Happy home birth day

Abby's Birth

Today my baby turns 17. Where did the time go, hard to believe, seems like just yesterday she was learning to walk, wearing the same yellow tutu every day, small enough to nestle comfortably on my hip and cling to me as I held her.

I don’t think I’m the only mom who, on her child’s birthday, thinks back to that child’s birth day. Abby was my fourth, and the only one born at home. I’d thought about a home birth before but hadn’t been brave enough to go for it. After I had Claire, number three, I boasted that if I ever got pregnant again, I’d do it. It was easy to say, since I didn’t plan to be pregnant again, but when Claire was eleven months old, it happened.

We chose the first midwife we interviewed and never looked back. I went to one appointment at a women’s clinic to set up hospital back-up in case it was needed, but other than that there was little to no testing. I’m a worrier by nature, and wondered whether my midwife’s hands-off philosophy might cause me anxiety, but it was quite the opposite. With so few tests performed, there were no results to wait and worry about.

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My midwife was calm, caring, and quietly confident about the whole process. She put me at ease. I’d already given birth three times and been fortunate enough to be able to say I enjoyed the experience. I was looking forward to taking it to another level.

We’re people people, and I planned to have a full house for the birth, just as I had at the hospital when Claire was born. Then, my husband, two older children, and a close friend were all in the birthing room. My mother came, too. During labor Claire had tachycardia, a minor complication which was easily fixed by hydrating me, but still resulted in the medical staff’s insistence on extra vigilance with the fetal monitor, and a tense discussion between my husband and the obstetrician in which he (on both our behalf) refused use of a scalp electrode. My mother became so agitated she had to leave. In spite of the fact that she’d had four children of her own, she couldn’t deal with being there. Or perhaps it was because of that fact–her hospital births hadn’t all been smooth sailing. Whatever the reason, I debated about whether to invite her to Abby’s birth. I didn’t want to deal with her worries and anxieties in the birthing room again. In the end, I decided her presence was more important than my ambivalence.

She and my aunt arrived in the morning, a few hours before Abby was born. My husband, my older children, a couple of friends, the midwife, and the midwife’s assistant were already there. Rather than waiting around in the birthing room the whole time, my kids were free to come and go as I labored, to go about their business of work and play infused with wondrous anticipation about what was going on in the next room.

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Claire, a few months shy of two, stuck close to me for much of the time, intently watching, quiet and transfixed. We had talked to her beforehand so she knew what to expect. I’ll never forget the moment when I was kneeling on the bed, mid-contraction, and Claire climbed onto the mattress to carefully place under me one of the absorbent pads we had on hand to protect the sheets.

Eventually, I knew the time had come, and told the midwife’s assistant to rally the crowd. In they came, and surrounded me with a tight circle of love and support as Abby entered the world. The midwife, present and unobtrusive as ever, handed her to me without saying a word so we could discover her for ourselves. Claire, who knew that the baby’s first action in the world would likely be crying, and that it would be followed immediately by nursing, looked intently at her sister and said, “Baby, baby. Nurse. Nurse.” Which, of course, she did.

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Perhaps most surprising of all was my mother, who’d been completely relaxed and conversational with everyone since she’d arrived, and who stood beaming in the birthing room. With that glow about her, she headed downstairs to finish the work she’d started in the kitchen, and shortly thereafter I was relaxing and tandem nursing in my own bed, and we were all served an Italian feast.

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Now many rich, full years have passed. It’s time for me to go downstairs into my kitchen, to make a feast of strawberry and nutella crepes to celebrate Abby, whose birth day I recall so fondly and vividly. Happy birthday, baby, and love to you, always.

The mouths of babes

This week, a little girl named Tiana talked to her mother about relationships, self-control, and love. Her mother took a video of her daughter’s remarkable speech, and now millions of people around the world have watched it, too.

It’s a heartfelt plea, full of love and wisdom. To me, it shows that kids, even very young kids (Tiana is only six), are capable of understanding the world on complex levels and in unique ways.

Probably most people watching the video will chock up its brilliance to the notion that Tiana is some kind of precocious, unusually articulate genius. She’s obviously a beautiful, intelligent soul, but what if we listened to all kids as closely as we’re listening to her now?

Whether we’re teaching them something practical, telling them to clean up after dinner, explaining the birds and the bees, or imparting some other information or advice, we expect kids to listen to us and take us seriously.

The thing is, they do. They’re smart. From the time they’re born, they know adults are taking care of them, they know we have knowledge they want, they understand they can learn from us. As anyone who’s spent any time around kids knows, they are paying attention. Much of the time, we don’t return the favor. We’re too busy and preoccupied to listen to kids. We’re so busy trying to teach them that we ignore what they have to teach us. We think their ideas are too silly or immature to warrant serious consideration.

Tiana reminds us otherwise, that children can be profound and wise, sometimes even wiser than the adults around them. So, with a little help from Tiana, here’s my heartfelt plea for the day. Be steady, in the middle where your heart is, and listen.

If the quirky shoe fits, wear it

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the concept of normal. Yesterday I thought about normal again when I read about two brave individuals living the lifestyle of their choice. Sarah A. Chrisman and her husband Gabriel embrace their love of the Victorian era with a rare level of commitment. They use an old-fashioned icebox, ride antique bicycles instead of driving cars, and their daily wardrobe is made up of what many people would call costumes, not clothing.

This isn’t some kind of lark for them. It’s a way of life that defines who they are and brings them great joy. As Sarah wrote, “Gabriel said watching me grow accustomed to Victorian clothes was like seeing me blossom into my true self.”

I wasn’t a bit surprised when I read that Gabriel was homeschooled. According to Sarah, that helped when they started experimenting with Victorian-era living, because Gabriel “never espoused the strict segregation that now seems to exist between life and learning.”

In Bridget Samburg’s recent Boston Magazine article about homeschooling, she asked “But are the kids happy and normal…?” I wonder what her answer would have been if she talked to Gabriel.

The important part of that question, I think, is the happy part. Gabriel’s way of life may be unusual, but he’s happy. I know many homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers who fit that description, and thank goodness they found their niches.

By taking kids out of the peer-dominated world of school, away from regular exposure to cliques, potential bullies, and the pressure to fit in, homeschooling may  help kids along the path of becoming who they truly are. This is what homeschooling parents are talking about when they cite socialization as an argument for homeschooling. It’s not a magic bullet, of course. Living in society and being human are complicated undertakings no matter how you slice it.

Still, I’ve seen again and again that homeschooled kids can feel empowered to experiment with different ways of being with less fear of retaliation. Even when they’re called out on their differences, they don’t necessarily succumb to conformity.
When my son was a kid, he joined the local basketball team. The kids started taunting him about his shorts, which fell only to mid-thigh and weren’t nearly baggy enough (epic fail on my part to not acquaint myself with shorts fashions of tween boys). When I offered to take him shopping for the right wardrobe, he declined. “I like my shorts,” he said.

I would have honored his decision either way, but I felt proud and relieved that he didn’t feel the need to change for the sake of someone else. What happened next floored and humbled me. Not only did my son keep his nerdy shorts of choice, he continued to like the boys who taunted him. I watched him give them high fives and enthusiastic expressions of support as they came off the court. When we left the building, he smiled widely at them, exclaiming “Great game!” as though they were his buddies, eliciting expressions of bewilderment and confusion on their faces. They stopped teasing him, and even started being nice to him.

This is more than I ever could have done for my own torturers as a child, but then again, I didn’t have the safety, support, and relief from daily contact with bullies that homeschooling can offer. That respite can be crucial for happiness and self-esteem, but it also, as I learned from watching my son, can nurture kindness. Safety and support build resilience and courage to be true to oneself, which in turn fosters compassion for others.

For some people, becoming who they truly want to be is difficult and scary. As Sarah wrote, “We live in a world that can be terribly hostile to difference of any sort.” She described how she and Gabriel deal with name calling and other abuse. How sad that they and so many others face hardship simply for being who they are, but how wonderful that they still do it. The greater sadness is that so many of us, for reasons of fear, threats of bodily harm, lack of support, or other factors, don’t. As Sarah wrote, “Most people fear the bullies so much that they knuckle under simply to be left alone. In the process, they crush their own dreams.”

The courage to become who they are may be the greatest gift homeschooling gave my kids. This is my wish for us all; let kindness reign, and dream crushing begone.

Out of the kitchen, into the living room

The other day I was talking to a fellow homeschooling parent about the Boston Magazine article. She pointed out that the homeschooling families profiled were depicted in the living room, not the kitchen.

That’s true. The photo of my family was taken in our living room, as was the picture of Robert Holzbach and his daughters. The cover boldly (if sensationalistically) states: Why the new road to the Ivy League just might lead through your living room. The choice of living room over kitchen means the editors must have gotten the gist of homeschooling at least a little bit.

The fact that a positive article about homeschooling made the cover of a major magazine is good news in and of itself, but add to that the absence of the school-at-home stereotype and it’s even better.

Homeschoolers opt out of the system, which means they choose the method for educating their children. That’s one of the beauties of homeschooling, but the fact that it can look different for every family also makes it  hard to talk about. A family’s approach is often based on their educational philosophy and their values, but it’s as much influenced by everyday realities and the individuality of the kids, parents, and community.

The article’s omission of the kitchen table stereotype doesn’t mean, of course, that homeschooled kids never sit at a table and do schoolwork. Hopefully, it means people are beginning to understand that homeschooling is not an isolationist practice that recreates school methods in the home.

In my long experience, it rarely takes place in the kitchen (unless we’re cooking, of course). It’s nice to see that the media might finally be getting that, and has graduated us to the living room. Let’s hope they keep it up, and sooner rather than later, we’ll get to the place where the learning really happens. That is, of course, the world.