Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Having a Baby? Read these books...

One April a few years ago I picked up the phone. It was Brenda Ramler, a local midwife calling.

"Hi. I'm working on a recommended reading list. Do you have any books you think I should include?" Brenda is someone you can always count on to get straight to the point; a real straight shooter. One of the straightest shooters I have known in my life.

"Why? What's up?" I on the other hand am an information gatherer. I never like to express my opinion until I feel I know all the facts. You know, a lay of the land type person.

"I'm working on something to hand out at the Fair. I have a list but I'm looking for new ideas to add to it." She was talking about Birth & Baby Resource Network's annual Birth & Baby Fair. This fair was almost as old as BBRN itself and Brenda & I had been involved in some way every year since its founding.

That's another thing about Brenda, she is a worker. She never sees something she feels needs to be done and says, "I'm too tired" or "too busy." Besides that she is an organizational wizard and perhaps one of the most detail oriented people I know. On top of that she is passionate about birth. I should say natural birth. Birth the way she feels it was meant to be. Her vision of birth encompasses pregnancy, birth and parenting. To her birth is one piece of the whole; not an isolated, stand alone event.

She has strong opinions about all of it and doesn't mind sharing them. Actually I believe she feels it is her calling to share them with women and their families; a duty to herself and to God. Of course she shared them with her clients, but she would also share them with pregnant women she met at a coffee shop or in line at the grocery store. She moves through the world strong in her beliefs that women need to know. Why? So they can be responsible for themselves, for their births and for their babies.

This is not a unique belief in the "alternative" birth world. It is the founding principle of BBRN and many other organizations, but Brenda is unique in her power of conviction and willingness to clearly state the truth without fear of repercussions. Many people find this not an endearing trait. But as far as I can tell it never fazed Brenda what other people thought of her. She brought that power, conviction and confidence to every birth. It served her clients well.

She safely caught lots of San Luis Obispo county babies during her years here. She educated many women in their birthing and mothering abilities. She made an impact in our world one family at a time. She also impacted our birth community; educating assistants, doulas, teachers, and even doctors and midwives. I was one of those people. I was lucky enough to doula at a few homebirths with Brenda and she always made herself available to discussclient issues or situations. Now she has moved on to new adventures in new places with her husband. The women whose lives she touched will never forget her. Myself included.

Recently I found a copy of the list of books Brenda and I spoke about that day on the phone. I was in the home of one of her assistants who is currently training to be a midwife. I recognized it as soon as I saw it and asked Heather if I could have a copy. Many of these books are classics. The basics of birth and parenting do not change but the context of the cultural/financial politics which surround it continually changes. These books continue to be relevant because the underlying foundation of greed, power and mistrust of women's bodies remain as a constant at the core of our birth culture. I am happy to announce that these books and many others will soon be on loan again through the Birth & Baby Resource Network in the library at the Santa Lucia Birth Center.

Here is Brenda's Recommended Reading List:
Active Birth
Janet Balaskas

The Vegetarian Mother's Cookbook
local author Cathi Olson

Pregnancy & Childbirth
American Way of Birth
Jessica Mitford

A Wise Birth
Penny Armstrong

Birth as an American Rite of Passage
Robbie Davis-Floyd

Birth Reborn
Michel Odent

Gentle Birth Choices
Barbara Harper

Immaculate Deception II
Suzanne Armstrong

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way
Susan McCutcheon

Pursuing the Birth Machine
Marsden Wagner

Special Delivery
Rahima Baldwin

Pregnant Feelings
Rahima Baldwin

Choosing Waterbirth
L. Bertram

Seasons of Change: Growing through Pregnancy & Birth
Suzanne Arms

Creating a Joyful Birth
Lucia Capprioni

Mind Over Labor
Carl Jones

Open Season
Nancy Cohen

Birthing from Within
Pam England & Robin Horowitz

Rights & Responsibilities
Birthing Normally
Gayle Peterson

Birth Your Way
Shiela Kitzinger

Obstetric Myths Versus Research Realities
Henci Goer

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth
Henci Goer

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
La Leche League International

The Nursing Mother's Companion
local author Kathleen Huggins

Babies & Children
Natural Medicine for Children
J. Scott

Take Charge of Your Child's Health
G. Wootan

The Baby Book
Dr. Sears

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pregnancy Nutrition

Pregnancy is such a tremendous time of growth; personal growth, family growth, spiritual growth and intellectual growth. It is an incredibly important time to nourish ourselves on many levels. Of course nourishing our bodies and therefore our babies is the most important thing we can do to insure a healthy pregnancy, healthy baby and healthy birth and yet most pregnant women in the US receive very inadequate nutritional guidance from their care providers. In my classes I explain the connections between feeding ourselves correctly and preventing pregnancy complications, such as, diabetes, pre-eclampsia, low birth weight babies, and high blood pressure.

The couples I work with come to me with all different nutritional profiles. Some have specific diets, such as, vegan or gluten free. Some eat out a lot, while others do all their own organic cooking. Many buy most of their foods at the standard grocery store, while others believe they are feeding themselves more healthily by buying packaged foods from Trader Joe’s. What ever their level of nutritional awareness they usually need to make some adjustments to fully support a healthy pregnancy. I encourage couples to not change everything about their diet at once. Instead choose 1 big thing a week to change, such as, buying organic produce and make 2 or 3 healthier choices a day, such as, adding an additional piece of fruit to their breakfast or eating a hard boiled egg as a snack. These little changes add up over time. Pregnant women need to constantly be on the look out for ways to eat nutritionally dense foods because at the same time space in their stomachs shrink their babies’ nourishment need grows.

My work gives me the opportunity to learn new things all the time. I asked Courtney to write an article about whole foods eating. I knew nothing about it myself. Her article blew me away with the depth of her knowledge and the depth of my nutritional ignorance. Warning! This article is very intellectually dense, in other words, it is packed with info. I encourage you to read it carefully and digest it slowly. Use it to guide you in making some simple changes, such as, what oil you use for cooking or what type of bread you buy. Don’t let the depth of it overwhelm you into not utilizing the information. Instead look for the nuggets that fit with your life style or that seem to call to you. Maybe you want to change the salt you use or drink water at a different time of day. Definitely find one recipe to try. For me I’m going to try baking plantains and making her Apple-Raspberry Spice Rice. It sounds delicious and I always have a little left over rice hanging around. Don’t you?

Read Courtney's article for nutritional enlightenment!

Get her recipes here.

Ancient Nutritional Wisdom from India & China

I’m Courtney Coleman of CookWell.org and I’d like to give you some ancient wisdom from India and China on whole foods diet & lifestyle so that you and your baby can be as healthy & beautiful as possible. You, as a mother, are my role model. I very much look forward to experiencing the magic of carrying & birthing my own child someday. Pregnant and nursing mothers are role models for women everywhere. Congratulations!

As most of you know, the Standard American Diet of processed & fast food is a huge factor in degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. This has happened since the mass food-processing & refining era of the 1940's which denatures food. The stripping away of the natural food-state vitamin and fiber-rich bran of grains, the refining of vegetable oils renders them highly unstable and oxidized (rancid), the adding of nutrient void fillers, chemical preservatives, anti-caking agents, antibiotics, hormones, etc. and the refining of sugar all bring our vitality crashing to the floor. Warning! Basically, 99% of the packaged products at grocery stores including Trader Joe’s AND health food stores are made from refined foods. Beware of packaged foods labeled organic - they’re still made from refined wheat, etc. Even when the ingredient list says, “evaporated cane juice” and “sea salt”, these ingredients are still refined to the degree that they are not good for the body.

Sally Fallon, in her book, Nourishing Traditions, shows us why indigenous people have far fewer diseases than modern Americans. They eat regionally, with whole grains, beans and vegetables as the basis of their diets. They use animal products when needed medicinally, for building strength and warmth. And, they soak & sprout or ferment their grains. Unsoaked and unfermented whole grains and flours contain phytic acid which binds with minerals (mostly calcium) and inhibits their absorption, ultimately leading to degenerative bone loss and tooth decay. People who eat sprouted or fermented grains as a staple have strong teeth and bones late into life. Vikings and other European cultures fermented their wheat flour to make sourdough. Even American pioneers were famous for their sourdough breads, pancakes, & biscuits. African natives and the Welsh ferment corn or millet for several days to make porridges. In India, rice and lentils are fermented to make idli and dosas.
(Sprouted grain bread is higher in usable calcium & protein both important pregnancy building blocks! My pregnancy specific additions are in italics-Jennifer)

Also, indigenous people don’t eat processed foods which spike the blood sugar - refined flour, sugar, soda pop, etc. High-glycemic foods over time are being found to be the culprits in not only insulin resistance and diabetes, but in high blood pressure, heart disease, and in depressed immunity and thyroid function. (It is important when growing a baby that we keep the fire of creation set at a consistent temperature. This helps with nausea & tiredness commonly thought of as “normal” in pregnancy. Most importantly it helps prevent pregnancy diabetes which can send women down the path to an automatic cesarean section!)

And as far as sweeteners, we want grade B maple syrup, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, small amounts of raw honey, rapidura sugar (sucanat), and organic molasses. Stevia leaf extract is a natural, no-sugar, no-calorie sweetener, which is great for low glycemic and candida diets. (Again helps with gestational diabetes prevention, as well as, yeast and thrush prevention.)

Indigenous people don’t consume refined salt. They use whole sea salts rich in trace minerals (electrolytes), which our bodies need. Refined salt is just sodium-chloride, which acts like a toxin in the body and elevates blood pressure. We want foods to be made with salts like “whole sea salt, Celtic sea salt, Himalayan Pink sea salt, Real Salt brand (sold at TJ’s), or Portuguese sea salt.” These are the salts our bodies can use for their benefit. (Salt is necessary during pregnancy to help balance the chemistry of our bodies. It is recommended that women eat salt to taste.)

Regarding oils, people who live long, healthy lives close to the earth use only unrefined (extra virgin) oils. Refined vegetable oils like canola, corn and soy oil change molecularly with heat and form long-chain fatty acids. Using refined vegetable oils in cooking at home, eating at restaurants & fast food joints, and eating packaged, processed foods (especially those with hydrogenated oils), works in conjunction with saturated fats to clog our arteries. The oils which benefit the body should be unrefined (extra virgin) and cold pressed. Store them in airtight, opaque glass at 65 degrees F or less. To cook on high heat use: ghee, coconut, peanut, grapeseed, palm, or palm kernel. To cook on medium/low heat, use: olive, sesame, almond, apricot kernel and avocado. (Oil or fat is an important ingredient in a healthy pregnancy, as long as it is the right kind. This is commonly misunderstood by American women in their quest for body perfection they have thrown out the good fat along with the bad. Flaxseed, fish oil and Evening Primrose oil are all recommended as supplements.)

Also, we are usually de-hydrated and don’t even know it. There are doctors who recommend drinking more water for every disease. We should be getting ½ our ideal body weight in ounces per day. Hydrate with 16 - 32 ounces of water 4 times per day without food. Only drink 4 oz or so with meals to avoid diluting your stomach acids & enzymes. When you hydrate with large amounts of water, do it 30 min before meals, or about 2 hrs after meals (hydrate, wait 30 min, eat, wait 2 hrs, hydrate...). For the body to really be able to uptake water so it goes to efficient use in the body, re- mineralize purified water with a pinch of whole sea salt, a squeeze of lemon, a tsp or so of raw apple cider vinegar, or an ounce of any real fruit juice. All these things contain trace minerals (aka: electrolytes). So you basically want to create Gator Aid without the sugar. If you think about it, water in nature always has trace minerals present for the body to use, as it comes to us from wells, springs and streams. (For heart burn help, change your water habits! This problem is so common in pregnancy it is considered normal. Don’t dilute your stomach acid before a meal! Instead use Courtney’s time table and definitely try adding the vinegar!)

Basically, if it’s from a package or any restaurant, it’s probably not good for you. If you can restrict your consumption of processed & restaurant foods down to 20% of the time, and 80% of the time use fresh, seasonal, organic vegetables & fruits from Farmer’s markets or health food stores, whole grains soaked & simmered at home like millet, amaranth & quinoa, and whole beans and lentils, you are on the road to a gently cleansing and balancing whole foods diet.

Now, we are all biochemically different & need different foods & lifestyle practices to maintain vitality and balance. Some of us, based on ancestry and other constitutional factors, may need animal proteins and non-starchy vegetables more often than whole grains as the basis of our diets. If you have low energy, you may want to experiment with systems like blood typing, metabolic typing and Ayuvedic typing for a few weeks to figure out which type of diet & lifestyle works best for you. Also, in regard to seasonal foods and cooking, nature knows best and always provides us with foods which help balance us. Eating foods grown seasonally and regionally helps to balance our bodies. We generally need warming foods and cooking techniques in the fall & winter, and cooling, cleansing foods and cooking techniques in the spring & summer. The exception to this is that some of us tend to be cool and deficient with cold extremities, so we need warming building foods year round, and some of us tend to be hot, with excess weight and need more cooling & cleansing foods year round.

In regard to eating a raw diet vs. macrobiotic & Ayurvedic diets, I’ll say this: Each of us has a different quality of digestive fire, or agni, as it’s referred to in Ayurveda, the East Indian philosophy of eating and living in harmony with nature. Where one person may be able to eat some of everything offered at a buffet, another person may need to carefully apply the principals of proper food combining and eat mostly cooked foods which are easier to digest. According to both Macrobiotics and Ayurveda, a 100% raw diet year-round is particularly cooling, contractive and difficult for most people to digest. Living enzymes can be added to meals with salads or other raw veggies on the side eaten at the end of the meal. Also, a lifetime of eating refined foods and more animal proteins than necessary is what leads to systemic enzyme deficiency.
(During pregnancy our digestion slows down to promote more nutrient absorbtion. For some women this causes digestive issues. Add to that enzyme deficiency and you may have a perfect storm going on in your digestive system!) Soaked (and thusly sprouted) and simmered whole grains provide an easily digestible, long lasting energy source that’s gentle on the digestive system. Whole grains lie more toward the middle of the yin/yang spectrum and help us maintain balanced blood sugar, hormones and body chemistry. In balance, whole grains and seasonal vegetables comprise the basis of the diet around which more extreme parts of the diet revolve.

When we are in balance, we can more easily quiet our minds and open our hearts to know what the best action is in any given moment. From this place we can go forward in the world and make it a better place.

Courtney graciously included several recipes to get you started and a reading list for further study!

About Courtney and her CookWell business.

I’m 33 yrs old and for the past 12 years I’ve studied and practiced Macrobiotics, Solar Nutrition and Ayurvedic cooking. My friends loved the whole foods meals I’d make with them and said they felt more vital after eating with me, so in 2006 I started teaching people in their own kitchens to CookWell. I teach how a whole foods diet & lifestyle can prevent and reverse disease, increase energy, and bring the mind, body and spirit back to balance to people all over SLO County. I give guidelines for balancing their particular constitution according to blood typing, Ayurvedic typing and metabolic typing. And, of course, I show them how to make incredibly delicious whole foods meals for their families. This work is incredibly gratifying, and I feel blessed to be on this path. I’d love to talk to anyone anytime to offer further wisdom on the how-to of a whole foods diet & lifestyle. To get you started, I have instructional videos & some delicious free recipes listed at the bottom of the first few pages of my website like: positively perfect brown rice, chipotle beans with sea veggies, and dark leafy greens stir-steam. I teach, sometimes alongside my wonderful husband Don who helps people with their emotions, with developing mindfulness and joy in the kitchen, and with gently transitioning to a whole foods diet & lifestyle. His website is http://www.gingerbuddha.com/. We teach private or small group classes for adults or kids in your SLO county home at affordable prices. We also offer whole foods cooking for your party or event, or for meals for you to store & re-heat. I welcome any questions you may have and can be reached at courtney@cookwell.org or (805) 528-8837.
Don't forget to visit her web site at: www.cookwell.org!

I Love the Holidays!

The first Christmas card has arrived! I love Christmas cards. I love to see the babies I was blessed to witness being born growing through the years.

In the spirit of full disclosure I need to confess something. I am terrible about sending cards. I never seem to organize my time to include the time it takes to prepare and send cards. I want to include a personal letter and that seems so daunting a process I don't get started and then it is too late! One year I sent New Year's cards and one year I sent Spring cards and some years I don't send cards at all!

So my hat's off to Bernadette. Her card arrived on Nov. 30th. Of course Bernadette is one of the most organized and efficient women I know. She even births in an organized and efficient way. One evening early last January while in labor she carefully packed up her Christmas tree. The next morning she went to her scheduled prenatal appointment only to shock her doctor by already being at 10 centimeters dilation!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Sometimes I forget that one woman can make a difference. I get caught up, bogged down and generally frazzled trying to meet all my commitments to all the people in my life. My nose is pressed so firmly to the grind stone I can't even see what I'm grinding. Don't get me wrong I treasure my grind stone and whatever it is I'm grinding at the time. But I can get so busy I loose sight of the bigger scheme of things.

Tomorrow I am starting a new project, another layer of wheat on the old grind stone; a support group for women using the philosophies of attachment parenting. This style of parenting has been around forever and is practiced in many cultures so why a support group? Because currently it isn't favored by mainstream America. Consequently these mothers are often judged negatively and are left feeling isolated and adrift. So I'm really excited about my support group project. I woke up with ideas swirling in my head this morning and can't wait for tomorrow but I'm also thinking, "Are you nuts! You already have too much to do and it is the beginning of the holidays. Company is coming, your son will be home. What are you thinking?!"

I was sorting through the stacks of stuff that always magically collects in the guest bedroom when the answer to my question appeared. I opened an envelope from my friend Rainie Fross, a past La Leche League leader. She had dropped off a bunch of resources for breastfeeding moms months ago and I had simply stacked them all in my magical collection of 'things I'll get to at some point'. I drew out a faded newspaper clipping from 2008. To be more precise it was an obit that ran in the Chicago Tribune with a large headline and photo. And there she was; one woman who had made a difference.

Back in 1956 this woman and six other mothers banded together to offer each other support and guidance. They were choosing to parent differently than 80% of the other mothers in the U.S. at that time. The medical establishment and scientific community was not in favor of their parenting beliefs. They were working in direct opposition to a huge industrial interest. They even had to choose a name in another language in order to put out meeting notices in newspapers. Slowly they built a grassroots community of women which spread nationally and eventually even internationally. She co-authored a book that was released this year in its 8th edition. When I googled the very first word of the title it immediately came up at the top of the list. She went on to give lectures around the world and even addressed the United Nations.

One woman within a small group of women within a community. Her name means nothing to most people but the group she helped found is known world wide, La Leche League. Through League she touched millions of lives helping create better family relationships, better health, and a better planet. Amazing what one woman within a small group of women within a community can do!

Thank you Betty Wagner Spandikow. Thank you for being an inspiration to me. Thanks for helping me look beyond the grind stone and remember why I do all I choose to do. And thanks to Rainie too!

If you are interested in finding out about my latest project, the Mothering; a Labor of Love group, visit my facebook page for updates on where and when. (This group has changed to South County Holistic Mamas in order to be more inclusive. We are on face book and do play groups, etc.)
For more info on Attachment Parenting philosophy and their 8 principles visit Attachment Parenting International's web site.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Homebirth: Listening to a Master Midwife

Ina May Gaskin is America's premier midwife.If not for her I don't know what would have happened to birth in this country. Her book, "Spiritual Midwifery" reignited the flame of natural woman centered birth. Her personal life story is amazing and what she has achieved is incredible. The numbers of women's lives that she has impacted is unknowable. Like a pebble tossed into a pool her courage and belief in women has flowed outward in never ending rings. Take a moment to sit at the feet of a master and listen to the wisdom she has learned by witnessing women birth. Then visit her website at:http://www.inamay.com/ or buy her book, "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth" from my library.

Home Birth—Why It's Necessary

By Ina May Gaskin, CPM
Originally published by Ina May Gaskin Productions, 2007-01-14
Simply put, when there is no home birth in a society, or when home birth is driven completely underground, essential knowledge of women’s capacities in birth is lost to the people of that society—to professional caregivers, as well as to the women of childbearing age themselves. The disappearance of knowledge once commonly held paves the way for over-medicalization of birth and the risks which this poses. Nothing in medical literature today communicates the idea that women’s bodies are well designed for birth. Ignorance of the capacities of women’s bodies can flourish and quickly spread into popular culture when the medical profession is unable to distinguish between ancient wisdom and superstitious belief. To illustrate, I would cite a National Geographic article (1) which states that, “…we [humans] can give birth to babies with big brains, but only through great pain and risk.” The writer, depending upon the work of two U.S. anthropologists, explains that the fact that our species walks upright causes inevitable pain and risk during birth, forgetting how easily we can go to our hands and knees if need be.

I would have had no way to know how well healthy women’s bodies can work in labor and birth had I not experienced a rediscovery of women’s capacities in birth, along with several hundred other people, as we established a midwifery service in our newly founded community in 1970. Most people would have predicted that my diving headlong into attending home births for friends and then training a group of midwives to work with me would have ended in disaster, given that I came into midwifery only with the training afforded by two degrees in English literature. What happened instead is that I received timely and essential help from a few generous, wise physicians, and our service was able to help the first 186 women give birth vaginally (without instruments or other medical interventions) before our first cesarean was necessary. It was not until birth #324 that the second became necessary. All of this was accomplished without negative consequences to mothers or babies.

This degree of success is hard for many physicians to believe, because it runs counter to what they have been taught. For many decades, physicians have been taught that the female pelvis is often too small to permit the safe passage of a term baby through it. Still, over the last three and a half decades, more than 2400 births have been attended within our midwifery service, with our cesarean and instrumental delivery rates combined still below 2 percent, in sharp contrast to the U.S. cesarean rate, which is now nearly 30 percent and climbing.

The publication of our early data in my first book, Spiritual Midwifery, in 1975, helped to encourage the natural childbirth movement that began in North America during the late 1960s. (2) This movement caused U.S. hospitals to radically reassess their maternity care policies during the 1970s and 1980s, leading them, for the first time, to allow family members to be present at births; to allow women, for the first time, to choose midwives as birth attendants; and to change—again for the first time, their policy of mandatory episiotomy. The natural childbirth movement, which was greatly inspired by home birth pioneers, also had the effect of drastically reducing the incidence of forceps deliveries, which had previously been used in more than 40 percent of U.S. births.

Midwifery care blossomed in the U.S. because of the home birth movement, as women who didn’t themselves want home births but who did want care that did not involve routine and unnecessary medical interventions and practices, such as pubic shaving, enemas, being forced to remain still while lying supine during labor (the painful position possible) and often mandatory pain medication, wanted to be able to choose the midwifery model of care in the hospitals where they would give birth. Women themselves began to force these changes by opting for midwifery care and by insisting upon doula care. All of these transformations demonstrated both to laboring women and to their caregivers that women are fully capable of giving birth without the mandatory use of several interventions once considered by U.S. obstetricians to be not only important but essential to the health of mother or baby.

I have not yet mentioned the long list of techniques and practices common to home birth midwifery, which have made their way into progressive hospital maternity care practice. Among these are the use of water tubs for alleviation of pain during labor, the all-fours position (sometimes called the Gaskin maneuver) to resolve the serious complication of shoulder dystocia (3-5), upright positions for labor and birth, the safety of allowing almost all women to enter labor without induction, the use of nipple stimulation to release the body’s natural oxytocin to augment labor (6,7) and the possibility of sleeping, eating and drinking during labor. It is no exaggeration to say that none of these techniques would have been adopted into hospital practice, had it not been for their having first been developed and tested in the “laboratory” of home birth practice. Medical research is expensive and thus rarely focuses on preventive measures or those which don’t rely upon pharmaceutical or technological products.

Another extremely important concept that arises from home birth practice is the recognition of what I call “sphincter law.” (8) This concept describes the common phenomenon, which occurs often in women’s labors, in which stress sometimes causes the cervix, once dilated in labor, to suddenly close, or for labor to stop. Having first observed this phenomenon in the early years of my practice, I found that other midwifery colleagues working in and out of hospitals and many labor and delivery nurses were also familiar with it. We found that such cases could safely resolve themselves, without medical intervention, by waiting for labor to resume in less stressful circumstances. Looking deeper into medical books written during the period when home birth was the norm, I found many 19th century authors who had also documented this physiological phenomenon, which is dependent upon an imbalance of maternal hormones during labor which can take place when the woman feels greatly stressed during the birth process. If current medical knowledge included these concepts which it once did, fewer women would be subjected to the risks of induction drugs, the use of which has increased sharply over the last fifteen years—not always with good results. (9)

Of course, this is not to say that women should be required to have home births. However, the option to give birth in the place of choice should be open to those women who desire it, as long as their physical condition permits it as a safe choice. The body of knowledge available to all maternity caregivers depends upon a full range of choices being available to childbearing women.


1. Ackerman J. The downside of upright. National Geographic July 2006, 126-145.

2. Gaskin IM. Spiritual Midwifery (1975) Summertown, TN: The Book Publishing Company.

3. Meenan A and Gaskin IM, et al. A new (old) maneuver for the management of shoulder dystocia, The Journal of Family Practice, 1991: 32:625-29.

4. Bruner J and Gaskin IM, et al. All-fours maneuver for reducing shoulder dystocia, The Journal of Reproductive Medicine, 1998; 43:439-43.

5. Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, and Simpson JL. Obstetrics: Normal & Problem Pregnancies, 4th ed. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 2002.

6. Curtis P. A comparison of breast stimulation and intravenous oxytocin for the augmentation of labor, Birth, June 1999; 26:115-122.

7. Curtis P. Breast Stimulation to Augment Labor: History, Mystery, and Culture. Birth, June 1999; 26: 123-6.

8. Gaskin, Ina May. Understanding birth and Sphincter Law, British Journal of Midwifery, Volume 12, Number 9, September 2004.
9. Wagner M. Born in the USA: How a Broken Maternity System Must Be Fixed to Put Women and Children First (2005) Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Creating a Healthy Pregnancy

In this series I will be delving into various ways a mother-to-be can promote a beautiful healthy pregnancy; reducing her chances of high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, anemia, sciatica, postpartum hemorrhage, low birth weight baby and poor milk supply.

First we must always remember pregnancy is NOT an illness! It is a state of health. Pregnancy, labor, birth & breastfeeding are all normal physiologic functions for women; no different than breathing, cell renewal or the synapses of our brains firing. All of these happen effortlessly as long as we are in a general state of wellness. The system breaks down when we don't provide what it needs, such as smoke free air, nutritious food, and intellectual stimulation. Although pregnancy is a state of normalcy, it does require more from all of a woman's body systems therefore requiring her to be diligent in providing what those systems need. To keep her body working optimally while growing a healthy baby will take some thought and effort. She will need to become more aware and in tune with her own body's needs and rhythms which will serve her well during the birth process. The things a woman learns about her own health at this time she will carry on into her role as mother; the guardian of family health.

Some of these posts will be written by me. I am also reaching out into our community to wellness practitioners I know to write posts about their areas of expertise. I hope you enjoy this post by Tina, a local prenatal and infant massage therapist and are inspired to try "pampering" yourself and your baby.

Massage Therapy-More Than Just Pampering by Tina Risley, CMT

Massage during pregnancy provides many benefits. Medical science has long recognized the value of massage therapy to aid in the treatment of many conditions and diseases. Studies prove massage reduces anxiety & depression. It can improve immune function & promote better sleep. The Touch Research Institute's studies on prenatal massage showed a decrease in anxiety and stress hormones (norepinephrine) which cross through the placenta to the baby. There were fewer pregnancy complications, as well as, a reduction in premature birth rates. The normal increase in blood volume during pregnancy puts stress on the whole circulatory system. Massage supports the circulatory and lymphatic systems by promoting the movement of blood and lymph. This action assists the heart and reduces swelling throughout pregnancy. Massage helps to alleviate stress on the weight bearing joints of the hips, pelvis, knees, and ankles, relieving soreness in the muscles that support the additional weight of the baby. Massage therapy provides a nurturing, soothing touch promoting an overall sense of well-being in the mother. Reassurance, nurturing, and relaxation for the mother have far-reaching impacts on her growing baby. Babies sense and respond to their mother’s stress level as registered by her heartbeat. The birthing process is often made easier and less complicated by regular massage during pregnancy and throughout the labor process.

Choosing a knowledgeable massage therapist with specialized training in prenatal/pregnancy massage is of the greatest importance.Take the time to get to know your massage therapist. Never hesitate to ask any questions you may have about pregnancy massage and discuss any concerns you may have with your therapist or prenatal care provider.

Massage therapists are not medical doctors and massage therapy should not be used as a replacement for routine obstetrical care. Remember you should always ask your doctor before beginning a massage regimen if your pregnancy has been diagnosed as high-risk or if you have pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, gestational diabetes or deep vein thrombosis. For all high risks pregnancies it is necessary for the therapist to work WITH the mother's prenatal provider. Moms with these issues can benefit greatly from massage support. In these special situations its powerful detoxing and blood sugar lowering effects require an experienced practitioner and input from the woman's doctor or midwife. Massage in general is contraindicated for broken bones, tumors, bleeding, burns and other acute conditions.

In conclusion, pregnancy can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of a woman’s life. Pregnancy massage is a wonderful tool to aid in making this special occasion a time of power and happiness by reducing physical and mental tension. Remember throughout your pregnancy that your body is working hard to grow your little one. Take the time to pamper yourself. You deserve it.

In Health,

Tina L. Risley, CMT
Tina can be reached at Barefoot MomEase

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Women of SLO County Help Empower Your Sisters & Friends!

There is nothing more powerful than women sharing information. Most women make important decisions about their health care based on things they have learned from other women in their community. This exchanging of information and wisdom is a staple of women's conversations from time immemorial; from the local well at the oasis to the local quilting bee on the prairie. Today women go on-line in droves to connect on social networks; from chat rooms to blogs to web sites devoted to women's issues. It is time information about our local birth community was part of this conversation. You can help your sisters, friends, workmates and all the birthing women of SLO County. It is simple. You don't even have to leave your home.

If you have given birth in the last 3 years I urge you to let your voice be heard. By answering the questions on the Birth Survey you can easily let other women in our community know how happy or unhappy you are with your care provider, place of birth, doula & childbirth educator. You also will be helping the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services compile national statistics on what is really happening out there with issues, such as, induction & pitocin, epidurals, and cesareans. Perhaps just as important for other women to hear is how the office staff treated you, if your care provider listened to you, were you able to get all your questions answered, did they provide their statistics for c-sections, episiotomies and natural births. How would you rate the hospital staff? Did you feel well cared for? Did they offer breastfeeding help and was it helpful, etc.? Wouldn't you like the women in our community to know about the quality of care you received during your pregnancy, birth & early postpartum period?

For a pregnant woman finding a care provider, doula, educator and place of birth that match her values surrounding birth is critically important. These choices can make or break her feelings about her birth. Her birth has the power to impact her either positively or negatively. As an example, if she wants an epidural she should go to a doctor who supports that choice and if she doesn't want one she needs to find a care provider that supports THAT choice. Why? Because if she desires to birth with an epidural and doesn't receive one she will feel disempowered during the birth. For the woman that wished to birth without medication and then feels pressured to give in to an epidural she will feel victimized and helpless. The key is finding the right match for you. Look up a doctor, midwife or hospital.

Guess what? Sierra Vista isn't even on the survey yet because in the 2 years it has been going no one has input any information about their experience there. We owe it to our sisters, friends, coworkers and all the women in our community to stand up and be counted. Please take the Birth Survey!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Welcome Home Baby Gavin!

A baby's homecoming is such a sweet time; especially if delayed by a stay in the NICU. Congratulations Kila & Mason! Enjoy your babymoon time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

New Mothers Grow Bigger Brains Within Months of Giving Birth

A new study once again shows the benefits of motherhood for the mother. Although you may feel like your brain is slower because of lack of sleep, the stress of transforming your life, and learning a new set of skills all at the same time. You actually have revved your brain up in a number of critical areas which promote better bonding and mothering. This study was done on breastfeeding moms with no signs of postpartum depression. They will do further study on groups of women with postpartum depression and non-breastfeeders to help them understand if or how these issues play a role.

ScienceDaily (Oct. 20, 2010)

Warmer Feelings Toward Babies Linked to Bigger Mid-Brains

Motherhood may actually cause the brain to grow, not turn it into mush, as some have claimed. Exploratory research published by the American Psychological Association found that the brains of new mothers bulked up in areas linked to motivation and behavior, and that mothers who gushed the most about their babies showed the greatest growth in key parts of the mid-brain.

Led by neuroscientist Pilyoung Kim, PhD, now with the National Institute of Mental Health, the authors speculated that hormonal changes right after birth, including increases in estrogen, oxytocin and prolactin, may help make mothers' brains susceptible to reshaping in response to the baby. Their findings were published in the October issue of Behavioral Neuroscience.
The motivation to take care of a baby, and the hallmark traits of motherhood, might be less of an instinctive response and more of a result of active brain building, neuroscientists Craig Kinsley, PhD, and Elizabeth Meyer, PhD, wrote in a special commentary in the same journal issue.

The researchers performed baseline and follow-up high-resolution magnetic-resonance imaging on the brains of 19 women who gave birth at Yale-New Haven Hospital, 10 to boys and nine to girls. A comparison of images taken two to four weeks and three to four months after the women gave birth showed that gray matter volume increased by a small but significant amount in various parts of the brain. In adults, gray matter volume doesn't ordinarily change over a few months without significant learning, brain injury or illness, or major environmental change.
The areas affected support maternal motivation (hypothalamus), reward and emotion processing (substantia nigra and amygdala), sensory integration (parietal lobe), and reasoning and judgment (prefrontal cortex).

In particular, the mothers who most enthusiastically rated their babies as special, beautiful, ideal, perfect and so on were significantly more likely to develop bigger mid-brains than the less awestruck mothers in key areas linked to maternal motivation, rewards and the regulation of emotions.

The mothers averaged just over 33 years in age and 18 years of school. All were breastfeeding, nearly half had other children and none had serious postpartum depression.

Although these early findings require replication with a larger and more representative sample, they raise intriguing questions about the interaction between mother and child (or parent and child, since fathers are also the focus of study). The intense sensory-tactile stimulation of a baby may trigger the adult brain to grow in key areas, allowing mothers, in this case, to "orchestrate a new and increased repertoire of complex interactive behaviors with infants," the authors wrote. Expansion in the brain's "motivation" area in particular could lead to more nurturing, which would help babies survive and thrive physically, emotionally and cognitively.

Further study using adoptive mothers could help "tease out effects of postpartum hormones versus mother-infant interactions," said Kim, and help resolve the question of whether the brain changes behavior or behavior changes the brain -- or both.

The authors said that postpartum depression may involve reductions in the same brain areas that grew in mothers who were not depressed. "The abnormal changes may be associated with difficulties in learning the rewarding value of infant stimuli and in regulating emotions during the postpartum period," they said. Further study is expected to clarify what happens in the brains of mothers at risk, which may lead to improved interventions.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Seamstress

My doula journey takes me into people's homes and hearts. I am sometimes a receptacle for their smoldering anger or deep despair. I am always honored to help a woman along her path to peace and understanding. Birth trauma occurs when our hopes and dreams go awry. The wounds are deep if we felt unsupported at the moment our plans splintered into a million pieces of sharp glass raining down on us, and the grief process long. This poem is for all the seamstresses out there. The cesarean epidemic has infected our hospitals like a disease causing a disproportionate number of our mothers to begin motherhood disheartened, disillusioned and disattached from their selves. They are all seamstresses.

The Seamstress

We sat amongst her disillusionment and despair
piecing together the scattered remnants of her destroyed dreams.
The disarray of her disappointment spread around us
disconnecting her from the fabric of her life.

We sat disentangling the threads of her distrust and disbelief
from the dishonesty of those she thought had cared;
vainly trying to dispel her disenchantment.

The disjointed story spilled from her wounded heart
discouraged tears distorting the lines of her face.
The silver needle plunging in and out
as she desperately tried to repair the damage.

Together we examined the jagged edges of their handiwork
searching for patterns and matching the pieces.
How had this disaster happened;
this horrendous disruption to her plans?
Had she lost all of her abilities of discernment?

__ __ __ __ __ __

Carefully they stitched the edges of her womb together.
Her birth desires disintegrating around her
she lay in disembodied disgrace upon the cold metal of the steel table
discarded, dismissed and dispossessed.

Disheveled and disoriented she lay upon the gurney.
Could they not see the gaping wound they left upon her heart
her life blood disgorging onto the sterile white sheets?

Gathering together the fraying edges of her heart
she pressed discomfort, anger and disloyalty to her breast
bravely trying to staunch the unending flow.

__ __ __ __ __ __

Dislodged from all her instincts
her disordered mind distorting her visions for those first precious days of life.
Distraught she began incessantly working
the needle flashing in and out
feverishly sewing together the crazy quilt of her life.

Would she forever be at a disadvantage
disqualified for motherhood by her disfigurement?
Was there no way to close this wound that would not stop leaking
to rid herself of this terrible disease?

__ __ __ __ __ __

We sat discussing, sharing and disclosing
patching over the disharmony of her soul.
Disengaging from blame or guilt
we discovered a mother willing to sacrifice her body and her dreams.

# # # # # # # # # #

I became fascinated with the word and syllable 'dis' as I thought about this piece. First because of the dis-ease women feel with their bodies and their mothering abilities after a traumatic birth. Secondly because feeling they were dissed during the process is a large component of their grief. Third the syllable 'dis' turns a positive into a negative which is what they feel happened to their birth experience.

When I researched the meaning of dis this is what I discovered:

The Many Meanings of Dis

Pronunciation: dēs,
1. lady; woman.
2. Female deity; especially one promoting fertility.

Pronunciation: dis, Slang
1. To show disrespect for; affront.
2. To disparage; belittle.

Pronunciation: dis, Classic Myth
1. A god of the underworld.

As a Latin prefix
1. meaning “apart,” “asunder,” “away,” “utterly,”
2. having a negative, or reversing force when used as an English formative
Example: to change ability to disability; or affirming to disaffirming

I was stunned to learn Dis was both a female fertility deity and a god of the underworld. Now I see my seamstress as wrestling with these opposing gods; trapped in the depths of the underworld; struggling to sew her way back up to the light.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

An Out-of-hospital Birth Center Birth from a Father’s Perspective

I am including this birth although it is not local but it does have a local connection. I met Jessica and Clayton when they participated in one of my childbirth class series. Jessica gave birth to their first daughter at French Hospital. Everything went very smoothly and they felt very good about their experience and their care by their midwives and the nursing staff. Then they moved away.

On Monday, September 20, 2010 Jessica gave birth to their second daughter. Feeling empowered by their first experience they chose an out-of-hospital birth center for this birth and planned a water birth. I was excited to hear about their story and wanted to share it because our community is about to have our own out-of-hospital birth center complete with birth tubs. Besides Clayton was always such a sweet, enthusiastic, supportive dad during classes and Jessica was such a great birther I couldn't resist including them in my birth story project.

The birth of Shiloh Rose...

It was Saturday, September 11th and I was excited for a number of reasons. One reason was that the Ocean Beach Jazz fest was happening all day just a couple miles from my home. The other reason was that I had a sneaking suspicion that my 2nd daughter would be born that day. That morning as I was eating breakfast with my buddy Danny, I noticed that Jessica was running around in a flurry cleaning everything. Now Jessica keeps a tidy home but her efforts that morning were extreme. I looked at Danny and said “I think Jessica is going to have our baby today... she seems to instinctively be preparing for it.” At that time there were no major contractions to speak of so I went down the street to catch some first rate live Jazz.

The music was great, over 8 stages of sounds to choose from! At about 2:30, half way through Charlie Hunter, I received a text from Jessica that said “My Water Broke!” I immediately returned home to my dear wife who was excited to finally be in labor 9 days after our "due date". I asked Jessica if she had called the midwife, but she was waiting until she knew for sure she was in labor. After some convincing on my part she eventually made the call. Our midwife Brooke agreed to meet us at the birth center whenever we felt ready.

Now Jessica wanted to labor in the comfort of her own home as long as possible before heading to the birth center. I was in support of that, however about a week prior, in my prayer time I felt the spirit speak to me that when labor began, the baby would come quickly. I spent the next couple of hours preparing our things and loading them in the car. We had packed pajamas, swim trunks for the water birth we had planned, music, video camera, all sorts of clothes for mama and baby. The additional car seat was installed and family members were contacted.

During those couple hours, I could see the contractions becoming stronger. She began getting very quiet and still when they would hit. At this point I suggested that it was time to go. She said that she wanted to eat a quesadilla first... I did too. Following our pre-game meal we left Kairah with Aunt Robin and hopped in the car to meet Brooke at the birth center. We arrived at 5:15 pm. The birth center was so peaceful at that time of day. It was Saturday evening and there were no people in the waiting room and no one else there giving birth. We talked a bit with Brooke and had a look around to select which room Jessica wanted. By now it was about 5:30. Jessica had been having contractions throughout our conversation but was still very much engaged with us. Then Brooke asked to check Jessica’s progress. To all of our surprise she said that Jessica was dilated to 10cm which meant she was ready to push the baby out!

It was Jessica’s desire to have a water birth so Brooke turned on the faucet to fill the tub. I began setting up the video camera as well as preparing some music. During that time I watched Jessica have an intense contraction while laying on her side in bed. It was then that she said “I’m ready to hop in the tub now”. After a couple minutes I went in to check on Jessica who was kneeling ninja style in the tub. The water was about up to her hips in this position. I took a minute to put my hand on her shoulder to comfort her. When I looked down I was shocked to see that the head of our baby was crowning! I asked Jessica if that was the baby’s head and she said yes! Brooke responded in astonishment, "The Baby is coming out?" Jessica nodded yes. The next thirty seconds was a whirlwind. Brooke turned off the water, I moved the video camera, and Jessica pushed one more time. I adjusted the camera just in time to capture Jessica reaching down into the water to deliver her own baby. It all happened so fast! Jessica reclined into the tub without even breaking a sweat saying “Hi little one, That was fast!” Shiloh Rose Connolly was Born at 5:42 pm. I couldn’t stop laughing in amazement. There was no build up, no drama, no “you can do it Jessica”. We were literally there less than a half hour and Jessica delivered so fast no one but her and the baby were ready! I then got to climb in the tub and meet my new daughter. She was so beautiful. She was so captivating. We hung out in the tub for about 15 minutes and then decided it would be a good time to cut the cord. I had the honor of that task. After I cut the cord, Shiloh nursed for the first time... effortlessly. After getting out of the tub, Jessica, Shiloh and I were left alone to spend time together. It was all so amazing! I was so proud of my girls. We couldn’t have asked for a better situation. We were laying together in a queen size bed in the comforts of a room that could have easily qualified for a bed and breakfast suite under different circumstances. There was no commotion, no interruption, no sick people across the hall. It was only us, with Brooke and her assistant in the other room if we needed them.

A couple hours later, we let the word out to all our friends and family. This was the first time we formally announced her name! The first to arrive were Robin and Kairah! It was so awesome to introduce Kairah to Shiloh. Kai had been preparing for months anticipating her new role as a big sister and finally got to hold Shiloh for the first time. Soon after, the Pearsons arrived bearing gifts of birthday cake, champagne and best of all... Sushi! My family also began to file in from all corners of the state. My mom traveled from the Central Coast, Heather came from LA and my Dad and his family drove from Lake Arrowhead to be there. It was such a glorious time of celebration. We all took turns for a personal photo shoot with Shiloh as well as taking turns watching the ever so short birth video. The day ended at about 10:30pm with us loading Shiloh into the car and bringing her home for the first time to begin her new life as a Connolly. The Good Lord was so faithful in answering our prayers! All of our expectations were exceeded, and most importantly we have a new member of the family that we are so excited to do life with!

Welcome Shiloh Rose Connolly! I promise to be a good Daddy!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mares Don't Like to be Watched

This is the first installment in a series I have been thinking about writing for some time. Over the years I have learned so much from so many about how to be a good doula. Every time I support a woman I either learn something new, renew my understanding of something ,or see an old truth from a fresh perspective. But I see clearly now that my beliefs and understanding about how best to help laboring women wasn't learned at my doula training. It wasn't learned through all the birth books I have read. It wasn't even learned through the birth of my son. My real doula training and my core beliefs about birth predate all of that. As crazy as it sounds I have come to realize that I learned how to be a good doula through my work with horses. The skills I needed for guiding women through the intensity of natural birth I honed in grass pastures, show arenas and barns. Some of my most amazing teachers were the brood mares I met along the way. Their ability to listen to their bodies and do exactly what needed to be done blew me away. Horses are fascinating and fabulous creatures. This set of stories is dedicated to the wisdom of the mares.


I lay still in my sleeping bag trying not to make the rusty springs of the old metal cot squeak, listening in the cold dark. I could hear Lunette on the other side of the wall rustling the straw as she moved about the deeply bedded foaling stall. The quiet was so complete in the dark of the old barn I could hear the mare's teeth grinding as she peacefully chewed her alfalfa. The stillness was broken by the screech of a far off owl calling to his mate. Lunette stopped in mid chew to listen but there was no answering call to hear and the intense quiet slowly settled back over us like a blanket; even deeper than before because of the sharp interruption. I tried to quiet even my breathing so as not to disturb the heavily pregnant mare. Finally Lunette relaxed, blew a big warm horsey sigh, lowered her head and went back to contentedly eating.

I lay in the dark trying not to doze off as the hours passed. Carefully I moved my arm out of the warmth of the sleeping bag and raised my wrist to my face. Peering down I could see the dial of my watch glowing in the dark; almost one o'clock. As quietly as I could I unzipped the sleeping bag and wriggled out. The cot gave a rusty groan as I stood up. Looking over the half wall into the dimly lit stall I could see the brood mare standing, neck straining, head up, eyes wide, on high alert from my noisy progress. I talked to her calmly then walked to the other side of the barn. Picking up the phone in the tack room I dialed Betty's number and woke her up.

"Hi Betty. Its time for the second shift."
"How is she doing?" inquired the owner of Belvidere Welsh Pony Farm.
"She is fine; not as restless as last night" I informed her.
"Okay. I'll be down in a minute. Just let me make a cup of coffee."
"Do you want me to stay until you get here?" I asked.
"No; no need for that. I'll be there in five minutes. You go on to bed and get some sleep. It sounds like we might be doing this for a few more nights."

I hung up the phone, walked wearily out to my beat up Chevy pick up, climbed in and started the reluctant motor. I longed for my cozy bed warmed by Mike's body. It was just a quick two minute drive from the barn but it felt like miles. Steering down the dark sandy farm road next to the soy bean field I wondered when Lunette would decide the time was right and have her foal.

I climbed the steep stairs to our little farm house and quietly opened the porch screen door. Spot jumped down from the shabby upholstered chair where he slept on the screened porch during good weather. He met me with a shaggy wag of his plumed tail. Too tired to stop and pet him I eased out of my old leather boots and went inside. Pausing only long enough to peal off my clothes, I carefully slid under the cold covers on my side of the bed trying not to wake Mike. Before I could close my tired eyes the phone rang.

"Come back. The foal is here!" Betty excitedly gasped in my ear.
"What?" I answered in disbelief.
"She foaled. Hurry!" and the phone went dead. I scrambled into my clothes, pulled on my boots and ran.

When I entered the old converted dairy barn I could see the dim glow of the lights coming from the foaling stall and heard Lunette nickering to her new baby; a low, deep rumbly sound with the hint of a whisper in it; a special whinny only share between mother and foal. She proudly stood on guard over a wet bay bundle of colt half buried in the deep yellow straw. As soon as she recognized me she dropped her head and went back to the important business of being a new mom; alternately licking the colt's haunches dry with broad strokes of her pink tongue and drinking in it's odor with deep wuffling draughts of her nostrils. Betty knelt in the straw with an old cotton terry towel in her hands vigorously rubbing dry hair of the foal's shoulders slicked down by amniotic fluid. I grabbed another towel from the birth kit sitting ready by the open door of the stall and went in to help.

"I can't believe it" I said amazed. "She wasn't showing any signs; no sweating, no nervousness, no looking at her sides, nothing."
Betty just chuckled and explained, "Mares don't like to be watched."


This story was a glimpse into something called foal watching that is a part of the cycle of the seasons on a breeding farm. Every breeder wants to be there when foals arrive. But mares, as prey animals, are genetically coded not to foal when anyone or anything is around because this might put their foal in danger during those first couple of critical hours when the foal is most vulnerable to attack. In order to survive in the wild a mare needs to be able to run away. She instinctively knows that once her water breaks and the birth process has begun she will be incapable of running away, therefore she is easy prey. Once the birth process begins it is very rapid and the foal is on its' feet within the first hour and can keep up with the herd within a couple of hours. So when a mare is watched it triggers her adrenaline and other stress hormones. As long as these hormones are flowing through her veins her labor will be suppressed. This is why brood mares like to leave the herd and search out a well known secluded spot to birth.

So what is a breeder to do? Lots of money has been made creating high tech devices that alert the owner who is in an apartment or room on another part of the property when the mare has begun giving birth. Even more money has been spent on outfitting stalls with remote controlled video cameras so foal watchers can observe from a room far enough away to not disturb the mares. Horse breeders have long understood what our scientific medical community still doesn't get, that intervention in any form, even just watching, should be done in such a way as to disturb the natural physiologic process of birth as little as possible; to only step in and make your presence known when absolutely necessary. To be a good doula you need to learn the art of being present without intruding on the process until you are needed.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why You Need to Create a Balanced Healthy Harmonious Pregnancy

Two new books delve into an issue I have been educating women about for almost 20 years: “Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives” by Annie Murphy Paul and “More than Genes,” by Dan Agin, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago. They explain what current science and studies tell us about the effect creating a balanced healthy pregnancy has on your baby later in life. Actually they are looking into the connection between an unbalanced, unhealthy life style during pregnancy and the outcome for your baby later in life. Several studies have shown how your baby's weight at birth can have health effects for him or her in midlife. Now their is evidence that suggests pregnant women exposed to stress, pesticides, junk food, poor nutrition, illness and other factors may have a life long impact on their children's health and mental abilities. Childbirth educators, doulas and midwives have been telling expectant moms this for years.

Long before we had scientific studies to prove this it just made sense to me. Why? Because of what we know once your baby is outside your uterus about the long term health benefits of giving your baby the ideal nutrition it needs through breastfeeding. Your breastfed baby has less chance of ending up with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or asthma. As an adult he or she has a reduced risk of getting diabetes, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as, having a healthier cholesterol level the rest of their life. To top it all off breastfed babies have higher IQs. So if feeding your baby exactly right after they are born has all this impact it only makes sense to me that feeding your baby well when they are inside you must also have an impact. Actually I believe it may have an even greater impact because of the magnitude of the creation process going on in utero. You are building your baby one teeny component at a time and the complexity of the finished project is miraculous. You are setting up their nervous system, their hormonal system, their brain and the chemical balance within it, as well as digestion, respiratory, circulatory and eveything else. We know that as an adult a healthy lifestyle through diet, exercise and low stress impacts all of the interconnected body systems I just mentioned and greatly improves our chances of living a long productive life. How can it not have a profound impact on your baby in utero.

Part of me hesitated to post about this because I hate laying guilt on mothers. But another part of me said if this information could encourage just one pregnant woman to make some life changes that would impact her baby for life it was worth more maternal angst. Get healthy before you conceive. Or the minute you know you are pregnant start making choices that will benefit you both. If you need information or support in your quest for a healthy pregnancy contact me about joining my Healthy Beginnings class series.

To learn more about this issue: Nicholas Kristof's op ed piece in the New York Times.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Experience Watsu

There is nothing more earthbound than a heavily pregnant woman. Waking or sleeping, she feels more and more weighed down as she slowly plods through the last weeks of pregnancy; her belly swollen with baby and amniotic fluid.

Now imagine the same woman stepping into a pool of warm water and floating, weightless. Her eyes are closed as light and shadows play across her eyelids. Her ears are submerged, so only muffled sounds can be heard. She is cradled in the supportive arms of another, who gently rocks her to and fro to the rhythm of her own breathing. The baby floats submerged within her womb in the warm, dark amniotic water, gently cradled within the mother’s pelvic bones. They are one, together, weightless and free. Their energy flows freely and all tension about the impending birth drifts away. The mother-to-be achieves a deep level of peaceful relaxation, entering an altered state; bliss. This is a state through which the journey of natural birth is much more possible. Floating somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness the mother-to-be feels her body gently letting go, stretching, lengthening, opening and releasing.

This is water massage, a unique form of bodywork also known as water shiatsu or Watsu. Invented in 1980 by Harold Dull, it combines elements of massage, joint mobilization, shiatsu, muscle stretching and dance. Its therapeutic benefits are for everyone and can bring new life into long neglected muscles, joints and ligaments.

As a birth professional I have witnessed the amazing benefits specifically for pregnant women. They go beyond relieving the typical aches and pains of carrying a baby to term. Watsu combines the deep breathing of the Bradley method, the trance state of Hybnobirthing and the gentle stretching of prenatal yoga within the weightlessness of water. Requiring no intellectual effort on the mother’s part water massage frees both her body and mind to prepare to birth confidently. As a doula, I have held many women in my arms during labor, so I find Harold Dull’s goal particularly poignant; “a world where everybody holds and floats each other in their arms.”

To experience this amazing technique connect with kinesiotherapist Kay Heaton:

To see prenatal Watsu for yourself visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpDrmfNz98k

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Cultural Perspective on Mothering

African Mother by Denise Cummings

Below is a beautiful piece on mothering from an African perspective. It is filled with wisdom. The author, a mother from Kenya, reminds American women that we need to slow our lives down when we have a baby and get back to the basics of mothering. How does this woman become so wise? By following the wisdom of her grandmother. Woman to woman; generation to generation women learn everything they need to know from each other. When we go off the path our babies are quick to tell us if we will only use our hearts to listen.

Why African Babies Don't Cry:An African Perspective
by Claire Niala
A mother, osteopath & writer based in Nairobi, Kenya

I was born and grew up in Kenya & Cote d'Ivoire. Then from the age of fifteen I lived in the UK. However, I always knew that I wanted to raise my children (whenever I had them) at home in Kenya. And yes, I assumed I was going to have them. I am a modern African woman with two university degrees and I am a fourth generation working woman - but when it comes to children, I am typically African. The assumption remains that you are not complete without them; children are a blessing it would be crazy to avoid. Actually the question does not even arise.
I started my pregnancy in the UK. The urge to deliver at home was so strong that I sold my practice, setup a new business and moved house / country within five months of finding out I was pregnant. I did what most expectant mothers in the UK do - I read voraciously: Our Babies, Ourselves, Unconditional Parenting, anything by the Searses - the list goes on. (My grandmother later commented that babies don't read books - and really all I needed to do was "read" my baby). Everything I read said that African babies cried less than European babies. I was intrigued as to why.

When I went home I observed. I looked out for mothers and babies and they were everywhere (though not very young African ones - those under six weeks were mainly at home). The first thing I noticed is that despite their ubiquitousness it is actually quite difficult to actually "see" a Kenyan baby. They are usually incredibly well wrapped up before being carried or strapped onto their mother (sometimes father).

Even older babies already strapped onto a back are then further protected from the elements by a large blanket. You would be lucky to catch a limb, never mind an eye or nose. It is almost a womb-like replication in the wrapping. The babies are literally cocooned from the stresses of the outside world into which they are entering.

My second observation was a cultural one. In the UK it was understood that babies cry - in Kenya it was quite the opposite. The understanding is that babies don't cry. If they do - something is horribly wrong and must be done to rectify it immediately. My English sister-in-law summarized it well. "People here" she said "really don't like babies crying, do they?"

It all made much more sense when I finally delivered and my grandmother came from the village to visit. As it happened - my baby did cry a fair amount, and exasperated and tired, I forgot everything I had ever read and sometimes joined in the crying too. Yet for my grandmother it was simple - nyonyo (breastfeed her!). It was her answer to every single peep.
There were times when it was a wet nappy, or the fact that I had put her down, or that she needed burping that was the problem, but mainly she just wanted to be at the breast - it didn't really matter whether she was feeding or just having a comfort moment. I was already wearing her most of the time and co-sleeping with her, so this was a natural extension to what we were doing.

I suddenly learned the not-so-difficult secret as to the joyful silence of African babies. It was a simple needs-met symbiosis that required a total suspension of ideas of "what should be happening" and an embracing of what was actually going on in that moment. The bottom line was that my baby fed a lot - far more than I had ever read about anywhere and at least five times as much as some of the stricter feeding schedules I had heard about.

At about four months, when a lot of urban mothers start to introduce solids as previous guidelines had recommended, my daughter returned to newborn style hourly breastfeeding. She needed hourly feeds and this was a total shock. Over the past four months the time between feeds had slowly started to increase. I had even started to treat the odd patient without my breasts leaking or my daughter's nanny interrupting the session to let me know my daughter needed a feed.

Most of the mothers in my mother and baby group had duly started to introduce baby rice (to stretch the feeds) and all the professionals involved in our children's lives - pediatricians, even doulas, said that this was OK. Mothers needed rest too, we had done amazingly to get to four months exclusive breastfeeding, and they said our babies would be fine. Something didn't ring true for me and even when I tried (half-heartedly) to mix some pawpaw (the traditional weaning food in Kenya) with expressed milk and offered it to my daughter - she was having none of it.

So I called my grandmother. She laughed and asked if I had been reading books again. She carefully explained how breastfeeding was anything but linear. "She'll tell you when she's ready for food - and her body will too." "What will I do until then?" I was eager to know. "You do what you did before, regular nyonyo". So my life slowed down to what felt like a standstill again. While many of my contemporaries marveled at how their children were sleeping longer now that they had introduced the baby rice, and were even venturing to other foods, I was waking hourly or every two hours with my daughter and telling patients that the return to work wasn't panning out quite as I had planned.

I soon found that quite unwittingly I was turning into an informal support service for other urban mothers. My phone number was doing the round and many times while I was feeding my baby I would hear myself uttering the words, "Yes, just keep feeding him/ her." "Yes, even if you have just fed them" "Yes, you might not even manage to get out of your pajamas today" "Yes, you still need to eat and drink like a horse" "No, now might not be the time to consider going back to work if you can afford not to". "It will get easier". I had to just trust this last one as it hadn't gotten easier for me - yet.

A week or so before my daughter turned five months we traveled to the UK for a wedding and for her to meet family and friends. Especially because I had very few other demands, I kept up her feeding schedule easily. Despite the disconcerted looks of many strangers as I fed my daughter in many varied public places (most designated breastfeeding rooms were in rest rooms which I just could not bring myself to use), we carried on.

At the wedding, the people whose table we sat at noted, "She is such an easy baby - though she does feed a lot". I kept my silence, then another lady commented, "Though I did read somewhere that African babies don't cry much." I could not help but laugh.

My grandmother's gentle wisdom:

  • Offer the breast every single moment that your baby is upset - even if you have just fed her.
  • Co-sleep. Many times you can feed your baby before they are fully awake, which will allow them to go back to sleep easier and get you more rest.
  • Always take a flask of warm water with bed to you at night to keep you hydrated and the milk flowing.
  • Make the feeding your priority (especially during growth spurts) and get everyone else around you to do as much as they can for you. There is very little that cannot wait.
  • Read your baby, not the books. Breastfeeding is not linear - it goes up and down (and also in circles). You are the expert on your baby's needs.

Reading this reminded me of something that happened years ago when my son was just a few months old. I was already back to riding and training horses, as well as, teaching lessons. I would take him with me and teach as I carried him around in a Snuggly. I was determined to continue my professional horse life and be a mom, i.e. super woman you can do it all.

One day I was teaching a young girl at her home on the Mesa. Joe began to cry and nothing I did would make him stop. He didn't want to nurse. He didn't need his diaper changed. He didn't need a nap. So I ignored him, raised my voice above his cries and valiantly kept teaching.

After a while my young rider's mother came out of the house carrying a baby blanket. She was a vastly more experienced mother having had many children by then. She calmly said, "I think your baby doesn't like the wind" and began tucking the blanket over his head and stuffing it into the sides of the Snuggly sack creating a warm little cocoon. It was magic. His cries immediately stopped and he opened his eyes and calmly peered up at me. His face quite clearly said, "Thank goodness somebody came along who knows something about babies!" Along the way I learned so much from so many women more experienced in motherhood than I. I am forever in their debt.

Do you have a story of an experienced mom helping a young mom? I would love to post it. E-mail me at jjmstover@sbcglobal.net.

This article appeared on The Natural Child web site. A wonderful on line resource for new parents at: http://www.naturalchild.org/.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Chance to Do Something I've Never Done Before or Is this What it is Like to be a Nurse?

One morning recently I was getting ready to go to a La Leche League meeting when the phone rang. It was another doula, a friend, and she needed some help.She was stuck at an airport far away and one of her client's had just called to say her water had broken. Unfortunately her back up doula had been at another birth all night. Would I go to the birth? Of course! My friend said she would connect with her birth client and let them know I would be calling.

So as I pulled my pick up truck onto the freeway in Pismo Beach I answered a call back from the dad. He was fairly calm. We discussed how mom was doing. He said she was in labor but handling contractions well. I asked if he wanted me to come right over to their place? No, he thought I should go on to my LLL meeting as planned. I asked if I could talk to her? When he took the phone to her I could hear the labor sounds she was making; a deep breathy moan. Hmmmm...I'm thinking. Then dad came back on the phone and said she couldn't talk now. Hmmmm...I'm thinking. He said he would see me when the meeting was done. Hmmm...as I drove towards SLO I'm thinking that didn't sound like a mom in early labor. Hmmm...My gut said I don't think you're going to League today. So I drove past SLO and on over the grade to their place.

Driving down their windy country road I wondered what this would be like. I had never supported a woman I had never met. Usually I have spent many hours with my moms sitting in their homes, chatting, educating, answering questions, calming fears, instilling confidence and creating relationship. As the birth nears I become a unique blend of confidante, experienced guide, friend and mother hen. So I wondered what would this be like? Could I be effective? Would she respond to me, a total stranger?

When I pulled into their driveway dad came around the corner with a puzzled look. I introduced myself and he visibly relaxed. He took me to the sunny deck where mom sat leaning back in a chaise lounge looking very uncomfortable and obviously contracting. After the contraction subsided I introduced myself and told them their doula was very sorry she couldn't be there with her. Then we got down to business.

I suggested she would be more comfortable in a different position. Could I help her move? After getting her into a leaning forward position I began to gently rub her shoulders as I assessed where she might be in her labor by the rhythm of the contractions, her response to them, her flushed face and unfocused eyes. I thought either this was going to be a long difficult posterior labor or things were moving very quickly.

"When had she last been to the bathroom" I asked? "Could she try to do that with me?" We slowly worked our way through the sliding glass door and into their bedroom. From the deck across their bedroom to the bathroom counter was 3 contractions. We never made it past the bathroom counter. Leaning onto its' smooth surface with me giving sacral counter pressure she swayed and moaned and contractions flowed through her like a torrent.

I turned to dad and calmly asked when he had spoken to their midwife and what she had said. He informed me that she said she would come some time this morning and check how things were progressing. I instructed him to call her again and tell her I said it was time to come. He left the room.

Alone together my hands sent waves of quiet calm into her being. Then I felt her knees begin to buckle with the power of her contractions. Her body was being lead in the primal birth dance, rocking, swaying, head rolling, opening to the flood of sensations that would bring her baby. Having been a birth dance partner for many women I could sense where we were in our journey together, so I was not surprised when I heard her give a soft grunt with the next contraction letting me know her uterus was pushing.

Dad came in and I inquired what the midwife had said. "She's on our road" he announced. "and will be here any minute." I breathed a sigh of relief. I am a doula not a midwife. I am not trained in catching babies. I have non of the necessary equipment. A few contractions later the midwife walked in, assessed what was going on and calmly went into action readying her supplies, talking to the mom and dad and smoothly stepping into the primary support role.

Usually a midwife has a trained assistant but it was clear to us that this baby wasn't going to wait for an assistant to arrive. As best I could I worked with the midwife, getting supplies, holding things, and handing things, while at the same time talking to the mom to give her confidence in her abilities to birth her baby, taking photos, and guiding dad into positions where he could remain a connected part of the process. Very soon a beautiful baby girl emerged into this world and into her moms waiting arms, healthy and happy.

I continued in my new dual role during the mother's repair and clean up, alternately fetching for the midwife, stroking mom's hair, taking more photos, cleaning up their rug, putting their towels in the washing machine. Finally it was time to go. Mom, dad and baby were in bed glowing and in love. Food and drink were at hand, family was arriving. They thanked me once again for being there, for not listening to dad's suggestion to go ahead to the League meeting and for everything I had done. Then I walked out of their door.

It has taken me weeks to process this new experience. I still don't know why she listened to me. Why she willingly followed my every suggestion. Why did she have confidence in me?

Is this what it is like to be a labor & delivery nurse? You walk into a room with people you don't know and yet you need to be able to guide them during one of the most intimate and intense moments of their lives. You have to assess where the laboring woman is in the process in order to call the doctor or midwife to come in time for pushing. When they arrive you have to support the mom at the same time playing step and fetch it for the doctor. When it's all done the family walks back out of your life and the connection is broken.

I can tell you I have worked along side some excellent labor nurses. Women that have known how to seamlessly flow from one role to another. The best ones are able to instill confidence and a sense of caring within minutes of entering the room. They are able to enter a room without disturbing its' energy or the rhythm of the labor. They listen to the mother as she progresses through labor and will try to encourage the doctor or midwife to honor the mother's wishes for her birth. Apparently I have learned a lot from these wonderful nurses.

Of course I have learned just as much from struggling with nurses that do not have an aptitude for being with birthing women. They don't generate the right kind of energy for laboring with a woman.

A good doula or nurse needs to be able to emanate confidant guidance without taking control. Their presence needs to create a sacred space in which the woman feels secure to birth. They become the mother's sanctuary in the storm. Now I know this can happen within minutes of meeting if the labor guide brings an open & intuitive heart to the birth.