Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Birth/Breastfeeding Connection? (2 of 2)

As it would turn out, while my little girl’s being small (5 pounds, 10 ounces) may have been beneficially for me during birth, it would prove a stumbling block to establishing a good latch.  Her mouth just seemed to be too small to take in the appropriate amount of the areola, nibbling instead on the nipple itself.  Furthermore, having come a couple of weeks earlier than expected, she fell into a category no one mentioned before – near-term baby.  As such, her rooting motions were quite jerky, and her sucking not very well coordinated.  Add to that a mom traumatized by early nipple damage, resulting in an inability to boldly and quickly maximize the few nanoseconds baby’s mouth stays open before attempting to suckle, and painfully sore nipples are bound to happen. 

Although everyone not directly involved with La Leche League claimed that a painful beginning (days? weeks? months?) was part of the deal, I had a hard time believing that my threshold for pain was that much lower than all of these other moms’. The aforementioned nipple damage traumatized me quite a bit. It was the last straw on a heap of a week’s worth of painful nursing sessions.  Contrary to what I knew had to happen once I began lactating, I was so afraid of anything coming anywhere near my damaged breast that I neither nursed nor expressed any milk from it for 12 hours.  When the scab came off in the bath, I was able to attempt to express milk using the manual pump I had “just in case”. But because my milk had just started coming in the day before, I spent two hours in all sorts of crazy positions, trying to maximize the amount I got with the help of gravity, yielding just enough for one feeding – by miniature bulb syringe – before realizing that I simply could not keep up with my little one’s needs.

First bottle feeding, day of trauma and drama :(
Utterly disappointed in myself for my inability to nourish my child the way nature intended, I had to succumb to allowing formula into the picture.  We had received some formula samples in the mail which I had gathered to donate, since formula did not fit into the ideal I was trying to establish in my early days of parenting.  But now I was so thankful that there was a way I could feed my baby, even if it was no thanks to me.  Alex, bless his heart, offered to take the entire night shift (since this became a possibility with the introduction of formula into the picture) so that I could sleep and thereby try to recuperate a bit from the day’s drama.

The next day, I found my damaged breast to be severely engorged, leaving me with a fever, chills, and later night sweats.  I proceeded to nurse my baby on the one good breast during the day, leaving the night feedings to my husband.  The following day, I began to wear cabbage leaves in my bra to soothe the heat and pain that I felt in my damaged breast, and tried to express milk with my manual pump.  I was convinced that between that and the rest I was getting, everything would just fix itself.  It wasn’t until four days after the damage first occurred that I finally called my midwives.  I was no longer just dealing with painful engorgement; I had a breast infection.

That whole day was spent trying to follow the midwife’s instructions for how to best begin the healing process.  After trying to no avail to find a medical supply store in our area that (a) sold electric breast pumps and (b) would bill our insurance, Alex drove around town picking up my antibiotics and nipple ointment.  As it finally turned out (thanks to the insight offered by whoever answered the phone at the lactation office I called), the idea that we could purchase a breast pump and have it go through our insurance was a rouse.  In fact, we had to order through our insurance and wait for it to ship in 4 – 6 weeks.  Well, I needed the pump that same day.  And so we paid for an electric pump out of pocket and I began pumping more efficiently.

However, over the weekend, I noticed one stubborn area of my breast where the redness and bumpiness was not going away.  Convinced that it was a blocked duct that wouldn’t go away (I tried warm compresses, massage, even putting an electric toothbrush to the area), I called my midwife back and asked about a solution I had read in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding – an ultrasound that could break down the old milk proteins in the ducts and get the milk flowing again.  Since my two week postpartum visit was a few days away, the midwife preferred to wait until then before sending me in for an ultrasound which she wasn’t convinced would work. 

The night before my appointment, as I was flipping through The Womanly Art for the umpteenth time, I came across a small section about an “uncommon” problem called a breast abscess.  I had Alex read it to see if he thought – as I did – that perhaps I didn’t have a stubborn blocked duct; perhaps I had a breast abscess.  We both agreed that it was a possibility, and it was confirmed the next day.  My midwife scheduled an ultrasound to confirm her diagnosis for the following day.  From the ultrasound, I was sent directly to a breast surgeon who could drain the abscesses (turns out there were three!) that same day.

Over the weekend, there was noted improvement, though a lump remained, albeit somewhat smaller and less discolored.  At my follow up visit, I had the remaining abscess drained again, this time via an incision that would be left open to allow for ongoing drainage.  (It’s as creepy as it sounds.)  I also found out that the abscesses were resistant to the antibiotic I was on was.  However, my options of an alternative were a bit limited.  I’m allergic to penicillin, and I needed something that was safe for continuing to breastfeed. This left three options, all IV-based.  And so I ended up with an antibiotic that wasn’t quite as effective but still better than what I had been on up until that point, with the instructions to pump and dump my milk for the first few hours after taking each daily dose.

However, since the week I had already been on a supposedly breastfeeding-safe antibiotic caused Maya to have pure liquid poop (I’m not talking runny the way you’d expect on breastmilk, but basically what looked like brown pee), Alex and I agreed that it was best to eliminate it from her diet until I was no longer on an antibiotic.

It has been a week since I breastfed my daughter.  This brings tears to my eyes, in spite of the fact that often times, nursing her literally brings tears to my eyes as well.  But I’ve found the silver lining in this challenge.  While the pro-exclusive breastfeeding folks would have me believe that I am – and ought to be – the center of my baby’s universe if I know what’s good for her, I in fact believe that God has used this time to humble me instead.  I have to share my daughter with formula, bottles, and pacifiers, because pain prevents me from being able to fulfill all of her suckling needs on my own.  And this helps me to remember that Maya is a child of God first and foremost, and I have merely been tasked with the responsibility and privilege of raising her.

Here I am experimenting with a couple of holds to try to keep breastfeeding.

Football/clutch hold. For some reason it helped to stand up.

The whole first week we nursed in the clutch/football hold, as it is supposed to work better for tiny babies.

The cross cradle hold on the Brest Friend pillow.  Supposed to help by freeing my outside hand to hold breast in a "C" and observe her latch.
Yesterday I took my last dose of antibiotic.  Today, we began nursing at the breast again.  So far, it would seem that allowing my nipples to rest and giving Maya practice on the bottle and pacifier seems to have helped!  (We use paced bottle feeding to keep the flow similar to breastfeeding, ie. slow.)  She wasn’t too keen on Leftie (the traumatized breast), but she latched onto Rightie (you guessed it - the breast that had been holding down the fort on its own) no problem.  I kept trying to check her latch because it didn’t hurt going on, but it seemed fine, and she nursed for a half hour before falling asleep and letting go.  My nipple came out not looking like lipstick for the first time!  I immediately put on the nipple ointment, and it is sore right now.  But what I learned over these last couple of weeks is not to try to be a hero and to find that happy balance where I’m giving my daughter my best while still enjoying the miracle and blessing that she is.

Birth/Breastfeeding Connection? (1 of 2)

One of the main reasons I chose to have a natural home birth was to maximize a solid start to a successful breastfeeding relationship with my baby.  Everything I read about the multitude of interventions that are common in hospital births seemed to point to the beginning of the end of breastfeeding for mothers and babies who were “drugged” during birth.  And since I didn’t trust myself to turn down interventions in a time as vulnerable as labor, I opted for a homebirth instead.
Mine is not a story seen through rose-colored glasses, though.  While the convenience and psychological comfort of giving birth to my daughter at home cannot be surpassed, I will not sugar-coat the physical pain of active labor contractions, transition, and pushing.  Having “been there, done that”, as I read over descriptions of natural childbirth now, I’m able to see the descriptions in a new light and realize that I made a decision based purely on objective intellect.  My higher education background would have me believe that this is the mark of authentic truth-seeking; only objectivity leads to facts.  However, my recent experiences fly directly in the face of this assumption.  As Albert Einstein once said, “information is not knowledge.”

Only now do I notice key words and phrases like “chances”, “more/less likely”, “tend to”, “may/might/can”.  These are vague descriptors at best.  Did I seriously stake my entire birth and early postpartum experience on mere potentiality?  There is a chance of an unnecessary cesarean section at a hospital birth.  Hospital births are more likely to result in prolonged or even stalled labor. Mothers and babies who experience unmedicated birth tend to go on to have strong, successful breastfeeding relationships.  The epidural may lead to other, unwanted interventions.  Note how none of these are actual facts.  None of these are universals or guarantees.  Perhaps I’m the only one who got caught up in the ideals of a natural birth and exclusive breastfeeding.  Now I see that that’s the problem – I allowed an idea (an ideology, actually) to make my decisions. 

Gentle birth sounded so enticing, precisely because I assumed that it would be gentle for me, too.  And what can be more natural and empowering at the same time as providing your baby’s nourishment all by yourself?  I assumed that in order to fit in with a group I identify with, I had to ascribe to every single one of that group’s principles, whether they be spoken or presumed.

My drug-free, natural home birth, which lasted just under 19 hours total (including 13 hours of early labor) seemed to go by in a flash.  Time seemed to stand still when I was in the midst of it all.  The truly difficult part lasted roughly 6 hours. My contractions did not fit the pattern I had read about and learned about in childbirth class, and even the midwife on call, whom I consulted several times, did not think there was any hurry. But everything changed rather quickly.

Since our little one was coming nearly 2 weeks earlier than expected, Alex hadn’t yet finalized everything at work before taking family leave. We agreed that since birth was most likely another day away, he should go into work right away rather than in the early days after baby’s arrival.  And so I labored alone for about 6 hours, during which time I moved into active labor and my water broke two hours before Alex returned.

Perhaps it was this confusion and time of solitary labor that prevented my birth experience from being as gentle and empowering as I had imagined, or perhaps I just set my expectations too high.  Either way, in the throes of these quite literal labor pains, I was not thinking about breastfeeding my baby.  I wasn’t motivated by the fact we had waited to find out the sex of our baby until after birth.  It made no difference to me that transition and pushing were the shortest parts of labor. (These were all nuggets of insight I had read that were supposed to ease childbirth for me but didn’t.)  In fact, I wasn’t thinking about the future or the past, nothing other than getting through the current contraction.  I don’t think I’ve ever been more focused in my life.  I am constantly pondering what might have been or what could happen. But during labor, I was no more and no less than a laboring woman. 
Taking a break from pushing.
Maya getting weighed old-school.
To be fair, my plan against interventions did work.  I never thought of requesting a transfer to the hospital, where I could ask for an epidural; I simply worked through each contraction and waited for the ordeal to be over.  I knew there was no way around it.  But is this really the gentle birth I had imagined and hoped for?  Perhaps it was gentler for my baby.  Though I wonder just how gentle life needs to be for a little person who screams at the top of her lungs during a diaper change, leading anyone within ear shot but to assume that the child is in dire need of immediate assistance.

When I finally held my daughter in my arms for the first time (not yet knowing that she was a girl!), I did not think any of the crunchy poetics I had read about from other natural birth moms.  I did not think for one second that it was worth it, or that I’d do it all again if I had to.  It was over; that’s all that mattered.  Now my daughter was here, and I just remember thinking how tiny she was.  There was a definite disconnect between her presence and the manner of her arrival.  Other than giving me bragging rights, I did not feel particularly empowered by the natural birth.  And as I’d learn over the following days and weeks, the experience did not naturally (pun intended) lead to establishing a smooth breastfeeding relationship, either.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Maya's Birth Story

Maya was born at home at 10:15 pm on Monday, November 25, 2013, weighing 5 pounds 10 ounces, measuring 18.5 inches.

Days after birth.
I was in labor for a total of 18 hours and some change, going into active labor shortly before my water broke 13 hours into it.  Alex ended up going into work for a few hours when we realized it was either that or once baby came.  It was a tough call, bc I did not do well laboring alone.  He finally got back home around 7pm, and at this point my contractions were lasting a minute and 2-3 minutes apart.  I was not a happy camper.  I think not having Alex really messed up our hypnobabies system. I tried laboring with the CDs but it wasn't helping.  I ended up doing a lot of vocalizing.  Birth assistant came shortly after Alex, and midwife wasn't too far behind.  I ended up not getting antibiotics for GBS as midwife felt baby was going to come very soon, not the 4-8 hours after the first dose that is standard.  Indeed, she was born 2 hours after midwife arrived.

They spent a good deal of time trying to fill the birth pool, but they were having problems with the water not being hot enough.  I only got a little bit of hydrotherapy in the shower before all the hot water in the house apparently went out.  Never got in the birth tub.  :( Huge disappointment.

The tub all ready, except that the water never got hot enough :(
I labored on the toilet for a while, but didn't want baby born in there, and they were telling me that I was sounding pushy.  Labored on all fours on the floor for a while, then agreed to have a vaginal check and was almost fully dilated.  They had me move to the bed, midwife pulled the lip of my cervix over baby, and when she came out, she came flying out!  I birthed Maya on all fours, and the placenta in a squat.

Apparently, Maya is a miracle baby in more ways than one.  She had her cord wrapped around her neck and torso, and the cord was not directly linked to the placenta, what is known as a velamentous cord insertion.  They asked if I had had any ultrasounds done, because this normally would've been found at the 20 week sono.  The problem is that if the veins and artery connecting the cord to the placenta happen to run over the cervix (vasa previa) instead of above the baby, then if the water breaks, the baby can cut off the blood supply and not survive birth.  Midwife was shocked that my last sono was just last week!  Alex and I are just amazed at what a humongous blessing this baby is.

We each held Maya for about an hour before finding out if we had a girl or a boy.  I finally cried when Alex peeked and then introduced me to her by name

Daddy showing off her footsies.
I ended up getting a shot of pitocin to cut down on bleeding, a couple of pills under my tongue that were supposed to give me cramps to expel whatever may have been left of the cord/placenta in my uterus, which I think ended up giving me horrible chills, which then led to a fluid IV.   Luckily, I had a chance to hold Maya for a bit before I started with the chills, and after that Daddy got lots of hands-on time with her bc I was a hot mess.  Just laying there half asleep. My perineum stayed intact, but I got little tears on my labia, so I got a couple of stitches.

I had just gotten belly henna done Sunday evening, on our way home from our Ignatian retreat.  I originally was going to get it the Friday after Thanksgiving, but something kept telling me that Maya may be early.  The henna artist advised me that it was unlikely that the henna would still be there for the Birth Day 2 weeks away, but I couldn't risk waiting too long.  So it was pretty cool that I got to have it done just on time after all.  I feel like so many things lined up for us!

My belly henna design.
Maya is such a good baby.  Very cuddly, smiles a lot.  When she's awake, she's so alert and looking around.  Unfortunately, breastfeeding woes started soon after birth, in spite of taking all the precautions.  But that I will save for another post.  

Thank you, Lord, for our miracle!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Preparing for Baby's Birth

With only 6 weeks to go until our baby's estimated expected birthday, I thought I'd jot down the various ways in which Alex and I are preparing for the grand entrance of our long-awaited Baby into our welcoming arms.  In fact, this very activity will serve as yet another way that I am preparing.

For starters, I have the perspective of time on my side.  Years ago, I researched home birth as an undergraduate when my English professor raved to us about how her home births compared to her initial hospital birth.  At that time, I had no intention of getting pregnant or having children even, so I was able to research the subject completely objectively.  Interestingly enough, it was this assignment that actually got me interested in homebirth for myself, and I always kept the idea in the back of my subconscience.

Then, my graduate dissertation started out being an analysis of pregnancy magazines, where I combed through a year's worth of several pregnancy magazines, outlining patterns of topics and perspectives on the various topics that arose again and again.  What I found was a mainstream medicalization of childbirth that was taken for granted as the "obvious" way to birth a baby.

Finally, with the above academic knowledge as my foundation, I knew just what I wanted once this pregnancy and this baby started to become real to me.  We transferred our prenatal care to a midwifery clinic, where our desire for a natural childbirth at home is fully supported and encouraged.

The midwives required two things of us to become their clients, which are further preparing us for our baby's birth.  First, we had to hire a birth assistant.  The way it was explained to us is that once Baby is born, it's good to have one set of medically-trained hands for me, and another set for the baby.  I appreciate having access to medically trained professionals who nonetheless are also knowledgeable in normal, natural childbirth.

Second, we were required to take birthing classes.  We were able to choose the approach, and we ended up with HypnoBabies, a combination of The Bradley Method and HypnoBirthing.  The founder of HypnoBabies taught both of these other approaches for years before making the combination approach.  The way I see it, after having read the Husband-Coached Childbirth by Dr. Bradley, our class covers everything the Bradley Method covers, except it also teaches deep open-eyes self-hypnosis as a relaxation strategy.  The Bradley Method stresses the importance of relaxation, whereas HypnoBabies shows us how and gives us practice - that's how I see it.

Along with our HypnoBabies class comes daily homework that involves readings to educate ourselves on our options, exercises and nutrition that I am to be aware of, and daily practice with visualizing a peaceful birth and practicing self-hypnosis.  This class started just as I was reading a wonderful book by Eckhart Tolle titled "A New Earth", which likewise talked of the power of the mind over body.  I've already had a reassuring experience with the dulling effect of hypnosis on sensations that otherwise would be quite uncomfortable. 

In addition, I have reserved a birthing pool, so I will have the power and benefit of hydrotherapy available for me during labor and possibly even during birth. Plus, the very fact that we're planning a homebirth serves to ease my mind and increase my comfort level.  I won't have to worry about trying to get somewhere in a certain amount of time; I won't need to worry about abstract hospital protocol that does nothing to ease a woman's birthing time.

Finally, I am reassured by the knowledge that I am doing everything I can to create the most gentle entrance possible for my baby into our world.  I am amazed to have learned how much the type of birthing affects the breastfeeding relationship, and I am encouraged that we'll have the best possible start to nursing.  Not only that, but the fact that Alex is being a part of the preparations with me and will be my birthing coach on Baby's birthday makes me feel so loved and supported and empowered to birth our baby safely, comfortably, and joyfully - on our own terms, the way I believe God meant it to be.

Someone asked me recently if I was ready for the baby.  After 10 years of marriage, how can I not be?!  I'm as ready as I'll ever be!  The rest must come from hands-on experience.  I am taking ownership of my pregnancy, my birthing, and looking forward to welcoming our baby!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Following Jesus to the New Earth

God is beyond our human understanding, so why do we constantly try to limit "Him" by putting labels on Him, giving him characteristics that we can relate to, and thereby immediately being insufficient and inaccurate in our attempts to define and describe Him?

On several occasions, I've been drawn to Buddhism.  I see a lot of parallels between Jesus's teachings and those of Sidhartha Gautama.  Yet what always made me call it quits was the fact that Buddhism doesn't personify God.  From Christianity, I'm used to thinking that God is a loving God, that He loves me, and that He wants to inspire me to love others.  That is my starting point regardless where my faith takes me.  So to then try to squeeze this mentality into a world view without a personal God doesn't seem to make sense.

But then I recently read a fascinating book by Eckhart Tolle, "A New Earth", where perhaps because I got the book from my church, and perhaps because it was written by a Westerner, I was able to look past my usual assumptions of both Buddhism and Christianity and really be open to what the author was saying.  And it made sense!

Bottom line, the reason I am fixated on making God be a person is because I identify myself as a person, limited in time and space, with my particular experiences and characteristics defining who I think I am.  In other words, I see the world through the lens of my ego, and my ego needs other egos/individuals/persons to relate to in order to maintain itself.  But what Tolle explains is that the ego is not our true identity, and this is precisely what Buddhism teaches.  What was most intriguing about this book, though, was how Tolle suggested that we have been going about understanding Jesus's teachings all wrong.  Jesus also wanted us to learn to free ourselves of our ego, and instead, join ourselves to the Eternal God, to become one with our fellow human beings.  He didn't use Buddhist terminology, but the concept is there.

At any rate, right now, I'm in a place on my spiritual journey where I'm trying to figure out a couple of things.  1) Which aspects of my faith are to be taken literally, and which metaphorically, symbolically, or allegorically?  2) How do I maintain my Catholic Christian faith simultaneously with incorporating Tolle's explanations, which resonate very clearly and deeply in my soul?

I don't have the answers yet, but I'm reassured that I'm headed in the right direction.  In fact, I was reassured of this during the Sacrament of Reconciliation the other night.  There had been a four-night mission at our church where a speaker presented the Good News to us in a way that most Catholics don't get to hear, and challenged us at the end to intentionally come forward and dedicate our lives to following Jesus.  I confessed to my priest that I was struggling with whether or not I could, in good conscience, do this, based on the above spiritual musings I've been having.  My priest said absolutely, that if I come forward and say I am following Jesus, that means I want to imitate His values, virtues, teachings, lifestyle.  My focus must be on that, on Him.  The details of religious tenants and dogmas are besides the point if I'm not following Jesus.

And so I went up, along with Alex, and when asked if we were ready to follow Jesus, we said yes.  We asked for prayers to strengthen our marriage and to guide us to be the kind of parents who will lead our child on God's path. 

Now I have to make time daily in order to grow in my relationship/experience (whichever concept floats your boat) with God.   Without intentional time set aside, nothing else will change or improve.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The World Isn't Black and White

Life is not black and white.  I've known about this for quite some time now, but every now and again God inspires me with another example.

Walking around my work campus today, I was reminded of several instances where things are not as clear cut as we sometimes think they are.  There isn't a definitive line between where our lake ends and dry land begins.  There isn't a certain depth of water up until a certain point, and then suddenly a tall wall of ground under the water and a plot of dry land starting right next to the water's edge.  Instead, as the water approaches the dry land, it gets more and more shallow, eventually looking like a mere puddle of rain water on otherwise dry land.  Where does the lake end and the dry land begin?

I looked up at the clouds in the sky, and remembering how fascinated I always am with how easily we go right through them when in an airplane, I was reminded of how they're nothing less than gaseous H2O.  Then I looked out into the lake at the ripples and the fountain, and thought of how those very same molecules look completely different when in liquid form.  Walking through the fallen leaves, I thought of the approaching winter, which to me always brings to mind snow, and yet again I was presented with a third way that H2O can be manifest.  It seems that the divide between what is water and what is not water is not that obvious, as it can take the form of a liquid, solid, or gas.

Then I thought of the mystery of God.  I suppose it's in our human nature to want to try to figure out who God is, but at the same time, I think it's impossible to put whatever we come up with into words.  I think God doesn't want to be described to His children.  He wants each of us to experience Him for themselves.  That's why I think every religion's attempt at explaining and defining God inevitably falls short.  Whether we go the personal route (God the Father) or the abstract route (God as Universal Source), neither really means anything to someone who doesn't have a personal experience of God's presence in their lives.

Within Christianity, there is this attempt at showing how the world is not black and white by the mystery of the Trinity.  The Trinity attempts to show us that the world is not divided neatly into "God" and "not God" (ie. Creator and creation).  Rather, Jesus serves as a link between the Divine and humanity.  God the Father can be said to stand for the source of all creation, universal intelligence and beauty.  Jesus the Son, the incarnation of God, serves to raise up our human dignity to the level of the divine.  He took on our flesh, and by so doing, eliminated any temptation to prefer the spiritual over the physical, and instead embrace both aspects of our being.  The Holy Spirit is that aspect of God that we experience when we sense God's presence.  That's what I think. 

Addressing the Father in the Lord's prayer and speaking of Christ as dwelling within us has always confused me, as it sounded as though they were different gods, and I am very definitively monotheistic.  But separating each person of the Trinity into a different realm of responsibility, if you will, is helping me to accept the teaching of the Trinity without compromising my belief in a single God. 

I've struggled with various aspects of my faith primarily because I've taken for granted that when it comes to religious beliefs, things are indeed black and white.  But how could God's world lie?  Everywhere I turn, nature, history, even the diversity of human beings, all point to a spectrum, a continuum, and not a two-toned division of all things.  If God's world reflects God, and it isn't black and white, then God cannot be as clearly defined and separated from us either.

What remains is the necessity to accept and embrace the feeling of uncertainty, of ultimately not knowing, yet trusting that what is most important need not be defined or labeled.  Ignatian spirituality offers a lovely prayer that really resonated with me on one of the retreats I went on, where I received a book of Ignatian prayers.  One prayer in particular stands out for me.  (But I'll have to go home and look it up.  Apparently, there are limits to what you can find on the internet after all!)

Monday, October 14, 2013

"Baby's Shower"

My Darling Baby,

We are in the final stretch now.  Only two months remain until I hold you in my arms at long last!  I have enjoyed feeling your dancing, yoga stretches, and general bouncing around, but I am ready to see those tiny feet and hands and little bum on the outside, where I can be better sure that you are safe and sound!

Daddy is equally eager to meet you face to face, as you know since he tells you this regularly.  We are both so excited that you are joining our family.  Yesterday, we celebrated your anticipated arrival with family and friends at a baby shower hosted by your Tia Y and Ms. Liz, baby Nick's mommy.  Your prima Jael was there and a great helper.  Babcia & Dziadzio were there, Abuela too, and your godmother, Auntie Courtney. Also in attendance: Ms. Lisa and Mr. Duncan, our neighbors; Ms. Yessenia and Mr. Tyler; Ms. Donna and her toddler daugher; and of course baby Nick's daddy, Mr. Mike, as well as Tia's husband, Tio S. and abuela's gentleman Mr. J.

At the start, Jael and you and I danced a little bit of the Macarena, but mommy got quite tired quite quickly!  We had yummy food that Ms. Liz and Tia Y prepared, as we enjoyed the festive decorations they put up everywhere in Ms. Liz's home.  Our first activity was a onesie art project.  Many folks decorated a onsie for you to wear, and then daddy and I had the difficult job of choosing our favorite.  We played a little trick on everyone and made our own onsie, and then said that was the winner!  But then we revealed the real winner, who turned out to be Ms. Yessenia.  The onsie has a nice little nature scene of a tree and sun, and the words "Vida + Amor".

The next game was a MadLibs.  Once everyone was done filling out their sheet, I read each silly version out loud, and then daddy and I deliberated on which one was the funniest.  The winner turned out to be Auntie Courtney. 

Then everyone took a length of measuring tape to guesstimate how big around I am while you're living in your little mommy casita.  Then I stood up and daddy tried all the different measuring tapes to see who came the closest without underestimating.  It was very close between Babcia and Mr. Mike and baby Nick.  Babcia's strategy was to stand up and measure her own belly, leaving extra room for how big she thought you were.  Mr. Mike measured himself with baby Nick included.

The final activity was while we were opening gifts, and Tia Y set the timer and when it went off, whose ever gift we were opening at the time got a gift bag!  Ms. Lisa won that game.  By the way, every game/activity's winner got a gift bag!

We also had beautiful cupcakes for dessert before heading home with all the awesome gifts we got to help us prepare for your arrival, and great memories to boot.

In your usual style, you kept quiet and still when Abuela, Ms. Yessenia, and Tia Y tried to feel your bouncing.  You finally loosened up when daddy, Auntie Courtney, and I went to church that evening to listen to a talk.  Daddy joked that you were really into his message, and you were bouncing around to say "preach on, brother!" and "Amen!"  Auntie Courtney got to feel you moving a bit then.

As you know, we have been working on preparing for your big day of arrival by attending classes and doing various activities at home.  This is a join effort, and I trust that you will be a good little baby and get into the correct position in time for us to have a wonderful, peaceful, joyful birthing time together!

Love you, pookie.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Overview of the Pregnancy

I haven't posted much lately, and certainly not much about the baby or the pregnancy, so I thought I would.  The first half of my pregnancy, I was walking on metaphorical eggshells, waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.  I had gotten so accustomed to things looking like they were finally working out only to fall apart when least expected, that I didn't allow myself to believe, much less enjoy, this new stage in life for the first half of the pregnancy.

All of that changed in week 20, when I saw baby move.  I had felt baby move once before, at 14 weeks, but it was only that one day and then nothing for over a month.  But this time, I looked down and my sight confirmed what my tummy alerted me to - my baby was wiggling inside!  The next day, Alex was able to feel the baby move.  We never looked back; baby has been active every single day since then.

On top of this, two days after I saw baby move, we had our midway sonogram, and I saw on live screen as my baby kicked me (and I felt it, of course!).  It was so surreal to simultaneously see and feel her or him moving.  Not only that, but we got a complimentary 3D sono picture, which made the baby much more believable than the standard 2D ones.  I promptly plastered the image on my laptop, work PC, and phone as wallpaper.  So between seeing my baby's sweet face and feeling her/him moving every day, I quickly started to bond with baby and stopped worrying.

Furthermore, since we had a major move hanging over our heads that was planned for June but fell through, that was an additional aspect that kept me very tentative in my preparations for baby.  But once the move was off the table, I was able to start planning the birth, starting with switching care providers to a group of certified nurse midwives that are covered by our health insurance plan.  That was a wonderful surprise, since I was prepared to pay out of pocket if need be in order to avoid an overly medicated, rushed, and clinical hospital birth.

However, I hadn't realized that there are two sides to the midwifery approach to childbirth.  Namely, while it is good that they expect you to be responsible for your own health care, be knowledgeable and make informed decisions yourself, this comes at the cost of having to do more of my own legwork, not having the easy way out of just doing what the professional tells you, and ... well, being more responsible for my own health care!

A friend from church, Liz, and Alex's sister are throwing us a baby shower next month.  I think there'll be another layer of reality setting in when we get all that baby stuff and then go shopping to supplement whatever else is needed.  Right now, we set up a closet/dresser for baby with the things we have so far, but it's kept behind closed doors.  I went out and got cloth-diaper friendly laundry detergent after a dream I had of having baby home but no washed diapers prepared!  We need to prewash the new diapers of our stash 5 times, but I think I'll wait until after the baby shower for that as well, since I'll want to wash all the clothes as well.

We went back and forth for a time with nicknames for baby.  One month, it was Dino (for a boy), the next month it was DeeDee (for a girl).  But this month, everything got confused, and we no longer know which nickname we're on.  We often just say "Baby" now.  I've started to want to find out if we're having a daughter or a son, though we initially agreed to wait for a great surprise.  I want to start calling baby by name, since we have both genders' names picked out and ready to go.  My mom doesn't understand why we are "torturing" ourselves and her with this not-knowing, so I asked Alex how he would respond.  He said that baby is a gift, and we're not supposed to peak at gifts!  That attitude just melts my heart and makes me think I can wait 10 more weeks... I've waited 30 weeks already!

One thing I'm trying to keep in mind is to have a well-balanced approach to parenthood.  On one hand, obviously this is something we have waited, prayed for, planned, pursued for so long, and I am ready to throw caution to the wind and just forget everything else that's going on in my life and just throw myself into the role of mother.  On the other hand, I also know that this is not healthy for my relationship with my child, or for the well-being of either of us.  If I am to parent/teach by example, then I have to have things going on in my life that my child can look to to model their own life after.  For instance, if I want my child to value our faith, I cannot just assume it will be passed on by osmosis.  I want us to be involved in our parish as a family, as much as that is possible.  Granted, there are things that will have to be put on the back burner in the early months, but this won't last forever.

At any rate, I'd like to introduce our little miracle:
3D sonogram taken at 21 weeks.

Tomorrow, we go in for our 3D/4D ultrasound session, which will give us not only several photographs, but also a DVD of our baby.  Since this may be the only time we experience pregnancy, I didn't want to spare the cost of this luxury.  Plus, it's been 2 months since we last saw our baby on screen, and tomorrow's session should hold us over for these last 2.5 months!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Christian Metaphor, part 6

(This series begins here, or go to part 2, part 3, part 4, or part 5.)

One Final Abstraction

We’ve discussed in what ways God is love and in what ways we can say God is intelligence, but God is also beauty.  There is something magnificent about His creation.  Nature is God’s canvas, and we would be smart to notice and appreciate it, not take it for granted or destroy it.  But nature is not the only place where God shares this aspect of Himself with us.  

Since we are created in God’s image, He has given us – human beings – the capability of creating our own beauty as well.  Marvelous works of art and music exist that raise people’s consciousness such that they are taken out of themselves, out of the limits and confines of their day-to-day existence, and towards a more eternal existence.  Beautiful music can move people to tears, and it can force people to get up and dance with the rhythm they hear.  It can help us forget our troubles or gain better perspective by temporarily removing us from them.  It can also simply be joyful and bring a smile to our face.

Art likewise can make us pause in wonder.  Paintings, drawings, and sculptures of what can be seen in nature are my personal favorite, as they capture what the artist has observed and wants to help us focus on.  Often it can be scenes from daily life that we take for granted and don’t consider beautiful – until they are framed in the context of an art piece.  

Architecture has the ability to help us sigh in amazement at the sheer genius of humanity, the intricate designs, the curiously creative functional aspects, and the esthetic appearance of a building has the potential of warranting the title “art”.

I won’t discuss abstract art simply because personally, well, I just don’t get it.  That’s not to say it can’t be said to be beautiful.  After all, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.  That’s why I think God is not just beautiful, but beauty.  The various ways to be beautiful – both for individuals and our surroundings – all fit inside the underlying concept that is “beauty”.  

We seek to be surrounded by beautiful things.  For this reason, I believe that in heaven – however one might want to define it – we will be surrounded by beauty, because God is beauty itself.

And so, there are many layers of truth to be found in Christianity, and I hardly think that the metaphorical aspect of the various beliefs is any less useful or any farther away from the essence of God than are literal and personified understandings.  God is love; God is intellect; God is beauty.  What more do we need?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Christian Metaphor, part 5

(This series starts here, or go to part 2, part 3, or part 4.)

Why it matters if we understand Jesus

None of this may sound warm and fuzzy.  But Jesus alluded to the fact that heaven is not the way earth is.  When the Sadducees questioned Jesus about seven brothers who each married the same woman after the previous brother had died, Jesus accused them of not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.  He continued in Matthew 22:30-32: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” Not only does Jesus state plainly that our understanding of the world (in this case, marriage) does not apply in heaven (“the resurrection”), but He also reassures us that there is life after death by stating that God is a God “of the living”. 

Therefore, when He says elsewhere that we are to put our trust in Him and follow Him, I think He means for us to quit trying to figure out things that can only be understood by God, or in the life to come.  I think Christians grossly misunderstand John 14:6, where Jesus says that no one “comes to the Father but through” Him.  So many Christians, perhaps even well-meaning and sincere, have reduced Jesus’s life of teaching, example, and sacrifice to a mere declaration of a few select words as a sure-fire ticket into heaven.  We are told by evangelizing Christians that we must simply repent of our sins and state that we are claiming Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and that declaration, with no further action on our part, will guarantee us salvation (or what I think means a return to the Garden of Eden; ie. life with God).  How woefully incomplete, simplistic in the worst possible sense, and with tragic consequences! 

As soon as we are relieved of responsibility for our own actions, our own sins, we cannot be expected to be motivated to do right.  Those Christians who have a better understanding – if only intrinsically – of Christ’s true message do indeed try to live out their lives modeled on the actions of Jesus.  But sadly, many do not.  Yet I am not here to critique the (mis)interpretations of Christian symbolism, but merely to outline them in ways that make sense to me.

* How to follow Jesus

In the end, if I am to follow Jesus, I must live the way He lived.  And if I’m going to do that, I need a very strong motivator to do so, because His life was not easy!  For some, like myself, this means establishing a theology that is sufficiently acceptable to warrant the truth of what Jesus taught about Himself, God, and us.  Scare tactics will not make me lead a more righteous life.  And I do believe, without a doubt, that the kind of life we lead is precisely what God is interested in.  Living a life of kindness, compassion, and generosity is God’s will for our lives.  The way we live is the way we worship and glorify God, the way we imitate Him, and the way we draw closer to Him.  In day-to-day prayer, it may be easier for many to address God as a fellow individual, a person just like us.  Jesus provides a very easy way to personify God by having been a historical person, indeed just like us.  If His identity helps me fulfill God’s will, so be it.  But if His identity only seeks to confuse me and distract me from His message, then I think I better focus on Jesus the Man and address God the way Jesus did, rather than trying to merge the two.

Some will call this blasphemy.  But no matter what we believe, there is someone out there who will call our belief system blasphemous.  No one is more privy to God, to God’s heart and mind, than anyone else.  If we truly do try to be like God – to experience our own existence – then we will worry less about the experiences and explanations of others.  I think experiencing God – love and intellect – may be the only way to rid ourselves of the need for religion.  Though that’s not to say we can’t likewise use religion as a tool to help direct us to God – to love and intelligence

(go to part 6)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Christian Metaphor, part 4

(This series starts here, or go to part 2, or part 3)
* “I think, therefore I am” or “am I” regardless?

Have you ever wondered why plants and animals aren’t religious?  It sounds silly.  If God created everything, including plants and animals, and religion is simply a socio-cultural way for us humans to get to know God, then why isn’t there a system in place for other creatures to worship God?  How do they know if they’re pleasing God if they don’t have religion to explain it to them?  See, this is where I think it becomes evident that we humans, in an attempt to answer a question that is natural to us, have done more harm than good.  Instead of clarifying life, we’ve sectioned it off artificially, introducing fear and anger and guilt into what was meant to be a simple existence of mere peaceful experience.  Remember the Garden of Eden?

But how can we, once aware of our future death, go on living peacefully, happy to experience the here and now without worrying about the future, the afterlife?  Worry is a cognitive phenomenon.  If we look closely at the etymology of the term “decease”, we see the word “cease” or “stop”.  The definition of the verb is the “cessation” of all biological functions.  No one argues that our bodies begin to decompose once we are no longer circulating oxygen in it via our blood.  Yet does this mean that our entire existence is merely played out in our heads?  Rene Descartes philosophized, “I think, therefore I am.”  But does that mean that once I stop thinking, I no longer am?  What is thinking, really?  And is it necessarily tied to our being alive?  Do we think when we are asleep?  And if thinking = living, why do so many followers of Eastern Religions meditate precisely in order to stop thinking?!  And what about those of God’s creations that don’t have a brain per se?  Does a flower not exist because it doesn’t think?  Of course not!  It lives whether it thinks or not!

* If God is love (an abstraction), can’t He also be intelligence itself?

However, I do think there is something to this idea that our lives are intricately tied with the intellect... I just don’t think that it’s our own intellect.  If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Matrix”, you might understand what I’m alluding to here.  While the premise of the movie is such that machines control human beings, the part that I am thinking of has to do with the virtual reality in which they live.  They are unaware of their true existence as bodies hooked up to machines, living virtual lives.  They are only aware of the virtual lives.  Similarly, I think we humans are only aware of our Earthly existence, unaware of being “plugged into” a spiritual dimension that not everyone readily accepts.  The difference, of course, is that in the movie, the Matrix is evil, whereas in our lives, the Spiritual Dimension (“God”) is good. 

I utilize this example merely to suggest that I believe there is a cosmic, universal intelligence – God – that we are all a part of.  Just like we previously stated that God is love, I now suggest that God is likewise intellect.  (Hence, intelligent design, which by the way, I do not see how it contradicts evolution in the least.)

Since it is difficult to distinguish between the abstract “love” and the one being loved, we have opted to simplify our understanding of God by personifying Him.  So, too, since it is difficult to relate to the abstraction of “intelligence”, we have again personified God to posses the quality of intellect, rather than to actually “be” that quality. But if we were to accept God as greater than what our human brains can currently comprehend, and allow for the statement, “God is intelligence”, we could then make a case for eternal life on the premise of our thinking.

We think about life after death because there must be truth to it, truth that comes to us subconsciously from a cosmic intelligence into which we are merely plugged in.  And while physical death ends our bodily function, it does not separate us from the Great Intellect.  As purely spiritual beings, we no longer require our own physical brains, since we can tap into the brain of God, if you will.  In this way, I believe that not only do we continue to live after death, but I also believe that we continue to be aware of our existence.

(go to part 5)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Christian Metaphor, part 3

(Start with part one, or go to part two)
God’s will and the meaning of life

I’ve mentioned humans wanting to please God several times now.  Is this an assumption or a fact? Well, if we believe to have been made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), then our desire to please God is a mere reflection of God’s desire to please Himself.

Why did God put us there?  Or better yet, why did God create us?  If we read Genesis, we learn that God created us simply to please Himself (Genesis 1:31).  He didn’t need us; He wanted to share Himself (love).  He created us in His image, and He delegated to us the stewardship of the Earth. In other words, He wanted us to exist the way He exists, experience being the way He experiences being.  And in the beginning, we did just that.  This is why we call the Garden of Eden “paradise”, and why we all long to return there.

* Eternal life

Speaking of returning to paradise, this brings up a concern many philosophers and theologians have pondered.  In addition to determining the meaning of our lives, we also want to be reassured that our lives will continue... indefinitely.  Isaac Newton’s first law of motions states that “an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”  Now, if we allow the substitution of “person” instead of “object”, and give an existential meaning to motion, we can rephrase part of the above as follows:  “A person who is alive [wants to] stay alive”. 

This may seem quite elementary, but it’s fundamental.  Once we are aware of the fact that we are alive, and we come to enjoy said life (or at worst, fear the alternative), we begin to grasp for reassurances that we will always .... be. 

No amount of life experience seems to teach us that “the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself”.  Every school year ends with a bittersweet sentiment – on one hand, we were so looking forward to summer; on the other hand, the next year is full of the unknown.  A child’s wedding likewise can be a bittersweet moment – on one hand, we are pleased that our daughter or son has found someone to share their life with; on the other hand, we become aware of the drastic reduction in their need for us and thus may worry what their joy means to our own joy.  Even religious people often fear death, if for no other reason than because it constitutes a major change and leads to a great unknown!

But for many people, myself included, even if the details cannot be known, the underlying assumption of eternal life is necessary in order to live a life without despair.  In the end, does it really matter to us if, after we die, we simply cease to be aware of our existence, or cease to exist?  When we’re sleeping, do we ever worry about not waking up?  If you’re anything like me, as much fun as life is, sleep is always most welcome in the morning!  Therefore, I imagine that whatever being dead is like, I’m sure we won’t miss being alive!

Of course, that’s a strange thing to say.  Death implies the lack of “being”, so to say that we will “be” dead seems quite inaccurate.  And yet, we use the same existential term that God Himself uses to describe what we fear is the opposite of living.  To me, that just goes to show that death is nothing more than a transition into a continuation of life beyond what we are able to experience in the here and now.  I am satisfied with the conviction that eternal life is a reality, even if the details of what that practically means cannot be known to me until I cross over to the other side.

If we all must die and that means we cease to exist, or if we all must die and we have no way of knowing what it’s like to be deceased, then that really begs the question: what is the meaning of life?  Or put another way, why are we here?  No other creature – to our  knowledge – wrecks their brain (those that have brains) or wastes time in contemplating their purpose.  They simply exist, and without a sense of right and wrong, good and bad, we can say they exist in contentment.  Animals, and much less plants, don’t worry about the future or regret or reminisce about the past.  They spend their lives experiencing their existence. They simply “are”.  Yet we humans are not satisfied with being like every other creature.  We want to be better, more special.  There must be a meaning to our existence.  

(go to part 4)