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Tuesday Tidbits: What Does it Feel Like to Give Birth?

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‘All cultures believe that women become better and more generous through the process of giving birth. That is why some cultures use words such as ‘sacrifice,’ ‘suffering’ and ‘labour.’ These terms can seem overwhelming and to be avoided’ however, seen from a different viewpoint, childbirth helps us to become strong, resourceful and determined.’

(The Pink Kit)

via Birthrites: Birth as a Rite of Passage

“Understand that the tremendous energy going through you during birth is the same sort of power as the force of ocean waves moving towards shore. Know that just as a bird knows how to build its nest, and when to lay its eggs, you too will build your birthing nest…”

–Janice Marsh-Prelesnik (The Roots of Natural Mothering)

via Timeless Days: More Postpartum Planning

Women preparing to give birth for the first time often wonder what it is really going to be like. What is labor like? What do contractions really feel like? Is it really like “strong menstrual cramps” or is it “agony”? When I was pregnant with my first baby, planning to give birth at a birth center, and reading everything I could about natural birth, I remember feeling like I was studying for a huge test, but a test for which there was no “right answer” and that no one else could explain to me what would be on it. I read quotes about birth being a “mystery,” and found it frustrating. What kind of “mystery”? Why can’t anyone explain it? Culturally, we get mired down in a lexicon of birth-giving that is inadequate to express it, a mainstream birth model that communicates in terms of pain, medication, and clock-watching, platitudes about healthy babies being all that matters, and dichotomies or disagreements about what defines a “good birth.”

This week, a variety of articles caught my eye that help expand our vocabulary of birth by touching on what birth feels like….

My mom told me that when you give birth naturally, you get this power that you never felt before. This is true. Oh yes it is. And no matter what kind of birth you have, we all get that feeling of crossing over and joining our grandmothers and all ancient warrior women. We have joined the ranks. We will never be the same person we were before. We become a new human. A more refined human. A softer, more patient human. An unstoppable human. A mother.

via My Birth Story, My Heart: Lindsey & Soleil | Empowered Birth Project.

Sometimes, along with feeling power, there is intense pain:

…And then the contractions got really bad. They were so strong. So long. And so close together. This was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Sure, maybe I had brief periods of this intense (that’s not really a strong enough word… hellish is more like it) labor, but it was typically brief and pushing came quickly after that.

via My Homebirth in the Hospital – Mercy’s Birth – Mother Rising.

What do I mean by “lexicon”? I mean our language, our vocabulary, for birth. What words do we have to choose from to describe our birth experiences? Is there only pain, or is there more?

…we need more words for pain, because it is ridiculous that we have only one word that is used to describe a hangnail, a broken leg, being hit by a car, and labor.

via Words for Pain | Talk Birth.

In the book Labor Pain, the author describes the results of a study about how women feel labor pain. The most frequently used description was “sharp” (62%) followed by camping, aching, stabbing hot, shooting, and heavy. Tiring was another word used (49%), exhausting (36%, intense (52%), and tight (44%). Other words and descriptions used were burning, grinding, stony, overwhelming, terrific, bruising, knifelike, invaded, baby in charge, powerful, relentless, crampy, like period pain, like thunderbolts, excruciating, frightening, and purposeful. Only 25% of first time mothers and 11% of mothers with other children described pain associated with labor as “horrible” or “excruciating” (the top of the pain-scale range).

How do women having their first babies really learn about birth? Is it only through reading or classes?

“I usually claim that pregnant women should not read books about pregnancy and birth. Their time is too precious. They should, rather, watch the moon and sing to their baby in the womb.” –Michel Odent

via How Do Women Really Learn About Birth? | Talk Birth.

Women may feel a real sense of fear and trepidation about giving birth and, unfortunately, that fear may end up limiting their real options:

Could it be that human fear of pain is being used to generate financial profit? (the opium-is-the-opiate-of-the-masses model). Perhaps once the notion of palliative care reached a certain level of acceptance for the dying within the medical community, it began to spill over into other human conditions (the slippery-slope model). Or, perhaps we don’t want transparency at all (the denial model)…

…I can think of many questions that fall under this topic…Why do we call the intense phenomenon of birth “painful”? How do our genetics, behavior, training and thought-processes affect our experience of pain? What about the health care culture – has it focused on relieving pain at the expense of what we gain from working with pain short of trauma or imminent death? How do we prepare women for working with sensation without automatically labeling it pain? Is the “empowerment” often attributed to giving birth what is learned by going through the center of the “there is no birth of consciousness without pain” experience? These questions are just a start…

via Tuesday Tidbits: Pain, Birth, and Fear | Talk Birth.

Birth environments may also limit women’s movements, sounds, and choices in ways that may actually increase pain:

“Why do we, then, continue to treat women as if their emotions and comfort, and the postures they might want to assume while in labor, are against the rules?“

– Ina May Gaskin (via Birth Smart)

via Spontaneous Birth Reflex | Talk Birth.

Giving birth isn’t simply a physical experience, it is an initiation. Facing fears, meeting challenges, moving through struggle, and coming out the other side, powerfully changed, are core elements of initiatory events.

Giving birth is one of a series of important initiations a woman may experience in her lifetime. Initiations are intimately with change. They bring the initiate from one state of being into a new state of being. Initiations accomplish this task by putting the initiate through a series of experiences that challenge them in a particular way and bring them into new ways of being and of understanding. The initiate must meet these challenges and overcome any obstacles in order for the initiation to succeed in bringing about these changes.

via Thesis Tidbits: Birth as an Initiation | Talk Birth.

In the end, regardless of how your birth unfolds, there is one thing I will guarantee: you will feel the might of creation move through you.

“When I say painless, please understand, I don’t mean you will not feel anything. What you will feel is a lot of pressure; you will feel the might of creation move through you. Pain, however, is associated with something gone wrong. Childbirth is a lot of hard work, and the sensations that accompany it are very strong, but there is nothing wrong with labor.”

via Book Review: Painless Childbirth: An Empowering Journey Through Pregnancy and Birth | Talk Birth.

Other tidbits:

Nané Jordan is looking for contributions to her new book about the placenta. Sounds intriguing and I plan to contribute!

Sign up for the Brigid’s Grove Newsletter for resources, monthly freebies, + art and workshop announcements. Birth Spiral printable poster/gift coming as August’s freebie!

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“Birth is a time of deep transformation. We enter labor with excitement, trepidation and sometimes fear. We emerge with power, confidence and love.”

–Toni Lee Rakestraw, Organic Birth

What should I pack in my hospital bag?

Mollyblessingway 037Packing a bag of labor and birth supplies to bring to the hospital or birth center has become a modern-day ritual of birth preparation. Plan to have your bag packed and stored close to the front door of your home (or in the trunk of your car) several weeks prior to your due date.

Here are some ideas of what to pack in preparation for birthing day:

General

  • A sign for your door indicating your desire to labor without medication (if this is part of your birth preferences).

Edible Supplies

  • Hard candy or little lollipops for a quick boost of energy.
  • Honey sticks: These sealed, clear plastic straws hold about a tablespoon of honey and are another excellent source of quick energy. You can often find them at farmer’s markets or health food stores.
  • Clear liquids to drink: Herbal tea, sports drinks, apple juice, or white grape juice.
  • Water bottles for you and your partner.

Personal Supplies

  • Lip gloss or lip balm (many women find their lips getting dry during labor).
  • Your own nightgown or large, long t-shirt to wear instead of a hospital gown. (Why wear your own gown in the hospital? Many women find this comforting, comfortable, and an excellent reminder of personal autonomy and individuality).
  • Warm socks: Many women’s feet get cold during labor.
  • Toiletry bag with toothpaste, deodorant, etc.
  • Hair ties or elastic bands to hold long hair away from your face

Comfort Supplies

  • Back massager (or, simply, a tennis ball for someone to roll over your back).
  • Your own favorite pillow.
  • Flexible straws and a cup to make getting a drink easier.
  • Special picture or artwork to look at during labor (if you’ve created a birth plan poster bring it to hang on the wall of your room)
  • If you are planning to use aromatherapy during labor, pack your special essential oils.
  • Supplies for a birth altar for inspiration, encouragement, and support during labor. (I make birth art sculptures as well as birth blessing pouches that can be wonderful for this purpose.)
  • A “touchstone” object to hold during labor—this could be a special smooth rock, a little stuffed animal, a piece of jewelry, or other meaningful small object that feels good in your hand.
  • Special birth music on a birth playlist on your phone or MP3 player.

Birth Partner Supplies

  • Snacks: Things like granola bars, fruit leathers, or other quick snacks that do not have a strong smell are ideal.
  • List of people to call with the happy news.
  • Toiletry bag with toothpaste, deodorant, etc.
  • Change of clothes.

After the Birth Supplies

  • Nursing nightgown (any gown that opens in the front for breastfeeding).
  • Breast pads (disposable or washable cotton).
  • Pads for post-birth bleeding (lochia).
  • Clothes for baby to wear home.
  • Comfortable clothes for you to wear home (loose cotton pants—even maternity pants—work better than jeans)

Supplies That Won’t Fit Into a Bag

  • Birth ball (some hospitals have them available to use).
  • Car seat for your newborn properly installed in the backseat of your car.

Best wishes for a beautiful birth!

July 2015 116Sign up for the Brigid’s Grove Newsletter for resources, monthly freebies, and art announcements.

Guest Post: How does your body know when to go into labor?

Mollyblessingway 011I recently received the following news story to repost. Many women have questions about when they will go into labor or concerns about pre-term labor. They may also worry about “never” going into labor on their own and may face pressure from care providers or family members towards induction. We often rely on signs like cervical changes, contractions, and increased cervical fluid (as well as proximity to due date) in order to help us anticipate the birthing day. I distinctly remember the interesting and counterintuitive experience of having the question of, “WHEN,” somehow feeling more and more mysterious and hard to predict the closer I drew to my own due dates (when really, the closer you get, the fewer birth-day possibilities remain! While it is very normal for babies to be born after their estimated due date, the possible window of when the baby will be born narrows with each day of pregnancy, simply because: babies do come out). Turns out, your baby’s birth-day timing has more to do with what is going on at a molecular level, than what you can observe from the outside!

(If this guest post is too heavy on molecules and too light on personal experience, you might want to check out one of my most popular blog posts: How do I know I’m really in labor? | Talk Birth.)

Key components of interest from the research below:

  • The molecule that triggers birth is the TLR4 molecule.
  • This molecule is activated by other molecules produced in the mothers tissues due to uterine stretch, by proteins that are released from a baby’s lungs just before birth, and by the placenta as it begins to reach the end of its life.
  • Factors that can contribute to a surge inTLR4 and lead to premature birth are:
    • Bacterial infections
    • Damage to the placenta
    • multiple pregnancy

Here is the guest post with more!

———————————————————————————————————————————-

RESEARCHERS at the University of Adelaide have identified that the activation of the TLR4 molecule is key in controlling the timing of birth, acting as a trigger common to both preterm and on-time labour.

Professor Sarah Robertson, Director of the Robinson Research Institute and lead author of the study published this week in Endocrinology, said the research was likely to lead to new therapies in preventing preterm labour.

“Preterm labour, birth at less than 37 weeks gestation, affects 5-13% of pregnancies worldwide. It accounts for 28% of all neonatal deaths and can result in major health consequences for surviving children,” says Professor Robertson.

“In order to prevent preterm birth, we need to understand the physiological responses which lead to normal on-time birth, and our new research pinpoints a ‘master switch’ that influences the timing of birth.

“We know that several agents can bind and trigger the molecule TLR4 after release from fetal and maternal tissues in late gestation, including proteins that are released from a baby’s lungs just before birth.

“Other molecules that activate TLR4 are produced in the mother’s tissues due to uterine stretch, or when the placenta begins to reach the end of its life.”

Professor Robertson says that there are other factors that lead to a surge in TLR4 and premature birth, including local bacteria infections, damage to the placenta due to inflammation, or even multiple pregnancy.

“This is a surprising finding because TLR4 is generally thought to be involved in the immune response to infection, and had not previously been linked with normal processes in pregnancy,” says Professor Robertson.

“Now that we know how critical TLR4 is in regulating the timing of birth, we can commence testing drugs that target the TLR4 pathway.

“While this is yet to be looked at in a clinical setting, we believe this finding will ultimately lead to methods to effectively protect women at risk of going into labour early,” she says.

This work was supported by project and fellowship grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Australian Research Council.

Key contacts

Professor Sarah Robertson Director, Robinson Research Institute University of Adelaide
08 8313 4094 sarah.robertson@adelaide.edu.au

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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

Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Privacy

IMG_5598 I’ve been trying to post about this article for a couple of weeks now! It is an interesting look at the biological need for privacy at the end of pregnancy and during birth.

…This ‘time’ at the end of pregnancy was described in a lovely article (The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of In-Between- The Mothering website) as Zwischen, a German word for between. At the end of pregnancy the mothering hormones start to cause emotions to run high as the cervix starts to soften, efface and women generally crave the quiet and private places they need to emotionally and mentally travel inwards.

In many traditional cultures around the world, women are known to actively leave their tribes for birthing huts (Inuit Tribe a group of indigenous people residing in the Arctic regions, Kwaio a tribe who live in an Island off the Pacific and many more). The Eipos people in Papa New Guinea are documented (Schnietenhovel) to go into the Wilderness of the Bush shortly before the onset of labour. The tribes above are also protected by various women they already have a relationship with throughout their pregnancy and birth journeys. Midwives and female relatives provide the support to enable confidence in the birthing process and some of the women will go off and give birth alone.

via The biological need for privacy at the end of pregnancy | Calm Yorkshire Birth.

She also writes about how the pervasiveness of social media might impact this need for privacy:

…Don’t be fooled by the facelessness of facebook and other social media. Just because you cannot be physically seen, it doesn’t mean you have privacy. I often hear so much unnecessary stress from women who feel observed on groups within the social media communities. Smart phones leave us open to be contacted by anyone day or night at a time when we just don’t want to be in touch with anyone at all. I wonder what effect social media has on the orchestration of birthing hormones that play such a vital part in undisturbed childbirth.

via The biological need for privacy at the end of pregnancy | Calm Yorkshire Birth.

I felt a strong call to retreat and pull in during all of my pregnancies, maybe because of my introverted personality and craving for solitude, but maybe because of biology too…

Pregnancy—towards the end of pregnancy I feel an inward call. I start wanting to quit things, to be alone, to “nest,” to create art, to journal, and to sink into myself. Nothing sounds better to me in late pregnancy than sitting in the sunlight with my hands on my belly, breathing, and being alone with my baby and my thoughts.

via Introverted Mama | Talk Birth.

For me, this preference for solitude is reflected in my preferred birth environment which involves no talking/noise and as few other people present as possible.

This is not how all women feel, my own mother has expressed that she enjoyed and wanted quite a few people around her while she was giving birth—the help, support, companionship, and affirmation from other women was important to her births. The women giving birth on The Farm, of Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery fame, also seemed to be very social birthers. I remember looking at the pictures in the book and feel a little horrified by the huge gatherings of people present for births! Speaking of The Farm, I enjoyed reading this interview about the birth culture created by the midwives there:

“This is how I had my own babies,” she said. “I knew that if I could do it, pretty much anyone who was healthy and well could do it. So I wanted to help women. Of course, I never thought I’d be in the type of job where I was working mostly with delivering babies, but in the process of helping women, I fell in love with women. Women are brave. We’re absolutely beautiful creatures.”

via “The Farm” in Tennessee is the country’s oldest intentional community. But the real story is how they deliver babies.

I was also reminded of this past post about Birth Witnesses. This remains one of my very favorite guest posts that I’ve hosted here and it gives me food for thought every time I re-read it:

The only way to understand birth is to experience it yourself. The ONLY way? That comment stayed with me, haunted me. I became a doula after my daughter’s birth because I wanted to be able to provide women with support and knowledge that could give them a different experience, a better memory than what I had. I just couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a way to understand birth at all except to experience it firsthand. Certainly there wasn’t always this fear and unknown around birth that we each face today. Not always. I began studying that idea. What about other cultures? What about our culture, historically? What about The Farm? There wasn’t always this myth and mystery about birth! I realized there was a time (and in places, there still is) when women banded together for births. Mothers, sisters, cousins, daughters, aunts, friends. They came together and comforted, guided, soothed, coached, and held the space for one another during birth. These women didn’t go in it alone – they were surrounded by women who had birthed before them. Women who knew what looked and felt right, and what didn’t. Women who could empathize with them and empower them. In addition to that, girls and women were raised in a culture of attending births. Daughters watched mothers, sisters and aunts labor their babies into this world. They saw, heard, and supported these women for the long hours of labor, so when they became mothers themselves, the experience was a new, but very familiar one for them. Birth wasn’t a secretive ritual practiced behind the cold, business-like doors of a hospital. It was a time for bonding, learning, sharing and sisterhood. Girls learned how women become mothers, and mothers helped their sisters bring forth life.

via Birth Witnesses | Talk Birth.

We can’t overemphasize the importance of who is present in the birth space and their influence on how a birth unfolds. Other people’s presence can have a powerful impact, whether positive or negative. One important area is with regard to freedom of choice and self-direction:

…Women can find themselves feeling bullied or coerced into agreeing to procedures they wish to avoid, such as induction or continuous fetal monitoring. They may be told if they don’t follow their doctor’s suggestion their baby’s life will be in danger. Consent is most often given, but it is not informed consent. Many parents in this vulnerable position either don’t know how to advocate for themselves or are under prepared to – practically, emotionally and psychologically.

via When Doctors Don’t Listen: Informed Consent and Birth | BellyBelly.

Choice-based narratives figure heavily into both “alternative” and “mainstream” dialogues about birth. I am emphatic that the companion to informed consent must be informed refusal. Very often, there is no option to refuse, and in this situation, there is no real choice involved at all…

…Women’s lives and their choices are deeply embedded in a complex, multifaceted, practically infinite web of social, political, cultural, socioeconomic, religious, historical, and environmental relationships.

And, I maintain that a choice is not a choice if it is made in a context of fear.

via The Illusion of Choice | Talk Birth.

On a related note, what about pain and birth? Do we accurately remember what birth feels like? I feel as if I do remember, though it is often said that you “forget” as soon as the baby is born. I find instead that it is more of the “halo effect” described here:

The ‘halo effect’ is the term given to describe the positive emotions experienced by the new mother when the baby is placed in her arms for the first time. In that moment, amidst a rush of oxytocin and happiness, the mother is likely to have a more positive view of the birth experience than she did ten minutes earlier. Simply put, the happiness of holding her baby for the first time overpowers any pain or negativity from the birth.

It makes sense that this effect could influence how the pain of birth was remembered. The pain of birth may be remembered as less severe simply because the benefits of having a healthy baby are felt to outweigh the discomfort caused by childbirth.

Women who experience traumatic births and who are unable to hold their babies immediately after the birth may miss out on this ‘halo effect’. Though they will still experience the rush of love and hormones upon holding their baby for the first time, the delay can reduce the impact this has on their overall feelings about and memory of labour and birth.

via Do Women Forget The Pain Of Giving Birth? | BellyBelly.

When you feel amazing about yourself and deeply in love with your baby, the memory of exact sensation fades to the background and the exhilaration and triumph and love moves to the forefront. However, there is also simply the physical component (kind of like when you have the flu, it dominates your mental landscape and you forget ever feeling healthy. Then, you get better and the flu-self becomes distant). I marvel at how women shift through these physical stages. When I am Pregnant Woman, it is totally real and becomes normal. After I give birth and become Nursing Mother again, that is what is vibrant and real and Pregnant Woman, and the thoroughly embodied experience of pregnancy, becomes fainter and more dreamlike. Interesting that I use the word dreamlike, because I also find that it is in dreams that the physical experience returns with crystal clarity. I sometimes dream about being pregnant or giving birth and in those dreams I am 100% confident that I have not forgotten at all what it feels like, my body holds a deeply invested physical memory and “imprint” of my babies and births, it is just hard to call it back as vividly while going about every day life tasks at the same time.

Anyway, once we’ve experience the power of birth, we may become evangelists for birth, at least for a time. I really enjoyed my memories of the enthusiasm and energy I felt as a new birthworker reflected in this post from ProDoula:

It’s magical. It’s moving. It’s more than you ever imagined it would be. And you love it!

You never want it to end. You want to feel the power of these women and you want to talk about birth, ALL DAY LONG! In fact, you never want to talk about anything else again!

At the end of the last day, you “friend” each of these women and you expect to stay in contact with them forever. You are sad that it’s over, but you are a new woman because it happened.

You are replenished. You are fulfilled. You are wiser and you are stronger.

And then, you go home…

via Don’t Puke Birth on the Ones You Love | ProDoula.

What I discovered with time though is that I feel the power of women and this replenishment and strength in other forms besides the birth world. I find it in my priestess work, in my women’s circle, and at the Red Tent too.

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We had a run on twin mama goddess sculptures this week after a happy customer shared a picture of hers with her friends! 🙂

 

 

 

New Squatter’s Rights Sculpture

“Birth is not an event; it’s a series of sophisticated biological processes… Really, we’re talking about processes that should make us fall on our knees in awe.”

–Suzanne Arms

Squatter's Rights laboring mama birth goddess sculpture (birth art, unassisted birth), Birth Warrior.In our May newsletter from Brigid’s Grove, we introduced our new “Squatter’s Rights” sculpture of a mama catching her own baby. This sculpture has a lot of personal significance to me and I have found her image tremendously empowering for a long time. I have made a variety of different versions all expressing the same message: reach down and catch what’s yours.

…Would the new child coming from me be slippery like soap? I rubbed my fat belly. I loved each pound I gained, each craving I had, and every trip to the bathroom. Okay, maybe not every trip to the bathroom. But, I loved this growing baby. Tucked away like a pearl in the sea just waiting to be discovered. I was in a constant state of marvel.

Would I be able to physically do this? No, I don’t mean the labor, nor do I mean the birth. I knew I could do that. I got lost in thought as I planned in my head every moment that would come after my body did the work of labor. The moment would come once my body was ready and the crown of a child’s head pushed itself from me, the moment the child would emerge. That’s what I was planning for; I planned to catch my own baby…

via Guest Post: Squatter’s Rights | Talk Birth.

It is hard to express how much I love knowing about how these figures “speak” to the women who receive them. I started making them to express something within me and to speak to myself or remind me of my own power. I absolutely love knowing that they carry these messages to other women as well, not just me! An early customer of the Squatter’s Rights sculpture gave me permission to share her feedback on it:

I LOVE THIS!!!   I JUST got my lovely statue, she’s gorgeous, I am in awe of your work, and I caught myself choking up a bit at how I look at her and it pulls me back to that most empowering of moments, Me-birthing my little rainbow.. Completely uninhibited.. THANK YOU!…They will be in a sacred space, helping watch over me as I go through Midwifery school… Thank you, thank you!!

What a tremendous honor to be a small part of another woman’s journey in this way. It feels like a sacred trust.

Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Conditioning

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Thinking about the raw, emotional complexity and physical intensity of birth, I am reminded of a past post exploring the question of whether an epidural can really be considered an “informed choice” when it is considered in the context of enforced stillness during labor?

…In this case and in so many others around the nation every day, the physiologically normal and fully appropriate need for freedom of movement during labor ran smack into the hospital’s expectation of stillness. And, medication was a consequence of that stillness, not an inability to cope with normal labor–it was an inability to cope with enforced passivity that was directly counter to the natural urges of her birthing body. Where is the ‘opting’ here? When birthing women are literally backed into corners, no wonder epidural analgesia becomes the nationally popular ‘choice’…

Thoughts on epidurals, risk, and decision making | Talk Birth.

Considering movement during labor also brings us to the idea of sound during labor. What about the implied or explicit expectation of quiet during labor?

We decided that there is a major stigma around “quiet” birth. Why is “quiet” birth synonymous with a “good” birth? Why are we praised on our ability to stay “calm” in our birthing time??? This is crazy! Now let me quickly add: A quiet birth CAN be a beautiful birth, it can be the most beautiful kind, but so can the others.We talked to a mother who explained that in her birthing time she was very “calm and quiet” she also said she was suffering so deeply but everyone kept praising her abilities so she kept on going. How many women bite their tongue, how many women feel trauma and how many women were told they were “crazy, wild and loud”? And why are any of those words bad? We are having a baby, we are doing the most instinctual and primal work we will ever do as humans.

via Blog — TerraVie.

I addressed the interesting notion of a “quiet, calm” birth as synonymous with “coping well” in this past post:

“I believe with all my heart that women’s birth noises are often the seat of their power. It’s like a primal birth song, meeting the pain with sound, singing their babies forth. I’ve had my eardrums roared out on occasions, but I love it. Every time. Never let anyone tell you not to make noise in labor. Roar your babies out, Mamas. Roar.” –Louisa Wales

via What Does Coping Well Mean? | Talk Birth.

Our expectations in birth are shaped by the cultural conditioning, contexts, and environments around them whether we are conscious of them or not. In this past compilation of articles about the role of doulas, Michel Odent makes an interesting point:

…We must add that this cultural conditioning is now shared by the world of women and the world of men as well. While traditionally childbirth was ‘women’s business,’ men are now almost always present at births, a phase of history when most women cannot give birth to the baby and to the placenta without medical assistance. A whole generation of men is learning that a woman is not able to give birth. We have reached an extreme in terms of conditioning. The current dominant paradigm has its keywords: helping, guiding, controlling, managing…coaching, supporting…the focus is always on the role of persons other than two obligatory actors (i.e. mothers and baby). Inside this paradigm, we can include medical circles and natural childbirth movements as well…

–Michel Odent (exploring the role of doulas)

Tuesday Tidbits: The Role of Doulas… | Talk Birth.

And, here are some neat resources I’ve encountered this week…

I signed up to participate in this free telesummit on womb wisdom/nourishing the feminine: Womb Wisdom: Nourishing the Roots of the Feminine with Barbara Hanneloré — Womb Wisdom. (Thanks to Mothering Arts for the link!)

I’ve linked to these beautiful coloring books in past posts. I’m just entranced by them!

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via Blissful Belly Coloring Journal: NOW until April 1st, Buy Both the Blissful Belly and Blissful Birth Coloring Books and Get 25% OFF. Coupon Code is 2blissful. Get it here

And, after participating in a free Spring Equinox event online that was hosted by the Sacred Sister Society (to which I won a year-long membership!), I’ve been enjoying different daily yoga practices using videos from Joy Fisheria from Everyday Chakras. The practice for your core strength is one of my favorites. 🙂

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New taller, mama goddess sculptures for birth altars!

Weekly Tidbits: Birth, Postpartum, the Triumvirate, and Anthropology

IMG_3501My sister-in-law shared a link to a really potent article from The Guardian about birth, midwifery, postpartum, and supportive friends. When she shared, she brought tears to my eyes by thanking me for being part of her own “triumvirate,” described by the post author as…

I needed a maternal figure, a dedicated and present midwife, dear and loving friends. I was blessed with one out of three. It could have been worse.

The only people I know who did just fine in the postpartum period are those who score the triumvirate: well cared for in birth, surrounded by supportive peers, helpful elders to stay with them for a time. The others, wild-eyed at the supermarket, prone to tears, unable to nurse or sleep or breathe, a little too eager to make friends at baby groups – I can spot them at 20 paces. We form a vast and sorry club.

via My friend breastfed my baby | Life and style | The Guardian.

I’m lucky enough to have also scored the triumvirate (I find it takes pretty careful planning and active attention to put it into place!). When my midwife came to visit me postpartum and commented that I was looking good and I replied that people kept telling me that, she said that rather than just saying “thank you,” I should point out my looking good was directly related to having excellent postpartum care. And, she was right. I did not look, feel, or sound depleted, exhausted or overwhelmed precisely because I was being taken care of. I had great prenatal from my midwife along with six weeks of postpartum follow-up visits. I had a postpartum doula for immediately post-birth support and several follow-up visits as well as meal calendar coordination. I had my mom, who cooked for us and cared for our other children. I had my sister-in-law who came to stay for several days and helped with cooking and cleaning. I had friends who brought me dinners and took my kids to playgroup. I had my husband, who got to enjoy our new baby with me because he wasn’t trying to do all of the above!

When I think of my triumvirate, a specific moment comes to mind. I am sitting in the bathroom holding my brand new baby, still attached to me by his cord. We are waiting for the placenta to come. My midwife is close by, peeking over, but not being hands-on or aggressive. My mom leans over to take pictures. My doula is standing in our bathtub to make room. My husband is kneeling near me and my other children are gathered around to cut the cord. In the driveway outside, my friend waits with her three children to take my kids to playgroup. This is what birth support looks like. I am surrounded with love and care.

The author of the article quoted above did not have the same experience…

Two weeks later, I gave birth at home, after a 13-hour posterior, or back-to-back, labour, which the long-practising, well-respected midwife did not bother to attend. Frankly, it felt like staring death in the face, by which I mean an altogether normal and intense physiological process that has nothing to do with the ordinariness of daily life. Throughout, my husband and doula repeatedly called and texted the midwife, whom we had found privately. She told us it was “probably” early labour. From inside the grip of what turned out to be very active labour, I managed to flat-out demand that she join us, speaking at the phone while the doula held it to my ear. The midwife sounded annoyed, vaguely put-upon. It was another three hours before she arrived. Minutes later, with a great and unbridled roar, I delivered my son into bathwater.

We wept with joy, held him, kissed him, named him. Eventually, I got out of the bath. My husband lay in bed with our new son on his chest. I showered in a state of trembling, happy shock. The midwife perched on the sink and told me a story about her estranged sister. She handed me a towel, and I remember commiserating, trying to comfort her about her unfortunate relationship with her family, as though we were two cool girls hanging out in the bathroom at a party. One of us just happened to be naked and bleeding, immediately postpartum. I didn’t care; I was too ecstatic. Having just given birth, I felt omnipotent. Epic. Heroic. Unstoppable.

via My friend breastfed my baby | Life and style | The Guardian.

I wrote about the value of breastfeeding support here:

But, what happens after the birth? I’ve often thought that my role in breastfeeding support, while less “glamorous” or exciting than birth work, has had more lasting value to the women I serve. Breastfeeding is the day in, day out, nitty-gritty reality of daily mothering, rather than a single event and it matters (so does birth, of course, it matters a lot, but birth is a rite of passage, liminal event and breastfeeding is a process and a relationship that goes on and on for every. single. day. for sometimes years). Anyway, sorry for the brief side note, but I enjoyed reading this article about the celebrity culture surrounding pregnancy and birth with its obsession with who has a “bump” and then how after the birth the main deal is losing that weight and having a fabulous bod again! Woot!

via Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Thoughts | Talk Birth.

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I shared this pic on Instgram this week in honor of the theme of “self-care” in the online Equinox 15 event I’ve been taking part in.

I’ve only recently recognized that while I was surrounded by excellent support for birth and postpartum, I’m not really giving myself much credit lately for still having just had a baby. Yes, Tanner is almost 5 months old, but that moment in the bathroom was only five months ago. I still need quite a bit of help and that normal and okay. I need to recognize what I’m capable of, which is a lot, while also still recognizing what I need and what the pace of my life can be and can handle at this point in time. I also recognized that I have difficult admitting or expressing how difficult it feels sometimes to be incorporating a new baby into the family, to be working around “baby time” again, and to be physically bound to a baby again. It is hard to admit, because Tanner is such a treasure of a baby and I enjoy him so much and love having his adorable, babiest of babies self in our lives. However, it also sometimes feels hard to be doing this all again and I often feel “old” and kind of worn out and ragged lately.

This brings me to a lovely article about vulnerability as strength (something my doula reminded me of several times following Tanner’s birth):

…Today I stood swaying my daughter to sleep in my mommas group shedding tears because of the intense sleep deprivation over the last 6 weeks. My tears fell and I was held with empathy, no one solved my problems; women just heard me and held me in my challenge. We heard each other, others cried, we softened, we opened ourselves up to the wisdom that each expressed and afterwards our hearts felt happier and lighter. Something sacred unfolded. I was in a container that was safe to share my soul, to be naked in front of these women, to admit I was not perfect and I didn’t have all the answers. And I felt better. I was not alone.

The more I allow myself to be vulnerable, the more I receive, the more I soften, and the more I open myself up to support. We are not meant to mother alone. The first year of our child’s life is a raw experience. It is amazing; it is illuminating, joyful, and raw.

via Vulnerability as a Strength | Mothering Arts.

This container is so important. Though, I will also acknowledge that for my personality, being told to “take it easy” or to “lower your standards” or “don’t have such high expectations of yourself,” often registers for me as being told: You’re not capable. I don’t believe in you. Give up. So, I personally, when trying to create a container of safety or support for other women I will not usually use those sorts of phrases.

Related to the idea of postpartum tenderness and triumph, I enjoyed this photo series of newborns and mothers: Born yesterday: mothers and their newborn babies – in pictures | Life and style | The Guardian.

Bringing the discussion around to anthropology and birth though, this interesting recent article suggests that it is the mother’s metabolism (and energetic reserves) that creates the human gestation length rather than the size of the pelvis as often commonly theorizes:

We’ve been doing anthropology with this warped view of the male pelvis as the ideal form, while the female pelvis is seen as less than ideal because of childbirth,” she said. “The female births the babies. So if there’s an ideal, it’s female and it’s no more compromised than anything else out there. Selection maintains its adequacy for locomotion and for childbirth.

via Long-held theory on human gestation refuted: Mother’s metabolism, not birth canal size, limits gestation — ScienceDaily.

In a past article about the wise women behind and around us, I included this interesting quote from Tsippy Monat:

“Anthropology describes trance as a condition is which the senses are heightened and everyday things take on a different meaning. Communicative competence with other people may increase or may not exist. Facts of time and place are revealed differently than in normal everyday consciousness. This description reminded me of situations encountered at birth because birth is a condition in which the mind is altered. When I accompany births, I experience the flooding of oxytocin and endorphins. In Hebrew, the root of the word birth can also mean ‘next to God’” (p. 49).

via Thesis Tidbits: The Wise Women Behind, Within, and Around Us | Talk Birth.

And, speaking of historical experiences of birth support, I re-visited this guest post about birth witnesses:

The only way to understand birth is to experience it yourself. The ONLY way? That comment stayed with me, haunted me. I became a doula after my daughter’s birth because I wanted to be able to provide women with support and knowledge that could give them a different experience, a better memory than what I had. I just couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a way to understand birth at all except to experience it firsthand. Certainly there wasn’t always this fear and unknown around birth that we each face today. Not always. I began studying that idea. What about other cultures? What about our culture, historically? What about The Farm? There wasn’t always this myth and mystery about birth! I realized there was a time (and in places, there still is) when women banded together for births. Mothers, sisters, cousins, daughters, aunts, friends. They came together and comforted, guided, soothed, coached, and held the space for one another during birth. These women didn’t go in it alone – they were surrounded by women who had birthed before them. Women who knew what looked and felt right, and what didn’t. Women who could empathize with them and empower them. In addition to that, girls and women were raised in a culture of attending births. Daughters watched mothers, sisters and aunts labor their babies into this world. They saw, heard, and supported these women for the long hours of labor, so when they became mothers themselves, the experience was a new, but very familiar one for them. Birth wasn’t a secretive ritual practiced behind the cold, business-like doors of a hospital. It was a time for bonding, learning, sharing and sisterhood. Girls learned how women become mothers, and mothers helped their sisters bring forth life. It was a sacred and special part of the birthing process that has become lost in our institutionalized, over-medicalized, isolating and impersonalized system today.

via Birth Witnesses | Talk Birth.

And, another regarding women’s rites of passage:

“I love and respect birth. The body is a temple, it creates its own rites, its own prayers…all we must do is listen. With the labor and birth of my daughter I went so deep down, so far into the underworld that I had to crawl my way out. I did this only by surrendering. I did this by trusting the goddess in my bones. She moved through me and has left her power in me.” ~Lea B., Fairfax, CA (via Mama Birth)

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

In just a few hours, I’m headed into town for our first local Red Tent Circle. I took this photo yesterday in honor of the spring equinox and the themes of manifestation, intention, and creativity. May we walk in harmony with each other and may we be surrounded by circles of support.

Happy Spring!

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The Heart of Birth Quotes

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Fill your body with this breath
expand your heart with this message
you are such a good mother.

via International Women’s Day: Prayer for Mothers

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Choosing to move beyond the painful disconnections of our culture, I do my best to support the breastfeeding mothers I meet. Our world must move beyond separating baby from mother, self from breath, and bodies from hearts.

–Amy Wright Glenn, In praise of breast milk.

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I remain firmly convinced that the way we treat women in the birthplace reflects an overall cultural attitude towards women in general. I believe that peace on earth begins with birth. I believe that we can change the world with the way we greet new babies and celebrate new mothers and see the deep, never-ending work of parenting our children. I believe in rising for justice and I keep vigil in my heart every day for women around the world.

–Molly Remer, Rise for Justice

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Birth doula work is not about double hip squeezes. It isn’t about birth plans. Birth doulaing at its heart is a spiritual path that will rip away your narcissism and your selfishness. It will restructure your values and strengthen your compassion and empathy for all people through pain and humility. It is about learning how to BE in the presence of conflict and the human experience of living at its most raw and gut wrenching…

–Amy Gililand

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Midwives often forget that our beliefs in [mom’s] abilities can alter her accomplishments. It is important to check our hearts and push through any lack of belief that may inhibit her strengths. This may sound silly or ethereal, but I guarantee it can make a difference for a laboring mom and family.

~ Carol Gautschi (Midwifery Today)

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Body opens
heart opens
hands open to receive

Birth mama
birth goddess
she’s finding her way
she’s finding her way…

via Birth as Initiation

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…all those tasks and interactions of motherhood, a day full of which might make you feel you’ve ‘gotten nothing done’ because you’ve been in the cycle of care, are the heart and soul of the best brain building possible.

–Lauren Lindsey Porter

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Magic mama. She who transforms body and blood into milk. Into life. Into the heartsong of another. Maternal sacrament. Shared freely. Flowing sweetly. Uniting. This thoroughly embodied stuff of motherhood. This physical commitment. This body-based vow to our young. She holds her baby. And she holds the world.

Mammal mama. Liquid love. Cellular vow. Unbreakable, biological web of life and loving.

She’s just feeding her baby. Is she? Or is she healing the planet at the very same time?

via Pewter Breastfeeding Mama Goddess Sculpture by BrigidsGrove

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Open hearts, strong hands. Be present, listen, feel her, trust your instincts. And remember–I have birthed my children…she will birth this child her way, with her power, be with her and let her feel your faith in her.

–Jennifer Walker

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The regular old birth books and charts of fetal development and nutrition facts and birth plan worksheets didn’t cut it anymore (do they ever?). I had the same experience in teaching birth classes–yes, I could cover stages of labor and birth positions, but what about the heart of birth. What about the “mystery”? What about those unknown lessons in excavating one’s own depths? What about that part of birth and life that only she knows?

–Molly Remer via Sacred Pregnancy Week 1, Part 1: Sacred Space

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…birth, if she has her way, happens below the head. In the end, fantasies and images from the stories a woman holds in her heart are what emerge with power…

–Sister MorningStar (The Power of Women)

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Birth is not a cerebral event; it is a visceral-holistic process which requires all of your self–-body, heart, emotion, mind, spirit.

–Baraka Bethany Elihu (Birthing Ourselves into Being)

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A doula gives from the heart to help another woman discover what birth and life are really all about.

–Connie Livingston

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…Like other involuntary processes, we cannot consciously control pregnancy and birth unless we physically intervene. Did you need to learn how to make your heart beat? How to breathe? How to digest your food? How to produce hormones?…You don’t have to do anything to make these processes work. You can support them, or you can intervene, but they will happen all on their own. You can trust them.

Lamaze International

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As doulas, midwives, nurses, and doctors, it’s important to never underestimate how deeply entrusted we are with someone’s most vulnerable, raw, authentic self. We witness their heroic journeys, see them emerge with their babies, hearts wide open…

–Lesley Everest (MotherWit Doula)

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Children are the power and the beauty of the future. Like tiny falcons we can release their hearts and minds, and send them soaring, gathering the air to their wings…

–Skip Berry

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Expectant mothers need to be mothered; their hearts need to be infused with love, confidence, and determination. I now see myself as ‘midwife’ to the gestation and birth of women as mothers.

–Pam England (Birthing from Within)

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Listening to your heart is not simple. Finding out who you are is not simple. It takes a lot of hard work and courage to get to know who you are and what you want.

–Sue Bender

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Understanding birth technology shouldn’t lull you into thinking you understand birth. The profound mystery and spirituality of birth can never be understood with the mind, they are known through the heart…

–Pam England

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…fear has to be present in order for courage to exist. The English word ‘courage’ is derived from the French word for the heart, coeur. Finding the heart to continue doing the right thing in the face of great fear inspires others to become nobler human beings.

~ Gloria Lemay

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Womb Labyrinth

10801641_1583381505207399_4451968254649696695_nBirth journey. Each of us walks our own path. In the center, a baby waits. And, so too, wait deep truths about ourselves. Our own courage, our own fears, our own strength, our own power. One foot in front of the other. That’s how the journey is made. You set out for the threshhold, unknowing. Maybe a little fearful. Maybe intrigued. Maybe anticipatory. Maybe excited. And you start to walk. One foot in front of the other. Sometimes our journeys drop us to our knees. Sometimes we feel around in the dark, searching for something to hold onto. Sometimes we skip and twirl along the path. Sometimes we run. Sometimes we pause and sit down and wait. Sometimes someone walks with us, holding our hand. Maybe even giving us a little push from behind. But, ultimately, it is our own private journey. When we get to the center, we will discover what it is that we know that no one else does.

il_570xN.703098950_l7x8The journey of postpartum is a labyrinth too. Carrying our babies in our arms, past sleepless nights, through endless days. Through worry and tears, through sharp, sweet, timeless moments of a joy so bone deep it knows no words and in a love so endless that it defies description. And, we walk. Sometimes we bounce. Sometimes we sway. Sometimes we sing a little tune. Sometimes we beg. Sometimes we scream. Sometimes we sit down and say we can’t keep going. Sometimes we skip through the sunshine and dance in the moonlight. Sometimes we can’t believe how much fun we are having and how wonderful this is. Sometimes we feel so alone, we think we might break. And, yet, we keep going, and we emerge, blinking at the newness of it all…

 Modified from a past post: Birth Labyrinth | Talk Birth.