Tag Archives: pregnancy

3 Lessons From Writing That Help With Motherhood and Recovery

When I was pregnant, I was convinced that I was having a girl, and had already started planning accordingly. Of course I found out:

“Guess What? It’s a boy!”

Oh, Okay. I thought. Hmmm… Time to reset the expectations. Or better yet, let’s just allow what is being grown to emerge as it (or He) needs. 

1. Expectations are Resentments Waiting to Happen.

That is a recovery quote from Alcoholics Anonymous. Another is “Resentments are like eating rat poison yourself and then waiting for the rat to die.” A bit harsh, but applicable. Pregnancy, motherhood, and writing are all about letting go of your expectations and allowing what needs to emerge come forth in its own way.

My book is in that place. As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in her fabulous book, Big Magic:

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I had this plan: the title, the table of contents, the “target audience.” And now something else is emerging. The ideas come, and I channel them onto the paper. I have a plan, and then I chuck it (or the part that’s not working) out the window, as something else emerges. Writing a book is like birthing a baby.

I’m not talking about an epidural or 48 hours of convulsing with medication-free pain so intense you thought you were dying. That is reserved for actual labor and delivery. Motherhood, however, along with the creative process (and, of course, recovery), do share some similarities with the birth process.

2. You get to show up for the work, You don’t get to decide the timeline.

I have been writing a book since my little one was 3 months old (little one is now six. Years.) And, even though I would really like to be in control of the process, it is taking on a life of its own. It is emerging in its own timeline. The plan was finish the book when baby was 1 year. Ha! Just like the “birth plan” (note the quotes) for labor and delivery, the plan needs to change as needed. (Who wouldn’t love to have a three – or even six – hour labor and delivery experience? Pain-free with no complications? But that’s not how it works. We all have a birth plan, and then we all go through actual labor and delivery. It is rare that the two exactly match up.)

Your job is to show up for the process, one moment at a time and give your best effort. That’s it. That’s true in writing a book, birthing a baby, and the long journey of motherhood ahead. The thing I remember most about labor experience, despite the altar I had set up, the music, the doula, the whole rainbow-and-flowers plan I had, is the clock on the wall. Watching the second hands tick on the clock on the wall got me through every contraction. I didn’t have “look at the clock ticking” on my birth plan. But that is what helped me stay present, 1 second, 1 moment, 1 hour at a time.

 3. Don’t Let Fear Run the Show.

Here’s another great quote from Elizabeth Gilbert:
“Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone “safe.”

My little one and I often play a game called “walk through the fear.” Like many little ones, he’s afraid of the dark. So we set up one dark room (it may need a night-light on 🙂 ) and one light room. Then we walk through the dark room back into the light. Again and again. Fear is not allowed to run the show. It can join in and participate as we move. But it is not allowed to keep us paralyzed. In writing, that translates to keep writing. Write a lot of (what Anne Lamott calls) “shitty first drafts.” But keep writing. (Or working on our recovery or traveling through pregnancy, labor, delivery, and motherhood).

Also, when fear pops up (as in recently when a great idea emerged about a new direction that this book I’m writing probably needs to take), notice it. Fear has two jobs:  1) protect vulnerability and 2) prevent change. So whenever it arises, you can notice it, thank it, and continue moving in exactly that direction. That’s right: continue moving in the direction that fear is trying to get you to avoid. Let fear be your guide instead of your road block. What’s in the way is the way.  I will be with you in this walking-through-fear journey. And this new version of my book, which I thought was a “girl,” but apparently wants to be a “boy”!

What You Need to Know About Pregnancy and Eating Disorders: A Podcast

In introducing this month’s Butterfy Effect theme of CONNECTING, I am honored to share an interview by the founder of Recovery Warriors, Jessica Raymond, MS. Recovery Warriors is a multimedia resource hub for hope and healing from an eating disorder. Here is a link to the podcast: RecoverywarriorsPodcast

An overview

The desire to become a mom can be a motivating factor in eating disorder recovery. However,the challenges of pregnancy and the postpartum period mirror the early stages of recovery. Both pregnant and new mothers and women recovering from eating disorders experience anxiety, body image distress, difficulty sleeping, hormonal changes, appetite changes, and ambivalence/excitement/distress around cultivating a new identity. In this episode of The Recovery Warrior Show, expert Dr. Linda Shanti shares personal and professional stories of recovering from an eating disorder and entering into motherhood. Listen in regardless of where you are at in the biological cycle because there is much to learn.

What You’ll Learn

  • Why people don’t talk about miscarriages
  • How pregnancy is similar to early stages of recovery
  • Why you need to be proactive in seeking professional help before having a baby?
  • Why how a mother eats affects her child
  • Is there a right time to have a kid

 Favorite Quote

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new. -Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Advice to Former Self

You’ll get through this honey, you will. It’s going to change you and it is changing you and that’s ok; that’s the way it’s supposed to be. There’s no parallel life that you’re supposed to be leading; this is it, this is not a detour. Just because you’re suffering doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path; you’re absolutely on the right path. Keep going.

Definition of Recovery

Taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Not engaging in behaviors that hurt me. Moving toward growth edges. Accepting my body as it is. Allowing and inviting all feelings. Lowering the bar on perfectionism. Thinking in the rainbow between black and white. Listening to my heart and connecting with a larger purpose.

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On Huf Post!

Check it out…

Motherhood as Rite of Passage

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Surrender

sur·ren·der verb \sə-ˈren-dər\

  • : to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win or succeed
  • : to give the control or use of (something) to someone else
  • : to allow something (such as a habit or desire) to influence or control you

         I used to hate the word surrender. It sounded like giving up, waving the white flag, losing myself and my voice. And yet when I look at these 3 definitions in the context of eating disorder/addiction recovery, I get curious. Hmmmm, well the first one certainly applies to the willingness required to begin recovery: you have to be willing to stop repeating the same battle, again and again and again. As they say in 12-step Program, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.” The second definition is tougher, especially for people recovering from eating disorders…give up CONTROL to SOMEONE ELSE? But isn’t the problem feeling OUT of control, not feeling empowered, and/or early childhood wounds around someone else not helping regulate our food and feelings from a place of INTERNAL locus of control? This is where the third definition of surrender is, I think, actually an accurate description of an eating disorder or addiction: To allow a habit or desire to control you. Because when you get right town to it, when you are deep in it, IN the food (or whatever your “drug” or behavior of choose is) you know you are not in control and the “habit” has started to control YOU.

    Surrender and the Body

         One of my early eating disorder recovery mentors, someone who was much further along in their recovery when I was in my first year of exploring what-the-heck-surrender-had-to-do-with-recovery, said:

         “The size of your body is not your business.”

    “WHAT? I said. What do you mean?

         She repeated herself. “The size of your body is not your business.”

    I told her “if that’s recovery, I can’t do it.”

    She said “there isn’t anything you need to do here. Surrender is an internal process, not an external event.”

         On some deep level, I knew she was right. I knew it in the core of my being. My mind still fought it, but my heart; my gut knew it to be true. I’d love to say “And then everything changed and I became a licensed Psychologist helping everyone else recover the next day. The End.” But that’s not how growth and recovery work. I then continued to solidify my recovery for the next few years, went back to school to earn my master’s degree, began working professionally in recovery, then earned my doctorate degree, continued working professionally in recovery, etc etc… I tell my clients it is not a linear process, it is not a fast process, it is not an external process, and it is not an event. It is a slow transformation of willingness wrestling with willfulness and softening into surrender, again and again.

    How pregnancy is a good (literal) metaphor for surrender

         Pregnancy is a good metaphor for what it is like to find willingness and surrender in the body. When a woman is pregnant, there are all kinds of things she needs to be aware of and make choices about due to her growing a tiny being inside her body. Soft cheese, wine, even salami can cause miscarriage or a lifetime of harm if not avoided or eaten properly. Many medications are questionable in their safety, and, if a woman is diabetic, she has to be even more cautious about what, how and when she eats during pregnancy. These choices, along with the long list of bodily and emotional experiences that come with carrying a child for 9 months (breast tenderness, constipation, gas, nausea, bloating, fatigue, aches, mood swings, urinary incontinence) require a pregnant woman to surrender her own control and familiar experience of her body and feelings in the service of something else (her child). She actively chooses loving limits in her food choices (the right balance between bingeing and restricting) and she lets go of needing to control the size and shape of her body in the service of surrendering to something greater. This is similar in recovery from an eating disorder.

    I often have clients recovering from eating disorders ask me:

    “But what does that mean in terms of how many cookies I eat?”

         I tell them they need to find their own right answers that are the exact right balance of not restricting while not over indulging/bingeing. Unfortunately or fortunately, there is no list of “off-limits” foods like there is during pregnancy. However, finding the right loving limits in surrender in eating disorder recovery is similar to motherhood in that it is like working with a toddler. Power struggling will get you nowhere. You may win a few battles, but the war will continue to wage. Surrender is a flow and it is a willingness to continue to connect emotionally with yourself in the parts of you that weren’t met as a child. Eating cookies for lunch or never eating cookies aren’t what surrender is about. Asking questions such as “what do I really nRuby-Slipperseed right now?”  and “what is in the best service of my recovery?” are.

     It’s not always an easy journey. It can be like Dorothy traveling the road to Oz. There are many lions, tigers, and bears along the way. And Oz isn’t really the destination. And you are always already home. But you still need to go on the journey to discover that. Then you will actually believe and trust in your body whatever the size or shape that there’s no place like home.

Myth Busting, Part 2: Pregnancy is glowing and Motherhood comes naturally.

1) Having a birth plan determines the way labor and delivery happens.

Creating a a birth plan is important as a guide, while realizing the baby has not read the plan.

2) Good mothers easily breastfeed.

Breastfeeding can be easy or difficult, and most likely, both.  Good mothers breastfeed, good mothers formula feed, and good mothers do both.

3) You can (and should) get your baby to sleep through the night.

Your baby may sleep at night, may not sleep at night, and may sleep in spurts or have difficulty sleeping. There are lost of tools you can try for assisting your baby to learn good sleep habits and some of them may be effective.

4) Only bad (poor, mentally ill, single, uncaring) mothers get depressed.

Postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders affect 1 in 5 women. There is no correlation with level of caring or direct predictive factor with previous mental illness, level of income, marital status. Recovery is possible. You do not have to suffer alone.

5) You can get your pre-baby body back & this determines your happiness.

Your body will change after having a baby. There are various places this happens, some of them may go back to the “way they were” and some of them won’t.  You can still be a happy, fulfilled, sexy, empowered, loved woman. Getting your stomach back is not the key ingredient in this equation.

6) You will be mostly the same person with a few acutraments like a diaper bag after having a baby.

You will not be the same person anymore. Motherhood changes you, in profound ways you can’t imagine ahead of time. And this develops over time. Give yourself at least as much patience, kindness, time, and commitment as you do your baby as you grow your new mother identity.

7) You will and should feel sexy and available to your partner postpartum.

You will most likely feel exhausted, pulled on to care for your baby physically, have challenging body image, and your hormones can take years to re-regulate. It’s ok to include these challenges in assessing your availability for and communicating with your partner.

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 8) Superwoman (aka SuperMommy) lives and the feminist revolution has made all things possible for women to do alone.
Overtly navigating agreements around housework and childcare is a necessary and ongoing part of parenting. You do not have to do everything. Superman and Superwoman do not exist. Imperfect Mama and Super(ish) Papa (Partner) do, if you work at it together. Lower your expectations. Set imperfect goals. Be honest about your shortcomings. Asking for help is the secret SUPERPOWER for parents.
9) Good mothers stay at home.Good mothers stay at home, work outside the home, work part time in the home and part time outside the home. Children attach to caregivers that are available to them. Children of mothers who make choices that keep themselves feeling sane and happy have mothers that are available for secure attachment.

10) You should have the “right” daycare, preschool, college lined up for your child prior to giving birth.

There is not a shortage of schools. Finding the right school is a sorting problem, not a shortage problem. You can take your time, notice your child’ temperament, and re-asses ongoingly throughout your child’s life for the right fit. YOU are the constant that is a safe secure base from which to learn, grow, and be them self.

There are many, many, many resources available for support if you are wanting to challenge these myths!

For a list, see: the “Pregnancy and New Mothers section” http://www.drlindashanti.com/resources.html

Guest Blog on the Magic (and farts) of Pregnancy

My dear Writing Coach Colleague, Liz, hosted a writing contest on “experiencing something magic.” I wrote about the magic (and smelliness) of…well, you can read it.  Originally published at: http://www.sparkletonic.com

I once experienced something that felt like magic.

I remember eating a chunk of Brie cheese before looking. If there was a “+,” I knew I couldn’t eat Brie again for 9 whole months, as the bacteria in soft cheese is not good for growing fetuses. I normally find this cheese delicious: soft and melty on the inside, warm, extra creamy. But on this day, I was waiting for the results. I ate the cheese quickly and with anticipation. I don’t remember the experience of the cheese because, as I watched, the tiny window on the pregnancy test stick test was gradually turning into a plus! HOLY SHIT! My body was the same, and yet felt like magic.

All of a sudden, my body was a magical, tender, vulnerable, sacred, miracle baby-making vessel! There was a little tiny baby in there! OK, miniscule cluster of cells smaller than a pomegranate seed or blueberry, but still! My blueberry! A raspberry cluster of growing human being! A little fetal butterfly! Holy magical miracle! Especially since I had struggled with an eating disorder that affected my fertility, was “AMA” (Advanced Maternal Age), and my husband was waaaaaaaay beyond the cutoff for AMA  🙂 .

The smells came later. This magical experience did not smell pleasant. In case no-one has told you, pregnancy makes you fart.  It also made my nose into a truffle pig, rodent-of-unusual size-like super sensitive organ. I could smell the neighbors cooking. I could smell unscented deodorant; I could smell fruit ripening in a field 60 miles away. When walking through the airport shopping section where perfume was sold, I promptly threw up. My sensitized pregnancy nose was assaulted and my little fetal butterfly was having none of it. He said, “Mommy, we have passed the put-on-scent-to-attract-a-mate phase. I am here now and I DO NOT LIKE perfume!” Most scents were unpleasant and made me nauseous. A few were nice. Subtle smells like hummus and olive oil; and intense smells like cheesy pasta and hamburgers. YUM. Fetal butterfly said two thumbs up to those.

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The quality of light in this experience? Well, people said I was “glowing” which was either the appropriate celebratory response, a polite way of avoiding saying “Wow, you’ve gotten large,” or an actual observation. I never felt “light” or “glowing” during those nine months. I felt startled that I could barely fit out of my car door, hippo-like, awkward, scared, excited, spacey, tired, and vulnerable. I also felt a quality of sacred-ness. The kicking around inside my belly was the most miraculous. As he grew, my baby was not a subtle, fluid mover. He was a kicking, punching, acrobat, which, considering his Mama is unable to do even a cartwheel was possibly the most miraculous of all.

Does Being a Mommy make me look Fat?

Venus_of_WillendorfI remember when I first realized that the amount of weight I gained in pregnancy was the same amount of weight that I had gained in my recovery from my eating disorder 15 years ago. It was a stunning realization that helped bring compassion to the parts of me that were struggling with pregnancy weight gain. Just like in early recovery, gaining weight and not feeling in control of the size of my body was emotionally distressing. When I was pregnant, people would frequently say to me “You look radiant!” And I thought “F*ck you I feel like a walking hippo-whale!” However, after 14 years of recovery, I had developed enough skills to be able to graciously receive compliments without restricting/avoiding them (anorexia) or deflecting/throwing them up (bulimia). I also realized, as I often tell my clients, fat (and feeling like a hippo-whale) is not a feeling.

FAT is not a feeling

For someone recovering from an eating disorder, “fat” masks underlying feelings such as fear, anger, grief, shame, vulnerability, and insecurity.  As I approached the threshold of becoming a Mom, feelings of uncertainty, vulnerability, fear, and insecurity were big (aka fat). In fact, many of my fears, such as how to maintain a separate, autonomous, differentiated identity from my own mother that I had worked so hard at for so many years to develop in my recovery, as well as how to juggle the many hats of career, wife, and new Mom were quite real and quite visceral. Feelings of shame under the judgment that “I really should be over this body image thing by now” were also there. I remember, when doing my doctoral research on body image, reflecting on why there is not more research on body image: under body image there are layers of shame. Who would want to dig into that?

Shame is not an emotion that people turn toward with welcoming joy. Reflecting on shame, and how the secrecy of body image shame affects women considering having children, Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei discovered:

78% of women we surveyed who do not have children yet or do not plan to have children told us they have concerns about how pregnancy and motherhood could change their bodies. Most of them keep these concerns to themselves. 57% said they don’t talk about the connections among pregnancy, motherhood ,and body image with their friends. 51% said they never discuss it with their partners…And 79% of the women who have body fears related to motherhood name weight (getting bigger during pregnancy and not being able to lose the weight after delivery) as their number-one fear. [1]

Before becoming pregnant, I naively assumed, like most non-mothers, that the weight you gain in pregnancy is the weight of the actual baby. I thought “No problem, I’ll just gain (fill in appropriate amount for newborn baby here. I am deliberately not naming any weight numbers in this article to avoid any negative comparison triggers for women in recovery) and then, after the baby is born, I will lose that weight with the baby coming out!” Well, being pregnant I realized that the baby needs not only a womb-home with amniotic fluid and placenta within which to eat and grow, but also increases in Mama’s blood, fluids, nutrient/fat stores, and breast tissue. After the baby is born, much of that weight is still there.

Most women still look pregnant, albeit not 9 months, after giving birth. When I first heard that, the negative body image part of me said “Well then I’m not leaving the house until I don’t look pregnant anymore.” (Again, thankfully, I had 14 years of combating this negative body image voice and was able to talk back to it. I was also, frankly, too tired to care much about what I looked like postpartum. I put on sweat pants  with a pony tail and that was good enough!  In addition, I had a loving partner, recovery support system, family, and doulas surrounding me with love and cheering me on as I left the house post-partum!)

In my work with women recovering from eating disorders and negative body image, it is interesting to notice what parts of their bodies women tend to dislike the most. It is often their stomach, breasts, thighs, and butts. These are the areas that gain weight in becoming pregnant and a mother. Anyone that has ever looked at an image of the Venus de Willendorf, a goddess statue estimated to have been made between 22,000 and 24,000 BC near Willendorf, Austria,and thought she was fat would do well to look at a pregnant woman’s body. I would venture to guess, in no uncertain terms, that Goddess is pregnant! And her fertility, the parts of her body that celebrate her womanhood and the mysterious power to grow a child and feed that baby from her own flesh, is being gloriously celebrated.

What has happened to a culture that denigrates this power in a woman’s body to the point of glamorizing anorexic models, airbrushing the fat out of images of womans’ bodies, and glorifying actresses that lose the baby weight within weeks of having a child? The media images we are surrounded with not only do not accurately portray the reality of womens’ bodies in all their varying shapes, sizes, skin tones, and degrees of wrinkles, but the reality of women’s full ranges of emotions, life-roles, and challenges of the new identity of motherhood. Mysko and Amadei reflect:

There are plenty of red carpet “postbaby body” debuts mere weeks after celebrities give birth but we don’t see a lot of new moms’ bodies in the real world- mainly because most new moms are recovering at home, trying to juggle poopy diapers, feedings, pain, sleep, and the decoding of various baby-screaming pitches- all in a semi zombified state. (Amadei, 2009)

A Larger Identity

Just like recovery, becoming a Mom requires developing a larger and different identity. It also requires literally having a different body, one that was formed to feed and nourish a child from stores of fat. Along the way of becoming a Mom there are many opportunities to cultivate tolerating the distress of being in the ambiguity of the unknown.  In the very beginning of my eating disorder recovery, I often felt like “this is too big- I can’t do this- I wish it were just about the food and being ‘fat’.” Sitting with the discomfort of feelings, many of them unpleasant ones, was not fun. There is a slogan in 12 step programs called “HALT,” which stands for Don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. This is hard to do in early recovery, and as a new Mom, it is almost impossible. Sleep deprivation, coping with a newborn wailing baby, and breast feeding/being postpartum hormonal flux create an atmosphere ripe with HALTs![3] My postpartum recovery slogan became, instead of HALT, accepting “This is hard.” Creating an atmosphere within my mind of radical acceptance made it easier to relax into the difficulties of new Mommy growing pains. And, just like recovery, I was challenged to lower my expectations of what is “good enough.” The perfectionistic, overachieving, self-critical temperament that served me in my eating disorder did not serve me in recovery and did not serve me in new Mommy-hood. I had to lower the bar on my expectations, again and again. One of my colleagues, a highly accomplished Therapist, Classical musician, and Horse dressage teacher gave me the postpartum advice to “do one SMALL thing each day and that is it.” For example, one load of laundry, take a shower, walk around the block with the stroller. Before having a baby I thought “Well that’s certainly not that ambitious. I can do much more than that.” I had also heard other mothers say how difficult it was to take a shower after having a baby. Again, I thought, “Wow, they must be pretty low functioning.  Really, what could be that difficult about taking a shower? Just put the baby in a bassinet!” After having a baby, I felt very, very grateful for the awareness that others had had difficulty taking a shower and doing one small thing a day.

I have heard the metaphor that getting into recovery requires getting down on your knees in order to crawl through a very small doorway (humility of letting go of your old identity). However, once you are inside, you arrive in a spacious cathedral (your new right-sized larger self).  I have found this to be true in motherhood as well. And actually, just like recovery, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the size of your body. It has to do with learning to tolerate uncomfortable emotions not only in yourself, as you become a brand new Mama, but in your baby as well! Recovery is about embracing a full range of emotions. [4] And, as anyone who has spent any time with a baby, so is parenting! As you become a “good enough Mother” to yourself, your baby will internalize how to do this as well.

Linda Shanti McCabe is a Mommy and a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. She works at the Association of Professionals Treating Eating Disorders in San Francisco. To read more about her work professionally, go to http://www.drlindashanti.com

[1] Mysko, Clair and Amadei, Magali, Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? Deerfield Beach: Health Communications, 2009.

[2] ibid.

[3] Poor sleep quality and lack of sleep are risk factors for Postpartum depression (PPD), a serious condition that negatively affects both mother and child. For more information on this link between sleep and PPD, see Massachusetts General Hospital website at: http://www.womensmentalhealth.org/posts/postpartum-depression-and-poor-sleep-quality-occur-together/

[4]Postpartum depression (PPD) affects approximately 15% of women, usually occurs in the first 12 months after baby is born, and is different from “the baby blues,” which affect most women in the first three weeks postpartum. http://www.Postpartumprogress.com is a helpful website for information on PPD. If you think you may be at risk for or have PPD, see your healthcare provider.

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