I Can’t Stop Crying | A Complicated Conversation that I would rather have with you in person but feel compelled to write about tonight

Today, in a landmark decision, the Texas State Governor cancelled Medicaid funding in the state of Texas for Planned Parenthood, the leading abortion provider in the United States. The Governor has made it clear in his written statement that the state of Texas firmly supports both women’s healthcare and unborn life.

Other states are mired in legalities over this topic, and everyone is bursting at the seams with their own opinion and idea of whom we should support, and how.

Abortion is, and will continue to be, a complicated conversation, and a legislative battle in our country.

When I was a senior in college, I worked at Super Target. It was our first year of marriage. I worked full time to support us, while Benjamin was a full time student. I was also finishing a few senior-level classes and my senior thesis.

A co-worker at Super Target had four children, all grown and around my own age.  I remember talking to her one day about being a newlywed, and we got on the topic of birth control.  I was saying something about how we were being extra cautious not to conceive at this time of our lives – both still in school, about to graduate in less than a year, and myself being the only income (besides my husband’s work study job, which we all know how much those pay!).

She lightly said something to the effect of, “Well, if anything unexpected happens, you can take care of it easily.” She told me after she and her husband had two of their children, they conceived an unexpected third. They were poor, and she was beside herself at the idea of another child, at that time of their lives. So she had an abortion. Later in life, they went on to have two other children, when they were more financially stable. She encouraged me that I shouldn’t worry about birth control too much, because there was another option for an unwanted pregnancy.

I sat in my chair in the Super Target clerical office, completely stunned. I guess I had naively figured most women who have had an abortion, when they are “all grown up”, they probably regret it, or at least wonder about their baby.

I couldn’t help but wonder…. she had four healthy adult children. I’m guessing she loves her children, and has grandchildren from them whom she also loves.  I couldn’t reconcile the idea that one of her children, who would have been just as amazing and precious as the four living ones, never had a chance. If she had birthed all five of them, and lost that middle child when he or she was five, or ten, or eighteen – would she have had the same nonchalant attitude about that child?

If you are reading this and you’ve had an abortion, I love you. Whether you feel it was the right decision and stand by it; or whether you regret it and can’t forgive yourself for it; or whether you have mixed feelings and thoughts because…. it was complicated then, and it’s still complicated now. The last thing I will do is judge you for your reasons and your decision. Judgement doesn’t breathe love, and love is what is breathed into every human life at its conception.

We don’t fight civil wars anymore over issues that tear our country apart. Instead we post Facebook articles, write hashtags, send emails to our Senators, listen to media tell us what to think, gush with like-minded friends and un-friend people who don’t agree with us.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I documented my pregnancy in a weekly photo blog. We had waited ten years of marriage, and I felt I had been waiting my entire life, to have a baby. We purchased an iPhone app called Sprout that gave us insight into what was developing with the baby on a week-to-week basis.

 

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By the time a woman misses her period and takes a positive pregnancy test, the cells are in place that form the base of the child’s brain. The baby is the size of an apple seed.

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By ten weeks old, the baby is the size of a radish, has a head and skeleton, and can be seen in a sonogram DANCING.

……………………………………………………….

I don’t generally consider Facebook – or any online format for that matter – to be the right place to express my deeply held values or discuss inflammatory and complicated topics. I prefer to have deep, meaningful, heartfelt conversations face-to-face, where I can hear your story, you can hear mine, and we can understand each other. The human touch is key to resolving conflict; and Facebook, email, and text message don’t do a great job with that.

You don’t have to agree with me to be my friend. I don’t have to agree with you to be your friend. I have friends of many faiths, genders, and nationalities. Our friendship or our business relationship doesn’t hinge on our agreement about a slew of topics (otherwise, who would have friends?!).

What I want to be, as a human and a Christ-follower in this world, is to be part of the solution to the problems I see. I can’t fix the world. I can’t even fix myself and my own kids! The solution for me, is to support women, to support mothers, in the ways I know how. To be a playful partner to children around me. To be a better friend. To be a better parent. To love people who are lonely. To continue wrestling with the possibility of foster care or adoption in growing my family.

Because God is love and love comes from God. And there’s a lot of hurting people who don’t feel loved right now. Born and unborn. Those people – all of them – are where I am called to love and serve.

So today, I can’t stop crying. For the babies. For the mothers. For the lonely people in our world today. For a raging conversation that tears friends and nations apart. For a desperation to see life and freedom where there is death and darkness. Oh God, would you give us more of Your love. Would You help me express more of Your love in this earth. The world needs Love.

Eating Rain + Imperfections

 

Then he took the camera from me and shot his very first photos.  I have to say, I’m impressed.  Especially considering he didn’t even look through the lens.

One of the things that is important to me with photos, is to show people who they really are.  Hopefully, what they really are like on the inside; what their face looks like when they gaze at one they love, how they laugh, and how their family looks when they are together.  It’s a gift really.  It’s also the primary reason I don’t do a whole bunch of skin smoothing and various “photoshopping” of skin and shadows.  I do it sometimes, for random zits, for certain types of shoots, or people who ask for it (and pay extra for it since it’s really time consuming).  But I truly believe that people are beautiful.  And I think it’s important that we embrace who we are.  And if we don’t like something about ourselves, maybe it’s something we can improve upon and maybe it’s not.  When I look at the faces of those I love, I don’t see wrinkles and grey hairs and too-big noses.  I just see deep inside them, and their face to me IS them.

So I didn’t lighten my under-eye circles in this photo, or smooth my eyebrows that needed to be plucked.  I did remove a zit from my forehead because it isn’t always there, it just happened to be that day and I’d rather forget about its appearance.

But this is the way my son sees me every day.  This is how my face looks when I’m gazing happily at him (which I am in this capture).  And with every wrinkle and grey hair, he knows it’s me.  (Actually I pluck out the grey hairs so they aren’t apparent quite yet).  (I embrace many of my imperfections but am still in denial about that one).

Super Boy | Halloween 2013

I love that I accidentally captured this sweet moment, something we do all the time without thinking about it, a gentle ruffle of the hair, pat on the head.  This Daddy loves this boy like mad.

This expression is one he makes when he is talking, or about to say something. Contemplative.

 

Benjamin said we needed photos of Jax in the car. Apparently Superman has a car?

 

And this awesome friend of ours showed up to church and played guitar on stage like this. He is a family doctor, and a dear friend.  Apparently he was dressing up to support the new song we introduced that has a bit of a bluegrass feel (“Bring Your Kingdom Here” by Rend Collective Experiment).

We are not in total agreement, Benjamin and I, about what we will “do” for Halloween.  I don’t like scary yard decorations and scary costumes and the general ugliness that pervades every street and every grocery store and everywhere else you go that you didn’t necessarily choose to bombard yourself with blood and gore and witches and blargh.

The part about Halloween that I like, is an opportunity for kids to get dressed up in fun costumes, which they always love.  I also like when our church used to do these awesome neighborhood outreaches, in the middle of the neighborhoods where our small groups would meet.  We had so much fun, and tried to just bless the neighborhood around us with a fun, safe place to be.  We did chili cook offs for the parents, and games for the kids…. we had live worms and all sorts of crazy funness.  I miss those.  I think it’s that kind of experience that Benjamin remembers, and would like our kids to have.  A time to have fun and be silly and dress up.

Last year I contemplated dressing Jax as cupid and taking photos.  He was so chubby at that stage of his life, and would have been perfect.  But I never got around to it.

On his first birthday, a dear friend gave him this Superman onesie, and I’ve meant to dress him up as Clark Kent ever since then.  His tuxedo wasn’t the right kind of suit, so we stuck with the shirt/pants/tie part.  I had glasses somewhere, but couldn’t find them.

This is the fun we had this year for Halloween. Dressing up our little one, for one of the few years he will let us.  I started putting together a Mrs. Incredible outfit for me, out of closet items.  Considering that I actually own red leggings and black boots, that’s a good start.  If I go through with it, I will post pics.

Outside of the fun dressing up stuff, I have a hard time with Halloween in general.  I worked in theme parks as an Entertainment supervisor for many years, and Six Flags “Fright Fest” was a huge time of year for us.

I’ve had my absolute fill of skeletons, animated props, dismembered limbs, cockroach displays, and gory makeup.  I’ve painted enough haunted house walls, and fixed up enough haunted displays to last my entire life.  I’ve helped renovate regular haunted houses, vintage style houses, clown houses, 3D houses and more….  I know a lot of the tricks of the trade, and most of them are laughably simple. I always refused to enter the houses when they were dark and operating, even though I knew every nook and cranny, and was friends with all the actors.

I just don’t like fear. Or death. Or ugliness. And I prefer not to make light of such things. I just can’t feel that little boys and girls walking around looking like someone beat them up, is funny or pleasant, when these things happen in real life, to real children, every day, in every city.  I’ve heard too many unfathomable stories from our foster agency, to want to see any child “play” at injury, death, or wickedness.

Secondly, I work pretty hard around here to help my family, and my son, eat well.  We are nineteen months in, and he probably has had some kind of dessert less than five times. He’s never had candy. I know it won’t be forever, and I don’t intend to deprive my children of lovely sweet treats for their entire lives. We are also gluten free, which means that half of what is passed out at Halloween, we can’t have anyway.

That’s my soapbox. The part I don’t like.  The good stuff is fun to be had as a family.  And costumes.  I’ll just stick with my little Super Boy and see what we can do about the incredibles (although I can guarantee Benjamin won’t be wearing tights).

Ginger

 

As Jax gets older (and more mobile), he is therefore destined to get into more things.  I’ve been trying to use this to my advantage, by placing toys at his level for him to access at any time, or opening “safe” kitchen cupboards for him to unpack while I cook.

It made me remember an incident at Christmas that I don’t want to forget.

My niece, Piper is two.  She is delightfully loving, busy, and into everything.  She can climb almost any piece of furniture, and open any bag.  So if you want your purse or backpack to be “safe” from her inquisitive fingers, you have to put it on top of the highest shelf in the room.

I learned this lesson the hard way (as did Piper).  I left my purse on the kitchen island, which is bar height, with bar stools.  Piper climbed up the bar stools and onto the island to explore my purse.  My phone was with me, or I’m sure that would have been her first choice.  As it was, she instead went for a bottle of capsules in my purse.

My sister Tabitha, Piper’s mommy, discovered Piper with my purse open, things everywhere, and powder from open capsules on her lips.  She only slightly paniced, restraining herself while calling frantically for me, to find out what her daughter had consumed.  I arrived at the scene to hear Piper saying, “Spicy!!!”

The capsules were ginger root, dried and ground and capsulized. I keep them with me to help with digestion.  Good thing for Piper I don’t take any medicines, and the only things in my purse and pill box are various herbs and spices.  The worst she got out of trying to eat the pills in my purse was the bitter, spicy taste of ginger.

Yum.

Also, we wore this outfit weeks ago when it was still winter here.  I’m not sure whether to pity the Americans still stuck in the blustery drudges of winter, or the south Texans who are grimly welcoming summer in February.

A Little Less Selfish

Today we’ll be cooking up a storm.  Just a small storm, since our guests are bringing part of the meal too.

My parents have this amazing value for including and welcoming people into our home.  It’s true at all times of year, but especially true at Thanksgiving.  I used to get upset about it, because gathering a bunch of different, sometimes awkward, people into our home on a holiday just seemed to take away from “family only” time.  HOW SELFISH.  I am now SO grateful to my mom for inspiring me to open my heart more, give a little more, make space for people.  Especially those who are alone.  What a terrible time of year to be alone.

So this year, when she asked me who we should invite, I started suggesting all the lonely people we know who might not have a place to go.  As it turns out, our church has the same heart that my parents do, and most of these folks were already welcomed in someone else’s home.

It’s something about this American culture that makes us selfish with our holidays instead of generous with them.  It convinces us we need to eat more, buy more, accumulate more, want more, MUST HAVE MORE.  Ugh.

Ugh in my own heart for the places where this is true.  I usually put together a Christmas wish list, excited for the various things I might get that don’t fit into our own budget.  Then a few weeks later, I usually want to trash the whole list and give all our money away, and all my gift money away, to people who don’t have enough.  Or anything.

This time of year makes me feel so darn selfish and sick with myself.

Today I’m going to a grocery store laden with two hundred kinds of cereal and a hundred kinds of cookies and ten kinds of bottled water.  When there are people starving to death on a few grains of rice and water pulled from a mud hole.

Tomorrow I’m going to stuff my belly until it aches with a delicious menu many people spent hours preparing.  I’ll be moderating my intake so I don’t gain the ten pounds the average American accumulates during the holiday season.  When there are people who can make a living from the $20 gift of a basket of chicks.

I’ve made a wish list including things like an $80 pair of flats or a $60 pair of boots (although the flats are Tom’s, so at least some of that money is charitable, providing shoes for someone in need).  When there are people who walk miles a day over terrible terrain in just the bare soles of their feet.

And I have to actually work to remind myself that I really DON’T NEED ALL THIS STUFF.  I tend to write the word stuff as Stuff.  Because it is an entity. An entity that draws us in day after day, sucking us into its greedy talons and poisoning us with its desire.  We are surrounded, no, saturated, marinated, in it this time of year especially.

So I try to center myself.  Try to spend more time in prayer.  Try to set aside funds for outreach, reducing the money in the “me, me, and more ME” bucket, to increase the resources in the “serve, love, die to self” bucket.

I’m really a selfish, disgustingly self-loving, self-serving person.  And the only thing in me that has a thread of goodness and graciousness and generosity is the power and spirit of Christ.  I want to live more in His thoughts, and less in my own.

I’d like to think perhaps we could give it ALL away, instead of just some of it.

I’d like my kids to be less selfish than I am, to be inspired to open their hands and hearts.  To welcome unusual people into their homes at Thanksgiving, and use some of their Christmas funds to buy chicks and cows and water.

I want it to not take so much effort to remember to give away.  I want it to be my nature, my default, my first desire and greatest joy.  I know it is HIS.

I’ll never be perfect, but I’ll never stop trying to grow.  Lord, help me be a little less selfish. And a little more like You.

Here’s some charities that I support this time of year (and throughout the year).

Charity: Water.  Building water wells…this cause is important to me because in some of the countries where Charity: Water works, one in five children will die before their fifth birthday, due to disease caused by dirty drinking water.  One in five.  Think of five kids you know (perhaps that many are in your family), and imagine one of them gone before age five.  And all they need to live a little longer is clean water.  I raised money to build a $5,000 water well for my thirtieth birthday.  It was one of the things I’m most proud of accomplishing thus far in life.  Charity Water requires the villagers to support the water project, often by paying a portion of it, or doing much of the manual labor, and learning to maintain their water point.  So we know the villages these are going into are also invested in the project, to keep their water source functioning.

Heifer International.  Giving animals, a renewable resource, to families.  This cause is important to me because the animals given to families can reproduce more animals.  And Heifer requires each family to “pass on” the gift, by donating an offspring of their own animal to another family within a year or two.  It’s the gift that keeps on giving.  We usually purchase an animal of some kind as part of our Christmas budget.

Samaritan’s Purse.  Filling shoe boxes with toys, candy, school supplies, and hygiene essentials for kids who otherwise don’t get Christmas.  This cause is important to me because the children are also given tracts in their own language talking about Jesus.  He is the best Gift of all.  It doesn’t cost much at all (about $10 to fill a shoe box and $7 to ship it), and has a huge impact.  I also like knowing there is one particular kid who gets the particular box I filled.  We filled two boxes this year.  Our church was also a collection point for folks in the community to drop off boxes.  We collected over 1,300 boxes from the community, and over 120 boxes from our own church (which I don’t even think 120 people GO to our church, so that was more than one box per person!).

HERS | Blouse thrifted | Tank Old Navy | Shorts Old Navy | Shoes Crocs Malindi | Necklace yard sale | Sweater Target

HIS | Shirt Tonka (love, love the sweet pastel trucks) | Pants Genuine Baby by Oshkosh

| Filed under Christmas, fashion, God moments, soapboxes

Postscript to a Birth Story

It’s been four months since I pushed my first born out into the world.  Four months since I touched his skin for the very first time.  Three and a half months since I wrote his birth story.

And I still have a few things I want to remember about it.

I remember hearing my mom praying for me.  Praying in English.  Praying in tongues.  It was somewhere in my consciousness.

All those things I thought and felt, and wrote, about how it felt….especially when I felt like I was so out of control, screaming, falling apart, not handling things well…. When my mom and I talked about the birth days later, she said I wasn’t really acting that way at all.  She said I cried out and seemed out of control only three brief times.  The rest of the time, I was so calm, breathing through each contraction.  Holding her gaze, concentrating on the breathing, resting during the breaks.  So calm that when my midwife said I was between eight and nine centimeters dilated, my mom didn’t believe her.  She figured the midwife had measured wrong.  I was too calm to be that far along!

It’s amazing how many women I’ve spoken to who had a similar experience.  They felt they were losing it, but everyone around them said they were working hard, but calm.  Your conscience is in such an altered place, and there’s entire conversations going on in your head that you don’t have the strength to verbalize to the people around you.  So your perception, and their perception, are world apart.

Here’s what my midwife had to say on Facebook about my birth.

March 11 at 2:16pm near San Antonio 

What day is it today?? This past week has been a huge blur. Yesterday 2 more of my babies were born – back to back as we say. In case anyone has lost count – these were babies # 9 and # 10 in the last 27 days! Baby #9 is a perfect BIG baby boy – 10 lbs 4!! – to warrior mommy who worked very hard to bring her first child into the world. Every struggle was absolutely worth it and mommy and son are doing very well. Baby #10 is a beautiful baby girl – 7 lbs 8 – a beautiful butter birth! She’s welcomed by her big sister and 3 big brothers! I finally to bed this morning at 1:30 am after 43 hours of no sleep and non-stop work!

Jax would be baby #9.  By the way, a “butter birth” is an easy birth, according to a midwife.  Also, I had no idea until I read this post yesterday, that she hadn’t slept for 43 hours.  She is amazing.


When my mom arrived in our birth room, she asked Robin how I was doing.  Robin calmly answered, “I think it’s harder than she expected it to be.”  It was.


I’ve thought a lot about what women say about natural birth being empowering.  When they accomplished it, how it changed their self-perception.  For some with a prior negative experience (often a unexpected cesarean or a vaginal delivery that ended with a lot of unexpected interventions), a subsequent natural birth is a healing experience for them.  One friend said she was able to realize that she wasn’t broken.  Some women who have been sexually abused, find vaginal birth brings them emotional and mental healing, as the abused parts of their body experience something so joyful and right.  That’s powerful stuff.  Another quote I’ve read is that women have a secret.  And it’s not that birth is painful; it’s that women are strong.


For me, I’ve seen so many beautiful births, and seen so many different women “do it” who didn’t think they “could”, that in a way, I knew I could.  I doubted it many times during my pregnancy.  What if I couldn’t do it?  But I had the privilege of seeing so many women overcome, press through, and with excellent midwifery care, have healthy, safe home births, I knew it was possible for me too.

No, I had no idea how painful it would be, since every woman experiences labor differently.  And I didn’t know how long it would take.  It was more painful, but took less time, than I was expecting.

But re-reading my birth story four months later, I ask myself, “Wow, was it really that bad?  I don’t think it was that bad.”  I know it was, or I wouldn’t have written it that way, but I’ve already forgotten, sort of.

I didn’t choose home birth because I wanted to prove something to myself.  Or because I needed emotional healing.  Or because I wanted to feel empowered.  I chose it because it is the safest way for a low-risk pregnancy to complete.  

This excellent article analyzes multiple studies investigating the safety of home births for low-risk women.  It discusses the “what if something happens” question, which is what most people ask when they hear you are having a home birth.  It reviews multiple studies, and concludes that professionally-attended home birth, following professional prenatal care, is SAFER for low-risk women and babies than hospital birth.

On a note that isn’t my soap box, I’m glad we took Bradley Birthing classes.  They were NOT enough to get me through labor peacefully – my mom (acting as my doula) counting my breathing with me did that – but they did provide education.  They definitely gave my husband peace, because he knew what to expect.  He was never afraid or out of sorts during my labor the way I’ve seen some other husbands who didn’t know what to expect, or what to do to help.  That alone was worth it.  The connection with other couples desiring to have natural births as well, whether home or birth center or hospital, was also encouraging, since you get so much flack for having a home birth.

It’s funny, really.  Because the U.S., with our huge rate of hospital births as compared to home births, ranks 29th in the world for maternal and neonatal fatalities surrounding birth.  The countries losing the fewest mommies and babies have the greatest percentage of babies (nearly 30%) delivered at home by professional midwives.

Back to the birth of Jax.  Do I feel empowered?  In a way.  More so, I feel connected to women who have birthed babies, in any fashion, in any location.  The experience of carrying a child, then bringing him into the world, is truly indescribable.  I feel more connected to my mom, to my sisters, who have shared this breathtaking experience.

I do feel proud.  Proud because women are strong.  Because I am strong.  Because mainstream America doubts that we can do it.  Doubts that our bodies are strong enough.  And we are stronger than the doctors believe.  They do cesareans now if they think your baby is over eight pounds, because it might be too big for you to push out.  Really?  Tell that to the moms I know who have delivered eleven pound babies at home.  Tell that to me, after I delivered a 10.4 lb first born.  They told that to one of my petite friends who didn’t get to push her first born baby out after 20 plus hours of induced labor.  She’s since had three amazing home births.

Women are strong, and we need to believe in ourselves.  We need America to believe in us.  To learn to treat birth as something beautiful, amazing, and DO-able.  No matter how you choose to deliver, I believe it should be something supported by knowledge and strength, not fear.  I wish we could eradicate the fear that plagues obstetrics.

Everywhere I go, when people comment on how big Jax is, I say how big he was at birth, and I say that I delivered him at home.  And I say that it was amazing.  Because it was.

| Filed under birth, soapboxes

Best Books About Birth, Labor, and Fertility | Why We Chose Home Birth

Starting about five years ago, I decided to research ways to birth a baby in America.  My mom delivered me and all my siblings at home.  I was present for the last two births (at ten years old and twelve years old), and thought it was amazing.  One of my sisters recently had a home water birth.  I’ve always figured I would have my babies at home, but realized I needed facts and evidence to see what was truly safe and best.

This film is a great place to get introduced to the basic concepts and ideas behind hospital birth vs. home birth.

(the film) “The Business of Being Born”

This is where I discovered that the United States currently has the highest mortality rate for babies and moms (surrounding the time of birth) of any domesticated country with general access to health care.  All the other countries with higher (worse) mortality rates are poor countries without access to health care.  The country with the lowest (best) mortality rate for both babies and moms?  Holland.  Where they still deliver around 30% of their babies at home with midwives.

It was also the place that discussed the cesarean “epidemic.”  The World Health Organization (WHO)  surveys all sorts of healthcare issues all over the world, and publishes annual reports of their findings.  They discovered that countries with less than 10% cesarean rate had higher mortality rates (both babies and moms).  Countries with greater than 15% cesarean rate also had higher mortality rates (both babies and moms).  From this, they observed that a 10-15% nationwide cesarean rate would have the the best outcome for both babies and moms.  The United States’ rate is over 30%, and in many cities and hospitals, well over 40% to 50%.

My personal conclusion from this: maternity care in the United States is killing moms and babies.  Too many cesareans are killing moms and babies.  If you don’t want a cesarean, and want a higher chance of life for yourself and your baby, don’t birth in the hospital.

These are just two statistics, and there are a thousand more that affect our bodies and babies well beyond the moment of birth.  Breastfeeding success, chances of permanent disease, mental illness, infection, hysterectomy, hemorrhage, effects of labor drugs on moms AND babies, and much, much more, are significantly affected by birth choices.

To educate myself, I spent several years consuming stacks of books with DATA on the subject.  While I like to FEEL good about a decision, I am definitely a data and evidence person.

Surprisingly, I discovered that most hospitals and doctors are currently practicing litigation-based care rather than evidence-based care.  For example, the evidence is black and white that too many cesareans lead to increased neonatal and maternal deaths.  However, a doctor who does a cesarean is perceived in a court of law to have done “everything they could” and thus is nearly exempt from a negative legal result.  So they section more women to protect themselves from litigation, despite statistical evidence to the contrary.

The film I mentioned just scratches the surface.  And the internet is even worse.  You’re not going to find good evidence on the internet on this subject, period.  Published books are a more reliable source, and have data you’re not going to find anywhere else.

It is unfortunate that most people spend more time researching which iPod or camera to purchase, than where to deliver their children.  As parents, we have so much responsibility to raise and care for our children, and it begins well before they are conceived.

Finally, if you are praying people, please pray.  I truly believe the Holy Spirit speaks to us through prayer, and you can come to a wise decision that is based both on having educated yourself, and having prayed through that decision.  I can’t imagine having made our decision with “prayer alone”, and I also can’t imagine having made it with “education alone.”  It was the merging of the two that gives us peace about where and how we plan to birth our children.

Because in the end, YOU are their parent.  Benjamin and I are this baby’s father and mother.  It is not your child’s doctor or midwife who have to raise this child.  It is not your mother or mother-in-law who have to answer to heaven for your child.  They are not the ones who will forever carry the responsibility of birthing and raising that child.  It is you, the parents.  You were given an intelligent brain and a sensitive spirit, so use them as you decide how to birth your child.

My strong opinions and soapbox preaching here are just that – mine.  I just wish more people would really do the necessary homework and think for themselves, instead of swallowing whatever a doctor, parent, friend, or random internet website has to say.  If you do your research and come to a different conclusion that we did, so be it.  It would surprise me since I feel the facts are so clear and inarguable, but hey, that’s why we all need to think and decide for ourselves and for our children.  For the rest of our lives as parents, this will be our job.  To learn, educate, research, study, listen to wisdom, and make the best decision we can.  Just please don’t make the birth decision blithely or lightly or with only the “research” from your doctor’s office or the web.  It’s not enough.

I could go on, but instead, will share my reading list.  I will also suggest that you don’t try to read these books, or make this decision, while pregnant.  There are some gruesome and tragic stories and statistics in some of these books.  They are important to read and understand, because they are part of making an educated decision.  However, I am glad I read them long enough before being pregnant to forget them, and just hang on to the decision that resulted from them.  Plus, when you’re pregnant you want to be worrying about getting good health care and a good health care provider, not what kind or what location is best for you to deliver in.

Here’s my reading list, in order of suggested consumption.

If you can just read one, read “Pushed.”  If after that you need additional evidence, read “Born in the USA.”  If you don’t need additional evidence but just need encouragement that you can “do it”, skip “Born” and read “Ina May’s…”.

“Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care” – Jennifer Block
This is the most recent book, so it has the most recent statistics.  It might be the only book you will need to give you enough evidence to make your decision.  It is shocking throughout and frightening at times.  The research is thorough and well-documented, and presents a case that cannot be ignored.


“Born in the USA: How a Broken Maternity System Must Be Fixed to Put Women and Children First” – Dr. Marsden Wagner
This book was published a couple years prior to “Pushed.”  It talks about some of the same things, and more at the same time.  It also has some intense content, and a voluminous amount of powerful research.  It is written by an ob/gyn who later became a scientist studying birth interventions and outcomes, after he saw what was really happening in his field.  Because of this, his perspective is deep and broad.


“Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” – Ina May Gaskin
Ina May is a self-trained midwife who pioneered the hippie natural birth movement in the 1960’s, when women birthing in hospitals were being knocked unconscious and tied down to beds while their babies were dragged out of them with episiotomies and forceps.  She quickly grew in expertise, and even has a birth maneuver named after her.  The first half of her book is simply amazing, empowering stories about women who delivered with her.  The stories are so beautiful and encouraging, by the time you’re through, you WANT to have be in labor just because it sounds so amazing.  And it’s not because she exaggerates or glosses over the pain, but because it can be an amazing, empowering experience.  The second half of the book is data and evidence, but it’s several years old now, so some of it is a bit dated.  The first half of the book is one I want to read again to encourage myself as my due date quickly approaches.

If you’ve gotten through all of these and haven’t made your decision, continue.  Or if you’ve gotten through all of them and just want to know more, continue!

“Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born” – Tina Cassidy
Also a very recent book, this discussed American birthing history.  It is beyond awful some of the things that have been done in the name of maternity care throughout American history.  While it’s not so much current data as historical data, it shows you how broken our maternity system has been for decades, and makes you realize things that today’s common practices might also be tomorrow’s awful history.

Other books I’ve read that are just part of general birthing stuff, and not necessarily decision-making material.

“A Child is Born” – Lennart Nilsson
This book is GORGEOUS.  It is full of amazing in-utero photos of baby’s development.  So far, I haven’t found any internet resource that matches the amazing photos in this book. It’s good to flip through with young children to show them how the baby grows and develops.  My husband and I really enjoyed looking through this at different stages of the pregnancy to see what our baby looked like.  If you are pregnant, I think you should get this book!

“Birthing From Within: An Extraordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation” – Pam England and Rob Horowitz

This book is part of the “Birthing from Within” birth classes.  It helps you think through expectations, desires, fears, etc. for your upcoming birth.  It has a lot of ideas for how to use art (painting, sculpting, drawing, journaling) to emotionally process your upcoming birth.  It is very touchy-feely.  If you’ve had a prior birth experience that you feel was traumatic or unsatisfactory, it may be a good read to help you process.

“Birth Without Violence” – Frederick Leboyer
This is where the term “Leboyer bath” comes from, if you’ve heard that.  It is a very short read (thirty minutes or less) with lots of pictures.  Leboyer became convinced that birth was painful or difficult for babies, and arriving in earth air was shocking and uncomfortable to them.  He wrote in 1955, and I’m unsure of further evidence to his claims.  However, the book just makes you realize that just like birth should be empowering and calming for the mother, so there are things we can do (whether they are Leboyer’s ideas or not), to help make birth as calm and gentle for baby as we can.

“Creating Your Birth Plan: The Definitive Guide to a Safe and Empowering Birth” by Marsden Wagner
If you just don’t want to do a lot of reading, and just want to deliver in a hospital without anyone convincing you not to, this would be the best book.  Wagner (author of “Born in the USA”), summarizes some of the main concerns and research about hospital birth, while helping you understand how you might be able to locate a good doctor and have a natural birth within the system.  I didn’t find this book to be the most helpful of everything I read, but it could be a good place for someone wanting a “natural” birth in the hospital.

PREGNANCY NUTRITION and HERBS

A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health – Dr. Dean Raffelock and Dr. Robert Rountree
This was the book that convinced me to seek a naturopathic doctor instead of a medical doctor, when we didn’t conceive right away.  These two doctors still have a practice in Colorado, where the focus on post-partum women.  The book is “heady” in many places, talking about the body, digestion, etc., and how they diagnose and naturally treat post-partum women who come to them with various physical problems.

“The Natural Pregnancy Book” – Aviva Jill Romm
This book has good advice about nutrition and herbs to treat various pregnancy complaints.  It was interesting reading, and would also make a good reference.

The Pregnancy Herbal –  Jaqulene Harper-Roth
I haven’t gotten much use out of this book. It contains fancy herbal preparations, tinctures, teas, tisanes, etc.  If you are the kind of person who wants to get a bunch of herbs and make your own remedies, this is a good book for you.  It’s organized by “problems” so you can easily find remedies for various pregnancy or baby complaints.  I’m sure it’s got great stuff here, but this is beyond my time and ability right now to gather and prepare specific herbal remedies.

“Feed the Belly” – Frances Largeman-Roth
Recently published, this book has up-to-date information on what foods you should/shouldn’t eat during pregnancy.  It also talks about kitchen cleanliness and other important things to know regarding feeding your body and baby.  At the end, it has a several recipes.  It’s not organized cookbook style though, instead it’s organized by cravings (sweet, salty, etc.), which makes it difficult to plan meals from it.  The few recipes we tried were simple and yummy.

COOKBOOKS

(see also “Feed the Belly” above)

“Eating for Pregnancy” – Catherine Jones
The amazing thing about this cook book is nearly our entire family has liked almost every recipe we’ve tried from here.  The recipes have “long versions” that include lots of chopping of fresh veggies, making your own sauces from scratch etc., as well as “easy versions” that tell you how to substitute pre-chopped or canned items to make the meal faster to assemble.  We found the recipes to use a lot of fresh ingredients, which we love, and be varied in flavors while easily enjoyed by many palates.  A clear winner whether pregnant or not!

“The Well-Rounded Pregnancy Cookbook” – Karen Gurwitz
Some good things in here, some I could pass on.  Decent ideas but not my favorite cookbook of all time.  Does have a good introduction discussing overall healthy eating for pregnancy.

LABOR

“Active Birth” – Janet Balaskas
Great exercises and data here on how to help your body physically deliver your baby.  Emphasizes upright positions for delivery (standing, squatting, all fours), because they open your pelvic bones by up to 10% more than the traditional lithotomy (laying on back) position that is so convenient for doctors they often refused to allow you to deliver any other way.  Great prenatal exercises as well as empowering information for remaining physically involved in delivery.  If you want to deliver naturally in a hospital (or at home), this is a great book to read to help you know what will be necessary to achieve that.

“Husband Coached Childbirth” – Robert Bradley
This is the book written by Dr. Bradley, an ob/gyn who developed the “Bradley method” of labor and delivery.  I found it practical and helpful, but too long for most men to want to read.  I wish there were a condensed version that husbands would actually read.

“Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way” –  Susan McKutcheon-Rosegg
Part way through this one.  So far appears to be practical “how-to” guide for using the Bradley method.  Will update when I finish it!

FERTILITY

I’m as much an advocate of natural fertility (pregnancy avoidance and achievement) as I am of natural childbirth.  Here’s what I’ve read on this topic.

“Taking Charge of Your Fertility” – Toni Weschler
This is pretty much the Bible of natural family planning (NFP).  It is not the “rhythm method” (which just counts days of a woman’s cycle).  It talks about basal temperature charting, and several other methods of knowing where you are in your feminine cycle.  My parents used this their entire marriage (until after baby number five) to avoid and achieve pregnancy.  We used it for nine years to avoid pregnancy, and a few months to achieve it.

“Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition” – Marilyn Shannon
This delves into how your nutrition, vitamins, etc. affect your fertility.  It has Q&A type sections that address common fertility problems, and how you can treat them naturally before going to advanced medical fertility treatments.

“Making Babies” – Dr. Sami David and Jill Blakeway
This is a very recent book written by two doctors who specialize in fertility, an ob/gyn, and an Eastern medicine doctor (herbs, homeopathics, and acupuncture).  They combine their approaches in the book, and in their clinic in NYC where they almost exclusively treat women who have been through the entire round of medical fertility stuff to be told they will “never” conceive.  These doctors delve deeper to find out what is preventing the women from conceiving, and they have a very high success rate with some of the most difficult fertility cases in the U.S.  This book will give you some ideas for some things you can troubleshoot yourself. It will also introduce you to their methodology should you choose to use their clinic to help you conceive.

BREASTFEEDING


“Bestfeeding: How to Breastfeed Your Baby” – Renfrew, Fisher, Arms
This is the first breastfeeding book I’ve read.  I’ve two others I’m in the middle of, so I will add them when I’ve finished them and can review them.  This one is a short read, simple, and practical.  Through words and photos, it helps show you when breastfeeding is RIGHT and when it is WRONG.  Or at least, you will know what is normal, so if you experience something weird, you will know it is not normal so you can seek help, rather than quitting breastfeeding because it “doesn’t work” for you.

“The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” – Wiessinger, West, Pitman
Part way through this one.  It is apparently the “Bible” of La Leche League.

“Breastfeeding Pure and Simple” – Gwen Gotsch
Part way through this one.  Appears to be a nutshell version of “womanly art…”.

To Be Real

NOTE: I wrote this post on 9-15-2010.  Then I wasn’t sure I wanted to publish it.  Then today I read these two blog posts that resurrected at least some of the same thoughts.
So I dug out my old post, and here it is.  Cleaned up a tad, but mostly the same.  I actually preached a few sermons on worship at my church last year, and the basic message of this post was part of what I had to say.  In worship of God, being true to our values not our feelings…. (ie we worship God even when we don’t “feel” like it).  
The disclaimer here is that while I still believe this, it shocked me how much my perspective had matured even a bit more in the year since I wrote it.  I still think it’s true; I’m just not so feisty about it.
———————
Do you remember in your youth, getting on a “being real” kick?  I suppose it could be just my generation, but I doubt it.  My guess is that each generation, and most people, go through a stage like this.
One day in the transition between childhood and adulthood, we discover we can have an identity separate from our parents.  We want to make OUR mark on the world.  This translates into wanting to do our own thing.  We make the horrible discovery that our entire lives and decisions have been mirror images of our parents’ values.  Mimicking someone else isn’t real or authentic!  It is a façade!  I am a fake!
“No more!” we say.  If we were taught to put on a cheerful face even when upset, we decide it’s better to be scowling than covering up our true feelings.  If we were raised to treat other people nicely even when we thought they were an idiot, we buddy-up closer to our friends and ignore the others; because to “act like a friend when we’re not”, would be fake.  If working hard in school was expected of us, and we’re sick and tired of it, we stop trying because it would be better to get poor grades than “be someone we’re not.”  If we were taught to be silent about politics to avoid ruckus, we suddenly wanted to debate everyone we know.
I remember having this obsession in high school, and lingering a bit into college.  The obsession was shared by students around me.  Be real.  Be authentic. 
We somehow determined that worse than being unkind to someone, was being syrupy sweet to their face when you truly couldn’t stand their presence.  Worse than questioning God and faith, was acting like a good kid on the outside and doubting on the inside. 
I can’t recall all the things that felt fake and inauthentic as a teenager, but I remember realizing how tragic it would be if we constantly lived with pasted smiles and perfect, cheerful responses, when inside, we were hurting, lonely, or wondering.
My friends concurred.  No matter what, we had to stop being fake.  Whatever we believed, however we felt, that was what people would see.  What you saw was the raw truth.  There was no more hiding behind the mask of the perfect little selves our parents and teachers wanted us to be, when inside, we felt like a mess.
While this awakening was part of our growing up experience, as an adult I’ve realized there’s another side to the conversation.
At the time, what we insisted on being “real” about, was our feelings.  If we felt depressed, we weren’t going to act happy.  If we felt angry, we weren’t going to act polite.  If we felt mellow, we weren’t going to act all excited to be there.  We insisted on being real.  But truly, it was being Real To My Feelings.  And sometimes, our worst feelings.
With a few extra years of maturity, I have a new mandate.  I want to be Real To My Values. 
I value people, therefore I can be considerate even when I’m in a bad mood.  I value my car, therefore I restrain myself from ramming it into the car of a driver who is being amazingly rude.  I value my husband, so even when I want to be mean out of frustration, I try to work things out the way our counselors taught us.  I value my job, so when my manager is being inconsiderate, I try not to argue.
Scripture teaches us the same lessons.  Jesus says crazy things!  Like, turn the other cheek, pray for your enemy, and forgive someone seventy-times-seven (a metaphor equivalent to a number too large to be measured).  Paul tells us to exhibit fruits the Spirit: love, peace, patience, long-suffering, and self-control.
They must have known about me when they wrote this stuff.  Seriously, actions like these do NOT come naturally!  I default to a mess of bad attitudes, complaining, and selfishness with the slightest amount of stress or things not gone my way.  I bought a t-shirt once to keep me humble.  It reads “I’m easy to please as long as I get my way.”  That is SO how I have lived my life, and so NOT how I want to be living it.
My only method of near-survival is Scripture reading and accountable relationships in my life.  Scripture reading reminds me how much greater God expects and enables me to be.  People like my mom and sisters and husband give me plenty of opportunity to work on my attitude 😉 as well as amazing examples of Godly lives.
I hope that people who know me would describe me as authentic.  I don’t hide my issues.  But I don’t whine about them all the time.  I want to be known as someone who was down to earth and real, but I also want to be remembered for being caring, patient, and enduring.  I guarantee you, that won’t have happened because I FELT like it.  It will be because I VALUED it, and I brought my nasty, unpredictable emotions in line with my values.
| Filed under soapboxes

Natural Family Planning

This is an email I sent to a close friend who started taking birth control pills, only to be freaked out by the emotional instability it was causing in her life, and making her wonder “is there any other way?”

My opinion in a nutshell… the pill (by “the pill” i mean any device which uses hormones/chemicals to disrupt or modify a woman’s natural body process) is frightening and dangerous in so many ways. i have known many women to have side effects…. 

1. mood problems IS a VERY common complaint- another girl at my church just got married, and she just got off of the pill for the same mood instability reasons you are describing, she was depressed and insomniac…they are now using natural family planning

2. potential for permanent damage to ability to conceive- some women have experienced permanent damage to their bodies and have trouble or are unable to conceive, have problems with infertility later in the future.

3. potential to abort or damage a conceived child- they tell you to stay off of the pill for 3 mths to 1 year before you attempt to conceive (hint, or you risk have a baby with minor or major birth defects). scary. (this could be part of the problem with some friends’ kids,who one is autistic and one is physically deformed and both were conceived while on birth control, although certainly not their parents’ fault). – the idea of birth control pills is to FORCE your body to have a period every month. if you were to conceive somehow anyway, the likelihood is either A the baby will survive but have bad effects or B the pill will still force the body to have a period (keeping the fertilized egg from implanting on the uterine wall), thus aborting the child without you ever knowing have you ever heard of an IUD baby? the metal IUD device malfunctions, the woman conceives, and the IUD becomes implanted somehwere in the baby’s body, most often the middle of the forehead, creating either abortion or a large circular scar across the forehead

4. your natural hormones DO affect you emotions, and thus, “messing” with your natural hormones messes with your emotions. this specifically includes the few days prior to ovulation, when your amorous hormones are aroused. this is usually our best time of the month with each other in an intimate way (me and benjamin), because I am much more interested than usual, and also experience greater pleasure both emotionally and physically from being intimate. on the pill, you don’t get this hormone, because it’s the one that prompts ovulation, and you don’t ovulate when you’re on the pill. i would be so sad to lose both the intimacy of this time of the month with Benjamin, and also the “happy” feelings and emotions of this time. it’s the opposite of PMS! The PRIMARY reason I personally cannot use artificual birth control is because of the possibility of birth defects or abortion of a conceived child. As a woman and as a Christian, I could not accept having caused either of these things.

Best two books for this: “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” (buy this if you can just get one) and “Fertility, Cycles & Nutrition” (great supplement on dealing with various female physical issues through nutrition).

There are some people who say they use natural familiy planning, but all they do is count days of their cycle to predict ovulation. This is not a very good plan, especially if your cycles are not exactly the same length every time. The book (Taking Charge…) explains that there are three ways that work together to help you estimate ovulation:

1. waking (basal) body temperature,
2. learning to identify the texture and variations of excretions from your private area (they change color/thickness/quantity etc during the month),
3. height of cervix (I don’t really use this, as I’ve not really figured it out yet, but maybe someday I’ll get it figured out), and
4. there are certain patterns of days you watch for.

The only thing particularly difficult about this method is taking your body temperature every morning at the same time and marking it down every day (you will need to purchase a basal thermometer – my favorite is the BD brand, other brands have various issues that frustrate me).
Now that we’ve been married 4 years, and I started this a year before we got married, I don’t take my temperature every day, only for the weeks when I need to. But for the first couple years I took it every day, until I got to know my cycle.

Basically, when you are approaching ovulation, you use a physical method of birth control, either a condom or diaphragm (we tried condoms but benjamin hated them, so now we use a diaphragm which works great). If your cycles are pretty regular, you should only have to use this for about a week. The rest of the month it’s free game, no birth control, just all spontaneity. My cycles are not regular, so there are times we have to use a diaphram longer than a week, but most women aren’t like that.

For me, it is WELL worth the minor hassle of having to go put in a diaphragm for a week or two, to have the freedom of knowing I will not harm or lose a potential child, have any negative side effects to my body, mood swings, or anything else.

Another friend of mine wanted to be natural, but felt she couldn’t be responsible enough to take her temperature every mornning, so she purchased a more expensive system that tests your first urine of the morning every day. It worked well for them, although they conceived Lavendar I believe because she skipped a day or two. You could try looking this up on the internet, I believe the device costs $200 or so, and the disposable one-time use testing strips must also be purchased regularly.

The other MAJOR highlight for me of natural family planning is I will know sooner than a pregnancy test could tell me if I am pregnant of not. This helps when I get stressed and don’t have my cycle for 2 or 3 months at a time, I know that I know that my body temperature is still low, so I can’t have ovulated, and I can’t be pregnant (because your body temperature raises when you ovulate, and stays high throughout your pregnancy). Also, if your high temperature continues past 18 days, you are pregnant. A pregnancy test couldn’t tell you antyhing that soon. For me for now, it’s nice to know that I’m NOT pregnant when I don’t want to be, even though it’s been 50 or 60 days since my last period.

My parents used this method their entire marriage, and it was my dad’s responsibility to wake up my mom at the designated time, put the thermometer in her mouth, and mark it on the chart the next mroning, because he was the more responsible and detailed one. They did that their whole marriage. I was planned this way, Tabitha (my first sister) was planned, Esther (my second sister) was an accident because she was conceived 2 mths after Tab was born, and my mom didn’t realize she could be fertile that soon after pregnancy, Priscilla (third sister) was an accident because my parents were fasting in prayer over whether to have more children, and didn’t know that fasting can alter your body temperature, so they thought it was safe and it wasn’t, and Mercy (fourth sister) was planned. My mom also said that for the three of us that were planned, my parents KNEW that my mom was fertile and they would conceive, she said it was so much fun to be intimate knowing they were creating a child at that moment. It takes a lot of the stress out of trying to get pregnant when you DO want to as well, because it’s not just hit or miss on when you have sex, you can know exactly what you’re doing.

Anyway….you should know me well enough to know that I would not force you or anyone else to my opinions on this subject. One of my sisters uses natural family planning, and the other uses the pill because she feels to irresponsible. However, she doesn’t take her pill very responsibly either, because you have to take that every day too, so I’m not sure which is worse!

Whatever you and your spouse choose TOGETHER to do, is your perogative, and I hope you make the best decision for yourseves and each other that you can. I just wanted to share my heart.

Book Review: Why Not Women – Loren Cunningham and David Hamilton

Let me preface this review – I have read and done much research on both sides of the “camp” on this issue (theology regarding women in church leadership). There are many issues of our faith on which our English Scriptures are consistently clear and easily interpreted (ex John 3:16). There are others, of which this debate is one, which are difficult to interpret and understand, and are shaded by our own cultural influences. These issues require a significant amount of study and research if we intend to be truthful and honoring to Scripture.

The first half of this book is written by Loren Cunningham (a man) who founded Youth With a Mission along with his wife Darlene. He speaks from the contemporary side of the issue, mostly his observations and thoughts over the years as the founder of a highly influential worldwide mission organization. The second half of the book is written by David Hamilton, a respected theologian, and it is here we get the hard, factual research into the languages of the Scripture and their meanings.