My Recap from Mom Congress 2019

From Sunday to Tuesday this week, I attended Mom Congress in Washington DC (see here). There were 150 of us from around the nation (almost all states were represented!), and I met incredible moms who are survivors of HELLP Syndrome, Preeclampsia, PPCM, Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, stillbirth, and miscarriage. It is an understatement to say that I was surrounded by incredible women who are no strangers to maternal challenges.

The purpose of getting all these strong women together was to speak to and petition our legislators about what is being called the MOMNIBUS, a collection of bills that would create standardization for maternal care surrounding birth, especially in the Medicaid program.

These are the four topics we discussed:

Maternal Mortality

In the US, we spend more on health care than anywhere else yet we have the worst maternal mortality rates in the developed world. We rank 46th out of the 184 countries in the world (see here).

About 700 women die from pregnancy-related complications each year, and 60% of those deaths are preventable (see here).

The leading complications are heart disease, stroke, infection, hemorrhage, and hypertension.

Our mortality rates have doubled in the last 20 years, and we are the only developed nation to have increasing maternal mortality rates.

For every maternal death we have in the US, 70 other mothers have a near-miss.

Maternal Mental Health

The staggering thing is that the leading cause of death in mothers the year after birth is mental health. Suicide is the biggest threat to new moms.

We’ve all heard about Postpartum Depression (PPD), but it’s little known that mothers can also suffer from anxiety (PPA), OCD, post-traumatic stress (PTSD), and psychosis.

Racial Disparities

African American and Native American women are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than Caucasian women.

In NYC, black moms are 12 times more likely to experience mortality than their white counterparts.

And: Respectful Perinatal Care

Many mothers are receiving unnecessary procedures that carry risk and cause complications, or they are being dismissed when they feel something is wrong and are prematurely discharged from care. I heard a lot of moms say this weekend:

“We knew something was wrong and no one listened.”

The current state of maternal care could be wrapped up in:

“Too much too soon, or too little too late.”

It’s clear in America: moms need more. We need more standardization in our health care system so fewer of us die in preventable ways after childbirth. We need more support after birth so fewer of us suffer from depression and other mood disorders that can stem from isolation and stress. We need more practitioners of color so that black, Hispanic, and native mothers can be heard and understood in our system again. We need mental health to be taken seriously so we aren’t dismissed as being “just sad” or a product of sleep deprivation.

So, the whole point of talking about all of this was to bring it to the attention of our representatives. Of course, you can’t make your representative do your bidding. But being there in their offices, it was apparent that those who represent us are eager to hear our stories. It’s hard to keep that in mind when all we see is sound bites and political memes.

Legislators are eager to hear from their constituents; they can’t read our minds and need us to tell them what matters to us and what we care about. Even if you can’t go to the office of your legislator, write an email or make a phone call. And (maybe most importantly) get involved in your state and local governments. Make an appointment. Walk in and tell your story and what you think should happen. Your words and opinions are valuable to those we delegate to make decisions on our behalf.

If you don’t know who represents you, click here if you live in Minnesota and here if you live elsewhere.

The MOMNIBUS I mentioned earlier consists of four pieces of legislation. If you’d like to take a look at the bills we were supporting, click on the links below for the associated proposed legislation.

How does Marabou support women?

We live in culture where “bouncing back” is more valued than proper rest. As admirable as it may be for a sports star to get back on the field, the same rules don’t apply to postpartum recovery. The traditional resting period has been stolen from women through pressure to get back to their job or simply through lack of presence.

Grandmas, sisters and best friends who otherwise would have been there to help a woman transition into motherhood often live too far away to be of any help. Household chores and caring for older children inevitably fall on the mom. But she just delivered a new life! She needs rest. 

Marabou Services is a unique gift registry which provides services instead of stuff. Most mom’s get too many onesies, too many baby blankets and not enough helping hands. Break out of a destructive cultural norm and start a Marabou registry today.

Start a Marabou Gift Registry!

With a Marabou registry you can sing up for any service which will benefit you or someone you know during the postpartum recovery period.

Postpartum doulas for a first time mom

House cleanings for moms of multiples

Childcare for moms with older children!

Once your registry is created, add it to any other registry or post it to your Facebook and ask friends and family contribute to your postpartum service, rather than buying you more stuff.

More and more moms find they have to figure out postpartum alone. Is it any wonder why PMDs are on the rise? Or women are embittered by the journey of motherhood? We can change that by giving the gift of peace.

YOU. You’re the Woman for this Job.

Mental vibes affect me immensely, so I often have to put up short mantras for myself. There is so much to do every day just as a mom; throw work on top of that and I about lose my mind on a daily basis! It’s easy to feel like an unfinished to-do list is a failure. Often, I need a little encouragement.

The latest boost on my wall is: “You’re the woman for this job.”

It reminds me that – for whatever reason – I’m the one doing this, here and now. I’m the one that’s here. My family is mine and mine alone. My business is not anyone else’s and even though I often feel unfit, I’m the one. This mantra is empowering. There are days it keeps my going despite crippling self-doubt.

I find myself disappointed by the way we judge each other. Facebook is a common deluge of critical thoughts or exclusive mentalities, encouraging us that there’s only one way to do things and raise kids. The reality is: we each have a unique family and a unique circumstance. As unique women, we are the only ones qualified to make the decisions that affect our people and our lives.

And you know, we should own it. Because we’re powerful enough for that role.

We are not perfect mothers. But it does no good to compare ourselves to each other when one is an apple and the other is an orange. You are the right fit for your family, and I’m the right fit for mine. You’re the right woman for the job of raising your kids. It’ll look different from the family next door or the perfect mom at the PTA meetings. That’s a good thing. The fact that we’re different ought to empower and uplift us – you’re irreplaceable! (Maybe that’s my next mantra)

If you’re reading this, focus on that today: you’re the woman for this job. You’re the right one, simply because you’re you. Own it, give yourself grace when you mess up (pfft, inevitable for all of us), and know that you’re the only one suited to be their mother.

How does Marabou support women?

We live in culture where “bouncing back” is more valued than proper rest. As admirable as it may be for a sports star to get back on the field, the same rules don’t apply to postpartum recovery. The traditional resting period has been stolen from women through pressure to get back to their job or simply through lack of presence.

Grandmas, sisters and best friends who otherwise would have been there to help a woman transition into motherhood often live too far away to be of any help. Household chores and caring for older children inevitably fall on the mom. But she just delivered a new life! She needs rest. 

Marabou Services is a unique gift registry which provides services instead of stuff. Most mom’s get too many onesies, too many baby blankets and not enough helping hands. Break out of a destructive cultural norm and start a Marabou registry today.

Start a Marabou Gift Registry!

With a Marabou registry you can sing up for any service which will benefit you or someone you know during the postpartum recovery period.

Postpartum doulas for a first time mom

House cleanings for moms of multiples

Childcare for moms with older children!

Once your registry is created, add it to any other registry or post it to your Facebook and ask friends and family contribute to your postpartum service, rather than buying you more stuff.

More and more moms find they have to figure out postpartum alone. Is it any wonder why PMDs are on the rise? Or women are embittered by the journey of motherhood? We can change that by giving the gift of peace.

15 Mantras for Accepting Postpartum Support from Others

No matter how difficult the postpartum period can be, we still think support after birth is a luxury. We are still reluctant to accept help in our homes. It’s uncomfortable to ask, and awkward to receive. What we don’t realize is that not having in-home help after childbirth is actually a NEW thing, an anomaly in the world. In other cultures, there are beautiful traditions – nourishing, postpartum-specific food in China; healing massage in India; frequent visits from your midwife in Latin America; and freedom from household obligations everywhere but here. While we see postpartum support and recovery as a luxury, it is actually a need.

If you are ever struggling to accept support, or you feel guilty over the effort of others on your behalf, focus on these truths:

I just gave birth, and I deserve to be supported.

Accepting help isn’t just good for me, it’s good for my baby and my community.

People love me, and they sincerely want to help.

I will accept help now so I can give help later.

Support from others nourishes my body, mind, and heart.

People are sincere when they offer help.

I am not meant to do this alone.

Mothers are valued; I’m worth supporting.

It brings people joy to support those they love, and that includes supporting me.

Everyone is happy to be here in my home.

Communities thrive when they surround a mother and her newborn with love and care.

My baby is magnetic; I am magnetic.

This support I’m receiving will make me strong and healthy.

The support I receive will make me strong enough to serve my family when I’m ready.

How does Marabou support women?

We live in culture where “bouncing back” is more valued than proper rest. As admirable as it may be for a sports star to get back on the field, the same rules don’t apply to postpartum recovery. The traditional resting period has been stolen from women through pressure to get back to their job or simply through lack of presence.

Grandmas, sisters and best friends who otherwise would have been there to help a woman transition into motherhood often live too far away to be of any help. Household chores and caring for older children inevitably fall on the mom. But she just delivered a new life! She needs rest. 

Marabou Services is a unique gift registry which provides services instead of stuff. Most mom’s get too many onesies, too many baby blankets and not enough helping hands. Break out of a destructive cultural norm and start a Marabou registry today.

Start a Marabou Gift Registry!

With a Marabou registry you can sing up for any service which will benefit you or someone you know during the postpartum recovery period.

Postpartum doulas for a first time mom

House cleanings for moms of multiples

Childcare for moms with older children!

Once your registry is created, add it to any other registry or post it to your Facebook and ask friends and family contribute to your postpartum service, rather than buying you more stuff.

More and more moms find they have to figure out postpartum alone. Is it any wonder why PMDs are on the rise? Or women are embittered by the journey of motherhood? We can change that by giving the gift of peace.

The Birth Story of my Firstborn

Each week, we share advice, encouragement, or guidance in navigating the postpartum phase and early motherhood. So, it only makes sense that I share the story that began it all – the birth of my first son, Steven.

This was a defining story for me, and I feel the need to share this positive experience, because too many American women are fed the idea that birth is a fearful thing. We’re told that birth is unbearable and taught to fear it because it will be the worst thing you’ve ever felt (and then the best). Childbirth – just like postpartum – is terribly misrepresented. So, I’m taking this opportunity to say, birth can be a beautiful and empowering experience.

My husband and I prepared for labor well; we primarily focused on the Mongan Method of Hypnobirthing (trust me, not as kooky as it sounds), but also borrowed positive experiences and tools from Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. The most important tool we utilized was practice. Nearly every day, I would listen to a calming script or my husband and I would go through one together. Rather than it being something that put me into a trance – which is what’s commonly assumed about it – it was something that taught me how to relax thoroughly, to be in control of my relaxation and focus, and to achieve a sort-of meditative state, like when you day dream. Essentially, it taught me to release tension and the ensuing restrictions it would put on my body.

Practice and knowledge were under my control, but I could not control the numerous negative stories and comments I received unsolicited from those around me. It was unwanted, but you can’t control what other people do or say. I learned to steel my mind against negative ideas like “pain” or “worst thing I ever felt.” I sought out and focused on positive birth experiences of other women to help battle the underlying effects negativity was having on my mind. Near the end, I was ready and confident.

There’s a reason we give up seats on the bus to pregnant and handicapped people. Even though I was healthy and able to stay active my whole pregnancy, in the last few weeks, I fatigued all the time. I could feel my body changing, my hips started to shift and open. I got pretty sore and achy. I would walk to the food market five minutes from our home, buy a bag or two of groceries, walk back home and be completely expired. I knew labor was imminent when I got a sudden burst of energy in the last couple days, as if my body was saying, ‘Ok lady, let’s do this!’

My husband and I used to sit in bed and watch my belly rise up and out of my abdomen and become this squarish rock in the early weeks of October. Then Saturday evening, October 12th, came along and I had more of these sensations and my thighs were tightening up. These were contractions, but I wasn’t certain at the time since they were tight, but not uncomfortable.

I woke up at 1 am and felt something start to come out of me. Then, it rushed out of me and I had no doubt in my mind that my water had broken! I rushed to the toilet and hollered for my husband, Curt.

Fluid just kept coming and coming. We eventually set me up on the couch – using garbage bags and towels – and Curt started to pack the final items in our hospital bag. We weren’t ready to leave yet, though, because we planned to labor as much as we could at home, advice we had been given from the Mongan method, since home is the most comfortable and familiar place. Contractions started coming right away. They were intense and required a lot of focus. While Curt was busy running around and packing, I timed them myself and they were a few minutes apart and anymore from 30 to 60 seconds in duration. We had time.

Initially, we had had a snack for energy. But as my labor progressed, I couldn’t keep anything down. I had read stories of vomiting during labor, usually as you are late in dilation, and it’s not cause for concern. Curt told me later that he was shocked, but the way I embraced it (it felt good!) let him know that it was ok.

Bradley talks about emotional signposts – women typically start labor excited and cheerful, get serious when they get wrapped up in the work that their body is doing, and then experience self-doubt when they are exhausted near the end. The 2nd emotional signpost – seriousness – is the recommended time to go to the hospital, since you will have progressed quite a bit, but you’re not in the final throes of labor.  

Despite our naivete we stuck it out at home and labored for about 5 hours. My body was definitely working, I had to focus through each contraction. The contractions were close – about 2 minutes apart – but I was cheerful and excited. Curt was with me rubbing my tight thighs and the intensity of my contractions were moderate, so we stayed put. Time stood still; we spent about three hours there, but to me, it felt like 15 minutes.

We moved to our living room, where a bench and birthing ball were kept. Apparently, it was here that Curt realized that I hadn’t laughed at any of his jokes for about 20 minutes, a huge red flag in his book. He knew I was entering the “serious” emotional signpost. He suggested that we make our way to the hospital, and I complied.

I told him later that maybe his jokes just aren’t that funny; he scoffed at the idea.

Around 5:30 am, 4-and-a-half hours after my water broke, we made it to the hospital. Thankfully, my midwife, Genie, was on duty! Genie came into the room to check my cervix and announced that I was fully dilated. Staying at home worked well for us and I think we made it to the hospital at the right time. Up to this point, my experience had been relaxed and pleasantly intimate with my husband, despite being up since 1 am.

The delivery room was a hectic blur of blood draws, hep locks (a port for intravenous fluids), and questions about medicinal allergies and diseases in the family. The room would stop to see me through a contraction and would continue promptly when my body was calm again.

The pushing phase was long. We were all over the room. I stood. I leaned. I squatted. I used pretty much every function of the amazing transformer bed we came to call Bedimus Prime. Although this was my first go at it, I was in tune with my body and the nursing staff respected my boundaries. They waited respectfully if I didn’t answer right away and I never felt badgered to do or be a certain way. I was able to feel and respond to the sensations of my body. Push now. Ok, not so much. Now relax; let yourself regroup for the next one. Just breathe.

Practice is an essential part of preparing for labor, but practice birthing a child? It took me a while to get into the groove, and I had a lot of helpful advice from my midwife. Instinct got me part of the way but I realized I had to bite down and get my body to work. I had to breathe that baby down and push at the right time. My body was doing its part, so now I had to do mine.

I started to get discouraged. I felt like I wasn’t making progress. Remember the final emotional signpost, “self-doubt”? Yeah, it’s real. Everything about this labor experience was textbook, and still I doubted myself in those final moments. Encouragement and affirmation are priceless, and having the right emotional support going into labor makes a world of difference. Fortunately, my team was there and reminding me that I was doing well and making progress.

Taking a big inhale during a contraction and then a slow exhale while focusing downward, suspending the exhale at the end with an oomph was the trick that worked for me and my body. Each time, it helped to give a low-toned and long oooooooomph. I ended up being on all fours leaning up the back of the bed, shifting my pelvis back with each exhale. His head felt so low, and was hanging halfway out for the last bit. Then he popped out! It was a bit of a shock! I’d been at it for so long, but the moment he was born just kind of came upon us in one big push.

They told me to grab my baby and I was able to reach down and grab our son; I was the first one to hold him. The room erupted with energy; it had been quiet and dim, but nurses jumped in right away, rubbing and aspirating the crying, slimy baby in my hands. I was helped onto my back with baby across my stomach. I had a lot of bleeding and needed Genie to do some work on me. The placenta was delivered swiftly. Once the small tears were repaired and placenta was out, everyone left the room to give us time with our son.

The next hour-and-a-half was pure bliss. I could not believe the creature wriggling around on my chest was our kid! He moved around, rooting to be fed. It was amazing to watch his instinctual behavior when he was just minutes old. I just stared at him as he crawled around looking for the breast. After watching him and getting to know him a bit, we decided to name him Steven Bruce, after our fathers. The name suits him well.

A corpsman came in and helped Curt give Steven his first bath. The also weighed him – 8 pounds 7 ounces! Bigger than both me and Curt at birth!

We spent about 4 hours in the delivery room after Steven was born and then moved to our postpartum room to enjoy our new baby. We made our calls home to tell family and friends, got some much-needed rest, and ate lunch. The labor was good and the delivery uneventful. It was, dare I say, an enjoyable experience.

I hope our birth story can encourage expecting mothers and provide a positive example of labor and delivery. Our fear-driven society comes up with all sorts of ways to inspire women to dread birth. Don’t fall into that trap, but don’t become inflexible. Examples of trauma do exist because they do occur. Hope for the best, but prepare for the various scenarios you may encounter. In the end, remember: with proper support, you got this! You are more powerful than you know.

How does Marabou support women?

We live in culture where “bouncing back” is more valued than proper rest. As admirable as it may be for a sports star to get back on the field, the same rules don’t apply to postpartum recovery. The traditional resting period has been stolen from women through pressure to get back to their job or simply through lack of presence.

Grandmas, sisters and best friends who otherwise would have been there to help a woman transition into motherhood often live too far away to be of any help. Household chores and caring for older children inevitably fall on the mom. But she just delivered a new life! She needs rest. 

Marabou Services is a unique gift registry which provides services instead of stuff. Most mom’s get too many onesies, too many baby blankets and not enough helping hands. Break out of a destructive cultural norm and start a Marabou registry today.

Start a Marabou Gift Registry!

With a Marabou registry you can sing up for any service which will benefit you or someone you know during the postpartum recovery period.

Postpartum doulas for a first time mom

House cleanings for moms of multiples

Childcare for moms with older children!

Once your registry is created, add it to any other registry or post it to your Facebook and ask friends and family contribute to your postpartum service, rather than buying you more stuff.

More and more moms find they have to figure out postpartum alone. Is it any wonder why PMDs are on the rise? Or women are embittered by the journey of motherhood? We can change that by giving the gift of peace.

Six Things to Look for in a Prenatal Provider

A prenatal care provider is the medical professional who oversees your care during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Most providers are obstetricians or midwives, but they can also be family practitioners or even a chiropractor.

Ensuring that they are trained and licensed should be a no-brainer, and that’s not what I’m going to talk about here. You absolutely need to trust that they can keep you physically safe during and after labor.

What I’m talking about is the kind of person they are and the kind of support they give you in order to make you feel emotionally safe. As with many other things, it’s crucial to your well-being in this phase that you feel entirely loved and supported. Seriously.

So, when looking for a prenatal care provider, seek out someone who is:

1) Emotionally Supportive

You are an entire woman, not just a body, and the experience you’ll have during birth has as much to do with how safe you feel emotionally as with how well prepared you are. I wouldn’t say I was skeptical of the impact emotional safety can have on labor, but after personally experiencing a stalled labor because of an abrasive OB that made me feel emotionally unsafe, I am a firm believer.  

During my third labor, the OB on duty treated me poorly and condescendingly while giving me a speech about all the things that could go wrong during labor and concluded with the thought that she might have to remove my uterus. Whaaaaaat! Yep, baby decided to cool her jets after that last part. Fortunately, labor picked up again when that OB turned over and the new doctor on duty was supportive and in tune with my emotional well-being, not just what my body was doing.

2) Open to discussion and questions

Who knows all the things about pregnancy and birth before starting a family? NO ONE. You’ll have questions. You’ll have a lot of questions! And your preferences for birth will develop as you research labor, breastfeeding, and infant bonding. Your provider should be open to the questions you have and patiently answer them with objective concerns and options. They don’t have to agree with all your preferences. Remember, they are a member on YOUR birth team; they are not giving birth, you are.

3) On the same page

Ideally, you and your provider will have similar sentiments and values when it comes to birth. Want to do it unmedicated? Don’t choose an OB who caveats all scenarios with the option of a cesarean or induction. Want a planned C-section? Don’t sign on with a super hippie, let’s-give-birth-in-a-field midwife who keeps hoping you’ll go into spontaneous labor before your scheduled surgery. You want your team aligned in most things, but don’t think you’ll have to agree on everything. Shoot for 80% and I think you’ll be fine, as long as respect is still there.

4) Willing to give you options, not pressure

Birth is unpredictable, we all know this. Even if you’ve given birth before, you can’t say how this time will go. This is why we call them birth preferences. Even when labor gets derailed and your original hope is no longer viable, choosing a provider who is going to support your decisions in the moment is far more valuable than a doctor who is going to pressure you because of hospital policy or the way they prefer to do things. Your provider should be willing to give you options before and during labor, but understand that they are not the one making the decisions – YOU are.

Birth trauma is becoming better documented as awareness increases. Often, birth trauma is caused when doctors start making medical decisions for the mother, instead of informing and educating her to make them herself. Your medical care provider is essential for advising you medically, but it is inappropriate for them to decide for you or pressure you into a certain path without medical necessity.

5) Eager to know you

The perinatal phase is a year-long relationship. I’ve been blessed so far with active duty Navy midwives that were eager to get to know me and give me the best care they could. We both looked forward to my appointments to catch up and talk birth! I felt truly cared for; they were simultaneously my medical provider and friend.

Ideally, you will feel a bond with whomever is assisting you in birth. That emotional connection is important, really! Find someone who prioritizes building a relationship, not content just being your medical provider. This paves the way for my point above about establishing emotional security before entering labor and experiencing a truly supported birth.

6) Will accommodate a variety of postpartum care options

If you loath putting your newborn in a car seat to run errands as much as I do, going to see your doctor is no less unpleasant. But there is hope on the horizon. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 736 discusses how medical providers should provide more ways to care for postpartum women other than the traditional office visit.

“Assessment need not occur as an office visit, and the usefulness of an in-person assessment should be weighed against the burden of traveling to and attending an office visit with a neonate. Additional mechanisms for assessing women’s health needs after birth include home visits, phone support, text messages, remote blood pressure monitoring, and app-based support. Phone support during the postpartum period appears to reduce depression scores, improve breastfeeding outcomes, and increase patient satisfaction, although the evidence is mixed.”

Is your provider on board with other options that don’t require you travel to them and tax yourself? You’ve got yourself a winner.

How does Marabou support women?

We live in culture where “bouncing back” is more valued than proper rest. As admirable as it may be for a sports star to get back on the field, the same rules don’t apply to postpartum recovery. The traditional resting period has been stolen from women through pressure to get back to their job or simply through lack of presence.

Grandmas, sisters and best friends who otherwise would have been there to help a woman transition into motherhood often live too far away to be of any help. Household chores and caring for older children inevitably fall on the mom. But she just delivered a new life! She needs rest. 

Marabou Services is a unique gift registry which provides services instead of stuff. Most mom’s get too many onesies, too many baby blankets and not enough helping hands. Break out of a destructive cultural norm and start a Marabou registry today.

Start a Marabou Gift Registry!

With a Marabou registry you can sing up for any service which will benefit you or someone you know during the postpartum recovery period.

Postpartum doulas for a first time mom

House cleanings for moms of multiples

Childcare for moms with older children!

Once your registry is created, add it to any other registry or post it to your Facebook and ask friends and family contribute to your postpartum service, rather than buying you more stuff.

More and more moms find they have to figure out postpartum alone. Is it any wonder why PMDs are on the rise? Or women are embittered by the journey of motherhood? We can change that by giving the gift of peace.