When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest (1)Feeling nervous as you head into an unknown social situation, interview or public speaking engagement? Jam to the right playlist before you head out, and you’ll not only enjoy a boost of energy, you could feel a surge of confidence too.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that the act of listening to an empowering tune can trigger unconscious feelings of power and strength. Surprisingly, the results had little to do with the lyrics. Rather, songs with a strong bass sound evoked an illusion of power in the listeners that carried over to the social situations they went into. That makes sense if you consider how we as a society tend to attribute individuals with deeper voices as having more power—consider Sam Elliott, Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones or Kathleen Turner (who trained her voice to go deeper by sticking erasers between her teeth).

We are also conditioned to associate certain songs with victory like those played at athletic events, for example, Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger (Rocky, anyone?), AC/DC’s Thunderstruck and Queen’s We Are the Champions.

So before you head into an interview or a social situation that has you feeling anxious and jittery, slide up that bass and rock out to one of your favorite tunes. You’ll walk in standing taller and feeling more self-assured. (Just beware of pumping up the volume at a traffic light unless you want to be the recipient of angry stares from drivers who aren’t sharing your confident new vibe.)

A few of my favorite confidence boosting songs are Shake it Out by Florence and the Machine, Extraordinary by Liz Phair and Roar by Katy Perry. 

What are your favorite songs that give you a shot of confidence?

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Dr. Jen Santa MariaLast month as a special Mother’s Day event, I hosted a group of ladies from the Mindful Mamas Circle of Kansas City in my Facebook group Confidently Connected Moms. We had so much fun learning from them about holistic nutrition and overall well-being for mom and the entire family that I wanted to invite another special guest host this month to share her knowledge.

Dr. Jen Santa Maria, a prenatal and pediatric chiropractor, will host a free workshop on Tuesday, June 21 all day on Facebook in my private group Confidently Connected Moms. If you’re a new or expectant mom interested in learning more about pediatric and prenatal chiropractic healing, this workshop is for you.

Here’s what Dr. Jen plans to present:

“This class will focus on both mom and baby. I will show research and reasons why certain things happen during pregnancy and how to help fix them by making sure the body is properly aligned and the nervous system is functioning.

We will walk through many common ailments that children have (colic, ear infections, digestive issues, etc) and explain why many of these things are happening and how chiropractic can help. We are taking a look through a different looking glass to realize chiropractic is not all about back and neck pain and why it is vital for kids to have chiropractic while growing and developing (both inside mom and out!)”

About Dr. Jen Santa Maria:

Dr. Jen is a prenatal and pediatric chiropractor in Overland Park, KS. She helps restore life in each person who gets adjusted. The body expresses life through their nervous system and any interference with this system can be detrimental. Dr. Jen knows that it is vital to check infants after birth to make sure they are able to grow and develop at 100% without any interference. This is vital for them. Dr. Jen also helps mamas have an easier birth by making sure she is kept in line with her ever changing body. As the weight shifts forward the pelvis can mis-align putting pressure on mom and baby. With chiropractic care during pregnancy the need for unexpected or unnecessary intervention at birth can be reduced. Dr. Jen is extremely passionate about helping moms in the area realize why it is important to get themselves checked and their little ones checked regularly so they can express life to the fullest.

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There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story.Every summer, my kids’ school sends home math workbooks and encourages students to read throughout the summer. This is great, but I also want them to work on their writing skills, which will help them in reading, math and in life. Here are some of my favorite ideas for making writing fun this summer.

Make your own journals. I love making journals, and while I’d love to fashion something clever and cute for my sons I know that a journal they decorate themselves will be more meaningful to them. (And frankly at 11 and 9, they are put off by anything “cute” these days.) I purchase a three pack of the slim moleskin cardboard cover journals available at big chain stores. (Also check out dollar stores.) You don’t even have to purchase anything. Staple paper together and have your child make a cover out of construction paper or poster board. Then give them stamps, markers, paints and other craft materials to decorate their summer journals. 

Evening journaling. Each night before bed have your child write three or four sentences about their day. Don’t correct spelling or grammar. Just let them write. This a good way to help them wind down and reflect on the day.

Magazine photo prompts. Write stories using a picture in a magazine as a prompt. This a fun exercise in fiction or creative nonfiction writing if the photo reminds them of a personal story. Encourage your child to use his imagination and descriptive words. Here’s the step-by-step process:

  1. Have your child choose and cut out an interesting photo or illustration from a magazine.
  2. Paste the picture to the top of a page or journal page.
  3. Set the timer for five minutes.
  4. Have your child write a story using the image as a prompt. (This is a fun exercise to do together, either interpreting the same picture or each choosing his/her own picture.)
  5. Preschoolers can draw pictures to tell their story about the image.
  6. After the timer goes off, take turns sharing your stories.
  7. Extra kudos for use of clever words, metaphors and correct sentence structure.

Illustrated letters. My kids love to send email to their grandparents and cousins, but old fashioned letter writing is extra special. Who doesn’t love getting mail that isn’t junk or a bill? My mother-in-law, who is an amazing artist used to send my boys illustrated letters when they were still learning to read. She’d draw pictures to replace words in sentences. There’s no reason why your child can’t do the same thing. If your youngster gets frustrated while writing, encourage her to write mixing words and pictures. Then mail the letter to a loved one.

Craft homemade cards. Another way to get your child writing letters is to have him make homemade cards that he can send to friends and family. Ask him to write two or three sentences in the card and sign his name.

Set up letter boxes. My oldest son likes creating mail boxes for each person in the house. This is a heartwarming way to exchange short notes with each other.

Publish a family newspaper. Have your kids publish their own weekly newspaper this summer. They can drop in photos, make captions, write stories about funny/interesting/sad/awkward/scary experiences during the week. They can create cartoons and crosswords and even design ads. Google docs has a variety of templates and so does Word. (Of course, this can be done as an unplugged activity too.)

Start a Blog. Kids who really love to write might enjoy starting a private blog that they can share with family members. They can publish their stories or short essays and enjoy feedback from their audience. Have them publish under a pen name.

Scrapbook. A crafty youngster might get a kick out of taking photos throughout the summer and creating a scrapbook of her activities and camps. She can practice writing captions, headlines and describing each activity for a fun memory book that they can hang onto for years to come.

Quotables. As kids get older, give them a quote from a book, famous author, spokesperson, pastor or executive. Have them write out the quote and then write a few sentences about what they think the quote means and how it applies or doesn’t apply in their life.

Book reviews. Each summer, we set a goal for book reading. But don’t stop there. After your child reads the book, have her write a short summary and review. How many stars would she give it? What was it about? What did she like about the book, the characters and the setting? What didn’t she like? This can be done with movies that your kids see too! Give your child an audience by having her read her book review aloud at dinner.

Mystery story bag. Include ten random objects from around the house in a paper bag. Ask your child to pull three items out of the bag without looking. Have her write a story that includes each of these objects. If you think your young writer is ready, ask her to include a setting, characters, a problem and a resolution in the story. 

Make a Top 10 List. List writing is a fun and simple way to practice writing skills. Have your child make a list of 10 of her favorite ___________. Or have her keep a list of her favorite phrases/interesting words from a book that she’s reading. Here’s a fun book I got my son with list writing prompt ideas. My Listograph: My Amazing Life in Lists by Lisa Nola. Other lists that your child can write: grocery lists, to-do lists, etc.

Write a story together. Together choose a clever title. Have your child begin the story by writing the first sentence. Then you write the next sentence. Take turns until the story is finished.

Persuade me. Is there something your child really wants? Have her write you a letter detailing all of the reasons why she should have the object of her desire, including how she plans to earn it and care for it once it’s in her possession.

Get opinionated. Is your child upset about something that has happened in your community? Maybe she should write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or to a local leader. When I was a kid, I sometimes wrote letters to people who I felt needed to hear my opinion. 🙂 The fact that I was “just a kid” never stopped me. When I was about 12-years-old, I wrote a letter to our local television station. I was upset by a bigoted remark that a TV host made about women. I wrote him a letter expressing my disgust. I never heard anything back, but I felt better, especially after the station moved my show to a different time slot that he didn’t host. I doubt I had any influence on the decision, but it was a proactive way to practice my writing skills–and who knows how many letters he received that day!

Pen a screenplay. Got a budding actor or director in your midst? Have her write a play. If she’s really ambitious maybe she’ll recruit a few friends and act out her story.

Illustrate a comic strip. If your child prefers to illustrate characters, have him add dialogue by giving each character a speech bubble and create a short three-frame comic strip. Check out comic strips in the newspaper for ideas.

Wax poetic. Check out this website for some fun ideas to play with poetry.

Write a new ending. Was your youngster unhappy with the way a book ended? Challenge her to re-write the ending according to how she would have liked it to go.

Make a collage. Give your kids a pile of old magazines, a glue stick, scissors and poster board. They can cut out photos, words and phrases that they like, putting them together to make new sayings or personally inspiring messages.

There are all kinds of entertaining ways to get kids writing, and I’m sure I’ll continue to think of new ideas to add to this list. What are your favorite ways to get your kids to put pen to paper?

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A Pre-Mother’s Day Celebration: More Mindful in May

by Christa Hines on April 28, 2016

All of next week, I invite you to join me for a week-long pre-Mother’s Day celebration in my Facebook Group, Confidently Connected Moms! Whether you’re a new, expectant or seasoned mom, you won’t want to miss this event featuring experts from the Mindful Mamas Circle of Kansas City–including me!

We’ll each host educational workshops and lead discussions throughout the day on topics that can help you and your family live a more mindful, happier and healthier life. So invite your friends and connect with us!

Here’s the line-up and schedule:

More Mindful in May (8)

 

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Screenshot 2016-04-18 13.13.35

I’m thrilled to announce that the Parenting Media Association honored my feature article What Kind of Mom Are You?” which appeared in the December, 2014 issue of Kansas City Parent magazine with a bronze award. The light-hearted quiz won in the print editorial category “Non Traditional Story Form Feature” at the PMA’s annual design and editorial awards convention this past weekend. 

Here’s what the PMA had to say regarding the award:

Bronze: Kansas City Parent Magazine; “KC Parent Quiz”; Michael Gimotty, publisher, Margaret Sarver, editor, Kim Tappan, art director, Christa Hines, writer. This feature is a fun and interactive way to engage readers that mirrors popular online quizzes. Questions are relevant to most moms and are likely to keep them reading through to the end.

What Kind of Mom Are You? by Christa Melnyk Hines

Aren’t we all a little guilty of labeling other moms? Sure, we all share the common goal of nurturing a happy, healthy family, and we make different choices to get there. But just for fun, have you ever considered what “mom” category you most likely fall into? Take the quiz! 

Member parenting publications from the U.S., Canada and Australia compete in the annual competition. Submissions were collected in November, 2015. Judges considered issues published between December, 2014 through November, 2015. In this year’s competition, magazines competed in five categories ranging from design and editorial to general excellence. Overall, Kansas City Parent magazine won eight print and digital awards, including five for KC Parent and three for KCParent.com.

Thank you to Kansas City Parent for nominating my article! 

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cup of tea

Photo courtesy: SergeBertasius/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether you want to become a stronger, more intuitive communicator or you’re trying to raise one, time spent alone and unplugged from the rest of the world can make a big difference. Here’s why:

  • Time spent in solitude helps you develop more self-awareness. When you feel a strong sense of self-reliance and independence, that confidence comes through in how you interact with others. People sense it and adjust accordingly with how they interact with you. You’re better able to advocate for your needs and others because you clearly understand those needs.
  • Taking breaks from your hyperconnected online community can help you manage stress and anxiety. Don’t sleep with your electronic devices by your side or feel compelled to answer every text or email as it arrives. Technology may work 24-7, but it’s meant to work for you on your terms. Don’t let it become a distraction to the relationships that matter most or your personal priorities.
  • Kids who receive regular, unstructured time to play on their own develop creativity, self-confidence and independence. With these skills, they rely on a core belief that they’re good enough without having to constantly seek external approval, which is rampant in a “like me” culture. Every strong communicator needs these skills. These are skills that will only continue to grow in demand as our children enter the workforce.    
  • More and more college graduates leave school so accustomed to being directed in all of their activities that they’re nervous about showing initiative. They aren’t used to taking risks–trying something and seeing if it works. Make room in your daily schedule for quiet, non-electronic play that gives kids a chance to put their imagination to work and try new ideas. Instead of telling them something won’t work or supplying answers to their questions, let them play, research ideas and experiment with materials on their own. 
  • Time alone gives us a chance to consider questions like: What am I curious about? How can I solve a problem I’m dealing with? What brings me joy? Who could I talk to about this? How can I learn more? Kids and adults need time to play with these questions. 
  • In unplugged space, spontaneous side-by-side conversation can happen. Parent-child relationships grow stronger. For many young adults, spontaneous conversation, where they can’t control the message in a text or email, is risky. According to Sherry Turkle in her book Reclaiming Conversation, some employers are now vetting job candidates based on their ability to converse face-to-face and over the phone. Engage in idle chit-chat with your kids. Use conversation prompts to practice conversation and to make impromptu talk more fun.

To learn more about raising skilled communicators, check out my book Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World. 

 

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Is Your Online Space a Reflection of You?

by Christa Hines on February 18, 2016

Tree of hearts

Illustration courtesy: Stuart Miles/FreedigitalPhotos.net

Every day we get to make choices about how we want to use social media. For most of us, our pages reflect who we are and what we believe in. We’re essentially architects of our online identity. If you feel uncomfortable being yourself because of social media “friends” judging, shaming and harassing you for your opinions, it’s time to take a critical look at who you’re allowing into your space.

People who attempt to make you feel bad about yourself, ridicule your beliefs or bully you because they disagree with your worldview, aren’t friends. They’re toxic trolls that attempt to feed on a person’s self-confidence. They don’t deserve to be part of your circle.

By the same token, not everyone in your online community needs to agree with everything you say or praise every carefully crafted word you write. Even when they openly disagree with you, there should be an expectation that you’ll treat each other with mutual respect. Because that’s what friends do. And if the discussion is happening on your virtual turf, you can demand that. Your page belongs to you. You get to make the rules.

When friends enter a thread you’ve started, they’re entering your living room. I welcome people who are willing to engage in thoughtful discussion. People will push you on your point of view. Push back. Ask them questions. Raise the level of conversation by setting a tone for safe, respectful discourse. And have an exit plan if conversation goes south.

The truth is, when we promote a post or share an opinion online, most of us aren’t hoping to ferret out the naysayers. Usually, we’re looking for affirmation from cohorts who agree with us. On the flip side, I have friends who revel in confrontation and they do it well, without alienating or slamming those who disagree in a hurtful way.

If your goal when entering an argument is to convince others who disagree, get yourself a tall, cool glass of water and pull up a comfortable chair. You’re in for a long, heated battle. Prepare for friendship casualties. For the most part, people are entrenched in their views. As Winston Churchill said, “If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.” Chances are you won’t win over dissenting hearts and minds with your political arguments, no matter how thoughtful or evidence-based your remarks. 

Members of your online community have every right to use their page to share their identity and to express their opinions. If you don’t like those views, you have choices. You can choose to ignore the posts. You can put forth your opinion in a thoughtful manner or even ask non-judgmental questions to better understand their viewpoint. Or, if someone seriously upsets you, you can choose to block or defriend that person.

Look, we all lead busy full lives. Why should we spend what free time we have in a space that spawns more stress and anxiety? Cultivate a supportive, kind online community where you can happily hang out for a few minutes a day. Design your space to reflect your individual creativity and your values. Make it a place that gives you a sense of joy and peace and attracts others who value the same. It’s your real-estate. Own it.

How do you manage your online space? What do you like to see in your feed and what do you prefer to leave behind?

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From ZZZZ’s to Zsa-Zsa-Zsu: Self-Confidence is Sexy

by Christa Hines on February 10, 2016

Welcome back to my monthly series on building self-confidence to enhance relationships and strengthen communication skills. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, this is the perfect time to talk about healthy sexual communication with your partner. This month I had the opportunity to interview sex educator for moms and author Sarah Swofford, MPH. Read on for some great tips to build self-confidence and get the sparks flying in your love life!

Screenshot 2016-02-08 12.04.00CMH: Self-confidence plays an enormous part in building and maintaining strong, healthy relationships. In your opinion, what role does self-confidence play in healthy sexual communication between partners? Do you find that women especially struggle in this area? 

SS: Self-confidence absolutely influences healthy sexual communication. Since I work predominately with women I can say that yes, women struggle in this area. But men do too! 

Our sexuality is a place of deep pleasure, intimacy, and vulnerability. So, when something isn’t going well in our sex-lives it is very easy to internalize it and assume the problem is occurring because something is wrong with us…and since sex is a largely private issue, way too many women struggle with these feelings and challenges alone. This is why I do the work I do, to help women realize they aren’t alone and that there is help available.

Practicing healthy sexual communication when sex is easy and fun and enjoyable prepares couples for when things are challenging. Every couple and every situation is different, but if you are in a long-term relationship, the fact is, you will have challenges in the bedroom. So learning to talk about what you like and what works for you when things are good, prepares you as a couple to be able to talk in a healthy way about challenges when you are experiencing them.  Often just voicing the elephant in the room, for example, “it has been a long time since we’ve had sex,” relieves tension and makes it easier to discuss. Healthy sexual communication is a lifelong journey and requires regular practice. 

CMH: As parents, work, kids and various other stressors tend to take up so much of our time and energy.  Often this means couples stop prioritizing one-on-one time with each other. How can a lack of attention to your partnership be harmful, and what are your suggestions for busy parents that can re-energize their love life?

SS: We’ve all been there, right.? You realize how long its been since you actually had enjoyable one-on-one time with your partner and you wonder when you will again.  It’s not that we mean to not make the relationship a priority—it just happens. And we often realize it a little too late, when the relationship is feeling the stress. Stress that shows up in various ways: petty fights, or bigger fights, disinterest, snappiness, less sex, irritation, resentment.

There has been a lot in the media lately about how modern-day parenting is centered wholly around the kids, and the adult relationship is left with the dregs. There are several things parents can do to turn this around. 

-First, let go of any guilt you might have about spending time without your kids. 

-Next, put some time together on the calendar and plan it out (and hire babysitting) for months at a time. This way when the time comes, it’s already there as a to-do item on your agenda, you don’t have to plan it. 

-Leave your kids overnight every now and then. I know, this is a hard one for many parents, but a couple of hours here or there really isn’t enough to feel like yourselves again. Or if you really can’t leave them overnight, act crazy, young, foolish (and turned-on) and get a hotel room for a couple of hours instead of going to a movie. 

-Hiding sex from your kids is a great relationship-building exercise.  See how many creative ways you can get it on without the kids realizing. For example, “do the laundry together” with the door closed.

-Go on a weekend (or even a week) trip with your partner. Again, not possible for everyone, but I’m always surprised by how many parents don’t take advantage of the opportunities they do have. I’m lucky, my mom lives across the country but takes our kids for a week or two every summer. We call it (not in front of the kids) Divorce-Prevention Nana Camp.  We live it up while we can and then any time during the rest of the year when we feel distant from one another, or tired, or irritable with each other—we have it to look forward to. The first time we left the kids I remember how surprised I was by how much I really really like my husband. 

Remember, as hard as it may be, if you hope to still be with and like your partner when the kids leave for college, you have to make your relationship a priority now.

CMH: Let’s talk about sex and new motherhood. It’s natural for intimacy to take a back seat for a little while after the birth of a baby. But, even beyond those first couple months, many new moms feel self-conscious about their post-pregnancy bodies. What is your advice to new moms that can help them boost their self-confidence in the bedroom?

SS: Many sex educators I respect give parents a sex pass for A YEAR after baby. This means they (and I) believe that parents should give themselves and each other a break and understand that intimacy is going to be a challenge and most likely not very frequent for at least a year after having a kid. I think when moms can do this for themselves too (relax about weight loss, sex, motherhood), it can take the pressure off. 

One thing I know is that if you aren’t feeling good about yourself, you probably aren’t going to enjoy being intimate very much. I have an entire section in my book devoted to this–finding ways to build your own self-confidence and feel good in your skin. 

We have to start with ourselves. When you’ve had a baby, you give so much. You’ve grown a child, nourished it, cared for it, and everyone else. It takes time and patience to find the sensual spark within you again. Some moms do this with their partner, and many moms do this with a vibrator 😉

Being able to give yourself pleasure reminds you that your sexuality, your libido, are yours— first and foremost. It lets you enjoy the pleasure your body is able to give you without caring about how you look, or what your partner is feeling. And moms need that. They need to rediscover their sensuality without outside pressure.

My two top tips for new moms struggling with low libido are: 1) get a great vibrator and use often, and 2) do sixty pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) a day. Kegels strengthen the muscles that help you have strong orgasms. And the action itself of doing a Kegel is pleasurable, so it becomes a little reminder of your own sexual power throughout the day.

CMH: Tell us about your book From Ouch! to Ahhh…The New Mom’s Guide to Sex After Baby and where new moms can find it. 

It is available on Amazon in print and on every digital e-reader, too.  You can read about it on my website, sarahjswofford.com

Thank you for having me, Christa.

SarahSwofford012114_9201About Sarah: Sarah J. Swofford, MPH, helps moms have better sex. A sexuality educator with a master’s degree in public health, she supports women who are navigating sex and intimate relationships amidst the demands of parenting. She writes about women’s sexuality throughout motherhood and teaches workshops on sexual intimacy for moms. She lives in Oregon with her husband and two children. Connect with Sarah at www.sarahjswofford.com; On Twitter: @sarahjswofford; or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sarah-J-Swofford-MPH/223650211047834

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Strike a Pose: A Simple Way Anyone Can Inspire Confidence

by Christa Hines on January 27, 2016

Warrior posesamarttiw

Photo courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.com/samarttiw

Welcome back to my monthly series on building self-confidence to enhance relationships and strengthen communication skills.

Uncertainty holds many of us back from joining new groups of people, networking or reaching out to people we don’t know well. Whether you’re headed into a job interview, preparing for a presentation or getting ready to meet with a difficult or unknown individual, performance anxiety may shackle you in terror.

Here’s how to manage nerves and build your confidence before heading into an anxiety-provoking situation. Remember, your body language sets your frame of mind as much as it communicates to those around you.

Harvard Business School researchers found that people who prepare for a stressful presentation or interview by practicing power poses appear more composed and project more confidence during the presentation or interview, resulting in more positive evaluations from the audience.

Take up space. Have you ever noticed how a dog tries to look larger by raising its hackles when it’s scared or faced with an opponent? Through body language, the animal is instinctively trying to appear more confident in the pending face-off. Before going into your meeting, stretch your arms out as far as you can. Stretch your legs. Put your arms on the arms of your chair and sit up tall. Stretch your back. If you can get away with it, prop your feet up on your desk and sit back. You’ll immediately feel a boost of confidence as your body language signals to the brain that “you’ve got this”.

Stand like Superman or Wonder Woman. Stand in front of the bathroom mirror. Put your hands on your hips and your legs out in a wide stance. Smile confidently. Rehearse what you plan to say.

Show victory. Channel your favorite sports hero and stand with your fists up, arms out in a Y for victory. 

Hold a Warrior pose. This is one of my favorite yoga poses that inspires strength and confidence. First stand with your feet hip-length apart. Then turn your right foot out. Move your left foot back keeping the arch of the left foot in line with the heel of your right foot. Your toes of your left foot should be pointed towards the front of your body, while the toes of your right foot should be pointed toward the right wall. Raise your arms and send one arm towards the right wall and the other towards the back wall. Your arms should be in alignment. Palm down, stretch your right hand toward the right wall and stretch your left hand toward the back wall. Hold the pose for two minutes. Repeat on the opposite side. 

While practicing you preferred power pose, take deep breaths in and out. Visualize yourself succeeding in front of a friendly audience. If it helps, choose a mantra to repeat to yourself like, “I am strong. I am confident.” While it may sound corny, repeating a mantra out loud can help build your self-confidence. I was resistant to mantras for a long time but once I actually tried it, I was pleasantly surprised at the effectiveness of the practice. Try it and see if it works for you.

How do you get yourself pumped before an anxiety-inducing social situation?

 

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Understanding Preconception Health & Why It Matters

by Christa Hines on January 13, 2016

pregnant

Courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net/StuartMiles

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month

Normally, I reserve this space for sharing communication issues related to mothers and family. But some discussions need to occur long before we become parents (or while adding to our broods) and one of those is understanding the influence of preconception health on pregnancy. One in five babies die due to birth defects. Here’s my story.

When I became pregnant for the first time, I knew little about “preconception health.” Actually, I’d never even heard the term. I may have mentioned that we wanted to start a family to my doctor and she prescribed prenatal vitamins, but that’s about as far as the discussion went. I naively assumed that pregnancy didn’t begin until you were actually pregnant. Go figure.

I imagined pregnancy as nine blissed-out months of admiring an expanding baby bump, reading “What to Expect..,” decorating the nursery and running out for fried chicken at two in the morning. Birth defects seemed like vague notions that happened to other people. 

Heading into our 20-week appointment, my husband and I eagerly anticipated finding out the gender of our baby. As the ultrasound tech grew increasingly quiet, a persistent whine of fear began to leach into my otherwise cheerful visions of my bouncing baby boy. The tech measured and remeasured the images on the screen. When she excused herself to retrieve my doctor, my husband reached for my hand. That day, we learned that our son suffered from numerous and severe birth defects and wouldn’t survive the pregnancy. He died a few weeks later.

After that appointment in subsequent pregnancies, the ultrasound room became my own private hell–the fuzzy black and white unveiling of everything that can go wrong. Like a thunderclap to my conscience, it suddenly occurred to me why new parents traditionally count their newborn’s fingers and toes.

According to the CDC, one in 33 babies will suffer from a birth defect. Often, as in my case, there’s no rhyme or reason to why things go wrong. And, given that I had a miscarriage a year after we lost our son, having a healthy baby began to seem like a crapshoot.

Timing, genetics, environment, lifestyle and maternal health are pieces of an intricate puzzle that contribute to the development of a healthy baby. While there’s never a guarantee that all the pieces of will fall into place as they should, every small step you make now can up the odds of delivering a healthy baby even if he’s still only a playful figment of your imagination.

If you’re planning to become pregnant or even if you’re not (half of all pregnancies are unplanned, underscoring the importance of taking daily vitamins that include folic acid), read the tips that doctors and maternal health specialists shared with me in my article “Healthy Babies Start with Proper Pregnancy Planning” in the winter issue of Kansas City Baby magazine.

Practice caring for yourself now. Give yourself the gift of a healthy body. Connect with your doctor to find out what you can do to prepare for a healthy pregnancy. Surround yourself with caring friends and strengthen your social network for optimal emotional health. When you do become pregnant, chances are your pregnancy will go off without a hitch, and you’ll celebrate each miraculous milestone.

But if things don’t go according to plan whether during pregnancy or after, know that you aren’t alone. There’s an empathetic, quiet network of women who’ve been there; who’ve struggled, worried and suffered. Don’t be afraid to reach out. We’ll catch you if you fall. 

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