Opa’s Visit

My dad is one of Grace’s favorite people, so you can imagine how excited she is to have him here for Thanksgiving.  We’ve been taking advantage of the only places to visit in Garden City- the zoo and the coffee shop.  Grace also loves playing in her play room in the basement with her Opa.  Here is the two of them listening to music and dancing.

When my dad goes downstairs and shuts the door behind him or goes into the bathroom, Grace immediately starts crying and asking for more Opa.  She will be very sad when he leaves tomorrow.  At least she will see him again at Christmas time.  We are taking the train to Grand Rapids.

Pregnancy Must-Haves!

I was thinking about items that I consider to be must-haves for pregnancy and for parenting an infant, prompted by Carolyn. There really aren’t many actual material things that I find entirely necessary most of the time- I tend to believe that marketers of baby products go way overboard in trying to convince parents that they need more more more! (For fear that they will otherwise not be a good caregiver to their baby? Because they worry that babies are SO hard to take care of? I’m not sure.) Anyway, here are my five endorsed pregnancy items, items that prepared my body and mind for birth:

5. A large exercise ball: When I was expecting Grace, I worked in a special education classroom where students had a choice of sitting in chairs or sitting on exercise balls like these. It turned out to be quite handy because I was able to sit on one for the entire work day throughout my pregnancy. I even borrowed one for use at our house, though I must say the temptation of the couch got the best of me most of the time when I was at home! The benefits of an exercise ball (or “birthing ball” and they are known in the childbirth community) are numerable. In pregnancy, just sitting on the ball encourages healthy hip and back posture (while lightly toning the correct muscles to do so) as well as opening the pelvis to allow baby to sink deeply into place in preparation for labor. The mother’s erect posture achieved on the birthing ball also encourages the vertex or “head down” position.  Benefits of the birthing ball later on: Some mothers use the ball for positioning during labor- whether sitting on the ball and circling the hips, leaning the body draped over the ball, or whatever is comfortable. Once the baby is born, some people find that sitting on a birthing ball relieves pressure on a bruised or torn perineum. It’s also a good tool for bouncing and lulling a baby to sleep. Plus, when it’s time to get back in shape, you can use the exercise ball for its original purpose… exercise! (Yeah, I didn’t do much of that, whoops.) This link has some information about using a ball during pregnancy.

4. Floradix: This totally disgusting-tasting liquid iron supplement turned my whole pregnancy around. I understand that low iron levels, though somewhat common, do not affect every expectant mother- but the benefits for me during my last pregnancy were so profound that I would supplement with Floradix prophylactically if I had to do it again. Before Christmas time I was unable to stand long enough to make a grocery run- I would start feeling queasy, shaky, and worried I would faint. I wanted to remain active during my pregnancy, but working out would have been dangerous. Enter Floradix. Two weeks later I was back to my normal self and my normal energy level, working out at the gym and doing yoga on a regular basis. What makes Floradix different from other iron supplements is that it is entirely plant-based and does not cause the nausea and constipation that iron pills tend to. It’s a little pricy, but here’s a hint: it’s much cheaper if you buy online over at Swanson’s Vitamins.

3. Jennifer Wolfe’s “Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga” videos: These are simply the best, in my opinion. I’m picky about yoga videos, but yoga classes are not in large supply out here in the middle of nowhere so I read the reviews online and chose very carefully. Jennifer Wolfe is awesome. I had the short forms DVD, which I dare say is plenty challenging for me. (I enjoy yoga and wouldn’t say I’m a beginner, but I am certainly not advanced in my practice.) The 15 minute segment was great for a little pick me up at times when I was on the go. The 30 minute segment was my regular go-to, and the 45 minute segment was a challenge that I attempted only a few times. Doing the deep squats, lengthening stretches, and stability poses made me feel like some sort of pregnancy goddess. Seriously, it made me feel like my body was made for making babies. Jennifer’s voice is soothing (with no breathy new age bullshit) and she explains each pose clearly with modifications for your stage of pregnancy. You can find her DVD’s online here.

2. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin: I would encourage every pregnant mama to read this (or even every person who thinks they might be pregnant one day.) It is a great read that really helped to build my faith in my body and its abilities in birth. If you are not aware, Ina May Gaskin is essentially a modern midwife guru who has helped countless women to give birth safely and naturally. The entire first portion of the book is birth stories from a variety of women, most homebirths on “The Farm” where Ina May lives and practices midwifery. The second half of the book contains notes on exactly how the body works in order to birth a baby. Unlike many of the resources out there, it focuses on the body- not on what pharmaceuticals are available, not what to expect from medical interventions, not what to pack in your hospital bag. It’s plain and simple a book about the birthing body. Even if you are not planning to birth at home, this is a valuable book simply for acquiring knowledge to build confidence in birth itself. Ignorance might be bliss until it’s go time and you’re in labor. And then- knowledge is power; it releases our fears which can interfere with the natural birthing process. Oh yeah- and I also found the statistics page at the end of the book to be very enlightening!

1. Hypnobabies Home Study program: I’m not sure if I’ve ever elaborated on the fact that I used the Hypnobabies program to prepare for the birth of Grace. I’m going to let it speak for itself- here is a description from the Hypnobabies website:

“Hypnobabies is a very successful 6 week complete childbirth education course using Gerald Kein’s Painless Childbirth techniques instead of simple relaxation, breathing or guided imagery. This allows our Hypno-Moms to enjoy “Eyes Open Childbirth Hypnosis”, easily remaining deeply in hypnosis while walking, talking changing positions; being as mobile as they would like to be during childbirth. We are famous for much shorter, easier and more comfortable labors, making childbirth the joyful experience it was meant to be.

You’ll use your Hypnobabies Workbook, CDs and hypnosis scripts to train your inner mind that contractions in labor will be felt only as pressure, tightening, pushing, pulling and normal baby movement sensations. You’ll be fully in tune with your baby during the birthing process, and as aware as you’d like to be, easily able to communicate and be in charge of your own birth experience.

Hypnobabies uses the same kind of hypnosis techniques that people employ when preparing for surgery without any medication, which is called hypno-anesthesia. Our classes also teach our Hypnobabies Birth Partners how to fully support our Hypno-Moms, although Hypnobabies can also be used very successfully by single mothers”

Here’s the general idea: You use a book to work through the home study program, learning about how hypnosis works, prenatal nutrition, the process of childbirth- it’s a complete childbirth education course. Email support is always available. Along the way, you introduce new hypnosis tracks- 30 minute sound recordings that address different aspects of pregnancy and birth- from general relaxation, to perception of birthing waves (known outside of the Hypnobabies program as contractions,) to the dilation of the cervix. You listen to one track per day and when the course is finished, there is a one-track-per-day maintenance program. It seems like a lot of work, but the secret is that you can listen to your tracks while you are going to sleep and it is totally okay to to sleep right through. In addition to being the ultimate way to multitask, I’m just going to say that I slept really really well when I was pregnant. The soothing hypnosis works like a charm. In addition to the daily tracks, there is an affirmations disc full of positive self-talk about pregnancy and birth. You can listen to it just about any time- while you’re asleep (I used to create a playlist on my ipod with my daily track plus affirmations,) while you’re in the bath, when you’re driving- whenever you have a chance. The real test is the labor itself and I think Liesbeth would agree that the techniques we learned in our Hypnobabies program were exceptionally helpful at that time. I was able to remain totally calm and in control with Liesbeth’s assistance- in particular, she used the “release” cue that we learned from the program while applying pressure to my forehead and this ritual was all I needed to enter a state of total relaxation. Hypnobabies also offers in-person classes with an instructor depending on your location. They also offer tracks for such topics as turning a breech baby, eliminating nausea, and creating peaceful sleep.

Well, there you have it, my pregnancy must-haves. All of you experienced moms out there- I am curious to know what is on your pregnancy must-have list. Please share!

Stay tuned because I will also be posting my infant must-haves in the near(ish) future!

Awesome Library Find- Everywhere Babies

Grace and I try to go to the library on a weekly basis to play, read, and check out new books for both of us. This week I checked out five board books for her, and though I always briefly read or skim the books I take, I don’t always notice all the details until we get home. So when I was reading Everywhere Babies, written by Susan Myers and illustrated by Marla Frazee to Grace in the car on the way home from Colorado this weekend, I was pleasantly surprised. The concept of the book is that babies everywhere are being loved and played with and growing, etc. The rhymes are sweet and the illustrations show babies doing all kinds of every day things. The pictures really trigger stories in my imagination.

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Keeping a Toddler Busy in the Middle of Nowhere

One thing I really miss about living in a bigger city is the wide variety of options of things to do at any given time. When I was a nanny in San Francisco, I’d take the kids to different playgrounds, swimming pools, art museums, the aquarium, botanical gardens, classes (art, sign language, music), play groups, the ferry building, the children’s museum, the beach, and as you can imagine, the list goes on and on. It was great fun. It is somewhat ironic that I was able to do these activities with kids who were not my own, but now that I have my daughter, most of those activities are not available on a day-to-day basis.

In our town, we have the following: a zoo, a handful of playgrounds, a library, and a YMCA with a pool. We enjoy each of these outings, but I do have to say sometimes I find myself dying to do something different- especially when the Kansas heat and lack of shady trees makes being outdoors nearly impossible and even the YMCA pool has very limited family swim hours. Here are a few ideas that we’ve discovered to help pass the time:

  • We bought Grace a kiddie pool that we set up in our driveway. We keep it set up for a few days at a time and whenever we go outside we let her climb in and out.
  • Sometimes we bring a few bowls of water outside for Grace to practice pouring or get her hands wet. Since it’s really hot and dry here, we always dry quickly. I don’t even worry about what she is wearing.
  • We visit our local pet shop/garden center combination. Grace loves looking at all the different animals, plants, and garden decorations.
  • We have a farm and garden shop within walking distance, and in the spring they sell chicks and sometimes ducklings. They are lots of fun to watch.
  • We set up a toddler swing outside, so we can sneak outside for a few minutes to swing and pop back inside before we get overheated.
  • The bookstore is a fun place to visit, even if you don’t buy anything, and it’s a little bit of a different scene from the library.
  • Each week we make a major effort to get to the one local weekly playgroup and the Wee Readers story time at the library so that we don’t get too stir crazy.
  • We take walks early in the morning when we can, before it gets too hot.
  • We are starting to get into craft projects like coloring, watercolor painting, and play dough.
  • We read and read and read together.
  • We don’t have cable and we aren’t big TV watchers, but once in a while we’ll watch a clip of Sesame Street on Youtube. The songs are our favorite!

At this point, even after racking my brain for activities to keep us occupied, we often still end up wishing we had someplace to go. I would love to hear your suggestions! Please share!

On Being a Gay Family

Time for a fun game! Josh and Gretchen over at one of my new favorite blogs, Regular Midwesterners, have started a series of questions about parenting, gender, and being gay and are welcoming other bloggers to participate. I am looking forward to thinking about the questions that come up and reading everyone else’s answers. Here’s the first question:

We often hear gay families say they’re “just like” other families. Is this true for you? How? And how are you not just like straight families?

We often say this about ourselves, mostly in response to the fact that we get some pretty wild responses from strangers who first learn about our family. Is it true? For the most part I would say yes. Of course, not all straight families are the same, but the things that make our family what it is are not dependent upon the fact that Liesbeth and I are gay. We are the same as any loving family because we care for each other and our baby. In our everyday life we do the same things that most other families do. We eat breakfast and go to work and do the errands and pay the bills and think about what to eat for dinner and we sit down and watch a TV show before bed. Liesbeth and I are happy to be married to each other, we bought our house together, and we decided to have children. Those are more major decisions, but they are not unlike the decisions that straight couples might make. The difference is not really in what we do, but how we do it.

Being gay makes our big decisions more difficult. When we got married, it had to be done in a certain state at a certain time, and our marriage is not recognized everywhere, which leads us to further questions like: Which individual insurance policy will I purchase and how will we pay for it? What paperwork needs to be done to make sure that any assets are “inherited” by our spouse in case of (god forbid) one of our deaths? This is especially true since we live in Kansas, which has no laws whatsoever protecting same sex couples. When we bought our house, we had to be sure to purchase as joint tenants because we could not rely on our marriage to protect our rights to our house in case of the “purchaser”‘s death. (Seen “If These Walls Could Talk 2” lately?) When we decided to have a baby, we had to find donor sperm, choose a method of insemination, and coordinate everyone being in the right place at the right time. When our baby was born, we had to have paperwork to protect Liesbeth’s parenting rights, and ultimately hire a lawyer and proceed with an adoption. Most straight couples do not have to think about these sort of “how” questions when they are going about their major life decisions, and I suppose that is what makes our situation different. Our family itself, though? It’s just a family, unique just like everyone else’s. Being gay makes us no better and no worse.

I suppose on one last note, something I really enjoy about being in a same-sex marriage is that there are no stereotypes to fall back on about who does what. The patterns we’ve fallen into about who takes out the trash, who pays the bills, who fixes the bikes, and who picks out paint colors for the house have been set based on what each of us are good at and what we like to do. Of course, straight couples can do that too, but in our case we are 100% free of gender-related expectations for marriage and that is pretty liberating in itself.

If you’re interested in participating or just reading the other responses, check out Gretchen’s original post here.

Birth, Fear, and Education (do I ever talk about anything else?) Plus Two Great Videos

Today on  the NPR website there is a great little article about homebirth. Short and sweet. The accompanying video is lovely- please please take the time to watch it. It’s not very long.  At the end of the article is a beautiful quote by the midwife who attended the mother in the article:

“People talk about how painful contractions are because they’re so strong. But what we want woman to know is that the strength of that contraction is the strength of their own bodies. They are as strong as the contraction is. And so they are able to manage it.”

I know that we, as Americans at least, live in a culture of fear about birth. Fear that it will be too painful, fear that the baby will get stuck, fear that our baby is unsafe, fear that we are in danger. It is so beautiful to see someone who has been able to somehow get past that, to go into birth knowing both that it will be difficult and that they can do it. I was thinking the other day about why this is. I think Ina May Gaskin has it right. Here’s a clip from her book, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth:

“Let me be clear about what I say about fear and birth at The Farm. I don’t mean that these women in my village never experienced a few moments of anxiety at the prospect of giving birth or wondered, Will I be able to accomplish this seemingly impossible act? I’m sure that many of us did wonder about this from time to time. Virtually all women do. After all, it is not immediately obvious to most people who grow up in civilized cultures- especially those in which people live totally apart from animals- how birth can happen. When such moments of doubt occur to women in my village, they are able to fall back on the sure knowledge that their closest friends and sisters and mothers have been able to do it. This knowledge then makes it possible for them to believe that they can too- whether or not they’ve ever witnessed the act of birth itself. The women at The Farm have relearned and been highly successful at kinds of female behavior that modern women in civilized cultures aren’t known to be good at- those that go beyond the common medical understanding of women’s bodies and birth.”

We are separated from the reality of birth. Maybe we were not told the truth about how babies were born when we were kids. (I definitely know of friends who were told “The stork brings the baby” or “Mama goes to the doctor and the doctor takes the baby out.”) Maybe we’ve heard so many stories about cesarean births, labor inductions, and epidurals that we really don’t believe we can give birth on our own. Maybe when we finally hear of the concept of birth without intervention, it is so scary that we are relieved to know that there are alternatives, ways to give up the experience to someone else. I don’t mean this to say that having birthing intervention is the same thing as giving up; what I’m trying to say is that for those who are living in the fear of birthing, our society now does have fall backs- medical advancements that are necessary for some and widely used for many.

When I think about my experience with birth (my own and in general,) I realize that my perception has (thankfully) been created  to be pretty cut, dry, and honest. When I was three years old and my mom was pregnant with my brother, she didn’t lie to me about how he was going to come out of her body. I was told how he would come out using correct anatomical vocabulary. I never doubted at that time that it was possible for a woman’s vagina to open up so she could push the baby out, because I had never heard anything different. As a teenager, I watched my mom give birth to my sister and then my brother in the hospital. (Thanks, Mom!) As a young adult, I became a doula and found myself surrounded in birth stories. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that when it was time for me have my own babies I didn’t have a whole heck of a lot of fear-clearing to do. I knew my body could do it, I know it would be intense, and I did it. The myth that seeing birth for one’s self makes one fearful to ever have their own child is simply unfounded.

Living here in Kansas I’ve noticed that the prevailing notions about talking to children about how babies are made (both the part about sex and the part about birth) are: avoid the topic at all cost, tell the kid that it’s not appropriate for them to know, and if all else fails, lie. I have no doubt that this is a leading factor in our town’s extremely high teen pregnancy rate. But what I also wonder is if that is part of the reason why, say, the labor induction rate is so high in our local hospital. Sure, many times it is the doctors initiating the idea that induction is necessary, and sadly I am almost positive that most times it isn’t. Health care providers certainly play a big role in influencing expectant parents, but they aren’t exempt from being a part of the fearful culture at large. And not a lot of women around here are demanding to be in control of their birthing decisions, so it is a multi-factored issue.

Anyway, I’m sort of drifting here, but what I am getting at is that lack of information and deep-down knowledge that our bodies can birth babies leads to fear. We fear the unknown. Fear leads to physiological challenges when you’re having a baby. Physiological challenges can lead to medical interventions. Widespread medical interventions lead to the notion that our bodies might not be adequate for birthing, and the notion that our bodies our inadequate leads to more fear. Sad, huh? I hope that one day, if Grace chooses and is able to carry a baby, that she will have had enough experience to gain the wisdom that her body can do it.

On a lighter note, please please watch this. It is so funny, I promise:

A Little Perspective

Enjoying the coast of northern California pre-baby

When I moved away from my hometown in Michigan in 2004, I was so ready to get as far away as I could be. I found a job in California because (within the boundaries of the continental US) it was as distant and different as I could imagine. After a few months, I found my niche in San Francisco and I could not imagine a more perfect place for me to live. The San Francisco Bay Area had everything I loved- progressive culture, abounding food options, a market for my career of choice, the ocean, and a stunning natural backdrop for hiking and enjoying the outdoors. I still love the Bay Area and miss it terribly, but living in Nowhere, Kansas has changed me. After a few weeks back in good ol’ Michigan, I am seeing my “home” city in a new light. I put that in quotes because in a major way I would actually consider San Francisco to be my home, but Grand Rapids is technically my city of origin. In our town in Kansas, we have to get extremely creative when it comes to answering the question of what to do. There are limited activities that are suitable for Grace (library, zoo, playgroup, park) and so I am often racking my brain to think of something different to break up the monotony. It might be walking down to the nearby farm store and looking at the new baby chicks or it might be browsing the little fabric store. On a day to day basis, there really aren’t many options, though, and it is frustrating.

Kansas prairie can be beautiful...

Staying in Grand Rapids, I’ve realized that even though I never loved this town before, it has an incredible amount of options in comparison with where we live now! Last week, Liesbeth asked me what I was going to do while she was at work. I told her that depending on Grace’s nap schedule, we’d either go to the free trial Stroller Strides class or we’d go to the puppet-making workshop at the local children’s boutique. Then we were going to the library to sign Grace up for the summer reading program. We had options! Not only that, but we have options every day. The options are not limited to children’s activities either… We enjoy having a variety of types of restaurants around, being near the beach, museums, coffee shops, thrift stores, hiking areas, bicycle paths, and parks.

Liesbeth and 4-week-old Grace pose with the Grand Rapids skyline.

We saw a guy wearing a tee shirt recently that said something along the effects of “Grand Rapids, the epicenter of progressive culture.” That is not exactly true. Actually, it’s not at all true. I would never ever say that Grand Rapids is the epicenter of progressive culture… but it’s getting there. It is a city that we could live in and not feel totally different like we often do in Kansas. Realistically, when we move away from Kansas in 4 years or so, we will be going to whatever city in which Liesbeth can land a job teaching at a Montessori school. We are leaving our options open and we have no idea where we will land. That’s fine with me, especially since we have plenty of time before we need to give serious thought to relocating. However, Grand Rapids could be an option for us and it is amazing how living in Kansas has changed my entire outlook on that possibility.

I’m not even going to touch on the issue of Michigan winters. I am blocking that out of my mind, currently.