How to Make Your Own Luck in Birth: Part 2, Preparation.

Above: Learning to relax deeply is a key birth preparation

Birth is a normal function of the body, and like other functions of the body, it is designed to work. When it does, we call that health.

Like other functions of the body, however, birth is also subject to dysfunction and disease occasionally.

We know that we cannot control how well the body functions, but we can support the body to give ourselves the best chance for health – we can make our own luck – and minimize the possibility of disease and dysfunction. Birth is the same.

My previous post explains the most important plans to make in order to make your own luck in birth. I told you how to 1) choose a provider and 2) a birth place that already deliver the kind of maternity care you want to receive, and I told why and how to 3) hire a doula.

Today’s post gives you the other half of the healthy birth equation: how to prepare your body and mind.

  1. Prepare Your Body by Making Your Health Your Priority. The mother’s underlying health is the single greatest contributing factor to a healthy pregnancy and birth.

You know that already, don’t you? General information on healthy eating and exercising habits is widely available, and you’re an educated woman, so I won’t rehash that here. I’m also sure your maternity care provider has given you specific guidelines, too.

My question to you is, What is the thing that you know you should be doing but haven’t taken action on? What specifically are you resisting?

This answer is going to be unique to everyone, but resistance itself is not unique. Behind all resistance is fear. What are you afraid of? Here are some common answers to that question and some ways to get around the excuses:

  • “It will be hard.” Honey, one of the biggest lessons that birth and motherhood will teach you is that you are a person who can do hard things. What are your proudest accomplishments? You would not be proud of them if they had come easily. Think also of how you accomplished these feats. Break down the actions you took and use the same template for this thing. If it worked for you once, it will work again.
  • “I don’t know where to start.” You know what they say about eating an elephant. . . one bite at a time! My teacher Martha Beck suggests making your first “bite” laughably small and easy, then repeat it until it’s too easy and you want to do more. For example, if you want to exercise, replace one elevator trip each day with walking the stairs, or have a friend walk with you for ten minutes after lunch. Small, easy actions help you overcome inertia and build momentum.
  • “It may not be worth the trouble.” Consider how long you have wanted to do this thing. You’ll gain so much time and energy if you just do it. One of my favorite coaches, Brooke Castillo, says, “Stop indulging in indecision. Give yourself the gift of commitment.” Your peace of mind and personal satisfaction are worth it, regardless of any other outcomes that flow from your actions.
  1. Prepare Your Mind by Taking a Birth Class That Teaches You How to Breathe and Relax. Deep breathing and deep relaxation will help you to have a healthier birth by helping you manage the effects of fear and work with your body.

The intensity of labor will frighten you the first time you experience it. Our culture also teaches you, through popular media, to be afraid of labor. Fear, however, causes dysfunction in labor by inhibiting labor hormones and causes pain by creating muscular tension. Breathing and relaxation techniques that are specially designed for birth will prevent fear from having these negative effects on your labor. They also will help you work with your birthing body, so that your labor will be more efficient and comfortable.

I adore HypnoBirthing for this – it’s what I learned and worked so well for me. But all childbirth educators understand how important relaxation and trust are to the progress of labor. Ask a potential teacher how much you’ll learn. If she only teaches medical management of pain and what the hospital will “let” you do, find another teacher.

Pregnancy and birth are taxing to the body, and labor will push your mind to its limits. When you have prepared body and mind in these ways, as well as made plans to be abundantly supported throughout your labor, you give yourself the best possible chance for a healthy birth. And if your birth does not go to plan due to factors beyond your control – if you are unlucky – these plans and preparations will help you to feel satisfied with your birth even so.

P.S. Please see “The Physiology of Postpartum Thriving,” “Ten Steps to Postpartum Thriving,” and “The Last Piece of the Postpartum Puzzle,” for my tips on how to prepare for a gentle, joyful postpartum, too!

What health changes did you make while you were pregnant? Did you use deep breathing and relaxation, too? Please share your tips for healthy, satisfying birth!

 

 

How to Make Your Own Luck in Birth: Part 1, Planning.

Above: Don’t bet on luck. Kiss a lot of frogs and make your own.

Last week I wrote about changing the way we talk about births. I suggested we call a birth that worked well “healthy,” instead of “good,” and that we acknowledge that, for better or worse, luck plays a role.

Though luck – an event brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions – is a factor, it is not in charge. We can be humble without throwing up our hands and giving it all up to chance.

You can make your own luck during birth, but here’s the thing: you do it well before you go into labor, through planning and preparation.

In the next two posts I’ll show you how to control the factors that are actually controllable and which have a powerful influence on the course of your birth. Today you’ll learn what elements to plan in advance to set yourself up for a healthy birth.

  1. Pick the right provider. As I’ve said in this space many times the provider’s influence on your birth cannot be overestimated. Here are two important strategies for finding a good fit.

Work the birth plan backwards. Write your birth plan before you start meeting with maternity care providers and use it as an interview tool. How do they respond to it?

Tolerance of your birth plan is not enough. Providers have a practice style and philosophy that they are unlikely to change just because you asked them to. Birth may be routine for them, but the stakes are still high, which makes doing things outside their norm very uncomfortable.

Enthusiastic support is what you’re looking for. You’ll get it if your birth plan is in alignment with their practice style and philosophy; i.e., they already practice that way. Accept nothing less.

Vet a provider like a blind date. How do you feel when you’re with them and after?

Look for a provider in whose company you feel fascinating. That shows they listen to and respect you. Look also for a provider with whom you feel capable and confident – proof they trust mothers and trust birth.

Run away from a provider who is inattentive and impatient, or who gives you the impression they’re doing you a favor by seeing you. Say thanks-but-no-thanks to the provider who talks down to you, dismisses your concerns, or uses the words “compliant” or “good patient.”

  1. Pick the right place. Ask yourself, “Could I make love here?”

Not joking. Oxytocin, the hormone that is the prime mover of sexual reproduction, from intercourse through birth and breastfeeding, is very shy and needs the right mood. You know what I’m talking about: dim, warm, quiet, private, no time pressure.

Assess the room, the building, and the staff. Look for a physical space that is somewhat homey and can be made to feel private – when the door is shut, it’s quiet; the lights can be adjusted. Look for staff that will disturb you as little as possible and knows how to melt into the surroundings so that they can observe you without you feeling observed.

  1. Hire a doula. A doula is a labor companion who is unafraid of birth and loves birthing mothers. She provides continuous emotional and physical support to you and also helps your partner. Doulas are associated with fewer interventions and greater satisfaction with birth. It’s said that if they came in pill form, it would be unconscionable not to give them to all laboring mothers.

Vet potential doulas as you do your maternity care providers. Look for a doula who feels like a mother without the baggage: warm, strong, knowledgeable, and absolutely believes in you.

Plan in these ways and you will be making your own luck by controlling the most influential, controllable factors of your birth. In an environment that your body will register as safe, and surrounded by people who love you unconditionally and support your wishes actively, you can surrender completely to what you cannot control: your labor. With luck, you’ll find that it actually works better when you do.

P.S. You know I cannot let you go before reminding you about one more, crucial plan to make before you go into labor: plan your postpartum! Check out “The Physiology of Postpartum Thriving,” “Ten Steps to Postpartum Thriving,” and “The Last Piece of the Postpartum Puzzle,” for your complete guide to a healthy postpartum.

And you, dear reader? Did you choose your provider and place this way? Or did you — like so many of us — just take whoever was on offer and came to regret it? Please share your story, or tell me what got in the way of you being able to make your own luck in birth, and I can write about that, too.

 

Is “Empowered Birth” a Feminist Fantasy?

Above: Lost in self-evaluation?

 

Did you have a good birth?

What thoughts and images come to mind when I ask that question? If your answer is yes, do you feel proud? If your answer is no, do you feel guilt?

For ten years now my work has been to help mothers “prepare for a great birth.” But a new essay by Sarah Blackwood has me questioning whether morality – judgment of what is right or good – belongs in birth at all.

Her essay is titled, “Monstrous Births: Pushing back against empowerment in childbirth.” My first thought was, “Who could be against empowerment?” and I deleted it. But it gnawed at me, so I retrieved the essay from the trash, read it, and have been wrestling with it ever since.

When Blackwood, now a mother of two, was pregnant for the first time, she was “seduced by these feminist ideals about childbirth and thought that the way I went about it would be representative of something about me and my strength.”

Her first birth, however, was traumatizing: a four-day induction ending in a c-section and life-threatening hemorrhage. She attempted a VBAC for her second birth, but nothing went to plan, and she had a second emergency c-section and complications from the surgery.

Since then, she says, “I prefer to hear, tell, and read stories about childbirth that give the lie to contemporary fantasies about empowerment. Birth is a monstrous thing, and it has no moral component.” I take “monstrous” to mean other, existing outside of the binary of good or bad, as well as potentially terrorizing.

In contrast, I was so moved by my own “good” births that I abandoned a career I loved in order to teach expectant mothers how to have them! Birth is influenced by so many factors. I have taught women and their partners the factors that encourage or hinder the natural progress of birth, as well as techniques for managing the fear and pain that often accompany it. Do these things, I say, and chances are very good that you’ll have the natural vaginal birth that you desire.

“There are no guarantees, however,” I caution. “Natural birth is wild, not tame, organic, not mechanistic. It can be influenced but not controlled.” But after the hours I spend teaching them how to maximize their chances for a “good” birth, this caveat is easily, unconsciously, brushed aside by these hopeful and excited parents. Rarely is it enough to prevent them second-guessing themselves, even feeling guilty, if they do not have the natural vaginal birth they desire – or worse, if they feel traumatized by their experience, as in Blackwood’s case.

To avoid the potential guilt associated with an unwanted outcome, Blackwood would have us say there is no good or bad in birth. But that is too radical. Not only does it invalidate all the good experiences, like mine and my clients’, it cannot inure us to disappointment. There must be a middle path.

I propose we talk about birth outcomes as healthy or unhealthy and allow space for luck.

From “good” birth to “healthy” birth. The body is supposed to work. We call it “health” when the body works. When it does not, we call it illness. Very often “good” personal choices, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, contribute to health. Whereas, “bad” personal choices, such as smoking and not managing stress, often contribute to illness.

But sometimes there is no moral component at all: non-smokers get lung cancer, while a two-pack-a-day-er dies at 97 of old age. So we are humble in the face of these calamities, whispering to ourselves, “There but for the grace of God go I.” We make room for being lucky or unlucky.

Birth is a natural process of the body, and it’s supposed to work, too. That means it is supposed to begin, proceed, and end in a way that is healthy to both mother and baby. As with our health at other times, the choices we make can contribute to healthy outcomes or unhealthy ones.

However, we make a mistake when we give all the credit for health, or all the blame for illness, to our personal choices. My births went well, and I gave all the credit to my preparation: the team I assembled, my relaxation skills, etc. I jumped to the conclusion that if I could do it, anyone could, if they followed my playbook. Maybe. Maybe I was also really lucky.

Blackwood’s births went badly, despite responsible preparation. To absolve herself of intolerable feelings of failure, she concluded that birth could not be anything more or less than a “chaotic biological experience.” Maybe there were choices she could have made to have a better outcome. Maybe not. Maybe she was just really unlucky.

She and I make the same mistake in universalizing and generalizing our births to make meaning for everyone. Birth, like health, is too idiosyncratic. We must do our best and, humbly, make room for luck.

What about you? What do you feel contributed to or determined your birth experience? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

 

How My Parents Helped Me to Have Great Births

Above, left to right: Me, Dad, Mom, and my twin brother, Jack

It’s my birthday in a few days. Father’s Day, too.

In 1971, the year my twin brother and I were born, Father’s Day fell on June 20. Mom’s labor with us began on Father’s Day, and we born early the next morning, at 2:09 and 2:18 a.m., on June 21.

So this time of year I think about my parents and my birth a lot. This year, I’m thinking about them in the midst of writing a book on birth and postpartum, and today I made a connection. In today’s post I acknowledge both my parents for their positive influence on my births.

Like everyone else who has access to any form of media, I was taught the story that birth is grueling, painful, and dangerous. While I believed it on one level, my parents gave me two particular experiences in childhood that helped me to overcome that programming and have great births.

Mom’s Gift.

Mom’s gift is two-fold: the facts of her birth with us, and her attitude about it.

First, the facts: Mom gave birth naturally to twins, one of them breech. She hadn’t meant to, necessarily, but the birth happened so fast. It was almost over before she knew it. My mom’s experience gave the lie to the widespread notion that twin births and breech births were dangerous. “If she can do it, so can I,” I reckoned.

Just as important as the facts of her easy birth was the way she spoke about it: with awe and exhilaration. She never mentioned pain. I even asked her, and she seemed to scan her memory banks and come up blank. She shook her head and shrugged: “You came out so fast the doctor almost dropped you!” she said.

Furthermore, she celebrates the details of her labor and birth every year with us.  The day before our birthday she’ll call and say, “Daddy was massaging my back right now,” however many years ago it was. Or, “I was just about to leave for the hospital right now.” If she can she’ll call us each on the minute of our births and sing us “Happy Birthday.”

Her positive feelings about labor and birth went into me much deeper than any fearful programming from TV or literature, and I’m certain contributed to the relative ease of my births. Thank you, Mom.

Dad’s Gift.

Dad’s gift was believing in me in a moment when I was frightened and in pain.

I was six years old. I had been playing Tarzan on a vine that hung from a palm tree. Swinging on the vine dislodged a spine-covered palm frond from the tree. It crashed onto my head and rolled on to my arm, leaving me woozy and full of pine needles. When my parents, who were normally untroubled by childhood injuries, saw my wounds, they blanched – even my dad! Now I was worried.

But they were brilliant. The lay me down on Dad’s napping sofa and hovered over me to administer first aid. I fixed my eyes on their faces as Dad carefully removed the needles and Mom swabbed the blood with hydrogen peroxide. I saw and heard them tell each other repeatedly how brave I was. Dad said, “I can’t believe her pain tolerance.”

When he said that, two things happened. First, I flushed with pride, and from then on I believed myself to be a person with a high pain tolerance.

The second thing that happened when he said that is my injuries stopped hurting. I looked down at my arm, where he was removing needles, and I felt pressure but no pain. There was only the thought, “I have a high pain tolerance.”

I learned that I was tough and that things that looked scary or were supposed to be painful didn’t have to be that bad. I’m certain this belief in myself and my pain tolerance contributed to the relative comfort of my births.  Thanks, Dad.

These lessons were instrumental in my births, but of course they’ve influenced me well beyond birth.  Having parents who celebrated me and saw my strengths has had an incalculable effect on my life.  Thank you doesn’t begin to cover it.

An Independent Midwife Teaches Me How Birth Can Be

Above: It really can be like that.

Joanne came out to meet us as we were pulling up in the driveway and parking. By the time I emerged from the car, she was at my side.

“Hello,” she said and smiled warmly. She turned her body to walk in the direction of the birth center and put her hand on the small of my back. Wordlessly, she guided me to the room she had prepared: the blinds were closed, the curtains were open, the linens on the double bed were turned down and the pillows – four of them – were fluffed. I slipped into the cool, soft sheets.

She stood back, beside my husband, and whispered to him, “Isn’t she beautiful? I wish all our mothers were this relaxed.”

Hearing this after all the other signs of her care and respect – the way she met me, her warm smile, the way she guided me, prepared my room, kept quiet, and didn’t immediately ask to examine me – my body leapt with joy. I knew I was safe here.

I was deep in labor with my second child. Joanne was my midwife. I’d had a midwife, too, for the birth of my daughter two years before, but it was in a hospital. I wanted a softer experience for my son’s birth – a home-away-from-home feeling – and relished the opportunity to be cared for at an independent birth center.

But it wasn’t until I was all the way through the experience that I really understood just what a difference the context makes: it shapes the practice of the provider, and it shapes the mother’s experience, which affects the outcome.

According to the CDC, 98% of American women give birth in hospital. Hospital is therefore the default context for birth. We unconsciously accept its terms: that birth is a medical event which is best managed by the hospital machinery; that our desire for a great birth is at odds with our need for a “safe delivery”; and that the pain will be so great that we’ll need the medical relief only the hospital can provide.

Labor and birth are affected by a multiplicity of factors, and I acknowledge that plain old luck may be one of them. Still, my two experiences showed me that, when you get the context right, it’s possible for birth to take care of itself: that it can unfold organically, not mechanically; that the more loved and supported we feel during labor, the more physically comfortable and actually safe we are.

The departure point for my comparison of the independent birth center context and the hospital context is the moment of arrival at each facility. I phoned both places from home to tell them I was coming. Both times, I arrived in advanced labor, 10 cm dilated. It’s worth noting that while I labored at home, I was comfortable – working very hard, yes, but not in pain.

At the birth center, Joanne welcomes me in the parking lot and, in about the time it takes to walk from the street to your front door, I am in a comfortable bed in a quiet, dim room that was readied just for me. My midwife is warm, quiet, respectful, and whispers that I’m wonderful. I love her.

I give birth within 45 minutes. It only hurt a little at the very end.

At the hospital, the vast parking structure is stuffed with cars. Something about that hits me hard. I am daunted by the sheer volume of humanity here. I feel that we are just one little family among all these others, and upon entering the hospital I will become a number. For the first time since my labor began, I am afraid.

In the parking structure, we walk and walk to the elevator, then walk some more to the hospital entrance, and then walk more down brightly lit and noisy corridors, before finally arriving at the Labor & Delivery Reception. I have made it! But the nurse on duty does not reward me with even eye contact.

Instead, she challenges my husband, “She doesn’t seem like she’s in labor.” Somehow he and the doula convince her that I am. Her eyes flick over to me and she tilts her head toward a seat in the waiting room, where a TV is on.

“They’ll call you in a few minutes,” she says, as I sit in a white plastic chair and wait with the others. I am soon escorted to a triage room, where my labor is summarily confirmed with a cervical check, and I am left alone to wait for a room is ready for me. I notice my contractions weaken and slow.

An hour later, I am taken to my room and then attended to in a flurry of activity. Lights on, two nurses on either side of me – one doing my vitals and the other struggling to place an IV line (“just in case”) – chatting to one another as if I’m not even there. I ask for water and they give me ice chips (“just in case you need a C-section”). They finish their work and walk out without a backward glance, switching off the lights as they go. I feel uncared for, a stranger in a strange land. Labor begins to feel interminable, a mean trick, and I doubt my ability to do it.

Five hours after pulling into the parking structure, after being threatened with Pitocin and a c-section, and with tremendous effort, I give birth.

My doula thinks that maybe all that pre-admission walking moved my labor along, and that the hospital’s threats focused my efforts and gave me a surge of adrenaline at the right time. Maybe she’s right.

But I’ll never forget the way I felt when my care provider treated me with respect and admiration, rather than with clinical indifference. It felt like joy – relief, relief, release, strength, power, groundedness, profound safety, love.

And, as it happens, a much shorter and vastly more comfortable birthing phase.

Same end. Different journey. You do have a choice. Which would you choose?

Begin Before You’re Ready

Above: The terror that just precedes greatness.

When I was six years old, my mom took my brother and me to a late show screening of A Star Is Born at the drive-in movie theater. Well, it was take us or miss it altogether, so she made a plan: put the kids in pajamas, tuck them up with pillows and blankets into the wide backseat of her Cadillac, and they’ll sleep through it.

But do you know the story? Barbra Streisand plays Esther Hoffman, a struggling singer, and Kris Kristofferson plays John Norman Howard, a rock star. He is burned out but freshly inspired by her. They fall in love. He promotes her, there’s amazing singing, and her star rises! But alas, his falls. (This was my first education in the rule of Barbra Streisand films: she gets the guy but doesn’t get to keep him).

Who could sleep through that? Not me, not even at the tender age of 6. I was mesmerized.

My favorite scene is the moment that John Norman introduces Esther, impromptu, to the world. He’s shows up late to a sold out stadium and starts to play, but his heart is not in it, and he just stops, mid-song! Now the crowd is really mad, and John Norman goes to the wings and drags a terrified Esther onto the stage. “Here’s a friend of mine,” he says, and leaves her alone, center stage.

Here’s what happened:

Begin Before You’re Ready.

Last weekend I was sat down with my production partner, Jon, to develop the content for a new video on postpartum. Jon is a photographer and videographer but also a dad and has great ideas. I told him the story of why I wanted to do the video, what I wanted to cover, and how I wanted it to be fun and free on YouTube, rather than for purchase on Udemy.

“Great. Let’s do it,” he said. “Right now.”

I protested. “I’m not ready!”

“Yes, you are,” he said. “You just told me a great story and you nailed the content, so let’s do it now.”

It was the last thing I wanted to do. I had wanted to script it, time it out, make it perfect – and then, only then, could I carefully dishevel it to make it “fun.”

Ugh! “Perfect”? “Careful dishevelment”? What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just go for it? I wanted to, but I was full of fear.

I thought of a brilliant client of mine, who has tons of experience in her field and is now expanding her practice in a complementary direction. But she is paralyzed by the idea that, in this new direction, she is not an expert. She is focused on how much she does not know, on what she does not have, and wants to have everything figured out perfectly before she begins.

“You are so much more ready than you realize,” I tell her.

Ah! My own words indict me! I am more ready than I realize.

So I do it. I begin filming the new video right then and there. Fifteen minutes start to finish. Here it is:

You can see that at the beginning I’m nervous. The pitch of my voice is all over the place. My story is not as coherent as I wanted it to be, and I repeat myself. But at about minute 5:13, I relax. You can see it. I find my groove and the rest of the video I’m just doing my thing.

And, just because I love to make grandiose comparisons, you see a similar arc in Esther’s performance. She begins unconfidently (to be fair, people are booing her). Then she’s a little mad, kind of demanding that the audience listen to her. That seems to give her confidence. And around minute 1:45 you can see, she remembers who she is: a singer, and she belts it out. By the end of the song, she’s triumphant, and the audience is on its feet cheering!

Be Bold and Mighty Forces Will Come to Your Aid.

That’s what happens when you begin before you’re ready.

Okay, sometimes you fall on your face! Or not even that. Maybe you just embarrass yourself a little. But let’s talk odds:

Chance that you’ll get a standing ovation for staying where you are and waiting for perfect?

Zilch.

Chance that in the course of taking a risk you will:

  • Learn something?
  • Build your confidence?
  • Diminish your fear?
  • Even possibly, as Goethe said, find that mighty forces come to your aid?

Sky high, all!

What do you want, friend? Goose your intention by taking a risk. Just take a step, one step, towards center stage – or allow yourself to be pushed! Begin singing, or walking and talking, or make that phone call, pitch that idea, and who knows? Maybe a star will be born.

“Don’t Forget the Dads!”

Q: Why’s this man so happy?

A: He just took the “First Time Dad’s Guide to Birth and Postpartum.”

One of my favorite things about being a birth educator is helping the dads — dads like Kevin, the source of the quote above.  He said it after I created a prenatal program called “Becoming a Mother.”  Kevin, this is for you!

I love helping the mothers, too, of course. But mothers tend to be really well-informed by the time I work with them. More importantly they have a confidence that comes of being intimately connected to the baby. They are at the source, their bodies are the ground, of the experience.

A dad is more likely to feel like a bolt-on to the whole thing. He doesn’t know what she’s going through, but he knows it’s Big. He’d do it for her if he could, but he cannot, so he worries about her. He wants to help but feels unqualified. His discomfort cycles between disconnection and over-protectiveness.

It is a joy to watch these betwixt-and-between fathers uncoil during our first session. The skeptics open their mind. The over-protective soften. The disconnected engage. The couple begins to have a shared experience, rather than a his-and-hers.

What enables this transformation? That is the subject of my new video-based digital course, “Birth and Postpartum: The New Dad’s Guide.” Like my other video-based digital course, “Birth and Postpartum: Overcoming Your Five Biggest Fears,” it is available at Udemy.com, so it’s self-paced, online learning, ready for you whenever you are.

The two big ideas in the New Dad’s Guide, which are so helpful to new dads, are actually old ideas – revived and adapted for modern couples.

  1. Birth is like sex. The hormones that drive conception are the same hormones that birth the baby and assist with its nurturance.

The medical model has, unsurprisingly and with the best of intentions, scrubbed sex from its paradigm of birth. Otherwise it would be weird for hospital staff – who are really strangers to the mother – to be in charge of it. But in our quest for improved outcomes through medicine, we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Putting sex back into birth – that is, supporting a woman’s birthing hormones – makes birth easier and more comfortable.

It also makes birth more understandable and less scary to dads who want to help their partners through labor. We get really specific in the course on how to be a good birth companion in any setting. But with sex, not medicine, for our working model, the tools are fun and easy to remember. Nobody feels unqualified anymore.

2. Postpartum is a huge transition. Plan for it.

That may sound obvious, but it isn’t how most new families live. Modern Western women are educated and groomed for careers, with less than scant attention paid to the work of raising children. (Notice the emphasis we place on birth preparation – the medical appointments, the classes, the books – compared to postpartum.) Infant care is usually unpaid and considered “unskilled,” so we assume it’s going to be easy and thus end up woefully unprepared for the realities of new parenthood.

The Dads course works backwards, from the realities of new parenthood to the preparation that can make it the joyful transition you dream of. It is inspired by postpartum care still found in traditional societies but largely absent in the developed world. We show you how to organize your life so that learning to be new parents is all you do for a while. We also give you simple and fun communication tools that ease the tension that is a part of big life transitions like this, so that you can grow closer as a couple.

As the name suggests, this course is tailor-made for first-time expectant dads. My production partner, Jon, a husband and father of three, served as my “guy-translator” throughout the whole process, making sure that my content was super clear and actionable. All the video lessons include notes you can download, if you like to read as well as listen, and each section ends with a funny quiz, to make sure you got the key points.

Every time an expectant father comes into my classroom, I see a confident, engaged birth companion, father and partner just waiting to be revealed. Now Udemy brings my classroom to you. If that sounds great to you, check out the promo for more information.  If you’re ready to enroll, here’s the link, and here’s to your easier, more comfortable birth and joyful postpartum!

 

Talking Myself Out of Delight

Above: The temptress

I recently read Martha Beck’s latest book, Diana, Herself. I was pulled into it in a way that reminded me of my girlhood – before I had adult responsibilities, when it didn’t occur to me that I needed to justify a whole afternoon lost in a book or make my reading pay by edifying me. My mom would yank open my bedroom door and say with exasperation, “I’ve been calling you for ten minutes! Didn’t you hear?” I would look up blinking and confused. No, I hadn’t.

When my copy of Diana, Herself arrived, I opened it. Three pages in, the first crisis befalls our heroine: she’s fired from her job.

Watching her, you’d have no idea she’s scrabbling desperately through her mind for any trace of hope, optimism, or courage. She comes up empty. It’s time for the Furies to rise up and fill Diana’s mind with their chorus of horror.

You know how the Furies work, beloved – you have you own. Every human does.

At this my heart began to race. I closed the cover firmly, pressed the book between the palms of my hands, and slowed my breathing. I knew this was a book I’d need to clear my schedule for.

Martha’s books touch me deeply. She has a way of sidling up to an insight, so I don’t see it coming. My breath catches and tears spring to my eyes. She embodies a unique mix of compassion, radical vulnerability, and silly, gentle humor that simultaneously awes me and draws me to her unafraid.

It was Martha who validated the compulsive reading habit of my youth. She says that anything we delighted in as children, before we were fully socialized, helps us to understand our essential self, the part of us that knows our right path. Avid readers understand story – plot, character, imagery, metaphor – and thus are well suited to help people understand their own story and become the heroes of their own lives; i.e., life coaches.

So it was fitting that Martha wrote a compulsively readable book. The second the kids were out the door for school, when I was supposed to sit down at my desk and work, I sat down in my big red chair instead and surrendered to the story of Diana. It is Martha’s first work of fiction, and it may be her best self-help book yet. We remember information better when it is embedded in story than when it stands bare in transactional prose. Also, Martha is a prolific generator of coaching tools and exercises, but this book pares her tools down to seven essential “tasks.”

Two days later I looked up, blinking, surrounded by used hankies, simultaneously devastated that it was over and thoroughly satisfied with the whole experience. My first thought was, “I want to do a book club on this.” Not only did I want an excuse to read it again, I wanted to experience it with others. I find that a group consciousness is greater than the sum of its parts.

But here’s the funny part. I didn’t do a book club on it. Or anyway I haven’t. Instead I have spent the past month trying to talk myself out of it. Why?

Can you guess, beloved? Do you know right away because you do it, too?

I tried to talk myself out of delight.

I finally noticed that I was doing it and – of course – did the Work on my thinking. I’ll share my process here so you can do it along with me. What are you drawn to that you resist because you believe it distracts you from More Important Things or because, like me, you were socialized to believe that adults must justify anything that feels like play?

Write your thought down and do the Work with me. My thought is, “A book club will be a distraction.”

Is it true? Yes. Obviously.

Can I be absolutely certain that’s true? No, I cannot be certain.

How do I react, what happens, when I believe that a book club will be a distraction? I see an image of my hand being slapped away from a cookie, shamed for my desire for a delicious thing. I feel tension in my forehead, heaviness in my body, and my stomach hurts. I see myself chained to my desk, surrounded by piles – too much to do.

Who would I be without that story? (I say “story” instead of “thought” here because we understand that stories are things we make up, whereas we tend to identify with our thoughts). Without that story I just do the thing that feels delightful. Immediately I feel movement of energy in my face and body, and my stomach unclenches. I recognize this as the feeling of truth.

Turn the thought around to the opposite: a Diana, Herself book club is not a distraction. What’s the evidence that this thought is as true or truer than the original? Well, I have absolutely none that it would be a distraction! I’m just going on faith that Important Things cannot also be fun. What a dour and obviously untrue belief! In fact, I love book clubs and have never once experienced one as a distraction.

Turn the thought around to the other: The Diana, Herself book club is an opportunity. Golly, that feels good. And why wouldn’t it be an opportunity – to hang out with like-minded friends and meet new ones; to connect more of my tribe to one another; to practice the tasks. I see that my entire history with Martha has been one of unfolding opportunities and life enhancements.

Turn the thought around to the self: My thinking is a distraction. Ha! Now that is the truth! How long have I been waffling on this? How much energy have I wasted arguing with myself? Only my thinking needs proof ahead of time that a thing will be “worth it.” And how is thinking’s track record? It gets me through the obstacle course of life, but I can’t think of any win of significance. Whereas my best decisions – from marrying Guy to having children to becoming a life coach – have all come from that feeling of knowing and delight that precedes thinking.

So guess what? Sing it with me, friends! I’m gonna do a book club! I am figuring out the details now and will share them soon. All I know for sure is it’s going to be fun.

And what about you? What did your Work teach you about the delight you have been trying to talk yourself out of? Share you story in the comments!

Apprivoise moi. (Tame me).

Above: You never know what, or who, will show up when you do the Work.

I’m writing a book.

I had prayed for an idea – something that combined birth education and life coaching – for years.

Then one day it came. I had felt its presence for a month, maybe more.

Just before it came, it felt so frustratingly close – like words on the tip of my tongue – that I paced my room, waving my arms in circles (moving my body helps me think) and saying aloud, “What is it? What is it? What is it?”

And then, “Hello.” There it was, fully formed: The Idea. I took dictation.

That was two years ago.

I was so daunted, you see, by the prospect of actually writing a book, that I made it into a life coaching course, instead – a book on training wheels, you might say.

But then I read Tara Mohr’s wonderful Playing Big, which my friend and business coach Nona Jordan had given me. Mohr said, “Leap,” and I knew what that meant for me. Write the book.

After that, when I thought about what I was doing, I thought, “I’m writing a book.” But one day I finally noticed that I hadn’t actually written a word. For nine months. I was resisting, clearly, out of fear. But what exactly was I afraid of?

Luckily I have the Work, which helps me dig into things I don’t understand and make them. . . well, more than simply comprehensible. The Work is my path to wisdom and inspiration.

So I began as I always begin: “What are you afraid of?”

The answer: “I’m afraid I’ll break it [the course I created with this idea] and not be able to put it back together.”

Is it true? Yes! Can I be certain it’s true? No! (I love this question. It always relaxes me).

How do I react, what happens, when I believe it? I treat it like it’s fragile. Forget that I wrote it, and pretty easily, too, probably because it was “just a course.” A book is a higher bar than a course. (Aha! Another thought to Work!)

Who would I be without the thought that I’ll break it and not be able to put it back together? I see an image of tinker toys and Legos. I feel playful, not frightened. I see it’s all there – only fear would make me go blind to the parts. And if I do lose something, there’s always a game of peek-a-boo to find it again.

Turn the thought around to the opposite: I will not break it; I can put it back together. Well, obviously! I made the parts. I can play with the design. For Pete’s sake, if I want to make sure the course as it is stays intact, I’ll just leave it alone, copying from it and pasting into the book anything I want. No Humpty-Dumpty here.

Turn it around to the other: It builds me and puts me together. Oh, yes! This idea was given to me, and it is making me. We’re making one other.

And then I hear, “Apprivoise-moi.” Tame me. It’s what the fox says to the Little Prince in the children’s book. He tells the Little Prince that when one tames another, the two become “unique in the world” to one another.

Like my idea and me.

These are the fox’s instructions for taming:

  1. Show up at the same time. Focus on that, instead of on what I’m able to write when I show up. Show up regularly and my idea will know I can be trusted. Show up often enough and the words will accumulate.
  1. Don’t sit too close at first. Don’t force intimacy, but let it grow organically. One day, I promise, you’ll be able to pick up right where you left off. (Until then, ice-breakers may be needed).
  1. Rituals must be observed. It’s how we know our time together is special. I’ve decided to dress up, light a candle, and do an invocation on my book writing dates.

And just like that, fear and resistance were gone, replaced by playfulness and a plan. Since the fox appeared to tell me what to do, I have spent about 12 hours with the book, which has resulted in an outline and design for each chapter and The Most Exciting Idea, which will keep me moving forward joyfully for months.  I’ve also hired the radiant writer and Master Coach Rebecca Mullen to midwife this book, because labor really has begun.

What about you, my dear? Is there something you want to do that you haven’t done? Ask yourself what you are afraid of, then do the Work. See what ideas – and who – shows up. Or, skip straight to the fox’s advice and tame your idea by showing up consistently for it, not rushing the process, and observing rituals that tell you (and it) that it’s special.

I Need You to Be Happy

 

Above: Vines may look pretty, but they strangle the tree.

 

My husband had a disappointment at work recently. He called me to tell me about it.

This kind of thing had happened before, though, so I thought he might not be hurt when it happened again. I hated that he was hurt, though, so I told him it meant nothing. “Just get over it,” I said.

His tone turned cold. “Thanks for the support,” he said and hung up.

*

My son was weeping at bedtime.

“Please, please, home school me. I’ll do anything you want. Just don’t make me go back to school!”

It was the night before school resumed after Spring Break. He’d just confessed that before the break he had been assigned two projects. He’d done no work on them, and they were both due in two days.

As I stroked his hair I angrily thought, “What kind of school gives 5th graders projects to do during vacation?” Though I have little desire to home school him, my mind raced to imagine how I could organize my work so that I could do it and put him out of his misery.

*

I have a friend who is a successful businesswoman. She goes to a lot of meetings and has deadlines, and so, when we lived in the same town, she would frequently cancel our play dates and ask me to babysit her kids at the last minute.

I am not successful the way she is, but I would like to be. I am a little in awe of her and don’t know what she sees in me. So when she canceled our dates I said I didn’t mind, even when I did. When she asked me to babysit I said yes, even when I didn’t want to.

*

What these scenarios have in common is my belief that, in order for me to be happy, I need these people – my husband, my son, and my friend – to be happy.

For me to be happy, I need my husband to be happy. So when he expressed negative emotions, I dismissed them (“Lalalalalala-I-can’t-hear-you!”) This hurt him further.

For me to be happy, I need my son to be happy. So when he told me school was making him miserable, I spent a week making myself miserable with painful thoughts: I’m a bad mom because I don’t want to home school him (a good mom would be up for the adventure); school is damaging him; I’m putting my desires above his needs.

For me to be happy, I needed to stay friends with my friend. To stay her friend, I needed to make her happy. So I kept saying yes until I felt so resentful that I broke off our friendship completely – but not until after we moved and I didn’t have to see her again. Rather than relieved, I felt ashamed of myself.

What about you? Can you relate to this? Have you ever dismissed someone’s emotions because you didn’t want them to feel that way? Have you ever felt guilty that your loved one was unhappy, and maybe you considered moving heaven and earth just to see them smile again? Have you ever said yes when you meant no because you wanted someone to like you?

One of the most beautiful experiences at the School for the Work was when someone would stand up to read their Judge Your Neighbor worksheet, and Katie would turn to us all and say, “Raise your hand if that’s ever been you.” A sea of hands went up, but only every single time.

“Ah! It’s not just me!” I realized. “We’re all doing it! We’re all in this together.”

So let’s do the Work together.

What if I didn’t believe that, in order for me to be happy, my husband, son, and friend needed to be happy? Who would I be without the thought? Who would you be without yours?

I would listen. I would hear the hurt in my husband’s voice and say, “You’re upset. I’m sorry.” I would let him talk rather than cutting him off.

I would hear the fear and self-doubt in my son’s pleading. Rather than buy into it and try to solve his problems for him, I would say, “How can I support you in completing these projects? Let’s focus on that.” I might invite him to remember other projects he’s completed and how they were actually kind of fun.

I would ask myself, “Am I really happy being this kind of friend? What would make this friendship more mutually-fulfilling?” I would say no when that was the honest answer. (I see that saying no just once or twice would probably would have eliminated many of the requests).

I would treat them all with more respect.

Turn it around.

I don’t need them to be happy (in order for me to be happy). How is that truer than the original thought? Well, if they have an emotion and didn’t tell me about it, I would be fine. (That probably happens a lot). Even when I know their emotions, soon enough I have my own to deal with and theirs are displaced.

That’s the thing: feelings are transient. It feels so much more honest and free to allow all of them. I don’t like my feelings to be dismissed, or me to be pitied or managed. Why would I believe that my doing so to them would make them happy?

I need me to be happy. Well, if I don’t make that my job, then I’ll make it someone else’s, and then we have a muddle like the one I just described. “Eliminate the middleman,” Katie says. I’ll make myself happy, and I’ll let them be in charge of their own happiness.

With these turnarounds, I feel peaceful and free.  They are truer than the original thought.

*

You may be interested to know that I apologized to my husband. He said, “Wow. Thank you. All I’d wanted was some empathy.”

Through the Work I found peace about sending my son to school again next year (though we’ll be in a new place, and thus a new school), and I told him no to home schooling. He accepted gracefully. He also finished those projects (and more since) in good cheer and has generally had a buoyant attitude toward school. (Problems often dissolve this way after doing the Work).

I discovered the Work soon after breaking up with my friend, and we reconciled. I still find her fierce, but I’m not afraid of disappointing her anymore.  That’s made such a difference.  I like her more!

What about you? What did you find when you did the Work on your belief that, in order to be happy, you need your loved one to be happy?  Please share your story in the comments!