A Birth Story – The Gift of Light

She came a few days late. But I’ve always thought having a specific due date was kind of silly… so as far as I was concerned she was right on time. I woke up around 12:30 am February 26, 2014 to some practice labor, which by that point I was pretty used to. So I didn’t think much of it. It was also customary to pay a visit to the loo around this time every night so I did that. But the practice labor didn’t subside like it usually would.

My husband, as per usual, was sleeping like a log. Completely impervious to the world outside his dreams. So, I wrapped my legs around my body pillow that had become the intruder to our bed and tried to get comfortable and breathe my way through these surges (as the hypnobirthing method calls contractions). It helped. Then I realized that my husband was still asleep, and this must be labor.

I tried to wake Mr. Hummer. It took three tries and over the space of about 10 minutes he finally awoke with a start to “Hummer, I really need you to be awake right now” as I continued to breathe through surges that were now definitely early stages of labor.

We had planned and waited for this moment, and it was as surreal as surreal could be. Part of me thought this day would never come and I would be pregnant forever more. We had rented a birthing tub from our midwives, and I had planned on doing a water birth. So now that Hummer was awake he ran to the main house (we were renting a small house on his parent’s property at the time) and woke up D, our adopted little brother to help him get the tub out and bring it to our house.

The winter air was quiet. Everyone was sleeping. But I remember the life inside me and the turmoil that was beginning inside my body and starting to envelope my entire being.

While we are very grateful for the opportunity we had to live with my husband’s family for a time, there were some quirks about the house that must be explained. First, our water heater was such that you could not take a full 15 minute shower without turning the water off to soap up and scrub down. At least, not if you wanted hot water. The water tub, at this point, was completely empty. And as this was our first experience with real labor we had little idea of gauging how long it would be until the real action began. So, my husband, bless his soul, used what water we had in reserve and then spent most of the wee hours of the morning carrying a 5 gallon bucket to and from hot water spigots to fill up this tub. Little did we know at the time, that the cover was underneath the tub liner. Second, our house was about 600 square feet, 1 bedroom and was packed full, or so it seemed, of birthing supplies and dirty dishes.

So we called the midwives at 1 am and then at 3 am and then at 5 am telling them I was definitely in labor, but it was still pretty early and each time they said okay, well just try and get some rest and call us in a few hours. They had given us a sheet of paper so we could know the signs. I didn’t want to bother them too early so we just kept updating them every few hours. By around 6 am I felt like we ought to tell the midwives to come. Two of them came and checked my progress. I was only dilated to 3 cm, but the surges were regular and long. Until about 9 am.

Then? Nothing. Labor halted after that. It tapered off into quiet land. So the midwives left around 10 am and said to eat and drink normally and sleep as much as possible. I have to admit I was a little frustrated that labor just slowed off into nothingness. I wanted this baby out!

I returned to the uncovered, completely filled birthing tub and a laborless body. So we pulled out the futon, tried to organize the dirty dishes, ate breakfast, and took a nap. Or I tried to anyway.

I still felt surges come and go every 10 minutes or so. But they seemed puny compared to what I had experienced earlier that morning. By mid afternoon I had essentially given up on giving birth today and just decided I would be laboring for awhile.

Well, come 5 pm, the most interesting of hours, and just as quickly as it had stopped, labor began again. This time with an agenda. I’m not really sure why it took us so long to tell the midwives to come back. I guess it must have been a combination of me having no real concept of time, and underestimating the feelings I was feeling. By the time I was in heavy labor, on our bed…because the water tub water was around 80 degrees by then, which was entirely too cold… my husband kept asking me should we call the midwives? I kept saying, I dunno! How silly we were. Suffice it to say, we called the midwives and told them It’s time! My hair was a disaster…it had been clipped up, but the clip was lost in my wild mane of mess. I remember rocking back and forth in the polar bear position for what felt like an eternity. I was so exhausted, and so alive at the same time. Finally the midwives came.

It was probably around 9 pm. All the windows were wide open and the fan was on, it was the middle of winter and I still felt like I was about a million degrees. And I made sounds I didn’t know I could make. And I believe that oxygen makes all the difference to being able to handle the intensity of surges…I recall one that felt like it was about five waves of contractions that didn’t end. During it I thought if it never ended, I might cease to exist. But the beautiful thing about surges is that they always end, and they are cyclical, and every one you have is one closer to meeting your baby.

I had heard that moms in labor often start to say things like I don’t want to do this anymore, when they’re a few surges away from the head coming out. That’s exactly how I felt and what I said too. My waters broke somewhere around this time. And when her head finally came out, there was a relief through my body that no words can adequately explain. It is the practice of these midwives to wait and see, so while Peanut’s head was out they told me I could push the rest of her body out, but I just let the next surge shoot her out. While I was relishing in the brief relief, she moved her head around and started flailing her legs and arms, still half born half in utero. The sensation was the strangest thing I had ever felt…it tickled. And finally her tiny, slimy body slid its way out. She didn’t cry. She just coughed a little and started making these high pitched singing noises. The midwives said they had never heard anything like it before.

I cried. Half from bliss, half from relief. At 11:49 pm it felt as if time stopped. I told our daughter that she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, that we had waited so long for her to finally be here, that we were happy she was safe and healthy and strong, and that she smelled like a little slice of heaven pie.Looking back on it…I can’t remember ever feeling more powerful and more raw in my entire existence. And next time, I am definitely making sure the birthing tub is set up right.

Calendula Butt Balm – Liquid Gold

When I still only had one baby and was trying to save money by cloth diapering we ran into a pretty nasty chronic yeasty rash problem.

This was due mostly to my listening to internet vomit about cloth diapers and being afraid to use bleach to clean them. Now I’ve basically just given up on cloth diapering for completely unrelated reasons… But this oil still has its place in our home.

Little kids learning the tricks of the potty are notoriously bad at wiping themselves and so itchy-bum-syndrome persists. Also, if you find yourself eating too many cookies, candida can make a lovely grand entrance.

Calendula flowers (aka Pot Marigold) are well known for their skin healing properties. I use this oil on my hands as a lotion if they get rashy from washing my hands too much, on all babies’ bums as needed and other skin abrasions or sores. Once I started using this stuff I never needed any other kind of butt cream or paste and rashes never persisted more than a day or so. As always, an herb’s work is best noticed in consistent applications. For particularly crusty rashes apply oil after every diaper change or every few hours until symptoms subside.

Where to buy Calendula Flowers.

Calendula Infused Olive Oil

My first and only choice for diaper rash relief.
Prep Time5 mins
Inactive7 d
Yield: 1 pint
Author: Caitlin Guerra

Equipment

  • 1 pint jar

Materials

  • 2 C dried Calendula flowers
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Instructions

  • Fill your pint jar with Calendula flowers. Pour in Olive oil until the jar is full. Cap the jar and let sit in a cool dark* place for at least one week. Strain out the herbs and use topically as needed.

Notes

*I’ve read conflicting recommendations for whether to put an oil infusion in the sun or not. I err on the side of not letting the sun oxidize everything that’s going on inside the jar. Others err on the side of using the sun to warm the oil and apparently enhancing it’s infusing abilities. I’ve had success with both methods.
**These statements and products have not been evaluated by the FDA and are purely for educational purposes. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.

A Homeless Birth Story

When I was pregnant with our second born child we lived in a garage.

Up to that point, the garage was probably the biggest place we had ever lived… And what makes this story even better is that we had moved into this garage after learning a $10,000 lesson about what NOT to do and came back to a place who’s rental market was abysmal for a renter. We had a duplex, with a yard!, lined up. It was perfect. We would move in, a month or so before the baby was born. It had everything we wanted in a home at the time.

But the date of availability kept getting pushed back and pushed back because the tenants were trying to close on a house and it wasn’t without challenge, and the wife had just had twins.

And then the duplex burned down.

I could not believe it actually burned down.

I was too pregnant for comfort, and in denial about giving birth to a baby in a garage. And there were forest fires with lots of smoke. Suffice it to say, her due date eeked ever closer and the rental scene remained terrible. So in the garage we stayed. My expectations for post partum were very low because my previous experience had taught me that babies never stop crying and there is hardly any relief from the pacing around the kitchen table and the first year of a new baby’s life is just plain terrible.

I had a lot of PTSD associated with post-partum. It didn’t really help that my first baby was just barely 18 months old when the second baby was born. My heart broke in half for her. She had to grow up so quickly. But I digress.

The actual day of birth far surpassed my expectations. Not so hard to do, I don’t think. I knew that Friday night, that this baby was going to be born the next morning. And she was. I woke up after a blissful night’s sleep (which was a rare commodity) at 5:30 AM and I knew it was go time. My husband began to fill the birthing tub that we had waiting for us…another lesson we had learned. My in-laws eagerly awaited in the living room next door with Luci. We called the midwives. They arrived around 7:30 AM. And with more ease than I thought was possible our spunky, hilarious Zoe was born at 11:30 Saturday morning.

We have to meet our babies before we can settle on a name, but we were pretty sure this one was a Zoe. It was her middle name that we couldn’t settle on.

Remember the forest fires that were blazing around us?

Well, it had been raining all morning. That beautiful August morning. And the smoke cleared. She had brought the rain, so Rain became her middle name. And she was a blessing to behold. I thought there was something wrong with her because she just slept and ate and pooped and slept some more. Surely, it was too easy. Everything surrounding her pregnancy prior to her birth was like a nightmare…

I had a Placenta Previa which is where the placenta is covering your cervix.
So I was planning a C-section after having one successful home-birth.
We got the news that it moved out of the way of my cervix the week we moved into the garage (I was 20 weeks).
We were living in a garage.
She was breech until the very last possible moment.
We were on a complete 180 career change for my husband. And thus completely broke.
Our house burned down before we ever got to live there.
And shortly after she was born a rat infestation started to take over the garage… by then we had moved back into the one bedroom house on my in-law’s property. Thank goodness!

Having an easy baby and an incredibly beautiful birth was like eating a delicious ice cream sundae while the world burned around us. It was the best damn sundae I ever had.

Herbal Medicine :: The Overview {My Medicine Cabinet}

A series of posts about herbal medicine and what has worked for me and my family so far.

There are a lot of “common ailments.” I’m just going to write up an overview of the kinds of things we keep in our medicine cabinet and what we use them for in general. By no means is this list exhaustive or all inclusive. However, specific recipes will be discussed more in depth in subsequent posts. Please let me know if you are particularly interested in any particular remedies and I’ll try to cover those first.

A word about dosage. Depending on the specific type of herbal remedy you are using (teas, tinctures, decoctions, infusions, essential oils, pultices, et cetera) the dosage will be different. I’ll get more into the specifics later on. And generally speaking the range goes something like this:

infant – quarter dose | child/teen – somewhere between quarter dose and full dose | adult – full dose

But that’s really ambiguous, since dosage changes depending on what the substance is, and how it’s prepared.

Okay. So. Our medicine cabinet. Prepare yourself.

I keep raw herbs for things like teas, decoctions, and infusions. 
My go to raw herbs are the following:

Marshmallow Root – Primary preparation: decoction. Is an expectorant and supports the mucus membranes. It also can reduce the inflammation in mucus membranes. We use it while sick, especially when croupy coughs come bugging us. It is soothing like nothing else I’ve ever tried.

Echinacea Purpurea Root – Primary preparation: decoction. Supports immune function. We use this while sick, at the first sign of sickness (sinus, scratchy throat, fatigue, general ache-ness). You can know if it’s fresh and potent because it makes your tongue feel kind of tingly. It’s also quite bitter.

Rosehips – Primary preparation: tea. High in vitamin C which is an immune boosting vitamin. We use this also while sick to help our immune systems function at the their best, though I also use it in my own mix of “mother’s milk tea.” Rosehips have a natural sweetness to them. I prefer to pair rosehips with nettle and raspberry leaf (my “mother’s milk tea” blend, and is certainly not exclusive to those who are lactating).

Calendula Flowers – Primary preparation: oil infusion. Known for its skin healing properties. It’s also known as the common marigold. We use this for things like diaper rash, scratches, scrapes, cuts, burns, dry skin, eczema (although, in babies, eczema is usually a sign of an allergy. So topical use for fast relief is great, but finding the underlying cause is better in the long run), post-partum loveliness, et cetera.

Nettle Leaf – Primary preparation: tea. Apparently very nutrient dense (though I’ve never bothered to look it up), and high in vitamin K. We use this while sick, but I primarily use it in my “mother’s milk tea” blend because it has been recommended to me now by at least three midwives. It smells a little like fish food, or grass, but I haven’t noticed that in its flavor.

Raspberry Leaf – Primary preparation: tea. Recommended for mothers later in their pregnancies, and for lactating mothers. I haven’t read much else into it than that, though it too has been recommended to me by many midwives and so goes into my “mother’s milk tea” blend. It has a natural sweetness to it, and I find the flavor and smell delicious.

Whole Foods for medicine:

Garlic – Primary preparation: peeled and smashed or tea or oil infusion. Known for millenia for it’s antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. We use this at the first sign of sinus sickness, as a preventative for secondary infections (like earaches, sinus infections, and to help sinus passages clear). Onion can also be used, and seems more mild. If we use it raw, we wrap it in a bandana and wear it on our heads like Rambo. Yes, we smell…but at least we can breathe. And as far as the infusion goes, we use the oil as ear drops to avoid earaches. Sometimes I apply it to my face to help release congestion.

Lemon – Primary preparation: fresh squeezed(lemonade). All citrus is high in vitamin C. Lemons are particularly known for their astringent qualities, and in this case when paired with garlic that has steeped in boiled water make a great soothing beverage while sick.

Oranges/Grapefruits – Primary preparation: peeled, raw. I learned from a midwife that vitamin C is essentially useless to our bodies unless paired with bioflavinoids. Where are bioflavinoids found? In the white pithy stuff on citrus fruit. This is why orange juice, while delicious, doesn’t really help our immune systems while sick, unless maybe it’s freshly juiced. Juice is essentially just sugar water and some antioxidants when it comes to using it for medicinal purposes in this case.

Raw Honey – Primary preparation: none. When honey is raw (meaning not filtered or pasteurized) it contains pollens, and bee barf from the places the bees visited to get the stuff to make their food. Forgive me, because I haven’t studied it that in depth. When the honey is local it can help you acclamate yourself to place-specific allergens. Also, the sugars contained in honey are extremely complex and basically perfect for our bodies to absorb and utilize. So when used in moderation (meaning like a teaspoon per cup of tea), can actually prove quite nourishing. Also some people consume it by itself as a soothing throat coat/cough remedy. Obviously, if you’re allergic to bees, this is not recommended.

Tart Cherries & Cherry Juice – Primary preparation: none. I read this article about how tart cherry juice has been shown as a natural sleep aid because it contains chemicals that boost melatonin production. Since I am a new mom, and was basically desperate to try anything to help our little one sleep more soundly (because we’re all happier when that happens), I gave it a try. Since we have started a daily dose of this juice, when she’s not sick or teething, she goes to sleep around 9 pm and wakes up around 6 am. This had not happened in many many months. And now while she’s still sleeping, I find myself waking up at her usual wake up times (11 pm, 3 am, 5:30 am) because I got so used to it.

Ginger – Primary preparation: grated, raw. Known for its gastric settling qualities. When paired with equal parts raw honey, this makes a delicious, spicy, and soothing beverage. We use it for gastric upset, nausea, motion sickness.

Prepared Herbal Stuff:
Tinctures, are a ratio of herbs to high grade and percentage alcohol (think vodka) that have been soaking for awhile and then filtered out and stored for later use. Extracts are basically the same thing but use glycerin instead of vodka. Both are shelf stable, alcohol tinctures last longer. They can be very potent so exercising caution is a must (especially when it comes to dosage for children), but are also more convenient than raw herbs.

Echinacea/Orange Blossom Blend – Prepared specifically for kids. Taste factor, I suspect. Used as an immune boosting herb while sick. Alcohol can be diluted in hot water. Herb Pharm is a good brand to purchase from (and I have seen them at herb shops, whole foods type stores, and even Fred Meyer). Though you can prepare your own, and it is cheaper, I find the information for dosing helpful on the already made/purchased from the store stuff.

Arnica – Purchased while pregnant with Peanut from my midwives, so I’m not sure how it was prepared… Arnica flowers are used for their trauma/wound healing properties. They also help regulate inflammation, which is the body’s natural response to injury, and is not necessarily a bad thing. Arnica helps keep the inflammation under control while still aiding the body in performing it’s natural functions. We use this for bruises, bumps and scrapes, and tension headaches. I have to say I kind of have a personal vendetta against ibuprofen now that I know it can screw up gut flora, and I know two people personally who have ibuprofen intolerances because of overuse in headaches. I am wary of my husband going down the same path, so now that we’ve found something that actually helps him (yay!) get rid of tension headaches quickly, and safely, I am a big advocate for arnica’s use. Not to mention it’s ability to heal bruises in my little one. Sold. **UPDATE** I did not realize that the arnica we use is actually homeopathic (which is okay to take internally). NOT a tincture. Arnica tincture should never be ingested, only applied topically to non-abrasive wounds…like bruises. If you see blood don’t use Arnica tincture directly on the wound.

Myrrh – Purchased while pregnant with Peanut from my midwives, so I’m not sure how it was prepared… We used it to help Peanut’s cord stump heal quickly. But other than that, I honestly can’t remember what it’s good for. I haven’t read much about it, and so it mostly just sits in the cabinet and looks pretty.

Syrups, are herbs that have been stewed and then mixed with honey…essentially. They can be more complex than that. But for our purposes that’s basically what they are.

Elderberry – Can be used as a preventative for sickness, and also while sick. It’s sweet, goopy, and my daughter likes it. Plus it seems to help so far. I’ve only recently added this to our arsenal.

Essential Oils, are the volatile oils that are found in herbs. They are extremely concentrated, take a lot of complex equipment to produce, and are really expensive. So far in my quest for finding good, reliable information about herbal medicine…essential oils have been the most elusive. Cheap ones are most often filled with other filler oils and so aren’t pure, or lack medicinal/therapeutic qualities. And expensive ones all have their own claims, “proven” by their own people about the effectiveness and quality and are just… well, expensive.

Oh, and it’s always a good idea to dilute essential oils with a little bit of what they call a “carrier oil” like olive or coconut oil. It helps it apply easier, and (especially for babies) doesn’t irritate the skin as much.

Melaleuca – Antifungal, Antimicrobial. We use it for anything from foot fungus, to burns, to quick heat rash healing.

Lavender – Calming, and soothing. Peanut used to get horrible nightmares when she was just a few months old. A little bit of lavender helped calm her down when nothing else would. I also use it in baths sometimes. We also use it for a milder burn/scar application to aid in healing.

Eucalyptus – Invigorating, and really strong smelling. I use this to help release congestion, mostly in bath time for Peanut. I also, in my super cheap glory looked up the oils that DoTerra puts in their “On Guard” blend…because I’m way too cheap to buy them, but I like that blend. I bought Eucalyptus and the next four listed essential oils to make my own “On Guard” blend. Which we have used, and now I need to make more.

Red Clove – I bought this specifically for my cheap version of DoTerra’s “On Guard.” I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing that yourself, but if you want to then… by all means.

Orange Blossom – I bought this specifically for my cheap version of DoTerra’s “On Guard.” I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing that yourself, but if you want to then… by all means.

Cinnamon – I bought this specifically for my cheap version of DoTerra’s “On Guard.” I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing that yourself, but if you want to then… by all means.

Rosemary – I bought this specifically for my cheap version of DoTerra’s “On Guard.” I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing that yourself, but if you want to then… by all means.

*disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor. I am not saying any or all of these things will work for you or yours. I write simply for educational purposes only 🙂 This list is not intended to treat, diagnose, or cure any disease or illness.

Herbal Medicine :: Finding Good Information

A series of posts about herbal medicine and what has worked for me and my family so far.

The FDA doesn’t have much to say about herbs and herbal medicines, except that professional herbalists and holistic doctors can’t legally claim to treat, diagnose, cure, or prescribe herbal medicines and the like to their clients. They must assume the role of consultant, unless they have a recognized and accredited medical degree. But even still, legally, herbs cannot treat, diagnose, cure, or be prescribed.

Some herbalist people I have talked to prefer it this way. At least the FDA (and all the rest) aren’t really medling in the industry to make a profit. Some say this is because there really isn’t a huge profit to be made off of things people can grow in their own gardens. All I know is, they don’t regulate herbs and herbal medicines. I’m not sure why they don’t want to regulate them, but I’m sure if I did a little more sleuthing I could find some reasons. However, because of this, the general public is not very keen on the idea of utilizing herbal medicines in their lives because there is really no public support for their efficacy in healing (even though there is a lot of independent research on their efficacy). The American government essentially has put a “use at your own risk” stamp on herbs, because they have not yet been proven safe…which I find ironic because the American government also says about all sorts of other things (GMO foods and pharmaceutical drugs to name a couple) that they are okay because they have not yet been proven dangerous. 

So why am I writing about this? Because an industry that is still widely unregulated can have products and claims that are absolutely bogus–or worse, dangerous. I’m kind of reminded of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” On the flip side, that also means that consumers determine and demand quality products from the industry product makers without all the red tape put up by government regulations. This also requires that consumers are well educated and forceful about what they want. Whether or not this is a good thing is all about what your personal political philosophies are.

Because of all this, finding good reliable resources for information and where to find quality products can be (and for many is) extremely confusing. Especially because anybody online [ME] can claim anything they want about herbal medicine and pass it off as true. And the sad part is many people buy into the popularity of some and believe everything they have to say on the subject–then possibly run into serious problems at worst, or a hoax at best.

So, how do we source good information? In my own quest, I try to seek out people in the industry that I trust who are professional and have good credentials. Then I ask them about their resources. And some of what I have tried is trial and error, because not every remedy will work for every person.

Some of My Resources
Information about Herbal Medicine:

The American Herbalists Guild is “the only peer-reviewed organization for professional herbalists in the United States.” (“Vaccinations: A Thoughtful Parent’s Guide Aviva Romm, M.D. p247).

“Vaccinations: A Thoughtful Parent’s Guide” by Aviva Romm M.D. In the later chapters of her book she discusses herbal remedies that can be used for sick children in a variety of circumstances. I have had good success with them.

Mountain Rose Herbs. For books about Herbal stuff. Based out of Eugene, OR and in my humble opinion seem legit. And they have many books I want to purchase.

Mountain Rose Herbs also keeps a blog which contains recipes and how-to’s for all the different types of things you can do with herbs.

I took a free webinar from John Gallagher, an independent herbalist, about using common foods to help boost your immune system (and how basically everyone uses vitamin c incorrectly). His website is called learningherbs.com

A really interesting series of articles about where/how to source essential oils (that I haven’t really verified, but she seems to have done some serious research).

Some say he’s a cooke but, I have had good success following his recommendations for things like indigestion and morning sickness. I’m generally wary of websites that seem to overly promote purchasing stuff. However, many of his recommendations don’t require the purchase of his supplements. Dr. Mercola.

And my personal favorite place, your public library! Libraries are full of old and new *published* books about herbs and herbal medicine. And the best part is, it’s all free!!! Unless you’re a slacker like me and turn stuff in late all the time.

Sourcing Good Quality Herbs
Can be a little trickier… but so far, I have had good success with local apothecaries and co-op granola faerie grocery stores.

Also if the herbs you find are certified organic by the Oregon Tilth people (who were one of the first people to start certifying things “organic” before “organic” was a thing) then it’s probably legit. As far as I know, they also produce some bulk herbs… I have some in my house.

Two other places, I have yet to actually purchase from are,

Mountain Rose Herbs. Who have a huge supply of bulk herbs and medicine making supplies. And I’m biased because they have a really well designed website… part of the graphic designer in me…

And a new one I just discovered: Frontier Co-op based right outta my midwestern Iowa.

Generally speaking, it is cheaper to purchase in bulk online than it is to purchase in store. But sometimes ya just need them herbs quick.

Anyway, happy sleuthing. Hopefully you find some of this helpful, if not at least a little interesting!

*disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor. I am not saying any or all of these things will work for you or yours. I write simply for educational purposes only 🙂