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.