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This is a quickie post to let you know I will be speaking at the DONA International Conference in Cancun, Mexico as a keynote speaker in July 2012. Come to Mexico with us! I’m so excited!!!! Here’s the link to the conference site: http://www.dona.org/Conference2012.php

I’m planning a session on “Secrets to Support a Natural Hospital Birth” and “Regifting the Gift of Birth By Developing Empathy for Hospital Staff.”

Who’s coming???

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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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A Very Interesting Article.

I ran across this the other day and shook my head. As an anthropologist, I have to answer back! You see, anthropologists (including archaeologists) are humans who are shaped by the culture in which they grow up. So from about 1880-1960, archaeologists and cultural anthropologists from the United States and western Europe happened to notice aspects of so-called “primitive” cultures that confirmed their belief that there has always been a clear and firm gender division of labor. They gathered all kinds of evidence that men “hunt” and do “public” work while women “gather” and do “family” work. (Later anthropologists found that this clear, easy divide was often made up by the anthropologists who somehow failed to see things like men doing lots and lots of gathering because hunts were so few and far between. And, my favorite, is a recent article by an archaeologist who examines body weight and determined that men (fathers and brothers) must have done most of the carrying of toddlers and small children on frequent, long walks.)

These happen to be the same years that homebirth midwives were being pushed out of their profession by medical doctors. Birth was moving more and more into hospitals until, after WWII, there were more hospital births than homebirths in the United States. (The UK and Canada had a slightly different, but similar, history.) Women were increasingly drugged during labor and the rates of cesarean section climbed through the 1900s (and SOARED at the end of the century). Birth was increasingly seen as “dangerous” and “risky.” Hiring medical specialists to intervene in the process was a sign of prosperity and progress.

So it is no wonder that archaeologists (mostly men!) of the time interpreted the fossil record in light of this insight that birth is “risky” for human women. Indeed, human pelves are significantly different in shape from those of our nearest relatives (other apes). This “story” about the trade-off between bipedalism (walking upright on two feet, which ultimately changes the shape of pelvic bones) and giving birth to our young has been the dominant story for a long time.

Luckily, some anthropologists who grew up with feminism have taken a second look at that fossil record.  I love reading the work of Dana Walrath, an anthropologist who studies the evolution of human pelves (the plural of pelvis — cool, eh?). She believes that it has been pure sexism in archaeology and medicine that created this “birth is dangerous because of bipedalism” story (though understandable, given our cultural history). The feminist story is that we human women are amazing creatures who are incredibly highly-evolved to give birth to our babies. She’s got the bones to prove it! Check out her articles such as
1. Walrath D. (2006) Gender, Genes, and the Evolution of Human Birth, in Feminist Anthropology: Past, Present, and Future. PL Geller and MK Stockett (eds.), Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
2. Walrath D. (2003) Re-thinking pelvic typologies and the human birth mechanism. Current Anthropology 44(1):5-31.

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It always feels so awesome to feel like you’ve made a difference in someone’s life. I met Heather Boyd last year as a student in one of my classes at Eastern Michigan University. I always offer “alternative” projects in my classes and in my medical anthropology class that fall I said that students could take a training program in becoming a doula, homeopath, herbalist, etc in lieu of a final paper. Heather took me up on the idea and became a doula that semester. She told her classmates all about the first birth she attended. I think they were all a bit in awe that she was out there, supporting a family at a hospital birth, while they were researching things like ADHD treatment in on-line journals. Last semester, she and two other students helped collect over 200 letters to representatives in support of Michigan midwives. This year, Heather is creating a non-profit “Students For Midwifery” and writing a workbook for teens who are pregnant. Check out her project on RocketHub and consider donating what you can. Twenty-five dollars? Ten? Five? It all adds up to better birth. http://rkthb.co/4703

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If you are in a committed relationship with the parent of your child, hire a doula so your partner can be scared!

I mean it. Your partner deserves to feel all the emotions that come with labor and that includes the very normal fear that usually arises when we see loved ones in pain. You know the faces of the families of Olympic athletes? While the athlete looks cool as a cucumber, her husband’s face looks drained of color, her father’s eyes are darting nervously here and there, and her mother can only watch through tiny holes she makes between the hands covering her eyes. The family is full of emotion. Does the athlete look to her family members for reassurance that she can really, truly do this? No! She looks at her coach for that reassurance. She looks to her family members for something else: for their love and support. It just wouldn’t be fair to require her family to be calm and collected.

And it’s not fair to ask your partner to be calm and collected during your labor. This is the person who loves you most of all in the world. They deserve to feel all their feelings, including their fear and anxiety and worry, during your labor. It doesn’t mean that those feelings will eclipse all the other feelings they will have in labor. They will also feel excited, elated, proud, inspired. But asking these people to be superhuman, to be able to reassure US while we are in labor even when they may be feeling worried themselves, is asking them to suppress their own experience so that we can have a better one. I think it is more loving to acknowledge that you are in this together and the TWO OF YOU need support.

Of course there is a role for partners, a very important role. These wonderful people can say, “I love you” during labor and it is like magic. When my husband said those little words I swear the contractions melted away. I felt buoyed for a few seconds in the ocean of LaborLand. 

But my husband was scared when I was in labor. What he offered me in labor and what my doula offered me in labor were completely different. When I got scared in labor and asked questions like, “How much longer will this go on?” or “Is this normal?” I did not turn to my husband. He has never seen another birth, so if he answered those questions, frankly, I wouldn’t believe him. But my doula I believed. When she said, “You’re safe. Everything is going perfectly,” I could let go of my fear and hold tight to my husband’s hand. 

My husband and I rode our roller coaster of emotions through labor and birth. For him, as well as me, there were moments of sheer terror. As a doula, I often say things like, “You’re safe” at a birth and I know that I am speaking to a couple, not just a laboring woman.

 

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Hire a doula to avoid an induction!

There is an epidemic of inductions occuring in the United States and Canada right now. The Listening To Mothers II Survey found that, “More than four out of ten respondents (41%) indicated that their caregiver tried to induce their labor. When asked if the induction caused labor to begin, more than four out of five of those women (84%) indicated that it did, resulting in an overall provider induction rate of 34%.”

(You can read more about it at http://www.childbirthconnection.org/pdfs/LTMII_report.pdf)

At the end of pregnancy these days, there are a host of potential reasons your caregiver might suggest an induction. UNLESS YOU HAVE SOMEONE TO TALK TO about it, you are likely to go along with the suggestion. Think about it: at 38 weeks, most of us feel DONE with being pregnant. We’re ready to meet our babies! So when someone offers to make that happen, like, tomorrow, it’s hard to resist. Especially if they add a medical-sounding reason to the idea.

But the fact is that most women do not grow babies too large to birth and most women have plenty of amniotic fluid. But these reasons to induce are offered to many, many, many women nowadays. It’s just not possible that 41% of North American women have suddenly developed narrower pelves and have less amniotic fluid. We have more information (like estimates of amniotic fluid levels) because of more technology. But more information is not leading us to make better decisions. Instead, our caregivers feel compelled to give us the information and the “worst-case scenario” associated with that information. That worst-case scenario is likely to sway us toward induction.

But if we are able to wait a few hours, breathe, relax, think it all through, we can make the decision that is right for us. Of course, there are some situations that call for an induction. But there are many, many more that do not.

Here’s where your doula comes in. Your doula will not be able to give you medical advice and she will not be able to make the decision for you. But she can offer help in YOUR decision-making process. She can ask questions. She can point you to resources. She can connect you with other women who have faced similar dilemmas who might be willing to share their wisdom. She can tell you stories. She can suggest a long list of natural induction methods you might try before going the medical route. She can guide you to think through how you might feel if this induction turns into either an epidural or a cesarean.

In short, she can help you make your best decision. It might be that the best decision is to induce. It might not. However, talking your decision over with your doula — someone who knows your birth plan, your birth vision, your birth dreams — will help you have peace of mind.

I run mom-and-baby groups in my hometown. So many new mothers come to our group with great sadness and regret about how their labors went. They say, “If only I had known…” a lot. A doula is like insurance against regret. She helps you make your decision fully and consciously so that, no matter what happens later, you have confidence that you made the right decision to begin with.

[P.S. Why does avoiding an induction matter? Because when women are induced, a host of other interventions often follow (called “The Cascade). A common drug for induction, Pitocin, makes contractions feel more painful. FOr a woman planning a natural birth, this can really get in the way! But even for a woman planning an epidural, Pitocin contractions in early labor can be a problem. If you get an epidural before active labor really kicks in, your labor can be long and slow. But if you wait until active labor is really going, you will probably have to weather some significant, unplanned-for pain. In other words, no matter what kind of birth you are planning, Pitocin gets in your way. (If you want to read more about this, I refer you to either Henci Goer’s book “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth” or my book “Natural Hospital Birth.” Both of these books talk about Pitocin in detail.)

Another important reason to avoid induction is that the rise in induction rates corresponds with a rising rate of babies born prematurely. If our dates are off (which they often are!) we could be asking our babies to be born a few weeks too soon. Nature has a fabulous plan for your baby’s birthday. Let a doula help you avoid an unnecessary induction and discover your baby’s “real” birthday!]

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Hire a doula because, when all is said and done, she is the only one at your hospital birth (besides your family and friends) who answers to you as her final boss.

Your midwife, doctor, and nurse are probably wonderful and probably they want to help  you achieve the birth you want. But midwives, doctors, and nurses who work in hospitals have to answer to a lot more people than just you. They have to answer their colleagues. If they manage births in an unusual manner, and in today’s world, “unusual” may mean “more natural” just because of the statistical realities of interventions, their colleagues can exert subtle or not-so-subtle pressure to get back in line. And they have to answer hospital review boards and insurance companies. Insurance companies have a lot of impact on our medical institutions. Since obstetricians are the most-sued doctors in America, you can imagine that insurance companies care how they are practicing!

But doulas do not answer hospital review boards or insurance companies. They answer to mothers. Doulas are there for mothers. It is their entire job. One hundred percent. They do not have to spend time during your labor inputting lots of data into computers. They are focused on how you feel.

So it is definitely a good idea to make sure that your entire birth team is on board with your birth vision. It’s a great idea to make sure your care provider can handle whatever comes up (even if that means transferring your care. Transferring is still great care.). But it’s also helpful to hire someone who answers only to you. When you look in her eyes for reassurance in your decision-making process, you can be certain that she is reassuring YOU. She is helping you make the best decision for YOU.

Do you have any stories that exemplify this? I’d love to hear them!

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