Friday, December 14, 2007

Crossing the Portal, the Old School Way

I just stood there in Pottery Barn the other week, in front of a phone that looked just like the lovely heavy black phone that we had when I was little. You know, the one with the rotary dial that, when you needed to dial 9-1-1, took such a long time for that 9 to rotate. No wonder they didn't stick with the British emergency code of 9-9-9. The emergency would have been over before the dialing was done.

So, still standing there, lost in space and time, I started to think about my low-tech childhood in the '60s and '70s, how I skipped to Kerrisdale school in my skirt and walked through old door marked "Girls", and how my parents decided that it was totally unnecessary to have all the new high-tech things that were in the stores - how we shared a party line, had no answering machine, no voicemail, no calculators, no computers, no videos or DVDs, no recording devices, dishwasher or washer/dryer. We just had one little black and white TV with rabbit ears, a clothes line, and a hand cranked mangle to make life easier. (I laughed when I heard the editor of Canadian House and Home say just last week that her laundry room would not be complete without her most luxurious appliance - the mangle. Well, this one's electric, and it presses sheets, but hey...) It was truly an "Old School" childhood, and time was our ally.

So, I really noticed those multi-coloured cut-out letters stuck on the window at BC Women's Hospital the other day - "I DO IT OLD SCHOOL - ASK ME HOW". I kept thinking about those words as I helped a client through an almost 48-hour unmedicated, uncomplicated birth. After 31 hours at home, we went to the hospital to birth "old school" style. The tools at hand were our hands and eyes and ears and wisdom (other than my client and her husband, "We" also included nurse "Wendy" aka Michelle, and the Family Practice Group 2 docs Ron and Sheena, who all have the guts to go "old school"). Time, on this day, was our ally, for we needed a lot of it to accomplish the goal. The high-tech equipment didn't seem to know how to behave with us. The blood pressure cuff kept pumping itself up even when no one was there, and that brand-fangled-new monitor didn't work as well as the doptone, so it was turned off.

So, things were kept as simple as possible. On and on...dancing in the shower, rockin' an rollin' on the ball, just one contraction at a time, one breath at a time, listening to lovely music. To get rid of a puffy cervix at 9cm, we used the Trendelenburg position on the bed (no epidural necessary) and lots of encouragement. We used hip squeezes, hip shakes, swirling and spiralling hips, visualization, trance-inducing techniques, foot rubs, endorphin sleep and dreams, squatting, kneeling, walking, tears, hands, eyes, and love....liberally. And this amazing labouring woman drew on the strength of all her life, with the aid of a few sherpas, and did what all women have the power to do, climb the highest mountain ever - birthed her baby with arms outstretched to touch his body.

And when that baby came, it was pure joy. No exhaustion, just sparkling laughter and smiles and "I'm as high as a kite!" (love those endorphins) and an eager, wide-awake little boy who came out with his meaty fist stretched to the sky. Ahaa! The culprit - just one little hand had slowed things down. We knew it! But, with time, this little man and his mum had worked it out.

When the pediatrician came later to say "Hi", she actually bowed down before the woman, saying "I am not worthy." And the doctors agreed that, if any drugs had been used, it probably would have been a cesarean. And the nurses outside were in awe, knowing that there's an initiative in the hospital to reduce the intervention and cesarean rates by encouraging low tech/high touch birthing, and wishing that they could have seen how it was done.

I am in awe of the couple at the centre of the whirlwind, this vortex of birth. I thank them for trusting in birth, for trusting in the body, for trusting their baby, for trusting me to calm their spirit and their wild eyes, when I'd say, "It's fine, it's normal, you are safe, you can do it," or "She's safe, she has the strength to do this."

On this day, I think all three crossed the portal, the old school way.

by Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula (

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Shannon's Spiritual Preparation to Birth

Shannon attended my hypnosis for childbirth class a couple of years ago. She had a natural birth at California Pacific Medical Center. I asked if she would share her reflections on her psychological and spiritual preparation. This is what she wrote.

I invite my students to find their own reflections, words and intentions to inwardly prepare for birth. These are Shannon's words but provide one model for finding your own.

Shannon's Intention:

I think the most important thing to have in order to create a positive birthing experience is to believe that you have the ability to create your own experience, or at least co-create it.

Belief in this personal creative power is essential and once you have it you can direct your intentions to any life experience. The equation is uniting your mind's will with spirit.

My own birthing experience turned out pretty much the way I had hoped. A natural vaginal birth with the outcome being a healthy baby and a healthy mother. There were some variables I didn't expect but that's where a little surrendering came in handy. The variables only gave my birthing story its own uniqueness and mystery.

Once I found out I was pregnant I decided that I wanted nature to takes its course as much as possible. Even though I chose to have my baby in a hospital with an obstetrician I wanted there to be a balance between the natural birthing process and the medical world.

I wrote down my expectations for my pregnancy and delivery and meditated on them daily. I visualized the outcome often and got in touch with the creative force inside myself - this gave me the confidence I needed to follow through on my plan.

I surrounded myself with the best support team: husband, doula and doctor for my own situation and personality, and I trusted my decisions.

I also included my baby's spirit and will in the process. I often talked to my little one inside, explaining what we needed to do as a team to create a healthy and flowing birth, I believe he listened.

I'm thankful for my positive birthing experience. I'm not Superwoman - the birth was sometimes scary and very physically challenging but I knew I could handle it.

I put spirit and my will to work and everyone who was present at the birth was in some way supporting me and my vision for a healthy, natural child birth.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Who has a natural childbirth?

Singer/Songwriter Businesswoman
Money Manager/Bond Trader
Computer Programmer
Corporate Attorney
Graphic Designer
Professor of Communication Studies
Senior Systems Engineer
Acupuncture Clinic Manager
Physical Therapist
Social Worker, MSW
English Professor
Clinical Social Worker
Preschool Teacher
Non-profit Executive
Lawyer with the Dept. of Justice
Mortgage Broker
County Administrator
County Recycling Manager
Midwife-in-training/Women's Health Educator
Shipping Co-ordinator
Nurse Practitioner
Marketing Manager
Estate Lawyer
Professor of Law
Physical Therapist
Social Worker
English Professor
Stay at Home Mom
Marriage and Family Therapist
Human Rights Activist/Nonprofit Administrator
Administrative Assistant
Philosophy Graduate Student
Mechanical Engineering Student
Birth and Postpartum Doula
Self-proclaimed Hippy
Stone Sculptor
Marketing Director
Landscape Architect
Marketing Consultant/Birth Doula
Investment Advisor for high net worth individuals
International Education
Certified Nutrition Consultant/Sales Rep
Human Resource Analyst/Web Developer
Real Estate Appraiser/Professional Flutist

Natural Childbirth is for everyone! Not just a select group of artsy fartsy touchy feely people. We all can have - and deserve! - the opportunity to witness the miracle that is our female body, mind and spirit. Here's to our Warrior Women!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

My Baby Girl by Shelby Shankland

I didn’t know that I truly desired a natural childbirth when I first was pregnant. It only came to me through my entrance into an amazing childbirth preparation class. The women and partners that were a part of that class, along with our fabulous instructor, all remain in contact, and will for quite some time I’m sure.

The conception of my baby girl was intended; her spirit was honored even before she came into my body. I had carefully considered what it meant to me to be a mother, and what I could offer this little being. It’s only fitting that then I would come to the conclusion that she deserved to have the opportunity to arrive in this world in her own time, on our own terms.

Little did I know how hard I would have to fight for this, choosing to have a hospital birth - albeit with excellent midwifery care. My first experience in being a Mama Bear came even before she was on the outside, and I am thankful. I am empowered. I am blessed. Fifteen days “late”, 17 hours of labor – six of those pushing! – later, and with the assistance of a vacuum, Zoe Elizabeth was born. All ten pounds, 13 ounces of her.

Although there were some interventions required, they were not foreign concepts and were carefully considered by my husband and I. As a result, the decision to have them became empowering instead of defeating. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and always for the best. The Universe wants the best for us, and is willing to bestow these gifts upon us if we are willing and able to accept them. My childbirth education was one of these gifts, my labor support team was yet another. I am eternally grateful for the 'cascade' of empowering experiences that these gifts allowed me and my family.
This experience has so moved me, that I have decided to become an advocate myself - not only for natural childbirth, but also for education, and ultimately for Women. All birth is beautiful, and all women deserve to be empowered and transformed by it as I was. The support of women during this magnificent time of childbirth and postpartum is now my passion. I am privileged to become a part of the local community of Doulas. Yet another gift to be thankful for.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Odessa’s Birth

A little over 14 months ago now, my daughter Odessa was born in our home in San Francisco. We had recently moved from a communal art space to a small two bedroomed apartment which we hoped would make for a cozy and intimate place to receive our first child. My partner decorated the place so nicely with lots of strange art and found furniture – it was so colorful and cutely inspiring. We held a Blessingway gathering for friends to celebrate the impending arrival and to mark the change in our status amongst our community – No more organizing all-night music events for us!
And then we waited…

My nurse practitioner at Kaiser was mild-mannered but resolute – she put me on an induction list despite my assurances that I would not want to avail of such services. I was having weekly check-ups with Jessamyn my midwife at that point, and so in a sense I was unnecessarily straddling two opposing worlds. Looking back I think I just liked the attention and updates on how my little one was doing. We were keeping the sex a surprise but secretly hoping for a girl. I read and drew inspiration and wisdom from the work of Ina May Gaskin and skillfully deflected the fears of the uninitiated.

Nine days after my due date passed and my threshold for replying, “Not Yet!” had been well reached, I turned myself in at 11pm for another night without babe. I awoke an hour later with cramps and spent the next twenty-four hours doing the greatest work of my life so far. It was so intense. But I have always been attracted to intensity and I was determined from the outset to emerge triumphant! I was so curious to experience the full strength of my body in unassisted, uninhibited, unmedicated labor; heaving in miraculous discharge; I needed to grunt and groan and loosen everything about me. I welcomed my fate. I had my partner by my side, my friend and ‘best unofficial doula ever!’ working her North Bay magic in the kitchen, my sister-in-law’s gentle touch and my midwife who was cool-headed enough to just let me get on with it.

I felt like a boat struggling against huge waves. My two greatest assets during my labor were my previous experience with Zen meditation and my silver yoga ball. I have sat through piercing pain before, and although this was an altogether different experience, I knew how to breathe my way through. Bouncing up and down on my yoga ball had the effect of creating a deeply satisfying sense of opening up – the peak of my contractions could be harnessed with pleasurable results! I ploughed through, lamenting only that I had not gotten a night’s sleep before it all began as I was very tired.

At 11pm my midwife informed me that I was fully dilated. Finally! I had waited for what seemed like an eternity to hear those words! I had felt like my body was suppressing a volcano eruption for the previous hour or more – it was almost overbearing trying not to push. I relocated to a beautiful wooden birthing stool, squatting with my two hands holding on at either side. At that moment Maria, my second midwife arrived. Although I had previously only met her once before, her skill as a midwife became immediately apparent to me in that her arrival at such a crucial stage did not disrupt the intimate energy we had created that day within our little crew. I pushed with deep animalistic groans. I remember feeling slightly concerned for our downstairs neighbors at that point, as I could only imagine what they might be thinking – lying in their beds on a work night trying to get some rest.
I pushed for around 45 minutes. When the head began to crown I listened impatiently to the oohs and ahhs of my team and was invited to touch my baby’s dark hair. I did so only to appease my friends. I wanted my baby out! I did not have the patience to take pride at that point! With one more push my baby’s head was out, but the right hand came out simultaneously, and I tore pretty badly. I was oblivious of course and just forged ahead with one final push to get the body out. And then there’s that moment. That moment when we crossed the line from fantasy into reality. From Two to Three. Our baby is here. Skin on skin. A perfect being – all ours.
It took us a couple of minutes of just being in awe before we even thought about the baby’s sex. Then cheers go round as we look and see that ‘ It’s a girl!’.

For days afterwards we called our baby by her Chinese name ‘Yan Yan’ which means ‘grass growing toward the light’ or ‘happy little mushroom’ depending on who you ask. We finally settled on Odessa as her first name. I guess I felt like my odyssey was over, but in reality, it had just begun…

I am forever grateful to my birthing team, my friends who had paved the homebirth road before me, and the women who devote their lives to empowering others by their dedication to homebirth. I would never have wanted Odessa’s birth to be any other way. She came into the world on her own terms. She set the pace, and showed me how important it is to trust in nature’s way. She is a beautiful gift.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Natural childbirth - every woman is strong enough!

Natural childbirth - every woman is strong enough! It makes me sad to see that so many women today do not believe or know this on a deep, cellular level.

It is awe inspiring to witness a woman negotiate her labor and watch the flood of emotions she feels after a natural childbirth. Some natural childbirths are intensely painful and others are ecstatic. After a natural childbirth a woman may be thrilled. She might be righteously, fiercely powerful. She may even be amazed or stunned that she really did have the strength to do it on her own. Regardless, she knows her body works. She knows that she and her baby are a perfect team. She will carry with her the knowledge of her power and her body's wisdom into parenting and the rest of her life.

I see women forever transformed by the experience - knowing that they have deep pools of strength and untapped reserves. Natural childbirth is an opportunity for exponential transformation.

An Argument for Non-Linear Thinking

I just love how our brains work. Well, I actually only know how my brain, a woman's brain, works. And it's totally non-linear. My daughter's brain works like mine, and people laugh when they hear us talking, shifting from one subject to another without any apparent link. Ah, but we independently followed the link from five minutes earlier in our conversation.

Birth is also feminine, non-linear. It works like a woman's brain. There are multiple tasks being accomplished at any one time - descent, rotation, softening, opening. Almost ESP-like communication can take place between a woman and a wise caregiver - this is the "monkey-brain" or "reptile-brain" at work. Thoughts, memories, past experiences, and current understanding are accommodated, merged, drawn upon.

"It's in the core," she says. "Yes, I can hear the baby descending," I say. "No more than twenty minutes. Hear me." "Yes, I feel it. It's right there," she says. "Safe," I say. "Okay."

There is so much going on beneath the surface in birth. Getting the right flow in labour is like searching for the point on a radio dial where there's no static, where the signal is pure. Intervention, too much noise, or touch can increase the static. A woman needs empty space in her brain in order to birth in her own way.

This makes my brain jump (in a non-linear manner) to a blog post that I read by Carl Honore yesterday. He had just been at an IdeaCityconference in Toronto and wrote: "One of the comments that has struck me most came from a physicist. (Note: Most probably he was thinking about physicist, Lawrence Krauss, and his discussion of dark energy.)He explained that 75% of the energy in the universe comes from empty space. This is wonderfully counter-intuitive. I may be stretching things here but it also seems like a nifty metaphor for the power that is unleashed by slowing down. When we become still, it looks like nothing is happening but in fact, beneath the surface, all kinds of extraordinary thinking and exploring is going on."

A woman's body in labour is like the universe. She gains most of her power in labour from the empty space, or dark energy. She is only able to access her full potential when she slows down to her basic self, when she is uninterrupted, untouched. We hardly know anything about dark energy. But Lawrence Krauss says that "It could be that dark energy reflects the anthropic nature of our universe, which implies there are other universes. If we could get evidence for their existence, this would be a remarkable breakthrough."

We've always been told that we only use a small part of our brains. We now also know that we only understand a small part of how our universe works. Only 4 percent of the universe is made of the kind of matter we have always assumed it to be - that part which is solid, us, our planet, the stars. 96 percent of the universe is, as yet, unknown.

So, it follows that we can only know a small part of how birth works. When we think we know it all, we really have no idea. I think only women in labour have a glimpse of the potential of birth. In labour, we know we are experiencing something almost unknowable. We know that we want to be undisturbed, deep inside ourselves. We can almost touch the doorway between life and death when we are in labour.

In labour, we accept the existence of other universes. It is huge, it can be scary, but it is us at our most elemental. There is so much dark energy in labour - as much as is present in the universe.

Dark, not as in negative or bad, but unknown, unwritten.

If, in labour, we are able to slow down our brain, be still within ourselves, and avoid the interruption of static, we might be able to firmly touch this untapped dark energy in labour. The power is both unknowable and knowable. Totally amazing. Pure physics.

Totally non-linear.

- Jacquie Munro Vancouver Doula

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Inner Journey of Pregnancy by Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula

During a client's first pregnancy, I'm continually trying to think of the best way to help her prepare for this life-changing event. Over the months, we certainly talk on the phone about her physical changes. But her emotional changes, her expectations, values and priorities are of even greater importance.

Often, a woman's inner wisdom is at odds with the societal standard, and my job is to help strengthen her confidence. I have to help her to trust her body's ability to birth and shut out the voices shouting, "You really should have that test" "You've never done this before" "Everyone has a Diaper Genie" "Buy bottles in case breastfeeding doesn't work." The competing voices can almost drown out her "I can do this," and weaken it to become "I'm naïve to think I can do this."

To have an ideal first birth, a number of factors have to be firmly in place. A perfect example was recently outlined by a local midwife, who wrote "I know if I have a 28 year old woman who has not been sexually abused, who really wants to be pregnant and does so easily, is a successful artist working in a home studio, does no prenatal screening, eats healthily and exercises moderately and regularly, and plans a home birth with the support of her partner, that she is going to have a wonderful labour and birth." This hypothetical woman would have a strong sense of self, a willingness to make choices outside the societal norms, and would make the job of the doula and midwife look easy.

How do we help the woman who is over 35, perhaps embarking on this pregnancy on her own, or becomes pregnant shortly after entering a new relationship, or is finally pregnant after enduring years of fertility treatments? What if the woman has been subjected to emotional or physical abuse in her life, has been marginalized in her life or job, or is still struggling to define her boundaries?

In our current North American society, the nine months of pregnancy seem far too short to deal with all these issues. The woman often spends her pregnancy on an external journey of moving house or renovating, buying a new car, buying baby gear, fighting for maternity benefits, choosing and attending the right classes (prenatal, fitness, yoga, etc.), and preparing to entertain any number of visiting family during the postpartum period. Society places little priority on the inner journey of pregnancy.

Where is there time for introspection? Where is there time for long walks on the beach with wise women or a supportive partner? Where is there time to read novels that quietly address the emotional issues at hand? Where is there time to dance, to sing, to draw, to express the inner journey?

Perhaps the best preparation for birth is to use the nine months of pregnancy wisely. Relish this period, which bridges the gap between two dramatic stages in a woman's life. Both literally and figuratively, take time to follow eastern philosophy and "breathe for the hollow organ." Breathe in deeply, wait, be still, exhale, then wait for the body to take the next breath. Live in the moment. Listen to your body and get out of the fast lane of the 21st century.

This inner journey of pregnancy can be profound. If a woman listens to her inner wisdom, surrounds herself with strong women and men who will support her choices, honours her body's need for stillness, and sees time as her ally, she may yet have the birth that she wishes. It can also change her entire outlook on life. And, ultimately, it can give her the confidence to raise children with grace, laughter and understanding.

- Jacquie Munro

Vancouver Doula

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Circle of Birth-A Story of Women Sharing Birth Stories

I gasped for air. I was spiraling into a panic attack as they strapped me down in the freezing operating room." A circle of eighteen women were telling stories of giving birth. "My instincts went berserk like any mammal mother under a knife", the new mother explained describing an emergency cesarean section.

The women's circle was part of a doula training. We were learning about Preserving the Memory of Birth. The group had spent the morning reviewing new research that women retain a heightened memory of giving birth for the rest of their lives. The afternoon was set aside for each mother to share a birth story.

As story followed story I felt our focus of attention pull the circle into a moving wheel. The diverse group of women fell easily into intimacy as the sharing became uncensored and raw.
I entered a magic theater as I listened to the stories moving closer to my turn while I simultaneously opened the door to my own memories. My births were over 35 years ago. My experience was from the archaic past, I thought, assuming things must be better now. As the stories filled the room, I realized I was naive.

I felt a jolt of energy as images flooded into consciousness. I shifted my body in the chair. The force of the memory felt like a sharp edge protruding from the center of my chest cavity. I wouldn't need any further research papers on how this memory is seared into the psyche. I listened as two women began to interrupt each other recounting how the health of the child was handed to them like a prescription to ameliorate the traumatic passage they had endured.
"Of course, I am thankful my baby was healthy", one of them said, "but it doesn’t change my experience."

By the time my turn arrived I didn't care if my story was a long time ago. My voice rose. "My story was in 1971,” I said. "I was the littlest Earth Mother, having jumped into the counter culture with both feet. I want to tell about the birth of my second child. The first had been born 22 months before when I was 18 years old. I can see how ill prepared I was although I didn't know it at the time.

“The father of the child was just a kid; he managed to stay for some of the labor but elected to retreat to a waiting room for the final hours when things got rough." I was surprised as my voice wobbled.

The doctor had arrived in the middle of the night to discover my contractions had stalled," I continued. “Failure to progress” the nurses told him--they still use that phrase today as if diagnosing a disease.

It was a Sunday morning, and I know now the doctor didn't want to spend it hanging around waiting for Mother Nature to set the pace." I was simultaneously seeing myself though the wisdom of decades of experience while I was lying in the hospital bed as they started the pitocin to stimulate contractions. "I’m unusually sensitive to medications”, I said to the circle. "Suddenly I tasted escalating fear as the jagged medically induced contractions began to rock my body. My confidence ebbed away as I realized my long- practiced Lamaze breathing techniques would not be equal to the task."

The pain and disorientation escalated as each vaginal check revealed the centimeters of dilation mounting. Suddenly everything was happening at once as I was wheeled into the delivery room. Nurses on either side screamed in unison, “don't push!”

I was engulfed by the memory as I lay on my back on the swiftly moving hospital gurney. I heard my voice create a bridge to the group, “it must have been transition because I wanted to die.”

The nurse instructed me to pant and not-push while the OB and the anesthesiologist in some bizarre state of disengagement took ten minutes to administer an unnecessary saddle block.
The two doctors had an affable connection and the flow of their cheery conversation was punctuated with directives to turn over, expose my back, not push and hold my breath. My voice became raw with anger.

"I had forgotten, as the final contractions mounted to push my baby into the world my two male physicians talked sports! They ran through a play by play of the previous day’s big football game. There was a nurse in the room but she was focused on the doctors. As soon as I was allowed into a birthing position, in one push my dusky blue baby emerged. Within seconds that first breath sounded like a thunder clap. I was completely alone when they announced the sex of the child, no one to share that remarkable moment."

I was barely 20 years old but my obstetrician called me, Mrs. Campbell, creating another layer of distance. Even though I didn’t appreciate it at the time my psyche registered the dissonance---it's been in there all these years. I took a deep breath and steadied myself as a molten river of anger poured through me.

The medication did not take effect until 15 minutes after the birth. Still reeling from the trauma of my experience I was terrified to discover my legs were completely paralyzed. This continued for 36 hours. To accompany the paralysis was a headache from hell. "It must have been a long pass into the end zone when he shot the medication into my spine," I said. My story completed I passed my attention to the next woman in the circle.

As I listened I felt my anger rise and fall. One minute I was composing a letter to the hospital and the next I was combing through phone books to find the physicians so I could scream my indignation in their faces. My practical mind knew no redress was possible but I would be processing this anger for weeks. As we completed the circle of stories, we calculated the rate of emergency C-section in our group to be a shocking 45%. Another 40% had experiences that were traumatic in varying degrees.

We did have two among us who had the heroic births all women dream of. Their faces lit with pride as they recounted how they found levels of strength they had not known they possessed. We took time to savor their stories and the foundation of confidence it had sealed into their spirits.

I was disturbed by the intensity of my memories but paradoxically began to feel a new sense of integration. The feeling ripened over the subsequent weeks. By welcoming these shadows into conscious awareness and into a sympathetic circle, I felt the bracing solvent of honesty was creating a fresh wholeness in my spirit. I felt my passion deepen for creating a world that honors women and the sacred passage of birth. The mythic figure of the wounded healer came to mind.
As the circle was closing we spontaneously extended our hands to create the intimacy of touch. We had experienced the Memory of Birth and found its unending vitality. We had experienced the astonishing closeness that springs up spontaneously between women and we had renewed our commitment to create change for our sisters in the future.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

birth is strong

I have two children who were born at home. Suzannah
is 29 and Evan is 23. I was a fairly empowered 18 year
old when I was pregnant with Suzy. My children's
births have augmented my sense of personal power and
the awesomeness of Nature and freedom. One of the best
compliments I ever recieved was from my midwife, Kate
Bowland. She said that I was "a good animal".
Following my body's inclinations and feeling my
children's bodies as they moved through me was a
deeply grounding and enlightening process. Having the
physical, emotional and social freedom and support to
do so was a spiritual gift. I am grateful.
My experiences as a doula, supporting mothers in
making their own best decisions about where and how to
labor and birth their children, have been a
fascinating and ongoing learning experience. One
thing I hear again and again is that mommies are
hearing stories that invoke fear and anxiety. They
often reach conclusions about birth that take
themselves nearly out of the picture. This often sets
the stage for their experience of motherhood. Our
culture actively promotes the application of
technological intervention in the natural process.
Yet it has not managed to change the experience or
outcomes for the better. I hope women at all ages and
stages will begin to hear the stories of mothers who
chose the path of Nature and her wisdom and power.
These stories belong to all of us.

from Birth Without Violence by Frederick Leboyer:

Frederick Leboyer was one of the pioneers in articulating how the life of the unborn child is conscious, sensitive, vulnerable and sacred. He took the spiritual philosophies of the world and shined the light of that wisdom on the mysterious passage all human beings make between heaven and earth--that period of ten lunar months we call gestation. How do we forget birth touches the ultimate mystery---the mystery of creation itself? A totally unique individual woven out of the union of the genetic material of its parents will join the human family. Leboyer woke us up to the care we need to use in greeting each new arrival.

The following is a quote from Birth Without Violence by Frederick Leboyer:

In the womb the child's life is unfolded like a play in two acts; two seasons as different as summer from winter. In the beginning, the "golden age." The embryo, a tiny plant, budding, growing and one day becoming a fetus. From vegetable to animal; movement appears, spreading from the little trunk outward, to the extremities. The little plant has learned to move its branches, the fetus is now enjoying his limbs. Heavenly freedom! Yes, his is the golden age! This little being is weight-less: free of all shackles, all worries.

Carried weightless by the waters, he plays, he frolics, he gambols, light as a bird, flashing as quickly, as brilliantly as a fish.

In his limitless kingdom, in his boundless freedom, as if, passing through the immensity of time, he tries on all the robes, he tastes and enjoys all the forms which Life has dreamed up for Itself.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Nature and Freedom

My children's births have augmented my sense of personal power and
the awesomeness of Nature and freedom. 

-- Esther Gallagher, doula, mother, activist

Esther Gallagher

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Now That I Am Forever With Child by Audre Lorde

Now That I Am Forever With Child

By Audre Lorde

(reproduced with the permission of the author)

How the days went
while you were blooming within me
I remember each upon each---
the swelling changed planes of my body
and how you first fluttered, then jumped
and I thought it was my heart.

How the days wound down
and the turning of winter
I recall, with you growing heavy
against the wind. I thought
now her hands
are formed, and her hair
has started to curl
now her teeth are done
now she sneezes.
Then the seed opened
I bore you one morning just before spring
My head rang like a fiery piston
my legs were towers between which
A new world was passing
Since then
I can only distinguish
one thread within running hours
You, flowing through selves
toward You.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Two for One

Natural Childbirth, in an ideal situation, is an empowering, challenging, and emboldening experience.

-- Emily Beck, CNM

Natural Childbirth is using mom's own forces to bring forth the baby and being willing to fully participate in that experience.

-- Nancy Myrick, CNM
Rites of Passage Midwifery

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Natural and normal

midwives at lunch

Natural Childbirth is labor and birth that reflect natural and normal processes.

-- Carrie Jacobsen, Certified Nurse Midwife

Thomas is born!

Thomas Edward Kearns Lowry - born 9th July 2006

Rita's contractions began on a Saturday, exactly one week after her due date. She wondered if they were triggered by an American Ginseng tea that she had taken the previous night to enhance her "chi". The tea was prescribed by an acupuncturist, Anju, that Rita had consulted because she wanted to be prepared with an alternative means to induce, in case she ran so far past her due date that the hospital forced her into a medical induction.

At first the contractions were mild and irregular. She went to the farmers market with her husband, John, and together they cooked lunch for the contractors that were working on their house. It was fortunate that Rita's labor began on Saturday because Sunday was the only day that the contractors weren't working that week. Later, on Saturday afternoon, Rita and John took their two dogs for a long walk on the beach. At first Rita wasn't sure if she was getting real contractions. But by 6pm the contractions were 6-12 minutes apart and strong enough that Rita couldn't walk during them. She had to urinate frequently and saw some blood in the urine. John started taking notes and timing her "sensations". By 8pm the contractions were coming every 5-7 minutes. By 9pm, the contractions were so strong that Rita had to lean on a dresser and move her hips in order to endure them. John called their midwife, Maria, to let her know that Rita was in labor. John was so stressed that he stopped taking notes from that point onwards. She asked him to go to bed because she wanted him to keep up his energy for later. She tried to get some rest by putting cushions on the floor of the bedroom.

At midnight Rita vomited and lost her mucous plug. The contractions were two minutes apart and so strong that Rita could only moan during them. John called Maria and was relieved that she said she would come over. Meanwhile John was dealing with a snafu with the tub in the bedroom. He hadn't practiced filling the tub and he found there was a backflow problem with the faucet that caused the bathroom floor to fill with water faster than the tub. Somehow he moved the tub to the dining room around a tight corner and down two flights of stairs to fill it from the kitchen tap which was successful but extremely slow. By 1am, Rita was on her hands and knees in the bathroom, permanently moaning. She got no breaks in the pain between contractions. She took a long shower which gave some relief but she got out because she was afraid that it might slow down labor. Rita turned her attention inward and became uncomfortable if John came in to stand beside her. She told him "please don't stare" and preferred to be alone.

Maria arrived some time around 1am and moved the cushions into the small bathroom to make Rita more comfortable. She put a blanket on her to keep her warm because she was naked apart from a bikini top. Maria told John: "You can never predict where women are going to labor."

Rita's back was extremely painful and she didn't know when one contraction had ended because the pain never let up. She wondered to Maria if she could do it and Maria curtly told her: "You can do it.". Maria checked Rita's dilation at about 2am. Rita said to John: "Pick a number between 1 and 10." John guessed it right: Rita was at 3cm. Maria advised Rita to try to be more “soft and pliable”. Rita took this as her mantra.

Maria's apprentice, Kate, arrived. Finally, the tub was full enough that Rita could get in. The tub gave her some relief between contractions. Once Rita was in the tub, she stopped saying "soft and pliable" and changed to more of a groaning sound during the contractions. John sat on a chair beside the tub and dozed off. Maria timed the contractions and dozed on a chair at the dining table. Kate dozed on the couch. John asked Maria if this was normal and she said yes: It can go on like this for hours with laboring women. The contractions were becoming so intense that Rita wondered aloud how much longer she could take. Rita suggested that John join her in the tub. He started to cry when he got close to Rita and could see how much pain she was in. She vomited occasionally. She also frequently urinated after a contraction so the container we were using did double duty. John was later told that citrus-flavored drinks, like the one that he had been giving Rita, can cause vomiting.

Eventually, Rita asked Maria to do another internal exam. She had to run to the couch between contractions and told Maria to make it quick because it was so hard to handle a contraction outside the tub. She leaked some fluid onto the floor on the way to the couch. Kate tested this fluid and found that Rita's waters had broken. Rita had earlier told Maria that she didn't want any internal exams beyond the initial one, and a final one to check that she was fully dilated. So John knew that she was becoming desperate enough to change her plans for minimal interventions. She was 5cm at 4.35am which sounded to John like slow progress but Maria said that everything was going well. She suggested that Rita should try to relax her vagina which felt tight.

Rita knew from the time that she first met her midwife, that Maria had scheduled a vacation starting Sunday, and would not be able to deliver her baby if she was more than one week past due. But she still picked Maria as her midwife because several friends had previously had babies delivered by her. An added bonus was that Maria's hands were small and always warm. When Rita and John decided to leave their obstetrician, they at least wanted the reassurance of having a midwife who had been trusted by their friends. They were sure that Maria would leave them in good hands if she couldn't be there for the birth.

Maria handed over to Abigail who arrived about 5am. Shortly afterwards, Rita noticed that her contractions changed. She vomited again and told Abigail that she had an urge to push at 5.51am. Abigail waited a while to confirm Rita's feelings. She checked at 6.20am and found Rita was fully dilated and the baby was at +1. John assumed that the hardest part was now over but he found that the pushing stage was even more challenging for Rita. During this stage, Kate took more frequent measurements of the baby's heart rate and Rita's blood pressure. Rita found this unbearable, particularly during contractions and asked Kate to be as quick as possible. Despite her pain, Rita was still able to be assertive and tell the midwives exactly what she wanted. Sue, who was the backup midwife, arrived at around this time and sat on the couch watching. The midwives felt like family to John and Rita, and even to the dogs who were not as rambunctious as they normally are with strangers. It was an unexpected surprise to John that the midwives complimented the dogs on their good behavior.

As Rita's urge to push got stronger she waddled upstairs to the bathroom. During this time seated upstairs, Katie was kneeling beside Rita, telling her what a good job she was doing when Rita said “I don’t do well with cheerleading” Katie very graciously and quietly left.

The contractions were progressing, and Rita had remained seated upstairs for some time, so Abigail asked her if this is where she wanted to have the baby. Rita then remembered that she wanted to have a water birth and in between contractions ran downstairs in an effort to get back into the tub before the next one hit. Surprised, everyone trailed after her.

Downstairs in the tub, Rita got on her hands and knees to push. Rita chose this position because Zann, one of our birth class teachers, had said this was less likely to cause tearing. John could see all the muscles in Rita's back tensing when she pushed. She cried out so loudly with the effort during pushing that John was sure the neighbors would wake. Mostly it was grunts but sometimes she let out an expletive.

Rita kept telling Abigail that she thought that the baby was stuck. Perhaps she had memories of the experience of one of the women in our other birth class, taught by Jane, in which the baby really did get stuck during pushing and required hospital extraction. She kept asking how long it would take and the midwives always replied by saying something like: "It will take as long as it takes." Eventually, Sue said that it can sometimes take as long as 3 hours for the pushing and Rita replied that it gave her a pain just to hear her say 3 hours. Abigail checked and found the baby was at +2/+3 at 7.01am. She reassured Rita that the baby was moving during contractions and that there was plenty of room in her pelvis. Abigail's calm, straightforward manner and choice of words was great encouragement to Rita even though she was getting more desperate for the baby to come out. She tended to arch her body backwards during contractions and the midwives encouraged her to bend forwards. Rita asked if John wanted to catch the baby.

Rita said that she was getting very intense, burning sensations but still the baby showed no signs of coming so John suggested that Rita change to a squatting position because Zann had told us this gave a larger pelvic opening. John sat behind Rita to support her in a squat so he wasn't able to catch the baby. It initially appeared that the baby wasn't moving and despite her pain, Rita was able to joke: "This kid's in trouble already". Abigail told Rita to push through the pain and suddenly she said that the baby's head was out. The rest of the baby's body came out on the next push at 8.52 am. Abigail immediately put the baby on Rita's chest. Rita had earlier asked for no bulb syringe or other interventions after the birth and her wishes were respected by the midwives. Rita rubbed the vernix into the baby's body. The baby began bawling almost immediately. This concerned the parents but the midwives said it just showed that the baby's lungs were working well.

After a few minutes, John asked what sex the baby was. The midwives held up the baby so that its parents could see that it was a boy. John announced that he was called Thomas. The midwives joked that the baby's nose was so large that it had gotten bruised on the way out. They looked at the parents and decided that this was a characteristic inherited from the father and that it was a good way to prove paternity. Rita was extremely kind to tell the midwives that men with large noses have strong personalities.

Rita got out of the tub to birth the placenta which came out at 9.14am. Abigail asked Rita if she wanted a full Lotus birth, but she had decided a few days earlier that she wanted simply a delayed cord clamping. The midwives wrapped the placenta in chux. They made up a bed downstairs so that Rita wouldn't have to walk upstairs to the bedroom immediately after the birth.

Sue cooked everyone a delicious breakfast and started to drain the "birth soup" from the tub. Abigail and Kate weighed the baby and took its vital signs. Its weight was 8lbs 5oz and length was 21 inches. Rita had a small tear and Abigail said that she could stitch it, but Rita said to leave it. The baby had a lopsided head, which is known as being acynclitic. This may be why labor had been so painful. The midwives invited John to cut the cord at 9.54am. John put the placenta in freezer bags so that Kate could take it to be dried and powdered by a woman called Shanti in Sonoma. The midwives moved Rita and John up to their bedroom shortly afterwards and suggested that everyone go to sleep. Rita, John and Thomas needed little prompting to take this excellent advice.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Don't Miss It


Natural Childbirth is an experience like no other, strengthening, life altering...not to be missed!

-- Sharon Mayo, certified doula

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Natural Childbirth is...

Natural Childbirth is the only way to go -- it's the best way for a woman to become empowered as a woman and mother. It's the easiest way to insure family bonding.

-- Jan Perrone, midwife

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Midwives Help People Out

Normal Birth
Spontaneous Birth
Natural Childbirth
Simple Birth
Normal Spontaeous Vaginal Birth
Non-intervention Birth

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Belly Wisdom

Natural Childbirth is where a woman can drop down deep into that primal place, that place where her belly wisdom guides her. That place where she is one with the natural world. Natural Childbirth is possible when instincts override intellect; where respect, trust and gentleness predominate; where care providers have the wisdom to sit on their hands (unless truly required to act in the interests of safety for mother and babe), and have faith in the process of birth.

-- Constance Miles, LM, CPM, RN
Women's ways