Saturday, December 31, 2011

{Ottawa Doula} Reflecting on One Year

One year ago, I attended my first birth as a doula. I remember excitedly packing my bag, rushing over to my client's house, and then finding my "groove" as a support person. I remember trying to please the midwives and nurses, and trying to stay awake, despite my client's insistence that I get some rest (first lesson learned: when there is time for sleep, take it!!)

In 2011 I served over 20 clients, from all different walks of life. Some births, I have felt extremely confident, knowing I have made a positive difference. At other births, I have felt a sense of failure, both real and imagined. Not surprisingly, the failures hurt the most, and remain forefront in my mind.

There are many lessons I've learned, and some I have written about here.

What I have been reflecting the most on this past week are the struggles I have with the business side of doula work. The fact that I must have an attractive website; an interactive Facebook Page; and a number of followers on Twitter. I must be constantly "on the ball," answering emails within 24 hours, and looking/feeling my best at interviews. Despite all the stipulations in the contract I hand out to potential clients, I have, on occasion, found myself failing to meet my obligations and/or clients failing to meet their obligations. We are all human, and having something written down doesn't just "make it so."

Doula clients pay me money to serve them, and for all the benefits of paid service, it sometimes puts me in an awkward position. If my family could afford it, doula work would probably become a hobby of mine - something I might do without fees for friends, and friends of friends.

So for fellow doulas and other small business owners out there, here are some tips and tidbits I've learned along the way:

1) Surround yourself with like-minded people. Join business groups, network with fellow doulas, and find someone to mentor you. You would be surprised at how much you'll learn from others.

2) Don't get catty - small cities (like Ottawa) and niche-businesses are notorious breeding grounds for gossip and naysayers. Who cares what other people do or don't do? As long as you know your own values and try to abide by them, then the actions of others are not your concern (that said, we doulas do become concerned when someone is not representing us in the best way at our local hospitals! It kind of gives us a bad reputation)

3) The business side DOES matter. Yes, as doulas we must be emotionally supportive, creative and active listeners. But that doesn't mean we can afford to ignore the important things - answering emails on time, following up as much as possible, and being extremely clear about our limits. Transparency is best! This is my area of weakness, and one of my goals is to improve in 2012.

4) Record, record, record. It's so easy to just mosey-on along without properly documenting invoices, amounts paid/owed, and receipts. You will pay for it when tax time rolls around!

5) Have a social media plan. My friend, Lara Wellman, has some great services for folks hoping to enter the world of social media. Decide how much time you want to spend on social media, and then stick to it. Maybe you can only manage one half-hour per day - if you sit down and plan your posts/tweets for a whole month in advance, you will most likely meet you goal!

6) Try, try again. You will make mistakes - guaranteed. There will be guilt and tears. The important thing to do is pick yourself back up, and learn from the mistake. In our business, communication is key. It is miscommunication that usually leads to problems, so focus on being as clear as a bell. And practice makes perfect, of course!

To all my fellow small business owners, have a happy and fruitful 2012!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Scatterbrained {New Year's Resolutions}

While everyone else vows to eat and drink less, exercise more, and lose those last 10 lbs, I'm wondering how to resolve to be less scatterbrained. Not a very exciting resolution, I know.

I'm a big picture kind of person. Show me a room that's been redecorated, and I couldn't tell you what was there before. But, I will get a "feel" for the room and decide whether it's to my taste or not (modern, cool, funky, comfy....) I focus on overall feelings and emotions, as opposed to tiny details. The details bore me, frankly.

But this makes for tricky business when I live in a world where people demand preciseness. A big picture person has a tough time following schedules, setting deadlines and often gets caught up in procrastination.

Is it because I don't care about achieving goals and "getting things done"? No, of course not! I just forget...a lot. I forget about appointments I've made, I forget to ask my friend about something important that has happened in her life, and I always, always forget people's names. My head is in the clouds so often that I have a hard time coming down to earth. When I do, I look around in surprise, as though to say "wow, is this what things are really like?"

I've tried to mend my ways. I've posted a massive calendar on our kitchen wall, detailing every appointment, birth and activity coming up. I enter appointments and birthdays into my Blackberry so that the little reminder message will ding me. I try to get my husband to remind me to complete tasks I've started.

And I STILL seem to miss things.

I don't really have an answer to my dilemma, and sometimes wonder whether I'm just not a great fit for the modern world. If I lived in the 1800's, I think I would have been perfectly happy living a Lizzy kind of life (a.k.a Elizabeth, from Pride and Prejudice). Spending my days playing piano, going for walks, and writing in my journal. Oh, and daydreaming, of course. But I'm sure many of those women were bored to tears, and I don't really wish to live in a patriarchal society.

So with a big sigh, I pledge to try to do better in 2012; to try to find little ways to gently bring myself back to this earth - with all its appointments, rushed schedules and full inboxes. If there are any organizational gurus out there reading my blog, send me your favourite tips in the comment box below!

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Merry Belated Christmas

I was supposed to do this on Christmas day, but you forgive me....right?

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dear Santa: My Letter to the Big Guy

Dearest Santa Claus,

When I was 12, I asked you to bring me an Ouija Board....and you did. Thank you for all of those terrifying nights spent with my girlfriends, contacting the dearly departed and causing the heads to break off of our parent's cherub angel figurine.

When I was 14, I asked you to bring me Blue Rodeo's Five Days in July CD....and you did. Thank you for allowing me to hear the most beautiful song in the world - Dark Angel. To this day, whenever I am sad, I only need to listen to this song to be lifted up (listen here).

When I was 24, I asked you to help me through a difficult time...and you did. 25 came, and I conquered my fears and moved on with my life.

When I was 28, I asked you to give me strength, and help me know how to raise a child we hadn't planned for. And you did...our little girl seems so grown up this Christmas, and we're feeling like proud parents who finally know what they're doing (sort of).

This year I'm 31. Life seems somehow more hectic and more stable, all at once. So what do I want for Christmas this year?

I've realized that wishing for world peace won't make it happen. I've realized that wishing for the Canadian Government to honour our Kyoto commitments won't happen. I've realized that wishing for our healthcare system to catch up to the research is going to take some time. And I've realized that I can't save everybody - that there will always be suffering in the world.

So I'm asking for something really simple this year. It's not too hard...a little moisture in the air. A temperature below 0 degrees Celsius....and a BIG, HUGE DUMP OF SNOW. I'm talking like 50cm. Preferably before Christmas Eve day; before my family travels all this way to visit us.

That's all I want for Christmas this year Santa Claus....can you help me?


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

{Ottawa Doula} Can I Check My Own Cervix?

I have a habit of writing posts on issues that are somewhat counterculture...I can't help it! I love learning about things that are not mainstream, especially when it comes to women's health. So read on, but be warned....this may not appeal to you :)

If your care provider is a doctor or an OB, there is no way of knowing how dilated you might be without heading into the hospital and getting a cervical exam. If you have a midwife, they will often come to your home and do a check, which will tell you if it's time to head into the hospital or not.

I would first like to point out that dilation is not the primary indicator that labour is progressing. Penny Simkin (my doula guru) teaches that there are 6 ways to progress in labour:

1) The cervix moves forward - it faces your birth canal, instead of your bum!

2) The cervix softens and gets squishy

3) The cervix thins (effacement, in %)

4) The cervix dilates (from 1-10 cm)

4) The baby moves down the birth canal (station, from -4 to +4)

5) The baby rotates

For a lot of women, long early labours (24+ hours) are doing a number of things - the cervix is moving forward, softening and effacing. Dilation may happen during this time, but it's common for effacement to take place to a greater degree. So women arrive at the hospital, find out they're 3-4cm, and feel extremely disappointed. But if effacement is 90-100% then dilation can occur rapidly after this point. Or, if baby's head is sitting very low (say, +2 station), then the pressure may spontaneously break your waters, and you are soon pushing!

However, it's also possible that you may find yourself at 2cm, with little effacement. You then receive the disappointing news - they're sending you home.

So clients often ask me: how do you know when it's time to go to the hospital?

Personally, I like to confer with astrological charts and assess my client's aura for signs....

....kidding! But sometimes I am definitely unsure as to whether my client is dilated enough, and find myself holding my breath during the exam. There are plenty of signs, but women's bodies can sometimes mimic active labour when they are in early labour.

So during prenatal appointments, I half-jokingly inform them that some women check their own cervix at home. I'm generally met with nervous laughter (they're probably wondering whether they hired the doula who does use astrological charting and auras), but I secretly hope that one day, someone will take me up on the suggestion.

Because, let's be real....this is your body we're talking about. When you get to the hospital in labour, many different people repeatedly stick their fingers inside your vagina. Yes they wear gloves, but like condoms, there's no 100% guaranteed protection. Personally, I like the idea of using my own bacteria-ridden hands to do the job. But clearly this is a very personal choice, and who knows whether I'll actually do it myself if I'm ever in labour again!

{Before you read on, please note that this is not medical advice. It is simply some observations I have made about the cervix, in addition to my own experience!!}

For interest's sake, I thought I would provide some information on how to check your cervix....if you so wish! It might be a good idea to check your cervix once or twice during pregnany, just to get a sense of how it feels during non-labour (also, some women are dilated 1 or 2cm throughout their entire pregnancies):
  • Wash your hands well with warm, soapy water. Make sure your nails are clipped - nicking yourself on the cervix would not be pleasant during labour. You also need to be sure you're not going to break your bag of waters by accident.
  • In between a contraction (please don't do this during a contraction), have your partner or doula help you get into a squatting position
  • Insert your middle finger into your vagina, and go all the way back until you run into the cervix.
  • When you're not in labour, the cervix will feel "tough"....probably as tough or hard as your forehead feels. As things start getting softer, it will kind of feel like the tip of your nose. Once your cervix is very soft, it will feel like your lips
  • When you're not in labour (and not ovulating), your cervix looks and feels like a puckered kiss. If you are 1cm dilated, you will be able to slip your finger into the cervix (through the puckered kiss!) Basically, the more fingers you can get in there, the more dilated you are. Most nurses will insert 2 fingers, and then will stretch them out to see how wide the cervix is stretched out (keep in mind though, if you're manually stretching your cervix, it's gonna hurt! This is not a good idea - just stretch them out as far as you think the cervix is stretched)
  • Once your fingers are in the cervix, you will feel the bag of waters. If you press on the bag, you'll feel a hard head. If your bag has broken, you'll obviously just run into your baby's head at some point.
Given that checking dilation is an art (and takes some practice), keep in mind that you may be off by 1 or 2 centimetres. But, if you definitely feel some dilation (for example, 2 fingers are inserted and stretch out a bit), AND the cervix feels very soft and thin, you can be pretty sure that you're in active labour. Especially if you're also exhibiting other signs of "labourland."

Bottom line - if labouring at home for a long time is really important to you, consider learning how to check your cervix. You may save yourself a wasted trip to the hospital.

Monday, December 12, 2011

{Ottawa Doula} Growing

{I'm joining **Capital Mom** today by blogging about a moment from my life based on a theme she has provided. This week’s Monday Moment theme is Growing}

The orchid I was given as a present last year by one of my first doula clients seems to have stopped growing. Where once there was a magical wand of blossoms now remains a long stem, withered and dried brown at the tip.

People keep asking if it's dead.

There are subtle hints that something is still alive in there - the dark, solid green leaves haven't changed. New sprouts have poked through the mossy dirt and made their way up to greet the weak sunlight.

I'm confident that the flowers will emerge once again, greeting me in their quirky way - like the wink of an eye.

I feel at one with my orchid - I lie dormant, anticipating the deep swaths of snow to fall down like a heavy blanket; burying my energy and drive to "go, go, go." I welcome the coziness of this blanket, and the deep sleep of a cold winter's night.

Codladh samh (Sleep Well)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

{Ottawa Doula} A World Without Coffee

Image Source
I was in a big rush, as usual. It was 8:50am, and I was determined to get my morning coffee at Starbucks, a 10 minute walk from the main campus of The Ottawa Hospital - despite having a meeting at 9am. Cafeteria coffee sucks, and Tim Horton's has long lineups. Plus, the walking does me good.

As I waited to use the creamer machine, a man ahead of me was dumping an enormous amount of cream into his coffee. My first reaction was judgemental ("who puts that much cream in their coffee?") and my next reaction was impatience ("would he hurry up already!")

Before I could set my coffee down on the counter, he hurried to get some napkins and clean up a spill he had made. He apologized. As we stirred our coffees simultaneously, he joked about how the Canadian government would fall if our country suddenly ran out of coffee. This made me chuckle - I could just imagine it now: rioting and looting, people shaking and crying in the streets. Caffeine withdrawal is a messy thing.

"The thing I can't understand," he said, "is why all you Canadians - with your fancy machines, and recently purchased coffee - leave your homes every morning to stand in lineups at Tim Horton's."

"Where are you from?" I asked.

"Zimbabwe" he replied.

He introduced himself as Paul from Africa. We stood and talked for a moment, and I learned that he had been a doctor in Zimbabwe, and came to Canada as a refugee 8 years ago. He's still trying to practice as a doctor here. He works at CHEO (Children's Hospital in Eastern Ontario), alongside men and women as qualified he is. But instead of picking up the tools of the trade and saving lives, his work includes menial tasks that could be done by someone with a high school diploma.

"What astonishes me the most," he said, "is the beautiful posters the Canadian government uses to attract skilled people like us to move to your country. They make it seem easy."

Eight years doesn't sound very easy.

We said our goodbyes, and I was on my way, hurrying again to get to my meeting. I was late...but you know what? I didn't even care.

Today as I sip my homemade coffee, I suddenly feel a sense of shame. We live in (supposedly) one of the greatest countries in the world, and yet Paul can't work as a doctor and up North, children are dying from a lack of proper health care.

A world without coffee? Good! Let the government fall, and replace it with people who know what they're doing.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Love Doesn't Leave You Black and Blue

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women is December 6th, and commemorates the 14 women killed at l'Ecole Polythechnique in Montreal in 1989. The CBC archives from that day are chilling to listen to and watch.

Not only is this a day to remember the horrible events of 1989, but it is also a day to recognize the fact that violence against women is taking place here and now, often behind closed doors and away from the media's glare. It is a day to recognize and take action; to work towards prevention and education.

I'd like to share a song with you - a song that has always touched me, and leaves me thinking about the women experiencing abuse in their relationships. This is by Lynn Miles, Ottawa's favourite singer/songwriter...

Friday, December 2, 2011

{Ottawa Doula}: In Postpartum, What's Normal?

I wish I'd never done this.

I want to turn back the clock - go back to a time when I wasn't pregnant.

I don't think I love my baby.

I secretly hope my baby dies so that I don't have to take care of them.

If I were to die, I would rather my baby died with me.

Do these thoughts sound "normal" to you? I think a lot of people reading this would say no.

A woman harbouring these secret thoughts can feel terrified - she realizes that some of them are irrational, but that others are somewhat true (eg. I don't think I love my baby). And so she buttons up, and instead of talking about thoughts that are actually normal she instead feels like an outsider in a community of happy new mommies.

We hear a lot about postpartum depression (PPD) these days. Postpartum psychosis (PPS), a rare manifestation of PPD, is sensationalized in news stories, making it seem as though this kind of situation can happen to anyone.

And so we binarize postpartum emotions into three camps: normal baby blues, PPD and PPS. Baby blues happen to most people, and are a result of massive hormonal changes in the days following birth. PPD is characterized by a continuation of the baby blues, long past the accepted "normal" (usually 2-3 weeks postpartum). And PPS is an extreme form of PPD, where a woman loses touch with reality and may actually plan (and carry out) ways of harming herself and her baby.

But when has a woman crossed the line? Or are they blurred anyway, given that nothing in our emotional lives can be put into boxes?

I'll tell you this - many women with normal baby blues are harbouring secret thoughts that have never been expressed to a single person; not even to a partner. It's taboo to talk about death and desperation in our society - even well trained counsellors can botch a session with a client who expresses the desire to kill herself, either by overreacting (oh my god, you should have told me this earlier - I may have to report you, you know) or by dismissing the client's thoughts (that's ridiculous, you can't kill yourself. You have a baby to look after. You need to snap out of this.)

We want new mothers to be happy - to be like the sweet Pamper's commercials on TV. Lots of smiles, one-on-one time and cuddles with baby, and lots of cooing and ahhhing.

The reality is, postpartum life can be messy (I stress can be, because some women have a wonderful postpartum time). Your bed is sweat stained from postpartum sweats; milk is leaking out everywhere and soaking your sheets; your eyes feel like sandpaper from lack of sleep; and your baby is not cute and cuddly, but instead screams 5 hours a day.

It's no wonder some species eat their young...

I know, I know, I'll probably get a lot of feedback from people, telling me that I shouldn't be trivializing these types of thoughts - that any feeling of harming oneself and one's baby needs to be taken seriously.

And I completely agree. I hope I don't come across as trivializing a complex problem. Certainly, it's worth a trip to a trusted doctor, or several sessions with a counsellor. Especially when thoughts and emotions carry on past the "normal" timeframe we're alloted to be sad {insert sarcasm}.

My goal is not to trivialize, but to normalize. To say to new moms, living in a society where we have almost zero support in the postpartum period, that it's ok. It's ok to feel crazy.

What's not OK is when your thoughts and emotions take over - becoming real, rational plans for action. A way out. It's not OK to still be crying daily one month postpartum. It's not OK to have zero interest in your baby after spending many weeks with your child. The good news is that there's a lot of help out there - websites and forums abound, and Ottawa has an amazing MOMS (which I believe stands for Moms Offering Moms Support) group where you can go to talk about these unspeakable things.

But what if we changed our definition of normal, so that women could say the unspeakable without judgement? So that they didn't have to join a secret society of other moms just to say what they really think?

If I could really fantasize here, a world in which women were treated like royalty after the birth of their baby would be ideal. Then maybe these "crazy" thoughts wouldn't even enter our heads...

If you're about to enter the world of parenthood, consider these helpful tips for dealing with intense emotions after birth:

1) Have only sympathetic and helpful people stay with you in the postpartum weeks; people that share your views on newborn care. An abrasive in-law, who can't understand why you're hoping to breastfeed (for example), may not be the best choice.

2) Hire a Postpartum Doula - these are doulas who are specially trained to care for women in the postpartum period. It is definitely worth every penny. For Ottawa folks, check this doula and this doula out.

3) We hear a lot about "babymoons" - staying snug at home with your baby and partner. This is great for women adjusting well to postpartum life, but when you're experiencing baby blues, sometimes a sense of normality is what you need. Go for short walks, rent your favourite DVDs, and invite friends to come over for short visits. Don't isolate yourself!

4) Ask for help - the hardest one of all. It takes a village to raise a child, and you alone are not a village. Let people know you're struggling, and ask how they might help - dropping by a homemade meal? Sending you a care package with chocolate and epsom salts? Texting you positive affirmations every day? It can be anything!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

{Ottawa Doula} Swimming Upstream: Vaginal Birth after Two Cesareans

I have been immersed in a dilemma lately - not my own personal dilemma, but one of my client's.

This woman would like to attempt a vaginal birth after two cesareans. We hear A LOT of information out there about VBAC (pronounced v-back) after one cesarean, and most doctors and midwives would agree that it is a safer choice than scheduling a repeat cesarean (as long as you meet the "qualifications" - no ongoing medical problem where another c-section would make sense, and a low, transverse incision).

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (who issued the report I linked to above) also agree that a Trial of Labour (TOL) for a woman with two or more cesareans is a viable option. The risks of uterine rupture are higher, but variable. Studies differ in their methods and conclusions, and "risk" is communicated to patients in different ways.

For example, read this statement, as stated by my client's doctors (the numbers are not accurate here - this is just to illustrate how they have portrayed risk):

Your risk of uterine rupture triples after 2 cesarean sections. In all the cases of uterine rupture I've seen, the baby has ended up with cerebral palsy.

Now, read these statements, as a properly conducted study may present them:

Women who attempt TOL after 2 cesarean sections have a 1.9% risk of uterine rupture. Of these, only 0.06% experience a complete rupture (where the baby actually enters the abdominal cavity).  

1 in 6000 women who attempt TOL after multiple cesareans experience uterine rupture. 

The first one sounds a lot worse, doesn't it? If you're trying to scare a woman into scheduling a c-section, the first statement packs a lot more oomph.

OBs who have personally witnessed a uterine rupture are much more likely to inflate the risks, because their perception of risk has changed. It's no longer a magic number (eg. 0.5% of women who attempt a TOL after one cesarean section risk a uterine rupture), and instead the one case they've seen colours the way in which they treat all future patients.

To make matters worse, there are no doctors here in Ottawa (at least none I have come across) who support a woman desiring a TOL after multiple cesareans. My client has been continually hassled about her decision, and with each prenatal appointment she attends, a new resident provides more scary stories. No one seems to talk about the risks associated with another cesarean section, which I find interesting.

When you want to do something that goes against the grain, and no one in your community is willing to support you, what should you do?

1) Remember that as a patient, you have rights. You have the right to refuse interventions and treatments offered. You have the right to informed consent.

2) Become armed with research. Doctors are busy people, and often don't have time to stay abreast of new research. Do your own looking around, and begin compiling all the papers that support your decision (start with the new ACOG guidelines, which support your decision to try for a VBA2C). Bring them with you to every prenatal appt., as you'll often be seeing many different doctors and residents.

3) Yes, the health of you and your baby is important. But so is your experience, and oftentimes, doctors will play the "healthy mommy, healthy baby" card, in order to dissuade you from your desire for a positive birth experience. Seek the help of a professional (social work, counsellor, or doula) who can look at the benefits/risks objectively with you, and help you come to the right decision.

4) Did I say that health was important? You betcha! If you're desiring a VBAC (or VBA2C), you best be sure that you're eating really well (see a nutritionist or naturopath for help), exercising every day (gentle exercise such as walking, swimming or yoga) and reducing stress (do some yoga and you'll check two things off your list!). Many women also seek treatment from alternative health practitioners, such as acupuncturists, homeopaths and chiropractors.

5) Read the positive stories. There are women all over the world who have tried and successfully had a VBA2C (I've even read of a VBA4C!!)

Bottom line: if you're taking the plunge, first make sure you know how to swim. Oh...and a little faith goes a long way. Faith in yourself, your body, and your ability to do something that others think is impossible.

Share your story below of something you have accomplished when others tried to tell you it was impossible.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

T'was the Night Before December...

Celebrating Christmas in November truly rocks. You haven't yet gorged on sweets at the countless parties and potlucks you will be attending. You're not tired of consumerism and holiday "spend-spend-spend" mode.

The reindeer are wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, gearing up for the big day.

And best of all, your family still seems awesome to you; before the typical holiday descent into chaos, with drunk Uncle Charlie singing to the neighborhood cats.

I could get used to this....

Sunday, November 20, 2011

{Ottawa Doula} Fancy Free

The weekend was a long but joyful one, after welcoming a beautiful babe in the world after a marathon birth.

Doulas call births "marathons" when they require a full night, PLUS! These are the 24+ doozies that sock you a good one. Today has been my "hangover" day (another term we doulas use), when it feels very much like you drank 2 bottles of wine before hitting the hay.

In other news, the little birdies here at The Tweet are taking a bit of a vacation. An unexpected break between now and my next client has provided a window of opportunity - a chance to head to Toronto for a few days to visit with family and friends. We will then make our way further west to the little town of St. Thomas, ON, where we will celebrate an early Christmas with more family.

I fully expect to be immersed in this one-on-one time with my child and my loved ones, so you may not hear from me for a little while. However, if inspiration hits, a computer is never too far away.

Let it be.
So that I take what I know,
And see what I see
Along this path I want to be,
Full of joy and totally at ease
Breathing now, and fancy free.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Getting Old is a Bitch

I'm observing the poor dog that we're doggy-sitting at the moment. He's 16  years old, and currently has vertigo - that crazy syndrome where you lose your internal sense of gravity. It's like you've walked off that twirly ride at the fair and the world won't stop spinning.

Taking care of the ol' man/dog is forcing me to reflect more on my own ageing. I know, I know, I'm only 31 and in the eyes of many of my friends, "a spring chicken." But 31 is still 31, and time marches on incessantly while I scramble to pick up toys, clean paint off the wall, and stare blurry-eyed at my credit card bill.

What was your favourite age? Mine was 14 - it was a time where I had past the awkward pre-teen years, but still hadn't reached the annoying "I know everything" young adult years. I was still innocent in the ways of the world, had my future stretched out before me, and finally felt like I could just be me.

I am now me, but a whole different me, with a whole lot of expectations. And instead of seeing life stretched out before me, I see a lot of roadblocks and potholes.

We're supposed to get wiser as we age; perhaps gain more insight and calm down a little bit.

But with mortgages, babies, toddlers, jobs, and god knows what else, don't we just become more insane as the years go by? Strip away all these things we have collected and restrictions we have imposed on ourselves, and what are we left with?

A very existential conversation, I know, but an imperative one.

Because, really, I think I'd rather be the calm, wise gal than the cranky bitch who walks through the world as though she just stepped off the twirly ride. Any thoughts from the wise of the world on how to get there?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Honey, Mommy is a Nerd

It's amazing when we hear our children repeat the things we say. Not only is it amazing because these little bundles of joy are learning a language and growing up, but it's also amazing because we see ourselves reflected so clearly in their words.

For instance, I've noticed that I yell at the dog a lot. I know this because A. speaks to the dog in a mean tone of voice, with lots of "Sit!" "Off!" "Get!" in her vocabulary.

I'm trying to reform. Speak to my dog with more respect.

The other thing I've noticed about my language is that....well....I'm a bit of a nerd. Here's just a sample of some of the phrases that A. has picked up from me:

Cool, dude!


Oh my goodness gracious!


Gee Wiz! (ok, I'm kidding about this one...really)

My poor daughter. I have committed her to a life of "gee willy wonkers" turns-of-phrase. Will she ever find friends?

I've decided to commit to speaking in a way that is more "hip." Maybe I'll start swearing and drop some f-bombs around the house.

What funny phrases has your child picked up?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

{Ottawa Doula} What to do when you're afraid of birth

After posting about the NHS's plans to offer c-sections for free in the UK, I have noticed an increase in traffic from people googling "scared of birth, should I have a c-section."

This has really touched me, and I wish there was some way I could reach out to these women and give them a hug. So here's my way - a blog post!

Preparing for birth can be a scary and overwhelming experience. I remember coming home from my first prenatal class, curling up into a ball and having a huge cry. The reality of what I was about to face hit me over the head like a ton of bricks, and I didn't know how to deal with the fear.

I studied for birth like it was a PhD comprehensive exam. When I would hear about other women's wonderful birth stories, I would suddenly become fearful - what if that doesn't happen to me? What if I can't do it? What if it all turns out "bad"?

The thing I've come to realize as a doula is that a woman who is well prepared, and well supported, can have a positive experience regardless of the outcome. Happy birth stories can happen in any hospital, with any care provider, as long as the woman feels like the director of her own experience.

Here are some information and tips for women out there who are scared of birth and considering a c-section instead:

1) What are your specific fears? There are most likely 2 or 3 things that you are dreading - for some women, it's the pain; for others, it's the possibility of a tear; others fear things like vomiting, being naked, or losing control (by making too much noise, fainting, or doing other "crazy" things)

2) Write out a plan of how you will deal with this fear if it does happen. Visualize it happening, and then visualize yourself dealing with the situation. Talk to someone about your fears, and have them work through them with you.

3) Hire a doula. Your husband can not be your "everything" and he will be scared as well. Most likely he has his own set of fears. If you can't afford a doula, ask for a friend or family member who has given birth (and who has a positive birth story to tell) to support you.

4) Make sure you have a good caregiver. You all know my thoughts on midwifery care. There is no one better equipped than a midwife to calm your fears.

5) Take a GOOD prenatal class. The classes offered at the hospital are usually biased and extremely boring. Look around for prenatal educators in your community who offer alternative classes. Here are a few great ones in Ottawa:

Ottawa Childbirth Education Association

Birthing From Within Classes

Bradley Method

It's worth the money - another option is to hire a doula who is a childbirth educator, and ask her for some one-on-one classes in addition to your prenatal appointments.

Any other tips or thoughts out there for women who are afriad of birth?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I had a chat with a very wise friend today, who reminded me that if I continually say "I can't do it," then clearly, I never WILL do it.

Some of you may find books like "The Secret" to be filled with a bunch of Oprah-like gobbly-gook, but it's interesting to observe that the people who truly believe in the power of intention tend to be happy and successful.

If you look back on your life, you are bound to remember people who had a hand in changing the direction in which you were headed. These could have been the "bad" people (an abhorrent co-worker, a loser boyfriend, or a friend who betrayed you), or the "good" people (an inspiring teacher, a mentor, or a business partner). Regardless of whether they were good or bad in your eyes, you learned a big lesson from them, and then moved on.

Without these serendipitous encounters, we wouldn't be the people we are today.

Which comes back to main point of books like "The Secret." In order to fulfill lifelong dreams, you must have both intention to do so, and the right people around you. You can pray, meditate, and visualize all you want, but if you've got some bum hitching a ride with you along the path of life, you're bound to get distracted and have a horrible crash. (And in case you're getting worried, I'm not alluding to my partner-in-life here - this could be anyone; co-workers, friends, partners/husbands, and even other family members.)

Personally, I think I'm doing a good job of surrounding myself with positive and compassionate people.

Where I'm falling short is in the "intention" department. The think, pray, feel and believe part of where my life is headed. Instead, I'm doing what is safe - financially and emotionally.

Image Source
One goal I have as we finish up the end of 2011 is to create a vision board - simply, a big piece of paper (well, you really need stronger cardboard) where you creatively lay out your life goals. These vision boards can be short or long-term. They can be focused on a particular area of your life (e.g. business) and can be as simple or complicated as you make them. I'm hoping my vision board will help me get over my fears and closer to my dreams.

What are your visions or dreams, and how do you make sure you get there?

Monday, November 7, 2011

19 more days to go!

It's November 7th, which marks the 7th day in a row that I've posted on my blog (ok, fine, you caught me - I didn't post yesterday. Sunday is the day of rest.)

I'm participating in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), through BlogHer. I'm not posting my blog posts on BlogHer - even though I have an account that rarely gets used - but I'm attempting to boost creative writing by forcing myself to write. Even when I'm bored, and having nothing interesting to say.

Today is one of those days - normally, I just wouldn't post, because I don't really have any exciting news, links or burning questions to put out into the world.

But writing is an art, and alas, I must practice. Since I have basically dropped all other art forms from my life at the moment, writing is my only outlet, and it's a really important one.

I wrote last week on the topic of self care, and I'll continue along those lines today. I'm still participating in A Peek Inside the Fishbowl's 100Club, and although I can't say I've been doing my jumping jacks every day, I've certainly kept up my walking.

My focus this week is on eating habits. After last week's Halloween candy binge, I began feeling really worn down and sluggish. Not to mention my face is a mess (a post later this week on adult acne - blech!!) So, I'm attempting to change some habits, and although I would like to say "forever," I've decided to be realistic and take it one week at a time.

My three problem areas are:

1) Alcohol: yes, I know there are benefits to having one drink each day. But there are also drawbacks, especially when trying to control blood sugar levels, which I have a devil of a time doing.

2) Sugar: My overall diet is fairly decent, but I do have a sugar problem. I realize that I can't cut sugar out of my life completely (trust me, I've tried), so I'm hoping to cut back...A LOT. This means that I'll be attempting to bake a low-sugar cookie this week, sweetened with maple syrup or honey. Stay tuned for that recipe on Friday!

3) Caffeine: as most of you probably do, I indulge regularly in this crack stuff. It's increased substantially in the past year or so, and I'm now at 2 mugs of black tea and 1 coffee each day. Cutting back is key, as I'm not willing to give up my one mug of morning tea.

Have you been making any lifestyle changes lately! Send me your tips and affirmations!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

{Ottawa Doula} Scared of birth? No worries, have a c-section - for free!

Thanks Laura Hughes (@Lo_Hughes), for sending me this article and inspiring another blog post! :)

I read an interesting piece in The Globe and Mail today, in their online "Hot Button" topics.

Supposedly the country's National Health Service is going to cover the cost of women undergoing c-sections for no "identifiable reason." In other words, elective cesareans.

I'm sure the whole natural birth community will be up in arms over this one. Who knows, it may even increase the cesarean section rate in the UK, which is definitely not good news.

But I wonder whether this is the right response - firing off an angry blog post about women who are "too posh to push" is setting yourself up for a lot of criticism. You may not worry too much about that, but I know I do.

I care about women. All women. And I care about their freedom of choice.

No, personally, I would not have an elective cesarean. And I would hope other women wouldn't make that choice as well - I don't think it's the right one.
But a c-section is an option that is out there, and doctors are all too willing to offer one.

The point of this article, though, was to point out that the NHS will now be covering c-sections. That's a different story, than say, an opinion piece on women being "too posh to push." All of a sudden, the option is open to women who, previously, may not have been able to afford it.

So the question becomes: progress or problem? Is offering cesareans for women who are, for example, deathly afraid of labour/birth OK? What about for women who have been sexually abused? And women who believe the myth that you will never be the same "down there" after a vaginal birth?

The choice is out there, whether we like it or not. And although I strongly feel that the answer to my question above is "problem," I also don't feel comfortable blaming the women themselves for making the wrong choice. I don't know what their situation is in life, and I don't know what issues they face.

Instead of offering cesareans for free, I think the NHS would do better putting their eggs in another basket. Why not begin providing non-baised and supportive prenatal education to all women, for free? Maybe those who harbour extreme fears of birth would be at least better prepared to face the challenges. And what about doula support, for free?

So no, I don't believe this issue is one of "too posh to push." I believe this issue is one of dollars and sense. More dollars, and a load of nonsense.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Aduki Bean Stew

I may have posted this recipe once before on this blog, but I think it warrants a re-post. This is my "birthing stew" - the recipe I was throwing together during early labour with darling daughter. I actually couldn't finish it because the contractions were getting so strong, but I ate quite a bit of it in the postpartum period.

The Aduki (also spelled Azuki or Adzuki) bean is not a well-known legume - it is most popular in East Asia, and is often boiled down and sweetened into a red bean paste. I could see the Aduki bean becoming as popular as quinoa, for its high levels of B vitamins, iron, zinc and magnesium. All in all, an excellent health food. Also, in the postpartum period, the fibre and iron is excellent for the breastfeeding mom! You can find the beans at the Bulk Barn.

This recipe is from Jillian McKeith's You Are What You Eat cookbook, with some modifications. Try it over quinoa, rice or millet:

1/2 cup aduki beans, presoaked for 12 hours
1tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 onion or leek, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
half butternut squash, peeled and cut into small chunks
half teaspoon ground cumin
half teaspoon turmeric powder
3-4 cups veggie stock
handful of kale, ripped into bite-sized pieces
chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Drain the beans and rinse well. Put into a large saucepan of water and bring to a boil. Boil for 15min, and then drain and rinse.

Heat the olive oil up on low heat, and add garlic and onion/leek. Cook until softened. Add carrots, butternut squash, aduki beans and spices. Cook for 2 min. Poor in stock, bring to a boil, and then simmer for 10min. Add kale and simmer for another 5min. Serve with fresh parsley.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Sometimes I wish I could escape.

To a place where no disembodied voices speak to me - no radio, no TV, and no computer.

This place would be quiet, except for the wind and the tinkling of the leaves.

This place would be warm; wood-stove warm.

In this place, I would need to sit - through it all. Sit through the fear, the silence, the sadness and the joyfulness. When I wasn't sitting, I would be walking, concentrating on the strength of my body.

This place would have simple foods, grown and picked by me. Tea in clay mugs would litter the tables and counters.

Books well-worn and dog-eared would be stacked by the bed, and a simple quilt would be my warmth in the evenings.

This place would be my escape.

Where do you want to escape to?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

{Ottawa Doula} Midwifery: Fact and Myth

It's not shocking to me at all how often I come across regular folks who have no clue what a midwife does.

I was there, too.

Before becoming pregnant with my first child, I gave no thought to my care provider. I pictured myself visiting my family doctor and being referred to an obstetrician. It was the fortuitous meeting I had one day with a local midwife that changed the course of my life forever (I guess you could say my pregnancy changed the course of my life forever, but I'm going for dramatic effect here!)

I interviewed this student midwife for a short one-month placement at Hopewell (Ottawa's only eating disorder support centre - as a side note, all midwives are expected to do one community-based placement; women with eating disorders get pregnant too, hence this midwife was particularly interested in this issue) She opened my eyes to the possibility of having a midwife care for me during my pregnancy.

So I would like to share with you some of the things I've learned about midwives, which will dispel some of the myths floating around out there. These tidbits are designed to surreptitiously indoctrinate gently urge you to seek out more information about midwifery care.

  • You cannot have an OB (or family doc.) and a midwife; you can  have one or the other. There are exceptions - some women advocate for "shared care." These are generally women who are higher-risk but would like a compassionate, caring midwife to support them in their medical decisions.
  • Midwives are highly trained professionals. They have not stumbled out of the forest wearing birkenstocks, and they don't arrive at your birth with a dirty towel and piece of shoestring
  • Their training program is 4 years long, most of which is hands-on clincial experience
  • Midwives care for low-risk pregnant women - they will not take on women who clearly need the expertise of an obstetrician.
  • Midwives DO deliver primarily in hospitals. Yes, they do homebirths as well, but only if you're a good candidate, and only if you actually want to!
  • Midwives will call in an OB consult if something abnormal comes up during your pregnancy/birth. Often this is just a quick face-to-face with an OB, whereby they give some advice and then you are back in the care of your midwife. Sometimes, transfers of care happen, but most midwives will stay with you and support you throughout.
  • Midwives are trained to view birth as normal, until proven otherwise (OBs are trained to view birth as abnormal, until proven otherwise)
  • Midwives discharge you from hospital earlier - which means less time stuck in semi-private rooms with other crying babies (and maybe even crying mommies).
  • Midwives visit you at home in the postpartum period. AT, on your couch!! I can't stress enough how amazing this is.
  • A midwifery appt is usually 30min long, and allows for lots of discussion time. It's casual, and you get to meet with both your primary midwife (many times) and your secondary midwife (several times). An OB appt is 15min long, and if you go to the Ottawa Hospital, you will most likely never see your OB. You'll see a different resident each time.
  • A midwife catches your baby. An OB "delivers" your baby (like a pizza), and they will arrive in the room when the head is crowning.
  • Midwives have signicantly better outcomes than OBs - lower rates of intervention (e.g. episiotomy) and lower c-section rates
  • Midwives practice informed decision making and informed consent. That means, every single little thing that happens during your pregnancy/birth is discussed beforehand, and you always have the right to refuse. Hospitals claim they practice these things too, but it's variable.
There are probably many more points I could add, but I hope this dispels some of the myths you have been hearing about midwives here in Ontario. As you may have read from my last post, there is a big push for more midwifery care here in Ontario. A birth attended by a midwife costs less than one attended by a family doctor, and significantly less than one attended by an OB.

We are now headed in a direction where soon, most low-risk pregnancies will be followed by midwives. It may not happen next year, but certainly in the next ten years. It just makes sense.

If you've had the care of a midwife, please share your story below! What was your experience like?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

We Care!

The Boston Globe Magazine published a piece today, written by an obstetrician in the US.

C-section rates are highly variable, as the article points out. Some hospitals with different policies and procedures, and better support for OBs, have lower rates. Other hospitals skyrocket past the national average.

Here in Canada, our average rate is around 25%. Ottawa's cesarean section rate is higher - over 30%

There are some key points I'd like to highlight from the article:

  • According to this doctor/author, many obstetricians just "don't care" about cesarean section rates
  • There are multiple factors that influence rates. Here are just a few:
  • hospital policy (does the hospital administration care about their rates?);
  • surgical assistants on-staff;
  • rates of women with previous cesareans (most women who have one will go on to have more cesareans);
  • whether the hospital caters to high-risk pregnant women;
  • liability; and
  • individual OB preferences (for example, is the OB skeptical of traditional medical practices, or do they tend to make the call more quickly?)
So if a cesarean section rate comes down to individual hospitals, how is a national (or international) strategy ever to be successful? As the author writes,

"In 2000, the federal government set a goal of reducing the caesarean rate among first-time moms to 15 percent (from 18 percent in 1998) by 2010. Instead, officials watched it shoot up."

My question is this - how can we work to make hospital policy and "culture" more transparent? If there are hospitals in our city who have higher c-section rates, wouldn't it make sense for consumers to know why? Perhaps then we could do something about it. Just because we live in a country with universal health care, doesn't mean we can't demand better quality service.

I'll tell you this: many OBs may not care about their cesarean rates, but we pregnant women DO. Unless there is some extreme fear of labour/birth, the majority of women want to avoid a cesarean section. And yet, here we are, getting wheeled into the operating room despite our wishes.

Did you know that midwives have a 30% lower c-section rate than a family doctor who delivers babies? Who knows how much lower that rate is when comparing OBs and midwives - probably a huge difference. Doesn't it make sense to transfer the care of ALL low-risk pregnant women to midwives? Let's leave the surgical stuff and emergencies up to the experts.

It's time for change. Please take a look at the Association of Ontario Midwives "Benefits of Midwifery to the Health Care System." Speak out, and contact your local MPP.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

{Ottawa Doula} Frame of Mind

Before I even knew that the term "attachment parenting" existed, I was raising my daughter in a way that aligned well with this style of parenting. All the books and articles I read only confirmed my beliefs, and helped me to become more confident in the instincts that I was following. It certainly wasn't the norm to parent in this way, but that didn't stop me!

However, as with all ideas, beliefs and value systems, nothing is ever black and white. Attached parents may not be able to follow this frame of mind all the time, and different children require different strategies.

Although I can't call my child "different," I can certainly call her many other things - spirited, gregarious, head-strong, and challenging, to name a few.

Maybe she's only challenging to ME, the parent, who is perhaps less suited to this type of personality (I like quiet - lots of it!) But the most important lesson I've learned (so far) as a parent, is that we must accept our children for who they are, not what we think they should be.

Of late, we've had some challenges with A (not surprising, given she's 2!), that have made me question my attachment parenting frame of mind. I breastfed (still do), babywore, co-slept, avoided cry-it-out techniques and tried to understand my baby's cues. I didn't do all of this just because I read it in a book - I did a lot of it naturally (although self consciously at times).

Now that we're in the toddler years, and I'm working two jobs, the struggles with sleep and nighttime parenting have become an issue. For a while, we thought we were "in the clear," when she started sleeping through the night. That only lasted several months until she started waking up again - very predictably, at 1am and 5am.

It doesn't necessarily bother me to comfort her back to sleep and occasionally share the bed. What is bothering me is a niggling thought that I need to be "tougher." That given my child's boisterous personality, I need to perhaps apply some stricter boundaries.

It helps me to think about it this way - when am I giving up TOO much, just to make her happy? When am I ignoring all my needs?

And so last night, we had a big cry-fest, when I refused to give in to her demands. We can't shut the door and leave, as she knows how to open the door, but I just sat beside her while she threw a MEGA tantrum at 4:30am. She eventually went back to sleep, sniffling and hiccuping in that horribly sad way.

This is where my frame of reference becomes foggy, and I can't determine my true feelings. If I am an attached parent, don't I want to avoid letting her cry like this? Yet, if I tap into my needs and desires, don't I really need/want an extra hour or two of sleep before starting our day?

So my attachment parenting friends out there - tell me your experiences. Can I be an attached parent and avoid giving in to every nighttime need?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Self Care

I've spoken recently about the drawbacks to being a doula, and working in a job that is unpredictable - you don't know what your hours will be; there is no one telling you what to do; and the perks are sometimes hard to spot.

Something must keep drawing us back to the birthing space - clearly, the miracle of birth is fantastic, and being able to provide emotional support is extremely rewarding. I would also argue that OBs, midwives and doulas are adrenaline junkies. Just like those people who continue to seek higher and higher peaks to scale, we continue to seek experiences that get the heart pumping (as I tell my clients, labour is actually pretty boring until the end, but sometimes, you come up against a situation that leaves you reeling!)

And with all this adrenaline, lack of sleep and outpouring of support, there is little time and effort for something that is so important: self care.

Image Source
Like the flight attendants say: you must put on your own oxygen mask before you help your children (or anyone else for that matter). If a doula (or any type of person who's main role is to support others) does not put on her oxygen mask, she will burn out and be useless to her clients.

I've learned this the hard way these past 9 months, and I'm ready to take more of an active role in the self care department. So here is an outline of some of the things I plan to (try) to do for myself, as I enter some of the busiest months of my career thus far:

1) I'm joining Andrea over at At Peek Inside the Fishbowl to do the "100 Club." A long, fast walk every day, and 40 jumping jacks, 30 crunches, 20 squats, 10 push-ups. Quick and simple!

2) My yoga 10-class pass is sitting unused in my wallet. Time to bust it out and attend a class each week. I am also committing to doing one other day of a quick yoga/meditation exercise.

3) Protein: people who stay up all night don't need more carbs. Carbs are great for an all-around healthy diet, but if that's what you're eating to keep you awake, you're in for an unpleasant surprise. Sugar crashes! Headaches! Nausea! I am committing to eat more protein.

4) Monthly massages. This is easy for me - no one needs to drag me to the massage table! (thanks Anna Belanger!)

5) Friends: they are my lifeline. I need to commit to working on friendships, so that I don't end up losing any. Phone calls, letters, emails and as many face-to-face dates as I can schedule.

Even when you're not a doula, self care is so important. What do you do to take care of yourself?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Our Busy Week

What have we been up to here at the Tweet? Good question, because I haven't blogged since last week!

1) Getting ready for halloween..

Cookie making!

2) Putting our gardens to bed...

Bye bye tomatoes!

Free mulch from Hydro One

3) Seeing babies being born...sorry, no pictures here!

4) And finally, discovering mould in our downstairs bathroom. There are pictures, but do you really want to see them?

Hope you had a great week! What have you been up to?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

You are every person you will ever meet

Many of us bloggers are taking time this week to write about a serious issue: bullying. We're writing about it because another teenager has died here in Ottawa. He took his own life, in order to escape from his struggles with depression and bullying.

As I sat listening to the words of his father, a councillor here in Ottawa, the sadness I felt from this wasted life turned into anger.

I'm angry because Jamie lost his battle with depression. I'm angry because Jamie couldn't be himself in a world that demands conformity. I'm angry because our society as a whole fails, time and time again, to help young people deal with the challenges they face.

But most of all, I'm angry with the bullies. I am filled with anger directed at them.

I realize that there are other factors that contributed to Jamie's suicide. I know that mental health issues are multifaceted, and take a long time to get under control. And I'm sure that Jamie's family, his school, and his friends tried to take action.

But I remember those bullies well. Although I can not begin to imagine what Jamie went through, I can certainly relate to the experience of being bullied. My middle school years are not fond memories. Several girls in my class, including me, were targets of gossip and cruel words and it made school life a rotten experience. I was extremely lucky to have a couple of great girlfriends, and the sympathetic ear of the vice principle, who did as much as she could to support us through those challenges. And although I was not a gay youth, I was called a lesbian and bullied about my sexuality. For a young teen, this is particularly devastating.

But my girlfriends and I did not receive the worst. I remember another young girl, slightly overweight, who was  the subject of relentless and cruel treatment. She was bullied physically and emotionally, and eventually had to move schools because of the abuse.

My thoughts go to the girls who did the bullying - what was wrong with them? How did they become so cruel? Is it possible to be inherently mean or does it have a lot to do with the skills of the parents? Or is it just that the parents weren't aware of what was going on?

I reflect on these memories now that I have my own daughter. The thought of her growing up to bully other children makes me sick to my stomach. How do we prevent this?

I'm far from an expert, but I think that raising empathetic children is the key. Teaching them - from the newborn stage - the importance of recognizing and sharing another person's feelings is the BEST way to ensure that children will become compassionate adults.

This reminds me of an episode of my favourite show Being Erica, which aired just the other week. In it, Erica is a "therapist-in-training" and is called upon to help a man who she does not like. As she struggles to help someone she despises, her own therapist tells her "you are your patient. You are every patient you will ever have, and you are every person you will ever meet."

When we put ourselves on another level, and look down on others, we are saying I am not you.

And that, my friends, is how wars are started; how fights or disagreements arise; and how we come to marginalize others. It is based on the fact that we have separated US from THEM, or ME and YOU.

As soon as we take this step to separate ourselves, and as soon as we draw that line in the sand, we have lost the battle. As humans, this is how we fail each other, time and time again.

I will make a plea to you tonight - I ask you to talk to your children about these lines that we draw. I ask you to work in your own lives to erase these barriers. And most importantly, I ask you to help your children realize that we are every person we will ever meet.

This is Matthew Barber's You and Me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

An Unexpected Life

When I get to the point in a prenatal visit when I must talk about "unexpected outcomes" with my doula clients, I get a bit nervous.

Why? Because I know that most of the time, my clients will be reluctant to discuss what would happen in the event of: a cesarean section, a stillbirth, a child with a medical or health condition, caring for a child with special needs...the list goes on.

When we become pregnant with our first child, we generally put on our rose-coloured glasses, and have a hard time contemplating what life would be like if things didn't go the way we imagined them. I know this, because I did it too.

I remember watching an episode of Oprah during my pregnancy, which showcased "real" moms talking about the truth of motherhood - what things are really like. I turned the TV off and called my own mom in a panic, and asked her "is it really that bad!?" The feedback I got from her, and from other moms, was that I had nothing to worry about. It's Oprah after all, not real life!

Fast forward several months, and I realized that a lot of the women speaking on that Oprah episode were right - I had fallen down the rabbit hole and wasn't coming up anytime soon. And I had a healthy baby!! Imagine the shock I may have experienced with a baby who was sick.

We can never fully prepare for an unexpected outcome, because clearly, we don't know what it will be like, or how we will react. But that doesn't mean that we need to shut our eyes and plug our ears - discussing the unthinkable may help us to realize that we are not in control. And that's OK. The more we let go of control, the better chance we have at surviving a crisis in our lives.

I would like to share an incredible blog by a woman I know, Julie Keon. Julie was my childbirth educator during my pregnancy, and I will never forget the moment that she took out a picture of her daughter and passed it around to our class. She was illustrating the fact that pregnancy and birth are unpredictable. We hope for the best, but we should also open our eyes to the possibility of hardship and loss.

As I have been reading through Julie's posts, I realize how imporant it is for other mothers to share the joys and challenges of leading a different kind of life - an unexpected life. Without this knowledge, and without a glimpse into the unknown, how would we ever begin to understand the depths of human dignity, strength and love?

Please visit Julie's website, and take a moment to read some of the posts - especially the introductory post on the main page. Share this with any parents who are learning how to raise a child with special needs.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

You WILL get a medal!

In September 2008, just days after we tied the knot, hubby and I took a two week honeymoon to Newfoundland. I know, a little bit of a different choice for honeymoon destinations, but who ever said you need to be predictable?

Newfoundland is actually a magical honeymoon destination, and the most beautiful place I've ever visited. Part of our plan was to spend five days in Gros Morne National Park, a designated Unesco World Heritage Site. We could have actually spent two months there, but alas, real life called us back home.

As we planned what to do from our cozy cabin, hiking Gros Morne Mountain was definitely a top priority. It's the second highest peak in Newfoundland, and 806 M high. The climb was supposed to be a challenging one, but we counted on the fact that we were in decent shape.

But no one foresaw how my post-wedding body would react to all the pre-wedding stress and jitters by getting sick. It happens to the best of us - you go, go, go, only to drop dead as soon as you have a moment to relax. Well, I didn't quite drop dead, but it was touch-and-go for a couple of days as to whether I would have the stamina to climb the mountain.

Hiking day dawned clear and sunshiny, and hubby ignored my whining and ushered me to the car. We set out early, as we wanted enough time to complete the hike before possible clouds and rain rolled in. The first part was easy - a slow, meandering 4km uphill to the base of the meanest part of the mountain.

When we emerged from the green forest (with chirping birds and ponds scattered here and there), we got our first view of the actual "mountain." Many people just hiked this portion of the trail, took pictures like all good tourists, and then turned home. But not us - oh, no - we were aiming to do the whole thing.

At the end of this 4km hike was a terrifying sign, warning hikers of the dangers in climbing Gros Morne. The sign went something like this:

All those faint of heart be warned: the next several kilometres involve a vertical climb upward over a steep boulder gully - which is actually a major landslide that took place not too long ago. It's quite possible another landslide could happen at any point, and you will be buried alive under the rubble. If you happen to make it up the "scree" (ie. sharp, pointy rocks), you will reach the smooth arctic tundra, which can often be shrouded in thick clouds. It's possible that you will lose your way at this point, and fall down the side of the mountain. If not, and you find yourself still alive, you will descend another 6km down a steep Ferry Gulch (read: scary cliff). It is not uncommon to encounter bears and angry moose. Use trail at your own risk.

At this point I turned around to go back to the car, but hubby had other plans. And actually, he was right - the hike up was the scariest part, but we made it to the top feeling exhilarated and proud of ourselves. The next day I was so sore I could barely lift a leg, but man, did I feel awesome! I'd just climbed a mountain!

The point of this post? Yes, there are things in life that seem insurmountable (eg. birth!). You will be scared, and you may whine and cry most of the way. But all of a sudden you will come to a point where you give in, let go, and start having fun. And despite the bruises, sore muscles and sunburned face, you will finish that challenge feeling stronger than ever before.

When you meet a challenge head on, and take the bull by the horns, despite all your misgivings, you WILL get a medal for your courage. Sure, it might not be a real medal hanging on your wall, but it will be there, all shiny and pretty - in your heart.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Emergency Preparedness

My hubby thinks I'm crazy, but I'm currently planning our Emergency Preparedness kit to store in our basement. It will include things like water, first aid kits and canned food. It's something I've been meaning to do for ages, but the task always seems to get pushed to the end of the To Do List.

And although I may be laughed at, the truth is, you just never know. Yes, we live in Ottawa, Canada, and I think we're pretty safe from things like war and famine. But global warming could soon result in severe weather patterns (as it has in the past, with the 1999 Ice Storm), and infectious outbreaks scare the living daylights out of me. So, like a good Girl Guide, I like to be prepared for a period of time when we may be stuck in our home.

This has me reflecting on a recent birth, where I was called upon to handle an emergency situation. Being a doula in Ottawa, I had taken for granted the fact that we are near many amazing hospitals. And yet, none of these hospitals will be able to serve you if you can't get to them on time (and you aren't blessed with a midwife to catch your baby at home).

I seem to have forgotten one important lesson:

Birth is unpredictable

Oh sure, birth is normal (unless proven otherwise), but it's certainly not predictable. You can't tell how a woman's labour will progress, no matter how much of an expert you think you are. And so sometimes things will go faster than you think - faster than a speeding bullet!

So I thought it may be helpful for other doulas out there (and partners/Dads too!) to outline a few of the things I learned from my experience:

1) A precipitous labour is one that is under 3 hours in length. The woman essentially has no early labour signs/symptoms and will begin active labour immediately.

2) A lot of blood and mucous, with contractions quickly becoming 1-2 minutes apart can indicate that a woman has dilated very fast (blood/mucous is normal in every labour, but may be a sign of impending birth if progress has been quick)

3) If the water breaks and the woman immediately feels the urge to push, you can be quite sure that she is close to delivery (especially with the other signs mentioned above)

4) It's always best to call 911 from your home, even if you're close to the hospital. At least at home you have access to clean/warm towels, and don't have to deal with a cramped backseat. DOULAS: don't be worried about calling a false alarm. Paramedics are trained to assess the situation, and if your instincts are wrong (which they probably aren't), at least you will know that you played it safe.

5) If you do get stuck in the car, because you assumed you had more time, always pull over to the side of the road and call 911. The operator will guide you through the delivery

And the most important thing I have learned:

6) Doulas should do everything they can to avoid catching the baby. Even if dad is driving, he should be instructed to come around to the back and catch the little one. This is something that has been drilled home to me, because if anything were to happen to the mother or baby, the doula would be out of a job (and possibly involved in a lawsuit).

As a newer doula, I realize that lessons are learned at every birth - and that I will continue to learn for many years to come. This situation was a pretty intense lesson, and I am thankful for the fact that it was a good outcome. I don't even want to think about the "IFs."

So as a lesson to all you doulas-in-training out there - read the Emergency measures in your pregnancy/childbirth texts. 'Cause you just never know!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Doula Drudgery

A fellow doula recently wrote a great post called "Being a Doula is Hard," and it has inspired me to also talk about the pitfalls of my profession.

Anthro Doula hits on a lot of great points:

Nervousness about being called at inopportune times, being woken up at all hours of the night, working on very little sleep, having to be in hospitals all the time, dealing with difficult care providers, being emotionally and physically supportive to someone else in their most vulnerable time, and having to be the most attentive you've ever been.There's also the fact that doula work is not always steady (many people don't always want to pay a reasonable fee)...

The sleepless nights are sometimes torture, and yes, being in hospitals all the time is a drag (I love, love, love home births - obviously since I had one myself! I love working with midwives, who are quiet and caring; I love homemade food that clients provide; and the comfort of someone's living room couch is a godsend).

As a doula, you will miss family outings,
like this one to Saunders Farm
I think the worst part for me is being away from my family. Because not only is it the 12 hours (or more) when I actually attend the birth, but it's also the frequent phone calls/texts from clients in early labour, and the emotional and physical toll I must overcome in the days following.

Take this past weekend for example. I spent Saturday dealing with a migraine, as well as frequent communication with a client in early labour, which lasted almost two days. I was called to the birth in the wee hours of Monday morning, and got home 12 hours later. I then stumbled around the house for a while, and finally crashed at 8pm.

I miss my daughter a lot when I'm at a birth, and although I'm dying to crawl into my pajamas and a warm bed, I also want to spend time with her before I get my rest. I also struggle with the resentment that I must get up the next day and go to my "real job," spending even more time away from the little munchkin.

So why do I do it? I could get paid extremely well in my day job, especially if I took it on full-time and became more involved in the design of specific projects.

But something keeps calling me back to labouring mothers, and I follow that call despite the all-nighters, despite my longing for my daughter and husband, and despite the sterility of a hospital room.

When called to a birth, driving through the dark streets past midnight, I see myself tied by invisible strings to all the labouring women around the world. I feel this safety net around me as I drive with other midwives and doulas, on our way to yet another birth. I hear the laughter shared by women, I feel the loving touch, and I smell the scent of baking Groaning Cake (click for a recipe!), which permeates the birthing place. I carry these sensations with me into the hospital room, and they sustain me and my client through the long night. And as the head is delivered, and a wriggly little baby slips into the world, I say a small thanks for this miracle, and for my ability to share in it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

One, two, three, four: Tell me, how many do you want to go for?

Time Magazine recently debunked a whole bunch of myths related to only children. The main findings from the author's research is that only children aren't really that much different from other children. In fact, some studies have suggested that only children score higher on SATs and have higher self-esteem. Does this mean that children with siblings are dumb and hate themselves? No, of course not! But perhaps we have been misled by stereotypes when we think about only children.

A big debate is happening in our house right now. Actually, that's not true - it's just happening in my head. Every day, I wake up with a different thought:

"I will try for another baby"


"What, are you crazy!? No more babies!"

It seems easy for some people - they either embrace the only-child thing, or they have always been sure about multiple children (some are so sure that they bang them out in a matter of a few years!) I'm more curious to hear from the people out there who just don't know...who wake up each day having made a different decision than the day before.

I love babies. I wouldn't be doing doula work if I didn't love babies.

But do I want to love another one of MY babies? Gah!

First of all, I realize that I'm already assuming that I would be blessed with a pregnancy. I've heard of plenty of women who have tried for a second child (after a fairly easy conception the first time around), only to discover a fertility issue. So I realize this "debate" in my head is entirely based on the assumption that I would actually get pregnant if we tried.

I keep listing off all the reasons why we should try for another child - A. needs a sibling; I want to bring another child into the world; I wonder if we're "complete" as a family; and somewhere deep down I worry whether I'm a "real Mom" if I don't have more children (this is a belief that I think truly exists out there - just listen to this quote from Jessica Alba). And as more and more friends have second babies and announce pregnancies, I do feel the pressure mounting.

The pressure in my HEAD of course....brought on entirely by myself.

So why don't I want another baby? There are a number of reasons, which maybe some of you can relate to.

Personally, I don't know if I was cut out for this Motherhood Thing. And I'm not just saying that so you'll leave nice comments telling me how great of a Mom I am - I'm saying it because I really believe that some women have a harder time adjusting to motherhood and all its demands. Perhaps it was lack of preparation, or unrealistic expectations...or a bit of both! I feel very well adjusted right now, and love my daughter to bits, but the newborn stage is just not for me.

So then my head tells me: ok, fine, why don't you just suck it up and get through the newborn stage? It's not that long!

But there are other questions: how will I do doula work with two children? How will we afford me being on maternity leave with no benefits? Can I juggle two children when I find one to be a challenge?

Many unanswered questions, and I know I've got some time. While a decision doesn't need to be made today, I certainly don't want to be wavering for many years to come.

So tell me - what do you think? Are you an only child? What was your experience growing up? If you're having children, or planning for children, do you know exactly how many you want? Why?