The first year of motherhood can be equally thrilling and daunting. There's so much to learn about so many topics, and often the varied advice we receive from our networks completely contradicts each other. In becoming parents and embracing the chaos that sometimes comes with it, it's normal for some of us to feel as though a piece of our identity has gotten lost in the mix. And when we can't show up for ourselves, how can we show up for the tiny humans who depend on us? Enter Marcella Kelson. Based in New York, Marcella is a life coach who specializes in maternal wellness. Her goal is to help mothers feel supported, both as individuals and as parents through her personal coaching practice as well as on a group level through her partnership with Union Square Play. We sat down with Marcella to learn more about her work, favorite parenting books and developmental toys, her own experience of motherhood and what has worked best for her family when it comes to many of the major aspects of the first year of baby's life.
Tell us about what you do.
My work is focused on supporting mothers throughout parenthood, which can often feel like a direct contradiction to individual development. I believe that we can, as women, evolve individually despite how much parenthood requires of us. My goal is to help all moms feel supported in whichever way they wish to be supported. I do this on an individual level, through coaching, and on a group level, through my partnership with Union Square Play. I also have a weekly Q & A segment, called Mom Guilt, on @unionsquareplay IGTV where I interview industry specialists about various topics related to parenting.
What inspired you to go into this field?
I've always known that psychology was my field, since I was a child and I became fascinated with dreams and dreamwork. The dream to work with mothers, however, was borne out of an internship that I did my junior year of college at the New York Center for Children. There, I learned about the impact of child abuse and neglect on development. I became very emotionally connected to the work of helping children by helping their parents. A bottom up approach, if you will. I believe that every child deserves a healthy and happy parent.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
There is not a single part of my work that doesn't feel rewarding, but I think women feel empowered, clear and confident after working with me is hugely rewarding. When a mother tells me that she finally feels like a woman and a mother, I know I've done my job.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
When a client is extremely capable, talented, thoughtful, and special but they are sitting in front of you and saying that they feel pretty useless or insecure. It is hard to sit with those moments, because I want so bad for them to see what I see.
Tell us about your son, Otto!
Otto is twenty months old, he'll turn 2 in February which is kind of crazy. In some ways the time has flown, in many it has not at all. He is a little buddha, not possessive at all, incredibly empathetic. He is his happiest in water (he is a Pisces, no surprise there). He is also a bit of a thrill seeker and knows no fear.
What are the books that got through pregnancy?
Lean in, The Fifth Trimester, and Expecting Better. All for obviously different reasons!
What are the books that got through the first year?
All Joy and No Fun by J. Senior, The Whole Brain Child by D. Siegel, and Bringing Up Bebe by P. Druckerman are probably my favorite modern parenting books. But I do like to read a lot of older material, like DW Winnicott "On the Child", John Bowbly, "A Secure Base" etc.
What has been the biggest surprise about motherhood?
How much love I am capable of feeling for someone. And how lonely and overwhelming motherhood can feel.
What has been the biggest challenge and how do you go about navigating it?
Guilt. I am constantly managing guilt on some level. Sometimes it's guilt about working, or being away. Other times it's guilt about actually enjoying being away, or needing my own time. I navigate it by talking about it, trying to understand it, and accepting it. Some days are harder than others.
Favorite Developmental toys for a...
Newborn: Just a mat! Less is more, the world is already very stimulating.
3 month old: Any mirror, collander/strainer, metal bowls or silicone brush for cooking.
6 month old: Manhattan Toy Winkel Rattle & Sensory Teether Toy, metal bowls and strainers, Stacking cups and blocks
9 month old: Fat Brain Dimpl Toy, cooking utensils, metal bowls, wooden spoons, strainer
1 year old: Hape Toy Kitchen with kitchen utensils and "food"
18 month old: Pikler Triangle with Slide, anatomically correct babies
Generally speaking, my favorite toys are books. Books of all shapes and sizes, books with pages that pop up, books with pages that make sounds, books with different materials. Books, books, books.
There are so many mixed messages about baby's sleep. Why do you think that is? What do you think is the sentiment behind the different philosophies?
As with all other aspects of parenting, there are various approaches to sleep. There are schools of parents who believe that sleep can be trained, others that believe that the baby will naturally learn how to sleep and shouldn't be taught/trained. This is something extremely personal to each family and what works for that family. I don't have strong feelings either way, I just know what works for me. We use the Ferber Method which does allow for some crying with regular check ins, but that's what works for us.
Baby led weaning or purées, what's your stance? What did you do and when?
I did a mix of both BLW and purees. I didn't personally feel compelled to choose one over the other. For example, I'd offer a sweet potato puree with a slice of avocado for him to grasp. We started solids earlier on the spectrum, under the advice of my pediatrician (5 months). Otto was a big baby, formula fed and met all the criteria for starting solids so we did, and I am so happy that we did. He loves to experiment with food and has always been a pleasure to feed. I do recommend all parents and caregivers take a CPR class so that they don't stress throughout the feeding process and they can really enjoy it.
Tummy time, how much, how often?
I think the best way to approach it is to diversify. Something a lot of people don't know about tummy time is that, according to several pediatricians I've interviewed, any time not spent on their back is tummy time. Which also means carrier time and burping. I feel like between mat time, carrier time, and burping, you'll definitely fill the criteria. Most importantly, try not to stress too much about it.
Share one piece of advice for new mothers.
Parenthood is a marathon, not a sprint. You deserve to be helped, you deserve to be supported, and you deserve a break. If you need, or simply just want help, ask for it and take it. Nap, read, workout, hang out, eat. Take time for yourself.
The best part of motherhood is...
Maybe the best part for me is also the hardest. Which is that, every day that I think I'm not strong enough for this job, I somehow find the strength. I have no doubt that I am the strongest person I've ever been as a result of being Otto's mother, and that is pretty amazing.