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Birth Witnesses

Birth Witnesses

Guest post by Bonnie Padgett

In this so-called Age of Information, we have iPads and smart phones, mega computers and micro chips, and a world of knowledge at our fingertips.  We are not limited by the resources in our community when we can reach out to virtual communities that span the globe with the touch of a button – forums full of ideas, innumerable news sources, websites for all schools of thought and up-to-the-minute research from leading experts in every field.

So why, then, are new and prospective mothers still so naive when it comes to the act of childbirth?  Why, despite our best efforts to educate ourselves, are we still in the dark about the whole process until those contractions hit and we begin the journey through labor ourselves?  I, myself, was included in this group, although I did everything I could think of to educate myself prior to my daughter’s birth.  I read books on what to expect, took classes hosted by my hospital, toured the birthing facility, joined an online forum of moms, and Googled everything I could think of related to pregnancy and birth.  I spent months practicing Hypnobabies for a natural birth, discussed my wishes in detail with my doctor, and, after studying ample examples and recommendations, formed a ‘birth preferences’ list for the doctor and hospital.  I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want when it came to birth.  At the same time, I knew my “plans” would likely not go as expected, but was prepared to make informed choices along the way.  I had ideals and contingencies, preferences and plan Bs.

However, when all was said and done, I found myself totally unprepared for the experience of labor itself.  I had read about contractions, witnessed videos of women in labor, seen and practiced techniques for comfort and relaxation.  None of that prepared me for the anxiety and unknowns that flooded my mind as my body began its natural next steps.  I realized just how little I knew about the hours ahead.  How uncomfortable I would feel with nurses and midwives going about the “day to day” routines of their jobs, and by doing so how secondary I would feel to the process.  How defenseless I would feel to contradict or decline an expected treatment, especially under the medical staff’s disapproving glares, and with no one to support clueless me and my equally unknowing husband.    While a doula certainly would have helped in easing my fears and strengthening my resolve, I think my inability to grasp what I was a part of, indeed, the central part of, would have still left me bewildered and terrified in those hours.

After my daughter’s birth, I found myself struggling to comprehend what had just happened to me.  Although everyone assured me this was a fairly ‘normal’ labor, I had no point of reference on which to base that comment.  I realized the short video clips online and in class captured only key moments in a much longer, more complex and nuanced process.  Those huge gaps left in my knowledge of labor are what left me so unprepared to defend myself and my baby against treatments I didn’t want, didn’t need, and had previously decided against but found myself, in the moment, succumbing to.    I tried discussing it with my mom, who explained that she’d felt the same way when she had me (her first child).  She concluded the only way to truly understand birth was to experience it yourself.

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.

While I certainly don’t expect us to throw our entire system out the window in favor of simpler times, I think the rush to technology and medical advances certainly left some essential elements of birth in its wake.  Elements such as women supporting women.  Listening to one’s body.   Intervening only when necessary instead of as a matter of protocol.  And perhaps, most importantly for us all, the community aspect of birth.   This has lead me to believe that in order to truly educate ourselves about birth, to improve the way we birth, and the way we prepare for birth and prepare our sisters and daughters for birth is that we need to provide the women we love (especially those of childbearing years) the opportunity to witness and participate in our births, because only when you are present for a labor and birth can you begin to fathom the process, the emotions, the physiological changes that one goes through. If we can allow women the chance to witness and share in our births – the way it was done historically – and how it is done now at sacred places such as The Farm – we can give them a chance to prepare for birth in a way we were never able to. They can see firsthand the role of a midwife or doctor (and the roles those care providers don’t play). They can observe the benefits of a doula, they can have the opportunity to doula themselves – caring for and soothing a woman in labor.  They can observe the power of changing positions, the instinctual side of birth that leads each woman to listen to her inner voice to bring forth her child.  They can witness the time, energy and atmosphere it takes to birth a baby. I truly wish that more women were invited into the birthing setting by close family or friends so they could witness normal birth and understand it as best they could before they do it themselves. This is one of the keys, to me, to normalizing birth for every woman.

As a ‘birth survivor’ myself, I understand the trepidation some women feel at including more people in this personal and – unfortunately for some – traumatizing event, and I respect that, but I would like to offer a few thoughts about opening your birth to ‘birth witnesses’.  First of all, my initial reaction to the way my daughter was birthed was “that was not how it was supposed to be!” followed shortly by “I don’t want anyone I know to have to suffer through that humiliation, degradation and pain!”  Those sentiments led me down the path of trying to discover a way to share with the women I love what childbirth could be, and what it should not be.  My best answer is to let them witness a birth experience and let them form their own opinions about what works for them and what won’t, so that they can be better equipped going into the experience themselves – empowerment!

My second thought for you is to think of those women you would want to share this experience with – do you have a younger sister? A daughter, niece, or friend who may one day become a mother?  Don’t you want to offer them the best opportunity for a great birthing experience?  Think of the presence they will bring to your birth, in turn.  These are women whom you love the most in the world.  They are going to be calming, happy, supportive presences in your birthing place (and if they’re not, I recommend they not attend).  These women want to see you succeed. They want what is best for you and your baby.  They are going to know you better than any doctor or midwife or doula, making them naturally better able to comfort you and support you.  Their love and warmth will be a welcome and helpful addition to your birth, as well as an educational experience for them.  And, if you, like me, were scarred or traumatized by your first birth, that type of love and unconditional support might be just what the doctor ordered, so to speak.

Like all things in this life, I don’t believe there is a universal approach to anything.  I don’t think that inviting birth witnesses into one’s labor is right or necessary for everyone, nor do I think that every woman must witness a birth to be adequately prepared.  For most women in our country today, though, I think there are many benefits – to the laboring mom and to her support team.    If you do want to invite birth witnesses into your experience, I recommend you consider the following as you prepare for your birth:

  • Think about where you are birthing and how many people are able to attend.  Many hospitals have limits on the number of people who can join a woman in a delivery room, but you may be able to rotate some of them in and out, giving a few women a chance to participate. Some birthing centers are more flexible, especially if you explain your intents, and your home of course is the an ideal option for including birth witnesses.
  • Think about who will best help you as well as who most will benefit from the experience.  This is YOUR birth after all.  Your needs must still come first.  If there is someone whose presence may cause friction or tension, you may not want to include them.   Birthing mothers need calm and relaxation.
  • Consider inviting witnesses no matter if you’re planning on a natural birth, an epidural, induction, or other intervention.  There is something to be learned from every birth experience, so don’t discount your ability to help because of the way you choose to birth. It is the physical presence at a birth that offers more to women than the type of birth.  They will form their own opinions about what they are comfortable with while watching and learning from you.
  • Talk to your witnesses beforehand.  Let them know you’d like them at your birth and why.  The idea of being present with birthing women has become a strange one for many people since it has fallen out of vogue, and explaining that they can help you by being present, and that you’d love for them to be there to witness your birth may warm them up to the idea.
  • Consider hiring a doula.  The doula can become a support for you, your partner and your other attendants, offering explanations and information, ideas for support, and helping to control the atmosphere and activity in the room so that it is ideal for your birth.

In the end, do what is best for you and your family.  Remember, the point of including birthing witnesses in the experience is to help you and to help someone else.  Even if you invite just one friend, a sister, or a niece to join you, you are helping to transform that woman’s view of childbirth and offer her an experience and education that she will carry with her for the rest of her life.  If we all became birth mentors for just one woman, think of the tremendous change we could affect for the next generation of birthing women.

Bonnie Padgett is a proud mother and wife, and an active member of the birthing community in Atlanta.  Bonnie is the owner of La Bonne Mama, which offers labor doula services, childbirth and newborn care education, birth art and placenta encapsulation services.  For her next birth she is planning a homebirth and her sister, sister-in-law, and niece will be invited to share in the experience. You can visit her online at www.labonnemama.com, or www.facebook.com/labonnemama.

Pictures & Doulas

I am buzzing with topics to write about, but this week is finals week and I have been really busy with grading papers, tests, and dealing with last minute student issues and requests and blogging keeps slipping down in my possible options for the day. I also have two more giveaways to set up! So, I thought I would share some more pictures from my recent photo session. You may also notice that I have a fabulous new header for my website 🙂

And, here is the one I chose to use on my Talk Birth Facebook page:

I’m pleased as can be with them 🙂

Today I had a visit with my doula for this birth. I am completely confident in my birthgiving abilities and prefer to be nearly alone while birthing my babies (husband only), but I do also feel a deep need for immediate postpartum support. I am very capable at birthing my babies, but afterwards I am wiped out. Indescribably so, really. I’ve toyed with thinking that maybe this is an issue I can “get over” and I could take a mind over matter approach to dealing with, or, is planning for the wipe out I’ve experienced three times before just good, practical, realistic sense? So, my plan with her is for just that—for her to arrive shortly after I’ve had the baby and to quietly walk around in the background washing the bloody towels. This sounds like a good plan to me 🙂 I also have “blood” issues that I’ve touched on before and so I made a “don’t look down” plan for post-birth trips to the bathroom. With each baby, when I go to use the bathroom, I look down to wipe/clean up and then become woozy/light-headed/ringing in my ears/can’t see any more and start to “go under” (though I’ve never actually fainted in my life). But, then when I get back to my “nest,” I feel okay again. (Same thing happens if I get my blood drawn or get an IV, so it doesn’t seem to literally be related to blood loss, but to a mental issue with seeing blood.) So, this time I’m going to make a plan not to look down! It felt really, really nice to have someone paying exclusive attention to me, my baby, and my birth plans—the focused, concentrated time that is hard to find space for in the midst of other kids and responsibilities.

Tomorrow I am going to a mother blessing ceremony for a friend. I’m looking forward to it—they are always special!

Book Review: Optimal Birth: What, Why & How

Book Review: Optimal Birth: What, Why & How
By Sylvie Donna
Fresh Heart, 2010
ISBN 9781906619138
670 pages, paperback, £24.99
http://www.freshheartpublishing.com

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, CCCE
https://talkbirth.wordpress.com

Written in an energetic and confident tone, Optimal Birth is written for midwives and other birth care providers and emphasizes undisturbed, natural birth. Throughout the text, a unique “birthframe” format is used to share birth wisdom in women’s own words. Donna is heavily influenced by the work of Michel Odent (he attended several of her births) and references him frequently. The author writes in a very straightforward manner and has extremely strong opinions as to what constitutes “undisturbed birth,” but these opinions are backed up with ample evidence-based information. The exquisite sensitivity of a birthing woman to her environment is of primary importance in the book and caregivers are strongly urged to take an extremely hands-off approach to care.

A lengthy volume, Optimal Birth is difficult to describe adequately in summary form—it contains extensive sections about physiological birth, birth interventions, the emotional impact of women’s experiences, prenatal care, and postpartum care. It also includes a week-by-week guide to pregnancy. There are a large number of black and white pictures and each section of the book contains a series of insightful questions designed to provoke self-discovery about physiological birth and the appropriate care of birthing women.

Readers unaccustomed to the midwives model of care or to the principles of undisturbed, physiological birth may find the book’s emphasis on non-intervention heavy-handed or one-sided. Considering that many manuals for care providers focus extensively on labor and birth “management,” personally I find the non-disturbance approach advised by Optimal Birth to be inspirational and encouraging as well as appropriate. As the author notes, “the processes of birth are so delicate that many things can disturb a laboring woman and consequently make her labor slower and more dangerous.”

An encouraging and informative companion book containing much of the same information but from a consumer perspective titled Preparing for a Healthy Birth is also available.

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

Fathers, Fear, and Birth

“I told my dads that they were their partner’s lover and that their most important role at the birth was one they did everyday without classes, books or practice: Loving the mom. You could literally see the dads relax as this thought sunk in and took root.”

~ Lois Wilson, CPM

My husband supports me during my birthing time with our second baby

I don’t use these exact words, but I share something similar with the dads in my classes—your most important job is just to love her the way you love her, not to try to be anything different or more “special” than you already are…

I recently shared my review of The Father’s Home Birth Handbook by Leah Hazard and also wanted to share this excerpt from an article in Midwifery Today:

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Helping Men Enjoy the Birth Experience, by Leah Hazard

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Nearly 70 years ago, Grantly Dick-Read wrote in Childbirth without Fear that laboring women often experience a cycle of: Fear > Tension > Pain. This is a cycle with which many of us are familiar, and we’ve developed a myriad of ways to break the cycle since Dick-Read first published his seminal work in 1942. However, less attention has been focused on the emotional roller-coaster fathers experience throughout pregnancy and birth, and it’s this area that I’d like to explore in greater depth.

Although a man cannot feel the same pain as a laboring woman, I believe that many men experience a similar cycle of emotions in the birthing space to that which Dick-Read described, with a slightly different end product, namely: Fear > Tension > Panic. A man who is not confident in his partner’s birthing abilities, who is poorly informed, and/or who is poorly supported, becomes increasingly tense; and if this tension is not eased, then he spirals into an irreversible state of panic. This panic manifests differently in different men: some men become paralyzed by their fear (the familiar specter of the terrified dad sitting stock-still at the foot of the bed), while others spring into hyperactivity, bringing endless cups of water or becoming obsessively concerned with the temperature of the birth pool.

The root of this panic is fear, and it’s a fear which often begins to grow long before the first contraction is felt. As such, we need to think about ways that we can address and minimize this fear in the days and months preceding birth…

[Please read the rest of this article excerpt in the full online version of E-News: http://www.midwiferytoday.com/enews/enews1221.asp ]

Excerpted from “Beyond Fear, Tension and Panic: Helping Men Enjoy the Birth Experience,” Midwifery Today, Issue 95 Author Leah Hazard is the author of The Father’s Home Birth Handbook. For more information, visit www.homebirthbook.com .

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I really think the fear-tension-panic cycle makes a great deal of sense and it brought me to this quote:

“Fear is completely intertwined with what we experience as labor pain…And it is the fear in our physicians and nurses as much as the fear within ourselves.” –Suzanne Arms (Immaculate Deception II)

I think sometimes women underestimate the power the attitudes of other people in the birthplace hold over outcome (the nocebo effect, possibly)—while being prepared, confident, fearless, etc. as a birthing woman is excellent and she can sometimes manage to triumph over the fear of the others around her, I more often see the fear of others overriding the preparation and confidence a mother has tried to develop in herself. I think it is important that we actively cultivate coping skills and resources within fathers-to-be as well, so that they are less likely to get into the fear-tension-panic cycle and are better able to be present for the birthing woman (fear-tension-panic within doctors and nurses is a subject for another post!). Here are some other posts I’ve written specifically for fathers:

Ideas for supporting your partner in labor

No Right Way

Resources for Fathers to Be

Birth Affirmations for Fathers

For Labor Support Remember TLC or BLT

Comfort Measures & Labor Support Strategies

Helping yourself while helping your wife or partner in labor

(P.S. Yesterday this was a much more developed post and WordPress erased it accidentally and to my great dismay 😦 )

Book Review: The Father’s Home Birth Handbook

I came to my attention today that I have never posted this book review! (also, as I prepared to “tag” this post, I realized that I don’t have a tag set up for “homebirth.” Can this really be true??!!)

The Father’s Home Birth Handbook

By Leah Hazard
Victoria Park Press, 2008
Softcover, 208 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9560711-0-1
www.homebirthbook.com

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE

The Father’s Home Birth Handbook is a succinct and easy to read little guide for fathers and adds to the growing library of birth resources specifically geared towards fathers-to-be. The book is written by a woman, but contains ample quotes from fathers which lend a male perspective. It also includes a number of good birth stories interspersed throughout, which were all written by men.

The target audience for the handbook is easily summed up in the prologue: “…I’ve met far more men who have responded to their partners’ home birth wishes with a mixture of shock, cynicism, and fear…Far from being domineering ogres who just want to see wifey tucked ‘safely’ away a hospital, these loving fathers have simply had very little access to accurate, impartial information about the safety and logistics of home births versus hospital births.”

The first chapter addresses “Risk & Responsibility,” because that is one of the very first issues of concern for most people new to the idea of homebirth. It moves on to a chapter called “Think Positive,” followed by “Choosing the Guest List” and then one titled “Pleasure and Pain” This chapter covers comfort measures and what to do while the woman you love is giving birth: “…away from the intravenous drip and ticking clocks, you can support your partner in experiencing labour in all of its awesome, challenging power.”

Chapter five—“Birth: Normal and Extraordinary” covers Labor 101 topics, including what to do with the placenta. This is followed by “Challenges & Complications” which covers some common issues of concern such as premature labor, being overdue, prolonged labor, distressed baby, cord around the neck, tearing, and blood loss. Each of these is followed by a “what can I do to help?” section.

The final chapter—“Now What?”—concludes with a nice segment called “how can I carry the lessons I’ve learned from my homebirth with me into the rest of my life as a father?”

Published in Scotland, the handbook has a UK perspective—it assumes participation in the NHS and a “booked” midwife and homebirth. There is no “how to choose a midwife” type of section (because there is no choice of midwives). For US readers, this leaves a set of issues unaddressed—such as varying legal statuses, etc. UK specific issues also arise based on the possibility of caregivers who are not thrilled about homebirth, but who have to come to the birth since it is a government supported option. It comes across that in Scotland homebirth may seem readily okay on paper, but in reality is more difficult to pull off.

The book does briefly discuss the birth climate in the US and soundly critiques ACOG’s position on homebirth.

The book has an index and a resources section.

The Father’s Home Birth Handbook is a friendly, practical, matter-of-fact, helpful little guide that neatly addresses common questions and concerns many fathers-to-be have about planning a homebirth.

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

Associated amusing anecdote: my then three year old noticed me reading this book, looked at the cover and said, “The dad is trying to grab him, but that little baby is floating away!

Book Review: Survivor Moms


Book Review: Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing after Sexual Abuse

By Mickey Sperlich & Julia Seng
Motherbaby Press, 2008
ISBN 978-1-89-044641-3
245 pages, softcover
http://www.midwiferytoday.com

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE

Past sexual abuse is an unfortunately common experience for women. Anyone who works with women of childbearing age should be mindful and informed of the effects of an abuse history on the woman’s experience of pregnancy, birthing, and mothering. Indeed, I consider this awareness to be a fundamental professional responsibility. Enter Survivor Moms, published by Motherbaby Press. This book is an incredibly in-depth look at the experiences and need of survivors of sexual abuse during the childbearing year.

One of the best and most unique features of the book is the “tab” format used for much of the clinical, research-based, or fact-based content in the book. Rather than lengthy chapters reviewing research and analyzing the phenomenon, textboxes containing quick facts and reference material are printed in the margins of many of the pages. The bulk of the narrative information in the main body of the text is then in the voices of mothers themselves, interspersed with commentary by the authors linking concepts, explaining ideas, and clarifying essentials. This is a powerful format that makes information readily and quickly available for reference as well as making the overall book very readable and approachable.

As someone with no personal abuse history who is currently pregnant, I did find the book to be a very emotionally difficult, intense, and almost overwhelming read at times. This is not a criticism in any way—sexual abuse is not a light or cheerful topic and it can be one that many people prefer to avoid. This is all the more reason for birth professionals to make a specific effort to be educated and informed.

Written both for mothers themselves and for the professionals who work with them, Survivor Moms is an essential part of any birth professional’s library. As noted in the book’s introduction, “We need to understand the impact of childhood abuse on birthing and mothering deeply, from hearing women’s stories. We also need to understand it broadly—from looking at the impact on samples and populations, on the body and on the culture.” Survivor Moms offers an accessible way of hearing those critically important stories and developing the necessary understanding to care compassionately for birthing women.


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

And What’s This? More Birth Quotes!

I decided to split my most recent Facebook quote sharing into two posts, because it was becoming overwhelmingly long. These are the quotes I’ve shared on the Citizens for Midwifery Facebook page since April. While I realize that I don’t “own” these quotes—other people said them, not me!—I do have quite a bit of legwork invested in seeking and sharing these quotes (I mostly get them from my own reading) and if you re-post one or more of them on your own Facebook page, blog post, or book, I really appreciate acknowledgement and/or link back to this site or to my FB page, that this is where you originally got the quote!

‎”When a woman births without drugs…she learns that she is strong and powerful…She learns to trust herself, even in the face of powerful authority figures. Once she realizes her own strength and power, she will have a different attitude for the rest of her life, about pain, illness, disease, fatigue, and difficult situations.” –Polly Perez

“It is a curious commentary on our society that we tolerate all degrees of explicitness in our literature and mass media as regards sex and violence, but the normal act of breastfeeding is taboo.” – American Academy of Pediatrics (via Baby Bloom Doula Service)

“The way a society views a pregnant and birthing woman, reflects how that society views women as a whole. If women are considered weak in their most powerful moments, what does that mean?” –Marcie Macari

“Attempting to fulfill an idea of the ‘perfect’ mother can only prove soul-destroying, as no such person exists.” –Adela Stockton

“In the sheltered simplicity of the first days after a baby is born, one sees again the magical closed circle, the miraculous sense of two people existing only for each other.” –Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Giving birth is an experience carried not only into the first days of motherhood but also throughout life, having far-reaching effects on the mother’s self-esteem and confidence.” –Gayle Peterson

‎”I think one of the best things we could do would be to help women/parents/families discover their own birth power, from within themselves. And to let them know it’s always been there, they just needed to tap into it.” –John H. Kennell, MD

“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)

“…advocates of home birth have never suggested that *all* women should give birth at home, only that it is a reasonable choice for some women. Given that rather modest claim, the force and vehemence with which home birth is opposed by ACOG seems out of all proportion.” –Elizabeth Armstrong (Princeton University)

“Few healthy, low-risk mothers require technology-intensive care…Yet…the typical childbirth experience has been transformed into a morass of wires, tubes, machines and medications that leave healthy women immobilized, vulnerable to high levels of surgery and burdened with physical and emotional health concerns…” –Maureen Corry (quoted in Lamaze International‘s journal)

“At a time when Mother Nature prescribes awe and ecstasy, we have injections, examinations, and [cord] clamping… Instead of body heat and skin to skin contact, we have separation…Where time should stand still for those eternal moments of first contact as mother and baby fall deeply in love, we have haste to deliver  the placenta and clean up for the next ‘case.'” –Sarah Buckley

“Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” – Marianne Williamson

“…celebrate ourselves for our courage to birth. The real question becomes not, ‘Have you done your breathing exercises?’ but rather, ‘Can you love yourself no matter how you birth, where you birth, or what the outcome?'” –Claudia Panuthos

“Whenever a woman has a problem, I believe that she herself can find the answer, provided she is given adequate information and support. I firmly believe in women’s strength and resourcefulness; I’ve witnessed these time and again. Women care about the continuation and continuity of life; they are intrigued by relationships, how things fit together.” –Elizabeth Davis

“Deep relaxation, surrender, letting go: when midwives are asked to disclose the secret of giving birth with relative ease, these are the words we choose. More than metaphors for coping, these responses are based on physiological imperatives…” –Elizabeth Davis

“The greatest joy is to become a mother; the second greatest is to be a midwife.” –Norwegian Proverb

‎”Brick walls eventually crumble precisely because people keep busting their heads against them.” –Barbara Wilson-Clay (IBCLC)

“Some midwives pull women up the hill and say I will get you through this. Other midwives walk behind quietly and gently say, ‘I believe in you.'” -Patricia M. Couch (via Wellpregnancy Childbirth Educator Trainings and Childbirth Classes)

‎”In our own world today, motherhood is rarely sufficiently honored. One day each year, there are brunches and corsages and little gifts of love. But the rest of the time? As a culture, we do not respect the great gift of mothering. Women’s work in raising the next generation is taken for granted. Yet it is a vital service to humanity, one that deserves to be acknowledged continually.” –Patricia Monaghan

‎”Becoming a mother does not need to rob you of your selfhood. Stay away from martyrdom. Martyrs never make good mothers; what is gained in giving is taken away in guilt.” –Gayle Peterson

“The midwife cannot be skilled without being caring. She cannot be truly caring without being skilled.” –Sheila Kitzinger

“The two most beautiful sights I have witnessed in my life are a full blown ship at sail and the round-bellied pregnant female.” –Benjamin Franklin

“When you have a baby, your own creative training begins. Because of your child, you are now finding new powers and performing amazing feats.” –Elaine Martin

“…in a time lacking in truth and uncertainty and filled with anguish and despair, no woman should be shamefaced in attempting to give back to the world, through her work, a portion of its lost heart.” –Louise Bogan

“If the baby’s body is a joy and a delight in the mother’s arms, that same body will become a joy and a delight to its owner later on.” –English & Pearson

“Even if I am simply one more woman laying one more brick in the foundation of a new and more humane world, it is enough to make me rise eagerly from my bed each morning and face the challenge of breaking the historic silence that has held women captive for so long.” –Judy Chicago

“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

“Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at de sun.’ We might  not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”- Zora  Neale Hurston (via Literary Mama)

“That they can strengthen through the empowerment of others is essential wisdom often gathered by women. “—Mary Field Belenky (via Applaud Women)

“Since beliefs affect physiologic functions, how women and men discuss the process of pregnancy and birth can have a negative or positive effect on the women that are involved in the discussion. Our words are powerful and either reinforce or undermine the power of women and their bodies.” –Debra Bingham (I was inspired to share this quote today by a conversation with Kerry Tuschhoff 🙂

“Learn to respect this sacred moment of birth, as fragile, as fleeting, as elusive as dawn.” ~ Frederick Leboyer (via From Womb to Cradle Doula Services)

‎”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)

“Birth is women’s business; it is the business of our bodies. And our bodies are indeed wondrous, from our monthly cycles to the awesome power inherent in the act of giving birth.” –Sarah Buckley

“When a man is truly ‘present’ for the birth of his child and allows himself to be touched by the mystery unfolding before his eyes, he will have an unquestionable experience that can catapult him into the next phase of his development as a mature human being. His encounter with the power of birth…can connect him to his partner and his child in ways that sustain him for the rest of his life.” –John Franklin

“When he becomes a father, a man leaves behind his life as a single individual and expands into a more inclusive role. He becomes a link in an unbroken chain. And in doing so, he himself undergoes a birth process–the birth of himself as a father.” –John Franklin (FatherBirth)

‎”We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want to hear–to hear you erupting. You Mount St. Helenses who don’t know the power in you–I want to hear you…If we don’t tell our truth, who will?” –Ursula K. Le Guin

“For most people, modern life meanders along a path of ups and downs, by and large devoid of high-voltage experiences that have the power to alter our lives in significant ways…The birth of a child is one of those significant experiences.” –John & Cher Franklin (FatherBirth)

“Pregnancy and labor are periods of vulnerability. This vulnerability is not weakness, but softness, which later contributes to adjustment to motherhood. Feeling dependent may open you to your need for help, and the ability to accept help from others can increase your strength and endurance for labor. Each of us must come to terms with our own feminine strength and our need for protection.” –Gayle Peterson (An Easier Childbirth)

“Labor is also teamwork. It is a mother and baby learning together how to push and how to be born, how to yield and separate from the union of pregnancy. You are not in control nor are you out of control during labor. The best way to approach labor is with an attitude of learning rather than controlling.” –Gayle Peterson (An Easier Childbirth)

“Midwifery calls upon you to be the best you can be: the best advocate, guide, healer, counselor, mother, comrade, and confidant of the women seeking your care.”— Anne Frye

“The birth of a baby is the birth of family. Myriad births take place at once: Women become mothers, husbands become fathers, daughters become sisters, and sons become brothers. One birth ripples through generations, creating subtle shifts and rearrangements in the family web.” –Gayle Peterson

“The family’s trust in the midwife and the midwife’s trust in the competence of the family members are the basis of caring that has the power of magic.” ~ Mary C. Howell (from Midwifery Today e-news)

“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)

“Fear is completely intertwined with what we experience as labor pain…And it is the fear in our physicians and nurses as much as the fear within ourselves.” –Suzanne Arms (Immaculate Deception II)

“There is no place for ideology in birthing. Each birth has its own story and we must respond to what the baby tells us.” –Spinning Babies.com (via Kelly Caldwell)

I do think there is a place for ideologies/philosophies about birth and as guides for humane care/practice and as guides for making prenatal care and birth care decisions (before the birth), but in the actual moment, release of attachment is often necessary.

“To be pregnant is to be vitally alive, thoroughly woman, and undoubtedly inhabited.” ~Anne Buchanan (via CAPPA)

“Your doc/friend/mother-in-law may be saying, ‘Don’t be a hero, get the epidural!’ But this isn’t about heroics, this is about protecting your body…” –Jennifer Block (via @Spirited Doula Services)

“Giving birth in ecstasy: This is our birthright and our body’s intent. Mother Nature, in her wisdom, prescribes birthing hormones that take us outside (ec) our usual state (stasis), so that we can be transformed on every level as we enter motherhood.” –Sarah Buckley

“The mystery of life and birth is a profound invitation to be authentic as you trust and tremble your way through labor’s Gates of doubt and fear. It is possible that you will become more intuitive during labor than at any other time…Allow your body to guide you in your breathing, in your unique movement, in knowing …what to do…even when you don’t know what to do.” –Pam England (The Labyrinth of Birth)

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” ~ Harriet Tubman (via Midwifery Today e-news)

“Midwives can create a spirit of beauty at a birth or they can desecrate it. They can create a sacred space around a birthing woman that drives out fear & inspires the mother’s belief in herself, which ultimately determines the outcome of the birth. Midwives can be a channel of Grace in ways they never imagined & in doing so they create a spirit of reverence. Reverence in these days and times is not a common thing.” Caroline Wise, Birthing with Reverence (Midwifery Today)

Re: “advice” for someone who is pregnant: “…if you know that you are pregnant and if you know when you conceived your baby and you think that everything’s okay, doctors can probably do nothing for you. Women need to realize that the role of medicine in pregnancy is very limited…What’s important is for a mom-to-be to be happy, to eat well, to adapt her lifestyle to her pregnancy, to do whatever she likes to do…I think that’s what we have to explain to women. They have to realize that doctors have very limited power.” –Michel Odent (in Optimal Birth)

Birth Violence

“‘Old wives’ tales,’ says the Oxford dictionary, are ‘trivial stories, such as are told by garrulous old women.’ It is significant that no one ever talks about ‘old husbands’ tales’ or ‘old doctors’ tales.’ Women are blamed instead. It is implied that there is poison in their speech and that the only safe thing to do is remain silent. The experiences that women share with other women are thus rejected and trivialized…In reality, it is not other women who instill and fuel anxiety in most pregnant women, but the medical system itself.” This quote from the 1980’s book, Giving Birth, by Sheila Kitzinger, remains strikingly relevant today. When women in the United States today enter the hospital to give birth, many experience some form of institutional violence. They may not explicitly define it as violence, but listening to their stories provides a disheartening picture of maternity care today.

What kinds of violence occur in the birth place? Here are a few possible examples of “normative abuse” women may experience when giving birth in U.S. hospital setting

• Restriction of movement
• Restriction of nourishment
• Domination by those in positions of authority—must obey even when it is against her own best interests.
• Routine, forced interventions such as IVs
• Repeated, possibly painful, vaginal examinations by many different people
• Denial of option for VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean)
• At the most extreme example of overriding patient rights, a forced cesarean section
• Vaginal cutting (episiotomy)
• Abusive language
• Separation from family/restriction of companionship
• Lack of respectful treatment
• Voice and wishes disregarded/unheard
• Emotional manipulation using baby as a “card” to force compliance (“you want a healthy baby don’t you?” No mother doesn’t. It is degrading and dehumanizing to suggest that she doesn’t.)
• Forced separation of mother and baby
• Administration of medications without consent
• Cord traction and interference with third stage (placenta) that may lead to hemorrhage.

The emotional treatment of women in labor is the most significant factor contributing to their satisfaction with their birth experiences (emotional factors of highest importance include having good support from caregivers and being treated with respect). According to Kitzinger, “We are only now discovering the long-term destructive effect on human beings and families of treating women as if they were merely containers, to be opened and relieved of their contents; and of concentrating attention on a bag of muscle and a birth canal, rather than relating to, and caring for, the person to whom they belong. The violence which is a common element in childbirth today leaves many women feeling that birth has been a kind of rape. This sort of experience is not easily forgotten. It can shatter a woman’s self-confidence, make her doubt her ability to mother her baby, destroy joy in the expression of her sexuality, and attack her very sense of self–the roots of her identity. It is psychologically mutilating.”

And, as Mary Rucklos Hampton says, “The effort to separate the physical experience of childbirth from the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of this event has served to disempower and violate women.”


Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE is a certified childbirth educator and activist who blogs about birth at https://talkbirth.wordpress.com and midwifery at http://cfmidwifery.blogspot.com.

Note: In 2009, I wrote an article about birth violence for International Women’s Day, but it appears to have never been published. So, I decided to post it here (and on the CFM blog in honor of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8th). I also read two relevant articles recently: How childbirth caused my PTSD and Birth Trauma: An Introduction.

Rolla Area Doula Recommendation

Summer Eyberg has been a colleague and friend of mine for many years. Late last year, I was privileged to received Summer’s skills as a doula during my third pregnancy and also postpartum when that pregnancy ended unexpectedly during the fourth month. Summer has an amazing gift of presence—she is open and receptive and listens without judgment. She is also skilled at always returning decision-making power to the hands of the mother (where it belongs!). I have always been impressed with Summer’s ability to notice when something needs to be done and how she quickly and graciously moves to do it without fanfare. Summer is also friendly, passionate, and easy to trust and she has a natural gift in celebrating and honoring pregnant women.

Summer’s compassionate attention and sensitive listening have blessed me beyond measure and I am lucky to call her my doula and my friend!

Summer can be contacted via Peaceful Beginnings Doula Services or via Facebook

Resources for Fathers to Be

“The transition to fatherhood is one of the most significant and challenging experiences a man will ever face. In order to have a satisfying and successful experience fathers must feel safe, supported and confident. To optimize the possibilities for our families, we need to provide appropriate educational, physical and emotional support for ‘father love’.

Patrick M. Houser (Fathers to Be)

I recently learned of a book for fathers called Fathers to Be Handbook. I always have my eyes open for resources for fathers and this  looks like a great one. I look forward to reading it soon.

Other books I’ve recently read and recommend for fathers to be are the nurturing, respectful, encouraging book Fathers at Birth and the practical and informative The Father’s Homebirth Handbook. In classes, I also hand out the short publication Dads Adventure. I love photos of dads and babies and one on the homepage of Fathers at Birth is priceless. I like the pictures in Dads Adventure also. There was also a great picture in the article in New Beginnings in which I learned of the Fathers to Be Handbook in the first place.

I have a smallish collection of other books for fathers and I also have the DVD Homebirth Dads (the resources mentioned above without “homebirth” in the title are for fathers in any birth setting, the homebirth specific titles have a special emphasis on homebirth, but are still useful to anyone preparing for birth).

If you have any other favorite resources for fathers please tip me off about them! I am constantly seeking ways in which to become a better resource to families.

I just wrote about this subject on the ICEA blog as well.

For other posts I’ve written about fathers, click here.