Monday, December 9, 2013
After a cascade of hospital interventions in both births that put my life at risk both times, I finally came to my senses in my third pregnancy and realized that, most often, the safest place for babies to be born is at home, on their own terms, surrounded by experienced midwives. Birth is a life event, not a medical event.
My third baby chose her own birthday, at our home, one week after her due date. She came in to the world a full pound heavier than her older sister and brother did, and in an entirely uncomplicated birth experience that was far more peaceful and authentic than that of her siblings.
I don't think it was just luck. I fully believe that unnecessary labor inductions, routine hospital interventions, and policies that define how, when and where a woman labors and delivers make hospitals inherently less safe for most births. Remember, these are places that until fairly recently gave routine enemas to women in labor, and decided that the best place for women to birth was on their backs, a position that is certainly advantageous to the doctor but one in which most women would never, ever naturally choose to birth!
One of the many downsides of the increased industrialization of birth, in addition to such serious issues as a doubling of U.S. maternal mortality in the last 25 years corresponding to a skyrocketing American c-section rate, is the fading prevalence of babies being able to choose their own birthdays. In the "olden days," before the overall medicalization of birth, women were given a "birth month," a broad period of time during which their baby would likely be due. Of course, the bell curve of birth hasn't changed much in millions of years and the majority of human babies, when given the chance, are born between 38 and 42 weeks, with most concentrated around the curve's peak, or 40 weeks. Sadly, though, we have somehow grown unduly panicky if babies don't arrive by 40 weeks and, in many hospitals, routine inductions occur by 41 weeks. As well-known obstetrician and natural birth advocate, Michel Odent, writes in Midwifery Today: "...a baby in the womb should be compared to fruit on the tree. Not all the fruit on the same tree is ripe at the same time... In other words, we must accept that some babies need a much longer time than others before they are ready to be born."
I am officially two days before my "due date," just about at the peak of the birthing bell curve. Statistically speaking, my baby will most likely be born sometime within the next two weeks. I wait patiently, eager to see what birthday my little one chooses.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Today I had some time to flip through the lovely pages of the latest Taproot Magazine issue. As usual, it is both beautiful and inspiring, but the words of one article in particular by Erin Ellenberger-March floated through my mind all morning. She writes: "...I believe a woman's power lies in her gentleness. This isn't to say that we can't be fierce and brave, strong and independent. It simply means that we have been given the important work of being both a place of comfort and strength…"
A place of comfort and strength.
It was with the echo of these words that my daughters and I joined two dear friends this morning as they hosted an intimate "Mama Blessing" celebration for me and my babe-to-be. It was very special, being surrounded by such gentle and wise women and our daughters, reminding ourselves within a circle of candlelight of the women in our families who have inspired and shaped us. As these friends shared their blessings for me and my birth, filling me up with so many precious thoughts, those printed words came flooding back:
A place of comfort and strength.
These women showed that power, that gentleness, revealing just exactly how women can be both a place of comfort and strength for the people around them.
This is something I will take with me, as I make a fourth run at this motherhood gig. I will try to remember, during those most challenging mothering times, that my power lies in my gentleness; that I am both a place of comfort and strength for my children, for my family, for my friends.
A place of comfort and strength.
Friday, December 6, 2013
|On our way to the MFA's weekly homeschooler series|
As city homeschoolers, we are fortunate to have so many resources steps from our front door, including many classes geared specifically for homeschoolers. Below is a list of some of the organizations in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville that offer programs especially for homeschoolers. While there are many other organizations that are happy to accommodate homeschoolers and encourage homeschooling families and groups to take advantage of their offerings, the organizations listed below make a concerted effort to create and market programming specifically for homeschoolers during typical "school" hours throughout the year.
There are also many wonderful homeschool programs outside of the city! We try to minimize our driving and like to walk, bike or take public transportation to classes as much as possible, so I have only included city-centric classes below, but check out HomeschoolBoston.com for additional class resources in the Greater Boston area.
Eliot School of Applied Arts (Boston) - Homeschool classes in woodworking and other applied arts
Boston Nature Center/Mass. Audubon (Boston) - Weekly homeschool nature series
Franklin Park Zoo (Boston) - Weekly homeschool series
Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) - Homeschool classes each Friday for all ages; register online by Wednesday of each week
New England Aquarium (Boston) - Regular homeschooling classes and programming
Charles River Aquatics (Boston) - Morning swim classes for homeschoolers
YMCA of Greater Boston (Boston) - Homeschool-specific swim classes during the week
Diablo Glass School (Boston) - Glassblowing workshops for homeschool teens
Maud Morgan Art Center (Cambridge) - Homeschool art classes for all ages
Mucky Kids Studio (Cambridge) - Weekly homeschool science studio
Cambridge Public Library (Cambridge) - Homeschool book group
The Mathemagics Workshop (Cambridge) - Math workshops for homeschoolers
The MIT Edgerton Center (Cambridge) - Regular homeschooling programming
Harvard Extension School (Cambridge) - College-level courses for homeschoolers
Mudflat Studio (Somerville) - Pottery and clay classes for homeschoolers
Parts and Crafts (Somerville) - A local learning center for homeschoolers and unschoolers offering classes throughout the week
Somerville Public Library (Somerville) - Homeschool book group
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
noun: the coming or arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
For our family, this December is a month of waiting. Waiting for our newest little family member to arrive any day. Waiting for Solstice and Christmas and the first big snowstorm. Waiting for the new year and the new city home we'll be moving into now that we have officially outgrown our condo.
Advent seems the perfect term to describe our life right now, as we wait for the notable person, notable things and notable events of the coming weeks.
While we don't celebrate the religious period of Advent, this month is filled with anticipation nonetheless. My seven-year-old bounds out of bed each morning to listen to the Sparkle Stories audio advent calendar, so excited by what another December day will bring. My two-year-old keeps asking when the baby will come out of my belly. My four-year-old wants to know if Santa really will bring him a drum set and microphone (ahem).
It's such a special time of anticipation, of wonder, of fullness, waiting for a new baby, a new home, a new year. It's a month of expectant waiting. It's advent.
Monday, December 2, 2013
|Photo courtesy of my 2-yr-old|
So let me set the record straight, from my perspective at least:
Having had two highly medicalized, intervention-laden hospital births followed by a natural homebirth, I can say without a doubt that the natural homebirth was far and away the better experience. It felt right and timeless and authentic and, for me, the most assured way to guarantee the safe and intervention-free birth that my baby and body deserved. And it was fully empowering, revealing to me the true wisdom of Mother Nature and the dangers we can encounter when we interfere with her, and revealing the true power of what we are able to accomplish within our own homes, following our own evolutionary instincts.
That is the truthful, albeit romantic, side of my natural birth experience. Here's the reality: Labor is work. Birth is work. It feels intense and unpredictable, enormous and overwhelming. At its peak, just before your little one arrives, it feels insurmountable. The difference, in my experience, between medicated and natural birth is just this: you feel it. It is something you do, not something that is done to you. You deliver your baby, your baby is not delivered by someone else. You feel every single part of the natural birth experience. And it's not all peaches and cream, candles and incense. In fact, most of it is far from it. It's hard work, intense work. It's labor.
Having had two births that I didn't feel and one birth that I did, I'll take feeling the work of it any day. But as I approach this next birth, I do so with a much greater respect for the reality of birth over the romanticism. I know what it will feel like. I know that it will be intense and overwhelming at times. I know that I may say, as so many women do when they hit that final wall just before delivery, that I can't do it.
And then I will.
And that is the best feeling of all.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
This has been a week of harvests: first our turkey, then our tree. Following our annual post-Thanksgiving family tradition, we trekked to a tree farm and selected, cut, and decorated our holiday tree, while taking the requisite breaks to sip hot cocoa and enjoy the infusion of color and light and music into our home.
I've written before how the Solstice months, June and December, are my favorites. Both represent light and promise, and remind us to be grateful for the abundance that surrounds us. This year, December brings even greater joy as we excitedly await the arrival of a new baby any day.
Wishing you a December filled with light and joy and abundance, and cozy homes from which to enjoy it all.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Knowing that our Thanksgiving turkey has been roaming through pasture these past several months, growing large naturally with good food and sunshine, and processed with decency brings a certain peace and humility to the Thanksgiving table. We know the effort it takes to produce such good food, the cost and sacrifice of farmer and fowl, and we appreciate the richness of our food in both nutrients and care.
Yes, a farm-direct turkey is more expensive than the supermarket variety. But shouldn't it be? Shouldn't we prioritize high-quality, nutrient-dense, sustainably-produced food for our families over many of the other consumables in our lives? Shouldn't we expect to pay the farmer generously for his or her effort in producing such good food for our families? I recall reading in Joel Salatin's excellent book, Folks, This Ain't Normal, that we should get to a point as a society where it is just as appropriate, if not more so, to see farmers driving BMWs as it is heart surgeons. And perhaps, if we prioritized the farmer more highly, we wouldn't need that heart surgeon anyway.
Today, as the children and I visited the local farm to pick-up our Thanksgiving turkey, I thought about how one small, personal act can make such a profound difference on family and global health, and what important messages we can send to our children with our most basic consumption choices.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
It's been in the works for months now. When my daughter learned that her 7th birthday would fall on the same day as her beloved homeschool math class, she got straight to planning the party.
Her small class and dynamic teacher graciously headed to our home to conduct class here, followed by make-your-own-sundaes and special treats--complete with calculators as the goody-bag takeaway.
Learning is so seamlessly a part of my children's life that choosing to create a birthday party around a favorite class and teacher is an obvious and exciting possibility. When children are given the freedom to learn in their own ways, to follow their own passions and pursue classes and opportunities that reinforce their own interests, learning is always enjoyable, always voluntary, and always fully embraced.
In fact, the math moms and I were chatting a bit about this today, wondering how many more children would choose as their special birthday guest an MIT-trained mathematician over a clown or cartoon character if given the true power to learn in their own ways, to follow their own interests, and experience learning as a completely open, child-led, non-coercive experience.
In seven years, I've learned a lot about motherhood, a lot about the challenges and rewards of parenting. But the most important thing I've learned is that allowing our children the freedom to be who they are, to learn and grow naturally, is the greatest gift we can possibly give them.
Monday, November 11, 2013
In November, at winter's gate, the stars are brittle.
The sun is a sometime friend.
And the world has tucked her children in, with a kiss on the cheek,
Waking up to a light blanket of snow while in Vermont this weekend thrust us back into last winter's rhythms and gave a glimpse of what's to come. Before the sun was fully up, my four-year-old declared that he needed his snowshoes and sleds and was ready to take on the white world. He was soon joined by his siblings, all eager to dig or slide or stomp despite the paucity of the precipitation.
And, just as in winter, the morning unfolded with the familiar inside-outside-inside-outside rhythms. Coats and boots were hurriedly removed and scattered throughout the mudroom so little bodies could warm up with fresh maple muffins and tea, only to be quickly donned again for another outside adventure.
And so it begins, this cold-weather cadence: the patience necessary to wiggle restless bodies into dry socks and soft mittens over and over again in the course of a morning; the reminder to create more time for these outdoor preparations prior to scheduled outings; the annual inventory of outdoor gear and the related observation of just how fast these little ones can grow; the acknowledgement that the mudroom
may not will not be neat and tidy again till spring; the appreciation of a new season to come with new ways to experience the natural world around us.
I'm ready. I'm ready to give thanks this month for our many blessings, to celebrate a special Thanksgiving as we await the arrival of our new little family member soon after, to choose and cut and decorate our holiday tree, to welcome the returning light of the Solstice and celebrate Christmas with a newborn, to fully embrace a new year, a new season, and all the familiar rhythms it brings.
The holiday music is blaring from Pandora today, as we wait at winter's gate.
Friday, November 8, 2013
I read with interest this recent article in The Guardian about the rise in rickets in British children. We in America have heard similar reports for years and the data have led to infants, particularly exclusively breastfed infants, being prescribed Vitamin D supplements from birth.
Even before I became a true believer in holistic, alternative health, I was skeptical of both these data and the efforts to prescribe supplements to newborns, and I refused them for all of my babies. As yet, no one has gotten rickets.
The problem, as The Guardian article makes clear, is not that we have suddenly become more prone to this old-fashioned disease but that we have cloistered ourselves, and especially our children, inside, away from sunlight and fresh air, at unprecedented rates. Children are shuttled from one indoor activity to another, all year round, spending more time in their cars than on their bikes. More time is spent in front of digital screens than on swing-sets. In an overly-ambitious effort to protect children from all manner of potential harm, parents rarely allow their children to play or walk freely throughout their neighborhoods, and the all-out emphasis on childhood "enrichment" has steadily eroded children's outside time.
In Richard Louv's popular book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, he asserts: "It takes time -- loose, unstructured dreamtime-- to experience nature in a meaningful way. Unless parents are vigilant, such time becomes a scarce resource, because time is consumed by multiple invisible forces; because our culture currently places so little value on natural play."
Where I disagree with The Guardian article and some of Louv's recommendations is the notion that children are somehow more deprived of outside time in cities than elsewhere. While I think it's highly worthwhile to encourage urban planning that promotes walkability and green spaces, the reality is that in many cities, including ours, there are already more opportunities for outside time than elsewhere. For instance, we personally spend far more of our time outside, walking everywhere, when we are in the city than when we are in Vermont, where much more of our time is spent in the car.
The key is not to single-out the city as inherently nature-deprived or lacking in outside opportunities but to look at what we are doing to our children that prevents them from being outside. Are children in cities cooped-up in school and after-school programs to greater degrees than their suburban or rural peers? Are urban children participating in more indoor, enrichment-type programming that keeps them inside more often than not?
Many cities already have tremendous resources and opportunities for outside, natural play. Many are highly walkable, have extraordinary parks and green spaces, and are dense enough to easily allow quick walks to friends' houses and regular meet-ups at local playgrounds. The key is to allow our children to fully experience these urban treasures, to value their time spent outside in natural, unstructured, child-directed activities, and shift the focus from indoor enrichment to outdoor play.
As with much of health policy today, the answer is not a pill or supplement, but a broader look at the underlying reasons for declining health and the personal efforts necessary to reverse these trends.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Self-directed learning can be a mysterious notion. Even for parents who have chosen to homeschool, self-directed learning is an entirely new and different idea. Often called "unschooling," self-directed learning simply means allowing children to educate themselves by pursuing their own interests and developing their own talents while utilizing the vast resources of their community.
Self-directed learning is the antithesis of how most children learn today. Instead of adult-directed, it is child-led. Instead of coercive, it is free. Instead of scripted and pre-determined, it is dynamic and self-determined. Instead of mandatory, it is optional. Instead of learning from one person or a small team of people, it is learning from a vast number of people, places and things throughout one's community.
For our family, self-directed learning is a way of life. It represents our view that children are perfectly designed to educate themselves when provided with the resources and opportunities to do so. It means that my role as a homeschooling parent is to watch and listen and communicate openly with my children to recognize and understand their various interests at various times, and then identify resources in our community to help them pursue those interests.
“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions -- if they have any -- and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.”
― John Holt
For example, my oldest is currently passionate about math, science and art so I scope out the various classes and resources in my city for her, register her for classes that I think will interest her, take her to libraries and museums that promote these interests, find other grown-ups who are experts in these fields from whom she can learn, and allow her full freedom as she uses these resources. This freedom means respecting her ability to choose to participate or opt-out, thereby enabling her to be in control of her own learning. Similarly, for my son who is currently passionate about music, tools, fossils, and astronomy, my role is ensuring that he is surrounded by the people, places, and things that help him to develop and expand these interests and discover new things that pique his curiosity.
Self-directed learning is a belief that children--indeed all of us--learn and grow best when we are allowed the freedom and autonomy to do so, and, importantly, when we have access to resources and opportunities that help us to develop and expand our interests and knowledge.
With self-directed learning, parents are just parents, the community is the classroom, and learning happens naturally all the time.
“To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves...and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”
― John Holt
Monday, November 4, 2013
I spent a good portion of the weekend engaged in great discussion with those of us working on the AlternativesToSchool.com website. Surrounded by renowned thinkers and doers like Peter Gray and Pat Farenga and Cevin Soling, it's hard not to be excited about the vision of helping more families make the leap away from institutionalized schooling and toward self-directed learning.
As we talked about the website, clarified the mission, and prepared additional content that will be available on the site in the coming weeks, I couldn't help but think of the many, many families, some of whom I personally know, who are teetering on the edge. They have this internal gnawing: they know that schooling is not right for their child, they witness everyday examples that cause them angst, they know that home-based, self-directed learning would provide the freedom and authenticity that their children deserve. But for many of these families, they can't quite take the leap away from schooling. Most of the time, I find, this is due to family pressures and social norms. It's hard enough being a parent, let alone a homeschooling one, without family members adding their (mostly-unfounded) anxieties and doubts around self-directed learning. And it's hard enough to parent mindfully without dealing with constant social pressure reminding parents of widely-accepted cultural norms.
It takes courage and conviction to follow one's heart, one's powerful parenting instincts. For many of these "teetering" families it takes even more courage and conviction than for those of us who have already been on this path for some time, who have built communities of support, who have convinced family members of the benefits and results of home-based, self-directed learning. It can seem Herculean, stepping away from the semblance of security and predictability that institutionalized schooling portends to offer.
It can seem terrifying and exhilarating, agonizing and glorious.
Most important things worth doing are.
Making the final leap away from institutionalized schooling and toward self-directed learning takes a strong belief that children are worthy of the freedom to learn in their own ways, in their own time, without adult directives and coercion. It takes a belief that children deserve to learn and grow with authenticity, allowing them to be exactly who they are and not conforming to some normative notion of what they should be. It takes a belief in the power of family and home and community to provide the meaningful and abundant opportunities that enable children to take charge of their learning and reveal their innate gifts.
It takes a belief in yourself, in your powerful role as parent, to choose the path that is right for your child, for your family, regardless of what others may think or do.
It takes strength and hope to leap in to self-directed learning--and you've got it. You've got what it takes to make the leap.
And I'll be right here rooting you on.
Friday, November 1, 2013
Refined sugar and artificial flavoring aside, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays with little ones. The weeks-long anticipation, the costume selection, the build-up in the final days, and hours, and minutes--it reminds me how much I enjoyed this holiday as a child and how enchanting it is for children.
In the city, we took our annual afternoon walk to one of the firehouses to enjoy the Halloween open houses they host, grab their goody-bags, sit in the trucks, talk to the firefighters, and--in our case--witness a real, live 911 dispatch that nearly emptied the station.
Then it was home to fill bellies with something simple and nourishing to hopefully off-set the impending gluttony, and then off to walk the neighborhood with all the other little ghosts and goblins nearby. This may have been my favorite Halloween yet; although according to my oldest I say that every year. But truly, the warm temperatures brought many neighbors to their pumpkin-lit porches to await the gaggles of trick-or-treaters, the decorations seemed in full-force, and the candy flowed in abundance leading to pure elation for the candy-counting ritual back at home.
So much excitement, so much fun. Yes, bedtime took longer as sugar mixed with jubilation, but it was to be expected. After all, this sweet and special day only comes once a year.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
For many families, homeschooling is the beginning of an in-depth process of questioning conventional thinking. For other families, homeschooling is simply one of many lifestyle choices they have made that challenge mainstream practices. Either way, there is no doubt that when a family chooses an educational path that is very different from the cultural norm, it prompts or underscores a close examination of widely accepted social mores.
I have always been a bit of an "alternative" thinker and doer, but the decision to homeschool heightened my observation and analysis of conventional practices. In particular, after choosing to homeschool, I began to fully evaluate American health and wellness, realizing that the conventional path had flaws that I couldn't continue to overlook. The industrial food complex, for one, was too riddled with problems for me to ignore and so I began a much more concerted effort to purchase my family's food directly from local farms and farm collaboratives. I chose a homebirth for my third, and now my fourth, babies after more fully investigating the sorry state of American maternity care and its systemic dangers for moms and babies. (Need we be reminded that the maternal mortality rate in the United States has DOUBLED in the last 25 years, and the U.S. ranks 50th in maternal mortality, meaning 49 countries do a better job than we do?)
Anyone who dares to scratch the surface of American health and wellness inevitably begins to question standard, accepted practices and often concludes that their current healthcare practitioners may not be the best fit for their family. For example, when my oldest children were little, we went to a traditional pediatric practice in the city, but as my thinking on family health evolved, I realized that practice was no longer a good fit for us so we switched to a more holistic, homeopathic family medicine doctor outside of the city.
I followed a similar path with our dentist, realizing that I didn't like the push for "routine" practices, such as x-rays and fluoride treatments. In general, I am leery about anything labeled "routine." For instance, my research into things like fluoride--a chemical that has been banned in the drinking water of many developed countries and has proven toxicity--led me to begin serving only non-fluoridated water to my family and using only natural, fluoride-free toothpastes. I searched around, tapping in to the extensive knowledge of my local homeschooling community, and received several recommendations for dentists who would be more respectful of their clients' informed choices regarding standard practices. We found a family dentist who, while conventional, is very respectful of my wishes. She would recommend interventions if necessary, but does not push for "routine" practices in my cavity-free children. I like that.
The key, I think, is to do your research, avoid accepting standard practices as gospel, and don't be afraid to shop around for the healthcare providers that fit best for your family. After all, they work for you. You are the one in charge of your family's health and well-being, and you should feel fully empowered by the decisions you make regarding opting in or out of conventional care.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
I often get asked how I manage homeschooling with little ones around: how I tend to the more developed needs and interests of my almost-seven-year-old old while balancing the very different and often intense needs of a four-year-old and a two-year-old.
The answer is that it's not always a walk in the park, though that is where we spend most of our time. My oldest has many homeschooling classes during the week, while my younger two are not yet ready for structured classes. So while my oldest is in class, my younger ones and I often visit nearby parks and playgrounds, find a sidewalk cafe for a snack or a sandwich, or take a nap on the go. We sometimes run errands at local shops or visit a nearby museum or library. When we're lucky, we can coordinate simultaneous homeschool classes, like those offered by the Museum of Fine Arts that separate children by age.
Sometimes these class-time excursions go smoothly and sometimes they don't. Sometimes I know that one or both of my younger ones do not want to go out again to drop off their big sister at a class and would be better off staying home, and it does make things tricky at times when tantrums or whining occur. But when I have a second to step back, I realize that this is all part of the homeschooling journey: balancing the different and often conflicting needs and interests of siblings. It's really just parenting, I suppose, where we must continuously recognize and address the needs of one child while balancing the needs of another. It's not always easy or simple or straightforward.
I often wonder what it will be like a few years from now, with many or most of my children in various homeschooling classes all around the city. How will I negotiate conflicting interests and class times? How will I manage shuffling across the city several times each day? I imagine we'll be spending a lot of our time walking, biking, and driving to and from various spots, trying to meet everyone's disparate needs. By then, the tantrums will likely (hopefully) be long gone, but there will surely be new challenges: deciding which classes each sibling wants and managing the inevitable time or space conflicts; ensuring the quality of such classes to meet the developing interests of each child; managing our "commuting" time so it doesn't seem like each moment of each day is spent on-the-run.
I imagine that I will deal with these future class-time issues in the same way I deal with them now: taking it day-by-day, week-by-week, class-by-class, kid-by-kid. I know it won't always be easy. I know there will be good days and bad, smooth ones and chaotic ones. I know that it will sometimes be tricky and stressful, just as it is now. I know that I won't have all the answers. But I also know that it's so worth it. Homeschooling is worth it. Allowing our children the freedom to be who they naturally are, to develop at their own pace and in step with their own innate gifts, to reveal their true talents and pursue their own distinct paths--it's all worth the occasional whiny toddler or traffic jam or ongoing balancing act. They are worth it.
Posted by Kerry McDonald, M.Ed. at Tuesday, October 29, 2013