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Tuesday Tidbits: Waterbirth & Healthy Babies

il_570xN.684689686_cg6o“It takes force, mighty force, to restrain an instinctual animal in the moment of performing a bodily function, especially birth. Have we successfully used intellectual fear to overpower the instinctual fear of a birthing human, so she will now submit to actions that otherwise would make her bite and kick and run for the hills?”

–Sister Morningstar (in Midwifery Today)

via Tuesday Tidbits: Human Rights and Birth | Talk Birth

Tanner, our last baby, was my first waterbirth. I didn’t really consider water for my first baby. I did for the second and had a birth pool and supplies on hand, but he was born so quickly we had no time to use it. Alaina was born in the deep winter, so water didn’t appeal to me at all and I never considered having a waterbirth with her. With Tanner’s pregnancy, I was interested in trying things I’d never done before. I’d also read that water helps reduce or prevent tears and I really, really, really wanted to avoid tearing again and I thought it would be my last chance to try water and see if helped. He was born in the water and I did tear. I have no regrets about having opted for water with him, other than wishing I would have been able to get out of the pool a little earlier since he got pretty chilled from it. (In case you missed it: his birth story and birth video.)

So, I was interested to read this article about the safety of waterbirth. The conclusion was that water birth is safe, but that women actually had a higher, not lower, chance of tearing…

The findings revealed babies born in water, as well as their mothers, were no more likely to require a transfer or admission to a hospital. Moreover, the babies born in water did not receive a low Apgar score. This quick test is performed on a baby one minute after birth in order to determine how well the baby tolerated the birth, and five minutes after birth to tell doctors how well the baby is doing outside the womb.

Despite the positive, the researchers did find an 11 percent increase in perineal tearing, or vaginal tears among mothers who gave birth in water…

Source: Pregnancy And Water Birth: Giving Birth In Water Tub Poses No Risk To Mom Or Baby, Says Study

A commonly asked question about waterbirth is whether or not water slows down water (the consensus is that it often can if the woman gets in the birth pool “too soon”):

A woman should be encouraged to use the labor pool whenever she wants. However, if a mother chooses to get into the water in early labor, before her contractions are strong and close together, the water may relax her enough to slow or stop labor altogether. That is why some practitioners limit the use of the pool until labor patterns are established and the cervix is dilated to at least 5 centimeters.

Source: Does Water Slow Down Labor? | Talk Birth

I was 35 when Tanner was born, technically of “advanced maternal age.” Luckily, new research also indicated that us “advanced” types have a higher chance of living to “extreme old age” (maybe that should be “advanced, old age”?)

A Boston University School of Medicine study found that women who can still give birth naturally after age 33 have a higher chance of living to extreme old age than those who had their last child before age 30. But the report, published in the online version of the journal Menopause in April 2014 doesn’t imply that putting off pregnancy will add years to your life. “If you physically delay having children, that’s not going to help with longevity, Paola Sebastiani, a Boston University biostatistics professor and study co-author, told OZY. A woman with a natural ability to have children later in life suggests that her body – including her reproductive system – just happens to age at a slow pace. Some women’s biological clocks simply tick more slowly than most.

Source: Late Kids, Long Life? | Acumen | OZY

And, switching gears slightly, I enjoyed this post about that “a healthy baby is all that matters” refrain, that, while seemingly sensible on the surface, is actually an insidious phrase used to shut down women’s voices and deny their completely legitimate right to humane care in pregnancy and birth:

When a woman gives birth, a healthy baby is absolutely completely and utterly the most important thing. Got that? OK – do not adjust your wig, there’s more… It is not ALL that matters. Two things – just to repeat: a healthy baby is the most important thing, AND it is not all that matters. Women matter too. When we tell women that a healthy baby is all that matters we often silence them. We say, or at least we very strongly imply, that their feelings do not matter, and that even though the birth may have left them feeling hurt, shocked or even violated, they should not complain because their baby is healthy and this is the only important thing.

Source: A healthy baby is not ALL that matters – The Positive Birth Movement

This reminds me of the “birth and apples…” example I’ve used in teaching and activism for a long time:

It is not helpful because the expectation was not to not have a healthy baby–the expectation was to have a vaginal birth. It is comparing apples to oranges since there were two separate individual hopes: one the joy of a baby, the other her experience of bringing that baby into the world. The apple being the healthy baby we all want and usually bear, the orange being what we hope for in our trials and tribulations on the way there…

Source: Birth & Apples | Talk Birth

And, it also makes me remember that your baby’s birth is the beginning of a fresh new, lifelong relationship, one worthy of being treated with dignity and respect and honored as an important rite of passage. I explored a relational analogy in one of my most popular past posts…

You ask when the ceremony can begin and the clerk tells you not until your fiancé’s heart rate has been monitored for twenty minutes—“We need a baseline strip on him, hon. After all, you do want a healthy husband out of all this, don’t you?!” she says. You are asked to change out of your wedding gown and into a blue robe. When you express your dismay, you are reminded that your dress could get messy during the wedding and also, “Why does it really matter what you’re wearing? In the end you’ll have your husband and you’ll be married and that’s really what counts.”

Source: All That Matters is a Healthy Husband (or: why giving birth matters) | Talk Birth

In totally separate news, I have an upcoming free Womanspirit Wisdom mini class. Feel free to join!

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Happy Birth-Day: Tanner’s Home Water Birth Video

_DSC0461fToday, my sweet, energetic, fiery, powerhouse of a baby boy turned one! In honor of his birthday, Mark finished putting together Tanner’s birth video. This is the first time I’ve ever had any video of any of my children’s births and it feels tender to share (which is why it took a year to put it out there). Birth is a very private, inner experience for me. I like to give birth virtually alone. So, having video feels like having another observer there, and birth for me is about not being observed. The music that plays in the video is the song Standing at the Edge from Sacred Pregnancy that I listened to throughout my pregnancy and then hummed to myself during labor. When I shared about my sealing ceremony after his birth, I mentioned how meaningful it was to me that this song started to play both as I was entering my ceremonial bath and again as I was getting back out. Well, guess what happened when I went to take a shower this morning on his birthday? This song was also the first to begin as I stepped into the shower!

The written version of his birth story is here: Welcoming Tanner Matthias! | Talk Birth

I’ll do a separate Happy Birthday blog post in a couple of days. I just wanted to make sure to get this video up today! I spent some time at Tanner’s naptime today going through the cards from my mother blessing ceremony and enjoying that energy and affirmation, rather than rushing to my to-do list.

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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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Welcoming Tanner Matthias!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I turned back over then and kept on smiling…

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One hour before birth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready or Not!

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I woke up this morning thinking that considering how close my due date is to Halloween, I’m surprised I have not managed a pumpkin + belly picture of any kind! So, despite the fact that I am intensely crabby crabbilicious, have a cold, and am wearing ugly clothes, I can now check pumpkin belly picture off my list.

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I also dreamed I gave birth in a random driveway full of Halloween decorations! I said: “this was my first outdoor birth!” (the baby also had all his teeth, including molars)

Also, non-belly, but here is our annual pumpkin patch picture from our homeschool group outing last week:

October 2014 153The inexorable march towards Birth-Day is such an interesting, liminal place to be in. It both feels “mysterious” and inevitable. The closer I get to my official due date, the more wide open the possibilities seem as to when he will be born…when, in reality, the options narrow each day! I still have a certain sense of unreality about the whole thing—like, am I really going to do this? Am I really going to have a BABY????!!!!!

However, I’ve spent the last nine months working towards exactly this…

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(This is what my schedule for this week looked like on Monday)

And, I hit 39 weeks on Monday too!

October 2014 070Look! My mom made matching mother-baby birth socks for us to wear after the birth. 🙂

October 2014 094And, this is how Alaina has been…

October 2014 098(Clingy clingolicious and sleeping like crap)

We realized a couple of weeks ago that we’d better order a couple of key things, like a car seat, to finish getting ready for Tanner. Shortly after, UPS, the mail carrier, and FedEx all came to the door within the space of about thirty minutes and then, same day in the evening, FedEx came AGAIN.

October 2014 011 It is also both fun and a little shocking to see Tanner’s clothes come out of the laundry with the rest of the family’s. He’s really on his way!

New Etsy Pictures 005My final night of in-person class until January was October 7th and my students surprised me on final exam night with a whole bundle of baby presents and said it is in appreciation for everything I’ve given to them and how committed I am. I came very close to crying!

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(I felt a little guilty about their three part comprehensive final exam then!)

My “crunchy mom” student also gave me an amber teething necklace. And, there wasn’t a bottle or pacifier to be found in the bundle of gifts.

A post about American postpartum practices continues to make the rounds on Facebook and when I read this quote…

“The problem is that no one recognizes the new mother as a recuperating person, and she does not see herself as one. For the mourning or the injured, we will activate a meal tree. For the woman who is torturously fatigued, who has lost one 10th of her body’s blood supply, who can scarcely pee for the stitches running up her perineum, we will not.”

Why Are America’s Postpartum Practices So Rough On New Mothers? – The Daily Beast.

…I thought that this is what I am SO not looking forward to doing again any time—the being someone in recuperation. I am healthy and happy and strong while pregnant and it is such a hard adjustment to “suddenly” be weak and wounded. I hate it. I’ve tried to explain to Mark how weird it is to one day be a bopping around pregnant woman and the next day to be having to have someone help you get into the shower and feed you! AND, that said, I have totally excellent postpartum support because it is like my personal obsession to get those needs adequately met after not having a clue how hard it would be after the first baby. Every baby, I have less and less of a birth plan of any kind (other than, “have baby at home”) and a more exhaustively detailed postpartum plan right down to: “I get this kind of tea with this honey in it immediately after the birth.”

One of my friends who shared the article made the interesting observation that perhaps this phenomenon is made worse by the empowerment culture of the homebirth/natural birth community, because of our emphasis on women as strong and capable (which they are). But, perhaps that translates into the assumption, goal, or expectation (either from herself or others) that the mother than then “triumph” over the vulnerability of postpartum just like she can or did during labor and birth. After I thought about this, I went ahead and took my sister-in-law up on her offer to come help me postpartum this time as well. I already have my mom and Mark and my postpartum doula and I have midwifery care. So, when my sister-in-law originally offered I felt like I shouldn’t say yes, also because she has a little baby herself. However, then I thought, bring on the love and help!

Though as I mentioned, I haven’t spent a lot of time making specific or detailed birth plans, I have revisited this past post based on the “what if” thoughts of Leilah McCracken:

Let’s shift the internal dialogue and think “what if?!” in powerful ways: “What if I have the most beautiful experience of my life? What if I could actually feel a wet, moving baby on my belly—just after birth—and fall in love with that feeling forever? What if I give birth and feel pure exhilaration? What will happen if I give birth as a powerful, free woman—what will happen if I claim my right to give birth as my biology impels me to? What if I emerge victorious, free, and powerful? What if—what if my baby never feels anything in her first moments other than my body and my love? What if I push my baby out into my own hands, and pull her up, and kiss her wet head, and cry and moan and weep my joy in private, darkness and love—what if… what if this birth is the most loving, sweet and gentle moment of my life? What if I give birth with wild joy and courageous abandon? What if…”

What If? Shifting the Dialogue of Birth | Talk Birth.

And, I’ve been wondering if going on a massive Unsubscribe From All The Things mission is a type of virtual “nesting”?! (Our non-virtual kitchen cabinets have been getting a ruthless sweep through too.)

I do not picture laboring during the day at all, so every night I go to bed thinking “tonight could be the night” and then when I wake up in the morning, I feel like I’ve got a “bonus” day ahead of me! Since two of my other babies were born two days before their due dates, I’ve had my sights set on tomorrow as a likely possibility… (the 25th, which could be tonight or tomorrow evening and still qualify)

Also, not totally related, but we got some new pigments recently and I am very fond of this “rose gold” one…

October 2014 062I keep feeling a sensation of needing to “get more done” during each “bonus” day I wake up to and have been feeling frustrated with what feels like overall household inertia from everyone else around me—all the rest of the family members seem content to just “hang out” and wait. I do not do “hanging out” well at all and feel like perhaps I should somehow go ahead and knock out the 50 page paper I have rolling around in my brain for one of the remaining three classes I have left in my D.Min degree. However, then my brain isn’t quite in it (and the household is not cooperative. Seriously. My other kids lately. Whoa!). So, today, I made one of the teas for my Sacred Postpartum class and did some other small projects and to-dos instead (like this post). The 50 page paper can keep waiting!

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Thesis Tidbits: Feminism, Midwifery, and Motherhood

“Feminism catches fire when it draws upon its inherent spirituality. When it does not, it is just one more form of politics, and politics never fed our deepest hungers.” –Carol Lee Flinders (in The Millionth Circle)

Yesterday, I spent several hours finishing a blog post for Feminism and Religion regarding empowered self-care (it won’t run until next  week). It is a primarily a personal narrative, rather than a political commentary, but as I was writing it, I learned about new legislation introduced in Missouri in an effort to effectively destroy the practice of independent midwifery here. I also have a friend whose family March 2014 082 member just experienced terribly abusive treatment during the immediate postpartum period. I typed feverishly away with an absolutely excruciating headache and a million things on my mind, primarily the very many injustices experienced by women during the childbearing year. I was also left wondering HOW we can truly take care of ourselves when legislators and health care workers actively take dramatic and even cruel steps to prevent us from doing so?

Another friend wrote a comprehensive blog post about this malpractice insurance legislation and the issues involved with it. Midwifery advocacy organizations have already introduced a perfectly appropriate piece of legislation this session and do not need the proposed bogus piece of legislation that offers nothing in the way of protection for Missouri midwifery consumers and instead simply serves to drive midwives out of practice:

…Fortunately, midwives in Missouri do offer a grievance process and adhere to the practice standards set by the certifying agency NARM (North American Registry of Midwives). While there is already a high degree of professional accountability practiced in Missouri, this is because the state professional organization (Missouri Midwives Association) believes it is important and necessary for the professional practice of midwifery and not because the state has directed midwives to do so.

The state of Missouri has continued to be uninterested in working with midwives and home birth families to improve and safeguard the practice of midwifery.

Is there a better option? YES! HB 1363

Instead of HB 2189, we would like to suggest directing legislators to support HB 1363. This is a comprehensive midwifery licensing bill which does provide a mechanism for oversight and responsible, regulated practice. It also addresses the issue of malpractice insurance by requiring midwives to have coverage under the same conditions as physicians. It would also require Medicaid reimbursement for families desiring the care of Certified Professional Midwives and home birth.

via Missouri Legislature Works Against Women, Families and Midwives….AGAIN. | Midwives, Doulas, Home Birth, OH MY!.

I also recently finished a class on ritual theory for my doctoral degree program. The text for the class was To Make and Make Again: Feminist Ritual Thealogy by Charlotte Caron. In it, I was repeatedly reminded that gathering with other women in a circle for ritual and ceremony is deeply important even though it might just look like people having fun or even being frivolous, it is actually a microcosm of the macrocosm—a miniature version of the world we’d like to see and that we want to make possible. Returning to Caron, she explains something similar: “Ritual change is symbolic change, but it can lead to direct action or to ideological change, so it can be an important element in strategizing for change. One way of causing change is to re-form or alter the system. This involves recognizing that we are part of the system and that the system is dependent on feedback from its parts to keep it in balance, which means that we have the capacity to change” (p. 209).

Ritual experience can lead to practical action: spiritual praxis. But, this action does not need to look the same for all women, nor does it always have to involve large structures of society or even sweeping societal change.

“It is important to recognize that not all women will choose to act in the large structures of society. While it is hoped that all women will act toward justice, still electoral politics, lobbying, and revising the economic system may not be the spheres in which some women exert their energy. Ritual actions, raising children to be just and caring people, living in just ways in intimate and community relationships, and modeling different patterns and values are political actions to change patriarchal ideology. The choices of what spheres to devote energy to are important to honor. The constraints of women’s lives—when they are disabled, when they are dealing with past traumas, when they are raising young children, and when they are doing the many other things expected of women in our society—mean that women need to make choices that will allow them to live with integrity and well-being.” (p. 211)

A number of options of action are possible. “What is important are women’s choices to act in concrete ways in every circumstance, to know our neighbors, to raise children to be caring people, to live as if justice exists, to be just in personal relationships, and to live in the community in ways that model the values of justice and well-being for women and all of creation.” (p. 211)

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.”

In connection with women being valued for what they actually do, Caron makes an interesting note about the visions women in her research hold for the future, for the possible:

“Interestingly, none of the visions described by women was based in self-fulfillment, in gaining personal power, or in one’s group having power and the expense of others. Instead, the interviewees talked about the elimination of social, economic, military, and other patriarchal problems, and about living in a world of valued individuals, healthy and diverse relationships, economic and environmental sustainability, equality for all, and shared decision-making and power” (p. 220).

Connected to these themes, one of my classic favorite quotes about women’s spirituality groups is this one:

“…Women’s spirituality groups can become birth centers for social change”

–Anne Rush in The Politics of Women’s Spirituality (p. 384)

March 2014 127

Wednesday Tidbits: Pregnancy and the Sacred

“I see the beautiful curve of a pregnant belly shaped by the soul within.” –Hafiz
(quoted in The Art of Pregnancy) 

IMG_8522Today we’re heading over to my parents’ house to see my brother and his wife for the big “gender reveal” of their baby! They had an ultrasound last week and had the sex of the baby sealed in an envelope (and then baked into cake pops) and are traveling here to share the surprise with their family. While permission has been given for me to talk about their pregnancy in my blog posts, I find myself hesitant somehow—this is their journey and their experience! However, let me just say that I had no idea how excited I’d feel about their baby. I really look forward to having a niece or nephew! My brother is nine years younger than me. I also have two sisters. My brother and I had a conflictual relationship in childhood and our personalities always clashed a lot. I occasionally worried about who he’d end up marrying, because I was pretty certain that he’d choose someone “clashy” and we’d gradually drift apart and rarely see him. However, my brother grew up to be an awesome man (he was actually an awesome kid too, he was just high impact—much like my second child is—and it was hard for me to cope with that energy as a pre-teen/teen/young adult woman) and now he has an awesome wife who is not clashy at all. In fact she pretty much feels just like a sister and I love and appreciate her. JanuaryMollyBarb 005They are planning a homebirth with a midwife and I can’t wait to keep talking birth together! On New Year’s Eve I helped them listen to their baby’s heartbeat for the first time and it was one of the best experiences of my life 🙂 JanuaryMollyBarb 087There is a lot of “everyday sacred” to pay attention to pregnancy as well as in parenting (and life!) and several topics caught my eye this week. The first was this short post on First the Egg:

The person leading the service asked the congregation to think about and support, among other groups, “parents and all those whose primary spiritual practice is caring for children.” And I’m so tired–so tired–because we never get decent sleep and we’re always ‘on,’ and I have so little self left over for creativity or meditation beyond the practice that is parenting (one act of care and then the next and then the next) and the practice that is writing (one word and then the next and then the next). And it felt goofy even at the time, but a wave of gratitude washed through me. I felt recognized in a way that I never, ever do outside my household. I felt like I was sitting amongst a community that could see what parenting is and what children are. Articulating that parenting is an intellectual, emotional, spiritual discipline and practice is both powerful and rare…

via parenting as a spiritual practice.

Reading Molly’s post brought back to mind my own post on breastfeeding and parenting as spiritual practices:

I calculated that so far in my life I’ve put a baby to my breast more than 12,000 times. Even if I only experienced a February 2014 003single moment of mindful awareness or contemplation or transcendence or sacredness during each of those occasions, that is one heck of a potent, dedicated, and holy practice. In the unique symbiosis of the nursing relationship, I recall a quote from the book The Blue Jay’s Dance (1996) by Louise Erdrich about male writers from the nineteenth century and their longing for an experience of oneness and seeking the mystery of an epiphany. She says: “Perhaps we owe some of our most moving literature to men who didn’t understand that they wanted to be women nursing babies.” (p. 148)

via Breastfeeding as a Spiritual Practice | Talk Birth.

I also absolutely loved this blog post on bringing the sacred into a hospital birth:

As a doula, one of the largest roles we take on is the job of environmental modification. In simple terms? Atmosphere.

Many times, we are the weavers of the “bubble”, so to speak, that mother will labor in – be it the physical atmosphere (furniture, objects, beloved items), the sensory atmosphere (sounds, smells, textures), or the emotional atmosphere (tension, ease and calm, excitement, and love).

All of the amazing doulas I have come across use elements of the above principles. Time and time again, I hear stories of “my awesome doula who used a soft voice when I felt frantic” (setting the emotional atmosphere), or “the soothing sound of piano that really grounded me in early labor” (setting the sensory atmosphere). We can be the key builders, setting the tone for the overall experience, utilizing whatever mom has discussed early on as her needs, wants, and wishes…

via How to Bring Sacred to the Hospital Setting — Lauren A. Condron, MOT, OTR/L.

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