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