Archive | April 2010

Film Review: Sunshine

Film Review: Sunshine

By Karen Skloss
PBS, Independent Lens, 2010
60 minutes

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE

I was very excited to receive a review copy of the independent film, Sunshine, airing on the PBS series Independent Lens on Tuesday, May 4. Through personal narrative, Sunshine chronicles the changing social definition of family and cultural attitudes towards “unwed mothers” and “single moms.” Filmmaker Karen Skloss explores her answer to her question, “does history repeat itself?” as she considers her own history as a baby given up for adoption in 1975 by her nineteen year old “unwed” biological mother (Mary) and her personal experiences of giving birth to her daughter Jasmine as a “single mother” in 1999. Since I teach Human Services classes at the college level as well as teaching private childbirth education classes, I was intrigued in the film’s subject from both perspectives—that of someone in the field of social work at the academic level and that of someone deeply invested in work with pregnant women and new mothers.

The images chosen for the film are pieced together from home movies, family snapshots, interviews, and current footage of Karen and her family—both biological and adoptive. Karen and her biomom also make a pilgrimage of sorts to visit the Texas home for unwed mothers in which Mary lived before she gave birth. Karen co-parents her daughter with Jasmine’s father in a fairly unusual arrangement in that they share care 50-50—Jasmine lives with her father half-time and with Karen half-time. Jeremy, the father, also receives some screen time in the film and has some interesting comments to make about how he is perceived as a single father and how that compares to perceptions of single mothers (i.e. as a single father he is viewed as “hero” and not as someone who is just doing what anyone should do). The footage is mostly of the mundane—everyday life: bike riding, walking, people at kitchen tables—and the content is mild. No biting commentary or sweeping sociological conclusions. The story is an engaging one and an emotional connection is quickly formed. Though the content is nondramatic on the surface, the narrative is a multilayered representation of the complexity of the everyday lives of “normal” people and I was moved to tears on at least three occasions.

My medium is the written word—I read and write prolifically—so Sunshine was a change of pace for me. And yet, it unfolded like a personal essay “written” in visual form. I was fascinated in a way I have not been before by the use of film to tell a personal, human-sized story.

The Human Services professor in me would have liked to see a little more sociopolitical commentary—the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions about larger social issues that could give context to the personal story. The childbirth educator in me was delighted to see some footage of what appeared be a gentle, positive homebirth with Karen laboring in a birth pool and then giving birth in a supported squat on the floor. This footage is without commentary, but appears to be a midwife-attended homebirth with both Karen’s biomom and adoptive mother present as well as the father of her child.

As the film concludes, Karen states that, “it is hard to understand the times you’re living in, because you’re living in them.” Sunshine is a compelling portrait of one woman’s efforts to explore those times.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this film for review purposes.

Distraction, Concentration, Surrender

In my childbirth classes when I cover “labor and birth 101,” I talk about the traditional stages of labor—early labor, active labor, transition, pushing, and third stage (placenta). I also talk about the “emotional signposts” of labor—excitement, seriousness, and self-doubt, as well as about the fear-tension-pain cycle and the excitement-power-progress cycle. Recently, I finished reading the book Painless Childbirth by Giuditta Tornetta and she elegantly described the three phases of first-stage labor in a three-word format that I found extremely accurate and helpful, as well as fresh and interesting. The first phase is distraction—during early labor, it is most helpful to continue to go about your normal life as if nothing is happening. Do not give your contractions any attention until they strongly request your attention! I tell my clients to just do what they would normally be doing—-if they would be sleeping, sleep. If they would be walking the dog, walk the dog. Watering the plants, eating dinner, etc., etc. Just keep up the normal routine until you need to give the birthing energy more attention. Without distraction as a tool, labor can become very long and exhausting—if you think of yourself as in labor from the second you feel anything, you are much more likely to experience a 24 hour labor than if you do not think of yourself as in labor until you are completely absorbed by its sensations.

The second phase is concentration—contactions have now become what Ina May Gaskin would term “an interesting sensation requiring my complete attention.” This phase corresponds to the Bradley Method’s emotional signpost of “seriousness.” I tell my clients that this is when she stops laughing at your jokes and stops even seeming aware that you’re talking. (She IS still aware however, and we will address this in a later post about undisturbed birth, prompted by another new book I am reading called Optimal Birth.)

The third phase is surrender and this corresponds with the transition portion of active labor and the “self-doubt” signpost. I think the concept of surrender during labor is one of the most profound and transformative elements of giving birth. If you can embrace the notion of “surrendering” to birth rather than staying in “control” of it, I think this can revolutionize your perception of what is happening in your body and your life. While hard to express in words, the experience of surrendering to my own body’s power was a transformative experience in my life (particularly since I am a “controlling” sort of person in “real life”—maybe this is why this term and experience holds such meaning to me). With surrender comes “flow”—there is such value and beauty and strength to be found in letting go and just letting it happen; letting “the might of creation come through you.” This was the most profound truth I discovered in each of my birth experiences.

Book Review: My Name is Mary Sutter

Book Review: My Name is Mary Sutter

By Robin Oliveira
Viking, 2010
ISBN 978-0670021673
384 pages, hardcover, $26.95

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE

My Name is Mary Sutter is a new novel about a young Civil War era midwife who longs to be a surgeon, but is denied entry to medical school because she is female. Historical fiction has always been a favorite genre of mine, but historical fiction about a midwife? The best! After some initial chapters involving midwifery and family life, the main character,  Mary Sutter, seeks work first as a nurse in desperately undersupplied and overworked Civil War hospitals and then directly on the battlefield following the soldiers with a cart of medical supplies. Mary is a strong female protagonist and there are some complicated male (doctor) characters as well. A couple of mild love stories serve as sub plots.

Midwifery quickly takes a back seat in the saga as Mary becomes a nurse on the bloody battlefields of the Civil War. However, her work continues to be informed by her midwifery experiences–for example she uses memories of turning malpositioned babies as inspiration for finding the right spot to amputate wounded legs.

Some famous historical figures like President Lincoln, Clara Barton, and Dorothea Dix make appearances in the tale. The slaughter on the (famous) battlefields is tightly wrought and makes you feel as if you’ve “been there.” The reader feels exhausted and battle weary right along with Mary. The novel is a third person narrative throughout, but it almost felt like a first person account—as if the author was writing from personal experience. Be prepared for a variety of personal losses for the main character.

Riveting, well constructed, and tightly paced, My Name is Mary Sutter is a gripping story of one woman’s tenacious will and her drive both to learn and to serve.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

Book Review: Pregnant on Prozac

Book Review: Pregnant on Prozac: The Essential Guide to Making the Best Decision for You & Your Baby

By Shoshanna Bennett, Ph.D.
GPP Life, 2009
ISBN 978-0-7627-4940-9

248 pages, softcover, $16.95

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE

Written by a clinical psychologist and mother of two, Pregnant on Prozac is a comprehensive look at the benefits and risks of antidepressant use during pregnancy or postpartum. The focus on depression during pregnancy is what makes this book stand out—this is a subject that has received very little attention and it is important for doula and childbirth educators to learn more about the issues involved.

The book includes sections on “natural and emerging treatments” including homeopathy and acupuncture as well as a section on nutrition, though the overall emphasis is on pharmacological treatment methods.

The information presented is very comprehensive, though I was disturbed by the suggestion not to read the package inserts coming with medications, but to trust your doctor to know “what is safest for you and your baby.” This is not the type of informed decision-making I promote in my work with pregnant and new mothers!

Pregnant on Prozac briefly addresses midwives and doulas in a section about “helping professionals who may be of use to you.”

I have three significant critiques of the book. During one section the author waxes eloquent about the non-specific benefits of an unnamed “exercise system” and then later an unnamed “nutritional system.” She glowingly recommends these unidentified systems and refers readers to her website for more information about the nutritional system and to another website for the exercise system. I suddenly felt like I was reading a commercial and the tone called into question for me the validity and reliability of the entire rest of the book.

My third critique is that the segment addressing medication use while breastfeeding is woefully incomplete, falling back on the trite platitude “a calm, happy mother is more important to a child’s healthy development than breast milk.” Though I do not quibble with the truth of this statement in an “ultimate” sense, my concern is that it summarily dismisses the fact that many women can take medication AND breastfeed—it is not an either or situation! The very brief section on breastfeeding also included the questionable and disappointing statement, “you can even get better eye contact with your baby with a bottle in its mouth instead of being squished face-first into your breast.”

Each of these sections is small, but my concerns about them are large. Despite these critiques however, I would still recommend Pregnant on Prozac to birth professionals and parents seeking information about treatment options for depression during pregnancy with the caution not to rely on it as your only resource and certainly not to count on it for advice on exercise, nutrition, or breastfeeding.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

Thoughts About Birth Thoughts

When I check my blog stats, I’m interested to see which search terms bring people to this blog. Recently, a search term used was “birth thoughts.” I use “birth thoughts” as my default category for posts that don’t fit in a specific other category and I have a lot of posts in that category. So, I searched for the term myself and was very surprised to see that of 52 million google hits for “birth thoughts,” Talk Birth was the FIRST site to come up on a search using that term. Isn’t that cool? Since, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with searching for “birth thoughts” to see where I continue to stand and I guess it depends on page updates (?), because sometimes it drops off the top 10 (though then it is usually of 32 million or 27 million sites, not 52 million—not sure what is up with that either). Either way, I think it is interesting 🙂

I do think a lot of birth thoughts. Sometimes I wonder why birth remains such a consuming subject of interest to me. I have been considering this a lot lately, actually, and still working to put my finger on WHY. I think it is because birth, for me, is one of the fullest experiences of standing in my “personal power” that I’ve ever had. A “peak experience,” a “flow experience,” almost a “religious experience.” Last year I led a series of classes on women’s spirituality and one of the questions we addressed was, “how do you feel when you are standing in your personal power? When do you feel like you are standing in your personal power.” While it is great that I experienced such powerful births, I was saddened slightly to discover when answering this question myself, that essentially the only personal power moments I could come up with were in giving birth. What about the rest of my life?! (On my m/c blog I have written that apparently I need to get into extreme sports!) So, one of the birth thoughts on my mind lately is how do you pull that “birth power” feeling into the rest of your life? Make no mistake, my life is full and vibrant and full of good things, but that birth power feeling comes only in giving birth—maybe there is no other way to experience it?!

New Training!

This year, I completed several new trainings that I am very excited about.

Prenatal Yoga Training

This weekend I fulfilled a 7 year old dream and attended a prenatal yoga teacher training in St. Louis. I have wanted to teach prenatal yoga since I was pregnant with my first baby, but a training opportunity just never opened up for me until now. I felt like this was perfect timing. The training was through YogaFit and was pretty basic, but it was just what I needed to feel like I can move forward with this dream. YogaFit is a very “fitness” oriented type of program vs. any kind of holistic-mind/body connection stuff, but I can add those elements in myself. I think I will be able to offer something fairly unique—not just yoga and not just childbirth education but yoga-childbirth-education. There are several other programs like that, of course, but none in the local area! At the training, I also learned some really cool partner yoga stuff that I didn’t know how to do before.

Birth Art Training

In February, I completed something else that I’ve been dreaming about for some time—I took Birthing from Within‘s online course, “How to Lead the Birth Art Process.” Aside from a few minor complaints about the sometimes-frustrating “Zen” underlay and occasional contradictions within the course, I really LOVED this class. I found the online course format to be an ideal format for me—real-person interaction through message board, chat, phone call, and email; written information; writing journals/essay responses; hands-on personal practice with the assignments; and real-life application with other people/clients in birth art sessions. I felt like I got more out of actual use out of this workshop than most of the other classes and workshops I’ve attended—I think this was because the course was spread out over 5 weeks, not just a weekend, which allowed plenty of time to really assimilate and USE the information. It was very affordable too and I was able to attend right from the comfort of my own chair! The class is marketed as suitable for beginners, but personally I found my past background in childbirth education to be very important and I cannot imagine having taken the class with no prior birth class teaching experience—I think the people who had little experience were kind of disadvantaged in this course. Birthing from Within is my all-time favorite birth preparation book/resource and it was so exciting for me to have a little taste of direct training with them. Hopefully at some point in the not-too-distant future, I will take further training with BfW.

Childbirth Educator Certification

In March of this year, I was pleased to earn my childbirth educator certification with CAPPA. Since I am already certified with other organizations, I enrolled in the dual certification program option. I am very excited to be “throwing my hat in” with CAPPA. The organization is very friendly and stable and I really connect with the CAPPA Vision. The program information itself was pretty basic and I didn’t really learn anything new from it, but that makes sense because it isn’t specifically designed for people who already have CBE teaching experience—I think it is a great program for someone starting out in this field.

Comparing CBE Programs:

I get a lot of inquiries from people seeking information about different childbirth education programs and thought I would provide a super-quick mention of the things I enjoyed most about each of my certification programs/organizations. Keep in mind that I certified with ALACE first, hence, I had the most direct experience with their full training program, vs. the other organization’s “accelerated” options (which I SO deeply value and I am SO grateful that ICEA and CAPPA make that option available to people—I’m very, very grateful!). In sequential order:

ALACE (now IBWP)—phenomenally in-depth training program with a wonderful woman-oriented, holistic, midwifery-model. Very homebirth friendly. When I finished this program, I felt like I’d earned another master’s degree—this time in birth. At the present time, however, I do not get a “stable” or professional feeling from the organization and that is very disappointing 😦

ICEA—very professional. Lots of really good information on how to teach and on the principles of adult education in general. I learned the most about the “how” from ICEA (and the “how” is very, very important). They also have several great teaching manuals that are super-affordable. I enjoy the International Journal of Childbirth Education as well. Very professional. The training information assumes educators will be teaching a “mainstream” population, probably in a hospital, but their position papers are very sound and I can really get behind their mission as well. Their certification exam was the most difficult of the three programs and I feel like I really earned my certificate!

CAPPA—I am really pleased with my association with CAPPA. As I noted, they are very friendly and I feel like they will be around for a long time to come. I just get a lovely, warm feeling of “sisterhood” from CAPPA and that is very important to me. I feel connected to the organization and the people and it is a very supportive atmosphere. I recommend them for training, especially for people who are just starting out. I’m excited about the free conferences CAPPA offers as well and I’m going to my first one this July! I also enjoy the CAPPA Quarterly and and I am proud to write the book/film reviews column.

Cesarean Awareness Month

April is Cesarean Awareness Month! My favorite resources about cesareans are the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) and The Unnecesarean.

In honor of the month (and in recognition that the national cesarean rate has risen again–to 32.3%), I went back through some of my posts and pulled out some of the things I’ve written about cesareans:

One of my “pet” subjects centers around the question of, “why would someone be upset over a cesarean, at least she has a healthy baby?” and this post partially addresses that: Birth and Apples.

I believe that a cesarean is often an act of personal courage and wrote about this here.

I also wrote about the same in this post on when birth doesn’t go as planned.

And, finally, here is a post I wrote about cesarean trivia.