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Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Transformation

“Women are as nervous and unsure of themselves as ever, and they need to learn to trust their bodies. Birthing is much more that eliminating pain. It is one of life’s peak experiences.” –-Elisabeth Bing

via Thesis Tidbits: Exceptional Human Experiences | Talk Birth.

May 2015 146The mother of the Lamaze childbirth education movement in the U.S., Elisabeth Bing, died this week at age 100. She had a tremendous impact on the birth culture and was a very early activist in promoting the “radical” idea of birth as a transformative, powerful, important experience in a woman’s life.

…For years Ms. Bing led classes in hospitals and in a studio in her apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she kept a collection of pre-Columbian and later Native American fertility figurines.

Ms. Bing preferred the term “prepared childbirth” to “natural childbirth” because, she said, her goal was not to eschew drugs altogether but to empower women to make informed decisions. Her mantra was “Awake and alert,” and she saw such a birth as a transformative event in a woman’s life.

“It’s an experience that never leaves you,” she told The New York Times in 2000. “It needs absolute concentration; it takes up your whole being. And you learn to use your body correctly in a situation of stress.”

via Elisabeth Bing Dies at 100; ‘Mother of Lamaze’ Helped Change Childbirth – NYTimes.com.

Bing was also early to recognize that birth experiences can be traumatic for mothers. This week, I read another May 2015 164 interesting article about mothers’ experiences of birth trauma:

“…far too many women are left in the aftermath of a traumatic experience on the very day she is born as a mother. She is a new woman – amazing, strong and life-giving – ready to face the world. Holding her new baby in her arms and a smile (or not, depending on her acting skills) on the outside, with a broken heart, fractured spirit and shattered self-confidence on the inside. This is the result of traumatic birth…”

The Secret That Many Moms Are Keeping – Mothering.

Can part of the “cause” of traumatic births be the expectation that a “good birth” is a quiet and controlled birth? Nadia Raafat wrote a powerful article at the Huffington Post that touches on this possibility:

Contractions were outed, surges, came in, the un-gratifying word pain was ostracised from the semantics of childbirth and, across the nation, grateful midwives watched in awe as powerful, silent women breathed their way through drug-free labours.

That’s half the story. The other half concerns those who did not experience the blissful or natural birth outcome that hypnobirthing promised them; the many disappointed women whose labours were violent, or which deviated from the normal care pathway, women who found the experience not only painful, but shocking and traumatic – all the more so because they believed it might be painless. I have met many of these women – still processing their birth experience years later, still wondering what they did wrong? Their emotional and physical scars run deep and take many years to heal.

via Denying the Pain of Labour Is Like Denying the Pain of Life | Nadia Raafat.

Raafat goes on to advocate the full spectrum of the semantics of birth and birth experiences:

Childbirth is the most profound experience in a women’s life. It is awesome, challenging, brutal, visceral, joyful, transporting, awful, deeply physical, incredible, powerful, at times, calm and in-flow, at other times all-consuming and over-whelming. Our preparation and our semantics need to acknowledge the whole spectrum of the experience, not just the palatable colours.

via Denying the Pain of Labour Is Like Denying the Pain of Life | Nadia Raafat.

I have a long time interest in words and birth and how we “talk birth” in our culture:

…On the flip side, I’ve also read other writer’s critiques of an overly positive language of birth, labeling and mocking words like “primal” as “euphemisms” for hours of “excruciating” pain. But, that makes me think about the locus of control in the average birth room. It seems like it might more difficult to start an IV in a “triumphant” woman, so lets call her stubborn or even “insisting on being a martyr”? Could you tell someone making “primal” noises to be quiet? Probably not, but you can tell someone who is “screaming” to “stop scaring” others. Asserting that a painful and degrading language of labor and birth is “real” English and that the language of homebirth advocates are “euphemisms” is a way to deny women power and to keep the locus of control with medicine.

via Wordweaving | Talk Birth.

I’ve also thought a lot about the association between a quiet birth and good birth. “Quiet” during labor is often associated with “coping well” and noise is associated with not coping, which may not be the case:

…Occasionally, I hear people telling birth stories and emphasizing not making noise as an indicator, or “proof,” of how well they coped with birthing–“I didn’t make any noise at all,” or “she did really well, she only made noise towards the end…” Women also come to classes looking for ways to stay “in control” and to “relaxed.”

This has caused me to do some thinking. Though relaxation is very important and helpful, to me, the goal of “laboring well” is not necessarily “staying in control” or “staying relaxed” or “not making any noises.”

via What Does Coping Well Mean? | Talk Birth.

And, speaking of how we talk about experiences as well as pulling this post back around to Elisabeth Bing, I quoted some reflections on postpartum care from Bing in a past post:

“The degree of pleasure you take in your mothering is not the same thing as loving the baby or being an effective parent. Keep in mind there is a distinction between mother love and maternal satisfaction. You may love your baby very much but be dissatisfied with your life circumstances.”

via Talk Books: Laughter & Tears: The Emotional Life of New Mothers | Talk Birth.

May 2015 150

Tuesday Tidbits: International Day of the Midwife

IMG_4848Today is International Day of the Midwife and I find myself reflecting on the many midwives I have known and the incredibly diversity and gifts of the women who join this profession. In addition to the midwives I had for prenatal and postpartum care for each of my births, I’ve been privileged to know many midwives on the state and national level through our shared interest in maternity care activism and birth rights. With my first baby, I had prenatal and birth care with a family practice physician and a CPM. The CPM was gray-haired, pretty, soft-spoken and wryly witty and pretty much exactly what you picture a stereotypical midwife looking like! My prenatal care with this team was excellent, birth care so-so (I didn’t need much), but my postpartum care left a lot to be desired and I felt very cast adrift after the birth. I became very embroiled with midwifery activism and birth work after this birth and as a result my experiences with all subsequent midwives has been an interesting blend of collegial + consumer. My first birth was the only one for which I was consumer only. Though I’m not a midwife myself, my subsequent experiences all involved being a sister birthworker AND client, rather than solely a client. This has both benefits and disadvantages.

My midwife with my second baby was amazing. I loved her so much and I have felt a gap in every pregnancy following that I was not able to have her as a midwife again. She was gentle and caring and passionate and inspiring and wonderful. Cute and upbeat, full-figured, and intelligent, she had a soft and reassuring presence and gave wonderful hugs! We became good friends and she was a very important part of my life. My prenatal care and birth care with her was excellent. She was also helpful with postpartum care, but I don’t think I “allowed” her to be as helpful as she could have been because I couldn’t allow myself to be as vulnerable and needy as I actually felt.

When I was pregnant with my third baby, my much-loved midwife had moved away and found myself at a loss for who to choose for pregnancy and birth care. This baby died early in my second trimester and I found myself calling on the sisterhood of midwives for help when I desperately needed it. From the very busy midwife who talked to me kindly and patiently when I was freaking out over a retained placenta, to the Mennonite midwife who helped me from the road as she was driving to another state and connected me to yet another midwife several hours away who drove in to town to meet and help me when I was very scared and alone, it was during this experience that I realized very viscerally how much we need midwives in our lives. When I was pregnant again, I decided to choose the Mennonite midwife for my prenatal care and immediate postpartum care. She is a very capable and determined and intelligent midwife, but I felt an unbridgeable gap between us spiritually speaking and so was never able to fully connect with her emotionally. She embodied the gray-haired, no-nonsense “granny midwife” archetype. She provided great prenatal care and was very respectful of my wish for immediate postpartum care, but an unassisted birth. Postpartum follow-up care was limited due to snowstorms.

With my last baby, I felt a powerful need to feel taken care of again. I really needed to have some set aside time, Mollyblessingway 027space, and energy that was just focused on me and my baby. I knew that I needed a midwife! While I could have used the same midwife as with the baby before, this time it was important to me to develop the emotional connection I had with my second midwife—I needed a midwife with whom I could feel “safe” with all of me, instead of feeling like I had to hide my goddess sculptures when she came over! 😉 It took some work, but I was able to find that. With this experience, I came to accept that the blur between colleague-consumer is my reality and I will never re-capture the feeling of being client only and being completely focused on in that respect, because I’m simply not just a client only. That’s okay. This midwife has long brown hair, wears lots of skirts and had the hippie-ish midwife feel I was craving. She is funny and talkative and connected to the roots of what midwifery is all about. I was safe with her in the way I needed. I really appreciated the midwife’s prenatal care (and the opportunity to focus on my pregnancy and baby), her respect of my wish for immediate postpartum care rather than birth care, and her postpartum follow-up care. I felt like this midwife offered the most complete postpartum care of all of my birth experiences.

I’ve mentioned before that the only vaginal exam I had during six pregnancies was at ten centimeters dilated when I went to the birth center to push out my baby (I also had to have one for a manual clot extraction following his birth and one for help removing the placenta after my miscarriage-birth of my third baby). This is totally cool with me. Somehow I’ve managed to labor and birth four full-term babies without ever knowing how dilated I am in labor! So, I loved reading this article about the pointlessness of vaginal exams in labor and the cultural attachment, even in midwifery circles, to cervix-focused childbirth:

“…There is also reluctance to change hospital policies, underpinned by a need to maintain cultural norms. The Cochrane review on the use of partograms on the one hand states that they cannot be recommended for use during ‘standard labour care’, and on the other hand states: “Given the fact that the partogram is currently in widespread use and generally accepted, it appears reasonable, until stronger evidence is available, that partogram use should be locally determined.” Once again, an intervention implemented without evidence requires ‘strong’ evidence before it is removed. The reality is that we are unlikely to get what is considered ‘strong evidence’ (ie. randomised controlled trials) due to research ethics and the culture of maternity systems. Guidelines for care in labour continue to advocate ‘4 hourly VEs’ and reference each other rather than any actual research to support this (NICE, Queensland Health). Interesting whilst Queensland Health guidelines recommend 4 hourly VEs, their parent information leaflet states: “While a VE can provide information about how a woman has progressed so far in labour, it cannot predict how much longer you will be in labour…” and that there are “…other factors such as the strength, duration and length of contractions as well as a woman’s behaviour and wellbeing that can indicate progress in labour”. Which begs the question ‘why bother doing a VE’?

The cervical-centric discourse is so embedded that it is evident everywhere. Despite telling women to ‘trust themselves’ and ‘listen to their body’, midwives define women’s labours in centimetres “She’s not in labour, she’s only 2cm dilated”. We do this despite having many experiences of cervixes misleading us ie. being only 2cm and suddenly a baby appears, or being 9cm and no baby for hours. Women’s birth stories are often peppered with cervical measurements “I was 8cm by the time I got to the hospital”. Even women choosing birth outside of the mainstream maternity system are not immune to the cervical-centric discourse. Regardless of previous knowledge and beliefs, once in labour women often revert to cultural norms (Machin & Scamell 1997). Women want to know their labour is progressing and there is a deep subconscious belief that the cervix can provide the answer. Most of the VEs I have carried out in recent years have been at the insistence of labouring women – women who know that their cervix is not a good indicator of ‘where they are at’ but still need that number. One woman even said “I know it doesn’t mean anything but I want you to do it”. Of course, her cervix was still fat and obvious (I didn’t estimate dilatation)… her baby was born within an hour…”

Vaginal examinations: a symptom of a cervical-centric birth culture | MidwifeThinking

I also read this article about the now late, great midwife and activist, Sheila Kitzinger and how she connected her birthwork to feminism (as do I). I despise the article’s title, but it is still worth a read!

…In the Seventies, I was viewed as a radical for saying that birth was being depersonalised and treated as if it were a pathological event, rather than a normal life process.

To my surprise, it wasn’t just obstetricians who dismissed what I had to say. I also found myself in conflict with feminists, who saw birth in very simplistic terms.

Why? Because they claimed it was every woman’s right to give birth painlessly.

An article in Spare Rib, the radical campaigning feminist magazine, went further.

Without any evidence, the authors asserted: ‘Undoubtedly, hospitals, with all their faults, are the safest places in which to give birth. For this reason, we think we should press for improvements in hospitals rather than support a move to more home confinements.’

I was appalled at how my sister-feminists could fail to support woman-centred birth. Polly Toynbee, writing in The Guardian, was particularly virulent, dismissing me as a lentil-eating earth goddess…

via Sheila Kitzinger on why feminists HATE natural childbirth and why it’s harmful | Daily Mail Online.

Lentil-eating earth goddesses unite! Unlike Kitzinger’s experiences with the distance between some expressions of feminism and birth-care, I find that many midwives, whether explicitly or implicitly, understand the deep connection between midwifery care, birth activism, and feminism.

“Midwifery work is feminist work. That is to say, midwives recognize that women’s health care has been subordinated to men’s care by a historically male, physician-dominated medical industry. Midwifery values woman-centered care and puts mothers’ needs first. Though not all midwives embrace the word feminism (the term admittedly carries some baggage), I maintain that providing midwifery care is an expression of feminism’s core values (that women are people who have intrinsic rights).

–Jon Lasser, in Diversity & Social Justice in Maternity Care as an Ethical Concern, Midwifery Today, issue 100, Winter 2011/2012

via Midwifery & Feminism | Talk Birth

Perhaps this is because midwives care so deeply about mothers and feminists might actually make the best mothers…

…As a mother who works extensively with other mothers, I appreciated Caron’s acknowledgement that raising children is a feminist act with potential to create change as well. “Another strategy for change is through raising children to be just and caring people. A media image portrays feminists as being against motherhood—but in fact, feminists make the best mothers. They raise children aware of themselves and the world, of options and values, of what justice means and how to work toward it, and how to be self-critical and self-respecting” (p. 203-204). Caron also explains that “in a just society, women would be free to make whatever decisions they needed to, for however long they needed to, in relation to political action in the public and the private sphere. All people would participate in the decision-making, and women would be supported in their decisions rather than, as sometimes happens, made to feel guilty for not doing enough or not valued for what they do.”

via Thesis Tidbits: Feminism, Midwifery, and Motherhood | Talk Birth.

dayofmidwifeHappy International Day of the Midwife! Thank you for bearing witness to our journeys and for holding the space for the continually unfolding spiral of life.

“…As we ready ourselves to accept new life into our hands,
Let us be reminded of our place in the dance of creation.
Let us be protectors of courage.
Let us be observers of beauty.
Let us be guardians of the passage.
Let us be witnesses to the unfolding…”

—Cathy Moore (in Sisters Singing)

via National Midwifery Week! | Talk Birth.

In addition to midwives, we’re also celebrating mothers all week this week! First on our lineup of activities is our gift to you: our first ever coupon code for $5 off purchases over $15. Use code: MOTHER.

We’ve also got a giveaway upcoming, two new product launches, a new Facebook group, and two class announcements! Stay tuned…

April 2015 021

Tuesday Tidbits: Cesarean Awareness Month

11148668_1614543705424512_3613965156253725168_nIt is Cesarean Awareness Month! We finished several new mama goddess designs this month and have a CAM-themed April newsletter ready to go out (subscriber freebie in this newsletter is a new birth education handout: “Can I really expect to have a great birth?” Sign up for the newsletter at Brigid’s Grove!)

Some Cesarean Awareness Month themed posts for this week. First, a meditation for before a cesarean:

You say you honor choices. 11108844_1614067252138824_1518757261202060615_n
Can you really honor mine?
I will always honor the process which
brought forth flesh of my flesh.
I honor your births too.
Can you ever honor my experience, or will I
forever be a part of your statistics on
the way things shouldn’t be?

via Birthrites: Meditation Before a Cesarean | Talk Birth.

And, some past thoughts on helping a woman give birth…what is the balance between birth interference and birth neglect?

There can be a specific element of “smugness” within the natural birth community that has been gnawing at me for quite some time. A self-satisfied assumption that if you make all the “right choices” everything will go the “right way” and women who have disappointing or traumatic births must have somehow contributed to those outcomes. For example, I’m just now reading a book about natural mothering in which the author states regarding birth: “Just remember that you will never be given more than you can handle.” Oh, really? Perhaps this is an excellent reminder for some women, and indeed, at its very core it is the truth—basically coming out alive from any situation technically means you “handled it,” I suppose. But, the implicit or felt meaning of a statement like this is: have the right attitude and be confident and everything will work out dandily. Subtext: if you don’t get what you want/don’t feel like you “handled it” the way you could or “should” have, it is your own damn fault. How does a phrase like that feel to a woman who has made all the “right choices” and tried valiantly to “handle” what was being thrown at her by a challenging birth and still ended up crushed and scarred? Yes, she’s still here. She “handled it.” But, remarks like that seem hopelessly naive and even insulting to a woman whose spirit, or heart, has been broken. By birth. Not by some evil, medical patriarchy holding her down, but by her own body and her own lived experience of trying to give birth vaginally to her child.

via Helping a Woman Give Birth? | Talk Birth.

An educational video and some cesarean infographics from Lamaze: Lamaze for Parents : Blogs : How to Avoid a Cesarean: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

And a VBAC Primer from Peggy O’Mara: VBAC Primer | Peggy O’Mara

Some thoughts on the flawed assumption of maternal-fetal conflict and how that impacts the climate of birth today:

I think it is fitting to remember that mother and baby dyads are NOT independent of each other. With a mamatoto—or, motherbaby—mother and baby are a single psychobiological organism whose needs are in harmony (what’s good for one is good for the other).

As Willa concluded in her CfM News article, “…we must reject the language that portrays a mother as hostile to her baby, just because she disagrees with her doctor.”

via Maternal-Fetal Conflict? | Talk Birth.

And some past thoughts on Birth Strength:

“Women are strong, strong, terribly strong. We don’t know how strong until we are pushing out our babies. We are too often treated like babies having babies when we should be in training, like acolytes, novices to high priestesshood, like serious applicants for the space program.” –Louise Erdrich, The Blue Jay’s Dance

via Birth Strength | Talk Birth.

(I would revise this slightly to say “until we have birthed our babies,” since strength is found in many different birth, postpartum, breastfeeding, and mothering experiences, not only in pushing out our babies. I still love the quote though!)

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Sheila Kitzinger

‘Sheila taught me, from an early age, that the personal was political – not just by what she said but by what she did. As I was growing up I learnt from her campaigns for freedom and choice in childbirth that passionate and committed individuals can create social change. She never hesitated to speak truth to power. –Prof. Celia Kitzinger, Sheila’s oldest daughter

via Sheila Kitzinger 1929-2015 | Pinter & Martin Publishers.

Yesterday morning, I learned that childbirth education trailblazer, maternity activist, and phenomenally influential author, Sheila Kitzinger has died. By the end of the evening, her name was coming up as “trending” on Facebook, which is the first time I’ve ever noticed anything flagged for me as trending that wasn’t mainstream celebrity-related, holiday, sporting-event, OR horrible tragedy, disaster, or scandal related. So, Sheila continues to break new ground in maternity care activism!

My own work with birth and my philosophy of birth education and activism has been deeply shaped by this marvelous woman. She is one of my all-time favorite childbirth authors and may be the most quoted person on my blog! In fact, as I was scrolling through old posts to find some to share in memorial, I had to quit looking after the fourth page of search results because there were simply too many. Here are some of the ones I did find:

I agree with anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger who said that, “In any society, the way a woman gives birth and the kind of care given to her and the baby points as sharply as an arrowhead to the key values of the culture.” Our current birth culture does not value women and children. Though my focus is usually on the women, it also doesn’t much value men or fathers either. I also agree with Kitzinger’s assessment that, “Woman-to-woman help through the rites of passage that are important in every birth has significance not only for the individuals directly involved, but for the whole community. The task in which the women are engaged is political. It forms the warp and weft of society.”

via A Blessing…and more… | Talk Birth.

Same quotes used in two other posts:

These concepts—and the lack of a similar one in American culture—reminds me of a quote from Sheila Kitzinger that I use when talking about postpartum: “In any society, the way a woman gives birth and the kind of care given to her and the baby points as sharply as an arrowhead to the key values of the culture.”

via Some reminders for postpartum mamas & those who love them | Talk Birth.

And, Rites of Passage… Celebrating Real Women’s Wisdom | Talk Birth.

Touching on the political aspects of birth culture:

“In acknowledging woman-to-woman help it is important to recognize that power, within the family and elsewhere, can be used vindictively, and that it is not only powerful men who abuse women; women with power may also abuse other women.” –Sheila Kitzinger

via Birth Quotes of the Week | Talk Birth.

Personally influential to my own labors:

During my first labor, I experienced what Sheila Kitzinger calls the “rest and be thankful stage” after reaching full dilation and before I pushed out my baby. The “rest and be thankful stage” is the lull in labor that some women experience after full dilation and before feeling the physiological urge to push. While commonly described in Kitzinger’s writings and in some other sources, mention of this stage is absent from many birth resources and many women have not heard of it.

via The Rest and Be Thankful Stage | Talk Birth.

And, my own personal postpartum care: Ceremonial Bath and Sealing Ceremony | Talk Birth.

Her books shaped birth HERstory:

Women’s (Birth) History Month | Talk Birth.

And, my own birth education philosophy (as well as my core value in working with women):

Labour is a highly personal experience, and every woman has a right to her own experience and to be honest about the emotions she feels. Joy tends to be catching, and when a teacher has enjoyed her own births this is valuable because she infuses her own sense of wonder and keen pleasure into her relations with those she teachers. But she must go on from there, learn how difficult labour can be for some women, and develop an understanding of all the stresses that may be involved.

via Sheila Kitzinger on a Woman’s Right to Her Own Experience | Talk Birth.

And, she celebrated birth:

I hope all of the women I know who are giving birth in the upcoming season discover that, as Sheila Kitzinger said, “Birth isn’t something we suffer, but something we actively do and exult in.” (from promo for One World Birth)

via Invisible Nets | Talk Birth.

Thanks for everything, Sheila! You’re amazing!

“Childbirth takes place at the intersection of time; in all cultures it links past, present and future. In traditional cultures birth unites the world of ‘now’ with the world of the ancestors, and is part of the great tree of life extending in time and eternity.” –Sheila Kitzinger

via Tuesday Tidbits: Tree Mother | Talk Birth.

IMG_3783

Pap Smears I Have Known

Mollyblessingway 027

Photo by Karen Orozco, Portraits and Paws Photography

Your body is your own. This may seem obvious. But to inhabit your physical self fully, with no apology, is a true act of power.”

–Camille Maurine (Meditation Secrets for Women)

“I used to have fantasies…about women in a state of revolution. I saw them getting up out of their beds and refusing the knife, refusing to be tied down, refusing to submit…Women’s health care will not improve until women reject the present system and begin instead to develop less destructive means of creating and maintaining a state of wellness.”

Dr. Michelle Harrison (A Woman in Residence)

One afternoon at the skating rink for homeschool playgroup, a few of my friends sit in a hard plastic booth and the conversation turns to pap smears and pelvic exams. Later, I read Michele Freyhauf’s post about her hysterectomy experience and the skating rink pap smear stories come back to me with vivid clarity.  Being a woman is such an embodied experience and we have so many stories to tell through and of our bodies. During my conversation with my friends, I warn them: watch for my new one-woman show…Pap Smears I Have Known. At the time, several other friends are preparing for a local production of the Vagina Monologues and I have a vision: The Pap Smear Diaries. But, really, how often do we have a chance to tell our Pap smear stories, our pelvic exam stories? Where are they in our culture and do they matter?

Three experiences come to mind as I talk with my friends…

1999. I am married, twenty years old, and a graduate student. I go to the student health center for my annual exam. As I walk up to the door and place my hand on the handle, I feel this intense, visceral reaction in my body of wanting to run away. For a few moments, I can’t open the door, instead I think only of fleeing. The thought comes to me: I’m going in here to volunteer to be assaulted. Having to undergo a routine pelvic exam and pap smear as a condition of having access to birth control pills feels like a routine humiliation, like a ritual of physical invasion and “punishment” designed to shame young women who dare to have sex.

This is MY BODY.

2003. In my Type-A way, I head to a doctor for a “preconception visit” before my husband and I begin to try to conceive our first baby. This appointment is at a birth center in which you wear flowery housegowns instead of paper dresses. When the doctor touches me (she asks permission first), I flinch and recoil slightly. She looks at me with surprise: “haven’t you ever had a pap smear before?” I am intensely embarrassed because I know what she is thinking: she is thinking I must have been sexually abused and she is probably writing that on my chart right now. I haven’t been sexually abused, though I’ve spent my formative late teens and early twenties working in domestic violence and sexual assault centers. I’m not sure why this feels so embarrassing to me, and I also still wonder, isn’t it actually more normal to flinch when a stranger pushes their hand into your body than to be totally cool with it? Later at this birth center, I give birth to my first son. In what will eventually be six pregnancies, I only experience a single pelvic exam ever while pregnant, during his birth immediately before pushing. This is good. I prefer hands kept outside my body. After his birth, clots form in my uterus and prevent it from clamping down properly. The doctor does a manual exploration of my uterus to remove the clots. I scream out at first with the pain of this invasion and then hum my Woman Am I blessingway chant in order to cope.

This is MY UTERUS. March 2014 082

2009. My third baby has died unexpectedly during my second trimester. I give birth to him at home alone with just my husband. The baby’s birth is surprisingly peaceful and empowering, but then the clots come, eventually the size of grapefruits. When I become unable to distinguish whether I am fainting from the unbelievable sight of so much blood or dying from the loss of it, I ask to go to the emergency room. The ER doctor tries to examine me to see if I am hemorrhaging, but she only has a child-sized speculum. She is unable to get her hand inside me because of the clots in the way. She puts the miniature speculum in over and over and it keeps flopping out because it is too small for me. I have never been so miserable. “This wouldn’t hurt so much if you’d stop moving around so much,” she says in an irritated voice. When she leaves the room, she leaves bloody handprints streaked along the sides of the bed and my blood in a puddle on the floor.

This is MY BLOOD. 

“…no woman is powerful, no woman has ‘come a long way baby’ when she’s made into medical mincemeat when giving birth. No woman is powerful when she lies on her back and flops her knees open for stranger’s fingers and casual observation.”

Leilah McCracken, Resexualizing Childbirth, quoted in Birthdance, Earthdance, master’s thesis by Nané Jordan (p. 58)

This February, I attend the local production of The Vagina Monologues performed by several of my friends before an encouragingly full theater in our small Midwestern town. One of them delivers a powerful portrayal of “My Angry Vagina.”  She is amazing and intense and angry as she stomps across the stage:

“…why the steel stirrups, the mean cold duck lips they shove inside you? What’s that? My vagina’s angry about those visits…Don’t you hate that? ‘Scoot down. Relax your vagina.’ Why? So you can shove mean cold duck lips inside it. I don’t think so.  Why can’t they find some nice delicious purple velvet and wrap it around me, lay me down on some feathery cotton spread, put on some nice friendly pink or blue gloves, and rest my feet in some fur covered stirrups?”

During my pregnancy with my daughter three years ago, I buy urinalysis strips on the internet and keep track of the protein, sugar, and leukocytes level in my urine. I monitor my blood pressure in the pharmacy section of the grocery store. I buy a Doppler and check her heartbeat myself. When I find myself continually worried about what I will do if she is not breathing at birth, I travel to a city several hours away and become certified in neonatal resuscitation. I buy a neonatal resuscitation bag and show my husband and mother how to use it. After she is March 2014 116born, breathing well, in wild, sweet relief into my own hands in my living room, I drink liquid chlorophyll to rebuild my blood supply and I ingest my own placenta dehydrated in little capsules prepared by my doula.

An acquaintance comes to me complaining that her insurance company does not cover her prenatal visits and she is tired of paying more than $100 for a five minute visit while they check her urine and the baby’s heartbeat. I feel a little nervous about it, but I pass her my Doppler and my leftover urinalysis test strips on the front porch of my little UU church. Later, she tells me how empowering it is to take care of these responsibilities herself, rather than going to the doctor for something she is perfectly capable of doing. Another friend borrows my Doppler several times to check heartbeats for other friends—sometimes with good news and sometimes with bad news—and in January of this year I have the honor and privilege of finding my brother and sister-in-law’s first baby’s heartbeat for the first time.

My friend asks to borrow my neonatal resuscitation equipment in case she needs it for a birth she is attending (it has already been to several other friends’ houses during their births). I tell her, “I love black-market health care,” and pass it to her furtively at the bowling alley.

Later, I reflect that it isn’t black-market healthcare that I love, it is women taking care of each other and themselves. I love empowered self-care. I love feminist healthcare, though it has yet to exist on a systemic level in this country, and I love the possibility and potential found in taking the care of our bodies into our own hands whenever we can.

I have yet to invest in any speculums, but maybe I should. And, purple velvet.

This post was previously published on Feminism and Religion.

National Midwifery Week!

“…As we ready ourselves to accept new life into our hands,
Let us be reminded of our place in the dance of creation.
Let us be protectors of courage.
Let us be observers of beauty.
Let us be guardians of the passage.
Let us be witnesses to the unfolding…”
Cathy Moore (in Sisters Singing)

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Lots of events in October! I just found out that National Midwifery Week is October 5-11 (same as Babywearing Week). It is finals week for me (I teach on an 8 week session schedule) and so I don’t have time for a lot of things other than grading, but I did pluck some delicious quotes out of past blog posts…

“It’s hard to describe if you’ve never been there, but to watch a woman access her full power as a woman to give birth is awe-inspiring, and I never get tired of being witness to it. It’s an honor to watch that transformation take place.”

~ Julie Bates, CNM

“There is no ‘normal’ birth–each is individual and nonconforming. Childbirth opens an extraordinary spectrum of physical, emotional, and spiritual growth opportunities that is  nothing less than extraordinary, which women should be supported in freely exploring. The Midwife must guard parameters of safety, yes, but she should also encourage women to play their edges, experience deep currents of emotion, discover their own ways of transformation, and chart new creative territory.”

–Elizabeth Davis

“Midwifery asks us to truly become at home with ourselves, with nature, and with women. Birth takes us out of our external experiences, our linear timing of progress, and our everyday rituals. In contrast, birth time is measured in a circular movement like the seasons. There are rhythms and patterns. If we let birth unfold with spontaneity and attuned to nature, we will end up appreciating the nature of our souls as well.”

–Mary Sommers (More than a Midwife)

To me, midwife means: loves women. I wrote about this idea in a past post:

I know the traditional root of the word midwife is “with woman” some sources say “wise woman”, but I’d like to offer another. When I was pregnant with my second son, I had a wonderful midwife and we spent many hours together talking about birth and midwifery. During one conversation she said to me, “you can’t be a midwife unless you love women.” This struck me profoundly—a midwife must love women

via Midwife means “loves women”… | Talk Birth.


To acknowledge midwifery week and the profound gift of service offered by midwives to so many women, we also set up a special discount code in our etsy shop. It is our best one ever: 20% off a purchase of $12 or more (expires October 12). This could be the perfect opportunity to find a special gift for your midwife! To receive the discount use midwifeweek2014 for the 20% on $12+ (Remember, this week only we also have one for International Babywearing Week: babywearing2014 for 15% off any purchase.)

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We’ve been working on improving our colors for our birth art sculptures recently and are finally getting some really nice results! We also have new pigments ordered so we can do even more colors soon.

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Tuesday Tidbits: Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Many of us are all too aware of the face of pregnancy loss and the 1 in 4 women who will have this experience as part of their journey through the childbearing year. When my third baby died during my second trimester of pregnancy in 2009, I found the image of tiny footprints on my heart to be a very significant symbol. Since that time, I always keep footprints charms on hand to share with other mothers. I’d hoped to create a new sculpture in honor of this year’s awareness month, but didn’t manage to do so. Instead, in honor, we created a new memorial bracelet for mothers impacted by babyloss. A portion of the proceeds goes to benefit the local pregnancy loss support group in making jewelry items for memory boxes.

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Footprints on My Heart Memorial Bracelet by BrigidsGrove on Etsy.

Our shop also picks one organization a month for a donation to a nonprofit organization. Our October donation went to Brittany’s Blankets for Tiny Babies. We sent footprints charms and forget-me-knot charms:
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My Sacred Postpartum class started on October 1st and our first week’s assignment was art journaling about our birth experiences. It has been almost five years since my first miscarriage-birth and while sometimes I feel like I seem weird or like I “shouldn’t” keep counting it, I’ve always given Noah’s birth equal weight as a birth experience in my childbearing life.  So, I included a page for his birth story in my art journal as well.
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(Side note: I have been seeing a chiropractor recently to make sure I’m in good alignment for my upcoming birth and it means a lot to me that she remembers and counts Noah’s birth experience too, saying things like, “well, since you’ve had four births before,” even though I’m in her office with only three kids.)
I’ve mentioned before how powerfully I needed other women’s stories after my own miscarriage experiences. My two favorite books for this are:

I’ve also shared the link to my friend’s miscarriage-birth story in a past post. It is one of the most powerfully written miscarriage stories I’ve ever read. October also marks her due date with that baby and so I want to honor her memory by sharing the link to their birth story again today:

…Three words. It only took me three words to tell you, friend, acquaintance, or stranger, what happened to me. I wonder how many more words it will take to tell myself — the MAMA, the bearer of lost life — what happened.

11 weeks. Saturday night. Walgreens bathroom. By myself. Cabernet Sauvignon in the public toilet. Doughnut-sized clots of tissue that just kept coming. The sensation of birthing jellyfish. Sticky red hands from trying to clean myself up, pulling red chunks out of my underwear. Staring into the toilet and wondering how in the world I could possibly flush it I did, after a long time and many tears. Drips running down my legs and polka-dotting my feet. Telling an employee there was a bloody mess in the bathroom. Walking out of Walgreens in blood-stained jeans.

Did you like it better when I had only said three words? I liked it better when I was still pregnant.

via Losing Susannah | Peace, Love, & Spit Up.

I did note in an article I just read this week via a different friend who recently experienced miscarriage, that personal stories can also be unhelpful to others though, especially when they redirect from the woman in front of us to our own experiences (though, I would venture to say that is because so many of us feel as if we have to hold our own stories close to our hearts, and therefore somewhat unresolved, because of a lack of cultural permission to talk about them normally):

I am left feeling more alone than I ever thought possible. Solicited or not, countless women say to me, “Why is no one talking about miscarriage. No one talks about postpartum depression either. All of these things women go through that nobody talks about. Why are we not talking about it if everyone is going through it?” It’s only now that I realize why I don’t want to share my experience as openly anymore. The more I talked about it, the less understood I felt.

All I yearn for is the simplest of engagement, “How are you feeling?” Four words. Nothing more.

Instead, I am bombarded by horror stories of women losing their longed for dream in a pool of blood or heroic war stories of women whose histories in no my way resemble mine and go on to have healthy children. Are the details of someone’s sister’s friend’s friends’ 4 consecutive miscarriages supposed to be heartening?Women use my openness about my loss as a springboard to delve into their reproductive aches and pains, recent or decades old. The sharing feels tinged — needing to be less this, more that, better than, more than, and most definitely triumphant in achieving their desired family size. I propose that we simply listen to one another, with presence of mind and heart, no matter the level of uncomfortability.

via Grand Losses: Musings on My Miscarriage | Christy Turlington Burns.

This article is extremely powerful and I highly recommend it. The author goes on to explore how women blame themselves for their reproductive losses:

Miscarriage is simpler than all of that. It is loss of life that wasn’t sustainable.

I have fantasies of shouting this from rooftops and tweeting random cryptic notes containing the facts about pregnancy loss in the hopes of galvanizing women’s perceptions of themselves. I daydream about pleading with women not to blame their beautiful bodies for their reproductive devastations. I wish I could dare every woman who has at some point or another wondered if they were somehow the root cause of a reproductive disappointment to turn that question on its head. “What if you are not the reason that this happened to you? What if it just is?” I can’t help but wonder if this would illicit more anger, more grief, more relief, and/or more hope. Or maybe something else completely. I am confident that it would engender less competitiveness, less perfectionistic strivings, and more self-love.

via Grand Losses: Musings on My Miscarriage | Christy Turlington Burns.

Related past posts:

Tuesday Tidbits: Miscarriage Care | Talk Birth.

Tuesday Tidbits: Miscarriage and Story-Sharing | Talk Birth.

Tuesday Tidbits: Miscarriage | Talk Birth.