Inspiring books for a gentle birth & beyond

books and resources for a gentle birth and postpartum period. www.houseofsmilla.com/blog is a lifestyle blog about motherhood, as well as a simpler, slower, kinder life incorporating the danish concept of hygge by Eva-Maria Smith
books and resources for a gentle birth and postpartum period. www.houseofsmilla.com/blog is a lifestyle blog about motherhood, as well as a simpler, slower, kinder life incorporating the danish concept of hygge by Eva-Maria Smith
books and resources for a gentle birth and postpartum period. www.houseofsmilla.com/blog is a lifestyle blog about motherhood, as well as a simpler, slower, kinder life incorporating the danish concept of hygge by Eva-Maria Smith
books and resources for a gentle birth and postpartum period. www.houseofsmilla.com/blog is a lifestyle blog about motherhood, as well as a simpler, slower, kinder life incorporating the danish concept of hygge by Eva-Maria Smith

With my first baby I read an astounding amount of fertility, pregnancy, birth and parenting books. Starting from the (in my opinion) very shallow, very predictable  "What to expect..."-series, to some very spiritual "hippie" literature. I had both the time and the interest to submerge myself fully into the subject and it made feel secure and ready for childbirth and beyond. 

This time around, I was either too busy running after my daughter, or too tired from running after my daughter to really get into reading. However, there are a few books, that mean so much to me and bring me so much inspiration, assurance and guidance for child birth and the weeks after, that I just had to re-read them. Recently, a dear friend introduced another gem to me, that I am currently finishing up. So if you are short on time like me,  or simply a minimalist when it comes to pregnancy reads, I would whole-heartedly recommend these three books, to gently prepare you for what is to come:

"Ina May's guide to childbirth" - by Ina May Gaskin. To me, this has been by far the most helpful read to prepare for my home birth. However, no matter where you plan on giving birth, this book will help you understand the natural process of childbirth. It will help you appreciate the power of the female body and its capabilities and leave you confident and fearless as you enter your birthing story. The first part, is a beautiful collection of powerful birth stories. The second part, is about the "essentials of birth", including comfort measures, incredible facts about the female body and its birthing powers and a bit on the history of certain "standardized" procedures performed in hospitals in the U.S. today. It is a spiritual, but also factual read. Ina May Gaskin is probably the most inspiring lady in midwifery today and this book is her gift to all of us.

"The birth partner" by Penny Simkin. This book is meant for fathers to be, doulas and all other labor companions - "birth partners". It is a very comprehensive guide to childbirth with information about anything from the last weeks of pregnancy, to the stages of labour, to the first days postpartum, and even a little bit about breastfeeding. I have never actually "fully" read this book. My "birth partner" and incredible husband did the reading for me. In the evenings, he would rub my belly with oil, or give me a foot massage, while telling me the most important facts he learned in the book. The book left him knowledgeable and comfortable about childbirth. As usual in our marriage, he took over the role of the level-headed, fact-based brain of our "birth operation", while I focused in on my feelings and handling the physical and emotional part - the "soul" of birth. Due to his preparedness, I could ease into birth without fear. He is the one that knows all the details from the signs of any stage of labor, stimulating measures, comforting techniques, to counting contractions and baby's first poops. "The birth partner" empowers your partner and gives him an active role in a time when the female partner is left with most of the "heavy lifting", both figuratively and literally. It is also a great way to bond and find some special downtime as a couple during pregnancy. 

"The first forty days - the essential art of nourishing the new mother" - by Heng Ou. I'm a firm believer in the rest and relaxation period, or "laying in" after childbirth. It is a wonderful, quiet time of getting to know your baby, healing your body and adjusting to motherhood (wether it is the first or second or seventh time around). There will never be another time in your life, where you can get away with being present only with your loved-ones and yourself, instead of pleasing, working, rushing, stressing and hurrying... This beautifully put together book is a gentle reminder of the benefits of taking it slow after child birth. It provides interesting facts, guidance and even nourishing recipes for this special time. It makes a beautiful staple in your bookshelf, or a wonderful gift as you pass it on to other mothers.  

If you can't get enough now, of indulging in wonderful books like the ones above I can also recommend this one, as well as this.

For the little one, I loved this one , to prepare her for her new role as a big sister. 

And if you can barely keep your eyes open and reading is not on your agenda tonight, but you want to get into the spirit anyways, then I can recommend these wonderful youtube videos:

Conception to birth - a visualization

90 seconds to change the world

Reducing fear of giving birth

Why it matters how we are born

We must put the sex back into birth

 

Mama tea

tea during pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding and during menstruation. All the mama tea's on www.houseofsmilla.com/blog/mamateas - Motherhood and slow living blog by Eva-Maria Smith 
tea during pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding and during menstruation. All the mama tea's on www.houseofsmilla.com/blog/mamateas - Motherhood and slow living blog by Eva-Maria Smith
tea during pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding and during menstruation. All the mama tea's on www.houseofsmilla.com/blog/mamateas - Motherhood and slow living blog by Eva-Maria Smith
tea during pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding and during menstruation. All the mama tea's on www.houseofsmilla.com/blog/mamateas - Motherhood and slow living blog by Eva-Maria Smith
tea during pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding and during menstruation. All the mama tea's on www.houseofsmilla.com/blog/mamateas - Motherhood and slow living blog by Eva-Maria Smith
tea during pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding and during menstruation. All the mama tea's on www.houseofsmilla.com/blog/mamateas - Motherhood and slow living blog by Eva-Maria Smith

During the last stretch of my first pregnancy, I drank tons of red raspberry leaf tea, mixed with alfalfa and rose hips for good measure. I had heard about the benefits and firmly believed, that if I just drink enough of it, I will have the smooth, gentle birth I hoped for.

Well, I will never find out, if the tea had anything to do with it, but I did have a very gentle, basically tear-free,  unmedicated vaginal birth in the comfort of my own home. I do think herbs are powerful. In history, they have proved themselves as wonderful healing agents time and time again. Even, if the tea made no physical difference for me - it certainly had a placebo effect then. Just making the tea every night, drinking it throughout the day, sending out positive thoughts about my birth out to the universe, surely was a nice ritual in these last few weeks. If nothing else, it was a peaceful ritual and a good practice in mindfulness.

In the meantime, I had the privilege to learn more about the healing power of herbs. Last summer, I went on a very educating herb walk. It made me realize that most of us completely lost this deep connection with nature and how collecting, drying and using common herbs can be so beneficial. I bought this book by Maria Treben (highly recommend) and used it as a guide several times throughout the year. 

I wish, I would have collected all these herbs you see in the photographs above myself, but I didn't make nearly enough time to go out there and search and collect. Sad, really. Instead, I bought these from a reputable local source and bought them all in organic quality. If you would like to order herbs for yourself I can recommend this place, as well as this. 

I wish I could give you a detailed recipe of how I mix my pregnancy brew. However, I'm very spontaneous about it every day. A good rule of thumb would be one oz of each ingredient, maybe a bit less of the Alfalfa (due to its strong grassy flavor). I try different combinations, flavors and amounts and get quite experimental. More importantly though, I will let my tea infuse over night - instead of just steeping it for a few minutes. To get the full benefits, I recommended brewing it full and strong and nutrient-dense. I will drink my tea sweetened with raw honey, rice syrup or agave. These last few days, I have been adding fresh lemon juice and bit of sugar (just the way my grandmother Margarete drank her earl grey) and it is so tasty. For a creamier version, I suggest adding a bit of honey and warm coconut milk. 

I called this post "mama tea" and not pregnancy tea, because certain herbs I'm going to list, I drink during breastfeeding to boost my supply and to soothe baby's tummy. Really I should call it "women teas" though, because most of these herbs have healing properties throughout our cycles. "Mama tea" just sounded really nice to me. 

So these are the herbs I'm currently using for my tea:

Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus Idaeus). The mother of all pregnancy herbs I believe. Raspberry leaves are rich in fructose, pectic, malic acid, silicon, carotene, magnesium, manganese, selenium, favanoids, vitamins C and B2 and can also help a lot with vitamin D absorption. It is known amongst herbalists as a uterine tonic and supposedly prepares the body for birth. During labor, it is believed to help bring on contractions more effectively, making birth easier and faster. This study from Australia, supports this believe and also claims, that women consuming red raspberry leaf during pregnancy were less inclined to have c-sections, forceps- or vacuum extractions. 

Nettle Leaf (Urtica Dioica). Stinging nettles are easy to be found, harvested and dried, or even used fresh in recipes ranging from egg dishes to soups. Nettle is rich in micronutrients like carotene, vitamin C, manganese, iron, calcium and zinc. It really is great for your entire system, wether you are expecting or not. However, particularly during pregnancy it can help with leg cramps, headaches and edema. Nettle is also rich in vitamin K. Low levels of vitamin K are linked with bleeding and hemorrhage. It is therefore believed that nettle prevents tearing of the vaginal tissue. Also, breastfeeding mamas, nettle is known to promote milk supply.

Alfalfa (Medicago Sativa). To be honest, it tastes a lot like hay. So when I read, it is referred to as "holy hay" in some cultures I wasn't surprised. A friend of mine lovingly calls it my "horse tea". Like nettle, Alfalfa is a general restorative herb packed with calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, as well as vitamins B, C and K. Latter making it a great herb to help prevent bleeding and hemorrhage. I've also heard once, that it works as a good sleep aid. Who wouldn't want that during pregnancy? 

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis). Lemon balm is used to help with nervousness, the digestive system, as well as headaches. My love for lemon balm lies in its fresh, slightly lemon-like flavor that nicely balances out the heavy, strong greens mentioned above.

Rose Hip (Rosa Pomifera). Like lemon balm, rose hips adds a nice flavor to my tea. I'd describe it as a light tartness. Rosehips are very rich in vitamin C, making it a great add-on to absorb the iron from the nettles and alfalfa. 

Rose Buds (Rosa). Wikipedia mentions the vitamin C benefit, once again. Honestly though, I add it for flavor, color and simply because seeing and touching the rose buds brings me tremendous happiness.

Caraway (Cuminum). Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgaris). Anis (Pimpinella Anisum). This combination is the perfect tea for your breastfeeding journey. 2-3 cups a day are said to enhance your milk supply, while simultaneously hydrating you and (for some mamas the best part I'm sure) relieving gas and belly cramps of the baby. In Germany you can commonly get "Stilltee" ("Breastfeeding tea bags") at the supermarket, that contain these three herbs. However, bought in bulk is much more affordable and sustainable. 

Lastly, I want to stress  that you should consume herbs with care. Do your own research. There are wonderful books on the market. You could also talk to a Certified Herbalist. Herbs are powerful medicine, but they can come with disadvantages. While some believe pregnancy teas (especially red raspberry leaf) is safe during your entire pregnancy, I can not vouch for that. I usually start drinking a few cups a day in my third trimester and particularly after 36 weeks gestation or so. 

 

(Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor or other health professional so please consult the appropriate professional before making any changes to your diet, health, or other applicable areas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The end of a journey // The beginning of a journey

a simpler, slower, kinder life blog by Eva-Maria Smith www.houseofsmilla.com/blog motherhood. Lifestyle photography
a simpler, slower, kinder life blog by Eva-Maria Smith www.houseofsmilla.com/blog motherhood. Lifestyle photography
a simpler, slower, kinder life blog by Eva-Maria Smith www.houseofsmilla.com/blog motherhood. Lifestyle photography
a simpler, slower, kinder life blog by Eva-Maria Smith www.houseofsmilla.com/blog motherhood. Lifestyle photography
a simpler, slower, kinder life blog by Eva-Maria Smith www.houseofsmilla.com/blog motherhood. Lifestyle photography

I have a notebook full of ideas. In the past weeks, I have been snapping away and taking notes to share writings about pregnancy tea's and hospital bags. In due time, these posts will surely be written. Tonight however, I feel like writing a very honest account of what it feels like for me, to have my second pregnancy journey slowly coming to an end.

The thing is, when a pregnancy ends, a new story just begins and so it is both a time of mourning and ultimate joy.

To be pregnant is to be vitally alive, thoroughly woman, and distressingly inhabited.  Soul and spirit are stretched - along with body - making pregnancy a time of transition, growth, and profound beginnings.  ~Anne Christian Buchanan and Debra K. Kingsporn, The Quickening Heart: A Journal for Expectant Mothers

Every day I find myself surprised at the fact, that only a few weeks, 21 days as of today (until the estimated due date) remain. Every morning that I wake up and prepare breakfast for me and my daughter brings me closer to meeting my son. I am not only in a state of pleasant excitement about meeting this little creature, but also in one of slight worry about how this new life will be like. Will it feel very organic to be a family of four? While my love will surely expand, will my attention and focus, too? Will this new being find its way into this world easily and be a good eater and sleeper? And how am I supposed to have dinner ready every night?

On one hand I can barely remember what it was like to feel the pains of postpartum recovery and the hurtful beginnings of every breastfeeding journey. I have moments where I feel I have forgotten all the wisdoms that came with my first child birth and postpartum period. At the same time, I feel this innate certainty that I will know exactly what to do this time around. It's like riding a bicycle.  Isn't it? 

Whereas the preparations for my daughter's birth were basically completed at this point and I literally did nothing but sit around, relax and enjoy this beautiful life inside my belly; with this child, I am still completely engulfed in the adventures of the everyday. 

Surely, I'll get around to packing my in-case-of-emergency hospital bag this week. Maybe tomorrow I'll sew the newborn blanket, for which I bought the wonderful organic fabrics months ago. Oh yes, I should stock up on candles for the home birth and also it would be nice to finish the books I have started reading and re-reading from my first pregnancy.

Emotionally I'm somewhere between "I feel stressed, because there are only a few weeks left and there is so much that I haven't done" and "No worries, there's plenty of time still". Concern and deep inner peace are co-existing in my soul these days. 

The same goes for birth itself. There are moments where I feel, with an astounding certainty that I will give birth to this child with ease, trust and the confidence of someone who has birthed before. Then, in some moments, my "thinking" brain chimes in and lectures me about the uncertainty of birth and I quickly have to distract myself, as I do not wish to fill myself up with worry and doubt and fear.

Again, feeling this way is surely natural, as I find myself both at the end of a journey and at the beginning of a journey. 

For now, I keep getting up every morning and going about my day. Trying to get a few things done. More importantly though, trying to slow down and enjoy these last precious days of carrying this child under my heart. 

The beauty of childbirth is, that no one but the baby knows its birthday. The people close to me, know that I am a major planner, always on time, always a notebook/a planner on hand. Surprises and unforeseen events frazzle me and I can not say I enjoy anything too spontaneous. For some odd reason though, I find waiting for a child to arrive, counting the days to the estimated due date, not knowing when the new life will make its appearance, very thrilling. I can full-heartedly accept the fact that I can't put my son's birthdate in my planner. It is an uncertain time, but a happy time for me. For my impatient self, it has been the only wait that is quite enjoyable, in the most indescribable way.