Greeting the World with The Honest Company

Living in Africa- especially with children and ESPECIALLY with a newborn- presents a number of challenges that just aren’t a part of life in the developed world. We feel strongly about exposing our children to life in Africa (as opposed to sheltering them) as much as possible, but we have so many things to think about here- and one of the big ones is hygiene.

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Many sicknesses that have been eradicated or are very scarce in the US are still a part of life here in Rwanda- typhoid, yellow fever, malaria, dengue fever, and a cornucopia of different intestinal woes are all sicknesses that happen in relative frequency here, which means that we have to be prepared! Even something as simple as shaking a hand on the street or children playing together should be, for us (as our immune systems aren’t used to the same germs) conducted with caution.

See, I will never forget the first time our daughter visited the Kibagabaga preschool and shook hands with each child through the fence. Or when we waited at our church for her daddy to get off of work, and she ended up being led by the hand into a room where the schoolchildren sang songs to her. The delight and adventure in her eyes as she got to follow these new friends and experience their world is something I want her to experience every day. It fills my heart with joy. But in the back of my mind, as a mama, I have to think- could she be being exposed to something that might make her sick?

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One of our favorite tools for making our lives peaceful and worry-free is Honest Company’s Hand Sanitizer. I keep one in my purse and one in my diaper bag- and I can watch my little one knowing that she is having the time of her life and that I don’t have to fret about the germs- it kills 99% on contact, using plant-based ingredients! It’s gentle but still super-effective.

It’s crazy that something so small and simple (and affordable!) can give me such peace of mind, and empower me to be more confident in meeting new people here in a different culture! I can let new friends greet our baby with the knowledge that I am doing something to protect my little one. We can build relationships while also keeping ourselves healthy- and that makes a huge difference in my heart. Thank you, Honest Company!

Shepherd’s Birth Story

Our dear little buddy is turning 3 months old this week, so I think it’s high time I share his birth story!

Just like his sister, our precious little guy was about as late as you can go before anyone starts getting nervous- 11 days after my due date! Over the few weeks prior, we had several occurrences of false labor, and we knew that I was dilated 2-3cm already, so we figured he would come anytime. He had other plans!

For a few days before his birth, I tried many, many things to get him to come out- you might remember my post 40 ways to go into labor, well, we probably tried 38 of them! Finally, on day 10 (the day before he came) I said ENOUGH. I believed that my body knew what it was doing and that he would come when he was ready. My labor with Hallelujah was nightmarish and I didn’t want a repeat, and I remember trying EVERYTHING to get her to come. It’s like my body finally gave up and went into labor with her, but didn’t really want to yet. I didn’t want the same experience.

So, on day 10, I decided to rest in the Lord and the fact that he made my body perfectly (even though many times it’s not seemed that way). I felt this peace about just waiting and making the most of my day- and I did! I decided to cherish those moments with Halle and take what could be (and was) a last opportunity to really make her feel loved before Shepherd came. We walked to the bagel store and the grocery store, went for a swim in the frigid pool and drank hot cocoa while we swam, took a bath, took a nap, and took her to her first ever movie in a theater (Moana). We had a quiet night at home and just enjoyed each other’s company!

And then, before I knew it, I woke up at about 4:45 to basically feel like I was peeing myself (if you know me IRL you know that I know this feeling well). I stood up out of bed quickly and….it stopped? Did I really just pee myself in my sleep? I went to the bathroom and noticed that it didn’t smell like pee, didn’t really have a smell at all. I had read about / had several friends who had high water leaks, where your water breaks near the top of the uterus and then the baby’s head plugs up the hole when you stand up- so I figured that might be what was happening. I decided to lay down and go back to sleep.

Around 6am, it happened again- basically confirming what I knew. I got up, changed my pants (again) and made myself a protein shake while I still had an appetite. I was having contractions maybe 5-6 minutes apart, but nothing major. Around 6:45, I woke Matthew up and told him we needed to get ready- the contractions were getting closer together. He insisted on showering (insert eye roll for my husband who takes the longest showers of any man) while I got things together. I called the midwife, who agreed that I should come in (we were almost an hour away from the birth center) and called Matthew’s mom to have her meet us at the birth center.

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We woke Halle up and told her that her brother was coming! She was excited and behaved well as we gathered our things and got ready to go. We were in the car and headed to the birth center at about 7:30. We listened to the Hamilton soundtrack the whole way (we are sooo obsessed)! However, I began to get discouraged as my contractions slowed down to every 8-10 minutes apart. Could this seriously be another bout of false labor? I honestly think I would’ve turned around and gone home, except for my suspicion that my water was broken.

We arrived at the birth center at about 8:30, and I was completely comfortable. The midwife (Michelle, who also owned the birth center, and made our “coming from overseas” experience a breeze)) checked me and said that I was 5cm and that I was definitely having Shepherd that day! I was so relieved. After so many false starts, I was ready to go!

I told Matthew the good news (and Debbie, his mama, and Halle, who were in the waiting room together) and we went to unpack in our room. We were the only ones there in labor at the time, so we had our pick- and we chose a pretty room with a tub in-room- because of Halle’s shoulder dystocia, we wanted everything (bed and tub) close together so we could avoid having to move me mid-birth, haha! We were psyched that out ideal room was available- the bed even had a mosquito net over it, just like at home in Rwanda!

The birth assistant began filling up the tub while we unpacked. I told her I was concerned about getting in the tub too early and slowing down labor, but both she and the midwife assured me that I was already in active labor and it was fine. So I got in for a bit- it was sooooo relaxing but, after Halle’s hard birth, I couldn’t help but feel like nothing was happening! I was restless. This was too easy, right?

We decided that going for a walk would make me feel better, like I was “working”. The birth center was just a few blocks from the St John’s River, so we walked down to the riverfront a few times, The contractions stayed consistent but not painful. Soon, our photographer and dear friend Kristy, arrived!

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Around 11:30, my contractions began to be stronger, andI stayed in bed for a bit to try to relax all of my muscles and let my body do it’s. This is when Halle decided to come give me a “checkup”- cue the preciousness! I also labored on the toilet for a bit. Everything was feeling more intense, but I was really fine! Michelle decided to check me, and I just KNEW that I would only be like 6 cm. To my surprise, I was 8!

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I knew from my education that 8-10cm, or “transition”, can be the most intense part of birth. I wasn’t feeling that at all- that is, until Michelle pulled my bag of waters down and released all of the fluid that was left. I was laying on a chux pad on the bed, and so much fluid came out that I was soaked up to my shoulders! Holy moly. Weirdest feeling ever. And….cue the cray cray contractions- no water to balance out the pressure, it was go time!

What I didn’t realize at the time was that, to release the water still left in my uterus, Michelle actually had to push Shepherd’s head UP and allow the water to drain out. So then, when my body went from 8-10cm in about 10 minutes, when I felt like I needed to push, he wasn’t actually down in the birth canal where he should’ve been. My body was pushing but he wasn’t there yet- it was exhausting. Even though they kept telling me not to bear down, I couldn’t help it- that’s the only thing that felt right at the time. This started at about 1:15pm.

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So, I labored on the toilet and then in the tub for a while. I got very nauseous at one point, but was quickly given nux vomica and it went away completely (amazing!). It was hard and more of a mental strain maybe than anything- knowing that he needed to move down and re-engage before my pushing would actually be productive. Finally, at about 2:15, Michelle said it was time to really work! He was ready and so were we.

Michelle and I had previously discussed my plan for the actual birth, especially in regards to Halle’s shoulder dystocia. While one dystocia doesn’t necessarily mean you are predisposed to it, it can- and I didn’t want to take any chances. So we had decided early on in the morning that I would deliver on the bed, flat on my back, so that my knees could be pushed up to my head and Shepherd would have optimal room to get under my pelvic bone. Not my ideal, to be sure, but I wanted a healthy baby, so I didn’t hesitate.

 

 

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After pushing for about 10 minutes, a receptionist came in and told us that our dear friend Keri had arrived! Keri is an LDRP nurse and I wanted her to be at the birth SO badly- but she had been scheduled to work that day. But, surprise! She had left work and made it JUST in time. She dutifully kept a cold rag on my head while Matthew helped hold my legs up and encouraged me. Kristy kept taking amazing photos- man! I had the best team ever!

Finally, at 2:42 pm, Shepherd was born! Matthew caught him and lifted him to my chest in one of the most surreal moments of my life. Especially after so many losses- to hold my miracle son was like a dream. His placenta soon followed, and after we were both examined to be in perfect health- yes, you read that right, almost ten pounds of baby without a stitch 🙂

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Little man nursed right away and we had some quiet moments to ourselves between Matthew’s family coming to visit. Uncle Maverick and Aunt Mony brought us Smoothie King (because I was craving it) and we waited to be discharged. I have to be honest, I felt like I took longer to recover from this birth than the last at first- I think with Halle, I basically fell asleep immediately after birth for about an hour and then felt great, but with Shepherd I was lucid the entire time but felt very weak for a few hours- probably due to my low iron throughout my pregnancy. Though, luckily, I was apparently the only client that didn’t hemmhorage that day!

By about 8:00, we were ready to go! We packed up the car and drove to Matthew’s family’s home, where we spent our first two nights. Shepherd slept 5 hours in a row, and has been doing that ever since! He is a dream and we are so grateful for our little man and a great birth experience!

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Say Goodbye to Boring Gifts!

Alright y’all. If you actually know me personally, you may already know that gifts are my love language- giving and receiving. If you don’t already know, well- there’s nothing that makes my heart sing quite like picking out something amazing and unexpected that I know a loved one will just ADORE- especially if it’s something they’ve never seen or heard of or thought of before. Wanna know a secret? I have a source…Uncommon Goods!


I first found Uncommon Goods a few years back when searching for whiskey stones to get my husband for Christmas. What I stumbled upon was not just whiskey stones, but an entire site devoted to amazing, unique, small-maker products that made my gift giving love language soar to new heights. From the very beginning, I have worked hard to feature products that value sustainability and social/environmental responsibility, and Uncommon Goods is no exception. They are committed to working with small manufacturers and artists to bring the world products that do no harm to people or animals (so, no leather, fur, or feathers!) and they are a founding B Corporation member!

So what can you find at Uncommon Goods? Seriously…something for everyone. I spent several hours the other night just drooling over all of the awesome gifts- from gorgeous jewelry to homemade kombucha kits to socks that look like sushi to personalized champagne flutes! With spring upon us, you should consider Uncommon Goods for amazing, unique wedding gifts– no boring old toasters here. How about champagne flutes etched like trees, or a personalized cutting board?


I especially love this site for finding unique, unforgettable gifts for bridal parties- both bridesmaids and groomsmen! When I got married, we actually opted to make donations to the charity of each person’s choice rather than giving a gift, because I just didn’t want to add one more thing to the “gifts I’ll never use” pile from my friends. But had I seen these options….

Why give your faithful bridesmaids a piece of jewelry they might never wear again when you could give them something that shows just how well you know them, like a throw pillow embroidered with a special place, or a carry-on cocktail kit to make their favorite drink on their way home from the wedding? If jewelry is your style, though, there are gorgeous options- like a gold-dipped lace necklace, or super unique tiny planter earrings! 


And then there’s your dapper groomsmen– a flask or a knife is a great gift, but with Uncommon Goods, you can level up. How about a set of cuff links made from the stadium seating of their favorite team? Or maybe a custom growler is more their style- so much classier than a flask these days. Gift your men with something they will cherish for years to come- and know that you are being socially and environmentally responsible, too. 

Whatever the occasion- Uncommon Goods has your back. I love finding the perfect gift for my loved ones, and I have a blast looking through their catalog to find it! I know you will too. Enjoy!

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?

Sweet Gifts for a 2-Year-Old Girl

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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!

Resources for Intentional Living

“Intention” and “Purpose” have been two HUGE words for me in the past year. The Lord led me to choose “PURPOSE” as my word for 2015- and it’s been a hell of a ride so far figuring out all of the details. What is my purpose? As a wife, mother, businesswoman, friend, family member, believer, consumer, community member? How do I navigate all of the nitty gritty of life and be sure that I’m doing everything well, with love, and to the best of my ability?

I want to share with you some resources that have helped guide my heart- and head- in the past year. Some are gentle reminders placed around my home, others are productivity tools that keep me centered, still others are books that have shepherded my heart through this season. I hope you’ll find something that speaks to you!

BOOKS

Hands Free Mama– Hands down (ha!) the most important book I read in my first year of mothering. Forget all of the other parenting books, if you are intentional and present with your babies, all shall be well.

The Best Yes– I’m actually in the middle of this right now, but it’s really encouraging and challenging me. This is all about freeing yourself up to say YES to the things that the Lord wants you to do- the life-giving, challenging, heart-altering things that we might miss with our busy lives otherwise.

Make It Happen– Similar to The Best Yes, Lara’s book helps women identify the things that bring them joy and please the heart of the Father. I learned so much about myself and what I value and need in my spirit by going through this book- and I live those things out much more intentionally.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up– A more practical book, this one helps you minimize your physical clutter to bring your home more peace. Basically, being intentional with your belongings. I’ve done this and I do it every day and I feel so much healthier for it!

PRODUCTIVITY and GOAL SETTING
Emily Ley’s Simplified Planner and Simplified Journal– Can’t live without these. My planner gets used EVERY day and my journal helps me get my thoughts in order and really identify how I’m feeling about things. They are both so well thought out and perfect for bringing both joy and order to your purposeful life.

Lara Casey’s Power Sheets– This goal setting system helps you identify what really matters to you and create a gracious plan to make those things happen!While I don’t always get to do them each month, I do them as often as I can and they help me feel so centered.

Mint.Com- More practical, but this financial tool helps you see where your money is going and set budgets and goals. Super helpful is financial intentionality is part of your game.

She Reads Truth App- Ah! This beautifully written and designed devotional app is just the right amount of truth and encouragement for a busy mama reheating her coffee for the third time (no? just me?)

LOVING REMINDERS
Prints from Katie Daisy- Love these whimsical art prints.
Phone Backgrounds and Apparel from Lara Casey
Jesus & Coffee Mug from ChalkFullofLove

Please Note: This blog post may contain affiliate links. I promise to never share something with you that I don’t wholeheartedly endorse and use myself, and absolutely love! Affiliate links never add any cost for you, but do help support my family’s ministry. Thanks for reading, you’re great!