Growing Love

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Every birth usually ends with tears. I’m crying, mom is crying, dad is crying. Tears of gratitude because we’re all incredibly appreciative of this moment and for each other. Yesterday, I attended my thirteenth birth and this family conceived through IVF. Their journey to conception was long, hard, expensive and at times heartbreaking. I previously learned pieces of their experience during our initial and prenatal meetings but it was while we labored together for 18 hours on the upper east side of Manhattan, that I learned the details. So much had gone towards the bringing to life of this little baby boy, who we were all waiting to welcome.

Because the conception story is different for IVF families, the experience of pregnancy, labor, and birth can also be different. Sometimes families feel a distrust of their bodies because they were not able to experience conception without medical intervention. When I work with IVF families, part of my job responsibilities is to remind my client of their strength, of their abilities, and if they are planning a hospital birth, of the options that are available to assist them if they want or need them.

Yesterday, this incredibly loved and yearned for baby was placed on the chest of his mother after long and hard laboring and she just broke down. Some families wait nine months for their bundle but in this case, years of ups and downs, disappointments and miracles had to happen to bring us to where we were.

Witnessing this moment was the catalyst of my own emotional release. I began to think about the love that I already have for my next child and how the work that I do as a birth and postpartum doula keeps me in a constant mental space surrounding my next pregnancy and baby. In the past, Rick, friends and I refer to the future baby as baby Ricky. More recently, I’ve started calling him by his name and sometimes I get glimpses of his face. I don’t know what conception will be like for Rick and I in the coming months when we begin to try,  but the love for our baby boy has already begun to grow. The love is real even though, as of yet, he is not.

Managing An On-Call Life

I went from working very predictable and typical hours, to a job that is widely on-call. Some of the work I do these days can be pre-planned and arranged (such as prenatal, postpartum and overnight support) however the bulk of what I do is attend births and those are hard to plan around.

People have the notion that their baby will be delivered on their due date, but the truth of the matter is that due dates are just rough estimates based on the last date of menstruation. No one can accurately predict the day that their baby will be born even if they know the exact date of conception and your baby certainly isn’t keeping track. Babies come when they’re ready. Luckily we have estimated due dates because they give us a ballpark idea of when to expect the baby but knowing exactly when is near impossible (outside of scheduling a cesarean). Even once labor has begun, it’s hard to predict how long it will last before your little one arrives. Throw in prodromal labor (contractions that can begin anytime at term and last for a few days to a week) and Braxton hicks (“false labor”), and you’ll start to see the value in going with the flow.

As a birth worker, this has been a difficult transition for me. There have been times when I’ve received word that a client believes labor has begun but she isn’t quite ready for me to join her yet. I have sat on the edge of my bed, frozen, like a statue. Afraid to start anything (like cooking or cleaning) and afraid to exert any energy for fear that when it’s time for me to join I’ll be exhausted, or asleep.

The last time this happened, I knew I had to develop a plan to help myself cope with being on call, and here it is…

  1. Live my life. If I was heading to the gym, or the store, or was about to start cooking dinner, then I will continue to do what I intended on doing. Being fully supportive to my clients doesn’t have to include putting my life on hold. When they’re ready for me I will put everything down, but in the meantime, I must go on as I normally would.
  2. Don’t be afraid of being tired. I know for a fact that when it is time for me to join my clients, my adrenaline kicks in and I am filled with energy and ready to work! I know that since I am a doula full-time now I don’t have to worry about being rested for any other jobs and after the birth, I can come back home to sleep and recharge as necessary. I also stock red bull in my fridge now. This has more of a placebo effect than anything else. Knowing that it’s there gives me peace of mind, even if I never drink it.
  3. Change my client’s ringtones. If I do fall asleep or find myself in noisy New York streets, a brash and startling ringtone will do the trick to make sure I never miss a call.
  4. Schedule the classes that I teach online to be lighter around my clients EDD (estimated due date). I have already come to terms with the idea that sometimes I might have to cancel classes in order to support my clients, and by scheduling fewer classes in the first place I reduce my chances of having to cancel at all. Luckily my teaching job is pretty flexible and I can make up classes on the weekends or any other time, really.

Handling an on-call life has been a challenge for me, but I’m happy that I took the time to figure out how to best support myself so that I can best support my clients.

Do you live an on-call life?

How do you cope with the unpredictability?

Ciao Mama Italia!

Italy was everything I expected, wanted and needed! Going into the experience I knew that I was desperate for nature and the idea of a retreat was ideal. Visiting Italy had always been on my bucket list as far as I could remember. Before my brother or I were born, my mother spent years living in Italy and that is where she got the nickname: Baci, which everyone called her, friends and family alike. Her nieces and nephews called her Titi Baci and my daughter currently calls her Grandma Baci. I even have that name tattooed on my body, twice. In Italian, Baci means “kisses”. She was given the name by someone who I would later know as Big Judi.

I was excited to interview Big Judi for the interview project I’ve been working on and I knew I wanted to do so before visiting Italy. Big Judi came to my house the day before my flight. After noticing her marijuana socks, I asked her if she wanted to partake in any cannabis activities and with socks like those I was not surprised with her response.  We lit up and began talking about how and where she first met my mom. Shortly after getting started, Big Judi asked if it would be ok for her to lay down and a bit later Rick drove her home. The interview itself wasn’t as concentrated with information as I would have hoped but we promised to get together again so that she could share more. Before she left, she gifted me with a small white pillow that was used at my parent’s wedding. I am thrilled to have received this just before my own wedding and plan to use it as well.

Big Judi may not have shared much yet but she got my mind ready in a voicemail she left, just as I was boarding my plane. Take a listen…

I was traveling with my friend Patria. In addition to wanting this trip for very personal and self-involved reasons, I was also happy to have time to spend with Patria, outside of wedding planning which is currently running my life and is the topic of most conversations I have with people. I considered this trip, among many other things to be a pre-wedding-friend-honeymoon.

The flight was smooth, as I slept nearly the entire eight-hour direct flight to Rome. After landing, Patria and I met with the retreat coordinator‘s husband and daughter who we would then share the 3-hour drive with to the tiny town of Piobicco.

As we more closely approached our destination, I began noticing the hiking trails off the side of the road that led into the forest. My eyes swelled up, this was exactly it! I got excited that this was going to be my life for the next 10 days. There would be no other responsibilities of wedding planning, or picking up and dropping off my daughter: just me, nature, yoga, meditation and my best friend.

The way Tanya leads yoga is different than anyone else. She gives writing exercises, visualizations, breathing and stretching along with traditional yoga poses. When you work with Tanya you will get a full body, mind, and soul work out and I am stronger for it now. The things I worked on have led me to be gentler to myself and more supportive as a mother and soon to be wife.  

I am so happy that my path, which was always leading to Italy, crossed with Tanya’s and that I was invited to participate in this fantastic voyage!

Patria and I shared spacious accommodations with seven other ladies all from different walks of life. Each taught me something and lead to my overall experience. We spent a lot of our downtime discussing our childhoods, trauma and all the variables that shaped the women we are today. I have to admit I was taken back by the fact that many of these women who are somewhat older than I am still felt very impacted by their childhood. This brought me a sense of calm because it was then that I realized even if I don’t remember much of my mom, she raised me for eight crucial years, at a time when I was being shaped into the person I am today. This meant that I am effected by her whether I knew it, remembered it or not. I am comforted by this realization.

One of the most transformative parts was during a yoga session when I was reflecting on the things I’ve learned about my mom over the past year. So far I’ve interviewed my dad, who had a lover‘s perspective. My godmother, who had the perspective of a childhood friend. A woman who became close to my mom in the last years of her life and Big Judi who knew her somewhere in the middle and gave her the name Baci, which was a huge part of her identity. Here I was in Italy, where she lived for years and for the very first time I felt like I knew her and I missed her. Does it sound crazy that I never missed her before? I didn’t know her and I didn’t think I remembered her so how could I have missed a stranger? For years I was too afraid to engage in conversation about my mom because I was saving myself from deep sadness.  That served and protected me then and now I am ready to feel.

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Me & Mine

In the summer of 2016, I was preparing to go on a shopping trip at BJ’s with a coworker for our Fourth of July BBQ.

Let’s call her L.

As we exited the company vehicle in the parking lot, she shared with me that she was sensing a female presence from the afterlife. It wasn’t until this moment that I knew my coworker was a Medium.

I’m skeptical of all things mystical. I believe that too often fraudulent people claim false abilities and prey on others who are in vulnerable or emotional positions.

But I didn’t ask for this contact. It was being presented to me.

We began discussing some of her other experiences in communicating with those who have passed on. She told me countless stories of their interactions while she was in museums, or near grave sites, where the dead often linger. We discussed high profile unsolved cases of which she was sure she knew the answers due to her abilities. L told me of how she never charges anyone to enlist her help. This put my mind at ease a bit and helped me to trust her more.

After telling L of those nearest to me who have died, she assumed the woman who was joining our shopping trip was either my mother or my grandmother. I clung to the idea of my mother trying to communicate with me and I needed to know more. I hadn’t after all, seen her since I was 8 when breast cancer put an end to her life.

BJ’s was too loud, L said. We should reconnect another time and do this in a setting where she could concentrate better and work at her full capacity. L was also moving across the country the following month. The clock was working against us.

The day before moving, in between her last minute errands, my fiance and I met with L in a park in the Bronx. We sat down at a bench amidst all the sounds of passing trains and traffic and the normal distractions of the boogie down. The setting was still not ideal but it would have to do.

We sat and I was asked to lead….. What questions did I have?

Shit. I wasn’t prepared.

I didn’t have any questions to ask, so L took over sharing with me things that my mother was sharing with her: Paint Jayda’s room pink and keep her into music- Jayda hates pink but loves to sing and plays the violin. My father was the love of her life- good to know. Name my next child Josephine- we’re hoping for a boy, but OK.Put her photograph back up on the wall- I had recently painted the walls in the room where my mother’s photo was hanging and hadn’t put her picture back up yet. This particular detail of our meeting intrigued me the most.

Before we parted ways, L told me that, my mother was hugging me and to expect a dream with her soon. I felt nothing and I so desperately want to feel my mother’s embrace. I was somewhat disappointed and confused by what was revealed to me as some of it had significance but not all of it.

When I returned home that evening, while looking through old pictures I saw and then remembered that the living room I grew up in with my mother, was pink. Was L really on to something here?

That day, I didn’t have any questions, but since that day I have many. Meeting with L prompted a drive in me to learn more about mother. Whether or not the encounter was truly authentic, I’ll never know but the consequent events have changed my life and that’s for sure. I decided to begin a research project by interviewing people who knew and loved my mother.

I first interviewed my mother’s childhood friend who is also my God Mother. Then I interviewed my dad, who was my mother’s ex-husband. Thirdly, I interviewed a close friend from my mother’s adulthood. I’m learning so much that I never knew I never knew!

I’m no longer afraid to confront my emotions while hearing the stories of a woman I barely got to know.  I’m excited to continue this project and I still have several more interviews to conduct. I don’t know what all will come of this. Blog posts? A book? We’ll see what I’m inspired to do once the research phase ends.

My mother lived in Italy for many years, pursuing her passion for acting and this August I will be visiting Italy for the first time so as you may imagine this trip holds great significance for me.

When my mother passed away, many including myself thought that I handled it well because I didn’t speak about it much but there are simply no words to match the pain in a little girl who loses her mother. This pain is now transforming into intrigue and appreciation…. stay tuned.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mommies and mother-figures, here and beyond

And I would like to wish a very Happy Mother’s Day to my own…

Yvonne Southerland

Yvonne Holder

Baci

Vonny

Mommy

(Baci is an Italian word which means Kisses and is pronounced “Bah-chee”)

Her & Hers

Dear Jayda,

Having you at 21 meant more time to share, more growing done together and more memories to hold forever! Thank you for making me a mother and for making this ride so sweet! You are a shining example of how pure and untainted love is and I couldn’t be happier to have been chosen to be your mommy!

Love,

Mommy

God Talk

The most arrogant thought I’ve ever had is that there is no God. See, I’m a cynic by nature and at times painfully sarcastic. I used to get kicks out of telling my elderly, Mississippi born and raised, God-fearing grandmother, that there is no God. Not only was there no God, I would show up to her house for the weekend without any clothes for church, a fact I would conveniently not reveal until Sunday morning. Boy, did her blood boil. Between that and my other comments about never wanting to learn how to cook because my future husband will cook for me, she disapproved of my ideology, to say the least.

When I was 8 years old, my mother died of breast cancer. After her passing, I moved in with my father and step-mother. We loved each other, but somehow the love got lost in translation. Strict rules for a defiant pre-teen, mixed with hurtful words such as “You’re not my mother!”, led to pain for all. I was already a quiet girl, and the loss of my mom led me to talk even less. I was taken to therapy but I just didn’t want to discuss the elephant in the room. I buried feelings of sadness for years and years to come.

I became pregnant with my daughter at the age of 21, which lead to more turbulence on the home front. I was politely asked to go reside where the baby was conceived. The relationship with my daughter’s father, as well as with subsequent men, was nothing short of something very appropriate for a young girl, stumbling around, without having learned how to handle her trauma, and thus causing more.

In my mid-20s I dated a guy and I could have guessed that he wasn’t “The One” if I was being honest with myself, but I wasn’t too invested in authenticity those days. At first, things were different, which meant that things were great. Wow, I thought, I can talk to this guy for hours! We laughed and taught and learned from one another. He was the first man I dated, who I also considered a friend.

The relationship, albeit refreshingly unique compared to those before it, was still riddled with deceit and disappointment. We first met and connected at work but after he started a new job, we began to only see each other monthly, despite living less than an hour away from one another. He would flake on plans, not call back, and not show up. A few years into our relationship, it became clear to him that I was taking things more seriously than he was and it became clear to me that his disruptive behavior was a reflection of his own dissatisfaction in life and that it had very little to do with me. As I began to Google “How to be Happy”, “Tricks for Happiness”, “Helping Loved Ones Through Depression”, he began to end things with me. I was learning these secrets for happiness in order to teach him, not even knowing that I was really teaching myself nor how valuable these lessons would soon be.

The break up was tough. The collapse of ideas I had so longed for, brought me into the darkest days I’ll ever know. Suicide ideation, prescription drug abuse and self-neglect took over for far too long.

Until July 16th, 2014, when I saw the snail. Walking past a Brooklyn bush, there slugged a snail. Small and almost unnoticeable, yet it caught my eye. I snapped a pic and posted it on Instagram with a caption that came to me as my fingers swiped along, “A snail! I declare this a sign of excellent health, prosperity and good fortune because that’s the typa stuff one declares when choosing happiness! Happy Wednesday y’all” I didn’t know I had chosen happiness until the decision was made. And as sneakily as depression cloaked my life, it had been lifted up by this arbitrary symbol of everything I needed. A symbol sent from God, fortified by all I had learned while trying to help my ex.

I do not believe in coincidences. Each person in my life is here for a reason, even when I can’t see what that reason is. Every heartache has taught me as much as I was willing to learn. Meeting a man, who I loved and thought I could save from depression, in turn, saved me from my own hidden depression. I began practicing the things I was intending to teach him. I wrote my Happy Lists. I asked myself what did I enjoy about my day, every day and then I made sure to do those things more often. I complained less and showed gratitude for every. little. thing. Forcefully at first, but then it came as a new way of being.

Afterward, I began proudly calling God by name because I was truly beginning to feel his grace and it was hard to keep in. When I say “Praise God!”, please believe that I am on my knees giving thanks. When I say “Look at God!”, I am truly marveling at his miracles. With God’s help, I can now see blessings that have always been there. With God’s help, I can now see beauty in things and in people where I once saw none. With God’s help, I see that there is God in me, and that I have a purpose and a calling and gifts to share with the world. With God’s help, my eyes, ears and heart stay open to the testimonies of all God’s children, because you never know who will share a word that will change your life.

I will not say that God has completely taken depression from my life. Some days are easier to see light than on others, but through God I don’t miss a single lesson, which gives my pain a purpose. I’m grateful for the storms I’ve endured because they make the sunlight that much more divine and through the grace of God, I am walking on sunshine.

(First posted @ www.link2usmag.com)

Manifesting Mindfulness With Children

My niece and nephew came to visit my daughter and me for the weekend. When I have the three kids together, I can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sudden increase in energy, demands, and complaints. I love them to pieces but their visits are a complete divergence from our usually quiet and low key lives. It feels good to see Jayda growing up so closely with her cousins especially because I didn’t have that same experience with my own cousins, due to our age differences.

I know from experience that the more bored the kids are the more they engage in negative behavior and the last thing I want to do on the weekend is play the mean mommy/auntie role as I hand out lectures and punishments.

Day 1 of the weekend was a disaster. I was mentally unprepared and still exhausted from my week of employment, passions, and responsibilities. The kids couldn’t quite figure out sharing, they had bottomless stomachs for snacks and they were restless.

Day 2 took a different turn, and here is how…

1. I was well rested– Usually, after the kids go to sleep I like to take advantage of a quiet house, so I stay awake for hours occupying myself with snacks, rated R movies and other vices. This time, I slept and the next day I was ready to tackle and engage! I also woke up before them which does not usually happen. It gave me time to get breakfast ready and prepare the room for our activities.

2. I made a plan– If you want to keep kids engaged all day, you will need a plan! I brainstormed the theme of the day and planned accordingly. Our theme was “Mindfulness and Gratitude” and our activities were guided meditation, yoga, vision boards and reading. We were flexible in our approaches but steadfast in our curriculum of the day.

3. I gave the kids expectations– The script went a little something like this “Good morning children! Today we will talk about and practice mindfulness and gratitude! We are going to have a great day with each other and we are going to be fair, considerate and kind!”

4. I considered their senses

Sound- Our ears were blessed by the peaceful sounds of October’s Child, who just released a new project entitled As You Go. The calming vocals and light instrumental elements brought exactly the feels I was longing for. Check them out with this link.

Sight- In my attempt to avoid overstimulation, I kept the blinds mostly drawn letting in just enough sunlight.

Smell- Throughout the duration of the morning and afternoon, I boiled dried lavender buds which filled the air with sweet and subtle scents. 

 

(I purchased mine from Amazon, link above)

Taste/Nutrition- Kids have energy and these kids have ENERGY! There was no added sugar in our diets today. Breakfast was eggs, toast, and hash browns. Knowing that they tend to skimp on meals so they can indulge in snacks later, today they were warned that there would be no snacks and they were advised to eat all of their breakfasts. To drink, they had tea with honey.  Lunch was pasta in a sauce made from pureed kidney bean, coconut milk and tomatoes. 


It was nice seeing the children explore their spiritualities and sense of gratitude. It was warm and refreshing to hear them talk about all of the parts of their lives that bring them joy. The best part was seeing the spirit of my mother live on through her grandchildren whom she never got to meet.

The day was a great success and just as I stopped running out of ideas for engagement, my brother arrived to pick my niece and nephew up. I would love to do this every time they come to visit, but to be honest it took time and energy that I don’t always have and sometimes, I like doing absolutely nothing, but I am grateful that I had the capacity to facilitate this today and hopefully there are long-lasting results that remain after the day is over.

 

Om Namah Shivaya

Namaste

Amen