Book Review: The Postnatal Depletion Cure

After I had my second baby, I entered into a different, and I want to say darker phase of life than I had ever experienced. I wouldn’t say I was depressed, yet I distinctly remember, when my baby was around a year old, my older daughter looking up at me and saying out of the blue, “Mommy, you haven’t cried in a while!”

Baby #2 was constantly fussy, so I was caring for two needy little ones on very little sleep. I was experiencing constant back pain, making daily tasks and childcare painful. I didn’t have the level of practical support from extended family that I needed. And though I had an amazing 2-hour labor and delivery at home, I just wasn’t bouncing back from pregnancy and birth like I did the first go-round.

That little baby is now 6 years old (!), and I feel like I’m just now coming out of the fog, getting back to my old self. Talking with friends about those first couple of years in particular, I would say, “I feel like maybe I had postpartum depression??” Because I knew I wasn’t well. I wasn’t feeling normal, or healthy. But at the same time, the word depression didn’t seem to fit. Though not quite right, it was the only word I could come up with to describe my experience.

Until recently, when I received a copy of International Doula (a publication put out by my certifying organization, DONA). On the cover, I read the words “postnatal depletion,” and I was intrigued. Immediately I flipped to the article, reading an interview with Dr. Oscar Serrallach, about this new term and finally identifying with a set of symptoms that made up the syndrome that I’m sure I had. Wanting to know more, I checked out his book, The Postnatal Depletion Cure, from the library.

Before even starting chapter one, I was floored by Dr. Serrallach’s compassion and understanding of what mothers in modern cultures are experiencing. He says:

This book is dedicated to all mothers who have suffered and struggled in their selfless roles as caregivers, often without the unconditional support and wisdom from their culture, societies, and families that should have been their birthright. It is your strength that has inspired and guided me in writing this book. The well-being of mothers is the fabric from which the cloth of the future of our society is made.

Those words made me want to cry. And hug him.

The book begins by defining postnatal depletion, and differentiating between depletion and depression. In the DONA article, the phrase that stood out to me referring to a depleted mom was that she feels “tired and wired.” This was exactly my experience - I was utterly exhausted, yet robbed of sleep. I would wake up on high alert to any little sounds, whether it be the baby or my husband shifting in bed next to me, and be unable to fall back to sleep easily. I was hormonal and emotional, and yet I never experienced hopelessness or lack of joy and happiness around things that have always made me happy. I was in love with my baby and so happy to have him in our family, I was just having trouble coping with life.

Dr Serrallach then goes on to describe how different cultures around the world care for their newly postpartum mothers. I have heard bits and pieces of these customs, but seeing them all in one place, and contrasting them with how we treat new moms in America was truly eye-opening. I thought, no wonder so many new moms are struggling.

The rest of the book is filled with incredibly helpful information for mothers struggling with this condition. I absolutely love how Dr. Serrallach speaks to women with deep compassion and understanding, validates our struggles, and views us as whole people - not isolating different symptoms, but really understanding and conveying that postnatal depletion is a result of many different factors. Throughout the book, he thoroughly covers important information on nutrition, hormones, sleep, exercise, and emotional well-being.

If you are interested in learning more about postnatal depletion, this article is a great place to start. And of course, pick up a copy of his book. If you feel like you have postnatal depletion and are looking for more resources or local practitioners to walk through the journey to healing with you, please be in touch with me! I would love to hear your story and help get you pointed in the right direction.

Blessings, hope, and healing, my friends!

Ashley's birth

For Matt and Ashley's first and second babies, I had the privilege of coaching them through the wild ride of labor here in Northern Illinois. After baby #2, they relocated to a super remote village in Northern Canada, which is where they found out they were pregnant with #3! I was so excited for them, yet also sad for the distance that would keep us from working together again! Hoping that Ashley would be able to have another smooth birth experience, I emailed Matt some documents with info for helping him to be the sole support person for Ashley this time.

A couple of weeks after I sent those documents, on February 9th, I received wildly frantic and excited texts and Facebook messages from each of them describing how their third daughter had come into the world!  

Here is Ashley's story:

Living in the remote North of Ontario we flew to be near the hospital and were staying in our friend’s home as our third daughters due date approached. The early morning of February 9th around 2 AM mild contractions kept disrupting my sleep and I realized I could be in early labor. I woke Matt and told him, “I think we might meet our baby today” Contractions were not happening regularly so, thinking we had a full day ahead of us, we went back to bed to get whatever rest we could before things picked up. 

Around 5:00 AM I was awoken by a strong contraction. Upon hearing my grumbling, Matt came to be at my side and when the next contraction hit I told him I felt nauseous. After the contraction subsided I walked to the bathroom. Another contraction hit and I doubled over onto all fours and called to Matt, “Something changed, we need to go to the hospital NOW!!”. “Now?” He questioned. From his vantage point I had just been sleeping, how could I possibly be ready to go to the hospital. But, no, this was different. Something changed. “Start the car!” And so he went upstairs to get the car ready. As I heard him walk outside my water EXPLODED all over the bathroom floor! An intense urge to push followed along with an involuntary deep moan. 

When Matt came downstairs I frantically told him, “My water broke, the baby is coming NOW.” He said “We have to get upstairs, you NEED to get in the car!” I told him I couldn’t as another contraction washed over me, he pleaded with me to not push. As soon as the contraction was over he said, “Now is your chance, you need to get up those stairs!” In my head I thought, my husband has no clue what is actually happening. “Okay”, I said and I crawled my body toward the stairs. Another contraction came and Matt said, “Shh! You are going to wake the kids.” (Birth coach level expert.) So I kept as quiet as I could (whilst a child attempted to exit my body). As soon as it was over he encouraged me to go upstairs, “Now! Go Go Go!” and I climbed the stairs steadily on hands and knees. Not a move I would recommend to any woman in pushing stage - and certainly was not in my birth plan. When we reached the top of the stairs I immediately had another contraction. Matt was absolutely begging me not to push. My poor sweet husband had no category for what was happening. I screamed, “Call the paramedics!” 

Our hosts, Frank, who was just about to head to work before his living room turned into a birthing center, and Cheryl called the paramedics. Matt still adamant about driving me to the hospital coached me to the front door. After another contraction, however, Matt realized the baby really was coming which meant he was now Dr. Matt. As soon as the next urge to push came Ava Faith was born into his arms. Relief was mixed with panic as we saw our perfect baby girl for the first time. She was motionless and not yet breathing. Drawing from his medical knowledge which apparently was gleaned while watching 101 Dalmatians, Matt patted and rubbed her back with a towel. We could feel her quick little pulse. Within thirty seconds she made her first respiratory noise, another 30 seconds later she took a full breath and her skin quickly became pink, those were the longest 60 seconds of our lives. 

Meanwhile, the emergency operator instructed to tie off the cord with a string and Cheryl quickly came back with green yarn and tied the umbilical cord. Ava arrived in the entryway, I will never be able to look at a welcome sign the same way again. 

Smiles of relief for a healthy baby and for an incredibly faithful God.

Smiles of relief for a healthy baby and for an incredibly faithful God.

With our hosts, Frank and Cheryl in the entryway after we arrived back from hospital. 

With our hosts, Frank and Cheryl in the entryway after we arrived back from hospital. 

I absolutely love this wild story and am so thankful for their happy ending! I love Ashley's sense of humor (she is actually quite the jokester even while in labor!). I love this sweet family and am so happy to have been included in their journey.

7 Ways Living with Less Can Help You to Have a Better Postpartum

If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts on the postpartum period, you’ll know that it’s not my favorite. I’ve said that I’ll go through labor and delivery ten times before I’ll go through the first month of postpartum once. And after having a particularly rough time after my second was born, I’ve incorporated more advice and support for this particular period in my prenatal meetings, helping my clients to come up with a detailed plan for getting through those first critical days and weeks.

Separately, in my own personal life, I’ve been exploring and growing into the concept of living with less over the past two years. It started when I stumbled upon the idea of a capsule wardrobe on Pinterest, and continued as I radically reduced the number of things in our home following the plan inThe Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I have grown to love living simply, and as I continue to pursue a more stripped-down approach to life with kids, I can’t help but wish that I would have known about and embraced this lifestyle before having babies!

With what I’ve grown to know and love about living minimally, here are 7 reasons I believe embracing this type of lifestyle will help you to have a better postpartum:

1.       You won’t lose things. If you reduce the number of things in your home, thereby reducing clutter, you will literally know where everything is. When I was going through my home in The Great Purge of 2017, there were so many things I didn’t even realize that we had, and even if I did I wouldn’t have known where they were. Minimizing gave us the space and freedom to value our things so stuff didn’t get lost in the jumble. The moments I lose something are now few and far between! And when a new baby is crying in the car seat as you rush to get out the door, the last thing you need is a lost set of keys or other essential item!

2.      Reduce decision fatigue. This is especially relevant in the clothes department. Most of us have piles and heaps of clothes that never get worn, yet we keep it in our closets. So every morning when we get dressed, we sift through the many things we don’t love to find just the perfect thing, starting our day with much more mental energy spent than needed. I realize that this is tricky since our bodies are ever changing as we grow and care for our babies, but honestly we really don’t need as many clothes as we are led to believe we do! My suggestion is to have only a handful of your favorite tops and bottoms that fit you well in this season – with the rest kept in bins – to reduce chaos and clutter in your morning routine. Look into creating a capsule wardrobe and/or adopting a seasonal uniform. Less mental energy spent on what you wear equals more energy and brain space for things that really matter, like self and baby care. 

3.      Lower your odds for postpartum depression. There is a direct correlation between the amount of items in a home and the amount of clutter that accumulates. We all have different levels of tolerance for clutter, yet researchers at UCLA’s Center for Everyday Lives and Families discovered a direct link between high stress hormone levels in women and a high density of household objects (from Life at Home in the 21st Century). To my knowledge, there are no studies on clutter and postpartum depression, but I truly believe that if you decrease the number of items you own, you will lower your likelihood of developing this condition.

When my second born was a baby and crying inconsolably, I remember pacing back and forth with him wailing in my arms through the rooms of our house. With each pass seeing the piles of clutter, I could feel my stress levels rising knowing that tidying wasn’t an option with a very needy infant needing my constant attention. Dear soon-to-be mother, for your own mental health, please consider purging your home before your baby arrives!

Me and Mr. High Maintenance. I'm smiling because he's not crying!

Me and Mr. High Maintenance. I'm smiling because he's not crying!

4.      Experience peace and contentment. As you go through the process of getting rid of the excess in your life, you will begin to realize that you don’t really need as much as you had previously believed. Your urge to run to Target for a quick fix of “retail therapy” or a shopping for a new baby gadget on Amazon will quietly subside, and you’ll start to experience contentment and fulfillment in the things that really matter.

5.      Enjoy more down time. This is kind of crazy, and I wouldn’t really have believed it before I began minimizing, but living with less literally opens up so much more time in your day. If you think about it, every item we own requires some maintenance, however small. But lots of small things requiring only a little attention quickly adds up and we don’t even realize it. For me, with a new baby, I never felt that I could afford the luxury of taking time for rest or self-care. There was always work to be done, people to take care of, things to clean. I can only imagine how much more restful my postpartum periods would have been if I had embraced simplicity sooner.

6.      Enjoy an easy-to clean house. If you have toddlers or older kids as well as a newborn, your house can become a jumbled mess in the time it takes to brush your teeth. With kids dumping out bins of toys or puzzles, it can seem impossible to stay on top of keeping things picked up. In his book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne does an excellent job of explaining how fewer toys can deeply benefit your kids. And practically speaking, the fewer toys they have, the less overwhelming you will feel when it is time to clean up. Just a few weeks ago, my five-year-old son and I went through his car bin, and he easily picked out all the cars that are no longer his favorites. Now, when it’s time to clean up cars, it takes half the time it used to.

7.      Be ever ready for drop-by guests. I think we’ve had more visitors after the births of our babies than at any other time in the history of our marriage. Granted, most people are more than gracious visitors, knowing that having just had a baby upkeep of your home is low on your list of priorities. But I’ve found that with less stuff, my home is literally almost always ready for unexpected visitors. There always are a few things out here and there, but never to the extent that I am embarrassed or feel the need to apologize to my guests.

These are just a few of the ways I believe living with less will dramatically increase your quality of living after having a baby, and I so wish I would have known about this type of intentional lifestyle sooner. But I am truly loving it now, and my kids are still young enough where I believe they are reaping rewards that will last them a lifetime. They are learning at a young age that stuff does not equal happiness, as our culture would entice them to believe. They happily spend hours in imaginative play, because they aren’t distracted by too many toys. And they are growing generous hearts, holding their things with open hands, and gladly giving toys a new home when they are outgrown.


So, for the sake of your mental health and happiness, and for the well-being of your family, I encourage you to do some digging and discover how living more simply can truly benefit you and your family. If you have questions on where to start, or just want to chat, please be in touch! I'd love to get to know where you're at and talk more about this lifestyle with you!

Blessings, friend!

Standing on Holy Ground

After my initial interview with Candida at the Starbucks in Target several years ago when she was pregnant with #2, I knew I wanted to hang on to this girl and make her my friend. She is one of the most beautifully honest and refreshingly authentic people I know.

Fast forward through prenatal meetings, an absolutely beautiful birth, a growing friendship, and a few years to this past Fall, to baby #3. 

This birth was so very different, yet no less beautiful.

Her husband, Matt, is basically superdad and was working overtime at home making sure his family was taken care of. His job requires him to work overnights, and the night she went into labor at 10pm, he had been up all day, AND the previous night. They called me in to the hospital at around 2am, and after a little small talk and catching up, we made him go take a nap. 

Candida's labor was not super serious yet, and she was coping well, yet she was expressing some inkling of doubt and fear. I dug in a little, to try and learn what was causing this apprehension in her, yet didn't come up with anything concrete.

Matt rejoined us after a little while, as labor started picking up. They were doing this beautiful slow dance thing, where she would hang on to him and allow the intensity of her labor to pull her down into a natural squat. (Candida is very body-intuitive - I absolutely LOVE watching her respond to the rhythms and nuances of her body during labor.)


She had been checked a few times, and seemed to be "stuck" at 4-5 cm, with the nurse reporting that her cervix was "tight." Usually at this point in labor, the cervix is really stretchy and gives a little when a care provider is checking dilation. Typically the only reason for a tight cervix is a previous cervical procedure, which I knew was not the case with Candida. I questioned the nurse about a few other physiological reasons the cervix might be tight and not budging open, and all things pointed to everything being normal.

After the nurse left the room, I remembered the earlier comments Candida had made and continued to make about being scared. Matt was taking another well-deserved rest on the couch, and Candida had decided that she wanted to take a shower. So I helped her get in, let her get accustomed to the water and the rhythm of her labor in this new location, and then spoke into what I thought might be holding her back.

"I think this fear you keep bringing up is keeping your cervix from opening. I want you to take some time and lay that fear before the Lord, let him take it from you, and surrender this birth to Him." 

I vividly remember locking eyes with her in that moment. She heard me. She nodded. Then she turned around, letting the hot water roll down her back, and she started crying out to the Lord. Words of prayer, of worship, of confession, of scripture, of declaring the truth of His love for her over and over. She did it. In the darkest moment of her labor, she surrendered her fear and allowed God to fill her with His strength and power to accomplish what she could not. 

I was standing on Holy ground.

After a while, the hot water started making her nauseous, so I helped her out, Matt woke up, and she started getting the urge to push. We called the nurse, and sure enough, she was 10cm and ready to have her baby! I cannot even describe the gratitude and relief that washed over her. This labor had been HARD. And it was almost over.

We had asked the nurse to put the squatting bar on the bed, and I was thankful for Dr. H who is always extremely respectful of how my clients want to deliver. Candida, holding the bar for support, delivered her baby kneeling on the bed.


Tears streaming down my face, I was overwhelmed. I couldn't believe that God would use me to facilitate such a powerful moment between Him and His precious daughter. I still can't believe that I was able to bear witness to that Holy moment. I am so, so grateful.

*All photos by Kim

*All photos by Kim

Labor as Marathon

Katherine, nailing it.

Katherine, nailing it.

Sometimes when I have clients who are athletes, or who have been athletes, or who enjoy working out in general, I share a passage from Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner:

Childbirth has many similarities to a marathon, or other physical endurance event. Both include pain and psychological demands for the participant. Both require stamina and patience. Both become more manageable when the participant is well prepared and flexible and has the following:

·        Knowledge of what to expect

·        Prior planning with a knowledgeable guide

·        Physical health and fitness

·        Encouragement and support before and throughout the event

·        Confidence that muscle pain and fatigue are normal side effects of such effort

·        Fluids and adequate nourishment

·        The ability to pace herself

So many good things to talk about here!  But did you catch that 4th point?  Encouragement and support! So vitally important to both athletes and laboring mamas!

One of my high school friends, Katherine, is a runner. She’s crazy fast. I remember last Spring she broke some records and set herself a new PR after running a mile in 5 minutes and 2 seconds. A couple of days after she ran that race, I saw her and she was just beaming! Still!  Even after a few days! And being around her in that state instantly brought me back to the feelings I had after I had my firstborn. So as she was telling me about the race and just radiating pure bliss, I couldn’t help but tell her, “Katherine, that is how I felt after I had Lucy! You can have the same adrenaline rush after you have a baby!”

And just last week my family and I went to see Katherine and her brother run in a cross country meet at our favorite place, Afton. These high school students were amazing to watch!  And I couldn’t help but compare the physical challenge we were witnessing as they ran through the grass to what I see each and every time I help a mom in labor.

Katherine, of course, was leading the pack and nailing it, and yet as we cheered her on, she didn’t have the capacity to smile or wave or engage with us – she was so focused on disciplining her mind and her body to push through to the end. You could see pain on the faces of other girls, or hear them vocalizing with their breathing to cope with the strenuousness of the run. And in the end, they all conquered, aided by the cheers and encouragement of family and friends who came to watch. They all achieved what they set out to do. And my guess is that most of them felt amazing.

So let’s take Penny Simkin's wisdom to heart. Let's encourage women to embrace the physical challenge of labor as they prepare to give birth to their babies, as we would encourage a high school student as she trains and prepares for a race. Let’s not tell women scary stories that giving birth is horrible and traumatic, as we wouldn’t tell an aspiring runner how much we hated running in high school and how much it hurt. Let’s be kind to our fellow women and soon-to-be mothers, as we are kind and encouraging to our students and children as they work toward accomplishing something amazing.

Yes, giving birth is hard. It's crazy hard. But as Penny points out, it's a LOT more manageable (and sometimes even fun!) with proper planning, coaching, training, encouragement, support, and confidence in our bodies. Let's change the culture of fear into one of joyful confidence as we talk about birth with younger women!

Sarah's Birth: An Adoption Story

Several years back, I had the opportunity to attend a national adoption conference, and while there I sat in on a seminar entitled "Loving and Serving Birthmothers."  It has always been a desire of mine, as a doula, to serve a woman who has chosen adoption for her baby, and that session gave me some great ideas and advice.  Just recently I had the opportunity to put that wisdom into action.

A sweet high school girl from my church unexpectedly became pregnant last year, and I reached out to offer comfort and grace to her in the midst of what I knew was a stressful time for her and her family. We met for coffee a few weeks later, where I naturally offered to come alongside her and walk through her pregnancy and birth with her. She said YES!

Sarah and I met for coffee several times over the course of the next months to talk about life, Harry Potter, her upcoming birth, pros and cons of parenting her baby vs. placing her for adoption, and eventually who she wanted to choose as her baby's parents. We also talked through the ins and outs of having a baby (like I do with all my clients), all things postpartum (lovely!), and the option of pumping milk for the baby.

So when her water broke early on a Tuesday morning, she was prepared. I met Sarah, her mom, and the adoptive mother, Abby, at the hospital mid-morning, when not too much was happening with her labor. I smuggled her some french fries and we had a mini party in the delivery room (Abby, brought LOTS of snacks!).   

As Sarah's labor intensified, I began to actively coach her into a state of relaxation. Her response was amazing. She tuned in to my voice, and without question or doubt, listened to my suggestions to relax and surrender to the power of her body. There was no trace of tension or fear in her demeanor - she never once started losing control. She exhibited a quiet and fierce confidence as the waves of power took over her body, and labored beautifully. It was amazing to watch and a true privilege to enter into those moments with her.

(Photo by  Jodi Dirks )

(Photo by Jodi Dirks)

When it came time to push, after only a few powerful contractions and with Abby holding a leg, a very blessed baby girl was born into two families.

Debi (Sarah's mom) and Abby rejoice in the first moments of baby Hannah's life. (Photo by Kim)

Debi (Sarah's mom) and Abby rejoice in the first moments of baby Hannah's life. (Photo by Kim)

After Abby got some skin-to-skin time with her sweet girl, Sarah was able to hold the baby she had worked so hard for.

(Photo by  Jodi Dirks )

(Photo by Jodi Dirks)

I am so glad I had the opportunity to love and serve Sarah through this season of life.  Her bravery, determination, calmness, and selflessness throughout her pregnancy and birth was amazing to witness and a joy to take part in.

And it continues! Sarah was a superhero and decided to pump milk for the baby for the first several weeks. She and Abby have a very cool relationship and a very open adoption. Hannah will grow up with two mamas - the one who birthed her and the one who parents her. What a gift!

The best [postpartum] advice I've ever received.

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."  -John Muir

When you are pregnant, especially for the first time, it seems you are a growing, moving target for unsolicited advice.  How to eat, how to sleep, what doctor to choose, what kind of birth to have, and the list goes on.  People also like to give out free postpartum advice, like "sleep when the baby sleeps," or "the disposable mesh undies will be a lifesaver," or "put some cabbage on those overly zealous milk machines."  This advice is all really good, practical stuff, and it is so, so important to have a sisterhood of women surrounding you with love and encouragement throughout all the tender moments of childbearing!

But today I'm just going to share one little tidbit of advice, given to me by a dear friend and neighbor, when I was in the throes of postpartum hell after baby number two.


She came over to drop off some goodies, and being a mom to two little guys herself, her advice held some weight.

"Just ten minutes a day!" she said.  "If it's cold, bundle up. The fresh air will do you good."

My second-born was high-maintenance, to say the least. I recall pacing with him (crying) in my arms from the dining room, through the kitchen, to the living room, and back again, unable to look away from the piles of mess and dishes and clutter in each room I walked through. I was exhausted, in pain, and a hormonal wreck, and my messy house was just about to push me over the edge.

So I took her advice to heart, and despite the plummeting temperatures, I got outside. Not every day (though that was my goal), and she was right!!  It did me so much good.  Through the rhythmic moving of my feet and the in-and-out breathing of fresh air, my soul was reset. I was able to think and to pray and to just be. And though the house I walked back into was not the place of peace and cleanliness I felt that I needed it to be, it was okay. I was okay.

And now, four years later, as my kiddos are getting older and the temperatures are once again starting to drop, I remember that advice - just as good today as it was then. When life indoors is making monsters of my kids and me, we put on our coats and we go out. We walk, ride bikes, we climb and run and hike. Thanks to my good neighbor, Lori, I've learned that we are all happier creatures when we've been outside.

Let's change the way we talk about this.

I often hear people ask a woman, “Who delivered your baby?” to which the woman replies with the name of whatever doctor was present at her birth.  This is a typical conversation among childbearing women, one at which no one bats an eye. 

But I would argue that this language is not the best choice of wording when we talking about how we give birth.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a pregnant woman who said of her first birth, “Dr. So-and-So delivered me.”

Delivered me.

I know she didn’t mean it like this, but it sounded as if she was in a situation from which she needed to be delivered.  This language infers that the woman is the passive party in the scenario, a helpless one at that, who needs a stronger, more capable person to free her from the burden of pregnancy and labor.

On the other hand, I love how midwives talk about the act of a woman giving birth into the hands of a competent provider. 

They say “catch.” 

“I caught the baby.”


It puts the emphasis right where it belongs.  The mother as the active, strong, capable person delivering her baby into the hands of a gentle, caring midwife. The mother is the one who does the delivering here.

This wording implies humility and honor on the part of the provider.  It gives praise and acknowledgement to the one who did all the work and deserves all the credit – Mom.

So next time you cross paths with a freshly postpartum mother, ask her how her birth went, and ask her, “Who caught your baby?”

(photo by Kim. See more of Jenn's birth here)

Finnian's Birth: A Photo Essay

In 2015, I was invited to attend 14 births, all of which were filled with beautiful and awe-inspiring moments.  For most births, I am asked to capture some of those beautiful, intimate moments with my camera.  I love photographing births in any setting, but home births are especially fun for me.  The natural setting and lighting provides the perfect backdrop for capturing such a sweet, special day for the family, and little nuances and things a couple have done to make their house a home make the photographs even more special.

I was able to serve Jenn and Stephen at the birth of their first son, Seeley, back in 2013, and loved capturing the moments that made up her beautiful labor.  A couple of years later, I was asked again to help with the birth of their second son, Finnian.

Jenn is a labor goddess.  She is relaxed, calm, and in control.  It's amazing to watch.

Thanks, Jenn and Stephen, for inviting me into your space to help you bring Finnian in to the world.  It was a joy and a blessing to be there with you!

Auggie's Birth

Celebrating Auggie's birthday today, I cannot believe he's three!!  I have spent the last many months working on a drawing of a photograph captured by my doula the moment he was born, and reminiscing on his birth.  My memories of the whole experience are so vivid to me.  Here's a glimpse into what my 2-hour labor home birth felt like:

6pm - Watching Cars and eating English muffin pizza’s with Lucy (my oldest, who was almost 4 at the time) and Greg.  Having really strong Braxton Hicks and not wanting Lucy to crawl on/cuddle me during the movie.

8:30pm - Getting a killer massage from Greg after he put Lucy to bed.

9:30pm - Having a super weird sensation in my abdomen and heading up to bed. 

10pm - Lying down, contractions getting stronger.  Realizing this is it.

Calling Greg on my cell phone (he was downstairs playing poker on the internet) telling him he needs to call the midwife.  Greg comes up, asks me if I’m sure it’s labor, and I agree to wait for a few more contractions to confirm it’s the real deal.  Contraction hits.  “CALL STEPH” (our midwife).

Flurry of Greg getting the pool ready downstairs, coming up to check on me, and making calls, while I labor on the toilet and then on the glider in the nursery.  Oh my glory, these contractions are stronger than any contraction I ever had with Lucy.  Doula arrives; I am so grateful for her presence.  Water breaks while on the glider.  Time to head downstairs.

Practically running down the stairs to try to make it to the couch before another contraction hits, and barely making it.  It is so dark and peaceful.  The birth team quietly arriving, and I need to hold hands.  Holding Karen’s hand.  Then my mom’s.  I remember a contraction that I could barely stay on top of, it almost swept me away, and afterwards my mom commenting that she didn’t even realize I was having a one.  My doula sitting on the couch-turned-bed (futon) with me, and the gentleness of her knee touching my thigh literally making my contraction less painful.

Starting to feel lots of pressure.  Birth team suggests I head to the pool but I don’t want to move. Asking if it will hurt less in the pool, Karen laughs and mentions something about an “aqua-dural.”  Sitting up and have to hold my tush off the bed with my arms during a contraction because I am practically sitting on this boy’s head.  Steph is here, her presence unannounced. I say “hi” on my way to the pool.

Stepping into the pool, instant relief.  Greg getting in behind me.  Trying not to push because I hate the sensation of baby moving down.  My body does it anyway, and slightly panicked, I announce, “I’m pushing!” to which my midwife calmly answers, “okay, great!”  My sister arrives and I barely register she’s here because I am in such a zone. 

Feeling the burning ring of fire and realizing he’s almost out, and thinking “how could this be happening already!”  Greg reaching down, instructed by the midwife, and guides his head out as I feel a tremendous release.  Baby’s head is out.  Midwife tells me I need to push him all the way out.  More pushing and instinctively saying, “Where’s my Auggie? Where’s my Auggie?” as I reach down to pull his tiny, slippery little body up out of the water.

12:03am - Taking a moment to hold my baby close as I catch my breath after that whirlwind of a labor.  Then holding him out so I can get a look of his face, and thinking that he looks familiar.  Like I already know him.

An Induction Success!

**names and pictures used with permission**

Having been on call for the full "two weeks before and up to two weeks after," I was surprised that Chloe hadn't gone into labor yet.  A first time mom, she was very excited about her pregnancy, and did everything she could to make it the best it could be!  She was seeing a chiropractor, drinking red raspberry leaf tea, and eating dates daily

She was having minor cramping and Braxton Hicks-ish contractions on and off, but nothing serious.  At one appointment right around 40 weeks, she was 4cm dilated, 80% effaced, and the baby was at "zero staion" (code for reeeally low in her pelvis).  Still, no labor!

Her doctors were very relaxed with her, and gave her a full two weeks past her due date before wanting to induce her, and it was very low pressure.  She agreed to the induction, and as we were having a phone conversation about what to expect, I remembered the "stats" from her last appointment, and suggested seeing if her doctor would break her water before trying pitocin.  Typically breaking the water before labor begins is a bad idea for a variety of reasons, but since Chloe's body was SOOOO ready for labor (for my first-time clients, I am typically with them in hard, active labor for half a day before they are at 4cm!), and from my experience with how quickly labor progresses after the water is broken when baby is so low and well-positioned, I thought it might be a welcome alternative to starting labor with drugs.

They got to the hospital at 6am on Tuesday, February 3rd, and by the time they were all settled into their room it was close to 8 o'clock.  She was 5cm dilated and 90% effaced, and baby was even lower. The doctor came in to speak with them (Chloe had previously requested that they break her water in lieu of starting pitocin) and seemed hesitant to break her water, wanting to start with pitocin instead.  Chloe was strong and advocated for herself and what she knew she wanted, and her doctor consented to breaking her water, which he did at around 8am.  He told her he would see if she had any contractions in the next four hours, and then would come start the pitocin drip.

Well, she did have some contractions.  Many good, strong contractions.  I arrived shortly after 8 and she was already feeling them pretty well, although she was very relaxed and chatting through them.  Her husband, Matt, was rubbing her feet and making her feel as comfortable as possible.

Contractions quickly picked up in speed and intensity, and Chloe was handling them beautifully.  The most comfortable position for her was sitting upright or reclining in the bed.  I think because things were happening so quickly this was the easiest position for her to stay relaxed.  They were actually coming so quickly that the doctor called the nurse to see if she would consent to taking some IV fluid to slow them down.  She declined, as she was feeling well and staying extremely hydrated by drinking water and juice.  

As things were picking up, she said, in kind of a puzzled and surprised voice, "It's not pain, it doesn't hurt.  It's just very intense!"  Later, she said "I can understand why people would want an epirudal!"

At one point, toward the end, she vocalized, "It's so much, it's just so much!"  It was at this point that I knew she needed something new or different to help her cope with the intensity of her labor.  We had tried many positions, going to the bathroom, and vocalizing.  I remembered the previous offer of IV fluids and asked if she wanted to try that now.  She said that sounded like a good idea, and it really did help.  It gave her a fresh burst of energy and slowed her contractions down enough to where she was getting a slightly longer break in-between.

She became extremely inward, vocalizing and doing her best to relax through her contractions.  At one point, while in the bathroom, she suddenly got the urge to push, and I called the nurse.  Everyone came in, bustling about to get the room ready for a baby, while Chloe continued to do her thing.  The doctor arrived, and she began pushing in earnest at 2pm.  He was extremely impressed with her ability to move her baby down, and she was loving this new stage of labor!  She said it felt so much better to push!

Finally, at 2:41, Adara Rose made her entrance into the world after a 100%, drug-free labor.  Chloe and Matt made an awesome team, and it was a huge privilege to help them bring their daughter into the world!

Birth Matters

A few weeks back, my husband came home from having coffee with a friend, whose wife was almost full-term pregnant.  As we were tag-teaming taking care of kids and cleaning the kitchen, he told me that his friend's OB had scheduled a routine induction for his wife on the following Monday (she would have been 41 weeks along).  I immediately stopped what I was doing and asked him urgently, "Do they want me to send them some ideas for natural induction?" to which my husband replied that he didn't think they would be interested in that kind of information.  Since I hardly know these people, I didn't pursue it further.

But later in the day I was thinking about why I was so quick to want to help this woman that I hardly know avoid induction.  Was it because around 50% of first time moms who get induced end up with a cesarean?  Was it because of all the unknown (and known) risks of pitocin on baby, not to mention the fact that it makes laboring without pain medication next to impossible?

Yes, I think, it was those reasons.

But underlying it all is my deep conviction that birth matters.  Birth is such an utterly transforming experience, either for the good or the bad - or some of both.  And I want it to be good.  I so want birth to be positive for every woman.

Whether you realize it or not going into it, the birth experience you have will affect you in a profound way for the rest of your life.  Every woman I've talked to, no matter her age or how old her kids are, can remember exact details about how her birth went.  She can remember certain words that were spoken to her, whether she was treated with dignity and respect, or belittled.  And how we are treated in our most vulnerable moments... it sticks with us.  It becomes part of us.  It either builds us up as women who know we are capable and strong and able to conquer anything that gets thrown at us, or it subtly tears us down with lies that we are not good enough.

And so many women are believing these lies.  Insecurity and fear seem far too common in the women I interact with on a day-to-day basis.  These are huge issues!  And I just wonder... What if our society started treating childbearing women with more respect?  What if birth was viewed as a sacred right of passage instead of a scary medical event?  Would the trend among young mothers begin to be confidence over fear, strength over insecurity?  I do believe it would.

I think Ina May was onto something when she said, "When we as a society begin to value mothers as the givers and supporters of life then we will see social change in ways that matter."

I want to see it happen.

The Gift of Caring

I recently came across this quote by Henri Nouwen defining what it means to care.  

(I actually found the quote on a blog I follow, of a really amazing and beautiful mama of four who is struggling with deadly breast cancer.  I am so humbled and encouraged every time I read her words--I definitely encourage you to go read her story.)

 These thoughts, so potent and true, immediately reminded me of doula work, and the beauty of both caring for women and of receiving doula care.

Nouwen starts by going back to the root of the word care:

"What is care? The word finds its origin in the word Kara, which means to lament, to mourn, to participate in suffering, to share in pain. To care is to cry out with those who are ill, confused, lonely, isolated, and forgotten, and to recognize their pains in our own heart. To care is to enter into the world of those who are broken and powerless and to establish there a fellowship of the weak. To care is to be present to those who suffer, and to stay present, even when nothing can be done to change their situation."

To "participate in suffering" and to "share in pain" is probably one of the biggest gifts you can give a laboring woman.  Whenever I am attending a mom in labor, all her body language, her expressions, her movements, bring me right back to my labors, and I so vividly recall the intense and wild stretching and pressure and building and receding of labor waves.  I remember and in that moment I know where she is.  I match my movements to hers, my noises to hers, and encourage her partner to do the same.  And in those moments, she is not alone.  We are carrying her burden with her, supporting her with our presence, and entering into her world where weakness and surrender equal strength and victory.  We are wholly present with her, and that simple yet deeply profound act makes all the difference in how she will remember this story.

"To Care is the most human of all human gestures. It is a gesture that comes forth from a courageous confession of our common need for one another and the grace of a compassion that binds us together with brothers and sisters like ourselves, who share with us the wonderful and painful journey of life."

The confession of need is courageous, and humbling at the same time.  I know so well the look of a woman at the beginning of a contraction she knows will be strong, her eyes frantically searching for someone to support her.  Usually, she finds her husband or partner, and I use my words like a map, guiding them through the unknown terrain of labor.  If he happens to be away for a moment I step into an urgent embrace, and we sway and moan and make our way through the contraction together. 

"In the very act of caring for another, you and I possess a great treasure. One of the great riches of caregiving is that it embraces something more than simply a focus on cure. Caregiving carries within it an opportunity for inner healing, liberation, and transformation for the one being cared for and for the one who cares. And because we who offer care and we who receive care are both strong and vulnerable, though in different ways, our coming together in a caregiving relationship is an occasion to open ourselves to receive and unexpected gift."

One of the greatest and most unique things about caring for women as a doula is that I am not a medical caregiver at all.  There are doctors and nurses and midwives assigned with the task of ensuring physical health for mom and baby, which allows me the beautiful opportunity to just be; to focus on the emotional and the spiritual well-being of these vulnerable and courageous almost-mothers.  

It is my greatest belief about birth that it will shape you.  In the deepest, most profound ways, you will carry around your birth experience with you either as a dark and heavy burden, or as a memory of light and love and captivating beauty.  Or maybe a little of both.  I also believe that it is not the physical outcome of your birth, but the way you were cared for through it, that will determine how the memories of your birth will shape you.  So yes, with my clients we definitely prepare for and hope for and encourage and work toward natural birth.  But as a doula, my main goal is to ensure that my women are cared for and loved through whatever births they are given.

And in the giving of that care, I am on the receiving end, blessed with the gift of taking part in their stories.

*Photos taken by myself and midwife Karen.  See more of this birth here.

You Need to See This.

So one of my greatest friends is pregnant!  Again!  For the third time!

I was Chrissy's doula for numbers one and two, and have the great privilege of helping her and her husband, Seth, through their third birth late this coming summer.  She is awesome at labor, and Seth is an incredible coach.  I am so looking forward to seeing how this birth unfolds...

But for now, you have to watch their birth announcement video:

Thanks for the Journey

When I was in college, I swore that I would never have babies.  I wanted to adopt.  Because why go through the pain and torture of childbirth when there are lots of babies that need good loving homes?  Seriously, the culture, other women, and the media had all put an unholy fear of childbirth in my mind and I just decided that I didn't want to have any part of it.

Ten years later and my feelings about childbirth have been completely turned around.  I love childbirth.  My life has been completely and radically transformed by my experiences with it.  And I am so thankful.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I find myself giving thanks for women. For our bodies. For the strength that I see in every woman as I watch her labor and work and dig down deep to birth the baby she was born to mother.  Thanks for the privilege of becoming co-creators with God as we grow and birth and feed our babies with our bodies.  What a holy miracle!  What an indescribable blessing to take part in this sacred walk of life.  We are more blessed than we know.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  May you find some quiet moments in your day to still your heart and offer up thanks for this journey.



Reflections on my Fertility Journey

At this point in the life of our family, our household is a flurry of activity.  Our daughter, Lucy, is almost five, is learning to read, and developing into her own (awesome) person.  Augustine, our sweet baby, is an advanced-crawler and almost-walker, learning to sign and talk and is the sweetest little child ever.  I love this life, and am daily giving thanks for the two precious children entrusted to us.

Amid all this gloriously joyful chaos, it is too easy to forget the deep, dark valleys we walked through to get here.  My husband and I struggled through 15 months of infertility before each of our pregnancies (two-and-a-half years total of emotionally agonizing "trying").  We were blessed to have been able to get pregnant each time without medical help, although I did use herbs and acupuncture to help enhance my fertility along the way.  I am an expert at charting, thermometers, cervical mucous, ovulation, knowing the difference between the luteal phase and the follicular phase of your cycle, and how long each phase should be.  And in spite of the grief I experienced each time I completed a cycle without a pregnancy, I did come out of that time equipped with plenty of knowledge and empowerment when it came to knowing my body. (Fertility is now one of my favorite topics of conversation, coming in only second to pregnancy and birth. :)

So the reason I bring all this up now, when getting pregnant is not on my radar at all, is that I've gone on sort of a journey this past week.

I've been in physical therapy at Creative Therapeutics for low back pain for a good two months now.  I have been dealing with this pain ever since I first got pregnant with Auggie almost two years ago (although, thinking back, there was a tightness in a particular back muscle long before that).  I have been making good progress, although there is an incredibly deep and stubborn tightness that has been refusing to let go.  

At my session last week, my therapist, Lynn (who is awesome), had me lying on my side on a massage table in a dark, quiet room.  She was working her magic with all those muscles, when she asked the student observer to leave the room because she wanted to "go deeper" with me.  She had me close my eyes, go into my body and connect with the problem area in my back.  She asked what it looks like there:  dark, bright, cold, warm, etc.  It was difficult for me to get in touch with that part of my body, but when I finally did, I described it as a yellow, rotting color.  

"That's not good," she said.  

Then she asked how old I was, and counted back in fives from thirty.  "Twenty-five to thirty; twenty to twenty-five, fifteen to twenty," and on through in-utero.  She asked if any of those time frames stood out to me.  I wasn't sure, so she did it again, and I told her twenty to twenty-five stuck out.  She then counted back from twenty-five.  

"Twenty-five, twenty-four, twenty-three, twenty-two, twenty-one, twenty."  

"Twenty-four," I said.  

"Now picture yourself at twenty-four.  What did you look like; what was going on in your world?"

Overwhelmed with emotion, I realized, "...that was when I was wanting to have a baby, when we started our fertility journey, which took 15 months."

"Okay, now looking at your twenty-four-year-old self, what message to you have for her; what would you like to tell her."


"God is sovereign...  He is in control, and will work everything out for your good."

Lynn then asked if there was anything I felt like I should do for my twenty-four-year-old self.  I wasn't sure.  But she told me to do something symbolic for her this week.

Which brings me to today.  This morning during Auggie's nap, I decided to make a drawing of myself, holding my uterus, and letting it go.  Surrendering all worry and fear and pain to my Creator.

Not for a moment did you forsake me

You are constant

You are only good

You are sovereign

All to Jesus, I surrender; All to him I freely give

I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence freely live

I am really so glad I did this.  I never realized that I was still carrying the weight and sadness of that time around with me.  It was so good and healing to express surrender through this drawing. 

{While I was working on it, I was suddenly inspired to start a fertility support group.  I will be planning and working out the details of that soon; if you are interested, please be in touch!}

Peace and Joy to you, my friends, and blessings on your journey, wherever you may be. 

A Summer of Births

We are well into a good, solid routine in the Wheaton house, which is a comfort to my soul.  With the kids and husband in a groove with school and work, and a baby who still naps twice a day, I finally have a little free time to sit down and write a little update about what I've been up to.

This past summer was awesome!  

It was crazy, joyful, and sleep-deprived for this doula.  But it was awesome.  I was so blessed with lots of amazing clients over the summer months, and it was so much fun to develop friendships with all of them, while working alongside them, watching their labors unfold, and helping them conquer their births.  Instead of trying to re-cap them all myself, here are links to a couple of their stories, written by them:

In May, Kandy and John welcomed their 4th baby, sweet Payson, after a speedy labor (that I missed!).  I did make it in time to get some pictures, help Kandy with some post-birth stuff, and hang out with my midwife-friends. Read the story here!

Later in the summer, I almost didn't take Matt and Ashley on as clients, because my schedule was so full!  I decided that I could squeeze them in, though, and I'm so glad I did.  Ashley rocked a natural birth, and it was a joy supporting her through her labor.  Here's the story!

There are many more amazing stories that have yet to be written (c'mon, clients!).  As soon as they are, I'll post them here.

Happy Fall!

Courtney and Jason, welcoming their little bird, Phoebe

Doulas are for Dad's, Too!

Yesterday we had a really good time celebrating Father's Day with Greg's family.  The weather was ideal, the kids were happy, and we just hung out at my in-laws doing nothing and being together.  (A day of doing nothing is bliss for this mama!)  It was also a good to to reflect on fatherhood; how my dad's love for me shaped me into the woman I am today and how my husband is such an awesome dad to our kids.  I also had fun reflecting on the proud new papas I have served as a doula!

It's always amusing to me that, at interviews, the dad is usually pretty apprehensive about hiring a doula, but after the birth he is almost more grateful than the mom!  I think that labor support, especially for first-time dads, is really hard.  They've typically never seen a birth before, so to see their wife or partner going through such an intense ordeal can be very taxing emotionally.  He often has a hard time knowing how to support her, especially if she starts asking for drugs when he knows that she really wants a natural birth!  I can't imagine what it must be like seeing the person you love most in the world experiencing the crazy ride that is childbirth.

This is why I love my job so much.  As a woman having gone through childbirth twice before, and as a trained birth professional, it is so rewarding for me to deduce what a laboring mom needs at a certain point, and gently instruct her loving partner to know how to best support her.

I remember at one of my very first births (this couple happened to be some of our best friends), they were working so well together, swaying and relaxing through some of her most intense contractions.  And I just stood in the corner, giving the dad an occasional calm smile letting him know that everything was going perfectly.  When she went into the bathroom by herself, I just gave him a little pep-talk on what to expect over the next hour or two (she was entering transition, so I told him she would probably get emotional and start having some self-doubt).  Within minutes after her coming out of the bathroom, she started crying and saying she couldn't do it anymore, and it was so beautiful to watch her husband calmly tell her that she could, and that she was doing great, and how they fell into their perfect rhythm together again.

And last week I was at a birth with a super sweet couple.  Young, newly-married, first-time parents, they hired me at the last minute because someone in their birthing class told them that they HAD to have a doula (yeah!).  The dad had been very quiet and reserved throughout our prenatal meetings, and continued to be so during the birth.  During her labor, I just did my thing, helping his wife, giving her words of encouragement and prompting him to do the same, telling them both what to expect through each stage of labor, and really just guiding them through the process.  Toward the end when things were getting quite intense, she really needed some eye-contact to keep her grounded.  So I did that for awhile and breathed with her.  Then she went to the bathroom, came back and was lying on her other side facing her husband, so I said, "During this next contraction, I want you to really focus on her eyes, and breathe with her in rhythm."  It think it was really hard for him--he was crying quietly from seeing his wife in such a state, and I could tell he wanted to withdraw from the situation because it was just so emotionally overwhelming.  But I gave him a tissue and prompted him to stay close to her.  And they both got into this amazing zone together, connecting in a deep and meaningful way.  What a privilege it was to have facilitated such a beautiful moment!  Afterwards, at their follow-up visit, she told me that her husband had been telling a pregnant relative of theirs how much of a help I was, and that they should hire a doula, too. :)

So as much as I am passionate about women and our amazing bodies and all things birth/mothering related, I think dads are pretty cool, too.  I love creating a space where a couple can really connect without worrying about outside distractions, assuring them of the normalcy of birth as they work together to bring their baby into the world.  Whether it's getting dad a coffee and a sandwich, or showing him how to put pressure on his wife's back in just the right way, my goal is to help him to be as integrated and as involved in the birth process as possible.

Reflections on Mother's Day

"No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother's love. It shrinks not where man cowers, and grows stronger where man faints, and over wastes of worldly fortunes sends the radiance of its quenchless fidelity like a star." ~Edwin Hubbell Chapin

Before I had kids, I had no clue.  I had no idea how crazy and exhausting and challenging this thing called motherhood would be. 

Shortly after Lucy was born, Greg told me that he wanted to have more babies.  Like soon.  And I said, "no way!  Are you kidding me?  This is so hard!  It's so much work!"  Well, eventually I came around, and Auggie came to be.  And it seemed that the work of raising babies didn't just double.  It tripled, maybe even quadrupled.  I have no idea how that works, but trust me, going from one kid to two is insane.  And I hear it's equally or more so crazy adding a third.

But pre-kids I also had no clue how HUGE my heart could get with this fierce and tender mama-love for my offspring.  It is truly like nothing else. 

Yesterday I was watching Lucy's soccer game, and my eyes were just glued to her, so proud of her, and wanting the world to see what an awesome little person she is!  (It was 4-year-old AYSO soccer, and her team was getting crushed, but still my heart could have just burst watching her run around in her light blue jersey and shin guards up to her knees.) 

And last week I was at a conference and struck up a conversation with a complete stranger.  We got to talking about our kids, and I just couldn't help myself.  I whipped out my phone to show her a picture of my sweet son, Augustine, and gushed, "Isn't he just sooo cute?!"

Seriously, what has come over me??  I am addicted to my kids!

And so recently, when I become overwhelmed with stress and busy-ness and just needing a precious hour to myself, I stop.  And look at these two beautiful kids.  And just realize what an awesome blessing and privilege it is to have been entrusted with their care.  I'm learning to be joyful, and not resentful, when my pre-school sweetheart squeezes her juice box and douses me and the entire interior of our car with sticky-sweet liquid, or when my little alarm clock (read: baby boy) wakes me up two hours too early.  There is joy in the endless duty of washing diapers, wiping butts, trimming nails, picking up toys, playing pretend, and entertaining a fussy baby during the "witching hour" while simultaneously preparing a healthy meal for the entire family.

It is a blessing, a sacred privilege, this wild ride that is motherhood.  Am I overwhelmed?  Yes.  But it is a joyful, heart-swelling, place to be that will be over before I know it, and I am trying my best to treasure every (hair-pulling) second.