#YourTrueCalling – Quest 2017 Begins

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What is your vocation, your sense of callings as a human being at this point in your life, both in and beyond job and title?

And so it begins… Quest 2017! An adventure not for the faint of heart because this is just the first of thirteen prompts from visionaries in different fields provided to us “Questers” as an alignment for the coming year. Think of it as a full body (mind, heart, and spirit, too!) alignment, so that as the beginning of 2017 opens the best self is ready to bust open the door and do big things – with thoughtfulness and intention.

This first prompt, by Krista Tippet of On Being no less, gets the ball rolling by asking us to name our true calling. And if this is any example, we’re going to be going deep – fast.

I’ve written before about how the work that I do with expectant families is my true calling. In fact, it was the first post I’ve ever written on this blog. But over time that calling has shifted.

When I first started out, before I’d ever given birth or actually done any parenting of my own, I had the naive and at times self-righteous passion of a activist teenager. After all, I had taken the training, I had read ALL of the books, and I knew what was “best” for the women and families in my classes. I had a bad case of tunnel vision. Loads of desire and passion, but no real-life experience. I remember meeting with my families at reunions after they’d given birth and I would feel personally responsible, as though I’d let them down, if they ended up with a birth that didn’t look like anything they’d written on the Birth Plan they drafted during class.

As if I, or their 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper, had any control over how their births would unfold.

I find myself today, almost 20 years and four children of my own later, with a completely different mindset. I’ve mellowed in some ways and gotten even more passionate in others.

The realities of pregnancy, birth and parenting are so much more nuanced than I once believed them to be. There are too many variables to account for, too many that are unseen or unexpected, for anyone to really make an actual plan about how these things will play out. So instead, I try to work with pregnant women and the people who love them in ways that I think will really prepare them for what’s to come.

  • I want the families in my care to have positive birth experiences – no matter how their births unfold. I want them to come to my class, or talk with me over the phone or on a Skype session and feel listened to, validated and understood.
  • I want them to have knowledge about how they can best fully participate in their births. To not only accept their feelings of vulnerability around this life-changing event, but to embrace these feelings and move toward them with intention.
  • I want them to feel confident in their ability to do this thing called birth, but also know what questions to ask when necessary that will help them make decisions in real time, as birth happens.
  • Instead of chasing after the ideal “Pinterest Birth Experience,” I want them to be ready for the real, authentic, messiness that often happens in birth. I want them to know that even when birth goes rogue, it can still be a Positive Birth Experience.
  • I want them to drop comparison and judgement from their birth and parenting experiences. Both of these things are so detrimental to developing a sense of self-confidence in their new role. Judgement of others stems from a deep sense of insecurity and does little to lessen it. And when time is spent imagining others’ experience, there’s no chance to enjoy or be present in this very real moment.

It’s hard for me to distinguish my professional from my personal vocation or calling – which is as it should be, in my opinion. I want my every interaction to be honest, open, authentic and real. That kind of connection with others can only happen from a place of trust. I need to trust that in laying myself bare, others can put down their own armor and we can meet heart to heart. That means acknowledging when I’ve made a mistake, asking for forgiveness, and admitting that I need help. It means practicing what I preach to the families in my classes: Don’t run from feelings of vulnerability, explore them with wonder and curiosity – remaining open to the transformation that can occur.

So… This is my first reflection to Quest 2017 with the ever-amazing Jeffrey Davis and his Tracking Wonder Team. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in December, a prompt for reflection will appear in my inbox – and depending on the nature of the prompt, I might choose to post my reflection here on the blog if I think it relates well to my work. If not, I’ll post to the private Quest 2017 Facebook forum for the group.

This Quest is open to the public and it’s completely FREE. You can join me and many, many others from around the globe as we intentionally and thoughtfully look to 2017 and map out how we wish to bring our best selves forward to do the work in our personal and professional lives that we feel called to do.

And, as happens from time to time, a song pops into my head while I’m writing a blog post. Seeing as the title of this first prompt is #YourTrueCalling, try and guess what song came to mind and Will.Not.Go.Away? It’s not an exact fit, but it’s a pretty great ear worm. If you’re so inclined, you can give it a listen and a look here. (80’s MTV at it’s best…)

LOVE – It’s The Secret Ingredient

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Turkey & Rice Soup (Several days later and still sooooooooo delicious!)

There’s a certain alchemy that can happen in cooking… It’s not just about putting flavors together and being satisfied with delicious results. Sometimes, if a recipe you’ve watched your Mom make too many times to count, a recipe that’s never been written down before, suddenly turns out *just* right, it’s possible to be instantly transported back in time to your childhood.

Here I am, at age four looking up at my Mom standing at the stove, careful not to have it turned on high heat yet because I’m so close to her hip. I watch as she’s trying to fit the turkey carcass into our big, fat silver soup pot. She uses the kitchen shears, a knife, sometimes just her fingers, to break the bigger bones up into smaller ones to fit – just so – into the pot. Mom never liked to throw out anything that still had so much to offer.

Here I am, a couple of years later, standing on a kitchen chair and asking, “Can I add the carrot and the onion and the celery? Please? I’m old enough. I can do it.” But I would have to wait a few more years before I got the job of chopping the vegetables into big chunks to help flavor the broth as it started to boil. How high the heat should be and how long the broth should simmer on the stove always depended on two things: what time my Mom began this whole process, and how much patience the rest of the family had to wait before eating.

Pulling the meat off the bones would have happened in earnest a day or two before – on Thanksgiving. But only after the crowds of people had left and after the kids had gone to bed. My immediate family always lived far from aunties, uncles and cousins, so our gatherings were always a wonderful mix of “framily” – those people whom we’d adopted, or who had adopted us for the holiday meal. I wonder if my Mom ever found enjoyment in discovering just how much meat there would be to add to the year’s batch? This was always the unknown variable… Would the soup be thin and mostly broth? Or more like a thick and hearty stew? It was dependent on lots of different things: how big of a turkey we could afford in any given year, the number of guests we’d invited, how many appetizers and sides they’d brought to share, and – how hungry my teenaged brothers were.

As a tween and teen, more interested in eating the soup than actually making it, I would salivate as the smells of turkey goodness filled our entire house. Only then would my Mom turn the burner off, strain the solids from the broth and pick through the remains once more. She would want a mostly clear broth seasoned to perfection before adding anything else. And then came my favorite part: adding the rice. “Plink, plink, plink!” The individual grains would splash and get sucked into the depths of the pot, only to resurface as the heat got turned back on and the broth began bubbling again.

I never understood how my Mom knew when to finish the soup so the rice was cooked just right. Confession: I always cheat on this part and use the rice cooker and add the finished rice into the pot right before serving. The rice turns out pretty close to perfect, but alas! no wonderful “plinking!” sounds. At some point, Mom would declare the soup to be “Finished!” And then add in the turkey meat and a jar or two of tomatoes. She’d give one last good stir to mix everything together and then ladle the soup into our bowls, while we sat at the long dining room table ready to gobble it all up (no pun intended…)

My Mom’s “Turkey and Rice Soup” might not be something you’d find in a fancy restaurant, or pay top dollar for – but the best food in the world rarely is. This recipe is so much more than just a delicious way to transform Thanksgiving leftovers. And this year, at first taste, and after 26 years of trying to re-create the experience, I almost wept (almost – I’m not really a crier…) as I was instantly transported back to my childhood kitchen watching as my Mom created something that over the years became a symbol of love, of comfort, of home to me.

That’s the kind of alchemy that I’m talking about. There’s a certain magic that you can actually taste in a meal that’s been cooked at home. Whenever my own children find something that I’ve made for them especially delicious and then ask me what’s in it, I list off all the ingredients and then say, “But there’s a secret extra special ingredient added! Can you guess what it is?” They’ve heard this from me so many times now that even as they roll their eyes, they still respond: “LOVE!” 

Yep, lots and lots of love. Heaping tablespoons and cups spilling over with love.

I’m not sure why this ingredient has been missing from this recipe over the years. Or, more importantly, how it finally found it’s way into my own soup pot this year some 2,264 miles away from my Mom – but I’m so glad that it did.

I feel like the last three posts I’ve written, have had more than a little bit of wistfulness to them, their unifying theme a longing to be closer to my family this year. I thank you, dear reader, for indulging me.

Typically, I write about issues that are of importance to pregnant, birthing and new parenting families. But one of the things that becomes more important over time, I think, is acknowledging that who we are as parents originates in how we have been parented. The families we are creating for ourselves now, find their roots in the families of our birth. Sometimes, and in some particular ways, we may choose to break away from that family of our birth to create our own, new definition of family.

But sometimes we look ahead and wonder if our own children will ever tell their children about how turn a tupperware full of Thanksgiving leftovers into something so much more.

Spoiler Alert: It’s all about that secret extra special ingredient.

Do you have any holiday recipes that have been passed down in your family that hold such power? Is the recipe written down? Or can it only be brought together through a lifetime’s worth of memories? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share them in the comments.

Thanksgiving Hope

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As I’ve been closing out childbirth preparation classes ahead of Thanksgiving, I can sense the trepidation my families are feeling around traveling for the holidays.

This might be because they’re feeling pretty big and not looking forward to “traveling while pregnant” – which is definitely a thing. Or it might be a result of the dynamics that usually occur when their family gather together. But this year, because of the recent election, there seems to be even more concern about how everyone is going to act, or rather, react to one another around the Thanksgiving table.

I’m not suggesting that people deny how they’re feeling about the election or the tension that has resulted. And if you have a family that’s willing and able to have a healthy discussion about your different viewpoints on all the hot button topics, then go for it! I’m not a fan of conflict, but I LOVE me some resolution! Sit down with those people who’ve known you since you were born and have that discussion.

But try to listen more than you talk. Try to imagine what the other person might have been considering when they pulled that lever and voted differently from you.  Ask them to get real about why they voted the way they did. 

We’ve made big, sweeping assumptions (on both sides, I might add) about the reasons why people voted the way they did in this election. This makes me remember something that my childhood friend Kristie’s Momma said to us once when we’d had a fight: “To assume only makes an ass out of u and me.” I’ve always remembered that moment – mostly due to my shock that she was saying the “a-word” in the middle of her kitchen to two eight year olds! But, there’s some truth to this statement as well.

If you think about it, most sit-coms are completely based on false assumptions! It fuels the entire 21 minutes of a show. Will they ever actually sit down and communicate with one another directly? Or, are they going to continue to dance around one another and the subject at hand until they figure it out in the last two minutes of the show? In sit-com families, it doesn’t really matter. These situations always get resolved, and families are knitted back together, intact and supporting one another to face another day. But you might not have a sit-com family.

In fact, your family might be really toxic. You might have a family where there’s some perverse delight taken in hurting or belittling one another. Where there’s been some deep and intense level of abuse – physical or emotional, or both. If this is your situation, then I hope you’ve already distanced yourself from this environment and created for yourself a new family, a chosen family, where you’ve been able to give and receive some level of unconditional love. Because, each one of us deserves to feel that sense of caring and love for who we are, no matter what.

But my hope – because dear reader, I am ever hopeful –  is that you’ve actually experienced what a positive family looks and feels like in your life. Where all of the members who make up that circle have your back. Where they respect you and love you. Where they are kind and caring and, ultimately, only want what’s best for you.

A healthy family acknowledges that there might be differences, really big differences, in all those areas that can trigger us to lash out, or become defensive, or to try and “win” in an argument. But despite all of these differences, a healthy family realizes that there’s a stronger and more fundamental bond that allows you to gather this holiday season and be with one another in ways that are real, authentic, healing. And in this way, create connection in a world that feels so disconnected right now.

Maybe your family has decided that to discuss politics, religion, whatever – would threaten to undermine that bond. Some may disagree with me for saying this, but I see this as yet another way to try and love one another despite differences – even the really big ones.

Consider for a moment… You may have children of your own, and if they’re still young you might be thinking to yourself, “My children will grow up to share the same values I have about everything – because I’m teaching them all that I know and believe to be true.” But, in reality, they’re going to grow up and become themselves.

Your teachings, your influence will be in there somewhere for sure – but they may end up saying, wearing, protesting, believing, and voting for things that are very, very different from you. Looking at your own children now or even your gorgeous baby sleeping in your arms – can you believe that you would love them any less because of this?

The world is a hard, cold place at times and having a family that you can continue to come home to matters. We all need to try and cultivate kindness, caring, love and understanding – and then manifest this into the world. 

And it needs to start at home. With our families. This is the only way I know that we can begin to bridge the divide that’s threatening to unravel us all.

May your travels be safe. May you find a multitude of things in your life to be grateful for. And may your family table this Thanksgiving be filled with good food, hospitality, warmth, connection, and love.

This is my Thanksgiving Hope.

PS – This is a love letter of sorts to my own family who I’ll be missing again this year for my most favorite holiday and treasured memory of growing up as a Buckner.

I love you.

I Believe…

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This is the famous quote from author, Marianne Williamson.

I read this for the first time printed in The Oregonian on a random page apropos of nothing – it wasn’t part of a larger article or a highlighted quote. Someone, for some reason, spent what would have been a bit of money back in the day, to have this printed up in the paper for me to find. It was misattributed to Nelson Mandela (which, apparently happens ALL the time!) And for some inexplicable reason, I felt compelled to cut this 3×6 inch section out of the paper and place it prominently on the front of my refrigerator.

That was about 20 years ago.

It has a few grease stains on it, and there’s a strip of tape along the top. It has yellowed and bears the mark of time all along it’s tattered edges. Yet it remains (more or less) intact. This quote is what I look to whenever I’m needing to be reminded that all of us – every single one of us – has the capacity for darkness.

But it is our light that holds true power. And that light is not just in some of us.

It’s in everyone.

May our collective light shine.

 

Becoming Mother – The Interview

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I can’t remember how I found Sharon Tjaden-Glass and her book, Becoming Mother, but I’m very glad I did!

Becoming Mother is the book that Sharon wished had been written when she became pregnant for the first time: “I wanted the book that I eventually wrote. I wanted someone to be authentic with me. To talk about more than the physical. To go to the dark places. To show me what was hard and what was wonderful.” And Becoming Mother does all of this and more.

I recently sat down with Sharon via Skype and interviewed her about her book, pregnancy, birth and parenting experiences. The following are excerpts from that interview.

Barb: I found it interesting that you included your weight gain (and eventual loss) at the start of each mini-chapter of the book. It wasn’t focused on, or even called out – but why did you feel the need to include this as part of Becoming Mother?

Sharon: As women, I think we struggle a lot with body image and self-acceptance in American culture, and so this drives many of us to have that question in the forefront of our minds when we become pregnant: “What’s going to happen to my body? Will I gain a bunch of weight and never be able to lose it?”

The reason that I included the weight gain and loss in numbers was because I thought it would give pregnant readers realistic expectations for what that physical change is like. Of course, after having gone through the whole experience of having a baby, I understand at this point that the physical changes of pregnancy are not as monumental as the other changes. However, I wanted to meet pregnant women where they are when they first start reading this book.

B: That’s one of the things that I enjoyed most about your book – the focus on realistic expectations, the authenticity of it all. When you were newly pregnant, how realistic do you think your expectations were for after the baby arrived?

S: I wasn’t married to the idea that we had to take minimal time off, but I did know that it was important to me to keep the identity of my pre-mom self alive, even after the baby was born. Once she was born, we were more forgiving of ourselves in terms of going easy on not keeping up with the previous expectations. But we both held true to our commitment to “not totally lose” our previous selves.

B: In follow-up to this question, can you speak to that shift that occurs as a woman becomes a mother and her self-identity can become secondary to her new role as mother?

S: I sensed that it would be possible that I could “fall down this hole of parenthood” and lose my identity, not totally understanding that I’m a dynamic self and that I would always be changing, regardless of what happens in my life. Taking on this role as a mother has reorganized so many facets of my identity. It has also filtered how I see and experience the world. It’s impossible for me to tease apart “mother” from my other identities because it has affected all parts of my life. At the same time, I’m aware that I don’t want this role to “wipe out” my other roles, the other aspects of myself that make me who I am. Because I know that one day the all-encompassing role of “mother” will narrow and narrow as my child grows up. And soon they won’t need me in the same way that they need me now. So I want to make an investment in myself by cultivating those parts of me that will endure past this season of my life. Like with teaching and writing and maintaining friendships.

B: Early on in the book, you talk about  about “surrendering” as the first step in this journey. This is what I’m talking about! I’m not a fan of plans so much, but love the idea of surrendering to the process. Vulnerability during pregnancy is so intense – what do you think about this?

S: I think pregnancy is a constant reminder that you are not in control. And it serves a purpose. The further along you get in your pregnancy, the more control you lose: how much weight you gain, how sore and achy your body gets, your ability to stay asleep all night. Labor intensifies that message that you’re not in control. You’re in so much pain and there’s nothing you can really do about it. You can’t go backward. The only way is forward.

And then after the birth, it starts to click about how these physical limitations that reduce your control help your mental state. You’re much more pliable to giving in to what your baby needs. Whenever it needs you. Whatever you need to do, you’re open to it. It’s not so jarring after pregnancy and labor. Because you’ve been prepped for the past 10 months.

B: “On the hard days, I think – We have made a big mistake.” I so relate to this sentiment! In fact there’s been at least one day during all four of my pregnancies where I have not only thought this, I’ve said it out loud! It’s so important to normalize feelings of ambivalence toward pregnancy – even when it’s a wanted pregnancy. Did you ever talk about this with other pregnant Mommas? Or did you feel like you needed to stay quiet, not tell anyone how you were feeling?

S: I did, (talk to other Mommas) but always in a joking way. I think humor about these feelings helps bridge into those conversations about how tough motherhood can be. You hear it in conversations all the time—when mothers want to “complain” about something, they use two popular methods. 1) Use humor or 2) Use qualifiers: I love my son, but sometimes…

I’m really not the kind of woman to pretend that everything’s okay, especially to people that know me. People that know me and ask how I’m doing, they know I’m going to be honest about how I’m doing. So I didn’t feel like I had to keep up a positive face for everyone to reassure them that I was happy about being pregnant or becoming a mom. If I was having a hard time, I owned that hard time and shared it. The problem with this is that some people feel that your statement that you’re having a hard time is actually an inquiry, or a signal that you’re seeking advice. I’m not. I’m hardly ever seeking advice. And if I want advice, I preface my comments with, “I really want your advice.”

B: If only people understood this! “When I want your advice, I will ask for it. Thank you very much!” I always say that unsolicited advice is usually not very good advice, anyway…

You do a great job writing your birth story.  And while I’ll encourage people to read Becoming Mother for all sorts of reasons, in particular, reading your well-written account of one woman’s journey – emotional and physical – through giving birth is intense, profound and not without challenges. I know you’re pregnant again and want to know how you might be handling things differently this time? What has changed for you?

S: It (self-advocacy) was extremely challenging (the first time). Robbie Davis-Floyd talks about this very thing—the authority of knowledge in childbirth. That doctors possess more scientific knowledge about childbirth and so we often defer to their judgement. But on the other side of this, women often don’t give any weight to their own bodily knowledge, their own intuition about what’s going on. It cannot be trusted. And I definitely felt like this. That if I pushed my own bodily intuition too far that the doctor would lash out at me. I felt like there was a drive for the doctors to have “birth be this one way.”

We have changed providers and place of birth because of this tension with the doctors. I wanted to have a provider who would allow my birth to be what it will be, rather than forcing it to be something that it’s not.

B: Which would you say was harder for you: birth or breastfeeding?

S: Breastfeeding by far—because my body was not responding in the way that it should have. Some women have labors in which their bodies cannot get the baby to descend or dilate enough or fit through the hips. That’s how it was with me and breastfeeding. Always like trying to thread the frayed end of a thread through a tiny needle.

B: I love that image. It conveys so well the level of frustration you feel about something that ends up being so challenging when you think you “should” be able to do it no problem…

How about your relationship with your husband, Doug? How was the first year post baby on your couple relationship? Is there anything that you wish you’d known before that you found out the hard way?

S: I wrote about this in detail on my blog in my post, “When I Became Real to My Husband.” I think this demonstrated to me that loving someone did not depend on what you have to offer the other person. (This is a great read for an authentic, real look at the postpartum couple relationship – Barb)

I wish I would have known that it would take close to a whole year for sex to be really enjoyable again.

B: Right? All the books say “Six weeks! Six weeks!” Well, not my book…

Last question: What do you think about the great American myth of being Superwoman on the other side of becoming a mother?

S: Do you know Brené Brown? (Do I ever! She’s my future BFF – she just doesn’t know it yet…Barb) She talks about shame triggers, body image and motherhood. I feel like the myth of Superwoman in motherhood is just one more way to control and shame women. “Women are judged by their willingness to follow the rules and men are judged by their ability to break them.”

Well, Sharon Tjaden-Glass broke a few rules herself in that she wrote her book, Becoming Mother, even as she was going through her own pregnancy, birth and early parenting journey.

For Sharon, “Being creative isn’t something that I have to work at. It’s something that I am. I just have to make time for it. If I don’t make time for it, I feel blocked and unfulfilled.” And we are all the better for her commitment to staying creative and sharing her account of what it was like for her as she was Becoming Mother.

I want to thank Sharon for taking the time to talk with me about her experience and encourage readers who are pregnant now or know of someone who is, to consider this book as part of their overall preparation. It’s a well-written, honest account which provides realistic expectations (of which I am always a fan!) of what it’s like to move through pregnancy, birth and new parenting. You can purchase a copy of Becoming Mother here. And you can follow Sharon Tjaden-Glass on her blog here.

The Tooth Fairy

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“Okay, Mommy – I’m going to ask you a question, because I know that parents don’t lie.”

Thing Four said this to me yesterday afternoon while standing in our kitchen, home early from school with his first-of-the-season cold. I tried to distract him by offering him a snack. But, he would not be deterred.

“I’m not hungry! I need you to answer this question, because I know you won’t lie to me.”

I knew what was coming… How? He’s my fourth kid, he lost his tooth in the middle of math class yesterday, and he was jumping up and down about the dollar that he found under his pillow before he headed off to school in the morning. I got myself ready.

“Okay. What’s your question?”

“Are you the Tooth Fairy?”

I tried to stall. “Why are you asking me that?

“Because a big kid at school today said that there’s no such thing as a Tooth Fairy and that it’s just the parents. I want to know if he’s right or not.”

The moment of truth. Ugh. I’ve walked down this path before, three times already. But with Things One, Two & Three they hadn’t posed the “Is (fill in the blank) real? Or is it just you and Daddy?” question until they were ten years old. Ten! In this day and age, I think ten might be pushing it when it comes to still believing in the magic of childhood and I was so happy that they did! Because, honestly, I still want to believe. But when I answered their questions, it was only to confirm what they already knew. Each of them expressed sadness – they were hoping against hope that magic was still real – but none of them were at all surprised.

As my tender-hearted, sweet and sensitive seven-year old boy stood before me with complete trust that I was going to confirm what he knew without question – that the Tooth Fairy was in fact very real – my heart was aching for him. The words, “Too soon! Too soon!” kept echoing in my head. He noticed my pause and asked again, “Are you the Tooth Fairy?”

“Are you really wanting the answer to that question right now?” This has been my go-to response for the older three on so many different topics over the years. I feel like it gives my kids an out if they aren’t really ready to hear the answer. And sometimes, my question stops them from going any further. My little guy’s smile started to falter and his bottom lip quivered a bit, but he still said, “Yes.”

When I told him that it was his Daddy who did the work of the Tooth Fairy his face crumpled and he started to cry. In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to find the older kid who’d given him a hard time at school earlier in the day, teasing him about still believing in the Tooth Fairy – and wring his little neck.

Instantly, I was transported back to the day I was five years old – FIVE! – and my older brothers, ages eleven and thirteen at the time sat me down and told me that none of it was real. They laid it all out – and I bawled my eyes out.

I decided to do my best to soften this moment for my little guy and asked if I could hold him in my lap and try to explain.

“I don’t ever want you to feel foolish or that you’ve been tricked. I don’t want you to think that we’ve lied to you.”

“But you DID lie to me! When I asked you in the past if if the Tooth Fairy was real, you always said yes!”

“Ah, but the Tooth Fairy IS real – your Daddy’s real, isn’t he?” (A loophole, I know – but I was needing to think fast…) “You could think of him as being the hands and feet of the Tooth Fairy. And the story of the Tooth Fairy been told forever! Longer than even when I was a little kid!” (That always makes them understand the passage of time. My kids think I’m ancient!) “I’d like to think that maybe the story started because somebody’s kid lost their tooth, it freaked them out, and the parents told them about the Tooth Fairy coming to take the tooth and leaving them a gift in exchange to make it all less scary. To make it more exciting and magical! It was never done to be mean-spirited or hurtful. Are you angry with me?”

“I’m angry that I ever believed in the first place,” he mumbled in between sobs.

“But didn’t believing in the magic of the Tooth Fairy make it special for you?”

“Yeah –  but it wasn’t real.”

“But the real magic is that your Daddy and me and all of your siblings -” I began, but he cut me off.

“Wait! Elisa, Ale and Lulu know there isn’t a Tooth Fairy?” a new round of tears coming down his sweet, little cheeks. “I’m the only one in this family who didn’t know?!”

And I was again transported back in time to what I remember feeling when I found out: a weird mix of wanting to fiercely believe that magic was absolutely real, wanting to remain young and innocent – and being utterly despondent that I wasn’t as grown-up and mature as my older siblings, feeling foolish for not realizing that it was all pretend.

“You know, each one of your siblings asked me the same question you just did, only they didn’t ask until they were about ten years old. Asking now, when you’re only seven makes it a lot harder on you. But you asked me to tell you the truth. So, I did. I’m so sorry you’re sad. But the magic of all of us wanting to create special excitement for you as you’re growing up, the fact that we all wanted to keep this alive for you is still very, very real. And, you have to admit – it’s kind of magical that you go to bed with a tooth under your pillow and when you wake up – it’s gone and there’s a dollar bill in it’s place!”

He wasn’t really having any of it at the moment. I knew that I just needed to love him up and hold the space for him and his emotions. And that I also needed to figure out how to not ruin every other bit of magic still left. Not yet. “Too soon!”

“Well, what about…” he trailed off.

I responded quickly, “Listen, magic is real as long as you want to continue to believe in it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, your fourteen year old brother just lost a tooth last year, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, he put his tooth under his pillow and the next morning what did he find?”

“A dollar.”

“See? The magic still works as long as you believe in it. But if you’re ready to stop believing in the Tooth Fairy – the magic stops.”

Did I mention my kid is smart? He got it immediately and answered, “Well, I still believe in the magic  – ALL of it.”

“Then it will still happen! Your Daddy will continue to be the hands and feet of the Tooth Fairy and when you lose a tooth and put it under your pillow, magically, a dollar will be there when you wake up.”

This was not the end of the conversation, of course. We hashed this out for at least another 30 minutes. He had loads of questions, but was quick to only ask those he felt ready to hear answers to. He needed to ask his Dad what he did with all those teeth over the years. He wanted to be the one to let his older siblings know that he knew. He had to figure out why some older kids kept the magic alive, and others felt the need to crush it.

He woke up this morning and climbed into bed between us and announced. “I’m still sad about all of this, you know.” I know, me too buddy, me too. But I still choose to believe. I choose to believe that the magic is not that a little fairy, (or in Puerto Rican tradition, a little mouse) picks up your lost tooth and leaves a gift in exchange. I choose to believe that the real magic lies in the desire to make this world with all of it’s harsh realities a little softer around the edges – to sustain just a bit of wonder in our minds and hearts for as long as possible.

I don’t know if you tell your kids that the Tooth Fairy is real or not. This isn’t supposed to be a “how-to” or “I do it like this” kind of post. Just one Momma’s way of finding her way with her littles about the big and not so big stuff of everyday living. And hoping that the decisions I’ve made in how I choose to speak to my children about magic and wonder keep these things alive in their minds and hearts for as long as they choose to believe.

Our world needs a little magic and wonder. Maybe now more than ever before.

ICEA Conference 2016

icea

I just got back from the annual ICEA (International Childbirth Educator’s Association) Conference in Denver, Colorado. I don’t get to go every year, but I’d like to! These educational conferences are invaluable in keeping me current. Plus I love networking with other passionate-about-all-things-pregnancy-birth-and-parenting professionals! And snagging a boatload of my required continuing education credits for recertification is a nice perk.

This year, I was not just an attendee, but also a presenter. My breakout session, “Birth Plans: Helpful or Harmful?” went really well and the preliminary evaluations look good. I exchanged lots of business cards for what I hope will yield future collaborations. The other sessions that I attended were excellent and at the end of this post there’s a shout-out to some of the amazing women behind the presentations I was lucky enough to attend. They are doing great work in the field of maternal-fetal health and wellness.

But for this post, I want to highlight something that I saw as a really wonderful, positive, and hopefully continuing trend: a small but enthusiastic group of young, energetic Millennials attended this conference. These are young women, choosing to become Childbirth Educators in the digital age, who understand the importance of face-to-face, community building, peer-to-peer education that can really only happen in person. It’s just not the same via the Almighty Internet.

Sometimes I wonder how much longer I’ll remain relevant in this field, or even, how much longer the field of childbirth education will exist. It’s sad and scary to think about a time when I’ll be “too old” to teach classes, or worse – a time when expectant parents will just stop coming altogether:

“We can read about it on the Internet!”

“There’s so many YouTube births out there, we don’t need to take a class…”

“I’ve written my Birth Plan – what else do I need?”

Today’s expectant parents need connection – it’s a hunger that they might not even be fully conscious of, a product of this time when a sense of community is linked to how many friends “like” their posts, or how many “followers” they have. In the months and weeks prior to becoming a family, expectant parents need real connection:

Real connection with their childbirth educator who can provide evidence-based, unbiased information and encourage them to become truly informed consumers and advocates for themselves, their babies and their births.

Real connection with a group of people who are experiencing the same emotions and feelings of vulnerability. These are people who will not trivialize or sensationalize those feelings. They get it.

Real connection with one another as a couple, devoting time and energy to focus on each other and their baby and to learn as much as they can about the powerful transformation that the birth experience can offer.

It fills me with hope to realize that there are women who represent the age demographic of the Mommas in my classes, just entering into this field. That there are women who still get the importance of continuing to teach these classes to their peers.

I’m considered the Lead Educator at the places where I work – which means I do the mentoring of new educators. And I love it! I’m always trying to recruit potential newbies from my classes. If I see a Momma that has a certain twinkle in her eye, I try to connect with her so I can plant the seed of becoming a Childbirth Educator someday.

But as Lead Educator, I know that the classes we offer have to be nothing short of amazing. They can’t be fine. They can’t be good. They have to be classes that are an incredible value to today’s parents – not just in terms of money, but in terms of our most precious commodity – time.

When half of the class is wishing they were in their PJs, eating ice cream and binging on Netflix, and the other half of the class comes kicking and screaming because they think it’s going to be “All about HER!” – that’s a tough crowd. We have been charged with making our classes engaging, fun and entertaining. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget –  they need to learn a ton, as well!

It’s not an easy job. But none of the really important jobs ever are. Those of us working in this field know the potential that birth has to either positively or negatively affect the laboring woman’s self-identity, self-confidence, relationship with her baby, her partner and herself – for the rest of her life. We get it. But does this generation get it?

Well, this past week I got to see a sample of women from this generation taking notes, asking questions, learning from those who’ve gone before them, soaking it all up – showing me in words and actions, that yes indeed, they do get it.

And that’s good news for us all.

*I’m always, always trying to recruit younger women to do this work. If you’ve ever thought, “I wonder what’s involved in becoming a Childbirth Educator…” please, contact me – I’d love to talk with you about next steps.

And as promised, here are some amazing women doing some incredible things in the world of birth. Please check them out!

Jennie Joseph – is working to change what happens in materno-toxic zones to help reduce pre-term birth, low birth weight babies, and other complications that women of color experience at higher rates than their white counterparts.

Barbara Harper – travels the globe with the mission of making waterbirth an available option for all women.

Amy Rebekah Chavez – I’ll let you read all about who she is and what she does, but this woman is rad and she’s got the science and education to back up her work around trauma and healing.

Elizabeth Petrucelli – recognizes the importance of discussing unexpected outcomes with the families that attend her classes and this is a message that resonates with me for sure.

Aynsley Babinski & Pam Barnes-Palty – understand the need for birth workers to take part in self-care so that they can better address the needs and concerns of the families that they work with.

Colleen Weeks – shares from her personal experience in the field for 35+ years, how to continue to grow as an educator over the arc of your career and how to support our families when they’re hurting.

Amy Haderer-Swagman – I have to highlight this Momma-artist who was one of many great vendors from the conference, who made such gorgeous mandala birth art necklaces that I bought two of them!

This is not meant to be an exclusionary list – I was unable to attend all of the sessions that were available and I didn’t get to attend the last day at all, so my apologies to all of the other fantastic presenters who I know put as much care and attention into their presentations as I did. If you check out this ICEA Conference page, you can read more about these other wonderful women and find out more about the goodness they’re bringing into the world of birth.