The pregnancy and postpartum period are unique times. And like many of life’s other transformative experiences, they require a unique approach across a number of spheres—including nutrition. This is the philosophy of pregnancy and postpartum meal delivery service Chiyo, a brand that sits at the intersection of traditional Chinese medicine and Western standards of nutrition. Featuring clinical nutritionists and trained chefs, Chiyo’s team assists in creating new realities for maternal health and wellness in the United States, namely through the design of stage-based, nutritionally-dense meals for all parts of the journey.

We recently spoke with Founder, Clinical Nutritionist, and Postpartum Private Chef Jennifer about Chiyo’s work in supporting postpartum care and recovery. At the core of their work are incredibly simple, yet powerful tools within the context of pregnancy and postpartum care. “One of the biggest things that was important to me in the foundation of Chiyo was that it eluded warmth and compassion,” says Jennifer. 

And so, she weaves this warmth and compassion into the work in intentional ways—like ensuring that she she captures a vast group of people at all stages of the reproductive continuum. Jennifer deliberately chose a gender-neutral color palette for the brand to account for differing identities, familial arrangements, and the communal nature of postpartum healing and recovery. “I didn’t want it to only appeal to one person but to cross to all types of family members including partners, colleagues and biological family members.” In this way, Jennifer honors the sanctity of the brand’s message. Chiyo means “thousands of generations”, and everything they do keeps this in mind. 

In addition to values of community, Chiyo’s work upholds the significance of addressing unique needs facing vulnerable populations. Rather than treat these unique needs as foreign, Chiyo leans on the sacred wisdom nestled within models of care outside of the United States. “This standard of care already exists throughout the world through postpartum hotels, confinement nannies or key policies in place to support the mother.” This is where Chiyo’s work starts—the baseline. Jennifer explained that Chiyo started their work with postpartum support because of the Western world’s growing knowledge of the importance of nutritional support at this stage.

The unique needs are multifaceted in nature, but Jennifer has a wide range of knowledge on the intricacies of nutritional support. “There are key nutrients needed for blood and tissue repair such as iron, collagen rich foods like spinach, broth, meat proteins, beans, legumes which specifically target muscle and blood building processes.” Through the meal delivery service, Jennifer and her team craft meals with the healing properties of these foods in mind. 

The longitudinal nature of the pregnancy and postpartum period heightens the singularity of the process. Jennifer accounts for this in her work, too. For those that she meets in the third trimester, Jennifer’s consultation work includes setting a strong framework for labor and delivery into postpartum. For Jennifer, this means thinking about obstacles early on. This looks like educating expectant parents about the significance of iron intake, and designing personalized plans for accounting for it.

It’s important to note that her mode of care is not generalized to all birthing people. During our interview, Jennifer stressed the importance of stage and symptom-specific consultation. “Nutrition is bioindividual, which can be different from one person to the next. It’s important to learn what those levers are for each person to ensure they’re obtaining the right nutrition for their stage.”

At Chiyo, nutrition is not just a foundational tool for promoting healing. Through her work, Jennifer also leans on the interplay between Eastern tradition and Western nutrition to diversify people’s palates. “There are many key ingredients we use in our meal programs that many people have never been exposed to,” Jennifer explains. “Introducing new flavors and ingredients to our community is one of our favorite things.”

Postpartum healing is not limited to the physical. Chiyo looks to expand the accessibility of its offerings, as they have potential to assist in the treatment of conditions like gestational diabetes or hypertension. Their recent endeavors within the sphere of accessibility include promoting HSA/FSA coverage, and taking other measures behind the scenes to make their programs available to those in need.

The United States currently faces one of its worst maternal health crises. 

Not only are the rates of maternal mortality on the rise, but there remain significant racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes. Maternal mortality rates have more than doubled between 1999 and 2019, and Black women and birthing people face the greatest burden. When compared to their white counterparts, Black birthing people are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently made a decision that will serve to improve these outcomes. 

On December 15th, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced the new Transforming Maternal Health Model, a novel model that hones in on maternal health outcomes for people enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The target population faces uniquely devastating circumstances. When compared to those living in affluent areas, pregnant people living in impoverished communities have more than double the rates of maternal mortality and morbidity. The goal of the model is to reduce disparities in access and treatment, and is set to run for 10 years.

The model will support participating state Medicaid agencies in centering holistic care for people through pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. Under the model, they will strive to ensure that birthing people receive personalized care by supporting them in the establishment of a birthing plan. It is evident that the model subsists on what works—one study shows a unanimous opinion among patients with a birth plan that it encouraged communication with their provider and heightened birth satisfaction. 

Additionally, the model will address the social determinants of health by calling for participating agencies to screen individuals during their initial prenatal visit. At this point, they will determine what, if any, additional support the birthing person may need for the dimensions shaping health long before the hospital visit—namely, mental health, social needs, and/or substance use support. Identifying these needs will enable the agency to collaborate with the birthing person to create a care plan, monitor conditions like hypertension, and/or connect them with a community health organization that focuses on their specific need. 

Leaning on the understanding that structural forces create the present reality, the new model will also support relationship building efforts to assist states in addressing barriers to care access. More specifically, they will support endeavors with the goal of heightening access to midwives, doulas, community health workers, and other players leading the effort to create safe, dignified birthing experiences for all. At the foundation of this unique effort is the growing body of research regarding the benefits of engaging birthworkers—reduction in cesarean sections (c-sections) for low-risk pregnancies, shortened labor time, lower utilization of pain medication during birth, and lower rates of postpartum anxiety and depression. 

Furthermore, among the three main pillars is quality improvement and safety. Participating agencies will employ interventions termed “patient safety bundles” to make the conditions of birthing safer for birthing people and their infants. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the evidence-based interventions have been shown to improve health outcomes across several clinical areas, including hypertension during pregnancy, cardiac conditions, and care for pregnant and postpartum people living with substance use disorders. 

It is not enough to push our nation’s birthing people to survival, and the new model accounts for this. Participating agencies and their hospitals will work towards achieving the “Birthing-Friendly” designation, the first federal quality designation with a focus on maternal health.

The Transforming Maternal Health Model calls for change in more ways than one. By improving the state of hospitals and heightening receptivity to the various players propping birthing people up all over the United States, the new model is likely to create sustainable solutions with far-reaching benefits.

Almost one and a half years ago, I made a decision to keep a gratitude journal.  I had broadly heard, from multiple people and sources, about the life-altering benefits of expressing gratitude each day.  It was almost six months into the pandemic.  My family had a fire at my childhood home, my partner had lost his job, and I was in the middle of a job transition, gaining hours to be licensed as a creative arts therapist.  I felt like there was no better time than the present to try and reflect on parts of my day and life that I felt grateful for.   Right before bed each night I would consider several people, places, situations, and sometimes things.  I called them my gratitudes.  In reality, this “gratitude journal” I started was really just a bullet point list with six lines on it that I kept in my notes on my iPhone.  There were many nights as my eyes were ready to close that I’d pop up in bed and exclaim how I’d forgotten to “write my gratitudes” and that I had to do them.  I’d quickly unplug my phone from the charger and jot down some general gratitudes that came to mind.  

The decision to start writing down my gratitudes was made on August 1st, 2020 which was several days after I finished Mama Glow’s Level 1 Doula Homeschool.  I can’t say that the training directly influenced my decision to start a gratitude journal of sorts.  What I do know, is that the Mama Glow training directly impacted my perception of gratitude in a way I could never have comprehended or predicted.  

During our doula training, Latham mentioned that there was a certain energy going around in our group, and that she had a feeling there would be several babies to come out of our doula class.  She suggested there would be babies conceived that week.  As she said this, I laughed a bit to myself and wondered if she said that to every group of trainees.  I wondered if she was right. I pictured myself keeping in touch with everyone, and finding out over the next few months who in our midst would be welcoming a baby.  I never anticipated I’d be one of them.  But I was. 

I found out I was pregnant about a month after our doula training ended.  My significant other and I had not been planning on having a child at that point, but we welcomed the opportunity.  We knew there would be unknowns to embrace, but we felt we were already embracing unknowns as the pandemic danced around and through our lives.  I believe we felt like we had lost a lot, and that this pregnancy would be something new we’d welcome as a gift, together.  I know that then, we had no idea that facing the pregnancy together wasn’t even a guarantee.  

That fall, we moved through the early months of pregnancy with nonchalant excitement.  My partner had his job in hospitality back, and I was continuing my work as a music therapist, gaining hours towards my license.  We were relaxed, and happy.  My partner did have a nagging cough that at first he’d mistaken for COVID but when his COVID results came back inconclusive and the cough stayed for months, he chalked it up to his tough restaurant work.  The urgent care he went to for the cough was packed, and focused only on COVID.  They never did a chest X-ray.  Another doctor he went to a month later diagnosed him with acid reflux because he worked late and ate dinner right before bed.  His cough became so bad that he was sent to the emergency room around the corner for a COVID test because one of his coworkers complained that they were nervous about COVID exposure.  The emergency room completed a nasal swab and took his temperature.  He had a fever.  His blood work came back.  His blood work was abnormal.  They did a chest X-ray.  The X-ray showed something abnormal.  They saw a large mass in his chest.  They sent him to a hospital uptown.  They wanted to do a biopsy, but had to rule out Tuberculosis.  It was probably cancer.  It took days, but they did the biopsy.  It was cancer, but they didn’t know what kind.  They had to do another biopsy.  The cancer had spread.  It was stage IV.  They knew what kind.  I was 12 weeks pregnant.  

Our pregnancy, which was progressing calmly, took a frightening turn.  Would he even get to meet our baby?  We told family and friends about our pregnancy at the same time we told them that he had stage IV cancer.  We felt both incredibly fortunate and deeply unlucky.  We went from breezing through each pregnancy milestone, each appointment, each test, to just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. 

Through November, my partner met with his oncologists and developed a treatment plan.  He was lucky, and even though the cancer had spread, his cancer had a strong chance for remission with the available treatment options.  His treatment would likely last for six months.  I had six months left of my pregnancy. 

I joked about how our bodies were changing at the same time.  He was losing hair, and I was gaining a belly.  He stopped working because of his risk of exposure to COVID and other illnesses and I was working from home, so we spent almost every single day of those six months together.  We talked about how the love we had for each other and our baby was more profound than it ever would or could have been, had he not been diagnosed with stage IV cancer.  But I felt the physical, emotional, and psychological worry of making it through the pregnancy so we could meet our daughter together.  I was suddenly anxious that I’d lose him, and her.  He finished his last chemotherapy treatment the day before I went into labor.  They both made it.  We all made it.  

This December, the end of the calendar year, I find myself once again considering gratitude. I think back to a year ago, and how scared I was that I would lose the two most important people in my life.  I also reflect on how I was living so presently in each moment, whether it was a moment of fear, or love, or care, or helplessness that I was experiencing.  I feel grateful for those highs and the lows of the past year, because it gives me perspective and a deeper appreciation of my highs and lows now.  

I’ve kept up my list of gratitudes, writing on my phone every single night.  But, I realized that there’s a disconnect between what I am truly grateful for, and what I type out.  My gratitude journal, my list, had become a habit.  Yes, I’m “grateful” for each thing that I write about, and as an exercise, I don’t think it is a harmful one.  However, the true gratitude I’m feeling this holiday season is a direct reflection on key experiences, emotions, and memories that I’ve gathered over the past eighteen months.  My depth of appreciation for my Mama Glow training, and my partner, and my pregnancy, and my little one, and our health, and our love, and music could never be accurately captured by six lines written on an iPhone.  It’s the collection of those experiences, and emotions, and people that I bring to mind each time I’m needing a reminder of all I have to be grateful for.  

It shouldn’t hurt to start positive habits like a gratitude journal.  But it’s worth remembering that sometimes, a pause, or a single momentary reflection of our journeys, of our highs and our lows, is a gratitude and reflection tool that is more than powerful enough.  

Jamie Bendell is a passionate musician, songwriter, and board-certified music therapist who believes in supporting the growth and goals of those she works with through the use of creative arts.  Jamie spent close to a decade songwriting and performing original music before completing her Master’s Degree in Music Therapy at NYU.   Jamie has several years of experience working as a music therapist and has studied the evidence-based use of music during the prenatal, perinatal, and postpartum periods.  In addition to other birth and music-centered training, Jamie has completed several certificate programs in the Sound Birthing Method.  Jamie welcomed a baby girl in the spring of 2021 and resides in New York City with her family. 

Jamie can be contacted on Instagram!

From the moment I received our December 31st “guesstimated due date,” I remember hoping that our baby would not be born on a holiday. Understanding that these dates are just general guesses, I knew that she could possibly arrive on Christmas Day, New Year’s, that time in between where no one knows what day it is or even two weeks after that. Truthfully, my aversion to having a holiday baby was simply that I wanted her to feel special on her day of birth and not overshadowed by a holiday. I let my mind wander to all the cons that come with being a holiday baby: combined gifts, others forgetting her birthday, no school celebration, and the thought that it would somehow make her birthday less magical. Needless to say, we don’t have much control over the spontaneous arrival of our babies, and so I surrendered to the knowledge that she would choose her day when the stars aligned for her.

Those last weeks of any pregnancy are always spent in anticipation of your baby’s arrival. The final countdown. Christmas had passed and it now begged the question of whether baby would make her appearance in 2020 or 2021. I knew then and there that my girl would always keep me on my toes. I went into active labor on New Year’s Eve at exactly 40 weeks. Instead of counting down to the end of the year, we counted down our contractions. We welcomed 2021 at the birth house, just me, my husband, and our midwife. The whole world felt quiet as I roared and breathed through my posterior baby contractions. All night, as people celebrated with their loved ones, we waited to meet our little love. That New Year’s Eve looked different from all others; it was wilder, more tiring, more exhilarating and the longest all-nighter I have ever experienced.  It even included a POP and a spray from my amniotic fluid to ring in 2021. Not your typical champagne showers.

I labored throughout that whole blurry night and it felt as though I was inching my way into the New Year. My last stretches of hardship as I trudged my way through trying to get to the other side to the year 2021. When I felt that intense pressure that could only signal transition, my sleepy fog washed over me and I was filled with a new energy. It was then that I noticed the sun pouring in through the windows, revealing a fresh blanket of snow outside. I’ll never forget that light in the room. I was finally out of the shadows: the shadows of my long labor, my hard pregnancy, and all that was the year of 2020. That light, I knew, was going to guide me across the bridge from maiden to mother. At that moment, I realized my baby had chosen to make her entrance on the most perfect and magical day of all.

Now as we near the closing of 2021 and her first turn around the sun, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day have a new meaning for our family that far exceeds resolutions. It will now forever be a remembrance of my entrance into motherhood, and a celebration of all her growth. I imagine us weaving our own special rituals for her birthday; whispering “happy birthday” to her first and foremost, when everyone else shouts “happy new year.” I imagine us replacing resolutions with reflections of her year passed and envisioning her year to come. There may still be some downfalls to being a holiday baby, but every year when that clock strikes midnight, I’ll be sure to retell the story of her birth and the magic that fulfilled it.

What to know about New Year Babies:

New Year babies are earthy Capricorns that are said to be extra lucky, have a green thumb, and be extremely fertile. All facets of big abundance. In many places around the world, the first baby of the Year is celebrated in the news, or even compensated with gifts. There are a few paths to explore the spiritual significance of a birthday as well, like astrological readings. We used Cardology, a system that uses your date of birth to reveal in-depth maps of personality, karmic relations, and life paths. January 1st is a King of Spades, the last and most powerful card in the deck. Those born on Jan. 1st are inclined toward tremendous success, spiritual ascension and have a strong capacity for leadership.

Natasha Lappos is a Mama Glow Birth and Postpartum Doula trainee. Born and raised in Montréal, Natasha has been living in Shanghai for the last 5 years teaching yoga, facilitating Reiki, guiding women’s circles, and catering celebrations with her grazing tables. Natasha is presently relocated with her family in Canada, where she is dedicated to supporting birthing people and nurturing their postpartum healing. 

You can follow her Doula and Motherhood journey on Instagram @birthblissandbeyond!

Whether you’ve been trying to conceive for years or are welcoming a surprise bundle of joy, pregnancy is a time marked by changes. From your growing belly and changing hormones to your revised diet and exercise routines, it seems like your whole life’s suddenly different. And one thing that’s definitely got to go is your evening glass of wine.

There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that any sexually active woman who isn’t on birth control should abstain from drinking completely, as they may not know they are pregnant until four to six weeks into the pregnancy. It estimates about three million U.S. women are at risk for alcohol-exposed pregnancies because they aren’t following this advice.

Alcohol use while pregnant could result in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), a group of physical, behavioral, and intellectual conditions that could affect the child for the duration of his or her life, resulting in anything from speech and language delays to learning disabilities and impaired judgment.

“Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” said CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking. The risk is real. Why take the chance?”

That first month — when you may have no idea you’re pregnant — is a crucial time in the baby’s development. The neural tube, which later becomes the brain, skull, and spine, and crucial organs such as the heart, are forming during this time. Drinking could interfere with their development and cause serious birth defects.

So if you’re planning to get pregnant, you should stop drinking before you start trying to conceive, not when you find out you’re already pregnant.

But while almost all obstetricians and gynecologists (OB-GYNs) advise patients to avoid alcohol altogether during all stages of pregnancy, that doesn’t mean you should panic if you had a drink before you knew you were pregnant, advised Dr. Mara Thur, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Abington-Jefferson Health in Abington, Pennsylvania. 

“Even though technically no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy, most studies have shown that fetal alcohol syndrome is caused by moderate to excessive alcohol consumption on a routine basis during pregnancy,” she said. “That means four to five drinks per day.”

Now that you know why it’s important to give up alcohol during pregnancy, here are some strategies to help you do it:

Find a replacement.

Many people drink a glass of wine or can of beer after a long day at work to unwind and relax. They might view it as a small bright spot during a stressful day. But an end-of-work treat doesn’t have to be alcoholic. Try replacing it with a booze-free beverage you enjoy, such as hot tea, a favorite soft drink, or a mocktail such as club soda with lime. There are some great alcohol-free mocktail mixers on the market these days, including Blake Lively’s Betty Buzz. You’ll still feel like you’re giving yourself a treat, but you won’t jeopardize the health of your baby. 

Tell people about your needs.

If you can’t watch your significant other enjoy a beer with dinner without wanting one yourself, ask them to stop drinking around you. If you don’t feel comfortable attending a friend’s birthday party at a bar, let them know your feelings and ask if you could take them out for a dry lunch or shopping date instead. If your loved ones don’t know what you need to do to avoid alcohol, they can’t help you achieve it.

Explore other ways to reduce stress.

There are plenty of ways to relax and unwind that don’t involve alcohol. Try getting some exercise (consult your doctor before starting a new routine). End each day with a bubble bath, complete with candles and your favorite music. Organic Bath Co.’s line of products turns any bath or shower into a luxurious experience. Be sure to check with your doctor before engaging in this practice, to make sure it’s safe for you and your baby. If you bathe, the water should be below 98 degrees Fahrenheit and the bath should be brief, as overly long baths can cause infections. Alternatively, you could ease your mind through prenatal yoga or meditation.

Be proud of yourself.

Giving up little indulgences isn’t easy. So congratulate yourself for your willpower and keep telling yourself how a healthy baby will be worth avoiding alcohol. After all, health is one of the best gifts you can give your child. 

Swapping some juice for a glass of wine may not initially seem like the most fun choice, but it’s well worth it in the end. And if you find yourself unable to stop drinking during your pregnancy, seek professional help immediately. Your child’s future health depends on it.

Dr. Jayasudha Gude, MD graduated from NTR University of health sciences in 2010 in India. After graduating, she worked in India for about a year and moved to the United States in 2012. Worked as a research scholar at Stanford University and had extensive clinical experience in the fields of Medicine and Psychiatry. Currently, she is working as a research volunteer and is actively involved in crisis counseling. She is very passionate about psychiatry and looks forward to contributing more in this field.

As a black single mother of three, history would suggest that I should always be strong and present myself as unbothered and unproblematic, leaving little room for vulnerability. If I wanted to repeat history, I would teach my children that expressing their feelings is a sign of weakness and to avoid hurt and rejection they should keep their feelings to themselves. I would then model this behavior by not talking about my feelings even in obvious difficult situations. I don’t want that for my children and while my childhood involved a lot of emotional strength training it was in a heartfelt moment between my dad and seven-year-old daughter that confirmed I am well on my way to raising emotionally intelligent humans.

My daughter witnessed a 6’3” black man cry because he misses his mom. I didn’t witness that level of vulnerability with my parents. The first time I saw my dad cry was when I endured third-degree burns at 6 years old and much later as an adult at his father’s funeral. I grew up believing that I had to be strong, and power through my feelings. It’s not that I was not allowed to cry, but because I never witnessed a display of those types of emotions. Sure, there were cry-worthy moments but just like their parents, my parents were indoctrinated with the idea that black men and women needed to be strong in the face of adversity and never allow anyone to see them feel ashamed, hurt, or embarrassed. This was the armor they needed to survive outside, but once inside they never took off their shield. I was often confused and honestly alone with buried feelings and thoughts. Later as an adult, I struggled with wanting to ask for help, but not knowing how. As a child, I thought my parents were superheroes, but as a mother, I learned that they are superhuman, capable of emotions that they tried to protect me from.

When my daughter saw my dad crying, he was sharing a memory of his mother who passed away before she was old enough to remember her. I was so grateful that he gifted her with that memory and moment. I would’ve fumbled a teachable moment if I didn’t follow up with her about how seeing papa cry made her feel. When asked, she said it made her feel sad. I explained to her that feeling and expressing emotion is freeing. Still confused, I asked her if she fell and scraped her knee would she tell me or keep it to herself? Naturally, she said she would want to tell me. I followed up with, “What if it didn’t hurt?” Still, she was adamant about telling me. I asked why and she said, “That’s just how I feel – I would want you to know how I feel.” I explained that owning her feelings is her superpower – it takes a great deal of strength to feel how you feel and share those feelings.

It is important to me to raise emotionally available children. There’s no way I can achieve that goal by dehumanizing myself in front of them. Maintaining a front of emotionless strength and power would cause me to miss the opportunity to guide them through moments of confusion, frustration, and heartbreak. More importantly, they will not gain a sense of empathy and compassion. My daughter saw her grandfather cry and while I maintain a position of gratitude for that moment, I am most grateful that she allowed the moment to happen. She didn’t ask him to stop crying or try to force him into being ok for the moment.

I spent years trying to sort through my feelings and not knowing how to express what I needed because I was confused about what I should and shouldn’t be “strong” enough to endure. I sat with problems that my parents were equipped to solve, but I wasn’t emotionally intelligent enough to recognize a problem as a problem. Instead, it was just another thing I needed to get over because “that’s life.” Only it’s not life. As an emotionally mature adult, I understand that both good and terrible things will happen, and all sorts of feelings will accompany those moments. I know that those bad feelings deserve the same level of attention as the good ones and that’s the trick to overcoming the next terrible thing. Like my daughter, I allow myself to feel how I feel, because that’s just how I feel.

While there are countless options when it comes to parenting books, unfortunately, there aren’t any offerings for children on how to survive emotionally unavailable parents. I understand the statement, “I did the best I can” all too well now. That’s all anyone can do. Ironically, a global quarantine provided us with a stellar education on communication and emotional maturity. We can better recognize the flaws in our best and can now do better. As a result, we see viral posts online on the topic of normalizing our best. I hope to see one more added, “Let’s normalize parents creating a space for themselves to heal so they can provide their children with a childhood that they don’t have to heal from.”

Shedelle Davis is a freelance reporter and entrepreneur. She published her first book in September 2020 entitled, “Dear You: Letters of Love, Gratitude, & Redemption.” She later published a book of affirmations, “Still” as well as a journal to create a self-help book series entitled, “Dear You: The Black Girl’s Self-Discovery, Healing & Growth Kit.” She lives in Lenexa, Kansas with her three children, Jagger Austin, Charlie Jai, and September Rein. Read her portfolio here!

My husband was diagnosed out of the blue with stage IV cancer. We never saw it coming. There were no alarming symptoms, just some back pain that wasn’t getting better. On the day that he received his sudden diagnosis, I became a sudden caregiver. Our lives changed immediately and they never changed back. I cared for him for 18 months, from his diagnosis until his death in April 2016.

There are now 53 million caregivers in the US alone, and caregivers make up about 11% of most developed countries’ populations.

I had just gotten my Master’s degree from Penn in Positive Psychology and began to apply the research I knew about resilience and well-being to my day-to-day caregiving. It wasn’t perfect or easy, but it did make a difference to my life and to my husband’s. I’ve put together four simple steps you can take that will make a difference in your caregiving story. I’m sensitive to not putting any more work on caregivers’ plates, so I want to stress the size of these things — they’re all manageable.

Start a daily gratitude journal.

Incorporating journaling into your routine has some major benefits, and it barely costs anything. I encourage you to make it a habit to notice and write down the good things that happened each day. Ask yourself simple questions such as:

  • What were one, two, or three good things that happened today? These don’t have to be big, just noticeable.
  • Who was one good person who made a difference?

Why it works. Humans are wired for survival, and during caregiving, that’s your focus. So if you’re surviving, you’re seeing things you need to protect yourself from. If you want to thrive, look for the good stuff.

Build mini-breaks into your schedule.

Identify something you love to do and build a mini-break around it on as many days as you can: One caregiver I know saves the Sunday crossword puzzle and works on a little bit of it every day. One person makes a cup of tea at 3 pm every day and sits quietly with it for 15 minutes before going to the next task. One husband-caregiver gets up super early and goes for a morning run before the day gets underway. I used to walk the dog through the woods behind our house. We lived in New England, so this was in the rain, shine, or (more often) ice and snow.

Why it works. There’s evidence that shows that “mental health” breaks — no matter how short — interrupt ongoing depletion and can even restore the energy you’ve spent.

Set small goals for yourself and work toward them.

Choose something manageable that, if accomplished, would provide satisfaction. Begin right away to make progress against it. You might want to start working out, for example, but there are a lot of logistics involved, especially during Covid. You might want to better understand your finances. Or, you might just want to declutter your closets.

Write the goal down and break it into sub-tasks so that you begin to focus on making it happen. If you want to get more exercise, what type? At what time of day could you do it? What programs are available online or on TV that would work? Who else could help you?

Why it works. The act of progress toward our goals, not just succeeding at our goals, gives you a sense of creating something, of being in control of something, all of which raises your positive emotions. When we feel good in the moment, we tend to broaden our outlook and see more options than we previously had. This generates a positive upward spiral. The better we feel, the more options we see, the more options, the better we care for others.

Create a “care-leading squad.”

Create a “care-leading” squad of people you absolutely trust who can help you when you need it. What do you need to be done, and who do you know who’s great at it? For example, I am not handy around the house. My friend, Nick, knows his way around a toolbox. I’m not good at dealing with anything mathematically complicated, like insurance bills, but my friend, Richard, lives for that. They became “The Handyman” and “The Numbers Guy” on my “care leading” squad.

Select the best people for each job and line them up even if you don’t need them right now. And it is important to define “best” as:

  • You can be completely yourself around them and not have to edit yourself or hide your dirty laundry — figuratively and literally.
  • They do what they say they’re going to do, no matter what.

Why it works. Caregivers are notorious for going it alone and they don’t have to. Other people matter. If you line up your trustworthy squad before you need them, they’ll be ready for you in a crisis, leading to peace of mind when you need it most. And by letting them take care of you, it frees you up to take care of the one who really matters: the person in your care.

Karen Warner, MAPP is an executive coach and president of Tangible Group, and author of The Sudden Caregiver: A Roadmap for Resilient Caregiving. Learn more about Karen and her work at

People talk a lot about vulnerability these days. It is common to hear discussions about the need to practice self-care by allowing yourself to let go of perceptions and be vulnerable. Letting go of the expectation of being emotionally strong is a challenge for many people, especially people of color. The more we explore our mental well-being, the more we see the harm caused by never letting our guard down and allowing ourselves to just feel everything. 

I experienced this many times over the last two years, no doubt because of the global pandemic and losing my dad. It was a tough time and we all experienced vulnerability that we did not ask for. However, I was a bit surprised that I learned a lot about vulnerability during my twelve weeks of remote doula training. I’m not sure what I expected, but I guess I thought it would be more technical and clinical, and less emotional and spiritual. I quickly found out during and after class one, that I would be asked to literally meet myself in the mirror and truly feel my way through this process. 

Our instructor and mentor, Latham Thomas, the founder of Mama Glow, assigned us somatic practices that required us to center pleasure, use our voices, try movement, and explore meditation and breathwork. The way in which these practices informed our study of the sacred art of doula work was through being open to experiencing ourselves as our first client. Many times the question came up for my cohort, “How will I support someone else if I don’t know what it feels like to support myself?” In other words, if I am not vulnerable and open to experiencing both pleasure and pain, how will I encourage a birthing person to fully experience pregnancy and birth? 

The truth is that birth work is intuitive and spirit-filled work. It is light work. It requires us to listen and be open. Latham shares, “Birth is our opportunity to hold hands and dance with God.”  Whew! Such a powerful image and message. We are creators of life and with that comes an opportunity to be completely open and feel everything. Birth is pleasure and it is pain; it is an opening, as well as a new beginning. As doulas, we are guiding women and families through this sacred journey, holding their hands and experiencing this most vulnerable moment with them. We are not separate from their experience. 

Through doula training, we learn so much about biology and anatomy and what our bodies are capable of. We also explore the hard parts – pregnancy and infant loss, abortion, maternal mortality, racism and bias in gynecology and healthcare, past trauma, postpartum depression, and more. Delving into these hard parts is difficult and can be triggering for some. Yet it is necessary to go there. 

As doulas, during birth and postpartum, we must show up as grounded and ready for anything. If we have not been vulnerable in our own self-work, we are not quite ready. There may be healing work to be done. We need to share our own birth stories, whether they are empowering or heartbreaking. We need to face our fears and remove our doubts and personal biases, so we can move forward and be whole. 

I learned that our own life and birth experiences prepare us to do the work of a doula in ways that reading alone will not. This requires us to dig deep and to relate to some things we already know while being able to learn what we do not know. Our pain has value. Our trauma has value. Our loss and disappointment have value. And our JOY absolutely has value. 

The path to becoming a birth worker is filled with vulnerable moments and cannot exist without them. I love that I was able to be supported by my doula siblings and mentors, who were open and able to share with me. There is a space where I know I can be open to sharing with them too, and with my clients, as we all navigate life and birth together.

If you are interested, the next Mama Glow Doula Homeschool: Level 1 Winter 2022 Session starts in January!

Connect with Stacey Spencer-Willoughby on Instagram & support her doula work!

I’m a child of the 80s, and my parents were children of the 50s and 60s. Talking about, acknowledging, sitting with vulnerability? Ha! That just wasn’t a thing. The longer I’m a parent, the more I see the value and necessity of practicing vulnerability with my children. They need to know I’m human, that I have good days and bad days just like anyone else. They need to know that I don’t have it all figured out and actually, no parent does. When I’ve done wrong or I’ve overreacted about something, I have apologized to my kids. I want them to know about humility, honesty, owning up to our mistakes. Vulnerability isn’t easy, it’s usually messy and can feel like an uphill battle at times. I often wrestle with my heart and gut telling me one thing about being genuine with the world and what my mind wants to shut out and protect me from. As long as I live, I’ll be learning what vulnerability means and what it looks like to live it out.

We can teach our children the numerous benefits of living life vulnerably. The concept doesn’t need to be associated with challenges like it so often is, but ought to be viewed as one’s ability to weather difficult circumstances and come out better in the end. Approaching life this way can help us foster confidence, authenticity, compassion, empathy, and self-love in our children.

My husband and I have two children – a daughter, and a son. We try our best to parent them similarly in that we don’t teach our daughter “only girl things” or our son “only boy things.” That’s outdated, offensive, and belittling on so many fronts. We’re teaching them about respect for themselves, respect for others, and compassion and empathy at all times. Like vulnerability, these topics are messy and can require a lot of dedication and work. It’s all worth it t though, it has to be. To teach my children what it means to let yourself feel all the things, to let others share in those feelings and experiences with you, and to come out stronger and wiser because of it all is a task I take seriously. Do I mess up? All. The. Time. Am I going to keep working on this? Absolutely.

As for how I was raised, I get it. Like me and like every other parent on the planet, my parents were doing the best that they could and taught me what they knew to be true. If vulnerability, acknowledging the spectrum of emotions, and emotional intimacy aren’t modeled for you, it’s quite hard to learn how to model it for someone else. I’m grateful for my upbringing and the dozens of ways that my parents provided for me and taught me well. I’m grateful too for friends, college professors, life experiences, etc. that have shown me the value of vulnerability and how critical it is to truly live the human experience well. My hope is that when my children look back on these years, they will remember a parent who was real with them throughout life’s highs and lows and who showed them love, nurturing, and acceptance with courage and strength.

Kelli Blinn lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband of 14 years, their 11-year-old daughter, and their 8-year-old son. In addition to her work as a labor doula, Kelli is a childbirth educator, an infant feeding specialist, and a peer recovery supporter for pregnant and postpartum moms with the POEM program. In her free time, she enjoys listening to podcasts, going to concerts, meeting friends for coffee or cocktails, and anything having to do with potatoes.

Connect with Kelli on Instagram, Twitter, and on her website,!