Friday, August 26, 2011

The Top Five Utterances of My HBAC

Welcome to the First Carnival of Birth Reflections.  This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Birth Reflections hosted by Patti at Jazzy Mama and Zoie at TouchstoneZ. Participants are writing posts that reflect on how birth has transformed them into who they are today. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

After the emergency cesarean birth of my first child, I was convinced I would attempt a vaginal birth after cesarean the next time around.  At my six week postpartum appointment, I was nonchalantly informed by the OB/GYN that no hospital or doctor would allow this.  It was soon afterwards when I started planning my home birth after cesarean (HBAC).  A waterfall of new experiences showered down on me during my HBAC and I found myself uttering things I never said in my first birth; here are the top five.
5.  “I need my birth sculpture.”
When I bought the book Birthing From Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz, in preparation for my first birth, I found the initial - extremely long - part on birth art a little hokey.  Drawing crappy pictures is going to help me prepare for my birth? OK.  I never finished the book.
When I pulled the book back out in preparation for my second birth, my HBAC, I tried to have an open mind.  I made a couple of sketches and this sculpture:

I warmed the clay in my hands for a long time while I thought about the message I wanted to convey.  Before long, I had a soft, smooth roll about 8 inches long.  It had a prefect, polished look.  It reminded me of the umbilical cord that was providing nourishment to my baby at that very moment.  But I frowned as I held it up at both ends and watched it sink in the middle; it was so weak.  
Starting in the middle of my roll, I began to gently twist the clay around and around, forming what looked more like rope.  The roll became shorter, fatter, bumpy, and rough.  It also became stronger.  It wouldn’t bend as easily as its smooth counterpart.  I pushed the two ends together and my piece was complete - a small, simple circle, containing a smooth, peaceful half and a strong, rough half.
After I baked my birth art I kept it by my bed for the rest of my pregnancy.  I would pick it up, rubbing the bumpy and smooth grooves, contemplating the birth that would soon come.  I wouldn’t try and plan individual details; I would imagine the feelings and emotions I hoped would surround me.  
I cradled the sculpture in my hands during most of my labor.  Sometimes I would lean on the counter and study the lines and grooves.  Sometimes I would massage it with my thumbs as I paced the bedroom.  It now has a place of honor in my nightstand.  I no longer consider birth art hokey.  Birthing From Within now holds an important place in my birth story.
This certainly isn’t an unusual phrase to hear during childbirth, except I never had a chance to say it the first time.  Looking back on it, I am overwhelmed by how urgent and confident that phrase sprang from my lips.  I certainly didn’t need anyone to stick their hands inside of me to tell me I was ready to push.  “Try and stop me,” more accurately described the situation.
The fact that I never got the chance to push during my first birth sparked an emotional and determined flame in me that burned like the ring of fire.  It is a flame that still burns today and a big reason why I write about my births.  Sometimes it felt like I had to push everybody in order to get the birth that I wanted.  
I had to push away doctors and hospitals who told me I couldn’t even attempt a vaginal birth after cesarean.  I had to push my husband, who was understandably hesitant at the thought of a home birth.  I had to push myself to find a suitable midwife in a sea of OB/GYNs.  I had to push my own pediatrician who just had to comment about how scary she thought home births were.  I pushed, and I pushed, and I pushed.
After a very long year of pushing my way towards the birth I craved, I pushed my 6.4 pound baby girl out in less than ten minutes.  I guess I had gotten pretty good at pushin’.  
3.   “Don’t turn that off!”
Oh, no she didn’t! As I was heaving myself up onto the bed so I could push my baby out, my midwife went over to the T.V. and turned off the Grey’s Anatomy DVD that had been playing throughout the three hours I had been in labor. Oh, yes she did.  
I was not happy about it.  Judge me if you must, but I am an avid T.V. watcher.  You could say that having the television on during my birth was my “focus item.”  It was soothing; it brought me familiarity and comfort.
So... yeah....  I yelled at my midwife.  But, they’re used to that... Right? She took it well.  And turned the T.V. back on.  
2. “NOOOOO!”
While we’re on the subject of yelling at the midwife... I like to think that I’m a pretty assertive person in my everyday life.  I don’t know what it is about a hospital, but whenever I find myself in one, I also find myself turning into a complete pushover.  
Even after spending nine months painstakingly planning my first birth, I let my plans fall right through the cracks the instant I walked through the automatic doors.  Get in bed -- Okeedokee.  Wear this monitor -- right-e-o.  Time to get in the tub -- yes, master.  Don’t stop here to have your contraction -- give me drugs! You need to have a c-section, sign this -- is this my fault? Do they pump some kind of brain-numbing gas into the air or something?
I certainly wasn’t consciously thinking about any of this during my HBAC.  I did, however, find it much easier to say no.  Would you like to get in the shower, Leah? -- Noooooo! Every time you push you are pushing her head out, do you want to feel? -- Nooooooo! Chuck, do you want to come catch the baby? -- Noooooooo! I guess I thought my husband needed some help asserting his feelings as well.  
I didn’t take it too far though.  After I had been checked, by request, and was at 7/8 centimeters and started feeling pretty tired, Katia again suggested I get into the shower.  This time, I heeded her experienced advice.  Less than ten minutes later, I was screaming, “I HAVE TO PUSH!” (See #4)
1.  “I did it!”
Yeah, yeah, yeah.  It’s cliche, it’s cheesy, it’s corny.  What can I say? Birth is corny.  And cheesy.  It’s also beautiful, powerful, natural, instinctual, gentle, hard, painful, and unique.  Why wouldn’t I be so proud of having accomplished something that wonderful that I shout out the first thing that came to my mind?  There is a plethora of emotions that can be felt when someone lays a newborn baby on your chest, still wet from the womb and still connected to you through a pulsating, life cord.  At that moment, this cheesy phrase is the only thing my brain could push through my lips. 
It’s also true.  I did do it.   And I’ll cherish every memory of it for the rest of my life.

You can read my full birth story here.

Carnival of Birth Reflections
Visit Jazzy Mama and TouchstoneZ to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Birth Reflections!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

***This post was originally written under my previous blog name, Zen and the Art of Cloth Diaper Maintenance.***

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sundays With (Grandma) Granny: The Healing Power of Garlic

I have recently befriended a fellow momma blogger.  That's right, I got peeps now.  Christy at Adventures in Mommyhood: Mommy Outnumbered writes about the joys and trials of raising four small children.  I am in awe of her awesomeness, both as a mommy and a blogger.  I participated in her very first blog carnival, Parenting in America, with a piece called Parental Civil War.

Now I am thrilled to team up with her to present a weekly (mmmm, more like monthly) theme: Sundays With Grandma.  I have to change the title to Sundays With Granny, since that's what I always called my mom's mom and it just feels weird to call her grandma.

Granny's Senior Picture

My granny died when I was only 12 years old (not health related).  Though she has been gone for 20 years now, (crap, I just dated myself didn't I?) she remains one of the most influential people of my life.  As you will see, because I was so young, I took Granny's wisdom for granted.  As I embraced the fast paced, mass produced, chemically ridden world in my young adulthood, Granny's "old-fashioned" ways seemed to fall even farther into the back of my mind.

But ever since I have committed to living a more holistic/crunchy/green life, I feel her influence sweeping over me more than ever before.  It's such a comforting feeling - one I am so happy to share with Christy, and with you.  For our first installment, we bring to you Grandma and Granny's garlic wisdom.  To check out Mommy Outnumbered's post, click here.

The Healing Power of Garlic

Granny definitely knew the therapeutic powers of garlic.  But, as I said above, I was so young at the time.... this is an example of how our conversation on the wonders of garlic probably went:

"What are you eating, Granny?" I ask with a mouthful of no-bake cookies.

"A garlic sandwich," she informed me with a wrinkled up nose, already predicting my response.

"Ew, a garlic sandwich?" I mimicked her wrinkled nose.

"That's right, a raw garlic sanwich.  I know it sounds pretty icky, but it is very, very good for me.  One reason I stay so healthy is because of these garlic sandwiches."

"Oh.  Can we play Chinese checkers now?"

So, yeah, not very interested in the healthy magic of garlic at 10 years old.  And I have to admit, Granny's raw garlic sandwiches still sound pretty gross.  But I certainly admire her convictions.  Cut to a few weeks ago when I caught a cold and went on a frantic internet search for natural remedies.  Low and behold, garlic is great for colds! 

As I sat at the computer reading all about garlic, I was instantly transported back to Granny's yellow kitchen, watching Granny eating her raw garlic sandwich.  It was such a warm feeling - I could almost feel her over my shoulder, nudging me deeper and deeper into my research.

"Eat your garlic, Leachen Beachen! Live long and be healthy!" I could almost hear her voice in my ear.  (The explanation of the crazy nickname will have to wait.)  What I learned - what Granny would have told me if she were here - is that garlic really is a natural wonder drug, and has been utilized as such for thousands and thousands of years.  Here are just a few of the numerous ways garlic can improve health:

1. Fight the Sickies

Many studies have shown that garlic has significant antibiotic qualities and can help the body fight off illnesses caused by bacteria, fungi, yeast, viruses, and protozoa.  Garlic also works cooperatively with other remedies; combining it with prescribed antibiotics can be more effective than the antibiotics alone.

Many women praise garlic as a natural yeast infection remedy - taken either orally or vaginally.  Garlic has been used in place of vaccines in poorer countries and has also been successful in the treatment of viral herpes and pneumonia.

2.  Prevent the Sickies

Like with Granny's sandwiches, raw garlic consumed on a regular basis can boost the immune system.  Studies have shown that garlic increases the activity of a certain type of white blood cells called Natural killer (NK) cells.  Garlic can also aid the body's production of interleukins, which help regulate the immune system. 

3.  Help Guard Against Heart Diseases and Cancer

For decades now, garlic has been used to treat high blood pressure and numerous studies have shown reductions in systolic and diastolic pressures.  Garlic has been successful in the treatment of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and has also been used as an antithrombotic.  It should be noted that people with anticoagulant diseases should take caution when using garlic for therapeutic benefits.  The correlation between garlic and cancer definitely needs further study, but many experts now agree that garlic can produce therapeutic benefits with some cancers, including stomach and colon cancers.

Even with my new garlic knowledge, the thought of Granny's raw garlic sandwiches are still pretty intimidating, so I tried something a little different.  I crushed and minced one glove of organic garlic, added it to two tablespoons peanut butter, and spread onto wheat crackers.  I must say, not only was it eatable, but it was actually enjoyable.  Thank goodness my palate has matured from my no-bake cookie days.

How do you eat raw garlic?


The Complete Book of Garlic: A Guide for Gardeners, Growers, and Serious Cooks by Ted Jordan Meredith

***This post was originally written under my previous blog name, Zen and the Art of Cloth Diaper Maintenance.***

Friday, August 19, 2011

Breastfeeding in Public: The Bright Side of the Boob

NIP at White Sands National Monument
It seems a single week cannot go by without another breastfeeding in public nightmare.  There was the woman who was kicked out of Pure Fitness for Women, the momma at Denny’s who was asked to go to the bathroom to nurse, the school in Georgia that banned breastfeeding inside the school, and the list just goes on and on.  If I were a brand new mother still considering whether or not I would breastfeed in public, and read these articles, I would probably be scared milkless. 

It’s crucial that these issues come to light.  How can we change the world if we don’t know the world needs changing? How can we support these women if we haven’t heard their horror stories?

But when I do read about all these horror stories, I also feel compelled to tell my own breastfeeding in public story.  Because it is a great story, filled with nothing but kind and encouraging remarks from total strangers. 

As much as we need to hear the bad, I feel like we might need to hear the good even more.  When a woman is trying to decide whether or not she will attempt breastfeeding in public, she needs to know that many, many women do it everyday with very positive results.

So lets see here, I have breastfed:

in an airport,
on the airplane,
in a number of restaurants - right there at the table,
during my cousins ballet recital,
in a hospital waiting area,
at many parks,
at the mall,
at an amusement park,
at an interstate rest stop,
in my car in crowded parking lots,
at my daughter’s gymnastics studio,
and in more than one museum.

I almost never use a cover.  The few times I did try to use a cover, my baby would just pull it down anyway.  She doesn’t like being covered while she eats.  I do wear specific nursing bras and nursing shirts.  It makes it easier for me and my 36 DD’s to get the job done without exposing my entire ginormous breast to the world (not that I really see anything wrong with that). 

Honestly, I’m more self conscious exposing my pudgy tummy (by having to pull up a regular shirt) than I am exposing my breast in a nursing shirt.  Isn’t that silly? The women on the cover of magazines at new stands across the country show more breast than I do when I breastfeed.  Heck, I show more breast in some of my sexier shirts and dresses than I do when I breastfeed.

I have never, in all the times I have breastfed in public, had one nasty comment directed my way.  I’ve never even noticed any dirty looks.  I have, though, had a number of wonderfully kind and supportive comments. 

A man who passed me while nursing at a rest stop said I was feeding my baby the best way I could.  When he passed me again, he said all of his kids were breastfed and they were strong as bulls. 

When I breastfed at my cousin’s ballet recital, her mom - who was sitting right next to me - said she saw my baby cross her little ankles when she took the nipple and it made her ovaries hurt.  That’s a good thing, if you were wondering. 

The latest time I breastfed in public was inside my daughter’s kindergarten class during “transition day.”  That is just a fancy term for the day before the first day of school when parents can come in and see what their kids will be doing.  When I discovered I would have to take my baby with me, I will admit, my first thoughts were anxiety riddled.

Sadly, even after all the positive experience I’ve had while nursing in public, all I could think of were the horror stories.  What if they asked me to go into the bathroom? Would I go? What would I say? Maybe I shouldn’t even attempt it. 

But when baby wants her babas, she wants them RIGHT NOW! So I turned my chair slightly and whipped it out.  Not only did no one say a word to me, I don’t think anyone even noticed.  Ironically, another woman had left the room to nurse her six week old baby.  When we talked outside later, she was pleasantly surprised to learn I had nursed right there in the classroom.  Hopefully it gives her the courage to try it too.

And hopefully this blog can be a source of courage to other women still considering this whole breastfeeding in public thing.  We must hear the horror stories in order to show support and spread awareness and education.  But we must also hear the positive stories to spread courage, positivity, and show that awareness and education don’t have to be cursed with negativity.

Can you share a positive breastfeeding in public story?

***This post was originally written under my previous blog name, Zen and the Art of Cloth Diaper Maintenance.***

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Changing Momma's Recipes - Taking Out the Unhealthy, Keeping the Love

My mom was a wonderful cook.  I can’t count how many times she made everything in my life seem all better simply by cooking me dinner.  Now that she’s gone, I find myself clinging to her recipes.  When my house is filled with the familiar aromas of momma’s cooking, it's as if she is there with me.  I can almost taste her love.  When I cook her recipes for my children, I feel like I’m giving them memories of their Granny Jo that they will never otherwise have.

Many of the recipes were actually passed down from my mom’s mom - my granny.  So many times my kitchen is filled with the love of many generations.  It's such a comforting feeling.  The problem is, many of my favorite recipes don’t exactly fit into my plan of a healthier lifestyle - lots of sugar, gaggles of butter, white flour galore.  I am 100% committed to cooking healthy meals for my family, but I miss my mom and my granny too much to give up something that brings me so close to them.  What’s a girl to do?

Granny secretly started a cookbook for me, we found it after she died.

So, I promised my daughter we would make no-bake cookies tonight.  This is probably my most beloved of my granny’s recipes; I have been eating them since birth and making them myself for the past 15 years.  Best.  Cookies.  Ever.  Here is the recipe:

2 Cups Sugar
1/2 Cup Cocoa
1 Stick Butter
1/2 Cup Milk
1/8 Teaspoon Salt

In heavy pan mix well and over medium heat, bring to a boil stirring constantly.  When boiling good, turn heat to low and boil 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in:

Love reading recipes in their own handwriting.

1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
3 Cups Oatmeal (quick type)
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
1/2 Cup Nuts (optional; I usually leave this out.)

Line cookie sheets with wax paper and drop by teaspoonfulls.

Right when we were getting ready to make them, I realized I was all out of cows milk.  I did, however, have some coconut milk.  The thought of messing with this meticulously written recipe really freaked me out. It felt, somehow, disgraceful.  Not to mention I was worried they wouldn’t taste the same.  And even if they were still good, if they didn’t taste the same, well, it just wouldn’t be the same.  But a promise is a promise.  So we substituted 1/2 cup coconut milk for the cow’s milk.

They tasted EXACTLY the same! I was so excited I was literally dancing a jig of glee in my kitchen, with a mouthful of cookie.  And as I stuffed one cookie after another into my mouth, I was overwhelmed with inspiration.  I could do this to all my mom and granny’s recipes! It will take courage, patience, and a lot of trial and error, but I can keep on substituting ingredients until the recipes are healthy - or at least healthier.  The no-bake recipe will definitely need some more tweaking before it can be considered healthy - but hey, Rome wasn't built in a day.

This is what love looks like...

Healthy meals, wonderful memories, and still the taste of love.  You just can’t beat that. Happy dance!

***This post was originally written under my previous blog name, Zen and the Art of Cloth Diaper Maintenance.***

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Farmers’ Market: Crunchy 101

My family spent a simply lovely morning at the local farmers' market yesterday.  We ate breakfast burritos and authentic Belgian waffles.  We guzzled down three hefty cups of lemonade as we braved the heat already entering the 90s.  We chatted with local vendors and other market dwellers, seeing a few familiar faces.  It was hot.  It was crowded.  It was tons of fun.  And it was so educational.  Who knew?

One of my main goals with this blog is to chronicle the health changes I have been implementing into my family’s daily living.  I guess you could say, I’m trying to give our lives a little more crunch.  Who knew that one trip to my local farmers’ market would give me so much to talk about! From wonderful produce to the power of honey to breastfeeding support (that’s right, breastfeeding support!) our day at the farmers’ market turned into a crash course in healthy living.  Crunchy 101. 

Local Produce

Our first stop, after breakfast, was to visit the many produce vendors, as these usually sell out very quickly.  Summer squash and corn on the cob were among the favorites.  Our basket was quickly filled with red onions and zucchini.  Next came watermelon and the cutest little cantaloupes I have ever seen.

I also found some delectable yellow tomatoes that are so good I can eat them with a little mayo in a sandwich by themselves (although they would also be fantastic in a BLT).  One giant red tomato also mysteriously found its way into our bag (I didn’t want the reds to feel left out).

There are many benefits to buying local produce.  Its healthier; all the produce vendors had signs up stating that their produce is pesticide and herbicide free.  No chemicals or synthetic fertilizers are employed.  Unlike food you find in a grocery store that has been picked days or weeks ahead of time and then transported up to 2500 miles, local food is fresh.  Local farmers can focus on breeding produce for taste rather than focusing on preservation.  They also have a more positive impact on the environment by keeping shipping distances short and saving community land that might otherwise go to developers.  Its also nice knowing I’m contributing to my local economy and I’m supporting local farmers, a job becoming more and more endangered all the time.

Fresh Herb Leaf Tea

Between produce vendors, we found a gentleman who sells herbs, spices, and teas.  His booth was small and his white beard was long, almost down to his legs.  It also smelled fantastic - the booth, not the beard.  Because of my recent tea challenge, I was especially happy to find a local tea vendor! We chose Children’s Calma Te, a combination of lemon balm, lemon verbena, lavender, gota kola, and rose petals, which is supposed to calm and relax both children and adults; and Roobios, a sweet and nutty red tea that is reported to help with nervous tension, allergies, and asthma.

Like with produce, buying local herbs, spices, and teas means I’m getting a fresher, healthier product with no chemicals, preservatives, or additives.  I also have the producer right there in front of me, ready and willing to answer any questions I may have about the product.  It turns out, the maker and owner of New Mexico Herbs turned out to be the midwife who attended the HBAC (homebirth after cesarean) of my second child.  Talk about trusting your seller!

Local Meat

Our next vendor was not a planned stop on our journey, but one I was overjoyed to find.  We picked up some ground beef and a beautifully marbled chuck roast from Kate and the family-owned Maynard Cattle Co.  Her excitement in her product was beautifully tangible and refreshing.  She answered all of our questions about her beef (and we had many) and even delved into a huge spiral binder filled with a collection of mouthwatering recipes. 

Right outside the city I live in, there is a huge cattle ranch.  It smells horrible.  The cows are literally on top of each other; hundreds of them shoved together into small pens.  There is not one piece of green grass in sight.  The cows literally look sad, and it makes me sad every time I pass by.  I don’t even want to know what kind of steroids and antibiotics they are subjected to. 

The meat I bought from Kate at the farmers’ market is naturally raised and aged.  The ranch employs no concentrated feed lot conditions; cows eat quality grass, nothing artificial.  Cows are not subjected to any hormones, antibiotics, steroids, or animal by-products.  This meat really does come from happy cows! That makes me happy too.

Breastfeeding Awareness and Support

Our next stop was definitely the biggest surprise of the day.  Breastfeeding? At the Farmers’ Market? What huh?! That’s right.  My local W.I.C. office (an office I once thought synonymous with formula) had a booth set up with an overwhelming amount of breastfeeding information.  I walked up to the booth carrying my ten month old daughter, and was immediately showered with excitement, and a free bottle of cold water, when I told them I breastfeed on demand. 

I received a bumper sticker stating, “Affordable healthcare starts with breastfeeding,” and a “license to breastfeed,” which was a card small enough to stick in my wallet quoting the state laws concerning breastfeeding in public and pumping at work (section numbers and everything!).  I also took two of the many brochures: one was about knowing if a newborn is getting enough breastmilk and the other was a hardcore look at formula vs. breastmilk.  This brochure even admitted and denounced the fact that formula companies compete for “multi-million dollar contracts” with WIC clinics and bombard mothers with free coupons.

Local Honey

Cutting the refined, processed sugar out of my family's diet was one of my first steps to a healthier life and the local honey vendor was a major reason for our trip to the market.  Not only is honey a wonderfully sweet replacement for sugar, but many studies are now proving that the antioxidants found in natural honey have superior health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.  Raw, local honey has been shown to significantly relieve symptoms due to allergic reactions and is the most nutritious way to consume honey because it contains all the natural enzymes and live pollens absent from processed honey.

Knowing how your honey is gathered is very important for utilizing the natural health benefits.  Buying locally makes it much easier to know how the honey has been processed.  This particular honey is strained, not filtered leaving as much of the natural occurring pollen grains as possible.

Handmade Soap

Our last visit was to one of the local soap makers.  We took advantage of the buy five, get the sixth free deal and found ourselves surrounded by addicting scents like lavender-sage, nag champa, oatmeal, milk-n-honey, coconut, and vanilla berry.   
Cutting out the chemicals in my life has meant significant changes to my personal hygiene products.  I've lived my whole life thinking I had dry skin, which meant a plethora of moisturizing soaps and lotions.  It turns out, those soaps and lotions were there very culprits making my skin so dry! In less than a month of using homemade soaps, I have all but eliminated my need for lotion.  And when I find that my skin is in need of some extra moisture, I use unrefined Shea butter, also available from New Mexico Soap.

I See a Theme Developing...

I plan on making my local farmers' market a weekly event.  So why shouldn't I make blogging about it a weekly event as well? Ok, I'm getting a little over ambitious there.  But I do want to make 'The Farmers' Market' a recurring theme here on my blog.  Maybe I'll start profiling individual vendors.  Maybe I'll have more crunchy 101 lessons to talk about.  Do you attend your local farmers' market? How do you utilize local merchants and how has it affected your health, family, and life? I would be ecstatic to have some guest bloggers talk about their experiences with local farmers' markets around the country.  Any takers? Hit me up on Facebook.


***This post was originally written under my previous blog name, Zen and the Art of Cloth Diaper Maintenance.***
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