A Health Story: Fatigue, Food Allergies, Inability to Gain Weight

Me and AlyssaToday, I’m sharing the health story of my friend Alyssa. Alyssa is one of my oldest friends… we met nearly twenty years ago at church and we were 2 of just 16 in our graduating high school class. I’m so thankful for Alyssa’s friendship over the years.  She is one of the strongest women I know; her optimism and endurance in the midst of suffering is inspiring and truly displays a joy that only God can give.  

As we have both struggled with different health issues for many years, I’ve been grateful for someone to share ideas & recipes with as we try new diets and attempts at natural healing.  She’s the friend that introduced me to essential oils, which have been so life-changing for me. And, as I’ve become a mom, she is an even more valued resource.  Here’s her story:

Hi, I’m Alyssa. I’m married to my high school sweetheart and we have four kids, ages 9, 6, 5 and 2. When I’m not spending time with my family I enjoy DIY projects at home or working part-time at Board and Brush creative studio.  I’m also passionate about natural health and wellness.

Growing up, my family was close-knit, but my mom struggled with health problems her whole life – depression, gut issues and back problems.  While we did things together as a family, we were limited by her condition  I remember her being in bed a lot. She would try to have a good meal for us on the table every night, but I still ate a lot of junk and processed food when a home cooked meal wasn’t an option.  We weren’t aware of all the short and long-term effects that food has on the body.

In middle school, I started getting made fun of for being so thin, which really affected me.  I had always been slender and unable to put on much weight, but when others started noticing, it made me really insecure.  That continued well into high school.  In high school, I also remember being pretty tired and not having a ton of energy.  My sleep consisted of: going to bed late, getting up early for school, falling asleep on my bed doing homework and going to bed late again.

Fast forward several years after having my first few kids.. just a few sleep deprived nights… my exhaustion and fatigue were much worse.  Not taking care of myself the right way put me in a bad state.  I was having gut issues and I was frequently getting sick and littlest virus would keep me down for a week or two.  

My mom had passed away in 2008 after I had had my first child, from an accidental overdose (the combination of a pain patch on her back and a heating pad).  After that, I began to think about my health in a new light; I knew I needed to figure out what was going on with myself, but I had a bad taste from conventional doctors and medicine after everything that happened with my mom.  

I discovered I had a gluten intolerance via trial and error after a doctor misdiagnosed me with acid re-flux.  I saw a string of natural doctors trying to figure out what was now lack of energy, anxiety, thinning hair, continued inability to gain weight along with some gut issues.  I saw at least 5 different doctors who all saw I had a problem going on with the symptoms and various lab results, but were unable to figure out what it all meant or what the cause was. I started eating healthier, in addition to being gluten-free, and begun researching more about natural remedies.  

When anything came up with our family, from colds and ear infections to strep throat, I tried to find a natural remedy for it. When my oldest was five, she had 5 rounds of strep throat and antibiotics to go with them, but was still sick. I was so frustrated and felt helpless; I came across a remedy of cayenne + honey + garlic and made her try it.  To my surprise, it worked! I had been able to treat her strep naturally without the use of antibiotics and she’s never had strep again. It’s like her body needed just a little natural help to fight it off on it’s own.

I continued seeking out natural remedies for ailments and dabbled in essential oils, not seeing much impact from the ones I had bought from the grocery store.  I didn’t think much of it until I was introduced to Young Living essential oils at a class. I was educated on the difference between store-grade oils vs pure, therapeutic grade oils and how they could help enhance a natural lifestyle. My husband thought I was nuts for being so excited about oils, but he’s now completely on-board and embraced my “crunchy” tendencies of tackling pretty much anything naturally.

As for my health problems, I’m still continuing to sift through the details of understanding what’s going on with my body. I found that following an AIP diet helps with a lot of my gut issues.  When I eat something I shouldn’t, I can recognize it quickly. My blood work still shows off levels and indicates potential thyroid and hormone issues, but the doctor I was seeing was somewhat perplexed by it. I’m currently waiting to see a new functional medicine doctor that a friend with Hashimoto’s recommended. She’s seen drastic improvement with her health over the last 6 months, so I am hopeful for similar results. In the meantime, I take each day as it comes. I am super aware of what I eat, what I use on my body and the products I use in my home. The journey to health and wellness seems to be an ongoing one. It can be so discouraging at times but I know that God has me in this journey for a reason and I’m trusting in His plan.

Like Alyssa, I know that so many of us are still in the thick of it- trying to figure out what’s causing issues and doing all we can to address the symptoms in the meantime.  I hope to someday share the answers Alyssa has discovered and the healing that she’s found.  I’m always comforted to know I’m not the only one still looking for answers, even though it is such a frustrating & discouraging place to be.

If you want to share your story, I would love to feature it on my blog to encourage others- please reach out to me at healthyhopefulblog(at)gmail.com. 

Beef and Snap Peas

This delicious dinner takes under 30 minutes to prepare and is perfect for a weeknight meal.  The tender steak with a sweet Asian sauce and crisp snow peas will be a crowd pleaser – both my husband and my 6 month old liked it!

Beef Snow Peas

A healthful adaptation of the Pioneer Woman’s Beef with Snow Peas recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup organic coconut aminos (say no to soy sauce with this perfect alternative!)
  • 1 tablespoon ground organic ginger
  • 2 tablespoons grass-fed beef bone broth
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Optional: you may add a tablespoon of non-GMO cornstarch or arrowroot powder to thicken your sauce, but since I was serving over rice, I didn’t feel I needed it.
  • 1 1/2 pounds grass-fed flap steak, sliced thin against the grain (can also use flank steak)
  • 3 tablespoons coconut or olive oil
  • Couple handfuls of fresh organic snap peas, trimmed
  • 5 scallions, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Preparation:

Combine the coconut aminos, ginger, bone broth, coconut sugar and crushed red pepper in a bowl. Put the sliced steak in a bowl and pour 1/3 of that liquid over the beef, saving the rest in the bowl.  Toss the beef and let sit for a few minutes while you prepare the snap peas.

Put the oil in a large skillet and heat over high heat.  Add the snap peas for half a minute to get them bright green, then remove them to a separate plate.

Next, add half the steak to the skillet.  Spread it out and let brown for a minute. Add half the scallions, turn the meat over and cook another half minute to brown that side. Remove to a separate plate.

Let the skillet get hot again, then add the rest of the meat and brown both sides again. Once you flip the beef pieces to brown the second side, add all the ingredients back in – the reserved sauce, the previously cooked meat and snap peas.  Stir for a few seconds, then remove from the heat.

Serve by itself or over jasmine rice or quinoa!

 

A Story On Antidepressant Withdrawal

Let's Talk WithdrawalMy good friend, Megan, has been such a blessing to our family during this newborn stage. She brought us several meals, is always eager to hold the baby even when she’s crying, change her diaper and rock her to sleep. When they say “it takes a village,” she is the kind of community and generousity you want in your life. 

Anyway, I have been wanting to share more personal stories of health on this blog. As anyone who has been through chronic pain or unexplained illness or battled continuously against health issues knows, it’s crucial to hear that you are not alone. It is so encouraging to know others in a similar spot and be able to work through it together, even virtually. 

Megan recently shared her health story on a podcast interview.  Once I heard it, I knew I had to share it with you.  While this story is specifically focused on her experience taking antidepressants, I related to it in so many ways- being so desperate to feel better and believing the doctors knew best, trusting that the pills they were giving me would be safe and healing, only to end up worse.
Megan’s story is full of the range of emotions that any of us go through when dealing with chronic pain or an unexplained illness: one day hopeful and the next filled with hopelessness.  If you are in that place and looking for some encouragement today, or if you are on or considering taking antidepressants, you must listen to Megan’s story.  Here’s a summary of what they discuss (from James Moore at Let’s Talk Withdrawal):

  • How Megan had sleep difficulties and how her doctor prescribed an antidepressant for insomnia
  • That Megan didn’t even know what she was taking was an antidepressant
  • After 2 years, Megan started to think about coming off her medication. Her doctor at the time advised her to withdraw over 2 weeks after Megan had been taking the antidepressant for 2 years
  • How Megan found the increase in suicidal thinking the most frightening effect of withdrawal but that she did not realise at the time that this was caused by stopping the drug
  • How no one understood that what Megan was experiencing was caused by antidepressant withdrawal
  • How doctors prescribed more medication to try and counter the symptoms of withdrawal
  • How Megan had to go back on her antidepressant and double the dose to remove the withdrawal effects
  • That the prospect of starting a family led Megan to consider stopping again and she then found an entire community of others who were struggling with the drugs themselves
  • How, having realised that her initial attempt to stop was too fast, Megan then decided to change to a different anti anxiety medication
  • How Megan planned to take four months to withdraw but still found this too fast and she experienced a wide range withdrawal effects
  • How a doctor prescribed an additional three medications on top of the antidepressant and anti anxiety medication
  • How those withdrawal effects forced Megan to go back up to 20mg of her antidepressant, meaning that Megan felt trapped
  • How the website survivingantidepressants.org was a major resource that Megan used to help her maker her tapering plan
  • That Megan used a compounding pharmacy to help her taper but it was expensive
  • How sometimes withdrawal effects can recur years after someone has stopped an antidepressant
  • How people should be very careful to recognize that suicidal thinking can arise from starting, changing dose or stopping an antidepressant

Listen to it at Let’s Talk Withdrawal or on iTunes.

I’m so proud of Megan for being so vulnerable in sharing her story and for her persistence to trust God in finding healing someday.  I hope you will also be encouraged by her outlook and reminded of how important it is to always do your own research before taking pharmaceuticals- they all have side effects.

My Favorite Safe & Natural Baby Items

Safe Natural Baby ItemsAs a first time mom, registering for baby items was totally overwhelming!  Luckily, I have plenty of friends with great advice that helped me out.  I thought I would share a few of my very favorite items that we’ve used with our baby girl so far, all of which you can be confident are very safe for your little one.

For Bath Time:

Natural Sea Sponge – I was so hesitant about this one because why not use a wash cloth?  But, this is SO soft and perfect for bathing a little one- it soaks up lots of water so you can squeeze it out over baby in better control than you could a cup.

Puracy Natural Baby Shampoo and Body Wash, Sulfate Free Bubble Bath and Daily Cleanser – Made locally here in Austin, we love using this for baths!  Baby girl always seems to get soap suds in her mouth when trying to suck on her hands, and I don’t have to worry about this one.

Coconut Oil – Cradle cap? dry skin? baby acne? cracked nipples? This has been more effective than any lotion or baby oil that I got, and it just has one very natural ingredient.  Plus, you can use it for SO many other things!

For Feeding:

Kiinde Kozii Bottle Warmer and Breast Milk Warmer – I did a lot of research and this was the best, safest warmer for bottles of breast milk.  It takes a little bit more time than the others, but I’m confident it is not harming any beneficial properties by warming too fast, and we have never had an issue with hot spots.

Traditional Medicinals Organic Mother’s Milk Tea & Organic Moringa Capsules – I have used both to help keep up my milk supply, especially on the days I go to work and have to pump or when I don’t get much sleep.

Mommy’s Bliss Probiotic Drops Plus Vitamin D – More effective than gripe water or gas drops, these probiotics help her fragile digestive system and relieve gas. We give her a couple drops twice per day.

Lifefactory 4-Ounce BPA-Free Glass Baby Bottle with Protective Silicone Sleeve and Stage 1 Nipple – Absolutely love these glass bottles.  They are all we use and I feel great about the lack of chemical-leaching plastic.

For Sleep: 

Harlow’s Earth Waterproof Crib Mattress Cover – Organic mattresses are ridiculously expensive, so we found this super cheap solution to prevent the off-gassing of all the toxic chemicals and flame-retardants in regular mattresses.

Woombie Convertible Swaddle – Our baby girl was swaddled from birth and still is for both nighttime and naps.  Made with a two-way zipper, this is SO easy to use, even more so than the velcro ones.  Plus, it’s super breathable if you have a hot-natured babe like our little one. And, it has buttoned arm holes for when you need to transition out of the swaddle when they start to roll over or if your baby likes one or two arms out for comfort.  They have an organic cotton version too.

Organic Muslin Swaddle Blankets – While we haven’t used these for actual sleeping yet, they are the perfect lightweight, breathable blankets for Texas weather.  They double as burp cloths and car seat covers and nursing covers.  Plus, they come in the cutest fabric patterns!

Lotus Travel Crib and Portable Baby Playard – This pack n play has no flame retardants, no PVC, no phthalates and no lead, so it’s totally safe for baby.  Plus, it is super lightweight, folds up into a small backpack carrying case and is easier to set up/take down than any I’ve seen.

For Diapering:

Prince Lionheart Ultimate Wipes Warmer – Everyone told me a wipe warmer was not worth it, but we love ours.  Baby girl hated diaper changes in the beginning, and cold wipes made it worse.  Now that we are using cloth, this is perfect for storing our cloth wipes in- I just add a mix of water, coconut oil and lavender essential oil and they are warm and ready to use. Baby girl’s bum is so spoiled!

Buttons Flannel Baby Wipes – Once you use cloth wipes, disposables will never compare; they are so much better at cleaning up the mess.

Planet Wise Wet Diaper Tote Bag – Perfect for putting your wet diapers in at home or get a smaller bag for on-the-go!

OsoCozy Natural Cotton Unbleached Cloth Diaper Prefolds – We love these natural cotton prefolds for simple cloth diapering; they are great as burp cloths too!

For the Nursery:

Lorena Canals Machine Washable Rug with Natural Cotton and Non-Toxic Dyes – The cutest, softest rug that’s perfectly safe for baby to lay on and totally washable for all the baby messes.

Diffuser/Humidifier &  Essential Oils – Great for little congested baby noses and for helping promote good sleep, we run lavender or peace & calming essential oil in the diffuser in her room.

For Play Time: 

Burt’s Bees – Organic Loop Bee Plush Toy – My daughter’s favorite toy… she loves the crinkly wings and holding onto the soft cotton loop.

Silicone Teething Rings – These rings are non-toxic, phthalate & BPA-free and have several different sensory bump patterns for baby to chew on.

Green Toys Shape Sorter – Baby girl is loving the colors and shapes and putting everything in her mouth.  I’ll be buying more of these Green Toys- they are 100% recycled plastic and have no BPA, phthalates, PVC, or external coatings.

My Placenta Encapsulation Experience

I remember first hearing about women consuming their placentas after childbirth on some tv show where a woman blended hers into a smoothie.  It was about the most disgusting thing I could think of and I thought it was absolutely crazy.  But, over the years, I heard more and more stories about the benefits of consuming your placenta and was intrigued.  I was never going to be a placenta smoothie maker, but the encapsulation process seemed harmless…. basically your placenta is dehydrated and then the powder is put into capsules that you swallow like a regular pill or vitamin (it’s totally tasteless too).

So why do people do this crazy thing?  The whole idea stems from the fact that many animals eat their placenta after birth.  It’s supposed to replenish valuable nutrients and hormones and help create balance going into the postpartum period.  There have been limited research studies done on this practice to prove that it is indeed helpful, but the anecdotal benefits are abundant.  It’s been said to help in the following areas:

  • Alleviate anxiety
  • Promote energy to combat fatigue from childbirth & little sleep
  • Restore iron levels in blood
  • Increase milk production
  • Decrease postpartum depression levels
  • Assist with the release of the hormone oxytocin

When I was pregnant, I researched the studies and read countless stories about how much it helped other women.  I found a local source who could do it for $100 (many others charge upwards of $500) and thought it was worth the experiment.  I know that the postpartum period can be really difficult for some women, and I figured that if this simple thing could help make it more positive for me, that I had to try.  It was so easy- the woman came and got my placenta from the freezer at the birth center and then delivered the pills to my house a couple days later.  I started taking a couple pills twice a day and decreased to just one pill a day after the first few weeks (they lasted for 10 weeks total for me, but it depends on frequency you take them and how large your placenta is).  They don’t have to be taken with food or anything… I just took them when I remembered.

Did it work?  I think so!  Would I do it again? Definitely.  Probably not worth the $500 some charge (am I in the wrong business!?), but certainly for $100.

I was pretty skeptical that I would see any kind of benefit.  As a first time mom, I had no idea how you were supposed to feel postpartum, so its hard to know what’s normal for me and what difference was made.  However, there were three positive ways I did really feel like the pills helped.  I noticed these things after forgetting to take the pills and either realizing it later or my husband asking if I had taken them.  And none of the three were a one time thing… I saw the pills make a difference repeatedly.

  1. Milk production – Due to my baby’s tongue tie and resulting ineffective latch, I struggled with milk supply.  I was able to pump several ounces more on days that I took placenta pills… I’m bummed I am out now!
  2. Breakouts – I was lucky to not have lots of blemishes during pregnancy, but it’s been awful postpartum with all the hormones.  My skin was definitely clearer when I was taking the pills.
  3. Emotional balance – This was the biggest one for me; even my husband would agree he really saw a difference.  The only times in the first few weeks I ever got super emotional where I felt out of control with sadness or crying were days that I forgot to take pills.  After taking them, I would feel much better, if not completely normal, within 30 minutes.  Placebo effect?  Maybe.  But, since my husband saw the change too, I feel it had to be true.

So, even though the evidence-based proof is limited and the placebo effect cannot be ruled out, I certainly saw a benefit and would definitely recommend to my friends.  Do you think you would ever try it?

P.S. Because I asked before getting it done, I thought you might also be curious.  Having gestational diabetes does not mean you cannot/should not get your placenta encapsulated; it will have no effect through the pills.

More about medical research on placenta encapsulation: https://evidencebasedbirth.com/evidence-on-placenta-encapsulation/

 

My Natural Labor Story

Our sweet daughter arrived in January and is now six weeks old!  She finally arrived when I was 41 weeks pregnant and I was thankfully able to achieve a natural childbirth in a birth center under midwife care.  Before I get to her actual birth story, here’s a little about my decision to attempt a natural childbirth and my feelings leading up to labor…

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Several years ago, I watched the documentary The Business of Being Born and became aware of all the unnecessary interventions that happen in hospital births, as well as the possibility of a cascade of interventions that can occur.  After hearing friends’ birth stories and doing my own research, I knew I wanted to avoid the risks those interventions could bring. And, my body typically reacts poorly to medicine, so ultimately I wanted to try for a natural childbirth to avoid those side effects. 

When we found out we were pregnant, I started doing research to see who the best provider would be to support my birth plan and where I would feel the most comfortable laboring.  Having had some bad hospital experiences in the past, I hoped to stay away from that option if my health and the baby’s health cooperated.  Plus, I knew that if an epidural was readily available, I would likely give in quickly when the pain got bad.  A home birth made me too nervous; I wanted to be closer to a hospital just in case something went wrong.  So, we decided on a birth center across the street from a hospital.  And, it was at a practice with both doctors and midwives so that if I were to transfer, I would still know my provider (not usually the case if you end up in a hospital from other birth centers or home- you get the doctor on call).  I loved the birth center because the rooms were set up like a bedroom, very cozy and relaxing, with the added benefit of having a deep tub to labor in.

People often asked me during my pregnancy how I felt about childbirth and if I was scared about going the natural route.  Truthfully, I was really confident and excited going into labor.  Having seen many friends let fear overwhelm them, I actively controlled my thoughts and focused on what would help fill me with confidence.  Watching the show Call the Midwife, taking a class on relaxation techniques for labor, reading birth stories online and the book Guide to Childbirth by the midwife Ina May Gaskin, I continually reminded myself that millions of women have done this throughout history and that my body was totally capable.  While I learned about possibilities of problems in labor and the different interventions to be well-informed, I didn’t focus on the negative.  I didn’t let others tell me stories with the purpose to only scare me. I refused to let fear enter and trusted that God was in control and could give me the strength to endure the pain.

Okay, now to the actual story…

Before the due date, I hadn’t had any signs of labor, but that day started what I would realize later to be pre-labor.  I started having abdominal cramping and bad pain in my lower back, on and off, that would intensify in the days leading up to labor.

The day before she was born, I went to work as normal and then to the chiropractor in the late afternoon for an adjustment and acupuncture to try to naturally induce labor.  I had also been taking evening primrose oil and drinking red raspberry leaf tea to encourage labor for the previous 3 weeks. My back pain was much worse that day, but I was trying to go on as normal as possible, thinking that it could still be several days before she arrived.  I came home and took a walk and cooked dinner and had a normal evening resting & watching tv.  We laid down to sleep just before 11pm, but when I got up to go to the bathroom, I had my first contraction. I tried to lay back down in bed, but 8 minutes later, I had another one and hubby decided to start timing them and coaching me through them.

The pain in my lower back was really bad in between contractions, and the contractions made it worse.  The first 4 contractions were 8 minutes apart and from there they got closer together.  By 12:30am, they were 4 minutes apart. I was trying lots of things to try to relieve the pain and relax: breathing exercises, low moaning, leaning against & sitting on the birthing ball, standing in the hot shower and laying in the bathtub.  I was also very nauseous during this phase of labor- I threw up a few times at home and once when we arrived at the birth center, but then it subsided.

We called the midwife around midnight and she coached me through a couple of contractions over the phone.  She confirmed that I was in active labor and that she would head into the birth center to get things ready and to let her know when we were ready to come in.  The goal was to labor at home, the most comfortable environment, as long as possible.  We called our doula after that and she began to make her way to our house.  Once she arrived, she helped coach me through contractions while my husband packed everything into the car. At this point, I had a TENS unit attached to my back to try to help relieve the back pain – the chiropractor had let me borrow it earlier that day and I’m super thankful she offered it – it ended up being the only thing that would provide any sort of relief for my back.  Around 2am, we left to go to the birth center.  I don’t remember much of the ride as I had my eyes closed trying to deal with the pain; it went by very fast and luckily I only had to deal with a couple of contractions in the car.

When we got to the birth center, we first went into the doctor’s office to check my cervix (I was 7 cm dilated) and blood pressure to ensure there was no risk of preeclampsia that I would need to go to the hospital for.  When we got into the birthing room, I immediately got into the tub to see if that would provide any relief.  I labored for awhile, in and out of the tub, also trying the hot shower on my back and rolling on the birthing ball.  I had my eyes closed most of the time, which I guess was my body’s natural way of trying to conserve energy.

In childbirth class, our teacher taught the acronym PAIN to set apart regular pain we might experience from an injury or when something is wrong with our body from labor pain – P for purposeful, A anticipated, I for intermittent and N for normal/natural. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience the “I.”  The back pain in between contractions continued to be really bad and I never got a break from the pain from the time my labor started.  The TENS unit helped some, so I put that on when I wasn’t in water.  At one point, the midwife gave me some saline injections in my lower back to try to provide relief.  The injections themselves were quite painful and barely took the edge off the pain, so I refused them when they were offered a few hours later.  Back labor, especially the kind that persists between contractions like mine, is terribly exhausting.

After a couple hours of labor, I felt a lot of pressure which I thought was the urge to push.  I pushed only a few times. When my cervix was checked again, I hadn’t dilated any more but the baby had moved down, so that was likely what the pressure was.  I was in so much pain and so exhausted at this point, I seriously began considering transferring to the hospital to get an epidural as I didn’t think I could continue for several more hours without one.  So many things were going through my mind with this decision… the extra cost that the hospital would be, the intake time for paperwork that would likely mean another hour or two before I even got the epidural, and ultimately just feeling like a failure for giving into the pain after I had worked SO hard during pregnancy to control the gestational diabetes naturally to be able to be in the birth center.  I really didn’t want to go to the hospital and couldn’t help feeling so disappointed in myself.

To try to help me relax and get some relief, they had me lay on the bed and breathe in nitrous oxide (laughing gas).  It’s supposed to take an edge off the pain but I didn’t feel any kind of relief from it.  After an hour of laying there trying to let it work, I was frustrated and totally disheartened.  I told them that I was ready to go to the hospital.  

Around this time, the shift change happened and in came a new midwife and nurse.  Talking through the hospital transfer decision with me, she said she knew I had worked so hard to be in the birth center and offered to check my cervix again to see if I had made any progress, just in case I felt like that would make a difference. When she checked, I was dilated to a 9 and almost fully effaced, so she thought I should be ready to push soon.  With the news of that progress and encouragement from her, my mom and husband, I decided to stick it out in the birth center.  

By this point, my contractions had slowed way down to 8 minutes apart, sometimes even longer.  It was likely my body’s way of trying to conserve energy since I had been in so much pain and hadn’t gotten any sleep for over 24 hours. When I did finally start pushing, this made it difficult because we had to wait so long for contractions to come and I lost a lot of the progress I made in between.  The back pain also made it really hard to determine when a contraction was really coming on, as well as when I truly felt the urge the push, since I was experiencing constant pressure.

The new midwife had me try all different kinds of positions to encourage the labor along.  It was so difficult to continue moving and trying new things, some of which were so uncomfortable, but I think it’s what finally helped me along.  They also tried a couple natural ways to help encourage contractions – black and blue cohosh, an herbal supplement under my tongue every 20 minutes, and pumping to stimulate the release of oxytocin.  My water broke naturally right before pushing and it definitely got more intense then. 

I pushed for a almost 5 hours, the last 2 ½ were on my back in the bed as that’s where I seemed to get the best leverage with my exhaustion level.  I was totally planning on a water birth, or at least something that used the benefit of gravity, but I ended up having my baby on my back in a bed – as I am sure you have heard before, nothing really goes according to plan!  

The last 2 hours of labor, everyone kept telling me that she was almost out and likely would be with the next contraction.  They kept telling me to push harder, which I felt like I was trying to do, but I could feel myself getting more exhausted and unable to push as effectively as time went on.  I remember at one point they suggested I reach down to feel the top of her head to see if that would help encourage me… ha!  I barely felt any of her head and it ended up being a discouraging moment.  Finally, the midwife suggested that an episiotomy might truly help in my case, though they don’t do them often.  I was up for whatever got her out faster! As soon as she did that, the head came out with the next contraction.  I was so ready to be done that I didn’t even wait for the next contraction to push out her shoulders and the rest of her body.  

When she finally came out, I heard her cry and reached down to bring her to my chest for immediate skin to skin time.  I remember being so relieved that labor was finally over and said “Hi baby girl!! I’m sorry it took so long!!”  It only took about 5 minutes for her umbilical cord to stop pulsing and then husband cut the cord. My back pain stopped as soon as the baby was out. 

After she was born, we relaxed in the  room for awhile- eating hamburgers and chocolate shakes, taking a nap and me and baby enjoying a warm herbal bath.  Only 18 hours after leaving our house the night before, we left the birth center and were able to be in the comfort of our home that evening.  It was incredible to be able to sleep in our own bed that night instead of in a noisy hospital room with lots of interruptions. 

Before labor, I wasn’t really sure what kind of support I would want in the room or how comfortable I would be with lots of people in there.  Looking back, I could have had even more in there; I needed all the help I could get. I was so thankful for the tremendous support I had in the room – my husband, my doula, my mom and the midwife and nurse.  I needed every one of them for support and encouragement. And my dad was outside the door listening and praying the whole time… I certainly needed strength that only God could provide. 

Would I do a natural birth again?  Yes, I think so (if I ever decide I actually want another baby!!) The birth center experience was definitely a great one- the atmosphere was very relaxing and felt less medical. I think that in a hospital I would have ended up having more medical interventions and who knows what the outcome could have been.  Honestly, I was traumatized by the pain for a couple weeks afterwards and really needed to emotionally and mentally process what had happened. But, looking back, I certainly feel really strong and confident knowing that I was able to do it.  Motherhood has been really hard so far, so maybe I needed that experience to remind myself that I’ve got the strength and endurance to do it.  

Pregnancy Health Hacks

pregnancy-health-hacksAs I am nearing the end of pregnancy, I thought I would share some “health hacks” that I found helpful during pregnancy.  All of these “hacks” are safe, natural methods for dealing with pregnancy symptoms and in preparing for labor.

Chiropractor Adjustments – I’ve been seeing a chiropractor regularly for years and can’t imagine life without it.  I continued my regular visits, increasing frequency to once every week or two, depending on how I was feeling throughout my pregnancy.  Not only did I not suffer from lower back pain, which I know is a very common pregnancy ailment as the belly grows, but she was also able to help with other symptoms.  I ended up having some shoulder and neck pain as I started sleeping on my side that she addressed.  She kept my hips in alignment, helping greatly with the round ligament pain.  And, most surprisingly, she was also able to adjust my stomach to relieve most of the indigestion/heartburn caused by pregnancy (up until the last week before the baby dropped). Lastly, my chiropractor is also trained in acupuncture, which can be a great help for natural labor induction- now that I am past my due date, I’m going to see just how well it works!

Prenatal Massage – I’ve always considered massages more of a treat than a necessity, but I really tried to get at least one prenatal massage each month throughout pregnancy.  Studies show that massage during pregnancy can help improve sleep and reduce stress/anxiety.  Of course, they are also greatly helpful for pain relief and overall relaxation (you deserve it, mama!).  Look for a massage practice that has staff specifically trained and certified for prenatal massage AND one that has a special pillow so that you can lay face down, instead of on your side.  Those 30 minutes of laying “on your stomach” were magical because you never get that luxury.

Magnesium & Potassium – Suffering from middle-of-the-night painful leg cramps?  These two supplements are a must; they worked to completely take those cramps away for me.  Magnesium is also beneficial in helping to calm you before bed, leading to better sleep, and for helping to keep you regular if you are suffering from constipation.

Probiotics – I highly recommend everyone take probiotics regularly, not just pregnant women.  We encounter so many antibiotics in our food and other toxins in our environment- we need to consistently restore our levels of healthy bacteria. The health of our digestive system has a strong correlation to the abilities of our overall immune system, so probiotics are essential for supporting your immune function.  They are also helpful for keeping your bowels moving if you are suffering from constipation.  Lastly, I definitely believe that regularly using probiotics was a big reason I tested negative for Group B Strep.

Essential Oils – I am a big fan of essential oils and use them every day for both my health and around my house.  Here are a few that I used most commonly during pregnancy:

  • Copaiba – An anti-inflammatory oil, this helped relieve my indigestion; I rubbed it on my chest/throat/stomach.
  • DiGize – Another one to help with indigestion and to prevent constipation.
  • Peppermint – Great to smell or add to water when you experience morning sickness; it helps relieve nausea.  I plan on bringing it into labor also in case I experience nausea then; but I will put it away while I am breastfeeding since it can cause a decrease in milk supply.
  • Thieves – I put a drop of Thieves on the bottom of my foot every day and diffused it often to boost my immune system.  I also cleaned my house with it to keep everything chemical-free.
  • Frankincense – I definitely suffered from the “daughter stealing beauty” thing and had lots of breakouts on my face from the hormones.  Frankincense mixed with coconut oil was the only thing that works to heal blemishes fast.
  • Lavender – Very useful for overall relaxation and to help promote good sleep.  Mix some with distilled water and mist over your pillow each night. It’s also very moisturizing, so I found it helpful when I was itchy from my belly stretching.
  • Clary Sage – Only to be used at the end of pregnancy when you are full-term, this oil helps ease the pain of cramps and promotes uterine contractions.

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea – I drank this tea often throughout my third trimester.  My midwife recommended it as a way to tone pelvic and uterine muscles to prepare the body for productive labor contractions.  It’s full of great nutrients like magnesium and vitamin C that are also beneficial for sleep, nausea, leg cramps and immune function.  For more information, Wellness Mama wrote a great blog post about the benefits of this herb.

Evening Primrose Oil – Another recommendation from my midwife, the oil of evening primrose can help soften the cervix to prepare the body for labor.  You can find the capsules in your local pharmacy and it’s usually recommended to start after 36 weeks.

Ginger Candy – I carried this in my purse constantly when I was battling pregnancy nausea (aka morning sickness that lasts all day).  You can make them or find them in a store; the hard candies last a bit longer in your mouth, but crystallized ginger is also yummy to chew on.

Controlling Blood Sugar – I wrote a whole post about the diet, exercise, supplements and water intake that helped me keep my gestational diabetes under control – check it out here.  If you want to limit weight gain during your pregnancy, this is definitely the protocol to follow; plus, the diet+exercise simply make for a healthier lifestyle that will help you avoid much of the discomfort of the 3rd trimester.

Is there anything natural you tried during pregnancy that helped you?  Please share!