Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shasta's Birth

This birth took place at Sierra Vista Hospital around 1996.

At 7 a.m. I woke to the startling feeling that I had wet the bed. My water had broken! Before I got out of bed I had to wake Joe and have him make sure the water absorbent mat that had been next to the bed for the past several weeks was still there. It was and sure enough when I stood up, more water spilled out. At last there was no question about when. I called my folks and told them to start driving and to call us from Atascadero to make sure we had not gone to the hospital already. Next we (Joe and I) called Jennifer. The contractions were still pretty far apart so I decided to go for a walk down our hill and to the dead end on the next block. On the walk, the contractions were 2-3 minutes apart. Walking had always increased the frequency and strength of my contractions. Back at home I ate some breakfast and then we called Barbara Clutter, my O.B. The contractions had slowed to every 10 or 15 minutes when I was not walking. Barbara knew I wanted to spend early labor at home so she told me she would inform the hospital that we would be in at some point today, but let me know that if nothing was happening by 5 p.m. they might have to induce my labor.

After talking with Barbara, I called Jennifer. I was nervous about the possibility of having drugs to induce my labor. Jennifer suggested to me that an acupuncture treatment might be a gentler way to induce the labor. I called my friend Diane, an acupuncturist, and made an appointment for 3 p.m. This was a very weird point because I wanted to make sure my labor progressed but I wanted to have energy to take it all the way, and I wanted to hold out till my folks arrived. So, to bed I went. The contractions continued to build as I laid there. At last we got the call from my folks. They were in Atascadero. We told them we're still holding out, come on to Los Osos. In the meantime Carrie had arrived and was getting the video camera ready. Around noon my folks arrived and within an hour it was clear I wasn't going to make it to 3 p.m. for the acupuncture appointment. My labor was progressing all on it's own. Somewhere around here I had asked Joe to call Jennifer cause I couldn't deal with talking on the phone. Mid-contraction I saw Joe putting the phone in my face. He wanted Jennifer to hear what I sounded like during a contraction but I thought he wanted me to talk. Eee gads and I think we got my reaction on video. This was the turning point. Jennifer heard my reaction and told Joe, "I think you had better get her to the hospital unless you want to have that baby at home".

Jennifer met us at the hospital. Throughout the whole time at the hospital the baby's heart tones were strong and clear so they pretty much let me do what I wanted. (Like I really wanted to do a whole lot while I was having a baby!) So for the next several hours we (the whole team) walked the halls, then Joe sat with me in the shower for over an hour. At about sundown when I was really starting to loose it and I was begging for drugs, Jennifer helped me hold onto a tiny piece of reality by making me look into her eyes. That was the longest 2 hours of my life! The doctor even said I could have the drugs but she had to check the woman in the next room. By the grace of God the lady next door was pushing and 2 hours later when the doctor returned I was ready to push out our beautiful baby. The pushing took about 1 and a 1/2 hours. Mom and Joe held Jennifer's mirror for me to see his little head emerge. Mom took pictures, Carrie shot the video, Dad watched the monitor(heart tones), Dr. Clutter(my O.B.) cheered me on and Joe caught the baby at about 9:29. It was so incredible! Our little boy was so alert, he smiled when Joe and I kissed him, grabbed Joe's beard and within the first 1/2 hour of his life in the outside world he was nursing. Joe and I spent the night in the hospital, and the next afternoon Mom and Dad (Joan and Don) came back to help us get home with our new little baby boy. Of course Mom had decorated our house inside and out with blue ribbons, flowers and balloons.

Well that's basically the story of Shasta's birth. Thank you to all who have given us clothes, toys, baby gadgets, diaper service and most of all your loving prayers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Sign on a Door

“Because the Physicians at Aspen Women’s Center care about the quality of their patient’s deliveries and are very concerned about the welfare and health of your unborn child, we will not participate in a “Birth Contract”, a Doula Assisted, or Bradley Method delivery. For those patients who are interested in such methods, please notify the nurse so we may arrange transfer of your care.”

A photo of this sign has been posted on the internet and has created a stir in the pro-natural birth community. Wow! So here is a hospital being completely upfront with their beliefs: natural childbirth is less safe, laboring moms and dads do not have the right to make their own choices during the birth process regarding the safety of their babies, and they can not bring into the process any outside professionals who do believe in the safety of natural birth. As a doula I am both shocked and glad they are being this straight forward. Many hospitals and medical professionals share these same beliefs but they are not so open about it. The women in Aspen who take a tour of this facility before they make a choice about where to birth their babies can decide for themselves if the philosophy of birth expressed here is a good match for them. Luckily I was able to find one other hospital in the Provo Utah area where the Aspen Women’s Center is located so women do have a choice.

At the root of this sign are two men, Dr. Robert Bradley and Dr. Fernand Lamaze but to understand why a sign like this would end up hanging on a door in a maternity ward it is helpful to look at a little history. Perhaps one of the worst times for birthing women in this country occurred during the era when doctors stopped going to their patients and medicine became more centralized. Driven by the discovery of germs to be feared and a culture that was turning away from individualization and toward efficiency, hospital protocols turned birth from a family event into the business of birth. Culturally women were trained to acquiesce to male authority figures and so they passively allowed the process of birthing babies to be taken over, fathers were excluded, rigid hospital routines were followed and male doctors dominated the scene.

Then the Sixties arrived and with it the women’s movement, hippies and the protest era. Into this powerful mix walked Dr. Bradley and Dr. Lamaze to spearhead the “natural” birth movement here and abroad. Although their “methods” differed they both believed two things; the sensations of birth can be handled without pain medication and a husband’s help is vitally important to the process. Through their books and training of out of hospital birth educators they changed maternity care in this country by creating consumers, moms and dads, who demanded changes. Fathers went from being completely excluded and made to sit anxiously waiting in a separate room to being required to be an active participant at their child’s birth. Women showed doctors it was possible to experience labor without being rescued by pain medication; birthing in up right positions became possible and labor beds which convert into a variety of positions were adopted. Babies who weren’t drugged in labor could latch-on and nurse immediately after birth and did not need bottles and formula; La Leche League and the breastfeeding movement began. Now hospitals have lactation consultants on staff. Women who had not received medications and/or surgery could immediately begin to care for their infants and rooming-in became the norm; only infants who need special care go to our local nurseries now so they look like ghost towns. None of these changes were begun from within the system they came about through consumer demand on the system, although all along the way nurses, certified nurse midwives and a few doctors listened to their clients and ultimately were the ones to bring about change within the system.

Here are some of the changes I have seen in San Luis Obispo in the twenty years since I became a doula. When I was pregnant with my son there were two hospitals to choose from in San Luis; General Hospital which was known for being more pro-natural birth and Sierra Vista which had just gone through a dramatic physical renovation to create less “hospitally” looking rooms where a mom could stay throughout her time in the hospital. You had two choices of care providers who supported a natural birth, Dr. Lickness or the Certified Nurse Midwives working for Dr. Johnson and Dr. Richards. Kathleen Huggins had published her “Nursing Mother’s Companion” and begun the Breastfeeding Warm Line which dramatically increased our county’s breastfeeding rate. Did you want to try to birth vaginally after a cesarean? Talk to Dr. Clutter; eventually all the doctors in town would “allow” a woman to try for a V-BAC. At General Hospital the nurses worked hard to achieve the World Health Organizations “Baby Friendly” status and later with the help of the nurse midwives, Linda Seeley, Midday Johnson, and Lisa Winnick, and Dr. Spalding they began doing water births. At French hospital the nurses have worked with the anesthesiologists to find a level of medication which will give adequate pain control and leave the mom able to be more of an active participant during pushing. Sierra Vista increased the level of care they could provide seriously ill newborns so moms and babies can stay together in the county instead of being flown to bigger hospitals. Many beliefs about standard safety procedures have changed too, such as, when I had my son I was continuously on the baby heart monitor but now even the American College Of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agree that fifteen minutes out of every hour is adequate for picking up a baby who’s in trouble. Doulas became more common in the county and I personally felt more accepted as part of an over all team working to achieve the most positive births possible for my clients. Each of these changes and many others started small, one doctor saying yes or nurse saying I’ve never seen that done before but if it’s what you want. . .

None of these changes happened without push back from the established system. The stakes are high. The business of birth is big money. The fear of litigation is all too real. My birth class clients have had doctors throw their birth plans across the room. I sat in a doctor’s office and heard him tell my doula client that “natural” birth was all very well but it wasn’t optimal. Both our hospitals currently refuse to “allow” women to birth in water. Now because of space issues dads aren’t always able to stay with moms and babies after their births at our hospitals. I listened to a birth professional tell a group of women that Bradley classes teach women not to trust their care provider but I believe it is a birth educator’s responsibility to teach women to trust themselves and to trust birth and it is the care provider’s responsibility to foster a trusting relationship with their client. Sierra Vista asks doulas to sign a paper agreeing to do little else than bring ice chips and hold a woman’s hand. These days many women don’t want to actually feel birth, our society is too accustomed to medicating our pain away. Add to that our culture’s obsession with scheduling our lives and we get inductions and planned cesareans. Meanwhile our hospitals’ cesarean section rates are climbing as is our premature birth rate as too many babies are being “scheduled” to be born too early.

So this sign on a hospital’s maternity ward door doesn’t surprise me but it does sadden me to see that the things women and their partners, nurses, doctors and midwives have worked so hard to achieve in moving birth in our country toward a more humane, family centered experience grounded in the belief that women are created with the power in them to birth their babies is being eroded.

Jennifer Stover
Labor of Love Childbirth Preparation & Doula Services

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The First Simple Question

Sisters of My Heart
This collection of writings is dedicated to the women who have impacted my life as a wife, mother, teacher and doula.
They have enlightened me, empowered me, guided me, enriched me, infuriated me, informed me, set incredibly high standards for me to adhere to, uplifted and inspired me.
Each one has been a gift in the crazy quilt of my life.
To honor them I pass bits and scraps of their gifts to me on to other women passing through my life.
In each piece in this collection I will attempt to illuminate how the threads of their stories wove into the fabric of my life.
The First Simple Question

I knew what I wanted to do with my life from the time I was in junior high. That was the year I first rode a horse. My friend Denise had turned to me in Intro to Algebra and asked, "Do you want to rent horses from Grizzly Stables in Tilden Park and go riding with me on Saturday?"

Having read all the Black Stallion books and being completely horse crazy I enthusiastically said, "yes!"

You have to understand that all my riding up to that moment had been in my dreams. Denise, on the other hand, was an experienced rider having ridden at Shady Lawn summer camp every summer. So I had no idea when I put my foot into the stirrup and mounted up that morning that I was about to change my life. We started up the trail at a walk, Denise in the lead. I liked the feeling of being up high, looking out at the distant grass covered golden California hills and feeling the horse move underneath me.

When we had ridden out of sight of the livery barn Denise twisted around to face me in her saddle and said to me, "Do you want to gallop?"

Being a risk averse person I felt this was unwise and said, "No, I'm doing fine just walking."

"OK. That's fine. You keep walking and I'll just gallop ahead," and with a quick flick of her split reins onto her horse's solid rump off she went.

I quickly learned that Denise was not as experienced a horseman as she had led me to believe because any real horseperson knows horses are herd animals, and the horses in a rental string have a very strong herd bond. So as her horse's tail began to disappear down the dusty trail I felt my horse quicken his pace and within moments he had taken off in hot pursuit of his buddy.

At first I panicked, pulling on the reins and gripping my legs as tightly as I could to the stiff leather of the western saddle. As my horse caught up to his "herd" of one I felt him slacken his pace and he settled into a rolling canter. I relaxed my death grip, held onto the saddle horn and let the sensation of all that powerful muscle movement lifting me up and swinging me down flow through my body. It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. I was hooked; a riding junkie, addicted for life.

That wasn't the moment I knew though. No, I was still blissfully unaware of my purpose calling to me. It was later that night when I knew in my core that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Denise and I had returned the horses to the barn and had happily gone on with our day. As evening approached the soreness and stiffness of my first horse adventure began to settle over me. I pushed it to the back of my mind and went busily off to a neighbor's to baby sit their three kids. After fixing dinner, playing games, giving baths and tucking kids into bed I lay down on the couch to wait for the parents to arrive back home. As I began to drift into the space that lies between being fully awake and fully asleep I was suddenly transported back into the saddle and re-experienced through the very cells of my body the delicious motion of the lift and swing of cantering on horseback. It was the most vivid and powerful sensation I had ever experienced. In an instant I felt each muscle group responding to the swinging rhythm of the horse, felt the air moving past my face, saw the scenery sliding past, heard the beat of the hooves in the soft dirt and the creak of the Western saddle as my body moved in time with my horse. That was the moment when I knew, and the power of riding first revealed itself to me.

Later would come devoting all my earnings to buying my first horse, many hours of hard work in and out of the saddle, the choice to go to riding school instead of college, and hours upon hours, miles upon miles spent in the joyous pursuit of attaining physical harmony with a horse. Eventually my hunt for equestrian perfection carried me across the country and landed me in St. Mary's County in rural southern Maryland.

One of the things a professional horseperson has to come to accept is that with horses comes pain and injury. For most of us it isn't pain from the big accidents, although there will be big accidents along the way, it is everyday pain from the everyday stress and strain of our bones, muscles and ligaments shaping to and encouraging the movement of the horses we ride. Concussion is part of the puzzle but it is only one piece. The combination of absorbing the concussion while maintaining our body posture and influencing the directional flow of the horse's body is what slowly, bit by bit, trot step by trot step, tears away at our body's integrity.

We learn to go on after the big accidents, we "recover" and get back to riding; carrying our scars and imbalances in secret stiffnesses and pain filled sleepless nights. Some of us become pain pill addicts. Others try to just bear it and go on; slowly becoming twisted versions of our former selves. The point is always to get back on. I had always gotten back on, through a broken tailbone, sprained ankles, smashed feet, cracked teeth, and a smashed kneecap. But now I was struggling to "recover" from a torn ligament in my back which held one of my vertebras in place. I was back to riding of course, but the pain was constant and I feared it might win this time.

So when I sat in the shady pine trees on Carolyn's farm after giving her daughter a lesson and she asked me what appeared to be a simple question, "What do you want to do with your life if you can't ride horses?" I didn't have an answer. The question depressed me. I couldn't imagine anything else I could have as much passion for as the horses. And passion was at the heart of the question. I knew Carolyn was really asking me what could I love doing as much, what could I throw myself into in the same way, what could I devote my life to? I knew this because my friend Carolyn believes in creating a life around your passion.

Carolyn Egeli is an artist. She comes from a family of artists; her parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. She has always made her living as an artist. She paints beautiful landscapes, portraits and marines. Her home is an elegant retreat on the banks of Herring Creek. Her hospitality a combination of conservative southern charm and quirky artist. She has lived a daring life for a woman from Valley Lee; always a woman, always a mother, and for me a mentor. She had invited me into her home. Welcomed me into her sunlit studio. Shared her most precious possession with me her daughter, Jennifer. Many an afternoon I left my boots in her mud room and sat warming myself with a cup of tea at her sturdy kitchen table on a cold fall or winter day after giving Jennifer a riding lesson on her bay pony. We talked about our lives, horses, kids and husbands.

She had grown up a devout Christian Scientist and, as such, was the first woman I knew to have given birth at home; her mother her only birth attendant. She shared with me that before her first birth she had read all the "latest" books on how to birth using Lamaze techniques but when it came time to push she made no progress. Her mother advised her, in no uncertain terms, to stop putting her head to her chest and pushing in that unnatural position; lay back and birth your baby. Listening to her mother and her body she had born two children at home.

She was also the first woman I personally watched recover from a Cesarean Section. During the time period I spent with Carolyn she had moved away from the church and was no longer a practicing Christian Scientist. So for her last birth, with a new husband and at an older age, Carolyn had agreed to give birth in the local hospital. Wisely, since kids were still in my future to come, she never shared much with me about the experience except for her panic as the anesthesia took effect during the operation itself. She never spoke of it, but I could sense her deep sadness about the birth and also her anger. She knew birth wasn't meant to be that way and didn't have to be that way.

I learned so many things from her about life and living, mothering and being true to your passion; lessons passed effortlessly through example and simple friendship. So when she asked, "What do you want to do with your life if you can't ride horses?" I knew this wasn't a simple question. I wouldn't have an answer for her for another 10 years. Not until I had another experience powerful enough to change my life forever, the birth of my son at Sierra Vista Hospital.

I am proud to have had Carolyn Egeli as a friend and to have two of her beautiful paintings to treasure in my home. To learn more about Carolyn and view her beautiful art please go to:
When I saw the photograph of her on her home page standing before her easel, brush in hand, her passion for life shining through her glowing smile time stood still for me.

Thank you Carolyn.