Archive | September 2010

Book Review: Living without Reservations

Book Review: Living without Reservations

By Barbara Singer
Hear Me Roar Press, 2020
ISBN 978-098-432540-5
softcover, $18.95

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE

A spirited tale of personal adventure, Living without Reservations is a travel memoir written by a woman who at age 44, “quits” her life and sees the world. Marketed as The Secret meets Eat, Pray, Love, Living without Reservations explores Barbara Singer’s journey of self-discovery.

Left adrift after a series of life changes (daughter to college, divorce, death of fiancé), Barbara decides to start, “collecting experiences rather than things” and that she never wants to be someone who dreams of “someday,” but never actually follows her dreams. Her first trek is a cross country drive to Alaska with her father in a small RV. After Alaska, she lives and works for a time on a small island and then sets off by sea as first mate on a private sailboat. She and her traveling companion spend over 3 months sailing from port to port in the many small islands of the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic. After the sailing expedition, she travels to her beloved Italy. Living in a small village in Tuscany (and later in Florence), she studies Italian, enjoys a slow-paced life, and meets a handsome Italian winery owner. A somewhat strained relationship with her daughter is a substory that lends a humbling element to the exhilaration and excitement of Barbara’s travels,

Though a postscript minimally address her financial situation (not a “trust fund baby”), it remains unclear how her trips are financed or how realistic the suggestion to “just do it” is for the average person. However, there is a helpful section available on her website with ideas and tips on how you, too, can “quit your life.”

While on ongoing refrain of, “I’m the luckiest girl in the world,” started to get on my nerves a little by the end of the book (you’re not a “girl,” you’re a woman!), Living without Reservations is an engaging and inspiring memoir with heart, courage, honesty, and passion.

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

Like one full moon…

Last week, I hosted a blessingway/mother blessing ceremony for a friend who is preparing for her second baby. This was the first time we’ve ever had a ceremony at night and something new that we did that turned out nicely was to go outside in the dark and plant our “wish seeds” for our friend, her baby, and her birth (we used the wish seeds—one word wishes—first to sing our Call Down a Blessing blessingway song). I had chosen a reading to read during this time and in a stroke of wonderful coincidence, the moon out that night was nearly full. It was a perfect, unplanned accompaniment to the reading. The reading comes from the book Wild Girls by Patricia Monaghan and was originally written by a nine year old girl. I modified it slightly for this occasion:

We are all Feminine, together.

We may be full of anger,

We may be full of joy,

We may be full of secrets,

We may feel fresh as fruit,

We may feel a sense of new life,

We may feel peaceful,

We may all feel different from one another,

But we are all here together

Like one full moon.

Poem: The Vital Truth

In the fall issue of Pathways magazine there was an article called “The Genius of the Unborn Child by Sarah Farrant. I enjoyed this poem in the article’s sidebar:

The Vital Truth

Nature needs no help

just no interference

It’s best not to interfere with

what is a natural process.

Do you help the grass to grow?

Do you help the sun to rise?

Why is it that people feel compelled

to help a baby grow?

Babies know what to do every time,

all the time, in just the right sequence

and at just the right time to allow the expression of

their limitless potential.

Being pregnant feels like magic and I marvel each day at the unfolding of this whole process without my conscious intention or effort. Really incredible!

Book Review: Survivor Moms

Book Review: Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse

By Mickey Sperlich & Julia Seng
Motherbaby Press, 2008
ISBN 978-1-89-044641-3
245 pages, softcover

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE

Past sexual abuse is an unfortunately common experience for women. Anyone who works with women of childbearing age should be mindful and informed of the effects of an abuse history on the woman’s experience of pregnancy, birthing, and mothering. Indeed, I consider this awareness to be a fundamental professional responsibility. Enter Survivor Moms, published by Motherbaby Press. This book is an incredibly in-depth look at the experiences and need of survivors of sexual abuse during the childbearing year.

One of the best and most unique features of the book is the “tab” format used for much of the clinical, research-based, or fact-based content in the book. Rather than lengthy chapters reviewing research and analyzing the phenomenon, textboxes containing quick facts and reference material are printed in the margins of many of the pages. The bulk of the narrative information in the main body of the text is then in the voices of mothers themselves, interspersed with commentary by the authors linking concepts, explaining ideas, and clarifying essentials. This is a powerful format that makes information readily and quickly available for reference as well as making the overall book very readable and approachable.

As someone with no personal abuse history who is currently pregnant, I did find the book to be a very emotionally difficult, intense, and almost overwhelming read at times. This is not a criticism in any way—sexual abuse is not a light or cheerful topic and it can be one that many people prefer to avoid. This is all the more reason for birth professionals to make a specific effort to be educated and informed.

Written both for mothers themselves and for the professionals who work with them, Survivor Moms is an essential part of any birth professional’s library. As noted in the book’s introduction, “We need to understand the impact of childhood abuse on birthing and mothering deeply, from hearing women’s stories. We also need to understand it broadly—from looking at the impact on samples and populations, on the body and on the culture.” Survivor Moms offers an accessible way of hearing those critically important stories and developing the necessary understanding to care compassionately for birthing women.

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

Happy Birth-Day!

Today is my oldest son’s 7th birthday and I’ve been thinking back to the day he was born. For his first few birthdays, I felt kind of like, “hey, this should be about me too! I was the birth-giver after all!” (I even bought myself a present for his first birthday—my birth-of-a-mother present to myself). Now that I have had other children and as the years pass, his birthdays are pretty much now all about him. However, in honor of the occasion I updated his birth story with a number of pictures! And, I wanted to share a fresh picture of my seven year old on his birthday 🙂

A birthday hammer!

We went to ride go-karts on Sunday for a family birthday party. Look what a good driver he is--and how big to be able to drive one by himself!

Birth Waves

‎”Uterine contractions are felt by many women to sweep towards them, rise in crescendo and then fade away like waves of the sea, so that wave imagery is very useful when describing the sensations they produce. This wave imagery is closely associated with the idea of rhythm, which is all important in harmonious psychosomatic adaptation to labor.”

–Sheila Kitzinger (Education and Counseling for Childbirth)

Sheila Kitzinger is one of my all-time favorite birth writers and I quote her frequently. She has such a beautifully lyrical writing style.

I’ve noted before that even though I’m not much of a “water” person, wave/water imagery and analogies always strike me as very right/true for my own birth experiences. I shared the quote above on the CfM Facebook page and one person made a comment that quotes like the one above “hide” the truth about how birth is painful and that perhaps we should stop talking in flowery images and instead address how it really is. What was interesting to me is that I do not associate “wave” images with lack of pain or lack of intense sensation. Indeed, somewhat of the opposite! This is one of my personal experiences that leads me to identify with quotes about waves, water, and birth:

With my second baby, I described the contractions as having a “sharp edge” to them. My mental imagery of water and birth was not so much of peaceful, lapping waves, but of intense waves CRASHING into/around a rock. They would then part and flow around the rock (i.e. me), so it wouldn’t get knocked down by them but would be there waiting for the next wave to crash into it…I actually have this same image come to mind during the tough moments of parenting young children!

Additionally, the way contractions build to a peak of intensity much the way waves crest and break, as well as the unstoppable rhythm and flow of them also held power and relevance for me. The ocean is BIG and waves are powerful and so is birth!

Humor and Labor

“Don’t forget to bring your sense of humor to your labor.” ~ Ina May Gaskin

I chose this quote to share on the Citizens for Midwifery Facebook page this week because it made me think about my own labor experiences.

I made jokes during the end of all of my labors and then laughed at my own wit—in a stroke of coincidence, one of the jokes was actually about Spiritual Midwifery ;-D I had just been told I was fully dilated with my first baby and I couldn’t believe it and said I was, “feeling all trippy like in Spiritual Midwifery.” With my second baby, I had inadvertently started saying “ouchie, ouchie” at the peaks of contractions and then joked, “ouchie, ouchie is a dorky thing to be saying!” With my third labor, which was an early second trimester miscarriage, I even managed to find some humor, joking to myself that I really should, “get into extreme sports” rather than keep having babies.

On a somewhat related note, one of my fears going into my first birth was about “being mean” to my husband and mother during labor. I think this idea came from all the media representations of women being “out of control” and yelling mean things at their husbands and/or grabbing the collars of their shirts and saying, “you did this to me!” and other such things. My actual experience was that I was nicer during labor than I am during my everyday life! I told my husband I loved him several times (perhaps because the normal hormonal symphony of labor was undisturbed) and we hugged and kissed and I felt very connected to him in the process of bringing our baby into the world. I think feeling safe and undisturbed is critical to birth for a variety of reasons, but one of them is to prevent  fight-or-flight stress reactions from being activated. I had no reason to “turn mean” and snarl at my support people, because I was in my own protected environment with only a few carefully chosen people around me. When I think about those women snapping at their husbands during labor in media representations (i.e. being used as comic relief, rather than bringing their own sense of humor to labor!), I see a trapped, mistreated animal snarling and snapping and anyone who comes close 😦

I cannot remember being distressed or annoyed or upset with anything my husband or mom said during my labors. They knew well in advance that having quiet people in attendance is of paramount importance to me—aside from the obvious things, the top element of any birth plan for me is “NO extraneous noise or chatter.” Extra noise causes women to leave their “birth brain” mode (right brain) and switch into the logical, analytical part of their brain (left brain) which is not helpful to a physiological labor. The only person who was allowed to talk (or make jokes!) during my labors was ME! And, I could trust that the people around me would respect that.

Maybe GIRL Baby?

I have had more ultrasounds during my current pregnancy than I ever imagined having before and I have struggled with some “cognitive dissonance” over my feeling about the overuse of ultrasound in our medical care system, coupled with the intense desire to “check in” with my baby and “make sure” it is okay, as well as to have as many opportunities to bond and develop a sense of connection as I can. During this pregnancy, it has been important to me to learn the baby’s gender. I really want to be able to name it this time and to not call it “it” through the whole pregnancy. I had an ultrasound this week at 21 weeks (this is the last u/s I plan to have), and as he also said at 18 weeks, the doctor said he thinks the new baby is a girl. While we had a good view and the images also looked very “girlish” to me and I think he is probably right, I don’t feel like he was committal enough for me to really name the baby and to start cleaning 7 years worth of boy clothes out of the closets! I need to have some confirmatory dreams or something! Part of the reason I don’t want to become too invested in a girl concept, is because in my heart I feel like I only grow boys and if the baby is really a boy after all, I do not want to have been overly attached to an imaginary girl. I’ve given birth to three boys already and long ago decided that I was “meant” to be a boymom.

I have two sisters and one brother and before I had any children of my own I always assumed, expected, and anticipated having daughters of my own. During my first pregnancy, I was pretty sure the baby was a girl. We had an ultrasound at 21 weeks during that pregnancy as well and the baby was very clearly a boy. I had to do some quick mental re-shifting and then was very excited about having a boy and have really loved the experience of mothering a son. During my second pregnancy, I had no ultrasounds, but I knew with a deep sense of certainly that my second baby was also a boy. I had 7 dreams that he was a boy and there was no space or reason for me to even consider having a girl. I did wonder if this very clear communication was to prevent any kind of “disappointment” about having a second boy—since I KNEW he was a boy, there was no room to “hope for girl.” I knew who I was having and THAT was the baby I wanted. While I know that the “ideal” family for many consists of a boy and girl, personally I actually prefer same-gender sibling pairs. Indeed, I literally feel grateful every single day that I have two boys and not one of each. They are fabulous buddies and I couldn’t imagine having anything else! I also hypothesized that since much of my life is focused around women and working with women, having boys is a necessary, balancing influence for me. I decided that sons are the children I can learn the most from the experience of mothering and that I was destined to be an exclusively boymom—that these boys were specifically intended gifts from the “universe” to properly balance the energies and influences in my life!

While we have planned for a long time to have three children, it took some time to come to the final decision to have a third—I felt like we had a pretty good thing going with our two and wasn’t sure any longer whether I really wanted to add anyone else to the mix. And, when we made the decision to have a third baby, it was intensely important for me to clarify whether we wanted to have a third baby or whether we were wanting to have a girl. I never wanted any of the possible sons to follow my first to feel as if they were the “wrong” gender or like we kept “trying for a girl.” So, my husband and I got crystal clear with each other that what we wanted was a third child in our family, not one of a specific gender. With my third pregnancy, I was sick for the first time ever, which made me think that the baby was possibly a girl, even though I was pretty sure another boy was in my cards (as I’ve noted previously, I had a lot of “you have three sons” dreams in the interim between my first and second babies). That third pregnancy ended unexpected at 14w5d and that baby was indeed my third son.

My current pregnancy is very much the same as my first two and I’ve had a feeling since the beginning that this baby too, was also another boy. I did wonder if this was a similar mental “trick” as with my second pregnancy—my observation is that if you know in your heart the baby is a boy, there is no room to “hope” for something else or to get attached to a “girl” image—but I also felt a sense of certainty that boys are simply the babies that I grow. Boys are the babies meant for me. After that 18 week ultrasound, when it was inconclusive but looked like a girl, I suddenly felt a small, secret spot in my heart that had been shut up a long time ago start to open up again. My original image as mother of a daughter. I thought she was long gone, but I discovered that she was hiding away very deeply and suddenly she came blooming up again. I was in Lowe’s with my husband after that ultrasound and suddenly I had a crystal clear image in my mind—my two boys were walking along holding hands dressed in matching vests (??!!) and behind them toddled a tiny girl wearing shiny pink shoes. While shiny pink shoes aren’t really my “thing,” after the 21 week ultrasound this last week, I went to the store and bought these:

Book Review: Understanding Pregnancy and Childbirth: Your Complete Guide

Book Review: Understanding Pregnancy and Childbirth: Your Complete Guide

By Linda Ayertey, CCCE
Resolve Medical Services, 2008
ISBN 978-9988-1-2163-1
152 pages, softcover

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE

Written in simple, straightforward language, Understanding Pregnancy and Childbirth is a basic guide intended primarily for first-time mothers. It would be appropriate for clients with low literacy levels. With sections covering each trimester of pregnancy, physical changes, labor, comfort measures, and postpartum, the book is a handy, portable size that makes it easy for reference.

Published in Ghana by a midwife working in a small maternity hospital that she founded with her husband (an OB), the book contains some country-specific phrases and suggestions that may be mildly confusing to readers based in the U.S. I noted a higher than average number of minor errors in the text as well as some incorrect information (such as calling all morning sickness “hyperemesis gravidarum” and the advice to shave your pubic hair regularly because otherwise it, “may cause you to have an unpleasant odour”).

Overall, the information provided by Understanding Pregnancy and Childbirth is very basic as well as conventional. There is a nice illustrated section of positions for labor. However, the only “delivery” position described is the standard semi-sitting position and episiotomies are discussed without criticism (as are other interventions like IVs). The illustrations in the book (aside from cover image) are all of women, couples, and babies of color, which is a welcome change from many similar books on the market.

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

Book Review: Birthing a Mother: The Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self

Book Review: Birthing a Mother: The Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self

By Elly Teman
University of California Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-520-25964-5
362 pages, softcover, $21.95

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE

A scholarly work of passion and depth, Birthing a Mother is an in-depth look at the experience and feelings of Jewish surrogates and intended mothers in Israel. The book explores both perspectives—the unique experience of being a gestational surrogate and that of the intended mother. (The term “surrogate mother” is not considered a desirable one and this is clearly explained in the text, the surrogate is not the mother of the baby and this is reinforced over and over again by both surrogate and intended mother.)

Divided into four broad sections chronicling the surrogate journey, a special focus of Birthing a Mother is the intensive strategies employed by surrogates to dis-identify from the pregnant identity (the pregnant body) and focus the attention and bonding experiences on the intended mothers. Surrogates and intended parents both were very careful to identify the surrogate’s role as “container” for the baby, not as a maternal role. No surrogates in Israel use their own eggs and this was significantly emphasized—i.e. “maybe if it was my own egg, I would feel differently, but I know that this is not my baby.” I was very interested to read that this process actually leads some surrogates to choose elective cesareans (after having normal, vaginal births for their own biological children), feeling that to give birth to the baby vaginally might remove some of the containing elements and connect them physically to the baby in an undesirable way.

As the title would suggest, I was touched by the book’s passionate emphasis on the process of birthing a mother. The surrogacy experience was most often defined as this process—as giving birth to new parents by carrying their child and surrogacy is often seen as a profound gift (by both sets of people involved). And, indeed, most often the surrogates noted feelings of grief and dismay at having to give up the relationship with the intended mother following the birth, rather than “giving up” the baby. With the “container” identity firmly in place, most surrogates did not view the experience as a “relinquishment” of the baby at all, but as placing it into the arms of its rightful parents. As one intended mother stated, “You are not just giving birth to children; you are giving birth to new mothers and to new and happy families.”

A work of medical anthropology and women’s studies, rather than a book designed for birthworkers, Birthing a Mother has an academic feel and occasionally reads like a dissertation, but for the most part this style does not become overly cumbersome. The tight focus on the experiences of women in Israel made me wonder how stories and feelings would change cross-culturally. As someone who is admittedly not very informed about domestic surrogacy arrangements, I remain unclear how applicable the book’s observations and conclusions are to the U.S. population.

While not specifically directed at birthworkers, nor at surrogates or intended mothers, Birthing a Mother is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in exploring the intricacies and unique challenges of the surrogate experience.

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