Letters to a True North Baby, Week 21: The Christmas Tree

Week 21: The Christmas tree

Dear True North Baby,

Your dad bought us a Christmas tree this week.  Trust me when I say that it was kind of a big deal.

For the past 10 years or so, we have not been big on Christmas.  Your dad’s reasons are simple:  he likes things uncomplicated.   He would rather not deal with putting things up and taking them down and all of the fuss and the mess and the stress.  He would rather sit around with a mug of hot cocoa and watch a movie.  I love that he is grounded in this way.

My reasons are more complicated.  I, for one, LOVE a bit of holiday magic.  All of the twinkly lights and the scent of pine and the pretty ribbons spark joy in me.  I love the feeling of anticipation that comes  each December; everything is ripe for the possibility of celebration.  I like things to be special. 

For past ten years, though, I have been under a sort of Christmas embargo.

Growing up as secular child in the American West, I LOVED Christmas.  Every year, just after Thanksgiving, we would set out in his old yellow pickup truck into the mountains to cut our Christmas tree.  We almost always packed something warmto eat and a big, green thermos filled with hot chocolate. We would be out all day.  I loved how our house smelled of pine once the tree was up.  I especially loved unpacking and hanging our ornaments, each one a memory in itself. 

Luckily, my parents were divorced so I got to decorate a tree TWICE each year. 

I loved giving gifts.  I would spend hours finding the perfect present for each of my friends and family members.  It brought me joy to think of them as I shopped and again as the gift was given.

Most of all, I loved being with my family.  I loved going to my grandpa’s house every Christmas Eve to eat Swiss elk and play with my cousins.  I loved spending Christmas morning at my dad’s house and Christmas evening at my mom’s.  I felt loved, even if our family life was sometimes complicated.

Over time, though, Christmas felt less simple. There were always more gifts to be given, more feelings to consider, more money to be spent.  Family became more complicated. Plans became more complicated.   I couldn’t be everywhere I wanted to be at every moment; my family was just too big.  Christmas started to feel like a chore.

At some point, I got tired of it all.  I was sick of the obligation and politics around gift-giving, of the insane amounts of money we spent just because we felt we HAD to.  I was sick of giving gifts that didn’t come from the heart, the ones that came from obligation.  I hated to gifts that I would later need to get rid of; I felt SO guilty.  I couldn't wrap my head around all the packaging and the waste.  I felt sorry for the dead trees. 

In short, I was in the middle of a full-blown existential crisis. 

So I decided to opt out:

I stopped buying gifts.
I stopped feeling obligated.
I refused to put up a tree or any sort of decoration.

I soon moved (far) away from home and stopped even visiting over the holidays.

At first I felt relief, freed from the shackles of mass consumption and guilt.  It felt good not worry about money or hurt feelings at Christmas.  We would make no plans; just wing it as we went along.  Sometimes we would get together with friends for dinner and wine.  Other times we would just hang out at home and watch a movie.  One year even, we went to New York City for a few days and got to be Christmas tourists.  That was really fun.

Every year, though, I have missed my family.  Every year, I felt like there was some tradition lost. 

I realize now that in giving up the gift-giving and the decorating and the family visits at holiday time, I had also inadvertently given up ritual.   It was the ritual that made the time seem special and magical to me.  It was the ritual that helped make memories, tying each year to the next.

I have been thinking a lot about ritual lately.  What kind of traditions do I want to pass down to you and your brother?  What do I want you to remember most about your childhood?  What did I like most about mine?

So, this year your father decided we needed a tree.   I was thrilled when he suggested it, not because we need to spend the money to make Christmas special, but that, for me it felt like home.  That smell of pine will get me every time.

I am planning on baking us something nice, to be eaten in our pyjamas as we cozy up on Christmas morning.  I don’t know what kind of legacy we end up leaving your and your brother, but I hope that it feels a lot like love and not at all like obligation

With love, always,

Doula Mama

Letters to a True North Baby: Week 20

Today we introduce a new series on the True North Doulas blog: “Letters to a True North Baby.” Each week we will chronicle the second pregnancy for TND founder Erica Gipson, written as a letter to her baby.  We are starting in the middle because, well, that is where we are now.  We hope you enjoy!


Week 20: The Ultrasound

Dear True North Baby,

Our journey together (as one body) is already halfway done.  How did that happen? The first trimester is always so slow, but now it seems that time is disintegrating before me.  20 weeks?  I still can’t believe it.

Are you going to be a calm, gentle soul?  Sometimes it is easy for me to forget you are even there.  My pregnancy with your brother was so different.  He kicked and prodded and flitted about from very early on (14 weeks); he hasn’t stopped moving since.  With you, I must admit, I worried when I didn’t feel you move much at all.  At 15 weeks I thought maybe I felt a nudge, but it wasn’t as obvious as it was with your brother.  Even up until we had the ultrasound this week, I couldn’t feel much movement at all.  I wondered if you were ok.  I didn’t want to focus on my worst fears (that you had a chromosomal problem incompatible with life), so I just didn’t think about it much.  I knew there was probably a good explanation for the silence in my belly (like an anterior placenta to cushion your little blows).  Still, I was nervous.

Your dad took the morning off of work so that we could go to the ultrasound together.  We were one of the first on the list for that day, and it was nice, for once, not to have to wait.  Our ultrasound technician was darling and sweet and put me at ease immediately.  I made sure to tell her that we didn’t want to know your sex—we want that moment for ourselves when you are born. She had nothing but reassuring things to say from the start and was careful to have us close our eyes when she was looking between your legs.  We still don’t know if you are a boy or a girl and it doesn’t matter.  You are perfect in every way.  And, for the record, I *do* have an anterior placenta.  Yay, doula intuition!

Because our appointment was efficient and your papa wasn’t expected back at work for a while, we got to have a mini-date. Dates are rare these days, especially since your brother came along.  It was lovely having the time to hold hands and to dream about how we want to rearrange the house to accommodate you, our newest family member.  We want to be ready.

I still get sentimental and a bit sad when I cuddle your older brother and realize that our family of 3 is soon to be 4.  It feels exponentially more complicated and exhausting and I know that I am going to love it anyway.  I am trying to make the most of my time alone with your older brother now, before he has to share.  He is excited for you to come, even if he doesn’t quite know what that means.  When I ask him, he thinks that you are going to be a girl and that you will be named Jacques.  I don’t want to contradict him (even though I think that you are a boy and certainly WON’T be named Jacques).  He is two and the emperor of his own little universe.  You will get it one day.

I am so glad that all is well in there and that it is ok for me to continue to love you without the fear of losing you.  It feels more real now, somehow.  Keep stretching and growing in there.

Until we meet, with all of my love,

Mama Doula

The Lazy Woman's Guide to Pregnancy and Birth

1. Ignore any advice that is not useful to you*.  Trust me, everyone will have an opinion:

Are you sure you should be eating [or drinking] that?
You shouldn’t be on your feet so much.
You shouldn’t lift that.
Is it normal to look so big?  Are you sure there aren’t twins in there?
You want to [do something other than what they did or what is currently mainstream]?  Are you crazy??        

IGNORE THAT NOISE.  This is YOUR pregnancy, not theirs.   You know your body best and only YOU can make decisions for that body.  It is nobody’s business how much or what you eat, what types of activities you pursue, or how you choose to birth.

2. On that note, the world is full of things that you are “supposed” to do/avoid during pregnancy.  Most of it is not necessary (and won’t matter a year from now).  Cut through the cruft.  If you want to eat sushi, have a small glass of wine, ride your bike or skip out on doing kegels, power to you. Do only those things that feel right or are most important to you.  Don’t worry about the rest. 

3. Don’t google every little symptom.  Trust me, the internet is a black hole of anxiety, fear and worst-case scenarios.  If your symptom seems serious, call your care provider immediately (or head straight to the hospital).  If not, it can probably wait until your next appointment. Also, consider hiring a doula, who can offer perspective when you are freaking out**.  As an added bonus, doulas are usually available 24-7 by phone or text to put your mind at ease (even if its late).

4.  Plan ahead (for some things).  Planning may seem like the non-lazy choice, but in fact requires less effort than procras inating.  Some ideas to consider:

1) Going into birth with no knowledge and no plan (a.k.a. "just going with the flow") doesn't usually work out well for most women.  Informing yourself ahead of time help curb some of the fear and anxiety that happen during labor. You don’t need to read ALL THE BOOKS, or know ALL THE THINGS.  Your care providers and support team (including your doula) are there for that. If you *do* choose read, pick one or two books that really appeal to you.  I would suggest Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, The Birth Partner or Birthing from Within.

Also, consider taking a childbirth education class, either through your hospital or with an outside organization.  Classes offered by hospitals are usually free (or at reduced cost), but are usually less comprehensive than those offered privately. 

And, if you are REALLY lazy, hire a doula.  Most doulas provide some childbirth education during your prenatal appointments.  They will hone in on what is most important to YOU, helping to streamline your knowledge-gathering process.  And, your doula has a wide range of skills to help you during labor itself (so you don't have to know it all ahead of time).

2) How are you going to spend your first few weeks postpartum? You will need time to heal, whether you birthed vaginally or by caesarian.  You will probably also want some uninterrupted time to bond with your new baby.  Planning a babymoon is great way to spend minimal effort to have maximal rest and comfort after the baby is born. For those of you not familiar with the term, a babymoon is like a honeymoon for a new family.  It is time and space that you create intentionally so that you nurture yourselves as a new family.  Some things you would take into consideration:

-How long would you like your babymoon to last (or how long is it feasible for you)

-How (and when) you communicate the details of the birth to your families and greater community,

-Who is allowed to visit (including how soon can they visit, for how long and how often?)

-What responsibilities each partner has during the babymoon.  Usually the birthing parent’s responsibilites are few: recuperating and feeding the baby.  Thats it.

-What chores are essential and which can be left until after the babymoon period is over,

-How you are going to feed yourselves.  This is often one of the most difficult and stressful of tasks with a newborn in the house.

For more information, Bear Mama Medicine has a great post on planning a babymoon.

5. Don’t spend too much effort in researching or buying baby gear (at least not yet). Most of it doesn’t need to be here before the baby comes.  In fact, babies don’t need much of anything for the first few weeks (save diapers, maybe a couple of pyjamas/swaddling blankets and a carseat).  Even without trying, you will have more baby gear than you know what to do with (between gifts and hand-me-downs).  Waiting until after the baby is born helps you to see which items are really useful to you, so you don't waste your money on a bunch of unused (or not-quite-right) stuff cluttering up your space. 


*That includes ignoring the advice in this post, if it doesn’t appeal to you.

**You doula cannot make medical diagnoses or decisions.  She does not replace your doctor or midwife when determining whether or not a symptom is serious.  What she can do is be a calm ear and gentle voice (and a source of prior experience) that can help YOU ask yourself questions about whether the situation is urgent or whether it can wait. 

What's in My (Doula) Bag

The question surfaces in every online doula forum, community and message board.  It usually comes from a novice doula, wanting to learn some new tips and tricks.

So, what’s in YOUR doula bag?

 I always giggle when I see it, imagining a couple of macho men comparing their toolboxes.  Often, a bunch of doulas jump in the conversation, eager to show off their repertoire. Who knew you could use a comb and a sock full of tennis balls for pain relief in labor?

I get it.  I used to want to know ALL OF THE TRICKS and carry ALL OF THE STUFF.  I, too, as a fresh-faced, newly-trained doula spent a small fortune on:

  • oils (essential and massage)
  • a hot water bottle with a cute fleece cover
  • homeopathic remedies
  • a peanut ball
  • birth music
  • a bunch of other random stuff like straws and tennis balls. 

I wanted to be the best.  I started researching nebulizers (for the aforementioned essential oils). I imagined buying a TENS unit to rent out to clients.  I thought I should probably buy a couple of nice rebozos and make some cute branded items (honey sticks!  lip balm pots!) to hand out to my clients while they labored. 

 Every time I got the call, I schlepped my heavy bag to the hospital, eager to jump in and do something.  I felt equipped.  I felt knowledgeable.  I felt important.

 You are feeling nauseated?  Here is some peppermint oil!
You are having some cramping?  Let me fill up the hot water bottle!
 Your back is hurting?  Let me massage some pain-relief oil onto it and try out some rebozo techniques (because clearly the baby must be posterior). How about I put on some birth music for good measure?

 I thought my "stuff" would make me a better doula.  I thought I was serving my clients best by giving them an array of options.

 I was wrong.   A full birth bag does not make a better doula.

 It didn’t take too long for me to realize that the “stuff” distracts from a doula's most important job: listening.   The “stuff” becomes the solution before the problem arises.  The “stuff” becomes the answer before the question is asked.  Just by being there, the “stuff” wants to be trotted out, paraded around and USED (even if it isn't needed).  

What does this communicate to my client? (Hint: probably not “you are doing a great job”).
 Who does my “stuff” serve in this scenario? (Hint: probably not my client).

Labour is hard.  There are parts of it that are not comfortable.  That doesn’t mean that every discomfort needs to be addressed.  Sensations come and go in labor just as contractions come and go.  Women are strong.  They don’t need help at every turn.  When something feels really intense, the labouring woman will let me know what she needs.  Most often, a few kind words and strong pair of hands usually do the trick. 

 My doula bag is more toned down now.  I still have a few essential oils that rarely get opened.  I keep the peanut ball at home now (it was SUCH a pain to carry).  On rare occasions I will break out the birth music or fill up the hot water bottle, but mostly I don't use props.   I don’t need them.  My clients don’t need them.

 I used to think that my doula bag was for my clients.  Now, my doula bag is for ME.  There is a phone charger in there and a water bottle.  I will usually throw in some food as I am running out the door. Sometimes I’ll even manage to grab a clean pair of socks, a toothbrush and some underwear. 

 That’s it: simple, portable, focused, boring even.  I’m okay with that.  My clients are not going suffer because I didn’t bring rice-socks, tennis balls, homeopathic remedies or a rebozo to the birth.  It isn’t what is IN my doula bag that matters anyway; it’s what’s NOT in my doula bag that counts.