Body Image: Post Pregnancy

Since giving birth, I have a new appreciation for my body.  My body is awesome in the truest sense of the word.  I have embraced the many stages and changes that evolve out of pregnancy and see them as positive.  The focus for me, has been on the beauty of carrying life, not on returning to a pre-pregnancy body.  Margaret Lazarus’ documentary film entitled “Birth Markings”  speaks to these ideas.  Her documentary features many different women speaking about their own postpartum bellies which acts as a physical metaphor and reminder of the transformative power of birth.pregnantstomach2

After giving birth to little M, my body continued its metamorphosis as my breasts swelled with milk (so that is what I would look like with implants!) while my uterus slowly shrank back to its original size.  As the weeks continued on, I was able to fit back into my old pre-pregnancy jeans and my little postpartum tummy gave way to a flattish, slightly squishy looking stomach.

My focus, especially during the first couple of months was to build an ample milk supply.  I accomplished this by nursing on demand, keeping my baby close to me, eating well and drinking plenty of water.  I felt no rush to return to my fitness class, walking in the fresh air with my baby snuggled in the carrier was the perfect form of exercise in those early weeks.  I think it also helped that I saw the first year as a grace period for my body.  Looking back in my journal, I see that I returned to my post-natal fitness class when little M was two months old.

8 Months Post Pregnancy

8 Months Post Pregnancy

Then, just prior to a year my body was “back to normal,” which had a lot to do with: breastfeeding and babywearing, a little circuit training (when I had/have time), some jogging and a wholesome diet.  I am still not at my peak fitness level, but that will come in time, besides I am still breastfeeding.

In each of our own [pre or post baby body] journeys I think it is important to take time to think about or meditate on the beauty and  miracle of birth.  By doing so, one can help cultivate a healthy attitude and respect towards one’s own body and essentially life itself.

In truth, I like the changes that have happened to my body because they remind me that I have carried life.  When I see my drooped belly button I remember my pregnancy, little M’s birth and what this has meant to me.  And in the two to three months that followed giving birth, I saw my postpartum bump as a sweet reminder of my rebirth as a mother.  Whether you have stretch marks, loose skin or not, I hope that all mothers reading this, will appreciate what an honour it truly is.


Blessingways & Community

blessingway1Certain things are inherent in human nature, like the need to acknowledge and honour many of life’s changes that occur throughout our journey.  Some of these major rites of passage include: coming of age, marriage, and pregnancy to name a few.  However, in contemporary western culture we have lost many of the traditions or rituals that have previously marked and helped us navigate many of these changes.  A fundamental need to acknowledge these events is highly important as it helps us prepare for the next step or come to terms with change and also create or deepen a sense of community.  One way of helping a mother-to-be prepare for her journey into motherhood is to hold a Blessingway.  A Blessingway is a ceremony or ritual held to honour the mother-to-be in order to give her support which can help her prepare both emotionally and mentally for the labour and birth of a new child.

Since becoming more familiar with the notion of Blessingways and what it symbolizes, I realize what a wonderful event it is for not only the new mother but also the seasoned mother.  I found Shari Maser’s  Blessingways: A Guide to Mother-centered Baby showers  to be an excellent comprehensive guide for all mothers-to-be, and I particularly like that she expanded on the idea of community through the voices of other mothers who have also had a Blessingway.  For example, one mother writes “Becoming a mother used to be a community event, but now it’s not.  It’s very isolating, especially for stay-at-home moms.  The nurturing and ritual of a Blessingway can really bring a Woman’s community together to help her through this transition time   Women need that.”  (page 187) This statement really encapsulates why Blessingways are, in my opinion, a much-needed tradition in our culture.

The actual ritual of the Blessingway will vary as the ceremony is uniquely tailored to suit the personality, religion(or not) and energy of the mother-to-be.  Many common practices incorporated into a Blessingway include: painting the expectant mother’s belly with henna, bathing her feet, or my favourite, making a birthing necklace with beads that have been picked specifically for the new mother.  Shari Maser also writes “…the necklace you make will serve as a tangible reminder to the mother-to-be that she has a strong circle of support made up of many people who love her and her baby.  It is also a reminder that there is beauty in birth and that every birth, like every necklace, is unique.” (page 89).

Another beautiful practice commonly done at a Blessingway is the tying of yarn or floss from one roll of thread or ball of yarn which is then worn around each individuals’ wrist. During the Blessingway this is usually done in a circle, and before the string is cut, the women are all connected by this one strand around each of their wrists. This symbolizes (amongst other things) their connection to each other through the-mother-to-be which the Blessingway is being held for. The string will act as reminder of the mother-to-be and also symbolizes their support for her. The string is worn then later cut once the baby is [safely] born or when the mother is feeling more confident in her mothering skills during the postpartum period.

There are many ways to honour the mother-to-be, from artwork to poetry and even song.  The point is to draw upon the symbolic and be mindful of how the activities of the Blessingway will reinforce the meaning and ritual for the specific mother-to-be.  Normally, all the details are planned in advance by the host of the Blessingway to ensure a certain flow.

In essence, the Blessingway is a wonderful, empowering and even a healing experience that can bring together a community of women. The ritual also helps solidify the love and support for the expectant mother while building friendships between the women present at the Blessingway.  The wonderful thing about a Blessingway is that it helps to bridge the gap between one’s old life and new identity as a mother.  Also, having other women there for you that have walked or are walking this journey of motherhood is equally reassuring.  And not to mention that on a more practical level, the Blessingway can easily allow for one’s friends to coordinate postpartum meals because ultimately, it is community which helps us through this wonderful and sometimes challenging  journey that we call life.

Another excellent resource on Blessingways  is”Mother Rising,”  (co-written by Yana Cortlund, Barb Luke & Donna Miller Watelet). This book is written from a more pagan perspective and has some wonderful photos taken from an actual Blessingway.  Both books mentioned are excellent resources if you are interested in learning more or planning a Blessingway (Here are some more ideas found on Pinterest).

*Photo courtesy of Stefani and photographed by Denise Jolley

This Monday

As baby M’s birthday approaches, I am planning on sharing his birth story, which is part two of the home birth story I wrote earlier this year. You can read part one here. In preparation for the story, I am including this photo of myself about six months pregnant wearing this particular blue dress.

Birth Culture

As I was reading Birth Matters by Ina May Gaskin, I discovered that many of the my beliefs about natural childbirth were being echoed back to me in this book.  As I continue to explore birth or birth culture if you will, I realize that there is a community of strong women who also share these ideas and beliefs about childbirth. These women, like me, feel empowered by the birthing process, and the act of becoming a mother. They are, not only forever changed but also impassioned by this rite of passage. With that said, I do eventually plan on sharing more of my thoughts on the subject matter. In the meantime however, this post that simply alludes to some of what I am thinking about, will have to do.

Home Birth: Part One

Day one

Day One

“We must break the myth around childbirth [saying that it is a medical event rather than a physiological one]. Yes, there is pain but one can do it with the right support and freedom to birth the way they choose to.  I chose to birth at home with the help of a midwife, my sister and two close friends.  I cannot imagine doing it any other way. I felt safe and confident, I was free to move about. And when it was time to push, I listened to my body and went into a primal place where I squatted and opened my legs very wide. I pushed when [I felt] it felt right. Nobody told me what to do, it was perfect.”  That was taken from my journal regarding some of my thoughts on education and choice around childbirth.

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of attending the birth of one of my nephews. My sister chose to have a hospital birth with a midwife. When I arrived at the hospital, my sister was already in the second stage of labour, she continued labouring quietly in the tub as she found the water soothing.  After a short time, she got out of the tub because she thought she needed to use the washroom. Suddenly, her water broke and the baby crowned; two pushes later he was born. It truly was a transcendent experience. I was particularly impressed with how calmly my sister handled the labour and how she listened to her body, this was definitely how I wanted to do it.  Shortly after the birth however, the room became very busy with hospital staff, I felt annoyed as it turned a private moment into what felt public and routine. I decided at that point I would plan a quiet birth, with only a few select people present.

When I became pregnant a couple of years later, I naturally sought out midwifery care. I read and researched many books on pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. I also watched a lot of documentaries and educational DVDs on the subject matter. One of  the things that stands out to me in my research, is a story from the book on Birth by Tina Cassidy. It is about a young  indigenous woman who gives birth for the first time by herself.  She does so in a quiet place away from everyone which is their custom. Although she experiences pain, she labours through it and the baby is born (page 11).  For some reason, I found this very appealing, there were many moments throughout my pregnancy that I imagined myself giving birth alone (under a tree) or just with a midwife.

As my pregnancy progressed I continued to explore my birthing options. At first I thought a birth centre would be ideal for me since I live in an apartment building, unfortunately my city does not have a birth centre.  And as amazing as the hospital is that I would have potentially given birth in, it was not my first choice.  I also thought about birthing at a friend’s house, but the possibility of there being extra people around was unappealing.  In the end, I chose to birth at home for the solitude it would provide me and the control over my environment and body. The birth of my son was everything I dreamed it would be and more!