The Time Has Now Come

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” (Eph. 6:10)

It has been exactly 11 years since Todd and I traveled to Orlando, Florida, to attend our Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth training. Back in 2003, four children made up our family, and Ben was a mere four months old when we left them in the brave yet capable hands of my parents in our absence. For reference, while we were gone, our country invaded Iraq. Bradley sessions ran from early in the morning to late at night, causing me to miss my beloved March Madness, and in an era before texting and cell phones (at least for us), Todd would come down to the sessions and give me updates about the upsets and bracket busters of the year. In other words, it feels like it was a long, long time ago.

Even before attending the training, I was so excited to embark on a new adventure of teaching this childbirth preparation method that had revolutionized our own thinking about pregnancy, labor, and birth. Bradley made sense to us, and absolutely brought Todd and I together as a couple during our pregnancies and births. I couldn’t help but want to share that knowledge and enthusiasm about birth with other pregnant couples, and this opportunity was perfect for us. Throughout the four day training, I grew even more fired up about teaching, and exited our time provisionally certified as an instructor and ready to get started.

Bradley was the perfect “job” for me at the time: I had the chance to teach something I was strongly passionate about, yet it allowed me to stay home and focus on our young family. We met so many people from various walks of life who ended up blessing me many times in more ways than I felt I did them. On the practical side, every week we were forced to clean our house–at least the part my students walked through–and all the kids knew that “class day” meant a little extra work. A girl we barely knew beforehand became not only our weekly babysitter, but also a lifelong friend in the process. My kids quickly came to love Lynsay and the time they got to spend with her at least once a week.

When I began teaching in April of 2003, with a class of three couples, I could not have imagined how successful our venture would be. With the help of a local maternity fair, my second class was a full seven couples, and from then on I had classes running almost continuously. While tremendously nervous at first to run my own class (“how am I going to fill TWO HOURS with material?!”), the flow of the course and the interest of the students soon took away any nerves I may have had. I loved teaching Bradley. Throughout the course of my tenure as an instructor, I also became a certified doula and had the absolute honor of attending just over 30 births. We welcomed two of our own children during that time too, and had the opportunity to share our pregnancies with other couples due around the same time. After teaching for a short while, I was grateful to have word of mouth as the most effective means of marketing my classes. What better way to attract students than from the recommendation of satisfied past couples? I have always been humbled to receive each and every reference. I could not have imagined ever wanting to quit teaching. Even with the frustrations I may have had with my parent organization, the benefits always seemed to outweigh the risks and it was worth it.

Slowly, however, my heart started to move away from the weekly sessions. Without ever having a break (and sometimes taking on two classes simultaneously), I think a bit of burn out may have begun to creep into my classes. While I still enjoyed actually teaching each class and loved being with the couples, my prep time became a tad tedious and my heart wasn’t in it as much. With an active birthing community in our area, it was obvious that I couldn’t invest the time necessary to keep up the PR side of birth advocacy so my classes were as cutting edge as they could be. In addition, our family was just getting older and moving into directions outside the house: sports, church, and other activities such as teaching math beyond simple addition required more of me. At the same time, over the next few years our family also became increasingly more involved in our new homeschool group, Classical Conversations. CC was, and continues to be, the perfect fit for our family, and it has proven to be exactly what Todd and I desired for our homeschool–a truly Christian classical education. Still, I was not ready to give up my classes.

When the current director of our CC group approached me about considering the position of director a few years ago, I remember her email clearly. It was written in sort of a half-joking, half-serious tone, as if to test the waters. I can only imagine: had a I scoffed at it, that door would have been closed. I surprised myself when my reaction was not an immediate and resounding “HECK NO!” That still seems insane to me–both that she would think me able and that I would even entertain the idea. But I think that’s how God works on our hearts, and when He calls someone to a job or a mission or a position, He can work miracles in preparing both the heart and mind for something seemingly crazy…even if it takes time to come to fruition.

Over the next couple of years, the director and I began talking more seriously about a transition and whether or not I was serious about pursuing it. At every opportunity, she gave me the gracious chance to back out if either Todd or I felt that it was NOT the direction we felt led to go. During that time, I prayed. A lot. Was I crazy? Was I just flattered that she chose *me* to lead and not really looking soberly at what exactly I would be getting myself into? Were we both insane to think I could handle everything that the job would entail? The more I thought and prayed about it, the more I felt that it was the right direction and the right position to pursue. In our many conversations, I came to see that I was not chosen by the director to be flattered, but through her prayerful consideration and leading. And, as I have seen more and more the older I get, God equips those He calls.

I do not, even for a moment, think that I could perform this job by my own strength, wisdom, or abilities. As I prepare to step into the role of director of our established and large group, I would be lying if I said that I’m confident that I can do it all. There are so many areas that I have already listed as prayer concerns, but even so, I’m sure of this: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:17) While I will be responsible for the group and its workings, I know that we are in His hands. As highly as I regard the outgoing director (and, in the course of learning more about everything she has done for our group, that regard and respect has skyrocketed), I realize that her successes did not come from her own abilities either. Through her humble and able leadership, each of us in CC has been blessed beyond measure and pointed to the One who gives all strength and ability. I am so thankful that she is not leaving us, but simply transitioning to another role in our group. She will most likely hear from me a great deal over the next year. In fact, I would venture to say she might be a little frightened if she didn’t hear from me on a regular basis looking for counsel!

This past Wednesday night, I signed the contract for next year, making my position as the new director of our campus official. As I scrolled through the contract, initialing as I proceeded, the reality of the new role began to truly sink in (though I think it will continue to do so as I start walking out my duties!). While many may consider me crazy to even consider this job, I am so happy to be excited to embark on this next adventure. That anticipation can only come from God! Will there be many sacrifices required? Absolutely. I’d like to think that when it comes to work and doing hard things, however, I am not one to shrink away (well, not usually….). Do many, many other people do much more than I am undertaking? You betcha. Will it be a family effort? Yes, yes, and yes. Thankfully, I have Todd’s support, or I know it would be foolish to undertake this venture. I do not think my family yet appreciates how much they will be called upon to help me. Hopefully, along the way, they will learn the invaluable lesson that “hard work done well feels good.”

Perhaps most important, I see my new role through the eyes of a servant. I hope that I can humbly serve our CC group in such a way that the purpose is protected and can continue to grow and flourish in everything we do. It is not for my own glory, but for His, and for the benefit of the entire group, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4) One of the greatest blessings of our group is that everyone works together to make the machine run smoothly. I categorically appreciate that willingness to work and will no doubt call upon it continuously. Throughout my willingness to serve, I also ask for grace from my community as I navigate these uncharted waters and learn the ropes of directing. I am clinging to Romans 12 as I look ahead to the year ahead:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12: 1-8)

In order to accept this more time-consuming role, I have had to learn to say no to other opportunities, and the biggest one is my Bradley certification and teaching. While I will miss it immeasurably–and hung on to the notion of continuing my classes longer than I should have–I can finally say that the time is right to walk away. Through the ten years I officially taught childbirth classes, it was my honor to teach over 196 couples. Many of them still keep in touch with me, and countless others I call close friends in this journey of life. I will forever treasure my time with Bradley, but now know that it is time to move on.

To new beginnings, to doors that have been opened as well as those that are now closed, and to what adventures, challenges, and successes stretch before us, I can only say that I’m grateful for the opportunity, I’m ready, and I will “do [my] best to present [my]self to God as one approved, [a] a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15)

And I’m armed with coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

We made it!

Back in July when more than the usual number of women contacted me about childbirth classes, I had to make a tough decision for our family: could we all handle running two classes at once? It seemed that everyone who had inquired about the series had either specifically sought out this method or had heard from a friend about it, so I didn’t have much luck sending them in other directions. Although it was a nice boost to my teaching ego (one of many alter egos I seem to have grown into), with our homeschool group scheduled to start for the year the same week as the two classes, I was in serious doubt as to whether we could handle the workload. After much prayer and consideration, we (or should I say, *I*) decided to go ahead and do it. Financially, it was a providential blessing, and while that weighed heavily into the decision it was by no means the only reason.

So, the week of August 23, we began our CC group on Monday, the first class on Tuesday, and the second class on Thursday. By Friday I was exhausted, but after meeting my ten new couples plus a doula sitting in on a series, it was clear I had made a good choice. The “students” appeared excited about the classes and all seemed to get along well from the start. My family all had to adjust to extra work and a different schedule, but on the whole it wasn’t too much of an upset in our lives. Besides, it was just for twelve weeks, right? Anyone can put up with a lot of..(insert your own adjective here!)….less than ideal situations when they know it won’t last forever.

Like labor, our two-a-weeks caused me to go through the very reliable emotional signposts I talk so much about in my classes. At first, it was fun and exciting to be able to teach two large and energetic groups. I didn’t mind the work and it even worked out that because I ran them simultaneously, if a couple had to miss their usual day, they could catch the other class of the week. Even though several couples were able to take advantage of this ability to switch, the two classes quickly had a certain amount of pride in being either “the Tuesday class” or “the Thursday class.” By about class 5 or 6, the excitement had worn off of the classes and it was getting to be more work to prepare for classes and more tiring by the end of the week. But still….it was doable and we were making it. Having to encourage the family that it was only for twelve weeks also helped me to put it in perspective.

Then came my transition, somewhere around class 9 or 10. Thankfully, the 10th class is one of my favorites to teach, so that helped a lot, but still….I was tired of cleaning twice a week and making snacks that everyone liked, let alone preparing for class and trying to keep mental notes on what I had already talked about it one class so I didn’t repeat myself constantly. When I told Todd the classic transitional phrase, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” he only laughed and replied with, “I knew it was coming. I just figured it would happen a lot earlier…like in class 6 or 7.” HA! He was right; it was just a matter of time. 🙂

And now, as we get ready to say goodbye to “the Thursday class” tonight, I’m thankful for a family who stuck with it, even when maybe they didn’t want to have people come in and take over their basement and eat all the snacks. I’m grateful that they allowed me to do not only what I love, but do it twice as often. We’ve already had two of the ten babies arrive and it’s my hope that the classes stay in contact with each other long after their babies have been born. I have truly enjoyed each person’s unique (and some were REALLY unique!) personality and am thankful for all the laughs we had throughout the series. Honestly, though, I also have to say that I’m relieved we all made it to the end in one piece.

Lest you think we’ll be sitting on our hands between now and the end of the year, as my orchestra director used to say, “No rest for the wicked and the righteous don’t need it.” Starting tomorrow, we’ll be on to the next overly ambitious project. GO TEAM!!

Snacktime throwdown…but not really

If you’re familiar with the book The Five Love Languages, you’ll know that Gary Chapman speaks of quality time, gift giving, acts of service, words of encouragement, and physical touch and closeness as specific ways that different people give and receive love. My love language, however, I firmly believe is the sixth in the series that for some reason he left out of his list: making food for others. It should come as no surprise then that one of my favorite parts of teaching childbirth classes is making food for snack time. I probably shouldn’t serve as much as I do, but I really enjoy it. I try to keep them healthy and showcase different food groups to give moms alternative choices if they are getting bored with what they eat. Once in a while, however, in every class series, I like to have what I call “cheat week,” where I just throw ‘nutritionary caution’ to the wind.

Having said that, this class series has also brought a baker into our home, and four times now he has brought us delectable treats. The couple own their own cake business, and if you check out their website at http://www.tinkerscakeshop.com, you will see why we have all gone ga-ga for the Tinkers. Last night, they brought amazing truffles and something I’d never heard of before: cake pops. There were collective oohs and aaahs during snack time and everyone agreed that both offerings were delicious! My mixed berry bars were almost untouched, but it was for good reason. When you can choose between dark chocolate and granola….isn’t there really only one choice? I’m hopeful that my couples will recall some of the important information we covered in terms of labor progress last night, but I know for sure that they will easily remember how lovely the chocolate tasted…

the pros of protein in pregnancy

While I love my job as a domestic engineer, I also feel blessed beyond measure to have a part-time job that I find both rewarding and fulfilling. Teaching childbirth classes for the past seven years has been a real gift and has caused me to learn so much while meeting great people and helping–even in some small way–their journey to parenthood.

One of the things I learned when I was first pregnant (more than 13 years ago now….but that’s for a different post altogether) was that pregnant women need to consume protein–usually 75 to 100g per day. I knew that protein is needed to construct a new person and the tissue that goes along with him or her and that protein deficiency can at times lead to the leading known cause of premature births: pre-eclampsia. But even with reading and studying, I could never seem to make the connection as to why the two went together. When pre-eclampsia came up in students, and even students who seemed to have an excellent overall diet, it baffled me. I came to understand that some women have pre-existing conditions or underlying medical issues that are either exacerbated or revealed during pregnancy, but even then, if their diet is better than just good, they can delay the onset of symptoms of pre-eclampsia.   And delaying the onset, resulting in allowing a baby to grow in utero for 36 or 37 weeks as opposed to 32, 33, or even 34 weeks makes a tremendous difference in those first days–and weeks–of life.

It wasn’t until earlier this class seires, however, that certain pieces of the puzzle seemed to fall into place. I get it. FINALLY.

When a woman is pregnant, her body’s main job is to protect the pregnancy and nourish the baby. In order to do that, her blood volume needs to increase by about 50%.  To achieve this extra blood volume, the liver makes a substance called albumin that has the job of pulling extra fluid out of the tissues of the body and into the bloodstream. Salt also helps to move the fluid from tissue to bloodstream through osmotic pressure. The key to this whole equation: albumin can only be manufactured through protein intake by mom. If a pregnant mom has either inadequate salt or protein intake, her blood volume begins to decrease in as little as two weeks. When blood volume drops, a condition called hypovolemia, the body goes into “protect mode” and changes begin to happen in ways similar (but not usually to the same degree) to when someone is hemorrhaging because basically, the body can’t discern the cause for the drop in blood volume, i.e., a true problem or just as a result of the mother eating less.  This process goes something like this:  the body must preserve the internal organs–at the expense of the limbs, if necessary, so the kidneys begin to produce renin, an enzyme which causes blood vessels to constrict.  Obviously, if the mother were actually hemorrhaging, this would be crucial in preserving the internal organs and the mother as a whole while waiting for assistance in halting the hemorrhage.   When hemorrhaging isn’t actually occurring in the pregnancy, however, these measures of constricting blood vessels result in an increase in mom’s blood pressure.  The usual treatment of salt restriction, weight restriction, or activity restriction only worsens the problem by causing the blood volume to drop even more….which continues the cycle of increased renin production and constriction.  Consequently, blood pressure numbers will continue to climb.

While this is happening, the kidneys are still working to increase blood volume by reabsorbing as much of the water and salt from the fluid that has already been filtered out of the blood, and returning it to circulating blood.  But since albumin is responsible for 75 – 80 % of osmotic pressure, and albumin and salt levels are dismally low, much of this reaborbsed can’t help but seep back into the tissues.  Thus begins the vicious cycle of the kidneys trying to keep (and reabsorb) what it has already filtered, and the fluid seeping out at the capillary level.  This is why the mother sees rapid swelling in her ankles, hands, and or face, and unusual weight gain.  When bedrest and the other measures are not successful, many times induction is attempted, often resulting in either a prematurely born baby, and hosts of other problems that come along with a baby being born before its time.

Certainly, since I’m not medically trained, I don’t know everything (or pretend to know everything) related to the subject.  The intricacies of the disease are still being studied, though I am slightly disappointed and disturbed at how the medical community seems to repeatedly ignore these facts and still recommend restricted salt and caloric intake when the problem arises.  When my  mom was pregnant with her first child (although that was over 40 years ago and things have changed tremendously since then), she was told to cut out salt completely from her diet!  It’s a wonder any of us made it (though it does explain a lot about my older brother now, ha ha).   So what is the lesson in all of this? In my humble opinion, since there are no known side effects to consciously trying to consume 75-100g of protein a day, why wouldn’t you?  In my classes, I gather different types of food to show how easy it is to ensure that the pregnant mama reaches her daily goal.  There are some instances that make this more difficult, such as allergies and preferences, but under most circumstances it is not difficult to achieve that number; many times moms are already eating that much and just haven’t paid attention. 

An added benefit of consuming protein is that during pregnancy, the body creates a strong amniotic sac, the two-layered membrane that surrounds the baby in the uterus.  Keeping this sac intact throughout the pregnancy (obviously) and even throughout the labor has numerous benefits to both mom and baby.  In labor, mom has more time to labor if the water hasn’t broken, more options available to her, and is usually more comfortable overall.   Contrary to movies and television, the water does not break at the onset of labor, but if left alone stays intact until around 8cm or beyond.  There are many benefits of allowing that sac to break on its own that I won’t go into here.  (Anecdotally, over the years, my students have independently reported back to me that if they had to have their water broken that the OB or midwife commented on how strong it was.   We refer to them as “Bradley bags of steel”!)  The longer I teach, the more I see that having little or no  time restrictions placed on a mother in labor allows them to navigate her unique birthing experience.  Once the sac is ruptured, some sort of time limit is automatically placed over the remainder of the labor. 

My best advice to pregnant moms is that they strive to eat between 75-100g of protein every day through a variety of whole food choices, including milk, eggs, meat, fish, beans, dairy, nuts and veggies.  In addition to other important elements of a healthy diet, it will help in growing a healthy baby and nourishing a pregnancy.  Studies suggest that adequate protein intake also helps in brain growth, so you could have a future scholarship recipient on your hands!  And who wouldn’t want a brainiac baby? 

Please pass the cheesy eggs.

**Important medical disclaimer** I wish you to know that I do not possess any medical qualifications in the subjects presented here. The information results from my own experience, or experiences I have studied. The reader is therefore personally responsible for ensuring the safe application of anything described herein.  This should not be substituted for the knowledge and/or advice of your medical caregiver.  Underlying medical conditions may make these suggestions contrary to your situation and as such should be seen in light of that.  In other words,  having six babies does not automatically make me an expert in your pregnancy!

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