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Talk Books: Liberating Motherhood

liberatingmotherhood“Women’s liberation must be mothers’ liberation or it is nothing.”

–Germain Greer, in The Whole Woman, quoted in Liberating Motherhood

Since I have three homeschooled children (ages 6-13) and one toddler (2) who are all home full-time, as well as a home business, I often fell asleep with the book Liberating Motherhood in one hand and december-2016-001my nursing toddler asleep on the other arm. However, the mark of how much I liked a book can be told most reliably, not by my eventual typed review, but by the number of pages whose corners have been turned down. In case you can’t tell in the picture, that means that Liberating Motherhood is a winner. Complex. Witty. Wry. Assertive. Bold. A detailed manifesto of maternal feminism.

Liberating Motherhood is a fairly heavy read, made readable and engaging by Vanessa’s deft way with words, sharp wit, and clear explanations. It covers broad themes and weaves together issues of justice, ecofeminism, politics, and socialization in sections titled A Mother’s Body, A Mother’s Mind, a Mother’s Labour, and a Mother’s Heart. The core of the book is the argument that many mothers wish to actively mother their young children and yet are wholly unsupported in doing so. Patriarchy’s answer is subordination of women into a caregiving role that has no monetary or economic value or respect. Contemporary feminism’s answer is “full female employment” and outsourcing of childcare into a universal daycare system. Olorenshaw is assertive that the answer to the “problem of mothers,” is not more daycare, but rather more social and economic support, including a basic income. She is willing to tackle the classist assumptions that work outside of the home is inherently fulfilling for women, noting that the ability of women in the upper socieconomic status to “lean in” rests fully on the backs of lower paid, overworked women who are doing the work that no one else wants to do. However, she does not glamorize or romanticize the role of a stay-at-home mother either, exploring in-depth the economic and social vulnerability that women are placed in by depending on the income of a partner and exploring the potential for abuse and exploitation that results from this common social model.

I have consciously self-identified as a feminist since I was 13. After giving birth for the first time at september-2016-01124, I became immersed in the writing and world of “mother’s rights,” and at this time, became rebirthed as a maternal feminist. My spiritual path is that of a goddess-feminist and I have been also immersed for years on a goddess path that is firmly feminist in orientation. Since my feminism has been entwined for a long time with my mothering and with goddess-spirituality, I sometimes found that Vanessa was arguing against a type of feminism which I find mostly unrecognizable, or almost more of a caricature of feminism than that which I have found in my work in the world. In fact, one of my favorite quotes from a book of feminist thealogy is feminists make the best mothers. (Charlotte Caron, To Make and Make Again). I also write for the feminist blog, Feminism and Religion, and while there have been a few notable exceptions, the majority of writers there seem to embrace a maternally-inspired/influenced feminism, unlike some of the writers and leaders encountered by Olonrenshaw. I don’t find that as many contemporary feminist thinkers and writers ignore the issues of mothers and maternity as much as she asserts. I would also have liked to see some coverage of the life structures and experiences of women like me who find their solution combining mothering while working for themselves. I have long said that I am not looking for an “or,” but for the “and,” mothering while also working on other tasks!

Published by Womancraft Publishing, Liberating Motherhood takes on not only the patriarchy, but neoliberal capitalism and modern feminism as well in a complex brew of social critique, call to action, values-exploration, and manifesto. Unapologetically assertive and with a large dose of wry wit and candor, Olorenshaw explores the many ways in which an insidious social and cultural web is woven that simultaneously devalues and ignores women’s unpaid work, yet benefits greatly from its fulfillment.

“The problem is, for all the talk of women’s liberation, when it is predicated on liberation from motherhood, it is no liberation at all. When feminism is based on ideas of equality which ignore the actual reality of her life, her deep wish to care for her children, and deny the value of caring, a mother is in chains. We need to get going on liberating motherhood. We can say loud and clear that: ‘I don’t need liberating from motherhood: motherhood needs to be liberated from a system which devalues it, devalues us and devalues our children.”

–Vanessa Olorenshaw, Liberating Motherhood

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Guest Post: The Midwife as a Storyteller and Teacher by Patricia Harman

The use of old-fashioned narrative to influence, and inform patients about health practices

As an author of memoirs, historical fiction and children’s literature, I am a storyteller, but I’m also a nurse-midwife, and I use storytelling as one of my primary teaching tools.

Storytelling is uniquely human.  Anthropologists have argued that storytelling is pre-verbal, that pictographs on the inside of caves are in fact stories.  Form the earliest days humankind has used narrative to record history, to entertain, to convey experience and to transfer information.

To convey information in narrative form is something no other species can do.  It’s an evolutionary advantage and allows each individual to harbor  more information than personal experience would allow.

Using stories to teach patients is not unique to midwives.  All good providers use stories to illustrate May 2016 004how individuals can make better health choices.

We all know that many patients are non-traditional learners  and even those in higher education love a good story.  Research and statistics are boring for most people and easy to forget .  Many patients, even if given a handout drop it in the trash as they leave our office. They don’t have time to read it or are non-readers.

On the other hand, if I tell a tale, in an amusing way, about a young woman who refused to take her birth control pills because she was worried they would make her fat…and now she’s pregnant…that’s a cautionary tale and brings a smile and a knowing nod from the fifteen-year-old here to discuss birth control: That’s not going to happen to her!  

Using self-disclosure about your own life can humanize a professional relationship and help patients be more honest with you about their lives.  For example, I might say with a smile, that I’ve gone to Weight Watchers for so long I could teach the class, even though I’ve never reached goal weight.  The patient and I share a good laugh and now she feels comfortable telling me she can’t stand to look in the mirror, has tried four different TV diets and is terribly discouraged.  A door for real communication has opened.  She no longer feels alone and she knows she has me as a non-judgmental advocate.

Stories can accomplish what no other form of communication can do; they can get through to hearts with a message.  I might tell a very stressed-out college student, sitting on the end of the exam table, about a patient of mine who had two jobs and was studying nursing full time.  Last year she started getting a series of illnesses.  Next thing she knew, she flunked two courses, lost her boyfriend and had a motor vehicle accident.  The moral is clear: don’t take on more than is humanly possible.  And the tale is more likely to induce lifestyle change than a lecture.

All health care providers, surgeons, nurses, physical therapists, family doctors or midwives must be teachers.  If you missed that part in school, it’s not too late.  With humor and love we can become part of the human story that will bring health and hope to our patients.

For the past twenty years, Patricia Harman has been a nurse-midwife on the faculty of The Ohio harman-2008-by_bob_kosturko-330State University, Case Western Reserve University and most recently West Virginia University. In 1998 she went into private practice with her husband, Tom, an OB/Gyn, in Morgantown, West Virginia. Here they devoted their lives to caring for women and bringing babies into the world in a gentle way. Patricia Harman still lives with her husband, Thomas Harman, in Morgantown, West Virginia. She recently retired from her thirty-five years of midwifery so she could write more books for people like you!

My past reviews of Patsy’s books:

Past blog posts on the subject of story power: october-2016-240

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Thursday Tidbits: Everyday Sheroism in Birth and Life

February 2016 005Do you know how many days have gone by in which I’ve said: “well, I didn’t write my dissertation today?”

This past Monday I got to say: I *DID* WRITE MY DISSERTATION TODAY!!!!!!!!!

It may be a first draft rather than a final submission, depending on suggestions from the reviewers, but there is a huge qualitative difference between someone who is writing a dissertation and someone who has submitted a dissertation and who might need to make revisions. It is 187 pages and 88,000 words and involves one year of original research with 100 pages of collated research results. Five years of classes, study, and contemplation, with also doubling my amount of offspring during this time. I grew this dissertation project at the same time I was growing Tanner from a tiny newborn to a walking, talking toddler. And, I feel like I just pushed out the biggest baby of my life. I cannot even describe the energy expenditure this required of me. I feel so satisfied and very, very proud of myself.

At Red Tent last week, when we passed the rattle, we each had a moment to share something we needed to be “compassionately witnessed.” After making a good effort at doing daily dissertation work throughout December, I’ve been semi-half-hearted on it since, averaging one “good” day of intensive work on it per week. I was hoping to have it finished before we go on a trip this month, but I was feeling so strained and drained and tense that adding it to my to-do list felt almost cruel and possibly ridiculous. When it was my turn for compassionate witness, I shared with the circle that I had reached a point in which I could no longer distinguish whether finishing my dissertation was self-care or self-harm.

After making manifestation bracelets together at Red Tent.

After making manifestation bracelets together at Red Tent.

Now, in hindsight, I recognize the “transition” stage. I’ve known for a while now that it is part of my personal process with big projects to have to be able to have a time and a place in which I am able to say, I don’t know if I can do this. And, to have that fear and self-doubt, and vulnerability simply witnessed. And, then, do that thing anyway. It is hard to find a space in which this is “allowed.” Very often well-meaning suggestions are to cut myself slack, to lower my expectations, or to give myself a break. I have discovered that just like these comments are not actually helpful to a woman in labor, they are not helpful to me in “labor” with other big projects either. In fact, I think there is a secret “dark” side to many popular self-care messages, primarily because what we sometimes might pass off as “self-care” is actually a “shadow comfort” (to borrow Jen Louden’s term) and is actually a meanings of inhibiting ourselves, holding ourselves back, or sabotaging ourselves (or those around us, when we offer the “out” of quitting or not following through…of letting ourselves down). When I was able to let out the fear and doubt, only for a few minutes, and have it simply received, it was as if something unlocked within me and suddenly I knew I had it in me after all. Only a few days later, after several focused bursts of intense writing, I submitted my completed project.

Anyway, a long story just to make this point: I felt SO good after submitting it. I may never have been so proud of myself. I was giddy, thrilled, exhilarated, excited, and exuberant. “What if I had QUIT?!” I yelled, “then I would never have gotten to feel like THIS!” When I lower expectations, sure, I might meet them, but when I keep my expectations high…and meet them. There is nothing that can replace that feeling. And, guess what, it keeps stretching me to reach just a little higher and a little higher. And yes, the self-harm shadow side of continuous life-stretching is that I can be trapped into “striving and striving and never arriving,” but the self-care amazing life side, is that I prove to myself that I can do incredible things and that I accomplish that which may have felt impossible for a time.

Bringing it back to birth, I read this post about ten things not to say to a woman in labor and the first reminded me of my own big “push” to finish the dissertation and how compassionate witness is infinitely more valuable than sympathetic shadow comfort enabling:

Scenario 1: If a woman is trying to make a rational and educated decision while in labor (a very difficult thing to do when in pain!) about whether or not to get an epidural (which is a big deal, by the way) by saying “you don’t have to be a hero” is playing to her emotions and vulnerability which isn’t fair. If she’s questioning this choice instead of immediately signing up for anesthesia, she likely has a reason for the hesitation. I guarantee she doesn’t want an unmedicated birth to become “a hero”. Maybe she was hoping for a natural birth, or wants to reduce the chance of further interventions like pitocin, or maybe she’s wanting the best start for her baby. I don’t know. But by saying “you don’t have to be a hero” to help her make a decision is basically blowing her off when she is in a very vulnerable position. It’s a low blow.

Source: 10 Things to NEVER Say to a Woman in Labor | Mother Rising

And, here’s the deal…women in labor and postpartum are heroes. They are incredible. They are amazing. We should never deny them that knowledge, particularly if all we are offering in return is a patronizing platitude masquerading as compassion. This “One Day Young” photo project captures that sheroism:

These goddesses headed to a WIC peer counselor's office this week.

These goddesses headed to a WIC peer counselor’s office this week.

“In those first 24 hours, it’s like this warrior comes out in women,” says Jenny. “They gain this inner strength to protect the child and you can see it in the photos. “They’re like those heroic pictures of soldiers on the battlefield or the footballer after the match, still full of the adrenaline of achievement. This moment isn’t often captured in women, but what they’ve just achieved is just as important as that goal or that battle, and that moment deserves to be recorded and celebrated in the public arena.”

Source: Empowering Photo Project ‘One Day Young’ Reassures Women That Childbirth Is Nothing To Fear

At the same time, birth can be very hard work and the recovery can be intense and long-lasting. Culturally, while we may minimize, invalidate or deny women’s power, strength, and amazingness in birth, we also often minimize, invalidate, and deny their vulnerability after birth.

We don’t talk about postpartum pain — bleeding, stitches, not being able to stand upright, or easily walk around. We don’t talk about the struggles of early breastfeeding: cracked and bleeding nipples, mastitis, and worries about producing enough milk. We are only beginning to talk about postpartum depression and anxiety. And it almost seems as if new fathers and adoptive parents don’t matter at all. The rhetoric from those who don’t want change paint a rosy picture of motherhood, but the realities of these anti-family policies are much more grim. In a recent TED talk, I share a number of heart-wrenching personal stories from women who have suffered as a result of having to return to work too soon.

Source: Maternity Leave Policy Postpartum Pain – Susan Crowe

After submitting my dissertation, I was heard to say that I felt like I needed a long nap and maybe several large gifts. After the intensity and unpredictability of giving birth, a ceremony might be in order, either a sealing ceremony like I experienced, or a birth reclaiming ceremony as is described in this article:

“I wasn’t at the birth, but it was super quick and the mother felt traumatised. I came in on a Monday, and the baby looked a little pinched. I asked the mother about feeding and she said she thought it was going okay. I offered to change the baby’s nappy – I took it off and it was bone dry. I asked how long it had been on and it was over 12 hours. The maternal health nurse was due over that day, so we had a bit of time to suss what was going on, since I was a breastfeeding counsellor as well. From chatting, we realised her milk had not come in and the baby was clearly not getting anything.

The mother was super stressed and her baby was about a week old — and clearly not in fabulous shape. I talked about a birth reclaiming ceremony and we ran her a lovely warm bath. It was daytime, so we closed the curtains and played soft music. As she climbed into the bath, I saw her high, tense shoulders drop right down and she let out a big sigh. When she was ready, I stripped her baby, and placed the baby on her chest. We sat quietly, not saying a word. The mother started to cry, then sob, totally overwhelmed by the responsibility of being a parent and not doing a good enough job. All the while, looking at her sleeping baby, holding her.

As the mother eventually finished crying… her milk started to roll down her breasts. She looked at me, so surprised, and said, “Is that what its meant to look like?”

Source: Birth Reclaiming Ceremony – Could It Help You Heal? | BellyBelly

Finally, I like to share this link. I haven’t actually watched any of these, but for people who like TED Talks, this sounds like an interesting round-up!

11 TED Talks for Pregnancy and Birth — Tulsa Birth Doula, Bethanie Verduzco, CD(DONA) – Hello Sunshine Birth Services

February 2016 022What else is up with me this week:

  • The etsy shop is on limited inventory until March 1.
  • I’ve been working on the materials kits for both the Red Tent Initiation and Womanspirit Initiation courses that I have coming up. They’re beautiful and I’m so proud of both of them. Every time I pack up a kit, I feel so thrilled. Both trainings begin March 21st and still have spaces available for registration if you’re interested!

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Tuesday Tidbits: Breastfeeding Wisdom & Social Context

December 2015 029Like all of life, breastfeeding occurs in a context. While it is easy to simplify it down to a matter of “personal choice,” the issue is really much broader than that and people often overlook the powerful influence of the systems surrounding them on the accomplishment of women’s breastfeeding goals.

This article takes an in-depth look at why breastfeeding, and the benefits of breastfeeding, don’t need to be “debunked” or have a “case” made against them. (My only critique of the article is that it falls into the comfortable default of “formula as the norm,” by saying things about how babies that breastfeed have a health advantage. Actually, they don’t. What they have is a normal species-appropriate immune system developed in direct response to a diet of species-specific milk.) It is a long read and covers a lot of important ground so settle in…

What the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and many other organizations failed for too long to note, however, is how difficult breastfeeding can be. Yes, they showed the world how beneficial breastfeeding was, and, yes, they helped design policy to ease the transition back to work. But the messy, exhausted moments that change a mother’s mind about breastfeeding? The bleeding nipples, the crying baby, and the paralyzing fear that the baby’s not eating enough? The back-to-work struggle and the boyfriend who thinks breastfeeding is dirty?

Those were, for a long time, left out of the breastfeeding conversation beyond a cursory, “Yes, it will be hard, but it will be worth it.” It’s this difficulty, and the fact that it remains unaddressed in many ways, that drives so many women to start supplementing with formula or to stop nursing altogether.

The most frequently cited challenges associated with breastfeeding include pain, supply issues, work-related pumping issues, and lack of support.

Source: The case for breastfeeding: what skeptics miss when they call it overrated – Vox

Luckily, breastfeeding also develops species-appropriate cranial development, jaw structure, and facial development. This also in-depth article looks at how the motions of breastfeeding shape and develop the skull and jaw muscles for life (at the end it also has some interesting comparisons of the shape of infant skulls after chiropractic adjustment soon after birth). Again, it uses language that implies breastfed babies receive a “benefit” in this area, while in reality breastfed babies simply have normal craniofacial development.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BREASTFEEDING – A Craniopathic Perspective | Speaking With Major

When we swing too far towards the science of breastfeeding though, we overlook the intense emotional impact of new parenting and the widespread lack of sociocultural support for healthy parenting, especially parent-baby togetherness. This is the context in which breastfeeding occurs and it is often one that actively or passively sabotages the breastfeeding pair. This mother writes heart-wrenchingly, and all too familiarly, about her postpartum experience:

I have many days when I feel truly well, and I have other days when I wonder if I’m still climbing. But in the meantime, I’m living life, I’m enjoying lots of moments and not enjoying others and learning to be fine with that. Because when well-meaning people tell you to “enjoy every moment” they are setting an unrealistic goal for any parent. Many aspects of parenthood are simply not enjoyable. Instead, I focus on feeling every moment, good and bad. If I feel afraid, that’s okay, I just sit with it and let it pass. If I feel sad, I allow myself to cry. And if I feel happy I clutch that joy to my chest and absorb it into my soul, and try to keep it safe forever.

Source: I Can’t Enjoy Every Moment – Postpartum Progress

Another powerful systemic variable is our national workplace culture and the lack of reasonable parental leave:

When it comes to women and work, the largest myth of all is that working is somehow optional. Like men, women work for personal fulfillment and a passion for their job. Also like men, women work to support themselves and their families, and always have. The reality in the United States today is that earning money is an absolute necessity for the vast majority of women. And the sad truth is that we aren’t doing anything to support them or their families — not because we can’t, but because we won’t.

Source: We act as if work is optional for women. It’s not. – The Washington Post

I often feel puzzled and angry with myself about why I can’t do everything in one day. “Is it really so much to ask?” I say, waking each morning with the optimistic faith that during that day I should surely be able to eat adequate food, exercise, play with my kids, spend time writing/reading/personally enjoying something, work on my many projects, and go to bed/wake up at a decent hour every day. Unfortunately, it apparently is too much and the most we can hope for is to “pick three”:

This sounds harsh, but it’s true, according to a recent interview with Storenvy founder Jon Crawford on Founder Dating. “Work, sleep, family, fitness, or friends–pick three. It’s true. In order to kick ass and do big things, I think you have to be imbalanced. I’m sure there are exceptions, but every person I’ve seen riding on a rocket ship was imbalanced while that rocket ship was being built. You have to decide if you want it,” Crawford declares.

Source: Work, Sleep, Family, Fitness, or Friends: Pick 3 | Inc.com

And, while picking three, things slip away. As I’ve written before, my daughter fell asleep with her head on my arm every night for nearly four solid years until Tanner was born. Now, her opportunity to fall asleep on my arm is hit or miss, depending on whether my arm is occupied with him, and increasingly, even when I do wiggle an arm free for her, she only lies on it for a few minutes before she says, “I’m going to lay in my own bed now,” where she then lies, snuggling her pile of pandas, until she falls asleep.

…I tried.

I tried to capture her smallness. I tried to hold on to the last breaths of her babyhood. But try as I might, it has slipped right out of my grasp. Despite my efforts to slow down and enjoy every moment since everyone told me it goes so fast… all I have left are memories and photographs.

But it doesn’t mean that I can re-live it. Not really. Some of my favorite memories of her as an infant will always be of bedsharing. She always started the night in her own bed, but after her first wake-up of the night, I’d scoop her out of her room and bring her into our cozy nest to feed her and quickly soothe her back to sleep. And for the most part that meant that we all got more sleep… except for the times I’d find myself staring at her while she slept. I’d watch her tiny chest move up and down, and memorize every little detail of her perfect little face. I’d think to myself this is crazy, what are you doing, go to sleep. But those memories, in the dead of night, the ones where there aren’t any pictures – are the clearest in my mind’s eye.

Source: The Beauty In Bedsharing | The best season of my life

This nighttime savoring may also be due to actual addiction to baby-head-sniffing…

Most of the women struggled to pinpoint the baby smell, although they generally said it was a pleasant one. Their brains, however, told a different story. When sniffing the baby pajamas, the dopamine pathways in a region of the brain associated with reward learning lit up, LiveScience reports. Other odors, like those of delicious foods, trigger this pathway, and the same dopamine surge is also associated with satiating sexual and drug-addiction cravings. This mechanism influences us by triggering “the motivation to act in a certain way because of the pleasure associated with a given behavior,” Medical Xpress writes.

Source: The Smell of Newborn Babies Triggers the Same Reward Centers as Drugs | Smart News | Smithsonian

December 2015 006Other related posts:

Guest Post: Widespread Insurance Coverage of Doula Care Would Reduce Costs, Improve Maternal and Infant Health

Leading Maternity Care Experts Release Issue Brief Encouraging Medicaid and Private Insurers to Cover Doula Care

WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 5, 2016 – At this time when most experts agree that not nearly enough women in this country receive high-quality maternity care, federal and state government agencies and health insurers should make doula care an option for more women by covering doula services. An issue brief released today by two leading maternity care advocates makes a powerful infographiccase for the health benefits of doula care for women and babies and the significant cost reductions that would result if more women used doulas – trained professionals who provide non-clinical emotional, physical and informational support before, during and after childbirth. The brief, Overdue: Medicaid and Private Insurance Coverage of Doula Care to Strengthen Maternal and Infant Health, is co-authored by Choices in Childbirth and Childbirth Connection, a program of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

In the brief, the authors summarize research showing that doula care reduces the likelihood of interventions such as cesarean birth and epidural while supporting shorter labor, spontaneous vaginal birth and other benefits to mom and baby. As the use of interventions decreases, so do associated costs, making coverage of doula care a cost-effective strategy for public and private insurers alike. The authors estimate that the reduction in cesarean births from the use of doula care could save Medicaid at least $646 million per year, and private insurers around $1.73 billion annually.

“Widespread coverage of doula care is overdue,” said Michele Giordano, executive director of Choices in Childbirth. “Overwhelming evidence shows that giving women access to doula care improves their health, their infants’ health, and their satisfaction with and experience of care. Women of color and low-income women stand to benefit even more from access to doula care because they are at increased risk for poor maternal and infant outcomes. Now is the time to take concrete steps to ensure that all women can experience the benefits of doula care.”

“Doula care is exactly the kind of value-based, patient-centered care we need to support as we transform our health care system into one that delivers better care and better outcomes at lower cost,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership. “By expanding coverage for doula care, decision-makers at all levels and across sectors – federal and state, public and private – have an opportunity to improve maternal and infant health while reducing health care costs.”

The brief provides key recommendations to expand insurance coverage for doula care across the country:

  • Congress should designate birth doula services as a mandated Medicaid benefit for pregnant women based on evidence that doula support is a cost-effective strategy to improve birth outcomes for women and babies and reduce health disparities, with no known harms.
  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) should develop a clear, standardized pathway for establishing reimbursement for doula services, including prenatal and postpartum visits and continuous labor support, in all state Medicaid agencies and Medicaid managed care plans. CMS should provide guidance and technical assistance to states to facilitate this coverage.
  • State Medicaid agencies should take advantage of the recent revision of the Preventive Services Rule, 42 CFR §440.130(c), to amend their state plans to cover doula support. States should also include access to doula support in new and existing Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) waiver programs.
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force should determine whether continuous labor support by a trained doula falls within the scope of its work and, if so, should determine whether labor support by a trained doula meets its criteria for recommended preventive services.
  • Managed care organizations and other private insurance plans as well as relevant innovative payment and delivery systems with options for enhanced benefits should include support by a trained doula as a covered service.
  • State legislatures should mandate private insurance coverage of doula services.

The issue brief and a new infographic illustrating the importance of coverage for doula care are available at http://Transform.ChildbirthConnection.org/Reports/Doula and www.choicesinchildbirth.org/our-work/advocacy-policy/doulacoverage.

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About Choices in Childbirth

Choices in Childbirth is a non-profit organization that works to ensure access to maternity care that is safe, healthy, equitable, and empowering. Our mission is to promote evidence-based, mother-friendly childbirth options through public education, advocacy, and innovative policy reform. Learn more at www.ChoicesinChildbirth.org.

About the National Partnership for Women & Families

The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. Founded in 1918, Childbirth Connection became a core program of the National Partnership in 2014. Childbirth Connection programs serve as a voice for the needs and interests of childbearing women and families, and work to improve the quality and value of maternity care through consumer engagement and health system transformation. Learn more at http://Transform.ChildbirthConnection.org and www.NationalPartnership.org.

Tuesday Tidbits: Postpartum Planning

December 2015 017

My post from last week about recovering from childbirth sent me on a blog-excavation mission for all the posts I’ve written about postpartum care. This is just a sampling (I’ve written a lot on the subject):

“I needed a maternal figure, a dedicated and present midwife, dear and loving friends. I was blessed with one out of three. It could have been worse. The only people I know who did just fine in the postpartum period are those who score the triumvirate: well cared for in birth, surrounded by supportive peers, helpful elders to stay with them for a time. The others, wild-eyed at the supermarket, prone to tears, unable to nurse or sleep or breathe, a little too eager to make friends at baby groups – I can spot them at 20 paces. We form a vast and sorry club…”

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

Source: Weekly Tidbits: Birth, Postpartum, the Triumvirate, and Anthropology | Talk Birth

Other, experienced women can be our most powerful source of support:

Women around the world and throughout time have known how to take care of each other in birth. They’ve shown each other the best positions for comfort in labor, they’ve used nurturing touch and repeated soothing words, and they’ve literally held each other up when it’s needed the most…

–The Doula Guide to Birth

Source: Tuesday Tidbits: Postpartum Recovery | Talk Birth

I’ve spent a lot of time talking and writing about the culture that surrounds us and the resultant impact on our birth, breastfeeding, and early parenting experiences:

The United States are not known for their postpartum care practices. Many women are left caught completely off guard by the postpartum recovery experience and dogged by the nagging self-expectation to do and be it all and that to be a “good mother” means bouncing back, not needing help, and loving every minute of it.

Source: Tuesday Tidbits: Postpartum Mamas | Talk Birth

It isn’t just me writing about the impact of culture on maternal mental health, this post calls it like it is:

Let’s stop torturing mothers. Let’s stop ignoring the problem of expecting new mums to get back to normal. They are not normal, they are super important, and we need to value them and treat them with the greatest respect, if we don’t want them to break into a million pieces, shattering the lives of all those around them.

Source: Torturing new mothers and then wondering why they get mentally ill. | Mia’s Blog

This insightful article full of helpful tips for supporting postpartum women by my friend Summer got a lot of attention when I re-shared it on Facebook last week:

An unfortunate by-product of our society’s refusal to see birth as a monumental event is the lack of a babymoon or restful, supported postpartum period. Most of the time, moms and dads are expected to pick up with their everyday lives almost immediately.

The Incredible Importance of Postpartum Support | Midwives, Doulas, Home Birth, OH MY!

I offer some survival tips here: Postpartum Survival Tips | Talk Birth

And, one of my favorite guest posts that I’ve ever hosted on this site is this one about postpartum planning: Guest Post: Mothers Matter–Creating a Postpartum Plan | Talk Birth

When considering postpartum planning as well as talking about it to others, I find that visualizing the placental site that is healing can be a helpful jolt reminding us how important good postpartum care is:

“Remind them that a true six-week postpartum window allows for the placenta site to fully heal and supports minimized bleeding and stronger recovery.” An excellent tip for educators and doulas from Barbeau is to illustrate size of placental site healing area with hands like small dinner plate—if this was outside the body, how would you care for yourself…

Source: Timeless Days: More Postpartum Planning | Talk Birth

And, some final reminders about good postpartum care for women themselves and for those who love them:

I recently finished a series of classes with some truly beautiful, anticipatory, and excited pregnant women and their partners. I cover postpartum planning during the final class and I always feel a tension between accurately addressing the emotional upheavals of welcoming a baby into your life and marriage and “protecting,” in a sense, their innocent, hopeful, eager, and joyful awaiting of their newborns.

This time, I started with a new quote that I think is beautifully true as well as appropriately cautionary: “The first few months after a baby comes can be a lot like floating in a jar of honey—very sweet and golden, but very sticky too.” –American College of Nurse-Midwives

Source: Some reminders for postpartum mamas & those who love them | Talk Birth

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Thursday Tidbits: Recovering from Birth

December 2015 029“Before I had children I always wondered whether their births would be, for me, like the ultimate in gym class failures. And I discovered instead…that I’d finally found my sport.”

–Joyce Maynard

People often use running a marathon as a metaphor for birth. Turns out that science has discovered that birth is actually more difficult…

“The researchers used MRI equipment typically used to diagnose sports injuries to explore the full scope of trauma that a woman’s body experiences during childbirth. The MRI images revealed that almost 25 percent of women had fluid in the pubic bone marrow or fractures that are similar to stress fractures that athletes often suffer. And 41 percent of women had pelvic muscle tears.

Also revealed by the study is the startling statistic that 15 percent of women never fully recover from the birth-related pelvic injuries.”

Science Says Childbirth Is Harder Than Running a Marathon – In The Loop Tips & Advice | mom.me

The same research was covered in this post as well:

Childbirth, as anyone who’s been through it knows, can feel very much like an extreme sport. And, it turns out, some childbirth-related injuries are surprisingly like sports injuries, including the very long time they need to heal.

The bottom line, Miller says, is: “if women don’t feel that their body is back to what they expected after six weeks, it’s not in their heads. Women do some self blame or feel like they’re not as robust as their sister or friend. But they may have one of these injuries not visible on clinical exam.”

Source: Childbirth As An Extreme Sport — And Why Its Injuries Can Take So Long To Heal | CommonHealth

I do have to admit that I perhaps would have re-titled the articles: “Science Reports Something Most Women Have Known Since the Beginning of Time,” but, oh well. Picky me.

I’ve written about birth and marathons in several past posts. Giving birth is the original “extreme sport.” One that tests your reserves, your endurance, your courage, and your stamina like nothing else. Truly, we have the comparison wrong. Running a marathon is kind of like giving birth, rather than vice versa! The first older blog post of mine isn’t related to childbirth/sports injury, but instead the emotional satisfaction of finishing your “marathon”:

She goes on to share: “I want that feeling of going beyond what you think is possible for laboring women. If you let go of control and allow the process to unfold, you are so proud of yourself. Then pride morphs into self-confidence and trust. What a perfect combination for parenting. When it comes down to it, you have to do this by yourself, be it labor or running. You might hear other laboring women around you or have the support of crowds in a race, but it’s still up to you. there’s a start and a finish and only you can see it through. Fortitude brings a new self-awareness and strength that feels overwhelming…I know one of my greatest challenges in the vocation of perinatal education is getting women to trust the process and her own capabilities before labor. My practice runs helped prepare me for the marathon, but there is no practice run for labor. Women must rely on their confidence and the legacy of the many women who have birthed before them…”

Source: Births & Marathons | Talk Birth

Women giving birth often experience a sort of post-race euphoria:

Those who push themselves to climb the last hill, cross the finish line, or conquer a challenging dance routine often report feelings of euphoria and increased self-esteem…women who experience natural birth often describe similar feelings of exaltation and increased self-esteem. These feelings of accomplishment, confidence, and strength have the potential to transform women’s lives. In many cultures, the runner who completes the long race is admired, but it is not acknowledged that the laboring woman may experience the same life-altering feelings… —Giving Birth with Confidence (by Lamaze International)

Source: Birth Feelings | Talk Birth

And, they can draw on those feelings for strength again and again:

“Whether it be the thick memory of enduring a non-medicated labor and finally pushing our third child into the world, despite feeling as though I hadn’t an ounce of energy left, or the meager sprint I managed as I neared the finish line of the marathon…, I hold tight to these images as proof that I can and will be able to rise to the occasion–again and again, if and when I need to-–because the ability to do so is in my very bones. Because I am a woman.”

Source: Woman Rising | Talk Birth

Mothering can also feel like a marathon:

“My body? I was ashamed to admit that, after two powerful homebirth experiences, I no longer felt intimately connected to my body. Pregnancy and giving birth were all about every little feeling in my body; mothering felt like a marathon of meeting everyone else’s needs and rarely my own…Most days, the question I asked was, ‘How are their bodies?’ My body was in the back seat, unattended, without a seatbelt.”

Source: Tuesday Tidbits: Birthing Bodies | Talk Birth

This article about recovering from a Cesarean Birth After Cesarean (CBAC) is packed with helpful information:

As we have discussed, everyone celebrates a VBAC but many CBAC mothers feel alone and unsupported, both in their physical and emotional recovery. This needs to change.

Source: The Well-Rounded Mama: Physical Recovery After CBAC

And, this article has some ideas to share about lowering back and pelvic pain during pregnancy: The Birthing Site – 5 Things you can do to Help Lower Back and Pelvic Pain in Pregnancy

All of these posts and topics remind me of the importance of planning wisely for postpartum:

My son’s birth was a joyous, empowering, triumphant experience, but postpartum was one of the most challenging and painful times in my life. I had not given myself permission to rest, heal, and discover. Instead, I felt intense internal pressure to “perform.” I wondered where my old life had gone and I no longer felt like a “real person.” A painful postpartum infection and a difficult healing process with a tear in an unusual location, left me feeling like an invalid—I had imagined caring for my new baby with my normal (high) energy level, not feeling wounded, weak, and depleted.

Source: Planning for Postpartum | Talk Birth

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