Birth

What’s So Great About Workshops?

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Why do I love facilitating workshops? I was asked this recently in an interview I did with Jessica from Birth Takes a Village on post-partum rage (video being posted soon!)

What I love about facilitating workshops is: bringing people together with what might be an otherwise unknown commonality, and creating a space for safe and empowering discussion and self-exploration.

I am always so excited when I create workshops to be able to share information about topics I am passionate about, and helping others to foster self-awareness and take steps towards their goals.

Workshops are a perfect place to start exploring a topic or area that you are interested in. It can be a gateway to starting therapy or an addition or any work you are already doing on yourself (with or without a professional).

Check out my website for more info on my upcoming workshops: www.theessenceofyou.ca/events

^ Private workshops and Individual Counselling sessions are also available by appointment if you’d rather explore these topics 1-1.

JEN IS A COUNSELLOR AND PSYCHOTHERAPIST IN CALGARY, ALBERTA. JEN OFFERS WORKSHOPS AS WELL AS INDIVIDUAL COUNSELLING ONLINE & IN PERSON IN CALGARY, ALBERTA. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN BOOKING A SESSION WITH HER OR ATTENDING ONE OF HER GROUPS OR WORKSHOPS, VISIT THE ESSENCE OF YOU WEBSITE OR CONTACT JEN DIRECTLY.

Book into Jen’s Workshops below:

An Empowering Birth

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An Empowering Birth

This past summer, I gave birth to my second child after an exhausting (to say the least!) pregnancy. I now have a new level of awareness as this experience has altered my view once again on pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. I’m sharing this story to create more awareness around how being an active decision maker in your pregnancy, birth and post-partum period greatly influences your ability to have a positive experience through these stages. (Read my article: 3 Ingredients to creating an empowering birth HERE). There are so many different ways to create an empowering birth experience for yourself. The choices that I made for myself won’t fit for everyone, it is so important to listen to your intuition and make the best choices for yourself in each separate experience.

My experience was empowering, but it also was medically uncomplicated. Everything that happened was in the realms of normal and it was safe. I was in control - and of course this helped me in having a positive experience.

My entire experience of trying to conceive, pregnancy, miscarrying and birthing was what inspired me to switch gears in my counselling career after my first son was born to start my current counselling practice specializing in supporting women through this stage of life. After a lot of research and changing plans, my husband and I created an incredible and empowering birth experience for my first birth 3.5 years ago; and we wanted to recreate the same undisturbed environment for this birth too. My husband and I felt so excited about creating the entire experience on our own terms from the BEGINNING this time. After my first son was born, I thought “If I can do that, I can do anything!” I was expecting my second birthing experience to be similar to my first, and I but NO idea what I was in for… Read on to hear the birth story of my second baby!

WHEN IT STARTED:

The contractions first started when I was out for a walk at 35+2 weeks pregnant. It was the middle of summer, and the air was tainted with smoke from forest fires. The contractions were strong, but not painful. I wondered what was happening as I noted that it was much too early for labour to be starting. At this time, I didn’t know about prodromal labour... But over the next 6 weeks while I impatiently waited for my baby to come earthside, it turned out I had a lot of time to learn all about it.

Every single night the contractions would start at around 5pm. They were strong, they were close together; and they lasted for hours until I would eventually fall asleep after they subsided when the sun started to rise in those early summer mornings. Four or five times during those 6 weeks, the contractions didn’t stop in the morning and just kept going through the day. These times I thought, “this is definitely it!”

I was exhausted from not sleeping; and coffee barely helped me make it thorough each day with my increasingly energetic toddler. My mood and patience were low. I stopped making plans, thinking I would just have to cancel because surely baby was coming at any moment. 

My husband re-arranging my affirmations during my labour for a better view!

My husband re-arranging my affirmations during my labour for a better view!

Then somehow, when I reached 40 weeks, I was able to let go. I started making plans again and just accepted that sleepless nights with strong contractions were just a part of my life for now. Well-intentioned advice to get induced was coming from every direction, but that didn’t feel right for me. I was determined to allow my baby to come on his own terms because that’s what felt right for me (for others it can be different and there are so many different “right” choices here!). To help myself cope with the wait, I convinced myself that baby wouldn’t be coming anytime soon… and I did this so well that when it was finally happening, I barely believed it.

WHEN IT ACTUALLY STARTED:
Finally, at 41+2 weeks, it began. It was an early hot summer morning and although I felt uncertain if this was “it”; the contractions continually increased in strength, so my husband started to get things ready. After a few hours of the contractions getting more and more intense, I headed down to the birthing space that my sister Jessica (Birth Takes a Village) and I had created several weeks earlier (when we thought I was going into labour the first time!) We had set up a cozy spot with fairy lights and birthing affirmations all around where I would be labouring. Having a space that felt safe, comfortable and empowering was important for me. My birth team arrived over the next few hours.

The contractions were stronger than ever - even stronger than throughout my entire labour and birth with my first. I was finding them incredibly painful and so difficult to make it through. Jessica (Birth Takes a Village), Andi (Offbeat Doula), and my husband supported me by keeping me fed and hydrated, and helped me to relax through contractions by physically supporting me and saying my birth affirmations to me & with me. I kept saying “I can do this!” And Andi would say “You ARE doing this!”

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When my 3 year old son woke up from his nap, he came downstairs and said “Mommy are you pushing the baby out?” And during contractions he would hop on my back (the pressure actually felt amazing) and he would say “I’m here for you mommy. I’m going to help you push the baby out.” I had prepared him by watching lots of birth videos with him and talked a lot about what would happen at the birth.

Finally, I got into the birth pool. The hot water felt incredible. The contractions continued getting stronger and my birth team continued supporting me through them, including my son leaning over the pool with his arms extended out towards me saying “I’m here for you mommy!”

My puppydoula and sisterdoula.

My puppydoula and sisterdoula.

I was determined to catch this baby myself this time. Keeping my hand down low, I breathed my way through the contractions. Jessica (Birth Takes a Village) coached me through each breath when I started to tense up which made a world of difference by reducing the intensity of the surges. She helped me to be more mindful of my breath and the process which reduced the pain dramatically.

It was getting more and more intense and although my son was being cute, I felt that I needed him out of my space. I knew I needed to get my needs met in this moment, so  I asked my husband to take him outside so that I could have a quieter environment. Jessica seemed unsure of this and told my husband to stay closeby because the baby was coming soon. Almost as soon as he got out the door, Andi ran after him because Jessica was right...my baby was making his entrance!

Moments after my baby’s arrival.

Moments after my baby’s arrival.

My husband got back into position, supporting my back and hips. Soon I felt the top of my baby’s head. What an incredible feeling! I felt his hair, and my own skin as it stretched around the top of his head. I was in total awe of my body at that moment. Although incredible to feel, the pressure that came with those next contractions was extremely painful. I felt like I had to let go of my baby’s head to support myself so I asked my husband to take over baby catching duties. Then the rest of his body shot out, just 33 minutes after entering the birth pool! I swung my leg up and over to grab my baby and leaned back against my husband. My older son jumped into the pool to meet his baby brother up close. He was so excited!

The contractions for birthing the placenta started almost immediately and surprised me with their force. I held and nursed our new baby in the pool over the next hour as I endured intense and painful contractions as the placenta made its way out.

Although it was incredibly difficult and painful; I felt strong, capable and confident throughout my labour and I credit this to my amazing birth team for having complete faith in me, as well as my own trust in the process which I built up as I prepared myself during pregnancy for both of my births. Alongside childbirth education, I believe that emotionally preparing yourself for your birth and carefully selecting who you will allow to be present for your labour and birth is detrimental.

My birthing choices are not for everybody. There are all types of ways to have empowering births! I strongly believe that as women, we must listen to our bodies and trust our intuition to make the best choices for ourselves. For some, that means varying degrees of medical support & assistance at home or hospital. For me, this is what it looked like. I made conscious and well informed decisions throughout both pregnancies and births. What is best and safest for everyone in each birth can look so different. I chose what felt like the best and safest options for myself, my baby, and our family.

I am also very fortunate to have a husband who learned about birth alongside me ever since we began TTC with our first, and my sister Jessica (Birth Takes a Village) has been educating me as she has journeyed through the last 8 years attending births. Jessica’s knowledge and support is invaluable and I am so grateful to have had her attend both of my births.  When I started talking with Andi from The Offbeat Doula about birth, I knew that she was a great fit for us. Having carefully selected my birthing team, I was able to have an incredible and empowering birth experience and I will be forever grateful. 

POST-PARTUM

Post-Partum Bedrest!

Post-Partum Bedrest!

During my pregnancy I was feeling anxious about what my post partum period would be like this time around. I was feeling confident and prepared for this birth but I was worried - not only about how I would manage post-partum, but I was also worried that my anxiety about the post partum period could impact my birth experience. So, I decided to practice what I preach (in my Counselling practice, I support women to prepare for birth & post-partum), and I sought out therapy for myself to process my concerns. After working through my anxiety with my therapist, I felt much more prepared. I realized that despite how hard it is to ask for help, getting support so that I could rest during the weeks following this birth was more important than anything. I made it clear to my husband how important this was and he supported this plan by arranging to have the first 3 weeks off of work - despite this being “frowned upon” amongst the men in his industry. I also arranged with my mother to have her come help out for the first week, and spoke with friends to make sure I had back up. Since then, there have been plenty of ups and downs, but I had a wonderful first 3 weeks as I rested and allowed my body to heal while my husband, my three year old and I adjusted to life with our new addition. I am so grateful that I pushed through my discomfort and vulnerability in asking for help and so grateful for the help that I received. The “fourth trimester” is real, and rest and support go a long way in the first weeks and months after birthing.

What is most important to you when you think about creating a positive birth and post-partum experience for yourself? What helped you the most to feel in control and empowered in your births in the past?

I hold Birth Preparation Workshops regularly and love supporting women to create positive and empowering birth experiences! (Online support offered over video calls for people not local to Calgary area). For info on my upcoming dates, go to: www.theessenceofyou.ca/events. Private Workshops also available.

JEN IS A COUNSELLOR AND PSYCHOTHERAPIST IN CALGARY, ALBERTA. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN BOOKING A SESSION WITH HER OR ATTENDING ONE OF HER GROUPS OR WORKSHOPS, VISIT THE ESSENCE OF YOU WEBSITE OR CONTACT JEN DIRECTLY.

How Did I Get Here? (A Tribute to My Birth Doula)

Jessica, myself and my son a few hours after his birth. 

Jessica, myself and my son a few hours after his birth. 

In less than one week, my first born will be TWO! I've been reflecting on my journey of motherhood a lot lately, and my attention keeps going to the pregnancy and birth of my son, which was the mark of many significant changes for me in my life. 

The process of trying to conceive, being pregnant, birthing, and mothering have all been life changing for me. Not only have all of these monumental life events shifted me personally, but also professionally. These events are what ultimately led me to my current role supporting women in these life stages in my counselling practice.

Almost exactly 2 years ago, my sister Jessica (who is a birth doula/childbirth educator/doula trainer from Birth Takes a Village in Vancouver) flew to Calgary to support my husband and I during the birth of our son; and she also hosted an amazing blessingway/mothers blessing for me a few weeks before my birth to help me get prepared.

Jessica is knows everything there is to know about creating empowering birth experiences for women and their families! I have learned so much from her about birth and supporting women over the years, and I continually get support from her in my own mothering journey and also I consult with her on a regular basis to help me in providing the best support for the clients I see in my counselling practice (I also often quote her on social media and in my blogs 😉).

Jessica and my son this summer (2017)

Jessica and my son this summer (2017)

Jessica's support during my pregnancy and labour helped my husband and I to create an incredible birth experience for ourselves, and along the way, she also inspired me to start my own counselling practice focusing on supporting women leading up to their births and in the post partum period.

I had worked as a counsellor for almost 6 years prior to this, and grew a new passion for pregnancy, birth & motherhood as I went through these stages myself. So with a lot of support and encouragement from my sister, I focused my learning and education into this specific area and launched my Counselling practice almost a year ago now!

I don't know where I would be without her, and I'm sure that many other women who have had her support for their births feel the same way! Thanks Jessica for everything that you do!

Did you have a doula support you for your birth and/or post-partum period? Share in the comments! 

JEN IS A COUNSELLOR AND PSYCHOTHERAPIST IN CALGARY, ALBERTA. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN BOOKING A SESSION WITH HER OR ATTENDING ONE OF HER GROUPS OR WORKSHOPS, VISIT THE ESSENCE OF YOU WEBSITE OR CONTACT JEN DIRECTLY.

3 Ingredients for an Empowering Birth

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Who doesn't want an empowering birth experience? The steps that you will take leading up to your birth are so important - not only for the birth itself but also for your transition into the post-partum period. So here it is, my recipe for creating an empowering birth

  1. Knowledge 
  2. Emotional Preparation
  3. Support 

Simple, right? Although these three ingredients might seem simple, there is a lot involved in each. So, I'm going to break them down a little bit further below. 

1. KNOWLEDGE

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Making INFORMED CHOICES is an essential part of creating an empowering birth experience for yourself. Think about what you want your birth to look like, do your research, and make a plan. The way you birth your baby is your choice and NOBODY else's! There will be many people offering their opinions/perspectives/demands about how you should birth your baby, which can be overwhelming. However, when you have done your research and you know what is best for you, this will give you the power to stand up for yourself and assert your right to make informed choices for how you are treated and for what happens during your pregnancy, birth, and post-partum period. 

"Informed consent rights are extremely important to women’s experience during birth. One of the biggest factors in whether you remember your birth as a positive or negative experience is the degree to which you feel informed and involved as decisions are made in terms of your maternal health."  
- Taken from "Understanding Informed Consent" by Jessica Austin, Birth Takes a Village

And, your perspective of whether your birth was positive or negative also is a huge indicator of whether you will view your birth as traumatic or not! Use your power. 

2. Emotional Preparation

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Preparing emotionally for your birth is as essential part of creating opportunity for an empowering birth and positive transition into the post-partum period. Fear is one of the biggest obstacles to having a positive birth & post-partum experience; so don't let it stop you from achieving what you want! Take the time to explore and process your fears and other emotions around your birth/post-partum, and identify what you need to do to move past these to achieve your goal of having an empowering birth.

When women invest time into emotionally preparing for their births, they give themselves a much higher chance at having an empowering and positive birth experience and a positive transition into the postpartum period.

It's also very important to process past experiences that might impact your birth experience and transition into the postpartum period. There are often many negative internal dialogues that women have playing on repeat that interfere with our trust in ourselves to birth and care for our babies. These could be messages received during your last birth, from hearing other women's birth stories, or from past experiences in your life completely unrelated to birth but related to your ability to believe and trust in yourself and your body

3. Support

Choose to surround yourself with people who support your vision and your goals for your birth and post-partum period. Think carefully. Some people who are "supportive" in general won't necessarily be the most supportive people for you during your pregnancy and birth. Make sure that the people you choose to let in during this time can meet you where you are - and can respectfully support your choices. The last thing you need is people who try to convince you to do anything that you don't think is right for you. So not only does this include your family and friends that you want involved during this process, but also your healthcare providers. Choose your doctor/midwife carefully! And consider getting a doula - their role is to support you in your choices! 

So there it is, my recipe for creating an empowering birth! What else would you add? Comment below!


The Essence of You offers sessions and workshops on birth preparation to help women plan for empowering births! Contact Jen for more details, or check out our upcoming events here

JEN IS A COUNSELLOR AND PSYCHOTHERAPIST IN CALGARY, ALBERTA. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN BOOKING A SESSION WITH HER OR ATTENDING ONE OF HER GROUPS OR WORKSHOPS, VISIT THE ESSENCE OF YOU WEBSITE OR CONTACT JEN DIRECTLY.

My 3 Favourite Strategies for Managing Anxiety:

ANXIETY

I work with the majority of my clients to manage their [varying degrees of] anxiety. I thought I'd share some of my favourite anxiety management strategies that I have learned over the past seven years in my career as a counsellor.

Some common presenting symptoms of anxiety are: short of breath, racing heart, shaking/trembling hands, sweating, difficulty concentrating or focusing, feeling lightheaded, feeling restless or on edge, difficulty sleeping, worrying and racing thoughts. Do any of these sound familiar? READ ON!

The below strategies can be applied for something small like feeling a little nervous to something bigger like a panic attack.

1) Literally GROUND yourself. Plant both of your feet flat on the ground, push them gently and allow yourself to feel the weight of your body resting on your feet. Not enough? Try alternating your weight from one foot to the other, or from your toes to your feet, and back again to both feet firmly on the ground.

2) Belly breathing. When you are anxious, you are usually taking short, shallow breaths. Belly breathing brings your energy down, deep into your body, which can help alleviate your anxiety - when you are anxious, almost all of your energy is way up in your head. First, notice your breath. Is it shallow? With your next breath, bring it deeper into your body, and your next breath deeper again, until you are breathing all the way into your belly or lower back. Continue until you notice your symptoms of anxiety easing up.

3) Connect to all 5 senses. Name 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you can physically feel (eg: your clothes against your body, your breath moving in and out of your nose/mouth), 3 things that you can hear, 2 things that you can smell, 1 thing that you can taste.

All of these can be used together! Start with grounding your feet on the ground, move into belly breathing, and then connect to all 5 senses. What I like about these strategies is that they bring your focus and energy into your body and they connect you to the here-and-now. Anxiety is often linked to fear of something that has happened in the past or fear of something in the future, so doing anything to bring your focus and awareness into the present moment can be helpful.

Another strategy to consider: get a reality check around what you are feeling anxious about, or check in with yourself if you need to be thinking about whatever is causing the anxiety in that moment. Give yourself permission to come back to it when you are adequately supported to deal with what came up.

If you tried these, I'd love to hear how they worked for you! Please leave a comment below. :)

Something to keep in mind: these are not one-size-fits-all. Every person responds differently to their triggers and to their grounding strategies. I recommend testing a few out and finding the ones that work best for YOU. For long-term management of anxiety, I recommend seeking support from a professional to help you address the underlying issues of your anxiety.

Jen is a counsellor and psychotherapist in Calgary, Alberta. If you are interested in booking a session with her or attending one of her groups or workshops, visit The Essence of You website or Contact Jen directly.

 

"The Internal Dialogue is What Helps Most"

One of the many helpful texts I received from Jessica to support my friend in her labour tonight!! 

One of the many helpful texts I received from Jessica to support my friend in her labour tonight!! 

You know when someone is passionate about supporting birthing women when they text you all evening to support you in supporting your birthing friend! My sister Jessica (Birth Takes a Village) is a trusted, respected and well known Birth Doula in Vancouver. I trust her more than anyone else when it comes to birth. I gained so much from having her support leading up to and during the birth of my own son; and I often rely on her for information and support for my friends too! She never hesitates to answer all of mine and my friends questions and send information, research articles and birth stories and videos to help however she can, regardless of her busy schedule! Tonight, alongside tonnes of helpful information to support my friend through her contractions, Jessica said:

 

"The internal dialogue is what helps most."

 

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I love that someone who has so much education on childbirth believes this to be true! Coming from a psychological perspective, this is my belief too. I love helping women in preparation for their births by supporting them to identify and release fears, and process their thoughts and emotions about pregnancy, birth and the post partum period. When women invest time into emotionally preparing for their births, they give themselves a much higher chance at having an empowering and positive birth experience and a positive transition into the postpartum period.

It's also very important to process past experiences that might impact your birth experience and transition into the postpartum period. There are often many negative internal dialogues that women have playing on repeat that interfere with our trust in ourselves to birth and care for our babies. These could be messages received during your last birth, from hearing other women's birth stories, or from past experiences in your life completely unrelated to birth but related to your ability to believe and trust in yourself and your body

What is your internal dialogue saying to you right now? Is it helping you or holding you back? 

 

Jen is a counsellor and psychotherapist in Calgary, Alberta. If you are interested in booking a session with her or attending one of her groups or workshops, visit The Essence of You website or Contact Jen directly.

This is me and some of the most important women in my life during my pregnancy who joined together to support me during a Mother Blessing. This day was FULL of affirmations and had a huge impact on my own internal dialogue for my labour and birth. I am so grateful for having had this experience to prepare me in such a positive and empowering way.

This is me and some of the most important women in my life during my pregnancy who joined together to support me during a Mother Blessing. This day was FULL of affirmations and had a huge impact on my own internal dialogue for my labour and birth. I am so grateful for having had this experience to prepare me in such a positive and empowering way.

Contact me for information on my Birth Preparation Sessions!

"Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby" - Is that ALL that matters? - Let's talk about the impact of how women are treated leading up to the birth of their babies.

“Whenever and however you give birth, your experience will impact your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit for the rest of your life.”
- Ina May Gaskin

This is so true! A woman's birth experience is a big deal, but so many people downplay it with saying: "Healthy mom & healthy baby, that's all that matters!" I disagree. Your birth experience matters too, and so does your transition after your baby arrives.

Women go through enormous changes during and after experiencing childbirth. Who you surround yourself with and how you prepare yourself is so important! All of your thoughts and feelings leading up to the arrival of your new baby will be very influential on your birth experience. Unresolved emotional issues from your past can have a detrimental impact on your labour and birth, and will also impact your ability to connect to and cope with the demands of your new baby. Walker Karraa (author of Transformed by Post Partum Depression) discusses how a woman’s birthing experience is impacted by the state of her mental health, and that complications in childbirth are often caused by untreated mental health issues.

How many women out there are experiencing unnecessary birth trauma because they have not had appropriate care and support leading up to their birth? Complications in labour seem to be more of a norm now than an anomaly. There are many things that contribute to this, and before I get into a rant about our health care system … I will come back to mental health.

“In our culture childbirth has been seen as a medical procedure, with the majority of public discussion concerned with safety and statistics, as defined by physicians, and with little room for debate and dissension – especially from those who are at the centre of the process - women themselves.”  - Sarah Buckley, 2009 – Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering.

How many people think that your mental health and unresolved issues from your past will impact your birthing experience and your relationship with your new baby? This isn’t something commonly spoken about, but it is an important matter to consider. And it doesn’t stop there – all of your relationships might be impacted by your birth experience and also the transitions that follow when you become a mother (and more changes with each subsequent birth & baby). If this was something that was discussed more openly, women might be more inclined to get support to prepare for each birth & new baby on a deeper level than your typical childbirth education classes (which are very important too!)

Your emotions LIVE in your body, they are felt by your body, and they are stored in your body.

“Emotions, though interpreted and named by the mind, are integrally an experience of the body…each emotion is the result of interplay between the sensory, autonomic, and somatic nervous systems interpreted within the brain’s cortex.”  - Babette Rothschild, 1957 –  The Body Remembers.

Even when your mind shields you from your emotional pain, your body remembers. When you are suppressing your emotions, you are disconnecting yourself from your body, and in turn, disconnecting yourself from your intuition. Both connecting to your body & connecting to your intuition are SO important – maybe even the MOST important – parts of birthing & mothering. You need to connect to and listen to your body and intuition during birth, and also to be able to respond to the needs of your children once your become a mother.

“To prevent complications during and before pregnancy, we need to work on ourselves, emotionally ridding ourselves of any negativity about our bodies, past history or childbirth itself.” (Zuki Abbott, 2007 – This Sacred Life, Transforming Our Life Through Birth

 It is so important to give yourself space and time to connect to your body, your emotions and your intuition leading up to the birth of your baby. When you give yourself the opportunity to do this prior to your birth, you will be more prepared to cope with your feelings during the birth of your baby and your emotions once your baby arrives.

“Recovering from birth and caring for a newborn wreaks havoc on women physically, psychologically, and emotionally, especially when they live in a culture that does not take care of it’s new mothers.”  - Walker Karraa, 2014 - Transformed by Post Partum Depression.

So not only does the saying “healthy mom, healthy baby – that’s all that matters” disregard a woman’s birthing experience, it also disregards her experience as a mother – her transition into motherhood with her first baby and also the continuation of her journey as a mother with each subsequent baby. Respected mom, respected baby – this matters too. The way that a woman is treated leading up to, during and after her birth is so significant and influential on her birth experience & her transition into the post-partum period. Women need to be heard, respected, empowered, supported, and honoured during these life changing experiences. This is arguably the most important time in a woman’s life and just being “healthy” isn’t going to cut it.

Contact Jen for information on Pre-Natal, Post-Partum & Body Image Sessions. Individual Sessions, Group Sessions & Workshops are available.

Sources:

Abbott, Zuki (2007) – This Sacred Life, Transforming our Life Through Birth

Buckley, Sarah (2009), Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering

Karraa, Walker (2014), Transformed by Post Partum Depression

Rothschild, Babette (1957), The Body Remembers