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Family Women's Health

Prenatal Resources for the First Time Mom

February 21, 2021

So I’m a planner, always have been. Even when I was a little girl I would typically have some vision of how the day was “supposed to go” and more often than not there was a meltdown when it didn’t turn out as expected. Thankfully I’ve outgrown a lot of my rigid tendencies in adulthood, but I’m still a planner. And if there’s one thing you can plan too much for, it’s giving birth and caring for your first child. There are endless amounts of books, classes, webinars, lists, articles and blogs if you choose to partake, not to mention the stream of advice coming from well-meaning friends and family. How are you supposed to make sense of it all?

For me, planning and learning are relaxing tasks, to a certain extent. I like to know a lot about a topic, especially if it has to do with my health and well-being. I put together this post to document all of the resources that I’ve found helpful throughout this pregnancy. At 37 weeks, it feels like it’s time to let go of the planning stage and move into a space of calm acceptance.

I like that most practitioners have started referring to your plans as “birth preferences.” This takes into account the desire to and preparation for having a certain kind of experience, while also leaving room to be flexible and accept whatever might happen. I hope you find these resources to be as useful as I did!

Books

Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, Early Motherhood—and Trusting Yourself and Your Body by Erica Chidi Cohen

This was the first book I read on pregnancy, and it’s a thorough overview for first time moms. A lot of great info on what to expect each week and trimester, as well as a comprehensive look at the birthing process. I especially liked the journaling prompts and all the natural remedies, meditations and exercises. It became a reference book for me where I could look up any symptoms and read about how to choose a care team. It was a very non-biased explanation about all the options available, from home-births to C-sections. I thought it laid out the facts and pros and cons of each with knowledgeable neutrality. I will definitely continue to reference this book for breastfeeding and postpartum.

Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds by Cynthia Gabriel

As I learned more about the birth process, my preferences started to take shape. I knew that I wanted to deliver in a hospital setting, because there are so many unknowns with a first birth and many people I trusted around me recommended this route. But I also know that I am incredibly sensitive to certain medical procedures, namely pain medication and synthetic or manmade hormones. I wasn’t absolutely against using them, but I decided I wanted to try to prepare as much as possible to be able to avoid or limit their use. Enter this book, which I found to be incredibly informative and empowering. If you’re trying to decide if you want to go for an unmedicated birth or not, this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you’ve already decided to, it offers a lot of info about different caretakers, stages of labor, hospital procedures and pain management. I’ll share a quote from the introduction that really stuck with me:

I hope that this book will help you to overcome our culture’s messages and find your own power and strength as a birthing woman. No one can predict the physical aspects of your labor, but I have learned that if you bring all of yourself – your emotions, your intellect, your body, and your spirit – to your baby’s birth, you will be rewarded.

Cynthia Gabriel

HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method by Marie Mongan

I know, I know the title of this book sounds very strange and the cover art looks like a 90s infomercial about baby powder but hear me out on this one. This book, and this methodology of birth preparation were incredibly impactful for me. Mongan’s approach is to release fears about birthing and instead approach it with a sense of joy and calm anticipation. So how do we do that? By practicing relaxation techniques and positive affirmations and by bringing our birth partner on-board as an active participant in the process. I love everything about this approach. As a person who has struggled with depression and anxiety in the past, I found it so helpful to have a straightforward directions. Feeling anxious about birth? Listen to a hypnobirthing audio track. Feeling overwhelmed that it’s “all on me?” Give your partner a script to read and calming techniques for labor. I’ve never used positive affirmations like this before. I took several of the phrases used in hypnobirthing tracks and wrote them on index cards with watercolor backgrounds, then placed them around my house-on the bathroom mirror, above my work computer, etc. That plus listening to these affirmations in audio tracks as I drift off to sleep has really shifted my mindset about birth from fear and worry to calm acceptance and joyful anticipation.

Body Work

I started taking Prenatal Yoga about 13 weeks into my pregnancy and it’s been a wonderful experience. I took live virtual classes from Lily Dwyer Begg, a teacher who is local to my area of Maryland, but has also started offering a full suite of virtual classes during the pandemic. It was really nice to connect with other moms on Zoom once a week, and to receive feedback on technique vs. just practicing from a recording – and since I earned my 500 hour yoga teacher training certification two months before getting pregnant, I didn’t want to lose my connection to the practice. I ended up taking a break during the first trimester because the nausea and fatigue made it too hard to do much of anything besides exist. But once I started classes with Lily I was able to learn how to treat my body gently on the mat, using a slower pace and lots of props. It has helped me with lower back pain, pelvic instability, anxiety and taking time to mindfully connect with my body and the tiny person growing inside of me.

I also saw a chiropractor who specializes in prenatal care, at the recommendation of my naturopath. I had never seen a chiropractor before, and had some legitimate fears about neck and back cracking. But by week 25, I was experiencing some intense pelvic and lower back pain, to the point that it was making it hard to go up and down stairs. The chiropractor I saw was able to make some much needed adjustments and give me tips on how to sit properly for better alignment (sitting up straight, not crossing legs, basically the opposite of my usual slump on the couch!) With these visits, the pain mostly disappeared. I still have a lot of pelvic and hip instability when getting up at night, but at 37 weeks it’s totally to be expected!

Speaking of 37 weeks, I just got a prenatal massage this week and it was amazing. Alex got it for me as a Christmas present and I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to use it due to Covid but it turns out the massage therapist he found was taking strict precautions and we decided it was worth the risk if she came to our house and we both wore masks. The massage therapist was Marissa Modha and if you’re in the North Baltimore/Harford County area I highly recommend her. I didn’t realize how much tension I was carrying in my neck, shoulders and back but also how much I was craving any kind of human touch outside of my husband’s. It was truly a relaxing and connecting experience.

Apps and Products

Expectful Meditation App

I downloaded this app a few weeks into my pregnancy and I have to say that it has hands down been the most useful resource so far. At $59.99/year it’s a pricey app, but you can try it in a trial first or just pay $9.99/month. It’s well worth it in my opinion. Not only does it offer weekly meditations geared toward your specific week in pregnancy, but it also has on-demand guided meditations on tons of topics, plus audio courses, like a comprehensive hypnobirthing guide + affirmations. You also have the opportunity to register for live guided meditation events with other women, led by a professional facilitator. I used it the most during my first and third trimesters. I would always listen to the weekly meditations because they included anecdotes about what parts of the baby were in development that week. But in the first trimester, when I struggled with nausea, fatigue and insomnia the on-demand guided meditations and sleep stories were clutch. Now that I’m close to giving birth, I’m listening to the hypnobirthing course led by British instructor Melanie Bearne and her voice is just so soothing. If you’re interested in trying out the app for free for 21 days, let me know and I’ll send you a guest pass!

PharMeDoc Pregnancy Pillow

This body pillow was a must-have for me. I read so many reviews and took polls from my friends and this one won out in the end. It’s C-shaped, which means you can lie down with it or sit up and wrap it around you. They also sell a U-shaped version which might be better for people who switch sides a lot at night. The cover is removeable and washable. This pillow has helped me get through nauseous nights, align my hips and prop up my huge bump. I might even try to use it for nursing support, we’ll see!

KeaBabies Belly Band

I had a lot of pelvic pain during my 2nd trimester. When we went for the anatomy scan at 20 weeks and found out that baby boy was sitting very low in my pelvis, it made a lot of sense. A friend recommended this belly support band and it’s been a great help. I wear it when I’m walking the dog or going to the store, pretty much anytime I’ll be on my feet for a while outside of the house. It’s easy to put on, pulls the belly weight up off of the pelvis and it’s discreet enough to wear under most clothes.

Raspberry Leaf Tea

I started drinking raspberry leaf tea regularly at around week 33. Made from the green leaves of the raspberry fruit, this tea does NOT taste like raspberries, but it does have some pretty powerful benefits for women, especially those who are pregnant. It has been known to tone the uterus and possibly shorten labor. It’s also chock-full of vitamins and minerals. Raspberry leaf tea is not recommended in the first trimester, as it can cause cramps. You can read more about the benefits and side effects here. I found the earthy taste to be a bit much as a hot tea, but it’s great as an iced tea.

Support System

Once I settled on preparing for a hospital birth with the least amount of medical intervention, Alex and I decided to hire a doula. A doula is a birth companion who provides mental, emotional and physical support to the birthing person and birth partner during labor. We hired someone through The Womb Room, which is a wonderful community and resource for women in Baltimore. Our doula has helped us build birth preferences, become more educated about the birth process and plan to stay at home during the early stages of labor before heading to the hospital. With all the Covid restrictions and isolation of the past year, it has been hard to share my pregnancy experience with others. Adding a doula who is knowledgeable, mindful, easy going and well versed in the stages of labor has helped me feel less alone in this experience and more confident that I can go through it making mindful choices that work best for me and for baby.

One of the other things I did early on was to join a Reddit community for moms expecting in March 2021. I am so very glad that I did. I love Reddit because of its anonymity and in general I think being able to find communities around specific topics leads to more meaningful online discourse. This particular group became private about 3 months in, and that has helped it to feel like a safe space. I don’t know any of these women but I feel like we’ve been through so much together: many losing their babies in miscarriages early on, finding out the gender of our babies (or not), navigating tough situations with family and caretakers. It’s been a journey and I’m so glad that I sought it out, especially in the absence of in-person support groups.

And finally, the backbone of my support system has been my husband, Alex. He has been there for me in every sense that a supportive partner would be: taking on more household tasks, helping me navigate the decisions and mood swings, celebrating with me along the way. But he’s also been there for me in a bigger way because of Covid. If I make it to 40 weeks it will be March 12, exactly one year since we both started working from home due to pandemic restrictions. Little did we know that one year later we would still be working from home, most days being each other’s only in-person interaction. It’s a lot. But it has helped us grow as a couple. We have a deeper understanding of each other’s rhythms and tendencies, and I think it will help us during the birth of our son. Alex also found two books helpful as he prepared to support me: We’re Pregnant! The First Time Dad’s Pregnancy Handbook by Adrian Kulp and The Birth Partner 5th Edition: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Partners, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions by Penny Simkin.

I hope that you’ve found this list of resources to be helpful. What are some of your favorite resources that you relied on in pregnancy? I would love to hear about them in the comments!

Family Women's Health

Pregnant in a Pandemic, Part Two

December 18, 2020

When we found out we were pregnant Alex and I were ecstatic, and also terrified. Common emotions for new parents, I would assume, but my feelings were clouded with something else: doubt. Did we make the right decision not to wait? How would we get through the next nine months in a pandemic? Would we go without some of the traditional support systems available to expecting parents? I was consumed with researching all there was to know about Covid and pregnancy. And in July 2020, there wasn’t much to know.

Some preliminary studies indicated that there was a slightly higher risk of preterm labor in patients who had contracted the virus, but there wasn’t a lot of information about risks in the first trimester or any information about increased risk of miscarriage. They had, however, confirmed that the virus could not be passed from mother to fetus. There were still strict hospital restrictions in place: only one partner present at the birth and if the mother tested positive for Covid when admitted, she would have to wear a mask during labor and potentially be separated from the baby after birth.

One of my first “bump” pics

There was also another piece of interesting data that had been collected since the pandemic began in March. While there was a slight increase in preterm deliveries in patients who tested positive for the virus, many countries saw the overall number of preterm deliveries decrease. There wasn’t enough formal research to indicate a cause, but that didn’t stop several social scientists from drawing a hypothesis that these numbers were due to more women staying at home during this time, whether because they had started to work from home or had recently become unemployed. Many Americans have lost their job this year, especially those in service industries like dining and travel. But many women have also chosen to leave their jobs or reduce working hours to care for loved ones – filling the gaps left by the virus in elder and child care.

There was so much to unpack here. Reading these statistics made me think a lot about my position in society, and how difficult the process of starting a family can be, even in the best of times. How was it fair that I had access to great healthcare and was able to work from home, while other pregnant women who worked in some jobs deemed “essential” (I particularly thought of grocery store and food supply chain workers) were putting their lives on the line by continuing to work, many doing so with a woeful lack of benefits like sick leave, hazard pay and health insurance?

With my parents shortly after sharing our news

One of the biggest takeaways of this year has been the deepening realization that we are all connected in an interwoven society and economy. Our actions affect each other and we literally rely on people who are barely paid a living wage in order to feed ourselves and our families. So many times this year I’ve looked across a service counter or cash register and met eyes with someone working one of these jobs, only to feel a flood of emotions rising up inside of me. Usually it’s a mix of shame and pride – shame at being able to stay home and pride that we are all trying to do our part to get through this collective trauma. Sometimes I just feel anger. Anger at a system that values money over people, that prioritizes businesses over schools, daycares and nursing homes, and that leaves so many individuals left to grapple with impossible decisions.

In August, Alex and I traveled to North Carolina to see my parents, who drove up from Florida. We stayed in a cabin in the mountains outside of Asheville, soaking up nature and the company of family we hadn’t seen since last Christmas. Keeping my pregnancy secret from my mom during the first trimester was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it turned out to be worth it after seeing her reaction in person: the initial shock and then the tears of joy. And to be able to receive a real life hug afterward, it sealed the experience in my memory in a way that a video call never could.

After springing this joyous news on my parents, that week my family also received some difficult news. My cousin in Alabama, the only daughter of my mom’s sister had been battling Covid for the past 10 days. She was 50 years old, with chronic heart disease that placed her in the most vulnerable category of Covid patients. She passed away while we were in North Carolina. My aunt gave us the news, describing a heart-wrenching scene of a nurse holding up an iPad to her daughter as a ventilator assisted her breathing.

One precious soul was leaving the earth as a new one started to enter. Everything about that week encapsulated this year for me. How could I honor my own joy in the midst of overwhelming tragedy? In recent years, I had already started to think about life as a long roundabout hike, with ups and downs, mundane parts and magnificent ones, more about the journey than the destination. But this year has really driven that vision home for me.

Deciding to create a new life, to bring a new person into existence and place them in this world is not an easy one to make. I pondered it for years before deciding it was worthwhile to me. I realized that existing, while devastating at times, is ultimately such a rich and beautiful experience. Discovering simple pleasures like eating and sleeping, soaking in the embrace of loved ones, witnessing the intricate patterns of nature, having your heart broken for the first time, watching the sun set on the ocean, missing someone so much it aches, and laughing until you gasp for breath. This is the gift I give to my son. Even in the cruel, uncertain reality we’re living in, I can’t wait to see what he does with it.

Family Women's Health

Pregnant in a Pandemic, Part One

December 16, 2020

It is so weird to be pregnant right now – constantly questioning social contact outside of my household, reevaluating birth plans as hospital rules evolve, and never seeing my care provider’s faces from the nose down. But let’s be honest, it is so weird to just be a human on this planet right now, let alone carrying a growing baby inside. The coronavirus pandemic has demolished 2020 – chewed it up and spit it out, leaving a saliva-soaked pulp that once consisted of the hopes and dreams of this year. We’re going to be processing this for a long time.

When I started blogging in September, this post was at the top of my mind. Really one of the main reasons I wanted to write was to process what I, and collectively we, are going through right now. And it took me three months to work up the courage to do it. Basically my whole 2nd trimester I’ve been writing this post in my mind. So here goes, an attempt to wrap my mind around 2020 and what it means to be pregnant in a pandemic.

I started out this year in immense physical pain. I had been struggling with what was assumed to be endometriosis for a few years. “Assumed” because this disease which affects an estimated 1 in 10 women can only be diagnosed via laparoscopic surgery and biopsy. I won’t even go into the details of how frustrating the experience of being diagnosed is, because it deserves its own post. But I basically suffered from GI issues, debilitating menstrual cramps and shooting pain that would seemingly strike at random. And after years of visiting specialists and trying different dietary restrictions, I self-diagnosed based on a post I saw on Reddit that described my symptoms to a T. Fast forward to February 2020 and I was finally getting laparoscopic surgery to remove tissues growing outside of my uterus and confirm that they were in fact endometrium.

The morning of my surgery – fluffy flamingo socks and a send off from Liza, my first child.

This in itself was an act to prepare to become a mother. My husband Alex and I had decided to become parents when we got married in 2018, but I knew that my body wasn’t ready. I was constantly at odds with myself – wishing that the pain wasn’t happening, tensing up when it would happen and self-medicating to distract from reality. It wasn’t until reality became unavoidable – days on the couch, cancelled plans, severe anxiety around food – that I knew I had to find out what was going on.

I had decided to become a mother later in life. I was 30 years old and had stopped taking hormonal birth control to experiment if it would help my depression and mood swings (for me, a definite yes), and as soon as the synthetic hormones cleared my system my saga with endo began and simultaneously I started seeing babies everywhere. I remember a poignant moment when I took photos at a friend’s wedding shower, and was editing the photos a few days later. My friend’s cousin was there with her baby, and I was looking at a photo of her holding him, tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes. My desire to become a mom made itself fully known that day. I just had to face my own reality before I could get there.

2020 was going to be our year – buying our first house and starting our family. Laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis was considered an elective surgery, but I was able to get mine the week before the hospital started postponing them due to Covid-19. The surgery was a success. My brilliant surgeon located several tissue growths, removed them and officially diagnosed me with endo based on the biopsy. While recovering, I cruised the endo blogs and forums for post-lap tips and felt twinges of guilt as I read post after post of women in pain who had waited sometimes years for a surgery appointment only to see it postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic.

Our strange new reality…

And that’s a small part of the untold toll of this pandemic. The numbers we know – the rising death toll, the multiplying positive cases – are staggering enough. But what about the uncounted numbers? The postponed surgeries, the delayed doctor visits, the milestone birthdays cancelled, the celebrations of life downgraded into zoom calls, the final days of a great-grandparent’s life spent alone or the precious early months of a little one’s life spent thinking that grandparents exist inside phone and tablet screens.

I’m not trying to debate the need for or efficacy of social distancing. We were dropping like flies, filling ICUs, we had to do something and in the absence of testing availability and extreme European-style lockdowns, we were told to stay home if we could, to stay away from each other as much as possible, to only do what was “essential.” I get it. But it doesn’t take away from the collective trauma we’ve endured this year, the temporary measures that have become our new normal: isolated and uncertain.

Six weeks after my surgery, my doctors gave me the go ahead to start trying for a baby. Alex and I now faced a new dilemma. After years of debate and careful consideration leading to our decision to become parents, we now had to consider if it was worth it to endure the anxiety and potential dangers of carrying a child to term during Covid or if it would be smarter to wait another year or so until the pandemic was in a different, more controlled state. This was April 2020. The first wave had crested and hospitals in Italy and New York were starting to get a handle on it. We were both working from home indefinitely, but there was still an air of “temporary” around everything – that life would go back to normal relatively soon.

This was 3 days after we found out we were pregnant and no one else knew yet.

Looking back on it, I wonder why it felt like that. Maybe because we didn’t want to accept how drastically things had changed, or maybe because the American approach was to always be looking ahead to a time when the economy recovered, even if there wasn’t a clear path as to how that would happen.

Ultimately, we decided to go for it. Mostly because we had no idea how long it would take to become pregnant. Having endo had given me a cautious outlook on the whole process. I was rapidly approaching my mid-thirties and I knew that if we waited a year to start trying it could be two years or more before we got pregnant, and three years before we became parents.

The world felt like a scary and uncertain place, but we were certain of our desire to be parents and felt that we had enough personal stability to justify the risk. Our positions of privilege definitely played a part – having jobs that transitioned to working remotely from home, and having savings we’d built up to buy a house. But, like any big decision, it still felt like jumping off the side of a cliff into a pool of blue tropical water. The initial shock of the decision while hanging in midair, followed by the release of having a direction, plunging into the warm, comforting waters of certainty during uncertain times.

Three months later we were staring at a “Pregnant” sign on a Clearblue test, and reality started to sink in…

Read Part Two of this post.

Common phrases by theidioms.com