Wednesday, July 14, 2010


We're back from vacation.  Missing these:
But sleeping in my own bed last night was bliss!  I've got a few blogposts in the works in my head, but I will probably be spending most of the day unpacking, doing laundry, and restocking my refrigerator.  So, in the meantime, I thought I'd give you a little sneak peek of part of my new website: the "About" page.  Just in case you've been wondering... who is this "Buscando la luz," anyway?

I'm a mom of three, doula-in-training, soon-to-be book author, lover of mountains and trees, wannabe photographer, and a Mormon. I have a school psychologist husband I call "Ax" in the blogosphere, two daughters born in hospitals, a son born at home, and a two-year-old shih tzu we call Boston. I grew up in a variety of places (Arizona, Utah, and Massachusetts), traveling often between divorced parents. I graduated in April 2003 from Brigham Young University where I majored in English (with an emphasis in editing).

In December of 2007, I turned to Blogger as an outlet for my passionate drive to share what I learned and loved about birth, taking on the psuedonym, "Buscando la luz." When I started that blog, I was coming out of a difficult phase of my life. I had spent the previous year or so full of anger and frustration about the world. Following my second daughter's birth, I became ill repeatedly, culminating in kidney stones. Those illnesses weren't surprising considering all the negativity and darkness I felt weighed-down by. Then we moved out of the basement where we lived to cute old house with lots of sunlight.

It was incredibly refreshing moving to that sunny little house. We had literally let the light back into our lives, but I still needed to let the light back into my heart.

Then one day I found and checked out a copy of Dan Zanes' album, Night Time!, from our public library. The pure joy and beauty of that music changed me. In his version of "What a Wonderful World," the end of the song has some lyrics not found in the original---a lullabye interspersed with Spanish phrases:
Sleep mi bebe, we are all here
Buscando la luz in the city
So that you may hear the laughter
El cantar y el gozar through the night
Arruru mi nene, arruru mi nena
Y que duermas con los angeles
Arruru mi nene, arruru mi nena
Y que duermas con los angeles
I loved how the song made me feel. I especially loved the Spanish phrase: "Buscando la luz en este mundo." It basically means, "Seeking the light in this world." The song and that phrase was exactly the mantra I needed at that time in my life. Seeking the light in this world. As I bathed in the warm light in our new home, I also began filling my soul with light and positivity. When I decided to take on a blogging psuedonym, I knew exactly what I needed to call myself: "Buscando la luz." And that's what I try to do. No matter how discouraged I become by the problems with maternity care in the U.S. (and other countries), no matter how many horror stories I am bombarded with, I'm not going to stop seeking out truth and light and goodness and sharing what I discover. I am and will forever be "seeking the light."

So you can call me Buscando la luz, or "Busca," for short. Or you can call me by the Hawaiian name my mom gave me nearly thirty years ago: Lani. And, coincidentally, this light-seeker now resides in the land of year-round sunlight--the Valley of the Sun, AZ.
Now I'd love to hear about you!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The irrelevance of home vs. hospital

Ever since a conversation last night with my brother and sister-in-law, I've had this phrase going through my mind:  "It's not where you are, it's who you're with."  It seems to me that traumatic births often prompt couples to choose an alternative path for subsequent births.  For those who experience that trauma in the hospital, home birth often provides the healing they seek.  Because of the trauma my brother and his wife suffered following their home birth (and I do think my brother has some valid and genuine post-traumatic stress), they will likely have all of their subsequent children in hospitals.  I think it's just human nature to associate those intense frightening emotions with the place where they occurred regardless of whether the place contributed to their occurrence.

We can strive to reduce complications, we can keep our bodies healthy and strong, but we can't control everything that arises as we give birth.  Complications can and do arise in all birth locations.  As long as a laboring woman is within the standard "thirty minutes from decision to incision," what matters most in the midst of a birth complication is who is taking care of her and how do they respond?  Do they have the skills, experience, presence of mind, and knowledge of evidence-based practice to ensure her safety and well being?  Being five minutes from (or even inside of) a hospital doesn't guarantee that a care provider will advise the best possible solution to a problem.  Likewise, being at home with a midwife doesn't guarantee that a birth will be peaceful and empowering.  Midwives can degrade and doctors can earn the title "Wonderful." It's not where you are, it's who you're with. 

Read the rest of this post at my new website!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The positive impact of prenatal exercise

The following is a re-post of my August 2008 post Wanna Improve Your Odds?:

I mentioned back in April that I had been skimming the book Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, by James F. Clapp M.D. I was really impressed at that time with the amazing benefits of exercising through pregnancy. But I didn't read the book in-depth. I decided earlier this week that I wanted to take a closer look. Now that I've read several of the chapters and examined the data thoroughly, I am telling you... it absolutely blows me away.

There are risks inherent in pregnancy and childbirth, but we can do things to minimize those risks. We all know that good nutrition is essential for pregnant women. Poor nutrition often leads to pre-term and low-birthweight infants as well as pre-eclampsia in mothers. Eating well is one of the absolute best things you can do for your unborn child's physical and neurological growth. But now I'm convinced that exercise may be just as important.

I won't go into all the benefits of prenatal exercise here. I'd just like to focus on one set of benefits in particular--the effects of exercise on the course of labor. You might remember my very early post about the benefits of doulas. Having a doula assist your labor and delivery reduces many chidbirth risks significantly. Prenatal exercise has even more pronounced benefits.

Women who continue exercising regularly through the end of their pregnancies (three times a week for at least 20 minutes at a moderately hard to hard level of exertion) demonstrated the following reduced risks during the birth process...
* 35% decrease in the need for pain relief
* 75% decrease in the incidence of maternal exhaustion
* 50% decrease in the need to artificially rupture membranes
* 50% decrease in the need to induce or augment labor with pitocin
* 50% decrease in the need to intervene because of abnormalities in the fetal heart rate
* 55% decrease in the need for episiotomy
* 75% decrease in the need for operative intervention (forceps or cesarean section)
In addition, check these out...
* More than 65% of the exercising women delivered in less than four hours.
* 72% delivered before their due date (but fewer of them delivered before 37 weeks--preterm--than the control group). The exercising women delivered, on average, 5-7 days earlier than active women who did not exercise regularly.
* Significant reduction in the incidence of umbilical cord entanglement.
* Much lower incidence of fetus passing meconium from distress.
* Umbilical cord blood samples indicated that babies of exercising moms remained relatively stress-free with plenty of oxygen. They seemed to tolerate the stresses of labor and delivery better than the control group.
* The exercising mothers' infants were, on average, 14 oz lighter but overall growth was not compromised.
* Placentas of exercising mothers are larger, more efficient, and healthier-looking.
* Infants born to exercising mothers were more alert postpartum and needed less consolation from others.
(All of these results are taken from Dr. Clapp's studies as reported in Exercising Through Your Pregnancy. See this fabulous book for even more amazing benefits.)

It blows my mind.

Imagine how huge the risk reductions would be if you exercised through pregnancy AND had a doula. Whoah. We can do so much to avoid the pitfalls of pregnancy and birth. It gives me so much joy and hope to know that I am not at the mercy of chance. I have a great deal of power over my circumstances when it comes to pregnancy and birth. It is a wonderful thing to be able to choose to pro-actively reduce risks and bring so much benefit to myself and my babies. I love it!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mothering at the breast

Back in January, my baby was admitted to the hospital with a bizarre rash and swelling.  During his illness and our hospital stay, I'd say he was at my breast at least 70% of the time.  When the nurse wanted to give him an I.V. for fluids, fortunately I asked, "Are you worried he's becoming dehydrated?"  After assuring her that he was breastfeeding almost constantly, they agreed to hold off on the I.V. as long as I kept track of all his feedings and he continued to have lots of wet diapers. So they gave me a chart to mark all his "feedings."  It was kind of a joke.  When a baby is almost constantly nursing both day and night?  Ha.

One of the mornings, when the nurse asked about the feeding chart, I mentioned that it was hard to keep track in the middle of the night because he was nursing so often and sometimes I fell asleep mid-feeding and wasn't sure when it officially "ended." It was clear from her facial expression that my nursing style was totally foreign to her.  She replied, "Well, then that's not breastfeeding... that's just for comfort."

I was perplexed by her response.  What's the difference? Of course he wanted extra comfort... he was very sick, sleeping in a foreign place, being awakened repeatedly (after finally, blessedly falling asleep) for nurses and doctors to "take a peek" at his rash, being poked multiple times for blood draws and tests... of course he wanted and needed extra comfort!  But that "comfort" and my breastmilk were inseparable. Even if a baby is suckling only for comfort, the breast doesn't know the difference.  The breast responds to suckling by giving milk.

And how grateful I was that the only thing he wanted to do was nurse!  While many babies with his illness develop gastro-intestinal discomfort, blood in the stools, and other more serious problems, he never did, and I attribute that to the vast amounts of breastmilk he consumed during that time.

In my mind, nursing is so much more than "feeding."  I have never wanted to restrict my babies' suckling time to conform to when they "should" be hungry.  When one of my babies becomes distressed, the first thing I almost always offer is my breast, even if they just "ate" two minutes before.  If they don't seem interested or aren't calmed by suckling, then I try other ways to soothe them.

I was talking with a friend last week about how my babies have never taken to bottles or pacifiers.  I mentioned that my baby boy will happily drink water from a bottle when he's thirsty, and he would probably even drink milk from a bottle (though we've never tried).  The other day he found an old pacifier and sucked on it for a bit for fun.  But if someone tried to stick a bottle or pacifier in his mouth when he was grumpy, tired, afraid, or distressed, he would cast them away and only scream harder.

I am his pacifier.  I am the only answer to his deepest cries.  Nothing and no one else can give him what I can give.  Call it "just for comfort" if you want, but it's all the same to me.  In my mind you cannot separate breastfeeding, nursing, and soothing... they are all one.

There are many who would say my son no longer "needs" breastmilk or night-feedings because he's 14-months-old.  There are some who would have said he didn't need them when he was in the hospital at 9-months-old.  I say that the time when I am able to provide this gift to him will pass in the blink of an eye.  This time when only my body can comfort him is precious and fleeting.  If it means I will lose a few years of uninterrupted sleep, so be it.  If he's three years old before he's able to soothe himself back to sleep on his own, so be it.

Because of my own history and struggles with abandonment issues, there is almost nothing more important to me than establishing a secure, unbreakable attachment with my babies... telling them with my every touch and action that I will always be here... that I will never abandon them, especially when they need me the most, no matter what time of day or night.  I've never regretted one moment of nurse-comforting my children, and I feel confident that I will look back when I'm past my childbearing years with gratitude that I didn't push those precious nursing relationships away for the sake of independence or convenience.  (P.S. Moms who don't continue nursing through the second year are really missing out on the best trick up their sleeves for dealing with those daily toddler tantrums.)
Me and my almost 15-month-old nursling last weekend

I appreciate these words (shared by Sarah, one of my facebook fans) from lactation consultant, Diane Wiessinger:
Easy, long-term breastfeeding involves forgetting about the "breast" and the "feeding" (and the duration, and the interval, and the transmission of the right nutrients in the right amounts, and the difference between nutritive and non-nutritive suckling needs, all of which form the focus of artificial milk pamphlets) and focusing instead on the relationship. . . . [T]he real joys and satisfactions of the experience begin when they stop "breastfeeding" and start mothering at the breast.  (Source)
Maybe that nurse in the hospital was right, after all.  I wasn't really "breastfeeding" in that hospital, I was mothering at the breast.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

You know you're a birth junkie when... see a photo like this one (taken by yours truly this very morning in the woods near Payson, AZ)...
...and think:  Placenta!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rejoicing with a friend

We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.  -Marian Wright Edelman
Back in January, I got a surprising email from a local friend.  I discovered:

1) She was pregnant with her first baby. 
2) She had been following my birth blog.
3) She had chosen a practice of fantastic nurse-midwives. 

She also said, "I've loved reading about your home birth... I just am not 'courageous' enough to go that route on a first (maybe our next?)." 

All of these discoveries made me giddy with excitement.

Then at the end of April, she and her husband attended my "Birth Coach Boot Camp" where I shared what I believed were the best ways husbands can help their wives in childbirth.  Her due date was right around the corner, so I sent her home with my birth ball and my copy of The Birth Partner, by Penny Simkin.  And then we waited. 

Nine days after her due date, she sent me an email announcing that her daughter "was born last night at 10:44 p.m.  She is 7lbs 14 oz and 20 inches long.  We're both doing well."  I couldn't wait to hear all about the birth, but I didn't want to pester her about it, so I waited.

A couple of weeks later, I got a knock at my door.  There was my friend.  She said, "I have a bunch of things for you," returned to her car, and came back with my birth ball, my book, an envelope, a typed document (multiple pages of birth details!), and a sweet treat.  We chatted for a few minutes while she told me about her birth.  With the exception of having her water broken, everything had gone as she had hoped--intervention-free and unmedicated.  She was full of thanks for my help.  I was full of giddiness with joy for her.  It made my day.

After she left, I opened the envelope.  It was a thank you card.  She said, "I feel like I owe you a big thanks for so many things.  I've appreciated your passion and encouragement during this pregnancy."  More warm fuzzies.

Then I read the document with all the wonderful birth details.  Oh what a joy to read.  Because her midwives had three clients in labor that night, it was a little chaotic for them.  In the end, my friend's baby was caught by the nurse.  Her thoughts afterward:  "I felt empowered, like we could really do this on our own--we practically had!"  When the midwives came back in, they began talking about her needing to be stitched-up and delivering the placenta, but my friend remembers "not caring what anybody was saying and just happy to have the baby on my stomach."  The very last thing she wrote in that document was that she remembers:
Feeling grateful for the birth coach class our friend had offered.  It helped me feel empowered to say what I needed without fear. . . . It also helped me to put special emphasis on making sure I provided positive feedback by telling them the things that helped.  Finally, it introduced us to techniques of providing counter-pressure.  That turned out to be the only pain relief we needed!
 There are days when I throw mini birth-tantrums, and say, "Forget it!  I'm wasting my time trying to make a difference!  Nobody even cares!"  And then there are days when I know that I can never stop sharing what I know and love about childbirth.  The day my friend said, "Thank you," was one of those days.  A magical day.  
Never stop sharing, my friends!  Never give up.  We are making a difference.  Maybe only for one woman here and another woman there, but those women are worth it.  And so are their babies.  And there is nothing in the world like rejoicing with them as they bathe in the joy and empowerment they feel from their positive birth experiences.  Nothing in the world.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Is water birth safe?

(Trying out our birth pool a week before my home birth.  
I labored in the water, but delivered on my bed.)

I realized several weeks ago that there was a fairly important gap in my personal research on the subject of water birth.  While I have read a lot about it in books, heard rave reviews from friends, and seen countless water birth YouTube videos, I hadn't personally delved into the scientific literature about water birth.  Anecdotal and second-hand evidence can be very helpful, but I wanted to see the nitty-gritty facts myself.  Especially after I did a google search and found an OB's blogpost slamming water birth and all its dangerousness.

What I found was that most of the scientific journal articles that come up through a water birth Google search were anecdotal reports and/or case studies of individual cases where doctors suspected that a water delivery contributed to a child's death or poor health.  The general sentiment among doctors is fairly well summed-up in this concluding statement (from an article in the journal Pediatrics) penned jointly by a pediatrician, nurse, and obstetrician:
After reviewing the literature, we stop to ponder: what evidence of harm would be enough to convince us to stop the practice? Should the report of a single drowning be enough? Apparently, it was not. At this point, we are convinced there is no evidence to support any benefit of underwater birth for the neonate, and plenty of evidence to suggest harm. (source)
Another doctor was so bold as to say:  "Water births currently provide no apparent benefit in childbirth" (source).  The introductory paragraph of his article had me chuckling to myself:
Despite an absence of supporting evidence, proponents of water births claim benefits and disregard concerns while continuing to fail to subject this approach to the rigors of scientific inquiry. This desire to ignore the facts may be particularly prevalent among individuals who prefer nontraditional delivery techniques.
I'm not about to suggest that water birth was the norm among our ancestors, but I would hardly call stirrups+hospital bed the "traditional" delivery technique.  Women have only been giving birth strapped to beds for a tiny portion of human existence.  And I won't waste my time addressing his claim that ignoring the facts is prevalent among those who prefer to deliver in "nontraditional" ways.

It can be frustrating and confusing trying to find the facts when it comes to water birth.  The most comprehensive review of the water birth research (that I'm aware of) is the Cochrane review.  Here's what the Cochrane researchers concluded in 2004:
There is evidence that water immersion during the first stage of labour reduces the use of analgesia and reported maternal pain, without adverse outcomes on labour duration, operative delivery or neonatal outcomes. The effects of immersion in water during pregnancy or in the third stage are unclear. One trial explores birth in water, but is too small to determine the outcomes for women or neonates.
So, basically, what we know from the scientific literature is that immersion in water can make labor less painful, but apparently we don't have rigorous enough scientific evidence to demonstrate the relative safety of water deliveries when compared with land deliveries. 

There are other studies demonstrating many benefits of water birth (though I can't personally vouch for the level of scientific scrutiny used by the researchers).  While these studies seem to have been primarily ignored or dismissed by the medical community, they can still be helpful as we strive to explore all the evidence. Here are some of them:

Waterbirths: a comparative study. A prospective study on more than 2,000 waterbirths.

Experience with water births: a prospective longitudinal study of 9 years with almost 4,000 water births

A retrospective comparison of water births and conventional vaginal deliveries.

Effects of water birth on maternal and neonatal outcomes.

Midwife Ronnie Falcao's website also contains a wealth of information on water birth safety.

I think it's helpful to keep in mind that adverse outcomes can occur regardless of mode/location of delivery, and that many modern obstetric practices have been shown by scientific study to be risky or questionable.  So I'm a little baffled by some doctors' outrage about water birth and their claims that it shouldn't be allowed to continue without rigorous scientific support.  If only they required the same standards for their own practices.  Back in April 2009, I quoted Jennifer Block from Pushed:  "A recent ACOG survey found that in 43% of malpractice suits involving neurologically impaired babies, Pitocin was to blame" (p. 137), and again: "Even Williams Obstetrics offers a sobering history: 'Oxytocin is a powerful drug, and it has killed or maimed mothers through rupture of the uterus and even more babies through hypoxia from markedly hypertonic uterine contractions'" (p. 138).  Yet many doctors still pump women full of Pitocin, often with little or no medical necessity.  Given that the percentage of women giving birth underwater is miniscule compared to the number of women being routinely administered Pitocin (a powerful drug with known and frightening side effects), I think tackling the Pitocin problem is far more urgent.

I would love to see a huge randomized controlled trial exploring water birth.  I would love to see this matter rigorously addressed.  In the meantime, what can we do?  I suppose each of us must use whatever tools available to us to determine what is best and safest for our individual circumstances.  For me, that includes my own intuition and Spiritual guidance from my Creator who knows the birth process and my body better than any other being.  I may not be able to determine, with certainty, that water birth is safe for you or anyone else.  But I feel confident I will be able to determine down the road whether it's right for me.

I'd appreciate any wisdom, stories, and insights you might have.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Re-post: Tips for avoiding tearing and episiotomies

Things have been quiet in my corner of the blogosphere despite my having one or two posts in the works in my head.  I just haven't had a block of time to get them on "paper."  In the meantime, I thought I'd re-post and oldie but goodie from the early days of my blog since some of my newer readers might not have seen it and might find it helpful.  (Stay tuned for a post about waterbirth next.)

Giving birth for the first time was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. My water broke, my contractions started, everything progressed smoothly, and, less than six hours later, my baby girl was born. It was an ideal birth experience, except for one thing. That one thing made my next few weeks of recovery extremely painful. I tore. I really tore....

Read the rest of this post over at my new website!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ask Busca: Arizona Birth Activism?

Diane said:
I am getting ready to deliver baby number 3 and this will be my first delivered at home with a midwife. I have been learning and trying to digest everything I can get my hands on regarding midwifery care and home birthing, and I have been absolutely stunned and appalled at what the women in this country have not been told about giving birth. I myself had no idea how things should/can be, and had always assumed that the doctors know best. 

So on to why I am writing to you. My husband and I have been moved by our desire to get the word out to other women, and to also encourage an overhaul of our maternity care in the US. I believe you are in AZ too, and I was wondering if there are activism groups here? Or am I riled up about nothing? I just feel like we should DO something.
Thanks in advance for your time.
 Busca's Babble:

Diane actually sent me this email back in March, so first I'm going to apologize that it has taken me two months to respond.  But I am thrilled that you have had a fire lit under you and want to do something to help other women discover the truth, Diane.  You're definitely not riled up about nothing.

I think the first place I'll direct you is the Arizona Birth Network.  They hold monthly Birth Circle meetings at locations throughout AZ where you can meet with other like-minded women to discuss a variety of topics and brainstorm.  I haven't gone to any of the Birth Circles yet, but I am definitely planning on doing so.  Hopefully soon.

You also might consider attending your local La Leche League meetings.  I have friends who attend the meetings and have formed friendships and support networks through them.  The other women attending those meetings are also likely to either share your desire to share truth and knowledge or be open to further truth and knowledge that you are excited to share.

Another thing you might consider is starting your own group.  One of the fellow doulas-in-training at my doula workshop decided to create West Valley Birth Advocates.  I have attended and hosted meetings for that group.  You might consider hosting viewings of birth films or discussions of birth books in your own home for your friends and other women in your area to learn more.

You can also get involved on a more national level with groups such as Lamaze, Citizens for Midwifery, Childbirth Connection, and others.

I hope that helps, Diane!  Any of my Arizona birth junkie readers, please comment if you have any other ideas or tips.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Rising up

I got married in the summer of 2001. When I was a newlywed, I had only known one woman who had given birth outside of a hospital by choice.  (And I never could have imagined I'd eventually do the same!) 

Nine years later, I can't believe how much has changed.  I can't even count the number of people I know who have given birth at home (or would be open to the possibility).  So many women! That is partly because I have sought friendships and attracted friendships with like-minded people.  But I don't think that's the only explanation.  I think giving birth at home is becoming more and more common.  In fact, I know it is.

Did you see that report back in March from the CDC?  Amy Newman from RH Reality Check summarizes it's findings:
Over the last five years, out-of-hospital births (which includes home birth and birthing at a free-standing birth center) rose 3 percent and home births rose 5 percent after having sharply declined between 1940 and 1969 and then remaining static over the last few decades.
Clearly women aren't abandoning hospitals in droves.  We're talking about a tiny percentage of the total births in the U.S.  But I expect that trend to continue.  Not because hospitals are BAD.  They're not bad.  They serve an essential purpose for women who experience birth complications.  But I expect home births to continue to rise because more and more women are realizing that, being low risk, they can have an equally safe but likely more satisfying birth experience staying home.  And the more women choose that path, the easier it becomes for their friends and family members to choose it... and on and on.

I often wonder what maternity care will be like in the U.S. when my daughters reach their childbearing years. 
Will the cesarean rate have decreased?  Will home birth midwives be able to practice legally in every state?  Will hospitals be more mother-friendly? 

I know my daughters may not choose the same path I have chosen.  I will support them in whatever they choose.  But watching them both scramble to get on my lap whenever they hear the unmistakable sounds of a YouTube birth video, seeing their complete and utter fascination with every detail, their comfort level and curiosity as a baby head emerges from its mother... all of that makes me hopeful that they will at least not enter their childbearing years fearful and uneducated. 

When my oldest daughter does tell me, on occasion, that she doesn't want to have babies because "It will hurt,"  I always smile and respond, "But it's SO COOL!  I love doing it!"  I hope that hearing my love of birth will, with time, ease her fears. I plan to school them all their lives in the beauty of birth and teach them how to help each other and other women through that process.  It makes me so happy to think of them doula-ing each other some day... and their friends... and their daughters... and grand-daughters. 

When I got married in 2001, no one in my family or circle of friends would have ever dreamed of giving birth at home.  Ever.  And now I'm surrounded by home birthing mommas... and looking at the possibility of generations of my own daughters joining those ranks.  What a beautiful sight.

Change is good.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

"I don't agree with home birth"

I've encountered several statements similar to this one over the last week:

"While I do not agree with home birth..."

A few things come to mind when I hear this statement.

1) How can you "disagree" that home birth was right for me or anyone else?  Do you know my medical history?  Do you know my midwives' level of experience and the quality of their outcomes?  Do you know your own care provider's?  How many home birth studies have you examined? ....

Check out the rest of this post over at my new website!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bearing life and bearing witness

I couldn't restrain myself from proclaiming via blog comment the burning testimony in my heart.  And I figured I'd share it here as well. I use terminology and lingo familiar to members of my faith (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), but I hope any and all of my readers will be inspired and uplifted by this expression of things near and dear to my heart. 

Like most of the women I know who chose to give birth at home, I studied the issue out in my mind extensively--even exploring the views of home birth opponents to ensure that I looked at the issue from all sides and didn't make the wrong choice. By the time I made the decision to give birth at home, I had spent the previous five+ years of my life studying childbirth. But even all of the science, facts, research, numbers, and stories wouldn't have been enough for me to take on the real, though minimal, risks inherent in home birth without fervent, deep, heartfelt consultation with the Lord.

I have never agonized over a decision more than I did over this one. We probably wouldn't have even considered a home birth if it hadn't been for certain financial circumstances in our life, but home birth was clearly the path that made the most financial sense for us. Above all, I did NOT want to make the wrong choice and put myself or my baby at increased risk, so it weighed extremely heavily on my mind. So we studied it out in our minds, worked hard to be completely open to the Lord's guidance, searched, pondered, prayed, and decided that home birth felt like the path we were being led to.

Next we asked the Lord if it was right, and my husband gave me a priesthood blessing I will never forget. It was one of the most tender and beautiful spiritual experiences of my life. I felt the most incredible burning in my heart--like I was being filled with the burning, life-giving love of God. I have never in my life received a more strong, intense, powerful answer to prayer. Then, throughout the rest of my pregnancy, when I had moments of weakness, my husband and the Lord reminded me of that powerful witness, and the Lord, in His tender mercy, promised me that we would be watched over and kept safe as I gave birth. And we were.
Do I think home birth is the right choice for everyone? Absolutely not. Do I think all birth attendants are safe? Absolutely not. I chose my midwives specifically because of their astoundingly superior stats and experience and because safety was extremely important to me. I think all women should drill their potential birth attendants about their stats and experience before choosing to put their lives and their babies' lives into a stranger's hands. There are many excellent doctors and midwives out there, and there are many lousy doctors and midwives out there. It seems like the wisest course to be sure you're getting one of the excellent ones.

Sometimes the Lord's guidance contradicts what the world sees as logical or rational or obvious. But personal revelation always trumps limited mortal understanding.

I love Elder Holland's words: "After you have gotten the message, after you have paid the price to feel His love and hear the word of the Lord, go forward. . . . You may, like Alma going to Ammonihah, have to find a route that leads an unusual way, but that is exactly what the Lord is doing here for the children of Israel. Nobody had ever crossed the Red Sea this way, but so what? There’s always a first time. With the spirit of revelation, dismiss your fears and wade in with both feet” (source).

I know that our Heavenly Parents care deeply about birth. I know that God did not send over 1/3 of his daughters to this world with bodies incapable of giving birth vaginally. I know that God is eager to help us make vital decisions impacting our pregnancies, babies, postpartum emotional health, and future health and fertility. Giving birth is one of the most important tasks God has given to women on this earth, and I know that He can and will and loves to help us as we navigate that beautiful journey.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Parturient Relations: PR for Dads

Remember these "Five PR's"--the most helpful things you can provide for your partner while she labors...

1. Presence
  • Sometimes all she needs is your loving physical presence.
    • Be “Rock Steady”—the familiar, strong, soothing rock she can hold on to.
  • Be “present” in every way—don’t let your fatigue or fear take your attention away from her emotional and physical needs.
  • Do NOT fall asleep (unless she’s asleep).
  • Do NOT leave her alone unless she demands it. 
    • Some women prefer to be alone while they labor. (But don't go too far!)
2. Protection
  • Be a buffer between your wife and the rest of the world. 
  • You can’t protect her from the intensity of childbirth or from unexpected complications, but you can protect her personal space and surround her with peace and calm.
    • Close doors.
    • Turn off/down the lights.
    • Take over answering questions so she can keep her energy focused on her hard work.  If someone tries to talk to her mid-contraction, gently ask for them to wait or stand between them and your wife until her contraction is over signaling with your hands for them to wait a moment.
    • No matter what happens or how much stress may arise, ensure that she always feels safe and secure.  Remember Jesus Christ’s calm in the storm that frightened his disciples:  “Peace, be still.”
3. Pressure
  • One of the most helpful hands-on ways to help with the most difficult contractions is counter-pressure.
    • Use your hands to provide firm, strong, steady pressure.  
      • Lower back/pelvis
      • Double hip squeeze
      • Knees while sitting with something against her back
      • Hip while side-lying
    • Do not let up until the contraction ends!  (You will probably get tired.)
4. Prompts
  • Your wife will likely not be in a position to remember all of the ways to increase her comfort, so your job is to prompt her.
  • Remember PURRR
    • P Position: Is she changing position every half hour?
    • U Urination: Is she using the bathroom every hour?  (And drinking lots of fluids?)
    • R Relaxation: Is she as relaxed as possible?
    • R Respiration: Is she breathing evenly and as calmly as possible?
    • R Rest: Is she resting between contractions?
5. Praise
  • All of your words must instill her with hope, confidence, peace, comfort, pride, and power.
  • Think of it as your job to help her get to the “finish line” without giving up.
    • "You are so amazing right now!"
    • "I am so proud of you!"
    • “You are doing so well!”
    • Kissing counts! (Some women find kissing very helpful.)
    • When she says, "I can't do it!" reply with, "You are doing it."
    • When she’s reached the point when she thinks she can’t do it anymore, that usually means she’s almost finished, so shower her with praise, encouragement, and lots of statements like: “You are so close!”  “You’re almost there!”  “The baby is almost here!”
    See also:  Emotional Signposts of Labor

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Seeking your input

I'm doing a daddy-doula "boot camp" for two couples soon to embark on their first drug-free hospital births. If you had less than two hours to teach dads how to help their wives through labor, what would you say are the best things I could teach them?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Food, Inc.(redible)

Ax and I watched the documentary Food, inc. on PBS last week.  Heather's post reminded me that I've been wanting to blog about it. And she reminded me that the film is still available for online viewing until midnight tonight.  I'm sort of out of the loop when it comes to media and movies and academy award nominations, etc.  So I didn't really know much of anything about the film until another friend posted about PBS showing it on facebook last week. 

After watching the film, I posted my reaction on facebook:  "Wow. Wow. Wow. Scary indeed. It has prompted us to take our health-consciousness to a whole new level. Wow."  And a little while later, I elaborated more on my feelings, "Let's just say there are certain things I will NEVER purchase ever again, if I can help it. The film made me want to vomit, scream, cry (from sadness AND joy), and cheer. So many emotions packed into one 120 minute stretch."

So, while I can say without hesitation that I believe Food, Inc. is a film everyone should watch, I can also say without hesitation that it's not a fun or easy film to watch.  It's painful to watch, for many reasons,  and incredible in every aspect of the word...  astonishing, unbelievable, disgusting, and heart-warming too.  As we watched, I felt, with deep intensity, both the spirit of evil prompting much of what happens to bring food to our supermarkets and the beautiful, inspiring, wonderful spirit of love that motivates farmers like Joel Huesby.  I strongly believe that God aches to see how modern industrialized agriculture is depleting the earth, disrespecting His creations, and making all of us weaker and weaker over time.  And I strongly believe that God is eager to help us repent and choose a better way for ourselves, our children, and the rest of our posterity.  The film motivated Ax and me to make some major changes that will improve our lives, and we feel confident that God is pleased with those changes and will help us find the best, most affordable ways to move forward with those plans.

Which brings me to something I wanted to address from the film.  I was frustrated with the way the film represented the financial costs of healthy eating.  There is a portion of the film where they follow around a low-income family of four as they order their dinner from a fast food chain dollar menu ($11.48 for five hamburgers, two chicken sandwiches, and three soft drinks to feed a family of four), and then they go to a grocery store and lament how expensive the pears and broccoli are.  The sentiment is... if fruits and vegetables weren't so expensive, we'd eat healthier... what a shame that we can only afford fast food!  Then it finishes with the family discussing the outrageously expensive prescription medications the father has to take for his health problems... diabetes, etc.  And the mother sort of laughs and says something like, "I guess you either pay on the front end for healthy food, or you pay on the back end for medical bills."

I've thought a lot about this part of the film since last week.  I'm so frustrated by it.  I think the filmmakers wanted us to see the way low-income families struggle to make healthy food choices, but I think they also misrepresent some things.  It's so sad that there is such a disconnect when it comes to food prices... People grow up buying food like this family does and never learn that there is a much easier, cheaper, better way to feed themselves.  Healthy isn't more expensive!  It's usually cheaper!  Personally, I can't afford junk food!  (Though we do eat it on occasion.)

Thoughts rolling around my head in reaction to this part of the film:
  • $11.48 is NOT a cheap dinner for a family of four.  Even if you just brought your own reusable water bottles instead of ordering sodas, you'd save yourself enough money to go buy some of those "expensive" pears or broccoli to eat with your dollar menu burgers.  They could EACH have an entire 16 oz package of strawberries this time of year (88 cents last week at Fry's) for less than what they spent on their sodas! 
  • The way to buy groceries is NOT to buy the broccoli (or anything else) when it's "expensive."  When you're struggling to make ends meet, you have to buy things when they're on sale.  Only buy produce in season when it's cheapest (or join a co-op like Bountiful Baskets where you can get enough produce to feed your family for two weeks for just over $1 a day).  And stock up on staple items when they're on sale.  Don't pay regular price for anything (unless you have to).
  • The mother in the film says, "We don't have time to cook."  I understand that people are busy, especially hard-working families like theirs.  But I think people also over-estimate the amount of time (and money) it takes to make an inexpensive, fairly healthy meal.  For example... taco salad is a piece of cake.  You could even cook a bunch of taco meat on the weekend and freeze it to use a bit at a time during the week.  All you'd have to do on the weeknight is warm up the meat in the microwave, tear up some lettuce, cut up whatever veggies you want on top, and throw some pre-grated cheese on there.  Really fast and easy and probably a fraction of the cost of their fast food dollar menu meal if the meat and veggies were purchased on sale.  I'd say a little effort is beyond worth it to cut costs and improve health.  
  • Sometimes even the organic stuff is a better deal.  If you watch carefully, you can eat organic for less than what you'd spend to eat non-organic.  Watch for sales and specials.  And even if you have to pay a bit more for the organic grass-fed beef, it's worth every extra penny... which really isn't "more" than what you'd spend eating fast food hamburgers anyway if you look at how many people can be fed with just one pound of $4.99/lb grass-fed beef.  When we use one pound of beef to make a meal, it usually translates into dinner (more than one helping each) for two adults and two small children and lunch for two adults the next day.  That's more than six servings.  That $4.99 went a long way.  And the more we "eat meat sparingly," the less we'll have to spend. Why is grass-fed beef worth the price tag?  Watch the film. :-) But, in short... it's safer for human consumption, better for the cows' stomachs, better for the land, and nutritionally superior in so many ways
Alright... enough rambling.  Here's a trailer for the film:

Monday, April 26, 2010

I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record

I'm amazed that magnesium is the real answer to so many problems, but even many scientists and researchers seem unaware of its importance.  This Reuters article talks about the rise in kidney stones among children in South Carolina and points to excessive antibiotic use as a possible cause.  Antibiotics deplete magnesium!  And the "stone belt" (from Virginia down to Florida and over to Texas) mentioned in the article is an area of the country with primarily very soft water--low mineral content.  Hard water and healthy gut bacteria help raise our bodies' magnesium levels.  They don't mention it in the article, but low magnesium can lead to kidney stones. Magnesium is the missing puzzle piece no one (well, almost no one) is talking about.

Get yer magnesium, my friends!

Friday, April 23, 2010

More Magnesium Mumblings

Some stuff that has been rolling around in my brain thanks to my recent magnesium obsession...

Prenatal Vitamins and Leg Cramps

So... this morning, out of curiosity, I looked at the bottle of prenatal vitamins I took on occasion while pregnant. Lots of folic acid and calcium, for sure. Magnesium... nope. What the?!

Then I remembered something about my sister.  A year or two ago, she told me that she always got bad leg cramps with her pregnancies (I did too). Then she switched to the prenatal vitamins from NuSkin where her husband works, and her leg cramps disappeared. She thought maybe the NuSkin vitamins just absorbed into her body better, and she may be right. After I saw that my bottle of vitamins didn't contain magnesium this morning, I got wondering about NuSkin's prenatals.  So I googled it. And... Yepperdoodle. 39% of the DV of magnesium.  More magnesium, fewer leg cramps.  Just like you'd expect.

Hard Water for Contractions?

My sister also used to get a lot of contractions in the last trimester of her pregnancies (I do too), but she noticed (or her doctor suggested) that if she drank a bunch of water, they would go away. It may have been partly dehydration, but I can't help wondering whether drinking a large amount of the hard, mineral-rich Utah mountain water gave her magnesium stores a boost and helped relax her uterus?  Maybe. Who knows for sure, but I thought it was an interesting connection. 

Hard Water for Cramps and Fetal Hiccups?

Not long before I got married, I was visiting my future-in-laws with my future husband.  While there, my period arrived, and I was hit with some horrendous menstrual cramps.  I literally passed-out in their basement bathroom from the pain, and then spent the next several hours moaning, embarassingly in the arms of my fiance while his mother and sister offered their sweet sympathy.  I remember my mother-in-law saying that she always had excruciating cramps until after her first pregnancy.  So I've been wondering over the past week whether low magnesium was to blame for both of us.

Then a friend recently mentioned that her doula trainer, a midwife, had taught her having that a fetus who hiccups a lot can be a sign of magnesium deficiency.  I told my husband about that, and he remembered his mother talking about how her first baby hiccuped all the time while in utero.  Then the cogs and wheels started going in my brain.

Something changed between her first pregnancy and the rest. She only remembers the first baby hiccuping, and she no longer had bad cramps afterward.  Interestingly enough, she had been living in California for a while before getting married and pregnant.  At some point after her baby was born, the family moved to Utah.  That baby was the only one born in California.

So I found a map showing the relative hardness of the drinking water in the U.S.  on a water science website. I'll throw in a screen shot of it here:  

They were measuring calcium in the water, but I'd venture a guess that water high in calcium would also be high in magnesium.  So if you look at the map, most of California has relatively soft water while Utah's water is completely hard.  I can't guarantee that water hardness was what changed to get rid of my mother-in-law's cramps and baby hiccups, but it's an interesting possibility.

*Edited to add*:  My mother-in-law also grew up in New Zealand which has primarily soft water.  She moved to Porterville, California (a soft water area) as an adult just a few years before marrying.  She was probably already low on magnesium when she arrived in the U.S.  (Fortunately, New Zealand is also surrounded by ocean water, so God provided a simple way for those soft water islanders to get their mg.)

Fluoride + Soft water + Lousy diet = Scoliosis?

The other day I had an epiphany... maybe magnesium will help my scoliosis pain?  So that led me on a google search that turned up some really promising stuff.  There definitely seems to be some connection between scoliosis and low magnesium.  Also, most women who have osteoporosis also have scoliosis and seem to exhibit a cluster of similar symptoms related with magnesium deficiency.  I was thrilled to make this discovery. So I am full of hope that magnesium will tremendously reduce or eliminate my back pain and save me from a future of other possible health problems.  Yay.

But that also led me on a search for other answers.  I was diagnosed with scoliosis around age 14.  At the time, I was living in Massachusetts, in area with fluoridated water.  So yesterday I turned to Google to see if it might be related.  And it turns out that when fluoride meets magnesium in the bloodstream, they bond into magnesium fluoride.  Magnesium fluoride is insoluble, so it "cannot be assimilated by the pituitary, with the consequent failure of the pituitary to function properly that leads to the symptoms of magnesium deficiency" (source). Yikes.

I can also tell you that I had a fairly lousy diet as a teenager.  Most days I skipped multiple meals out of sheer busy-ness or laziness.  Many days all I had for lunch was french fries and a carbonated beverage.  (Oh the things I wish I could go do-over!)  Dinner was the only somewhat nutritious meal I had every day, but we still ate a lot of refined carbs. So... what little magnesium I may have been getting in my diet was probably getting trapped by the fluoride in our water.  Dang.

It gets worse.

If you look on the map, you'll see that MA is an area with very soft water relative to hard water areas. That's three strikes against me: fluoride, poor diet, and soft water.  Ouch.

But I also carried all my heavy text books around in my monstrous backpack, always on my right shoulder... every school day.  I never used my locker in middle school or high school. Strike four!

It's really no surprise that I was diagnosed with scoliosis two years after I moved to MA.  And it's really no surprise that two years later I started having absolutely horrendous menstrual cramps.  Can we say magnesium deficiency?! 

All of this makes me feel like a detective.  It's kind of fun finding possible answers to all these questions after all these years.


The more I learn, the more amazed I am how much impact little things can have.  It's makes me both afraid and hopeful.  Afraid of what little things are impacting my own children right now that will come back to bite them down the road.  But hopeful because I can see that there is almost always a simple solution to our health problems if we can just find all the puzzle pieces and fit them together. 

How's the water where you live? Hard or soft? Is it fluoridated? Is there magnesium in your prenatal vitamins?  I'm totally curious.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Magnesium Manifesto

"There is no life without magnesium." -Mark A. Sircus

I feel so overwhelmed. There is simply so much to say, and I have no idea how to say it all coherently because my mind has been spinning with all this new, amazing information for almost a week. I'll do my best. (And I'll pepper as many of my research sources as I can fit in throughout the post, so I'd recommend clicking around and checking them out.)

Magnesium is incredibly important.  (Especially for pregnant women, but I'll get to that later.) Magnesium is probably most well-known for its partnership with calcium in muscle function--calcium contracts muscles, magnesium relaxes them.  But magnesium is actually involved in far more than that.  From what I gather, every time a nerve cell fires, magnesium is required to control the entry of calcium into the body's cells.

Dr. Christianne Northrup sums it up nicely when she says, "Magnesium is essential for the functioning of more than 300 different enzymes in the body, particularly those that produce, transport, store, and utilize energy. . . . In short, living without adequate levels of magnesium is like trying to operate a machine with the power off" (source).  And Mark A. Sircus, a magnesium proponent, describes magnesium as "the source of life" and "the lamp of life" because of its essential role in plant photosynthesis and human bodily functions (source).

As I've immersed myself in studying this amazing mineral over the past week, I have come more and more to see it with deep awe and reverence. Magnesium is at the core of all life and life-giving.  I'm in love with magnesium.

And, unfortunately, most of us are low on magnesium. Magnesium and calcium must be maintained in their proper balance in order to function correctly, but the average modern American consumes far more calcium than necessary and not nearly enough magnesium. That excess calcium can disrupt many important functions. Instead we should take in more magnesium than calcium or at least a 1:1 ratio.

There are myriad ways that magnesium deficiency can manifest itself in your body. Some of those are:
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Asthma
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Abnormal bowel function, constipation, etc.
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure 
  • Muscle pain, cramps, and spasms
  • Depression
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Kidney disease and kidney stones
And low magnesium can lead to several problems of particular interest to women, both pregnant and not pregnant:
So how do we ensure that we get enough magnesium?

Our ancient ancestors would have obtained more than enough magnesium through plants, nuts, and seeds from the earth's rich non-depleted soil and through soaking in the pristine ocean's limitless supply of magnesium chloride. With soils depleted of nutrients and oceans often too far away and/or full of toxins and pollutants, we aren't quite so lucky. But we can do our best with what we've got.

What are the best food sources of magnesium?

You pretty much can't go wrong with dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, legumes, salmon, and whole grains.  Some of the best among those sources, according to The World's Healthiest Foods:
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Spinach 
  • Swiss chard
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame seeds
Magnesium is also found in hard water.  One site I visited explained:
In a survey of 25 cities in the US, the lowest death rates from heart disease were found in areas where the drinking water supplied above average levels of magnesium. Part of Texas has the highest levels of magnesium in drinking water, and also the lowest cardiovascular mortality rates in the US Australia has some of the lowest drinking water magnesium levels, and also the highest cardiovascular death rate in the world.
How can we improve the body's ability to absorb dietary magnesium?

Avoiding or limiting certain magnesium-depleting foods and beverages will protect your body's magnesium stores, including:
  • Soft drinks
  • Sugar and refined carbs
  • Excess unhealthy fats
  • Alcohol 
  • Caffeine
  • Excess animal protein
  • Certain medications, such as diuretics and steroids/corticoids
Increasing consumption of probiotics and prebiotics has also been shown to increase the absorption of essential minerals, in part because of their ability to break down the mineral-binding phytic acid in foods, releasing those formerly bound minerals for absorption. (See here)

Getting vitamin d through regular sunlight exposure will also improve your body's ability to retain magnesium and calcium.  Sunlight seems to do this more efficiently than vitamin d supplements. (See here

How else can we get magnesium?

Ocean water is a limitless source of magnesium chloride.  And, based on my internet research, magnesium is better absorbed through the skin than the gut.  If you live near a beach with clean water, regular soaks should benefit your magnesium levels.  For the rest of us, taking baths with epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) or magnesium chloride flakes will raise levels of magnesium in the body.

Magnesium is also available, of course, in oral supplements, but these can cause diarrhea in some people.

Pregnant Women, Listen up!

Clearly magnesium is essential for all of us, but I'm becoming convinced that maintaining adequate magnesium levels could reduce or eliminate a large portion of the pregnancy complications women encounter.  And, as I listed earlier, magnesium can also remedy many of the other complaints associated with our womanly cycles.

Dr. Christianne Northrup shared a story that illustrates what I'm talking about:
I was first introduced to magnesium during my obstetrical training, where I saw how effective magnesium sulfate was in preventing seizures and restoring normal blood pressure in pregnant women suffering from toxemia. Magnesium is also frequently given to women having preterm labor to stop contractions. It works! 
A good friend of mine, Alexa, had her third baby in 1994. About seven weeks before the baby was due, she started to have contractions that would only stop when she lay down. Because she was 2.5 centimeters dilated and almost fully effaced (conditions often present when a woman goes into labor with a full-term third child), she was put on bed rest. Luckily this helped, and she was able to avoid a lengthy stay at the hospital. After having her baby, Alexa was extremely run down, had frequent migraines, and severe muscle cramps. She decided to go to a Naturopath for help. He immediately diagnosed severe magnesium deficiency, and she was given weekly magnesium IVs to correct the imbalance. . . .

Alexa's OB/GYN was insistent that she get 1500 mgs of calcium every day to protect her baby's and her bones. He told her to take a couple of Tums, an antacid, any day she didn't get enough calcium from the food she ate. Tums contains calcium, and it was the calcium "supplement" he recommended to all his patients. (This was his strategy for keeping her calories from dairy fat down, too.) He never recommended that she increase her magnesium, just her calcium. It's not surprising that she had a magnesium deficiency after following his advice during three pregnancies.  (Source)
This story is frustrating for so many reasons.  But I want to focus on what Dr. Northrup says in the first paragraph.  Doctors know that magnesium helps women with toxemia and preterm labor.  So my question is... if they know it, why do they wait until a woman comes to the E.R. to pump her full of magnesium?  Why are they putting women on bed rest when they have preterm labor instead of teaching them about optimizing their magnesium levels?  Why aren't women with recurrent miscarriages or infertility or PMS or excruciating menstrual cramps being tested for low magnesium?!

Why aren't we all being told how crucial it is to keep our magnesium levels optimal?

I couldn't know this information and not share it.  So here I am.

Magnesium is crucial. 

Please spread the word.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Calling all AZ Birth Junkies

My friend Cassie (who also happened to be the doula--in red--who counter-pressured, encouraged, and photographed me throughout my son's birth) is hosting a viewing of the film Orgasmic Birth at her house in Glendale on May 6th.  (I posted last year about the film.)

Don't let the title turn you off.  I haven't seen the film yet myself, but I appreciated Rixa's review of the film in which she explains:
I found myself particularly troubled with the word “orgasmic.” I think a number of other words describe more accurately what the filmmaker is trying to communicate in this film: ecstatic, empowering, or transformative come to mind. In our society, orgasmic is always used in the narrow, sexual sense. In that sense, orgasmic birth = having a literal orgasm during birth. But that isn’t really what the film is talking about at all. We do see at least one woman literally having an orgasm during her labor (she said it was very unexpected and quite lovely), but the other women experience something else, something more nuanced and more complex than simplistic sexual climax. . . .
The other day, I looked up “orgasmic” in the dictionary. . . . The second meaning, one not in circulation in our everyday language, is “intense or unrestrained excitement” or “a similar point of intensity of emotional excitement.”
I had an “aha!” moment. Debra Pascali-Bonaro is arguing that birth can be a peak emotional, physical, and spiritual experience. And given the right setting and preparation, birth can include moments of ecstasy, transcendence and occasionally even sexual pleasure. Her film explains the hormonal and environmental similarities between making babies and having babies. If we see birth not as just a narrow equivalent of sex, but rather sex and birth and breastfeeding as a continuum of important and inter-related life experiences, then the phrase “orgasmic birth” makes much more sense. Think of it this way: if women were expected to make love in the same kind of setting that they labor and birth in (in a clinical environment, observed by unfamiliar professionals, monitored and tethered to machines, and above all their biological rhythms forced to adhere to a strict timetable), they would undoubtedly have a high rate of sexual dysfunction and disappointment.
After watching the film three times, here's how Rixa's concludes:
In sum: the birth scenes are incredible and the movie is worth watching for that reason alone. They're not overly romanticized or sanitized. I found them incredibly realistic, in all their variety, about what giving birth normally is like. I'd like a different title, because I think that it will keep many people from watching it, but I also understand the rhetorical power of "orgasmic birth."
Rixa's review helped dispel any hesitancy I might have had about viewing the film.  And I have since heard multiple women describe Orgasmic Birth as their all-time favorite birth film.  Rixa also interviewed Orgasmic Birth's filmmaker, Debra Pascali-Bonaro, if you want to check that out. 

I am looking forward to seeing the film. Are you coming?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dolphins, revisited

As I was writing my dolphin birth post last Friday, I enlisted my girls' help looking for a little stone dolphin figurine I wanted to include a photo of.  My brother-in-law had brought it back from a trip to South America for me, remembering that I was a fan of dolphins.  I often find it among their toys, so I assumed they might know where it was. They didn't know, but I explained to them (4 and 6 years old) as we searched that I was writing something about how dolphins have babies.  How other dolphins circle around the mommy dolphin to keep her and her new baby safe.  Then, later that night, we told Daddy about it on our way to the store.

I forgot about those conversations until Saturday evening when I walked into the playroom to tell the girls it was almost time for dinner.  As I turned to leave the room, something in their conversation made me pause and walk over to see what they were drawing.  And I found this in front of my 6-year-old...
And a huge grin came across my face. It made my birth-loving mommy-heart proud.

"I love it!" I told her. "I'm definitely keeping this one!"

Oh, and I finally found the stone dolphin on Saturday. It was hiding in one of their play purses in their dress-up closet.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hear me roar

After a few weeks of caring for her precious first-born baby, my friend Fig declared, "Motherhood is blood, sweat, and tears. Rinse and repeat." Are you nodding and chuckling at the same time? Fig's good at inducing the chuckle-nod. She's so witty. And right on.

So I've been thinking, of late, about how I focus so much on the intense physical challenge of labor (some, including me, call it "pain") that I have sort of neglected to give attention to other physical "pains" associated with bearing and nurturing children. For example...

* The cramping associated with ovulation and/or menstruation is painful for some women.
* PMS can cause painful bloating, headaches, etc.
* Love-making is painful for some women.
* Some women experience round-ligament twinges and/or cramping in early pregnancy.
* Morning sickness can range from mildly bothersome to excruciatingly miserable.
* Some pregnant women suffer with back pain, sciatic nerve pain, joint pain, etc.
* Preterm labor pains keep some women on bed rest for weeks or months.
* Then there are the after-pains (I think they get worse with each birth... wowza!).
* Some women endure general perineal tenderness, pain from perineal tears/episiotomies, or cesarean section wounds.
* Breastfeeding hurts like the (toe-curling) dickens in the beginning, being compounded initially by painful breast engorgement, painful milk let-down, and more intense after-pains due to the uterine contractions produced by suckling.
* The muscle strain from carrying around a 5 to 10 lb newborn can lead to sore arms and/or sore backs, especially with a first child.
* Once an infant has teeth that introduces a whole new kind of potential pain during breastfeeding.
* Back pain can continue and intensify from carrying increasingly hefty babies and toddlers.
* Rinse and repeat.

(And that's not even getting into the emotional pains we endure.)

The other day a first-time pregnant woman I love told me she's pretty sure she'll get an epidural 'cause she's (and these were her exact words) "such a pansy." I couldn't help myself... I rushed toward her, grasped her face in my hands, and said, "No! You're not!" This woman has endured excruciating menstrual cramps every month for over a decade followed by miserable morning sickness for the last couple of months... and she thinks she's a "pansy!"

Look at the list above, ladies. Take a good, long look at it. Do you really think God would entrust those challenges to a bunch of pansies?


We are women. We are strong. We can push ourselves to our absolute limit and somehow find the strength to push some more. And then rinse and repeat.

Don't you dare call yourself a pansy. 

 (Photo by Fife Photography, Fall 2005)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Dolphins and Birth Plans

While I was in California a few weeks ago, we hit the beach. Almost as soon as we got there, we saw something swimming several yards out in the water. At first I didn't know what it was and sort of screamed (thinking shark), "There's an animal!" Once it became clear it was a pod of dolphins, I had to smile to myself, reminiscing.

I used to be mildly (or... very) obsessed with dolphins as an adolescent. I had dolphin figurines, dolphin stuffed animals, dolphin posters, dolphin videos, dolphin stationary, dolphin everything. I did book reports about them, dreamed of swimming with them, toyed with becoming a marine biologist because of them, etc.

I was reminded of that adolescent dolphin fascination again this morning.

Years ago, my sister saw Marsden Wagner's Creating Your Birth Plan at for cheap and, knowing my passion for all things birth-related, she told me about it. I had never heard of the book itself, but I knew simply because it had Marsden Wagner's name on it that it was a book worth having. So I ordered it, and it has basically been collecting dust on my bookshelf ever since.

About 2 weeks ago we got word that my sister-in-law is pregnant after years of infertility. I'm ecstatic for them. And, naturally, I'm feeling protective of her and wanting to do all I can to ensure that she has the best birth experience possible. So I was perusing the birth books on my shelves about a week ago, contemplating which one(s) I should lend to her first, and I pulled out Creating Your Birth Plan, thinking it might be a good one to start with (especially since it has an M.D. in the by-line). As I flipped through the book, however, I realized that I'd probably better read it before I lend it out to anyone, just so I know what I'm sharing with people.

(I lent her Penny Simkin's Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn and The Birth Partner instead. Her husband's currently in physical therapy school, so it seemed fitting to start them off with the words of a fellow PT.)

So I've been skimming through Creating Your Birth Plan off and on over the past week or so. This morning I lingered on p. 176 where Dr. Wagner shares some fascinating details about dolphin birthing. Here's an excerpt:
At its physical and emotional best, support for women in labor has always reminded me of dolphin birth. When a dolphin gives birth to a calf, several female dolphins swim in a circle close to the laboring mother. Slightly farther away, another larger group of all the remaining females in the pod circle around the laboring dolphin. Then, even farther away, all the male dolphins in the pod circle around her. The entire collective comes together to protect the laboring dolphin and her emerging calf from intrusion and harm. A woman giving birth to a baby thrives when she's at the center of a circle of love.
This prompted me to do a google search and discovered that there are actually places where women give birth in the water "assisted" by dolphins.

A Russian male midwife, Igor Charkovsky, says this about the practice: "Dolphins have an affinity with the baby in the womb and are automatically attracted to pregnant women. They sense when a woman is about to give birth and gather round. They give both the mother and child a sense of protection and safety" (source).

I've been mulling over the topic of birth partners in preparation for writing something for the book, so this dolphin stuff feels relevant. And it has reminded me, yet again, how crucial it is for women to have supportive people around them as they give birth. The people we invite or allow to be with us can make or break our birth experiences. I recently encountered a 2005 study indicating that there is a strong correlation between patient satisfaction with care provider and lower cesarean rates. And Penny Simkin's research has demonstrated that the women with the highest long-term levels of satisfaction with their birth experiences were the women who had positive memories of the way they were treated by their care providers. Which brings me back to birth plans.

I think writing a birth plan is a helpful exercise. But I think most women do it too late in the game. A birth plan will do little to help you if the care provider and place of birth you have chosen have a practice style totally incompatible with it. In my opinion, the time to write your birth plan is before you ever choose a doctor or midwife (which is why I toyed with giving my sister-in-law Marsden Wagner's book now). I can't stress enough how important it is to choose the right provider--someone who will support and respect your birth preferences and shares your personal philosophy of birthing. You'll know you've found the right provider when you know you don't need to give them a copy of your birth plan when they arrive to catch your baby. Birth plans, at their best, aren't for labor day, they're for doctor/midwife interviews. Unfortunately, most women don't approach the doctor/midwife selection process this way. Hence, there are far too many battles in the labor room where peace and joy should prevail and far too many cruel jokes among doctors and nurses about "those women" with birth plans. Alas.

Given how protective I feel of my pregnant and laboring loved ones, I suppose it's no surprise I grew up with such an affinity for dolphins. I wish I could circle protectively around them throughout their pregnancies and births as the dolphins do. Maybe if I ever start an official doula business, I'll have a dolphin logo? That would be cool.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

For them I could

Sometimes I feel like it's inevitable. I'll probably end up a midwife, in the end. But most of the time I don't really look forward to it. It terrifies me to imagine holding the lives of women and babies in my fallible human hands. I don't really want to be a midwife. But I've been thinking lately of some facts and figures that just might be enough to propel me forward on the path toward midwifery.

First, my cousin-in-law, Liz, wrote a blogpost discussing the book Half the Sky. She shared a couple of excerpts that have been reverberating through my skull ever since:
In much of the world, women die because they aren't thought to matter. There's a strong correlation between countries where women are marginalized and countries with high maternal mortality. Indeed, in the United States, maternal mortality remained very high throughout the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century, even as incomes rose and access to doctors increased. During World War I, more American women died in childbirth than American men died in war.... 'Women are not dying because of untreatable diseases. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.' (p. 115-116)

"More women die in childbirth in a few days than terrorism kills people in a year." (Jane Roberts, letter to San Bernadino Sun, qtd. on p. 146)
Then, last night, my brother-in-law watched a PBS segment on maternity care in rural Peru. He thought I'd be interested, so he passed along the link to me. Last year, CNN reported that Peru's pregnant women were "dying at scandalous rates"(source). Yesterday, PBS shared some of the solutions that are being implemented to reduce the mortality rates in Peru's remote areas. The segment starts with this intro:
High in the Andean Mountains of Peru, far from the modern conveniences of a city, generations of indigenous women have given birth at home, their only help from family or a village midwife.

The longstanding tradition of childbirth at home wasn't a problem for most women. But, in that small percentage of cases where complications developed at the end of a pregnancy, in a remote rural area, you could be days away from the nearest medical facility on foot, even multiple-hours' drive.
(Screenshot from the PBS segment)

I've been studying childbirth for the past seven years, but most of my reading and research has revolved around maternity care in the U.S. Although we still have a long way to go here in the U.S., our risk of dying in childbirth is far lower than the risk most women of the world face. I think I could feel content remaining a doula/birth activist if the rest of the world didn't exist. But it does exist.

The World Health Organization puts things into persective:
Every minute, at least one woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth – that means 529 000 women a year. In addition, for every woman who dies in childbirth, around 20 more suffer injury, infection or disease – approximately 10 million women each year.(Source)
Far too many women die simply because they lack "skilled care during pregnancy, childbirth and the first month after delivery," according to WHO.

While I don't feel compelled to become a midwife for my fellow American sisters, I do think I'd be willing to shoulder the risks inherent in midwifery in order to help save the lives of women in places where maternal deaths are excessively common. For them I could do it.

Unfortunately, those who are able to help these women often lack the ability to communicate in indigenous languages. I have a deep love for languages and have always wanted to learn to speak more of them. I've also always wanted to travel to Africa, South America, and other far-off places. I couldn't think of a better reason to fulfill those dreams. Someday down the road... I hope.