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People who know me know I love researching ways to keep my family healthy, especially concerning our long-term health. I love knowing that my husband and I have less chemical exposure than we did a year ago. I love knowing that my baby is off to a good start. I never thought I’d be a “crunchy mom,” yet here I am. I truly believe that by reducing chemical exposure, we will have less chronic health issues which are riddling our society.
Most of my health choices have been simple because they affect no one outside my home. Any cleaning products and cosmetic products I use, I check with the Environmental Working Group to see how safe the ingredients are. (Check out my entries What Toxic Chemicals Do You Put In Your Body Every Day? and Chemicals In Our Baby Products.) and I buy organic and non-GMO as much as my budget allows. (One day, I’d love to have an organic garden.) But I’ve recently made a change that affects guests, too. That’s a bit trickier.
One day shortly after my daughter was born, I was perusing through my mom group on Facebook, and a conversation topic came up in a thread that interested me. One mom posted that she wants guests to leave their shoes at the door to keep her floors clean for her baby, who just started crawling.
The responses from moms saying that they don’t wear shoes in the house or allow guests to wear shoes surprised me. Then I remembered the daycare I used to work in. The two infant classrooms required employees and parents to remove their shoes before entering. It was annoying. Sometimes I’d be in there all day with aching, cold feet. Other times, I just needed to dart in really quickly and get the trash, but removing shoes felt like such a bother. But they had good reason for it: One of the best ways to reduce lead exposure to infants is by removing shoes at the door.
Remembering this, I decided to do a bit of research. Lead was removed from paint in by law in 1978 (1). Despite this, lead exposure remains a large problem. The CDC states that children under the age of 6 are most at risk because their bodies are developing so quickly. Pets and unborn babies are also at risk. The CDC acknowledges that even low levels can cause IQ and behavioral issues. (2). Elevated levels can cause anemia and permanent nerve damage.
A report called The Door Mat Study revealed that almost all lead dust in homes is brought in from outside. Using a door mat cuts that lead dust in half. Removing shoes at the door decreases lead exposure by 60%.(3) Using a door mat and removing shoes in a 5 month period removed 98.5% of the lead dust in one study. (5)
Leaving your shoes at the door doesn’t only reduce lead exposure; it decreases exposure to other toxins and bacteria, especially if your home is mostly carpet, which harbors these harmful substances. Coal tar is used in driveway and parking lot sealants. It is toxic and a known carcinogen. We bring this into our homes on our shoes. Do you live in a rural area? Agricultural toxins are just as much a problem according to one study in California. (4) One study revealed that wearing shoes in the home creates a larger source of pesticide exposure than eating non-organic produce. (5)
At this point in time, we live on a creek. Flocks of ducks, geese, and swans waddle by every day. The grass is covered with feces. Gross. Poop is obviously not something I want in my carpet – not even in microscopic amounts. Thinking about poop got me thinking about germs, and I found an article which explains that the bottom of our shoes contain more germs than a toilet seat, including C. diff and E coli. (6) (Think about that the next time your baby is gumming on a pair of shoes. Ick.)
Shortly after I did this research, another mom posted that she implemented a “leave your shoes at the door” policy, but relatives were not on board. She asked for help in making guests follow her wishes. The responses on the thread were all over the place.
“Have some washable slippers or cozy socks for guests.”
“Tell guests that you’re keeping your floors clean for your baby.”
“Have a bench and shoe rack by the door.”
“Warn your guests before they arrive so they can bring a pair of slippers.”
“Have a sign on the door with a catchy phrase.”
“Tell your guests if they don’t listen to you, they can’t come in.”
“Tell your guests if they don’t listen, they have to clean your floors.”
“It’s your house. You’re the mom. You’re the boss.”
I have joint issues. I have to wear custom orthotics to keep my joints in place, so shoes are a must for me. (I keep one pair of indoor-only shoes.) I also cannot stand having cold feet. I totally understand feeling uncomfortable without shoes. I don’t think I could ever tell family members that they can’t come in unless they remove their shoes, or that I’m going to make them wash my carpets and scrub my floors. But I did like the ideas of having a bench or chair near the door. I also liked the idea of having a basket for washed socks and slippers for guests to borrow. I haven’t been able to put those ideas to use yet because of money issues and our upcoming move, but they’re in my plans. For now, I do try to warn guests ahead of time in case they want to bring something cozy for their feet.
I never thought I’d be that person who wanted shoes left at the door. However, it’s the easiest way to keep my baby healthy – and it involves no extra cleaning, no medicines, and no crazy supplements. Sometimes, I feel bad – or even downright nervous – asking people to remove their shoes. But when it comes down to it, I know our guests care about my baby’s health, too.
Shortly after I made this decision and feared announcing it to guests, my Indian neighbors in my apartment had a family party. There were at least 20 pairs of shoes outside their door. I had to smile to myself and laugh.
- EPA US Environmental Protection Agency
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Healthy Child – Environmental Working Group
- Huffington Post
- Natural Child Magazine
- Healthy Wild and Free
Perhaps you remember my entry Saving South – an entry about my Lutheran high school possibly closing. Shortly after posting that entry and sending it to the board, our community received the tragic news that our school was officially closing.
My husband’s brother was graduating high school this year. It was a special year for my husband and me, too, as it was 10 years since our graduation. My husband and I drove three hours to go to the last graduation ceremony – both to see his brother graduate and to see our South “family.”
When you go to a small high school, every student knows every other student. We all know each other’s parents and siblings. Sometimes, even current students are familiar with alumni and vice versa. I was so strongly reminded of this when we arrived at the high school with our 8 month old daughter. So many people came up to us – even people we didn’t know very well. It took 15 minutes just for us to make it into the gym because so many people stopped to talk to us, even though we graduated 10 years ago, and we have been out-of-state for 5 years! It was like seeing family again.
It was so amazing to talk to the parents of classmates who couldn’t be there. I am so proud of so many of my classmates. Many of us went on to the ministry – whether becoming a pastor or a Lutheran teacher. Some of us joined the military. Others are raising Christian families. A few have become doctors. One of the parents was telling me how a friend of mine has delivered over 20 babies now. What a special career! How amazing to think that our high school helped provide the foundation for these special jobs. And no matter what career path alumni have chosen, South taught us how to share our faith, and that is the biggest calling of all.
I was flooded with so many memories – some were beautiful and others were painful. High school was a very trying time in my life. I was dealing with so much, and my best friend was going through even worse things. So much of that came back to me more vividly than it has in a long time, and it hurt.
I know some alumni don’t mind seeing South go. Some thought the teachers were too strict. Some went through terrible times in teenage years, and anything associated with that is unwelcome. Some went to the school and loved it, but then decided the bigger world was better. Others hated going to school there, went out into the world, and realized they took the school for granted. The earliest students had so much to overcome – not having a building, not having adequate study materials. The teachers had to fight hard to give the best education possible with limited supplies. (This later changed, and the LHS became a college preparatory school.) But when it comes down to it, no school is bully-free. No teacher is always understanding and forgiving. There is no one size fits all when it comes to schools. Lutheran South wasn’t for everyone.
But for those of us who loved it, it meant the world to us. When we struggled with our faith in those turbulent teen years, we had adults leading us in chapel, praying for and with us, and teaching us about the Bible daily. The Christian faith was integrated into every subject, teaching us how to keep our faith active in every area of our lives.
And for all of us who attended there, we all have happy memories in some way or another. We all had special friendships and learned hard lessons. I decided to search for these happy memories during my last visit to South.
I remember my first day there, walking into my class and seeing this punk kid sitting in a desk by the door. He looked so angry and annoyed. He did not want to be there. I made up my mind to steer clear of him. This memory is a good one because this freshmen ended up loving the school… and loving me. He is my husband. Life is funny.
I remember on a warm, sunny day my freshman year, our school of 17 students raised the American flag for the first time. We were in the newspaper.
We were in the newspaper a few more times for our handbell performances. Our handbell instructor was incredible. She was meticulous about proper technique, and she worked hard to find us challenging pieces and amazing opportunities to play, such as at the Detroit Athletic Club. By the end of my time with her, I had learned how to play up to 13 handbells in a duet!
I remember going to school in our double-wide trailer. One day, a storm rolled in just as school was getting out. I remember the clouds looking low enough to touch the trees – and green enough to match them. There wasn’t anywhere very safe in the event of a tornado, but we headed into the bathrooms for shelter where we made an amazing discovery. There was hail coming in through the vents!
I remember the woman who was our science and English teacher sitting on her desk, cross legged, teaching us Shakespeare and anatomy.
I remember ordering pizza every Friday with garlic butter dipping sauce. One boy dared me to chug it for $5… and I did.
I remember talking about the TV show LOST with our principal. We were obsessed.
I remember one boy in the class below me stuffing two grapes in his mouth like fangs and strutting around the room like a T-rex. We all nearly choked on our lunches, laughing so hard.
I remember one of the teachers, who was also a pastor (and who would become my father-in-law) leading a chapel service and using the song Dare You to Move by one of my favorite bands, Switchfoot. I about jumped out of my seat.
I remember near the end of my senior year, when our principal’s wife had a massive heart attack… how we all came together and prayed like we had never prayed before. Even though the doctors said she had no chance of surviving, she did.
I remember graduating with the four boys in my class. I remember breaking ground for the building of the gym – the first permanent building. We worked so hard to fundraise for that building.
I remember taking a picture with the guys in my class and with the graduation cake, and they all tried to smash my face in it.
I remember saying goodbye to Frank after graduation, and he hugged me. I remember wondering if he did it simply as a congratulation and goodbye, or if maybe he liked me. I remember later looking at our pictures and realizing he and I stood very close together, unlike everyone else. (We later went to college together, and he asked me out on September 25, 2006. We were married June 26, 2010.)
There are so many amazing memories I have from this school. The school has been taken away from us, but our memories will last forever. We couldn’t save our school. We couldn’t get enough students. The economy is just too difficult right now for parents to pay tuition, even with the help of scholarships and donations. In many ways, I feel like I failed my school because it’s gone now. But when I think about it, maybe it isn’t about saving South. Maybe it is about how South saved me. Maybe it is about the testimonies of all the other alumni who also cherish this school as more than just a school.
South gave us an education.
South gave us friends.
South gave us mentors.
South gave us a safe place when the world was too much.
South gave us a foundation for our faith in Jesus.
South saved us.
I will never grow tired of sharing my memories of my high school years. They are unique, special, and powerful. I thank God for the short time our Lutheran high school had to make a difference in people’s lives.
Raising the flag the firs time (2002-2003 school year)
The original double-wide trailer (Summer 2006)
Class of 2006 Graduation
Breaking ground for the building of the gym
The boys and me, right before they tried to push my face in the cake.
The current building
Today is a really big deal for me. Today marks 10 years since I last gave in to an addiction of self harm.
I don’t talk about this much. Honestly, I’m terrified to be public with this. I’m the seminary wife. I’m the soon-to-be pastor’s wife. I worry that people in the church will see me as a strange, twisted person – because what kind of person purposefully hurts herself?
However, I’m terrified not to talk about it. I am scared to death that somewhere out there, someone – maybe even a Christian like me – is struggling with self harm, someone who could be helped by my story. If I stay silent out of fear of judgment, then what did my experience teach me? What did it mean for me to go through that if it can’t be used for something bigger?
I’m sure there will be people who will hear of my past or see my scars and find me unworthy to be who I try to be – unworthy to be a pastor’s wife, a teacher, a leader, unworthy to be a mother. That’s something I need to face and something I need to learn how to deal with. The title of my blog, Broken Quiet: Writing Without Wearing the Mask, are all about breaking that silence, removing that mask, and helping people through my experience. I believe that’s why God allowed me to go through all that I survived – to help others.
So here it goes…
When people hear about cutting (or any form of self harm), they often picture some goth/punk/emo teenager who needs to get over an identity crisis and stop looking for attention and have a stronger faith. There are so many things wrong with this assumption.
First, many of those struggling with self harm are not teenagers; many of them are adults – some who started younger, and others who started in adulthood. Sadly, children also deal with self harm. It’s in our grade schools. It can start young.
Second, a person’s style of dress does not mean they are or are not depressed. You can have a blonde-haired girl who wears pink dresses every day, and she still may be dealing with depression. Appearance means nothing.
Third, sometimes self harm is not about attention, but sometimes it is – and that is okay. When someone is depressed, shouldn’t we be telling them to get help? Shouldn’t we be telling them that they need the attention of their parents/guardians, their teachers, and a counselor? Give these people positive attention. Help them see that they have meaning, because they are having trouble seeing it on their own.
Lastly, religion. When a Christian is shocked that I would do such a thing, I point out that several people in the Bible did the same, including Job (pronounced jobe). I read through the entire Bible, and I found several more verses describing people who cut themselves when facing extreme grief. These include Leviticus 19:28, Leviticus 21:5, Deuteronomy 14:1, Deuteronomy 23:1, 1 Kings 18:28, Job 2:8, Jeremiah 41:5, Jeremiah 47:5, Jeremiah 48:37, Hosea 7:14, and Mark 5:5.
I was a Christian, and I was a cutter. The time my faith was strongest was probably during the years I was cutting. Why? Because I needed God more than ever during that time of my life. I relied on Him just to get me through a mundane day. And honestly, now that I’m “normal,” I miss that, because now I have to constantly remind myself that I need God. I don’t turn to Him as naturally as I did before. All this is to say that people who self harm come from all sorts of religious backgrounds. Christians should not assume that a person has no faith just because s/he is struggling with a self harm addiction (or any addiction). However, I must add that I give all credit to successfully fighting this addiction the past 10 years to God. There is no one else who can do what He has done for me – no other person and no other god can love me like my God loves me.
If I haven’t lost you yet, allow me to tell you my story.
I had been through bullying and sexual assault at my grade school. The summer between 7th and 8th grade, our furnace exploded during an air conditioner installation. I was dealing with depression, anxiety, and PTSD – but I didn’t know it. I didn’t know that my feelings were symptoms, and so I hid them. I hid them so well, not even my parents knew what was going on.
By the time I was 15, I was a complete wreck. The smell of a burning candle would make me relive the explosion. (I didn’t know this was a flash back.) I could barely muster up the energy to get through a day of school, because school meant smiling and pretending that I was normal, and a continuous act is exhausting.
One day, during the autumn of my sophomore year, I was giving my cat her medication. This required that I cut her pill in half using a pill cutting tool. The pill cutter sliced my finger. I immediately started scolding myself. You stupid idiot. You can’t do anything right. You deserve that cut. You deserve to bleed. At that moment, something clicked. Before I even knew what I was doing, I started dragging the pill cutter over my skin, creating several cuts. I got a very calm, sleepy feeling. I cleaned everything up, left the bathroom, and relaxed.
Thus began my habit. Create some cuts on my arm or leg, feel calm and peaceful, continue on with my day. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, like I just couldn’t handle one more thing, I turned to my razor, and soon I was feeling calm again.
A few months into this routine, I came across the term “cutting” online. I had never heard of it before. I had no idea other people did what I did. It shocked me and scared me that this was something people got professional help for. Finding out that I was a cutter made me realize just how serious my feelings were – that I really was dealing with a beast called Depression.
And yet, I hid. My routine was working for me. Cutting calmed me. Looking back, I realize I only became more withdrawn. The thoughts behind cutting were not healthy – believing I needed to be physically punished for every little mistake. Perhaps cutting helped me cope in some ways, but overall, it was a dangerous game to play.
About that time, teachers were noticing a change in me. After several comments, I admitted to my parents that I had been considering suicide and had even tried to swallow pills once. It was decided that I should start counseling. My dad found a Christian counselor for me.
Around Christmas time, one of my best friends discovered my self harm secret when she grabbed my arm. She said she couldn’t keep this secret for me. She told her dad. If I didn’t tell my parents, her dad would tell mine. I was angry at her. I felt so betrayed. I decided to take as much control of the situation as I could and tell my dad while I was in counseling. I knew he would be heartbroken, and I wanted the counselor to be there for him. (By the way, this girl is one of my very closest friends to this day.)
That night was the worst night of my life; it was even worse than the night of the explosion. My parents were hurt, confused, and so worried for their child. They received news no parent wants to hear about their daughter.
Counseling was the best thing for me, though. I found out why I always felt so calm and sleepy after a cutting session; self harm is a chemical addiction. When a person’s body is hurt, the body sends messages to the brain, and the brain releases endorphins to act as pain relievers. Eventually, a person comes to rely on that sudden release of endorphins, and an addiction results.
Addictions have a way of escalating until they control you. Eventually, I began cutting even when I wasn’t upset. Sometimes, I cut just because it had been awhile, and I felt like I craved it.
With counseling, help from family, teachers, and friends, and hearing God’s Word in church every week, I eventually realized that cutting was bad; punishing myself was bad. When the movie The Passion of the Christ came out, I was finally struck with the realization that Christ went through so much to carry my sin. He bled so that I didn’t have to. All my mistakes are already forgiven. I didn’t need to be punished; I needed to trust that Jesus paid my ransom because He loves me.
Now that I consciously knew I wanted to stop cutting, I still had to fight the physical addiction. At first, just going two days was a big deal. Sometimes I went weeks, but I kept falling back. At one point, I had gone months, and I was just not happy. I wanted to cut, still. I was just fighting it because I knew it was the right thing to do. I spoke to a counselor about this at a Christian camp, and he told me that until I really truly wanted to stop, relapse would be more than likely.
Not long after that conversation, I cut. And I hated myself for it. For the first time, I was so upset that I gave in. And that’s when I realized, I was ready to fight – not because it was the right thing to do, but because I wanted to be free.
Several months in, I started dating a guy at my college. We had gone to high school together, but he didn’t know about my cutting. When we started dating, I was very open with him about what I had been through. I wanted him to know what he was getting into, but I also wasn’t interested in dating someone who couldn’t respect me. As it turned out, he was the best thing for me. Whenever I had a craving or was struggling to cope with anxiety, depression, or a PTSD episode, he was there. Sometimes, my hands would shake because I wanted to cut so badly, but he would sit with me and hold my hands.
Today, 10 years later, he is still with me. He married me.
I still struggle sometimes. I will always be in recovery until this life is over, until I join my Savior in heaven and am finally cured from clinical depression, anxiety, and PTSD. But God has put some amazing people in my life who have helped me come this far. My parents, sister, teachers, and my husband have been such a huge help to me. Organizations such as To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) and Celebrate Recovery are such an encouragement. One of my favorite bands, Switchfoot, supports TWLOHA. The songs, Scream, by ZoeGirl and Scars by Jonny Diaz are two Christian songs that have addressed self harm in such a meaningful way for me. God has put so many people in my life to remind me that He loves me, and I am worthy.
And in my weakest moments, I remember this:
But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5
Call Night – the night my husband received his first placement as pastor – has come and gone in all its whirlwind of drama and emotion. We have waited for this night for the past five years of our marriage. I’m so glad the wait is over.
This entry will be a bit long – about 10 minutes to read – but it’ll give some insight into what the big day was like.
My sister came in the late morning on the big day. She babysat Esther, and Frank went to counseling with me. We learned some new ways to deal with anxiety. (I can’t imagine why we’re dealing with anxiety. *sarcasm*) Then I went home to do chores, and Frank went to class.
Keeping my thoughts off Call Night and my eyes off the clock was not easy. However, my baby decided to be incredibly fussy, and a fussy baby turned out to be the best distraction. Frank and I took her to the Vicarage (Internship) Placement Service the night before so we could have a practice run of taking a baby to a big crowd after bedtime. She did really well, but it kind of ruined her normally happy temperament the next day – Call Day. She was very clingy and quite the momma’s girl. I thought she must be getting her first tooth or coming down with an ear infection because she had never been so clingy. Turns out she was just overwhelmed, poor thing. I felt bad, though, because she wouldn’t let any of our visiting family hold her, and it isn’t often they get to see her.
Frank’s parents arrived in the early evening. Frank cooked them a dinner of seared steak that had been rubbed with garlic hours before. He also steamed some sweet potatoes and broiled some fresh green beans. It was a delicious feast.
My friend, Jenn, came to visit me for a few minutes to give me a hug and a pep talk. She even sewed a tear in my skirt for me while I helped Frank with the veggies.
Then we ate, had a quick clean up, and rushed out the door to get to the seminary early.
I had a plan for handling my anxiety. I wanted to sit in a back pew so I could have an easy exit. If my anxiety got to be too much, I was going to leave and go to the next building over. Since Esther was so fussy, the plan was to have her stay with me. Unfortunately, since she doesn’t see family very often, and she’s just getting into the separation anxiety phase, I didn’t want to send her away from me, especially since she had missed bedtime the night before and would be doing so again. Thankfully, she sleeps well while being worn, and I planned on wearing her. It was also nice to have her with me because she’s in this with us. I remember feeling so odd two years ago during Vicarage Placement Night because the one person who was moving with me wasn’t allowed to sit with me at the service. But this year, I had a daughter, my little placement partner.
Even though we got there early, I was shocked at how crowded the chapel was. It was much more crowded for the Call Service than it was for the Vicarage Service. We couldn’t find enough seats together, so we had to separate. My sister and I sat with our parents, who met us there. My in-laws went up front, which ended up working out well because my father-in-law got some wonderful pictures.
The service began, and the candidates started their procession. As soon as I saw Frank, I teared up. I was so proud of him. This was finally his moment – the moment God had planned all along. Some happy tears were shed. And then I had to laugh, because we’re advised not to cry, and here I was, only a few minutes in, already crying. (I cry easily about pretty much everything – happy or sad.)
The service was absolutely beautiful. The Kantorei (men’s choir) sang some absolutely beautiful pieces that had a calming harmony and peaceful message. I immediately felt that God was with us, and I relaxed a little.
During the service, Esther fussed if I wasn’t holding her, but she did really well sitting on my lap and played with my sister’s hands, sleeve, nails, etc. I also brought a teething necklace, which she about chewed to death. She was so well-behaved, I even got to take notes during the sermon.
The sermon was well written. It began with a booming exclamation of “ARE YOU READY?” I felt a surge of adrenaline. Then he said, “I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering how you’re going to distract yourself through this too-long sermon.” We all laughed. He continued, “Is it by counting the bricks on the wall behind me? Well let me tell you, I’ve already done it. There are 22,574 bricks.”
He reminded us that the world doesn’t want to hear about Jesus, but God is going to enable us to withstand the world. We were reminded that we will fail and make mistakes, but there is no perfect pastor and no perfect family, and there is always Grace and forgiveness. He pointed out that even the Twelve Disciples, who had the “best seminary training ever” were unprepared for Jesus’ death. Yet, later on Pentecost, they were on fire with passion for the Gospel. Jesus chose commoners – sinners – to be those Twelve Disciples, and He still chooses common sinners to be His disciples today. He equips us an enables us to spread His Gospel of Salvation.
Finally, it was time for the candidates to come forward and receive their Call. Their full name was called, then the church name, city, state, and district. Esther started getting really fussy during this – of course, the pivotal moment. I got up and started pacing with her in the back of the chapel. There were over 50 candidates, and it felt like forever and a day before Frank’s name was finally called. I knew Frank was in line next to his friend, Zack. For some reason, I forgot my ABCs and thought he was after Zack rather than before (according to last name). So I was in the back of the chapel listening for Zack’s name when I suddenly heard Frank’s name. I hurried back in as the church and city were announced, although I was in such a crazy mix of emotions, I missed it. Then I heard the state. I looked at my sister, mom, and dad, and I asked, “Missouri? Did he say Missouri?”
My sister looked at me and said, “It’s okay. It’s only Missouri. It’s okay.”
I kept thinking, Oh my gosh. It’s Missouri. We’re going to Missouri. Missouri. Missouri. Missouri. Misery. Missouri. It’s so far from Michigan. So far. So far. So far. But it’s a lot closer than other states. So close. So close. So close.
At this point, I felt like a schizophrenic person must feel, arguing with oneself. So many conflicting thoughts. So many faces looking at me. More Candidates being announced. I needed to get out. I went to the basement and took a breath. I got Esther in the carrier to wear her. My thoughts started to slow down and untangle a bit. Then my sister came down the stairs, and she was just sobbing, and we hugged for awhile. My mom had a few tears escape too and joined in the hug.
Honestly, my sister’s reaction was exactly what I needed. I had no words. I had so many positive and negative emotions all at once. I really just needed to cry and to have someone cry with me.
Some other seminary wives were down in the basement too. Let’s just say I wasn’t the only one who needed some space to cry a little while holding our babies.
My mom, sister, and I composed ourselves and then returned to the pew with my dad. We stayed until the Kyrie, and then we all left to go to the next building because my anxiety was getting out of control. Once we got to the next building, I thought I was going to be sick to my stomach. The excitement, suspense, adrenaline, shock – it all just was too much. I was shaking and trying to remember where the bathroom was.
My mom called her mom. I talked with my grandma a bit, and I calmed down listening to her voice. By then, the service was over, and Frank joined us. We took pictures, and I posted our announcement on Facebook. Then it was time for Frank and me to rush off to our meeting with the Missouri District President.
In our meeting with the DP, we met with a deaconess intern whose internship was in Missouri and another seminarian and his fiance who received a Call to Missouri. We each learned a little bit about our churches from our district president, and we had some time to go through our packets. Frank and I learned that we are in a very, very rural area. Our church is looking for a pastor and family who relates well with people, who sympathizes and connects. I’m an extremely sensitive person. All my life, I’ve grown up thinking that it’s a bad thing to be sensitive. But recently, I’ve spent over a year in counseling learning how to use my sensitivity as a gift and a tool. I’m so excited that I have this opportunity with a church looking for someone who relates well. Frank is also well suited for this, as he is so patient and understanding. (You’d have to be, to live with me!) And Esther, well, she just brings joy wherever she goes! It was so exciting to begin to see how God is using this Call to bless us and bless people through us. I’m so excited to see what the future holds.
After the meeting, we went to the reception. Frank and I walked through the freezing cold wind and yucky rain with Esther to get to the cafeteria. I couldn’t help but think of how much warmer Missouri must be. I hate, hate, hate the cold!
Once in the cafeteria, we met with our parents and my sister and were able to go through the Call packet a little. We saw that our future church does most services with a traditional worship style and occasionally has a contemporary worship service. I am so excited about this! I think traditional worship is so beautiful, and it’s a great way to slow down our busy lives and remind ourselves of the respect we should give to God. I also love contemporary worship. I think it’s also important to get excited about God. I like when hands are raised, when people clap. I don’t mind an “Amen” here and there. Lastly, I think it’s important for churches to offer both styles of worship if they want to grow. I’m super excited that Esther will have exposure to both styles.
We all decided we were getting exhausted, and it was time to call it a night. My parents drove home. My in-laws went to the room they were renting at the seminary. Frank, Esther, my sister, and I went back to our apartment. The next day, my sister and Frank’s parents returned to Michigan.
Now that we’ve had a few days, our emotions are settling down. I’ve had time to cry. Esther has had time to sleep. Frank’s had time to catch up on homework. I’ve been Googling like crazy, trying to figure out where we will do our grocery shopping and what fun things I can do with Esther once we move. It’ll be a very rural lifestyle, that’s for sure. But now that I know what to expect and now that the shock has worn off, I am getting so excited.
I also needed to deal with some guilt. I felt like I was failing as a seminary wife. I had this picture in my head that the seminary wives come to Call Night in their Sunday best, wearing their biggest smiles, and sitting silently with a cheery face as their husband receives his placement. I pictured them going home and happily calling family with the news. I pictured them making arrangements the next day, full of thanks for wherever they are going. Meanwhile, I felt like I was out of control. I wanted to do something rebellious, like get another piercing or put a streak of some crazy color in my hair. I felt like if I smiled, my face would break. I knew I would silently cry as I heard my husband’s placement (whether I was happy or sad). I only wanted to go home and sit still and wait for the shock to wear off. I even considered staying home and watching the event through live streaming. I felt bad paying attention to Esther during the service rather than letting her cry with a babysitter. Whenever someone told me to “count my blessings,” I felt like a terrible Christian and immediately had to fight back tears. I spent a few days talking with seminary wives and pastor’s wives, and I found that many of them felt the same way. Some actually did skip the service and watched online at home. Many didn’t want babysitters for their babies and decided to wear them. Some had a glass of wine waiting for them after Call Night. Many spent a few nights crying in bed. One actually did dye her hair pink. Another said she wanted to scream if she heard one more person say “It could be worse,” or “Trust God.” I had to learn that all the negative emotions I was feeling were normal for seminary wives, and it didn’t mean I was a bad seminary wife. It meant I was human and needed to mourn what I was losing and adapt to what was changing – and that’s okay.
The one thing I am struggling with is picturing Esther’s birthdays and holidays. When I was growing up, I lived about an hour from family, so we always got together for birthdays and holidays. I knew all my cousins, aunts, uncles, and my grandma really well. Our gatherings often had 30 of us. It was always a loud, fun, crazy time. No matter what was going on in life, we all came together and laughed until our sides hurt. Right now, I’m picturing Esther on her first birthday with just Frank and me sitting with her. No cake, thanks to food allergies. I’m just so sad for my baby. I’m sure we’ll make friends in the church and community, but of course, no one can replace my family. I need time to mourn this, then accept this, and grow to be okay with it.
But other than the distance, every single thing about this Call looks absolutely amazing, and I honestly cannot wait to pack up and move there. It’ll be a wonderful place to call home! I have to say, God did a pretty good job picking out our placement! Although I will miss my family, God goes with us. I am excited – and even impatient – to start this journey!
God is good.
People “start over” many times in life – some more than others. I remember feeling like getting a new start when I graduated my K-8th grade school and started high school. Likewise, I felt I had a new beginning when I graduated high school and moved into a dorm at a university, away from home for the first time. Getting married was another fresh start.
We’ve been married for 5 years. We moved from our parents’ homes to our new apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan after we were married. I finished my 5th and last year of college, and then we moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana so my husband could join seminary for graduate school. A year later, we switched apartment units within the city due to crime. Then my husband was assigned a one-year internship (called a vicarage) in Moline, Illinois. We moved back to FW for my husband’s final year of seminary when I was 31 weeks pregnant. We have moved five times in five years. Our 6th anniversary is coming up this summer, and we will be moving our 6th time this summer. (Hopefully, we’ll be done moving for a long time after that!)
The scary part of this is, I don’t know where we are going. In the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the seminary decides where a pastor gets his first Call.
A Call is basically an offer to work as a pastor at a church. A pastor will think about the Call, pray over it, and perhaps even visit the church and city. Whether or not a pastor accepts the Call depends on how he feels God is leading him. It is a very faith-based process.
For a graduating seminarian going out to his first church, the Call process is a bit different. The placement director interviews each seminarian and his family. He works with churches who have requested a pastor fresh from seminary. He prays about the decisions he has to make. Some churches interview pastors and have a say in who they Call; others simply leave it up to God.
During the placement interview, a seminarian can make requests. One request we made was to be within 8 hours driving distance of either my parents or my husband’s parents. However, there are no promises, no guarantees. The seminarian and his family could end up literally anywhere in the country, and if he has given permission to leave the country, he could potentially end up anywhere in the world accepting LCMS pastors.
A seminarian can also request certain aspects about a church. Perhaps he would like to be the sole, senior pastor, but perhaps he would rather be an assistant pastor. He may feel better suited to have a sole parish (work at one church) or maybe he feels called to work in a multi-parish setting (working at two or more churches). He may be passionate about contemporary worship, or he may feel more comfortable with traditional worship. Perhaps he enjoys working in a rural setting, or maybe he feels God leading him to work in an inner city church. All these things are discussed in the interview, but again, nothing is promised.
Some churches offer housing as part of the salary. The house is called a parsonage. The parsonage is owned by the church. Sometimes it is on the church property or next to it. Other times, it is more of a commute. Other churches offer a housing allowance as part of the salary, which the pastor can use to buy his own home. Again, the seminarian does not get to pick.
On Call Night (also called Placement Night), the seminarians and their wives go to the chapel to worship and also find out where they are placed. Before this service, they do not know where they are going to live. The seminarians sit up front in alphabetical order. The seminary wives sit with friends (or if they are lucky, any family who traveled to town). Some families bring their children, believing it is a family affair. Others leave their children at home with a babysitter because they are worried about all the emotion and crowding being scary for their kids.
The church service then begins. Hymns are sung, and a sermon is preached. Finally, the seminarians are called up one-by-one. Their name is announced, and then the city, state, church name, and district. They shake hands and smile (much like a graduation ceremony) and then sit down. After each seminarian’s placement has been announced, the church service closes with prayer and a hymn. Then there’s a mad rush for seminarians to reunite with their wives and families or friends to talk about what has happened and learn more details, such about when they must move and what type of housing they will have.
This is what I will experience this week. As of right now, I could move anywhere in America. I could move closer to my family than I have been in years, or I could move to the opposite side of the country. I just don’t know.
People ask me if I am scared or excited. I’m both.
I’m excited because I don’t enjoy the city that we live in now. I am so done with the crazy schedule of seminary and work. I’m beyond tired of moving. I am so ready to settle into home with my little family and feel stable.
I’m scared, too. Obviously, I’m scared about moving far away from my parents, sister, and relatives. They are all so important to me, and I hate the thought of rarely seeing them. Even more, I hate the thought of my daughter not knowing her relatives. What will our holidays look like? Who will be at her first birthday party? Will it just be the three of us?
But I worry about stupid, trivial things, too.
If we have a parsonage, can I paint and decorate and do landscaping and make it my own little space? Will I have a dishwasher? How many bedrooms will we have? Will we have room for more kids if we decide to try for more? Will there be a yard for my daughter to play in? Will it be fenced in and safe for her? Will we have a garage? Will we have a basement or storm shelter (especially if we are in tornado alley)? Will it have nasty, ancient carpets for my baby to crawl on? Will it smell of cigarette smoke? Will our home be private, or will church employees/volunteers have access to the home if the church uses a room for storage or office space?
If we have a housing allowance, we need to become acquainted with buying a home – and QUICK. How do you buy a home long-distance? What do we do if we can’t find a home right away? How are we going to afford this on top of our student loans? How will we afford a washer, dryer, stove/oven, lawn mower, and all those other big appliances every home-owner needs?
What if the people of the congregation don’t like me? Will they think I don’t participate enough if I don’t go to every single church service, Bible study, meeting, and event? Or will they think I’m too involved and controlling if I volunteer a lot? Will they think I am a stuck up, thinks-she-is-perfect person? Or will they see my faults and expect me to be perfect? How am I supposed to act? Who am I supposed to be? If I don’t measure up to what the congregation wants, am I misrepresenting God?
There are so many questions. I’m a control freak. I’m an introvert. I am quiet, yet I am opinionated. People often say their first impression of me is that I am withdrawn or depressed. And the thing is, I do have so many obstacles of my own to overcome – clinical depression, general anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD. And situations like this – the unknown – the uncontrolled – make those issues flare up like a wildfire.
But here is the main thing:
Ultimately, those questions are not important. The beautiful thing about the Call process is that it really is up to God. The director prays about each of his decisions, and he makes no decision until he feels God leading him in a certain direction. Wherever we go, it’s where God wants us to go. Maybe the congregation won’t love us. Maybe we end up in a house that is falling apart. But God put us there for a reason.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'”
– Jeremiah 29:11
And another thing:
No matter where we go, God goes with us. He leads us, and He never leaves us.
“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
– Jeremiah 31:8
The human side of me is going to worry. I’m going to feel anxious. But the faith side of me is going to trust. God has gotten me through much, much bigger things – things terrifying and deadly. A possible cross-country move is nothing for Him.
My God defeated sin and death. He defeated Satan and his demons. Whom shall I fear?
So, Call Night… bring it on.
Yesterday, I posted the letter I sent to the Lutheran High School Association. This blog post is the letter my sister, Kayla, sent. I loved what she said and am sharing it here with her permission.
The double-wide trailer and the brand new gym in May 2007
To the Board of Directors,
I am an alumna of Lutheran High South of Newport Michigan, and I believe that every effort should go into saving this high school. I attended from 2004-2008. It was still a small school, but we were growing and making a difference. I can honestly say if I didn’t attend LHS I wouldn’t be who I am today.
Not only did LHS give me a good education, it formed my personality into someone who can make it in this world as a Christian woman. Why are we okay with sending our children to public high schools that aren’t teaching them the basics of Christian faith? Parents argue that this will teach them how it is in the real world. Is that to let your friends and the modern world win in its ways because it’s more popular than Christianity? Our faith as a whole is falling apart. The USA needs equality between race, sex and religions… but for some reason, Christianity is the one that the world really isn’t ok with. When you are between the ages of 13-18, those ages are the most moldable. They need strong Christian leaders to look up to. They are spending much more time at school and with their friends than at home with their Christian parents. Some, not many, grow from the challenge. Out of 15 kids in my Christian grade school graduating class, I am the only one that attends church on a regular basis and the only one that went to a Lutheran high school. I believe my continually growing faith was able to bloom in High School while still being able to be a “teenager”.
Mr. Garrabrant was the principle while I attended. He was someone whom I felt I would love being like! He was balanced between work, family, faith, and all of his school “children”. Even if he thought he wasn’t balancing it well, it didn’t show to me. He was a huge impact on my life.
Personally, I was not into going to school, but friends and sports kept my attention enough to want to go to school and want to get good grades to stay eligible for sports. After my freshman year, I truly WANTED to be at LHS. It wasn’t because my parents made me go; I wanted to help grow the school. By my junior year we had our very own gym to play our sports in. It was AMAZING having helped break ground and build and clean that gym. Then we hosted our very own home games. And we grew! Sports are a big deal for high school students, and as we grew so did our sports. The year after I graduated we were volleyball champions and soccer champions!
Not only did I receive a good education, learned beneficial work and social habits, and grew my faith, I also met my husband there. Joe and I started dating in high school and were married in 2011. This school has built amazing marriages! Two more sets of couples met at LHS. My sister, Shelby, and Frank graduated in 2006. Hannah and Tony graduated in 2010. Both couples just had their first daughters! This school brought these people together, and they have formed a life together. Not just a high school friend you see once every 10 year reunion – true, loving relationships!
I was able to stay involved with South a little after I graduated. I helped coach volleyball, helped my father-in-law with score board and went to the auctions and even got to sing the national anthem for some home games. As time went on and life got busier with weddings and houses, jobs and school, family and babies, we haven’t been able to give attention to the high school. But I never want to see it shut down. I was with my parents at the last graduation of Lutheran High East. My cousin was in that last graduating class. To see their memories literally demolished was heart breaking, and another Lutheran high school gone.
Please consider every possibility into keeping this high school running. It’s important for the alumni. It’s important for the high school students. It’s important for the grade school children who need a Lutheran high school to attend, which in turn makes it important for the community. It’s also giving teachers jobs and keeping the church Christ Our Shepherd open.
I did a little bit of research on school closings and why Christian schools are closing. There was some good information. Some of the points I found to be important: While discussing the pros and cons to closing, the school and its board need to keep everyone involved, especially the current students and staff. It needs to explain how the enrollment study proves that closing the school makes sense. It needs to stay ahead of messaging the public and control rumors. Remember that every decision will affect the kids. Don’t ignore what the people are saying even if you don’t agree – really listen. Don’t make promises that can’t be kept. Remember that there is a cost to closing just as much as there is to keep it open. I found all of these to be good points and agreeable.
Now I don’t claim to know how to run a school. I don’t know the ins and outs of LHS at this time. But I do know that a lot of people would hate to see the school shut down for all the reasons I’ve listed. I’m sure we are all willing to do our part in helping to keep it running and to give a future to the next generation.
Thank you for taking the time to read my concerns and hopes. We will be praying hard! As Pastor Terry Cashmer says before our prayers, “It’s time to go to work.”
My high school experience was vastly different from the average American’s high school experience. I had a Christian education. I had only a handful of teachers. My school building was a double wide trailer. My graduating class had five people – four boys and me. My teenage years were extremely difficult, but my high school experience was one of the best experiences of my life. Hearing that Lutheran High South – Newport, Michigan may close is heart-wrenching news.
I could write a 500 page book on all the ways LHS benefited me. I’ll try to keep this simple and get to the main point, which is this: LHS has something to offer that no other high school in its location can offer, and that is a Christian education.
This world bombards Christians with temptations. Drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, to name a few. This world slanders Christians, often making us feel like we need to hide our faith. As teenagers grow in their independence and identity, the most important thing for teenagers is to be surrounded by people who will nurture their faith.
Allow me to share my story. I struggled with clinical depression as far back as I can remember, which is about four years of age. My first thoughts of suicide occurred in fifth grade. My family and I survived a home explosion just after I finished my seventh grade year. By the time I entered high school, I was drowning in depression and anxiety and questioning my faith in God. I was blessed with Christian parents, but they needed a support system. They needed to know their daughter’s faith and emotional well-being were being noticed and cared for at school.
My teachers at LHS never gave up on me. They never stopped teaching me that I mattered. Integrated into every school subject was the lesson that God created me and loved me and had a plan for me. My teachers prayed for me and with me. There were many times depression almost won. There were times I could no longer fight it, but my teachers and my principal never stopped fighting.
My LHS teachers and classmates were my family. By the time I graduated high school, my faith was stronger than it had ever been. I was on my way to becoming stable. The relationships I made at LHS have lasted me throughout the years since. In fact, my classmates and teachers literally became my family; My sister met her husband at LHS. I met my husband at LHS. His parents, our teachers, are now my mother-in-law and father-in-law. His brothers are now my brothers-in-law. I cannot imagine my life without them. And the best thing yet, we now have a daughter together. I am so grateful our baby, Esther, will grow up in a loving Christian family – a family she would not have had LHS not been there.
The ways God blessed me at South became even more obvious to me while I was in college. I was studying to be a teacher, and I was doing my field work in the Ann Arbor public schools. One of the high schools I worked in is said to be one of the best high schools in the state. In fact, students are not assigned to that school according to where they live; they attend that school by winning a lottery. I was excited to work there. One day, euthanasia was the topic in the debate class. The discussion began with students debating whether or not the elderly and terminally ill should have the right to assisted suicide. To my horror, the question eventually became “Should those suffering from clinical depression have the right to commit suicide?” All the students – over 50 of them – came to the agreement that if someone has been diagnosed with clinical depression, assisted suicide should be an option for them. Had this discussion happened among my classmates at LHS, I know any one of my teachers would have stepped in and reminded us that even if we are broken and suffering, God has a plan for us. We still have value. We still can be used by Him to do amazing things in this hurting world. The teacher in this classroom did not say a single word. Those students went home that day believing suicide was an answer to clinical depression. I guarantee that with how common clinical depression is, at least one of those students was struggling with it. I can also guarantee that had I experienced that debate and the silence from my teacher while I was a teenager dealing with clinical depression and suicidal thoughts, I might not have come to school the next day because I might not have been alive the next day.
I close with this thought: One of my college professors recently wrote an article on his blog, Day1Of1 – A Mile in My Schu’s titled “Kathleen Elizabeth” about the death of one of his students. He struggled with the feeling that teaching did not matter, because life ends in death. No math, science, or literature class prevents death. But he finally realized that teaching his students about God and His love and the hope we have of heaven is what makes any teaching job worthwhile. I know we have recently lost an LHS graduate to cancer. How beautiful that he was able to receive a Christian education during the last few years of his life. How miraculous that he could have assurance of Salvation through Jesus, and that Lutheran South could play a small part in that.
I beg you, the Lutheran High School Association, to give Lutheran High South more time to recruit students. I understand money and low enrollment is the problem. I understand parents hesitate to send their teens to a small school that doesn’t have all the extracurricular activities and sports other schools have. But I ask that the LHSA will give South another chance, because the Monroe area needs a school like South. Teenagers need a safe place to learn. Give the alumni, the teachers, and the current students more time to get the word out that South offers something more important than secular class ever could. It is a school that offers the Word of God, in religion classes, chapel services, and any extracurricular activity. Give us time to share our testimonies with the community. I guarantee that once people hear our stories, they will want their children to have a Christian high school experience, too.
For all the saints. To God be the glory. Amen.
Shelby Lucas (nee Zink)
Class of 2006
Third graduating class
A reader saw an article called “Nine Movies that make Women Think it’s Romantic to be Stalked“. The reader said it reminded her of my article on rape in Fifty Shades of Grey and my article on how Fifty Shades of Grey and other pieces of fiction do affect reality. My reader encouraged me to write a follow-up on this theme as my daughter’s first Valentine’s Day approaches. So, for my 50th blog post, here are my thoughts as a mother of a daughter who will one day be romanced…
My daughter’s love life has been on my mind since before she was conceived. If you have followed my blog, you know that I went through sexual assault throughout 8th and 9th grades. It started and continued so long because it seemed so harmless to begin with. A boy at my church/school began to hang out with me. I was excited because I was the awkward, geeky girl with few friends. He started telling me I was pretty. My starving self esteem ate up the compliments. But then he started telling me I was sexy. He started saying he wanted to buy me lingerie. (Yes, in 8th and 9th grade. Seriously.) Our AOL conversations turned into him saying inappropriate things despite my telling him it made me uncomfortable (which is harassment). At school and at church activities, he followed me everywhere – even into the girls’ locker room once (stalking). He began snapping my bra, which lead to feeling me up (assault). By the second year, he was threatening to do these things to my little sister if I didn’t have sex with him. He threatened suicide and even had one of his friends try to convince me he had gone through with the threat. He told me he talked to demons and that he sent them to my room at night to watch me. Basically, he was a mini Christian Grey. By this point, I was so embarrassed to be seen as a sexual object, I couldn’t work up the nerve to tell my parents or teachers. I simply blocked him on AOL, changed my screen name, and hid while at church activities until the harassment and assault died out. Then I pretended it didn’t happen and got through high school, but the memories came up when I started dating Frank, and then the memories came full-force during our first year of marriage.
Now that I am the mother of a little girl, my heart aches when I think of something like this happening to her. I want to vomit. I seriously think I would kill the boy who treated her the way my schoolmate treated me. (Now I know where the term “momma bear” comes from.) How do I protect her? How do I stop this? How do I prevent this from ever happening? I am especially at a loss since my parents were so careful and so protective of me. (I was the kid whose classmates teased her for being “sheltered.”)
What makes this situation even more terrifying is that our culture teaches men that women want to be treated this way. Our culture teaches women that being treated this way is romantic. Women want men to watch them sleep. Women want men to follow them around during their daily lives. Women want to be given ultimatums for sexual actions. It’s a compliment for a guy to keep pressuring a woman for “romance” even once she has asked him to stop.
It is not what women want.
It is not romantic.
So this Valentine’s Day, I have a request of parents, teachers, daycare workers, babysitters, nannies, aunts, uncles, grandparents – teach little girls what real romance is; teach little boys how to respectfully express love. Why teach little kids? Because it starts young. The boy who assaulted me was 12 when he started. Twelve. The younger you demonstrate to your children what love is – even unromantic love – the more likely they will be to respect others and appropriately demonstrate love. If they grow up in love, they will know how to express love.
I pray for my daughter every day. I prayed for her before she was conceived. I prayed for her before she was born. As soon as I knew I was pregnant, I prayed for my baby’s future spouse. As soon as I knew I had a daughter, I prayed for her future husband. I still do. I pray to God that she has a husband just as loving and respectful as her daddy. I pray she has caring in-laws just like her paternal grandparents. My parents prayed all these things for me, and their prayers were answered.
I pray that whatever boy dates her and whatever man marries her sees all her shades and loves her accordingly. I pray he patiently discovers these shades as she is willing to share them. I pray he sees
the shade of her Christian faith shining through all she does,
the shade of her innocence,
the shade of her humor,
the shade of the characteristics she values in others,
the shade of her smile,
the shade of her laugh,
the shade of her desire to be respected,
the shade of her personhood and right to be treated as a human being,
the shade of her unique personality,
the shade of her need to be loved,
the shade of her wish for freedom,
the shade of her intelligence,
the shade of her independence,
the shade of her empathy and how it should never be taken advantage of.
I pray that the shades of her husband mix with hers to create the beautiful mosaic of a God-pleasing marriage, preceded by a truly romantic period of dating.
These are the thoughts of a mother on her daughter’s first Valentine’s Day… and every day.
Some closing thoughts:
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6
“Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” – Song of Solomon 8:7
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
“We love because He [God] first loved us.” John 4:19
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:2
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her …” – Ephesians 5:25
You’re out shopping for Baby, and you see a product labeled “All natural!” or “Baby Safe!” or “Mother Approved!” It must be a healthy product… right? Unfortunately, advertising labels are not regulated. If you want to know what you are exposing your baby to, read the ingredients list – not the advertising label. I wish I could tell you one brand or one company that has great products across the board, but unfortunately, many companies have some great products while simultaneously having other products loaded with chemicals. (I’ll give some examples of this in each section.) If you want to make an informed decision about what products to use, read on. But first, let’s discuss whether or not chemical exposure in our baby products has an impact on your family.
Do chemicals enter our bodies through our skin?
Think of the organs in our bodies. Our lungs absorb oxygen. Our digestive system absorbs nutrients. Our bodies are designed to absorb. We often forget that our skin is an organ. Just like other organs, the skin absorbs. In fact, according to a report by Down to Earth (1), studies show that our skin absorbs 64% of chemicals that come into contact with our skin, and the skin on our face and genitalia is even more absorbent – up to 100%. Think about how our skin absorbs medicines through transdermal patches for things like nicotine, birth control, and motion sickness. Our skin absorbs the medicines and sends it straight into our bloodstream. Why wouldn’t our skin – your baby’s skin – do the same when it comes to chemicals in our products? The Huffington Post shared results of the Environmental Working Group’s study (2) in 2004 on what chemicals were absorbed into the bloodstream and found in the cordblood of newborn babies. They found 208 toxins that are known to cause developmental issues and birth defects. Clearly, these chemicals do enter our bodies.
What do these chemicals do?
Many of the chemicals in our skin care and cleaning products contain carcinogens (which cause cancer), endocrine disrupters (which cause disturbances in the body’s hormones), neurotoxins (which upset the nervous system) and irritants that can lead to asthma and allergies with repeated exposure.
Why is it especially important to limit chemical exposure for babies?
As was mentioned earlier, the skin covering genitalia has an absorption rate of up to 100%. Think of all the things we put on our babies’ tender bottoms – diapers, rash cream, diaper wipes, soap. Our babies’ bottoms are in contact with these things 24/7.
Even more importantly, babies’ skin is not as developed as adults’ skin to block out harmful substances according to a report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (3). The epidermis of infants is not as thick as the epidermis of adults, and the keratin layer is also more permeable in infants, allowing more chemicals to be absorbed. An article by Peter Lio, MD (4) also points out that infants have immature drug metabolism systems and detoxification systems.
How do you check for chemicals?
Don’t look at the advertising labels on products; look at the ingredients or materials list. Generally, the less ingredients, the better. If you can pronounce all of them, that’s a good sign. However, if the ingredients list leaves you clueless, you can search for the product at EWG’s Skin Deep Guide to Cosmetics (5) or EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning (6) to see if they have it listed. EWG provides a nifty graph showing the amount of concern for cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies and immunotoxicity, overall hazard, and use restrictions. Underneath the graph, the ingredients are listed with an explanation of what each ingredient is and what its risk is. Choose what level of risk you are personally comfortable with.
If you have a smart phone with a barcode scanner, you can download the EWG’s free app to Skin Deep Guide to Cosmetics. While you’re shopping, just scan the barcode of a product to see if it is in EWG’s database and read the information!
What to do with gifts high in chemicals?
We received a lot of gifts high in chemicals. We are also in a financial situation where we cannot afford to be picky. We did use up diapers and wipes even if they were brands high in chemicals. Some of the lotions and soaps we were given could not be used because my skin is extremely sensitive, and I would break out in an allergic reaction to some of the chemicals and fragrances just by giving my baby a bath. For gifts such as those, we returned it to the store in exchange for a store gift card. If we couldn’t exchange it, we donated it to co-ops and pregnancy centers. That way, the gift was still helpful to someone. No matter what we received, we were always grateful for every gift from our loving friends and family.
Product Examples using EWG ratings:
This one is easy. No baby powder. At all. Our hospital newborn classes informed us that the effects of inhaling baby powder are so dangerous, they’d like to see baby powder removed from the shelves. No matter how careful you are, those tiny particles are sure to puff into the air and get breathed in by you and Baby. Some baby powders, including the popular Johnson’s Baby Powder (7), are talc-based and can include asbestos. Yikes. Save your money and skip powder entirely. For more information, you can read this article (8) at Healthy Child.
The main ingredient to watch out for with baby oil is “fragrance” since this can mean anything. Johnson’s Baby Oil (9) contains unknown ingredients for fragrance – meaning, you don’t really know what you are putting on your baby’s skin. One product that lists all ingredients used is Badger Baby Oil, Chamomile and Calendula (10) and is therefore a good alternative. Even better, you can simply use cold-pressed coconut oil, which is even naturally antibacterial.
When looking for a diaper cream, you want something that will protect Baby’s skin and also soothe it. Treating a rash is not the time for unknown fragrances. Personally, I am uncomfortable putting hormone disrupting chemicals on genitals. Be on the lookout for ingredients that have “paraben” at the end of a word, retinyl acetate (Vitamin A acetate), and talc. Unfortunately, popular creams and ointments include these harsh ingredients, such as A+D Original Diaper Rash Ointment (11), Desitin (12), and Boudreaux’s Butt Paste (13). My favorite cream for diaper rash is Honest Diaper Rash Cream (14).
Ever notice that fresh fragrance of a new diaper? It smells nice, but that is a lot of chemicals for Baby to sit in 24/7 – especially if Baby has a rash with broken skin. Diapers are packed full of fragrance, lotions, dyes, pigments, inks, bleach, phthalates, and absorption-enhancing chemicals such as SAP. Some types of ink may have heavy metals. If you can’t find an ingredient/materials list for a brand of diapers, skip it (although you may need to look online rather than on the package).
What do these chemicals mean for Baby? To put it simply, these chemicals can cause asthma and other respiratory problems, cancer, nervous system disruptions, and skin allergies. I know many moms have had to switch diaper brands due to their babies getting diaper rashes as allergic reactions to diapers. To read more about specific chemicals and their effects along with studies that have been done, see this article from AlterNet (15).
Huggies and Pampers seem to be the most popular brands, followed by off-brands. Neither Huggies nor Pampers claim to be chlorine-free. Pampers does have lotions and fragrances, according to the Pamper’s site (16). I could not even find a materials list for Huggies. (If someone finds this, please feel free to share!) Off-brand diapers similar to these two brands have similar ingredients.
So how do you pick a diaper? Find a brand that is chlorine-free, dye-free, lotion-free, and fragrance-free. You may even find a brand free of phthalates. If a diaper has colors and prints on it, look to see if the inks or pigments are free of heavy metals. It’s unlikely to find any disposable diaper free of SAP. Some brands that fit these categories are Honest (17), Seventh Generation Free and Clear (18), and Earth’s Best (19). Although not as chemical-free as the previous three brands, Target’s Up & Up Diapers (20) are still a better choice than Pampers and Huggies.
Many popular brands have a sensitive formula for their wipes along with their original formula. But how does this compare? Pamper’s Soft and Strong Scented Wipes (21) have some immunotoxicity concerns from ingredients like alcohol. However, Pamper’s Natural Clean Wipes (22) and Pamper’s Sensitive Wipes (23) both have many of the same harsh chemicals as the original formula and even have some development/reproductive toxicity risks that the original formula doesn’t have! Huggies One and Done Refreshing Scent Wipes (24) and Huggies Natural Care Fragrance Free Wipes (25) are both worse than Pamper’s, and the natural is again worse than the original.
Baby Shampoo and Body Wash
A few years ago, Johnson & Johnson came under pressure (27) when parents showed concern about formaldehyde in their “gentle” baby shampoo. Johnson has since changed their formula. Although there is improvement, there are still ingredients that are cause for concern when it comes to allergies and immunotoxicity in Johnson’s Baby Shampoo (28). Babyganics Shampoo + Body Wash Chamomile Verbena (29) and Aveeno Baby Gentle Conditioning Shampoo (30) have similar health risks. Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash, Fragrance Free (31) has a slightly better rating, but so far, nothing I have seen has better ingredients than The Honest Company Shampoo and Body Wash (32). (I have switched to Honest Shampoo and Body Wash for myself, also. Although expensive, I no longer have the major acne issues I have had since I was 10. I figure I am saving money by not using all the expensive acne washes – and I’ve pretty much tried them all.)
Johnson’s is usually the go-to brand for babies, and you’d think Johnson’s Natural Baby Lotion (33) would have a great rating, but it has the unspecified fragrance and has risks of lead and mercury contamination of the hydrogenated cottonseed oil. Many of Johnson’s lotions have parabens that can cause hormonal risks. Aveeno Baby Lotion (34) isn’t much better. Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Nourishing Lotion, Fragrance Free (35) and Tom’s of Maine Baby Lotion (36) have slight cancer, reproductive, and immunotoxicity risks. Once again, my favorite is Honest Face and Body Lotion (37) because it has no cancer, hormone, or immunotoxicity risks, and all fragrance ingredients are specified.
I am still searching for a lotion that has a good EWG score and has no alcohol in the ingredients.
If your sunscreen is spray-on, toss it. Sunscreen should never be inhaled (38), and spray-on sunscreen particles will be inhaled no matter how careful you are.
If your sunscreen contains Oxybenzone in the active ingredients, skip it. Oxybenzone is absorbed by the skin, has been found in breast milk, is suspected to be absorbed by an unborn baby and cause low birth weight, causes sperm production issues in men, and causes endometriosis in women. Other chemicals to be avoided are Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, and Avobenzone. You can read more information about these chemicals by reading EWG’s article The Trouble with Sunscreen Chemicals (39).
Remembering all those long words is hard. To make it simple, look for a mineral-based sunscreen. If Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide is the main ingredient, your sunscreen will be much safer to use. Titanium Dioxide has little-to-no skin absorption, while Zinc Oxide has a very small amount, but Zinc Oxide has better sun coverage. With either of these, make sure to reapply the sunscreen often and follow directions carefully for proper sun coverage.
Sunscreens with the least amount of risk include Honest Sunscreen Lotion (40) (my favorite), Badger Baby Sunscreen Cream Chamomile and Calendula (41), and California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen Lotion (42).
Sunscreens with a medium amount of risk include Babyganics Mineral-Based Sunscreen Lotion (43) and Aveeno Active Naturals Baby Natural Protection Lotion (44).
Some of the worst sunscreens are unfortunately the most popular sunscreens, including Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sunscreen Lotion (45), Banana Boat Baby Sunscreen Lotion (46), Coppertone Water Babies Pure and Simple Sunscreen Lotion (47), and Neutrogena Pure and Free Baby Sunscreen Lotion (48). All four of these have high risks in allergens, cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, immunotoxicity.
Lots of good choices for this category! That’s good news for sore mommas, especially since this product ends up in Baby’s mouth. Honest Organic Nipple Balm (49), Motherlove Organic Nipple Cream (50), and Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Butter (51) all have good ratings. Honest and Motherlove are both organic. All three are non-GMO and safe for baby to ingest. Lansinoh HPA Lanolin (52) has a good EWG rating, but I personally had an allergic reaction to it. I like to use organic cold-pressed coconut oil when I pump – it’s cheaper. (Fun tip: If your baby gets chapped cheeks, lips, or hands from sucking on them, you can use edible nipple ointment on them. I do this just before I swaddle her for the night.)
Dish Soap and Dishwasher Detergent
If you’re bottle feeding your baby, you have a lot of washing to do. I was using Dawn Ultra (53), which has no developmental/reproductive toxicity or cancer risks. However, one day, as I was smelling the breastmilk to see if it still smelled okay, I noticed all I could smell was the dishsoap, even though I had been rinsing thoroughly. I decided to switch to something with no dye or fragrance. I use Dawn for my regular dishes, but I use Seventh Generation Natural Dish Liquid Free and Clear (54)for baby bottles.
A safe dishwasher detergent is Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwasher Powder Free and Clear (55). The concentrated, unscented pacs have the same rating. Both have minimal risks in all categories. Compare this to popular brands such as Finish Quantum Powerball Dishwasher Detergent (56) and Cascade Powder Dishwasher Detergent (57). Both brands’ gel and powder forms are high in all health risk categories.
What started my search for truly baby-safe products? I wanted to know what all the fuss was with laundry detergents designed for babies. What I found angered me. Dreft (58) was the first detergent I looked into, and it was actually among the highest in chemicals – even including “adult” detergents. It has a small health risk in cancer, skin allergies, asthma, and respiratory health. It has a very high risk of hormonal issues. This is because it contains sodium borate (59), which may cause infertility and damage the unborn child. Why in the world is Dreft marketed for babies? Other “baby friendly” detergents are just as bad, including Babyganics 3x Lavender Scent (60), Ecos Baby Chamomile and Lavender Scent (61), and Seventh Generation Baby Free and Clear (62). Clearly, “baby friendly” detergents are anything but.
Other popular brands are high in risks also. Examples include Woolite ZERO (63), Gain Ultra Original Fresh Scent (64), All 2x Ultra Free and Clear (65), Tide Original Scent (66), Cheer Stay Colorful Free and Clear (67), Purex Natural Linen and Lilies Scent (68), Oxiclean Stain Fighter Detergent Free and Clear (69), and Seventh Generation Liquid Free and Clear (70). All of these are especially high in reproductive/developmental health risks.
Some examples of detergents with lower health risks include a few scents of powdered detergent from Seventh Generation: White Flower and Bergamont Citrus (71), Real Citrus and Wild Lavender (72), and Free and Clear (73). The two scents have no reproductive/developmental risks, while the unscented has a slight risk. I like to use Ecos Free and Clear (74), which I can find at Walmart. Ecos Magnolia and Lily Scent (75) has only a slightly higher risk, but its other scents don’t have a great rating. (Note: I found out the hard way that Ecos is not a good detergent for cloth diapers. Seventh Generation powder is, according to Fluff Love University’s Detergent Index (76).
The detergents with the best ratings that I’ve seen in stores are GrabGreen 3 in 1 Laundry Detergent Pods Lavender with Vanilla Scent (77) (the unscented had an even better score) and Green Shield Organic Laundry Detergent Free and Clear (78). These might be a little more expensive though.
Laundry Stain Remover
Between food and poop stains, lots of moms want a good stain remover to spray directly on the stained laundry. Even some of our trusty brands have very high risks in all health categories when it comes to sprays. Examples include: Honest Stain Remover (79), Green Works Stain Remover (80), Seventh Generation Stain Remover (81), Resolve Spray’N Wash (82), and Oxy Clean Baby Stain Remover (83). Shout Advanced Gel Stain Remover (84) has a slightly lower risk.
Babyganics (85) has a decent score when it comes to stain remover spray. Earth Friendly Products Everyday Stain and Odor Remover (86) has a great score.
Dryer sheets are full of chemicals and are also a fire hazard. It just doesn’t matter what brand. I use Norwex wool dryer balls (89) to reduce dry time, reduce static, and soften clothes.
Liquid fabric softeners all seem to have about the same level of health risks, varying slightly between brands and scents. The main health risk with liquid fabric softener is concerning allergies and asthma. Cancer and reproductive risks are low or nonexistent. (I usually only use liquid fabric softener on my towels… because who likes a bath towel that feels like sandpaper?)
Flame Resistant Sleepwear
As the survivor of a home explosion when I was 12 years old, I understand why some parents may want their children’s pajamas to be treated with flame retardants. However, there are ways to prevent fires and burning without wrapping your child in chemicals every single night.
Chemicals used in fire retardants for children’s pajamas have been found to cause thyroid issues, early onset of puberty, cognitive issues, and delayed development, according to an article by the Cleveland Clinic (90). Nursing mothers have even had these chemicals show up in their breastmilk.
How do you keep your child safe from chemicals in their sleepwear? An article from Pediatric Safety (91) advises avoiding jammies made with synthetic material and buying cotton instead. The label should read “Wear snug-fitting. Not flame resistant.” Organic cotton will be free from pesticides and flame retardants. This article also says Target, Gymboree, and Costco have been known to sell jammies free of flame retardants.
You can still keep your children safe from fire, too. Pediatric Safety also says that if the cotton jammies are snug fitting, there is less air between the cotton and the skin for the fire to grow. Tight fitting jammies are also less likely to have a stray sleeve accidentally come into contact with a candle or other flame. Check your smoke detectors and fire alarms once a month. Have your furnace and water heater inspected once a year. Have an escape plan and practice it often with your children. Don’t smoke in your home, and never smoke in bed. Keep lighters and matches away from children. Put out your candles and fireplaces before bed. Unplug holiday decorations before bed, and make sure your fans and other electronics aren’t old and fizzling out. Don’t leave the bathroom fan on for long periods of time. Supervise your children.
Clearly, we cannot protect our kids from every chemical. However, we can educate ourselves. We can make informed decisions. We can lessen the exposure. We can also tell our favorite companies to change their ingredients and materials. Maybe, just maybe the next generation will be healthier.
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While I was pregnant, I was constantly asked by doctors, friends, family, and even pure strangers, “Are you going to breastfeed?” My response was always, “If I can, yes.” I have a few friends and family members who never had their milk come in, so I was prepared for that possibility.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the possibility that I could lactate, but my baby couldn’t nurse. I wasn’t prepared for facing the decision, “Should I give formula even though I have breast milk?”
The moment my daughter first latched on just seconds after birth, it hurt. I was so overjoyed at finally being done with labor that I didn’t mind the pain of her latch. I thought that maybe it was supposed to hurt. However, by the end of that day, I was raw, burning, and bleeding. The hospital lactation consultants (LCs) brought me a pump to use and a Similac brand bottle for my baby. The pumping and bottle feeding began.
A week later, I learned my baby had a slight tongue tie and a severe lip tie. She had both clipped. By that point, she was so used to the bottle that we had difficulty “getting back to breast.” The pumping continued.
Pumping has been one of the most challenging, frustrating, and lonely experiences of my life. I have almost given up several times. Being a mom to a newborn is hard. Add the stress of pumping, and it can quickly become overwhelming. For instance, look at the time it takes to pump (about 20 minutes every three hours around the clock) plus cleaning all the pump parts and bottles; it takes more time than breastfeeding – time that I could be spending with my baby. I remember the night feedings those first few weeks were terrible. She would fuss every 2 hours, I would heat up a bottle, feed her, burp her, rock her, and once she was asleep again, I would pump for 20 minutes, label the new bottle, and put it in the fridge. By the time I fell back asleep, my daughter was awake an hour later for her next bottle. (I later got smart and started feeding her room temperature milk from the previous pumping session so I didn’t have to warm a bottle.)
Pumping has also made travel extremely difficult. I have so much to pack – the bottles, the pump parts, the pump, the power converter so I can pump in the car, the cleaning accessories. Our traveling and visiting schedule absolutely has to be centered around my pumping schedule, because if I don’t pump, my baby doesn’t eat, and my body gets the message to produce less milk. Pumping reveals more skin than breastfeeding, making public pumping awkward and even more socially unacceptable than public breastfeeding. Plus, I need somewhere to plug in. I need somewhere to wash all the parts and let them air dry. The list of needs when it comes to pumping goes on and on.
And yet, it gets easier. I have been pumping for four months now – for 104 days to be exact – and I have learned ways to deal with exclusively pumping (EPing).
- Timing: I was so confused and told so many things about when to pump. The best advice I received: Pump every time your baby eats, and pump as long as it takes for your milk to go from a spray to a trickle. For me, I pump every three hours for 20 minutes – including at night. Make sure you get the timing right in order to keep your milk supply up.
- Feed Your Baby: If you were breastfeeding, you would be the only person feeding your baby. Because you are pumping, you are still going through all the work – and all the hormones – of lactation. However, if you let others feed your baby often, it can be very difficult on you. For instance, I wanted my visiting family to be able to spend as much time with her while they were with us, so I let them feed her. It was incredibly depressing to hide away in my room and pump all alone while someone else fed my newborn. If you are doing the work of pumping, reward yourself with being the main person to feed your baby, even if special visitors are over. Feeding time – whether by breast or bottle – is bonding time, and you deserve that bonding time.
- Keep Your Baby with You: As mentioned above, when I had visitors over, I would go in a separate room to pump while my visitors played with my baby. Again, this was incredibly depressing and even made me feel jealous of my visitors. Being separated from your newborn every three hours is a lot, and it is a separation that non-EPing moms are not expected to make. I later learned that pumping while your baby is with you increases the lactation hormones, which increases your milk supply. It is perfectly okay to tell people, “It’s time for me to pump, so the baby and I will be back in a half hour.” Or pump in front of your visitors if that works out well. It turned out my visitors were very supportive of this decision!
- Reward Yourself: EPing means you are going to be spending a lot of time pumping. It is a huge commitment. It is a huge inconvenience. Find ways to reward yourself for pumping. (My husband made me a chart to keep track of how many times I pumped. Every 16 times I pumped, I got to go out and get a healthy smoothie.) You may also want to save a special activity for when you are pumping. Perhaps pumping time can be Facebook or Internet time. Perhaps it can be time to color or read. Also, find positives about pumping. For instance, I notice I actually get better eye contact with my baby while bottle feeding than I do when breastfeeding. Not all is lost!
- Get Inside Support: If you decide to switch to formula, that is perfectly okay – as long as you feel it is the right decision for you and your baby. However, if you are determined to keep EPing, you are going to need the support of people around you. Plainly tell your spouse, family, and friends that you don’t want to hear about formula – that what you need to hear is encouragement to keep pumping and praise for how far you’ve come. “Formula” became the “F Word” in my home – not because formula is bad (on the contrary, it saves lives and is a good alternative), but because it felt like all my hard work was pointless and unappreciated when people encouraged me to switch to formula.
- Get Outside Support: Find an EP support group. There are a ton of them on Facebook! Talk with your pediatrician. (Mine gives me a pep talk at each visit!) Talk with an LC. Read books on EPing. Research the ways that breast milk is more beneficial than formula. (Again, no judgment on the moms who choose/need to use formula!)
- Track with an App: I also find it helpful to use an app to keep track of pumping. I like the MyMedela app. It helps me to see how many times a day and how many ounces per day and per week I produce. It keeps my spirits up.
- Comfort: Since you are spending so much time pumping, make sure you are comfortable. Pumping can sometimes cause painful friction – use an edible lubricant such Lanolin (I’m allergic to this), nipple butter, or cold-pressed coconut oil.
Get a hands-free bra or make one out of a cheap sports bra. Pumping is less frustrating when you have your hands to do things like read or type while you pump.
Most pumps are designed to have you sitting up and leaning forward, which really puts a strain on your back. Try ordering Pumpin’ Pals flanges, which are tilted downwards to help ease your back and also are less painful to the breasts. (Note: some people notice more milk production with Pumpin’ Pals; I noticed much less.)
- Plan for Travel: If you’re going to be traveling anywhere (vacation, holidays, etc.) think about how you will pump on the road or in the air. Think about how you will pack your pump parts. A mesh bag is helpful for when you want to pack up your parts when you haven’t had time to let them air dry. If you’re going to need to pump on the road, either leave early to make extra time to pull over and pump, or have someone with you who can drive while you pump. (Remember that oxytocin is released while pumping, which makes you very tired. Don’t pump and drive.) If you don’t have a manual or battery operated pump, invest in a power adapter so you can plug your pump in while you’re in the car. You may also want to pack a nursing cover to use to give you more privacy. (Note: the fashionable nursing scarf covers don’t cover as well as a traditional nursing cover for pumping.)
- Decrease Cleaning Time: Pumping often means cleaning often. Some women have one set of pump parts. They pump, rinse the parts, put them in a ziplock bag, and put the bag in the fridge. They wash the parts at the end of the day. Others invest in more than one set of parts. They pump, rinse the parts, and put them in a dish bucket of soapy water. When all three sets are used, they wash them all.
- Soap: Use a soap that is low in chemicals, dyes, and scents. I noticed that the Dawn soap I was using left my bottles smelling like soap. When I tried to smell breastmilk to see if it was still good, all I could smell was soap. I have since switched to Seventh Generation Unscented, which is also low in carcinogens and hormone disrupting chemicals according to its rating on EWG.
- Stimulate Lactation and Avoid Painful Clogs: Unfortunately, no matter how often and how long you pump, a pump cannot stimulate the nipple – and therefore, lactation – as well as a baby’s mouth can. You are likely to get clogged ducts, which are incredibly painful and can become infected, turning into a case of mastitis. I EP because my baby can usually only hold a latch for between one and five minutes. Because I get clogs so easily, I try to have her latch every feeding session. Her first three months, there were sessions she didn’t latch at all. Sometimes, I got 5 minutes. Sometimes, if I was really lucky, I got 10 minutes. This helped to keep the clogs away. It also helped to increase my supply. I sometimes produced double the amount on the side my baby last latched on. (Now she will nurse at night for her “dream feeds,” which has been very helpful. However, I know this is not an option for many women if their babies are completely unable to latch. I have heard of some women having their husbands help them with this by taking the baby’s job every once in awhile, which also stimulates lactation and increases supply.
- Increase Your Supply: Aside from mouth stimulation, other ways to increase supply include eating lactation cookies (you can buy brewer’s yeast online), taking Fenugreek capsules, taking marshmallow root, and drinking Mother’s Milk tea. O’Doul’s nonalcoholic beer is a great way to get the positive effect of brewer’s yeast in beer without the dehydrating, negative effect of alcohol. O’Doul’s does have 0.5% alcohol, which is less alcohol than what is in a glass of orange juice. (If you do have alcohol, make sure you wait one hour per serving before pumping and/or nursing.) Lastly, try to have your baby nearby, which helps stimulate the hormones that increase lactation. If you can’t, try to have pictures or videos of your baby.
- Avoid Things that Decrease Supply: Poor nutrition and dehydration will lower your supply. Caffeine and alcohol can lower your supply since it dehydrates you. The stress of everyday life can lower supply. Certain drugs (like allergy and cold meds) can dry up supply. Also stay aware of whether or not you are dealing with situational depression, clinical depression, postpartum depression, anxiety, and/or Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER). Counseling can help with these things, and medication can help, too. Zoloft is often prescribed because it is seen as among the safest for pregnancy and breastfeeding. (Note: Zoloft does not treat D-MER.)
- Have an Emergency Formula Supply: It is very stressful when you worry about whether or not you can keep up your supply. Get ahead of this worry by keeping some formula in the house. You may never have to use it, but the backup plan provides peace of mind. You may want to have a few different brands and a few different kinds. (For instance, my baby refuses any powder formula and will only accept the liquid ready-serve. She also has a dairy sensitivity, so we had to find a soy-based formula. I didn’t have any of this in the house, which made for a very stressful day when I ran out of breastmilk.)
- Don’t Waste Milk: Follow milk safe storage instructions. My hospital taught the “Rule of Five” – 5 hours at room temperature, 5 days in the fridge, and 5 months in the freezer (longer if in a deep freezer). Other resources have said room temperature is okay up to 8 hours. Personally, I don’t go past 6 hours. Label each bottle or bag with the date and time you started pumping. (I use a strip of painter’s tape to write on and stick to my Medela bottles.)
Remember that once your baby’s saliva mixes with breastmilk, it should really be used up within an hour or dumped. So if you think your baby will take 3oz and might take 4oz, pour a 3oz bottle and add the extra ounce if s/he still seems hungry after.
- Day/Night Milk: Labeling the time you pumped is also helpful because studies show that milk pumped at night has more melatonin and tryptophan and helps Baby sleep – so it is beneficial to give your baby daytime milk during the day and nighttime milk at night.
- Getting Back to Breast: If you are hoping to “get back to breast,” choose your bottles and bottle nipples carefully. Medela sells a nipple called the “Calma nipple,” which only works when Baby creates the same suction needed for breastfeeding. This supposedly helps the baby’s jaw muscles stay strong enough to return to breastfeeding. I did try this nipple, but my baby was already several weeks old, and she became very frustrated with how hard she had to work her already-loose muscles. This nipple is also incredibly expensive. Unfortunately, we started out using the Medela bottles with the Similac nipples. Even the slow flow Similac nipples make light work for the baby. We eventually were able to switch to Dr. Brown’s bottles and nipples. The bottles helped with the gassiness, and the nipples weren’t quite as easy to use as the Similac nipples. This made my baby have to work a little harder, but not hard enough to get her frustrated. My LC informed me that the Playtex slow-flow nipples really make your baby work hard. I wish I had just started out with these nipples so that my baby’s muscles would have built up before she got used to an easy meal. I suspect she would be able to hold a latch longer than a few minutes had we done this. (*Update: My baby was able to switch to Playtex after using Dr. Brown’s for several weeks. Now she is back on the breast! However, the stubborn little girl prefers bottles during the day and will only nurse at night.)
Also, if you’re going to get back to breast, have your baby assessed for a tongue tie and lip tie – the earlier the better. For my next baby, I also plan on having a chiropractor assess the baby’s neck for birth trauma. Apparently, that type of birth trauma is very common. It’s what my firstborn is struggling with, and it has made returning to breast very difficult because I didn’t know to do this until she was 7 weeks old.
- Pump at Work: If your workplace is not being supportive of your need to take pumping breaks, print out the law which requires workplaces to provide this time to mothers. Explain that these breaks benefit your coworkers, too. You are passing off your antibodies to keep your baby healthy. If you have a healthy baby, you have less sick days devoted to a sick baby.
Pumping has been difficult – but it has been rewarding and so worth it. I know I am giving my baby the best I possibly can. If you want to do it, you can do it!