Are You Worthy?

by Holly Keich

Keich Family 2011

image:  Grace Lightner Photography

When’s the last time you told yourself, I’ll be worthy when ___________________. Whatever it may be that you choose to fill in the blank, whether it’s I’ll be worthy when I lose 15 pounds, when I get the promotion, when I can keep the laundry done or the house clean, when my kids tell me they love me, when I meet the perfect partner, when I become the perfect parent. We dismiss ourselves by lining up a long laundry list of pre-requisites to worthiness. We forget that just by the value of our very existence, we are enough. We are good enough. We are worthy.

Instead, we often seek sources outside of ourselves to tell us that we are worthy. We seek to be better, more, perfect, not only in our own eyes, but through our reflection in others. Author, shame researcher and public speaker, Brené Brown feels that shame is how we see ourselves through other people’s eyes. “If I look perfect, live perfect, work perfect, I can avoid or minimize criticism, blame and ridicule.” We say to ourselves, if I’m worthy enough, I won’t feel shame.

But, lets take a closer look at what shame is and what it isn’t. Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Parenting is one of the areas in which we, women especially, feel shame.

Parenting values debates, often termed “The Mommy Wars”, are shaming in nature. When you become a parent, you don’t have to look very far to see these debates in action. I remember as a newly expectant mother being blind-sided by vigorous and harsh debates in what used to be a very friendly and supportive online group. Soon I came to discover there are a multitude of controversial and divisive topics surrounding parenting – labor, circumcision, vaccinations, co-sleeping, feeding, etc. And regardless of which side you are on, what you hear is shame. Mothers engaging in shaming behaviors that we try to protect our own children from as they grow – name-calling, put-downs and bullying.  

So it was no surprise to find out what Brené Brown found in her research. “There are 3 topics that consistently elicit painfully harsh judgments: addiction, parenting and affairs.” Alright, well, maybe a slight surprise, parenting ranks up there with addiction and affairs? Why is that?

In her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brene clarifies so beautifully why parenting breeds judgment. “Our need for certainty in an endeavor as uncertain as raising children makes explicit “how-to-parent strategies both seductive and dangerous. I say dangerous because certainty often breeds absolutes, intolerance, and judgment. That’s why parents are so critical of one another – we latch on to a method or approach and very quickly our way becomes the way. When we obsess over our parenting choices to the extent that most of us do, and then see someone else making different choices, we often perceive that difference as direct criticism of how we are parenting.”

The uncertainty and doubt that comes with parenting is often frightening, frustrating and terrifying, and sometimes all three of those at the same time. Even though we’re all just doing the best we can with what we have and know in this moment, that self-doubt that lurks beneath the choices we make can spring our self-righteous critic into action. And when that happens, we react from a place of fear and hurt, fear of not being good enough, not being the perfect parent. A difference in opinion becomes judgment in our ears (or maybe was even slung with that intention) and our inner critical voice says, I’m not worthy. From this place of hurt, we may even judge others as a way of making ourselves feel better.

Brené Brown makes another excellent point in her book I Thought It Was Just Me: (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”, “We are also more willing to use shame, fear and judgment with people who threaten our pursuit of perfection. We can feel threatened when people challenge or criticize us, or we can feel threatened simply because someone is making different choices then we would make.”

“When we give ourselves permission to be imperfect, when we find self-worth despite our imperfections, when we build connection networks that affirm and value us as imperfect beings, we are much more capable of change.”

Change begins in us. You can not shame or belittle people (including yourself) into change. Change begins with realizing that we all have different paths in our parenting journey. There is no one right path. There are a million ways to be an engaged parent. So the parent who chooses a different path than yours isn’t wrong. They’ve chosen that path based on their values and life experiences and just because their path diverges from yours doesn’t make it any less correct or worthy.

It’s not about who is right or wrong. According to Brené Brown, “the question of parenting values is about engagement. Are we paying attention? Thinking through our choices? Open to learning and being wrong? Curious and willing to ask questions?”

“Our job is to make choices that are aligned with our values and support other parents who are doing the same. Our job is also to tend to our own worthiness. When we feel good about the choices we’re making and when we’re engaging with the world from a place of worthiness rather than scarcity, we feel no need to judge and attack.” (Brené Brown, Daring Greatly)

In order to move away from judgment we must be mindful of our own thoughts, feelings and words. To show empathy for ourselves as well as others we must be aware. We must know and understand ourselves before we can know and understand someone else. The more grounded we become, the less we feel compelled to defend our decisions and protect ourselves. The more grounded we are the less likely we are to perpetuate the cycle of judgment to make ourselves feel better, to make ourselves feel worthy.

In the end what we really want to know and to feel is that it’s okay. That we’re okay. Although the path may be unlit, we can approach this journey with a spirit of adventure, and openness to learning along with our children and other parents. Knowing that we will stumble and struggle, because we all do. It’s inherent in the process. And it’s not only okay, it’s to be expected. It will happen. It might be you today, or your neighbor or your friend or the parent across town who’s the perfect appearing PTO mom. We’re all in this parenting journey together and we need support; we need to give support.

Ultimately it’s not about who is the perfect parent, it’s about raising healthy, loving, wholehearted children. When we shame other parents for their choices, we are inadvertently passing that shame to the next generation, to their children and our own as well. When we are providing support and understanding, even if it’s just that ‘I’ve been there’ look to the parent whose child is melting down in aisle 4 at the grocery store, we are supporting and understanding that child also. We’re teaching our child what compassion looks like so when they grow up they can teach their children.

We all become better parents, better people, when we have a base of support, of understanding and belonging. We can reach and achieve and yes, even make mistakes, within a family or community that supports and believes in our inherent worthiness.


Holly Keich is a Licensed Social Worker, Owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill, PA and has a recent obsession with and grand appreciation for the work of Brené Brown.

Choices in Everyday Parenting

by Jennifer Moore

One of my favorite television shows is The Office. Fictional boss, Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell), invokes the embarrassment of viewers due to his antics in his personal and professional lives. The writers know that this emotion makes for good comedy, but on a deeper level, they most likely also know that this starts some sort of self-reflection as to why what Michael does makes us feel so ashamed.

In the modern world of parenting, we seemingly have our own television show with social media platforms opening up parts of our lives that were kept hidden in the previous generations. When I pooped on the toilet for the first time, my mother didn’t post on twitter (#mybabygirlisgrowingup) to reach out to her second cousin’s neighbor’s current girlfriend at the touch of a button and let them all know.   She certainly didn’t have our intimate moments paraded around over a computer screen and judged by people clear on the other side of the world who were able to interject with their own opinions and experiences. On the flip side, her world of parenting was limited to just those in her immediate circles; her pediatrician, family and friends, books and possibly radio programs. A positive part of parenting in the year 2016 is that with a few taps on our smart phone we can research just about any topic, watching how others raise their own children. As many of us know too well, that is also a negative. I can type “When should my child stop breastfeeding?” and get a myriad of articles by scientific, personal, and yes even satirical sources that speak their own version of the truth (fact, opinion or a combination of the two).

Jen Moore & Wolfie - blooming wild

To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week in August 2015, I had this photo taken of Wolfgang and I by a professional photographer and friend.

I began breastfeeding my oldest son, Sebastian, at his birth in July of 2002. My goal was to
try to breastfeed to 6 months and then taper off and possibly wean onto formula or cow’s milk once he began eating solids. After all, once he started crawling and eating other food why should I continue? My experiences up until that point had led me to believe that a baby shouldn’t need to breastfeed after 6 months to a year. The early weeks turned into months, and before I knew it my son was 9 months old, beginning to walk, and still being nourished at my breast. One spring day at a local playground, Sebastian tripped and fell, eliciting tears. I scooped him up in my arms and began to nurse him since I had learned that this not only fed his belly, but also was a comfort to him when in distress. A woman who had her grandchild, a little boy of 4 who earlier was playing with my son, looked flabbergasted and said to me “You need to stop that soon or else he will never give it up”. Her kindness towards me as a first time mom switched off and she turned away, taking the child in her care with her. I was embarrassed. Her words and inflection led me to believe that not only was I doing something wrong, but I should certainly not be doing it out in public for everyone to see.

Jen & Wolfie with Allison
My friend Allison and I both nursing our sons. Here, baby Lennon is one day old and Wolfgang, 2 1/2. We are both proud to nurture and feed the bodies and souls of these precious little boys of different ages.

Over the year I gave birth to several more children and thankfully found a small yet accepting group of women when it came to the topic of full term breastfeeding through my local Le Leche League. I would comment to my husband after the monthly meetings, “It’s the only place I feel normal”. Here, I could lift up my shirt to nurse the child who moments before was arguing with a friend over toy trains, or I could cuddle a soon to be new big brother or sister against my pregnant belly. I could also latch on two children at once who both needed my nurturing in this way at the same time, with no fear of judgment. Later on, I was also lucky enough to have a handful of friends in whose presence I felt no shame parenting this way in their homes, since they did similar things in regards to breastfeeding. Over time, I grew a thicker skin when out in public when it came to the needs of my children, because my nursing relationship was more important to me than the random strangers and their stares and comments.

Several weeks ago, my 5 children and I (ranging from ages 3-14) were at a local public pool. Being the youngest in a large family, 3-year-old Wolfgang has the perks of several older siblings who open his world to fun “big kid” things. This also means that he has learned in his short time on earth to nap wherever we are if he is tired enough. Nursing him to sleep in the afternoon while on the go is something I do frequently, at museums, playgrounds and in this instance, at the pool. We had just settled down on our blanket, and as his eyes fluttered closed, I saw my friend Amy walk over with her 1 ½ year old daughter, Matilda, and she sat down right next to us. “Those women over there are freaking out and calling you disgusting”, she said, as Tilly latched on and she joined me in peaceful solidarity. We watched as this group of women, all in the company of small children, gawked at the four of us and then appeared to take pictures or videos with their cell phones! I don’t know what came of their recordings. Maybe texts were sent expressing their concern and disgust over children they had seen just minutes before talking and using toys to splash in the pool. Maybe our images were plastered on public or private corners of the world wide web. Whatever their reason for using the words they did and for taking out phones to record something that is very normal for me, their personal opinion was that Amy and I were making quite the show of nurturing our children.

Parenting is so individual. It’s something we as mothers make our own each and every day. We base it on what we value and feel is important for the short and long term goals of ourselves and our families. Like every other aspect of our lives, we are affected everyday by our interactions with others who have made similar or different choices. These meetings may cause us to feel confidence, doubt, or even judgment. Back to The Office, Michael Scott once proudly created a Christmas card by taking one of his then-girlfriend’s old vacation pictures and photoshopping himself in place of her ex-husband. Bad idea, Michael! The audience felt ashamed and embarrassed for him because this awkward choice created a very uncomfortable moment. I wonder if this is how those women at the pool felt.

Jen & Wolfie camping.jpg

This photograph to me is more the “day in the life of a nursing mom”. My kids play in the background, we are having breakfast after camping and I’m eating an apple.

Whatever their reasons or their thoughts about us, I can say that it doesn’t matter to me. Breastfeeding my children is an integral part of how I’ve parented for 14 years, and as their mother I can choose where and when, just as anybody else can choose to nurse (or not) in public, private, covered, or in a bathing suit at the pool. There should be nothing embarrassing about it, and those watching should be happy to see a mother and child bonding, much like I smile when I see a parent kiss a crying preschooler to “make it all better”, or feed a snack to a hungry toddler who runs over from the slide asking for something to eat. We are all doing a great job, and for those of us who are choosing to breastfeed past a year or two (my older children were all closer to or over 4 years when they stopped), we need to do it with confidence and surround ourselves with friends who either trust our judgement even if they walked down a different path, or, join us in our journey. To quote a line from the The Office, “I can’t control what you do, I can only control what I do”.

What I do is what works for my children and for me. What I do is making the choice of breastfeeding at 4 hours old and at 4 years old, in the comfort of my own house or sitting on a bench at the playground, and giving another parent a “thumbs up” when I see them doing the same.


Jenn Moore lives on the West Shore with her husband, 5 kids and temperamental cat. She enjoys books, wine, live music, lifting weights, and going to the toilet alone.

 

The Joys of Baby & Toddler Yoga

by Holly Keich

Once a woman becomes a mother, everything changes. The transition for both mother and child can be a demanding one, requiring physical, emotional and spiritual strength that you had not previously encountered. Turning to a relaxing and nurturing yoga practice can help you find peace in your new role as a parent. The physical poses help you regain strength and flexibility in your life while taking a meditative approach to practice can help you find the calm within, allowing you to be more at peace. With a soothing, yet invigorating practice, you may find yourself feeling more centered and floating out of the studio at the end of class. This feeling is sure to flow into your daily interactions with your baby and family.

As a new mom though, when do you have the time to take for yourself? You may think that taking care of yourself and your baby are mutually exclusive activities. But you might want to consider practicing yoga with your baby. In fact the definition of “yoga” means “union”. In a traditional practice, this means linking and unifying the mind, body, spirit. But in baby yoga, it includes developing a union or bond between you and your baby as well. Being with your baby in the present moment, easing expectations of how things ought to be and enjoying what is can create more happiness in your life and help you find more peace and joy as a mother.

Om Baby Yoga 6

Unlike the viral You Tube video, baby yoga is a gentle, mindful practice between a parent and caregiver that involves stretching, massage and relaxation. Classes incorporate a mix of asanas (poses) for new moms with movements for baby that help develop their gross and fine motor skills, improve sleep patterns, aid in digestion and help babies explore their new environment. Infant massage is often incorporated into classes building trust and communication between the baby and caregiver. Movements, poses, rhymes and songs are repeated through a series of classes which encourage you to continue the practice at home or even on the go to help soothe your little one.

As babies grow, they begin to share the natural yogi within, exploring different ways of moving their bodies. You may find your pre-crawler moving into Cobra pose as they learn to put weight into their hands and strengthen the upper body muscles needed for

DSC04685

crawling. Or you may find them in Downward Facing Dog as they learn to walk and or just
to get a different perspective of their world. The bonds that you’ve developed in baby yoga don’t need to end when your child becomes mobile. Practicing yoga alongside your growing child, you will see them develop more coordination, strength and self-confidence. Whether they use you as a jungle gym as you develop your own home practice or choose to attend a class at Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center, you’ll find that toddler’s delight in this special activity with Mom or Dad.

Toddler TIme Yoga 9 optimized
Classes at this stage look less like your traditional yoga practice in order to keep up with the boundless energy of toddlers. You’ll find us moving, singing, breathing, and using our imaginations as we weave yoga poses into a fun and interactive story. Children have the freedom to utilize the whole room as their yoga mat which increases social interaction between classmates. Class becomes more active, but is still balanced with relaxation and mindfulness. You may even find your little yogi spontaneously practicing their favorite poses at home. Or you may find poses that you can utilize to help calm your child in challenging moments.

Sharing yoga with your child can have a lasting impact in many ways. Whether bolstering neuromuscular development, providing opportunities for healthy social-emotional development to laying a foundation for life-long fitness and healthy lifestyle for your child, baby and toddler yoga is sure to create memorable moments in your life while reducing the stress and anxiety that comes with parenting.

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Holly Keich supports mother, child and family connections through her business, Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center, in Camp Hill. She is a Prenatal, Baby, Toddler & Child Yoga Instructor, Certified Infant Massage Instructor and Licensed Social Worker. 717-761-4975 www.ombabycenter.com.
Check out Om Baby’s Schedule for upcoming classes in yoga, art, dance, music, baby signing & more!

Taming Travel Time with Kids

by Holly Keich

DSC04737It’s true that vacations will never be the same once you have children, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still have fun and maybe even squeeze in a little relaxation. Here are some tips to help you make that happen.

Attitude is everything: expect problems, go with the flow and everything will work out great. Ttreat your trip like an adventure, annoyances, missteps and mishaps simply become small obstacles for you to overcome. This applies just as much for parents as for children. If dogs can sense fear, you better believe your seven-year-old can. If you get stressed when you can’t find your hotel, your kids will get stressed too. When you think of it as exploring the neighborhood, everyone will feel better.

Packing

Kids have stuff, it’s that simple. But you don’t have to pack up your entire house to travel. Take only what you need and pack as light as you can. Consider it a Zen thing, a way of looking at life. Simplifying can help you enjoy your trip. Here are some checklists that can help you focus on the essentials.

http://www.babycenter.com/packing-checklist-for-traveling-with-baby

http://www.babycenter.com/packing-checklist-for-traveling-with-toddler

And remember to pack things that you will need during the trip within reach instead of under the luggage in the trunk.

When to Leave

Leave at the right time. But what is the right time? There are 3 different strategies you could use and all incorporate naps or bedtime to your advantage. If you are an early riser, you could get the kids out of bed at 4am, strap them in the car and hope to get another few hours out of them before they wake. After breakfast it doesn’t seem that far to go.

If your kids nap, use their schedules to your advantage. For example, if you’ve got a long car ride, see if you can leave an hour or so before their nap time. Most kids can entertain themselves for a little while so that buys you some time right there. Once they fall asleep around their normal nap time, you just bought yourself an hour or two of bliss on the way to your destination. This can work for flights as well. If you want to push your luck with this strategy, consider a red-eye flight. Especially if you’re flying coast to coast (at least in the U.S.), you can try to entertain a kid for 6 hours on a daytime flight or you can have them sleep on a flight that leaves at 11 PM. Be warned, however, this is a high-risk, high-return gambit. When executed to perfection, you get on the plane, give your kid his teddy bear and wake up 3,000 miles away. When things go awry, however, you are awake all night enduring glares from the people seated near you and the whole family is transformed into cranky zombies the next day.

Or, the last option is that you can leave about bedtime and drive all night long. If you or your driving partner are night owls, then this may be the option for you. But beware, you may arrive at your destination sleep deprived and cranky. Not a great way to start a vacation, but it might be a suitable way to end it traveling to the comfort of your own home.

Traveling by Car?

If you’re driving break up your trip so your toddler can stretch his limbs and move around to blow off some pent-up energy. Pack a rubber or foam ball for rolling or kicking around and some simple board books for quiet time. Pick out parks and picnic areas on your route by using an online mapping service such as Google, Yahoo or Mapquest. End your driving day early so all of you have time to unwind after a long day on the road.

To get a feel for what works and what doesn’t when you’re on the road and away from home, you might try leading up to a big trip with some short day trips or weekend getaways. The trial runs could provide key insights about things like what supplies you should pack, how long your child can last in a car seat, and which toys to keep your toddler happy (or drive you nuts).

For older kids, do you remember all those old travel games from when you were a child? You don’t? Well here are some links that will help refresh your memory.

http://www.activitiesforkids.com/travel/travel_games.htm

http://www.activitiesforkids.com/travel/travel_hints.htm

Going by Plane?

After getting settled, try to explain to your kids what they can expect. This seems to take some of the fear and uncertainty out of what might be a very new and strange experience.

Pressure on the eardrums caused by the change in altitude can bother kids more than adults. Babies especially become unhappy with pressure changes and being babies, cannot easily be told what to do to make it better. That’s where you come in! Sucking on a pacifier during take-off and again as soon as the pilot says you are about to start your descent helps balance out the pressure. Bottles or breastfeeding can work too. Even a lollipop. It’s okay to bend the rules a little bit when you travel, right?

Crying also helps to equalize pressure and for really small kids, may end up being the only route away from the discomfort. So be sure to reassure yourself that you are still a good parent even if your child is crying for most of the flight. At least part of the time he is equalizing the pressure in his ears. Crying as you comfort your child in your arms is not the same as letting your child cry it out. Lots of hugs and the occasional tickle can calm a child facing an unfamiliar pain, and help stop the crying that can continue long after the pressure problem has gone away.

How to Occupy the Time

Again try to remain practical and simple with the activities that you bring for your child. A small mix of old favorites and new toys or activities can help to bust up the boredom of a long (or short) flight. Avoid toys that make noise and those with small pieces that can fall off. Crayons are OK, but colored pencils are better. Markers should be avoided. If you don’t want it on your living room sofa, then you don’t want it in the air with you!

Some travel books say to wrap the on board toys like it is Christmas to help entertain the kids. But do the planet a favor and avoid the extra trash. Your child will enjoy the toy just as much with out the surprise factor, especially if it’s a long lost toy that you hid away a week before the trip only to “re-find” it on the plane. If you disagree, then try to use wrapping or bags that can be reused.

Some airlines may have little toys and treats available, but never board expecting they will be available. Check out airline policies before you board and be sure to bring snacks. Staving off hunger can help to prevent a meltdown before the stewardess makes her way around to offer you that little bag of pretzels.

Don’t expect to have a break until you land, you are the entertainment. So always be sure to have a few tricks in your pocket when things get rough. You could put a balloon in your pocket for layovers or long waits in the airport and pop it before you re-board. Take a small ball or blow up beach ball and roll it back and forth as you wait to board the plane. In flight, take a small photo album with pictures of the relatives and friends you plan to visit.  That way your toddler will be familiar with their faces and names before you arrive.  Phones and tablets make great distractions, but may not be able to be used during take off and landing, so be prepared with other activities.  Traveling in the dark? Kids love glow in the dark night sticks. A dry erase board or magnetic board could pass a few hours of time.

Here are some additional resources that might help to keep you sane during your flight.

www.flyingwithchildren.blogspot.com

52 Fun Things to Do on the Plane by Lynn Gordon

100 Things for Little Children to Do on a Trip (Activity Cards)  by Catriona Clarke

Settling In

New sights and sounds can be overwhelming to a young child. Vacation excitement can quickly turn to temper tantrums if you try to do too much too soon, so set realistic expectations and let your child soak up the experience at his own pace.

Upon arrival, immediately unpack and create a home away from home for you and your child. Designate a baby changing area. This could be a dresser or bathroom counter. Stack the diapers and wipes nearby so you don’t have to go rummaging through luggage with the first dirty diaper. Create a play space for your child by placing toys in a low drawer or shelf where they can access them. This also creates a place to store them when not in use so that the room doesn’t become a hazardous toy box. Choose an area to call the kitchen. A place where you can store snacks and mix formula if needed.

Naps on vacation can become mobile adventures. Follow your child’s lead in choosing an alternative nap location. Walks in the stroller can lull a little one to sleep while you get to take in what the new locale has to offer. Babywearing can rock your little one into lullaby land. A scenic drive might be just the trick. If none of the above work, try taking turns ‘nap-sitting’.

Bedtimes can easily be torn to shreds in the excitement of vacation. Give it a few days while you stick to the usual routine and typically you will see a return of peaceful dreams. If co-sleeping is the norm, this can make bedtime a breeze when traveling. If your child is having trouble adjusting to the time change, stick with your home time zone by getting up a little earlier or later than typical and doing the same at bedtime.

Many hotels and resorts will childproof your room before you arrive if you ask when you book your stay. If the service isn’t available, bring along electrical outlet covers, doorknob covers and pipe cleaner to secure any loose drapery or electrical cords. If your room has a balcony, you’ll need to protect the area with a gate or protective screen, even a barricade of chairs or furniture at the door if needed. Check the room’s carpet by crawling on your hands and knees in search of any choking hazards that may be hidden from view.

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters and it’s hard enough finding foods they like at home, let alone while you’re traveling. You may be looking forward to sampling the local cuisine at your destination, but your child may be less excited about the gumbo. If you’re going out to a restaurant, bring a supply of your toddler’s favorite foods to keep him satisfied and entertained while you enjoy your own meal. Eating early can also avoid the dinner rush and make for a more peaceful dinner with your child.

Travel with a baby or young child(ren) can be exhausting. Not just because you have more stuff to pack – it takes a mental adjustment, too. Those days of lolling about on the beach or having a late dinner at a four-star restaurant are long gone. Now your vacation will be spent chasing pigeons with your toddler in a city park or hitting the early-bird special before your baby’s 7pm bedtime. But rest assured that you are building positive memories for your child (and yourself) that will last a lifetime. Even if all doesn’t go as expected, time has a way of fading the memories into happy ones.


Holly Keich, LSW, CIMI, Prenatal, Certified Chidlight Yoga Children’s, Baby, & Tots Yoga Instructor is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center established in 2009.  A mother of two children, she enjoys guiding families on their holistic journey towards parenthood.

Blessing the Way to Baby

Alison Cranford BlessingwayCompiled by Holly Keich

You may be asking yourself, what is a Blessingway? A simple definition is that it is an alternative baby shower for mothers. But Blessingways are so much more than that. A Blessingway is celebration given to a woman who is soon to give birth to honor her passage into motherhood, whether her first child or her last. It is centered on the mother and is intended to weave and strengthen a support network for the woman, reaffirming her inner strength, skill and intuition to be a role model and caretaker for this child.

While baby showers can be commercial in focus, a showering of gifts for the baby, a Blessingway is about honoring the woman, our friend, sister, daughter, mother-to-be. This is a sacred time in the mother’s life and deserves more than gifts of car seats, baby wipes and a sea of pink or blue gifts. A Blessingway acknowledges that the birth of a child, the becoming of a mother is a rite of passage that the woman is about to go through. It is a wonderful way to honor motherhood and provide the mother with a true show of support from her loved ones. The memories of this experience will last much longer than those newborn sleepers received at a shower.

Blessingways are steeped in a much more solid tradition than baby showers too. The Blessingway is reputed to derive from a Navajo people. The story of the creation of the Navajo people and their emergence onto their sacred homeland is recounted in a ceremony known as the Blessingway, which is the foundation of the Navajo way of life. The Blessingway is an important aspect of the Navajo religion and is not specific to pregnancy. It can be used for anyone expecting a baby, adopting a baby, or just in need of a celebration of life in general. Any life transition or celebration will work: divorce, move, career change, remarriage – the ceremony can be creatively adjusted for other life events. And it needn’t include only women. Yes, there are co-ed parent or family blessings. The father is included and treated to the same blessings at the mother.

The Navajo have a saying, “whatever happens here on Earth must first be dreamed”, and that’s exactly what a Blessingway does. When traditionally performed in it’s entirety, the Blessingway is a two-day ceremony whose purpose is to obtain peace, harmony, protection and to help realize the goal of a long, happy life.

 

The Basics of a Blessingway

Pre-Planning – Involve the mother-to-be in the planning process. By doing so, you empower her to make the ceremony her own and she can pick and choose what activities appeal to her. Some of the more traditional rituals may not be comfortable for everyone, so think of some modern alternatives like a day at the spa or “paint-your-own” pottery.

Invitations – Invitations are similar to any other invitation, but should have a positive woman centered theme. You may want to explain the purpose of a Blessingway – to bless the woman’s way into childbirth, so she can remember all women who have gone before her in childbearing and allow you to pledge your support as she enters into her birthing experience. Here is where you will want to indicate if you require the guest to bring something for an activity. You may also want to mention that gifts are not requested.

Attendees – Keep it small. 6-15 guests. Don’t invite anyone out of courtesy, but rather invite guests that really mean something to the mother and will positively contribute to her birthing or parenting experience and is supportive of her philosophies.

Location – Somewhere that has a calm, peaceful and relaxed feel about it. At your home or one of the other guest’s. If this isn’t an option, a park or an alternate serene setting can work.

Atmosphere – The atmosphere should be akin to a candlelight dinner. Relaxing music playing in the background, candles or incense burning, all things helping to trigger a wonderful response by the guests and leave them with a sensory memory of the occasion. Turn off the phones and pagers. This is a sacred moment that shouldn’t be interrupted.

Food – Typically food at a blessingway has meaning behind it. Everyone could bring a dish that reminds them of their mother or a comfort food. Or everyone could bring a dish that represents the mother’s favorite food. For example, have everyone bring a chocolate treat if mama is a chocoholic. The point is that it is something from the heart.

 

Blessingway Rituals

Whatever you do at a Blessingway, it should serve to strengthen and uplift the mother-to-be. Be open to customizing activities to suit the mother’s definition of being uplifted.

Foot Washing – symbolizes readiness for a journey or new beginning, and handwashing will clean away fears. The feet or hands should be dried and can be smoothed and massaged with cornmeal, or anointed with oils. The midwife or mother is usually the one to honor the mother with these aspects, but it can provide a wonderful time for guests to bestow quiet words of love and encouragement.

Hair Brushing and Braiding – is another way to nurture and pamper the mother. If there is a brush that is, for example an heirloom this can act as a way to connect the mother to her female ancestors. Adorning her hair with flowers can also help connect her to Mother Earth.

Necklace– Each guest brings a special bead to string on a necklace for the mother to wear until and through labor. A nice way to approach this ritual is by sitting in a circle and passing the cord, each guest adding a bead, or beads for each number of children they have, then the mother can add a final bead after the birth to represent her own child. The necklace or bracelet symbolizes the strength of our shared experiences as mothers and women.

Bracelet – Similarly, a ball of beautiful string is used to connect each woman’s wrist to one another’s in the circle – a web of womanhood. When the cord connects all of you, explain that this unites you all as sisters and represents the circle of sisters and the circle of life. Then you cut the cord, leaving enough length to tie the ends into a bracelet. Explain that thought it appears we were then separate, the bracelet reminded us as women, we were all gut from the same ball of yarn, You may suggest that the woman wear the bracelet until the birth as a reminder of the same strength a group of women can hold for a birthing mother.

Candles – Either making them as a group or giving them as a party favor. The reason being is that all the guests will be asked to light the candle when they are notified that the mother is in labor and will leave it lit until the baby arrives.

Smudging – Taken from the Navajo origins of the Blessingway, if the Blessingway is taking place in the Honoree’s home, a bundle of dried sage is often lit, then the flame burned out and the sage is allowed to slowly burn down. This is to symbolize a cleansing of the woman’s home, either for a homebirth or for the arrival home from the birthplace, purifying of her soul and blessing for the birth and baby.

Belly Casting – is another ritual that can be very fun. Either to have the guests cast the mothers belly and chest, or to have the cast already done and ready for the guests to paint or decorate.

Painting the Mother’s Belly with Henna or Paint

Song – Such a wonderful way to invite a loving spirit. Many women like to have each guest sing a lullaby their mother used to sing or one they have used with their own children. If all the guests are familiar with one particular son, say a lullaby , spiritual hymn, this can also be sung together as a group.

Sending away your trouble or fears – by having guests voice them, write them on paper, and then burn them from a bowl and sending them away.

Storytelling – Each woman’s personal birth stories (but beware if you think horror stories will be passed around. Remember you are strengthening and uplifting the mother!), or stories of how each guest knows the mother or inspirations stories of each guests relationship to the mother – how they met her, what drew them to her, why she was important to them. This can be done during the hair brushing or foot washing or during candle lighting. This can also take the form of poetry reading or reciting an inspirational story or fable, and either have just one read or invite the guests to bring a poem or story of their own to read.

Quilting – Probably one of the oldest forms of female rituals. It’s very meaningful to ask in the invitation for each guest to bring a customized quilt square that tells of a certain quality the mother possesses. Either assemble the quilt at the Blessingway or assign a friend to complete the quilt and present it to the mother and baby after the birth. This will become an heirloom that tells a story about the mother.

Keepsake Journal – This can be passed around during the foot washing or hair brushing for the guests to write down inspirational thoughts and poems. After the birth, the mother can write of the baby’s birth story.

Nurture Basket – In the invitation, instead of baby gifts, instruct the guests to bring a gift that would uplift, inspire, or nurture the mother. This can be gift certificates for a massage or restaurant, bath goodies, books or journals, framed quotes, drawings or photos, luxurious robes or pajamas, teas or chocolates, etc.

Prayer Flags – Inspired by Tibetan prayer flags, these are strips of cloth that are cut about 3”x18”. They are handed to each guest to write a birth blessing or positive message on it. When the guests are through the mother is given the flags to read and take with her to her place of birth. Messages can be anything. Some examples include: “You are a strong woman.” “Your baby will be born at the right time.”

 

Make sure to take pictures of the event!

For more ideas about Blessingways, be sure to look in Jennifer Louden’s, Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book. Another great resource is Blessingways: A Guide to Mother-Centered Baby Showers – Celebrating Pregnancy, Birth and Motherhood by Shari Maser.

No matter how you choose to celebrate the birth of a new baby, it is a special occasion. For women, a Blessingway can be an opportunity to show our spirit and support for another woman we love. She can garner our collective experiences and power and use it to solidify her own strength to follow her new path. It is a time to celebrate and rejoice in new life.

 

An Ode to Faith

-by Patrick Overter

When you have come to the edge

Of all the light you know,

And are about to step off

Into the darkness of the unknown,

Faith is knowing that

One of two things will happen,

There will be something solid to stand on,

Or you will be taught how to fly.

 

Resources:

http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=667

http://thebirthsource.homestead.com/blessingway.html

http://www.mothering.com/beads-and-blessings

http://pregnancy.about.com/cs/blessingway/a/aa102202a.htm


Holly supports mother, child & family connections through the opening of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in 2009.  Om Baby is located in Camp Hill, PA and is available for Blessingway rentals.

5 Steps to Laundering Cloth Diapers

by Holly Keich with content from the Real Diaper Association

When considering cloth, the most daunting aspect of cloth diapers seems to be the idea of laundering them. Do dirty diapers really go into the washing machine, the same one that washes all the other clothes for my family? Will I have the time and energy to do the laundry when caring for a baby? Isn’t it complicated?

Laundering cloth is much more simple than most people realize and considering that there isn’t a cloth diaper service in South Central PA, the washing machine is something you will become familiar with if you plan to cloth diaper. We’ll not only review the simple 5 Steps to Laundering Cloth Diapers as presented by the Real Diaper Association, but also the why’s behind them. Consider it your primer for evidence-based cloth diaper washing that will give you the best possible chance at succeeding with cloth diapers.

Cloth Diaper Washing

1. Dump    Dump solid material into the toilet. Put diapers in (dry) pail until wash time.

Here’s the science: Exclusively breastfed baby waste is water soluble so will be removed in the initial rinse cycle. Solid or formula-fed baby waste should be dumped first. This prevents human waste from leaching into water sheds and is actually something all parents should do regardless of type of diaper they use.

It’s safer not to leave a wet pail around the home with toddlers. That said, if you’re okay with the safety issue, it doesn’t hurt to soak, it’s just not necessary if all else is working okay with your process.

2. Rinse    Optimally run your load once you can mostly fill, but not overstuff, your washer. Rinse diapers in warm water.

Here’s the science: Most people have success washing every 2 or 3 days, washing 12-24 diapers at a time. It depends, though, on the size of your washer. Too full a load is not good (inadequate access to water and detergent); too empty a load not good (too much space prevents sufficient agitation).

Soil is most easily removed at the temperature it was added at. Waste comes out at approximately body temperature, which is approximately what temperature “war” water is in a washing machine.

3. Wash    Wash diapers with detergent in hot water. Detergent should be fragrance and color-free with no optical brighteners or fabric softeners. Use additional detergent if you have hard water. Use enough detergent to clean a load of dirty laundry but not too much.

Here’s the science: You’re looking for a detergent that is clean-rinsing and won’t leave and residues on your diapers. You also want it to be safe for your baby’s skin. Pinstripes and Polka Dots has a detergent chart that will help you assess what detergents are best choice for washing your diapers.

4. Rinse    Rinse diapers in warm water. Rinse again in warm water.

Here’s the science: Most wash cycles will end with a rinse, so you can set the machine for an extra rinse. This increases the amount of water, which is particularly useful in cleaning natural fibers like cotton and help. It will also be sure to rinse out any remaining detergent to prevent buildup.

Warm water will release residues more effectively and will release more water from the fabric in the spin cycle, shortening drying time.

5. Dry    Thoroughly dry diapers in the sun or in your automatic dryer. The sun will save energy and bleach out stains. If you use a dryer, use the lowest temperature that successfully dries your diapers.

Here’s the science: If you use a dryer, use the lowest temperature that successfully dries your diapers. Drying at high temps reduces the life of any fabric or component.
watch-formula-adjust
Even More Science: There are five factors that work together in laundry. Water, Agitation, Time, Chemical & Heat, known as the WATCH Formula.

Water– Water does a good portion of your cleaning. You may need to make adjustments to make up for poor water quality. Water plays a large role in cleaning cotton and hemp.

Agitation– Mechanical action (rubbing together in a top loader, “the fall: in in a front loader) simulates hand scrubbing.
Time– Length of cycles (and/or soaking) affects cleaning.

Chemicals– (clean rinsing) detergent is especially necessary in cleaning artificial materials, which are oil-loving and bond with the oils and fats in human waste.

Heat– While most home laundry machines can’t get water hot enough for long enough to kill organisms, higher heat helps the other components do their parts.

If one factor is reduced in the formula (reducing heat by washing in cold water, for
example), you need to increase the other factors to clean your diapers successfully.
The Real Diaper Association offers this excellent chart that demonstrates the changes and where you need to adjust. In the example given above, you will need to increase the water and time if you reduce heat in the wash cycle. If using a energy efficient washer that uses less water, you will need to increase time and agitation in the cycle.

The RDA cloth diaper washing instructions assume a mixture of fabric types. For better results, separate fabrics. If you are having trouble with your diapers, consult the manufacturer.

Information provided by the Real Diaper Association and scientists in the industry. More info at realdiapers.org/laundry-science.

 

The Power of Sound in Labor

holly's birth 155 optimized

Photo:  Lexi Abeln

by Holly Keich

Our voice is one of the most powerful ways that we express ourselves. Whether it be joy, pain, sorrow, fear or one of our many other emotions, sound is integral to letting others know our inner experience of the world. This is still true in labor. Women commonly express themselves through a variety of ways in labor. Let’s take a look at why and how sound can be used to your advantage in labor.

What is Toning?
Sounds may come naturally to you in labor, anything from moaning to singing. When you expel your breath freely in labor while making a low, vibratory sound, you are toning. The sound that is made can be anything from an Oh, Ha, Ow, Om, Roaring, Howling, Swearing, or whatever comes naturally to you. These lower tones help to resonate the lower half of the body as labor progresses.

When the intensity of labor increases a low, deep moaning sound can turn into a guttural growling as your primal self takes over. These changes in sounds can be a cue to your partner not only about what stage of labor you are in, but also provides information about your experience of labor, if you are relaxed or if you are holding tension somewhere in the body. If sounds move to a higher pitch, your support team may know it’s time to provide additional coping, comfort measures or position changes to provide relief and redirect the sounds to a lower tone, if possible.

Vocal toning can also be used during a cesarean birth. It will help to keep you calm and focused, reassure your baby and increase your intake of oxygen and the output of carbon monoxide ensuring a safe and easy journey for your baby into this world.

What are the Benefits of Toning in Labor?
Decrease Sensation of Pain. Toning can help to decrease the sensation of pain in labor. By allowing a free expression of sound you are more able to release and let go of pain. It allows you to find your voice, sing your song.
Mind/Body Connection. Creating sound while expelling the breath allows your mind to connect with your body and stay on top of the contractions, riding them like a surfer on the waves.

Mindful Breathing. Toning is a powerful breathing exercise that helps to increase the length and depth of exhalations. This pattern of breathing releases anxiety and creates a familiar and reassuring continuity for you and baby. Fully expelling the breath also leaves a vacuum that is filled with a fresh breath bringing oxygen to you and baby. While there is no right or wrong way to breathe during labor, it is important not to hold the breath as this creates more tension in the body and increases the sensation of pain.

Labor Progression. While there are no studies that say toning enhances labor by making contractions more efficient, it is the relaxation that sound brings which allows the body to open and the baby to descend. Relaxation is a key component in the progression of labor, so why not relax through sound?

Relaxation. Vocal toning releases sound vibrations throughout the body. Sound Therapy is commonly used in as an alternative healing process which effects the body on a cellular level. It is touted to relax the muscles by carrying tension from the body, improving circulation and maximizing energy flow within the body.

What is the Science Behind Sound in Labor?
To better understand the benefits, we must understand that there is a nuero-muscular connection between the throat and pelvis. When our throat is choked from fear, pain or unexpressed emotion, it effects our pelvic region and in the example of birth, the dilation of the cervix, potentially slowing labor. We can use toning to tap into and enhance this connection allowing us to achieve focus and relaxation during labor.

When we have a voice in our labor process, we are empowered. Toning in labor leaves no room for doubt, fear or self-pity as we focus on the sounds and move more deeply within ourselves. Physiologically, we are opening that link between the throat and pelvis, the connection between the vocal cords, diaphragm and perineum when we tone. Giving sound to our feelings, we open not only our mouths, but also our bodies as the cervix is able to relax and open as well.

While vocalizations are common during childbirth, only one study on sounds in labor was found by Pierce in 1998. Of participants who were taught toning in pregnancy, 86% used it in labor. 61% found it helpful in dealing with pain, 42% indicated it promoted relaxation, and 50% said it helped them stay focused.

Moving Beyond Inhibitions
It is important not to try to contain your feelings of pain, but to be fully uninhibited about letting them out. It is a time to let go to your instincts, to let your body take over and to be completely free. If you feel inhibited, your throat will close up and labor could be slowed. It may be that you are feeling more conscious of your surroundings in a hospital setting. But know that you aren’t the first person they’ve heard roar in labor and likely won’t be the last.

When a mother wants to keep the pain to a level she can manage without making noise, the mind sends the body an urgent message, “Wait, Slow Down!” Fear of pain, of loosing control, or being unladylike will stimulate the release of adrenalin, which slows down labor. Labor pain may remain “manageable”, but the labor process will take longer.

In yogic tradition, the chakras, the seven energy centers that are arranged vertically up the spine, can help you to shed inhibitions and release tension during pregnancy. Toning relates to the to Vishuddhi chakra at the throat center. This is the center of creativity and communication. There is a strong link, as demonstrated in science as well, between the throat chakra and the root chakra (at the base of the body and includes the cervix). Making sound in pregnancy and labor helps to stimulate this chakra and one’s sense of survival. Neck looseners, Lion pose, Ujjayi breathing and Om all activate this chakra, as well as the practices described below.

Practice
Our typical reaction to intense feelings is often to tense up and to express our discomfort. These are habitual reactions to painful or fearful situations. What our mind believes or body follows. These negative thoughts and expressions can be counter-intuitive to the progress of labor. Let’s learn to use our voice in a way that doesn’t trigger the fight or flight response.

When we change the habit through toning, we are actually triggering our brain’s relaxation response. In turn, we are telling our body to release more oxytocin (the love hormone that stimulates and advances labor). This hormone when created by you and not in it’s synthetic form, helps labor seem less painful and can aid in mother/infant bonding.

Many women feel inhibited making the low earthy sounds of toning in front of others. Overcome these inhibition by practicing at home during your pregnancy.

Start experimenting with different sounds. Humming or “Ah” are easy ones to start with. Practice with all the vowel sounds and notice how they feel in your body, especially your throat. You can even bring two fingers to the notch at the bottom of your throat, right above the breastbone, and feel the quality of vibrations and how it changes with each sound. Note the change in the opening of the lower part of the throat. Remember to practice with a loose and relaxed jaw which correlates to a loose and relaxed perineum.

Feel free to practice by combining sounds or even using a word.

Practice with your birth partner so that they know what to expect during labor. Have them join in. Their voice can add powerful support for your momentum during labor. Don’t have a birth partner, practice with music as your backdrop. Practice with your dog, they just might love to howl along with you.

Practice in the shower, in the car, while doing dishes, before falling off to sleep… Wherever you don’t feel concerned about the reactions of others.

Be Empowered by Your Song and know that your voice can be spoken in labor.

 

Feel free to leave a comment and let us know if you’ve used toning in labor and how it helped you.