Thursday, June 30, 2011

Final Teaching Thoughts 2010-2011

At the end of every teaching year, every teacher has some sort of self-evaluation. It's part of being a teacher. It's impossible not to worry that you could have done something better or to be excited about the successes you witnessed. Self-reflection encourages growth... and helps me stay sane! So here are some thoughts from my teaching experience this year:

1. I greatly prefer rotation to self-contained teaching. If I went back into the teaching arena, I would prefer to start with 6th grade if necessary so that I could be back on a rotation schedule. However, I stretched academically this year by teaching all subjects and I feel like I did a good job at it.

2. I still have a lot to learn. For some reason, this never changes. I think maybe it shouldn't.

3. Kids teach just as much as the teacher. Sometimes things that are more important.

4. Though I'm not naturally a social person, every relationship I have put effort into has always paid back exponentially.

5. I shouldn't be scared of parents.

6. The year will end. Show your students that you love them while you can.

7. We taught so much academic stuff! Sometimes I wonder how much social training we gave? So much teaching is intertwined with little "non-teaching" moments: on the playground, in out-of-class discussions, at the lockers in the hallways. How well did we teach there?

8. I will forever remember that ALT + 64 is another way to get the @ sign. (Spanish keyboard.)

9. Teaching Second-Language-Learners can be highly entertaining: One very naive girl wrote in a story that she was playing "high and sick" with her friends. Pronounced the Spanish way, it's easy to see that she meant "hide and seek." English is so much more complicated than Spanish. ;)

10. The people you work with can make or break a teaching position. I was blessed to work with an amazing, supportive community of educators. We all need a good community to do our best.

I am so proud of my students this year. They conquered things they didn't even think were possible! Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions really gave some of them trouble, but in the end they DID IT! Every single one of them advanced in reading comprehension, some above the 6th grade level! It's so exciting when a student gets something and then runs with it, learning even more with their interest.

If you can love the act of learning, you will never get "old."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Meet Don Quixote (sometimes de la Mancha)

Meet Don Quixote, a miniature Schnauzer:
He's the newest family member. We like names to be meaningful, otherwise, you might as well name something X6YU8QDQ8SN9 like a computer would. The first name thrown out for him was "caballero" which means "gentleman" because that's exactly how he acts. But "caballero" is an unwieldy name and add to that he's a little clumsy and bookish looking and the other suggestion "Don Quixote" seemed to fit.

If you are not familiar with Spanish literature, Don Quixote (pronounced Don Kee-hoh-tay) is a middle-aged gentleman from the region of La Mancha in central Spain. Obsessed with the chivalrous ideals touted in books he has read, he decides to take up his lance and sword to defend the helpless and destroy the wicked. The story has many adventures and winds to an end, supposedly illustrating the end of the age of chivalry.

So far, chivalrous is a good word for the dog. He's very patient with Talia, letting her hug him and pick him up without growling or snapping at her. He's generous with his adoration of her as well. Like all dogs, (and toddlers) he's also pretty good at getting muddy, so the "Mancha" part of his namesake might fit occasionally, since it means "stain."

While I understand the belief of many that you shouldn't pay for a dog, but rather adopt one of the many who are on the streets, this dog is different. All of the money made from him and his sisters will go to an orphanage to help take care of the children, who would otherwise be on the street. He still has two sisters waiting for a home, if you are interested, and they seemed to be equally good tempered.

To all the gentlemen of the world, canine or otherwise!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Birthing Options in Guatemala City: An Interview with Hannah Freiwald

I had a "normal, healthy" hospital birth with my first child, so you may wonder why I have chosen to use a midwife here in Guatemala City instead of the hospital option.

While I don't consider hospital births evil, and I'm not bashing doctors, I do think people use them with a different mindset. When I go to a hospital, I am surrounded by people used to looking for the worst case scenario. This is what saves many people's lives. However, if you have that mindset for birth, something the body is made to do naturally- not an illness, it's no wonder that many precautionary hospital practices have lead to an extremely high Cesarean section rate in the United States... and in Guatemala. I am glad these interventions exist and am thankful for the many lives they have saved, but in most cases I don't think it is the best mindset to start with.

Looking back, it was a miracle that I wasn't pushed into a C-section at the last minute like so many hospital births are. I was very overweight. The doctor's visit that I initially went in for ended in the hospital a week before my due date because the "baby wasn't moving enough." I later found out that the reason for that was because I was in the initial stages of labor. I was hooked up to a blood pressure monitor all night, which painfully took my blood pressure every 30 minutes- effectively removing my ability to sleep the night before giving birth. Exhausted, the next morning they started me on Pitocen which began to speed up the little bit of labor I had left, since my body had almost completely stopped contracting on its own. The doctor then broke my water as the nurse kept upping the amount of Pitocen going into my system. The shock and pain of all of these things happening at once, though I didn't want one, had me asking for an epidural. This was the first time I was able to sleep in 36 hours. This rest allowed my body the time and resources it needed to hurriedly get ready enough, though everything was still so rushed. Nurses came in every two hours to check my cervix. I prayed the whole time that my body would just cooperate and I wouldn't have to get a C-section.

I'll finish this part of the story just by saying that I did give birth to a healthy little girl. I was so exhausted and disconnected from what had happened that it didn't even seem real. I couldn't bond with my baby. I couldn't nurse. This only spiraled into a postpartum depression that got worse. I fought depression and pumped for four months trying to learn how to nurse before we finally figured it out. There is nothing I have faced worse than my baby screaming because she was hungry, and I was there ready to feed her, but we couldn't figure out how.

For every physical stretch mark that I have from birth, there is a mental one as well. I hated losing control over my own body. Do I hate doctors? No. Do I think my doctor did the right thing? No. I think she did what she was trained to do to avoid complications, to avoid lawsuits, to "deliver" me from myself... but I couldn't help feeling that birth was more instinctual and that it shouldn't be like the experience I had. I know many people think I should've just been happy that I had a "normal" delivery with a healthy baby as a result. Please don't get me wrong, I appreciated those things, but I didn't want to do it again. There had to be another option. This lead me to research my options in Guatemala City; the place we are now located, pregnant with our second child.

The C-section rates in Guatemala are horrible (as high as 70%) in many hospitals. I asked around in the expat community looking for any other option and, thankfully, discovered Hannah Freiwald, the only English-speaking (she also speaks German and Spanish) midwife in the capital. Also the only midwife with her own birth clinic. Thankfully, for me, another option. I still can't believe the difference in care, just in the prenatal spectrum, from my first experience. I don't feel like "just another patient." I'm not saying my first doctor was a bad person, but the clinical environment made every part of the process feel like I was just another patient with a possible problem that could become apparent at any moment. With my first pregnancy it felt like the unspoken rule was "ask no questions and do what I tell you to do." Hannah is different. The environment is different. The approach is different. The end goal is different. I'm still learning how to ask and not be scared. I'm still learning how to be in control of my own body.

I'm not the only person like this. Many people in Guatemala have had much, much worse hospital experiences than I have. I am grateful that mine went so well. Women who can't afford care who go to public hospitals are not allowed to have family in the room with them. They labor in a room full of other women who are laboring and then, when high blood pressure becomes an issue (can you imagine it not being an issue in that situation?!) They are forced into C-sections with no family available and no second opinions possible. Many, many of these women have also found Hannah. Many of these women still face the initial hurdle of not being able to afford care... and Hannah helps them anyhow. Her clinic that helps mostly indigenous and low income Guatemalan women called "Manos Abiertas" (Open Hands) works on a sliding pay scale. This often means patients visit free of charge or pay much less than their visit costs, because most can't afford the $5 for a checkup. Still, Manos Abiertas, has to have money to survive. One of the programs they have started to help with this is the sponsor-a-birth program where people can help women like Maria Bernarda. (Pictured below.)

Here is an excerpt of an interview with Hannah explaining some of the challenges of birth, midwifery and funding in Guatemala:

What birthing options are available for Guatemalans?

•"For poor Guatemalans, there are the national hospitals: C-section rates are getting close to 50%, all kinds of other interventions are routine, and the woman is unaccompanied through her birth."
•"The IGGS, the social security hospital, is very similar."
•"Many people who can barely afford it therefore opt for one of the small private clinics, only to have the same experience but paying for it."
•"Aprofam, an organization that started out subsidized but has to be sustainable at this point, has taken the same route in order to sustain itself."
•"In the rural areas there are local midwives available, some of which are very experienced and well (mostly self-) trained, while others are not."
•"The big hospitals in the city have a C-section rate of 70 to 80%, besides being very expensive."

"In zone 11 we are facing the problem that people do not have a concept of a natural birth anymore - we have lost clients because they lost patience. People are so used to getting their babies cut out of them or pulled out of them or being hooked up to an IV that they do not believe in letting birth progressing normally. The urban clientele on one hand is used to getting things fixed "now" and on the other hand has no education to reason for themselves.
The c-section rate in Guatemala is shocking, and seems to largely come from doctors being in a hurry (lots of patients!) and having inadequate training in obstetric techniques. They also get more money for performing a c-section than a vaginal delivery (as is the case in the US as well.)"

How is what you offer with Manos Abiertas different?
"It is unfortunate that respectful, empowering, and patient-based care is not the norm, but it is clear that when women find it they will not settle for anything less. Patients came to Manos Abiertas from across the country, taking 3 and 4 hour bus trips to seek care. Patients told stories of other clinics they had visited, where they never received results, where procedures and medications were not explained, where their birth control was unreliable and suddenly unavailable, and where they were c-sectioned unnecessarily. Low income Guatemalan women have not yet grasped that they deserve respect. Teaching them this fact is a big part of our work."
"Manos Abiertas offers something different, and it is clear that it is needed. One of the most extraordinary things about Manos Abiertas is the home-birth atmosphere that they are able to offer to their clients. Women labor and birth in a quiet, comfortable, homey environment, surrounded by their family and friends (and sometimes half of the village.) They are able to deliver naturally, and usually go home to their family the next day. The new baby is celebrated and fussed over by the clinic staff, and the mom is at the center of all of the action."

I don't know how you feel about the midwife vs. hospital birth issue, and I welcome your dissent if you disagree with me, but if nothing else let's agree that no matter one's social status, they should have an option. The ability to have control over one's own body is a basic right. If that right is given away freely, that's one thing, but the ability to have a choice is necessary. Without funding, Centro de Parto Natural and Manos Abiertas wouldn't be able to offer the Guatemalan indigenous women, the ones who are constantly refused the rights to their own bodies on a daily basis, the ability to choose their own manner of birth. Please consider donating.

Spanish educational material about birth approx. 60$ or 470Q
1 professional grade, waterproof fetal doppler: $125 or 985Q plus shipping
1 complete birth package 240$ or 1,884Q

Also on their wish list is an obstetric ultrasound machine. Any donation, no matter the size, will help make a difference in a woman's life.

Thank you, from me, from countless women who would tell you if they could. Thank you.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why My Husband is My Hero: Part 1

In honor of Guatemalan Father's Day next Friday, June 17th, I thought I'd write why I appreciate my husband, who is also an awesome father.

1. He waited until marriage for me, and appreciated that I did for him.
2. He is not overwhelmed or easily emotionalized into decisions. He is good at analyzing facts and then standing by what he believes.
3. He goes out of his way to make sure he says words that build his family up every day.
4. He is a family man. He doesn't look for ways to get out of his responsibilities, but actually finds ways to appreciate them most of the time.
5. He is a problem solver. If something doesn't work, he will either find a way to make it work or figure out a better solution.
6. He pushes himself. He's not satisfied with where he is in some areas in life, and he takes the time to make sequential goals that he knows he can follow that will benefit both him and our family as a whole.
7. He believes in me and gives me the freedom to believe in myself. When I was too scared to exercise by myself he helped me come up with solutions. Without his encouragement, I would probably still be overweight.
8. He is a generally happy person! It's a blessing to live with another human being who knows how to express himself without yelling or forcing others to do things. He knows how to state things showing what is most reasonable and to do it in a nice way.
9. He's a hard worker. I'm glad I am not married to a man that I have to worry will not go to work and support his family or will spend all of the money on his own desires. He is always looking for new ways to diversify his skills so that he is even more marketable and able to be an even better provider.
10. He has big dreams. Sometimes he dreams so big and so broad that I have trouble keeping up with him! But it's an amazing journey being his help-meet, we never know what adventure we will get to participate in next!
11. He is super intelligent. He speaks 3 languages. He reads voraciously. He writes crazily complicated and amazing things as easily as he breathes. He has several degrees that he never brags about. He has a calculator for a brain. His brain is huge.
12. He is humble. Even with so many things that he could brag about, he doesn't. Instead of always talking about himself to other people, he listens to them and what they have to offer. He is not too proud to admit that he is wrong sometimes and that he can learn from others.
13. He is a good father. Though he is always busy, he makes time to play ball, read with our daughter or to just have what they call "intelligent conversations." ;) These can be about anything and they usually end up laughing over each others perceptions.
14. He is strong. I never wanted a man that couldn't physically stand up for himself. In Guatemala, he is heads and shoulders above other men, literally. This comes in handy because nobody wants to try to assault him. He can pick me up if there's an emergency. Strong arms give good hugs. ;)
15. He's handsome. Handsome men make cute babies. ;)

I will leave this "part 1" on purpose, because I know that the longer we our married, I will keep finding more things to appreciate about him.

It's a blessing to have supportive, amazing husbands and father's in our lives. I know I'm not the only woman blessed with one.

Many of the father's in Guatemala work very labor-intensive jobs every single day to support their very large families. Many of them get up before daylight to go to the river to dig sand to put into bags that will later be used to make cement. They are often bowed over before their time due to the hard work and constant struggle to make ends meet. If you would like to support Guatemalan father's who are doing everything they can and still have trouble bringing home enough, I would encourage you to visit to see how you can use as little as $5 to change a Guatemalan families life for a week. According to their website, here is a list of items people need and how much your money can buy:

$35    Large Basket of Food
$80    100 lb of Black Beans
$5       Carton of 30 Eggs
$54     Baby Formula for babies 12 months and under for 1 month
$30     Milk for infants 12 months and older for 1 month
$45     Double Mattress
$170   Bed and Mattress
$160   Onil Stove
$60     Ecocina portable Stove
$110   Wooden Table & Chairs
$95/$100    Traditional Clothing
$8        Traditional Belt
$30     Leather Shoes
$5       Plastic Shoes
$6       Umbrella
$115     Pila, a two sided cement wash basin - sink for Washing
$170     Family Wardrobe
$150     Food to feed a family for one month
$35     100 lb bag of Corn (This makes tortillas for a family of five, 3 meals a day, for approximately two weeks)
$40     Egg Laying Hens  (These provide a family with a supplemental income and food)
$12/15     Rain boots Child / Adult
$30     Tradition Cloth Baby Carrier
$25  Family Health Pack (Family of 5) Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Kotex, Soap, Clothes detergent, Dishwashing detergent.
$25     Traditional Apron
$20   Blankets
$40    Water Filter Replacements
$20    Kids Soccer Jersey, long lasting.
$80    Hope Chest

Saturday, June 4, 2011

May 2011 Arcoiris: 5k's while pregnant

May 2010 was my first experience ever participating in a 5k. March 2011 I ran my first 10k. This May 2011, I ran 3k and walked 2k... because this time I was running 12.5 weeks pregnant. (I would usually push through, but your body lets you know when you need to slow down in pregnancy.) With my first pregnancy, running any amount of a 5k would have been a difficult thing to imagine. I was 214 pounds when I got pregnant and I gained 48 with pregnancy. Most of that was due to a fear of being outside with strangers and what they'd think of me. That fear kept me from exercising the most effective and cheapest way possible: walking outside.

It's been a long and difficult transition since then, but things have changed, in a very ironic setting. Where I was once scared to walk in un-gated places without reason, now I can't walk for very real and substantiated fears. However, excuses are not an option. There is always a way to exercise, you just have to be determined to find it. I have used our 2 level stairway to run up and down, created a mini-track in our garage to run around, found numerous exercise videos on that don't require equipment and found many ways to play chase with my toddler creatively. There is always something that can be done. Thankfully, where we work has a dirt track that is free and it has come in very handy!

In addition to this, we now live in a country, Guatemala, where there are always different types of fruits and vegetables in season. also helped me track calorie intake and make better food choices. With this mindset and available blessings, I am starting this pregnancy at 150 and have only gained 3 pounds in the first trimester.

What this doesn't conquer, but helps manage, is the paranoia that uncontrolled weight gain will still be a part of this pregnancy. I think this is something that I will have to prove to myself. Once I experience a healthy, active pregnancy, I will know that I can do it.
I am blessed with people who support me and a healthier lifestyle. While I have learned some independence, I still realize that the support of other people helped me get to the point of being able to be independent.

I would like to encourage you, whether struggling to be healthy in general or during pregnancy, with irrational fears like mine or just seemingly insurmountable weight to lose; you can do it. Don't accept excuses from yourself. Be creative and you can always find a way. I certainly plan to keep proving this to myself!