"What are You Wearing?" Alternatives to the Hospital Birth Gown

At one of the recent births I attended, the Mom planned to wear her own clothes instead of the standard issue hospital gown. She labored in a comfortable tank top and a skirt designed specifically for labor and birth, and the mood and ownership of the experience were evident immediately. I have heard it said that when a woman chooses to birth in a hospital, one of the first "interventions" is putting on the uniform of the drab, unflattering, and slightly embarrassing hospital gown. It says to a birthing family, "You're on our turf now, and there are rules." It's one of the first things they tell you to do when you arrive, at any stage of labor: "Put on this gown and get into that bed," when the labor and birthing experience are so unique to each woman.

When we compare the monumental event of a birth to one like, say, a wedding, there is often very little conscious thought that goes into what will make us feel our best while doing the hard work of labor and birth. It's not necessarily about feeling glamorous (while doing work that hardly feels so) it's about feeling like ourselves--or the most comfortable and FREE version of ourselves. Our self that can rock this baby out any which way we choose.

I've collected a few lovely alternative birthing wear options from around the web. I'm not a big fan of the gowns that look just like "hospital gowns in pretty/funky patterned fabric." To me those are just expensive and fluffy ways to look like a patient. And don't make me get all childbirth educator on you, but pregnancy is not a sickness.

This is the skirt my doula mama used, ordered from Etsy.

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These are some more kimono/robe styles from Etsy...these ones are from Silk and More.

hospital birth gown, homebirth clothes, birth kimono, postpartum pajamas, postpartum robe, nursing nightgown
nursing nightgown, hospital birth gown, maternity nightgown, birth kimono

And the Binsi skirt is a pretty popular option.

And I think the dresses from Pretty Pushers are...well...pretty.

On top you could just wear a sports bra, comfortable tank top/undershirt, or even an old (or inexpensive new) nightgown or sundress you wouldn't mind getting "a little birthed on." I like this skirt from Old Navy, it's what I wore in early labor with my little dude, before things got too wild for clothes of course.

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And comfortable shoes are a must if you're walking hospital floors...Any flip flops will do, but these fuzzy ones look so nice to me!

Do you want to wear the hospital gown? Most women don't realize they have the choice. Personally, I think for a woman who is desiring a respectful and mostly uninterrupted birth in the hospital setting, coming in with and staying in your own clothing can be a very quiet and powerful way of saying, "I value and appreciate your services, but there are certain things that will make my stay more comfortable."

Wearing your own clothes in the hospital is not always met with happy smiles and accommodation from the nurses, but if it's something that is important to you, it's worth explaining yourself. You can do so respectfully, explaining that your belly will still be accessible for monitoring, your skirt is easily adjusted for any internal exams, and your arms are free for blood pressure and IV insertions as necessary. There is nothing that can't be removed if needed. A simple "No thanks," to the gown (maybe said 10 times...ha!) should suffice. And maybe you'll end up in your birthday suit for your birthing day anyway--many women do.

Talk with your Midwife/OB ahead of time if this is something that resonates with you. And as always, if you find that your care provider and birth setting don't support something that feels right to you...it's almost never too late to find new ones.

family, flashbacks, farts, and unflappable faith.

When people with daughters say they are disappointed to find out they are expecting a boy the second time around, that they think "all little girls need a sister," I have to tell them differently. I tell them that I grew up with the two best little brothers any girl could ever have, and that I can't imagine life any other way. I could tell you stories of mud puddles and lizard catching, laughing so hard we snotted, peed, and farted at the same time, boogie boarding in the streets after a hurricane, putting on my dance costumes together to put on shows in the living room. Of all the wild life and love since we were kids...I can't imagine life without them.

Except this Saturday night, I sort of had to.

We had the white noise fan blowing hard in the bedroom that night to keep my little dude asleep and I sort of dreamed my phone rang. Like I thought I was dreaming, but looked at my phone with my Mom's name showing up on the screen. "No one's in labor," I thought drowsily, the only reason I'm usually answering a phone call after bedtime. And somehow I went back to sleep. Five minutes later it rang again...

"Sean was in a car accident. He's in the emergency room. The police called us. We don't know how he is or what is happening." She cried on the other end of the line.

It was only for a short amount of time, but in the 30 minutes between the first and second frantic phone calls from my mother I "quiet-screamed" out in agony, cried in prayer that my brother would be alive, and tried not to but imagined what would become of our family without him. I couldn't breathe. He is not just a brother, but a father, a son, a husband, a friend, so many things.

She called back 30 minutes later and said he was talking. He was alive. The world could keep on spinning. Slowly and surely.

My brother was in a nearly-fatal car accident this weekend. He took a turn too fast, flipped his truck, and flew out of it like some kind of crazy angel. He's all kinds of busted up, but we are hopeful, we are so happy to have him here are on earth. I'm in shock, we all are, but I am finding myself floored by the love and support shared by friends from all over when I shared the news. A dear doula friend will put a note in the Western Wall in Jerusalem for him. His name is in prayer circles all over the state, being thought of all over the country. Friends I hadn't heard from in a long time are popping up to send him good energy and love. I can feel it, and so can he.

His back and collarbone are broken, and his daily life as an awesome stay-at-home Dad and his livelihood helping other people connect with their bodies' health and wellness as a personal trainer will be put to rest for a time. He isn't a happy dude being laid up in bed, but he is cracking everyone up in his own way. Don't tell him I told you (really, don't) but "Can someone please just adjust my butt cheeks?" was a request today. He is entertaining the hospital staff in typical Hamelin fashion. This will be a long healing journey for him, but I have so much fucking faith. Yow! F-bomb! But I do. I'm so proud of it. I'm proud of my freakishly unflappable faith that "no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should." It is, and everything is going to work out. I don't know how, but it will.

Being at the hospital with him has been like a flashback from the days before we lost my Dad, and I don't like it. How I feel about hospitals is a whole other story. But it also reminds me how my family has a crazy capacity to grow during hard times, how we come together like glue when we need to. It reminded me of this article that was going around the webs a few weeks ago: The Family Stories That Bind Us.

And it makes me want to tell this story, makes me want to write a bit. Makes me want to tell you about the ridiculous nurse flirting with my brother, about his pain medication-induced serenades for the hospital staff, about the laughing that comes after the tears. It makes me glad for this little space of internet, and that someone might be listening. I wrote when my Dad was in the hospital, and when he died, and it helped me process everything. So maybe writing a happy and hard story of healing will help too. I'm going to try to talk my brother into doing it for himself as well. Such a wild time this will be for him, and such stories of his own he'll have.

There will be funny, there will be farts, there will be f-bombs. And thank God, thank the universe, thank everyone...there will be Sean.

And on the drive back to Tampa today we heard the radio news about the Boston Marathon bombings. I don't have as many good words about that, but Patton Oswalt does so I'll borrow his here.

I believe, I believe, I believe.

"Nightweaner, Nightweaner..."

The title of this post should be sung to the tune of "Night Fever" and danced to with all the enthusiasm of someone who has a better night's sleep in their not-so-distant sights.

"Wait, your kid's like, almost two and you still nurse...and at night?"

I DO, people. Or rather he does, while I pull my shirt up, flop back and close my eyes, or better yet catch up on Pinterest or my favorite blogs by the glow of the iPhone screen. Midnight inspiration y'all!

Despite the cray-cray-crazy advice you may have read in certain evangelical-baby-training-books-that-will-not-be-named, not all babies are ready to sleep through the night in the first months or year. Mamas are ready to, for sure, but babies work a little differently. Dr. Jay Gordon, who I often wish I could hug, says,

"I don’t recommend any forced sleep changes during the first year of life. Probably the only exception to this would be an emergency involving a nursing mom’s health. There are many suggestions in books and magazines for pushing “sleeping through the night” during a baby’s early months or during the first year. I don’t think this is the best thing to do and I am quite sure that the earlier a baby gets “non-response” from parents, the more likely he is to close down at least a little."

It's not a "science reason," but it's one that makes sense to me. Nurturing needs get responded to in my neck of the woods. My little dude, always quite little, has needed those extra nighttime calories to stay on the growth charts. Is it convenient? Not so much. Is it part of my job? Absolutely. I feed the hungry bee.

As he's grown though, the nightnursings have become more of a habit, a cozy and sweet yet increasingly exhausting habit, and so a pattern change is in order. I'm mustering my spirits and strength, gathering wisdom from friends and the mamas of the world wide web, and making a plan for a gentle transition. We share a bed, so it's going to mean some rearranging as we figure this thang out. 

Sleep, I'm coming for you!

Because I'm nearly-almost-mostly-sort of sure-thinking that we're done birthing babies in this family though, I have a tendency to hold on to these things. There are all of these fleeting little things that I know I'll miss in a few better-rested years. I will miss this, I will. When Kelle Hampton shared that she kept her hospital bracelet on for days after her son's birth, I totally got it and I'm sure you did too. We hang on. 

Breastfeeding in general is still going strong. I think the little dude has entered into a bit of a renaissance with it, wherein he now can ask for it (gasp!) by his own words instead of just curling up in my lap and nuzzling in. And he is asking for it...from the backseat of the car, when the handyman is here, and sometimes from the shopping cart at the grocery store, just for kicks. He likes the look I give him when he says it..."Na na?" And then I'm all, "Oh no you di-int..." and he laughs at me as if to say, "But seriously. NA NA."

Sigh.

Soon soon, friends. 

In the Magical Days After: How to Help a Postpartum Family

I was honored to be invited to attend the birth of my own nephew last weekend. My sweet cousin-in-law (and friend! So many silly titles to describe the people we love so much) and I got to be the family doula village for our sister. A few of my hands-on doula skills were put to use, but our primary focus was to add love to the room where he would be born and loving our family was easy as pie. Love in a labor room can make all the difference. It was an awesome birth. The story isn't mine to tell, but I want to share that I witnessed so much strength and beauty. I watched my sister transform into a goddess, the way I watched my other sister do 3 years ago, the way I've watched many friends do, and the way all laboring women do when they are hard at the work of birth.

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“If a woman doesn’t look like a goddess in birth, someone isn’t treating her right.”
~ Ina May Gaskin

So I will admit that in visiting my new baby nephew, I had my heart set on snuggling him a bit. It's a natural reaction to such crazy-adorable sweetness. But since my own babies were born, from the loving care we received from friends and neighbors, I've learned that there are some important things to remember when visiting a family who has just welcomed a baby. My across-the-street neighbor gave birth just a few days after my sister, and as excited as I am to meet her new little one too, we've simply dropped off food and let them know we're here for them if they need anything. Each family's needs and moods postpartum are so different, but here are some things I've found to be helpful--from my own postpartum experiences and from those I've assisted with.

DO

Bring food. Any food, but especially food that doesn't need preparing, can be eaten with one hand while bouncing or nursing a baby, and will easily nourish the whole family. Chilis and soups, rices and pastas, even delivering a pizza or takeout Thai (um, that's for me) is so appreciated by families. Don't forget the sweets or easy breakfast fixins--muffins, cookies, fresh squeezed juice. This is an easy one. Don't show up without food, just don't.

Lend a hand. Are there dishes in the sink? Do them. Is there a diaper pail or kitchen trash that needs emptying? Hop to it. Just as you shouldn't enter a new family's home without food, you shouldn't leave it empty handed. Take out the recycling, throw in a load of laundry, walk the dog, take an older child out for ice cream. If you're not sure what to do, ask.

Ask how they're feeling. Are they overwhelmed? Again, ask how you can help. Are they blissed out and enjoying being together? Great. Tell them they're doing everything right and then get out of there and let them enjoy it.

Pay attention to everyone. Does a toddler or older child need some hugs or a sibling gift? Does a pet need a rub or a game of catch? Does her partner need anything from the store? Sitting and coloring with a child whose mother has been nursing around the clock and not able to care for them as much as usual is a bigger help to a new mama than you can know.

Tell her she looks great. Especially if she doesn't. When I look at the pictures of myself in the days after Declan's birth I laugh at how crazy I look, and smile that my darling friends had such sweet things to say to me in the days after. A compliment, even if it's "You look SO HAPPY," can save a mama's day. Really.

Listen. If she wants to talk about her birth, listen without judgement. Let her tell things the way she feels they happened. Let her process. Be a witness without trying to fix things. If she wishes things went differently, don't tell her "at least everyone's healthy, that's all that matters." Everything matters to her.


DON'T

Come over uninvited. That should be under the "enough said" heading but many families and friends have trouble waiting or asking the expecting families when they'd actually like visitors. Not everyone is ready to be bombarded in the hospital room on day one, when breastfeeding is getting figured out, bodies are healing, and love hormones are a-flowin'. When in doubt, ask, and wait until a family is feeling settled in at home before any stays longer than a quick food drop-off.

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Ask how the baby is sleeping. Newborn babies are probably waking every 1-3 hours to eat at night and that is perfectly normal. Mama is exhausted, and this is a given. She's just done some hard work, whether she labored naturally or is recovering from a Cesarean...maybe both. You can, however, remind her to take a nap if the baby is sleeping even if you just got there, and you can encourage this by saying "I'll let you rest now, I can come back later." Or again, offer to play with the older children while she naps.

Tell her she looks tired. She knows. If you say this you will be cursed by her entire family for days after you leave. Don't do this.

Stay too long. They love you, you're special, but the newborn and postpartum time is oh so sacred. Let them all rest and be together intimately without feeling observed or like they need to entertain you.

Ask to hold the baby. If they want you to, they'll offer. Every mama feels differently about this in the early days.

Offer up advice about birth or breastfeeding unless you are qualified to do so as a postpartum doula or lactation counselor/consultant, or unless she asks you for your own motherhood experience. We all make different choices on this parenthood journey. Maybe afterward email her a book or a resource that helped you, the name of your favorite local lactation counselor, tell her you are here for her if she needs you, leave it at that.

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A midwife I know gives a flier out to her expecting mamas to put on the door after the baby is born. I feel like it's worthy of sharing and you can make your own as well, and sign it "The Midwives" or with the name of whatever your care provider is, just to make it look official.

Dear Family & Friends

This new family is very happy to see you, and needs your love and support. Please see that Mom and Baby get their rest by keeping visits short, making a meal, doing laundry, cleaning up a little, or any other things you notice need doing.

It's really wonderful to have such willing support from loving people like you. 

Thank you for being here.

And I feel like we totally stayed too long at our visit on Sunday, but who could blame us.

"Guys, really, you can go. Enough pictures. I will only be getting more adorable as the days go on."

"Guys, really, you can go. Enough pictures. I will only be getting more adorable as the days go on."

What would you add to this list? 

What was helpful to you in the early days at home with your newborn?