On Friday we stopped breastfeeding.
31 months and 1 day.
2 years and 7 months and 1 day.
One of the longest, most rewarding, and most fulfilling jobs I have ever had. Yes : I said “jobs” – because whilst it was wonderful and tender and wrought with hormones and body doubt and body gratitude and self doubt and self care and self neglect and ideological ambition and realistic set backs and unwaivering perseverance and effortless ease and sublime miraculous grace : it was work. Holy work. I do see it as me having chosen to take on a job to nourish you, my child. A job commissioned by nature to fulfill as long as we both enjoyed the process and relationship of nourishing and nurturing / drinking and receiving. It was nourishment and nurturing of a complex and multifaceted nature. A journey and a relationship shrouded in blissful connection and sometimes underpinned by deep struggle. A journey that has naturally ended at the perfect moment; for both of us.
I still can’t quite believe that it is over; and to be honest it isn’t quite “over” as we are still talking about it between us: still touching Ninnie and feeling together how Ninnie is changing, laughing together at the incredulity of there being no more milk drinking. Ninnie is your name for my milky breasts – you know the word “breasts” but refer to my breasts (still now a few days later) as Ninnie.
If anyone would have told me when I was a few weeks pregnant that I would breastfeed you for this long I would have laughed in their face(!!!) I thought I would breastfeed for 9-12 months until you transitioned into food, and didn’t need the calories anymore….but then there you were, and my natural instincts blossomed and my rational mind was convinced after doing the research….and there you were: relishing the milk. Loving your safe haven from the exciting world, your body growing and flourishing so powerfully, your immunity and your health so strong – your desire to continue so palpable as each and every time you arrived at the breast your body relaxed and your nervous system reset.
We breastfed through a lot. We breastfed through our mutual recovery from a Caesarean birth after a long labour; for a few days we supplemented here and there as my milk supply came through – and despite the gruelling pumping schedule we breastfed through it. We breastfed through your Upper Lip Tie and for 9 weeks we breastfed with a nipple shield. We breastfed through the protracted death of my granny; your great grandmother. We breastfed through your first teeth, and your first mild fever. We breastfed through the arrival of each and every tooth that arrived – and at 12 months you had 14 teeth…each one bringing fresh chafing for my resilient nipples. we breastfed through the second level three day doula training I attended when you were 12 weeks old – your loving aunty bringing you at breaks and lunchtime. We breastfed through the flashbacks I started to have as part of the PTSD that was triggered in those first few months post partum; we breastfed through the ensuing migraines. We breastfed through a move to the UK for a few months; through the emotional rollercoasted that turned out to be. We breastfed through our happy return to Amsterdam. We breastfed through the first student births I attended, we breastfed through the “interuption to service” that the births and the hospital internships brought. You even had the privilege of breastfeeding from a friend whilst I was at the first full overnight birth. We breastfed through your first virus and your salmonella. We breastfed through your learning to walk and your increased sleep talking – thankfully no sleepwalking yet. We breastfed through the uncertain months of the beginning of self employment; me often reassured that whilst I wasn’t able to afford to put organic food and line caught salmon on our table as I had wanted – at least I could still offer you the breast -and that was as close to organic as it gets right?! We breastfed through your start at nursery, we breastfed through your decision to use the potty and the toilet. We breastfed though 2 years and 7 months of single parenting; and whilst a lot of parents in partnerships may not understand that there is a difference…that is no mean feat!
So how did it all come to an end?
On Friday night as we went about settling down for sleep after stories and tooth brushing; you said “Big Ninnie first” and out of nowhere I heard myself say “It is almost time to stop breastfeeding Jasper. You are a really big boy now, you can do so much for yourself, and Ninnie’s job is done – you don’t need to drink Ninnie anymore.” Your concern was initially mainly if you could drink from Ninnie tonight – naturally – your primary concern at 2y 7m is the present and immediate moment and the moment playing out in such a way that pleases you!!!
I cherished you as much as you would let me whilst you drank. I stroked your toddler head, your long blonde hair – totally different from the dark dark brown head of hair you were born with. I felt the size of your head; the solidity of it. I reminisced back to the first days of our journey when despite weighing 4.448kg at birth; you felt so tiny and fragile in my arms next to my blossoming bouncing balloon like breasts. I felt the full length of your little but solid toddler body next to mine and realised happily that you too will probably remember our breastfeeding journey in the longer term. This makes me so happy.
I have whispered into your ears at various points in the days since with tears in my eyes and my throat choked; “Ninnie will always love you – even though there is no more milk for you to drink; you can still put your head on the soft roundness and remember all the lovely milk you have enjoyed.”
The next night as we turned out the light after stories I invited you into my arm for a cuddle and you said; “Can I have Ninnie?” I smile in the half light (expecting the worst) and say “Oh no – we have stopped drinking Ninnie remember?” Tired after a lovely long day you say; “Oh yeah!” and lie back in your sheepskin.
Falling asleep the next afternoon; you are fidgetty and can’t get comfortable. You lie vertically on my body, your head over my heart, your arm outstretched over “Big Ninnie” (my right one) and fall asleep like that. I cherish the closeness; my heart hurting for you a little. Is it my projection or is this you searching for reassurance?
Last night you tried again – with a knowing and cheeky grin as you ask; “Can I have a little drink?” I laugh and say “Noooooo – the milk is gone now….”
“A tiny drink? A really really short drink?” you venture.
I reply with a clear voice defying my mental uncertainty; “Oh that would be so nice wouldn’t it; but Ninnie doesn’t have milk anymore – feel how wobbly they are now! They are very different now….” I’m half wondering if I should actually offer you some but the dread of the feeling of the dwindling milk being drawn up through the already very different feeling ducts persuades me not to(!)
I am so PROUD of you that you seem able to navigate this change with such confidence. Seeking out affirmations of our love and attachment, yes, but in what seems to be a secure manner. Our relationship is changing again – again! Oh how the wonderous journey of parenthood embodies the only certainhood we have in life: that nothing is certain – that nothing lasts forever.
In these last days of our breastfeeding journey (is it appropriate to say “The Wrap Up”?!?! Too soon maybe?!?!) I have laughed, I have cried, I have massaged and soothed my breasts in deep loving gratitude, I have reflected a lot on what the breastfeeding journey has meant for me, what I hope it has meant for you, and what it has meant for us as a mother and son. There are so many memories – some fleeting and funny, some raw and intense, some euphoric, some I have shared with others, some that will simply remain between you and I; and some that I hold close in my own heart just for me. It is also incredibly beautiful; that on the day that our journey stopped – the breastfeeding journey of a dear dear friend and her absolutely scrumptious newborn daughter began. The cycle continues!
I want to end with gratitude. Gratitude for you and your unwaivering determination from just minutes old, gratitude for your grunting and sucking and stroking and patting and burping and slurping, gratitude for my breasts and my body, gratitude for the healing nature of our “successful” breastfeeding journey after a birth journey that wasn’t what I had hoped for us, and last but not least – deep gratitude for all the people around us. The women, the dearest friends and family, the birthworkers and teachers, and the supporters who made our journey possible with their glasses of water, the delicious nibbles and snacks, the warming tea, the hand on the shoulder, the gentle reminders about techniques in those early days. Gratitude for their understanding when everything stopped so that I could sit down and nourish you; the knowing loving glances in cafes; the spoken words of tenderness, encouragement and support on the days when I was hollow eyed and “over it”; and everybody and every act of support in little and big ways since: THANK YOU.
I’m guessing you are here because your birth story included a Csection. Perhaps it was planned, perhaps not. Either way you are now healing from major surgery. OK, I know that technically speaking a Csection is not “major surgery” because the uterus – the giver and nurturer of human life – is not considered to be a “major” organ?!?! I am a woman, a mother, a feminist, and a doula in Amsterdam; and because I am writing this post we will define a Csection as major surgery here.
So you are healing from major surgery whilst also facing those intense cocooned days of living with your newborn baby, waiting for milk to come in, comforting and feeding your newborn baby, trying to remember to eat and drink enough yourself, not to mention your whole body and system recovering from 8/9/10 months of pregnancy…..
all. at. the. same. time.
Now, as many clients and friends will testify, I am a great believer and fan of the body’s ability to heal itself miraculously – but given that there is so much going on for you after having had a baby, a major surgery and a major rite of passage – a little helping hand to support it in it’s recovery and reacclimatisation can go a long way to a happy healthy postpartum period.
Here beneath you will find a comprehensive list of holistic healing tips to help your body, mind and soul heal and thrive following a Caesarean birth.
# Bed and bedroom # Rework it for practicality’s sake. Leaving the remarkable ease of a hospital bed with hoists and levers and buttons to raise you up and down to your heart’s content can be a big shock to the system. When you arrive home head straight to your bedroom with someone on hand to do the heavy lifting (in NL we are so lucky to have Kraamzorg for this support) and make the necessary adjustments.
- Make sure baby is close; to you and/or your partner. Consider safe co-sleeping to make sure they are really close. Having baby as close as possible will limit the moments where your heart might break a little bit as you are struggling to get up and reach baby.
- Get something to step up onto your bed if it’s high, something strong and sturdy to hold on to as you lower yourself if it is low.
- Set up an adequately sized bedside table (this may mean drafting in a larger or wider temporary table) which is big enough to house a big bottle of water, a tea pot full of tea (see below), a breast pump or a baby bottle, your mobile phone and it’s charger (maybe you will need an extension lead), a lamp suitable for use in the night, a muslin cloth, pain meds, and if there is any room left – a little bowl of healthy nibbles to be topped up by your loved ones every 12 hours – think fresh fruit, nuts, crackers, dried fruits, dark chocolate (it helps the oxytocin keep on flowing and boosts serotonin don’t you know?!)
# AIR to the wound as much as possible # Lie down whilst baby sleeps or is carried by your partner and just let clean dry air reach the wound – in the very immediate days that might mean that you need to hold the belly up off the wound as your body begins to reacclimatise to not having a full pregnant belly anymore. NB. If you have been advised to have the wound covered for the first 3 – 5 days – perhaps simply allow for 30 minutes to an hour in between dressing changes to let the air get to it. Please note I also advise against using a hair dryer to “blow dry” the wound. There can be all kinds of particles in the air, which when heated and concentrated into a directed stream of air toward the incision can be completely inconducive to successful wound healing.
# Nothing more than water! # In the first couple of weeks water is all that is needed to wash the wound; and the most important thing: dry it scrupulously (moist patches of skin can be breeding ground for fungal infection; see aromatherapy hacks for antifungal oils) – see the old cotton sheet tip hereunder – these strips can make soft, clean and reusable drying cloths too.
# Pain medication # Keep on top of the dose for the first few days. Double check with your healthcare providers if the pain relief you are prescribed is compatible with breastfeeding. Many medications work by building up a certain level in the blood; so when you take a dose set an alarm or get someone to remind you when you are due to take the next dose in order that your dose remains on an even keel and so that you don’t get caught unawares by intense pain.
# Big ‘Bridget Jones’ knickers # When lying naked in bed skin to skin with baby isn’t possible for whatever reason – big Bridget Jones knickers to the rescue. At least 5cm above your belly button (if you can find them!!!), 100% cotton, at least two sizes larger than you would normally wear (they will help keep the sanitary towels in place too!) and if you can bear it; have someone take a photo of you doing your most seductive hip shaking in these pants – so you never forget the comfort of these hip huggers!
# Rip it up # Additionally, tear up or cut up an old cotton sheet – get it washed in a hot hot wash (60 degrees plus) and tear it into strips about 15cm x 25cm in size, to fold or roll up and to tuck between your wound and the aforementioned Bridget Jones knickers.
# One step at a time # Keep moving. Slowly but surely, a little bit more each day. Keeping moving helps our whole body to heal, regulate and keep functioning optimally through good circulation and good flow of the lymph and other fluids. Keeping mobile can also help to prevent a build up of trapped gases. You don’t need to head out of the door if you don’t feel ready, but stroll around the house, if you have a garden have a wander in the garden. Don’t carry or lift anything heavier than baby though remember, and do what you need to do to help your body feel safe and supported; even if that means physically holding your abdomen with your hands as you walk for a few days.
# Sleep When Baby Sleeps # The original and best restorative modus operandi for our bodies. Potentially easier said than done with a newborn baby; so I mean it when I say “Sleep when baby sleeps!” The washing, the cleaning, the ironing, the phonecalls, the social media updates can all wait: sleep is where the healing is at!
# “It takes a village” # Every family needs extra help after the birth of a newborn, but following a Caesarean birth, with rest being as fundamental to physical healing as it is; organising a meal train, or someone to come and entertain siblings or the dog, someone to put a load of washing on and peg yesterday’s load out on the line (you get the idea) can really make a difference to your peace of mind and the logistics of those early weeks. I can’t speak for elsewhere but I know that here in Amsterdam and elsewhere within The Netherlands, we have some incredible mother-led communities and organisations being initiated by volunteers that are easily accessible for all. You can find the Postnatal Support Network of Amsterdam here, and I have no doubt that you will find someone in your area that can point you in the right direction for help and support. If not: reach out to friends. You can set up a WhatsAp or Facebook group for those friends in your circle who can offer some support and get used to asking for what you need during the coming few days, weeks and months.
Food & Drink
# Water Water Water # Aim to drink at least 2 litres of pure water a day (on top of teas and broths). This is essential for rehydrating after surgery and a hospital stay which can be notoriously drying for the body. It also helps prevent infection, flush out inflammation and traces of analgesia and antibiotics, help keep the bowel and urinary tract moving and flushing, along with providing enough hydration as your body begins to produce breastmilk too!
# Wholesome Good Food # This is important however you give birth, but especially after a Caesarean. A varied, well balanced diet rich in protein, good fats, minerals, vitamins and fibre will help your body attribute the necessary nutrients to all the different bodily functions happening at once (as mentioned above). Foods which help to fight inflammation are also helpful for your body right now.
Spicy / Herbal Hacks
Get the kettle on! Tea time!
Nettle tea, dandelion tea, fennel tea and breastfeeding teas such as the Weleda tea will all help to promote breastfeeding but also assist your body in flushing out all the excess fluids your body produced during pregnancy, aswell as help your body cleanse out all the pain medication, anaesthetics, antibiotics and IV fluids that you may have received during the Caesarean and immediately afterwards.
Warming spices: ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, turmeric – hello Chai latte! In Traditional Chinese Medicine giving birth to a baby represents a serious interuption to the flow and force of one’s qi or “chi” as we commonly say in the West. It is therefore considered essential to post partum healing to replace the lost heat after any birth, but giving birth via major surgery is considered an even greater deficit in chi.
Also worth noting: turmeric is not only a warming spice but one of nature’s greatest anti inflammatory substances (over the counter anti-inflammatories include Advil/Nurofen/Naproxen), and is a galactagogue (a substance which encourages the production of breast milk) so turmeric can truly have a multitude of highly beneficial side effects. See this link for a wonderful recipe for a rich nourishing turmeric “golden milk” at no. 7 & a simple but tasty turmeric tea at no. 1 It is worthwhile noting that Turmeric is best absorbed by the body when paired with black pepper; again more info via the link above.
Raspberry Leaf Tea – whilst after any other type of birth I would encourage the use of Raspberry Leaf Tea, following a Cesarean I would encourage caution. Longer term certainly helpful as it is such a wonderful uterine tonic at any stage of a woman’s life, however for the first six weeks following the operation I would personally be limiting this tea to once every few days.
Peppermint Tea or Peppermint Oil – whilst normally both peppermint tea and oil would be wonderfully helpful after surgery on or around the abdomen for gas or trapped wind, following a C-section during the period of time where you are likely to be trying to initiate breastfeeding – peppermint oil is understood to interrupt milk supply and production. See instead the aromatherapy section further down the thread.
Find the position that works the best for you and your baby. Maybe it is sat upright holding baby in the “rugby ball” position. Perhaps you can lie on your side with baby adjacent to you (this might not be possible immediately after a Cesarean). If you are sitting cross legged it can be really wonderful to put a cushion or pillow underneath each of your knees as it takes the strain off your abdomen. If the breastfeeding pillow which you bought with every good intention in the world isnt working for you – don’t hesitate to try without!
Please head over here to KellyMom.com (a great source of breastfeeding information and support) for their take on setting yourself up for successful breastfeeding after a Caesarean birth.
Milk Production/Pumping – I just want to be upfront and honest that milk production can take a little longer following a Caesarean (and analgesia); and so pumping might well be suggested to “improve” or hasten milk flow by increasing milk removal; especially helpful in the early days when you and baby are both learning how to breastfeed. Please don’t despair, this does not mean that “you can’t breastfeed after a Caesarean”, this does not mean your breasts “aren’t working”. In those early days it can feel like you’re climbing a mountain on your hands and knees, but keep in mind that in fact it is the first 8 weeks post partum which determines your milk production and flow, and each day you are probably noting that you feel a little bit better, a little bit stronger: have faith – this too shall pass! All that said, given that it can be more difficult to initiate breastfeeding after a C-Section, if you have any pain or doubts about baby’s latch or your breasts, then make sure to consult a well recommended Lactation Consultant or Peer to Peer Breastfeeding Counselor to iron out any issues before they take route. Lastly; due to the IV fluid that you receive when you undergo a Cesarean birth combined with the fact that baby doesn’t withstand the compression of a vaginal birth; babies born via Csection can have a slightly higher birth weight than their vaginally born counterparts. This can in turn mean a slightly elevated weight loss in the early days…remember to bring this into any conversation about baby’s weight loss (even if it’s just a personal reminder to reassure yourself) and perhaps consider waiting one more day before intervening with supplementation.
Probiotics – after having been exposed from the inside out to bacteria which are so different from our own microbiome in an operating theatre, and then receiving a big dose of antibiotics; taking probiotics in the form of supplements, or drinking yoghurt or water kefir, or eating fermented foods like Sauerkraut can really help mothers and their babies readjust their microbiome from the inside out. Studies are showing us that our guts are fundamental to good health, and unfortunately also show that having a Csection can have a detrimental effect on our babies’ gut health. I say “can have” because I believe that we can redress this difference. The probiotics have a great impact on breastmilk milk quality but also on our internal healing as they can help to reduce gas, constipation and bloating which are common post surgery side effects. Of course if you choose to feed formula then supplementing your baby with a dose of probiotics for babies is a healthy supplementation. I personally have had positive experiences using Bio-Kult and ABC Dophilus probiotic powder for babies from Solgar.
“Skin to Skin” – this is so helpful for promoting bonding, breastfeeding hormones, improving the microbiome of the infant and mother, regulating temperature of mother and baby, and don’t get me started on the yummy squishy smell of the newborn. (Be still my ovaries!) Make sure your room temperature is warm enough, and snuggle up together in bed – include your partner too!
When using essential oils on the skin they should always be diluted in a carrier oil. Good carrier oils include coconut oil, sweet almond oil and grapeseed oil; all of which are readily available – some even in super markets.
Immediate post partum the ways that aromatherapy can work are not related to the wound but more to the healing going on in the abdomen, specifically helping to eliminate trapped gases or constipation with gentle light touch massage around the upper abdomen.
Fennel, cardamon, ginger; all helpful should there be any trapped gas, or constipation. If you’re feeling a little warm or your temperature is up then fennel with it’s slightly cooling properties would be a wiser choice. The other blessing here is that all three of these herbs and spices are traditionally used as galactogogues – substances that promote and enhance milk production. Please remember that the key to increasing milk production is milk removal (which is where pumping can be very helpful to maintain a regular rhythm on top of feeding baby on demand). To take a galactogogue, either as a herb, essential oil, or tea; but not maximise the milk removal can result in engorgement, and other related issues – which is the last thing you want when you are already recovering from major surgery and learning how to breastfeed!
Please note it is wise to use only one drop of whichever one essential oil you choose to use on your body, as new mothers and their babies remain very sensitive to smells of all kinds (it is nature’s way of protecting the newborn). Dilute even one drop with a small teaspoon of carrier oil.
Rose, lavender, and chamomile to relax and restore. Bergamot and/or neroli to lift the spirits during the day. These essential oils could be used on a warm or cool compress on your face or your neck, or could be diffused gently in the room. Again; less is more.
Following the first 6 weeks of healing the wound should be healing nicely – or certainly appear to be doing so from the outside. From the six week point in the healing process, gentle massage and wound care on the skin can be supportive in successful longer term healing. Once again; go gently with the dosage – start with just one drop of whichever oil you choose in a teaspoon of carrier oil. Also, go gently with your touch and pressure – be mindful of how your wound is feeling. Start out for the first couple of months with light touch massage once or twice a week gently increasing if it feels comfortable; and then 3-4 months post partum introduce massage with an electric toothbrush or a vibrator (yes a vibrator!) if it feels comfortable for you. The gentle pulsation of the toothbrush or vibrator is thought to discourage adhesions from forming amongst tissue and organs.
Frankincense – a healing essential oil with antiseptic, antibacterial and anti fungal properties, it is also a cicatrisant (which means it promotes effective healing and regeneration of the skin/wounds/scars). It is also an effective digestive oil; when used externally through massage it can help to relieve trapped gas.
Lavender – wonderfully calming (but not necessarily the best essential oil to promote sleep as it actually improves mental function), antibacterial, antiviral and proven to be an effective essential oil for pain relief. It has also been understood to speed up the healing process of wounds, cuts, burns, and sunburns because it improves the formation of scar tissue.
Chamomile – antidepressant, antispasmodic, sedative, anti-inflammatory, and cicatrisant (see above), wonderful for promoting skin healing and regeneration too; calming properties for even the most sensitive skin.
Carrot Seed Oil – antiseptic, antiviral & disinfectant, carminative (removes stubborn trapped gases), It stimulates both circulation and metabolic function; which in turn can promote good healing. Carrot Seed essential oil stimulates the growth of new cells and tissues. It also tones the skin and prevents it from hanging loose or showing signs of aging. It has a soothing earthy aroma and is known to promote relief from stress and anxiety, which having a refreshing effect on the emotions.
One last word of caution; even after the 6 weeks…go gently; especially if you are breastfeeding. One or two drops in a heaped teaspoon of carrier oil is more than enough. The body is so sensitive for the first 4 months after giving birth; and whilst essential oils are natural, they are powerful and can impact on the function of the uterus and the production and regulation of hormones amongst other things, so over use can result in heightened sensitivity.
I carry the Helios Homeopathic Childbirth Kit in my doula bag – always! I know many other doulas do, and I find it to be very helpful during all stages of labour, birth and post partum parenting. It has five powerful remedies in an adequately potent dose to assist inside out healing following a Cesarean Section too.
Arnica: a common addition to many first aid kits, Arnica is useful for all new injuries, and can help reduce soreness, bruising, tissue damage, and bleeding related to surgical procedures. Very helpful for alleviating bruising, swelling, and soreness during recovery from most surgeries.
Bellis perennis: commonly referred to as Bellis Per. Useful when bruising and trauma occur to soft tissue, and/or to deep internal tissues after surgery involving the abdomen, breasts, or trunk-especially if a feeling of stiffness or coldness has developed in the area.
Calendula: to help complete the healing of deep wounds (a Csection incision means cutting through seven membranes) along with preventing inflammation, suppuration and infection at the site of the wound. Calendula also helps prevent keloid formation of the scar.
Staphysagria: useful when pain persists at the site of a surgical incision, or after procedures that involve the stretching of a sphincter muscle. It is also indicated after surgeries involving reproductive organs (prostate surgery, hysterectomy, C-section, episiotomy) or the abdomen, stomach, and rectum (including hemorrhoids). Staphysagria may also help after operations on traumatic injuries.
Hypericum: particularly useful for injuries, wounds and surgeries involving nerve rich areas of the body.
I took the remedies above for three weeks on rotation. The Helios Childbirth Kits include the remedies at a very potent dose (200c), so for clients I recommend two weeks at the strongest dose as included in the kit, then acquiring the same remedies at a lower potency (30c) for another week or two. For more specific advise on any other symptoms you are experiencing I recommend finding a qualified homeopathic practictioner in your area.
Rescue Remedy: another favourite from my doula bag! This is very helpful for the emotional side of the healing and coming to terms with the experience, along with those moments of potential overwhelm which come with just having had a baby, and are exacerbated by the intense aches and pains that come with Cesarean recovery. A few drops under the tongue when you feel like you need it; as an added bonus it is very “cleansing” for the body too.
Psychological & Emotional Healing
Acceptance and Integration – these are simple, commonly used words which psychologically are the foundations of a healthy processing of any difficult experience in life, including difficult or traumatic birth experiences. First of all, tell your story as often as you feel comfortable sharing it. Seek out your partner, your friends and family, your healthcare providers, a therapist, your doula (or post partum doula), the neighbour, the dog(!)…anyone who can listen to you unconditionally and non-judgementally, and simply allow you to speak things out and recall things one by one to make sense of how it all unfolded. This is a very important step for your brain in processing the experience; this is one of the primary ways in which it organises difficult or traumatic events.
Journaling – could you find the time to write down a few words each day about your feelings about the Caesarean, your recollections, what you’re grateful for from the experience, how you feel you are healing each day, what disappointments and concerns have come up for you that day? It doesn’t need to be worthy of Anne Frank; it might just be a list of words, it may be a collection of pictures or diagrams, you could use video or voicenotes. Again, journaling in this way can be incredibly helpful in assisting the brain to process the experience and not file it away as a trauma. The three feelings you should pay keen attention to and treat with extra special care are guilt, shame and fear; if these feeling persist then consider getting a referral to a therapist.
Support Groups – there is a lot of support, empathy and healing to be found in the experience of sharing birth stories with others who have gone through a similar kind of birth experience (particularly if that experience was far away from the experience that you were hoping for). It is important to find a group which is facilitated by someone who you feel safe with, and who can hold space for all members of the group, and who can be relied upon to maintain healthy, non judgemental, mature and open communication in the sessions. I know many birth workers (myself included – click here to join the Cesarean Support Network NL); midwives and doulas, along with coaches and therapists who host group meetings in person; there are also organisations such as the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) that have local chapters just about everywhere in the world. Facebook and other online forums also have a variety of virtual support groups which can be sources of tremendous value; especially when they are international and there are people online around the clock.
VBAC/ Vaginal Birth After Cesarean – one of the most difficult things I have read about women who give birth by Caesarean Section is that they are significantly less likely to choose to have more children because for many the experience of having the surgery, and recovering from surgery is too much to imagine going through a second time. I do maintain that some of that is because there is so little follow up care from health care providers, and somehow such a stigma attached to Cesarean birth that there are few resources out there on successful short, medium and long term strategies for healing successfully from a C-Section. Please keep in mind that the outdated adage “Once a Caesarean, always a Caesarean” is NOT TRUE. Many women go on to experience vaginal birth following a C-Section; so please don’t let your experience of having had a Csection put you off planning a VBAC. Most doulas have experience supporting VBAC; and as I do run a VBAC Support Group in Amsterdam, I hope to write a comprehensive VBAC post in the not so distant future *watch this space*.
Longer Term Healing Hacks (6 weeks +)
Keep working on Acceptance and Integration – this journey can make leaps and bounds and take long rests over many months and years.
Body work – consider seeing a chiropractor, an accupuncturist, an osteopath, a cranio sacral therapist, a somatic coach, a Mizan therapist, an energetic healer, or an Arvigo practitioner. Whilst the mind commands a lot of our attention, our bodies can often go ignored, and our bodies store a lot which actually we often need to release. Seeing any one of the therapists mentioned above (and there are many other types of physical therapy that can help – you need to work out what is good for you) could have a very supportive role in healing the body from the experience of surgical birth.
Massage or cupping – one of the potential complications with longer term healing following a Csection is adhesive scarring (internally). By massaging the area directly around the scar (as mentioned above with an electric toothbrush*** or vibrator), the adhesions are understood to be less likely to form. Gentle cupping (non therapeutic grade) around the scar after a few months can also discourage adhesions (extensive scar tissue) from forming. It can also be very beneficial for gently removing any inflammation and/or stagnation in the area of the scar; improving sexual response, improving the functioning of the uterus, and bringing blood flow, lymph flow and warmth back into the region. A great practitioner for this is Mirjam Heemskerk of Gentle Beginnings here in Amsterdam; she specialises in holistic recovery in the post partum period. You can visit her and her wonderful work over here.
(I have successfully used my Philips Sonicare toothbrush for both excellent teeth cleaning and Caesarean scar healing! *** Not the brush end; the body of the toothbrush!)
What can you add??? What worked for you???
Leave your comments with your own tried and tested healing hacks, or your experiences with the suggestions above – I would so love to hear if this helped you in anyway.
Lastly; please get in touch with feedback or questions, or if you would like a consultation to help process your birth story, to plan your next birth, or for coaching or doula support in any capacity; I am available in person in Amsterdam, or online via Skype/FaceTime. You can find out more about my doula support packages here. We can arrange an appointment via email:
“Doula Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Doula” “Doula in Amsterdam” “Holistic Doula Amsterdam” “Holistic Doula” “Doula services Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Doula Support” “Birth Support Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Birth Support” “Doula Support Amsterdam” “Doula Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Doula” “Ilena Doula” “Doula Ilena” “Ilena Standring”
Two days ago I downloaded the series of podcasts from one of my top five most inspiring sheroes/heroines Elizabeth Gilbert who I was so privileged and inspired to meet in November 2013 at High Tea at the De Hortus Botanicus here in Amsterdam as a celebration and promotion of the release of her then latest book The Signature of All Things.(It’s a really wonderful read btw!!!)
Last night I started to listen to them, this morning I was aching to hear the rest, so the Teletubbies were put on the iPad for the little person and I indulged. Creativity explosions! Ideas galore! Gratitude beating through my body! Thankful faithful heart.
The two quotes in the Instagram picture which literally made me catch my breath when I heard them came from Episode 4 of Magic Lessons where Liz speaks to Rob Bell, had to be written on my fridge immediately. I recently discovered (thanks to my tenants who were living here for the first half of this year) that you can write on my cupboard surfaces with dry wipe marker – anyone who knows about my sheer love of both stationary and playing teacher(!) will atest to the fact that this is wonderful news.
Later this morning as I was walking The Pig and was still reverberating with the thankfulness, creativity and gratitude I decided to share one of my daily practices with you.
My “3 Things”
- 3 things I am grateful for today.
- 3 things I am hoping for today.
- 3 things I am trusting today
- 3 things I am releasing today
So here is today’s list – even though it’s a little earlier than I usually put them together:
Today I am grateful for:
- My friend Liz and all that she is; her work, her generosity, her spirit and her laugh!
- The incredible late summer weather that Amsterdam is bathed in
- Amsterdam Oosterpark – where The Boy, The Pig and I walk every day and enjoy the daily changes where we really notice “It is a new universe every second!”
Three things I hope for today:
- That the forecast is right and that we can enjoy this late summer bliss for three whole days
- That my client is enjoying being 9 days postpartum and that breastfeeding is establishing well
- That my next client is ready to contact me and move forward with our work together
Three things that I trust today:
- That I will be divinely guided to take the next perfect step toward helping my clients to find me
- That the universe in all it’s glorious abundance is taking care of my finances
- That I will start “The Book” when the time is right
Three things I release today:
- The need for perceived originality in my writing – surely if I write from my heart and soul voice then that in itself is unique?!
- Worry – it takes so much energy and focus away from the areas I wish to direct my energy and focus like The Boy, The Pig, my desires and my dreams.
- Guilt about the iPad and Teletubbies: listen to Magic Lessons Podcast episode number 1 for the justification
A) as much as I say “daily practice” I confess it doesnt happen every. single. day.
B) sometimes the same thing will take up space on the list for days/weeks at a time
C) sometimes I don’t manage 3 – but I still write 1 or 2
Maybe you have heard the rumours???
Often described as “The Mother of Authentic Midwifery”, “America’s Most Loved Midwife” and notorious for her practice’s exemplary results and low intervention rates, Ina May Gaskin has gained international notoriety for promoting natural birth: and it is true – she is coming to Amsterdam!!!!
Maybe you thought, “Tickets will be sold out – no chance I’ll be able to join”
Well the daytime event with Ina May Gaskin on the 25th September 2015 was so popular it sold out in a matter of days, but the organizers and Ina May got together and decided to arrange another event on 24th September 2015 and so here is…
> > > YOUR INVITATION < < <
to join us for………..
AN EVENING WITH INA MAY GASKIN
19h00 – 21h30
@ CREA Theatre, Nieuwe Achtergracht 170, Amsterdam
“Every orchestra has specific instruments and musicians, but you, the mother, are the conductor. You are writing your own symphony, you choose the music and the notes. If something is out of tune, you can change the music. You create the harmony. You are the maestro.”
excerpt from The Greatest Pregnancy Ever: The Keys to the MotherBaby Bond Tracy Wilson Peters, CCCE, CLD, and Laurel Wilson, IBCLC, CCCE
As a doula in Amsterdam, I hear many confessions from pregnant women or women who have recently given birth. I say confessions because often it’s as if they hear the word “Doula” and then decide to offload the thoughts they haven’t dared to share with anyone else about pregnancy, or childbirth or the postpartum period. This isnt a new experience for me – I often wonder if I have a sign on my forehead that reads “Please share your most taboo thinking/intense life experiences/painful loss/heartfelt desire/dirty secrets with me”?!?!?! It’s all good – I love hearing these untold pregnancy and birth stories!
A very common pregnancy confession (that sometimes women feel so guilty about that they don’t dare to vocalise it) is that they don’t or didn’t feel very connected to baby.
Fortunately we are now very mindful of the fact that babies’ consiousness does indeed develop in the uterus. Annie Murphy Paul gave an excellent TEDTalk on the matter, and the documentary What Babies Want explores this in a very convincing and heartfelt way – both great watches if you find you do want to explore the subject of babies’ inutero consciousness (see also the links at the end of this blog).
As with much of our developing awareness though – this knowledge can be a double edged sword. Many pregnant mothers upon hearing that indeed baby’s consciousness is there from almost the moment you see the extra line on the stick or hear the words “You’re pregnant” become very concerned with making sure their unborn baby has only positive experiences within the uterus, and that she experiences as much love, connection and nurturing as possible before birth. Great! As long as it doesn’t become a means to tell yourself that you are anything less than absolutely incredible for carrying a baby inside your womb.
“People keep asking if I’m enjoying the mother-baby connection and honestly I just don’t know what that is supposed to feel like?”
“How do I connect with a baby that I can’t see?”
“It’s hard for me to feel loved up and connected to baby when I just feel like crap 82% of the time due to pregnancy tiredness!”
Other confessions along the same lines go
“I felt so sad so often during my first pregnancy – I was worried that when she was born she would be depressed”,
“I just don’t have time for this pregnancy – I’m running around after an eighteen month old who has just started running – I can’t keep up with him let alone focus on this unborn baby”
You get the picture. Why are parents so hard on themselves?!?!
Here are six suggestions as a quick “How To Connect With Baby During Pregnancy”
- First thing in the morning or last thing at night. That lovely only half awake time when your eyes are probably closed, you feel way less self conscious and either the thought bubble (The Mind) is just about to switch on or off. As you’re adjusting your body to rest or wakefulness take a moment to place your hands on your beautiful bump and maybe just begin by saying “Morning Baby” (or Goodnight!) No need to say it aloud – though no harm in doing so. Once you feel comfortable doing this – you may even like to spoon in to your partner and invite them to say a few words.
- Whilst doing something mundane or mind numbing. You’re washing the dishes or brushing your teeth, dare i say it – maybe you’re driving on a route you know like the back of your hand. This is also a great moment to decide to check in with how baby is feeling. Chances are you’re relaxed and just in the moment – baby may already respond to this energy and have a little wriggle around – focus your attention on your womb, perhaps this feels more comfortable if you touch your belly with one hand to make contact. Tell baby what you’re doing. Tell her it’s boring! Tell her it’s really not your favourite thing to do but that somehow it’s quite relaxing anyway. Tell her what you did today. Tell her what you’re doing later.
- Guided visualisation or meditation. As a coach and doula in Amsterdam I often suggest to clients who are looking to build meditation into their practice but who find it difficult to switch off that they have a look on Youtube for guided meditations to listen to on headphones. That would be a great place to start, there are lots of guided meditations out there to try, and many women report finding a lot of peace and relaxation from the Natal Hypotherapy and Hypnobirthing CDs. It is also important to say that it is very very common for you to go “to sleep” whilst listening to a guided meditation, especially whilst pregnant(!) forgive yourself for this – and be reassured that it is all going in anyway! EDIT: I have also since recorded a few prenatal/pregnancy visualisations and meditations here and here!
- Singing to baby. Something wonderful happens to us when we sing! We breathe differently, we breath deeper, our lungs expand more fully and our diaghpram needs to get to work to help us project our voices. If you are a power ballad singer in the car, if you are a musical star in the shower or if you’re an arena filling singing chef in the kitchen – keep on singing – and just set the intention that the song is for baby. Having a song or two that you sing repetitively for baby during pregnancy can be a wonderful calming and reassuring tool for helping baby to feel safe and calm in the fourth trimester – and beyond. There is a truly beautiful anecdote from Penny Simkin (doula and doula educator extraordinaire) to be found here – enjoy!
- Going within: asking questions and listening. After having adopted a couple of the practices above – once you are able to recognise that you are connecting with baby in a deep and a meaningful way; then you may be ready to really take the contact with baby to the next level. Usually to really be able to pose questions and hear the answers it helps to be still and quiet. To be comfortable and feel safe. To know that time is stretching out ahead and you can really enjoy taking time to communicate with baby. Sitting down comfortably; if you are comfortable in the lotus position with your back straight and your spine aligned – great! Perhaps you’re more comfortable sat on a chair – a straight and well supported spine, both feet on the ground, perhaps you’ve been really using the birthing ball and are able to sit with a straight well aligned spine, knees wide and below hips, feet stable and supportive in full contact with the ground. Begin by placing your right hand on your belly to make contact with baby, and your left hand on your heart centre (on your chest).Take three deep breaths and focus on dropping your consciousness from your head into your heart. Take another three breaths and set the intention to connect with baby. Notice the warmth of each hand, notice baby; is she still, does she move? Invite the heart to ask baby how she is feeling. Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow the feelings/instincts and thoughts to come up and take shape. Try not to judge. The ego will get busy telling you this is crazy, telling you that you’re imagining things. Just allow those thoughts; they too have their place. Ask again; ‘what can I do to help you feel better’? Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow. Ask if there is anything else that baby needs to communicate to you. Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow. And finally, what do you want to communicate to baby? Share. Notice. Feel. Breathe. Notice. Allow. Before you open your eyes, move around and get back to your day – take some time, take space together, feel the gratitude, feel the peace, feel the calm. Then >slowly< come back to your body, open your eyes, stretch and pick up your day.
- You’re always connected anyway….Remember this. Go about your day. Just be reassured that baby is listening, baby is feeling, baby is sentient, baby is connected to you; you are connected to baby – baby is within you. Baby is coming to earth, and earthside there is a whole range of emotion, of feelings, of experiences, of connection, of disconnection. Baby will get to taste it all. You are unequivocally connected to baby every second – waking or sleeping. And maybe that is enough for you to remember; actually you dont have to make a conscious effort to “connect with baby” because baby is connected. Let me say it again: you. dont. have. to. “DO”. anything. Be aware of the connection. Don’t scaremonger yourself about any “negative” experiences being “bad” for baby. By all means – focus as much as you can on the positives – beautiful if you can mainly be in this state, but if there are things going on in your life that are stressful, that are out of your control – let it go, try not to get hung up on it.
Here are a couple of other links for you to look into on the notion of mother-baby connection and evidence for it’s positive impact on pregnancy, child bearing and the immeditate post partum period, if you have any to add or if you have any heart warming anecdotes to share on the topic: please comment below!
Lastly: image credit unknown – I would love to attribute this beautiful image to it’s rightful creator so please make contact if you know the artist.