Birth choices and their price

Image result for woman in labor

I’m now entering my last month of pregnancy, and while I’ve done this three times already, about the only things I can be pretty sure of are – labor is going to hurt, and I’ll have a baby in the end. Otherwise, it’s still plunging deep into the vast ocean of the unknown, every single time. You have no way to predict how it’s going to go.

I’m terrified of giving birth. It’s physically rigorous, it’s traumatic, and it reduces me to a semi-conscious, barely articulate being that has very little in common with my usual rational self. Also, no matter how many times I do it, I will never be able to comprehend how on earth a baby can be squeezed out of there. When I think that I’ve done it and was up and about a mere couple of hours later, it’s  a miracle.

I won’t lie, I’ve been considering an epidural – or even an elective C-section – to help with pain and the extreme anxiety I experience each time, and to avoid finding myself in that unpredictable out-of-control place. But my fear of needles and surgical procedures is even greater than of giving birth, and it doesn’t seem this fear is so very irrational.

What makes me even more suspicious is that the medical staff always, without fail, portrays epidurals as something 99.9999% safe and effective, with only a minuscule portion of side effects. The anecdotal evidence of countless birth stories (because, remember, I live in a society where everyone has a lot of babies all the time) paints a different picture. It’s true that serious complications from epidurals are rare, but I have heard a fair share of stories of inadequate pain relief (with limited capability to move and deal with the pain in different ways), headaches and backaches that have lasted any time from a few days to a few weeks, prolonged and ill-controlled pushing, and prolonged recovery. A friend actually told me how she opted for an epidural, and there wasn’t time to get one – they had just inserted the needle, but didn’t even give her the drip yet when the baby was born – and the placement of the needle itself had hurt the nerves of the spinal cord, leading to back pains that have lasted for 10 years (!).

Fact: the placement of the epidural is a delicate procedure performed by humans. Humans are not infallible. Things can go wrong, and it’s silly to ignore this.

Did these women go to their health care provider and complain of the ill effects? Many did, certainly. The overwhelming majority of them received the same response: “You can’t really prove this was because of the epidural.”

You know what this sounds like? Like sweeping evidence under the rug.

The truth, I believe, is that the medical establishment does not really want to look at how widespread the side effects are, because it would necessitate gearing the whole system anew. Epidurals are extremely staff-friendly. Once a laboring mother gets one, and is hooked to monitors, etc, she can basically be left alone for hours in a quiet, undemanding state, because she is relatively pain-free and comfortable. A system that provides alternative means of pain relief on a more widespread basis would have to be more active, caring, and focused on the mother. It would mean more attention from midwives, more listening to the patient’s wishes, and more accommodations in the way of turning each L&D ward into a mini-natural birth center.

Fact: while a controlled hospital environment, intermittent fetal monitoring, the presence of doctors nearby, and the availability of NICU potentially increase the safety of childbirth for mother and baby, epidurals do not. Not even doctors claim that epidurals make a birth safer, or provide better outcomes. It’s 100% about pain management and comfort.

Plus, while in Israel women don’t pay for epidurals or C-sections, it doesn’t mean that this stuff comes free. Someone funds it, and that someone is the government (which, of course, is in its turn funded by our taxes). I’ve birthed, so far, with nobody present but a midwife to catch the baby, and no fancier equipment than a birthing ball and a shower with a jet of hot water. Midwives, showers and birthing balls are a lot less expensive than anaesthesiologists, surgeons and I.V. drips, and every hospital receives a fat check for each medicated and/or surgical birth. Less women who opt for epidurals means less money for hospitals and less employment for anaesthesiologists.

Don’t get me wrong, I think epidurals should be available to every woman who requests them, without question. Labor is a hugely individual thing, and what is manageable for some is impossible agony for others. If a woman is actually going through hell, or has gone through hell in a past birth, she might well decide that the risk of longer recovery or a few weeks of migraines are worth it. Some women would probably never have more than one child if it weren’t for the possibility of medical pain relief. I think it’s despicable and unethical that in some countries, natural birth is viewed not as the mother’s choice, but as a way to save money for the government.

I’d say that if the birthing mother wants something – an epidural, a massage, whale music, candles, a doula, her mom, a yoga instructor – everyone around her should do everything to support her choice and give her what she needs, or even thinks she needs, because the psychological factor plays a huge role. It has to be the woman’s choice. But it must be an informed choice.

Tell lice to get lost

It's either cry or laugh..we hope you laugh

Our first encounter with lice happened a few years ago and, thanks to not being part of the mainstream educational system, we have only caught these creepy-crawlies twice since. Nevertheless, if your kids don’t live in a bubble, and if they have any contact at all with other children, odds are that some time or other, they will have lice.

As of now we’re battling these nasties again, with the drawback of Israel having a huge aversion to anything that includes washing or combing hair. Naturally, sometimes there is just no choice, and so I find myself facing, on top of lice, a screaming, thoroughly unhappy kid.

I’ve tried several over-the-counter remedies, and read many tips for home treatments – including smothering your hair in anything from mayo to olive oil to Listerine (by the way, if anyone has a good strategy to share, I’ll be most happy to hear it). I came across this article, which not only made me almost choke on my cup of tea with giggling, but also contains some really great tips on thoroughly de-contaminating your children’s heads and your home.

I think a huge factor here is how serious the people around you are about treating lice. When I was a child, back in our “Old Country”, lice was considered something to be treated ASAP. Once your parents found some on your head, they freaked out and you were isolated and kept at home (no seeing anyone) until there was no sign of lice or nits and every strand of hair was squeaky clean. Think children spent most of their time in neat little sterile boxes? Nope… hardly anyone ever had lice, because they were always treated on time. Lice were associated with terrible unsanitary conditions, such as in concentration camps or prisons. In Israel, the attitude is comparably very lax.

I’ve actually met some parents who have despaired of ever getting rid of lice completely, and settle on keeping their population down (just so they won’t crawl all over the child’s face and become a public shame). Their children always have lice, and they rationalize by saying “so what? Everyone has them!” The Israeli Ministry of Education isn’t very helpful, with its guidelines which forbid teachers and daycare workers from checking kids’ heads (so as not to “shame” anyone), and which declare that no child will ever be sent home because of lice, even if they are live, multiple, and untreated. If one of your children’s friends has head lice, it doesn’t take much to get an infestation. If left uncontained, it will spread to every person in the house.

By this time, I have given up entirely on over-the-counter treatments containing dimethicone, as they include a warning that one must not use them if pregnant or breastfeeding. Moreover, the cost of these does add up. So here is my preferred strategy at the moment:

1. Buy the biggest, cheapest container of hair conditioner you can find.
2. Wash your kids’ hair (and your own, if needed) with conditioner until quite sleek and easy to comb.
3. After going through the clean, wet hair with regular comb, take up lice comb (always have one in your parenting emergencies arsenal – metal, not plastic!). Remove all lice and nits you can find. Don’t obsess, though; a single treatment won’t cut it anyway.
4. Next day, repeat process with washing, conditioner and combing. Be tenacious, and keep at it as many days as necessary until you don’t find a single louse. It usually takes up to a week.

Tips:
* Once in every couple of weeks, do a lice check just in case. You never know, and you don’t want an infestation to go untreated.
* Sometimes, shortening girls’ and women’s hair is necessary in order to make thorough combing feasible and not tortuous, but there’s definitely no need to go to extremes and shave heads.

Artisan crafts: a delightful winter pastime

It’s winter (OK, in most of the northern hemisphere, anyway – I confess we haven’t had very much of it yet!), which makes it a great time to try your hand at some crafty pursuits you might have wanted to experiment with for a while, be it knitting, sewing, or making homemade soaps and body products. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“A good place to start would be to try your hand at making your own natural body care products such as body butters, balms, scrubs, lotions and deodorants, which are very satisfying and usually very quick to make, and great for personal use, as holiday or hostess gifts when packed in pretty jars, or even as a potentially profitable home-business venture – not to mention they are a lot healthier than anything commercially available!”

Photo above: you’ll be surprised at how creative you can get with simple ingredients such as coconut oil, table salt and sugar, in making natural and lovely handmade body scrubs.

Counting the weeks

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Weeks are slipping by, and before I could see this coming, I’m already past the halfway of my pregnancy – around 22 weeks along. I’m due at the end of March which might not tell you much if you’re not Jewish, but this year it roughly coincides with the Pesach holiday – the most frantic time of the year in Jewish households all over the world.

I’m sure it’s going to be challenging. One of the names of Pesach is “the liberty holiday”, and I can fully identify with it as each year, I lift my arms up in prayer and thank G-d for finally bringing this day about and delivering me from the frantic incessant cleaning of cupboards, kitchen appliances, and any nook and cranny you can imagine.

Doing it while 9 months pregnant? I haven’t tried this yet, but it sure might help labor kick in. Oh, and I won’t be able to stock my freezer with ready meals either, because anything cooked in non-Pesach utensils would be of course tossed out before the holiday. And where am I going to spend the holiday itself? In L&D, in the maternity ward, at home with a newborn? Who’s going to cook? In short, I look forward to going through this and living to tell the tale.

In the meantime, here’s a little flashback to some three years ago, when I was expecting Israel to arrive any day:

***
“Being just a few days before my due date, I’m of course busy with things like washing tiny clothes and packing my hospital bag, but if you ask what I’ve been doing most of all in the past month and a half, the answer would be, fretting and worrying about the upcoming birth.

All sorts of crazy thoughts are swirling in my brain:

How on earth do babies come out of there? It doesn’t make any sense! (Never mind that I’ve had two babies come out just that way, with no complications, very straightforward. I think I can have ten babies and never fully grasp the sheer miracle of it.)

Whatever made me think I can do this? I’m sure I can’t. It will kill me. My body will fall apart. (Again, never mind I’ve already done this and was up and about the next day).

I don’t want to be there. It’s not the pain I’m afraid of, it’s the enormity of the act itself, it’s just freaking scary. I don’t want to be aware of what is happening to me. Someone please put me under general anesthesia and wake me up when the baby has arrived. 
 

I’ve been suffering from insomnia. I haven’t been able to really focus on anything productive. I’ve been having heart palpitations and shortness of breath and panicky thoughts that can amount roughly to, SOMEONE STOP THIS TRAIN NOW, I WANT OFF!

My husband reminded me that I’ve had the same fears before, and that when I actually got into the last few days before labor, I experienced a feeling of calm, relaxation, faith and confidence. He’s right – I guess it’s part of the hormonal alchemy that indicates my readiness to go into labor.

Last night, I came across the most beautiful, amazing, encouraging and peaceful birth story I’ve ever read. It was just incredible how something clicked into place once I’ve read it. For the first time in many weeks, I was able to go to sleep at night peacefully, without sitting up in bed for a long time, gasping for air and moaning, “I can’t do this! I can’t! Perhaps it’s not too late to schedule a C-section?”

 
I invite you, too, to read and be inspired.”

Garlic: a wonderful natural remedy

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The anti-inflammatory and health-promoting qualities of garlic have been known for thousands of years, and we include fresh crushed garlic in many sauces, spreads, dips and salads that are served around here. Recently, I have taken this a step further and began using garlic to promote the health of my poultry.

Read more here:

“It’s surprising that I didn’t think twice before giving my young peafowl antibiotics in increasingly strong doses for persistent respiratory symptoms. The birds, however, not only didn’t get better, but appeared weaker. An experienced friend whom I consulted recommended that I discontinue the antibiotics as they most likely have compromised the immune system of my peafowl, regardless of the initial complaint, try giving my birds fresh garlic, and observe the effects. Anxious to strengthen their immune system before the winter, and not seeing much to lose, I decided to give it a shot.”

Gambusia fish for mosquito control

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Do you suffer from a pesky local mosquito population? Granted, it’s less of an issue in the northern hemisphere at the moment, but if you dread the coming of spring due to an unreasonable quantity of mosquito bites, here’s a solution for you: set up an outdoor tank or pond with a few gambusia fish, also known as mosquitofish. Read more here:

“Many sources suggest combating mosquitoes that lay their eggs in ornamental ponds by introducing a few predator fish, usually gambusia. It certainly works, but around here we have taken this a step further. We set up an outdoor fish tank on purpose to attract mosquitoes, the eggs and larvae of which will serve as a feast for the fish. The local population of mosquitoes is thus reduced.”

Top Cheap and Healthy Foods

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The more financially challenged a family is (I deliberately avoid using the word ‘poor’, as I believe poverty is as much a state of mind as of the pocket), the higher proportion of its budget is directed towards buying food. It makes sense – you can scrimp on entertainment, clothes, and all sorts of frills, but everyone needs to eat.

Some things are really no brainers when it comes to food choices: avoid prepackaged ready-to-eat stuff, soft drinks, and anything that isn’t food in its basic, natural state. But what if you really need to take this a step further? What foods are the best bargain, financially and health-wise?

Whole, dry pulses and grains – beans, lentils and peas of all kinds have provided a source of protein and nourished healthy populations all around the world for millennia. Combined with barley, rice, bulgur, corn, etc, these create dishes with an amino acid balance that needs only a little animal protein to make a well-rounded, low-cost diet. Learn how to prepare grains and pulses the right way by soaking and/or fermenting them.

You can get a lot of food out of a few bags of lentils, peas and beans, and when properly stored, they will keep almost indefinitely.

Oats – oats are very nutritious and make an excellent breakfast cereal, much better than any cold cereal you can buy. Get your oats whole and roll them yourself for longer storage and to get the most of their health benefits, and pre-soak for maximum digestibility.

Eggs – containing the most effectively bioavailable protein in human nutrition, eggs are filling, nourishing and incredibly versatile. They also have the advantage of being almost universally cheap. Of course, it’s a million times better to consume home-grown eggs with a healthier fatty acid profile and essential vitamins, but even a store-bought egg is a source of wholesome protein when you can ill afford anything else.

Organ meats – the general public has a refined taste when it comes to chicken and turkey, and prefers clean, white meat, breast being the most popular. Stuff like liver, hearts, stomachs, etc, falls by the wayside, and can often be got very cheaply – all the better for you! Organ meats contain plenty of iron and B12, and, of course, are an excellent source of animal protein. They can figure in a variety of soups, stews, casseroles and other dishes.

Vegetables – if you have a productive garden of your own, you’re in luck. If not, you still rely on what you buy – and though fresh vegetables are an essential in a healthy diet, they can be tricky on the budget. Prices go up and down according to season and other factors, and even when you get a really good deal on certain veggies, there’s only so much you can buy, and they won’t store forever. Learn to buy what is cheap and in season, rather than have a fixed idea of what you’re going to eat.

Plain dairy products – commercial dairy products are controversial, but if you don’t keep a dairy animal, plain unsweetened store-bought dairy products are still a good bet, and are usually affordable. Stick to whole milk, plain yogurt, naturally processed cheese and unsalted butter.

Canned goods – don’t automatically dismiss all that comes from a can. Some canned foods are very nutritious – such as canned tomatoes, beans, tuna, sardines, and more – and sometimes you can get very good deals on them, so keep your eyes open.

Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to make your meals more palatable or filling by the addition of refined sugar and highly processed vegetable oils. It will only mess up your blood sugar and satiety signals, and will ultimately make you hungrier.

Good luck in finding the best way to feed your family healthy, inexpensive food – I know this can be tricky, but the rewards are well worth it.