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Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Russia Breastfeeding article

This looks like strikethrough text, but click on it! It is the link to my article about breastfeeding and “low milk supply” in Russia. We are so used to our own cultural context that we can forget that we ALL see pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and parenting through our own particular culture. As a breastfeeding conference is underway in my favorite city (Toronto!), I thought I would share this article I wrote a while ago about my experiences in Russia.

Things have changed in Russia since I did fieldwork there in 2000-2001, but I still think it is valuable to understand how others in the world think (or thought) about women’s reproductive bodies.
You can also get to this article by clicking on the words ‘Related articles” below. That brings up the Google link!
by C Gabriel – ‎2003 – ‎Cited by 2 – ‎Related articles

THE EFFECTS OF PERCEIVING “WEAK HEALTH” IN RUSSIA: THE CASE OF.BREASTFEEDINGCynthia Gabriel. The state of Russian health has declined.

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I just read a blog by a woman who was trying to decide whether to hire a doula in her second pregnancy. She eloquently captures that inner dialogue that I bet a lot of women have about this question: Is a doula a luxury or a necessity? In her blog post, she talks about her unease with consumerism. Do we need to buy things to be happy? Do we need to spend money to regain our confidence in our own birthing bodies? You can check out her blog here: http://mothershavefeelingstoo.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/doulas-necessities-or-luxuries/

In this post, I want to offer one idea in response to the Mastercard-buy-more-to-be-happy-consumerist problem we all live with in the First World. One of the problems with consumerist culture is that we mistakenly believe that the THINGS we buy are what gives us pleasure. In fact, the things we buy are things that real humans made, transported, sold. It is their WORK that gives us pleasure. When we buy services (massage, health care appointments, a haircut, or doula services) this is more evident than when we buy objects.

When we remember that it is human’s work that we are paying for, not just “things,” we can make wholly different choices about spending money. We can spend money and stop being a “consumer” if that makes sense. We can USE money to connect with other humans. So often we do the opposite. We use the fact that we are paying someone money for something like a haircut or cleaning our house or taking care of our children as an excuse to treat them differently than we would a friend or relative. We all do it. (Be warned: Sometimes when I try to treat someone I am paying for a service more humanely than they expect, they act as if I am crazy.)

As a doula and as a woman, I value so-called women’s work — no matter who does it, men or women. Long ago as a teenager learning about women’s work in history I vowed that I would pay childcare workers fairly even if they themselves did not charge a fair amount (which is true in our area. Our babysitter charges an absurdly low hourly rate and doesn’t charge for sick days: hers or ours!). A more accurate term I learned in graduate school is “reproductive work” — which is all the work that is (usually) unpaid if it happens within a family. It is the work that is necessary to reproduce ourselves everyday (taking a shower, mending clothes, cooking, doing dishes, gardening, etc.) and to reproduce another generation (childcare, etc.)

Because of larger cultural and global forces outside of any one person’s control, we are not able to do all the reproductive work inside families anymore. In my case, a big factor is that my parents, my husband’s parents, and all our siblings (eight in all) live far, far away from us. The closest is a ten-hour drive; many of them live across the globe. Many of my friends rely on their extended family for SOOO much help. My best friend here sends her two kids to her in-laws overnight every Saturday. [An aside: I can’t imagine having a night off of children to spend with my husband free of charge every week. When we do hire a babysitter, we have to go out of the house. I would love to stay at home and sleep at home with my husband with no kids in the house!] Just because I would prefer to have much of this reproductive work done inside my family networks doesn’t mean that is the best way to do it in 2012.

In general, I try hard to be thoughtful about using money and when I pay for reproductive tasks I find I am even more thoughtful than when I am buying plain-old commodities like new running shoes. I want to be thoughtful when I am buying running shoes, too, but I find it is easier to be thoughtful when I actually meet and interact with the human who is doing the work. Because when I pay for reproductive work (cooking, cleaning, childcare, doula work) I am asking someone to step into the shoes of my relatives. I am asking someone to care for me/my loved ones. Money is just the vehicle that allows someone else to have the time to do this work that I do wish my sister, my mother, my grandmother could do for me. But they can’t. So I am using money as a tool — not a substitute — for connecting to real humans.

It’s not a perfect solution to our consumerist culture. But being clear that money is really a metaphor for human time and that what we buy is human work — not “things” — makes me more thoughtful about my choices. And the surprising conclusion I come to when I think this way is that I want to spend MORE of my money on things like doula services and home-cooked meals and less of my money on things like technological gadgets.

What about you?

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I attended  a beautiful birth three days ago at our local, newly-renovated hospital. This second-time mother was amazing. She was so in touch with her body and what she needed to do at each and every moment: walk, sit, lie down, be in the bathtub, eat, drink, lean on her husband, visualizations for intense contractions.

Natural hospital birth requires women to be in charge of their births, and the book I wrote about natural hospital birth focuses on what WOMEN can do to achieve natural hospital birth. I chose to focus on what we CAN do, rather than on the systemic issues that we can’t control as individuals. We really can’t control the hospital staff. So women who desire natural hospital birth have to be ready to work with all different kinds of providers who have all different kinds of ideas about the best way to give birth.

Still, there are certainly ways that hospital staff can support natural hospital birth. And when I encounter hospital staff who really, really support a laboring woman I want to sing their praises everywhere! There were a thousand ways that the nurses and midwives with whom we worked last week supported this natural birth. Here I want to focus on just one of those “little” big things they did. Well, actually that they did not do. After my client was admitted to the hospital from triage, she never had another vaginal examination!

Her waters were intact and she was pronounced five centimeters when we arrived, so I expected that we would have several encounters with hospital staff about vaginal examinations through her labor. Instead, they quietly monitored the baby’s heart rate and the mama’s blood pressure for eight hours and never mentioned a vaginal exam once.

Here are some of the many other ways the staff was supportive: They never turned on the light when they entered the room. (The nurse used a flashlight to find things in cupboards.) They brought us extra pillows, extra towels, and extra hospital gowns when we asked. They pointed us toward the snack room when we were hungry. The midwife brought two glasses of water for the husband and me (the doula) during the most active part of labor, when we were working hard giving back pressure and talking the mama through each and every contraction. They were supportive in so many ways.

But by answering the mother’s questions about how her labor was progressing each and every time with a smile and reassurance that everything looked “great” — instead of saying, “Well, let’s check and find out” — they gave her such a gift of confidence. It makes me want to cry from happiness. It’s such an easy thing to do: suggest a vaginal examination. The vaginal exam, by giving everyone a “number,” appears to answer the question, “How are things going?” But, of course, it does not answer the question at all. If a woman is at seven centimeters, there is no way to know whether she will progress to ten in five minutes or five hours. There is no way to know whether she is feeling strong and capable or weak and defeated.

So often women know intuitively before or during labor that hearing a “number” will interfere with their ability to trust their bodies. (More rarely, but occasionally, some women know that they will be empowered by knowing this number. These women want to have vaginal exams and use this information to help themselves. The key is: Know Thyself!) For most women, though, hearing this cold, hard “fact” speaks to our brains, our rational selves. This is not the self who needs to be in charge of labor. Rational Self needs to step aside and let Intuitive, Body Self be in charge. There are many subtle ways that our Rational Self gets reactivated in labor. Imagine a woman in active labor who is sort of floating on hormones that take her out of normal conversational range. When the hospital shift changes and the new nurse comes on, she might come in and introduce herself and ask questions like, “So are you allergic to any medications?” She just activated the rational mind of the laboring woman! An immediate consequence of even one (much less a few!) rational thought is a lowering of our ability to cope with pain. The brain waves that allow us to be in a meditative, inner state are different from the brain waves that allow us to hold conversations. These brain waves are associated with changes in hormone levels, blood flow to various organs, heart rate, etc.

So, the fact that these nurses and hospital-based midwives were willing to forgo vaginal exams for EIGHT HOURS was a gift beyond measure. This mama got to labor and remained the expert on her labor. Her bodily sensations, her noises, her movements guided how the rest of us acted. We did not ever try to push her to get labor going “more” or “better.” No one had to feel disappointed or worried about how much longer there was to go, based on a number we heard at a particular moment. We all got to focus on a woman in labor. What did she need? What helped her feel the most comfortable?

When the baby arrived, she pushed twice. The baby arrived happy and healthy. I assume she had made it to “ten.”

What was your experience with vaginal exams at hospital births?

 

 

 

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I stumbled across two reviews of my book today! Yay!

One is here at projectmommybrain. She JUST reviewed another book called Momma Zen that sounds great and I am ordering from my independent local bookstore Nicola’s.

The other is at http://didyouknow-cecette.blogspot.com/2011/08/natural-hospital-birth-section-one-part.html

where she, amazingly!, devotes four posts to reviewing specific sections of the book. Wow!

I admit that it feels wonderful to read positive reviews of the book that I spent so many years working on. I think I am especially happy to find these amazing words by women I do not know because I received my first pretty bad review at amazon a few weeks ago. I knew it would happen eventually — and I also know that the birth world is full of strong opinions because we are all such unique strong mamas! — but understanding that intellectually and facing my first bad review in reality are two different things. I remain grateful and excited about all the mothers, fathers, doulas, midwives, doctors, and childbirth educators who are expanding the circle of natural birth every day, everywhere.

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The Birth Interview Project | Mary’s Natural Birth in a Stable. 2000 Years Ago.

Whether you are Christian or Muslim, Jewish or atheist, I think you will find something to enjoy in this light-hearted look at natural birth in a stable. Of course there was a midwife at the inn! 🙂 Isn’t all birth so meaningful and such a beautiful way for us to connect with Whatever Is Larger Than Us in the Universe? I loved this post and hope you will, too!

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What do doulas need in their stockings or in their Hanukah packages? Hmmm, I thought I would dream about good gifts for doulas. I am VERY practical gift-giver. I like gifts to be useful and not anything that will add to clutter. I suppose some will think “thank you notes” could add to clutter, but I think they also add to a nicer world, so they remain on the list. Cheers!

1. A child-size rolling pin from Palumba (http://www.palumba.com/product/298/)

I always carry one in my doula bag in case a laboring mom wants back pressure during contractions. After about an hour, I can’t do hip squeezes anymore. My wrists give out. But I can run a rolling pin over a mom’s lower back for 20 hours. I know. I’ve done it! If I use the rolling pin during labor (probably about 1/4 of the time I do), I give it to the parents as a baby gift along with a cookie recipe at my first prenatal visit. It usually gets a smile.

2. Beautiful Thank you notes, maybe with her name embossed on them?

Always a good idea to have a package of thank you notes in your doula bag for nurses, doctors, midwives, lactation consultants. For anyone who is helpful in any way at the birth. Helps spread the love for doulas a little bit further.

3. Essential oils

I get my essential oils at a great local shop called Indigo Forest. Beth will ship to you and consult by phone about your essential oil needs. She convinced me this year to carry frankincense with me and I am glad she did. It’s such a useful essential oil! You can google its many uses (or call Beth and ask her. She’ll convince you, too!) Of course, the moms you attend may or may not be into essential oils, but even if the mom I am attending does not want to use them, I use them on myself! I always, always have lavender for calming myself down. It works in an instant. It’s like deep breath in a bottle. If the mom I am working with does not like scents or finds aromatherapy too “out there”, I am careful, of course. I just smell my bottle, I don’t put any on my skin. And if she is allergic, then, sadly, I don’t use them at all. (Indigo Forest is http://visitindigo.com and phone (734) 807-9909)

4. Honey Sticks

I get these at our local farmer’s market. If someone bought me a package for Christmas, I would be thrilled. I always have to make sure my kids (aged 10 and 7) haven’t gotten into my stash before I attend a birth. They are so great for an energy burst (for mom-to-be or me or, in one case, the tired doctor).

5. A donation to a birth-related cause on rockethub or another crowd-funding website

There are a FEW birth-related projects out there looking for funding. I happen to know the woman who is doing this project personally. She’s a young, inspirational college student trying to help teenage moms. She became a doula last year. Check out her project at rockethub and make a donation in the name of your favorite doula! http://www.rockethub.com/projects/4703-teen-pregnancy-help

6. An extra few hours of sleep

If anyone knows where I can find this this December, please let me know. We are fresh out of this hot commodity in Ann Arbor. I’m hoping a new shipment comes in soon!

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Hire a doula because…

She will come to your house. None of the rest of your hospital birth team will do that.

If you are planning a hospital birth, one of the hardest decisions is “when to go to the hospital.” Your doula will come to your house in early labor and help you decide when is the right time to head to the hospital. Believe me, you will trust her judgment in this far more than you will trust your partner’s (unless s/he happens to be a birth professional!). This important decision can affect how you how your labor progresses and how many interventions you may encounter.

Most women go to the hospital TOO EARLY in labor! There’s nothing worse than getting sent back home in early labor.

Why do we go to the hospital too early? Because we all want to believe that we have progressed further than we have. When we have experienced labor for three hours, we want to believe our cervix has dilated to eight centimeters and delivery is immanent. However, especially for a first baby, this is unlikely.

An experienced doula can gauge your labor progress better than you can (unless you are an experienced mother). That’s not to say she knows your labor better than you do, but she has seen and heard other women in labor. She knows what active labor sounds like and looks like. It’s quite distinctive. There are some women who do not fit the usual pattern, certainly. But in my experience as a doula this is rare. Active labor sounds surprisingly similar for most women! I know midwives who can diagnose active labor quite accurately from listening to women during contractions on the phone. Having a doula help you decide when to go to the hospital helps you avoid getting to the hospital too early.

Why Going to the Hospital in Active (Not Early) Labor is a Good Idea:

Hospitals do not like to admit women before they have reached active labor. The hospital staff, and your doula, know that if you are in early labor you are more susceptible to having your labor slow down (sometimes slow WAY down!) if you change locations. Because we are mammals, our bodies are designed to slow or stop labor if we need to use our brains. Our bodies cannot tell the difference between having to use our brains to figure out how to escape a hungry lion and having to use our brains to answer the triage nurse’s questions. Either stimulation can cause our hormones to change and our labors to slow down or stop.

This is less likely to happen once we have made it to active labor (defined loosely as the cervix dilated to around 5 centimeters). Then, hungry lion or not, our baby is probably going to come pretty soon.

It is especially important to arrive at the hospital in active labor if you are planning a natural hospital birth. The later you arrive, the less time there is for interventions! If your labor is progressing at a leisurely pace, you do not have to worry about beating a clock or losing a favorite nurse at a shift change when you are at home.

Your doula helps you decide when it is the right time for you to get to the hospital. She knows what kind of birth you are planning and she can help you optimize your chances of achieving the birth you want.

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