Friday, March 11, 2016

Reflections on “Better Than a Birth Plan”

In a recent Desiring God article, Jenni Naselli expresses some of her concerns surrounding the growing push for mother’s to birth naturally.

In some respects, Jenni hits the nail on the head. Mom’s often struggle with comparison. It can negatively affect so many areas of our lives. It can lead us to become control freaks and cause us to question our worth when we can’t seem to “measure up”. And when we begin to take pride in our ability to do something right, lack of humility can lead to lack of discernment in how we interact with people in our lives.

Naselli writes, “I am concerned as I hear some women evangelize for natural birth, and then I observe the hurting women who can’t experience natural birth.” It’s true, zealousness to do things the best way possible can lead to failure to understand and properly respond to the needs of those around us. However, in such a scenario, the problem I see playing out is the woman’s lack of discernment – to judge well what she should or shouldn’t say to the hurting women – not her desire to promote natural birth. Unfortunately, Naselli makes it sound as if “evangelizing” for natural birth is a problem in and of itself. But one can promote natural birth while also properly loving the women around them who have not or are unable to experience natural labor and delivery.

Naselli’s section, “My ‘Unnatural’ Life”, is concerning to me as well. Writing, “I am alive because of four Cesarean sections”, she begins sharing a series of “unnatural” events that have shaped the lives of her and people dear to her. While it’s not entirely made clear, it appears the four c-sections she refers to are the ones had by her mother and herself. Her statement could be entirely true, but in the paragraph that follows Naselli fails to recognize that many women today experience unnecessary interventions during labor and delivery.

She writes, “C-sections, and other medical interventions, are gifts from God to preserve life.” Interventions can and often do preserve life. This is undoubtedly a gift from God. But interventions can also be used inappropriately, leading to a host of new issues. The latter scenario is the number one concern natural birth advocates have with the direction birth in America is trending. While birthing in America may prove safer than birthing in Sierra Leone, we should not ignore the fact that maternity care in America is in crisis.

At 32.9%, America has one of the highest rates of cesarean sections in the industrialized world. There’s no evidence to support the belief that one third of America’s mother’s are sufficiently high risk to merit a c-section.[1] When compared across countries, there is no evidence that cesarean rates that exceed ~15% result in better birth outcomes for mom and baby. Research increasingly suggests that failure to provide evidence-based care is leading to unnecessary interventions. While a maternal death rate of 14 out of 100,000 births may seem a decent statistic, we should not ignore the fact that according to the World Health Organization, since 1995, the maternal mortality rate in the United States has increased 160%. The United States' maternal mortality rate is ranked at the top of developed countries.

We live in a fallen world. As such, pregnancy, the birthing process, and parenthood beyond, will always present the opportunity to trust God. But unless you affirm determinism (the belief that God has intricately planned every detail of your life right down to what you will eat for lunch today), you should not accept the belief that it is ever God’s plan for something in birth to go wrong. It is not God’s perfect plan for mother’s to need interventions in labor and delivery. “God’s Birth Plan” is for moms and babies to experience successful natural births. Consequences of the broken world we live in often lead to women experiencing otherwise. We know this pattern to be true of life in general. It is not God’s perfect will for us to suffer, and yet we often do. This is why we need a Savior and anticipate his return when things will be as they should be again.

This is also why despite being educated and making the best choices possible surrounding birth, things can still go wrong. A mother may experience a seamless natural birth (praise be to God!), but until Christ’s return, she will never be guaranteed a life free of complications or disappointments. 

Naselli’s right, we don't have ultimate control over our lives or our childrens’ lives. But we can strive to trust God, do our best with the information and options we are given, and properly love those around us in the process. We can also allow him to use our negative experiences for good (after all, many natural birth advocates have a past of birth trauma). We can grow in wisdom and knowledge. We can work to change America’s poor birthing trends while also loving women who find themselves hurting as a result of them. God will give us strength and be gracious to us along the way.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Ellie Mae's Arrival (my home birth experience)

Several people have asked if I'd share the story of Ellie Mae's home birth and my overall thoughts on the experience. It seemed like a daunting task because there's so much I could say! But here's what I've come up with.

First, the hard facts: 

Eleanor Mae Jaros was born on Saturday, January 25th (her due date) at 1:50pm on the bathroom floor. She weighed 8lbs, 13oz and was 20in long. Counting from when things started to intensify, I labored for ~16 to 18 hours.

Now, a few words on why we chose home birth. 

If you'd asked me a few years ago what I thought of home birth I'd probably have said something about tree hugging, crunchy granola eating, hippies. I had a fairly negative but uniformed view of it. Of course, many people do their research and still choose to have a hospital birth, but I found that the more I researched (you can spend your entire pregnancy on Google, but I don't recommend it), the more I knew that if I chose a hospital over home birth that it would be a decision made out of unfounded fear.

The reality is, despite the bad press they often get, home births for low risk pregnancies prove to be a safe, if not safer, option than hospital births. The vast majority of births do not result in a medical emergency. And far less unnecessary intervention occurs when you are in a familiar place, surrounded by familiar people, who believe in you and respect your decisions.

Home birth just made sense to me. 

On to the nitty-gritty!

To describe my birth in three words, it was: long, painful, and absolutely beautiful (predominately in hind sight, but beautiful nonetheless).

But here are more words. ;)

I was woken up on Friday morning by contractions. I began to time them and realized they were 10 minutes apart and around 30 seconds long. Kurt wanted to shout it from the roof tops but we decided to keep our mouths shut because we knew they may slow as the day progressed. We were right. But I had my 40 week appointment that afternoon and I was 3cm dilated and experienced a big contraction during the visit. They sent me home with instructions to eat a good meal (to be thrown up later), drink lots of water, and go to bed. The going to bed part didn't happen. Those bad boys kicked in double time as the night went on.

Kurt and I prepared the bed with a waterproof sheet and set up the birthing tub (when they tell you to do a trial run with the tub weeks before, do it!).

I called my doula and midwife at 1am. At this point the contractions were around 5 minutes apart and I was having difficulty talking during them. My doula came over but my midwife told me to call her back at 3 minutes apart. It was around 4am when she and my nurse came. 

The bitter but mostly sweet thing about birthing at home is that you can move around without restraint. I spent time in the shower (where dinner resurfaced), in my birthing tub (seriously so nice!), and yes, walking up and down the stairs. I do remember falling asleep at a couple points. It's amazing how hard your body works in labor; once I fell asleep sitting up.

Looking gooood as a family of three on Ellie's birthday.
The more the memories of pain fade (God's way of getting us to have more babies), the more sweet in-between moments of my labor come back to me. A half-eaten plate of scrambled eggs on the kitchen table, my nurse praying with me in the dim morning light, Kurt reading out affirmations, me telling myself under breath that "this is worth it, this is worth it, she is worth it", people laughing downstairs, Ellie's heartbeat on the doppler. These are moments I'll treasure forever. 

When it came to actually pushing, I again moved around quite a bit. I first pushed on the bed on all fours and then sitting between Kurt's legs as he supported me from behind. Then my nurse very matter of factly told me that I should go push on the toilet. What! She wanted me to walk down the hall and then sit on the hard toilet seat?! Ellie's head was just an inch or so shy of making it's appearance. They helped me down the hall and to my surprise, pushing on the toilet felt the most natural. It was there that I felt Ellie's head. I also felt panic as I realized there was no going back. I had to "push through the pain"...literally. 

I pushed again on all fours on the bathroom floor. Kurt was on all fours in front of me cheering me on. I don't care how many stories you hear of wanting to beat the crud out of husbands during labor, nothing beats a husband's loving support. 

Ellie's head finally came, but her shoulders were stuck. I didn't know, but apparently her head began to turn purple. Before I knew it I was tackled football style to the bathroom floor by my nurse (kudos, Karen!). I felt bewildered and was shaking. They did some maneuver down yonder and woooooosh! There she was on my chest. People say that first moment is like nothing else. And they are right! But I will also admit, I was in pain and my midwife and nurse were doing weird (but normal) things to my stomach! 

I remember thanking everyone in the room profusely, crying, and exclaiming to Kurt "look, look at her face! She has the cutest face! LOOK!"

And there you have it, my and Ellie Mae's birth(ing) story. 

A few things I learned:
  • The birth team you choose makes all the difference. My midwifery team of two and nurse knew their stuff! I felt 100x confident in their ability to care for me and Ellie. Their care leading up to, during, and after the birth was top notch. Furthermore, my doula was indispensable to me. I was skeptical about whether doulas are all they're cracked up to be. They are! I did everything she told me to and it helped immensely. The pain was surprisingly manageable. 
  • Environment is huge. 
  • Believe in yourself and speak words of truth. And surround yourself with people who believe in you too! 
  • Preparation is good but it's not everything. I remember being frantic about everything being just right before delivery. The reality is, you'll buy snacks for the birth team and eat half of them. You'll plan to vacuum and it won't happen. And if you're me, you'll buy birthday cake supplies and never bake the birthday cake. Don't ask. On the other hand, I'm sure glad I had that Jello and those postpartum padsicles
  • Not much beats falling asleep as a family of three in your own bed just hours after delivery. No ugly hospital gown, no pull-out couch for daddy, no beeping machines or stranger nurses checking in.
  • God's design is mind-blowing. I can't believe the amazing thing that birth is. That I - and billions of women before and after me - are capable of pushing multiple pound human beings out of our bodies. And then, we produce milk to feed them. And THEN, we heal ourselves! Just think about it. 
Would I consider having another home birth?

There is nothing about my birth experience with Ellie that I believe would have been improved by being at the hospital.

Not even medication.

There was only one point during labor that medication came to mind. That thought was preceded by the unfounded fear that perhaps I'd have to transfer because things seemed to be taking foooorever. It was followed by the realization that medication for my temporary, albeit extreme, pain wasn't worth giving up the luxuries of home.

All in all, if I have another healthy pregnancy, home birth will be my top choice.

My heart is full of gratitude to God and everyone who supported us. What an incredible adventure!

Michaela Rae

Friday, December 14, 2012

Something New!

Hello dear readers!

You may have noticed that I've only blogged a handful of times since returning from the UK in August.  The break was a much needed one and I began re-evaluating my time spent in the blogging world. I've loved sharing about Kurt and my adventures here. The support I received while doing so has been really special to me. Now though that we're beginning to settle into a new season of life back in the US, I've decided that I should extend my break (perhaps indefinitely) from the blogging world.

I'll of course keep this blog up - it holds so many memories - and who knows, I may utilize it again in the future.

Thanks for being part of my adventure. I'm still on Instagram! 

Michaela Rae

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Very Best of London | according to me

Having lived in London for a year, I often find it hard to sum up what I'd do if I had one week in the city. London is amazing and there's just so much to see and do. After some thought though, I've come up with my top recommendations. A lot of websites will fill you in on the popular tourist attractions, but here are my personal, perhaps less well-known, favorites. If I could go back today, you'd find me doing one of these.

+ Walk along the Thames at night. The city can be surprisingly quiet on a week night and there are twinkle lights and benches along the way, it's the perfect refresher after a long day of sight seeing.

Go to church. You heard me! Pick a huge, beautiful church and attend a service. Not only is this a free way to see churches like Westminster and St. Paul's, but it's an awesome way to experience a bit of English culture and see incredible architecture.

+ Go to market. Borough Market is a must if you're craving a taste of British and/or other ethnic foods. It's the most renown food market in all of England and it won't disappoint. Covent Garden is one of my favorite spots with live music, food and plenty of booths for buying a souvenir. You can learn more about London's markets here.

+ Relish Primrose Bakery. A couple blocks from Covent Garden sits the little Primrose Bakery. If you follow my blog and/or Instagram, you've probably heard me talk about it. This place is perfect for a traditional cup of tea and a delicious cupcake or two (raspberry coconut, amazing). I kind of feel like it's a hidden gem, but then again, the three tables inside are often full.

+ Enjoy a park. Everyone's heard of Hide Park, but my favorites are Regent's and Green Park (right next to Buckingham palace). And if you happen to be in Wimbledon, my haven, Cannizaro Park. In spring or autumn these parks are bursting with life - their beautiful trees and lawns just beckon for a stroll or picnic. You can find out more about London parks here.

+ Finally, if you have the opportunity, venture outside of the city! The rolling English countryside is one of a kind and a day trip to Bath, Oxford or Dover is well worth it. Some of my favorite memories are the Roman Baths, Jane Austen's home and having a pint at The Eagle and Child, where C.S. Lewis frequented. Coach tickets are cheap and there are always several time options for every day.

So there you have it, somewhat of a nut shell of how I'd spend my time if I had one week in London.  Of course, if you can manage a year, I highly recommend it. ;-)

Michaela Rae

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Merry Free Printables!

I've been on a free printables kick recently. There are so many cute (especially, holiday) ones on the net right now and I think it's the sweetest that designers are willing to share their talent for free. Here are of my favorites:

+ This, DIY Holiday Paper Reindeer Postcard & Tag from Eat Drink Chic.

+ HelloBee's, Notes of Thankfulness.

+ Holiday Gift Tags from Love vs. Design.

Country Jam Jar Labels by Ellinee.

+ Holiday Mail Stripe Gift Tags, another Eat Drink Chic beauty.

+ Love vs. Design, Ugly Sweater Tags.

+ Cute Ellinee Paper Bows for Christmas and in Fall colors.

+ Gift Tags & Star Charm DIY by Dotcoms for Moms.

The possibilities are endless for these. I'm currently using the Notes of Thankfulness daily; I fill one out and put it in a jar so that at the end of the month I can remember the ways I've been blessed. I'm also contemplating the DIY Reindeer Postcard as our Christmas card this year.

Have you found any cute printables? Are you using them for your holiday crafts or gift wrapping?

Michaela Rae

P.S. I've enjoyed my hiatus from blogging. I often see a correlation between my time spent online and how at peace I feel (less being more). I do plan, though, to update a bit more frequently now that things are settling down. There are also some exciting things ahead that I want to document and share with you!
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