Green Your Life: It’s Easier Than You Think!

I recently had the pleasure of reading Emily McClements’ new book, Green Your Life, and I absolutely loved it! Emily does what many authors in this field fail to do: not only gives a great overview of steps to take to make greener choices in your life, but explains WHY we should make those choices without becoming overwhelming.

Green Your LIfe: Get Started Today!

Emily’s book is well-researched but approachable, practical, and attainable. What I love the most about the book is that she is very honest, both about her subject and how she approaches it within her household. For example, she writes that LED lights are the most eco-friendly choice, and that buying fair-trade clothing is the way to go, but gracefully admits that both of these choices are usually outside the realm of her family’s budget. Being in a similar financial situation myself, I found this very encouraging. I think this really hits on the underlying theme of Emily’s book: be informed, and do the best you can for your family and for creation.

What’s more is that Emily’s book is full of easy, practical ideas that I had never thought of- and I’ve been around the block as far as reading and learning about green living goes! For example, Emily suggests that we take an inventory of our waste for a few days, and then identify trends and seek to create less waste through those trends. For me, I realized that, while I am great at recycling anything that comes through my kitchen, things in our bathrooms and bedrooms automatically just go into the trash. But, if I invest in a small recycling bin for each of those areas (even an old shoebox would do the trick) I can significantly cut down on the amount of recyclables that are leaving my home in the trash can each month! It’s great ideas like these that make Emily’s book really stand out.

Whether you are a seasoned green living veteran, or just starting out with making green choices, Green Your Life offers a comprehensive overview of the many areas in which we out to be examining our choices and taking care of creation. Here’s just some of the subjects covered in the book:

Cleaning Supplies
Cloth Diapering
Grocery Shopping
Beauty and Hygiene Items
Simplifying Your Stuff

Green Your Life: A Guide to Natural, Eco-Friendly Living walks you through making simple changes to your home and lifestyle that can have a big impact on the world around you. Plus, as a thank you for purchasing the book, and to give you extra support, encouragement, motivation, and community to help you make changes in your life, Emily is providing a free membership to the Green Your Life Challenge she is running in February, a $14.99 value!

In just 4 weeks you will:

-Purge your bathroom cabinet of toxic and harmful personal care products.
-Choose beauty and personal care products for your family that are safe and effective.
-Make your own homemade green cleaners.
-Clean your home with non-toxic cleaners that really work and are safe to use around your family.
-Begin making simple and easy changes toward more real food and less processed, conventional foods
-Use more reuseable products and fewer disposable ones around your home.
-Work to eliminate and remove toxins all around your home.
-Determine how you and your family can make an impact on the world around you!

Read more about Green Your Life the ebook and the Green Your Life Challenge here.

GYL Challenge Collage

This post is part of a Blog Hope to celebrate the release of Green Your Life: A Guide to Natural, Eco-Friendly Living. Check out what other bloggers are saying about the great new book:

Jan. 8 – Ninth Street Notions
Jan. 9  – Red and Honey
Jan. 10 – Running Family
Jan. 12 – Five Little Homesteaders
Jan. 13 – My Blessings Homeschool
Jan. 14 – Vintage Kids | Modern World
Jan. 15 – The Humbled Homemaker
Jan. 17 – Accidentally Green
Jan. 20 – Home With Purpose
Jan. 21 – Intentionally Simple
Jan. 22 – Feed Me Mama
Jan. 23 – Saving by Making
Jan. 24 – More Than Mundane
Jan. 27 – My Humble Kitchen
Jan. 28 – Sorta Crunchy
Jan. 29 – Simply Rebekah
Jan. 30 – A Delightful Home
Jan. 31 – Gidget Goes Home

High Protein with NO Powder? You Got It!

One of the best arguments I have ever heard for a whole-foods diet is the Gorilla theory. Gorillas are the strongest mammals pound-for-pound on earth, and yet, they eat a completely vegan diet! Next time someone gives you a hard time about your diet, or questions the validity of (many) athletes who choose a plant-based diet, just throw that fact their way!

High Protein, No Powder:  Protein Bars and Smoothies Made with Real Food

While Tiffany Terczak’s new book, High Protein, No Powder, isn’t exclusively a plant-based recipe book, it is a really eye-opening read to see just how much protein can be packed into whole foods-based smoothies and protein bars! Tiffany’s recipes are not only based with accessible, affordable ingredients, but they are chock full of nutrients- in stark contrast with traditional protein powder-based shakes or ‘proprietary blend’ bars, which are full of chemicals and unpronounceable ingredients!

While I haven’t spent too much time making homemade protein bars (though I do every once in a while) I am definitely no stranger to the world of smoothies- my normal diet consists of a fresh juice-based smoothie each morning for breakfast. However delicious they usually are, Tiffany’s inventive recipes have me SO excited to get back into the groove of smoothie making- with a much higher nutrient density, thanks to these powerhouse recipes!

My favorite idea from the book is to add cottage cheese to a smoothie. I just discovered that I like cottage cheese since I’ve been pregnant- and the ‘cheesecake’ smoothie recipes, featuring this protein powerhouse, sound divine. Another super inventive way to sneak protein into your smoothie is by adding beans. Yes, beans! They add a creamy consistency and don’t augment the delicious flavor, either.

The best part about High Protein, No Powder is that the book explains not just the ‘what’ of real food protein, but the why. Tiffany breaks down the health risks of popular protein sources, ingredients lists of bars and powders alike, and shows you exactly why it’s better to source your protein from real food. The book is filled with many charts that detail the protein content of different foods, as well as photos of each recipe!

If you’re in a rut with commercial protein bars and powders, or you’re looking for inspiration to add more protein to your diet, this is definitely a great book to get you started. The recipes are easily adaptable for dairy-free and vegan diets (each smoothie includes a vegan recipe version) so don’t be scared off by my love for cottage cheese!

If you purchase the book this week, there are amazing discounts and special additions available to you! I have to recommend the ‘whole pie’ package, which includes the book PDF, Kindle files, printables, an additional recipe book about homemade ingredients, and a year’s subscription to all new recipes as well- all this for just $10 through January 14th! You can also get the PDF only for just $5– so worth it for the 150 pages of nutritious goodness you’ll get from this book. Enjoy!

Sleep, Stress, and Stretch Marks: Tools to Survive Late Pregnancy [WishGarden Herbs Review!]

Sleep, Stress, and Stretch Mark: Tools to Survive Late Pregnancy feat. WishGarden Herbs

A few weeks ago, I was blessed to receive a generous package in the mail of herbal pregnancy support formulas from WishGarden Herbs. They chose so wisely, too- I have used every one in the past few weeks! There are so many different symptoms of pregnancy, and each woman experiences it entirely different- some women will have two completely different pregnancies back to back, too. It helps to have companies like WishGarden that are formulating quality products so that we have a place to turn when things get rough!

The first product I dove into was a bottle of Pregnant Belly Oil, which seems normal enough though it is an interesting forest green color. The oil is surprising, though, in how moisturizing it is and how little of it you actually need to cover your belly! The smell takes some getting used to- it isn’t off-putting, but it’s definitely herbal and a little savory- I can’t exactly place the smell, but it’s pleasant and mild. I have to say, I really love how it makes my belly feel- smooth and supple, soft and pliable. At almost 35 weeks, I don’t have one single stretch mark 🙂 The ingredients include: Elderflower, Bee Pollen resin, Comfrey root, Almond Oil , Jasmine Essential Oil , Vitamin E Oil.

The second I have only used sparingly, but with great effect- Stress Relief for Pregnancy, an anti-stress herbal tincture. Thankfully, life has not been incredibly stressful lately, but there have been several different times that have brought me to a point where I felt like I needed a boost for emotional support, and that’s when I used the tincture. The taste is very mild, too- I barely notice it in the water! Two droppersful of the tincture in a small glass of water, and I truly felt calmer and more in control of my emotions within the next half hour. While I don’t think that the strength would hold off a panic attack, I think that for basic emotional support and to ‘take the edge off’ of a stressful day, the tincture is very effective. My husband has even used it in a pinch! The ingredients include: Lemon Balm leaf, Linden leaf and flower, Passionflower aerials, Milky Oat tops vegetable glycerin, rocky mountain spring water and organic gluten free alcohol.

Finally, I received a bottle of Sleepy Nights for Pregnancy, a sleep tincture. Lack of sleep and insomnia plagues up to 75% of pregnant women, and I certainly have not escaped that statistic. I do employ a wonderful essential oil blend that I love and does help me fall asleep well and, for the most part, stay asleep, if something happens that completely wakes me- I am awake for a long, long time. However, when this happens, I will take two droppersful of the sleep tincture in a small glass of water, and I usually can fall back to sleep within ten minutes- a stark contrast to the two hours that I would normally average! Again, this tincture has a very mild taste- almost unnoticed in the water. This is a great product to have on hand. Ingredients include Milky Oat tops, Linden leaf and flower, Passionflower aerials, Scullcap aerials, Hawthorne fruit, vegetable glycerin, rocky mountain spring water and organic gluten free alcohol.

On the whole, I really can’t recommend these products highly enough! If you’re experiencing stress of sleep issues in your pregnancy, grab some of these tinctures. And I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to use the belly oil for all of my pregnancies in the future. I love knowing that what I am using is top quality and natural- safe for baby & mommy!

While I did receive free product in exchange for my review, all opinions are wholly my own and I receive zero compensation from any sales through this review!

Book Review: The Vaccine Book

Book Review: The Vaccine Book via Feed Me Mama

One of the most terrifying things for me to be thinking about and researching lately is vaccinations. I was fully vaccinated as a child and I have received numerous vaccinations due to international travel in the past ten years, but this is a big subject that I want to make sure I am making an informed decision about!

To begin my research, I started with parenting’s most well-known vaccine guide: Dr. Sears’ The Vaccine Book. This book goes through each vaccination that a child will be given before they turn 18 (there are 12) and the corresponding illness, highlighting the ingredients, effectiveness, and possible side effects of each vaccination, as well as giving a comprehensive look at the illness itself and the chances that a child will actually contract the illness. The final chapters discuss vaccinations for travel, serious side effects of vaccinations, and allegations regarding the link between autism and vaccinations.

Before reading the book, I knew very little about vaccinations, only that it is a very polarizing topic for many parents, and that the extremes of either side both seem a little intense to me. On one hand, you have parents that blame vaccinations for any number of illnesses in the country and will actually go out of their way to infect their children with the diseases they might be vaccinated for. They claim that vaccinations are full of crazy ingredients and that the vaccine industry is a huge money-making conspiracy that doesn’t have the child’s best interest in mind.

On the other hand, you have parents who are somewhat blindly allowing their children to be injected with things that they haven’t even looked into, things that haven’t been thoroughly tested for safety and are meant to prevent illnesses that either a) aren’t that serious (like chickenpox) or b) are eradicated from the US (like Polio). They are following a schedule handed to them by a pediatrician and don’t look back,

Now, I should say this: I truly try not to judge other people’s parenting decisions, and I assume until proven otherwise that parents will do what they feel is best for their child. That being said, I know families on either side of this discussion and I fully respect where each is coming from, and it isn’t my intention to attack one side or the other! As you’ll see, my mind is far from at ease over this subject, and my goal is simply to keep learning and hopefully arrive at a conclusion that brings peace to my heart and health to my family, whatever that may be.

While I have picked up on other things along the way (and will discuss them in future posts) here are some basic things I learned from this book:

Many of the illnesses that we vaccinate against are either eradicated or very uncommon in the US. Polio and Diptheria have been completely eradicated, and others such as Mumps, Tetanus, and Measles are extremely uncommon. However, many people (Dr. Sears included) argue that this is because of the success of vaccines, and that we could undo this if vaccination rates do not stay as high as they are today.

Several of the illnesses that we vaccinate against aren’t actually that serious. Take chickenpox for example. Even as recently as my generation, the chickenpox was just a part of childhood- you take some oatmeal baths, scratch yourself some nice scars and you get over it. Now, parents are told that it is a very serious illness and that their child needs to be vaccinated for it, even though the vaccine can actually CAUSE chickenpox! This is similar to how we see the flu shot being marketed now. Though, in the case of both of these illnesses, a case in an adult or elderly person can potentially be very serious, which leads many people to vaccinate anyway. Even more “scary” VPD’s (vaccine-preventable diseases), such as the Measles or Mumps, are rarely life threatening and are easily maintained by medical treatment.

Vaccines contain some seriously disturbing ingredients. Besides the mercury and formaldehyde and aluminum we often associate with vaccinations, the way that the diseases are cultured and manufactured into vaccines includes things such as aborted fetal cells, monkey kidneys, guinea pig parts, cow parts, and eggs. while vaccine proponents claim that the amount of these in an actual vaccine dosage are negligible, it is enough that someone with an egg allergy is not given vaccines that use eggs in the culture. My father (though not allergic to eggs anymore) had to avoid egg-based vaccines as a child because he has a reaction to the first one he was given. Other vaccine ingredients include MSG and polysorbate. As a believer, I want to make sure that I am being a good steward of the environment and taking care of creation- using animal parts for science isn’t usually part of that for me.

There are very serious, albeit rare, side effects to vaccines– all listed in the product insert for each shot. These range from encephalopathy to Guillan-Barre syndrome to seizures to side effects that are strangely similar to the diseases they are preventing…

Many vaccines are being administered in ways that haven’t been clinically proven to be safe. While all vaccinations currently on the market have been tested for safety to some degree when administered on their own, there are no studies that look at the safety of various vaccinations when given as a group in one appointment. According to a normal AAP vaccine schedule, some infants will get as many as 5 shots at one doctor’s visit- which is pumping their little bodies full of many different things that haven’t been studied for reactivity together.

The healthcare system has made exemptions for vaccine ingredients, where in other sides of the medical field they may not be allowed. The biggest example I have seen of this is aluminum content- there is a cap on the amount of aluminum that an infant can receive during a given time frame via IV solution and other medical advances, but this cap does not apply to vaccination levels whatsoever. This is particularly bothersome to me because vaccines are not an “over time” treatment like an IV solution would be, rather everything is administered at once, which is much more difficult for the body to process.

Some vaccines that may seem inconsequential to US citizens can be very necessary when traveling out of the country, as those diseases may be more prevalent elsewhere. Polio, Hep C, and Diptheria may be the three most important examples, as they are all quite prevalent in the third world (mainly Asia and Africa) though they are not in the US anymore.

While doctors don’t get paid directly for giving vaccines, many do get end-of-year bonuses from their insurance companies based on the percentage of fully vaccinated patients they have in their clientele. Many doctors do not allow unvaccinated or selectively vaccinated clients as a part of their practice (I know many parents who have had to find new pediatricians because of this) and this may be a good indicator as to one of the reasons why.

Some vaccinations are given mostly for the sake of others, such as Rubella, which is asymptomatic in most people, but can cause severe birth defects if a pregnant woman contracts the illness. Another example of this is the flu shot, which many people get if they have close contact with infants or the elderly, which present in more serious cases.

Many recent outbreaks of VPD’s have also included vaccinated individuals. While the media never publicizes this, even the recent measles outbreak began with a vaccinated individual who travelled out of the country, and included a good number of vaccinated individuals as well as the unvaccinated ones who got all the publicity.

Most vaccines are only thought to provide immunity for around 10-15 years. Many people assume that vaccines provide lifelong immunity, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Boosters are available for some VPDs, but others are not approved once a person gets past a certain age.

Many vaccines have been proven to be effective with less doses than are given to children routinely. Blood tests called “titers” are available to test whether or not a vaccine has been effective. This can be a great choice for selectively vaccinating parents- give one rise of a vaccine and then test to see if that vaccine has been effective enough for your child.

In contrast, even the full set of doses of a vaccine are only effective 85-90% of the time. I know several people who have ran titers after having a full round of vaccinations only to find that they or their children did not develop immunity to the VPD at all.

So where does this book leave me? With just as many questions as I started with, though they are probably more informed questions than before. I think, mostly, I just wish that this was something that we, as parents had the freedom TO choose instead of NOT TO choose. Maybe that seems like a small difference, but it makes sense in my head.

There are many more posts to write as I work through this intensely complicated and difficult subject. Again, this post is limited to the points that I felt were raised in Dr. Sears’ The Vaccine Book. Feel free (please!) to share your research, one way or the other!

Rivaling Philosophies: Do Infants EVER Sleep, Anyway?

Sleep Solutions: Which to Choose? via Feed Me MamaPerhaps one of the most aggressive arguments between passionate parents is that surrounding the sleep schedules of an infant.  Is it best to allow the baby to nurse on demand, or co-sleep, each night? Or is it best to have the child cry themselves to sleep, teaching them to self-soothe?  As a soon-to-be mama, it didn’t take me long to figure out that people who align themselves with one side usually think that those on the other side are psycho or, at the very least, not making the best decision for their child.  Not wanting to end up on anyone’s wrong side from the get-go, I decided to read both books associated with this dilemma: On Becoming Baby Wise by Gary Ezzo, and The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.

First, we will start with Babywise, as it is known in parenting circles. This book details the first weeks and months of a baby’s life, and teaches the parents how to “sleep train” their babe, with an end goal of sleeping through the night. “Crying it out”, as the other side would affectionately call it, is the main method of training here: teaching the infant to self soothe, learning their place in the family and becoming a routined individual.

Next, we have The No Cry Sleep Solution (we’ll call it NCSS). While NCSS does allow for some crying (given that the infant may just be colicky or trying to express a need), for the most part this is a much more gentle, time-consuming way of teaching the infant to sleep soundly. Most of the techniques are “baby specific”, meaning, you analyze how your baby is naturally soothed (be it touch, sound, nursing, co-sleeping, etc) and cater to those needs, while teaching baby that being alone and falling asleep without those cues is ok. This philosophy aligns itself with what is known as “attachment parenting”.

So, what’s the difference?

First of all, sleeping through the night is defined differently. While Babywise never gives an actual hour amount, it’s assumed that 8-12 hours is what most people are aiming for, and Babywise all but guarantees this result within the first 4-ish months of baby’s life. NCSS, on the other hand, defines sleeping through the night as 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep, which is also how the AAP defines it. This is a much shorter time frame, shorter than many parents are aiming for. However, NCSS shows that many babies will sleep longer using their techniques.

Secondly, the focus of each philosophy is different. While NCSS puts the baby and their comfort in the center, Babywise instead seeks to teach the baby their role in the family structure and their place in the routine. Especially in Christian circles, I have seen Babywise favored, because it inherently teaches submission and that the world does not revolve around the child. While I am not sure that such an idea is really grasped by the infant, I do understand that ‘the child always getting what they want’ can lead to a slippery slope in parenting.

Thirdly, and perhaps most obviously, the techniques for getting baby to sleep are really quite different. While Babywise focuses almost exclusively on allowing the child to self-soothe in whatever manner they choose, NCSS allows the parent to actively identify what works best with their baby and individualize their plan according to those cues.

Okay, then what’s the same about these guys?

Maybe more than you realize. Both philosophies stress having grace with both yourself and the baby, knowing that they plan doesn’t work every night and sometimes you have to abandon it for your own sanity and rest. Both books also emphasize making sure that all of the baby’s needs are met– crying, after all, is the baby’s only method of communication, so it’s important to make sure that the baby is full, dry, etc before putting to bed, as well as make sure that the baby’s sleeping area is completely safe.

Both books also give a lot of practical advice that isn’t necessarily exclusive to their philosophy. For example, Babywise teaches that, the best you can manage, you should try to nurse your baby as soon as they wake (rather than to sleep) so that they don’t form a sucking habit to get themselves to sleep. Similarly, NCSS includes many safety measures to look for in the baby’s area, including a great section on safe co-sleeping.

So, what do I think?

Truth be told, I really can’t align myself with “a side” until I meet my baby. I don’t really want to align myself with a side anyway! I think it’s a little petty, but if something works for your family, then hey, go for it! While I do tend to align myself more with many attachment parenting philosophies, I have known wonderful families that abide by each of these schools of thought, and nobody has damaged their children or ruined bonding or made selfish individuals because of it. I think there are both drawbacks and benefits to each book, as well as ways that each school of thought could be abused. So, I’m waiting it out. We’ll see how our little girl is and we’ll take it from there.

Did you follow either of these methods with your baby? Are you now? Would you keep it the same or do things differently?

Call the Midwives

We began my pregnancy by seeing my normal OBGYN, one member of a large practice in Owings Mills. The practice delivers at Sinai and I’m sure would’ve provided me with state-of-the-art medical treatment. This is the same practice that walked me through my missed miscarriage last year, as well as the scary diagnosis and eventual removal of the large mass on my right ovary.

When I went in for my first prenatal appointment, I expected to be met with smiles and perhaps even a shocked reaction- after all, it was less than a month since my surgery, and I was already pregnant! However, I was met with blank stares, eyes staring at a computer screen that didn’t recognize me or remember me. In fact, the very doctor who I had seen just a month before several times for my ovarian mass had to look at my records to confirm that I did in fact have the surgery I claimed to have had. The doctor had no recollection of me.

My second appointment was the “ever-important” internal exam. Little did I know that I had been switched from my normal female doctor (who, unbeknownst to me, retired from OB practice) to a male doctor without my permission- and had to endure yet another uncomfortable situation as my poor husband sat in a small chair while I was examined. It was mortifying for us both.

It was around this time that I began researching other birth options in Maryland- everything from simply switching OB practices to home birth. I quickly learned that Maryland is an extremely difficult place to have an intervention-free birth for several reasons:

-Having a midwife attend a home birth is “illegal” unless it is a Certified Nurse Midwife who is backed by an Obstetrician. To my knowledge, there are only a few that practice in the entire state, and I’m not sure that any of them are taking new clients, particularly first time mothers. This leaves mothers with dismal options for home birth- having an “illegally attended” birth with a midwife (which many women do and have great success and healthy babies), or having an unassisted home birth. I’m not exactly sure what the “illegality” of the whole thing can lead to- probably that you can be charged with negligence if something happens to your baby, or perhaps the midwife can be held liable- I’m not 100% sure. But, I think that, for some women, these are the right choices- to have a home birth, with a midwife or unassisted- but not for everyone.

-There are only a handful of free-standing birth centers in the state- two that I am familiar with. There are various hospital “birth centers”, staffed by midwives and outfitted with more natural birth tools, such as tubs, but because they are attached/part of hospitals, their clients must adhere to hospital guidelines- which, depending on the hospital, can significantly change the birth experience for many mothers (though many mothers absolutely love this experience, and I don’t discount that whatsoever). This also effects the after-birth experience for the parents and baby, with certain interventions being much more routine (vaxing/Vit K/eye gel given without parental consent, pitocin for placenta delivery and uterine shrinkage, formula supplementation without parental advisement). Again, these choices are completely right for some families, and many people choose to include all of those things in their after-birth care plans. However, not every family chooses these things.

-Lastly, C-Section rates throughout the state of Maryland are higher than the national average. Nationwide, close to 1 in 3 women
gives birth via cesarean- and that’s not including elective/planned cesareans. Induction before truly necessary is wildly popular, even though a recent Harvard study found that the average gestational period for a caucasian woman is 41 weeks 1 day. I have seen far too many family members and friends get induced, get epidurals, and get cesareans- it just seems normal at this point. I think that’s the problem- in most places, it IS normal. And sometimes it is completely necessary. But it doesn’t have to be!

So, taking all of this into consideration, we have decided to birth our sweet baby girl at Special Beginnings Birth Center in Arnold, MD. This is perhaps the most controversial choice that Matthew and I have made thus far (at least that I’m letting you in on haha)!  Staffed with Certified Nurse Midwives with years of experience, complete with three beautiful birthing suites with big beds, tubs, birth stools towel warmers, and a full kitchen, the place is absolutely stunning.  The only drawback: it’s located almost exactly an hour away from our apartment!

We began our research into this birth center first by talking to people we knew who have been there- most of whom gave glowing reviews, and those who didn’t were really looking for a home birth experience, and ended up going that direction in the end.

Next, we took a tour– and this is where everything changed. We were given a tour of the birth center and then given the opportunity to ask the midwives questions.  It was amazing! So many of the things I was prepared to fight with an OB about- movement and eating during labor, Vit K and eye gel, vaccinations, routine circumcision, delayed bathing, etc- all of the choices that I wanted to make for my child were encouraged, and even assumed to some degree, by the midwife staff. It was like breathing a sigh of relief as I realized that I could have the natural birth I wanted without having to fear that the baby would be stuck or smeared with something or treated in a way I didn’t feel was necessary.

We have had two appointments with midwives at the birth center so far, with a third coming up next week. The experience has been so encouraging and healing! I love the focus on nutrition and exercise as well as medical information. I can have as few ultrasounds as I would like (though we have actually had many more than I intended). Their holistic approach to pregnancy, as something that is natural and not a illness or medical emergency, brings so much peace to my heart as I remind myself that the Lord created women to bear children. Pregnancy isn’t a bad thing, and with the right preparation I can trust my body to do the work it needs to do.

A huge part of this decision has been learning to “insert grace” into our birth plans. Do I fault mothers who make choices that are different from my own? Absolutely not. Is it totally possible that something goes wrong and I need to have a medicated birth or a cesarean? Yes. And if that’s the case, I will take it in stride, as I know that medicine is a good thing and saves many lives- perhaps my own, or my baby’s. It’s the grace that I am striving to understand that will allow me to accept what happens, but also strive to be as prepared as possible and make the most sound decisions I can with the information I have now. It’s not easy! But I am glad to be questioning and learning and growing in this process.

I’m so excited for this journey and I can’t wait to share my experiences along the way!

Husband-Coached Childbirth?

bradley

From the moment a woman announces her pregnancy, she is bombarded with advice from other mothers and horror stories of labor and incompetent husbands and breathing techniques that did little more than frustrate and break concentration. Because we are choosing to give birth in a birthing center (more on that later), I strongly desire to be as prepared and educated as possible before going into the birth of my daughter. The problem is, there are so many choices of “methods” and “classes” that all claim to do that! Here are a few of the options presented to the expectant mama:

Lamaze– What your parents probably think of when it comes to childbirth classes. I don’t actually know anyone who has had a baby in the last few years that has taken a Lamaze class. Lamaze focuses on breathing and movement strategies to make a natural birth more comfortable, but also educates women on interventions as well. Classes are typically 12 hours of instruction, broken down over several class sessions, and are held in large groups (typically around 12 couples).

The Mongan Method (Hypnobirthing)- focuses on deep relaxation and a degree of self-hypnosis, coupled with visualization. Not as crazy as it sounds, and I have had a few friends who tried hypnobirthing and loved it, including some hardcore home birthing mamas! My favorite part is the “anchoring” effect that the husband is supposed to have- when he even touched the wife, she is to associate him with strength and serenity, and immediately be focused. Classes are typically 5 weeks of 2-3 hour classes, and are available in group or private settings, depending on your instructor.

Birthing From Within– A very spiritual approach to childbirth, probably the most “hippie” of them all. I actually read the Birthing from Within book a few weeks ago, and if you can wade through the semi-crazy, hallucinogenic art therapy-esque chapters in the beginning of the book, there are actually some great and helpful suggestions in there as well. They also have meaningful ideas for baby showers called “blessingsways” that I am going to try to incorporate into my own showers this fall/winter. Six one-hour classes.

International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA)- This is a pretty generic child birthing education organization, and the content of the classes varies depending on the instructor.

There are a few other options, but these seem to be the most popular, at least within my circles! So, what are we choosing? We’ve decided to study The Bradley Method- and our classes start tonight!

The Bradley Method is a philosophy based on years of research and observation by obstetrician Dr. Robert A. Bradley. The classes consist of 13 weeks of 2 hour classes, which focus on nutrition, exercise, pain management techniques, coping through proper body positioning and movement, education of the stages of labor, and birth rehearsals. Of all of the classes I mentioned above, Bradley seems to be the most holistically based, but also seems to give the most practical preparation as well (don’t you want to have a birth rehearsal?)

The role of the husband (or partner) is integral in the Bradley Method. Also dubbed “Husband-Coached Childbirth”, the labor partner is basically trained to be a doula and labor coach- to remember the things that the mother may forget in the heat of labor, and to know how to tend to each stage of labor’s specific physical and emotional needs. The coach is also responsible for the mother’s preparation- making sure that she is held accountable to Bradley’s nutrition standards and performing the designated exercises as often as portable to give the body the best preparation for the birth event.

There are two Bradley Method books that I have read- one, Husband-Coached Childbirth, written by Dr. Bradley himself, seems to be the book that started it all. The book is actually written to the father, though as mothers I think it’s good to read as well. It explains the development of his philosophy, the success that he has seen in his practice, and the various techniques used to achieve a peaceful, natural labor. I don’t think that reading this book alone is enough to fully prepare you for the birth, however- it is best used in conjunction with classes, as I think it was intended.

The second book, Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way, written by Susan McCutcheon, is much more detail oriented, outlining specific nutrition guidelines showing photos of the different exercises (almost every time with a completely naked pregnant woman, so be aware), and going into great depth about each of the stages of labor. This book is written to the couple, and addresses both the mother and the coach at times. If you don’t have time or money to take a full Bradley class, but want to be educated on the philosophy and prepare your body using these techniques, I highly suggest this book. In fact, I know some couples who completely skipped the classes, just read this book, and had beautiful, natural Bradley births!

In short, here’s why we are choosing the Bradley Method:

The support of our community. We really, truly know a large number of couples who have used this method successfully and loved it. Veteran Bradley parents can’t seem to speak highly enough about the experience, and I value that a lot.

-The development of the husband and wife team. Many birth education options focus on either the mother “doing it herself” or with the help of other experienced women, and leave the husband on the sidelines. While I certainly see the merit of having other experienced women at your disposal, this simply isn’t what I envision when I think of a graceful, Biblical childbirth- diminishing the husband’s role? In our marriage, we work as a God-ordained team, and I think that should transfer to the birth event as well.

-The importance of nutrition and exercise. If you’ve ever read this blog you know how important this is to me, so there’s no surprise here. The Bradley exercises are simple but effective (think kegels, full squats, pelvic tilts), and the nutrition is comprehensive. For example, I am supposed to eat two baked potatoes a week- with the skin on- to help with mineral and iron consumption! I just never would have thought of that. Thank goodness for Bradley 🙂

-The time commitment to the classes– thats more than 24 hours! While this may deter some people, I am excited to fully immerse myself, have plenty of time to chew on what I am learning, ask questions, and practice. I feel confident that if anything is going to prepare me, these classes will.

-Birth rehearsals. I am fully aware that you can never truly rehearse your birth, as birth, by nature, is very unpredictable. However, if you can get the main coping and support techniques down for the various stages, it will be much easier to deviate when the time comes and incorporate something new. Our birth center also holds mandatory birth rehearsals right in the labor rooms- that will be exciting!

-Emphasis on breastfeeding. I haven’t actually started the class (like I said, we start tonight!), but one of our required textbooks is La Leche League’s “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”. This is a small point, as I already had the book to read anyway, but it makes me feel better to know that they emphasize things that I find very important.

I can’t wait to go to class tonight and start this journey! I look forward to sharing what I am learning along the way 🙂

Sowing Seeds Botanicals

If you have ever met my mother, you know that she is one of the most driven, passionate, and creative people on the planet.  She has combined these traits with her love of natural beauty and a desire to help families fundraise with her latest brainchild: Sowing Seeds Botanicals!

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I am the lucky guinea pig for many of these great items and I have to say, I love everything I’ve tried.  If you have been searching for a homemade, natural alternative for any of your home, beauty, or hygiene needs, look no further! Scents are customizable, as are certain ingredients.  Each item is made to order to guarantee freshness.  Here’s some of my favorites:

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LUSCIOUS LIP BALM- I’m currently working on a tube of Cotton Candy, but she just made a fresh batch of Chocolate and it smells like you could eat it!  Very smooth, melts right on to your lips.  Yum!

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BODY BUTTER CUBE- So luxurious.  These are the perfect size to fit in your hand. Could be used as a massage bar, too 😉

DEODORANT- as green as can be, and full of things that heal and support your skins natural functions- they don’t clog them up! No parabens, triclosan, aluminum, propylene glycol, or any other gross thing thats probably in your normal tube of deo.  Give it a shot!

100_100_csupload_54991778FELTED SOAP- I personally think these are amazing.  No mess, gently exfoliating, and they smell delicious.  A great conversation starter, too- that is, if you have conversations in the bathroom. Okay, so it’s a great gift!

100_74_csupload_54991450SUGAR SCRUB- I am an exfoliaholic.  I love to exfoliate.  I have naturally dry skin that gets flaky in the winter, and this sugar scrub is packed full of natural scrubby bits and decadent moisturizing oils that will leave skin soft and smooth.

The best part of the vision for Sowing Seeds Botanicals is the desire to give back.  My parents’ passion is adoption, and if you are looking to adopt or know someone who is, SSB would love to help you fundraise and make it happen!  Use the email form on the site to contact Kelly and get started 🙂

Book Review: “Half the Sky”

PrintA few weeks ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the 2013 Justice Conference, held in Philadelphia, PA.  I’ve been wanting to attend this event for several years, and was incredibly grateful for the scholarship that helped me get there.  The Lord knew it was what I needed at that time- an awakening, and an inspiration.

Having attended a Christian university filled with young, enthusiastic activists and having worked in the social justice/nonprofit field for some time now, I can see in retrospect a numbness that crept into my heart and stole my fire- one that couldn’t link statistics to individuals, one that had heard all of the horror stories, one that silently acknowledged that there would always be problems, and there was only so much we could do.  It was a numbness that was comfortable knowing the “sound bite” of an issue, feeling informed by a radio broadcast, but not knowing the depths of an issue or the nuances of what it would take to properly address them.  The Justice Conference, however, rekindled the call in my heart to the work of justice and the desire I once had to be informed and to be a voice for those who may not have a voice- and to speak well on their behalf, in a way that would truly benefit them, not just inject western culture into their lives in a way that would be harmful.

One of the many speakers to grace the stage was the captivating Sheryl WuDunn, Pulitzer Prize winner and wife of NY Times’ Nick Kristof.  As with each speaker, she spoke of a specific injustice taking place in the world today- her speech was focused on injustices towards women, as she chronicles in her and her husband’s recent book, Half the Sky. As she eloquently engaged the audience in her stories of horror and hope from around the world, I knew that my next step would be to read her book- so I did!

The journey that reading Half the Sky has taken me on in the past week has been one that I will never forget- I don’t think I will ever look at the world the same way.  To think about the 100 million women who are missing from today’s population because of forced/coerced abortion, infanticide, genocide, spousal abuse, malnutrition based on gender preference, and honor killings breaks my heart.  Stories of young girls being tricked into sex slavery and trafficked far away from their home haunt me each time I see a small child. To read the studies that detail the power that putting funding into girl’s education in Asia could have, or even the difference that something as menial as iodizing salt could make, is infuriating and confusing.  To read about the millions women who are sentenced to be ostracized as pariahs because of fistulas that form during unattended births makes me almost as sad as thinking of the one woman- every MINUTE- that dies in childbirth, almost always from an entirely preventable, common complication.  The young girls forced into genital mutilation.  The women who must ask their alcoholic husbands for permission to leave their homes. There is so much more- and so much work to be done.

I really appreciated the honesty that the book brings to the table, especially in chronicling US foreign aid.  While certain efforts are celebrated, others are questioned, all when appropriate.  Stories of aid efforts failed are told alongside of brilliant plans to support cultures, giving the reader a deeper, more holistic understanding of the issue of injustice towards women. The most effective part, however, is that WuDunn and Kristof tell real stories of real women in the book- stories that you will remember and that will come alongside you in your journey to understand this issue.

If you read one book this year, make it this one.  Just as racial injustice didn’t see any measurable improvement until the public banded together and put pressure on governments and cultural norms, so will be the fight against gender injustice.  This fight will not be won by  quoting soundbites, but by understanding the issues on an intimate level and being able to articulate the problems and possible solutions in the most informed way possible.  Don’t settle for knowing the surface of the horror that millions of women around the world face.  Know their names, let them make a difference in your heart, and join the fight.

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There is also a “Half the Sky” documentary series available on PBS and Netflix.  I haven’t seen it yet but I am thinking about holding a screening- let me know if you would be interested!

READ THIS: Better World Shopping Guide

My staple tools of being a socially and environmentally conscious individual are the Better World Shopper listings.  If you have never been exposed to this educational wonder, head on over to their website immediately and figure out where your favorite products lie!

Available for personal use via their website (limited products), book (great but will need to be updated eventually) or smartphone app (best), this is a resource that you can use for just about anything.  Ellis Jones has compiled countless hours of research on different companies and ranked them overall according to human rights, environmental issues, animal protection, community involvement, and social justice.

Companies are divided into categories, like “clothing”, “fast food”, “retail stores”, or “frozen dinners”, and then ranked A-F according to the research done by Jones and his team.  Each category is also given a Best and Worst, and some specific reasons as to why they are awarded that title.  For example, did you know that Back to Nature, a staple in many supermarkets natural food aisles, is actually owned by Kraft, one of the worst companies in America?  Back to Nature gets an “F”, though its store placement might suggest otherwise.

I love this guide because I can use it when I am grocery shopping- I whip out my app ($1.99) and I can see what brands of cereal are better, or toothpaste, or almond milk.  I now appreciate some well-known brands a lot more (IKEA for example) while not totally loving others that I used to trust (like Kashi).  I have also been introduced to many new brands that I has never heard of, but now have grown to love and respect.

On the whole, even if you just visit the website when necessary, this is an invaluable tool for anyone looking to make their purchases consciously.  Check it out, and tell me what you learn!  Were you surprised by anything?  I know I was…