What 2-year-olds teach us about tools

This is the second post in the series Career Cornerstones for a Lit-Up Life. If you missed the first cornerstone (VALUES), read it here

Lately my two-year-old has been acquiring new skills with alarming speed. This week alone she mastered such critical life skills as climbing in and out of the tub, putting on pants, plugging in a nightlight, dragging a toy shopping cart up and down stairs (v. dangerous, not a life skill), climbing every public play structure within 1km of our home and putting a full garbage bag in the giant bin outside (not asking questions, going with it).

But more amazing than any of the skills she’s developing is the attitude a person needs to learn that much that quickly. It’s an attitude of being in the moment, embracing the process, unencumbered by expectations and unconcerned with what others might think. It’s the ultimate winning belief system and we’re all born with it.

So where does it go?

Over in the corporate world we looove talking about our toolkits – what’s in there and what we want to put in there next. The general practice is to equate “tools” with “skills”. We identify skills gaps and then gather said skills – think courses like coding-for-beginners and speaking-with-confidence. But often after we’ve checked off the skill we needed, we’re still experiencing our work – satisfaction, motivation, all of it – in exactly the same way as before.

This is because skills only comprise some of our work tools. If our values are the “WHY” of what we do, our tools are the “HOW”. And that includes the skills, traits, habits and beliefs that we work with every single day.

The toolkit analogy reminds me of those plastic toy sets where it’s the whole construction site – workers, truck, road signs, crane, and tool boxes complete with tiny colourful tools. Everything in its little place.

Skills alone are basically inanimate objects like the tiny colourful plastic tools. It’s our mindset and beliefs that bring them to life, cause them to play, and allow them to shine.

The “it factor” behind my toddler’s outrageous development is not her gross motor skills or her cognition or even her inquisitiveness, it’s her sheer tenacity. This little creature believes in herself 100% and that enables her success.

We could learn a thing or two from that.

Next time someone asks you about your toolkit or career development goals, think beyond new skills and take stock of your beliefs. What new ways of thinking could bring your existing skills to life?

 

 

 

How to recognize your child’s strengths… and position them for success in life

First, I listened to this. From Good Life Project, the podcast that turned me on to podcasts.

It’s a discussion with psychologist Lea Waters about her work in positive psychology and her new book The Strength Switch: How The New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish.

I feel so empowered as a parent, to give an(other) amazing gift to my children: helping them to know their strengths.

As parents we have an incredible opportunity to be a mirror for our children. Before they are conscious of the world around them, before they are influenced by social phenomena, before they are exposed to irritating cultural lies like “artists don’t make money” or “athletes get girls” or “kindness is weakness”, etc…

Meeting their incessant needs as tiny people means that we are uniquely positioned to identify their strengths for them. We are literally right there when they are plainly becoming who they are. In Lea Waters’ strength research speak, we see what they:

(1) exhibit above-average performance at,

(2) are energized by, and

(3) really LIKE doing.

And that true-strengths test defines the talents and character traits that are the secret sauce for their individual success.

 

For my part, I see that FL has a good memory and makes connections easily. She is determined and strong-willed. She is conscientious, taking pleasure in putting things in order. She is empathetic, friendly, sensitive, and funny. And she likes to sing in the morning when she wakes up.

If you are a parent, be on the lookout for your child’s strengths. And share your findings with your child as they grow!

Doing this simple thing can help them avoid beginning a process of self inquiry when they’re in midlife and unsatisfied with their careers, and instead give them a shot at a much happier, more fulfilled life.

 

 

 

 

Tweak

Who has ever felt stuck? All of us. And when we feel that way, it is so easy to fall prey to our culture’s go-big-or-go-home attitude toward improving your life. The messages coming at us encourage huge leaps in the pursuit of a better, happier, more fulfilled life. “Quit your job! Leave your unsatisfying relationship! Move off the grid to a tiny home and eat insects!”

These might be advisable solutions for some of us (where we’ve done the work to understand our situation, analyzed all the best available options for improving our lives, and are making educated choices).

For many of us, the risk of these alluring wholesale Life Changes is significant.

We underestimate the power of much smaller changes to radically improve our sense of happiness, purpose and wellbeing on a daily basis. These require a fraction of the energy, resources and risk associated with bigger changes. Here are five ideas for small tweaks with a big return on investment:

1. Do not leave your town or even your home, if you don’t want to. Just change what you’re doing in it. Watch a different show, read a different book, go to a different restsurant. Repeat regularly to continuously shift your perspective.

2. Think of three people in your circle that you admire and plan to spend more time with them. We know the people we surround ourselves with have a major impact on how we develop as people and how we feel. Choose wisely.

3. Skip the degree or expensive certification unless you are really sure you will love the experience. There are no guarantees with formal education anymore. Instead take a course in your community or online for free. Learning about something that interests you is extremely rewarding plus you’ll connect with a tribe of like-minded folks along the way. And you can still put it on your resume.

4. Update your rituals. Take a moment to consider where stress lies in your day. Is small talk in the elevator with your boss every morning driving you to consider quitting your job? Arrive 5 minutes earlier. Is packing your kid’s lunch the worst part of your morning? Supervise him doing it the night before. Do you wake up feeling tried everyday? This one’s easy: go to sleep 15 minutes earlier, moving bedtime up until you start to feel refreshed.

5. Get meaning. A really common complaint as we grow in our careers – especially for women – is a feeling that it lacks meaning. Here’s how to get some: lead a philanthropic project in your company. Socially minded business is in vogue – even unexpected companies will get onboard. Or, volunteer through or outside of work, even once a month or year. Or, do a race for charity. Or, if you have no time for any of that, but you have some money set aside, make a donation. Find something you really believe in and choose to invest in meaning with the money you earn at your less-than-meaningful job.

Small changes, big impact. What will you do?

What a moment to myself looks like

Baby F is sleeping and I have a moment to myself. I finish folding laundry. I think about cleaning the kitchen counters but instead I brush off the bits of dirt that came loose when I unwrapped the potted tulip that’s sitting there. All red with yellow insides, opening coquettishly.

Last weekend a friend told me about how tiny dogs are being bred to fit into purses but are developing terrible health problems in the process. I already knew this but she seemed pretty rocked so I went along.

“That’s terrible”.

It is though, actually. These dogs are just not meant to be that small.

Did you know that human newborns are the most vulnerable, under-developed mammal at birth? Our little brains are only 25% developed when we come out of incubation. It’s because of the mother’s physiology – as upright walkers, we can only grow the baby so much and still be able to safely birth it.

No other animal needs to care for their young in the way that humans do.

I want to love my red and yellow tulip, but I have this ominous feeling it will die in here. My Valentine’s day roses fell and wilted in a matter of days. This can’t be good.

I’ve become comfortable with the untidy mess of my house. On account of I’m caring for a human infant twenty-four hours a day. And I’m used to disappointing my partner who will come home and see the counter I brushed off but didn’t clean and he will just see a slightly dirty counter. I imagine that he imagines this is some negative reflection on me, but to be honest I don’t know if that’s true.

Another friend recently told me about her experience getting on anti-anxiety medication. She’s been on it for about eight months. Is that past the honeymoon stage? I thought so, but I don’t know. She says the meds have profoundly increased her enjoyment of life.

She’s a mother, by the way.  I wonder how I would do with a little medication…

I wonder how it went as we evolved to upright walkers – as our physical bodies put limits on the development of our babies, did our emotional intuitiveness expand so that we could care properly for our newborns? Or is it possible that we gradually developed this immense capacity for caregiving, and that meant we could start to stand on two feet?

I googled “are tulips naturally two-toned?”. Nothing but ads for tulips.

You know what? I will keep this tulip alive because it might be a genetically modified mutant. And that seems unfair. I’m going to water it for all those poor tiny dogs.

I can do this because I’m the master nurturer of the animal kingdom.

Even when unmedicated.

And for this, I don’t know whether to say thank you or you’re welcome. I think both.

Young hearts run free

 

Teaching mama and baby yoga has had me questing to discover the best yoga postures for energy. Because sleep is hard to come by when mothering a baby. I’ve learned that back bends, twists and deep breathing can help.

Inhale. Exhale.

And time apart. Which is why I’m camped out at my local independent coffee shop. Alone with my americano and my words. Blending in with the regular crowd, I think. And all of a sudden a swarm of moms and babies are entering. Unkempt, earthy, tired. Noisy. I feel like I’m undercover – I’m one of you but you can’t tell. My baby is at home with her granny. I miss her. But I love being here on my own.

Inhale. Exhale.

I’m so excited to talk about things outside of baby. To scale my life in a bigger ecosystem. To say we’re ordering in and not feel like I somehow failed to fulfill the duties of Home Life President. As defined in a different time, for a different woman. A job I’ve learned is not for me.

These Mondays though, they come with pangs. A pang of future Mondays. What will it feel like? To get dressed and leave the house without her? To leave her in the care of another? Another who doesn’t love her like I do. Who won’t sing her our songs.  My eyes sting.

Inhale. Exhale.

I have often remarked, if it was the 1950s we mothers wouldn’t sit around planning our childcare, agonizing over daycare wait lists and nanny shares and transitioning back to work. I have said this out loud to rooms of new mothers, in these safe sisterly communities we are always trying to create, for me in vain. No one has picked up the conversation. Is it too painful? Confusing? Overwhelming? A foregone conclusion? A stupid comment?

I don’t wish myself back in time. Not for a second. The fight for gender equality has barely started in my view, and I won’t give one inch back. But sometimes these choices don’t feel like choices. To spend the bulk of the week working outside of the home, or, caring for my young child. Now my job is to make an impossible choice I can live with.

Inhale. Exhale.

Podcasts, walks, fatigue, anxiety, cuddles and overwhelming love. These are the ways I will remember maternity leave. A warping, tinting, melting, of the glass walls through which I see this world. They say the years are short but the days are long. At ten months Baby F astounds me. She knows her home, her toys, the best vents to bang on, where the baby monitor is kept (favourite thing to throw across the floor). I let her because I secretly want it to break, its random beeping for no apparent reason one of the most elusive and frustrating mysteries of these past ten months.

The greatest mystery of these past ten months though, remains: what does the future hold for me? Unsolved.

Seeking strength and wisdom now and always. To lead a life I can look back on with pride and joy. And that I can embrace and exalt in along the way.

Inhale. Young hearts. Exhale. Run free.

 

How to stop being a perfectionist

There was a time when I would change my sheets weekly. I did this with pride, it was the chore that always got done over the weekend, even if there was no food in the fridge (common) and a drying rack covered in sweaters and underwear in the middle of the apartment for days. 

This year the sheets fell behind. And I am so over my smug weekly sheet washing. If there’s one thing babies do, it’s trim the fat on your time. 

This is the advice to new mothers about housekeeping: lower your standards. Aka get over yourself. Choose happy self and happy kid over perfect house. You can’t do all three. 

I listened to this great interview with Margeuerite Deslauriers (philosophy professor and founder of McGill’s Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminisit Studies) about the emotional work that women kill themselves doing. They are stressed out and exhausted and it’s completely off balance with what men give in this area. This is a real issue of course, but the professor had  a suggestion for managing it: ask yourself if it actually needs doing. And if it does, must you always be the one doing it?

Like emotionally supporting your coworker through her breakup?  Sending birthday cards to every friend every year? 

Is doing these things moving you toward a more enriched, fully lived life? Probably not. Is weekly sheet cleaning? Nope.

I’m talking about living life as an active verb, here. Not dragging your feet from obligation to obligation. 

Which means letting go of the things you think you should be doing and instead finding better stuff to do. 

Better stuff as defined by you, for you. 

A good friend came over today and brought a Christmas card.  And inside there was a gift card. The thought to reciprocate this hadn’t even entered my mind. What can you do? Say thanks sincerely, make her a grilled cheese sandwich and drive her home. Then let it go. 

Christmas is a vulnerable time for measuring yourself against other people. Everyone’s getting together, dressed in their finest, on best behaviour and exchanging gifts. If you’re feeling down and perfectionistic after the holidays, find something to do that moves you toward a more enriched, fully-lived life. 

Not laundry. 

Not gratuitous emotional support. 

Not unhealthy comparisons to people who are more planful gifters than you are. 

Mine is writing this. What’s yours? 

How to be present

The house is full of blankets, most of them small. They are strewn about and grabbed up at random, for tucking tiny feet into car seats and strollers, mopping milk and tiny faces, for keeping cozy while we peak outside in the early morning. The neighbours are gardening, proud and strong. Gardening is such a wholesome habit. Earthy, creative, vibrant, cyclical.

At yoga teacher training in 2008 we all got Karma yoga positions. A chance to give back to the retreat centre where we stayed. My friend worked in the kitchen and became romantically involved with the chef. The same chef who borrowed an acoustic guitar on my behalf during the course and hid it under the table in the front hallway for me to find like a kid on Christmas. They made a cute couple, I think they actually toured tea festivals in Europe afterwards. Oh, to be twenty-two again…

I had the best job – in the garden. Every day for two hours I dug in the earth.

The manager of the gardens was a middle aged Buddhist woman who was wiry and frank and knew the garden intimately. There were three yogi trainees on the team – an unlikely crew including myself, a young male Berliner who was smallish but strong, blonde and remote, and a middle aged Scottish chap, a bit round for what you might expect from a yogi, open and trusting and kind. We all found our own brand of joy in the dirt. In the fresh air of the impossible Scottish North. An old fishing village turned hippie town, where the tide came in and out at a crawl and left the little sail boats teetering on their keels like beached gravestones.

Are these the stories that I’ll tell baby F when she’s older? When we’re done with the blankets and on to shoes with soled feet and solid food and bicycles and then car keys and eventually no evidence at all in the old family house but for a box of report cards in the crawl space? Photos on the wall. The old family house we haven’t bought yet.

We are in the process of losing my grandmother. She’s moved from the large apartment where she and my grandfather lived for twenty-five years to a smaller apartment inside a residence where she can have meals and activities with other people. Where she can find the company and care she needs now. My parents have started to dismantle her life in things. A sterling silver cup won in a running race in 1912 – R.W.Theobald, boys under 15. My great uncle. A sterling silver cup much more permanent than he was, he having died some fifteen years ago.

I look at these blankets that are everywhere. I smell them, I smell baby F. I am a sensitive person with time on my hands, caring for this ten week old baby whose needs still come in unpredictable waves. I wonder about this trail of things we’re all creating behind us. It inspires me to live minimally, acquire less. Meanwhile outside the people garden and the birds sing. Earthy, creative, vibrant, cyclical. No longing for the past, no fear for the future, just the dirt and sun and rain.

The baby wakes up, makes tiny adorable noises and looks at me from her little plush rainforest seat. With intense violet eyes and strong fists stretching up over her head. Feathery dark hair, tongue out, fleeting smiles. Tucked under a flannel blanket. This is how to be present.

 

Re-sizing your world

I was thinking about sharing my thoughts. “Everything I need to know I learned from parenting my three week old baby”. Or something like that. She’s bigger and I’m calmer. She grew a pound – a pound! That’s 12% of her body weight at birth. In three weeks.

I slept for six hours which is a huge accomplishment. Or a lucky strike. The sun has come out at last.

Today I learned that Lululemon is in the business of vision and goal setting. They have this great worksheet on the topic. Lulu has three main categories for goals: health, personal, and career. Could it really be that simple? I wondered – what about financial goals? But financial goals are a means to an end. Why think about what you want your investment account to look like? If one of your goals is to establish a scholarship for example, well then, maybe that’s a personal goal. Or potentially a career goal. The money isn’t the goal itself.

It’s interesting, staying home most days, not spending much money at all. And spending time with an infant who doesn’t know what money is. She will have to learn, one day. But she was born knowing what love is. That’s what matters.

Which brings me to the environment you’re in and how it shapes you. What you choose to let in. My mother described life with an infant as having your world shrink down. Which is a true observation. But how often do we change the size of our world? And what an adventure it is – to make that shift.

Last year when J and I were in Italy, I felt my world expanded. It was awe-inspiring, stepping back and forth in time, seeing world famous works of art up close, feeling tiny standing in the Roman Forum, or seated in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Caring for an infant has the same world-shifting effect, but it gets smaller. We are the centre of our own universe, my baby and me – we eat, we rest. It is so beautifully small and simple, our world, there are no unnecessary trappings. We don’t care about make-up or expensive shoes or anyone else’s schedule but our own. And even then, our schedule doesn’t require a clock most of the time – just our instincts and urges.

Not everyone can have an infant (and I get that not everyone wants one!). But everyone can experiment with shrinking their world on purpose – even if it’s just for a day. A day where time is irrelevant, where you follow your whims through the day. Where you wear something perfectly worn and deliciously comfortable. A day where you leave the house only to walk around the block one time, slowly. Where you eat what’s in the pantry and love it, or just order pizza. Where you barely notice current events or much of anything at all outside your home. Where you daydream and nap by a sunny window. Where you find another person and share their body heat.

While you’re at it you can consider your vision and goals – health, personal and career. And where and how re-sizing your world can fit into your plans – to shift your perspective and stretch yourself in new ways. Perfectly simple. And it doesn’t cost a thing.

And so it begins (a birth story)

Note: this is a real birth story. Some may find it graphic.

First off, I am no longer pregnant. Now I am a mother. Which means I have a birth story. As my pregnancy went on, I heard a lot of birth stories. Many women process their birthing experiences by sharing their stories with other women. Sometimes they gave me advice, sometimes they didn’t, but everyone who shared their story had been through a life altering event – childbirth. Moving, painful, gratifying, frightening, divine – whatever it was, it altered their lives.

My life altering event started at 5am on March 28 2016 and ended at 10:35pm when my daughter came into the world. We were in a suite at the Toronto Birth Centre, the only light coming from a wide gas fireplace, and I was seated on a birthing stool. My husband J sat on the bed behind me with his knees supporting me. Three midwives sat on little stools facing me and encouraging me. D – my primary midwife – calmly provided updates on the baby’s head as it gradually appeared. Z – whose role was to care for the baby once it arrived- was quietly encouraging me with “you’re amazing” and “beautiful” and “perfect”. And N – our student midwife and baby catcher – waited with gentle firm hands to be the first to touch our child.

That’s how the birth story ended. It started in a much more pedestrian way, when I woke up at 5am with mild cramping. I had been experiencing surges sporadically in the past few weeks, but this felt different, like something was getting started. One thing I felt sure about in approaching the labour was the importance of the set up – I felt that my state of mind in early labour would set the tone for the whole thing. A midwife friend had told me that preserving energy – mental and physical – in early labour was often the distinguishing factor for coping well towards the end. So when I woke with these surges, I started listening to some of my childbirthjoy recordings from the hypnobirthing class we had taken. I started with “pregnancy relaxation sleep” which sets up a meditative state and  positive view of birth and “birth suggestions” which establishes a strong mind-body connection for birthing. I listened to these in bed, breathing deeply, as close to sleep as I could get.

At around 6:30am I decided to get into a warm bath where I stayed for about half an hour, continuing to breathe deeply and trying not to get too excited that this could be the day when we would finally meet our baby. When I came back to bed I downloaded a contraction timing app and started tracking the surges. To my surprise, they were following a consistent pattern of about 45 seconds each, every 5-6 minutes. This went on for over an hour. The intensity of the surges varied at this point but even the stronger ones were numbed by the very calm meditative state which I had created (thank you hypnobirthing!). Our midwives had told us to check in with them when contractions reached 1 minute each every 5 minutes. They also said to alert them as to any labour activity if it started in the daytime. At 8:45am I paged N and gave her a full report of the last 3.5 hours. I also ate a bagel because as usual I had woken up ravenous. N suggested I take half a gravol and try to get some more rest. She also warned me these contractions could fade away to nothing.

The idea that this might not be “it” was a bit of a blow, because at this point I was feeling overjoyed and grateful to be in labour and nearing the end of the pregnancy journey. I was ready to give birth. I somewhat reluctantly took the half gravol, stopped timing surges altogether, and continued to listen to the “pregnancy relaxation sleep” recording in bed for the next hour or so, cuddled up next to J. The surges did slow down – sometimes 10 or 15 minutes apart – but they didn’t stop completely. By 10:30-11am I was up again and sitting on my exercise ball during the surges because when they did come, they were more intense than before. I had started listening to the “deepening for birth” recording which is meant for labour and encourages a deeper meditative state specifically for labour and birth.

At around 1:45pm I checked in with N again to give her an update. We were trying to figure out whether my waters had broken. I hadn’t experienced the “big gush” that you see in movies, but I was definitely experiencing smaller gushes. Because I had tested positive  for GBS, the timing of the waters breaking was a factor in how we managed the birth. With a GBS positive mother, the midwives advised that the baby should be born within 18 hours of waters breaking to reduce risk of the baby contracting GBS (we had also decided to have an antibiotic IV for me during active labour to reduce the risk of the baby contracting GBS). I had been told that smaller gushes could constitute waters breaking via a leak if they were happening every time I changed positions. This wasn’t quite happening, although they were becoming more consistent. The midwives suggested we meet at their clinic, the Midwives Collective at 3:30pm to do a test to determine whether my waters had actually broken.

As the afternoon went on I was feeling more and more confident that this wasn’t a false alarm. We decided to time some of the surges and they were longer and more frequent than they had been in the morning when they had first come in a pattern. Partly given the positive meditative state I had managed to cultivate so far at home, I wasn’t excited about leaving to visit the clinic. I was also quite certain my waters had broken at this point because the gushes were now coming each time I changed positions. I spoke with D at 3pm and shared this with her. She said she and N would come over at 4pm.

Around this time it hit me that we were really doing this – I was in labour, we were going to have a baby, and we were on track to do this delivery unmedicated. I had a moment where I felt scared of what was coming next, all of which I had read about but none of which I had experienced before.  J held and comforted me beautifully.

Happy to not be leaving my house and feeling confident again about navigating this very new experience, I settled into a comfortable place leaning over my couch and bouncing on the birthing ball to manage the surges. I was still listening to “deepening for the birth” off and on. A mantra had surfaced for me that I hadn’t practiced or anticipated: with each surge I breathed deeply and slowly, opened my chest to the sky and repeated “surrender. send anesthesia” in my mind. Both were concepts from hypnobirthing that seemed to work well together for me.

When D and N arrived we went upstairs to my bedroom and they checked my cervix. They discovered I was 3-4cm dilated, signalling that we were now in active labour. It was 4:30pm. We went back downstairs and they suggested I eat something but before I could do that I started vomiting. This actually felt like a relief because I’d been feeling nauseous on and off all day. Now that we were in active labour it was time to put in the IV for the GBS prevention. Hilariously, it took five pokes to get it in, including calling in Z for backup support, all in all taking over an hour. In between tries we took breaks for surges. I managed a few bites of pizza but ended up vomiting a few more times.

Once I was properly IV’d, I decided to try sitting in the bath. N ran a deep warm tub for me and J came into the bathroom with me. The bath is usually my happy place and it was very relaxing in between surges, but not a good place for me to experience surges. Through the labour it felt good to be upright and forward during the surges and it was hard to do that in the tub. It felt unwieldy to change positions in there.  My body felt different and much less mobile, probably because the baby was descending deep into my pelvis. There was more vomiting and eventually I got out and we moved to the bedroom.

I’m generally not a fan of getting out of the tub – going from being warm in the water to wet and cold out of the water and having to dry off and get clothes back on feels daunting. This is on a good day. In advanced active labour, leaving the bath and going into my bedroom and managing surges along the way as I figured out how to get dry and warm again wasn’t pleasant. The surges were also intensifying and I had trouble finding a good position to manage them in my bedroom. The midwives said they generally check the cervix every four hours, which meant we would check at 8:30pm, but we were coming on for 8pm and they decided to check me early. Between N checking and then D double checking I had at least three intense surges. It crossed my mind then: if their fingers checking my cervix feels uncomfortable, HOW is a baby going to come out of there in a few hours?? I tried to put this thought of my mind and regain composure. They told me I was 9cm dilated and in transition.

Around this time I believe a lot of my conscious training left the building – and the subconscious training took over. Hypnobirthing is all about training the subconscious mind in preparation for this moment. It was comforting and natural for me to have my conscious mind along for the ride when learning and practicing comfort techniques leading up to the birth, but for me there was no room for the conscious mind in the late stage labour and birth. This manifested in two ways – time distortion – the surges were flying by – and a move from consciously working with my mantra to simply breathing deeply.

It was time to go to the birth centre. J got my bag and prepared the car – towels, bucket. I was nervous about getting into the car because of the intensity of the surges and the limited positions available to me in the car – but I soldiered on. I got in the back seat and straddled my vomit bucket facing out the back window, clinging to the headrest with my eyes shut tightly – for me this felt like the only rational way to transfer to the birth centre at 9cm dilated and getting ready to give birth. The car ride was 15-20 minutes and felt like a roller coaster ride but I didn’t experience a major surge until the moment we walked into the birth centre and I breathed through it leaning over the lobby couch.

We were taken into the birthing suite and the midwives arrived shortly after us. They turned off the overhead lights and turned on the gas fireplace. The birth centre attendant brought me the most delicious berry juice ever, but I didn’t have much time to savour it. I could tell we were getting close to the birth but I didn’t know how close. Z arrived and started preparing an area where the baby would be examined – I remember seeing her do this and it felt surreal. D said “soon we’re going to have this baby”. This final stage of surges was challenging – but again, time flew. D offered the tub and I declined. She offered gas but I declined that too – the mask was too cumbersome for me to coordinate. All I needed was for my body to feel free. At one point I ended up on my back and remember saying “move me!” when I couldn’t get upright myself before a surge came over me. Firm midwives’ hands responded and got me to where I needed to be. J later affectionately compared me in that moment to a flipped turtle.

The “urge to push” that people talk about was just that. It came over me and there was no stopping it. D asked if I wanted to try the birthing stool and I said yes. It appeared beside the bed and I sat on it. It was the perfect place to bear down and use my whole body to push. J sat on the bed behind me and supported me. He was a completely non-judgmental presence, accepting the experience and supporting me fully. The baby heartbeat checks that had been going on all day every 15 minutes were now more frequent – and I could tell from where she positioned the stethoscope to hear the heartbeat that we were literally inches from birth. I needed to make noise – from low rumbling to all-out yelling. To my surprise, vocalizing really helped.

A lot of birth stories I had read presented pushing as the gratifying, energizing part of labour and birth, but I was nervous about injury. We had brought olive oil for the midwives to use on me at this point and I asked them for it. Before I knew it, I felt the head being born- it felt like an instant release of pressure. The shoulders came next but I was hardly aware of them or the body as it slid out. I remember pulling up the t-shirt I was still wearing – an old one of J’s – thick, and drenched in sweat.

And then there was a baby on my chest. I literally sprang up off the birthing stool and lay back against the pillows on the bed. J was there behind my right shoulder peering over. Time slowed right down. We both just looked down at this beautiful mess of dark hair. I could see there were tears in J’s eyes. I touched the baby – warm and slippery, helpless, and crying now, loud and strong. I thought I would be balling my eyes out at this moment but I just kept looking from J to the baby and back again. I was taking it all in – processing the birth, processing the newborn baby, our baby, on my chest. Then Z came over and asked “what did you get?” – she opened the baby’s legs a little and I could see it was a girl. We had a baby girl!

The next hour and a half passed more slowly – I delivered the placenta (a non issue, it felt like it just slid out), drank my berry juice, held my baby. The midwives monitored my bleeding and then weighed and measured the baby. 8lb 5oz of perfect. We tried latching her but mostly just cuddled. I was physically and mentally exhausted but wired with adrenaline and overwhelming love. I would bond deeply with my baby over the next few days, but in that moment I was aware of feeling closer to J than ever before and it was a beautiful feeling. From that moment on we would be partners in life and in parenting.

I am no longer pregnant. Now I am a mother. This is my birth story – mine and J’s and our daughter’s. Childbirth was a life altering event – it was everything in 18 hours. Moving, gratifying, divine, otherworldly, unexpected. And so it begins.

Special thanks to: the Midwives Collective, the Toronto Birth Centre, and Childbirthjoy.

 

 

Traditions of trees and seasons

The Toronto Library has twenty-four copies of Positive Discipline, the first three years by Nelson, Erwin and Duffy. All of the copies are out there on the bedside tables of parents and parents-to-be across the city, and three more are waiting on the hold list. Make that four. I’m amazed there are so many people in this city who (a) use the library and (b) are as nerdy, conscientious and / or lacking in confidence as I am to warrant such a stampede of enthusiasm over such a book.

Evidently, gone are the days of just doing what we have know, generation after generation.

Actually, the introduction to the book (I could access a preview only) explains that we’re in a child rearing black hole largely because we abandoned long held traditions in parenting somewhere between WWII ending and the 20th century wave of immigration and the proliferation of the extended, multi-generational family unit into the much more independent two-parents-and-their-kids-doing-their-it-their way model.

The author also explains why before this seismic shift in the family structure, children understood respect for authority in part because they had one parent modeling authority (Dad) and another modeling respect for authority (Mum). Luckily, the author doesn’t suggest we should move backwards from equality of the sexes, but rather, is making an interesting point.

Outside the front window of the new house there is a Japanese maple. One day this week, after a month of gradually brightening its leaves into what can only be described as flaming crimson, the big fall happened. Essentially overnight, all the leaves were on the lawn, or rather, square of dirt, where they now lie in wait for a useful attitude and a rake to step in.

This tree, it gave the world its most intense beauty right before everything came apart. And come Spring, it will be back again. Its traditions are deeply, scientifically, intact.

Meanwhile, a friend emailed me his cover letter for comments. Why does it bring me so much joy to articulate the unique gifts a person brings to a potential job? Because I’m a career coach and a writer. And because I want the best for my friend.

Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, the make believe graveyards and pumpkins that came in packs of four and five are giving way to tentative suggestions of Christmas – a wreath, a red flood light on the front door. Soon Santa’s sleigh and reindeer will be inflated and installed on roofs, and strings of lights will appear on the eaves and we’ll all rush home in the dark after work to bake and watch Elf and Love Actually. You know, the classics.

After that there will be a long period of cold. Crunchy snow underfoot and flushed cheeks and long work days. We’ll make soup and wear cozy slippers and tuck into bed early. And on some weekend in February I will purchase a crib and a car seat as regulated, and clear away the clutter that has gathered in The Second Bedroom and it will become The Baby’s Room.

And then, in March, there will be a baby. And we’ll step into our new job – which is to nurture and support this little person in finding his or her way in the world.

Loving and nurturing and coaching and evolving. Strong traditions in parenting and humanity, generation after generation. Just re-imagined now and then.

Hence why we read the parenting books. And attempt to honour traditions where we can, incorporating healthy feminism and other modern phenomena where appropriate. And participate in seasonal lawn display like ghosts in hedges and Disney themed jack-o-lanterns. And carefully, thoughtfully, review each others’ cover letters in hopes of contributing to each others’ successes.

And why we, eventually, rake up the carnage of fall – all those breathtaking flaming crimson leaves – and bundle them up and send them away.

Such is the importance of human traditions.

Thank you, trees and seasons.