Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." - Isaiah 30:21

Thursday, October 11, 2012

We've Moved!

I'm happy to announce that this blog now has a new location: Crossroads Birth Care. If you are a subscriber (or if you would like to be!), then please visit the link to subscribe to the new feed. Thanks!

Friday, October 5, 2012

In Praise of Boys and Men (Yes, Really)

Delaney and Liam are playing spies in the next room. They are assigning themselves various roles, personalities, skills, and gadgets. Liam paused the assignments to say, “The boy spy is usually the stupid one.”

I am so frigging sick of this. The dumb guy trope should be over. It never even should have started.

My father has railed against it ever since my sister and I brought home our first Berenstain Bear books, with the goofy, clueless dad. The marital combination is a sitcom staple: The mom holds the world together. The dad goes along for the ride. Usually screwing up quite a bit in the process. Thank God the mom is there to swoop in and save everybody.

This isn't silly. This isn't a funny joke. It's becoming a cultural norm, and it has the potential to be very damaging to men and women alike. And now, with Liam's comment, I'm beginning to think that the same sentiment has wormed its way into kid's movies and TV shows. It's called “children's programming” for a reason, right?

Here's the reality: Men have as much duty to care for their families as women do. And you know what? Many of them are incredibly good at it. My husband keeps me sane. He's super smart, he works hard, and I wouldn't be half the person I am without him. He would say all the same things about me, too. My son is clever, funny, and capable. He's an excellent problem solver. It hurts to think that the “adventure” movies he likes would suggest he should be anything less.

This is not feminism. This is pure reactionary stupidity.

I think it's important to raise girls to be smart. To teach them that they are not objects, but complete, worthwhile human beings in their own right. I'm proud of my strong, smart girls. The idea of anyone turning them into sex objects infuriates me, just as it would any good parent. And I am equally offended and angered by the cultural insistence on turning my boy into the butt of every joke, the hapless little dude consistently rescued by a smart girl.

Can somebody tell me why we are all so completely freaked out by the idea of men and women getting along and actually liking each other? By both sexes being smart and capable? Because that's what I do in my personal life, it's what most of my friends and family do, and all in all, it's a pretty sweet arrangement. That's what I want my son to remember about his childhood. It's time to override the programming.  


In New Hampshire, “CPM” is the designation for a direct-entry, non-nurse-midwife. These are highly trained, licensed professionals who attend statistically low-risk births in homes and independent birth centers. Nurse-midwives can attend births in these locations as well, but typically work in hospitals. Both embrace, at least on paper, the whole person, midwifery model of care. To become a CNM, one must first be a registered nurse, then train as a midwife.

A year and a half ago, I began a two-part post detailing why I intended to be a nurse-midwife. The first part was meant to explain why I was pursuing midwifery, the second part, why I had chosen the nursing route to get there. Mysteriously (or not) the second half was never written. Go figure.

Switching to a CPM track has been a nagging idea that has popped up at inconvenient times for several months now. Wrapped up in it are many conflicts about the way I view pregnancy and birth, wondering what babies really need as they enter the world, what mothers need as they become mothers, plenty of struggles regarding the integration of family and personal calling, and an ongoing disgust with the mismanagement and impersonalization of healthcare. Oh, and that whole emergent birth, preemie care, NICU stay firsthand experience thing.

So yesterday, I wrote a long post detailing all my ΓΌber-logical, black and white reasons that I finally decided to make the big switch. I wrote for a good chunk of the day, yet I just couldn't seem to wrap it up properly. Yesterday I couldn't figure out why, but now I think I can.

When I was first working through my postpartum anxiety, my therapist asked what drew me to birth work in the first place - it almost doesn't fit with my Type A personality (my words, not hers). After a long pause, I shrugged and said, “It seems really chaotic and beyond our understanding, but it usually just works itself out. It's like chaos with an underlying order to it.” Whether birth is entirely straightforward or complications arise, both the mother's body and the baby's have an inner wisdom that goes beyond what science has been able to identify, and certainly beyond what medicine has been able to manage. It starts with conception – no, even with the cycles that precede it. Our bodies have an incredible, mysterious order that connects us to the whole earth, to the skies, even. And dare I say to God? Yes, giving birth made me feel a much deeper connection to the God who made the universe, and made me, and my husband, and my babies. Disagree with that all you want, analyze it to death, but it did. And birth gave me a deeper connection to myself, too, which is arguably just as important.

Science is amazing. I live in awe of the knowledge that's been obtained, of the nuances to these things that have been discovered. The hormonal cocktail that floods the brain, the physiology of the stages of labor, a baby's innate protective reflexes. The amount that we understand about this very mysterious act of making and supporting new human beings is impressive. But science isn't all there is. Direct-entry midwifery has been referred to as embracing the “art and science” of birth. And, as much as I take issue with any philosophy that claims birth works out 100% of the time - so  much so that really, who needs a qualified attendant there anyway (ARGH!) – I do believe that birth work involves a necessary element of trust in the process. Extensive knowledge, yes. But with a very, very healthy dose of trust.

In nursing school, I felt the art of care and trust in the body being taught out of me. This is not the case for everyone, and there are many, many wonderful nurses and nurse-midwives who are able to embrace both the art and science of traditional nursing care with ease. When I began the program, in fact, I was thrilled to learn that nursing is considered its own discipline, separate from medicine, and by definition it requires whole-person care. On paper, it looks like the perfect compliment to birth work.

But my experience thus far has been the complete opposite. My learning style is largely kinesthetic – I learn by doing, not by talking about it, so what the books say is less significant to my development than what I do in clinical. And what I'm required to be doing involves very little trust, and minimal appreciation for holistic care. The nutrition standards are out of date by decades; herbs are portrayed as dangerous things to avoid, rather than potent supplements to understand; and there's a med for everything (or rather, for every symptom). Doing poorly? Here, take pill. Oh, you're taking good care of yourself? You're not quite where we'd like to see you yet. Here's a prescription. Big Pharma continues to have a disturbing hold on healthcare, and nursing is no more immune than any other element. I'm tired of feeling so frustrated.

The evidence supports exercise and a whole foods diet as not only prevention of but even treatment for heart disease, Type II diabetes, and (of course) obesity. It's in all my textbooks. I have yet to see these recommendations make it into practice. We just tell people no salt, no fat, and no red meat. And for the second time I'll remind myself – you probably don't want to hear that rant. Suffice to say, pregnancy and birth are no more immune to this archaic approach than any other – ahem - “medical condition.”

So. Anyway. I'm not going back to nursing school. (Gee, that was rather anticlimactic, huh?) Instead, I am working toward becoming a CPM, a direct-entry midwife who attends low-risk births in homes and birth centers. I have not yet decided which route to take toward NARM-certification. There are a variety of options, all of which have significant pros and cons. Nor have a decided on my timeline. Anxious as I am to get started, I can't help but agree with the stance put forward by Elizabeth Davis and Carol Leonard in The Women's Wheel of Life, that midwifery, in traditional cultures, comes after motherhood – that is, there are significant benefits to waiting until small children are older. In the coming weeks, I'll be talking to some local midwives about what apprenticeship would entail, and whether it's something I can take on now or should put off for a few years. In the meantime, I'll be training and working as a birth doula. 

Nursing school was a valuable experience for myriad reasons. I'm grateful to have done it. But when I made the decision not to go back, I felt the proverbial weight lift off my shoulders. Nursing school was like a worthwhile detour that temporarily took me off the path I'm meant to walk, and now I am beyond thrilled at the opportunity to get back to birth work without reservations. I'm done with predicting the details of what this might look like – that never works out the way I expect. But getting back on this path is exciting, and I can't wait to see where it takes me.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Living Space

So I lost myself in the living room last week.

It started with the coffee table, a nondescript brown monstrosity with which Jake inexplicably fell in love. I'm not sure, something about the scrollwork. By nightfall on Saturday it was there, taking up every last inch of space, buffeted by an ugly green couch and unusually low rocking chair, anchored by a black shag rug. I despaired. We have lived here for three years and I have never been able to get the living room quite the way I like, despite my numerous valiant attempts and hours upon hours of manual labor on Jake's part.

48 hours later, glaring at the coffee table and lamenting the Patriots' recent loss with back-to-back episodes of Glee, came the revelation: Paint. Paint fixes everything. The next night, a dark, windy one worthy of Halloween itself, I rushed to Home Depot, returning home just in time for Jake to leave for work. Soon I was surrounded by pieces of wood furniture splayed out on various sheets, awaiting their magnificent transformations. I was utterly alone and it was lovely. I turned on some music and picked up the sander. Then the power went out and Liam started screaming.

By the time painting actually occurred the following evening, I had ordered two new slipcovers for the couch and commissioned the man who actually makes the money for this stuff to repaint the living room walls, too. We put the kids to bed and worked together over glasses Shiraz (me) and Jones soda (him), Smartfood, and pretzel M&Ms. It turned into a pretty sweet little date night. Jake and I truly like to work on projects together, which is probably on my top ten list of favorite things about our relationship. Also, it makes up for our disparate tastes.

By the following weekend, I was looking with pride upon a whole new room. What an accomplishment. It felt worthy of Better Homes and Gardens, I thought. I was a domestic goddess, I thought. And then, Ohmygoodnesswhathashappenedtome, I thought. Because I don't do domesticity. I thought.

My mother spent years trying to get me to cook. My sister and I made meatloaf for dinner one night when I was 10, which went so well that she's now a vegetarian for life. When I was 14, I made chili, coolly chatting with a boy I knew while dumping in approximately ¼ cup of basil. Yes, basil. In chili. For years afterward I avoided cooking expressly because older generations had considered it woman's work, and I intended to be above all that. (You might think sucking at it would come in to play, too, but no.) In truth, I didn't get into cooking until we made friends with men who cooked, and then I decided I could do so without being subject to traditional gender roles. By then I had developed an interest in nutrition and clean eating, too, so cooking felt like a healthy lifestyle choice, not a domestic chore.

The state of the laundry in our house is perpetually pathetic. The bathrooms are cleaned only when company is expected. Dusting doesn't even cross my mind. Ever. I think that deep down, I've always kind of liked that about myself. I have generally regarded domestic chores as petty, and low on the priority list. As in, there are bigger concerns in the world, and I have no desire to be bogged down by the very, very small ones like window cleaning.

Yet there I was, exulting in my newly light and airy living room, loving this corner of our home that I had made into something nice. Wondering, who is this person? And facing a dawning realization – again – that my motivations, my expectations, and even my life decisions are influenced by so many things I would rather not see factor. I like decorating. I like cooking. Yet for years I resisted either – and the reason was so that I wouldn't be a “type”? Seriously? Yikes.

Okay, actually that revelation came several days later, and was the point at which I began to reconcile myself to loving the living room – and myself – without reservation. I can't help but feel like I'm in the midst of a significant paradigm shift which has very little to do with the living room, and with much left to be worked out. The ramifications of it all are simultaneously exciting and intimidating. Yet incredibly - dare I say it? - liberating.

To be continued . . .  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Brainwashing and Other Responsibilities

“Religious indoctrination of children is child abuse.” Read this gem on, where else, a Facebook page yesterday. The discussion had something to do with circumcision. (Save it for another day, folks. One dogma-spewing topic at a time, K?)

Well, by golly, that offends me. Also, it's stupid. It's almost too stupid a claim to bother writing about, but what the heck, I feel like addressing it.

Personal opinion here, as one guilty of indoctrination or abuse or brainwashing or whatever synonym you prefer: It is far more damaging to raise your children with zero exposure to the spiritual than it is to raise them with a belief in a higher power. No, I will not tell my children they are nothing more than their brains and the rest of their bodies, and that this whole existence is a crap shoot. Oh, but, uh, be nice, because I guess that still kind of matters, at least until you die. Then, you know, whatever.

Pardon the sarcasm. I fully realize, and in fact greatly appreciate, that there are atheists and agnostics with a much higher view of humanity than the one described above. I count many of them among my friends. They are thoughtful individuals and not really the type for commenting with wild accusations on message boards, though. (Or if they are, I am unaware of it.)

I firmly believe, having been a child and known one or two others along the way, that children have a thriving sense of the spiritual. I also believe that as parents we have a responsibility to honor that spirituality and to respond to it, allowing them to develop it further. If I am helping my child become a thinking, caring, responsible adult in every other aspect, then ignoring their spirituality is tantamount to sending them out in the snow without pants: It's incomplete parenting.

I know enough children to believe they're innately spiritual. Soulful, if you prefer. I know enough adults to believe even more firmly that there is a right and a wrong way to teach your kids about religion. If you train up your children in a narrow way that dictates exactly what they must believe, and threaten to alienate them if they deviate from it - and then follow through when they do! - then yes, I could easily be convinced that such behavior is really bad parenting. Actually I would just say you are an asshole. I might even say that presenting religion in an overly dogmatic fashion deprives your child of the opportunity to develop their own personal relationship with God and therefore equates to spiritual abuse. I might.

I grew up in a deeply religious household. It was strict. With six kids and Bible study in the mornings, we probably qualified for our own reality show. However, what I love about my upbringing is that no questions were forbidden. Doubting God? Okay, we can talk about it. Thinking about voting Democrat? Less tolerated, but they gritted their teeth and got through those conversations too. In politics, in religion, and in everything else, I knew that my parents would always love me no matter what I chose to believe. Jake and I are raising our kids essentially the same way, and with the same emphasis (albeit less political): We will love our kids no matter what, and we tell them so. More importantly, God will love them no matter what. Our love is not contingent upon what they believe, whom they love, or what they do, and neither is God's. If it's abusive to raise our children in such a manner, with an understanding that the love of the creator of the universe is absolute and unconditional, then we're guilty. Imagine their suffering.

This morning Laney asked me, “How old is the world?” We had a long talk, and I presented my position the way I present most of the big questions: Some people believe it's young. Other people believe it's old. There is evidence for both positions, and personally, I find the evidence supporting the idea that it's old to be more compelling. That's what I believe. We can talk about it and research it as much as you want.

An hour later, Liam wanted to know if we would die when the world ends. We talked about the fact that our bodies will stop working, but our souls will live on, and go to be with Jesus if we love him and believe in him. Yep, that's some shameless hardcore indoctrination right there. I'm teaching it to my child not because I can prove it, but because I believe it and recognize that the best evidence, which I have critically evaluated, points in this direction. Could I be wrong? Quite possibly. Will he have to decide what he believes for himself as he grows? Absolutely, and I will encourage him to do so. In the meantime, I refuse to leave him floundering with nothing more than an “I don't know” or even a “here's what I think” because I can't tell him something that can be proven. Okay for the age of the world. Less okay for what happens at the moment of death. Some kid questions warrant a concrete answer, even if the details are fuzzy.

It's possible that the individual quoted above, and others who share his mindset, take the position that each one of us can believe what we want, but should let our kids decide for themselves. Or, to use the usual terminology, we shouldn't take our beliefs and shove them down our kids' throats. To which I respond, if your faith isn't worthy of sharing with those you hold dear, it must be a pretty flimsy faith. I teach my kids about faith the way I teach them about gravity: It's all theory. There's really strong supporting evidence. Therefore, I will present this idea to you as truth. Explore it all you want, and please, I pray, reach a conclusion that is personal and truthful to you. God gave you a brain, now use it to its fullest.

You still prefer the alternative, oh omniscient Facebook commenter? Okay, go ahead. Teach your kids only that which you can prove. Have fun talking about, um . . . uh . . . Oh. Right.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Goodnight, Dragon

“I'm afraid I'll wake up different tomorrow.”

He stood beside me at the dining room table, frowning. Before I could begin to guess at the context, his sister swooped in with an arguably comforting, “No no, buddy, don't worry. That just happens to dragons.”

Dragons, you see, transform when they get all the things they want, then turn nasty and greedy, and then they grow bigger and meaner. Or something.

Liam persisted. “I don't want to get different."

I joined in the reassurance. No, he would not wake up scaly or monstrous in the morning. (Well . . .) That was just dragons. I stopped before I got to the part that I really wanted to say, that he will wake up different. That every morning when he wakes up, he's different than he was the day before, and the rest of us are too. Every moment we're learning and growing and changing, each of us moving forward on our own path. It's beautiful. It's mysterious. And it makes me sad.

Jake often says he doesn't want the kids to grow up. That they're so cute now, and in a few years they won't want to cuddle, and they'll think we're embarrassing instead of awesome. But I love the idea of seeing them grow up. I can't wait to find out who they become.

At the same time, I agree with Liam. I don't want him to wake up different. This beautiful little boy, my middle child, the one I don't mention as often simply because I don't question myself with him. Unlike the other two, I just get him. He's a deep thinker and stubborn as hell and can barely control himself around ice cream. It's like he's a piece of my soul.

I dread him losing his sweetness. I'm already bracing myself for the moment he figures out superheroes are purely fictional, and for the day he no longer runs into the kitchen asking for something to help him stick himself to the walls. I wonder if there's a way to help him preserve the sense of magic, the feeling that the whole world is amazing.

When I kissed him goodnight I noticed how big his hands are growing. He is slowly, slowly moving out of little boyhood. He gave his two-year-old cousin the cuddly stuffed tiger he doesn't want anymore. He likes cars and tools and legos – even trains have become a bit passe.

I look at my family, and Jake's, and everyone else's, and the pattern seems so clear: Girls come back home. They grow up, and eventually, if you're lucky, become your friends. But boys, it seems, carve out their own separate lives. They're around. They love you still. Maybe a little less than they used to. At any rate, they need you less.

I can't help but note the contradiction here. For my girls, I'm attempting to model this mom as multi-dimensional human being idea. I want them to know there's more to me, so that they feel free to explore their own myriad roles and relationships as they grow. With my boy, it's so much less enlightened. For him, I would consider dropping all the ideals if I knew that I would just continue to be his mommy. But that would be wrong. That wouldn't be healthy. That's how Norman Bates' mother's bones wound up in a rocking chair in the basement.

So yes, I will let him go when I need to. But I hope he doesn't wake up different for a long time yet.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mommy is a Verb

I went running because I was cranky. And because some days, let's face it, kids are just annoying.

I happened to jog by a woman holding a toddler and speaking firmly to a five-year-old. Clearly a mom, her clothes said. You know. Mom clothes.

I've always had, like, this thing about looking like a mom. A friend once told me she took out her nose ring after someone assumed she was her son's nanny. My first thought was, Isn't that a compliment? I found my old blog recently, and apparently I've been dealing with this since Laney was a newborn and I cut my hair short. After a few weeks, I cut it even shorter so that it couldn't possibly be mistaken for a "mom cut." Somehow I didn't like the idea of having my hairstyle determined by the existence of offspring. I don't know, maybe it's weird. But there it is.

In the same way, I've always bristled at the whole stretch mark quote about being a tiger and a tiger earning its stripes. No, dammit, I don't want stripes. Shut up and stop trying to make me feel better about it.

So as I jogged past this woman, I thought, What is my issue with this? Why do I dislike the idea that my clothes or some other element of my appearance reveals me as a mother? It's not like I don't want anyone to know. I'm proud of my kids. Annoying moments aside, I like being their mother.

But it isn't about them. It's about the fact that when we talk about mom jeans, or mom haircuts, or mom cars, or when we refer to someone as a soccer mom (or, for that matter, a M.I.L.F.), we are defining that person. We are oversimplifying all the pieces of their life into the generic M-O-M, like there's some specific set of characteristics that accompany the designation.

So what?

So I'm starting to think it's dangerous.

When I have "mom hair" - which I frequently do - isn't that another way of saying it's my kids' fault I look like a slob? Isn't it an opportunity for me to blame them for my sub-par appearance? They aren't responsible for pulling my hair into a ponytail nearly every morning, I am.

What if instead, we shrug our shoulders and say, Yeah, a lot of mothers have messy hair. Funny correlation there. Or hey, maybe some women have messy hair and some don't, and nobody cares. That would be even better.

Of course, it's not really about appearance. But it causes me to wonder how we see ourselves. When Rowan was born, when I came home from the hospital knowing that for the next year, at minimum, I was neither working nor in school, my thinking was, Well, now I'm just a mom. I even said it a bunch of times: "I don't have to be anybody else. Just mom."

Well, no. False. If I am created as a multi-dimensional individual who is many things to many people, if I have a set of skills that are meant to be shared with the world, then why am I going to reduce myself to only one of those roles and allow it to consume my entire identity? Isn't that kind of, you know, wrong? 

To be clear: "Mommy" is without question the most important role I have ever played, and most likely will ever play. That is, it's the most significant thing I do. But it's just a small piece of who I am. And what kind of regard are we showing for the other people in our lives, the people with whom I honestly believe that God had connected us, if we define ourselves purely as mothers? Doesn't that mean these other non-offspring people don't count for a whole lot?

So here's my project for the next few months: I am going to avoid the use of the word "mom" as an identity. Instead, I'd like to think of it as an action word: To mommy. To mother. In the same way that Christians have - rightfully, in my opinion - emphasized that love is a verb, not a feeling, I want to forget that mom can be used as a noun. I will not use it to define anyone, myself included. My kids deserve better than that, and so does everyone else I know. So do I.