Monday, June 18, 2012

Moving My Blog

Thanks to all who check in regularly.  I've decided to move my blog to Wordpress because it's just so much more awesome than blogger, and I have another blog with them so it just makes sense.  Please visit me at my new blog!

Intentional Living

Friday, June 15, 2012

Think for a moment about the last time you learned a great lesson, changed your mind, or experienced significant growth because someone condescended to you or made you feel shamed and judged.


Nothing?  Me neither.

I've been learning this difficult lesson lately... I'm calling myself out more than anything.

About 9 months ago, I wrote about my decision to pursue a career as a nurse-midwife.  Then, finding out how much time, money, and schooling it would take, I decided to set my sights on a goal more achievable for where I am in life right now.  I know I'll put "CNM" behind my name someday, but for right now I'm gaining invaluable experience as a labor doula.

The biggest thing I've learned since I started this journey isn't any fact about the birth industry, medical intervention, hospital policy, stages of labor, birthing positions, or any other practical aspect of my job (although I've learned volumes of practical stuff)... my biggest lesson has been this:

The best advice, the most sound information in the whole world, when offered not in love but out of a desire to manipulate or to impose my own values, can never be effective.  You could be completely right, but no one will listen because the way we share information is so much more important that the information itself.  Presentation trumps principles, and if you present the principles in an alienating and offensive way, you lose people.

Going through my training, I've realized how many strong biases I have about the birth industry.  How quickly I give my opinion without being asked.  How little it takes to set me off on a statistics rant.  How easily I judge someone for making a decision that I wouldn't.

I already know how much I hate dealing with these behaviors in other people.  We all have friends who share their opinions in such a loud, militant, black-and-white way.  We all know people who we feel judged by.  After a while, we become so turned off that we begin to dismiss them as fanatics of this-or-that and simply ignore them.

This is the first time I'm seeing myself this way.  Truthfully, I have the very best intentions.  I want so much for women to have birth experiences that allow them to walk away feeling positive and empowered that I often come off as adversarial and insensitive in my effort to educate them.  I've realized that positive and empowering birth experiences are greatly varied for different women and that my very positive natural birth experience isn't the ideal for each of my clients.  Now, I'm learning how to set aside the emotions connected with my ideals and just help women have their best birth... whatever it looks like.

When I present a choice as incontrovertibly right or wrong, I am imposing my choices, my values over yours, instead of sharing my opinion and allowing you to decide what is best for you.  Condescension, shame, and guilt are very poor ways of helping people see things from your viewpoint.  Likewise, refusing to consider any viewpoint but your own is a great way to isolate yourself.

"There's a difference between loving to speak the truth and speaking the truth in love." -Kris Vallotton

When I first read that quote, I was horrified to find myself squarely in the former group.  Now, I'm learning to be more merciful in the way I share my opinions on all those things that divide like birth and parenting and politics and theology.  I'm trying my best to share my passions in a way that says, "This is what I do and why I do it..." without implying (overtly or otherwise) "...and if you don't, you're wrong, wrong, wrong."  I still get caught up in the need to be right, and it's then that I remind myself: presentation trumps principles.  I'll never foster true, open discussion if all I want to do is talk about how right I am.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

On Starting Fresh

Isabella woke up sort of angry today.  I don't know why, maybe she's just having one of those days.  I woke up pretty happy but it didn't take long for me to catch her mood and soon we were both grumpy.  I'm having one of those very-busy, cleaning-the-house, putting-dishes-away, please-can-you-just-play-by-yourself-like-you-did-yesterday kind of days.  But Isabella is having one of those I-need-you-to-hold-me-every-second-of-my-life-forever-but-I-also-want-you-to-put-me-down kind of days.  We are just not on the same page.

She signed "eat" so I sat her in her high chair and cut up some cherries for her.  She eagerly gobbled up every last one of them and signed "more."  I cut up a whole bunch more and went back to washing dishes.  She threw her cherries on the ground (on the carpet), reached her arms out toward me, and with the saddest most piteous look on her face, began to wail.  At this point, we'd already had many, many of these moments, I'd listened to so much whining, been followed around and grabbed at and cried at all morning.  I, hands wet and soapy, threw the cup I was cleaning into the sink, yanked her out of her seat, and plopped her on the ground.  "FINE.  If you don't want to eat, DON'T EAT. Just SIT THERE."

If you've ever thrown a fit back at a toddler who is throwing a fit, you know how super helpful it is.  As I cleaned up her cherries, finished the last of the dishes, and dried my hands, she cried louder and louder.  At this point it was obvious that she wasn't just frustrated that I had inexplicably given her the additional cherries she asked for.  I had treated her and spoken to her without love, I had become angry for a stupid reason, after little frustrations from the whole morning had built and built and built.  I could see so clearly in her face that I had really hurt her feelings.  My heart softened immediately.

"We've both had a hard morning.  Let's hit the reset button."

I set everything else aside and gently gathered her up.  We sat down on the couch together and she nursed and I could feel the tension draining from our muscles.  I talked to her as she nursed and told her how sorry I was for being angry and overreacting, for not being patient, and for not giving her grace.  I apologized for putting things and chores ahead of her needs, because the dishes will be there.  The laundry will be there.  But she will grow and change and these moments, these days when she craves my attention are precious.

She looked up at me, just looking into my eyes and me into hers, one of my most favorite things about breastfeeding.  She signed "nurse" and smiled and everything went back to being ok.

It's easy for me to let a bad few hours stick with me and before I know it the whole day has been horrible.  But not today.

Friday, June 08, 2012

I have a feeling I'm going to have to turn this into an ongoing series because I'm learning something new from my 16-month old daughter every day.  Today's lesson?

Sometimes, you just have to twirl.

We had gelato with my 6-year old nephew for his birthday at an outdoor shopping area, then spent some time splashing in a fountain and exploring an outdoor courtyard.  As we walked back to the car, Isabella abruptly stopped, raised her hands above her head, twirled twice, smiling all the while, and then continued walking.  She did it several times as we walked together.

It's a new thing she's been doing.  Sometimes she does it when someone says "dance."  Sometimes she does it when she hears music she likes.  She does it when she wants to express happiness (or so I guess).  Sometimes, she does it for what seems like no reason at all.  Regardless of the reason, it's always very intentional.

It's funny, twirling isn't something I ever taught Isabella how to do.  Whenever she does it, I wonder if it's something that comes ingrained in little girls.  She clearly finds it fun, and while I'm sure she enjoys our reaction (clapping, smiling, laughing, horray-ing), it's obvious that she twirls for her own enjoyment.

As I mentioned... I don't twirl.  I don't really dance, at all.  Honestly, not even for my own enjoyment when I'm all alone.  Why?

Because I'm an adult.  Mature.  Sensible.  Proud.  All the silly things I promised myself I would never become. Adults don't dance in public, just for fun.  They damn sure don't twirl.  But you know what?  Maybe they should.  And having a little girl gives me the perfect excuse to try it out.  :)

Friday, May 25, 2012

For many years I liked the idea of yoga, but every time I tried it I felt bored and unproductive.  I tried to be "serious" about yoga a few times because I thought it was cool.  But yoga, much like my vegetarian phase, fell by the wayside.  Then in the later months of my pregnancy with Isabella, as all my favorite forms of exercise became uncomfortable and then impossible, I increasingly turned to my prenatal yoga DVD. Through regular practice I discovered joy in slowing down and fully experiencing the present moment.

Now yoga has become a regular part of my life; I'm unrolling my mat 3 or 4 times a week and finding something new and wonderful on it every time.

I began to practice yoga regularly because of the physical benefits I believed I would experience.  While I've gained strength, flexibility, and balance, I've found the intangible benefits to be even greater. Many of the principles I'm learning on the mat are applicable to my mental and emotional health and, more importantly, to my spiritual life.

Focus brings Stability

In any standing posture (or any posture you find challenging) you find a drishti, a point to focus on.  I'm always amazed at how the simple act of fixing my eyes on that weird notch in the floor, instead of allowing them to wander around or examine my form in the mirror, suddenly allows me to stand firm.  When I feel challenged by my circumstances, I look at Jesus, right into His eyes, and I find assurance.  I am established even in difficulty.

Push your Edge
I'm feeling good headed into Warrior 3, stretching my arms gracefully in front and extending my leg behind, sure that I'm the picture of elegance and majesty, and wishing someone were here to take a photo so they could slap it on the cover of Yoga Journal.  I continue to bend forward, moving into the full pose.  And then... I lose my balance.  My hands awkwardly and loudly find their way to the floor and my leg flails uselessly behind.  In that moment it's easy to feel shame, but I've learned that slipping (or completely falling) out of a pose means one thing: I've found my edge.  Next time, I can go further.

My Thoughts are Powerful
Sometimes I find more space in a posture not because I tilted my right hip down or lifted my left ribs up or spread my toes... often new understanding and ease comes when I begin to think differently about what I'm doing.  Body mechanics are integral in yoga, but I've learned that visualizing what my body needs to do is vitally important.  Instead of thinking about what's uncomfortable, I think about being in the perfect position.  I have a tendency to think about what's uncomfortable in my life or what's missing in my character, but I've been provided for, and God sees me perfect.  When I align my thinking with the Kingdom, freedom comes.

Rest in the Shaking
If yoga has taught me anything, it's that balance is tenuous.  Keeping your body calm and steady in strange positions requires constant work, little corrections, infinite tiny adjustments in posture.  When I first began practicing I hated feeling my body shake... I like to just be awesome at every new thing I do.  But the tension between where you're comfortable and the new challenge is natural.  I'm learning to be ok with my trembling muscles, and to keep deepening into that place of tension.  Eventually I'll get there.

    I could go on and on.  I feel like every time I practice, I learn a new lesson.  Sometimes it's purely practical, and sometimes it's much deeper, but I'm always humbled and rewarded by my time on the mat.

    Wednesday, April 18, 2012

    Isabella turned 15 months yesterday, and almost on cue, has finally begun to walk.  For those of you not acquainted with childhood development, 15 months is sort of late for walking.

    I've been anxiously awaiting this stage- not because I'm worried about Izzy's development, or because I think she's lagging behind.  I don't think about that crap.  I just really, really, really want her to be able to walk.  If you've seen me in the last 15 months, chances are, I was holding a small brown-haired blue-eyed girl.  For 9+ months, she was literally attached to me.  After she was born, it didn't change much.    She's always been a high-need baby and a very social person, and the best place to interact with her world is from my arms.  My selfish thought is that walking will give her the ability to get where she wants to go without my help, and (hopefully) need my attention a little less.  Like, instead of wanting me 90% of the time, maybe she'll drop down to 70%.  That would be a huge deal for me.  Mostly, I'm just stoked for her to do something new.  She's really excited about it.

    Parents I chat with are often surprised to hear that I'm dying for Isabella to walk on her own.  When I express this sentiment I'm typically met with some little comment that is intended to sound like helpful advice from someone who has "been there" but is truly just stupid, like "trust me, you'll change your mind once she starts walking" or "when you have more kids you'll wish they waited longer!" or the always ominous "just wait..."

    I fully reject this "advice" and the entire mindset that goes along with it.  It's this idea that each milestone is something to be sad about because your baby won't be a baby forever, or whatever.  Or the idea that somehow children are supposed to be convenient for us.  Mostly, though, I think it's that a lot of women, in particular, like to feel needed and therefore get their value from being needed by their kids.  Each milestone, especially walking, is a step (ha) towards independence.  If you get validated by being needed, parenthood is going to be a long and difficult journey.

    I've enjoyed every milestone in Isabella's life.  I love watching her grow.  I get excited about the new things she does.  And no, I will not wish she had waited longer to walk because it's harder to keep a fully mobile baby safe.  I will not hope my younger children will wait to walk.  I will rejoice in every milestone and every new season of my child's life.  And if you have discouraging little "trust me, just wait..." comment, keep it to yourself.