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Talk Books: A Passion for Birth

Sheila

“We are only now beginning to discover the long term destructive effects on human beings and families of treated women as if they were containers to be opened and relieved of their contents.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Sheila Kitzinger’s new autobiography, A Passion for Birth, is an absolute treasure. One of the most long-term and pivotal influences in the world of birth activism, I have quoted her work more times than I can count. In fact, I judge the quality of a book by the number of pages I dog-ear to return to. I turned down the corners of so many pages in A Passion for Birth, that it will take me a year’s worth of blog posts to share all the provocative quotes that caught my attention! While Sheila always included a personal flavor in her other books, this book is truly about her, her life, her passions, her family, her activism, her work. Interwoven throughout is the social justice oriented thread of her absolutely devoted dedication to women, feminism, and childbirth activism. Her book is very real, relatable, and readable as well as often charming. She doesn’t hold back from treading into controversial waters, however, and she is straightforward and unapologetic even when writing about topics that can be divisive in the birth world.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the full-color series of photos in the center insert to the book, they range from Kitzinger’s childhood, a homebirth picture of the birth of one of her daughters, and ending with a poignant photo of Sheila’s casket, decorated by her family, resting easily on some chairs in the dining room of home she so loved.

An internationally recognized author and expert, Kitzinger was an anthropologist and one of the first professional people to acknowledge that women’s birth wisdom, stories, and experiences are worthy of study and attention. Spanning an impressive career of more than fifty years, Kitzinger’s anthropological and activist work was undertaken at a global level and her clear and unwavering commitment to social justice work and activism is a thread running strongly throughout her entire autobiography. The book takes us from Sheila writing and studying while sitting in a playpen in her yard (an effort to have a work area undisturbed by her five children!) to traveling with her family to Jamaica to study the birth customs and stories of the women there. Her identity as an anthropologist is clearly reflected in the cross-cultural birth experiences she surveys and describes and the autobiography includes lots of travel! It also includes homey touches like favorite recipes and descriptions of family traditions as well as stories of her own four homebirths, including that of twin daughters. I found myself wanting more content about her life with children, her life as a mother, which, while acknowledged and integrated through the text, was curiously absent from much of the narrative’s exploration. I was also curious to know more about the accident and serious brain injury experienced by her daughter Polly, which was mentioned somewhat incidentally (though it clearly had a significant impact on the family), as was the passing mention in a photo caption referencing her husband Uwe’s eye removal surgery.

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in birth work, birth activism, feminist studies, women’s health, or anthropology, A Passion for Birth was compelling, inspirational, funny, straightforward, assertive, honest, candid, wry and dedicated.

“The way we give birth is an expression of culture. It can be spontaneous and instinctual, but it is still patterned by the society in which we live.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Stay tuned for an ongoing series of themed posts based on additional content and thought-provoking quotes!

In a pioneering career spanning more than 50 years she campaigned for and oversaw a radical change in maternity care, placing women’s rights and choices at the very heart of childbirth. Her passion, research and knowledge of childbirth have had enormous impact on millions of women worldwide.

A Passion for Birth | Sheila Kitzinger | Pinter & Martin Publishers.

Publishing and purchasing details: 

Author: Sheila KitzingerSheila
Published: 7 May 2015
Binding: hardback
Format: 240 x 160 mm
Pages: 384
Illustrations: colour and b/w photographs
Pinter & Martin edition available: worldwide
Translation rights: Pinter & Martin

Also available from: Amazon.co.uk | Wordery | The Hive | Waterstones | Foyles | Mail Bookshop | Amazon.com

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

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Tuesday Tidbits: Does Giving Birth Have to Be Terrible?

July 2015 116“To nurture life is to . . . embody the intelligent Love that is the ground of all being.”

— Carol Christ

Does giving birth have to be a terrible experience involving screaming, swearing, and pooping on the sterile “delivery” table? Anyone who has followed my blog for a while, already knows what my answer to this question is (no!), but here are some additional resources that caught my eye this week. First, erase the idea of maternal-fetal conflict, reinforced insidiously all across the internet and the media, and keep your expectations high:

Birth doesn’t have to suck. Keep your expectations high and do the work to have those expectations met. Don’t let anybody convince you that you need to step aside for your baby. You need to step up for your baby.

via Dear Friend, Birth Doesn’t Have to Suck | ImprovingBirth.

Next, choose your care provider very carefully. Remember, this baby only gets to be born once! Don’t wait for “next time,” to find a respectful provider and the birth setting your heart desires.

But, I have a doula, surely she’ll protect me from my less-than-ideal doctor!

No, again. Protection from other care providers is not a doula’s job. This is a multilayered issue, but here is a good post with some reasons why:

“My own doula and I have had more than one conversation about why she didn’t warn me about my own provider—someone who I now know has a reputation for not following through on promises to patients. “But I asked you!” I’ve said to her. “Why didn’t you tell me?” She has explained patiently, each time, that she gave me the information I needed to make my own decision. What I wanted from her—to say, “Oh, Cristen, you need to switch providers right now!”—is not something she would ever say to a client. Instead, she gave me specific questions to ask. She encouraged me to talk to my provider about my wishes and pay attention to the conversation, to trust my instincts, and to be honest with myself about whether or not I thought my provider was really going to follow through with what she’d promised.”

via Birth Monopoly | Three Things Your Doula Can’t Tell You.

I know you want your doula or childbirth educator to be able to tell you these things straightforwardly. I wish they could. I’ve had birth class clients ask me the, “why didn’t you tell me” question too and it is a very fine balance for birth professionals. I often longed for the freedom to take the Dr. Pig-Face approach, described by Nancy Wainer Cohen in her class birth activism book from the 1980’s, Open Season:

“If childbirth classes really ‘worked,’ more women would be having babies without interference. More women would be recognizing the complete naturalness of birth and would remain at home, delivering their infants with feelings of confidence and trust. More and more, midwives would be demanded. The names of those hospitals and doctors who treated women and babies with anything less than absolute respect would be public knowledge, and childbirth classes would be the first place these names would be discussed. ‘You’re seeing What’s-His-Face? He’s a pig! In my opinion, of course,’ I tell people who come to my classes. I then proceed to give them the names of people who have used Pig-face. They can always ask Dr. P. for the names of people who have used him and been satisfied with their births, for balance.”

–Nancy Wainer Cohen, Open Season

via Honesty in Birth Preparation | Talk Birth.

In addition to high expectations and careful assembly of the birth team, you may also want to keep secret the Mollyblessingway 027sensations of early labor. I followed this advice with all of my babies and have no regrets.

When you begin to have sensations, do your best to ignore them as long as you possibly can. You may want to consider keeping these feelings to yourself and having a “secret sensation time” with your unborn baby. Get in as dark a space as you can. Minimize what is happening with your husband, family and the birth attendants. You have control over your body and a say in your hormone activity. Help your pituitary gland secrete oxytocin to open your cervix by staying relax in a dark, quiet room with your eyes closed.”

via Words of Wisdom: Keep the “Sensations” of Early Labor a “Secret” | NüRoo.

Another way to prepare for a wonderful birth is through connecting with your body. One way to do this is through prenatal yoga. The movements and sensations of prenatal yoga sink into you and become a part of your body memory, guiding you through birthing:

“…Anyone involved with educating adult learners (in any context) is likely to be familiar with the concept that people are most likely to retain information that they have actually practiced (versus reading about, hearing about or seeing demonstrated). I have found that incorporating a few simple yoga poses into each class session is a beautiful way of illustrating and applying many important elements of childbirth preparation. In approximately 10 minutes of movement, important points can be underscored without having to actually say anything or “lecture” to clients. The hope is that as we move together through a carefully chosen series of poses, subtle emotional development and trust in birth occurs—again, in a more effective manner than by the childbirth educator saying during class: ‘Trust birth!'”

via Incorporating Prenatal Yoga into Childbirth Education Classes | Talk Birth.

Also, prepare yourself for a nurturing postpartum. Your baby will arrive primed for connection rather than separation. The more you are cared for by those around you during this vulnerable and magical time, the more embracing you can be of the delicate, fierce, and encompassing neediness of your dependent newborn:

“The cutting of the umbilical cord tends to herald the arrival of a new and unique life. Though this tiny being began its existence many months before, growing nestled and protected within the womb, the just-born infant is seen as an individual apart from his or her mother. There is, however, a significant error in this thinking, for baby and mother are one, so to speak, and severing this unit denies an empirical truth. Birth should not be a celebration of separation, but rather a reuniting of mother and baby, who joins her for an external connection.”

–Barbara Latterner, in the book New Lives

via Inseparable | Talk Birth.

I’ve spent a lot of time exclaiming: I JUST want to transform the birth culture in the U.S.! Now, you have a chance  to share your opinions and experiences in this new survey: Transforming Birth Culture in the United States Survey.

molly37weeks 071Other tidbits this week:

  • Lann has a new YouTube channel for his Minecraft and other gaming videos. You can check out Zall Craft here.
  • I finally took the leap and signed up for Leonie Dawson’s Shining Year Academy. I’ve been buying her annual workbooks for four years, but it is time to grow! We’ve been working through the Double Your Biz Intensive and it has already been worth the price! (*links are affiliate links)
  • I updated the links/print layout for my three e-booklets. These were all written prior to my birth work. Hope you might find them helpful! Free e-Booklets | Talk Birth

From Mother Blessings to Red Tent Circles: What comes after a Sacred Pregnancy?

IMG_5745In 2008, a small postcard at the local Unitarian Universalist church caught my eye. It was for a Cakes for the Queen of Heaven facilitator training at Eliot Chapel in St. Louis. I registered for the training and went, driving alone into an unknown neighborhood. There, I circled in ceremony and sisterhood with women I’d never met, exploring an area that was new for me, and yet that felt so right and so familiar. I’d left my two young sons home for the day with my husband and it was the first time in what felt like a long time that I’d been on my own, as a woman and not someone’s mother. At the end of the day, each of us draped in beautiful fabric and sitting in a circle around a lovely altar covered with goddess art and symbols of personal empowerment, I looked around at the circle of women and I knew: THIS is what else there is for me.

My work following the birth of my first son came to center heavily around pregnancy, birthing, and breastfeeding, Mollyblessingway 156the stage of life in which I was currently immersed. I’d wondered several times what I would do when those issues no longer formed the core of my interest and personal experience. How could I ever stop working with pregnant and birthing women? How could I stop experiencing the vibrance and power of pregnancy and birth? Would I become irrelevant in this field as my own childbearing years passed me by? Looking around the room at Eliot at this circle of women, only two of whom were also of childbearing age, I knew: my future purpose would be to hold circles like this one. I found something in Cakes that I needed, the recognition that I wanted to celebrate and honor the totality of the female life cycle, not just pregnancy. As a girl, I loved the mother blessing ceremonies my mom and her friends held to honor each other during pregnancy. They hosted a coming of age blessingway for all of their early-teen daughters as well and I helped to plan a subsequent maiden ceremony for my younger sister several years later. Locally, we carried that tradition forward into the current generation of young mothers, holding mother blessings for each other and enjoying the time to celebrate and share authentically and deeply. After my training, I facilitated a series of Cakes classes locally, attended a women’s retreat at Eliot Chapel, and began to facilitate quarterly women’s retreats for my friends. One of my stated purposes was to honor and celebrate one another without anyone needing to be pregnant. Somehow, even though our own local mother blessing traditions were beautiful, we had accepted that the only time we had ceremonies with one another was when someone was pregnant. I wanted to change that!

This year, my offerings has expanded from the women’s spirituality retreats and classes I held in my own home, to a Red Tent Circle held at WomanSpace in my nearby town. Our local Red Tent Circle definitely doesn’t focus exclusively on menstruation or on currently menstruating women (all phases of a woman’s life cycle and her many diverse experiences and feelings are “held” in that circle)–in fact menstruation sometimes barely comes up as a Mollyblessingway 215topic—however, one of the core purposes of our circling together is in celebration. We gather together each month to celebrate being women in this time and in this place, together. As I noted, I started out my work with women focused on birth, breastfeeding, and postpartum. While those are formative and central and important life experiences for many women, it became very important to me to broaden my scope to include the totality of women’s lives, not just pregnant women. I want to honor and celebrate our whole lives, not just pregnancy and birth. Having a mother blessing ceremony during pregnancy is beautiful and important and special, but I feel like that care, attention, value, and ceremony can be brought into the rest of our non-pregnant lives through gathering together in a Red Tent Circle. This is one reason why I developed an online Red Tent Initiation Program. This program is designed to be both a powerful, personal experience AND a training in facilitating transformative women’s circles. These circles bring the sense of celebration and power we may have experienced during our pregnancies and from our Mother Blessing ceremonies more fully into our lives as the honor the fullness and completeness of women-in-themselves, not just of value while pregnant.

I long to speak out the intense inspiration that comes to me from the lives of strong women.” –Ruth Benedict

I believe that these circles of women around us weave invisible nets of love that carry us when we’re weak and sing with us when we’re strong.” –SARK, Succulent Wild Woman

I am inspired by the everyday women surrounding me in this world. Brave, strong, vibrant, wild, intelligent, complicated women. Women who are also sometimes frightened, depressed, discouraged, hurt, angry, petty, or jealous. Real, multifaceted, dynamic women. Women who keep putting one foot in the front of the other and continue picking themselves back up again when the need arises.

I feel like my interest in social justice, women’s rights, and human services are intimately entwined with my spiritual life. Indeed, I almost cannot separate the two. I believe it is possible for us to have a truly loving world—a world in which the inherent dignity and worth of girls and women is not in question–and there is much good work that needs to be done in order for this world to be a reality.

This work I am now doing, both in person and online, represents an integration of something I feel with my mind, heart, and spirit. My whole being. At that Cakes training years ago, I glimpsed the multifaceted totality of women’s lives and I longed to reach out and serve the whole woman. My range of passion has extended from pregnancy and birth to include the full woman’s life cycle, rather than focusing exclusively on the maternal aspect of the wheel of life as I did for ten years. I create rituals that nourish, plan ceremonies that honor, facilitate workshops that uncover, write articles that inform, and teach classes that inspire the women in my personal life, my community, and the world. This is what else there was for me.

So, after you’ve experienced a sacred pregnancy filled with ceremony and ritual and celebration, what else is there for you? After you’ve worked for years with pregnant and birthing women to honor and celebrate them in their tenderness and strength, how might you branch out to hold space for all of women’s experiences and the many transitions of their life cycle? Like me, you might find your answer in holding a monthly women’s circle.

Learn more about our Red Tent Initiation Program, this in-depth online class is designed to be both a powerful, personal experience AND a training in facilitating transformative women’s circles.

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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…

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Tuesday Tidbits: Babies, Mothers, and Vocations

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This week I read some powerful cesarean birth memories from my friend Bibi at The Conscious Doer:

Maybe there is something naive about me. I wanted to have that huge superwoman surge at the end. As the days go by, more and more of them make me feel super, but every battle has been hard fought. I was hoping to start out with a boost of confidence after hours of labour, but instead I had to pool all my strength after babyjama’s emergence, because the mother bear in me took some time to emerge herself. There is obviously a happy ending to this tale, but there were some sad parts too, and I’m giving myself permission to feel both the joy and the pain…”

Cesarean Awareness Month: Remembering Where I’ve Been | The Conscious Doer.

(Side note: our Cesarean Awareness Month discount code is still good through the end of April! CAM15 for 15% off any items at Brigid’s Grove.)

I was also touched by the delicate, sensitive, and yet simple genius of a post from Amy Wright Glenn about the spiritual and religious dimension of doula support:

Yet, throughout my work as a doula, I discovered that such an approach was rare. We know that a woman transforms emotionally and physically through the crucible of motherhood. For most women, motherhood also involves spiritual or religious transformation. To support this transformation, I believe it’s important to reflect upon the religious and spiritual dimensions of our work…

I imagine it is much easier to offer religious or spiritual support to birthing women and new mothers as a pluralist or inclusivist. Yet, I know doulas who have an exclusivist approach to truth, and they hold loving space for alternative expressions. This is what matters most. A doula need not participate in religious or spiritual practices that are inauthentic to her worldview. However, it’s essential that the doula is able to create a genuine sense of safety for a birthing woman to access her religious or spiritual strength…

The spiritual and religious dimensions of doula support | PhillyVoice.

Socioculturally speaking, we could benefit from this approach in all domains of our lives, not just birth!

Speaking of culture, I felt myself getting some tears in my eyes while reading this article about employees bringing their babies to work at Cotton Babies in St. Louis. Why tears? Because because it is so simple, obvious, and sensible and yet so rare…

Is it appropriate to have a baby in a work environment?

I wonder if we have to ask this question because our culture has defined “normal” to be something different than reality. Women have babies. Babies need their parents. Cultural norms in the Western world have traditionally confined mothers of young children to home-making. While that is what some women want to do, it isn’t what all of us want to do. As long as mom enjoys doing her job with her baby at her side and it is safe for her baby to be with her while she does her job, I believe that it is perfectly appropriate to have her baby present…

Clients, customers, vendors, employees, guests, and service providers may express discomfort with breastfeeding, question a woman’s commitment to her career, feel uncertain about how to respond to a baby in the workplace, or become annoyed with occasionally hearing a child. My favorite way to respond to those concerns has become, “She’s getting her job done. Her baby is content. Can you help me understand why that makes you uncomfortable?” Cultural expectations of a woman’s place being in the home with her young child don’t necessary reflect what all women want to do. While we support and encourage the moms who choose to stay home, we also love seeing those who stay with us also achieving their career goals…

via Our Employees Bring Babies to Work… and how we make it work | Jennifer Labit.

And, speaking of vocations, I enjoyed this post from Lucy Pearce as well:

My work chooses me. I act as a vessel for it. A crucible for it to come to be through me. I do not sit down and “choose” my work, or plan it. In truth I do not really “create” it. I need to be there, open and trusting and it comes. My job is to put it down. In words, images, colour…

There are a number of problems with this:

1) I do not know where this “work” comes from.

2) I feel very weird and odd talking about it this way. I would find it much easier to say “yes, it’s all mine” and be in control of its content and direction!

3) I am “called” to do “work” which I would not consciously choose.

4) By doing the work, I have to put myself “out there” when really I am much more in my comfort zone being private and small. I am not after ego trips or fame or fortune.

5) I feel my skills are lacking for what I am called to do.

via Are You Living Your Vocation? – Dreaming Aloud.

Here is a sneak peek of two things that have been coming through me recently:

Red Tent kits/books/online class are almost ready to launch…

IMG_4518And, we’re having a fun giveaway of all of these lovelies in May since it is not only Mother’s Day, but also my birthday AND the twentieth anniversary of our first date! 🙂

IMG_4538And, one final tidbit to share for this week, I signed up for this free Red Thread Circle class that is coming up on my birthday: FREE Global Class & Experience.

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.

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Author Interview: Sally Hepworth

At the end of last year, I reviewed a preview copy of an awesome new novel about midwives: The Secrets of Midwives.

Secrets of Midwives, the

The Secrets of Midwives is released for sale today and I’m excited to share an interview with the author, Sally Hepworth.

A Conversation with Sally Hepworth…

Q 1. How did you come to write the book?

Sally Hepworth and Family

Sally Hepworth and Family

There is a saying among writers “Write the book you want to read.” That’s what I did. Being the mother of young children (and pregnant while I wrote book), I was finding myself drawn to novels such as The Birth House by Ami McKay and Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. I have always thought there was a certain magic to midwifery—for a while, after I left high school, I even considered becoming a midwife. So, when it came time to start a novel, there was no choice to make.

I researched for months before I wrote a word. While I knew I was going to write about midwives, I had no idea what the actual story would be. I had a suspicion it would involve a mother and a daughter—particularly when I found out I was carrying a daughter—but it wasn’t until I read some fascinating stories about midwifery in the 1940s and 50s that Floss’s character (a grandmother) was born.

For me, the best plots start with a question, and the question I landed on for this book was: “Why would a woman hide the identity of her baby’s father?” I like books that have a big upheaval really early on—a “call to action” for the readers—so I knew that by the end of the first chapter, the reader would find out that Neva was pregnant, and that she wouldn’t reveal the identity of the father. At first, I didn’t know why she was hiding it, and I didn’t know who the father was, but as I wrote, I started to figure it out.

But when all is said and done, THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES is a book about family. What makes a mother, what binds family together, and the role of biology.

In writing this book, I found answers to a whole lot of questions I never knew I had. And I suspect it is no coincidence that this book took me nine months to write.

In effect, in 2012, I gave birth to two babies.

Q 2. In the novel there are many differing opinions about the “right” way to give birth, even among the midwives. Why did you choose to include this in the book?

In my experience, there still exists a lot of debate over the “right” way to give birth so I thought it was important for December 2014 119authenticity to include this in the book. Also, the idea of “right” and “wrong” tied in with the novel’s theme: family. Unfortunately, there is still a commonly held belief that there is a “right” and “wrong” kind of family. Or at least a “good” and a “better” type. But these days, there are so many different kinds of families—blended, adoptive, single-parent, same-sex parents, communities of singles. Of course, there are a lot of (strong) opinions on this too! To me, this was all rich fodder for a novel.

As I started researching for this book, I read a lovely line in a book that said childbirth was a woman’s first battle as a mother, and it was this battle that made her a warrior, capable of protecting her child. I found this fascinating, but also troubling. If birth makes a mother a warrior, where did it leave adoptive parents? Step parents? Fathers?

It was also troubling on a personal level. My son had been born naturally and my daughter was due to be born by scheduled C-section. I had a sense that it didn’t matter how the baby was born, that the birth had no continued bearing on the relationship between mother and child, but the more I read about the transformative quality of natural birth, the more I wondered.

In writing this book, and in giving birth to my daughter by C-section, I was able to find answers to my questions. I have more respect for natural birth and midwifery now than I ever did, and I think a woman’s ability to provide everything her child needs through pregnancy and birth (and beyond!) is astonishing—even magical. And the idea of a home birth, I’ll admit, holds a certain appeal for me now that it hadn’t before. But I finally determined that there is no “right” way to give birth, because there is no “wrong” way. You don’t become a warrior because of the way you give birth. You become a warrior because of the depth of the love you feel for your child.

And while labor may be the first battle you’ll fight for your child, compared to the battles that still lie ahead? Even the most arduous birth is a walk in the park.

Q 3. What research did you do?

As I prepared to write this novel, I read everything I could get my hands on about midwifery—novels, memoirs, non-fiction books—and I watched every piece of footage that showed high-risk deliveries that YouTube had available. I subscribed to online communities and forums where I was able to ask questions about midwifery and birth and I touched base with several home-birth midwives and midwives alliance groups. I also have an aunt who is a midwife who was able to make suggestions and verify things for me.

Being pregnant, I also had easy access to my obstetrician for questions. It became common for my prenatal check-ups to consist of a quick blood pressure check, followed by twenty minutes of question time about my novel. In the hospital after having my daughter, I had a fantastic midwife who shared many stories with me about unusual or memorable births. I was stunned by the level of skill and expertise that was required, and the host of things to be prepared for during labor. But what I remember most about our conversations is her awe and respect for mothers in labor, and I attempted to weave this awe into all three of my POV characters, particularly Neva.

Q 4. What are some of the weird and wonderful facts you’ve learned about midwifery and birth during your research?

  • In the past, midwives were known to secretly harbor unwed mothers, perform abortions, baptize babies, and serve as pediatricians for the first year of the baby’s birth.
  • May Babies Are The Heaviest: Babies born in May are, on average, 200 grams heavier than any other month.
  • Centuries ago the midwife would catch the baby in her apron!
  • In the US, midwifery is only licensed or regulated in 21 states. In most states licensed midwives are not required to have any practice agreement with a doctor.

Q 5. One of your protagonists has issues with her mother. Did you draw on personal experience for this?

 Actually, my mother and I have a very close—verging on boring—relationship. Though we are quite different (she is private and conservative like Neva, and I am like Grace—pushy and talkative and loud) conflict between us is rare. So I wasn’t able to draw on that relationship from a dysfunctional perspective. That said, I was able to identify with loving someone who is very different (not just my mother, but also my husband and my son), and learning how to love them the way they need you to. Above all, the key is respecting the person for who they are, and always looking for the good they can offer.

Q 6. How can readers get in touch with you and support your work?

I am very active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I have also started spending more time on Goodreads. My website www.sallyhepworthauthor.com is the place to go for book information, upcoming events and my bio.

Thanks for listening (reading)!

Sally x

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

 

Thursday Tidbits: The Return

1800276_792912184104774_7325239257627050486_nTwo months after Tanner’s birth, I still feel like I’m “coming back” from this trip.

January 2015 003
And, speaking of returning, last night I went back to teaching my in-seat class. I am grateful to have a husband who accompanied me to keep the baby close on site for nursing as well as for helpful parents who rearranged their schedules/lives to take care of our other kids while we were gone.

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At class last night.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’d mentally prepared to be “off” until January and now that it is January, I have a feeling of being sped up in an unpleasant way. So, I appreciated reading this essay and the reminder: you just had a baby.

You just had a baby.

So, let’s stop pretending like that didn’t just happen.

And let’s give you some grace and permission.

You don’t have to answer every email, every text or every invitation that comes your way. You don’t have to keep your house clean or make fancy dinners this week or plan your family vacation for the year. You don’t have to take your toddler to the dentist or figure out how to save for college right now…

You Just Had a Baby | Ashlee Gadd.

While I do keep up with a large variety of projects, ideas, communication, and relationships, there is not a single day that passes that I don’t drop a ball, forget something, let something go (intentionally or not), or let someone down. There are emails I don’t answer, calls I don’t take, and text messages I don’t respond to as well as laundry I don’t fold and piles of clutter than don’t get put away, not to mention all the blog posts I don’t write. This simply has to be okay. I’ve joked with friends and with Mark that my “word of the year” should actually be “ruthless,” meaning that I must be ruthlessly assessing of how I spend my time, ruthless about cutting out non-essentials. Every day involves a pile of choices and some of them are hard to choose between, or to not choose. I must be ruthless in my discernment—choosing wisely, choosing carefully, choosing mindfully. My real word of the year is “grow,” while at the same time the message I’ve frequently been picking up in moments of synchronicity and surprising overlap is “let go.” So, maybe I’ve actually got a trifecta of words this year!

I already wrote about the breastfeeding brain in a recent past post, but it appears that there are permanent changes to the maternal brain as well:

The artist Sarah Walker once told me that becoming a mother is like discovering the existence of a strange new room in the house where you already live. I always liked Walker’s description because it’s more precise than the shorthand most people use for life with a newborn: Everything changes…

The greatest brain changes occur with a mother’s first child, though it’s not clear whether a mother’s brain ever goes back to what it was like before childbirth, several neurologists told me. And yet brain changes aren’t limited to new moms…

via What Happens to a Woman’s Brain When She Becomes a Mother – The Atlantic.

And, speaking of mothers and their childbearing brains, Childbirth Connection has produced two phenomenal new resources. There is a report by Sarah Buckley on the Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing and a companion booklet for mothers that simplifies the research into a user-friendly booklet on the role of hormones in a healthy birth. Great resources for childbirth educators and doulas.

For more see: Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing | Transforming Maternity Care.

Pregnant birthing mama goddess birth art sculpture (doula, midwife, birth altar, childbirth)

 

Talk Books: The Secrets of Midwives

“By the time the baby boy spilled into my arms, I knew. Women were warriors. And I wanted to be part of it.” –Neva Bradley

(character in The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth)

While feeling somewhat pre-laborish in the last days of pregnancy, I stayed up way too late devouring a review copy of the new novel The Secrets of Midwives Secrets of Midwives, theby Sally Hepworth. I  got it in the mail in the afternoon and by 1:30 a.m. that night, I’d finished the whole thing! In the past, I’ve been heard to remark that I can think of few things better than a novel about a midwife. Well…how about a novel about three midwives? That’s right, The Secrets of Midwives interlaces the three stories and pivotal life journeys of three midwives, who happen to be grandmother, mother, and pregnant daughter. Each midwife has a different personality and style of practice. In an intriguing style that kept me turning pages, the chapters are split between the viewpoints of each, allowing for multiple perspectives on the same relationship and personal issues.

Floss, the grandmother/mother, is retired from midwifery, but her chapters alternate between her early experiences as a midwife in the UK and her current life as a natural childbirth instructor. Neva, the daughter/granddaughter, is a hospital birth-center based CNM who is hiding her unexpected pregnancy with her own first child. Grace, the mother/daughter, is a CNM who attends homebirths.

The Secrets of Midwives contains elements of a romance story and elements of a mystery story. It blends the three women’s midwifery journeys in a creative, engaging way, including exploring the complex quality of mother-daughter relationships and communication vs. secret-keeping therein. It is serious enough to keep the pages turning, but not so “heavy” as to be depressing. There is a subplot in which the homebirth midwife is investigated by the state nursing board for possible malpractice and it felt relevant and contemporary to the fears and risks faced by midwives around the country. And, while reading as a pregnant woman myself, I appreciated that in this novel, with one pivotal exception, there are no scary births with bad outcomes—I find that high drama births resulting in maternal or infant death are a common feature of midwifery novels that often makes them somewhat iffy reads for pregnant women!

“That superhuman feeling people describe? It has nothing to do with the way the baby comes out. It’s about what happens to the mother. You become superhuman. You’ll grow extra hands and legs to look after your baby. You’ll definitely grow an extra heart for all the love you’ll feel.” –Neva Bradley

(in The Secrets of Midwives)

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 THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES by Sally Hepworth

Find the author on Facebook here and her website here.

Published by St. Martin’s Press

On sale February 10, 2015

ISBN-13: 978-1-250-05189-9 | $25.99

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes.

 

 

Welcoming Tanner Matthias!

“There really was a baby!” –Me, in birth video

IMG_8557As was my pregnancy custom, on October 30th I woke up around 3:00 a.m. with definite contractions. They were spaced about 30 minutes apart, however, and I kept myself awake unnecessarily waiting for them to get bigger or closer together. I finally got up at 4:30 or 5:00 and Mark got up too. As I as I got up, contractions picked up to about three minutes apart. I couldn’t believe I’d “wasted time” by lying down, non-sleeping AND non-laboring! I felt very adrenaline filled and excited. The sense of urgency and “coming soon” was very familiar to Zander’s exceedingly fast labor, whereas my sense of need to call Mom during a contraction and then changing my mind afterward was similar to Lann’s. And, leaning on the kitchen half-wall as an ideal labor position was similar to Alaina’s. There was no slow lead-in here, these were sharp, strong, intense contractions that I already couldn’t talk through. Though they felt big and serious, they were also short in duration. I lit my birth altar candle and since I wanted to have clean, freshly washed hair, I decided to take a shower.

043 044After showering and even blowdrying my hair for cuteness in future pictures, the intensity of the contractions increased again. Mark got to work on filling the pool and heating more water as soon as I got out of the shower and he kept messing with the pool even though I was starting to feel like I needed him (also needed pool, so he wasn’t doing the wrong thing!). I felt sure that this was picking up FAST. We texted Mom and she contacted Robin and Summer (midwife and doula). I felt a weird sensation of time pressure then, looking out window, waiting and not wanting to be observed, waited for, or watched. The pool continued to take a lot of time and attention and was annoying. Plus, the hose popped out when Mark was in the laundry room and flooded the floor. I was saying things like, “this had better be the best thing ever, because right now I hate it!” I couldn’t decide if I should keep standing up or try something else like sit on the birth ball or try the water. It seemed early for water (except during contractions!), so I sat on the ball at which point contractions became HUGE, but, also only 8-10 minutes apart. I was confused and kept trying to figure out what made more sense—smaller, more frequent contractions while standing up, or bigger but far apart on the ball. I was laughing about my indecisiveness and kept saying, “so, tell me what to doooooooo!” (which is actually my most despised thing in labor). I opted to stay on the ball because I felt open there and when standing I felt like I was closing my legs together and tensing up. On the ball, I started humming the Sacred Pregnancy Standing at the Edge song I listened to so often during my pregnancy: standing at the edge…clinging to my innocence…one more tiny step…time is here and now…diving into the unknown. I believe in me, I believe in meee-eeee. I believe in me, I do, I do…

Later, in the pool, I turned on the rest of my Sacred Pregnancy playlist from the CD, which I both liked and didn’t like because I could no longer anchor myself then with the “I believe in me, I do” hum.  I talked and joked and laughed about stuff a lot. And, I would sing little things like: let’s find something else to say and not owie-zooooowie… I do not know how else to say that these were intense, big, powerful contractions. To my memory, they feel like they were the biggest, most painful contractions I’ve ever had—but slooooooowly far apart. The sensation of downward pressure was powerful already during each, but the distance between them very confusing. After back and forthing verbally for some time, I decided to get in the pool: this had BETTER be WORTH IT.

I loved the pool, but I also, intensely, felt like I was on “display” or being watched. I also felt a little isolated or separated and observed, even by my own mom (who, mindfully, went to sit on the couch to give me space). I kept feeling worried and pressured about my midwife and doula getting there any minute, even though we talked in advance about how I mainly needed them for immediate postpartum care and only wanted them to come in at the very end. I had never talked to my mom about specifically when to tell them to actually come though, so I kept thinking they were sitting in the driveway waiting for me (they weren’t, because they were being respectful of what they knew I wanted and needed). As with my other babies, I knew in my heart I wanted to birth alone, but then with immediate postpartum/follow-up care. This is hard to balance and gauge. And, I acknowledge that it isn’t really fair to the midwife either! My birth brain really needs to be alone and unwatched and I knew in the pool that I wanted to push my baby out before anyone else was there.

I took my favorite birth goddess sculpture into the pool with me where she kept me company and floated with me and reassured me until I was pushing and set her outside the tub (ever practical, I didn’t want her to get lost in what I knew would end up as bloody water!).

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If you look close, you can spy the little goddess in my hand.

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Here, I was laughing about feeling like a little toad in a pool.

My mom kept me supplied with food and drinks and occasional encouragement and Mark stayed close, touching me and being present. There was lots of waiting in the pool (I feel like) for those slow but BIG contractions. I got out to pee and finally saw some BLOOD. I always wait and wait for this sign because for me it is the herald of nearly full dilation. I have no blood or any leaking or discharge until I’m only a short distance from pushing out a baby! I shook and shook in the bathroom at this point too, which I think was related to the temperature change from getting out of the warm pool and not transition per se, but it could have been both.

Back to the pool and out one more time to pee (more blood! Yay! Blood is so fun! Really. It is super encouraging for me to see during labor at this point.) I started to weirdly fret about my bladder at this point getting in the way of baby’s head (potentially): this can happen, you know, I told my mom and Mark (even though I was totally peeing and had no signs of bladder being in the way). I could tell baby was moving down and getting close to pushing, but I felt impeded with the amniotic sac intact. I moved to hands and knees in the tub and talked to myself: it’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay. I can do it. We can do it. You can come out baby. We want you. We want you. (I cried I tiny bit saying this.)

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I like how you can see my friendly little birth altar glowing in the background.

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I turned back over then and kept on smiling…

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One hour before birth.

IMG_8543Some time after this, I started feeling inside after each contraction and could feel a hard lump getting closer and closer every time I had a (now close together) contraction. I didn’t feel sure it was a head though, but that maybe I was somehow feeling my own pubic bone or some other mysterious part of my anatomy never before felt. It felt squishy kind of, though hard underneath. (Duh, because it was an amniotic sac around a baby head, Molly!), so then I imagined I wasn’t fully dilated and was somehow prolapsing my cervix instead of feeling a baby’s head. I think these types of thoughts are one of the hazards of being a birth professional. They are also proof, to me, that no matter what odd or frightening things you think, babies’ heads still move down and come out anyway! At this point, the baby began to have hiccups. He was so low that it basically felt like my anus was hiccupping. I had Mark feel them very low on my belly—just above my pubic bone—and then I laughed and saidthis counts as a fetal heart tones check!

Finally, my water broke at last and I knew he was almost out. Pushing was intense and big and felt huge and hard and long. I became convinced baby weighed ten pounds and was probably not going to come out. I felt like it was taking a long time and a lot of work, but according to Mom and Mark it was about four pushes and date stamps on pictures reveal about 5-6 minutes total of this hard work. I also kept thinking someone else was going to come in. I felt the familiar burning on my front right side and knew I would tear again (labial/clitoral). It felt scary and I looked at my mom and said I was scared (she said, “I know”). I almost pushed through the burn, but then I stopped myself and waited for the next push and then his head was out, along with a bloom of blood in the water which does indicate tearing, but I didn’t get checked for tears (by my specific decision and request) so I don’t know for sure. A minimal follow-up push and his body came out into my hands. He bobbed to the top of the pool and I lifted him out of the water. He cried a little and was already reasonably pink. He was looking around and was a little bit gurgly. I talked to him and kissed his head and told him I loved him: oh my little one, oh my little one. Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! There really was a baby! Oh, he’s CUTE! I noticed his cord was around his neck and arm and somewhat awkwardly moved it off. It was 10:20, a little over five hours after I got up.

We called my dad to bring the kids back over to see the baby and cut the cord and they arrived a few minutes before Summer and Robin got there.

053 054After Robin and Summer arrived, they helped me out the pool which I was eager to get out of, but had a lot of trouble actually doing, and onto my futon nest on the floor between the pool and bathroom. This is the part I didn’t like. So familiar and so not fun. The weak and wounded transition. But, Summer (doula) reminded me that the warrior moments are in feeling the vulnerability too. Sometimes the warrior is found in showing the vulnerability and needing the help.

After some lying on the futon and waiting for the placenta, I went to the bathroom (still holding baby attached with cord) and the placenta finally came out there (after it was washed, I swallowed a small piece of it). Zander and Alaina cut the cord as they had been waiting to do and then left for playgroup with my friend who was waiting patiently outside to take them. When the placenta was examined, they saw he had a velamentous cord, which is fairly rare and can actually be dangerous and possibly explains my widely spaced contractions (giving baby time he needed).

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The baby’s temperature was low and it took us some time and effort to get him warmed up and that was probably because I was in the water a little long after birth and that is my only regret about this birth. When his temperature was normal, we weighed him and he only came up as 6lbs4oz. He then weighed 7lbs4oz at two days, which means he was really bigger than that at birth. He weighs eight pounds now at a week. So, he weighed something at birth, but the exact amount is unknown! He was 20 inches and had a 14 inch head.

As I laid on my futon and latched baby on for the first time, I realized that in all my planning and fretting and preparing and deadlining, I’d forgotten how very, very much love was possible.

Edited one year later to add that Tanner’s birth video is now available online: Welcoming Tanner Matthias (Home Water Birth Video) – Brigid’s Grove