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;