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    Natural Birth Conundrum, or, Epidurals and Guilt

    As a natural birth advocate, I believe that birth is a natural process and that most women have the ability to birth their babies with little intervention if they are properly educated and supported through pregnancy, labor, and birth. Note I said most. I fully understand and acknowledge not ALL women can (I could not in either of my two tries) or choose to give birth with little intervention. But I do believe that the majority of women can.  Yet due to the current climate of childbirth (very medically intervention-laden and guilt-heavy), many women believe they cannot (or should not) and so they do not.

    If you ask my opinion of birth, I’ll share my belief in the importance of birth education, fetal positioning, birth support as best makes the mother feel safe (that may be partner, doula, midwife, doctor, home, birthing center, or hospital), and certainty in ones own natural ability to birth.  Yet, from the perspective of my own birth experiences, I also realize that there are times which natural birth isn’t possible, nor perhaps in some circumstances, even preferable.  And when those situations occur, there is good reason for birth interventions, safe access to hospitals for women who choose to or need to birth in a more medically-supported atmosphere, and guilt and anxiety-free support for the choices women make in those situations.


    Such is the conundrum of my belief in natural birth, while being a recipient of two c-sections.


    On one hand, I fully understand the benefits of natural birth.  The sheer naturalness of it.  The normalcy of it.  The very real and true benefits to mother’s and baby’s health – mentally and physically.  I appreciate the very real risks of birth interventions.  It is from this understanding that I want to advocate for intervention-free births always, everywhere, for everyone.  And yet – on the other hand – I realize that natural isn’t always the best in all cases for all women (though I may want it to be), because all of us women are different: our birth experiences, expectations, desires, wants, and abilities.


    So where does that leave me, and perhaps many other women like me?


    I came into my first birth experience believing that I would not get an epidural, under any circumstances.  This belief kept me from fully researching epidurals before my birth. When I did finally consent to an epidural after many hours of very difficult (read: extremely painful) back labor, not much progress, and no sleep, it was done under what I can only describe as extreme duress.  I do not recall being informed of the risks of the epidural in the hospital (I had previously declined the medical pain management class the hospital offered in pregnancy, thinking it wouldn’t apply to me), though I do recall signing something.  I do recall wanting the pain to end, yet being terribly conflicted between my intense desire for a natural birth, and my need for decreased pain. Unfortunately, I believe it was my wanting for a “best case” natural birth that kept me from consenting to an epidural earlier in my labor and the anxiety from not knowing what I was getting into, and guilt at not being able to avoid getting into it that kept me from relaxing once I had consented.  So, in spite of the epidural, I stayed awake, worried, and panicky about side effects (of which I wasn’t fully informed).  I believe most of the potential benefits of an epidural were lost in my remorse at having to have one. Hours after consenting to my first intervention, my birth followed the “cascade of interventions” I’d been warned about, yet was unprepared to avoid, and culminated in a c-section.  Now, I do believe my section was warranted.  Yet, I also believe that had I been more open to and more aware of all of my options (without all the guilt) BEFORE I was in labor, that my birth MAY possibly have been different. There are far too many factors to know for certain.  But how can I deny the possibility that had I not felt such a strong sense of failure from consenting to any kind of intervention, I may have been in a better place to accept an intervention at the right time that could have eased my labor along in just the right way?  I can’t.


    So, here on the fence I sit: between believing in the benefits of natural birth and conceding the need for interventions.  Between my desire for women to choose to believe in their own bodies as well-built birthing machines and my acknowledgement that women need to be able to choose whatever they believe is best for them – which might include interventions, like epidurals.


    Few things have the ability to raise hackles, and call out judgment faster than the epidural. Emotions run high on both sides of the epidural issue. Part of the issue is that there are far more than only two sides. There are women who didn’t want an epidural and didn’t get one.  Women who didn’t want one, and did get one.  Women who did want one, but didn’t get one.  Women who did want one, and did get one.  You can divide ranks even further: Women who didn’t want one, and did get one – and hated it.  Women who didn’t want one, and did get one – and liked it. Women who didn’t want one, did get one – and won’t admit they liked it.  Or, those who got one, and regardless of whether they wanted it or not, it didn’t work.  And on & on, I’m sure I missed some. The point being, that we all birthing women come from all perspectives on the issue – which makes it such a complicated one on which to “take sides”; yet take sides women do, and the fallout from the mudslinging and judgment on each side can be devastating.


    So I’m stepping off the fence a bit to say that I believe we need to stop taking sides over epidurals in birth. 


    Women need to have fully informed access to guilt-free epidurals in birth. This means information, without glossing over the risks, and without guilt over making the choice to have one (or not to). Informed access means all the information – fully disclosed – of all the very real risks associated with epidurals, well ahead of birth – provided freely by their health care provider, without any glossing over of said risks by said healthcare provider or well-meaning friends (e.g., “Oh you won’t even feel the needle and it will be so worth it” or “It doesn’t really matter if you can’t feel your legs – you won’t be able to feel the pain!”); along with full disclosure of the benefits, without the associated pressure or expectation by said healthcare provider or well-meaning friends (e.g., “Why would you even bother trying to go natural when you can go pain-free?” or “Don’t try to be a hero”), so that each woman can make a real informed choice about whether or not she wants an epidural; without pressure to feel a hero or a failure if one choice is made above the other.


    But how can we get to that point when we are still taking sides?  When health care providers are glossing over the negatives and natural birth activists are glossing over the positives of interventions like epidurals? Health care providers need to start trusting women enough to give them information and the ability to use that information in the way they choose – whether birthing naturally or not. And women need to start trusting themselves with the very real value of this information given.  When you know ALL your options, and when you trust yourself as a birthing woman, you’ll be able to make the best decisions for yourself in birth, without guilt.  Without guilt over our own choices, and with understanding of others choices is where we need to be on the very difficult yet amazing journey through birth and into motherhood.

    Because all births are amazing.  I repeat: All. Births. Are. Amazing.  And every woman deserves to feel that amazement and a sense of accomplishment and grace in her birth, regardless of how the birth progresses or culminates.


    Recommended reading...


    Birthing From Within: And Extra-Ordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation by Pam England

    (I took a Birthing from Within course with my husband when pregnant with my second child. I highly recommend it!)

    The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer  

    Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin 



    Are We Using Our Brains When It Comes To Epidurals - PhDinParenting.com

    Why I Won't Leave My Births Up to Chance - TheFeministBreeder.com

    I Can't Believe I'm Talking About Epidurals - Strocel.com


    Posted: Jun 14 2010, 23:05 by kelly | Comments (14) RSS comment feed |
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    Filed under: Pregnancy & Birth

    Healthy Snacking, Healthy Kids

    Snacking has a bad rap.  But it really shouldn’t, as snacking can be one of the healthiest ways to eat! When you eat several smaller meals throughout the day – as you feel hungry – instead of ignoring your hunger signals and waiting until a big sit down meal, you tend to eat less, and thus feel less hungry overall.  When I’m less hungry, I find I make better, healthier choices for snacking, and am less inclined to gorge myself when I do sit down for dinner.  When I’m not sugar-starved and faced with the feeling of, “oh my gosh, if I don’t get something in my face right now I’m going to keel over – pass me whatever is edible”, then I can make a more measured choice. I believe that when given a chance, your body will let you know when you’re hungry, and if you trust that feeling, you can make good, healthy choices to satisfy and nourish yourself! 


    With children, I’ve found they are naturally inclined to be snackers.  They have smaller stomachs, higher energy levels, and just need to eat smaller meals, more frequently, in order to stay healthy, and even-keeled (which, as we all know, is super important for everyone’s sanity!). When preparing snacks for the kids, I like to use the grazing method.  I prepare a plate with several different options on it, and put it out on a small table for them to pick at as they are hungry. Why? Primarily, this approach takes the pressure off eating.  The grazing plate allows for a little of something for everyone, with no need to sit down in a specific spot at a particular time or eat something that they aren’t fond of. Not everyone is always hungry at the same time, nor for the same thing.  And as the goal with food isn’t clearing a plate or eating exactly what’s put in front of you, but rather, consciousness: being aware of your hunger, and choosing healthy foods (that taste good, too), grazing just makes sense! The other reason I like the grazing approach to eating is because it seems to follow naturally after breastfeeding my infants on cue, baby-led feeding my older babies, and child-led weaning my toddlers.  It’s about giving your children a choice, and trusting their bodies to let them know when they are hungry and what they’re hungry for. 


    So what kinds of snacks am I talking about when I say healthy snacking/grazing?


    Here are a few healthy (vegetarian) suggestions for kids (and adults):



    Sliced avocado
    Baby carrots

    Sliced cucumbers


    Sweet potato chips





    Peanut butter, sunbutter, almond butter

    Cream cheese

    Hard boiled egg slices


    Cheddar or colby cheese cubes

    Cheese strings (we love Armenian string cheese)

    Rolled tofurky

    Cashews, walnuts, almonds

    Yogurt (we like Liberte brand because it’s naturally sweetened with fruit)


    Apple slices

    Peach, nectarine, mango slices

    Berries (I serve cherries pre-pitted)


    Clementine oranges (easy for kids to peel)

    Dried cherries, cranberries, apples
    Banana circles



    Whole wheat crackers

    Pretzels (we like Newman’s Own protein)

    Popcorn (air popped, non-GMO)

    Spiral or Farfale pasta

    Whole wheat pancake or waffle slices



    Posted: Jun 11 2010, 19:04 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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    Filed under: Children | VEGetariANism

    Keeping Your Cool

    I recently posted (and got lots of response) about kids and their emotions – particularly anger; as well as my own response to it. So, as part of my approach trying to figure out/deal with my own triggers, and help my children with their own, I ordered three parenting/discipline books:
    Screamfree Parenting, 1-2-3 Magic, and Playful Parenting. I started reading the first book, Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool by Hal Edward Runkel, a few days ago. As of today, I’m a little more than 100 pages in, and nodding my head to nearly every word of it.

    This book, so far, is inspiring, freeing, and not full of just theory (which I’ve found so many parenting books to be), but actual ideas and examples as well. The main idea I’ve gleaned so far: the realization and understanding that the only person (and thus the only person’s behavior) you can control is you (and your own behavior). In other words: you cannot control your children (nor would you want to), but you can control your reactions to your children. So instead of trying to always control their behaviors and actions, start focusing on controlling yourself and your emotional response to things, and your children will follow your lead (and become what we really want from our kids: individual, self-directed beings.... who also happen to know how to calmly work through life's difficulties = WIN!).
    The author uses lots of quotes – both his own and others’ to help drive his point home. This one I really appreciated: “Your emotional response is always up to you. You always have a choice.” So often I’ve found myself feeling at MY wits end – simply because my kids have reached their end. And its there, at that end that I’ve felt, I just have no choice: what else can I do but react with craziness to craziness (once all my attempts at reasoning, redirection, and “discipline” have been expended)? Yet, reading this book gives me a different perspective. My children’s emotions and actions are separate from my own. My children are responsible for their own emotions, just as I am responsible for mine. When I don't have to feel responsible for taking on the way they are feeling or acting, it really relieves so much pressure. I don't need to respond in kind to my 3 yo tantruming. Instead, I can be more zen & go with the flow, so to speak. To bend with their storm, but not break.
    Following that thought of going with the flow… Instead of always resisting our children’s emotions (boredom, anger, saying no), the book delves into how to acknowledge what they are feeling, to empathize, and then give them the responsibility of owning their own emotions and solving their own problems (certainly with help as is age-appropriate). The author gives a real-life example in the book (to which I absolutely related), of how to respond in a go-with-the-flow way to a child who complains, “I’m bored!”:
    “Wow, you’re bored? That stinks. I hate it when I’m bored. What are you going to do about it?” No resistance, just go with the momentum and actually join right alongside your child as she faces her own dilemma. (from pg. 100)
    Talk about awesome! That way of parenting just feels so empowering – both for parent and child! I don’t have to feel defeated by my children’s emotions, and they don’t need to feel required to have someone else always tackling the way they feel. It’s okay to just let them just be, and just let them feel, without judgment. To do so lets them know they are okay; that you know and trust they’ll make it through; that you love them, regardless of how they feel or act. And lets me take a much needed breather.
    I still have hundred or so pages to go… but I’ve already recommended to Adam that he read it when I’m finished. Here's hoping the second half lives up to the first half!
    So, have you read Screamfree Parenting? Thoughts? Any other peaceful parenting book recommendations?
    Posted: Jun 10 2010, 00:01 by kelly | Comments (4) RSS comment feed |
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    Container Vegetable Gardening

    I’ve been perennial gardening for years. Adam and I were sort of thrown into it nearly 10 years ago, when we moved to Maine, and the house we bought was surrounded by an amazing array of perennial plants and flowers. I’d grown up gardening with my mother, and felt, at the time, that I had a pretty good handle on plants. I could get mostly any houseplant to grow & thrive, and had luck in our previous apartments with summer annuals out on the balcony. But 8 fully landscaped flower beds on two acres (the woman from whom we purchased the house even left us with a detailed map of the flowers and plants – yeah, that might have tipped us off)… this was a different animal altogether. During our five years in Maine, we had some gardening successes (amazing echinacea and lilac bushes) and failures (composting, vegetable gardening, and weed management - FAIL), but in all, we learned SO MUCH about gardening (namely, never, ever, buy a house with 8 huge meticulously landscaped perennial beds again, because man oh man, that is a LOT of mulch), and came to love it in spite of the challenges. We even got married in our gardens (cue giant previously mentioned echinacea):

    When we moved to our apartment in New Jersey, I really missed the calming aspect of gardening, in spite of the work. I missed tending the plants (that didn’t talk back, but let you know by growing bigger & more beautiful, that you were doing a good job nonetheless), smelling the fragrant lilac in early spring, and the feeling of great energy and beauty that exuded from each plant. So, as soon as we bought our house here, I set to work spending a near fortune all my free time on planting New Jersey-friendly perennials, and slowly expanding our tiny front flower bed into the beautiful garden it is today. I’ve always involved the children when gardening; from the time my daughter was a baby – I’d set her out on a blanket next to the bed where I was working – until today; where both of my children happily work beside me, and even lead the way in gardening.

    My daughter & son leading the way out the back yard to our pumpkin garden

    This year, since both kids are of the age where they can actively participate in and learn about the details of planting, caring for, looking after, trimming, and harvesting plants, I decided to take another step forward in gardening, and we started a “vegetable garden” and container veggies. Now, I put that first one in quotes because our current “vegetable garden” actually only consists of pumpkins, sunflowers, and ornamental corn (which we planted today), due to the unknown soil quality and potential contaminants. I’m not comfortable eating anything we plant out there. However, because I think there’s great teaching and motivational value for my children in being able to actually EAT the literal fruits of your labor, I also decided we’d take on the task of container gardening in our enclosed back yard (out of reach of the landscapers who liberally and frequently spray pesticides through our neighborhood).

    After an initial less-than-stellar attempt at locating organic potting mix at a big box store this weekend, I elicited the assistance of twitter. With the help of Hobo_Mama & innerwizdom’s sage gardening advice, I was able to locate an appropriate natural potting medium for our new cucumbers (and for transplanting our tomato and strawberry). The kids and I made a special trip to Whole Foods and found an organic potting mix by Organic Mechanics and an organic compost & peat mix by Coast of Maine (rather apropos, no?).

    As an aside (and let me say, neither of the aformentioned companies have contacted me in any way, and I paid for these items myself - I just feel it necessary to tell you about how awesome they are), the difference between the two actually organic soils and the so-called "organic" soil by Miracle Gro that I was duped into buying at the local big box store is unbelievable. The M.G. (abbreviating from here on out, as not to attract any more unneeded attention to said mainstream brand) soil smelled so noxious – even IN the bag (unopened!) in our house – that that I had to immediately put it outside. There was NO WAY I was going to put our edible vegetables in that. After opening the bag, I discovered it was heavy, dense, smelly, and full of unknown bits of who knows what. I didn’t want my children to even touch the stuff. I should have been tipped off by the warning on the back, indicating to keep away from children. It’s SOIL! Keep away from children? Ey yi yi… can you say greenwashing? In contrast, the Organic Mechanics and Coast of Maine soils were rich, dark, and smelled heavenly (like dirt SHOULD!) yet were light & fluffy to boot. I willingly encouraged my kids get themselves dirty in the organic soils.

    My son alternated scoops from both bags and filled the container. My daughter placed our cucumber plants (we chose a low-growing bush variety - good for containers, and pickling!) in the midst, and gently pressed down the additional soil my son placed around the base of the baby plants. We put in a metal trellis on which the cukes could travel up. Watered, and done!

    Next, came tending the back garden. We discovered that something (we’ve seen deer, groundhog, birds, and squirrels visit our garden, hence the installation of the fence) had eaten the heads off of our sunflower sprouts; which was our third attempt at growing sunflowers out back. On the upside, our Northern Giant pumpkin is really taking off! We also had some random wild corn sprout up in our garden, so we decided not to leave those stalks lonely, and planted some ornamental red corn.

    The kids turned up the dirt, pulled weeds, and prepped the soil.

    My three and five year old painstakingly placed one kernel at a time into each hole and gently covered them. I was amazed, as I always am, by the gentleness and patience my children naturally display around the plants. We watered everything, and voila! Another fabulous day in the garden! Here’s hoping nothing decides to dig up the kernels as special treats.

    Up next? Transplanting our tomato & strawberry plants into the fragrant Maine soil. So... what are you planting?

    Posted: Jun 09 2010, 00:00 by kelly | Comments (5) RSS comment feed |
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    Neighborhood Nature

    Welcome to the June Carnival of Natural Parenting: Outdoor fun

    This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared their stories and tips for playing outside with kids. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


    I am happiest in nature.  Whether barefooted in our garden, or hiking up a wooded trail.  The best place for me is outside, surrounded by my family. As a child, my most fond memories are of being outside: climbing trees, exploring, gardening, waiting for the big rainfalls that would flood our backyard and turn it into an amazing imaginary rain forest through which my sisters and I could paddle our pool floats.  Now that I’m nearly 6 years into being a parent, hardly a day goes by where we’re not outside.  Even on the most inclement days, we often find ways to spend a few moments with nature. There’s something about being close to the earth, the plants, the trees, which recharges your energy.  Nature connects you, in a world where people, so close in proximity, can be so disconnected from each other and the world. I want my children to be one with the planet – to feel energy that we all share.  I want them to love being outside as much as I do. The best way to do this, quite simply, is getting outside as much as we can.

    Right now, we live in a small condo in New Jersey, without much land to ourselves.  Sometimes I feel sad about this, and yearn for a big backyard – for the acres of woods, and clean streams and lakes we had in Maine, where my daughter was born.  In our current space, we have a small front flower garden and an enclosed back yard – both of which we’ve filled with flowers, plants, and as of this year, tomatoes & strawberries too! I know that we are fortunate to have our backyard right up against a bit of woods where we routinely see deer, squirrels, and other wildlife.  When I tend to the plants and flowers in my little garden, with my children playing around me, it is easier to come to terms with the realization that the best place I am, we are, is where we are – right now.  I realize that there is no sense in feeling sadness, when there’s so much to be grateful for. So, for today, we treasure being in, around, and enjoying the nature we DO have access to; realizing that many people live in places without such nearby access to wildlife. 

    I’d love to share a photo story of a typical after-school afternoon around our place doing our favorite things – outdoors:


    My son, filling the birdbath – one of his favorite outdoor tasks!


    My daughter, watering the annuals out front (which she helped to plant).


    My son, lovingly watering the tomato (he talks to her while he waters).


    Heading out to the woods – feeling the soft, long grasses.


    Stopping to taste the wild honeysuckle!


    My daughter, finding (and later chasing) a ladybug!


    My daughter climbing a very large, almost prehistoric-looking vine!


    My son, hanging from a neighborhood tree.

    In all, it was a lovely day.  One of many ahead as the weather gets more and more lovely, and we spend much of our waking hours outside.  I truly hope that by spending time outdoors playing and working, my children will take with them as they grow, a love and respect for nature and all she has to share with us! 


    Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

    Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

    Posted: Jun 08 2010, 01:07 by kelly | Comments (7) RSS comment feed |
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