Women have a unique relationship with their breasts and since most of you reading this probably have them, you know that it’s far more complicated than it should be. Pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding (or lack of) add a whole new element to that relationship. By the time baby is born they are barely recognizable as your own and then they are barely even yours after. You worry about them working right and cry when sometimes they don’t. They are an amazing part of what makes us women. And for those of us with family history of breast cancer, in that relationship there is an element of fear.
I got my first mammogram a couple weeks ago. No, I’m not forty yet (although it’s starting to feel like it’s looming) but family history indicated it was time. That, and there are too many women in my extended circle dying of breast cancer in their 30s and family members being diagnosed to put it off any longer. I know there is controversy about effectiveness and radiation all that. I know that some people feel that thermography is a better option. I ultimately chose mammography as my best option at this time. And I felt like I was joining a club.
I now know what the jokes are about and how awkward it is. It’s like a adjustable vice. For some reason I’d thought there would be some, I don’t know, shape to it. For some reason it never occurred to me to look up what the machine looked like. (For those of you who haven’t seen one, that’s what that picture is!) Added to that, no matter how carefully I followed directions, I was not in the correct position. That meant, not only was I getting squished, I also had a lady poking and prodding and grabbing me to get me into the right position. It was sort of like trying to learn to breastfeed all over again only hands free. But I survived. It wasn’t super painful. Just uncomfortable and awkward.
We all know about breast cancer. You’d have to live under a rock to avoid the pink ribbons and not be “aware.” We are "aware" to the point that "awareness" is nearly a joke. But no awareness in the world matters, no statistics or “risk” matter if you are part of those numbers. We all know someone who is affected. I’m leery enough of the radiation to not be sure I’ll have yearly scans after I turn 40 and I have a few years yet before I need to make that decision. I will, however, continue to do regular self exams and talk to my doctor about my options given my history. As women (and some men) these are choices we face. I’ll take the choices that come with getting older over the alternative. When the time comes, and if you decide mammography is also the right decision for you, I’ll say, “welcome to the club!”
I’ve attended enough births now to see some patterns. There are always exceptions so nobody jump on me if you or someone you knew didn’t fit those patterns. ;) One that I’ve come to recognize is that exercise before, during, and after pregnancy is important.
Know that I’m not saying this as someone who actually managed to make it happen consistently during my own pregnancies. Two major moves and three different jobs kind of wrecked it with the first one and bronchitis for two months kill all good intentions with the second. I’m also not saying it as a comment on size. We can be active and fit at all sorts of shapes and sizes…and not active and not fit at all shapes and sizes. Finally, I'm not saying it to add to your guilt of not getting to that needed one more thing. Believe me. I've been there.
But moving our bodies is important for our health and well-being and this holds true during pregnancy as well. As long as you and baby are healthy, of course, and you consider some of the precautions here depending on the weather. Something I’ve seen consistently as a doula is that women who are intentional about fitness and movement usually have easier labors and births.
Now, if you were a marathoner before pregnancy, your doctor might recommend that you tone it down a bit. But even if you aren’t a gym rat before your pregnancy, there are things you can start now. A prenatal yoga class would not only help your fitness, it also would give you an opportunity to connect with other expectant moms. Or make a walking date with friends. We are fortunate to live in a community with lots of walking trails and parks. Swim if you have access to a pool or even maybe consider a water aerobics class. If you can’t find one specific for pregnancy, talk to the instructor ahead of time to make sure it’s appropriate. Another great option is belly dancing. As always, discuss any kind of fitness/lifestyle change with your doctor ahead of time.
Here are a few local resources of places you might find helpful.
IU North Hospital with Mimi Sosa
Home4Birth with Lauren Windle
Source Yoga with Lauren Windle
Pea in the Pod Fitness with Abby Kurtz
Here are a few YouTube options if in person just doesn’t work for your schedule.
Prenatal Yoga-- one of many options
Prenatal Belly Dancing--also one of many options
My point is, get moving! Exercise improves mood, helps stabilize hormones, and improves your chances of an easy birth.
Every woman is different and every birth is different. But consistently there are a few items that seem to be very helpful for women to use or bring with them to their place of birth.
1) Your pillow. Yes, the hospital or birth center has pillows. They just won’t be the same. You’ll need all of their’s for positioning and all kinds of stuff. Bring your own pillow so you’ll be comfortable and sleep better. Bring an extra pillow case too.
2) Oil for massage. While lotion works, I really prefer oil for massage in labor. Touch is very helpful for most women. Occasionally there is someone who finds that she does not want to be touched but most women find massage to be relaxing and distracting. Oil provides a nice gliding massage that lotion just doesn’t do. Jojoba oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, really any skin care oil will work. Do a patch test ahead of time to make sure you won’t react to the oil you’ve chosen.
3) Hot/cold packs. Depending on your birth place, there are several things you can use for these. My favorite hot pack is still a rice sock. It comes off easily so you can put it on and take it off as is helpful. But this depends on having a microwave easily accessible and some hospitals don’t have that. Another option are the stick on chemical heating pads that last hours or some version of toe/hand warmers. For cold packs, my favorite is a small bin of ice water to put washcloths in. Bring lots of washcloths or make sure your hospital has lots you can use. This way you can use them as compresses on your back or as a cooling cloth for your neck/forehead. Another good option here is wet wash clothes in the refrigerator for later use. But this is dependent on having a private fridge.
4) Tennis Balls. This may seem a bit odd but a tennis ball is firm but flexible and a wonderful massage and pressure too. It will make it much easier on your birth partner and doula as they use pressure to ease you through contractions.
5) Music. Bring a playlist and something to listen to it on. Keep in mind that any kind of personal listening device is going to get annoying by the end of labor and sharing your music shares the energy it creates. Music creates atmosphere and can change the energy of the room. Depending on the choice and what’s going on in your labor, it can be encouraging, uplifting, relaxing, joyful. It can give you that last boost of energy you need. I’ve been introduced to so much music I love at clients births and it helps me get to know them just a little bit better. Choose music you love, that makes you smile, and what you’d potentially like to have your baby hear as soon as they are born.
Above all, bring things that you find relaxing and comforting. This is by no means a complete list. Happy packing!
There is so much to say about postpartum. Much more than can be said in one post. Or even ever really can be said in words. So this is my first shot at it. There will be many more.
Postpartum is such an important, life changing, magical time. We are getting to know our baby for the first time outside the womb. We get to see all the sweet little movements we’ve spent the last few months feeling. It’s pretty incredible. It’s also hard and overwhelming. Very few new parents I’ve spoken with don’t have a sense of complete inadequacy. We focus so much on birth prep and pregnancy and kind of assume things will fall into place when we bring the baby home. Make no mistake, knowing what’s going on during pregnancy and prepping for birth IS important. But so is what happens after. Today I’ll start talking about that shift.
Our culture puts so much emphasis on youth, beauty, and our bodies. We assume that once the baby is born and gone from our body that we will revert back to our normal selves rather quickly. Or we hope and strive for that at least. But the thing is, even for those whose bodies do recover quickly, there is no reverting back to our pre-pregnant selves. We’ve been through an experience, both physical and emotional, that changes us forever.
Physically, even our skeletal structure has changed enough that a scientist looking at our skeleton years after we’ve passed will be able to tell that we’ve had a child. For nearly all of us, our bellies carry signs of the life changing event for the rest of our life. Signs of healed stretch marks. Our belly buttons just a little bit wider. The skin just a little looser than it used to be. For others, the signs are obvious and never leave. Even Jennifer Garner has had to explain her baby belly.
My point is, we do ourselves a disservice thinking we’ll go back to our old selves. I read an article recently that we all bear scars as a result of becoming mothers. That really resonates with me. It’s true. Our bodies are never the same because WE GREW AND GAVE BIRTH TO A WHOLE NEW HUMAN! Our lives will never the the same because we now see everything through the lens of a parent. Nothing will ever be the same.
Read about my own postpartum challenges here.
Adina Nelson, CD(DONA)
I am a birth & postpartum doula and chlidbirth educator practicing in North Idaho.
She was there every step of the way for me and my husband...I thank Adina for everything she helped us with. She truly is a special person and we will be forever grateful for her! ~Erin