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Exciting news!

I am thrilled to announce that my new ‘baby’, Breastfeed your Baby, will be on the shelves soon. My publisher, Metz Press has given me a due date for middle April. This is the fulfillment of a dream that was born right along with my first child, around 16 years ago. I can’t wait to hold my ‘baby’ and see her on the South African shelves! By the way, for my Afrikaans readers, there is an edition in their mother tongue. Borsvoed jou Baba is the first Afrikaans book on the topic in more than 2 decades. Soooo excited! Please go like the book’s FB page and follow updates on http://www.facebook.com/index.php?stype=lo&lh=Ac8sX-WfHvbW2SoW#!/pages/Breastfeed-your-Baby/314096398693068breastfeed your baby

 

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Preparing your Child for a New Baby

Some of the most helpful books on parenting I’ve ever read are those by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I felt so much more equipped to deal with my children’s negative emotions and behaviour after reading books like How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk and How to Talk so Kids will Learn. When I found out that I was expecting my second child, I bought their Siblings Without Rivalry. I wasn’t disappointed.

In the second chapter, the authors have an exercise in which you need to rate your emotional response to the following scenario:

Imagine that your spouse puts an arm around you and  says, “Honey, I love you so much, and you’re so wonderful that I’ve decided to have another wife just like you.

Ugh, puts a different spin on it, doesn’t it?

When the new wife finally arrives, you see that she’s very young and kind of cute. When the three of you are out together, people say hello to you politely, but exclaim ecstatically over the newcomer. “Isn’t she adorable? Hello, sweetheart … You are precious!” Then they turn to you and ask, “How do you like the new wife?”

Ouch!

The new wife needs clothing. Your husband goes into your closet, takes some of your sweaters and pants and gives them to her. When you protest, he points out that since you’ve put on a little weight, your clothes are too tight on you and they’ll fit her perfectly.

Don’t you just hate her sometimes?

The new wife is maturing rapidly. Every day she seems smarter and more competent. One afternoon as you’re struggling to figure out the directions on the new computer your husband bought you, she bursts into the room and says, “Ooh, can I use it? I know how?

One just feels your fists clench right along with your teeth, don’t you?

When you tell her she can’t use it, she runs crying to your husband. Moments later she returns with him. Her face is tear-stained and he has his arm around her. He says to you, “What would be the harm in letting her have a turn? Why can’t you share?”

I think you get the picture. Of course I’m not suggesting that you should have only one child (not at all, I have five!). Please don’t feel guilty about wanting more children – or about either your older child or the new baby. As I said to a newly delivered second-time mom just this morning, motherhood is a guilt-ridden occupation. We feel sad for the older child that he’ll no longer have our undivided attention and we feel equally guilty about not devoting enough attention to the little one either. Siblings truly are gifts to one another if the relationships are handled lovingly and there are many benefits as well as drawbacks to each and every position in the family, whether you’re the oldest, the youngest or the middle child. Guilt doesn’t help you or your kids. It doesn’t improve the quality of your lives at all. It’s such an unproductive emotion – such a waste of valuable energy. Don’t indulge in it. Every time you feel guilty, see if the guilt has something to teach you – if it comes with a lesson, with a way in which you can improve what you are doing. If it does, change your behaviour or attitude. If it doesn’t, don’t allow the guilt another second of rent-free space in your already overburdened mind. Your kids will cope, as long as you love them and show it to them as often as possible. They’ll probably even like each other – at least some of the time!

So, what can you do to make the birth of a new baby less traumatic for your older child? Here are some tips:

  1. Many parents ask what the ideal age gap is. Experts have different opinions about this, but I generally just tell the parents that the age gap between their kids is the perfect one. After all, that’s their reality. In my opinion, there are pros and cons to all age gaps. If you have your kids close together, it might be tough on you in the beginning and the older child may not have as much time to be a baby and the sole focus of your attention. On the other hand, you’ll have kids so close in age that they’ll be interested in the same games and you’ll be able to read them the same book at bedtime. Having them further apart may make that first year easier on all of you, but your kids might not have as much in common at first.
  2. Expect your older child to be excited about the baby and adapt to the changes well. If you expect a smooth transition, that’s what you’ll get. If you expect jealousy and tantrums, ditto. This is what psychologists call a self-fulfilling prophesy, and I promise you it’s very real. Your child picks up on your fears and expectations, and act accordingly.
  3. Prepare your child during pregnancy. Read books together with stories about new babies, show your child pictures of babies, take him along to your scans and let him feel the baby kick. Look through his own baby pictures and tell him stories about when he was little. Make a big song and dance about how much your older child can do that baby isn’t able to. Take breastfeeding: talk to your older child about everything he can eat and drink, while Baby is so small that he can only have breastmilk.
  4. Get your child a gift from the baby. A great idea is a doll of his/her own that to take care of while Mom is busy with Baby. Place this gift next to Baby when he sees her for the first time. You might also want to make sure that the new baby is lying somewhere else than in Mom/Dad’s arms for that first meeting. Of course this isn’t possible at a home birth – especially when the older child is very involved in the birth – but in hospital (which is already a strange, somewhat scary environment) putting Baby in a bassinet for the first meeting might be wise.
  5. Let your child be Mommy’s little helper as often as he likes. This makes him feel important, like he is making a contribution. But don’t burden him with so much childcare responsibilities that he feels resentful.
  6. Have a special stash of new toys and books that are only taken out when the baby is breastfeeding. This way, your child will look forward to feeding times and you can even give him special attention by reading to him while Baby is drinking.
  7. Spend special alone-time with your older child when Baby is asleep.
  8. Accept the fact that your older child will have more of Dad for a while. Don’t fall into the trap of always caring for the baby while Dad looks after the older one, but don’t feel guilty about the fact that they will bond on a deeper level than before either.
  9. Accept that your older child may very well regress a bit in certain areas. Take it in your stride and don’t make a big deal out of it. Also try not to attribute all challenging behaviour to the new baby. With my youngest child, Dominic, I realised that 3-year olds often pretend to be babies, for instance. Had he just gained a new brother or sister, I’d assume that he was having trouble coping. Because he was my last, though, I realised that his ‘regression’ was simply make-believe. It wasn’t an indication of sibling rivalry. Even Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!
  10. No matter how young your child is, reflect his feelings and teach him feeling words. If he says he wishes the baby would go away, don’t deny his feelings and tell him he doesn’t really mean that. Of course he does. Instead, teach him to put his feelings into words. “You feel sad that the baby is taking up a lot of Mommy’s time.” Then give him a way to cope with his feelings, for instance, “Would you like to draw a sad picture?” Or, “Would you like to jump on the trampoline until you feel better?”

The first weeks with a new baby in the house can be hard – on you and on your older child. Do you have any other tips you’d like to share on making the transition smooter? Please post a comment so other parents can benefit from your wisdom.

 

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The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Part 2

In her wonderful book, Kathleen Kendall-Tackett discusses three hidden emotional states connected to motherhood: stress, depression and burn-out. These conditions overlap, but they are not exactly the same. It is important to realise that stress is caused by any change – happy or unhappy. Research has shown that the birth of a baby – even though it is such a miraculous, joyous occasion – is one of the most stressful life events. It’s important that we are aware of this and take steps to minimise our stress levels.

Postnatal depression is a more serious condition. Some risk factors are sleep-deprivation, a history of depression, lack of support or loneliness, financial problems, a traumatic birth, a conflicted relationship with your own mother or partner, and a history of abuse (physical, emotional and/or verbal). Another significant risk factor is perfectionism and unrealistic expectations of ourselves.

Long-term stress and depression cause psychological as well as biological problems. Increased cortisol production leads to many negative effects, like depressing the immune system and causing inflammation and pain. It places us at higher risk of cardio-vascular disease and actually atrophies the hippocampus, affecting memory and learning. Ever wondered why your memory is so poor when you are stressed? Kendall-Tackett warns that we need to realise that stress can be fatal. We need to take care of ourselves, for the sake of our babies, our partners and ourselves.

It’s a sad fact that postnatal depression also affects our babies. Research has found that depressed moms tend to interact with their kids in one of two styles, either avoidant or angry-intrusive. In both cases, kids produce excessive stress hormones themselves, leading to long-term neurological changes and, in turn, to a higher vulnerability to depression. But PLEASE don’t feel guilty if you are depressed. Instead, arm yourself with knowledge and get the support you need to get you out of that deep, dark abyss. I’ll make some suggestions in my next post.

Burnout may not be as acute a crisis as depression, but it can certainly make your life one of quiet desperation. Kendall-Tackett describes it as an existential crisis. You begin to doubt the reason for your existence. You wonder if anything you do makes a difference. You end up dragging yourself through each day and you withdraw from those around you, even your children. This becomes a vicious cycle. Women find meaning in relationships. When they cut themselves off from the people they love, life becomes increasingly bleak. Remember that it is not couldn’t-care-less moms who burn out. It is the ultra-committed moms. As William Sears puts it: you have to be on fire in order to burn out.

But how do you rekindle the flame? How do you deal with these negative feelings of motherhood in order to be the best and happiest mom possible? Any suggestions?

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2012 in Articles, books, Postnatal Depression

 

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My Favourite Books about Midwives

These are my favourite books featuring midwives. Please let me know if you’ve read others!

Fiction       

  1. 1.      Midwives by Chris Bohjalian tops my list, although it is definitely NOT a book you should read when you are pregnant. I made the mistake of passing it on to my mom while planning a home birth. Oops! A great, absorbing story with an unforgettable protagonist. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that a man wrote this one!

2.      Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult is not specifically about midwifery, but one of the main characters is a midwife. Everything she does is about life, but then her son commits mass murder …

3.      The Midwife’s Tale by Gretchen Moran Laskas is the story of an Appalacian midwife who cannot have children of her own. Moving.

4.      The Birth House by Ami McKay is a book after a doula’s own heart. What I loved about it is how convincingly McKay has built the historical details into her story. She raises so many issues that are still relevant to birthing women and to midwives almost a century after the story’s World War I setting.

Harlequin Medical Romances Featuring Midwives

  1. Mistletoe, Midwife, Miracle Baby by Anne Fraser.
  2. Midwife in the Family Way by Fiona McArthur.
  3. It Started with a Pregnancy by Scarlet Wilson. This one touched me deeply, probably because it hit so close to home. Like the heroine, my daughter, Tamika, suffers from Type 1 diabetes. Also like the heroine, she considers becoming a midwife – and having lots of babies herself. Beautifully written.
  4. Doorstep Delivery by Sarah Morgan had me in stitches – and then in tears. A delightful heroine and a delectable hero, what more need I say?

Memoirs by Midwives

  1. Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Penny Vincent.
  2. Labour of Love: A Midwife’s Memoir by Cara Muhlhahn.
  3. The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife’s Memoir by Patricia Harman.
  4. Twelve Babies on a Bike: Diary of a Pupil Midwife by Dot May Dunn.
 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in books, midwives, writing

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day, Dear Midwives!

Not too long ago, I finished my third medical romance (in Afrikaans, under my pen name). Like the first two, the story centres around a midwife in private practice. She is asked to deliver the baby of a celebrity couple – at home. I wanted to call this book Vroedvrou vir die Sterre – Midwife to the Stars. My publisher accepted the book, but not the title. According to her, the term ‘vroedvrou’ (in English, ‘midwife’) is not very romantic. I accepted the change with good grace, acknowledging that she knows best about all things publishing and book sales, while I’m just a doula who knows about birth.

Still, if you ask me, being a midwife is a pretty romantic thing to do with your life. Oh sure, there are late nights, missed birthday parties and Christmases, ringing phones in the middle of the night. There’s blood and poop and other bodily fluids. There are (sometimes) screaming women and disrespectful colleagues. But mostly, there is love.

Think about it. What constitutes our very first experience of this world? Our primal experience of love? It is our birth, of course. Whose hands are the first to touch us, the first to convey welcome or abuse? The hands that deliver us. Those hands imprint upon our bodies and our souls what love and tenderness should feel like. Often, the very first voice we hear is that of the midwife or the doctor ‘catching’ us. Lucky is the baby delivered by a midwife’s gentle hands, placed with awe onto his mother’s chest, welcomed with the words: “Here’s your baby, look at what your love created, isn’t he beautiful?” In that moment, the midwife’s love births not just a baby, but a family. A mother. A father. A new soul.

The word ‘midwife’ comes from the old English and means someone who is with woman. Sheila Kitzinger describes the role of the midwife beautifully in her book, Rediscovering Birth:

“In all cultures, the midwife’s place is on the threshold of life, where intense human emotions – fear, hope, longing, triumph and incredible physical power – enable a new human being to emerge. Her vocation is unique. The art of the midwife is understanding the relationship between psychological and physiological processes in childbirth. Rather than being the provider of a technical service to support a doctor, or someone who scuttles around getting ready for an obstetrician and clearing away after him, her skills lie at the point where the emotional and biological touch and interact. She is not a manager of labour and delivery. Rather, she is the opener of doors, the one who releases, the nurturer. She is the strong anchor when there is fear and pain; the skilled friend who is in tune with the rhythms of birth, the mountain tops and chasms, the striving and the triumph.”

Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? French obstetrician Michel Odent reminds us that, until recently, human mothers could not give birth without releasing a “complex cocktail of love hormones”. The most important of these hormones are oxytocin (the hormone of bonding), endorphins (the hormones of transcendence and bliss) and prolactin (the mothering hormone). He warns: Today, in many countries, most women have babies without releasing these specific hormones. The questions must be raised in terms of civilization. This turning point occurs at the very time when several scientific disciplines suggest that the way human beings are born has long-term consequences, particularly in terms of sociability, aggressiveness or, in other words, ‘capacity to love’.” Midwives, in my opinion, are the ones most skilled at creating a space in which love hormones can flow. They are an essential ingredient of the “cocktail of love hormones”. This is why women often have lifelong bonds with their midwives.

Thank you to all the wonderful midwives of the world who embody love. Thank you, in particular, to the midwives who delivered my babies (Sue and Riana) and the babies of my doula clients (especially Heather, Esti, Erna, Margot and Cornel). A special thank you to Robyn Sheldon, the ‘mother’ of The Mama Bamba Way. You have inspired me so deeply that I had to write three stories about your profession. You truly are my heroines. Happy Valentine’s Day! May the love you’ve given away so bountifully come back to you a thousand fold.

To all the midwives, moms and dads viewing this post, please don’t go away without leaving a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in books, midwives, writing

 

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