Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Labor Whispering in Sugar Land, TX

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I am pleased to announce that I will be offering Labor Whispering sessions in Sugar Land and the Southwest Houston area beginning in 2016. 

So what is Labor Whispering?

I'm glad you asked. 

Labor Whispering is a birth modality developed by our very own Urban Curandera, Rowan TwoSisters, that unveils and addresses common blockages that can prevent labor from beginning in a timely manner. This is important because nearly everyone will be faced with the induction decision at some point during their pregnancies. In a perfect world, we would all go into labor on our own exactly when our bodies and our babies decide. The reality is that many Houston area care providers and hospital policies dictate, and reasons out of our control may necessitate, a medical induction of labor if labor does not begin within a certain time frame. 

Labor Whispering is NOT:

An induction technique. I am not a medical care provider. It is not my place to try to start the labor process. 

An opportunity to try to force a body into labor that isn't ready. 

Crazy doula voodoo magic. Yes, I've been asked by a nurse to try some of my "Crazy doula voodoo magic" before.

Just for hippies. Shout out to fellow Labor Whisperer and Doula, Lourdes Resendez, for reassuring us that Labor Whispering is not "Hippy dippy doula magic" and creating a super cool free printable. 

Labor Whispering IS:

An opportunity to address "unfinished business." Nursery not ready? Car seat not installed? Forgot to take a childbirth class? Haven't discussed "that thing" with your partner or care provider yet? Those things can hold a baby in. These things and more will be addressed at your Labor Whispering session. 

A chance to relax.  You will be enveloped in a nest of pillows and massaged by me, your partner, or both! Your choice. We want your muscles, mind, heart, and spirit to relaaaaaaax. We will encourage your own natural labor stimulating hormones to flow. 

A time to dig deep. We are going to "go there" and talk about anything and everything that might be keeping baby in. 

An opportunity to learn. Learn about yourself, your partner, exercises for optimal fetal positioning, and relaxation.

A chance to release. Blockages, tears, tension, you name it. This will be a chance for oxytocin to flood your system with wonderful loving feelings. Let the oxytocin and tears flow. 

Labor Whispering sessions take place in the comfort of your own home and last around two hours. 

Cost: $200

Trained Labor Whisperers are all over Houston. Find a Labor Whisperer near you. 

Book your session today!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

It's okay if you didn't breastfeed

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Can I let you in on a little secret? 

I get lonely sometimes. 

Ok. A lot. 

I miss having the freedom to just go out with friends at the drop of a hat for a hot chocolate and good conversation. I miss feeding my soul with good friends who love me, uplift me, and think I am cool at a moment's notice. I miss having a grown-up conversation without it being punctuated with, "Stop that! Don't touch that! Mommy's talking. Where did you bonk? Stop hitting your sister!" I have some really awesome friends that it has been way too many kids long between visits. 

I miss friends.

I've always been a little different from my friends, though. When we went out for coffee, I ordered hot chocolate. When we went out for drinks, I ordered cookies and milk. True story. I didn't let the fact that we made different choices stop me from loving the heck out of them. I'm like a puppy. If you're nice to me, I like you. That's pretty much all it takes. If you show an interest in me, I'll want to keep you forever. Although I'm past the days of following people home. Mostly.

Things changed for me when I became a mom. Making friends became harder. There have been too many times when I am getting to know someone, feel like we are hitting it off, and they look at me sadly to say something like, "Well, I didn't breastfeed." Or, "I didn't have a natural birth." Or, "I could never have a home birth."

It seems like sometimes people feel the need to offer an explanation to me. Almost like, "Yes, we are having a great time, but there's something you need to know about me before we take this to the next level. 

I didn't breastfeed."

It's okay that you didn't breastfeed (have a natural birth, home birth, etc.). Actually, it is more than okay. It is so okay, it is unbelievable how okay it is. In fact, I don't really care. Unless you are hurting about it. Then I want to listen, listen, and listen some more. I want to be a safe space while you share your hurt. I don't want to offer any advice. I probably wouldn't have any, anyway. I may ask you if I can hug you, but that's really all I've got. 

There's no need to offer me any explanations. I'm not judging you.

Passionate. Yes. Judgmental. No. 

If you want to get me on a soapbox, mention vaginal exams. But if you loved yours, more power to you. Rock on with your fabulous vaginal exams. 

I promise I know how to be passionate about something without judging you for choosing differently. 

Let's be friends! Even if you didn't breastfeed. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Demand Better Treatment in Birth

I moved to Houston in the fall of 2009 to attend grad school at the University of Houston. My
husband followed a semester later. We decided to make Houston our home, so we needed to take care of some paperwork in order to become official Texas residents. At the beginning of my final semester of grad school, newly pregnant, we needed to get some business taken care of that required the ever-dreaded visit to the DPS. I had to go by myself that day. I called ahead to make sure I had all the required paperwork. I didn't want to be sent home for something only to have to wait in line again.

I arrived, required paperwork in hand, pulled my number, and proceeded to wait. And wait.....and wait. My turn finally came. I walked up to the woman behind the counter to take care of my business.

Guess what.

I was missing something.

I insisted that I had called ahead to confirm that I had everything that I needed. She was about to quickly and nonchalantly dismiss me. After all, I was just one of many that day. Suddenly, unfamiliar with pregnancy hormones, I burst into tears. I blubbered something about, "Dadgum HUSBAND's business" and, "Pregnant," and the lady said, "Girl, you gotta take care of yourself. Hang on a second." She proceeded to walk to a back room for a few minutes. When she came back, everything was magically taken care of. I don't remember what she did, but I remember she mentioned a system where she could look up the information she needed from me without the "required" paperwork that I was told over the phone that I didn't actually need. (I have since learned to Just. Bring. Everything.)

I was thankful that she was able to help me without sending me back home, but I couldn't help but wonder, "Why did I have to cry first? If she could have just helped me the entire time, why was she so willing to send me back home first? Why not just provide that customer service in the first place?"

Fast forward a few years to an experience I had at the dry cleaner. This time I had a toddler in hand, and I was pregnant. Again. My husband urgently needed his suit pants dry cleaned. I had accidentally washed them in our home washer, and now they were a shrunken, wrinkled mess. They were ruined. I was hoping they were salvageable enough to be repaired at the dry cleaner for one last needed hoorah the very next day. I called around and finally found where I needed to go. When I arrived, the man behind the counter insisted that he couldn't fit me in. Not even for just one pair of pants. There was absolutely no time. I remained stoic. I breathed. I tried to persuade him, but he was immovable.

I walked back to my car, where I proceeded to burst into tears. I don't know how long I sat there just crying away, when I heard a tap at my window. It was the man behind the counter. He said, "Give me the pants. I can fit you in." I thanked him, and I asked him why he was helping me. He said, "Because you are crying."

Why, if he could have helped me the entire time, did he make me cry first? Why not just provide that customer service in the first place?

Have you ever noticed that people don't seem to take you seriously until you get crazy first? Or is that just me?

My husband and I talked about this just the other day. Why do our kids insist that we get crazy before they take us seriously? And why do we do that to each other? I said to my husband, "We both do it. Think of all the times that I try to be nice and try to be nice and try to be nice before I finally just hit you in the face with a frying pan." Bonus points if you get that Family Guy reference.

Fast forward to last night's Birth Boot Camp class. In a previous class we discussed how continuous electronic fetal monitoring increases the c-section rate without improving fetal outcomes. One of my students told me that she discussed this with her OB, and he agreed. They know this is true, but they insist on continuous electronic fetal monitoring anyway. Why? Because it is easier.

At this point, I had to mention that women who insist on better treatment in birth tend to get it. They won't get it if they don't ask. It is an unfortunate truth that people will just "do what they always do" or do what is most convenient, regardless of whether or not it is in the best interest of their customer. If the customer doesn't ask for, or demand, better treatment, they won't get it.

Do you want your insurance company to pay for your home birth? Be the squeaky wheel. Keep going up the chain until you get to someone who knows what they are talking about. Those first few gatekeepers are just that. They are there to keep you OUT and keep you from getting what you want.

Demand better treatment.

Do you want to have intermittent monitoring rather than continuous monitoring? Discuss it with your care provider beforehand, and insist on it during labor.

Demand better treatment.

Do you feel like your care provider is fighting you every step of the way?

Demand better treatment.

Demand with your wallet, and take your business elsewhere if you need to. If your care provider does not want to support you in the type of birth you are seeking, you will not change his or her mind. Choose are care provider who supports the type of birth you want. They are out there!

Demand better treatment. You and your baby deserve it.

Want to learn more about all of your options for having an amazing birth? Take a Birth Boot Camp class! There are Birth Boot Camp classes all over the Houston area.

Learn more about Improving Birth and how women are demanding better treatment in birth all over the U.S.

Learn more about why consumers need to care about demanding better treatment in birth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

10 Ways to Play with Kids for Moms who Hate to Play

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I have a hard time playing with my kids. I get bored easily, especially when my kids usually just want me to watch them play rather than actually play. As soon as I divert my gaze to something else, like my phone or a book, they climb all over me. They want me to just sit there. All day. Watching them have fun. Doing nothing else. 

Last week, I took to the internet to ask my mom friends for ideas on how I could enjoy playing with my kids. The responses surprised me. Instead of ideas, I got a lot of exclamations of, "Me too!" I also received a lot of encouraging responses. I don't have to enjoy playing with my kids. That's what other kids are for! I'm still a great mom even if I don't enjoy playing with my kids. I can show love in other ways. The wonderful women who responded helped me to realize that I am still a great mom even if I don't enjoy playing with kids. They also helped me to realize all of the other cool things I do with my kids already. I'm not such a bad mom after all! They helped me to come up with this list of 10 ways to play with kids for moms who hate to play.

1. Set a timer. 

I have a hard time being fully present during my time with the kids. I worry about all the stuff I need to do when I am trying to spend time with them. I've learned how to play with my kids in small spurts. I say things like, "I will play with you until the timer goes off, but then I have to wash dishes," or,  "I need to work until the timer goes off. Then I will play with you." 

2. Let them help. 

My kids love to help me around the house. I don't know about you, but it is so hard for me to enjoy spending time with my kids when there is still work to be done. My solution is to let my kids help. They love to help unload the dishwasher, rake leaves, or fold clothes. It usually does make the chore take longer, but it helps on those days when there is a lot to do.

3. Visit indoor play areas.

I really don't like chasing after my kids. I had a few experiences with my oldest when she was a toddler that have left me with anxiety about wide-open outdoor places. Since then indoor places have been my friend. I still have to watch them like a hawk to be sure they don't escape, but I'm not quite as anxious as I am at parks. My kids love to play at a Chikfila or McDonald's play area, but our favorite is the Playscape at Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugar Land.

Check out: Stomping Grounds in Sugar Land 

Also: Majestkids Playland in Sugar Land

4. Visit parks. 

I still take my kids to the park, but I prefer to take them to parks that seem a little more contained. My favorite parks in Sugar Land are Eldridge Park and Sugar Land Park by Sugar Land Middle School. 

5. Exercise with them. 

My kids joined me on all of my daily walks throughout my third pregnancy. I strapped the toddler in the stroller, and my preschooler walked with me. She kept up really well too! She'd run ahead sometimes and wait for me to catch up. Now she is one of the fastest kids in her class. It is one of the most adorable things to watch my kids do yoga or Pilates with me. I get jealous when it is so easy for them. 

6. Have bath time. 

It is pretty sad how long it took me to figure out that bath time isn't necessarily just for taking baths. Now that my kids are old enough to take baths independently, I can let them play in the tub when I need to catch up on things. Sometimes my kids climb in the shower with me when I'm taking a shower. It is a win for all involved. The kids climb in, I get a shower, and the kids think I'm playing with them.

7. Visit the library. 

We love Toddler Time at the Fort Bend County Libraries! We go as often as our schedule allows. All I have to do is make sure that my kids don't escape, and sit back while the teachers sing songs, read books, and share crafts with them. 

8.  Snuggle up and read books. 

I am a master at reading books with my kids. This is my favorite thing to do with them. Our current favorite is If You Give a Mouse a CookieI'm also a really great snuggler. I'd enjoy it more if my toddler could JUST SNUGGLE without wiggling incessantly. Snuggling with her makes my stress melt away when she is able to be still.  We love to snuggle up and read books together.

9. Sing songs. 

We sing lots of songs. Everything becomes a song. We sing when we clean up. We sing when we brush teeth. I even sing them a song about "wiping butts" during diaper changes. (I didn't say they were GOOD songs.) Our current favorites are Bingo and Little Bunny Foo Foo. 

10. Attend play dates. 

For a mom who has a hard time playing with kids, play dates are a lifesaver! Not only do they allow for adult conversation, but the kids *mostly* entertain each other. All I have to do is help settle disputes sometimes. 

I loved that the biggest takeaway I got from asking my mom friends how to play with my kids is that I am enough! Who I am and what I have to offer my kids is enough. Brene Brown would be proud. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

What if they laugh at me for needing a C-Section?

I have given birth three times, and all three times I have been afraid of having a c-section. 

This isn't an unusual fear. Most of the women who enroll in my Birth Boot Camp classes or interview me as their doula list having a C-section as one of their biggest fears for their upcoming birth. Most women I meet prefer to give birth vaginally, whether or not they are planning a completely un-medicated birth. I'm in good company when I say I am afraid of having a C-section.

I hear many reasons for the fear:

  • It is major abdominal surgery 
  • It requires a longer recovery time
  • They are worried about being able to bond with their baby
  •  They worry about potential breastfeeding trouble
  •  They want a large family and don't want to potentially limit the size of their family by having a c-section (most of my clients are first time moms who realize that the first birth will set the stage for all future births)
  •  They fear missing out on a pivotal experience of womanhood
  • They want to experience birth as "it was meant to be" (not my words, just something I hear a lot)

My reasons for wanting to avoid a c-section evolved over the course of my childbearing years.

During my first pregnancy, it wasn't so much that I feared a c-section, but that I really wanted to have a natural birth. 

A c-section would be the complete opposite of what I wanted. I'm not proud to admit this, but I was scared that I would feel like a failure if I had a c-section. I had this feeling that people expected me to fail at natural birth. That, maybe, they even wanted me to fail. Of course, of COURSE, I would consent to surgery, if my baby needed it. I just really hoped I wouldn't need to, and I did everything in my power to avoid needing a surgical birth. Luckily, with the support of my amazing husband, I managed to avoid a C-section AND have the natural birth I desired. 

For my second pregnancy, I worried about having a c-section for prideful reasons. 

By this time, I'd been a birth doula for nearly two years, and I was planning to certify to teach Birth Boot Camp classes, which are geared toward couples planning a natural childbirth. It was no secret that I felt pretty awesome that I managed to have a natural childbirth. Me! A dainty flutist! It was also no secret that I thought natural childbirth was the bee's knees. What would it look like if I, a birth junkie/doula/aspiring childbirth educator, ended up with a Cesarean? Well, certainly it would look like I got what I deserved for thinking so highly of myself for having a natural childbirth and for putting natural childbirth on a pedestal. Certainly " they" would be happy to see me knocked down a peg or two. 

Pride. I feared my pride would be hurt. 

Recently, during my third pregnancy, that old familiar C-section fear came back. There were a few new elements to this fear, however. 

First, I had confidence. 

Confidence that if I should need a C-section, it was because it was necessary. 

Confidence in my midwife, that she would know when a transport was necessary. 

Confidence in my doula, that she would support me No. Matter. What. That she wouldn't be one of the ones who laughed at me for needing a C-section. 

Confidence in my husband, that he would advocate for our baby and me. 

But mostly confidence in myself, that I would know under which circumstances a C-section was truly necessary. I had confidence in my body that it worked, that it was capable of amazing things, and that a C-section only meant that this baby needed to be born this way, not that there was a defect with my body. 

Second, I wasn't worried about the surgery itself, or about the physical recovery. I was terrified of the emotional recovery. 

I've seen how heartbreaking it has been for so many women, and I was afraid I wasn't strong enough to handle that aspect of recovery. I've battled a tendency toward negativity my entire life. I was really scared that if I needed a C-section, it would be one more thing I had to work really hard at being positive about. I didn't know if I had it in me. 

Finally, the pride was still there. 

What if they laughed at me for needing a C-section? 

I finally admitted that old ugly feeling to my doula, and she said the perfect thing to help that fear go away for good. This right there, people, is why doulas need doulas too and why I couldn't doula myself. I believe getting all those fears out in the open helped me to have a better birth experience than I would have without it. Processing fears is an important part of preparing to give birth, no matter what kind of birth one is planning. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The rebozo chooses the doula

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I attended a wonderful birth several months ago and ended up getting vernix on my rebozo. As these things tend to happen, it was no big deal. After I washed it, I laid it out to dry on our deck in the warm sun. As I was on hands and knees smoothing out the wrinkles in my rebozo, I couldn't help but think of how my actions were like a thanks offering I was making to the birth goddess for allowing for such a beautiful birth experience. I don't actually worship any birth goddesses, but it seemed to be such a sacred moment to me. I was deeply thankful that the birth I had attended had turned out to be such a great experience for that family. I couldn't help but think that tenderly smoothing out my rebozo in the warm sun was my humble offering of gratitude. I love my rebozo. It is more than just a piece of cloth to me. It is sacred.

I fell in love with the rebozo at my first doula training. Before I started purchasing items to include in my doula bag, I knew I had to have a rebozo. A real one. I wish I could describe what it means to me. It has been on quite a journey with me as I have learned how to support birthing families during one of the most special times of their lives. It has been a companion. If I ever stopped doing birth work, I imagine the only thing I would keep to remember this wonderful season of my life is my rebozo. I could never let it go. It has become a part of me. 

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I am also a musician, and I carry a lot of supplies in my flute bag: my flute, metronome, sheet music, pencils, tuner, and cleaning supplies. Out of all of those things, my flute is the most important to me. I could never get rid of my flute. It is a part of me. My rebozo is like my flute. I could teach a flute lesson without ever playing a note on my flute, but it HAS to be there right next to me in case I need it. I COULD use a cheaper model in a pinch, but I won't. My flute helps me do my best work. It is the same with my rebozo. I don't always use it, but I need it to be there just in case I need it. It has to be MY rebozo. Not only is it a birth tool, but it has a history. It means something. My rebozo has attended many births with me, and it brings the strength of the women who made it and the strength of the women who have birthed in its presence to every birth I attend.

I've had my flute for 14 years. During that time I've tried lots of other flutes. In all that time, I have NEVER found a flute that I like better than mine. It is THE ONE. Mr. Olivander had it right. Just like the wand chooses the wizard, the flute chooses the flutist. It is the same with my rebozo. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Awesome OBs in Sugar Land, TX

As a doula serving in Houston and Sugar Land, I have the opportunity to meet many OBs and midwives in our area. The OBs at Caritas Women's Care have provided such wonderful care to my clients that I am beyond delighted to share that they've moved their practice to Sugar Land! The childbirth classes that I teach here in Sugar Land are based on the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative, and everything I have witnessed from these incredible OBs has been nothing but Mother-Friendly care.

Image Credit: www.facebook.com/CHIStLukes

Here is what a few of my former clients have to say about these awesome OBs:

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Welcome to Sugar Land, Dr. Karges, Dr. Jamelka, and Dr. Hernandez! 
We are so glad you are here!

Monday, October 19, 2015

5 Things I Learned About Birth During an Orchestra Audition

Yesterday I auditioned for the second flute spot in the Lake Charles Symphony Orchestra. I've spent the past three weeks preparing for this audition. I knew right from the start that I wanted to try to relate this audition journey to birth somehow. Here are 5 things I learned about BIRTH during an orchestra audition. 

1.       It takes a lot of preparation

I’ve been playing flute for years. I have a Master’s Degree in flute performance. I've spent MANY hours in a practice room preparing for future auditions and performances. I haven’t been able to practice so much since I’ve become a mother, but I practiced as much as time would allow to prepare for this audition. I wouldn’t haven’t have had a shot without preparation.

2.       Affirmations help

Right before I walked into the audition room, I said to myself, “I am strong! I am capable! I can do hard things! I can birth this baby…I mean play this flute…with confidence!” And it really helped to affirm the good things that were happening while I was playing. I thought, “Yes! Nailed it! Oh, that went WAY better than I expected! Oh, that was great! You’re doing so well!” On the way to the audition, I kept thinking to myself, “I can be happy no matter the outcome.” Which leads me to….

3.       I can still do “everything right” and not have the outcome I want

I did everything I could to prepare for this audition. It wasn’t easy. I had to practice in ways that I’ve never had to before. I practiced with a baby attached to me most of the time and often had a toddler running around my feet. But I did my absolute best to prepare, and I did my best at the audition. Elements out of my control kept me from winning the audition. I did better than I expected, but I didn’t actually get the spot. However….

4.       I can still be happy if things don’t go as planned

My biggest worry about this audition was not that I wouldn’t get the spot, but how I would feel if I didn’t get the spot. I was so worried about being upset, angry, or feeling like I wasted my time, but I feel none of those things. I am so glad to learn that I actually AM capable of still being happy even if things don’t go as planned. That is a big deal to me to know that I’ve made progress on something that I’ve struggled with for many years.

5.       I can do amazing things when I set my mind to it

No, I didn’t win, but you know what? I’m still amazing! I prepared for an audition and kicked the audition’s butt! (Shout out to my Birth Boot Camp DOULA trainer and her client who kicked labor’s butt!) I had so many moments of frustration preparing for this audition. I got angry many times. I wanted to quit. I allowed the negative voices in my head to camp out and attack my confidence. But I stayed the course and accomplished something that makes me feel very proud of myself. I didn’t win the race, but I feel amazing that I finished it!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Why We Love Our Houston Area Midwives {Part Two}

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We have amazing midwives in the Houston area. When I asked for help writing this post in honor of National Midwifery Week (October 4-10, 2015) about why we love our Houston Area midwives, I was so overwhelmed with responses I needed to write two posts. You can read Part One here.

"I love my midwife because she sincerely cared and informed me so I can have the birth I wanted. Thank you Shannon Stellhorn."
-Liana Rodriguez

"I love both of my midwives because they were always the calm in the storm, reminding me to find my own inner strength!!"
-Meleah Ekstrand

"I love my midwives because they trusted my body and my intuition. Their faith in me made my 2VBAC of a 10 lb 3 oz baby one of the most enjoyable and empowering moments in my entire life. Thank you, Alyson Kuntz-Butler and Patricia Wilkinson Ghaly of Magnolia Blossom Birth Center."
-Angela Fagg, Houston area doula

"I love my team of midwives. They helped keep me on track emotionally and physically during the pregnancy, assured me that I could do it both times...got me back on track when I was overwhelmed and scared...they made me feel safe. Love y'all, Natalie, Melissa, and Chelsea!"
-Rebecca Greer

"I love my midwife because she talks to me like a person. She puts my mind at ease by putting herself in my shoes and sharing her knowledge with understanding and respect. When I arrive to an appointment, they know my name and my story, and they're really good at pretending to care. (Just kidding!) Patricia Wilkinson Ghaly and her team at Magnolia Blossom Birth Center are lovely people, and I'll never be able to show them enough gratitude for their big part in my 2VBAC."
-Jill Solis

"I love my midwife because until I met her, I was sure I was too weak to give my baby and myself a peaceful, natural birth. Because I was so afraid after two invasive, damaging hospital births that had taught me not to trust my own body. I love her because she never doubted that I could see it through my long pregnancy, that she never let myself wallow in my fears and worries. I love her because she trusted my body even when I didn't, and believed my body when it was time to deliver even when I still doubted. I love her because she supported me through my worst contractions and didn't let me give up. When I got scared, when I was exhausted in every way, when I was positive I couldn't push anymore, she raised her voice when I needed it and told me to NOT STOP. And somehow she helped me find the strength inside to finish what I had started. I love her because I delivered my 10 pound 6 ounce baby boy without any tearing or damage. I love her because she wasn't even surprised that I had been able to do it. She knew I could, and I did. I know what I'm capable of now because she helped me realize it. Because of her help and guidance, wisdom, and support, I had a beautiful birth I won't look back on with regret or fear. I'm forever thankful."
-Tara Porter-Duke

"In a moment of feeling completely discouraged, she knew I needed her to be there with me to keep me moving and believing in myself. Because we had spent so much time together before the baby was born, she knew what to say and what NOT to say to keep me focused."
-Helenita F., attended by midwife Holly Shearman

"I love my midwife because she helped me feel empowered, respected, and at peace during my birth."
-Katy Wentworth

"I love my midwife because she supported my VBAC and never doubted my ability to VBAC."
-Jennifer Lankford Rico

"I love my midwife because she makes me feel safe. And she will be one of the few people present to witness my baby's first minutes in this world--how very momentous, and how very impossible not to love those special people, including her."
-Holly Milkowski, Houston blogger, Mama's Milk, No Chaser

"I love my midwife because she is so skilled, intuitive, smart, understanding, and kind. I never felt like a name on a list. I felt so well cared for, as if I were a friend of her, that she would do anything she could to help."
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-Anne Lanham, attended by midwife Holly Shearman

"I love my midwife because she is a friend. She believed in me and helped me bring my beautiful baby girl earth side at a home water birth."
-Krystal O,, attended by midwife Shannon Stellhorn

"I love my midwives because: My first midwife gave me the confidence that I could wait to have my baby, and I could birth without tearing. And I didn't need a c-section just because I had been in longer for longer than 12 hours.

The 2nd midwife helped my husband help me. Giving us more of a bonding experience while having a baby.

Our 3rd midwife gave us the courage and understanding that we could birth by ourselves. (She missed the birth.)

Our 4th midwife gave me tricks and the opportunity to learn about my baby that was so laid back that I had to have her listen to my baby almost every day. She never got upset. She never showed that she was frustrated. She was always there within minutes to put my worries to rest. Then she came when most others were hunkered down during a blizzard!

Our 5th & 6th babies' midwife lived just around the corner from us, and I loved having her apprentices being able to come and help me out! I loved how she encouraged me to study midwifery!

Our 6th midwife (8th baby) was a life saver, literally! Because she didn't blink an eye when I had complications that my OB insisted should have killed my baby. That baby is healthy and doing great!"
-Cristina Bennett

"She listens to me!"
-Emily Jones

"I love my midwife because she was always there for me. She empowered me and supported my decisions. She is so very knowledgeable and kindhearted. I felt 100% safe in her care. She believed in me and knew the right time to suggest necessary interventions so I could still accomplish my VBAC. She has an innate intuition about birth. So thankful for my midwife being the calm in the storm and helping me accomplish my VBAC. I couldn't have done it without her."
-Roseana Hinds, attended by midwife Shannon Stellhorn

"She trusts my body as much as I do!"
-Ashley Musil, Houston area midwife

"I love my midwife because she saw me through the two hardest times in my life. Jaymee Jamison Boughton, miss you sweet friend!"
-Elizabeth W.

"I love my midwife because she makes me feel as if she is a partner in my care decisions rather than a dictator over them."
-Tonya Newman

"I love my midwife because she informed, encouraged, empowered, and fully supported me the entire length of my pregnancy and birth."
-Kimberly MacRae

Houston families love their midwives! You can learn more about midwives and how they can help you have an AMAZING birth in childbirth classes throughout the Houston area.

THANK YOU to all who contributed to this post and to the midwives who helped during these amazing births!

Why We Love Our Houston Area Midwives {Part One}

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Houston area families have many options available to them when it comes to deciding how they want to welcome their babies into the world. One of the many decisions families need to make is who will attend them during their special day. We have a thriving community of talented and caring midwives in the Houston area, and we are excited to tell anyone and everyone who is willing to listen how much we love them. When Sarah Clarke, Curriculum Developer over at Birth Boot Camp, asked instructors why we love our midwives in order to write a post celebrating National Midwifery Week, I asked her if I could write a Houston edition. I asked for testimonials in two local pregnancy boards, and there was no shortage of enthusiastic responses. There was so much love shown to our local midwives that I had to break the responses up into two parts. Read Part Two here.

"I love my midwife because she made me feel worthy, loved, and empowered! She will forever be my friend."
-Tamie Fugleberg, attended by midwife Shannon Stellhorn

"I love my midwife because the model of care made me feel like a person, not a file, and she held space with me while I labored and never questioned me."
-Kimberly Ramos, Houston area doula

"I love my midwife because she truly cared about me as a person, as a woman, as a mother, and as a patient. And I love my midwife because I delivered my own baby and she was happy and delighted to attend me as I gave birth- exactly what birth attendants should do!"
-Camille Parker Grow

"I love my midwife because she has given me back my right to birth as I please and has filled me with so much knowledge. She is more than a midwife; she is family and love."
-Candice Shaunesey

"I could go on all day... Because she listens to me! Because she believes in me!"
-Michelle Mallory

"I love my midwife because she listened to me. I love her because she trusted in my instincts and intuition. I love her because of her faith in the process of birth. I love her because she treated my husband and I like people and not lab rats. I love her because she gave me options. I could go on all day. Shannon Stellhorn is amazing, and I am so grateful to have had her for my daughter's birth.
-Jasmine Theriot

"She respected what I needed."
-Sara P.

"I love my midwife because she trusts that I am a responsible, smart adult that is capable of making the right decisions for me and my family."
-Holly L.

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"Because she acknowledges not only the whole me but also my family. She involves the soon-to-be older siblings and takes the time to truly be present in both the prenatal care and the birth."
-Melissa Nealy, Houston La Leche League Leader

"I love Shannon Stellhorn because she believes in me and my body and respects my birth!!"
-Amy E.

"I love my midwife because she cares. Because her care goes beyond the physical and into the holistic. I love my midwife because she practices with heart and evidence AND she knows I make every decision after education. I love my midwife because she is about family, and mine matters to her. I love my midwife because the way she poured into me has allowed me to pour into others. I love my midwife because I can NOW describe myself as beautiful, powerful, worthy, smart, whole, capable, loved."
-Andie Wyrick

"I love my midwife because she treated me like a person, not a baby incubator. I love her because she empowered me to have a healing VBAC and supported me and believed in me every step of the way. She still does."
-Maureen Knight, attended by midwife Shannon Stellhorn

"I love my midwife because she took the time to not only care for my growing baby, but my emotional and mental well-being and even after the birth has still made sure I'm doing well."
-PJ King Barnett

"I love my midwife...because she supported me through my whole labor. She stayed in the room with me while I labored (I've never had a provider do that before). She went out of her way to make sure I was comfortable. She helped me manage my breathing techniques when times got hard. She brought snacks and drinks to make sure I stayed hydrated. She empowered me to birth the way I wanted to. We both have a lot of the similar views on pregnancy and birth. Glad to call her, not just my midwife, but my friend."
-Paula D Holland

"She provided quality education, mental and emotional support, and gave me space to listen to my intuition. She facilitated a birth experience that my heart knew was possible. And for that I am forever grateful."
-Caitlin Crowell, attended by midwife Kellie Moeller

"I have birthed at home with two different Houston area midwives for three births and am preparing for my fourth home birth in January, and I loved working with both of my midwives. I love my midwives because they gave me all the information I would need to make evidence-based decisions regarding my prenatal care and delivery. I was spoken to as a person, not a number to be hustled through, and my emotions and time were valuable to them. I never felt anxious, leery, or in the dark about the information or procedures they offered/recommended. They encouraged, listened, explained, taught, and cared for me and my babies. They believed in my body's ability to do its work, and I trusted in their ability to recognize a problem beyond their scope of care, should it arise. Thank you, Natalie Wommack and Shannon Stellhorn for being part of my births!"
Rosie Kratti

"I love my midwife, Chris Duffy, and then student/now midwife, Ashley Musil, because they only brought what was necessary: trust, skills, compassion, and love."
-Jenna Keehnen, Houston HypnoBirthing Practitioner

"I love my midwife because it was finally MY birth. I made the choices. I had options. She helped give me the birth I'd always desired! I felt so comfortable and free around her."
Veronica Davila, attended by midwife Bernadette Olivier

"She believed in me!"
Abby M.

You can learn about midwives and why more Houston families are choosing to have midwives attend their births in local childbirth classes. Choosing a care provider who is supportive of the type of birth you want is the most important thing you can do to have an AMAZING birth.

A huge THANK YOU goes out to all those who contributed to this post and the midwives who helped during these amazing births!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital Birthing Center Tour

A few years ago I attended a tour of the Birthing Center at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital just in case I needed to transport to a hospital during my home birth. I ended up having a quick and peaceful home birth, but I am still glad that I took the time to see what area hospitals were like. Here are my impressions from a few years ago. Please let me know if any changes need to be made.

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I signed up for a tour by calling the number provided on the website. I was able to speak to a Labor & Delivery nurse, who told me the days and times that tours were given. All I needed to do was show up during one of the designated times, and someone would show me around. I did not need to register to take a tour.

When I arrived, a nurse showed me a Labor & Delivery room. I noticed the bathroom had a tub with a shower, so I asked if they could be used during labor. She said that the tub or shower could be used during labor as long as the care provider was okay with it. The monitors at the time were not water proof, so she mentioned that the shower could only be used while the monitors were off.

How your baby will be monitored during labor is an important question to discuss with your care provider long before your big day. There are two options when it comes to electronic fetal monitoring: intermittent or continuous. Unless your doctor agrees with intermittent monitoring, continuous monitoring will be used. If Pitocin or any pain medications are being used, you must be on continuous fetal monitors.

A wonderful reason to have water proof monitors is, not only can you use continuous
monitoring in the shower, but if you are hooked up to Pitocin, you can still get in the shower. A few hospitals in the Houston area allow women to labor in the shower while hooked up to Pitocin because they have water proof monitors.

Upon admission, you will be given an IV with fluids. Discuss with your care provider ahead of time if a saline lock is an option. This allows for more freedom of movement.

Everyone except the partner/spouse must leave the room when an epidural is being administered. Most hospitals in the Houston area require everyone, including the partner/spouse, to leave when an epidural is being administered, so this is a rare treat.

There are some birthing balls available, but it would be best to bring your own to be sure one is available during your birthing time.

There are no squatting bars available.

There are mirrors available to use during pushing. Some women are motivated by being able to see the progress they are making during the pushing stage.

You will stay in the same room for labor, delivery, and recovery. You will be moved to a postpartum room for the remainder of your stay.

In the event of a Cesarean delivery, your baby will spend some time in the nursery. Only one support person is allowed in the room with you during a Cesarean delivery.

Babies who are born vaginally will be placed directly on your chest for immediate skin to skin contact. Immediate skin to skin contact is unlikely to happen during a Cesarean delivery. However, check with your care provider as more places are beginning to offer more Family-Centered Cesarean deliveries.

Most women will deliver in the supine position with their feet in stirrups. Sometimes women have support people to help hold their legs instead of using the stirrups. If you are interested in giving birth in any position other than the supine position, discuss options with your care provider ahead of time. Although it is possible, birthing in other positions is not typical in most Houston area hospitals.

No matter what kind of birth you are planning on having, you will need to be prepared to advocate for yourself. Birth Boot Camp classes are a wonderful option for preparing couples to have an amazing birth. I teach the 10 week childbirth classes in Sugar Land on a regular basis. Check my website for upcoming class dates.

Monday, September 14, 2015

5 Ways Giving Birth is Like Playing the Flute

Last week was my first week back at teaching flute lessons, and I always spend that first week helping students "get the cobwebs out." Most of my students came to me feeling very tense. I don't blame them! They have a lot going on. I chuckled to myself as I realized I was telling them some of the same things that I say to women as they are giving birth. I marveled at how similar giving birth was to playing the flute. You may be wondering, "How in the world are the two similar?" Let me tell you.

1. You need to relax your jaw.

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Playing the flute requires a lot of open space inside of your mouth. I often tell students to imagine putting a hot boiled egg in their mouth. I also tell them to imagine a stack of Spree candies or sliced carrots between their back teeth. That helps them to get a feel for how apart their teeth need to be in order to produce a beautiful and resonant sound.

When giving birth, your mouth and jaw are a reflection your cervix. If you want your cervix to open, you need to allow your jaw to relax open. It helps to vocalize with a nice, deep, OOOOOHHHH sound. Not only will vocalizing release endorphins to help with pain, the shape your mouth makes when you are making the OOOOOOHHHHH sound is exactly the kind of relaxation your jaw needs.

I don't say this to my flute students, but open mouth equals open bottom.

2. You need to breathe.

It may be obvious that playing the flute requires air. We work on taking in deep breaths and blowing out for as long as we can. I am always working on ways to improve my breath support. I like to use the phrase, "Breathe like a person," for both flute lessons and when explaining to Birth Boot Camp students and doula clients on how to breathe during labor. There are no special tricks for how to breathe during labor. Some people like to breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth for as long as they can. There is no magic number to reach. Just do it for as long as is comfortable. But do remember to breathe! I know when I am in an uncomfortable situation, I sometimes forget to breathe. Once I realize it, that first deep breath in is so relaxing.

3. You need to relax your neck and shoulders.

Many people hold tension in their neck and shoulders, and sometimes they do it without realizing it. I had to ask every single student last week, "Where are your shoulders? Are they up by your ears?" And every single one laughed and said, "Yes!" I spend a lot of time teaching my middle school students how to relax. We also spend time in each Birth Boot Camp class learning how to relax. Imagine, if my middle school students need to work on relaxation, adults preparing for one of the most important experiences of their lives can stand to spend some time working on relaxation.

4. You need to relax your eyebrows.

I can tell when my flute students are having a hard time with something when they start furrowing their brow. Holding tension in your eyebrows, or anywhere in your face, wastes energy that you'll need later. As I mentioned earlier, clenching muscles in your face is a reflection of what your cervix is doing.

5. You need to find your rhythm.

Penny Simkin wrote about the Three R's in her book The Birth Partner. I highly recommend this book for anyone preparing to give birth. Simkin writes that those women who cope the best during labor are doing three things:

1. They find a rhythm.
2. They find a ritual.
3. They relax as much as possible.

Playing the flute well definitely requires a good sense of rhythm.

I used to wonder how in the world my background in music would help me be an effective doula until I started to notice that I say some of the same things to everyone! And now my doula works helps me be a more effective flute teacher. How fun!

Monday, August 31, 2015

The One Thing You Should Pack in Your Hospital Bag That No One Will Tell You

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I've had enough! I've had enough of reading the Facebook posts that say something like, 

"I am at the hospital. My water is broken, and my labor has stalled. It has been (too many for their comfort) hours with no effective contractions, and they're pushing pitocin. What can I do to get contractions to pick up?" 

The woman has usually been on continuous monitoring, hasn't had much rest or privacy, has been confined to the bed, and is being treated like a watched pot. I always just want to say, "Go hide in the bathroom (alone or with your partner, whichever is better), and use your vibrator."

Only she probably didn't pack one. No one ever packs one. Why don't people pack one? Everyone should pack one!

Recently, I read in the book Orgasmic Birth, that if you want to be assured of some privacy, pull out your vibrator and set it out alongside your other comfort measures tools. Can you imagine that scene? I've never witnessed it, but I'd love to see what would happen if a client said, "I need to go masturbate now." 

I've been to a few births where my intuition was telling me that the couple needed some oxytocin producing alone time together, and I made myself scarce for awhile so they could accomplish that. Only I would return to their room to find out that they never got privacy. They were bugged the entire time. I wish I was bold enough to say, "Hey! Go in the bathroom. Get in the shower with the lights low and masturbate." So here it is. "I think y'all would benefit from some alone time" is actually code for, "Go in the bathroom and masturbate." 

I probably won't be able to be super blunt about my feelings about packing a vibrator because that is not my personality. I don't know everyone's history or feelings about sexuality. I wish everyone knew how sexuality and birth are related, but not everyone does. People have different levels of comfort around the topic of sex. Not everyone will pack a vibrator, much less consider using one. I don't want anyone to feel pressured to try it by being too forward about it.

And most people won't need it. Honestly, you know all those comfort measures taught in birth classes? Most people don't need most of those either. It's just that I would really love it to be packed for those "just in case" moments. You know the saying. It's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. 

Pack your vibrators, people!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Last hoorah from the hoohah

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On Friday, July 24th, I woke up at around 8:15am to the sound of my girls' bedroom door opening. I rarely need an alarm clock anymore, especially during the summer. That morning we were planning on attending a friend's little boy's birthday party. We were also hoping to get some shopping done for groceries and last minute birth supplies. We were planning to get some major nesting done over the following week. After all, I was only 39 weeks pregnant, and I always go past my due date. Certainly this time would be no different. Plus my midwife was still out of town and wouldn't be arriving until very late the next day. The midwife that I had asked to be back-up had left that day as well. I had been referring to July 24th as my "Black Out Date" for about a week or so because under no circumstances could I have a baby that day. My baby HAD to stay in. Plus, it would anyway, since of COURSE I would make it to my due date.

When I woke up, I didn't immediately jump out of bed or anything. I like to lounge if I can. The girls were being cooperative, so my husband and I lounged for a little while playing on our phones. I was feeling kind of crampy, so I headed to the bathroom to see if I could feel better. I wasn't too concerned because I had experienced cramping episodes for the two previous nights. They always ended up going away. After spending some time in the bathroom, I noticed the slightest tinge of pink on the toilet paper. It was so light, I thought maybe my eyes were deceiving me. I went back to snuggle in the bed for a little while longer. I told my husband what I noticed and started asking questions to my doula and Birth Boot Camp Doula group.

At about 8:45am I posted this in my Birth Boot Camp Doula group:

"My midwife is still out of town. Should be getting in tonight. Pink spotting this morning. What is that? My mucous plug? I've never noticed losing a mucous plug before. I'm pretty crampy, but I could still have days, right? I've still got some stuff to do. Besides the fact my midwife isn't back yet."

At that point I still thought she was getting in a day earlier than she actually was. Oops.

I then texted my doula, "Pink spotting and cramps. No big deal right? Could still have days?"

Then I complained, "I really don't have time for this today. I still have to buy some chux pads..."

She responded, "Shhhhh, you'll upset the birth gods!" 

We have fun. We like to joke. We decided to just go about the day and check in periodically.

I may have decided to try the bathroom one more time at this point. When I went back to the bedroom, the cramps were really starting to get on my nerves. I was complaining to my BBCD group that I had stuff to do today, that my midwife was still out of town, and that I hadn't written this blog post yet. It was a little after 9am at this point.

Then one of the cramps made me need to lean over the bed and sway my hips. Robbie asked, "Are you going to have that baby?" I was adamant that, "No. I'm not having the baby. I just need these cramps to stop."

I think we decided that we should probably get the house cleaned up just in case we would have people coming over. I don't remember where he went, but I started putting away the laundry in my room. It was getting hard to do because I kept having to stop and lean over the bed during each cramp. 

About 15 minutes after we all decided to go about our day, I sent another message to my doula, "I don't know about this. This is new. I'm not prepared and trying to do stuff is making me uncomfortable."

She asked me to describe what I was feeling. I responded, "I'm not sure, but they might be starting to develop a pattern. I feel like a storm is brewing or something. I need to do the thing where it stops. How do people do that? I see it all the time! I'm drinking lots of water in case I'm dehydrated. 

Oh, and when the cramp goes away, it feels really good."

She then asks me which midwife was on call for me, which is good. I still wasn't sure about that. My midwife had left me with the name and number of another midwife just in case. I'd never met nor talked with her before. We agreed that I would start to time my "cramps" for the next hour to see what was going on there.

I moved into the kitchen at about 9:30am to try to tackle the mess of dishes we left the night before. I sent a message to my primary midwife to ask her if I should give the other midwife a head's up that I was cramping and spottimg. I didn't get to see her response until much later.

My husband started getting antsy and asking me what I wanted to do. I downloaded a contraction app and  started timing. I forgot a few times, and it was hard to figure out exactly how long they were. They looked to be about 2-3 minutes apart according to the app. I had to keep stopping to sway and breathe through the "cramps." I don't remember the order of everything, but at some point, my husband called the midwife to let her know what was going on. She started to head our way. 

At around 10am or so, I remember washing a bowl and Robbie asking me what I wanted to do. I said I really wanted a shower because I felt gross. He said to go and that he would take care of the rest of the dishes. So off to the shower I went.

I washed my hair and started crying because the cramps had me worried. I thought, "It is really going to suck once labor gets started." Robbie was in and out of the bathroom asking me what I needed. I remember him bringing me some water and my birth ball. He had also called everyone and let me know they were all on the way. They'd be there in about twenty minutes. I decided to see how much progress I could make in that time. I remember thinking, "Fine! I'll vocalize, then! Time to relax." I was really trying to resist vocalizing, but I just couldn't anymore. I was uncomfortable.

I vocalized one good time, and I really felt the baby move down. I dropped to hands and knees. The intensity picked up. Robbie was telling me how great I was doing. I hit the wall and yelled, "I don't want to do this!" Robbie chuckled. Good thing I didn't hear it.

I vocalized through a few more contractions when my water broke. I screamed, "My water broke!" I felt some burning and felt the baby's head coming out. I thought I screamed, "The head is coming out!" but apparently I was just screaming. At that point I started making peace with God because I thought the baby and I were about to die. I remember thinking, "I guess this is it then."

Then I felt a hand on my back and a voice saying, "I'm here." I rejoiced inside because I no longer feared death. My doula was here! She said the head was out and encouraged me to push. I pushed with all my might for what felt like ten minutes but was probably less than a minute and the baby was born. He arrived at 10:28am.

The way my husband tells it, my doula banged on the door, he opened it,  and she ran in just in time to catch the baby. She told me that she happened to take a new, but shorter, route that day. I'm glad she did.

A few seconds later, the midwife and her assistant arrived just in time for all the third stage and postpartum stuff. I felt bad because I was so unprepared for a birth that day. I didn't even have a baby blanket to wrap him in. We wrapped him in a t-shirt!

So this is it. My last baby. My last hoorah. I'm not sure when labor officially started, but I know it took me longer to type this (one-handed and nursing a baby) blog post than it did to have a baby. And I'm totally ok with that.