Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Touching Bellies, Touching Lives

Ever since I got pregnant with my Little Bug, I have been somewhat obsessed with the entire process of pregnancy, labor, and birth. True story. As any birth junkie can attest to, once you get bitten by the birth bug, you never lose that fascination.

And despite my own rocky history with pregnancy, I too remain fascinated. I read every pregnancy birth I can get my hands on, sometimes reviewing newly-released ones for SF Book Review. I love talking pregnancy with my friends. I celebrate their pregnancies and revel in their birth stories. I read articles and blog posts and never, never stop learning.

I know I'm not alone in my obsession. And for people who love birth as much as I do, getting to read a book like Touching Bellies, Touching Lives by Judy Gabriel is a real treat.

Gabriel fell in love with Mexico at a fairly young age. Later, as an adult, she spent weeks and months at a time traveling through the southern parts of Mexico, meeting with traditional midwives and hearing their stories. Her book gives voice to a group of people that is in danger of disappearing completely, as Mexico adopts the worst of Western practices regarding how labor and birth should be "managed."

Many of us are already well aware of the problems that pregnant women face in America; the over-medicalization of normal, healthy, low-risk pregnancies has been getting plenty of media attention in recent years, including on some rather prominent news sites. We know that interventions are over-used, that the cesarean rate is too high, and that birth trauma is a very real issue.

But what we hear less about is how some of these problems are sneaking into other countries and cultures. Touching Bellies, Touching Lives has opened my eyes in a lot of ways. I hadn't realized that midwifery in Mexico is currently facing the same challenges that midwifery in the United States faced decades ago, that mistrust and lies are driving women away from traditional care and into hospitals. I hadn't realized that the use of pitocin (artificial oxytocin, which is the primary hormone that drives contractions during labor) had become so standardized, that even many midwives used pitocin routinely now and that pregnant women asked for it. I hadn't realized that in the hospitals in Mexico, the cesarean rate not only rivals that of the U.S., but in some places surpasses it (the book quotes 45% overall in Mexico, with some private hospitals having rates as high as 90%).

However, the heart of Touching Bellies, Touching Lives lies in Gabriel's interviews with dozens and dozens of traditional midwives throughout the region. There are so many stories scattered throughout the pages of this relatively small book, stories where women tell of how they became midwives in the first place, where they learned the skills they use to care for pregnant women, and some of the more memorable births they attended. These midwives tell of learning their practice from established midwives and local healers, of attending cursos (government-sponsored courses in midwifery), and of the way their practices have evolved over time.

Many of the midwives feel deeply drawn to midwifery by God; many described it as a calling of sorts, and many said they became midwives because there was no one else in the area to help laboring women give birth. They talk about using the rebozo (a long, wide scarf) to help reposition babies and ease labor pains, about traditional remedies for pregnancy and labor, and the value of regular belly massage throughout pregnancy. In fact, one of Gabriel's primary methods of locating midwives was to ask about women who massage the bellies of pregnant women!

Touching Bellies, Touching Lives is a fantastic and informative read. While it will appeal most strongly to those already interested in pregnancy, labor, and birth, readers of all kinds will be able to see interesting parallels between the over-medicalization of childbirth in the U.S. and similar trends in Mexico. Gabriel's passion for midwifery is clear in every page of this delightful book, which is a true pleasure to read.


I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: You First

Actress, singer, and author Lea Michele is perhaps best known for her role on popular television show Glee, but she used to be just like the rest of us, working and dreaming of bigger and better things. Michele attributes a lot of her success to the fact that she has spent a lot of time not only defining her goals, but writing them down and holding herself accountable for taking steps to actually achieve them. She's a big proponent of journaling, and her new book, You First, is meant to help others who are interested in keeping a journal but have no idea where to start.

You First is essentially a guided journal, a collection of writing prompts that will help readers get writing! The book is divided into four sections. You is all about--you guessed it--YOU! Michele believes that understanding yourself is essential to happiness in life, and that in order to grow and move forward, we must first take care of ourselves. So this first section covers a few different ideas related to those themes. Michele encourages readers/writers to explore their own personal roots, to learn more about family history and record some stories for posterity.

This section also encourages us to not only start exercising, but to write about how it makes us feel; recognizing the real ways that exercise improves our day-to-day lives will make it easier to keep at it. Same thing with food. Michele does not recommend a particular diet, but she does encourage readers to think about the food they eat and record how that food makes us feel.

"A tree simply can't blossom unless it's healthy and strong. If you're going to achieve everything you want in life--not just today, or tomorrow, but for months and years to come--then you must give those roots love."

Section two is all about Ambition, and it encourages readers/writers to make goals, both short-term and long-term. Michele wants readers to think about our role models and to write about why exactly those people inspire us. Also included are some fun list-making sections; challenge yourself to read more books, explore your city more thoroughly, or to learn new skills!

The Relationships chapter is all about friends, partners, and co-workers. Understanding ourselves better allows us to define what we need from different kinds of relationships, so writing our thoughts out can help us deepen those relationships and attract the kind of people we need in our lives. Michele encourages readers/writers to think about the qualities we look for in friends, the things we want from our significant other (and any deal breakers, too!), ways we can strive to create a harmonious atmosphere at work, and lots more.

"This is about sketching out your dreams, and how you'd like your friends and your relationship to bolster and augment your life. By putting it down on paper, you can grow a current relationship or find one--and, ultimately, deepen your relationship with yourself."

The last section deals with Happiness. This is where Michele really delves into the "you first" mentality. What makes you happy, truly happy? This chapter has prompts for writing about hobbies old and new, charity work, and gratitude. Ideally, thinking about these topics will help readers/writers make some real changes in their lives that will bring about more happiness.

You First is a great starter journal that will help readers get thinking (and writing!) about many aspects of their lives. For anyone who has ever wanted to start a personal journal or diary but needs some ideas on what to write about, this guided journal is a fantastic idea.


I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

5 Reasons I'll Never Be the Crunchiest Person I Know

Guys, I've got a confession to make. My husband will probably make fun of me for acknowledging this (just a little, and in a loving tone, of course), but inside my head, I've started to identify with the term "crunchy."

That's right. I'm a little bit crunchy. Not super crunchy, and I would never, ever under any circumstances use the term "granola" to describe myself, but I do feel a little crunchy. So many of the practices I've embraced in recent years, especially since my son's birth, are on that end of the spectrum. Home birth, cloth diapers, babywearing, baby-led weaning, full-term breastfeeding, and other things that just make so much sense to me are considered to be crunchy. And I'm okay with that. And I'm okay with the label.

One slightly crunchy mama.

I'm not only okay with it, but on a certain level, I've come to embrace it.

And then there's other things I don't really talk as much about that also make me embrace the crunchy label. Things like using a menstrual cup, or my part-time use of "family cloth" (otherwise known as cloth toilet paper), or the way I'm starting to lean more and more toward making my own cleaning supplies and such at home.

And then... well, then there's the crunchy things I've tried... and kinda-sorta failed at.

So I guess I have two confessions to make. Or three. There are some ways I have failed at being crunchy.

There are also some crunchy things I've never tried. And I currently have no intention of ever doing so.

1. No-Poo.

Have you ever heard the term "no-poo"? If you haven't, it basically means not using shampoo and/or conditioner on your hair, the way most people do. Wait, I hear you thinking. You mean, some people voluntarily choose not to wash their hair?!? Gross!!! Well, while some people do truly forgo using anything other than water on their hair, most people who no-poo use something, just not shampoo. Some people use baking soda to "wash" their hair, followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse. Some people make hair rinses using all kind of natural ingredients: honey, coconut milk, castille soap, and more.

Here's the thing. The most common method of no-poo, the baking soda & apple cider vinegar combo, is really, really horrible for your hair. I'm not going to go into the details here, but suffice to say that it can seriously mess up the PH balance of your hair. Sometimes it can make your hair look great for awhile, but this form of no-poo ultimately isn't doing your body any favors.

So what's a crunchy girl to do? To be truthful, I tried baking soda and apple cider vinegar for about a month before a little more research showed why I was suddenly losing more hair than usual. So I tried a bunch of other alternatives, but none of them really worked for me. And after more than 4 months of being stuck in the "transition" phase, I had had enough. Enough no-poo, enough natural hair care. I went back to regular shampoo. Well, expensive organic shampoo that didn't contain some of the more questionable ingredients, but store-bought shampoo nonetheless.

No regrets.

2. Oil Pulling

Never heard of oil pulling? The basic concept is this: first thing in the morning, put a tablespoon of oil (coconut oil is used most commonly) in your mouth and swish for 20 minutes. Spit out (into the trash can, not the sink), rinse well, and brush. This practice can (supposedly) improve the health of your teeth and gums. Other people claim it has further-reaching benefits, helping with infections (by pulling toxins out of the body), headaches, skin conditions, and more.

I tried oil pulling once. Well, I lasted for three days. And then I gave up.

Why? Because it's gross, that's why. Swishing oil around in your mouth is gross. Aside from the logistical fact that it's hard to go for twenty minutes first thing in the morning without talking (I do have a 3.5-year-old, after all, and he gets up early too), I just couldn't get over how gross it felt. And tasted. So I quit.

I don't care what the supposed benefits are. I'll find other ways to keep my teeth healthy, thank you very much.

3. Oil Cleansing

If you've never heard of the oil cleansing method, it's basically using oil to, well, cleanse. Your face.

Here's the idea: like dissolves like. So using rubbing oil into your face will dissolve the dirty oil that's already there, which you then wipe away with a warm, wet cloth. The dirt is removed, and a thin layer of oil remains behind, replacing what you took away (meaning, it doesn't dry out your skin).

Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Well, maybe. But a lot of people swear by it.

This is currently on the list of things I might try someday, but will probably not stick with. Why? Because it looks too complicated to me. And expensive. Good oils are expensive, and while I do keep a few on hand for making certain personal care products with (like sweet almond oil, and jojoba oil), I'm just not interested in buying a bunch of different types. Because, like with so many things in natural body care, chances are good that it'd take a good deal of experimenting before I discovered the "right" combination of oils for me. I'm also not sure I would want to deal with any kind of transition period; if I had a hard time with my hair being weird, I don't think I could handle my face breaking out or getting dry or whatever. Hair can just be stuffed into a mom perma-bun when it's too greasy, but there's nothing I can do to disguise my face.

Besides. My facial skin care routine works just fine. And my skin is already perfectly clear thanks to a healthy diet. Why mess with what's already working for me?

This picture does nothing to prove my relative crunchiness. But everyone loves a sunrise!

4. Breast Milk: The Magic Cure

The fact that I'm still (mostly voluntarily) nursing my 3.5-year-old makes it pretty clear that I'm a believer in breast milk. My son nursed exclusively for more than 6 months, and continued nursing all night until after his 2nd birthday, and today is still not quite ready to give up his once- or twice-a-day nursing sessions.

I think breast milk is magical. I believe it has helped tremendously in my efforts to ward off illnesses, and has helped Bug recover more quickly when he has gotten sick.

But I've never used my breast milk to literally heal anything.

It's kind of a running joke among crunchy mamas that breast milk can heal anything. Pink eye? Apply a few drops of breast milk. Nipple blisters? Let some of that mama milk dry on them. Diaper rash? Add breast milk, let dry, and the rash will soon be gone! Ear infection? There are natural remedies for that, and one of them is breast milk.

We nursing mamas love our breast milk, and with good reason. It's magical stuff.

But I've never used mine for anything other than nourishing my baby. And I'm more than okay with that.

5. Cod Liver Oil

Lots of people in the natural health community think that cod liver oil is magical. It's used as a daily supplement by many, and it's (supposedly) a fantastic source of omega-3s, vitamin A, and vitamin D.

There has been some recent controversy regarding fermented cod liver oil, which I have read about with fascination. Lots of people in some of the online communities I am part of have been freaking out about the revelation that fermented cod liver oil isn't really the real deal.

Of course, the news doesn't affect me personally. Because I never have, and never will, take cod liver oil, fermented or otherwise.

This should be somewhat obvious. I am a vegan-leaning vegetarian. I haven't eaten meat, including fish, in more than eleven years. I don't believe that there is a single nutrient in cod liver oil that can't be adequately obtained from plant sources. So there's no way I'd ever consider taking it. End of story.


So now tell me your stories. How are you crunchy? How will you *never* be crunchy?