One Guy’s Home Birth Perspective

I have not seen anything as incredible as the the birth of my child. The only way to describe it is an overwhelming, out-of-body experience that is both beautiful and transformative. It truly does not compare to anything else. For me, it was sort of the culmination of nine months of completely new experiences, and learning things I never imagined I would know. Before Taylor and I even considered having a child, we knew we wanted to have a natural birth, free of unnecessary medical intervention. Though we were weary of going through the whole process at home, it turned out to be a great decision.

It is hard for me to speak about many of the issues surrounding pregnancy and birth. For one, I am not a woman and this makes it difficult to even imagine the physical challenges and emotions involved with giving birth. Secondly, I am not a medical professional, so this may influence my understanding of the complex nature of the human body and ultimately what is “best” for a woman and birthing. That being said, I decided my part was to attempt to understand the issues surrounding pregnancy and birth and decide collectively with Taylor what we were comfortable with and what we wanted from this experience.

After conducting some research, we found an amazing midwife who we were confident had the knowledge and skills to be in charge of safely guiding Sage into this world. We also enrolled in a Bradley Method class that we attended once a week to learn pain management techniques, birth coaching, development of a birth plan, and a wide array of information related to giving birth. I am convinced now that nothing could have truly prepared us for what would take place but it helped ease the anxious anticipation in the months before Sage was born.

I have to say that when the time came, even with all the preparation, I felt a little helpless. Taylor actually preferred to be left alone, with little intervention from anyone standing by. Much of the time I sat awaiting the chance to grab some more water, or to help position furniture in a more convenient way. At one point during labor and delivery I remember tossing our Bradley book off to the side because it seemed every time estimate, scenario, and checklist had no relevance to our personal experience. I have since found as a parent that every book, seminar, class, article, or whatever that is intended to help will have limited applicability to your situation. It is your job as a parent or potential parent to take everything one experience at a time, use the knowledge you have gained but only as a guide, not as the law. Become dynamic, intelligent, and flexible, knowing that every hour and every day will bring something different, a new challenge, or a new joy.

I am glad we chose home birth. I am concerned about what may have happened in a hospital. Would Taylor have ended up with a C-section? Would we have been able to pay the bills? These questions are unanswerable, and for some people these aren’t as much of a concern. Many things that hospitals do are necessary and result in saving countless lives. I just don’t feel it was the right place for us. Home birth does carry some risks of its own, though I never felt that my wife or daughter were in danger. I would never willingly or knowingly put them in a dangerous situation. The benefits of the home birth, however were numerous – a truly intimate and unhindered birth with only close and familiar people present, the ability to move around and labor in the comfort of our home, sleeping in our own bed the very same day, a natural birth without medications, and the list goes on. I am thankful to have such a strong wife and mother of my child, she is truly an inspiration for women and a great role model for Sage. Being with her as she gave birth has connected us in a way that I never thought possible and for that I am so grateful.

Zach


Numbers One and Two

IMG_0094Being a parent means being comfortable with poop. Well, there is a lot more to it than that, but bowel movements are something we deal with pretty much every day. Before we had Sage, I used to imagine mounds and mounds of disposable diapers piling up in landfills everywhere and it gave me nightmares. I knew that I wanted to use cloth diapers, but I wasn’t exactly sure how the logistics would play out in our lives. Would we use some folded sheet and sharp little pins? It turns out there are numerous manufacturers that have taken on the challenge of creating easy-to-use, cloth diapers, that look great, fit just like disposables, and (thankfully) don’t require you to pin a diaper on a wiggly baby.

We started using the Bum Genius cloth diapers as soon as Sage could really fit in them. Though they are adjustable in size, they looked enormous and seemed to inhibit movement when she was really tiny. It took several months before we could start using them consistently. They are all-in-one diapers, meaning you don’t have to use inserts, there are just a couple of cloth flaps that you fold over before you put them on. They are super absorbant and we have never had an issue with leakage or explosions!IMG_0091

Maintaining the diapers is also pretty simple. We use a nice, plastic-lined, wet bag to store the dirty diapers during the day and I wash them at night. For fecal waste, we installed a diaper sprayer we purchased from Buy Buy Baby. There are tutorials out there on how to cheaply construct a DIY cleaner using a kitchen sink sprayer, but for me the price wasn’t an issue considering how easy it was to install.

To wash the soiled diapers, I run them through the washing machine on hot with a fragrance-free detergent. I run another short rinse cycle on cold, with no soap, to make sure there is no excess detergent. I am planning to start using a biodegradable soap and route the washer’s gray water to our garden, but haven’t gotten there yet. Some recommend running three cycles, but I don’t feel that is necessary, so we save some water and go with two. Next, I hang them to dry (outside if it is sunny and warm) using a foldable drying rack from Ikea. If it is too cold outside, or conditions are not suitable for drying, placing the diapers next to a window and over a vent seems to work really well. We haven’t experienced any staining, even with Sage consuming more and more table food, but exposure to the sun eliminates any discoloring very quickly.

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Overall, cloth diapering has been a pretty great experience. I enjoy minimizing waste and avoiding exposure to any chemicals used for absorbency in disposables. We still use the disposables occasionally, but the cloth diapers are our go to. I would recommend them to any parents, even just purchasing a few to try them out. The commitment is pretty minimal and it beats having a stack of poopy diapers filling up a trash can.

Zach


Take a Stand with a Rain Barrel

So, this one is short and sweet. We went to a rain barrel workshop sometime ago, and for I’m pretty sure the only time ever, we won a raffle! We walked away with a free rain barrel and a water storage book, pretty great deal. The rain barrel concept is pretty simple – run a spout from your house’s gutter, through a screen filter and into the barrel. Or, in our case, since we do not have a gutter we just cut the entire top of the barrel off, covered it with a window screen, and put it in a corner where the water funnels straight down.

DSC_0035The recycled, plastic 55-gallon barrel has two holes – one for the spigot, and the other for overflow. All of the parts can be obtained from a hardware store for under $20, not including the barrel, which may run around $35-55. If you’re lucky, you can pick one up for free from a restaurant or manufacturer looking to get rid of them. Just make sure the used barrels are food grade, and didn’t contain any corrosive or toxic chemicals. If you don’t have one already, you will need a drill and a few specialized bits. Here is the resource section of the HarvestH2O website. It has several links with step-by-step instructions on how to put one together.

Our rain barrel fills up quickly with only 1 or 2″ of rain, and holds water well without leaking. Our only issue was the very low water pressure, which I am attempting to remedy with this simple stand. I took two old pallets, put them on their side, and made a flat top for the barrel using a piece of plywood. Rain has been scarce, but when we eventually get enough to fill our barrel again, I’m looking forward to testing out the water pressure with a little extra gravitational force.

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Hoping for rain,

Zach


Get Growing

A dream of mine is that everyone will experience the joy of taking a seed, caring for it and nurturing it, and eventually tasting the sweet reward it brings. It’s the time of year to be thinking about the humble beginnings of seeds, and dreaming of the bountiful mounds of produce they will yield under the warm sun in a few months. I would like to attempt to offer a simple way to experience this joy and hopefully encourage a few first-time growers to start their garden.

You can use this very basic checklist to guide yourself through this first spring and summer, it’s not too late to get started!

1. Check out your space.

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Do you have a large backyard or are you working with a small balcony, porch, or patio? This will determine your growing system.

  • If you have a lot of space, some in-ground rows or a raised bed may be a good choice. Check out this resource from the University of Missouri Extension for raised bed construction. Raised beds are not always ideal for certain areas, but they do have some advantages – They warm up more quickly in the spring and are more accesible due to their elevation off the ground. As always, be careful when choosing materials, make sure your lumber is not treated and you do not use old railroad ties that may be covered with creosote. Cedar is a great choice and you can construct it to be as tall as you like, just make sure that the bed is not too wide that you cannot reach the center from the edge, because you do not want to compact the soil by walking in the bed. And if you want to be super cheap, don’t use any materials. Double digging the soil will add in air and elevate it off the ground. This, however, is only a temporary bed and you may lose soil to run off.
  • If you are working with a small area or want to keep things very simple, a container is the way to go. There are a lot of options for containers, and this resource from Ohio State offers a pretty straight forward explanation. Make sure your container has a hole for drainage and is made of a material that won’t leach toxins into your food. A pretty simple container we are looking forward to utilizing is a 5-gallon bucket from a hardware store. Pick up some potting mix and avoid using 100% garden soil. The Ohio State link also has a chart for appropriate container size given vegetable type. Containers are not only great for small spaces, but they also make it easier to protect against frost by simply bringing them inside for a short time. There are some super creative options from old tires to wooden barrels out there, so use your imagination!

2. What do you want to grow?

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  • Choose vegetables, herbs, or fruits that you already enjoy and you can incorporate into your weekly menu. Also, check with your local Agricultural Extension Office to see what varieties grow well in your area. Here is a fact sheet from the Oklahoma State Extension, for my fellow Oklahoma Growers. Follow the guide to determine when to start your seeds, putting your transplants out too early may result in losing a crop if they are sensitive to frost. Determine what the USDA growing zone is for your area and use the Farmer’s Almanac “plants by hardiness zone” guide to determine specific growing requirements for your plants.

3. From seeds or transplants?

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The next step is to decide if you will start your plants from seeds or if you will purchase transplants.

  • If starting from seeds, you will need at the very basic level, a container, a light source, a heat source, and a watchful eye.. Oh, and the seeds! I like heirloom varieties for their incredible flavor, unique appearance, and, among other things, the ability to save seeds from season to season. There may also be local farmers that save and sell their seeds, which is ideal because they have had several growing season to adapt to your region’s climate. There are a plethora of resources on this process, here is a simple one from About.com. Just make sure you use a seed starting mix, keep the soil moist but not soaked, and make sure they are warm (using a heat mat or placed over a vent in the winter). Place them next to a sunny window, or use a grow light setup on a timer so they get about 12-16 hours of light a day. I’m leaving out a lot of details, because the possibilites and levels of commitment are seemingly endless. For the first time, just stick to the basics and check on them every day, including watching out for any fungal growth or other issues that may arise. Once your seedlings are about two weeks from their transplant date, take them outside for steadily increasing amounts of time in order to “harden them off” before planting them outside.
  • Buying transplants is another option, if you are not interesting in starting from seeds. Certain areas hold festivals in the spring where local growers may bring transplants for sale, or you can pick them up from a nearby nursery. Just make sure they are hardened off and they are planted after the danger of frost has passed.

4. Maintain your plot!

  • Finally, whatever your method or plant choice, make sure to check in each day. Ensure you are watering appropriately, check for pests, and spend some time walking around your garden or containers, enjoying the growth. The Farmer’s Almanac site details watering and other care practices for each plant type, including how to identify and remedy pest issues.

So I know this simple guide is lacking a significant amount detail, but hopefully it can serve as a resource for someone interested in growing their own food for the first time. A simple internet search or call to your local extension office will yield a variety of helpful answers to any questions that arise. Don’t be afraid to jump right in, a package of seeds is a cheap investment and holds the potential of an incredible reward. In addition, keep coming back for a look at some easy, free or low-cost ways to complete these steps. I’m certainly no expert (though I’m trying to get there) but if you would like any help or advice on starting your own urban garden, please feel free to comment or email!

Happy Growing,

Zach


Compost Update

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Today I purchased a fun new garden tool… drumroll please… A Compost Thermometer! This purchase, however, was bitter sweet, for I have discovered an issue that needs to be remedied quickly. I walked out to my compost pile and plopped that sucker down to the middle of the heap. The reading was a measly 60° F. Sigh. So I am regrouping and assessing where I may have gone wrong.

There could be a number of reasons for the absence of thermal energy in my organic mass of goodness. Is it not getting enough moisture? Could be a factor in drought-stricken Oklahoma, but we actually got quite a lot of rain in the weeks following its formation. Is it the carbon to nitrogen ratio? Possibly, a higher carbon to nitrogen ratio results in lower temperatures. Also, it is January, and the air temperature has been around 30° F for several days now, which according to the University of Illinois Extension can slow or even stop the decomposition process. The goal is to have a significant amount of aerobic bacteria in your pile – they aid in the process of decomposition and release heat as they work. The heat is important because it kills disease-causing organisms and weed seeds that you don’t want to appear with your crops.

I’m pretty sure air flow is not an issue, it seems pretty porous and the layers will provide for some nice air pockets. From what I have read it appears the first course of action is to turn the pile and add some more nitrogen materials. Luckily I have some food waste and coffee grounds stored up which may do the trick. Thankfully, there is no odor, so it may just be slow getting started and been adversely effected by the cool temps. Hopefully I start seeing some action soon. My plan is to water, check and track the temperature often, and keep turning while trying to balance out and find the ideal carbon:nitrogen mix.

Check in for future updates to see how it progresses!

Zach


Reflections on Home Birth

Yesterday an article came out in our local paper highlighting some stories of local women (me, among others) who made the decision to have their babies at home. It’s not the best article I have read, and there is some conflicting stuff, I guess in an effort to seem un-biased, but it opened the conversation about options for birth and I think that is a really great start! After reading the article and spending the day pouring over the comments that were coming in (wowza, people really get stupid brave behind the keys of a computer dont they?) I had some time to reflect on my own birth and the reasons I made the decisions I did. I spoke to the woman who wrote this story at length, yet most of what she shared from our conversation is that I “reluctantly” decided on a home birth and while that is partly true there is much much more to the story.

I am planning a post on Sage’s full birth story, one with more detail, but that is not what I want to share now. I want to share the reasons I made the decision to have her at home and why it was the right decision for my family. I would never ever pretend to know what is best for anyone else, nor would I suggest that what I did was right for everyone. This is simply a more complete (hopefully) look at why someone may decide to look into other options besides a traditional hospital birth.

Long before I was pregnant or even thinking about the possibility of having a baby I watched The Business of Being Born and, sure, like most documentaries of this nature it was pretty one-sided but it opened my eyes to something I had never even thought was possible in modern America; having a baby, in your own  home?! It was so empowering to see women in their own environment, given the option to make decisions for their own pain management during delivery. From then on my eyes were opened to the possibilities and I had to know more. I spent the next few years researching midwifery and birth centers, as my first choice was to have a baby in a birth center, but sadly there were no birth centers in my area. (Almost one month to the day after Sage was born the midwife we used opened a birth center here in town, wouldn’t you know.) I then decided that if I wanted to be in control of my delivery I would just focus on finding a practitioner I love and trust and we would go from there.

Years later, I’m pregnant. Hooray! Now it was time to get serious about making these decisions. When I went to visit my primary care physician to confirm I was pregnant we had a conversation that solidified my decision to avoid doctors or nurses who would demean me and make me feel powerless to make my own decisions. (I recognize that not all doctors or nurses would do this, but I have had some pretty bad experiences with medical professionals treating me with little respect so I am only speaking from my own experiences, not generalizing. Hey, one of my very best friends is a medical doctor and he would never treat me this way and I swear I don’t hate all doctors so dont freak out ok?!) My doctor asked some general questions like “Do you have an OB” etc. and I explained that we had made the decision to use a midwife. She asked my reasons and I gave her, what I feel, were educated and valid reasons to explore other options for my child’s birth. (I wanted to avoid unnecessary medical intervention, I wanted to be allowed to move freely during labor, etc.) and she responded with (I kid you not) a lengthy explanation on how an epidural works, and that I didn’t have to have one if I didn’t want to (ok? helpful…) and closed with “WHEN you decide not to use a midwife…” so I’m sure she wasn’t listening at all when I explained my reasoning, further proving my point. Even in a simple visit like this one I was powerless and had no voice. I even asked her if she had a recommendation for a good OB, because I was absolutely open to meeting with a few before I made a final decision, but she said she did not know who to recommend. So this conversation was not only WILDLY unhelpful, it was condescending and pretty much clarified (for Zach and I) that exploring other avenues would make us more comfortable.

After researching midwives we set up some meetings, but after the first meeting it was a done deal, we had found THE ONE! We instantly connected and I felt safe knowing that she had lots of experience and I trusted that she would (and did) do everything in her power to help me deliver a healthy baby, because, isn’t that really all it’s about anyway? This remains my best advice for anyone who is about to have a baby, regardless of any choices you have made about the process, just ensure that you have a team of people surrounding you who will support you, that you trust and make you feel safe. If that is in place I believe that the rest is just details!

A common theme in the article posted yesterday is the “danger” of a home birth. I know there are horror stories, I know things can happen (but guess what, bad things can happen anywhere), but I want anyone reading this to know that I never felt unsafe and that my baby or I were never in any danger. OBVIOUSLY I would never do anything that could potentially harm my child or I (trusted support team, remember?) and I felt like this was the most natural (albeit incredibly painful, duh!) way to bring a baby into the world. I am not looking to debate studies about the safety of home birth vs. hospital birth, the statistics on unnecessary c-sections or the likes, I am simply sharing my experience with you in hopes that maybe somebody might open their mind to a new point of view. I spent 28 hours laboring in my own home, with only my mother, Zach and 2 midwives present. I was allowed to move freely to manage the pain, hop in the shower if I wanted, I was able to control my environment and be able to fully focus on what was happening to my body. All in all, I feel so fortunate to have had the birth experience I did. I know it doesn’t always go as planned (no matter where you have your baby) and I know many people who have regrets about the way their labor went down. I know that if we choose to have another baby (we are majorly on the fence about this) I could have a totally different labor experience, but I would make all the same choices in a heartbeat.

The main takeaway from this, the reason I felt compelled to even write anything about the subject, is that I want people to stop judging others for making choices different from their own. I would never judge a mother who made different decisions about her birth. No one in my circle of friends made similar choices to mine but not ONE SINGLE person ever made me feel like my decision was “wrong”. That speaks volumes about the people in my life for one thing, but also I believe it is because at the end of the day all we want is what’s best for our kids, so how can any decision about what is best for your family be wrong?!

Commenters on yesterday’s article (I know I should stop reading them but I.can’t.stop.looking) said again and again that the decision to have a home birth was “selfish”. A doctor quoted in the article even said women who decided to have a home birth were “only thinking of themselves” and it was all about “I want, I want, I want”. That is so unfair for a multitude of reasons, but I guess he isn’t totally wrong.

I wanted a healthy baby.

I wanted power over my body.

I wanted to bring my baby into an environment that is welcoming and stress-free.

If I had to be selfish to get what I wanted then so be it.

xo, Taylor


The Case for Two Wheels

I had never ridden a bike more than a few miles when I decided, or was persuaded, to participate in the Oklahoma Freewheel. Freewheel is a week-long cycling trek from the Northern border of Oklahoma to the Southern border, averaging about 60-70 miles per day. It was early 2004 and I was a senior in high school, at this point I had also never owned or ridden a road bike. My bicycling experience was limited to coasting on a Huffy down to the neighborhood pool. I was dating someone at the time whose family participated in this yearly event, so I excitedly accepted the invitation, borrowed an old bike from them, went on a couple warm-up rides, and hit the road that summer.

So that was my introduction into the world of cycling, and I loved it. After the first day, when I barely made the 30 mile trip, I thought, “What the hell have I gotten myself into?” But each passing day became easier and I loved the feeling of the open road, it gave me a sense of adventure and freedom, moving along the Oklahoma countryside with the wind in my face, powered solely by my two legs.

ImageSix months later I had a road bike of my own courtesy of my Uncle, a Specialized Allez Sport that I still ride today. I proudly don my spandex shorts and set out on adventures (not quite as long as that first week-long journey, but no less gratifying). I consistently rode, sometimes with groups and other times solo, throughout college, and I’m pretty sure one summer I was on my bike every day. When I got my first job teaching, it was around the same time I became interested and aware of environmental issues. I realized that the 8-mile trip from my house to the school was perfect for a bicycle commute. So I hit the road, rain or shine, in the non-stop Oklahoma wind, and I never looked back.

During that school year I learned a lot about commuting by bike, and really refined the skill set necessary to successfully and efficiently get where I needed to go. I transitioned from a backpack to a pannier rack, with a fold over bag to save my lower back. From the stock wheel set to heavier duty rims and tires, to avoid constant broken spokes. I picked up some toe-covers for cold weather, water proof bag covers for rain, bright lights for safety, and some light weight layers for those cold mornings and warm afternoons. The conversations I became engaged in with students and colleagues were so meaningful and gave me an opportunity to share my values and the reason I chose to ride my bike instead of driving. I just felt happier on the bike – in the car I would be yelling at people to go faster, but on two wheels I just pushed myself to go faster, it is hard to explain the feeling except by saying that it was totally freeing.

My newest jersey, courtesy of Taylor. (as if I haven't had enough things hurled at me while riding in Oklahoma) I love it!

My newest jersey, courtesy of Taylor. (as if I haven’t had enough things hurled at me while riding in Oklahoma) I love it!

I want to avoid going into incredible detail in this post, because I plan to further discuss my cycling adventures, review some gear, and share a bike building project I have started in future posts. I just wanted to share how I became interested in cycling and express how incredibly vital I believe it is for those who live in an urban/suburban setting. Reliance on cars and trucks for transport is not completely necessary and cycling is a great way to reduce your impact and help you stay fit, and not to mention, it is tons of fun!

Keep on rollin’

Zach