postnatal musings - mayRead Now
‘Spring is often more about foundational growth - inner growth, inner seeds being planted, our roots. Before we burst out, into the outside world, into the much more outward focused energy of summer.’
Emerging from our favourite footpath during our early walks this month, the dawn chorus heralds the start of a new day and the countryside yawns, opening up another beautiful view and..... my two black labradors panting and looking in dire need of a head and shoulders treatment on a bad dandruff day! The white seeds from cow parsley and camomile, rapidly multiplying at the edge of the hedgerows, have formed a jungle themed obstacle course for the three of us to negotiate on a daily basis, made increasingly more perilous by the springing undergrowth of nettles and thistles. May, my friend, has been a month of growth and struggle!
It feels as if there has been a slight disruption to the flow recently. Regardless of the umpteen bank holiday weekends and our new Kings Coronation, this month has taught me that no journey's terrain is ever flat and we are always allowed to seek safety in hibernation, a tethering to those objects standing firm, rooted and those little moments of security, familiarity and trust. Cycles, routines and seasonal patterns can fool us by seemingly offering a sense of order, but durations of time, like the postnatal period, can move in so many varied ways, changing course at any given moment, totally surprising and reminding us that just because it is ‘Spring’ doesn’t mean we don’t get rain.
In fact, the beginning of this month was very wet (with a 93% long term average rainfall for the south west of England) and the sense of anticipation for the arrival of May with all of its sunshine, colour and aliveness, was drawn out slightly more than previous years. The damp grey start to the month felt like a bit of a kick in the teeth and I recognised similar feelings of impatience with some postnatal progress, as well as a fair few breast feeding blips!
‘All around us is the feeling of expectation and growth as earth energy is at its strongest and Nature at her most active, busy growing into its full potential’
There is no set path or handbook for how to manage our journeys through recovery, change or parenthood. Nature may follow a set cycle of seasons but within those larger cycles, are smaller ones. Our lives are kaleidoscopes of ever changing patterns and though some may be predictable to a certain extent, as humans, we are constantly challenging the rules of what we can and can’t control.
May has been a tricky month for me personally. Though I didn’t start this blog to talk about my own personal life in detail, I wonder if it can be helpful to draw strength, like I have, from times that when faced with periods of adversity and a resulting awareness towards how much this might help us grow, there is a small print that we often overlook. The growing thing is really hard, as Erin Bruce agreed in her newsletter this month;
‘It is important to pause and recognise, even if things have felt very very grey throughout spring, even if it doesn’t feel as if there is a dam thing growing in your life - I would challenge you to look deeper. Look at the foundational things, inner seeds, your roots.’
Three days before April blurred into May, my father collapsed and broke his hip and while in A&E they discovered a mass of lung cancer that has spread extensively to the bone. It has been an all too familiar mixing bowl of waiting endlessly for more results, scans, X-rays and sporadic visits from an array of various doctors, nurses and medical professionals. I know too much from my own personal experiences but I know nothing of this one!
In the past, through social media and other blogs, I have considered the comparisons between the transition to motherhood and healing after childbirth, to recovering from illness and adjusting to a diagnosis of disease, so as I find myself, once again, walking on the tightrope between life as a cancer patient, mother and now supporter, I recognise that just as one birth and one baby are so different to our other births and babies, each story, each experience, each life, is valid and entirely unique.
My work has been a blessing; an escape. It has been the crack of light and my grounding, offering a different headspace where clarity reigns, where I know which step follows next. Offering a safe space through the Motherspace group, creating memories and inviting long lasting relationships through common ground as mothers and women who deserve to be nurtured, has been cathartic. Being able to think about others is deeply fulfilling and I am grateful for the clients and the families that I am working with for giving me that.
Accompanying a client to an antenatal appointment last week felt like such a priviledge. Joining her throughout the visit, I was impressed with the focus on the areas around anxiety and other pressures that many feel during pregnancy. The role of the Jasmine Team, who work to support many women at our local hospital, offering support from the early days of pregnancy, and whose care and attention as birth approaches is a reassuring comfort, giving women even more confidence in themselves, as well as the birthing environment she hopes to be in when baby does arrive. They also talk through any concerns around the medical teams that will be supporting them. It is this laying of careful, gentle building blocks that create a firm foundation, providing a solid and bespoke framework, that can be tweaked and changed if and where needed, but with a consistent and familiar team. This resonates so much at the moment as my family builds a likeminded team around our own family.
Sarah Doman’s hypnobrithing course has been a fundamental part of the framework for one client. Discussing visual birth preferences and choices has been empowering and practical, even as the landscape continues to shift with new infections, illness as well as extreme fatigue. The discussion around cortisol and oxytocin and how a woman needs both at different times, to support a bodies natural ability to birth a baby, in any situation, is so relevant, not just to all of us in stressful moments, but also highlighting the relevance of yin and yang and light and dark. The ability to turn inwards to connect with an inner strength and light at times of overwhelm and fear, requires courage and practicing mindfulness is all part of this.
In the book ‘Mindfulness for Mums’, Izzy Judd talks about the RAIN acronym. I have come across this tool a few times throughout my doula work, as well as personally.
Being able to recognise what one emotion or feeling is, focusing and naming it, helps move into acceptance, acknowledging and allowing this emotion/feeling to just be. Reflecting on this specifically takes the sting out of how we might feel it impulsively. Giving it room to breath, as it is, can be empowering. Investigating, asking ourselves why we might be feeling like this and what we need to help ourselves, is to process the physical, as well as emotional sensations, helping us accept but not identify or define ourselves by it, not taking them personally.
‘Underneath every thought there is a stillness we can reconnect to, allowing us a sense of freedom from unwanted feelings and emotions.’
- Izzy Judd, Mindfulness for Mums.
It is hard, especially with children literally hanging off us, screaming, phones ringing, gadgets beeping, kettles continuously boiling, not to mention the permanent background soundtrack of Vtech and Tonieboxes! Beltane might be the celebration of all things joy and light but there is an awareness of how difficult this has been at times this month, for clients as well as myself. However, there is light and joy in gratitude for the small wins, the quiet moments once they are asleep (or parked in front of CBeebies) and I have recognised these in abundance!
‘As mothers continually strive for a balance between taking care of their children, taking care of themselves and finding happieness in all of it, one of the most proven and powerful methods of doing so is to connect with gratitude on a regular basis’
- Julie Burton, Self Care Solution
So, as a message to you, from my spot as a postnatal doula, as May morphs into the next month, hinting even more enthusiastically at Summer, I say this:
To the mum who was expecting to be feeling more active and positive, getting into a groove, you have slowed down and re connected with a new phase of baby development and your own rehabilitation and transition, finding ways of heightening your own serotonin through massage, skin on skin, talking, gardening and being in nature and resting.
To the mum whose anxiety is bubbling, simmering like a pan of peas, because of the apprehension around a second birth, after a challenging first time experience and no family around, there has been a new tribe gathering around you, encouraging, caring, communicating and supporting and celebrating you!
To the mum who thought she couldn’t ask for postnatal support after the fourth trimester and felt overwhelmed and under nourished, there has been inspiration and relief, a sense of giving yourself permission to be nurtured, nourished and comforted. I salute you!
To the mum who thought she would never sleep ever again, let alone juggle two small children, there has been time to curl up with the peace of mind that baby is sleeping and cared for, knowing you can play with any older children later, just you and them. There is space to chat, breathe deep, as well as surrendering to massage and deeply relaxing moments.
May has been a month of blurred hope and hazy new beginnings. It is a work in progress. Yes there have been budding flowers, lush and green landscapes blooming up at speed around us, but there have also been muddy puddles that just need a bit more sun to dry. There has been a nagging echo to clients, as well as me, to stick to our footpaths, not to worry about anyone ahead, over taking or lagging behind, just to focus on going at our own speed, climbing over the undergrowth in our own way.
Since there is no one size fits all or specific map for how to navigate periods of time where we feel we are walking around in a cotton wool fuzz, blindly walking at speed towards a rather large and deep rabbit hole, knowing there is no way to avoid the imminent fall, perhaps it is this that makes it possible to fly? Finding the cracks of light, the small wins, the things we can be grateful for, the gentle growth, the joy of imperfection and the belief in ourselves to hope.
‘Beltane invites us to step aside from perfection. It is as if our souls need reminding of the joy that exists in our bodies and our selves just as we are. If you can give yourself permission to experience this, if only for a moment, then you can remember what that feels like and steer your little boat towards it.’
- Rebecca Beattie, The Wheel Of The Year
May Recipes I have been cooking;
Roasted vegetable tart - my own recipe
Rhubarb and Almond Muffins - A Table Full Of Love by Skye McAlpine
Strawberry and mascarpone tart - Waitrose recipe card
Peach and mozzarella salad - Waitrose recipe card
Fiery red rice salad - Mary Berry
Chicken and courgette tray bake - The Roasting Tin
May Playlists & meditations I have been listening to;
Air Soundtrack - Spotify
Sound Bath Crystal Bowls playlist - Spotify
Cafe Del Mar Chillout 2023 - Spotify
Dear Daughter Podcast
As The Season Turns podcast by Ffern
The Self Care Solution by Julie Burton
Brave New Mama by Vicki Rivard
Mindfulness for Mums by Izzy Judd
A Table Full of Love cookbook by Skye McAlpine
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'We don’t preserve our natural landscapes by turning them into a museum. We heal these rifts by inviting back gentleness into our relationship with the earth, by allowing meaning to take hold again. We should encourage enchantment to bolt like a weed.’
- Katherine May, ‘Enchantment '
This April I have been saturated in deep all enchanting nature; a submersion into every element, a rooting into the virile earth and fertile ground and a blossoming alongside all the spring buds (not to mention the first tickles of hayfever!) As I sit here in my ever so new and fancy chemo chair for my routine monthly bloods, I am buzzing with a new energy, feasting on any relevant reading I can find, surrendering to the lure of creative play, scribbling words as my pen tries to keep up with my reenergised stream of consciousness.
‘The name April is derived from the Latin word aperire, which means to ‘open’, reflecting the flowers opening to bloom.’
- Joey Hulin, The Spiritual Almanac
Days spent in Devon during the Easter holidays solidified a quintessential craving for new starts and creative projects, giving me that unadulterated space to breath deeply on the beach and immerse myself in the wild ocean. While my toes and fingers turned into individual blocks of ice, after a less than graceful entrance into the water and a somewhat frantic doggy paddle type effort to stay afloat, my circulation went into overdrive, a tornado of energy shifting around my body, blood rushing and a focus so fixed on the breath that my ego retreated into the recesses of a hardened state of brain freeze, offering a clarity so clear and bright I may as well have had stars twinkling around my head!
These themes of brave blooming and opening to the elements have been skittishly playing on the breeze, blowing gently into my postnatal world too. An April baby, just like me, has been a beautiful new addition to a wonderful family and by all accounts, mumma breathed through her labor majestically, channeling every ounce of her inner strength and courage, summoning breaths so deep and empowering, baby was born quickly and with all the air of peace and beauty.
Visiting this new mummy and baby on day 4 postpartum, with healing soups and a myriad of homemade snacks was joyous, a lovely opportunity for us to be, so she could offload some initial thoughts and feelings in these early stages. I offered some reassurance, inviting her to experiment with alternate feeding positions that she hadn’t felt comfortable trying alone. As we sat, it was heartwarming to hear how much our antenatal meetings had helped with her labour and how she had surrendered to the process, tuning into the breath, reaffirming how ’essential’ our conversations had been.
During those last sessions before due dates, I invite clients to consider some affirmations to help ground and anchor them through labor, such as;
‘I am worthy and deserving of the birth I want.’
‘I release control. I am patient and trust that my baby is choosing thier perfect time and way to be born.’
‘My body contains all the knowledge necessary to give birth to my baby.’
‘I surrender to my own powerful body. I am strong and give gratitude for the honour of giving birth.’
Tools such as keeping the voice low, if she needs to vocalise the pain, as well as keeping her physical body supported and close to the earth, if she can, staying in water for as much time as possible and places where she feels safe, can be beneficial. When my client messaged me to say her waters had broken, I reminded her of these by text, repeating the affirmations so her partner could read them to her too. Hearing how game changing that was and celebrating how it resulted in her birthing her baby in the birth pool with no pain relief, was awesome! Spring and all her energy had exploded right there and then, just as Kirsty Gallagher recognises in her Sacred Seasons book;
‘Nature is inspiring us to uncover the full promise that lives within us and celebrate the creative life force energy flowing through everything.’
Not working as a birthing doula, but offering to hold space for clients as they prepare for birth, is something I am truly honoured to do as a doula. Acknowledging that innate nervous amalgamation of anxiety and excitement, encouraging exploration of these feelings and verbalising them, can be hugely valuable in laying the foundations for a powerful body and mind connection, ready for birth. Clients who I have the opportunity to support in this way, may also be using NCT and the birth and beyond programmes, as well as more holistic methods such as hypnobirthing courses to help them prepare. The antenatal journey can be a hugely overwhelming and challenging time for anyone, but there is such power in being reminded that it is such a personal process, individual to each and every mother and there are many different types of support available. Not all flowers bloom at the same time, they do not confer with the flower next door to them, they just bloom when they are ready; organically, delightfully willing and able.
This month has also seen me venturing into the hypnobirthing world myself, not to train or teach, but to learn, deepening my experience and curiosity in antenatal support. The incredible Sarah Doman has joined me in supporting another of my clients as she prepares to birth her baby later this year. I have been supporting her throughout the entire pregnancy due to hyperemesis and it has been incredible to watch her embracing and opening up to her approaching second birth.
Sarah and I have known each other for a while, but combining our energies and differing areas of expertise for pregnant women is one incredible oxytocin high! I think the three of us were slightly blown away by our first session. The laughter and sparkle in the room was palpable, as if we were in our very own vibrant technicolour cartoon! Having the opportunity to learn something new felt so symbolic of this season, something we had been planning for a while, now coming to fruition.
‘When we know the detail of the places we inhabit - when we tend them with our hands and walk them with our own feet - we enter into a conversation with our places that is mutually nourishing.’
- Katherine May, Enchantment
Starting with a client and six week old has brought a wonderful new energy to my work too.
Knowing family would be visiting for the first few weeks, she saved postnatal support for when she could block out a morning a week on herself and her baby. There is a specific focus on nutrition and nourishment, a gathering of seasonal salad recipes and ingredients to encourage and inspire. Squash and chickpea salad, prawn and tarragon salad, as well as courgette and pea soup have been stirred and blended. I have loved this opportunity to create new menu ideas and have been found sat in front of the scanner in my office, surrounded by recipe books and magazines, assembling photocopies galore for clients reference.
Mindful breastfeeding and postnatal massage sessions across the board have been of mixed success timing wise, reminding me, as well as clients, to flow like water, with the days events that are out of our control. Some sessions have been deeply relaxing, perfectly timed for mumma and baby and an opportunity for deep rest. Others have been graciously abandoned, simply because time has not allowed, or baby has had other ideas. We work within these parameters, feeling our way in the moment, reverting to other ways of holding space; folding washing, taking baby for a walk, running a hoover around or simply sitting nearby and listening and making tea.
With another forty something birthday rolling around, I returned to Dartmoor for my first yoga retreat, letting the reciprocity of nature and be-ing wash over me. While the Avon river flowed emphatically past the glass walled yoga studio, camouflaged in the orchard of the Bala Brook garden, I felt fully immersed in the element of water, as she whispered conspiratorially, ‘go with the flow, go with the flow, open up, blossom, bloom and flood the world’ It was a mirror to all the synchronicities throwing themselves at my windscreen this weekend, in my face, blatant and undeniable! It all felt so fresh, poignant and nurturing for the soul, reminding me of the saying,
‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.’
- Arthur Ashe
We can start wherever we need to start, physically and emotionally open up to all opportunities at any time. As April has birthed new life in nature, we are birthing new plans, ideas, projects as well as babies! We are all blooming in our own unique ways and with what we have. We don’t judge the direction a river flows, or how high a bird flies or what shade of pink a flowers petal might be. We do our best. As Julia Cameron writes in her best seller ‘The Artists Way’, a much treasured birthday gift,
‘Creativity is our true nature, blocks are an unnatural thwarting of a process at once as normal and as miraculous as the blossoming of a flower at the end of a slender green stem.’
Just as nature continually flourishes in varying degrees at varying times, so do we. We are made up of energies born of all the elements; fire to drive our passions, water for us to flow and quench our creative thirsts, earth to ground and support us and air to breathe deeply, to revive and function. I witness women thriving and surviving, every day, me included, each turn teaching and healing. There is no failure in nature and we are nature.
‘So, if women must, they will paint blue sky on jail walls. If the skeins are burnt, they will spin more. If the harvest is destroyed they will sow more immediately. Women will draw doors where there are none, and open them and pass through into new ways and new lives. Because the wild nature persists and prevails, women persist and prevail.’
- Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
April Recipes I have been cooking;
April Playlists & meditations I have been listening to;
You yawn widely, stretching your body out along the length of the bed. It feels lighter and rested. There is no alarm to wake you, no baby crying, no kids jumping on you, just the natural body clock, working in tune with an earlier dawn. You snuggle deeper under the duvet, revelling in the indulgence of no rush, knowing that when you are ready to sit up, swing your legs over the side of the bed, stand tall and take the first step into your day, it will be slowly, with ease and softness. There is anticipation simmering, an excitement for what this day might bring, a sense of knowing, an energy that good things are coming, that plans will be coming to fruition, seeds planted will be shooting and contentment growing. You open your eyes, natural light blinding you and greet this new day. This is Spring!
‘Metaphorically, this is when we’re getting out of bed and getting our day started’, says Erin Bruce, whose online Wheel Of The Year course is guiding me beautifully through the changing energies of the seasons, new moon and full moon vibes, connecting me with a deeper understanding of how these cycles of nature can nourish and nurture, with ritual suggestions, journal prompts and meditations. ‘These plans we’re making are the seeds we’re planting for the growth season ahead. What do you want to grow in your life this year?’ She asks.
Ive been dwelling on this a lot. As the last full moon of winter waxed into wholeness on the 7th March, I lay my favourite rose quartz crystal out to re charge, despite steadily freezing temperatures, and woke in the morning to see that she had surrendered to Winters last hoorah; gardens and roads covered by snow from gluttonous clouds, carpeting a large proportion of the country in a thick white blanket of ice. I wanted to grow more balance and a slightly slower pace and the universe heard!
With this deluge, came a magical respite from the customary grey and rainy landscape that have made this March rather wet and soggy. Mother Nature living her best life, donning a cloak of sparkling purity, providing a blank canvas to paint with deep footprints, sledge stripes, snowmen and snow-angels, littering gardens, fields and playgrounds for miles around. An excuse for a slower start, the safety and caution cards played to the max (at least by the kids!)
There is satisfaction in having had a snow day, a true winter fix, much to the disgust of the somewhat braver daffodils who had bloomed just before the snap and whose attempted retreat resulted in being totally overpowered, lying wearily across the edge of my driveway, like exhausted soldiers after battle. In this months edition of Breathe Magazine, Jade Beecroft writes about the magic of the daffodil, ‘The cheery trumpet shaped flowers are some of the first to emerge after a cold dark winter. They give people hope that warmer days and new beginnings are to come’. The birth flower of March has nearly seven hundred varieties, symbolising good fortune, light and growth across many cultures, and with charities using them in logos and as badges, they are suitably associated with hope and resilience.
The cold temperatures played tag with milder ones well into the month, making me realise how our seasons are becoming just as vague and inconsistent, as many have feared, owing, in part, to climate change, and with wetter winters and hotter summers, there is an apparent discombobulation with regards to the in-between seasons of Spring and Autumn, as if Mother Nature is being indecisive, taking longer to decide on whether to blow hot or cold for each one.
Similiar to some of my clients’ babies, reaching developmental stages where there is a novel perplexity in what they want. As they pass the three month mark, awareness and engagement are growing with a fine line between being over tired and stimulated. There can be furious periods of screaming as baby longs to sleep, feeding wont suffice but they still need mum to help calm and pacify with constant jiggling and tapping, a heavier baby to wear requiring a review of baby carriers, or daily walks with the pushchair, before they surrender to sleep.
There has been continuing play with different feeding positions and baby wearing, but as FOMO kicks in, baby finds their strength, in thier back, neck and legs, occasionally pushing off mums tummy. Others, experiencing sleep regression, exhausted parents hauling themselves through long relentless nights, wishing for dawn when support may arrive, like a rain soaked fairy godmother, all these spectrums of change mirroring nature yet again, as Kirsty Gallagher agrees in her new book ‘Sacred Seasons’, ‘Our ancestors would have used the spring equinox to mark the return of the sun after a long, dark winter. It was a celebration of rebirth, life and growth, holding the promise of new beginnings, as everything in nature started to come back to life.’
Day and night are briefly equal in length, playing out as an improved sense of balance in my own work life ratio. A couple of clients needing less sessions, one feeling ready to fly completely solo, fully soaking up the spring energy, embracing new starts and awakening as the amazing mother she is! A new beginning for me, opening windows to focus on new clients, creativity and my own care. I can feel the clean, fresh air on my face both metaphorically and physically!
With those clients due in April, there is a focus on postnatal planning, using spring themes to mark their own new starts, new life, taking positive energy into the postpartum phase of recovery. Resourceful connections are being made, not just with clients, new friendships and courses but with ourselves, the annual celebration of Mothers Day, directing a focus on all mothers, whether biological or maternal, young or old, alive or passed, those wishing to be and those who have lost yet will always be. The idea has drastically morphed from the middle ages when those who had moved away from home, returned to visit family and their ‘mother’ churches on the fourth Sunday of the festival of Lent. Today, thanks to marketing and advertising, it is an excuse for every ‘mother’ in the country to refute any normal household duties, demanding breakfast in bed or lunch with the whole extended family while patting herself on the back for keeping her little sweethearts alive!
Never mind the kids, keeping ourselves alive and well has very much been a theme of March, with continuing focus on self care. In contrast to February’s self love and respect, this month has been about exploring manageable, realistic forms of self nurturing. At the springtime doula cuddle (get together) I hosted for local doulas and birth workers, Louise Hoffmann Brookes from Parenting Success, spoke perceptively about how we should get curious about not only our children’s behaviour and triggers, but more importantly, our own. We need to get curious, not furious! This resonated on many levels as we discussed and explored the pressures of motherhood, work, expectations and time. It was an opportunity to validate our needs, discussing ways to show ourselves physical, emotional and cognitive self care, not just by taking baths or getting nails done, but by expressing ourselves honestly; openly crying, verbalising our needs with those we love, recognising how guilt is manifesting itself, talking to other women, trusting ourselves, as well as getting quiet, and delegating to free up precious time for processing.
On a personal level, I admit I have needed to emotionally lean on my doula friends recently, as I had my own confidence wobble. Chatting through concerns and frustrations with those who work in the same field is vital. Often working independently, it is important to consciously carve out time, seek those doulas we connect with and have like minded colleagues to reassure, encourage and support us, helping make sense of things and gain clarity. It has been invaluable and really productive, enabling me to recognise the positives, identify ways to grow, tweak my services and assert boundaries. Realising the importance of debriefing as we finish with clients, reflecting on our experiences supporting couples, families and being a sounding board for each other is doula’ing the doula and this is just as important as doula’ing new parents!
Spring vibes are whispering for us to step back into our power, listen to our intuition as we become more active and maintain a balance between the feminine energy of turning inwards, as nature moves into a more masculine energy of do-ing. I have been sharing affirmation cards with my mums, offering important reassurance through any confidence struggles and changes in pace, such as;
‘I am moving forward with ease and purpose’
‘I am the best Mother for my baby’
‘I am welcoming new beginnings into my life’
‘I am receiving all good things’
My work this month has felt in tune with clients’ changing needs and expectations, recognising any fluctuations in the equilibrium, keeping the dialogue open, asking questions and getting curious, as they notice more developmental changes in their babies, as well as themselves. These little humans are getting stronger, becoming more active as they grow, more awake and engaged. Scars are healing, hormones settling, feeding is more established and new patterns might be emerging in babies day, behaviours changing; like separation anxiety, amounts of daily and nightly feeds, all affecting different rhythms and how the day flows. Menu plans have phased into lighter meals, as the freezer groans with previously made hearty stews and casseroles, a never ending supply of nourishment. Giant couscous and roasted mediterranean veg, fresh courgette and pea soup, chicken broth with lemon and apple cider vinegar, stored in the wonder that is ‘pour and store’ bags from Lakeland! Just as the seasons are in constant flux, so is motherhood and its nutritional menu!
This has applied to my health too, with another routine PET scan this week, just as Doula UK released a podcast I was involved with. A while ago Leila Baker, Head of membership and one of the directors of Doula UK, got in touch to ask if I would like to chat to her about my experience with motherhood and cancer. Opening up this conversation is something I am passionate about and raising awareness of families going through cancer diagnosis’s while pregnant or in the postpartum period, is becoming more relevant as the age of a diagnosis gets younger and the age of first time mothers gets older. The type of support needed for this unique group of parents is growing, but its still not enough. World Doula Week this month, used the theme of Then and Now, encouraging all doulas to talk about their journeys to this work. Both the podcast and this, gave me another opportunity to reflect on how much I struggled in my own postnatal period, with breast feeding, fatigue, fear of recurrence, body image and anxiety and how this brought me to doula’ing and drives me to support women processing any adversity.
Listening back to it (which I hate, who likes listening to their own voice?!) I was reminded how far I have come, tuning me into the seasonal theme of ‘starting over’. This is as much, if not more, of a new year than January, as nature reflects new starts as life blossoms around us. I feel proud of my story, who it has made me and all it has taught me. I took the plunge and got my first (and only!) tattoo this month too, joining #teamlighteningbolt, for anyone to remind themselves of their bravery facing something that has tested their strength and determination. At my forty something years, I decided if I was going to do something that might resemble a very mild mid life crisis, this would be it! I do surprise myself sometimes!!
Next month I will be supporting a client through hypnobirthing course with the wonderful Sarah Doman. Due to a second pregnancy with hyperemesis gravidarum, this antenatal space to process how far they have come, while navigating the emotional roller coaster and all it brings, is an opportunity to fully embrace the third trimester, considering the birth and optimum postnatal periods. We have started mindful relaxation exercises, using brilliant scripts from Anna Le Grange’s Mindful Breastfeeding course, that I did during lockdown, as well as using my Doula Deck by Lori Bregman, with brilliant prompts for calm and connecting practices, affirmations and visualisations during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. I am excited to watch as the seeds she plants, during this time of pregnancy, will reach for the sun and bask in its warmth in a few months time, flanked by her steadfast bespoke ‘mummy tribe’.
Rebecca Robinson, an author and meditation teacher sent her new and updated newsletter this month, suitably quoting the old proverb ‘March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb’. Let this be a reminder to us all, to strive for a balance of courage and gentility, spirit and modesty as we grow into April and all its abundance. As William Wordsworth conveys as he finishes his lament to the daffodil;
‘For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.'
Good things are coming and there is lots to look forward to!
March Recipes I have been cooking;
Giant couscous with mixed roasted mediterranean veg (my own made up. Keep an eye on the recipe on my Instagram stories!)
Salmon and pesto parcels (as above!)
Pea, courgette and chilli soup (The Happy Kitchen)
Earl Grey bundt cake
Marmalade and carrot cake (from Sainsburys magazine)
Vegan chocolate cookies (The Modern Baker)
March Playlists & meditations I have been listening to;
Wheel of The Year meditations: Ostara/Spring Equinox by Sarah Robinson on Insight Timer app
New Moon Zodiac minis-Virgo by Sarah Robinson on Insight Timer app
Spring Equinox / New Moon” Rebirth and Transformation by Violet Flame on Insight Timer app
Full Moon Magic playlist on Spotify
Go Your Own Way album by Fleetwood Mac
Gracelands by Paul Simon
Enchantment by Katherine May (on audible)
Sacred Seasons by Kirtsy Gallagher
Simple Things Magazine ‘Stir’ April edition
Wheel Of The Year by Erin Bruce, online course
‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ poem by William Wordsworth
A rest amidst the winter to early spring transition, a snatched breath, a half way milestone of the school year and an opportunity to seek out every extreme of season possible, from snow covered mountains, sun drenched beaches or rain soaked staycations, where dogs and children alike are dragged sullenly around National Trust Gardens or run hyperactively between soggy sarnies and warped wooden playgrounds.
This month can feel like an unnecessary palette cleansing sorbet, neither a main course or dessert! Wetting our appetites for full spring revival, standing on the cusp cautiously tying up the last loose ends of winter. However, in the world of postnatal recuperation, I have noticed how these ‘fill in’ months are just as important to a woman’s wellbeing, as any of the other ones.
The festival of Imbolc celebrates the returning of the light and the increasing energy of the sun during the first few days of February. There can be a continuing quiet time for reflection, be-ing inward and taking notice of what is happening around us. Falling forty days after Christmas and the birth-day of Jesus, there is a reflection of the first forty day postpartum, especially since Christians consider this a time of ritual purification for the new mother Mary. In Celtic tradition, Brigit, the maiden, the keeper of fire has become her virgin self again and as Glenni Kindred writes in ‘Sacred Earth Celebrations’, ‘the fertile power of the young female represents the power of the unconscious and the spark of intuition from within’.
Change and growth are afoot and this can sometimes feel unsettling. The familiarity of winter is giving way, a new energy is growing. On my regular morning walks, skeleton fallen leaves recently blanketing wooded pathways, disintegrate back into the earth, bulbs pushing through to bask under brighter skies, snowdrops peppering common ground and daffodils emitting their unmistakable perfume, while new pollen intensifies its strength and starts to tickle. Alice Tatham observes a similar change in her article in the Simple Things Magazine this month, 'In spring the gateway is framed with bursts of white blackthorn blossom and green shoots and buds. As the days get longer and the light gets brighter, the wildflowers lining the path are a welcome sight.' We are mulching, nurturing the seeds we planted, letting them germinate, preparing inwardly for the more active western lifestyle of do-ing that is so inbred in us. I have definitely noticed a gradual moving away from deep hibernation for my clients, conscious of how this coincides with the postnatal healing and reclaiming of energy.
While I write, from a beautiful half term break in the Florida keys, it is deep spring; sunny, warm with a cool breeze in the evenings, a stark difference to temperatures at home, yet, my body and mind are still not fully awake. I have tricked myself into an abrupt and early departure from hibernation and this feels so apt considering the state of body and mind for a new mother as she sees her baby for the first time, holds them close and realises that this tangible life is now totally physically and emotionally dependable on her.
Like a rush of water as winter ice melts from the mountains, thundering downstream, twisting through rapids and furiously escalating before falling over the edge of an immense waterfall, it can feel like a breathless surge of responsibility. What is often considered the most natural transition, can feel the most overwhelming and challenging, add to that lack of sleep and complete exhaustion, it feels as if life has literally changed over night.
Joely Hulin’s spiritual almanac promotes the theme of self love this month, in contrast with the widely known festival of Saint Valentine and loving others. However, self love is not a-light-a-candle-and-take-a-long-bath care, or an arrogant conceitedness, it is not rooted in expensive spa days or narcissistic self importance. When a new mother feels vulnerable, overwhelmed and a victim to the uncontrollable surge of hormones rushing through her body, just like that river, at a time when she craves stability, safety and love the most, self love can merely be a form of self respect; laying boundaries for herself. It is an ongoing inside practice, growing with our own experiences and understanding of adversity and as bystanders, postnatal doulas can recognise when a new mother is putting her basic needs to the bottom of the priority list.
Any pre baby dreams of pottering around the house with freshly washed hair, fresh faced and made up, eating a self made poke bowl while baby sleeps soundly in her bassinet are more often than not, wishful thinking! When the chips are down and a new mother is caked in spit up, wearing two week old pjs with a boob hanging out, while chipping hungrily at her older child’s concrete weetabix, left over from last nights tea, it is an acute case of survival and self preservation. This is where real postnatal support can contribute massively to loving oneself, an affirmation to a new mother that she and her babies deserve to thrive, not just survive.
When I attended a love themed sensory workshop with Ati Balding (@Surreyhillswellness) at the start of the month, I was reminded of this. A circle of women, different ages and stages of their lives, coming together, giving themselves a time to focus on themselves and planting seeds of self love, making nests for little Russian dolls, representing themselves, from dried rose petals and leaves from seasonal branches. An exercise in self worth and self nurturing.
The awareness for women’s circles is re-emerging in communities recently. Throughout history women would retreat together at the time of menstruation, to a specific space created in order for them to rest, support one another and go inwards. There was a prolific awareness of the connection between nature and the feminine cycle. It was said that women were at their most powerful during the time of menstruation and just as the seasons can represent the female cycle, as we approach spring, nature signifies the approach to pre ovulation; a time of resurfacing and renewal after the winter of menstruation. We are preparing to re engage with the world, to laugh, play and ‘embrace the magical child within’ (Stella Tomlinson, Cycles of Belonging)
I went with a great friend who is a hypnotherapy teacher as well as client, with two children under four. Considering our differing stages of motherhood, it felt significant sharing this time, honouring where we both are in our journey’s, saluting the women we are, having fun, playing and be-ing led by Ati in soothing self massage, meditation and loving movement.
Our energies are frequently drained by self judgment and criticism, so February is the perfect time to reflect and transform that negative inner voice into one of kindness and compassion. Using the seasons to lean into times of struggle and challenge, noticing the relationship between the natural world and how it is also changing, is hugely comforting. Drawing on all levels of support when things feel tough is a strength, not a weakness. Rebecca Beattie talks about this in her book ‘Wheel of The Year’, explaining how ‘when we sense the expanse of the universe as a loving force instead, we can start to let go of some of our fear of failure, giving ourselves a more nurturing base from which to build’. It truly takes a village, and I realise that seeking and asking for help might actually be the most purest act of self love.
And when Turkey suffered two major earthquakes measuring 7.8 and 7.5 on the richter scale, causing no end of devastation and loss of life, human beings pulled together to offer relief and aid to those in need. One story that stood out was of a new born baby girl pulled alive from the wreckage of her home, ten hours after the earthquake hit, with her umbilical cord still attached to the mother, who, along with the father, four siblings and aunt, had all perished. This baby may never know her mother in person, but the life she gave her and continued to give her, up until moments before she was found, is absolute selfless love. Her life is a miracle. It can feel emotional, grasping the profound power of this basic maternal need to be attached to our children, to life, even when there is only one heartbeat. A primal force of nature that vibrates around us consistently, whether we are aware of it or not.
This periodic energy and attachment has been mirrored through my clients too. A new family enjoying the last few days of a months paternity leave, hibernating together; consistent skin on skin, baby wearing on both parents, slow paced breast feeding, long winding cuddles, co sleeping, tag teaming, low lighting, seasonal bouquets heralding the new arrival, long warming baths and limited visitors, all contributing to the most idyllic start to their fourth trimester. It has been a joy to witness, while being able to hold this mindful transition with calming breastfeeding meditations, nutritious smoothies, batch cooking nurturing soups and stews using fibrous sweet potatoes, carrots and pulses and iron rich organic meats. Managing fresh laundry and baby wearing to enable both parents to top up on sleep after unsettled nights. I have offered reassurance, understanding and invited other post natal professionals into the mix, to cover holiday time, share their expertise with breastfeeding and osteopathy, among others, where my learning has also deepened.
In this last week, there has been a shift. Smiles and gurgles, more engagement, more activity, movement, reviewing babies latch, a spell of mastitis, trying other feeding positions, introducing a bottle and expressing so family can feed and take over. Adapting to natural milestones. Mum is more physically independent, they and baby are gaining confidence, taking their own steps forward. Nature is again reflecting back to us. The flowers are not yet ready to bloom but there is readieness. These opposing forces are reminiscent of this time of Imbolc, ‘a time at which such opposing - or complementary, depending on your perspective - elements sit side by side: fire and water; light and dark; life and death.’ - (Wheel of the Year by Rebecca Beattie) Growth is a slow process but there is so much love in the learning. It is wonderful to watch these slow, magical steps in each mothers unique journey.
Just as winter draws to a close, one clients hours have come to a natural end, which comes with a familiar mix of emotions and later this week, as March arrives with lighter skies, there will be one less morning of work as another client reduces her hours, while another approaches her due date. I am aware of a slight resistance of my own in succumbing to the slow nature of this ‘in between’ and admit that balances have felt off in my own routine. I am currently sitting in my purple chair on the chemo ward in hospital, awaiting the next course of monthly treatment and I am offering my own self, love; being mindful of how caring for others should be in balance with caring for our own families and self. The cycles that occur in nature, in our work, in a babies physical and mental development and in a new mothers physical and emotional wellbeing continuously change, morphing so subtly and profoundly, it is an immense privilege to witness and watch as these seeds, planted with so much love, thrive right in front of our eyes.
February Recipes I have been cooking;
Lamb Curry (The Happy Kitchen by Rachel Kelly)
West African peanut stew (Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen)
Salmon and Broccoli traybake (The Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer)
Cheesy Muffins (Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen)
Dhal (my own recipe!)
Peanut millionaire shortbread (The Fodmap Friendly Kitchen by Emma Hatcher)
Berry smoothies with spinach and chia seeds
February Playlists I have been listening to;
Spring Light playlist from Simplethingsmag (Spotify)
Comfort Sounds playlist (Spotify)
Stranger Things Soundtrack
Evermore by Taylor Swift
Wheel of The Year by Rebecca Beattie
Sacred Earth Celebrations by Glenni Kindred
We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker (on audible)
Enchanted Journeys by Sarah Robinson
‘Each season is completely different,’ said Big Panda, ‘yet each has its wonders.’
‘Just like us’, grinned Tiny Dragon'
- 'Big Panda and Tiny Dragon' By James Norbury
As January 2023 drew to a close, the tiny creative sparks in my head, subdued and not so much burning, but recently dimly simmering, and feeling almost non existent, unexpectedly burst into flames.
I had a strong desire to blog again. I love writing and with a new year and my recent fascination with seasonal living, I felt inspired to bring a focus to my monthly musings of being a postnatal doula, to explore how seasonal influences can effect the fourth trimester, and the healing and adjustment process for all new mothers within the first year of babies life, as well as those of us working as birth workers and as doulas.
For us, Christmas came and went in the blink of an eye, just like always, and, as the Twixmas confusion blurred our sense of time and reality, the recycling bins groaned as loudly as our over stretched stomachs and New Years offered another chance at redemption, December fizzled out like a deflating balloon, and we escaped to Devon to re group, get a change of scene and try to hold onto some semblance of sanity!
It was never going to be a thirty degree sun drenched break, but the wild winds and sheet rain brought a welcome freshness to the end of another year. On the 31st December the beach was a drab and soggy vista, but one I could walk the length of in half an hour while the dog played joyously in the waves. On January 1st, the new years swim was put on hold for fear of being swept out to France and the beach was split in two by a steep bank of sand either side of a torrent of water from the causeway, slashing a deep and violent vertical scar across the bay, from the crossing bridge to the sea. I only wish I had a time lapse of natures temper tantrum that night!
I posted a new years greeting on my social media, perhaps more because I thought I should, rather than actually wanting to, as the psychological pull of social media played tug of war with Mother Natures persistent whispering in my ear, encouraging me to switch off and simply listen to her natural rhythms, reminding me that just because the year changed, didn’t mean I actually had to.
And, as Instagram churned out the usual January reassurances, I returned to my own grounding; reading paper books, turning real pages, journalling with notebooks and pen and though inspiration felt thin and muted, there was contentment and acceptance that this was enough. There didn’t need to be a rush of colour and activity because well, nature was still fast asleep. So why weren’t we?
In this month, and as we move from deep winter solstice towards the festival of Imbolc, my post natal work has started its own renewed cycle, guiding and easing a new mother into this miraculous transition, reflecting that of the archetypal maiden to mother, inviting a preparation for the start of the inhale as it forms like a small wave at the base of the stomach, and for pre ovulation in the cycle of menstruation. Stella Tomlinson, author of my biggest obsession, ‘Cycles of Belonging’, writes,
‘This is your time to resurface, renewed and refreshed after your inner winter of menstruation. Its as if a fire has been rekindled within you. Your life force re emerges like the fiery sun regaining its strength and warmth in spring, bringing life back to your inner landscape.’
As doulas we can facilitate this renewal and strength, that a new mother can embrace as she recovers from childbirth and enters the fourth trimester. The stage of pregnancy, where her body has worked so hard on a deep cellular level, to make a baby and then birth a new life, slides like mercury from do-ing to be-ing, her body and mind morphing into a time of adjustment, healing and bonding. Not yet Spring, but signs hinting at warmer temperatures, lengthening days and brighter skies; crocus heads peeking out from the undergrowth, daffodils, hesitantly splashing the permitter of roadside flowerbeds with bright bursts of yellow like a cheery mexican wave, and early frosts melting as soon as the early morning sun stains the grass with her luke warm rays.
As I returned to existing clients and started with a new one, in the early January, I reminded them of this. The huge sense of pressure cast upon us, like a spell, at this time of year, is a veil, distorting the natural state of the seasons. It is an obvious bi product of our society and the wellness marketing bombardment we are saturated with towards the end of December and well into the first month of a year. While this evil rival to all things natural and cyclical, waves her wand and hypnotises us to the lure of perfection and improvement, I have noticed how new mothers are on the one hand empowering themselves to proactively find themselves the right support to make their postnatal experience more positive and nurturing, while on the other, resisting the natural vulnerabilities that come with the postpartum recovery process, unnecessarily causing them to feel drained, guilty and totally incompetent, but as Katherine May observes in her stunning book Wintering, 'Over and again, we find that winter offers us liminal spaces to inhabit. Yet, still we refuse them. The work of the cold season is to learn to welcome them.'
It is the yin and yang of motherhood, the light and dark, the feminine and masculine of be-ing and do-ing and January, once again, felt like a melting pot of all of it.
In The Spiritual Almanac (my constant bedside reading) Joey Hulin’s theme for this month is Rest.
She says, ‘Rest simply isn’t valued in our busy, accumulative culture, and so we plough on in earnest despite feeling exhausted’.
This couldn’t resonate more for the month of January. Working with new mothers, I recognise the fatigue and conflict that the idea of rest creates, like a low grey mist descending over their eyes, but I have been actively encouraging clients to surrender, suggesting they connect with nature from the safety of the sofa and melt into these milky days with a willingness and resignation, as and where possible. Just looking out the window each day can help tune in with the senses, which in turn can ground and calm the nervous system, lowering the hormonal surges of cortisol and adrenalin that can often come hand in hand with these early days. As Sophie Fletcher prescribes in her book Mindful Mamma, 'A simple grounding technique to use is connecting to the world around you through your senses. When your mind is focused on one real and present thing, it brings you back to the moment and helps you to re-centre yourself'.
It has been my intention to advocate for the gentle healing that can come instinctively with a January postpartum. The month lends itself to an inherent slow, nurturing and cosy nesting, while a family beds into life with baby. It is beautifully mirrored in nature at this time of year; the frozen ground and foggy mornings reflecting the rough, fuzzy, discombobulated sleep deprived thought patterns, heavy fatigued bodies crying out for a warm drink to melt the aching muscles, lubricating raw, tacky scarring inside and out. A primal urge to snuggle under soft duvets as baby sucks and swallows, channeling every ounce of energy into providing nourishment to this tiny life. Dressing gowns like blankets of feathers draped around the shoulders of a mother as she cradles baby, bonding, connecting, stimulating oxytocin to flow like liquid gold from one to the other, thawing any resistance or fear, a reminder of the power of the mother and child bond while they nest, here, in this bubble.
Cherishing these restful sophorose days with soft postnatal massage for those clients who request it, using woody, earthy oils and aromatherapy like frankincense, cedar and sandlewood, to soothe, ground, settle and comfort, using the senses of smell and touch, as well as listening, playing a background of low chakra based music, creating a quieter, less word cluttered mental space, letting the mind breathe, as well as the lungs and diaphragm. The noises of motherhood in the early days sometimes feeling overwhelmingly loud; a newborn cries in the early hours, piercing what was a familiar ambience, like nails on a chalkboard, heightening the vulnerable and sensitive new mother load, in the darkest, deepest hours of the night. It is a return to simple basic human needs for love, warmth and nourishment, for mother and baby.
Nutrition and food, the perfect medicine for weary and touched out bodies. Many sessions have involved cooking warming and earthy meals while mum rests between feeds, while baby wearing, keeping baby upright, easing any wind and discomfort and helping regulate baby’s heart and respiratory rate. Root vegetables, leeks and spices, homemade broths and soups full of goodness to warm the blood, raise iron levels, promote healing in the body and functioning organs, hydrating and rejuvenating body and mind and leaving wholesome nutritious food for a meal, ready to warm in an oven, with the minimal of effort and fuss.
Snacks have included non refined, oat’y flapjacks with dried apricots, cranberries and delicate almonds, pumpkin muffins full of fibre and roughage to help the digestive system function regularly. My chocolate balls always a constant favourite and well deserved decadent midnight feast, while baby feeds in the wee hours. Always there, stoking the fire and letting it smoulder, gently, embers glowing, just like a mothers heart.
It has been a busy month with a three day first time baby, my HomeStart family and a client and her three month old, who I started with last year, as well as launching the Motherspace Farnham group at a gorgeous new venue hosting mothers with babies ranging from new born to early crawling. With these differing dynamics and stages, I am reminded of the corresponding state of flux, the constant changes in development and needs, not just for baby, but in the mothering journey too; the new born haze, the two to six week changes to the twelve week changes and onto the demands of a one year old with downs syndrome. It is incredibly humbling to walk with these families, through all these moments, experiences and challenges, and as January has ebb’d and flowed, surreptitiously, I see these ups and downs and I commend their efforts, reminding them whenever I can, that they are enough.
Through it all, I have been continuously swaying (not just with clients babies!) between be’ing and do’ing, and because of the constant to and fro, I have been trying to ‘do’ mindfully. I watch my teenage daughter navigate a new landscape, supporting her as she enters a world of menarche and womanhood, new friendships, high energy and sport, constant stimulation and here, I recognise a new chapter starting in my own mother-hood. Her emotional needs are heightened, her need for grounding and boredom, like an ignored thirst, and my role to supply litres of metaphorical hydration and respite, waiting here, on the sidelines, cheering her on while finding ways to subtly console and empathise. I am earning a new language and my own self doubt has needed a talking down on a daily basis. My motherhood journey now traversing steep uphill terrain and rocky mountain paths but I am lacing up my heavy duty walking boots and loading my backpack!
As we transition again into a new month, there are the continuous ribbons of narrative that nature weaves across the monthly fault lines and new beginnings. There may be different colours, lengths and textures but they all tell a never ending story. What will the next month tell us? x
January Recipes I have been cooking;
Roasted vegetable quiche
Butternut squash and sweet potato stew
Chicken, broad bean and rice bake
Sweet potato and coconut soup
Dried Apricot and ginger flapjacks
Pumpkin oat bran muffins
Peanut butter and banana smoothies
January Playlists I have been listening to;
Living Waters by Alexa Sunshine Rose
Rest by SimpleThingsMag (Spotify)
Nature Sounds for Sleep: Kids (Spotify)
January Reading (or listening on audible!)
Wintering by Katherine May
Cycles of Belonging by Stella Tomlinson
The Spiritual Almanac by Joely Hulin
Mindful Mamma by Sophie Fletcher
They say if you do something that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
I would have laughed in Marc Anthony’s face if he had ever said that to me in person ten years ago. As glamorous as my previous jobs sounded, working as a PA in the film industry, I was constantly tired, surrounded by a large lump of ego and spent the best part of my life people pleasing. In my naivety I wandered what wasn’t to love (there were definitely elements that I miss now) but as I have grown (and lets say it) matured, I definitely appreciate how I was working to live, rather than living to work.
However, this appreciation has never been so blindingly obvious as the last few months.
Some of you may follow my @samspaceslifeaftercancer account on Instagram and gathered that I had a ‘bit of a blip’ before Christmas, when a scan came back showing a small suspicious area in my sternum. After what felt like another mini lockdown of my own, of waiting and not knowing, I had surgery in December and the results that came back in January showed that one of the lymph glands was showing early signs of oestrogen receptive breast cancer. It is a secondary from my second diagnosis but it chalks my total up to four breast cancer diagnosis now and, if I am honest, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about that!
Experiencing this during an ongoing pandemic, I have learnt so much; about myself, about others, and the importance of my work in keeping me sane! I have also noticed the elements that have made it much harder to process and manage, and listening to the dialogue and conversation around new mothers and ‘lockdown babies’, and shining a light on the importance of support during the post natal period is something I feel so passionately about.
During the first pandemic I, like so many others, took the moral high ground and full advantage of the warmer weather; appreciating nature, living in the countryside and basically counting every single blessing I could think of. As we all listened attentively to the news, adjusting to this new way of life, home schooling and navigating our way around Zoom; either hiding our Tesco PJ bottoms in business meetings or delegating quiz rounds while getting slowly tipsy on an ever decreasing supply of gin, we were actively thinking out of the box and determined to make things work.
Fast forward to lockdown three and the novelty has most definitely worn off!
All of the above are now a normal way of life and nearly a year on, society is recognising the mild to the serious symptoms of the fall out.
In a study by The University of Alberta, the rate of maternal depression ‘increased to forty one percent from fifteen percent after the pandemic began and the number of women expediting moderate to high anxiety symptoms has risen from 29 per cent to 72 per cent.’ (The Independent Sunday June 21 2020)
Any woman who had a baby in the last twelve months would have experienced a very different postnatal period than before the pandemic. Limited midwife visits, different antenatal departments in different hospitals or buildings, fewer in person coffee mornings with less mums to chat to and meet, not being able to explore a new social life for her or baby, higher levels of lonlieness and isolation and next to no external support from extended family if they were not in a bubble. It has been hard. Really really hard.
Even during the first lockdown last year I could sense the ever increasing black hole of new mothers falling through the cracks, as well as those needing surgery and medical attention for serious illnesses and diseases. We didn’t want to get checked, or make a fuss, in case it put more pressure on the NHS.
As a post natal doula I watched the conversations on social media and my heart broke for all the new mothers missing out on breast feeding support, postnatal self care and all the game changing conversations they could be having. We turned to the internet and we did what we could. We offered virtual support, zoom Mother Space sessions, over the phone chats and therapy. We invested in special lights and gadgets so we could video demonstrations and run workshops and the community came together, as it always does, to support each other while we juggled working from home with home schooling and, well, lockdown life.
Supporting a client virtually was not my first choice, but being given the opportunity to help a new mother on FaceTime and over the phone was an education. I worked through my case study for my TBR 3 Step Rewind over the phone too. The skills needed to really listen came into force and being able to hold space for a client through a screen may have been very different from face to face, but it still had so many benefits.
Being pro active at a time like this also helped me broaden my skill set and thanks to the postnatal community I started a mindful breastfeeding course. I was determined to feel a little more confident in this area and being able to focus on something that could help me grow as a post natal doula, was wonderful.
Working in an environment where new life is such a focus was also a huge positive. Celebrating a new baby and all the joy that that can bring to a mother, and their families, regardless of whether they can visit straight away, was precious. Once restrictions lifted and I was able to physically be with clients, I was like a puppy. It was so exciting to be able to sit and chat, to make nourishing fresh meals, to guide them in relaxations in person and physically hold the baby so they could rest. It was pure magic.
While the weather stayed dry and warm, Laura and I began hosting The Guildford Mother Space sessions again, giving clients and other new mums the opportunity to socialise with other mums in the same boat, while taking full advantage of all the baking my daughter and I had had so much time for! There were so many mums emailing to get details, Laura and I began offering more sessions just so we could include as many as we could within the rule of six rule and socially distanced walking around my village.
The energy we had to reframe the frustration was in huge supply. We had had time to rest and reflect on our goals and intentions and we were ready to put this all into action.
So, when my scan results came through and I was plunged into no mans land of waiting for a plan of action, I was reminded again of how so many new families and mums would have been feeling. The image of a giant pause button floated in my head and the irony was, I didn’t feel so isolated after all.
When my current client gave birth to her baby four weeks ago, I had had my own recovery time. I had been nourished and nurtured, I had rested and reflected and I had taken time to heal and build my strength again. I had been looking forward to this job for a few months, especially since the family live five doors down from my home and are the most gorgeous family. It has been a total tonic.
As doula’s our own personal experiences shape so much of the type of support we offer our clients. My experience as a new mother, my health experiences, even down to the way I was mothered, have all become the building blocks of my role as a care giver and support worker.
And so has cancer. This fourth diagnosis has been a light of its own. It has given me more patience, more focus and a deeper appreciation for the little things. It has also made it possible for me to have the first Covid vaccine, which was a very momentous occasion. It has given me a bigger light to shine.
It is a beautiful thing, to be able to shine a torch into the darkness, not just for others but for ourselves. We all have a light, every single one of us and at times like these, it is so important to shine it into every far corner. My work as a post natal doula is my brightest light. It has fulled my energy to recover, it has given me a purpose, it has given me the tools to reflect on my own healing journey and nourish myself to keep me strong, and it has made me a more sensitive parent and more understanding supporter.
I never imagined I would consider this work, my little light, but the image of Florence Nightingale, the ‘Lady of the lamp’ flashes into my mind and reminds me every day that what each of us bring to this role, is unique and special and can make such a huge difference to a new family and a new mother, as we pass the baton of motherhood and solidarity.
Diary Entry 7 - A reflection of how the Corona Virus could help us understand the true value of the postpartum period.Read Now
I took myself for a walk today.
Maybe it was the weather or just the peace and quiet, but I could literally feel Mother Earth throbbing, pulsating in the morning sun, like the wings of a hovering kestrel I could see, preying on his breakfast.
As I reflect on the last two weeks of this global state of isolation, all I can sense is the most exhausted mother of them all finally slowing down and healing.
As a human race, we are currently at our most raw, stripped of the decadence, the material and the noise. Nature has grounded us, like some form of punishment. Maybe we ignored the warnings? Could it be she is ordering us to re-familiarise ourselves with the key essentials of living and self care? Whether or not this is true, we are slowly simplifying, all learning from an equal footing.
The Corona virus is pausing life as we know it. Businesses and livelihoods all over the world have come to a grinding halt and the human condition of overwhelm has reached new peaks, soaking up new pieces of information, social media hysteria and as with all unknowns, a sense of fear and anxiety.
Yet, as we grapple with this blanket state of uncertainty and unprecedented change, there are pockets of magic that nature will never pause. Women all over the world are still having babies and these little humans can bring such joy and innocence. Naturally, the postpartum period that follows birth, still plays a vital part in this process and it is here that we can draw so much comfort, mirroring nature and tuning into the basic instincts of the body as it heals.
Our Western attitude towards this period of recovery for a new mother has often been overlooked yet there is increasing awareness of the diverse ways other cultures celebrate and mark the arrival of a new baby and the transition to motherhood. There are five 'ingredients' that can create the ideal postpartum environment and in this current climate I have been reflecting on these and how it is impossible to ignore the fundamental foundations of healing and how this pandemic might actually help remind us of this.
The postnatal doula community are adjusting and adapting to continue supporting new mothers. It has never been more important to hold a space for her and if that means we do this remotely, drawing on all of the amazing resources before us, we will. Our physical roles may be limited but the emotional and practical support is not. There are still reassuring words to speak, listening ears and the ability to guide and signpost new mothers as they navigate this transition to motherhood, using these 'ingredients' to build a beautiful postpartum plan, within a world suspended in time and motion.
So while the earth continues to turn and a greater healing process begins, just as hearts still beat and plants still grow, the beauty of rest being one of the main requirements of the fourth trimester, is clear. A lack of rest, for a new mother, can cause stress on the adrenals, preventing them from normalising which, in turn, can cause fatigue, weight gain and lack of sleep and the joints and soft ligaments need protection from raised hormones. A new mother needs a sanctuary, a refuge where she can recover with quiet, re-orientating her mind, letting go of the less important things, nurturing her wellbeing and disconnecting from distraction. In this current global state, the pressure is officially off! Though the limitations of no family visits are challenging, this isolation brings a precious time of family bonding. It is an exclusive opportunity to connect and revel in a slow pace with no external expectation.
Warmth is another vital element of the postpartum phase. A new mother can preserve her energy and optimise her healing process by staying cosy. It is a state of hibernation, cocooning, that everyone is currently surrendering to, but no bad thing for a new mother! Warmth encourages stillness, bonding, cleansing and healing. Warm baths, cosy blankets, cuddles, feeding in bed and drinking herbal teas.
Resting and warmth provide a deep emotional and physical nourishment. During a period of confinement prioritising nourishing meals and snacks help strengthen all that a post natal body needs to provide a new baby. Eating soft warm foods, bone stocks, soups, and natural foods can enrich breast milk and balance hormones, keeping mood high and energy calm. Cooking for a new mother can play a prominent part in the post natal doula role. Having a stocked freezer for homemade meals and being served nourishing lunches and snacks are a luxury for any new mother. Social distancing may be testing this specific part of the service, but as the boundaries shift and we adapt, we are exploring ways around this. (It may not be outside the realms of possibility to cook arranged meals and snacks and doorstep drops, if this is agreed between doula and client and complies with guidelines and local travel.)
A team to cushion and protect the mother is also important and in this environment it is even more so. Support comes in many forms, but having someone to talk and download to is paramount. Friends and family, though not physically there, can offer love and attention through virtual platforms and phone calls. Cards and letters can also bring so much comfort. Having a post natal doula on hand at this time, covid or no covid, can be so worthwhile. There is no judgment, no expectation and the network of other postpartum supports, whether breast feeding counsellors, lactation consultants, baby wearing supporters or just talking to someone about any trauma or anxiety, is invaluable. Building a mummy tribe online also offers immeasurable benefit. It takes a village! Whether this village is virtual or not, is not important. What matters is that a mother knows she has choices, that she can build on these connections as and when needed. The Guildford Mother Space group has now gone virtual and after a meeting last week, a lot of the mums said how helpful and reassuring it was.
While we have the gift of space, reconnecting with the things that bring happieness; be it music, reading, dancing, talking, writing, the 'ingredients' of joy and ritual within this precious time can infuse our time and reignite feel good vibes! Making a list of all the things we love to do and sticking them on the fridge is a reminder of the things that light us up when overwhelm and anxiety may feel over bearing. Finding inspiration and acknowledging the space you are in, is about acceptance, but it is also about being in the present moment. Gratitude practice, mood boards, journals, feet rubs, ceremony, gentle walks, all bring a sense of grounding and clarity, reconnecting with the mother of us all, whose whispers have become louder and who is reminding us of all of this.
To be a woman birthing and adjusting to motherhood during this Corona pandemic is to be a warrior, brave and strong. She is capable and trusts her body, as well as herself . She knows the team around her, whoever they may be, have her best interests at heart. She takes all of this with her through the birth process, through her time in hospital and back home, into her nest, her sanctuary, where she can refuel and recharge, feeding her baby and letting her body heal.
By shrinking the world, just a bit, things can feel easier, more manageable. Everything is simpler in bite sized pieces. Being in the moment, feeling everything that moment brings has been a life saver these past few days. By bringing it back to right now, there is a softness and maybe more importantly, a kindness.
These are unchartered waters and boundaries are shifting. Flexibility is key, for everyone. Our sense of control is being redefined. People are experiencing a groundlessness that is encouraging a collective re setting. Mother Earth, in all her power, is no longer whispering, and as I continued my walk today, all I could hear was the birdsong, branches creaking in the wind and creatures rustling in the undergrowth. It was a beautiful silence, one that brought much relief and trust that every mother, new or established, second or third time around, will find her way, just as nature proves every single time a mother is born. Women are being reminded to trust their instincts, have faith in their bodies ability to do what is right for them, have confidence in those working to help bring their babies into this world safely while keeping them protected, and believing in their ability to heal and relish their new families, owning their own unique birth story. As the world gets back to basics we are listening, to Mother Earth and ourselves. Finally.
Diary entry 6 - InductionRead Now
Thank you for everything 2019 - Hello 2020!
On the eve of 2019 morphing into 2020, I sat (rather soberly!) overlooking my favourite view on the Devon coast. What a year! I have done some incredible courses, worked for four wonderful new mums and their beautiful babies, met an inspiring doula community and all of this has taught me so much. I have actively been laying a major foundation during this first year of my post natal doula journey. It has been a time of growth, challenge and learning, each step supported and guided by my mentor.
Having had this regular review process has eased me in, giving me a guiding point of contact and making me part of a little team. Sometimes working independently can feel a little alienating and having set up my cancer support group totally off my own back, this was something I was slightly apprehensive about. The doula community, both online and in person, is the nucleus of this ever expanding body of women, breathing care and nurturing to all pregnant ladies and new mothers, giving me a new energy, welcoming and supporting me, offering advice, inspiration and new friendships (and how many Facebook groups?!) that have made me laugh out loud, offered reassurance in those moments of self doubt (of which there have been a few!) and most of all, highlighted, once again, the importance of self care.
Spending time nurturing, nourishing, holding space and offering a non judgemental ear are a doulas priorities, yet I have been aware how this impacts us on a personal level. With a young school age child I am still limited by school time perimeters and though this has worked well for me this year, the realisation of coming home and repeating these tasks for myself with far less appreciation, has been a huge learning curve! On the flip side, my recipe repertoire has increased ten fold, my menu planning a weekly ritual, my freezer organisation totally Instagram worthy and my culinary skills, though not quite worthy of a Michelin star just yet, are noticeably more tasty! As for multi tasking, well, I’m spinning plates in my sleep! Finding my own space to relax, sleep and rest has become a daily focus, even if just carving out time to walk the dog and get some fresh air! There seem to be more boxes to tick but I generally feel more productive and organised, which can be no bad thing!
One of the many noticeable observations I have made, has been the impact of new siblings on older children in the family. It would naturally affected the dynamic but I have been acutely aware of how the arrival of another baby can be another new territory for any mother. For a small child it can mean subtle regressions in sleep, toilet training as well as pushing boundaries, flexing muscles and asserting themselves, pushing buttons that, on top of everything else, can result in feelings of frustration and guilt for new mothers. For them to be able to release these feelings, vent and talk them through, while offering them reassurance, comfort and space, has felt like one of the most valuable services.
Not having wanted to focus on breastfeeding when I completed my doula course, I now feel it is an area I want to explore more carefully, mostly since it was breast cancer that led me to this role in the first place (You would think the clue was in the name!) It is also because this is such a huge part of becoming a mother. Whether she has firm ideas about breastfeeding or has a tentative plan pre baby, a post natal doula's role is to support a mother as she explores the options. If there are difficulties or complications it can be a real advantage to have some key knowledge so we can be more proactive and practical.
Seeing how well my clients have done with their own breast feeding journeys has been hugely positive. As babies have got older and some have made the switch to formula, it has been rewarding to observe mumma navigate her own way through, owning her decisions, signposting and supporting her as she transitions with confidence and a joy to witness babies development.
The area of babies growth has also been highlighted with my baby wearing, since the Boba wrap is now a permanent part of my wardrobe! One moment they are tucked in there, tiny and hidden, the next, they are craning their necks with FOMO, practically climbing out! Having them sleeping close while Mummy showers or rests, has been a favourite part of my doula role. It is like having a little hot water bottle tucked in my jumper and is lovely bonding time.
Learning about my own physical and emotional boundaries has been a big part of my self confidence this year. I feel passionately about connecting with women when they feel vulnerable and chemistry between a post natal doula and her client is paramount to a successful postpartum experience. However, I did not appreciate the importance of bonding with the babies too. Trust and responsibility are vital cornerstones of this role and by leaving a new baby in my care, while a mother rests or showers, is a privilege. I have also discovered my own boundaries between being a post natal doula versus a nanny. If I recognise that by playing a game with an older sibling for a few minutes, or taking them to the swings for half an hour, helps my client relax and gives her some space, it is something I feel I can be flexible with, but I have learnt that by making clear my main focus is the mother and her wellbeing, I have asserted my primary role.
Even my post natal doula admin has been a learning curve! This week I found myself editing my profile on the Doula UK platform, after reviewing how much needed to be updated. I have a clearer view of what this role involves for me now, what role I want to play in this doula community and what areas I want to explore going forward. I am also aware that there is so much more to supporting a mother postnatally, than making a few meals and holding the baby! My bone closing massage has been a huge awakening thanks to Sophie Messager and expanding my work in mental health, with Alexandra Heath and the Rewind Technique, has been invaluable. As with any journey, as a mother and a doula, each day presents new challenges, but we always have choices. Having awareness of this has not only been useful for me to remember, but is something I like to frequently remind my clients.
So far, my post natal doula journey has not only taught me so much more about motherhood and the intricacies of the postpartum phase, but it has also unearthed a deeper understanding of myself, as a mother and as a woman. Certain views have shifted, I am less judgmental, and I feel this is the most natural thing for me to be doing. It gives me a sense of purpose and my self worth is far greater. I consider it a blessing to share this time with new mothers but even more so, with the clarity I did not have myself when I became a mum. Oh how I would do things differently now, nine years later, but such is the gift of hindsight! Having the opportunity to hold a space for a women to share, download, heal and connect, as she slowly makes this transition, is a vocation and as my first clients baby turned one in December, I can, hand on heart, a year in, tell you that I love my job!
On the day I handed in my doula coursework, I remember how anxious I had been feeling, not just because this was such a big achievement for me, but also because I was about to go into hospital for a hysterectomy.
My course leader had been amazing and as we chatted, she asked if she could gift me a closing the bones massage once I was ready, to help healing and to process all that my amazing body had done so far and honour all it had been through.
I don’t think I really realised what I was saying yes to (!) but two months later, I lay on the floor of my bedroom and Zara performed the most beautiful massage and celebratory ritual that I have ever experienced. I had to learn how to give this treatment and I wanted to use it to deepen a women’s healing post labour, as well as offer to anyone needing nurturing.
Fast forward to this past weekend and I have spotify up loud, my flask of coffee steaming away next to me and a very comfy pair of trousers on, as instructed, as I drive up the A1 towards Cambridge, to do a days workshop with Sophie Messager.
I was excited and apprehensive. I had had to cancel this course twice before so it had been a long time coming and I wasn’t sure what to expect. On the one hand, it was completely out of my comfort zone. I had never trained in any massage. On the other, I was eager to start because I was so keen to offer it to my post natal doula clients, as well as the ladies in my cancer survivor support group.
On arriving, the sun had broken through the clouds and light streamed through the nursery school windows. It was the perfect setting, a converted church turned nursery and since two of the ladies had very small babies, there were quiet and comfy areas for them to sit with the little ones where they could feed on demand and in peace.
The decor was natural, with creative sensory decorations making it feel safe, as any nursery school should! Under a beautiful old bike wheel, made into a stunning dream catcher, was a bright round blanket with cushions all around and a couple of objects in the middle. We even got to have circle time!!!
I made my way to the kitchen to make myself a cup of good strong tea to ease me in. Now I was here, I felt a bit of out my depth. What if it was all a bit too alternative for me after all?
Sophie welcomed the group to the circle and we chatted about why we were all there and what we wanted to get out of the day. I always find these parts of a course slightly uncomfortable and having to introduce myself in a few words, makes me feel slightly tense, but being able to articulate exactly what I wanted to achieve was a good exercise for me and a reminder that anyone taking a course like this, was likely to be a caring person who wanted to help someone else feel nurtured!
Within moments the group began to open up, just like the desert flower that Sophie had put in the centre of the circle. Sophie explained how the day would proceed, giving out some booklets and we moved over to the mats and watched as she demonstrated the first few moves of the massage. We proceeded to get into pairs and took it in turns to rock each other in the rebozo’s. What a feeling! It felt wonderful! When was the last time any of us had been rocked? Adults just don’t get that kind of care!
The day continued in this way, Sophie showing us a few steps, picking a new partner from the ten of us and taking it in turns to practice. After lunch we performed the whole treatment on each other. Needless to say there were a lot of sleepy and very relaxed ladies afterwards!
Returning to the cushions we downloaded how we had all felt, both giving and recieving the massage. The general consensus was relaxed, cared for and nurtured! The barriers had dissolved and there was a great sense of openness, compared to the morning. After having to be fairly intimate, exposing our pelvis area and tummy’s to each other, any shyness and modesty had been well and truly parked outside!
There was a lot of chat about our desire, as a whole, to spread the word and take this type of treatment out into our local communities, encouraging women to embrace their femininity and celebrate their bodies, whatever shape, size, weight and amount of stretch marks! Personally, I felt it was one of the few times I have not felt self conscious. We were all women. Our goals and attitudes were naturally aligned as care givers, mothers, as well as women. There was a real sense of equality and womanhood. Our imperfections became our perfections and this treatment truly emphasised that. Everyone was deserving of this nurturing and reassurance. It was a joy to give and a joy to receive. To be looked after this way was such a novelty and yet, in so many countries around the world, it is so normal.
In many cultures, this practice is performed straight after the baby has been birthed. It is essentially pulling the pelvic bones and hip area back together after being opened so widely in pregnancy. In countries like Thailand the nurses come to bind and wrap this area before you get a cup of tea, and nurses will continue this wrapping every day for the next few days!
The sensations of being rocked, massaged, held and tightly wrapped are deeply comforting, healing and really powerful. While new mothers are busy adjusting to a new baby, thier bodies are recovering from natural labour, or surgery, and this takes a huge toll on hormones, bones, fluids and organs. The gentle massage helps release any remaining stress or tension, as well as relieve any emotional blocks after labour and pregnancy. It gently encourages the organs to move back to where they should be, it de crunches any tension crystals in the hip area that can build up from carrying weight in the pelvis during pregnancy, as well as stimulating blood flow and toning muscles and surrounding tissues.
It is so much more than a physical massage. It is a healing experience. It is a ritual, a celebration of a new chapter, as well as a meaningful way of closing a huge event in a woman’s life. Not only can it be used to help mothers after pregnancy and birth, but it can be used on anyone suffering from trauma, anxiety, menstruation and it can also be wonderful for children and teenagers.
To end the day, we performed a group bone closing on one of the two mummies in the group. Sophie laid out the rebozo’s in the colours of the rainbow and Mummy laid down with her head at the top on the purple rebozo and feet on the red. We all gathered around and Sophie read a beautiful poem to open the treatment.
She proceeded to wrap the head with the purple rebozo. We then each took the end nearest us, passed it across to the woman sitting opposite and tucked it tightly around her. Within moments she looked like a rainbow who would have been at home in a pyramid in Egypt! The spectacle of it was beautiful, especially in the afternoon sunshine streaming through the windows around us. She looked so calm and peaceful.
Sophie began to sing a stunning song that we all joined in with. These words were incredibly powerful and I remembered having them sung to me at the end of my own closing the bones last year. They made me cry back then and though I didn’t cry on this occasion, I was totally absorbed in the energy of the room. Just as I had felt when I was my sisters birth partner five years ago, the over whelming pride in our femininity washed over me. The strength, power, energy and general awesomeness of women was so apparent that some of us were literally vibrating! What with Sophie’s drumming then thrown in, we were all buzzing and the mummy wrapped in rainbow rebozo’s was so relaxed she was practically snoring!
I can’t recommend this course enough to any doulas who might want to bring another level of care and healing to their clients wellbeing. It was a wonderful life affirming experience for me on a personal level too. Though the rocking and massage can be hard work being floor based, it was 'work' that felt hugely rewarding and if any of my blood, sweat and tears can benefit another woman’s, well, that has to be real solidarity doesn’t it?!
For more information on this course, click here x