MAYD to Birth: At Your Doorstep

Promoting gentle, empowering mother journies…

A Free Range Family ~ "…To Pay Attention, this is our endless and proper work." Mary Oliver

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Yes!No!
by Mary Oliver
How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth.
I think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.
The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small, dark, lanterns.
The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.
How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out
Yes!No!
The swan, for all his pomp, his robes of glass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.
Long before I ever got serious about having children, I made the decision not to send them to school. I had never heard of “Homeschooling” at the time; I was truly surprised, delightedly so, when I discovered, in the mid-1980′s, that there were other people around who were also keeping their kids out of institutions, having a decided preference to hand-rear their own young and I recall being rather amused that doing so had become a rarity. Between day-care and school, most parents’ seemed destined to hardly ever see their kids and given all that I knew about what went into pregnancy and childbirth, it seemed like an awful lot of investment just to turn it over to someone else but I admit, at this late date, that my viewpoint was simple, and quite honestly, narrow. It was, in some ways, selfish; it was most certainly motivated by a set of false beliefs about the nature of parenting, and of children. I wanted to be with my kids and I didn’t want to have to allot any of the responsibility for “how they turned out” to anyone else. I had a construct about parenting that I now understand to have been woefully inadequate but almost universal in its application: I believed that I would have an influence on my children that, if done right, would ensure that they would turn out to be remarkable and brilliant individuals. They would escape any of the family dysfunction I had inherited. There would be no risk of serious problems as long as I birthed at home, breastfed them for several years, kept a family bed and homeschooled/unschooled them. I believed this because I bought into most of the lies of the parenting literature available at the time; the same stuff is available now with different titles, but the storyline is as misleading as it ever was. The pernicious untruth at the core of it is that our children are “products”…of our parenting. Of their environment. Of the school system. Of the peer group. They are a product of everything that goes into them and all that happens around them and like any product, you get what you pay for! No one will tell you the deeper truth which is that there are hidden variables inherent to the individual soul of every child, every person, that might have more to do with manifesting a destiny than we can ever know and we interfere with those potentialities at their, and our, peril. We cling, as parents, to the illusion of control and that illusion, as any parent of teenagers will tell you, shrinks to a very thin veneer as time goes on. In any case, I went into my parenting believing all of this tommyrot and I was prepared, from conception to birth and on into their childhoods, to pay the price. Any price. Because the parallel track that runs alongside the idea that we can control how are kids turn out is that how they turn out means something about us, as people, as parents. All of that is just peachy so long as the kids “turn out” well. Everyone knows, everyone believes, that there is nothing worse or more shameful than having kids that don’t “turn out”. Kids aren’t like pie crust; you can’t just crimp a little around the edges where the cracks are and fill in the gaps with a little extra dough and no one will be the wiser. Everyone knows when your kids go bad. Everyone. Knows.
The fly in the ointment in this whole proposition turned out to be me. Me and my relentless questioning, probing and curiosity. When I embark on a new endeavor, I rarely, if ever, settle for what “everyone else says”; I never follow the pack, even within the communities with whom I am closely aligned. Why? Because I am a bit of a rebel, and a radical, believing in drawing to, and from, the essence of things, distilling everything into what is most important. I have always lived a “free range” life and at nearly 50 years old, I don’t expect that to change ( I hope no one was holding their breath ) and I have no complaints about having done so. More central to the question, though, is the fact that I am trusting of other people, including children. It takes an awful lot for me to lose trust, or faith, in someone; I can count on one hand the number of times it has happened. I trust people. I believe in them. I believe that other people, including kids, are perfectly capable of knowing themselves and of learning and growing and changing and struggling and falling down and getting up again. I trust them to do all those things and so, when I had kids, I just decided to ignore all the books and advice, even all the stuff I learned from “alternative” and “crunchy” sources and live my life with my kids the way I wanted to. I wasn’t going to send them to school. I believed then, and I believe now, in the “curriculum of family life” as Educator John Taylor Gatto calls it and I came to believe in a related idea ,offered up here by Writer, Farmer and Teacher, Wendell Berry from his book ‘The Art of the Commonplace’:
“I know that I am in dangerous territory, and so I had better be plain: what I have to say about marriage and household I mean to apply to men as much as to women. I do not believe that there is anything better to do than to make one’s marriage and household, whether one is a man or a woman. I do not believe that “employment outside the home” is as valuable or satisfying as employment at home, for either men or women. It is clear to me from my experience as a teacher, for example, that children need an ordinary daily association with both parents. They need to see their parents at work; they need, at first, to play at the work they see their parents doing, and then they need to work with their parents. It does not matter so much this working together should be what is called “quality time,” but it matters a great deal that the work done should have the dignity of economic value.”
So, I came to believe that what children needed most was to be at home and out in the world supported by parents who were doing real work that mattered to them and that contributed to the needs and values of the household and larger community. I wanted my children alongside me while I worked with the “quotidian mysteries” at hand and I wanted them to learn the discipline and rewards of work for its’ own sake, and to absorb the values of both parents not by being actively taught but by a kind of loving osmosis. We did not teach our children anything; we allowed them to learn through daily interaction with us, and with other loving and interested adults and children wherever we happened upon them; they learned by living real lives in community with others. We have been an active family, involved in many areas including a very liberal, urban Episcopal parish committed to social justice work and we have been, and continue to be, active volunteers for causes we believe in. Our whole family has volunteered yearly at a homeless shelter, and at the Gleaners food bank. For many years, my oldest two children were weekly volunteers at a local Nature Center. We have lived in the same diverse “inner ring” neighborhood for more than 20 years; our kids have grown up in the same old house they were born into and we have avoided making changes in “place” because we value stability and wanted our kids to have real roots in a community and a commitment to a sense of home.
We don’t “start” homeschool every Fall. We don’t “end” it in the late Spring or early Summer. We are always learning and growing. We are always reading, writing, working with numbers, planting something, watching changes in the seasons, traveling, spending time with our large extended “Tribe”. We make art and music and we watch films and cable news. We all read the New York Times every day and we talk about what’s going on in the world. Our kids have never been kept out of “adult” conversations and they’ve had the freedom to explore the neighborhood and our small downtown where they know, and are known by, every shopkeeper, coffeehouse college kid, baker and candlestick maker around. We’ve gone to the Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning for over a decade, rarely missing the opportunity to chat with Peter, our favorite farmer, and with Jan, the antique lady, and all the other vendors, friends and neighbors we almost always run into while we’re there.
If there is one thing I hoped to pass on to them it is the discipline of paying attention. I wanted to model, and encourage, the idea that paying close attention to what is happening at any given moment facilitates learning and growth. If I wanted my kids to learn how to behave appropriately in all situations, I had to first get their attention; I had to show them, by doing it myself, how to pay attention when someone else is talking and how to respond respectfully. I had to listen to them, and to other people, to show them how important it is to listen, and to attend to others. I had to help them stick with the projects they chose to do, even when bored, even when the project wasn’t going well, so that they would know that it’s important to pay attention to detail and to ignore impulsive actions based on the “feelings of the moment”. I couldn’t “teach” them these things, I had to show them in my own life and behavior. And showing them how to pay attention, and ensuring that they understood that this was key to everything else, and is the “endless and proper work” of parenting, and of living.
I trust myself and I trust my kids. When we are trusting and trusted, learning is unimpeded. We are able to stay out of our kids way and let them travel their own path to the “true self” or, even better, never lose it to begin with. Living a ‘Free Range’ life requires self-discipline and a commitment to building relationships of integrity and wholeness. I’m going to return to this topic of a “Free Range” life with children a couple more times and I hope my exploration of all the implications of making a choice for freedom will come into better focus for everyone, including me, for even as we live something out, being able to detach, from time to time, and reflect on what we’re doing and why keeps everything balanced beneath our own “north star”. Until next time then.
Peace and Courage ~
Michelle

Living Wild Peace

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“…I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them…” Annie Dillard

I spent most of my life on a search for peace–peace of mind, of heart, of purpose, of beauty, of love. Peace of everything. I created my idea of peace in my own image. I thought peace would be…peaceful. Quiet. Serene. Sweet. A shimmering little whisper of a thing that would barely intrude on my consciousness yet, would embrace everything that I am, or ever hoped to be, and I understood it to be something that one acquired by living peacefully and by doing peaceful things like meditating, yoga, prayer, good deeds. Well… I was wrong.
It turns out that peace is a wild thing…just like me. A nixie ( a mythical feminine spirit of sacred waters ). A wood sprite. A bandit. A little criminal. Peace is Wild.
Peace comes when the struggle for living authentically is fully engaged and passionately lived out. It comes when loving people becomes an expression of genuine intimacy and engagement and when the risk of loving is not measured against how safe and protected I need to be in relationship. Peace comes when we embrace the idea of justice and fully understand that there is no interior peace that can exclude the same for anyone else. Peace comes on little cat feet at the precise moment when we are convinced it has abandoned us altogether. Peace comes when we are living from, as Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly puts it, “that balanced, recreating Center which is our true home.” It turns out that Peace lived wild is what makes us fully and completely human…at long last.
I started this blog three years ago and it truly seems like a lifetime gone by. I was struggling in a place of harsh resistence; not wanting to make a necessary trust fall into a life that was changing whether I wanted it to or not. It was through making the decision to step off the edge and take my humpty-dumpty fall that cracked open my fear-hardened heart and allowed me to see a way to live the rest of my life integrated and whole with the wild girl, the little criminal, fully loved, embraced and redeemed. I decided to live wild and to accept the peace, and the responsibility, that comes with it. I decided to opt for reality and the gifts of the present moment–graying hair, diminished eyesight, slower running, fewer but dearer relationships, focused work and a completely restored sense of creativity and energy that has, as a boundary, the understanding that I can’t do everything but I can do what I am able to do with my whole heart.
“…I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along…” Being “frayed and nibbled” has a beauty to it that I could never have imagined, or desired, and with all of it has come not only that long coveted peace–all wild and spinny–but real joy. I’m having a grand time!
~ Til next time then,
Michelle

Mothers Skip Banks and Share Milk Directly via Facebook

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Courtesy Time.com“In one of the photos that keeps getting Emma Kwasnica’s Facebook account suspended, the Montreal-based mother and breast-feeding activist is tandem nursing, with a newborn at one breast and a two-year-old at the other. Classical art and public health be damned, Facebook has censored countless breast-feeding photos for violating the company’s terms of use, a policy that has inspired more than 250,000 people to join a Facebook group called ‘Hey Facebook, Breastfeeding Is Not Obscene!’ Kwasnica has protested her four account suspensions by e-mailing administrators and keeps doggedly reposting photographs and organizing virtual ‘nurse-ins’ via her Facebook group, Informed Choice: Birth and Beyond. But last month it occurred to her that the global breast-feeding community could use social media to organize real-world, offline “lactivism,” in the form of milk sharing.” Read more at Time.com.

Sacred Mountain Midwifery

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There is more news on the midwifery studies front.  I recently decided to attend Sacred Mountain Midwifery School in order to complete my didactic training as a midwife.  Over the past five years I have been reading midwifery texts and attending study groups and conferences, but when it was time to plan the completion of the PEP process for my CPM, I realized I wanted a concentrated review of all the skills I need to become a midwife, the things I have been studying on my own for the past few years.  I considered several programs and in the end chose Sacred Mountain Midwifery because I wanted extensive hands on experience (that is how I learn) and because I have been attending their yearly Women Helping Women Retreat and really enjoyed the teaching style of the co-founder Dr. Sarita Bennett (Ruth Ann is fabulous as well!).  In my search, I realized that I wanted to learn from a midwife who had been practicing for years and years (Sarita has almost thirty years of experience as a midwife) and (since my husband and I still plan to return to West Africa, hopefully Mali or Senegal) I wanted to learn from a midwife who practiced in a rural setting where immediate hospital transport was not always possible.  Sacred Mountain Midwifery seemed the perfect choice for me and after my first session there in October, I can hardly WAIT to go back.

Having a baby in May will make things a bit tricky.  I will be 38 and 1/2 weeks pregnant when I attend the May session and unless the baby comes early, I will most likely miss the June session.  My whole family will come for subsequent sessions and camp so that my husband can grab the baby if he/she is being fussy.  But it is a fabulous school and we are committed to working it out.  Anyone want to join me?  It isn't in the most practical location (a good four an a half hour drive from my house, a good bit winding through the mountains) but the setting is BREATH-TAKING and cell phones don't work (you can receive calls if you are on call and use their phone) which makes my weekends there a retreat as well as a learning experience.

The Amazing Placenta!

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***There are pictures of a placenta in this post, do not read if you don’t like them as much as I do *** The midwife I work with and my friend had her baby this week, and I was planning on encapsulating her placenta for her . After a day of an amazing nurse tracking [...]

The Amazing Placenta!

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***There are pictures of a placenta in this post, do not read if you don’t like them as much as I do *** The midwife I work with and my friend had her baby this week, and I was planning on encapsulating her placenta for her . After a day of an amazing nurse tracking [...]

Abigail

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Meagan, age 23
The morning of my daughter’s birth I had an appointment at 9am to just check my status. I had had three false labors, so I was positive those had to do something, but I was only at 3 cm. My doctor said she was very low, and decided to strip my membranes, which was not as horrible as what I had expected, and contractions began immediately. I didn’t think much of it because I figured it would still be a day at least until I MIGHT go into labor. So we went home and relaxed and waited to hear the news of my sister having her baby. She had just been induced; we had the same doctor.
After a few hours, my contractions were consistent; they were coming every 5 minutes, but they weren’t very strong. I still refused to believe this was actual labor because it seemed so unreal. At 1pm we went to the hospital, but not for us, we went for my sister who was supposed to be pushing at any moment. We were there for a few hours, and my contractions were getting closer; about 3 minutes apart, but still not intense enough for me to not carry on a conversation. My doctor told me to come in once I couldn’t talk through the contractions. 
It was around 5:30 when my sister had her baby! So we went into meet her and it was at this time that I was really feeling the contractions, and I needed to concentrate through them more. I knew now that this was no joke, and I was in fact in labor. I was trying so hard to focus on my new niece, but my husband and parents told me I should really consider at least getting checked. The nurse told me they could check me and if I wasn’t too far dilated, I didn’t have to be admitted. When they checked me I was 5 cm dilated and my contractions were 2 minutes apart. So I was admitted at 6:45pm, and at about this time I started to feel nauseous from what I am guessing was because of the strong contractions. But once I through up I felt great again. I made sure to tell my nurse to not even bring up the idea of an epidural:) She was amazing and so supportive through it all, especially since she had given birth to her children naturally!
I instantly jumped into the jacuzzi, which was such a relaxer for me. By 10pm I was 7cm dilated and my doctor told me I would be delivering in 1 hour. I made him shake on it ;) This is when I felt my weakest and thought I was crazy for doing this naturally. I was having coupling contractions, plus they were in my stomach and my back, so I was really feeling it! Thankfully I had a husband who was amazingly supportive and had more confidence in me then I did. I jumped from 7cm to 10cm in 30 minutes and definitely felt the urge and knew it was time to push. I could really feel that “ring of fire”.
And at 10:57pm, after 12 minutes and 6 pushes, Abigail Kaye was here!! She was 7lbs 9.2 oz, and 18 inches long. Born 5 1/2 hours after her “twin cousin”.
After the post contractions ended, I felt amazing! I felt strong, and energized, and fully awake. And Abigail was so alert and moving like crazy! I think at first I felt a bit crazy for having just given birth naturally, but after a little while, I was so grateful I had!! It truly felt empowering, and like the best thing for me and my baby girl. I had such a wonderful experience, and I am excited about doing it again one day!!

1. When did you decide you wanted to deliver your baby naturally?

 A few years before getting pregnant I started to consider it. Once I actually got pregnant I knew it was something I wanted.
2. What reasons or factors went into your decision? At first it was from bad stories I had heard from getting an epidural. I had no desire to go through what some women I knew went through.
Then I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Women for thousands of years have been doing it, so why couldn’t I? I felt like it would be invigorating and such an accomplishment.
I also very much preferred the idea of not putting drugs into my child’s system. I hate drugs for myself, so why would I want to put any into my child.
And I hate the feeling of being numb. I need complete control of my body and couldn’t stand the thought of not being able to move around or feel what was going on.
3. What did you do to prepare for natural childbirth? (midwife, classes, methods, books, etc.) We actually didn’t take any classes. We both read Husband Coached Child Birth, and Natural Child Birth, the Bradley Method. We loved them both! I did some of the exercises they suggested as well as I worked out my entire pregnancy. I had always heard that the more active you were, the better labor and delivery would go, so I really stuck to it and I truly do believe it helped.

4. What was the hardest part of your experience – before, during, or after childbirth?
I had coupling contractions, and they were in my stomach and my back, so that was pretty difficult, because I didn’t get a break and it was pain all over. But it wasn’t bad until 7cm, and then even though at the time it felt like it had been forever, it really wasn’t that long. Before I knew it I was pushing!
And I think the post delivery contractions kind of sucked. Not because they were harder or more intense, but because at that point, I had done all the work and just wanted to hold my daughter in peace. I was not prepared for that.
5. What was most helpful to you during labor to help make pain from contractions manageable? The jacuzzi!!! I’m not sure what I would have done without it. It really helped me relax and not tense up. And my husband was really amazing and great with talking me through the pain and keeping me positive and calm. Music also really helped. Next time I will use it more. But I think that depends on the type of person you are. I feel very effected by music, I feel like I am in the song and just really tune into it, forgetting about what’s around me.

6. What do you wish you would have known going into delivery?
I’m not sure there is anything. I felt very aware as to what was going on during labor and delivery. However, I do wish I would have known I didn’t need to take so much STUFF! Looking back, my husband and I laugh at how much we brought. But I think that’s something you have to learn by experience. :)

7. Is there anything you would have done differently?
Not take so much stuff! Other than that I think it went great! My Nurse was amazing and I couldn’t have asked for a better one. My OBGYN was also amazing. I had a very pleasant hospital experience, so I have no negative feelings towards that. However I do think I’d like to try a home birth or birthing center next time, now that I’ve done it.
8. What did you feel were the positive benefits to your natural childbirth – were the benefits what you expected? I loved that my daughter was very alert from the moment they put her on my chest, for the next couple of hours. I loved knowing what was going on. Knowing when I needed to push, and when she was out. I loved being able to walk around freely, and not having a single IV or anything hooked up to me. I was free to roam around and do what I needed to do for myself. I felt amazing afterwards and full of energy!
9.  Is natural childbirth something you recommend to other mothers, or something you’d do again? ABSOLUTELY!!! Sadly there is a negative outlook on natural birth, we are made to think it is impossible for us to do it without drugs. But millions of women before us gave birth naturally, and so can all of us! (Aside from certain medical exceptions) We are strong and capable. It’s such an amazing experience, and though it is painful, the pain has come and gone before you know it, and all of the sudden you are holding your sweet baby and would do it over and over! It’s such an empowering experience.
 
10. What advice do you have for other mothers interested in natural childbirth?
Prepare! There is no way to be 100% prepared obviously, but don’t go into it blindly. Study, read, ask other women out there, anything you can do to prepare! And to remind yourself to focus on the end result. The pain will be there, but it will go away, and before you know it, you won’t even remember the pain. Know that YOU CAN DO IT!!! Also some of the best advice from my doctor was to not come in just because my contractions were 5 minutes apart, but to
wait until I could no longer talk through them. If I had come in when they were 5 minutes apart, I would have been in that room all day! I didn’t check in until they happened to be 2 minutes apart.

Questions for Meagan?
josh.meagan@hotmail.com
joshandmeagan.blogspot.com

Huck

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An amazing birth story about trusting yourself when everyone thinks you don’t know better.