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The 2016 Give Back Gift Guide

When I first started writing this blog (almost five years ago!) one of my main goals was to educate my friends and family on choices they were making with their purchases and how they could better stand up and support the things they love with their money. Christmas provides the perfect opportunity to do this- find gifts that give back to good causes, employ people that need someone to take a chance on them, or (at the very least) are sustainable and intentional.

Our purchases have power. Without getting too political, it’s obvious that we all have things we wish were getting more attention these days, whether its rights for a certain people group, money to fight a certain illness, or any number of other things. The beautiful thing is, there are great companies that are combining commerce with charity and making it possible- even at Christmastime- for great gifts to make a difference.

With that heart, I present to you the 2016 Give Back Gift Guide! For the most part, I let the companies speak for themselves. I hope you find a new company you love!

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Povertees
http://www.povertees.com/

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“We make all of our clothing in Los Angeles to employ as many people transitioning out of homelessness as we can. Over the years, we saw that people were returning to the streets because they could not find steady employment. In response, we offer supportive employment to women who are transitioning out of homelessness. We care for their well-being in and out of the workplace, and involve them in all aspects of the organization. Our employees do not simply work here, they belong here.
We look at clothing manufacturing and we see an opportunity to create systemic change. Businesses manufacture clothing overseas simply because it is cheaper to do so. Yet, a desire to strengthen domestic manufacturing and job creation is building. We will continue to be on the forefront of this change.
Businesses are not separate from the communities they operate in. We operate to show that community should not be separate from business.”

Good Grounds Coffee Co
https://www.goodgrounds.coffee/

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“Good Grounds is a for-profit company that partners with existing coffee cooperatives in East Africa by financing, marketing and exporting specialty coffee. Good Grounds brings change by working with widows and former Congolese rebels who have given up their guns to grow coffee. In our ever-globalizing world, we believe that farmer education and supply chain transparency are the keys to creating sustainable change and quality coffee, roast after roast.”  **This company is owned and operated by dear friends of ours in Rwanda and I can personally vouch for the great work they are doing!**

Madera Hammocks
https://maderaoutdoor.com/

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“For every hammock you buy two trees are planted. Hence the name Madera. We love giving back and since the nature of the business is…well, nature… we naturally owe all our efforts to the very thing that inspired us. We have partnered with Trees for the future to plant trees in remote parts of the world.”

Lovishly
https://lovishly.com/collections/lovishly

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“Lovishly Co. started in 2014 for the simple reason of giving back to the community that we live in. Lovishly believes each of us have the power to tell stories that change lives through fashion. When you wear our necklaces, our hope is that you will feel empowered to share the story it holds. How do we change the world? Lovishly believes in giving extravagantly. Throughout the year, we partner with many non-profits that are making a difference in their communities. We create a custom necklace for each organization and help spread the word of the work they are doing. During their campaign, $5 from every necklace sold goes towards their work. We believe that when you wear our necklaces you will want to share about the change that is going on in the world through that specific organization. Lovishly believes that together we can make a difference in the world. Fashion has become a way for us to express ourselves and the things we care about, so what better way to do that then purchasing one of our necklaces.”  ALL ITEMS ON SALE AND FREE GIFT WITH $100 PURCHASE AT TIME OF PUBLISHING.

Skyline Socks
http://skylinesocks.com/

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“We believe that where you’re from help shapes who you are, and what you have become. Nothing is more sacred than your hometown. With this in mind, we’ve cultivated a product that honors the very ground with which you stand on, literally…
If home is where the heart is, then our socks are the very foundation with which that great big heart of yours is grounded on. With this fundamental understanding the Skyline concept is passed on from individual, to community, to city, state, country, and beyond, a nation of Skyliners is born. Made from the highest quality materials, it is our mission to provide the world with the most comfortable, versatile, and visually impactful athletic crew sock on the market.” **These socks are super high quality, so soft AND their Maryland line speaks straight to my heart! Full disclosure: I did receive socks to review for this guide, all opinions are my own**

Carefull Candles
https://www.etsy.com/shop/CarefullCandles

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“Carefull Candles is the home of scented soy candles made with non-GMO soy wax, non-toxic fragrances and essential oils: carcinogen/phthalate-free/non-synthetic and handmade with love. These candles are chic with a rustic touch perfect for any space in your home or office. With every purchase, we donate $1 to the Hearts2Honduras foundation to help children in need. Our jars and metal lids can be recycled or repurposed because we love the planet ♥” **My friend, Caroline, makes each of these candles by hand and they are stellar! AWAKEN is my favorite scent** USE CODE “JOYFUL” FOR $15 OFF OF 50, “PEACE” FOR $25 OFF OF $100, “CHRISTMAS” FOR 20% OFF ANY ORDER THROUGH MONDAY, 11/28

Dear Survivor Leather & Jewelry
http://www.dear-survivor.com/

dearsurvivorfw16-18 “Dear Survivor is my (founder Christine Longoria) attempt to right the wrongs I’ve seen. It is the combination of all my skills, passions, and resources. As a new company, I’m starting small. Initially, 10% of every dollar will be donated to an established organization working with trafficking Survivors in California. As of July 27, 2015, Dear Survivor has an official partnership with GenerateHope, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to helping human trafficking survivors.” USE CODE”THANKS16″ FOR 20% OFF ENTIRE ORDER. FREE CLUSTER STUDS OVER $200 THROUGH  11/28

Cuttlefish Jewelry
http://www.cuttlefishjewelry.com/

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 “Cuttlefish Jewelry is a hand made jewelry company that is inspired by art and motivated by sustainability. Each piece is made from quality materials and features hand crafted ceramics all made in Los Angeles, California. Our goal is to create visual art that inspires creativity in others while bringing an awareness to sustainable living. All packaging currently used for Cuttlefish Jewelry is 100% recycled. This is the first step of many others we hope to take in creating an environmentally helpful company.”

Free and Crowned
https://freeandcrowned.com/

products-on-white2_0000_dsc08012_1024x1024 “Today, Free and Crowned exists with the promise that 25% of the proceeds from every headband sold will go to incredible organizations combating the human trafficking epidemic. These proceeds now work so that not only can these girls truly see their value, but that their chains might be broken and they be set FREE. Join us and take a stand against human trafficking by purchasing a Free and Crowned headband. This new “crown” you wear will not only go towards freeing the enslaved and helping them to experience their worth, but it will serve as a constant (and fashionable!) reminder to every girl around that they too can be a part of the solution.”

Sudara PunJammies
https://www.sudara.org

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“PUNJAMMIES® are loungepants made with hope by women in India who have escaped human trafficking. Whenever you purchase PUNJAMMIES®, you invest in the freedom and dignity of these women and girls who are working to forge a new life for themselves and their children.” USE CODE ‘Love16’ FOR 25% OFF, ACTIVE AT TIME OF PUBLISHING.

ReleaseSARA
https://releasesara.com/

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“ReleaseSARA uses 100% of the proceeds from every item sold to purchase essential oils for children and teens rescued from human sex trafficking. Essential oils assist these survivors in releasing emotions that can block healing. Rest assured that each purchase is a huge help, so grab something for yourself and a friend!”

Better Life Bags
https://betterlifebags.com/

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“In 2010, founder Rebecca and her family moved to a low income area of Detroit, Michigan and her eyes were opened to what povery, unemployment, and blight can do to a city and the people living there. When orders experienced a boom in 2012, she turned to her neighborhood for help. She hired a woman originally from Yemen, named Nadia, to start sewing bags alongside her. After a few months of spending time with Nadia and paying her for the work she was doing, Rebecca saw a shift in her attitude and economic status. Her family was finally able to afford bed frames for their four children and a dining room table. Better Life Bags was making lives better in Rebecca’s own community. Our mission is to hire women who have various barriers to employment to make our custom leather and fabric bags. They are adopted into our Better Life family and given a chance to succeed in life, family, and friendship. Even from the beginning, all of our bags have been custom and made-to-order for you – the customer!”

The Adopt Shoppe Jewelry and Totes
http://www.theadoptshoppe.com/

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“I started my shop to raise money to bring our son and daughter home. Now I try to use my shoppe to bless, uplift, and encourage women. It is also a way to help other adoptive families overcome the financial hurdles so that they can bring their children home. Made in India by women rescued from slavery, you will be honored to carry these adorable, fair-trade bags.” **This shop also makes incredible handmade jewelry but it’s nearly impossible to get, they sell out in seconds!**

Cuddle + Kind
https://www.cuddleandkind.com/

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“Helping children reach their potential resonates with us as parents. It motivated us to start cuddle+kind and inspires us everyday. It’s why we provide 10 meals for every doll we sell. Our goal is to provide one million meals a year. Through our partnership with World Food Program USA (WFP), we are feeding children nutritious meals in school and giving them the energy they need to learn. It’s one of the most effective ways of empowering children to break out of the poverty cycle they were born into. We think that’s not only important, but beautiful. We’ve also partnered with Children’s Hunger Fund to provide Food Paks – boxes of nutritious, non-perishable staple foods like rice, pasta, beans, canned vegetables and meat – to offer relief for families who suffer from food insecurity in North America and around the world. Through our partnership, we are providing vital nutrition and hope to children in need.” USE CODE “GIVETHANKS” FOR FREE SHIPPING, ACTIVE AT TIME OF PUBLISHING.

Harry’s Razors
https://www.harrys.com/products

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“We give 1% of Harry’s sales to City Year’s New York chapter. When we say “sales”, we’re talking about what accountants call “net revenue”. That means 1% of every purchase of Harry’s product, online or wholesale, goes to the organization. There is no cap to the amount of money we give to City Year.  All Harry’s employees volunteer 1% of their time at work with City Year and other organizations that get people ready. We focus on projects that use our team’s skills to grow our partners’ impact—from wireframing websites to creating pitch decks for potential donors.” **I use and love Harry’s products and I will never go back** 

Denik Notebooks
http://denik.com/

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“The Denik brand began with a few college guys at Utah State University, and has blossomed from a grassroots street team of book-slingers to a grassroots, artsy-ecletic bunch. Now slinging books to customers, corporations, and clients across the globe. We believe that the art of a high-schooler in Houston, or a professional artist in Brazil can be printed on one of our books and be used to impact generations. We gather artists from across the globe and put their work on journals, notebooks, and sketchbooks. Then, with every product sold, a portion of the proceeds goes directly to building schools and to support the artist.”

Sky and Arrow Blankets
http://www.skyandarrow.com/

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“Sky & Arrow was founded by Carly and Tyler. It started with a passion to raise up the next generation. We want to live by example & teach our children what compassion and kindness towards people in need looks like. With my love of handmade textiles and rad earthy vibes and Ty’s experience in growing businesses, we became an awesome husband & wife team. Everything we sell goes to a purpose of helping someone in need. We support other Non-Profits to help spread kindness all over the world. We are currently partnering up with Compassion Covers California. We are going to be apart of there next outreach taking place in San Francisco, LA, and San Diego. They have a goal of getting 2100 blankets – 700 to each city. This will help a lot of our friends on the streets this winter. We are so excited for this sweet partnership.
SPREADING KINDNESS, ONE BLANKET AT A TIME.”

Panda Eyewear and Watches
https://wearpanda.com/

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“You purchase a pair of Panda sunglasses, we count the number of pairs sold and donate monthly to our nonprofit partner, covering the cost of that same amount of prescription glasses and medical eye exams. The donation we make also helps cover the cost of building optometry schools and training men and women to become optometrists.
The funds also help train local eye care professionals and develop infrastructure such as vision centers to ensure a long-term solution.
Good vision enables children to learn, adults to work and the elderly to maintain their independence.”

ROMA Boots
https://romaboots.com/

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“Roma Boots merges fashion with philanthropy to give poverty the boot. Our mission is to bring impoverished children throughout the world hope, love, and lasting change through aid and education. For every pair of boots sold, a new pair is donated to a child in need. Additionally, ten percent of all proceeds funds educational initiatives around the world. Roma was founded in 2010 by Samuel Bistrian, who wanted to combine his love of fashion and philanthropy to help children in his home country of Romania. Roma’s ultimate goal is not only to provide aid, but to educate. By doing so we will empower them to contribute their gifts & talents to society, eradicate poverty as a condition and a state of mind to make this world a better place.”

The 4 BEST Books for a Natural Childbirth

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As a self professed birth nerd, I have done quite a bit of reading about pregnancy and birth- both clinical books about birth that are science based and anatomically driven, and hippy-dippy spiritual books about birth that will transport you to another world entirely- and everything in between. In preparing for a natural childbirth, I believe it is crucial for the mama (really, for both parents) to prepare their hearts and minds for what they are about to go through and the season they will enter into- and there’s no better way to do that than by reading!

That said, here’s some of my favorite books on natural childbirth. All of these are readily available on Amazon and most of them on Kindle, too!

SPIRITUAL MIDWIFERY

I have to admit it, but I didn’t actually read this one until very recently, when it was required for my doula work. You guys, this book is AWESOME! It’s Ina May’s first book, and it’s half amazing, empowering birth stories (and you can read more about why those are important in this post) and half practical knowledge on the mechanics and anatomy of childbirth, with some good old Ina May hippie birth advice stirred in. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I felt like it was a great inspiration for me to prepare for my birth!

INA MAY GASKIN’S GUIDE TO CHILDBIRTH

Ina May’s second book, and perhaps a little more approachable to the non-birth nerd reader 😉 This book is similar to Spiritual Midwifery, but is toned down a bit in terms of the hippie stuff, while still being both educational and inspirational for those looking to have a natural birth. It’s often reported as the “if you only read one book, make it this one” of childbirth, and I would have to agree!

HUSBAND COACHED CHILDBIRTH

AKA the book about the Bradley Method. I took extensive Bradley Method classes when I was pregnant with my daughter, but not everyone has time for a 13 week class when they are pregnant! However, this book is super helpful and lays out both the philosophy behind husband-coached childbirthing, the relaxation methods that are employed during childbirth, and the diet and exercise that are so important to preparing your body for labor and birth. Especially if your partner wants to be really involved, and you want to have a solid plan for pain management that you can stick to, this is a great read.

BIRTHING FROM WITHIN

This book is a favorite among the natural birth community, and for good reason. So much of birth is about discovering your power as a woman and understanding that birth is a natural function of your body that you have been created to accomplish- and the ideas presented in this book help you do just that!

Did you have a favorite book you used to prepare for natural childbirth? What do you recommend?

Self Care for Expecting Mamas

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Self care is such a buzz phrase right now, am I right?

Guys. FOR GOOD REASON. We need to take care of ourselves if we want to be able to give the best of us to our jobs, families, and friends!

I spent years of my life not really understanding my own personality and living in a constant state of exhaustion, discomfort, and frustration. I couldn’t minister effectively, I wasn’t a present wife or mother, and I was physically unhealthy. It wasn’t until I really started paying attention to what my body and heart were telling me that I began to heal and bring myself to a physically and emotionally healthy place- a journey that, truthfully, I am still on to this day and is all the more important now that I’m expecting.

When you’re pregnant (and ESPECIALLY if you already have little ones) it’s really easy to let self care go right out the window in favor of productivity and “enjoying life” or “living it up” before baby comes. Thankfully, I don’t think it’s typically that extreme, but I do see the tendency within myself to let go of priorities that I might not otherwise because theres “only so much time left”. Pregnancy takes easy self-care things like a glass of wine and sushi right out the window (I’m not bitter…) but there are other great practices that we expecting mamas can enjoy…and I hope you do!

NAP

I honestly have had to make myself adopt the “sleep when the (toddler) sleeps” adage during my pregnancy. It was really hard to get myself to nap for a while, but I would just be so tired come the evening that I would be worthless. Taking a few short naps a week helps me recharge and be more present for my family, and especially for my husband- AKA I can actually stay awake and have a conversation or watch a movie post-toddler bedtime.

BATH

Long, luxurious soaks in the tub are awesome when your are pregnant! This is great for keeping muscles relaxed, blood pressure low, and helping you feel pampered. Even if you don’t have too much time, this little ritual can add some luxury into a season of life that often has you feeling clumsy and bloated. Just keep the water comfortable- not too hot.

BABY BONDING

A great thing to do to keep yourself calm and focused during your pregnancy is have some intentional baby bonding time. This looks different for everyone- maybe doing some hypnobirth exercises, reading to the baby, talking or singing to baby, playing music, doing pregnancy exercises. Any time that’s set apart and intentional for you and baby is going to do your mind and body good

FEED YOUR ENERGY WELL

Are you an introvert? Be conscious of how much alone time you’re getting, and be generous with yourself. It’s true- those days are numbered. Similarly, if you’re an extrovert, plan some low-key movie nights or potlucks with friends! You might not have the energy or capacity to do those things for a bit after birth. Whatever your personality needs, take the opportunity to tune in and feed your energy well.

CHILDBIRTH PREP

Again, taking any intentional time to bond with baby and prepare for what’s ahead is a great way to take care of yourself in your pregnancy. Many mamas struggle with fears about childbirth and anxieties about the newborn phase or parenting in general- and taking the time to do some solid childbirth and parenting preparation will ease your mind and bring some balance to those thoughts. You can read about some of my favorites in this post.

READ FOR FUN

For many mamas, this is something that goes out the window for quite some time after birth. If you’re a reader, take advantage and read up now! Read a novel you’ve been wanting to dive into, finish that lengthy nonfiction that’s been on your shelf for a while.

A CUP OF TEA

Unless you’re really averse to hot things in pregnancy like me (try being 7 months preggo in East Africa!) a cup of warm tea will likely make you feel so calm and relaxed. Not only is the ritual of making tea and then enjoying the cup soothing, but you can make a tea that has great balancing benefits, too. Check out my DIY pregnancy tea blend in this post!

NESTING

Just let yourself go wild. Nest away, mama. To your heart’s content. Pinterest the crap outta your house. You’ll feel great :) You also might find comfort in packing your birth bag– a great way to channel that energy.

MANICURE

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel so much better when my nails and toes are scrubbed a bit and painted nicely. I just feel more put together. Whether you go somewhere for a nice treat or do it yourself, that 45 minutes could make a big difference in how you see yourself (even if you often can’t see your feet!)

SCRUB AND LOTION

This is my secret weapon for a bad day. A good body scrub- whether a store bought one, or mixing up your own with some sugar and olive or coconut oil, and maybe some essential oils- ALL OVER YOUR BODY. Scrub the heck out of your skin. Focus on rougher areas like feet and elbows. Really go for it, let those oils sink in. Then out of the shower or bath, give yourself a good lotion. Bam. Don’t you feel better just reading this?

GRACE

The most important part of self care in pregnancy? Having grace with yourself. You’re growing a human inside of you, which requires a tremendous amount of energy, changes how your brain works, and can make you feel like you are living in an alien body. Trust me, I get how hard this is. Having grace with yourself in a demanding season is a challenge! Be kind to yourself, mama! You’re doing great.

So You Want a Natural Birth… (Tips For Success!)

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I’m kind of a birth nerd. I’ll admit it. I LOVE to hear everyone’s birth stories and talk through birth plans and encourage mamas and snuggle newborns. I love to make women feel empowered and affirm them during labor and make suggestions and read books and articles and geek out. It’s my thing. I love it!

However, one thing that I do NOT love is seeing an unprepared mama go through a birth that she regrets. I can’t tell you how many mamas I talk to that really have their hearts set on having a natural birth, but don’t put in the time to educate themselves, become familiar with their options, and prepare their bodies and minds for what they are about to go through. Sometimes everything turns out exactly the way they would like, but more often than not, some twist of labor fate ends them up with an experience that is far from what they dreamed, and it’s a lot for them to process!

I want to be clear- I’ve got no issues with people choosing medicated births or even cesareans if it’s right for their families. My sadness is for those mamas who wanted to choose otherwise, but maybe didn’t have all the tools and information they needed to be successful, and they end up with regret. That said, I want to offer up a basic list of tools that can be used to make your natural birth easier, and perhaps increase your chances of success! YOU CAN DO THIS!

A GOOD CHILDBIRTH CLASS / PREPARATION

Honestly, y’all. This is the most important thing you can do if your heart is set on having a natural birth. We don’t have the age-old wisdom of mamas and grammas passing down what birth is like and what to expect and how to handle things anymore- we ladies need to be taught what to expect, what is happening to our bodies, and how to handle it. Invest some time and money into a solid childbirth class- and not just something your hospital offers- so that you can go into your birth informed and prepared. I personally recommend Bradley Method classes, but I have also had good experiences with hypnobirthing and birthing from within.

A YOGA BALL

Or a “birth ball“, if you want a specific one. Not only is this great for you to use for sitting in the last months of your pregnancy (it encourages the baby to be positioned perfectly and helps with elasticity of ligaments) but it’s great for helping you roll around in smooth movements and relaxing during contractions. Many women will spend much of their labor on a birth ball, because it keeps them upright (which allows gravity to help progress labor) but also allows them to relax.

A REBOZO

This labor tool is really starting to gain traction, and I love it! This is another tool that is great to use during the last months of pregnancy to encourage good positioning of the baby, but is also awesome to use during labor. The mama can get on her hands and knees and a birth attendant or partner places the rebozo around the belly and lifts up, taking the pressure off of the mama and “cradling” the baby for her. This can feel great for mama, both between and during contractions. I loved this piece on shortening labor times with a rebozo, and after my own 50+ hour labor with my daughter, I am looking forward to trying this with more vigor myself.

FOOD AND DRINK FOR LABOR

Maternal exhaustion is one of the top reasons mamas who desire a natural birth end up with a medicated one- their bodies just get tired. And rightfully so! Birth is really hard work! Though it can be difficult to work around policies if you are in a hospital, almost all birth centers (and definitely all homes, ha) now allow eating and drinking during labor. This is your chance to fuel up! When packing a bag for a natural birth, choose high-nutrient snacks that will be easy to eat in small portions, in case you are nauseous. But throw in some favorites, too- just in case! Many people opt for trail mix, clif bars, honey sticks, frozen or fresh fruit, peanut butter, electrolyte drink mixes, and herbal teas.

POSITIVE BIRTH STORIES

This is such an important tool for pursuing a natural birth. There’s something about mama society now where we trade birth stories like war stories- mine is worse than yours- when in reality, we should be encouraging one another! I believe it can make a huge difference in a mama’s outlook on birth so surround herself with positivity about birth and read empowering, beautiful birth stories. Two great resources for this are Ina May Gaskin’s books, Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Both are full of encouraging and empowering birth stories that are both honest and inspiring. This is an extensive online collection of positive birth stories, too! If you’re struggling with fear of birth because of the experiences of those around you- or even your own previous experiences- hypnobirthing could be a huge asset to your preparation. This home study course, in particular, has a great segment on releasing fear of birth.

ESSENTIAL OILS AND HERBS

Essential oils and herbs can be tremendous tools in labor, both for encouraging the body into more productive labor and for helping the mind deal with the intense emotions that accompany childbirth. Essential oils, in particular, can help make contractions more effective, ease pain, help with nausea, calm anxiety, give energy, help with headaches, and so many more labor issues- a good essential oils toolkit can be invaluable during labor! If you’re like more information on using essential oils and which ones I would recommend for your labor and delivery, feel free to email me: karli dot feedmemama at gmail dot com :)

RELAXATION METHODS

This really looks different for everyone, but knowing what things are effective for helping you relax is key! for some people, its a specific music playlist that they love. Maybe its an essential oil blend to diffuse, a special candle in a warmer, a scented lotion or body scrub, a warm rice sack, a special pillow or blanket or nightgown. My advice: bring it all! You want to be as relaxed as possible!

WATER FOR PAIN RELIEF

This largely depends on what is available in your birthing facility, so think about this when choosing a care provider! Having a shower available for directed heat and pressure can be great during contractions- but most mamas swear by the relief that comes from birthing in a tub or birth pool. Warmth helps relax muscles, water takes pressure off the mama and increases elasticity of the skin. This is sometimes referred to as the “natural birth’s epidural” :)

THE BOTTOM LINE…you need FLEXIBILITY

Being prepared is so, SO important in a natural birth. But really? You need to go into your birth with positivity and flexibility. Birth is a wild ride, and it is unpredictable! Having a set-in-stone birth plan that you are “married to” will very likely just cause you greater frustration and anxiety in the long run. By all means, know what is ideal for you! But also know that you might be repulsed by things that once felt comforting to you, you might not be able to keep food down, or a surgical birth might end up saving your baby’s life (or yours)!

What was the most useful thing you did to prepare for a natural birth?

10 Ways to Bless Your Overseas Friends

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Shameless plug from someone living overseas? Maybe. You be the judge ;)

Since we moved overseas six months ago, we have seen how difficult it can be to maintain relationships with those we love and care about the most- but also, how big of an impact a small action can have!

Many of us know people living overseas- whether serving in some kind of foreign aid position, working, or as missionaries. I have to be honest, when I lived in the states, I often felt at a loss as to how to bless them, even when I really wanted to!

That said, I want to humbly offer a list of things people have done for us that have helped bridge the gap and make us feel really loved, even at a distance. I hope it inspires you to show your overseas friends some love, too!

SEND THEM A PHOTO OF THE TWO OF YOU

This is so easy and so meaningful! I love when friends will take the time to message me an old photo or something that came up on TimeHop and just say they are missing me and encourage me a little bit. The memories are sweet and the friendship is sweeter.

SNAIL MAIL

Sure, it takes forever and is really unreliable, but getting snail mail or packages when you live overseas is the BEST. It doesn’t have to be elaborate- even a birthday card can make someone’s whole day. If you’re unsure how to go about it, talk to your overseas friend or your post office worker and they can help you figure out details. Ask your friend about turn around time, too! My Grammy is a boss at this- she can land a birthday card here in Rwanda within 2 days of a birthday. She’s amazing :)

REMEMBER IMPORTANT DATES

Things like birthdays, anniversaries, and even important events can go largely unnoticed by stateside community. Make a point to invest in the goings on of your overseas friends- pray for big projects they have coming up, and follow up with them! Birthdays and anniversaries, too- especially when forging a new community, it can mean a lot to have some familiar love from back home.

ASK WHAT THEY NEED (OR WANT!)

I will assume that most expats are like me and have a running list on their phones of things they need or it would be nice to have from the states. This could be anything from a favorite chocolate bar to nutritional supplements to shoes for their toddler. It’s a huge blessing to have a willing person ask what we need at any given point- even if it might take a while to get here. And yeah, sometimes we just need some chocolate!

AMAZON GIFT CARD

This might seem a little off the wall, particularly if your overseas friend lives somewhere that Amazon doesn’t ship (like Rwanda). But hear me out- this is useful in a few ways. First of all, with Kindles (and Kindle apps) and with computers and phones- this is a really easy way to give a friend access to new entertainment they may not be able to get any other way- a new movie, a new book, new music. Many places in the world are English entertainment black holes and we resort to swapping movies with friends and never having new books to read. Amazon gift cards are so great for this! A friend recently gifted me a book on Kindle. I didn’t even know you could do that, but it was SO awesome!

In addition, these can also be used to ship things quickly to visitors or contacts that are coming through the country. It’s an exciting day when a friend texts and say “Hey! I know someone coming through town if you need anything, ship it here!” Cue Amazon Prime shipping to said friend and some goodies coming our way.

And really, the bottom line: especially for those of us living on missionary support, we don’t always have the budget to buy a new movie for our family night of a new book to entertain us and encourage us. This is an easy way to circumvent that.

WRITE OUT A PRAYER OR ENCOURAGEMENT

So, so meaningful. I have a few friends that faithfully send me Scripture, check up on me, send me written prayers and encouragements and general take it upon themselves to keep a pulse on my emotional health. If you can have that relationship with your overseas friends, fill that role for them. It’s so necessary.

ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR ABSENCE

We miss a lot of fun things happening in our communities back in the states. It’s sad for us, and we would be lying if we said we didn’t care. We aren’t asking to be photoshopped into group photos, but even a sweet text saying “hey, you were really missed tonight” or “you would’ve loved this” can mean the world, especially on a hard day.

ITUNES GIFT CARD

See Amazon gift card. Same idea. Someday, I’ll own that new Beyonce album….ha!

HELP ORCHESTRATE DETAILS DURING TIME IN THE STATES

This is a little more abstract, but just as meaningful and helpful. As we are preparing for our first quick furlough back to have our son, I am realizing what a crapshoot it can be to balance a schedule and jetlag and kids and seeing people and….it can be really overwhelming. Reach out to your overseas friends if they are planning a trip back, and see how you can help. Airport rides, offer to host, cook a meal, whatever- everyone’s needs will be different but your willingness will speak volumes.

REPOST, COMMENT, LIKE THINGS THEY POST ABOUT THEIR WORK

It can get lonely over here and the gratification of overseas work is far from instant. When your friends share about the work they are doing on social media, vocalize your support and let them know what they are doing is important and valued! Share a photo or a story. Comment. Give it a little heart like! We see these things and it fuels us. Promise :)

I hope this list was helpful and inspiring to you to love your overseas friends well! Wherever they are and whatever they are doing, your friendship is important and your love and support are crucial to their success.

*One final note. If you know your friend’s love language, hone in on things that might speak that to them. It can be hard to spend quality time with someone thousands of miles away, but a Skype call could do the trick! You might just have to think outside the box*

Living overseas? Have an idea to add? Leave it in a comment below!

How the Spiritual Disciplines Saved My Faith

I decided, last week: this has been the hardest 6 months of my life.

But then I remembered where I was 6 years ago, finding out that my mom had breast cancer, while simultaneously balancing visits to my grandfather after a fall and my sister after several brain surgeries,in different hospitals in downtown Baltimore. Maybe that was the hardest season?

Or maybe it was the season that where we were newlyweds and naively started a not-for-loss company working in post-earthquake Haiti and also took in some heroin addicts in an effort to save them by our example of Christ’s love- only to be left basically broke and definitely broken. Was that the hardest season?

The season that broke me was losing our son. Looking back, I can see that clearly- the touches of PTSD, the panic attacks in public places, not being able to sleep, always being tired, depressed, anxious, unable to really parent or be social or have much to do with my family at all. My faith fell apart as I quickly realized that the church- or at least a church service- didn’t have much to say to me as I angrily crossed my arms during songs about God being a healer and how good He was and how much He loved me. I didn’t believe those things. Just because some worship leader with a trendy hairdo sang them or wrote them or whatever didn’t make them true. My baby son was dead and he wasn’t healed and God wasn’t good. Not then. And I definitely wasn’t going to sing about it.

So many parts of that season feel like a blur- like time. I have no recollection of several months of my life. But then, there are certain things that are so vivid- the smell of the “console” essential oil blend I would use each night before bed, the color of the himalayan salt lamp I prayed would help me sleep, the feel of putting on a new pair of leggings for the first time that I would inevitably wear for weeks as I skirted the line between “getting dressed” and “I slept in these”. The gin and tonics- too frequent, the saltwater I would drink in the morning to try to reset my shot adrenals, the smell of the ocean as I would sit on the sea ledge and cry. The two little crabs I would watch digging holes every morning- and I would say to myself, “if God cares about even these little crabs, why does my life feel like such a disaster? Why doesn’t He care about me, my family?”

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking lately about what got me out of that season- what saved me. Because, if I’m being honest, the last 6 months of my life truly have been the hardest- harder than all the rest. Moving to East Africa at 8 weeks pregnant is no joke- moving to Africa at all is no cakewalk anyway. Cultural stress, jet lag, the difficulty of finding a home and setting it up and learning where to buy things and forging a new community and a million other tiny decisions and interactions that just wear on your day after day- it’s mentally exhausting. Add in altitude and hyperemesis (thankfully mostly controlled) and a case of prenatal anxiety and depression because my last pregnancy ended so tragically- yeah, the last 6 months were a recipe for disaster. So why weren’t they?

Don’t get me wrong- I have had numerous breakdowns and “i’m packing up and leaving” moments. Numerous. I won’t lie to you, there have been multiple times where I was ready to throw in the towel. Multiple times where I basically didn’t leave my room- really, my bed- for an entire day. There have been
Netflix marathons and days of eating entire chocolate bars and parenting with TV. My family has not come through this unscathed and I have not always been okay. But then- how am I still here? After that hard season that broke me, with losing Hudson? How am I handling this?

I’ve come to realize that the answer lies in habit- routine- spiritual discipline. I got to the point with my faith where I was so burnt out from what I was supposed to believe about God and his character and what I was supposed to cling to as comfort that I just stopped, and was honest with myself. I was mad. I was frustrated with people throwing cliches my way that didn’t make me feel any better. So I stopped trying to pretend- at least to myself- and I surrendered.

While I don’t feel that I ever really got to a place where I abandoned my faith completely, I think that I wanted to. But something in me remembered those other hard seasons, and how I had found peace in them before, and that there must be something to that. So, I started looking for the things that had stood the test of time. Things that weren’t some kind of postmodern, comfortable pastoral revelation, but things that the church had clung to in times of real trial and pain. Here’s what I found:

Traditional prayers and creeds.

It was so refreshing for me to pray something that had been prayed by so many people for so many years. One of the first things I did was pray the Novena of St. Andrew for all of December. It’s a prayer commonly used in Catholic churches and particularly asking the Lord to bless the wombs of women. It felt easier and safer to me than just telling God how pissed I was about my empty uterus. The prayers of both St. Francis and St. Patrick have all brought direction and comfort in the past year as well. Even the Lord’s Prayer gave me words when, often, I didn’t have them. And the creeds- especially the Nicene Creed- helped me figure out what I believed again on a really basic level- like “okay, if I can agree to this as my foundation, maybe I can move forward”. I am still wrestling, but I am being honest about it. I’ll say them until they sink in. Until I really, really believe them again.

Meditation and silence.

This maybe started out as a more practical way to deal with my anxiety and panic attacks- to help myself start my day calm and centered and focused. But my mediation practice grew into something that I craved and needed in order to really get through my day with any semblance of mental sanity and peace. I looked at different kinds of meditation and “centering prayers” and tried many- and still practice them to this day, though perhaps with less frequency. But those times of remembering how small I was and how big God is and how out of control of everything I truly was helped reground me in the midst of a chaotic and emotionally messy season. The Liturgists have a really great Centering Prayer recording, as well as an excellent episode on meditation. I have also really enjoyed getting Richard Rohr’s daily meditation emails.

Reading the Bible.

This was the hardest for me- and probably still is, if I’m honest. Sadly, I am one of those people that comes through a Bible college with a lower esteem for Scripture than I would like- after studying how the canon was formed and the politics of it all, I just wonder, what else is out there that we are missing? And moreso, I haven’t shaken the feeling that the Bible is just another textbook for me to pull apart and study. After 7 years, it’s really difficult for me to read the Bible as a mystical, transcendent message of God’s love for us that speaks personally to me. I’m still worried about finding background knowledge and looking up greek words and ALL the CONTEXT and really, it’s just hard for me to sit down and bask and be comforted.

However- I found a little tool that has really helped. I am a big fan of Lara Casey’s productivity tools- not only are they beautiful and help women really get to the heart of what they love, but they are so centered on living a life for Christ, whether overtly or not. Last year, Lara released her series of Write the Word Journals, a simple idea in which we write out a Bible passage on one page, and then just whatever is on our hearts on the other. I’ll be honest, deciding to do this got me to open my Bible and let out some feelings, little by little, for the first time in months. Since then, it has become a staple in my routine of daily quiet and has allowed me to venture back into scripture gently, yet with some direction. I am really grateful.

Another big tool for me, has been the Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals book– and, now, the app as well. While it is meant to be read in community, I go through each day’s liturgy in my own quiet time, meditating on the centering words, reading the Scriptures, and praying the prayers. It has allowed me to have some structure to my thoughts and reading and prayers that I have craved- some direction- while still keeping time with things that I care about. I like the space given to pray for others. I like the way the selected readings and quotes are from heroes of the faith, both old and more contemporary. It’s exposed me to thinkers and martyrs that I didn’t know before- people that have paved the way. I really value that. The app includes these readings, as well as a midday and evening liturgy, which I try to pray as often as I can remember. I feel like I need to recenter myself as often as possible. Which brings me to my next tool…

The Chimes app. I don’t actually remember where I first heard of this, but it’s a simple enough idea- your phone will make a little chime noise every hour, on the hour, for whatever hours of the day you want it to. So every day, from 7am to 9pm, I will get a tiny chime on the hour. At that point, I choose what to do with that tiny wake up call- right now, I am working on memorizing the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. For a while, it was the Beatitudes, and before that it was Psalm 23. Sometimes I will recite all 3! But this little chime helps me take a second and recenter myself before I get on with my day. It’s just a minute or so out of each hour, but if I am diligent to really do it, it makes a huge difference. Sometimes that chime goes off in the middle of a tough parenting moment, or while I’m exhaustedly doing dishes, or maybe having a difficult conversation with my spouse. It’s a great reminder.

So, I’m not there yet. I’m not healed, or whole- I still feel very broken, though maybe I always should? But these things, these daily practices- they keep me grounded. They keep me stable and able to have grace with myself and handle my circumstances and relinquish control, even if just for a brief second of my day, of each hour.

If you’re here today, too- I pray that these things will inspire you or maybe give you hope, too. Maybe you can’t recite Scripture on the hour yet, but maybe you can just ask God for mercy. Maybe you don’t want to open your Bible, but you can practice some meditation. Wherever you are- have grace with yourself, keep being honest, and know that you aren’t alone, and that you are very loved- whether you feel it or not.

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Sweet Gifts for a 2-Year-Old Girl

girl-turning

Our little one turned two this last month (CRYING FACE!) and we had to get pretty creative when it came to getting her gifts. As a family, we really value thoughtful and intentional gift giving, as well as supporting mindful and responsible companies. Add to that our impending move to Rwanda, and we had a heap of challenges when it came to shopping!

I thought to myself… I really can’t be the only one dealing with being stumped when it comes to birthdays for a 2 year old…so, I want to share with you what we found!

PERSONALIZED and APPROPRIATE BOOKS

Because our daughter’s name is, well, rather unique (Hallelujah) (no really, that’s her name), we decided to get her a personalized “Lost My Name” book. I saw these advertised on Facebook for a bit and checked it out- boy, is it beautiful! It will teach her how to spell her own name and includes lots of animals for her to learn. A great bedtime story!

We also got her a few books that are appropriate for what she is learning right now: shapes, colors, counting. We love this one by Eric Carle and this Olaf counting book is super cute!

HER OWN VERSION OF YOUR THINGS

Okay, this isn’t the most mindful or green, but my little one LOVES putting on my jewelry, so I thought- why not let her have some of her own? She picked out a super cute Anna and Elsa set at Target, similar to this one. Adorbs galore.

I also gave her some of “her own” essential oil bottles to play with- just empty ones of mine, but still- it makes her feel included in many of my daily activities.

Halle also got a $1 makeup brush in her stocking, which she loves! She “plays pretties”. :)

FINGER PUPPETS

So much imagination in a 2 year old! This set of finger puppets is SO cute and entertaining. We have so much fun looking at them and naming all of the animals.

OK TO WAKE CLOCK

You guys. If I could recommend ONE THING to you, it’s THIS CLOCK. Buy it right now. IT’s incredible. She stays quiet in bed until it turns green, and then she is super happy! DO IT!

BUY WHAT THEY NEED…BUT ALSO WHAT THEY LIKE

For me, this means buying clothes with Minnie Mouse or Elsa on them, even though I would much rather dress her in solids or floral prints. She needs new socks? For her birthday, she can have Minnie socks. I’ll concede to the impractical on this point!

BABY DOLL SETS

My sweet and thoughtful mother-in-law hooked Halle up with some incredible swag for her baby for Christmas! Not only did she get a gorgeous bed/blankie/diaper bag set (with cloth diapers!) but also a sewn toddler-sized babywearing sling! I can’t handle the cuteness. Halle loves to wear her baby- and she’s always “shhhh sleeping” when she does!

TINY KITCHEN

This is the best! Sometimes, I am prepping food or cooking hot things and Halle just can’t safely help me at this age. So, we found a fun little kitchen set to put in our kitchen, so she can cook while I do, too! Much smaller and more portable than those behemoth full-on kitchen sets, this can be toted outside for water play, moved from room to room, and easily cleaned!

HER OWN PLAY TENT

This one is a splurge, but we have loved every minute of Halle’s own play tent. She loves to go in and read, or put her babies to bed- and BONUS, toys can easily be thrown in for a quick clean up when needed!

10 Ideas for Showing a Grieving Friend You Care (Plus 3 Things NOT To Do)

grieving-friend

 

Grief is a funny thing- we all feel it at some point or another, and yet when we are confronted with grief in the life of a friend or family member, it can be really hard to know how to react and support them the best.

After going through several devastating miscarriages in the past few years, I have seen some amazing showings of support from friends and family- and had some pretty terrible things said to me, too (probably with great intentions). With that, I want to offer a simple list of ideas to show a grieving friend that you care, no matter what the circumstance might be.

COOK THEM SOMETHING

This could be as elaborate as setting up some kind of meal train, or as simple as baking some cookies and leaving them by the door. Cooking, while good self care and distraction for some, can turn into a burdensome chore in a time of distress- and, lets be honest, eating for comfort is totally a thing. If you don’t cook, buy something already made, or think about sending a box from Blue Apron or another similar service. We had a Blue Apron box sent to us after we lost our son, and it was a huge blessing to just not have to think about what I was cooking.

MEMORIALIZE THE LOST LOVED ONE

This can look a lot of different ways, depending on what might speak to your friend- personalized jewelry, printing out photos, making a slide show of memories, making a pillow out of someone’s clothing. Two of my most precious possessions are a necklace with all of my babies’ birthstones (gifted to me by my best friends) and a pillow made from my grandfather’s favorite shirt after he passed away.

OFFER HELP

Babysitting, cleaning, groceries, gas, dog walking, school runs- anything that involves getting up off the couch or out of bed, offer to do it! Particularly if you’re really good at one of those things.

TEXT, CALL, OR EMAIL

Maybe this seems simple, but check up on your friend. Set a reminder on your phone every few days to see how they are doing- tell them you are thinking of them and praying for them and just generally here if they need it.

MAKE A CARE PACKAGE

This can be fun and easy- put together a little basket or box of nice things for your friend! Candy, a new CD or DVD, beer or wine, bath products, a new-to-them book, gift cards, a mug and some tea or coffee, a soft blanket- anything to pamper your friend a bit and make them feel loved and known.

OFFER A DISTRACTION

Sometimes we just need a girls night out, or a night in with a movie, or a pedicure, or to go bowling, or to go to the zoo. Offer up some of these ideas to your friend and try to get them social, if they’re up for it!

SEND FLOWERS OR A PLANT

I’ll never forget our friends sending us an orchid in the mail- they lived in Africa! They used ProPlants to send us a beautiful orchid and it meant the world. This is a great idea if you live far away.

REMEMBER ANNIVERSARIES

Birthdays, due dates, anniversaries of passing- remembering and acknowledging these things, especially in the future, will mean more than you know. Set a reminder in your phone or write it in your calendar- maybe even a few days ahead so you can send a card.

ASK THEM WHAT THEY NEED

Sometimes, there may be a need that you can’t possibly anticipate- maybe something work related or health related or whatnot- and you might only know it’s there if you ask. There might not be a specific need, but on the off chance there is, you could really bless your friend in a big way.

SHOW UP

Funerals, memorials, church services, what have you- go there. If you’re on the fence, do it. I have always lived by this rule- it’s better to show up and be supportive but maybe feel a little awkward than it is to miss out on the chance to support and love on a friend. Years later, I have had friends tell me how much it meant to them that I went out of my way to attend a memorial or funeral that I had initially doubted whether or not I should attend. Make the choice to be there.

AND, SOME THINGS NOT TO DO…

OFFER CLICHES

“God’s got a plan”, “time heals”, “they’re in a better place”, “you can try again”, “you can have another”- maybe all of those things are true, but they aren’t helpful. Say things like “I’m so sorry”, and “I’m here for you”.

JUSTIFY

One of the hardest, to be sure. “God needed another angel” or “there must have been something wrong with that one” or “it was their time”- again, these things just make it worse. Just listen to your friend and affirm them. Let them feel what they feel and be by their side.

HIDE

Finally, don’t duck and cover. Lean into the awkwardness and the pain and just be there- be present with your friend- even if you don’t totally know what to do. The worst thing you can do is disappear. Hopefully, this list has given you some ideas of what to do instead!

For my Son in Heaven, on His Birthday

August 25, 2015 was without a doubt the most difficult day of my life. At times, I have said that it was the worst day- and while it certainly felt like it then, looking back I have found tremendous healing over what we experienced and have seen the goodness of the Lord in ways I didn’t expect. Worst- maybe not, but definitely the most difficult.

I woke up early in the morning in what I couldn’t deny was labor- after all, I had experienced it before- though I was barely out of my first trimester. The bleeding was intermittent but the contractions, the intense pain- it was unmistakable. This wasn’t a complete shock, as I had had some unexplained bleeding in the days prior- but a quick ER visit had shown a healthy, moving baby and no indication of why I was bleeding. I was put on bed rest and told to come back in 3 days to run blood panels again.

But that morning- I knew it was over. By the time I got to the hospital I couldn’t walk, the contractions were so strong. A quick ultrasound showed that our baby’s heart was still beating, but barely- and that my cervix was half dilated and the baby was very low- there was no stopping what was happening. My baby, healthy and moving around last night, was going to be born that day. At 14 weeks. There was no hope or comfort.

I was given morphine, zofran, and a myriad of other drugs to try to calm me and help the birth go quickly and help me be in less pain. You know what I was never given? An OB consult. I was left laying flat on my back in an ER room for hours- many times, totally alone. The morphine didn’t have any effect until the third try. I was in absolute hell.

Multiple times, I thought I had birthed the baby when I had really just passed massive blood clots. That feeling- something slipping from my body, was it the baby? and having to call for a nurse to come and check and identify and clean because we were too scared to look, for fear of what we would see- I will never forget it. After several hours of this passed, I begged for a d&c to just get it all over with. Put me out, let me wake up and be done. I was mentally at the end of my ability to comprehend what was happening and I needed an escape.

Thankfully, the cold and unfeeling ER doctor that I hate for every other reason but this one, told me he wanted to try breaking my water before he took me to surgery. And with that- the baby was born. A son, he confirmed for us after we begged him to please look and tell us (he didn’t want to). For all of his faults, I only got to meet my son because of his persistence and willingness to keep trying for a regular delivery. I am forever grateful.

The next half an hour was both a dream and a nightmare. Our son was placed in what is basically a medical grade tupperware container- and we were told that we couldn’t take him out or touch him. While I am sure the nurses had the best of intentions, there is nothing I regret more in my entire life than not taking him out and holding him. I think about it every day. At the time, I justified it, saying that I wouldn’t have had the emotional capacity to hold him. I wish I had pushed back. I wish I had done it.

We sang to our son through our tears and we prayed and we cried until we couldn’t anymore. It was the most intense and heartbreaking time of my life. We named him Hudson Robert- Hudson, after Hudson Taylor, a noteworthy missionary, and Robert after my grandfather and Matthew’s father. Hudson had always been our agreed upon boy name and it seemed right to give it to our first son.

In a moment of grace and clarity, our nurse encouraged us to take a photo of our son before his body was taken away. This photo- it’s all I have of him, besides my own hospital bracelets. It’s impossibly hard to look at and dwell on, and I guard it closely. But his tiny hands, fingers, nose- I can see them, even right now. My first thought was how morbid it was to take a photo- but I am so, so thankful that we did.

And then it was time to let him go- to the lab? For testing? and then to where? I don’t know, and it’s something that haunts me to this day. I now know that I could’ve fought to have his body returned to me so that we could’ve buried him. I didn’t know that then, but I will make sure that no one else makes the same mistake. If this ever happens to you, please- fight for your baby. Bury them like any other child. It will do your heart so much good.

I didn’t deliver the placenta so I ended up having to have surgery anyway. I was taken home soon after and basically laid on the couch and watched movies and ate ice cream and tried not to think about what had happened. Distraction was my best defense. The next hours and days were a blur- I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep, my hormones were totally out of whack, I was anemic, and I developed severe stress ulcers in my mouth that made it impossible for me to eat solid food for about 2 weeks. I lost almost 20 pounds. I oscillated between denial and depression and truly don’t know how I made it through. With the help of family, by the Lord’s grace.

The next few months were a blur of panic and trauma. Where we lived required me to drive past the hospital to go anywhere, which would immediately make my heart race and my eyes well up. I was intensely worried about Halle’s safety and struggled with debilitating anxiety and panic attacks many times when we would be in public. I swore I would never let myself get pregnant again. That I couldn’t handle it, anyway.

I also experienced (and, honestly, still continue to experience to some extent) some of the most intense doubt and questioning of my faith that I ever have. Church didn’t feel like a place that acknowledged or had room for pain like mine. Too many happy songs, encouraging sermons, fluffy prayers. Not enough rawness and honestly and doubt and pain.

The Lord placed some really incredible therapists in my life that helped me work through my anxiety, process my emotions, and take intentional steps to healing. I quickly realized that there were both good and bad things about Hudson’s birth day that I wanted to be able to either a) make sure that others experienced, should they go through a similar trial or b) make sure DIDN’T happen to others in the same situation. I entered into a training for birth ad bereavement doulas, where I learned how best to support families going through a loss like mine. The training was grueling and full of stories of loss- I truly cried every day that I worked through the material. Every exam. But it was worth it- and it helped me process through my emotions and experience much more quickly than I might have otherwise- though those months were emotionally draining and left me raw with pain.

Looking back on the past year- I don’t have any answers as to why this happened to our family. I can’t justify the pain that we felt- feel- “so that others might not have to go through this”, but it does take the edge off, sometimes. But when it comes down to it, I still just want to hold my son. I want to know him, be able to sing him to sleep and change his diapers and watch him learn to crawl soon and be exhausted at the end of the day from having two kids so little. I wanted to move to Rwanda with two babies. I miss him. I miss what he would’ve been, even if I will never know what that was. It doesn’t feel okay and I won’t pretend that it does. No one should have to go through pain like this- and if you’re reading this and you have a similar story, I am so sorry. It’s okay to sit in your pain sometimes. It’s real. Let it be real.

And so today, on the year anniversary of the birth of our son, Hudson- on his birthday- I will keep crying the tears and feeling the pain. I will be grateful for the gifts that a doctor and a nurse gave us, and yet be angry at the things the hospital took away from us, too. I will continue to question and be honest about my pain. I will remember every detail the best that I can. But most of all- I will continue to tell the hard story. I will be willing to share Hudson’s life and I will plead with the Lord that it will impact others in some way and that some kind of redemption will come out of this terrible thing. It’s all I know to do.

Hudson, I wish it was a comfort to me to think about you celebrating your first birthday in Heaven, with the Lord and with your siblings- and I wish that I could honestly say that I rejoice in that and that I think it’s better. My heart just isn’t there yet. I wish you were here with us and that you could bury your face in a blue cupcake and have a party and maybe sleep through the night (but probably not) and that we could celebrate a year of miracles and joy. I wish I could take a picture of you- “last night before he turns one!” or a special birthday hat or something. But I don’t get to do that for you- we don’t get to share those moments, and I guess coming to this day and this place it just all part of the grieving and healing process. Maybe next year, I’ll have it more together. Maybe not. I don’t even know if that’s what I want.

What I do want you to know is that you are so loved- and that you are remembered every day. We cherish the tiny memories we have of you, even in their difficulty, and we talk about you to your sister. You will always be out first son, even after your little brother comes in a few months. You’ll be here with us, with him- and we do take comfort in that.

Happy birthday, little one. You are never forgotten. You are so loved.

Mama

If you’d like to join us in remembering Hudson’s birthday today, we have decided to plant a tree or some kind of plant around our home each year on his birthday. While the transient nature of our life made me initially resistant to this idea, I have come to take a lot of comfort in thinking about leaving memorials to his life wherever we go. So plant a tree, or sow some flowers, get a little garden statue or bird feeder or something and say a little prayer of gratefulness for our son’s life. If you do, would you share it with us?

We are so grateful for the support and love of our friends and family over this past year. Words can never do justice to your kindness and grace. We love you endlessly.

If you are reading this and are experiencing or have experienced a similar loss, please feel free to reach out to me. I would be blessed to pray for you, answer any questions you might have, and offer any support or encouragement that I can.

If You Only Read ONE BOOK About Natural Fertility…

one book

 

When I first got married, I felt very strongly about avoiding any kind of hormonal birth control. That said, I also felt pretty strongly that I was not ready to have a baby- so I needed to find some kind of middle ground!

Luckily, a wise biology professor at my university (and also a La Leche League leader) had included a small segment on Natural Family Planning during my class the previous year, so I knew a little bit about it. Some other friends had explored the option as well, and everyone seemed to think that it was too much work. Well, I was committed. I saw my other friends having side effects from their meds, and I didn’t want it. NFP it was!

I read everything I could find- books, blogs, the works. and guess what? I didn’t get pregnant!

And then….I wanted to get pregnant.

Easy shift, right? All those times that you were avoiding doing the deed, now became the targets. Well- for some people, it’s just that easy. But for me…months went by and the positive tests never came.

I started to research fertility and look for resources that might point to why I wasn’t getting pregnant. To my surprise, one of the books I had previously read came up on every list- and, today, I want to tell you about it!

Taking Charge of Your Fertility is like the fertility Bible. Whether you are trying to get pregnant or trying to avoid getting pregnant, TCOYF will give you an amazing foundation of knowledge about your own body and what should and shouldn’t be happening, and when.

The most basic thing taught in TCOYF is how to chart your own cycle, based on a number of biological factors: basal body temperature (or, resting temp: taken first thing in the morning), amount and consistency of cervical mucous, height of cervix, and others. By getting more in touch with the natural signs of fertility your body gives throughout the month, it’s easier to know when you are most fertile- and then use that knowledge to whatever end you’re after.

Using the skills I learned in TCOYF, I was able to spot what could have been a hormonal imbalance in my own cycles- where my basal temperature was very very low and certain stages of my cycle were shorter than expected. I was even able to identify some cycles where I didn’t ovulate at all! What powerful knowledge- even if disappointing at times.

I was able to take my charts, and my suspicions, to my doctor, who ran tests to possibly diagnose the things I was seeing. How empowering!

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people who are eating all the right things and doing all the right things, but lack a basic knowledge of how their body, and their fertility, really works- and it can totally change the game for them!

In short- if you are looking for ONE BOOK to help you learn about your body and your fertility, make it this one!