Sunday, October 17, 2021

An October Night

Tonight, five of us lied on the trampoline looking up at the cloud-streaked, star-specked sky as our backyard campfire died down. I read How to Scare a Ghost, Where the Wild Thing Are, and Goodnight Moon. The oldest child read her A to Z Mystery book with a flashlight. I sang song after song while the three-year-old drifted off to sleep, snuggling with a barely awake Daddy.

Yes, it was as magical as it sounds. 

I was singing songs that mean a lot to me. It was like connecting my childhood to that of my children. 

Songs from BYU Choirs - my college days, when my faith was strong and pure in its young way.


The sure provisions of my God

Attend me all my days

Songs from my youth driving around in the family van, listening to Charlotte Church. Songs I sang at the piano.

A bit of earth

She wants a little bit of earth

She’ll plant some seeds

Songs from Barbara Streisand that cut all the way through to my soul because they ring so true. 

The more I live, the more I learn

The more I learn, the more I realize

The less I know

Hymns. The simple Christian hymns like How Great Thou Art, that were always powerful, and will always be powerful. 

God is God. My understanding of Him changes and evolves as I evolve. But He is still God. Unlimited by my limitations. 

I’m so grateful for the healing I’ve experienced this year. Yesterday I turned 33. I didn’t do anything grand. My day did include yoga, quiet time for my school-work, a beautiful Fall bouquet from Jeff, hand-written cards from the children, a scented candle from a sweet colleague of Jeff. 

I love Fall. But deeper than my enjoyment of this season right now, is a return of peace for me, after a long time of wrestling. After a season of exploring the freedom and fluidity of the yin side of spirituality, I am remembering the grounded nature of the yang. The safety that structure provides. 

At our stake conference last weekend I felt very blessed to hear the words of Elder Kinard, the visiting Area Seventy as he taught us from the scriptures, that the day will come when we will know that Christ is the only person who can save us. He will advocate for us, if we believe on his name. The ordinances and covenants are how we show him that we believe on his name. The ordinances and covenants are one of the beautiful things the church gives us. 

This week I shared on social media that I started taking an anti-depressant this year. I feel blessed that for some reason, sharing that type of thing doesn’t scare me at all. After I published the post I looked back and could see all the ways in which I could have phrased things better. Also, it is hard to sum up 9 or 10 years of life in one little post. So it’s not as simple as “I’ve been depressed for 9 years, I tried self-help but I was still depressed so I decided to try medication and it worked.” It has been a whole journey with different chapters that gave me different things. 

From my days in the trenches with two babies, to thriving with three, to searching with four. It was changing my thought patterns here, life circumstances changing there, practicing meditation for a while, feeling lost for a while, healing in my family, feeling numb, breakdown and growth in my marriage, wrestling with spiritual questions, followed by getting what I feel is revelation at my stake conference.  Thank you to my mother for praying for me that week. I feel converted. I am different going forward from that weekend.

Each mile I travel only means

The more I have to go

What's wrong with wanting more?

If you can fly, then soar

With all there is, why settle for

Just a piece of sky?

I still have more to learn. But these words from Brent Nielson in General Conference resonate with me:

"I bear my witness of His desire to heal you."

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Birth Story of James Alvin

My friend arrived to watch our girls on Sunday afternoon, and as I passed her on my way out the door I said, “this is going to be the worst car ride of my life.” In the driveway I gripped the car door handle and uttered yet another prayer, “God please help me.” Jeff came out and I told him we might need to go to Doctor’s Hospital (10 minutes) instead of OSU (20-25 minutes). As he was about to pull out of our neighborhood going north I said, “we need to go to Doctor’s.” He swerved to the south and proceeded to speed down Broad street. Minutes later we were walking into the ER, me hanging onto Jeff with almost all my weight. Next I was being wheeled in a chair by two female security guards over to labor and delivery. When they realized how close I was they picked up the pace.

This was quite the entrance to the birthplace of my fourth child. But what is also interesting is that up until less than an hour before this moment, I believed I was having a home birth.

I had been seeing two midwives for prenatal appointments for months. I had purchased their birth kit, and gathered supplies of my own such as towels and receiving blankets. The month before, we finally painted our sandy-colored bedroom and bathroom walls to be a beautiful neutral color, creating a nice space in which I could envision myself laboring, giving birth and recovering. I had hired a photographer and was so excited to capture these precious memories. I’ll admit I was also excited to share my story and my photos to let people know what is possible. I have loved reading natural birth stories, including home birth stories, for years and I wanted my story to be one of those that inspires others.

I was looking forward to having a water birth, something that always sounded so appealing to me. We had sanitized our own spacious tub for this purpose.

My girls were excited to be present. My oldest loves hearing me talk about birth and seeing pictures and sometimes videos of births. I know from the many stories I’ve read and watched that children can do really well with the process of birth.

So how did we get to this point of racing to the nearest hospital, just in time for me to deliver? Well, it fits right along with everything else in 2020, doesn’t it! So many things have been different than we expected.

I feel very blessed that for my birth, the matter of my own safety and that of my baby was actually not the concern that led to this sudden change of plans. There is a strange set of circumstances that went into play, and whenever that happens, I know that it was just simply meant to be. I may not know the reason, but I am completely at peace with the way my birth panned out. It was actually awesome and now that it’s over I love the story.

So let me back up a bit. The week before, on Tuesday, I had seen a friend, as I often do. We made salt dough ornaments with the kids and had a lovely time. Talked a lot about birth in fact. As we often do. :) Well two days later she was sick, and on the third day her husband was confirmed to have COVID-19. My first reaction was of gratitude that I was not sick! I told this to my mom, who was planning to arrive Monday to help me. My mom has MS and was not willing to risk getting COVID. She would be delaying her flight until I got a negative test. This is when I realized that even though I believed I was not sick, in order to responsible I would need to not only get tested, but isolate and tell people that I had potentially been exposed.

To add to the matter, Friday night I had contractions. Those didn’t go anywhere and I was able to sleep.

Saturday night I had contractions the entire night. I lied in bed and breathed through each one. I was being very mindful and thinking about the baby, who I could feel stirring sometimes right before a contraction. They didn’t pick up, but they just kept coming, such that I didn’t get any sleep. The contractions continued into the morning this time.

Here, my emotional climate is worth mentioning. I was clearly in early labor, but I was having a hard time accepting it because I was not at peace with my circumstances. This labor was earlier than I had anticipated - three days before the due date. My mom’s arrival was now uncertain, and not only that, but because of the circumstances I was worried about finding anyone who could watch the kids while I labored. Also, I needed to let the midwives know the situation and see what their policy was.

I called one of my midwives, and she said that because I didn’t have any symptoms they could still come. They would be wearing masks regardless. I texted a couple friends, explaining everything, to see if someone could come watch the kids.

There was just one more thing leaving me unsettled. I didn’t feel confident about how to know when to call the midwives. Part of me knew that once I’m in active labor, things go quickly. But as it was, with contractions consistently about 10 minutes apart, it wasn’t time. And I guess I was in that place where I was in pain, but there seemed to be no end in sight.

Also, to be honest, and I shared this with several close friends and family members during my pregnancy — despite believing in natural birth and wanting to do a home birth, in some ways I had also been dreading it, for months. I knew that labor is hard and I was not excited about it. Well here I was, in labor, with children all around, and the events of the day and the week totally uncertain.

My dear friend got a hold of an N95 mask and was ready to come as soon as we needed her. I just kept breathing through contractions, telling Jeff I wasn’t feeling brave enough to want them to get harder, but wanting to get it over with at the same time. The midwife thought maybe they were just warm ups - which I sort of knew better than that, but that thought was in my mind also making me miserable.

It was Sunday. I went on a walk because that was sort of in my vague birth plan. Called my sister and told her about the stress. We did our little sacrament as a family. Jeff gave me a priesthood blessing. Eventually we decided to watch Book of Mormon videos on our TV downstairs. At this point I tried the hot rice bag Jeff made for me 8 years ago for my labor with Elena. That felt good. I tried to get comfortable watching the videos but it wasn’t going very well. At one point I turned from being on my right side to being on my left.

There was a little pop and I was wet. My water broke! That had never happened to me in early labor before.

Well this was exciting though intense news. This was really happening. I texted the midwife, expecting her to say they would come right away. I knew things would be picking up here.

Well a few minutes later the other midwife called and informed me that according to their policy they actually could NOT attend my birth with my COVID status unknown.

So that was kind of big news, and yet I didn’t feel shocked or distraught. At this point, I honestly felt relieved. I knew I just needed to get to the hospital and then I would have my baby. I was even thinking I would like an epidural. I was tired of being in pain and feeling fear.

I texted my friend to come. Jeff and I started packing in between contractions. Things were getting more intense, and I was having a harder time coping with the pain. Also the girls were dealing with the shock of suddenly finding out they would not be able to see the birth. In addition, their parents are leaving for at least one night. There were some tears. We showed them love. I knew it would be hard for them, but that they would also grow from this experience.

These last few minutes before leaving I was definitely praying for help. No eloquent words, just “God, please help me.”

God does hear these prayers of course. And I think I received his help in the form of clarity. It began to dawn on me that the reason I was in so much pain was because I was close to being ready to push. This honestly gave me so much hope. There is a purpose to this pain! And it also gave me the clarity that this car ride I was dreading needed to be as short as possible, and that going to a different hospital than we would normally go to was important and necessary. So as we sped down the road, while I was bracing the inside of the car at the pain, I was starting to feel more peace.

I return now to the picture of me being wheeled down the hall by the security guards. One asked if I could tell her when I was having a contraction. I was moaning and closing my eyes. “I’m pushing.” I really was bearing down. I knew it was so close. They started running. We arrived in a small empty room, with nothing but a bed/table. I said “clothes...” They cheerfully responded “oh don’t you worry,” and something about who was coming to help. Well I stood up, tore off the robe I was wearing. Pulled down my pants and got on that table on my hands and knees. I was about to push out a baby.

People were arriving. Someone helped me turn over, which was fine, but then they did the typical attempt to get me on my back (I’m so tired of that) “WHY?” I demanded. I said I’ve delivered two babies on my side (upon reflection I realized that was not accurate - only one - but I know I wanted to twice). They relented, saying “alright, we’ll just have to have someone hold your leg.” That’s right, you will. Amazing the conversations we have to have sometimes when we’re about to push out a human.

So I was pushing! It took maybe 5 minutes. I wrote in my journal that I felt the familiar raw, dry, stretching sensation, but I was less afraid of it. I was totally committed and knew it was almost over. Jeff showed up from parking the car just in time. The head came partially out, and they let me know I needed one more push. Then a few more pushes and that body was out.

Oh! Cries of joy - I did it! I was SO relieved it was over. I got to hold his slimy body on my belly as I just basked in the relief. Yes!!!!

Our beautiful James is here! 
He was 9.0 lbs
Of all the things I tried to visualize, I at least got this right
I was hoping for a 9 lb baby (and not much bigger)

Our handsome boy
Of course, I have no pictures of the birth -- this is hours later

I will say that the hours post partum, I was mourning the loss of my home birth a little bit. I had heard amazing things about the post partum period, resting on your own bed, no one poking and prodding you. As it was, I was wheeled to another room before my placenta even came out. After it was delivered, a student proceeded to sew me up (first degree tear) with the OB watching over and correcting her. I was being asked a barrage of questions, having my blood pressure checked, and being invited to try breastfeeding whilst the cuff was tightening around my arm. It was a little frustrating and kind of amusing, but I knew it was just the nature of having not only a hospital birth, but one in a hospital where they have no information about you.

That first night, I communicated with my nurse that I wanted to sleep, and she kindly minimized the number of people coming in and said I could call her for my vitals when I was up feeding the baby anyway. So that was very nice.

The relief after an unmedicated birth is so big
And my recovery this time has been amazing!

This robe was one choice that helped my hospital experience be a little more pleasant! So much easier to nurse in than those gowns with the confounded snaps! Also it's soft and I feel beautiful in it. Highly recommend!

I feel so blessed and at peace. I am so grateful that I had a smooth delivery and that I have a healthy baby. It was quite the day, but once I gave birth I just felt so grateful for the crazy journey, and that God had helped me through it. Also, despite not having the home birth I was envisioning, I did feel very empowered and in control as I entered the hospital. I knew exactly what my body was doing and I was in charge. So in that sense, I had the beautiful birth I was hoping for. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

How I #HearHim

Jeff and I watched the face to face last night and Elder Rasband asked people to share how they hear Him. I love that he pointed out that we all hear Him in different ways. I know that is true, and not only that, but my way of hearing Him has evolved during different seasons of my life. 

Lately, being pregnant with my fourth, I have experienced and embraced having less energy than I would if I were not pregnant. Where before I was waking up early and exercising regularly, now I do not wake up early and I don't really exercise besides walking and stretching. This change did get me down first trimester, but now I have accepted it and feel at peace. That said, my scripture study has not been amazing lately -- meaning not very much time and not very many big insights.

However, I have definitely felt guided and felt a lot of peace. So in that sense I would say I am feeling close to the Spirit. I DO do scripture study -- some kind of reading of scripture or a conference talk -- each day, because I have a testimony and I want to keep it that way. I know it will keep me grounded in truth and help me not be deceived. But scripture study isn't currently the main way the Spirit is speaking to me.

So how do I hear Him? There are a variety of ways. One way I experience the Holy Ghost that I have felt throughout my life, is to feel the Spirit washing over my body like a wind, that gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes. This can easily happen when listening to powerful music, or can sometimes happen when listening to a speaker and you know that what they're saying is true, and that it is from God.

I want to share that I can also tap into this feeling while meditating and praying. While praying, I feel the Spirit most powerfully when I am the most reverent. When I express awe and praise towards God. When I express gratitude. 

Meditation and prayer are closely related. Partly because I am into meditation, and partly because kneeling while pregnant doesn't feel very good, I often end up seated cross-legged in my closet, opening my heart to God in that position. It feels naturally reverent towards God and also helps me feel like a sacred being. Sitting tall but relaxed with hands open and heart lifted just invites the Spirit to touch my spirit! Sometimes I just breathe, other times I imagine my Heavenly Parents, and just know that I am a daughter of God. It's a powerfully basic truth to tap into, and I love that I can do that simply with the power of my mind and being still. If anyone would like to learn more about meditating, please ask, I would love to share!

The other way the Spirit works with me is in guiding my mind with regard to decisions. For me, at every major decision point in my life, God has NOT told me what to do -- Which college to attend, which major to choose, whether to marry my husband or not, when to have babies. While I have prayed about all of these things, with each one, it was my choice. Now this does not mean God doesn't care or was not involved. On the contrary, I know He has guided me, and helped me make good decisions when I have asked. 

The most recent example of this was in deciding what to do for school for my children with the current circumstances. I had been stressed about this during the summer, and honestly not wanted to even think about it. I didn't like any of my options! So I decided I needed revelation. On a Tuesday evening, I decided I would go on a walk by myself the next morning. Even though I wasn't feeling very spiritual, I sang hymns as an offering of faith, and to invite the Spirit to be with me. I prayed for help in making this decision. In the morning, I went on a walk on a lovely trail near our neighborhood. On this walk, I actually didn't think about school at all. I was praying the entire time, but about my spirituality and discipleship. I listened to the talk The Beauty of Holiness, by Carol McConkie. I think I needed this time to come to a place of peace. Also, by the end of the walk, I decided I wanted to do a walk like this (in nature, just me) every week. And I realized, that whether I did distance learning or homeschool, self-care needed to be in place, and I would make that a priority.

That gave me the peace I needed to make a decision that would take courage. Talking with Jeff and with my parents about my concerns for the various options helped me sort through my thoughts. So from that place of peace, I was able to clearly see what I wanted, and also what fears were coming up. I was able to make a choice that I felt good about. 

As I shared on social media, I chose to do home school. While there were definitely reasons I thought I could never do homeschool, I feel that years of practicing mindfulness and doing thought work helped me to see past those reasons, and have confidence that I was making a decision I could stand by. So I would say the Spirit guided me in making this decision, but that the ways I have worked on my mind have allowed me to be receptive to this guidance. I felt peace from the beginning and haven't looked back!

Earlier this year Pres. Nelson said, “Do whatever it takes to increase your spiritual capacity to receive personal revelation."

I would submit that some of that "spiritual work" he mentioned a few years ago could be learning about and improving mental health. This is a worthy cause that has spiritual benefits! Improving the health of our minds is like sharpening the instrument through which we receive revelation. "The spirit and the body is the soul of man" and I love taking care of both!

Monday, September 30, 2019

For Richer

As my google maps took me to an older part of Columbus, I wasn’t really surprised. These resources tend to be located in poorer parts of town. But what does that even mean anyway? I have lived in the poor part of town most of my married life, and I am very rich. It’s all relative. There is income, and there is social capital. There is financial poverty, and there is spiritual poverty.

On this sunny Fall day, the old brick houses spaced tightly together along this street looked rather charming, though I’m sure many of them are rentals, and I saw an occasional boarded up unit.

I parked in the lot across from the food pantry. This was my third visit to a food pantry this month, but the first time on my own. I felt comfortable at this point – happy and grateful.

The first time I drove to a food pantry and saw the line of people outside of what I later found out was the “free store” for clothes and things, I didn’t think I could bring myself to go in. My friend was on her way to meet me (I think she had a hunch I could use support). I called her and knew I could be vulnerable with her.

“I can’t go in there, Caitlin.”

Empathetic but positive as ever (thank God for good friends!) she told me she understood, and that she felt some resistance when she first went. She asked me,

“What are you feeling? Undeserving? Prideful?”

Pride, I guessed. Being honest, I said, “I don’t feel like I belong here.”

She assured me she would go in with me. She described how she focuses on how we are all children of God. I love having a friend who testifies in everyday conversation.

Well we went in, and it was fine of course. I got some free produce.

I have since decided that because things are so tight with a mortgage and a post-doc salary, I might as well go to a food pantry once a week to stretch our money that much farther. After all, we completely qualify based on our income and family size. And I’m not taking from anyone else. The food is there for us to use!

Today as I approached this pantry I’d never been to before, I was greeted and helped by friendly staff--female and male, white and black, old and young. I was given a cart and plenty of bags to fill with as much produce as I could use. There was fresh corn and lettuce, there were potatoes, pears, peaches, tomatoes, watermelon as well as bread and milk. As I filled my bags, meal ideas came to mind – corn chowder, home made tomato soup, peach cobbler.

The word that kept coming into my mind was abundance. This was such an abundance of beautiful food, available to anyone who needs it! It would allow me to create wonderful meals for my family.

I hear about abundance from life coaches like Jody Moore and Brooke Castillo. They teach that there is plenty of money. That money is easy. I’ve pondered how this relates to a family who does not own their own business, and for a man who has been guided to academia, where there are politics to navigate. My husband is working really hard (and smart, I would add). It will pay off with a faculty position eventually, but in the mean time, well, here I am going to food pantries to save a few bucks to maybe spend on decorative pumpkins or something. It doesn’t seem like our positive thinking is translating into more $$$$.

But today I had a different perspective. When you think abundantly, you open your mind to different possibilities. This is why we chose to invest in a house instead of continuing to rent. This is why I felt prompted to open a piano studio in our home and utilize my new neighborhood to find students. This is why Jeff works later on Monday nights, teaching at the community college. And this is why I have become humble enough to go to food pantries.

There IS plenty of money. As we have leaned into our situation with open communication instead of stressing and worrying about it, we have gotten to know our finances better, and become more intentional than ever with what we do with our money.

Abundance is a mindset. Our income might not be multiplying yet, but we are being inspired to do more with what we have. Creativity is fueling my meal planning, home decor, and family activities. And with morning and night backyard play, music lessons and casual singing, storybooks, and lots of giggles, we have a truly rich life.