When Natural Parenting Feels Anything But Natural

When Natural Parenting Feels Anything But Natural

Ostensibly, I’m all into doing things naturally. I read the books, follow the blogs, join the Facebook groups. I breastfeed and babywear. I’ve got the hippy pants. I tsk judgingly from time to time at people who do otherwise (oh come on, admit it – you do too). But sometimes I’ve gotta admit – it feels anything but natural. I feel like I’m stopping myself all the time, trying to find the “right” response, the healthy way to react, the RIE way. That I’m trying so hard to be chilled that my movements end up jerky, that I’m over-thinking and second-guessing every word I say to Gadi, every move. Every time I offer the breast as comfort, take the stroller instead of the carrier, let him taste a cookie out of my hand. Every time I let him fall asleep on me.

When he was younger it was easier. He stayed in one place, his needs were simpler. All my varied and conflicting sources agreed that there’s no such thing as spoiling a newborn. He just needed me to be there, to tend to his basic needs, to respect him, to love him. And all of that came naturally.

Now, he’s testing. Not in a behavioral, toddler sense – not yet, anyway – but rather he’s trying to understand sequences, cause and effect. If I do this, then this will happen. And that’s fine, it’s great – I just so badly want to do my bit right that it’s doing my head in. And all of my attempts to be natural and mindful and connected and tuned in are somehow colliding with each other. My mind and my heart and my maternal instincts, all pulling me in different ways.

There’s a problem with the word “natural,” or at least the concept. We mean so many different things when we say it – the way humans are “meant” to be, pre-industrial revolution, before medicine, without plastic and screens… But the truth is that natural doesn’t feel natural anymore, not in this day and age. What’s natural is what we’re used to, how we were brought up, what we see around us. Perhaps that’s why everything I do ends up feeling like it’s going against the grain.

I’ve felt it since the beginning of the pregnancy, in some way, shape or form – that I was doing something weird. I’d tell people I was planning a natural birth and they’d look at me like I said I’d decided to birth my (huge) baby out of my left nostril. Exclusively (“only?!”) breastfeeding is somehow seen as subversive behavior, especially past the age of six months, when babies should apparently be eating bucketloads of processed shit sold in tins. And don’t even get me started on Baby Led Weaning. And though these things do feel natural to me – certainly when I think about them and sometimes in practice, too – implementing them can be a bit of an uphill battle.

I was telling my boss a couple of months back about our efforts to get Gadi’s sleep on track, and our deliberations about whether or not to enlist the help of a sleep therapist. About painstaking lists of bed times and wake ups, books and articles, taking turns and careful routines. Her suggestion? “Maybe you just need to go with it.” I was so taken aback – that’s what I thought we were doing. How did I manage to turn laid back and relaxed parenting into something so anal?

I like to think – I hope – that these are just growing pains. That just like anything else, it feels a bit awkward at first and then eventually becomes second nature. And of course, it’s not always like this. When I’m really there, right in the moment connected with Gadi, there’s a perfect flow. When I’m responding rather than reacting – yes – but easily, quickly, naturally. Like Victor Frankl put it:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Deep down, I know the fact that I’m thinking about all of this means I’m being exactly the type of parent I want to be – a mindful, intentional parent. That I’m trying things out, seeing what fits. I also know that it’s when I’m living in the past or the future – going over and over things that happened or trying to plan out the future move by move – that this conflict exists. In the moment, when I’m really present, everything is great.

But in the meantime, it’s hurting my poor tired brain.

9 Tips for Surviving the Postpartum Period

9 Tips for Surviving the Postpartum Period

A wise woman once told me: Nobody talks about the after party. Ironically, this mother of three told me this after seeing me basically every day of my first pregnancy, and yet uttering nary a word about what I could expect in the postpartum days and weeks. The impending labor and birth we talked about, naturally, along with pregnancy matters galore – from ultrasounds and iron supplements to headaches and contractions. Parenting plans came up, name ideas, baby furniture. Hospitals, midwives and nursing consultants. But postpartum recovery was just never mentioned. No one was game to raise the issue, it seems.

It’s understandable. You’d sound like a right downer if your first reaction upon finding out your friend was pregnant was to tell them, “Now love, you should know that sitting down may well hurt for quite some time after delivery.” I get it. But women need – and deserve – to be prepared for this intense period. This paradoxical moment in time when you need quiet and rest more than anything else – and instead you get basically no sleep, well-meaning family and friends bugging you round the clock, and varying degrees of aches and pains. And just to make things more confusing and ambiguous, all of this is sprinkled with heart-bursting love, super birth hormones and an amazing appetite.

And so I write this by way of preparation for those about to give birth, and vow to send it to my friends and my sisters when their time comes. Even if they don’t love me for it at the time.

  1. You’re gonna bleed, big time – and not just like the “heavy period” that I remember hearing about. The midwife is gonna stick three surfboard-size pads together for you, and you’re gonna thank her for it. Keep in mind that the more you rest, the quicker your postpartum bleeding will stop. Rest.
  2. Black is the new black. You don’t want to find out what happens when your grey sweatpants make it to your hospital bag. This goes for underwear for the first couple of weeks too (though I actually recommend buying the sexy disposable mesh ones for the first few days. So much easier).
  3. Going to the bathroom is going to hurt, one way or another. You got through the birth, you can get through this. Take it slow and if possible take the shower head with you (assuming you had a vaginal birth). Spraying water on the area while you’re doing your business is a godsend. I wish someone had told me this earlier.
  4. Cold is your friend. If you’re in a hospital they should provide frozen magnesium or witch hazel pads, and at home you can easily make your own. Trust me, you’ll almost enjoy it.
  5. Stay in the moment – don’t waste your precious energy worrying about what you could have done differently during the birth, or how long this discomfort is going to last. Try this nursing meditation, if it tickles your fancy, put your phone down and focus on your breath for a few minutes, or utilize whatever reminders you need to stay mindful of what you’re doing right now. I really believe this will keep you sane through at least some of the exhaustion and the emotional breakdowns.
  6. Give the nursing apps a miss – unless you (or your baby) are having real problems. I used one at first and started to feel like I couldn’t feed unless I had my phone, not to mention getting obsessed with how long, which boob, averages etc. Losing my phone 4 weeks in was a blessing in disguise, and I realized that a hairband on my wrist to tell me which boob was next worked (and continues to work) just as well.
  7. Let people help, but remember to tell them when you need space. I didn’t do this enough and I should have. The first few weeks are crucial for bonding with your new baby – and if you’re anything like me, resting properly with guests in your space is difficult. Leave the washing. Screw the dishes. Forget about other people’s feelings for now. Lay on the couch.
  8. Bring a snack bowl to bed (better yet, get someone else to make it for you). Waking up every hour or so to breastfeed feels a lot better when you have chocolate, dried fruit, nuts etc at arms reach. Ditto for a liter or two of water.
  9. Give yourself a break. There is an unrealistic expectation on women (I loved this blog post on the topic) to bounce back right after birth, and for most of us it’s just not that simple. Many cultures around the world expect new mothers to be completely out of action for the first 40 days. Don’t expect to feel “normal” for the first month, at least.

If you’re reading this before giving birth – or even before getting pregnant – I should add: it’s totally worth it. It would be even if you needed to wear the triple maxi pads for six months (you don’t). It can just be a bit of a shock, that’s all.


Nursing and meditating (or, nipple meditation)

Nursing and meditating (or, nipple meditation)

So I’m pretty sure I’ve invented a new type of meditation. I’ve googled it and everything – no one has thought of it before; I’m truly a trailblazer. Combining my sparkling new motherhood experience and my only slightly more established mindfulness meditation practice, I present: nursing meditation (or, nipple meditation – if you prefer).

Essentially a modification on anapana sati, the Buddhist meditation of mindfulness on breathing, it goes a little something like this:

  1. Do whatever you usually do to start feeding – get comfortable, have water nearby, get baby latched on and settled in.
  2. Let your eyes close gently, sit up straight, and take a few deep breaths to settle in yourself – into your body, the experience and sensations of right now.
  3. When you feel calm and present, bring your full attention to the nipple of the breast from which your child is eating. At first you might just notice the sucking, tugging sensation of nursing – and that’s fine. When your mind wanders – and it always will – your only job is to gently bring it back to your nipple. As you deepen your concentration the subtleties of sensation – perhaps temperature, speed, texture – will reveal themselves. Without judging or analyzing, simply observe – sit back and watch the sensations, the experience of each moment come and go.
  4. For bonus points (not really), cultivate an appreciation for the truly amazing process of growing this tiny, beautiful creation – which started as a few cells inside you however many months ago and now continues to be nurtured by your body.
  5. When your nursling is finished his/her meal, open your eyes and take a moment – and really be there – before rushing off to continue the ongoing cycle of diaper changes, baths, tummy time and naps.
  6. Repeat as often as possible.

Now, I’m pretty sure this isn’t gonna give me a free ticket to nirvana or anything, but it does seem to be keeping my fledgling meditation practice at bay while riding the early months of parenthood. Just breaking it down, getting out of my head and into my body for a few minutes, a few times a day brings a centered quality to my consciousness that I’ve only ever been able to achieve through meditation.

Babies live in the moment. The least we can do is try to meet them there every now and then.