As a peak performance coach, Leila Lutz knows what it takes to get the very best out of people. And she had to harness all her knowledge and strength in order to bring her daughter, Shanti, into the world. In fact, her journey into motherhood has involved deep inner reflection and somewhat a deconstruction of self … and the woman who has emerged is a warrior. In this raw, revealing interview Leila shares her powerful birth story and images plus her golden tips on how to dazzle in motherhood and life.
Can you share a little about your journey into motherhood with us?
I had a totally jaded perspective on what it meant to be a mother. My mother was a single mother and worked her ass off cleaning houses and trying to run her own business. I was often left to look after my brother. Then in my late teens she had cancer and I had to look after her AND my brother. I ran a business in my late twenties/early thirties where I mothered all my staff to my own detriment. I guess as a child, that’s how I learnt that I was valuable. I had to do a lot of work on myself to set up boundaries for myself before I could even enter into the idea of becoming a mother. Through my lens, it seemed just like a whole lot of sacrificing of self and exhaustion. I also had to do a lot of work on myself so that I could accept the right person into my life to become a parent with.
In my mid twenties, I had an auto-immune disease called Hashimoto’s and my endocrinologist said it was so bad that I would be on medication the rest of my life, should take radioactive iodine to kill it off and would not be able to conceive without medical intervention as I had the worst thyroid she had ever seen. I’m so glad I never listened to her as I managed to heal through nutrition and lifestyle principles and have no issues with my cycle as a result.
Shaun and I met on Happn (yes people really do meet on dating apps) and we spent weeks talking on the phone before we met in person. I remember him telling me in those first few conversations that he really wanted kids and me telling him not to think that he could convince me to. But he said he always knew, even then, that I was going to be the mother of his babies. It was being with him that made me want to have children. We are a team in every sense of the word. He takes care of me, he values my passion and drive to have a career, he calls me on my shit and values what is truly important and valuable to me. I guess I just knew that with him, I could be a mother and still be myself. We had only been together a few months and we were in holiday in Bali and he said “I want to have a baby with you” and I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do. Three months later, we were pregnant. I remember sitting in Sunday school and hearing the story of Adam and Eve and how Eve’s sin condemned all women to have painful childbirth forever. Even as a little girl, that did not make sense to me. I had a couple of friends and a client who had done hypnobirthing and I just knew that it was the right thing for me. I shared it with Shaun and he was super keen too. He supported me all the way, through everything.
We were eager beavers, the earliest in pregnancy in the class, but I totally believed in the process and in the last trimester I practised every day. I swapped my exercise time for meditation in the bath, doing the exercises and visualising my birth. I read all of Ina May Gaskin’s books, watched all her You Tube videos. I absolutely submerged myself in the belief that birth was a calm and pain free experience. Every time people told me their pain story, it washed over me and I was able to seperate myself from it. The two weeks before the birth, when I finished work, I went all whacky earth mother and stayed home under this big tree that I just felt was rooted in femininity and earthed me. I played heaps of music and did art and got right into it. I even surprised myself, looking back on it now.
“Accepting my body for the way that it is has been challenging especially since I have always viewed my body as my business card. I always think though, when the stakes are higher, you have to be more honest with yourself about what you NEED to do to get better.”
I lost my plug late in the evening of my Mum’s birthday which was actually the assumed date that our baby would arrive. I got way too excited. I just wanted to meet her so much and I felt like I was sooooo ready to birth. I should have gone to bed, but I stayed up all night, riding each wave. To be honest, they were quite close together and so we thought it was going to be quick. I even had a few orgasmic experiences, riding those waves. We had chosen to go through our pregnancy and birth through the group midwife practice at RNSH. We had a birth plan and had stipulated our preference for a mother directed birth using hypnobirthing techniques, but I had done a lot of research on interventions so also had an exit plan stipulating at what point I was going to put up my hand for a c-section, should the need arise. I think its really important to go into this process well informed so that you can make the right decisions for yourself with the resources that are available to you. I truly believe that education gives you power in all situations. Shaun was in contact with the midwife on shift at the hospital the whole time and at 24 hours, we went in to see her.
The next 12 hours were the most horrible part of my labour. I don’t think I really connected with the midwife. I was only 3cm dilated and really tired. I think she was trying to be helpful, because I was really tired and disheartened so she kept talking induction and epidurals, but what a I really needed was a pump up. A little “you can totally do this but there is stuff to help you out if you need it, but you can totally do this” ( I even put that in the birth plan that that was the kind of coaching I wanted) I remember hanging off the back of the bed and crying. I felt totally disempowered and like nobody was listening to me. In the end, I took some Panadeine Forte because she had convinced Shaun and Mum that it was a good idea and to be honest, I felt a little peer pressured to do so. I had been refusing for a couple of hours and I think every one was thinking I was trying to be a hero. I honestly just felt alone. We went back home as I didn’t want to be induced and would be if we stayed there.
So turns out that I can’t handle codeine. It knocked me out and I fell asleep. I suppose this helped my body get on with labour, I don’t know, but I didn’t have any time to prepare for the contractions mentally. I would wake screaming, hallucinating, not knowing what was happening to my body. I had forgotten I was pregnant. I didn’t know why my body was doing what it was doing. Shaun was so tired and worried about me, he kicked the cat out of bed who had come in for a cuddle and in my hallucinations I thought he had killed her and was going to kill me. Lucky mum was with us and he got her up. My beautiful amazing loving mother came in and put her arms around me and my belly, held me said some unknown magical prayer and was with me for every contraction, sleeping on the floor in between. I do not know what I would have done without her.
That night scared me so much. If that was what happened when I was given codeine, there was no way I was going to take anything else, so I better get my shit together. In the morning when the codeine had worn off, I literally got my hypnobirthing manual out and called mum and Shaun in for a family meeting. I said I wanted to start over again. As if I had just gone into labour and I needed Shaun and Mum to take turns sitting with me and reading me the meditation scripts out loud because I needed help and coaching. Over the next 24 hours we proved what an amazing team we were. That evening, Shaun and I were in the shower together and I just knew. I had this huge rush of adrenaline and I said “it’s time to go” I look back on that now and all the time we had spent, thinking “is it time?” and I can definitely say now, that when it happens, you know. I had to keep stopping for all the surges. Getting out of the shower, getting dressed, in the middle of the road etc.
The midwife we had, Chantelle, was amazing. She fully supported us and let us work as a team. She just sat in the background and checked on our progress and answered me when I asked her what to do, or gave me some direction when I needed it. She was exactly what I had been wanting in a midwife. Shaun got in the bath with me and it was really quite magical. I was very calm and went inwards. I didn’t really notice what was going on around me. The photographer said I was the most calm woman she had seen give birth and that we were the most amazing family. I did think I was going to go ALL hypnobirthing and that she would come out with natural expulsion, but Chantelle said it just wasn’t happening and that I needed to really push. I remember Chantelle telling me to reach down and feel her head. I did, but it was like a giant water balloon. I knew then that our daughter was going to be born en-caul.
“My favourite question in all times of crisis is if love was a person… what would love do now?”
It was really hard work in the end and I needed gravity to help me. I also had done a poo in the bath (I didn’t know this until later so don’t worry about shitting in your birth ladies) so Chantelle had to change the water, so she told me perhaps stand up or sit on the toilet for a bit. As soon as I stood up in the bathroom I knew she was about to come down to us. I well up with so much emotion just thinking about every part of this moment. My beautiful man squatting and holding me with all his strength and energy because I had none left. Chantelle calling out to my mum “come and receive the baby Nanna” and my mum saying “oh” getting on her knees and Chantelle saying “No, YOU receive the baby Nanna” (mum didn’t expect she meant actually do it herself) the assist button being pushed and someone coming in the room and Chantelle yelling out “assist to receive” the click of the camera going mad. Then all of a sudden time stopped. I could feel her. I felt her head just sitting there waiting for me to surrender even more. I knew I was going to tear but that it would be ok if I breathed and surrendered and it was. Her head coming out and just sitting there for a moment waiting for that next surge and then whoosh, every part of her, every bone in her body to the finest detail, I felt all of it, all of her come through me and out of me, into the world.
She WAS born en caul. My waters broke as her shoulders came out and she landed in mum’s hands with the amniotic sac hanging down off her. She was so quiet. Not a peep. Mum passed her through my legs to me and there she was, squinting, looking at me and I just wanted everyone to turn the lights down so that she wasn’t blinded and stare at her and know her. It was the single most amazing and empowering moment of my life.
The rest was how I pictured it. I got all that skin to skin contact, delivered the placenta myself, delayed cord clamping and went home four hours after she was born.
Motherhood is …
The biggest, most confronting yet fulfilling journey into self you could go on, should you choose to take it.
As a peak performance coach, specialising in health and wellness, what do you do as a mother to stay vital … aka survive motherhood?
Breathe: It’s the quickest way to alleviate the stress response. Long, slow, diaphragmatically and in and out through your nose.
Drink: Heaps of filtered water and bone broth.
Eat: Organic, unprocessed foods that are nutrient dense and I make sure each meal is a balance of protein, fat and carbs for my body. I NEVER cut calories. We cook 90% of our food at home and always make sure I have snacks prepared so I never skip meals. Blood sugar regulation is the key to weight-loss and hormonal balance.
Move: I started rehabilitating my abdominal wall and pelvic floor pretty much straight after birth and have been very, very slowly building up from there. Working out when you’re a mum is about giving you strength and energy, not smashing yourself. I am only now, at six months, getting back to full strength workouts. I get my partner to give me time three times per week for these sessions and it’s a non-negotiable as it makes me a better person and gives me energy.
Rest: I think the biggest stealer of vitality in the early days of motherhood is sleep deprivation. I’ve been lucky with a baby who sleeps most nights, so I aim to go to bed at 9pm. Shaun works from home sometimes so on those days and at least one weekend day, he takes Shanti out so that I can have a sleep in as between 5am and 9am is when I seem to sleep the deepest.
Think positive: I’m a really high achiever and am used to running my own business with lots of goals. Sometimes being a mum, you feel like your biggest achievement was that everyone survived the day. I have to remind myself how important my contribution is to my family and just how much I achieved in the big picture of our family and life by the little things that I do.
“Being a team is super important to us and at times when you’re parenting a newborn, you can feel like shift workers taking turns. … but we are so good at saying to the other ‘you need to stop right now and I’m taking over’ and every time that happens, we just get closer and closer.”
How has pregnancy and birth changed the way you think about your body and health?
If anything it has reaffirmed what I already believe. Without your health, you have nothing and you HAVE TO come first. Bio-mechanically my body is better from pregnancy as I spent so much work loosening up my pelvic floor so I could have a natural birth, my pelvis has realigned itself after years of me doing heavy weight training. It has reaffirmed that the body does not differentiate stress, it just summates all stress as the same thing. So what signs of physiological stress I had before pregnancy, have gotten worse due to the lack of sleep etc. Optimal health is really about de-loading stress through breathing, hydration, nutrition, movement, sleep and thinking. What works for you at one point in your life doesn’t always work for all other times due to the changes in stress and our environment and our prescription for health always needs to meet our individual needs and take into consideration all aspects of our life and stress. But doing that birth, the way I wanted it, calmly and pain free, it reminds me that all you need to do is believe in yourself and take the time to work towards what you want.
What aspects of motherhood have you found most challenging?
I got a parasite in Bali before we got pregnant which had a terrible effect on my adrenals and I haven’t been able to treat it due to pregnancy and breastfeeding. The fourth trimester has been extremely hard for me as my thyroid started really under functioning after Shanti was born. It’s been really tough to be honest. There have been times where I was so depressed that I would just lay on the floor and cry while Shanti climbed all over me until Shaun got home. I am 15kgs overweight and can’t even fit into my maternity jeans anymore and I am constantly tired, even though Shanti sleeps through the night. For me, I value the choice that I made to be a mother first and foremost. That means that my nutrition to make great milk has been the priority. It’s not time for dieting and detox protocols. I only get this one chance to breast feed her. So accepting my body for the way that it is has been challenging especially since I have always viewed my body as my business card. I always think though, when the stakes are higher, you have to be more honest with yourself about what you NEED to do to get better. Making sure Shanti is a good sleeper has been a high priority so that I can get some rest. Helping her to learn how to sleep in the most gentle way I could has been the hardest thing I have ever done. It requires so much patience and consistency when all you want to do is scream, but they sense that and need you to be calm. It has also meant being house bound A LOT as she is some weird baby that does not sleep ANYWHERE except in her own bed. Honestly, I could drive all over Sydney and she just won’t fall asleep! Also, since she is such great night sleeper, I am too scared to disrupt that in case my life gets worse, so I have only been out once for dinner since she was born. But again, if she doesn’t sleep, I don’t sleep, so my health gets worse. It’s a small sacrifice to make for all of us.
When you are feeling overwhelmed with the demands of motherhood and life, what do you do?
Stop. Take a massive deep breath. Surrender and be as calm as you possibly can be. Ask what am I here to learn right now, in this moment. Often as soon as you get what you’re meant to learn, the problem usually solves itself. And my favourite question in all times of crisis (if love was a person) “what would love do now?”
“Always put yourself first. You can’t give what you don’t have … Because if you go to shit then everything around you will too.”
What do your morning & evening routines/routines look like?
Morning boob and cuddle in bed. I ALWAYS eat within 30 mins of waking up and don’t have coffee until after I have had breakfast. The dog, Shanti and I walk Shaun to the bus stop and then walk for 30-40 mins, doing breathing exercises as per my buddy Josh (@metabolicbreathing). To be honest, I’m still working on my evening routine. I know what works…a full body cuddle with shaun when he comes home. It grounds both of us and brings us back together. After Shanti has gone to bed it’s our time and we have dinner together and talk, we also always shower together and talk. Always a cup of Ovvio Chamomile Night Tea before bed and a piece of 90% chocolate.
Can you impart a golden piece of advice for other Mama?
Always put yourself first. You can’t give what you don’t have and I believe children learn from example. When you eat well, you pass on good nutrition to your baby. Your children see you make healthy choices and know how to make them for themselves too.
Do you have any personal goals you are working towards?
At the moment I am working on making peace with where my body is right now. Having all these tools in my tool box as a practitioner and a Type A personality, that’s a pretty big challenge for me. De-loading my physiological stress as much as possible. Stopping and seeing the world through my daughters eyes. I’ve honestly never met someone who smiled so much and wanted to have so much fun!
How has having children changed your relationship with your partner?
It has definitely brought us closer together and made us fall more in love with each other. We aren’t married but having a child together is the strongest bond you could ever have with someone. We are both soppy and stop for tears of amazement at how incredible our team and family is. The birth was amazing as I really felt that Shaun was my rock and would hold me through anything. It’s a big thing to feel when you’ve always been fiercely independent. If you ask Shaun, he’d tell you how when we were dating, he’d have to melt my ice queen exterior every Friday so he could have a nice weekend with me. Poor guy, but god when he wants something….. I think it’s one of the things I love most about him .
“Motherhood is the biggest, most confronting yet fulfilling journey into self you could go on, should you choose to take it.”
Being a team is super important to us and at times when you’re parenting a new born, you can feel like shift workers taking turns. We’ve also had to move house in the middle of it all and have times where we felt so broken, but we are so good at saying to the other “you need to stop right now and I’m taking over” and every time that happens, we just get closer and closer. We are constantly grateful for the way we work together and look after each other even when it’s totally shit.
Best health and wellness advice for busy mums?
Don’t follow anyone on Instagram and judge yourself in relation to what they are doing. Focus on yourself and eating real food, drinking clean water, getting some sleep and me time. Don’t say you don’t have time, make time, ask your partner, your friends for time! Because if you go to shit then everything around you, will too.
Beauty honestly comes from the inside out. Drink bone broth or add great lakes gelatine to your morning smoothie. Collagen baby.
Who is your ultimate Mama Muse?
Two of my awesome friends, @bechinzack and @palisaanderson because no matter how challenging life becomes, they put their own passions and health first and their children are passionate, healthy and curious as a result.
Favourite family holiday destination?
Byron Bay. We have a regular Airbnb we use that’s like a private compound with a pool. I spent a lot our baby moon practising hypnobirhting in that pool, so it has really fond memories. In a few weeks, we’re taking our daughter there for the first time. We love to go the farmers markets and cook our own food and visit Palisa at her amazing organic farm.
Drink of choice?
Negroni or Hendricks w cucumber (when not pregnant or breastfeeding, damn I really want one now!).
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. by Marie Kondo Every mother should read this. Get minimal and you will be surprised by how much less stuff you need, how much less tidying you will have to do and how much more joy and time you will have.
TED Talk or Podcast recommendation?
TED: Brene Brown’s are always my favourite, not only because her topic is so raw and honest, but because her presentation is so magically crafted.
Podcast: East West Healing, Ray Peat: Energy and Metabolism. I have given this one to so many clients to listen to who are having issues with adrenal health, hormone health and/or think dieting is the answer.
Birth photography by The First Hello.
UP NEXT: THE BIRTH STORY OF LEIA & LUNA