It is highly unlikely that anyone has ever actually died from happiness. I have taken anatomy and physiology four times over the course of this wandering life of mine, and it is completely uncommon for the limbic system to simply explode, leaving a patina of oxytocin dripping down one’s face. Uncommon , but not absolutely theoretically impossible, so I am leaving it open.
Before I left, Always Longsuffering Pat (hereafter to be known as ALP) Asked me if I were excited. No, not excited, with its adrenaline tinged barely concealed hysteria. Not excited, simply happy. Happy to see my friends, happy to go back to a place where, against any odds one can measure, I fell utterly and completely at home.
And now I am here, at whatever 8:30am means after crossing so many time and space barriers. And now at 8:30, I notice my happiness is tinged with joy. Joy and I are not well acquainted. We nodded at each other as we passed in the corridor in school, and she moved in for a bit when holding a newborn was a possibility, but we are not usually on a first name basis.
Except here, in a country most people cannot find on a map, now would they care to. We took the long/short way here. Long in frustration in that our first flight was cancelled, and we lost two pieces of luggage filled with medical supplies. But short in the way that bonding and laughter makes the time fly, and anticipation makes the breath be short.
Arriving in Entebbe airport and dealing with the lost luggage took the better part of two hours as we are passed from clerk to clerk. Finally it became obvious nothing else could be done that night and we went outside to meet out pick up.
Midnight in Uganda is the most midnight place ever, dark as dark, the Milky Way clearly visible, leading us somewhere just over the horizon. And waiting just outside was Ben, our driver and my friend. Hugs and greetings were exchanged and I may or may not have flipped a surreptitious tear to the red dirt below my feet.
Ben looked great, as did the new Project Coordinator, Salam, and one of the volunteers, Cara, an Australian who shares my hatred of birds. Clearly a woman of discriminating and refined taste.
After the usual journey of hours over pot hole invested roads, we arrived at out guest house in Kasana. It is a new one from last year, very conveniently located. The proprietor also owns the volunteer house we use at Shanti, so this is keeping it in the family. It is very comfortable and even has solar power, so we may end up with more power than I am used to there. May. Anything can happen. The linens here are so clean, and all monogrammed. Adrine has done a wonderful job. She is a business women with whom to be reckoned. If you remember our adventures with the electric showers last year…let’s just say we seem safe so far. And even hot water mostly. I am so happy. Adrine has done a beautiful job.
Like most women everywhere, Adrine was in constant motion. Women always move, right? When laboring, our hips sway, our bodies shake. Even if confined to bed, our feet will jiggle, our fists will clench. Unseen’ our cervixes will slowly open (and sometimes quickly close; remember to read beyond textbooks.) our hearts beat faster, we blink, our mouths open and close.
Just as artists swish paint brushes over canvases,women move through life in a state of creation. Creation is movement. As much as we would like, babies do not just fall out even the fastest twenty minute labor , while over quickly, brings a lot of physics and a lot of feelings to the table. And even the slowest 4 day, ctx q 10 until pushing, which then takes another three hours as that baby inchworms her way down…it too brings it’s own dance, it’s own perfect movement.
When babies become children, a woman’s movement increases. Running late, stopping by the store on the way to school, running in to drop off the lunch that was truly meant to be handmade, but is now covered in plastic wrap and branded with etching we hide under our coats, rushing to work or the doctor, or to the gym where before we move we have to pick our feet out of a quagmire of guilt and others’ ideas about our bodies, moving home or to the coffee shop, or to supportive meetings where, if we are lucky, we can move into projects of the family, of the heart, of the spirit.
Always moving. None can be still for long unless we schedule a meditation session, or time for prayer. But still, these are a conscious slowing, done on purpose, a respite, never completely still. We are after all women. We move.
I see this movement at Shanti, and not just In its laboring and birthing women, but in the project coordinators, in the volunteers, (almost exclusively women) who move across continents and philosophies, who move against cross cultural norms who seek to oppress, who say that our movement means nothing and we should be frozen.
I see it in the Ugandan staff, these most excellent midwives and support workers who are always always learning, stretching across the divide of what they have been taught and what they know is possible. Over the past four years, I have seen them come to a new place, one guided by intuition and love, a desire to move each birthing woman forward rather than backward.
So much movement. And while it is highly unlikely that I will die of happiness, literally, my heart is swelling like the Grinch at the end of that Christmas special with Boris Karloff. I am ready to move.
There and There Again: A Midwife’s Tale- Jane October 12, 2013
Texting while driving and texting while feeding the baby, two sides of the same coin?–Jodilyn September 17, 2013
I thank you in advance for your patience as I am about to put some pieces of my recent experiences together and share some thoughts I have for new moms and the professionals that serve them. I recently read some research on texting and driving that immediately made me flash to the reactions when I asked a group of new moms what it looks like when they are nursing or feeding their babies. Almost all of them mimicked holding the baby in one hand and frantic thumb movements on an imaginary phone in the other. That image has stuck with me over the past week as I try to sort out the buzzing in my head about these two seemingly different vignettes—driving and breastfeeding. Somewhere under the day-to-day of caring for moms and babies in the midwifery practice I have been putting the pieces together.
I met this week with a woman who has been working with moms and babies for a couple decades longer than I have—she is a lovely source of compassion, strength, and wisdom. As I was listening to her talk I realized why these two images were connecting for me. She was talking about how mothers and babies now have a third party in their relationship—technology. This is not new news. It’s just that there tends to be a pretty rigid opinion from many professionals that moms who allow the third party to enter are neglecting the needs of the primary relationship between mother and baby. I’ve never been one to judge from a super rigid stance, and have spent countless hours introducing the world of babies to mothers who have a hard time finding a balance. I’ve never told anyone to turn off the computer or the phone permanently—in today’s world, and the woman I was talking with was saying just this, we have to know that this is just how it is. And then we have to work with it. It’s terrifically difficult for a woman who has spent her adult life in the work force tracking progress and time-to-target goals, explaining her work to others through the use of spread sheets, presentations, and lectures with sources cited, graphs and charts to not bring that into her new life as a mother.
It is not unusual to show up for a postpartum visit and be handed a notebook full of information about a baby from a mother who is very skilled at tracking and recording. It’s easy to look at this and point out everything wrong in this approach. But guess what? This mother is just bringing what has worked for her really well in the past forward with her into this new relationship. And that’s why we are here—midwives, doulas, postpartum help, support group leaders—all of us. We are here to allow her to shine *and* to introduce different ways to be with baby. It is an un-plugging that is as much a learned, and learn-able skill, as how to use Excel. But we know that a mother who has learned to do everything she has to be successful in the workplace, can learn everything she needs to know to be successful with her baby. It can be hard, and confusing, and there’s no ?Help? button in the upper left corner of the baby. But she will find her way, and it will be her own way, and it will not always look like some of the pundits think it should. There’s no one prescription that works for everyone. It really helps to sit with other mothers and hear their stories, and it really helps to have a professional in the room who does little more than nod and affirm a mother’s experience of her baby and her new life. And hopefully she finds what works for her and her baby, and hopefully she is surrounded by people who celebrate and have awareness of just how enormous an accomplishment that is.
Now back to the frantic thumbs and feeding the baby. Here’s what new research is showing—that as we humans text a few interesting things happen. Our breathing becomes rapid, shallow, or non-existent (we hold our breaths until we must breathe). Our pulse increases. Our temperature goes up. Sound familiar? Many of us will recognize the physical symptoms of “fight or flight”, or the human body in the sympathetic state. To be super basic about it, there is a massive release of several hormones in our body that prepare us to act to save ourselves. And it’s contagious. We share our hormonal responses, breathing and heart rate with others who are near us. You see where I am heading…in all of the research and work I have done with kangaroo care with preterm babies and skin-to-skin with healthy babies, science and observation have taught us that this principle holds true. A mother will help regulate her baby’s temperature, heart rate, and breathing just by being close to him. One of my favorite moments in my professional life was the first time I placed a pulse-oxymeter on a newborn and took him out of the incubator and put him on his mother’s bare chest, then wrapped them up together in a sheet. I got to watch as the little machine confirmed what so many others had discovered before. The system works. Moms work. Babies work. Moms and babies work really well when they are together. It was thrilling.
By this point it is clear that the connection I am making between texting and breastfeeding and driving is all about the physiological consequences of both. We all know that if we are catching up on facebook we are not eye-gazing with our babies or talking to them, which is important emotional tending-to that babies need. And now we know there is something just as powerful happening in the mechanics of our bodies when we use feeding time to get things done online. But as any mother in the first year of mothering will pointedly tell you—there’s not very much time other than those times to catch up. And socializing—even social media socializing—is critically important to many mothers so that they can maintain a sense of connection with people who speak in full sentences. This is the world we live in. Do many of us wish it wasn’t so? Yes. Do many of us wish mothers had the time and resources to unplug totally and just *be* with their babies? Of course we do. But we have what we have. The real question is how to work with it—how to create a balance that works for mom, baby, and the mother/baby relationship. So here’s my simple proposal. If you’re a mom and you’re catching up while you are feeding your baby, take intentional, slow, deep belly breaths while you do it. Keep yourself out of “fight or flight”, and in the state so appropriately dubbed “feed and breed” or “rest and digest”. Your body can actually only be in one or the other at any given time. Simple deep breathing will keep your heart rate and temperature down, and your baby will reap the benefits of your biologically soothing presence. If your baby is awake for the feeding, take a chunk of the time—maybe it’s even 3 or 5 minutes, to eye gaze, to talk gently, to tell your baby the story of your day so far, or a funny story from your childhood. Then take a deep breath, tell your baby you are going to catch up on some work or social stuff while she continues to nourish herself and then hit the facebook, email, or spread sheets (while continuing to breathe well). Babies are really understanding people. And just like everyone, they do best when we communicate with them and help them make sense of their stories.
If you are a professional—just teach the mothers you work with, in prenatal visits, private sessions, groups, or classes, this simple lesson: that humans breathe too fast and shallow, and that our temperatures, pulses, and breathing rates rise when we are texting or using technology while trying to do something else that shifts frequently and requires a lot of attention. Teach them to intentionally take slow cleansing breaths while nursing. Talk about taking some of the time while nursing to tend to their emotional health and connection with each other. Tell them it is not about right or wrong, this way or that way, my way or the highway. It is about balance. Finding the right balance for them, their family, their baby, and their relationship with those they love. And oh, of course, no texting while driving, please.
And as a ps, if you are a mom or dad interested in (or struggling with) finding balance and transitioning into life with baby, and would like to spend some time in the presence of this incredible woman I was conversing with, just check out Buela’s website. She does home visits and will be at Essential Birth & Family Center once a month providing low-cost CranioSacral therapy for local families.
Midwifery by Ipee Freely. –Jodilyn May 9, 2013
I’ve been struggling with where to park this one…do two midwives really have the right to question common practices in elementary schools across the nation? In the spirit of sharing the hours (and hours and hours) of time we’ve spent laying on someone else’s couch and talking about what we can do to inoculate girls and young women against the myriad ways that adult women don’t feel empowered to take care of themselves, or use their voices to state their needs, or introduce topics that might bring conflict into their lives….here goes.
Jane and I were on the phone (again!) and we got sidetracked (again!) and started sharing stories about girls we know, the girls we were, and the time we’ve spent teaching girls. Up comes the topic, “It’s like pulling teeth to get a girl to use the bathroom without asking permission first.” Not often the hot topic in midwifery circles—at first I thought we were talking about empowering girls to empty their bladder. Ms. Jane, ever the former school teacher, shared stories of telling her students that if they would just use the bathroom when they need to without telling her about it, or asking her permission to do it, she would also abstain from telling them when she needed to use the bathroom. In the perfect way that she has, she made it clear to them that this arrangement would work as long as they used it responsibly and didn’t linger, loiter, or use the time to organize against The Man. Now don’t be shocked all you folks who rely on stickers and hall passes and complicated systems whereby only one student can use the bathroom pass at a time (please watch Weeds and note the girl positively begging her teacher to be allowed to use the bathroom—pleading which was ignored and denied—and the subsequent in-situ explosion). But her system—the one where the teacher says, “I trust you to know the needs of your body and manage those needs in a responsible way,” worked. On and on the conversation traveled until there was a flash inside my head.
It’s no wonder that birthing is so darn hard for so many American women. We are taught to deny our most basic bodily sensations from a very early age here. And then it is reinforced year after year and hour after long hour in some cases. A full bladder is a wonderful thing—the sensation of pressure that results from hydration is so informative. Not only does it tell us that we are taking care of our bodies by drinking, but it tells us that our bodies have a system used to regulate liquids, toxins, vitamins, and all of the other lovely little goodies that compose our urine. But mostly it is great because our body yells at us to get up and move and use our very amazing and natural abilities to create change and restore comfort.
You can see where I’m going…if we spend our lives denying the signals in our bodies that positively scream at us to move or make change or simply let go the urine in our bladders…how on earth are we supposed to suddenly respond to those signals for which we have never developed receptors? Why would we ever even know what to listen for, how to listen, or how to receive and react to the messages our body and baby send us during labor and birth?
Don’t get me wrong, it all works…eventually. Because gravity and the force of what my son once proudly and loudly referred to as, “the MOST POWERFUL muscle in the human body!!” do tend to conspire to eject our babies from our bodies despite everything we do, and don’t do to aid in the process. All of the extra time it takes us to just let our bodies take over is too much time in the world of modern obstetrics, and 30-40% of us here in Seattle will have our babies in the OR because of the time we are taking with labor. It appears that the increased cesarean rate may be traceable to the rules of elementary school as much as anything else.
You draw the conclusions—and consider—the conversations you will have at the next parent-teacher conference.
What’s in Your Arms?–Jodilyn April 17, 2013
Times like this drive us all right back to the basics—are we loving each other well enough? Are we paying attention in the moments that we have our loved ones nearby? Are we who we intended to be? For mothers, all those nuero-receptors stuck in our guts and our hearts fire without their normal checks and balances. For a brief moment at least we see our children through the eyes of the frailty of life and the unquenchable thirst of time.
And though my youngest is now a strapping man-sized child of 13, I just want to gather him in my arms and feel him close to me, to say nothing of my 18 year old who is on the other side of the world having a fabulous college experience. So why is it that when the world goes to pieces it is our arms that feel like the safest place to shelter our children? Surely gathering everyone in a sturdily made bomb shelter outfitted with 20 or 30 years of supplies would be safer—but the gut and the heart call our children to our arms instead.
New mothers often struggle with questions of how to be “the best” kind of new mother. We read books by the dozens, watch videos, attend classes, and subscribe to “parenting philosophies”. We tumble from one to the next, constantly in search of the next better method to follow. We could blame the internet or the smart phones, Amazon or the year 2013, but taking a brief tour through the history of parenting psychology shows us that we are not alone in these struggles. Our American grandmothers struggled with all of the same issues—pamphlets and doctors and the neighbors all piped very loud messages into their ears and brains. When I have the opportunity to talk with student and practicing midwives, it is a very rare occasion that I don’t quote Dr. Donald Winnicott (a protégé of Freud’s, who lived from 1896-1971) for one reason or another. I love his sense of mother’s rights, of his trust in the mother as the best expert when it comes to her children, and his calming demeanor which shines through in his writing as he address mothers head-on.
Dr. Winnicott talks extensively and beautifully about what happens in the arms of a mother. It seems like a crime to paraphrase too much, so indulge me as I quote him on this issue—a task I cannot do in real life without catching my voice and taking deep breaths.
“There is room for all kinds of mothers in this world. And some will be good at one thing, and some will be good at another.
Or shall I say some will be bad at one thing and some bad at another?
Some are anxious holders. It may be worth while looking even a little more closely at this business, because if you do handle your baby, well I want you to be able to know that you are doing something of importance. This is a little part in the way in which you give a good foundation for the mental health of this new member of the community.”
He goes on to say that he could have chosen any topic at all to illustrate how wise and important mothers are, but he chose the seemingly menial task of holding babies to demonstrate his beliefs:
“You are specialists in this particular matter of care of your own children. I want to encourage you to keep and defend this specialist knowledge. It cannot be taught.
Then you can go and learn from other specialists about more technical things [like vaccines and vitamins] But only if you keep what is natural in you is it safe for you to learn anything that doctors or nurses or others can teach you.”
It is in the holding of our own baby that we flourish as an expert—comfort in our arms is one of the primary needs of a newborn, and we provide that! It is in the holding of babies that we give them their sense of the world, of cause and effect, and the confidence to know that their one secure base is reliable and trustworthy. They see themselves reflected in our regard for them. They smell us and we smell them. We bond deeply from this place of holding. Our hearts are knocked together, beating in time with each other. We breathe together in this position, and find comfort and desire to nurture here. Our milk pulses downward towards their needy, growing, bodies. And as our eyes lock with theirs, we share intensely personal space with each other here. As our children grow, they start to move away from our arms, but return for bonding, healing, and grounding throughout their lives. We instinctively know to hold them—even as they become men or women, even as they have their own lives and connect with us in thousands of ways outside of our arms. We know that we have done our best, deepest work in that small space which is the span of a couple dozen inches at the widest part. Our children know that they gained their sense of safety and balance in those inches. And that is why, even when they are grown, the original home-base is the one that calls us to each other with such fantastic eloquence and urgency.
What’s In a Community?–Jodilyn January 23, 2013
As many of you have watched over the past month, I’ve been building the Essential Birth & Family Center bit by bit. I grew up exposed to the life of entrepreneurship via my father and grandfather, and I’ve always had a love for business. I do not, however have any formal training so much like Jane cut a mop to pieces to get the string she needed in Uganda, I’ve been pulling parts out of seemingly disconnected pieces to create a new and unique whole. I’ve read a handful of business books, browsed the web late at night for innovative advice, and in the end I’ve just relied on my sense of what might work best. I’m still learning, I’m not afraid to ask for help, and I recently became part of 5 student’s Capstone Project from Seattle University’s School of Business. We had our first meeting this week and they asked me loads of great questions. It provided me with the opportunity for reflection and goal-setting. And I got to share my enthusiasm about the strength and capability of mothers and babies with college students—always a bonus.
This Center has long been a dream of mine—to have one place where families can connect with each other and the professionals who provide the services they want, to develop a sense of community around expecting and new families, and to change outcomes and access to quality, not just routine, care, in my neighborhood. In my mind’s eye, I thought I would make some phone calls, people would agree to teach a class or sublease a treatment room for a few hours or a day each week, and mothers would flock in to receive the benefits. The reality proved to be one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Over the past 5 weeks I have met with dozens of professionals and parents. We sit in the lovely Meeting Nook aka The Nursing Nook, and settle into the comfy chairs with some tea in one hand and a pen in the other. I wanted to understand what services we might offer, what’s missing in our neighborhood, and how we can translate all of that into something meaningful for families. We spent hours dreaming and refining, writing curricula, and sharing stories. That Nook has some kind of special magic to it—it is so cathartic to sit there and connect with people. I’ve had meetings with leaders of local birth organizations, a home organizer, a professional photographer, doulas, educators, business specialists, and a surprising number of grandparents and fathers of twenty-somethings. It turns out, this idea of creating community around families makes sense to people. Together, we’ve managed to create a dynamic offering for mothers, babies, and the people that love them. We have classes covering everything from how to organize your house for baby, infant massage and photography, to babysitter’s training and grandparents classes. We offer Friends and Family CPR—a simple two hour class designed to create comfort for anyone who spends time with babies or kids, and a beautiful class called Girl Sense—a seven week program for 8-9 year old girls. We have the classics you would expect in a Birth and Family Center—childbirth education, postpartum drop-in and support groups, lactation classes and support, doula care, nutrition counseling, acupuncture, massage, and more.
As I struggled with how to create a group of doulas who can work out of the center, I met with doula trainers and new doulas and local doulas and finally, with Jane. I was telling her about my struggle, “I deeply want to promote the work of local doulas–how can I recommend them if I don’t really know a lot about them?” We began to hash it out, the things we learned over the years through trial and error, acquisition of information, and sheer luck. Before long we realized how great it would be to create an extended learning opportunity for newer doulas, or those that never had formal training. And thusly was born The Essential Doula Training Academy—a year long course designed to delve into all of the issues that doulas face using the model we have adopted in our work lives. As we filled in the curriculum for the program, the conversation became more animated and passionate; we hit on something that we care deeply about. We are thrilled to bring this resource to the community here.
In the end, what’s in a community is the people, their ideas and hopes for building a place to gather together and grow in our knowledge and support of each other. I am so grateful for all of the people who have given me so much time and energy, and to those who have pledged theirs’ for the coming months to help launch this business.
I hope you’ll check out the website for Essential Birth & Family Center, and share it with your friends, family, colleagues, and clients. Come by and visit me there—we are located in the heart of Seward Park just a few blocks south of PCC. If you have ideas for classes, workshops, groups, or services come sit in The Meeting Nook and brainstorm with me—I have a great selection of tea and can’t wait to meet you there.
As we turn the corner into the New Year, there are a lot of issues on our minds about the health of mothers and babies. What can we do this year to change outcomes for babies and mothers in America and abroad? How can we help prepare and support mothers for healthy births? What can we do to bring babies into families who are well prepared? This year you will see blog entries from us on these topics and more.
In 2013, Jane will be spending three months in Uganda, teaching, training, and learning with birth professionals from around the world. If you’d like to join her for a doula training, please go to www.shantiuganda.org. She’d love to have you! Jodilyn is opening a community-oriented center to provide education and support for expecting and new families in South Seattle. Very exciting! And of course, “The Essential Homebirth Guide” will be released on February 12th and we will be engaged in book signings and attendance at conferences and events to promote this work.
The forward for our book was written by the renowned Christiane Northrup, M.D. She has taught women about health, wellness, and the miracle of their bodies for decades. Now, in her first children’s book, “Beautiful Girl,” she shares her wisdom with the youngest of future women. Beautiful Girl presents this simple but important message: that to be born a girl is a very special thing and carries with it magical gifts and powers that must be recognized and nurtured.
Through empowering words and illustrations, little girls will learn how their bodies are perfect just the way they are, the importance of treating themselves with gentle care, and how changes are just a part of growing up. After years of working with birthing women, and seeing our own lives and careers continue to evolve, we know that preparing girls for change is normal, healthy, and even exciting. It is really preparing them for the work they will do their whole lives.
In talking with women about how they feel about their bodies over the years, we have seen a direct link between the way they relate to their bodies and the way they approach birth. A lifetime of messages built around fear and gate-keeping (providers not sharing decision-making and evidence based research in health care with the patient or client) can create anxiety and trepidation at the way our bodies change during pregnancy and birth. Our New Year’s wish is that all women have the expectation that pregnancy and birth will be infused with joy and awe instead of fear and inadequacy.
Imagine a girl raised to believe her body is the center of her power and the foundation for her accomplishments. The impact of that belief will affect every aspect of that girl’s life and reach into pregnancy, motherhood, and beyond. “Beautiful Girl” can help pave the way for this possibility.
Dr. Northrup believes that reading and discussing “Beautiful Girl” with your children will help them to value the wonder and uniqueness of their bodies and have positive benefits that will last throughout their lives.
SPECIAL OFFER from Dr. Northrup and Hay House! As an added bonus, purchase or preorder a copy of Beautiful Girl here and receive FREE access to Dr. Northrup’s upcoming Live Online Event “Feeling Beautiful” taking place January 24th, 2013! Offer good until January 23, 2013. (Valued at $97).
I’m Sorry, Birth Professionals-Jane October 30, 2012
A brief aside from the trip thoughts for a few minutes, if you will so indulge me. It seems as if I have been running into a situation lately, and it is driving me ’round the bend. What has my proverbial knickers so knotted, you ask? (A situation that is both uncomfortable and even potentially dangerous?) I absolutely hate it when birth professionals, and by that I mean doulas, acupuncturists, massage therapists, midwives, homeopaths, heck anyone who has their hands or their minds on pregnant women, take credit for starting a woman’s labor.
Guess what? You don’t get to. You don’t get to claim that your magic acupressure points, or your special way of sweeping membranes or the way you channel the Goddess does anything. Now, this isn’t meant to become a debate on the efficacy of these or any other techniques. Maybe they work, and maybe they don’t. I have my own ideas about it, something along the lines of “I don’t know…maybe if a woman is teetering on the very brink of labor then maybe maybe maybe what you do can have a little tiny effect, and topple her over the edge into the Land of Regular Contractions. But most likely they would have gone into labor anyway, as most people don’t start with the desperate until they are over their estimated due date.” Those are my thoughts, and of course, you are welcome to yours. You may truly believe with all your heart that you can throw a woman into labor. And that’s great. Believe it. Just don’t share it.
There are some studies, of course, because if you look, you can find studies on anything. But they are small, and again, you can’t disprove a negative. If you are looking at term women, trying to isolate one variable can be difficult. Term women are actually known for going into labor all by themselves, which could, well, throw off a study.
I’m sorry if this is hard on your ego, or if you have made your fortune by “naturally inducing” women. Or if you like the feeling you get when you say (off the record, of course, because you are professional, and only talk about such things with your trusted birth professional circle) “Oh, she’s really close I’ll just do–fill in the blank–and we’ll get this show on the road.” But the truth is, this isn’t your show.
Like almost everything else in birth, it’s the mother’s show. And when it’s not hers, it is her baby’s.Mostly, it is a combination, as it is hard to separate these two bodies and souls, and I for one, would never want to. The last thing we need is another “professional” trying to own this process, to give off the impression that the mother is not enough. Mothers already struggle with abdicating their pregnancies and birth, with giving over their power and their process to those they believe “know better.” Jodilyn and I see so many things, almost everyday, that serve as wedges between a mother’s strength and intuition and her baby.
Mothers receive oodles and oodles of messages that they are not enough for their baby, that their bodies and minds cannot be trusted, and that it would be best if they would just surrender to these outside forces. What happens when they go to one of these professionals, hoping to start labor, and it doesn’t work? Nothing good, I tell you. More separation from intuition, more doubt, more guilt. Who needs that? Even pitocin doesn’t work if a mother’s body is not ready. How many c-sections come about because of failed inductions? A lot. Then more questioning, more trauma.
So if you are a birth professional, I ask you to offer your gifts freely, without any expectation or ego. Give real information, and please please don’t regale your clients with stories of how your last client went into labor three hours after getting off your table. Don’t even mention labor induction, even if you really truly think you can make a difference. If a mother comes to you hoping for it, tell her that her body is absolutely the most wonderful thing on earth, and that she has done a fantastic job growing this little person inside. Tell her about the benefits of relaxation. That’s something every pregnant mother can use. Tell her that you believe in her and her baby, and the inherent wisdom of the body. Tell her that it is an honor to work with her, and that you have faith in her. In short, tell her the truth.
Back to Uganda! (Jane) August 11, 2012
Its official! I’m headed back, and this time I’m bringing friends, some of whom I know, and some of whom I am looking forward to meeting. In a few short weeks, I’m leading a team of awesome doula trainers, and we will be sharing our knowledge and skills with the Ugandan midwives, several aspiring Canadian doulas, and each other. Many of these women have never travelled internationally at all, let alone to a developing country. I wish I could see the trip through their eyes, because I’m curious like that. I want to know everything…why they want to come, what they hope to accomplish, how I can support them. We’ll discuss all of that, of course, and I will do the best I can, but in the end, it’s just like birthing. (Hey, I’m a midwife. I can make a birth metaphor out of two pieces of gum, a string, and a small poodle. I’m McGyver with a doppler.)
Everyone who is going on this trip has different experience with birth, with travel, with education, with life. As a leader, I feel it is my obligation to meet each participant where they are, to facilitate growth and provide a safe little cocoon in which to process and relax. But I can’t force my idea of what they should be experiencing onto them. It has been so interesting just to watch different folks’ reactions to the preparations, trying not to butt into their processes and tell them what I think they should do. Everyone has different ideas about vaccines, ebola danger, political instability, the lack of infrastructure, what technology to bring, etc etc etc. I’ve tried so hard to offer choices, to tell them my experiences, and then just shut up and get out-of-the-way. It’s not my birth, it’s not my birth, it’s not my birth. I have no expectations around this trip, except to offer who I am, and then to sit back and let the labor take its course.
The constant, of course, is Uganda, with everything that that implies. After all, Africa always wins. Those of you who came along with me on the blog last year may remember that I couldn’t find string in Kasana, and had to disassemble a mop to make a project work. (see, I wasn’t kidding with the McGyver bit.) That experience has become my symbol of flexibility, of creative thinking, of letting go. It will be so interesting to see what symbols the other team members gather, which little image or event worms its way into their brains, and stays with them back home.
All I can do is my very best, and trust the process. After all, its always worked before.
Sticky Hearts–Jodilyn July 8, 2012
Midwifery is a profession practiced by daylight for clinic visits. Timed, scheduled, and pretty predictable, these visits last between thirty and sixty minutes and cover all of the details and measurements of how a mother is feeling, and how her baby is thriving. We spend a lot of time just talking and hearing about mothers’ lives and day-to-day struggles and joys.
Under ideal circumstances, these visits give us more energy for the work we do. They leave us feeling inspired and connected with each other and the mothers we serve. Even as the family ramps up preparations and excitement for their birth, we are also ramping up. We talk a lot about what we expect from a certain birth, challenges that may come, emotional hurdles we will be there to coach a mother through. We laugh at the funny things toddlers say and do and bask in the remnants of oxytocin expecting mothers leave behind them like a trail of glitter, everywhere they go. It does not feel like work-work, it’s a special kind of heart work that happens to require plenty of knowledge and experience.
At a recent birth we sat through the night with a lovely mother, who was intent on moving heaven and earth all on her own to have this baby on her terms. She had a lousy experience with her first birth and no desire to repeat that. She didn’t need much from us through the night, just the knowledge of our presence was a comfort to her as she labored. As the sun rose and we made plans with our own families to make sure our children could get to school or work and all of the minute details it takes to get the day started, this mom turned a corner in her labor. We stretched and made coffee and settled in for the exhilarating moments ahead. Mom did birth her baby, in her home, on her terms, surrounded by people who believed in her. A few days later we did it all again with another family. It may sound like each birth is some repetition of the one before, but the truth is that each mother is unique, and even after hundreds of births I can still say that every birth is different. Every family brings me new lessons and insights into birth, the meaning of family, and my understanding of the world. And I’m just one midwife. Every week midwives all over the city, the country, and indeed the world go to homes in the middle of the night, rearrange their family schedules to accommodate their absences, sit with women through the long hours as they labor, encourage them through the hard parts, cheer with them in the joyous moments, and watch over the birth of wonderful babies who bless us with their presence.
When the moms and babies are tucked in with their families and resting and I drive away from these births I rarely view the time I just spent as work. I feel these families on my heart; like little post-it notes, they stick there and are warm and welcome additions to my person. They expand my capacity for seeing love in the world and feeling that there is goodness to be had. The work of midwifery is sometimes just work-work, but most often it is heart work. And I carry it with me on my sticky heart, full of the stories, joys, and triumphs of the families I have been lucky enough to serve during this vital time.
“False Labor”: Misnomer of Grand Proportions–Jodilyn May 21, 2012
The language of pregnancy and birth showcase our society’s beliefs with perfect clarity. I can think of dozens of phrases that divide mother from baby, spirit from body, mind from health, and mother from inner knowledge. I want to look at just one phrase to showcase the way we approach these linguistic faux pas in midwifery care, and how we get to the bottom of events in pregnancy that can be difficult or seemingly in need of a cure.
We can attribute the language of divisiveness to many sinister roots and spend all day railing at The Machine and The Man–but why spin in circles when we can gain some insight instead? Something I’ve learned over the years and hundreds of births: the roots lie beneath layers of asphalt, cement, cobblestone, and packed dirt. The energy required to dig them up and cultivate new soil and plant new trees is the work of modern midwifery. Meanwhile, we like to say we “forgive” those who have attached themselves to the practices that stem from these roots because that is their only paradigm and how they were trained. While that’s fair to some extent, each of us is responsible for lifting our heads so that we can partake of a broader vision. I know it’s not politically correct—but shame on all of us who are entrenched in one way of thinking, talking, and acting. And a double shame if that tunnel vision limits the experience of something so fundamental as the birth of a baby and a mother: the building blocks of any society. (And yes, this cuts both ways–midwifery care and homebirth are not the right fit for every woman.) What makes one person or another apt to lift their eyes and stretch their perspective or practice? I would call it holistic curiosity, and it should be taught in every medical and midwifery school. Actually, scratch that. It should be taught in every elementary school.
It is unfathomable to me that any person could witness birth and think only of the moving parts and mechanics of it, but there is where the roots of modern birth and the language and rituals that surround it lie. The medicalized perspective of birthing must work very hard to connect the parts that authentic midwifery honors as inextricably bound together. There are wonderful OB’s and OB nurses who see the whole woman—this is really not a message about them, it is a message about the environment, language, and curiosity that we surround ourselves with.
Back to the misnomer we are looking into: “False Labor”. This term is typically applied to bouts of contractions a mother has between 37 weeks and the onset of rhythmical contractions that get stronger and longer and culminate in birth. A contraction is an activity of the muscle. A mother cannot make her uterus contract the way we can flex our biceps. The uterus contracts in response to internal stimulation—be it from any of several maternal or fetal hormones, movement from the baby, an orgasm, or changes in the lower neck of the uterus called the cervix.
The idea that the body would generate activity, heat, and motion for false purposes is nothing short of absurd. Every contraction has a purpose. Each one massages baby, helps baby adjust its position in the pelvis, and stimulates receptor systems for hormones we need to birth our babies. Emotionally, contractions pull us inward and force us to spend time with our bodies and babies. They pull our attention from the world, the clock, the to-do lists. They teach us lessons about control and surrender. Often times in our busy lives it is the norm to be in a state of disconnect with our bodies. Mothering needs us present in our bodies. It demands that we feel and sense and respond to these feelings and sensations in order to ensure the very survival of our species. Contractions that come and go, sometimes for nights on end, and in fits and spurts help us acquire and practice these skills.
“False Labor?” I don’t think so. The body is wise and begs the mind’s attendance in this wisdom. A provider who looks a mother in the eye and tell her that this wisdom is “false”, and demands that she separate her wise body from her knowing sense of her truths does not see a whole woman in front of her. Midwifery care, at its very best, does not get lost in the mechanics, but honors the wisdom of the whole mother and her baby. It sees them work together in harmony to bring about motherhood in its richest, fullest sense, and babyhood with the right I wish every baby on this planet had—the right to a mother who has integrated her body and mind and honors her senses, her knowledge, her gut, and her heart and can be present for her baby. “False Labor?” I don’t think so. The next time we meet a mother who is contracting in these patterns, we can stand in awe at the integration of mother and baby, spirit and body, mind and health, and mother with her inner knowledge—and know, with absolute certainty, that there is nothing false about it.