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Mama Strut (by Pelv-Ice) review

After learning about bellybinding during my Sacred Pregnancy course, I planned to try it after Tanner’s birth. In October before his birth, I got a message about reviewing a new product from Pelv-Ice: The Mama Strut, which is a postpartum support brace. Of course I said yes! What perfect timing! The actual Mama Strut arrived on the very day Tanner was born. How’s that for even more perfect timing?! While it isn’t as pretty as a traditional bellybind, it is very functional and has lots of beneficial extras that are not present on a traditional belly wrap.

The Mama Strut is a wearable soft brace that is uniquely engineered to deliver heat/ice therapy to reduce pain, swelling and cramping from vaginal deliveries, c-sections and vaginal prolapse, while also supporting the back and abdomen with medical-grade compression. The all-in-one shorts and abdominal/lower back support design is adjustable, fits comfortably and discreetly under clothing, and is made with moisture-wicking, anti-microbial fabric for supreme comfort. The Mama Strut offers women increased relief and mobility, as well as the ability to take care of baby without the need for heavy pain medication.

via PELV-ICE LLC

MamaStrutProductImage

After the births of all of my other children, I distinctly recall the feeling of not being able to stand up straight for days after their birth. This isn’t just a psychological or emotional feeling of being “wrung out” from giving birth, it is physiological—core strength is really affected by pregnancy and our mama abdominal muscles do struggle to keep our bodies upright. I remember leaning on the sink, kind of hunched over, trying to brush my teeth. And, I remember leaning on the wall of the shower to support my body. After my daughter’s birth in 2011, my afterbirth contractions were centralized, very painfully, in my lower back as well.

One of the nifty things about the Mama Strut is how it is “customizable” for each woman. It has hot/cold packs that can be inserted into pouches for the lower back, abdomen, and perineum. My favorite thing about it was the back brace support though. It was just what I needed. I tried the Mama Strut for the first time about two days after birth and it felt amazing. And, after I took it off, I still felt like my core muscles were benefiting from the support. I could stand up straighter and my abdominal muscles felt like they had been brought back together. My only critique is that the perineal support strap was not removable (all the other additions velcro off and on) and since I didn’t want/need to use it, it just dangled down the back like a tail (it does tuck into a pouch on the back when not in use, instead of tail-dangling, but I found it then made a hard lump against my back, so I left it to dangle instead). Since I have labial tearing following births, rather than perineal tearing, the last thing I want is something tight against my tender body! For the same reason, I also wish the shorts were detachable. However, my type of tearing is unusual and I can see how many women would benefit from the perineal support, particularly those who experience the sensation of their insides “falling out” or their organs dropping.

The Mama Strut made a noticeable difference in my posture, the intensity of my afterbirth contractions (particularly in my back), and my sensation of core strength and support during the early postpartum period.

Here are some “before” pictures that my mom took of me at two weeks postpartum:

And, here are some pictures of me using the helpful support!

Disclosure: I received the Mama Strut as a complimentary product for review purposes.

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Talk Books: The Secrets of Midwives

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

(character in The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth)

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

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

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

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

(in The Secrets of Midwives)

October 2014 012

 THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES by Sally Hepworth

Find the author on Facebook here and her website here.

Published by St. Martin’s Press

On sale February 10, 2015

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

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

 

 

Product Review: Squeez’Ems

There’s something about kids and squeezable pouches of food. There’s also something about toddlers and not eating. Therefore, when I got a Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 8.31.28 AM copyrequest to review Squeez’Ems reusable food pouches, I suspected this might be a winning combination. At around 2-3 years old, I’ve noticed that all of my kids sleep better at night if they eat a good bedtime snack. This is also the age at which I night wean them, but then find I’m still awakened all night by a kicky toddler who seems to be hungry. So, we work hard to get a nutrient dense bedtime snack in them before bed and eventually the sleep for all improves. The sticky point can be what snack to offer. When Zander was little, we tried all kinds of different smoothie recipes, hoping for a magic combo. With Alaina, we do string cheese a lot and she rejects a lot of our other suggestions. Enter these little reusable pouches. Food is infinitely more intriguing to a little child when it is in a squeezable pouch. The first night, I filled it up with Greek yogurt and she slurped it all down and asked for more. Zander, who is seven now, also enjoyed two pouches worth of yogurt. See what I mean? Instant intrigue! However, there are two other great features about using the Squeez’Ems pouches instead of buying pre-pouched food: you know exactly what is going into it (no weird, additive-filled store purees) AND you can just wash it out and refill it, rather than trashing pouch after plastic (or foil) pouch! I call that a win for the ecologically-minded as well as for the bedtime snacking toddler. The company also notes that they are a good match for children with food allergies who may not be able to eat the same pouched foods being eaten by their contemporaries. I look forward to experimenting with some additional smoothie recipes and trying them out in these pouches!

Alaina is a fan!

For more info on Squeez’Ems, please visit www.booginhead.com.  Squeez’Ems are available at BabiesRUs stores and Amazon.com.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary two-pack for review purposes. I have no further relationship or financial benefit from this company.

Business of Being Born: Classroom Edition

Childbirth is a women’s rights issue and a reproductive justice issue. The United States maternity system is one of the costliest in the developed world, yet our birth outcomes compare poorly to those of other industrialized nations. Among industrialized countries, we consistently rank last or second to last in perinatal and maternal mortality rates. Moreover, birth is depicted in mainstream media with fear, medical intervention, and crisis…

via The Business of Being Born Classroom Edition.

It took me some time to get around to it, but I’ve finally finished exploring The Business of Being Born: Classroom Edition and its associated toolkit of educational materials! As a long-time childbirth educator and birth activist, of course I was interested in this classroom version of the (new) classic birth advocacy film, but I’m also a college professor and therefore was doubly interested—how might this resource be incorporated into one or more of my human services courses? As the BoBB companion site explains…

Childbirth is an issue most people do not engage with until they have experienced the maternal health system. The Business of Being Born: Classroom Edition reaches out to young adults BEFORE they confront their own birth decisions, both placing the issue on the radar and challenging the prevailing assumptions about birth providers and current obstetrical management trends. The goal is for the next generation of policy makers, practitioners, educators, and parents to approach birth decisions with awareness and confidence. Our strategy is to incorporate this evidence-based presentation into classrooms around the country. We envision empowering the next generation of parents to seek out systemic change and new policies supporting domestic maternity care…

via The Business of Being Born Classroom Edition.

The Classroom Edition of the film runs about 25 minutes and comes packaged with one of my all-time favorite resources for birth classes and tabling events: The Guide to a Healthy Birth from Choices in Childbirth. It also comes with two additional celebrity interviews, the short film Birth by the Numbers, and a instructor’s toolkit with classroom activities tying the themes of the film to major subjects such as Women’s Studies, Public Health, and Sociology.

My only critique of the classroom edition of the film is that the assembled quotes at the beginning of the film are put together in a choppy sort of way that makes it difficult to perceive (for the average viewer), which are the “good” (i.e. accurate) quotes and which are popular types of misinformation. There is also an odd, repetitively distracting, monotonal quality to the music that plays through much of the footage. Excerpted from the full-length film, the classroom edition still includes Ricki Lake’s homebirth in her bathtub, which was one of my top favorite moments of the original film. Content from a historical perspective as well as content involving the shadowing of a homebirth midwife and the personal stories from families choosing midwifery care were greatly reduced from the original version and the classroom edition seems to have more of an emphasis on sociocultural analysis. It is noted that 90% of women in many hospitals experience some type of labor augmentation (usually pitocin) and also that hospitals are businesses, businesses that are not really interested in having women hang around in the labor room.

One of the college courses I teach is American Social Policy. I have always been interested in birth change from a systemic (macro) level as a companion to change on the individual (micro) level, so I especially appreciated watching the Birth by the Numbers presentation included with the classroom edition of BoBB. When speaking about the idea that the increase in cesarean rate reflects maternal choice, public health professor Gene Declercq says, “this blaming of women is farcical. It is not about the mothers, it is about the way we treat care in the United States. Nobody ever wants to admit there is a difficult inherent in the system.” Well, I want to admit it and this is the kind of macrosystem-level change we talk about in my Policy course. At the companion Birth by the Numbers website, you can download a powerpoint presentation and other teaching tools, as well as watch the short film, in which public health professor Gene Declercq debunks popular myths about the causes of the United States cesarean rate increase. The film also looks at disparities in maternity mortality rates and tackles questions of systemic influences on maternal health outcomes.

So, are mothers really asking for cesareans?

slide

Declercq also draws on writing from the classic obstetrics textbook, Williams Obstetrics, and shares this quote about one of the real reasons that cesarean rates continue to rise:
whycesareanAnd, he makes this important observation:womenhaventchanged
As Nadine Goodman says in The Business of Being Born Classroom Edition, “A woman will always remember how she was made to feel during her birth…if you don’t have the reverence and respect for birth, where do you go from here?”

Prior post about The Business of Being Born: Transformation Through Birth | Talk Birth

Disclosure: I received a complimentary digital package for review purposes.

Talk Books: One Recumbent Mommy

Some time ago I received a unique memoir to review along with a companion book for children. The topic of One Recumbent Mommy is bedrest and the book is written in a friendly, conversational, and personal style that has potential to bring an air of sisterhood to women experiencing the same challenge and make them feel less alone. The book is based on the author’s blog and a casual, breezy, lighthearted style comes through strongly. The author writes:

I was on hospital bedrest with incompetent cervix for about 16 weeks and while there, I kept a blog chronicling the ups and down of day to day life in the hospital.  That blog was published and is entitled, One Recumbent Mommy: A Humorous Encounter With Bedrest.  I wrote a children’s companion book as well, entitled Wherever I Am, I Will Love You Still: A Book About An Extended Hospital Stay.  This book was written from my 2 year old son’s point of view.  I was trying to get at a way of explaining the situation in terms that a young child could understand.

The companion children’s book: Where I Am, I Will Love You Still, is friendly and sweet and the illustrations are engaging. This book would be a very useful addition to a family whose mother is experiencing a hospital stay. While the book’s conclusion includes the new baby sister coming home, it definitely has the potential to be applied to non-maternity-related hospital stays as well. Do note that bottle feeding is portrayed in the book.

While I was somewhat disappointed by the very conventional medical model of care in One Recumbent Mommy and the seemingly unquestioning acceptance of it by the author (especially considering that bedrest has come under serious scrutiny as to its actual effectiveness at preventing pregnancy loss), as well as the apparently overlooked irony of the baby’s birth then being induced, I appreciated the reminder that for many women pregnancy is anything but a joyful, flower-strewn walk through a miraculous meadow of belly casts and earth-goddesses. My writing and my posts often trend to a Happy Birth Dance! mode of writing about birth and was beneficial to me to remember that this model can feel very isolating, discouraging, and depressing to women whose experiences of pregnancy and birth are different from my own.

Along this same line of thought, I was reminded of recent writings from beautiful blogger Leonie Dawson about her experiences with severe hyperemesis gravidarum (requiring multiple hospitalizations):

And despite everything – despite it all –

Love is calling me forward.

As ancient as the beginning of time, love calls upon us to do what we could not do without.

Love asks of us great things…

via The Love That Calls Us Forward | Leonie Dawson – Amazing Biz, Amazing Life.

As I read One Recumbent Mommy and my priestess/ceremonialist self came to fore however, I also found myself wishing this mama had had some kind of beautiful hospital blessing ceremony to honor her commitment to her baby or that someone had offered her a nurturing prayer, poem, or blessing for her as a Bedrest Warrior doing what had to be done to protect her baby. Could there be a place for a Happy Bedrest Birth Dance mode of writing and experiencing as well? I gratefully welcome additions to this post of ideas for rituals, poems, prayers, or resources that can be offered to bedrest mamas who are doing their best to welcome a healthy, full-term baby into their lives! 🙂

New Baby Ritual (Plus Maruti Beads Review!)

July 2013 014One of my good friends recently had her family’s eighth baby. I’ve had mother blessing ceremonies for her with past babies and I meant to do so for this baby as well, but our unexpected trip to California occurred right at the time we should have been having the blessingway. Last week, I had the chance to visit her and to meet her new baby. I decided to put together a mini-welcome-new-baby-ritual and have it with just us by the river. I called it a “blessingway in a bag” and I included some tea, candles, and bindis in the bag, so that her family could have the complete ceremony themselves on their own if they wanted to do so. Several months ago, I also received a beautiful box of Maruti Beads to review. They’ve been sitting by the computer waiting for a special occasion and this was finally it! I made a pretty necklace for my friend to honor her family’s “tree of life” and I included one of the gorgeous Maruti beads (more pictures to follow).

July 2013 043 At the river, we didn’t actually do the full ceremony that I’ve included below—I’d written it up as a complete ritual that could be done with a group, as needed/wanted—instead, I just read my friend the poems and gave her my gifts 🙂

Ceremony of Welcome for a New Baby

*Opening reading:

Wonder of Wonders

Wonder of wonders,
life is beginning
fragile as blossom,
strong as the earth.
Shaped in a person,
love has new meaning,
parents and people
sing at their birth.
Now with rejoicing,
make celebration;
joy full of promise,
laughter through tears,
naming and blessing
bring dedication,
humble in purpose
over the years.
–Singing the Living Tradition (UU Hymnal)

*Baby name is announced!

 A Prayer for One Who Comes to Choose This Life

May she know the welcome
of open arms and hearts

May she know she is loved
by many and by one

May she know the circle of friendship that gives July 2013 013
and receives love in all its forms

May she know and be known
in the heart of another

May she know the heart
that is this earth
reach for the stars and
call it home

And in the end
may she find everything
in her heart
and her heart
in everything.

(by Danelia Wild in Sisters Singing)

*Gifts, Beads, Blessings…
A good idea is for each guest to bring a special bead and add it to a necklace/mobile for the baby–as each person places their bead, they offer a wish or blessing for the baby.

*Sing Call Down a Blessing
(each person fills in a word of choice for the blank space and whole group sings each in turn. i.e. “Joy….joy before you, joy behind you…”)

Call down a blessing

Call down a blessing

Call down a blessing

Call down.

__________before you

__________behind you

__________within you

__________and around you

*Hold up/out baby or mother and baby stand in center of circle.

*Group Reading (optional: simultaneous “anointing” with elements):

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.

*And/OR

Stars give her strength
Sun turn her eyes
Moon guide her feet
Earth turning hold her
We pray for her
We sing for her
We drum for her
We pray.

–Chrystos (in Open Mind)

Back to the beads!

I received the 50 piece Maruti, Kashmiri & Lac Bead Mix. These beads are really something special! They are handmade in India and are of very high quality. Each one is like a small work of art. They are sparkly and beautiful and solid and wonderful. It is hard to decide how to use them, because they feel really special! Since my friend and her new baby are special too, they deserved one of these beautiful beads 🙂 Maruti Beads would make a wonderful, special addition to any blessingway or mother blessing ceremony.

Talk Books: Birth, Breath, & Death

I just finished reading a lovely little book by Amy Wright Glenn. Lyrical, gentle, contemplative, and touching, Birth, Breath, and Death explores Amy’s meditations on life as a doula, mother, and hospital chaplain. birthbreathanddeath-amywrightglenn

Amy Wright Glenn was raised as a Mormon and eventually found her way onto a different faith path, Unitarian Universalism. Her reasons for connecting with the UU church actually closely mirror my own. Amy mentions that she first finds the UU church through her interest in poetry, which I found interesting. She then explains, “I was drawn to the way that Unitarian Universalist (UU) ministers attempt to evoke wonder and exploration in the minds and hearts of their congregants” (p. 10). This attempt to engage with the “transcendent sense of mystery and wonder” is exactly what attracted me to the UU’s, as well as the respect for the interdependent web of life of which we are all a part, the affirmation of the dignity and worth of each human being, and the commitment to social justice.

Amy writes, “I had been raised to acknowledge only one entrance to God’s energy. In fact, one need not use the term ‘God’ at all. Such a term is another doorway into the mysterious heart unifying all existence. However, humans need language to direct the attention to the ineffable. There are many names for this mystery. The doorways were holy too” (p. 13).

She continues with a very UU perspective (I’ve heard of it describes as “the light shines through many windows. We respect all windows and welcome everyone, except for those who think they should throw rocks through everyone else’s window!”):

“Spiritual surface structures open human beings to encounters with the ineffable…I have no doubt when my father bows his head in a small Utah town, and when I meditate in quiet sublime stillness, we touch the same source. At their best, religious traditions affirm the wonder at the heart of existence and provide meaningful contexts for its experience. This mystery allows us to breathe, dream, love, and dimly perceive so,etching beyond time even while we live in time…The moon is simply the moon, a miracle enough” (p 16).

I connect to this sense of wonder, with no need for explanation or interpretation—isn’t it is enough, to just marvel at what is? On my other blog, I once wrote:

I also have a favorite passage from Susan Griffin about the earth in which she exclaims, “We are stunned by this beauty.” That is exactly how I feel. This relationship to the planet is what used to make me feel that a conception of deity was unnecessary—isn’t it enough to just marvel at what is, right here in front of us? The majesty and the miracle of the natural world. I am stunned by this beauty. I am stunned by the realization that we are all suspended in space, spinning timelessly through the universe on this beautiful planet, so small in the vastness of all that surrounds us, and yet so big that it is literally our whole world. Sometimes when I have a bad day or feel overwhelmed by the swirl of daily tasks I remember that old saying about, “sometimes I go about pitying myself when all the while I am being carried by a great wind across the sky.” If we really stopped to think about this—to sense how we are carried by the great wind, I think the whole world would change, how people relate to each other and to the environment would be transformed. Stop, look, listen, breathe, and feel how we spin. Together.

Moving into birth, Glenn addresses the potent, transformative aspects of birth in describing attending her sister’s birth, the birth that led her into doula work (before the birth of her own son): “Birth brings powerful and painful sensations to the most intimate spaces of the female body…I stood transfixed by the life-giving strength found in her feminine power.”

She also explains:

“All forms of birth–physical, intellectual, spiritual, or emotional–bring one to the depths. The power to give birth originates in the creative life spirit birthing all, the seen and the unseen. According to Joseph Campbell, the source of life is beyond gender and the duality of male and female. However, when symbolizing the power that creates, Campbell argues the representation is ‘properly female.’ I agree. From this universal goddess energy emanates the seasons, the mountains, the rivers, and the galaxies. Writ large, human birth embodied the process of manifesting dreams, working diligently through our labors, and bringing vital energies to life. On this level, all human give birth. All humans participate in life’s creative energy…

On this level, we all need the renewing powers of ‘rhythm, ritual, and rest.’ This phrase reminds doulas of three helpful labor techniques outlined by legendary doula trainer, Penny Simkin. Rhythm, ritual, and rest not only aid birthing women, but they support all of us to move skillfully through our life’s labors. The power of rhythm restores vibrancy through dance, music, and motion. The power of ritual opens the way to direct encounter with the mysterious wonder of life. Rest renews and restores the very cells of our often tired and over-stimulated bodies and minds.” (p. 28-29).

And, she makes some poignant observations about breastfeeding, one that almost made me cry: “…only a child knows what his mother’s heartbeat sounds like from the inside” (p. 67) and one that made me cheer: “Family and friends need to draw a fierce circle of protection and non-interference around the nursing mother-child dyad.

In giving birth to her own son, Amy’s awareness and understanding are further deepened and expanded and she explains that:

“For me, birthing was a crucible moment, a dying, a deepening, and a healing. The light of birth transformed me into a mother. The light of birth is love. Looking back I see this clearly. Love was the pain and joy. Love restored me as I rested and held me up when I transformed into a wild eyed Kali. Love chanted with me in the birthing tub and love was certainly the epidural. Love pushed my baby out and gazed at me through Taber’s eyes. Love sustains me now as I watch his sweet small mouth suckle…” (p. 68)

Towards the end of this sweet, thoughtful book, she also used a great analogy that I’m going to borrow for my human services classes. She posits the scenario in which you are passing by a pond on the way to work and notice a small child drowning. You are wearing an expensive pair of new shoes and rushing into the water will ruin them. Do you rush in? The answer is YES. No one should choose their shoes over the life of the child and almost no one would respond to this scenario by saying that they would not save the child, yet, if the pond is world poverty, we do in fact, choose the shoes every day…we just aren’t looking those children in the eyes at the time…

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