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pregnancy

Rural Roots: Mothering Under the Big Sky, by Kelly Rumney

By Birth, Caregiving, Community, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting, pregnancy, Self-compassion

This is a featured article from our 3rd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

Rural Roots: Mothering Under the Big Sky, by Kelly Rumney

As Montana residents, we all have some sense of what rural life looks like. In fact, living in wide open spaces can be peaceful and rewarding; it’s one reason many of us choose Montana as home in the first place. But, as a mother of a newborn, it can also be isolating and intimidating.

I live on a beautiful ranch 10 miles outside of Cascade, a small town of around 600 people. As soon as my husband steps out the front door, he’s already at work, tackling jobs that require him to report for duty seven days a week, during most of the year. Living the dream! Except…I am 45 minutes from the nearest medical help or activities for my children. As a new mother, this definitely caused anxiety. Raising my children here is sometimes comforting and sometimes lonely. Often, it’s both. When they were little, I learned to get out and interact with other mothers because, through conversation, we shared similar worries, struggles and wins. Talking with them helped ease my anxiety and depression so much. But, getting up and out of the house and on the (long) road is easier said than done.

When I gave birth to my daughter, I was 22. I had never changed a diaper or interacted with babies other than our calves. Needless to say, I was unsure about motherhood. So, after she was born, the friendly nurses made sure the car seat was good to go and I was released into the wild – sore, exhausted, and terrified. I arrived home, a panicked mess, and tried to act like I knew what I was doing. Fake it ‘til you make it, right? I felt so unprepared. Luckily, my mom stayed for a few days to help, and my mother-in-law lived next door. They both offered advice, but it was mostly conflicting and definitely wasn’t what I’d read in the baby book. Visitors came, and they too would offer heaps of advice.

Meanwhile, no one warned me that I would continue to look and feel like a whale, or that nursing would be so darn hard, or that I would be so sore. Did I mention the baby was 8lbs, 10oz after 17 hours of labor? The cows out in the field make it look a lot easier! Eventually, things quieted down but, as soon as it did, I longed for people to come back and advise me. I was alone all day, every day with only my own panic for company. Is she pooping too much or too little? Eating enough? Crying enough? Too much? What if she stops breathing? Why won’t the baby stop crying; is she fevered? I swear I took her temperature 12 times a day.

Oh, the mom brain! I imagined horrendous things happening to my infant. I once spewed out all the thoughts in my brain to my husband, who seemed so calm in his transition to parenthood, changing diapers like a pro and unfazed by screaming or fussing. He asked how a person could stay sane with the thoughts I was having. Well, I wasn’t! I was struggling with postpartum depression but didn’t realize it until the birth of my son, two years later.

Everything felt so overwhelming. John would go to work, and I would worry about all the possible accidents he might get into. It seemed like I was faking it, but not making it. Even doctor appointments and grocery shopping felt daunting. Since we lived so far from town, we would try to fit in as many errands as we could into one trip. This meant long days spent trying to function in public. Nursing in the car’s not easy, and I constantly worried that people would hear my baby crying and judge me.

Finally, someone told me “Dumber people than you have raised perfectly healthy and happy children.” And, for whatever reason, hearing that made me feel better. In fact, 16 years later, I still remind myself of this. I came to understand that we all have strengths and weaknesses and despite, or maybe because of them, our kids will be okay, as long as we care enough to try. Let me repeat: TRY, not master!

I started to relax and let the baby cry for a few minutes in the crib while I showered. I napped when the baby slept. I went for walks, taking time to just breathe the mountain air and visited my 15-miles-away-neighbor who had a baby the same age and found that we shared a lot of the same worries and self-doubts. I saved my favorite show to watch during night feedings, so it felt like a special treat. And, instead of putting pressure on myself to keep the whole house clean, I just chose one spot (the kitchen sink) and focused on keeping that clean. The rest of the house might be a disaster but, if that sink was shiny and tidy, I felt like I was succeeding in life. These were small things, but they made a big difference.

Then, along came child number two and it seemed like everything I had learned up until then no longer applied. Depression hit hard. This baby did not sleep and, honestly, I can’t share much about how I got through this time because I don’t even really remember. We faced jaundice, ear infections and thrush (which made nursing excruciatingly painful). Labor was more complicated, so recovery was harder and took longer. I had intrusive thoughts that scared me and kept me up at night, but I also had thoughts that seemed so apathetic and disconnected they didn’t even feel like my own. I’d say to myself, “What kind of mother thinks this way?”.

I felt like I was in an exhausted stupor most of the time; just running on fumes in auto-pilot mode. I’d forget things and miss things and was afraid of what that could mean. I no longer felt like a healthy mom, so I finally asked my doctor to help me with the curtain of apathy and exhaustion that had landed between me and my world. The cowboy mentality of “spit on it and rub a little dirt in it” was not going to suffice here. I was isolated, sad, and tired, but none of that was my fault.

My husband was incredibly supportive and involved with the baby, which was great but, in some ways, made me feel worse. Why was this so easy for him? Eventually, I realized I was not a bad mom. Like so many other moms, I was trying to live up to an unrealistic ideal that just doesn’t exist. By taking the time to care for myself and allowing myself some grace, I was doing a much better job of taking care of my baby. I was learning to ask for help and that accepting help didn’t mean I was failing as mom; it actually meant I was rocking it!

As I look back, I realize that every parenting journey comes with unique challenges, and you have to just parent in a way that works for you and your family. Take the advice that helps and leave the stuff that doesn’t. Just because you don’t have a chore chart doesn’t mean your kiddos won’t grow into responsible adults. No two children are exactly the same, so no two parenting styles should be the same either. What worked for my first born had to go out the window for my second born. In balancing a teaching career along with parenting over the past 10 years, I have spent a lot of time with other people’s children and, from what I can tell, the kids that seem to be growing into fully functioning citizens are the ones whose parents consistently try their best, but also allow for chaos, mistakes, and messes. They surround themselves with support so they can be reminded that one bad day does not mean the end of it all. So, give yourself some grace, find support, and just TRY!

Resources and Support:

To learn about statewide programs and resources designed to help support rural families in Montana visit: https://www.frontier.care/beyondtheweather.html

Or, visit https://hmhb-lifts.org/ for local resources using the search terms “counselors” or “support groups”.

 

The Unexpected Blessing, by Crystal Ascheman

By Birth, Down Syndrome, Medical Diagnosis, Parenting, pregnancy, Self-compassion, The Power of Story

This is a featured article from our 3rd edition of the LIFTS Magazine.  

The Unexpected Blessing, by Crystal Ascheman

I remember it as if it happened yesterday, even though it’s been seven years now. My husband and I are sitting in our week 20 ultrasound, excited to find out the gender of our second child together (the third of four children in our blended family). We’re feeling so much excitement and joy and wearing the biggest of smiles. A boy! But then, our celebration is cut short as the ultrasound technician gets quiet while she takes typical growth measurements. As I look up at the screen, I see what has caused her sudden shift in mood. Having attended pre-medicine in college, before starting a family, I know that the measurements are not typical for the gestational age of our precious baby boy. She tries her best to explain the possible abnormalities to my husband and lets us know that she will be sending the image directly to our doctor for urgent review. I don’t add to her explanation as I am still trying to process this unexpected new revelation in real time and am in complete shock. My two previous pregnancies had been typical; with no reason for concern. One week from that first ultrasound, we received a phone call confirming a 96% likelihood of a Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) diagnosis. And so began the unknown journey into the blessings of the unexpected. Reflecting upon that overwhelming time in my life, I sometimes wish I could go back in time, sit down next to my 7-year-ago-self, look her in the eye, and reassure her. Here are some of the things I would say:

“I want you to know that it’s okay to feel all of these big emotions after the surprising news you’ve just received. It’s perfectly normal. It’s okay to not have all the answers right now. As parents, we will never have all the answers. Take your time to process and work through the whirlwind engulfing you. As mothers, we are the rocks to our families and we want to look strong and put together but, right now it’s okay to ask for help. (You will need to do this regularly throughout this special journey). You are not inadequate or failing. Just the opposite! You are strong and brave. In being so, you need support right now for your own mental wellness and health, so you can be the best version of yourself and be the mother you want to be. Please don’t suffer alone in silence trying to “hold it all together”. Extend the same grace and compassion to yourself as you afford to everyone else. Be kind to yourself. Little eyes and little hearts are learning from your example of self-care.

As you adjust to this new version of motherhood with a child with a disability, don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out to the special community of parents and organizations who share your concerns, struggles, and triumphs. They hold invaluable experience on this extraordinary journey. They will truly be the only ones who will understand just how you’re feeling and the battles you will encounter. You are not meant to face these battles alone. You’ll need a collective community full of compassion and understanding. These will be your “people” and your precious son’s “people”. Embrace them with a happy heart. Learn from their experiences because they will help you to find your voice (for your son) and don’t be afraid to use it! You’ll need to speak up often along the way. And always trust your instincts as a mother–you can rely on them to carry you through.

As the weeks turn into months and months into years, you will encounter some hard days. On those days there will be many tears and doubts. Remember, they are but a moment in time and this too shall pass. There will be times when you feel like you’ve given your all and it’s still not enough. But I’m here to tell you that it is. You ARE enough. I’m here to remind you you’re doing a wonderful job, even though it’s a tough one. I want you to know that all the effort and hard work you’re putting in and all of the sacrifices you’re making DO make a difference. You might not be able to see it right away but, the most important difference you will ever make will be realized in the quality of life you’re giving to your children. There is no better reward in life than that. As you find your way through these hard days, you will also have days filled with a level of joy you’ve never experienced before. And, in the middle of all of it, you’ll have the subtle realization that you never would have found all this joy and strength and grace if you weren’t walking along this special path, holding his little hand in yours. While this journey is not one for everyone, it’s the journey you never knew you wanted, and it comes with the best unexpected blessings.”

 

 

Resources and Support:

To learn about statewide programs designed to help support families like Crystal’s, visit https://www.umt.edu/rural-institute/act-early-montana/resources/.  To find local resources, visit https://hmhb-lifts.org/ and search the term “child development”.

Crystal also highly recommends:

Community Children’s Pediatric Specialty Clinic: https://www.communitychildrens.org/services/pediatric-specialists/

Butte’s Special Riders program https://www.buttespecialriders.org/

Supporting Mothers in the Postpartum

By Archives, Birth, Breastfeeding, Feeding Baby, Maternal Mental Health, Parenting, Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, pregnancy, Published Work

Written by Emily Clewis on behalf of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies and the Maternal Mental Health Task Force of Helena.

In honor of May as Maternal Mental Health Month, Helena’s Maternal Mental Health Task Force, in partnership with Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, would like to highlight ways that communities can support moms during the postpartum period.

While holding a new baby is exciting, it’s the birthing person that truly needs to be held, loved and supported in this golden but vulnerable time. Their body and mind will have run the ultimate marathon and they will need support. If the mother is well supported during this time, she can care well for the new baby. If you’re visiting in the first weeks, remember you are there to support the parents. Remind them they don’t need to host you and that you are there to help.

Always ask parents before coming to visit. In the blur of the first few weeks, flexibility is best! Remember: new babies have no sense of night or day, so parents may be sleeping with their little ones at noon after being up all night. If they say they are welcoming visitors, when you get to their house, wash your hands well and keep your face away from the baby. Babies are vulnerable to common illnesses. Offer to bring by healthy snacks or a ready to heat nutritious meal! New moms, especially those breastfeeding, will be hungry often as it takes much energy to care for newborns. If they feed the baby while you’re there, help her put her feet up and offer to get her water or a snack (then, maybe do the dishes).

Look around the home for things that need to be done; laundry, dishes, taking out the trash, etc. If there are older children in the house offer to watch a movie with them or take them on a walk. Always ask the parents if it’s okay to hold the baby. If they say yes, encourage them to take a shower or quick nap while you’re there. Ask new parents what they need, they will likely tell you! Finally, don’t overstay. Parents during this time are heavily exhausted, and even well-meaning company can make parents feel the need to entertain. An hour or so is plenty in those first few weeks, unless the parents ask otherwise!

Keep in mind that the No. 1 complication of birth is postpartum depression. One in six Montana mothers will experience it. Knowing the signs and symptoms of mood disorders in the postpartum period increases the likelihood of treatment. Some things to look for include sadness, guilt, inability to make decisions, poor self-care, low self-esteem, mood swings, appetite changes, excessive crying and more. While only a health care provider can offer treatment, if you, or the new mom in your life, is experiencing any of these symptoms, encourage them that it’s not their fault they feel that way, and that help is available through their OB or primary care physician.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic may have made the experience of having a little one more nerve-racking. Families may have varying feelings of comfortability having multiple visitors during this vulnerable period of recovery. Ask parents what precautions they may be taking and if they are up for visitors! If they aren’t, you can still support them by dropping off easy-to-heat meals, or sending a gift card to DoorDash, Grubhub or their favorite restaurant.

Families in the postpartum, or fourth trimester, thrive with healthy community support. Additionally, moms are less likely to suffer from perinatal depression and babies have better health outcomes. Together, we can ensure that parents have a positive postpartum experience!

 

Believe Her.

By advocacy, Birth, Maternal Mental Health, pregnancy, The Power of Story

Recently, I’ve been listening to women. And, you know what strikes me? That really listening to women is a radical act. Believing them without minimizing or dismissing their experiences (even if what they’re saying makes you uneasy) is downright revolutionary. This is especially true when it comes to experiences around pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum journey. In many cases, women are second-guessed in crucial moments of their perinatal experience. There seems to be an inherent mistrust when it comes to a woman expressing and advocating for her own body. I’ll give you a couple examples.

I have birthed two babies in two very different ways. My first was reluctant to emerge. Ten days past her due date, she was still hanging out in there. She likes to do things on her own watch, still. The more you pressure her, the more she resists. Her entrance into the world was no exception. I tried everything, I hiked up a mountain, I ate an entire pineapple, I choked down the spiciest food I could find. Hell, I even went for a run which is not something I recommend doing when you are a week overdue. But, what I didn’t know, is that I could have, and maybe should have, just chilled out and trusted my body. I didn’t know that listening to my own intuition may have been the best choice of all. And when I begged and bartered for a few more days, my doctor didn’t listen. Instead, she presented me with facts and figures until I was scared enough to agree schedule an induction, which led to lots of other medical interventions, me feeling incredibly disconnected from my body and, ultimately, an emergency c-section that felt to me like a monumental failure. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful we all survived, but I can’t shake the feeling that things may have gone very differently had I trusted my own instincts, had my doctor given me more space to voice my needs and taken them seriously.

My second is an entirely different story with the same theme. Let’s start with the fact that, in my town, I couldn’t even attempt a Vaginal Delivery After C-section or VBAC. It’s against hospital policy. Let’s continue with the fact that I had to talk my husband into driving an hour and a half in February to the next town over that would allow me to birth my baby the way I wanted to. Let’s go even further to the part where I show up at that hospital in labor, with actively intensifying contractions and the nurse doesn’t believe me. She instructs me to take a hundred laps around the labor and delivery ward to see if I’ll dilate more. I circle around the nurses station and pass by the rooms of real patients, which feels ridiculous and embarrassing considering I’m getting ready to bring a new life into the world. She is unimpressed by my lack of progress. The pain is coming regularly now. She tells us to leave, go out to dinner, maybe come back later but says we’ll probably just have to head back home and try again another day. Go out to dinner? Um, yeah, no thanks. The noise, the smell of food, the niceties, the people all around me just, ya’ know, eating dinner while I’m enduring labor pains? Maybe some other night. So, we check into the Super 8 Motel (that’s currently ongoing construction) but is closest to the hospital and cheap. At least there’s a bathtub, I think to myself. A few hours later, when I can no longer stand the pain and the intensity increases to what feels extremely urgent, we go back to the hospital. They allow me to lay down in the sort of limbo room and check me. Apparently, they aren’t going to let me in to have a baby unless I can prove myself through ample vaginal dilation. I can’t. But after they poke and prod at my most sensitive bits with no sensitivity at all and leave the room to compare notes my water breaks and I think, Well,  they can’t turn me away now. I’m in.

All moms have a different birth story, it’s true. But, one thing I hear all too often is, “They just didn’t listen. They just didn’t believe me.” This isn’t right and it isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be normal for women feel bullied, pressured or neglected during labor and delivery (or at any other time in their lives). They shouldn’t have to prove they’re in need of care. They deserve to be heard. They deserve to be trusted and honored. They deserve to be praised and supported in their process. They’re trying to tap into a deeper wisdom than that of policy and procedure. These are our life-givers. Hear them, believe them, please.