Finding Common Ground {revisited through a new perspective}

Hello Mama’s!

I thought I would share with you what motivated me to become involved in BabyNet  a local mother-baby friendly group in South Central Kentucky (which included starting an online forum for local families & leaders and organizing the monthly community meetings).  BabyNet began in 2006 by a group of professionals who wanted to spread the message of breastfeeding.  You can watch a video about it’s beginnings here.  This is intended to simply share my experience in serving local families and what BabyNet means to me and should not define what mother-baby friendly support means to you.  That is the beauty of a space like this-the underlying intention is that you see yourself as a whole, meaningful person that is given the unique opportunity to carry, birth, adopt, and care for a human being.  My giving to mother-baby friendly care has never been about individual decisions, but rather digging deep into why those decisions are made and helping mothers overcome the obstacles in their lives to find their best.   I’ve written about Finding Common Ground {where real change happens} in the past and you can read that here.  It’s important to know that this desire comes not because I believe I’ve figured things out, but simply because of the process I’ve gone through as I move towards more authentic living.  And because I believe in you and your story (and hope you will share it with others) I’m going to be bold and make this mostly about mine.

Holding my son Carter for the first time.
My story in finding passion for moms and babies begins way before that second pink line appeared.  It begins as I was growing up and very aware that I would one day have babies of my own, but wasn’t sure what that meant in a world where it appeared that getting good grades, furthering my education and starting a career that required me to put as much effort as possible in order to “prove myself” would mean that I had finally arrived.  Combine that with being raised by a single mom with disabilities that required me to take on more responsibility than most kids and choosing a career that was mostly consumed by men and the battle in my mind about child rearing was even more complicated. Four months after our wedding day we saw that second pink line and quickly became consumed with decorating a nursery, buying clothes and having that exposing ultrasound where we found out we were having a boy (where I was secretly disappointed that it wasn’t a girl).  One of the many things I felt pressure to keep to myself (the first being that this was actually a planned pregnancy and not an accident).

When I think back to my first pregnancy I realize that there were a lot of feelings and thoughts that I felt ashamed to share.  I was afraid of what kind of mother I would be, didn’t want to go back to work full time and deep down I was hoping that those around me would be enthusiastically supportive of my ability to birth, breastfeed and care for this child.  None of those feelings ever seemed appropriate, but what did seem welcomed were thoughts of fear around the safety of my pregnancy, thoughts of pain during birth, the obstacles that I might face with breastfeeding and ways to escape (such as sending my baby to the nursery or using formula so that my mom and husband could “feed the baby”).

The photo above is taken the first time I held my sweet son, Carter.  It was hours after his birth (approximately 4-5) and I was scared out of my wits.  He was calm and peaceful, didn’t show any signs of wanting to nurse and there were a room full of people waiting to get to hold him.  It’s no surprise that when the nursery called an hour later saying that he was crying and hungry that I caved in and said that he could have some formula.  Carter had been born at 37 weeks due to my own fear of my bodies ability to continue carrying him, my selfish desire to get a look at him and a notion that 37 weeks is full term (something that the March of Dimes has not only apologized for but is also putting a lot of time, staff and money into spreading the message that Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait).

Photos from my birth with Elizabeth.
When Carter was six weeks old and I was a couple weeks away from returning to work I exploded in an emotional mess yelling and crying that I didn’t want to leave him.  Nathan and I worked through those feelings and tackled the hard work of logistically living on one income.  It took nearly a year, but there I was on my first day as a stay at home mom.  We watched as much Clifford as possible, I tried to patiently sit on a quilt in the yard having a picnic of peanut butter sandwiches and when I saw Nathan pull in the drive I turned on the washing machine, dryer and dish washer to make the house sound like I had been working all day.  I did the only thing I knew to do…I kept myself busy.  Cereal and milk for breakfast, daily workouts at the gym, library time and play groups.  We were soon pregnant with our second child and thanks to an internet group called Baby Center I had heard about this thing called natural childbirth and feeling a bit more courageous than the first time I expressed my desire to try it.  My mom was the first person I told and she assured me that, “she just couldn’t watch me in that much pain.”  Nathan backed up her sentiments (something that when we discussed later he admitted that it was because of his own fear of being able to provide the support and what he may have to witness or touch).

Just like Carter I induced early (at 38 weeks this time).  I was so uncomfortable, having braxton hicks and couldn’t wait to find out if it was a boy or girl (we were going to be surprised).  Before my induction was started I told the nurse that I would like to go without an epidural, if possible.  She told me that I might not be able to because the drugs used during inductions made the birth process more painful (something that hadn’t even occurred to me).  At this birth I remember being very aware of the people around me.  The nurse sitting in a chair watching the clock, my mom complaining about hospital tea, my husband leaning into the bed to let me know he was there, but never really connecting.  It was like being in a box issolated from everyone else.  My body reacted negatively to every intervention.  IV’s had to be re-run, my blood pressure dropped, and I got an excruciating headache.  When my DAUGHTER (something I had been hopeful of) was put into my arms for the first time I remember secretly hoping someone would take her away.  I was shaking, cold, itchy and hungry.  Guilty feelings from that moment in time still creep back in every now and then.

Elizabeth was jaundiced (very common for caucasian babies and particularly those who are induced) and formula is often suggested, but she refused bottles and pacifiers from the beginning.  Combine an exclusive breastfeeding relationship with the need to cloth diaper due to severe rashes and you get a mama who searches the internet for information not often available in her neck of the woods.  That’s when I became both fascinated and determined to have a natural birth.  I wanted to be fully present during my birthing time and experience the elation that comes in holding your baby for the first time while filled with the love hormone oxytocin.

Family photo taken days after my due date had come and gone.
I’ve been fortunate to have life experiences that take me outside of this part of the country.  I grew up in California, know people from Oregon and found connection with a group of midwifes, doulas and mama’s in Nashville, TN.  So while I did find online forums and information to be critically helpful in finding support and information about how to breastfeed and cloth diaper Elizabeth I also found importance in connecting one on one with real people and staying up to date in evidence-based care that was the norm in other parts of the country.  I hired a doula from Nashville and took a very in depth childbirth class with a team of professionals from Vanderbilt before the birth of my third child.  We went full term (which for me meant weeks of braxton hicks, being dilated to 5 cm for weeks and going into labor at 41 weeks and 5 days).  The next part of my story is the hardest to tell, but it’s important in recognizing why I have devoted myself so fully to the BabyNet organization and serving families.

I spent almost every single waking moment thinking about what my birth would be like.  It was pretty obsessive I realize, but I had a lot of fear, what if’s and negative influences to work through.  We had invested a lot of money on education and support in order to have a natural birth and the closer I got to that dreaded 42 weeks the more nervous I became.  My husband was tender, supportive and loving.  My doula was a consistent, grounding voice that carried me through the tough times. My birthing time began…and three short hours later I was comfortable, moving around, being held by my husband and having the urge to push, but I was still at home.  My doula came in the front door and we all walked out the back door and to the car.  A few memories stand out.  It was icy out and I slipped on the steps and there was Christmas music playing in the car.  A reminder that my baby was being born closer to Christmas and not on Thanksgiving like we had originally guessed.

I was calm in between contractions and a bit over the top during them (especially when we hit speed bumps).  We walked into the hospital and I climbed up on the bed.  What followed is a combination of elation and shock.  Here I was handling birth well, surrounded by my loving husband and encouraging doula, but there was a feeling in the room that took me by surprise.  It didn’t matter how much money I had spent, how well I had eaten or exercised to stay low risk, how educated or experienced my doula was or the fact that a new life was getting ready to enter the room.  It was apparent that arriving at the hospital at nearly 7:00 pm, birth plan in hand, requesting fewer interventions and being 10 cm* was enough to cancel out a lot of my preparedness.  I’m thankful for a caring OBGYN and a friend who was a nurse who was willing to stay late to care for me, but the next couple hours were faced with opposition, criticism and facial expressions that still haunt me today.
*please note:  I had not intended to arrive at the hospital ready to push (and don’t recommend that), but only knowing pitocin contractions I was unaware of how far along in labor I really was.

Moments after my daughter Lilah was born.
You see if I had participated in a forum like BabyNet when I was having my first child I would have felt attached and criticized for the decisions I was making (because deep down I wasn’t confident in my own decisions).  But that would have been okay.  Voicing our feelings is not only healthy, but should be commended.  Especially as they relate to working through hurts in order to move on healthy and mentally capable of giving to others.  And if I had stumbled onto BabyNet soon after my hospital birth with Lilah I would have been in a constant state of anger and determination to save everyone from a similar experience.  That would have been okay too.  Women should be allowed to share their hurts even if they include anger.  Not everyone will experience the same things I have, but I’ve learned that I have the right to own, share and dig deep into the experiences that define me.  And I hope that as a society we can become more open to mothers and the difficulties they face.

After my difficult hospital experience I began to research evidence-based care, meeting up with change makers from around our region and looking for local folks who were progressive in their thinking of mother-baby friendly care.  Throughout the process I realized that while there was not a cookie cutter approach to birth and breastfeeding, there is increasing information being released and trialed that proves that the medicalization of birth did in fact cause some disconnections and side effects that should be considered.  Attending conferences and CEU’s for health care professionals (I should note that it was almost always lactation consultants and mother-baby friendly providers in the room) I realized that these ideas that I had that were met with opposition were not only wrong, but in the science was there to prove that they are right.  The concern is how to get this information into the hands of mothers who have decades of a broken system stacked up against them.  Here are a few of issues I’ve become passionate about and believe are important to consider regarding birth:

-Babies born vaginally and breastfed receive microbiomes that create a healthy gut flora and are critical for optimum health.
-I believe in the God given process that allows for the best possible birth, bonding and recovery between mom and baby and the science proves it.  A normal birth prepares the mom emotionally, spiritually and physically to mother a child.
-More than any other time in her life a woman should be treated with dignity and compassion during her birthing experience.  An increasing number of women are voicing their disappointment in their birth experiences and we as a society need to see what changes can be made.

When I felt fearful of birth and said things like “I’m too much of a wimp to go without an epidural” I was actually hoping that others around me would speak up and offer encouragement.  When I finally voiced those feelings I found that other women had felt the same way.  After reaching out to a group I found online (BabyNet Professional Group) I was invited to join them for a quarterly meeting.  What I found was a group of professionals who didn’t agree on every topic, but did agree that moms needed to find their own voice, the message of breastfeeding needed to be spread faster than the medical systems were working and going full term more quickly then the medical establishments are, and that one of the best ways to do that is to create a space where moms could connect and share.

Right:  one of the very first BabyNet meetings.
The facebook group came first, but stayed quiet for a long time and was mostly visited by a network of moms who all knew one another in real life (and most of those were natural birth and parenting minded already seeking for some sort of network like BabyNet provided).  The monthly community meetings quickly followed and were immediately successful with nearly 50-60 people in attendance at each meeting.  The goal of the community meetings were to spread the message that was agreed upon at the professional meetings (breastfeeding is very important) and that it’s important that communities have strong, confident mothers who can find connection to one another. Throughout history communities would have depended on it and in many ways we still are, but it’s just harder to see it.

How wonderful it was to see moms connecting for play dates, families eating meals together, new people began supporting local farmers at Community Farmers Market and countless women shared their experiences of finding their voice, making empowering decisions and thankfulness for one another.  There was a moment at one of the monthly community meetings where I was consumed with joy for the diversity, cultural differences and support that I was witnessing around me.  I wrote about it in the Circle of Gifts.

Moments after my daughter Adaline was born safely at home under the care of a
trained and experienced midwife.
In the beginning of my involvement of BabyNet I was expecting again and my husband and I, after much prayer and contemplation were planning a homebirth.  What seems like a crazy, unlikely decision in this area of the country is much more common and even preferred in most of the world.  Our homebirth was a beautiful, life giving and liberating experience that we will always be thankful for.  You can read more about that here.

There was this point in time where I was given two paths.  One path included a life of exclusion.  I imagine a life in the woods where my path only crosses those much like myself now and again.  The other is a path where my past and my present combine allowing me to enjoy the freedom of farming, homebirthing, breastfeeding, moderate homesteading while putting in the hard work of collaboration and partnerships to ensure that everyone (no matter their education, income level or obstacles) is included in progressive and improved maternity care. I’m a Garden of Eden kind of gal with hopes and dreams of a restoration to the simple and pure. The reality is that we’re pretty far away from what originally was, but through collaboration this mama carries on with a heavy heart and hopeful intentions. My hopes are for small, significant changes that allow simple people just like me to find ways to help others. BabyNet has allowed me to use my gifts and abilities in ways that I never thought possible.

I believe that women are strong, competent, compassionate human beings and that the battles between us do not come from within, but rather from a society that expects too much, silences our fears and sends us looking to blame one another in order to numb the pain.  It’s ironic that the biggest conflicts seen in online forums is over the accuracy of research.  My community work began because I believe that while we need professionals we don’t need nearly as many to do basic things like mothering, farming and eating (I must add that I love public health and that some of the best work right here in our local health departments).  I simply believe that we should strive to follow our instincts, believe in ourselves, use prayer and hope more often than not.  Women helping one another through birth and parenting is normal and stands the test of time.  Our society is what has changed not the basic needs of women who choose to become mothers.
Big Latch On event in downtown Bowling Green
I’ve had three wise people share things with me that directly relate to what happens when passionate people gather together either in person or online.  Their advice was timely and I’m hopeful that it might help you as well.

Tara at the Organic Sister shares why no one can make us feel guilty or ashamed unless those feelings are already there.  She points out that if someone comes up to you and says YOU LOOK CRAZY.  YOU HAVE PURPLE POLKADOTS ALL OVER YOUR FACE.  You would just look at them like they are crazy, get a good laugh and go on about your business.  But if they come up and tell you that your child should be wearing socks because it’s cold out, criticize you for using a bottle to feed your baby or look down on you for working full time your reaction is from deeply emotional feelings of fear, regret or guilt.  It’s up to us to work through those feelings so that you begin to see yourself as a whole, complete person.  That is how we can pass on healthy self reasoning to our children and become a person who can positively contribute back to the community.

A care provider offered good advice at a time where I was really struggling with moms who wanted one birth or breastfeeding experience, but received something very different.  Or when I had wanted a different experience for a mom (that she didn’t want for herself).  If a hotel building is on fire and you go to the first room and knock, but no one comes to the door (or they come but do not want your help) do you stay at the door knocking and hope that they will decide to take your help or do you move onto the next door where someone may be there ready and waiting for you.  That one really hit home and is something I think about often.

And the third is a simple statement from my good friend Dana.  There have been times when the feelings have overwhelmed me.  When I’ve expected too much, expected others to appreciate my work and hoped that everyone would approach this community in the same way that I do….and Dana, with as much love as possible reminds me, “You are not that important.”  What she means is that I’m one person and this growing community (now over 2,000 people online) is full of a diverse group of people who are all looking for something different.  It’s not my responsibility to make everything okay.  In fact, it’s really my responsibility to believe in others to make things okay for themselves.

My son Carter explaining the drawing he had created of our homebirth experience to a midwife at a BabyNet meeting.
This writing plays a role in my commitment to always show up and be real…even when it hurts.  I believe that there is great value in being vulnerable and opening ourselves up to the hurts of others.  I have to admit that it hasn’t always been easy.  There have been days when I stare at the screen and panic overcomes me.  In the beginning I believed that if I worked hard enough, loved and believed in everyone enough that everything would be okay.  There’s always been a fear that the professionals that support this space may not always see the intentions of providing a place where people can share (the good,bad and sometimes ugly).  Over time I learned that my own desire to control the friendliness of the group was not sustainable.  I’ve worked to make my presence smaller in order for others to grow, develop and find their own place here.  Since then several new groups that are more focused and allow for more face to face interaction have formed.

While I’m honored to be a part of this space I’m reminded that I am one piece of it.  Each of us make up the whole and in the end it’s about allowing others to show up and be who they are.  While I’d like to think that my story can help everyone else I’m realistic that it may only help a few.  But I’m thankful that just like the birth process-being involved in this group of very different women has helped form who I am today.  In the beginning I thought that I would seek some sort of certification in order to gain a sense of professionalism over birth.  Over time I’ve realized that no certification or letters after my name will give me what I need to be someone who wants to provide support and encouragement to others.  Not only is being “just a mom” okay…it’s actually just right.