Sunday, August 31, 2008

Birth click away

Today Bethany and I celebrated our 6 year anniversary. We had a birth, a birthday and an anniversary all in the span of one week. That's a good week. It's been a fantastic six years. I love my wife very much and I am profoundly happy. She is beautiful.

We didn't get each other any gifts for our anniversary this year. Maybe it's because we're on a missionary budget, or maybe we've just had a bit too much going on this week to think about gifts. We made a baby together. That's a pretty good gift. Man, I love the ladies of my life. Promise is beautiful. Bethany is beautiful. I've got it good.

We went out for a nice lunch this afternoon to celebrate all the great things the Lord has done for us. It was nice taking Promise out. Everybody wants to look at her, so we are always very popular when out in public. Bethany carries her in a cool pouch on her belly. Everybody looks down into the pouch to get a glimpse of the tiny "puti" (white) baby. It kinda looks like people are staring down my wife's shirt, but I know they're just wanting to see my baby, so I don't mind. That came out wrong...well, you know what I mean.

Oh, I'm rambling. I'm not really supposed to be writing at all. You see, this is actually the long awaited Birth Story. Bethany kept a journal throughout her pregnancy and labor, so she has written you all a rather detailed account. I must warn you that at times it is somewhat graphic. I know all you midwives and hippies out there will squeal with delight as you read it, but for those of you who, like myself, can do without the gory details, I will give you a brief synopsis: at the beginning of the weekend, Bethany had a baby inside of her; by the end of the weekend, the baby was no longer inside of her. There you go. That's all you really need to know.

For the rest of you, click here for the rest of the story. But don't say I didn't warn you. Below, I've posted a couple of the pictures that I took last weekend at the Kadayawan festival. Yes, I was at the park while Bethany was in labor, but she told me to go. So get off my back. By the way, if you click on the photos you can see a larger version.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Greetings, everyone! Tim and I just wanted to express our deepest thanks for all the wonderful encouragements, comments, blessings, and congrats given to us here on the blog, through e-mail, and facebook! 

We feel so loved, so supported despite being thousands of miles away from most of you! God has provided us with amazing friends and "family" here that are tending to us during our wonderful and tough transition into parenting. We are loving it!

Promise Grace is already growing...her hair is even a bit longer! And yes, it's RED! Despite my 51 hours in labor, I am very awake! I have more trouble sleeping than Promise does! God's grace ever sufficient. I am healing well, though still very sore in certain sensitive spots (I won't go into detail!)...the milk is in, Promise Grace is feeding well, she loves to sleep on her belly on her daddy...she hates being alone and can tell when we leave the room! She cries very little except when we give her a bath...then LOOK OUT! We've ventured outta the house twice now...we'll post more pics as we take them.

I've been asked (NUMEROUS times) to share our birth story (it's a midwife thing...ha ha), but I won't do it on the blog. I will write it for those who desire it and put a link from here to there so that people who think that stuff is a little too gross can bypass it. :) I'm not particularly sure I wanna write it either! But we'll see.

Thank you again for all your incredible support, generosity, prayers, encouragements, and love shown to us...God is faithful and He ALWAYS fulfills His blessed.

Our baby's verse, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful." Hebrews 10:23

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Promise Grace Stewart

I'm sitting next to my daughter. She's fabulous. I love her so much it hurts.

Promise Grace was born in our bedroom this morning, August 24th at 6:48am. She is so beautiful. And small. She weighs 5lbs 10oz.

Bethany was great. It was a long night but it was definitely worth it. Bethany and Promise are both doing great. Our midwife, Lois, was fantastic, and we couldn't have done it without her or the help of Ate Elai and our dear friend An-An.

This is incredible. You know what? I can't write anymore. I don't know if it's exhaustion, or just raw emotion, but I'm just sitting here crying. There is nothing I can say that can communicate what I'm feeling, so forget it. I'll give you some pictures and get back to you in a day or two. I'm too tired to sharpen these pics in Photoshop, so they might be a bit blurry.

Thanks for all your prayers.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Not a Hippie

Well, Bethany is certainly in early labor. When last checked on Thursday, she was at 3cm. Lots of hard contractions, so my job is to rub her back vigorously when each contraction strikes. I'd complain about my hand getting sore, but it would make me look like a jerk so I won't mention it. Our midwife, Lois, is coming this afternoon to check on her progress.

Speaking of midwife, I thought I might let you all in on a bit of correspondence I've been having with my best friend Paso. We were talking on the phone yesterday when he jokingly referred to me as a hippie. We had fun going back and forth on the issue for a while as I feigned offense. Last night I couldn't sleep, so I decided to write this rebuttal. I thought some of you might be interested to read it. If nothing else, the exercise provided me with an interesting opportunity to come to terms with how much midwifery knowledge I have absorbed during our first year here in the Philippines.

If you are an easily offended liberal feminist nut-job, then kindly move on to another corner of the Internet. The previous sentence was simply a prelude of what is to come. This little rant is all in fun, and in no way intended to offend anybody. But I should warn you that it's about birth, so if you're squeamish this may not be for you.

You asked for a few more Bethany pics, so I've included those as well. As I mentioned last time, I did a lame job of composing the photos. I tried to make up for it with post-processing. A rookie move.

Without further ado, here is my notice to Paso:

Bethany and I are not hippies. Yes, I understand that there is some evidence stacking up against us. I admit that our "globe trotting" may lead some to believe that we are "free spirits". We intend to name our daughter "Promise" which is kind of a "far out" name. My wife is indeed a midwife, an occupation that attracts some rather liberal women, many of whom could be considered "feminist nut-jobs". We are having our baby in our home, as opposed to an "evil", "fascist" hospital that's run by "the man". At first glance, I'm sure many believe us to be hippies.

But let us be reasonable. If we further investigate the evidence, we discover that, in fact, I am a rational man, and my wife is as rational as one can expect a woman in labor to be. When you suggested that I was as hippie, your first piece of supporting evidence was my place of residence. Indeed, I do live in what could be considered an exotic locale. But are hippies really drawn to the Philippines? Despite the large 1960s Volkswagen contingency, I have yet to see a single "VW Bus". Countless VW bugs populate the streets, yet nary a peace symbol can be found. The mayor kills drug users, which makes it difficult to find a pot-smoking flower-child feeling groovy in the meadows. We don't even have any meadows. This is hardly a bohemian enclave.

You next pointed out that my spouse is a midwife. This is your strongest argument. Again, at first glance, this would be an open and shut case. Midwives are notorious for their feminist viewpoints and their new age philosophizing. Many midwives have been heard referring to the female private bits as the "Yoni" or "Flower", which can only be explained by a complete and utter lack of respect for common sense.

I can assure you that Bethany is ashamed of these women who have marred the reputation of her chosen field of study. She cringes when she reads of the "beautiful birthing experiences" that take place in the hot springs of Iceland. She is quick to decline when her fellow students gather to watch the next video of some nutty housewife who has brow-beaten her husband into recording the birthing process for the benefit of all the other "touchy-feely" women who have taken leave of their senses. No, Bethany is not a typical midwife. I believe she has a firm grasp on reality, and is able to discard the flaky attitude that clothes the modern midwife.

The word "hippie" entered our conversation when you discovered our intention to birth the baby in our home. I'd like to approach this subject from two angles. First, at the risk of sounding like the modern, pushy midwife, I'd like to tackle this notion that giving birth in the home is an unusual prospect. Until very recent history, all women gave birth in their home...with the help of a midwife. The idea of the OB/GYN wasn't conceptualized until the 20th century. The decades-long struggle between these specialists and the midwives is most likely centered around money. Perhaps this is a cynical view, but one can't ignore that both parties are fighting over the same customer base.

Midwives argue that the birthing process is a "beautiful thing" and it should take place in the comfort of your own home. Now, I have trouble relating to the idea that having an infant slowly rip your most sensitive flesh is a beautiful process, but the comfort concept does resonate with me. Many of the women that I have heard speaking about their hospital birthing experience have described their surroundings as "uncomfortable" and "sterile". The doctors and nursing staff have insisted upon "unnatural" birthing positions (feet in the stirrups), which cause undue stress on both the woman and the infant, yet allow the doctor to have a nice comfortable seat during the proceedings. The hospital staff have also been known to speed the process along using drugs in order that the time of birth will conveniently fit into their working schedule.

Ironically, the pushy midwives - who are often overheard preaching about the evils of hospitals and pushing their new age beliefs on anyone who will listen - are the exact opposite when they are actually on the job. They are expected to gently guide their patient through the birthing experience, allowing the patient to choose from a number of sensible options throughout the process. It is their job to always put the patients needs first. Sadly, doctors and hospital staff do not always have this luxury. The nature of the hospital environment makes it very difficult to give each patient all of your attention. Consider the number of laboring women one doctor or nurse may need to attend to at one time.

The hospital experience in the Philippines is another subject entirely. Compared to our North American standards, many of the facilities in this country are decrepit and unsanitary. They are also consistently understaffed, and those that are on staff practice shocking methods. In the local hospitals, men are not allowed to attend to their laboring wives. It is usually forbidden for them to be present when the baby is born. Often, the mother is not given a chance to see her newborn before the infant is taken to a neighboring ward to be fed formula instead of her mother's milk.

In fact, formula manufacturers such as Nestle operate much the same as a pharmaceutical company, paying doctors to "push" their product to new, naive mothers. As you can imagine, this has far reaching health and social effects. The most obvious health problem related to formula is the water with which the formula is mixed. Much of the water in this country is not safe for even a mature digestive system, never mind that of an infant. The use of formula has also contributed to unsustainable population growth. When a mother is breastfeeding her child, her reproductive system remains dormant for a significant period of time. If she chooses to use formula instead of breast milk, she can begin her monthly cycle within six weeks of giving birth. This often leads to an unexpected pregnancy for a mother who is now spending her limited income on unnecessary formula.

With these things in mind, it is no wonder that Bethany and I have chosen to have the baby at home. I don't want my baby born in an unsanitary environment. I most certainly want to be in the room when my baby enters this world, and there is no way I will allow my wife to labor alone, without my help. Our child should spend its first minutes in her mother's arms, not being rushed off to some distant room to be fed powdered milk.

Having said that, we are not naive. We understand that there can be complications that require the intervention of a medical doctor. With that in mind, we recently visited several hospitals, searching for the facility and staff that could best accommodate us in an emergency. We consulted with two doctors and felt very comfortable with the second one that we met. She explained the hospital rules (which I explained above), but displayed an understanding of my concerns and seemed to indicate a certain amount of flexibility. Both Bethany and I feel that in case of emergency, we will be relatively comfortable at this hospital.

If these attitudes are "hippie" in nature, so be it. I, however, believe that they are common sense. Admittedly, I do feel like a hippie when I consider that I am about to name my child Promise. Certainly their are other, more psychedelic names available, such as "Rainbow" or "Flower", but Promise is also unusual. But I don't care. In this case, I'm happy to "stick it to the man". I don't care if "the system" doesn't like the name Promise. "The system" can take a hike.

Now, speaking of hippie suspects, shall we discuss your West coast vegetarian lifestyle?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Terrorists are Awesome

We haven't written much lately. Sorry about that. Life is a little strange these days. I know the baby is coming soon, so I've been handing over more and more responsibility to Toti. He's doing great, and the water project is moving along very well. But the more I hand over to Toti, the less I have on my plate. Which is good, because I will need to be spending more and more time looking after Bethany, and soon Promise. As of right now, however, Bethany is still trucking along pretty well without me, and Promise hasn't arrived yet. So I'm kind of in limbo. I was talking to my brother Ben about that this week. He says he experienced the same thing leading up to the birth of their first son, Micah.

I'm getting very excited about having a baby though. Bethany says the contractions are getting harder, and she's definitely becoming more uncomfortable and tired. She's still doing 5 hour prenatal shifts twice a week, and she's in class three afternoons a week. I don't know how she keeps going. On top of all that, she can still touch her toes! I haven't been able to touch my toes since the 1980s. I haven't been able to see my toes since 2002. She's awesome. Do you think the word "awesome" has finally exited the period of history in which it was overused? You know what I'm talking about. The word was used so often that it became as meaningless as the word "nice".

The water filters keep getting made, and they keep getting shipped out to the Muslim provinces. Things have been a bit dangerous in central Mindanao the last couple of weeks, as the federal government keeps sending mixed signals to the terrorist group called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

If I understand the situation correctly, the government recently signed a treaty with the MILF that effectively gave a huge portion of the provinces of Maguidanao and North Cotabato over to the terrorists who claim ancestral rights to the land. Then when the MILF started to force citizens from their homes, the Feds suddenly declared that though they had signed the treaty, they did not intend for it to take effect immediately. As you can imagine, this caused significant confusion among the unruly and short-fused terrorists. The government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that it will help protect the citizens by providing them with their own sniper rifles (with armor piercing bullets) and a variety of semi-automatic weapons. All of this at a cost that surely exceeded tens of millions of pesos. It's a subtle plan, but I have every confidence that it will lead to an historic period of peace and prosperity in the land.

I realize that those of you who were intending to visit us in the Philippines have probably just changed your minds. But - before you call your travel agent and request a vacation in a safer country, like Iraq - let me assure you that all this MILF business is isolated in a region that is several hours to the west of Davao City. In fact, Davao is a wonderfully safe city. We have a mayor who has a special task force that kills all the bad guys, so there's nothing to worry about! Unless you're a bad guy. In all seriousness, at this time I believe this city to be more safe than many of the major cities in North America. So come on over!

Needless to say, I haven't traveled to the Muslim provinces where our filters are being distributed, but I am receiving many messages of thanks. We have several Christian men who are so thankful to have an opportunity to bless the poor in a practical way. And as a bonus, they have a wonderful opportunity to visit in these Muslim homes and share the heart of Jesus. Despite the threat of violence, these men still drive through North Cotabato to come pick up the filters from our shop. I suppose that is an indication of the significant need for safe water. It is getting difficult to keep track of our numbers, but my best guess is that we have delivered over 250 filters now, most of those to the Muslim provinces. And there is no end in sight. In fact, I was just contacted by another community this morning. They are in a completely different region of the country and they have requested filters too.

I don't have any pictures of water filter stuff. You're probably tired of seeing pictures of filters anyway. I know I'm tired of taking pictures of filters. We got our new roof installed over the shop this week, so I'll be taking pictures of that tomorrow. Our truck broke down this weekend, so that is today's project. Anyway, I'm just gonna post a few random pictures that have been sitting on my hard drive for a little while. I have more of Bethany, but she doesn't want me to post them. I didn't do a very good job on our last photo shoot (lazy composition), but if you'd like to see more of her prego pictures you'll have to leave a comment on these pages begging her to allow them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Little Hope Liberty Judith Stewart (our new niece) born to Tim's brother, Joshua and Esther Stewart.
And Levi James McClellan (our new nephew) born to my brother, Andy and RuthAnn McClellan!

Greetings! Just a quick update on the current adventure.....thank you for all your encouragements and comments this week!

The water project continues to press onward and forward. Today Tim and Toti are buying materials for the roof that will be built soon to shield all the materials from the rain and wind. This is a long-awaited purchase and they are feeling pretty excited! It will also keep the mosquito population down!

On the downside, because of the Islamic terrorist group here in the Phils, the MILF, water filter deliveries to Maguindinao and to North Cotabato have slowed. The MILF has decided to shut down the highway and practice their control in those areas, so please pray that the Lord opens the door for the filters to get in their without confiscation from the MILF. There are desperate people needing clean water in those regions.

This week, I had the opportunity of visiting two of my patients and one even stopped me in the mall to give me a hug and find out how things were going! It's rather strange to run into my patients in public places! It makes me feel more at home here....they don't stare at me like everyone else does! Both Karrel and Licsi's babies are doing great and taking good care of themselves, too. Karrel continues to take her iron supplements and Licsi is struggling to continue breastfeeding even though she had a rough start just after delivery. God is good. 

As for me, I am still doing prenatals on Mondays and Fridays as well as primary health care classes Tuesday-Thursday. It's busy and I am still working on getting ahead in the homework department, though my energy level has dropped significantly in the last two weeks of pregnancy. Contractions are more consistent now and I am having consistent pain in my lower abdomen and lower back! PRAISE GOD....she is coming soon. :) It's amazing to watch the natural progression of normal pregnancy pains to the beginnings of labor pains! Could be a while, but I am thankful things are progressing normally. Promise has dropped significantly...again! And she is keeping me up at night...always moving and always hungry...I am so grateful. 36 weeks this Friday!

My midwife, Lois, came over the other night for a prenatal exam....all is well and we chatted about the home birth and all the supplies that are needed. Seems we're pretty much ready to go and I have secured the bed (which happens to be Chad and Naomi's bed...we are bedsitting for them) so that I don't ruin any linens or the mattress.....that was a bit of work! AND, my dear friend, Rebecca, who is also pregnant and due the same day as me, sent Tim and I a special gift so that we could purchase our rocking chair and a shelf for the baby stuff!!! It was such an incredible blessing and I know it will continue to be so after the baby arrives. 

We are still only 50% sure it's a girl.... ha  ha can never be totally sure until they pop we are prepping for a boy, too. We'll keep the name a secret, though. Just in case. :) I personally have been struggling with desiring my family nearby for just after the baby's birth. With the recent births of Levi and Hope, it's been tough around here. Check out the pics precious are those gifts, eh?!

While I know God has provided amazing and wonderful people to surround us and He has so generously provided for our needs through unexpected sources, I cannot help but mourn the loss of not having my mom and dad here. Though they are trying to find a way to come and visit soon after the baby is born, they have been hit with attacks, too, and are not certain when or if they will be able to come. I am very close to my parents and so enjoy their company ....they have amazing hearts, are incredible servants and are a joy to be around....I cannot imagine not having them around with our first baby....the baby we were told by doctors we could never have. I want to celebrate with them and I desperately want my momma near as I learn to become a mom. I know it is the price of living overseas, but I am feeling a heavy sense of loss mixed with an incredible sense of gain......just wish I could share it with my mom and dad. If you think of them, please be praying they will be able to come. Their presence is so precious to me....and to Tim, too....We really want to share this time with them.....their internet has been flaky, too, which makes contact via the internet very glad I was not a missionary before there were computers! Can you imagine!? 

This week marks the arrival of the new students at Mercy Maternity, too! Eleven girls are scheduled to arrive on Friday to receive midwifery training for the next two years. I am praying they will have a safe journey and will enjoy their time here as much as I have. I look forward to getting to know them, working with them, and learning from them, too. What an adventure!

Thank you for all your prayers, encouragement, and support! We are so blessed! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Maragusan or bust

Toti arrived at my door on Saturday with the newspaper in his hand. "Good news," he said, grinning as he pressed the Davao Sun Star into my hand. Glancing at the headline, I immediately understood his giddy countenance. " 700 People Suffer In Diarrhea Outbreak". I know this is probably disgusting and cold-hearted, but anytime Toti or I hear about people suffering with diarrhea we get a little excited. It's not that we revel in people's suffering. We simply recognize an opportunity to make a difference.

The article referred to suspected water contamination in Maragusan, a town in the province of Compostella Valley. It only took seconds for Toti and I to agree that a visit to Maragusan was a worthwhile endeavor. We decided to make the four hour drive as soon as possible, and Wednesday was the first day of the week that we were both available for the whole day.

So yesterday morning we packed my camera gear, my computer, a filter, and a bunch of our brochures and started driving. I was feeling pretty excited. We were flying by the seat of our pants. We had no connections in Maragusan, and we barely knew how to get there. I was feeling like a teenager again, reminded of the many trips that my best friend Paso and I used to take. We were leaving with only a vague idea of where we were going and without a clue as to what we would do when we got there.

The drive was very different from what I expected. I've seen lots of Mindanao, but I was expecting something very different. I understood Maragusan to be a city of considerable size. This led me to believe that the city would be located on or near the national highway that runs north/south along eastern Mindanao. I couldn't have been more wrong. After driving north on the highway for two hours, we turned east and soon found ourselves on a dirt road that winds along the floor of a beautiful valley. For two hours Toti and I enjoyed mile after mile of beautiful rivers and mountains in relative silence. I think I was almost disappointed when we rounded a corner and suddenly found ourselves entering Maragusan.

Our first plan was to see the Mayor. His name had been mentioned in the newspaper, so I had written him a quick letter of introduction, requesting an opportunity to demonstrate our filter. We've only tried the political route a couple of times, never with any success. But those were always at the barangay (neighbourhood) level, and I wanted to at least try to gain some municipal support. Besides, this town was in the middle of a health crisis and I have a product that can fix it.

After stopping to ask for directions several times, we found the Mayor's office. The secretary told us that the Mayor was out with his staff investigating the recent water contamination, but he would be returning after lunch. We gave the secretary our letter of introduction and he told us that he would try to schedule us a meeting with the Mayor when he returned. Feeling encouraged, we went to find some food. We had an hour and a half to kill after lunch, so we drove around looking for a place to lie in the shade and take a nap, which again left me thinking about the many hours that Paso and I have spent looking for a place to sleep.

We settled on a small grove of trees that was littered with concrete culverts which served as a playground for some of the local children. As per usual, I very quickly became the center of attention and soon there were about 30 school-aged boys and girls all watching and waiting to see what the strange white man would do next. Sitting with those children for an hour and half was the best part of my day. They practiced their English phrases, as one after another asked my my name and how old I was. Some of the older ones had enough English to carry on lengthy conversations with me, asking me where I was from and what the heck I was doing in their town.

I was able to take advantage of the captive audience, and with Toti's help we had a great hygiene lesson. We talked about where germs come from and the need to wash their hands regularly, especially after using the CR (bathroom). We spoke to them about their water supply and how it was important for their mothers to boil the water before drinking it. They seemed to enjoy the lecture, and I was glad to have at least accomplished something in this strange town in the middle of nowhere.

At one o'clock I had to pry the children off of me and send them off to school. Toti and I returned to the Mayors office and were delighted to discover that he would meet with us. My delight quickly turned into disappointment. It was immediately clear that he was simply being polite and he had no interest in meeting with us at all. I think we sat with him for a total of two and a half minutes before we were ushered out of his office. He had at least agreed to come see a demonstration of the filter outside the building once we had installed it for him.

It didn't take long for Toti and I to attract an audience as we installed the filter. Curious onlookers began to draw near and soon we were surrounded by excited barangay health workers who were all shouting questions at once. This was the reception we are accustomed to and it was nice to be experiencing something familiar. We answered all of their questions and gave them brochures and business cards before they went on their way. If we made any progress yesterday it was with those women.

The Mayor was true to his word and came out for the obligatory presentation, though he was barely present. His back was half turned to us the entire time. It was as though he was thinking, "I have a serious health problem on my hands, don't waste my time with your silly contraption." I had hoped that he would recognize the opportunity that was staring him in the face, but he was clearly too preoccupied. I tried to talk with the municipal health officer, but met with similar results.

By 3pm it was time to go. We had accomplished all that we could, and we were running out of time if wanted to reach civilization before nightfall. We stopped for snacks (a necessary component of any road trip) and hit the road. I have no idea if our visit to Maragusan will garner any results, but it was worth a try. What sort of results was I looking for? I'm not sure. I suppose I just wanted to make some connections in an area that is clearly in need of water filtration.

My Dad had a catch phrase that he borrowed from another pastor in the early 90's: "Ready, Fire, Aim." I think that's what we were doing yesterday. The idea behind the phrase is that you can easily get caught up in the preparation and planning, and never actually get around to making your move. Yesterday we got in the car without much of a plan. We heard about the need and we went to help out. If something comes of it, then that's great. If not, that's okay too. One thing is certain. If we hadn't made the trip, then there would be no chance of helping out. I don't know that I'll jump in the truck every time I see the word "diarrhea" in a newspaper, but I'm glad we did it this time.

I have not been practicing the "Ready, Fire, Aim" policy in another instance. For two months I have patiently listened to Rudy, a connection of mine that has been promising to introduce me to the Governor of Davao Oriental. Rudy is constantly planning and talking about this potential meeting, but he never actually follows through. Maybe I should just show up at the Governor's office and introduce myself. On the other hand, I'm getting fed up with Filipino politicians, and I'm considering bypassing them from now on.

I've attached a couple of photos of our trip. In other news, Bethany and I have been having a great visit with Merrilyn, one of our pastors from Vancouver. She's been staying with us this week after she spent some time up in Manila. Today we're going to take her for a bit of a tour of the city and I'll take her to see the shop where we make the filters. Bethany is doing great, but feeling very pregnant. She seems to think that the baby will come early, perhaps even before my birthday (Aug. 25). She's already 2cm dilated. I'll try to give you an update on the water project later this week.