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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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dog-740152_1920"Don't jerk the leash," the instructor warned us. "Jerking the leash just makes the dog pull back harder."

Instead, she told us to lure the dog with the promise of treats. Reward the dog whenever she walks on the leash without pulling your arm out of socket.

So we walked the dogs in dizzying circles around the training room, praising them when they behaved, and waiting patiently when they pulled and whined.

I had never before considered the idea that I am leashed to God; but the truth is, he can pull me back into line whenever he wants with one good, hard yank. I have to learn to be content to walk by his side without racing ahead or dragging behind.

We get ahead of God by moving too fast and running beyond his command. Pulling the leash means making choices before we are ready or making decisions without carefully considering and consulting God first. When we break our bonds and race ahead, we risk dashing into dangerous territory and unhealthy situations that threaten our peace and safety.

We fall behind God by denying our potential and refusing to follow the paths he has planned for us. Dragging our feet means refusing to accept the opportunities God delivers or being afraid to face the challenges we need to help us learn and grow. When we have to be tugged reluctantly toward the changes and circumstances God offers, we stop growing and fail to become the people God means for us to be.

If we don't listen to God's cues, we keep trotting around the circle, wondering why we're never off the leash, wondering why our point of view never changes to encompass the broader range of experiences we know could be available to us.

But if we learn to be patient, trust God to lead, and walk calmly by his side; he gives us more freedom and the reward that is waiting at the end of the line.

How do you know when God is telling you to slow down? How do you pick up the pace when you need to catch up with him again?

 

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It's Thanksgiving, so everyone will be posting gratitude lists this week, but I believe we can't have too many reminders of reasons to be grateful.

This year I am thankful for:

Dollar Tree stores

Freshly sharpened pencils

The smell of Play-Doh when I open a new jar

img_0778Electric space heaters that look like cute little stoves

Plenty of good food

And a table to share it

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Friends and family and the love of God who provides for all we need

What are you thankful for this year?

May you have a blessed and beautiful Thanksgiving Day.

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The instructor told the dog to "Stay," then she opened the classroom door. As long as the dog remained sitting, the door stood open. As soon as the dog moved to stand, the door swung closed.

For a while the dog yo-yo'd up and down while the door flapped open and shut. When the dog finally surrendered and sat motionless, the instructor opened the door, said a quiet "Go," and allowed the dog to move.

This exercise is important to teach patient waiting, the instructor explained. Dogs that learn to "Stay" won't lunge forward and bolt through every open door temptation. They are protected from the dangers of speeding traffic and busy streets that threaten outside their shelters. Dogs that learn to "Stay" have to trust they will be allowed to move when it is safe for them to do so.

Lately I've been struggling to hear God's "Stay" or "Go" in my own life. I've debated leaving behind some projects and commitments that I suspect are no longer helping me grow. I see the doors swing open, but I cannot hear the "Go" command nor see what lies on the other side.

God's directions are usually not as clear as a firm "Stay here" or "Go now." God often speaks to us through quiet signs and signals. We have to stop, watch, and listen for the subtle clues and comments that may arrive from unexpected sources.

On the day I planned to quit one job and move on to something new and different, I received a surprise email from a person whose faith I admire and trust.

"I'm proud of the work you're doing," she told me. "I brag about you to all my friends."

Suddenly my work seemed noticed and valuable. Suddenly someone understood and appreciated my efforts.

I think that means I need to stay where I am and be patient a while longer, I decided. I need to keep working and finish all the lessons I need before I'm released to take what I've learned outside. 

Someday I will hear the command to move forward. It may come through another unexpected email, a comment from a friend, or just a feeling of certainty that I can't stay where I am any longer. Meanwhile, I keep listening and learning, so that when the time is right, I will be ready to launch forward through a waiting open door.

How has God told you when it's time to move forward? How does God encourage you when it's time to stay and wait?

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The wide, empty room amplified the rattle of leashes and the snap of plastic clickers. Our first lesson is to make eye contact; call the puppy's name, and when she looks at your face, click the clicker and feed her a treat.

"Here, Archie."

"Here, Baby."

"Hey, Cookie."

The puppies glanced around, confused. Many names, clicks, and voices pulled their attention in every direction. When my puppy happened to look my way, I added my click and "good girl" to the chaos.

I often feel overwhelmed by the clamor of competing voices, all demanding my time and attention. I am frequently distracted by my worries and plans, pulled in opposing directions by the opinions and expectations of others. I often find it difficult to focus my attention and concentrate on following God's plan for my life.

When God's voice gets lost in the background noise, there are a few steps we can take to refocus our gaze and keep us looking in his direction.

Turn down the noise level.

Our days are busy, and crowded schedules make it difficult to be silent, pray, and listen for God's quiet whisper.

God tells us to be still and know that he is God.

I'm planning 15 minutes every morning to just sit, breathe, and be grateful as I approach a new day.

Reduce the input.

We are constantly bombarded by advertising and  media telling us we need to be different to be good enough.

God tells us we are valued because we are created in his image.

I'm cancelling old magazine subscriptions and limiting my TV and Facebook time to reduce the volume of negative messages I receive.

Adjust the environment.

We are surrounded by people who try to tear us down, undermine our successes, and influence us in the wrong directions.

God tells us to choose our friends carefully.

I'm being careful to spend my time with people who build me up, bring positive energy to my life, and work with me to build supportive and nurturing relationships.

The rewards are not always easy to identify. I don't often get a "good girl" and a pat on the head. But I have faith that if I keep trying, keep looking and listening, it will become easier to hear and obey the one who holds the blessings in his hands.

How do you get quiet and listen for God's voice? How do you know you are looking in the right direction?

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