8/17/2018

Pregnancy Safe Skin Care

Pregnancy Safe Skin Care x Ashley Neese

Early on in my pregnancy I switched out a few of my skin care products to make sure everything that I use is safe for growing a tiny human. It’s amazing how fast the little one goes from an embryo to fetus and with skin being the largest organ I wanted to be sure I was nourishing myself and this tiny human in as many ways as possible.

Within just a few weeks of being pregnant I noticed my skin was going through big changes. It was drier than usual, I had dark circles under my eyes and my body temperature was rising which created more sweat than I was used to. Out of all of the body changes that pregnancy has brought on, the higher temperature has been welcomed as my constitution tends to run cold and I have zero complaints about constantly having warm feet! Needless to say, I decided to add deodorant into my skin care regime which to be honest I never wore very much before pregnancy.

There are many conflicting studies in the dermatology field about how much our skin absorbs and what percentage of the products that are used actually get into our bloodstream. Our skin has multiple layers and varies in thickness depending on what part of the body we’re looking at. For example, the soles of our feet tend to be thick therefore won’t absorb nearly as much product as our face or head which has a 5-10% higher absorption rate. I’m not a scientist or dermatologist, but there is plenty of research out there that certain chemicals in skin care like retinoids/retinol (especially taken orally) are toxic to growing babes. Here is a great list of ten common skin care chemicals to avoid during pregnancy. I’ll add that these are great chemicals to avoid even when you’re not pregnant!

All of the skin care products I’ve been using for the last 6+ years are clean and chemical free. A few of them have ingredients that haven’t had enough testing to be sure they are 100% pregnancy safe. When I found out I was pregnant it was a matter of switching out  those products and adding a few new ones in.

My main motto during pregnancy with skin care has been less is more which isn’t that different from my pre-pregnant philosophy. Refining my skin care routine has been a good practice for me and helped me become more of a minimilast with my skin care routine. I’ve also really been enjoying creating new skin care rituals as a way to take care of myself and enjoy alone time connecting with myself. I know when the babe gets here I’ll be lucky to get a shower so I am spending more time in these skin rituals!

Below are my go-to pregnancy safe skin care products that I use daily (aside from the shampoo as I only wash my hair once a week).

Also, I haven’t been using a salt scrub much during pregnancy and have instead gone back to dry brushing a few times a week. It’s been great for my lymph, circulation, and keeping my skin soft and smooth.

Pregnancy Safe Skin Care x Ashley Neese

Face Wash
My favorite face wash for the last three years that I’ve been using throughout the pregnancy is Annee de Mamiel’s Restorative Cleansing Balm. The aroma is incredibly grounding and I love the ritual of wiping off the balm with a warm cloth. My skin is left well hydrated which means I don’t need to use as much oil afterwards. When I first started using it, I wasn’t sure how well the balm was going to clean my face as I had been using cleansers that stripped more oil from my skin. Once I got used to it, I noticed a huge difference in how my skin glowed and have been a devotee ever since.

Toner
The two toners I’ve been loving during pregnancy are I-Sun Soothing Relief Face & Body Mist and my old standby Heritage Rose Water Toner. The I-Sun mist is cooling cucumber and has been wonderful in this summer heat. I typically use this one morning and night before I put my face oil on. The Rose toner I keep in the fridge and give myself a few spritzes when I’m home and wanting to cool off. I also carry this one around in my bag and use throughout the day to refresh myself. Now that my sense of smell is super heightened from the pregnancy I’m enjoying the toners as a way to relax too as their scents are so restorative.

Face Oil
I’ve been a True Botanicals fan for a couple of years now, using their Clear line and loving it. When I got pregnant their co-founder Hillary suggested I switch to their Hydrate line which is 100% pregnancy safe and very gentle on the skin. I was reluctant to stop using the Clear oil and serum as I had experienced such epic results with them, but I trust their knowledge and integrity. I made the leap to the Hydrate oil and have been super happy with the results.

I’ve also used Annee de Mamiel’s Pregnancy Facial Oil and have enjoyed that as well. I’ve been switching back and forth with the Pregnancy and Hydrate oils and have nothing but good things to report. Both companies use the highest quality ingredients, are masterful with their essential oil blends and have made my skin very happy.

Serum
I’ve stuck to the True Botanicals Hydrate serum since week three of the pregnancy. It’s light, easy to apply and when you use it after your face oil it penetrates deep into the skin for ultimate nourishment. Since the serum is traveling father into the skin it is key to use one that is completely safe for pregnancy. This serum also blends beautifully with the True Botanicals Vitamin C Booster which I have used 1-2 x per week during pregnancy to give my skin an extra collagen boost and keep it bright.

Pregnancy Safe Skin Care x Ashley Neese

SPF
Given that Vitamin D is essential for fetal development I haven’t been wearing sunscreen on my body while pregnant. I have been going in the sun as often as possible to get as much of this vital nutrient as I can. On days when I will be in the sun for more than 30 minutes I have been using the True Botanicals Everyday Sheer in Light on my face. I just apply it once on top of the face oil when I leave the house and that’s all I’ve needed. I tend to like a little sun kissed glow on my face in the summer and aside from a few extra freckles haven’t had any issues.

Shampoo + Conditioner
I’ve been using the True Botanicals shampoo and conditioner for the last year and haven’t found the need to change because they both work really well. I’ve probably tried at least 10 other brands of clean/organic/etc shampoo and I am a big fan of the lather that True Botanicals has been able to achieve. Also, products that you use in the shower go right into your lungs as you are breathing them in through the steam so it is essential to use non-toxic products in the shower.

Soap
I am totally obsessed with the Bathing Culture soap. I like to joke that it is the modern day Dr. Bronner’s. It has a complex scent which might not be for every pregnant person, but I love how earthy and woodsy it is. Super sudsy, refreshing and biodegradable.

Belly Butter
I did a ton of research on stretch marks during pregnancy and everything pointed me to Shea butter. I love the blend created by URB Apothecary that is specifically for pregnancy. It smells great and works well. I use it on my belly, boobs and hips, basically any place that is growing and stretching! When went through 4 jars of that belly butter and now I’m using the Sun Potion Shea Butter and am loving it. It comes in a larger size which is great and I am enjoying the simplicity of using a single ingredient. I use this shea butter in all the same places after showering. It is thick and takes a while to absorb but as of now I have no stretch marks!

Body Oil
My go-to body oils are Jiva Apoha Happy and Mother. The oils are the highest quality and the scents from essential oils are next level. Applying them on my arms and legs post shower is so relaxing and restorative. I also will apply on my neck instead of wearing perfume. Jiva Apoha also makes a Baby oil which I cannot wait to get for infant massage when then babe gets here. People constantly tell me that I smell good which is also a bonus!

Deodorant
Last year I was given the No B.S. Ursa Major deodorant and used it a handful of times. I liked it, but as I mentioned, wasn’t much of a deodorant user until I started sweating so much in pregnancy. This one is amazing because it’s safe, it works, and unlike many natural deodorants I have tried it doesn’t stain clothes. Double points for this in my book!

*Please note this is not a sponsored post. These are products I’ve been using love to share about.**

Photos x @mariellevchua x @paigegeffen

8/6/2018

Reflections On the Second Trimester

Relections on the Second Trimester

The first trimester of my pregnancy journey was rough. It brought me to my knees in ways that I didn’t expect and taught me some essential lessons in becoming a parent. One of the biggest takeaways during that time was the shift from focusing on myself to focusing on the babe growing inside of me. It sounds obvious, but it was much more challenging than I anticipated.

Once I hit around fourteen weeks the debilitating nausea and the depression that came with it began to fade and by sixteen weeks I noticed a huge spike in my energy levels, internal resources, and creative energy. It is similar to that feeling I get when I am moving from the menstrual phase of my cycle (where I am exhausted and needing loads of rest) to the follicular phase (where I have energy and am ready to get out there and work/socialize/exercise). After experiencing such an arduous few months, the changes in my physiology and emotional states were met with heaps and heaps of daily gratitude.

My second trimester was full of travel, work, and opportunities to take care of myself in new ways. Even though I had more energy, I knew that I need extra rest and to make sure that I scheduled plenty of time for it, especially while traveling. This past May, at 16 weeks pregnant I taught my annual breathwork retreat in the California desert. I set a very clear intentions in the couple of weeks leading up to it to take really good care of myself on retreat by regulating my energetic output, booking massages, and taking naps. I was a little nervous before the retreat knowing that I was going to show up with different boundaries than I have had in the past while teaching on retreat. I also had a strong felt sense that I was going to be embodying the precise intention for weekend: softening.

I am constantly in awe of how possible it is to know what we need ahead of time. Last October I started planning the retreat for May. During a morning breathwork session I received the download of what the retreat was supposed to be about, where it would be and all of the classes I would teach. It came through so clearly and quickly that I felt it was exactly what I was supposed to be holding space for. Within two months I had booked the venue, created a beautiful media kit, did a very quiet launch on my website and got my first signups. The flow was there.

When planning the retreat last year I had no idea I would be teaching it four months pregnant and that all of the deep, inner work I would be doing leading up to the retreat would be all about what I titled the weekend: The Softening. Interestingly, or cosmically, depending on how you want to look at it, our baby is due this October, almost exactly a year after I set this larger intention not only for the retreat, but ultimately for myself. When we’re being true to our hearts and living in integrity we always teach what we need the most. Always.

Teaching the retreat while pregnant was such an incredible experience and one that I will hold with me for the rest of my life. Being willing to show up as I was, needing more time to myself than I was used to and holding such a strong container for myself taught me many lessons in what it means to guide from my felt sense and from undeniable embodiment. I have been teaching for the last fifteen years and in some ways feel that I became a teacher that weekend. It was such a quiet initiation, yet one that had been brewing for many years.

Relections on the Second Trimester

During my second trimester I had the honor of leading the opening ceremony for the #inGoophealth Summit, a dream of mine since they ran the first one last year. Sitting up on the main stage that morning guiding the participants into their breath and bodies felt like another personal and career milestone that I know was shaped by the pregnancy. While I was nervous before they called my name to walk out in front of the crowd, as soon as I sat down and looked around the room full of 700 people I felt at home. For one, I wasn’t up on stage alone, I had this tiny miracle of a life developing inside of my body. I also had this level of calm and confidence that I experienced while teaching the retreat the previous month. It was clear to me that everything in my life was changing in ways I never anticipated and I continue to be amazed by this experience of becoming.

While my work life ran smoother than I anticipated during those second trimester months, my relationship with Nic hit a huge wall which was terrifying and also eye opening. We had been struggling in a few areas in our dynamic before the pregnancy and as you might imagine, those areas surfaced so intensely as the pregnancy progressed and had to be addressed head on. What I came to believe during that time was that I was totally capable of co-parenting should we decide to part ways and that I had enough support to get through a separation. This was a big piece of personal expansion for me to lean into, that I had the strength to be a mother in whatever way that was going to look.

What I also came to understand during those fiercely painful weeks was that I wanted to do the work of being in this partnership. I wanted to dig deeper still. I wanted to unpack our negative cycles, break the long standing survival patterns I developed in childhood and create an entirely new paradigm for our relationship. I wanted to get messy, vulnerable, and rewire my system to create a larger capacity to tolerate the emotional pain I feel when we are in those cycles. Because what I know in my heart to be true today is that we are not our cycles or patterns. Those survival strategies I had to establish early on in life were no longer necessary today and in fact they were keeping me in a state of isolation and feeling like I had to do everything on my own.

I stood at a crossroads a number of times during those weeks. Each time I made the decision to show up for the relationship because I knew that the only way to heal my past and the parts of our relationship that need healing is lean into them. I also knew that the only way Nic and I could really see if what we want in our relationship is possible is to unpack all of the layers we’ve accumulated over the years and begin the process of breaking down our negative cycle. I wanted this for our family no matter what the outcome.

When I made the commitment to stay and show up, I did what I’ve done in the past that I know works well for me. I reached out for support. I got myself back into therapy. We got back into therapy too. I scheduled extra self care sessions for massages, body work, and exercise. I slowed down with teaching and clients so that I could have the energy to do the emotional work that was needed. And I am still making space for all of this.

I’ve also spent time each day, especially when days are tough talking to our baby, letting our baby know that it doesn’t need to take any of our stuff on, that we love it so much and that none of our issues as a couple have anything to do with them. Each time I take a moment to pause, put a hand on my belly, and check in with the baby I immediately tap into my adult self, become 100% present and know in that moment I am doing something really important for this babe’s development.

Moving through the second trimester has been gloriously expansive and deeply reorganizing. During those months I had countless experiences of feeling like I was living my purpose and truth in ways that felt radically different from experiences I’ve had in the past. I also went though such emotional turbulence in order to get down to the root of some deep-seated issues that need to be addressed in my body and relationship. Ultimately, the second trimester brought me to a place of further simplifying my life in order to pay more attention to the things that matter most right now, my health, this growing baby, building a new foundation with Nic and prioritizing myself and our family over everything else, including work (which is really huge for me!).

Now that I am a few weeks into the third trimester and reflecting back on the last three months I am full of gratitude for the lessons I have learned, for the challenges that surfaced, and for my willingness to do the kind of work on myself that is crucial in order to be the kind of parent I want to be. As someone who has experienced a great deal of trauma in my life including my own birth, I feel hopeful in this moment that so much more is possible. Sometimes I get discouraged and wish that my past was different and that I had better tools for healing and integrating the trauma much earlier in life, I trust the timing of life and how it continues to unfold and reveal itself to me. I also know in my bones that everything I have been through has made me who I am today, and as challenging as that can feel some days, I wouldn’t trade any of it for another life or anyone else’s experiences.

Here’s to leaning in.

Here’s to trusting the process.

Here’s to letting go of what we think it should feel like.

Here’s to creating space for our past to integrate into our present.

Here’s to softening.

x

Photos x @mariellevchua

7/20/2018

Setting Healthy Work Boundaries During Pregnancy

Working while pregnant can be very challenging. Even after reading many incredible pregnancy books (I’ve shared my go-to reads here) and supporting countless pregnant clients over the years, I had an idea in my head about what my work life was going to look like while pregnant. I was also convinced pre-conception that there was no way I was going to get morning sickness if I drank daily bone broth and ate enough protein.

At six months pregnant I am here to report that very little has gone as I imagined pre-conception. In order to for me to dive fully into this experience and stay grounded and sane I’ve had to majorly adjust the expectations I had on what I could manage work wise while pregnant. For someone who loves working as much as I do it has been a difficult yet welcomed life change to do less and less as my pregnancy progresses.

That morning sickness I thought I would never get came in hard during my first trimester. Starting at around three weeks I was pretty much too sick to do anything and had to take a serious look at my schedule. With a book manuscript due, a full load of clients to support and several classes in the works I made the call to reschedule everything that I could to just focus on writing the book and taking care of my body.

Sending out that first round of emails to let clients and work collaborators know I needed to cancel or reschedule was tough. I realized during that process just how much pride I have in showing up to my commitments and not being a person who cancels or reschedules. I felt how much pressure this rigid belief created in my body about what it means (that I am lazy/unprofessional/non-committed) when I cancel and need to take more care of myself. Even though this wasn’t the first time I have needed to shift my work schedule to address my self care, the belief showed up again to be unpacked and integrated. I saw clearly through that experience that this was a big lesson in becoming a parent as well. I needed to practice putting myself and my family first.

This might all sound obvious, but honestly I was worried about money too. I already knew that I wanted to take at least three months off work for maternity leave and felt like I should work as much as possible before the baby arrived. Thankfully, I have an incredible partner who helped support us both so that I could get in the rest I needed without being fearful of not having enough money.

As I eased into my second trimester, it felt like I was finally back online and like a better, more updated version of myself. I was bursting with creative energy and after teaching my annual breathwork retreat in the spring, took on a bunch of new work projects and corporate clients to celebrate the occasion. For the majority of the second trimester I hummed along working at a fast clip, feeling like there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do! I spoke at conferences, shot videos, launched an online course, saw loads of clients, worked on the book. I even got inspired to start doing more personal writing again. I naively had a sense that I could keep going like this until the baby arrived.

Not quite. Nearing my fifth month of pregnancy my energy started to wane a bit, Nic and I were having tremendous difficulty in our relationship, and I ended each day completely wiped out from working and emotional processing. I started to feel tired all day and was having a hard time showing up for work, myself, the baby and our relationship. It became very clear to me that in order to make the most out of my last few months pregnant I would need to pull back from work.

There was a part of me that was disappointed that I couldn’t do it all. I went though a period of feeling bad about myself, feeling like there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t keep up at the pace I’d been going. I went down the social media rabbit hole looking at images of pregnant women running their own businesses and going full tilt until just a couple of weeks before their due dates. Scrolling through those posts made me feel worse. Gratefully, I’ve had enough experience and was able to get off the comparison train fairly soon and remember that each person is different and each pregnancy is different. The loudest message for me during that time, the one that I felt in every inch of my body, was to begin the process of pulling back and setting myself up for an early maternity leave.

Over the last few weeks I have been establishing new boundaries around my energetic output and making decisions about what I need to take off my plate and what can stay work wise. It has been incredible to feel how much has changed since sending those initial emails in March. Looking back on where I was at two months pregnant, the sickness, the book writing and needing to cancel/reschedule clients and classes, I am in awe of how easy this part of the process has been. I have done a great deal of breathwork to get super clear on what my body, mind and spirit need to prepare for the birth and welcoming in this baby and what kept surfacing was space. Interestingly, space is exactly what I needed to carve out to call in this baby and it feels good to have come full circle in this pregnancy, to connect those dots and really give myself time to process this major life transition and initiation I am in.

Allowing the intention for space to inform my decision making process around work has been invaluable. It has helped me define my boundaries, be realistic about expectations (for myself, partner, and clients) and given me so much more energy and excitement for navigating the third trimester. I’ve also got enough money in the bank to last until baby gets here and Nic and I have worked out a plan for when I go on maternity leave that feels good to both of us. I am feeling grounded, supported, and looking forward to enjoying these last couple months of pregnancy, to do the deeper work I am called to do, and to pull my attention more inward than it has ever been.

Moving through the process of establishing healthy boundaries in my work life has been very empowering. I am learning to trust myself in new ways, lean into my relationship with Nic (more on that in another post, it’s such big growth for me!), and follow the intuitive hits I am receiving about what this baby needs right now, what I need, and what my relationship needs. Stepping into this next phase of pregnancy with a desire to really listen to myself and trust in the unfolding has given me a new level of self confidence that I know will serve me well in all aspects of my life.

Last week I sent out a newsletter letting everyone know about my early maternity leave as well as a few emails to corporate clients and collaborative projects. As scary as it was (just a little bit!) to close my practice until the new year it has felt so good to do. Every one of my clients has been incredibly supportive and encouraging and many have reached out to share their own experiences of becoming mothers. What I feared could make my practice fall apart (me taking this much time away) is actually doing the opposite, it is bringing us all closer together and creating a deeper level of community. I cannot tell you how good it feels. My body feels open, relaxed, and full of gratitude.

In addition to the newsletter and writing emails to put larger projects on hold, I wrote an email that I sent out to a few podcast hosts to let them know what was going on with me and see if it would be possible to reschedule our interviews in the new year. One download that I received in my breathwork practice was that I not only needed to take maternity leave from teaching and clients but from interviews as well. The email I wrote, which I made adjustments to depending on who the recipient was, felt like a culmination of everything I have been going through recently and was a real pleasure to send out. Each person that received it supported me 100% with so much enthusiasm and love. One woman also suggested that I post the email on my journal to show how an example of how I am being compassionate towards myself and listening to/taking care of my body during this precious time.

I’ve never shared anything like this before but her suggestion lit something up in me. Here is a version of that email:

Hi ____________,
 
I hope this finds you well!
 
I am still deep in the throws of book editing and having just started my third trimester have decided that the best thing for me, this babe and our family is to take much of August and all of September off for early maternity leave. Our babe is due October 4th but I have a feeling they are coming a bit earlier.
 
I am completely honored that you have asked me to be on your podcast and I so want to do the interview with you, but I need to put it on hold until the new year. I’ve been taking a long and deep look at how much I’ve been working and it’s humbling to say the least. I love what I do so much, the classes, clients, conferences, etc but the amount of work I have on my plate isn’t leaving me with the amount of space I am craving to do more of inner work I want to do before this babe arrives.
 
I’m in a place of needing to pull back, edit and refine my expectations of myself. It’s such a wild and beautiful and tender initiation. I have closed my practice to new clients and am wrapping up with my on-going clients over the next few weeks until I am ready to step into that seat again. I am moving many of classes into the digital realm so that I can generate income using less energy. And my partner and I are in deep with couples therapy re-establishing some essential pieces for ourselves and this new babe.
 
All this to say that I would still love to be part of your podcast, we’ve been listening to it over here and LOVE it, I just need to circle back with you after the babe arrives and our family is well established in our new rhythm.
 
The way I have operated for years has been to just push through and do the thing I am super excited about (your podcast in this example) and right now I am needing to hit pause and trust in this unfolding I am experiencing and this deep deep call to go further into my body, psyche and heart to prepare for the birth of this babe, the birth of myself as a mother and the birth of this new family we are creating. It’s just so major!
 
Thank you for taking the time to hear me, I am sure you get this 100%, and I am making a note in my calendar to follow up with you in the new year.
 
And please let me know if this doesn’t work for you or your podcast, I have so much respect for your work and time and want to be sure this feels good on your end as well.
 
Wishing you a wonderful week ahead and thank you again for being part of my journey.

My goal with these journal posts is to be transparent about what my life looks like and how I am showing up for the unfolding. Sharing this email is my offering to you on how we can take deeper care of ourselves, truly honor what we are going though (pregnant or not!), lead by example of what it can look like to run a conscious business, and allow others to see and feel our humanness.

A few years ago I never could have written an email like this. That rigid belief I wrote about earlier ran a major part of the show in my life and I pushed myself constantly, to the point of burnout. What I’ve learned through earned through slowing down, regulating my nervous system, and taking time each day to breathe and connect with my body is that setting boundaries in my work life is essential not only to my health and wellbeing but to the quality of the work that I do whether that is teaching a class, sitting with a client, or writing here on this journal.

Being pregnant has already radically altered my life in ways I am uncovering and exploring each day. There are so many unknowns in pregnancy and is has been imperative that I learn to surrender to the massive changes that are taking place inside of my body and set my life up in a way that gives me the space I need to be present for it all. I don’t want to look back on this part of my life and feel like I missed it. There is no way to know how you’re going to feel emotionally, physically, or mentally during pregnancy which is one of the reasons remaining flexible and adjusting the expectations we have on ourselves is paramount. Setting boundaries in our work life is ultimately about creating the space we need to live in our truest, deepest alignment.

x

photos x @mariellevchua

7/10/2018

Interview x Lauren Haynes

I discovered Wooden Spoon Herbs about a year ago and was instantly drawn to the brand for their incredible packaging and well, vibes. When I began my research I discovered the woman running the business, Lauren Haynes lived in my home state of Georgia and was crafting herbal medicine and creating an entire apothecary line from American grown herbs with a specific focus of using traditional Appalachian plants. I was so intrigued by her niche and process I started following her on social then reached out to learn more.

In our interview Lauren shares advice for new business owners, how she stays motivated, her self care philosophy and some amazing resources for those interested in deepening their herbal knowledge. Lauren is super busy these days building out her new lab in the Georgia woods (amazing right?!) and I am grateful she took the time for this interview.

Side note, I am obsessed with her Sunshine Cider. It’s been a huge immune support!

Looking back to the beginning, what advice would you have given yourself when you started your business? 

Buckle up ’cause it’s gonna be a wild ride. I really didn’t know what I was getting into at all! So thankful for the naivete of just going for it.

Do you have any additional suggestions for women starting their own creative business?
Devote time each day to do the part of your business that is your passion,even if it’s only half an hour. It’s a great way to avoid burnout and remind yourself why you do what you do.

What are the most popular Wooden Spoon remedies?
Anxiety Ally
Moontime Magic
Super Green Protein Power
Rosy Cocoa

What is the philosophy behind how take care of yourself? 

Keep it simple and that everything can be medicine, those are my philosophies. A nourishing meal, a five minute break, taking time to put a nice outfit on – all those things can be medicine. I try to take it slow and connect to the present as best I can.

On tough days what keeps you motivated? How do you get unstuck?
I try to remember that life’s a trip! It’s such a strange miracle that we’re alive at all, and I shouldn’t waste too much time in a funk or overly stressed. I can stop, put on a happy record, take a couple drops of CBD and move on. I also like to walk to the creeks and river behind my house and hang out.

Biggest insecurity and how you’re moving through it.
My biggest insecurity is related to navigating all the regulations of herbalism and business. It freaks me out. I just have to take it one day at a time, knowing how many people I am helping and that I’m never out of options moving forward.

Share three books on your nightstand.
Southern Folk Medicine by Phyllis Light.
Hippie Food by Jonathan Kauffman.
What the Plants Know by Daniel Chamovitz.
Also, stacks of old American Herbalist Guild journals.

How do you strengthen your intuition? 

Taking risks and working with tarot.

Something about you that will surprise us. 

I used to play bass guitar in an all-womyn Ramones cover band called the Hormones, but my real dream is to be in a psych folk band.

When are you the best version of yourself? 

On a lazy day strolling through the woods looking at newly-emerged flowers with a hot tea in hand.

Who would you love to meet for tea? 

Hildegard of Bingen, a radical nun, herbalist, composer, visionary who lived in Germany in the second century of the current era. She wrote heady music, drew insane botanical mandalas and channeled so much magic and herbal knowledge through migraines. Amazing. Ok, also I’d love to do an herbal consult with Solange over tea.

What are you most grateful for?
I’m so thankful I found herbalism! It has truly changed my life for the best. I’m also super grateful for the amazing piece of land I live on, the feral cat that adopted me, and my wonderful family.

Photos x @brookebragger

7/6/2018

10 Incredible Books for A Holistic Pregnancy + Birth

I’ve been researching pregnancy and birth for the last five years to support my clients and to eventually prepare for my own pregnancy. As you can imagine there is so much conflicting information out there it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. Pregnancy and birth choices are also often very polarized which can leave you feeling like you don’t know where to turn.

I am fortunate to have an incredible doula and CEO of LOOM, Erica Chidi Cohen, as one of my closest friends and I’ve taken extensive prenatal yoga trainings over the years. Having access to such invaluable resources and the time to devote myself to them is a privilege that I am acutely aware of. Just a few Google searches on the standard level of care for pregnant women in the U.S. is terrifying, and it only gets worse for women of color and trans men wanting to carry children.

Making the decision to have the least invasive pregnancy and birth possible has been one where I have felt somewhat isolated. Even in the holistic minded circles I spend much of my time in, the desire for as close to a natural pregnancy and birth as possible is rare. I recently attended a pregnant mamas gathering in L.A.. Before the yoga class the teacher had us go around the circle and share our name, how far along we were and where we planned to deliver. Out of nearly twenty women I was the only one who planned to birth at home. It was such an odd experience saying that aloud as many of the women looked at me completely shocked. I had a brief moment of thinking, Oh god, is this a bad idea? Thankfully, I have enough practice working with my body and my intentions that I was quickly able to let their shock go and enjoy the rest of the class.

And there are my parents who believe that I need a ‘real doctor’ and not a midwife team. One of our midwives graduated with a nursing degree from Yale and Ivy league schools carry serious weight in our family. That fact coupled with the reality that women have been pregnant and delivering babies for eons wasn’t enough to calm their nerves. I love my parents, this isn’t about that at all. Throughout this pregnancy the choices I am making around this particular type of pregnancy and birth experience are often viewed as hippie or unsafe in my family. This is where having a solid birth team (I’ll journal about that soon) and foundation of supportive and factual literature has proven to be a huge assistance to this process of becoming.

Before I diving into the books, I want to share that there are many ways to have a natural pregnancy and birth. Natural birth is a widely used term that means something different for each mother or parent. I like to think of it more as lifestyle choices than the nitty gritty of a specific diet or birth plan. Pregnancy and birth are intensely personal for the individual and there is not a one size fits all plan.

There are many approaches in the books I’ve recommended and different types of suggestions to help you navigate each humbling and rewarding experience that is part of becoming a mother or parent. My go-to advice when reading is take what you like and leave the rest. Some of the books have food suggestions that will feel more aligned with you and some will seem over the top. Being pregnant is a time of honing your intuition and connection to your body, spend time cultivating those relationships and allow them to guide your process. My motto with everything during my pregnancy has been soft, softer, softening. This has been key to keeping me present for everything that has surfaced and given me room to dismantle the judgment around my experiences and simply be in them.

Also, there is frequently a missing piece in our culture around the actual babe that is growing inside of us and how that sentient being is on their own journey. We can plan as much as we want to and it is imperative that we stay open and flexible for whatever reveals itself. We are co-creating here and the more time we spend tuning into the little one in our bellies the stronger that connection will develop once they are out in the world.

My biggest takeaways from all of these books is that pregnancy and birth can be a time of profound change, deepening intuition, psychic and physiological reorganization and empowerment provided we have the necessary support to do this life altering job with as much love, care and grace as possible. Being pregnant has brought me to my knees, especially in the first trimester and simultaneously been the most healing and grounding experiences of my life.

There is no way to know what our experiences will be during pregnancy or birth. What I am sure about is that having substantial and nurturing education is a key piece for supporting ourselves through this massive transition and upgrade.

Spiritual Midwifery

The classic on home birthing, natural childbirth and birthing stories. It takes the mystery out of birth while keeping in heavy doses of hippie. It is on the mystical side which of course I love. If you’re considering a home birth or are just curious about it I highly recommend this book. It was one of the first birthing books I read years ago and still stands to be one of the best. The stories in the book are very empowering to read and there is a plethora of collective wisdom in its pages.

The Natural Pregnancy Book: Herbs, Nutrition and Other Holistic Choices

Another one of the first books I read about natural pregnancy and it still stands up today. It’s a classic handbook if you’re seeking a safe, organic, eco-friendly and integrative approach to pregnancy. It’s full of medical, herbal and nutritional information that is presented in a clear way. It is also a great resource for natural solutions to many common pregnancy symptoms.

Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, Early Motherhood and Trusting Yourself and Your Body

A book that speaks my language. It’s a beautiful blend of research backed wisdom and intuitive guidance for every stage of pregnancy and the birth process. Nurture is an all-in-one book for mothers and parents seeking approachable information on fetal development, making choices for a hospital, home or birth center birth, the basics of breastfeeding and tips on what to expect postpartum. It also has recipes, remedies and exercises for each stage of pregnancy as well as tools for getting you and your partner prepared to become parents. Also, the feelings wheel in the communication section of the book is beyond life changing.

Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year

An accessible and easy to read book full of herbal remedies for fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, lactation and newborns. This book is part of a series of herbal books for women and I recommend them all. It is packed with easy to follow recipes, information and loads of herbal allies for a range of issues including high blood pressure, morning sickness, emotional changes, anemia, muscle cramps, bladder infections, and preclampsia.

Birthing From Within: An Extra Ordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation

This is a great book about self-discovery and the rites of passage that take place as you become a mother or parent. It offers many insightful journal prompts, meditations and painting exercises to help you get clear and come to terms with this next phase of you life. Looking back I felt pretty clueless about how deep the transformation would be during pregnancy and to be honest was taken aback by how much came up for me emotionally. This book was really helpful in that area. It also offers techniques for techniques for coping with labor pain without drugs, baby basics and glimpses into the postpartum process.

The Female Pelvis: Anatomy and Exercises

This book is a must for learning about your pelvis and how it changes during pregnancy and childbirth. I’ve been studying anatomy for years and the explanations in this book are gold for seasoned teachers like me and for those who have little or no knowledge about their pelvis. The series of practices in this book are well written, very effective and gradually build on each other so that by the end you have increased flexibility, strength and coordination of your pelvis and how it functions.

The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Childcare

Prenatal nutrition is a huge topic and this book is a dense yet accessible reference guide. It walks you through nutrition for fertility/conception, each stage of pregnancy, postpartum and babies and children. It’s a fascinating read, especially the pregnancy sections. Learning when certain organs are developing and what to eat to support their growth is such a wonderful way to connect to your body, babe and overall experience. I will say this approach isn’t for everyone, I for one have had a great deal of difficulty eating organ meats while pregnant. I have however, gained tremendous insight from these pages and have implemented many of the suggestions including daily bone broth, extra fats (butter/ghee) and green veggies.

Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful: Experience the Natural Power of Pregnancy and Birth with Kundalini Yoga and Meditation

This is basically the text book for one of the prenatal yoga teacher trainings I took four years ago. Parts of it are very woo (which I love) and much of it is super helpful. There are loads of great yoga postures and poses that are very simple and effective to help prepare your body and mind for birth. There are also many beautiful meditations and songs for connecting with the growing babe in your belly and your partner.

HypnoBirthing

This is an invaluable book for explaining why it’s important to learn bring ourselves into a state of calm throughout the labor process. It is one of the recommended books for the child birthing class we’re taking and shares many tools to support you being calm at each different stage of labor. The tools in this book are a wonderful addition to any breathwork, yoga or meditation practices you already have in your back pocket.

Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: A Doctor’s Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices

Fear of labor has been a big challenge for me to lean into. This book walks you through all of the choices available so that you and your partner and support team are clear that you are comfortable with . It has incredible depth and insight into understanding the labor process, sharing what the body does and why which I found very grounding. So much of my fear has been around the unknown and this book helped me settle into the fact that my body knows what to do and even if something difficult happens I have agency.

 

Photo x @mariellevchua

© ASHLEY NEESE 2018