parenting

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT: PRENATAL AND POSTPARTUM YOGA

Happy Thursday everyone!!! 🙂 This week’s Community Spotlight is highlighting the wonderful Marlene McGrath!! Not only is she an amazing mother, but she’s also an incredible prenatal and postpartum yoga instructor. We HIGHLY recommend checking out her classes. Plus, she’s located right here in Ann Arbor!

MARLENE MCGRATH

To find balance in her job as a hospital social worker, Marlene began studying and practicing yoga in 1991. Now, Marlene is the mother of 3 teenagers, and teaches yoga full-time to students ages 18-99 with a specialty in prenatal and postnatal yoga. You can find her full class listing at: yogafocusannarbor.com !

What brought you to support moms and babies?

I was a yoga teacher before having children, but during my first pregnancy realized how much yoga helped me stay connected to my changing body and cope with labor, birth, and recovery. I then decided to pursue more training to specialize in teaching yoga to pregnant and postpartum women.

If there was one myth you could “bust,” what would it be?

The myth: that pregnant women just need to deal with significant discomfort and pain during pregnancy, that it is just part of being pregnant.

What do you enjoy doing when not working? 

Working in my garden, walking my dog, having outdoor adventures with my children, family, and friends.

What moment are you most proud of? 

I am most proud of the moments when I see my children negotiate difficult experiences.

Tell us about something in your practice you would like everyone to know. 

My hope is that women who practice yoga during their childbearing years develop a knowledge of and relationship with themselves that will serve them through parenting and all the transitions to come later in life.

 

THANK YOU FOR LETTING ME KNOW, PLEASE TAKE A SEAT.

People have a lot to say about pregnancy. Between the recommendations, cautionary tales, shoulds, shouldn’ts, educational literature and things your coworker says “Will Make You The Worst Parent On The Planet.”  Everyone has an opinion. In all honesty, we’ve worked with so many parents who have been thoroughly freaked out and terrified by the horror stories that other parents, family members, and friends have told them about their own pregnancies. Of course these loved ones mean well and they just want those they care about to be safe! But sometimes adding that extra two cents can do a lot more harm than good by making pregnancy way more stressful than it needs to be. We’re here to give you strategies to manage the sea of opinions that might try to sweep you off your feet throughout pregnancy and parenthood.

So what should you do when you’re being bombarded by opinions from those around you?

First of all, DO NOT GO ON WEBMD.

We cannot stress this one enough! Talk to your care provider, doula (if you choose to have one) and people you trust if you have concerns. Reading an article that says you’re already dead will probably not help matters much.

To help with feelings of anxiety in the moment, we introduce to you the “Thank you for letting me know” technique.

This technique was coined by my magnificent roommate: Maggie. She’s your friendly neighborhood list-enthusiast and an accomplished educator of today’s 12-year-old youth. In other words, she is an expert at managing chaos. A few months ago after an exhausting day at work, she gifted me one of my favorite coping strategies to pass on to stressed parents. Maggie walked through the door, dropped her backpack, looked at me, and in a moment of exasperation said

“I swear, the phrase that I use the most at my job is ‘Thank you for letting me know, please take a seat.'”

She went on to describe the chaos of her classroom; the consistently hilarious but exhausting interruptions of 12 year olds as they test the boundaries of social interactions, rifle off internet memes, and erupt in Fornite dances. To all of which, while suppressing laughter, Maggie’s response is “Thank you for letting me know, please take a seat.”

“Miss Jones!!! Sarah ate 10 packets of ketchup even though you said not to and now she has a stomach ache!!” Thank you for letting me know, please take a seat. 

“Miss Jones!!! Jerrell is laying on the floor for fun and he doesn’t feel like moving!!!” Thank you for letting me know, please take a seat. (Also Jerrell get off the floor).

“Miss Jones!!! Timmy buried his head in the snow and now his face is super cold!!” Thank you for letting me know, please take a seat. 

Believe it or not, this mindset has helped so many of our clients. I think it goes without saying that we don’t want you to take up yelling  “THANK YOU FOR LETTING ME KNOW PLEASE TAKE A SEAT” at every person who expresses an opinion.

But the next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by someone else’s input on your pregnancy, birth, or parenting philosophies just follow these steps:

  1. Take a deep breath. Inhale and exhale.
  2. Pretend the unnecessary feedback/anecdotes/judgments are 12-year-old Sarah eating ketchup packets
  3. Tell Sarah “thank you for letting me know, please take a seat.”
  4. Picture the intrusive opinion (aka Sarah) stepping aside and physically taking a seat
  5. Take a few more deep breaths

It sounds silly, but it’s actually a really helpful  way of centering yourself through visualization. Plus it’s a generally recommended coping mechanism for anxiety! The “Thank you for letting me know” strategy allows you to acknowledge outside input but not let it overwhelm you, wrack your confidence, or disturb your sense of calm. This way you can see the situation for what it is, set the unnecessary information aside, create healthy boundaries, and focus on what’s important. Even vocalizing “Thank you for sharing this with me, but I’m going to continue parenting in the ways that make sense for me” can be a great boundary to set with loved ones as your due date draws near.

So there you have it. Whether you’re a new parent, a parent-to-be, a seasoned parent, or just someone who struggles with anxiety, you now have a new possible tool to add to your Mental Health Tool Kit 🙂 

 

A note to every teacher out there:

When we think of superheroes, we think of Superman flying majestically through the sky or Batman mysteriously watching over Gotham City. But not all heroes wear capes. Within the walls of our schools work some of the single most dedicated, inspiring, and transformative individuals in the country: the kids themselves, who have the power to shape our future, and the superhero teachers, who have the power to shape the futures of our youth. This post is a shout out to all of the amazing teachers out there. The life-changing, and future-changing work you do every single day is not lost on us at Tree Town Doulas. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

BACK TO SCHOOL MINDFULNESS: PARENTAL EDITION

As labor day weekend comes to an end, we plunge headfirst into the season of fresh notebooks, sharpened pencils, ripe apple picking, brisk nights, and cider mills. That first month back to school can be a doozy, especially for parents still in summer mode. Not only are we faced with developing a whole new routine from scratch, but now we’re also faced with a whole new set of challenges as our children grow into the next school year. Teachers often have their students set goals for the coming school year, so it’s only fitting that we do the same!

The word “mindfulness” is thrown around a lot with the images of spas, fancy art projects, and far-off lands. When really all “mindfulness” means is checking in with yourself. We recognize that most parents don’t have time to sit down, much less getting their nails done or get pampered at a spa. With this in mind, we’ve come up with a 3 minute exercise we’d like you to do. Obviously we’re not going to ask you to do homework because we know you’ll get enough of that with your little ones 😉

As the week goes on pick 2 of these prompts. Reflect on each of them for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Even set a timer if you need to! Focus on your thoughts and how you react to each prompt. 

  • What is your biggest win from the 7 days?
  • What are 3 attitudes you want to embody this school year? 
  • What makes you feel calm? 
  • Have you felt stressed or anxious today? What did you do to overcome it?
  • What realistic adjustment could you make to your daily routine to give yourself more energy?
  • What have you recently said “yes” to that is not a “hell yes”?
  • What does it feel like to go back to school after summer?
  • Who is someone you have not talked to in a while that you’re grateful for?
  • Is there an area of your life that needs to be more organized?
  • What is something you’re anxious about for the coming school year? How can you reasonably prepare for this?
  • What is one thing you need to let go of?
  • What is your 3rd most unique strength? How can you make it as strong as your 1st and 2nd?
  • What do you spend a silly amount of time on?
  • When was the last time you laughed?
  • What is important to you this school year?
  • When do you have a hard time letting go? When do you feel so overwhelmed you “check out,” and what does that look like for you (e.g. checking social media too much, feeling irritable, etc..)?
  • What is one long term goal you’re working towards?
  • How have you shown yourself patience in the last week? How can you continue to do so?
And that’s it! I know it doesn’t seem like a lot, but checking in with yourself (and your kids!) in this way for even just 3 minutes per day can work absolute wonders for your mental health. Being a parent can be unbelievably stressful, especially when you add the school year, your kids’ new schedules, extra curricular activities, homework, and work (job and/or house work) on top of that!  Both parenting and the new school year will come with a plethora of expectations from all directions. When the stress starts to pile on, these expectations can easily transform into self-criticism and sometimes even assumptions or criticism towards the kiddos. Practicing mindfulness not only improves memory, but also increases our patience, understanding, emotional intelligence, stability, adaptability, and decreases self- and outwardly-directed criticism. Will you still lose your cool sometimes? Oh heck yeah, because kids are a handful! Plus, no one is perfect! But giving yourself those 3 minutes per day will help lengthen your rope a bit so that you can let go of expectations, set goals, weather what you can’t control, and address what you can. (PROTIP: goals are flexible and have the planning/growth process built into them, but expectations often revolve around assumptions with no means to achieve/ resolve them). You’re an amazing parent and your kids already know this. So please cut yourself some slack, show yourself some patience, and give yourself that 3 minutes per day!

Both you and your kids (and their teachers!!) will thank you for it 🙂 

CLASS IS IN SESSION

Who’s hype for August’s Childbirth Education Classes? THESE DOULAS ARE!!

At Tree Town Doulas, we HIGHLY recommend taking a Childbirth Education Class of some shape or form before you give birth. Whether it’s an online course, a hospital tour/class combo, a condensed course for busy parents, or the full 8-weeks complete with demonstrations. No matter how many books your read, or how many tutorials you watch, these classes are truly invaluable. So if you’re on the fence about whether or not to take a Childbirth Education Class, here are some of the amazing benefits they bring parents:

  • Learning about your options. We fully believe that you should have your baby on your terms and no one else’s (except maybe the baby’s because babies really do have agendas of their own). The key to this is knowing your options and alternatives. Because, ultimately, YOU are in control of your body. A childbirth education class walks you through the options/alternatives you’ll have available during different situations in childbirth. And while you might not remember every little detail, classes give you the tools to ask the right questions so that you can get the information you need to make an informed decision in the moment. 
  • Addressing fears and concerns. Everyone’s body is different, and for this reason every birth is different. This ambiguity can be a huge source of anxiety for parents, and understandably so! Attending a childbirth education class provides the unique opportunity to ask questions real-time right as they come up, and receive validation from other parents who are also going through the same thing. Childbirth books and literature are incredibly helpful and necessary, but they tend to be geared towards the general public. A class will allow you to address concerns and ask questions that are geared more towards you specifically!
  • Building confidence. Confidence is key! And every parent deserves to trust in themselves. Classes not only boost confidence by creating a more concrete image of what labor can look like, but they can also teach you strategies to make your labor your own. 
  •  Building community. Finding out you’re pregnant can be overwhelming for some parents. For this reason, one of the greatest benefits of childbirth education classes is a sense of community. Whether that’s through having fears validated by another parent, or making a new parent-friend. Never underestimate the comfort that can be found in knowing that someone understands what you’re going through!
  • Tailoring to your specific needs. On the flip side, parents can also feel intensely anxious about the social aspect of childbirth education classes. But don’t be discouraged! Many birth work agencies offer online courses or one-on-one childbirth education classes that you can tailor to YOUR needs (here you can check out the classes offered by Tree Town Doulas!).This is also a wonderful option of you have specific medical conditions or social identities that are often overlooked in classic childbirth classes. EVERY parent deserves to feel validated and seen, so this can be a wonderful option for LGBTQ+ parents, Parents of Color, and parents with disabilities who might not otherwise find the representation they need and deserve.

 

  • Enhancing communication skills with your labor partner. Childbirth education classes don’t just prepare parents and their labor partners for birth in “theory,” they also give you the opportunity to explore methods of support together in practice. Communicating verbally is one thing, but supporting and communicating can be very different when a person is in physical pain. Many of the exercises in childbirth education classes are geared towards enhancing this communication and increasing your bond with the person supporting you through labor. 
  • Hands-on learning. Childbirth naturally comes with a lot of adrenaline. That means that when your contractions actually start, it’s easy for all of the information you learned about childbirth to just fall right out. In a childbirth ed class they’ll have you practice comfort strategies and labor positions in person, so that when you’re actually in labor it’ll already be committed to your physical memory. That way, you won’t even have to think about it! 
  • Exploring hospital facilities and their go-to practices. One of the perks of taking a class at the hospital where you plan to give birth, is that you’ll be able to familiarize yourself with the location. That way it’s less hectic when you’re actually in labor! You’ll also be able to ask questions about the hospital’s go-to procedures. This is of the utmost importance because birth philosophy is everything. Whether you’re planning to give birth with minimal interventions, or through a planned C-section, it’s so important to make sure that your providers will support you along the way when it’s time to birth your baby. 
  • From a doula’s perspective: Even if you’re thinking of hiring a doula, we STILL recommend signing up for a class! You’ll definitely be able to go over questions in your prenatal visits, but we highly recommend learning as much as you can ahead of time. That way when you show up for your prenatal visits, you won’t have to spend as much time rehashing the basics and your doula can tailor your prenatal visit to your specific needs.

Hopefully by this point we’ve got you convinced of the immense benefits that come with attending a class. Of course these benefits apply to Childbirth Education Classes in general, but if you’re interested in signing up for a Childbirth Education Class through Tree Town Doulas, feel free to take a gander over to that part of our website!

There’s still room in Cynthia’s August Childbirth Education Classes, so mark it on your calendars!

“B” IS FOR BURNOUT

 

Let’s set the scene:

A young woman wearing boxer shorts and an oversized t-shirt sits on her couch watching television. A handful of popcorn goes cascading down her front as she misses her mouth entirely. She shrugs, flicks to the next episode of America’s Next Top Model, and slouches back into the squish of her sofa. An irritated look paints her face as she absentmindedly pets the grumpy cat siting next to her. Suddenly, the cat flies across the room in an explosion of screaming as the woman yells at the television “WHAT ARE YOU DOING MARJORIE?!?!?! GET YOURSELF TOGETHER, YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS!!!!” A feline death glare containing the rage of a thousand suns radiates from underneath the neighboring table. The woman pats the cat’s head, “I’m sorry kitty, it was important!”

This past weekend, that woman was most definitely me.

I can always tell I’m reaching the point of burn-out when my irritability is ramped up ten-fold. That, and when I spend an unusual amount of time watching (and yelling at) reality TV shows in my boxers. Self-care can be difficult as a doula, but we know that it’s even more difficult as a parent.

Becoming a parent means you are suddenly thrust into a position where taking care of yourself is no longer the priority. And honestly, a lot of the time it’s not even remotely on the radar. Your little ones become an extension of yourself, and caring for them quickly occupies the tiniest nooks and crannies of every day life. Of course we know that you love your kids! But for many parents, not having a minute to themselves throughout the day can feel incredibly draining, suffocating, isolating, and even alarming. Especially for parents whose self-care routines are integral to healing from mental illness or past trauma.

 

If you find yourself snapping at your kids more than usual, feeling guilty/inadequate, or in general feeling floaty/detatched, there’s a chance that you’re approaching or are already experiencing burnout. Recognizing burnout ahead of time can be incredibly helpful. Not only so that you can change course for a more sustainable day-to-day routine, but also to conserve energy, and ensure you’re feeling like the amazing parent that your kids already KNOW you are!

Here are a few things you can do to prevent burnout from happening even in the hectic whirlwind of parenthood:

1. Take 5. Even taking just 5 minutes a day for yourself can make an enormous difference. Whether you’re a new mama taking care of your newborn or a seasoned parent who’s been around the block a few times. Everyone meets their wit’s end sometimes. So take a breath, set a timer, and spend that 5 minutes doing whatever you gotta do to center yourself. Sit in a closet for some peace and quiet, listen to music, call someone who makes you smile, or even just lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling (this can be weirdly therapeutic). It’s okay to reset and collect your thoughts.
2. Prioritize. Pick the things that absolutely need to get done today and save the rest for later. Your house doesn’t need to sparkle 24/7, but the baby needs to eat and Jimmy does need clean underwear for school tomorrow. Put your energy where it is needed most.
3. Nix the comparisons. Comparing yourself to other parents is tempting, especially in today’s parenting culture. Everyone wants to be “The Best Parent Ever.” But the secret is, your kids already think you’re the best. Do what is feasible and makes sense for YOU as a parent. Ease up on the criticism and try seeing yourself through their eyes because they already think you’re pretty great! 🙂
4. Teach your kids to do things independently. This one can seem daunting because kids can be so stubborn sometimes. But especially as your children get older, pushing through that resistance can save a lot of time and energy in the long run. Not having to worry about the little things like chores and getting everyone dressed will allow you to save your energy for the things that the kids can’t help out with. Plus it instills them with a sense of confidence and accomplishment!
5. Change your expectations. You don’t have to be perfect to be a good parent. It’s okay to not finish everything on your to-do list, and an extra few minutes of tv-time will not melt their brains into mush. Loosen your grip on those expectations of yourself and tell your self-critic to take a hike unless they plan on paying rent! It’s hard enough to be a parent, so cut yourself some slack.
6. Intentionally set aside time for yourself. I know this one can seen downright impractical, or even impossible. But it is so necessary. Making sure your own needs are met will allow you to feel more calm, collected and present (aka what every parent needs in the face of a tantrum). Your kids need you to take care of yourself because you can’t pour from an empty cup. So get out there, hand your kids over to your partner/ family member/ friend/ playdate/ babysitter for a couple hours, and go do something that makes your soul happy. No guilt whatsoever because a parent’s gotta do what a parent’s gotta do.
7. Ask for and accept help. Reaching out does not make you weak, and there is no shame in accepting help when it’s offered. The image of “Super Mom” is enticing, but I assure you that she’s just a myth! It takes a village to raise children because no one can possibly be everything for everyone. Communicate your needs with loved ones and ask for help/support when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Being a parent is a full-time job and there’s no reason to make it harder than it needs to be!
8. Spend time with friends. No one can lift your spirits or put you at ease like your friends. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you’re losing yourself in the everyday life of parenthood, grabbing coffee or calling a good friend for a few minutes can help remind you of all that good stuff that’s already inside of you. Plus, venting and talking with other parent-friends can do wonders for lifting some of the weight off.
9. Be kind to yourself. Turning kindness and compassion inwards toward ourselves is a game-changer. By changing the way we talk to ourselves, we give ourselves room to feel, grow, and exist as people. Instead of berating yourself over the things you “should have” done, try a few of my favorite reminders: “I’ve done my best for today. I will keep trying tomorrow,” “It’s okay that I’m not perfect,” and “I will show myself the kindness and patience that I show others.” And if those don’t work, sometimes a good old fashioned  “No one is bleeding or in immediate crisis so that’s good enough for now” will do the trick 😉

If you find yourself nearing the Yelling-At-Reality-TV-In-Your-Boxers point of burnout, take a minute to breathe. You are human and deserve rest too. Give one or two of these a try every once in a while to see if they resonate with you. Above all else, please remember that you are not alone in this.

YOU CAN DO THIS. WE BELIEVE IN YOU. 

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT LAUNCH

Welcome to our first official Community Spotlight! 🙂 This is going to be a new segment of our blog where we shine the spotlight on some of our community members that are doing awesome work for prenatal/postpartum care! This will be a weekly occurrence, so get ready to meet some pretty awesome people. 

For our first Community Spotlight, it’s only natural that we shine the light on one of our very own doulas, Toni Auker!

To learn more about Toni’s work, passions, winning personality, and the births of her little ones while she busts some common myths about childbirth/ parenting, keep on reading!

TONI AUKER

What brought you to support moms and babies?

I have always wanted to work with women and children, but wasn’t sure in exactly what capacity. When I was an undergrad I was certain that it would be through therapy. I double majored in psychology and women’s studies and hoped to work with families in crisis. Before graduation I realized that I didn’t actually want to do therapy, but I still began looking for jobs working with families. The job market at the time wasn’t easy and I found that I made more money as a server than I would at most of the jobs that would use my degree. I put off the career search for a long time as I concentrated on building my own family. 

As soon as my first son was born I knew what I wanted to do. Although I didn’t have a doula for my birth, I felt extremely supported by my mother. She had 3 natural hospital births, and her confidence in my ability to birth was instrumental in my own confidence. My husband was by my side, but he was nervous and needed his own support. My OB of 10 years happened to be the one that caught my baby, but I felt like I had only seen him for a few minutes throughout the entire labor and birth. The nurses were great, but it felt so strange to me that I had never met them and would never see them again. Birth seemed so personal, and I felt like everyone deserved the continuous support of someone that knew and trusted birth. I knew a little bit about what birth doulas did, and I started to do more research. It wasn’t long before I decided that this was the career I had been looking for. I found a DONA (Doulas of North America) training in Ann Arbor and I took my four month old son with me to the classes. After attending my first birth, I knew that I had finally found my place in the world. Eight years later I have added Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator to my resume and I couldn’t be more excited about where my career is headed. I get to work with the most amazing families at such an exciting time in their lives. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

If there was one myth you could “bust”, what would it be?

There are so many birth myths that I would like to bust, but I think the biggest is that your provider is in charge of your birth. People might not say it directly, but it is in the way that we talk about birth. “My doctor won’t allow…”, “My doctor is making me…” and even “My doctor delivered my baby” are all phrases that I would love to do away with. You are in control of your birth. You birth your baby. Your doctor or midwife simply makes recommendations that you are welcome to accept or refuse. Some of their suggestions will be based on solid research and experience, but others come from habit or fear of litigation. Most of their recommendations come from generic hospital policy with no regard to your personal health or history. I have also found that many providers aren’t even attached to these recommendations, and they are more than willing to support people that ask for alternatives. I am so privileged to work with many brilliant providers and I absolutely respect everything that they do, but I also have amazing respect for the wonderfully intuitive families that take charge of their own births and make the decisions that work best for them

What do you enjoy doing when not working?

I am currently six months pregnant and planning to move, so I am not working much these days. My days seem to be filled with packing and keeping 2 active boys happy. The things I enjoy the most are getting out in nature. I love to hike and camp. Hikes are quite a bit shorter right now, but even just sitting in nature makes me happy. This year we have visited the Hocking Hills and Ocqueoc Falls. We are heading up for a camping trip this weekend, and I hope to plan at least one more adventure before this baby arrives. 

What moment are you most proud of?

I have two moments that I am extremely proud of, one personal and one professional. My proudest professional moment was passing the Lamaze exam. I had already been teaching for someone else, and using their curriculum, for three years. Striking out on my own and passing the Lamaze exam was huge for me. It was like validation that I was on the right path. It makes me a more confident instructor, and I feel like it gives me a bit of credibility in the eyes of the many providers that now send their clients to me.

My proudest moment personally was the birth of my second son. My first birth was amazing and enlightening. I had tried to conceive him for 5 years with the help of 2 fertility doctors. Looking back there was so much I didn’t know, and so many things that I would have changed. Overall though, it was a good birth. With the second I hired homebirth midwives. I rented an inflatable tub for my dining room and asked a doula to be there. From the minute that I hired my midwives, things felt so much different. I felt supported and empowered in a way that I didn’t know was possible with my first birth. Although not everything went as planned (my son was not born in the water as I had envisioned), I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I was in control. I kicked people out of my room when I needed privacy, I pushed when my body told me, and I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. My oldest got to meet his baby brother before we even cut the cord, and I feel like that solidified their bond immediately. I know that homebirth isn’t for everyone, but it was absolutely the right decision for me.

Tell us about something in your practice you would like everyone to know.

I would like everyone to know that Lamaze supports every kind of birth and all choices. I teach directly from research and try to lay out all of your options. I will never tell a client that they need to do something or that they need to refuse something. I give them the evidence on both sides, and often help them find the compromises in the middle. Birth is unpredictable and the best thing that I can give you is the tools to communicate with your providers and make decisions in the moment. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I only gave you the tools for an unmedicated birth. This is something that everyone with Tree Town Doulas has in common. We are here to support you no matter what your circumstances and choices are. Whether you plan to give birth at home or in a hospital, with or without medication, vaginally or caesarean, we are here to support you