Sunday, June 24, 2007
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
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.
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
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
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
I can only distinguish
one thread within running hours
You, flowing through selves
Saturday, June 16, 2007
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
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
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
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