It goes without saying that having a baby changes your life. And it’s hard. From the nausea that sets in in early pregnancy, to the aches and pains and insomnia in the last trimester, the toll on your body is great.
Add in waking up every few hours to feed your newborn, healing from birth, learning to breastfeed, and a number of postpartum challenges, and you may wonder why we choose to go through any of it.
Until you hold you baby close and sniff their soft, sweet head. Or catch those fleeting dream smiles. Or get that first taste of back-and-forth interaction with your baby.
The hard stuff is the price we pay for experiencing the overwhelming love and joy of being a parent.
In recent years, society has acknowledged the challenges of motherhood. We see photos of celebrities in those ugly-wonderful mesh panties they give you postpartum. We support breastfeeding in public and also understand that breastfeeding isn’t always easy, or preferred, or for everyone. We accept that it’s okay to feel “touched-out.” We are learning to embrace our postpartum bodies. We talk more openly about postpartum depression and anxiety.
This is all good, and necessary. We acknowledge that parenthood, and especially motherhood, involves some sacrifice, physical discomfort, and lack of sleep. This camaraderie gives us permission to release the unrealistic ideal that parenthood should be easy, or pretty, or that we’re the only ones who find it hard.
It’s hard but we do it because that’s what the baby needs. The baby needs to grow, stretching out the uterus, and compressing our other organs up into the ribcage. The baby needs us to respond to his cries for hunger several times at night so he can eat and thrive. The baby needs to be born so we labor, and push our bodies to their limits, or undergo major surgery to bring the baby into the terrestrial world.
There are things we want to give our kids, like toys, and activities, and quality childcare, and education— so we purchase less of what we might want to give the baby what he or she needs.
All of this giving is normal, and instinctual, and a part of being a parent. But there is a piece missing.
There are other things the baby needs—and they are actually the things we need.
As mothers, we overwhelmingly put the needs of our family before our own. And while it comes from a place of love, and from us accepting the “hard stuff,” it isn’t necessarily necessary. Ignoring our own needs can backfire on us.
Denying what you need isn’t necessarily what your baby needs.
Your baby also needs:
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Put on your own oxygen mask first.” This is derived from airline safety instructions; parents flying with kids are instructed in an emergency to put on their own oxygen masks before they put on their kids’ masks. Otherwise they might pass out before they can put on anyone’s mask, and then nobody wins.
It’s easy to understand the importance of taking care of yourself first, but it can be hard to do. Or easy to point to something simple like getting your hair done occasionally and say that that’s enough.
Daily self care is much more difficult. Asking for help can feel impossible to do. Budgeting to see a chiropractor in pregnancy, or a pelvic floor therapist after birth, or hiring a postpartum doula, or a babysitter so you can get some alone time, is completely off the radar for many.
But if there is a shift in thought, in both you and your partner, that what you need as a person, is what your baby also needs in a mother— then maybe self care will turn into a family need.
Your self care will be just as necessary as diapers, or a carseat, or daycare, or anything else the baby may need. And so it will be planned for and budgeted for.
Self care isn’t just okay, it’s necessary. Your care is necessary.
Pregnancy and parenthood will always be hard, and exhausting, and challenging at times. But by prioritizing your own needs, you are preventing it from being even harder.
I am a certified labor (birth) doula and postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Self-care can come in the form of a doula, whether that be
during your birth or after your baby is born.
You pee on a stick and see two lines. Congratulations, you're pregnant!
After telling your partner, and maybe some close family and friends (or maybe you want to tell everyone you know), there are a number of things you begin to do.
You Google “pregnancy due date calculator” and figure out your estimated due date.
You call your doctor or midwife’s office to schedule your first appointment.
You start to look for a doula. What? In the first trimester?!
It’s not as crazy an idea as you may think.
Here's why you may want to hire a doula in your first trimester:
1. The doula you want may not be available later in your pregnancy.
There is no “right” time to book your doula; it’s a very personal decision. Sometimes you don’t even learn what a doula is or how one can help you in birth until later in your pregnancy.
But if you know you are interested in doula support, you may want to start your search earlier rather than later. If you find a doula you really connect with and want to support you, communicating with her before she is booked for your birth month or before she makes vacation plans can ensure that she is available for your estimated due date.
Note that birth work has its ebbs and flows; some months I find myself fully booked with births and other months I have no births booked at all. So even if you are approaching your estimated due date and still want to hire a doula, you will likely find one available for your birth. It just may not be the one you thought you would hire.
2. A doula can help you find the right care provider.
Many people automatically contact the doctor or midwife they see for their yearly pap smear and begin prenatal care with that provider. Sometimes it becomes clear that your current care provider’s philosophy about birth doesn’t quite align with your own. Or you may decide that the hospital or facility where they catch babies doesn’t offer the amenities or experience you want for your birth.
Your doula is familiar with a wide variety of care providers in your area. Want to switch from an OB/GYN to a home birth midwife? Your doula can give you a list of options to investigate. Know you want a hospital birth but aren’t sure which doctor to choose? Or you find out later in pregnancy that you need to transfer care from a midwife to a physician?
Your doula can offer care provider suggestions who may be a good fit for your birth preferences and your personality. She can also outline the features and limitations of the different hospitals in your area, to help you narrow down your decision.
3. Your doula works for you the moment you hire her.
Early pregnancy is fraught with its own unique challenges: morning sickness (that really should be called all-day or any-time-of-day sickness), constipation, feeling bloated, exhaustion, and food aversions to name a few. Your doula can suggest helpful things to try, alternative practitioners who may be of help, or she might suggest that you speak to your care provider if the issue is medical in nature.
Your doula can sympathize with you, listen to your concerns with compassion and understanding, and reassure you that what you are experiencing is normal. Sometimes you just need to vent a little, or get some outside perspective; your doula is there to provide that emotional support.
4. The more established your relationship, the better your doula may be able to help you.
When my clients hire me closer to their estimated due dates, we may have time for only one prenatal visit before their birth. When clients hire me earlier in pregnancy, we have time to have two spaced-out, comprehensive visits.
Not only am I learning about their birth preferences and helping them sort through their options for labor, but I’m also getting to know my clients. I learn how they interact with each other, and identify their chief concerns and wishes. I get to know their sense of humor, what makes them unique, what motivates them, and how they show concern for their partner.
All of this experience and interaction informs how I serve them in labor. And because I get to know them better, I may suggest certain things in labor over others. My support in labor is more tailored to their individual needs.
Getting to know my clients helps me help them, and having more time to do this is a great advantage.
Trigger warning: Miscarriage
Sometimes in early pregnancy, there is a loss. According to ACOG (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), early pregnancy loss occurs in about 10% of known pregnancies. Approximately 80% of miscarriages occur in the first trimester.
Some clients would prefer to wait until the second trimester, when the chance of miscarriage decreases significantly, or even later, until they begin to think about hiring a doula. This is a valid, understandable choice. The choice to hire a doula in early pregnancy or wait until later on is highly personal and totally up to the expecting couple.
If you do hire your doula in early pregnancy and experience a loss, you can turn to your doula for resources on what to expect and how to cope. The vast majority of doulas will refund to you your deposit, even if your deposit is non-refundable (you can ask your doula before hiring her what is her policy on refunds due to loss). She can offer you support and information on any medical procedures you can expect. She can direct you to resources in your area or refer you to a specially trained bereavement doula who can better support you through this difficult time.
Your doula can give you much more than labor support. She is there for you throughout your pregnancy, helping you navigate your way through a time of great change, uncertainty, and ultimately, of great joy.
I am a certified labor (birth) doula and postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Are you newly pregnant and interested in doula support now?
If you are pregnant, sooner or later you will think about how to manage the pain of labor. Some clients know they want to get an epidural, and others would prefer to either forego pain medication entirely, or see how they feel in labor and make a decision in the moment.
Pain management and comfort measures are topics I discuss at length with my clients in our prenatal meetings. When clients want to avoid or delay pain medication, we talk about natural pain relief methods like counter pressure, hydrotherapy, heat therapy, and position changes.
When clients are open to pain medications, but want to avoid or delay an epidural or narcotic medication, nitrous oxide can be a great option.
Nitrous oxide has been used by laboring people in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada for decades. The ACNM (American College of Nurse-Midwives) supported its use in a 2011 position statement, affirming nitrous oxide as a pain relief option that fits into the midwifery model of care.
While nitrous oxide was once frequently used in United States, in the 1970’s its use declined as epidural analgesia surged in popularity. As of 2017, one report stated that nitrous oxide was available in only around 150 hospitals and 50 birth centers nationwide.
Fortunately for those in the Treasure Valley, both major hospital systems, St. Lukes and St. Alphonsus, offer nitrous oxide, also known simply as “nitrous,” in their labor and delivery rooms.
With all interventions, there are benefits and risks. Here’s what you need to know if you are considering using nitrous oxide in your upcoming birth:
The Benefits of Nitrous Oxide in Labor
The Risks, or Downsides of Nitrous Oxide in Labor
I am a certified labor doula (birth doula) and postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Are you considering using nitrous oxide in labor? Would you like more information about it?
It’s the holiday season, and that means interaction with family members you may see just a few times a year. Even if you have wonderful relationships with your extended family, if you are pregnant around the holidays, conversations can get difficult when talk turns to your plans for birth. Everyone seems to have an opinion to share about what you should or shouldn't do, or they offer a prediction of how your birth will go.
Here are five tips to navigate the holidays while pregnant:
1. Modify your holiday plans. Modify your plans, and minimize your stress. If you usually host a family gathering, ask someone else to host this year. Plan on bringing in prepared foods instead of cooking, or make the dinner a potluck event.
Can you limit family time this year? Use your pregnancy to your advantage. Perhaps you stay for just a few hours at your sister’s house instead of the whole day. Or take a nap while everyone else is watching football.
If you are nearing your estimated due date, your care provider may actually warn against you traveling more than a couple of hours from your home. That means you can avoid a prolonged visit with family altogether, if that is your preference.
2. Prepare for difficult conversations. Chances are, your family members are excited about the new addition to their own extended family. But instead of only sharing in your excitement, they may also feel the need to share their opinions.
Conversation will inevitably turn to your pregnancy, and will likely consist of three topics:
If you are making choices for your birth that are different from those your family members have made for themselves, be prepared for push back. You might hear things like, “Just you wait! You have no idea!” or “You’ll change your mind!”
If your choices are vastly different, you may even hear things like “You are putting your baby’s life in danger!” or “You are being selfish.”
With pregnancy hormones at play, and if you yourself are still navigating your birth options, these conversations can get heated, emotional, and very difficult.
If you anticipate these conversations in advance, you can avoid feeling blindsided. You might tell your family before the event (or have your partner tell their family) that you don’t want to have these conversations at all. Or, you may choose to be more selective or vague in your answers to probing family members.
3. Practice disengaging. Sometimes these difficult conversations can’t be avoided. Maybe your relatives already know your plans for birth and they are using this holiday gathering as one more instance to voice their disapproval.
In these situations, don’t try to defend your choices, or try to convince your family members to accept them. Instead, answer their questions or comments with a neutral phrase, like, “Hmmmmm” or “Huh!”
Or you can make them feel heard and say, “You know, that gives me something to think about.”
Sometimes, you may feel the need to stop the conversation entirely. You can say, “Thank you for your concern. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Or redirect the conversation to another topic: “Okay. Hey, congrats on your promotion. How do you like your new job?”
4. Make time for self care. Taking care of yourself is always important, but especially so during the busy holiday season. Book a prenatal massage, take a long bath, make time to exercise, or plan a night out with your partner. Enjoy the time you have now that is all yours.
Whatever brings you relaxation and calm increases your oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is the "love hormone" that plays a role in labor, attachment, bonding, and breastfeeding. Taking deep breaths, centering your mind, and finding ways to relax amidst the tension around you is also excellent practice for managing labor.
5. Create your own holiday traditions. With a baby on the way, your life will be changing in just a few short weeks or months. Whether this is your first baby, or you are adding a sibling, take the time to reassess what you and your partner want for your growing family. What traditions will you adopt? What will you let go? What is important? What’s not?
These answers look different for everyone. They may not fit into what your extended family has chosen. But when you take the time to pause and think about what you want for your own family, the stress and furor that accompanies this time of year lessens-- which makes for a better holiday season, and a better pregnancy.
I am a certified labor doula and professional postpartum doula serving clients in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Nampa and the greater Treasure Valley.
This holiday season, ask for doula support! Elevated Birth gift certificates are available in any denomination and can easily be added to your baby registry.
These gorgeous photos are courtesy of Natalie Koziuk Photography. Clients of Elevated Birth get discounts on sessions with Natalie!
New Baby? Pregnant? Trying?
I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.