Notes on women, creation, and cycles

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

We live in a world where time and expectation follow a straight and linear path. One where we rise from bed, wipe the exhaustion from our eyes, work until we can work no more, and sleep to forget the day is done, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

"Dreams are for sleeping", we say. Grind. Hustle. Slay.


Women, by nature, are not linear. Women are cyclical. Their bodies speak this truth in every menstrual cycle. Their desires, tastes, energy - our very souls, even - ebb and flow like the ocean. Their bodies and capacities wax and wane like the moon.


Discordance comes when women ignore their natural seasons and phases. For example, the world at large sees menstrual periods as a gross inconvenience. Its easier to pretend it doesn't exist. Except, menstruation is an essential, integral characteristic of being women. Why scorn and shame it to the corner of existence?

How about pregnancy weight? Moms around the world are convinced that any remaining weight, any visible sign of pregnancy and birth must be dropped. Quickly, like its baggage instead of part of creation. Why must the evidence of miracles be hidden or lost?

This rigid, linear path gives no allowance for variations, no grace for change. By the insistence upon custom, rules, and acceptable society, creativity is discouraged and diminished.

But, a woman's body is a creative space. Her very nature is creation. This is how women shape the world - with their unapologetic, dynamic, and soul-infused presence. Given the correct ingredients, she makes magic.


What's that? You don't believe in magic?

Allow me to show you. After all, in the words of author Joan Gould, "what is magic except the operation of laws on a level our minds know nothing about?"

With correct ingredients, woman creates life.
With correct ingredients, she makes milk.
With correct ingredients, she bakes bread.
She molds a home.
She shapes a child.
She touches hearts, mothers instincts, births books and art and careers.

She does this all in her course of life. Perhaps at different times and ways from her sisters, but she creates all the same.


I think I have found a solution to the discontentment, the self-loathing, and the pressure that plagues me as a mom and as a woman. I have stepped away from the fractured, male-centric idea of an everyday grind. In its place I have embraced the acceptance of seasons, of cycles, and the wholeness of life.

Approaching life cyclically has changed me.

Instead of pushing myself to constant perfection (which is truly fruitless work), I know there are appropriate times for rest. I expect them. I take vacations like it is my God-given right to feel the ocean's cool kiss on my feet and breathe her salty air.


Instead of becoming angry or discouraged that old issues like self-worth, fear, and hate come across my path when I feel they should be behind me (path = totally linear thinking, btw), I learn to expect to see them again - but next time, without resentment and shame. I know their faces. I know their names. This is how I defeat them - with mindfulness, acceptance, and grace. How can they be enemies to me when I welcome them as guests and guides? (Reference: The Guest House, by Rumi)

I am begging women to honor their cycles and seasons. Right here, right now.

If you are in the winter of your life - barren, cold, and dark, remember that the most essential growth happens in composting, as my dear friend calls it. Sort and gather the nutrients of your experiences and use them to nurture your progression, like Psyche sorted seeds and grains.


If you are in spring, with thirst for rain and hunger to bloom with wide eyes - soak it up. Soak up love. Seek knowledge. Bask in the wonder of a world in blossom. Dream, stretch, and honor the place inside you that runs toward growth and change.


If you are summer, shine. Give. Glow. Feed. Create and master. Share and serve. Breathe in joy thick as humid air. Sing the song of beautiful, ordinary existence.


If you find yourself in fall, sit and rest in the colors of creation. By the embers of summer's fire reflect. Enjoy the fruition of spring's desires. With grace and gratitude, recognize peace. Embrace heartaches. Gently welcome the death of futile habits, attitudes, and relationships until winter's blanket comes to renew.


Whatever your current struggles - whether they be body shame, illness, heartache, discouragement, or sorrow - surrender them to your season and let the magic of cyclical nature run its course through them.

Be gentle with yourself. Confident in compost. Brilliant in blossom. Generous in giving. Reverent in reflection. This is what it means to be woman.



Know a mom with postpartum depression? Here's how to help.

Sunday, November 19, 2017


According to postpartumprogress.com, close to 20% of new moms suffer from symptoms of postpartum depression (source). To make that number real and personal, think of four moms you know who have had babies in the last year. One of them probably has feelings of worthlessness, excessive worry, unending sadness, and maybe even suicidal thoughts.

If you know or suspect a mom has postpartum depression, you may want to help her but don't know how.  Maybe its awkward. Maybe your relationship isn't close. Maybe you struggle with an illness of your own. I want you to know that its totally normal and okay to have no idea what to say or how to help! As someone who has struggled with PPD, I have some helpful ideas.

Be an awesome listener

Most moms with PPD really benefit from a candid conversation with someone they trust. Just like when you've had a stressful day at work and need to vent, moms need that too - especially women with PPD. 


Some moms with PPD may become very isolated and have a hard time leaving the house because of anxiety. In that case, some mothers may turn to social media to share their experiences. Reading their posts and offering kind and supportive comments can be very helpful and healing for moms. Don't discount the power of positive social media presence. 

Coming over to visit for a chat or picking them up in the evening to go to ice cream or dinner can be one of the kindest things you can do for someone. Two women from my church visit me regularly and I can't tell you how awesome it is to me that they come with listening ears and open hearts. Having someone to talk to in an otherwise kind of lonely trial is so helpful!

The key to listening well is to have an attitude of receiving. A listener absorbs information and learns. They ask questions that pertain to the topic. They offer encouragement and support, and maybe relevant and wanted advice when the time is right. Good listeners don't anxiously look for an opening in the conversation to change the topic to themselves and their experiences. A supportive conversation has the attributes of vulnerability, positive reception, and polite sharing of the two roles. 

Get informed

Mental illness has come a long way out of the dark ages of asylums, but it still has a long way to go. Many people still perceive mental illness as a choice or an excuse for laziness. Luckily, all that is needed to correct this flawed perspective is kindly offered facts. 

If someone has shared that they suffer from PPD in any of its forms, it helps to become informed. There are many faces of PPD, including anxiety, bipolar, OCD, PTSD, depression, and psychosis. All of these diseases have distinct characteristics and it is helpful to know them.


Some great resources for learning about mental illnesses and mothers include:
  1. postpartumprogress.com is an amazing resource for those who want more information about pre/post natal mood disorders. They have a really helpful list for a DIY screening for the most common forms of PPD as well as information on how to help and find a cure!
  2. Books are among the most helpful tools on earth. Check out the selection in the science, parenting, and psychology sections in your local library. Ebooks are also an affordable option for purchasing books!
  3. Blogs. Some are wary about using personal blogs for research, but my (totally biased) opinion is that they can be incredibly helpful. Its impossible for any one resource to contain all the information and human experience of mental illness. Knowing that there are others out there who struggle with mental illness helps mothers and those who love them feel they are not alone.
  4. Counseling and doctor's appointments. This is especially helpful for spouses! Nothing beats talking with a professional about a diagnosis. A partner can bring questions, concerns, and insights to an appointment and receive the answers and support they need. It also feels incredibly supportive to the mom to have someone attend with her!

Be supportive

Moms with mental illness need help. The level will vary, but there are many ways to provide service to mamas in need. Those include:
  • babysitting children so mom can attend her appointments 
  • going with mom to her appointments if she's nervous
  • bringing a meal (you can even have pizza delivered!)
  • delivering a treat and a smile just because
  • sending a nice card in the mail to let her know you're thinking of her
  • visiting and listening
  • inviting her to and seeking her out at church and social activities so she has a friend to sit by
  • writing a nice message or comment on social media
  • offering your home or companionship as a "safe zone" - judgement free and available for times of extreme distress
Talk with her and get an idea for what she needs. Some may benefit from babysitting and pressure-free invitations to get together. Others might need a "safe zone" especially if they have anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Everyone appreciates a nice note once in a while.


What's the best part about these suggestions? In most of these cases, it costs nothing except a little convenience to make a difference. You can choose any single one of the above options and you would send a lifeline to a mama in need. I hope these inspire you to reach out to a struggling mama around you. You never know whose life you might change (or save).






Feeding Babies: A non-biased approach

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Between my two kids, I have fed them in every way possible under the sun. I have nursed, I have exclusively pumped, and I have formula fed. Each way has been awesome in its own way, but each also has its hardships. I hope to provide a balanced, non-judgmental perspective for each so moms can make an informed decision on how to feed their babies.

Lets face it - no matter how or what your little one eats, babies are hard work. So before I even go into the options available, I want to be clear about one thing: I will never judge you for how you feed your kid. I have seen and experienced the burn of harsh words and ignorance of both sides of the breast vs bottle debate and I want no part in it. I want to be part of the more relevant and needed conversation of making informed, personal decisions!

Nursing

Breastfeeding is recommended by the AAP and WHO for infants 0-12 months. It is a fact that breast milk is the perfect food for human infants. It is so amazing! Not only does it have all the nutrients your little one needs, it also has lots of extras, like vitamins and anti bodies. Breastfeeding also has lots of benefits for you too, mama. Things like reduced likelihood of various cancers and osteoperosis is definitely a win in my book!

I don't really buy into the idea that breastfed babies are smarter than their formula-fed friends. I feel like that's kind of saying that someone who eats exclusively organic food is automatically smarter than someone who doesn't. There are so many more factors at play when talking about intelligence. It has been proven that breast fed babies are generally healthier in infancy. Personally, I attribute this to the naturally-occurring antibodies in breast milk.



The downsides to nursing unfortunately affect mainly you, mama. Nipple pain, risk of mastitis (which is the absolute WORST, btw), and a loss of time and energy can be big obstacles facing nursing moms. Almost all of these problems can be prevented or fixed with good education and the help of a lactation consultant. Also, after the first few months postpartum the pain and dedication of nursing usually become less of a burden for moms and breastfeeding becomes easy and convenient.

In summary, nursing is
Great because:
  • breast milk is perfectly formulated for babies
  • lots of antibodies and nutrients found only in breast milk
  • breastfed babies tend to be healthier
  • nursing moms tend to be healthier 
  • pretty convenient because there are no bottles to wash 
Not great because:
  • can be physically uncomfortable for moms
  • can be emotionally and mentally draining for moms
  • moms may experience social isolation because of the demands and stigma of nursing

Formula

Walk into any grocery store's formula aisle and you will find close to twenty different options for infant formula. Formula feeding is a popular and completely safe way to nourish your baby. Though formula does not have the naturally-occuring antibodies that breast milk does, it is 100% safe and acceptable to feed to babies! There seems to be a "junk food" mindset about formula, where breast milk is the good, organic, natural food and formula is the bad guy. It isn't so! Formula is created with the nutrients growing little ones need. Don't ever let anyone make you feel bad for formula feeding.

Formula fed babies tend to be slightly heavier than their breast fed friends, and that's okay! Also, formula fed babies are said to be slightly more prone to illness. While this may be attributed to the lack of breast milk antibodies, I personally feel that other factors contribute more to health. My son was exclusively breastfed until 9 months and was sick more often and more severely than my oldest was because we regularly took him to our gym's daycare. Breast milk did not protect him from RSV and bronchiolitis. It is not always the magical potion that many make it out to be.



Some babies experience gastrointestinal distress when drinking formula, but this is not a deal breaker! Try a few different brands and specialties, like those for stomach sensitivity. They even have soy formula for babies with milk sensitivities. When I formula fed my son, I used an organic brand. It was a little pricier but he never had any problems with it. I also think it tasted a little better for him. Honestly, that's my personal preference. I know a ton of moms whose babies love the brand name, non-organic formulas as well. What I'm trying to say is that you don't have to marry a specific brand or specialty. Shop around until you find something that works for you and your baby.

There are many reasons a mom may choose to formula feed. She may struggle to breastfeed because of medical issues (including mental illness) or work. She may have trauma that affects her emotional ability to juggle breastfeeding and a new baby. Whatever the reason, I never want a mama to feel shame over her feeding choices. Not on my watch. Being a mom is hard enough without having to constantly defend your parenting choices to others.

In summary, formula feeding is
Great because:

  • it is a safe and acceptable alternative to nursing
  • its convenient for both parents
  • both parents can participate in feeding and bonding
  • both parents share responsibility for nighttime feedings

Not great because:

  • the bottles have to be washed (super bummer!)
  • the variety of formula choices can be overwhelming
  • formula is expensive, sometimes even cost-prohibitive
  • slight increase of SIDS in formula fed babies (can be reduced by safe sleeping practices)


Exclusively Pumping 

Sometimes moms have difficulty nursing but still want to feed their baby breast milk. I exclusively pumped with both my children for the large majority of their infancy. I'll be the first to tell you that it is no walk in the park. EP (short for exclusively pumping) takes a level of dedication, perserverence, knowledge, and organization that no other feeding method requires. Because of this, I do not recommend this feeding method unless you are absolutely determined, mama.

EP has the potential to be the most expensive feeding option up front. You need to purchase a double electric breast pump, accessories like a pumping bra and milk storage bags, and bottles. These materials can run you close to $500 up front. You can reduce a large portion of that by contacting your insurance company to see if they can provide you with a breast pump.

When anyone asks me about my experience exclusively pumping, I always say that it is the best and worst of both worlds (nursing and formula feeding). My baby still gets all the benefits of breast milk but I still have to work around the physical demands of breastfeeding AND wash bottles. Can you tell I hate washing bottles?



The absolute worst thing about exclusively pumping is the amount of time it takes. Life revolves around your pumping schedule. In the first 3 months of a newborn's life, an exclusively pumping mama must pump 8-10 times a day for at least 20-30 minutes or risk losing her milk supply. Thats roughly 5 hours a day just sitting at a pump, and one of the pumps must be in the middle of the night. This is in addition to the actual feeding. EP moms spend close to 10 hours a day feeding their baby. Its a huge commitment.

The only reason I chose to continue EP against its difficulty was because I was able to donate my excess milk to another baby in need. It truly was the only thing that kept me going most days. If I'm 100% honest, I would not have continued to EP if I did not have oversupply.

In summary, EP is
Great because:

  • babies receive all the same benefits as their nursed friends
  • higher need babies (like those with tongue and lip ties and those in the NICU) can still receive breast milk but do not have to work as hard to eat it. 
  • moms still receive the same potential health benefits
Not great because:
  • its a huge time commitment, requiring time away from family and/or work to pump
  • bottles still have to be washed 
  • moms may be prone to feelings of depression or isolation because of the demands of EP
  • moms may suffer judgement and misunderstanding from medical professionals who are not familiar with EP

Though this is absolutely not an exhaustive list of all the ways you can feed a baby (hello tube fed, donor milk, and SNS babies) nor a comprehensive list of all the pros and cons, I hope it inspires mamas to make informed, unbiased choices about feeding. This can definitely be considered a starting point to more research on feeding options. I hope I have shared enough of my own experience in all the different ways of feeding that you can feel like you have a friend and ally in the chaos of feeding options. I'm cheering you on, no matter which path you choose. 

If you'd like to do more of your own research, check out these websites:

www.kellymom.com for all your breastfeeding (including EP) needs
www.fedisbest.org is an organization that promotes healthy and safe feeding options (including formula) 
http://hm4hb.net/ (Human Milk 4 Human Babies) is an organization that distributes information about safe milk sharing practices






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