Just one thing

Vegetables

This healthy, minimalist lifestyle – it’s really, really hard, isn’t it? The world is so toxic and so cluttered, so cruel and so materialistic, that sometimes it seems just impossible to live any sort of counter-cultural life on a day to day basis. Sometimes, I just want to give up.

Last week, I had one of my “to hell with it” days. There was literally nothing (gluten free) I could eat in the house – I had had a busy week, and didn’t have time to get to the shops before my daughter’s extra-mural started. Even the fruit was finished. But I could feel myself starting to get irritable and shaky so I chose the lesser of two evils; the most divine peanut butter and jam sandwich I think I have ever had. It must be at least a year since I’ve had bread and it just tasted so good. As I bit into it, I knew it was activating my dodgy immune system, I could hear my doctor’s warnings in my ears; but just for a moment, I didn’t give a damn.

I have come to believe that there are no “perfect” choices in life; or at least very few. Those organic apples at R60 for 4? I could buy them – but they are so incredibly expensive for a family that eats at least eight apples a day that I would have to work double the hours I do just to pay for them. And that goes against one of those things I hold most dear: time with my children. And so I make the best choice I possibly can under the circumstances.

Looking back on the years since we started a family, and really started to move towards a healthier, simpler lifestyle, I also see how far we have come. There’s a long way to go but:

  • Both of us work fewer hours so that we can enjoy our young family. We work hard when we’re at work but promotions and pay raises (with the longer hours and increased pressure that they bring) have become far less important than time with our babies.
  • We (almost) never have any kinds of sweets, e-numbers or processed food in our house. Dark chocolate and home baked goods excepted of course!
  • The only take-away meal we enjoy is sushi. Deep pan pizzas and KFC are a thing of the past.
  • We have started an organic veggie garden. It’s small, and by no means meets all our fresh produce needs, but it’s a start.
  • 90% of the household cleaners and personal care products we use are organic and non-toxic.

There’s more to do of course. I need to cut down on my social media use for sure; our kids could eat more vegetables; perhaps we could give more to charity – oh! I could write a long list.

The Instagram accounts and blogs make it all look so easy. Perhaps it is for some. But start small, start now. Just do one thing and see where it takes you.

Five self-care ideas

Winter roses

“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” Audre Lorde

I first came across the term “self-care” as a twenty-something psych grad as I paged through women’s magazines and self-help books. In those pre-children days of supreme selfishness, it seemed irrelevant and very far away from my reality. The words conjured up images of rich women having endless pedicures and languishing on their therapists’ couches, or perhaps recovering addicts being reminded to eat three square meals a day and take some fresh air.

Well, motherhood has a way of humbling you, doesn’t it? A few years in, I realized that I too, was in need of some radical self-care. Children are like tiny plants, greedily sucking in water and nutrients from the soil they are planted in, seeking light and air and room for their own survival. If you do not cordon off a space for your own needs, I can promise you right now that you will soon find yourself short-tempered, depressed or just thoroughly fed up with your own life.

Please don’t think it’s easy; I have driven away from my own children crying and screaming “No, MOMMY, come back, nooooo” as their bewildered father tried to take them both in his arms. Was I perhaps off on a long business trip? Abandoning them to be looked after by strangers? People, I was off to my regular once a week yoga class that I have been going to for years and years. Sometimes their cries have been so very desperate that I have stopped the car and re-considered. Each time, though, my lovely husband (through gritted teeth) has said “Go!”. When I come home, of course, they’re all happily playing Lego together and have forgotten all about it. This is the reality of young children.

If you are in the trenches of family life right now, here are five (small) acts of self-care to start you off:

Take your vitamins

This seems so obvious, that I am almost embarrassed to write it down. But…in the madness of the early morning, I have often forgotten this simple task and I really do feel the difference in my energy levels, and in my health in general. It is really useful to anchor the taking of your vitamins to something else you do every morning. Anchoring is a very basic self-hypnosis technique that we teach in HypnoBirthing classes where you pair a thought, emotion or behavior with an object or action. So, every morning I pair the drinking of my morning smoothie with taking my vitamins. I count them all out in a little bowl, and put it right next to the glass so that I really don’t forget to take every one.

Sit down and eat

Good digestion is essential to good health, and good digestion requires a focus on your food and slow and careful chewing to release the enzymes that will help to break it down. Ha! That’s all very well in theory but as mothers how often do we grab a bite of our child’s sandwich for lunch or eat a snack bar in the car on our way somewhere? Even dinner times are often not particularly peaceful as we admonish our kids to sit on their bottoms and eat and no, now is not a good time to make farting noises.

This takes real effort, and in really busy seasons, I often find myself slipping. I tend to just not eat when I am hectic, which is terrible and something I have to be very mindful of. So, whenever you can, plan your meals, and then sit down somewhere quiet and enjoy them. If your children are very young and/or wild, it is also not a bad idea to feed them early in the evening and sit down with your husband a bit later for a more civilized affair. This is not a long term solution, as there is tremendous value in a shared family meal, but it is something we have done from time to time and really benefitted from.

Breathe

Well, I am a childbirth educator and doula, so you knew this had to come in somewhere! When we are tense and stressed, we breathe so very shallowly and it just makes things worse. There is a wonderful breath we teach in HypnoBirthing, and that is also taught in yoga. It is called “calm breathing” or in yoga, balancing breath. You simply breath in for the count of 4, and out for the count of 8. Slow, deep breaths, in and out through the nose.

I have been known to lock myself in the toilet when my kids are driving me crazy and just do this technique for 3-5 minutes. I also try and do it every night before I go to bed, and it works like a charm to calm me down and get me in the right frame of mind for sleep.

Legs up against the wall

I would love to say that I do an hour of yoga every day, and perhaps one of these days I will. But for now, I incorporate just a few yoga techniques into my daily life and this is one of them. Legs up against the wall is as easy as it sounds. Practised for 10-15 minutes each day, it has a tremendously calming effect on the nervous system, quiets the mind, reduces leg tension and has all the benefits of an inversion. It is so easy that you can do it anywhere, and your kids can join in too as they get older (kids are natural yogis and it’s so much fun to introduce them to the poses!).

Do one thing that brings you joy

One of the things I learnt when I trained in solution-focused coaching was to “just do one thing” to change the situation. Almost every problem seems insurmountable when we look at it as one big, ugly, hairy mass. But when I coach, I work with my client to do just one thing to tackle the issue. Raising kids is never going to be calm, peaceful and zen-like 100% of the time. That is just unrealistic. People will get tired, tempers will fray and you will have moments when you feel like it’s all too much. But by doing one thing each day that brings you joy, you know that you have taken a step towards nurturing yourself and your own needs.

I like to book-end my days with nice things. I look forward to my first cup of coffee each morning as I wake up, drunk in relative peace, and then again, to the library book that I always read a few chapters of at night. Simple, simple things that I have always done since before my babies were born and have just continued. Whatever else happens in the day, I know I have those two things to look forward to.

What are your acts of self-care? Do you need to be a bit more mindful about looking after your own needs?

Your child in hospital

Casualty

There is nothing quite like that first emergency dash to the hospital with your child. I remember crying and praying in equal measure as I weaved my way through rush hour traffic, my 18 month old daughter in her car seat in the back. She was having a severe allergic reaction to something she had eaten and her breathing was becoming increasingly labored. I had never known terror quite like that before but unfortunately I have experienced it since with a few more trips to the emergency room with both my daughter and my son. In a true emergency, there is nothing to do but get yourself and your child to medical help as quickly as possible, but once you are in safe hands, there are more than a few things that you can do to make the whole experience easier for you and your child.

Stay with your child as much as possible. You may be asked to leave the room when your child is having blood drawn (“Much easier for you not to see this, Mummy!”) or having other examinations but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to stay with your child whenever you possibly can. As scary as hospital is for us, it is even more terrifying for your little one. Even if they scream while they are having a needle inserted into their veins, at least they can see you and feel your hand squeezing theirs. For babies, you can also breastfeed them during or straight after many procedures, which is enormously comforting to both you and them. In the event that you cannot be with your child and they are conscious (for example if they need to have a MRI), you can use your voice to constantly reassure them that you are nearby and that all is well.

Make sure your child has their comfort objects. If you know that you are going to be in hospital for more than a few hours, get someone to collect their favourite toy, dummy or other comfort object from home. In a world of strangers, medicinal smells and the sounds of other children crying, these small talismans of normal life can be so reassuring to your child.

Advocate for your child. I am always amazed how confident, successful and highly educated people go absolutely mute and passive in the face of medical authority. Doctors and nurses are highly trained but they are not as interested or invested in the health of your children as YOU are. Ask questions, understand the diagnosis, read the package insert of any medication that you are prescribed. If something feels wrong for your child, question it. Say no. Your child is powerless in this situation and you need to be their voice.

I remember the week when my one year old son was hospitalized for pneumonia. It was very scary especially as he was battling high temperatures. One night, the nurse came around at about midnight to check his temperature. I had just spent over an hour rocking and singing him to sleep and he was sound asleep in my arms. I could feel that his little body next to mine had cooled and that he was so much better than he had been. She wanted to take him away from me, take his temperature (which I knew would wake him up) and note everything down in her observations. This was her job and she was determined to do it. I said no. Quietly and politely I declined her services and asked to please come back in a few hours. She did. It’s as simple as that.

Look after yourself. Your first priority in hospital is your child but your second is you. You simply cannot look after your little girl or boy for a lengthy period of time under high stress if you have not slept or nourished your body. Sleep if your child is sleeping and make sure you drink and eat at regular intervals. If you need a break from the confines of the hospital (I know I certainly did!) ask your husband, mom or a good friend to take over for a few hours or overnight. You need to replenish your own body and soul so that you can take care of your little one.

Have you had a child in hospital? What did you do to make it a little easier for both of you?

Finding and choosing a doula

23

My very first doula babies are turning one, and I am just loving being a guest at their very special birthday parties! How much they have grown and changed in just twelve months; as have I as a doula and childbirth educator. After being a doula for over a year now, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the doula-client “fit” and how best you can go about finding the right person for you. That special someone who combines professionalism and experience with a warm heart and gentle hands. These are some ideas:

Finding a doula

Probably the best (and easiest way) to find good doulas in your area is to ask around. Ask your friends and colleagues first. Did they use a doula and did she add value to their birth? How so? If you don’t know anyone who has used a doula (not uncommon in this part of the world), ask other pregnancy/birth professionals. Most gynaes don’t know or recommend particular doulas, but your antenatal class teacher, chiropractor or homeopath might be able to make a referral. You can also ask on local Facebook forums or use Google. Hopefully, this process will net you the names and contact details of at least two doulas in your area that you can then go ahead and organize an interview with.

Choosing a doula

All good doulas will offer a free no-obligation meet and greet for you and your partner to get a chance to chat to them (and for them to check that they can offer you what you are looking for). Before you set up a meeting, make sure that they are actually available around your due date, and that they work with your gynae/midwife.

When you meet a prospective doula, you may want to ask her some of the following questions:

  • What are your qualifications and experience? How long have you been a doula?
  • Are you a mother yourself?
  • What kinds of births have you attended?
  • What do you love about being a doula?
  • Do you have any other related skills (as some doulas are also massage therapists or lactation consultants for example)?
  • What are the logistics of hiring you? What are your fees, what does that include and do you have a back up doula?

More important than what she says though, is how she makes you feel. Does she listen more than she talks? Does she take the time to understand what your hopes and fears for your birth are? Do you feel calm and at ease with her, or does she make you feel nervous? Do you get the feeling that she knows what she is talking about? Does she seem over-eager or desperate (eek, always off-putting!). I truly believe that the interpersonal fit between you, your partner and your doula is far more important than the number of births she has behind her.

Getting the most out of your doula

Remember that while your birth doula will certainly be at your birth (or her back up doula will), she is on hand from the time you hire her to long afterwards so USE her. Most doulas will welcome calls, e-mails or texts at anytime during your pregnancy. They may be able to recommend other pregnancy or birth related professionals or classes in your area, and many also have a lending library of great childbirth and pregnancy related material. They can keep your spirits up when you are feeling nervous or despondent and can help to provide you with evidence-based information if you are facing a medical decision, or creating your birth plan. After your birth and the postnatal visits in your package, they will happily offer advice on breastfeeding and newborn care, and refer you to a medical professional if it sounds like you may need more specialized help than they can give. They may hold mother and baby meet ups where you can meet other moms with babies of a similar age or even offer specialised paid classes on a number of subjects. Doulas love staying in touch with their clients so enjoy the very special relationship you will share and get the most out of it.

A good doula is one of the best investments you can make in your baby’s first year. Choose wisely.

If you are looking for a doula in the Durban area, I still have openings this year from mid-October. I work with homebirth clients as well as moms birthing at Hillcrest, Crompton, Westville, Parklands and Umhlanga.

Legacy

Piano lessons

My little girl has just started piano lessons. Somewhere in the mystical dance of DNA that happens at conception, she inherited her dad’s sense of rhythm and love of music. Although I have absolutely no musical ability, my family line is not without talent. Both my grandmothers played musical instruments; and in fact the piano that we have in our home now was inherited from my paternal grandmother. My daughter has a family legacy of music, and I am so grateful that she has such a source of joy that she can tap into for the rest of her life.

There is great wonder and pleasure to be had as your children reveal themselves to you – whose nose is that; doesn’t he sneeze just like your uncle? We look for the good things, but sometimes it is clear that our little ones have also inherited a nasty temper or a genetic physical weakness that is less delightful. It is not always certain either what is DNA and what is environment. Both my kids shout when they are cross which very sadly is a direct reflection of the way I handle myself when I have had enough (I’m working on it!).

When it comes to pregnancy, birth and parenting, it is so important to understand the legacy that has been passed down through your family; that has seeped into your sub-conscious along with your mother’s scone recipe and your father’s talent for telling a story. What messages did you receive as a child about birth? What was said about your own birth? Did you hear stories about how “you are so lucky to be alive – you almost didn’t make it!”? Or perhaps your and your siblings’ births were never mentioned at all; a taboo subject. What about breastfeeding? Did you grow up feeling that breastfeeding was something a little shameful, or did you just accept that babies were fed at the breast and that was the way things worked? What about parenting? Were you nurtured at home; did your parents make their love for you apparent? Or did you grow up in a restrained environment, where physical affection was not encouraged?

As we grow up, we often vow not to repeat the mistakes of our parents, but as we ourselves become mothers and fathers, these subconscious ways of thinking and being are so deeply engrained that they may be hard to shake. So what’s a mindful parent to do?

The first step is truly understanding the legacy that you have received. I firmly believe that almost every parent does their absolute best and acts out of love; so we need to treat our parents’ mistakes with grace and understanding of the tremendously difficult task that raising a child is. Then we need to be curious about what other ways of thinking about this thing – whatever it is – there are in the world. Yes, birth can be scary. In fact, it can be lethal. Mothers and babies can die. But is there also a possibility that it can be deeply spiritual and empowering? Can we hold the paradox? Can we let go of our deeply entrenched subconscious rules about what it is and isn’t, and allow for the possibility of something positive? When you are mindful about what you have inherited, you also have the power to change it…and most importantly to change it not only for yourself, but for your children and their children in turn. And that, my friends, is the most powerful legacy of all.

Go-to breakfast

Smoothies

I go through stages when it comes to breakfasts. I went through a strict Paleo stage, which had me eating giant fry-ups of bacon, mushrooms and other veggies at 6am. While delicious and filling, these meals took a bit more effort than I like to expend in the early morning. Onto the smoothie stage…which is where we are now. Smoothies are such a wonderful way to get in a whole lot of fruit and/or veggies plus a protein serving early on in your day. A big smoothie with two bananas can carry me through to lunchtime and the inherent sweetness means you probably won’t be craving chocolate at 10am (no guarantees if you’re pregnant – that’s another story!). Here’s my favourite recipe at the moment:

250ml milk of your choice (I use a mixture of coconut and rice milk)

1-2 ripe bananas

1 big tablespoon frozen berries

1 big tablespoon nut butter (a good quality sugar free peanut butter is fine)

Any powdered superfood or supplement you may want to add – e.g. glutamine, green powder, probiotics etc.

Blitz and you’re done! Sugar free, gluten free, dairy free if you wish and full of goodness.

(It’s been a busy year over at Gentle Welcome but I do have doula vacancies from January 2017. Initial meet and greets are free, and I would love to chat to you about your birth wishes and how I can help. I also offer HypnoBirthing classes, birth story sessions and private mother-to-mother coaching sessions.)

Let them be kind

Kindness

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a perfect parent. Despite my best efforts, my kids are not particularly neat or health-conscious. Nor do they seem to have very good taste. They have an alarming tendency to drop and run when it comes to clothes, cups and half-eaten sandwiches. They will still choose a bright pink Fizzer over a bowl of strawberries any day; and their wooden hand-painted toys lie forgotten on their shelves, while their cheap plastic Chinese dolls and cars are given preference.

But here’s the thing: both of them are some of the kindest human beings I know. They will come to the aid of a sad or upset adult, child or animal in a heartbeat. My daughter, being the oldest, will actually tuck me into bed and turn off my light if she sees that I have had an exhausting day and need some extra love and care. My son will cry in sympathy if he sees one of us in distress. They will hug and kiss my elderly grandmothers without reservation, and treat children younger than themselves with such gentleness and understanding.

The kindness I witness in my children is in such contrast to the angry, mean and stressed out people I see every day in the supermarkets, on the roads and all around me. What is it that happens to us as we grow older that suppresses our innate humanity and turns us into these unkind people?

There are so many things I want for my children as they grow. To be loved, and to know the love of a partner, friends, family and animals. To have work they adore and that fills them up from the inside out. To have a deep respect for nature, their bodies and the world they live in. But most of all, whatever they do, and whoever they become, let them be kind.