How to Catch a Rainbow

May is a busy month, with various key dates of celebration and recognition. Over the course of the month, i am going to share with you some tools and suggestions. First up, in honour of Maternal Mental Health Week, here is a tool that i put together. After studying both Dialectical Behaviour Therapy as well as more body-based self-compassion modalities, i find this tool can be helpful to help you take control of your emotions. I love acronyms as it makes it so much easy to remember the suggestions. Plus it’s a helpful reminder that we can be in control of our feelings.

It can be hard to take time for yourself, especially when we are told to take care of others and that it’s selfish to do kind things for ourselves. This tool can be a great way for you to steal some moments to yourself, in an intentional way. It also can manifest some good feelings that linger. Rainbows are incredible symbols of everyday magic or woo woo, and taking time to notice the joy and beauty in the everyday helps us with our emotional well-being. We deserve to notice these moments, and deserve to take time to pause.

R – What is an activity of REST that you can take a break with
It’s important to slow down and catch your breath. We can only see rainbows when we are able to be aware of what’s in front of us. This is also a great way to notice what we need an a given moment. What can you do in this moment to rest and relax? Can you put your feet up and just take in the sights and sounds around you? Linger a bit longer in the shower, add some luxurious hand lotion to your sensory self-care. Have a cat-nap. Maybe treat yourself to a nice mala bracelet with your favourite crystal – this can be a calming tool and a way to practice some mindful meditation.

A – ACCEPT as you are – it is what it is
Radical Acceptance is a helpful tool to be able to acknowledge something for what it is. That doesn’t mean we have to truly agree with it, but the acceptance can be a first step to let things go. This stops the pain from turning into suffering, and it allows us to be more present with ourselves in the present. When we don’t accept something, it keeps us stuck. So, try working with this idea and practice saying “it is what it is.” See how that starts to feel in your body. Maybe some parts feel less stuck or tight.

I – What is an INTENTION that you can set for your day
Setting intentions for a day, a week, or a year can be a guide that sets you with following where your want your life to go. The intention can be a simple word that carries meaning for you, or a mantra/affirmation that holds significance for you. If you don’t already have one, take some time to journal and brainstorm the words and phrases that are meaningful for you. It is a good way of giving ourselves permission to focus on what we really want, and to take ownership of our moods and behaviour. Then work on ways to implement it into your everyday life. Maybe there is a symbol that speaks to you as a guide – be it a rainbow of hope and luck, a butterfly of resilience, or a lavender flower that helps you feel calm. When you have a symbol that acts as Recalled Anchor (i wrote about it more here) or resource, seeing it in your everyday life is a great way to boost your mood.

N – Be NICE to yourself – practice self-compassion
Self-Compassion is not the same as self-esteem and yet they work well together. To have self-compassion, it implies that we need to treat ourselves with the loving kindness we give others when they need our support. Think of some ways to give yourself self-compassion – it can be a permission slip to eat some chocolate after a hard day, and to enjoy it without judgement. It can be to not do the dishes and instead watch some marathon TV. It can be a yoga stretch or dance to your favourite music. The compassion comes from reminding yourself that your matter and deserve this break.

B – Take time for yourself and read a BOOK
Reading is a great way for your brain to take a break from the monkey mind or inner critic. It is especially helpful when we are able to distract ourselves from the everyday worries and thoughts. You can get your dog-eared favourite book, or a new book that you have never read; it can be a fiction novel, self-help book, or a how-to book for something you want to learn. Take time to write in your own journal, free writing or following a guide. If reading is not your thing, no worries. Listen to an audio book or a podcast. This podcast that talks more about everyday magic and woo woo is a great listen! Watch a movie that you have never seen before – the idea is to let your brain relax and absorb what it is taking in, instead of the constant chatter it typically takes you to.

O – Go OUTSIDE and get some fresh air in your body
Research has shown links to fresh air, being outdoors and mental health. Our brains are elastic and benefit from the change in scenery as well as air changes. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and Polyvagal theory also show us that a quick walk outdoors can do a lot to change our mood. Everything is better outside. Think of some simple things you can do – a walk, sitting on your porch our balcony, a picnic snack during your lunch break for instance. Another benefit to getting outside is that there may be other people that you can connect with – it helps us feel less alone or isolated after being indoors when feeling down. You don’t need to have a long chat with someone, but a quick hello can be a great break your mind and body needs too.

W – Drink a glass of WATER to refresh yourself – take care of your body’s basic needs
In keeping with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s imperative to take care of your basic needs. Research shows that we need to nurture our physical body in order to heal our mental health. Do a quick checklist – when was the last time you drank some water, had a healthy snack, slept enough, did some exercise for your body? If it’s been 2 hours since your last water break, have a glass right now. And then find ways to allow time for the other ways to take care of your body.

The C-Section Club

I have mixed feelings about clubs. I never was a Girl Scout, in choir or on sports teams as a kid. I was a dancer though, but that doesn’t seem like the same kind of club or group like the others. For one thing, the rules and homogeneity that seemed to go along with it felt too forced. And just because one kid likes to play soccer, that doesn’t mean she likes the same music or food as another. And it felt like we had to be the same all the time, like Stepford Wives. I could be wrong though.

One club I never thought I’d join is the C-Section Club. Looking back, i guess it was inevitable: my mom is a 2-time club member herself. I know that cesareans are not exactly hereditary or contagious but it sure seems like they are. Friends who gave birth right before I did also had c-sections. A distant relative on my partner’s side said after the birth, “well of course she (meaning me) had a cesarean, look how small she is (I’m 5”1)!”

And yet I kept turning a blissful and determined eye away from allowing a c-section to be an option. I chose not to fully integrate the conversations about c-sections that were happening at my birth prep class. I skimmed over those chapters in the books I had.

Fast forward to the weekend of the birth of my first child. After 36 hours of early labour, a part of me knew the birth I wanted wasn’t going to happen. A part of my body also trusted that what I was feeling was not within the realm of normal. And yet when my care was transferred from midwife to OB, I was resistant. Who was this person to me? I’ve never met her and she surely did not know my birth plan or dreams. When she confirmed that I was not progressing at stage 2 (what the fuck does the mean anyway!?), they strongly suggested I get an epidural. And then a c-section a mere few hours later. I wish I trusted my body just needed to rest, and that my sweet baby was so eager to meet me so got stuck in the canal, and that my body got swollen from his eagerness. While the decision was ultimately mine, one thing I struggled with is that I never felt a bond or trust in this doctor. And that she did not have my best interest in mind. This is when my birth story turned from something sacred to something hard: I lost my voice and trust in what my body could do. Because I was told I couldn’t do it.

This post is not necessarily a birth story of my first (I did share a bit here), but rather a chance to acknowledge how some of us feel when we don’t get the birth we want. It’s a place to start that work. I know a lot of us feel like the end result of healthy baby healthy parent is paramount, and yet I can’t minimize the mixed feelings we experience when we go through an experience that is out of our control.

Since it’s Cesarean Awareness Month, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that each birth is unique, sacred and magical. They are also scary, painful and intense. Most of all, each is real and natural. I hate how vaginal births or unmedicated births are sometimes mistakenly called natural births, like medically supported or c-sections are any less natural. In an article full of helpful tips for people who are pregnant, Erica Chidi Cohen, one of the founders of Loom (an amazing pregnancy, parenthood and reproductive health clinic in LA) shared this great thought:

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.

I also really love the work of January Harshe and the Birth without Fear movement. The quote above is one of my fave ones from her. And yet so many of feel pressure to birth a unicorn.

Here’s why our well-intentioned comments about someone else’s experience can be problematic: it doesn’t take into account their potential birth trauma and how it’s linked to consent and body trust issues. We hear about birth trauma that relates to obviously upsetting experiences of injury or even infant death. But another type of birth trauma is one where the birther has their voice taken from them, and instead the medical expert is calling all the shots. When some of us have experienced sexual violence and later in life get pregnant, this new experience can bring up former body memories and triggers.

We are also told that our bodies are meant to birth babies, and there is an assumption that people who birth vaginally are stronger. Not only did my body not fail me, I am incredibly strong because I grew humans in my body and then birthed them. And yet, I like so many others are made to feel inadequate, scarred and less than. We are already at odds the day we become parents when we birth via C-section; talk about being set up to fail.

So this month is all about honouring our path to birth babies and to be recognized for the hard work it is to have such major surgery on our baby’s first day earthside. I wear my scar proudly – to me it’s not a battle scar but a reminder of my strength and resilience. I’ve reclaimed it and it works for me.

The Shape of Miscarriage

Easter weekend is early this year. While I’m not a religious person, I am in tune with the seasons and feel attached to dates throughout the year. Easter weekend 10 years ago was when I miscarried my first child. So, each year at Easter, I hold space for this memory, pain, and what could have been.

I have written about key dates that we remember before. This is a different kind of post, one that may be hard for some to read. Today I’m writing to share what happened to me when I miscarried. I feel like I need to share this here but please don’t feel like you have to read further.

I was 12 weeks along in my pregnancy, and had already met my lovely team of midwives. I was planning to announce the pregnancy at the various family get-togethers over the long weekend. What better time than Easter and the resurgence of Spring to announce a baby is to be born, right?

No, that’s not a good time after all.

Instead, my partner and I spent the weekend going back and forth to the hospital. We canceled most of our plans to be with others, and hibernated from the world as we knew what was happening.

I had begun spotting at work earlier that week, and instinctually figured out that it was not something to ignore. I have had my period since I was a mere nine year old child, so have always been in tune with my body. A call and visit to the midwife confirmed that my pregnancy hormones were dropping and she couldn’t hear a heartbeat. As it was a long weekend ahead, she suggested I go to to emergency if anything happened. Sure enough, the spotting turned to blood and I got 3 blood tests and a “lovely” intrauterine ultrasound over the course of the weekend.

Instead of eating scores of chocolate eggs, being surrounded by family, and sitting around talking about life with a baby, I cried and changed MANY pads that were soaked with blood. Each day.

Luckily for me, I was able to complete the miscarriage naturally. I mean “luckily” in a sarcastic way of course, and yet a part of me is gratified that I was able to avoid the dreaded D&C. I say dreaded as I had worked at an abortion and reproductive rights clinic and know what ordeal some patients have to go through. I also chose to wait out the inevitable instead of taking the meds that would help quicken the process. Looking back, I can’t quite remember my reasoning for that decision. Other than a hope that we were all wrong, and that I had such trust that my body knew what to do. I have absolutely no judgement for any one who makes a different choice: clearly I am all about choice and doing what is best for our own selves. For me, this is what felt right.

But that week, when I still was off from work, my body expelled what was left of my ovum. It came out with such a force, that it was intact and full. It fit perfectly in my palm. My partner was at work, and I remember how scared I was. I was so depleted, both emotionally and physically. I had to call him to come home as I knew my body was in such turmoil. I left what was left of my pregnancy in the sink. I was able to catch it when it came out, but after that, I remember not knowing what to do. I had lost a lot of blood, and I remember being as white as a ghost. I left it there to hold space for the baby that never was, and also to show my partner what I had to endure. We chose not to give it any more weight. So instead of burying it and doing something more meaningful, I said bye and discarded it. I remember the polarizing mixed feelings I went through – as a Feminist who believes in having choice, for being in charge of my own body, it felt like I shouldn’t do more. And yet as a woman who wanted to have a baby, I felt like I needed to grieve more.

Soon afterward, I remember events that will always be tied to this part of my story. Maybe that same week or the one following, I went to one of my favourite restaurants with my partner. No one there knew our secret. We went there during lunch, when things are typically quiet. And yet there I was beside a very pregnant woman, who was sitting beside a new mom and her tiny newborn. What are the chances of that – it felt like a Klimt painting come to life – the Stages of Motherhood.

Soon after that, I was in a therapy session with a client. She had news for me – she had been unexpectedly pregnant recently too and miscarried. While she was not as far along in her pregnancy, it was just as painful for her. I was not ready for this news. I did not self-disclose then as it was much to raw, but I realized I was not ready to return to work yet. Sometimes, going back to a routine is key, but we also need to the time we need to process, grieve and heal.

I had scheduled a follow-up with my midwife. I had to have some final lab work down to confirm that I was no longer pregnant. But since I had officially miscarried, I was told that I was no longer a patient of the Midwife clinic. While this made sense logically – their services are for pregnant people after all, I felt abandoned and left alone. And I remember being sad that I couldn’t say goodbye to them. I still had the continued support of my family doctor, but I remember wishing that I could have more. This article was recently published and the author also talks about how confusing it is, to feel at fault when there is nothing to be at fault for.

This is one of the reasons i now do this work, providing support to women who experience miscarriage or stillborn loss. We can’t do this alone. We deserve better than that. The stigma of miscarriage needs to be addressed and abolished. I really admire the work of such organizations as The 16 Percent, We the Mamas initiative and I Had a Miscarriage Instagram account. The stories that are shared bring a communal voice to something that had been quiet for too long. I was told to “wait” until I got past the 12 week mark. My own mom experienced 2 miscarriages and 1 stillborn loss before (and after) I was born. Forty years later, we are still being told to wait. Well, I sure could have had the support of my village when I experienced my loss.

I recently read this article and it really resonated with me; when her therapist suggested that the journal she had been using was not as helpful as she thought. I also learned that when I write, it needs to be cathartic, and not just a place to purge.I started to write in my journal and turned even more inward. When that wasn’t enough, I started to practice the tools I suggest to my own clients, around mindfulness and body work like dance classes and yoga. I started telling people about my experience, and friends shared their experience with me.

For months after, going my period was such an ordeal. It was messy, heavy, and triggering. The first cycles were especially hard as they were accompanied by severe cramping, a different colour and level of blood, and they were filled with worry that I may not get pregnant again. I will always remember my trip to New York City with my mom and sister. One of our only trips with just the 3 of us and it was July. It was such a hot month and my period came early and with such a vengeance. But I fought back and am glad that i had already told my mom what I had experienced – we have that in common now, and I trusted I would have her compassion. After that month, my cycle returned to my normal.

And I conceived again in October that same year; my first-born Earthside will be 9 this year. That’s another story for another time.

If you have had a similar experience, please don’t hesitate to contact. WE don’t need to do this alone.

After the Vacation

For March Break this year, our wee family was gifted a vacation to Costa Rica, along with my partner’s extended family. It was a trip of a lifetime. I learned a few things about myself, my kids, and how to hold on to it.

I need to tell you first that in another life I was a hippie at heart, and feel like in an alternate universe I’m a surfing beach bum. So while I loved the adventures and walks in the mountains, I am truly one of those people who feels most at peace and relaxed on the beach. So I was able to enjoy my time away from home. I’m not going to pretend that travelling with kids is relaxing, but I did find ways to slow down and be mindful.

Luckily for me, we spent a week on a glorious beach, surrounded by lush rainforest, monkeys and sloths, and the most vast array of butterflies I have ever seen. It was a sensory overload but in the most fantastic way. I was able to eat fresh mango, see butterflies each day, hear the birds chirping, feel the warm salty water on my body, and smell the sweet orange blossoms. As a body and sensory based therapist, I definitely practice what I preach. We brought back a few treasures to help us hold on to this trip away. And now I can locate a specific place in my mind’s eye when I am needing to calm down or distract my monkey mind. These 2 DBT based tools are so great to help with a mind that is stuck or having racing thoughts.

I have mentioned already my love of surfing, or rather the idea of it. I have only done it a couple of times and my body is not quite the typical surfing body. I say this because I had an insightful talk with myself while in Costa Rica. I had wanted to take a lesson there. But then I saw a photo of me in my bathing suit and thought of the crowds of people that would bear witnes to my lesson. I also realized that my 20-year old self was the surfer, not the 40 year old one. I chose instead to body surf and boogie board. And you know what, that made me pretty darn happy too. I squealed with laughter and joy and realized that my body now birthed two babies and is 20 years more wise and strong. My initial shame around my body turned into a moment to enjoy the present. I also realized that I don’t want to model body shame or hesitancy to do things I love. So I put on that rash guard (to help me keep my bikini on in the killer waves – I have no idea how people surf with bikinis!) and I jumped on my boogie board.

Gordon Neufeld talks about how vacations can be a great opportunity to create a deeper connection with your kids. It acts as a time to get away from our daily life and the distractions that can get in the of the bond with our kids. Daily after-school activities, play dates, and time spent on gadgets are replaced with jumping in waves, spying sloths and eating quick-melting popsicles together. The key word is together. We took a couple of toys that the kids like but for the most part, the toys stayed in their bags. This really worked for my son, the eldest of my two kids. He said “I love you, mom” so often that my heart was bursting at the seams. While he has said that at home, it has never been to the same degree. The hugs and hand-holding were also so special. I see first-hand the merit in this purposeful time away as a great time to go deeper with your kids. It may fade sooner than I want it to, but I’m so happy to have gotten it regardless. That photo there is of me snorkelling and my son excitedly spotting me in the water.

Travelling with extended family can be a blessing. My kids got ample time with their cousins, and we created our own village of support. One thing I recommend is making a point to get time away from your kids. This helps you re-charge, especially in such a small space as a hotel room. I was able to indulge in a surf date alone with my partner, go on a spice tour sans children, and do a morning meditation routine most days. If I didn’t get this time alone, I don’t think I would have been as present and happy. It can be hard to navigate this request with family, but when you can share the responsibility and take turns with childcare, everyone wins. My kids were just as happy at the pool while I sampled vanilla products. So don’t shy away from asking for help, it’s your vacation too!

It was my daughter’s birthday while we were away. She was not happy about being on an airplane on her birthday. While we tried to highlight how special it was, looking back I don’t know if it was worth it to go then. Or at least I needed to prepare or celebrate it differently. We are a family that really values our birthdays. We all play hookie from school and work on our special days. For Miss M this year, we rushed through the day to get to the airport. As the youngest member of our family, I’m sure birthdays are even more special to her. Instead of showing her that Costa Rica was more important, I needed to focus on her. That is one regret I have. Luckily she is resilient and the most fun-loving person I know. So, she bounced back quickly.

My daughter is our resident risk taker, and she is a fierce, independent and friendly child who I’m raising to trust her body and instincts. Sometimes that instinct can be in direct contrast to what I need from her, but that’s another story. I noticed in this trip that she is clearly more peer-oriented than I thought, and some of her risks are in relation to her peers. That’s not exactly what I want so we had some head to heads while away. I also had to take pause and notice my own shyness or hesitancy, so that it didn’t influence her. She takes no shit from others, including her parents. One example of this was when we were on a cruise and there was a water slide that went directly into the ocean. I at first thought she was too young, small, and not a strong swimmer. She saw the slide as a great obstacle to have fun on. So, I took a deep breathe and stepped in her shoes – she is not me after all. And she slid down that super fast slide. Three times. But with my agreement and encouragement, and a great safety net in place.

We have been back 3 days and I am starting to feel the daily grind already. I have written before about the impactful going on vacation has on our mental health. So I’m going to work extra hard to keep the Costa Rica sun in my soul.

How to Be a Resilient Parent after Experiencing Abuse

I’ve been a trauma therapist for over 12 years, and working in the Violence against Women field for 20 years. Over this time, I’ve seen women, families and children work on their healing and move on with their lives. It’s not always easy, and they don’t do it alone. I have been reflecting on what helps them be better parents than some of them had, or more present in their day to day life even with the flashbacks that still catch them off guard. Here are some things I’ve learned.

When we become a parent, we go into the role wanting to provide our children with all the love and security in the world. Sometimes, when that wasn’t available to us as children, it’s hard to be able to do that for someone else. When that wee baby cries for hours, when our children fight with each other, and when those little ones keep demanding from us, it makes it hard to be calm and joyful, when it’s our children that are triggering our own pain and abuse experiences.

The experience of abuse and violence can vary, as can its impact on us. For some of us, we have survivors of family intergenerational trauma that can stem back years, and other survivors have experienced sexual violence or intimate partner violence that continues to impact today. Sometimes, the onset of preparing for and becoming parents can open wounds that we thought were otherwise healed. Being a parent is such a raw, vulnerable, and exhausting role in our life. Having tools and a clearer understanding of this connection is so important.

Post-traumatic growth (after trauma) is a process and sometimes we become parents before our own healing from trauma is complete. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a great parent to your little one! Be kind and gentle on yourself.and know that healing is a journey. Notice if you catch yourself with self-judgement and instead choose radical acceptance and self-compassion.

Here are some helpful tips and strategies to help you get there (in no particular order).

Develop your Own Parenting Style
The only real model of what parenting looks like are our own parents,so when that is not a model that you want to follow, we may need to be more intentional with how we learn to do better. When we want to change that pattern and style, we need to learn something new to replace it. So get some books, read, take a course and connect with other parents that you see or know. You know your child best and also your own story. Trust your instincts, establish your own family values and house rules and don’t set unrealistic parenting goals. Make intentional time as a family. You can do this in big ways (i.e. birthday party, host a BBQ, go on a family vacation) or smaller daily acts of fun – play games, do a family craft, eat a meal together. It’s also helpful to allow time in each day for some 1 on 1 bonding time like reading, a morning cuddle.

Attachment Work
There is a lot of talk about needing to create a bond with your new baby. Sometimes this is not possible, as our baby may be one of the triggers to our own trauma. Also, we don’t become mindful and present parents as soon as we meet our baby – for some of us it can take a few days and others it can take months, or longer. We are all on our own journey with parenthood. Whether you breastfeed, use formula or cloth diapers, use a stroller or baby carrier wrap, it is not what we do with our child, but rather how safe and attached they feel with us after receiving our regular and daily presence. Just as in adult relationships, trust is something that is earned. That can take time, and this work of building a bond and connection is the most important step to create a healthy relationship with our children. Once our child is attached to us, there is a decrease in power plays, increase in quality time, and it allows children to come to you as their anchor and home base. Make a point to share love and affection to your children EVERY day: hugs, words of encouragement and signs of love are so important to break away our own feelings of unworthiness, and it also builds on the bond with our own children.

Practice Self-Care and Balance
We are more than a parent so we NEED to get a break from that role sometimes. That doesn’t make us a bad mom, the opposite in fact. What are some things you do to help you after a hard day? What helps you unwind. This is a good time to building on your Wellness Toolkit. Things that are important to put in it include activities that have a body connection – do some work to connect with your body and what it is trying to tell you – yoga, a jog, stretches, body scan, massage. The body-mind connection has been studied and shows it’s really a important part of healing from abuse. How we sit, our posture, and what we notice in our bodies are necessary to help us be resilient. Other things include something that is relaxing like a long bath with a good book, time with friends, time to laugh, putting your feet up instead of doing that last load of dishes. The chores can wait – you can’t give from an empty cup.

Build a Village
In Brene Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness, she talks about how important it is to feel more confident in ourselves, without relying on others. As a parent, that is a crucial step in feeling in tune with the choices you make for your family. And then, it’s even more helpful to build on that and then build a village around you with like-minded friends and parents. We really can’t do it all and do it by all by yourself. So, it’s not enough to have a network of mom friends if they don’t share your values or realities of parenting – it can be hard to feel supported as a nursing or cloth diaper family if your friends don’t share this same practice, for instance. Create your own village – join a group or programs that make you feel safe, included and respected. As a therapist myself, I may have a slight bias but I do feel like having a therapist or someone else in your life that is a neutral person that you can share anything with, who is there for you with unconditional support is also a life saver. We all need someone to vent to and get support from.

Reframe, Forgive Yourself and Move on
How to rebuild after a conflict and role model this for our children is a great reminder that our nurturing is what guides them. So, we need to work on nurturing and be a healthy role model for feelings. Most of us were not taught that all feelings are okay, and to instead hide the hard feelings from our parents. We were also taught to say sorry, but it was not common for our parents to say that to us. That’s why it’s imperative to accept ourselves as parents and the Perfectly Imperfect days of it all. Start the next day with a Do-Over and don’t blame yourself, provide yourself with that same (self) compassion you give others and forgive yourself. Ask for forgiveness and have those hard chats with your kids. Ask that they also apologize and work on their mistakes. That is one of the best ways to learn how to be empathetic and respectful people.

Accepting Love and Self-Compassion
Self-esteem is a part of self-compassion, but it’s not all of it. It’s important, especially as a trauma survivor, to work on including self-compassion in your daily life. It’s definitely a big help when we feel good about ourselves, but if we don’t incorporate behaviour of self-compassion into our daily rhythm, it’s easy for it to get lost or left behind. Find ways to share love with yourself, your child, and your partner or family. Accept all of you as you are. Donald Winnicott talks about the Good Enough Parent – a way to be present both emotionally and physically, and provide for our child. We need to be gentle also with them and accept mistakes. Keep trying: It’s not a race. We need to nurture the relationship now for long-term gain.

Catch your Feelings
Most often than not, people are not taught healthy ways to experience their range of emotions or feelings, and typically feel shy around the big hard feelings of anger, sadness, disgust. This is especially true for the adults that have become parents in recent years. If only movies like Inside Out were around when i was a kid! The tool Window of Tolerance can help you see how your mood can impact others and us for longer than it needs. It may also help to see what your primary emotion is so that you can take care of it, before the iceberg effect of all the other feelings that come raising in. While it’s not absolutely necessary to go to therapy, it is crucial that you learn that the abuse or violence your experienced is NOT your fault, you deserve better, and the abuse we experience is due to patriarchal beliefs and power and control. There is a lot to unpack here I know. This is an important part of becoming resilient whether you are a parent or not. This is hard work, and necessary in order to break any residual intergenerational trauma that stems from our disconnect to feelings. In order to be present parents, we need to do our own work in unpacking the pain and trauma we experienced in our life.

Find Joy in the Present and Every Day
For you to be in present and here and now, it helps to learn some strategies, tips, and tools to stay in the moment that is in front of you. As parents, especially to young kids, it can be hard to actually find time with them truly fun. Give yourself permission to know that it is not all joy but rather can actually be no fun. It may not be your cup of tea to have a teddy bear tea party, and Lego can be more harm than good. Find ways to allow yourself pleasure and play in your role as a parent. That means doing things with your kids that you also love. So, focus on the present and don’t multitask – put your phone down, get your hands away from the dirty dishes, and check if your autopilot monkey brain of thoughts is on. Mindfulness work is so helpful to stay in the present. A helpful tip to stay present when with kids is to do a sensory exercise – notice 5 things in the room that you see, 4 things you can touch with your hands, 3 sounds in the space, 2 smells you can locate, and do 1 action with your body. Add fun to your family rhythm, and include yourself in the activity. It’s when we stay present that we are given the gift of peace and also a shared laugh.

Hold on to Hope
Take some time each day to journal, reflect, or otherwise hold on to good things that happened in your day, and times that you did something you are proud of. It is a helpful way to minimize or challenge any of the negative self-talk moments that creep in. Notice the monkey brain and inner critic, and instead choose to say hi to the voice that reminds you of something to be grateful for or proud of. Be a cheerleader for yourself, just as you are for your kids and other important people in your life. Find ways to hold on to hope as a family – it can be a weekly Rose Thorn Bud exercise at the dinner table, or a communal gratitude journal entry.

Reach out and Support Others
In our journey to become resilient and empowered, it’s important to discover what our voice is – how it sounds and what it can say. This can be seen in so many ways. It may mean finding an improv class or choir to join, so that you can hear yourself and also feel the strength you have from within. This is important work as it helps carry the momentum forward, and also gives you courage to stand up for yourself and others. This may seem like a hard and time-consuming task, especially after the above-mentioned suggestions to be present and gentle with yourself. Further to this, it is also key to provide similar support to others who may not be as further along in their healing. Advocacy for others or self-advocacy for ourselves is a key part of post-traumatic growth. It is not necessary to self-disclose your trauma story, but it working from a trauma-informed place as a parent to another family can be just enough loving kindness and respect another mom needs to know that she is also not alone. You can subtly pass on a resource to her, have a coffee date with another parent, or reach out after a parent and tot program. While different than building your own village of support, it can be so good for our own healing to support someone else too.

28 Days of Self-Love

The card i pulled from my deck in January was Brigid – she came a month early for me as she’s the Goddess connected to Imbolc in February. She is a Goddess of healing, and brings fertility to the land and its people. She is also closely connected to midwives and newborn babies. She sits at my alter all month to remind me of her energy so i’m sharing her with you now.

February is a tricky month for a lot of us. If you are like me and you live where Winter really visits, then February is cold and full of snow. It makes it hard to go out and do things, to be spontaneous and have fun. I’m not opposed to getting cozy at home, in fact i kind of treasure it. But it can lead to a bit of Cabin Fever.

Another pitfall of February is that Valentine’s Day is in the middle of it. This holiday carries with it a love-hate feeling, whether you are single or not, as it pushes a lot of us to DO and GET and BE so much more than we typically are. The pressure is on for sure. A few years ago, i heard about a reclaiming of the day, a way to re-connect with our own selves, as to focus on self-love more than an arbitrary outpouring of love that is dictated by stores telling us how to show love.

So, since my word of the year is LOVE, i thought it was a good time to create this helpful tool to intentionally provide myself with some gifts of self-love. Each day has a simple and gentle suggestion for you to practice. Some take a few minutes, and others are a bit longer. I also made sure to connect it to key dates in the month – February 2 is Candlemas/Imbolc so a good time to plant seeds or get fresh flowers, February 14 of course, February 15 is the New Moon of the month (did you know there is NO Full Moon? So interesting…). Feel free to change up the days, but do try to give yourself these moments of self-love. Click HERE for a full size copy of this guide.

I see a lot of connection between self-love and self-compassion, and also the need to steal time as a working mom of two young kids. I may not have the abundance of time to leisurely eat brunch as i once did, but i do have the right to eat the best chocolate i can get my hands on, and to take a break from self-judgement and critique.

Please join me this month!

Trust Them

My son broke his elbow recently. It was a big learning moment for us, and not just because we now know how to heal a broken elbow, and to not dance with slippery socks on a coffee table, but because i absolutely trusted him when he said that it was bad and he needed to go to the hospital.

This is bone #4 that he has broken in 4 years – yes, one every school year so far. The first one he was in shock and it was the school secretary who had to gently urge us to check it out. By now, and after stitches as well as those above-mentioned bone breaks, he knows to tell me “I’m okay” immediately after a fall or injury. Or “mom, i need help” – this time was the first time that he said it and i knew that he meant it was serious. I didn’t have to stop and question what happened or convince ourselves that going to emerg on a Sunday night at 8pm was not necessary.

I’m not one to think so well on an instinct. When it usually comes to fight or flight mode, i’m a Freezer (is that a word in this context?) but this time – oh i was Mama on Fire. I tended to him, got him ready, packed a bag with snacks, books, and water, got his health card ready and told my partner that it was time to take him to the hospital no. questions. asked.

All because i trusted that my son knew what his body was telling him.

I’ve been reading the book Whole Brain Child again. It’s a great book – small and full of info about how brain development impacts how children connect to their world. As a young child who has now had a fair share (more than their fair share in fact) of injuries and trauma that connects to it, my son is struggling with how to feel safe and still have joy in the things he loves. A part of me wants to cover him in bubble wrap, but what i really want is to push him to keep taking risks and feeling confident that i will there when he falls. And to trust himself first. Notice how i didn’t say, i will catch him when he falls? Because i know that’s not possible now, and he still calls for me.

The time since the latest cast, and i’m sure not the last, we have snuggled more, talked more about feelings and fears, and we are still a work in progress when it comes to being on top of our feelings. But my son knows i have his back (and elbow, ankle and collarbone), and that’s what matters most.

A New Year, A New Word

Happy New Year! I’m not one for resolutions as i worry about the pressure and unrealistic goals. But i do like traditions and ways to stay motivated. I benefit from having goals that guide me and keep me accountable to myself.

Each year, we chronicle our days and weeks. I usually write in a journal – it can be a quick note of gratitude or an exercise aligned with the moon cycle. As a family, we mark each week with a Memory Jar. I know there are a lot of traditions and rituals. So it helps to find ones that work for you.

If you have been thinking of something to do to chronicle your year, it’s not too late! I compiled a list of my favourites. Most of them are free apps or worksheets you can print and do to you heart’s content.

Here are some of them:

Practice You
This is my current journal and i am Loving it. It is beautiful, special and a great guide. I am using it daily, as a way to close my day. The writer also created a free Mapping workplan for 2018, that is based on this journal.

Many Moons
Another great journal and moon book. It comes in 6-month books and documents the major moon cycles of each month. The author did a wonderful job putting together some journal prompts and guides. The book covers things in your personal life, things from your past, goals for the future as well as things that are bigger than you – and connects us together.

The Desire Map and Core Desired Feelings
This is a great tool that helps you unpack some dreams and wishes you have, to make your life the way you would really like. I do the annual Core Desired Feelings/Word. Last year it was Breathe and i worked hard on it. It came in handy when my kids were testing my patience, and when i knew i needed time to myself to catch my breath. It’s still a work in progress, so it was a great intention to set for myself.

This year, my word is LOVE for myself, for my children (especially when they are testing my patience), quality time with my love, giving love to my village, and doing things i love. I am working on choosing love when my kids are getting me frustrated, and being more intentional with giving myself the love i give to others.

Unravel Your Year
I have down this workbook for 4 years now. It’s great, and time consuming. So commit to some time to yourself – a long bath, at a coffee shop, after kids’ bedtime for instance. It’s a nice lesson in giving ourselves the time we give others, and to slow down and reflect, pause and be mindful.

Permission Slip
We of course need to work on giving ourselves the same permission we give others – to be less then perfect and to be human. I love how Brene Brown speaks about this. You can actually write a permission slip as we got in school, and put it in your pocket as a reminder.

Mothering Arts has a great list of ideas to help your family reflect on the year that just finished. You can download the template and discuss your highlights some day this week. There are others online for sure, but i really appreciate the gentle approach of this one.

And here is a further great list of 11 things you can do as a family. It’s never too late to start a new tradition and to be intentional with your plans each year. It’s a mindful way of living your life as close to how you want to. Nothing is perfect, and we can still aim to have the life we want.

The 12 Days of Getting Through the Holidays in a Mindful Way

As parents we have a love-hate relationship with the holidays. December is a full month of visits, errands, chores, schedules, and to-do lists. Let alone the fun and joy we are supposed to be having. It can be hard pressed to find time to relax and truly have fun over the holidays.

This year, i plan to be a bit more gentle to myself. Most of the presents are done, i’m eating chocolate every night, and my partner and i are busy elves in the our workshop from 8:30 – 11:00 each night. I actually like that part of my day as it’s a guaranteed time where i get to be crafty and creative, and not thinking about ANYthing else. I’m reminded that sewing and knitting are activities that i do for myself as much as for my kids – the act of sewing is so methodical and meditative. And i’m sure any readers who are knitters can agree to this as well.

In our family we do an Advent calendar where we fill each day with a fun or meaningful activity. Today, for example we are reading some new Winter and holiday books we picked up at the library. Yesterday was our kids’ Winter Concert at school so that was the Advent activity. Sounds easy enough, right? Since we are literally incorporating what we are doing in real life, i made the decision to make our Advent activities a bit more simple and streamlined. And still festive, so it’s a win-win.

I’ve been thinking about how to take pause each day so i can allow the holidays to linger. Similarly to how i wanted the summer to never end back in August. Since my Donut Donut is a seasonal thing, i noticed that my love for Hygge is a close second in the Winter months.

In honour of the 12 days tradition, i’m sharing something with you each day to help you bring some joy, laughter, happiness, fun and rest in a mindful way – to yourselves and not just the rascals we love so dearly. Make sure to look at my FACEBOOK PAGE for daily tips related to this. Here is also a cheat sheet that covers each day for you. Feel free to print it and use it as a guide or reference.

To get us started, today, for DAY ONE here are some sensual ways i bring hygge mindfully into my home for the holidays. Being mindful and incorporating hygge (Danish word for cozy) are great ways to slow down and take a moment to pause, and to breathe in what is literally right in front of you in the here and now.

Scent

We keep the Solstice tree up as long as possible – the smell of pine is such a relaxing and visceral response for me. The photo of the horses above is from the tree farm we got our tree farm at. While my kids were screaming in the car to go because we were NOT EXPECTING snow, i took a serene self-ful moment to myself. I also added 4 new candles to my evening ritual. I especially love these ones as there is a gift at the end of the candle. We also bake cookies for our neighbours each year for Solstice, and the smell of baked goods lingers for a few days.

Vision

Besides the aforementioned tree, we also add other festive decorations all over the house. The only rooms that are spared are the bedrooms. For me, i like the sacredness of my bedroom being grounded in itself. But, otherwise, i have fresh flowers, garlands, Nutcrackers, and other decorations all over. And i take pause to intentionally notice them, so that i’m not just rushing by each day.

My kids and i play a version of I Spy when we are out. I do it to help them understand mindfulness a bit better. When we are going to school, we look at the neighbourhood decorations. Our favourite version now is looking for 5 Santas, 4 pine trees, 3 holiday lights, 2 wreaths and 1 winter bird.

Sound

It could go without saying that holiday music can be the worst genre ever, but it also can bring up some sentimental and warm feelings. I did not grow up singing carols with my family, but music has always been a big part of my life. Now as an adult, there are definitely songs and artists that i can hear (and sing along with) daily. For me, Joni Mitchell’s River is a standard on my playlist.

Touch

I’m all about the fuzzy sweaters, warm beds, cozy blankets and scarves that this time of year calls for. Since i don’t have a fireplace at home, i jump at the chance when i can to feel the warm fire on my face. I guess that’s why i’m constantly knitting – i like that feeling in my hands too.

Taste

I have a rule to eat at least 1 chocolate each day, and this time of you the selection is bountiful, or limitless, depending on if you are a glass half-full gal like me. My kids live for hot cocoa, and we always add a few new teas to our repertoire. And stock up on warm adult drinks like port and hot toddies.

So, take a moment sometime today to see if you can connect with your 5 senses in a fun, festive and mindful way. Enjoy and take a moment to pause for yourself.

I Write This Post for December 6

This week marks the anniversary of the the Montreal Massacre. On December 6, 1989 14 women were killed because they were attending school to be engineers. A lone gunman felt threatened by their presence and his misogyny lead to his decision to kill them and himself.

I write this after reading about a few more women and trans folk in Toronto who have been killed this year, this month even, or have gone missing. While we have made great strides to create change and lessen violence against women, it is still something that we are faced with on a regular basis.

I write this as someone who has worked in this field for 20 years, as a shelter worker, helpline staff, and now as a therapist for women who have experienced violence.

I write this as someone who sees so many forms of violence and unhealthy relationships in my own personal life. My own relationship with my partner is solid and happy, but like so many of us i have experienced harassment, abuse and unhealthy relationships in my past. Friends of mine still do.

I write this because some of the women i support are working on leaving their abusive partners, people that they have small children with and know that they deserve better. It’s such a complicated and courageous step to make – putting our own needs on the list means sometimes that we have to make a hard decision.

I write this because while we hope to change and help others, we cannot do it unless that is wanted. We can love ourselves more and trust that we when we fall, we will do so standing up with others around us for support.

I write this because we deserve to be safe, and happy, and feel valued.

I write this because i don’t think someone can be a good dad or parent if they are using violence on someone else. I also know that it’s ok to be angry and show all our emotions, but it’s never ok to have others afraid of us when doing so.

I write this because i support people who were raped and sexually violated in their lives, and that trauma impacts their life now. It’s hard to think about giving birth without connecting it to the pain and suffering of something that was taken from us.

I write this because there are communities of us that are disproportionately targeted – women of colour, Indigenous women, women with dis/abilities, and trans people. This is not okay. If violence is about feeling like you have power over someone, the intersections that we are labeled with seem to have even further oppressions.

I write this because sometimes abuse starts or escalates when we are pregnant. When we are already more vulnerable, and needing more support, love and understanding. This form of abuse happens when someone else is feeling or low or unneeded, and in order to make up for these feelings, they target their partner to feel more in control.

I write this because i’m angry that someone would be jealous of something that i feel like a Goddess for – being privileged to grow another being inside me. That someone would be jealous of this connection and feel like it means they don’t get the same attention.

I write this because i want to not have to write this again.