Friday, December 31, 2010

My Birth Story

One blog does not suffice to cover the many lessons I've learned already in this new journey. But I think it's important to share these lessons publicly for a few reasons.

1) Documentation and conversation about lessons learned helps us better grow as people.
2) Positive stories encourage others.
3) My story is atypical.

So, I'll begin by documenting my actual birth. I think it's important to share my birth story because one of the most encouraging things for me when I was pregnant was hearing positive birth stories. I don't know if everything ever goes 100% planned for anyone, and there's no point on dwelling on things that didn't go according to plan in a birth, so my story is mainly in hopes of giving yet another perspective to those in the future who will give birth.

During my pregnancy, I was conspicuously absent from my blog, mainly because the road was so difficult and I didn't have much to say about it. So, I plodded along in silence, wondering what childbirth and parenthood would have to bring.

I spent most of my days being a student of birth, learning about different types of birth and reading all the schools of thought (and there's a lot, and there are diehard advocates on all sides). I decided that I wanted to try for a natural birth, but from what I had learned, the desire for a natural birth doesn't necessitate that it is carried into reality.

So, I started doing various exercises to help strengthen my body for a natural birth, going to antenatal classes with Matt, reading various books with Matt and spending hours in discussion with him about what we hoped to happen and how we could best achieve those hopes.

At the end of the pregnancy, I felt as if I'd done all I could do, and I just had to go forward with whatever happened, trusting God with the rest, whether it was what I expected or not.

Monday morning (27 December) at 6am, my water broke. I figured it would either then be today or the next day that our baby would be born. Matt and I began timing contractions and spent the morning cleaning up the house. We eventually phoned our midwife around lunchtime to let her know that she'd probably be spending the evening with us.

Hours went by and finally our midwife phoned us and asked us to come in the hospital at 4:30pm to check out and see what the baby was doing. If all was good, then she'd send me home where I'd continue my labor until it intensified. At this point, contractions were 6 minutes apart and lasting about 45 seconds, and they were very much manageable. At the hospital, the baby's heart rate, my temp, and my blood pressure all checked out. So, my midwife sent me home.

After a dinner of delicious burritos (around 8pm), my labor kicked in with contractions 2 minutes apart, 30 seconds long. Matt and I decided that it was time to check into the hospital. Contractions were difficult, but still manageable. During earlier contractions, I could still talk through them and move around a bit, but with these, I had to focus until they passed.

At the hospital, I continued to labor in a birthing tub and then with a birthing ball. Around 10:30, the pain became what I would consider unbearable. I fought while laboring for about a half an hour and then began to beg for medicine. My lovely husband, remembering my desire for a natural birth, helped me put off medicine for another half an hour, but finally allowed me to consider medicine after much begging and pleading from my side :)

At this point, an epidural was out of the question. I was a centimeter from pushing. But, there was an injection that I could have that would help my cervix finish dilating. The only problem was that my midwife had to give me the injection SLOWLY and I couldn't move. Ironically, right when she began the injection, I also began a contraction, and so she got through less than 1/4 of the injection before she had to stop and take out the needle (try sitting still during a's near impossible).

Then, she said I could breathe some pain killing gas during a contraction to ease some of the pain. So, during the next contraction, I tried, but after 2 breaths, I hyperventilated and had to stop the gas. So much for medicine.

They say that during labor there are different stages, and that one of these stages is where you want to give up and think you can't do another contraction. This stage of labor is also the shortest stage and gives way to pushing, which, in some ways, is easier. Even though I knew all this in theory, I really wanted to give up. I didn't know how I would make it through another contraction.

But, just like the textbooks say, right when I was ready to give up, I was ready to push. Pushing a baby out with no meds is hard work, and I really cannot take any credit for my whopping 20 minutes of pushing or lack of need for stitches. That credit goes all to my amazing midwife who knew how to coach me and my amazing husband who stood with me and encouraged me with every contraction.

After all that pain, all that self-doubt, all that wondering as to whether it was worth it, the moment of culmination arrived. I remember screaming because it hurt so much and then a split second later my midwife saying, "Rachel, hold your baby," and she plopped this wet, warm little creature up onto my chest. Her eyes were open and she didn't cry. She just looked at me and Matt and moved around a little bit.

After 9 months filled with nausea, insecurity about my not-so-skinny self, self-doubt about choosing a child over a career, and wondering if I was crazy in the first place for getting pregnant at such a young age, it all culminated in this one moment. The nausea is but a memory. Yes, it was worth every stretch mark. Yes, a baby is worth more than any career could be for me. And no...I was not crazy for getting pregnant at a whopping age 23.

So, I guess what I'm saying in all of this is that pregnancy was no bed of roses, and neither is a natural birth (although I'm happy I did it and I'd do it again in a heartbeat-but that's another post for another day), but what great miracles require no pain? I can't think of any. Hope Brianna Hastings is no different. It was a painful journey for me (and I'm sure it was for her too!) but she is our little miracle and she was well worth it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Review/Life Review

Now that the nausea has abated, I'm back into my habit of daily reading.  I just finished up a great book by Donald Miller titled A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  In a roundabout way, you could categorize the book as a "guide to story writing" but it's more about life than anything else.  

The question that permeates the pages is, "What kind of story are you writing with your life?".  In his usual amusing and thought-provoking manner, Miller challenges the reader to live more than just a boring life focused on comfort, but rather to embrace difficulty and conflict and to write a life story bigger than one's self.  

The book spoke specifically into my life as I prepare to bring a new life into this world.  One of the quotes I loved was the following:

As I've said before, the main way we learn story is not through movies or books; it's through each other.  You become like the people you interact with.  And if your friends are living boring stories, you probably will too.  We teach our children good and bad stories, what is worth living for and what is worth dying for, what is worth pursuing, and the dignity with which a character engages his own narrative.  

Whether baby Hastings likes it or not, it's getting thrown into the middle of my story, a story that will drastically affect this little baby for better or for worse.  And while I am well aware that an aspiration of perfection is delusional, it has at least caused me to critically think about the "WHY" of my story, rather than just the "what".  

So, thoughts such as the following have floated in my head over the past few days...
  • Why do I shy away from conflict and confrontation? 
  • Why do I spend my free time mindlessly reading news articles on the computer (or on Facebook)?
  • Why do I get so worried about making people upset?  Why am I a people pleaser?
  • Why do I worry the way I do?
  • Why do I refuse to engage with certain emotions that I feel?
And so while I've learned to live pretty comfortably with these realities (many years of practice), baby Hastings is a blank slate.  And when baby Hastings watches how I react in a conflict, it will learn from me.  When it watches how I spend my free time, it will follow suit.  When it watches me worry...well, you see where I'm going with this.  

Like I said earlier, it's the "why" rather than the "what" that I've been mulling over.  I'm not as concerned with what exciting things I'm doing or what adventures I experience, but rather why I interact with life the way I do, regardless of circumstances.  

So, there you go.  If you want  thought-provoking, easy reading, then take a couple days to chew on A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  Whether your in a situation like me, about to move into completely uncharted territory, or if you're in a season of consistency and stability, this book is one that will challenge you to live for something bigger than your own personal comfort.  

Sunday, September 26, 2010

23 and Pregnant

This has been an interesting 5 months in the Hastings' home.  The biggest news in our lives is that I, Rachel, am pregnant with our first child!  

I've been conspicuously absent from the blogging world due to a 2 month stint of perpetual morning sickness (which, by the way, is by no means confined to morning hours).  

During the months of August and September (as the nausea abated a bit), I rebuilt my chaotic personal life, friendships, and home.  Sadly, the blog was just one of those last priorities, but I think it's time to reenter the blogging world. 

I figured I'd begin with a post about some interesting aspects of pregnancy.  I imagine that at least SOME of you are curious about what it's like to be pregnant.  I mean, statistically, I'm very much a minority.  I'm a 23 year old married girl who is planning on raising a child in 2011 and beyond.  Crazy, right?

So, here's what I've learned thus far...

1) EVERYONE'S experience is different.  I have a great friend who is pregnant as well, and boy have we had COMPLETELY different pregnancies!  My friend hasn't been very sick during her pregnancy.  I, on the other hand, have probably thrown up more during a two month period than  I have in my entire life combined.  Furthermore, everyone has a suggestion of what worked to curb their nausea during pregnancy; those suggestions, by no means, are prescriptive suggestions.  You just can't put pregnancy into a strict formula...

2) Your body does strange things.  Seriously, if you have questions about this, ask me in private, because something tells me that I should not get into my bodily function issues on my blog.  But your gastrointestinal tract, bladder, stomach, and brain just do a lot of really really strange things.  And many times, those changes are uncomfortable and sometimes painful.  

The common factor, though, is that you're not in control of a single one of those changes.  Being young and healthy, this has been an interesting change for me, and I can't say I've dealt with it gracefully at all times.  People often laugh this concern off when I express it with them.  "But you're carrying such a wonderful miracle in you!"  they say.  And while theoretically I am very aware of this, it doesn't lessen the reality that I am out of control of my body.  

The implications of that truth have genuinely tested my paradigm.  Where do I place my value?  Is it in what I look like?  In other words, do I equate my value with what I look like and what I'm able to do?  Unfortunately, if I value myself because of my body shape or physical capability, my perceived value proves quite unstable, as it is contingent on outside circumstances.  

3) Pregnancy is a TWO person journey.  I know there are plenty of single moms out there, and I honestly don't know how they do it.  You are my heroes; my respect for you is just out of this world.  

If I didn't have Matt here, I think I would have just curled up in fetal position and given up.  There are days where he'd come home and my day pretty much consisted of me laying on the couch holding my stomach in pain.  No housework done, no shopping done, no dinner planned.  So, after a nice 8 hour day, Matt then played housewife.  

I really don't have the ability to overstate the contribution Matt made to our partnership during those rough months of nausea.  It was really a time where Matt had to give 200% because I was giving 0%.  But, being on the other side of that dark season now, my respect for Matt's character has grown exponentially.  He's a good guy.  

4) Do the research yourself.  Really, don't get me started on this one.  This is my soapbox of note.  I am an avid researcher, so I had been researching pregnancy and birth well before I was pregnant (Sept./Oct. 2009).  

Sometimes I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone because I've literally watched the motherhood and pregnancy articles that pepper mainstream news transform before my eyes.  How is it that no more than a year ago, once you'd had a C-Section, you'd always have a C-Section?  Now, though, the latest "research" is that it's actually BETTER for the majority of women to try to have a natural birth after they've had a C-Section?  Why, all of the sudden, is mainstream media taking an unprecedented interest in breast milk and its benefits over formula or skin to skin contact immediately after birth or the increased number of induced labors in America?  

I know many of those on the natural end of the spectrum would love to equate it to the many grassroots movements that promote natural ideology, but this research isn't groundbreaking or new.  Dr. Bradley, among others, has been saying this stuff since the '70s (Husband Coached Child Birth by Dr. Bradley is a great read, by the way).  

Sadly, I tend to subscribe to the philosophy from Aladdin that whoever has the gold makes the rules.  Whoever has the gold also spins the news.  More specifically, whoever has to fork over the gold for expensive medical procedures spins the news...and you can read into that whatever you'd like.  

The point of this all, however, is to just do the research yourself.  There's so much raw data and studies from decades of research available at your fingertips!  Don't just let someone else tell you how this entire pregnancy and birth thing is supposed to go down.  

and finally...

5) It's okay not to feel attached to this stranger in your belly.  I really struggled not feeling any emotional attachment to this baby.  I saw so many of my friends who were pregnant and they seemed so excited about their growing babies.  I honestly can't say that I feel like that. In one sense, I know there is this separate being growing inside of me, with a completely different volition than my own (I mean seriously, when I want to sleep, the baby wants to be awake.  Even now, I can't make this being do anything!), yet I don't feel any attachment to it.  

I felt rather worried, so I did what any mature, independent woman would do.  I called my mom.  Looks like you never stop needing a mom :)  She really eased my fears, telling me that she sort of felt the same way while she was pregnant with me but that once I was born, her mothering instincts kicked in.  That's good to know, because I don't feel very "instinctive" at this moment in time.  

So, I've sort of accepted my emotions toward the baby for what they are.  I'm not worried anymore that I don't feel like this baby is MY BABY.  I still wrestle with the idea of loving someone that I've never met before, but I don't expect myself to understand that yet.  

So that's what I've learned so far.  Take it or leave it.  It may have been completely different for you, or it may be completely different for you one day :)  

It's been a season of reevaluating my paradigm.  It's been a season where God has revealed Himself in new and very real ways (for me, unprecedented ways).  I wouldn't label it blissful or even enjoyable, but I would call it special, and I wouldn't trade it.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Earlier this month, we decided that we'd indulge our creative culinary skills and try our hand at sushi. Sushi chefs only have to study for three years on how to create perfectly sticky sushi rice, so it can't be that hard, right?

But we didn't want all of our blog readers to miss out, so we documented the experience with our little camera!

First things first. There's a lot of prep work for sushi. Since I don't have such a great track record with knives, Matt opted for veggie prep. I worked on the rice.

In order for your rice to come out at the proper consistency, you have to wash it until the water drains off clear. Then it sits for an hour like that. Here's a picture of the freshly rinsed sushi rice.

Capetonians, we bought sushi rice from Woolworths...but there's a Chinese supermarket at N1 City where you can get it A LOT cheaper (thanks to the advice of the Morris Family). Tip #1: But you may want to opt for the more expensive Woolies on your first go around with sushi because the cooking directions on the back of the bag make for some perfect sushi rice!

Below, you'll see the sushi creation space I put together for us. The rice, the goodies for inside, the seaweed, sushi mats, and a bowl of water for dipping the fingers. Sushi rice is STICKY!

From here, it's pretty simple. Spoon out some rice, press it all over the seaweed with wet fingers (leaving a few centimeters at the top of the seaweed empty), make a small indentation at the bottom, and fill the inside with whatever you'd like!

Ok, now for the apex of the experience...rolling the sushi! Wet the strip at the top of the seaweed with your finger, and then, SLOWLY, roll up your sushi roll. As you can see, once it's rolled, you squeeze it for a few seconds in the sushi matt, as my husband demonstrates so wonderfully!

And there you go! Sushi roll! Now you just cut it with a nice sharp knife. Tip #2: Make sure to have a damp cloth to wipe the knife between each cut. It makes it easier!

Finally, you eat!

Review of experience:
After our first experience, Matt and I have made a few tweaks that we have since tried and find them to be quite helpful!

1) Less is more with the rice. Seriously, you don't need to pile the rice really high on the seaweed. The overall taste was much better of the sushi when we put a thinner layer of rice.

2) Woolworth's wasabi paste is a no go. Go to the Chinese supermarket, pick up some Wasabi powder and make your own. Firstly, it's cheaper, and secondly, Woolworth's wasabi paste is NOT HOT. BOOO!!!

3) Ginger and sesame seeds are not just compliments, but necessities. The first time we thought they weren't necessary; we'd just use soy and wasabi. But the sesame seeds and ginger make it so much better! Buy the pickled ginger (we got ours from Woolworths), toast some sesame seeds on a frying pan, and it will make the sushi experience go from good to great!

Oh! And one more thing! Did you make a few too many rolls? Tip #3: Wrap the uncut rolls in saran wrap and put them in the fridge. You can eat them the next day and they still taste great!

Anybody else tried to make their own sushi? Any advice? Feel free to comment!

Monday, March 1, 2010

2010 Adventures!

With a little help from my tech savvy husband, I am now going to upload some beautiful pictures that I've amassed over the past month! For those of you who are Americans reading this blog, maybe it will entice you to take a journey over the Atlantic!

A couple of weeks ago, Matt and I went to a summer concert at Kirstenbosch. Our friends, Andrew and Hannah, are adventure seekers, too, and they always have cool ideas for fun-filled days.

What we didn't know was at the concert they would be having a display of snakes that we were able to hold! This is the Burmese Python that Matt and I had the opportunity hold.

I remember learning in science class that reptiles are not slimy, but in fact quite cool to the touch. This big guy felt like one big bulging bicep! He was not slimy, but he was strong! The scary thing is that the snake gets cold so he begins to wrap himself around your legs and torso to keep warm. I didn't feel like he was going to constrict me, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't have the fear flash through my mind a couple of times as I was holding him!

The concert was fun, but the snake holding was quite an adventure for me!

After that trip, a team of North Point staff came over and visited us! Matt and I had a great time taking two of the guys, Donny and Shef, all around Cape Town.

Adventure #2 Cape Point
Obviously, we took Donny and Shef to Cape Point, because it's one of those places that you've gotta see if you come!

That day, the baboons seemed to be out in full force!

This guy is just chillin' out on a sign, which I thought was pretty cool. As you can tell from the picture, I'm still in my car. For those of you who aren't familiar with baboons, they're cool to look at from the safety of your vehicle, but you don't want to try and make friends with them. They have anger issues.

The babies, of course, are adorable, so I couldn't help but snap this picture! But as cute as the babies are, there are some things about baboons that aren't so cute...check out the next picture.

Now you may not be able to see it very well right now, but check out the big guy, far left in the picture. His butt looks a little strange, doesn't it? That's because some baboons have the unfortunate lot of having what I'd like to call "an infected butt." It's really disgusting, and there's always at least one in every pack who has a very very nasty looking behind. The picture doesn't do justice to the nastiness of what's going on back there. Trust me.

Shef has an awesome blog that you can check out here. He is the Director of Middle School at all of North Point's campuses. Unlike in America, South Africa doesn't have a middle school, so even though our ministry here is technically "high school", we have kids that are middle-school-aged that attend our high school program, InsideOut.

Kendra, the Director of Children's Ministries at North Point spent some time with us as well! She's really an awesome woman and Matt and I learned tons from her! She just posted an awesome blog about her experiences in Cape Town that you can read here.

Well, I'm all blogged out. All of this uploading of photos and HTML coding (thanks to my new knowledge I gleaned from Morgan and Gary) is wiping me out! Stay tuned for more adventures and, hopefully, more pictures!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Of Mice and Maggots

This story starts during our trip in America.  Matt and I were traversing through the beautiful aisles of Target, a simple pleasure on American soil that I have come to value greatly since moving to Cape Town, when we received a phone call.  Apparently there was a waterfall coming down the stairs of our apartment complex that was originating from our front door.  Who knew a small leak from the hose of a washing machine could create such a deluge after weeks of neglect?  Thankfully, a few of our friends raced over to our flat, opened our flat, turned off the water, and cleaned up the mess.  We have tile floors, luckily, so nothing was damaged except for the wood under our cabinets.  

Fast forward to two weeks after arriving back in Cape Town.  

As I'm sitting in the silence of a beautiful summer afternoon, I notice ants in our lounge.  Now, I don't have a particular problem with ants.  If I see them in my house, I don't kill them.  They never hurt me, so I don't hurt them.  They just follow each other in a line, one by one, like a class of third graders going to lunch or to the water fountain after recess.  So, I leave them be.  

But ants usually don't come into my lounge; they usually scout around on the tile floor.  It seemed interesting to me that they'd venture over into our little lounge.  I go into the hallway only to discover that I don't have a line of well-behaved third grader ants, I have what looks like a swarm of panicked ants.  No, these ants look like an army about to take over my home.  This little ant nation had crossed a line, and I was not about to just sit there passively.  

I quickly got out the mop.  These little guys were in for an untimely demise.  So there I go like a crazy woman with some vendetta, killing these ants and washing them down the drain.  All of the dirt that didn't stick to my heavy-duty mop I piled up in the center of my tile floor.  'Job well done,' I thought to myself, as  I went for the dust pan to sweep up any jailbreak ants.  

Then, in my little pile of debris, I, not rice.  The rice was moving.  Moving rice?  Inchworm rice?  It took a few seconds of watching the swollen pieces of rice frantically inching themselves away from my debris pile for me to realize that these new creatures were, in fact, maggots.  


Yes...maggots in my house.  

Well, then I went on a killing spree, Rambo style.  I took my flip flop off and began banging these little guys into oblivion.  How dare they take up residence in flat C302?!

I eventually put it all together and realized that the wood that had gotten wet from our washing machine hose fiasco had been the perfect breeding ground for little maggots, and my vigorous mopping had ousted them from their hiding place.  

And all of this really begs the question, why so many ants?  Apparently they knew about the unwelcome visitors long before I did.  They were carrying them off for an afternoon snack. Africa's circle of life displayed before my very eyes (cue Lion King theme song)!

*Note concerning title: I must give credit where credit is due.  As I discussed my plans for this blog with my dad, he came up with the brilliant title!  Catchy, isn't it?