The last few months (of anger, grief, transition) have made me more honest. It’s not as pretty — reality — as the glossy picture I painted in my fantasy. And when I contemplate the prickly realities, there isn’t so much warm-fuzziness as there is rawness and desire.
Today, for instance, in a time of self-conscious angst, I realized that Christianity is stressful. Earnest Christians are supposed to work themselves into a state of knowing how wormy they are. A Christian can’t ever just *be*, because as soon as you level off in your effort or reach a goal of some kind, you are prodded along to try harder rather than getting complacent. It’s an agonizing tightrope to walk.
I know. You’re thinking, “Man, this chick has some serious problems! She thinks it’s all about works!” Well, yeah, I do have that problem. And several others.
I told Dan about this line of thought, and he said, “If your relationship with God were a marriage, I would think you needed counseling. The way you describe God sounds like abuse.” He said we’ve emphasized the patriarchal nature of God so much that we’ve forgotten it’s supposed to be a love affair. I didn’t want to hear that, because it sounds like so much latest-trendy-Christian-thinking. And I am so done with trendiness.
But then we went home, and I did dishes with my Misty Edwards station playing on Pandora. I didn’t really want to listen to praise music, but somehow did, anyway. And she was singing this song with the lines “I knew what I was getting into when I saw you / I knew what I was getting into when I called your name. . . I am not disgusted by your humanity. . . .” Well, now, that was a little different from how I’d been thinking about God. ‘Cause I am a piece-a-work, and he could very well be disgusted by my humanity. But it’s true: He did know what he was getting into when he saw me.
It made the tears well. The good fight, the fight of my life, is this: to know he loves me — as Sarah Bessey says, “to live loved.” (At least I think I got that from Sarah Bessey.) I’m almost ashamed to admit that in public, because I think I’m supPOSED to have that basic thing down. But I don’t. Love isn’t stress and punishment. Love is all those other things: patient, kind, keeping no record of wrongs, always hoping, always trusting. I’m going to try to remember that. And I’m going to put myself around sisters and brothers who will tell me that truth over and over and over.
It was pure grace to have a little breakthrough like that tonight.
In a few minutes of quiet this Saturday morning, I feel like checking in and baring myself to the world for a few minutes. Dan is out on a 35-mile bike ride, the kids are puttering about, reading and playing and eating commercial cereal dry, and I have my green smoothie (which is really purple because of all the blueberries and grapes).
Transition has been the theme of the last few months.
Some of our transitions have been a big deal…
… we decided to homeschool our two kids.
… we’ve floundered about, getting some perspective on church.
… I am phasing out my doula work, partly because I am assisting/apprenticing with my midwife preceptor.
And some of the transitions haven’t been quite as big a deal…
… I haven’t worn a bra since June. Well, that’s not technically true; I wear a sports bra when I run. In any case, you oughta give bralessness a try. It may transform your life.
… green smoothies have revolutionized our nutrition (well, in some ways that is true!).
… my running shoes were replaced due to high mileage (what do other runners do with the multiple pairs of high-mileage shoes that pile up? this doesn’t sit well with the green part of me).
I could write a whole blog entry about each of these things. I say those last three aren’t a big deal, but they are, in my intense world. And the first three are such big deals I could weep.
Through it all, God has been there. I’ve wondered if I still loved God. The answer is yes. I must have Jesus. He’s the only peace and warmth in the dark places. He redeems my desperate sinfulness. (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”)
And Dan, my rock, my home. My kids’ love never fails, either. The oxytocin flows freely around here, when I’m not spazzing out.
In the birth process, “transition” is that time when you are beyond rational thought and have entered some other reality. You have lost sight of the end goal, because you’re focused on just this one overwhelming wave. You question yourself, you question the process itself, you wonder if it will kill you. And you give up to it.
And then, somehow, you realize that part is over, and things make sense again, and there is a glorious revelation of beauty and joy.
I’ll make it through transition in my life. We always do. As babies get born, so do the dreams and plans of God himself. Remind me of that, will you?
Eight years ago today, I was in labor with my firstborn, Elanor. She came into the world that night screaming and cried a lot after that for months. She and I survived each other, and Dan survived us both. It was a humbling time, being a first-time mother. Our plans to teach her to eat and sleep on schedule did not work (they still don’t). I did my best to screw up breastfeeding by following the plan in the Ezzo book On Becoming Babywise (or, as Sheila Stubbs so aptly puts it, “Unbecoming Baby Lies”). But Ellie wasn’t about to fit into a schedule or a program. One thing I did right was to keep breastfeeding (it was easy, although I missed the joy because of my legalism), and God put people around me (Terri) who kept me from certain death.
There have been many other such scenarios; the first months of Elanor’s life were just the beginning how we push and pull at each other with our personalities.
Oh, my girl. I am so sorry. Maybe a lot of mothers feel this way about their firstborns. As I think over the eight years of Elanor’s life, what overwhelms me the most is grace. After all I’ve done to screw things up (because I thought I knew best), she still hangs in there with me.
She’s not always right, even though she thinks she is. Somehow her ebullient spirit has not been quashed. Last week at her second-grade program, she was an absolute star, confident, expressive, happy, so fun to watch. She got to sing a short solo AND do the final reading, and she rocked it. She asks questions now, at eight years old, that it took me at least another decade to grapple with: If dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, and it took God six days to create the world, and there aren’t any dinosaurs now, how can that be? And why aren’t there very many girls in the Bible? I know, those are biggies. And she wants to be baptized. She really does get it.
I try not to giggle when her teacher says she needs to have two chapters of a book read by the end of the week, because the truth is she probably already has the whole book read, and waiting for everyone else to catch up is torturous. She thinks conversations about chile peppers are interesting and doesn’t get squeamish about insects. She wants to live on a farm someday with lots of animals and nature all around. And she just got an award for trustworthiness.
She wants me to homeschool her (I do, too). If that is the case, I can’t have screwed up our relationship too badly, I hope. Of course, sometimes I don’t understand anything! (she tearfully says in our Moments). I have to steel myself to withstand those storms, and I have a feeling they’re not going to calm down anytime soon. Did I create the problems? Maybe. I’m sure I’ve created some of them. Ann Lee told me, when Elanor was just a couple months old, “You are the best mother you know how to be.” That spoke grace to me. I had already screwed up seriously, but it was true: I WAS doing my best. And thank God, even with all my mess-ups, she still shines. She still loves God. She still loves me, and Dan, and Jonathan.
I am so proud of my sparkling Elanor. Her name means “light,” and she is that.
Tomorrow I’m off to Nashville for the 2012 Trust Birth Conference! I am reeeally excited to see some of my fellow students, some of the most brilliant people in birth work, and some of the bravest, most truthful, most compassionate people on the planet. I am not looking forward to being away from my family, and after this, I plan not to go anywhere for a long, long time — at least not without them.
Now this here is meant to torture you, as I am now going to reveal to you the sessions I am registered for.
All day Wednesday is “Midwifery Management of Neonatal Resuscitation,” by the inimitable NRP-accredited instructor Karen Strange.
Thursday I have a several-hours-long workshop with internationally known herbalist Shonda Parker, called “Ancient Herbs; Modern Medicine.” And then I have a three-hour session with Welsh-Australian midwife Lisa Barrett, called “Variations of Normal Birth.” (I could sit for three hours just listening to her talk with her beautiful voice and cadence and then trying to look like her, which I never will, but a girl can dream.)
On Friday, I expect to be blown away by a two-part workshop called “Oxygen and the Midwife,” with Jill McDanal. The director of my school raves about her vast knowledge of the research out there about supplemental oxygen. That may not sound like a big deal to you if you haven’t been at many births, but it kind of is, and the evidence doesn’t really support mainstream practice. I can’t wait to learn more about it so I know what I’m talking about. (That’s after the morning general session, and I don’t know what is planned for that. Friday is the first day of the actual conference.)
Saturday morning’s first breakout session is with Australian midwife Rachel Reed, of the wonderful blog Midwife Thinking, on practically my favorite subject, the umbilical cord. And then after that is a breakout session with none other than Dr. Sarah Buckley, author of Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, my favorite book to recommend to expectant parents; this session is called “The Hour After Birth: Postgraduate Education for Mother.” And then there’s “Cultured at Birth,” by Sherry Rothwell, a registered holistic nutritionist who will be speaking about cultured foods. And finally that day (ending at 9:30 p.m. — we are serious learners!) is a session with Lisa Wass, one of my fellow AAMI students, called “Transitioning from Doula Service to Midwfery.”
I can’t wait for Sunday’s sessions, although I bet I’ll be reduced to a blathering idiot by about then. The first one is by Karen Strange again (the woman who teaches neonatal resuscitation), and it’s called “Meconium: Facts, Implications, and Perspectives.” And then Sarah Buckley will teach on “Prenatal Testing and Ultrasound: The Good, The Bad, the Ugly.”
And then there will be a closing session, and then I will schlep myself to the airport and come home exhausted and overwhelmed and inspired and happy.
And hopefully the next morning when I get out of bed, I won’t break a toe, as I did my first morning home from the Intensity. The sacrifices I make. And I will kiss and hug my kids and Dan over and over and over. And get ready to serve some more birthing families.
I have a thing for umbilical cords — and that led to my making a presentation on the normal closure thereof at the AAMI Intensity in October — and that led to my writing the cover article for the inaugural issue of birthnbabies magazine!
I’m just a little tickled about it; I thought my article would be hidden somewhere in the nameless middle part, but there it is on the cover! And the letters are in turquoise! I wish I could plop an image of it right here in this blog post, but I can’t figure that out right now.
Anyway, ultimately, I’m glad to be getting the truth out there: The more people know, the more babies will be treated right.
My major midwifery-study project lately is to study the Textbook of Neonatal Resuscitation (6th ed.) from the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, so I can take the online test, so I can attend a day-long workshop at the Trust Birth Conference in April and be certified in neonatal resuscitation.
Here’s an excerpt from the textbook:
“Several recent studies suggest that resuscitation of term newborns with 21% oxygen (room air) is just as successful as resuscitation with 100% oxygen. There is also some evidence that exposure to 100% oxygen during and following perinatal asphyxia may be harmful. However, since asphyxia involves deprivation of oxygen to body tissues, and pulmonary blood flow improves when oxygen concentration is increased, there is a theoretical possibility that using supplemental oxygen during resuscitation of newborns with asphyxia will result in more rapid restoration of tissue oxygen and, perhaps, less permanent tissue damage and improved blood flow to the lungs” (p. 85).
Evidence be damned.
The other day, Elanor got all sorts of dramatic about the fact that I wasn’t making her meatballs and spaghetti for lunch instead of whatever yummy leftovers I was offering (probably this exotic white bean and wild garlic curry, said wild garlic having been harvested by her for the ultimate in locavore eating). She cried, because I hadn’t made meatballs and spaghetti in so long. I gave her a lecture about how I am not a restaurant. But I do believe in listening to your cravings, and, let’s face it, the beans-and-greens curry wasn’t my favorite food, either.
The solution I came up with was to make a calendar with certain days highlighted. On the orange days, I will make what Elanor has put on the menu, and on the green days, I’ll make Jonathan’s request — with their help. They have to write down their request in advance so I have time to plan, shop, etc. They each get one day per week.
So on Thursday Elanor and I made these yummy baked meatballs with this tomato sauce. We were all happy, especially me, with my glass of zinfandel.
Saturday was Jonathan’s day, and he wanted cinnamon rolls. We added some organic whole wheat flour and used my homemade butter from raw milk, so I think that probably makes them healthy?
Normally, they’re not going to get Thursday and Saturday, but we had spring break last week, so I felt at leisure to play more in the kitchen toward the end of the week.
Yesterday was Elanor’s day, and she wanted sandwiches. (Are you getting the impression that sometimes my kids just want normal-people food?) So I made a baguette-long sub sandwich. It was a deli-cacy the likes of which they had never tasted. They wanted it for lunch today, and Elanor wanted it for her snack after school, and for supper tonight as well. And I made a cabbage salad with cilantro, chile, and cumin, and a bowl of guacamole, because we have a ton of avocados from our food co-op. (Local people, if you’re interested, ask me about it!) And we had Rice Krispie bars, which got “100 thumbs up”! I have made those a total of twice (?) for my kids. I tell ya, they are deprived.
Elanor’s fixation on the sandwich may have been partly because today was Jonathan’s menu choice. He was lured by an advertisement for a “seafood boatload sale” at the grocery store, so I bought some tilapia, which sort of rounded out his menu of biscuits. It was a true demonstration of love that we all ate tilapia, bein’s only one of us likes fish much. I made these lovely roasted potatoes with some organic Yukon golds from the co-op and rosemary from Sally (the name of one of our rosemary plants). And I made the biscuits with some of that organic whole-wheat flour, so obviously they were healthy, too. And we had cabbage salad again; it had aged deliciously. Besides, we needed something to round out the carbs, and there is very little in this world that is healthier (and yummier) than cabbage.
With all this cooking, there have of course been tons of dishes, and I don’t get as much help with that job as I do with the cooking. I did, however, make dish soap last night, because I’m in the long process of minimizing our exposure to unhealthy chemicals. It worked OK once I prewashed the greasiness on some of the dishes.
Most adventurously of all, a few days ago I made tooth powder. Brushing with it is not as pleasant an experience as brushing with fluoride-mint-blast-green-stuff. My tooth powder fills my mouth with stuff that looks like the water draining from pipes when you are doing a plumbing job. But it’s been interesting. At least I know what’s in my decay-preventive dentifrice.
I’m encouraged by all of this. Sometimes it seems I’ll never make progress on anything scholarly, spiritual, or athletic. Life rests heavily on my shoulders lately. But I HAVE fed my family, and the food and creativity have made us all happy.
I have to share this great article — from a mainstream source — somewhere. It says lots of the things I hear myself saying when I talk to clients (and non-) about birth.
Love this quote: “I wish American women were told the truth about birth — the truth about their bodies, their abilities, and the dangers of technology. Mostly I wish all pregnant women could hear what Libby Bogdan-Lovis, my doula, told me: ‘Birthing a baby requires the same relinquishing of control as does sex — abandoning oneself to the overwhelming sensation and doing so in a protective and supportive environment.’ If only more women knew how sexy a scientific birth can be.”
Since I’m not on Facebook right now, and even if I were I’d have serious qualms about bragging about my kids, but because my kids are pretty awesome, I just have to share some fun stuff about them! (I dare you to diagram that sentence.)
1. Elanor, my creative dynamo who can’t for the life of her organize all the ideas spewing from her mind at all hours of the day, has been asked to help illustrate a book by a group of fellow second-graders. Book illustration has been her dream job since forever, so it’s wonderful that she gets to do just that. The writers have created a clever story about different kinds of rock (pumice, granite, limestone, etc.), where they originated, and the stories those rocks have to tell. Coincidentally, they all end up at Bluemont Elementary School. Anyway, Elanor and another girl are doing the illustrations out of cut paper, watercolor, and marker, and they look beautiful! They spent a couple of hours at school yesterday (Saturday) working on this project. When they’re done, they’ll be submitting it to a contest with Scholastic Books. Wouldn’t it be neat if they won? Maybe if I get a chance, I’ll share with you a picture of one of the pages.
2. Jonathan (and his friend/rival Katy) taught their kindergarten class while the teacher’s voice was gone. I think that is just awesome. They read one of the Dr. Seuss Horton books and explained directions to the class based on what the teacher wrote on the board. I love it that she gave them that responsibility, and I love that they’re able to manage it competently. The funny thing is Jonathan didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary; he couldn’t even remember it when I asked him about it. I found out from Katy’s parents.
Sometimes I struggle with the idea of school. Are my kids’ energy and time being wasted on what happens at school? Should I homeschool them? Will the teachers recognize the good qualities in my odd-duck child? And then things like these happen, and I’m OK again.
It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been serving women at birth for five years now. I’ve witnessed the births of 60-some babies. About a month ago, I learned how to encapsulate placentas and am really excited to offer that to families. Then a midwifery apprenticeship came to me, which was like getting engaged! (It hasn’t started yet, but it’s a for-real act of providence.) And then last week I took a CAPPA training to become a childbirth educator. So I feel like I’ve glimpsed the gamut of birth work.
Meanwhile, though, at least for the next few months, I’m just a doula. As I continue to serve, mostly in the hospital, I see the doula role with different lenses. Serving is great. Doula work is sacred work and drudgery and blissful worship all at once. But I’ll be honest, a doula who cares passionately about women and babies and birth, all three, is in an untenable position, especially in the hospital. Today it happens to be ripping my heart in two. Doulas are expected to support women, partners, doctors, nurses, babies — everyone! — without having a personal opinion.
Here’s a sample situation. As you may know, I really care about leaving the umbilical cord alone till the baby has received all the blood that belongs to it. I now know a lot about that topic. Some of my clients see the sense in not clamping the cord immediately; they read research and find good articles to share with their doctors. They work hard to get the OB’s word that s/he won’t clamp the cord immediately. But immediately after the baby has been born, the doctor might flat-out lie to the mom: “The cord has stopped pulsating.” S/he will reach for the clamps and the scissors, and voila! Baby is separated from his placental transfusion, aren’t we efficient. The doula, meanwhile, has to bite her tongue, keep from grabbing the instruments out of the doctor’s hand, and not let the mom know that the baby just missed out on 30% of his blood volume, because that might make her question her doctor or her birth experience.
Or, in another variation on that scenario, the dad might not be at the birth. So out comes the baby, doctor catches, reaches for the clamps and scissors in one swift motion, clamps the cord, and then asks the doula, “Do you want to cut the cord?” The doula thinks, “Hell, no!” But it’s already been clamped, there’s no turning back, and the mom says, “Yes, go ahead!” So the doula is party to an amputation that she doesn’t believe in. And she has to smile, be all zen, and not make waves.
Not that I’ve ever been in those exact situations.
The doula might make waves by virtue of radically supporting families to have their own voice, but she can’t appear to have changed anything much at all or she has stepped out of her scope of practice. In fact, she really isn’t supposed to go about trying to change anything, even though the way things are currently is a human-rights failure.
So yeah. Basically, I care a lot about women and children. (And you know, I have found in my Bible reading this year so far that Jesus really cared about women and children, too, so I think I’m on the right track.) But I feel like my hands are tied most of the time. I’m enabling disempowerment.
And that is why at this moment I cannot sign anything to pledge my allegiance to the well-known doula or childbirth-educator organizations. And that is why I cannot be a doula forever, at least the way it is currently defined.