What Is Suprising Me About Motherhood

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I hope this message finds you well as we step into the fall equinox tomorrow. This is a moment of reconnecting to ourselves and refocusing on our values as we face yet another transition of life.

Transitions have never been as apparent as right now. Somehow more than two weeks have passed since Jonah was born. It seemed very long - particularly those nighttime hours and minutes when he doesn't want to go back to sleep.

And also the time has just flown. He's bigger and fuller than even a few days ago. Huge changes are happening, when I take the time to look for them.

This is the biggest challenge of motherhood so far. How can I stay present for the magical growth of this little babe? Especially in a world that is pleading for my constant distraction, how do I slow down enough to really see the magic in front of me?

Herein lies the biggest surprise of motherhood: it's way simpler than I thought it would be. Where I imagined incredible complexity, becoming a parent has pared my life down to the barest essentials.

Self-care means taking a shower and brushing my hair once a day. Whatever foods people generously leave on the doorstep are the perfect nutrition for us. Crying is the ultimate distresser, for the baby and for me.

There's little that needs to be done that isn't in the here and now. When I get ambitious, I drown. Staying present and curious, I swim.

I can work with this, even if my brain often tells me differently. Working with this is actually opening my heart in the most beautiful ways.

(Thank you, Jonah for that and so much more.)

So as we begin this new season tomorrow, I step forward with more humility and clarity than ever.

It's my first fall as a mother. I care less about disappointing others than ever. I am learning a whole new strength.

And you, my dear? What are you stepping forward into tomorrow? What do you most desire and what guides your way?

Can you believe in yourself and all of your amazing power that can be hard to describe and still feel so real?

That belief in ourselves and the presence to remember it is the magic. It's up to us to access it and to stay with it, especially when the path is hard.

It's there waiting for us. The access point is self-care, the real and gentle kind, the type all of us deserve.

My Motherhood Journey

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Oh our sweet little guy has such a case of baby acne! Apparently 40% of infants get it, it's painless for them and it goes away by around week six. So no biggie but it has been interesting to watch my reactions around the less-than-perfect parts of motherhood.

Jonah is fussier this week than in his first two. He wants to eat all the time (and he can because my milk supply is strong because he wants to eat all the time. Breastfeeding = the original supply and demand). However, he gets super gassy and fussy after most feedings right now which means lots of screaming crying, which is hard to watch when I can't do anything to stop it.

At first I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to love all parts of this newborn process. The other night I hit a wall and realized that just because I love him doesn't mean I have to even like getting up at all hours of the night, the crying fits, the leaking breasts and all the other unglamorous parts of motherhood. It felt like a relief to admit the truth and dealing with those things actually got a little easier.

I realized how many perfectionist sinkholes will be on this parenting path. I feel grateful that I know myself well enough to understand when I'm falling into one (it's usually when I'm getting uptight, judgmental, and catastrophizing everything).

When I do, all I can do is pull myself out. I do this by admitting I am struggling to someone I trust (usually Micah in these moments). Then I get to re enter. I take a deep breath, cuddle the beautiful babe and get back to work doing the best I can.

The Recipe for Real Rest (Even When You Feel Extra Guilty About Needing It)

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Photo by the uber-talented Ann Marie Van Tassell

 

I hope this message finds you well! As we move into September, I hope you are also considering the self-care you'll need for this changing season ahead.
 
Personally, I love the fall self-care practices of soothing self-massage with warm sesame oil, reading a novel while soaking in a tub with Epsom salts, and eating cinnamon-dusted baked apples for breakfast. 
 
However, I live on the east coast of the US and your climate might be asking you for different practices. What feels most nourishing and appropriate for you during this transition?
 
These days, my other main practice is dedicated rest. Now that Jonah is here, it was recommended by my midwives that I spend two weeks in bed recovering from the birth (which is a lot on the body), learning how to nurse the babe and psychically adjusting to this new stage of life.
 
Both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (and many other cultures) back this up, recommending that women take a 40-day postpartum rest to rebuild strength and safeguard future reproductive health. For centuries, many cultures supported this fourth trimester time for new mothers in order to help them emerge as powerful caregivers.
 
In theory, I completely agree and practically, having an 11-day old infant means I can't leave the bedroom. Jonah's eating, sleeping and pooping needs wouldn't let me get too far out in the world, even if I tried.
 
Yet still, these realities don't stop the voice in my head from telling me that I should really get a few thank you notes in the mail, organize the fridge so nothing goes bad, and start walking my way back into pre-pregnancy shape. 
 
"Forget the rest," it says, "let's get back to work."
 
Even with the sweetness of a sleeping baby on my chest, my ego still just wants to check items off a to-do list. This makes it feel like it's still in control. It's an amazingly powerful urge.
 
This might be because motivating those voices is a shakier, quieter one. It's the one that desperately wants to know if I truly deserve so much care from others in this moment. It cringes when I see my loved ones inconvenienced by my needs and feels the weight of the world on its shoulders every time I make a request.
 
In these past years, I've gotten really good at self-care but how does that translate to letting in the loving care of others? 
 
My recipe for rest is all about tending to my self-doubt about receiving. In order to do this, I have to see through so much learned untruth about personal and cultural value of myself as a woman and how that translates to mothering.
 
It's only when I can reassure myself that I am as worthy of care as any other new mother (or person) and that our culture desperately needs these qualities of rest and nurturing, that I begin to let in the love.
 
Rationally, I understand that if I don't give myself this time then I won't show up as the kind, patient and good-humored mother I wish to be. If I can be truly cared for then I can really care for others. I think those two practices have to go together.
 
And wider, if I don't give myself this time of conscious rest, I will continue to expect too much from everyone else around me. I will abuse the privilege I have by demanding that the people who work for me and depend on me cut their own self-care so they can maintain maximum efficiency.
 
I want to live in a world where we are all allowed to take sick days, everyone is encouraged to take time off to care for sick and elderly relatives, and all parents are celebrated for bonding heartily with our infants.
 
To me, this feels like the antidote to our capital-driven society. In a culture that so willingly auctions off humanity for the outward appearance of success, let's reclaim in the space of heart-centered care as a place of healing for us all.
 
The space of care is as messy as it is nutritive. Laundry doesn't always get folded and sometimes Cheetos are the only appropriate snack. We tend to stay up late because it feels so good to be silly and laugh deeply.
 
In this space, the lines of self-care can feel blurred. What about our cherished rules of five vegetables a day, eight hours of sleep and intense cardio on the weekends? Can we occasionally let these things go so we can truly open our hearts?
 
It's important in these moments to understand that we letting go of control and laying down our shields. It's beautiful and it's scary. During these disorienting moments, love and worthiness have to be the guiding force. This is ultimate self-care.
 
Following these, we heal and help others to do the same. We find the energy we need to keep moving forward - out into the workings of the world or perhaps more deeply into ourselves. The two can become a dance, one that nurses us all back to health.

Happy 10 days of life to Jonah!

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In this time we've gotten the hang of breastfeeding (which I think is the most amazing human process - repairs my postpartum body as it builds his), had a beautiful eighth day of life ceremony created and led by our friend Hannah where Jonah was welcomed with a foot-washing ritual and blessings from our immediate family, and discovered that Jonah has the alter ego of a starving pterodactyl (oh the crying fits when he's overwhelmed and tired).

The biggest surprise is that so far, this guy can sleep for four hour stretches at night so we are getting more sleep that expected.

We've also had a lovely stream of relatives helping us with eating and laundry and a few beautiful meals dropped off on our doorstep by friends.

It's an edge to receive so much but it's also so inspiring to watch the generosity of our community in action.

Micah has also been a dream - making me oatmeal, running my baths, changing diapers like a champ. I knew my life would change dramatically the moment I gave birth, but I figured that process would be more about me struggling through the wilds of mothering on my own.

Again, it's this idea of fierce independence that our capital-driven culture demands and the damage it causes to our psyches.

So far my process involves softening to receive, taking time to rest and heal, and telling myself over and over again that I am worthy of support and care.

Because if I am not worthy then I send the message that no mothers or caretakers are worthy and everyone, mostly these sweet innocent babes, will suffer.

So today I will embrace rest, snuggle Jonah and believe this could lead to the change I want to see in this world.
 

My Little Family

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I'm so excited to introduce you all to Jonah Aleksander! He was born very early Saturday morning, weighing in at just under 8 lbs.

His birth shocked us all. After spending most of Friday in pre-labor, the midwife came over in the evening (a great benefit of doing a home birth). She checked me and declared that with his current positioning, it was still going to be much longer. The best thing I could do was sleep so I would have energy for the next day of labor. She prescribed a sleeping pill and told us to call her in the morning, or sooner if anything changed.

Then our amazing doula Lindsey came by. She led us through a few gentle exercises (that still felt so hard with contractions) to change the baby's positioning. When I was in the last restorative one, Micah fed me the sleeping pill and I was down for the count.

A little before 1am I woke up in a haze with intense contractions. I tried to breathe through them on my own but they were more than I could handle. I finally woke up Micah and told him I needed help. He, in his usual amazing fashion, drew me a bath so I could labor in the tub.

As I got in, I knew something was about to happen. I felt an uncontrollable urge to push and told Micah. While he called the midwife to come, I reached down and touched the baby’s head.

Then I knew this was happening. It was beyond me, so totally primal. Before I could hesitate I started pushing him out - two powerful pushes. As he emerged, Micah reached out and caught him. It was wild but also fluid. We had no idea what we were doing but we were doing it.

And it worked! After a few seconds Jonah started hollering. He was breathing! Micah put him on my chest while he got blankets and called the midwife.

We had our beautiful baby boy. He was breathing and cooing in my arms. My heart cracked open wider than ever.

When our birth team showed up 15 minutes later, we were already bonding as a family. He and I were both declared totally healthy. I felt the immense relief of everything coming to such a safe, happy conclusion.

From the moment of learning I was pregnant, my life has felt like a wild, wonderful ride. Although I was smitten with Micah before, we really fell in love after learning we were pregnant.

Of course this path wasn't linear. I had spent so much of my life wondering, questioning and doubting if I was making the right moves. There were moments I felt so lost.

And then suddenly it all fell into place. Before I knew it, I had a partner, a new house, and a family of my own. I'm not saying this is the only path to happiness - indeed I think a happy destination is all about walking a happy path - but as it developed, all of it felt so right to me.

So it makes sense that Jonah's birth would happen the way that it did. There was an awkward waiting period and the false start of pre-labor. We thought he was in the wrong position and felt demoralized. But as we rested into the night, everything fell into place. He shot out before we could even get organized. It was unplanned and exactly right.

It's hard not to draw a hundred metaphors for the birthing process because it is so rich in content. Today one feels really important, especially as it pertains to our self-care process.

The most important thing we can do is finding our alignment. Whether it's personal or collective, alignment is what happens when we let go of the question enough to allow the answer to come forth. With alignment, everything works. Without it, we struggle and struggle to feel like ourselves.

To me, self-care is about finding that alignment. It's learning about who we are and creating our lives to reflect that truth. It will look different for each of us. Our lives will be the proof that it's working.

So welcome Jonah! Micah and I are so very, very in love with him. He has the sweetest little spirit and eyes that feel full of wisdom. He has already taught us so much and we look forward to everything that will come.

Thank you all for your support. It means a lot and we'll continue to need it. I hope we can give it right back for whatever wonders you are birthing in life theses days. 

Big blessings from here and more updates soon! 

It's So Worth The Wait

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First, check out my crazy crazy birth story here.

And photos! Yesterday was all lounging around in a bear hat listening to the rain. He's so sweet and sleepy! Well, that is except for when I want to take a bath or nap or lay down for bed - then it's obviously time to nurse. 😏

Overall this is a pretty dreamy moment of life. The idea of postpartum rest is to do as little as possible for three to six weeks (or the fourth trimester so it's called). This gives my body a chance to heal - which it needs as labor takes its toll - and a chance for us to learn to nurse and bond as a family.

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Maybe even deeper than that is giving ourselves all time to integrate so many huge changes. Keeping things as chill as possible is what we all need to figure out this new way of life. Doing less means we can feel more.

The fourth trimester is about creating a womb outside of the womb - soft light, soft music, nourishing foods. I'm still thinking of everything happening on the outside - the heartbreak of DACA and Irma on the heels of Harvey and the many very challenging issues we are collectively facing right now - and yet know my option is to go more internal. I think one can definitely serve the other and I'm using this time to feel more deeply into how and why that is.

With that, thank you for all of your amazing messages. They mean so much and we feel the love. Hope you are feeling it right back as you read this. ❤️

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The Biggest Lesson of Waiting

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Hello again!

First: Please have a listen to my latest podcast with DC-based astrologer and artist James Moran. In this conversation, James explains how learning astrology helped him find his real purpose in life.  Now he uses that purpose to help his clients gain the self-awareness they need to break through stuck patterns. 

We chat about our how the bigness of the stars relates to our daily lives, the importance of our Saturn returning (watch out those around 28 years old!), and how to finally answer the question: why does this keep happening to me?  

And now today...

I wrote last week on how I was playing the waiting game as I anticipated going into labor.   When I wrote it, a couple of days after his suspected due date on the solar eclipse, I felt confident that I would have a baby by now.  Each night, I got excited at the little contractions I felt and fell asleep sure that I would be in labor by the next day.

But each morning I woke up feeling totally fine, and more and more defeated. 

This is all normal.  Most first-time mothers are at least one week overdue.  A friend just told me that in France, you are due on your 41st week of pregnancy (we use 40 weeks here in the States).  These numbers are quite arbitrary. 

Yet knowing this did not stop me from getting upset.  In my mind, I had done everything right -- the midwifery practice, the chiropractic care, weekly acupuncture, etc etc etc.  I had already wound down my work and gotten my nest in order.  With that much preparation, how could I still be overdue?  

I wanted to give birth on time and it wasn't happening.  WTF? 

With the help of a few wise people, I began to see that, once again, my control issues were creeping up on me.  For as long as I can remember, I have assumed that if I can check off the boxes, I will be able to make things happen in my life.  

And truly, taking control of my life experience has helped me to succeed in many ways.  I've gotten good grades, signed up for the Peace Corps, and started my own business.  Without a strong sense of personal control, and a healthy dose of privilege, I probably wouldn't have achieved these outward markers of success.

And yet, having this baby feels like a whole different game.  I got pregnant by surprise.  With a little "+" sign on the pregnancy test, my life let me know I was no longer in charge.  Within it all, the small voice inside of me kept reassuring that this was exactly the right thing.  I still believe it so much and yet it's still hard to let go of control.

It makes me ask:  who I am when I am not in control?  

Well, I feel very, very vulnerable.  I worry about what could happen to the baby.  I doubt my mothering skills.  I wonder if I said "yes" too hastily to this whole experience.  I dread that the world might be falling out from under our feet just as I am welcoming this new life forward.  

This is normal for me.  Given too much time and space, my thoughts will get the better of me. But I've noticed that something has changed in my life.  In the past, when I felt this vulnerable, it meant that I was moving into the territory of shame.

Shame tells me that the world will see through my facade.  Without my control to cloak me, everyone will discover that I'm really not a good person.  It will broadcast that something is fundamentally broken in me. 

Social researcher Brene Brown revolutionized my thinking around shame.  To summarize her findings: we all have shame.  The less we talk about it, the more we have it.  The only way to work with it is to share our truest feelings with kind people who believe in us.  She calls this shame resiliency. 

Over the years, I have done a lot of shame resiliency work.  I've called friends in tears and admitted how incredibly messy and incompetent I felt.  I have drudged up icky experiences from my past - the ones I'd rather shut away forever - and shared them with compassionate groups who helped me see my strength through the darkness.  

I've done all of this in the name of personal liberation.  Once I understood the mechanisms of shame - namely that it makes us all think we are uniquely horrible  - I wanted a way to work through it.  Being honest about the hard parts has helped so much.  I've learned to reach out to loved ones and tell the whole truth about where I am struggling.  Usually I end up laughing through my tears and emerge feeling like an intact human being. 

And as I've done it for myself, I've been able to hold space for my clients to do the same work.  Our self-care community is based in the practice of shame resiliency.  We work together to peel back the layers of control and to support each other as we dare to tell the truth about our struggles.  We emerge feeling like human beings who deserve a life that feels loving and beautiful.  As we find it for ourselves, we are led to help others do the same. 

So, during this vulnerable, control-less waiting period of mine, I have noticed that shame is still knocking on the door.  It wants to tell me that I'm not cut out for this whole mothering thing and that 1001 things will go wrong because I am wrong.

But now, instead of trying to ignore it (which only makes it knock louder) or believing it outright (which just isn't true), I open the door and invite it in.  I see that shame is the part of me that still needs a lot of love.  So I feed it homemade soup and watch as it gobbles it down.  It's so hungry. When I notice it's sleepy, I let it lay down on the couch.  Then I call a friend and we giggle about how much it snores.  

And before I even know it, it wants to go home.  As I shut the door behind my shame, I notice that I feel pretty good about myself.  I make a cup of tea and put my feet up.  I congratulate myself on practicing real self-care through a tough moment.

Next week I may have a baby in my arms or I could still be waiting.  There's truly no way to know. And yet whatever happens, I know it will be both beautiful and achingly vulnerable.  I will feel far from control and shame may decide to show up in those tender spots.  

Yet within all the unknown, I trust in the power of self-care to keep guiding me.  My child will learn how to handle self-doubt and love himself anyway.  He will learn because he will watch me continue to struggle and keep asking for help.  We will work with shame together and continue to emerge with greater liberation.

As a family, we will practice self-care as a balm.  It will help us keep going on our journey to know ourselves and to use that knowledge to show up for our world. 

And I think that just may be enough.

XO,
Gracy

Tiny Step Forward

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This is a bowl of homemade congee (rice porridge) with shiitake mushrooms, roasted sweet potatoes and cashews. This is a post about how to practice self-care during a period of doubt.

Right now, this baby is anywhere from 1-7 days overdue. This is completely normal. Most first-time moms are at least a week overdue. Honestly, it's not so much that I want to have the baby right now (I know I'll have quite a long stretch of motherhood soon enough), it's that I want to end this moment of waiting.

Yes, it's physically uncomfortable in a way I haven't been expecting - everything aches and my acid reflux is so bad I could barely digest this soothing food bowl.

But more than that, I'm emotionally uncomfortable. I don't have much to keep me busy as I wait and wait. This gives lots of space for thoughts and feelings to float to the surface. I realize how much my pride is flaring up. This isn't going along with my idea of having a perfect birth and as crazy as this may sound, I feel like I'm disappointing the people around me by not already having the baby. I worry about the baby's health and whether or not I will be a good mom or if I will even like motherhood.

When all these feelings come up, all I want to do is watch TV and eat french fries (oddly the one thing I can digest). I want to hide from the world and from myself. Yet this makes me feel worse.

For the past few days, I've been wondering how to practice self-care when very little feels stable. I wonder for myself and for the people affected by Harvey, for all the refugees in the world and anyone who doesn't know how life will happen next (and of course I don't consider my problems to be problems at all compared to those other groups - I'm just curious if there are common answers we can discover).

Right now what's working for me is honesty about where I'm struggling and super small steps in the direction of self-care. This morning that meant rose water spray on my face, a walk in the rain with Poncho and oatmeal on the stovetop.

It means being extra gentle with myself and letting others support me. It means surrendering to life as it wants to come and saying quiet "thank you's" as I take the next tiny step forward.

Playing the Waiting Game

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Welcome to my first abridged maternity newsletter posting! I hope these little snippets of my adventures in babeland help us keep in touch and inspire a bit of gentle self-care in your life.

Another week has come and gone, and this baby remains in my belly. Technically he was due on the eclipse, but most first time mamas give birth at least a week late. 

Normally, I would be itchy to stick to our planned timetable, yet I'm surprised by how relieved I am to have a little extra time. I've been so busy getting ready and finishing up last-minute tasks. Always an overachiever, I've been doing a touch more than might be necessary.

Plus, a whole lot has been stirred up in my life and in the world in these past weeks. I need a little extra time to integrate all of these complicated thoughts and feelings. My sense is that once I do, they'll be great fuel for labor.

The main lesson of my life has been learning that I'm not in charge nor need to be. I desperately want to control everything - politics, weather, all other people - but almost always suffer when I do. It's like life is laughing at me and telling me to go take a nap.

Surrendering, softening, and forgiveness give me the space to respond lovingly to whatever arises. These self-care tools help me to be friendly to myself, kind to others and open to life on life's terms. They help me to find creative solutions and give me the energy to put them into action.

This is the way I would like to give birth and the way I want to be a mother. So much so, I'm willing to settle down and wait patiently for the next part to happen when it's good and ready.