My positive birth story and how it changed me


I am a big advocate of positive birth experiences and that includes anything that has been positive for the woman in the way she has given birth and in the way she has felt about it.

Our experiences are what we make of them. Like anything in life you get what you put in and I am also a big advocate of actually ‘working’ on making your own birth a positive experience. It is not only a medical experience, it is your body and your mind that are involved and are in charge as well as the rest of everyone else involved from your birth partners to midwives, consultants, etc.

So as far as ‘working’ on making your birth experience positive there are many things you can do. For my first child I did some of it but not enough, as it transpired afterwards. I did a hypnobirthing course and read the book and did the ‘visualisations’ but they were not enough on the day and labour was long, didn’t progress well and ended with interventions. However through hypnobirthing I learnt to accept the way labour actually went and consider that experience to be positive after all i.e I was not bitter. Second time around I wanted it to be better and first and foremost I wanted to understand how it actually worked and what were the phases of labour and who actually did the work of birthing the baby.

Understanding the physiology of birth 

I learned that it was the contractions and the womb that functions as a muscle and through the contractions makes so that the baby is born (midwifes and doulas out there feel free to correct me if not exactly rightly worded).

The way I learnt about this was through a birthing doula which is an amazing person to have by your side when you go through labour.

As it happened the doula was actually not present during the birth of my second baby (as the baby arrived very quickly) but the conversations with her and the way she explained the birthing process to me were amazing and enough to make me feel confident that i can do it.

The thing I couldn’t get my head around was how could I go through labour something similar to an operation i.e as painful as that without any pain relief or anaesthetic.

And this is what I learned, I learned that my body and mind have an amazing mechanism of coping with pain, as long as I was not scared or panicking (read producing adrenaline) but relaxed and ‘in the zone’ (producing oxytocine, the love hormone and also the hormone that facilitates chidbirth). This completely changed my perception and made me believe that ‘I can do it”, ‘my body can do it” and as a result ‘took away the fear’ from me.

The altered perception of pain

From the notes my doula gave me there was a section about the physiology of birth and somewhere and the ‘altered perception of pain’ which is something that happens in the brain.

So during labour there are two types of messages that reach the brain, one is the pain from the contractions and the other is the ‘I can cope with this’ signal transmitted after going through a contraction. Apparently this second message reaches the brain faster than the first causing what is known as the ‘altered perception of pain’, or in simpler terms less pain. Dimmed lights, music, massage can help getting into that state and once there, it is easier to continue labour, feeling encouraged and euphoric.

So for me, reading and understanding that is what did it, what turned me from someone scared to give birth to someone that can understand the process and thinks ‘I can do it’, ‘it is possible to do it’. What I needed was to be in that state of confidence and belief for as much as possible. It also made me realise that giving birth is not like an operation because it is part of the body’s function and the body is built around that, and giving birth is not an external thing but completely internal.

The excitement of seeing the baby and the knowledge that the baby is what I am going to have at the end of this, made the journey acceptable and even exciting.

Other things you can do to get ready for birth 

A healthy diet – it goes without saying and for me more so 2nd time around

Having a daily rest

Lots of relaxing baths 

Sleeping on the left side – especially after week 32 it is thought to encourage the baby to position itself in an optimal position for birth which is OA (occiput anterior which means baby’s back against your tummy)

Reflexologie sessions – i did for both my children as they were both late.

Swimming regularly

Homeopathic remedies – I swear by colophylum for a quick and efficient labour. I took it for a week, after my due date with baby nr 2 and I believe it made my labour faster

Perineal massage with almond oil – I swear by this as well, for reducing the risk of tearing, I had no tears the second time round

Listening to yoga nidra relaxation tracks from the Yoga Nidra Network which are available online and free

Maggie Howell natal hypnotherapy CD – you can download them from itunes and I did that just before going into labour and listened to the track as I got into bed. It did something magical to me, it send me to sleep for 2 hours and by the time I woke up I was in active labour and only 2 hours 45 minutes after the baby was born.

Having a great birthing partner – for me it was my husband and he did an amazing job, massaging my back and thighs, holding me during contractions and being in charge at home, on his own. The plan was for us to meet the doula in the hospital but we had no time, by the time I woke up. So we stayed at home, paramedics arrived in the last 20 minutes to catch the baby and it was ‘unbelievable’.

So what about you, what has your birth experience been? Do you feel that having a positive birth experience matters? And how have you made it so. I would love to hear about it.

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Photo of me taken by my husband

I am linking to the fabulous Aby’s Linkylink!

Albanian traditional costumes in London

A little photo is up on the blog dedicated to my ‘Albanian culture and traditions’. These girls are wearing Albanian traditional costumes which are very pretty and with vivid colours.

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The Albanian community in London is very organised and there are many groups that organise events regularly, networking events, community days, fundraisers etc. The main groups are Shpresa Programme, Ardhmeria, Nene Tereza, UK Albanian Professionals (this list is not exhaustive). 

There are also Albanian classes for children to learn it as a second language in ‘after school’ or at ‘weekend’ programmes.

Unfortunately we don’t have one such class in our area of South London which is one of the reasons I keep looking for a teacher willing to run a class.

There is interest and I know a number of parents who want to do it but we haven’t yet found a teacher willing to do it. The search continues 🙂

Multitasking, is that really such a good ‘skill’ to have?

Everyone today talks about the need to multitask, and the fact that in particular women are naturally good ‘multi-taskers’. Some common combinations of numerous tasks:

1. Washing the dishes while supervising children’s dinner and cooking the meal for next day (yes I have done that in the past, with what I have called ‘tremendous speed’)

2. Taping on our smart phones while walking down the street (I see so many people do that, constantly, every day despite it being bloody dangerous!)

3. Checking on google maps for directions while pushing a buggy and frantically trying to hold a toddler in tow (me and many other mums do it regularly, trying to get to a playdate or birthday party in the middle of an unknown common)

4. Talking to family members on the landline while checking emails on the mobile (and loosing track of what is being talked about in the conversation; they didn’t notice, did they?)

5. Doing our online shop on the app, while finding recipes and ordering a gift for a 3rd birthday present (that’s called not wasting your time).

We make lists. We use apps. We work hard. We entertain. We have kids. We read a lot (blog posts, social media updates, ebooks, books). We have a social and family life. We commute. We have a side passion that we try to grow and nurture. We have wider interests.

The list can be even longer, if everything was included.

This is the kind of fast-paced life we live, where our attention is continuously divided between numerous tasks, presented to us in rapid succession and sometimes even simultaneously.

While women perform better than men at multitasking and prioritising in particular ‘in stressful situations’, as numerous studies have reported, women tend to downplay their multitasking abilities while men tend to overplay them.

However, the truth is that the more we multitask, the more we make mistakes.

Our brains are not that well equipped to deal with constant interruptions and distractions that take our attention away. It even seems to be counter-evolutionary.

My husband regularly reminds me that I am ‘putting too much on my list’, an inflationary process that ends up with some randomly selected items, dropping off my list. And the ‘to-do’ list becomes a ‘wish-list’. What was the point of the list, in the first place?

Concentrating and completing one task at the time, can sometimes be much more efficient than trying to do, three other things at the same time.

For example concentrating on pushing the buggy and holding the toddler in tow, without also holding the phone and causing it to fall and break (that would be a disaster, right?)

So in fact the more I think about it, multitasking can sometimes be counter-productive, especially on competing tasks such as checking email while on a phone call or walking. But for certain tasks it can work, such as commuting and reading, or pushing the buggy and running.

Personally I am growing tired of multitasking. 

I am going to start scanning my lists for competing items, remove them from today’s list and add them on to a new list. This way I will end up with a number of lists, based on priorities, but at least, I will lead to completion one list at a time.

Good at multitasking? Maybe, not so much for me finally. How about you? Are you good at it? How do find the right balance?

Some visual examples

Multitasking, is that such a good 'female'

http://youbabymemummy.com/the-list/the-list-45/

http://honestmum.com/brilliant-blog-posts-16th-july-2015/

My Little Star Is 1!

This is the first video on the blog. What a better occasion than my little boy’s 1st birthday!!!

He had the most incredible birth, in a relaxed environment at home, a great way to start a life’s journey.

He has been an amazing little baby to have and to cherish.

And now he is 1! He can walk, has 8 teeth, he can throw balls and he loves his brother, Edward.

This is a snapshot of Elliot’s last 6 months’ journey.

http://youbabymemummy.com/vlog/moving-pictures-3-home-movie-linky/

Why I miss being pregnant?

Alright, to be honest I don’t miss it so much.

In particular the physical side of it, getting big, tired and out of breath. Oh and I forgot, feeling hot and having bigger feet.

I read a great piece of advice, to buy shoes one size bigger. I did it and it made my pacing up and down the Northern line, much smoother

But there are two things I do miss, a little, in fact a lot.

The special feeling of having a little human being growing in my tummy and the superior mission, of looking after this fragile little creature.

Responding to that superior mission, I did so many special things that nurtured the baby but also myself.

A healthy diet. Although I was careful, I was not too obsessed in terms of risk, so I did eat smoked salmon, which is allowed in the UK. I also washed my salad only with water, as opposed to rinsing it with vinegar, as they do in France to reduce the risk of toxoplasmosis… I know, a bit too much…oh la la!!

Having a daily rest after work or at weekends.

Lots of relaxing baths. I loved soaking in the hot water, with lovely Sanctuary Spa products, relaxing music, candles and all.

Sleeping on the left side, especially after week 32 is thought to encourage the baby to position itself in the OA (ociput anterior position which means baby’s back against your tummy), one of the optimal positions for birth.

Hypnobirthing for my first and hiring a doula for my second.

I spent a lot of time reading about the physiology of birth. I read how the signal of pain from contractions, is transmitted to our brain and especially how a different signal, the “I can cope with this” message after going through a contraction, reaches the brain even faster, causing what is known as “altered perception of pain”, or in simpler terms less pain. Dimmed lights, music, massage can help getting to that state and once there, it is easier to continue labour, feeling encouraged and euphoric.

I did reflexologie sessions as both my babies were late. Having your feet massaged is amazing, I loved it.

Swimming regularly.

I took homeopathic remedies. I swear by colophylum for a quick and efficient labour. I took it for a week, after my due date with baby nr 2 and I believe it made my labour faster: 2 hours 15 minutes of active labour and a baby delivered at home, with my husband and paramedics in the last 15 minutes.

Perineal massage with almond oil. I swear by this as well, for reducing the risk of tearing.

Sex, more than now. I don’t know how that makes me and my husband look? Like tired parents of two boys, 1 and 4 year olds??

Daydreaming.

Listening to yoga nidra relaxation tracks from the Yoga Nidra Network.

There aren’t many other experiences as intense as pregnancy or giving birth. They are all consuming. Once you’ve been there it’s never the same afterwards.

That is what I miss the most, the intensity, the overwhelming euphoria from giving birth and having a new baby and all the other special things I did.

Now, if I did more of these other things, perhaps I would not be tempted to start all over again?

Why i miss being pregnant

New Year celebrations, as they used to be in Albania and how it is today for me in England

New Year celebrations are a big thing in Albania, much more than in the UK. This is because of the communist past where Christmas could not be celebrated and instead all the efforts and the attention were on New Year. We had Father Christmas (wearing the same red suit and a white beard) but he was ‘Babagjyshi i Vitit te Ri’ meaning the ‘Old Man of New Year’. So he would come on New Year’s day and give children presents. He would also represent the old year that was about to end and in a popular children’s theatre the old man is replaced by a young man, who brings along the new year and also hopes and a new start for everyone.

My son standing by our Christmas tree in London

My son standing by our Christmas tree in London

We also had the tree but again not the Christmas tree but New Year’s tree. And on New Year families would celebrate together, cooking big meals and turkey, and the traditional homemade bakllavas and kadaifs (sweets of turkish origin in Albania but very engrained in the culture). The main blocks of Christmas celebrations were there but under a different name and happening on a different date.

An Albanian speciality which remains popular is the festive New Year’s eve TV programme with songs and comedy sketches that would accompany families’ dinners until the early hours of the morning. And also the fireworks a modern addition, where almost everyone will fire fireworks from their balconies or terraces at midnight on New Year’s eve.

Our representation of New Year was wider than just the year’s end, as it incorporated all the Christmas imagery but with a different meaning and messaging. And it had the positive message of the start of a new year that would bring excitement and joy.

Communists don’t celebrate Christmas!

You may not know this but Albania is the only country ever that has banned religion and made it illegal. The communist leader Enver Hoxha persecuted and eliminated thousands of priests and religious activists in an effort to eradicate what Marx called ‘the opium of the people’ when referring to religion. Of course this was a criminal act that caused the death and sufferance of thousands of people and it remains a dark moment of our history.

So being a child in communist Albania at Christmas time was a curious thing. My grandmother was religious, with the Orthodox church and she was also born in Corfu (from Albanian parents who had immigrated in neighbouring Corfu from the south of Albania).

She had two important dates in December, the 14th of December the date of celebrating the patron of Corfu, Saint Spyridon and Christmas day.

Llukumadhe look a bit these, made by my mother

Llukumadhe look like these, made by my mother

For the first she would cook ‘llukumadhe’ a type of pancake that we would eat with a lot of sugar until we (children) would feel our bellies exploding.

For the second we would have a family dinner and she would burn candles in secret. Of course we couldn’t say anything to other people about these events as this could compromise my grandfather’s position (he was a military doctor that had studied in Russia and fought with the partisans) and consequently everyone else’s (his children, my mother’s, father’s etc.). So we had to be quiet and secretive about it.

As a child I was never encouraged to believe in Father Christmas as it wasn’t part of our beliefs. Babagjysh, the old man of New Year was a positive, religion-free figure that brought hope, a new beginning and happiness and as a child I had some feelings for him.

Christmas is back in Albania

Since the change of regime in Albania in the early 90s, religions are no longer illegal. For historic reasons before communism, people in Albania followed three main religions – muslim (brought in by the Ottoman invasion in the beginning of the 15th century), orthodox (introduced in Albania earlier as part of the Greek Church) and catholic (even earlier with the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church). So after the ‘communist religious blip’ we are back to where we were before, with most of the population being muslim, a smaller percentage catholic and an even smaller one orthodox.

Because religion has not had a very strong role in people’s lives in Albania, Christmas as a religious celebration is celebrated by a minority.

The occasion however as a general public holiday and festive day is celebrated in a different way, for example a Christmas evening booked at a restaurant with live music and a lot of dancing (dancing is a strong part of Albanian traditions).

The long journey to Christmas in the UK

I try to be weary of generalizing and I know not everyone is the same and the ways people celebrate Christmas in the UK can be different. But for almost everyone and judging from conversations and what people say on social media, Christmas is a big ordeal!

It is a big occasion when families get together and there is a lot to organise from the shopping list, to the christmas menu, the list of presents, decorations for the house, the tree, christmas music etc, etc. And there is the whole christmas branding, adverts, lights, supermarket offers, retail sales, etc. It is quite easy from an outsiders point of view to associate Christmas with commercial opportunities (for businesses and consumerism for consumers). But behind that there is a genuine element of spending time with your cousins, brothers and sisters etc something that doesn’t happen often.

My son is the youngest one and this is one of his favourite activities, going for a walk with the dog, his cousins, parents and aunties and uncles

My son is the youngest one and this is one of his favourite activities, going for a walk with the dog, his cousins, parents and aunties and uncles

Even my mother who since I started living in the UK has attempted to learn a bit of English following a ‘Learn English’ book for children said that she read in her book about a little boy who said ‘I love Christmas as it is the time when I see my cousins, who I don’t see very often, only once a year’.

So there is the family spirit and it is the one I have appreciated the most in my last 4 English Christmases.

New Year celebrations in London, candles and Hawaiian theme party

Our New Year celebrations this year in London, included a Hawaiian theme party

When it comes to New Year celebrations, New Year has less importance and is often spent with friends organising themed parties where everyone dresses up in the chosen theme.

Hawaiian party decorations in our flat in London

Hawaiian party decorations in our flat in London

New memories similar to the old ones

Without wanting to sound nostalgic I feel that although it is in a different time and space my son’s memories of Christmas will be quite similar to the ones from our New Year’s celebrations.

What he loves the most is seeing his grandparents, their dog, his cousins, being with everyone around and spending that leisurely time in each others company.

For me, my best memories of New Year were similar, the spirit of everyone coming together, celebrating and having some special food and special time. Presents were never a strong part and I hope we manage to teach that to our son, that Christmas is not about the presents only. This may prove hard as for children naturally the unwrapping of presents on Christmas day is at the heart of the excitement but we need to try our best to emphasise the importance of the company of each other, instead.

My cousins and I had our favourite activity during New Year celebrations – playing with cards and betting small amounts of money. The excitement of winning (and misery of loosing) was what kept us playing until our banks were empty. The other one was on 1st January, we would go around to our relatives houses to try some of their baklavas and also be given a small amount of cash. This was part of the tradition and we would have it every year. After doing the round of the houses we would sit down at a cafe and enjoy an ice-cream or some other sweet, in a ‘civilised way’ we would call it, like our parents would do.

I am sure my son and his cousins will have their own stock of memories built over the years.

After all that is what Christmas and New Year (in the Albanian way) are about, spending time with your cousins!

My son and his cousins playing a game of closing their eyes before opening some of the presents

My son and his cousins playing a game of closing their eyes before opening some of the presents

Christmas day 2013 walk; my son with his younger cousin; is a special photo for me that best conveys the joy of Christmas

I have included this post as part of the Daily Post theme – Happy, happy, joy, joy as this post is all about happiness at special times of the year, Christmas and New Year.

Albanian traditional costumes at the British museum

My ‘photo a day’ project has slowed down (quite considerably given that I haven’t posted a photo a day for the last two weeks) and instead of posting every day I will be posting photos that I take when I can.

Doing such a project should be fun and not stressful so I will not be harsh on myself. If I cannot do it every day that means I cannot do it and will perhaps start again when I will have a bit more time (when is that likely to be? 🙂

In the meantime I will continue my photography work, posting on the blog and writing about other things that I do as usual.

So this post and the photos are from a day of celebrations for the Albanian Independence Day which is on 28 November 1912. So this year was Albania’s 101 year of being independent from the Ottoman Empire. Albania became independent later than its neighbors as it was particularly difficult for my country to organize a strong opposition to the ottomans but also to territorial ambitions and plans from its neighbors in alliance with the big powers of the time (Russia, Austro-Hungary, France, Britain, Italy) to divide Albania between its neighbors.

But as a typical fairy tale (really?) it all ended well and our patriots declared the independence in the southern city of Vlora. The actual borders were not definitive until 1920 and in actual fact Albania lost significant territory in the south to Greece, east to Macedonia, north to Montenegro and most importantly all of Kosovo, to Serbia. That’s why as weird as this may be Albania is the only country (in the world?) that is surrounded by Albanian populations on all of its borders.

That is history and on to the present modern day, Albanians celebrate this important national day quite pompously in Albania and in different ways in other countries where Albanian communities live.

The Albanian community in London organised many celebrations, lead by the different community groups such as Shpresa programme, Nene Teresa, Ardhmeria etc. The one we went to was organised by Ardhmeria in collaboration with the Albanian ambassador in the UK. The author of a book about the war in Kosovo was also invited and presented his book ‘Flying with kites’ which can be bought on amazon for those wanting to learn more about the conflict.

And finally the photos I took of beautiful Albanians that live in London wearing Albanian traditional costumes. But also of other people attending the celebrations.

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20131217-143341.jpgI have posted these photos on Facebook before so they will not be new for my friends there. I wanted to share them on the blog too with other blog friends.

Let me know what you think.

Delicious Albanian dishes from amazing Mrizi i Zanave

Three beautiful and delicious dishes from Mrizi i Zanave restaurant, in the village of Fishte, near the city of Shkodra in Albania.

The village is also known from Gjergj Fishta, who wrote a collection of poems “Mrizi i Zanave” although his masterpiece that gave him the title of national poet, is the national Albanian epic “The highland lute”, first published as a whole in 1937 in Shkoder that recounts Albania’s historical battles for freedom and independence from the Turks and Montenegrins.

“Mrizi i Zanave” restaurant has now grown to be famous in Albania and abroad, with its original menus and combination of the traditional with modern elements. It is set in the countryside, run by a chef-entrepreneur Altin Prenga, that is from the area, lived and worked in Italy for a number of years and returned to Albania to open his own restaurant. The enterprise employs local people and cultivates its own produce and sources others from local farmers. It is also part of the “slow food movement”.

“Mrizi i Zanave” was also visited by Rick Stein in his culinary journey “From Venice to Istanbul” where he sampled an Albanian speciality of “hand-made pasta with chicken and spices bake” (Jufka me mish pule).

The first dish below is a selection of starters, including a selection of pickles with pickled peaches amongst others, olives, homemade bread, fresh feta cheese, homemade fruit syrup and cloves of garlic and a pie with spinach and corn flour.

The second dish is a selection of grilled aubergines and deep fried flowers of courgette or zucchini bush, in batter.

The third dish is lamb shishkebabs, with potatoes and fresh porcini mushrooms from the mountains of Puka, further up north of Albania.

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Just looking at these images makes me want to go back to this place. If you’re in Albania and you’ve never been, don’t wait any longer. And If you haven’t been to Albania, well maybe it’s time to think again?

A friend as written an excellent review of the place Mrizi i Zanave, the subtle savour of culinary delights of Northern Albania

 

The daily post at wordpress.com today was about Food for the Soul (and the Stomach) and I chose this post as one that perfectly addresses the theme.

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