Mary O'Malley Learns the MAMA Tribe is Real
We met Mary through a mutual friend and instantly connected as we shared our stories about the challenges of motherhood. Mary, a lawyer in her past life, now teaches mindfulness and pilates in L.A. with a special focus on postpartum women.
Read on as she graciously shares what she's learned about healing your body and mind after childbirth. Her honest account about the difficulties she overcame (with the help of the Mama tribe!) is inspiring and refreshing:
1) Tell us about your experience as a new mother. Was it everything you had hoped and imagined it would be? Equal parts yes and no. In all honesty, I did not transition into motherhood with the grace and ease that I had hoped for. I realize now that I had set up a lot of subconscious expectations for myself and my daughter: how immediately bonded we would feel, how chill she would be, how natural nursing would happen, how my body would feel postpartum....the list goes on and on.
Those expectations were completely obliterated in a short period of time, and my actual experience was overwhelming and quite isolating initially. My daughter had a lot of challenges early on around feeding and weight gain that I had never heard of: tongue tie, upper lip tie, torticolis, reflux. She also had colic and wasn't a great sleeper, so you can imagine how destroyed I was when I saw women on social media nursing their tiny babies in public while they slept in the carrier - that was NOT happening in our house. I felt really alone and ashamed that I was doing something very wrong while everyone else was "getting it right."
Now here is the good stuff - it's not all doom and gloom. From that tough beginning came some of the closest friendships I have today because many women I knew both casually and intimately came through with amazing support. The mama tribe is REAL. Serious love and compassion and non-judgment was offered up to me honestly and openly from these ladies. I learned what it was to ask for help when I felt broken and they greeted with open arms and hearts.
Women came through in so many different ways I still cry when I think about it. And out of that healing came the understanding that I am worthy of my daughter's love; she allowed me to dig down and uncover my strength, my resiliency and my unending love for her.
I spent about six weeks trying to get Cordelia to latch, which was extremely painful until she learned to nurse correctly. At the same time, I was pumping every 2-3 hours because I needed to express my milk and keep my supply up. I also worked with a rockstar lactation consultant who spent hours with me on several occasions to help establish and stabilize our nursing relationship.
I also took her to a pediatric chiropractor and a craniosacraltherapist to work on her neck and jaw, which was very tight. In one of our CST sessions, I will never forget this; the practitioner was working on my daughter and I saw her start to really take in milk. It was absolutely amazing. From then on we were in good shape! I pumped when I worked (I made sure to schedule my clients so that I had a break to pump.) I also had to pump a lot in the car (I do live in Los Angeles!) so I had a car charger for my pump; a cooler pack for milk and a good sense of humor when people stopped next to me and saw what was happening :)
Otherwise, I was just so thrilled that we could nurse that I made sure I was around as much as possible (thankfully my job allows me this flexibility) so she could eat when need be.
3) What steps did you take to find yourself again after the birth of your daughter? I sought out a postpartum therapist to help me work through the postpartum depression that I experienced - she was incredible and really helped me normalize the situation and understand all the changes that were taking place in what is truly the biggest transition of one's life.
I also went back to my favorite yoga class taught by a woman and mother that I have studied with for years - that really helped me connect back into my body. I also studied with a women's health physical therapist to understand how my body responded to birth and how to heal, and I talked a lot to other girlfriends going through similar things. Finally, I inhaled any early motherhood stories that I could find, including podcasts. I became obsessed with The Longest Shortest Time - it felt like a lifeline for me.
Trying to find little pockets of time to fall back into things I love like reading, moving or studying helped me balance out the heavy emotional and physical workload of care-taking for a little one.
4) What inspired you to start working with postpartum women in particular? My challenging experience seeking care and answers for myself postpartum, as well as my desire to pay it forward to other mothers and treat them with the care and compassion I was offered.
The more I questioned what happened to me physically and emotionally and how it took place, the more I realized that I wasn't alone. Mothers kept coming out of the woodwork discussing similar situations, but didn't have many places to open up for fear of being shamed or stigmatized.
When I learned there were techniques and ways to heal myself, I started to feel whole again. And that made me feel like a better mother, partner, teacher and human being. So I want to share that by normalizing the postpartum experience while helping women get stronger, more empowered and more educated.
5) What are the overwhelming issues/problems you see new mothers facing? In the USA, it's lack of good postpartum care, lack of paid maternity leave, lack of support for moms in general. I also see a lot of bad information spread about how to heal the body postpartum, and social media is full of nonsense around what new mothers should look like after giving birth.
I think women are expected to "bounce back" - what does that even mean - and look a certain way without any attention paid as to how they feel inside. I also have a real problem with issues like incontinence being normalized as "part of being a mom" - this is something my colleagues and I talk about all the time. I had a client tell me she asked her OB what to do about her incontinence while running. This woman was a marathoner - running was the ONE THING she could do for herself - and she felt that it was being taken away from her. The OB told her not to drink so much water before going out for a run. ARE YOU SERIOUS. I hear this kind of stuff so often it's shocking.
6) Why is pilates the "perfect" workout for a new mother? I love pilates because it feels like art to me...it isn't just exercise, it's a mind/body connection. You move with precision and consciousness and learn how to feel more subtle connections in the body that can't be found in big movements or mindless exercise.
That mindfulness spills over into the rest of your life - it affects everything you do. So for new moms who often feel like they're living in another's body, pilates helps these women get stronger and more present and connected to themselves. It is also very helpful for healing birth injuries such as diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction, while strengthening areas of the body that take a hit from being a mom - the back, shoulders, neck and hips. Finally, it is a movement system that can be modified to work with almost any person and any restrictions they may have.
7) What can mindfulness do for a new mother and her family? Help her be present to notice and appreciate when things are going well, help her know that everything has an ebb and flow and that the tough times will eventually pass, help enhance connections with her child(ren) and partner; and help her connect to her authentic self in order to make skillful decisions for herself and her family.
8) During our conversation we were brainstorming ideas for an event for postpartum moms. What would your ideal event cover? Mindfulness for new moms, simple everyday techniques to heal the postpartum body; how to find time for and commit to self-care.
Thanks Mary for answering our questions with such openness and honesty! To get in touch with Mary you can visit her website here.