We’re talking pregnancy, preparing for birth, the postpartum period, that illusory concept of ‘maternal identity’, partnership after children, raising kids in a second or third culture, new languages, & finding your work-life balance with children. In a word: transitions. Conversation is always invited.
Maps to Mammas Q&A Sessions
I’ve never handled a baby before. How delicate are they and what are some examples of ways to care for the baby?
Somehow we adapt to caring for our newborns. This is a great reason for taking the first 40 days after the baby is born to bond and start to create care practices. In the beginning the baby will naturally be very delicate. One thing I sometimes notice with newborns is that we want to make sure we are supporting the baby’s neck and head when you lift the baby. It will be clear when the baby has more control of it’s neck, but in the meantime, it needs that extra support.
I sometimes think we are similar to marsupials (kangaroos and koalas) in the new born phase because we are born before we are able to hold our basic posture. Newborns are still in a sort of incubation period for a while after birth. Perhaps this is why so many cultures consider that 40 day resting period so crucial.
As the baby grows, they grow stronger. You will be able to manipulate their bodies with less caution. As the baby grows, you also grow more confident. You are able to rely on your own intuitions and create your own systems.
Here is a gorgeous demonstration of how this Senegalese woman massaged a small baby. I would estimate that this baby is 3 to 5 months old. I am ready for my own massage after this!
I am elegant. I am in control. Will I lose it all in Labor?
This confrontation with identity makes so much sense. It puts anybody into a foreign territory where everything around you is new.
“I think this (and probably other worries or thoughts I may have) comes down to my general fear of giving up control and being vulnerable, especially when it comes to physical things. I grew up a strong, feminine tomboy with neighborhood boys, and would climb trees and arm wrestle. I would later pride myself in riding a fix gear bike with high heels and a skirt and no hands down the hills etc. My whole identity is wrapped up in this strong yet feminine ideal. The thought of being weak, sick, dependent or losing control are the scariest things I can imagine. I also realised that this was one of the reasons why I found it so difficult to share the news of my pregnancy in the beginning, even to family, because it made me feel so vulnerable and at the mercy of my own body and forces I cannot control. Does this make sense?”
One of the roles of both your doula and/or your midwife is to empower the woman in every way possible. You communicating this value to be in control, is very important to share with anyone you’re working with.
This journey or moment (it can feel like both) will introduce you to new sides of yourself. You will find new opportunities to evolve your own identity.
We have a long way to go in terms of research on childbirth, however from the oral records of midwives and out-of-hospital birth attendants, allowing a woman space to be on her own, to go into her zone, during labor and birth is empowering. As Dr. Michel Odent argues, this solitude and darkness also turns off the neo-cortex portion of the brain that gets us back into calculating, worrying, overthinking.
A beautiful analogy is the cave.
Not all of us subscribe to spiritual teachings, but if you do, a very powerful lesson comes from Eckhardt Tolle. In Power of Now, he teaches the importance of being in the moment. Our identities are features of our *past* experiences. Our projections and fears are features of the future. Both, we have no real control of altering. The only thing we can impact is the very moment we are living.
Story: In my own experience, my birth stories were characterized by witnessing, rather than worrying or controlling. This in itself was adventurous. This was full of new sensations. When there was pain, it was completely different than any other. If there was pleasure, it appeared like no other. There were waves of sensations, then pauses. This offers an opportunity for you to experience your identity in that moment.
Your moment will be completely unique to you.
Climbing mount Everest would challenge you in new ways, it would make you question your strength, make you vulnerable. In the end, you’ve added a great feat to your identity. You would tell a story in words that are a novel language. Many women have birthed, many partners have witnessed, but no one would experience it the same. Like a series of artists paintings with the same scenery- you witness and realize something completely unique.
Essentially, pregnancy and birth are not illnesses. On the one hand they are physiological processes. They are also challenges. They are experiences. Journeys.
Who will be present at birth? Is that up to me alone? If you are in a hospital, do you have control over who is there?
If you are planning home birth, you have complete control over who is present. Your midwife will likely discuss with you who you feel comfortable being present.
In my course, we also address this question in some depth. You will want people present who make you feel comfortable, safe, in control, stress-free and informed.
In the hospital the number of visitors allowed in the room during delivery are usually limited, however there will be a rotation of staff checking in on you, or performing routine procedures. If you require a c-section, usually only either your birth partner or your doula is allowed to accompany you.
In my own experience, I intuitively chose to spend as much time alone as possible, with little to no light or other interruptions. This allowed me to go into my zone. Dr. Michel Odent pointed to observations that show that when a birthing woman is left alone with little interference, she experiences optimal levels of hormones (melatonin, oxytocin, endorphines) that support the progression of her birth. Your doula, midwife or OB should always be vigilant of where you are in your labor. However, them not being next to you or touching you could mean that they are allowing space for your earlier stages of labor to progress more quickly. I recommend speaking to your birth attendant about how they manage your desire to be alone or your desire to have constant contact.
What kind of changes can I expect in him, or in the relationship in general?
Of course, every man is going to respond differently. And every relationship is has its own dynamics. That being said, men are much more involved in pregnancy and birth than in previous generations.
Some men even respond as if they themselves are going to be giving birth. There is even a term in psychology, Couvade Syndrome or sympathetic pregnancy, that describes the behavioural or physical shifts men undergo when their partner is pregnant. Your partner might gain weight, experience morning sickness, heightened hormone levels, some even experience labor pains and postpartum depression. As far we know, these aren’t very common, but if you do notice any of these shifts, know that they are within the spectrum of pregnancy and birth experience.
In my own experience, this was something that took me by surprise. After our eventful first birth, my partner really felt isolated from the experience. Of course, he was really moved by witnessing the birth of our first child, but in the period after he felt a void. His role wasn’t immediately obvious. Most of the attention from friends, family, doctors, doulas, midwives, and even strangers went to either me or the newborn. Our newborn was naturally very dependent on her mother for everything from nourishment to comfort. This father-child relationship wasn’t immediate and had to grow over time.
When a man sleeps and lives in the same space as you, he will be exposed to the micro-organisms you grow throughout your pregnancy. So, if, for any reason, you are unable to be with your baby immediately after birth, your partner can also expose your newborn to these protective organisms through skin-to-skin contact.
Simply to be aware of these possibilities can be very useful for a new father. I try to mention this when I speak to new dads because all of this is just as foreign territory for him as the new mother. Although, new mothers oftentimes (but not always) have instinctual behaviour that guides them in caring for their new baby.
What is normally the role of the father during birth?
The role of the father will be guided by a few things. Your relationship, whether or not he feels comfortable being witness to such a primal event (with all of
its’ fluids, blood and bodily exposure), whether or not he feels comfortable seeing you going through this experience wherever it takes you. As I mentioned, the Bonapace method addresses some important techniques that your partner can use to reduce pain during your birth. Having this preparations empowers him to be a part of this experience in an active way.
In my experience, not every woman wants to be touched during her labor. You may find it more effective to move around freely, in some degree of solitude. This doesn’t mean that you wouldhave an unassisted birth, although this is also an option for anyone who is well prepared for this experience. This can also mean that your midwife is monitoring your progress, but she can do so by discretely checking in with you when seek her presence or when she senses that you need support. Similar with your partner, you can call him in to support you when you feel the need.
This is going to be important to communicate beforehand. All women birth differently. You want to prepare your partner for this possibility. They should understand that you will need to have access to your intuition and guide your behaviour or movement accordingly. Because this experience is so drastically different from any other, you may find yourself adamant that you be left alone, or that you are surrounded by a specific person, scent, sound, that you can adjust to a specific posture, drink water, yell or sing at the top of your lungs, whisper, moan. Your partner is still going to be loved and welcomed to the degree that you have the capacity to express. His role might be to help you prepare warm water, or a glass to drink, or getting cushions or chairs in place, helping you adjust through your movements. It will be a life-changing experience for him to witness bringing your child into the world. If he understands this, it will guide him in supporting this birth process in the most effective way.
After the baby is born, it will take you a while to walk and go about your everyday routines. This is going to be a time where you are bonding and needing to support each other physically, emotionally. This can be a time where he also experiences very unique emotions emerge. Although in their infancy, there are some research underway on hormonal shifts in men after childbirth. This is to suggest that this is a normal part of bringing a child into the world.
How do I make him feel as involved in the pregnancy as possible?
Naturally, you will be the most preoccupied with learning everything you can about pregnancy and birth.
You will discover that fathers do change, even hormonally, while being in your company throughout your pregnancy. Information that points to the fact that he has a role in your pregnancy, birth, and in your 4th trimester, will make his involvement more tangible and necessary.
In the Happy Healthy Child series, there is so much fascinating information presented by global birth experts that he can learn from. Because he will be your birth partner, and probably be making as many decisions as you, it’s very important that he feels informed and confident in making those decisions. In my course I guide you to create a pact and ritual with your partner that helps you both understand what your roles are going to be throughout this experience.
If you are planning a home birth, your midwife will likely provide your partner with a list of responsibilities in preparing for the homebirth. This invites him in and allows him to get accustomed to partnering with your midwife to support you birth experience.
My dear friend and midwife trainer, Julie Bonapace, has developed a method to specifically guide partners in non-pharmacological pain management. I’ve done a fascinating interview with her where she shares some of the underlying science behind how under the right conditions our bodies are able to deal with the pain of childbirth.
Any tips or recommendations on how to raise a multilingual child?
You can approach this a few ways. You will need to prioritize which language(s) you want to be stronger.
If you want your child to speak all of your languages equally, then you usually have to give them constant exposure to each. A great way to approach this is by each of you always speaking your own native language to your child. Kids are very different in how they process language, but some simply understand that one language is a mama language and one is a papa language, for example. They can fluidly switch between the two. Something like us switching up the complexity of our language depending on who we’re talking to. It can be an automatic shift.
If your child is in a bilingual kita or school, they will have a strong grasp of the languages spoken there. So, for example, if the kita does not offer Norwegian, then you will want to make this stronger at home.
Ways that you can support your child’s language learning in the tongue that they don’t have exposure to at kita/school (let’s say that’s Norwegian) include consistently reading Norwegian books, watching age-appropriate films that you remember from your own childhood, improvizational storytelling in Norwegian, and meeting adult and children friends who speak Norwegian.
If you do storytell, watch films or read books, it’s important to consistently ask your child questions about what their reading. You can ask them what their favorite part of the book is and encourage them to respond in Norwegian.
Speaking and understanding language engages completely different facilities of the brain, so you will start to notice that children (or anybody) understands much more than they can speak. For this reason, you want them to get comfortable creating language, not just interpreting and understanding it. Another reason this exercise is important, is because once your child begins to develop social awareness, they may be embarrassed to use a language that they don’t feel they’ve mastered.
The importance of meeting friends who speak Norwegian, for example, is because your child will have the opportunity to see that speaking in Norwegian is just as normal as speaking in German or English or anything other language that they are normally exposed to. You may also want to The other benefit of sometimes creating a Norwegian-only environments for your child, is that they will be placed in a situation where the only way they can communicate is by speaking Norwegian, thereby activating the language creation part of their brain. The more your child does this, the easier it is for them to continue experimenting with language.