Take your health to heart

Heart disease month

Some things seem to creep up on us. Here you are going along with your life, and BAM–it’s already time to renew my tags again? Or, you know, past due as it usually happens in my world. Other examples of sneaky, sneaky annual obligations include holidays, tax season, and the well-woman visit. Listed in ascending order of which induces the greatest amount of dread, of course. Maybe it’s just me, but I dread this appointment more than any other because it’s that extra appointment on top of all of the other doctor appointments I have all year long. However, dread or not, I always make sure I make that appointment.

That wasn’t always the case though. Before I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 21, I had never scheduled a well-woman visit. I was young, healthy, active and frankly, I just didn’t see the need. Even when there were signs all around me to remind me of the need to value my health and be proactive, regardless of my age. My brother who was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was only 11, a friend the same age as me with a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol, my grandfather who suffered a heart attack, just to name a few. Do I think that a well woman visit would have helped catch my cancer earlier? Absolutely. By the time I finally gave in to my friends imploring me to be seen, I had a tumor the size of a basketball on my ovary. So yes, I do believe that had I scheduled a well-woman visit beforehand they would have noticed that something was off. I was so incredibly fortunate in that while my tumor grew very large, my cancer was still only Stage 1 by the time I had my surgery. In every way, my story is so very different than that of other women who face ovarian cancer. It is usually not detected until late stages when it is often too late. For this reason they call it the silent killer.

I didn’t intend to talk about cancer today, though. I only bring it up to drive home the point that a yearly well-woman visit is incredibly important, no matter your age or how healthy you feel. What I really want to talk about is heart disease, another silent killer of women. In fact, heart disease is the number 1 killer of women, killing more women than all types of cancer combined. The good news is that the American Heart Association estimates that 80% of all cardiovascular disease may be preventable. For women, that means–you guessed it–going for a well-woman visit every year to check blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol levels and more. If you haven’t had a well woman visit before, know what to expect and be prepared with these tips from Go Red for Women. In addition to scheduling your annual checkup, there are other ways to promote heart health including:

  • Learning the signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke. Did you know that there are many symptoms women suffer that are different than a typical man’s symptoms?
  • Knowing your risk for cardiovascular disease. There are many factors to consider, from family history and age, to diet and exercise.
  • Get trained in CPR. Don’t want to wait? Watch this video to learn how to perform hands-only CPR. Then, find a CPR course offered near you.
  • Become an advocate for heart health in your family, school, workplace or community. Encourage your friends to get checked, teach your kids to eat healthy and exercise, advocate for more woman-related research.
  • Own your lifestyle. Eat right, exercise and don’t smoke.

Don’t let heart disease creep up on you. Early detection can make all the difference. Plus, it’s worth it to do something for your health and your peace of mind.

With this post, I’m joining other Northwest Arkansas Bloggers in #NWARKCares, an initiative to bring awareness to causes right where we live–using our collective voices on our blogs and social media.

Natural Birth in the Natural State

“I remember the day you appeared on this earth 

With eyes like the ocean, got blood on my shirt
From my camera angle it looked like it hurt
But your mama had a big ol’ smile.”
-Conor Oberst

My iTunes playlist shuffles to “You are Your Mother’s Child” by Conor Oberst and I’m instantly transported to July 4, 2013, a divine turning point in my life–the day I became a mother. I know many say that your maternal instincts kick in as soon as you see the two lines appear on the pee stick, but that wasn’t the case for me. I had to get used to the idea. After all, 10 years before this day in history I had been told that I may never be able to have a child of my own. I felt more at peace when I was told, “It’s cancer” than I did when my surgeon sat me down to say that my option to have children may be taken away before I even had the chance to try. However, after 6 years of marriage, I had finally gotten used to the idea of not having children of my own. I had made peace with it and even planned for the future based on this assumption. So, while a part of me felt triumphant to find that my one, lonely ovary could rally the troops, the other part took a long (loooong) while to reconcile with the fact that this was real life.

Since I had not been planning for this moment or even trying for a baby, I was at a complete loss as to what to do next. I set out for the bookstore and selected a book touted as “the most comprehensive and authoritative guide for expectant parents.” That should do it. Standing in the bookstore while trying to conceal that I was carrying a baby “about the size of a small blueberry,” I had no idea that Sheila Kitzinger’s, “The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth” would inspire me to proceed down a path that would lead to a natural birth, unaided by medical interventions or medication.

As I was searching out options that would help me realize my desire to have a natural birth, I discovered the Birth Center of Northwest Arkansas. In my excitement to find a place centered on relaxed, non-medicated birth in a home-like setting, I contacted the Birth Center to see if that was an option for me. The staff was extremely helpful and encouraging, I really wanted to make it work. There was one major flaw to this plan–I lived in Central Arkansas at the time and planned to continue working throughout my pregnancy. Could you really blame me for wanting to have a baby in a cozy and luxurious birth room like this?

I had the opportunity to tour the Birth Center this past Monday, and let me tell you, I was really impressed. From the moment you walk in the door, you feel welcomed and at home in this bright, clean care center.

The retail alcove is appointed with the hard-to-find items for mom and baby like Baltic amber teething necklaces, breastfeeding supplies, and herbal supplements, some of which are made right here in Northwest Arkansas.

The waiting area includes a cheerful sitting room where families can relax while they wait for baby to arrive. It extends outdoors to the picnic area overlooking a serene lake setting.

According to Kitzinger, “Going to bed in the first stage of labor and becoming more or less immobile is not a good idea. It can slow labor or interfere with its starting effectively…When you are upright and moving around, gravity helps you.” You can do this at home or in the halls of the hospital, but I don’t think a woman could ask for a better place to stay active and moving during early labor than this lovely trail around the lake, just steps away from the birthing rooms.

While all of these accoutrements make the Birth Center resemble a grand spa vacation, make no mistake, the certified nurse midwives provide excellent clinical care, and the facility is fully equipped not only for your comfort, but for your safety and that of your baby. Kitzinger addresses why a birth center is well worth your consideration, “A study of the experiences of 12,000 women who gave birth in 84 birth centers in the U.S. revealed that they had far fewer obstetric interventions of all kinds than women in a hospital, while birth was equally safe.”

Whereas many women cannot say the same, I was extremely lucky to have the birth that I envisioned in the hospital setting. Would I have preferred to have a birth center experience instead? Absolutely. The Birth Center is the answer for the woman who is seeking a low-intervention birth in a relaxed atmosphere with care provided by midwives that you get to know and who get to know you and your family. In the rare occurrence that a transfer to the hospital is necessary, it’s comforting to know that their partner, Mercy Hospital of Rogers, is a mere 1.5 miles from the center.

It may surprise you to know that in addition to providing top-notch prenatal, labor and delivery and postnatal care that includes home visits, the midwives also offer annual exams. Knowing that their comprehensive well woman exams include cancer screenings, pap smears and contraceptive management, I’m ready to trade in the hospital gown for one of their plush robes.

As I was touring the Birth Center of Northwest Arkansas and hearing the stories of the 200+ babies born there (even one whose parents came from Little Rock!), I couldn’t help but feel the tiniest twinge of regret that I did not have that birth experience. If you are looking for prenatal care or it’s time for your yearly exam, you should check them out!