Welcome, birth nerd...
You're in the PostPartum Palace.
I am so glad you are here!
If you are a mother, a father, a parent or a care provider, I just wanted to reach out and say...I SEE YOU. I thought of you the whole time I was putting both this and my books together.
I see the ways you carry the emotional labour and lift hours of non-paid work that will most likely never go noticed. I see you when you haven’t slept in days, and you genuinely believe taking your own life is a reasonable course of action in a desperate attempt to get some rest.
I see you forever battling scary mental health challenges, having no place to safely seek real multi-faceted support and constantly fearing that asking for help will get your children taken away.
I see those of you who are begging for help but no one is listening.
I see those of you who haven’t been able to fall in love with their children because they’re drowning - I KNOW you are a good mother, you just haven’t been loved and cared for in the ways you should have.
I’m so sorry. I see those of you who feel defeated, who wish their responsibilities away 18 times a day, who have lost every ounce of joy and who wish they would have know what they signed up for....and I see you...loving your children in amongst all of this.
I am honouring you.
For holding onto your mind when your sanity had 1000 ways to lose the plot, for waking up every single day because a part of you knows it will change for the better, your desires for your kids to remember a home full of laughter the hope you hold onto to when you can’t muster the strength to brush your teeth.
I’m sorry no one has told you they loved you, that they appreciate you, that they could have done better by you - I’m so proud of you.
In a day where choosing anger, pain, and cruelty is easy...you chose to stay sad...but soft. You want your children to witness the whole of you, but you’re conscious they don’t get the brunt of your despair - your commitment is palpable even when it goes unnoticed.
Thank you for showing up when you could very well run away.
Thank you for saying no to the escape and saying ‘YES’ to trying one more day.
And to those who slipped, chose an escape momentarily - be gentle with yourself...today is a new day. Resilience was invented in your cradle. I love you.
Originally, I was creating this for in-person attendees who would have access to our discussions in a condensed format in the long term for reference purposes. Of course, this is exactly what this is. But it is more. As I worked hours into the night and then into the day, I realised that this was a DELICIOUS - easy to access - bite size but big picture way of getting all things Dynamo Doula into your hands WITHOUT commitment to a curriculum or requirements, or a certificate of completion, or needing to seek out professional training if you are strictly wanting to learn this for pleasure or personal reasons.
It is the most accessible, encompassed learning material I have at this price point.
This is what I hope comes across to you here - the embers in my belly and how they fuel everything I do. For you, for me and for the sake of our families.
I hope you enjoy,
The content below is mind bending. Really. And it is my gift to you - over 100,000$ invested in creating it and 17, 250 hours spent breathing & birthing what you will come across.
The contributors and friends that are included in this are remarkable individuals who have helped make the Dynamo Doula world as dynamic as it is - please respect their work and mine by refraining from sharing it with anyone who is not an enrolled student, graduated student or paying participant.
The boring and brutal truth is failure to respect this involves…
You acknowledge that if you create or attempt to create a course which is in competition with this course or with our/my business anywhere in the world, we/I will cancel your membership of our site and groups, remove your access to our site and groups, and you will receive no refund in such an event.
In addition, you agree that at a minimum, you will be liable to us/me for an amount of 500,000$ liquidated damages for breach of trust, being our estimated investment in the creation of this course, in financial outlay as well as unpaid time and paid time expended by the course creators.
I/We reserve the right to an injunction to stop you from offering such a course and also reserve the right to recover from you damages and/or an account of profits.
On the other hand, if you wanna share screen grabs on your Instagram or speak about how killer this content is - GO FOR IT! But please tag my Instagram handle and the handle of the contributor you are referencing.
Diversity & Inclusion Agreement
I want to see every human fully and completely supported in their autonomy and ownership of who they are and how they live. A massive component of approaching this soul-shattering work responsibly and sustainably is acknowledging whom I may not be best suited to work with. Because my work is rooted in the womb – which is often seen as a gendered space - I want to address gender diversity, specifically.
My work centers women. It is the embodiment of the feminine experience, of pussy power, of taking up space and celebrating the beauty of menstruation, birth, and sex.
If you are a cisgender woman with shared values and vision, I can confidently say it is time for you to step into my sphere – come on in! If you are a person who was assigned female at birth, a person with a uterus, a person whose embodied and lived experience expands beyond the binary – I hope you are equally as excited about working together, but I want to be clear and upfront about the ways in which my work centers women, so that you can decide for yourself what is safest and feels best for you.
I see and love my trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming siblings, and am forever committed to the continuation of my own education in order to better show up for and make space for the gender-queer community. I am also working on a stellar directory of trans-centered and trans-competent professionals to better meet the needs of individuals who may be best served by someone else, so stay tuned.
'You can learn a lot about a culture by paying attention to what is missing within that culture.'
'You can learn a lot about a culture by paying attention to what is missing within that culture.'
So what do we learn by the ways we treat the postpartum? A whole fucking lot.
No book on this fuc*ing planet can prepare ANY one woman or person, for the crossing of the INITIAL threshold from maiden to mother (parent). None. Zilch. I am writing one right now, and I KNOW how metaphorical, how rich the language I am intentionally using it, how poetically I am pushing the message - but until someone lives an experience in their skin and bones, what they read remains the script to a movie they will romanticise or be terrified by.
"Oooooh that sounds like a cute / beautiful / rom-com / feel good flick, let's see that!"
"Um, NO. Nope. Nope. That looks terrifying, and horrible, and a bloody mess. What kind of freak fruit loop sadists wanna see that movie?"
And based on what?
The trailer - at best, right? Or what their friends tell them, or what reviews they read online. So this assumption is made on hear-say, bias, projections. Which basically means that every single first time mother or parent you are working with, is a league of complexity you must be prepared to be impressively malleable, patient and quick thinking with.
This specific threshold felt uncomfortable for me to speak about, because I knew my truth lied along the blurry lines of 'I wish someone would have told me this is how hard it was 'cause I would have opted out' to 'thank fuck no one told me how hard this was because I would have opted out and literally MISSED OUT ON EVERYTHING I AM RIGHT NOW'.
See what I mean about convoluted?
What I suppose to say, is how might you create the space for both those realities, when helping your client/s swim through this specific rite of passage?
Pregnant, planned, unplanned, assault, bankrupt to make it happen, superficial trivialities, huge stressors, relationship rollercoasters, body changes, brain changes, everything changes, everything you once knew is shedding away to make way for what this new world and life requires you to be, creating room for what you didn't expect to happen but happened, and what was supposed to happen but didn't happen, breakdowns, breakthroughs, last minute-ness, cycling into age with grace, the list goes on -
this is NOT just the story of how one maiden moves to mother. This is the story about how a human being in 2020 has no fucking idea what it is their doing, who it is they're about to become, who their baby will be or what they'll look like or what they will be asked to do, where they will make love to sacrifice and commitment and patience in ways they never held close, where their pasts, present and future will collide with every secret or trauma they've buried, what inner work and excavation needs pruning before they can advocate for their bodies and their uniqueness that works in numbers, labels, studies, risks and religious dogma.
Talk to me about how you are helping stoke the flame of maternal instinct, how you are helping your clients bring awareness to their fertility and power, how you're helping them grow strength to strength in leaps and bounds so they can feel like their most radically charged self when the tides of change tsunami through their lives.
That is the kind of conversation I want to hear.
Many will fetishise the sentence, 'Peace on Earth Begins With Birth'. The reality is far more complex than this. And in many ways, feels much more impossible. I believe we have condensed it down to a measly third of the formula required to absolve and resolve, because one third felt more digestible. More conservative. Much more feasible. But it has been none of those things. Claiming peace on earth could come exclusively from 'peace' in birth has … felt so far-fetched that most birthing people or birth workers would rather claim it is a non-issue or an issue way beyond their scope.
An immense amount of pressure on birth, birth workers and birthing people is placed to remedy the many issues and maladies at hand, with no regard to the outside world or its interweaving, or the responsibility those participating in and outside of this world should have had towards resolving it, too.
We are too distracted to be invested in this paradigm shift and have the real conversations. We continue to remove the necessary connections of sexuality, sensuality, affection and touch that take us to and from birth in the same place.
Peace on earth will be attained when a) every person alive reinvents their personal relationship with birth, sex and death; b) every person foregoes their fears of the unknown and leans in to a willingness to be wrong about everything; c) everyone comes to know, see and smell birth, sensuality/sexuality and death as sacred.
The more detached we are from death, the further away we fall from the meaning of life and feeling alive.
There cannot be a return to our sacred beginning without a humble return to the leaves that fall to feed the tree we are born from. Our culture is sick with skipping straight to the fruit without any respect for the elder wisdom of our trees, nor any respect for the intelligence buried deep within the core of our bark.
The only way forward is a deep reverence of birth, bleed, sexuality, intimacy and death. Without a true acceptance and enthusiasm for each one of these vital experiences as they are intended to be, nothing changes. Or rather, everything stays the same.
We cannot afford for everything to stay the same and we cannot afford to put our heads blindly under the covers, playing as ambassadors for strictly one third of the equation to freedom.
I believe that the only way to save the earth and all of its people is to reinvent our relationship with death. It is necessary that we bring peace back to the battleground of death, reimagining it as a dance we look forward to in every depth within us.
Much like everything else on this planet, we've sterilised everything that is important. If we want birth to be revered, to be respected, we need death to be revered, to be respected, too. Until we do, we fear death. We create smear campaigns around death, we make sure everyone is terrified. In that terror, it is easy to make absolutely anyone say 'YES' to things they normally wouldn't say yes to.
Imagine a world where only the outcome of 'life' or 'death' became the baseline expectation of that experience? Imagine how different we would act if we considered every birth and death, a secret death and birth in its own rite? Imagine if we changed the ways we cared or provided care, to suit the layers in which our soul, body and mind are intended to play?
We all die. Each of us dies. Chasing immortality - a life obsession that has cost us our lives. We will never be immortal - and why would we? We destroy worlds living the one we have, imagine what we would destroy if our physical bodies could live forever?
If we stared at this quagmire straight in the eyeballs, we could remove the haunting fear of death from the birth space. And this, my friends, would be revolutionary. At this very moment, millions of people make millions of decisions they may or may not regret, around pregnancy, labour, birth and parenthood - strictly around what outcome may or may not guarantee survival. Survival should not be the signpost of what is worth living or fighting for. Survival is a distraction that derails us from thriving - this is the tragedy.
We're ambitious with our surviving, we base our amenities on our desire to thrive - we've built a kingdom on chasing immortality and forgetting what feeling alive feels like.
Nature is so well designed that it gives us one opportunity per month, one opportunity per child, one opportunity per person, aging gracefully, to go back in time and right our wrongs. We're intentionally designed to birth babies who are as pure as pure can be, who need us, who need all of our attention, who need no distractions, who command the best version of us - no negotiation - the most patient version of us.
In many ways, you could say that babies are responsible for moulding us into the people that take us closer to where it is we truly want to be at the core. They bring us closer to our moral conscious and moral compass. They are born giant mirrors staring us back in the face.
These giant reflections of ourselves, offering up every insight we could ever want, and yet we turn them away because we are not ready to know or to see or to be what that reflections begs of us to see.
Call To Arms
I ask - are you a part of the problem or are you a part of the solution?
When it comes birth & parenting, I would like to invite you to perhaps consider another perspective. One that was born from me - the poet dancing with her purpose, two shy creatures swaying quietly in shadows to songs they have never been able to make sense of. The philosophy I am about to share came from the exact ways of which elixir of life sprang from my passion & fury - it erupted in response to big feelings.
You see, conception...gestation...childbirth...raising our young....it is so much - SO MUCH MORE - than what is sold to you in medical text books and databases.
But you already kinda guessed that, didn't you?
What you read in this curriculum is my unique interpretation and one that I am deciding to unleash unbridledly into the world.
For all the things that matter in this world, there never exists enough proof to satiate the cynic. The boisterous ego, overwhelmed with not knowing anything at
all, desperately clings to a life of hyper-intellectualising in a bid to make sense of everything. Years, decades, centuries spent chasing truths solely to reach a destination where you can say 'I conquered this unknowing and made it known.' It is worth saying, that even when that ‘sense’ is man made, it cannot claim to come from an otherworldly source, so arrogance takes the stage and perpetuates the ego to keep moving with agenda. Our brains are incredible, but they could never understand otherworldly concepts - let alone debunk them.
Make no mistake - man has made an art out of conquering & claiming by use of violence, assault, arrogance and evil. What he does not understand, what he does not respect, what he cannot use, what he cannot control - he destroys by one medium or another. This extends to every part of what you see in our world. But we resist, and the calling you have felt to participate in this work is actually why you are here.
This immersive learning experience is a reclamation of what was taken from us.
Everything about the processes you have come to learn from me or will learn from me here, are otherworldly. To understand this, you need to explore what I say next.
Most of what happens within our blood and bones, is the product of inner-woven mystery + intergalactic highway travel, of which could never totally be explained or rationalised by people in space suits. Our marvel isn’t meant to be conquered and the moon was never man’s to begin with. You can watch the sun, moon, the stars, the planets, every galaxy available for us to stalk, intently, with the most sophisticated telescopic lens known to man kind, but this will never bring you closer to being the sun, the moon, or the stars, or the planets. So instead of saying, 'How beautiful, how majestic. I do not understand, I will never understand. This complexity takes me to my knees and I admire it. I protect it, I do not prod incessantly until I feel like I understand.', we refer to galactic masterpieces as 'uninhabitable', 'too cold', 'too hot', 'too big', 'too small'.
You and I have a lot in common with the stars.
Every womb holder walking this planet right now is the total blazing embodiment of her own unique milky way. She and they ARE the Milky Way. Holding the entire solar system of humankind, etched deeply within her genes. I want to challenge you with this first, what do you know of the Milky Way? To the naked eye, it looks as though‘nothing more but a hazy band of light strung together from stars. - stunning, its complexity entirely underestimated. You should know, darlings, that the Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy, about 100,000 light years across. If you could see it from the eyes of heaven, you would see that it is one central bulge (the womb) surrounded by four spiral arms that wrap around it (that of the mother and the womxn that hold her).
The Milky Way does not sit still, much like me and you - she is constantly moving, rotating, changing position to upholster the tragedy, beauty, sadness, death and life that she carries. And get this, the Milky Way is surrounded by an enormous halo of hot gas that extends thousands light years - as massive as all the stars in the Milky Way combined - an angel in an aura of disguise. The spiral, known historically as the divine feminine shape, representative of our weaving and way of moving - the arms of the Milky Way.
How fitting that the Milky Way be a series of spiral arms, dancing an embrace of constant decay, death, rebirth and blossom - emotionally and energetically traffic controlling - in the exact same ways you and I move through this world, too.
Believe me when I say that this aura, that magnetic field, that strength, malleability, conviction and splendour of the woman is just as majestic, intriguing, frightening and misunderstood; the stories and power we carry in the tapestry of our beings have been pillaged by presumption and perversion. Our obsession with looking at space for signs of life and intelligence, of creating artificial intelligence in hi-tech robots, of searching for life in the deepest of oceans, in developing utopic retreats and colonising other planets, has come at the cost of sterilising the universe, sterilising women, sterilising the world we know it from the womb in which it was propagated (in both cosmic and physical form).
We've made a dystopia of birth & death - how the Dynamo Doula reinvents this apocalypse is HUGE.
The word sterilisation literally refers to any process that eliminates, removes, kills, or deactivates all forms of life - look at the cruel irony in all of this. Hand sanitisers, contraceptions, the obliteration of our fertility, the blanket of safety in surgery, the annihilation in the ways we include or exclude emotional context in the decision making process that involves our bodies, our children, this world - THE WHOLE FUCKING MILKY WAY - you’ve lumped them all into one word and one category - STERILISATION. The masculine linear tsnunami rolling in, to plant its flag in our pussies, our lovers, our bodies, our babies, our love, our vigour, our laughter, our joy, our orgasms, our power, our softness, each dark + unknown + uncharted inch of territory in YOU - my world - THIS WORLD - your world; it is not one to be conquered, paraded on, shown off. It is meant to be revered, respected, kept safe, worshipped - we are meant to be in awe.....so, what went wrong? And what does this have to do with you, Dynamo Doulas?
Irregardless of whether you recognise this in yourself or not, the most supreme form of intelligence resides in the Milk Way of woman and womxn. Irregardless of how you identify or present, the womb is the central bulge that carries, propels, fuels, anchors it all. Does the current maternal health care system support such intricacies? Does the restrictive and linear nature of policies, protocols, insurance limitations, fear of litigation, ego, arrogance and the misogynistic rage of the patriarchy support the Milky Way of woman?
No. It really fucking does not.
In a climate of chaos and upheaval, you might have notice the psychology of what humans do when they're angry and want to be seen doing something or taking a stand. I would very much appreciate each of you to consider what 'activating change' looks like for you, and what type of 'change activating' energy is required (depending on the resistance and circumstance at hand).
In the last five years, I have noticed quite dramatically how Doulas teeter between extreme and almost radical efforts at playing the loud ally, and existing in the shadows of the non-existent voice. It is often a lot of hiding and staying completely quiet OR being overtly loud and attacking everywhere on the online sphere (almost as a means to compensate for when they didn't do enough or didn't do anything at all).
This can look like choosing what fragments of feminism suit them, to focusing on outer journey and small picture issues that keep them engaged + enraged on matters that derail them from tackling large scale efforts (for example partaking in aggressive online conversations on car seat restraints), to having absolutely no interest in marrying political activism + human rights + holistic well being, and lastly, the bi- product of their efforts often lead to alienating & isolating more people than the original plan of educating + bringing people together.
As with the work I am sharing in this program, when it comes to activism - activating change has to come in from a preventative level. Why you might ask? When activism and advocacy come in at the crisis point, it is often lined with an energy that is incredibly defensive and aggressive - even when backed by the best of intentions.
I want you to remember that without a doubt, your passions are born from the place in which you are pissed off. That reclamation of anger and frustration leads to conviction & courage that would otherwise not be set of stage! And this is a beautiful thing, no doubt. My concerns lie in the ways your activism moves through you, what your intentions are, what your objectives are, how you are being perceived, whether your message is being heard or whether you are isolating those listening.
I would very much appreciate you reading the below with an open heart. There are no right or wrong answers - these are questions created to prompt you in a deep way.
At this very moment in time, there are 7.5 billion people, 4200 religions around the world and over 7,000 languages. We are looking at rampant abuses, injustice, starvation, genocide, children being trafficked, deep poverty, crime, corruption, conspiracy, climate change, slavery, death, destruction...the list goes on. The world is an unjust place. There are so many elements, so much anguish, so much pain, so much disaster...
Is your activism asking too much of those who feel unsafe participating, who are mentally or physically unwell, who are highly sensitive, who are empaths crippled by feeling 'too much', are negatively affecting people who might feel cut down the middle because they are not queer enough or not black enough or not poor enough to actively participate on either side, are facing significant hurdles with accessibility, are being misunderstood or having assumptions places on them?
Is your activism bringing people together or tearing them apart?
Is your focus in activism disregarding the people / scenario / big picture/s?
Are the ways we throw micro-agressions at each other for not doing enough, not saying enough, not being enough, exaggerating harm?
How many of us are activating change from a place of trauma, grief, turmoil and unresolved issues?
And how many of you are using aggressive, passive aggressive, defensive, presumptuous activism to heal that pain?
Are you playing the ferocious ally to a marginalised community or demographic of people of which you are not a part of? Is your voice suited to represent these people?
What type of mission, message and energy do you expect to be projecting from that place when activating change?
I know that as a highly sensitive person, who feels things in what can only be described as shrapnel piercing the chest, who would be so perturbed by what she saw and heard, it left her feeling like she could never possibly save everyone in the world - so why would she ever be worthy of feeling complete enough to care for herself? To care for everyone? If I couldn't save every animal, every child, every person - how could I call myself a good person? These thoughts were toxic, destructive and based on unrealistic expectations I would never reach. Therefore, any sporadic bursts of activism coming from this would be born in insecurity and hopelessness.
These days, I have moved my focus to modelling a sense of being, a way of showing up, a way of living and breathing my beliefs, beyond what was previously considered as the gold standard of activism (volunteer work, sacrificing time, burn out, riot, aggressive outbursts used to convert, pain projected, etc.), using $$$ as a tool to inspire, educate and circulate good and my message, and so on.
Please, please, please continue to fight the good fight.......please, please, please do not extinguish that flame. Just be aware that we each have two ears, one heart, two hands, one brain, one soul, one body...as you blossom, as you sharpen the edge of who you are and what you are here for, you too will come to see that the aspects of this work you might be clinging to in order to fight for relentlessly, are indeed the ways you sabotage yourself from upleveling where a WORLD full of people need the expression of you which has the tone, message, delivery and energy they will require at that time.
At the peak of my unhappiness and at the peak of my alleged postnatal depression, my eyes looked lifeless. I looked back on them and rabid thoughts filled my head, ‘How did I get there? What happened? Who was I? Where did I go?’ With complete disregard for my emotional and spiritual needs, as well as lack of support, I morphed turned into a shell who had her physical eyes but had lost her vision. I turned my entire focus on my children, motherhood and being the good wife. And to what end? A loss of enthusiasm that no amount of holy spirit could fix.
Maybe I just wanted to believe that I had a grip on everything that was happening because it made me feel better than not being able to reconcile the gross disparities in the climate of motherhood.
I remember asking myself,
‘What are my children getting from me,
if I am getting nothing from myself?’
The girl staring back at me in the mirror had a story that began and ended, then began and ended again, in the blood-like smear of lost potential and complete forgetfulness of who she was or who she could have been.
Believe it or not, the bulk of my sadness came from realising that the eyes gazing upon my babies faces were full of desperation even though I didn’t mean for them to be. How could my eyes in that kind of depleted state, translate every ounce of love it is I felt for my children? It wouldn't have been possible for my daughter or son to see the depth of my love if I could not look at them from eyes that spoke of sonnets? It would have been like wearing a pair of scraped sunglasses at night and expecting the person on the other side to make eye contact with ease.
Did my children even know how much I loved them, or had martyrdom clouded the fields in which they might know the full extent of that?
What a sweeping, sad feeling it was to realise I had never given myself a chance to mourn what I lost when I became a mother, and what got left behind when I said ‘yes’ to that ‘white picket fence’ ideology with babies, a ring and a shiny mortgage. These eyes. Instead of holding space for my suffering, that suffering turned to resentment for the love and sacrifice I had provided. Validation and high fives didn’t come. I hated that I did not get my shiny gold star for being the ‘good’ mother and ‘good’ wife.
I felt like I was being punished by the world,
when really I was punishing myself.
This realisation forced me to surrender my perceptions of struggle and strengthen my sense of intuition. The truth I needed was revealed to me in the bloodshed of every lie I had to divorce and in the minefield of every way I in turn, severed my attachments to martyrdom. I had to literally ran back in time to reclaim the girl who I had only met in a brief instance as a newborn. And when I met her again...I couldn’t settle for anything less than me.
I transmuted any lingering frustrations into a career of being seen on purpose even when it was uncomfortable. In this exercise, my relationship with my naked face evolved. I began exploring the masks we wear in greater depth. I played in the space thick with magic between the visible and the invisible. I danced on the intergalactic highway between the inviting freedom of our personal playgrounds and the prison of our minds. I choose wind on my face over angels falling from grace. Over and over again, I found masks that needed to be dissolved.
Misogyny, martyrdom, and motherhood are stones laid out in fog we are expected to tip toe if you want to get to point A to B. You too, will walk through this fog. Through every chapter of your life, through every season, through every meteorological phenomenon - you will be trapezing, this you can count on. But, you will turn into a goddamn acrobat and it might even be a little fun. A circus performer you’ll become, impressing yourself in the ways you mitigate every sharp curve and aerial manoeuvre.
You’ll be tempted to buy into the ‘Yellow Brick Road’ ideal they sell you. You might believe those stones in the fog are the breadcrumbs you walk to salvation because that’s what you’re promised.
I want you to consider that your freedom comes in the reclamation of your personal power. And that starts in the reimagining of your relationship with your reflection.
Not seeing the value in our own face is a dangerous thing. If eyes are the gateway to the soul, not knowing what exists beneath the mask prevents us from ever accessing or harnessing our depths.
Motherhood has become synonymous with martyrdom, in a way that fatherhood has no correlation to, but that fatherhood actively avoids without consequence. ‘Holy Motherhood’ has become the standard, with illusions & delusions that exhaust us until point of death. Disarray becomes a goalpost for motherhood well-lived. The amount of mothers who are consciously making morbid jokes about their exhaustion, their functional alcoholism or their lack of showering, is frightening. Such frank retelling is an eloquent coping mechanism we have manufactured out of our pain. Self-deprecating our inability to keep up with the unrealistic and pressing expectations of parenthood is a clever way to make fun of our turmoil before someone else gets the chance to.
We're tired. We are so tired we forget to bathe, we forget to eat. We are so tired we've made running jokes about wine being our best friend, about the ‘mom bun’ being high fashion, about how the self-righteous thing to do is put our kids before us, how we haven't bought a pair of nice underwear in years, about how we haven't been intimate with our partners in half a decade. We take the most disconnected, sad parts of our life and we turn them into parodies of who it is we are to help us get through the day because the only places that we source humor at that point is in self-deprecation.
We love wearing these badges because the badges become our identity, and having those badges and that identity is better than having no identity at all.
But here's nothing about being tired that deserves a reward. You learnt to adopt this mentality and behavior because of a highly patriarchal, highly misogynistic, hyper-aggressive, hypermasculine paradigm that has inspired you to do so. That isn’t our story to adopt.
Who taught new mothers and parents that caring for the lives of other people by dismissing the ways they care for themselves, is the best way forward? If we drove our cars as exhausted as we are, it would be dangerous. Then why are we asking those in the postpartum to mitigate what they do while driving the wheel of their life, while in no shape to do so?
Let's take a look at doctors; doctors who are established and students who have become doctors and the culture of taking drugs in order to stay awake, in order to complete our degrees, to do our placements, to stay up around the clock and how it has very much become a notoriously prominent part of that culture. Doctors don't sleep so they can "take care of you." That no sleeping, of course, breeds empathy deficits. And ironically, the people who are in charge of taking care of us forget to feel for us.
Then we can take a look at soldiers. Soldiers who are not sleeping on the front lines of war, who are given drugs so that they don't need to sleep. We push them to these places of hallucination, and it's fine because what they're responsible for is pillaging, and killing, and murdering.
You look at these two extremes, which are one set of professionals responsible for caring for people who are not sleeping and one set of professionals who are responsible for killing & fighting who aren't sleeping, and then you might ask yourself; why are we so surprised that women, mothers, and parents are losing their minds if we are asking them to act out the precedent that is set out before them?
We are desperately trying to be whatever has been modeled to us. We want to fit in. We want to understand why it is that we are so weak and why it is that we can't we function with as little sleep as everybody else.
“What is wrong with us?” “I need to be more productive.” “I don't need sleep.”
And of course it feels terrible in our bodies, which in part affects everything around us. Women are the greatest casualties of that anti-sleep culture. The greatest casualties. We require sleep as a fundamental aspect of what it is we do because we literally bring life into this world. We need to sleep. We then use that rest to sustain life.
We are not sleeping and we are not being supported to sleep - as a consequence, we are developing these horrendous empathy deficits that is costing us our relationships with our children, our relationships with ourselves, our relationships with other people, and it is also causing us to take our own lives and to kill our children.
In so many ways, we've become this distorted hybrid of those doctors and those soldiers, and we're coming out of it barely alive, asking ourselves what went wrong. I can tell you exactly what went wrong. Sleep is the foundation of everything it is and everything you want to do and the person you want to be. Sleep is the top of the list when it comes to what you need to be paying attention to on the inside in order for you to live the life of your dreams, in order for you to be the mother of your dreams, in order for you to be the human of your dreams or the partner of your dreams. Sleep. No human on this planet can live without sleep.
We live in a culture where mother’s view sleep as a luxury and lack of sleep as part of their duty of care.
Many outdated beliefs still linger on the subconscious. For example, we know a deep level of individual self-care serves to not only remedy, but prevent the aftermath of prolonged ‘putting-ourselves-last’. In some arenas, self-care is still seen as a form of selfishness mothers best avoid. It is remarked that this selfishness is the worst thing imaginable when your life is meant to rotate on the axis of serving everyone else but yourself. Many believe that holy martyrdom is strictly achieved in suffering silently and enthusiastically, and that ‘God’ intends for mothers to care for their children without any help as the dreary conclusion to ‘painful labour and painful motherhood as a curse’ for eating ‘the forbidden fruit’ in the garden of Eden.
Each of these delusions impacts us on a cellular level. Grooming us to a point of saying ‘YES’ before we even know what we are signing up to.
For those trying to cover their eyes or their ears….
Martyrdom is the most narcissistic thing you can possibly do. Being selfless in the spirit of not being selfish, is the most selfish thing you can do. Your children are robbed of the opportunity to be with and benefit from the brightest version of you.
Breaking up with the martyr version of you is going to be challenging and it will confront everything that you keep around in the name of creature comforts. Perhaps the most confronting aspect about the masks we wear is that we choose to wear them. We slap them on in an almost sadistic enthusiasm wiped across our face, ear to ear. Akin to the type of messy, bloody, runny mascara, grin that the Joker would wear after each addictive confrontation with his arch-nemesis, Batman. We need the mask to keep up pretenses, and the masks need our willingness to participate for them to survive.
Divorcing this co-dependency takes guts. And this is the postpartum culture I know we can create if we aggressively review these dynamics.
As I sit here writing at this very moment, I am waist deep in tears while I watch The Handmaiden’s tale. Season 3, episode one. My face feels heavy and my lips taste like salt. I ponder the possibilities of what could be and what already is. What is being lost as we speak and what is at risk if the story stays the same.
My only ambition here is to rewrite the script. To rewrite it as I feel it to be true in my bones. In direct reference to how I have experienced it and how I have grieved the ways it could have been. I want to bring you a book of truth that sets you free, and I could only do this earnestly if I spoke strictly from my narrative. My truths might not be your truths. But then again, your truths might be prompted to evolve as you open your heart to mine.
I want to show you that you no longer have to tie your worth into the ways you procreate on command, or satiate your partner for the sake of subservience, or being the ‘perfect’ mother when perfect is defined in the most subjective of ways, or are counted on to relish in playing pretend without a fight.
I am not implying you forego your faith or your commitment to your family, let’s be clear in what I am discussing. This is about finding worth inside of yourself before finding it anywhere else. Because without doing so, But instead, move you to a place where the foundational commandments you follow are self love, and self ownership. Because it is in this place you have the ability to meet the fully expressed version of yourself. When you live, move and breathe from a place that does not take every step based on fear, consequence and implication. it is imperative that you not only dismantle the relationships you have with misogyny and motherhood, and martyrdom as you know it. But blow that shit up.
The masquerade we are dwelling in is more macabre than mysterious, more hell than leisure. Upon I find myself half terrified, half turned on, and entirely creeped out.
Your journey will be messy, but it will take you where you need to go, this much I can guarantee. And in some ways, we can say that misogyny, martyrdom and motherhood, offer us a unique upleveling akin to the phoenix rising from the ashes.
I don’t want to tarnish the taste my daughter has for life by avoiding what needs to doing. And it is for my daughter, I ripped every mask off my face. Ripped. Not peeled. For my daughter. I leaned into discomfort to create freedom for her, and for those who come after me. And as I dropped the tarnished, toxic expectations the world put on me and I put on myself, I subsequently vindicated my mother, my aunts, my grandmothers, and the matriarchal influences in my life, who all along, had believed were just raging assholes.
They were not assholes, they were plagued with surviving the customs of mask-wearing - a reality that had them incapacitated and stuck. I would have been as asshole, too. And for the sake of your daughter, for your children, take a blade to the masks on your face and watch while your true form is revealed and their true form is given permission to take center stage.
You may think otherwise, bridled in the stables of victimhood, but you DO have the power to take back the reins. There is opportunity always, to free ourselves. And it is the enacting of these small changes in our perspectives, we free our children from chains that they did not sign up to be bound to.
Why not shift the narrative from tired martyrdom, to recharged and alive for the collective? Why not reimagine an energized future that feeds the positive charges of our children, by addressing that which depletes us of energy now? Why not take radical responsibility in ditching the facades, and move beyond illusions of control? Why not let go of our desires to stand in line on the conveyor belt approach to motherhood in exchange for a false sense of security and keeping?
At the time being, we live in a world where the major reason women die after childbirth is by suicide. which in turn rebuilds a future where suicide is not the number one way women die after childbirth. A future where maternal malnutrition is eradicated because we remember to feed ourselves in the way we feed everyone else. Where the abuse we permiss in every other aspect of our lives, is avoided simply by equipping women with the awareness and the ambition to accept nothing less than worship, celebration and respect on the grounds of their bodily autonomy.
Martyrdom is the mask we wear to survive the misogynistic undertones, and overbearing realities of motherhood. I'm here to tell you that this doesn't need to be our story. You're suffering for it. Your children are suffering for the sake of that curse, too. By extension, your family is suffering for the sake of that curse, too.
Your martyr story is eating you alive. Therefore, it might be fair to say that as you exercise your over the top hospitality, you might consider that martyrdom should not have a place at the table of your happiness.
Sadly, this just so happens to be the curse we pass onto our children; birthing them into a household, belief system and body that requires the taste of lying to exist within the world. In order to satiate the unrealistic expectations of which their parents, school and the world place onto them, they must learn to lie. Daily practice of this eventually leads to a reality where pathological lying becomes habit. It is easy to lose sight of what you are pursuing when the act of lying to survive eagerly sabotages the fulfillment of your purpose.
The responsibility to break these cycles is real. And it only works in the ways you prioritise liberating yourself from your lies. Forgive yourself and move forward. Shame and guilt are some of the lowest vibrations we can be operating from. We have all done things we needed to in order to survive. This doesn’t make you a bad person - it makes you an angel who recognises their potential and therefore commands better of herself, for the sake of everyone involved, starting with herself.
Your children will eat through every facade you hold onto. And when they’re done chomping through the debris of every mask you wear, they entice, force and provoke the parts of you that only exist in the shadows. Shadows that your children have exclusive free-reign rights, too. You will come face to face with everything you’ve tried to forget, resurrected in the scope of their merciless x-Ray vision.
They will leave you breathless with the choice to be who you say you are, or, live with your lies. The responsibility to rear them in energy that is as transformative as the nest is to the sleeping egg, and as the cocoon is to the butterfly dancing at the threshold of dark & light - that choice, will always remain yours.
One day, they might leave. The very real risk of them choosing to love you less and less is a reality. They might stop loving you entirely. They might choose everything else over you. They might forget how devoted you were, in every night and every day you mitigated the tumultuous uncertainty of parenthood. You might have to bury them before the fruits of your labour grace the future. But it doesn’t matter - choose to SHOW UP irregardless of outcome. Show up as the whole you and continue to demand better of yourself, for their sake, for your sake and for the sake of our collective awareness. You get one go, no refunds. You will fall, you will mess up, you will disappoint them and you will disappoint yourself, that’s a fact. But get back up, pivot, look for the lesson and the gift. You won’t always have the answers - release the expectation that you do.
Martyrdom will never be validated in the ways you dream of. Your illusions of sacrifice won’t be reciprocated - and what a hell of a way to resent your children in the process, too. Do this inner work for you and that truly is the best type of devotion you will ever embody.
Hi beautiful people, my name is JoJo Hogan. Over the past fifteen years I have devoted my life to caring for, celebrating +supporting mothers and their babies as they move through the incredible ‘childbirth year’. This period includes pregnancy, birth and the postpartum. I did this initially by founding the Bella Mama Pregnancy Spa & Wellness Centre based in NZ, and more recently in my work as a postpartum doula, educator and founder of Slow Postpartum, an international ‘movement’ that educates women and families as to the importance of the sacred ‘first forty days’ following birth.
Today, Angela has asked me to give you an introduction to the work of a postpartum Doula and how you can best support your clients throughout this incredibly important time of their lives; the first few weeks and months as they journey and transform into their role of mother and parent, alongside their new baby.
In the next section, you'll also be hearing more from the wonderful Julia Jones of Newborn Mothers about how the hormones of a cis woman's body work during the postpartum time, as well as to how best facilitate optimal conditions for creating a postpartum full of peace and joy. And to add to how much of. lucky bunch you are, Marta Willis from Luna Bloom will be here to explain the gorgeous rituals and ceremonies of honoring a new mother or parent, 'Mother Roasting'.
In the first part of the video above, I will give you some practical tips on how you might support your client both before & after the birth of her baby to help avoid stress and exhaustion that is unfortunately all too common with new mothers in the Western Culture and instead, allow her to enjoy this special yet intense time with her new baby,
As you figure out where your Doula interests lie, you'll be doing things like creating packages for your mums and then can decide how much postpartum support that you will be available to give. Whether it’s just a visit or two after the birth of her baby, or ongoing support and care in the weeks and months following. Whatever you decide this work is immensely important and they are sure to never forget the love, care and attention that they've gotten from others- including yourself - following the birth of her baby.
So what does a postpartum Doula do and what would your postpartum visits with a new mum look like? We will go over a few pointers here and I'll explain a little bit more about what my sessions with my clients look like.
I suppose the clue of the role of a Postpartum doula is in the title of this module, ‘Mothering The Mother’. I always like to think of my postpartum Doula care as being a kind of a nurturing and nourishing service where you are giving a woman or parent the tender loving care + support that is necessary to find their own way, and their own style as a parent. Holding space for her so that she can rest deeply, gain confidence in her own abilities and fall in love with her new baby.
There are also some practical aspects to this service such as cooking/massage/belly binding and maybe some light housework but it’s important not to get your work as a qualified Doula mixed up with more mundane household tasks.
Your value is in your education, qualifications, compassion, empathy and knowledge and that’s important to remember.
All postpartum Doulas have different skills, modalities and interests whether it be breastfeeding support, multiples, massage, cooking or none of these. Make sure your clients know what you offer and what is within your scope of practise when you create your packages.
Another thing that is very important is to understand what a postpartum Doula does not do which is not to give too much advice. Instead our value is in our trust that the woman innately knows the right way to mother her baby. This is hard sometimes because new mothers are bombarded with advice from every corner - books, Google, friends and well meaning comments from people that are trying to help but are sometimes are bringing their own judgements to the table.
We also live in a culture that thinks that there is a ‘one size fits all’ set of rule and regulations around baby care which means that if we follow, for example the latest book or set of instructions to the letter then we can ‘train’ our babies to behave as we want them to.
As all babies are individuals, this unfortunately is at best inaccurate and at worst damaging to both mothers and babies as, when her baby doesn’t fit into ‘the rules’ a new mother often loses confidence and quickly becomes frustrated and dispirited.
One of the most important things that I often say to my new mums is ‘your baby is YOUR baby’ and 'how do you FEEL about that advice that you’ve been given or about doing that with your baby?'. It’s ok for mothers or parents to take advice from different places as they learn, but it’s important that it fits in with their philosophy.
If they learn to sit with how they ‘feel’ in their hearts they often will know if or how the advice will work for them.
Their baby is also their greatest teacher and it’s ok for them to make mistakes as they learn! This is the way to learn with confidence.
Encourage them to try things and then, if they don’t work for their baby, go on to try another thing. Maybe help them come up with a few (no more than three) options to try out. See how they ‘feel’ and then ask them to make note of what worked. In this way a mother quickly gains confidence in knowing her baby and that’s wonderful to watch and much more satisfying than being other person who ‘tells her what to do.’.
As a postpartum Doula one of the most important things we can do is to help our clients find their own mothering style. We can do this by encouraging them to view the ‘4th Trimester’ as a time of deep transformation. A time where their strength lies in their ability to be vulnerable, to ask for help, to know that they do not know and to make mistakes as they learn about this new human being that they have bought earthside. Many of these things are not easy for a certain type of women who is used to ‘being in control’ of her life which is why it is important to start the dialogue about the 4th trimester and her postpartum plan before the birth of her baby so she has an understanding of what to expect.
I tell my mamas ‘that their ‘postpartum plan’ is equally if not more important than their ‘birth plan’ and that they should sit down with their partner and support team and spend quite a bit of time working on this and answering the following questions such as...
Where will she/they spend the first few days postpartum?
Does she/they plan to breastfeed or bottle feed?
Where will their baby sleep?
Who else lives in their home and what support will they be?
Are there other siblings and what their reaction the new baby will be?
How long will her/their partner (is she has one) take off work to support her/them?
Who are her/their village? If they struggle to know or is reluctant to ask for help, encourage her to think outside the box. Can she pay for a cleaner for example? Some meals for the freezer?
Who will their visitors be and what can they do to help and support her/them?
Who will hold the baby when they rest/eat/spend time with other children?
What things bring them peace and joy, and what can they do to bring these things into her life on a regular basis? Who can support them to do this?
What is their love language (this is a great way to be able to find out how you can best support her - google the Five Love Languages, as Angela will discuss in her workflow.)
Do they loved to be touched/massaged or do words of affirmation or acts of service make them happy?
What things are truly important to them and what are their goals?
Ask them to visualise their perfect scenario at around 12 weeks postpartum so you have something to aim towards and can remind them of the bigger picture when they get caught up in the small details.
If it’s appropriate you can help them with this in one of your prenatal meetings. In the same way as every birth is different, so you will find is every postpartum experience that you will have with your mama and her family. Sharing these first few weeks of their postpartum journey will be a joy and a privilege in many ways but there will undoubtably be challenges too. Whether it is a home birth derailed by medical complications (or happening by mistake!) a long fored breastfeeding journey beset by problems or unhelpful visitors not giving her the support she deserves, your calm and centred energy will be invaluable to her.
When making a postpartum plan for my clients I let them know a list of my different offerings. In my case I offer massage so can bring that to her home as well as my essential oils but I also offer cooking, breastfeeding support etc.
You’ll hear me mention massage when talking about my postpartum support work and that’s because I’m a qualified massage therapist but if that’s not the case for you then you can still use comforting touch or a relaxing rub down which still has enormous benefits. I’ll be covering some of these techniques later in this course.
If you do not have extra qualifications and this is fine too as what many mothers need is just someone to hold the space, to put a nourishing meal on the table, maybe to hold baby while they eat it or shower, fold a load or two of washing and give a gentle foot or head rub as well as to listen with an open and compassionate heart to her fears, anxieties, hopes and dreams.
The day before I visit my clients, I message them to ask what they feel they might need on the day. My visits tend to be around half a day (so three to four hours). I might offer to pop in to the shops on my way to pick up some food or supplies. When I arrive the first thing I always do is put the kettle on, (sometimes I have to shoo her out of the kitchen as she tries to make tea for ME!) :) and sit down with her to talk about how she is feeling on that day and what her main challenges might be.
If it is my first visit she may want to talk about her birth experience (be prepared for tears both happy and sad) . If she has other challenges she is working through we will both work together to brainstorm a few options that she might want to try (as mentioned above not too many) I might also suggest resources such a local osteopaths, lactation consultants etc. It’s a great idea to have an extensive list of local resources available to recommend to your clients as well as maybe a book or DVD library that they can borrow from. This will add to the value of your packages as a whole if you are able to put your client in touch with helpful and beneficial resources that align with her philosophy.
As I love cooking, I tend to put a meal on for her lunch, usually a dinner and a snack too. The recipes from Julia’s cookbook - Nourishing the Newborn Mother are wonderful!
Depending where you live you may need to take food licensing laws into consideration and that will dictate whether or not you can prepare food in your own home for your client versus preparing food in their home. In my case I always cook in my clients home. As the meal is cooking I’ll have a quick look around to see what needs doing. Maybe the dishwasher can be emptied and the kitchen tidied. A load of washing can be folded and the baby watched as they has a shower.
I might then set up my massage table and give them a gorgeous postpartum massage with a belly binding, if they would like one.
If there’s time we might do some baby massage (I am qualified to teach this) and maybe make up an aromatherapy blend for her to use at home or teach her some gentle yoga or a relaxation exercise.
We also keep note of the goals and affirmations that we made in our prenatal meeting. Is she managing to do some of the things that bring her peace and joy? Are the people in her ‘village’ supporting her? Is there anything that would make her experience more positive and fulfilling.
You’ll find that each postnatal visit that you have with your client will be slightly different depending on what she needs on the day so a long as you’re reasonably flexible with that and can ‘go with the flow’ it will be fine and you will bring an enormous value to her with your work and your energy.
Thanks so much for listening to me talk about my work. I hope I’ve managed to fire up your womb with some postpartum passion to weave into your Dynamo Doula studies!
The Postpartum Period
The postpartum period is generally considered, at least medically, to be the first 6 weeks after birth. Folks who have given birth before know how wrong that designation is, and how it perpetuates so many myths about what new parenthood is like. If your client had a hospital birth and it was vaginal, they will see their care provider at 6 weeks for a check up, which includes a vaginal exam. If they had a cesarean, they will have a two week visit and a six week visit to make sure their scar is healing properly. More visits are being added to the standard due to studies showing that more contact with care providers serves as better intervention for postpartum mood disorders. Out of hospital clients will see their midwife several times before the 6 week mark, as their care tends to be more hands on. The 6 week designation came about because it generally takes around 6 weeks for the uterus to complete its process of involution, of returning back to its pre-pregnancy size. Around 4-6 weeks, lochia, or discharge, has completed. However, some women/parents will bleed for up to 8-10 weeks.
In traditional medicine practices (such as Chinese and Ayurveda), there is a special emphasis on the first 40 or so days after birth, and mothers/birthing people are kept in bed, massaged, fed certain warming foods, and otherwise cared for so that they can recover and bond with their baby. We will discuss these beautiful traditions later on in the module. The postpartum period is a tender time, and Doulas are in the unique position to be able to provide the subtle, important support that new families need. Postpartum support is subtle work because it is more than talking about the birth, or holding the baby, or providing a meal, or folding some laundry. When you enter the home of a new or growing family, you are entering a sacred space, and you are handling the sometimes tenuous emotions of a new mother/parent. Much of what we do as Doulas doesn’t always look like “much,” but the impact and ramifications of our support radiate outward and make lasting impressions on the families we serve. Listening to a mother or new parent share their birth story, or share their frustrations, let out tears or anger, exhaustion, whatever their emotions may be, is one of the most important things you can do for that person. Affirming, clarifying, gently educating, giving options, helping sort through, all of this is what you can do for them.
While there is joy in bringing a new child into the world, many women and new parents experience grief. There is an enormous shift in identity, and while that becomes apparent for many during pregnancy, it is solidified very quickly in the postpartum period. The reality of parenting sets in and can overwhelm even the most prepared new parents, even the experienced ones! We can help our clients process the unexpected, re-calibrate expectations they may have had, plan for the changes ahead, and understand the ins and outs of early parenthood.
Personally, your work may focus more on the birth side of things, however, it’s vital that birth Doulas have a deep understanding of the postpartum period, and vice versa. Postpartum Doulas need to understand the birth process so that they can help their clients heal or understand their birth. We cannot compartmentalize the work we do. Yes, there are titles, and yes we may not be present for all or part of certain aspects of this period of life, but Doulas must be able to wear many hats and have knowledge on many subjects. We must especially have adequate and in-scope understanding of postpartum mental health. Sometimes we may be the only person to notice certain warning signs, and it is our obligation that if we see something, we say something. We cannot force our clients to seek intervention, but we can name what we are seeing and express our concerns, either to that mother/parent, to the partner, or other family members. We will further explore this aspect of the postpartum period later on in the module.
The First 6 Weeks - How is Your Client Likely Feeling?
The way your client feels in the first six weeks will depend on their method of delivery, length of labor, how much rest they are getting, how they are taking care of themselves/being taken care of, etc. Statistically speaking, clients who have a vaginal birth will have shorter recovery times than those with a cesarean. However, it is so individual and many women/people who have a cesarean feel quite well a few days later, while those with a vaginal birth may take more time to feel better. Clients may be healing from or dealing with perineal or internal tears, from swelling, from epidural back pain, from breastfeeding discomforts, from a cesarean birth, from muscle soreness, uterine cramping, pelvic bone discomfort, and all manner of emotional traumas (big or small), disappointments, etc. Fluid retention is also quite common. Clients may be feeling weepy, vulnerable, exhausted, desperately thirsty and hungry!, wired, unable to sleep, anxious, depressed, joyful, grateful, and so on.
Lochia should be lightening and lessening around the 6 week mark, however, it can continue for several more weeks or start and stop a bit. The stopping and starting tends to relate to the postpartum person’s activity level. There is a wound inside the uterus from where the placenta was attached and that wound takes time to heal. Excess activity can irritate the uterus, and cause fresh, red blood to return. Lochia begins heavy, red, and filled with small clots, then goes on to resemble a heavy period, then a lighter period, then brown to yellow discharge. If a client sees their lochia stop or begin to lessen, and then they go and do something they don’t see as strenuous, such as go shopping, and then they get some fresh red blood, this is an indication they have done too much and need to slow down (if they can). Lochia is a great barometer for activity level in the postpartum body.
While we recommend new moms/postpartum people take at least several weeks off from a lot of activity, it’s just not possible for some folks, either due to life circumstances, older children to care for, or the type of personality that is used to that go go go lifestyle. For those new moms/postpartum people who have a hard time sitting still, delegating responsibilities, and have a “Type A” personality, the down time involved with recovering from birthing, nursing a new baby, and lying it can feel nearly impossible. We can’t force people to rest, but we can stress the importance and the benefits, as well as the consequences of not doing so. If it seems like your client is unable to rest to an extreme level, it is possible a mood disorder is at play. We will go over postpartum mood disorders later in the module.
The First Year - What is Your Client Most Likely to Grieve and/or Celebrate?
With the 6 week designation of the postpartum period, it can take many women/parents by surprise that something magical does not occur at the 6 week mark. Many do not feel suddenly themselves that day, suddenly sexual, suddenly done with the physical recovery process. For many, it can take well over a year or more to feel like the postpartum period has ended. In some schools of thought, one is always “postpartum” after they give birth the first time. At least, until they reach menopause and those changes begin.
As discussed elsewhere, there can be many forms of grief in the postpartum period: the grief of loss of former lifestyle, loss of career perhaps, the birth itself, relationship issues with partner, friend, or other family members, disappointment due to expectations not being met or being different than anticipated, and so on. With that dark side, there is certainly much light: the beauty of a new baby, watching a human grow and learn, feeling confident and successful at aspects of parenting, connecting with one’s partner on a new level, feeling accomplished and strong, the joy of certain difficult phases being over, and many more. Like any significant event in life, there is light and dark, good and bad, grief and joy in all of it. While we hope our clients are able to focus more on the joys, for some, it will be difficult, and the grief, challenges, and heartache may feel stronger or more present.
So much changes over the first year of parenting. You come home with a tiny, primal being who is full of instincts, reflexes, and needs, and you leave that first year with a capable little human, full of opinions, energy, and wonder. You leave birth feeling raw and perhaps powerful, and by the first year mark, you can feel quite different. Perhaps not totally healed, but certainly much different than those first few weeks.
Global Postpartum Traditions
Western culture is unique in its lack of support for new mothers/postpartum people. As you will see, throughout the rest of the world, practices are in place to give postpartum people time to recover from birth, bond with their baby, and gently re-emerge into society after a period of rest. While the specifics of each culture’s traditions vary, the overall aim is to keep mother/person and baby in bed for the first several weeks after birth, to provide foods and physical care to the new mother/person to aid in their recovery and promote lactation, and that family and community are involved in the care of the new parents and baby. Even early settlers in the United States practiced a lying in period. It seems like, with the medicalization of birth and the industrialization of the US, this tradition faded. Women began working outside of the home and needed to return to work as quickly as was safe after giving birth.
The US presently has one of the shortest maternity leaves of any country in the world. Women/people who work for companies who offer leave typically only receive 6 weeks, but may, with other forms of leave, be able to take up to 3-4 months. Paternity leave is typically two weeks, but again more time can be taken with other forms of leave (which are often unpaid).
Families in the west also don’t always live close to their own family of origin, and may lack community support that would have traditionally be offered by family, neighbors, etc. This is why postpartum Doulas are such a crucial need for new families who do not have the traditional support we will be exploring. Consider though that there are many families who do not work for companies who offer benefits, and that they may not be able to take any time off of work or school, depending. Access to postpartum care may not be possible for some, due to finances or otherwise. While Doulas don’t often work with families in those circumstances, there are Doulas creating community programs to increase access to the work we do.
The following are short descriptions of some of the practices of different countries or cultures. Please note that there is great variance within cultures, and that these are just the most common practices you may hear about.
China: Traditionally, postpartum people in China are expected to stay in bed for the first 30 days. This period is called zuo yuezi and has a lot of strict rules that the elder women of the family enforce. Very little time is spent outside of the bed and several specific foods are eaten, including a pig foot soup that contains a lot of warming ginger and whole eggs. Chinese medicine emphasizes warming the postpartum person and that they shouldn’t be cold after birth, since much energy and blood was lost in the birth. No raw or cold foods or drinks are permitted. Bathing is also banned during this time. In China there are even luxury postpartum care centers where women can go and stay during this time.
Korea: The first 100 days, samchilil, are regarded as the lying in period in Korea, and the traditional soup offered is seaweed based. The soup is said to support lactation, but also contains natural collagens, as does the Chinese version, to rebuild connective tissue after birth. Again, time is spent lying in bed with baby, and letting family take care of the rest.
Japan: Ansei, meaning “peace and pampering,” takes place for the first three weeks after birth. The mother is fed and cared for while she rests and recovers and nurses her baby. Typically the mother goes to stay with her parents for this time.
Malaysia: Bengkung belly binding is a popular practice in this region, and uses a long piece of thin cloth to tightly corset the postpartum person’s hips and abdomen. A hot stone abdominal massage with oils and spices is also often performed prior to wrapping. There are many benefits to Bengkung, including speeding up the involution process and supporting the abdominal muscles as they return to their pre-pregnancy position. Bengkung has become more popular in the west as well, and many Doulas are offering this service to their clients.
India: While traditions will vary region to region, overall there is a period of around 40 days where the new mother/person is encouraged to remain in bed, rest, eat certain foods, and receive daily massages using oils and spices, including mustard seed. There are certain herbs and spices that the postpartum person is to consume on a regular basis. There’s also an emphasis on the consumption of ghee, or clarified butter.
Africa: Lying in periods are encouraged, but specific traditions vary country to country. Vaginal steaming may be part of the recovery care process. In Zambia, women are barred from doing house work until the baby’s umbilical cord falls off!
Indigenous North Americans: Traditions vary among the numerous tribes, but some may utilize a sweat lodge, ritualistic bathing, a lying in period, specific nourishing foods, etc.
Latin America: Many Latin American cultures practice cuarentena, quarantine, for the first month or so after birth. Much like the other cultures mention, rich soups and teas are offered, and mothers are encouraged to rest while the family and community take care of the household.
Europe: Most European countries offer new parents a year or more of leave. This allows new parents to bond and focus on recovery without the pressure or fear of job loss. In many countries, women stay in the hospital for nearly a week after birth. In France, for example, all new moms are sent to pelvic floor physical therapy after birth.
It’s interesting to note that most cultures have the lying in period, emphasize keeping the mother/baby warm, feed collagen and iron rich soups or foods, and perform some sort of practice to aid in physical healing. Postpartum nutrition and supporting the needs of lactation are of utmost importance in many cultures. We will explore more about nourishing foods in another section.
The First Forty Days
As we see, most cultures have some version of honoring the first forty or so days after birth by providing care, rest, and nourishment to the new mother/postpartum person and their family. You may work with a client whose family comes from one of those backgrounds, and they may be planning on practicing some version of those traditions. Or, you may work for more westernized clients who don’t really have any postpartum traditions or practices in mind. This is where your ability to educate can come into play. Share with your clients about the global tradition of the First Forty Days. Help them see that new families need and deserve this level of care. Then you can work with them to create their own version, using the postpartum plan we mentioned, or just giving a list of possible ideas they can employ.
Contemporary western society is fast paced, which can make it hard for new families to adjust to the sudden slow-down of life with a newborn. Many clients we end up working with are Type A and find it difficult to sit still, let things take their course, etc. What a beautiful lesson the new baby is! But, in order to reduce some of the shock and discomfort of that adjustment, pre-education is really key. If forty days in bed sounds utterly impossible, set a more reasonable goal of one or two weeks. Help your client find what will work for them, given the realities of their life and lifestyle. Also stress the importance of delegating tasks and that this is their chance to get pampered and to get in all those newborn snuggles. There’s a real balance we must achieve as support people, between accepting what clients will be able to reasonably achieve, and encouraging them to think beyond their field of view to see the benefits of trying something different. Most western folks just don’t realize what having a new baby will be like, and why would they? Our culture does a lot to obfuscate the realities of early parenthood, placing a fuzzy, pink lens on glowing new mothers and perfect, sleeping babies. Social media has been no friend to this issue either--with new mothers often creating a motherhood persona that does not reflect what’s happening in the background. Many women/parents feel like they must keep up appearances and often feel alone in their parenting struggles.
The beauty of the First Forty Days tradition is that it sends a message to the social circle of that family that they are choosing to slow down, to savor, to hibernate, to revel, and to put in deep effort to bond with their new child. Once that lying in period is complete, then the new family emerges into their circle once more, and begins the very necessary process of socializing themselves and their baby.
Since western cultures doesn’t have a lot of guidance around how to enact this tradition, we can look to the rest of the world for inspiration. Below you will learn more about postpartum healing practices that you may want to offer or teach your clients about. They of course are also welcome to create their own!
Creating a Postpartum Plan
Birth plans or preference lists can be important tools for new families to use to sort out how they feel about birth, how they’d like to approach certain situations, and cataloguing their priorities. It’s well known amongst Doulas that most families do not adequately prepare for the postpartum period. So, it’s no surprise that helping them draft a Postpartum Plan can be an added value to your work, and provide your clients with concrete tools to experience a better transition to parenthood. The postpartum plan can include a description of how they would like to handle visitors, which tasks are delegated to which people, what healing remedies they would like to use, how to approach nighttime parenting, resources for postpartum mood disorders or mother/parent groups, resources for people to reach out to when the postpartum person needs help, social interaction, or emotional support, and so on. Have clients type up a one-sheet of bullet points so they may share their plan with all who will be involved in their postpartum care. This plan can be a healthy way to establish much-needed boundaries with family members, and also helps to give them tasks so they do not feel at a loss of what to do when visiting the new family. We do not want to see new parents entertaining guests, at least not in the first few weeks, and writing a postpartum plan can clearly outline what the parents will and will not be doing with their visitors. Part of this plan can be creating a meal train, either through the website or similar, or through the family’s church or other community organization.
Overall the aim is to help expecting families realize that a) they need to prepare for the postpartum period (many don’t realize this), b) they need to identify and outline the type of support they want, and c)curating the experience is possible: who’s around, how to approach recovery, how to deal with food prep and household chores, etc. Families will always benefit from doing more thoughtful planning for the postpartum time, which, as you see, is broader than preparing for the new baby. Most parents spend lots of time doing that--researching the best stroller, meticulously picking out the cutest baby outfits, etc. Little goes into preparing for the emotional and physical aspects the mother/postpartum person and the partner will go through. With a postpartum plan, they are sure to increase their chances of a smoother, more enjoyable experience.
The Ways a Doula Helps Optimise and Energise the Postpartum Period
There is a ton that Doulas can do to help clients experience a healthy and happy postpartum period. We’ve learned about healing modalities, foods, traditions, and planning. But the very fact of the Doula themselves, the Doula’s presence and energy in the family’s home, can go such a long way to bring a sense of calm and confidence to new parents. Our knowledge, emotional and energetic attunement, our practical support, and our hands on comfort all work to optimise the experience for our clients. One of the most important aspects of postpartum work is the conversations we have with our clients, especially the new mothers/postpartum people. The words we share and the way we listen have a huge impact on the client’s confidence, emotional state, etc. This is why we keep speaking about the subtlety of postpartum support. That it’s so much more than all the things we do. The deep listening that we offer is most important of all we can offer.
In western culture, there isn't a great deal of emphasis placed on postpartum nutrition, other than what foods might support lactation, or what foods to avoid that could make a baby gassy. However, there is a rich global tradition of foods which warm the body and replenish depleted resources in the postpartum person. Just as the foods and nutrients we put into the body during pregnancy are important, so too are those in the postpartum time. With the loss of blood volume from birth, and overall depletion from pregnancy, the postpartum person needs foods that are nutrient dense, easily digestible, and warming (according to most postpartum traditions). Meet your clients where they are, as always, and discuss their dietary preferences, needs, and allergies/intolerances. Provide them with information on traditional postpartum foods, but adapt and add to their menu with own preferences in mind. Some of what is discussed in this section comes from traditional wisdom, and other suggestions are more contemporary, based on Doula experience and client enjoyment. As a postpartum Doula, you may or may not cook for your clients. Some clients really enjoy having someone else prepare their meals, others just want help warming something up, or an easy snack fixed. Cooking may not be your thing, either, and that's okay. Not all postpartum Doulas prefer to offer meal planning and prep for their clients. Make sure your contract and business materials mention the level of cooking you like to do so that expectations are clear ahead of time.
As covered in the Herbalism Module, there are many plants that support postpartum recovery, some of which can be used in food preparations, and others that work better as teas, tinctures, topicals, etc. You might find that some come up in recipes you find as you learn more about postpartum foods. There's lots of crossover when it comes to Chinese foods and Ayurveda in particular because food is medicine.
Across many cultures there is a tradition of hot soups and stews that are feed to the new mother/postpartum person that warm, rebuild blood, and promote lactation. Cool foods, such as raw vegetables, salads, etc., tend to be avoided in traditional postpartum cooking as it cools the body.
For western families, chicken soup is quite common, and certainly palatable to most who eat meat. A soup made of chicken bone broth stock will provide a rich base full of healthy fat and restorative collagen. Chicken feet are particularly collagen-rich for making the broth, paired with a little cider vinegar to release nutrients from the bones. Stock veggies like carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and herbs can add depth. Cook low and slow for hours. Once refrigerated, it should congeal. Add cooked breast meat, cut veggies (carrots, celery, potatoes, green beans), pasta, rice, or quinoa (if desired), and more fresh herbs to finish the soup. Ratios of ingredients are as desired. You can't go wrong with this combo of ingredients.
Chinese Postpartum Soup
In Chinese culture, a chicken based or pig foot (trotter) based soup with whole eggs, vinegar, and ginger is quite common. This soup has extra warmth from the ginger, and has lots of collagen to promote connective tissue healing. Here's a recipe: http://www.healthbysarah.com/postpartum-recovery-soup/
An excellent resource for Chinese postpartum foods is The First Forty Days by Heng Ou. Her book has countless recipes, overall postpartum healing practices, and brings all of these into the context of contemporary parenthood and society. She has excellent broth recipes, many variations of congee (a nourishing, versatile rice porridge), and yummy bowls filled with veggies, proteins, and grains to satisfy that deep postpartum hunger. This book is a must have for the Postpartum Doula.
Korean Seaweed Soup
Korean seaweed soup is a great option for vegetarian or vegan clients, or for those who simply enjoy seaweed. This soup is said to be especially helpful for lactation, but has a vegetarian form of collagen (from the seaweed), and is rich in calcium and other nutrients. It can be made (and is often traditionally made) with beef stock, but it doesn't have to be. Here is a vegetarian version: http://amandanicolesmith.com/miyeokguk-korean-seaweed-soup/
For Digestive Regularity
For constipation/overall bowel regularity, Dr. Aviva Romm recommends consuming a blend of apple juice, water, prunes, figs, bran flakes, and cinnamon once a day (recipe found in Natural Health After Birth). Dried fruit in general is quite helpful for this common postpartum condition. Magnesium citrate (in the form of Natural Calm powder, a delicious favorite) can also work quite well. Some clients may respond well to the stool softeners prescribed by their provider, but for others they are ineffective or don't work well enough. Lots of water, fiber, and healthy fats or oils can help keep things moving.
Smoothies & Other Easy to Eat Foods
Smoothies are a popular way to get in healthy ingredients in an easy, hand held package. However, the iciness of smoothies tends to be discouraged for postpartum folks. Room temp/non frozen smoothies with nut butters, yogurt, milk of choice, fresh fruit, dark leafy greens, healthy fats (avocado, coconut oil, hemp seeds, flax seeds), blackstrap molasses (for iron), etc., make a great easy meal for a busy mama/parent. Throw in some placenta chunks for an extra boost, if that's something the client is interested in.
Along those lines, finding foods that are simple to prepare, heat, or eat one handed tend to go over well with nursing parents especially. In the early days of nursing, the postpartum parent tends to need at least one hand to help the baby latch, or to achieve the preferred positioning, so things that are easy to eat make sense. Postpartum Doulas are known for making great snack plates. It's easy to prepare a bountiful meal just by going through your client's fridge or pantry. A plate with cheese and crackers, sliced fruit or dried fruit, nuts and seeds, dips (hummus is easy and nutrient packed), cut raw veggies (if client is not following the warming tradition, if so, blanched veggies might be a nice alternative), and cured meats can provide a nice variety that is simple to eat with one hand. Sandwiches, burritos/wraps, soups in a mug, pita pockets, and hand pies are also great options. You can have a lot of fun coming up with creative meals for your clients.
It's also great to encourage the new parents to sit and have a meal at the table once a day if they can. It doesn't hurt to learn to eat while holding or wearing the baby--it surely makes going out to lunch or dinner in public easier. As the Doula you can always offer to hold the baby while the parents eat as well. A nourishing meal at the table can help new parents feel a little more human.
Mind Body Green blog has a nice post about postpartum nutrition that covers a more traditional approach but with modern suggestions that you can share with clients: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/postpartum-nutrition-guide
The Ayurvedic postpartum diet has specific elements that, together, create an ideal nutritional complex. Those include foods that are bitter, pungent, astringent, sour, salty, and sweet. Like several traditions, Ayurveda promotes eating foods that are soft and well-cooked. This is believed to aid in digestion, as raw or highly processed foods are harder to break down. Oily foods are also emphasized: ghee and sesame oil are used often. Oils and fats work to lubricate the bowels, connective tissue, skin, etc. Warming spices (black pepper, cardamom, cumin, tumeric) are encouraged. Dried foods, fermented foods (including yeast based bread), frozen foods, leftovers, stimulants (chocolate, coffee), and others are discouraged. These food recommendations are not going to appeal to everyone, especially the no leftovers! But it's great to have awareness should your clients want to follow an Ayurvedic diet or at least give some elements a try.
While Ayurveda discourages fermented foods, as they believe they are too hard on the digestion, others promote fermented foods for new moms/postpartum people due to their probiotic properties. For folks interested in using these foods, recommended applications would be: kimchi, pickled vegetables, natto, miso, tempeh, kombucha, sauerkraut, and so on.
Mainstream thinking and sources for postpartum nutrition:
Foods to Eat After Pre-Eclampsia:
Keeping Partners Connected In The Postpartum Period
w/ Dasha Clarke
Dasha Clarke - Keeping Couples Connected In The Perinatal Period
Birth and parenthood are both significant rites of passages, full of intense emotions and Becoming a parent is a prime opportunity to deepen our connection to ourselves and our partners if we are willing to do the work. The work of self-awareness, vulnerability, emotional intelligence, intimate communication and continual growth. This is how we Rewild Relationships for creating healthier, happier connections and thriving families. But this is no easy task.
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Positive births and happy families don’t just happen! The biggest influencing factor on a positive birth experience and smooth parenthood transition is continuity of care. When the doctor, midwife, doula and all other perinatal care providers have fulfilled their short lived roles who are we left with? Our partners. The continuity of care from within our relationship is an overlooked and important foundation to nurture. At a stage where a lot of changes are happening over a small space of time we can easily become overwhelmed and disconnected. Birth trauma and relationship problems significantly affect the mental health of BOTH parents.
Parents today are navigating new territory inviting their partners into the birth space and co-parenting with more fairness. This is a relatively new standard as we shift from women’s only business to intimate partner experience. How a couple approach their birth together and share in their vulnerabilities has the power to strengthen their connection or create early signs of disconnection in the relationship.
This is why I do my work as a Birth Doula & Relationship Coach, knowing that the more couples connect and communicate through out this massive phase of their life the more incredibly satisfying it will be. After my own difficult transition into parenthood, challenging exploration of my new self, relationship adjustments and witnessing many of my clients experience the same I knew I needed to find a way to help couples navigate this with more awareness and support. So I did. When I work with couples prenatally, during birth or somewhere along their parenthood journey I include both partners equally in the experience. Becoming a parent is incredibly rewarding but so challenging so I am here to help you increase your capacity to cope and connect so that you may grow and thrive as parents, partners and individuals.
Hello to all you Dynamo Doulas in training! My name is Dasha Clarke. I am a doula and relationship coach for parents helping partners stay connected in parenthood. Congratulations on choosing to play your part in raising the standard of perinatal care in our society. As a Dynamo Doula you will be in a unique and privileged position to best support families holistically as they transition into parenthood. You have the opportunity to not only guide couples through birth but also help them navigate the changes in themselves, their relationships and their life after baby. Birth really is only the beginning and the postnatal period can be challenging for individuals and their relationship. I will teach you simple and effective practices you can share with your clients to help them understand the changes happening and increase their capacity to cope with them together. I am excited to share this life changing information with you!
The Journey from Couplehood to Parenthood
For first time parents, growing from a couple to parents is a profound experience. Some folks will come to pregnancy with intention, and others will not, so that can influence how their relationship develops as their baby grows inside and they prepare and plan for the future. Regardless of the way the baby came to be, couples may go through challenges and disagreements as they come to terms with the changes ahead. Just because a baby was planned doesn't mean the couple will navigate the journey any easier than ones who didn't expect to be pregnant.
Pre-existing relationship dynamics will usually be highlighted with the hormones of pregnancy, as well as the overall stress of change. Couples who are experiencing particular difficulty or strife during the pregnancy should be encouraged to seek couples counseling. As we've been learning elsewhere, emotional or relational difficulties that come up in pregnancy are often multiplied in the postpartum, so it's important for these folks to establish care with a provider in the pregnancy so they have that support network afterward.
Even for the most solid of couples, going from the couple to parents is challenging. We've discussed a lot about the mother/pregnant person and their identity shift that occurs, but less so about the partner. Partners also experience an identity shift. In some ways, it doesn't become realized until the birth itself. The pregnant person has a much more concrete relationship to the baby during pregnancy, but for some partners, everything feels a bit conceptual until they see the baby for the first time.
Yes, individually the pregnant person and their partner are going through shifts in identity, but the couplehood itself is changing too. This can be hard to conceptualize until the baby arrives as well. Before the baby, there is (typically) time for intimacy, dates, quality time together. This becomes much harder to make time for in the first couple of years of parenthood. It takes more effort than the couple is probably used to, and becomes a valuable lesson in prioritizing each other and the relationship. The mother/parent-baby bond is incredibly important to prioritize as well, and we do not mean emphasizing the couple's relationship over that of the parent-baby relationship. But there does come a time (which is different for each family) where they feel confident leaving the baby with a trusted person and spending a little time together without the baby there. There's nothing wrong with families who love doing things all together, and taking their baby with them everywhere. However, there is a pitfall some couples can fall into where their relationship becomes centered on parenting and not on their connection as partners or lovers.
Parents are more than caregivers of children, they are also people in a dynamic relationship with many layers. If the non-parent aspects of the relationship aren't prioritized every so often, it can become difficult for the couple to reconnect when the child is older and needs less of the parents' time. The relationship that the parents have also serves as a foundational example of couplehood to the child(ren). Children look to their parents to see how to relate to other people, and when parents do not put in effort to work on their relationship, their intimacy, etc., the children can learn unhealthy relationship dynamics.
When we educate couples on the changes ahead, it's worth having a discussion about all of this and preparing them to do some work on their relationship before the baby arrives and thereafter. Work that might mean couples counseling, or planning date nights, or having conversations around changes in intimacy. Conversations in the culture around the shift from couples to parents doesn't really serve new parents, nor do they really prepare them for the realities of new parenthood. Doulas stand in a particularly good position to educate our clients around these vital topics.
Is is postpartum psychosis or is our body responding to not being cared for?
What you need to remember - the system fails us, then calls us ‘crazy’ or ‘unstable’ when we break.
can be applied at any time, anywhere and in any scenario where you are responsible for the care or recovery of a client
the F’s work to compliment truly holistic care from the Dynamo Angle
The F’s are not meant to replace medical care or diagnosis, but they are absolutely an incredible place to start when seeking out the best approach in empowering your clients to take action from a place of confidence VS a place of broken hopelessness
you can use the F’s for any kind of funk you want to get out of!
Take special notice how the ‘symptoms’ and ‘signs’ of postpartum depression, psychosis and other ‘mood disorders are the exact same as the below - imagine what a difference you can make from going through this list?
Flex the Fuck NO Muscle
Friendship & Connection
What happens when we work are grossly under supported? Chronic fatigue, headache, dizziness, sore or aching muscles, muscle weakness, slowed reflexes and responses, impaired decision making and judgement, moodiness, irritability, appetite, loss, reduced immune system function, blurry vision, short term memory problems, poor concentration, hallucination, no motivation, suicidal thoughts, harmful thoughts, anxiety, inability to breastfeed, inability to bond or care for our children, and so on.
- So are we crazy, or are our most basic needs being met? And is our vulnerability being gaslighted?
Sacred Postpartum practices offer a level of holistic healing for a new mother or parent's mind, body and soul that is unparalleled. Birth is an amazing and intense journey, but our bodies go through a lot of hard work to bring a child into the world.
Through all this, they are opening to ‘release their baby’.
Afterwards, this openness may remain present and leave them feeling empty.
Their bodies have been a vessel for their little one for many months, so they may come to experience a sense of emptiness once they have completed the birthing process.
With these gentle yet powerful ritualistic ceremonies women in their first days of motherhood, we are pulling the mother "together" and also introducing heat back into her body on many levels. In this contribution you will learn more on ‘Mother Roasting’.
My name is Marta and I am a mama of two little girls and a wife of a physio husband now living in Nelson. NZ. Originally born in Hungary, I qualified as a midwife in 2006 then moved to NZ a year later. Since arriving, I have been on a beautiful journey deepening my knowledge and skills around pregnancy and birth. Beginning as a massage therapist and bodyworker in 2000, I have explored many different modalities as I am passionate about integrating the best of these into my therapy work.
I believe giving birth and the period there after should be an empowering event where a woman feels loved, nurtured and supported throughout this right of passage. I am passionate about being there for mamas during their sacred transition into motherhood and my aim is to support their personal choices so they can feel confident, and be the capable mother they are.
As a new mother I ached to be held, nourished and taken care of. To be supported at a time when everything was new, confusing and seen through very sleep-deprived eyes.
When I had my babies, I didn’t get any help or support (apart from my amazing husband but he was working full time) and people saw me as someone who ‘has it all and can cope with anything’.
But I didn’t and couldn’t. The lack of sleep was tough, really tough, and as a qualified midwife and massage therapist, I realised there had to be more ways to honour mothers at this time and so my search began…
Photography: Marijke de Jong
What is Mother Roasting?
Mother Roasting is the practice of keeping a woman warm immediately after birth and in the first few weeks following birth. It rejuvenates her body, helps her to focus and connect with her newborn baby and nourishes her back into being. It also seals up emotional, physical and spiritual gateways that have been opened by birth. Traditional Mother Roasting services include healing massage, cooked foods for nourishment, herbal support and warmth, through binding the womb space, warm teas, herbal baths and herbal tummy paste application.
For me, it’s all about putting the mother in the sacred centre to give them a sense of coming home, just as I received during journey to becoming a Mother Roaster.
Warming, nourishing and nurturing. It helps women regain their emotional and physical balance through a deep heart-centred honouring ceremony carried out in a conscious way. It’s a combination of soft voice, gentle touch, healing hands and a listening ear in a soulfully designed and prepared environment.
Mother Roasters across the world (myself included!) handcraft their balms, tinctures, teas and all remedies used in the honouring ceremonies, which reconnects them to their deeply planted, inner wise woman tradition. This is a sacred connection with each and every substance being used and all ingredients are pure and organic. It’s such a delicate spiritual time that deserves humility, expert care and warmth to help the mother heal and seal her birth story.
It is a sacred vow to women to be there for them, and to hold their hand during their special transition from maiden to mother. It is truly my privilege to being able to hold this healing space for women.
You can find out more about my work at https://www.lunabloom.co.nz
Healing and Recovery
A big part of what Doulas provide in the postpartum is information and support on the normal course of recovery from birth, as well as strategies to heal well. We will explores various aspects of the healing and recovery process, and also go over specialized methods and rituals that aid in the process. As we have learned, globally there are many beautiful traditions that support the postpartum person’s emotional and physical healing journey. In Western culture, we lack much of that vital information and support, but those who seek out and hire Doulas realize that there is a need for more and better.
Vaginal Steaming and Sitz Baths
Thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow and GOOP, vaginal steaming is becoming more mainstream, and thus also more misunderstood and controversial. Many cultures, including Latin America, East Asian, and African, have utilized vaginal/peri-steaming for centuries. This is not a trend, it is nothing new! In fact, Korean spas in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the western world, have been offering it for decades. Vaginal steaming not only has benefits for postpartum people, but for those with vaginas/uteruses in general. There are benefits for menstruation, fertility, sexuality, uterine health, digestion, menopause, and so on. While there are many reported benefits by those who utilize this technique, there are also many western doctors saying that it is, in fact, a harmful practice. However, most of these anti-steaming articles quote doctors saying that somehow steam is directly shot up into the vaginal canal and will burn the person. This is not at all how vaginal steaming is performed, and perhaps this misconception comes about due to imprecise terminology. It should be called vulva steaming or perineal steaming, as the steam makes contact with the external genitalia. Using a stool or some other type of apparatus, the person sits or squats over a bowl of steaming herbal water (or plain water if preferred). The temperature is either maintained using a hot plate or boiling water is used and then cools off over time. Steaming usually occurs for 15-20 minutes, and may be performed daily or during certain parts of the menstrual cycle--it depends on the reason for steaming. In the postpartum time, it may be beneficial to wait for heavy bleeding to slow before steaming. There are many herbal blends that could be utilized to help heal the perineum, vulva, and vagina after birth, but research should be used to create appropriate blends if you decide to do this service with a client. We do encourage you do get specific training on this practice, however you can certainly encourage clients to DIY it.
The objection to vaginal steaming from medical professionals comes across a bit odd when they typically recommend clients do sitz baths after birth, which, frankly are less gentle than steaming. Sitz baths, if you’re not familiar, are typically done by placing a plastic bowl (purchased from the drugstore) into the toilet full of hot water and herbs or epsom salts, and then sitting so that the perineum is submerged in the water. Sitz baths are a great option for those who, for whatever reason, don’t feel comfortable steaming. Either way, they will be receiving the benefits of the warm water and herbs or salts.
Both of these practices can help cleanse the area, which can be difficult when stitches are involved, can reduce swelling, promote circulation, soften scar tissue, and overall speed up recovery time.
To learn more about this practice, visit www.steamychick.com.
Scar Tissue Remediation Massage
In the first few weeks after birth, scars may be forming in the perineum, vagina, labia, cervix, uterus, or lower abdomen, depending on delivery method. Scar tissue is a brilliant invention of the body--it does a great job at putting us back together. However, as scars age, they can wreak havoc on the body, becoming hard, painful, or numb. Scars can also spread into other parts of the body, and can create uncomfortable pulling (typically in the form of adhesions). Once scars are first healed, usually around the 6 week mark but have clients check with their care provider, scar tissue remediation can begin. Sexological bodyworkers or other massage therapists or pelvic floor PTs may be best qualified to do scar tissue work on your clients, however, they can certainly do the work on themselves with a little education.
Scar tissue occurring in the pelvis, either from vaginal or cesarean birth, can cause significant issues later on. Most noticeably, these scars can interfere with comfortable intercourse. While intercourse itself can break up the scars, this can be the most painful way to deal with them. Scar massage with castor oil, or the use of castor oil packs, can significantly soften scars, even old ones. The sooner the scars are dealt with, the easier they’ll soften. Castor oil packs, for those who are not familiar, are done by soaking a piece of flannel cloth in castor oil, applying it to an area of the body, wrapping it in cellophane, adding a layer of cloth, and then applying a heating pad. This comforting application of the oil works well to soften tissues.
Identifying scar tissue may not be so obvious. Cesarean scars will be the most identifiable, but it’s important to educate that there are really two: one on the skin layer and one on the uterine layer, and they may not be perfectly on top of each other. Cesarean scars can migrate, so treating them shortly after they heal is ideal. External perineal scars might be clear to feel, or may not. Internal scars can also be more elusive, especially for folks who are not comfortable feeling inside of their vagina. What they can feel for are hardened tissues that come in several forms, including small balls (like blueberries), or longer, thinner scars that resemble guitar strings.
Encourage your clients to seek a provider or to gently explore self-massage. It can be emotionally intense to work with scars, as they are physical manifestations of trauma. It may mean clients need to take it slow when approaching this work, may want to do so in your company or the company of someone else for emotional support, or may want to create ritual around it.
Here are 6 scar tissue massage techniques you can share with your clients: https://www.integrativehealthcare.org/mt/archives/2007/07/six_massage_tec.html.
Closing the Bones Ceremony/Cerrada
Spiritually and physically a woman/postpartum person is considered to be open in the time after birth. It makes sense, the body has opened to give forth the child, the bones have opened to make space, emotionally and spiritually the psyche has opened and expanded. But staying open can leave us vulnerable, and also leave the energy of the birth lingering in the heart, mind, and body of the postpartum person far beyond when it finished.
In Mexican culture, there is a ceremony that seals the mother/postpartum person, which completes the energetic experience of the birth, and helps them to heal and move on to the next phase of life. The ceremony, called Cerrada or “Closing the Bones,” involves giving the mother/person a cleansing bath (often herbal), then drying them and having them lie down on a comfortable surface. Then two practitioners, typically midwives in the traditional setting, use rebozos, long woven fabrics, to firmly wrap and seal certain points of the body. Typically they start at the head, then shoulders, then ribs, then pelvis, then legs, then feet, and then work their way back up. Sometimes words are spoken during the ceremony that reflect the process of closing and sealing the mother/person’s body, mind, and spirit.
This ceremony can be very healing, and can be quite impactful to those who experienced a traumatic birth. Like mother blessings, it is important that, if you decide you want to offer this practice to your clientele, that you ideally learn how to perform it from a skilled practitioner of the culture it comes from. Cultural appropriation and the commodification of cultures is very problematic, and comes up a lot in Doula work, since western culture lacks a lot of ritual around birth and motherhood. Should you decide to learn more and offer this practice, which can truly benefit so many postpartum people, always do so with explicit credit and honoring of the Mexican traditions from which it originates. If you don’t feel comfortable performing this ceremony, take an aspect you like from it, such as ritual bathing, which many cultures share, and perhaps offer that to your clientele, along with a nice postpartum massage or some other nurturing experience.
Bengkung Belly Binding (and Other Postpartum Binding)
Postpartum abdominal and hip binding has been practices across cultures for centuries. There are several benefits to this practice: it aids in the process of involution of the uterus, it supports the core muscles and their return to pre-pregnancy position, it aids in organ realignment, supports overall core strength and functionality that is altered during pregnancy due to relaxin and other hormones. Hip binding can help stabilize the pelvis, and is particularly helpful when postpartum people begin to engage in brief walks for exercise and fresh air.
There are many binding options on the market: the ubiquitous “Belly Bandit,” girdles, velcro hip binders, Rebozos, all manner of shapewear, corseting, waist trainers (which we will discuss below), and Bengkung style belly binding with fabric. While folks may get good results from many of these options, the Bengkung style, which uses thin strips of fabric that are re-tied daily, will provide the most customized and form fitted option. Many products use stiff velcro and become ill fitted and loose as the uterus returns to its non-pregnant size. It’s possible to learn to self bind using the Bengkung method, but many Doulas are beginning to offer this service to clients.
It needs to be said that the purpose of belly binding is not to “get one’s figure back.” It’s not waist training or for the purpose of hurrying the natural course of postpartum recovery in an unnatural manner. The purpose is to gently support the body’s ability to heal, to help prevent or lessen Diastasis Recti, and to stabilize the core. Physical therapists and other providers do caution about using these products for too long, however, and some say not to use them for more than the first few weeks, wishing to prevent the muscles from becoming dependent upon the support. There is also an important contraindication to mention: pelvic floor prolapse. Those who are experiencing prolapse will want to either address the prolapse before binding (which could, theoretically, be done at a later time), or do so under the advisement of a pelvic floor PT or similar practitioner. Binding does put pressure on the organs, and downward pressure does not serve someone dealing with prolapse.
Mothers and postpartum people who have had a cesarean birth may still bind, so long as it does not put pressure on the scar or cause any discomfort to it or the surrounding tissues.
Overall, binding is an excellent healing modality when done properly and appropriately and one to consider offering to clients.
All moms/postpartum people will be recovering from birth in one way or another, generally along the normal course of healing and with expected aspects such as perineal tears, muscle soreness, connective tissue rebuilding, breastfeeding related discomforts, scar healing, etc. However, in some cases there are aspects of recovery that fall outside the normal course that we expect to see with our clients. In these cases, clients may require specific support or specialized resources. Let’s explore some of the possible complications and how to support them. We will hold off on talking about core/pelvic floor related complications, however, as those will be discussed in their own section.
Postpartum preeclampsia is a severe complication that many people are not aware of. Most are familiar with pregnancy and birth pre-e, but it is possible to develop this disease after birth, up to about 6 weeks postpartum. The same complications can arise from this excessively high blood pressure, protein-laden urine, etc. Some signs are: edema (especially in the hands or face), stomach pain, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, headaches. The risks of this condition going untreated is the potential for organ damage, stroke and seizure. In extreme cases, it can cause loss of life. If a client expresses that they aren’t feeling well overall, or are experiencing any of those warning signs, it’s imperative that they contact their care provider for immediate evaluation. They may be placed on blood pressure medicine or given other treatments, and may be advised to eat a low salt diet. Unfortunately, giving birth does not end the risk for this serious condition to occur.
Excessive Vaginal Bleeding
All postpartum people will experience vaginal bleeding and discharge after birth--it is normal and part of the process of the uterus returning to its pre-pregnancy size. In the first couple of days, there may be some clots that are expelled as well. Generally care providers advise that if the clots are golf ball sized or larger, they need to contact them immediately. Smaller clots, with a normal amount of bleeding (which is much like a heavy period and then tapers as the days and weeks go on) is not something to worry about in general. Heavy bleeding and large clots are definitely a concern and could mean products of the birth, such as placental tissue, are retained in the uterus and need to be removed. Mothers/postpartum people who had more interventions in the third stage of labor are at slightly higher risk of retained placental material, which makes sense since rushing the delivery of the placenta can leave some tissue behind.
Hemorrhoids and Constipation
Yes, hemorrhoids and constipation are a common, and usually minor aspect of postpartum recovery. There are those who will suffer from extreme pain and bleeding from these conditions, however, sometimes even resulting in a trip to the emergency room. It’s not always possible to prevent hemorrhoids. Some folks may already have them prior to pregnancy, get them in pregnancy, or develop them from pushing. Constipation also follows pregnancy pretty commonly due to organ displacement, diet, cesarean delivery, medications, etc. It is possible to do more preventative measures prior to birth for this issue. Dietary and supplemental support can go a long way to preventing or lessening constipation. Postpartum people are usually offered stool softeners after birth, but they don’t work well for everyone. Fiber rich foods, especially leafy greens, flax, dried prunes and figs, etc., can all help support healthy bowel function. Probiotics and fermented foods also help immensely. Magnesium supplements are another great way to gently soften stool and have a lot of other benefits to pregnant and postpartum people in general. If the stool is soft, it will allow any hemorrhoids to heal faster, and prevent a lot of potential discomfort.
No one wants to be dealing with butt hole pain on top of vaginal or cesarean birth healing, breastfeeding, and all the other aspects of postpartum recovery. It can actually cause a lot of emotional distress, because it causes a quality of life issue. For severe hemorrhoids, medical intervention may be necessary. There are surgical options, but typically topical steroids, Preparation H, medicated suppositories, or herbal salves can do a lot to shrink and heal them. Witch hazel is a particularly effective herb to treat them as well. Clients suffering from these may want to take some over the counter pain medication, use the ointments or suppositories, do daily sitz baths or steams, sit on a donut, take supplements, or change their diet to support gentler bowel movements. You can support them in all of this by helping prepare treatments (such as setting up a sitz bath), prepare foods, and encourage rest and sitting/lying/nursing positions that take pressure of their bottom. Encourage them to also use labor techniques, such as breathing, to help them not strain during bathroom sessions. A squatty potty or toilet stool can also be a great help.
Severe headaches in the postpartum are not considered normal and need medical evaluation. As above, they could be caused by postpartum preeclampsia, but clients who had an epidural may develop an epidural-induced headache caused by spinal fluid leakage due to poor epidural placement. Fortunately, this is very treatable, but requires the client to come in to their provider and receive a blood patch. This minor surgical procedure injects blood into the hole in the dura of the spinal column. Clients suffering from severe headaches postpartum should be advised to seek immediate medical care, but also may require extra support as it can be difficult to sit up or do any activity with this type of headache.
This postpartum complication is a challenging one for a few reasons. Many care providers will tell you that postpartum hives are not a thing. That having them after birth is a mere coincidence and has nothing to do with being postpartum, hormones, birth related medications, etc. For those suffering from this complication, it can be extremely demoralizing to hear this kind of feedback from doctors or midwives, especially when the suffering can be quite severe.
Postpartum hives are very real, yet not well understood by the majority of medical professionals. OBs may say the hives have nothing to do with birth, immunologists may chalk it up to an unknown allergy, dermatologists may say it’s postpartum PUPPS but still not know for certain, and Chinese medicine doctors may feel there are energetic reasons for this complication. Unfortunately, there are not a ton of answers out there as to why certain people develop hives (also known as urticaria).
With all of this disagreement and elusiveness, anyone suffering from postpartum hives will start doing some internet digging and find that countless people have also experienced this odd complication, with varying theories as to why. Some cite retained placenta, others allergy to hormones, and others allergy to birth related medications. Some even believe it’s an allergy to breastfeeding. While it’s hard to say what the true cause is, hormones seem to be involved. There’s interestingly some research out there about histamine intolerance and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. There seems to be a relationship between histamine production and sex hormones. The lack of understanding of this complication does speak to how little some providers understand about hormones. Most cases of postpartum hives will clear up after a few days or weeks, however there are some folks who do suffer for longer. Living with chronic hives can have a serious impact on emotional wellbeing, so helping clients find ways to cope can go a long way to maintaining quality of life.
Some coping strategies for those suffering from hives include: prescription or over the counter ointments, antihistamines, aloe vera gel, ice/cold packs, cold baths, pine tar soap, liver supportive herbs. Clients should check with Infant Risk to make sure any medications they try or herbs they use are compatible with breastfeeding. Breathing techniques and mindful meditation practices can also help clients not scratch, as scratching spreads the hives and makes them itchier. Fortunately, hives are not contagious and will not transfer to the baby.
Scar infection or separation can occur in the perineum or in cesarean sutures. Though these issues can occur spontaneously, postpartum people who do not or are not able to rest in the first couple of weeks are more susceptible to their scars becoming infected or stitches coming apart. Rest is the best preventative, as well as good wound care. Recommendations for wound care with vary provider to provider, and overall it’s best to refer clients to those recommendations unless they aren’t working and seek out additional information. Infections usually require antibiotics and should be treated seriously, as infection can cause more scarring and can spread into the body and cause systemic illness.
Abnormal Vaginal Odor/Discharge/Infection
Vaginal discharge in the postpartum period is normal, however, if the lochia has a color other than red/brown/yellow/white, is in copious amounts, smells foul, causes burning or itching, then the client should contact their care provider for assessment. Vaginal infections are possible in the postpartum and can be caused by several factors, a surprising one including surgical sponges that may have been left behind. These symptoms can also indicate a uterine infection (usually endometritis), which needs immediate treatment. Sometimes these infections begin in labor unnoticed and then worsen after delivery. Others can result from a lot of vaginal examinations and the introduction of germs into the genital tract. UTIs are also common postpartum, especially for people who had urinary catheters in their birth. Antibiotics are typically compatible with breastfeeding but clients should call the Infant Risk Hotline or check https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/newtoxnet/lactmed.htm to verify.
Postpartum Bodies, The Core, and the Pelvic Floor
There is no doubt that pregnancy and birth have a profound impact on the body. This impact can cause noticeable changes that last for weeks, months, or even years. Many of these changes are common and even normal, but others can impact one’s quality of life or self image. There is a ton of pressure on new moms/postpartum people to quickly get in shape, return to sexual activity, and also return to work or physical activity. While pregnancy and birth are physiological functions of the human body, even in their least complicated forms can cause changes that require healing. Many systems of the body can feel the impact of growing and birthing a baby, but the primary areas that carry lasting issues are the muscles and connective tissues of the core and pelvic floor.
Postpartum Bodies and the Myth of “Getting Your Body Back”
Celebrity culture, yet again, perpetuates a myth that postpartum women/people are easily able to and should “get their bodies back” quickly after birth. We see brand new moms walk the red carpet in skin tight dresses and look down at our own postpartum bodies and wonder why we’re still round, or stretch marked. The reality is that those celebrity moms are wearing a LOT of spanx and may be engaging in unhealthy eating in order to drop their post-baby weight very quickly. While some postpartum people do lose weight rapidly, especially in the first couple of weeks, many do not, and that is completely normal. It’s also normal for a postpartum person to appear pregnant for the first month or so, as the uterus continues its process of involution. The fact is, pregnancy changes the body, birth changes the body, and we want to educate away from the concept of “getting their body back” because it doesn’t serve anyone.
The process of becoming a mother/parent is a process of evolution, growth, and change. Once you step through that threshold, there is no going back. Just as we bring life, there is a form of death of the former self. Not completely, by any means, as the essence of who one is as a person always remains, but there is no doubt a radical shift in identity that occurs with this transition. Since pregnancy and birth are also bodily experiences, the body also experiences a radical shift that is irreversible. This is not at all a bad thing. The body is incredible in its ability to adapt and morph into what is needed to sustain another life and bring it forth into the world. The body reorganizes, rearranges, and expands to support the baby. The results of that can look like weight gain, stretch marks, pelvic and back pain, and other not so desired features. This is the #mombod to the proverbial #dad bod, and it’s all quite common.
It’s important, though, that we not erase anyone’s feelings about their postpartum body. While some may think of their stretch marks as beautiful or as “tiger stripes,” others may not like them. Not everything has to be beautiful to be okay. And not everyone has to “accept” their postpartum body either. If they want to lose weight, get cosmetic surgery, or dress a certain way, that is all okay too. We just want to stop perpetuating the myth that women/postpartum people need to look a certain way or need to get “back” to what they used to look like. With the growth that pregnancy and birth promote, both physically, emotionally, and spiritually, we encourage folks to think the same way about the postpartum body. It’s an evolution, it’s growth and change. It holds neither positive or negative value, it just is, and the person can choose to love or embrace whatever aspects they wish to, or not. Instagram accounts like the 4th Trimester Bodies Project are doing a lot of good work to normalize what postpartum bodies can look like, and a growing number of celebrity moms are also posting images of themselves after birth that break the stereotypes. It does seem like we’re moving in a better direction where people are seeing the value of being honest about portrayals of mother/parenthood in the media.
Diastasis Recti is a condition whereby the rectus abdominis muscles become separated due to weakened connective tissue (the linea alba). Part of pregnancy is the natural and necessary separation of these parallel muscle bands, however, when they do not come back together after birth, they are considered to have diastasis. It’s important to note that although the word separation is often used, the tissues themselves do not actually come apart, rather they thin and weaken. In severe cases, hernias (where the intestines come through the abdominal wall) can also accompany diastasis. This condition can cause overall core destabilization and body mechanics issues, including back pain. Diastasis is usually to blame for “mommy pooch,” or a belly that looks pregnant long after birth. Unfortunately, no amount of dieting or crunches can solve this condition. In fact, crunches are some of the worst exercises for diastasis, as they continue to put outward pressure on the muscles and linea alba. The best exercises are going to be ones that engage the transverse abdominis, as those muscles work much like the body’s “inner corset” (term credited to Lara Catone www.laracatone.com). Many postpartum people who suffer from diastasis will be told by medical providers that surgery is the best option. While it is an option, there are yoga teachers, biomechanical experts, personal trainers, and others in the body/fitness industry who understand this condition and know how to help people heal. Look into resources in your area so you can send clients to educated providers. Many fitness folks do not understand the needs of the postpartum body and can do more harm than good.
You can help clients check for diastasis: https://befitmom.com/pregnancy/diastasis-recti/ Educate your client that the status of their diastasis soon after birth is not necessarily what the long term status will be. All postpartum people will have some separation immediately after birth, and even for the first 6 months or so. As mentioned elsewhere in this module, belly binding can assist in bringing the muscles together.
A note about connective tissue: Connective tissue is made up of collagen and elastin. Collagen keeps the tissue strong, while elastin helps it stretch. Some connective tissues, such as cartilage, are made up more of collagen than elastin, while ligaments are more elastin based. With the hormones of pregnancy, tissues that are already stretchy get even stretchier, and have a harder time coming back into place after birth. This is why we want to fortify the postpartum diet with foods rich in collagen, such as soups made with bone broth or seaweed. This will help bring strength to the connective tissues and help them heal. Healthy fats and oils also contribute to bringing suppleness to connective tissues, and also help with milk production.
Pelvic Floor Prolapse
Prolapse occurs if the bladder, uterus, recutm, or small intenstine falls into the vagina or anus. Most commonly bladder or uterine prolapse occurs after birth, compared to the other two types. Prolapse can occur from birth trauma, prolonged, forceful pushing, or rapid birth. However, those conditions do not always lead to a prolapse. This condition can also occur later in life. Pelvic floor prolapse does not always occur due to weak muscles, but can also happen when pelvic floor muscles are overly tight.
Many women/people who experience prolapse are told the only option is surgery. This is not true for all cases, and the surgery does not always work. Also, bladder mesh has been hurting people and there are lawsuits against this method. Pessaries, which are silicon rings inserted into the vagina, are a non-surgical option to support whatever organ has fallen. Pelvic floor physical therapy and sexological bodywork are excellent ways of treating this condition and often reduce or eliminate the need for surgery.
Beyond the Kegel
Pelvic floor health is more than just doing kegels. In fact, most people do kegels wrong, and in fact overly tighten certain parts of the pelvic floor, while ignoring others. Kegels are not just “holding in urine” as many are advised. The pelvic floor muscles involved make a figure 8 around the vaginal opening and the anus, the center of the 8 being the perineum. With conscious breathing, it’s ideal to practice contracting and releasing all parts of the figure 8. Placing a small ball in the center of the perineum can help bring awareness to the area. This should be done seated on the floor with the ball between the floor and perineum.
Pelvic floor recovery is a lot more than kegels, however, and a good practitioner, yoga teacher, sexological bodyworker, or pelvic floor PT will offer a full body approach to healing and restoring proper function to the core, pelvic floor, and body in general. Pelvic floor physical therapy, which is routinely offered after birth in some countries, such as France, is a generally quite good allopathic approach to healing the pelvic floor. However, not all pelvic floor PTs are created equally, and some will just throw a vaginal dilator at someone without really getting to the root of the patient’s trauma. As we know as Doulas, physical trauma also comes with emotional trauma, and so sometimes clients require a more holistic approach to their healing. If that is the case, they may seek a sexological bodyworker, otherwise known as a somatic sexologist. These practitioners offer hands on healing work that not only addresses the body, but also the mind and spirit of the patient. They may use massage, myofascial techniques, scar tissue remediation, vaginal steams, breathwork, movement, somatics, guided meditation, writing, and other modalities to get to the root of the trauma in order to help that person heal and regain function. Somatic work, especially of a sexual nature, can be very emotionally and physically intense, so choosing a good provider is essential. As a Doula it’s a great idea to have a list of somatic practitioners in your area so you may refer clients to them if needed.
Postpartum Relationships and Sexuality (Contribution by Zoë Etkin)
Like we’ve said often in this module, nothing magically happens at the 6 week mark. Care providers will, most likely, be clearing the postpartum person for sexual activity at that 6 week visit. While there are certainly a lot of people raring to go at that time, or even much sooner, many women/postpartum people cannot fathom sexual activity at this point in their postpartum physical and emotional recovery. In fact, those who are breastfeeding are receiving a steady flow of hormones (and lack of others) that discourage sexual desire. The body needs time to heal between pregnancies, and so the evolutionary blueprint of the postpartum period and breastfeeding relationship are to prevent a pregnancy from happening too soon after giving birth. While this is true, and breastfeeding can cause amenorrhea (a cessation of the menstrual cycle), it should not be promoted as a fool proof birth control method. Ovulation occurs before a bleed, so women/postpartum people sometimes get confused about their fertility in the postpartum period.
Care providers usually discuss birth control options at the 6 week visit, offering hormonal birth control methods or the copper IUD. Some folks will not be interested in these methods and may opt for Natural Family Planning or other menstrual cycle charting methods. Barrier methods are a great solution for those who want a non-invasive method free of side effects. While less popular, femme-caps and diaphragms are a great option to consider.
Depending on how postpartum a mom/person is will have an impact on how sex feels on a physiological level. The closer to time of birth, the more likely for tissues to still be healing, for there to be swelling, and for hormones to cause vaginal dryness. However, as time goes on, while the vagina may be healed, there can be scar tissue, either in the perineum, labia, or in the vagina itself (even higher into the urogenital tract). For those who had a cesarean birth, both the external and internal scars could impact intercourse, and scars can spread into the vagina or pull on ligaments, causing discomfort. There’s a big misconception out there that cesarean birth “saves the vagina.” Studies show that pregnancy itself has the biggest impact on the pelvic floor, with incontinence rates being similar among vaginal and cesarean deliveries. In either case, there can be some discomfort in the vagina, vulva, perineum, and/or pelvis, which, for some, will ease up as they get used to intercourse again. Lots of lubricant is a big help here, postpartum vaginal dryness is real! For some, it might be beneficial to start with self stimulation before returning to intercourse with their partner, so that they may feel what might be uncomfortable ahead of time. That also serves as a nice opportunity to reacquaint with the body, and to reconnect to one’s sexuality post-birth. Over time, intercourse should not be painful. If it is, scar tissue, prolapse, muscle spasms, or some other issue may be at play. More often than not it is scar tissue, which we have discussed earlier in this module.
Breasts are also something to consider when we talk about postpartum sexuality. For postpartum people, the sexuality of their breasts can go either way. For those who are breastfeeding, and those who are drying up their milk, there can be an ejection of milk during intercourse, especially at the time of orgasm. Some folks will be fine with this, even enjoy it, while others may choose to wear a bra and breast pads. Some may not wish for their breasts or nipples to be stimulated, and others may gain new pleasure from it. However one feels about their breasts is perfectly fine, and its important to communicate to the partner how they would like them to be handled (or not). For some, breastfeeding renders their breasts completely non-sexual, and for others, new sensitivity can bring new pleasure to their sexuality.
In a more general sense, sometimes new moms/postpartum people feel touched out. With a nursing baby or a clingy toddler hanging off of their body all day, the thought of being physically intimate with their partner can seem exhausting or off putting. These feelings are normal and understandable. Mothering/parenting is a very physically demanding job, and the lack of sleep, hormones, and physical recovery do not necessarily lend themselves to sexy feelings. It’s quite common for these feelings to last longer than the first six weeks, even first six months. There is a point, which is different for each couple, where a lack of intimacy can begin to subtly erode a relationship. With so much focus on the baby, it is quite easy for couples to become something more like roommates as they navigate all that parenting requires. Intimacy, which does not have to include intercourse, is vital to a healthy relationship, be it emotional or physical. While a new mom/postpartum person may not be interested in vaginal intercourse, a massage, cuddling, kissing, or showering together may be a good introduction to re-establishing the intimate connection with their partner. It never hurts to take things slowly and build up that aspect of the relationship again. However, those who go a year or more without much intimacy with their partner may consider speaking with a therapist or sex therapist, as there could be physical or emotional reasons for this period of abstinence. A traumatic birth can absolutely deter a postpartum person from wanting to engage in sex or any form of intimacy. Self esteem and body image can also be at work and making a postpartum person feel self conscious about the changes their body has undergone.
Partners may be feeling some amount of intimate neglect in the postpartum period. Some do not understand the true timeline of postpartum recovery and feel like the postpartum person should be ready to resume sexual activity at 6 weeks. This difference in opinion could be a cause of contention between the couple, especially if the partner puts pressure on the postpartum person. Of course there are plenty of partners who understand that the postpartum person needs time to get there, or perhaps are tired and uninterested themselves. Communication is key in order to have a healthy postpartum sexual experience, for both parties involved. The ability to communicate is especially critical the first time intercourse is resumed, and there should be no expectation that that particular session will finish with mutual orgasm. It might be awkward, it might be painful, and it might need to end and wait for another day to resume. With good communication, a couple can navigate these challenges.
There are, on the flip side, couples who very easily slip back into their sexual routine, and sometimes early on in the postpartum period. For some women/postpartum people, giving birth actually makes intercourse more comfortable and more pleasurable. As long as sufficient lubrication is attained, and all parties are in agreement, then there should be little reason to discourage this, as long as their care provider has cleared them, or they feel comfortable going against the general recommendation.
The postpartum period can be seen as a new beginning for a woman or person’s sexuality. Motherhood and sexuality need not be divorced, as Western culture often begs them to be. The dichotomy of the virgin and the whore are irrelevant, antiquated, and disempowering. When we deny the sexuality of mothers, we deny the true nature of life itself: new life is a product of sex, it’s just a fact! Yes, when we become mothers/parents, the “maiden” archetype shifts to “mother,” but the maiden does not die. The maiden remains, the anchor, the guide. The maiden reminds us of who we are, what we are passionate about, what makes us ecstatic. Being both mother and lover is possible. Both can exist in the same being. Breasts can nourish a baby and receive and provide sexual pleasure. Duality is a falsehood and it has sought to dismantle the psyche of many new mothers/parents. We as Doulas can educate otherwise. Yes, it is within the work we do to discuss sexuality. When we remove it from conception, pregnancy, birth, and motherhood, we remove the very essence of these primal, bodily, mammalian, human experiences.
The Doula’s Role in Support Clients with Perinatal Mood Disorders
Emphasis should be made again that Doulas cannot and should not diagnose their clients who are exhibiting symptoms of mood disorders. Our job is to be aware of those symptoms, communicate what we see in a frank, but sensitive way to our clients and/or their support network, make referrals to appropriate care providers, and intervene if necessary in dangerous situations (meaning, call 911). Just as we stay firm in our scope in these ways, we also do so by creating healthy practical and emotional boundaries with our clients, and shy away from any behavior that could lead to codependency or emotional entanglement with our clients. Our clients do rely on us for a lot, but we cannot be there forever, and part of our job is to support them in finding independence, whatever that looks like for them. We don’t mean that the village suddenly goes away when a baby is of a certain age and the postpartum period has ended (because, really, who knows when that designation needs to be); rather, it could look like helping a family get set up with a great nanny for long term care. There is nothing wrong with needing help, relying on others, etc., when raising a tiny human. The expression, “It takes a village,” is quite apt. But the Doula relationship exists in a liminal space. Doulas support transitions, it’s just the nature of our calling.
The reality of these mood disorders can be frightening and frustrating for those experiencing them, and difficult to deal with for the partner and other family as well. Doulas can also feel the impact of working with these mothers/postpartum people. For those of us who have gone through, or are still going through our own mental health journeys after childbirth, witnessing these struggles in others can be triggering. Seeing our client fight with their partner, or feel like a terrible parent, or forget to eat or take care of themselves can bring memories flooding back and place is into our own story. In some ways, this is an inevitable aspect of our own healing process. If it happens, acknowledge it, name it, and let it go. We must work hard to allow our clients to have their own experiences and not apply ours to theirs. We cannot use our clients to heal our own wounds. It’s hard, we may have the urge to want to fix things for them, but we cannot and we should not. It’s not our job and it doesn’t serve our clients. Our personal stories, if well processed, can add insight to certain situations, but if something is still healing for us, bringing it up to our clients can cause more harm than good. Healthy boundaries are vital to Doula work and serve as a model to our clients as well.
Reporting Abuse or Neglect
It depends on the country, and possibly the state, you live in, but Doulas are generally not legally mandated reporters. However, the obligation remains. If you see something, say something. It is rare, but sometimes Doulas bear witness to child abuse or neglect. It is our duty to report this information to the authorities and to do what we can to prevent harm to the baby. Look into the resources in your area so that you have the right point of contact should you see any concerning behavior or conditions.
Above all needs of the postpartum family is the need for emotional welfare. The emotional health and wellbeing of a postpartum mother/person is paramount and should truly be considered above all other needs, even those of the baby (which are next in line of importance). A mother/postpartum person who is not emotionally well cannot give proper care to their newborn. Therefore, parental emotional health takes precedence. This aspect of the postpartum recovery is more than just recommending pat self-care routines, it is truly a deep dive into one’s own psyche and we cannot stress enough the value of that examination and introspection. As Doulas, we can create a safe space for our clients to express their feelings, and we can make it known how important it is to reach out for help. Postpartum emotional welfare is about dismantling the myth of the Super Mom, about acknowledging the rawness, the grief, the lack of motivation, etc., that all come into play for new moms/parents. It’s about reminding that change is inevitable and comes quickly when caring for an infant. What is true today may not be true tomorrow. What feels hard today will soon feel easier, and vice versa. Emotional welfare is about giving a voice to one’s feelings in healthy, constructive ways.
New Moms/Parents Get Lost
It can be, without good planning or education around the postpartum period, that new moms/parents get lost in the excitement of the new baby. Western culture places a ton of emphasis on babies, which is due, as babies are wonderful, but the new mother/parent can feel unseen as they adjust to their new schedule and role in life as everyone oo’s and ahh’s over the baby. Doulas are excellent observers and we notice when this is occurring. We know how to really SEE people. We hope to have our clients set up of a successful postpartum adjustment before the baby arrives, but sometimes that isn’t possible, or just doesn’t happen for whatever reason.
We may visit the family post-birth and notice the mom/postpartum person is feeling lost or feels their needs aren’t being heard or met. As the Doula, we cannot save them from this, but we can gently inform or remind those around the new mom/postpartum person that they need just as much care and attention, if not more, than the baby does. This goes back to the importance of educating expectant families on the realities of new parenthood, as well as creating a postpartum plan. As we discussed in an earlier module about pregnancy and mother blessings, from the beginning of this journey, people having babies often get lost in the excitement of the baby itself. The pregnant person is not merely a vessel for this new life, they are also in a process of growth and change. When too much emphasis is placed on the baby, and not enough on the mother/parent, we contribute to an overall western cultural problem that does not regard parenthood with enough reverence or respect. After all, parenthood is just the most important job of all--we’re only raising HUMANS! It can be easy to get frustrated with the lack of care surrounding all that we support as Doulas, but don’t let it jade you. Our work is vital and so important in shifting this broken paradigm and restoring the sanctity of the human lifecycle and all it includes.
The Power of Connection and Active Listening
New parents are bombarded with advice: sleep this way, feed your baby that way, you’re holding the baby too much, not enough, sleep when the baby sleeps, etc., etc., etc. Yes, your clients will want your thoughts on all manner of subjects, but Doulas are not advice givers, we are guides. We help our clients find within themselves the answers that make the most sense for them. We share evidence based information so they may understand subjects more clearly. We act as a calm balance to the chaos of early parenthood. We connect with them on a level that acknowledges the way they feel, that says, “I hear you, I understand you.” A big part of this involves active listening skills and empathy. We are not therapists and we do not provide diagnoses or prescribe treatments or medications. We are not a substitute for therapy, but we can be a valuable complement. If clients seem to be struggling emotionally or behaviorally, it is always wise to refer out.
Please watch the following Brene Brown video on Empathy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
As Brown explains in the video, “Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection.” It’s, “Feeling with people.” And that is what we do, or should do, with our clients. Sympathy is something a mother with a traumatic birth may receive from those around her, folks who maybe don’t understand what it’s like to go through something like that. They feel bad but they don’t know what to offer. Sometimes, as Brown notes, they say things like, “At least you have a healthy baby.” They try to clean up the situation by painting a prettier light on it. What this actually does is ignore and erase the feelings of that mother/postpartum person. When we use active listening skills, and when we choose to be empathic, we acknowledge the person’s pain and we let them know we are here for them. We don’t have to agree with them, and in fact, that isn’t usually helpful. We let them know that we are hearing what they are sharing with us.
Tips for Active Listening:
Refrain from interrupting or interjecting advice or information
Silence and pausing to absorb information is okay
Acknowledge what they say by summarizing it in your own words
Ask if your summation is correct. “Is that what you mean?” If not, they will clarify.
Never say, “At least…” statements, they never come across well
Use phrases like, “I hear you,” “It sounds like you’re saying,” “That sounds difficult (scary, whatever they qualified it to be),” “Those are intense feelings, thank you for feeling comfortable sharing them with me,” etc.
Ask questions that help gain clarity. “Can you explain what you mean by x?”
Let go of feelings that may come up about fixing or prettying the situation
THIS IS A BIG ONE: Track your own emotional response by keeping a handle on your breath. If you begin to feel emotional because their words bring up something that happened to you, acknowledge that in your mind, feel where it is made present in your body, breathe deeply and slowly, and take a pause to regain focus on the person. Your breath is always your anchor. Always return to it and the sensations of your body.
When we use these skills with our clients, we build a bond and connection that will deepen our relationship and strengthen the trust between client and Doula. These skills also help us to maintain healthy emotional boundaries with our clients and prevent us from making our clients’ problems about ourselves. It is very important that we use these skills because, in these kinds of intimate relationships, which Doula-client relationships naturally are, it’s easy for us to be reminded of our own births or early parenthood struggles, and apply them to our clients. Doing this does not promote connection. We can sometimes appropriately share aspects of our own journey, but we cannot make this work about ourselves, and we cannot use it to heal our own wounds. Doing so absolutely harms our clients.