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.