps her say goodbye to the world she is leaving behind.

-Birthing From Within p. 15

 

So, while you’re reading all the books and discovering how exactly that new stroller fits in your trunk, I encourage you to take the time and initiative to tell your sister, mother, best girls, aunts, whoever that you’d really really love a Blessingway instead of a Diaper Genie. I guarantee that you’ll feel better prepared for childbirth if you make your mental, spiritual, and emotional health a priority…and I think we can all agree that self care is an essential habit to get into for new mamas.

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Navigating Information Overload

Hey, pregnant mama! Isn’t the internet great? You can find information at insanely quick speeds, connect with people across the world, access support at the drop of a hat…it really is pretty incredible when you think about it.

 

While the internet can be one of your greatest sources of strength and information during pregnancy, it can also be a source of stress, anxiety, and overload, especially at a time when you’re probably feeling worn down in the first place. It’s hard enough to go grocery shopping and deal with the unsolicited opinions and advice from folks, but the internet can be an unfettered pipeline of information and opinion overload from what types of swaddlers to register for to the unending debate over the “right” way to give birth. (Spoiler: there’s no right way. You do you, sister.)

 

So, what’s a girl to do? How do you navigate this inescapable world of opinions and suggestions and fear mongering and unintentional shaming (or is it actually inventional?) and also have time to enjoy your pregnancy? This is a lot easier for some mamas to manage than others. Lots of women know early on how they want to birth, who they want to be there, and what type of diapering system they’re going to go with. Cool, that’s great! However, many women feel unprepared for the baptism by fire that comes from being a birthing woman in today’s society. There’s a lot to know, there’s a lot to learn, and most of it is somehow politically charged. These are the days we live in, folks, and its so normal to feel anxiety and fear. So, so normal.

 

So if you’re in this boat, here’s my advice…and please know that I see the irony in offering advice to people who feel overwhelmed by advice. So, here we go!

 


Know that our culture has not set you up to succeed. Neither girls nor boys are taught enough about their bodies and reproduction. The most many of us have ever seen is a birth video in health class. Maybe. If you’re an expectant mother or father, you really haven’t been taught to navigate the tricky medical system, so give yourself a break. There’s no way you can know every single thing people expect you to know overnight. It just isn’t possible, so cut yourself some slack and do one thing at a time. Maybe just starting with simple things, like who you want in your birth room or whether you’d like to find out your baby’s gender can feel like you’re starting a foundation of a plan.

 

 


Take into account the culture. When people share their opinions with you and tell you that you “have” to do something this way and should “never” do something that way they are seeking affirmation of their own decisions. Let me say that again. People share their opinions because they want to validate their own choices. Now, obviously this isn’t 100% across the board. There are probably many people who love you and are sharing advice because they want the best for you and your family…but that stranger in Starbucks who tells you that you’re a child endangering psycho for wanting a home birth or that if you get an epidural you’re not a “real woman” is just pushing her agenda so she can feel okay about the choices she made. Maybe she’s struggling with her own birth experience and hasn’t completely processed it. Either way, that’s just like, her opinion, man.

 

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Write yourself a permission slip. Seriously, do it. I know it sounds silly, but I swear to you it will help, especially with decisions you’ve made that may be unpopular for whatever absurd reason. If I were pregnant right now, I know for sure mine would say, “I give myself permission to not feel guilty over the decisions I make. I don’t have to make people happy with my birth.”

Or maybe you’ve decided that you want to get an epidural and that is the best choice for you even though everyone in your immediate family has had an unmedicated birth. Your permission slip could say, “I give myself permission to get an epidural because it is the best choice for MY birth.”

Maybe you’re completely overwhelmed by all of the books and websites everyone is telling you that you “have” to read. Write, “I give myself permission to read only one book about birth.”

Whatever it is you’ve decided, write that stuff down, sign it, and hang it up somewhere you’ll see it every day. Words are powerful, my friends, and permission slips help.

 


And speaking of books, there are a lot of good ones out there. There’s no way you could read and digest every great birth book in nine months. No stinking way. I am a huge believer that knowledge is power, but I also know that not everyone is ready to sit down and read 80 childbirth books. Regardless of what anyone else says or thinks or knows, this is your show. Ultimately, you get to choose how much you read or learn or do.

All that being said, I think it’s important to be an educated consumer and remember that every birth book and method is biased toward one thing or another. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just something to remember. If you’re having trouble narrowing down all of the options for you, my number one suggestion is The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. It is the most thorough, unbiased, book on birth that I’ve ever encountered. It reads more like a textbook, so you’re not going to get the touchy feely stuff from this one. It lists medications, how they’re used, and what the side effects might be; and has an entire section for the different stages of labor which includes what the mother might feel physically and emotionally, what her partner might do, and what a doula might do. It also has sections on epidurals and c-sections. It’s all the facts, none of the politics and I can’t recommend it enough, just make sure to get the most recent edition!

 


At the end of the day, there’s so much to know and so little time. Let me say again, that feeling anxiety and stress and pressure is so normal. Everything you’re feeling is valid. You’re allowed to feel annoyed or stressed or worried and you’re allowed to walk away from things that aren’t building you up. You are doing a monumental task of growing a human inside your body, a courageous task of raising a new person in this world. You are allowed to separate yourself from situations and people who do not honor the work your body and soul are doing right now. Remember that protecting your own well-being is protecting your child. It really, really is, so allow yourself the grace and gumption it takes to say no thanks to advice and not to feel guilty. Maybe write a permission slip for that one and come join us over on the Bright Birth Facebook page. It’s a safe place to vent, get input (that you actually ask for!), and make friends who are in your same boat. I hope to see you there and in the meantime, take deep breaths and lots of naps!

 

xoxo,

Mary Susan

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Why Not My Mom?

Q: My mom has had seven of her own children and my partner took a childbirth class. How is a doula that much better than either of them?

 

A: This is a common question and I think the answer lies in taking a step back looking at the big picture. Hiring a doula and having your loved ones with you during birth does not have to be mutually exclusive. It’s not either/or (unless you want it to be). You can actually have your cake and eat it too on this one!

 

Note: I’m going to be dealing in generalizations here. Obviously not every partner relationship and mother/daughter relationship are great. Even if they are great, not all mothers want their own mamas at their delivery. This is a very personal choice and there’s not a one size fits all answer. However, for the purposes of this post, we’re going to assume that the mother giving birth would genuinely be open to her partner and/or her mother attending her birth. 

 

There are lots of good reasons to have your partner and your mom in your birthing room. They love you like crazy, for starters! Your mother and your partner know you in intimate ways that your doula probably doesn’t. They know your history because they’ve walked it with you. They know what makes you tick and can offer valuable insight into how to best care for you during labor. Your mother has obviously given birth before, so she can empathize with you in ways that even your partner might not. Maybe your partner and/or mom have joined you for a childbirth class, too. That’s awesome! The more prepared your birth team is, the better.

 

All of those things can add up to a truly wonderful birth experience, no doubt about it. However – and remember you CAN have your cake and eat it, too! – a doula can be the glue that holds that wonderful experience all together.

 

Think of it this way:

A doula has*…

  • attended workshops, classes, and undergone training to master the art of labor support.
  • read countless books on childbirth, breast feeding, and postpartum.
  • written essays on the importance of continuous labor support.
  • gotten feedback from birth care professionals like midwives, doctors, and nurses.
  • researched (and continues to research) the most up to date information and studies on best birth practices.
  • made herself familiar with hospital practices and is prepared to help you navigate the medical lingo that can become confusing during birth.

 

A doula will…

  • be available to you throughout your pregnancy for questions, information, or just a shoulder to lean on.
  • give you unbiased information and will not try to sway you in one way or another. This is your birth after all.
  • have a list of resources and a network of information to get you the best answers to your questions.
  • be happy to answer any and all “awkward” questions that you might not feel comfortable asking someone else.
  • know how to help you manage labor with comfort measures, positions, etc.

 

A doula will not take the place of your partner or mother during your birth. Their presence is irreplaceable. Period. She will, however, enrich their presence with her own expertise. She will empower your partner to go ahead and try a particular support position. She will work with your mother to ensure that your spiritual and emotional needs are being met. She will make sure that everyone is on the same page as to your desires and pull the team together to be guardians of  your personal birth vision.

 

A doula is not a divider, but rather a unifier in the birth room. She honors the relationships you have with your loved ones and adds an indispensable element of information, care, and experience that will take your birth experience to the next level.

 

 

 

 

Additional Resources: 
“If You Don’t Hire a Doula” from Southern Pacific Doulas

 

*This refers loosely to DONA certified doulas or those working toward DONA certification. Other organizations have different requirements for certification and this is not an exhaustive list of the DONA certification requirements. For more information on DONA certification, follow this link.