Postpartum reflections

Journals my daughter’s father gifted me – now filled with thoughts on my pregnancy and much of her first two years.

Our daughter’s birth was over nine years ago so everything about that experience is blurred by time – and the absolute fatigue of being a new parent. However, to complete my doula certification, I must write a reflective essay on my child’s birth or my postpartum experience. If I hadn’t journaled about the experience nine years ago, it would now be a shadow of a couple memories that were particularly difficult.

This morning, from my daughter’s box of keepsakes, I pulled two leather bound journals filled with pages of memories. I hadn’t read them in years and never before with the intention of reflection. My words are raw, but in the style of a journalistic account of the event. Entry after entry, for weeks, I documented feelings of total inadequacy, “Watching you sleep as I went through paperwork and suddenly started crying – felt scared and insecure about my ability to care for you. So small and dependent.” Then, with no examination of my feelings or what I might do to feel more secure, I moved on to how many hours of sleep I got the night before and that I was glad her dad had insisted I sleep between daytime feedings.

Maybe there was nothing to examine. Maybe, at the time, I just needed to put ink to my emotions so they were validated to me. However, in the long run,  personal validation doesn’t give closure to the feelings that I was alone and felt that no one had shared my experience. I documented waves of tears, being generally overwhelmed, and missing her dad even though we were in the same house for days, and feeling totally incapable of being a parent. Then there are the entries documenting the love – the inexplicable amount of love I had for my baby. It’s been over nine years and reading about those days sends me back to tears in an instant.

Looking back, I know we really needed more support, but at the time it didn’t seem necessary. People had been having babies, well, since the dawn of humanity. We were smart and self-reliant. Why would we need help? We had each other. What a lovely, apple pie in the sky, white picket fence, daydream that was – with a foundation based in a total lack of experience. Now, I see who I was, what I went through in those days, and know I survived to become stronger as a person and a damn good mama. I hug the me that was so fragile and scared those nine years ago. I tell her she’s going to survive that time and so much more. With the crystal ball of hindsight, I think how things might have been different if we’d had more emotional support. Maybe we could have averted divorce if we’d had someone to guide us and encourage us to take time for ourselves. Maybe having someone to encourage us to talk about our fears would have prevented us from isolating each other. Maybe instead of writing it down in my journal, and stashing the book away til the next entry, I could have told her dad I was thankful he insisted I try to sleep between feedings. Maybe, so many maybes. All the what ifs pour into my mind. But we didn’t have a support person to turn to – family is often too close to you to ask the hard questions and we were the first of our friends to have a child – so we fought through the fog and we managed to keep our baby alive and healthy.

I am so blessed that I’ve been called to help families through their transition of welcoming a new life, their new identities as parents, stress of losing freedoms, and the overwhelming emotions of parenting. I pray to every deity, and ask my own intuition, for the ability to listen and guide and empower families to be the best version of their story. Parenting. Marriage. Partnerships. Identities. Life. It’s all so hard, so hard, but can be so very good.


Doula Life: Grief and Loss, Episiotomies and self-care, oh my!

I am in the home stretch of the communication skills module for doula training. “Grief & Loss” is the heading. Topics include “Theories of grief,” “Stillbirth and neonatal death,” “Men and grief,” and – perhaps a most important reminder – “Caring for yourself following grief.” It’s the dark and silent side of being a childbirth professional. Babies and mamas die: in this country far more often than we should accept. Birth is not all cooing and home to a new glorious chapter of life. It’s a topic we have to address, but no one wants to talk about. It’s a topic I will surely write about much more. 

Yesterday, I finished up the section on informed consent and choice with discussion of how to divide medical research with clients who don’t have a science background. The example article was from the British Medical Journal, “Midline Episiotomy and Anal Incontinence: Retrospective Cohort Study.” The study examined the results, after three and six months, of 900 women who had experienced surgical episiotomies versus natural tearing and how their bodies had healed. 

An episiotomy, for those who haven’t been around birth, is a word that makes a woman’s beautiful vagina crawl into her gut. It is a word I couldn’t actually say until I was eight months pregnant and my midwife coached me through the sound. An episiotomy is an incision made at the base of a birthing woman’s vagina, toward the anus.  It’s very often unnecessary and can potentially cause lifelong complications, but other times it is necessary and usually goes perfectly smooth, heals flawlessly, and helps mama avoid a c-section. The other option is to allow natural progress and a tear may happen where the body needs to give. Regardless if a woman’s body naturally tears (and many  women do not tear at all during birth) or a surgical cut is made, imagaine getting cut anywhere else on your body, all of our skin heals the same way.  

These are the conversations that are now my daily life. A major part of my work is in helping mamas, and their partners, understand options and clearly review what their choices are in birth. Thus, when it is time to labor and mama’s body is ready to release the baby, everyone is empowered, can be present, and the birth can be more relaxed and healthy for all involved parties. 
But today, I learn about communication skills around grief and loss. And I am writing this post because the topic of grief and loss is more uncomfortable than an episiotomy. I have a history of running from grief. I wasn’t taught how to sit with it. In my family, grief wasn’t honored. No one demonstrated or shared that to heal you have to let go in your own way and at your own pace. “We are still here and have to just keep going,” is how my mother handled the emotional side of my father’s death. I was eight and I kept going, not knowing why the world couldn’t stop, yet nothing seemed to move. 

At almost 43, I’ve learned to address grief, to meet it and work through it. I still loathe it though and know my healthy relationship with grief is young. I hope my blessings are great and I do not have to meet grief too many more times in this life, but I intend to live long so I know grief will be a companion once more. I turn to this work, this vocation, and I hope / pray / manifest for healthy mamas and babies and births that are never short of magical, pure joy.  

But, realistically, I know that day may come where no medical intervention can keep a baby’s body goin or a mother will have a heart attack or a staph infection may sneak it’s way into a mama’s exhausted body. All these things could happen and it scares the living shit out of me. I know with life and birth we also sit at the edge of death. To be in this profession, I have to live with both sides. And we all must cope with grief at some point. We all must face the darkness and choose to move back into the light, or never experience the joy. 

Shacksbury ciders

The Shacksbury representative was at HEB Mueller today. By representative, I am pretty certain it was one of the co-founders who is hitting the road to build up the company. I normally turn my nose up at cider because it’s too sweet and often has zero nuance. But this is sublime! This little Vermont cider house is making some amazing flavor.

“The Arlo (6.9% abv) is dry … it reminds me of cava,” when I made that comment he told me they’d had an amazing Spanish cider in NYC and knew there had to be something more to the experience so they went to Spain to learn how to make cider. They use fruit from their Vermont orchard, as well as fruit imported from Spain. 

The Spritz (3.8% abv) was the second I tried. It is a bit sweeter and has a soft fruit flavor – more like smelling an apple blossom than biting into the fruit. I bought one of each and left the other two flavors for folks who like something a little bit sweeter, but still delicious. 

3rd grade dance

We can call it what we’d like to avoid the reality that you are coming of age – testing the waters of what it is to be a young lady – but it was the third grade Valentine’s Day dance and your first date. You knew who you wanted to go with and you didn’t wait for him to ask. A few weeks ago, you announced you had invited him. I asked why that particular boy. You fumbled a bit and then said, “We talk about stuff and he’s always nice to me.”

I held my proud tears back, “Those are lovely reasons to ask a person out.” You beamed.

You were shy to tell your father – afraid he’d say you couldn’t go to the dance with a boy. But he was excited for you.

For the dance your date wore a suit, tie, fedora and sneakers. You chose  a sweet springtime floral dress and head band of large silk flowers.


You met at school. He brought you flowers, chocolates and paid your entrance fee. You didn’t leave his side when all the other girls ran off to giggle together.

After the dance, your dad encouraged you to write a thank you note. You did, thanking the boy for a good evening and the chocolates and paying for you and the flowers, “It was a long note, mama.”

He replied in kind and said it was cool you didn’t leave with the other girls.

I hope you have so many good dates in your life, but I know some will suck. However, because your first date was filled with respect and kindness, I expect you won’t put up with less than the best from your suitors. If a third grader can get it right, there’s no excuse for older boys/men not be able to be kind & respectful.

I love you baby and the world can be shitty, people can be awful, but you are a beautiful, powerful soul. Keep seeking out those who are as strong as you and you’ll do good.

Dwelling with Dæmons

Jack at 11 months and 11 years

In 2007, we met at Union Square Park in Manhattan. I saw him across three lanes of traffic, looking terrified, wearing an “Adopt Me” vest. From that moment, I knew he was my dog. It took a few visits, and much discussion (wearing down through constant badgering), to convince my wasband that this dog  was a good idea. We lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn and were away from 10-12 hours a day – but so was everyone else who had a dog in New York (one of my many sane arguments for adopting).

Jack was an 11-month old, 60 pound, pit-plott hound mix, who was born into a rescue shelter and, therefore, had almost no socialization and oodles of anxiety. Having been born blind in one-eye, he also had zero depth perception, but on bright side he had just learned to manage a leash on the day we met. How could he possibly be a difficult dog to raise? Luckily, under all of his problems, was a sweet spirit and eagerness to please.

Since that day, he’s lived with us in two states, six homes. Together we’ve driven thousands of miles on road trips – his every 30 minute vomiting stopped one day into a three day cross country from NY to TX, when I was five months pregnant. In ten years, we’ve experienced childbirth & raising, divorce, meeting hundreds of new people and dogs. He’s survived, with minimal lacerations, ridiculous accidents from tumbling down a 40-foot cliff to slamming into and falling up (he defies physics, just believe) limestone barriers at a full run. Together, we’ve run & hiked hundreds of miles and over the last three years he’s generally been my go-to companion.

I grew up around ranch animals. They were there, but not too close and if something went wrong, that was fate and another would take its place. I never experienced animals as companions and until very recently didn’t accept Jack was mine. I don’t know what I considered him, “just my dog” I suppose. Perhaps, it was wrapped up in the emotional walls I built against losing those that I love. If he remained “just my dog” it would hurt less when he ultimately died. But recently something clicked and I realize he’s deep in my heart, which has caused me to observe other people’s relationships with their animals in a different light.

I recently moved into an apartment that is full of dogs. I sit on my porch and watch folks walk with their dogs. When I walk Jack in the neighborhood, we stop and talk with folks. Jack brings me closer to my community simply by needing to be walked and interacting with other dogs. People share experiences with their dogs and through that a bond is created, a conduit for communication, and it’s that conduit that seems to key animals and their people together. We live side by side with these creatures who take in so much of our world that we will never understand. I am not sure what it all means, but I’ve started listening closer and through my dog I feel like I am learning to hear the world with a little more clarity. I don’t mean the ways of the made world, but the nuances, the pauses, the subtle interactions feel crisper. Jack slows me down and helps me be present. That’s a pretty amazing gift that only took 10 years to recognize.


Someone asked, “Where were you?” 

Sixteen years ago, the day the world changed, I was physically safe in Texas. I was working out at the St. Edward’s University student gym before class. I glanced at the television, mounted in the corner and saw the Towers that had directed me when I visited the City. Towers that always let you know south from north in no uncertain fashion. I saw smoke billowing from their windows and took off my headphones to hear Katy Couric going on about how there seemed to be a kitchen fire in the top floor dining room. The camera angle was off, but I had worked in kitchens and that was no kitchen fire. Then the second plane slammed into a Tower. I stumbled to the student union and heard about the Pentagon. The sound tunneled. My mouth was dry. I felt dizzy. 

I was 26 and had been out of the military a couple years. I don’t remember walking home from university, but I sat on my couch and stared at the news, watched people jump to their deaths rather than die of fire and smoke. So many people the cameras couldn’t avoid the images. I couldn’t turn it off. I got angry when my boyfriend got home and asked me to stop watching. I was terrified and saddened to a depth I couldn’t understand. It couldn’t be happening. Everything ached for all the families. All the loss and grief. It was senseless. As I watched I knew we were going to war and I was scared for so many people. 

Over the next few weeks, I seriously considered re-enlisting because the deafening order of the military made more sense than the chaos I was waking to each day. But the propaganda, so much propaganda and anti-Muslim sentiment and hate wouldn’t let me re-enlist. I knew we’d be at war for a very long time. I also knew there was too much oil in the region to morally say it would be just about making things right. Also, somethings can never be made right.

Later, I would work for a law firm and the very new partner I supported had an office overlooking the WTC site. He had been a beat cop, but recently finished his law degree and had just begun practicing law when the Towers came down. He told me that when the firm moved back into the building, no one wanted that office, even though it was a corner spot, “I said, give it to me. I can’t forget that day so I may as well watch it rebuild.”

discarding life’s accoutrements

As I pulled an empty dresser to the curb, along with unused shelves and a forgotten child-size art easel a deep sadness came over me. I am not attached to those items, or much of anything in my home – save stacks of journals, artwork I’ve collected, and the photographs chronicling my child’s life. The idea of sending almost everything onward is a relief, but the physical act of discarding items is psychologically hard. In their place sits an open space, a blank wall, a future of greater simplicity.

Over the last few months, I have been percolating on selling the home I’ve lived in for almost three years. By selling, I’d pay off all debt and create a nest egg for my daughter’s future. I’d let go of excessive space that I don’t use. Two rooms in my home went untouched for months, I leased out the space rather than let it sit barren. I don’t take up space with things. I have tried – the image of a cozy home filled with memories seems comforting. But the reality, things make me itch and feel overwhelmed. I want experiences and stories, not souvenirs made in China collecting dust. I want time.

I crave time. Time for me. Time to be outdoors, to know my child, to think, to travel, to spend with a future lover, to write, to simply be. I want to be released of the burden of more things that need my attention. But in the wave of letting things go, of resetting, there is a return of grief, dare I say, depression for the abyss of time that will allow me to be alone with myself.

In the last few years, I’ve worked so hard to understand me, what drives me, what I need / want in a partner. I have worked to break down walls and open my heart. I have worked to heal old wounds. I have learned to set boundaries. I have been challenged by new experiences and lovers. I have been tested to come to terms with the work I still must do. On occasion, I feel like I am making great progress. But that progress is simply another layer understood and life rips off layer after layer to reveal more work awaits my attention.

I had to stop cleaning because my mind / heart was racing with overstimulation, confusion. I stopped cleaning to write. In writing I find peace. In writing I work out confusion. As I began to write, more sadness wash over me. I typed through tears.

I am stripping away the nonsense of life. The acquisitions and trinkets discarded. A new wall sits bare and I am reflected back to me. I’m not sure how to say hello.