Tami Simon: Welcome to Insights at the Edge produced by Sounds True. My name is Tami Simon, I’m the founder of Sounds True, and I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the new Sounds True Foundation. The Sounds True Foundation is dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely available. We want everyone to have access to transformational tools, such as mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion—regardless of financial, social, or physical challenges. The Sounds True Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing these transformational tools to communities in need, including at-risk youth, prisoners, veterans, and those in developing countries. If you’d like to learn more or feel inspired to become a supporter, please visit soundtruefoundation.org.
You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. It’s my great joy to introduce you to your host for this special episode, the associate publisher of Sounds True, Jaime Schwalb.
Jaime Schwalb: Welcome back to Insights at the Edge, everyone. I’m Jaime Schwalb, the associate publisher here at Sounds True, and I’m happy to be with you all again today. Tami and I decided I should host this episode because as a mother of a four-year-old daughter, I’m deeply committed to supporting other mothers on their pregnancy and parenting journeys.
Today, I’m pleased to be speaking with Martha Sears and Hayden Sears, who co-author The Healthy Pregnancy Journal, which will be released by Sounds True in May 2019. Martha Sears is a registered nurse and former childbirth educator, and with her husband, world-renowned Dr. Bill Sears, has written more than 25 bestselling books, including The Baby Book, The Attachment Parenting Book, and The Healthy Pregnancy Book.
Hayden Sears is daughter to Martha and Dr. Sears, and a certified health and nutrition coach, a wellness coordinator for the Sears Family Pediatrics medical practice, and contributes content to askdrsears.com. She is also co-host of the Dr. Sears Family Podcast. Hayden and Martha, welcome to Insights at the Edge.
Martha Sears: Thank you. It’s such a joy to be here.
Hayden Sears: Thank you, Jaime.
JS: Yes, thank you. Martha. I want to start with you. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about the Sears family brand and how you and Dr. Sears came to this work?
MS: Yes I can. It’s one of my favorite things to talk about. Thank you. This all started 40 years ago when, with child number four, and even actually before that in my husband’s pediatric practice when we were parents of three boys. He was very serious about teaching his parents good parenting, and he was very good at taking notes from the parents he saw who were raising the kids that you like and that you would want, to encourage more of that sort of parenting. So his book writing really started in his own practice. And since I was involved with working in the practice, I got to see that from day to day as well. And then, of course, at home with our own children. And then along came our fourth baby, which is Hayden.
HS: That’s me!
MS: . . . And she was a more challenging baby than the first three. As a nurse, and my husband as a pediatrician, we thought, “Wow, parenting is pretty easy and pretty straightforward.” Just these three that we had were pretty close to according to the books. And then when Hayden presented a different temperament in her infancy, right from the beginning, really, we needed to start taking more notes, and relearning as we would go along—in terms of her level of neediness and how our responses to her would need to be consistent and thoughtful. And so we were at the same time being encouraged to write our first book about parenting. And the name of that book is Creative Parenting. I think it was fortuitous because we were needing to be creative in our parenting of Hayden.
In that book, we were able to introduce the concept of attachment parenting. Having that book under our belts helped us understand that there were really four or five books within that first book. And so the idea of writing more books, taking each topic—such as the topic of birth itself, the topic of discipline—the book ideas just kept coming along with our family, babies kept coming.
HS: That’s true. I think one of the reasons my parents had so many opportunities to write books is because having eight children, you keep getting inspired, you keep being able to really hone what you’re doing with each child and learning from the past while being able to implement new ideas in the future. The fact that they were able to experience raising eight children—I think they were given this beautiful opportunity to have a very wide variety of parenting experiences and it really helped them be able to write about them in a way that most parents out there will be able to identify with something that they’ve written.
JS: Absolutely. And you say that eight children gave them an opportunity, and I would say as an audience member, it gave all of us an opportunity to learn from the Sears, which is now a “legacy,” I would say. Before we move on to the next question, I want to define, “attachment parenting,” which clearly you are all are the pioneers of. Can you help define that for our audience or people who may not be familiar?
MS: Yes, I can do that. Jamie, thank you. The term we first used in our first book, Creative Parenting, was “immersion mothering,” in terms of a woman being equipped to devote herself to this one particular phase of her child’s life, in infancy and toddlerhood, to give it as much time and talent and attention as she can find in herself as she learns a more natural approach. And this is, we’re talking about back 40 years ago. So some of what we know now, almost intuitively, was new back then for parents to be hearing. And so then, along with the concept that we were aware of, even back in nursing school, I studied attachment theory, which was formulated first in the early 1900s, early to mid-1900s by John Bowlby, who was doing research on the effects of attachment and the strength of attachment between parents and children. And not just mothers. So we did then develop the term “attachment parenting” to bring in, obviously, the important role of fathers.
JS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think it’s been life changing for so many families. And so I’m so happy that you all have helped to pioneer that and also share it with so much of the world. I want to move on to The Healthy Pregnancy Journal, the new product that you have with Sounds True. And Hayden, I’m going to start with you. Can you speak to why you felt called to create this journal and how it helps to further the Sears brand overall?
HS: So many people have reflected back to us how much they love the books, and they just . . . Some will say, “It saved my life. It saved my relationship with my baby and my spouse.” And that’s fantastic. We love that. And I’ve had that same experience reading my parents’ books. But we wanted to switch it up—my mom and I—she’s had seven pregnancies and then adopted my youngest sister, and I’ve had three. And I think our pregnancies were such a pivotal time in our lives and such a special time in our lives; and it’s something that’s so near and dear to our hearts. And so we thought coming together, the two of us, my mom, being that next generation, she’s a grandma now, and me being a newer mom, we thought, what a great partnership—to really enter a more of a holistic approach to pregnancy and not just guide moms to be healthy physically. We were really interested in how we can help them move forward with their emotions and their fears and all the concerns that come with pregnancy, and just lean into the joys of pregnancy, while at the same time, really nurturing and valuing the hard parts, as a way to really appreciate every single part of your pregnancy. So many of the times we hear from moms—me with my health coaching and my mom as a support to so many women—once they have their babies and they’re toddlers, they often say to us, “Oh, we wish we would have known this before.” Or, “I wish my mom was around to show me these things.” Or, “I don’t really have a lot of pregnant friends around or people with babies.” And we thought, “What if every mom”—of course, every mom in this world is our vision—”What if they had this support and this guidance right from the beginning?” I mean, can you imagine, as a new mom, getting to sit down with Martha Sears and have her mentor you through your pregnancy? I mean, how valuable is that? And so that was really our vision. I had my mom mentor me through my pregnancy and my sisters-in-law and so many people around me, but so many don’t have that. As I look back, I loved my pregnancies. I love the journey that I went through, but so much of that is really because I had my mom and these other people around me asking me these questions, helping me work through the logistics of health, and this checklist, but also just being that listening ear when I have meltdowns or these “unreasonable” fears and just having them say, “You know what, me too. I remember that. That’s hard. Tell me about that.”
Instead of having to keep those fears and that sense of maybe even “I’m not ready for this,” all those things, were able to be nurtured through these women around me. And so I just had this deep passion to offer that to other women, to really help them start off from the very beginning—because really what they’re doing is they’re really setting the tone for their motherhood journey, for their family. And how beautiful, if we can reach them at this beautiful, tender, and vulnerable time in their life and just really speak into them everything we would want moms to know. That’s our vision for the journal. And as far as the Sears brand, I think it’s a new thing that we’re leaning into: not just presenting material, which is super valuable, but we want moms to have a place to reflect back, to dig deeper, to hear our material and our advice, but then reflect what that means to them through journaling. So yes, that’s what we’re really excited to offer the world.
JS: Yes. I love that. And I think that there’s so much right now in our culture in terms of . . . There’s an absence of the “village experience” because we don’t have parents, mothers, siblings as close by to offer that village experience, that mentoring, as you say. And something else you mentioned in the introduction to the book is this intention to have the journal create space for all of the feelings and experiences that arise as we prepare to become mothers. And it just doesn’t always feel like our culture supports a 360 degree view of what it’s like to be pregnant—the inner life of pregnancy, so to speak or the emotional experience. Martha is there else you want to add here to this part of the conversation?
MS: Absolutely. The concept of journaling itself—I love journaling. I really understood during each one of my pregnancies that I wanted to write out things. I needed to. Almost like keeping a diary, as it seemed in the beginning, maybe at the end of the every day or most days I would sit down and just have a chance to just write out, even if it was a few lines about what was going on in my day or in my body, or every now and then something in my mind, and just sort of work it out on paper. And I know a lot of people have that ability or their desire to do that. A lot of people might think they don’t have the ability to keep a journal. And so that’s why my journals were just three ring binders, just spiral-bound notebooks, and I loved just having it be free flow throughout the nine months or eight months or whatever to make that happen for myself.
And then I actually did go back and do a little rereading, which also gave me some insights. But knowing that a lot of people don’t have that urge to write or do journaling, the idea of having a journal, a template with questions to answer, lines to fill in, just to get somebody started and get the feel of it to really catch on, “Wow, these thoughts I’m having, these experiences, physical, mental, emotional—it’s all valuable. Oh, these people were telling me I can write about that.” Because I think my journaling tended to keep it more superficial, really, just in my own way of writing and thinking. Looking back, if I had had these kinds of prompts, it would have been more interesting for me too. I will underline the concept of journaling as very therapeutic and something that you’d have to look back on, even 20 years from now, thinking, “Well, what was that pregnancy like after all? Let’s take a look again.”
HS: And I think that once the baby comes, parents are in this fog for a while. They enter this new state of life and sometimes it’s really hard to give time to that, your inner world. And I think just having the sweet spot of pregnancy, it just gives you this time and space, almost like this pause, because I think pregnant women in some ways do pause a bit, and they really start shifting. And so having these prompts where more women and might not even think, “Oh, I never even thought to ask that about myself. I never even thought to think that or nurture that part of me, or I thought this was so weird, I just tried to push it away.” And so, having these beautiful prompts to help moms lean into is super valuable and really I think will set them up when their baby does come, they’re going to be in a place of such empowerment because they’ve done this work.
They’ll have this sense of grounding and foundation that they might then—if they haven’t done this, they might then, once the baby comes—almost feel like they have to catch up. Like, “Oh, now I have to think through these things.” Or, “What do I want to do with my approach to parenting and discipline and all that.” We give space for parents or moms to really think through this ahead of time. Not necessarily to put a specific plan in action, but just get their mind aware of what’s to come, and so that when it does come, it’s not as foreign. There’s not as much fear behind it because they’ve already been thinking about it. It’s maybe even just in their subconscious. So I feel like that’s also a very valuable part.
MS: That is a big part of our journal, but it’s certainly not the only part. The forward-thinking part of it is awesome. You can find yourself in your early weeks or months of having a new baby in the house, happy that you’ve sort of prepped and looked into some of the work that’s going to happen naturally anyway, and as new parents. But there’s so much more. The journal, even if it’s just for the here-and-now, day-to-day concepts that come your way, then it’s all laid out. Even like healthy recipes, there is, I just flipped open to page three, “Pregnancy Chicken Soup.” How fun would that be to go and say, “Now, I have a new idea of how to have a healthy supper that would even be great for after the baby.” Put a mark on that page.
HS: And how cool is that? Like, “Oh, this is what Martha did.”
HS: Yes. And Mom, I’m glad you brought that up because . . . Even when you’re reading a pregnancy book—of course, we hope every mom reads a pregnancy book, not just a journal—but sometimes you read all these details like, “Oh, I’m supposed to do X, Y, Z.” But a few weeks later you forget. And I remember in my pregnancies, I would think back and like, “Oh gosh, I haven’t been doing that for a while. Shoot.” So we really have some great logistical checklists each month to really help moms remember, “Oh that’s right, I need to be doing this. Check. I need to be doing this. Check.” Or, “You know what? I can adjust this or shift this.” So, not only the feelings and the emotional part, but really, the physical part, the healthy part.
So I feel like it’s very holistic. With my mom’s strengths as a childbirth educator, a lactation consultant, a mom of eight, and a nurse—and everything she brings to the table—and I’m a mom of three, somewhat of a free spirit, a health coach and kind of the newer generation of moms, I think together we’ve brought this package that, really it’s a gift, I can’t wait to get it in my hand. I just want to give it out to everybody.
MS: I think another part of our journal that’s also a good to bring up, too, is how it brings in the baby’s father. The partnership in a pregnancy is huge. The support that would come from the woman’s partner is very present in our journal. And getting the input alongside the journaling pregnant mom, there’s space for her to bring in that aspect of the experience as well.
JS: Yes. Let’s speak to that for a minute. I just want to confirm a couple of things that you’ve been mentioning, because there are so many supportive components of this journal. I’m not just journaling as you say, which is a very meaningful practice, but of course there are recipes, you have these pro pregnancy tips, health check-ins, reflections, notes to your baby. You have thoughts and dreams and hopes and areas to record those things. So it really is a wonderful journey and I think that encouraging mothers to tune in this way prior to this life-changing experience happening is a really wonderful way to set the stage for them.
One of the things that you acknowledge in the journal, that you take time to encourage mothers to do, is how much life changes in this transition, in this journey. And I love that you acknowledge that this is complex—there’s joy and there’s also loss. This is a massive transition, and I want to have you speak to this more. What kinds of losses might a mother experience and how can we help support mothers through that? Martha, do you want to answer this time?
MS: Yes. Gosh, I’ve been trying to decide where to start, but I will start with, a week ago. I was with our middle daughter who just had her first baby in a city about six hours away from us, drive. I got to stay with her for a week of just helping her with everything. It was awesome. But one day just of course bursting into tears, which is something that’s very common in immediately postpartum women just to . . . Just tears of joy, most of the time tears of joy, every now and it would be tears of, “Oh, this is overwhelming.” But this one time she was looking into the closet for something, and she broke into tears, and I was standing right by her, next to her for some reason and she was able to say to me, “I’ve lost my pregnancy. The baby’s not inside me anymore. And she was weeping.”
I affirmed her in that, “Yes, you have a grieving thing here. This is something important for you to get ahold of and mark it and fully accept and understand that it’s OK to grieve this.” Obviously you don’t stay stuck there, because now you’ve got your little bundle waiting, to carry on the joy of now being a new mommy. But that was a huge moment for the two of us to be able to share that; it was really sweet. But from the very beginning, Hayden, you could even speak to this better, is the loss of your independence as a person with nobody hanging onto your knees. I mean you’re just a woman out in the work field, maybe you’ve been . . . You go ahead, because now I’m just saying stuff.
HS: I was somewhat of a young mom, my beautiful gift of pregnancies were unexpected. It wasn’t something I had necessarily made the choice to start yet. My husband at the time . . . I had just started my career and was moving into that, and I was 24, and so my sense of self was still developing, and understanding who I wanted to be in this world.
And being a mom without really making that intentional shift to choose to do that, it did bring up a lot of feelings, both of course extreme joy, but then also this extreme, almost like panic: “What do I do now? Who am I? How do I mesh what I see for my life in the next handful of years and my current reality? And how does this all fit together?” First of all, I think one of the reasons . . . I think the fact that we have a nine-month pregnancy is a huge gift, because it really helps give us time and space to adjust. From my own experience and those around me, I think this culture is very interesting because women are so empowered to do really anything in this world.
And we are, which is fantastic. Then we also have this thing that we get to do that men don’t get to do. We get to be pregnant, we get to grow a human inside us, and we get to have this. And it’s so special and it’s such a unique time in a woman’s life, it’s just this tiny little marked moment that is so small—nine months in a whole life—but it’s so profound and so important and can be really this huge shift for a woman. But it can also be difficult. And so as we’re navigating what we’re putting out there into the world as far as our gifts and our talents and our careers, and balancing with being a mom and nurturing this human and what they’re going to give to the world, which really starts with us, it is fantastically amazing, But also, women have this extra thing on them that is so beautiful.
I have a little story. So I have a nine-year-old son, and he has older sisters. So I have a 16-year-old, a 12-year-old and a nine-year-old. And I was talking to him about my sister Erin, who just had her baby, and he saw her all pregnant, and he was so curious about it. He’s like, “Mom, tell me about the birth.” He was concerned she’d be in pain and not OK. So I was just talking him through it and he’s like, “She gets to do that?” Like he had this kind of awe and wonder in his eyes, and he’s like, “Mom.” He didn’t say these words, but this is what his feelings were. He’s like, “Women are amazing.” And he just kind of had this new appreciation for women, and it’s like . . . I think that’s fantastic. So yes, I think that having a baby now versus really any other time, women are starting to understand that we have choices.
We have choices in how we want to give birth, we have choices in how we want to be pregnant, how we want to move forward in our career and balance that with family life. This is a whole new culture because women aren’t just OK with having a full-time career. We also want to be amazing moms, and we’re seeing that you know what? If we want to, we can scale back the career for a bit, or we can shift up our working arrangements. Because both are very important to me, and I want to do both well and right now we get to.
MS: Here’s one more aspect of loss before we move on. And that is before you become a mother, you’re really only responsible for yourself. I mean, yes, your mate is there, and it’s a working together thing, but that’s not being responsible for another human being. And I think that the fathers in the picture will have the same concept. Once they become parents, and obviously during the pregnancy, this will begin to be fleshed out, so to speak. All of a sudden we are responsible for another human being who’s going to be completely vulnerable and needy and depending on us for the next 18 to 25 years, depending on the whole brain growth thing. Age 25, the brains are finally adult. But just the concept of responsibility, you’re losing . . . The loss idea is you’re losing your independence and freedom to be an agent at-large, on your own, into becoming completely responsible for another person.
JS: Yes, absolutely. And I’m going to be 40 soon, and my mom would say she’s still supporting me emotionally, and all these things. It just never actually ends. And that’s such a beautiful gift for so many of us. This is a really good segue into something else I want to talk about, in terms of how partners can prepare for their relationship to becoming parents and you speak about this in the journal to some extent. What can partners do together to prepare their relationship for becoming parents and what do you all recommend?
MS: That’s a great question. Well because I’m a childbirth educator, my first thought would be of course, go to some awesome childbirth classes together, preparing for the birth. And part of a good childbirth class will be helping both partners, the mother and the father, be fully aware of the process of pregnancy and obviously of birth. A lot of fathers will go into pregnancy thinking, “Well, it’s her job.” But don’t leave her out there on her own. Understand how it’s important for her to feel supported in her journey of a healthy pregnancy, not just to get through these nine months and then, we’ll get on with being a mom and dad, but to have . . . By going to childbirth classes together, you really start the concept of already co-parenting.
MS: Then just in terms of just in your day-to-day life together at home, to start planning and dreaming of, “Well, let’s start thinking about parenting styles. What do we see our friends around us doing? What do we see other families that we admire [doing]? Or how can we get more information on what that’s going to be like for us personally.” Even just dreams of what you want for your child. It means just brainstorming together. Just lots of communication would be going on during a pregnancy. On the positive side, that’s all great.
And then there will be some not-so-positive things that will come out in your communication. Like some disagreements or some difficult hormonal spots that you hit throughout the pregnancy. The woman’s partner will start to understand, well, she’s a different creature. She’s really changed in some ways. And for him to understand the hormonal aspects of pregnancy—again, coming out in the reading that you do or childbirth classes. Because that’s going to hit after the baby is born too, so that’s really good prep work for being here and now, reality based. It’s not all going to be a sweetness and roses when that baby is born.
HS: Yes, I think that, again, it’s such a beautiful time for a couple to almost start practicing being a parent while the baby’s in that safe little spot where you’re not hands on, you’re practicing how you want to work together as a couple and engaging in that way, engaging in that conversation. And I think when you have a baby, it’s so great to fantasize and think ahead. In doing so, you’re really connecting with each other and connecting with your baby. You’re starting to think of yourself as a family unit and that is . . . I mean, it’s such a beautiful new way for couples to bond and that bond is going to be so important when baby comes—because when baby comes there’s so much hard in some ways—that having that time ahead of time to really connect and enter into parenthood when the baby comes really strong as a couple. Several times throughout our journal we have prompts to reflect on how that is going, on how communication is and even places to say, “OK, what are things I want to talk about and work through before baby comes?”
I know in my own experience there were things I didn’t work through, they just were able to be brushed aside or pushed down because I either didn’t want to deal with them, or I just didn’t know to. And you know what? After baby number three came, and after going through the toddler, off to school, it was like, “Well, those issues are still there and now we have to deal with them.” It’s so great. And when my mom was talking about going to childbirth classes or meetup groups with new parents or pregnant parents, really another gift of that is you’re able to see parents around you and what they’re doing. And I think there’s something really empowering about being around other people in the same stage of life as you because if you haven’t had that modeled to you by your family or friends, it’s really almost mysterious, like, “What do I do? How do I hold this baby? How do I support my wife when she’s doing this?”
HS: So I think being around other people, you bring in what they have and really, you’re starting maybe your culture, maybe a new tribe. And so putting yourself in that position as a couple of I think is super valuable.
MS: And you will also see things you don’t want to do.
MS: It’s good to have the wisdom of getting some of these discussions happening during your pregnancy. It’s just really good stuff. And if you didn’t have her journal, you might not think of that.
JS: Absolutely. I found that, my husband and I doing a little bit of a “What are our values as a family before we’re in the thick of it” moment was really helpful. I said, my daughter is almost four and even in those moments we’re like, “Wait, we decided this really early on. This is meaningful to us.” And sometimes when the going gets tough, it’s good to remember, that we wanted to put that extra effort in these particular areas and to, and to remain true to that. And also to dynamically steer and change as time goes on and we learn more. But being values-based together has been really powerful for us as well.
HS: Yes. There’s even a place in there to start thinking about a family mission statement, which is so great. I did that when I already had my kids and I think, “Gosh, it’d be really cool to start fleshing that out earlier on.”
JS: I want to circle back to fear. We talked about fear a little bit earlier in the conversation. I want to circle back because this is a really important topic for so many moms. There are so many opportunities for fear to arise during pregnancy, fears about not only becoming a mother but complications during pregnancy or childbirth. It’s a lot of unknown, or an ungrounded experience for mothers. How do you suggest working with fear during pregnancy? Hayden, I want to lead with you here.
HS: OK. Well I think, first it’s really good to acknowledge that fear is going to come and there’s a purpose for it and it’s not even something to be scared of. But I think noticing that it comes and recognizing it for what it is—and that it’s normal—really takes that hard energy from it. And then, just having a place to process it so it doesn’t stick inside you. I think that’s really an important part of it, really understanding why it’s there and what you can do to soothe it, because we don’t want to stay in that fear. Fear will really hinder you from experiencing so much of the joy that’s on the other side of fear. But if we don’t acknowledge it and we almost . . . Sometimes I think moms don’t feel like it’s OK to be scared.
We think, “Oh, if I’m scared, or I’m ambivalent or maybe if I’m just little pissed off that I have to do this right now.” Like that almost feels shameful to us. So acknowledging that those emotions and feelings are real and OK. And in fact, maybe if you’re not having some of that, it might be a sign that they’re there, you’re just not accessing them for one reason or another. And you what? I also think that, again, it’s such a great time to practice how you’re going to process this fear because when baby comes and then toddlerhood and the pre-school age and then, “Oh my gosh.” Now, for me, I have a teenager. The fear doesn’t stop. It really doesn’t. And in some ways it seems to get harder; as they get older the stakes seem higher.
If you have a chance early on to really find ways that work for you to process the fear in a healthy way, it really sets you up to be able to deal with it in a great way in the future and move through it maybe more quickly and move to the other side of it.
MS: And I think that obviously, as part of what you’re saying, Hayden, is to talk it out, first of all, with your partner—talks to be honest with each other. Because the woman’s partner, the father of this baby will have fears too. And if you’re not opening up to him, he will clam up and not understand that this is normal. The father of the baby will start already worrying, “How am I going to pay for college?” I mean just to take it on a superficial level. And that’s a big fear, but it’s pretty superficial when you come to the whole realm of parenting. But still it’s very real. In like, 18 years from now we have to come up with how we are going to fund this, ongoing. And obviously there are answers to that and not everyone would get stuck there.
But that’s just one little example of a common first thing that would come to a dad’s mind. That would be on a practical level, but the mother is going to have a whole different set of fears, probably starting with, “Oh my Gosh, what have I done? Oh my Gosh, I signed up for what? It’s like this baby is real part of our life and I better figure some stuff out.”
HS: And I think that also if a woman opens the door to her partner about the concept of being OK with having fear, I think that will really help them feel OK with sharing their fears. Because I think that being the really primary support to the mom, they may feel like they really can’t have fears. They have to be the strong one, the positive one.
And sometimes people bond even more, even deeper in their fear and helping each other through that. So I wouldn’t want couples to miss out on the beauty of that.
MS: And then another big part for a woman in is the fear of actual childbirth. And this is something that . . . It’s why it’s so valuable to have a good childbirth class. You have eight classes, nine, 12 classes depending on what sort of class you sign up for. To me, I think the more the better, just to understand the process of birthing and sort of start diffusing the fear. So many women have done this before you and let’s see how this works out. When you can handle fear and overcome it, you will have a better childbirth experience just on that one level, to be able to talk about your fear.
HS: And I think probably one of the first things that happens in the first month or so is the fear of miscarriage, because many women experience that, even to the point where a lot of women don’t tell people that they’re pregnant until month three because of that. And so if a mom has experienced that type of loss or maybe somebody close to her, that would be a really maybe ongoing fear. And so helping a mom work through that and acknowledge that is important, because if you stay there, it could really hinder you from fully connecting and embracing your baby.
JS: Yes. I really like the encouragement you all are offering: to go to childbirth classes and to be educated, because that’s such an empowering moment from others. And I think not only is it empowering in terms of understanding what the birth experience may be like—and of course it’s different for all of us—but for me, it was also this moment to feel so in awe of how much my body was able to do, what we’re capable of doing. I mean, just if you can rest in the miraculousness of that experience—that is pretty amazing. So that’s a gift as well.
HS: Yes. And it’s so interesting when you say that. I think helping moms have an appreciation for themselves and what they’re doing is so valuable, and I think will carry them through their motherhood journey. So much of what I do in my own work for myself and people that I work with—and I hope is a big tone of our journal—is just helping moms develop this inner self-appreciation and your self talk, like, “Oh my gosh, I’m amazing. I gave birth, I did that. I had that power to do that.” And sometimes I think back and I’m like, “That’s possibly the hardest thing I will ever do in my life. And the most amazing thing.” When I give myself that space to think back to that time, I do. I feel like a superhero. I really do. And we refer to that in our journal—give yourself a superhero name because you really are that superhero.
JS: Absolutely. And I like that so much.
HS: And the men would typically have the same exact words. I know my husband would say that to me a lot. It changes a man’s concept of womanhood to see a baby be birthed.
JS: I completely agree. Yes. My husband for the first year or so after my daughter was born—in particular, all the nightly feedings and all this stuff—he said, “I’m going to do everything I can. You built a baby from scratch, and birthed this human, this is the least I can do right now.” What a nice tone to bring in, and also to support mothers in holding themselves with that light.
I want to speak about this idea of healthy pregnancy and how this has changed. Martha, we’ve talked about how you have eight children—and have given birth to seven of those children—as well as 15 grandchildren. And Hayden, you have three children of your own. And I’m sure over the course of your work that this idea of what comprises a “healthy pregnancy” has evolved. And I want to hear about that from you. So I don’t know if Martha, you want to start with that. And then Hayden, you could talk about even in your own journey as a mother, this idea of even focusing on health in our pregnancy journey, it’s changed.
MS: It certainly has, since we started writing our books 40 years ago. Even going back in my own experience of pregnancy, my second pregnancy was . . . I went into that pregnancy two and a quarter years after the first baby was born . . . The second one was born. And I’ll never forget the big deal the obstetrician made to me even in our first checkup, I think it was. You stand on the scale and you get the number.
JS: Oh gosh.
MS: He almost scolded me. He said, “If you aren’t careful with your weight gain during this pregnancy, you’re going to wind up as a blimp.”
JS: Oh my gosh.
MS: Thinking back, I should have slapped him, I think. But I took it to heart. I took him seriously, and I thought, “Oh my goodness.” Because I still had some of my pregnancy weight from that first pregnancy. It’s was not horrible. I mean, I weighed in . . . Well, I shouldn’t even say numbers, but I weighed in at probably 10 pounds more than my natural healthy weight would be, not pregnant. And so he was giving me a heads up, “You’ve held on to 10 pounds. Now if you carry that on, and you hold onto another 10 pounds . . .” I mean, it just gave me the idea that I really need to be intentional about how I nourish my body, and start really being careful. I was in my early 20s when all this came about. And now, knowledge about nutrition has changed exponentially from 50 years ago. Thank goodness we know more, and we’re way more balanced. But just that one aspect of having a healthy pregnancy is so focused on the weight gain. There needs to be a better balance going on.
And I’ll tell you, I really overdid it with that second pregnancy. I made myself keep a very minimal weight gain, which was probably not good for me. Probably most definitely not good for me. The baby’s healthy enough that I probably could have had a more balanced pregnancy. I was so focused on what the scale said. And I’m now looking back how silly that was. On the same note, I appreciate my doctor’s heads up: think about this. I just needed to be more balanced personally myself. So fortunately after that one came and went, and third, fourth, fifth pregnancies, I was much more relaxed about all that. And I understood the process of my body will grow in this way. A big part of childbirth class is to help a woman understand this part of the pregnancy: where the weight gain happens and why, and why it’s important to not get an excess amount of weight coming on. That’s almost a superficial part of the healthy pregnancy component. But it is a big part because no matter what the number on the scale says, if you’re not putting healthy food into your body, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and to your baby.
JS: Yes. What about the food recommendations? Nowadays it’s like, no raw fish, no meats that have certain chemicals in them, no soft cheeses. I’m just curious, how have those evolved in your experience over the years?
HS: I think that the component of health and nutrition is what we think of, as far as I need to make sure I gain this amount of weight and that. As a teenager and young adult, I really struggled with body image issues, as many people do. I think though, that becoming pregnant and experiencing that, my body has got to change. That’s just a given. I can’t fight against that. It’s going to change my, my abdomen is going to get large. I am going to put on extra weight.
JS: You better.
HS: And not only am I going to, but I have to. This is what my body needs to do and gets to do right now. It gave me new appreciation for my body in respect to having it be a certain shape, and the shape that I idealized in my mind that I was constantly trying to work toward—that was no longer in my control. So taking that kind of control mindset out and just being able to . . . After I worked through some of these fears that I had talked about, just settling in to embracing what my body is going to be doing. It’s a super valuable thing. I got to get away from the outer appearance of the certain shape into, “Oh my gosh, my body is going to do this.”
It helped me move away from the immature thinking of expecting my body to be a certain way and moving into, “This is why my body is going to function this way.” This is why a woman gains extra fat because if she doesn’t have this fat on her body, she might not be able to nourish her baby when she comes. We have a lot of vitamins and minerals that are stored in fat. So if a woman doesn’t gain enough fat during her pregnancy, then that is going to negatively impact her and her baby. So allowing really that message of “Your body needs this. This is happening for a reason.” And I have perfectly healthy friends that gained way more weight than the books said, but they were eating super healthy and that’s what their body needed.
And you know what? Sometimes, knowing some of their situations, it’s good that they had that extra weight. And then some women don’t gain a ton, but that’s what their body needed. So in our advice with health and nutrition, we really try to help moms lean into, “Yes, here’s your checklist, but listen to your body and what it needs in that moment.” It might need extra fat for that chunk of time. It might need some extra energy in the form of carbs. Your body might need some of that repair and support that it gets from healthy proteins and you know what? Sometimes I just need a piece of chocolate cake because that’s good for my soul.
HS: And that’s OK. We champion that as well.
JS: Yes. I think a holistic view of a healthy pregnancy is really valuable right now in particular—in our time, in our culture. Now, I’m curious in your view, how well are we, as a society, supporting pregnant mothers and new parents? What do women and families need that they may not be getting in our current culture? It’ll be curious to hear from both of you about this. Martha, do you want to start here?
MS: That’s a big question. It is a little bit beyond the scope of our journal, but really bottom line is why we wrote the journal. Back in the olden days, even way before my time when extended families were around, the women had the support: watching the aunties, watching even her own mother have another pregnancy. The health fitness of it, the naturalness of it, was way better, I think, in a lot of ways than what we have now with families being separated. Even with our own daughter up in San Jose and here we are in South Orange County—it’s a distance, and thank goodness for texting pictures. But back to what the society isn’t doing, I think on one level the social media is doing us a disservice. Obviously on the other hand it helps us stay connected. I’d love to have these pictures often. But we depend too much on social media and we get stuck there and I think a lot of mothers start to be really, really isolated when they don’t have the friends or, obviously, the family around.
So groups like La Leche League, to give mother-to-mother support, is huge. In fact, I know our daughter Erin went to her first La Leche League meeting today and I can’t wait to find out what it was like for her. And she’s taking her two-week-old baby and she’s going to learn from those other mothers sitting around. And maybe there’ll be a four month old, a six month old, a 10 month old. She will see them breastfeeding right there in the circle of mothers and her eyes will be—I remember my first one, eyes wide open as, “Look how beautiful this is. This is still down the line for me. And now I’m getting to learn from these moms that will become my friends. I’ll see these women every month and some of them will be having the same problems. I have this problem of, maybe say, baby wants to nurse all the time. What the heck do you do about that? And the other, another mom will say, well, here’s what I do, or here’s what the baby’s dad is doing to help me.”
That kind of social support is huge. And that’s not really a society-at-large support. But one thing I see that’s great in my daughter’s marriage, her husband has six weeks of paternity leave from his company fully paid, for him to be able to stay at home and support her. It’s huge and they both get to be bonding with the baby and it’s not like, “Well, goodbye, dear. I’ll see you after six o’clock when the rush hour is over, and I hope you have dinner ready.” It’s not happening for her. She had two solid weeks of him being home and then he’ll take another week or two in a little while and sort of let it play out to see when that time is needed for her. I’m sure he’s very grateful that she has a La Leche League meeting to go to because he’s back to work now and he knows that she’s got that support and learning that’s going on for her. And he doesn’t really need to learn that part of it, but she does. I’m so grateful that the La Leche League is available—or any other moms’ support group that’s out there.
HS: I think that’s one of the things our society is doing very well is that we know there’s things created for moms to connect with, that fit their own personality. There are so many groups and things that are out there that weren’t there before. I think, if you shift back 40, 50, however many years ago, pregnancy and birth were very medical. It was something to be medically managed. And I think what I love about our society now is women are understanding that they have so many options. They have choices. They get to do it the way they want to do it, the way their bodies are feeling and almost craving to experience. They get to decide that they don’t have to follow this system, these bullet points that I have to do this, this, and this. They get to create the experience they want to have. And there’s so many things to support moms in that area.
I think what’s a little tricky is maybe moms don’t know that, necessarily. They don’t really understand that they have choices maybe until maybe they’re in a position where they’re like, “You know what, I don’t like this. What my doctor’s telling me to do or what his or her vision is for my birth. That’s not what I want. So let me explore.
MS: “. . . and let me explore midwifery. I have a friend from work who had a midwife for her birth, and she had a birth center birth. And so they’re definitely more options out there—more now than there were 50 years ago.
HS: Even ones that are covered by insurance. I mean, I had midwives for my births and they were covered by insurance. I was at a birth center for one of my births, hospital for the other two. And my insurance company covered it. And that’s really important because, finances and all that are definitely toward the top of parents’ lists of concerns. And so I think when you’re making these choices, having the support of our society in the form of financial—whether it’s insurance or companies supporting a dad being home for a chunk of time, I think that’s something that we haven’t seen. That’s more recent, I think something to be championed and leaned into.
JS: Yes, I agree with you. I feel encouraged by seeing some of the tide shift with regard to maternity leave and paternity leave, and offering paid opportunities and certainly some support with regard to insurance coverage is really important now. And I’m seeing that shift. I’d love to see more of that, but I am glad that the tide seems to be shifting in that direction.
HS: Yes. Just kind of circling back around when I was talking about body image, even our society recognizing a woman, as in respect of, we get to nourish our babies. My breasts are here a reason above and beyond. They’re here today to just give this amazing nourishment to my baby. And so things like social media and things that are put out there visually, it’s a way to get that message out to our society that this idea of a woman becoming a mother is something to be cherished and embraced, and what she’s going to offer her baby is vital for our society. I think we know now developmentally and psychology-wise is that this work you’re doing with the young babies and toddlers, that’s going to affect our society 30, 40, 50 years from now, because these are the babies that are going to be our leaders.
And if they’re given this, first the nourishment from healthy food and a healthy lifestyle, but also the nourishment of their spirit and their soul and their emotions. I think now more than ever, we understand all of that. And you can’t just be perfect in your nutrition. That’s not holistic. These humans that are coming now, I think they’re getting a much more holistic upbringing than any time before, because we have a better understanding and awareness of what that looks like.
JS: Absolutely. Absolutely. Thank you for saying that. I have one final question. This has been really fun to talk to you all. I have one final question here, and if you have one piece of advice or a message of encouragement for a pregnant mama who might be listening right now, what do you want to tell her? Hayden, why don’t we start with you?
HS: Gosh, of course there’s a million things, which is why we wrote the journal. I would say for myself that, just be gentle with yourself. Early on, I think my mom even said this, motherhood can be one of the most—guiltiest professions because there’s just so much. It’s so important. It’s important to us and it’s important. But just having that sense of graciousness for yourself and gentleness for yourself. Because if we don’t offer that to ourselves, we’re not going to be able to offer that to those around us, especially our little baby.
JS: Martha what about you?
MS: Yes, I would say embrace your pregnancy, deal with your fears, yes, but fear not. You were made for this. There’s actually a wonderful book about childbirth called Made For This. I would also say, “You got this.” Your whole body is designed, your whole psyche is designed to create this little one that’s coming along that’s going to be mentored by you, nourished by you, disciplined by you. You got this, you have this built into your brain and into your body and into your spirit. Your legacy is already taking shape. And knowledge is power. So if all of this sounds really huge, to try and take it all in, remember it’s one day at a time. This baby is just growing one day at a time over, what is it? 240 days? Lose track of the actual date count. Knowledge is power, and you won’t accumulate it all at once, it’s a day-by-day, page-by-page in the journal if you want to say it that way. Evening-by-evening as you spend in your childbirth classes, over meals as you talk with your mate, to just embrace it all just be delighted in what’s about to happen in your life.
HS: I really love that, Mom. You brought that word legacy and if it’s OK, I would love to say something real quick.
HS: I love that a couple gets to think of, “We’re starting our legacy now.” And they really have no idea what’s going to come. I bet my parents, when they had their first babies, they had no idea of the legacy they were starting. This beautiful movement that has spread to hundreds of thousands of people all over the world started with that first baby. And I think what’s so beautiful is that they leaned into that, and they allowed those moments to really spark this passion and bring to light what they were meant to offer this world. And now, gosh, 50 years later they have this legacy they’ve left.
MS: Well, I haven’t left it.
HS: No, the legacy they’re leaving. And not just that though, they’ve taken it a step further, and they’ve invited their children into being a part of this legacy. My brothers have co-written some of their more recent books. And my sister Erin coauthored the last book with my dad, The Dr. Sears T5 Wellness Plan, and I get to do this journal with my mom. So they’re not just having this legacy for the world, but they’re inviting their children into this legacy to then continue it on. And I think each parent gets to do that in their own way with their own talents and their own passions. They get to pass these down to their children who will then embrace what resonates with them and continue that legacy on and that’s just a beautiful part of being human, and operating within a society, is offering something that we’re going to leave and give to others. Like I was saying before, this beautiful little pinpoint in a family’s journey really is the start of that.
JS: Yes, thank you so much. This is a wonderful place to conclude. I have really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you so much for being here today and thank you for your amazing commitment to supporting children and parents and families. It’s been such an honor to be with you.
HS: Thank you.
MS: Thank you, Jaime.
JS: Yes. I’ve been speaking with Martha Sears and Hayden’s Sears who coauthor The Healthy Pregnancy Journal, a new book from Sounds True, which will be released on May 7, 2019. It will be available everywhere you like to buy books. For Sounds True and Insights at the Edge. I’m Jaime Schwalb, thanks so much for listening today. SoundsTrue.com: waking up the world.
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