Sticky Notes and Sound Bites Blog #3:

Building the muscles of intuition

My husband will often say inmoments of unknown parenting situations,  “Is this your first child Michelle?” At least now we laugh. Twenty years ago, that wasn’t the case. When I was interviewing midwives, two months pregnant with my first child, we were young, living in a tiny cabin in an isolated mountain town in Colorado and starry eyed. I had aspirations and a vision for how we wanted that first birth to go. When I shared that vision with the midwife on the phone she said condescendingly, “Is this your first child Michelle?” My husband caught my eye as he listened in. At the time I felt shame and shock and the dissonance in my body at a gut level. Should I know something I don’t know? Should I defer to the “specialists”? Does my body actually know how to do this birthing thing? 

Needless to say, we chose a different midwife who met us where we were and who helped guide us through the gentle learning that comes with the first birth. She helped me deepen my intuition and self-understanding rather than override it. That said, the “is this your first child” feeling stuck around in the form of “can I trust my mothering instinct?” 

Twelve years later, the year my third child turned 2, our little family of five traveled around the country exploring, climbing, camping and potty training. Maybe because she came after two little boys, or maybe because she is who she is, she trained herself quite easily with our green plastic potty in the vestibule of the yellow tent. What stood out to me was her physical self-understanding –  she listened to her body’s cues and she knew when she had to go to the bathroom. Simple even as a tiny person! 

This self-knowledge both physical and intuitive, is our birthright but somehow often gets lost along the way. Previous to our year of adventuring around the country, I worked at the local university counseling center and in my private practice. Much of the counseling work that I did with college students and adult clients focused on regaining that basic physical and intuitive self-connection. We explored questions such as:  What do I know? How do I know it? How can I trust my physical, emotional, and mental intuition? Often, I guided these clients to reestablish and relearn what they knew as young children, the self-knowledge that was trained out of them as they grew up. 

So many new and expecting mothers enter our practice nervous and anxious.  After some discussion, we find that they are often overriding their self-knowledge with how they “should feel” or “should act” based on an outside source aka “the professionals” (medical provider, developmental book author, social media parenting blogger).  Much of the initial counseling work is sifting through the material that clouds the woman’s connection to herself, to help her rediscover how she feels and what she intuitively knows, but may not trust. 

We could build a house, or better yet a skyscraper, out of the parenting books that exist in the world. Educating ourselves on the new terrain of conception, pregnancy, birth and the perinatal period is important. The difficulty is when we allow the information to override our intuition. I remind my clients regularly that there are thousands of parenting books and yet not one is specifically about them and their child/family. The dance is balancing the two types of information. 

Let’s take sleep training for example. We can read what the first author/expert suggests based on their understanding of child development and sleep cycles, yet the next book will present a slightly or significantly different approach. How do you sift through the material and decide what feels appropriate for your six month old, your family system, and your understanding of what you need. Building the muscles of intuition takes willingness and attention. 

Let’s play around for a moment with this exercise of “knowing what you know” as we flex our intuitive muscles. Try this experiment when you have a bit of bandwidth (so probably not in the middle of the night). My recommendation is to start simply with the basics, like food.

The next time that you are hungry, slow down the moment. Ask yourself apple or orange? (Or fill in the blank with your options). Which do you choose? How do you know what you want? When you decide, take a bite. Were you right? Would it have changed if an expert suggested an apple? Did that quench your hunger? Where did you feel the knowing or intuition? In your gut? In your heart? In your mind? Practice some more with food and then move on to another decision process, for example which way to turn going to the store? Which lotion to use on baby’s skin? Which provider (if you could choose) for your next appointment. Then check your decisions. How did they feel once you committed? What did you notice in your body? 

What is it like to slow down and settle into these types of decisions as you re-hone your ability “to know and trust what you know”? What is it like to balance your knowing with that of the professionals? To continue the practice:

(1) Simplify the information – for example, maybe read 1-2 books on sleep training instead of 6. 

(2) Settle into what you notice: body sensation, gut feeling, curiosity…

(3) Experiment with your self-knowledge and growing understanding balanced with the information from the experts. 

(4) Try out your decision.

(5) Repeat

As you consider these experiments in “knowing what you know” on your journey through the twists and turns of motherhood, check in with your intuition at the next crossroads, grab a sticky note and jot down this sound bite:

Building the muscles of intuition

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Sticky Notes and Sound Bites Blog #2: “Plan for Clunky” 

Like so many women in my life, and so many of my clients, I approached  my first pregnancy expecting a dreamy experience. I anticipated an easy pregnancy, an ideal birth, and a graceful transition to motherhood. 

Before my first child was born, I didn’t really understand what sleep deprivation meant. I couldn’t imagine what constant breastfeeding would demand of me. I didn’t anticipate what healing from childbirth felt like. I didn’t know what balancing my relationship and being a new mother required of me. I couldn’t imagine how to work through the parenting challenges that come with two people of different family cultures, all the sudden on center stage with their new baby.  

Because I didn’t expect these (very normal) bumps in the road I felt anxious, isolated, and confused. Was I doing this pregnancy, birth, motherhood bit right? I felt alone and shy to share with friends because mothering should be so easy and natural, correct?  By reaching out, I would have to share my imperfection – how vulnerable that felt, maybe even shameful!

It was not until I was pregnant with my second child that I challenged my beliefs about perfection. I started wondering: what if I entered this time frame of pregnancy and the perinatal year with the expectation of imperfection. What if I just expect it to be “clunky”? My tension and anxiety immediately eased. 

Research tells us that about 80% of women experience a normal transition to motherhood and about 20%  experience a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. These numbers are pre-pandemic and may not accurately capture motherhood over the last 9 months. Even so, if most of the population of women fall into the 80% category, I believe it is a public service to redefine the “normal transition” to motherhood  and rename it the “normal but clunky” transition to motherhood. This much better captures the reality of pregnancy and the perinatal period!

Let’s try this on. What if instead of expecting a normal: breastfeeding experience; infant sleep; transitioning back to work after maternity leave; staying home with baby; navigating partner relationship after baby; weaning; childcare transition all the way through sending child to college during a pandemic (hmmm); what if we assume that each and every stage will be “normal but clunky”? We go from a black and white expectation of the situation to the possibility of grey (or purple, or turquoise). All of the sudden, there is room for birth to unfold the way it does without it needing to be rigid and fixed. There is room for the  sleep routine of your family to be just fine even though it is so different from what that book said or what your best friend does with her child.

For so many of my clients, allowing clunkiness in, creates liberation and room to be just exactly as they are on their journey through motherhood. 

Over the last two years I have been organizing Mobile Mama Strategies into a book for mamas on navigating the period of time between conception through motherhood. I sent the manuscript to a few publishers who loved the idea and sent it on further to be peer reviewed. One of the reviewers, a perinatal mental health provider, gave me this feedback:

“I do not personally like the word “clunky” so suggest finding a better adjective.”

I get it, nobody likes clunky! It is not ideal, it’s messy and it doesn’t look the way we expect it to look. But try as I may, I can’t find another term to capture this period of time.  The funny thing is, once providers and clients hear me define these stages as clunky, they too start using the term. In fact, my heart was warmed this morning as my nine year old referred to learning to ski as clunky. No judgement, just a really good description. 

So this is the experiment, wherever you are on your journey of preconception, fertility, pregnancy, loss, the postpartum period, raising toddlers, middle schoolers, college age, take a deep breath and ask yourself: What do I expect of this stage? What is normal? What would it look like if I aimed for “perfect”? Sit with this, maybe journal or draw or mind-map about it. 

Now, shake your body out a little, take another breath. Get curious, asking yourself: What would this stage look like if I expected it to be “clunky” but normal? Allow yourself to look beyond the perfect instagram expectation and make room for the messy, good enough, uncomfortable twists and turns. Capture these ideas and images in your journal.  Play around with adapting your lens on your parenting, your children’s behavior, your pregnancy etc. If you redefine this stage with “normal but clunky” as the expectations, what changes? As I write this, I notice myself taking a deep breath shifting my lens from expecting perfection and allowing even this blog post to be a little clunky, liberation!

It takes some reminding to redefine our expectations. So brining this experiment a little further into your day, week and season of life, take out a sticky note and write down this soundbite:

“Plan for clunky”

And place it strategically in your home where you can touch on that little truth multiple times a day as you navigate the journey through motherhood.

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Sticky Notes and Sound Bites #1:

Starting the day before it starts you

I remember standing outside of my four year old’s preschool at about 8:30 am, with my six month old on my hip, feeling for the first time in about four years, actually, okay.  That may be an exaggeration but I don’t think it was. 

What on earth was different on this day? This autumn morning on Peabody Street in front of the Little Darling School was so similar to all of the previous mornings.  The same early routine unfolded – getting the precocious 4 year old fed, dressed, and ready for school and in between caring for and nursing the baby, drinking as much coffee as possible, dressing myself, (aiming for basic hygiene and matching shoes), popping kids in the stroller, grabbing the dog and heading to preschool. But this day, something was different…this Monday started a revolution in my motherhood!

Let’s back up. A few days before, talking to my dear friend Amy at drop off, I noticed myself saying, “I feel miserable. if only I could get up before the kids, I think I would be a nice person…” A thought that felt laughable to both of us really – (not the nice part, just the sleep part). 

Ever so gently throughout that weekend I let that thought take form. I considered the delicate possibility of waking early. Not EARLY EARLY  just a little bit earlier than the typical time when the kids woke up. I wondered how I could wiggle out of bed without waking the baby sleeping snug beside me. I wondered how I could make the coffee without stirring the household and more than anything, I wondered what I would do in that precious early time. Then the doubt crept in…was waking up before I HAD to wake up really worth it?

I kept my potential experiment a secret. There was no way I would spill the beans to even my husband, it would add pressure to the success of the mission and what if he wanted to join me?  Nope, I realized that part of the deal was to not only start the day before it started me, but to start it ALONE.

So, I contemplated my strategy down to the minute details of how this endeavour would work. Sunday night came, I nursed the infant and he went to sleep. I cuddled the 4 year old until he was snoozing and quietly snuck downstairs, past the dog and the fire place, past the husband typing away on the couch and into the kitchen. I ground the coffee, set up the french press and the water in the kettle, gathered some colored pencils from the art closet and a forsaken journal, grabbed my dusty yoga mat from the corner next to the book shelf and organized my props next to the couch. My husband raised his eyebrows in a question. I gave him a kiss and slipped back upstairs. Setting my phone alarm (with a gentle and quiet tone), I emplored my baby to sleep well and long through the night and I encouraged myself to remember to push through my desire to snooze instead of wake in the morning. As with most nights, I was asleep in moments. 

The sun rises about 7:30 am in the Pacific Northwest in October. My kids would rise about 7:00 am. At 6:40 am on that fateful morning, the alarm hummed and I shut it as quickly as possible hoping upon hope that the baby would remain sleeping. He rolled over and nuzzled me for a moment soon returning to his dreams. Stealthily, I slid out of bed, into my fuzzy slippers and down the stairs. Heart beating, kettle on, and then coffee in hand, I nestled my yoga mat and cushion fireside. Maybe I only had a minute, maybe I had twenty-two… 

The simple joy of a hot mug of coffee and a totally quiet and sleeping house.  I closed my eyes, slowed my breath and found my body. This felt radical.  That first morning, I didn’t open my journal, I didn’t stretch on my mat. I didn’t “do” anything. I  just quietly sat and recalibrated to myself.

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My four year old turned 19 this week! What a time of reflection.  Since that fateful day over fifteen years ago, my morning practice has ebbed and flowed with the seasons of life and ages of my three children, but always it has been the scaffold from which my life is built upon. It maintains a simple structure: waking early before the household, with coffee, my journal, and my breath (and sometimes my yoga mat). In this way, I have mapped out my days, my business, my dreams but more than anything, I’ve created a daily practice of quiet moments and self reflection. This is what allows me to be present with my children, my family and my work.  

Time and again I sit with mamas who ache for what feels like unattainable time for themselves.   If the mama is getting good enough sleep, (at a minimum, two chunks of three-hours but preferably more), my suggestion is this:

For a moment, consider what it would be like to “start the morning before it starts you”. Don’t actually change anything (yet) just consider the possibility. Consider it with great detail, imagine what you would do and how you would wake up before the clan wakes. While you puzzle through these thoughts, REMEMBER your motivation for considering this experiment in the first place… a few moments to connect with yourself and collect yourself before the circus begins. 

Give the idea days or weeks to develop, and as you are ready, curious and courageous,  give the experiment a try. Then adjust the details and give it another try. And another. In this way, see if you can create your own morning practice and a time to recalibrate to yourself.

Then write a little sticky note with this sound bite: 

Start the morning before it starts me”.

And place it beside your bed.