Lucky Me!

Lucy Charms

This past week was a tough one, I’m not going to lie… All the after school activities were in full swing, which makes my job – evenings and weekends mostly – more challenging. Oldest daughter was back at dance five days a week, oldest son in soccer five days a week plus saxophone, and my youngest just started soccer as well – two days a week. (How many days of the week are there again?!) Currently, #3 is my favorite child – but only because she hasn’t started her acting classes yet.

I also had to work – a lot. My job usually has a pretty predictable and very do-able schedule even with a busy family like mine. Typically, I work a couple of nights a week, and two weekend days a month. But this past week, everything lined up in so that I worked Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday day and Thursday night, all day Saturday and all day Sunday.

(Did I mention that a friend of mine talked me into doing a “Fall Cleanse” with her and that it officially started on Saturday? The food’s good, and I feel great – but someone should have told me to hire a personal chef to get all the meals prepped! There’s no room in my fridge because of all the damn fruits and vegetables waiting to be eaten, and I still have 12 days to go…)

To say I was tired and had no time to do anything last week would be an understatement. So, why am I titling this post “Lucky Me?” Because even as I was dragging myself out of bed at 6:30 am on Saturday for a full-day workshop, I marveled at how very lucky I am to be doing this work in the world.

I celebrated my 17th work anniversary this past July. There aren’t a lot of people who can say that they’ve been with the same organization, let alone the same occupation, for that long anymore. And there are plenty of Childbirth Educators who change their focus and only work with expectant families for a short while. It’s something that works while their children are young, or until they go back to school, or move on to become a Lactation Specialist.

But there are some of us who are “lifers” – educators who continue in this work despite their kids ever-changing schedules, the craziness that it can cause right around the dinner hour, and the sacrifice of coveted beautiful September weekend days hanging out with the family. I won’t speak for other educators I know who are lifers – they have their own reasons. But I’ll give you mine.

The number one reason I’ve never lost interest or passion for this work is that it’s not really about the birth of a baby. I mean, it is about educating women and their partners about how to give birth to their babies, but that’s not all of it. A long time ago I realized that I had the unique opportunity to witness birth on a regular basis in my classroom. No, women were not literally having their babies during my class! But every time I teach a class I witness students moving through their fears and then being transformed or “born” into their new roles of parent, couple and family.

The other reason that I love what I do, is that I’m really good at it. That might sound arrogant, but I’m not trying for that tone at all. It’s just that there are aspects of my job that come together with my particular skill set to make it very well-suited for my personality.

One, I love to talk – a lot. I was always the kid in school who the teachers labeled a “Chatty Cathy” because I couldn’t stop talking to my neighbors. I like being up in front of a group – I’ve never had any issues with stage fright and I love to meet new people on a regular basis. And the fact that women’s bodies are capable of co-creating a brand new human being and bringing that new little person into the world is ah-mazing! The subjects of pregnancy and birth are never boring to me – it’s  always miraculous and awesome in the truest sense of the word. I love sharing my passion for this work.

Every time I teach a class and get to interact with expectant families is a gift – one that is  both given and received. And that reminds me of how very lucky I am to be doing this work.

Are you doing the work in the world that you are called to do, or are lucky enough to do?   What else could you be doing that would help you feel so lucky?

Breathing – It’s Not Just for Labor Anymore!

Lung

As a Childbirth Educator, I’m charged with teaching my students about ways they can successfully cope with contractions. This includes all sorts of techniques: position changes, medications, hydrotherapy and the original coping technique: breathing.

Breathing gets a bad rap, as far as I’m concerned. In movies and TV shows, Childbirth Preparation classes are a joke, and breathing is the punchline.

It’s no wonder my students are ready to laugh during this portion of the class. So, I acknowledge how ridiculous it is to “practice” breathing. After all, isn’t it something that we do all the time without thinking about it? Breath goes in and out without a lot of thought because it’s an essential function necessary to stay alive. So, why do we even need to teach laboring women (and more importantly, their partners) how to breathe?

Because at some point in the process of giving birth the intensity of the contractions is usually strong enough to take your breath away – at least momentarily.

When we stub our toe in the middle of the night, we don’t continue to breathe in a slow and controlled way. No, we usually jump onto the foot that’s not hurt, grab the toe that is, and hold our breath while letting a few choice four-letter words escape in between short gasps for air. This won’t make us feel any better, but it’s something that almost every person does unconsciously when we’re in pain.

Why does this matter when we’re in labor?

At the time we give birth, the largest muscle in the entire body will be the uterus. The uterus is made of smooth muscle tissue – the same type of tissue that lines other organs like the esophagus and stomach. These muscular organs are “pre-programmed” to do their jobs. These organs just do what they’re supposed to do.

If you’re following along, dear reader, than maybe you’ve already figured out that the uterus is also a “pre-programmed” muscular organ that knows what it’s supposed to do, too. But it needs two very important things in order to do it’s job well: blood flow and oxygen. Without these two essential items, the uterus will still attempt to do it’s job of thinning and opening the cervix and then later, pushing the baby down and through the birth canal – but it won’t be able to do it very well.

When we feel a contraction come on and the intensity is climbing, if we hold our breath (which is the typical and most natural response) not only are we starving the largest muscle in our body of the essential ingredients necessary to be successful in it’s job, but we also lessen the amount of oxygen that gets to our baby in utero. And, we do absolutely nothing to address the pain of our contractions – in fact, holding our breath during contractions is likely to increase the sensation of pain.

So holding our breath during labor is a lose-lose-lose situation.

When I’m teaching this topic to my students it’s super important that I have their full buy-in right from the start. If I don’t, then focused breathing won’t be something that they’ll use in labor. They won’t find it to be helpful at all in coping with their contractions. So how do I encourage buy-in?

I tell them a few true stories pulled from my own life that have absolutely nothing to do with labor to show them how breathing made the experience tolerable and increased my ability to cope. And I make sure to show how breathing can be used to help with challenging situations, be they physical or emotional.

Situation I: A is for Avocado, B is for Breathing and C is for Coping

I had an unfortunate incident with an avocado a couple of years back. When you’ve heard people say, “Never pit an avocado with a knife while holding it in your hand” – listen to them. It’s a very bad idea. And one that cost me six stitches in my middle finger. I ended up at the ER.  And after the initial lidocaine pinch, the nurse started to sew me up. But this was a pretty deep wound and I was still in quite a bit of pain. I asked her to please stop (or, I might have just yelled, “STOP!” at the top of my lungs – the details are unimportant), and then closed my eyes and started to breathe deeply. After my rhythm was established, maybe 4-5 breaths in, I told her she could continue, which she did. And while I was still able to feel some discomfort, I wouldn’t have described it as “pain.”

My nurse was impressed with my coping technique and asked me what I was doing. “Labor breathing,” I replied. “If it doesn’t work in situations like this, I have no business teaching it to my students. It’s a waste of my time and their money.”

Situation II: Houston, We Have a Problem!

Back in the day, I used to love it when there was turbulence during a flight. It was one of my favorite things in the world! I felt like I was on a roller coaster!

But then I had to make not one, but two emergency landings (flying through the Midwest on a Summer afternoon can result in this, I’ve found…) and the thrill was gone. Now, whenever I fly and we hit a patch of bumpy weather, I feel my blood pressure rise by at least twenty points and my heart feels as if it’s permanently lodged in my throat. I have to use deep, slow breathing to calm my brain so that my body receives the message: “Everything is going to be okay.”

It’s amazing to witness how much my brain controls my body! But even more amazing is how the simple act of focused breathing positively impacts that brain-body connection. When I breathe in this way, it’s almost as if I’m able to see my body move away from the stress response right back into the relaxation response. I am able to control, quite well, my “Fight or Flight” response – just by using my breath to my advantage.

On our most recent family vacation, our flight was delayed for 2 1/2 hours do to a big afternoon thunderstorm in Florida. When we finally got cleared to fly, I was already anxious because while the storm had moved off and we weren’t going to be flying directly into it, I knew we’d be hitting some pretty bad turbulence as we passed through the big, dark layer of clouds ahead of us.

When the captain came on to tell us it would be “a little bumpy” for the next 30 minutes or so, my anxiety started to climb and that old familiar feeling of “Fight or Flight” started to kick in.

Both sides of the family live 3,000+ miles away. We will always have to fly to visit our extended family. And I am unwilling to pass along the fear of flying to my children.

So when turbulence begins, for the sake of my children, I automatically close my eyes and try to appear as though I’m only resting. I breathe slowly and deeply, in and out through my nose, paying attention only to the rhythm of “In, 1-2-3-4 and Out, 1-2-3-4.” And on this last trip, this seemed to be working just fine.

Until the plane took a sudden lurch to one side, and my rhythm got interrupted. I could feel my blood pressure rise and my pulse quicken. So, then I tried a new angle – “What if I add a little mantra to the mix? Just to see if I can get the gremlins that are running around my head screaming, ‘This plane is going to fall out of the sky!’ to shut up?”

So, along with my deep, slow breathing I began to repeat over and over again one little word: calm. And with that, I felt everything that had gone up begin to come back down again.

My pulse slowed, my heart left my throat and returned to my chest, my blood pressure was no longer so strong that I could feel it pounding in my veins. And then, amazingly, despite another 25 minutes or so of pretty heavy bouncing around, I felt myself almost fall asleep! (I will never actually sleep on a plane. The other 250+ passengers on board don’t realize that it’s me staying awake that’s keeping the plane in the sky. Irrational, I know, but that’s what I believe.) The gremlins in my head were finally snoring softly and the bumps on the plane began to feel no more worrisome to me then bumps you would feel in a car on a long road trip.

While I doubt I will ever love turbulence again – that would be a pretty big stretch for me – I love being able to find real-life situations where I can see the tangible benefits of breathing and how it can help both my mind and body.

I encourage you to explore this idea on your own. The next time you’re feeling anxious, afraid, stressed – see if deep, slow, focused breathing can help you in the same way it does for me. If you’re able to see the day-to-day benefits of breathing in your everyday life, then “Breathing as Labor Coping Technique” starts to feel like something that might actually work during birth.

Besides, you’ll want to master this technique for parenting. Deep, slow breathing is a lifesaver for many new parents as they’re negotiating their “new normal.”

Breathing – it might not be just for labor anymore, but it’s still one of the best things you can count on for coping with emotional stress or physical pain.

Did you use breathing as a labor coping technique? Did it work for you? If it didn’t, would you say it was because the physical pain became too intense, or was it that emotionally you were no longer able to get the gremlins in your mind to shut up? If it did, do you share this technique with expectant parents? You should, it can make a difference!

Meet Me Halfway

NeglectedOh, my poor Blog! What have I done to you?! My last entry was May 21st! Let’s see, that was just before school let out, and as of today my four children celebrated day #5 of the new school year. Yep, I’m pretty sure that says it all! I didn’t mean to neglect you Blog, but in my defense, I had a lot going on!

It is true that I find it challenging to write while my kids and I are in the same location. Like our home. And although my husband is a great Dad and fully capable of taking care of them when I’m not around – he does this on a regular basis during the evenings and weekends when I’m away teaching…it’s just that, and I’m being completely honest here, we are the loudest group of people in the entire universe.

During the Summer, I feel as though I should write letters of apology to our neighbors because they’ll be able to hear all of the singing, dancing, and yelling that happens around here. Every night someone screams, “It’s time for dinner!” at decibel levels intolerable to most humans, and all dogs, because it’s just too hard to walk upstairs and tell your sibling in a normal voice that there’s food on the table. There’s a rock band that practices in the house directly next door and I’m okay with the fact that they don’t shut things down until after 10 pm because – they have to put up with our family in the Summer. It’s no contest who has it worse! It’s really hard to write when all of this is happening in the background, because let’s face it, it’s not in the background. It’s completely foreground, my friends.

And it’s not as though I didn’t do any writing this Summer, Blog. I’ve actually been really productive in that regard. I’ve been keeping busy creating curriculum for a training that will be happening in November, daring to excel with Jeffrey Davis and his ever amazing wonder trackers, tutoring myself on how to create an interview project about Stay At Home Dads that is worthy and enjoyable to listen to, and tweaking more than a couple of essays that have been accepted and hopefully published sometime this Fall. I’ve just neglected you, Blog, and I’m so sorry about that! But isn’t it true that we often take for granted those we care about the most? I’ve got several starts for new blogposts that will be published in the next several days – weeks at the latest – I swear it.

It’s just that my life as “Momma” really pushed up against my life as “Writer” these past several months.

My kids are growing up – fast. My oldest will be 16 in a little over a month. When her siblings mention offhandedly, “She leaves for college in just two years!” I want to say in return, “Yeah, I’m aware.” She switched high schools this year as a sophomore. I think that’s a big deal and felt like she might need me to be a bit more present through this transition. My 8th grade boy is now freaking out about having to make the right choice of where he’ll end up next year, which seemed like a no-brainer – until his sister wasn’t happy with our neighborhood school. My 5th grader was in tears the week before school, concerned that she wasn’t ready and that the math was going to be “impossible!” My saving grace in the lead-up to school year ’15/16, was my first-grader counting off the days until it started. He’s still upset that he won’t be getting any homework until next week – his siblings are worried that there might be something wrong with him.

Me? I just wanted Summer to last a little while longer.

We spent three weeks at the front end in true HoosierRican style, with a family wedding and reunion in Indiana, followed by with a cruise with the Puerto Ricans after that. July was crammed every single day with camps for one or all of them. And when August rolled around we did what has become my favorite tradition: camping along the gorgeous Oregon coastline. There was no cell service or WiFi during most of our trips and it was, in a word, fantastic! I guess I got used to being unplugged and off schedule – and I liked it. But now, “I’m baaaaack!” And I promise, dear Blog, that I will do my best to establish a regular practice of connecting with you again. I mean that and to prove it to you, I’m joining the 31 Day Challenge again this October. That’s how we met last year, don’t you remember, Blog?

It’s a crazy commitment of writing a blog post every-single-day-for-the-entire-month-of-October. It almost killed us last year, Blog. There were times that I couldn’t stand you. You were demanding, stubborn, and uncaring that I had no idea what I was doing, being completely new at all of this. I felt like all you did was take, take, take. But this year, it’s going to be different. I know how to blog, Blog. I’ve figured out how to make thumbnails in just a few keystrokes. I know how to write a catchy title so people will click on it. And I’ve proven that I can git ‘er dun – even if that means hitting the “publish” button at 11:54 pm.

So, these next few weeks will be a time of reacquaintance for us, Blog. I’ve got some ideas, and I’m sure you’ll try to make this difficult for me after all the time we spent apart this Summer. But now I know what it takes and I’m ready for the challenge. I’m willing to show up, Blog, and make this thing work – if you are.

Meet me halfway?

How were your plans derailed this Summer? Did you fight it? Surrender to it? Or enjoy it? I’m happy to be back and I hope you’re happy to have me back! Leave me some love, won’t you?