Monday, November 30, 2009

Call for Pregnancy and Postpartum Stories

I am so grateful for the many women who have shared their birth stories with me (keep sending them) and for all the support that I'm receiving for this project. However, I have been so focused on birth stories recently that I don't think I've put enough emphasis on the big picture. Labor and delivery is just the climax of a year-long physical, emotional and spiritual journey. Since my book touches all aspects of pregnancy, birth and beyond, I am also looking for other kinds of stories. Below. I have listed some of the topics/chapters that still need a personal story or two. If one of these topics resonates with you and you have something you'd like to share, please email me. And feel free to pass on this call for stories to other LDS women. Anyone who considers pregnancy a spiritual journey, regardless of how they birthed, should feel free to share their stories.

I am looking for personal stories about the following topics:

Bridging gaps - How has pregnancy or motherhood healed relationships in your family or in other areas of your life?
Prayer - how you used it during your pregnancy and beyond
The Scriptures - how your reading of them changed with pregnancy and motherhood
Morning Sickness - What if anything was gained or learned from morning sickness?
Meditation - How do you meditate? How did you use meditation during your pregnancy/postpartum?
Miracles - Great and small--that specifically relate to your pregnancy/birth/postpartum time.
Priesthood - in what ways did it work in your life?
The Atonement - how your understanding of the atonement changed, how you used it during the child bearing year
Your Own Birth - I would like to know if/how knowing the story of your birth (you as a baby) effected the labor and birth of your child.
Changing the Pattern - women who chose to birth differently than their mothers
Motherless Mothers - I am a motherless mother and I would like to hear from other women who went through gestation and birthing without a mother in this world.
Birth as Rebirth - I am interested to hear from people who have been dramatically transformed by motherhood. Tell me what you were like before/what you're like now.
Body Image - how did your spiritual knowledge inform/affect/change your body image during pregnancy.
Healing After Miscarriage - How did you heal physically and spiritually?
Constant Nourishment - How did you nourish yourself spiritually during your pregnancy
Ancestors - How has your understanding of your ancestors evolved?

This is not a complete list by any means, so if you have a story about something important to you that is not on this list, don't hesitate to send it to me. If you are planning to send a story, please do it sooner than later. I'd like to have all these chapters squared away before Christmas. You can email me at

Love and light.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Kelsey's Story

Kelsey F sent me her story several weeks ago and has agreed to let me share it here. It is a great example of how preparation can melt away fear. Kelsey had her baby at home in Provo, Utah (she says it is a good thing she didn't scream because she lives in a duplex). I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did.

"Like most people in our society, I grew up with a “healthy” dose of fear surrounding birth and motherhood. It wasn’t just the television shows where a woman in an ugly hospital gown yells “you did this to me!” that perpetuated this fear. It seemed from my perspective that jokes and complaints about the difficult nature of kids, and the pain of birth, was a sort of sport among adult conversations whenever the topic came up. The beauty and joy of motherhood seemed a topic reserved for young women’s lessons that came up every couple of months or so. Even so, I found it interesting that for all the talk of the divinity of womanhood that sex, birth, and breastfeeding still were treated like embarrassingly taboo subjects.

"So it happens that when my husband and I had a pregnancy scare, I spent my time trying to decide if my need for an epidural would outweigh my fear of needles. Nobody talked about any alternative choices. That probably would have been the extent of my research if the pregnancy hadn’t turned out to just be a case of newlywed “where-is-my-period!?” paranoia. The shock of realizing I could have had a child without knowing anything about it sent me on an information hunt that eventually revealed the option of natural birth.

"The things I researched made sense to me in every way. Logically, emotionally, and spiritually I felt that there was a better way to birth than what society assumes is necessary.

"I wondered why, if we were made in the image of God, would so many women need delivery by surgery? Why would so many of us need inductions and drugs and tools just to do what we were divinely appointed to accomplish? Would God give all of us broken bodies? Of course there would always be some emergencies and some complications, but why were so many women “needing” them now when not so many years ago they didn’t even exist. Didn’t Eve, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Mary all give birth without Pitocin?

"Why do we no longer trust in God, but in the arm of flesh? We see every pregnancy and every birth as dangerous and life threatening. Our decisions are guided by fear and worry. I just don’t believe that God would make one in three women faulty to the point of being unable to birth. Yet one in three births is a cesarean.

"I felt quite drawn to natural birth, and became obsessed with it three years before I would even experience it. I feel like this was an important time for me to cleanse my feelings and emotions toward birth. I believe that being spiritually, emotionally, and mentally prepared has made all the difference than if I had given birth before this process of self-discovery.

"Our son was ready and excited to come into this world. We talked about “not trying and not preventing to see what happens.” We talked about how we’d let Heavenly Father decide when the right time was to send us a baby. We expected it to take several months at least. The very next month I got a positive pregnancy test.

"I had a wonderful pregnancy. I feel like working through my doubts and fears also helped me avoid being more physically ill than I could have been. I would attribute my lack of sickness and pain partially to being blessed with good genes, but more importantly to feeling positive about my upcoming birth and about motherhood. I always felt worse physically when I was more worried or stressed. I truly believe that the spirit and body are connected and influence each other greatly. In any case, I couldn’t credit any particular diet or exercise program as I didn’t exercise and probably ate worse than was wise.

"It was also important to me to select the right midwife. I interviewed a few midwives that just didn’t feel like a good fit emotionally or spiritually. When I found Sherri, I knew she was interested in me as a person and had the Spirit with her. We were more in-tune with each other than any one else I had interviewed. I was comfortable giving birth with her.

"When I was in my 36th week, I decided it was time to document my pregnancy. I felt big and beautiful. I planned on making a belly cast and doing a pregnancy photo shoot. It was Thursday the 17th of September that I went to get a new hair cut for the pictures I planned to take on Saturday. They were never taken.

"The very next morning at 1:00 AM my water broke. I called my midwife and we rechecked my dates. I was at 36 and a half weeks—barely far enough along for Sherri to feel comfortable attending a home birth. If I had gone into labor the day before we would have been in the back-up hospital instead. My son came at the earliest time possible while still allowing me to labor at home.

"My husband and I were both nervous about going into labor before term. However, as we talked it over, a feeling of calmness came over me. I told him that Sherri was willing to let me labor at home as long as the stats stayed good. I also said that even if we had to transfer I was grateful for the technology available, and I knew that everything would be okay, even if it wasn’t my preferred way to birth. I also felt like I would have a good experience regardless of where I ended up. I knew I had done my part, and trusted the Lord to do his.

"The contractions came on hard and fast. They varied between 2 minutes and 5 minutes apart and generally lasted around a minute. We asked Sherri and Melissa, my doula, to come as quickly as things seemed to be getting quite intense. Sherri later told me that as she got in her car and said a prayer that she knew she was going to be a part of something special.

"I spent most of my time in the bathtub holding my husband’s and doula’s hands and trying to cover my belly in the shallow water. I couldn’t fill it very high without using all the hot water. I had hoped for a water birth, and was waiting for Sherri to bring a birth pool. I wanted to make sure we had enough warm water to fill it.

"She came at 4:35 AM and I climbed out of the tub for a check. I was nearly complete! Because we didn’t have time for the pool, we set up a birthing stool in the living room instead. I sat down and, after only four and a half hours of labor, at 5:37 in the morning my sweet, eager little boy was born. He was 6 pounds, 13 ounces, and absolutely perfect. I am thankful to have been able to birth naturally in the comfort of our own home.

"We were blessed not to have any complications with him, even at three and a half weeks early. I know the Heavenly Father was with me, and I know that I was so very blessed. I also know that birth can be normal, simple, and even easy if it is the Lord’s will. I learned that with birth as with every other challenge, it’s important to prepare ourselves, do our part, fear not, and leave the rest up to God."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Self Portrait

This is a self portrait I made almost exactly one year ago. It was modeled after one of my nude pregnant pictures that I took at 22 weeks.

I'm trying to figure out how to put it or some other art in the background (as two separate borders) on this blog, but after hours of trying, I am giving up. Cascading Style Sheets beat me. If you have any expertise in this area, it would be most welcome.

The Experimental Child

I hear a lot of mothers say to me, "Well, for this first baby, I think I'd like to give birth in the hospital, with a doctor." Their logic is that they don't know anything about giving birth and the hospital must be the best place for inexperienced pregnant ladies. That is kind of what I felt going into pregnancy. Then I began to hear from a lot of women who had only found the path to natural birth after a disconnected, disappointing, or traumatic first birth experience.

As an oldest child, you can understand why I am not too keen on the idea of using the first child as an experiment. I also knew that I might not get another chance to give birth (my husband left when I was pregnant). But even if I did, I kept hearing this phrase over and over in my mind: "you only have one first birth."

You will only have one first birth. And your child will only have one birth experience. Make sure that you own it. You can't control everything that happens, but you can make informed, conscious choices and make sure that your child's experience getting into this world is as gentle as possible.

"I Make Milk. What's Your Superpower?"

At a Halloween party, my friend saw a new mom wearing a shirt that said "I make milk. What's your superpower?"


But this post is not about the awesomeness of breastfeeding or of breastmilk--another time. This post is about health changes, specifically eating organic foods. I'm going to make it short and sweet and easy for men to understand, since they are ones that I find are the biggest skeptics.

  • Most people would agree that certain foods are superior to others (health and nutrition-wise). For example, a roasted carrot vs. a french fry.
  • If you agree with that, then you agree that people who eat mostly superior foods are healthier than others.
  • And if you understand that vitamins and nutrients as well as most chemicals and toxins are passed through breastmilk, then it makes sense that women (and other mammals) fed superior food will have healthier breastmilk.
I once heard a friend of a friend who is both a holistic doctor and an MD, say that "if you can make only one health change, switch to organic dairy." This surprised me. He did not say exercise daily or any number of things I can think of that would seem like really important health changes. He said switch to organic dairy.

  • Not only does milk from organic cows eliminate harmful antibiotics and hormones, it has also been shown to contain higher amounts of nutrients-- omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, beta carotene and other antioxidants--than from conventional cows.
  • Children are most vulnerable to the impact of synthetic chemicals. Think about it, if you accidentally eat a gram of poison, you might be okay, but a gram of poison is a lot more deadly if your body weight is 10 lbs.

I understand that organic foods have a reputation for being expensive. In reality, organic fruits and vegetables don't cost much more, and sometimes less, if you buy them in season and from local growers at farmers markets, or if you are lucky enough to have one near you, at Trader Joe's.

Organic dairy, however, is often twice the price of regular milk. There are a few reasons for this. The food that the cows eat has to be organic, pesticide and chemical free, and the cows themselves have to be free from growth hormones or antibiotics, so it is organic on two levels. It is also more expensive because organic dairy farmers don't get subsidies from the government.* Therefore, it is doubly important that we support organic farmers with our dollars. I know that everyone can find a way for their budget to accommodate it, if they want to. As my friend James, the healthy chef, says, you can pay it now, or you can pay it later--to the health care system.

(*If you would like to know the political milk scandal, I highly recommend watching The Corporation. It is a very well researched documentary. There is also a great story in there about a high school for "bad" kids which was put on an organic lunch program and the kid's behavior and grades improved markedly.)

If you want to make further health changes, try to eat as organic as possible, but if that isn't practical for whatever reason, it is good to know which conventional fruits and vegetables are the safest and which ones you and your children should try to avoid or eat organic.

Highest in pesticides:

  • apples
  • bell peppers
  • celery
  • cherries
  • grapes (imported)
  • nectarines
  • peaches
  • pears
  • potatoes
  • red raspberries
  • spinach
  • strawberries

Lowest in pesticides:

  • asparagus
  • avocado
  • bananas
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • corn (sweet)
  • kiwi
  • mangos
  • onions
  • papaya
  • pineapples
  • peas (sweet)

I am convinced that the increased use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in conventional farming is one of many reasons that our prophets have counseled us to grow a garden. Of course, if you live in an apartment, this isn't going to happen--at least not on a large scale. But no matter how urban your city, there are community gardens and farmer's markets near you. If you have never been to a farmer's market, they are great fun. There is usually some form of wholesome entertainment for kids and free samples of all the fresh food. The growers can also give you good cooking or recipe ideas.

To find a farmer's market near you, visit this website:
And here is a cute Friend article about a community garden.

Me at farmer's market. 8 mos pregnant.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Poop on Due Dates"

There was one line in Martha's birth story that made me laugh out loud. I don't think I include it in the original blog post, so here it is:

"Due dates are a stupid, cruel thing. They mess with your mind and make everyone under the sun badger you about why your baby’s not here yet. Poop on due dates. I’m not telling anyone mine next time."

Normal gestation is 38-42 weeks. Medical practice is to assign you a "due date," right in the middle at 40 weeks. But technically, if your baby comes at 39 weeks, he is not early, and if he comes at 41 weeks he is not late, overdue, overcooked, or doing anything wrong. I have heard that 40 weeks is the magic number because it is the "average." I'm good at math. If seven out of ten babies are born after their due date, or guess date, as I like to call it, how is that an average?

There are slight risks associated with going past 42 weeks (truly overdue), but here is no evidence of a benefit of routine induction at less than 41 completed weeks of pregnancy.

I have to agree with Martha that the rigidity that has developed around guess dates is stupid, and it is cruel for doctors to threaten patients, or entice them, with induction if they don't make it by 40 weeks. Not all practitioners are this rigid, but around here, many doctors will induce the day after the due date and even the day of, if the woman requests it.

I am thinking of a story in 3 Nephi, when the wicked threatened to kill the righteous if the signs prophesied about Jesus' birth didn't happen by a certain date. Essentially, they made up a due date for a woman a hemisphere away that they knew nothing about.

The problems with induction are numerous. First, there is the drug, Pitocin, which the most abused drug in the world today. It was designed and approved by the FDA for helping produce the contractions that close a woman's uterus after delivery in the case of hemorrhage. And for this purpose, it works very well. (Midwives carry it for this purpose.)

Since it was not developed to induce labor, there is no recommended dosage and it is completely unregulated as far as I know. The dangers and side effects of Pitocin, (including fetal distress, increased risk of uterine rupture, c-section, jaundice and more) are not widely know. When I investigated why women in the hospital are not informed of possible side effects the same way a pharmacy is obligated to inform you, I learned this: Not much. Possible reasons are that when you sign in to the hospital, it is assumed that you are being advised by your medical professional.

The second problem with induction is that once you're at the hospital, if your baby/body is not responding, they get annoyed. They have already invested all that time in you, so now they are going to have to try something else, like breaking your water. Once they do that, they won't let you go more than 24 hours or they'll cut you open.

In Natalie's guest post, she raised the question of how doctors get women to come in for induction. It is a good question. Why do we listen to them? They are not the police. They can't physically make us do anything, and yet women have given them that power. When Natalie spoke about her mother's "gravitas" I had to laugh. I know her mother. She is a tiny woman who barely speaks above a whisper. She's not the type one can picture standing up to a doctor, but there is more to her than is at first evident.

I can think of another friend who reluctantly consented to be induced so that she could give birth while a certain doctor was in town. When the induction didn't work, she realized the whole thing was wrong from the beginning, so she went home and told them she'd come back in when she was in labor. The hospital staff was shocked. But she was right, and she was under no obligation to stay.

I understand that there is a lot of pressure to plan. Relatives want to fly in, etc. And I understand not wanting to be pregnant any longer--boy do I. But these are reasons that have nothing to do with your baby. The best advice I ever heard and that I wish I had taken was to lie or be vague about my guess date. For example, if your guess date is March 5, when anyone asks, tell them the baby is due mid-march. If you are vague with others and with yourself on this point, you can avoid much unnecessary stress.

As I said, I understand wanting to get things started based on pure discomfort or impatience. For those who are desperate, as I was, there are many natural methods for getting labor going that are effective, safe and even enjoyable. (Doesn't this make sense that it should be enjoyable to entice the baby out?) Here are the ones I know of. I'm sure there are more.
  • herbal supplements and teas
  • eating spicy food or pineapple
  • walking/other exercise
  • acupuncture, acupressure, or massage
  • enema or Castor oil (Castor oil is not pleasant, but an enema could be if you are constipated)
  • sex (releases oxytocin, and semen has prostaglandins, which soften cervix)
  • nipple stimulation (releases oxytocin)
  • sweeping membranes
  • a long talk with your baby
  • fervent prayer
I was a fan of acupuncture, even before my pregnancy, and my midwife prescribed it weekly after my 35th week for help with my circulation, swelling, and other issues. I begged the woman to induce me the week before my due date, but she made me wait until the day before. I was curious to see what she would do differently to "induce" me. Different practitioners do it differently, but she used a few more needles in my hands legs and feet and she also used a very mild electro-stimulation (it feels awesome) and did cupping on my back to send the energy downward. It worked. Labor started about an hour after I left her office.

There were a few moments during labor, when I wondered if I had done the wrong thing by trying to rush my baby, but my gut feeling, and my midwife agreed, was that just like chemical induction, natural methods won't work if your baby is really just not ready to come.

(Note: If you have never done acupuncture before, you should try it a few times before you try to use it as a method for induction. Also, use a practitioner who has plenty of experience with pregnant women. Ask a midwife for referrals.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Guest Post from Natalie Willes - Giving Birth in NYC

Manhattan Temple

My mother was raised in Argentina with 14 siblings. Her mother gave birth with a real, live midwife. I don't mean to say that the midwife I used was not "real," but the woman that delivered my mother was probably not educated at the Columbia College of Nursing.

When my mother was pregnant with my sister in 1974, things (in Argentina) were as bad, or worse, than they are now. My mother was overdue with my sister and was forced to enter the hospital 9 days before she gave birth. From what my mom recalls, they pretty much also forced her to stay in her bed. When she did finally go into labor, the nurses wouldn't let her move from the bed (no epidural, just Pitocin). All my mom wanted was to use the bathroom to pee, but they wouldn't let her. She finally got so fed up she got up and waddled to the bathroom, shut the door and started to pee. My sister finally dropped into the birth canal and was born shortly thereafter.

My mom came to the US in 1982, and in 1984 gave birth to me. During her pregnancy they discovered she had a heart arrhythmia. I only learned a few weeks ago that the doctor called her each day for the 10 days before I was finally born to remind her that she had missed her inducement date. Of all the things my mom has accomplished, this is something that gives me particular pride. There's a certain gravitas necessary that, sadly, most woman lack to essentially say to their doctor, "F you, I'll come in when I'm in labor." It never ceases to amaze me that doctors can make a woman come in to be induced. I hope I'm never in that situation, because I think I'd probably say something to the effect of, "No thank you. I understand that you won't be able to attend my birth unless I come in to be induced at XYZ time. I'm sure the doctor on call will be able to take good care of me. I really appreciate your help up until now." Then, I would wait until I was in the pushing stage before I drove to the hospital.

These were the only birth stories I knew about growing up. I think I thought those were different times and that I would have a modern, medicated birth, and hey, why don't you throw in a c-section while you're at it?

I believe Felice moved into my ward when I was about 16 years old. I have always, always looked up to her. To this day she is probably the single most inspirational individual I personally know. When I learned she had successfully given birth using the hypnobirthing method (I was away at college at the time) I instantly gravitated to it, probably because she did it and I wanted to do it, too.

In October of 2006 I miscarried at 7 weeks and didn't try to become pregnant again until my husband and I moved to NYC. When I first moved to the City, I hated it. My feelings have not really warmed towards Manhattan, but they have become more bearable. I think the two major problems I have are: 1) I am so far away from my family, and 2) The entire city suffers from too many people and not enough space or resources. I became pregnant about 5 months after I moved here, and I had a close friend who had
almost succeeded in having a natural child birth who was very supportive of my natural birth ideas. This friend had conceded in having a c-section after 30 hours of labor. In retrospect she felt that had she had the support of her husband and birthing companions she would've been stronger in rejecting the doctor's repeated proposals for a c-section.

Around that same time I also had lunch with a friend who had given birth the "regular" way at the hospital I was going to use. She told me that her labor was "typical" in terms of interventions, but it was her recovery that was supremely traumatic. There is not a single hospital on the entire island of Manhattan that has single recovery rooms, which means you have a roommate - and all her visitors - for your entire hospital stay. If you try to leave before the mandatory 48 hour stay for vaginal, 72 hour for c-section because of how terrible the conditions are, they will sign you out Against Medical Advice, which means if you suffer any problems related to your child's birth, your insurance will not cover your care.

Anyway, my friend gave birth and could feel nothing because of her epidural. No one is allowed to stay with you after visiting hours, so once 8:30 pm rolled around, her husband left. About an hour later her epidural wore off. That's when her problems began. Her roommate had already tried calling the nurse to no avail and her request for help were also unanswered. It was her first birth and my friend had no idea how to take care of herself. The nurse had left her a basket of the typical accouterments necessary to take care of oneself after birth, but had not explained how to use any of the items. Because no one answered her call to the nursing station, and because she still couldn't safely walk, she had to call her sister in Utah, and ask her how to use everything.

As she recalled her story, I sort of felt sick to my stomach, kind of the way I would feel if a woman recounted her sexual assault. I honestly felt she had been violated. She must have felt the same way because she said that the next time around she was giving birth at the Birthing Center. "What's The Birthing Center, I asked?"

The Birthing Center is the only traditional birthing center in the area. It is located on the 11th floor of the St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, 59th St. Besides being physically located at the hospital, the only other connection this Center has to a traditional hospital setting is that it is extremely easy to be "risked" out of giving birth there (just about anything will get you risked out such as anemia, twins, Strep B positive, etc.) Other than that, it is as if nearly every medical professional in the region has washed their hands of the Center. There is no pain medication available. If you require an epidural you have to go to the normal labor and delivery floor.

It is extremely challenging to actually be allowed to give birth at the Center. In the first place, the Center requires your doctor or midwife be present from the moment you check in until you give birth. That fact alone removes almost every OB-GYN in NYC, because no doctor wants to be tied to one patient for their entire birth without being able to hurry it up. Ergo, there is a tiny, itty bitty handful of providers associated with the Center. Then, you have to have the type of insurance these providers take. THEN, and this is probably the biggest barrier, you have to convince them to take you. I only had one provider who accepted my insurance who worked with the Birthing Center. One.

I called when I was four weeks pregnant and was told, "sorry, we're already booked." I was flabbergasted. How could they be booked? How can there be that many women who even know they are pregnant? I ended up calling back a few days later and by the grace of Heavenly Father got through and got some uninformed front desk person to make me an appointment. I was in! It turns out that the midwife team I was using had one member on maternity leave. Anyway, every time I went to a visit I had to wait between 90-145 minutes to be seen. Just another thing about living in New York where there are too many people for too few resources.

Thankfully, the rest of my pregnancy and delivery went very much as planned. I was able to stay in the birthing center, but had to be prepared to fight ever step of the way. I had to be extremely proactive and informed, and I had to stand up for myself.

I can think of five women that I know here who would have never considered natural child birth were it not for the atrocious conditions involved in giving birth in the regular hospital setting in NYC. They have heard the story of the 1st counselor in the bishopric's wife who recovered in the hallway behind a make shift tent made out of a sheet, and of the other sister who did a majority of her labor in the waiting room with 30 other laboring women because there were no beds available for her. There was the story of the third time mom [in your ward] who felt so bad for her roommate (who had a terrible birth) that she walked her roommate's baby up and down the hall so her roommate could rest because the nurse was no where to be found.

Another woman in our ward didn't know her water had broken, so by the time she reached the hospital, she had been in labor for about 24 hours. Because she had hit the magic 24 hour number, the doctors pumped her and her baby full of antibiotics and were legally required to keep her son at the hospital for 7 days. But there was no room for her, so she had to stay in a hotel next to the hospital and have her husband wheel her back and forth in a wheel chair every three hours to nurse around the clock. (She was unable to walk because she had a c-section.) All And these are just the few stories I know from our ward. There are millions of women in this city.

It is no wonder that women who would have never even considered natural child birth are realizing that their recoveries will be much more traumatic and painful than any pain endured during child birth. I have known women who have been risked out of the birthing center move back to their home towns and stay with their parents for a month prior to their due dates so they could have a chance at the birth they wanted.

Spreading the word about the joys and benefits of natural childbirth is like a missionary effort for me. Once the door is open in someone's heart to consider natural child birth, I can tell them all the wonderful things that come with it. I can tell them that they can do it, because I did it. I can tell them how empowered I felt and how great I felt afterward. Not only that, but I had a private room with my baby, my husband stayed with me, and we checked out when we wanted, about 24 hours later.

Incidentally, I talked to that friend who first told me about the birthing center after she had her second baby there. "How was it?" I asked her. "Did you do hypnobirthing? What did you do to prepare for natural birth?"

"Nothing," said said. "I just did it."

My mom says the same thing. I have thought about this a lot since then. I think that many of us, when we chose to go against the current way of doing things, need classes and months of preparation and affirmations just to unlearn all the fears and negative thinking about birth. Don't get me wrong, preparation is not something I recommend going with out--but in her case, there was just no other option in her mind. She didn't going in saying, I'm going to try to do it naturally this time. She just did it. I think making up our minds is a bigger part of it than we know.

Natalie and Olive

Thanks for this post, Natalie. It is sad that it takes horror stories or bad experiences to motivate women to take charge of their births, but I don't judge how one gets to natural birth, so long as they do. I am so glad that your friend had a better birth the next time.

Having lived (and loved living) in New York City, I feel for the women there on a personal level. I am a huge home birth fan, but knowing the city, I also know that home births aren't always the ideal they would be elsewhere (homes are often very small, have almost no amenities, and are in extremely close proximity to everyone else). I had a fantasy last night about a dreamy, five-star LDS birthing center in Manhattan, (on the floor above the temple--wouldn't that be fantastic?) that took women of all faiths but gave preference to LDS women. Of course, it would still be booked and if you weren't a member it would be as hard to get into as the other birthing center. Thinking about this, I thought that, given the hospital conditions in NY, and how desperate pregnant women (and New Yorkers) can be, women might even investigate the church just to get a spot in the birthing center.

Hey, I don't judge how people come to natural childbirth and I certainly won't judge how they come to the gospel.

News from New York

Today I got a call from a friend in New York City who read yesterday's post. After reading the part from Lani about how "Heavenly Father is extremely saddened by the way women are treated as they give birth in highly medicalized settings," she knew she had too much to say in a comment or an email.

She told me some really horrible stories about how women are treated in New York Hospitals (not just the C-section and intervention rates, but the recovery conditions--to paraphrase: a nightmare), and how, as a result, many of the women in her ward, who would never have considered natural birth, are now asking her questions about her birth in a birthing center.

I have asked her to write a guest post, so I won't go into all the details, but it saddens me that conditions have to get that bad, before women sit up and say, that's not okay with me. But the medical world has done a good job of convincing women that they don't know how to birth. They have scared us by talking about the safety of our babies, and our lives. But the truth is, birth outside the hospital setting is as safe and most often, safer. In Europe and other industrialized nations, 70% of births are attended by midwives, and they have a lower infant mortality rate and lose fewer mothers.

I was just watching the Business of Being Born, (a great documentary and a great introduction for people who don't have a lot of time to learn all about birth in this country--watch instantly on Netflix) which also happens to be filmed in New York City. There is so much good stuff in there, but the one thing that resonated the strongest with me as I watched it this time was this quote:

"A woman, for as long as she lives, will remember how she was made to feel at her birth."

I cannot begin to express how true this was at my birth. For the most part, the birth of my daughter was an amazing and empowering homebirth (even though it didn't go as planned), but there was one thing that happened--something someone said that made me feel horrible--made me feel like a failure, and it effected me and my labor and I will never forget it. I don't even remember what she looked like or who she was, but she was in my path at a pivotal moment in my labor and I will never forget it. I think that it is the one thing that keeps me from writing my full, uncensored, unabashed birth story. I'm still pissed at her pissy little comment. See. It's hard to shake even the small things. I can't imagine if I had had the kind of care that Natalie tells me is going on in New York City Hospitals.

There is something else I have been thinking about that is the other side of this. It has to do with how our babies feel about all this. Even though our children may not remember their births or the first years of their lives, I feel certain that the way a baby is birthed and cared for, affects him or her for years to come. What Babies Want is a great documentary that has some recent cool studies on this. There is one story of twins who were seen, by ultrasound, playing a game in the womb. These twins were followed into the first few years of live and seen playing the same kinds of game at 1 or 2 years old. That story always blows me away. How can anyone think that children don't remember the womb, or that what goes on outside doesn't effect them? You can see that story and the first 10 minutes of the film on Youtube. I will try to embed it here. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Counter Culture

As I was reading a birth story today I was impressed by just how hard it can be to chose the unpopular path. I have always been okay with and even enjoyed being different, so once I was converted, it was like anything else--shrug off or maintain awkward truce with people who didn't like it, and surround myself with people who are supportive. But now I see that this is a real struggle for many women: the awkward truce, the having to justify ourselves, rocking the boat. Even though our LDS culture is very different from the world, and we're used to being a little weird, it's more difficult when doing things that are counter even in our own LDS culture, such as natural birth or home birth. This is very sad. Especially when I think of what our ancestors must think as they watch us--how much effort it is to now turn back to the wisdom of the past. But I also know that they are assisting in this important work.

I was telling a friend today in an email that the situation of birthing in our country reminds me of public transportation in Los Angeles. You may not know this, but Los Angeles once had an amazing public transportation system. It was better than New York or Paris--or so the old-timers tell me. (You could get from USC area to a dance club in Venice in less than 20 minutes on two trolleys.) But around the 1930s or 40's when GM and the big automakers started to make secret combinations with everyone, the city literally ripped up all the tracks. Now Los Angeles has so far to go in area of public transit. It is one of the most difficult cities to get around in without a car, and because of all the cars, it is also one of the most difficult cities to get around in. Undoing all the damage of years of poor urban planning is proving near impossible. Though they have added subway lines through parts of Hollywood, Downtown, Pasadena and other areas, they have yet to reach the ocean or the airport (the two most important destinations, if you ask me--but what do I know). They were supposed to reach Culver city by May 2009, but politics and different agendas keep slowing things down.

I think it is the same with the business of birth. Getting America back to basics it once knew is not going to be easy with the college of obstetrics, hospitals, anesthesiologists, politicians, insurance companies and everyone else in the mix. But the one thing that we have as Mormon women, is a community that is better mobilized than any other community of women. Maybe it is the organization. Maybe it's God. However it works, it works.

And it is becoming very clear to me as I receive more and more communications from women that Heavenly Father wants to get back to the way he intended it. Here is a small excerpt from the birth story of another natural birthing mama, Lani, who is fast becoming a good friend of mine.

"... I had the strong impression that God is extremely saddened by the way many women are treated as they give birth in highly medicalized settings. And I also had the impression that He is so pleased when women give birth as He intended them to--free and empowered."

I have been thinking about putting together a childbirth education class that would be basically free or "by donation" to LDS couples. All the money donated would be used to train more LDS childbirth educators. There is a funny thing about inspiration--if it is really God's work, then he doesn't just inspire one person to do something. There are probably hundreds of other people receiving similar inspiration, and being prepared or mobilized to be at the right place at the right time to bring to pass his work. And it is becoming evident to me from the correspondence I am getting, that this is happening. Hooray for organization. It's so exciting. I started this journey hoping to change just one woman's birth experience, but God has bigger plans. He sometimes doesn't tell me them until 10 o'clock the night before, but I'll keep you all updated.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Stories

I got 5 birth stories this week and finally had the time to sit down and read them last night. I am continually amazed at how even a 12 page birth story can hold my attention. Some of them made me cry and some made me laugh out loud. It's amazing what you think about during labor. A woman named Eirene made me laugh out load when she described the process of getting her husband on board with natural childbirth. Here is a tiny bit of it:
"Ben, it's kind of like this. Having a baby is sort of like a rite of passage for women. Kind of like... a mission is for men. It isn't easy. I don't think I understand now how hard it's actually going to be. I know I don't blame women for getting epidurals" (I have to add this, as natural childbirth is not a trend in Ben's family). "But I do know that like a mission, the more you put into it the more you get out of it. The more...rewarding it is." (For the record, the fastest way to relate anything to a Mormon male's understanding is to compare it to a mission.)

Ben was not sold.

"Well, I'm going to be in the waiting room."
"No, because I want to have the baby at home."
"No. Absolutely not."
"Babe, it's not like we'll be boiling water, and tying off the umbilical cord with a string. There'll be a midwife there. It will be perfectly safe."
"Oh, right. We'll be safe becasue she'll chant some voodoo over yur belly and finger-paint our faces, right?"
He came around, though.

Ben loved the midwife so much he began advertising for her everywhere we went. "Yes our midwife is just the best. There is no going back once you try a midwife. You guys need a midwife."

Overall, the common thread through all the stories I received this week was preparation. Several people quoted, "If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear." (D&C 38:30)

I apologize for being greedy with all these stories, I just haven't decided which ones to use in the book yet and publishers don't really like too much overlap. But soon, I will publish some more complete stories. Please pass on the call for stories to other women you know.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Her First Week

Some days of the month, I have little to give. When I am at that gray and expansive wall, trying to remember what it is I'm doing, poetry is one thing that makes things hum again. Here is another beautiful poem by Sharon Olds. I am probably totally violating copyright law, but I am also heavily promoting her stuff, so hopefully she won't mind. Sharon Olds writes a lot about motherhood and the day to day things that concern women. If you like it, here are some of her books.

Her First Week

She was so small I would scan the crib a half-second
to find her, face-down in a corner, limp
as something gently flung down, or fallen
from the sky an inch above the mattress. I would
tuck her arm along her side
and slowly turn her over. She would tumble
over part by part, like a load
of damp laundry in the dryer, I'd slip
a hand in, under her neck,
slide the other under her back,
and evenly lift her up. Her little bottom
sat in my palm, her chest contained
the puckered, moire sacs, and her neck -
I was afraid of her neck, once I almost
thought I heard it quietly snap,
I looked at her and she swivelled her slate
eyes and looked at me. I was in
my care, the creature of her spine, like the first
chordate, as if, history
of the vertebrate had been placed in my hands.
Every time I checked, she was still
with us - someday, there would be a human
race. I could not see it in her eyes,
but when i fed her, gathered her
like a loose bouquet to my side and offered
the breast, greyish-white, and struck with
minuscule scars like creeks in sunlight, I
felt she was serious, I believed she was willing to stay.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Don't Believe Everything You Think

There have been moments in my life when I thought I was going to die. Maybe one day I will think that, and it will happen, but it will probably happen when I am not thinking it.

I have learned from experience that the stock market does not go up because I think it will. I also know that thinking you look fat doesn't mean that everyone else thinks so. Just because you think you are a wimp when it comes to cramps, so labor will be unbearable, doesn't mean that this is sound logic. Thinking the sky is falling... okay you get it. What most of these things have in common is fear.

I had an intense and crazy-making conversation with a friend this week who has already lost the best and most beautiful thing that has ever happened to him--in the form of true love. I should mention that he is 36--it has been a long time coming. He found out there was a small metaphorical crack left open in the door if he could only seize it, but instead of acting on this small chance and kicking open the door and holding on for dear life, he sits around thinking and believing what he thinks. He tells me he can't embrace his true love because she has a child with someone else and that someone else is a real troublemaker. He is worried that the outside influence of that person will negatively affect the perfect family he wants to create with his true love. Essentially, fear of future outside influences and an irrational clinging to the nuclear family myth is keeping him from a chance at lasting happiness.

First, I want to address the future-thinking. As a professional oral historian and memoirist, I have lived at least 60 vicarious lifetimes. What almost everyone with 50+ years experience will tell you is this: if you can think of it, it's not likely to happen. This is especially true with marriage and children. The things you think will be your biggest issues when you first set sail, end up being no more than a small whitecap on the horizon. It is the things you could never think of, like a Bengal tiger in the life raft--that will be your major trials. (However, it will probably not be a Bengal tiger since I just thought of it.)

My friend E.B. once joked that she needed a self-help book for coping with imaginary stress. That is what this other friend of mine needs. Like him, many of us may be living in an imaginary, stressed-out future, instead of embracing the now and leaving the unknowns where they belong--in the future. Embracing unknowns is another form of surrender. Moving forward despite unknowns is also an act of faith--faith that the sun will rise again, that your children will grow up, that you will be able to feed your family, that God is all knowing.

Nephi is a great example of this: In 1 Nephi 9, he says: "Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not. But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning..."

In addition to His being wise, He is also loving, and so tells us the blessings associated with keeping His commandments. Hartman Rector Jr. said in a 1973 General Conference:
The Lord gives no commandments to his children that are not calculated to make them happy and…successful. Therefore, he has added to the basic commandment of ‘be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth,’ the reason for so doing: that you may have joy and rejoicing in your posterity.”

I'd now like to confront the nuclear family myth. My friend Anna, whose family tree, if she drew it, would look like a Picasso, says with a shrug, "life is messy." The nuclear family myth is called a myth for a reason. It doesn't exist. I spent a year or two post college in therapy just trying to accept this and went again a few years ago for the same reason. The nagging thing about myths, however, is that they originated from somewhere. There is a yearning that people everywhere, no matter their religious or cultural background, can't seem to get out of their systems. Why? Perhaps it is because families are so central to God's plan. Perhaps because we once lived with our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother in a nuclear spirit family in the pre-earth life, and on some core level we remember it and are in withdrawals for it.

That's my bet, but I'm not an authority and I don't believe everything I think. What I do know is that in this life--sorry to break the news--nobody is perfect. (Even Jesus's Earth family did not fit the parameters of the myth.) Yet, we have to find a way, despite this glitch, to walk with another person and allow ourselves and our children to find happiness in imperfect situations. It is not easy. But as Rilke says so perfectly in his famous and beloved Letters to a Young Poet, we must trust in what is difficult.

"Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of what is easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it....
"It is good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation."

Full disclosure: this post was inspired out of frustration and love--the very coexistence of these emotions proves, once again, that life is messy. The people we love frustrate us. They fill us up and and use us up at the same time. They can cause us the most pain and the most joy. But this is part of the plan of existence. Our first mother, Eve, made the choice that allowed us to come, understanding that it would be better for us to pass through sorrow that we may know joy. But I won't digress into a lesson about opposition.

So, to my friend who will never read this, I have to say this: Don't believe everything you think--instead of doubting your faith, doubt your doubts. Trust in a tomorrow you can't see. You are a child of God. It is human to grieve for the nuclear family. If you need to do it in therapy, do it so that you can someday find happiness.

I am thinking of a scripture that says something about how we cannot even imagine a small part of all the good things that God wants to give us--which would tie back to the title, be the other side of my earlier if-you-can-think-of-it-it-wont-happen spiel and put a nice bow on the end of this post--but I can't find it. So, this one will have to do instead: Matt 7:11

"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Heather's Story - Naturally Myself

This is the story I promised in yesterday's post. I love the part about the Ute Indian reservation.

"My journey to natural childbirth began after having my first child, Haven. During that pregnancy, most of what I read about pregnancy and labor was very basic. I just found out what I wanted to know and Tyler and I went to a standard birth class, maybe practiced a breathing pattern or two and then expected the best. My water broke spontaneously one week before the due date and I had not been experiencing contractions yet. I got to the hospital and was only at 2cm. I also had GBS and needed an IV. The combination of having my water break so early in labor and having GBS had the staff in Logan Regional a little worried and so someone just started the pitocin right away and kept increasing the dosage as time went on. Immediately, with no knowledge of having a natural contraction, I had a pitocin contraction, and with barely a break, another one and another one in sporadic lengths of time and sporadic time between each. It was a train wreck from the beginning. I was throwing up, not wanting to walk around, Tyler had no clue what to do and so I begged for the epidural. It was a wonderful feeling to have that pain go away and labor ended up only being 8 hours, with a short pushing time and a surprise episiotomy. Haven was only 5lbs 14oz so I can’t figure out why the doctor cut me to this day. Overall, every thing was fine and I felt fine and recovered really well. When I look back, I can’t believe how disconnected I was to the whole experience. I just let it all happen to me instead of having any say in the matter. I knew things were going to be different the next time around.

"After seeing several close friends and my sister tackle a natural birth I knew that if they could do it, I could. I read books, among my favorite was the Dr. Sears Birth Book and Birthing from Within, and watched The Business of Being Born. It seemed like I was learning things for the first time even though it was my second child. I also talked and talked to people who gave natural birth and they were always so positive and happy about what they’d gone through. I also felt a deep confidence that Heavenly Father had blessed me with a healthy and capable body to give birth naturally. So I knew I was on board for a natural delivery, but it would take a lot of effort to convince Tyler. He just basically said, how ever you want to do it, I’m there, but I just hope we can communicate during labor. Last time, I pretty much ignored him and didn’t want him to touch me, so I could understand where he was coming from. I knew that he’s also one to want to fix the problem at hand immediately and getting him used to the idea that I might act crazy and out of sorts again was difficult. I just basically mentioned that I was serious about natural childbirth and I needed him to be supportive no matter what. He just said okay.

"So let’s begin the labor story already! Being a second pregnancy, I had more Braxton Hicks from pretty early on. They were just bothersome, but otherwise unnoticeable. I was still terrified of the day when an actual, real, non-pitocin, contraction would hit me and I wouldn’t know how to handle the pain. Saturday seemed pretty normal except for some reason, I didn’t have much of an appetite and was going to the bathroom a lot. After having a fun little baby shower at the mall the night before with friends and watching the RS broadcast late Saturday night, I went to bed late. I woke up at 2:30 and my belly was really tight and I was a little shocked at how much it hurt. I went back to sleep and woke up with another one about ten minutes later. This pattern went on for about an hour. I got a rice bag and heated it up in the microwave and put it right above my pubic bone, because that was where each contraction would end and began. I just kept trying to focus on normal breaths during each one and went over in my mind if this was “it” or not. As the pain increased, I started imagining a little rainbow starting at the pubic bone and arching up and over my belly and then retracting back down. I have no idea where this imagery came from.

"I got into the bathtub and watched the clock until about 4am. The contractions were about 6-7 minutes but only seemed about 30-40 seconds long. I took a shower and laid back down in bed with the rice pack again listening to Tyler snore. The pain was increasing, but closing my eyes and breathing helped me through each one. I was really trying to conserve energy for a long day of laboring. Tyler woke up at 5 and I mentioned to him that we were probably going to have a baby today. He started talking casually about some other topic and then I interrupted him, and asked him if he’d heard what I said. I repeated myself. He said, no way. Then I grabbed his hand during the next contraction and he noticed that my hair was wet from the bath and he started arranging his Sunday meeting substitutes and trying to figure out how to deal with Haven for the day.

I loved grabbing his warm hand during each contraction and then talking about what we should do about everything between each one. (Haven was sick and couldn’t go to nursery and so we needed someone to stay home from church with her.) Well Tyler got dressed and ready and through all that Haven woke up. Normally I’d send her straight back to her bed, but Tyler got hold of her first and sent her to the couch with some cartoons. I got up and blow dried my hair and felt the need to put on a little makeup for some reason. Each time I’d have a contraction I’d just lean against the counter and sway my hips and breathe deep. Tyler would come by and rub my back and tell my how great I was doing. He also found a stopwatch and we started to time everything. They were getting to be 5 minutes apart and 1 minute long. Time to call the midwives and doula! So I paged the midwife, called my doula and told her calmly that within the next hour or so, meet us at the hospital, we’ll call you. I also had Tyler give me a blessing. This helped immensely and was a very special moment.

A note on doulas and midwives: UNC Hospitals is awesome. They have an amazing staff of midwives and VOLUNTEER doulas. I had been visiting for my prenatal care an OBGYN at the student health just for convenience and then requested to have midwives deliver me. I also requested a doula and had met with her the week before and she looked over my birth plan and we got to know each other. I basically got her to help Tyler know how to help me. She was a great girl!

"Haven at this time was getting prepped on meeting her new sister and trying to figure out why she wasn’t going to the hospital too. I basically just ignored her. By this time I threw up some and was going to the bathroom a lot too. She was really concerned about me throwing up. She also leaned against the wall with me and imitated my swaying hips during a contraction. I just ignored her. At 7am we called over my wonderful neighbor and friend and she told us not to worry about anything. By 7:20 we were in the car with bags packed, garbage bag on the seat, and throw up bucket in hand. Luckily we only live a mile away from the hospital. It was also a quiet Sunday morning and there was no one on the road. Tyler took the speed humps pretty slowly and we finally got there. He was going to park the car in the drop off area, get me up to Labor and Delivery triage, and then go move the car and get the camera later. Getting out of the car, I was throwing up some more and it took a bit to walk up to the elevator where someone had it waiting for us. When we got to the desk, some wise staff member asked, “Are you sick or in labor?” I looked at her through foggy vision and whispered “labor” to her, really annoyed. The other woman at the desk was trying to get me to sign papers. I scribbled here and there and they walked me to triage where they explained that I need to give her a urine sample, put the gown on and then we’ll do 20 minutes of fetal monitoring and start and IV right away for my GBS (again with the GBS!). In my heart of hearts I knew I wouldn’t be able to withstand 20 minutes of fetal monitoring. I went into the bathroom stripped down and tried to pee in the cup, but I couldn’t! I was so baffled! I had been peeing and drinking all morning and couldn’t pee! Then a contraction started and POP there goes my water, just like a balloon! Then a bunch of mucous and blood came out and an intense pressure began. THE URGE TO PUSH! What? I knew that feeling and there was no mistaking what it was.

"The nurse came back and I told her my water broke and I was feeling a lot of pressure. A peppy OBGYN resident came in and told me she was going to check my cervix. She went in---pain—her fingers opened really wide and she said “You’re ready to go.” I asked her, well how many centimeters then? “Ten. You’re fully dilated.” I told her that that was the perfect answer to that question. (I still had a sharp wit about me, I was kind of impressed with myself throughout the whole ordeal.) Tyler and I were shocked! Then people started moving fast. They cancelled the IV (Yes!) and told me they were going to wheel me to the labor room. I thought they meant by wheelchair and I just wanted to walk, but the nurse just started wheeling THE WHOLE BED to the room quite fast. I was going through contractions, closing my eyes and breathing, Tyler was just repeating how awesome I was doing. They started getting the room ready, but not in a frantic hussle like you’d see on TV, but really calmly. The TV was on in the room when I got there, Jerry Maguire, and Tyler just shut it off, knowing that that would bug me. The lights were dim and the room was cold and comfortable. I remember starting to notice and make sense of everything in the room and meeting a nice, matronly nurse and having really natural conversation with everyone between contractions.

"The midwife got there, Deb, and I told her how famous she was around Baity Hill and that she’d helped my friend give birth only a month ago. Deb and I were fast friends and she sat very calmly at the foot of the bed and commented on how wonderful it was that we were all going to have a fast delivery. She encouraged me to push when I felt like it. My doula got there and I told her she was just in time. For a contraction? No, I’m pushing! And then I started to push with the contractions. This is the point when I start to make noises I’ve never made in my life. Then the contraction would end, I’d calm down, and do it again.

"I requested a mirror to see my progress. That was awesome to me for some reason. I just focused on the mirror during pushing or closed my eyes and screamed like a banshee while I pushed. I was propping myself up in practically a squat, but my sacrum was still on the bed. My arms were behind my thighs gripping the sheets and mattress. The pillows and the bed were really bugging me and my doula helped rearrange everything. She was basically put in charge of water and chapstick and comfort duties. Tyler was so encouraging! I couldn’t believe throughout the whole thing how amazing he was being and how much I loved him!

"Then Deb brought up dental school and she started up a conversation, between contractions, about dental implants, something Tyler was currently studying. The amazing thing about this, is normally, I would’ve been foaming at the mouth mad that he was talking dental while I was in labor, but I decided to focus my attention on just kind of tuning it out and relaxing between contractions. Tyler said, 'Wow, I’m talking about dental school during labor and I’m not being slapped.' I said, 'I don’t have the energy.'

"Apparently, we were amusing and enjoyable for everyone and everyone really seemed to be having a fine time, just staring at my crotch and listening to me scream while pushing. And boy was I screaming! I remember a point in my screaming and moaning that I sounded like a Native American drum circle, which I am really good at mimicking normally—being from a town situated near a Ute Reservation— but this time it sounded really tribal. Then I screamed like a hyena and would apologize for my behavior between each contraction. They encouraged it all. The nurse reminded me to do small breaths and that would help me not tear. I obeyed. All the while the mirror is showing me that my crotch has a large hole in it and that something is definitely coming soon! This is when we asked the doula to go get the camera from the car. By the time she came back, I was crowning and experiencing THE RING OF FIRE OF HELL AND BRIMSTONE TIMES 20. I’ve never in my life experienced anything like that and curse the time when I have to feel it again. Then Deb poured hot mineral oil on it all, and it felt minutely better and the urge to keep pushing and getting that baby out was insatiable. I just kept on screaming and pushing. Then Deb, very calmly, said, now, Heather, with this next one, low sounds and long and hard pushing. I made a very low sound, pushed way deep into my bottom and long and hard and saw a head emerge in the mirror. I look down and see a slimy black head and a cute little right ear. An ear! I remember saying “Oh hi baby! Hi!” And then just pushing out the shoulders and grabbing the baby and putting it on me. Blood guts and all. I never thought I’d ever want to do that or touch something so nasty! But here was the fruit of my labor and it was warm and cuddly and beautiful! She wasn’t really crying, but gave a good squawk and blew bubbles out of her mouth. She was perfect in every way!

"By this time (8:33am)Tyler was a bit teary eyed and I was beaming with joy and just talking baby talk babble. Ty and I kissed and hugged and that was one thing I didn’t think I would experience—an overwhelming feeling of joy and love and family and all things cheesy that you see in labor stories. Everyone was thrilled and overjoyed and that was such an amazing moment! The cord was still attached and eventually Tyler cut it, which was kind of gross, but cool, and then, because of GBS or something they took the baby over to the station and did a quick rundown of everything with Tyler taking pictures. I delivered the placenta, which is another thing really gross/cool.

"Then the baby came back and I got some apple juice and tried feeding her and she did great. They let us hang out for about an hour in the labor room, all the while we are answering questions to fill out the paperwork we missed out on in the beginning. The staff (which was only like three women) were all relieved that after their long, hectic Saturday shifts the day before, they’d had such a peaceful Sunday morning birth. Deb commented that my labor was one of the most amazing she’d seen. I was so pleased with myself!

"The most amazing thing about natural birth is that it’s NATURAL in every sense of the word. I was so worried that I’d turn into someone completely out of sorts and nutso, but I was NATURALLY MYSELF. I was able to think clearly, even make a few jokes here and there, and completely obey what my body was telling me. After having a natural birth I cannot go back to a medicated one and hope I don’t have to.

"There were many, many miracles throughout labor that only a loving Heavenly Father would think of to bless us with. Like how awesome that we had her on a peaceful Sunday morning when we wouldn’t get a ticket for parking where we had and when Tyler didn’t have school? And how special that it was my mother’s birthday! It was also very important to me that this baby would be a little bigger than Haven in order to avoid jaundice and other issues we’d had. June was a pound bigger, 6lbs 9oz and we escaped jaundice. It was a major blessing that I didn’t get the IV because that was one of my biggest fears that I would be bothered by it too much to focus. It also required me to stay at the hospital the full 48 hours, which was actually just what I needed to have a peaceful few days alone before heading home. We were also indebted to wonderful neighbors who took charge of Haven and made a few meals for us. Everything I had worried about had been totally better than expected and was “taken care of” by my Heavenly Father. I am so grateful to be a woman who has been granted the gift of motherhood."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

As a Woman Lives So Shall She Birth

There is an old saying: “As a woman lives, so shall she birth.”

None of us work the same way. A woman who is very organized and efficient is likely to birth efficiently. Other women’s natural rhythms move very slowly. Some women like to be alone and others like to be the center of a crowd. If you are aware of who you are, you can better anticipate your birth and make sure that you get what you need.

I am surprised to hear how some women imagine that during labor and natural birth, they will be totally different than they are normally. Maybe this is because they have heard horror stories from women who were medicated during labor. Remember back in school when they told you how drugs alter your brain and your behavior? Natural birth is actually quite the opposite. I got a great birth story from a woman this week whose big epiphany was that during natural childbirth she was naturally herself (to an extreme, but not out of character). But I won’t give away the details. I’ll just post it as soon as I get her permission.

The point is, if you hope to give birth in a Zen like state, but have never been able to sit still and meditate for more than 2 minutes at time, it is not likely to happen. And if you think you are going to be an exhibitionist, but you won’t even undress in front of your sister, then my bet is that you’ll also be modest during labor.

This is in line with the teaching in Alma 34:34

“Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.”

If you don’t like the idea of birthing as you are currently living, then you should begin now to make changes. As we learn from Alma, we can’t do it at the last minute. It is only through daily practice and diligent effort that one can make these kinds of changes. But they are not impossible. In fact, I believe they are more possible during pregnancy than any other time.

Pregnancy is a transformation in itself. For one thing to change itself into another requires a ton of energy—like a space shuttle lifting off the ground requires googles of pounds of thrust, but once it is up, it requires very little energy to move it from place to place. The way I have seen things play out in so many women is that once they overcome the resistance to change, they are more open to many more changes. It is kind of like the conversion process. Or a giant, rolling, magnificent snowball.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Options for Birthing

We have been self-dubbed a peculiar people. It’s pretty well known that we don’t do what everyone else is doing. I know plenty of you have been to events and been the only one not drinking, or the only one who believes in waiting till marriage. We don’t do what everyone else does on Sunday. We store large amounts of beans, flour and peanut butter in our garages. We spend our money differently. So why is it, that when it comes to pregnancy and birthing, so many of us don’t question what everybody else is doing?

I know many couples who pray about when to start their families, and about the timing of subsequent pregnancies, so why not pray about how and where to birth and about care providers?

I was inspired to write this book and blog for an LDS audience because there are plenty of good spiritual birthing guides out there that the average LDS woman might not read. I am hoping that because of the spiritual nature of the content and stories in this book and blog, that more LDS women will find it and see that women like them have found better options for birthing.

Pregnancy and birth are some of the most charged moments of a woman’s life and you will remember them forever. They can be positively charged or negatively charged. It is also a time when your potential for spiritual growth is the greatest. I guess you could say that I am a birth missionary. I would be doing a disservice if I kept my mouth shut.

So, to put it in bullet simplicity, here are your options for birthing:

  • Hospital- attended by OB - medicated or not (if you choose no medication, they will likely make it difficult for you.)
  • Hospital – attended by a midwife – medicated or not (you will get more support for natural birth with a midwife.)
  • Home birth – Midwife attended – medication not an option, but birth tubs are. Water birth is often referred to as a liquid epidural. Also ask about sterile water papules—they are amazing for back labor. (Hospitals don’t want you to know about this because it doesn’t cost a thing.)
  • Home birth – Unassisted – I guess I should disclaim that I’m not advocating it, but I know people who have educated themselves, prayed and felt good about it, and had great experiences.
  • Birthing Center – attended by a midwife – medication is usually not available, but birth tubs and other comforts mentioned above make it a middle ground between the hospital and a homebirth. Facilities vary greatly.
  • Caesarean section – This is done in the hospital by an OB – this was traditionally for emergencies and as a last resort, but women can now chose to have planned c-sections.

I’m sure there are other options like birthing with the dolphins, but for most of us, these are our options.

When I became pregnant, home birth was not even in my stratosphere. I wanted to have a planned C-section, and I also didn’t want to breastfeed. Ha! (I ended up nursing my daughter for over three years.) So what happened? I had a change of heart.

God sent the right people into my life and sent me to the right prenatal yoga class and I started to hear about natural birth. What I noticed about all the natural birth mommas is that they were all so happy about it and totally excited to share their wonderful birth stories. This was totally different from anything I had heard before. Then I remembered the sheep and their calm inward focus. I knew there was there was something right about what they were saying. Our bodies know how to do this.

I also loved the idea of water birth. I took a bath twice a day when I was pregnant. It was so soothing to me. I couldn’t help seeing the symbolic nature of it, with me curled up in a watery tub about as cozy as she was inside my bag of waters.

But it wasn’t just a few happy stories and a love of baths that converted me. I did the research. It’s astounding when you actually find out the facts. Your OB isn’t going to give you these, but there is tons of info out there if you look. I still think the best info in in books, but I have linked a few sources. These are by no means the only sources or the best ones. I can only do so much. One day I will put together a best of the best list of info and I appreciate all the stuff all of you post or share with me.

  • UC: I have been recommended books on unassisted childbirth (UC) but I haven't read any so I can't recommend or review them. But can also read Rixa's blog (Stand and Deliver). She's LDS, had a planned unassisted birth and wrote her doctoral dissertation on the modern unassisted childbirth movement.

  • I found this summary of many studies on Epidurals. If you like charts, check this link. Some of the drawbacks ofepidurals include: increased risk of: forceps, vacuum extractor, and c-section. Risk of c-section generally found to be 2-3 times more likely with epidural. It also mentions interesting info on how medicated birth may effect bonding.

That's all for now. Love and light.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Valerie's Story

Valerie Christiensen sent me an amazing story of 5 births and a miscarriage. I have included some of it here:

Why she chose natural childbirth (abridged version):

"I sensed there was a lesson in fully participating in the creation process and that, if I was having a normal, healthy birth, I should not numb myself in any way from what I knew would be a very painful experience, just as I try to face the trials and pain of life as a whole.

"As I prepared to do this, I trusted that God gave me the power to create and he would give me the power to give birth."

Her first birth:

"My first child, Benjamin, took me seven years, two bouts of induced menopause, five surgeries and the power of temple blessings to finally conceive. My babymaker had been medicalized to the max, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that, aside from spiritual reasons, I simply did not want my birth to be just another procedure in a long line of procedures. I prepared heavily, read extensively and took an excellent childbirth education class (the overarching lesson was, first, you can do this and second, always expect the pain to get worse). I hired a doula. I prayed about having a homebirth and got a “no,” so I planned a hospital birth, complete with all the annoying birth plans and policy waivers.

"So, I labored at home for almost seven hours, spent time in a hot bath until my doula begged me to get out and leave, drove the mile to the hospital in full transition (speed bumps are evil) and was in my hospital room all of 10 minutes before I started pushing—and there he was—a gorgeous blond, blue-eyed 6 lbs, 13 oz. He ended up having severe hypoglycemia and needed the NICU for five days, which explained the “no” on the homebirth. Other than that, it was an utterly transcendent, enlightening, highly spiritual experience.

"That day, I found that mystical “Laborland” and realized that yes, I really was made to do this. I had never experienced pain like that, but also felt the powerful work my body was doing which that pain represented. I learned a fundamental spiritual lesson in Ben’s birth—that submission and trust in God are not just the keys to labor, but the keys to life."

Valerie went on to have another natural birth in the hospital that wasn't as easy (hospitals don't make it easy for people who don't do it their way), a heartbreaking stillbirth at 5 months gestation, a miscarriage, a beautiful home water birth and a true emergency c-section at 29 weeks with her last child. What I loved most about Valerie's succession of stories is that for each of them, she prayed and then listed to the answers. When she was pregnant with her last child, Lucy, she was going for another home birth, but felt prompted at 27 weeks to switch to an OB. Thank heaven she listened.

Here are some of her thoughts on the whole birthing saga.
"The blessings of medicine are not lost on me. I have so much gratitude that I live in a time where her survival was not a matter of if she’d live, but just how long it would take to get her ready to come home (answer: nine weeks). There is such an important place for everything the interventionist medical world has to offer. There is no better place to be for complications, injury and illness—circumstances where intervention is clearly necessary. I simply suggest that a normal healthy birth is not any of these, but an entirely different process, where outside intervention may often hurt more than help.

"I can think of no better way that we as women can fill the measure of our creation. I hope that as LDS women, we seek to make our birth experiences truly sacred, where our heart is laid open before the Lord and we can discover all He is able to teach us."
I plan to publish Valerie's complete stories in my book. Thanks to everyone who has sent me your stories. They are riveting. I can still use more. I haven't had an twin or breech stories yet, but I know they are out there.


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