How to Stay on Top of Free Radicals with Antioxidants

How to Stay on Top of Free Radicals with Antioxidants

I hear the terms “free radicals” and “antioxidants” thrown around a lot, but the extent of my knowledge was that free radicals were bad and antioxidants were good. I wanted to know more, so I researched it and synthesized my findings here. The information is quite fascinating.

Free Radical Test

If you want to see how much your body has been affected by free radicals you can do the following test: Hold out your hand with the palm facing down in a relaxed position, then pinch the skin on the back of the hand by lifting up the fold and releasing it. If the skin snaps quickly back into place, then you have minimal free radical damage. If the skin takes a few seconds to go back into place, then that is a bad sign and you will want to take immediate steps to adjust your diet to eliminate free radicals and incorporate as many antioxidants as you can.

What are Free Radicals?

Free radicals are atoms that have unpaired electrons in their outer shell. These dangling covalent bonds make free radicals highly reactive to other substances or even to each other. In our bodies, they can create abnormal cells that can lead to a growing list of diseases from cataracts to cancer and leads to oxidative stres (where your body is kind of rusting from the inside out). What’s scary about free radicals is that they are able to penetrate into the DNA of a cell and damage its blueprint so that the cell will reproduce mutated cells that can then replicate without normal controls.

But they’re not all bad. In his article on the Weston A. Price foundation, Staying on Top of Oxidative Stress, Stephen Byrnes, ND, RNCP, states that, “free radicals are involved in many cellular functions and are a normal part of living. When, for example, a mitochondria within a cell burns glucose for fuel, the mitochondria oxidizes the glucose and in so doing generates free radicals. White blood cells also use free radicals to attack and destroy bacteria, viruses and virus-infected cells. The detoxifying actions of the liver also require free radicals.”

Where Do Free Radicals Come From?

When the body is fed poorly, it slowly starves at the cellular level, all systems become weaker, and then these weak systems become prime targets for free radical attack. The major sources of dietary free radicals are chemically-altered fats from commercial vegetable oils, vegetable shortening and all oils heated to very high temperatures. Excessive sugar can also contribute to free radical damage. Stephen Byrnes further states that, “Free radicals are also released in the body from the detoxification of drugs (whether legal or illegal), artificial food colorings and flavorings, smog, preservatives in processed foods, alcohol, cigarette smoke, chlorinated drinking water, pesticides, radiation, cleaning fluids, heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, and assorted chemicals such as solvent traces found in processed foods and aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene and naphthalene (found in moth balls).” Even psychological stress can produce certain hormones that generate free radicals.

What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are scavengers on the look out for free radicals. They stabilize the free radicals by giving them the electron they need to calm down. The also work to prevent free radicals from forming in the body. In the process, the antioxidant sacrifices itself.

How Antioxidants Diffuse Free Radicals by Donating an Electron

How Antioxidants Diffuse Free Radicals by Donating an Electron

Watch this video that shows a great explanation of how free radicals and antioxidants work.

Where Do Antioxidants Come From?

As people age, they are exposed to more and more free radicals, but the body has a wonderful way of repairing itself with cholesterol, which is a major antioxidant. This is probably why the serum cholesterol levels rise as people get older and why people with higher cholesterol live longer. Stephen Byrnes explains that, “the main antioxidants are vitamins A, E and C, betacarotene, glutathione, bioflavonoids, selenium, zinc, CoQ10 (ubiquinone), and various phyto-chemicals from herbs and foods. Green tea, for example, is rich in polyphenols–powerful antioxidants that help fight cancer.” Alpha lipoic acid is another amazing antioxidant that can help to reduce insulin resistance and helps to repair the body after a strenuous workout.

Glutathione

Glutathione is pretty much the most powerful antioxidant. It is found inside every single cell in our bodies. It is special because it helps to maximize the activity of all the other antioxidants. It is a complete amino acid (cysteine, glycine and glutamate), it removes toxins from our cells, and it protects us from the damaging effects of radiation, chemicals, and environmental pollutants. So where can we get glutathoine?

The best way to get glutathione is high quality whey protein. The best kind to get is cold pressed, from grass-fed cows, and free of hormones, chemicals, and sugar. I have a wonderful book that I enjoy reading called Trim Healthy Mama. In it, Serena Allison and Pearl Barrett talk about the amazing benefits of whey protein including how it helps stimulate the hormones that enhance fat burning, eliminate sugar cravings and hunger by promoting a stable blood sugar, boost serotonin levels, fight breast cancer, and is a great post workout boost. They say that instead of asking for Christmas or birthday presents, they just ask for whey protein! It also occurs in raw milk, raw eggs, and raw meat. *Consuming raw meat can lead to intestinal parasites, so I personally wouldn’t do it.

Fresh fruits and raw vegetables provide an excellent source of glutathione. This goes away once cooked, however. Spinach, potatoes, asparagus, avocado, squash, okra, cauliflower, broccoli, walnuts, garlic and tomatoes have the highest glutathione per serving. *The oxalic acid in raw spinach prevents the absorption of calcium.

In Conclusion

With all of the environmental toxins, poor dietary habits, and prevalence of diseases such as cancer, it seems like a good idea to do whatever we can (especially when we’re young) to eliminate things containing free radicals and to boost our intake of antioxidants.

My Sources

 

Butter is a Superfood!

I love that as our kids were coming to HUGE growth spurts, they would both consume copious amounts of butter. Because we didn’t know how good butter was, we would cringe a little as Ruby demanded more and more butter on crackers or bread, and we were just mortified when Elliot wanted to eat whole sticks of butter. But even though I hadn’t read Nourishing Traditions or learned about Weston Price yet, I thankfully believed in the fact that our kids craved what their bodies needed. (Thanks for raising me that way mom!) Now that I KNOW how amazing butter is it makes TOTAL SENSE why growing children crave butter and should be able to have as much as they want! Here are all of the reasons why butter is a superfood and should be eaten LIBERALLY…especially by growing children and mommas who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding.2012-06-05_08-25-08_894

  • One stick of butter has 58 grams of saturated fat. This is a good thing! Saturated fats have been demonized by mainstream media, but they are essential for our bodies and especially for growing children. (Read more about why in my blog: The Truth About Fats.)
  • There are certain vitamins that are only soluble in fat, and these include vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin K. These fat soluble vitamins occur in LARGE amounts ONLY when the butter comes from cows eating green grass. Vitamins A and D are essential for growth, for healthy bones, for proper development of the brain and nervous system, and for sexual development. The absence of butterfat in growing children results in “nutritional castration” because the male and female sexual characteristics fail to be brought out.
  • The Wulzen Factor also called the “antistiffness factor” is only found in raw animal fat, protects humans from calcification of the joints (degenerative arthritis), hardening of the arteries, cataracts, and calcification of the pineal gland.
  • The Price Factor or Activator X was discovered by Dr. Price and is a powerful catalyst for things like vitamins A and D that help the body absorb and use minerals and can ONLY come from cows eating rapidly growing grass. Dr. Price found that when he gave patients fermented cod liver oil infused with grass-fed butter oil, it practically brought people back from the dead.
  • 12-15% of butter contains short- and medium-chain fatty acids that don’t need to be emulsified by bile salts but can be absorbed directly from the small intestine to the liver where it is converted to quick energy. It also has highly protective lauric acid which is only found in large amounts of coconut oil or small amounts of butterfat.
  • Four carbon butyric acid is unique to butter and has antifungal and antitumor properties.
  • Omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids occur in small but equal amounts in butter.
  • Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in butter has anticancer properties, encourages the buildup of muscle, and prevents weight gain, but only when cows are pasture-fed.
  • The lecithin in butter helps metabolize and assimilate cholesterol and other fats.
  • The cholesterol in butter is needed to produce a variety of steroids that protect against cancer, heart disease, and mental illness.
  • Glycosphingolipids are a type of fat in butter that protects against gastrointestinal infections, especially in the young and elderly. For this reason, children who drink skimmed milk have diarrhea at rates three to five times greater than children who drink whole milk.
  • Trace minerals are incorporated into the fat globule membrane of butterfat including manganese, zinc, chromium, and iodine

Getting butter from grass-fed cows is by far the best. If you have access to raw milk from grass fed cows, the best thing would be to make your own butter or find a local source that sells it. You might be able to find Organic Valley Pasture Butter in season (May-April) at your local grocery store. Kerrygold is imported from Ireland where the cows spend 10 months out of the year on pasture and you can find it online and/or sometimes at your local grocery store. You can also buy organic butter from the store, but it’s expensive and there is no guarantee that the cows were out to pasture. Sometimes buying healthy food happens in layers and if you’re not to the point of buying expensive butter (I’m not…yet), then know that eating store bought butter isn’t so bad (but you are missing out on some of the amazing health properties). Any hormones or antibiotics that are given to the cows do not get stored in the butterfat, so that’s good at least. Fat soluble poisons such as DDT do accumulate in fats, however. For what it’s worth, we purchase our butter in bulk from Country Life Dairy for $2.75/pound. It is free from rBST bovine growth hormone which makes cows produce an unnatural amount of milk which leads to mastitis, over-use of antibiotics, and a host of other problems. It is actually banned in Canada and European countries.

So now that you know how good butter is, the next question should be: How can I find ways to eat as much butter as possible? My sister recently heard Sally Fallon speak at a conference and she said that vegetables were mostly important because they make excellent vehicles for consuming butter! Personally, I like to lightly steam a head of broccoli, douse it with about a half stick of butter, and then sprinkle it generously with Real Salt. I also like to make organic air popped corn, melt an entire stick of butter to pour over the top, and sprinkle generously with Real Salt for family movie night. Sally Fallon also mentioned that if you are going to have a piece of bread and butter, you should be able to see teeth marks in the butter! I have started to become creative with how I incorporate butter into our daily lives. I really enjoy my latest idea of melting huge dollops of butter on top of freshly cooked pastured eggs. And even though it is made with sugar, which we all know is the damned devil, I still really enjoy eating cookie dough made with freshly ground grain, two whole sticks of butter, and raw pastured eggs. Mmmmmmm…all this talk about butter is making me hungry! Time for a snack!

Resources

 

 

Which Oils Should I Use?

There are so many different oils to choose from, how do you know which ones to use and which ones to avoid? When shopping at the grocery store you’ll probably find quite an array of oil, from the ever popular canola oil, to the expensive olive oil, to the lesser known coconut oil. But only one of these oils can help you lose weight, have energy, and nourish your body at the cellular level. The rest will either make you gain weight, or worse, lead to array of ailments such as heart disease or cancer.

coconut oil

If you guessed that coconut oil is the only oil that will help you lose weight, have energy, and nourish your body at a cellular level, you guessed correctly! Some grocery stores may even sell coconut oil, but at the rate we use it, I need to buy bulk. My first coconut oil purchase was extra virgin organic Nutiva, which was incredible, but too pricy at $70/gallon for my budget and as much as I would like to buy everything organic, for me staying home with my kids is more important than getting another job to pay for it. We recently bought a fifty pound, five gallon bucket of coconut oil from Country Life for $62.50. After reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, I feel confident in making coconut oil my go-to oil for everything. It does not have a distinguishable odor or taste and we try to cook as much as we can with it. I use it to make my own bread, and I plop generous dollops for cooking eggs, pancakes, stir fries, and even burgers! Not only can it be used for baking and frying, but it has many other uses as well. I love mixing coconut oil with tea tree oil and lavender for my face and body moisturizer. Here are some of the wonderful attributes that make coconut oil so wonderful:

  • satfatpicCoconut oil is made up of 92% saturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids are structured so that all available carbon bonds are occupied by a hydrogen atom. This makes them highly stable and straight in shape, so that they are solid or semisolid at room temperature. As a result, they are less likely to go rancid when heated during cooking. If you keep coconut oil in its solid state (below 76 degrees) and out of direct sunlight, it can maintain a shelf life of two years.
  • Over two-thirds of the saturated fatty acids found in coconut oil are comprised of medium-chain fatty acids. When your body digests fat in the form of medium chain fatty acids it doesn’t need to be digested in the small intestine with bile acids and lipases like it does with longer-chain fatty acids, but can instead be shuttled directly to the liver and converted to quick energy. This is why coconut oil is great to use if you’re trying to lose weight. As long as you don’t eat it with any carbs it CANNOT be stored as fat! It is also a gentle way for people who aren’t used to eating fat to start incorporating it into their diets. 
  • The main medium-chain fatty acid in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is a proven antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal agent. It is converted in your body to a substance called monolaurin, which helps you defend against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. Basically, it strengthens your immune system and protects you from a wide range of diseases. The only other places you can get lauric acid are in mother’s milk or in small amounts in butterfat.
  • Lauric acid is the most rapidly oxidized fatty acid. The amount of energy used by the body to oxidize it is greater than the energy it provides. Since coconut oil is comprised of 50% lauric acid, it has a “thermogenic effect” meaning that it raises your body temperature, which boosts your energy and metabolic rate. So if you were to just eat a big spoonful of coconut oil, you would actually lose more weight than eating nothing at all!
  • Palm oil is another good tropical oil, but it is only 50% saturated.

3Now I can finally throw my Crisco away! I used to feel guilty about greasing my pans with my super expensive extra virgin organic coconut oil, but now that I have a fifty pound five gallon bucket at my disposal, I can use it liberally for EVERYTHING without feeling guilty and I can FINALLY throw away this Crisco that I’ve had sitting in my cupboard for more years than I’d care to admit.

In case you’re wondering, Crisco is just about the worst thing you could purposefully put in your body. It is made from hydrogenated oils (trans fats) that block your body from using important fatty acids and can lead to paralysis of the immune system, cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, low birth weight babies, birth defects, decreased visual acuity, sterility, difficulty in lactation, and problems with bones and tendons.

  • The process for making hydrogenated oil is enough to make me want to steer clear of it! It begins with the cheapest vegetable oils possible (soy, canola, or corn) that are already rancid from their extraction process. Then they are mixed with tiny metal particles usually in the form of nickel oxide. This nickel catalyst combined with a high temperature causes a chemical change called hydrogenation which changes the position of the hydrogen atom on the fatty acid chain from the slight bend of a double bond to a straightened molecule. This trans formation is toxic to your body, but your body doesn’t recognize it as a toxin. It actually incorporates it into cell membranes and this wreaks havoc with cell metabolism. After the nickel catalyst, soap-like emulsifiers and starch are squeezed into the mixture in order to give it a better consistency. The oil is then steam-cleaned at a high temperature to remove its unpleasant odor and bleached, dyed, and pumped full of strong flavors to get rid of its unappetizing grey color and horrible taste. Now, doesn’t that sound yummy!

1Olive Oil is okay to use every once in awhile. It isn’t likely to go rancid and so it’s great for things like salad dressing and hummus because of its antioxidant properties, but IT WILL MAKE YOU FAT (Beware, so will other monounsaturated rich foods like nuts and avocados!) Use it if you must, but I try to use it sparingly.

  • fa_fatacids02It is comprised of 75% oleic acid, 13% saturated fat, 10% omega-6 linoleic acid, and 2% omega-3 linoleic acid.
  • Oleic acid is an 18-carbon monounsaturated fatty acid that has one double bond in the form of two carbon atoms double bonded to each other and therefore lacks two hydrogen atoms. They have a kink or bend at the position of the double bond so that they do not pack together as easily as saturated fat and therefore tend to be liquid at room temperature but solid when refrigerated. They are relatively stable and do not go rancid easily and hence can be used in cooking (Keep temperatures under 425 degrees).
  • Because it is a long-chain fatty acid, it requires bile acids and lipases from the small intestine for digestion (after they are broken down, they are reassembled as triglycerides, which is basically how your body stores fat) and is more likely to contribute to the buildup of body fat than the short- and medium-chain fatty acids found in butter and coconut oil.
  • Your body can make monounsaturated fat from saturated fat, so there is really no need to consume it if you’re getting enough saturated fat.
  • If you do consume olive oil, it should be extra virgin olive oil, which is rich in antioxidants.  It should be cloudy, indicating that it has not been filtered, and have a golden color indicating that it is from fully ripened olives.
  • The extraction of olive oil is a very gentle process. The process begins by gently by crushing olives between stone or steel rollers using low temperatures and with minimal exposure to light and oxygen, which protects its antioxidants, integrity of the fatty acids, and natural preservatives. The longer fatty chain acids found in olive oil are more likely to contribute to the buildup of fat than the short and medium chain fatty acids found in butter and coconut oil, so you’ll want to use it sparingly for salad dressings and baking, but it is still a much better alternative to the other polyunsaturates.

Polyunsaturated fats make up the remainder of the fats on my review: Canola, safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed oils should be avoided at all costs. Sesame, peanut, and flax seed oil should be used sparingly if at all. Polyunsaturated fatty acids that have an imbalance of omega-6s to omega-3s are found in the remaining oils and that is why they should be avoided.

  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids have bends or turns at the position of the double bonds and hence do not pack together easily. They remain liquid, even when refrigerated. Unpaired electrons located at the double bonds make these oils highly reactive. When they are subjected to heat or oxygen, as in extraction, processing, and cooking, free radicals are formed. These free radicals can initiate cancer and heart disease as well as lead to wrinkles, premature aging, tumors, and plaque buildup.
  • omega_3The two polyunsaturated fatty acids found most frequently in our foods are linoleic acid with two double bonds (called omega-6) and linoleic acid with three double bonds (called omega-3). (The omega number indicates the position of the first double bond.
  • The polyunsaturated oils found in the following oils contain a high amount of omega-6 linoleic acid and a low amount of omega-3 linoleic acid. This imbalance disrupts prostaglandins that leads to blood clots and inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer, and weight gain.
  • Because your body cannot make omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, they are called “essential” and must be obtained from foods. This is how manufacturers get away with saying that these fats are “heart healthy”. However, when you consume enough saturated fatty acids, which help to retain and use essential fatty acids, your body actually needs only a very small amount of essential fatty acids (both omega-3 and omega-6 found in polyunsaturated fats). One great source for getting a perfect balance of omega-3s and omega-6s is pastured eggs.
  • The process for making vegetable oils should be enough to make you want to steer clear of them in the first place! In order to extract the oils in vegetables, they are heated and crushed, which exposes them to damaging light and oxygen. In order to get the last 10% of the oil, a solvent such as hexane (which is a constituent of gasoline) is used. The solvent is boiled off, but a portion still remains (100 parts per million). The high temperatures cause the weak carbon bonds of the polyunsaturated fatty acids to break apart (especially triple unsaturated linoleic acid) and cause dangerous free radicals. Vitamin E, which is a natural antioxidant, is stripped away by the heating process and replaced with BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) as preservatives to prevent fat spoilage and are suspected of causing brain damage and cancer.
  • Canola oil is the worst oil of all and should be avoided at all costs, even though it has been labeled as “heart healthy”. 
    • It contains 5% saturated fat, 57% oleic acid, 23% omega-6, and 10-15% omega-3.
    • It is made from rape seed, which is considered unsuited for human consumption because it contains a long-chain fatty acid called euric acid, which under some circumstances is associated with fibrotic heart lesions.
    • It has a high sulphur content and goes rancid easily. Goods baked with canola oil develop mold very quickly.
    • During the deodorizing process, the omega-3 fatty acids of processed canola oil are transformed into trans fatty acids. This is the worst part of all!
    • A recent study found that it actually creates a deficiency of vitamin E, which is needed for cardiovascular health.

    Safflower, Corn, Sunflower, Soybean, and Cottonseed Oils should also be avoided.

    • They all contain over 50% omega-6 and except for soybean oil, contain only minimal amounts of omega-3. (Soybean oil…and anything with soybeans for that matter, should be avoided for a host of other reasons as well, including its high estrogen content.) Safflower contains 80% omega-6.
    • These oils should never be consumed after they have been heated.

2Sesame and Peanut Oils can be used, but should be done sparingly.

  • Peanut oil contains 48% oleic acid, 18% saturated fat, and 34% omega-6 linoleic acid. Like olive oil, it is relatively stable and therefore appropriate for the occasional stir fry. But the high omega-6 presents a potential danger.
  • Sesame oil contains 42% oleic acid, 14% saturated fat, and 43% omega-6 linoleic acid. It is similar to peanut oil and it contains unique antioxidants that are not destroyed by heat. But once again, the high omega-6 is concerning.

Flax Seed Oil is a great source for omega 3s.

  • It contains 9% saturated fatty acids, 18% oleic acid, 16% omega-6, and 57% omega-3.
  • Because of its high omega-3 content, it is a great remedy for the omega-6/omega-3 imbalance that causes so many problems.
  • It should be kept refrigerated, never heated, and consumed in small amounts in salad dressings and spreads. The fat from flax seed oil WILL make you fat, so use sparingly!

For further reading:

To learn more about coconut oil, read A New Look at Coconut Oil by by Mary Enig, phDfrom the Weston A. Price Foundation website.

For more information read The Oiling of America, by Mary Enig, phD, and Sally Fallon from the Weston A. Price Foundation website.

 

 

How Insulin Makes Us Fat…and What to do About It

Do I care that the obesity rates in America are soaring? Does it bother me that we went from 12% of Americans being obese in 1990, to 35.7% in 2010, or that 69% of ALL Americans are now considered overweight? Not really. If people want to be fat, then be fat, but what bothers me is when I can’t lose the last ten pounds no matter what I try, or that my husband’s weight, along with his blood pressure, keeps creeping up and up and up year after year.

For the first part of our marriage, we thought we were doing the “right thing” by following the government recommend dietary guidelines of a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet, but then I started learning the truth about fats and about  how we were duped into thinking saturated fat and cholesterol were bad in the first place, and in his book, Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes completes the picture for me by thoroughly explaining how it’s not fat that’s making us fat, it’s carbohydrates. He explains that it’s not as simple as “calories in, calories out” and that it doesn’t matter how many calories we consume, but what kind.

Not all of us get fat when we eat carbohydrates, but for those of us who do get fat, carbohydrates are to blame; the fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be” (p.134).

So WHY DO carbohydrates make us fat, and why does eating a carbohydrate rich diet make us overeat and gain weight? In a nutshell, the answer lies with the hormone insulin. Insulin is secreted to help the body metabolize glucose that comes from the breakdown of all carbohydrates. The longer our insulin levels are raised, the less time we spend burning stored fat. If we want to lose weight and access some of the fat we’ve been storing, we HAVE to lower our insulin.

The problem is that over time, for a variety of reasons, we become insulin resistant. To be more specific, our cells become insulin resistant as they protect themselves from an onslaught of glucose. When this happens, insulin is coursing through our veins even when we haven’t eaten anything or worse, when we have eaten, but none of the glucose can get into the cells and so we STARVE at the cellular level. This makes us hungry and we keeping eating and eating and eating, but we aren’t getting satisfied.

And thus begins a vicious cycle where we’re not getting fat because we’re eating too much, but we’re eating too much because we’re getting fat.

Screen_shot_2012_02_10_at_08_3Here is a great look at how insulin makes us store fat. This diabetic man injected himself with insulin in the same spots on his lower abdomen for more than 30 years. As a result he got lipohypertrophy, which isn’t the result of “eating too much” but rather the insulin doing it’s job of storing fat in a central and localized area.

Are you curious to know how insulin works to make us fat? Read on to get a thorough understanding of the role insulin plays in our digestion.

1. The pancreas begins secreting insulin when we simply think about eating carbohydrates. We may not have been really hungry before, but once we start to think about eating a freshly glazed doughnut or a big plate of spaghettu, we realize that we are suddenly STARVING. The insulin is doing it’s job; it’s preparing our body for what we are about to eat.

2. As it is digested, all food can basically be broken down into three categories: glucose (from carbohydrates), fatty acids (from fat), and amino acids (from protein). The only thing that stimulates insulin production is glucose, but any fat or protein that comes into the body with the glucose, will be stored as fat and dealt with later because the glucose is much easier to metabolize and so it is taken care of first.

  • Carbohydrates are digested easily for quick energy. Enzymes from our saliva, pancreas, and small intestine work to break the carbohydrates down into glucose. Whatever isn’t needed for immediate energy is repackaged into larger bundles called glycogen and stored in the liver or muscles. The liver releases small amounts of glycogen over the next 8-12 hours as energy is needed. If there is still excess glucose after maxing out glycogen storage, it will be converted and stored as body fat.
  • When we talk about fats, there are two distinct kinds. First we have Long-chain fatty acids found in polyunsaturated fats like canola oil and monounsaturated fats like olive oil and avocados that take a long time to be metabolized. In order to metabolize these fats, they must be digested with bile acids from the liver and enzymes from the pancreas called lipases before they can be sent into the bloodstream. When you eat long-chain fatty acids with any carbohydrates, they will be immediately stored as fats, and if you are insulin resistant (which I’ll address later) or continue to consume carbohydrates, they will not be released from the fat cells. Then we have Short- and medium-chain fatty acids found in saturated fats like coconut oil and butter that are digested easily and can be used for quick energy. They break down without any help from bile acids and are sent directly to the liver where they are metabolized for quick energy. If you were to eat short- or medium-chain fatty acids by themselves, it is virtually impossible for them to be stored as fat. When eaten with carbohydrates, say on a piece of bread and butter or in raw cookie dough, this becomes a bit of a gray area and depends on
  • When protein is digested into amino acids, these building blocks are used to build and repair tissue. They can be used as energy if there’s no other source of energy. If eaten with carbohydrates, they will not be stored as fat.

3. So as ANY carbohydrates enter the bloodstream and are converted to glucose, insulin is secreted and starts doing its job.  Now there are only two things that bring blood sugar down: one is physical activity that will drive sugar from the blood into the muscles where it will be burned as fuel and the other is insulin. When insulin is released into the bloodstream, it is like a traffic cop directing glucose to the cells to be used as energy, to the liver or muscles to be stored as glycogen, and once the glycogen stores are full, to the fat cells to be stored as fat.

4. While insulin is busy shuttling glucose around, it is also stimulating the lipoprotein lipase (LPL) enzyme that pulls fat from the bloodstream into the fat cells. Insulin just wants us to survive. When there is a lot of glucose coming in, it is like a squirrel storing away nuts for the winter, and it tries to store away whatever glucose isn’t immediately being needed elsewhere. When insulin is present, more LPL enzymes are stimulated to pull fat into the fat cells.

5. At the same time, insulin is also suppressing the hormone sensitive lipase (HSL) enzyme which is responsible for making fat leave the fat cells. When there are individual fatty acids in the bloodstream, they are small enough to pass back and forth through the cell membrane. But once a glycerol molecule binds together with three fatty acids, it forms a triglyceride, and a triglyceride is too big to leave the fat cell. The only way a triglyceride can be broken down is with the help of HSL. When insulin is present, it prevents the HSL from breaking apart the triglyceride and thus the fat remains trapped inside the fat cell, and we are unable to use it as fuel.

6. Once our blood sugar levels begin to decrease, the insulin levels will also decrease (in a normal functioning metabolism). When this happens, any fat that was ingested with the carbohydrates can now be burned as fuel.

7. If insulin levels don’t decrease however (because the body is becoming resistant to insulin), then the fat that was eaten with the carbohydrates cannot be unlocked for use as fuel, and so we get hungry again before we’ve even burned all of the calories we’ve consumed. So what leads to insulin resistance?

  • Insulin resistance starts in the womb. As the pancreas of the child develops, it must secrete more insulin if the mother has high blood sugar. When it is born, it will have a tendency to over secrete insulin, become insulin resistant, and then become fat as it gets older. Gary Taubes points out that, “in animal studies, this predisposition often manifests itself only when the animal reaches its version of middle age” (p. 132).
  • The bottom line is that too much glucose over a long period of time is too much for our bodies to handle. Too much sugar is toxic not only to the blood, but to the cells as well. In his article on the Weston A. Price Foundation website, “Treating Diabetes: Practical Advice for Combatting a Modern Epidemic“, Tomas Cowan, MD, explains that, “The cells build a shield or wall around themselves to slow down this influx of excess sugar. Insulin resistance is a protective or adaptive response, it is the best the body can do to protect the cells from too much glucose.” When insulin remains elevated, the fat in the bloodstream, the fat stored in the fat cells, the protein stored in the muscle cells, and the carbohydrates stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle tissue cannot be used as fuel. As a result, the cells find themselves starved for fuel and we get hungry…starving in fact. Either we eat sooner than we otherwise would have or we eat more when we do. Meanwhile, our bodies are getting bigger because we’re putting on more fat, and we’re also building more muscle to support that fat. Gary Taubes explains that, “As we fatten, our energy demand increases, and our appetite will increase for this reason as well – particularly our appetite for carbohydrates, because this is the only nutrient our cells burn for fuel when insulin is elevated” (p. 126). And thus, we’re not getting fatter because we’re eating more, we’re eating more because we’re getting fatter.
  • Just getting older makes us more insulin resistant. As we age, we secrete more insulin, which results in more calories being diverted to fat and fewer calories being left to fuel the body. This leaves the cells to generate less energy. So we’re not getting fat because our metabolisms are slowing down, our metabolisms are slowing down because we’re getting fat. As we become insulin resistant, a whole host of other problems start to arise: our blood pressure goes up, our triglyceride levels go up, our HDL cholesterol goes down, and so on. Tomas Cowan, MD, explains that, “Having a chronically elevated insulin level is detrimental for many other reasons. Not only do high insulin levels cause obesity (insulin tells your body to store fat), but they also signal that fluid should be retained, leading to edema and hypertension. Chronic high insulin provokes plaque development inside the arteries and also suppresses growth hormone needed for the regeneration of the tissues and many other physiological responses.”

8. When either the pancreas can’t make enough insulin to deal with the incoming sugar or the cells have become resistant to the insulin over a long period of time, it can lead to diabetes.  25.8 million people in America have diabetes. That’s 8.3% of the population. Complications from diabetes can lead to heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nervous system disease, and amputation. Gary Taubes explains how diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s, cavities, appendicitis, ulcers, gallstones, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and constipation are common in societies that eat Western diets and are virtually nonexistent in societies that don’t. But it’s not ALL aspects of a western diet, as mainstream nutritionists and public health officials would have us believe, that lead to these maladies. It’s the sugar, carbohydrates, and how our body reacts to insulin.

  1. Treating Diabetes: Practical Advice for Combatting a Modern Epidemic“, Tomas Cowan, MD “Unless eaten to great excess, fats do not contribute to diabetes–with one exception. Trans fatty acids in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils can cause insulin resistance. When these man-made fats get built into the cell membrane, they interfere with the insulin receptors. In theory, this means that one could develop insulin resistance without eating lots of carbohydrates. But in practice, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are always used in the very high-carbohydrate foods–french fries, cookies, crackers, donuts and margarine on bread or potatoes–that flood the bloodstream with sugar. Trans fatty acids in modern processed foods present a double whammy for which the human species has developed no defenses.”
  2. “During the 1980s, researchers began to ask whether obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension and other common medical problems that occur together are really separate diseases, or manifestations of one common physiological defect. The evidence now points to one defect and that is hyperinsulinemia, or excessive insulin levels in the blood. Hyperinsulinemia is the physiological event that links virtually all of our degenerative diseases. It is the biochemical corollary or marker of the events described in heart disease.”

So now that we know what makes us fat (insulin), what can we do about it? In this scenario, I envision that there are three types of people in the world:

  1. People who want to lose weight (either a lot of weight or a little weight)
  2. People who don’t want to lose weight (either because they just don’t want to or they’re not fat)
  3. People who are growing (children, pregnant and lactating women, and people who need to gain weight)

For the people who want to lose weight, here is what Gary Taubes suggests that you do.

1. The first thing to understand is why the “calories in, calories out” theory is wrong. When we see ourselves putting on a little weight, there’s a little voice in our heads that tries to to motivate us throughout the day, “Just stop eating so much!” it says. But it’s not that simple.

  • Gary Taubes talks about a group of women who tried to do just that. In 1990, the National Institute of Health conducted a study that they hoped would answer whether low fat diets prevented heart disease or cancer. So they spent one billion dollars and had 20,000 women eat a low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fiber. These women also cut their caloric intake by about 360 calories per day. After eight years, they lost an average of two pounds each and their waist circumference increased, meaning that the weight they lost was lean muscle. Also, they still got just as much cancer and heart disease.
  • We could cut calories to the point of starvation to try to lose weight, but our bodies would just adapt in other ways. Our body temperatures would decrease, we would expend less energy, we would be cranky, irritable, and not to mention STARVING, and then the only way we could maintain this weight loss would be to maintain a lifetime of starvation. Does that seem possible? I didn’t think so. So if cutting calories doesn’t make us lose weight, increasing calories shouldn’t make us gain weight.
  • That’s because it’s not about how many calories we eat, but what kind of calories we eat. Thinking that a person gets overweight because they can’t control their eating or that they should just be better at portion control is just plain wrong. Saying that a person gaining weight is a result of their immoral gluttony is like saying an alcoholic becomes dependent on alcohol because of the sinful act of drinking. It’s kind of like, well duh! But the real questions should be: WHY do some people overeat? WHY do some people store all of their incoming calories as fat? WHY so some people drink to excess? and WHY do some people become addicted to the altered state that alcohol brings? These questions will get us to the real root cause of the problem. If it were as simple as “calories in, calories out”, then the very act of eating one extra slice of bread over the course of twenty years would make us gain an extra fifty pounds, and conversely, we should be able to lose that extra fifty pounds by eliminating the equivalent of one slice of bread to see the pounds gradually waste away. But it doesn’t work like that.
  • Also, it’s helpful to think about growing children in this scenario. Children do not grow because they are eating too much; they start to eat more because they are growing. If you were to restrict a child’s calories, they would still grow, their growth would just come at a cost to their internal organs, brain functions, and growth quality. Children grow because of hormones. The hormones are telling their bodies where and how to grow. It is the same with adults. Male hormones tell a man to gain weight in his abdomen, female hormones tell a woman to gain weight in her hips, butt, and thighs, and the hormone insulin, stimulated by the overabundance of glucose, tells our body to store fat.

2. If you don’t want your body to store fat, then don’t eat sugar. It’s as simple as that. Sugar stimulates the “reward center” of the brain in the same way that heroin, cocaine, nicotine, alcohol, and other addictive substances will. All food does this to some degree, but sugar seems to hijack the signal to an unnatural degree by flooding the neurotransmitters with an unparalleled amount of dopamine. You can quit eating sugar, but it will take the same vigilance as a drug addict trying to kick his or her drug habit. (Actually, according to a new study, sugar is more addictive than cocaine.)  When trying to decide between eliminating carbohydrates completely or simply limiting them, Gary Taubes explains, “If you continue to eat some of the fattening carbohydrates or allow yourself some sugar (or even, artificial sweeteners), though, you may always have the cravings” (p. ). When I was trying to quit drinking, I personally found it much easier to get rid of drinking all together, rather than trying to learn how to “drink in moderation” as I describe in my blog: Dealing with Addiction. I personally believe that having a few sweet treats (like homemade cookie dough with real butter, pastured eggs, and dark chocolate chips) is just fine every once in awhile, but only if you’re at your ideal weight. 

3. What about high fructose corn syrup? High fructose corn syrup is made up of about 55% fructose and 42% glucose. So when the glucose enters the bloodstream, it raises blood sugar, and stimulates insulin. The fructose, however, is metabolized almost exclusively in the liver. When the liver is flooded with that much fructose, it turns most of it into fat. Because insulin levels are raised from the glucose, the fat is immediately shuttled into fat cells. The more high fructose corn syrup we consume and the longer we do so creates a pattern that our bodies adapt to by converting the fructose directly to fat. Over time, this also creates a fatty liver and causes muscle tissue to become resistant to insulin. A very fascinating point made by Gary Taubes states that, “It’s quite possible that if we never ate these sugars we might never become fat or diabetic, even if the bulk of our diet were still starchy carbohydrate and flour” (p. 138). He explains further that this could be why some of the world’s poorest populations live on carbohydrate rich diets and don’t get fat or diabetic. I believe that two of the biggest culprits here are sodas and breakfast cereals. Eliminate these right away!

4. Next, cut out all carbohydrates (or greatly reduce them), and replace them with fats. And not just any fats…saturated fats.  (Read The Truth About Fats, How We Were Duped Into Thinking Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Are Bad, Benefits of Butter, and Choosing the Right Oil to learn more about eating the right kind of fats.) As we do this, we’re creating a radical shift in the fuel our cells will burn for energy. When we consume less than sixty or so grams of carbohydrates a day (a slice of pizza has 40 grams), our body will enter what is called a state of ketosis. Now instead of running primarily on carbohydrates, our body (and brain) must get used to running on fats…including the fat that has been stored in our body. The side effects of this transition could include weakness, fatigue, nausea, dehydration, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, and light-headedness. But these carbohydrate withdrawal symptoms are short lived and are far outweighed by the benefits of living a longer, leaner, and healthier life. (Read my blog, From Candida to Thrush to learn how cutting out carbs and sugar can help you get rid of both.)

5. What about hypoglycemia? Neither hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)  is good. When blood sugar dips too low, you can become disoriented, confused, shaky, jittery, anxious, and irritable, and if the situation persists, you can slip into a coma and die. The body reacts to low blood sugar by producing adrenaline and releasing the carbohydrates we’ve stored as fat called glucogen. As a person recovers from hypoglycemia, he or she may need to be very careful by gradually reducing carbohydrates to a safe level.

6. What about protein? One point of caution with this “Atkin’s diet” mentality is trying to eat too much protein without the accompanying fat. By keeping protein to 20-25% of the diet, symptoms like weakness, nausea, and diarrhea can be avoided. So eat the egg whites with the yolk, don’t drain the fat after browning meat, and cook your food in loads of butter and coconut oil.

7. What about vegetables? Vegetables are broken down into carbohydrates. It takes much longer for them to be digested because they contain more water and fewer digestible carbohydrates for their weight than starches like potatoes. As a result, they will have a minimal effect on blood sugar. But this effect, however small it might be, could still be a problem for some people with severe insulin resistance or diabetes.

8. What about fruit? Gary Taubes explains that, “If we’re predisposed to put on fat, it’s a good bet that fruit will make the problem worse, not better” (p. 136).

9. But if I don’t eat any carbohydrates, won’t I get constipated? Gary Taubes states that, “It is a misconception that carbohydrate-restricted diets cause constipation” (p. 222). By adding sodium back into the diet (I advice Real Salt or bone broth), he explains that this problem can be easily handled. If not, I recommend getting some psyllium husk.

10. Fasting for 18-24 hours might work to break through plateaus of weight loss, but achieving weight loss through semi-starvation can only be maintained if the dieter can keep eating less and less food. When the body is in semi-starvation mode, the fat cells will be working hard to recoup the fat they’re losing.

In conclusion, making a major change in diet after eating the same way for a really long time can create some radical changes in the body and being able to talk to a doctor or nutritionist during this transition is advised, but Gary Taubes points out that, “physicians who tell their fat patients to eat less and exercise more, and particularly to eat the kind of low-fat, high carbohydrate diet that the authorities recommend, will not be sued for malpractice should any of those patients have a heart attack two weeks or even two months later” (p. 216). It would be nice if doctors REALLY had our best interests in mind when “guiding us”, but they are compelled to repeat the same mantra that has misled our nation into rampant obesity, heart disease, and cancer. When it comes to the nutrition for me and my family, I prefer to be an advocate for our own health, do my own research, and whenever possible let FOOD be our medicine.

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These Are the Best Days of Our Lives

There are two ways we can look at the different stages in our lives.

  1. We can say, this is a difficult time and I’m going to make the best of it because I know that what lies on the other side will be sweet sweet bliss.
  2.  We can embrace every moment in every stage as the best moments we will ever live.

Right now in this early parenting stage with little ones up in the night, surviving on little to no sleep, trying to figure out how to get our kids to eat healthy, establish a bedtime routine, learn manners…it’s all new, every single thing! It would be easy to say to each other, we’ll get through this. Just ___ more months or years and it will be just me and you, sitting on the couch, enjoying free time to do whatever we want! But then I see us…sitting on the couch, night after night after night with endless amounts of free time, and I get bored just thinking about it! I know that when all of our children are grown, moved out of the house, and having children of their own, we will embrace our new role as parents to adult children and eventually as grandparents. There will be a peaceful sort of bliss as we watch our children venture on their own, make their own mistakes in life, come to us to share their joys and sorrows, and we will patiently listen and support them as they come into their own. But I also know that we will look back at these times with young children as some of the best times of our lives. The late sleepless nights and the worry about what to do with a crying baby, a screaming toddler, or a defiant child will melt away in the farthest recesses of our mind as we remember their chubby little cheeks and how they would look at us like we were the only thing that mattered in the whole world, how their eyes would light up with laughter and delight at the very indication of a tickle, and how their sweet smell would calm and comfort us as we snuggled close for a cuddle.

When we had two children and I was starting to think about going back to work, I felt like I had to “get through” these stages so that I could “get back” to my career, make more money, provide…provide what? After having our third little angel, and settling into this amazing life up north, I am finally accepting that these ARE the best days of our life… and I don’t just say it with a forced grin. I don’t talk about how I “get through” the boredom of being a stay at home mom because it’s “what’s best” for my children. I am finally EMBRACING every moment and it is SO liberating. I see every moment as the last chance I’ll get to experience THAT moment and I want to make the most out of it. There are lots of little things that I have done to get to this stage of ultimate bliss, but the most important thing I’ve done is let go. We still talk about the future and what it could look like, but I’m not waiting for it with baited breath. I am here. I am present. I am living every moment RIGHT NOW.

When Scott and are two old people cuddled up on the porch swing, tucked under a warm blanket while we watch the sun dip below the horizon, we will look back on our lives with nostalgia and joy and we WON’T regret that we worked too much, or that we were too busy trying to cram in too many activities, or that we were so worried about money that it got in the way of what’s really important. Us. People. Time. Family. Moments. We will know that we embraced it all, we lived each moment to it’s fullest, and we were happy every step of the way.

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Which is a Healthier Snack…Raisins or Chocolate Chips?

When you’ve got a sweet tooth and you’re looking for something to snack on, which do you think would be a better choice? A handful of organic red seeded raisins, or a handful of 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips. I sat down with my children for snack and story time today and quickly grabbed both of these out of the cupboard. Of course, all of us went for the chocolate chips first, and then feeling guilty I offered up some raisins intrinsically thinking that these were the healthier option.As I looked at the nutrition labels though, I started to wonder if I should even be offering my children the raisins in the first place.

chipsFirst of all, I noticed that 40 grams of raisins (about a quarter cup) has 29 grams of sugar. Talk about raising your blood sugar! The same amount of chocolate chips only has about 16 grams of sugar. The chocolate chips also have about 16 grams of fat with over half of it being saturated fat. (Read The Truth About Fats if you aren’t aware that saturated fat is GOOD for you!)

Now, keep in mind these are the chocolate chips with 60% cacao and so they are not as sweet as say the milk chocolate chocolate chips. But once you acquire the taste, they are an AMAZING treat! I have tried many different kinds of chocolate chips and chocolate bars and these Ghirardeli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips are by far my favorite. I have also eliminated practically all sugar in my diet save for this one special treat. Whenever I get a sweet tooth, I grab a few chocolate chips and a glass of fresh raw milk and I feel very satisfied.

So now after looking at the labels, I won’t feel so guilty when I grab the chocolate chips over the raisins.

Our Third Born: Ophelia's Homebirth Story

Our Third Born: Ophelia’s Homebirth Story

 Ophelia Ella Maaser

Born: 5-21-2013

Time: 7:35 p.m.

Measurements: 7 lbs 8 oz , 20.5 inches, 13.5 cm head circumference

The Pregnancy

After having Elliot, my body felt pretty depleted, so when I found out I was pregnant for the third time, I met with a homeopathic doctor at Elder and Sage for some wonderful advice. She was able to guide me through a pretty serious case of candida and advised me to cut out sugar and carbs. I did this pretty religiously for six weeks, then half-heartedly for three months, and sort of okay for the rest of the pregnancy. I wish I had stuck with it a little better, as I battled a yeast infection towards the end and then thrush afterwards, but that ordeal is another story! Anyways, she also advised that I drink red raspberry leaf tea as much as three times a day. I did this pretty faithfully throughout the whole pregnancy and it was AMAZING! I was suffering from a practically prolapsed uterus after Elliot’s birth and I could feel my pelvic floor getting stronger and stronger with every cup throughout this pregnancy. During and after the birth, my uterus performed and recovered wonderfully!

At Ophelia's Prenatal Appointment

At Ophelia’s Prenatal Appointment

I also took cod liver oil, a prenatal vitamin, and trace minerals. In addition, I took calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D supplements to help with leg cramps towards the end of the pregnancy. With Ruby and Elliot, I enjoyed small cups of coffee here and there, but with this pregnancy, I cut it out completely. I can’t say that it helped anything per se, but I continued to cut it out after she was born and we never dealt withany witching hour like we did with Ruby or constant crying like we did with Elliot. I did start drinking coffee for about one week and during that time, Ophelia started to cry pretty inconsolably and pretty consistently 12 hours after my daily cup of coffee. When I cut it out, no more crying.

Anyways, our midwife, Sara Badger, was able to give us some wonderful advice during the pregnancy that helped me to enter labor in the best shape possible. She advised a deep tissue pregnancy massage with Lisa Gowins, and a meeting with a chiropractor that helped to melt away the sciatic nerve pain that was becoming quite unbearable. She also moved little Ophelia’s little hand away from her face days before labor, which helped me to avoid tearing like I did with Ruby. During the first three to four months of my pregnancy, I started getting into a pretty amazing kettlebell routine and then after that I stuck with some yoga videos. I tried to do at least ten minutes of yoga daily and that really helped me to stay flexible and in good shape. I’m glad I was able to spend so much time taking care of myself during the pregnancy. It really helped me during labor and recovery.

Leading Up To the Birth

Just like with Elliot, for weeks and weeks leading up to my due date, I thought for sure that I would go into labor early! When I was 37 weeks along and started feeling regular contractions, I realized that we were not at all ready! We didn’t even have any diapers! So that night, when the contractions slowed down and eventually stopped, we talked about things like how we would get through our bedtime routine and what other preparations needed to be met. We spent the next several weeks making and fulfilling one to do list after the other. As my due date drew closer, arrived, and passed, I kept thinking okay, now I’ve finally got everything done, but then the next day I would think of more things to get done! Moving to a new house six weeks before my due date certainly gave me PLENTY of nesting projects!

In my last month of pregnancy, things finally were getting uncomfortable (back aches in the night, leg cramps, the uncomfortableness of getting around, etc.), but I wasn’t anxious about going overdue. Not working for the first time really took a lot of pressure off. Plus, knowing that I wouldn’t have to go back to work when the baby was a few weeks or months old really took a lot of pressure off too. Thanks to being overdue, I was able to get my sister Lisa’s baby blanket made for her little boy due Oct. 31st, and everything ready for her baby shower, everything for the new baby from Amazon was shipped and assembled, diapers, baby clothes, blankets, and birth kit were all here and ready to go, and the massive amount of yard work was finished. (See ya ticks!) Plus, I was even able to clear out the garden boxes and plant my mother’s day flowers, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and herb garden.

Pre-Labor

The days leading up to my labor, I knew that things were getting closer and closer. My Braxton hicks contractions were becoming more painful and I could feel myself effacing more and more every day (on top of being about 2 cm dilated for the past 3 weeks). On Tuesday, May 21st, I woke up at 5 a.m. to some contractions that felt different. Somehow I just knew that these were going to lead to the real thing. I was so excited! Scott and I made good use of our time together in the morning before he had to go to work by doing the one thing that both initiates conception and induces labor… I told him with certainty that the baby would be born that day or the next, but that we still had plenty of time, so he didn’t need to stay home from work or anything.

We enjoyed a nice breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast before the kids woke up and then I enjoyed my second breakfast with the kids. I told them that the baby might come that day and we talked about how it was like mommy had to push out a really big poop and that I might moan and cry out but that I would be okay. I showed Ruby how she could press on my back and help me push the baby out.

We are usually pretty set in our routine of me doing something active with the kids in the morning—be it an outing, playing outside, doing homeschool, or doing some sort of project—but I still wasn’t done with my to do list, so they played quietly while I made a big pot of chicken and barley soup, a fresh batch of cookies, did the laundry, and tidied the house. I prepared the kids some lunch and they ate at the table while watching some LeapFrog videos. When Scott came home for lunch at 1:00 p.m., things weren’t serious, but when a contraction came, I would pause what I was doing and rock through it. For mental reasons, I just wanted him there with me. So we ate some soup together while watching the kids play in the sandbox, and then he called into work, set his out of office message, and then took the kids off my hands. Once I knew he had taken over, I could feel my entire mind and body melt with a feeling of tranquility. I felt more at ease knowing that I didn’t have to manage them anymore and was able to continue to putz around the house and get everything “just so”. That’s when contractions started to pick up a little more and I knew without a doubt that the birth would be happening within the next 24 hours.

So after we played outside, we all went down to the basement to watch Land Before Time and take a rest. My contractions were coming sporadically at about 10-20 minutes apart. I was about 4 cm dilated at this point, but not making any sort of rapid progress. I was keeping our midwife Sarah in the loop at this point. She wondered if we wanted her there at the birth or just after. We had originally talked about doing an unassisted birth, but we didn’t want to take any chances with complications so we said we definitely wanted her there at the birth, but we would let her know when things were getting closer. While we were watching the movie, I all of a sudden felt really tired, so in between contractions I would lay on the futon for about 10 minutes and close my eyes. Ruby was cuddled up with Scott on the little couch and Elliot kept covering me up with his silky. I would get on the ball to bounce through contractions and Scott would massage my back. The contractions were painful enough, but not so painful that I absolutely needed him at that point. He even snoozed for a little while with Ruby. I was feeling slightly frustrated at this point because I had expected things to move rapidly after Elliot’s birth and now things were seemingly moving so slow and I wasn’t making a lot of progress, but the rest time was really great and I felt rejuvenated as we began to migrate back upstairs.

At this point, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted my mom to be there or not. I knew that she would be a great help, and I really wanted her to meet our new addition, but I didn’t want to feel like a watched pot and I thought that it would be ideal to keep the people to a minimum as we bonded as a new family.  But I also wasn’t sure if Scott would be able to manage our 2 and 3 year old on his own AND be there to give me the support I needed. So I was keeping my mom in the loop via email and she was ready to leave work at a moment’s notice and be there in any way she could. (Of all days for her to not have a phone! The night before she had dropped it in the lake while her and my dad put their dock in. My dad was getting her her new phone at 3 p.m. that day.) I finally called her work number to tell her that things were progressing and that I would in fact like her to come out and give a hand with the kids. It kind of dawned on me that we would have to put Ruby and Elliot to bed at some point and that I would be entering active labor soon and I couldn’t believe I had even questioned her coming over in the first place So she said that she could be there about 6:00-6:30 p.m.

Active Labor

I had downloaded a contraction app and started timing my contractions when we were resting in the basement. Contractions went from being about twelve minutes apart when we were resting downstairs to about five minutes apart when I started walking around upstairs at about 5:00-5:30, and I definitely needed Scott to help me through each contraction. The kids were playing on their own so nicely as Scott, and I putzed around the house getting things ready in between contractions.

Ruby and Elliot Eating Snacks Outside

Ruby and Elliot Eating Snacks Outside

Scott remained within ear shot and was ready to run to my side whenever I called. At one point, we went and got the mail together and saw our neighbor Amy. I told her that contractions were about 3-5 minutes apart so we had just enough time to get the mail and get back in time for the next contraction. In between contractions, I was folding clothes, cleaning up the kitchen, getting snacks for the kids, and checking my phone. It really helped me to read about the different phases of labor and think about what my body was going through. I started getting really excited thinking about meeting the sweet little peanut in my belly soon! I had my Pandora mix playing Joshua Radin, Enya, Sigur Ros, Camera Obscura, and Melody Echo Chamber, and I felt so calm and at ease.

Ruby Pretending to Have a Contraction

Ruby Pretending to Have a Contraction

Elliot Pretending to Have a Contraction

Elliot Pretending to Have a Contraction

My parents arrived at about 6:00 p.m. and it was a relief right away to know that they would be able to take over with the kids. My mom took Ruby outside and they did some puzzles together. Elliot was playing the ipad and my dad gave him some attention and helped Scott finish cooking the hot dogs on the grill. It was so funny to me to be in the middle of this crazy life changing moment and to just see them milling about like they were just visiting on any other weekend.

I had a little “contraction zone” set up in the living room where I would bounce on the exercise ball with a chair in front of it. I would bounce on the ball while holding onto the back of the chair for support while Scott massaged and helped me rotate my hips. When my parents arrived, we moved our “contraction zone” into the dining room area. The contractions were starting to become more painful and I was writing and moaning with Scott supporting me, and it felt like it should just be an intimate moment with the two of us. It’s amazing to think about how much having a baby sounds like making a baby! No wonder my dad seemed a little uncomfortable and I sensed a bit relieved to have the excuse of leaving on his business trip up north soon after that!

At this time, I was dilated to about a 5-6cm. The midwife was going to be arriving at about 7 p.m. (I think I told her at about 4ish after doing the math in my head: the length of prelabor thus far, how fast my contractions were progressing, how dilated I was, etc. and predicted that I would give birth at about 7:00 p.m. How accurate!). When a contraction came I was very vocal with Scott about how to help me, “Higher, lower, squeeze, push!” We eventually settled on a move we called “The Washing Machine” where I would gyrate back and forth and around and around while he pushed and moved my hips with me. Each contraction was lasting about 45 seconds and had about a 15-20 second peak. They were coming about 3 minutes apart. The pain was very manageable and in between contractions the pain completely melted away. I watched my contraction timer to know how long I had to get back to my ball! I kept checking on the kids, taking pictures and videos, and tidying up the house. Scott had put the sheet on the bed and I set up the chux pads and everything else we needed in our room. At this time, my dad left and my mom took Ruby and Elliot to the park across the street.

Transition

Shortly after my mom left with the kids, I had a pretty intense contraction and Scott suggested we move into our bedroom. “Already???” I thought, but I followed him in there. He brought my ball and a chair for me to lean against. In between contractions I brushed my teeth and hair and when I checked myself to see how dilated I was I was shocked that I couldn’t feel any sides to see how far dilated I was. “Hmmmmm, I guess that means I’m at 10 cm!” I thought excitedly. Things still didn’t feel too crazy though, so I didn’t know what to expect at that point.

Birth

The midwives got a little lost and finally showed up at 7:15 p.m. Scott ran to the door to make sure they got in alright and as soon as they entered the room, I heard Sarah’s new little boy Thorbin cry just I was racked by a powerful contraction. I sat on the ball and Scott rushed to my side and did what he could to ease the pain but at this point things just felt crazy. I felt a little pop and warm fluid start to leak out. “My water broke!” I shouted. The contractions were coming quickly and the next one was really intense with a long peak and no break. “Make it stop!” I yelled. So Scott stopped rubbing my back and I said, “NO! Not you! The pain!”

Then I pushed the ball aside, dropped to my hands and knees, and couldn’t believe the words as they came out of my mouth, “I’m feeling pushy!” I shouted. I grabbed onto some blankets that were on the floor and tried to make a little tower to lean against. It had worked so well with Elliot and I was trying to recreate that moment. I remembered that I wanted to just breathe the baby out at this point and waited for the contractions and my body to lead me.

I felt a huge amount of pressure and the incredible urge to push, so I gave one giant push with all of my might. After that, I breathed deeply and felt a delicate hand applying oil to my perineum as I slowly pushed. I gave another slow and steady push as I felt the baby’s head crowning. Words of encouragement made me feel relaxed and took away any panic that was creeping up. “You’re doing great! I can see the head!” they encouraged. I could feel the excitement building as I knew I would be soon holding my sweet little angel. I pushed the head out and felt a huge wave of relief knowing that I was almost done. I waited until I felt the next contraction. Scott said he could see the head moving in and out with each breath. Then when the next contraction came they said, “Ok, give one big push!” So I did, and then I felt the rest of the body slip out. I turned over and couldn’t believe the little miracle that was placed upon my chest.

After the Birth

I wanted to get settled in and cozy with our little darling, so I left the midwives sitting there in complete shock as I picked her up from where I had given birth in front of our dresser about 15 feet from our bed and carried her there. They hurried over and put some chux pads underneath me as we waited for the placenta to come out. Scott and I were practically weeping with joy at our sweet little angel and didn’t even think about the gender until the midwife asked us if it was a boy or a girl. We promptly looked and both shouted,“It’s a girl!!!” Our midwife just had a baby and brought him along. Here’s our midwife and her assistant below.

Our Midwives

Our Midwives

“Tell my mom to come back from the park,” I said to Scott, thinking about how excited Ruby and Elliot would be to meet their new little sister. Soon Ruby and Elliot came into the room. Elliot was crying because he didn’t want to leave Grandma’s van and Ruby came bounding in with curiosity and wonder. I had delivered the placenta (which seemed to take forever to come out…about twenty minutes after the birth) and a very long umbilical cord. The cord had stopped pulsing, so Scott helped to clamp both ends and then he and Ruby cut the cord together. Ruby was simply mesmerized as she saw her new baby sister and proclaimed, “Finally I’m not alone anymore!”

I held Ophelia and just stared into her sweet little face and Scott and I marveled at the little human that had been nestled inside of me—her beautiful dark hair, her delicate and long fingers, and how absolutely perfect she was in every way. She had some vernix on her arms and back and I rubbed it in and she rooted and began to nurse. She latched on right away and we sat there in peace under the red glow of our bedside lamp.

Nursing Ophelia with Ruby and Elliot Nearby

Nursing Ophelia with Ruby and Elliot Nearby

Scott and I with Ophelia

Scott and I with Ophelia

Ruby Holding Ophelia

Ruby Holding Ophelia

At some point, my sister Andrea had arrived and her and my mom then proceeded to try to put the kids to bed, but they were kind of thrown off by the whole day of me laboring, meeting their sister, and then a different bedtime routine. So as soon as I was done breastfeeding, I handed Ophelia to my sister and went to rescue my poor little crying Elliot. I sat in the rocking chair in his room and cuddled him close while his body heaved with sobs. I told him stories about Captain Hook and the Crocodile and Pinnochio and Monstro the Great Whale until he finally stopped crying. Ruby had been pretty upset too, and Scott was calming her down when Elliot and I came into Ruby’s room for stories and milk and cookies. Both kids were so happy to have us both there reading stories and we made barely a little mention of the sweet baby who wasn’t in my belly anymore before tucking them in for the night. They both slept soundly for the rest of the night.

We went back into our room and my sister Andrea was expertly rocking our little girl while chatting with the midwife. We learned that we missed her first meconium poop that went all over Andrea and the towel. Oops! Probably should have put a diaper on her! I took a quick shower and then nursed my little angel and wrapped up her sleeping little body. Then Scott and I met my mom and sister in the kitchen and reflected on the amazing experience of the birth. We all talked with my dad on speaker phone while he was driving up to the U.P. It was such a magical moment to realize that our family was forever changed. We discussed our possible name choices of Veruca Ella or Ophelia Ella, but decided we would sleep on it and see which name suited her in the morning.

That night, Ophelia didn’t sleep much. She just wanted to look deeply into my eyes. And I was so thankful to have that peaceful time with her in the night. I could literally feel my heart expanding with my love for her and I marveled at what we had just went through together. My afterbirth pains were quite intense – way more so than with Ruby or Elliot – and I couldn’t have slept much anyways. When we woke up the next morning, we both knew that Ophelia was the perfect name for our little angel. Veruca was such cool and rocking name, but it belonged to Ruby first and seemed to fit her personality more. Just one day old (plus 9 months of getting to know her in the womb), and we could already tell so much about her personality. Her long languid movements in the womb, her deep soulful eyes looking intently at us right after birth, her contentment upon hearing the shrieks from Ruby and Elliot…yup, she was Ophelia.

That morning, Scott made us a delicious breakfast and at 9:00 a.m., we all ate at the table as our new “five family”. We talked with Ruby and Elliot about their new sister and then gave them their “after the baby is born” presents of play-dough, bubbles, and M&Ms. It was so nice to give them both a lot of attention right after Ophelia was born. As much as we wanted to give me some rest, we also knew that in these first few hours/days as a new family, we would have to be careful to set the right dynamics in place. We didn’t want Ruby and Elliot to feel like they were being put on the back burner by any means so we proceeded to make our first day together as normal as possible. That included a family trip to the farm in Marion 45 minutes away to get our raw milk, then a stop at McDonald’s to play at the indoor play place, followed by an entire afternoon and evening together as well.

Elliot and Ruby Open Their Gifts

Elliot and Ruby Open Their Gifts

We mistakenly gave Ophelia a pacifier that night and following that she did not want to nurse and was crying a lot. I pumped and gave her droppers full of breastmilk, but she didn’t sleep all night and after getting only 3 hours of sleep since giving birth, I felt like I might just have a nervous breakdown. Our midwife suggested a bath together and lots of skin to skin. At 10 a.m. the next morning, I finally got her to nurse again and we both finally got some much deserved sleep! Ophelia then proceeded to sleep for pretty much the next two days straight (and so did I) and we felt incredible after that! What an amazing journey, an amazing family, an amazing life.

Ruby Holding Ophelia

Ruby Holding Ophelia

Elliot Checking Out Ophelia

Elliot Checking Out Ophelia

Ophelia Ella Maaser

Ophelia Ella Maaser

Our Second Born: Elliot's Homebirth Story

Our Second Born: Elliot’s Homebirth Story

Elliot Edward Maaser

Born: 12-28-10

Time: 11:06 p.m.

Measurements: 8lbs 13oz, 21 inches long, 14.5cm head circumference

Leading up to the Birth

It’s hard to say when labor began since I’d been feeling contractions for the two months leading up to the birth. At 34 weeks, I even got worried that I would go into premature labor…little did I know how far from that I was! I did a lot of walking at work which stimulated barrages of Braxton Hicks contractions (about 8-12 per hour) on a regular basis. Once that started happening, I really tried to take it easy and stay off my feet and that helped to settle things down a bit.  I told everyone at work that I might need to go on bed rest (per the midwife’s instructions) so that I wouldn’t have a premature labor.

Everyone was so understanding and just couldn’t believe how hard I worked all through the pregnancy. Although we did joke a lot about how many times I thought I would be going into labor “any day”. I got REALLY tired of hearing the phrases, “You’re still here?” or “I thought for sure you were going to have that baby last night!” I thought for sure we were going into labor on Thanksgiving. We were in the middle of dinner at our friend Nadine’s house when my contractions started becoming more intense and I could feel them regularly. It was also a new moon that night…my labors seem to be quite affected by those. I also thought I was going into labor Dec. 5th, the next new moon. So many false alarms! I didn’t know what to believe at that point.

So on Dec. 15th, three days before my winter break started, I stopped working at the recommendation of DeAna, our midwife. She didn’t want me going into a long hard labor after working all day. (After 36 hours with Ruby’s birth, I was preparing for a long and hard labor.) Scott also stopped working, and we began a blissful second honeymoon together. We saw our due date, December 18th, come and go. Because we were worried about a premature labor, we had been ready months ago, but every day seemed to bring “one more thing” that just HAD to get done before the birth. One of the first things we did is move our bedroom upstairs with the help of our friends Mark and Jessica.

Ruby was just starting to sleep through the night and we didn’t want to wake her up with the new baby. We kept making casseroles, chilis, and other dinners so that we would have a good amount of food at hand. We enjoyed spending a remarkable time together as a family as we waited for the arrival of our New Magoo. Every morning we would cuddle in bed, read Ruby stories, and feed her a greek yogurt. Mmmmmm…. Then we would find some sort of task to accomplish like doing the laundry or scrubbing the bathtub. The rest of the day was spent going to the park on these beautiful 50-60 degree sunny days, walking at the mall, going to the library, and basically spending hours and hours playing with Ruby. We found ourselves feeling thoroughly rested and blissfully happy.

Scott and Ruby at the Park

Scott and Ruby at the Park

Ruby and I at the Park

Ruby and I at the Park

At Nancy and Bill's with Brian and Derek

At Nancy and Bill’s with Brian and Derek

Me at the Tennis Courts

Me at the Tennis Courts

But there was just ONE teeny tiny thing weighing on my mind….WHEN AM I GOING TO HAVE THIS BABY?!?!?!?!  The pregnancy had been wonderful and fairly easy, but as I watched myself go one day overdue, then two, three, four…up to nine days overdue, it just became too much to bear. I was having trouble sleeping, my back was hurting, and I was just getting sick and tired of being pregnant.

I was also really anxious about the labor. The baby had been presenting itself in a posterior position (which makes for a really long and painful back labor…often times the baby will get stuck and a c-section will be needed) and we tried countless times to get it to rotate only to have it move back again. Also, I remembered what it felt like with Ruby and I just didn’t know if I would have the strength to go through that much pain again…and for so long. (Prelabor with Ruby lasted about 27 hours. Active labor, transition, and delivery were about another 9 hours.) I just wanted to get things going and be done with it so that I could stop worrying.

Me Feeling a Little Sad

Me Feeling a Little Sad

Then one night I got really nauseous and sick. I ended up throwing up in a bucket near the bed. The baby moved like CRAZY that night and it felt like it moved back into a posterior position. I also felt so much movement that I became certain it was twins. The next day after comparing pictures of my belly from this pregnancy to Ruby’s pregnancy, I started to think more and more that I was having twins. I chatted with my mom and she shared with me her premonitions when she thought she was having twins but the midwives just couldn’t detect that second heartbeat until 9 days before they were born!

Scott and I went to bed that night nervous and frustrated. All that day we had tried EVERYTHING to get labor going (sex, foot massage, breast pump, walking, and the belly lotion) but to no avail. So we felt frustrated that maybe we were getting things started and then nervous that we may have been off on our due date and were in fact expecting twins who were just barely 37 weeks along (if our due date was off).

Pre-Labor

The next morning, which was Tuesday, December 28th, I called DeAna and shared with her my fears about having twins. I really wanted to get an ultrasound, but she said that if it WAS twins, we would have to do a hospital birth…some kind of Colorado law or something. We were scheduled to have a prenatal appointment the next day, but she said she would come over that day to do the appointment and give me some things to stimulate labor.

She also said that the excessive movement I felt could be due to the baby’s posterior position. She asked if we had been doing hands and knees and Rabozo to turn the baby. I felt like screaming, “NO!” but I calmly explained that we had not and would try before she came over. For days I had been crawling around on all fours which was both degrading and uncomfortable. I would also lay on my ball, do yoga positions, Scott would use the Rabozo, and I would gently massage my belly trying to coax the baby to turn like a sleeping kitten. Every time, we would work so hard to get the baby to turn a little bit, and then it seemed to turn right back the other way! So I was just really really really frustrated with the task of rotating the baby and even more frustrated by the thought of a painful posterior back labor.

So anyways, both DeAna and her assistant Whitney came over around 11:00 a.m. DeAna explained where she was feeling the baby’s shoulder and bottom and where the pockets of amniotic fluid were. She predicted a larger baby…about 9 lbs, but said that she was certain that there was only one baby in there. She also listened to the baby’s heartbeat with a Doppler for the first time. We could really hear one really strong heartbeat on my left side (so the baby WAS NOT posterior…for now) and no other heartbeats.

I shared my frustrations about being ten days overdue and how I was crying, getting emotional, and just having a really hard time. I had been checking myself to see if I was dilating any more. I was having so many painful contractions that I thought at some point the baby might just fall out!  At this point I was about 80-90% effaced and about 2 cm dilated. I had tried several times to stretch my cervix out and to strip my own membranes, but it was really hard to reach that far up and back! I had a good amount of bloody show and had been losing my mucus plug over the last few days. So there was progress at least!

DeAna recommended that we try the castor oil. I was really hesitant to go that route, but she said that if the baby was ready for labor, this could be just the nudge we needed to get things going. She told us mix 2 oz. of each of the following: castor oil, vodka, and orange juice. She also gave us the herb blue cohosh to take every hour, some belly lotion with herbs to use every half hour, and recommended more sex, massages, and walking. Whitney also gave me this amazing pep talk that made me feel empowered and like, “I can do this!” Sometimes moms just need a little cheerleading!

So after they left, we walked to Whole Foods to get the ingredients for the castor oil cocktail. I was feeling contractions that day, but no more so than I had over the last few days…weeks…months. (Over the last few days, they were starting to get more painful, but mainly just annoying.) After we put Ruby down for a nap, we each drank a cocktail (mine was the only one with castor oil). Then Scott tried setting up Mario Kart online so we could play with his parents while I hung out on the ball and tried to encourage the baby to turn.

Our friends Mark and Melissa came over with their one month old Olivia at about 4:00. (They had really hoped to be pregnant when we were pregnant with Ruby, and they were overjoyed when they finally became pregnant this time around.) We had fun seeing them and tried to get Ruby to interact with Olivia, but she was being pretty whiny and needy and didn’t want much to do with her at all. They left at about 5:30. I was a little frustrated because I had hoped to go for a walk to encourage the baby to come out, but it was getting too dark. Turns out I didn’t really need the walk…

Labor Begins

When I share my five hour labor story, I say that it begins at 6:00 p.m., but things were so mild then that I have a hard time even saying that this was the beginning! It was VERY clear, however, that this was the beginning of the castor oil effects! I started to have a few cleansing trips to the bathroom that were followed by some pretty nice contractions (or cramps as I was referring to them then). Then the trips to the bathroom started to come more and more often and were getting rather annoying…and my butt was getting rather sore (or like it was going to turn inside out as I referred to it then). Meanwhile, Scott and I were playing with Ruby while she built lego towers, stacked her cups, and pulled all the books off the bookshelves. Then around 7:00 p.m., I got the urge to “set the stage”. I felt like things were really starting to happen and I wanted to be ready.

I started to arrange things just so and tidy up a bit while Scott played with Ruby. She was getting more and more whiny and after she started crying one time I just kind of snapped and yelled at Scott to get her out of there. I felt so bad abandoning my sweet little baby girl (who at 15 months, suddenly didn’t seem like a baby anymore), but I just felt this snarling protective mother instinct pour through me and I knew that I had to focus all of my attention on what was happening to me, my body, and this new baby. Her and Scott watched a “Your Baby Can Read” video and she said every single word on the video. She was also very calm and obedient for the rest of the night, as if she sensed the impending seriousness of what was going on. Meanwhile, I finished up a few dishes, put some toys away, lit some candles, and started to play my Enya, Siger Ros, and Imogean Heap labor mix.

By 8:00 p.m. Ruby was ready for bed. We snuggled up in her room, gave her a bottle, and read her a stack of books. Every time I would have a contraction, I would just slip onto the floor and soundlessly rock on my hands and knees. They were getting more intense, but I could still read the words to the story along with Scott. After Ruby went to sleep, I called DeAna to tell her that things were starting! She said that if it really was labor that nothing could stop it, but that the contractions could just be from the castor oil and if so then things might just slow down once the effects wore off. She told me not to get discouraged if that if things were stalled out by 9:00 p.m., I should take a bath, try to relax, and possibly get some sleep.

So Scott and I played a game of Monolopy together on the Wii. He started to time my contractions, but stopped after awhile since they weren’t really forming a pattern and were only lasting about 30-45 seconds; also the time in between them was anywhere from one minute to five. Every time a contraction would come, it was intense enough for me to have to stop playing and rock on the exercise ball while moaning, but I still wouldn’t really call them painful. It was the worst game of Monopoly I ever played! Scott and the computer players kept offering me deals, and I just couldn’t concentrate enough to think them through, so I just accepted them! (We moved from Colorado to Michigan when Elliot was 6 months old and were living with my parents for several months when we finally unpacked our Wii and found our unfinished game. Scott finally got the glory of winning!)

At about 9:00 p.m., we paused the game and I went to take a bath while Scott played some DragonBall Z on the Wii. Our bathtub was my favorite thing about our little condo. It was a HUGE oval with tile all around to put candles on and little steps leading up to it. It totally accommodated my huge pregnant body and it felt REALLY good to relax in during labor! My music was playing in the background, and I was engulfed in the soft flames of candlelight. I kind of had a panic moment thinking, “I’m just not ready for this train ride yet”. I started to convince myself that the contractions I felt were really just from the castor oil and that we would go to bed soon and possibly have the baby in the next few days. I was FINE with that and started to feel pretty silly for trying to rush things along with the castor oil rather than let them take their own course. When a contraction came, I rolled over onto my hands and knees and kind of floated there in a frog like position. I stopped moaning during contractions and just really let myself enter a deep state of relaxation. Contractions REALLY slowed down and I was only feeling them about every 10-20 minutes. When they did come, they had about a 10-15 second peak of pain, but it was very mild.

At about 10:00 p.m., Scott came in to check on me. I told him I was feeling very relaxed and that we should probably just go to bed. I also shared with him, however, that I checked myself and I could very easily feel the head in the bag of waters and that I was about 5-6 cm dilated. Even with that information, I was STILL convinced that we would not be having a baby that night! Things had stopped and started so many times that I just couldn’t accept that things were really happening! Scott kept encouraging me to call DeAna, but I didn’t think there was any rush.

I got out of the bath, put on my nighty, and then I was all of a sudden gripped by a really powerful contraction that brought me down to the floor on my hands and knees. Scott started to apply pressure to my back and it felt really good! Seconds later he put my phone in my hand and said, “Call DeAna now!” So I called her and told her that things had really slowed down in the bath but that I was about 5-6 cm dilated and had experienced one painful contraction after the bath. I explained that we were probably going to go to bed. She said that she would come over and even just sleep on the couch if nothing happened. Then I got another contraction while we were talking and started moaning really loudly; it was quite intense! DeAna’s voice changed and she was like, “I’m coming over right now, that sounded pretty intense!” She also said to have Scott call her immediately if things started to progress rapidly.

The contractions started to come about every two minutes and lasted about 45 seconds to a minute each. With each contraction I would get low on my hands and knees and rock back and forth. Scott applied REALLY strong pressure to my back and I would tell him, “higher, lower, both hands, squeeze!” until he got it just right. And when he did, oh boy, the pain just melted away! The peak of each contraction was only about 15 seconds and was very manageable. After each contraction, I would get a very definitive break where I felt no pain.

During this time, I was tidying up the area in front of the fireplace. I made sure the nice white silky that my mom had just made for Ruby was laid out smoothly underneath me. (A white silky for a birth! Crazy, I know, but I wanted to feel its softness beneath me.) Then I organized my tower of pillows that I was leaning against so that I could look at the roaring fire in the fireplace. I also made sure our coffee table was free of clutter and that the water bottles were organized just so. When I wasn’t having a contraction, Scott would race upstairs to make the bed with plastic sheets. He would quickly rush downstairs when he heard another contraction starting.

Dealing with Contractions

Dealing with Contractions

DeAna arrived at about 10:40 p.m. and started getting things set up. She tried to listen to the baby’s heart beat right away, but I was just getting another contraction. She was like, “Oh boy! That was intense!” She tried to apply pressure to my back as I rocked back and forth on my hands and knees, but it was too weak and I demanded right away that Scott put his hands on me again! Ahhhhh! Instant relief! DeAna stared to call for the supplies that she needed and Scott brought them over. “No! Not those towels Scott!” I pleaded. “I have the blue ones neatly stacked on top of the washer…get those!” DeAna stared to put some chux pads underneath me as I continued to rock back and forth.

She tried to listen to the baby’s heart again, but the next contraction brought forth an animalistic growl and DeAna asked if I was feeling a little pushy. “Yes! I am!” I said in both shock and amazement. “There’s NO WAY I should be feeling pushy now,” I thought to myself. I guess there was still a part of my brain that thought we wouldn’t be having this baby tonight. The next few contractions were bringing more and more of that pushing sensation and it felt SO GOOD to know that I was getting through transition sooooooo quickly. (Transition only lasted 20 minutes!) “I’ll be meeting my baby soon!” I thought. “No way, no way, no way!” Then I felt as though some other force was taking over my body and I became completely overwhelmed with the urge to push.

The Birth

I was still rocking back and forth on my hands and knees, and I didn’t even notice that DeAna had slipped my underwear off. She shined a flashlight on my bottom and her and Scott could see the head (which was still in the bag of waters) starting to crown. I didn’t force the push; it just sort of came out of me naturally. My first instinct was to push as hard as I could, just to get that baby out. But I remembered from Ruby’s birth that I needed to breathe the baby out as slowly as possible so I could avoid all of that awful tearing that was so painful to recover from. It felt unbelievable to have this giant watermelon of a baby just hanging out inside the cavity of my body! With each contraction, I could feel the baby coming down a little further.

Scott told DeAna months prior that he was interested in catching the baby, but when she asked him, “You want to catch the baby, right?” Scott had forgotten about this and got really excited. I felt myself stretching beyond what was humanly possible, and the words “ring of fire” certainly rang true. DeAna told Scott the head was about to come out, and to position his hands in a way to cradle it as it emerged.

I was still positioned on my hands and knees, and with one good push, the head popped out! My waters finally broke and Scott thought that I had peed on him! It didn’t even phase him a bit. Our little baby emerged with a face that was stone cold serious, looking straight up (eyes closed). At that point, in between contractions,  I grabbed our little flip camera and held it over my back in the hopes of capturing the birth on video. Scott and DeAna were both in shock that I just did this right in the middle of pushing and DeAna snatched the camera from me and set it up on the TV stand – this gave us a wonderful video capturing everything from that point on until about 10 minutes after birth.

I waited until the next contraction, which felt like eternity, especially with that head hanging out of me, for my next opportunity to push again. When the next contraction came, I actually did push with all my might to get the rest of that baby out. Scott and DeAna could really see it coming and said “Come on! Just one more good push!” – and sure enough! After that last great push, out popped the rest of him into Scott’s waiting hands.

DeAna told me to turn over and she brought our sweet baby to my chest. Scott pulled down the straps on my shirt so I could start breastfeeding him, and we were in complete shock and amazement that it was over already, and we were holding our little baby in our arms. We didn’t even think to check his gender right away! Words cannot express the feelings of joy that we had as we kissed each other and bonded as a new extension of our family entered the world. One of my first words after the birth  was “That was sooo easy!!” because really, it was. I had been a little afraid that after this birth I wouldn’t want to have any more children, but Scott and I looked at each other and agreed we would love to have more kids.

We just agreed to wait a little longer next time, and avoid the castor oil. I had an immediate desire to wake up Ruby so she could share in this joy as well, but decided against it as the reality of that set in… We couldn’t believe she had stayed asleep the entire time! I felt another contractions rise, and then plop! There was the placenta. So then, the three of us cuddled in front of the fireplace and we finally thought to look to see if it was a boy or a girl! “It’s a boy!” I squealed, and we laughed and cried and kissed just as when we he was first born. We couldn’t belive we waited so long to check. Scott and DeAna adjusted the pillows so I could sit up, and 30 minutes after he was born he got a great latch on my breast and began his first feed.

DeAna Feeding Me Yogurt After Birth

DeAna Feeding Me Yogurt After Birth

Nursing Elliot

Nursing Elliot

Nursing in Front of the Fire

Nursing in Front of the Fire

Scott and I With Elliot

Scott and I With Elliot

At this point, the midwife’s assistant arrived. She was so sad that she had missed the birth, but DeAna got her right to work getting an herbal sitz bath ready to go. She and DeAna checked me out to make sure I had no tearing, or skid marks like I did with Ruby. I did a little kegel and the muscles felt great.  They did say there was one little tear, and if we wanted, DeAna could have put some super glue on there. It didn’t really hurt so I just opted to wait and see. Scott caught a quick glance while they were poking around and noticed that I looked nothing like I did when Ruby was born. He said I looked pretty much normal down there!

While we all had a chance to catch our breath, we decided to watch the birth video since we were all just sitting around in front of the TV. It was incredible, and we were so happy all over again. After a while, Scott took Elliot and I got into the bath. I was afraid of it burning or stinging like it did when I bathed after Ruby – but I felt nothing but comfort. As I was comfortably soaking, Scott took off his shirt and had some incredible skin to skin time with our little boy.

Then after I was settled in the tub for a while, he brought Elliot in to join me, with the placenta floating nearby in a metal bowl. Elliot was scared at first, but then I fed him and he fell asleep with me holding him there in the tub. Meanwhile, we could hear the midwives scurrying around cleaning up, making some eggs and cheese, and doing some laundry. Scott sat tubside and we just had so much fun talking about everything that happened. We talked about playing monopoly, having a boy, the quickness of labor, how amazed we were that Ruby was still asleep, etc. They eventually came in and helped me out of the tub while Scott brought Elliot upstairs to the bed room. They helped me dry off and get a pad, and then they helped me get upstairs.

Weighing Elliot

Weighing Elliot

Elliot's Newborn Screening

Elliot’s Newborn Screening

This is where they did their newborn check of him and I cut the cord while Scott held him. We ate our eggs and cheese and they went over a few postpartum care directions, which we promptly forgot in all the excitement and exhaustion. DeAna said she would call the next day at 11 to see how we were doing. Then she would stop by for the 2-day old visit (and a one week, 2 week, and 6 week visit as well). Then they tucked me into bed and Scott helped them bring down all their stuff to their car.

At this point, it was 2 a.m. and we thought we would be too excited to fall asleep. But as soon as we got snuggled in, we conked out until 3:30 a.m. when we heard Ruby through the baby monitor. Scott went down and gave her a bottle and changed her, and she went right back to sleep until 8 a.m. Elliot woke up at 5 a.m., I fed him, and off we all went again until Ruby woke up and we started our first day together. Scott snuggled her right in between us and she did not know quite what to think of her little brother, so she just gave him a sideways glance and snuggled in a little closer, and ate her yogurt while watching Chip n Dale Rescue Rangers. We were careful not to give Elliot too much direct attention while Ruby was around. We wanted her to discover him on her own (which she slowly did over the weeks to come).

It felt so crazy to have gone through such an amazing experience and to then just settle into normal life, WITH ANOTHER HUMAN IN OUR FAMILY! And a little boy too! We were so happy and felt so complete. Scott had the next two weeks off, and we enjoyed a blissful family moon. I got lots of bedrest, and Scott took care of all of us. It was perfect.

Ruby Loves Her Little Brother

Ruby Loves Her Little Brother

(Ruby decided to add her impression of the night: “xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxszszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzxcfvfADVCZ”)

Elliot Edward Maaser

Elliot Edward Maaser

Our Firstborn: Ruby's Birth Center Story

Our Firstborn: Ruby’s Birth Center Story

Ruby Lynn Maaser

Born: Friday, 8-28-09

     Time: 2:52 a.m.

Measurements: 7 lbs 3 0z, 22 inches, 14 cm head circumference

The Pregnancy Story

After having been married for five years, Scott and I knew that we were ready for the next step. We didn’t quite say, let’s have a baby, but we did say, “Let’s go off birth control”. I was sick of all the side effects anyways and I thought that we’d be able to give natural family planning a try until we were really ready for a baby. Well a few weeks later, we were snowboarding up in the mountains, like we did every weekend in the winter, and in the midst of a huge blizzard. Fortunately, we had already booked a room for the night at the Keystone Inn, our favorite place to stay at in the mountains. They were super close to the slopes and had an indoor/outdoor heated pool, hotub, sauna, and were next to our favorite little pizza place.

We had a wonderful day snowboarding and an incredibly romantic evening. We didn’t use any protection, but I assured Scott that I would just get the morning after pill the next day. (How’s that for natural family planning?) Well, the next day came and we were shocked to see that the all of the highways were shut down because of the horrible blizzard. I had to call in some emergency sub plans for my 3rd grade class and of course, no morning after pill. We stayed another night at our hotel and the next day I did get the morning after pill, and even though I took the first pill, I forgot to take the second pill 8 hours later like I was supposed too. Well, it didn’t work apparently, and after I missed my period, I saw those infamous two pink lines on the pregnancy test. We were both shocked and elated. We weren’t sure we were quite ready for a baby, but whether we were ready or not, it was coming!

Positive Pregnancy Test

Positive Pregnancy Test

We found an ob office right away and started going to prenatal appointments. As the pregnancy progressed, we learned more and more about our impending life change. I read all of the books I could get my hands on and we took every class that the hospital offered. I was eating right, doing yoga, and Scott regularly gave me some incredible pregnancy massages. By the time I was 30-some weeks along, we took a tour of the hospital and that is when everything changed for us. The hospital had plans to tear down that maternity ward and building a new state of the art facility the next year, so needless to say the place looked like it was falling apart. When we saw a moth flying down the hallway, we took that as an omen to look at other options! Besides, the idea I had in mind for a natural birth did not seem to fit with the small hospital bed, no eating or drinking policy, and large scale focus on interventions.

Hanging Out in My Classroom

Hanging Out in My Classroom

The next day I discovered a free standing birth center that was right next to a state of the art hospital 20 minutes from our condo. We weren’t quite ready for a home birth, but this birth center seemed like just the right thing. My mom had given birth to her last three children at home, and I remember helping to cut the cords and being right three with her. But even still, with this being my first, I was a little nervous about any possible complications. The rooms at the Mountain Midwifery were beautiful, the staff was amazing, and everything about the facility made me feel empowered. We transferred when I was 33 weeks, so we barely got a chance to meet all of the six midwives who could possibly attend our birth depending on who was on call. Even still, I felt such peace and comfort and really felt like we were making the right decision. We signed up for as many classes as we could and continued to become educated. After watching Rikki Lake’s The Business of Being Born, I felt more empowered than ever.

My Big Pregnant Belly

My Big Pregnant Belly

Leading up to Labor

My due date was August 22nd, but I was sure that I would have our baby on either a full moon or a new moon. The doctors at the hospital had said that more babies were born on a full moon, and the midwives at the midwifery said that they had more births on a new moon. August 6th was a full moon and sure enough, I started having contractions after meeting some coworkers at Baker’s Street. It was, however, a false alarm. Next, I was sure that I would go into labor on the new moon which was August 20th, but alas…nothing.

Scott and I went for lots of walks and I was drinking tea with blue cohash to try to encourage labor to start. I was just sooooo excited! After nine months of waiting, I really wanted to meet my little girl! Every time labor would seemingly start though, I would get really scared thinking about the unknown and secretly breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I had a little bit more time to prepare. I was just worried that I would be over two weeks overdue which would risk me out of delivering at the birthing center and make it so that I would have to be induced, have an epidural, and basically have my birth plan thrown out the window.

Prelabor: Wednesday, August 26th

With my due date come and gone by four days, I was in a constant state of expectation. At my last midwife appointment, I was 1 cm dilated and 50% effaced, so things were happening. Knowing that labor could start at any minute of any day really kept me on my toes. I was kind of hoping that labor would start during the meetings before school so that I could miss them and wouldn’t have to start the school year, but it was actually quite a blessing that I was able to be in the classroom for a few days because I was able to help start a lot of my routines and get to know the students.

Anyways, the night before, Tuesday, August 25th, Scott and I went for a nice long walk, made love, and then I lost my mucus plug. (I thought I lost it earlier in the week, but I guess that was just a little bit of blood.) I knew things would be happening soon! I went to work Wednesday morning full of excitement and proudly telling the ladies about my bloody show! (Ahhhh, it’s great to work with women sometimes!) I started feeling contractions that morning. They weren’t really painful or close together, but they were definitely regular.

I just couldn’t concentrate any more, and I definitely didn’t feel like teaching! Rochelle got me a big bouncy ball to sit on and I basically just sat in the back of the room organizing papers while my replacement started taking over the class. (I had found an incredible sub named Misty who went to all of the beginning of the year meetings with me and co-taught with me in the classroom. I was planning taking 12 weeks of maternity leave, so she wanted to be prepared. My principal was just wonderful and paid for the sub to be with me until I officially started my maternity leave.) Everyone kept telling me to go home! I was worried that I couldn’t leave until I was definitely in labor, so I called the maternity leave office and she asked why I was still at work! I learned that I could have started my maternity leave one week before my due date! So I decided that I was going to leave at lunch. I really wanted to use as much maternity leave as possible to be with my daughter, so I wanted to work as long as I possibly could, but I figured that I was close enough at this point!

I called Scott telling him that I was going home to rest and not to worry or leave work early. I went shopping at King Soopers for some last minute groceries and busied myself at home with some last minute cleaning. Scott of course couldn’t stand being at work once he found out things were starting so he rushed home. I was feeling contractions more regularly and with more intensity. I was writing down every time I was having a contraction. They seemed to be coming every five minutes! Looking back at that time NOW after having gone through labor, however, I wouldn’t really call those contractions. It was more like a little tightening. A little more painful that the Braxton Hicks contractions that I had felt during the last months of labor, but definitely not PAINFUL.

So Scott came home and we busied ourselves around the house getting everything in order. We put the final touches in the bag to bring to the midwifery, charged the ipod, and made sure the house was ready for a new baby. Things started to get more intense that evening. We tried playing some video games together, but the contractions were getting too painful for me to concentrate on the game, so I just watched Scott play some Bubble Bobble. Contractions were coming every 15-20 minutes.

Every time I felt one creep up, I would bounce on the exercise ball and breathe deeply to get through it. We thought for sure that we would be going into the midwifery that night, but things were just not progressing any further, so we decided to try to go to bed and get some rest. The contractions slowed to every 30-45 min. so I was able to get some rest in between them. The contractions were still quite painful, however, and I wasn’t able to stay in bed when they hit. I tried laying on my side once and it was just too much to bear. So every time I had a contraction, I would get up and bounce on the exercise ball.

More Prelabor: Thursday, August 27th

After what seemed like the longest night ever, it was finally morning. Scott at least got a decent night’s sleep! We got out of bed and sort of waited around to see if things got more intense. I took a shower and got dressed. We ate a light breakfast and decided that we needed to do something to get our minds off watching the clock. We went to the stone house for a nice long walk. It was a beautiful sunny day and I would drape my arms around Scott’s neck every time a contraction hit and we would sway together. After the walk we drove to pick up some cables that we had found from someone on Craig’s List to connect the computer to the TV. During the car ride, the contractions were getting too painful to bear, so we hurried home. We played some more video games and watched the clock to see if the contractions were getting closer together.

Things seemed to be pretty much the same, so we decided to get some rest while we could. Scott laid down for a nap. I tried to join him, but I couldn’t sleep during the frequent contractions, so I got up to listen to some HynoBabies. I drew a nice warm bath, lit some candles, and let myself slip into a very relaxed state. I got in and out of the tub and kept adding more hot water for several hours. The contractions were quite painful, but as I listened to the HynoBabies, I kept thinking of them as pressure waves that were bringing my baby one step closer to me. During the bath, I checked to see if I was dilated. I expected to feel a big gaping hole, but instead found that I was modestly dilated about 2-3 cm. Scott and I found an image to make the background of our computer that showed what each dilation looked like.

When I finally got out of the bath and Scott woke up from his nap, he made me a big fruit plate of mango, orange, and pineapple. We downloaded a program that helped us to keep track of contractions. Every time I felt a contraction, I pushed a button to record how long my contractions were and how far apart they were. Being in the bath must have slowed things down, because as soon as I got out, my contractions were 3 minutes apart and lasting for about a minute each. We recorded contractions for about an hour before finally calling the midwives. It was about 7:45 p.m. at this point.

To the Midwifery: Active Labor

Nancy was the midwife on call, and she wondered if there was any blood. I had lost the mucus plug already, but hadn’t seen any blood recently. She made it sound like we could come in if we wanted, but it wasn’t very urgent. I had just checked myself and I was dilated to about 4-5 cm and with the contractions becoming longer, stronger, and closer together, I wanted to get there asap.

We had a nice bed made up in the back of the Durango. It’s a good thing the windows were tinted because it would have probably drawn a lot of attention to see a woman rocking back and forth on all fours moaning loudly! I was afraid that I might have the baby in the car or something, but Scott got us to the midwifery in a cool twenty minutes. I had a big contraction right before heading up to our room, but and then when I got inside the birthing center, it was like I got stage fright. Nancy checked me and said that yes, I was at about 4-5 cm. She watched me have a contraction and must not have thought I was very close because she said it was going to still be awhile and wondered if we wanted to go home or walk around. I felt really judged and like I didn’t perform well enough for her or something. Did she even realize all that I had been through already???

 

Feeling at a Contraction at the Birth Center

Feeling at a Contraction at the Birth Center

In Between Contractions

In Between Contractions

Feeling a Contraction

Feeling a Contraction

We didn’t want to go anywhere, so we decided to get settled in and go for it. Scott set up the ipod and continued to play the HypnoBabies. The lights were dimmed and the whole room had a nice homey atmosphere. It didn’t take long for me to get comfortable, and as soon as that happened, my contractions intensified. Nancy said we were definitely making progress but that I still probably had about 6-7 hours to go. (Note to anyone ever helping a pregnant woman: DO NOT EVER TELL HER HOW MUCH TIME YOU THINK IS LEFT! ESPECIALLY IF YOUR ESTIMATE INCLUDES THE WORD “HOURS”!!!)

I was devastated. I thought we’d get there and within an hour I’d be pushing the baby out. Knowing that I had to go through 6-7 hours was enough to make me just want to give up. But you can’t give up when you’re in labor, you just have to take what your body throws at you. Nancy got me some energy water while I sat on the ball for another contraction. Scott got behind me and massaged my back just like we had practiced. Knowing that he would be there by my side for the whole thing started calming me down. I just listened to the HypnoBabies and tried taking it one contraction at a time like Nancy said.

We had been there for about two hours, walking the halls, sitting on the ball, propped against various chairs and tables when I decided that I wanted to get into the tub. The contractions were coming so fast and they were so painful. I just needed to keep trying something new so that it didn’t feel like I would be in pain forever. I got naked and slipped into the tub and it felt wonderful. I was weightless and there was no pressure on my back. I swam to the edge and Scott held me in his arms. We were bracing ourselves for the next contraction. We waited and waited and waited. The contractions had been coming about every minute and now 2-3 minutes slipped by with nothing. I enjoyed the break, but was starting to tense up as I anticipated the next wave.

The next contraction rolled through my body like a bulldozer. I could feel my body ripping, tearing, searing, burning, and consuming me with the most painful contraction yet. I stayed in the water for about 45 minutes. And while it helped to give me a nice break inbetween contractions, it made them so much more intense, so I decided to get out. Scott and Nancy dried me off and helped me back into my nighty. I was dressed just in time for another big contraction. I knelt in front of the log bed and squatted down as I held onto the wooden frame at the base of the bed.

When I was in the water, I didn’t think I could possibly tolerate any more pain or handle any more contractions of that magnitude, but this one was even more intense. I felt like I was going to panic. I didn’t think I could handle the pain that was consuming me. Scott was crouched beside me with encouraging words. My body felt like it was being torn apart by a viscous source of unknown agony. I tried to visualize what was happening to my body. I tried to see myself opening up and preparing the way for our beautiful little girl. I tried to not think about what was happening in terms of pain but as pressure sensations like the HypnoBabies had trained me. It was the longest contraction yet and I listened to Nancy as she advised me to take it one contraction at a time. It won’t last forever, I thought. It’s almost done.

Transition

I felt a wave of relief as the contraction subsided, but instead of getting a nice pain free break, I just felt the level of pain cut in half. When I stood up, I could feel a wet stream trickle down my leg. “I think my water broke!” I shouted triumphantly. Finally, some progress. Nancy wanted to check me to see how far I had dilated. Her probing fingers sent another wave of pain convulsing through my body. She pulled and prodded, trying to do what she could to speed things up. She announced that I was 6-7 cm dilated but that I had an anterior lip which meant that I wasn’t dilating evenly.

Only 6-7 cm I thought! All that pain and all that work for just 6-7 cm!!!! I didn’t know how much more I would be able to take. We had been there for almost five hours and it could be five more, or ten. I had no idea what to expect next. I wanted to tell Scott that I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted them to take me to the hospital. I didn’t just want an epidural. I wanted everything to stop. I wanted them to just cut the baby out of me. I couldn’t imagine pushing her through my tiny window. But the contractions were coming one on top of another and I couldn’t even speak. The only sound that escaped my lips was a loud guttural moan as the animalistic part of my body took over. One contraction at a time I kept thinking. That’s all I could think.

After she examined me, I positioned myself onto all fours and started rocking through the next contraction. The pain whipped through my body like a freight train knocking away my breath. I felt dizzy, nauseous and out of control. “I’m going to throw up!” I sobbed. “Get something, get something, get something,” I whimpered, not wanting to destroy the clean bedding with my vomit. I knew that I would be lying here with my daughter and even though I was consumed with pain, I knew that I didn’t want to cradle my newborn daughter in the middle of a pile of slimy sticky bile. Nancy and Scott quickly positioned a little bowl under my chin and I heaved into it as another contraction racked my body. All the fruit Scott had lovingly cut emptied into the basin. It felt good to get rid of it.

After that, I removed my crumpled body from the bed and tried walking down the halls. The contractions were coming one on top of another. I wasn’t getting any sort of break at all. I felt like I had to really choose to keep going, to not give up…because even if I were to give up, my body wouldn’t. So I just took it one contraction at a time and tried to remain calm. I visualized my body opening up to deliver my child. I tried to think of the pain as pressure waves. Scott held me and supported me with his soft voice and steady hands. He was my rock. I knew that if he was there, I could handle anything.

Nancy spent most of the time elsewhere and let us labor together. We were doing such a good job that she told me later she didn’t even know I had entered transition labor. She said that most moms start screaming at their husbands at that point and the midwives take over. But Scott and I were so calm and he was so supportive that she was able to leave us alone. At one point Scott had to go to the bathroom and Nancy was gone. I was all alone as another contraction mounted. “Scott, Scott! Where are you?” I called out. It was the only time he left my side all night and he was back in a flash. As soon as I felt his hands on my shoulders, I relaxed. I knew that I couldn’t do this alone. I needed him to believe in me and to support me.

We made our way to the bathroom and I decided to sit backwards on the toilet. Nancy said it was a good position to open things up. It hurt tremendously, but if pain meant progression, then I was all for it! I sat backwards through a few contractions. The pain was unbearable and I could literally feel myself opening up. I slumped off from the toilet and crouched down into a kneeling position in front of the toilet bowl. It felt like I should be vomiting into the toilet in this position!

Pushing

All of a sudden, I got the urge to push. I was terrified, but ecstatic at the same time. I knew that we were getting so close and I just wanted the pain to stop more than anything. Nancy and Scott were on either side of me. The RN had arrived and everyone was encouraging me to push. I felt the huge mass of her body inside of me screaming to get out. A huge sensation of pressure accompanied the next contraction and I lifted my head and screamed a low, guttural, growling crescendo that crested into the most intense scream I have ever heard in my life. Scott later said how impressed he was with the magnitude of my scream. It was powerful, raw, and I couldn’t believe that sound was escaping my body much the same way I couldn’t believe a small baby was about to come through me.

All of the yoga I had practiced was paying off as I settled into a deep squat. With each contraction came the urge to push and the urge to scream. I felt as the large mass inside of me prepared to leave my body. I could feel my body opening and my baby descending. Nancy and the RN were surprised that I had all of a sudden gotten the urge to push right there in the bathroom, but they adapted well. They put a mirror underneath me to check my progress and used the Doppler to check the baby’s heart rate. After about thirty minutes, I could barely feel my legs as they wobbled, struggling to support me. I could hear the worry in the RN’s voice as she announced that the baby’s heart rate was dropping. Nancy tried to remain calm, but with a twinge of panic said, “I think you better move to the bed honey.” Scott supported me while I stood up and quickly waddled to the bed, afraid the whole time that I was going to suck her back in and lose all of the progress I had made.

When I got to the bed, I felt such a wave of relief as my legs did not have to support me anymore. The pillows propping me up felt so soft and cradled my body like clouds. I was so happy knowing that I was so close, but I was really worried about the dropping heart rate. I felt like I really needed to work hard to get her out as soon as possible. Her heart rate started to do better with me on my back. Nancy told me to grab my left leg and pull it towards me as I pushed. With my chin down and my right arm gripping Scott with all my might, I let loose another loud scream as I bared down with all of my weight. I was starting to lose my voice and Nancy told me to put all of my energy into pushing instead of screaming. I immediately felt like I was able to push longer and harder with a more focused concentration.

“I can see the baby’s head!” Scott shouted. It was so close! I couldn’t believe I was almost done! (Scott said it looked like a hotdog coming out and he thought, man she’s got a little head, until he saw the rest of the head emerge.) Her head started to crown and I immediately thought of the term “ring of fire” and how it was very appropriately named. I could feel myself ripping, tearing, and stretching far beyond anything that I thought was humanly possible. I thought back to the birthing videos we saw where the women simply “breathed” their babies out. I was still worried about her heart rate and I just wanted to get her out to make sure she was okay, so I didn’t even stop for a break after a big push.

At that point, I didn’t care about the tearing, I didn’t care about an episiotomy, I just wanted to deliver a healthy baby. I pushed again as hard as I could and I could feel myself stretching even more. It felt like my whole body was about to tear in half. I kept listening to Scott and the midwives as they shouted words of encouragement. “One more push! Keep pushing! You’re almost there!” I gave everything my body had and finished the last big push. I felt her head pop out and then the rest of her body slide through. Nancy told us that as soon as the head was delivered, she saw a tiny hand, followed by the shoulders and then the rest of the body. It was probably that little hand that gave me the hematoma (a large broken blood vessel under the skin).

Nancy lifted the baby to my chest and I couldn’t believe I was holding my baby girl! Scott and I were crying and looking at the little miracle on my chest. I couldn’t believe she was crying already and I just wanted to rock her and comfort her. As soon as they lifted her up to me, she had her first meconium poop. I didn’t even notice as it ran down my body. I could feel the cord tug inside of my as I tried to lift her higher on my chest. It was too short! The cord had stopped pulsing, so they clamped it and gave Scott the scissors. He cut it with two snips. I pulled our little girl firmly onto my chest and we soaked in everything about her. She was looking up at us with these big dark eyes and her little pink  face. She was absolutely beautiful! I expected her to be a bloody, wrinkled, cone shaped mess, but she was absolutely perfect. I couldn’t believe how perfect she was! I just felt a wave of emotion pass through my body as it sunk in…this is my daughter…my little girl…my precious angel that I’d been talking to, singing to, and reading to for the past nine months.

Scott and I Meet Ruby

Scott and I Meet Ruby

Holding Ruby

Holding Ruby

With one more push, I delivered the placenta. They wrapped our little angel in a blanket and left Scott and I alone to marvel at this wonderous miracle. I was soooooooooooooo relieved that the labor was over and sooooooooooo happy to be holding my perfectly healthy little girl. Scott cuddled with us on the bed and we just stared at her in awe. The room had a soft red glow and we knew that the name Ruby suited her perfectly. Ruby Lynn Maaser. Born at 2:52 in the morning of August 28th, 2009.

After the Birth

I tried to breastfeed her right away, but we couldn’t get a good latch. The RN kept helping us, but my nipples were just too flat. Ruby latched on to one side for just a few moments, but that was it. We laid there together for about an hour and a half. They brought us some sliced apples and some cheese and crackers. The last thing I wanted to do was eat, but they told me I needed to build up my strength, so I forced some food down. It was such a surreal moment to be lying there in bed with our new family. I told Scott to shut his eyes for a minute. He was exhausted too. I kept trying to breastfeed her, but it just wasn’t working.

Eventually, Scott just put his finger in her mouth and she happily sucked on that. We would just have to try again when we were home. I slowly got out of bed and made my way to the bathroom where the RN had drawn me an herbal bath. I tried peeing on the toilet, but screamed out in pain. Apparently, I had a lot of “skid marks” that tore me up on the inside. The RN handed me a Peri bottle and that helped. I weakly washed myself off in the tub. Scott came in holding Ruby looking absolutely mystified. I got out of the tub and the RN helped me get dried off and dressed. Scott and Ruby cuddled together on the bed while Nancy stitched me up. I just wanted to lie in that bed and sleep for days, but they were already getting us ready to leave!

Scott went to get the Durango as I tried to get Ruby dressed. She was covered in meconium poop that just wouldn’t come off and they didn’t have any soft washrags, so I used baby wipes to do the best job I could. (Really, no washrags??? Maybe we could make a donation to the midwifery or something to help out future parents.) I awkwardly put on her diaper, not knowing if I was doing it right. The outfit I brought for her was way too big and I didn’t quite know how to put it on. I was feeling so overwhelmed and wondering why someone wasn’t helping me more!

When Scott came in, the RN went over a bunch of directions for taking care of ourselves and Ruby, but we were too shocked to really absorb much of anything. We hugged her and Nancy, and just four hours after giving birth, we were putting Ruby in her car seat and getting ready to go home. It was a crisp morning and I was just wearing my little nighty. Scott brought me a big sheet from the trunk to wrap myself in and we were on the road. Six hours of labor at the midwifery and four hours of recovery later, we were a family. We called our parents on the way home and through tears I gave them a summary of their new grandchild.

Trying to Breastfeed

When we got home I tried to breastfeed her again, but we still couldn’t get a good latch. I used the breastpump to extract a few drops. I put those drops in a little dropper and placed it inside her cheek. After drinking just a few drops, we both fell asleep in the bedroom while Scott drove around for hours trying to find nipple shields to help me breastfeed. When he came home, we spent the rest of the day sleeping. I kept trying to breastfeed and feeding her little droplets of milk.

The next night, after lots of patience and guidance, Ruby eventually latched on and I just started crying as her little mouth suckled and she received the nourishment she needed. Breastfeeding flowed smoothly after that. We excitedly called the rest of our family to tell them the wonderful news. We were so happy! Scott had a month off from work and it was the most amazing month of our lives. We didn’t know the difference between day or night, or even what day it was for that matter! We had a baby moon for the first week and didn’t allow any visitors.  It was so much fun trying to figure everything out. Everything was so wonderful and new. We just loved being parents to the most wonderful daughter in the world!

At Home with Ruby

At Home with Ruby

Holding Sweet Ruby

Holding Sweet Ruby

Scott Changing Ruby

Scott Changing Ruby

Ruby Lynn Maaser....Those Eyes!

Ruby Lynn Maaser….Those Eyes!

Ruby Lynn Maaser...Those Fingers!

Ruby Lynn Maaser…Those Fingers!

Ruby Lynn Maaser

Ruby Lynn Maaser

The Truth About Fats

When I read Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions, it literally changed my life. I’ve never had one book so completely consume me and motivate me to change everything about my life. Thanks for recommending it Lisa! In this blog, I hope to summarize what I have learned from Nourishing Traditions, in addition to Weston PriceGary Taubes, and Fathead and show how learning the truth about fats will be as close as I’ll ever come to a religious awakening. 

Like many adolescent girls, I feel like my obsession with weight began with that awkward phase known as puberty. I began to equate being skinny with being hungry, and I began to notice things like “grams of fat” and “total calories” on packaged food. I knew without knowing that fat was bad and so I avoided things like whole milk, butter, and mayonnaise. I remember reading somewhere that if you stopped putting mayonnaise on your sandwiches, you could lose something like two pounds every year. I was able to remain thin quite easily (thanks to an efficient metabolism), but as I got older, and especially after having kids, my old strategies for keeping the weight off just weren’t working anymore. Then I discovered this crazy idea that fat is actually good for you. Say whaaaaaat??? And not just any fat, but the so-called “artery-clogging” saturated fat I’d ruthlessly avoided my whole life. On top of that, I learned that the polyunsaturated fats that I’d always heard labeled as “heart-healthy” actually CAUSE heart disease and cancer. “BOOM!” (That was the sound of my mind exploding.)

The reason why it seems like “common knowledge” that saturated fat and cholesterol are bad isn’t because they ARE bad, but rather because a man named Ancel Keys THOUGHT they were bad and so he made an assumption. (Silly Ancel, didn’t he know that when you “assume” things, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”?) It “made sense” to him that saturated fat and cholesterol led to heart disease and so he cherry picked six countries that matched his theory to be part of his Lipid Hypothesis and he left out the remaining sixteen countries that didn’t. He didn’t have any credible scientific proof to back up his hypothesis, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a leading member of the American Heart Association, landing on the cover of Time magazine in the 1970s, and becoming “the father of dietary wisdom”. After Ancel Keys and his buddy Jeremiah Stamler were a part of the American Heart Association, the AHA (who originally opposed the Lipid Hypothesis and any ideas like it) flipped their stance and supported it, with the caveat that research was pending. Soon after, senator George McGovern published his Dietary Goals for the United States, which followed Keys’ recommended a reduction of fats along with a drastic increase in carbohydrates. So then the National Institute of Health decided that they’d better drum up some actual research to support the hypothesis everyone was already promoting. (Seems like a pretty biased way to conduct research if you ask me.) No compelling research emerged, and in fact, the research that they hoped would support their hypothesis actually showed quite the opposite. The Framingham Heart study states, “we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.” (JAMA Internal Medicine) But it was already too late. The idea that saturated fat and cholesterol were bad was barreling down the American ideology track like a freight train…and gaining momentum too. In 1980, the USDA released their official Dietary Guidelines for Americans (which were VERY similar to George McGovern’s guidelines). These guidelines have since been republished every five years with very little changes. And that’s that. Now every government agency, every doctor, and every American wrongly assumes that saturated fat and cholesterol are bad. (For a more thorough description of this story, check out my blog post How We Were Duped Into Thinking Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Were Bad.)

The term “artery-clogging saturated fats” isn’t true. When the fat in artery clogs is studied, only about 26% is saturated and the rest is unsaturated, with more than half of that being polyunsaturated. Saturated fats have been wrongly demonized when the truth is that we really NEED them as they play many important roles in our body chemistry. 

  • Cell membranes must be comprised of at least 50% saturated fatty acids in order to maintain their stiffness. (Without stiff cell membranes, arteries become weak and flabby and THAT is when cholesterol comes to the rescue to repair the damage that has been done. This becomes the plaque that clogs arteries, increases blood pressure, and leads to heart disease.)
  • Unless 50% of the fats we consume come from saturated fat, we cannot properly absorb the calcium we need.
  • Saturated fatty acids are made up of short and medium chain fatty acids that are not stored as fat, but used as quick energy.
  • They protect the liver from toxins.
  • They enhance the immune system.
  • They protect us from harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.
  • They have important antimicrobial properties.
  • They are needed to properly utilize fatty acids like omega-3s.
  • The fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated and draws upon that fat in times of stress.

Not only is saturated fat good for you, but cholesterol is too! Say whaaaaaat??? It’s true. This idea of “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol” is totally wrong. LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) is REPAIRING damaged arterial walls. In her book, Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon explains how blaming cholesterol for it’s correlation with clogged arteries is like blaming the police for their correlation with crime. (i.e. A high crime area will have an increased number of police officers just like clogged arteries will have an increased level of LDL cholesterol, but the high crime isn’t CAUSED by the police and the clogged arteries are not CAUSED by the cholesterol. Just because two things are correlated doesn’t mean that one thing causes another.) The arterial plaques themselves contain very little cholesterol. Cholesterol is needed for many functions in our body and the only people that are benefit from the misconception that we should lower our cholesterol levels are the multibillion dollar drug corporations that create cholesterol lowering drugs called statins, like Lipitor and the doctors who get kick backs called “research study” funds for every new patient they can con to take them.

  • Cholesterol is needed along with saturated fats to give cells their stiffness and stability. When a diet contains too much polyunsaturated fatty acids, the cell walls actually become flabby and cholesterol is used to make them strong again.
  • It is the precursor needed to make sex hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone.
  • It is a precursor to vital hormones called coriocosteroids which are needed to help us deal with stress and protects the body against heart disease and cancer.
  • It is a precursor to vitamin D, which is a fat-soluble vitamin needed for healthy bones and nervous system, proper growth, mineral metabolism, muscle tone, insulin production, reproduction, and immune system function.
  • Bile salts are made from cholesterol. Bile is vital for digestion and assimilation of dietary fats.
  • It helps to maintain the health of the intestinal wall. This is why low-cholesterol vegetarian diets can lead to leaky gut syndrome and other intestinal disorders.
  • It is an antioxidant that protects us from free radical damage that leads to heart disease and cancer.
  • Cholesterol is needed for proper function of serotonin receptors, the “feel good” chemical, in the brain. When cholesterol levels are low, there are behavioral links to depression, suicidal tendencies, and violent and aggressive behavior.
  • Mother’s milk is especially rich in cholesterol (as well as saturated fat). Babies and children especially need cholesterol rich foods for optimal brain and nervous system development. Yet, the American Heart Association is now recommending a low-cholesterol, low-fat diet for children! Most commercial formulas are low in saturated fats and soy formulas are completely devoid of cholesterol. A recent study linked low-fat diets with failure to thrive in children.
  • Beware of damaged cholesterol! Just like fats, cholesterol can be damaged by exposure to heat and oxygen which can lead to to the arterial cells as well as a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Damaged cholesterol is found in powdered eggs, powdered milk, skim and low-fat milks (which has powdered milk added to it), and in meats or fats that have been heated to a high temperature.

When people stopped eating saturated fats and cholesterol because they were tricked into thinking they were bad, they replaced them with polyunsaturated fats such as canola oil and trans fats such margarine. Modern diets include up to 30% polyunsaturated fats when the ideal should be about 4%. Excess consumption of polyunsaturated oils has been shown to contribute to a large number of diseases including cancer and heart disease, immune system dysfunction, damage to the liver, reproductive organs and lungs, digestive disorders, depressed learning ability, impaired growth, and weight gain. Polyunsaturated fats (WRONGLY marketed as “heart healthy”) and hydrogenated oils, known as trans fats (marketed as a “healthy alternative” to butter) should be avoided at all costs and are one of the TRUE causes of heart disease and cancer.

  • Polyunsaturated fats tend to become oxidized or rancid when exposed to heat, oxygen, and moisture from cooking and processing. Rancid oils contain free radicals that damage cell membranes and red blood cells. This leads to wrinkles, premature aging, tumors, and plaque buildup.
  • Polyunsaturates also contain a high amount of omega-6 linoleic acid and a low amount of omega-3 linoleic acid. This imbalance disrupts prostaglandins that leads to blood clots and inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer, and weight gain.

After learning all of this, I initially felt a bit overwhelmed when I thought about all of the things we were going to have to change about our eating habits. We didn’t change everything all at once. We simply picked one thing to research further and learn more about, and then we gradually implemented one change at a time. Looking back over the past year, we have done a lot to add foods rich in saturated fats and eliminate foods with polyunsaturated fats. Here are some of the things we have implemented so far.

  • We started by drinking raw milk. If there is only one thing you can do to help the health of your family, do this! We bought a cow share and consume six gallons of the freshest, creamiest, best tasting raw milk we’ve ever had every week.
  • We go through about ten pounds of non rBST (bovine growth hormone) butter a month.
  • We just purchased our first grass-fed half of a cow, which is about 160 pounds of the best ground beef, steak, roast we’ve ever had. Hopefully this will last us a whole year!
  • Every week we get three dozen pastured eggs with dark yellow yolks from the Amish farm where we get our milk.
  • We also recently got our fifty pounds of coconut oil that I will use for cooking, baking, and body moisturizer.

Learning about our health has become like a full time job for me, and I am always learning something new or learning about something I had a preliminary knowledge about at a deeper level. It makes me feel so good to know that we are feeding ourselves with nutrient dense food that will heal us from the inside out. To know that as our children are growing, their bodies are being constructed with the best nutrients possible that will enable them to grow into adults free from the plagues that a poor diet will bring. We truly believe that food is our medicine, and every day we are taking steps to ensure that we are taking the best medicine we possibly can.

A few of my favorite studies:

  • In his book, Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes explains how in 1990, the National Institute of Health conducted a study that they hoped to answer whether low fat diets prevented heart disease or cancer. So they spent one billion dollars and had 20,000 women eat a low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fiber. These women also cut their caloric intake by about 360 calories per day. After eight years, they lost an average of two pounds each and their waist circumference increased, meaning that the weight they lost was lean muscle.
  • In another study, Taubes explains how a two million dollar government funded study through Stanford University called the A to Z Weight Loss studied four diets. 1) Atkins Diet: Subjects had twenty grams of carbohydrates for the first three months and then fifty grams, with as much protein and fat as they wanted. 2) A Traditional Diet: Subjects had restricted calories, carbohydrates made up 55-60% of all calories, fat was less than 30% of the caloric intake, saturated fat was less than 10%, and regular exercise was encouraged. 3) The Ornish Diet: Subjects at fewer than 10% of all calories came from fat, subjects meditated and exercised. 4) The Zone Diet: Subjects consumed 30% of calories from protein, 40% of calories from carbohydrates, and 30% of calories from fat. After one year, the Atkins dieters lost the most weight (10 pounds), their triglycerides went way down, their blood pressure went down, and their HDL cholesterol went up (which is good).
  • In her book, Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon describes a multi-year British study in which several thousand men were asked to reduce their saturated fat and cholesterol in their diets, to stop smoking, and to increase consumption of unsaturated oils such as margarine and vegetable oil. After one year, the group that reduced their saturated fat had 100% more deaths, even though the group that did not still smoked!
  • In another study, Fallon describes a study comparing Yemen Jews who ate only fats from animal origin and no sugar to Yemenite Jews living in Israel who ate margarine, vegetable oil, and sugar equaling 25-30% of their carbohydrate intake. The Yemen Jews had little to no heart disease or diabetes, but the Yemenite Jews had very high incidences of both.
  • She also discusses the Masai African tribes that subsist largely on milk, blood, and beef. They are completely free from heart disease and have low cholesterol levels. When Ancel Keys heard about this study, he purposed that they inherited some sort of genes to help them become immune to such ailments. But as the Masai began eating a western diet, they got heart disease at the same rates as everyone else.

For more reading on this subject, check out the following articles.

Digestion and Absorption of Food Fats by Mary Enig, phD

Why the Current US Dietary Guidelines are Making Americans Fat by Mary Enig, phD

Skinny on Fats, by Mary Enig, phD and Sally Fallon