Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Tale of Two Mikes

Thirteen years ago, my husband Michael was in a band called Conduit. The band consisted of him and another guy named Mike, Mike's girlfriend Kristi, and an occasional drummer. The Mikes played acoustic guitars, covered Storyhill and Nanci Griffith songs, and checked into motels to spend unfettered time writing some pretty spectacular original songs together.
 Conduit, 1999. Front row: Michael (my hubby), Kristi,  the other Michael. Back: John the drummer

In the following year, Kristi was my personal attendant and Mike a groomsman in our wedding (we recessed to their beautiful performance of All I Want Is You); then, eight months later, my husband stood up as Mike's best man and I was their wedding planner.

Less than a year after we celebrated those wondrous days, we parted ways, as our friends shared in our church's first church plant. Around that time, my husband and I had begun sensing that God was also calling us to be church planters, but we agreed that this was not the time. We had our own adventures in ministry over the next four years, until we were blessed beyond measure to partner with another couple to start a church in 2006.

Despite their physical distance and separate ministries, the two Mikes stayed in contact over the years. Four years ago, a tragic event in the life of a mutual friend birthed another band, which served as a creative outlet and circle of support. As pastors, they also began meeting a few times a month to check in with and encourage one another. My husband has often referred to Mike as his soul-brother (since I, obviously, am his soul-mate).

And then, exactly one year ago today, during an ordinary morning coffee date, the Mikes shared an extraordinary conversation.

My husband had asked Mike about his recent trip, during which he helped facilitate some conversations and logistics of a church merger. Mike had felt very encouraged in his role, and just generally as a pastor, and shared some of his thoughts with my husband. And then, without planning or warning, Mike found himself saying, "What I really want to do, though, is plant a church with you."

In all their years of friendship, this idea had never been discussed between them, though my husband and I had always believed we would start another church, and this couple was in the forefront of our minds as ideal partners. So without hesitation, my husband affirmed Mike's desire and asked if he had any ideas or interest in a particular location. Mike immediately shared that he and Kristi had a longstanding love for New York City and had been, over the years, looking for an opportunity to minister there.

Now, my husband is a native of California, a lover of the great outdoors and wide open West. He's been to NYC a handful of times, and just two weeks before this meeting with Mike, he had specifically remarked to a friend that he'd "never want to live" there.

But the moment the words came out of Mike's mouth, my husband instantly and irrevocably could not imagine living anywhere else.

I'm not sure how long their conversation lasted, but the moment it ended, both men called their wives, shared this crazy thought, and received immediate (and joyful) YES!'s from both Kristi and me. By the end of the day, the four of us were emailing like giddy schoolchildren, all amazed and slightly afraid of the fact that, in just one conversation, we were suddenly convinced we would uproot our families, our lives, and our current ministries to pursue this God-sized idea.

Many, many more conversations with trusted friends and ministry partners over the last year, as well as two visits to New York City, have firmly convinced us that this is, indeed, what God is calling us to do.  Lord willing, we will all settle in Brooklyn one year from now.


Thirteen years ago, Michael introduced me to Jesus.
He introduced me to Mike, and to Kristi.
We got married. They got married.

None of us had any idea, those years ago, of the joys and disappointments, challenges and blessings, that our marriages and ministries would experience. Through multiple moves, churches, and family circumstances, we had no indication that, one day, in one moment!, the four of us would - seemingly out of nowhere - be called to join together in the adventure of a lifetime.

But GOD knew. He looked on us on our wedding days, watched us share in each other's celebrations, and KNEW the awesome plans that he had for us. Like a generous Father, he must have smiled at his secret and thought, "oh, you haven't seen nothin' yet."


So, what now? There is SO MUCH MORE to the story!

  • Would you PRAY FOR US? Today, we are beginning 40 days of prayer and fasting. Contact me if you'd like to know specific requests during this time. 
  • Can we share our vision with you? We love talking about God's work in and call on our lives. Contact me if you'd like to share a meal or a coffee date with us to hear all the exciting details, hopes, and plans that we have for NYC.
  • And, you know, we'll be selling our house...soon. Contact me if you're looking for a great home in South Minneapolis!  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Location, Location, Location

Location is everything. Especially when it comes to giving birth.

If you've taken the time to envision what your best birth experience looks like, then you must also do the research to determine where you have the most likely chance to achieve your vision. In my state, women have three viable options for giving birth.

In a Hospital
Contrary to popular strategy, I highly recommend choosing a hospital before choosing a doctor or midwife. The reason for this is simple: if you deliver your baby in a hospital, then the majority of your care during labor will be determined by the hospital's standard procedures and administered by the nurses on duty, NOT by your primary physician. Most of the time, the doctor shows up when the mother is ready to push the baby out, i.e., at the very end of labor. It is the hospital's policies and the hospital's nurses who can dramatically affect the course your labor will take.

Take time to research and tour the various hospitals in your area. Ask questions related to anything that can influence labor and delivery, including the rate of interventions and cesarean sections, if the hospital has a "time limit" on how long a woman is allowed to labor, if a birth tub is available (for waterbirth), policies regarding eating and drinking during labor, the hospital's feelings about doulas, and any after-care concerns. Personal recommendations from friends who have had positive hospital births can also inform your choice.

Hospital policies vary greatly so I cannot stress the importance of doing thorough research enough. For example, in my city, one hospital has a 37% rate of c-sections (the national average is 32.8%) and an 80% rate of any intervention. This means that, in this hospital, only 2 out of 10 women give birth naturally and more than 1 in 3 births end in c-section. But less than 10 miles away is another hospital with a 13% cesarean rate and only a 30% rate of intervention. In that hospital, 7 out of 10 women achieve a natural birth and just slightly more than 1 in 10 end in c-section. Two hospitals, within 10 miles of each other, yet with radically different birth statistics.

Know the type of labor experience you want. Know the hospital that is most likely to provide it.

In a Birth Center
Birth centers are more recently appearing in my area and provide a home-like experience with some of the privileges of a hospital birth. Birth centers provide a private bedroom where mothers can wear their own clothing and labor in any way that is comfortable for them, including in a tub (where they can also choose to give birth). Centers can be staffed by midwives and nurses who often have privileges at a nearby hospital in case of a need to transfer.

Birth centers are an excellent option for moms who want to labor naturally within a more comfortable home setting, as no interventions are available in the center. The midwife who is on-call when a mom begins her labor will stay with the mom through the entire birth, providing a consistent presence and care for the delivery. Some centers are overseen by or work in partnership with obstetricians, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists as needed so that parents have access to services similar to hospital births.

If you know that you want a natural birth experience and holistic midwifery care but are hesitant to be out of a hospital, find out if there are birth centers in your area. Again, just like hospitals, the policies and staff vary from center to center, so it is important to research, tour, and talk to the various centers available. Also, since birth centers are relatively new, some insurance companies do not cover the costs of labor and delivery, so be sure to check with your insurance provider if money is a concern.

Or, Give Birth at Home!
Homebirth deserves a post all of its own, especially since it is near and dear to my heart and yet incredibly misunderstood by the majority public. In some states, homebirth is not a legal option, but for those where it is possible, I highly encourage any woman who wants a natural and empowering birth experience to consider this a valid option.

Let me state clearly, however, that homebirth is not for everyone. By this I mean that, unlike hospital births, homebirth mothers and midwives actually self-select in order to achieve the best possible outcome. Homebirth midwives, just like hospitals and birth centers, vary in their experience and comfort level with risk factors involved with births. A mother's personal health history, previous births or miscarriages, and current health during pregnancy may preclude her from being able to have a homebirth. Additionally, at any time during prenatal care, if a midwife feels that the mother or child is at risk, she will (or should) refer the mom to an obstetrician for more involved care.

With all that said, however, if you are a healthy mom with a low-risk pregnancy who wants the comfort and control of delivering her baby naturally, then you are an excellent candidate for homebirth. Some benefits of homebirth include being assured that the same pair of midwives who care for you during pregnancy will be present for your baby's birth; an increased involvement of the baby's father (just ask my husband - homebirth is alot of work for the dad!); and the security of your own familiar environment during labor. Not to mention the fact that you are guaranteed a natural delivery, unless you transport to a hospital.

The point is, where you choose to have your baby will impact how you have your baby - and how you may feel about yourself and your experience afterwards. Take the time to understand the options available to you and to imagine the possible outcomes at the locations you investigate. This is your body, your baby, and your birth experience; you deserve to make a choice that is most comfortable to you and which allows you to be in charge of the route your experience will take. Even though we cannot predict the type of labor we will have, we can plan the place where it will happen. And that decision lays the foundation for all of the choices we will (or will not) have once labor actually begins. Choose wisely!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Begin with the End in Mind

1. Get pregnant
2. Find a doctor
3. Write a birth plan
4. Give birth at the doctor's preferred hospital

In general, this is the order in which most women approach their pregnancies and birth experiences. But, in my opinion, this is completely backwards. 

Consider how we usually approach other major life decisions. For example, how did you decide where to attend college? Realizing that factors such as cost and distance from home come into play, we still usually select a school based on our long-term goals. Our process looks more like this:

1. Decide on a career
2. Determine what undergraduate/graduate work needs to be accomplished to pursue this career
3. Research and choose a school with a good program in this field

Generally speaking, we make the most important decisions in our lives based on the end goal. So my advice to women who want a positive birth experience is to begin with the end in mind.

1. Have a birth plan - what does my best birth look like?
2. Research and choose the location that is most likely to achieve this experience
3. Research and choose a caregiver that supports this plan

My next post(s) will discuss points #2 and #3 but right now I'd like to focus on #1 - dreaming about the best possible birth experience.

I believe it's important to visualize and articulate the most ideal birth experience for you because this goal can and should inform all the other decisions you make regarding your prenatal and labor care. In order to do this, though, you must begin by reflecting on how you perceive pregnancy and birth. What comes to mind when you hear the term "labor"? What worries you the most about being pregnant and/or giving birth? How do you feel about becoming a parent? 

While there are probably many resources to facilitate such reflection, I highly recommend the book Birthing from Within, written by a registered nurse and certified nurse midwife. This book treats childbirth as an act of self-discovery and provides some phenomenal (often artistic) exercises such as journaling, meditation, and painting to help women analyze their thoughts and fears surrounding pregnancy and birth, as well as a discussion on labor techniques and the role of the doctor/midwife and father.

As you analyze the values and desires you have about giving birth, you can then begin to decide what type of experience you want to have and determine what factors need to be in place to achieve this goal. This includes your opinions about various drugs, labor positions and birthing options (such as waterbirth), who will be present, and how you want to deliver your baby. 

I highly suggest talking to other mothers about the choices they made, why they made those decisions, and what they may have done differently. Watch the incredible documentaries The Business of Being Born and Orgasmic Birth. Read books about pregnancy and birth (my absolute favorite is Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, which is definitely bent towards natural birth but includes birth stories, practical advice, and the full range of information regarding birth practices).

The point is, be informed about birth before you make decisions related to it. Even if you are already pregnant and seeing a doctor, if you discover new information and want to make a different decision about your care, you can change your mind.

For all of you moms out there - what other advice or resources do you suggest for yet-to-be-mothers? What do you wish you had known before you were pregnant/gave birth?