Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Vaccine Schedule, Long-Awaited

EDIT:  April 16, 2014
I continue to get a fair bit of traffic on this post, and several folks have asked me for an update. I leave this original post with all its edits as a testatment to my own "journey." It really has been a journey, one of growth & movement, not of stasis.

I've gone from "vaccines are awesome and make us so much healthier" to "wow... 40 vaccines in two years really seems intense, and giving more than one at a time kind of seems a bad idea" to "I think we'll wait until after their brain and immune systems are more developed (so after age 2)" to "vaccines are less important to health than gut health, proper nutrition- especially fat-soluble vitamins-and a strong immune system, and don't work as well as they claim to, so let's focus on the latter" (where I was as I wrote the above posts) to "vaccines have really dangerous side-effects that are far more common than ever thought- including ADD, ASD, asthma, allergies & other auto-immune failures, and wow, are they adequately safety-tested?" to "vaccines actually assault gut health and immune systems and are pushed by biased people who stand to gain from vaccine adoption, and why aren't they truly safety tested at all." As it stands we are not vaccinating our children at all until we have to, and even then it would be with MUCH precaution (vitamin loading, detoxing, and PRAYER). Possibly we'd use the mumps & varicella vaccines before puberty if we can't find the natural diseases somewhere.

In your own journey, you may want to think through the role of hygiene & nutrition in the decline of "vaccine-preventable illness" as WELL AS the decline of diseases that aren't vaxed against (if vaccines are so essential, why did cholera & typhoid also decline at the same time as diptheria?); to read the vaccine failure rates (80% of kids with whooping cough are fully vaxed- the flu shot has a dismal 1% improvement rate-- vitaming D has 8%); also to read the vaccine clinical trials and assess whether you find their "control" group acceptable (never is the "control" group of children given a saline injection or a sugar pill; they are ALWAYS given another vaccine, making it very difficult to assess true effects, and the trials are seldom blind. Double-blind controlled studies are "the gold standard" in science.). You may want to research conflicts of interest in our own CDC... honestly, do we really trust our government in the health field at all? they've had fat & sugar all wrong for the past 50 years and sure look down on nutrition & herbalism! Lastly, two more books to read are Gut & Psychology Syndrome (Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride) and Healing the New Childhood Epidemics (Dr. Kenneth Bock) which come at vaccine risks from oblique angles. Both doctors are still pro-vaccine by the end of it, but they say they should only be administered to healthy kids, and by their own standards, we really don't have very many healthy kids in the US!!

Vaccines are the "sacred ow" of the medical field right now. I don't think most doctors are actually taught about vaccines-- more along the lines of "vaccines are awesome; moving on." (I have yet to meet a pediatrician who understood any of the many reasons why parents might object to our current schedule; no, it's not just about "that one crazy Wakefield guy whose autism research was totally disproved." Sigh.)

The more I read about vaccines, the more I find them to be the absolute opposite of everything we know about caring for our bodies: they are the complete antithesis of natural. We NEVER get diseases injected directly into our bloodstream; much less falsely weakened diseases paired with heavy metals, antibiotics & known poisons. Our bodies are primed to screen pathogens through several "barrier levels:" skin w its protective bacteria & acid mantle; mucous membranes with their legions of white blood cells; stomach with its HCl; gut with its probiotics galore. And then we are programmed to fight disease quite effectively, if properly supported; and once we get one disease, it's usually the last time we ever will. By contrast to vaccines, the more I study herbs, the more impressed I am that this is the route we SHOULD be pursuing; using natural elements that our bodies recognize, taken in ways that our body can use-- aroma, contact, ingestion-- NOT injection. I keep seeing studies pop up along these lines-- curcurmin in turmeric being more effective than the Pc at preventing lung disease; vitamin D from food & sun being more effective than the flu shot... Why aren't we pouring our efforts into studying THOSE! Seems like the classic egg v. egg-substitute or butter v. margarine mistake. We keep thinking we can out-do God instead of figuring out how to better use what He's already given us.  

As a final resource, I highly recommend Rachel Weaver's books "Be Your own 'Doctor'" and "Be Your Child's Pediatrician"-- she's a master herbalist/midwife. We've seen simple herbs cleanse our son of parasites we didn't even know he had (and suddenly end his constant congestion) and heal the eczema our daughter been fighting for years in a matter of 2 weeks. I've seen a friend's baby come back from the brink of death (intubated in the hospital) with the application of herbal extracts (essential oils) -- he coughed up the mucus that was choking him to death within seconds of application, and was extubated & heading home the next day. It's just amazing. God is so much smarter than us; the best we can hope to do is figure out how to use what He's made-- the glory of God to conceal a matter; the glory of man is to seek them out, as Proverbs puts it!

Today (originally 11/16/10), I'm putting up our personal vaccine schedule.  As a bonus, you get to see my reading list.

Tomorrow, I'll put up an explanation for why we did what we did, with questions for you to consider as you make your own family vaccine schedule.

Then, on Friday, you'll be able to read (if you want) a detailed "paper" of sorts going in more technical/ medical detail.

That's the plan- short & sweet, then a "Questions to Ask" guide, then finally the full shebang which you are under NO obligation to read. :)  It's written mainly for my own peace of mind (I actually like writing papers), but our family doctor will be getting a copy, and I *might* try to do more with it if I think it's good enough.  EDIT:  this became my 3-part series on Keeper of the Home.  I have uploaded the full Q & As on chicken-pox & polio, and abbreviated ones for all the possible shots.

So, without further ado, here is what we will (most likely) do with our kids (DTaP 4 doses, Pc 2 doses, Hib 1 dose)-- could start 3 mos. earlier if desired:

12 mos--DTaP Dose 1 (can provide partial immunity against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough/pertussis)
15 mos--  Pc Dose 1 (can provide partial immunity against meningitis)
18 mos-- Hib sole dose (can provide partial immunity against meningitis)- no further doses needed if given after/at age 15 mos.
2 yrs- Pc Dose 2- no further doses needed if first dose given at/after age 12 mos.
3 yrs- DTaP Dose 3
4 years- DTaP Dose 4 (no further doses needed if given at/after age 4)

10 years- MMR & varicella vaccines, separated by at least 6 mos, only IF our kids don't get chicken pox (varicella), and rubella (German measles) naturally.  We're hoping to catch the live versions, so if you have a kid down with any of those, invite us over!! :)

(We do not plan on getting flu, Hep B or A, rotavirus, HPV or IPV vaccines.)
**Edit September 2011- because of sickness, we have held off on several vaccines and will be even more delayed; I'd rather not further tax my daughter's immune system when it is already fighting off a virus, even if it's "just a little cold."  I am also seriously considering completely skipping the DTaP completely with our next child(ren), due to the danger & relative uselessness (if the current epidemic is any indication) of the pertussis components  (don't really care so much either way about the diptheria elements).  However, because tetanus is a real danger and there are no vaccines available before age 2, I am making myself aware of which hospitals/treatment centers have TIG (tetanus immune globulin) on hand in the event of an accident before my children are old enough to get the single tetanus vax.  Proper wound cleaning & care is the best defense against tetanus... and keeping an eye on my baby while at the park.

Reading list:
The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child (Sears Parenting Library)-by Bob Sears (though he has an alternative schedule, he is fundamentally FOR vaccines)
Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases- by Paul Offit (essentially a biography of the man who made many of the vaccines still used today- gives a lot of insights into his world view, motives & motivations)
Vaccines: What Every Parent Should Know-Paul Offit & Louis M. Bell (try not to let its oversimplified tone insult your intelligence so much that you throw it away after one chapter)
CDC Vaccine Guide

The Vaccine Guide: Risks and Benefits for Children and Adults- by Randall Neustaedter
The Virus and the Vaccine: Contaminated Vaccine, Deadly Cancers, and Government Neglect-
 by Debbie Bookchin & Jim Schumacher
Make an Informed Vaccine Decision for the Health of Your Child: A Parent's Guide to Childhood Shotsby Mayer Eisenstein
"A User-Friendly Vaccination Schedule" by Donald W. Miller, Jr.
"The Danger of Excessive Vaccination During Brain Development" by Russel L. Blaylock
"The Challenge to Mass Vaccination" by Barbara Loe Fisher
"How We Are Making our Children Sick," by Sean Manning, in Pathways, issue 20
"A Personal Perspective on Vaccination,"by Jean McAulay in August/Sept 2008 of Today's Chiropractic Lifestyle

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Life in Crazy Land

This captures my day so well
In case you hadn't heard, our lives are crazy full right now over Chez Szrama.  In addition to our own precious kiddos growing and getting into all sorts of fun, we are hosting two extras kiddos (from within my extended family) while their mama gets some stuff sorted out.  V just turned 6 and is in kindergarten, while A is 3 and a half.  I also still nanny for L, who just turned 2, 3-ish days a week.  So, what's life like with 5 kiddos underfoot?

Well, it's busy.

But I'm living my dream. :)  Since the time I was very small, I dreamed of running a house full of children, especially children who needed extra love.  As a teenager I wrote imaginary Christmas newsletters updating my future friends on all my imaginary children year to year. (Ryan still hasn't read these.  Babe, you knew I wasn't normal when you married me, sorry.)  Working with children is something the Lord keeps leading me to; I've been told I'm good at it, and it brings me great joy.  So I'm over the moon.  Having kids simultaneously napping all over our house also kind of makes me feel like I have my favorite super power of sleep-induction.  Maybe I should see a psychologist.

In all seriousness, one of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 68:6-
"He sets the lonely within families; He leads out the prisoners with singing, but the rebellious shall live in a sun-scorched land."  
I love being a part of fulfilling that verse, whether it was by bringing home college friends for Sunday dinner, sharing the Gospel with hurting people, welcoming old friends to our family table no matter what our food budget was, or now by tucking in two more at bedtime.

Also, we knew this was something God wanted from us.  When we became aware of the girls' situation, both Ryan and I immediately wanted to say "yes."  When Ryan and I agree on anything, that's kind of a divine sign. :)  (Especially if it involves me saying "yes" to anything... Ryan's usually my "let someone ELSE say yes-- you can't do it all!" coach.)  And as countless before me have experienced, when He calls, He enables.

Even youths grow tired and weary; young men stumble and fall.  But those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength; they will rise up on wings, like eagles.  They will run & not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40

Our day to day routine starts like this:
6:45 ish- roll out of bed & into my bathrobe, get downstairs to start making V's lunch and commence breakfast.
7- rouse V and get her to start dressing herself through any manner of threat and coersion  (Of course on Saturdays this is reversed and she wakes up raring to go.  God's sense of humor is kind of sick sometimes.) As she eats, I do her hair, cook breaskfast for everyone else, make my coffee, pack her lunch, write her a little note, and review our memory verse.
7:40- Ryan takes V to school, which is mercifully 5 minutes away from us on foot.
8- the other prisoners (ie Eowyn, William & A) are allowed out of their beds and begin munching.  Usually during breakfast L gets dropped off.  (If you're wondering at what point I take my shower and get dressed... ummm, yeah... I haven't really figured out how that fits in, either.)

Since Classical Conversations is over for the school year, we are settling into a homeschool routine that we like.  I aim to do "circle time" with everyone 3 days a week, followed by a math lesson (A kind of tags along and the boys make general mischief).  I get the girls at the table to work on handwriting (E) and number/letter/color/shape recognition (A).  Wednesdays we head to dance for E, during which I get to Zumba (the other kids try it too), then library story time, then lunch at Nina (my mom)'s.  E & I do one lesson in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons about 3-4 days a week.  E is enjoying experiments with TOPS Get a Grip math supplement... during lunch we work on Bible verses from My ABC Bible Verses.  There is a lot of playing.  E is LOVING having sisters!  The little boys absolutely adore each other and come up with games of their own invention (such as the "ow" game, where they pretend to knock their heads against a hard surface, intoning "owwww" and laughing uproariously).  Another favorite is "Jump," in which case one or both of them hauls any object-- stool, book, beanbag, anything else Mom hasn't yet confiscated-- to the middle of the floor, and they jump off of it.  Repeatedly.  We head to parks pretty often, too.

Everyone naps between 1 & 2 (well, E naps every other day or so-- the off days she picks a quiet activity and plays ALONE as long as others are sleeping).  Usually that includes me.  Ryan brings V home around 3, and she goes straight to the kitchen table for a snack and homework.  I often make us some tea to share and she's starting to learn how to tell me about her day.  Her situation has made her quite behind academically, so we started at the beginning of TYCTR and have done one lesson each school day.  Then I coach her in handwriting, drill some sight words, and if E isn't napping, we do a number or word game together.

By this point usually some of the kids are awake and if it's remotely sunny they are clamoring to go outside.  This is where my life is much easier in some ways than it used to be. THEY ALL PLAY TOGETHER!!  Outside they troupe, usually first to ride bikes/push each other in the stroller/ pull each other in the wagon, and then they transition to some form of story-play.  Last week they've been poor people looking for a home, mother birds sitting on nests, Easter bunnies hiding eggs, mommies visiting each other, or cafe vendors selling smoothies & coffee.  Liam just wants to play basketball.  I try to interact with them a bit-- reading books aloud to everyone, playing, pushing or pulling on bikes, doing sidewalk chalk art, acting out a fairy tale (we really like the Three Billy Goats Gruff).  L's mama comes around this time and whisks him away; often we chat for a while (or a long while =D).

I make dinner... I've learned to get the kids started cleaning up earlier so it's done by dinner time.  They clamor to help me set the table and I let them.  We try to eat by 6:30 but we often are late-- either I haven't gotten my act together or Ryan works late.  Dinner is chaos... between our anorexic, highchair-hating-toddler (that would be Liam), an incredibly slow eater, kids still needing various degrees of help, trying to hear about everyone's day and a sudden advent of eye-ball-popping-out and poop-related stories... dinner is not for the faint of heart.  And just about every night amidst all the craziness and me giving someone the evil eye my heart just melts and I tell Ryan "oh please, when can we have some more?"

Dinner is swiftly followed by bed time.  That is one thing that DOES take longer the more kids you have!! Right now we are preparing for Easter with our Resurrection Eggs, which I love doing with the kids.  I am amazed at how much Liam loves them!  He begs to open "eggies" throughout the day, squeals with delight as each is opened, and is a generally enthusiastic nuisance the whole time they are out.  Hopefully he's learning something.  The girls are certainly starting to grasp the narrative of Passion week, and I pray that the reality of the Atonement sinks in.

Once eggs are opened and closed, Ryan takes over.  He supervises teeth-brushing, PJs & final potty-ing, and then reads them a Bible story.  We are into the NT in The Jesus Story Book Bible.  He sings & prays with them.  Meanwhile, I take Liam & get him into his PJs and we have our own little bedtime routine.  He asks for "che-che" and "Bobo" and I tell him "no!  Che che is yuck!"  He laughs and says "no!  che che is NUMMM!!!" (his version of "yum), or he will tell me "Mama, che-che is yuck" and then laugh and correct himself.  Once he's all dressed and holding as many lovies as he can cram into his arms, I settle into our glider to rock and nurse him to sleep.  I love the chance to snuggle him and smell that sweet little-boy smell.  He is getting so big and I know these days are numbered.

Once he's drowsy or asleep, I plop him in bed (well.... sometimes I might read an extra article online or comment on FB...) and make the rounds of kissing the girls & tucking them all in. Usually they're all waiting up for me.  E usually has some minor medical emergency like a hangnail or toeache or scratch requiring a band-aid...

That's pretty much how it goes!

they played "Doggy" in their self-made "cage" for hours
Don't get me wrong; there are times when I basically just tell everyone to sit down and stop talking... when I tell them that the next person who tattles gets to live outside... when I realize I've been ignoring "Mom! Mom! Mom!" for about 10 minutes... when I realize it's been a week since I opened my Bible... when I just want to be by myself for a whole 5 minutes... when I call my sister and add a topic to our "Least Favorite Ways to Spend My Time" list... when I lose it and shout and sin against my children... when I realize I've made the wrong call and need to backtrack... But overall, this is a good life.  It's a busy season, but it's one I'm enjoying.

We are being blessed by so many others, too.  Our extended family helps with the kids in countless ways; pitching in to get them to and fro, keeping them overnight so Ryan & I can get some us-time, bringing us meals, helping with chores.  We also have been so well-served by our brothers & sisters in Christ -- for the first three weeks after we got the girls, my cooking consisted of re-heating meals others had made.  People have brought over bags of hand-me-downs, given us bikes & toys, welcomed us with all our craziness, and come over and helped us clean.  It's so cool to be at the center of God's plan for His people to serve women & children in need ("widows & orphans")... you get a lot of tangential blessings, to put it geometrically. =D

And let me close with a "plug" for the Daddy of this crazy family.  If our family "tone" is of welcome and friendship, it's because he leads in it.  He excels at entering into people's stories and loving them in them.  He's also been amazing at doing lots of dishes and making sure I don't go insane.  I married a keeper.  =D

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Thoughts on the "Parents, You've Been Lied To" Articles.

My thoughts on the back-and-forth
A pro-vaccine article has been circulating lately; you may have seen it, entitled "Dear Parents, You Are Being Lied To."  Hosted on the Illustrious "I F-ing Love Science" page, authored by "Anonymous," you can tell it's a real winner... a friend asked for my thoughts on it, so here are a few thoughts as well as some links you can check out to do your own research.  [An excellent, well-supported (full of links!!) rebuttal can be found here:  "Dear Parents, you are being lied to."]

- The article title begs the question-- who, exactly, is doing the lying?  The article never says... because makes no sense. There is no organized "they" who is financially or otherwise served by sending out lies... People who are cautious about vaccines or doubtful that they are worth their inherent risk (all drugs have risk & side effects) have either seen negative effects of vaccines first-hand or they've been researchers who changed their minds as they read for themselves. People who don't view vaccines as the modern savior are generally challenged at every turn & very much in the minority. On the flipside, there is a very strong bias-pressure to love vaccines, with our own CDC almost completely composed of men & women employed by vaccine manufacturing companies. There is a definite group of people who stand to gain by encouraging vaccines. Parents who choose not to face many obstacles, and health professionals who speak out face even more.  Here is a great article comparing the vaccine-SIDS question to the x-ray-cancer question a generation ago.

- The "measles outbreak" that caused such a hubbub was at the time of the outbreak, 8 kids... none of whom died. The totals for measles the entire year for the entire US last year was under 200... hardly the panic-worthy epidemic the media implies. Measles IS very mild in healthy kids; comparing it to measles in malnourished kids is totally unfair. It's documented that a Vitamin A deficiency (a fat-soluble vitamin, so one lacking in any starvation, carb-heavy, diet) makes measles far more serious. In normal kids it's usually about as "serious" as a cold...
"Several recent investigations have indicated that vitamin A treatment of children with measles in developing countries has been associated with reductions in morbidity and mortality. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) issued a joint statement recommending that vitamin A be administered to all children diagnosed with measles in communities where vitamin A deficiency is a recognized problem and where mortality related to measles is ≥1%. [...] Vitamin A is a necessary substrate for preserving epithelial cell integrity and in addition plays a role in immune modulation." (Study: "Vitamin A Treatment of Measles")
"Vitamin A deficiency is a recognized risk factor for severe measles infections." (Study: "Vitamin A for Treating Measles in Children") 

- As far as safety tests go, there are NO-- literally zero-- vaccine studies where there is a vaccine-free control group. All required shots are tested against another shot, never against a placebo (with the exception of the flu shot). So these tests can only say that a shot is more or less safe or effective than another shot... a true double-blind study with a control group is the "gold standard" of science. Also, vaccines have never been tested in conjunction with one another; they are tested one at a time, though they are administered 5 at a time (or more), and in quick succession (within a few short months of each other-- we'd expect someone who had a cold and then got the flu and then got strep to react to each differently than a person who just got strep). There is no safety data at all on the type of administration that is the recommended norm here in the US.  Two recent studies have found correlations in infant death and vaccine numbers:

"The US childhood immunization schedule requires 26 vaccine doses for infants aged less than 1 year, the most in the world, yet 33 nations have better infant mortality rates (IMRs). Using linear regression, the immunization schedules of these 34 nations were examined and a correlation coefficient of 0.70 (p < 0.0001) was found between IMRs and the number of vaccine doses routinely given to infants. [...] These findings demonstrate a counter-intuitive relationship: nations that require more vaccine doses tend to have higher infant mortality rates." (Source-- this study examined infant deaths relative to number of total vaccines recommended) 

"Our findings show a positive correlation between the number of vaccine doses administered and the percentage of hospitalizations and deaths reported to VAERS. In addition, younger infants were significantly more likely than older infants to be hospitalized or die after receiving vaccines. Since vaccines are administered to millions of infants every year, it is imperative that health authorities have scientific data from synergistic toxicity studies on all combinations of vaccines that infants are likely to receive; universal vaccine recommendations must be supported by such studies."  (Source-- this study examined infant hospitalizations & death relative to number of simultaneous vaccines received)
- As to WHY there are no studies comparing vaccinated & unvaccinated kids,vaccines are considered so essential to safety that to withhold them -- even on tests intended to ascertain whether they are indeed essential to safety-- is seen as "unethical." Talk about the cart before the horse! However, many parental groups have offered up their members as volunteers, because they already intend to not vaccinate.  Populations who refuse to vaccinate for religious reasons, such as the Amish, would be valid control groups, or for a new vaccine, even children otherwise vaccinated but receiving a placebo for that new shot (which is clearly not proven to be effective or safe!) would be acceptable. Or, start with a retrospective survey of matched groups of children, controlled for other variables, with the variable being full vaccination or no vaccination... so long as the study participation was in no way tied to the government (due to fear of punitive action over differing medical opinion being viewed as "parental neglect"-- Justina Pelletier, anyone?), most parents who have foregone vaccines would jump at the chance to participate!!  If I can imagine three scenarios for true placebo-controlled studies, why can't professional researchers who make scientific investigation their full-time jobs come up with even one?

-  Funding for studies coming from a vaccine manufacturer tends to bias results.  As an example, a recent Cochrane review of all the data on flu shots found that studies sponsored by vaccine companies tended to be more favorable than those done by independent parties. Third-party-researchers do exist-- or teams made up of both "special interest" (vaccine-cautionary) and pharmaceutical (pro-vaccine) representatives could do it. There are a hundred feasible ways that fair testing could be done.  While all researchers SHOULD be trying to disprove their hypothesis, in reality most are likely to attempt to affirm their own beliefs. However anything that comes up with a vaccine-cautionary bent will face much more scrutiny than anything done in "support" of the majority opinion.

"This review includes trials funded by industry. An earlier systematic review of 274 influenza vaccine studies published up to 2007 found industry-funded studies were published in more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size. Studies funded from public sources were significantly less likely to report conclusions favourable to the vaccines. The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies. The content and conclusions of this review should be interpreted in the light of this finding." (Source-- Cochrane Review on Vaccines for Preventing the Flu in Healthy Children")

- Speaking of funding... does it not strike you as odd that drug companies only agreed to make vaccines (drugs) if they were financially shielded from any safety-related lawsuits?  If an automobile maker would only sell a type of car under the condition that they didn't have to pay any damages if it malfunctioned, we'd probably assume there was something wrong with the car!  This piece makes the excellent case that, in the words of pharmaceutical companies themselves, vaccines are "unavoidably unsafe."

- A final word regarding specifically the investigation of a link between autism and vaccines.  It is lunacy to say there is "no found link."  Just read a few of the studies amassed here (a fairly exhaustive list of research done on vaccines & their long-term effects, specifically ASD).  There is research on many aspects of this issue, and none show "no link."

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Breastfeeding Past A Year?

I guess I grew up knowing that the normal way women fed their babies was to nurse them.  My mom did it, my aunts did it, and it was enough of a non-issue for me that I don't remember ever thinking more about it than that.  I thought bottle feeding was super-cool, because then I got to feed the babies and rock them and burp them and tote them on my hip... but I never really thought about what was in the bottles (expressed milk or formula or cow or goat milk).  When I found myself pregnant with Éowyn I set out with a general idea in mind of nursing "at least to a year and hopefully beyond."  We got through a bit of a rocky start (we both were drowning in milk) but never looked back and were both very pleased with our nursing relationship when we weaned painlessly in the spring of 2011 (E was 21 months old).  I didn't really keep nursing to prove a point or out of any conviction; I could just tell it was good for her, our pediatrician recommended it since we were following our own vaccination schedule, and it was convenient & simple (what can I say, laziness is a powerful motivator for me, hehe).  As I went I started noticing that more than one factor seemed to point towards a natural weaning age of two -three years instead of closer to the American mentality of 6 mos -1 year.  Liam is now 18 months old and I hope to nurse him at least 6 months more-- with a summer birthday I have a feeling he'll be glad to wean right around the 2 year mark (hot & muggy SC summers don't encourage snuggling).  I have already gotten the "why are you still nursing?" question, and I'm sure as he gets older I'll get it even more.  So here are a few of the reasons I've catalogued for nursing on through the second year of life (and into the third if you both like!).  This is in no way a critique of moms who did not nurse until one, or two, or three, or any arbitrary age, rather by choice or circumstance.  Any breast milk is better than none! And I'm not arguing for an arbitrary "nurse until" date here; I'm trying to see what hints we get from our biology regarding when a "natural" weaning age range might be.  Basically, it boils down to this:  there seems to be way less of a difference between an 1 year old & and an 18 month old than there is between a 2 year old & a 2.5 year old.

1. molars--  most kids get their molars, needed for chewing grains and helpful in chewing meats-- between 13 & 33 months old. This is a very simple indication that a constant, consistent source of carbs & fat would be helpful (breast milk is mostly just that:  carbs/sugar and saturated fat).

2. brain development- a baby's brain grows incredibly rapidly through the second year of life, and by age 3 has reached 90% of its adult size.  The type of growth that particularly characterizes these years is synaptogenisis, or the formation of connections throughout the brain.  A toddler's brain actually makes way more connections than he will use, and by adolescence will have "pruned" away about half of these connections.  Also ongoing in the infant & toddler years is myelination, which is the coating of brain cells with fat to allow proper transmission of information across the synapses.  What nutrient is essential to brain growth & development?  Fat.  Specifically, saturated fat.  Even more specifically, cholesterol.  Breast milk is an amazing source of saturated fat.  While cow's milk (and this is an average which varies by breed) has about 8 g of fat, and 33 mg of cholesterol per cup, human breast milk has around 11.2 g of fat, and 43 mg of cholesterol per cup (this also can vary from mom to mom, and mom's diet is a part of that)!  Also, the brain is a huge consumer of glucose, which is supplied in breast milk in the form of lactose (carbs make up about 40% of the calories in breast milk).   A toddler's brain still needs lots of sugar and fat, and mom's milk is still the perfect source of those through the second year of life.  In fact, the longer a mom nurses, the more fatty & energy-dense her milk gets, providing more calories & fat per ounce!  (isn't that amazing!? breast milk really is designer custom-made food!)  Could this be why IQ scores go up the longer a child is breast-fed?

Most students of the brain note a difference between 2 & 3 years in terms of brain development, rather than between 1 & 2, whether one is studying Erickson's "Psychosocial," Piaget's "Cognitive Development,"or physiological "brain development" stages, or critical periods in language acquisition.

3. immune factors- this is a complex subject that is still not wholly understood even by experts... so please excuse this extreme simplification of the topic: it seems that there are 3 "arms" to a mature immune system: cell-mediated (Th1), humoral (Th2), and regulator (Th3) immunities.  Th1 tends to respond to danger in our cells with inflammation (white blood cells), Th2 tends to respond to danger outside our cells with antibodies, and Th3 keeps the other two in check.  As Dr. Russell Blaylock (MD) explains:
"If a virus invades, it quickly switches to the Th1 phase, which allows immune cells to secrete a group of cytokines that kill viruses. [...]  At other times, the immune system needs a whole different set of immune signals and cells, which are supplied by the Th2 phase. The Th2 phase favors the production of antibodies, mainly supplied by B-cells, but in general they reduce immune reactions." 
If left alone, babies start to make antibodies on their own around 6 months (artificially-fed babies do get antibodies earlier) and the mature immune system develops by age 3.  However at birth babies depend largely on their humoral (Th2) system-- this keeps them from being flagged as an invader by Mom's immune system pre-birth, allows good bacteria to colonize their gut, and also helps keep their brains growing without any inflammation to endanger it.  (Think of how rare, and therefore how serious, it is when a young baby gets an infectious fever-- babies just aren't wired to get fevers, which are a form of inflammation.)  So, how can a baby fight infection if everything in its system is trying to avoid inflammation to allow his brain & nervous system to develop as much as it can?  Breast milk again.  A mother's milk will be custom-made with antibodies for whatever germs she has been exposed to-- and with as much kissing and snuggling as moms naturally do with their babies, by day's end, she's been exposed to whatever he's been exposed to.  Continuing to supplement baby's immune system with maternal antibodies as long as his brain is rapidly growing and his immune system is still largely in Th2 mode (to protect that brain) makes complete sense-- that would mean breast-feeding for 2-3 years, not 1-2.

4. hints from other mammals- looking at the weaning ages in other mammals and adjusting them for various factors (like gestation, permanent tooth eruption, age of puberty, etc.) is a fascinating study, and indicates a "natural weaning age" for our species between 2 and 7 years.  Definitely not before 1 year.

5. child spacing- [[I'm not sure which is the "chicken" and which is the "egg:" if we naturally nurse 2-3 years and that helps us space our kids ideally, or if it's designed so that we generally have another child 2-3 years after the first, and thus wean around that time... either way God's system seems to have the two interrelated somehow.]] Much research indicates that the "ideal" spacing between pregnancies is 2 years, from a purely nutritional point of view.  In developing countries, breast feeding is an effective form of child spacing known as "LAM" (lactational amenorrhea), delaying the onset of ovulation for an average of 15 months, or even the duration of breast feeding in some women.  [Why doesn't this work in our own society?  My own theory is that it has to do with all the hormones we ingest constantly, from our food (especially milk, meat & soy, which is in most processed foods), water and even the plastics in our lives!]  While some women are able to "tandem nurse" (nurse through pregnancy and then nurse two children of different ages), many find pregnancy a natural weaning point, or choose to wean in order to "restock" before conceiving again.  It seems logical to expect 2-3 years of nursing one child before another child would naturally follow...

I want to restate that any breast milk is a gift.  To the moms who nursed to 1 year, awesome.  You gave your baby a tremendous start in life.  To moms who nursed to 6 months, yes!! You supplied your baby with antibodies until her body started making her own!  To moms who nursed 6 weeks; excellent.  Your baby got not only "liquid gold" (colostrum) but also got his metabolism correctly calibrated.  To the moms who nursed 3 days, you sealed your baby's intestinal wall and gave her a mega-dose of probiotics...  kudos especially go to those moms who persevered through pain and/or difficulties to get to whatever milestone you reached!!!

My own "takeaway" as I've waded through so many aspects of this topic has been to aim to nurse well into toddlerhood --whether that means 18 or 24 or 36 months will vary by situation, and by child-- just as each child learns to walk & talk at different ages, so they also get their molars at varying ages, their brains develop at different paces and their immune systems switch from Th2-dominant to a mature balanced system, all at different ages.  Follow your body, your child's body, and your own gut... and pray.  How many of us have prayed about when to wean?  But God invented breast milk, just as He controls immunity and molar eruption. :)

Friday, December 13, 2013

K4 Update... as Requested :)

Hello friends, accidental visitors, and faithful readers... which I probably have none of because it's been so long since I blogged that it wasn't even in my browsing history anymore. Yikes.

Siblings, Friends, and "Classmates"
Several friends have asked me to post a little update on our school year-- what's working, what's not, what it looks like, etc.  So, between bites and sips of my lunch (the first time I've sat down all day) I'll try to crank this out. :)  Here is my loose "road map,"as posted several months ago.

I. love.  homeschooling.

Wow.  I can't believe how much I love it.  There are days when I feel myself teetering on the brink of a mental breakdown, yes... possibly days when I've fallen over INTO that chasm, truth be told, but that doesn't change how much I love it. I loved teaching before, and naturally tend to fall into it, and now that it's my own child whom I'm watching "get it," it's even more fun.  I love the classical approach.  I love teaching by asking questions.  I love guiding her to learn to work alone.  I love incorporating academic learning into real life easily because I'm aware of all she's learning academically.  I love having dozens of opportunities to discuss the Gospel, the Bible and her soul every day.  I love watching my children become friends and playmates because they are together every day.

Our basic curriculum outline:
Phonics- Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
Math- Saxon Math K 
All Grammar-  Classical Conversations (this teaches kids nuts & bolts "facts" of history, English grammar, Latin, science, math and the fine arts)
Handwriting- Cursive First
World History- The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: The Middle Ages:(Vol. 2) 
Science- Herbs Coloring Book

I am super chill this year with school in general.  By SC state law Eowyn doesn't have to even enroll in school until 1st grade, which for her would be in 2016 (Sept birthday), so I'm mainly trying to get in the swing of things for my own sake as well as hers.  We also have two toddler boys running around our house, potty training, playdates, and sickness regularly disrupting our "routines."   I am taking the advice of Susan Wise Bauer (author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home), who recommends focusing on basically math & phonics the first year you homeschool, along with plenty of reading (both aloud and independently if your kids are readers).  She then recommends adding another subject or two the next year (or semester if you're really doing awesome), rather than trying to tackle everything all at once and getting so burned out that you give up on homeschooling.  Only try to juggle two things instead of 10?  I'll take it!
Weekly Story Time at our Local Library ("Mo Willems" Day)

Our weekly schedule loosely resembles this:  Classical Conversations co-op on Monday mornings, which includes fine arts & science; Tuesday- "full" homeschool morning (1 hour); Wednesday- ballet (1 hr) & library story time (30 min), Thursday- BSF Bible Study (super quality kids' program there); Friday- "full" morning Friday or Saturday. We often fit in a reading lesson, history chapter, math or science activity, or some motor-skill work on non-full days.  I also LOVE the approach that's explained in the CC book, of just assigning 10-20 min independent work to kids per subject, and training them to occupy themselves.  So in line with what little kids are actually capable of doing!

Classical Conversations-  I am very impressed with it... I LOVE how customizable it is, how low stress it is, and how much the responsibility is on the PARENTS, without compromising quality or accountability.  I love that we go once a week and that motivates both me and Eowyn to press on when we don't feel like it... that she sees she's not alone in having parents who expect her to do __, and that she has a chance to function in a classroom setting.  The "presentations" she has to give ever week (basically show & tell) are genius.  She is already, at age 4, learning to be a public speaker, to take her audience into account... that is not exactly what most preschool programs focus on!  Most of all I love that I am with her every step of the way.  Maybe it's because I'm still in the nursing-babies phase, but it literally hurts my heart to think of her being away from me for long periods of time.  You just never know what kind of creeps and messed up people are out there.  They'll have to go out on their own soon enough, and I want them to be strong and ready when they do!!!  So I love that I'm with her to help her learn to navigate right now.  We listen to the CDs in the car and that's about all we do for CC, along with checking out books and DVDs that dovetail with our science, history and fine arts as much as I can. Honestly for science we do more with biology-- our herb coloring book (we touch, taste, smell, pick the actual herbs we color); we read about various animals & go to the zoo; she helps me in the garden; and I want to eventually get Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game, because then I will have arrived at True Hippy Parent status. ;D  No-- actually because I make a lot of our "medicine" from dried herbs and herbal essential oils it's very natural for her to start learning herbs now, and it just seems kids love biology at this age!

our "sentence game"
Phonics-  100 Easy Lessons is what my mom used and it's working fairly well for us, though I supplement it because E seems to need it.  She stresses herself out blending sounds sometimes so I often "scaffold" her-- sounding the words out with her-- and make free use of extrinsic motivation (also known as bribery).  We have done a raisin or fruit snack for each word read, and now she can earn a quarter for each lesson she completes (working to buy a Barbie doll!)  I bought the Bob Books (Set 1) on consignment for a few bucks and she enjoys practicing in those. I made our own word family card game (Ex. __an written on a large index card, with letters m, c, p, f etc on small cards so she can change them and read each new word) and sight word cards (names of our family members, common words like a, and, the) and we often make our own sentences with those so she can gain confidence & fluency. She also has some books on tape (yes old-school cassettes) and often "reads" along with those.  If you haven't read The Read-Aloud Handbook, get it... it's so super encouraging for just how much you can let slide and as long as you are reading to them/surrounding them with books, THEY WILL BE FINE!!!  And it has a great section of book summaries.  I think we'll be set to finish the 100 Easy Lessons by next school year's start (K5), because I plan to go through the summer with it, which will have her reading on a 2nd grade level.

Math- I am a die-hard Saxon fan as I learned great with it myself.  It's a no-frills program that works well for us, mostly because I am not afraid to combine or skip lessons as needed (NOBODY NEEDS TO DO ALL THE PROBLEMS), and I am used to making my own simple manipulatives (preK teacher to the core).  I use our pocket calendar and Dollar Tree items as counters.  Even with us only doing math twice a week, we are flying through the book, which is great at only introducing one concept a day and reviewing often; we have been doing a lot of these concepts for the past year and a half informally (I didn't even mean to-- we just did) so it's very doable for us to combine 2-3 lessons.  I have Melissa & Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards as well as a magnetized pattern block set Ryan brought back from Prague that I often "assign" her for 10-20 minutes (shower time!!), Melissa & Doug Wooden Shape Sorting Clock, Dollar Tree number workbooks, and a jar of buttons of all shapes, sizes & colors which I'll give her to sort.  I always put them away just before she's had enough of them so she thinks they're grand fun when we get them out!  We have Duplos and hardwood blocks to play with, and a pool & water table set up in the summer (my mom has Tinkertoys & Lincoln Logs) so they get a lot of incidental math play that way too.

He's learning from the best... at least he thinks so
Handwriting-  as she has not had much interest in penmanship we have not done much letter writing; mostly we've done the numerals. I made a saltbox and she traces letters & numbers in there, and I have a fun little wipe-off tracing game for her to practice pen strokes.  I think in the new year I'll make some sensory bags with hair gel & shaving cream and let her use those too.  I printed off and laminated some cursive handwriting tracing & practice sheets off a website to make your own, so we use those with whiteboard markers.  She also regularly does watercolor in coloring books or paints crafts, all to strengthen her hands.  We don't do all this daily... just here and there, and at her own pace.  At this point she really needs a lot of tracing & dot-to-dot work; copying is beyond her right now.

Bible- We use the materials listed in my previous post, and right now are really enjoying our Jesse Tree as a guide for our morning devotions!  
budding ballerina

PE-  She gets 1 hour of ballet/tap each week, and I make SURE they go outside daily if at all possible.  I notice with her that I generally have to push her a little bit to be active.  She'll do my work out videos and even go running with me (key phrase). At the park she'd rather me push her on the swings for an hour instead of running and climbing.  Unless there are other little ones to play with, that is. She is SUCH a people-person. Liam, well... I usually find him on top of structures that should make me faint.

Speaking of which, I can tell that Liam is going to be raring to write and read VERY soon.  He already begs and pleads ("I wite? I wite!") to get to write along with Eowyn and usually gets to hold a little white board (thank you, dollar tree) and doodle proudly while I work with her, or he colors on our easel.  He loves books and singing and tries to do ballet moves... I plan to keep him home another year and then enroll him in the same mothers-morning-out church preK program Eowyn did for K3 the following year, and then start CC in K4 in 2016... but we'll see.  :)

Any questions you have, please ask!

"I wite? Peeees??"
Did I mention climbing?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why You Might Choose to Cloth Diaper

Post #2 in my little series explaining the meaning being the madness of some of my "weird" choices. :)  Again, this is in no way intended to condemn, belittle or ostracize those who've gone a different route-- just trying to explain my own reasoning.  

Diapers.  They happen, even to the best of us.  They stink. They need changing.  Usually about 5 times a day.  For a few years.  Yeah, even on your perfect angel child.  (Cue Dinosaur Train song "Every Dinosaur Poops...")  Hah.  [Note: As if to prove my point, I just had to take a break to change a truly loaded dipe.  Thanks, son.  Keepin' it real.]

So.  Why in the world would anyone CHOOSE to revert to cave-man ages involving diapers that must be not only reused, but washed?  Isn't that disgusting?  Unsanitary?  Extra-poopy?  Time consuming?  Wasteful of water?  Well.... maybe not so much.  Here are the reasons why many parents (ourselves included) have chosen to be so "unmodern" in the diaper arena:

1.  Money don't grow on trees-- I'll be honest; this was the first jaw-dropping motivator for us as young parents.  When you go shopping for those cute little plastic packages & see the prices increasing with diaper size even as number of diapers per package decreases, you quickly realize that a much larger portion of your paycheck than you ever thought will literally be thrown into the trash.  There are several articles calculating the cost of disposable diapers, from $800 for the first year alone if you bought Huggies, to several thousand over the 2+ years most American kids are diapered.  True, there are ways to save, from diaper subscriptions to coupons to buying generic brands ($425-600 is this couponing mama's best estimate,) but there is no way to beat reusable.  It is entirely possible to diaper your child, birth to potty training, for $100 if you use the cheapest option (or make them yourself, or even use household items) & restrain yourself from buying any more.  Most families spend more like $200-400 for their "stash," buying a mix of used, new, more expensive or cheaper styles, using coupons, buying in bulk to get free shipping and/or freebies (sometimes splitting them with friends), and getting amenities like a diaper sprayer and wet bags.  Where the truly spectacular savings comes in is when Baby #2 comes along (or when Baby #1 doesn't potty train as quickly/easily as you'd like, though, cloth-diapered kids usually train earlier!)... you spend nothing.  We have spent around $300 for both kids, birth to potty-training, and I foresee our current stash of diapers lasting easily through 2 more kids!  Or, if we don't have any more, I could easily get most if not all of my money back by reselling them, or bless another mom by just gifting them along.  [I hope to post soon about our own favorite diapers, how we care for them, and where to get them.]

2. Diapers don't grow on trees-- by this I mean they are extremely "unnatural." Yes, there are now brands of disposable diapers with fewer chemicals, etc, and for this I rejoice!! However, they are pricier and they aren't most people's go-to.  In most diapers (Huggies, Pampers, CVS, Luvs) reside the following chemicals:  sodium polycarbonate, dioxin (carcinogen & endocrine disruptor), toluene, xylene, ethylbezene, styrene & isoproplybenzene (respiratory irritants), not to mention plain old plastic and bleach.  Considering that infants wear them around the clock while they are developing incredibly quickly, this is concerning.  If there's ever a time to avoid toxins, hormone disruptors and carcinogens, it's childhood.  Also, since disposable diapers don't breathe as well as natural materials, they have been found to raise the scrotal temperatures in little boys, to the point where researchers fear it will cause lowered sperm count (possible infertility) later in life.

3. Diapers don't turn into trees (decompose)-- right now the average American child contributes a LOT of diaper waste to our landfills, estimates ranging from 1/2 ton- 2 tons over its diapered life.  Then, those tons of diapers (usually with feces in them) sit around for at least 500 years. Honestly, diapers haven't been around long enough to decompose, so we don't really know how long it will take. We don't tend to think much about our trash, but it doesn't evaporate when the garbage truck comes by!  Waste is a big deal environmentally.  Even if it doesn't affect us personally, it will affect someone, a someone who is our "neighbor." I think I'd rather leave other legacies... [While critics of cloth diapers argue back that cloth diapers use more water (to wash), I would point out that water is endlessly reusable.  Land, however, is not.  We only have so much of it.  Also, the amount of water used to wash cloth diapers is about the amount that person will use for the rest of their life (through plumbing & clothes washing).]

4. Diapers don't help trees (or the environment)-- The process by which diapers are made is also quite environmentally unfriendly, using both crude oil and wood pulp, and producing large amounts of chemicals as by-products (usually dumped into water).  This is a figure from 1991, so it may be less now, but this source estimates 300+ lbs of wood, 50 lbs of petroleum and 20 lbs of chlorine are used to make ONE baby's diapers for ONE year. I like how this mom put it here.
"Dear Customer,
Our diapers are made from a variety of non-child friendly products including bleached paper pulp, petrolatum, stearyl alcohol, cellulose tissue, sodium polyacralate, and perfumes. Some or all of these ingredients may cause adverse reactions to the wearer, including reduced respiratory function, so please exercise appropriate caution when using our product.
Our products are not biodegradable or environmentally friendly and they may contribute greatly to environmental pollution. Although recycling disposable diapers is a possibility, we do not, at this time, use any of these available methods as the monetary costs are too great. Thank you kindly for using our products anyway.
Sincerely,  A Large Disposable Diaper Company"
ok enough about trees... :)

5. Poop is gross anyway-- changing cloth diapers is only marginally grosser than changing disposables. Either way you've got to wipe off the poop.  I've found that cloth leads to fewer blowouts, so it's less full-body poop wipe-ups (yay!).  Then there's the question of what to do with the poop.  With disposables, most parents don't do as they "should" and dump the solids into the toilet, but rather throw the whole thing into a diaper genie or trash can, where its smell will linger.  With cloth, you "deal" with the poop by somehow getting it into the toilet, flushing, and then it's gone.  At least you don't have to smell it for days!  As for whether or not it's gross in the washing machine, well, I wash puke-soaked clothing and all sorts of other filth in there.  I'm just thankful I don't have to scrub by hand!   Hot water, detergent, white vinegar, enzymes, periodic oxygen or chlorine bleach, and UV (from the sun) are all disinfectants used to clean cloth diapers (and your machine) quite effectively of fungal (yeast), bacterial & viral particles.

6. Cloth diapers aren't that hard-- there are some that look just like a disposable diaper, and so are very easy to figure out.  Even the most "intimidating" (flats & covers) only take a few seconds for a pro (tri-fold or bikini twist, then snap or velcro the cover shut).  Throw the bin or bag full of dirties into the washing machine every 2-3 days, rinse and repeat.  I like to line-dry most of mine (UV disinfects!), but am thankful for the dryer too.  I really like diaper laundry; it's so fluffy and cute!  Babies bring lots of laundry... and then little kids do... and then boys do... so it's best to get in the habit of staying on top of laundry, right? :)

Fellow CD-ers, what were your primary motives?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Why You Might Want a Natural Birth.

It's been so long since I've blogged.  I miss it.  And I haven't.  I've been quite present online, whether on diaperswappers or Facebook's newsfeed or various forums or discussion boards, or Instagram or craigslist... to the point of having to seriously limit myself.  But blogging, not so much.  I've been seldom opening the computer between one thing & another (smart phone, hello!), and when I do it's usually for a specific task, like DOULA CERTIFICATION COURSEWORK!!!!  (might be slightly looming over my head)  All that to say, I do have a few posts rolling around in my head-- mostly ones that will be helpful to my expectant mama clients.  It's on the brain, what can I say?  If you choose to read this, please know that I am NOT in any way suggesting that those who go a different route-- whether by choice, happenstance or emergency-- are failing, stupid or "wrong."  I'm simply trying to explore the rationale behind the choice, since you know we get asked it! :)

Childbirth-- it's a big deal for most women.  It's something they either look forward to, fear, find inspiring, find intriguing, or find disgusting.  Or, more likely, all of the above in varying degrees.  Movies portray it as a scream-fest involving a scared husband watching his wife being wheeled away as the doors slam in his face, her threatening divorce until she gets an epidural, then sneezing and popping out a pink clean chubby baby (and all the moms say "no way is that a newborn").  Why would anyone want to endure THAT unmedicated??  Isn't it so dangerous, so painful?  I mean, didn't women DIE all the time from childbirth a hundred years ago?  Well... not exactly.

There actually are several reasons why mothers might chose a natural birth, despite having access to medication & technology.  Here are a few I thought of, in no particular order:

1.  God is smart.  He designed birth, and it's a complex, intricate, miraculous process that even the best doctors don't fully understand.  From what begins it to the hormones that regulate it to the way various organs in both baby & mom change radically throughout the process, it's just really really cool.  For thousands of years, women have given birth.  What about the Curse, you ask?  Didn't it mess up childbirth?  Well, yes, women's main role-- as relational care-givers-- is now hard.  But the pain in child-bearing extends far beyond conception, labor & delivery.  It's just as seen in rebellious toddlers, in horrific accidents taking teenagers, and in sending your dearly beloveds off to take their place in their own families.  We mothers will always suffer in so many ways.  But pain & death doesn't summarize motherhood any more than sweat & frustration summarizes work (the arena where men were cursed)-- and neither does it summarize childbirth.  Yes, things can go wrong there, and yes, there is much that we humans can do with the intelligence God has given us to intervene skillfully when those things do go wrong (placenta previa, shoulder dystocia, maternal hemorrhage, etc), but, just as in the rest of life, stuff usually goes the way it's supposed to go.  Great sermon from John Piper on the suffering of motherhood.

2.  Women's bodies were made to birth.  Not only do we have all the right organs, we have all the right hormones & instincts.  This is the fundamental difference between [most] OB/GYN perspectives and a midwife's:  the former views pregnancy/labor/birth as one of many pathologies of the female reproductive system that must be "treated."  Midwifery views it as a natural process, and trains practitioners to watch for warning signs of problems & otherwise just empower women to labor on their own.*  I'll briefly touch on a few aspects of the intricacies of birth:
- the hormone cascade, in which oxytocin (mood-altering bonding hormone & pain killer), prolactin (milk-making hormone), adrenaline (strengthening hormone) and beta-endorphin (opiate & analgesic) all are precisely released.  There is no way to artificially mimic these-- synthetic versions can't cross the blood-brain barrier so can't act as pain-killers, and once the cascade is interrupted  it's difficult to get the train back on the rails, so to speak.
- the beginning of labor itself, which I've blogged about before.  Pregnancy generally lasts longer than the 40 weeks we've come to expect (especially in Caucasian first-time mamas).
- position & its effect on pushing, which is far more instinctive than we Westerners tend to think it can be.  Laying flat on your back is probably the absolute worst way to push, yet if you are medicated & monitored, catheterized and hooked to an IV, it's about the only way you can push.  Women who are unmedicated and thus in tune with their body's instinctive positioning will usually choose to push in a crouched, standing, hands-and-knees or squatting position.
- baby's rotation as it descends, which can be affected by Mom's position while in labor.  Again, an unmedicated mom will be in tune with what she needs.  Here again laying still on a bed is not helpful.  The "wrong" position will be agony, the most helpful will provide relief.
Recommended reading: Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin

3.  Birth is empowering.  Just like people voluntarily climb mountains, bike across the US, and run marathons, so there is joy in physically, mentally & emotionally "pushing yourself" and seeing just how far you can go.  The bear went over the mountain, why?  To see what he could see!  And probably, to see what he could do.  When women are properly supported in labor, they are admired, affirmed, and encouraged, perhaps like never before in their lives.  They are doing something unique that no one else can ever do:  bring forth that child into this air. The incredible endorphin rush after birth had me saying, seconds after my daughter emerged after 45 hours of labor "let's do that again!"  I have never forgotten the incredible sense of accomplishment and thrill I got from birthing each of my children!  Anything worth doing is hard, and we know that deep in our bones.  After my first natural birth, I felt inducted into the kinship of all the mothers before me, including my own mother, grandmother, and even that teenaged girl laboring in a barn in 1st century Palestine, bringing forth my Savior.

4.  Human imitation is always, at best, just a mimicry-- with plenty of [often unforeseen] pitfalls & side effects not present in the Original.  Think margarine instead of butter, aspartame instead of honey, 'ostomy bags instead of colons... The more we know about birth, the more we realize we don't know about it... and the more amazing it is that so many babies/mamas emerge relatively unscathed in all the impositions various centuries have tried to force on it (Victorian diets of crackers & water & indoor confinements, restrained "twilight sleep," among others).  There are pitfalls & risks at every stage of intervention, from induction (lots of aspects of risk here, from autism to use of pitocin to accidental prematurity), to restriction of food/water intake due to IV use, to use of artificial hormones (pitocin, cervadil), to use of drug-analgesics (such as epidurals), to guided pushing, to use of forceps, to use of surgery.  We simply don't know the long-term effect medications have on infants who receive them (many studies suggest that it's not good), and it's well-documented that epidurals are hard on babies during delivery, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.  Recovery & long-term health for mom, future pregnancies, health of baby, mom & baby's early relationship, all can be affected by interventions. Recommended reading:  Henci Goer's Thinking Woman's Guide to Better Birth. Recommended watching: The Business of Being Born

5. The skills found in natural labor are very beneficial in other areas of life.  Learning to manage pain, to work through physical exertion, to relax & focus despite circumstance, to keep outcome in mind despite process-- these are all very useful!  Labor can be a tremendously powerful unifying agent to husband & wife, sister & sister, mother & daughter, too.  There is something sacred about any birth, and natural birth is particularly beautiful to be a part of.  Spiritually, I learned to trust God for strength in the moment in a way I'd never had to do before.

6.   Pain is not the problem; suffering is.  There are other ways of managing pain besides drugs-- to either minimize, remove, manage, or remove it from the foreground of experience.  This is a crucial point to make.  While I accept that pain may be a part of most women's labor, just as it is in pretty much any other intense physical feat (distance running, team sports tournaments, weight lifting...), suffering can be avoided.  Those of us who birth without pain meds don't like pain.  We just know that some pain can be managed, gotten through, used-- and true suffering can be avoided.  Some methods include:  hydrotherapy (laboring in a deep tub of warm water is called "the midwife's epidural" for good reason!), aromatherapy, massage, position, use of a rebozo (shawl/sling), emotional support, internal focus, self-hypnosis, sterile water injections, movement (slow dancing, belly dancing, walking, swaying, rocking), and controlled vocalizations.

Mamas who've done this, what would you add?

*Note:  notice how OBs usually talk about "delivering a baby," or even "delivering her of a baby" while midwives usually speak of mothers "delivering their babies."