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Natural pregnancy, childbirth, and child raising

by Laili

Laili Conception, and the ensuing experience, opens a magical door into the world of the child, and my reality will never be the same. Pregnancy and child raising are an amazing time of our lives! Creating a human being within, senses coming so alive, emotions strong. Giving birth, nurturing life, giving so much of ourselves. A time to connect with our intuition and the dynamics of life.

As creators, there is a need for us to be careful and responsible, but in today's world we face so much confusion. This is especially relevant to those attempting a raw food, vegan or fruitarian diet and for those who would like a natural home birth. There is little information on raw food in relation to pregnancy and lactation. In general, the medical profession seems to reject it as insufficient nourishment. As with any diet, if not balanced and varied this can be true. We are a minority, not catered for and largely unsupported by mainstream society. It can be difficult at times. It is different for everyone and I cannot claim to know all the answers.

Choosing this lifestyle was choosing to live my truth. It has involved really looking at society, at my own conditioning, and continuing to question. My inner truth has discouraged me from surrendering to the mainstream, while not rejecting it either.

Diet

I was 20 years old when I began to let go of refined and cooked foods and put my trust in mother earth. Wow what a beautiful truth! Such heavenly tastes discovered, old cravings lost as my taste buds regained their sensitivity. I went from vegetarian to raw food with no transition. My body wanted cleansing. I fasted a few times for two or three days only.

Pregnancy

After a year on raw foods I discovered I was pregnant. There was comfort knowing I had healed, to some extent, this body that was to become also the body of our child.

I had been pregnant once before on a poor diet and experienced nausea and vomiting for weeks, eventually having an abortion. This time I didn't vomit at all, but occasionally felt nauseous during the first couple of months. Yes, I craved cooked food-especially bread. With lots of support from my partner, and a fixed mind, resistance wasn't too hard. We made sprouted breads and seed cheeses, even raw pizza! Pumpkin seed cheese is great and full of zinc for the growing baby.

We had been travelling for the first few months. Upon returning home we let go a little and started eating some steamed/baked vegetables. Occasionally I'd have goats' yoghurt or toasted sprout bread with avocado. I felt it was important, both emotionally and physically, for me to heed my cravings. It seemed my body needed something from these foods that perhaps it wasn't getting or hadn't adapted to getting from raw foods. Forcing down raw salads every night was sometimes unthinkable; they seemed hard to digest whereas a few steamed vegies or sprouted bread with a green salad went down easier.

I had lost so much weight during those first months from stress, travelling, dietary restrictions and perhaps poor absorption. Friends and even people I hardly knew were worried. It seemed impossible to put weight on, and this was a stressful time, reading all sorts of books on nutrition, trying so hard to do it right. I couldn't understand why there was so much concern when I thought I was doing everything so well. I soon discovered that my B12 levels were low. My iron was low, and although this is natural it put me at a higher risk of haemorrhaging while giving birth. Taking the responsibility into my own hands, keeping as far from doctors as I could, I couldn't afford to shrug it all off. To think I knew it all and dismiss it would be foolish and irresponsible, but to worry about it was just as bad. Why could other women eat junk food, not give a damn and get away with it?

Of course there was much misunderstanding of raw food, and in my heart I knew a natural diet would give this child the best start, but I didn't want to use this pregnancy as an experiment. My endurance level was low. One day in town required two days for recovery with plenty of sleep. This is another sign of B vitamin deficiency. From the beginning I had been losing muscle rapidly. It appears that a strict diet during pregnancy and lactation might require careful food combining to meet protein requirements. I began taking spirulina. After a few weeks my B12 and iron levels increased. I had miso or tempeh occasionally-anything rather than a B12 injection that was being spoken of.

This is not to say that I wasn't healthy, just that the baby seemed to be taking a lot from my body. I felt great most of the time, which is a good indication that my diet wasn't too deficient. Generally I had plenty of energy, walked a lot and did yoga nearly every day. I found pregnancy yoga classes were fantastic. Diet being only one aspect of the pregnancy didn't prevent this from being a beautiful time of my life. Rest and relaxation were essential. Denying this to myself would be denying the baby. I learned yogic techniques which took only 15 minutes and energised me completely.

From this experience I would recommend women not to be hard on themselves. I would have enjoyed the pregnancy more and perhaps put on weight if I had listened to my body's yearnings. I feel it would be possible to do this with mostly raw, natural foods and a little creativity. The benefits are undeniable. If I was to do it again I wouldn't rule out the possibility of eating eggs occasionally and would probably include more grains in my diet, even brown rice. It seems there are two extremes. Mainstream advocates abundant protein, while others advocate nearly no protein. I prefer the middle path. At a crucial time such as this, forcing ourselves with a restrictive diet can be harmful, no matter how ideal it may seem. A healthy mind is essential for a healthy body. A closed, narrow mind surely can only close our eyes to the truth.

Birth

Homebirth? Go for it! I recommend it wholeheartedly. To be in a comfortable sacred space can be the key to maintaining your inner strength and centre which is so important. It was easy to tune in to my rhythm without the hindrance of stress or orders. Drugs inhibit the secretion of endorphins (natural morphines) and take away our control. Birth can be a beautiful and spiritual time for all present, including the baby.

Health and home birth go hand in hand. To have confidence in a smooth birth without complications, a healthy diet and lifestyle is important. Perfect health, however, is not crucial. All women can do it, but health should be considered.

The birth of Shenteh was a magical experience for us in the rainforest of Kuranda. Labour began at dawn as the birds sang. There was a very peaceful energy surrounding us. Time ceased to exist. I wondered when those endorphins were going to kick in. In fact, they had kicked in and I felt euphoric, but I only realised this afterwards. The pain was my world. My partner Kevin, Marianne (midwife) and Barbara (assistant midwife) took control of everything. Hot towels on my lower back and belly were a blessing as was being supported in the arms of Kevin. We had hoped for a water birth but there was no time to fill the pool. It was three weeks before the due date. The birth went smoothly, but I would be lying to say it wasn't painful. The joy and excitement created a balance. Also my determination to birth this baby took the focus. It helps to allow the pain and recognise that it is the miracle of birth at work bringing the grand finale closer! Resistance causes most people to tense up, which makes the pain stronger. I've heard that lack of B vitamins decreases tolerance to pain.

Shenteh was born into the arms of her father, then passed to me. I was trembling from exhaustion, concentrating on delivering the placenta while he touched her with his lips, which calmed her down immediately. The cord was cut when it stopped pulsating and the placenta birthed 20 minutes later. Shenteh was then put to the breast. We cast our eyes upon the most beautiful face, too beautiful to believe at a glance.

I had lost a lot of blood and felt weak. I couldn't stand up without blacking out. Coconut water helped to replenish lost fluids, but I was still dizzy upon standing the next day and rested for the whole week. It was a blissful week in Shenteh's peaceful aura. She was healthy, pink and very alert from the beginning.

Home birth could well be part of a step towards the empowerment of the female spirit. Women have the chance to awaken an energy within them that creates miracles, to take control and enjoy birth. I think we underestimate the awareness of the new born child. To bring them into a peaceful space with the least stress is a beautiful welcome.

Child raising

It seems that raising a child requires the same sensitivity as creating one. Mostly it all just happens perfectly, and we learn as we go along. We had few plans of how to raise Shenteh, just watched, learned and let her speak to us in her own way.

Shenteh Food... Breastfeeding has always been her main source of nourishment. She would watch us eat and as her awareness grew, an interest in colourful fruits developed. At about 6 months she wanted to taste them and we just guided her on a taste discovery. Jackfruit and watermelon were obviously tantalising to her taste buds. We trusted in her natural instinct. After all that's what got us this far! The food she couldn't chew she showed no interest in.

When she started to develop more of an appetite we gave her avocado or banana and occasionally she'd have sprouted almond milk in a smoothie. Next, when she was about 10 months old came a fascination in greens and cherry tomatoes. We would sit together in the garden with avocado and cherries while I chewed greens for her. This partially digests them, making it easier for her to eat and to absorb nutrients. There is apparently more need for iron during teething. She is 21 months old now and has most of her teeth. She eats with us so she wants to eat what we eat. This includes coconut (especially jelly), fruit, seed sauces, vegetables and fresh greens, seaweed, yummy treats like coconut-date balls, nuts and seeds (often soaked), occasional steamed vegetables and now also sprouted grains. We find that if we give her the freedom to eat some things that she really wants (nuts or cooked vegetables) she eventually loses interest if they aren't right. Keeping them from her only makes her desire grow stronger. Salt seems to make her hyperactive. Breast milk is still her favourite! Shenteh's health is undeniable. Her skin glows, she has put on weight steadily, without excess fat, is strong, has abundant energy and is very alert.

Contact... The warmth of our body, our heartbeat and the security we provide gives children contentment and trust in the world. Shenteh has always slept with us and we held her in our arms almost constantly, asleep or awake, especially in the first six months. It appears to have helped in developing her independence and self assurance.

Toilet Training... Nappies can be helpful but we only put them on Shenteh when it was really necessary, mostly at night. Leg movement made possible by not wearing nappies enabled her to crawl at an early age. It also gave her body awareness. We held Shenteh in a squat position over the garden from an early age (about 3-4 months) when we felt she might need a wee, which was usually 5 minutes after a feed. Soon this encouraged a bowel movement which became a habit every morning upon waking and later in the day. She didn't like doing it in her nappies as much as we didn't like washing them. She still does this now, but is more aware of what she is doing and can squat outside herself or go to the potty. Occasionally she still wees on the floor when she has to go but we don't give her negative vibes about it, just encourage her to go elsewhere. I feel negativity could be harmful and cause some kind of suppression. The aboriginals had this theory also. Now that Shenteh is talking more, she usually tells me when she has to go.

Behaviour... Most of Shenteh's behaviour is a mirror of ourselves, an imitation. This is how she seems to learn the majority of her actions and mannerisms. Often we're not aware of it at the time. Therefore if we want her to be kind, understanding and patient we need to be this ourselves and be aware of when we are teaching her bad behaviour or speech. Saying 'no' all the time or getting angry is only going to teach her this way. It pays in the long run to centre myself or to take time out when I find myself behaving negatively. We allow Shenteh much freedom, giving her the responsibility of her actions. She is a scientist testing out her environment. If she wonders off we don't chase her unless it is obviously too dangerous. Usually she will then become aware that she is going too far away or into unknown territory, and will come back. Telling her what to do all the time only creates rebellion. She wants to know how to fit in, and we try to be respectful when telling her what isn't acceptable. Now she understands so much, so we can often explain to her and then give her an alternative. It is something we work on together. There are of course times she drives us crazy but we use these to look at ourselves and usually see her innocence. More than anything she needs to know we're there for her, supporting her discovery of the world. We don't always hold back our emotions and responses. She wants to know us for who we are and learns a lot about what is and isn't acceptable this way. She learns through play. We don't have to give her heaps of toys because what she wants to learn is to do what we do, mostly. Music has been a big part of her life (since conception). She plays drums, shakers, harmonica and many other instruments. Singing dancing climbing and water are also her passions. We also spend time in the garden with her, planting seeds and watering.

In general, our role is purely to love; to forget about our own wants sometimes, and see the quality of life she brings; to guide her on an adventure, to play and explore. The child's simple world without judgement, time or thought can teach us more than any words in spiritual books.

It is when we enter into this reality that we're able to really see the beauty of these beings that will delight and elate our spirits so.

Immunity... On a natural diet high in fresh, raw fruits, vegetables, greens, nuts and seeds, optimum vitamins and minerals are obtained which builds immunity. Abundant enzymes prevent the pancreas from depletion. The pancreas is an important part of the endocrine system which is the essence of our immunity. Vitamin C in all fruits builds tissue in the immune system. Toxins in our western diet accumulate in the body, overpowering our immunity. Mucus builds up, creating a home for disease. Stress slows glandular activity and affects our whole endocrine system. So it makes sense that a natural diet and lifestyle would protect us from much sickness.

Immunisation? We researched this matter enough to see the harmful effects and their cover up. The hidden facts reveal that most vaccines have not been proven to work and many have harmful side effects. Modern medicine certainly has its place, and can be helpful if used carefully when we feel it is necessary. Preventative health and natural remedies allow our bodies to strengthen and to fight disease.

Breast feeding... What a magical food is breast milk! It contains all essential elements for the nourishment of the child. Being the lifeblood of this little creature is quite a gift. To watch her bliss, the security it gives her-it's a love affair, a beautiful romance. Gurgle; gurgle. Peace and satisfaction in her eyes. For this I am thankful. To able to give her this peace in times of pain or stress is a blessing. It's a very giving experience and can be demanding at times (I thought I'd have my body back after the birth!). Frustration arises sometimes, but is created from within and can be changed from within. Eventually frustration may start the gradual process of weaning To begin with, it was all new so we both had to learn what to do, although Shenteh seemed to know already, which made it easier.

Colic...Taking her to the city one day seemed to be the beginning of our problems. She developed what was known as colic, which seemed to mean a stressed out baby. I tried taking the breast away from her when she appeared to have wind and not overfeeding her but this eventuated in a traumatic few days. My milk practically dried up from stress and lack of sleep (with one screaming baby). So I learned to trust that Shenteh knew when she needed the breast.

Breastfeeding is a full time job. I've had to let go of many desires, giving myself over to this. To ensure I have plenty of milk I have to have plenty of sleep, as growth hormones, which stimulate the production of milk, are released in deep sleep. It's easy when I look at the positive side of it all: a well nourished, happy baby!

Diet... Food? The more she takes, the more I eat. It's like petrol in a car-as it burns up and runs out, so do I. Hunger grips me around the neck and seems to say 'eat or else'. Milk production burns calories. B vitamins provide energy. I have goats yoghurt sometimes, sprouted breads, seed sauces, kelp, rice, bee pollen and spirulina occasionally. I question whether dairy is a good food source. If I have too much Shenteh and I both get a bit of mucus. For this reason I stopped eating it after she was born and only recently started again. A small amount seems OK, and that is all I crave. Certain foods, such as almond skins and durian, upset her when she was young, but after eliminating nearly everything from my diet except papaya I realised that nourishment was more important.

I find my body has its own innate intelligence when given the chance. Its requirements during pregnancy and breastfeeding have been quite specific. I seem to be balancing myself with acid or alkaline foods, and snacking often. To eat what I crave when I crave it keeps this balance. Protein and grains have felt necessary and good food combining has helped digestion and hence improved my vitality.

'A healthy woman should accumulate some fat stores for energy after birth' - I realised the truth in this once I started breastfeeding. I didn't gain my full energy or endurance until I put weight on about 10 months later.

Natural Weaning... When the child loses interest-ha!-not likely-or when the mother goes insane! I haven't experienced weaning yet, but Shenteh is gradually feeding less, especially during the day. She has always slept with me and still feeds at night, more so when her teeth are cutting. I'm not sure whether we will give Shenteh goats milk yet. Weaning off the breast onto a goat's breast seems strange, but it might be what she needs. I would probably sour it a little and only give it to her occasionally. I like to give her nut milks and fresh coconut milk Soya milk, as an alternative to the breast, is a very powerful food and lacking in many nutrients. The packaged varieties contain oil and are cooked to very high temperatures. I've heard cases of soya milk causing weight loss and digestive problems. The salt added may cause hyperactivity.

The processed, refined foods with abundant additives that I once fed my body nearly every day sent me out of balance. I often felt anxiety, depression, lethargy, even from stimulants eventually, but I was so used to it. I wonder what they do to the foetus and breastfed child. I feel so much more centred and unlimited in my relationship to the world eating natural foods. This feeling is something Shenteh already knows well, and all I want is to nurture it. I see that much of my learning has been for her.

Many native tribes have lived in health without disease for years. Refined food is not part of their culture, nor are artificial additives. So it seems it's what we don't eat that's as important as what we do eat.

Shenteh's health is important to me. It extends past the physical realm. Social and emotional aspects are equally important and all interrelated. This urges me to allow much freedom into her life: I don't want her to feel like an alien in society. With the foundation of a mostly raw diet, I feel Shenteh will deal with occasional 'junk foods' when the times arise. We don't want to set her up for rebellion; rather, we hope that she may feel at one with others around her. In this way she can see the broader picture that she is a part of, thus enabling her to choose her direction in life. If we, her parents, are loving and supporting she might continue to respect our thoughts and feelings and see the quality of natural foods. From my observation, human nature is one that desires to know, and experience is sometimes the best way.

We are all on our own special journey. Changing our diet from what we've known so long can be a challenging experience. We all have differing needs to keep us emotionally and physically balanced. It takes great responsibility to be aware of our decisions and actions in the moment. Loving myself and my valuable lessons (sometimes called mistakes), without judgement, has been a huge step toward health. The life force in living foods has enriched and connected me with the life force within. It has helped me in finding this love which seems so important to share with Shenteh, who has given in abundance.

Our children deserve the best we can give them. Living with freedom is giving our children the freedom to be their own beautiful, unique selves. Sometimes we are unsure. This goes on throughout pregnancy and child raising. It is a part of life that we can learn to accept. Maybe we will never be sure, but our feelings and intuition are our best guide.

The above article appeared in the December 1997 (Summer) and March 1998 (Autumn) issues of REAL News. Permission to reproduce is given freely, provided that the article is attributed to REAL News. For more information on REAL News, see the Web site http://cairns.cs.jcu.edu.au/~real or email editor@real.wow.aust.com

 

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