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Archive for October, 2011

If you are a doula or any other sort of birth professional, run do not walk to your nearest book source to get “Survivor Moms” by Julia Seng and Mickey Sperlich. I happen to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the hippest place in the (sort of) Midwest, and Ann Arbor is home to many amazing midwives, doulas, and obstetricians. Really. We have at least FOUR awesome obstetricians in our town and those are just four whom I know personally. There might even be more than four, which definitely puts us in “hippest” territory. Anyway, Ann Arbor is where Julia and Mickey lives so I have the pleasure of knowing Mickey and Julia personally.

“Survivor Moms” is the book I didn’t know I needed when I was a fledgling doula. I supported many new mothers on their birthing journeys and left the births shaking my head. What happened there? I would wonder. Someone who said she wanted one thing turned into a completely different person in labor. Or she got “stuck” at some point in labor and we just couldn’t shake it. Then she would cry and shake all over and labor would get going again. Huh? Or her mistrust of the hospital personnel was so huge that it took over labor. Keeping nurses out of the room became the only way to keep the mom from getting hysterical.

I knew the stats, like any feminist should. I knew that many women experience childhood sexual abuse and/or date rape and/or domestic violence with their partners. The thing is, I just didn’t connect the dots the way I should have. I didn’t think deeply about how these experiences could impact birth.

One client for whom I was a volunteer doula clarified it all for me, though. I knew about her heartbreaking childhood and I could see that trusting anyone (myself, included) was an act of heroism on her part. I watched the nurses react to her mistrust as if she were an imbecile. She succeeded in having a natural hospital birth, but I can only describe the battle with her two nurses as a war. We were all wounded by the end.

This book, “Survivor Moms,” is the book that I wish I had read before that birth… and before so many others. Now that I’ve explored the wisdom offered here, I shudder at the thought of thousands of nurses and obstetricians blithely attending women in birth without a single thought to their sexual history. When women have survived unspeakable violence to their sexual selves, it can have a tremendous impact on their labors.

But what I appreciate most is the call for non-judgement. Some survivor moms need support to take control of their bodies in ways that natural birth advocates do not always readily support. They may need to schedule c-sections in order to feel in control of their sexuality and reproductive selves. They cannot bear having strangers gazing at and touching their genitals. A c-section feels empowering. And other survivor moms need support to be as in control of their natural, vaginal birth as possible. They may need to refuse vaginal exams, for instance. These moms may find birth healing, as they use wounded parts of their bodies and souls to produce goodness and new life. As a doula, I feel better prepared to provide this support now that I’ve read what dozens of survivor moms have to say about their birthing experiences. I love this book!

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Amazon.com has just enabled a connection between amazon and this blog! Yay! Now pregnant women can see who I am and what I have to say before they decide to buy the book. So I am reposting the most-viewed post for fans who didn’t catch it last March and for newly pregnant women who are researching birth books!
Dear World,           

My fourth baby was born yesterday. This baby has 256 pages instead of the usual fingers and toes, but it took a surprisingly similar effort to birth these two different kinds of babies. I have been incubating this brainchild for many years, keeping it close to my heart, only allowing a few trusted souls into the work with me, and now I am ready to share it with the whole world.

This book, “Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds,” is an attempt to bridge a strange gap in American culture. We pretend that there are two “camps” in the birth world: the natural birth camp and the medical birth camp. And wars get fought, over women’s bodies, between these camps. But the truth is that these two sides have a lot more in common than they like to believe. And birthing women would benefit greatly from a cease-fire and a peace treaty. We can learn from each other.

Ninety-nine percent of American women give birth in hospitals. As a woman who has experienced the beauty and power of natural birth, I want to help more women access the amazing strength of their bodies…no matter where they are when their babies come into being. I want hospital staff to start seeing and experiencing this power more and more often so that they, too, can come to trust in birth.

So, today I say happy birthday to this book. You are no longer a wisp of an idea in my dreams. You are incarnated and real and people can hold you in their hands. Go forth and have a wonderful life! World, you have my baby now.

Love, Cynthia, The Author

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amazon now has an author section so I got to upload my author photo and biography and link to the blog at amazon. But best of all, there are now THIRTY positive reviews!! Yay!! I lived with this book in the privacy of my brain, home, and small circle of friends for years. It feels great to know it is helping women and families! check out the reviews at amazon.com

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This summer a family from England lived on our street and, because our children were the same age, we got to know them. When they returned home in August, they left a gift on my front step: a book called “Tales From a Midwife: True Stories of the East End in the 1950s” by Jennifer Worth.

I am humbled lately by the many discoveries in the birth world I am making just now that others probably made years ago. “Tales From a Midwife” is not just one book, but three, pulled together originally as “The Midwife’s Trilogy.” The first book of the three was published in 2002, yet I’d never heard of it until now. As a die-hard birth junkie who loves any TV, movie, book, or play about birth, I usually scour the new and used bookstores for anything on the topic. I assume this book never showed up because it is English. You know, British.

And the book is extraordinarily British. There is even a full chapter (which I mostly skipped) about the Cockney accent. But I still felt as though I were holding a precious piece of MY history in my lap as I read this book. This book helps me imagine the early to middle years of the twentieth century, that time when hospital birth started to overtake and then eventually did overtake homebirth. Until the end of WWII, there were still more babies being born at home than in hospitals. Yet, somehow, I could imagine midwives during the Revolutionary War (thanks to Martha Ballard’s diary) and I could imagine midwives around the turn of the twentieth century (thanks to Amy McKay’s “The Birth House”), I somehow lost a vision of midwives between about 1920-1970. I thought of them as “underground.”

But “Tales From a Midwife” helps me imagine a time when homebirth and hospital birth (in England, anyway) were living side-by-side. A young girl could go to special training to become a nurse and midwife. Hers was a respected profession, especially where Jennifer Worth was working, among the poorest of the poor.

I love the birth stories here! On the one hand, I feel nostalgic for the ease with which these midwives worked. The doctors seem to respect their work and seem happy that someone is serving these poor women. On the other hand, the 1930s-1950s were a time when everyone, including the homebirth midwives, were giving enemas and shaving women and making them get into specific positions to push properly. Jennifer Worth comes out clearly on the side of breastfeeding, but reminds us that in the 1950s, bottle-feeding was the height of scientific fashion. She just knows that her poor clients probably cannot afford to buy formula and eventually concludes that this is for the best.

Like “The Birth House,” “Tales From a Midwife” is full of wonderful characters. The midwives, some of whom are single, young women and others of whom are nuns, are quirky individuals (hmmm, like most of the midwives I know today!) who are fun to read about.

In short, I am so happy that we had English neighbors for two months and even more happy that they left this remarkable book on my stoop for me to enjoy for many years of re-reading ahead!

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My doula client (who has a beautiful 10 day old baby boy) sent me the link for oneworldbirth.net. I am amazed I’ve never heard or seen of this before! It’s like my sister, aged 38, finding out about Nutella. Anyway, if you love birth, especially natural birth, run do not walk to the oneworldbirth website. It has interviews with so many great people. So far, it is a little homebirth-sided (which makes sense, since 90% of the people currently alive today in the world were born outside of hospitals), but as an advocate for natural hospital birth I can’t wait to see more interviews, more videos, more information about beautiful, empowering hospital birth. Let’s take this power of oneworldbirth into the mainstream!

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Every so often I get a bug to become a better-paid birth professional. Doulas are just not the top earners in the birth field, sad to say.

And part of me is a real midwifery geek. I know I would love learning to become an obstetrician or a midwife or a labor and delivery nurse. I love learning about blood vessels leading to the placenta, about how to guide a breech baby out, about how to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy. Really. GEEK is the only word for the thrill I get from reading about such topics.

But when I am at a birth (as I was a few days ago) I have this fabulous role. This birth brought it home. Everyone else in the room at this hospital VBAC birth was focused on getting a recalcitrant baby out of a woman’s body as fast as possible: cutting her vagina open, attaching vacuum suction cups to the baby’s head, and adjusting various accoutrements to keep track of the baby’s heart rate (which was low and not coming up in between contractions… thus the drama and concern).

In contrast to the midwife, the L&D nurse, the obstetrician, the resident, and the neonatal team, my job was to remain full of trust in birth. My job was to help the mother stay connected to her calmest, most trusting place inside herself. I was allowed to smile and tell the mother that we could all see dark, curly hair as her baby’s head crowned. Everyone else was 100% focused on getting this baby’s head OUT. Fast. The mother and I were able to concentrate on this baby’s individuality. (Her previous babies had blonde hair.)

When the baby was born, the neonatal team whisked him away because of the heavy meconium. (Yet he was FINE immediately. At one minute he had an Apgar of 8. So much for all the panic!) No one but me noticed that the mother was panicked without being able to see or or hear or touch her baby.Of course, after all that drama when she didn’t hear a cry right away, she was afraid her baby was not OK. I was able to stand in the middle of the room and relay news about how her baby was waving his arms and legs and his skin was a beautiful, healthy pink color. All the birth professionals were busy, with important jobs for which they went to school for many years and for which they get paid fair salaries.

But would I rather learn how to measure a cervix or help a mother find her inner power? I am so, so glad that there are birth professionals out there who answer, “I want to measure the cervix.” Without these professionals, birth would not be as safe as it is today. Yet I am happy when I remember that my greatest joy is not measuring blood pressure or fetal heart tones, it is in aiding a woman have the experience that makes her feel like she is a powerful, amazing mother who can do anything. This is a feeling she gets to keep for the rest of her life.

Helping women smile when they remember giving birth. That is a doula’s job.

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A midwife describes birth experiences in Sudan: A Sweet Birth.

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