All posts by Marcy

Why I Do What I Do

Why I Do What I Do
March 31, 2015

“What made you want to do birthwork?”

I get asked that question a lot, especially since I don’t have any birth experiences of my own to point to. And honestly, I don’t really have a good answer. I can tell you how I was first exposed to the ideas of midwifery and doula care, and what steps I’ve taken along my journey, but that doesn’t really address the question of why.

The why is intangible. It’s like asking why you fall in love with someone. You can point out their character, their personality, their looks, or any number of attributes that you find appealing – but at the end of the day, it just feels right. You don’t know why you love them, you just do. Same with my birthwork.

That being said, I had an emotional rollercoaster of a weekend that helped solidify in my mind one of the reasons why I love my job(s). On Thursday night, my cat had a medical emergency that required him to have (extremely expensive) surgery the next day. I’ll admit it, I’m a crazy cat lady, and not having any children born of my own body, he is the closest thing to a child that I have, furry and four-legged though he may be. So needless to say, I was extremely distraught on Friday.

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Pip before surgery.

After his surgery, he had to stay in the hospital for monitoring over the weekend. My anxiety was still through the roof, as I fretted over being apart from my beloved baby as well as the cost of his medical care. I considered canceling my events for the next two days, but I knew that if I did, I’d just sit around the house worrying the whole time. So I pushed on through, and guess what? It was awesome.

IMG_8061 Marcella slices a piece of steamed placenta as Jessica and Rachel look on.

On Saturday, I taught a placenta encapsulation workshop to a group of local doulas. It’s so rare that I get to share my passion for placentas (lol) with people as equally interested in it as I am! We had some great conversations about birthwork, family, and life in general along the way, and it was a great way to get my mind off my troubles for a few hours. It felt less like teaching a class, and more like spending time with awesome friends. I realized after the workshop that I was not nearly as stressed as I had been beforehand, and slept better that night.

11079532_10152803013067963_1738373064075195564_oMother blessing altar.

On Sunday, I facilitated my first mother blessing ceremony, for my friend and fellow doula/student midwife Samm. It was better than I could have possibly imagined. The ceremony was held in the same space where Samm will have her homebirth – a gorgeous suite of rooms in her grandmother’s old Victorian house, filled with bright beautiful colors and imagery of nude women, babies, animals and mermaids. I prepared the space by smudging with sage, then misting with rosewater and ringing a sacred bell to raise the energy vibrations.

IMG_8095Smudging each other with sage.

Samm invited her 5 closest friends as well as her doula, Morgan. To signify our transition into sacred space and leaving any negative thoughts or worries behind, the women took turns smudging each other with sage smoke. We then introduced ourselves to the circle, naming ourselves and our female ancestors, acknowledging the unbroken chain of women who have successfully birthed before us and contributed to our existence.

11082551_10152803013127963_492170634225927053_nBelly casting.

Then we began our planned activities. I made a plaster cast of Samm’s pregnant torso, while she and her friends shared fun memories and stories of their times together. Then, Samm relaxed with a rose petal and salt footbath, while her friend Neha did spectacular henna tattoos on Samm’s belly, as well as all of the guests’ hands. I made a floral wreath for Samm to wear, made from flowers that each person brought to the ceremony. We made an affirmation banner for Samm to hang in her birthing space, full of positive messages and well-wishes.

IMG_8133A sacred sisterhood.

Then, we each lit a candle as we shared our blessings and wishes for Samm’s birth. Everyone took their candles home, and will re-light them when she is in labor to show our solidarity. Finally, we linked our community of women together by wrapping a long piece of string (symbolizing the umbilical cord) around each person’s wrist in the circle, then cutting and tying it. The bracelet will be a reminder of the ceremony and to keep our positive intentions in mind over the next few weeks. We ended the evening with a delicious potluck feast.

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Somehow, the gathering felt both like a fun, informal get together, as well as a sacred, spirit-filled ceremony. My heart and soul feel so full, even two days later – and even while worrying about my cat-baby. With jobs I’ve had in the past, going to work in the midst of a crisis would have pushed my stress levels over the top and likely caused a complete meltdown. In contrast, working with women, placentas, pregnancy and birth is so joyful that it actually relieves my stress and anxiety. I feel uplifted. I feel alive.

I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

(Oh, and by the way, my cat is home now and happy as can be.)

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How to Have a Gentle Cesarean – A Checklist

How to Have a Gentle Cesarean – A Checklist
February 14, 2014

What do you think of when you picture having a Cesarean birth? Bright lights? Being surrounded by doctors and surgical equipment? A feeling of powerlessness, of panic, or of failure?

Well, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way!

Few mothers plan on having a C-section, but birth is complex and sometimes unpredictable. Whether you’re planning a C-section or a vaginal birth, it makes sense to be prepared for any possibility. Although vaginal birth is generally best for mother and baby, there are many valid reasons why someone might need or choose to have a C-section. Consider the following scenarios:

  • Say you’re planning a completely natural delivery, but when your water breaks, the baby’s umbilical cord comes out first, with the baby’s head pressing on it. This is called cord prolapse, and usually requires an emergency C-section.
  • Or suppose you had a C-section with your first child, and want to try a vaginal birth for your second. But there are no doctors or midwives in your area that will support your decision to try a VBAC (vaginal birth after Cesarean.) You feel like you have no choice but to have a repeat C-section.
  • Or perhaps you suffered sexual abuse or birth trauma in the past. You know it’s best to give birth vaginally, but the psychological impact of having multiple vaginal exams, of being exposed in front of strangers, and of pushing the baby out is simply unthinkable. You opt for a C-section instead.

The thought of undergoing any type of major surgery, including a C-section, can be scary. Mothers who are planning a natural, vaginal birth often feel that having a C-section means they have given up or failed in some way. But you may have more control over the circumstances of your Cesarean birth than you think you do.

Many hospitals are now offering the option of a “Gentle Cesarean”, which brings the feel of a more natural birthing environment to the operating room. You can often keep many of the elements from your birth plan, like immediate skin-to-skin and breastfeeding, having your partner cut the cord, and even having the drape lowered so you may witness your child emerging from the womb.

However, not all hospitals or doctors are familiar with Gentle Cesareans. They may be used to doing things a certain way, and may be resistant to changes in their usual protocol. In addition, babies born via C-section have a higher chance of requiring intensive care immediately following birth, and may need to be whisked away. But assuming that you and your child are healthy and safe, and your doctor is receptive to your wishes, you may be able to have a C-section that is as close to your original birth plan as possible.

Here is a checklist of things you may request in the event of a Cesarean birth. If possible, give a copy of this checklist to your care provider prior to birth so that they can be aware of your preferences. Feel free to modify and share this checklist.

_____ I would like to keep playing my own music (or listen through headphones.)

_____ I would like to have the lights as dim as possible.

_____ I would like to have two people from my birth support team in the operating room with me. Person 1: _______________   Person 2: _________________

_____ I would like my arms to be free, not strapped down.

_____ I would like to have as few sedating medications as possible.

_____ I would like any medications I am offered to be safe for breastfeeding.

_____ I would like a warm blanket during surgery if possible.

_____ I would like the surgery to be explained to me step-by-step as it happens.

_____ I would like photos / video to be taken of my Cesarean birth, if hospital policy allows.

_____ I would like my IV and blood pressure cuff placed on my non-dominant hand, so I can hold my baby easily.

_____I would like my heart monitor leads placed on my sides, not the front of my body, to allow skin-to-skin contact.

_____ I would like my hospital gown placed so that it opens in the front, to allow skin-to-skin contact.

_____ I would like to have the drape lowered so I can watch the baby come out.

_____ I would like to have skin-to-skin contact with my baby immediately after birth.

_____ If I am unable to hold my baby, I would like my partner to have skin-to-skin contact with my baby immediately after birth.

_____ I would like APGAR scoring, initial assessment and ID bracelet to be done while my baby is having skin-to-skin contact.

_____ I would NOT like my baby to have a hat placed on her/his head.

_____ I would like to delay the clamping of the umbilical cord for at least ______ minutes after the baby is born.

_____ I would like my partner to cut the cord.

_____ I would like to keep my placenta and take it home with me.

_____ I would like time to breastfeed before the pediatrician examines my baby.

_____ I would like to delay vaccinations and eye ointment until after I breastfeed.

_____ I would like to delay bathing of my baby until ________________________.

_____ I would like to bathe my baby myself, or have my partner bathe the baby.

_____ I would like to keep my baby with me at all times.

_____ If my baby must be taken to the nursery or NICU, I would like my partner to stay with the baby at all times.

_____ I would like my partner/doula/__________ to remain with me in recovery.

Relaxing Music for Yoga and Meditation

Relaxing Music for Yoga and Meditation
October 12, 2013

By popular request, here is a list of songs I use in my Restorative yoga classes. You can find most of them on Amazon or iTunes and download them directly. Enjoy!

Johnathan Goldman – Chakra Chants II (Full CD)
Prayer of Harmony – Ragani
Om Nama Shivaya – Singers of the Art of Living
Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu – Fletcher Boote
Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu – Chandra Om
Om Mani Padme Hum – Alexia Chellun
Adi Mantra – Alexia Chellun
Devi Prayer – Craig Pruess and Ananda

7 Simple Tips For Kickstarting Your Home Yoga Practice

7 Simple Tips For Kickstarting Your Home Yoga Practice
September 6, 2013

We don’t like to admit it, but even dedicated yogis occasionally have difficulty keeping up with their regular practice. None of us are immune to the hectic pace of modern life, and daily responsibilities always have the potential to disrupt even the best intentions.

It is essential for any student of yoga to have a home yoga practice. Why, you may ask?

  • It’s FREE.
  • You can practice any time, anywhere, for any duration.
  • There’s no feeling of self-consciousness or competition against fellow students.
  • You can figure out what feels good to you.

Attending yoga classes is great, but it’s better to think of yoga class as “yoga lab”, where you fine-tune your bodily instrument and learn new tricks that you can take home with you. Home is where your true practice lives.

Here are my personal strategies for staying on track:

1. Create a space for your yoga practice.
If you have an entire room that you can turn into your own private yoga studio, that’s fantastic! However, all you really need is a space large enough for you to spread out without bumping into things. Find a comfortable, peaceful spot in your room, apartment, or house that you can devote solely to yoga. Keep the area clean and free of clutter and non-yoga-related items – it will be much easier to begin practice if you can just plop down without having to move things around first.

Also, consider including some wall space in your yoga spot. You can use the wall as a prop for certain poses. Seated meditation is often hard on the back for the inexperienced, but it becomes a joy when you can sit with your back against the wall – and it helps you remember not to slouch over! The wall is also a fantastic prop for standing balance poses – hold on with your hand while practicing tree pose, or rest your back foot on the wall during half moon.

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Use the wall as a prop! Viparita karani, aka legs-up-the-wall pose (pictured above), is a restful pose that promotes healthy circulation.

2. Create a “yoga atmosphere”.
Make your yoga space as pleasant and inviting as possible, so that it becomes a place you want to be. Some people prefer their yoga space to be completely empty to minimize distractions. Others like to decorate their space with images and objects that are motivational or inspirational. Some ideas of atmospheric elements to include are: candles, incense, an aromatherapy diffuser, a small statue, prayer flags, an altar, crystals, and plants. Many yogis also enjoy listening to music or recordings of nature sounds while they practice – and if you live in a noisy household, music can be especially helpful as it blocks out intrusive sounds.

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Use an electric tea light to get the same ambience as a candle, but without the fire hazard.

All of these things may help you to create an appealing environment, but remember that all you really need is your body and your mat. Each time you practice in your yoga space, you will create positive energy vibrations that will strengthen and contribute to the atmosphere.

3. Make your practice a sacred ritual.
Open and close each practice with a sacred ritual of some sort: you may ring a bell, chant OM, light candles or incense, repeat your favorite mantra, smudge the area with a sage stick, or sanctify the space in any other manner of your choosing. These actions do not physically alter the space, but they shift your awareness into a more reflective and receptive state. When used at the start of practice, they create an energetic boundary between the outside world and your yoga space; and when used at the end of practice, they cleanse the energetic vibrations and allow for a smooth transition into the next activity. These actions also solidify your intention to focus completely on your yoga practice for the designated time period. Make sure to let others around you know that this yoga time is “you” time, and kindly ask them to honor it by not interrupting you, unless it is urgent.

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Ring a bell to signal the beginning and end of yoga practice.

4. Practice at a convenient time, and practice regularly.
Many people find it easier to maintain a regular practice when they practice at the same time every day. Traditional yogis say the best time to practice is in the early morning, before eating breakfast. Others say the evening is best, since it allows you to release the tensions and stress of the day before going to bed. In reality, there is no “wrong” time to practice yoga (except right after a large meal!), so choose a time that is convenient for you. If you miss your scheduled practice, try to fit in at least a few minutes of yoga sometime during the day – even just some simple stretches while sitting in your desk chair or while lying in bed counts. And if you feel inspired to practice when it’s not your regularly scheduled time, by all means, go for it!

Remember to start slow. Just getting yourself onto the mat is often the hardest part of yoga. If you find yourself short on time or energy one day, just sit in your yoga space and breathe deeply for a few minutes. Have a “go to” pose that you enjoy and find easy and restful. After a few minutes, you may feel like doing some more poses, and if not, you will have gotten in about 10 minutes of yoga time. It is much better to do 10 minutes every day than to do 75 minutes once a week. Finish up with a brief (or long) savasana and you’re good to go!

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Only have time for a “yoga quickie”? Do child’s pose for several minutes, followed by savasana.

5. Decide what poses to do before you start.
It’s good to have several different yoga sequences to choose from, based on your mood and energy level. If you have trouble thinking of what poses to do or how to string them together, there are tons of resources out there that can help you, many of them free. You can try YouTube videos, podcasts, apps, DVDs, books, or yoga websites for ideas.

Some schools of yoga, such as Ashtanga and Bikram, use the same set of postures every time. This can be a great way to observe the nuances and evolution of your practice. Keeping the poses constant allows you to monitor your own internal changes, day-by-day as well as long-term. One drawback to this method is the potential for injury caused by repetitive movements. Some people can also become bored by doing the same poses over and over. If you choose this method, I recommend alternating the set postures with a restorative practice every other day.

If you prefer a more “go with the flow” approach, it’s helpful to have a focus of some sort to tie it all together. It can be an anatomical focus (examples: hip-openers, backbends, arm balances) or a mental focus / intention (examples: letting go of stress, grounding your energy, performing each movement slowly and mindfully.) This will give your practice an overall sense of flow and cohesiveness.

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Whatever poses you choose to do, never skip savasana! All schools of yoga agree that final relaxation is the most important part of any yoga practice.

6. Keep track of your yoga practice.
This can be as simple as marking it down on your calendar each time you practice and for how long. If you are so inclined, I highly recommend starting your own yoga journal to record the details of your practice. Record which poses you did, your mental state, your emotions, and any insights that came to you during your practice. (You may want to write them down as they come to you – I tend to zone out during savasana and forget everything!) Over time, this journal will become a wonderful record of your personal and spiritual evolution, a veritable goldmine of first-hand LIVED yoga wisdom.

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Journaling about your yoga practice is a great way to track your progress over time.

7. Listen to your body, and do what works for you.
In each pose, pay attention to how your body feels. Focus on finding a relatively comfortable place in the pose, use modifications as necessary, and don’t worry too much if your body doesn’t match up to the picture in the book or on the screen. Never force yourself beyond your limits – doing so is a good way to injure yourself! Instead, find your “edge”, where the pose begins to feel slightly uncomfortable, and remain there. If the sensation becomes more uncomfortable, ease back a bit. On the other hand, if you begin to feel more relaxed, let yourself sink a little further into the pose to find your new “edge”. As you listen to your body, experiment and play with your “edge”, you will begin to figure out what works for you. This will lead to a fulfilling and enjoyable practice that you will want to repeat.

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The best way to maintain your yoga practice is to HAVE FUN!