Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Finding Your Path; two women's stories

A former doula & class client sent me a link to a blog piece by Cherylyn, a doula in Utah. Natalie knew I would be interested in this woman's journey of recovery from her first birth which was traumatic and left her feeling victimized and angry. Each of her next four births led her down a new path toward healing. On her journey she made many different choices for where, with whom and how to birth. Each birth was a necessary step in her process. In my classes and through my doula support I honor each woman's choice because I can't judge where she is on her path. It is my responsibility to give information and it is her responsibility to listen with an open heart for what resonates with her. Only she has the answers. Only she can access her intuition. It is my hope to support her in this process through my own intuitive listening so I can respond to her needs along the way. This is why I support women in all birth settings. This is why my classes are designed to teach couples no matter where, with whom or how they are planning to birth. My hope is to give them the tools to have a positive birth where ever they birth. Please read this article if you are preparing to birth or if you are in the process of physical and emotional recovery from a less than positive birth. Then sit quietly for a moment and take her message into your heart. Let it carry any feelings of guilt, doubt, or mistrust in yourself away.

Now let me tell you about Natalie. I met her and her husband, Tobin, at a Birth & Baby Resource Network event. When it came time in the circle for sharing their tears as they shared spoke volumes to me about the depth of their birth trauma. As the event broke up I approached them and encouraged Natalie to visit our SLO chapter of the International Cesarean Awareness Network, even though hers was not a cesarean birth. I knew that the circle of supportive women at their gatherings could help her heal her wounds. Unfortunately there is no local support group for women with negative birth stories except ICAN which is labeled a cesarean support network. Women with birth experiences like Natalie's aren't sure they would belong at an ICAN meeting. The women of ICAN would want me to stop here and say that these women absolutely are welcome and that supporting them is also part of their mission. Unfortunately the general public doesn't know that.

As Natalie's second pregnancy progressed we came to understand that not only had her birth left her with many emotional scars it had also left her with many physical ones. Like her emotional ones, these scars were hidden deep within her and they had the potential to threaten this new pregnancy. Bottom line; she was no longer the same inside and this pregnancy was therefore risky for Natalie and her baby. She was advised that the least dangerous route for her baby's birth was a cesarean. She listened to this advice. She listened to her intuition. She listened to her husband's fears. She listened to her desires. She listened to her body and she waited.

Natalie experienced an incredibly healthy pregnancy. She worked and mommied right through it. She blossomed and so did her baby; growing right on schedule, moving vigorously and letting her mom know she was doing fine. Natalie did a lot of talking, to Tobin, to me and to her doctor. She weighed all the different risks of having or not having a surgical birth; risks to her and risks to her baby. She knew what she wanted but was also willing to make needed changes or compromises. We brainstormed all kinds of possible scenarios for her birth. Then she wrote her birth plan. This plan was unique to her; not something you can download from the Internet with check off boxes. It encompassed many possible avenues for her birth to go. It was detailed. It was flexible. It was respectful and grateful to the people she knew she was going to need to rely on to see her safely through. Then she listened to her body and she waited.

When her water broke I believe all three of us held our breath and made a silent prayer that all would be well. Then Natalie and I released our breath and went to work creating as much normalcy to this labor as possible. But I don't believe Tobin let go of his breath until both mom and baby had come safely through. Natalie carried herself in labor as she does in life, with quiet unassuming strength and graciousness. You would never guess at the depth of her determination, or physical and emotional strength. Tobin told me she can be stubborn but he forgot to also tell me how courageous she is. Immediately after the vaginal birth of her beautiful baby girl she began to have an issue which required her doctor to step in and Tobin, the baby and I to step out. Natalie kept her composure throughout while Tobin died a thousand deaths holding his baby and waiting for news about his wife. For him life stood still and minutes felt like an eternity. All I could do was reassure him that she was in good hands. Dr. Yin and the French hospital staff knew how to take care of her; that's why she had chosen to birth here. In what was actually a very short time he received the news he was longing for; Natalie was fine and would be reunited with him soon. But I don't think Tobin breathed until he saw Natalie's pretty face again; all smiles and wanting to put her new baby girl to breast.

So why did I decide to tell you about Natalie? Because she knows a thing or two about healing, about listening to your intuition, about creating the birth that is just right for you and your baby. Your choices may be different than hers. You may listen to her story and think, "I would never put my baby at risk like that." That's fine. You are entitled to your feelings and if your heart had told you to make a different choice than Natalie's I would support you in that choice. But this was Natalie's choice and it brought her very far along her path as she journey's toward complete healing. So I understand why Cherylyn's story resonated with Natalie. I get it. Do you?

           Thank you to Natalie and Tobin for inviting me to accompany them on their journey!

To Read Cherylyn's piece about her choices as she journeyed toward healing visit her blog:
Mamas and Babies

"To Clamp or Not to Clamp? That is the Question"

I've been explaining about delayed cord clamping and cutting in my classes for years. Leave it to master birth educator Penny Simkin to come up with a great visual demonstration to explain why this is so important. This isn't just a fad or a wild idea. There is basic physiologic science saying that it is healthier for your baby if no one cuts the cord until it has stopped pulsing. Listen as Penny explains.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Your Baby's First Latch: breast crawl video

This is a must see by all pregnant moms, their partners and anyone who will be helping them at their birth. Of course we can crawl to the nipple, latch on and nurse! It only makes sense. All mammals can do this with minimal guidance or help by mom. Why would we be the only mammal unable to do this? It only makes sense. If we birthed in a squatting position we would naturally reach down, put our hands under their little armpits, and bring them up to our breasts keeping their spine parallel to our own. Without towels or blankets they are much too wet and slippery to consider doing anything else.

How did mothers lose this knowledge of what to do immediately after birth to correctly begin the bonding and breastfeeding process? Drugs, doctors, fear of germs, bright lights, cold hospital rooms and schedules all played a role. You have the power to reclaim this piece of your birth and be amazed at the miraculous abilities of your newborn. Put your baby's spine in line with your own. It is as simple as that. Don't forget to cover, not swaddle, your baby with a warm blanket!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why Should I Bother with Birth Classes?

Recently I have been asked this question by two very different women. Both are intelligent first time pregnant moms who desire natural non-interventive labor for themselves and gentle births for their babies. One has already done a considerable amount of reading, hired a midwife and has made the choice to birth at home. What more could she get out of classes, she wonders? The other has a belief in herself and birth which is rooted in her family history, her agricultural history and in her personality. She also witnessed a birth which went so differently than the Bradley birth her relative had planned that she feels her money is better spent on a doula.

I don't remember what I said to these women but here is what I wish I had the presence of mind to say in the moment. Yes, you should take classes! Classes serve many purposes. It is more than just learning the stages of labor. It is more than learning the normal psychological markers, the comfort measures or tools to help you flow with the intensity of the birth process. A good class should give you much, much more.

First as new parents it is vital to create community. Bringing forth a new life isn't just about the baby's life. You are literally bringing forth your own new lives. A new life means transition and transition is stressful. You will need to surround yourself with other new moms and dads. Now you're thinking, "But I have lots of friends who have already had babies." Great! Lots of wisdom can be drawn from friends and relatives who have kids, but talking with others who are just as confused and unsure at times as you creates a shared experience. This is support of a different kind. When you talk with them about lack of sleep, sore nipples, or the color of your baby's poop you'll be thinking, "Oh, you get what I am talking about because you are going through it too. I'm not alone. I'm not crazy." Every support group is founded on this principle.

A good childbirth class is a great place to start building community. It needs to be an environment that goes beyond simply giving you facts, advice & techniques. A good class fosters friendships through the sharing of thoughts & feelings, doing class activities or projects and breaking bread together. The class should bring both humor and intimacy to the subject of birth while always honoring each participant's unique journey toward the arrival of their child. This is an environment where friendships can blossom. After the babies arrive getting together for walks, talks, beach time or play time friendships can deepen. They show up at Andrea Heron's class or La Leche League. You walk into a SLO Parent Participation class or library story time and there they are. Your world suddenly seems smaller in a safe and secure way. This is building community within our larger community. New parents, new families need community.

Now what about the fact that many women who have decided they want a "natural" childbirth have already done a ton of reading? They have read great books, watched movies like The Business of Being Born, researched things on line and even watched You Tube videos of births. What more education could they need? All that is great but let's face it very few dads are motivated to share that particular journey with you. Sure you can corral them and ask them to watch this amazing You Tube birth or read them passages out of a book you are devouring from cover to cover but very few men are going to feel as compelled as their partner to steep themselves in birth, birth & more birth. As a matter of fact, the more she does, the more he may feel he doesn't have to because she is the one who is having the baby, right? She is doing such a bang up job getting educated so he can just relax. On top of that, if you are making decisions about the birth based on things you alone are reading and then telling him what you want, he may feel there is no point to reading or expressing his opinion; you've already made up your mind. These may be wonderfully supportive partners but they are hovering outside of the picture.

Classes help dads! I can't say that enough. Classes help dads. They invite them into the process. Men naturally come late to thinking about the birth. Actually they often come late to connecting with the baby in any concrete way. This is normal because they aren't the ones feeling it grow and move inside them. Believe it or not when they witness their baby being born it almost seems to take them by surprise that there really is a baby. A good class allows dads to connect with their own journey towards birth and parenthood. They gain the education they need through active participation instead of reading & research which suits many fathers better. There is time, space & support given for dads to express their feelings, beliefs, fears and desires surrounding the process and what lies ahead. They are honored as fathers, lovers and humans.

Classes most especially help dads who have witnessed past births that traveled down traumatic paths, such as c-sections or home birth transports. These dads need special care as they struggle to support a woman who is determined to have an un-medicated vaginal birth while carrying the fears left over from the past birth. It is vitally important that the couple has come together as much as possible before the birth and good classes help.

Good classes help you analyze and express your beliefs about the choices surrounding birth. They put you in touch with the values & fears that are informing your personal choices. Having to verbally express our values & fears can bring up buried thoughts, crystallize our perceptions and distill our feelings. Hearing what others value or fear is a powerful tool in learning about ourselves. Clarity of these issues on both sides can lead to respectful communication if your partner is of a different opinion. Clarity of values & fears can lead to a more open and empowering dialogue with your care provider.

Being pregnant is a process that unfolds over time. The way you feel about something at 12 weeks may be vastly different than the way you feel at 30 weeks or 38 weeks. The best time to take classes is the last 2 months of the pregnancy. The series needs to be 7 to 8 weeks long so that friendships have time to grow and so do the couples. Good classes encourage the couple to get in touch with where they are in the process now and where they would like to be eventually. They practice. They prepare. They rehearse. They live in the moment and open themselves to the possibilities of the future. Yes, you should take birth preparation classes. You will come away more confident in birth, more sure of yourselves and your abilities, more connected to your partner, more aware of your choices, more able to dialogue with your support team and just plain more ready.

These two expectant moms were right though. Many classes aren't worth taking. Classes that only focus on the physical biological aspects of birth are a waste of time. Classes that focus only on one tool or technique for labor are hopelessly incomplete. Classes that are only 4 weeks long give the couple no opportunity to grow or change. Classes that are taken the last month of pregnancy give the couple no opportunity to change course if they come to the realization through their class work that they want to go down a different path. Classes that honor only one vision of what birth should be like are disrespectful to the amazing complexity of the human race. Classes that only impart the guidelines and routines of the place of birth & care provider disrespect pregnant couples' abilities to make wise choices for themselves and their babies. These classes are an obvious attempt to dis-empower women and their partners. By all means take classes but choose wisely who you ask to "educate" you.

For more information about my classes. Also there are many excellent independent birth educators in SLO County. We each have a slightly different focus. It is important to find an educator you feel comfortable with. Most of them can be reached through the Birth & Baby Resource Network's on line Resource Guide.

Here is another birth educator/blogger's take on this same issue.

From Mama Birth:
If You Are Asking My Opinion- Yes, You Need A Birth Class

In full disclosure, before I get started I should probably own the fact that I do teach natural childbirth classes for money. (I don't make much money at it, but you deserve to know that.) So you can take what I am about to say as just shameless self promotion and fear mongering.

I often hear this sentiment :

"Women have been giving birth for 1000's of years. You don't need a class to give birth."

What is interesting about this quote is that I hear it both from medical doctors who are very intervention happy or dislike natural birth and from people planning to home birth.

At the risk of offending everybody who reads this, I have got to address this idea. Because frankly, this just usually is not the case. Let me tell you why.

Women HAVE been giving birth for 1000's of years-

Yes, women have been giving birth for a long long time. The mechanisms of birth worked the same with the first birth as they do today in the modern woman- contractions, dilation, pushing, baby, placenta. But the CULTURE of birth is constantly changing.
How many of you have attended a live birth? How many of you have attended multiple births in person? How many of your husbands have?

A woman a thousand years ago most likely was around birth. She was at the births of her siblings or cousins or nieces and nephews. She learned to help the mother after the labor. She saw women breastfeeding. A 1000 years ago women were actually AROUND birth. Birth was something that really only women understood.

They didn't hide it in hospitals and close it behind a door and a cloak of mystery and fear. It was a normal part of life.

Not only did they see it, they talked about it, supported each other in it, and had traditions surrounding it. We have traditions surrounding birth too, but they don't do much to teach women about the actual mechanics and how to cope with birth and labor naturally. Today when women talk about birth they talk about epidurals and pain and what they were allowed to do. This can be wonderfully helpful in preparing you for the typical hospital induction birth. It does not however do much to prepare you if you are planning on birthing naturally.

Women being surrounded by other women who had birthed naturally also creates a very different birth culture. Being in a weekly class with others in your same situation and with the same goals can re-create that "birth culture" for you today. Having a teacher who has done what you are planning a few times herself also gives you somebody to ask questions and proof that natural birth is possible, even if you don't know many people who have done it.

A 1000 years ago women didn't birth in the hospital-

A large part of the classes I teach focuses on preparing women to navigate the hospital system. The truth is, if you are planning on birth in the hospital and going natural, you need to really know what you are doing. You need to know how to relax well without medications in a place where they are readily available. You also need to be aware of the purpose and ways to avoid common interventions, drugs, and procedures in the hospital.
Women didn't have to do this 1000 years ago. There are huge advantages to hospital birthing- but combining it with a natural approach is often tricky. Thus the class.

And your partner? What was he doing a 1000 years ago?

The modern woman almost always wants her husband at the birth with her. Not only that she wants him to be involved, helpful, loving, and basically fantastic.

I don't know how to say this nice, but....good luck with that if he doesn't know a thing about birth and is scared crapless of the entire idea of something huge coming out of your vagina.

Many women are self motivated enough to learn about birth and study and practice relaxation on their own. After all, they realize that THEY are the ones who have to give birth. Women are often very invested in baby and the experience long before it happens.

Men a 1000 years ago were probably not part of the birth process. But today, women expect them to be there. If you want him to be helpful, to understand what is normal, to know what a crowning baby looks like, and to know how to do a double hip squeeze, he needs a class.

My classes focus on the partner a LOT. If I can get dad comfortable, excited, and confident in your ability as a couple to have a natural birth, then I feel much better about the couples ability to do this. If mom is looking forward to this and knows her stuff, but dad is scared, doesn't know why you sound like a ghost, and just wants you to get an epidural because he wants you to be helped but he doesn't know how to help you, then we have another beast altogether.

But I am birthing at home-

I know- I still think that a natural birth class can be helpful in preparing a mom to birth at home. There are two reasons for this.

1) A good class won't just cover birth- it will cover preparing for a healthy pregnancy and staying low risk. I have seen more than one home birth mama end up having a baby in the hospital because baby came early because of poor nutrition. Some things just go wrong and can't be prevented. But some things CAN be helped with an awesome diet. You can learn about this on your own, but I notice that people focus more on how they are taking care of themselves when they are asked about it weekly by their friendly birth teacher.

When I ask people to keep track of everything they eat, they really pay more attention than they do just because they read something about the Brewer Diet online. A class helps keep you accountable while surrounding you with a supportive group of women and men.

2) Even if you birth at home, you still need to actually LABOR. Birthing at home might prevent some common interventions, but it doesn't get you out of the work involved in birthing a baby. I have talked to many a midwife who has home birth mamas who have no coping mechanisms in place for their birth.
Losing control is a natural part of birth- but knowing how to relax and do it well can help keep that to the normal, baby is almost here, minimum. A mother who is very stressed out, fearful, and unfamiliar with the birth process, can have difficulty with laboring from the very beginning and throughout the entire process. If you throw in a partner who also is freaking out, you can really change the process in a negative way.

A good birth class doesn't just talk about what happens in a chart- it teaches you how to handle it.

The truth is that not everyone really needs a class. I am not going to tell you that I KNOW that you do. But I do often see people who don't think they needed a class and it turns out they really could have benefited from the knowledge, the confidence, the time to prepare with their partner, the skill it gave their partner, and the nurturing friendships with like minded people.

One of my favorite things to see is how a couple's relationship grows in class. They learn to rely on one another. They learn to trust each other more. They grow together as we discuss relationship issues that arise during the time of pregnancy.

In the end a great childbirth class really just teaches you how to tune in to what you already know how to do innately. Then, you CAN birth more like women did 1000 years ago- naturally and with faith in your body.

For more information about my classes. Also there are many excellent independent birth educators in SLO County. We each have a slightly different focus. It is important to find an educator you feel comfortable with. Most of them can be reached through the Birth & Baby Resource Network's on line Resource Guide.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ideas for 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. They will be in italics. I am also reaching out into our community to wellness practitioners I know to write posts about their areas of expertise.

Why You Need to Create a Healthy Balanced Pregnancy

Pregnancy the First Step into Motherhood

Massage Therapy-More Than Just Pampering

Prenatal Water Massage

Consider Chiropractic Care

Having a Baby? Read These Books?

Intro to Pregnancy Nutrition
Ancient Nutritional Wisdom from China & India
Whole Foods/Low Sugar Pregnancy Recipes from CookWell
Courtney's Recommended Nutritional Health Reading List

Why Should I Bother Taking Childbirth Classes?

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Quick TV Spot

Recently I had the opportunity as President of the Birth & Baby Resource Network to introduce our  new Nursing Nooks Network to the community. It was wonderful to share one of my passions; supporting breastfeeding mamas on TV.