Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to

I’m kind of a hustler. I know some people don’t like that word; some days I don’t either. But I’m out there chasing, growing and building and trying my best to live an awesome and intentional life, and I call that hustling.

There are many days when things flow.

But some days it feels like pushing against a door that just won’t open. And when that happens, it’s usually because I’ve slipped into the energy of needing to PROVE something: to myself, to my people, to the world.

And that energy is bad. So lately when it happens, I take a breath and just…

Stop trying to prove everything all the time 

I’m not suggesting we shy away from proving things out of a fear that we can’t. Fear is what makes us think we need to prove things in the first place.

Try this: just because I can prove it, doesn’t mean I have to.

Just because you CAN be a VP at your company, doesn’t mean you have to.

Just because you CAN lose fifteen pounds, doesn’t mean you have to.

Just because you CAN write a book, doesn’t mean you have to.

Well, um, if I stop having to prove anything, what will I do with my time? 

Focus on fun instead 

Feeling like you always have to prove something is so heavy. What’s light?
Fun is light!
Remember fun? fun; fən; noun; enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure.
We can actually figure out what feels right and aligned with who we are and who we’re authentically becoming by swapping in these five words: “for the fun of it”.

I think I’ll be a VP at my company for the fun of it.

I think I’ll lose fifteen pounds for the fun of it.

I think I’ll write a book for the fun of it.

How about “real life” stuff? 

Of course, some things need to happen and may not sound like fun.

I need to feed my children, several times daily, whether I’m having fun each time or not (sometimes yes, sometimes no).

But for those big goals, the ones you spend so much time thinking about and planning for and remodeling your life and schedule and well-being to make room for, do this check. If it doesn’t feel one bit of fun, if doing it for the fun of it does not resonate, then please:

Stop trying to prove it, stop trying to do it, just. stop. it.

Let the magic in 

If you think about it this way, a lot of things on your NEED TO PROVE list will get shelved immediately and permanently. Others will will be transformed into things to pursue for fun… and that’s where the magic happens. My friend, you just opened the door: go ahead and let the magic come in.


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Worrying is bad for us. Let’s stop.

This month the thirteenth fell on a Friday. I have a soft spot for those because I got engaged on Friday the thirteenth in September 2013.

Recently I was researching what older people regret. What can I say, this is just the kind of stuff I google on the reg. The answer? Worrying.

I can relate to worriers. I come from a strong line of worrier women (ahem, also warrior women, shout outs ladies!). And often the worries come from a good place – of love and concern and wanting the best outcome for everyone.

Five years ago I was a little worried. I was ready to move forward with my life in a bunch of ways and I wanted all the things at once – to get married, to kill it at work, to be my fittest self, to buy a home, to start a family. Sometimes I worried that none of it was going to happen.

The problem with worries is that they’re just imaginary negative thoughts about the future AKA the unknown. Um. Could anything be more useless?

The last five years have unfolded in ways I never could have predicted, full of ups and downs and blessings and challenges. They’ve been surprising, hilarious, painful, transformative and miraculous.

Newsflash: the worries were wasted energy. All worry is wasted energy!

Back to the old folks. The article specifically said these worriers (/warriors) wished they had thought more short term. Which made me pause.

Because in yoga we’re always saying “be in the present moment”.

I realized that if we just pull those future worries back in time, and if we think short term enough then we land in the present moment. 

Worries don’t make sense in the present moment. They’re for the future.

What does make sense in the present moment? Taking actions to align with desired outcomes. 

Worrying is bad for us. Let’s stop.

That’s what our elders are telling us. Let’s listen.

This is my why

I want to say hi, if you’re new here. If you’re wondering “what is this all about?” I’m going to explain.

I am an extrovert – an intuitive and empathic one (qualities often associated with introverts), but still an extrovert. Which means I get energy from extroverting: externalizing my thoughts and ideas.

Even after “testing” as an extrovert multiple times, I’ve only started to identify as one more recently. I was raised in a family of intense introverts. Lovely, quiet, complex, low profile, introverts. I have memories of being a small child and being told it was quiet time (legit request by the way, children don’t really read the room well). But all I wanted was to share my thoughts – desperately! – and all my mother wanted was to clean the house in silence.

Silence?? Noooo!!

I’ve made total peace with silence now, by the way 🙂

From an early age I was really creative. Music, visual arts, fashion, design. I loved all of it. In high school I picked up a guitar, taught myself how to play it, and started writing music. I remember making a myspace page one day (remember myspace?) and putting up four or five original songs I had recorded. I didn’t tell anyone, didn’t connect with anyone, just went there sometimes to listen, for myself.

I thought “these songs are great “. But I didn’t dare go further.

On a volunteer trip in Spain shortly after graduating from my first stint at business school, there was a music night and I played one of my songs. They were blown away and loved it, and some people came up to me after and wanted to know whose song it was so they could find out more about the band. I did not say “thanks, it’s my song”. I told them the name I had given my myspace page… and then wondered nervously if they would check it out.

This is what not working with the universe looks like, by the way.

What was happening was that I didn’t have the awareness yet to know that I’d been imprinted at a young age with values – stay under the radar, other people aren’t safe – that didn’t really work for who I am.

I am an extrovert. I’m wired for sharing. Under the radar is not my optimal position.

Fast forward a few more years – I’m deep into my corporate career and craving some form of creativity so much that I decide to start writing a blog. But once again, I don’t tell anyone, don’t connect, because that doesn’t feel safe. I love creating, and the pure creation is a huge charge for me, but then tiny lights of feedback would happen –

One reader who also happens to be an accomplished writer herself commented: “You write so beautifully. Loved this.” when I wrote about loss. And when I wrote my it-still-makes-my-cry-when-I-read-it account of FL’s birth, a reader commented that she “found it incredibly real and inspiring and teared up the 3 times I’ve read it this morning. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂”.

Seeing that what I had to share had an impact gave me so much joy. This is the currency of an extrovert – giving something imperfect to the world and in return knowing that it meant something to someone.

So I feel called to be in the world at a higher volume. And quite frankly, I’m just going to do it. For many people, finding their voice isn’t a struggle. They’re like, “hi internet, hi social media, this is cool” or whatever, and keep moving forward.

For me, it was scary, unsafe, insane to even consider putting something so personal, so authentic, so flawed and true, into the world. And then claim it as mine.

And yet it feels so right.

Over the next few weeks I’m sharing a series on Career Cornerstones for a Lit-Up Life. Number one is simple but if you don’t don’t nail it, things just won’t feel right. Examine, unpack, challenge and define what matters most to you. In other words, get to know your values.

This is me doing that. What about you?


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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?

Recommended this week: release your words and share your shirt

I get this feeling in my legs when I don’t get enough exercise. My whole family is like that, we get agitated when we can’t physically move. We’re like those dog breeds people feel sorry for in condos.

It’s super weird, especially in a world where so many people can’t get motivated to exercise. It’s like we can’t NOT exercise.

I get the same jumpy feeling when I can’t find a place to put the thoughts in my head. Sometimes sentences weave themselves in my brain and just stay there, spinning, crowding each other out.

They’re like “LET US OUT OF HERE”. Tapping loudly on the inside of my eyeball.

The sentences are usually about my babies. How I can’t stop kissing them. How we are still one body, somehow, even though there is open space available between us.

We have no use for it. We choose to sandwich up against one another most of the time. Baby F (FL now… my almost-preschooler) usually has at least one limb INSIDE my shirt. Arm up a sleeve, arm down the neck hole, whatever. My body is her body.

RD is still nursing. We cuddle up lying next to each other and he drinks and falls asleep. His expression is so peaceful, open, distant. A saint, a sage.

I lay them down side by side on the bed after their bath, wrapped up in towels. I ask FL – “who should I moisturize first?” and she says “Baby”. So I unwrap him and distract him with tickle-me-elmo in one hand while I put lotion on him. Then I put lotion on FL, and she escapes to sprint up and down the hall naked, squealing with delight.

 

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.

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? 

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (against all odds, the claim is real)

This book makes an epic (and sort of amusing) claim: tidying up will change your life. Author Marie Kondo has built her life around a passion for putting things in order. The book explains a simple two-step process:

  1. get rid of stuff you don’t love
  2. organize the stuff you do love

You may think, why on earth do we need a book to explain this? Well, let me tell you. First of all  you should know I’m critical of “life-improving” non fiction – so often these books could be 1000 word articles.

Not so in this case. Even though Ms. Kondo wanders occasionally, she redeems herself with practical advice and – even better – surprising methaphysical ideas about your stuff, what having too much of the wrong stuff is doing to you, and how thinning and organizing it can inspire you.

When you read this book you are empowered to go through everything you own and actually get rid of it. If you’re paralyzed by fear, she gives you a step by step guide: what to tackle first, how to do it, and gentle reminders on why it’s ok to purge.

She has a great philosophy on greeting cards: their purpose is fulfilled the moment you open and read them. And on your purse or workbag: give it a rest at night. Establish a separate home for your wallet, keys, five lip balms, old receipts (the garbage) etc.

Best of all Ms. Kondo links the process of tidying up to getting empowered and living your authentic life. She asks readers to go through all of their belongings – literally every thing you own – and recognize which ones spark joy and which ones don’t. This practice forces us to acknowledge two things: the magnitude of our belongings and our authentic feelings and desires. The book includes testimonials about clients who Tidied Up (the Marie Kondo way) and were empowered to let go of their pasts once and for all, realize their purpose and passions, ultimately pursue their dreams, and so on.

Reading this book enlightened me as to my own tendencies in holding on to things (far from a hoarder, but room for improvement). I cleaned out all of my closets, purged old shoes and bedding, books, clothes, kitchen gadgets. Things that didn’t spark joy have gone to a better place (the Salvation Army) and I feel lighter and calmer. In this crazy world, possessions demand discipline. If that sparks joy for you, read the book.

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.

 

 

Sanctuary

It’s Christmas. It’s the last quiet Christmas morning for a while, since as of March 2016 we – we who were blithely two – we will be three. And one of the three will be small and scrunchy, adorable, but probably loud and demanding too. Teetering on the edge of that produces weird sensations.

Being pregnant is a hormonal experience. So far I haven’t been experiencing wild mood changes, picking fights, ending friendships dramatically, etc. What I have experienced is that any time I think about no longer being two with J, I tear up. Tears actually come into my eyes. Am I excited about being a parent or what?

I am, actually, I’m just getting to know myself better. The challenges in life bring your jagged edges into the light. You’re stretching (well, some of us are literally stretching too). But for all of us, when we get stretched in the figurative sense, some places where we have work to do tend to show.

The end of the year is an introspective time for many people. Even though the year has a week yet to live out, since I plan on spending it in my pyjamas/loungewear/bathtub/kitchen/bed recouperating from the year (old life) gone by and resting up for the year (new life) ahead, I’m thinking Christmas is as good a time as any to let go of the past, reflect and plan for the future. Christmas morning this year – quiet, if balmy in Toronto (record temperatures yesterday), peaceful – this is a New Day if ever I met one.

I have been raving about my prenatal yoga teacher because she is so knowledgeable. She taught us how to lie down and get up again without putting our (weakened, literally stretched) abdominal muscles at risk of separating (it can happen). She incorporates kegels into the class(!), and modified pushups, both of which I’m grateful for. There’s a but. I miss pushing myself physically. I miss feeling limitless physically and I miss the spiritual in yoga class. Life creation should be a spiritual time, no? Not finding that in yoga class.

I am finding that in the shower, where I’ve started singing this song from my summer camp days:

O Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. And with thanksgiving I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.

I sing it over and over and I recognize my body as a sanctuary, and the baby is inside, growing in time with the vibrations.

Yesterday we had a debate about the spiritual life of our child. Not an easy subject. So much is wrapped up in it – culture, religion, family expectation, moral code, Sunday morning. And then we sat down together, because the extended family dinner we were going to go to got cancelled, and we ate eggs and we watched three documentaries in a row. The last being The Secret. And it said a lot of things, my word for many of which is “bogus,” but it also said this:

When you drive at night, you can only see 200 ft in front of you. You trust that the road ahead exists, and you keep on driving, and you cover miles of road, 200 ft at a time. 

And that is a message I need to hear as 2016 beckons. I doubt I’m the only one.  I’m going to take this one month at a time, which means no decisions are needed right now on baptism, let alone religious upbringing, and healthy right now doesn’t mean doing 100 sun salutations, it means getting enough water and vegetables and walking in nature whenever I can. And if yoga right now isn’t spiritual, then my hypnobirthing class might be, and if not, then my showers definitely can be. Each 200 ft of road brings a sweet change, and it’s our privilege to rise to the occasion. Otherwise why bother with the drive?