by Robyn

How a Prisoner of War Story Helped Me Prepare for Birth

January 20, 2016 in Adversity, Book, Depression, Faith, Fear, Gratitude, Guest Post, Jesus Christ, joy, Missions, Motherhood, Pain, Postpartum Depression, Pregnancy, Preparation, Robyn, Savior, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Waiting by Robyn

American and Filipino prisoners of war captured by the Japanese are shown at the start of the Death March after the surrender of Bataan on April 9 near Mariveles in the Philippines in 1942 during World War II. Starting on April 10 from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Penisula, 70,000 POWs were force-marched to Camp O'Donnell, a new prison camp 65 miles away. (AP Photo)

American and Filipino prisoners of war captured by the Japanese are shown at the start of the Death March after the surrender of Bataan on April 9 near Mariveles in the Philippines in 1942 during World War II. Starting on April 10 from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Penisula, 70,000 POWs were force-marched to Camp O’Donnell, a new prison camp 65 miles away. (AP Photo)

 

I want to thank my friend Natalie for this beautiful post.  We became friends because of our mutual love for birth but beyond that Natalie really is a beautiful person inside and out.  –Robyn


I am currently “overdue” with my FIFTH boy. Yes, my fifth. There are no girls among them. That’s a lot of boys. And oh how I love them. 
And after all these boys, I am a bit experienced, in my own experience at least.  And that is why I have been so scared recently. Yes, scared to bring home another baby because I know what could possibly be coming along with him.  Finally, after going through 4 newborn phases, I’ve figured out that I usually get a good case of post partum OCD/anxiety. After I give birth, I really struggle with the newborn phase. I struggle with scary and intrusive thoughts, anxiety, lots of crying, irrational fears…… which result in guilt, embarrassment, shame, and feelings of failure, for a few months.  I’ve had some hard times. I know that there are a lot of mamas out there who also have hard times after their babies arrive. Oh how we love our babies, but we don’t love what the hormones that come along with them, can do to us.  And there are many mamas who go through much more intense experiences than I do –especially with post partum depression that can last for many, many months.
My poor little soon-to-be baby boy.  I am so excited to meet him, but I have not felt ready to jump into that phase of life again.  And yes, I’m over 40 weeks!  What 40 week pregnant woman isn’t asking every other mom what she can do to encourage her baby’s eviction!?  Me. I’ve been over here chanting… “Not quite yet. Not quite yet.”  So even before he’s here, I’ve already felt guilty for not being ready.
But that all changed a couple of days ago. On my actual “due date,” we had the adult session for our stake conference.  I decided to go, even though I’m at that phase where I just want to hibernate and not socialize or be seen in public. Yet, I knew it would probably be good for me to be spiritually fed. So I changed into my maxi skirt, told my husband to pull on my boots for me, and off we went.
I have been trying really hard to get emotionally and mentally prepared for this next phase.  I also have been constantly reminding myself that I have overcome it before, and I can overcome it again.  I’ve prayed and have continually given myself pep talks and positive affirmations.  I’ve been trying, but had not quite conquered the fear of the future. Earlier that day, I had broken down into tears, while telling my sister-in-laws how nervous I was to care for another baby. 
But we made the trek through the snow to our stake center. And on this night, a special story really struck me. Yes, a story about a man who was a prisoner of war.  I will share most of the story, but you can read the full article on LDS Living:

“When my father, Alfred R. Young, was liberated from a Japanese POW camp at the end of World War II, he weighed 90 lbs.—scrawny for any man, but skeletal for someone 6 feet 3 inches tall. His weight, however, was only ashadow of concern compared to his mental and emotional condition after 39 months of wartime captivity. He endured two hellship voyages; physical, mental and emotional starvation; innumerable beatings; forced labor; disease; psychological abuse; isolation; and six months of Allied bombing raids that eventually obliterated his prison camp, devastated Tokyo and Yokohama, and killed many of the men who had become his brothers.
His physical internment ended in 1945, but Dad was still a captive almost eight years later when I was born. I knew he was a captive because Icould see he was somewhere else, walled up inside the sternness of his countenance. I knew it because I could see emptiness in the depths of his eyes.
One of those pictures was a close-up of a man completely alone, whose eyes were so deeply set that sunlight could not reach them. I can still remember my amazement upon learning that the man in the picture was my father.
In 1939, Dad had enlisted in the US Army Air Corps and was bound for Fort McDowell near San Francisco. From there, he was sent to Clark Field—an air base on Luzon Island in the Philippines.
Dad’s enlistment required only two years of duty overseas, but by 1941, America was preparing for war and his return to the States was canceled. Consequently, on December 8, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dad endured the terrible destruction that swept over Clark Field, doing to America’s air power in the Pacific what had just been done to its navy. Before the war was two days old, Dad had lost two bombers and was the sole survivor of his crew.
Christmas 1941 found him in a foxhole on an island named Bataan. In the dead of night, his outfit was split up and he was assigned to a group that boarded an inner island cruiser. He was assigned to a machine gun post on the Pulangi River among the iguanas and head hunters.
For four months, he watched planeload after planeload of American officers and men evacuating from the Del Monte Air Field just a few miles tothe north. As a bombardier, he should have been aboard, but the call never came. One morning, he and his men awoke to discover that their officers had vanished in the night. Those left behind survived on worm infested rice, lived off the land, traded with the More people, and eventually retreated into the hills.
Life as a Prisoner
When his command surrendered in May 1942, he passed through thegate of a makeshift prison camp at Malabalay. From there he was among prisonersloaded into what would become known as a hellship and was taken to Manila’s in famous Bilibid Prison. From Bilibid, he and thousands of other prisoners were loaded into the holds of unmarked freighters bound for hard labor in Japan to drive the Imperial machinery of war.
Climbing down the metal ladders into the dark holds of those ships, prisoners were forced at rifle butt onto cargo shelves where they crawled in darkness toward the bulkhead. Dad descended until nothing but the naked rivets and rough joinery of the hull separated him from the murky waters of Manila Bay. In the deep shadows, he crawled through the prisoners, already packed intothe hold like bodies without coffins, until he came to the small wedge of a space where the curvature of the hull met the underside of a cargo shelf. The hatch closed. Darkness swallowed him.
Cradled in cold steel and stifling stench, groaning men with dysentery and other diseases lived and died around him in their own waste. It was impossible to know whether the shadowy forms around him were still men, orcorpses. The only reprieve was waiting on deck in the long lines for the over-the-side latrines that had to serve nearly 2,000 prisoners.
Because the freighters were unmarked, during their journey they came under Allied submarine attack. Dad watched, with the rest of the men inline, none of whom had a life jacket, as the captain tried to out-maneuver white tufted torpedo trails that claimed more than 3,000 prisoners. Fortunately, Dad’s ship escaped such a fate.
Not until the prisoners aboard the Tottori Maru were unloaded in Busan and hosed down on the docks like cattle, were all the dead discovered inthe holds. From Busan they sailed for Mojiand. Dad was sent to a labor camp on the island of Kawasaki in Yokohama’s waterfront industrial area.
There he endured steel gray days of disease, deprivation, starvation, forced labor, humiliation, beatings, and the constant threat of death for more than three years. He worked at the nearby steel mill, brick factory, railroadyard, and docks.
Reading material in the camp was scarce. He read Robin Hood so many  times he never wanted to see it again. Commenting one day to a fellow prisoner about how glad he would be for anything new to read, Jim Nelson, a young man from Utah, said he had a book he would gladly loan to him, but it was about religion. Dad exclaimed that he was desperate enough to read anything. Anything!
With the book in hand, Dad took it to the mat where he slept, sat down cross-legged under his blanket and began his first reading of the Book of Mormon. Much to his delight, it was not a book about religion, it was a story.
In fact, it was a story about a family, and memories of childhood and family were something that had already saved his life through the long ordeal of captivity. Whether it was the dreariness of meaningless labor or surviving the kicks and fists of his captors, he escaped into his memories of home, and in the Book of Mormon he found himself suddenly in a family with a bunch of rough and rowdy kids who acted just like his five brothers and two sisters.
Before the story was 10 pages old, the neighbors had tried to kill the father, the family had left home, wealth, and comfort behind to cross a wilderness, and the boys were swept up in a quest. And it was an exciting onethat resulted in theft of the family fortune, assault and battery on the youngest brother, beheading a corrupt military commander, subterfuge (complete with costume), kidnapping a servant, and smuggling a priceless treasure out of town in the dead of night. Whether or not the book had any religious significance, it was one walloping good tale!
After completing the Book of Mormon, Dad asked if there were other books like it that Jim would let him read. Jim admitted he had another book, but he really didn’t think Dad would like it. Dad pleaded, however, and excitedly returned to his mat and his blanket to lose himself once again, this time in the pages of something called the Doctrine and Covenants. When he finally finished, Jim wanted to know what Dad thought. Dad replied thoughtfully: “It’s very well-written, but the plot is lousy.”
Liberation at Last
From October 1944 through July 1945, as Allied air strikes intensified over Tokyo and Yokohama, Dad lived in the crosshairs of Allied bombsights that widened their circle of terror night after night and then day after day, killing  many friends and forcing him to dispose of their remains while assigned to body-burning work details.
Liberation finally came on August 29, 1945. In the chaos of release, Dad lost track of Jim. In fact, he tried to lose track of everything stained with the memory of his time as a POW. However, he crammed a  duffle bag with  belongings and memories he wanted to forget and put Jim’s books  on top of everything else.
On his way home, Dad kept leaving the duffle bag behind from ship to ship and port to port, trying to lose it. But from Tokyo Bay to Tulsa, it kept turning up, always a few days or weeks behind. But those were days for forgetting. The world had changed. Dad was out of step and anxious to make up for lost years. So the books followed him through his re-enlistment, marriage, a promising career in nuclear weapons, and the death of a daughter.
The books were still there when I was born in Albuquerque in 1953. Owing to the loss of their daughter, my parents feared to even hope that they might bring me home from the hospital, but I survived. And after a year, they began to look farther ahead, wanting to offer me a better home environment than they knew how to create. Those were days before post-traumatic stress had a name, and Dad was still captive to the ghosts of Kawasaki, disabling headaches, paralyzing dreams, alcoholism, and other disabilities resulting from the beatings, psychological abuse, and starvation.
Faced with a crisis of parenting, Dad remembered the Book of Mormon and the talks he had had with Jim about the Church. So he looked up the Church in the phone book and left a message asking that the missionaries drop by. Time passed, the message was lost, and the missionaries never came; at least, not in response to the phone message.
Weeks later, however, two full-time missionaries, traveling through our neighborhood en route to their tracting area, decided to try just one more door before going home for dinner.  They picked out our little house in the middle of the block. No one answered the doorbell; Mother was in the backyard and Dad wasn’t home from work.  But as the two missionaries mounted their bikes and were about to leave, Dad, who had worked a lot of overtime recently and had decided to come home early that afternoon, pulled into the driveway. Ignorant of Dad’s message asking that the missionaries drop by, they  introduced themselves.  Dad replied: “It’s about time. We’ve been waiting for you.”
Mother and Dad were baptized in the spring of 1956. In August ofthe following year, our little family was sealed in the Los Angeles Temple. On the way back to Albuquerque, we stopped in Reno, Nevada. Dad had had no contact with Jim Nelson since the war but had heard he was living in Nevada.
We stopped at a pay phone and Dad found a listing for James Nelson. A phone call and a brief conversation with Mrs. Nelson confirmed that it was the same Jim Nelson who had been a prisoner of war in Japan, but he was still at work. We drove to the Nelson home and were sitting in the living room when Jim got there. The reunion was everything that could be wished, but nothing was said about the Church. Nothing, that is, until Dad reached down to pick up the two books he had hidden on the floor beside the couch.
“Jim,” he said as he lifted the volumes into view, “We’re on our way home from the LA Temple where we’ve been sealed and thought we’d drop by to return your books.”
Until the day Dad died, in 2012, he was true to what many people have heard him say: “If what I went through was the only way I could receive the Book of Mormon, I would do it all again—even knowing beforehand what Iwould have to endure—just to have that book.”
Wow. Wow. What an amazing story.  What a HARD experience.  I sat there feeling grateful for the blessedlife that I live, and for the challenges that I have, even though some trials may be difficult.  And then it hit me.
“If what I’ve gone through is the only way I could have received my children in this life, I would/will do it all again – even knowing beforehand what I would/will have to endure – just to have my precious children.”
 
And just like that, something clicked in my mind and in my heart.  I wondered if there was a time when I was accepting my life’s mission as a Mother, where I told Heavenly Father the same sort of thing. That I was willing to go through such hardships, to bring my children to me in this earth life. Somewhere, sometime, I just might have agreed to this.  I know I can do it. I know it’s worth it. I know I’ll have another beautiful little soul to love and who will love me for many years to come. To enrich and bless my life. To teach me. To help me grow, and who can live with the rest of our family forever and ever. What a blessing. And I will go through what I need to go through, to have him in my life.
How especially blessed am I to know of God’s love for me. That He will be there for me, if these times are difficult, and if I have to go through the hardships of newborn life. I had someone remind me of a beautiful song, that I could apply to my post partum period.  I love it so much – it’s been in my head ever since. I want to share the words that strengthen me, even when I feel like my world is falling apart.  The song is “MyKindness Shall Not Depart from Thee,” written by Rob Gardner.  You can listen to it on this link .
Though thine afflictions seem
At times too great to bear,
I know thine every thought and everycare.
And though the very jaws
Of hell gape after thee I am with thee.
 
And with everlasting mercy will I succor thee,
And with healing will I take thee ‘neath my wings.
Though the mountains shall depart,
And the hills shall be removed,
And the valleys shall be lost beneath the sea,
Know, my child,
My kindness shall not depart from thee!
 
The Son of Man hath descended below all things.
Art thou greater than He?
 
So hold on thy way,
For I shall be with thee.
And mine angels shall encircle thee.
Doubt not what thou knowest,
Fear not man, for he
Cannot hurt thee.
 
And with everlasting kindness will Isuccor thee,
And with mercy will I take thee ‘neath mywings.
For the mountains shall depart,
And the hills shall be removed,
And the valleys shall be lost beneath the sea,
But know, my child,
My kindness shall not depart from thee!
 
You can watch the music video here:

 

 

Kindness – Paul Cardall – from Ephraim’s Rescue Soundtrack (2013)
by Robyn

Their Hearts Were Changed

August 24, 2015 in Adversity, Cesarean, Depression, Doulas, Education, Fear, Grief, hospital birth, Love, Postpartum Depression, Pregnancy, Robyn, Uncategorized, VBAC by Robyn

“Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” Alma 5:14

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Life as a doula. Every birth changes me in some way. I always learn. Often the lessons are unexpected. A little over three years ago, I attended at birth that I recognize as one of those unexpected yet key experiences that shape a doula. I still talk with this friend and I mentioned to her that this birth changed me profoundly. She asked me to explain. I have to admit that I struggle to put it into words on a page because it was a change in my heart and mind. So I will make an attempt to put words to how my heart was changed but just know that I’m not sure I can fully capture what I want to express.

To explain I should start with experiences that shaped my thinking in regards to birth. I grew up being afraid of birth and that transferred to my own first birth experience that ended in an unnecessary cesarean section. I was filled with love as I held my baby for the first time but I felt robbed of something. Somehow I felt something wasn’t right. I knew I wanted more children but struggled to know how I could possible accomplish it with all of the fear I felt inside me.

I replaced my fear with faith and knowledge. I read and studied birth and took a comprehensive natural childbirth class. I admit I felt anger and guilt after realizing my birth could have been very different. I didn’t want other women to have to do things the hard way. After the beautiful natural VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) of my son I became a childbirth educator. I was a birth activist. I had an Us vs. Them mentality as it relates to birth. We, the birth advocates, were fighting the establishment and all of the lack of informed consent/information and cultural misconceptions of the mainstream birth world. Even though I was teaching a lot of good information in my classes I know that I taught with my own bias because of my own experiences. I was often judgmental of the birth experiences of others if they didn’t turn out “ideal.” I worried when someone was making a decision differently than I would. I didn’t want them to suffer through the emotional baggage that I had.

Well, four years ago I met my friend whose birth I am referencing. She was easy to talk to and fun to be around. We quickly became close friends. She had had two cesarean births. All of her sisters had cesarean births. It seemed it was the just what they had to do in her family. I was quick to share with her that I believed she could have a VBAC. I had done it. She was open to learning more. I kept feeding her information which she read and studied. She wanted to have a VBAC. She became pregnant after we met but soon experienced extreme fatigue and nausea while at the same time being weighed down by prenatal depression. We went on walks most mornings. I checked on her often. We carefully talked over her options and made a plan. She took a childbirth class with her husband, planned to have me as her doula, chose a supportive caregiver that she had to drive 45 minutes to see. I was excited. I felt like the Lord brought us together so we could experience her VBAC together.

And then she moved to another state in the last trimester. We scrambled to find the right birth place and birth team. She found a supportive group only to be faced with a cesarean birth because her body seemed to not be cooperating as she passed her due date by 10 days without any change. She was in tears. I was two and half hours away. I jumped in my car and made it there just before she was wheeled into the operating room. I sat in their room and waited. I paced the floor. It felt so long. I wracked my brain. What could I have done differently? What does this mean? Why were we brought together if this is how things were going to unfold?

As she was wheeled into her room with her perfect baby boy, a quiet reverence surrounded her. All of my questions melted away. I stifled my own tears as I watched her tears fall. She had given what she could.

This past July I had the privilege of listening to Dawn Armstrong speak. She is the “missionary mom” from Meet the Mormons. Her story is not your typical missionary mom story, it is powerful, it is messy, it is real. And that is how I felt a little with this birth, that we are all here very different children of God having a human experience, just trying our best to find our way. Sometimes it is messy, fully of tears and heartache, but it is real. It is someone’s life experience and journey to find their way back to their Heavenly Home. Along the way we experience disappointment but hopefully we also experience God’s hand in lifting us up. Hopefully those experiences open our hearts to the greater scope of the plan, love. Christlike love. I couldn’t judge my friend’s experience. I could only be there for her. Mourn with her. Be a friend.

See? I know I didn’t fully capture here the change in my heart. But let me just say that now, when I encounter someone and they are telling me about their birth, I don’t have to judge what they have experienced. It is liberating to just love them and listen.

What heart changing experiences have you had as a doula or midwife (or birthy momma)?

by Lani

Towers of Strength: a Call for Stories

January 28, 2015 in Adversity, Atonement, Book, Book reviews, Depression, Divine nature, Fear, Grace, Grief, joy, Lani, Miracles, Pain, Postpartum Depression by Lani

Last weekend I attended Felice’s Therapeutic Imagery Facilitator Training. It was five billion times more awesome than I ever could have imagined it would be. I’ve been guiding my daughters on imagery journeys nearly every night since, and I can’t wait to share these new skills with everyone and anyone I can. So much healing happened in that sacred space last weekend. What an honor and privilege to have been a part of it. I love these women!

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After the workshop was over, I was talking with the lovely Anna Hargadon (one of the creators of the awesome film Women of Faith). She asked me, “So what’s your next project? Do you have anything you’re working on?” Maybe it was God’s way of nudging me to get moving. One of the first things that happened after I recovered my will to live last fall was that God gave me an assignment. It’s time to write another book, He said.

So this is me acting on that prompting. Last Sunday, as I drove home from church, the book’s title came to me. It was inspired by something I learned reading Heather’s new book, Walking with the Women of the New Testament. In my review of her book, I wrote:

Heather writes, “While we don’t know the details of Mary Magdalene’s infirmity, we might deduce based on what we know of the others whom Christ healed from evil spirits that she was tormented with some sort of mental infirmity. The fact that she had seven devils cast out of her suggests that her infirmity may have been severe” (p. 77).

Heather explains that Christ called Mary “Magdalene” (meaning “tower of strength”) probably in much the same way that he called Simon “Peter” (meaning “rock”). After her healing, Mary became a devoted follower of Christ and a likely “tower of strength” to those around her, including Christ Himself. Of all the people Christ could have appeared to immediately after His resurrection, He chose Mary Magdalene.

Being a woman who struggles with “mental infirmities,” I gather peace from Mary’s remarkable recovery. If Christ can turn an infirm and darkness-plagued Mary into a “tower of strength,” maybe then there is hope for me too?

The title God gave to me for this book is inspired by Mary Magdalene, the original “Tower of Strength” and one of my heroes.

Towers of Strength: Stories of Triumph over Darkness. What do you think? This probably isn’t what the book will look like, but I had fun making a pretend cover. A quick search on Deseret Book’s website only brought up a few titles discussing mental illness, and none of them (as far as I could tell) is written from the perspective of the “mentally ill.” Mental health practitioners and caregivers certainly have valuable insights and perspectives to share, but I just feel strongly that we need to give a voice to the ones living with the illnesses. I feel like there is a sort of assumption that the mentally ill aren’t capable of speaking for themselves, but I couldn’t disagree more. Our voices need to be heard. It’s time.

So far this is what I have in mind:

  • Spiritual thoughts and stories about mental illness from the perspective of Latter-day Saints, emphasis on stories of triumph.
  • Written by those who have lived with and/or overcome mental illness.
  • Stories of all types of triumph (through counseling, medication, meditation, energy healing, temple work, prayer, priesthood, etc.)
  • Similar to The Gift of Giving Life with stories from a wide variety of people with a wide variety of challenges.
  • Intended to bring hope to those who are still struggling in darkness and their loved ones and to help doctors, counselors, and caregivers to better understand the perspective of “patients.”

If you feel impressed that you have a story to share or know someone who might, please send me an email (askbusca at gmail dot com). And please spread the word on whatever groups, forums, and facebook pages you feel might generate interest. The deadline for story submissions is May 1st. And if you know of a publisher who might be interested, please pass the word along to them too! Thank you!

**Posted today, January 28, 2015, in memory of Ashton Mayberry who suffered from depression and anxiety and took his own life on January 28, 2014.**

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by Lani

God Keeps His Promises

March 12, 2014 in Adversity, Book, Dads, Depression, Faith, Fear, Grief, Lani, Loss, Miracles, Personal Revelation, Postpartum Depression, Priesthood blessings by Lani

It has been nearly two years since I experienced what I can only describe as a “nervous breakdown.”

It started in April of 2012, coinciding with the birth of our book, The Gift of Giving Life, a year and two months after my fourth child’s birth.

And then my Grandma died. And I fell. Fast.

After several months of struggling to breathe, struggling to eat, struggling to keep the panic and despair from crushing me, God sent a friend to my home. She said, “I think maybe it’s time for you to try medication.” I had resisted medicine for a long time, trying countless natural remedies for anxiety and depression to no avail. But my friend had been where I was before, and she could see that I needed more help. She went with me to the doctor. I got my prescription. I held the bottle in my hands, but I was terrified to take it.

So I did the one thing that I always do when I don’t know what to do: I asked my husband for a blessing. In the blessing, God told me that “the medication would be of benefit to me” and that I would “be healed.” With that promise to give me courage, I took my first dose the next day, August 1, 2012. Adjusting to the medication took many weeks, but I clung to that promise despite horrific medication-induced insomnia, emotional ups and downs, and an even-more-horrific spiritual numbness that came over me.

It was during this dark period of adjustment that I hit my deepest lows, losing my very will to live. But, with time, as my body adjusted, my mind and spirit began to come back into balance. My co-authors prayed me well enough to join them in the Los Angeles temple in September, a miraculous feat.

As we celebrated my 32nd birthday, nearly three months after I started my medication, I was truly happy again. I was eating (and finally gaining some weight back). I was enjoying life. I had endured so much discomfort, despair, fear, and doubt in those weeks of adjustment, but God’s word was true. The medication had been of benefit to me. It had helped save my life. God’s promise was fulfilled.

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The relief was so magnificent that I couldn’t help but exclaim in joy and complete sincerity (on a nearly daily basis), smiling from ear to ear to my husband: “I don’t want to die today!” The victory of that declaration filled me with overwhelming gratitude to God and to my many friends and family who had helped me reach that triumphant place, most especially my husband.

The next question that filled my heart and mind was: “How long?” I wondered, “Will I need to take this medicine for the rest of my life?” I was willing to accept whatever I needed to do to stay stable so that I could take care of my family, but I also hoped that I would find a way to heal whatever needed to be healed so that I could move forward without medical assistance.

In another priesthood blessing, God answered my question: “You will be able to be happy without medication.” He didn’t tell me how long it would take, but I was satisfied with just knowing that someday I’d get there. And so I went on, taking my medication, feeling grateful for my rescue from the darkness. 2013 came and then 2014.

It has now been a week since I took any medicine.

About a year ago, I started cutting back on my dose, little by little, very slowly, adding in supplements recommended by readers and friends to ease the withdrawal. I took a dose last Tuesday, but when I was due for another dose I felt restrained from taking it. The next day I felt restrained, and the next, and the next. I didn’t hear a voice, but I felt a message in my gut: “You’re ready. It’s time.”

I have said to my husband more than once in the past few days, “Now watch, I’ll probably crash next week.” (<—That’s a text message from “Anxiety Girl,” of course.) He shakes his head and says, “Nope. You won’t.” And I think I believe him.

The other night, I asked him for another priesthood blessing. He said, “God wants to remind you of the promises He has made to you. He will keep those promises.”

God kept His promises to me.

I am happy (without medication). (!!!)

by Lani

Sacred Space for Birth, Part 1

November 4, 2013 in Birth Stories, Cesarean, Depression, Education, Faith, home birth, hospital birth, Lani, Midwives, Personal Revelation, Postpartum Depression, Prayer, Preparation, Traumatic Birth, VBAC, Waiting by Lani

1011942_669099829783949_352451545_nCherise is an Arizona Mother, Doula, Childbirth Educator, Placenta Crafter, and Creator of the marvelous “Big Baby Project” (a website full of empowering vaginal births of babies 9 lbs and over). I love how her story illustrates what I wrote about in my essay “Unity with Providers of Care” in The Gift of Giving Life. I love that Cherise continued to search and pray until she found the right care provider for her. -Lani

 

Sacred Space for Birth, Part 1
By Cherise Sant

My first encounter with childbirth started with the birth of my first child. That experience was eye opening, disappointing, affirming, traumatic, magical, overwhelming and set the stage for the worst depression of my life. I had resisted an induction but eventually caved to the pressure I was receiving from my obstetrician. The ultimate result was a healthy baby boy born via cesarean and my broken heart and body.

My second birth was an empowering vaginal birth in the hospital, but I was met with mistrust, abandonment and even violence though I had carefully chosen my provider and a “natural birth friendly” hospital. Even more disenchanting was to have my baby caught by a resident student as there was no obstetrician in the hospital at that time. If something catastrophic had occurred, I would either have had to wait until someone arrived or transfer to another hospital. It was then that I asked myself, “Why did I get out of my bathtub at home and tear down the freeway in transition to come here and meet negativity and contention when the help I was going to the hospital to potentially receive wasn’t even there?” I knew my next baby would be born at home. Should a need arise, I would then go to a hospital.

Three and a half years later, the month after my daughter weaned, I became pregnant again. Thankfully, there were a handful of midwives who had extra credentials, allowing them to legally attend me in a VBAC at home. I began to interview them. The first one I interviewed was “the one” – or so I thought, until I knelt down and prayed to know if she was. Very clearly, the answer was “no.” I was stunned. I knelt there in a sour stupor, trying to work out what that meant. Did that mean I wasn’t supposed to pursue a home birth? Was I willing to go back to the hospital? The next couple of weeks reflected no progress on the part of my attitude. I knelt down again and asked, hoping maybe I wasn’t clear that first time, but very clearly, the answer that came again was, “She’s not the one for you.”

I didn’t know whether this birth would involve a tragedy, but there was one person that did know all, and that was the Lord. So I resigned my will and continued the search. I was not only searching for a provider, but also asking whether home birth was the Lord’s will for my family. I really had to search myself- why did I want this? After a lot of prayer and contemplation I concluded that it was because I wanted my birth to be treated as sacred. I wanted the spirit of love to be unrestrained. I knew that would best be achieved in my home, with people I knew beforehand rather than meeting a stranger in a hospital and hoping for the best.

I interviewed another midwife, and then another. Their philosophies clearly did not match my own and I was feeling defeated. At the time I was teaching childbirth education at an obstetrician’s office, and knowing that she was more mother-baby-friendly than most, I considered choosing a hospital birth with her. Still, there was no peace and approaching my 17th week I felt like I was running out of time. I did NOT want a last minute scramble. I continued to pray, search my scriptures and explore my thoughts and feelings about all of the possibilities.

One weekend, I was volunteering at a birth event where a screening of a popular birth movie was taking place. I was sharing my dilemma with a friend and fellow birth worker. She then told me about a midwife who was credentialed to attend VBACs at home and that she’d been in practice for 30 years. In that moment, something came over my body, mind and Spirit that had never happened before. My bosom burned like a fire, and my mind flooded with messages of love and support from my Heavenly Father. I knew for certain that she was the one I was looking for. I got her information and sat down for an “interview,” though I already knew she was the one.

It turned out that not only did our philosophies match but she was the only midwife in the state (of whom I was aware) with the skills and support I was looking for. (And I was pretty picky.) In particular I wanted someone who was comfortable enough to use only her fetoscope during labor instead of the Doppler. I wanted access to herbal knowledge and teas – which she had an abundance of! The Lord knew exactly what I was looking for and wanted, and he was providing for me. I felt so loved.

Even still, the weight of my decision caused me to doubt. I prayed and sat down with my scriptures yet again. I opened right up to scripture which basically said to me, “I already answered your question, don’t keep searching for what you already have.” I prayed prayers of gratitude for my answer and continued to prepare.

Look for Part 2 (the birth story) in a future post…

by Robyn

The Just Be Glad Game and my Postpartum Struggle

September 18, 2013 in Adversity, Angels, Grief, Loss, Motherhood, Parenting, Postpartum Care, Postpartum Depression, Prayer, Robyn, Thoughts, Uncategorized by Robyn

pollyanna (1)

After the birth of my fifth baby I struggled to enjoy the process.  I dreaded waking up in the morning to my children and looked forward to bedtime only to dread waking up again the next morning to start over.  I didn’t feel like I was meeting anyone’s needs successfully, including my own.  I didn’t want anyone to ask me for anything.  I longed to shut my door leaving everyone else outside so I could just be left alone.  I didn’t really entertain the idea that I had postpartum depression because I was able to function.  I didn’t want to end my life or my baby’s.  I was able to take care of myself and my family.  But I just was not finding any joy in doing it.  It felt like such drudgery.  The part that really bothered me was that I really did have so much to be grateful for.  And that made me feel worse, knowing I should just be grateful but not knowing how to get out of the pit I found myself in.

I had survived hard things before, including the death of my son.  I remembered one of my tactics of survival during that time was to latch on to my positive thoughts and discard the negative ones because I knew they would not do me any good. I had to keep moving forward, my family needed me.  So I applied the same strategy to my postpartum struggle.  At first I really struggled to be thankful for something.  My baby fussed and cried if she wasn’t sleeping and she wasn’t a great sleeper to begin with either.  At first I struggled to think of things to be grateful for, so I just repeated things to myself like, “I’m thankful I have arms to hold my baby” or “I”m thankful she has lungs to cry with” and so on.  Slowly, I found more and more to be grateful for and the pit I felt buried in began to let me go.

I share this story because I know many struggle with enjoying the monotony of motherhood.  One of my Relief Society presidents used to say to me,”you are in the trenches.”  True.  We fight a war everyday of our thoughts.  And sometimes we struggle to find joy in the journey.  Fast forward a few years, I started reading Pollyanna with my seven year old daughter.  As we read about Pollyanna’s “Just Be Glad Game” I realized that it was this kind of game that had kept me afloat during some difficult times.  I can’t say that I don’t ever find myself struggling to enjoy motherhood anymore, but what I can tell you is the difference I feel when I play the Just Be Glad Game and make it a daily habit.

Here are a few other survival tactics that have helped me from day to day:

Turn on some dance music and just dance with my kids. This has been especially helpful in the afternoon before daddy gets home from work. Whatever contention was in my house before just has to leave.

Consolidate my efforts.  Or multitask in a way that gets more than one thing done at once.  I get frustrated when I don’t get to exercise or when my kids start fighting when I’m in the middle of my favorite pilates video.  Take the kids on a walk. It’s good for you and good for them.  Or make a game out of cleaning the house.  Put the kids on a timer and see how much they can get cleaned up while you do your jumping jacks and squats in between picking up and wiping counters.  I get a work out and the house gets clean!  Involve your kids in making dinner or organizing a closet.  I have found that they really don’t mind work if it means positive interaction with me.

Get out and visit with other moms.  Playdates and visits to the park are great for this and you get some vitamin D in the process.

Take a picture or pull out the video camera.  This really helps me put things in perspective and let go of being angry about a situation (like the bag of blueberries that my 3 year old emptied all over the floor yesterday).

Give myself something to look forward to.  Telling myself I have something to look forward to is very motivating for me.  Sometimes watching a short video of olympic gymnastics on youtube gives me a short break and keeps me going.

Pray for the aid of angels.  When I’m feeling like I’m having an unproductive day or my kids just seem to keep arguing I pray for ministering angels to help us in our home.

Start the day with meditation and scripture study.  Being consistent with daily meditation and scripture study has really helped me let go of negative thought patterns while replacing them with more positive ones.

And if you are finding that you are unable to to get out of the darkness you feel, or you are unable take care of yourself, your family, and/or you want to end your life or your baby’s, please seek help.  Talk to someone, your spouse, medical provider, therapist, or LDS Family Services.  Get help.  Reach out.  Be willing to ask for and receive help.  

How have you been able to experience joy in the journey through motherhood?  What are your survival tactics? How do you make the monotony fun?

by Lani

The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow

January 12, 2013 in Adversity, Gratitude, Lani, Postpartum Depression, Waiting by Lani

We’re kind of obsessed with rainbows at our house this week. We moved at the beginning of December, and so we’ve been trying to get organized. I’m not sure how or why I decided to turn the playroom/guest-room into a rainbow room, but that is what it has become. I guess it was partly because it seemed so fitting for this phase of our lives. We have now left behind the dark and stormy clouds that plagued me (and my little family) for much of 2012. And now we’re enjoying the cheerful skies and crisp clean air that come after a storm.

I’ve been pinning lots of ideas on my Pinterest board in this rainbow craze and adapting them for our playroom walls. Here’s one of our creations…

I wanted this message to be prominently displayed where my kids would see it often. Half of my children can’t read yet, but it won’t be long. And I hope that each of them will internalize the message. It’s one of the most basic lessons of mortality… opposition in all things. As President Uchtdorf has taught:

The scriptures tell us there must be opposition in all things, for without it we could not discern the sweet from the bitter. Would the marathon runner feel the triumph of finishing the race had she not felt the pain of the hours of pushing against her limits? Would the pianist feel the joy of mastering an intricate sonata without the painstaking hours of practice?

In stories, as in life, adversity teaches us things we cannot learn otherwise. Adversity helps to develop a depth of character that comes in no other way. Our loving Heavenly Father has set us in a world filled with challenges and trials so that we, through opposition, can learn wisdom, become stronger, and experience joy.

Heather has written about this subject in our book (see “Travail and Joy” in the Pain chapter). I love what she says here:

If we allow it, travail can help us develop our souls into the women and men God would have us be. In Ether 12:27, God said, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble . . . for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”  Travail is a catalyst in which new life and new growth are created. To change something from one form into another requires a great amount of effort. For example, a chick must push and crack its egg to get out, and even the best ore must undergo extremely high temperatures before it becomes pure silver. It is through travail that our souls are stretched and pulled until at last—if we choose to allow it—we become reborn as stronger, more patient, understanding, and mature souls.

Having just emerged from a phase of travail (a birth canal, if you will), I can bear a second witness that what Heather wrote is true. I was stretched and pulled, I wrestled daily with God and Satan and angels and demons and who knows what else. I spent many moments painfully afraid that I would never see the “sun” again… that I would spend the rest of my existence in a pit of despair. It was an intense and crazy storm, but I survived. And I emerged. And I was, as Heather stated, “reborn a stronger, more patient, understanding, and mature soul.” And the sun did come out again. And there have been beautiful blue skies and rainbows to reward me for all that I endured. And I have even felt grateful for the storm that got me here.

A couple of nights ago, I was talking with my husband about how I was feeling. I told him how my experiences of the past year have given me a great gift. They have given me a deep appreciation and gratitude for “normal” days. I told him:

“I feel normal. I don’t want to die today. How AWESOME is that?”

When you’ve experienced deep darkness, every bit of light you’re able to recover feels monumental and celebratory. And when you find yourself climbing back to where “normal” used to be, it feels so extra-ordinary that you almost feel strange calling it “normal.” It’s no longer normal, it has now become AWESOME. And what used to be an “awesome day” has now become positively euphoric. I hope I never take for granted a normal day… never take for granted my will to live.

So if you find yourself weighed-down by dark clouds of despair, take heart. The sun will come out again. It will. And you may even be grateful for the clouds that made the sunshine all the more welcomed and cherished. Hang on, my friend.

by Lani

In Wisdom and Order

October 26, 2012 in Adversity, Book, Dads, Family size, Fear, Intuition, Lani, Marriage, Personal Revelation, Postpartum Depression by Lani

About a year and a half ago, I sat in this very spot and wrote a bittersweet blogpost. In it I shared some personal experiences relating to my fourth pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period. Here’s an excerpt:

We can’t know for certain whether there was, in fact, a vanished twin. But my heart feels it’s true. . . . And, even now, my eyes well up with tears of knowing… Yes, I know it now. I can feel it in my bones. I can see it in my tears and in the burning, overwhelming love and joy filling me and surrounding me. Yes, there is another child who loves me deeply and intensely, waiting… and hoping that I will have the courage to surrender again.

Then about six months ago I plunged into a pit of anxiety and depression unlike anything I had ever experienced before. With those illnesses came an intense repulsion of the idea of ever bearing any more children. The thought of discovering I was pregnant filled me with overwhelming horror. I was sure that having another child would be the death of me. And meanwhile I had just helped write a book called The Gift of Giving Life! 

One of the essays I wrote in the “Importance of Giving Life” section of our book is titled “The Spirit of Elijah.” Here’s an excerpt:

As President Spencer W. Kimball has said, “This is the great, irreplaceable work of women. Life cannot go on if women cease to bear children. Mortal life is a privilege and a necessary step in eternal progression. Mother Eve understood that. You must also understand it.” These words from the Savior can remind us of the importance of receiving these little ones into our arms and homes: “And whoso receiveth one such little one in my name receiveth me” (Matthew 18:5).

There were many times during the past six months when I thought to myself with bitter sarcasm, “I don’t even believe any of the stuff I wrote in that stupid essay anymore.” Satan was beating me black and blue and filling my head with all kinds of awfulness. At present, I no longer feel broken down by the fear and darkness, but I do still feel very hesitant to invite any more children into my womb and home.

Yet, I told my husband, children, and friends many times in the months following my fourth child’s birth that I felt impressed that there were two more spirits waiting to come to our family. But now, after surviving a long and hellish summer full of poor mental and emotional health, I can’t help feeling that bearing any more children may not be wise. Are we not also taught that we shouldn’t run faster than we have strength?

My husband is our family’s provider, and he also bears a heavy and heart-breaking burden when I am incapacitated by emotional difficulties. He wants to be “done,” in part because he wants to keep me strong and healthy and happy. Just the other day, I was staring from across the room at my friend’s adorable baby (one of the first times in a long time that I felt a twinge of baby hunger), turned to my husband with a pleading look, and said, “Isn’t she cute?” He replied, “We already have four cute ones.”

I think it’s often the case that husbands are eager to be finished with (or hesitant to begin) childbearing before wives are. In fact, it can become a source of conflict for some couples when one is certain that there are more spirits waiting to come to the family but the other disagrees or feels done. A few days ago, I encouraged one of our Gift of Giving Life readers struggling with this issue to share “A Father’s Sacred Support” with her husband (in the Unity chapter of our book). In that essay, I shared a quote from Marion G. Romney:

Unity comes by following the light from above. It does not come out of the confusions below. While men depend upon their own wisdom and walk in their own way, without guidance of the Lord they cannot live in unity. Neither can they come to a unity by following uninspired men.

The way to unity is for us to learn the will of the Lord and then to do it.

 A year ago, I thought I knew the will of the Lord for my family: more babies down the road. But now I’m not so sure. I just don’t know what to do about those two spirits I once believed were waiting for us to welcome them. And I couldn’t help feeling a pang of guilt, knowing that my womb may never again give life, when I heard Elder Oaks say a few weeks ago in Conference:
From the perspective of the plan of salvation, one of the most serious abuses of children is to deny them birth. This is a worldwide trend. The national birthrate in the United States is the lowest in 25 years.

Oh how I wish I could be stronger, healthier, braver, and more capable. Oh how I wish I could completely open my body and heart to more of those children waiting for their turn on earth. But maybe it’s for the best that I simply give thanks for the four beautiful children I have been given and focus on nurturing them with more love and diligence. They deserve a happy mother.

In 1979, the Ensign published a question and answer relating to these dilemmas. The question was: “Is it our understanding that we are to propagate children as long and as frequently as the human body will permit? Is there not any kind of ‘gospel family-planning,’ for lack of a better way to say it?” The response came from Dr. Homer Ellsworth, gynecologist and former member of the Melchizedek Priesthood General Committee. A portion of his reply reads:

As to the number and spacing of children, and other related questions on this subject, such decisions are to be made by husband and wife righteously and empathetically communicating together and seeking the inspiration of the Lord. . . .  As I meet other people and learn of their circumstances, I am continually inspired by the counsel of the First Presidency in the General Handbook of Instructions that the health of the mother and the well-being of the family should be considered. Thirty-four years as a practicing gynecologist and as an observer of Latter-day Saint families have taught me that not only the physical well-being but the emotional well-being must also be considered.

I don’t know the right answer for my family yet, let alone anyone else’s family. But I have sort of decided to put off deciding for now and hope for further light and knowledge to be given to us in the future. For now I’m focusing on getting healthier, happier, and stronger, and I am doing so much better than I was before. I know many of you have been praying for me. Thank you for your love and prayers.

Have you struggled with these dilemmas in your marriage? Are you “done” having children? Has your physical or emotional health ever been a deciding factor in whether or when you would bear more children? I’d love to hear your experiences.

by Lani

From Beyond the Veil, by Elizabeth

April 9, 2012 in Angels, Birth Stories, Dreams, hospital birth, Lani, Motherhood, Postpartum Depression by Lani

Last night my husband and I watched the Church’s Bible videos depicting that last events in the life of Christ. They were so moving, but I think the most touching part for me was when the angel appeared to comfort Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. I have heard and read about that angel so many times, but seeing that angelic comfort depicted before my eyes was so powerful. That scene and Elizabeth’s story have tenderly reminded me that it is during our darkest hours and our most difficult moments that we can feel certain we are in the presence of angels. Thank you for sharing this beautiful experience, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and her husband have been married for nine years. They live in a small town in Utah where they spend their free time swimming, playing board games, and battling with swords. -Lani

*****

This is a tale of the wonderful spirits alive, passed on and not yet born, that helped me before, during, and after the birth of my first son.

My water broke thirty-six hours before I delivered. After twenty-four hours with no contractions, I was given Pitocin; I had tried every natural way under the sun. After seven hours on Pit, I needed sleep, so I got an epidural. After a three-hour nap, I had it turned off. Since things progressed very slowly when I woke up, the nurses/doctors didn’t believe me when I said my baby was coming soon. My doula nearly had to receive the baby, as the nurse barely made it, and my son came with no doctor or midwife.

Six weeks after my son was born, I was suffering from severe postpartum depression.  I would look at my son and wonder when this kid’s mom was going to show up to get him.  I would nurse and try to bond with him, sing hymns to him at night, but nothing would open my heart. I knew this little soul loved me and deserved a mom who loved him back. I kept thinking I did something wrong when I had him that caused me to lose the love I had with him prenatally.  I blamed everything from my need for Pit to me being unfit.

One night while singing “I Am a Child of God” while nursing, I closed my eyes and saw my youngest brother, who passed away eleven years ago. He showed me his view of my birth. I saw him standing behind my doula, giving us support. When I got so exhausted from being on Pitocin for seven hours, I knew I needed sleep to be able to birth my son.  Feeling like a failure, I got my epidural.  My blood pressure that had been creeping progressively very high because of the Pit dropped suddenly to below 90/50. He told me that he was not there to send off my son (whom he knew but wasn’t really close to), but he was there to greet me if I was to head home.

He then showed me an event that happened the first year of my marriage that I had forgotten about. My husband and I were stuck in a bad snow storm and our car nearly rolled. At the time it was pushed back onto its wheels and turned 180 degrees back to straight.  My husband and I looked at each other and said, “I think we have just met our future children.”  In this vision, I saw my son in the middle of five adult spirits, directing them to keep us safe. On my son’s right were two of the children I would eventually miscarry. On his left were a boy and a girl who have not yet had the opportunity to receive a body. My brother reminded me of our Heavenly Father’s love and that I need to bring those last two spirits into the world.

I spent some time pondering what had just transpired, opened my eyes, looked down at my son, and fell in love.