Creating a Calm Space: Podcast Episode #114
Today Amber Brant of The Coziness Consultant talks with Alyssa about how new moms can create a calm space in their homes in the midst of chaos. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Alyssa: Hi, Amber. Good to see you!
Amber: Hi! Good to see you, too!
Alyssa: Zoom glitches and all, great to see you!
Amber: I know. Third time’s a charm, right?
Alyssa: Yes. I know. We’re going to roll with this, and I think people understand now that Zoom is not perfect. So we wanted to talk a little bit today about creating a calm space. You wrote a piece for our newsletter last month that was about the importance of having a proper environment, a calm environment, especially, for parents and especially for new moms with little babies at home. Why don’t you first tell people, Amber, about The Coziness Consultant, because that’s what you do, and then it will tell them why I’m talking to you about this topic.
Amber: So a few years ago – well, it’s been six or so years ago now – when we bought our house, people would come over, and every time they would walk in, they would say, oh, this is so cozy! When I buy a house, can you help me? And it was one of those things that, you know, after I heard it for so long, it almost got comical, where people would come to visit us for the first time, and before they’d open their mouth, I would look at Kyle, my husband, and we would just laugh because it was like, oh, they’re going to say it again! One of those things where it was like, gosh, you know, one day – maybe there’s something to this. And so I started pursuing helping people interior decorate on the side and then ended up getting certification for it and really pursuing what I have called myself, the business, The Coziness Consultant. It’s a little different than a lot of people who do interior design or interior decorating because, obviously, people want their homes to be beautiful, and I want to help them get the style, the aesthetic that they’re going for, but I also really believe that our spaces should reflect who we are and our values, but they should also help us live the best that we can in whatever stage of life we’re in. So it’s about helping people think really intuitively and intentionally about how they use their space and how they want to use their space or, you know, if they have small children, what’s practical and helps them be able to keep toys under control or keep furniture clean or whatever. How do they achieve, you know, living well in their space now, and then how does that sort of age with them? And kind of helping steer them right toward the correct priorities and also just realizing, like, there’s just some things you can’t do at this stage of your life with your house and your family, but in a few years, you can. And so let’s figure out how to make it the best we can right now.
Alyssa: I think that’s great, that you probably kind of have to get to know that individual family. How many kids do you have? How big or small is your house? And speaking of a new mom with a new baby, it would be really important, I think, for you to help with that space, because she’s a new mom and doesn’t necessarily know what she needs in that space. And you, you’ve been through this before. I’ve nursed before. I’ve had to pump before . Like, here’s what you – you’re probably going to be able to help them create this space with the things that they don’t even know they need to organize yet. You know, like if you were sitting there pumping, and then you realize you don’t – you’re getting ready to pump. You’ve already gotten your shirt off. Baby just went down for a nap, and now you realize you don’t have any clean pump accessories. So, you know, having a spare set of pump accessories that you keep next to this station or whatever. Things that they might not even know to think about.
Amber: Right, or baby is super upset, and you really need to nurse. You know, you went to the grocery store, and you were stuck out longer than you thought, and you get home and, you know, baby’s upset and you – yeah. You’re scrambling. You get your coat off and you get ready, and you have no nursing pillow or no nipple shields. And I think we’ve all been there. And no matter how well you prepare your space, you’re still going to have moments like that, but there are some really practical ways to ensure that you have what you need because all of those things, right, like any of those little stressors, they seem like little, but they can impede your letdown, or you’re emotionally so – the baby’s been upset and crying in the car, and you’re in traffic, and by the time you get home, it’s like even trying to relax enough to have a letdown to nurse – sometimes it’s hard. And so if you can design your spaces even knowing that you’re going to have those moments that are less than ideal, at least you’ll be set up for success. And you’ve practiced relaxing enough in these spaces and repeating this, you know, practice that hopefully you can relax and calm down. The space can help you.
Alyssa: I like the idea of making a space where you either nurse or pump that is almost like your calm space instead of the opposite. We think about, oh, God, it’s time to pump again, oh, oh my God, we just nursed. I have to go nurse you again, and I have to go to this space. And you’re already in this negative head space, which like you said, then affects your mental wellness. It could make it hard to have a letdown. Babies can sense things, especially feelings, and then when your baby’s upset, it’s often harder to get them to nurse effectively, so it’s just this spiral, right? So if you can have this calm space where you’re like, okay. I get to dim the lights. I know you’re really into lighting a candle; let’s light a candle, or maybe you turn the diffuser on 30 minutes before you know you have to go in, and it’s this calm space that you can enter and have a peaceful 20, 30 minutes with your baby, and look at it that way instead of it being a stressful time or a stressful space.
Amber: One thing, too, when we’re talking about those little things that can chip away or grate at it. I’d mentioned to you before, you know, we’ve all been in the car and there’s that one full water bottle that keeps rattling around on the floor, and you think, oh, I need to take that inside, or oh, I need to throw that away, or oh, when I get gas I’m going to throw that out. But you don’t do it, and for, like, a week, every time you’re in the car, you’re like, oh, that water bottle! Those are things that are small but they do just kind of stab you. It’s annoying, and it takes away too much of your head space. And I think not having organized pumping stations or designated space that’s a calm space where you always nurse – that’s going to have the same effect. If it’s like every time you sit down and you’re ready to go and your nipples are sore but you’re like, oh, I don’t have the shield – those are the little annoyances that actually have a much larger impact on your psychological health, and especially when you’re hormonal and emotional, it’s hard. Those things have a bigger toll than you realize.
Alyssa: Yeah. All those little minor annoyances become real big when it’s 3:00 in the morning and you’ve only gotten sleep in 90 minute chunks all night long. Sleep deprivation can just kind of exponentially make all these things feel monumental instead of trivial.
Amber: But I think, too, when we’re talking about that mental peace, I think – I’m really sensitive also to including moms that are exclusive pumpers because I think – you know, my daughter was born early, and she just had a really hard time. She would latch, but she wasn’t sucking. So I had to pump so much at the beginning. And a few weeks in, I just felt resentful. You know, I saw the pump as utilitarian. It was like – I didn’t feel like it was a bonding activity as much. And I think that’s another reason why creating kind of a repeatable practice or some of these things we’re talking about, like using your senses, your five senses, to create a space where you pump – that can help that oxytocin release and facilitate that sense of bonding a little bit more when you’re not physically breastfeeding. I think that’s really important. And that’s what I had written about for you, that idea of using the five senses to design your space. And this could apply to pumping or breastfeeding, really, but kind of going through a mental checklist. You know, if you have a space that’s not working, or you’re regularly just sitting in front of the TV to pump or nurse, or you’re in the middle of the night just scrolling on your phone while you’re nursing – if that’s working for you, it’s not really worth changing, but for the most part, I think those things make it really hard to go back to sleep afterward, and maybe you have trouble getting the letdown. I think going through that checklist of your senses: what are you seeing? Are you in a space where there’s a ton of clutter, or is it a cozy room that you recently painted with a fresh coat of pain or a piece of art that you love on the wall? Is there dim lighting or is it dark? What do you smell? Like you said, having either a scented candle or you’re diffusing something in the air. You know, you’re not next to the diaper pail. What do you see? What do you smell? What are you touching, feeling? Is it important to have your slippers on? Are your feet cold, or having a cozy blanket there or a good lumbar pillow support? You know, all of those things, I think. And thinking about taste, too. Is your water bottle nearby? If you’re getting up during the night, do you need – I remember at times, like 4:00 a.m. feedings or pumps, I would have fresh fruit cut up in the fridge, and I would have a few bites of fruit or a granola bar. And also, what are you hearing? Is there a noise machine or silence or a little water feature? Or maybe a medication app on your phone or relaxation. Any of those things, if you have a space that isn’t working, I think that’s a good place to start is to check in with each of those five senses and figure out how you can make tweaks to your space to make it more calming and relaxing.
Alyssa: Yeah. It’s a great place to start, and some of the senses might be more triggering for others. Like you said, is your chair right next to that diaper pail, and every time you sit down, you’re smelling dirty diapers and then you’re trying to be calm and bond with your baby? And when you eat that food, now the food tastes gross because you’re smelling poop. You know, and for me, smell is a big thing. I love – to me, diffusors with the right scent is just so calming. And obviously, you have to be sensitive with a baby, and they could have – it has to be very mild, I guess, is my point.
Amber: Yeah. What are your triggers, and then the flip side, what brings you joy or relaxation in your every day life, and making sure that there’s some representation of that in your pumping. I think, too, also just being aware of your body in the space because I think, you know, like let’s say if you have a clog or you’ve been hunched over and so you’ve got that one spot in your back that always hurts or whatever. I think we’re so inclined to think, like, oh, baby needs this. Oh, it’s time to pump. We’re not often aware of our own physical needs, and then we also don’t feel like there’s enough time to fix that need. And so it gets into this space of also realizing your capacity. For somebody who – I mean, obviously, now we have Shipt and we have options like that, if you need baby Tylenol or nipple cream. But, yeah, anytime you sit down, you immediately remember, oh, I didn’t do that thing that I needed for my own body, or I’m out of diapers or whatever. Having somebody that you can, say, right then text or holler out to, hey, put on the list, XYZ, we need this. Or I need you to run to the store. Or can you just help me? Can you bring me an extra pillow, instead of struggling through that pumping session wishing you had that thing, advocating for yourself and taking care of and being sensitive to even those small needs that you kind of just keeping letting go unnoticed because you’ve got things to do.
Hey, Alyssa here. I just wanted to hop on real quick and let everyone know about a really exciting new course that Kristen and I have been working on called Becoming. It’s all about becoming a mother, and in six weeks online, we will be giving video lessons and live coaching calls weekly with Kristen and I, along with a private Facebook community to offer encouragement and support. This six-week online class will actually be launching beta, which is our first launch, on March 22 with our live call on March 26. You can get into this beta program at a really, really super reduced price, so check us out. We’d love to have you join us and learn all about pregnancy, birth, and early parenting, and especially during this scary time of COVID. Let us be your expert guides! www.thebecomingcourse.com/join. We hope to see you there!
Alyssa: Lists have never been so important to me until after I had a baby. Your mind – you know, they call it pregnancy brain, but I don’t believe that. I think it’s mom brain. It just never goes away. I’m always focused on, what does she need, and what do I have to do for her? And it just changes. You know, now she’s almost 8, and it’s what school stuff does she need? It’s snowing out; did she grab her boots? It’s not me. Like, did I remember my gloves? No, did she remember hers?
Amber: It’s true. I know. And it’s that thing. We do it in other ways, right? Like for me, my daughter is three and a half now. Anytime she says something funny or she’s doing a new thing, I try to grab my phone and put it in a note right then because I know two minutes from now, I’ll literally be like, oh, shoot. What was it that she said? And I think having that kind of attention to your child, obviously, is necessary, and once that switch is flipped in your brain, it’s like it never shuts off. But you always are secondary for your own needs, and I think if you keep bumping up against a frustration every time you pump, or when baby gets up from a nap and you change their diaper and you’re nursing them, and you don’t have what you need in the nursery at that minute because it’s downstairs, those are really frustrating things. So I think if you can make a mental note or text someone or ask for help – and make sure you have those stations. Make sure you have things set up more than one place so that you can try to eliminate some of those simple frustrations. I think overall, incrementally, it will really, really help. I mentioned the difference between feeling, some of this practice, and utilitarian and necessary versus bonding, and I think any time you can think about your spaces as kind of this checklist of, yes, thinking about your space in terms of those five senses, and also how are you orienting that space so that it’s pulling on that emotional part of you, the love hormones, and helping you get in a mindset where you feel bonded and you’re helping your body relax and have that letdown, but also for your own piece of mind, and taking the time to invest in your space even though you have very little capacity, knowing that that’s an investment in you and your baby and your emotional health and your mothering, by taking the time to do those things, even if they seem simple.
Alyssa: We know for a mom who had to exclusively pump or pump for a long time like you did, and like you said, it felt very utilitarian – like, creating a space where maybe they, when they’re sitting in that chair pumping, they’re looking at a photo of their baby right when they were first born, or things that will help you get that oxytocin going that you’re not getting from physically having your baby skin to skin. Thinking ahead about things like that, and not just sitting there, dreading it, looking at your phone and wondering why you can’t get a letdown, but actually thinking about your baby and looking at photos. A photo on the wall of your baby, or your whole family. Things like that, to make this space just more cozy and less utilitarian.
Amber: And I think, too, for me it goes back, it’s that personal piece of taking care of yourself because I was nursing her, but I was also pumping a lot, but I dealt with a lot of clogged ducts and I had a lot of pain, and she had an undiagnosed lip and tongue tie until she was eight months old, so I was doing all of those things with an intense amount of pain. And so I think for me, there was – a part of it, too, was a resentment toward the whole thing because things were not right for me, and I was having trouble with people hearing me when I kept saying to my pediatrician and to whoever, I think she has a lip and tongue tie, and they would say, well, her latch looks good, and I’m like, well, I really hurt! I think finding somebody who would listen to me and help solve some of those problems, that also was a huge piece, because even if I had my spaces totally oriented – and I did have stations set up for success – I was still needing special care and needing to be heard to fix that circumstance, too.
Alyssa: Right. I think a big piece of this is, as you had mentioned, just ask for help. Whether you’re sitting in that chair and need a pillow and you need to text your partner or spouse in the other room, it’s asking for help. But we so often feel like we’re putting someone else out. And then if you know, it is not supposed to feel like this when I nurse. This is huge pain. You have to find someone to help you!
Amber: Yeah. And little shout-out to our doctor, that having someone finally take me serious and refer us was just lifechanging because at that point, it was eight months in, but I nursed her until she was 16 months old after that. So the literal first half was pretty rough, and the second half was really good. Taking care of me and having someone hear me made all the difference.
Alyssa: So if any new mamas want to get ahold of you – let’s say someone’s pregnant and hears this and wants to put a space together, or they just had their baby and need help with space or they have a houseful of kids, who knows – tell them how to get ahold of you, but also how are you working right now during a pandemic? Are you doing virtual consults? Are you doing some in-person? What does that look like right now?
Amber: So the best place to find me is my website, and I’m active on Instagram @thecozinessconsultant, and the same on Facebook. The quickest way to get a response from me is a DM on Instagram. And I am doing some in person with masks and socially distanced, but I have done much more virtual. I had done a few virtual appointments before the pandemic, but it wasn’t something that I was putting a lot of effort into because it’s obviously easier to be in a space, and I like interacting with the people and being able to observe them in their home and with their family. It also gives me clues of recommendations I can make. But since the pandemic has kind of forced us to be a little bit more creative, I’ve found that it actually works really, really well for consultations. So my standard consultation is two hours, and that was kind of a trial by error. I only started at an hour, and we were always pushing an hour and a half. It never felt like enough. Yeah, if anyone wants to reach me, social media or my website is the best.
Alyssa: Awesome. Thanks for doing this!
Amber: Happy to! Thanks for having me!