Monday, November 30, 2009

Away in a manger

We had a fun little family night this evening. We sang some Christmas songs around the piano, made a Christmas ornament, and then watched The Nativity--a short depiction of the birth of Jesus.
I've seen this short film many times before, but this time it was different. Perhaps it was different because I so recently gave birth myself. Or because I've got birth stories on the brain. For the first time, I was seeing it as a "birth movie" instead of just a "Christmas movie." As it came closer to the moment of birth, I found myself getting a little teary-eyed. While I'm not usually a crier, birth movies (and spiritual experiences) always get me. And then, as Mary neared the birth, probably in "transition"(3:40 in the youtube version), being comforted by her loving husband and midwife, I yelled at the screen, not unlike some men yell at the television when a football is fumbled. What did I yell?

"Oh, get off your back, for the love! She would not have been on her back!"

My husband's response? "Hey, at least she had a midwife!"

Yep. I yelled at the Virgin Mary... sort of. Then I couldn't help myself. I got wondering, and the gears in my head started going, and I had to know details.

My first question... would Joseph have even been with her? "The Nativity" depicts him tenderly touching her as she endures her labor. As it turns out, that would never have happened between a Jewish couple in those circumstances. Under Jewish law, once a woman has reached active labor, she gains the ritual status of yoledet. Her husband is then no longer able to physically touch her and is prohibited from seeing her naked (and from staring directly at her vaginal opening). She will remain in the ritual status of yoledet until she has had no bleeding for seven days and will then immerse in a ritual bath allowing her to resume physical contact with her husband. Some modern rabbis prohibit fathers from being present in the delivery room. The Bible itself does not specify where Joseph was, but, given the laws, I think it's unlikely he was present in the same space as Mary during the birth. However, the shepherds did find them together afterward.

My next question... who was with her then? The Bible does indicate that midwives delivered babies in the Jewish tradition. So this is one point that "The Nativity" got right. I think it's likely Mary was attended by at least one, probably several women. Some sources indicate that Joseph and Mary would actually have been staying with relatives in Joseph's ancestral home (probably on the first floor which was often used to house animals), so she would likely have had experienced aunts or cousins assisting her. If not relatives, then surely a few of Bethlehem's womenfolk would have been fetched.

How would she have given birth? Definitely not on her back! No ancient woman would have lain on her back to give birth. I think it's safe to say, without question, that it never would have occurred to them. Mary would have spent her labor doing whatever felt most comfortable. The Bible indicates that birthing stools (called ovnayim) were often used.

Would it really have been a "silent night"? Well it wasn't silent in "The Nativity," and it probably wasn't in reality. Between the animals and the typical birthing sounds, I'd wager it was pretty noisy in there all night long.

So now my mental image of Christ's birth has been completely renovated. I've been a birth-lover for over 6 years, so it's about time. I will no longer imagine Mary semi-recumbent or flat on her back pushing Jesus out in an open stable. Instead, I will envision her upright, surrounded and lovingly supported by women (and angels) beneath the shelter of a warm ancestral home where no doubt countless babies had been welcomed. It's going to take some getting-used-to, but I like it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Re-post: Down with the I.V. league

Been busy with Thanksgiving fun. Here's a re-post of a piece I wrote almost exactly two years ago:

“You’re thirsty? Do you want some more ice chips?” Most women laboring in U.S. hospitals, no matter how thirsty or hungry they may be, must resign themselves to sucking and munching on ice. I munched my way through that rite of passage with my first baby. Enduring labor and birth has been compared to enduring and completing a marathon. Both feats are extremely physically taxing, but you would never expect a marathon participant to run without drinking or consuming any kind of fuel. Hospitals across the country expect laboring women to do just that, but is this deprivation really necessary?

When a patient must undergo general anesthesia for emergency surgery, there is a risk of stomach contents being inhaled into the lungs (also known as “aspiration”). Hospitals ask women to refrain from eating or drinking in order to reduce the risk of death from pulmonary aspiration. Even with these precautions in place, however, there is no guarantee that a woman’s stomach will be empty in the event that she needs general anesthesia. The risks of death from pulmonary aspiration are miniscule—1 in 1,250,000. Furthermore, deaths from pulmonary aspiration in these situations have more to do with anesthesiologists’ errors than whether a woman has had food or fluids recently. It is very uncommon for a laboring woman to require general anesthesia. Most of the problems arising in childbirth can be recognized and addressed without such extreme measures being taken.

What do hospitals offer as a “substitute” for food and drink? Intravenous fluids (IVs). Yes, IVs provide fluids, but quite often they provide too much, particularly when mother is given a “bolus” (large amount of fluid) before receiving an epidural (an attempt to prevent the blood pressure drop often resulting from epidural anesthesia). Fluid overload resulting from IV fluids can lead to other complications, among them:

* Fluid in mother’s and baby’s lungs.
* Diluted blood, leading to anemia and decreased oxygen supply to the uterus and fetus.
* Newborn jaundice, as excess fluid causes baby’s red blood cells to burst and release bilirubin (yellow product of red blood cell breakdown).

Aside from these issues, an IV will also hinder a laboring woman’s ability to move while in labor. Movement, particularly in early labor, is an effective way to cope with the pain of contractions. Lying strapped to a pole and a monitor in a bed will increase a laboring woman’s discomfort greatly. Additionally, when a laboring woman remains lying in a bed for an extended period of time, labor will not progress as effectively as when aided by movement and gravity.

I remember how strange it was to me when I came home from the hospital after my first baby was born and found that my legs and feet were swollen with fluid for a few days. I had heard plenty of pregnant women complain of swollen ankles and feet, but I had not experienced any swelling while pregnant. It surprised me to see swelling afterward. I also noticed swelling in my face and hands in the pictures taken of me just after my daughter’s birth. I can’t prove that it was the result of I.V. fluids, but I feel fairly confident they were to blame. Here's a picture of me in my swollen post-partum state...Lovely, eh?

When I gave birth to my second child, I chose to see a group of nurse-midwives who delivered at a small community hospital where they had, finally, convinced administrators to allow laboring women to drink. Instead of being given an I.V., I received a “hep-lock” which is simply an I.V. needle inserted in a vein but without the fluids. They like to have an “open vein” in case of an emergency. I spent less than three hours of my labor in the hospital because I had already progressed to about 6 centimeters upon arrival, and my labor progressed quickly afterward. I think I took a few sips of water when I felt thirsty, but not a lot. It was wonderful, however, to not be tied to the I.V. pole. I was also pleased to notice that I experienced no swelling afterward. Here's a much less frightening post-partum picture...
Not every laboring woman will be given the option to bypass IV fluids. Some hospitals have strict policies, and women who are induced, given narcotics or epidurals, or a c-section will have no choice but to submit to an I.V. Every intervention alters the birth process, however, and the more interventions, the more complicated the birth process becomes. I encourage women to avoid unnecessary interventions and trust the process of birth. Seek out care providers who honor and respect the birth process and will advocate for your right to experience birth as you wish, including eating and drinking if you choose. You and your baby are worth the effort.

For more info, see the "Evidence Basis for the Ten Steps of Mother Friendly Care."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Busca, CD (DONA) ?

Remember back in February when I was feeling unsure whether I really wanted to pursue doula certification? Well, I've got three friends giving birth boom, boom, boom next May, June, and July. And they've all expressed interest in having me for their doula.

And then last night I had a dream. I was doula-ing a woman I've never seen before. We were in a big hospital room with big windows on the east side. We were between two beds. She was sort of squatting and wailing. I got down right by her face, rubbing her back, and I starting making noise with her--moaning really deep, encouraging her to bring her sounds down deep instead of high-pitched and to loosen her jaw and keep it relaxed. It was amazing to watch her sort of melt into the contraction after making those two changes--deep sounds, relaxed jaw. And it was amazing how happy and energized and in-the-groove I was in that moment... like I was doing exactly what I was born to do.

Huh. I guess that settles things.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sacred place

Bringing my son forth in our own sacred space, in the very room where he was conceived, was incredible. I have told my husband since then, “We can never move away! Our son was born in this house. That room is sacred.” It’s amazing to me, now that I’ve experienced such an intimate birth, to imagine thousands of babies being born everyday in sterile, unfamiliar, factory-like hospital delivery rooms. Childbirth ought to sanctify its surroundings in the way my son’s birth sanctified my bedroom. Instead, delivery rooms must remove all traces of the birth that has occurred. Rather than sanctified, they are sterilized of the experience and made ready for the next fleeting inhabitants. God-willing, I intend to welcome all my future babies into our own home—a place that will grow more and more sacred with each miraculous welcome.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Divine Design

Back in October, I posed this question on the Birth Faith facebook fanpage: "Do you believe the birth process was divinely designed?" I got some great responses and decided that I'd write a full blogpost on that very topic soon. Well, "soon" came and went. Then a couple of weeks ago I took a poll of my facebook fans asking what they'd prefer to see next, and "spiritual roots" won. So here it is. At the risk of opening myself up too much, I'm going to share some of my most cherished and personal beliefs (interspersed with relevant quotations I like). Whether you agree or not, I ask that you please be respectful.

I believe the human body is a sacred temple, a masterpiece patterned after the divine. I believe the functions and processes of the human body, particularly the birth process, are magnificent.
I marvel at the miracle of the human mind and body. . . . No camera ever built can compare with the human eye. No method of communication ever devised can compare with the voice and the ear. No pump ever built will run as long or as efficiently as the human heart. No computer or other creation of science can equal the human brain. What a remarkable thing you are. . . . Look at your finger. The most skillful attempt to reproduce it mechanically has resulted in only a crude approximation. The next time you use your finger, watch it, look at it, and sense the wonder of it.

-Gordon B. Hinckley (“The Body Is Sacred)
I believe my female body was created in the image of my Heavenly Mother's body. I believe we are all spirit daughters of a divine Mother--the eternal companion and equal of our divine Father.
God is your father. He loves you. He and your mother in heaven value you beyond any measure. They gave your eternal intelligence spirit form, just as your earthly mother and father have given you a mortal body.

-Spencer W. Kimball, “Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters”
I believe our Heavenly Mother can and does lend us her uniquely feminine help, strength, wisdom, and love.
[K]nowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose [our Heavenly Mother's] influence on us as individuals to be less?

-Spencer W. Kimball
I believe the male-female pair has been the pattern for eternity. There could not have been a man without a woman to complement him. I do not believe the creation of Mother Eve was an afterthought. She was part of the picture before her physical body was ever brought into being.
Having looked over all of this, He declared it to be good. He then created man in His own likeness and image. Then as His final creation, the crowning of His glorious work, He created woman. I like to regard Eve as His masterpiece after all that had gone before, the final work before He rested from His labors.

-Gordon B. Hinckley, "Daughters of God"
I honor our glorious Mother Eve, for her courageous choice to bring about the conditions necessary for humankind to procreate through conception, pregnancy, and childbirth.
We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Eve. In the Garden of Eden, she and Adam were instructed not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, they were also reminded, “Thou mayest choose for thyself.” The choice was really between a continuation of their comfortable existence in Eden, where they would never progress, or a momentous exit into mortality with its opposites: pain, trials, and physical death in contrast to joy, growth, and the potential for eternal life. In contemplating this choice, we are told, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, … and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” And thus began their earthly probation and parenthood. . . . If it hadn’t been for Eve, none of us would be here.

-James E. Faust, "What It Means to Be a Daughter of God"
I do not believe the sensations of childbirth are a punishment inflicted on women.
The Hebrew word for “multiply” is rabah (raw-bah), meaning to repeat over and over. It does not suggest greater sorrow, but rather repeated sorrow. The Hebrew word for “sorrow” in the Genesis account (Genesis 3:16) is from atsab (aw-tsab), which means “labor” or “pain.” While these words suggest that toil and suffering would be a part of Eve’s life, Eve did not view the conditions that came upon her through the Fall to be a curse (see Moses 5:11). Moses 4:22 “is a great revelation to women. Eve and her daughters can become cocreators with God by preparing bodies for his spirit children . . . . Mothering would entail inconvenience, suffering, travail, and sorrow; these the Lord foretold as natural consequences and not as a curse" (Ellis T. Rasmussen, A Latter-day Saint Commentary on the Old Testament [1993],17). . . .

“If Eve must labor to bring forth, so too must Adam labor . . . to quicken the earth so it shall bring forth. Both of them bring forth life with sweat and tears" (Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton, eds. [1986], 90).

-Moses 4:20–32, The Consequences of the Fall
Rather than a curse, I believe the travail of childbirth is a blessing for our own and our babies' benefit.
* Pain in childbirth serves a physiological purpose. When a woman feels her labor, she can allow it to prompt her movements and changes of position. Women who can be mobile in labor will almost always move their bodies and adopt positions that will facilitate and speed-up the birth process.

* It facilitates the release of hormones which prime mother and baby for smoother delivery, bonding, and breastfeeding.

* It instills confidence and self-worth in a woman. Women who have given birth without drugs often describe the experience as life-changing. I believe God knew that new mothers would benefit from the trial of labor because it would allow them to see the strength and power within them. What better way to begin motherhood than on a springboard of power and strength?

-Me, "Nobody thinks you're a hero"
I believe our heavenly parents care a great deal about how (and even where) their spirit children are born into this world, and I believe they are eager for us to pray for guidance as we make those pivotal personal decisions.
Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good.

-Alma 37:37

Other posts you might enjoy:
Birth in the Bible
The Curse of Eve
Eve's "Curse"?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Birth Art

I've perused some of the birth art out there in google images and fantasized about starting a collection. I've contemplated which room or wall I would use to display my collection... my bedroom? I really don't know... But I guess I better figure it out because I just received my first two birth art pieces last Friday. Check these beauties out...Now the explanation...

On Friday, my daughters and I were looking at a picture of my oldest holding her little sister on the day she was born. Somehow that picture inspired my 4-year-old to draw a picture of herself being born. (Hers is the top one.)

First she drew me and the midwife. Then she added her daddy later when I reminded her that he was there. I asked her about the face I was making, and she explained it was me making this sound (and then she proceeded to imitate it... cracks me up every time). :-) Strangely enough, she drew herself coming out breech (feet first). She wasn't breech, but she did come out "upside down" or "sunny side up" or "posterior," if you want to get technical. :-) I wish I could say she was wrong about my birthing posture, but she was right on--semi-reclined in a hospital bed. Is it just me, or does it look like my husband is frowning? Coincidentally, he was on the verge of passing out when she came out. The nurses had to escort him over to the couch and wrap him in a blanket right after the delivery. No cord-cutting for him that time!

My older daughter, seeing all the attention her younger sister was getting from her birth drawing, decided to draw her birthday as well. Hers is much more a testament to the sheer number of birth videos she has watched with me than what actually happened on the day I pushed her into the world. In her birth fantasy, I pushed her dark head of hair (see the dark spot between my legs?) out in a pool with a midwife attending nearby. In real life, I pushed her dark head of hair out semi-reclined in a hospital bed with a resident wiping my poop away with each push. I think I'll let her keep her fantasy... at least for now. ;-)

I can't help but feel triumphant that they both assumed, as a matter of course, that they were caught by midwives, and I gathered from our conversation that they also assumed they were born at home (like their baby brother). In their eyes, that's just the way it's supposed to be. Midwives, birthing pools, doulas, and the "birth song" are permanent fixtures in their reality. I hope they will seek out the care of expert midwives when it comes time for their babies to be born, but perhaps they won't. For now I'll just revel in the beauty and innocence of their 4-year-old and 6-year-old visions of birth.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Everywhere I go wearing Bubs in my wrap, people stop me and either comment about how great it is or ask me about it--where to get one, how to make it, and how in the world I get Bubs and myself into it.

Recently, in an email conversation that briefly touched on baby wraps, my friend, Fig, said: "I definitely want one. I'm just afraid I'll lose the baby in it and never be able to get [her] back out. Or strangle us both or something. They look SO intimidating to me." For her sake (and because so many people have asked me how), with the help of photographer Ax, I present to you my step-by-step wrap-tying photo demonstration...

(I cut my head out of most of the photos 'cause I have a tendency to produce embarrassing facial expressions. Click on the photos to see them larger.) :-)

Step One:
Find the middle of your wrap, place it across your belly, and pull the ends around behind your back and cross them.Step Two: Once you've got the ends pulled up over your shoulders, check the fabric crossed behind you to make sure there aren't any twists that will create uncomfortable pressure points. Cross the ends in front of you and tuck them inside the fabric across your belly.Step Three: Pull the ends around your waist behind you. Depending on the length of your wrap, either tie them in a secure knot in the back or wrap them around the front again and tie them at your belly. And you're done.(Since Bubs was in bed, I grabbed Mr. Teddy to demonstrate the child-insertion.) To hold the baby facing you, stick their legs through the fabric crossing your chest and spread it out over their bottom so it creates a secure little "seat." Strips of fabric should travel from your shoulder, underneath each of the baby's legs, and then behind you. The idea is to make sure they can't possibly slip out the bottom. Then pull up the fabric crossing your belly around the "seat" for extra support and security. I'll let the pictures mostly speak for themselves.You can use the same tie to carry the baby facing out as well, though this is less comfortable for the baby-wearer since the weight is less naturally distributed. I find I can wear Bubs far longer facing me than I can when he's facing out, but I still wear him out when he's wide awake and wanting to watch stuff. Same basic instructions, but the baby is turned out (obviously). :-)There are loads of other types of carries and ties that I haven't learned yet. I think as Bubs gets bigger, I may look into some of the carries with baby on the hip or back 'cause they're just more manageable with a heavier load. But this basic carry has been all I've needed so far.

I LOVE my wrap, and I love being a walking advertisement for babywearing! So let this serve as a warning: if you prefer to be "invisible" when you're grocery shopping, don't wear a baby in a wrap, 'cause people WILL stare at you and/or talk to you about it. :-)

One more tip: wearing baby down.

About six years ago I learned from Dr. Sears' Attachment Parenting Book about "wearing baby down." The idea is that sometimes the usual bedtime ritual doesn't do the trick and baby is still wide awake. If you put that baby cuddled-up to you in a wrap and go about your business with the dishes or making lunches or whatever it is you need to do, it's almost guaranteed that baby will soon be asleep. Worked like a charm last night with Bubs.Then I carefully stretched the fabric around and off of him and laid him in bed. Love it. :-)