In our monthly Mothersphere column, we sit down with moms to learn their authentic accounts of motherhood thus far. We believe sharing our lived experiences can provide resources, empathy, and community for all moms — whether they’ve just conceived or are a decade or more into their journey.
In this conversation, we chat to McLean McGown, a motherhood coach, postpartum doula, lactation educator, counselor, nutritionist, and more. After McLean’s first birth had a few challenges, she felt called to become a postpartum doula and it led to her second birth being a completely different experience. McLean is a firm believer that a holistic approach helps women embrace all the parts of their journey with clear vision, strength, and grace. She also takes into account the emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of the maiden to mother transition. Read on for more of McLean’s personal experiences and professional (but never prescriptive) advice.
Q: Firstly, can you share with us a little bit about your family? How many members in your tribe? What are their ages and names?
A: I have a family of four that includes myself, my husband, David, and my two daughters, Jemima (who is 11-years-old) and Goldy Wolf (who is five-years-old).
Q: Did you know you always wanted to be a mother?
A: I always knew I wanted to be a mother but it was chill. I didn’t look at babies and freak out. It was just a strong knowing that someday I would have one girl. In fact, I was a staunch “one and doner” (I even made that IG hashtag). As the only child of my parents, I had step brothers but grew up solo. One child was what I knew — and thought — I wanted.
Q: Did you consciously conceive or was it an unexpected blessing?
A: I prepared my body for conception but it was over a decade ago and that meant a lot of green juices and vegan food. I have always been a wellness junkie, I started yoga at 15-years-old, never drank or really did any drugs, didn’t wear fragrances or make-up. So there was not a whole lot to “clean up.” My husband is a good bit older than me and we had assumed it might take a while to conceive. Nope, I got pregnant before we were even “trying.”
My second came in on our seven-year wedding anniversary, a wonderful yet shocking surprise. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, she was the healer I didn’t know I needed.
Q: We’d love to learn about your pregnancy. How was your experience carrying? What were some of the exciting moments and some of the challenges?
A: My first pregnancy at 33-years-old was so hard. I have the MTHFR gene mutation and was taking a prenatal with folic acid (not the folate that we now know is the better choice). For the first seven months, I was extremely nauseated and could barely eat. Over my first trimester, I lost ten pounds. It was brutal. I had imagined drinking my liter of green juice and hiking daily but the reality was far from that. It was an inward and solo journey but I loved my girl so much and knew that we were in it together. I meditated a lot in a dark room.
My second pregnancy, at almost 40 years old, felt amazing. I walked five miles and swam in the ocean daily, and was mostly vegan, but ate eggs and some fish. I loved every minute of this pregnancy. It was different because I was a different woman, having already been a mother, and now a doula. My second pregnancy was very self-empowered. Sidenote, as a then and now recovering vegan/vegetarian, back then I craved hard-boiled eggs during my pregnancies and so I ate them — and I ate a lot of them. Now, I would do things differently. I would for sure prioritize animal-based broths, liver capsules, and raw milk like I do in my current diet.
Q: Did you feel any major shifts during this period of your life — whether they were physical, social, or spiritual?
A: Yes. EVERYTHING CHANGES. Literally everything changes. I always say that pregnancy offers an opportunity for one of the most fast tracked spiritual awakenings that is unlike any other — that is, if you are open to it. If you don’t like massive change, I recommend getting a dog and not a baby. Nothing can prepare anyone for the constancy of motherhood. Nothing. No class, book, or expert. It is soul work.
Of course, we also have the physical changes that are wild and expansive and affects each one of us differently. For women who have equated a lot of their identity with their bodies, it can be very confronting. I also know that our American society tends to pathologize and view pregnancy as a deficit, a weakness, if you will — which then creates fear. Fear of eating real food, fear of working out, fear of doing hard things. Instead, what we need to be doing is training mindfully and with strength. Birth, especially unmedicated birth, is one of the most athletic events of a womans’ life.
And then on top of all of this, we have the emotional changes that come with leaving behind the maiden as we usher in the mother. It is common to also have sexual trauma rear its ugly head during labor and delivery as well as any deep mother or matriarchal wounds. In a word, it’s BIG. ALL OF THIS offers an incredible amount of topics to work with and heal. For many of us, this is the opening where we finally give ourselves the space and attention to go within — to listen to ourselves in a new way and to heal. It is truly the most exquisite awakening.
Q: What supportive practices and tools did you use to nourish yourself and your growing baby during pregnancy?
A: Time alone, long walks daily, meditation, lots of prayer, slow yoga, daydreaming, floating in the ocean, oil massages, chiropractic care (I even walked to my chiro during labor for adjustment). Also, I gave myself any food that I wanted while ignoring the price tag. You betcha I treated myself to Erewhon’s Mint Energizer Smoothie whenever I wanted 🙂
Q: Birth is incredibly individual. Each mother’s journey will be unique. However, sharing our stories can provide universal insights for other mothers-to-be. What is one thing you loved about your experience and one thing you’d do differently?
A: Both of my births were so different. It is hard to do the comparison justice in just a few words. If you want to hear the whole download, check out Episode #004 of my “Mother The Mother” podcast.
But the topline is that in the first birth, I labored quickly and was totally dilated within three hours. For various reasons, I ended up transferring from the birth center to the hospital to give birth to my daughter. It left me in shock and I was not embodied through the experience. It was far from my desired experience. My second time around, I was in early labor for 24 hours. Once she (quickly) turned, I birthed with one big push on my bed at home. She was born en caul (with the amniotic sac still intact) and was caught by my husband. It was my dream realized. Magical beyond belief — and still absolutely hard as fuck. I am not a woman who finds birth “easy.” When I am in it; it 100% feels like a death, and I must be willing to “go there” in order to get to the other side. Each time while in transition, I question wtf I am doing. Why didn’t I just schedule that c-section??!!! But then I make it to the other side, just as women have done since the beginning of time. Nobody can ever take this superpower from you. My second birth changed me, it closed the loop, and helped me to heal from my first birth experience.
Q: Over the first 40 days of your little one being earthside, how did you feel? Did you have a supportive network around you or did you remain fairly private?
A: As a Postpartum Doula and Motherhood Coach, this is my favorite topic to chat about! So, for my first postpartum, I did not know anything. I was driving two days later, my husband went back to work the next day, I lost all of my baby weight within days and was like, “Oh cool, life is back to normal now.” Ha! So a year and a half later I tanked. Obviously. It made me realize there was a great big void in postpartum care and gave me the inspiration to fill the gap and led to me becoming a postpartum doula. Again, this was 11 years ago and since then major postpartum education has been put into place.
Six years later with my second child, I knew better. I prepped a lot of the things myself and then had a dear Ayurvedic friend drop off my postpartum meals every few days and also rub my feet. My husband went back to work immediately again and my eldest daughter was now in school, so it was cozy to be alone, just me and my baby. I craved silence and space. I was very strict with my “First Forty Days.” I barely left the house and if I did it was to stroll. I had very few visitors, just my straight up VIP. At just under 40 years old, I came out of my postpartum time feeling fabulous. I felt nourished in mind, body, spirit. People were asking me, “What did you do? Botox? Fillers?” – and obviously the answer was no (I mean, never!) — I was just relaxed, probably for the first time in my life, truly relaxed with a calm nervous system. And that makes anyone look really good. Honoring my postpartum shift this way, is still one of the most (if not the most) incredible and luxurious gifts I have given myself. Real self-care and soul care is absolutely priceless.
Q: Since becoming a mother, how has your self-care changed?
A: Honestly, I don’t do a lot and it has to be fast and effective for me to engage with it! Everyday, I do use my bio-frequency device (called the Healy), meditate, pray, use Agent Nateur face oil, and smile. Most days I walk three or five miles and stretch. I was a yoga and Pilates teacher and it helps my body release overall stress. I do not welcome much drama in my life. I no longer engage in friendships that do not refill me. I do not have a major skincare routine (although at almost 45-years-old, I probably should start one). Every night, I take a bath with salts or magnesium or delicious oils. I try to do my sauna a few times per week and get a massage maybe one to three times per year and one facial per year. Pretty minimal. When you have two kids, or however many kids one has, intention goes a long way. If you intend it, if you can see it, if you can feel it, then it can happen. I always say three minutes is better than no minutes. If that is what you have, use that. Look at choices and practices as the long haul. This is a marathon. Everything you do adds up over the week, the month, the year, the decade.
Q: What are some of the resources — be they books, nutrition, practitioners or rituals that you’d recommend to other expecting moms or mothers in the parenting years?
A: I love the books, The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother and Awakening Fertility: The Essential Art of Preparing for Pregnancy both by Heng Ou and Amely Greeven. I also love the Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson. I actually recommend not reading too much. Let your inner wisdom guide you and when you need resources, you will find them. I love Abhyanga Ayurvedic oil massage any time, but especially postpartum. I also love a good baby and mama blessing that is a spiritual ceremony to honor the birth rite of passage, in lieu of a more traditional and consumer-based baby shower. Hire a wonderful coach or doula and birth team that make you feel loved — and if you aren’t, switch it up. Remember that your OBGYN and pediatricians and midwives all work for you, not the other way around. Own it. This is your birth, your life. Plan accordingly.
Q: What rituals or routines do you implement to foster a deeper connection with your little ones? If you are a mom of multiples, do you set time aside to be with each of them individually?
A: Presence. That is my goal when I am with my kids. However, I am with my kids A LOT of the time and so I am not always fully present — but I am there. My kids will know I devoted many years to them. It is my hardest and highest work — and to me it is worth it. I create a home and a lifestyle that is very integrated and honest. We do our best to all get quality alone time with one another and in particular, I have found each child does need special alone time with a parent. We also still play musical beds and spend a lot of time together as a family. As my oldest child inches closer to teenagerhood, it is very important to me to spend more quality time with her. Our children need us. They truly deeply need us, at all ages and stages. We often think that the first few years are the hardest — but I do not think that is true — they are more rigorous for sure, and physically daunting and exhausting. But life is a vertical line learning curve and parenthood and certainly motherhood is always full on — the details just change.
Q: Motherhood often means finding peace within the chaos. We are big believers in managing our mood in order to show up consistently as the mother we know we are and want to be. What are your favorite products from THE FULLEST Shop that support your mood and help you stay centered?
A: The saffron bath products! These are my retreats into self to help me be resourced to show up as I most want, in my highest version.
McLean McGown is a Motherhood Coach, Postpartum Doula, Podcaster, Prenatal & Postnatal Healing Guide, Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher, Hypnotherapist, Pilates and Meditation Teacher, Lactation Educator Counselor, Death Doula, Reiki Practitioner. She thanks her highest gurus, her daughters Jemima and Goldy Wolf, for leading her to this path and helping her find her true self. It takes a village to raise a mother, not just a child.