Friday 16 June 2017

Perfection: A birth story

I spent Saturday cleaning. The day before had been surfaces - cupboards and bathrooms and showers and toilets and whatever else appeared not quite perfectly clean. Saturday was floors, sweeping and mopping and scrubbing and washing mats until finally the house felt Ready.

Our fifth precious one was due on Sunday, but our last three had all been 5-8 days overdue so I wasn't holding my breath quite yet. I was predicting her arrival for the following Sunday, Father's Day. I did want the house to be Ready, though, just in case.

At 6:00 am on Sunday, I woke to crampy contractions, as I had each morning at 6 am for the past few days. They were irregular and minor and I paid no attention to them.

At 9:00 am, I went to the bathroom and discovered the slightest bit of bloody show. I crawled back into bed and told my half-asleep husband that the baby was coming today. The contractions continued to be crampy, irregular, and minor.

I had a shower around 9:20, during which the contractions become strong and regular but short. They stayed that way while I put clean sheets on the bed and folded a load of towels.

At my husband's prompting, I paged the midwife at 9:50 and again at 10:00. She called back to say that she was at another birth but would send another midwife from the clinic. We had discussed previously how much I did not like having a stranger in my home as the second midwife during Min's birth, so my initial reaction was are you KIDDING me?? But then she told me who it was; it was a midwife who had been part of my team for Kai's insane unplanned unassisted birth, so that was okay then. I was already quite fond of her and would be happy to have her be here.

After hanging up, we started timing my contractions at 10:15. They were consistently about 45 seconds long and 2-3 minutes apart. I was leaning on the dresser or on my husband and rocking through each one. They were strong but felt productive and easily manageable. We called the midwife again at 10:56 because she still wasn't here and things were feeling pretty serious. She said she was a few minutes out and to call her if the water broke. Less than 5 minutes later, my water did indeed break and we called back to let her know.

It was now 11:00. With my water broken, I knew the baby would likely be coming within the next couple of contractions. I moved to the shower, laid down a couple of towels, and got onto my hands and knees. The next ctx hit and it was strong. I lost my focus and allowed a bit of panic to set in and fight against the ctx, and while the baby did move lower, there was no crowning yet. After it eased, I managed to get one of my legs up so that I was in a better position. I calmed myself down, re-focused, and when the next ctx began, I worked with it and the baby was delivered entirely - head, followed by the slightest of pauses, and then the rest in one smooth motion, there into my waiting hands. It was 11:07 am, just over two hours from the time I had told my husband the baby would be arriving sometime that day.

At this point the midwife was on the stairs. So close, but once again we had unexpectedly had an unassisted birth. The baby began crying immediately. After resting there holding the baby for a couple of minutes, I looked at my husband and asked, "shall we check?" We unwrapped the towel and discovered, to my surprise, it was a girl!

We had a name for her before she was even conceived. Each of our kids had hoped we would have a girl. I would have been delighted either way, but I was grateful that our other daughter would have a sister.

I needed to shift positions, so I asked that we cut the cord now. Kai stepped forward and helped the midwife do so, and I handed our little girl to my husband. I moved into a more comfortable position and the placenta came without difficulty a few minutes later. I showered and moved into our bed. The midwife checked us over and both baby and I were fine.

The morning had been perfect. Everything had gone absolutely beautifully. There were no paramedics and fire fighters as with Kai's birth, no feeling of being swept along by the contractions as with Ell's birth, and none of the difficult decisions that came along with Min's birth. We had deliberately chosen this time to only have my husband, our kids, and the midwife there for the labour and delivery. We may have missed out on the midwife by a minute, but it was perfect anyway.

For our previous three homebirths, we had always included a dedicated support person for the kids. This time, however, we felt comfortable forgoing that (although I did have a wonderful friend on-call in case things did not proceed smoothly and an adult was needed for the kids). I am grateful that we made this choice. There was no pressure, no deadline. In the days prior, there had been no nervousness over whether the baby would arrive before whatever family member was coming to take care of the kids. No one was staring at their watch waiting for me to go into labour before they had to catch a plane back home. There were no extra voices or eyes in the house while I focused on birthing our child. It was simply perfect.

We had, as always, prepared the kids for the homebirth in advance. The kids had been in and out of the room during labour and knew that they were welcome to be there for the birth if they wanted to. Jay had been leading the midwife up the stairs and came into the bathroom just as she was born. Kai had been offered the opportunity to be there after my water broke, but had replied that he was listening to an audio book (C.S. Lewis's "A Horse and His Boy") and to please come get him after the baby arrived (all the laughter and tears at how perfectly "Kai" that reaction is). Ell and Min were both there, along with my husband, who had been, as always, a wonderfully supportive partner throughout the labour and delivery.

Our newest child (nicknamed Zoe in this space) is now five days old. Our first few days have been spent snuggling close as we rest, leaving everything else alone for a while. The world will wait; we will emerge when we are ready. The lovely husband is caring for each of us wonderfully. Zoe and I are working on getting a good (pain-free!) latch - after four other babies, I wasn't expecting this particular challenge, but here we are and we're figuring it out.

I am so grateful for the blessings of these past few days - her beautiful birth, her beautiful self, and each beautiful member of our family.

Sunday 4 June 2017

Homeschooling through the seasons

As year-round homeschoolers, there is no defined beginning or end to our homeschooling year. We flow from season to season as we strive for a holistic life-learning approach to education. Each season, however, brings with it a rhythm of its own, a fresh way to look at our learning and to structure our days.


Here we are on the cusp of summer. With a fifth little one expected within the next week or two, our summer will certainly require a shifting of rhythms.

Most years, however, our summers are spent in outdoor exploration with little in the way of structure. We try out new beaches, parks, and playgrounds. We talk, ask questions, find answers. We learn the names of the flowers currently blooming and we tend our vegetable garden. Butterflies are raised and released. New recipes are tried. Our days are often flipped around to take advantage of the cooler morning weather.

This works well for a season, and as autumn approaches we find ourselves ready for a bit more routine to our day. Although we tend towards an unschooling approach, some sort of framework keeps that unschooling from sliding into chaos for us.


As the rain begins, we move into a different yet familiar rhythm. The specifics differ with each year, taking into account family circumstances and each child's individual needs, but the framework of it is generally the same.

After breakfast and a brief time of housework, we begin our Morning Gathering together on the couch. With some variation, this typically includes:

- Greeting, day's review, gratitude
- Bible story
- Hymn
- The Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed
- Peace

After this gathering, we move into individual RRR time. Each child spends some time sitting with me on the couch and doing some combination of reading, writing, and/or math, depending on their needs and goals for the year.

Reading includes reading practice for those who need it. Our preferred resources are Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons followed by Sets 1-5 of Bob Books.

Writing may include letter formation, copywork, dictation, spelling lists, creative writing, or expository writing.

Life of Fred is our preferred math resource, along with times tables practice, logic and numeracy games, and other varied forms of numeracy development.

Autumn lunches make for an ideal read-aloud time. We particularly enjoy using this time for broad overviews of history such as Hillyer's A Child's History of the World or Gombrich's A Little History of the World.

Fall Fridays are STEAM project day, where we set aside our usual Gathering and RRR times and focus on hands-on science and art instead.

A portion of each afternoon is reserved for quiet time, an essential part of our day for each of us.


As fall moves into winter and a new calendar year begins, we often find the need to freshen up our usual routines. While autumn tends to have an individual focus with a heavy emphasis on reading, writing, and math, winter seems to demand a more cozy, group-based rhythm.

Our Morning Gathering continues, but the spiritual portion is truncated. We read Scripture, pray together, and sing a hymn. We choose a hymn for about a week and go through it one verse per day, discussing what the words mean. This becomes a great theology and vocabulary lesson! The kids take turns reciting our monthly poem; we've been going through Maurice Sendak's Chicken Soup with Rice book this past year. The poems are simple so it's been a great opportunity to focus less on memorization and more on how to make an entrance, introduce a poem, speak clearly, include expression, hold still, and be a good audience.

We then move on to a group lesson and discussion on science and history. This past winter we used David Macaulay's How Things Work for science and Gombrich's A Little History of the World for history.

Our gathering time finished, we move into a brief individual time. Our Life of Fred books are often finished by early December, so we take a break from the focused RRR time and work on more individual subjects. This past winter, for example:

- Jay would take The Jesus Storybook Bible and a regular Bible, read the relevant passages from the day's story in the Bible, and then compare/contrast the storybook version against the full version.
- Kai would read to me. He's a reluctant reader, so having him just sit and read to me each day greatly helped improve his fluency.
- Ell would work on letter recognition and printing with me, as well as early numeracy skills.

After that, if we started early enough, we had time for board games before lunch. With Life of Fred on pause for the time being, we chose to do some "gameschooling" for a while before jumping into the next LOF books.

This group routine is a good change each year, and the discussions add more science, history, and theology to our day than we typically have in the fall.


Eventually, however, our cozy winter group rhythm needs its usual seasonal sprucing up. We wind up our science and history and move once again into a more individual-based rhythm. It's a good time to reevaluate where each of the kids are and what each of them needs for the next couple of months. This spring, Ell insisted that I begin teaching her how to read, and both boys were eager to get back into Life of Fred. We also prepared and planted our garden, spent more time in nature, and of course had the usual pre-baby biology unit (always a favourite with the kids). This led to an unexpected enthusiastic interest in genetics and the opportunity for several other rabbit trails - perfect for spring.

As the weather warms up even more, our routine will shift once again into more of an outdoor/nature/exploration focus. This year we'll stay a bit closer to home, allowing me time to recover from childbirth and giving all of us the opportunity to get to know our new little one. We'll do less day trips and make good use of our backyard instead. There will be less audiobooks in the van and more read-alouds on the picnic blanket in the shade. It will be, as always, what our family needs.

This seasonal shift in routines works well for us and keeps things feeling fresh and relevant. I believe it to be one of the most important aspects of our homeschooling journey.

What seasonal shifts are currently happening in your daily rhythm?