Book review: Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

NOTE: I was given an advance copy of the book Hannah, Delivered (affiliate link) in exchange for my honest opinion. Review and opinions below are my own.

"There's three things to learn about labor. It's work. It hurts a lot. And you can do it." - Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

When I got an email from a publisher with the subject line “Midwife Fiction”, you know that I was in! I am a bit of a natural birth junkie. I just love to hear how women learn to trust their bodies and how they discover their strength through childbirth. I actually visited my midwife just last week for my annual checkup and fell in love again with the entire practice. The old Victorian house, the cloth robe and cover, the corner of the exam room filled with toys for the kids, the comfy chairs I sat in while we chatted, with the sunlight streaming in the huge windows…So far removed from what I’ve heard about OB/GYN offices. I just love sharing the stories of my first natural birth and my second natural birth.

The mind-body connection espoused by midwifery is not so far removed from what we practice in yoga. The book that I was given a chance to read definitely delivered (if you will excuse the pun) on that reality. The book is called Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew (affiliate link) and it is about a young woman on her journey to become a midwife. She has built a safe, secure life for herself working in an administrative position at a hospital and one evening is called to assist in a birth. She accidentally ends up catching the baby and BAM! catches the midwifery bug. She will have to leave everything she knows: her job, her relationship, her state, and her security to train as a midwife, only to return to practice in a town where midwifery is only barely legal. Is that how this really happens? BAM!, just like that? To a woman who has never been a mother herself? I am not sure. I didn’t know much about birth, myself, until I read the book Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born by Tina Cassidy (affiliate link) almost 10 years ago. Shortly after, I also read Taking Charge Of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (affiliate link). To say those two books shook up my idea of what my body was capable of and how our society has treated women would be an understatement. Some of these same injustices, mistrust, and misinformation are touched on in Hannah, Delivered. It is plausible that activism is a response to correct a wrong. But more importantly, Hannah’s journey to midwifery is a journey that has a goal of creating what is right: assisting women in the positive aspects of birth and allowing them to be free. The book is about how Hannah delivers herself from her old ideas of what she “should” be or isn’t, and allows herself to be born into what she is meant to be. She struggles with her place in the world as well as her own spirituality and the spirituality of her parents. It’s definitely not a Christian book, as the main character remains agnostic throughout the book. But I did not feel uncomfortable with it as a Christian, either. The Christ-followers in the book were presented in a positive and loving way.

The characters in the book were believable and I found myself caring what happened to them. There was enough of a twist for me to wonder what was going to happen, but enough of a reassurance that I didn’t feel the need to skip to the end to keep from getting anxious (not that I ever do that…) . I also found the end satisfying, unlike some of our recent Book Club books. I would happily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys good fiction, whether or not you are a natural birth junkie.

Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

So if you’re getting ready to build your summer book list, add Hannah, Delivered — and let me know what you think!

Being Conscientious During Christmas

Ever since a few years ago when we kind of cancelled Christmas due to a housing situation, we haven’t looked at Christmas the same way. That year, we had not one but 2 Secret Santa boxes show up at our door and bless our children with gifts. Neither that year or even last year did we actually buy our children gifts from us. They had plenty to open thanks to BlogHer toys and toys from their grandparents and other family. I can guarantee you that a (then) 1 and 3 year old never noticed the difference between 4 toys and 14 toys. And even this year at 2 and 4 years old, we will continue to share with them that Christmas is not about getting, but about giving. Last year we even had the opportunity to be a Secret Santa to another family in a situation similar to ours.

I shared on my blog Facebook page this graphic from my friend Stephanie:

The fact that stores are even open on Thanksgiving day this year, forcing already low income workers to go to work instead of spending time with their families, is a sign of our severe consumption addiction in this country. We are not even willing to let retailers rest. We are asking them to serve us rather than thinking about who we can serve in our own abundance. Something I want us all to stop and think about.

Operation Christmas Child

If you’re looking for a way to give back this season, one thing we have enjoyed doing as a family and with our community group is Operation Christmas Child. Run by the nonprofit ministry Samaritan’s Purse, this program distributes shoebox-sized boxes to needy children across the globe. The fun part is that you get to pick the age range and gender of a child and fill the box with suggested items for them. My kids have had so much fun participating in this each year! Our boxes just went out today, through our church — we save on shipping if we send them all together.

There are a lot of different ways that you can abstain from consumerism and instead opt to give back. Will you take your “down” time this holiday to think about how you can turn the tide in your own family?

Yoga without sanskrit?

Elephants checking that this book's got the Sanskrit vowels right
photo courtesy of florriebassingbourn, flickr

I have this crazy dream that one day, when my kids are in school, I will do my 200 hour certification to become an adult yoga instructor. Who knows if by that time I will still have the energy to do 200 hours of anything! Aside from the time committment, there is one thing that I worry about the yoga instructor process: learning sanskrit.

I’ll admit, I was first introduced to yoga 12 years ago in a class at a gym. As you can imagine, classes at a big national gym chain are pretty generic. There isn’t a lot of meditation, there isn’t talk of “the energy we are creating”, and there was very little use of the sanskrit names for poses. But the great thing about yoga classes in a gym is that people who might otherwise never step into a yoga studio are exposed to the strength, balance, and beauty of yoga. It was just what I needed at that time in my life and I’ve been in love with the practice ever since.

When I finally branched out and started attending classes at yoga studios, there was a little bit of a learning curve. I was accustomed to warrior pose, table post, chair pose, cobra pose, wheel pose….now instructors were throwing out words like virabhadrasana, ardha purvottanasana, utkatasana, bhujangasana, and urdhva dhanurasana.

I seriously had to cut and paste those pose names just now, you guys, because…whaa??

In the last 6 months I’ve been taking Ashtanga classes sporadically. In Ashtanga, there is a set flow and the instructor often counts in sanskrit and uses NO conventional Americanized names for the poses at all. I feel like a dork and I have to watch the people around me.

To further complicate matters, I teach yoga to kids 3-4 times a week. With kids, we ONLY use the Americanized names. The ones I learned early in my practice. Because a chair makes sense to a kid, but utkatasana means nothing at all and is impossible for a 3 year old to pronounce. I also teach Pilates on the Megaformer several times a week, in which boat pose (or navasana) is actually called Angel Facing The Back.

Can you see why I have a problem??

Nevertheless, I have this internal impression that I’m just not a “real” yogi unless I can remember all the sanskrit names. In fact, sometimes I blank out on even the American names.

What do you think? Is knowing the sanskrit names, counting in sanskrit, etc. necessary to be a “real” yogi?

What is orthorexia? Do I struggle with it?

what is orthorexia: a fixation on righteous eating

The first time I heard the term “orthorexia”, I Googled “what is orthorexia?” and found very little information aside from a short Wikipedia article. That was probably 4-6 months ago. Just last month, I decided to try to pinpoint the origins of my stomach problems by keeping a photo food journal. The ridiculousness that this effort created inside my own head had me Googling “orthorexia” again. This time, I got significantly more results, from reputable sources such as the National Eating Disorders Association and The Mayo Clinic. It sounds like this disorder is starting to be recognized as valid in the health and medical community.

Some of the definitions of this disorder I agree with, and some I don’t.

We DO need to be careful about what we eat.

The facts are, a huge portion of our food supply is undeniably contaminated by genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), pesticides, lead, and antibiotics fed to animals whose meat, eggs, and dairy we consume. So it is actually important to be aware of the risks and make wise choices, such as eating organic vegetables that are in the EWG Dirty Dozen and trying to stick to organic milk products. The risk can be reduced by a great deal just by taking these simple steps and attempting to eat foods that are as close to nature’s original product as possible. So when articles like the one from The Mayo Clinic claim that people who attempt to avoid toxins at all actually have a mental disorder…I’m sorry, but that is just not true.

But then it starts to get complicated.

A large portion of the population is gluten intolerant. There are nut allergies. Have you heard that dairy is only for baby cows? I have. Over and over. But how “natural” is it for us to take a coconut and smash it up, process it, and call it “milk”? Soy is almost always a GMO product, so we need to avoid that, too. And unless you know how that cow, pig, or chicken lived its life you probably shouldn’t eat it either, because it could be full of antibiotics and GMO corn. Fruits and vegetables might be nearly impossible to buy organic at an affordable price in the winter months, but how else are you going to make your green smoothies? And what about the carbon footprint of those organic berries you buy in December? Should you even be supporting that kind of waste? You can stick to nuts and seeds, but how were they sourced? Are they ecologically responsible, fair-trade, and did you buy them in plastic containers that might have leeched chemicals into them?

The body needs nutrients, but there are reasons we “shouldn’t” eat nearly every item in our fridge or pantry.

When you start to get (too) informed about how and what kind of foods you “can” and “can’t” eat, it starts to consume the mind. Or, at least it does for me.

Here are some signs of orthorexia, according to the National Eating Disorder Association:

  • Do you wish that occasionally you could just eat and not worry about food quality?
  • Do you ever wish you could spend less time on food and more time living and loving?
  • Does it seem beyond your ability to eat a meal prepared with love by someone else – one single meal – and not try to control what is served?
  • Are you constantly looking for ways foods are unhealthy for you?
  • Do love, joy, play and creativity take a back seat to following the perfect diet?
  • Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
  • Do you feel in control when you stick to the “correct” diet?
  • Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?

The best way to illustrate what goes on in the mind of someone who is at least borderline orthorexic is for me to give you a little window into my thought process when I think about whether to eat a peanut butter sandwich.

What goes on in the mind of an orthorexic person when considering a peanut butter sandwich.

The bread – It’s a carb. Carbs are bad (fitness instructor part of my brain). If it’s processed, it contains GMO oils and who knows where the grains came from. Fortunately, I make my own bread so I know where all the ingredients came from and there is no refined sugar. Still, it has gluten. I’m not gluten intolerant, but all the crunchy people tell me gluten is bad. How many times have I had gluten today? At this point I start considering putting peanut butter and jelly on a tortilla, but I hate corn tortillas and flour tortillas have all the same problems.

Peanut butter – If my only option was a traditional brand like Jif, I’d rather starve, honestly. It’s so full of hydrogenated oils, added sugar, and even high fructose corn syrup that I wouldn’t put it into my mouth. My peanut butter here at home is just plain peanuts, smashed up. No oil, no sugar, nothing added. Still, I’ll be thinking in my head about how many times I’ve had peanut butter today. If I’ve had any peanuts at all, I might talk myself into almond butter instead, even though I don’t like the way it tastes, because my naturopath told me that eating the same thing too often causes food intolerances. There are no peanut allergies on either side of my family, but still. Paranoia.

Jelly – Honestly, jelly has a lot of sugar in it so sometimes I just go straight to honey because honey is a more natural form of sugar. Jelly is usually made from a berry, and berries are in the EWG Dirty Dozen, so I won’t eat them unless they’re organic. If my only option for jelly was conventional jelly with all the high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, and non-organic fruit, I’d refuse to eat it. That’s not even a food, I’d say to myself. The jelly we buy is actually jam and it’s organic, but it does have added sugar, so often I just choose local honey.

Is that normal? Do I have orthorexia?

I am not sure if I would say it is full blown, but I definitely have a tendency toward it.

I’m no stranger to addictions, as I consider myself to be in lifelong recovery from several of them. Addictions don’t go away. Addiction is the state that your mind returns to if you don’t deal with the other things in your life in a healthy way. My #1 addition is CONTROL. And orthorexia, like anorexia or bulimia, is about control. Attempting to control my own health, and on a larger scale, my life. The only way to deny the power of the addiction is to release control. According to the 12 Steps, we release it to our Higher Power. In my case, God.

Ongoing maintenance for an addiction, once you have gone through the 12 Steps (which I have, for other things), is to make sure you avoid triggers. For an alcoholic, not going into bars is a good idea. A lot of times, people with anorexia/bulimia need to stop weighing themselves, at least for a time. For me, I can’t do food logs. It’s a horrible idea because it causes me to judge myself and to open myself to judgement from others who don’t have the same caloric or nutritional needs as me.

Everyone’s body is different. It’s OK for me not to eat like you do. It’s OK that you don’t eat like I do. I believe these things in my heart. In my mind, it doesn’t always work.

Eating awareness, Day 1

I had quite a lot of stomach problems about 7 years ago, before having children. I’d had them all my life but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I realized that most people do NOT feel sick all day long. Going vegetarian helped some, as meat seems to be the #1 way to make my stomach upset. But I was still living with cramping, bloating, nausea, and what I call “churniness”, every day, regardless of diet. For years my MD had told me that I probably just had stress ulcers, but didn’t offer anything except “be less stressed” or go onto OTC meds (which did NOTHING). Then I went to a GI doctor who put me on several food elimination trials and did an endoscopy . He found no signs of me ever having ulcers or reflux There was no scarring on my stomach wall or esophagus as there would have been from either of those. Despite the fact that there was no sign of anything wrong, he diagnosed me with GERD (gastroesophagal reflux disease) and put me on a prescription medication. I think I was on these for 2-3 years. When I became pregnant with my first child, I went off the medication cold turkey….and found that I didn’t need it! When I had reflux during my pregnancies, which didn’t occur often, I would just take papaya enzyme for my GERD. Or whatever it was.

Since I was pregnant and breastfeeding back-to-back for around 3 years, I didn’t really have to worry much about the GERD coming back. The hormones seemed to keep everything in fine working order! But now that my youngest is 2.5…it’s baaaack. Good times. Oh, cramping, bloating, nausea, and churniness — I did not miss you.

Only now I am not interested in prescription medications. I am not interested in masking the symptoms. My body is trying to tell me something and I want to know what it is.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources right now to do electrodermal screening, which I think would probably provide a lot of answers. Side rant: why the heck won’t my insurance pay for EDS? It will pay for unlimited years of $40/month prescription meds with side effects that would cause me to go on MORE meds, but it won’t pay for $800 in treatment that would take care of everything at once? Health care in the U.S. is stupid.

Anyway.

The only thing I can do is wait for an appointment with a slightly holistic doctor in our area who takes our insurance and doesn’t have a new patient appointment until the end of November. I get to feel this way until after Thanksgiving. HOORAY.

Meanwhile, I am taking several supplements (future post? perhaps.), going to the chiropractor every two weeks, and experimenting with a higher calorie and higher fat diet. I am starting to suspect that the amount of calories I burn doing and teaching Megaformer classes 5 times a week is exceeding the amount of calories I am taking in. In essence, my body might be attempting to burn muscle and other needed resources for fuel when it doesn’t have enough. All I know is that my stomach feels better when it’s full (just like it does in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, for me).

Obviously, this is just a theory, but I have been really trying to consciously eat enough to keep myself from severe hunger symptoms. Yesterday, I took a picture of every item of food I ate. You might notice that there is some absolute crap in here because I ran out of the house in a hurry several times and did not pack snacks. Hey, I’m just being honest!

What I ate one day, in pictures (Day 1)Related notes:

After drinking the kefir smoothie at 8:30am, I felt horrible all morning. REALLY BAD. All the nausea, cramping, churniness.

I became rabidly hungry by 10am (as usual) but we were at a children’s consignment sale and I had given all the snacks in my purse to my kids and not brought anything for myself. Hence the bad-for-me drive-thru smoothie at 11:30am

I felt a little better after lunch, had to lie down while the kids napped because the cramping was so bad. It makes me very tired also.

I was at a friend’s house after dinner and all she had was cookies. Since I get ravenous every 2-3 hours, I had to eat 2 cookies while I was there.

Obviously I made poor choices after 8pm. I went to bed feeling bloated.

And yes, I have been tested for celiac and it came up negative. I have also done gluten elimination and it made me feel WORSE. Any time I take carbs out of my diet, the churiness part of the problem becomes overwhelming. REALLY BAD. I cannot express to you. Seriously. I cannot live with it. So do not leave me comments about being gluten intolerant. I cannot handle the amount of churniness. My son is gluten sensitive so we have plenty of gluten-free options around the house but they make me feel horrible. Weighing my stomach down seems to be the best treatment for the churniness portion. Has no effect on the cramping, though.

So there we are. Still on the journey, no end in sight yet. This post isn’t informative or helpful, as far as most of my posts often go, but I wanted to bring all my readers in on this journey with me (haha, you had no choice! You didn’t know I would be doing this!), because I think you are all very wise.

I’d love to hear your experiences, suggestions, and ideas!