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Talk Books: Q & A with Jenny Kitzinger

cropAugust 2015 048“These hands are big enough to save the world, and small enough to rock a child to sleep.”

–Zelda Brown

Childbirth education pioneer and feminist icon, Sheila Kitzinger has five daughters. After reading and reviewing Sheila’s passionate, beautiful, inspiring memoir: A Passion for Birth, published shortly before her death this spring, I did a short interview with her daughter, Jenny Kitzinger…

  1. How has your own work been influenced by your mother?

I grew up knowing that the ‘personal was political’ – including issues such as birth, marriage and death – and believing that nothing was taboo or closed off for discussion.

My early work on AIDS, and then on child sexual abuse, as well as my most recent work on the treatment of patients in long-term coma, has all been fundamentally influenced by my mother’s approach to life and work.

  1. What was it like to grow up with a birth activism “celebrity”?

To me my mother was just normal – so I took for granted her passion, determination and impact on the world, and the privilege we had as children of meeting lots of interesting people from the world of women’s rights, politics, and the arts.

  1. I was struck by the focus on humanitarian work in Kitzinger’s memoir. Do you have any childhood memories of these experiences and their influence? Are you still involved in cause-oriented work as an adult?

We often had people staying who needed support – it was lovely to meet the different people who came into our home – and to see the practical support and nurture my mother offered them. Sheila was also clear that the personal was political and that alongside supporting individuals it was necessary to learn from them and work alongside them to tackle root causes of problems.

My sister Tess was centrally involved in support for refugees – a cause also close to my father’s heart (he came over to England as a refugee in 1939). I was involved in setting up one of the first incest survivors refuges. Polly was also active in disability rights, advocating for people with mental illness. Our oldest sister, Celia, is a leading campaigner for sexual equality and equal marriage.

Since my sister, Polly’s car crash in 2009, Celia and I have worked together to examine the treatment of people with catastrophic brain injuries, including rights at the end-of-life. Although we are both full professor, and publish academically, we are committed to making work accessible to families, health care practitioners and policy makers. That is why we designed an online support and information resource about the vegetative and minimally conscious state.

  1. How many times did you hear birth stories around the dinner table?

We are a loud and talkative family. We would often discuss childbirth issues around the dinner table – alongside topics such as sex. This was fine at home, but I think when we went out to eat in restaurants I am not sure next door tables always enjoyed either the content of our lively debates, or the volume of the conversation as we became engrossed in family debate and everyone spoke at once!

  1. What do you feel like is your mother’s most enduring legacy?

The transformation of assumptions about childbirth – alongside a broader contribution to respecting women’s experience and supporting their rights to have choice and control over their own healthcare decisions.

Sheila

A Passion for Birth, My Life: anthropology, family and feminism by Sheila Kitzinger

(Pinter & Martin)

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Talk Books: Touching Bellies, Touching Lives

touchingbelliesEvery so often I end up reading a book that is nothing like I was expecting and yet is totally amazing. Touching Bellies, Touching Lives is one of those books. Subtitled “Midwives of Southern Mexico Tell Their Stories,” I was expecting a collection of birth stories from Mexican midwives. While there are birth stories, and everyone knows that I love birth stories, this book is so much more than a birth story collection. It is a personal pilgrimage, a preservation of the legacy of midwives, an examination of cultural birth practices, and a sobering first-hand account of the declining culture of traditional midwifery in Mexico. Many people may have the misconception that in Mexico or other South American cultures, midwifery is commonplace and maybe even flourishing. In Touching Bellies, we come to understand that Western medical practices are encroaching at a steady pace and that many midwives are elderly, retiring, and not being replaced. A steady theme runs throughout of women going to midwives for “belly massage,” but going to “modern” facilities to have their babies (unfortunately, they’ve imported some U.S. 1950’s-style practices in terms of birth position, birthing alone with no husbands allowed, and being treated dismissively in labor. This is along with a cesarean rate over 40% and up to 70% much in some cities).

The author, Judy Gabriel, takes multiple trips to Mexico on her quest to document the lives and stories of Mexican midwives (most of whom are age 65 and many of whom do not live to see the end of the book). She photographs the midwives and, with some hurdles with language barriers, listens to their stories–asking about the first birth they attended as well as any births that were problematic for them. She returns to them bearing hearing aids, dresses, and photos of family members from the United States. She travels through rough terrain and to distant villages on her quest to listen and learn from these midwives. I was completely absorbed by Judy’s dedication to her mission and her personal insights and life lessons as she travels and learns.

The “belly massage” practice for which Touching Bellies gains its title was endlessly fascinating to me (and to Judy, the author) with midwives regularly helping position the baby, release tight muscles, and ease aches and pains through a gentle process of abdominal massage and fetal manipulation. This aspect of midwifery care was so pervasive that when Judy would ask in a village where the midwives are, many people would not understand and say that they don’t know what she is talking about. When she asks for the woman who massages the bellies of pregnant women, everyone knows where to tell her to go.

In this quote, a 75-year-old midwife tells the story of helping a woman who is in premature labor. The doctors have tried to stop her contractions without avail and now say she must have a cesarean and the baby will most likely die:

“…The mother-in-law said, ‘This woman knows more than you doctors. You may have gone to the university, but, excuse me, for you doctors it is always puro cuchillo, puro cuchillo [just knives, just knives]. Leave the midwife to work in peace, and you’ll see what can be done without knives.’

So I did my work. I rocked the girl in a rebozo and massaged her belly, moving the baby up. The contractions stopped.

The doctors asked, ‘How did you do that?’

I said, ‘You were standing right there watching. I did it in front of you. I’m not hiding anything. You saw me rock her; you saw me massage her.’

‘Is that all you had to do?” they asked.

I said, ‘Yes, that’s all I had to do. What else would I have to do?’

(The baby survived and was born at full-term six weeks later.)

The dedicated care for women, in touching their bellies, touches their lives. Almost all of the midwives in the book have access to nurturing touch and almost no other resources available and yet almost all of them report never losing a baby or a mother in childbirth.

I absolutely loved reading Touching Bellies, Touching Lives. It is an extremely interesting, thought-provoking, and thoroughly fascinating journey. The information about the gradual decline and near-extinction of midwifery in Mexico is sobering, but the book does end on a hopeful note.

You can read more about the book here as well as see some of the interesting documentary-style photographs of the midwives from the book (one of the points of Judy’s travels was to photograph the midwives and share pictures of their families in the U.S. with them and vice versa). The book itself is available via Amazon.

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

Tuesday Tidbits: How to Make Life Easier as a New Parent

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In all my years as a birthworker, I still find that one of the most overlooked topics in childbirth preparation is adequate preparation for postpartum—those early weeks, or months, with a new baby. In my personal life, I experienced a difficult postpartum adjustment with my first baby, an easier one with my second baby, and two delightful, nurturing babymoons with my last two babies. Years after training as a postpartum doula, good postpartum care remains one of my passions, so I really enjoyed this post from a mother of five. Her feelings of rushing to get back to “normal” feel very familiar even though almost twelve years have passed since my first, tender, postpartum adjustment:

“I remember coming home from going out for the afternoon with Hero at 7 days postpartum. After we got back to our tiny apartment I came down with a fever. I was probably wearing the cutest non-comfortable outfit I could squeeze into. I probably didn’t think that 7 days after giving birth required anything of me other than “getting back to normal.” Life went on, and I urged it faster. In fact, that’s the way I parented, too. Smile, laugh, roll over, sit, crawl, walk, run, milestone, milestone, grow, grow, grow…

When I think back on my postpartum times (for the most part) I remember being exhausted, being emotional, being upset at Kirby for not doing enough, feeling fragile, feeling sad, and feeling weak. And then I got pregnant with Peter… And by the time I had him, I had interacted with enough wise mothers who had screwed up enough to know better and they told me what to do and I listened. After five babies I could finally say I did it right. I’m not saying you have to do it like me. Maybe you’ve already got your postpartum flow down and you need no such advice. In that case, a w e s o m e…”

Now I realize that some moms can just go, and they are happier that way! I get that. But it took me too long to realize that that’s not me. And I don’t want you to spend too much time thinking that should be you if it isn’t. Don’t spend four days, don’t spend four weeks, and certainly don’t spend 4 entire babies feeling like a shell of a person trying to figure it out…

The Fike Life: How to postpartum like a boss.

Unlike my early memories of my first son’s life, rather than looking back with sense of regret and fatigue, I look back on the weeks postpartum with Tanner (fourth and final full-term baby) with a tinge of wistfulness for the sweet, delicate, care-full time we spent together, nestled in bed in milky, marveling wonder. The author of the post above describes it as a “little sacred space,” and that is exactly how I feel. It also needs to be fiercely protected.

I look at that one week postpartum as a little sacred space that I will never get back. It’s a space where, for the most part, it’s just that brand new baby and me. And I’m selfish about it. And not sorry. Life will keep plummeting forward rapidly and I won’t ever stop it. But I can have a week with a floppy new baby on my chest in my bed and I’ll take it. And I’ll protect it.

AND IF THAT DOESNT TUG AT YOU MOTHERLY HEARTSTRINGS KNOW THIS… (super practical advice I got from my midwife with Peter)

When you have a baby you are recovering from an injury that is deeply internal. Your blood needs to stay concentrated there to bring essential nutrients to heal your organs and make you strong again. When you get up and walk around, your blood abandons your core and flows into your extremities, which can massively prolong your recovery. Stay rested and keep yourself down as much as you can. Just think of your organs! They need you!

via The Fike Life: How to postpartum like a boss.

It isn’t just the weeks following a new baby’s birth that matter, the first hour matters too and can set the tone for the rest of the postpartum journey:

…The way your baby is cared for and nurtured immediately after birth significantly impacts their transition from the womb to life outside.

In a culture that commonly separates mothers and babies for routine procedures such as cleaning, weighing and measuring, most babies are missing that critical time of being skin to skin with their mothers, which has short and long term consequences for all.

As these procedures are not necessary to maintain or enhance the wellbeing of either mother or baby, there is no reason why they cannot be delayed beyond the first critical hour.

via 7 Huge Benefits of An Undisturbed First Hour After Birth | BellyBelly.

Why doesn’t this uninterrupted hour and subsequent caring postpartum support happen for all new families? One reason is related to the “treatment intensity” of the US birth culture:

The questions you post in your article are good ones: Are midwives safer than doctors? How can homes be safer than hospitals and what implications does this study have for the US?

It’s a super knotty issue and it shouldn’t be about the superiority of midwives over doctors or homes over hospitals. The debate we should be having is over “treatment intensity” in childbirth and when enough is enough. The concern is that patients can be harmed by doing too much and by doing too little–in the US I worry that we cause avoidable harm by always erring on the side of too much.

via An Unexpected Opinion on Home Birth | Every Mother Counts.

Another is related to routine hospital practices that are not evidence based:

1. Start with giving the birthing woman antibiotics in high doses so that the baby develops candida (thrush) and colic. Then mix in a lot of stitches, either to repair the perineum or the lower belly/uterus.

2. Separate the mother and newborn. Make the mother walk a long distance (with her stitched body) to be able to see/feed her newborn…

via 6 Point Recipe for Making New Parenthood as Difficult as Possible | Wise Woman Way of Birth | by Gloria Lemay.

On a related note, we find that breastfeeding gets off to a better start when birth is undisturbed. We also find that decisions about breastfeeding may be made months before the baby is actually born:

…Recently, a nurse contacted me asking for ideas for teaching an early pregnancy breastfeeding class. I think this is a great idea, since mothers’ decisions about breastfeeding are often made before the baby is conceived and if not then, during the first trimester.

via Breastfeeding Class Resources | Talk Birth.

11800191_1651989138346635_1607714063463262593_nIt isn’t just postpartum during which we need these reminders about the “cycle of care.” The cycle of care of young children can be largely invisible, both to those around us and to ourselves. I’ve taken some time this week to appreciate my investment in my baby and cut myself a little slack on the other things I always want to “get done.” Brain-building is important work too!

Speaking of said baby, who has been taking his first steps this week at nine months old, I was amused this week to come across one of my older posts on family size decisions, in which I decreed my doneness with my childbearing years. Instead of embarrassing, I find the post oddly affirming or reinforcing that at some level I really did know that we weren’t quite “done,” there was still space in our family (and our hearts!) and there really was one more baby “out there” for us.

We decided we’d make the final, ultimate decision after she turned two, because too much longer after that point would make more of an age gap than we’d want. I posted on Facebook asking how do people know they’re “done.” I had an expectation of having some kind of blinding epiphany and a deep knowing that our family is complete, as I’ve had so many other people describe: “I just knew, our family was complete.” I didn’t have that knowing though—I vacillated day to day. What if I never know for sure, I fretted. Perhaps this sense of wistfulness and possibility with continue forever—maybe it is simply normal. One more. No, finished. But…ONE more?! And, I have a space in my heart that knows with great confidence that four (living) children would be the ultimate maximum for us. I definitely do not want more than four…so, does that mean there still is one more “out there” for us?

via Driveway Revelations (on Family Size) | Talk Birth.

However, I also find it to be true that four is most definitely the ultimate maximum. We laughed earlier this week remembering that a couple of weeks after Tanner was born I kept saying that I thought maybe we’d picked the wrong name for him. Mark asked me what I thought it should be and I said I kept thinking that maybe it should have been “Max.” While we joked at the time that this was because he is Maximus Babius, I only now caught on to the unintended double joke that he has definitely pushed our family size to our “max”!

Other tidbits:

I got this book about midwives in Mexico to review and have been zooming through it. It is SO good!

We’ve been working on new sculptures!

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(read more: Sneak Peek: Pregnant Mama – Brigid’s Grove)

We’ve added some new Moon Wisdom/First Moon bundles to our shop:

11825154_1650996815112534_7593072070926503121_nAnd, our new blessing cards came in. We were printing these on regular printer paper and are excited to have nice, professional cards instead!

11800234_1650792701799612_305310151573875723_nWe also still have five spaces left in the Red Tent Initiation program beginning at the end of the month:

Sign up for the Brigid’s Grove Newsletter for resources, monthly freebies, + art and workshop announcements.

And, as is our tradition, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month, you can get 10% off items in our shop throughout August: WBW10OFF.

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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