The 3 R’s of Self-Care

Not to be confused with the 3 Rs of recycling, which are obviously so important too, but this rule is about how to reclaim (is that another R?) a self-care practice and find out how it can work for you.

I personally think self-care work is crucial to live the life you love and to get the balance we all need to be healthy. And yet, it gets a lot of bad press and eye rolling when people say they need to take care of themselves. I’m not sure why that is and i know it’s linked to mental health, so the taboo and stigma of mental health flows down to self-care. It feels frivolous and selfish to do things for ourselves too, especially for those of us that identify as women – we are told to be martyrs and to take care of others. But i truly believe that

We cannot give from an empty cup

So, if you are struggling with reclaiming self-care practices in your life, this list may help you feel more confident with your choice. If you need an extra help to remember why self-care is important think of these prompts – find ways to help heal your HEAD HANDS HEART & HEARTH and add more HAPPINESS HEALTH & HOPE to your life. Yes thats’ a lot of H’s – this post is brought to you by the letters R and H, and the number 1. I think this list calls for a worksheet – stay tuned for one soon.

True helpful acts of self-care are ones that allow you to do something without judgement, a way you can add joy and play into your life, and help you decrease possible burn-out or low feelings. You don’t have to practice daily but it is very helpful to set an intention each week to incorporate kind acts of love just for yourself into your life (notice what i did there – I said self-care without actually doing it!). These acts help you re-energize and re-group – and they get you back on your list of people to take care of!

Restorative Self-Care

This is the stuff that gives self-care a bad rap but they are so helpful as they can be implemented in the everyday. Some of them are even BORING self-care like a bath or putting away laundry. I love that too. It feels productive as it can be checked off a to-do list, plus i feel good about a room without piles of clothes everywhere. And, we do all need to bathe in some way, so why not add bubbles, a candle and crystal to the mix.

Other ideas of restorative self-care are: laughing at a funny show, eating something soothing, curling up on the couch with your cat, a cuddle with a lover, or a quick nap. These are the acts we hear about most – but a mani/pedi or massage are also ways we are honouring what we need and that our body deserves.

Reflective Self-Care

Reflective self-care is like a mini therapy session that you give yourself at home. It can be a chat with a friend who helps you feel strong again, and validates you. It can be a journal entry or a good book that regains a perspective that works supports you. It means going to therapy to share what’s getting to you. It means alone time and doing something you love. Self-care is not just pampering stuff like the restorative practices above, but ones that allow you to feel and honour what you are needing in that moment. Reflective self-care reminds you that all feelings matter and need to be nurtured in their own way.

Radical Self-Care

No one can say it better than Audre. I love how this quote reminds us that self-care can be radical – it means we can say NO to that one more thing we are asked to do. It means we don’t need to hear or take on unsolicited advice, to respect our own time and have that nap cuz I’m Too Tired to go out to yet another after-work union meeting. It may be radical to put your own needs above others and yet it’s self-care to notice what you need. It also might feel so good to outsource work that you don’t need to be doing yourself – like cleaning your home (even once) or getting take-out.

So, when thinking about ways to add self-care practices to your daily/weekly/monthly rhythm, think of the following checklist: Does this activity help me rest, give me joy, nourish me, and help me reach my window of tolerance (balance of stress and happy place). If so, then you are doing the thing!

What are some ways your bring self-care into your life?

The Summer I Saved an Alligator

Each year, at the beginning of summer break from school, my family and I go on a vacation to the cottage. It has become such a family ritual that that we start to anticipate it weeks in advance. It’s a chance for us to unwind, relax, be in nature, and an opportunity for us to get a break from our everyday life.

The timing of this time away is impeccable: I am in the middle of a three-month long course that is offered by the Neufeld Institute. While it’s simply named Intensive I, it’s actually a very in-depth course on attachment and how it helps us reach our full potential. So as I’m taking this course, things are coming to my mind’s eye around the behaviour and emotions that my children are experiencing. This year, I found the time at the cottage to be even more important as it’s a chance for us to be alone as a family. I’ve been noticing my younger child becoming more and more attached to her peers. As an Attachment-based therapist and parent, I know it’s my role to remain the anchor for my children. Being the answer for them helps them to live their life as fully as possible. Watching my daughter become more more attached to her peers even at such a young age has been an interesting experience for me as a therapist and parent who is making very intentional decisions.

So, in order to help re-connect and be that anchor for my kids, off we went to our week away from the world. The weather was glorious, we ate S’more‘s and we swam more than once every day in the lake. Even though it was rather cold, the water has always been our happy place as a family. We could be cranky, tired or bored beforehand, but we always emerged from the water happy, content and refreshed. During one afternoon in the water, we were playing with our beloved water donuts. I of course brought to my favourite doughnut-doughnut, and we also had on hand the inflatable alligator that had been mine as a child. This summer my daughter has a goal to work on her swimming and so she and I were playing with the alligator as an opportunity for her to feel more confident in the water. Luckily she was still wearing her puddle jumper water wings because in one quick moment, the alligator overturned and slipped from under her. My quick instinct tended to her to make sure she was safe and well we were cuddling and checking in together and the allocator quickly started to drift off. I had first thought it was going slowly in the direction that would take it to shore but then I quickly noticed it was actually going deeper into the lake. I’m pretty confident swimmer and had been on the swim team in high school so I was pretty convinced that I would be able to reach the alligator in time. Because in one quick moment overturned from under. My quick instinct tended to her to make sure she was safe and while we were cuddling and checking in together, the alligator quickly started to drift out. Instead of going slowly in the direction that would take it to shore, it actually went deeper into the lake. I’m a pretty confident swimmer and was on the swim team in high school so I was pretty convinced that I would be able to read to the alligator in time. I was wrong. After a leisurely paddle where i was in my donut, i soon realized i was not going to reach the alligator in time. I have memories of this toy from my own childhood, and didn’t want to lose it so soon after my kids were able to play with it. So, i ditched the donut (this time int he right direction) and started to frantically swim at full speed towards the bright green animal floating in the water.

Luckily, we were the only people in the water and it was so calm (or maybe that was a problem). I used all the swimming strokes i learned (front crawl, breaststroke, backwards) and there were a couple of times where i had to quickly assess if this damn toy was worth me drowning or having a heart attack. I have to say there was a moment of panic of not reaching the floating device in time. Of course i did, as otherwise i wouldn’t be here writing this, but wow, was it a stressful moment for me.

I was able to use some de-escalation tools to help me get there, i used all the positive thinking i could, and worked on some radical acceptance that it was truly okay if i did’t reach it. A part of me know it would come to shore eventually. Another part of me wanted to be my kids’ saviour – of the alligator anyway. And you know what?

They didn’t even notice.

They didn’t realize how hard it was to get the floatie. But my partner did, and he tended to me and gave me some space to breathe. Literally.

So on that note, because i’m a glass half-ful gal, i’m going to leave you with some links to great articles about how to embrace summer, and how to make it meaningful for you as a parent. I work from a place where setting intentions help me live the life i love, and that summer means as much for me as it does my kids. So, here are some great resources to help you if you are stuck:

10 ways to stress less and flourish more
Mothering Arts Best Summer Ever list
Summer vacation: Freedom from or freedom to
18 summers – though i think this is too much pressure and not only 18 years, the article has some helpful tips

What are some of your favourite summertime family rituals? How do you spend the summer doing things you love?

Notice the Everyday Magic

I’m not sure when i first heard the term “everyday magic” but it’s been something i am intentionally making time for lately. The concept of manifesting something is also trending right now, and i’m using the momentum of this trend as it is allowing me to combine my personal interest and tools into my therapy practice.

As someone who grew up with religious yet non-practicing parents, i had to find my own path to a spirital journey. I knew that the version my parents practised wasn’t the right fit for me, yet what was pulling me felt too different or ostracizing: As a teenage feminist I was constantly being pulled to stories of goddess or Wicca work.

Moving forward 25 years now and in the present, I am loving the balance of my every day practice, where I’m able to go deeper in the Wheel of Life practice in the spiritual realm. Including that side of me is a form of self-care. I know that now. For a long time I kept saying i wasn’t religious or spiritual, and I think a lot of that was because I couldn’t feel a fit for me. Now that more and more people are talking about concepts of everyday magic, tarot reading, crystals and moon worship, I feel more comfort and community in what has been tugging at me for so many years.

One tool that I love is this concept of manifesting a symbol in my everyday life, as it brings reassurance and confidence for something that I may be questioning or struggling with. In her book, The Universe has Your Back Gabby Bernstein talks about noticing an owl as her symbol. Here are some helpful strps to help you do this: has a few suggestions for picking your sign and co-creating with the Universe:

1) Be specific. Asking the Universe to show you something like “a butterfly” is too broad. Get specific about what you want to see – a blue butterfly flying past, a black cat curled up, the word “love” written down…the more specific, the more certain you can be that it’s a true sign from the Universe. It doesnt have to be something you see, but rather in a song or dream as well.
2) Ask for clear direction. Make sure you ask the Universe to send you the sign when you need it. For example, let me see a blue butterfly when I’m going in the right direction.
3) Accept when you don’t see your sign. Know that when you do not get your sign, you are being redirected to something better for you and all involved.
4) Try not to control the outcome. If you are trying to see a blue butterfly, and a white moth lands on your deck, that is not your sign. Be patient and wait for the right one. In this video, she does a great job in breaking down how do use this tool.

For me, my symbol of everyday magic is a butterfly. It may not be a surprise to you, dear reader, because I’ve spoken about butterflies in the past but let me give you some examples. Earlier this year, on a family trip to Costa Rica, I was walking through a beautiful forest with my son. My daughter was having a hard time with the heat and the amount of walking, so all of our energies and windows of tolerance were quite stretched. So my son and I kept walking on our own. Within minutes of me saying to myself I just need to be in the present and enjoy this sweet moment, a few butterflies fluttered by. They were those stunningly beautiful blue iridescent Blue Morpho butterflies. For a few years when I was a teenager I collected those framed dead butterfly artwork pieces and my very first one was a single Blue Morpho butterfly in a frame. Since these butterflies carry symbolism and sentiment to me, seeing them gently fly past me in this moment was so amazing I can’t even describe it to you. I actually didn’t even believe they existed in real life, nor did I ever expect to see them in March in this forest. Noticing them with my son definitely lifted my spirits and helped me stay present in the moment as well as bring me some joy and lift my spirits.

Recently when I attended a supervision session, I noticed for the first time, after year of attending sessions with my supervisor, a single Blue Morpho butterfly in a frame on the wall right inside the front door. I’m not sure why didn’t notice it before, nor why I noticed it at that moment but it helped to confirm for me that attending sessions with the supervisor is a good fit.

I shared a tool with you to encourage noticing and catching RAINBOWS. Can I tell you how often I now notice them now even when it’s not raining? So while this isn’t necessarily my symbol, it is something that I am taking a pause to notice. It’s helping me take a deep breath, be present in the moment, and confirm the every day magic in my life.

This article helps bring some daily practice in a gentle and meaningful way. Can you think of a symbol that can help you feel less alone, afraid or unsure? What ways can you bring more magic in your life?

Finding Joy

I recently took the reigns of my Mother’s Day agenda. It was a way to ensure that i got the day i wanted. I also did a similar thing when i took over the plan for the Mother Blessing for my second child. What’s that saying about insanity is when we keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting new results? Well, let’s just say this is a way that i can ensure that i am getting what i want – by being in control of the plans.

Don’t get me wrong, i know i can’t control everything, nor do i want to (hello micromanaging!) but i do want to make sure that a special day that is supposedly about honouring me, is in fact done in a way that i FEEL honoured.

So besides the usual breakfast in bed (that i did ask for), time to myself, and not making dinner, one other thing i asked for is to watch my favourite movie of all time with my family. As an 80s baby, i saw Goonies as a kid, and about 40 times since. The last time i saw it was almost 9 years ago, during the birth of first-born: It was in the early stages of labour, as a tool to relax and get my mind off what was present.

Fast forward to Mother’s Day 2018 and we all sat down and watched it together. Now, i do have problems with some of the offensive story lines and portrayals for sure, and looking at it through an adult lens is definitely less fun. But, watching it with my almost 9 year old was priceless. Now i get that credit card commercial – it truly was something that i could not replicate or pay for. We howled with laughter, we sang the Cyndi Lauper song, and we now say to each other two of best lines ever – “it’s our time down here” and “Holy Mary mother of God”. I had to explain that one. One line i hope they can learn soon is “Goonies never say die.”

So i found some joy that day.

I found it again when i had to ride my daughter’s bike home. She had been having a especially hard moment with her father, something to do with wanting a different kind of ice cream at the grocery store, you know, the everyday plight of parents everywhere. I think she was hangry but they were stuck. I went to rescue him and my son, and stayed with my daughter while she got her Window of Tolerance back to a good place. It didn’t take her long as i was a new neutral energy. But that meant taking her home in my arms instead of her riding her bike home. So i had to go get it later.

Her bike is a vintage yellow bike with long pink tassels and a watermelon basket.

If you have seen the movie Goonies, you will know this reference, but if not go see the movie ASAP and then you’ll get this next reference. I could have walked the bike home the 3 blocks to my house. Instead i biked home. It seemed like the more reasonable choice. It was also that more fun one.

I grinned to myself ear-to-ear all the way home. I didn’t care that anyone saw me, and there were oodles of cars around. Instead i fostered that Radical Acceptance that it is what it is – i’m on a wee kid’s bike – and claimed the moment. When i got home, my family and lots of neighbours were out and i said – “Hey who am i??!” It took a moment but then they got the reference: I was the big brother on his chase to get his little brother back. I was that big adult peddling a too small bike, trying to save the day.

I realized that in my life, one area that i need to nurture beyond all the responsibilities in my life is one that holds space for Joy. And i want to encourage that in my children. So recently, when were went to a popular outdoor antique market, my son found an awesome helmet from one of his favourite shows. Like anyone, when he gets something new, he wants to hear or use it as much as possible. So here he is at a park in our city on an incredibly busy day. He wore that helmut as much as he could that day. And he chose Joy.

It can be hard to find this daily, and i know that not all of us can ride a child’s bike – but i encourage you to find ways to bring more joy in your life. It’s a form of self-care and self-love after all. It nourishes you, keeps you positive and focused on living the life you love. It can be small simple acts like an amazing new smell, a too-fancy-for-the event pair of shoes that make me feel kick-ass and ready for anything (see my example up there) or a decadent weekend away. It can be that deep hearty laugh that you haven’t had in months.

Here’s to finding Joy.

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!