PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE FOUR — BE YOURSELF

Using this principle in your everyday parenting comes naturally when you have worked to discover who you truly are. Tai Chi teacher Chungliang Al Huang summed up nicely the message we want to get across to our kids:

“What you need is an acceptance of yourself as you are. You are like a seed. You don’t know what you’re going to be when spring comes — maybe a chrysanthemum, or an orchid, or maybe just a plain dandelion. . . Be with the process and enjoy it.”

When we look at the analogy of flowering, we remember that flowers don’t bloom until near the end of the plant’s life cycle. This is especially pertinent these days, when we live so much longer than our ancestors did, when people have several careers and maybe even several families. Blooming, going dormant, and blooming again is a realistic paradigm for how our children’s lives and our lives are likely to be. It is our job to assure our children that they have many choices and that they never have to settle on just the one thing forever. Rather than pushing them into what we want for them, we help and support them as they try out many things and go with what brings them joy.

Principle Four in Pregnancy

Pregnancy, birth, and infancy are periods when you are required to make many decisions; sometimes it can be overwhelming. You get so much advice and input from relatives, friends, books, blogs, and experts that you can lose track of what your inner guidance is trying to tell you. Using Principles One and Two (Relax and Slow Down) can help you and firmly rooting yourself in Principle Three (Empower) can help you have the “sinking power” you need to communicate with others. Be Yourself requires that you act in accordance with your own deeply held values.

Only you can decide, according to what feels best to you, whether you give birth at home or in a hospital or birthing center, choose to immunize or not, breastfeed or not, whether your children wear natural fibers or not, whether or not you choose day care, how to discipline and communicate with a toddler, and so on. After doing your own research about the issues, make your decisions from a deep inner place that makes you feel like a good parent, instead of simply going with what your parents tell you or with the current cultural flow.

Over and over again, it has been shown that the current cultural flow is often wrong. At one time it was common and accepted to give babies opium to keep them quiet. At one time, mothers were told to wear masks and not to breathe on their babies or breastfeed them for fear of “contaminating” them. At one time,parents were told not to respond to an infant’s cry for fear of “spoiling” them. At one time, it was widely believed that babies didn’t feel pain and that they could not see or hear in the womb or for the first weeks of life. Take the experts with a grain of salt, and listen to your own heart about what is right for you and your family. Refrain from judging other parents and their decisions for the same reasons; you are not in their shoes.

Be Yourself with Your Baby

Before you birth your baby, you may envision yourself calmly and blissfully being a parent; or, you may be terrified that you don’t know what to do with this new human depending on you for its very existence. It is fairly easy now, with the internet, to read a lot about infants — what they need, what they don’t need, how to provide the best environment for them, how to respond to their cries and fusses and so on.

Scientific research has blossomed over the past decades, and many parenting styles of our parents’ day have been proven to be almost barbaric. Figure out how to both be yourself and provide your infant with the love, attention, and healthy environment that s/he desperately needs. Those who say, “Well, I turned out all right! The way my parents did it will work for me,” don’t recognize the many problems, physical, mental, and emotional health risks they faced or will face because of how they were raised.

If you can be firmly rooted in who you are, you will find that you can intuit the right decisions as you live with your baby. You will make mistakes, but as you relax, slow down, empower yourself with good information, and have confidence in who you are, you can correct your course as you go along. In this way, no permanent damage is done. Your child responds to you “being yourself.” Trying to parent in some way that isn’t coming from your deepest principles is confusing for your child, and damaging long-term.

© 2015 Vimala McClure

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE THREE: EMPOWER — Part Five

Principle Three in Pregnancy

Working with Principle Three begins as soon as you get pregnant. You will need constant access to you own power to make the hundreds of choices you must make.  My mother was utterly disempowered by social norms when she had her babies, and who knows how that affected my relationship with my mother, my own empowerment, and my mother’s ability to “parent” healthily. An empowered woman is strong, centered, and confident in her choices. She seeks out support and help when she needs it, and her birth experience is informed by her empowerment.

In an ideal world, people wouldn’t have children until they have solidly connected with own power. It’s difficult enough even then! Imagine a teenager, who is barely coming into awareness of this aspect of her being, suddenly having to be a role model for a child, having to know the right use of power as a parent. It’s nearly impossible. How can we expect kids to lead healthy, meaningful lives? It is a lifelong challenge, an endless spiritual path.

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I encourage you to use your pregnancy, whether it is your first or fifth, as an exciting opportunity to exercise the right use of power. Notice all the decisions you need to make, connect them with your parenting mission statement, and make them on the basis of what your inner sense tells you is right. Don’t allow the so-called experts to run your life. Consider their advice, but consider yourself with ultimate authority. Doctors and researchers are not gods. Their warnings are often recanted years after they give them. Be willing to surrender the results of your decisions to the universal forces; God, the Tao, whatever you choose to call that which guides you. Trust that force, and trust yourself. Let your inner sense tell you what is right and back it up with power from your very core. If you don’t know what to do, get all the information you can on all sides of the issue, let it sit for a while, ask for guidance, and then go with what feels right.

Principle Three with Babies

When my first child was born, the prevailing norm was that circumcision was a must, a given. But it didn’t feel right to me. So I did a lot of research about the reasons for it and its history, and found different points of view. I learned about exactly what is done and was able to watch a video. Finally my husband and I made our own decision: we would not, as vegetarians and spiritual beings, inflict pain on animals, so why would we do that to our newborn baby? We decided that when he was old enough to make that decision for himself, he was free to have it done, without disapproval from us.

When we made the decision, it was an act of empowerment for us and for our infant: your body is not mine, it is yours. You get to decide if it is changed in any way, when you are old enough to do so. He is now in his thirties and it has never been an issue for him. When he had his own baby boy, he chose not to have him circumcised, for the same reasons.

So often, we project our own “what-ifs” on our babies and, to spare them the possible embarrassment of being different, we make a decision like this for them. Something like circumcision teaches the newborn child he is not the owner of his body and that , at any moment, his power over his own body can be painfully taken away by strangers without his permission, his understanding, or any preparation. New research proves that circumcision, especially in developed countries, has no medical value or health benefits for babies, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has said it is an unnecessary procedure from a medical standpoint.

I’m using this as an example only — I realize many people have their own good reasons for choosing this ritual. I use this example to encourage you to engage, in whatever way you can, your child’s own power — his permission, his selfhood — in the process. Empowering your children begins at birth.

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In teaching infant massage, early on I incorporated the practice of “asking permission” from the baby. Many parents can’t understand this until they try it. The parent engages with her baby eye-to-eye; she places her hands on her baby’s body, then  rubs her hands together in front of baby, shows him her open palms, and asks, “May I massage you now?” Parents learn their babies’ nonverbal cues which tell them whether or not their infant is ready to be massaged. As they practice this over and over, parent and baby are synchronized and it becomes easier, even in ways other than massage, to really listen and understand what their infant is saying.

PARENTING WITH PRINCIPLE TWO: SLOW DOWN

Slowing down seems contradictory to family life in Western cultures, particularly in the U.S., and especially if we have more than one child. But if you can learn to consciously slow the pace when you feel it going out of bounds, your family life will be easier, more fun, relaxed, and happy.

“As young children we were full of life, always playing or running around with our friends. We would turn from one activity to another with endless enthusiasm. Games of hide-and-seek were an opportunity for unlimited imagination, exploration, and curiosity. It seemed we never got bored or tired of whatever we were doing in the moment. For the most part, our childhoods were an endless series of positive feelings — joy, laughter, curiosity, surprise, confidence, and adventure. We had not learned yet to worry, to hold grudges, or to have regrets about the past. Most young children, in fact, are generally unstressed, full of awe and curiosity, and rarely bored. Most have enormous amounts of energy, are unconditionally loving, and seem to have boundless energy that make adults envy their innocent approach to life. These uncontaminated children live from a state of mind that we practitioners of Psychology of Mind like to call mental health. They live naturally in the moment.”
From: Carlson, Richard; Bailey, Joseph (2009-10-13). Slowing Down to the Speed of Life: How To Create a Peaceful, Simpler Life F (p. 4). HarperCollins.
As adults we still have the capacity for mental health, but we have been socialized into the busy ways of Western culture, and many of us have grown serious, analytical, stressed, depressed, and unimaginative. Beginning when we reach age five or six, and steadily progressing into adulthood, our experience of mental health declines. This decline seems to correspond with our propensity to use memory and analytical thinking more often as we get older and our creative, in-the-moment thinking less often.

When we slow down, we tap into a peaceful feeling that permeates our entire being and way of life. Rather than constantly feeling rushed, hurried, and frustrated, we feel calm, joyful, and curious. Bad things still happen when we slow down, but they never look as bad as when we’re speeded up.
As the mind slows down, we are able to see life much more clearly. We have many of the same issues to contend with, but they look different. Rather than appearing to be emergencies that are smothering us, they look like issues that need resolving or opportunities in disguise.
Feelings are a mechanism to let us know when our minds are operating too quickly and when it’s time to slow down. Just as a timer goes off to signal that dinner is ready, an internal buzzer goes off when you are thinking in an unhealthy way. If you listen to these feelings and trust what they are trying to tell you, you will begin to experience the peace and joy of your mental health. Never again will life seem like such an emergency!

The 12 Slow Habits to Help You Create a Slower Family Life

Wake Up. Practice waking up every single day to see the beauty in your life.
Release. Embrace the idea of letting go of what is not working for you any longer to create more time for what you love.
Reframe. Accept that your busy life is your beautiful life and start telling yourself a different story about how you are living.
Focus. Aim for a distraction-free life where you always try to do one thing or nothing at all.
Go Slowly. Forget rushing through and start lingering more in all areas of your day.
Do Less. Understand that the only way to have more time for the good stuff is to do less of the other stuff.
Plug-in. Reject the notion that you need to unplug and start intentionally plugging in to be more efficient with your time and life.
Unstructured. Create more free time in your family’s day to allow the wow moments to evolve and multiply.
Go Quiet. Quiet your mind and feel time expand in the process.
Savor. Take time to appreciate every little detail around you.
Abundance. Start seeing time for what it is — something to be thankful for in your life.
Make Space. Carve out physical, mental and emotional space in your life for the things you want more of in your day.

You Will Learn:

  1. To slow down and enjoy each moment.
  2. That slowing down doesn’t involve major changes in your lifestyle.
  3. That contrary to conventional wisdom, your productivity will actually increase when you slow down.
  4. That other people’s habits, attitudes, behaviors, and moods don’t have to affect the quality of your day or the speed of your life.
  5. That even though people around you or your work setting may be rushed and stressed, you can maintain a calm in the midst of their storm.
  6. That by slowing down, you will be far more prepared for the unexpected.
  7. That ordinary moments can become extraordinary.
  8. That even life’s most serious circumstances and events don’t have to be taken so seriously.
  9. That the best preparation for the future is to live your life fully in the present.
  10. That you can finally get the satisfaction you’ve been striving for.
  11. That, finally, you can be happy!

Principle Two in Pregnancy

For a woman, from the beginning of pregnancy, slowing down is a must; the energy you produce within your body is going directly through your baby’s body via the placenta. What I mean by “energy” is the life force, which the Chinese call chi and the Indians call prana, that circulates throughout your body — body your physical body and your more subtle psychic or mental body. The energy flowing through your body helps to regulate your glandular system, which produces hormones through your endocrine system. the more rapid, harried, or frenzied your energy, the more stress hormones you send through your body. If that type of energy is chronic, you are likely to chronically stress your baby, to the point where the baby’s body recognizes this type of energy as normal, and will continue producing it after birth.

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Noted physicist Dr. Bruce Lipton says,

“It is important to note that individual events of parental anger and fear do not necessarily distort the physiology of the developing child. It is specifically chronic, or continuously held emotions that prove to be detrimental during pregnancy. For example, women who sustain physical and emotional abuse during their pregnancy represent situations where adverse environmental cues surrounding the birth of the child can be passed on to the offspring. These are cases of repeated, or patterned, abuses which is entirely distinct from parents that express a transient occasional spat or emotional peak.”
Dr. Lipton’s work has focused on how a mother’s emotional experiences affect an unborn baby’s development via biochemical “signal” molecules that are released into the blood (which passes through the placenta) and activate specific receptor proteins on the surfaces of cells in tissues and organs. These serve as molecular “switches” that adjust the metabolic system and behavior of the infant. So it is important that prospective parents realize they are programming their baby, even before birth, through the chronic emotional states they experience.
Stress hormones such as cortisol chronically circulating throughout the body eventually have devastating effects on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. As women, we must understand the importance of how our energy affects our infants. To stay in what may be our own addiction to stress and drama is to deny this connection. As Dr. Lipton says, “Sustained parental anger and fear compromise the child’s development and health, as the emotional stresses chemically impact on the fetus.”
If there truly are circumstances we cannot control that put us in emotional situations, such as grief over the loss of a loved one, the key is to be sensitive to the fact that both you and your infant are going through this process together. Both of you need care, attention, and the awareness, not denial, that this stress affects both of you, and measures should be taken to slow it down and bring healing energy to it as much as possible. As Dr. Lipton says, “It should be noted that behavioral consequences of children exposed to negative or destructive attitudes during their prenatal development can be psychologically reversed, once the issues are recognized.”
The job of the baby’s father is to help you slow down and relax. This requires a lot of communication about what these concepts mean to each of you, and what is helpful and what is not. For example, criticizing a woman for not slowing down is usually not helpful. Asking if he can do tasks she usually does to help lighten her load is helpful. In addiction, learning to slow down is very helpful for the baby’s father if he is to be an integral part of his child’s life. In order to truly be with children of any age, we all must have the ability to slow ourselves down and relax into the present moment, because that is where our children live.
Practicing Controlled Belly Breathing every day during your pregnancy will help (see Principle Two, Part One). A childbirth education class should also help you, provided your teacher is aware of the more spiritual aspects of your new journey and your “coach” is a willing participant who is capable of helping to both calm and empower you. If your partner has a hard time doing this, consider getting a birthing coach. If you choose to do this, take care not to disempower the baby’s father, and be sure to include him as a member of the team so that all the bases are covered. Dad could take the role of family communicator and picture taker; getting ice chips, holding the mother’s hand, and so on. Dad and the birth coach could take turns. Make the decisions together, so everyone feels good about them.

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If you are a soon-to-be father, be sure to slow down and relax yourself so you can help your partner get through the birth more smoothly. If you can remain unruffled, and not take your partner’s expressions of fear or anger personally, you can be her rock — and believe me, she will be very grateful for it later.

Slowing Down Your Body

To slow down your body during pregnancy, do stretching exercises and squats, deep breathing, meditation, or prayer. Maintain a diet of fresh, life-enhancing foods, and practice deep relaxation to help slow down the body and mind. There are many CDs that are expressly for this purpose and can guide you through a total deep relaxation. These are all part of your job as a “grower nursery” for this new being, and will also help prepare you for the experience of giving birth. You will learn to nurture yourself and to take care of your body, mind, and spirit in a better way than before — in other words, you will have incorporated Principle Two into your life.

Pregnancy can also help you learn how to deal with day-to-day change. Your body changes, your relationships change, what you think about and are interested in changes. Tai Chi teacher Chungliang Al Huang, in his book Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain, says,

“Part of our everyday conflict is how to cope with change and how to be happy with the constant. We are usually bored with the constant and frightened by change. Moving slowly, breathing slowly, turning everything into slow motion for a while each day helps us remember the balance of these two seeming opposites.”

© 2015 Vimala McClure

Relax During Pregnancy and Birth

Note: I am using the principles, values, and practices of Taoism, and of its martial art Tai Chi. Taoism is not a religion, and I am not asking you to practice Tai Chi. I found a wonderful correlation between what I studied in Taoism and my own deep thoughts around what I believe is essential to practice “right parenting.” Whatever religion (or non-religion) or spiritual path you ascribe to, you will find compatible with the ideas I share with you here. I would love to hear about your experiences with every principle and value I write about.

Use Controlled Belly Breathing (see previous post)

Partners can participate together in this practice. After the baby is born, massage will be as much a part of your daily routine as changing diapers, so now is a good time to slow down and make that time. It is the beginning of your conscious choice to spend loving, listening time with your child your day’s most important priority.

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The Prenatal Environment

Dr. Bruce Lipton, in an article on maternal emotions and the development of the prenatal infant, says, “The information relayed by the mother to the fetus concerns the status of the environment. The mother’s attitudes about life convey this status. The mother’s emotions, such as fear,  anger, love, hope, among others, can biochemically alter the genetic expression of the offspring . . . The mother’s blood-borne emotional chemicals cross the placenta and affect the same target cell in the fetus as those in the parent.”

An article in Science Magazine is 1996 reveals that parents pass more on to their infants than their genes. Studies revealed that maternal emotions can profoundly enhance the baby’s chances for thriving and even influence its ability to adapt to the environment. Recent evidence suggests that even though a child may be affected by specific genetic defects, such as Tourette’s syndrome, non-genetic factors such as the prenatal environment, modify the degree of severity of a gene’s defect.

More and more we are finding that parents affect their babies even before conception. For example, a father who smokes damages his sperm and passes a higher risk of childhood cancer to his offspring. Research consistently supports the idea that even before birth an infant is profoundly affected by its parents’ activities and emotions. Being as relaxed, happy, well nourished, and as stress free as possible gives your baby the best possible start in life.

Massage and Self-Massage Important for Pregnancy

In every bird and mammal studied, close physical contact is essential both to the infant’s healthy survival and to the parent’s ability to nurture. In studies with rats, if researchers restrained pregnant females from licking themselves (a form of self-massage), their mothering activities were substantially diminished. In many studies, when pregnant female animals were gently stroked every day, their offspring showed higher weight gain and reduced excitability, and the mothers showed greater interest in their offspring, with a more abundant and richer milk supply. Evidence supports the same conclusions for humans.

Mothers Who Experience Stress and Anxiety During Pregnancy 

‘More likely to have babies who cry for longer’

According to the latest research, women who experience stress, worry or panic attacks before and/or during pregnancy are more than twice as likely to report that their babies cried excessively. Experts suggest an infant’s excessive crying, if not from digestive or other physiological problems, may be due to the mother’s production of stress hormones during pregnancy, which cross the placenta and affect the development of a baby’s brain. A parenting specialist, Dr. Clare Bailey, said: “Mothers can easily get into a traumatic negative cycle when worrying about a newborn. The more they worry, the less they sleep and calm themselves, and the more they worry. Anxiety can make them hyper vigilant, distressed by crying, and they can feel rejected by their babies. It intuitively sounds likely that a calm mother who feels relaxed, comfortable and confident will be more likely to help a baby to self-settle. Babies can pick up emotional cues very early on.”

The research, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, looked at nearly 300 women who were in the early stages of pregnancy. Researchers asked about their history of anxiety and depression, and interviewed them during their pregnancy and until their children were 16 months old. Ten percent of women with anxiety disorders reported excessive crying following the birth. Further analysis found that babies born to women with an anxiety disorder were significantly more likely to cry for longer periods.

Massage During Pregnancy and Infant Massage Reduce Babies’ Crying

It is possible for stress hormones to cross the placenta and contribute to an infant’s crying spells. Infant Massage addresses this by 1. helping the baby’s gastrointestinal system mature, 2. addressing the baby’s (and a mother’s) need for close, loving contact, and 3. helping mothers feel empowered to help their infants feel secure, loved, and attached.

Loving Massage During Pregnancy Benefits Both Mom and Baby

Mothers who have meaningful skin contact during pregnancy and labor tend to have easier labors and are more responsive to their infants. In addition, research has shown that mothers whose pregnancies are filled with chronic stress often have babies who cry more and for longer periods than those whose pregnancies were peaceful and supported.

Preparing for the Birth of Your Baby

Taking a childbirth education class together can help both you and your partner prepare for the baby’s arrival. Practicing the relaxation and breathing techniques at home can slow you down enough to begin talking about the deeper issue of what each of you feel is important that this child receive. You may each want to make a parenting mission statement and compare notes, combining your ideas into a new mission statement that encompasses both.

Long warm baths, massages, and periods of deep relaxation each day can help you sort out all the information coming your way and to feel what it is this baby needs and what your soul has chosen to learn by being this baby’s parent. If this isn’t your first child, dedicating time to relaxation is not so easy; it is necessary that a partner supports, values, and participates in activities to help you relax and connect with your new baby.

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Try to imagine different scenarios and how you might handle them.

For example:

— What if your baby hardly ever sleeps through the night?

— Are you going to breastfeed? If so, how might you change your diet to help support a balanced state of mind and body?

— Are you going to have someone else minding the baby? If so, look closely at the character of that person. Is he or she the kind of person who easily adapts to changes of mood, who easily incorporates babies into the world, who is unruffled by noise and chaos? Can that person relate to the deeper issues we are discussing here?

— What if your baby needs to be held much of the time? Are you and/or your partner willing to cooperate in “baby-wearing”?

— Who will massage the baby, and when? Read books on the subject and discuss them with each other — not just logistics, but the concepts they encompass with regard to your family’s future habits of interaction.

— What if the baby has health problems that change your plans? How can you still hold to the principle of relaxation?

— What if you find yourself suffering with postpartum depression? Do you have a therapist or healer who can help you with this?

— Very few parents take the time to reflect on these things — and yet discussing things like this is tremendously helpful in the months and years ahead.

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The Qualities of Water

Using the Taoist meditation on the qualities of water helped me throughout my parenting years, but especially during my pregnancies and the first year of life for my children.  During my pregnancies I spent a lot of time in warm water, relaxing and floating, getting in touch with my baby on a deep inner level and relaxing my body through the weightlessness. I thought about the water’s fluidity and flexibility, and how when a bit dripped from my finger, not only did it join the whole, but it made ripples that spread outward to the limits of the water. I knew, with a deep inner certainty, that I could be that “drop” in my children’s lives and thereby affect the world.

Water Nourishes Without Needing to be Nourished

Water is the most yielding of all things, yet it can overwhelm that which is most hard — rock. Water nourishes without needing to be nourished. Like water, which nourishes all things without discrimination and without needing anything in return, good parents give selflessly to their children. They provide for their children’s physical welfare, intellectual growth, emotional security, and spiritual connection without expecting anything in return. They are willing to sacrifice, if necessary, so their children may grow and prosper. The “martyr”parent, who exacts payment in guilt for every sacrifice, is not part of this paradigm. We remember that every principle contains its polarity in seed form, and we can catch ourselves before fatigue or frustration goad us to shame our children for requiring so much of us.

Water Flows into Places Where There is Seemingly No Room

Water flows into places where there is seemingly no room. Rigid things can’t do this. Only that which is relaxed, yielding, and fluid can go into places of seemingly no space and be effective there. To get to this type of receptivity, a practice of conscious relaxation is a must. The single most effective thing most of us can learn is simply how to breathe deeply into our bellies and relax. When an individual dipper of water is placed into the ocean, it merges with the ocean as if separation never existed. Studying the qualities of water can give us important clues about how to relax and yield.

Practice Selfless Giving

Ideally, marriage prepares us for the bigger sacrifices required when children come along. We have the opportunity to practice selfless giving, to test and stretch ourselves, and to explore our programming. We may consider ourselves giving people, but sometimes when confronted by the stress of another’s need we discover how limited our patience can be. We may find ourselves doing and saying things that precisely echo the voices of our parents’ mistakes. But how do we then think and act to correct our course? It is exactly at those moments when we are most un-Godlike that we have the opportunity to choose to grow toward oneness rather than separation. So, the idea is not to suddenly (or ever) become the perfect parent; rather, it is to use parenting as our path — and discover, along the way, the excitement of a journey that gives us real opportunities to become what we wish to be.

Take Time for Personal Spiritual Renewal

Where do we get all this strength, if we are to endlessly give and provide? Again, water is our model. There is an ocean of consciousness from which all things are created. Some call it God or Goddess, some call it the Great Spirit or higher self; Taoist call it the Tao (pronounced dow) or the Way. Yielding like a cup of water yields to the ocean, we merge our consciousness into the great, eternal consciousness that creates and maintains all things, forever. Thus our strength is omnipotent, our well never runs dry. Wise parents take time for personal spiritual renewal so that the strength upon which we rest is that of the infinite source of our being.

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Explore All Your Birthing Options

Because of some birth defects of my own, I had to give birth by Cesarean section and, back then, my choices were few. But I was able to remain awake and alert during their births and to hold and nurse them right away. Getting home as soon as possible was important to me, to get my babies into the kind of atmosphere I wanted for them right away. I encourage you to explore all your birthing options and choose those that feel right, comfortable, and good for you. Also consider that fate has a way of intervening, and that if things don’t go exactly as you wish, you still have plenty of time, choices, and opportunities to follow through on your principles.

© 2014 Vimala McClure