intensely trivial


Do you even know what you’re turning down?

When Dan first asked me out on a date to see the Flying Karamazov Brothers, I told him no. I had just started my first year of teaching, was completely overwhelmed with that, mild sickness, and some stressful relationships, and I didn’t see why I should go do something fun when there was so much work to be done. I explained all this to him when he called me on my classroom phone that September evening. He wondered why he was asking out such a dour, rude workaholic.
He said, “Do you even know what you’re turning down?”
I said, “Well, no.”
So he explained what the Flying Karamazov Brothers’ act was (juggling and comedy). It sounded mildly fun. Somehow he kept me on the phone long enough for me to consider that maybe a spot of fun would be just the thing. So I said, “Well, against my better judgment, I’ll go out with you.”
(I know, it’s awful.)
Turns out we had a ball. I laughed hard for the first time since I could remember. We argued about nerdy things like what’s better, the dictionary or the encyclopedia? He asked me my ACT score, and when I told him, he said, “OK, then we’re compatible.” We ate frozen yogurt.
I knew within a week and a half that I’d marry him. (I didn’t tell him that, of course.)
How glad I am that he asked, “Do you even know what you’re turning down?” I would have missed out on a lifetime. He kept me from ultimately turning down the potential of dreams coming true.

I found myself thinking about that question today in regard to homebirth. I listen to a lot of hospital-birthing families. The people who want me to be their doula often want a birth that is low on interference; they want me to stand up for them, make space for them to make good choices for their births, remind them that they have a voice. They want at least one person who believes in them, someone who is not afraid of the mind-blowing and yet normal experience that is the way birth is designed. And they might get a glimpse of it, like I did during Jonathan’s birth — because there is grace.

You see, if you want an undisturbed birth, the undisturbed hormonal process that protects, comforts, and empowers the passage of baby from inside to out, the hospital is not the place for that. In reality, most families want a normal birth, but, like me when I had my babies, they are choosing the only birthplace they know. Yes, for some of them, money is an issue. For others, it’s fear, usually the fear of the dad (“What if something happens?”). In those cases it’s worthwhile to ask some questions to see if money or fear is a true deal-breaker. But I think for most people in our culture it is that they don’t even know what they’re turning down.

Here’s what you’re turning down when you choose a hospital for a “low-risk” birth: You’re turning down the chance to be in control of your environment. You’re turning down the ability to eat and drink when and what you choose. You’re turning down the easy ability to go to the bathroom when you want to.

You’re choosing not to have
. . . privacy
. . .soft bedding
. . . familiar smells
. . . intimacy with your lover
. . . freedom to go outside
. . . freedom to move around
. . . a birthplace free of other people’s MRSA and strep
. . . lighting that actually allows your baby’s eyes to open wide as soon as he’s born
. . . a peaceful hour or two after your baby’s born so you can all imprint on each other without hurry
. . . your privates private
. . . a place where you don’t have to fight for your baby to get all of her blood after she’s born.

You’re turning down
. . . safety statistics that are just as good as or better than the hospital’s
. . . breastfeeding chances that are better than the hospital’s
. . . the ability to have your other children be a part of this major family event
. . . the tender, knowledgeable care of a midwife, should you choose to have one
. . . the chance to see just how this amazing process was designed to work when undisturbed by machines and fear-based meddling.

If you’ve only ever seen an OB, you probably have no idea what you’re missing. If you’re choosing a hospital birth because you haven’t experienced homebirth in any way, you don’t know what you’re turning down.

Honestly, it makes me sad for myself and my babies. Now that I’ve been part of some homebirths, I know what we missed out on. I wish someone had asked me the question, “Do you even know what you’re turning down?” I wish I’d asked that question of myself.

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Intensity report

So, last week (Oct. 14-21-ish), I was in California at a small-group intensive workshop, called “Intensity,” for my midwifery school, Ancient Art Midwifery Institute. I spent the month before that working very hard to get ready for it, knowing that I would be at the bottom of the class. Even though I’m the least advanced midwifery student in that particular group, I wanted to have something to offer them. These are all women who have served women at birth many years longer than I have even been thinking about birth. Most of them would be considered experienced midwives already. This is the kind of person who enrolls at AAMI, and I really benefit from it.
It wasn’t really a conference; it was a workshop at our director’s house. It went from about 9 a.m. to about 11 p.m. every day, and it lasted for six days. The first day Carla even called anything a “break” was the fifth day, and that was for 10 minutes. It was boot camp. We all had a great time, seriously.
I did miss my kids and Dan, a lot. Scattered throughout the day, there were maybe 30 minutes total during which I could call them, but I was in a different time zone, and they had their own schedules, so I didn’t get to talk to my kids every day.
It’s been hard to distill what I should say about the Intensity to people who weren’t there. It was an experience, like the disciples having small-group time with Jesus. But it resembled a conference in that there were planned talks on different topics. It resembled school in that there were lots of quizzes and research. It was like a skills lab in that we practiced some things that midwives sometimes do (palpation, taking blood pressure, and vaginal exams, which it would be best to never do on a real woman — we did it on a teaching tool called Vagina in a Box — lol). And it resembled a sleepover in that there was lots of conversation and not much sleep.
Carla says the measure of what you learned is not what you know, but how many more questions you have about it. I agree. So even though we had some amazing presentations and assignments on these topics, I don’t in any way feel like an expert.

We had “official” presentations on:
twins and multiples
breech
prolonged labor (that was my long presentation — I think it went on for about 2 hrs., w/ all the discussion, in keeping with the topic)
PEMS — a holistic way of looking at birth and life decisions and all kinds of stuff
birth certificates
normal cord closure (that was my short presentation)
Group B strep
blood pressure
lots of time-management stuff
preeclampsia
rupture of membranes (those last two I listened to on mp3s, in my “free time” — either when I got up early to run or while I was falling asleep)

We had to do short (20-min.) presentations on a food we think people should eat more of, and those were:
coconut
kimchi
legumes

We watched and critiqued an instructional video on shoulder dystocia and watched/critiqued a bunch of other movies about birth.

We put together models of the female reproductive system that we can use to educate parents in the future.

We took quizzes, wrote papers, and did research on:
ectopic pregnancy
postpartum hemorrhage
things you can observe about a woman that tell you something about her health (I think we decided this was called “observational signs”)
female anatomy
all kinds of other terminology

We discussed:
licensure
certification
phytoestrogens
eating disorders and how long it takes to rebuild minerals
whether to carry oxygen to births
oil pulling
cell memory
medical marijuana
liking, loving, or tolerating people
history of midwifery
nitric vs. nitrous oxide

I feel like that list is barely skimming the top of all that we talked about. A lot of those things just “came up”; they weren’t on the agenda.

Someone asked how long it might be till I’m able to attend homebirths. Hmm. Well, it’s not a piece of paper that will qualify me as a midwife. I don’t know yet whether I will seek certification or not. (Once you’re certified or licensed, you are bound by some other organization, not the parents, and I don’t want someone else telling me that I can’t serve VBAC moms or that I have to induce at 42 weeks. Heaven forbid.)
I would like to have at least another year of very serious academic work done (think intense unschooling), and I would like to apprentice. It will take me at least 2 1/2 more years of serious academic work to graduate from AAMI. I believe that when it is time for me to start serving in the position of a mother-appointed midwife, parents will find me. I’ll pray about it, and I trust God to let me know when it’s time.
Maybe the most important lesson I learned was that when you have something that people need, it is selfish not to share it. Even though I’m not an expert on birth by any stretch of the imagination, I do know some things that people need to know. Often, here in my mainstream world, I feel like the only radical, and I keep quiet for fear of offending people, making them dislike me, etc. But I really need to learn to tell the truth boldly. As Christians, we talk about doing that with the truth about Jesus. There is also truth about birth, and when people ignore it or just don’t know about it, they and their babies get hurt. The triumvirate of introversion, perfectionism, and approval-seeking in my life must be overcome. This is hard stuff for me, but I came back from the Intensity with a renewed challenge to go ahead and do the hard thing, because it’s the right thing to do.
How will that look? I hope it translates into informal conversations with friends, acquaintances, and strangers. I’d also like to start teaching some little classes on different topics. I’ve got one ready to go (the one on normal cord closure). As I keep working on my AAMI studies, I’ll have more and more to share.


Grain mill giveaway!

Paula’s Bread and Heavenly Homemakers are giving away a Nutrimill grain mill here. And even though I cringe at the title “Heavenly Homemakers,” I swallowed my pride and posted it on Facebook and am posting it here, because I would really love to have a Nutrimill! I’ve kind of wanted one for a couple of years.
In fact, I’ve spent a lot of mental energy today bellyaching about nutrition: Nourishing Traditions? Paleo Diet? Locavore vegetarian-ish? Raw? For my midwifery studies, I have to do a lot of work on nutrition (because — here’s a freebie — the vast majority of pregnancies can be kept healthy through proper nutrition). In any case, grinding one’s own grain is a plus, no matter what sort of diet you follow. And I just kind of like that sort of thing.


Addendum

And one rant I forgot.
I am NOT a medical person. And I do not and will not cut people, even if they want me to.
I am a doula right now, and doulas are not medical people. I hope to be a midwife someday. Midwives support normal birth, which is physiological, not medical.
I have no desire to cut anything on a person, ever, not even a skin tag.
The end.


A backlog of vacation statuses

All summer long, an urge to get out of hot Manhattan to cooler, more mountainous regions had been building in me. And finally, all the babies were born (beautiful stories, each one of them), and the morning after two all-nighters, Dan and I packed ourselves and the kids up and headed north. We spent several days at the ranch and several days in heaven — er, Colorado. The Fraser River ran through our front yard, and we kept our windows open at night for the cool breeze and the rushing sounds of the water.
We had very low connectivity to the internet for the first half of the trip, and I didn’t act addicted to social networking at all. It was how I should be all the time — living slowly, favoring real interactions over the obsession of Facebook, breathing in the presence of God rather than distracting myself from him. During that time I had a lot of things I would have shared with friends, had that worked in my introvert’s-paradise vacation. So now that we’re home, here are the things I would have said:
This recipe for blackberry cobbler from the Pioneer Woman is YUMMY. I was cooking for my in-laws, who eat low-carb to prevent diabetic symptoms, so I made this with 100% whole wheat. It still wasn’t low-carb, but at least we could feel good about the grains — and the blackberries were grown organically in their backyard. I also substituted butter for the Crisco.
This recipe for 100% whole-wheat pita bread is totally amazing! I made these breads to eat with tri-tip, roasted veggies, and some other low-carb stuff. My mother-in-law gets a special carb dispensation for fresh, homemade bread. She ate a lot. The next morning, we piled leftover tri-tip, scrambled eggs, cheese, and salsa on the remaining warmed-up pitas, for a sort of breakfast tostada. I am so making these pitas again — I’ve been nostalgic about them ever since the night I made them.
Our kids are getting big enough to do road trips really well. We take along chapter books and a DVD player for the *occasional* movie, and art supplies, and Legos or Trio. They entertain themselves and each other well. We never thought this day would come, but it has! We read The Castle in the Attic, by Elizabeth Winthrop, and are partway through The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke. They were bummed, because when we left for our trip, there was only one chapter left of The Silver Chair, and we forgot to bring the book along. That’s what happens when the mom is really sleep-deprived.
Speaking of reading, I read the first two Hunger Games books and am rabidly thinking about how to get a copy of the third. Although now I’m home, and all my work is sort of piled up around me. I also finished Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, which is just exactly what I needed to read as I learn to relate to the Father. And I read most of the Midwifery Today issue on second stage, and you birthy people out there, beware! I am going to pass it around! It about makes me hyperventilate with the truth and beauty contained therein.
Colorado was gorgeous as usual, but the pine trees have been tragically decimated by the pine beetle. Whole mountain slopes are either gray with dead trees or cleared to remove the fire hazard and maybe harvest the wood for something useful before it totally disintegrates. The Colorado blue spruces are not affected by this insect, but they don’t come close to filling in the holes left by the pines. Why is this happening? I don’t have much knowledge about it, but I understand that climate change is responsible because the winters haven’t been cold enough to keep the pine-beetle population down, and they just keep on reproducing and riddling the trees with holes, consuming the sap. The fire danger is really frightening. I would not want to be a firefighter in Colorado right now. As I mourn the pines, I rant inwardly at those who ridicule the concept of climate change.
And oh how we hiked. We wandered joyously four and five miles at a time. Jonathan hiked around a lake barefoot (4-5 miles), and I envied him his bodily connection with the mud, the rocks, and the tree debris.
We ate at a deli with this sticker on the countertop: “Don’t groom Mary Jane. — God.” I thought how, if I wanted to try marijuana, Colorado would be the place to do it. And I savored my yummy spinach-and-nut-burger sandwich and thought how lovely it was to be hippie and fit in.
Now we’re home, and I am taking the rest of this month and all of next month off from doula work, prenatals and all. I’ve needed a break for a while. But this package was delivered while we were traveling, and in it is a sphygmomanometer set, a stethoscope, and a fetoscope. I think I’m going to be doing some playing. 😉


In which I try to lighten up. Ha ha! This takes a lot of concentration.
I have this bang-up paper I just wrote on the ethics of formula companies, which I may just share with you after I write this fun, disjointed post. 🙂
A moist, cool breeze wraps around my feet as I write. Will my Sunday-morning endorphin run get rained out? I hope not, because I would miss the whole “I rock!!” feeling that lasts all day.
It’s been busy, and I’ve been overwhelmed and meltdowny. Thank God for clients who trust me and invite me to their births — and then pay me!
Some things, though, suck: like finding out you probably have herpes just when you are heading into the home stretch of an awesome vaginal birth. (I should clarify: I don’t have herpes! — It sucked for the A-MAZ-ING woman who was having the baby.)
Elanor is reading chapter books. She gets sucked in so much that her chair tips over and dumps her on the floor. Her room is extremely chaotic. Some of my friends have been by my side throughout this struggle for me. Thanks. Nothing works very well. My “good” is her “bad,” she tells me, after explaining her elaborate scale of goodness and badness of room organization.
Jonathan listened to Willie Nelson during his bath tonight. I listened to Willie a lot while pregnant with Jonathan and at the time felt like there was some deep significance to it. Now I wonder if the Willie-induced chemical reaction in my body with Jonathan in utero did some cool hardwiring in his brain and body.
And by the way, pot should be legal. Period.
For as hippie as I am at the core, my list of consciousness-altering drugs tried is pretty short: running endorphins, alcohol from a glass of wine here or there. That’s it.
Reading is getting short shrift lately. If only I didn’t need any sleep. Alas, I do.
And finally, tomorrow Dan and I celebrate 12 years of wedded bliss. Actually, we are fairly blissful together. 🙂 This Dixie Chicks lyric expresses one thing I really love about Dan:

And I come to find a refuge in the

Easy silence that you make for me
It’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me
And the peaceful quiet you create for me
And the way you keep the world at bay for me
The way you keep the world at bay

(Sorry for the weird video. I’m just including it in case you’ve never heard the song — and the words on the screen are helpful.)


Midwifery skills lab!

I just have to squeal this somewhere: I’m leaving this afternoon for my first midwifery skills lab! I’m really doing this! We’re going to be learning things like belly palpation, venipuncture, suturing, estimating blood loss, and understanding fetal heart tones, to name a few. So if any of you want to volunteer your bellies, your filled-up menstrual pads, and your sliced chicken legs for me to practice on later, that would be so awesome! (Just kidding on the menstrual pads and the chicken legs — though that would be good practice.)
My wonderful husband and kids are going it on their own between today and Saturday night; I’ll miss them so much!
Thanks for letting me share my excitement with you! 🙂


Off-balance

I have a dirty secret to confess. No, really, it’s bad.
Here it is:
I like tasks more than people.
My ambitions get out of control sometimes, crowding out the love. That’s what’s been happening lately. As I’ve become more engrossed in my midwifery studies, my heart has been pulled away from my children and my husband. I knew things were out of whack, but I couldn’t think straight to take steps to correct my ship’s listing. So (to my credit) I asked Dan for some honest feedback, and he gave me some, and it was a real bummer.
When things get busy or intense for me, I go faster. I run faster, I eat faster, I sleep faster, I read faster, I listen faster. I check everything off my list, but I’ve never actually been there in the moment, because I did it all so fast you couldn’t even see me. It’s a special superpower I have — along with the ability to deal with bodily fluids.
But God in his kindness allows me to ask questions of the honest, loving people in my life, and then they gently help me see the truth — that I am missing out on what’s important. In my all-fired hurry to meet my God-directed, God-blessed goals, I have shut off the love. And if I give my body to be burned and have not love, then all my accomplishment is but a harsh discord and nothing of beauty. Oh, I am so foolish sometimes.
It is my tendency to go to extremes, but this time I’m choosing to control myself and not dive headlong into condemnation. I’m pretty sure God is not asking me to stop studying midwifery, to homeschool my kids, to close my doula business, or to quit running.
But here is the first step I’m planning to take: Sleep more slowly. That is, take an hour longer to do it every night.
It’s possible that (ahem) listening to my body in this respect will increase my resilience to the point that I won’t be sleep-deprived-insane every day and I might possibly have the ability to focus (what a novel idea!) on my two precious children and my precious man. Maybe if I’m a little less exhausted I could say yes more often to the proposals that come my way.
And second: I need to make peace with the possibility of needing more than three years to finish my midwifery program. What would that hurt, really? (Really, I have to talk myself down when it comes to that prospect.)
I still wonder, is balance an illusion in this life? I bet there is no such thing as perfect balance this side of heaven, no matter how many Priority Living groups you’re part of, or how disciplined you are, or how many vacations you take. But it’s worthwhile to strive for more of it. The other alternative, to trample on people created in the image of God, is fearsome indeed.


Clothes.

I need some fashion help. Or maybe what I need is someone to tell me to stop worrying about it.
It’s hard even to know how to explain all this, and I realize it doesn’t really matter in the long run, but right now it’s bugging me.
In winter, I suffer the dilemma of comfort versus style. They cannot, apparently, coexist. Comfort to me means warmth and non-tightness. I want comfort and practicality more than I want style. So, for instance, right now I am wearing some old windpants of an outdated color (these are only about 8 yrs. old), a new (!) full undershirt (because my old one was falling apart, and my even older one isn’t enough to keep me going all week long), and a sweatshirt that my mom sent me when I was an exchange student in Germany in 1995. Oh, also some Lands’ End slippers that I’ve had for about 10 yrs. I can concentrate when I’m warm and comfortable. I can relax this way. I don’t always have to be feeling tight things digging into my crotch and my belly, or hugging my rice socks to keep warm.
If I could, I would wear these kinds of clothes every day. They do not make me feel pretty, but doggone it, I can function in them. And I really don’t care that much, normally.
However, I have friends who do things like resolve to care about their appearance, and then I start to wonder if I should worry about mine more. I’m sure Dan would love to see more of an eye-candy version of me, but that is just plain torture in the winter, and he’s fine with that. We’re not about to turn our thermostat up to 80, which is what it would have to be for me to be comfortable.
Another problem is that I don’t really love any clothes in my closet (well, except my down coat with the fake fur and my organic cotton socks from Maggie’s Organics). But I’m not about to go spend a bunch of money on clothes that I might not like next year; everything I buy has to last until it wears out. On shopping, #1: It costs a lot of money to shop at regular stores, unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time finding the good deals. #2: My time is worth a lot more to me than pretty clothes at good prices. #3: Most clothes available to me in this town come with ethical problems attached in some form or another.
So I end up back at this same old dead end: boring clothes, and comfort over style. If I could wear workout clothes every day, even though it would not be beautiful, it would be almost ideal: warm, comfortable, practical. And if said perfect clothes would just appear in my trashcan and maybe sorta match, and the legs be the right length, that would be the best.
What to do? If you have any advice, send it my way. My favorite piece of advice would be: It’s OK to wear whatever feels good; stop worrying about it so much.


Why I haven’t been very vocal about midwifery

You know how unbearably exciting midwifery is to me! Yet I have kept pretty quiet about it, at least on Facebook and in real life, outside my most trusted circle. Why? Am I hiding my little light under a bushel? Well, here are the reasons.
1-2. Midwifery is a pretty radical concept to most people, and sometimes I just don’t have the energy to explain the differences among doulas, midwives, and OBs — and withstand the scrutiny when people realize I’m going down practically the most radical route.
3. Midwives are the witches of the historical witch hunts. I am not exaggerating or being metaphorical when I say that. If a group of OBs who disagreed with homebirth wanted to lobby to make direct-entry midwifery illegal in my state, it would not be very hard to do. Never mind what the research says or what women want. Money and power rest in the hands of the medical establishment. This is a frightening position to be in, because, um, I would like the honor of being a midwife without being arrested. (At least I won’t get burned at the stake for it.) So the lower-profile I am, the better off we all are, in a sense.
4. If I got started telling about what I’m learning, reading, thinking, etc., it would be hard to stop, and, frankly, I’m too busy for that right now.
5. You will think I’m weird if I tell you all I believe, the stuff that goes under the heading of midwifery. You might judge me. Maybe you’ll feel judged. I’m sorry this is on my list of reasons, but it’s true. I only have a certain amount of emotional energy to deal with this.
So those are some of the reasons.
Let me leave you with a smile on your face. I do talk (incessantly) about the midwife thing at home. Which is why Ellie spent a little extra time on the toilet last night. She told me she wanted to practice pushing so she would know how when she had a baby. Oh, my dear girl.