“Doodlers Unite!” I have joined the revolution…

Sacred JoyI’m writing today in response to yet another great prompt in my Quest 2015 project. There’s still time to get involved. You will not regret taking on this challenge. There are some amazing, brave, talented people that are questing with me and you will be inspired by them and their individual quests for 2015.

Today’s prompt comes from visionary, Sunni Brown. Who asks: “How could you make moments of joy a sacred priority in 2015? What forms will such moments take? Doodle, draw, photograph, or write your way into these questions and share your responses.”

I sat on this for a bit and was reluctant to share anything because I have always considered myself a non-artistic kind of gal. As my drawing clearly shows, I have never gotten beyond stick figures. I was more than slightly embarrassed about sharing this – especially when many of my fellow Questers are artists, for real, it’s how they create and make a living in this world. (Gulp.)

Before I could even consider writing into this prompt, let alone drawing into this prompt, I needed to see what Sunni and her “Doodle Revolution” was all about. So, I watched her Ted Talk, “Doodlers Unite!” – and you should, too. It’s short and sweet but very powerful especially for me as an educator. She says people who doodle retain 29% more information than their non-doodling counterparts. Doodling helps you maintain focus, not lose it. Sunni talks about how doodling helps to engage all 4 types of learning (visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic) at the same time.

In order for information to be retained, you must engage at least 2 of these modalities at once or 1 modality coupled with an emotional response. Sunni says that when you add doodling into the learning process it engages all 4 modalities with the added possibility of an emotional response! Whoa – game changing moment for me here!

As an educator, who has a class of very engaged and motivated learners, I need to afford them the opportunity to doodle at every learning point. I don’t need to have structured writing assignments in my classes, I just need to give them paper and pens and tell them doodling is not only accepted – but encouraged.

I’ve been providing the partners in my classes with little 3 x 5 notecards for years as a way to engage them in the learning process. I encourage them to take notes if they are wanting and willing to do so, in their own handwriting and their own words so that it makes sense to them as they support the laboring woman through her birth. I collect these cards every week and add to them so that by the end of a series, every partner in the room has a little take-home “notebook” on a keychain that can fit in their back pocket for labor and delivery.

Every time I collect these cards, I’m amazed at the level of doodling that goes right along with the information they are capturing. But not every partner is a notetaker. I’ll bet many more of them are doodlers! From now on, I’ll be handing out these little notecards expressly encouraging them to doodle throughout the class – recognizing that they’re not being rude or ignoring me, but instead increasing their amount of learning and retention overall. I am really excited about this discovery and I look forward to seeing how it changes things up in my classroom.

Thanks again to Sunni Brown for this prompt and the Tracking Wonder team for creating the Quest 2015 program. I thought I’d be digging deep for my own benefit, but to discover fantastic new ways of working things into how I do business not-as-usual is a complete bonus!

For the record, (and as narrative to my primitive doodling…) I plan to appreciate the moments we get to spend as a family even more than I do right now. Our schedules are unbelievably crazy – but somehow it still works. I’d love to see us really prioritize our relationships not just as a family unit, but also in the way we interact with each another as individuals. So there will be some good Mommy/Kiddo dates coming up in 2015 for sure. I intend to prioritize my relationships with my “framily” here in Portland. I need to carve out more time to spend with the members of my immediate community as they are so important to me and nothing shows that more than the gift of time. I need to reach out to my family that live in Indiana, North Carolina and Puerto Rico more than I have been. I’m an independent person and those who know me and love me best, accept this without question – but I need to show them how much they mean to me and how much I love them back. Actions speak louder than words. And I’m always looking for and wanting to develop new connections. I will allow myself to be open to the possibility of creating new connections that help me thrive personally and professionally in 2015. I want to write more and read more in the coming year. Lastly, I feel like nature feeds my soul. And I want to stand in awe of the natural world more frequently. So some trips to the Oregon Coast will be a priority for 2015.

What about you? How will you make moments of joy a sacred priority in 2015? I would love to read your responses and even see a few of your doodles if you’re so inclined.

The Light in the Darkness

CandlesIn April of 1999, I was about 3 months pregnant with my first baby. I’m sure I was still sick – throwing up countless times a day. But the excitement of being able to get pregnant following my husband’s diagnosis and treatment for testicular cancer kept me flying high.

Then the school shootings at Columbine happened. My immediate reaction was, “How can I bring my baby into this world? How can I think about raising my child in a world where kids can get shot and killed while they’re at school?” I was horrified by this incident. I still am. I can see the pictures of those traumatized high school kids evacuating the school with their hands held up high above their heads so police wouldn’t confuse any of them to be the shooter.

I can only begin to imagine the terror each one of them must have felt then and I wonder about the continued grief and deep sorrow the community must feel even today. I’m incredibly sad and sickened that this hasn’t been the one and only incident of it’s kind in America.

Just yesterday, a friend of mine texted from Minnesota to ask how Roberto and the kids were doing following the “incident” that she’d heard about in Portland. Having been in a meeting all morning and just then sitting down to write, I had no idea what she was talking about. I logged on and saw the all too familiar headline: “4 students shot at local high school, suspect still at large.” My heart skipped a beat as the headline didn’t identify the high school immediately. I froze with fear at the thought, “Elisa! My baby, my first-born, is in high school this year – what if it happened at her school?” I realized with relief that it was not her school. But someone else’s daughter, and 3 other mother’s sons were shot while standing outside their school on an unusually sunny and warm December day during their lunch break. And then I began to cry.

I cried for the families of the victims and the perpetrators of all of these horrible, unspeakable acts of violence against our children. All of our children. We are failing our children, all of our children, when these types of “incidents” continue to happen.

My heart was heavy yesterday. I was unable to write these words because I couldn’t see the page through my tears. But then I remembered that after my immediate reaction to Columbine – the shock, the grief and my intense questioning about bringing a baby into this world – these feelings were followed by what my spirit reaches for again and again: the light.

And so, last night at my son’s honors music recital, I was close to tears again. Not for the darkness that is a part of this world that we live in, but for the light. I sat for 90 minutes and listened to children ranging in ages of six to fifteen sing, play piano and electric guitar, or in the case of my son, saxophone, and I basked in their light. For almost sixteen years ago, when I was feeling lost and in despair about the state of our world, it was this thought that my child would be a bringer of light to an otherwise dark world, that helped me get through it all.

And so I share this with you, pregnant Mommas and new parents. Do not despair of the state of this world. Do not fear that your baby is coming to a place that is frightening and dark. Instead, be encouraged that your baby will also bring the light of who they are into this place that needs it so badly. Let their smiles, their laughter, their dancing and singing be your balm at the end of a day when all the world seems too heavy to bear. And let their presence encourage you to do more, care more and act more courageously as you move through this world. Let their sheer existence compel you to try and make this place one that you would be happy to bring a child into.

These are the thoughts in my heart today. Hug those around you a little tighter. Tell them how much you love them. And don’t forget that every family – no matter their skin color, their religion, their financial status, their background – mourns at the loss of their child. We all should, whether that child is ours or not.

Have you had similar thoughts or moments when the weight of the world dampened your excitement about bringing a baby into it? How do you find the light amidst the darkness?

Be still my leaping heart!

Leaping Heart

I’m on a quest this month to help map out my best creative self for 2015. We Questers, have an intrepid captain in Jeffrey Davis and his merry band of pirates at Tracking Wonder. You can still join me on this quest, there’s still loads of time and many more wonderful guides to help us on our way. Yesterday, Pam Houston, gave us this thought to consider: “Sit quietly and ask yourself, what in the last day or week or month has made your heart leap up? Then ask your self today, how can I arrange my life to get more of those heart leaps in it?”

I’m a heart leaping kind of gal. I have been known to do some crazy things in my life to get more adrenaline pumping, “Holy crap! Why did I decide to do this?!” moments in my life. But I’m not sure I was prepared for how fast or how far my heart would leap until I gave birth for the very first time. Everything in my life up to that moment paled in comparison. I was nothing short of overcome with fullness – I was full of love, awe and wonder at the birth of my child. I was full of connection to my husband and my amazing birth team. I was full of strength and a sense of accomplishment that I’d never felt before. I was full of compassion and understanding for all the other mothers who’d come before me (especially my own!) I was full, no actually brimming over, with emotions that were swirling around my head and my heart – competing for my attention.

I began my career working with pregnant women and their partners almost 2 years before my first taste of what is possible when giving birth to a baby. I’d already fallen in love with the idea of helping women navigate their way in becoming mothers. But when it happened to me, it was a game changer. I wanted everyone to be able to experience what I had. I wanted every woman and her partner to experience what we went through as a couple. I honestly couldn’t wait to give birth again because I wanted that high, that impossibly high leap of my heart to occur again and again.

I’ve been so lucky to personally experience this particular type of heart leaping four times in my life. But I’ve been luckier still to continue experiencing this same feeling (albeit a little bit less intensely) vicariously through my work with expecting families. Sometimes I get to be at births – and I fall in love with the laboring woman and her partner as they work hard to bring their babies in the world. It is such an honor to be with a family as they arrive together in that moment of birth. But most of the time, it’s through my work in the classroom with them that my heart takes these little leaps over and over again.

I use a lot of humor when I teach. I like for my couples to be entertained while they learn some important stuff. I want my classes to be fun, no question. But there are moments when I have their full attention and I’m speaking to each and every one of them in the room as though it’s just the two of us, my heart to their heart. And in those moments, I can actually feel their aching, their vulnerability, their openness and I know they feel it from me, as well. These moments my heart doesn’t take big, daring, adrenaline-pumping leaps into the air, but rather rumbles with a deep, humming thrum of vibration that gives me a whole new sense of being full. I am full of gratitude for this work that I know is vital and important. It is work that I am meant to be doing.

But, lest you think I have given up on my other crazy ideas of how to get my heart leaping, I end this post with this video clip of a new roller coaster that is 500 feet tall and takes 4 minutes to complete with more hairturns and upside down spins than has ever been seen before! It is currently in development and will be built in Orlando in the near future. I cannot wait to ride this thing! But I wonder if my heart leaping on this ride could begin to match what I felt with my first birth. I’m guessing the answer will be: “Nope.” 

When have you felt your heart leap during pregnancy or birth? How have you felt your emotions have changed with this experience?

Facebook… I’m not always sure how I feel about you!

Facebook

I once posted a picture of myself on Facebook lying down on my living room couch, eyes red and puffy from crying, with a tampon stuck up one of my nostrils.

 Let me explain.

I’d been playing with my then 4 year old son, Félix. He was crouched on the ground and I was leaning over about to give him a surprise tickle attack and he jumped straight up into the air. His head, which is apparently made of titanium, made direct contact with my face – specifically, the center of my face – and I thought he’d broken my nose.

Of course this couldn’t have happened at 2 pm on a Saturday. No, it happened around 4 pm on a night when I had to teach. The amount of blood that happens when you have a facial injury of any sort is awe-inspiring and has been known to put many people into a state of panic. My son looked at my face as I leaned over the kitchen sink and did what all smart people who suffer from hemophobia do – he ran upstairs as fast as he could and didn’t come back down until the scene of the crime had been completely cleaned up. Alone, and needing to stop this bleeding quickly, I called my friend Lauren – who just so happens to be an RN.

Everyone in life should be so lucky to have a friend who’s in the medical profession – especially one that lives nearby. Lauren has come to our rescue and saved us many, many trips to the ER over the years. She’s been known to come over when most people are in bed asleep to examine the cuts, bumps and other ailments kids are prone to getting at the most inconvenient times, to help us determine if this is a “Go in and be seen” kind of thing, or a “Wait and see what’s happening in an hour” kind of thing. Seriously, if you don’t already have someone like this in your life, you need to find an RN or an MD and try to cultivate a budding friendship with them. They are a source of calm and can save you big bucks in insurance co-pays.

On the day that I thought my nose was broken, I needed a quick fix to get the bleeding to stop so I could still go into work and teach later that evening. I was having a hard time finding a substitute teacher at such a late hour. I called Lauren and she told me to try an old wrestling trick. In a match, if one of the wrestlers gets a bloody nose (which I suppose happens fairly often!) they can’t get back into play until the bleeding stops. So they do the usual head back, pinch the nose trick – they just add a tampon into the nostril to stop the bleeding from the inside. Brilliant. And – bonus! – it totally worked.

You might be wondering why I felt compelled to post a picture of myself looking like this on Facebook. At the time this happened to me, I rarely posted anything, let alone pictures of myself, on social media. But this was my rebellious attempt to post something real, authentic and not very pretty on a social media site that was all too often filled with the artificial, contrived, and perfect.

I consume plenty of enjoyment from BuzzFeed, so don’t be mistaken that I’m getting all snotty about the content on social media sites. And actually, this past year has been amazing in terms of making real connections with people via Facebook, Linked In and other social media sites. But I think today’s generation of expectant parents are growing up with this lens of social media dictating to them what pregnancy, birth and parenting are “supposed” to look like. They have a level of added pressure that previous generations haven’t had to deal with before.

Not so long ago, I was speaking to a young woman and her mother and I casually asked if she was a grandmother yet. Instantly, I regretted the question. The two women shared a look and then the daughter replied hastily, “No, not yet. Haven’t found the right guy!” Her mother added, “We’re in no rush. No pressure at all.” But I could tell that this was not an easy topic for either of them. The young woman went on to explain without any provocation from me, “It’s just so hard! My FB feed is all about friends finding the ‘love of their life’. And then it’s all of their wedding photos, their honeymoon selfies, their announcement that they’re expecting their first baby. Everything’s just falling into place for them. It’s all so perfect. It just makes me feel like I’m falling behind.”

Whoa.

I knew this was an issue, but just in a couple of sentences, this young woman highlighted what can be so challenging about social media sites. Rarely, do we get to read a post that speaks to the reality of our lives. I think we all know this, but still the images of happiness and perfection start to seep in and it’s difficult to remember: People only post the good stuff. We don’t get to see the REAL stuff. In addition to this, online “communities” that don’t have a moderator to really guide discussions can all too quickly dissolve into sites where personal bias and judgement reign supreme. Anyone seeking comfort and connection can soon feel the opposite if they make a statement or pose a question that goes against what the the majority believes or supports.

This issue of “social media as community” becomes even more important when the community you are talking about is made up of men and women seeking support as they begin their journey toward becoming parents.

This is not just isolated to social media sites. I sometimes look at birth and parenting websites to see what expectant families are currently concerned about and it breaks my heart the number of times I read a post from an anxious pregnant woman leaving her particular worry or concern at 3 am in the community chat box only to see that no one ever responded to her call for help. I know that it takes a lot of time and effort to curate a discussion board and that it’s challenging to staff one even if you are a big, flashy well-known website that millions of people access daily – but come on.

Embarking on the journey to becoming a parent, means experiencing an automatic and high level of vulnerability. These men and women need to have a safe place to land when they feel like they’re falling, or failing, and the internet is not that safe place for parents a lot of the time. I’m hoping that this blog (and my eventual website and book) will all be safe places for parents to land as they try to navigate their own journeys. And in the meantime, I’ll continue to do my part to encourage authentic discussion about pregnancy, birth and parenting and help share the realities of it all. Providing parents assistance in broadening their expectations of pregnancy, birth, parenting, and to shed a light on the reality of living an authentic life as a new family is both a personal and professional mission for me.

And that might mean posting the occasional picture of myself with a tampon up my nose. Not just to post the not-so-pretty, real and authentic picture, but also to provide a tip that actually works! Two-for-one! You’re welcome.

If you’re a new or expectant Dad, here is a website that I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out. Becoming Dad is based in Australia, so the workshops are not possible unless you live in that country. But there is a Becoming Dad “Dads Only” FB group that I know is a community forum that is well moderated, respectful and a place where men of all backgrounds can feel supported and encouraged in their real-life experience of fatherhood.

I’m on the search for just such a website for Mommas. I have put the call out (on Facebook! Hah – the irony is not lost on me…) to see what sites, if any, already exist out there. I will edit this post and add to it as I gather intel. Stay tuned.

Lastly, if you’re sick to death of perfect images of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and parenting and you need a good laugh – please check out “It’s Like They Know Us” on tumblr. It takes stock images of beautiful people wearing blindingly white outfits while holding gorgeous and well-behaved infants and children – and provides hysterical captions that help you break down that impossible image of perfection. I love this site so very much.

Do you have safe places to land on the internet as an expectant or new parent? A place that would feel welcoming to all parents, no matter their pregnancy, birth, feeding or parenting choices? I’d love to compile a list. Please share.

Hook It Up!

Serendipity

Roberto, my husband, was working as a job recruiter when he saw the post: “Childbirth Educator. Must have an RN degree, ICEA certification, and 2 years experience.” He read this to me and said, “It’s too bad you don’t have any of the qualifications.” And he was right. I didn’t. But I applied anyway. I don’t know how or why my resumé and application got past all of the HR hurdles, but I’d like to think that it was my unbridled enthusiasm and passionate pronouncement during the interview, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life!” that got me the job. Or it could have just been serendipity.

My life has been a series of serendipitous events, one right after the other. My father is a devout and religious man – he always says there’s no such thing as a coincidence. That everything that happens is a part of God’s plan – as long as you are willing to “hook it up.”

God’s plan or not, I appreciate looking back to see all of the wondrous, serendipitous events that have hooked up to make my life what it is today – in this exact moment.

Jason Silva, our second guide in Quest 2015 asks, “In what ways might you artfully curate your life in 2015 to occasion serendipity, creativity and awe?”

I hope that I will continue to manifest serendipity, creativity and awe this coming year by doing things like Quest 2015. Being connected with others who are seeking to create something of impact in the coming year and surrounding myself with the tools and support of like-minded people can only bring goodness and light into my creative process. The end product will be better for this and all the other serendipitous events that have already occurred, those events that are happening right now, and for the awe-inspiring events that I can’t even conjure from the future.

True Grit + Compassion = Quest 2015!

Grit

“Grit without compassion is just grind.” This is the first of several prompts that I will be blogging about this month as part of Quest 2015 – a program run by Jeffrey Davis and the Tracking Wonder team of extraordinary creatives who have helped me start my journey of writing this blog and, eventually, my book. You can find out more here. Over the next four weeks, I will have an opportunity to answer the prompts of twelve different visionaries as to what might be possible in 2015.

Jen Louden is the first to guide us on our way and she asks, “What would be most fun to create this year? How can self-compassionate grit support you in that creating?”

These are not the easiest questions to answer. I see myself wanting to create many things in my role as a Childbirth Educator for two different health care systems – but I’m also wanting to create in my own professional life. These two worlds are congruent and work well together, actually feeding into and off of one another. But the lines between these two worlds can get blurred.

Finding the right balance between the work I’m already doing in my field and the work I’m yearning to do as “Barb Buckner Suárez” is daunting. It means stepping into the spotlight, which you would think is not that big of a deal for me as I am an EXTROVERT! in every sense of the word. But there is safety and security is continuing to play it smallish. I write about vulnerability and encouraging others to embrace it rather than run from it, so the irony is not lost on me here.

I’m reminded of all the times I’ve purposely pushed myself off a cliff into the unknown – choosing a High School where I could reinvent myself, a University experience where I knew no one, leaving my hometown to move to Portland, OR as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, spending eight weeks in Costa Rica with families who spoke no English (and I spoke no Spanish!) – all big leaps into the unknown. Even my path to what I am doing now was a big, fat risk at the time as I had no training, no RN degree or certification and had never even had a baby myself!

Interestingly I haven’t done too much leaping lately. Little hops of presenting at conferences here and there maybe, but nothing that’s really made my heart pound. Claiming that I have something to share with the world is pretty big – but only if I actually find a way to share that message with other people.

So maybe, the start of this Quest 2015 means that I take a look at what I’m wanting to do professionally with the second half of my career. How can I best support the families that mean so much to me as they begin their own journeys of parenting? I can’t see myself not teaching – it is where I feel most alive – but maybe I need to think outside the box a little to realize how I can have even more impact beyond my backyard.

I think this will take tons of grit – it’s scary to jump off a cliff, but so very exhilarating! I’ll also need to figure out how best to support myself with compassion and get real about creating time and space for this big leap. I’ve been saying for a while that 2015 will be a big year for me – now I just have to start backing up what I’m saying with real action.

What would be most fun to create this year is the springboard for my big jump. I’d love to grow the numbers of people on the sidelines cheering me on as I step up to the edge. I need to have faith that there will be people who are excited to watch me jump – and who will also be ready to catch me if I fall too far, too fast! I’d love it if every one of my readers shared what I’m doing with someone who is somewhere on the spectrum of the pregnancy year – small baby steps up that side of the cliff. 

I will continue to blog about bellies, birth and babies here – but I’m also planning on blogging about my own Quest 2015. If you are reading this and are interested in what it’s all about – check it out and join me. 2015 could be your best year yet.

I love the idea of self-compassionate grit. How do these two ideas of self-care and courage apply in the journey that is parenting?