Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas in the Land of Pinterest

I haven't written a blog post here since August! I wish I could say that it's entirely because I am so busy with Birth Boot Camp, but the truth is, I feel like the culture in birth/breastfeeding has changed so much, it's not really fun to write anymore. You can't say anything without being criticized for offending someone. It's exhausting and sad. It's easier to keep my mouth shut. Am I the only one who thinks that we've taken political correctness too far?

At any rate, I feel compelled to write this post. It has nothing to do with birth or breastfeeding or raising children. It's about Christmas. I've had so many thoughts this season, and I've been writing this in my head for days and having lots of conversations with people who feel the same way.

I'll be 44 next month, so a part of me wonders if I have these thoughts because I'm getting older or if our society has really changed so much over the last few years. I've concluded it's probably a little of both.

As Thanksgiving was approaching, I was in the throes of work, having just completed our first Birth Boot Camp DOULA training. I was dreading the holidays. I had several things to do for work before Jan 1 and was feeling super overwhelmed with the fact that the holidays were in the mix too. I found myself saying things like "The holidays are getting in the way of work," and "Can't we just not do the holidays this year?" I was only half joking.

For the first time in 19 years, my Christmas letter still isn't written and Christmas is less than a week away. Yes, I could have written the letter instead of writing this blog post, but again, I felt compelled to write this. Perhaps David will write the letter this year... Something I did that has been on my list for over two years? I wrote each of my children a letter this year. It took an entire afternoon, but I'm so glad I did that. I hope it'll be the most special thing they open this Christmas. The tree is up, the presents are wrapped, gifts are mailed, lights are on the house. It should be this simple, right?

The list is very long of the things I didn't do. I only donated one toy for Toys For Tots (instead of the 4 I was asked to donate), I didn't participate in the Angel Tree at church, I didn't do the cookie exchange, I only gave 2 teacher gifts, and I only gave money to one bell ringer outside the store. I haven't attended any Christmas musical programs or gone to any Christmas parties (other than the one at church that I helped organize). These are all wonderful things to participate in, there's just too many of them. The list is longer of things I didn't do that what I did do.

I'm not really one for guilt, and I actually don't feel guilty for not doing these things. To me, if feels like the holidays are on steroids now compared to what they used to be, even a few years ago. I blame Pinterest. Before all the Pinterest lovers get up in arms, the reason I do not have an account is because I know I would love it. In case you haven't noticed, I'm not good with moderation. I would go overboard, big time. I would be forced to do the things there because I wouldn't be able to get them out of my head. It would be the world's biggest time suck. Not just the actual time spent there, but then the time creating. There are so many ideas that are quite amazing. With good intentions, people (mostly women) want to make and do and participate in all these amazing things, but time just doesn't allow it. Many women I've talked to are overwhelmed with guilty feelings over not being able to do it all. And then when they actually do it all, they are exhausted and cranky, as are their families.

If everything else stopped during the holidays, maybe we could pull if off. But we still have to work, make dinner, clean the house, do homework, make lunches, do carpool, etc. But we throw all this extra stuff on top of it and we have a bunch of people walking around saying "I can't wait till Christmas is over!" People are grumpy and it's supposed to be the happiest time of the year!

Did you ever read Skipping Christmas by John Grisham? It was made into a movie called Christmas with the Kranks with Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis. I read the book when it first came out and laughed till I cried. I thought it was so entertaining. The message behind it, I'm seeing now, was much more serious than what I originally thought. Even if you want to, you really can't get off this ride. The pressure is immense to not be the only one on the street that doesn't put up Christmas lights. I can't imagine what will happen if I don't send out my letter this year! If you haven't read the book or watched the movie, you should. I'd say more about it, but I don't want to spoil it for you. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

As long as I can remember, people have talked about not taking "Christ" out of "Christmas", reminding us that He is the "reason for the season". And yet, we've created all these distractions that truly take us away from remembering Him. My church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, launched a video campaign right after Thanksgiving and I haven't been able to get it out of my head - and heart. #SharetheGift. The people in the video are busy with preparations for Christmas, shopping, fighting a cold, standing in long lines, addressing envelopes, etc., but as the video goes on, things slow down as we are reminded of the birth of our Savior and the peace that He brought to the Earth.

As people around you are not participating in the hustle and bustle of Christmas, maybe they are not Scrooge or the Grinch after all. Perhaps they are trying to do the simple things, staying focused on their family and actually enjoying the season because they have not over-extended themselves. I have found, as I watch this video over and over, I feel my Savior's love, am more able to enjoy this Christmas season, and put aside the things that don't really matter.

Merry Christmas to each of you.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Value of Boredom and Other Observations

Sitting by my pool this summer has caused me to reflect on different types of behavior from various children that have visited my house. All children are annoying sometimes, but some children, let's face it, are more annoying than others. 

This is my observation. I've sat on the patio in my favorite chair with my laptop, working, for countless hours. For many of those hours, I've listened to kids play/fight in the pool, too. There are two types of kids, I've decided.

1.  These are the kids who use their imaginations to play with one another, or even alone. They come up with games in the pool and find ways to keep themselves entertained for hours. Generally, they problem-solve pretty well too. I try to stay out of the fights because there is value in figuring out how to resolve problems and get along. Don't get me wrong -- I've yanked some kids right out of there! But generally, they are pretty nice to have over.

2.  These are the kids I don't love hanging out at my house. Their stimulation seems to be all external. They slap the water with the pool noodles, and once they are board with that, they start hitting each other. They usually don't follow the rules (I only have 2), and seem incredibly bored right off the bat. They pester each other, tease, make fun of someone else, etc. You get the picture. If/when a fight breaks out, I have to step in or else it will escalate, not resolve itself. 

The imaginative kids hate playing with these kids because these kids act like bullies. I don't necessarily think it's because they are mean, but rather, they have not been taught to use their imaginations. They've been propped in front of a TV or computer, or iPad, or iPhone for so long that they don't know how to entertain themselves. The kind that comes from within. The kind that makes you push through boredom to the other side. 

I am totally guilty of letting my kids watch too much TV, but I think it's super important to acknowledge the damage done when we allow our kids to be constantly stimulated.  Boredom is important to embrace. We learn who we are through boredom because we are forced to figure out what interests us. As parents, it seems like we are so afraid for our kids to be bored. They don't need to be constantly entertained. 

I do see one common denominator between these groups of kids. Group number one - the imaginative kids - come from homes where the parents are actively engaged in what they are doing. Either the mom or dad is home with them when the kids are home. 

Group number two, the external stimulation kids (since it sounds nicer than what I really want to call them), seem to be home a lot by themselves. When my son was in early elementary school, he used to call these external stimulation kids "daycare kids". I know this has the potential of offending people. It's not my intention, but I do think it needs to be said. There is an effect on children that are in daycare instead of with their parents, or as they get older, go home to an empty house. With kids of all ages, and having had lots of kids in and out of my home over the years, I'm fairly comfortable writing this post. 

Half the battle is just being aware of and making time for other things where the devices and media are turned off. Anyone can do that, right? How about us as adults? Are we able to do it, too? How comfortable are you with boredom? .......

Monday, June 30, 2014

Pregnancy Belly Casting: What it is and Why it’s Deliciously Therapeutic - by Melissa Lang Lytle

This post needs very little introduction. I'm Facebook friends with Melissa, but we've never met in person. She posted her GORGEOUS belly casts and I immediately asked her if she'd write a guest post. Oh my word! So glad I did! Not only is this incredibly informative, it is truly inspiring. Enjoy.

I can remember the first time I saw a pregnant belly cast.  I was in my midwife's home office for my monthly prenatal. While waiting for her to return with a warm cup of tea, I gazed at her artwork, bookcases, and all the beautiful trimmings of her empowering space.  My eyes followed the wall up to where her own belly casts hung right above her door. How did I not notice these before? She had two beautifully painted, full pregnant belly, Venus-like molds hanging ever so delicately in her entryway.

"Is that you? I asked. "Is that what your belly actually looked like?" As I looked down at my own belly, I wondered, would I remember what I looked like pregnant? "Oh you should totally do one!" she exclaimed and bounced up to grab me some plaster tape and belly casting directions. "Make it fun or create a belly cast date night!" she said as if this was just a normal thing to do. "Oh and seriously, be liberal with that coconut oil, glob it on", she said with a wink.

I left that night thinking about all the things one might think having never seen a belly cast before and now, here I was, driving home with the materials to make one. Making a cast of my breasts and belly felt a bit, uncovered and well, revealing. Who would see this? What the heck would I do with it? Where would I put it? Is this just another one of those crunchy-granola pregnancy things? (I had just barely learned about consuming my own placenta and those who make art of said organ!)  I decided why not- worst case I’d make one and store it in a closet.

It's safe to say that after casting my belly with my first born son, I was totally hooked (I immersed myself into the world of birth work too, but that's a whole other story). I looked forward to making my belly casts at the end of my next two pregnancies. Creating my belly casts helped me encapsulate all that I was anticipating and feeling for 38 weeks into a tangible piece of molded plaster. Weird, I know, but making a cast toward the end of pregnancy helped me know that I would meet my baby soon. Looking at my casts as they dried and hardened, I was simply awestruck at what my body actually looked like. Pregnancy is full of vulnerability and feelings that are unique to women carrying their babies inside their bodies. I found when making my casts that they somehow helped me identify a moment in time upon which I can look back and remember it all. A cast of a big pregnant belly has a way of conveying that. At the very least I could physically see the sheer size of my breasts and belly and their unique shapes. Each one of my belly casts is different, my belly size, my baby's position when casting my belly, etc. I think anytime we, as women, can connect to the journey of pregnancy and becoming a mother, it’s a worthwhile exercise. Here's my two cents on why making your own belly cast is worthwhile.

So what the heck is a belly cast?

A pregnancy belly cast is a plaster cast made of an expecting woman's pregnant form. You can buy a belly cast kit or just simple plaster casting tape.  
(I think out of pocket for supplies range from $15-$35). 

The plaster used for belly casts is basically the same material used for setting bone casts. To prepare the materials for my cast I took some measurements of the various sizes around my body: breasts, chest, belly, hips etc. I then cut the tape into different lengths (some kits have the tape pre-cut).  

Before I started any actual placement of tape, I took coconut oil and very liberally applied it to the areas of my body where the cast would lay on my skin.  This is so important because when it’s time to take the cast off, you do not want it sticking to your body or hair (warning, those little hairs do stick to the plaster tape)! Ouch! Then, I wet the strips in warm water, using a long, flat container (I used a rectangle deep roasting pan) to get the plaster nice and saturated. I like to get the strips wet enough so they make a paste and the wetter they are it's easier to place them on my body. My husband actually did the tape placement for me as he was a stickler for attention to detail. You will need to smooth them out (warning to the ticklish type). With each strip we laid, we made sure to overlap each previous strip by 1/2" to 1". 

As far as what the actual "mold" or cast would ultimately look like finished, I preferred to be naked but some choose to wear a bra or bandeaux top to cover the breast or nipple definition. For more modest women, I’ve seen casts almost look like a dress! It really depends on how you want your belly cast to look. You can layer the casting tape as thick as you like, but I just layered 2-3 strips on top of each other. Once the tape has hardened minimally into a cast (10 minutes or so), you can gently remove it and place it somewhere to dry. The final drying time depends on how humid the air is, but it usually takes at least a few days to fully harden. 

Once it's fully dry, you can decide whether to trim or sand it and eventually even decorate it. With my casts, I chose not to sand them down, as I wanted mine to have a texture of the rugged tape as I prefer texture. Some prefer their casts to be soft and smooth, and honestly, both ways look beautiful. I’ve seen some amazing casts that have heart-shaped necklines, straps, and some even shaped almost into a statue like a bust. The creative possibilities really are endless. And you don't have to do it all yourself! If you know someone creative or want to hire someone to help make your cast or decorate it for you, go for it! My midwife had a friend paint hers. Again, this is where your own creativity comes in, and if you don't feel up to the task of painting or gluing, find someone who can do it for you.  Go with what makes you feel good.

When in my pregnancy should I make one? 

Most of the time, pregnant women make their belly cast between 36-40+ weeks. I have a few friends who made them while in early labor (it can be a wonderful distraction)! Some women make multiple belly casts to capture the miraculous changes in their bodies throughout their entire pregnancy. When choosing what to cast, it's really up to you. You can cast your entire torso (neck and shoulders all the way down to parts of your upper thigh) or keep it simple and only do your belly.  The actual making of a cast is a bit messy, but otherwise pretty simple. My midwife included a basic plaster casting tape instruction when giving me the tape, but belly cast kits with step by step directions are available too (not to mention videos on YouTube). Ideally I would suggest someone to help you, but surely it's not rocket science and you could do it solo with the help of a mirror. When casting my bellies, my husband (and kiddos with my last cast) helped me and we made it a family affair. Again, make it your own. Here are a few ideas you could try:

- blessing-way cast party with your girlfriends or doula
- date night (or early labor) with your partner
- use a belly cast professional (yes there are women who offer this service and will make, finish, and even decorate it for you with your help or suggestions)
- involve your kiddos so they can connect with your pregnancy and the new baby

If you create the intention, the making of your cast will be more special. At the very least, you are being creative in the moment even if it only sits in your closet or you decide not to keep it.

Why make a belly cast?

There are many different reasons women choose to preserve the memory of their pregnancy. This is a short time in our life and with so many physical changes, it's fun to document. Pictures and video are often popular and easy, but more women are choosing to celebrate their pregnant bodies. Painted belly art, henna belly art, and blessing-ways instead of baby showers are becoming more mainstream (I mean this is Banned From Baby Showers, right?). I've also seen some really cool apps that document body changes by taking a picture each week so that you can create a modern time-lapse movie set to music (so fun, I wish I had done this). I think making a pregnancy belly cast is a really special way to commemorate your body and just like snowflakes, no two are alike!

What do I do with it?

Put it anywhere, literally! My casts hang on my bedroom wall, and my boys love to point out which belly cast is theirs and we talk about how they were once small enough to fit into my belly. Seeing them for us is a way of celebrating our family. Again, this is totally up to you. Display them by hanging them in your living room, bedroom, or your baby's nursery. I've seen those who cast only their belly and use it as a decorative bowl. Use the belly cast as a prop and place your baby inside for some adorable newborn pictures! Of course, it's perfectly fine to store your belly casts in your closet, basement, or attic too; not everyone feels the need to show them off.  Like a baby book or keepsake, you may want to save it for your children or bring it out at special times like their birth day or when you are reminiscing about being pregnant. Keep your belly cast as is, or enjoy the process of decorating with paint, glue, or any artsy thing you can think of (again, anything goes!) Some decorate the belly cast with a theme for the baby or simply channel what I call “creative nesting” which is using the energy of this pregnancy to find what moves you. 

You can always decorate your belly casts after the baby arrives too. You may find that having time to think about it and meet your baby first will help you feel inspired. Having someone help you if decorating feels too overwhelming is wonderful too (we all have those friends who are crafty and pin on Pinterest daily)!  I know I was crazy nervous when I painted my first cast, but like a blank canvas or white walls, you can always repaint or touch it up if you mess up or change your mind. Also, there are women who offer services that will help you restore your belly cast by strengthening it on the underside and will help you add hooks or grommets to hang it.

So if art is therapy, and belly casts are art, then making a belly cast is therapeutic!

As a labor and birth doula, and an advocate of women-centered birth, I can't convey enough that connecting to this special time in pregnancy is important. Many feelings come up with carrying your baby that impact your experience from conception to birth to postpartum. I find that creating and using art as a process is an incredible way to connect to you, your baby, as well as your journey together. Sometimes there are complications in pregnancy or birth or maybe your birth was vastly different than you had imagined. Feelings aren’t always verbalized right away and often the act of creating something physical that you can look at later can be incredibly rewarding. Making and decorating my belly casts really helped me connect to how I was feeling at that moment and I worked through my reservations and feelings about my pregnancy and upcoming labor. My third son is a rainbow baby (a baby after a loss/miscarriage) so I wanted his cast to be decorated in a rainbow theme. I literally used tissue paper and Hodgepodge to create a colorful palette. My choice of decorating wasn’t fancy (really just what I had on hand) but I’ve seen mosaics, lace, and jewels used with great results. Cutting and laying each colored tissue took time and truly helped me focus on my feelings. I call it creative nesting (better than cleaning, right?). When it comes to belly casts, I often hear women say they don’t feel artsy or creative enough. Simply not true! This is your pregnancy, your body. Just making a cast and nothing else will still be a work of art!
Your body is miraculous. Taking the time to experience making a belly cast is a fantastic way to create a beautiful heirloom to pass onto your child or simply keep as a token just for yourself to remember the power and shape of your pregnant body. I love belly casts! I look at images of them all the time, appreciating that each are so different and special. I love to see how women choose to shape them, the various shapes of their bellies, and how they decorate them (or not). I recommend researching some of the fabulous ideas you could do with yours. The art of casting your pregnant belly is fun and I highly recommend the experience to all pregnant women. Creating one not only makes the pregnancy journey more fun, but a great way to preserve that awesome belly shape forever!
This post is dedicated to my amazing midwife, Andrea Meyer LM, CPM
Melissa Lang Lytle

Monday, May 26, 2014

My "Famous" Baby Blues Analogy

Pregnancy is such a special time of life. The focus is all about you, your growing belly, how you look, how you feel. Yes, people talk about the baby, but it's centered around how you feel about the baby, what you hope for the baby, where you are having the baby, what you are going to name the baby.

The preparation for the birth and a new baby is so exciting. Part of what is so exciting is the unknown. I like to compare it to Christmas. All the preparations are part of the fun. So much fun, in fact, that Christmas starts earlier and earlier each year. All the presents under the tree -- it's so fun to guess what they might be. The anticipation of the big day surrounds the entire season, just like pregnancy does with meeting this new little person on his/her birth-day.

Birth day comes and goes, just like Christmas. Everyone has opened their presents and they spend the day checking out their new swag, trying on their new clothes, listening to new music. We admire the new baby, rehash the birth, take pictures, count fingers and toes, and decide who they look like. It's a magical day.

By a few days in, routine slowly starts to set in. The glow of the Christmas happiness is still present but the newness of the presents has worn off and the tree looks a little less exciting without the presents under it. Mom is still feeling afterpains when baby latches and getting breastfeeding established, but the excitement is diminishing and she may be exhausted.

Once the tree is down, New Years is over, and January is underway, well, it's pretty depressing. Summer is months away and there's not much to look forward to. Several days after birth, it's pretty normal (about 70% of women) to experience Baby Blues. While just about everything you read will tell you that it's hormonal, I think there is another element we ignore. Any time you are looking so forward to something and then it's over, there is a let down. The focus isn't on mom anymore, it's on the baby. Mom usually looks about six months pregnant and "squishy" for a time and that can be depressing. She's waking up in puddles of milk, she's not sleeping in normal cycles, and she may be tending to other children. The baby is here to stay and you are responsible for him/her! It can be overwhelming.

Like everything else, Baby Blues generally passes. It's a normal reaction or phase and knowing that can be half the battle. If you experience feelings of extreme depression or anger, consult with your care provider. While postpartum depression is not as common, it does occur and it's important to get help.

While I am not experiencing Baby Blues, I did have to power through this winter! I am extremely relieved that summer is right around the corner! Aaah.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The "Cry it Out" Style of Parenting -- Is This You?

I had an interesting conversation with my husband last night. Our son got a ticket yesterday for not having an updated safety inspection sticker, and he was actually quite depressed over it. He immediately went to get an inspection but was still left with this $200 ticket.

I told my husband I think our son should pay for it. I apparently am all about teaching a life lesson. My husband said something to me I will never forget. He told me that my approach is like letting him "cry it out". He went on to ask me if I know when my inspection is due, and of course I have no idea! It gets done when the guys at the lube place tell me it's time when I'm there for an oil change. Well, David has been teaching Daymon to change his own oil and that's how it got missed. In fact, he went on to tell me that he's pretty sure Daymon didn't even know what the state inspection is because he's never explained it to him! Yeah, I'm pretty sure I haven't either.

OK, OK, I heard what he was saying, and I pouted the rest of the night. I've thought about it all day long though. I am adamantly opposed to letting a baby cry themselves to sleep, but this idea of forcing (helping?) our children to be independent lasts much longer. At what point do you start letting them figure things out on their own? Make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes? Suffer the consequences of their actions? It actually starts early on, but being allowed to make mistakes and knowing that someone is there for you, even to bail you out, is comforting.

"Crying it out" is more than letting a baby "learn" to fall asleep on their own. It's a way of parenting that I strongly disagree with. I'll be super honest and tell you what I think. I think it's a lazy way out. I think tired parents are scared of holding their baby to sleep because they've been told that the child will never figure it out on their own. They've been told that the child will eventually give up and sleep -- and they are right. I believe that letting a baby cry themselves to sleep teaches them that their parents are not to be trusted. They are alone. No one is there for them. The stress of the situation eventually causes the brain and body to shut down. Sleep is the only escape.

David knows this is how I feel about letting a baby cry it out. I'll be honest, his words stung. But he's also the best person I know. He makes me want to be a better person. I don't want to parent in a "cry it out" fashion. I want my children to know that I am there for them when they need help, when they don't know what to do -- even if that means footing an expensive traffic ticket. I want them to trust me and feel... well, attached.

And so I realized, as I've been thinking about all of this today, I have a tendency to be "lazy" (using my own words here) and take the "easy" way out. It's easier to pass it off as fostering independence than to take responsibility for teaching and supporting these people in my house who are very independent. It's pretty easy to let them do whatever they want and not take (or share in) the responsibility of their actions. Most of the time, things work out fine and they make good decisions, but being willing to lovingly help them out when they need it is harder than it seems.

Hearing Martha Sears speak a couple of weeks ago was very inspiring. I have found myself thinking about her and how she would react to certain situations with older children. It's a fine line between giving them space to make mistakes and still taking their hand and showing them the way. Three out of four of mine are teenagers now and it's a wild ride! The oldest is heading to college in the Fall, and I just hope that we have taught him enough to get by in the world. More than that, I hope he (and all of them) know that we will not leave them to "cry it out" alone. We will help them along in this crazy life. I am so thankful I have a wonderful man by my side who shares the same philosophies I do -- and reminds me when I have forgotten.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Weekend With the Sears

If you read my blog - ever - you know how much I love Dr. William and Martha Sears. Their books, literally, changed my life. They showed me a way of giving birth and parenting that felt right and ultimately helped shaped my career.

The Tarrant County Birth Network hosted the Southwest Birth Roundup with several amazing speakers, including the Sears and my friend, Jill Arnold. Y'all know her as The Unnecessarean or I just wanted to tell you about my weekend. Enjoy the pictures. :-)

We picked up the Sears at the airport on Friday afternoon. You might remember me commenting on my experience chauffeuring Ina May around when she was here. I'm a really good driver, really. But it is so nerve racking to drive someone around, thinking "I could go down in history as the one who killed fill-in-the-blank in a car accident." Fortunately, we had an uneventful car ride to the Stockyards Hotel and got them settled in.

That evening TCBN hosted a dinner where everyone got to mingle and take pictures with the Sears. I was lucky enough to sit by them at dinner. I had the opportunity to tell Martha how much her writings have affected me, as well as the Birth Boot Camp curriculum. She shared many things about growing up and their early years of marriage. She was super down-to-earth and lovely. It affirmed that she has been a good choice as a role model!

The next day was jam-packed with speakers, starting with Jill. She is so smart and has done amazing work on behalf of women and families in the US. My husband and I went to lunch with Jill, Sarah (Mama Birth - hiding her face!), my friend Alisa, and Jill's two kids. As fun as it is to "talk shop" hair is a really fun topic with Jill. I totally have hair envy so I wore my hair straight for the event - at least until the last day - but we'll get to that later. It was great to see her and get to hear her speak. The work she is doing is truly making a difference and is being recognized on a national level.

Saturday evening Dr. Sears spoke and shared tons of new information from his new book The Healthy Pregnancy Book.  It was fantastic! I wish I had had all that info when I was pregnant! In fact, we've added the book to our required reading for our 2015 Birth Boot Camp Instructors trainees.

The Birth Network Chapter Leaders (past and present) went to dinner with some of the speakers from the weekend, including Dr. Bill and Martha. We had an intimate, delicious dinner, including goat cheese ice cream -- ask Mama Birth about that one! -- and really had a great time.

We got to talking about the pictures that had been taken from the night before and I confessed that I made my famous "Tim eyes" in the picture. Of course, I had to explain my entire Tim McGraw story (including the picture) and we laughed about the whole thing. Dr. Sears said he wanted to see my hair curly so I promised to go home and wash it (sigh...).

I told them that I always refer to Dr. Sears as my "Tim McGraw of the birth world" and Martha found that quite hilarious. I told him I'd buy him a hat and we'd take a "Tim eyes" picture the next morning. Yes, he's holding my first edition copy of The Baby Book.

Sunday morning, Sarah Clark led a discussion with Martha about Attachment Parenting. It was so wonderful to hear from her. It was validating for many of us that this lifestyle can be challenging. She shared many things about raising her children -- even mistakes made -- that was refreshing and real.

Dr. Sears was hoping to take a picture on the longhorn out in the Stockyards but it wasn't out by the time we had to leave for the airport. We got a picture with a horse instead.

Honestly, they were the most down-to-earth lovely people. It was evident that their religion is important to them and governs the way they live their lives. They were thoughtful and thankful people and spending this time with them over the weekend was truly a dream come true.

And fun we had! Till next time!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Why the "Evidence" Sometimes Gets in the Way of Having a Natural Birth

This is a post I've been thinking about for weeks now. I am conflicted about writing it, which is probably why it's taken so long. Last week I wrote about reasons that women chose to have a natural birth and some of the reasons given were somewhat evidence-based. A couple of weeks ago I asked the following question on my BFBS Facebook page:

From your childbirth class, what helped you the MOST in having an unmediated birth?
1. The "evidence".
2. Labor rehearsals.
3. Relaxation practice.
4. Your doula.
5. Your cheerleaders (I did it, so can you!)
6. Finding the perfect care provider.
7. Getting your head in the game (sorry, I LOVE High School Musical).

The overwhelming majority answered #7 is what helped them the most, which is exactly what I expected. 

Being the founder and President of a childbirth education company, Birth Boot Camp, I am obviously a fan of evidence. It is super important in what we do as educators. We need to know our stuff and be able to back up much of what we talk about in class. The Birth Boot Camp Instructor training is intense for this very reason.

Many people come to class because they've done some research, enough to know that natural birth and midwifery care is a healthy alternative to having their labor medically managed with drugs and interventions. The evidence got them there -- and they will continue to learn more while in their class -- but now they need to learn how to have a natural birth. Well, some of that process includes following the evidence and asking the right questions of your care provider and birth place. Not just the right questions, but learning the translation of what they are actually saying when they give you "answers". 

Labor is not a left-brain act. The left side of the brain is analytical and logical. It reads/hears/analyzes the evidence. It is totally used during childbirth classes and making decisions about your care provider and interventions you would like to avoid. But when it comes to the actual act of labor and birth, the right side takes over. Birth is very primal. My midwife with my last baby, Barbara Pepper, always encouraged me to let go of things I knew, and just feel. The right side of the brain is known for being the creative side, but it's also the side where intuition and reading emotions happens. 

I believe the left side of the brain can seriously get in the way of labor. Take vaginal exams for example. You get a number -- now what? The left side of the brain often starts doing "labor math". For example, "It took me 15 hours to get to a 5... I can't do this for another 15 hours to get to a 10!" 

In Birth Boot Camp classes, we offer lots of ways to help mom (and dad) through labor, encouraging him to do the left-brain work and letting her do the right-brain work. At some point, letting go of "the evidence" needs to happen in labor. It's that moment where you are in the moment, listening to your body, moving the way you need to, and making sounds that keep you relaxed. It's truly "getting your head in the game" and sometimes that takes as much work during pregnancy as learning the evidence! Evidence in-and-of-itself isn't what gives someone a great birth experience. It's a tool, but preparation -- physical, mental, and emotional -- is essential for both partners. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Top 10 Reasons Women Want a Natural Childbirth

I've been teaching natural childbirth classes since 2003 and have encountered all kinds of reasons people find themselves wanting a natural birth:

1. Because they have a friend/sister who did it.  This is why I had a natural birth. My friend, Alisa, did it and darn it, if she could do it, so could I!

This lady is the reason I had a natural birth!

2. They are afraid of the epidural.  I've had several people in class over the years that are just plain scared of the needle in their back. They are more afraid of that than they are the "pain" of natural childbirth. I've always been fascinated by this one. Occasionally, they can't have an epidural because of medical reasons so that's what lands them in my class.

3. They've had a bad experience with an epidural previously.  Every now-and-then someone has had a bad epidural where it didn't work right and they want to avoid not being prepared again. Often, these women feel like they didn't even have an epidural even when technically they did.

4. They've had a bad recovery when they had an epidural with another baby. This can coincide with #3, but sometimes their epidural worked fine but afterwards they were numb for hours. Or they had the spinal headache and couldn't care for their newborn or other children. It happens more often that you realize.

5. They've had a c-section and want to avoid another one. Inductions and interventions can often lead to c-sections. If a mom wants a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean), her best odds are having a natural birth and not forcing the labor along.

6. They believe their body was created to do this. These are not in any particular order, although I'm leaving #1 where it is because it's quite common and it was my reason for wanting a natural birth. #6 is probably the second most common reason I hear women say they want a natural birth. They believe in the process and their bodies.

7. Their mom did it, so can they. I love it when women have the support and encouragement of their mothers. I hope I instill that in my daughters.

8. They want to breastfeed.  Sometimes I've had women in class that have said their reason for wanting a natural birth is because they want to breastfeed and they believe that the birth can affect how well breastfeeding works. This is true. That's not to say that women who have epidurals and/or c-sections can't breastfeed, but it is more likely to be less complicated without medications/interventions, etc. involved. Even though they may or may not say so, I think this one is somewhat equated with #6.

9. They want to challenge themselves. You know these people - they want to be on Survivor or the Amazing Race. Yes, people do actually want to have a natural childbirth to face their fears or challenge themselves. They are so fun to have in class. They are sponges and actually DO the homework. Love these couples!

10. They saw a water birth on Baby Story.  There's at least one in every class. They saw a water birth or homebirth on TV and thought it was pretty cool. Or maybe they wanted to be able to say "I did that." Whatever it is, we'll take positive media representation of natural birth wherever we can get it!

Notice: Evidence is not on this list. I am working on a post about this so I'm not going to dwell on it here. It's not to say that it doesn't play a role in choosing to have a natural birth, but honestly, I've never had someone say that "evidence" is the reason they want a natural birth. It's is almost always an emotional decision, not a factual one. We'll circle back to this later.

As a side note, occasionally it the dad who is excited about natural birth. I have to tell you, this rarely works out well. Every time I've encountered these couples in class, the moms have had an epidural or a c-section. I love that dads get excited about natural birth, but ultimately, mom needs to also be excited for her own reasons.

If you want an AMAZING birth -- for whatever reasons -- sign up for a Birth Boot Camp class today, either with an instructor or online.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Reveal This!

This gender reveal video, after being on YouTube for just a week, has nearly 1,500,000 views. While it's completely appalling (we'll get there), I am contributing to all the views by putting it on my blog. Forgive me. We'll tear it apart in a minute. Take a look if you haven't already.

Horrible, isn't it? I can't believe the parents did the cake thing, first of all. Second, they recorded it and put it on YouTube! Wow. Such disregard for their (only) son's feelings. It's like they are laughing at him and now letting the whole world laugh with them.

This video really hit home with me because I have one boy (the oldest) followed up with 3 girls. He was totally fine and excited to have the first sister. So excited! We had a 20-week ultrasound with baby #3 and found out she was also a girl. He was devastated and blamed me. His 4-year-old brain (and heart) couldn't understand how we had no control over the gender of the baby. Thirteen years later, he's just now gotten to the point where he is OK with this sister - who he desperately wanted to be a boy.

Fast forward to baby #4. We didn't have any ultrasounds with that baby, but we just knew it was a boy. We had tried for a boy and the pregnancy had been most like it had been with baby #1. Daymon was at the birth and found out alongside everyone else that the baby was a girl. Let me tell you, it was DEVASTATING. He cried the biggest silent teardrops ever. He was almost 9 years old and a little more mature than he had been with baby #3. We have given him full "permission" to cry over this whenever he's needed to. I will add that the morning after her birth, he was the first kid downstairs. He snuggled into our bed right next to her, looked up at me, and whispered "I love her more than anything in the world." I believe being at her birth and finding out with everyone in the room -- and being allowed to grieve -- helped him in this process. While I wasn't sad this last baby was a girl, I was very sad that my son would never have a brother.

The realization that he might never get a brother - that he so desperately wanted - was so crushing. Over the years, he's made similar statements as this boy in this video -- things like feeling so alone surrounded by all these girls. He's wanted to run away. He's spent more time out of the house, just so he could be around other boys. It's just not fair that they got sisters and a brother but he just got sisters -- and a lot of them!

The sisters in this video were so confused and visibly moved away from their brother. The dad says that he wanted it to be a boy too but doesn't really let his son grieve. The girls are crushed, and confused. To see your brother react this way to having another sister is also so sad. Both girls have got to be left feeling inferior by the brother and the dad.

I don't blame the brother at all though. We knew our son really wanted a brother, so I'm sure it was not a surprise that this boy would react the way he did. Honestly, pulling him aside, without his sisters, would have been the compassionate thing to do. No dumb cake and certainly no YouTube video.

To the boy who isn't getting a brother-
I'm so sorry your parents told you this way that you are getting sister #3. I know you are devastated to not be getting a brother. Some boys want a brother more than others. I have a boy like that and it's been sad for him. He's graduating from high school in a couple of months and is OK with it now. He's had lots of friends, boys and girls, but I sense that he is still sad about it every-now-and-then. Love your sisters. I know right now you have different interests but one day you'll have more in common. Teach them some baseball and they'll teach you some cool dance moves. I'm sorry you are in this pain. Give it time. You will grow to love your new sister. I promise. It's OK to be sad though. Make good friends. You can't choose your family but you can choose your friends.

One thing I love about Dr. William Sears, the Father of Attachment Parenting, is that he always talks about respect. Respect your children and they will respect you. I wish I was a better model of this behavior, and we do try, but it doesn't always work out. This gender reveal should never have been put out on YouTube. It was a blatant publicity stunt at the expense of their only son. Interestingly, my husband and I saw it separately (I didn't even know he had seen the video) and he was most fired up about the father talking about not wanting another girl in front of his two daughters. He commented on a post telling the dad that he's ruining his daughters' self-esteem, and even called him a jerk. Most people I've talked to about this video were totally offended by it and couldn't believe it was put on the internet. How about you?

* P.S. Dr. Sears is coming to Fort Worth April 25-27 for the Southwest Birth Roundup. There are other speakers as well, including Jill Arnold of The Unnecessarean and, Jennie Joseph, founder of The JJ Way, and Kathleen Kendall-Tacket, with several other awesome birth professionals from around Texas. Tickets are on sale now and there is limited seating. Last I heard there are still tickets left. Get yours today!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Failure to Progress and the Association with Sphincter Law

I've written a few posts on this topic over the years (The "F" Word, The Needs of a Laboring Woman Are More Easily Achieved at Home, and Welcome to the Olive Garden to name a few) but this week I received this video from Rachel Connolly Kwock, doula and filmmaker, and I just had to share it here with y'all. Check out Rachel's YouTube channel where she'll be adding more.

There are many reasons for Failure to Progress being the #1 reason for a woman having a primary c-section in the United States. "Sphincter law" is at the top of this list. Ina May Gaskin, as you know, is who coined the phrase "sphincter law" and talks about our sphincters being shy around "male surgeons". Ain't that the truth?

But, sometimes, just feeling watched in general -- even by people that have your best interests in mind -- can make it difficult to really let go and open up. Just some food for thought next time you are trying to dilate (or poop) while being watched.

Taken when TCBN hosted Ina May in July '12.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Healthy Mom/Healthy Baby - Is That Really All That Matters?

I recently heard of a hospital childbirth educator playing a birth plan game where each couple was given a set of cards with various things written on it that might be important to a couple (such as dim lighting and intermittent monitoring), including 2 cards that said "Healthy Baby" and "Healthy Mother".  The couples were told they could only keep 2 of the cards.

I find this game so offensive on so many levels.

First, what parent is going to keep anything other than these 2 cards at the end of the game? This goes without saying that all parents want their baby to be healthy. What mom wants to not be healthy? Seriously. The only lesson in a game like that is that ultimately birth doesn't matter. Birth is dangerous and you do whatever you have to to just get the baby out without either of you dying.

Second, the couple's wishes don't matter. We talk about the "dead baby card" being played by some OBs, but this is a different setup altogether. This sets the stage early on to teach the couple to be obedient patients. And really, who is going to write a birth plan after playing that game in the hospital class anyway? It's a form of brainwashing, in my opinion.

Natural birth advocates have been criticized for valuing the childbirth experience more than the life of their child. Give me a break. It's a sneaky - and rude - way of making women feel bad for wanting a good birth experience. Like they are being selfish for wanting that. I was recently talking to a mom who wanted to have a natural birth but her husband thought it was unsafe and wanted her to have the epidural.  Wha?! Where do people get these ideas?! I'll tell you where - from hospital classes like the one mentioned above.

Ladies, your birth matters and you have the right to be heard. Your wishes should be respected. Educate yourself so you know if your birth does become a "healthy mom/healthy baby" situation. Don't take their word for it - know for yourself!

You CAN have an amazing birth (and a healthy mom and healthy baby!)! Sign up for a live Birth Boot Camp class or our online class today.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Spoil Yourself -- Hold Your Baby

When you are pregnant you get so much (unsolicited) advice. And when you have the baby, you get even more! How many times have you been told that if you hold your baby too much, you'll spoil your baby? We have strong feelings on this subject over at Birth Boot Camp:

I remember a few days after my first child was born, I was on the phone with my dad and I made a comment about being able to put Daymon down for a little while to get something done!  I was excited about it and my dad was like "Duh, Donna. You shouldn't have to hold your baby the entire day. Don't you know you'll spoil him if you do that?"  Well, no Dad, I didn't know that.  It made me more than a little paranoid though.

I wasn't sure exactly what he meant by "spoiled" though. Did that mean he would be an absolute brat when he got older? Was he going to manipulate me into me doing whatever he wanted? Neither sounded great. Who wants a bratty kid, right?

The thing is, when I held him, he was pretty happy. We lived in married housing at BYU and while there were lots of babies, I didn't want my baby to be the one crying, annoying everyone. And so I held him. A lot.

A few things happened from holding by baby:
1.  He didn't cry.
2.  I didn't cry.
3.  He learned to trust me.
4.  I learned his cues and to trust myself.
5.  I learned how to be his mother.
6.  I had a great milk supply.

Like with so many things, it's important to trust and follow your instincts when it comes to mothering. Holding (or wearing) your new baby almost always feels right. Before birth, your baby was never separated from you. They want to be held. They are used to the way you smell, sound, walk, and talk. They want to be close to their food supply for crying out loud!

Know what's funny? My kids don't remember this at all. OK, that's not really funny. It's more sad than anything. I do believe it made them confident and trusting, and dare I say, independent? Even though they don't remember that time, I remember it. I treasure the time I spent doing nothing but holding my babies. Now that they are big people, they don't sit in my lap and I don't cradle them in my arms like I did when they were babies. 

So, when all those people tell you not to hold your baby because you might "spoil" them, you go right ahead!  You won't spoil your babies -- you're spoiling yourself with one of the greatest gifts you'll ever enjoy. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Baby-Friendly" is not a Substitute for MOTHER-FRIENDLY

If you read my blog, y'all know that I was involved in my local birth network chapter and on the Board of BirthNetwork National for a year.  The basis of the Birth Network chapters is the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative written by CIMS and its ideas, research, and philosophy are at the root of the Birth Boot Camp childbirth curriculum.  If you are not familiar with the MFCI, you should be!  Read what I wrote about it here.

A good friend of mine is training to become a Birth Boot Camp Instructor and one of the requirements is that you have to attend 2 births, preferably that are in different locations from where you had your own babies.  It can be any kind of birth too, not just a natural birth.  In fact, we really like our instructors to have the opportunity to witness an induction/epidural/c-section. It's a great learning opportunity.

Back to the MFCI, my experience is that many people have heard of "baby friendly" care even though they don't really know what that means.  It sounds nice though, doesn't it?  In my opinion, "mother-friendly" care should be the starting point.  Most American hospitals have it backwards.  My friend was invited to an induction at a Baby-Friendly hospital, and her thoughts on this birth were so insightful. She gave me permission to share them here.

Mom and baby are fine. Everything went just the way she had planned. But I have been so emotional all evening about it. I keep telling myself she has the birth she wanted but she missed out!, I just keep crying. I feel like she missed out on the sacredness of it. There was hardly any emotion. Dr broke her water at 8:20 (she was at a 2) then she was started on pit. She was already in the bed with the monitor and blood pressure cuff. She stayed that way the WHOLE day except once when she went to the bathroom maybe around 10:00. 

They kept upping the pit but she wasn't having any kind of contractions that made her need to stop and relax. But she got an epidural @1:10 because they were worried that if she didn't do it then the doctor wouldn't have time because there has been several c-sections unplanned and there were already several scheduled. So at 1:30 they put in a catheter and she was at a 4. At 2:50 she was at a 6. She was frustrated that things hasn't moved any quicker. All along they kept upping the pit. 

At 3:15 she says I think I feel pressure but I don't know. (This was her 6th child and she says that once she pushes they come out quick) so the nurse comes and says you are 10! But you can't have the baby. The doctor is at another hospital with an emergency. So they find another doctor and start getting everything ready. 

I notice the nurse is getting a little panicky. The baby's heart rate slowed. She whispers "It's time to get the bay out now." And they just start pushing her. The doctor was tugging at the baby's head so hard his arms were shaking. 

There was no feeling in the room. Nobody is saying "way to go." Nobody is giving her any kind of excitement. Finally I spoke up and said something like "Its almost time to meet your baby!"
The baby was born at 3:43. Nobody wanted to cut the cord, so I did. The hospital has a "baby friendly" policy for the baby to be on mom for 1 hour so on to mom she went. But it just didn't seem like she was that into her baby. Neither was the dad. They had one of their kids there who was really excited to see the baby. Anyway long story. It took another 20 minutes for her to deliver the placenta and they didn't even look at it! I was a little stunned. They just tossed it.

As sad as it was, it was really good to witness the "un-emotional" side of birth. To witness someone experiencing it is so eye opening. She was so not attached to what was happening and missing out. It connected all the things I know, and have read and watched. I feel like the hospital putting in to place the "baby friendly" care is trying to make up for the moms being unattached. They have this in place to try and help, but if they would do mother friendly from the beginning they wouldn't have to force the baby friendly.

Birth does matter. How moms - and dads - get started with their baby is important.  It's important to be involved in your healthcare and I'll even go as far as to say to feel the baby be born.  All of these things will affect how well the mom (and dad) bond with their new baby.

I've said it for years and I'll say it again -- labor serves as a bridge between pregnancy and becoming your baby's parents.  If mothers care about how their babies get here, they'll be excited to hold their new babies and the oxytocin will be flowing.

If you know me at all, you know I'm famous for saying "time and place" in just about everything. There's a time and place for an epidural or a c-section, or an IV, or an induction.  That's not what I'm talking about in this post.  I feel like I've always got to have a disclaimer, so there it is.

Childbirth education is key to having an AMAZING birth!  Requesting Mother Friendly maternity care is a step in the right direction, but consumers have to speak up.  Don't just get an epidural and lie down and take it, not participating in one of the most important days of your life!