A conversation with Erica Chidi feels like one big pep talk. A doula, author and CEO of LOOM (an online platform with pregnancy and postpartum classes), Erica has attended more than 300 births. “You’d think after so many years I’ve had my fill of babies,” she says. “But I’m always overwhelmed by the pure joy that fills the room. It’s a beautiful thing to watch a mother and child take each other in for the first time.” Her guidebook, Nurture, comes out tomorrow, and here Erica shares 10 things she tells new mothers…
Fertility. During the conception process, sometimes you need a little help. Adoption or surrogacy or IVF, it’s all great. We should all be empathic and sensitive about how people come to parenthood. You’re a mother, you’re a mother — no matter how you got there.
Listening to your gut. When you’re pregnant for the first time, you may feel vulnerable, and so many people will give you advice. Sometimes that advice isn’t right for you. So, trust to your intuition. That can show up in your body in lots of different ways — basically, if you’re having strong feelings, that’s your intuition speaking to you. Listen to that voice.
Body changes. Be gentle on yourself. The changes in your body are to bring a person into the world. Find comfortable clothing; nightly baths might feel good. It sounds woo-woo, but every day before you leave the house, look at yourself in the mirror, and say, “I love you.” Looking and talking to yourself can feel emotional; you might even cry. It’s a quick practical thing to do to reconnect with a part of yourself that doesn’t typically get a lot of nurturing.
THE BIRTH PROCESS
Packing a bag. If there’s a toilet paper you like, bring it with you. Most hospitals have one-ply! Feel free to bring your robe, pillow or anything else that will help you relax. Also, everyone calls it a “birth bag,” but it can be a wheelie suitcase!
Natural birth. We need to stop using the term “natural birth.” The concept of natural birth is divisive and inherently competitive. All birth is natural. It’s as simple as that. If you want to have the intense sensations of labor and you’re coping well, go for it! If you have a hard time with pain or you have bad associations from trauma, that’s totally okay. You have the inherent right to choose how you want to navigate your birth experience, and those choices should be free of judgment. You should be celebrated for moving through the process of pregnancy and birth, however it unfolds, unmedicated, medicated or cesarean. THERE IS NO UNNATURAL BIRTH. It’s not Westworld. It’s all natural.
Managing labor. Pain in labor is different from any other pain. It’s sophisticated. You won’t feel it continuously for hours — like when you sprain your ankle. You’ll have little breaks between contractions. Whether you’re unmedicated or medicated, here are a few things that might provide comfort: soothing music; an essential oil diffuser (lavender, neroli or both — I’ve seen an instant mood change when doctors/nurses walk into rooms with aromatherapy); a focal point, like bringing a picture into the room and looking at it during contractions; massage; and moving or swaying. Repetition and rhythm can feel good. One client played “Push It” over and over when she was pushing!
Choosing your team. Don’t feel pressure to have your whole family in the room. Labor is an intimate event. Would you want 10 people in the bathroom with you when you’re peeing? Maybe not. Whatever feels best to you is okay. If you need someone to blame it on, blame it on your care provider. Blame it on me!
Helping as a partner. I like having ice chips and frozen grapes on hand (you can keep them in a cooler). Massage can also feel good during labor. Go for long, deep pressure strokes, versus light brisk rubbing. If you’re unsure if your technique is working, here’s a great tip: No news is good news. When a women is in labor, if she doesn’t like something, she’ll let you know!
Feeding the baby. The most important thing is that you feed your baby. Whether you breastfeed, pump, use formula or do a mix, your baby will be just fine. If you do hope to breastfeed, book a lactation consultant to come to your home within the first seven days. No matter what; set it and forget it. If it’s hard to afford, put it on your registry. It will be the best money ever spent. The first two to four weeks of breastfeeding are the hardest, and a lactation consultant can be a sanity check. After that it generally gets much easier.
Mental health. If you have a history of depression or anxiety — or are starting to feel off — tell your care provider early on in your pregnancy. Mental health is grossly under-discussed in pregnancy, especially since perinatal depression affects roughly 15 to 25 percent of pregnant women. You don’t have to suffer through it. For some women it might be best to take medication; you can work with your provider to make sure that’s safe.
Same goes for when you’re a new mom: You don’t have to grin and bear it. So many mothers internalize those feelings and try to deal with it on their own and it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a quick assessment guide and a guide called How Do I Talk To My Doctor (SO SO GOOD). The The Postpartum Stress Center has provider recommendations, too. In New York, there’s the Motherhood Center, as well.
You did it, you’re doing it and you’ll continue to do it! You are already a great mom. Be gentle on yourself while you cultivate your parenting muscle, and make room for mistakes. No two mothers are going to move through this journey the same way, and that’s a good thing, because your baby needs that special magic only you can bring. I’m thrilled for you, and I’m so proud of you. You’ve got this.
Thank you so much, Erica. Here’s her new book, if you’d like to see. xoxo
P.S. The hardest two months of my life, and a pregnancy survival guide.
(Photo of Erica by Nicki Sebastian for Dôen, published with permission. As-told-to interview by Joanna Goddard.)