Just like other interests, writing and keeping up on my blog posts has ebbed and flowed. Depending on what my children need, our family's happenings and doings, and my own energy level, it just doesn't always happen. I've learned to be okay with what doesn't go as planned, though sometimes that's easier said than practiced.
We're in the middle of October, heading into the darker and colder seasons. It's a time that always encourages me to go inward, to stay inside my home, to curl up under some warm throws on the sofa. There's never a shortage of coffee, even at 10pm, and there's a sense of gratitude for my fading garden, warm days, and summer activities.
But this time, I'm in more of a reflective space, acknowledging not only my moments of gratitude but for the times I've felt a sense of loss or disappointment. I'm grateful, yes, for my growing swiss chard in my garden and also recognizing that it's been growing abundantly without harvesting it to eat. Why grow something that we don't harvest? We like swiss chard, and it's easy enough to prepare! It feels so symbolic for what we have in our lives that we just aren't accessing; there doesn't have to be a reason or an excuse given, and maybe simply acknowledging it makes it all feel okay.
The world's happenings and current events feel so differently received than a year ago, and I'm learning how to move through the unknowns while mothering my young ones and being a partner to my husband and a community member to others. I don't have any answers or perfect solutions, but on the daily I make a decision to just "keep on, keeping on."
Maybe you're expecting a baby or adjusting to life with a new little one; your support network can be made up of your families and friends, but it can also include professionals from your community. I'm available to provide postpartum support to new parents as well as prenatal support to the expectant family.
Let me know if you'd like to set up an interview or learn more. Let me be part of your support that encourages and celebrates you to "keep on, keeping on."
artwork above was created during one of our Family Meetings, March 2017
I've written about our Family Meetings at some point, but I'm not sure where, so I'll share again what really helped transform our family's story.
Several years ago, when our older was probably 4 and younger 3 years old, we started a weekly tradition on Sunday evenings. I learned about the various ways to hold a family meeting from a library book, and it felt like it would only help us grow as a family. Our family schedules were busy and unpredictable, due to my birth doula work, and sometimes it felt like my husband and I were ships crossing in the night. I really wanted this time together, to build relationships while also having something to count on every week.
There have been months where we don't have Family Meetings, just as there are weekends every now and again where we're all not home together on Sunday night, and we end up waiting until the following week.
We take turns with facilitating the meeting, and whoever facilitates it also gets to choose the activity at the end.
We start the meeting with saying nice things about one another, perhaps something that made us proud or even an accomplishment that deserves recognition. This is followed by sharing things that we want to be better at or we might go around the circle and share what others may want to work on. After this, we review our upcoming schedule for the week, followed by activity time. Activities have included: writing letters, watching a movie or AFV, meditation, games, art, and even a family fire drill.
Some of the reasons we continue having Family Meetings, so many years after we started:
I expect our Family Meetings will shift as the kids grow, though I really hope they continue to reinforce our family values.
Pregnancy changes everything.
Your body grows, your emotions shift, and you're suddenly thrown into this mindset that you are so intimately connected to this new person.
In spite of how it feels at the end of your pregnancy, you will not remain pregnant forever. I promise. You will eventually go into labor (either spontaneously or with some help from your doctor) or you will meet your little one after a cesarean birth. This time where you feel your little one move and shift will come to an end, and she will be in your arms, all fresh and new and pink. It is amazing and overwhelming and new and a bit scary all at once. And that pretty much explains parenthood.
Even with three children, the oldest being ten years old and the youngest four years old, I am still experiencing these "new" sensations ALL THE TIME. I imagine that doesn't stop, as it's all new whether you're learning how to parent your three year old, thirteen year old or thirty year old. The difference being that while you may not be learning what foods to feed them or what rules to create, you are still discovering so much about this person at this new stage of their life.
I look back at pictures of my pregnant self and the pictures of me holding my firstborn, and it all feels so long ago. I have an appreciation for that time in my life, when I felt like my belly couldn't grow any more (it did!) and I see that tired woman, smiling at the camera, cradling her new baby; I'm amazed that that woman is me, because it feels like I've grown so much since that time. But my love for the woman back then is so big. I honor the woman I was eleven years ago because she was becoming the woman I am today. She is beautiful and whole and strong.
Today, notice your beauty and strength as you look in the mirror. Look back at the pictures from years past and smile at the changes that have happened since that time. And next time you see a very-pregnant woman, tell her how beautiful she is.
Every year, sometime in January, I start thinking about our backyard garden. This older picture shows beds of lettuce and spinach, among other green vegetables. This was a season that I didn't lend a hand, though I can't remember why. Though by the pictures, it looks like it was a successful season, straw and soaker hoses weaving in between the plants. I imagine we had a new baby or perhaps 2 children, 2 and under. If I were to scroll through our many years of backyard gardening, they'd look different each time. Some beds have been expanded, some minimized. We now have a chicken coop and more shade from a growing tree, so our options for gardening in those areas are limited.
I think about all these things as I dream about our 2017 garden on this cold, snowy night, because I need to remember how even when things change (i.e., relationships, people, our garden plans), it can still very much bring joy and fulfillment to my life. Yes, my tomatoes didn't grow well this past summer. I didn't harvest what little spinach and lettuce I grew. And our blueberry bushes were picked clean by the birds (and probably our chickens). But, this year I had the most amazing zinnias and cosmos plants. We lacked vegetables and herbs, but we made up for that with bouquets of colorful blooms and new growth all the way into October.
I still dream about my ideal garden, but it's much easier to see what is growing and blossoming rather than focusing on what didn't take or the squash plants that always tend to wilt halfway through the season from those darn squash bugs. I love that first day in the garden, clearing away the winter mess and preparing the soil for new life. I also love seeing the plants rise from the sun and rain, growing stronger and more beautiful each week. And finally, I love the end of the season, when I have to say goodbye to my fading plants, the ones that have worked so hard all summer but their time has come to return to the soil or compost pile.
When you look ahead to new growth in your life (pregnancy, children getting older, change in relationships), or perhaps reflect on what was, see the change that happens, even the difficult or unexpected change, that needs to happen in order for you to bloom and flourish. Some of these changes don't feel good and they're not what you anticipated, but it's still harboring energy and life for what will be. And take a moment to recognize what did bloom in this season of your life, whether it was your entire garden or perhaps just one single flower that brought new life and color to your world.
With the new year beginning, you may find yourself under the spell of New Year's Resolutions. It's a time when you have an opportunity to "start fresh" and finally stop/start/learn/be/do...whatever it is that has been on your mind. Maybe the latest ads or commercials have convinced you that this is the year for you to finally _______ and gosh-darn-it, YOU WILL! And you begin to make these very big judgements about yourself, all based on "how you did" that day and suddenly your self-worth is tied up with whether or not you were able to make permanent change.
Here's the thing- who you are on December 31 is the same YOU on January 3, whether or not you've managed to keep your resolultions (whatever that means for you). Are you compassionate with yourself and your progress, seeing the bigger picture? Do you recognize your innate beauty and character first, seeing your daily challenges as part of your journey?
You know yourself and your needs best; if setting goals that are very black and white (i.e., I ran 30 minutes today or I didn't run 30 minutes today), then do what works for you. Perhaps reframing your goals in terms of why (i.e., I want to exercise my body so I have more energy) will help you keep focus on what you're doing to meet those goals (i.e., I didn't run 30 minutes, but I played with my child at the park and walked around the museum for an hour).
You might also be kind to yourself when you have a week filled with sickness, snow days, and work deadlines. That doesn't mean that you have to "give up" but you might show yourself the same understanding as you would a friend.
One thing I like to do in my family is reframe our resolutions; instead of thinking about the clichéd goals that are set year after year, we think about what it is we want to learn, do, or experience. One year my resolution was baking and decorating a multi-layered cake. This year my resolution is to go camping at least 6 times.
Be kind with yourself, see the big picture and have fun with your resolutions! May your journey through 2017 be one filled with compassion and curiousity. Peace!
I'm thrilled to announce Olive Tree Birthing's new offering for 2017. Beginning Tuesday, January 17, Olive Tree Birthing will be facilitating conversation using Renée Peterson Trudeau's book The Mother's Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life.
Imagine...gathering with the same group of women monthly, sharing your musings and your experiences, all in a safe and supportive environment. In between our monthly gatherings, you will spend time reading the opening text in each chapter, completing guided journaling exercises, carry out a suggested Take Action activity, and choose from suggested self-renewal tips for the month.
To support the needs of the women in the group, it is encouraged you be able to attend most Self-Renewal gatherings. To keep things simple, Olive Tree's Self-Renewal Group will be offered the third Tuesday of the month, from 6:30-8:30pm.* see bottom of post for specific dates
We will meet at a variety of places, depending on the preferences of the group or changing needs of those involved. We will brainstorm places to meet, some of which may include: local parks, nature preserves, facilitator's home, participants' homes and community centers.
To help provide space and time for you, I ask that only babes-in-arms attend, however you know your child(ren)'s needs best, and you may ultimately decide whether you can be apart during the monthly gathering.
What will all this cost you? Nothing! Because I'm not an RTA-Certified Facilitator, I cannot legally charge for you to be part of this group. We will share the responsibility of providing snacks and you will be responsible for purchasing your book for the group.
So, what's next? Well, if you're interested in registering, you may do so here.
Dates (Third Tuesday of the month, 6:30-8:30pm)
Oh my gosh!! Yes! In nine months, all my preparing (emotional-physical-logistical) is going to pay off and I will begin this incredible adventure! I've read about it, visited blogs and websites, watched videos, all in hopes of feeling ready. I've never done this before, so I really don't know what to expect. Will I feel prepared? Will my plan work out? Will my body do what it needs to do? What if it all feels so impossible? Do I have everything I'll need? I have to make so many decisions ahead of time and I don't even know what it will be like!?
Have you ever felt this way? Maybe this all sounds familiar? During pregnancy, we often times feel like we're preparing for something blindly. We're reading books, visiting countless pregnancy support websites and online groups, watching birth videos and vlogs. Maybe we're attending yoga classes, meeting with a birth doula, chatting with friends and family about "the big day".
It may feel like we're doing all this work and preparation for an experience that may or may not unfold as we're expecting. And in many ways, yes, you are doing all this work and preparation for an experience that may or many not unfold as you expect. But in the process, you're doing so much more than simply "making your plan".
As you prepare for labor and birth, you're thinking about the details and in turn, forming opinions on what may or may not be suggested. You're thinking about how you may feel if labor feels too challenging. You're thinking about how you may react if your doctor recommends a cesarean birth instead of the vaginal birth you've been planning for. You're thinking about what items you want to have with you, who you will turn to for support, even whether you'll listen to music or what you may want to wear.
As a birth doula, childbirth educator and mom, I feel familiar with those thoughts, emotions and questions. In my professional roles, I'm looking at it from the perspective of someone who cares for and supports the laboring mother's needs, in addition to the needs of her birth partner. Approaching her labor and birth from a professional role means that I fully understand that her birth is HER BIRTH. I can remove myself from the intimate emotional experience, mostly, because she is the woman doing the work. This is not to say I don't feel emotionally connected to her or her birth, but supporting the work is very different from actually doing the work of labor and birth. As a mom, I remember those feelings during the months leading up to my children's due dates- the unknowns, the questions, the curiosities.
The first paragraph, even though it could be used to describe how I felt leading up to my children's births, refers to my months leading up to my planned bicycle ride from Virginia to Oregon. I shared with everyone I knew (and those I didn't, via my blog) that I was going to ride my bicycle more than 4,000 miles over the course of a summer. I shared my curiosities, but I mostly stayed on the side of feeling confident that I would meet this incredible goal.
As I communicated with others about my ride, it reminded me of how I spoke of my children's anticipated births. In the months leading up to their births, I had developed my preferences and expressed my hopes for my birth experiences. Before my oldest child's birth, I was well aware that I HAD NEVER GIVEN BIRTH BEFORE! THIS WAS ALL NEW!! I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT WILL FEEL LIKE!! And others reminded me of these facts, as well, especially when topics like pain medication or breastfeeding came up. On days where I felt good, I could brush off others' negative experiences, reminding myself that THEIR experience would not necessarily be MY experience. But on days where I doubted myself and felt overwhelmed by it all, I would think, WHAT AM I THINKING?! I'VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE?!
Preparing to leave on my bicycle adventure, I was met with so much support. Some asked questions or expressed concern, but for the most part, people shared their encouragement. Hearing others' enthusiasm made me feel so well supported and I could almost feel myself cycling to the peak of a mountain or seeing the Pacific Ocean!
I'll write more about the actual cycling experience in upcoming posts, but for now, think about what you're saying or doing to provide support to those in your life that are preparing for their upcoming adventure or life experience. Are you compassionate? Caring? Curious enough to ask questions rather than project your worries or your own experience on them? Do you ask them, how can I support you? What do you need?
If you're preparing for your own adventure or life experience, what does that entail? How do you gather that support? How do you prepare for your unknowns? What are you telling yourself, in terms of how you will do (physically, emotionally, mentally)? Are there resources in your community or online that you can tap into so you don't feel like you have to figure it all out on your own?
Looking forward to sharing more with you in upcoming posts about my discoveries on the road and how it always came back to labor, birth and mothering.
Being a birth doula, I often times need to know what the next 9 months hold, in terms of family vacations, weekend getaways, and the like. Essentially, if I'm not going to be in town, I like to know in advance so that when I interview with a family, I can let them know if I'm planning on being out of town close to their due date. Sure, I arrange for a back-up doula, but when I spend time prenatally with a family and they've asked me to be part of their birth team, being with them is my priority. Short of being too sick to be around a laboring mother and new baby or a death in my family, I plan on being with the family at the time they ask me to join them in labor.
You may already know that I'm going to be out of town this summer, returning at the end of July. I will be gone 8-10 weeks, and when I return, I very much want to be present for my family in a predictable way. Being a birth doula, as you can imagine, is anything but predictable.
Though I love being with a family when they're working so hard to meet their baby, I'm stepping back from providing labor support until the new year. Giving myself and my family a more predictable schedule feels only right, given my summer away.
I will continue to teach childbirth education classes, and I'm available for private classes and consultations. I'll be available to arrange appointments when I'm back, so please let me know if you're interested in setting something up after August.
Thanks to all the families with whom I've worked. It's been such an honor and pleasure.
How many times do we look ahead to an anticipated event, and all we can do is spend our time dwelling on the unknown. Even when we have happy moments that we look ahead to, such as a wedding, vacation or graduation, we seem to live in limbo. We can't wait for that day to arrive, and yet we have a lot of todays to live.
When you're expecting a baby, or even waiting for that positive pregnancy test, it's easy to look ahead into the future and just feel like you're w-a-i-t-i-n-g for the day to finally get here, the one you've been thinking about for months (or years!).
I am living that life of limbo right now. I have really great ways to pass my days; I love my work, my family keeps me busy and entertained, and there never seems to be a shortage of chores and errands to tend to.
You may also know that I'm preparing to ride my bicycle from one end of the country to the other. I have less than four weeks before I leave (I might have just gasped when I wrote that). I am also no longer on-call for birth doula work, which means that my energy and attention is fully in "go-mode" in regard to my bicycle trip.
But the thing is, I'm still a fully participating member of my family until I fly out in mid-May. I'm responsible for not only taking care of my bicycle preparations, but the care of my family and home, as well. That's not to say I do this on my own; my husband and I share pretty equally in our family and home responsibilities. I am still here, surrounded by end-of-school-year events for my children, laundry that never seems to quite be finished, bills that have to be paid. I still have lots of todays to live and manage. I have cabinets I want to organize, floors I want to clean, notes I want to make about our garden and general notes about the things I tend to take responsibility for, such as well-check appointments, prep for camp, and deep cleaning bathroom chores.
I have this day I've been thinking about, the day I fly out east, and then I have this whole summer where I'm thinking about the challenges and joys I'll experience. But if I keep my focus on those things, I will most definitely regret all of the todays I missed out on.
Amy Beck is a mother, wife, birth doula, and childbirth educator. She values prenatal education and preparation as families prepare to welcome their baby.