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In Defense of the Birth Plan

Ah, the birth plan…such a polarizing topic, am I right? In my experience, folks’ opinions on birth plans predominantly come from two camps:

First, there’s the Over-Planner Unrealistic Expectation Camp whose members feel like if they research and plan out as much as possible, they’ll get the birth of their dreams. (Cue Oprah: “You get a magical birth! And you get a magical birth!!”)

Then there’s the Fly by the Seat of Their Pants Camp, whose overarching opinion is that planning is futile since birth is so unpredictable anyway. If you don’t over-plan, you won’t get disappointed. Low expectations won’t let these parents down!

 

Now, these are obviously very oversimplified generalizations and I understand that most birthing couples have far more nuanced beliefs surrounding birth planning. However, I do think that these stereotypes speak a some truth and as a doula, it’s my job to help my clients hit a sweet spot that’s the best of both worlds. Below you’ll find the most common questions I get from clients when discussing the benefits of birth plans and my responses to those questions. Hopefully they’ll help shed some light on your way to creating your own balanced birth plan.

 

What’s the point in a birth plan if everything is going to change anyway?

Let me be clear here. When I advocate for clients to create a birth plan, I don’t mean that I think they should create a hard and fast legal document that they’ll nail to their delivery room door a la Martin Luther. There’s a big difference in creating a list of birth demands and creating a birth plan. Creating a plan requires birthing people to look at all of their options, weigh pros and cons, make decisions based on their values, priorities, and goals, and educate themselves about possibilities. Ideally, the process of creating a good birth plan will leave couples with a wealth of information that they can tap into if and when they deviate from the plan.

The other side of this coin begs the question: How do you know what you want or don’t want if you haven’t researched your options? Do you want your baby to be administered Vitamin K? How do you feel about the use of fetal scalp monitors? Do you want to labor down or have coached pushing? I can assure you that the easiest time to ponder these decisions is not during contractions or immediately postpartum, especially if you’re hearing your options for the very first time. If you’re completely comfortable deferring to others for the medical care of yourself/your partner/your baby, then by all means don’t make a plan. But if you’re the type who wants to know more or to better understand your options, planning is definitely for you.

My final thought on this question is that you will never regret knowing “too much.” Navigating a birth situation, especially for a first time parent, is much less tricky when you’ve taken the time to educate yourself on terminology, hospital policies, and potential procedures. A change in plan or an unexpected event during labor is a lot easier to manage when you’re not completely unfamiliar with the options that exist. Knowledge is power, my friends!

 

I don’t want to make a birth plan because I’m afraid talking about it will just scare me!

Okay, let’s lean into this for a minute. When I hear someone say that they’re frightened of birth I can infer a few things. First, this person is normal, and second, they have some some soul searching to do. Guys, our culture has not served us well in preparing us for birth. When the main birth narratives we’re taught from childhood center around horror stories, panicked scenes in movies, and “Yoouuu did this to meee!!”  it’s no wonder we’re scared. Combine that narrative with everything we’re not taught about women’s bodies and you’ve got some major blanks to fill. And what do we fill the blanks with? You guessed it, fear.

It is absolutely normal to fear what we don’t know. The Haunted House ride at Wonderland Park in Amarillo, Texas scared the cuss out of me as a kid. I almost peed my pants and broke my sister’s hand when she forced me to go in it with her. I didn’t know what to expect except to know that I was embarking on a journey of abject terror: it was dark, loud, clammy, musty, and full of strobe lights. I rode it with my eyes screwed shut the entire time except for the portion during which my sister told me it was safe and I opened my eyes to see a zombie driving a freight train right at my face. Good times, good times.

But here’s the thing: the Haunted House wouldn’t have been so scary if I had known what to expect. If I had been given a calendar that stated the month I was scheduled to  visit the Haunted House, I’d have had time to psych myself up for it. If I had been given a guidebook that told me the different rooms I would travel through, I’d know that our vehicle would pass some bats, a clown or two, and four to eight severed heads on pikes. If someone had taught me the mechanics of how those severed heads popped up, I would have been able to anticipate the scares and manage my response accordingly. By the time I got to the zombie train, I’d have known that the ride was almost over and daylight was just around the corner.

When we know what to expect, the unknown isn’t as scary. I think it’s very important for us to dismantle our fears surrounding birth. What specifically are we afraid of? What is the root of this fear? What is the worst thing that could happen if this fear came true? What practical things can we do to prepare ourselves for the things that scare us? When we speak our fears and give them names, we take away their power. Once I finally knew what to expect from the Haunted House at Wonderland Park, it had significantly less power over me. I was far more confident riding with knowledge than when I knew nothing and buried my head in my sister’s shoulder, trying to pretend it wasn’t happening. I still got nervous when I rode the Haunted House the second time, but I started to enjoy the thrills and cheap gags for what they were. The more I knew, the better able I was to cope. And guess who closed the Haunted House down at Wonderland that day? This kid.

 

This isn’t my first baby, so I know the drill and a birth plan isn’t really necessary.

I understand the temptation to fall into this line of thinking. I’ve got four children of my own and I know full well how impossible it can feel to even think about stealing one uninterrupted minute to plan for a subsequent birth. When you’re pregnant and parenting other kids, it’s easy to feel as though giving birth is like riding a bike. And in some ways it is…until it’s not.

I like to remind clients that every birth and every baby are different. So many factors contribute to how a birth will play out from baby’s positioning to how mama is feeling emotionally. You only get to do each birth once, so it behooves you to take some time to remind yourself of what your birth goals are and reevaluate your previous births to see what you loved and things that you’d do differently this time. Birth planning for seasoned parents is likely to be less time intensive than for first timers, but again, you’ll never regret taking the time to recenter and refresh your knowledge.

 

 

To conclude, birth plans can be an incredibly useful tool when created with evidence-based research, open hearts, and room for flexibility. I take pride in the fact that I spend a large amount of time with my clients discussing and planning for their births. I value birth planning so much that I even offer Birth Brainstorming sessions independent of my birth doula services for folks who just want assistance in planning their births. Sometimes it’s just nice to have an unbiased third party to bounce ideas off of! You can find more information on Birth Brainstorming sessions on my Services page.

What about you? Are you a planner, do you prefer to go with the flow, or are you a combination of both? Remember, at the end of the day, plan or no plan, this is your body, your baby, and your best birth. I’m here to support and educate you however I can, so feel free to reach out and let’s chat!

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The Unhealthy Hustle

Where my postpartum anxiety/depression friends at? 🙋‍♀️🙋‍♀️🙋‍♀️



“The more anxious we are, the more high-functioning we will make ourselves appear, which just encourages the world to lean on us more.” – Sarah Wilson



Anyone else identify strongly with this statement?



Personally I can easily say that the height of my PPA/PPD struggle was when I was hustling most to make it look like I wasn’t struggling at all. And guess what? I was incredibly convincing. Chalk it up to my expensive theater degree (thanks, Mom and Dad!) or to the overwhelming pressure I felt to not be perceived as weak or needy, but the more I struggled the more I hustled to cover it up.



It was exhausting. It was overwhelming. It was indescribably unhealthy. It did not serve me, my husband, our family, or the greater community in any way. None.



Repeat after me: Sometimes the hustle is not healthy.



If you’re hustling to further your career or keep your body strong or to achieve your goals, you go get it! I am proud of you for the work you’re putting in and I will cheer you on every step of the way.



However, if you’re hustling to prove to someone that you’re capable, to prove that you’re fine on your own, that you don’t need help, that’s a problem.



If you’re hustling to cover up feelings of shame, that’s not healthy.



If you’re hustling to keep up with any arbitrary cultural standard, that’s a problem.



If you’re hustling because you don’t feel like you’ll let people down if you step back or say no, that’s an issue.



If you’re newly postpartum or deep into that 4th Trimester of baby’s first year and you find yourself hustling, I want you to take a minute to question. Ask yourself, why am I so exhausted? Did I lose sleep? Am I feeling more than just blues? Am I struggling with extreme emotions like sadness or anger? Am I secretly over-using or becoming too dependent upon substances or other numbing mechanisms to cope? (Think misuse of food, alcohol, excessive social media use, etc.) Am I taking on new tasks or responsibilities because they’re things that bring me joy and satisfaction or because I feel obligated or because I want to make others happy with me?



If these questions strike a chord, you need to get creative and prioritize yourself. I know that’s hard, especially when you’re keeping kids alive and have other responsibilities. But remember, your family/baby/husband/coworkers also need you to prioritize yourself.



The height of the struggle is not the time to hustle more. It is time to prioritize rest and mental health. Remember, your schedule should reflect what works, not what’s “normal.” Be creative. I have a friend who spent the first two years of her baby’s life staying up all night and sleeping for most of the day. That’s what worked for her family and it was perfect. Do what works even if it seems bizarre to others.



It’s incredibly difficult to stop hustling, especially if you’re anxious and depressed. If you’re overwhelmed and you need help to stop the cycle, reach out. The lie says that you’re the only one struggling, you’re a burden, be quiet because your life is easier than most, and on and on and on. The truth is, everyone is struggling. Everyone. You are not a burden. Ever. Also, all the cool moms go to therapy. (That’s a little tongue in cheek but truthfully speaking, talking to an unbiased third party for the better part of a year saved my sanity. Therapists, counselors, priests, pastors, mentors, friends, support groups…they’re all there to listen and support. Use your resources. You will never regret it.) Constant hustling perpetuates the cycle. Just like in labor, the only way out is through. But also just like in labor, there are people ready and willing to support you. You don’t have to shoulder life all on your own. You’re worthy, my friend.



Need a place to start? Try the following resources:
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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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If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

Today, while on a walk, a friend and I were asked if we run an at-home day care.

 

We each have four children.

 

Earlier this week, while playing at a nature center, I was told that I’m, “like the old lady who lived in a shoe.” You know the one… “had so many children she didn’t know what to do.” So much humor. Many laughs.

 

Let me reiterate: I have four children. Four. Also, these comments were just the ones that stuck out this week. I’m told on a daily basis how full my hands are. So many people are concerned with the fullness of my hands. They’re just so incredibly thoughtful.

 

I honestly don’t consider four to be that many kids. I mean, I realize it’s above average, but I’m not a Duggar, y’all. And even if I did have a “large” family, THOSE KINDS OF COMMENTS ARE NEVER HELPFUL. Zero times have comments on my family size ever made me or my kids feel anything but negative, judged, icky, gross, less than, or in the way. It is never appropriate or helpful to make those kinds of comments. Nev-errrrr.

 

And I feel like this conversation has been had over and over and over. I could list and link and count a bajillion (yes, exact number) examples, personal experiences, blog posts, instagram stories, tweets, etc, etc, etc, discussing how very inappropriate these kinds of comments are. And yet, the comments keep coming. Like a thoughtlessly asinine lava flow of verbal diarrhea, they just keep on a-comin’.

 

The friend I was walking with today metioned that a gentleman at church saw her last week and said, “You look so much better! I guess you guys are all done, now!” I couldn’t even pick my jaw up off the ground if I wanted to. She looks better than what?? Than the gorgeous life-bearing goddess she is and always has been? Gracious, I was riled by that. Very, very riled.

 

This all falls under the umbrella of “people are insensitive and judgemental and they say dumb things.” Okay, okay, I get that. I totally understand how difficult it is to communicate with strangers without first considering how my words may make them feel. I know how hard it is to keep my opinions to myself, especially since I’m always right and it’s my personal duty to let people know that their sex lives and baby spacing methods are just not normal, nor are they acceptable, thankyouverymuch. I know how difficult it is to choose between a negative, judgemental comment and one that is encouraging and uplifting. Such a tough call to make.

 

I see the struggle, y’all, so I’ve compiled this helpful list of possible talking points for folks who *gasp!* encounter families of more than 2.5 children. Please enjoy.

 

  • “What a beautiful family you have! I bet you have so much fun together!”
  • “You’re doing such hard, important work…I know it must be challenging sometimes, but it looks like you’re doing really well!”
  • “Thank you for bringing your kids to the nature center/library/church. It’s so nice to see families learning together!”
  • “Hey, there. May I entertain your toddler while you get those groceries onto the belt?”
  •  “I just love seeing energetic children exploring the world. Have a great adventure!”
  •  “Children are such a gift. Speaking of gifts, all of your children must be gifted because they’re clearly all Mensa material!”
  •  “You are a magical unicorn beast of womanly power and beauty. Thank you for raising strong humans to take care of us all in our old age!”

 

All snark and sarcasm aside, can we just be nice humans already?? This obviously doesn’t apply only to family size conversations. It’s applicable to families with brand new babies, families who look like they’ve possibly adopted or are doing the beautiful work of foster care. It applies to literally any human in any situation, not just in motherhood/child bearing circles.

 

Please hear this: It is more important to be kind than to be right. It is more  to be kind than to have your curiosity satiated. It is more important to be kind than even the teensiest bit judgemental.

 

It is more important to be kind. 

 

And just like I tell my huuuuuuge family of four children, if you can’t be kind, be quiet.