Monday, September 26, 2016

Reflection: Birthing Class

Recently in preparation for the arrival of Baby Williams, Jamie and I took a two day birthing class offered at Mon General Hospital in Morgantown, WV. The class cost $60, but one of the teachers said that it might be reimbursable through insurance. Regardless, I believe the class was well worth it.

Here are just a few reasons.

1)   During the class we were able to watch multiple videos of childbirth, and it really helped us reframe a number of our perceptions around childbirth. Neither myself nor Jamie have spent much time in a labor and delivery area (other than visiting friends and relatives after a birth), and so it was incredibly helpful to see several couples choosing to go a natural route with childbirth. The philosophy at Mon General is to encourage natural childbirth when possible, but be prepared for whatever is needed.
2)   Skills and tools for coaching, support, and relaxation were provided, and we were able to practice a few of them. These included experimentation with different positions that Jamie could take during labor, relaxation and breathing techniques, and massage and other support I could offer during labor.
3)   The class had more than a dozen couples in it, and it was a very tangible reminder that there are many other couples who are proceeding along a similar timeline, and who also are looking to learn all they can about the miracle of childbirth before their baby arrives. While intellectually we know that people are having children every day, there was something comforting about knowing there were so many of us locally preparing for the birth of our first child.
4)   Developing a birth plan and preferences. We had heard a good bit about birth plans before the class, but after taking the class, we have a better idea of what we want to include in Jamie’s birth plan, and have begun to lay out those preferences.
5)   Reduced anxiety around labor and childbirth. Well-meaning people tend to open up to Jamie about the trauma of their labor and childbirth, and much of what is available in the media portray childbirth and labor as EXTREMELY painful and traumatic. Those stories and portrayals serve to only amplify our own fear and anxiety. After this class, our perspective has been reframed to begin thinking about labor as something that does not have to be traumatic or EXTREMELY painful. We have no misgivings that it will be an easy process, but I believe the class has left us more excited about the process, and we are planning to go through as much of the process as we can at home. We will still give birth in a hospital, but we now know that we don’t need to speed to the hospital the first time Jamie has a contraction.

I could list many more reasons to take a similar course, and I’m sure Jamie could add several as well but we both wanted to encourage folks who are expecting to make the investment in a course. If you are local to Morgantown, Pam Po and Rhonda Hopkins at Mon General Hospital both do an incredible job teaching/facilitating the class.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam

During this season of anxious anticipation of the arrival of Baby Williams, Jamie and I have been reading a wide variety of books on all that we are embarking upon. The most recent of these books has been On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam.  The book was recommended by a good friend, and while my book queue has been growing longer, I figured it was a worthwhile move to bump this text up on the priority list. It was a fairly easy and straightforward read.

Living in a time when there are probably about as many schools of thought on caring for an infant as there are infants, Jamie and I have kept a mindset of “Test everything and hold on to that which is good” in our reading and applications. We feel like our parenting will likely be as unique as our child, but we are grateful to be building on best practices from a few thousand years of bringing up children.

The focus of the book is working to get an infant on a consistent sleep schedule early on because that will increase rest for both parents and the infant, and that, in turn leads to a healthier baby, healthier parents, and a mom who is well rested and able to produce food for the child. I found the tips to be pretty practical, and the outline seemed to reinforce what we had already been learning from watching a few of our friends working with the rhythm of their infants.

One of the best pieces of advice in the book other than its emphasis was this note. Our child does not need to be the center of your world, it needs to see a family that loves each other, and that as parents, our best gift to our child is demonstrating that they are a part of something greater, that, while they are important, they are no more important than Mom and Dad are to each other, and I would add, that both of those relationships need to be secondary to our primary relationship with God.

Much like any book on child rearing, parenting, or even pregnancy, the book seems  to hold some strong positions, but rather than get caught up in those positions and any sense of guilt or disappointment that could arise over how individuals raise their infants, I find it easy to take a step back and apply those pieces that seem to make sense, and again, to ‘test everything and hold on to that which is good.’ Looking to learn? I recommend giving this book a read, but also taking time to explore other major schools of thought on helping an infant develop, and discussing these different concepts with pediatricians and other parents, but by all means give the book a read.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Reflection: Squash Blossom 2016

Each year, as our garden grows, I love to see the emergence of the squash blossom opening its petals in the early morning glistening and greeting the sun. My ancestors, and many other Algonquian speaking peoples have woven squash blossoms and vines into artwork for centuries. These large open flowers fill my heart with joy each summer as I spend time around our small garden. Almost every year, I take time to pause and admire these flowers. I attempt to take time to write a brief reflection.

The squash blossoms are large, beautiful, and frail, and they point to the arrival of summer and fall foods. They are also a source of nourishment for our body themselves, and if we are willing to pause, I believe they are a source of nourishment for our souls. I often wonder if this is why my ancestors had such a deep love for squash blossoms and included them in so much art. They are a small gift that reminds us, if we are willing to listen and witness, that life is fragile and beautiful—all of it, and that we should step delicately on the earth, and savor each passing moment. These flowers only emerge for a small season, and in the sweltering heat of summer they invite us to refreshment for our spirits, and to look forward to a satisfying harvest in the weeks ahead.

Even as I write this, these blossoms are giving way to squash and zucchini around the garden, and we are beginning to be able to enjoy the harvest. May we each take time to enjoy the simple beauty that God blesses us with each day, and may we learn to walk the earth in this beauty as well.  In addition, may we each look forward to the wonderful future gifts that these flowers point us toward, but not so far forward that we fail to enjoy the wonder of the present moment.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: I’m Pregnant! By Lesley Regan M.D.

Shortly after we first discovered that Jamie was pregnant, we were having a discussion with another new mom, and she told us about this really great book by Lesley Regan that she felt was one of the best books out there to understand pregnancy, and track along with all of the changes happening in a mother’s body.

As a person who is utterly amazed at this mystery of life, I personally found it helpful to begin understanding all that was happening inside Jamie, and how this little miracle was beginning to develop week-by-week. Jamie also found the book incredibly helpful, and each week as we would read along together, we would discuss all of the amazing changes that were happening in her body and all of the progress our child was making in development.

The book gave us perspectives on Jamie’s changes, the baby’s changes and growth, and even what to expect from each of our ante-natal visits and checkups. The book is filled with colorful photos and diagrams that describe just about everything that a mother carrying a child would want to know. And as the book progresses along the 40 week timeline, it has helped us prepare as parents for these checkups. We have learned good questions to ask, and we have been able to think about what a birth-plan and a “go bag” might look like for us. Every family is different, and we love that the book offered suggestions but did not direct us toward what “must” happen.

If your family is expecting, or even if you are just curious about what is happening in a woman’s body as a child develops inside her, thisbook provides insights in easy to understand terminology. It has been an incredible tool for us as we have walked through each of these last few weeks in awe of what is happening inside of Jamie.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Reflection: 2016 Olympic Games

Citius. Altius. Fortius. I remember first hearing these three words in a movie I watched about running legend Steve Prefontaine roughly 15 years ago. The narrator of the movie, who was also playing the role of Bill Bowerman (founder of Nike) in the film, stated that these words were the motto/mantra of the ancient Olympic games. They mean “Faster, higher, stronger,” and again the narrator reminded viewers that it does not say faster higher and stronger than others, just faster, higher, stronger. 

When I think about this mantra I find myself inspired. To me it is a reminder to not be satisfied with the status quo, to not become complacent, to not settle into mediocrity. It is a reminder to daily press forward and to bring my very best into every arena in life. And we celebrate this mantra every four years by bringing some of the most incredible athletes in the world together to compete, and to celebrate the fact that they have daily pushed themselves to bring their very best into a global arena.

For me, every day of the Olympics is filled with inspiration. Whether it is from watching Usain Bolt continue to excel as the fastest man in the world, watching Michael Phelps add to his medal total, celebrating Simone Manuel, Maya Dirado and others earn their first, or smiling as a West Virginian and WVU student earned the first gold medal, these events make me want to bring out my very best as well. Adding to the inspiration is the thought that this year for the first time there is a refugee team. Often forgotten by the rest of the world, these athletes remind us that regardless of our circumstances, we are all capable of pushing through to bring our very best to the world around us. And if these stories are not enough, I am amazed at what technology has brought into these Olympics. The silver medalist in javelin is a Kenyan who learned and refined his skill from watching YouTube videos. 

In the first Olympic games I can remember watching, fellow West Virginian Mary Lou Retton shocked and captivated the world with her gold medal performance. While it was amazing to watch, at the time my aspirations for life really didn’t expand beyond my zip code. I wanted to be a better student, and a better human being, but how that would translate to how I lived my life did not take shape for me until much later. Now, in these Olympics, there is actually a website to connect aspiring future Olympians to pursue their dreams and get connected to an Olympic sports program. Now, the learning journey is just a click away.

But for most of us in the world, the closest we will come to the games is a television or radio broadcast. We will watch and listen intently and cheer for athletes from our home country, athletes who have won our hearts and respect, and/or the entire field of competition for the milestones and benchmarks they have achieved. How can we bring this Olympic fire into our own hearts, into our own communities, and into our own families? 

I believe the answer is in the Olympic mantra, citius, altius, fortius. If we can hold off looking to our right and left to see how we are competing with others, and focus on the interior competition, I believe we can see greatness blossom. Too often, each one of us are plagued with self-doubt, with wounds from the past, and with fear of failure, and so we never really bring our best. What would happen if each one of us brought forth our best effort each day into each area of our lives? Of course I know there will be days that each of us falter, days in which we do not bring our best, and days in which our best is not quite as good as the day before, but that just gives us an opportunity to practice resilience, to dust ourselves off, and to push forward again like Mo Farah in the 10,000 meter race for the gold.

During the Olympic season, and indeed during every season, may we each strive to bring our very best effort and our best selves to the world around us so that we can look back at the end of the day and say that we gave it our all, and left nothing back.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Meditation On Mortality

Over the last few days, I have had circumstances happening around me that have led me to really think deeply about my own mortality. A few weeks weeks ago, I received a phone call that let me know that the principal chief of my tribe had died at age 55 from a heart attack. More recently, I found out that another close friend of mine had recognized early signs he was having a heart attack, and was able to arrive at a hospital in time to save his life, he’s 42 years old. My dad suffered a massive heart attack in 2009, and his life was saved because it happened in a hospital.—he’s still going strong though. My mom died at age 61 in an inspirational fight she lost to stage four cancer, high-blood pressure, diabetes, and congestive heart failure.

As each of these events have occurred, they have brought into focus some basic truths to which I personally don’t like to give a lot of thought. Every single one of us will meet the end of our days one day.  When life events calls me to freshly consider the bigger questions of our mortality and purpose, I do not place my focus in pop-culture platitudes, but rather to ancient and timeless truths of the scriptures. This life will end. Saul of Tarsus tells us that it is appointed for each of us to die, and then after that comes the judgment. James, the half-brother of Jesus of Nazareth, warns that our life is a vapor and that tomorrow is not promised. One of the Hebrew Psalmists encourages us to learn to number our days. And with all of these myriad warnings, and the daily reality that there are people who are dying from various causes, I feel like we can lose sight of this reality.

But the last few weeks, have been a megaphone for these truths. So what does a person do with the reality that this life is temporary? I find myself looking to the wisdom of scriptures, and considering the application of the wisdom of the ages. In my estimation, the scriptures are a guidepost for living life on purpose, in light of our earthly mortality, and in light of the fact that each of us are, as the philosopher Dallas Willard has said, “unceasing spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” The ancient theologian Saul of Tarsus has also written an exhortation for the ages to, “Make the most of the time because the days are evil, and understand what the will of the Lord is.”

When I consider these truths, that my life is short, and that I’m seeking to make the most of the time, I still find myself in need of guidance. We live in a world FULL of chocies, at least most of us in the West seem to have limitless choices. I’ve spent enough time in other areas of the world (and honestly even here) to know that our circumstances can sometimes limit our choices—but we ALWAYS have a choice of some type. So, again, I look to ancient texts for truths that have stood the test of time. An Ancient Hebrew Prophet laid it out this way, “What is required of you o man, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

These are powerful words, but we need more than wise words to live by, we need to cautiously and humbly seek to apply these words and embody them in our lives. The reason I encourage caution and humility is because, if these words are meant to move us toward a life of purpose from the perspective our own mortality, then we need to be willing to course-correct if we may be mis-applying the wisdom. We need to be in a place to listen to the feedback of others. We need to be open to suggestion, but at the same time, we need to be resolute. If we aren’t resolved to a degree, then we will waffle and waver from our purpose, and we will likely live a less fulfilling life.

So as I consider all of the events swirling around me, death of a close friend, near death of another close friend, and the arrival to this earth of our first child, I consider this text in the following ways.

Do Justice—This is an active part of our life rhythm. In order to be able to do justice, I need to wisely steward the limited resources I have, in the limited time I have, for the good of others. This encourages me to pursue my own physical health, not so much so I can live longer (although there is a correlation between physical health and longevity), but more so I can do more in terms of justice. If I am healthy and strong, I can give more of my resources to service. I can volunteer. I can run and play with my child. I can help friends move, and it just leaves me in a place where I have more to give.

Love Mercy—There is so much wrapped up in this phrase. This phrase helps me to more fully be present to all that is going on around me. If I am loving mercy, I am willing to walk in forgiveness—I’m neither carrying bitterness toward others, nor toward myself. There are times in our life where all of us “do injustice” to ourselves and to others. There are times when we will have injustice done to us. It is in those times we have an ability to love mercy and extend mercy toward ourselves and others. Carrying bitterness, anxiety, and disappointment are not the way of mercy, and they will rob us of our life long before we breathe our last, if we let them. In this spirit, I strive to make space to choose to believe the best of myself and of others, and to extend mercy rather than enmity.

Walk humbly with your God—This is probably the least popular aspect of this ancient nugget of wisdom. Our pride screams defiantly at any form of humility. We want to do things in our way, according to our time schedule, and according to our own priorities—we do not like the thought of anyone or anything dictating how we should spend our time, talents, and treasures. And yet, when we walk in humility, we are able to have eyes to see our own shortcomings. When we walk humbly with God, we are choosing to listen to the ONE voice that desires the best for us, and has the clearest insight into how we can live the most fulfilled and purposeful life, the wisdom and guidance of God nudges us to the best life we can live. And by taking time regularly to listen and to respond, we can truly make the most of our limited window of time on this earth.

I would never claim to execute these three principles perfectly, but I believe they offer each of us guidance toward how we might each live our lives in a way that truly “makes the most of the time because the days are evil.” May we each strive to walk in a way that is mindful of our mortality, and that savors and makes the most of each magical moment of our lives.