“What is that supposed to be?”

We stopped before a crooked metal staircase that stretched up into nowhere. The plaque on the base read, “Where We Goin’?” and “Please do not climb on sculptures.” For a moment we contemplated the mysterious meaning of the twisted metal. I snapped a picture, then we moved on.

 

This morning the wind blew gently, stirring the leafy branches of the trees and the waving stalks of grass. The breeze blew mist toward us from the fountain in the center of the lake. Birds called overhead, and a blue heron watched us from where he stood in the water.

This morning I walked with my daughter, around and around the lake on a winding, narrow path. We walked through bright and sunny spots, alternated with shadowed and shady areas. We enjoyed the cool morning air, the warming summer sun, the sounds and scents of trees and water. We contemplated the towering metal sculptures that stood beside the lake’s circling path, and we enjoyed the time we set aside to spend together.

I love these leisurely walks with my family or longer wanderings by myself. A walk allows me to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, birds and flowers, trees and grass. Walking reminds me to be grateful for the grace of seasonal changes, sky and sun, wind and earth.

A walk clears my head, awakens my thoughts, clears a way for new ideas and inspiration. Walking allows me time to think, consider my purpose, and wonder where my path is taking me.

A walk with someone I care about offers a time for reconnection and conversation, sharing where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing, or just commenting on the world that turns around us.

“Look, there’s a ground squirrel.”

“Where?”

“He’s gone.”

Walking makes me feel alive and grateful for all the world has to offer. A walk encourages me to commune with the God who created that world and gives us the power and freedom of movement to enjoy it.

This morning, I encourage you to take a walk with someone you love. Find a way to step outside and enjoy the brilliance God has given us to share.

For information on the physical and emotional health benefits of walking, click here or here. For tips on beginning a walking program, check here; or for a plan on losing weight by walking, try here.

How can you enjoy a walk on this summer day? What is your favorite aspect of taking a walk outdoors?

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Who am I now? What should I do with myself?

Moms facing an empty nest when their children leave home may ask themselves these questions. These moms may find the answers in the book, Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest, written by Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates, and produced by Bethany House Publishers.

The book describes the premise of the Season Principle: our lives naturally move through different seasons of experience and development. The newlywed season is different from the new parent season, which is different from the parenting teens season, and the empty nest season is different from them all. Throughout these changing seasons, it is natural for moms to experience various and changing emotions. We have to give ourselves time and permission to experience our feelings and grow into our changing roles.

To help women make adjustments and experience healthy growth, the book offers many tools and techniques readers can use. Women are encouraged to build strong relationships with their husbands; nurture friendships with other women; turn to God through scripture study and prayer; assess their strengths, values, giftedness, and priorities; and develop mission statements to guide each new season of life. The book offers many practical resources to assist this process, including: suggested books and websites, Bible verses for reflection, a values assessment exercise, and a small group study guide which includes discussion questions and prayer prompts. All these resources may be helpful to moms who are adjusting to changing roles and developing relationships.

All women occasionally need support as we experience life changes. Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest provides resources and encouragement that many women will find useful.

I received a free copy of Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest from the publishers in exchange for writing a review.

How do you feel about facing the empty nest years? What techniques do you use to adjust to the changing seasons of your life?

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“This is what my client needs to feel comfortable,” Mandee explained to staff when she presented them with Jenna’s prepared birth plan. “How can we make this a good experience for her?”

Jenna experienced PTSD related to a past hospital stay, so the idea of having her baby in a hospital caused anxiety she wasn’t prepared to face alone. But with Mandee as her doula, Jenna could begin to prepare herself for the birth of her new baby.

Mandee accompanied Jenna on three tours of the hospital, walked with her through the hallways, introduced her to nurses and other staff, and helped her explore the delivery rooms. She explained Jenna’s PTSD to the nursing staff and asked them to work together to make Jenna feel more comfortable in the hospital environment. Jenna’s birth plan requested that few people be present in the room at any time, that staff ask for consent before touching Jenna, even during routine procedures like checking monitors and IVs, and that a specific nurse with a particularly mellow personality be assigned to Jenna during her delivery.

It is a doula’s job to tactfully advocate for her client mom throughout her pregnancy and the birth of her child. Mandee spends time discussing options with her client moms and lets them make their own decisions about their birth experiences. Then Mandee helps communicate her clients’ wishes and expectations to medical staff.

Mandee often approaches the hospital staff to help negotiate during a mom’s labor and delivery. “What would it take to get Mom off the monitors for half an hour and take a walk?” Mandee suggests when walking may help speed up a mom’s slow labor. “What would it take to wait another hour before starting Pitocin?” But Mandee encourages each mom to express her own needs and expectations to staff so she feels she is the one in control of the situation.

“You are the client paying the health care provider for a service. It is your birth,” Mandee reminds her clients. “You have options. You can walk out anytime and go somewhere else. You can request a different doctor. You can transfer to a different hospital. You can refuse or accept any treatment.”

“If you went to a restaurant and didn’t like the food, you would ask for a manager or go to a different restaurant. You can switch to a different medical provider if you don’t feel confident in your level of care.”

Mandee approaches such conflicts in a graceful and tactful way during a time that can be scary and intimidating for a mom in labor.

This ability to resolve problems gracefully is an important trait for moms to identify when hiring a doula to help in the delivery room. Mandee describes several characteristics moms can look for when shopping for the right doula.

  1. The right doula will be tactful when handling conflicts and making suggestions.
  2. She will be able to offer solutions and ideas for any possible problems before they arise.
  3. A doula will listen to Mom’s preferences and not try to force her own agenda.
  4. She will work to maintain a pleasant, calming atmosphere.
  5. And a great doula will have a good reputation with hospital staff.

Mandee suggests several actions moms can take when interviewing and hiring a prospective doula.

  1. Ask for references, and call the doula’s former clients.
  2. Ask those former clients: “How was your birth experience with this doula?” “How did she interact with medical staff?”
  3. Take a prebirth tour of the hospital. Ask staff about their interactions with the prospective doula.
  4. Make a list of questions to ask the doula. Some questions to ask may be: “What relaxation techniques do you use during labor?” “How can you support me?” “How can I feel empowered throughout this process?”
  5. Ask about concerns specific to your situation. A doula should have the resources to work through problems and find possible solutions before arriving in the delivery room.

A doula is hired by the client mom, not the hospital, so payment for services is made directly to the doula. “A doula shouldn’t ask for the balance paid at the first meeting,” Mandee advises. Mandee meets with the mom for a free consultation, then asks that a deposit be paid when she and the mom agree to work together. She allows moms to make payments to her throughout the pregnancy, with the balance paid off by 36 weeks.

Doula services are generally covered by health savings accounts and by insurance programs in some states. Mandee requires that payment is made to her directly, then she provides paperwork for the mom to file a reimbursement claim with her insurance company.

newborn-1571624_1920Moms like Jenna can take many steps to relieve any worry and tension before labor and delivery. Talking with a doula, building a positive relationship, exploring hospital hallways, and connecting with hospital staff all contribute to making childbirth a more comfortable and positive experience.

“If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any,” Mandee explains. “Educate yourself. If you don’t know what you can change, you can’t change anything, so know your options and decide what’s right for you.”

Several online resources help moms make informed decisions and find the right doula for their childbirth experience. Check out: Doulamatch.net, Findadoula.com, and The International Childbirth Education Association.

What questions could you ask before hiring a doula? How will hiring a doula make a difference to your birth experience?

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“Try walking the hallway,” the nurse told me, her only suggestion for speeding my slow labor.

Then she disappeared down some distant stretch of the corridor, and I walked alone, slowly up and down the hospital hallway. At midnight, the other maternity patients slumbered behind their closed doors. My daughter’s dad snored in the vinyl recliner after his long shift at the grocery store. The floor felt hard and cold through my foam rubber slippers. After a few faltering trips down the hallway, I retreated to my bed where I remained throughout the rest of my 38-hour labor.

I didn’t go to the hospital expecting the busy nurses to hold my hand throughout my entire labor. I didn’t know I had alternatives to the traditional maternity ward experience, and I didn’t know I could have had someone else there to walk the hall with me.

A doula is a professional labor assistant, serving a woman in labor by providing emotional support and coaching throughout the childbirth process. A doula holds a laboring mom’s hand, walks the halls with her at midnight, and generally supports a woman to deliver her baby in a safe and welcoming environment.

“It’s my job to give a mother information,” says Mandee, a doula who has assisted with over 100 births. “When you know the pros, cons, risks and benefits; you can decide what works for you.” With the right information, a new mom is able to make decisions for her birth and baby and feel in control of her childbirth experience.

Mandee’s connection with a client begins well before meeting in the delivery room. Mandee meets with moms early in their pregnancies to establish and build a trusting relationship. She gives her clients information resources about prenatal nutrition, supplements, exercise and medications; but she asks clients to do their own research and ask questions of their doctors. Mandee is available for moms to call, text or email throughout their pregnancies when they have questions or concerns.

A doula helps clients write a personal birthing plan to detail a mom’s expectations and preferences. She works to support and encourage a dad’s or partner’s role in the delivery room. She provides a listening ear for moms to calm their nerves and help them feel prepared for the often unpredictable process of delivery.

Mandee asks that her clients call as early as possible when they go into labor. She and the mom discuss when it’s time to meet at the hospital or other birthing environment. She will assist at any birth where a medical professional delivers the baby: in hospitals, home births, and birthing centers, but Mandee points out that a doula is not a midwife. A doula doesn’t perform medical procedures like medication administration or cervical checks.

Instead, Mandee focuses on helping the client mom feel more comfortable and relaxed during labor. She advises Mom about her medication options, food and drink possibilities, and positions to make labor easier. She gives massage and provides aromatherapy, flickering candlelight, music and essential oils to relax the atmosphere. She walks the halls with her client mom, assists her in squats and other exercises, helps her soak in a warm tub. When Mom feels more relaxed and comfortable, she will generally experience an easier labor and birth.

“The cervix is a muscle,” Mandee explains. “When we’re afraid or tense, labor will take longer. Women who deliver with doulas generally have labors at least three hours shorter than average.”

Once the baby is born, Mandee stays with her client for several hours. She will help Mom understand any repair procedures, coach Mom through holding the baby skin-on-skin, or help get breastfeeding started. Mandee assists moms with bathroom trips, showering, and getting comfortable to rest after delivery.

And Mandee’s connection with her client continues for up to two weeks after delivery. She is available to answer Mom’s questions and recommend resources to help with breastfeeding and settling into new family routines. Mandee’s support and encouragement help moms recover emotionally and physically, especially when Mom has experienced crises or complications during pregnancy and delivery.

“I am the mom’s support system,” Mandee explains. “It helps to have someone available that they feel comfortable with. I help her feel confident to make her own decisions, to choose her own steps or her own timing.”

newborn-1017390_1920Looking back, I know I would have appreciated having a support system to help me through those 38 hours and the weeks of adjustment later. If I’d had someone else to walk those hallways with me, my journey might not have seemed so long.

For more information on hiring a doula, check out American Pregnancy and Dona.org. And watch this site next week when Mandee explains how to choose the right doula to assist your labor and delivery.

How would a doula help with your pregnancy and delivery? What questions would you ask when connecting with a doula?

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The stroller felt heavier with every turn. I paused at the curb, hauled the stroller around in a U-turn, and headed back toward the fence and the trees. Four toddlers in coats and stocking caps looked where I pointed and listened to my constant chatter.

"Look at the pretty trees. The leaves are turning orange and red."

"Watch the rabbit run under the fence. Rabbits run fast."

"Wow, this stroller is heavy, and the world is so big."

Back and forth, push and pull, I propelled the stroller up and down the sidewalk because my training in early childhood education had taught me that all children learn from experiences like this. The four toddlers were learning language from hearing my voice describe the trees, rabbits, and the great, wide world. They learned about the sensations of the cool breeze and the sound of cars passing on the street. As an early childhood teacher, I wanted the kids in my care to be always learning.

parents-sons-966044_1920Choosing a daycare provider for your child is an important decision. Every mom wants to know her baby is safe, learning, and loved. Look for childcare center teachers and in-home care providers who:

 

  1. Answer all your questions, understand your concerns, and encourage parents to visit the home or facility at unplanned and various times throughout the day.
  2. Maintain good communication with daily reports about how children ate, slept, and played.
  3. Do not confine infants and toddlers to cribs or bouncy seats; but instead allow infants and toddlers space to move freely, play on the floor, and explore the environment. baby-84552_1920
  4. Provide outdoor play spaces and scheduled play times so toddlers and older children can run, jump, swing, and climb in safe and supervised areas.
  5. Do not stand around gossiping or checking their cell phones; but instead understand that children learn from being actively engaged with adults and their peers.
  6. Plan rewarding learning opportunities: read stories, sing songs, lead art and craft projects, and encourage children to question and explore.
  7. Take infants outdoors in strollers or wagons to describe the scenery and enjoy the blue sky. child-953703_1920

Most importantly, always trust your instincts when selecting a childcare provider. Choose the center or provider that feels the most loving and interested in your child. Look for teachers and providers who enjoy spending time with children, seem happy to see your child every morning, and express a willingness to work with parents as part of a childcare team.

Check out these websites for more suggestions on choosing a quality childcare provider: Parents.com, and Healthychildren.org.

I remember those years I spent pushing that stroller as a time of learning for me, too. I learned that children hear and remember much more than we realize. I learned that fall trees look beautiful in the early morning sun, sidewalks are wide and uneven, the world is enormous and awesome, and I am never too old to feel small.

What do you look for when choosing a childcare provider? How did you know when you found the right one?

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My teenage daughter told me the dentist numbed her mouth, then left her sitting in the chair alone for nearly an hour. When the dental assistant finally returned to the room, she told my daughter the office was double booked for the day, and they would have to reschedule her filling.

"I took the day off school to do this," my daughter mumbled through her numbed mouth. "I can't reschedule for another day."

The dentist and his assistant came back to the room and filled my daughter's tooth -- without speaking to her. Actually, she said they sat on opposite sides of the chair and argued with each other the entire time they worked.

"I don't want to go back to that dentist again," she told me when she got home.

"Don't worry. We won't," I answered.

For many people, few events cause as much worry as a visit to the dentist's office. Fortunately, introducing your child to a good dentist early can help avoid much of the anxiety associated with the dentist's chair.

"First tooth, first visit," advises Shannon, a dental hygienist. She explains that parents should take their children to the dentist as soon as the first baby tooth is on display.

At a first dental visit, the dentist will likely sit knee-to-knee with the parent with the baby lying across both adults' laps. The goal of the first visit is to help the child be comfortable with the bright lights and unfamiliar environment of the dentist's office. This time also allows the dentist to look for any developmental habits, like pacifier or thumb-sucking, that may affect tooth formation in the future and to advise parents on future dental care.

As children grow and teeth develop, Shannon recommends scheduling regular dental visits every six months. She also advises taking children to a family dentist, instead of one who specializes in pediatric dentistry, as soon as the child has all permanent teeth.

Your dentist may suggest several treatments to protect teeth as the child grows. Sealants are applied to 6 year molars and 12 year molars. These protective covers seal out bacteria and prevent decay from growing in the grooves of teeth. Fluoride treatments are brushed onto chewing surfaces of teeth once a year to protect teeth from decay.

pixabay teethIf a cavity is diagnosed, it is best to get the decay taken care of while it is small and does not affect the pulp or healthy part of the tooth. Once decay goes into the dentin, the second layer of the tooth, the cavity will grow and possibly spread to surrounding teeth as well. If that happens, a child may need general anesthesia to allow the dentist to repair and fill several cavities at once. Extensive dental repairs are painful and can make children afraid to return to the dentist in the future.

However, many families don't have dental insurance. I had selected the angry dentist who argued across his dental chair because he was one who advertised "No insurance necessary" services.

"Call your dentist and ask the cost of services like cleaning and exams," suggests Shannon. "Then set money aside every month for the dental expenses of the family. It is more expensive in the long run to skip dental check-ups and have to pay for fillings later." As another alternative, Shannon recommends visiting dental hygienist schools and training programs for low-cost preventative care. Colleges that train dental assistants offer cleanings, X-rays, and sealants at reasonable prices.

The Healthy Smiles Project and the Healthy Teeth website offer games, activities, and coloring pages that help teach children to care for their own smiles. Verywell.com posts articles on dental care and other health issues for young children.

Shannon suggests that parents ask around when searching for the right dentist. "The experiences and word of mouth referrals of other people make great recommendations."

boy-676122_960_720[1]After  my daughter's experience with the angry dentist, I refuse to go to any dentist who doesn't make me feel cared for and comfortable. I reserved money from each year's tax refund to pay for our cleanings and checkups. I found a dentist who told jokes across his dental chair and made his patients smile.

How have you helped your children feel more comfortable about going to the dentist?

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I kept my daughter's baby shoes, receiving blankets with spit-up stains, and books with her name written in the cover. I preserved her handprints and coloring book pages. In a box at the bottom of my closet, are all her baby teeth, carefully sealed in individual envelopes and labeled for the Tooth Fairy: "MY TOOF."

"People don't think they have to take care of their kids' baby teeth, because they get new ones anyway," begins Shannon, a dental hygienist, "but baby teeth are important because they hold space for the adult teeth. The roots of baby teeth guide the permanent teeth into place. Good baby teeth are necessary to maintain face shape and smiling, and for chewing and eating."

Shannon offers parents numerous ideas on how to care for our children's teeth and preserve the health and beauty of their smiles. She says dental care has to begin with the smallest children, long before they have a mouthful of pearly whites.

Beware of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

When liquids, including breast milk, pool in a child's mouth at night, the sugars in the milk or food combine with bacteria, and the decay process begins on teeth. It is important to wipe out the child's mouth before bedtime, and never put a baby to bed with a bottle, unless it contains only water.

Don't Share Spoons

Adults can experience Gingivitis, gum disease, or Periodontitis, which destroys the bones under teeth. The bacteria from an adult's teeth can be transferred to a child on shared spoons or utensils. Once that decay starts, the bacteria spread from tooth, to tooth, to tooth.

pixabay brushingBrush Your Child's Teeth

Good dental habits start early, so parents should start brushing even the smallest child's gums and erupting teeth. An infant finger toothbrush is a small plastic or cloth brush that looks like a finger-puppet and removes excess liquid from the baby's mouth. As children get older, parents should teach them how to brush their own teeth, but don't use fluoride toothpaste, and watch that children don't swallow toothpaste. Ingesting too much fluoride can cause fluorisis, which discolors teeth.

The Healthy Smiles Project and the Healthy Teeth website offer games, activities, and coloring pages that help teach children to care for their own smiles. In Saving Smiles, Part Two, Shannon will share how to introduce your child to the dentist's office and how to prevent costly and painful problems in the future.

Children grow fast. Baby teeth don't last. They end up under pillows or in envelopes labeled "MY TOOF." Children need to learn proper dental care and maintenance. The memories of their smiles will last forever.

How have you helped your children learn to take care of their teeth?

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The child's shrieks sounded down the narrow hallway. Amanda, the eye care technician, crept quietly toward Exam Room 2. She slowly opened the door and cautioned a peek inside the room where an angry woman straddled a kicking, screaming, squirming 5-year-old and another eye tech wrestled to control the child's tossing, turning head.

Amanda stepped backwards and silently shut the door. She immediately knew the source of the chaos in Exam Room 2.

Eye drops.

Eye drops are the cause of fear and trauma for many young patients in the eye doctor's office. Pink eye is common in children in adults, and everyone sooner or later will probably have to face the dreaded bottle of medicated drops. Moms can take a few simple steps to help alleviate the drama of pink eye for their children.

Pink eye, or "conjunctivitis," is a general term that refers to any irritated or inflamed eyes. Pink eye can be caused by bacteria, viruses, allergies, or irritants like chlorine and other chemicals. Pink eye is identified by red, watery eyes, and that crusty, gunky stuff that sticks the eyelids together and looks nasty.

To help prevent pink eye:

Teach children to wash their hands often and to use soap.

Don't share towels or wash cloths.

Wash sheets, pillow cases, and towels frequently and in hot water.

When a child does show symptoms of pink eye, visit a doctor right away. Some forms of pink eye will go away on their own, but if left untreated, some pink eye could progress to serious and sight-threatening infections. Follow the doctor's orders and use all the drops or other medications he or she recommends.

Since most children will eventually get a case of pink eye and need medicated drops, a mom can prepare her child for the experience and avoid the drama of prying open the eyelids of a squirming, crying child.

One couple brought their 1-year-old to Amanda's office and showed how they had made their daughter accustomed to eye drops and unafraid of the eye doctor experience.

IMG_0218They bought a bottle of unmedicated, artificial tears for a couple of dollars, like this one from Walmart.

When the baby was only a few months old, Mom and Dad started practicing with using the artificial tears.

"Look. Watch Daddy." Dad dropped a few drops of the artificial tears in his own eye, then dropped a few pain-free drops in the baby's eyes.

The baby blinked and looked surprised, but she did not cry. She didn't squirm, scream, or feel afraid. And Amanda didn't have to help hold a kicking, fighting child.

What suggestions do you have for helping your child use eye drops or medications? What have you done to prepare your child for a visit to the doctor's office?

 

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"Your pregnancy test is positive."

Kelsey heard the news without responding at first. The dim office lights flickered. Outside, the storm thundered and the cold autumn rain pelted the office windows.

"I guess I'm happy," Kelsey finally murmured, "but I have freshman orientation next week."

"What do you need to help you take care of your baby?" the counselor quietly asked.

"Everything," Kelsey answered, her deep sigh drifting up slowly like a faint echo from an empty well.

Sooner or later we all fall down the well of helplessness and need. When we call out that we are overwhelmed and can't continue on our own, God responds and sends the people who can help us out the most.

The people at Birthright answer those calls from women facing unplanned pregnancies. Birthright volunteers respond with free counseling, information, and support to help expectant moms make the best decisions for their children and families.

Kelsey needed provision.

Birthright gave her a bundle of baby blankets, onesies, socks, diapers, and books. The counselor directed her to organizations that donate cribs and car seats. Some Birthright locations help moms with maternity clothes and baby formula.

Kelsey needed information.

Birthright gave her referrals to community services, healthcare clinics, and childcare centers. The counselor helped Kelsey connect to an ongoing network of support that continued to help her after the birth of her baby.

Kelsey needed friendship.

Birthright gave attention to her concerns and acceptance without judgement or pressure. Birthright counselors are trained volunteers who donate their time to offer hope, love, and encouragement to moms in need.

Kelsey came to Birthright on a stormy autumn afternoon. Sooner or later we all face storms that rattle the windows and drench the ground where we stand. Those rains also refill the wells that feed new growth in the spring.

God knows where we are and what we need. He will provide the people to help and shelter us throughout the storms.

Do you know anyone who has been blessed by Birthright? Do you need information on the services Birthright provides? Click here  for office locations, or call 1-800-550-4900 for 24/7 counseling and referrals.

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