Monday, June 25, 2012

Thank you, Gospel Library App

I always thought I'd be all about physical copies of the scriptures--thin, shiny-edged pages with the familiar rustle. Notes in pen visible from either side of a page. But I'm not exactly sure of the last time I used my physical scriptures. Not because I don't read the scriptures--to the contrary, I take great joy in reading them every single day, by myself and with Nick. I have transitioned entirely to using the Gospel Library App (for Iphone/Ipod touch) put out by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It started when Luke was born and I was suddenly spending hours of every day nursing my little wiggly guy. A wise gal in my ward had mentioned doing her daily scripture study while nursing. I could have tried to juggle the book and the baby at the same time, but I was lucky enough to have an Ipod touch. It took a while to get used to, but I absolutely love it now.

The app is especially great for doing studies on specific topics. You can have an entire set of scriptures in your app and search them all at once. As most people probably know, the word scripture implies much more than just the Bible for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Scripture means the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price, which are all from ancient times. It includes the Doctrine and Covenants, which is revelations from God received by Joseph Smith and other prophets from our day. And it includes addresses by prophets, apostles, and other church leaders given in General Conference, a twice-yearly meeting where God's revelation and guidance is shared. Because the church is very structured, there are also lots of materials like lesson manuals for church or missionary work, the hymnbook, or church magazines which can all be downloaded in the app.

So, when I set out to study the words "labor" and "deliverance" in preparation for this second birth, of course the Gospel Library app was supremely useful. I searched those words, looked for verses that could be read in the light of childbirth, and tagged them. Then when I look at those tags, the verses and my notes about them are all lined up in one place! I've been able to meditate again and again on these verses, assimilating words of God that I know will empower me in the throes of labor. I hope you don't mind if I share some of my favorite finds. Some are self-explanatory, some I will comment on, and some I've taken the liberty of inserting words that are applicable to a pregnant gal:

Labor
Alma 26:31--Now behold, we can look forth and see the fruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many.

Alma 36:25--Yea, and now behold...the Lord doth give me exceedingly great joy in the fruit of my labors.

2 Nephi 9:51--Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy.

Doctrine and Covenants 126:2--I have seen your labor and toil (It's nice to think of God watching over our labors!)

Doctrine and Covenants 10:4-- Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you (A great reminder to pace yourself during labor, and also to exercise throughout pregnancy so that you do have strength and stamina during labor)

Alma 48:12--Yea, a [woman] whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to her God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon her people; a [woman] who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of [her babies].

Moroni 9:6--And now...notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently...for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay.

And one of the best, from hymn 309, "As Sisters in Zion"-- The blessings of God on our labors we'll seek.


Deliverance
Doctrine and Covenants 138:15--I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand. (This describes me and Nick to a tee!!!)

Doctrine and Covenants 39:10--But, behold, the days of thy deliverance are come, if thou wilt hearken to my voice, which saith unto thee: Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on my name, and you shall receive my Spirit, and a blessing so great as you never have known. (I like thinking of birth as a spiritual experience that I do need to cleanse and prepare for. I have really been reflecting and trying to repent lately, so that my baby girl can come into a peaceful environment filled with the Spirit. This verse, more than any other, has been constantly coursing through my mind).

1 Nephi 1:20--But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

Alma 46:7--...and their great rejoicings which they had had because of their deliverance by the hand of the Lord.

Psalms 32:7--Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.

And to end off on another musical note, from hymn 19, "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet"--There is hope smiling brightly before us, and we know that deliv'rance is nigh.

Even though the last weeks of pregnancy can bring myriad physical discomforts, it is definitely a time that hope smiles brightly before you. I am 39 weeks today, and since Luke came a couple days before his 40 week due date, this week is an extremely likely time that I will have a baby. Though these beautiful verses of scripture come very close, it is quite hard to express the humility and excitement I feel. Hooray for babies!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thank you, Terran Echegoyan-McCabe

Terran Echegoyan-McCabe is the woman feeding twins in this picture:

Terran Echegoyen-McCabe and Christina Luna breast-feed their children at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash.

When I first saw this picture bounce around Facebook, all I thought was, "Sweet! I love it." I should have known that it would be the source of more overblown controversy about breastfeeding. I didn't really seek out many news pieces about this picture, mostly because I knew what the naysayers would be nattering on about, and I didn't care to hear it. But I did enjoy this triple-interview discussion on NPR, with Terran, another Air Force mom named Claire White, and Robyn Roche-Paull, the author of Breastfeeding in Combat Boots: A Survival Guide to Successful Breastfeeding while Serving in the Military.

I tried to be open to Claire White's viewpoints--she was on as a dissenting voice. But I just found her to be irritating and immature. From the get-go, she employed one of my least favorite argumentative tactics--the "Well I have a bunch of friends and all my friends disagree with you so nyah nyah nyah, I'm right" trick. It's something I expect of middle school girls, not of an adult woman, mother, and member of the military. All of White's criticisms were subjective like that--since she personally never had to nurse her babies publically in uniform, that means no other mom should find it necessary. Since she clearly was always able to be 100% covered up while nursing, so should every other mom. One of the most satisfying parts of listening to this discussion was when Terran, Robyn, and Michel Martin (the NPR moderator) all laid down the reality of nursing twins for Claire White--that when you have a limited time and must nurse both babies at once, yeah, there's gonna be some cleavage involved. It's just not fair for Claire White to point fingers at Terran specifically and loftily talk about modesty. It's as if White thinks the photo of Terran is comparable to this:

PARIS OR BUST
 photo | Kim Kardashian

If breastfeeding moms are anything, it's the opposite of Kim Kardashian. 

After Claire talked about how she thought photos like the one of Terran would hold women back in the military, I loved Terran's response: "I think that there's issues that need to be faced and not ignored and pushed back behind closed doors. We are women. We are mothers. A man is allowed to be a father, hugging their child after they come back from deployment, show affection, you know, and you're comparing, you're saying a man can do those things but a woman has to be simply just a soldier, just an airman. And it's not fair. It will keep us back. It will prevent us from going forward and becoming equals in the military. Obviously, we are behind. Like you guys just said, we weren't even allowed to bear children and remain in the service until fairly recently and now what? We can't breast-feed and also be in the service and be seen as what we are - either a soldier or airman? We're only going to be seen as a mother?"

After all, this photo in an equally recent NPR piece titled "Frontlines of Fatherhood: Catching up after war", didn't elicit comments on the article talking about how fatherhood doesn't square with being able to drop everything at the word of a commanding officer--essentially implying that fathers are unfit to serve. Those types of comments were of course seen about mothers on the interview with Terran. 
Spc. Bryan Tolley and his 18-month-old son, Ryan. Tolley says that while deployed he would see children that reminded him of Ryan and immediately call home.

In the end, here's how I see it--producing milk to nourish a baby is something miraculous that only women's bodies can do. Although women can do resistance/weight training and become very strong, men have the biological potential to become much stronger. So, lifting certain amounts of weight or performing certain feats of strength might be something that only men's bodies can do. 

Muscles can be considered attractive and can factor into sexual appeal, but they are functional. They serve everyday, evolutionary purposes. It is the same thing with breasts. Of course they can be sexy, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be seen serving their biological purpose in public. How ridiculous would it be if a picture of a man using his muscles in military uniform made people talk about modesty?



Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thank you, spinningbabies.com

Last week, Japanese scientists explaced--placed explosives at the bottom of Lake Loch Ness

Okay, not really. I just want to quote Napoleon Dynamite every time I say the words "last week."

Last week, I found out my baby girl was breech--her head was up near my ribs, instead of nestled down in my pelvis. 36 weeks was a good time to find that out. It's late enough that it's a bit of a problem, but early enough that there's plenty of time to do something about it. I'd heard about spinningbabies.com, and my midwife reminded me of it as well. So, Nick and I took a look at it and did their breech turning exercises every day till my next appointment--which was this morning.

And baby girl turned around! Whoohoo! We don't have to go on a mad search for a midwife or OB that delivers breech naturally! Because sadly, liability-based care standards force most midwives who deliver in hospital to hand over persistently breech pregnancies to the care of an OB. And lack of training and fear of lawsuits means a breech baby is an automatic c-section for the majority of OBs. This is not the standard of care in other first-world countries. Just here in the good ole U.S. of A.

So clearly, their breech turning exercises are effective. It's possible baby girl might have turned without us doing anything, but I kind of doubt that. I am already quite big, I can feel that baby girl is big, and Luke, after all, was 9lb 1oz. I think it would have been difficult for baby girl to turn completely on her own, and I fully attribute her flip to the advice of spinningbabies.com. I loved getting to work on spinning baby girl as a team with Nick. I loved how I didn't have to shell out any money or go through any painful or awkward procedures (an external version sounded pretty awful) to accomplish our goal. It was all natural, and all effective!

But! The interesting thing about this whole experience was reading through some of the philosophy about baby positioning that spinningbabies had to offer. Their exercises are not just for "fixing" a mal-positioned baby. In fact, they recommend that their exercises be done throughout pregnancy to encourage a good position from the get-go. Before using their resources, I didn't know they taught anything proactive and preventative about baby positioning. I also didn't know that they taught labor comfort movements! It never hurts to have more tricks up your sleeves for labor.

Some of the movements Nick and I did were specifically for breech flipping, but some were like warm-ups that are good for all babies. We really enjoyed the Rebozo sifting in particular. It managed to be soothing and comical at the same time--a strange combination. We're excited to keep sifting frequently until baby girl arrives.  And next pregnancy, I will incorporate spinningbabies techniques into my daily workouts from week 1!

If you are pregnant now--at any stage--I highly recommend checking out spinningbabies. Guaranteed, you will find both physical and mental comfort from their wisdom.

Finally, the best thing about spinningbabies was this little piece of advice listed with their breech flipping exercises: "Talk to your baby, heart to heart, and tell your baby what you want - and ask your baby what she/he needs in this situation, too." I love that! I really believe in talking to your baby, especially about birth and working together. Thanks to that little reminder, I did indeed talk to my baby girl about how she needed to turn. I told her that birth would be faster, easier, and safer for both of us if she turned, and how I really wanted to have a good birth with her. And throughout the week, I also sang "Simple Gifts" to her, which floated up to my mind after looking at spinningbabies.com. It's kind of crazy how appropriate the words are...

'Tis a gift to be simple, (or might I say low-risk and complication free?)
'tis a gift to be free (free to labor in the best way for me and my baby?)
'Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

Thank you, ward youth

When a Mormon refers to "the youth," they are probably talking about guys and gals age 12-18. And ward is just the name for a local congregation.

So anyways. Since we moved away from Utah, I have really loved being part of a regular ward, and not just a ward populated with other young married students. Our married student ward was fun and we had good friends, but there is just something special about getting the whole range of ages and life stages that you see in a normal ward. Little kids, high schoolers, married people, single people, divorced people, old people, middle-aged people. It's just refreshing. I often say how I get weary of hanging out with only other 20-somethings. I'm not sure exactly why. But I do know that I love the sense of perspective that spending time with those younger and older than me gives. Maybe it's the same reason I don't like digital clocks. Digital clocks only show the minute that's happening. There is no sense of connection to every other minute, every other hour, every other day. There's no reminder that there was time before this minute and that there will be time after this minute, like you get on a face clock. I suppose when I spend way too much time with other young adults, I feel like this minute of my life is the only minute there is. Like there wasn't anything before, and I don't know what will be after.

At first, getting to see teenagers every week was just fun and endearing. My first hint that the youth in our ward were pretty legit was the ward talent show a few months ago. At least half the acts were from the youth. They had taken the time to get together dance numbers, barbershop quartets, violin duets, comedy routines. "Geez," I thought. "I think I would have been bratty and thought I was above ward talent shows when I was a youth."

Then there was the lesson on indexing. If you're Mormon, you have surely heard of indexing before, and if you're not, then you probably have no idea what it means. Basically, indexing is an act of service you can do to help people all around the world with their geneological research. On familysearch.org, there are pictures of historical records/documents. You look at the records and type information about an individual person (name, DOB, spouse, etc) into the familysearch database.Then, when people are searching for their ancestors, that information is available. It's kind of like when you have to do one of those "Prove you're not a robot" things where you look at the blurry distorted crazy words and then type them into a box. Because reading old cursive handwriting can be quite challenging.

The point is, a couple of months ago, I would not have been able to tell you anything about indexing. I'd had church lessons on it before. But for some reason, I always felt confused by the lessons and never tried to index. Following counsel from an apostle, our bishop put the youth of our ward in charge of a big Sunday lesson about indexing. They were awesome! The lesson was clear and concise. The youth introduced our ward challenge, which was a month-long race to see who could index the most names. The youth managed the entire race, acting as tech support for anyone with questions and emailing people weekly about who was in the lead.  I couldn't do the race, since I have a Chromebook and not a regular laptop, but I got an indexing app and I've been loving it. Thanks to the youth in our ward, I can finally index!

The cherry on top of the awesome youth sundae was the talks they gave in church this past week. Three young women spoke about the Old Testament, since they just finished studying it in early morning seminary. Coincidentally, Nick and I just finished reading through the Old Testament out loud together for our companion scripture study on Saturday. It took a long time (almost 2 years), but it was so cool to study it with him. The young women's talks were organized, heartfelt, and specific. They all referred to individual seminary lessons, which means they all were awake enough to remember seminary after it happened--which is incredible. One girl rapturously addressed Isaiah 53, reverently quoting,

3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.


This young lady clearly understood how the Old Testament witnesses of Jesus Christ. 

Another girl gave a joyful, in-depth talk about covenants, telling how she'd learned that God has placed great emphasis on covenants since ancient times. Smiling broadly, she talked about how much she looked forward to going to the temple to make her own covenants one day. It moved me. I wish that I'd had so much enthusiasm and maturity about the gospel when I was in high school. She also gave a detailed description of what different parts of the ancient tabernacle symbolized, which means she took some serious notes during her seminary lesson! I was too busy trying to stay awake in seminary to remember anything like that! 

I have truly been uplifted by the young men and women in my ward. Their testimony, happiness, and confidence about the gospel is extremely impressive. I really hope my children grow up to be like them. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Thank you, Bjork

Bjork. If you don't know her music, then...I'm not really sure how to begin explaining it. It is utterly unique and beautiful. Among all the things I've been doing to prepare for labor and birth, listening to Bjork has actually been really important. Thanks to older sisters with phenomenal taste in music, Bjork's been in my blood since I was a wee lass. Last pregnancy, I'm not sure I considered Bjork and babies beyond her song "One Day," (also from Debut) which is directed to a baby (and seems even more appropriate for this pregnancy with my July 4th due date):



But the connection between Bjork and birth goes so far beyond that. Her vocal freedom, her otherworldly style, and the honest sensuality of her music all make singing along to Bjork a fabulous preparation for birth.


Vocal Freedom: Her lyrics are always spot-on and evocative, but there are many times where she doesn't have lyrics. Where her voice is just completely free, making whatever sounds are needed. Bjork can use words so incredibly well--she's just not limited by them. "Venus as a Boy" from her Debut album is a perfect example of this.


I know I've talked before about singing my way through my first labor, and I don't mean to be repetitive. It's just difficult to express how important it was to me. The primary place I read about it was in Birthing from Within, by Pam England (which I just finished reading for the second time. Now I'm on to The Birth Partner and Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding.) In the chapter titled, "Proven Pain Techniques", England says this about technique #7: Finding Your Voice:

"A widely accepted (though disastrously misleading) notion is that all women should respond to labor pain in the same way: quietly. Ironically, this usually means behaving in a most unnatural way: breathing in controlled, stylized patterns; refraining from moaning or wailing; and lying still rather than writhing or rocking. Sounds which suggest the sexual nature of birth may subtly be shaped out of a woman's repertoire... [Chants and natural labor sounds] are empowering and effective because they unify mind-body, leaving no room for doubt, fear, or self-pity. Whatever the sounds or words are, their uninhibited, complete expression merges with the pain and momentarily dissipates it. Vocalization in labor is primordial, beautiful, and it works...When a mother wants to keep the pain to a level she can manage without making noise, the Mind sends Body an urgent message: "Wait! Slow down!" Fear of pain, of losing control, or of being un-ladylike stimulates the release of adrenalin, which slows down labor. I recall a story I heard in a childbirth class: 'My sister had been progressing well. Nearing the end of labor, she was about seven centimenters dilated...she began wailing and moaning through contractions. on her hands and knees. Her nurse came in and said 'I'm sorry, but you're making the doctor nervous. Try to be quiet.' My sister managed to be quiet, but soon after her labor petered out...She was given pitocin, which led to an epidural. And we always wondered what happened." 


Until listening to Bjork in these recent weeks while also reading natural birth books, I never realized how like labor sounds her wild improvisations are. If you can manage to be as free as Bjork during labor, I think you'll be happy.

Otherworldly Style: People often compare natural birth to running a marathon. That's a useful analogy in some ways--that even though it's very hard, it's incredibly rewarding. It's something you should be mentally and physically prepared for to have a successful and optimal experience. But one area where the analogy breaks down is that marathons are a structured, man-made event, whereas births are unstructured, natural events. The length and path of a marathon is planned out. You don't know the length of a birth until the baby is born. And you don't know exactly where birth will take you, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Everything about birth is otherworldly, as it should be. As a mother, you are bringing your baby completely through the veil. And you have to go somewhere completely alien to accomplish that.

I love the peculiar beauty of Bjork's music. She truly sounds like she is coming from a different world, and her lyrics often bring to mind pleasantly strange images--the sort of images you might encounter deep inside yourself during labor.

Honest Sensuality: Birth is a sensual experience. It is really, really hard to remember this in a hospital environment. It would be even harder to remember when you're drugged up and strapped down with a needle in your back. But truly, birth is sensual. For some women, it goes even beyond that, to the point of pleasure and even orgasm. If that is an unfamiliar concept to you, then you're probably thinking "WHAT?!" or "No way," or "How is that possible?" Just like the runner's high is now thought to be an evolutionary advantage, not just a hormonal quirk, I fully believe the potential of physical pleasure during natural birth is an evolutionary/heavenly gift.

I could be completely wrong about this, but I can see sensual birth being difficult to consider for LDS women in particular. In some LDS families (certainly not all), anything sexual or sensual seems too dangerous to embrace. I'm years away from having to address this with my own children, but I think a lot about how to balance teaching that sex in the right context should be celebrated and sex in the wrong context shunned. Some LDS parents go a little too far in the shunning department, to the point that it's challenging for their daughters to be intimate when married. If women have trouble releasing and being sensual with the person they love and trust most in the world, then how on earth could they ever freely experience all that birth has to offer when surrounded by strangers?

(And please note--I am not by any means saying that all or even most LDS women struggle with intimacy--I just know it's a potential problem. In fact, this article even mentions LDS women having more orgasms than non-Mormons. Hmm...)

How does this connect with Bjork? She has many songs that are sensual, and that out-right talk about sex. But it is in a radically different way than gross pop/hip-hop songs that are trying to capitalize on sex. When Bjork's music is sensual, it is honest, pure, and poetic. It is never rough or callous. It can be primal, but never pornographic. I really feel like the sensuality in Bjork's music is comparable to the sensuality of birth. She clearly does not feel embarrassed or inhibited, and neither should women in labor. To avoid feeling self-conscious, you have to mentally prepare yourself for the environment you'll give birth in, and do everything you can to be comfortable in it. For me, since I knew I'd be birthing in hospital, that meant working with a midwife (and not an unfamiliar man), and deciding that I did not care what the nurses thought of me. Even though I had to be away from home, I felt very free during my labor.

On a final note, I'd like to suggest a new verb. I've struggled to know what to say I did during labor. Singing sounds too nice, vocalizing sounds too neutral, and grunting/growling/yelling are just far from the truth. So no, I don't think I was singing during labor--I think that I was bjorking.