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.

A Year Ago Today

Happy First Birthday to my little April Fool.
At this moment a year ago, he was still squirming around inside my belly, and now look at him...Happy Birthday to you, my little first-home-born baby boy! I love you more than I ever could have dreamed I would.

For all the nitty gritty birthing details, see here.

To learn more about why I chose a home birth, see here.

To read about my midwives and their training, experience, and stats, see here.