What does Ballast & Buoy mean?

No, I did not use the Hipster Business Name Generator to name my LLC. I was using an ampersand before it was cool. The moniker was birthed after months of planning and wondering about the future. I wanted a name that would really convey how my services would provide comfort and care for exhausted new parents, and the writer in me was holding out for a real spark.

During an evening of drinking deep intellectual conversation with some of my wordsmith-iest friends, we hit upon the idea of ballast, the stabilizing weight in a ship’s hull. I immediately loved the imagery of a family as an oceangoing vessel, and it felt right for our seaside city. Ballast on its own, though, wasn’t quite enough. My postpartum family care would do more than simply keep the ship from capsizing. It would help parents navigate the newborn months and move forward. We wracked our brains for the perfect complement, and parted ways with the thought still incomplete.

Luckily for me, one of those friends found inspiration driving home over the bridge to South Portland that night, and left me a voicemail saying, “I’ve got it! Ballast and BUOY!” She’d nailed it.

Ballast & Buoy helps parents stabilize and stay afloat.  As your postpartum navigator, I show you the ropes, rig the sails, and stock the hold with provisions while you explore uncharted territory. When the occasion calls for it, I might even swab the poop deck.

I’m not an old salt (…yet), but Casco Bay is my happy place, and I am learning to sail one teetering afternoon at a time. In the meantime, I’m here to help your family get your sea legs.

Big exciting news! Rosemont Wellness Center

I am SO PLEASED [and caffeinated, tbh] to share with you all that Ballast & Buoy now has a meeting space in meatspace. This spring I will be rolling out a number of parenting groups and classes in the beautiful new studio/classroom at Rosemont Wellness Center. What does this mean for you? Ballast & Buoy will be offering more postpartum support at more affordable rates to more families.

We will kick off with the Baby Lunch Date, a weekly gathering for parents with babes in arms. Drop in for a little tea and sympathy on Mondays between 11 am and 1 pm. I can’t wait to see you all!

Even if the infant days are well behind you, RWC’s grand opening celebration is Sunday, March 18th from 3-7 pm. Please stop by to say hello, see the space, and have a few snacks from Tin Pan Bakery. We will have art from the Rosemont Artists Guild on display and several family-friendly activities that are fun for all ages. It’s going to be a great party.

 

 

 

The 5 stages of new mom panic — and five ways to overcome them

This photo was taken two days after our son was born, on the morning we were discharged from the hospital. See those uncertain smiles? The uneasy posture? That, my friends, is what terror looks like.

I was incredulous that we were being cut loose and sent out into the world as a couple of bumbling amateurs. How was it possible that we were being entrusted with the survival of this tiny, mewling creature? Shouldn’t a license and a PhD be required to operate one of these things? Disaster was clearly imminent.

I had always envied parents who eagerly headed for home mere hours after their babies were born, or who felt most comfortable birthing at home. I imagined that it was probably very pleasant to feel so sure of one’s own ability to do what must be done with newborns. I was not such a person when our second son was born in 2011. I was a hot mess of hormones and trepidation.

Our son was wholeheartedly wished for and loved, and yet his arrival was also cause for panic.  Not only because of our prior loss, but because he’d essentially been just an idea for such a long time. When faced with the visceral proof of his existence, I felt completely unequal to the task of keeping him alive, let alone raising him to be a habitual recycler and non-rapist.  In the hours after his delivery, I began to realize that our living, breathing, pooping baby was no longer an abstract idea, but a concrete fact, and there was no going back. We had stepped through the gates of parenthood and heard the lock click behind us. And we were clueless.

What kept my initial horror at bay was the 24/7 support of the hospital staff. I was grateful to have a beehive of activity outside our door. I slept better during the lonely hours of the night knowing that myriad medical personnel were just a call button away. I felt more secure with a parade of nurses coming through our room to help with breastfeeding, getting my legs moving, and the special hell that is using a toilet after childbirth. My hospital stay was like a hotel vacation, coordinated by a staff of expert concierges catering to all of my needs. When that staff started preparing us to check out and head home, I experienced a complicated, multifaceted dread.

The 5 stages of new mother terror

(with apologies to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross)

Denial

Whenever a nurse mentioned our imminent departure, I would gloss right over her confident tone and order another chocolate chip cookie from room service the cafeteria.

Anger

As it dawned on me that they were serious about kicking us out, I became incensed. I was being turned out! With a six inch incision and 6 squalling pounds of jaundice! What is wrong with a country in which a new mother doesn’t hve round the clock care for a year after birth? I would write a strongly worded letter to our Congressional representatives immediately…as soon as I had a nap. And a cookie.

Bargaining

When I failed to negotiate a longer stay with my OB/GYN, I tried to convince my favorite nurse to come home with me. They were both kind but firm. “You can do this,” they said. “And your insurance won’t pay for another night.”

Depression

With only one more night in our hotel hospital room, I sank into despondency. I was utterly convinced I would never be able to take care of this baby without a team of nurses. He was doomed, we were doomed, the human race was doomed. The chocolate chip cookie sat, uneaten, on my rollaway bed tray as I cried big fat tears of hopelessness.

Acceptance

The sun rose again, like it always does, and D-Day (Departure Day) was upon us. It was time to go. We ventured forth tentatively, squinting like moles as we emerged into the light of the loading zone. After the nurse checked our car seat latches, I clung to her leg, sobbing “Don’t abandon us!” but she shook me off expertly  and disappeared through the giant revolving lobby door. “You’ll figure it out!” she called cheerfully over her shoulder.

And although I did not believe her at the time, I did figure it out…eventually. With a lot of cookies.

Everyone’s experience is their own, but what I have learned over the years is that there are common themes uniting mothers everywhere: isolation, confusion, fear of inadequacy, feeling like everyone else knows this stuff when you don’t. This doesn’t mean you are doomed! Some moms discover at the birth that they have an innate confidence to carry them through. If you are prone to anxiety, you can take extra steps to preemptively ward off the hobgoblins of postpartum. Here’s how.

  1. Surround yourself with — and accept — help at home. Grandparents, siblings, postpartum doulas, friends…anyone with firsthand knowledge of reasonable baby behavior and a desire to see you make the transition successfully. When someone asks you what they can do for you, tell them you planned ahead with a baby registry for postpartum support. Allow yourself to prioritize your own needs by leaning on others, because your baby benefits as much as you do when you take care of yourself. Go for a walk, take a shower, write in your journal, or do whatever makes you feel more like your old self. Above all, let people feed you!
  2. Surround yourself with other new parents. Terror shared is terror halved, or something. Find some mom friends. There are a number of mom/baby groups in greater Portland that meet regularly so you can compare notes while you’re in the trenches; if you live elsewhere, ask your OB what she knows about local mama meetups.
  3. Establish low expectations. Stop looking at Pinterest, and limit your exposure to social media posts by moms who appear to be WINNING AT EVERYTHING. They are not. They are just carefully curating the parts of their lives that they share on Facebook. Let’s be real: there will come a point in the first few weeks of your baby’s life when you will feel a sense of accomplishment for having showered that day. Good for you! Post that on Instagram. Every mom in your audience will nod in recognition and solidarity.
  4. Remind yourself that whatever happens, it won’t last forever. It can’t.Kimmy Schmidt says, "You can do anything for 10 seconds at a time." Keep repeating this to yourself in your lowest moments. Babies are constantly evolving, and while their shifts can occasionally be destabilizing for parents, they also guarantee that difficult stages eventually do pass. Children do not go off to college with colic or in diapers. You can do this.
  5. And when “it won’t last forever” no longer cuts it as a comforting thought, get more help. Talk to your OB, your pediatrician, your primary care physician, your therapist, or your postpartum doula. One in seven women will experience a mood disorder in the year after childbirth — depression, anxiety, and more. This means that whatever you are feeling, you are not alone, and there is a cure. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are completely treatable. If you find it hard to put your symptoms and feelings into words, use the Postpartum Progress New Mom Mental Health Checklist to communicate with the professionals in your pit crew. Don’t suffer alone.

Experienced moms: what helped you the most in the weeks after your first baby was born? I want to hear your stories.

Oh, Baby: The Witching Hour

The first few weeks after birth are a blur, but eventually, home life starts to settle into something resembling a rhythm. Right about the time that you start to think that you might have the hang of this baby gig (usually around 5-8 weeks), many babies begin to demonstrate a behavior known as sundowning. Late in the afternoon, the inconsolable crying begins, and it doesn’t stop until everyone in the house longs for a sensory deprivation chamber. Some parents call it the witching hour, which is a euphemism for “centuries.”

Evolutionary biology suggests that babies just need to cry as part of the normal arc of development  (and possibly to discourage their parents from ever having sex again). Regardless, it’s also true that some babies really are easier than others. If you did not win the Easy Baby Lottery, please take heart in the pithy sentiment that nothing lasts forever. If that is insufficient comfort, here are a few survival strategies to get you through this phase.

Sundowning survival strategies

Be kind to yourself

  • Set low expectations. Don’t plan to get anything else done during this time. Heed the wisdom of Anna and Elsa. Let it go.
  • Take a break. Switch off with your partner and get out of the range of your baby’s cries, even just for a walk around the block. If you’re tempted to keep on walking straight out of town, this is normal, albeit impractical. Call me.
  • Ask for help. In days of yore, our whole village supported us through the childbearing year. Now we are largely on our own after baby’s first photo hits Instagram. Recognizing when you need to lean on someone is a virtue and a strength. Ask your cousin or coworker to stop by for an hour to help bounce the baby. Schedule one of my witching hour house calls. Signal your neighbors and hoist a flag on your mailbox that says “NEW BABY. PLEASE SEND FOOD.”

 

Plan ahead for the witching hour

When it becomes clear that you’ve entered the apocalypse period of purple crying, give in. The only way out is through. For your own sanity, structure your day around it.

parental standard time zone

  • Nap during the day whenever possible. This will basically be true for the rest of your life.
  • Avoid making plans that require you and the baby to be out of the house in the late afternoon or evening.
  • If you succeeded in stocking the freezer before baby arrived, pull out a few meals to defrost for the week. (If you didn’t, and wish you had, call me.)
  • Order dinner delivery from 2DineIn or your favorite pizza joint.
  • Hit up the prepared meals options in Portland: Whole Foods, Figgy’s, Home Catering Co., and many others offer hot meals to go.
  • Accept all offers of food from your friends, colleagues, and neighbors. People want to help you, and they’re not always sure what you need. Let them feed you. In the fourth trimester especially, food is love.

Soothe your crying baby

What works one evening might not work the next, but through trial and error you might hit upon your baby’s magic calm button.Whatever works for you is what works for you. In our family, that turned out to be the Moby, the stability ball, and an endless loop of Party Rock Anthem. One family I worked with found that their baby preferred Dad’s off-key but heartfelt interpretation of Wonderwall. Ballast & Buoy is a judgement-free zone, folks. Do what you must to survive.anyway here's wonderwall

  • Movement: Wear your baby securely while you walk or dance with them. Rock them in a glider or baby swing. Gently bounce on a stability ball.
  • Sound: Some babies respond well to sounds that remind them of the womb’s constant white noise. Try humming, singing, listening to music or turning up some external white noise. The librarian’s specialty, shushing, is especially recommended by Dr. Karp.
  • Touch: Nursing, massage, a warm bath or warm water on the feet.
  • Environment: Some babies like to be out in the fresh air while others prefer dark, cozy rooms. If one doesn’t do the trick, try the other. Sometimes a change of scenery breaks the spell.

For more research-based background and tips on infant crying, check out Seattle Mama Doc’s “Colic, Crying, and the Period of Purple Crying” and  Dr. Karp’s 5S technique.

If you’re really struggling with this era of infancy, you’re not alone, no matter what it feels like in hour 3. It’s not your imagination: this stage suuuuuuucks. But it truly can’t last forever, and you don’t have to endure it in isolation. Before you reach your breaking point, reach out.  Surround yourself with other parents of newborns. Schedule a witching hour house call. Text a friend who’s been through this too. They will tell you: you will get through this.

 

References

The Period of Purple Crying: Why Does My Baby Cry So Much? by Ronald G. Barr, MDCM, FRCP(C).

Cell Press. “From mice to humans, comfort is being carried by mom.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 April 2013.

7Q Interview: Postpartum doula in Portland, Maine

New moms need to be physically and emotionally nourished. We spend all of our time preparing for childbirth, preparing the nursery and taking the labor classes, and we don’t spend as much time talking about what happens when you come home from the hospital. Most of us are doing it without a map. We’re sleep deprived and it’s a struggle. It’s a crazy time in those first few weeks and it’s hard to know whether what’s happening is to be expected, or whether you’ve entered the seventh circle of hell. . .I don’t want to scare first time moms, but I think we’re doing them a disservice to not discuss what the fourth trimester really looks like.

Jessica Thomas

Postpartum doula, Ballast & Buoy

Postpartum doula in Portland MaineI recently spoke with Joyce Brown at 7Q Interviews about being a postpartum doula in Portland, Maine. She asked me why I think new moms are so stressed out. I held forth on celebrity baby bumps, the Pinterest paradox, and finding your sea legs as a new parent. It was a fun conversation!