946 Days

946 Days

On Friday we stopped breastfeeding.

946 days.

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.

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One of the only photos I have which shows the nipple shield we used at the beginning.

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!

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Ruby the cat getting passively high on the oxytocin!

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(!)

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So many sweet moments like these; here you are 5 weeks old.

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.

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The last photo I have of you breastfeeding – already some months ago. You were stroking Ninnie so softly with the back of your hand.
Call me a Chameleon!

Call me a Chameleon!

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As I mentioned in a blog post on my professional Facebook page a couple of months ago; I heard myself referred to as “The Trauma Doula”. This is not because I inflict trauma upon my clients you understand (!) but more because I have chosen to specialise in supporting women (& their partners) in unravelling traumatic experiences and their impact on the journey of pregnancy, childbirth and the post partum period. So around and about Amsterdam I speak a lot about Birth Trauma, about VBAC, about Caesarean Birth, about sexual abuse, about domestic abuse and about the ways and means we have at our finger tips to support our hearts, bodies and minds in unpicking the thread that these types of trauma can weave through our experiences of these special moments in our lives.

Anyhow, I digress! Never having really had a “nickname” because Ilena doesn’t really rhyme so easily with other words;  (someone did unsuccessfully attempt to spread “Ilena the Painer” some 22 years ago) I decided that “The Trauma Doula” was also not really one I was keen to perpetuate within the Amsterdam Birth Network or the wider network of families and parents-to-be.

So it got me thinking….what would I like to have as my nickname or “trademark”? To mention but a few fabulous doulas in Amsterdam with nicknames; the wonderful Maartje de Bruijn-Bruning from MotherMe is referred to as “The Duracell Doula” due to her unwavering high energy support, my beloved and multi-talented mentor Jennifer Walker has recently become “The Spinning Babies Doula” due to being one of seven approved Spinning Babies trainers, and the lovely Wendy van der Zijden IS “Holistic Doula”,due to her passion for all things natural and holistic, so what would I (or others) coin as a nickname for myself?

Well after waiting a few months for an answer, earlier this evening it struck me:

Am I “The Chameleon Doula”???

Now in other contexts of life, the notion of being a chameleon might not work so well: who would want a dentist come gynaecologist come antiques dealer to fill in a root canal? Who would trust a baker come plasterer come politician? What about a chemist come footballer come gardener? Maybe not….(!)

In the world of birth keeping however, I believe passionately in the value and significance of this ability to camouflage into the surroundings, and shape shift as appropriate. For me it is important that as a doula I can support you in a homebirth setting, in a hospital induction, in a water birth at a birth centre, or in a planned caesarean birth – all equally.

Now what does that actually translate into in terms of what I actually do during birth support? Let me be clear and tangible :

  • I love space clearing with sage, palo santo or incense
  • I love to offer insight into herbal teas and mineral supplements
  • I love to sit with you as you learn about the physiology and chemistry of birth
  • I love to use yoga principles to help you stretch out the body
  • I love to hear your feedback after having reviewed the lastest scientific research on Vitamin K
  • I love to sit with your midwife as you present your preferences for your care
  • I love to help you pack your birth centre bag
  • I love the curious and sometimes intense taxi ride to the hospital
  • I love to coach you through the fears and doubts that arise as you navigate those final cms in your living room
  • I love to bust out the essential oils for you as you’re hooked up to the CTG
  • I love brushing your hair and applying make up as you enjoy the relief of the epidural
  • I love to heat up your body with my warm hands as I channel the healing and rejuvenating energy of Reiki through your body
  • I love to talk you through what I can see as you lie back on the operating table ready to meet your baby
  • I love chanting with you as you prepare to bear down and push
  • I love to coach you through the mental blocks like a hockey coach as you continue to push like you never did before
  • I love to capture your incredulous awestruck face as you take in the face of your baby in person
  • …and I love everything in between! I have to shape shift pretty dramatically in one birth between all of these tasks.

My clients reflect this chameleon like appearance; I serve artists and corporate lawyers,  recruitment consultants and managing directors, performance coaches and stay at home parents….and every professional and non professional parent in between. Religious parents, atheists; trilingual expat parents, parents fluent in the local dialect; parents who prefer allopathic medicine to parents who utilise holistic medicine; etcetera. All of these individuals have sought support in pregnancy, birth and postpartum parenting….none of them can be labelled in any one way – and here their “job titles” and some “parenting choices” are just a couple of reflections of who they are or what is important to them.

Surely I have to be a chameleon then?!

I was incredibly lucky to have experienced a shape shifting or chameleon like birth story for my first child…it was like a four part story: through a home birth, an undisturbed hospital water birth, a  full working day of the full casacade of interventions, culminating in a beautiful if unexpected Caesarean birth. Being a chameleon as a professional doula in Amsterdam means that I can support you in any birth setting, through any change of plan, through any and every choice you make, and through any outcome – always unconditionally and non-judgementally.

I realised through my own personal experience the true value of having birth support who can comfortably switch birth settings, who can effortlessly adjust to the mood and atmosphere as birth unfolds and everything shifts dynamically. For me the ability to be a chameleon seems intrinsic to the nature of a birth keeper…to be a professional who can shape shift easily and effortlessly and yet hold true to the core essence of their values and beliefs.

What does the core essence of my professional pledge look like?

  • Unconditional and continuous support

  • Non-judgemental support; I have no agenda

  • An open mind, an open heart and open hands

  • Respect and reverence for the uncertainty and miracle of the journey of birth

  • Positive and empowering communication

  • No protocol or prescription for care; on the proviso that it is clear that my support is non medical by definition

Whatever my personal choices might be in my pregnancy, during the unfolding of my birth stories, and as a parent I hope they don’t influence whether or not you decide to hire me…I would like to think that I have a successful and demonstrable track record in providing support as outlined above to all families who hire me; whatever their choices.

If you would like to enquire about the flexible and interchangeable services of The Chamelon Doula (!!!) then please email me to organise an introductory meeting where we can explore what doula support could look like for your family.

hello@ilenajoannestandring.com

 

What to pack in your hospital/birth centre bag: The quirky list!

What to pack in your hospital/birth centre bag: The quirky list!

There are so many lists out there for guidance on packing your bag for taking to the birth centre or hospital. Often the hospital or birth centre will issue a list of their recommended bag contents and so what I include in the list here is the “other” stuff; that as a doula in Amsterdam I see is often overlooked – or when providing birth support I see really makes a difference.

For You

  • Your own pillow – when you are in labour you are open to your environment in an unparalleled way (we are mammals after all). The familiarity of touch and smell of your pillow in the hospital or birth centre setting can work wonders to relax your nervous system and bring comfort in a way that a plastic coated sterilised pillow just can’t compete with.

 

  • Rescue Remedy – use it as you make the journey from home to the birth centre or hospital, as contractions become more intense, as you perhaps encounter the thoughts of “I can’t do this anymore” whilst you traverse through transition…this is on repeat order from my suppliers for my own doula bag!

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  • Aromatherapy oils – the top five for me are Lavender (relaxing, wonderful to ease muscle tension, antibacterial, lovely used in massage), Clary Sage (for relaxing into the other wordly state that labour hopefully brings, to intensify contractions), Frankincense (calming emotions, promoting physical relaxation, centering and can assist later in post partum skin healing – diluted in an appropriate carrier oil), Peppermint (or nausea, to cool off, to cut through fatigue, massaged into the back when experiencing back labour it can encourage baby to adopt a more optimal position) and Eucalyptus (for bringing clarity during transition and ready for following the urge to push, if the air is stuffy, or to cool off).

 

  • Forget the diffuser!!! a spray bottle with some lavender and/or clary sage or frankincense essential oil suspended in water ready to shake and spray. Otherwise hospitals and birth centres usually have a surplus of flannels and washcloths that work very well as compresses – warm or cool.

 

  • Coconut water and/or Miso soup – both jam packed full of electrolytes; which your body needs a constant replensihment of during labour and post partum in the hours after birth. It is physically strenous work and the more you can feed your body what it needs the more effectively it can do it’s job and recover afterwards. The combined heat of Miso soup is very healing post partum too – or if labour slows and things need “heating up” again.

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  • A straw or two – just makes drinking at unusual angles a lot easier! Drink, drink, drink – and urinate, urinate, urinate!

 

  • Facial spritz – because sometimes a compress just doesnt’t cut it and you deserve to be spritzed as you work so hard should you so desire

 

  • Favourite luxurious shower products – for afterwards – it can go one of two ways that first shower. Either you rush through it because you can’t bear to be away from your precious little bundle, or you luxuriate in feeling your body as you cleanse away the sweat, the milk, and the stickiness of the last who knows how many hours. Again – familiar comforting smells really help to promote feelings of safety, comfort and wellness.

 

  • Loose comfortable clothing – body shapes change at different rhythyms after birth, and our bodies often feel tender – so loose fitting layers to layer up or down depending on your body temperature are best.

 

  • A big soft shawl or scarf – the familiarity and comfort of the smell, the flexible practicality of having something to wrap around your shoulder during the first feed or two. If it is long and strong enough – you can also use it as a rebozo during labour.

 

  • A loose comfortable outfit to travel home in – sounds obvious but you’d be amazed how often this is overlooked; the clothes you arrived can’t be guaranteed to be so appealing to travel home in.

 

  • *** Don’t forget: TWO EXTRA COPIES OF YOUR BIRTH PLAN. Yes – your midwife and or your care providers will of course already have them “on file” but care providers are busy – very very busy often and so if the care provider on shift for whatever reason haven’t had a chance to read your birth plan already – then a printed copy that you can hand them will save them and you a lot of time and energy finding and or explaining.

 

For your birth partner

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  • Rescue Remedy – whilst it goes without saying that the labouring mother experiences a lot during labour; so does the birth partner. Whether it is the first or fifth time around; it can get a little emotionally overwhelming at any given moment.
  • Swim trunks / change of clothing – if labouring in water or water birth is on the cards as a possibility then it is great if Dad or birth partner is equipped and ready to support in any setting.
  • Nibbles and plenty of liquid – when birth partners are fully supporting the labouring mother; it is hard work for them too. As far as the hospital or birth centre goes, they try as much as possible to support the birthing team too, but their priority is always the labouring mothers – and often birth partners don’t feel like they can “trouble” the care providers for what they need. Plan for them to be optimally hydrated and energised, to ensure you are taken the best possible care of. Whilst it can be that a sweet sugary snack seems appealing; the best bet for sustainable energy is something packed with protein and or slow releasing carbohydrates. Think apples with a handful of nuts or a hunk of cheese, or miso soup with tofu, or a super food brownie packed with seeds and nuts with a few dates on the side.
  • A pillow/cushion/meditation cushion – birth is a very grounding process, and so often a labouring mother following her instincts will not choose to be laying on her bed in a hospital bed but to be swaying on the birthing ball, or on all fours on the floor. Birth centres and hospitals generally have a few extra seats for birthing partners, but if you want your partner to stay close and be comfortable then think about an extra pillow or solid cushion for them to sit on/be supported by.
  • A doula – Well obviously; Doulas are for Dads too

 

For Baby

Again, refer to the more standard lists of what to pack in your hospital bags for all the details, but for our quirky list one thing to consider and two reminders.

  • Cord ties – for years the thing used to clamp a baby’s umbilical cord has been a plastic clamp. More and more people are considering the experience of the baby and that has seen rise to the more frequest use of cord ties, as it is considered the most gentle option for baby (ie. less uncomfortable than a plastic clamp resting inside the nappy). You can make cord ties yourself, it may be that your doula would happily make cord ties for you (I do – as seen in the picture), or you can buy them from Etsy or specialist handmade businesses.

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  • Birth Planning for post natal preferences – Include in your birth plan/ birth preference document a very clear section on your decisions regarding the post partum care and choices for your baby, including things like the use of cord ties (as above) or your choices about whether or not you will breastfeed, or give Vitamin K etc.
  • Baby car seat – When you give birth in The Netherlands you are required to transport the baby home in a suitable baby car seat – best to pack this close to your hospital bag…if you are planning a quick exit from hospital especially, then noone will need to return home to collect the car seat.

 

 

Please check out the fabulous Mama Natural and her quirky recommendations for what to pack into your labour bag:

 

If you love the beautiful Cath Kidston bag as much as I do – click here to treat yourself!

Prenatal Relaxation, Visualisation and Meditation

Prenatal Relaxation, Visualisation and Meditation

Source: Prenatal Relaxation, Visualisation and Meditation

As detailed in this blog post I wrote, taking some time regularly during pregnancy to meditate and connect to baby can be a really helpful way to help you develop the bond with baby prenatally.

Through writing the blog post I decided to finally record some audios myself, after having been encouraged (& nagged!) by clients, friends and family to do so for over two years – “good things come to those who wait” or so they say.

Here is the first recording:

Golden light visualisation and guided meditation for pregnancy.