Liberian trip highlights why breastfeeding education important

Liberian trip highlights why breastfeeding education important

A Warman mom and doula recently saw first-hand the contrast and importance of available birth education, especially around breastfeeding, when she supported new moms in another continent.

This past spring, Lindsay Bitner travelled to a town near Monrovia, Liberia for missionary work. She and five other members of the Awakening Church in Warman joined two others from Winnipeg, and formed a team with a medical doctor, three nurses, and two support people from British Columbia.

The team set up a clinic that was based out of an orphanage, using the school on the compound. There were separate rooms for registration, nurses, treatment, the doctor to see patients, prayer, and then one set aside for long-term care. Many people who needed IVs stayed in that room, but it was also where Lindsay did breastfeeding education.

“Once they (the team) found out I was a doula, they were like, ‘OK, all the pregnant moms, all the newborns, are coming to you.’”

Lindsay, who is a mom herself with three young children, saw any new mom that came through, offering her breastfeeding tips and education, including checking their latch. A big part of education was talking about mom’s nutrition. She says many moms were only eating once a day and often only drinking two cups of water a day, so we had to see if they could eat or drink more.

The struggle there, says Lindsay, is that the country has 80 per cent unemployment, so sometimes eating more food just isn’t an option.

Many moms asked for formula or hinted about it (at least 80 per cent, but she says it could have been almost 100), noting the baby would cry after a feed and worrying they weren’t getting enough, and if a baby was malnourished, they were given a bottle of formula.

“There were maybe 2 or 3 moms who were confident they were feeding their baby well. I did see ads for formula, which really broke my heart, because there’s no advertising for breastfeeding.”

Lindsay says the work was

As a mom and doula, Lindsay ended up providing a great deal of breastfeeding training to moms on a recent mission to Liberia.

Given the unemployment situation and concerns around safe drinking water, the big concern is formula isn’t a sustainable option for many.

“I did make sure to tell every one of them that what they were eating was really important to make the best milk for their baby. I made sure to emphasize that if you keep nursing and if you’re eating and drinking enough, your body is gong to make exactly what your baby needs, and formula can’t do it. And also making sure they understood that as soon as you stop nursing, it’s really hard to get it going again.

I explained it as a vitamin for them versus a dependency on it for all of their meals in hopes that it would last.”

“Trying to educate them that if you only do this, then you won’t have milk left, and you won’t be able to afford formula,” explains Lindsay.

“I taught a lot of moms that: if a baby looked malnourished, we would give formula, but encouraged them to keep breastfeeding and more often, because it is clean and affordable. The hygiene of it and affordability of it are the important factors, whereas here it’s not as big of a deal.”

A couple stories really stood out for Lindsay. The first woman she saw had her seventh baby with her, who looked undernourished.

“The mom said, ‘I can’t feed her because it’s so painful.’ Her nipples still looked really raw and awful even though the baby was four weeks old. I showed her how to get a wider latch.”

And even though many patients spoke English, the team often had a translator – a 22-year-old guy.

“By the end, he had a breastfeeding education and could tell the moms what to do without me explaining first for him to translate,” laughs Lindsay.

“Once this particular baby got a good latch, the mom exclaimed, ‘Wow, that doesn’t hurt as much,’ and that felt really good because I was helping one mom.”

Anyone I taught, I said, ‘Make sure you tell everyone you know that you need to have the areola in the mouth!”

A heartbreaking story that stood out was an auntie who brought in her three-month-old niece, whose mother had passed away two weeks ago. The baby was being fed water and glucose.

“We made up formula for baby, who took the bottle well. In the hour that she was there, she brightened up a lot. We sent that auntie home with four cans of formula in hopes that that would tide them over until they could get some money to get some formula.”

One of the interesting parts of her experience was hearing the moms talk about their birth experiences. She noted many aren’t afraid to have a home birth, and was fascinated because their rates of epidurals versus not were the exact opposite as here.

“I talked to a midwife and we were talking about the differences, and she said they have a 15% epidural rate (only for emergencies), whereas I heard a nurse say with a client of mine that there is an 85% epidural rate here.”

Lindsay says some of the teen moms who came through the clinic were afraid of birth and labour, so she did a mini prenatal prep class for them, but she says any mom who had had a baby wasn’t as worried.

Lindsay admits that while the experience was enriching and rewarding, it was also heartbreaking.

“We had seen the community Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and it got pretty overwhelming because by Wednesday, it was the people who were pretty desperate. I had to take a longer lunch, I just wanted to do more. ‘Can I not eat today so they can eat?’ I asked.  Our team leader said, we are doing the best we can, we have to help the one person in front of us, we have to love the one person in front of us, and hope that it goes beyond that.’

“I clinged to that because what else can you do? There is nothing else you can do.”

What I do as a postpartum doula

What I do as a postpartum doula

Recently I was asked by a mom of a newborn and toddler what exactly is it I do as a postpartum doula. The conversation made me think this would be a good time to do a blog post! While I list what I do here on my website, I thought I’d write about what I’ve specifically provided for different clients, because everyone’s needs are different, and I tailor my services to their needs.

I recently served a couple who had their first baby. They did not have a lot of family living nearby, but saw the benefits of mom taking it easy after birth, like moms do in other cultures. When I would visit their home, I didn’t actually spend a lot of time with mom, who had created her own little nest for her and their baby upstairs in their home. If she and baby weren’t resting when I arrived, I would check in with them to see if she needed any help or a drink or snack. Then I would spend the majority of my time in the kitchen, where I cooked meals: I would make recipes we had agreed upon before my arrival, and often more than one, so that there were both meals and snacks available to mom and dad. I would also then clean the kitchen, I often cleaned the upstairs washroom, and I would take out the garbage and recycling when I left. During one visit, I cleaned out the fridge and threw away any condiments that had expired (I joked to my husband that in the three years we’ve lived in our current home, I’ve never done that!). Over the course of my visits, I helped with breastfeeding, bathing the baby, sterilizing breast pump and bottle parts, and I put together a Mamaroo.

Mmmmm banana walnut muffins. Easy to make and great for moms to have on hand. One of the snacks I made for a client.

Another client I served gave birth to her second baby, who arrived earlier than expected (aside from being early, baby was and is healthy and continues to do well!). While I normally visit clients once a week, she and her family had more immediate needs in a shorter time period, so we made arrangements for me to do multiple visits during a week. On my first visit, my main task was to rearrange the living room furniture to accommodate a bed so mom wouldn’t have to go upstairs. During another visit, I picked up groceries and a prescription for mom. (Kind of funny story here: she gave me her card to pay, and when I went to tap it, it didn’t work. Since I didn’t know her pin, I pulled out my debit card. The clerk was looking at me strangely, asking, “You don’t want to try your pin?” Um, no, I don’t….!) During another visit, I played with her toddler and organized all of the new baby’s clothes and folded and put away laundry. I probably did other household tasks I don’t recall: I always try to take out the garbage when I leave and to leave the home tidier than when I arrived, even if it’s just something small like wiping down counters or picking up toys.

This mom had support: her husband is extremely helpful in that he does a lot of the cooking and laundry. Her mother was also visiting for an extended period of time. After my first visit, mom texted me to say she could just feel the relief in her partner and her mother. During one of my visits, the grandma called me an angel. I was touched beyond belief! Sometimes I wonder how much I am helping people, but help comes in many forms, and you can never have too much support. Everyone needs a break at some point and having a new baby is mentally, physically, and emotionally draining on everyone to some degree.

Here is another scenario: mom and dad are having their second baby, and they know from their first experience that they would like some additional help for mom, who suffered from postpartum depression. I met with them in advance of baby being born, and we actually talked through and developed a postpartum plan. I really recommend this. As the dad said, it helped keep him accountable for what he said he would do, but it also meant mom couldn’t get upset with him if he wasn’t doing another task. It puts mom and dad on the same page, and it provides them with resources ahead of time so if mom is having a bad day after baby comes, there is no scrambling for help: resources and numbers to call are listed in the plan.

My visits with this family are different each time. I have sat with mom and listened to her share her birth story; I have held her newborn so she could take her older child and one of their dogs for a walk, so she could take a blissfully hot shower and do her hair, so she could take her eldest trick-or-treating, or so she could run an errand child-free; I have showed her how to use her wrap (I can show you from my own experience as a mama, but like this mom, you can always bring in someone who is certified for more help and to try different carriers!); I have done laundry; I have cleaned the bathroom; I have played with the older child.

Win-win: I get baby snuggles, and mom gets some time to herself or time with her older child. Photo used with permission.

For both of the two previous moms I’ve mentioned, I brought them different teas to help with breastfeeding. And even though I may only see a client once a week, I am in constant touch with them if they need and want it: I try to balance being helpful without being a pest! I am always available for questions. I find mom evidence-based articles when she does have questions, I point her to more resources if she needs them, but most importantly, I am a non-judgemental ear when she needs someone to listen and to reassure her that she is not alone and that she is doing a great job. Family is a great support, but a postpartum doula is great because I have no ties to your family, I’m not part of the family dynamic, so there is no baggage or opinion there. I also don’t give unsolicited advice and frankly try to give little advice: instead I try to offer support and resources so mom can make the decision best for her.

So what I do a postpartum doula really varies, depending on what mom needs. We work that out in advance of baby being born, or if baby surprises us and comes earlier than expected, we go with the flow and plan in advance of each visit!

If postpartum support is something you or a friend or family could benefit from (postpartum support would make a great baby shower gift!), please get in touch. I would love to hear from you and hear how I could best serve you and your family. Every woman can benefit from some form of postpartum care and support.

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Every mom has her struggles

Every mom has her struggles

I tell moms all the time: you need to take care of yourself in order to take care of others.

I know first-hand how hard it can be to follow this advice.

I also tell moms: motherhood can be hard, but you’re not alone.

Because I haven’t been following my own advice, I’ve found myself feeling overwhelmed and isolated. Ironic, right? I’ve come to realize, though, that I’ve been focusing so much on helping other moms that I’m not doing the best I can for myself.

I’m sharing all of this not so much for your sympathy or pity, but so you realize every mom has her struggles, including me.

In some ways, I have tried to reach out, but I’ve found this difficult now that I’ve moved into a caregiving position. In other ways, I’ve felt isolated or maybe even isolated myself.

I’m always excited when a support group for moms is established, and when a new one recently began, I contacted one of the organizers about coming as a support for moms. I was asked to not attend so attendees weren’t overwhelmed by facilitators or experts. What I should have asked was, Can I attend as a mom myself? Because the night of the meeting rolled around, my husband was working out of town, and I found myself at home with my toddler, feeling sorry for myself, lonely and excluded.

To do something fun for myself, I signed up for a class where my toddler was in childcare in the next room. I thought it’d be a great opportunity to meet some moms and who knows, maybe gain a friend or two. There was an incident where my son was crying in the adjoining room (door closed and locked, but I could hear him and see the tears through the door opening). I tried to get to him and was stopped, informed the policy was for the caregiver to take care of it. I bawled on the car ride home, asking myself, Was it because I felt I’d been admonished in front of my peers? Because I felt peer pressure and then didn’t respond and be the parent I wanted to be? Because it made me feel even more alone in my parenting choices? D, all of the above.

I tell you these stories not to throw shade on anyone. In the above case, the instructor forgot to send me the policy beforehand: these things happen. We are all busy moms, we are all being pulled in multiple directions, and we all have our own struggles. That is my point. If you want to look to me as someone who has it all together all the time, I am not the support person for you. If you want someone who is real, struggling sometimes, and needs support herself, that is me. I’d rather be honest than pretend because pretending doesn’t help anybody.

I want to attend meetings both to support moms but also for my own support; however, I worry about coming across as disingenuous, like I’m attending for business reasons only. The truth is, it’s the opposite. It’s because at times I am lonely.

Lonely because I work from home while also being with my son. Working from home is a blessing because I get to be with my son. It is also stressful, trying to get my work as a web and social media editor done, while entertaining my child enough so he isn’t on an iPad all day. Add in trying to grow a postpartum business, and I’m often overwhelmed. Cranky. Resentful of the job I once loved even though it gives me the freedom and flexibility I want. It feels like most women with toddlers his age are not at home (I realize I don’t just need friends with kids the same age, and I’m grateful for the many I do have). Lonely because he is still nursing, and on top of not knowing many women at home with toddlers, I know even fewer whose toddlers are breastfeeding.

Lonely because for whatever reason, our son doesn’t want to say very many words, even though he knows his colours, the alphabet, numbers. It can be hard to be around people with toddlers who talk a mile a minute or parents who ask, He’s still not talking much yet? I feel like I’m justifying my son’s intelligence, that he is developing at his own pace (which I believed before and continue to believe after seeing a speech pathologist who couldn’t offer us much advice), and I shouldn’t feel the need to do that. That’s on me, not others. I know people are mostly curious but of course I worry about them judging him. We all want the best for our children, and we all worry about them being labelled as “different.”

I’ve written this post over the course of a few days, and I’m feeling way better. Since I first wrote down my thoughts, I’ve had conversations with numerous women in my life. Strong, wise women, who have made me realize I’m not alone, that I have a very solid tribe behind me, and that like everything, this is a hard season, but it is a season that will pass. Thank you to these wonderful women. I also attended and was welcomed at a support meeting for moms and was reminded again that we are all struggling at times, some more than others. Together, we are stronger.

Last night I went to my weekly yoga practice, one of the things I do regularly for my self-care. The instructor suggested next time we feel anger or distress to breathe in the moment and try to just acknowledge the feeling and then let it go. Similar to what my husband reminds me and what a journalist once told me: it’s important not to wear other people’s stories or pain. I found myself crying because I’ve definitely had moments in the last little while where I found myself frustrated with my son, unfairly, when I know it’s not him who is causing me the distress. I also know when you are down, it can be hard to practice gratitude, even if you know your life is great. And I know mine is.

I like to think crying last night was a release and a fresh start to a new week. One where I will continue trying to focus on the mantra I say to others: Be kind to others, but most importantly be kind to yourself.

I will still be here if you need me. Please don’t hesitate to contact me. But for the next little bit, I have to focus more on me so I can get myself back to where I need to be for myself, my child, and my husband. If you need me, I’ll be in my garden or at the spray park. Come say hi, and bonus points if you give me a hug or a coffee!

Training gives First Nations women confidence to support breastfeeding moms

Training gives First Nations women confidence to support breastfeeding moms

Melanie Flett knows first-hand what it’s like to want to breastfeed a baby, but to not have the support that makes it easier.

“I was surrounded by family who didn’t know much about it,” the 22-year-old mother from Red Earth Cree Nation says as she looks back on her experience nursing her son. “But I was determined to exclusively breastfeed him.”

That’s why Flett is taking training to become a peer support for other nursing moms on Saskatchewan’s First Nations.

“The lack of support I had being a new mom…it was overwhelming. Support is very important. I would love to be there and support other moms.”

Thanks to funding from the First Nations Inuit Health Branch, Flett is participating in one of four peer support trainings offered across the province.  Around 50 moms will be taking the training between Prince Albert, Onion Lake, Okanese, and Treaty 6.

breastfeeding-web

Melanie Flett (right) is training to become a peer support for other breastfeeding moms. Jana Stockham, lactation consultant with Cindy & Jana and one of the facilitators of the Prince Albert conference, is one of the facilitators providing the training.

 

Kelsey Ring is a registered dietician with the Prince Albert Grand Council, and one of the facilitators of the training.

“During university and my first year of work, I realized that I had a passion for infant nutrition and the special bond that breastfeeding creates between mom and babe.”

According to Statistics Canada, 89 per cent of Canadian mothers in 2011-2012 initiated breastfeeding soon after their child’s birth. Six months later – the length of time the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding – 26 per cent were still breastfeeding. The WHO recommends continuing to breastfeed while foods are introduced up to 2 years and beyond. In addition to many health benefits breastfeeding provides mom and her baby, which adapt to a child’s needs as they grow or get sick, it also meets many emotional needs of a child.

Some barriers breastfeeding moms can face include lack of knowledge, social norms (some communities see bottle feeding as the norm), poor family or social support (spousal support is key to breastfeeding success), embarrassment (such as being shamed for nursing in public), or lacking access to support – exactly what this training hopes to combat.

In addition to Ring, the other facilitators are lactation consultants from Saskatoon and Prince Albert, as well as public health nurses, including retired RN Georgina Quinney. She started a very successful breastfeeding peer support program in Shoal Lake and ran it for 15 years. She is the inspiration for expanding training to multiple First Nations, says Ring.

“I facilitated a training session with Georgina about two years ago and saw what a difference it was making in Shoal Lake and surrounding communities,” notes Ring. “When an opportunity for funding came up, we submitted a proposal to host the training (which has never been done on this scale here before).”

The training follows the American WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Breastfeeding Peer Support Training program quite closely – with adaptations for First Nations women living in Saskatchewan.

The goal of the conference is to build confidence and empower First Nations moms to support and promote breastfeeding within their communities.

“All of these moms have the knowledge through their own breastfeeding experiences. We just want them to feel comfortable and confident talking to other moms about it,” explains Ring. “We also realize that the support provided by peers is unique and, in combination with support from their health care providers, plays a key role in breastfeeding success.”

Flett also encourages moms to empower themselves before their baby is born.

“Attend prenatal classes. Read the books or pamphlets about pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding just so you gain some understanding. Because being a new mom can be overwhelming. Reach out for help when needed.”

Note: I originally wrote this article for Eagle Feather News

A nursing passion for postpartum

A nursing passion for postpartum

While Andrea Ulmer, RN, IBCLC, didn’t always plan or dream of going into nursing, she found her calling once she made the decision to enter the college. She works in postpartum at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon and the passion and love she puts into her work deserve to be highlighted. In addition to having a huge heart and a desire to help women as much as she can, she recently added to her skillset and became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Here is her story.

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Q: Did you always want to work in postpartum? How did you come to work in that area?

You could say being a nursing student taught me a lot about what I did not want to do with this career. What areas I never saw myself working in. I really had no idea what areas did or did not interest me when I first started the program. I was not exposed to postpartum till 3rd year and I was nervous in the beginning. I specifically remember being absolutely terrified to bathe a newborn!

It was in 4th year that I fell in love. There is no question in my mind the RN I was placed with as my preceptor had a direct impact on my career; she was the nurse I wanted to be. My first shift with her I was extremely nervous. She appeared as though having me as her sidekick was likely as fun as having rocks in your shoes; annoying! But we grew to work well together and I am forever grateful for everything that woman taught me. I was fortunate enough to work alongside her as a colleague for several years until she retired, and it was an absolute honour. It is safe to say she had a major impact on my choice to stay on postpartum.

I also remember vividly having an interview with the manager at the time when I was considering working there as a Grad Nurse. Coming out of nursing, many expect new grads to take jobs on medical or surgical floors to gain experience and maintain skills. Now I knew I did not want to do that, but the pressure and comments made had me second guess my path. When I mentioned this in my interview, this manager simply asked me “is that the nurse you want to be? Do you want to be the nurse with those skills?” And I answered with confidence” no”. And her reply was then “why would you choose an area you do not enjoy to keep skills you do not want?” She was the first person that gave me the feeling that it was ok to choose postpartum as a new grad. It felt like permission to choose a path less traveled. Without her I would not be where I am today, so I owe a lot to her as well. Plus she gave me a job so she’s high on my list of wonderful women!

Q: What do you love most about working in postpartum?

Oh where to start?! I get the pleasure and sometimes challenge of working with people from all walks of life. I have the privilege of being a part of some of the most important moments in families lives. I have witnessed unimaginable joy, and also heartbreaking and devastating sorrow. While each shift has similar routines and expectations, there is not one day the same as the next.

Helping families get to know their newborns is truly a gift. I cannot describe what it feels like to witness the joy in a mom’s face when her baby latches well for the first time. Or when a dad tucks his baby in skin to skin and he/she stops crying. I have laughed with families, I have cried with families, and I have been honoured to participate in many monumental memories with each of the families I have encountered.

I am also exposed to so many different cultural and personal beliefs, I am learning something new every day.

Q: What do you find most challenging about working on postpartum?

The general complaint that I think most nurses across the board would say is staffing. I am forever saying that we could be providing so much more for our families with the proper resources and time. When we are short staffed, or left to run at a busy pace based on our current models, the care we provide and the families’ experience suffers. And I never feel ok with that. Nothing feels worse than walking out at the end of a shift knowing there was so much more that needed to be done in that 12 hours for those families. It’s hard knowing what kind of nurse you have the ability to be, but working in such limiting environments and not having the opportunity to give your full potential.

Another challenge is differing opinions, practices, and approaches amongst coworkers. Again, I think this is found in any area of work. There will always be people doing one thing two different ways. Postpartum is an area with great leeway in terms of practice. I can go to work and give 95% of my efforts, and have the following nurse come on providing very little but essentially getting the same things accomplished. Only the experience for the family can be drastically changed based on who they interact with. It’s proven to be extremely hard to uphold standards in terms of providing the absolute best for the patients. I would say that is my greatest battle there. But I just keep showing up and try to give my best effort every time. It’s all I can do.

Q: Has becoming a mom impacted how you view your work on postpartum? How?

Absolutely yes. Before having a child I could only imagine what it felt like, could only assume what the sleeplessness and sore nipples and torn vagina was really all about. And then I experienced it. All of it!

My personal breastfeeding journey was not a pretty one. I went into it with the idea of “if it works, great, and if not, I am not going to wear myself down working for it”. I had witnessed so many women put so much pressure on themselves, and I swore that would not be me. And then, it was me. It started off alright, though there was some discomfort. Now being a postpartum nurse who happens to be extremely stubborn and struggles greatly with asking for help, I battled through the beginning and probably could have benefited from some advice. But by about the 4th month, my supply started to dwindle and my son’s weight gain was slowing. And I tried really hard to keep it going, taking domperidone and pumping every chance I got. But it was not enough, and on Dec 28th, 2010 I was standing in line at Walmart buying formula and crying. The girl behind me asked how old my baby was and when I said almost 5 months, she made a comment about why I was not breastfeeding. So here I was, trying to explain to a complete stranger that I had trouble with supply, and her response was “I had so much milk I could have fed other kids as well as my own”..oh the defeat, and the utter disappointment I felt was enough to send me into a spiral of sadness. Clearly it is a moment that has stuck with me, I remember the damn date!

So coming back to work, I vowed that if I had a mom willing to break her back to try and breastfeed, I would break my back right alongside her. I would come to know the strong desire to make it work, and the willingness to do anything for it. My heart still bleeds for those that struggle, and I often share my own story when it seems appropriate to do so. Sometimes a woman just needs to hear she’s not alone.

It’s also helped to have the ability to relate to labour stories. Again, knowing there are no two labours the same in this world, but hearing similar stories or symptoms to my own has been a great way to connect with patients.

Q: Why did you decide to become a Lactation Consultant:

I had a moment with a patient just over a year ago now. It was a quiet shift and I had lots of time to dedicate to each family. There was one couple I was working with who had just had their first baby. She was having a very hard time latching the baby and it was an uphill effort the whole time. At one point she asked me “are all the nurses up here LC’s?” And when I replied “no” she said “well you are great at your job then, thank you so much for helping me”…and it was truly my light bulb moment. It’s the best part of my job, when I have the time to do it. So why am I not focusing on it. Two days later I was going to a breast pump presentation with one of our LC’s and I blurted it out in the elevator with her that I wanted to pursue it. That was January of 2016, and 11 months later I have successfully been certified as an LC! It was a real ride…

Ultimately, breastfeeding can account for the majority of the work we do on postpartum, and if the proper supports are in place, it can be a real game changer in terms of a mother’s successful journey. I came to find out I want to play an even bigger role in that area of practice. I want to be a part of their journeys, good or bad.

Q: How do you think now being an IBCLC will impact your work?

I think it will keep me accountable to do my single best every single time for each mom I come in contact with. Sure, that is something I have always strived for, but now it’s professionally necessary and expected. It’s also an area of practice I have seen myself enjoying more in the last few years. I am excited to see where it can take me, how it can improve my practice, push me to be better for all the mom’s that want the chance to breastfeed their babies. Plus I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I want to impact the way we practice as staff on postpartum. One of our long time and well respected LC’s just retired. She was an absolute trailblazer in that field. She made change happen. I can only hope to be half of what she was to the profession. I want to improve the way things are for women entering our facility. No matter what you choose, or how you choose to do it, I want everyone to feel respected, accepted, and heard. I feel like earning this certification is only the beginning to the work that needs to happen. But I’m excited to do my part.

 

What Mothers Do: especially when it looks like nothing

How often has a spouse come home from their paid job, asked a mom how her day was or what did she do, and she responds with, “Nothing really”?

I just finished reading a great book that reframes and refutes this whole concept. Mothers do a lot, even if people don’t see it!

What Mothers Do: especially when it looks like nothing by Naomi Stadlen is touted as a parenting book, but it’s not like other parenting books in that it’s not a how-to guide. Rather, it looks at behaviours of mothers and breaks them down, describing how much in fact moms do every day with their children, even when it may look like nothing.

The untrained eye might see me doing nothing but I see so much more. My baby is one month old here.

She talks about the power of comfort, and that to an outsider, a mother who is comforting her baby may look like she isn’t doing much, just holding her baby. But any mom can tell you much work it is to soothe a child and how satisfying it is once they are able to calm them down and feel them relax and melt into your embrace.

Stadlen makes this interesting point:

No one supports the mother while she is learning how to comfort, or celebrates her when she is able to give it. People ask mothers: ‘Is he sleeping through the night yet’ ‘Have you started him on solids yet?’ ‘Has he got any teeth?’ No one seems to ask: ‘Have you discovered what comforts him?’ Yet the ability to sleep through the night, or to digest solid food or to grow teeth, has little to do with mother. Babies reach these milestones when they are mature enough, whereas being able to comfort depends on a mother’s ability.

Another interesting point she makes is around how exhausted mothers are, and what is revealed when you compare their feelings to another group of exhausted people: physicians. She notes that doctors “recount their times without sleep like badges of honour, tanglible symbols of their dedication to the profession and testimony, to all, that their sacrifice justifies the status.”

Practicing medicine is seen has having status and that you are tired for a cause. Stadlen asks, what if your cause is a baby? Is that not worthy of status? Instead mothers often feel like they are failures because they are tired, rather than saying they are tired because they work hard all day and night caring for their babies.

Mothers could probably cope better if we all acknowledged how complex and difficult it can be. If a mother says she is short on sleep, this could be a sign not of her failure, but how well she may be mothering. I believe that the real, dreadful qualify of maternal tiredness is the mother’s sense of struggling against prevailing disrespect.

Until babies learn how to talk, mothers need to figure out what they want, and somehow they do! This is huge! A certain cry might mean baby is hungry or wants to be cuddled or has had enough stimulation. Mothers talk about how even when their toddlers don’t use words other people understand, they still know what they want. To an outsider watching, this may look like nothing, but it’s not: it’s mothers being mothers.

Stadlen sums up her book perfectly on the last page:

 

It’s time we as a society take a closer look at all that mothers do. And we as mothers should be proud of all that we do, even if it may look like nothing. Because I can assure you, you aren’t doing nothing. You are mothering.

 

 

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