"But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure." Psalm 71:14-15

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Parenting in the Space of Grace

Many of you who frequent my Facebook page know something of the struggles I've had parenting my sweet, spirited, emotional, somewhat defiant, intelligent, loving little boy.  I believe in being honest and a bit raw on social media, none of that "coming up roses" version of not-real-life here.

Over the past couple of months, I really felt like I have emotionally turned a corner, in my personal growth and my journey as a parent.  As anyone who knows me can tell, I carry a very rigid sense of right/wrong, just/unjust, acceptable/unacceptable, which revolves around the core framework of my faith and how we should treat others.  You know, I take the whole "do unto others as you would have done to you" thing very seriously. This rigidity has affected my parenting, I believe in a negative way.  I will explain.

My rigid structure of right/wrong, just/unjust, acceptable/unacceptable, lead me to be a very strict parent.  I set extremely high standards for my children.  I took it very personally and felt like a failure when my child[ren] didn't act or treat people the way I was teaching.  I had emotional and anxiety ridden thoughts of the "end game", what kind of horrible person they would turn out to be if I didn't squash each unacceptable behavior immediately.  So I ended up correcting everything, thus making my sweet, sensitive, somewhat defiant little boy feel like he couldn't do anything right.

Couple that with the fact my oldest was very verbally advanced early on and able to express himself with words, I forgot the #1 rule of child development.  Behavior is communication.  If that is true, if behavior is communication (which it is), then what does that mean for behavior modification or control style of parenting?  If behavior is communication, then that means that children are telling us about what they are feeling or experiencing with their behavior.  And they have the right to do that, all feelings and experiences are valid.  By trying to "control" their behavior, we are censoring their communication with us, instead of helping them through whatever the situation is.  We are addressing the symptom, not the root cause.  [STICK WITH ME HERE, I'm not advocating that kids should get to do whatever they want.]

My revelation this week was this: it's not my job to control/modify my child's behavior, that's THEIR job.  My job is to lead by example, show them how to navigate and control their emotions by being in control of my own.  My job is to help them be emotionally healthy, while imparting a broad framework of important values to apply to their decisions for the rest of their lives and hold themselves accountable to.  If you take the approach of "modifying" or correcting every little behavior, but fail to reinforce the framework of values you use to decide was is and is not acceptable, then when they are later faced with a choice they have never encountered and you are not there to correct them, they may or may not be able to do the right thing.

Now, this new approach does not change my rigid sense of what is and is not acceptable.  It only changes the way I deliver that message.  Instead of rigidly enforcing dos and don'ts, a trap I fear many Christians fall into. I choose to operate in a space of grace, which is the greatest gift our faith has to offer the world.  I've always tried to give others grace & space to grow, but I'm not very good at being gracious with myself.  I was also not very gracious and understanding as a parent.  I am working on correcting both of these things, and being more gracious with myself and my children.  To do this, I focus on a few simple truths and strategies to guide my discipline approach with my kids.

1. Remind myself that they are kids.  Stop taking their behavior as a personal assault or predictor of their future.  In the moment, I remind myself that they are _ years old, and that this is normal behavior for a child.

2. Do not engage in arguments with my child.  I love them too much to argue.  Neither of us are happy with our relationship at the end.  Give them an answer.  If they argue, remind them of my answer and reason for it, then walk away.  The End.  This helps cut down on emotional capital spent on negative interactions.

3. Ignore negative attention-seeking behavior.  Give lots of praise and attention when they are acting appropriately.

4. Choose to address undesirable behaviors based on your overall character goals for your children.  The character goals that guide my parenting are kindness, respect, empathy, integrity, and self-responsibility.  So applying #3 & #4, I may choose to ignore my child jumping around the room.  But if they interrupt 2 people who are talking, I will remind them of our strategy of how to get someone's attention politely and wait to speak in order to be respectful.

5. Help them connect undesirable behavior back to your framework of values.  When a child talks back in a sarcastic or nasty way.  Instead of saying, "You don't get to talk to me that way" (a totally unenforceable statement, because we can't actually control what another person says).  I say something like, "You don't sound kind right now" if they are talking to a peer.  Or "You're not being very respectful" if they are speaking to an adult.  These statements take on the role of the first warning and gives them the opportunity to choose a different course or apologize.

6. Immediately address what is absolutely unacceptable.  Anything that crosses into the realm of abuse, be it physical, mental, or emotional, must be addressed as unacceptable.  Also anything that is dangerous for themselves or others (like darting into a parking lot without looking), must be addressed.  It can even be less serious, such as not washing your hands after you visit the bathroom.  That is not a choice, you either wash your hands or I will wash them for you.  There are non-negotiables in parenting and in life.  They have to learn that some things are "have to" and they don't get a choice, like it or not.

These concepts may sound very basic to you, but these are things I've struggled with on my journey as a parent. A lot of life is a cycle of expectations & disappointment. Honestly, parenting and discipline has not come as easy to me as I imagined it would.  It has shown me the parts of myself that really need work, by having them reflected back to me through my children.  That will knock you on your butt.  More than once I've thought, "Oh no, don't inherit THAT from me!"  My counselor recently pointed out that Levi and I might be on our journeys navigating our big tempers and tender hearts in parallel to each other.  I'm forced to do the work on myself, so that I can guide him away from the same pitfalls I've faced.  He's worth the work.  So am I. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

More Than Milk

Her eyelashes tickle my breast.
Her tiny fingers gently squeeze for more milk.
She looks up at me and smiles as milk dribbles out of the corner of her mouth.
She butterfly sucks after falling asleep.
These moments take away all my insecurities about being a mother.
They rescue me from my feelings of failure and inadequacy.
These moments are just for us.
In these moments I am enough for her; I am all she needs.
These moments are more than milk.

Jill M. Black

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Breastfeeding Clara

Anyone who has read this blog long enough or knows me well, knows that Levi and I had a tough time breastfeeding.  I had a lot of pain in the beginning which caused me to (unknowingly) mismanage my supply.  He also did a lousy job of actually taking the milk I had from me, and around 6 weeks my supply totally tanked never to recover.  I fought through chronic low supply, took herb tinctures and Rx drugs just to make 1/4 what he needed, because I wanted to breastfeed so badly.  In the end, we nursed for 15 months and I'm so very proud of us.

With Clara, I thought I knew what I had done wrong, and was hoping things would be different with her.  The good news is, they absolutely have.  I've been able to exclusively breastfeed her without supplementation.  I'm so very grateful.

I did everything right this time: double side feeding, no pacis in the first 2 weeks, no supplementation, no bottles in the first 3 weeks, lots of skin to skin and holding her, making sure I got at least 8 stimulations per day, etc.  After returning to work and pumping more than nursing on some days, it seems I still need more than a little help maintaining a full supply and keeping up with her bottle intake at school.  It also didn't help that we figured out about 4 days before I returned to work that she had a dairy sensitivity that made my entire 70 oz stash unusable!  Anywho, I first started taking the herb tincture I had taken last time, More Milk Plus by Motherlove.  This time I'm not taking a full dose (1 mL 4 times per day), I'm taking more like 0.75 mL 2-3 times per day.  When I had been back to work about 1 month, I filled my Rx for Domperidone.  It has helped a lot and I am able to keep up with her intake now.

I've also been drinking homemade loose leaf tea every day.  I learned while I was pregnant about the benefits of loose leaf tea over the prepackaged stuff in the store.  Apparently, the stuff in the store has so little herbs that there's hardly any benefit to drinking it.  I started making and drinking NORA tea during my 3rd trimester for uterine health and to ease labor.  I use a large metal coffee scoop to measure my portions (you could use a table spoon if you don't have a coffee scoop, it's not exact).  I make up 2-3 recipes in a big Mason jar and shake it up.  Then I use my scoop for 1 serving of tea.

My NORA recipe is easy peasy:
2 scoops Nettle Leaf
1 scoop Oat Straw
2 scoops Red Raspberry Leaf
1 scoop Alfalfa

I order everything from the Bulk Herb Store in the links above.  I ordered 1/2 lb of each herb and it cost around $30 including shipping to get started.  I've been drinking 1 cup per day for 3.5 months now and have not had to reorder yet.

I had planned to keep drinking the NORA tea after birth because of the vitamins and minerals in the Nettle Leaf and Oat Straw, the uterine health benefits of the Red Raspberry Leaf, and the milk boosters in Alfalfa.  However, once I realized I needed a bit more help with my milk supply, I came up with a NORA Plus recipe.  My Mason jar only holds 1-2 recipes of this.

NORA Plus:
3 scoops Nettle Leaf
1 scoop Oat Straw
3 scoops Red Raspberry Leaf
2 scoops Alfalfa
1 scoop Fenugreek
1 scoop Fennel Seed
1/2 scoop Blessed Thistle

You have to be careful with the Blessed Thistle because it is really bitter.  If you use too much, it will ruin the taste of your tea.  Again I ordered 1/2 lb of each herb.  The Fenugreek is a really small package and I'm running out fast.  I will probably order 1 lb of the Fenugreek, Red Raspberry Leaf, and Fennel Seed next time.  Those are the ones that I'm running out of quickly.  Each herb is different so 1/2 lb of one is in a big bag and 1/2 lb of another doesn't go as far.

I don't have a fancy tea infuser pot or mug, so I ordered this awesome french press travel mug that makes brewing and taking my tea a sinch.  Plus, I can use it for coffee later when I'm not breastfeeding.  I love my mug!

I wanted to share my successes and things that worked for me.  I hope it is helpful or encouraging to someone.  If you try my tea recipe and like it, let me know!

If you are not a tea drinker, or would like something more refreshing for summer months, you can make an infusion.  You just brew a much stronger version of the tea and then add it to your favorite juice, kombucha, or fizzy drink like ginger brew (which would be great for nausea during pregnancy).  I use about 1/2 cup of loose leaf tea in my quart jar.  I add the hot water directly to the jar, stir, and put the lid on.  I let it sit on the counter overnight.  In the morning, I strain the infusion and put it back in the jar with the lid and store it in the refrigerator.  You'll have 4 or so servings to add to juice or pour over ice and dilute for iced tea.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Clara Jo's Birth Story

Since Levi was born, I've turned into a birth junkie in search of answers as to what happened physiologically during my first labor.  I've read countless articles about labor and progression of labor.  However, everything I experienced during my first labor, and everything I read worked against me.  If I were just a normal laboring mom timing contractions, this birth story would have a very different ending.  But alas, here goes.

One of my main reasons for wanting a home birth was to reclaim my healthy view of birth, and to birth without fear.  In preparation for my labor, I bought the Hypnobabies home study.  I was horrible about listening to the tracks and practicing; I'm not sure it worked.  But I digress.  I can say that for the most part, I was very calm and relaxed for most of the labor.

I was having what I thought were crampy like contractions on Sunday night, February 9th.  When I woke up Monday morning, my contractions were about 12-15 minutes apart.  I took it easy that morning, ate some breakfast, and called my boss to tell her I thought I was in labor.  I called Matt at work to ask him to drive me to the chiropractor for one last "I'm in labor" adjustment around lunch time from Dr. Paxton.  By then my contractions were about 10 minutes apart, and still very manageable.  We picked up Levi from school on our way home.  When we got home, Levi took a nap and so did I.  I made the mistake of "working hard to establish labor" with Levi and by the end I was exhausted.  I knew that since I was in early labor still, I needed to rest as much as possible.  So I laid down, dozing on and off, most of the afternoon.

Earlier in the day, I alerted the birth team that "today might be the day".  My best friend Meredith was supposed to provide childcare for Levi, because we wanted him to be there.  Our photographer, Melody Hood, was going to photograph the birth.  My friend, Kristen, was set to be my doula.  And of course, Michelle Ray was our midwife.  Around dinner time, the contractions had reached 6.5-7.5 minutes apart and stayed that way for a few hours.  I was texting and calling Michelle periodically, but because I was still able to go about my daily tasks and talk normally through the contractions, we really didn't think that I was "serious" about labor yet.  Every birth junkie and well trained natural birth practitioner knows to judge labor progression by the emotional signs (laughing, talking, normal activity, etc) rather than the time span between contractions.  I think it was around 9pm or so when I went to the bathroom and lost my mucus plug.  That thing was gross.  I never saw mine with Levi.  But there again, that can happen days before a birth, so that's not really a sign either.

I had convinced myself that because Clara was in the same position that Levi was in during labor (spine on the right side of my uterus), that my labor with her was going to be long like it was with Levi.  My labor established itself as "active labor" fairly early on in the day with Levi and I was "serious" about labor and the strength of my contractions for over 12 hours before I got my epidural.  Because my contractions had been fairly mild all day, I had convinced myself that I was in for the REALLY long haul and not to get too excited too early.  Then my contractions started to space out again.  I knew that with second and after babies that labor could start and stop several times, and because I didn't feel that labor had established itself as "active" I thought that when they started to space out that night that they labor may stop and let me sleep and start back in the morning.  Michelle told me to lay down and try to rest, so I did.

I laid down about 10:30pm.  Once I did, I felt like my contractions were still pretty far apart, but they got MUCH more intense.  In hind sight, this would have been the time to call Michelle and tell her to come.  I tried to stay in bed, but the contractions were too intense, I had to get up.  I looked at the clock, 11:45pm, as I got out of bed.  I came into the living room and stood in front of the fire, talked to Matt, swayed back and forth, did some belly lifts trying to get Clara to turn, and labored through about 4-5 contractions.  I looked at the clock again, 12:05am.  For whatever reason, I still did not feel the need to call Michelle.  I didn't believe labor was actually "getting serious" because the contractions had gotten close and spaced out again so many times during the day on Monday.  Instead, I called Kristen, my doula.  I told her that things were more intense but I still wasn't sure if it was time to call Michelle.  She said she would grab her bag and be right over.

Again, this would also have been an excellent time to call my midwife.

Kristen arrived at the house about 12:25am on February 11th.  I was moaning through some fairly intense contractions, telling Kristen I was a horrible Hypnobabies student because I didn't think my anesthesia was working.  Because I was convinced that Clara's position was going to cause me to have a long labor, Kristen and I decided to try to get her to turn.  Kristen did some Rebozo belly sifting with me.  Meanwhile, Matt was in the living room reading his birth partner Hypnobabies literature about belly lifts and getting a baby into proper position for birth.  At the bottom of his reading material there is a big disclaimer, "Do not do this unless you are where you will give birth. If you are having a home birth, make sure your birth attendant is with you."  And he walks back to the bedroom to find us doing belly sifts.  Oops.

I stood up to go to the bathroom and felt a TON of pressure.  I ran my hand down the front of my belly, and there was Clara's spine...right in position for birth.  All I could think was, "Uh oh."  I looked at Matt and said, "Call Michelle.  She needs to come, now."  That was about 1:00am.  Matt gets on the phone and calls Michelle, who lives at least 45 minutes away.  He also calls Meredith (in case Levi wakes up during any of this) and Melody and told them to come as quickly as they could.  Then he calls Michelle back.

Cut to me.  I can feel Clara descending.  Michelle asks to talk to me.  She told me to check myself and see what I feel.  My calm response, "Hang on, I gotta wash my hands."  She asks, "What do you feel?  Is it a head?"  Nope, it was a bag of waters.  Then I sat on the toilet and it WAS a bag of waters that broke.  Then I felt intense pressure and Clara coming down.  I yelled at Matt that Michelle needed to get here now.  His reply, "Hun, she hasn't left her house yet."  Me, "She's not gonna make it and someone's gotta be here to catch this baby!"  Matt asked Michelle if he should call 911, she told him to go ahead.

Now I had heard of this phenomenon called "involuntary pushing", like if a pregnant woman were in a coma and went into labor, that her body could deliver her baby without any conscious effort from her.  I now believe this to be true.  When I realized that my midwife might not be there to catch my baby, I obviously did not make any effort to actively push even though I had the urge.  I also did not fight what my body was doing because that would have REALLY HURT.  So I just "relaxed".  I put this in quotation marks because I was relaxed as one can be while screaming bloody murder.  I really think my emotional state would have been different and I may not have screamed AS MUCH bloody murder if Michelle had been there.  But there was nothing I could do to stop her arrival once Clara decided to come.  I would not describe it as painful, just very intense pressure.  My body literally expelled her on its own.

We laid down the plastic table cloth on the bedroom floor, and Kristen was ready with her gloves to catch Clara (who started to crown before anyone arrived).  Matt was on the phone with the 911 operator and proceded to tell me to lay on my back, to which I responded "EFF HER!" (not abbreviated).  Greg the firefighter walks in (while I'm screaming again) and starts asking, "Ma'am, is this your first baby?  How far apart are your contractions?"  My response (in a not so nice yelling manner), "STOP ASKING ME QUESTIONS!  THERE'S A HEAD COMING OUT OF ME, JUST CATCH IT!!"  I look and the second firefighter is covering his mouth laughing in the hallway.  So Greg the firefighter decided he was going to "check" to see how close she was to arriving without telling me, to which I responded "DON'T TOUCH ME!!"  I think Kristen said something like, "You can just wait for the head."  I yelled out, "Somebody get Matt, he's gonna miss this!"  Two contractions and involuntary pushes later, Clara was born.  I looked up at the clock right in front of me, 2:00 am exactly on 2/11/14...HER DUE DATE.

THEN the ambulance personnel arrived.  Meanwhile, my daughter is wet/cold/screaming and they laid her down on a chux pad on the hard floor while wiping her off with another chux pad.  I'm [still] yelling, "Give me the baby.  She's cold.  Her body temp is dropping.  Give her to me!"  Greg the firefighter & Crystal the EMT "We need to clean her off."  Michelle on the phone to Crystal, "PUT THE BABY ON THE MOTHER'S CHEST!!!"  As my sweet doula waits patiently with a clean, fluffy towel to give to us after Clara is with me.  When they finally gave her to me, she stopped crying...obviously.  We got her dry and a fresh, dry towel to warm both of us up.  Then here comes Greg with a cord clamp.  I calmly put up my hand and said, "Don't clamp her cord yet.  Just wait for the midwife, she's almost here."  I didn't want to explain the research on delayed cord clamping to Greg.  He looked confused.  Luckily he just accepted the "Wait for the midwife." instruction as something that made sense.  I think he and Crystal felt like they needed to be doing something, so they just kept suctioning her mouth.  Whatever.  In retrospect, I think Kristen would have done a fine job catching her but I digress!

Matt likes to joke that even in the throes of labor and after giving birth, that I was totally in charge of the room and everything that happened...just the way I wanted!  Meredith arrived just after Clara is born.  All she said was, "Wow, that was fast!"  Then Melody arrived.  Both later stated that they nearly lost it when they pulled up to the house with 2 police cruisers, 1 fire truck, and 1 ambulance in the driveway.  Matt never got a chance to call them back after the initial "Come as quickly as you can." call to tell them what was going on.  Poor Melody said she might need a cardio work-up for the possible heart attack she had.  THEN Michelle came in and took over, I could finally relax.  ;-P

The poor EMT was so confused as to what to do in a normal birth situation.  She admitted that the only births she had responded to were 4lb, trouble breathing, no prenatal care, crashing babies.  She said something about transporting me and not knowing whether she could discharge me to the midwife's care without transport.  Matt's response, "She's NOT going to allow you to transport her or the baby.  There's nothing wrong with either of them."  Crystal had to get the ok from her supervisor on the phone to discharge two perfectly healthy individuals, bless her.

After all the strangers left my house, everything was just as I imagined it would be with a home birth!  I nursed Clara for the first time in my own bed.  Kristen and Meredith brought me food and juice and made me laugh.  Melody took awesome pictures and may or may not have held Clara before Matt, woops.  Clara made a big poopy all over my belly and Michelle was trying to clean me off.  I didn't realize Matt hadn't held her yet and I handed her to the nearest person so we could get both of us a little cleaner.  Matt totally busted Melody with, "Are you holding my daughter before me?"  Melody's all like, "No, that didn't happen.  No, not at all.  Here she is!"

Anyway, they made my herbal sitz bath in my tub where I got cleaned up.  They brought Clara to the tub where she immediately calmed down.  While I was in the tub, they changed the sheets on our bed and put towels and sheets in the wash.  Once I got out, Matt and I laid in bed while Michelle did Clara's newborn exam on the foot of our bed and told us how healthy she was: 7 pounds 2 ounces, 19.5 inches long.  Then Michelle and Kristen packed up to leave after a few hours of hard work!  Melody and Meredith stayed for us to wake Levi up, because yes he slept through everything!

Matt says that waking Levi up and bringing him into our bedroom was better than any Christmas morning ever.  As my sweet boy rubbed his eyes at 5 O'early in the morning, Matt said "Levi, who is that with Mommy?"  Levi said, "CLARA!"  He immediately wanted to hold her.  It was the sweetest family moment and I will never forget it.  I'm so glad Melody was there to capture it for us.  Once I get the DVD of pictures, I'll add some to this post.

Although it wasn't the peaceful, intimate home birth we planned.  It was lovely, and quite a fun story.  I delivered my baby safely, in my own home, and had the support of the people around me.  Oh, and I was totally in charge!