Parenting isn’t easy. And parenting during a pandemic is not for the faint of heart. Here are a few reminders and affirmations for all of the parents out there as you navigate each day with your little ones:
I am doing my best and that is enough for now.
I have value as a person (and as a parent).
I can give myself grace and kindness.
It’s okay to struggle right now. I can give myself patience and understanding.
I can do difficult things. I HAVE done difficult things.
I take care of my feelings by noticing them.
I don’t need to be perfect to be worthy of love.
Parenting is a learning process.
Today cannot last forever. I can get through this day.
I am not the only one feeling this way. I am not alone.
I will focus on the things that I can control.
I am brave just by facing the day. I am exactly the parent my baby needs.
I will let go of how I think today should go. I will face whatever comes my way.
My needs are important. By caring for myself I am caring for my family.
I am enough.
These affirmations can be incredibly helpful, but there are difficult days that can surpass even the most powerful of reminders. You are not alone in this! The journey of pregnancy and parenthood is overwhelming. At times it can be isolating, and even more so right now with the pandemic. But we repeat: you are not alone.
One of our very own doulas, Lisa Anderson (who also happens to be a perinatal therapist), helps run the Ann Arbor-located parenting support group MomShare. Currently, meetings are being held virtually and provide an inclusive space to share resources, emotions, experiences, concerns, joys, and difficulties of parenting. The group name does have “Mom” in it and the website refers to “moms and infants”, but the group welcomes parents of all genders as they navigate their journeys through pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting.
The Holiday Season is now officially in full swing! As we speak, the kiddos are gearing up for their favorite holiday festivities while parents rush around from store to store preparing for the perfect celebration. The holidays are a stressful time as it is, but it’s even more stressful with a new baby or a bun in the oven. Whether you’re fresh out of the hospital, in your second trimester, or months into raising your little one, this blog post is for you! Tree Town Doulas has put together a few tips and tricks for surviving the holidays as a new parent.
1. Give yourself permission to keep it simple
You may need to let some things go this year. And that’s okay! This one may be hard for those of you who are used to big, beautiful, extravagant holiday celebrations. Parenting in itself is a full time job. When you add a newborn or morning sickness into the mix, parenting becomes two full time jobs. As a new/ pregnant parent your priority right now is taking care of yourself and your baby. Take that extra time to rest and skip out on hosting festivities this year if you need to. There will be other holidays, we promise!
2. Establish your rules/boundaries ahead of time
If you plan on attending family festivities this year, it’s likely that the grand majority will want to hold your baby or touch your baby bump. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying either of these things if you’re comfortable with them! But figuring out your boundaries ahead of time can save you a lot of stress in the moment. Whether you’re completely fine with everyone holding your baby (gives you more time to grab a snack before pumping!) or whether you need your partner to act as a body guard against the bump-touchers and baby-holders. All of these options and everything in between are a-okay as long as you’re feeling comfortable and low stress. You call the shots when it comes to your body and baby, and you never need to feel guilty about that! A couple things to consider:
Babywearing – keeps your baby close and calm in overstimulating environments. Plus, if you’re someone who doesn’t want everyone holding your baby, this provides you with a ready-made excuse to keep your little one with you!
Washing hands – Another boundary to consider is whether or not you want people to wash their hands before holding your baby.
Short and sweet – Would your stress level decrease if you appearance at festivities was brief this year? This can be a great compromise if you want to see your family members, but don’t have the energy to stay for a full-day celebration. Be sure to listen to your body and listen to your baby. 🙂
3. It’s okay to say “No”!
We can’t say this one enough: It’s okay to say “no” to holiday invitations! If your heart sighs with relief at the idea of spending the holidays curled up on the couch at home, there is NOTHING wrong with that. Give yourself permission to decline invitations. You have a great excuse for avoiding the stress of the holidays. Being pregnant and taking care of a baby is exhausting, so everyone will understand. If they don’t- no worries! There will be other holidays. There is only one you. Plus, they won’t be able to stay mad for long when they see your beautiful new baby 🙂
4. Stay Cozy
Those first few weeks postpartum can be a doozy for any parent. So regardless of the time of year, we always recommend that new parents stay comfy and cozy. Between the sleepless nights and finding a rhythm with your baby, the little things you do to take care of yourself will become extra important during this time. So put on those fuzzy socks, and wear your comfiest hoodie.You deserve it.
5. Plan your baby’s feeding schedule
This is a surefire way to prevent the dreaded Holiday Meltdowns of 2019. Take a moment to write out your baby’s usual feeding times, when they’re more likely to get fussy, and when/if you’ll need to pump. Keep a copy of this schedule with you, on your phone, or with your partner. If you’re someone who loses track of time easily (most parents start measuring times in terms of “how many times my baby has eaten today” so you’re not alone), set alarms to the times you know your baby will be getting ready to feed. The more you can plan ahead and anticipate when your little one will need that extra attention, the smoother things will go.
This is along the same lines as giving yourself permission to keep things simple. Write out a list of things that are important to you during your holiday celebrations. Circle your top 3 and leave it at that. A few examples: decorations, visiting family, gratitude, religious practices (if applicable), food, family traditions. On that list, include a friendly reminder that pre-made food (or even take-out) is a perfectly good food option if you don’t have the time/energy to cook 🙂 For the rest, focus as much as you can on self care, the rhythm you’ve established with your little one, and sleep. For those of you recovering from a cesarean section, this will be especially important!
7. Accept help
This tip goes for parenting in general! Accepting help can be really hard at first, especially if you’re used to being entirely independent. But raising a baby takes a village. A lot of family members and friends will want to help, but don’t know how, so don’t be afraid to delegate! Let your needs be known and allow your friends and family give you a break. You’re recovering from birthing a human, you’ll need a break every once in a while 🙂
8. Online Shopping is your best friend
Anyone who has ever chest/breastfed won’t be surprised at all that producing milk consumes 25% of your body’s energy. In comparison, your brain uses 20%. This explains why you’re so tired all the time! Already, just by producing milk and existing with your brain, that’s almost 50% of your body’s energy already being consumed. After expending so much energy simply by existing, shopping for holiday gifts may feel like an absolutely impossible task. Thank god for the internet. Sit down on that sofa, and order all of those gifts from the comfort of your own home. And when in doubt: Gift Cards 🙂 Take the pressure off where you can. And if you don’t have the energy for gift-giving this year, there is nothing wrong with that either! Which brings us to our last tip:
9. Cut yourself some slack
Things aren’t going to be perfect. Healing from birth can hit parents harder than they expect, whether your birth plan went exactly or not at all as planned. If you had a cesarean section you’ll be recovering from a major surgery on top of all this. So here’s your friendly reminder: recovering and settling into a rhythm are your number one priorities right now. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Give yourself the gift of peace. It’s okay if you don’t have the energy to host festivities this year. It’s okay to give gifts late, or not at all for that matter! It’s okay to take a break and to take care of yourself. You matter. And you can do this. You’re ALREADY doing it.
We wish you a holiday season filled with love, laughter, joy, and most importantly: SLEEP! 🙂
Now that football season is upon us, we’re sure you’ve heard of The Big Ten. Today, we’re here to talk about The Big Four: the 4 main things we recommend parents focus on when they experience their first labor contractions. It’s definitely possible that your baby will decide it’s time to make the journey Earth-Side before you’ve had the time to finish all of your preparations. Don’t panic! Do what you can, conserve your energy, and reach out to your support system if you need a little extra help putting together frozen meals, a hospital bag (if you’re having a hospital birth), or buying diapers. Raising a baby is a team effort (football pun intended), so once you’ve called your OB/midwife/doula/support system to let them know your baby is coming, here are The Big Four to focus on:
1. Stay calm
So your contractions have started! Congratulations!! For many parents, their first instinct is to switch into “Go Go Go” mode. All of the excitement, preparation, and anticipation has led up to this moment, and now your baby is finally on the way! Some parents may even feel stressed, anxious, blindsighted, or like they couldn’t possibly prepare enough! All of these reactions are TOTALLY normal. And even though it seems counter intuitive, the first thing we tell parents to do is to stay calm. Labor is exhausting, and even more so if you have a long birth. We’ve seen many parents use up a ton of energy and strength with that initial excitement/ adrenaline rush, which leaves them even more exhausted for the rest of the labor process. Save as much energy as you can for when you’re pushing your baby out! Although contractions will feel jarring and uncomfortable, please don’t forget that they are completely normal and they will not harm you. So whether it’s meditating, cooking, knitting, watching reruns of your favorite tv show, or going on a date with your partner. Do whatever you can during early labor to stay as calm and relaxed as possible to conserve your energy!
2. Eat a big meal
The next big thing we tell parents to focus on is eating a giant meal in whatever capacity works for you and your body. Whether you feast on the biggest burger you can find, or just eat a bowl of oatmeal with fruit and peanut butter. What’s important is filling your stomach and making sure your meal has lots of protein! Once contractions really get intense it’s common for parents to feel nauseous, exhausted, or to lose their appetite from everything that’s going on physically. This is all totally normal, but it also makes eating early on in labor SUPER important. Not only will it keep your energy and blood sugar up throughout labor, but a protein-packed meal will allow that meal to last you longer than a carb-filled meal. That way you don’t have to worry about eating as much if you do experience nausea. Plus, that extra boost can honestly make a HUGE difference when you start to tire out. Not only will you be giving nutrients and strength to your baby, but you’ll be less likely to experience complications related to calorie deficiency, you’ll have more energy, and as a result you’ll have more options for your birth experience. One of our rules of thumb for childbirth is: the more nutrients you put into your body before and throughout labor, the higher your confidence, strength, and endurance will be!
3. Take a nap
You read that right! When your contractions start, TAKE A NAP. This one also probably seems counter-intuitive, but it’s so true! If your contractions start in the middle of the night, roll back over and try to go back to sleep for as long as possible. And if your contractions start during the day, take a little snooze! Napping is along the same lines as our Stay Calm tip in the sense that you’re conserving energy for later in labor. Labor can be unpredictable. Some parents have births that last 2 hours, and some parents have births that last many days. Since you don’t know the next time you’ll sleep, resting as much as possible during the early parts of labor will help keep your energy up during the hard parts, and make sure you’re well-rested for as much of your baby’s birth as possible.
4. Take a shower or bath
If you’ve done the other 3 already, or if you’re just someone who feels more comfortable/calm when you’re clean and smelling like soap, try to take a bath or shower before active labor kicks in! Taking a nice warm shower can be exactly what some parents need to clear their heads, prepare for the journey ahead of them, and go into labor with positive mindset. Depending on where you give birth, you may have access to a shower or birthing tub, but it’s unlikely they’ll allow soaps if your water has already broken. Then after labor you’ll honestly be so exhausted and wrapped up in the beautiful little bundle you just gave life to. So lord knows the next time you’ll get to bathe! We honestly cannot sing enough praise for soaking in the tub or shower during early labor. Taking a warm bath/shower allows all of the muscles in your body to relax which makes it so much easier for your uterus to contract and your cervix to dilate. When your body is tense, your muscles hold your baby up further in your abdomen. So get in that tub, or step in that shower, and give yourself the relaxed, fresh start to labor you deserve!
Disclaimer: If you are in early labor and your water has already broken, do not take a bath unless your midwife or OB has said you’re in the clear!
All in all, these four things will help you start labor off strong so that you can get as close to your ideal birth as possible. So whether you’re a football fanatic, or someone who couldn’t care less about The Big Ten, just remember The Big Four! And above all else, if your contractions have started, remember to breathe. YOU CAN DO THIS.
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.