Monday, February 28, 2011

Blessings

I went to bed happy last night, because every Sunday I get to play jazz clarinet with a small group of amateur musicians (and one professional to glue everything together).

I read for a bit, Adam and Eve, by Sena Jeter Naslund - an interesting read. I put my head down and within five minutes my phone rings and a lady's water has just broken, very exciting, water everywhere. "Just like in the movies," she said.

All is good, I suggest she try to sleep a little. We spoke a few times during the night, as she was having some contractions, but I continued to suggest she sleep as much as possible.

In the morning, she call to tell me that she and her husband have decided to go to the hospital, where the news is that her cervix is not dilated, and they are going to try Cervidil to "jumpstart" labor.

Just asking all you folks out there, whether you're "in the know" or not, to throw a blessing her way. Just throw it out, and if it doesn't land on her, it'll land on another birthing woman...

Friday, February 25, 2011

La Dolce Vita Benefit Dinner

I met a lovely group of women the other night - and I am honored that their organization, Dining for Social Change, has decided that MBC will be the recipient of their upcoming Tuscan dinner.

The event will take place on March 12, 2011 at 7pm
at 5213, rue Hutchison, Montreal .

The dinner will be prepared by a local chef and promises to be a great event. You can eat, drink and be merry, and know that you are supporting a very worthy cause.

The  Montreal Birth Companions  mandate is to provide free doula services for women who are in REAL need: recent immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers, or women living on the street or in difficult circumstances. Our doulas do prenatal classes with these women and then attend their labor and birth. We run on almost no cash. Most of the work we do is a labor of love. We serve about 60 women a year, and one client takes up to 50 hours of a doula's time.

For tickets, please click here.

Looking forward to seeing you all there!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Final Push!!!

I am feeling like I am almost there - the baby will be born soon - but worried about the shoulders.
My book is going to be on the shelves, speaking for itself, and I am proud but anxious. The new mother feels just that. For nine months or more, she has lived with another person inside her body, creating the bones, muscles and nerves with her own body. But the baby has its own, what? Some call it a soul, others an independent central nervous system.
Whatever it is, when the baby is born, he is definitely separated from the womb, even if his mother has a Lotus Birth, where the placenta is kept attached to the baby until it organically falls off.
And when that happens, the new mother feels proud, happy, and satisfied, but also anxious, worried, and not a little nervous - how will this tiny creature make his way in the world?
So, what this space! The Birth Conspiracy will be out soon!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Se Non Ora Quando

This was the rallying cry for the women of Italy during last year's demonstrations. It means "If Not Now, When! Except I think it sounds so much nicer in Italian.

Se non ora, quando?

If you don't breastfeed your newborn, then when will you get that chance again?
If you don't play with your two-year old, just remember, he will never be two again.
If you don't kiss your partner this evening, you will miss that one extra kiss.

If you don't speak up for what you need when you are giving birth, you will lose a world of satisfaction and gain a world of regrets.
The time for change is now.
If you are pregnant, decide what you want for your birth and go for it! Don't let the experts tell you what to do. Remember, the experts are not only the doctors - every nurse, midwife, and lady in the grocery store will be telling you how you should give birth.
If you are a doula, keep your opinions to yourself and let the women speak out! Respect the women giving birth and follow their lead. Change comes slowly and powerfully.

Se non ora, quando!

Se Non Ora Quando

This was the rallying cry for the women of Italy during last week's demonstrations. It means "If Not Now, When! Except I think it sounds so much nicer in Italian.

Se non ora, quando?
 
If you don't breastfeed your newborn, then when will you get that chance again?
If you don't play with your two-year old, just remember, he will never be two again.
If you don't kiss your partner this evening, you will miss that one extra kiss.

If you don't speak up for what you need when you are giving birth, you will lose a world of satisfaction and gain a world of regrets.
The time for change is now.
If you are pregnant, decide what you want for your birth and go for it! Don't let the experts tell you what to do. Remember, the experts are not only the doctors - every nurse, midwife, and lady in the grocery store will be telling you how you should give birth.
If you are a doula, keep your opinions to yourself and let the women speak out! Respect the women giving birth and follow their lead. Change comes slowly and powerfully.

Se non ora, quando!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Volunteers

Some women do it for money, some do it for love, some do it out of a sense of duty.
Well, the Montreal Birth Companions volunteer doulas just do it out of their own big hearts - and I look at these women and feel very proud.
Several years ago, some of our doula students decided to start volunteering their services for needy women who could not afford a doula.
Now, in 2011, this small group of dedicated women is officially known as Montreal Birth Companions. This month we are following ten women. Most of these women are single and isolated. All of them are grateful for the companionship and assistance of a doula, and they know that the presence of a doula at their birth will reduce the risk of unnecessary intervention.

Yesterday, one of the MBC clients gave birth with the companionship of a newly-trained doula. She had her baby quickly and easily, in just a few hours. Last week, one of our "veteran" doulas accompanied a first-time mother for over a day as she labored to give birth.

The Montreal Birth Companions accompany women from many different backgrounds and cultures. Many of them are alone here and new to the cold Canadian climate. The presence of a doula helps them adjust to life here, where isolation is the biggest enemy. Social programs help our clients to eat and find warm clothing, and our medical system works well enough (more on that later!) that they get medical care when needed. But the companionship of another woman during pregnancy and childbirth is a gift that facilitates the transition to "mother" and fills the newborn days with joy and hope.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Old Scars

The cesarean section epidemic has been growing in intensity and numbers since the 1970's, in most of the western world, and increasingly in China, India, and South America.

It is a given in most conservative medical circles that the scarred uterus is more fragile during subsequent pregnancies and may rupture during labor. While I do not believe a healthy, though scarred, uterus will rupture without provocation, I have witnessed severe psychological and emotional scars from unnecessary surgery. The World Health Organization suggested in 1985 that a 15% cesarean rate would be optimal. I believe that in countries where mothers and babies and generally healthy (this may exclude the U.S. because of high obesity rates), an optimum emergency c-section rate would be under 5%.

All sorts of shocks and aftershocks have been linked to cesarean sections. Failure to bond, failure to thrive, autism, asthma, breastfeeding problems, PTSD, ADHD, you name it, unnecessary surgery has been implicated.

But what about the effects on a woman as a woman? What about the women who have been having this surgery over the past thirty years? The young ones may mistakenly believe that it is easier on the body for the baby to be extracted surgically; that the low transverse scar just above the pubic bone will heal and remain an almost-invisible thin white line; that urinary and fecal incontinence will be miraculously avoided; that their vaginal muscles will be tight and virginal forever. The middle-aged ones, the menopausal ones, the ladies who have had possibly multiple cesareans, based on the old "once a cesarean, always a cesarean" dictate of the 70's and 80's; these women represent the tip of the cesarean iceberg and their numbers are growing as this rate increases.

Much has been said, especially by men, about the effects of menopause on a woman's emotional state. The old stale jokes abound. But the fact is, that many women start to feel anxious and disoriented about their new status as non-reproductive beings.

I didn't. I have five sons and I am very happy about my contribution to the ongoing human race but I was content to let menstruation go. I do feel ambivalence about growing older - after all, who wants to die? As we age, we do march slowly but surely towards the next big chapter.

So, with the loss of our reproductive capabilities, as we get used to our bodies and ourselves during this phase of life, it is difficult to have to watch the little white bikini line grow into a larger, lumpier line where no matter how many times we march off to the gym, the pleasant softness of middle age insists on bulging unpleasantly underneath and over the top, as if a tight elastic were stretched just above the pubic bone. And it hurts - it still hurts - even after twenty, thirty and forty years.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Birth and Scars

As we grow, we absorb big and small shocks to our bodies and souls. We all know where our physical scars are, and we often assign stories to them. I remember when I was skipping school and the knife chose that day to slice my finger, so I had to get myself stitched up without (I dreamed) my mother finding out. I have a little white line on my finger that tells that story.

Some women have bigger scars, on their skin and their muscles, from birthing their babies. I hear these stories often when I am speaking to women about their birth experiences.

Other women have emotional scars that last for years. These scars have a way of aching and burning during pregnancy and birth. The doula can gently assist the woman when she is feeling these aches and pains.
We are not therapists so we do not have to probe, suggest, or hypnotize. What we can do is provide a non-judgmental ear, if the woman wants to talk. We can let her know that she is not alone, that she has support. We can also remind her that there are other women who have traveled the same road and survived.

One of my students is accompanying a woman as I write. She has been in labor for most of last night and today. She does have emotional scars, and they are hurting. My student has been with her the whole time, supporting and comforting.
And even though my student is a very inexperienced doula, she is still providing the essence of what a birthing woman needs. The expertise, medical know-how and scientific facts is not the realm of the doula. She is there with other skills: the skill of touch, listening, compassion, and presence.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Birth and Fear

As I listen with exhilaration and with horror to the events that are happening in Egypt, I am reminded of what takes place so often in our hospitals when women give birth.
When I suggest that the masses in Tahrir Square may be a new force - a mass of people dedicated to peace and prosperity, some people look at me with pity, like
I am a naive fool. Who would think that people are generally good and peaceful creatures? Who would think that a woman could give birth to a huge baby without help?
Whoever is interfering in this generally peaceful process is working from a place of fear. Fear is always real, but it does not need to have the power we give to it. Birth can be frightening as well, but we do not have to act out of fear.
A few years ago, I was called to the hospital to accompany a lady who had already birthed a few babies naturally, so I wondered why she needed me there. It turned out that her family doc had bumped her up to OB care because of the suspected size of the baby - huge!
The woman was a tall, statuesque lady but not heavy. Her husband was also well over six feet. She was young and in good health.I will call her Helen. She labored for a while on her own and then called me to the hospital. When I arrived she was in good labor and progressing well. The OB on call was in and out of the room, feeling Helen's abdomen and shaking her head. They did an ultrasound which did show a large and active baby.
After about an hour, the Obstetrics resident came into the room and sat on the bed to chat. He suggested to Helen that the best route of delivery would be a Cesarian section. Helen laughed at his suggestion but became serious when he implied that the baby could die if she tried to give birth vaginally.
I decided to join in the conversation and I asked the resident, "What is the biggest baby you have ever seen delivered vaginally?"
"Around 8 1/2 pounds" was the answer.
He continued to say that if we just "let things go", we don't know what could happen - it was very frightening - we just don't know. I suggested that he never saw a vaginal birth of a bigger baby because he always intervened. And after all, eight pounders are the norm these days. Here was a resident who was embarking on a career of Surgical obstetrics! He was clear with us that it was the feeling of not knowing that was frightening for him. To his credit, he agreed to let things go for a while and see how the scary future unfolded.

Soon Helen was ready to push and she pushed her twelve pound, seven ounce baby into the world without a scratch.

We need to be aware and alert to possible dangers but we cannot let our own fears create monsters that do not exist. Let us be midwives of change - sit on our hands, watch, encourage, and assist only when needed.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Il Glicine e La Lanterna

Let me tell you about where we will be hosting our New Doula Workshop this July. You will be staying at a small, family-run agriturismo called Il Glicine e La Lanterna - the Wisteria and the Lantern, set in the most amazing countryside in a northern corner of Tuscany. The area is called Lunigiana, and the name comes from its origins. The Luni were a mysterious people who created enigmatic statues that still intrigue historians and tourists alike.
It is believed that the Luni worshiped the moon, and that is easy to understand when you are witnessing the rising of a red half moon, as it emerges from behind the Appenini. The countryside is so stunning because of its variety. The area where we will be is bound by the Alpi Apuane on one side and the Appenini on another. The valley of the Magra river snakes down to the sea, which is only about 45 minutes away. Beyond the hills lie the Cinque Terre, an area of beauty and magnificence where vineyards climb the cliffs rising from the sea.
The hills above the agriturismo, where I am fortunate enough to have a small house where we  spend as much time as we can, are full of chestnut forests that harbor mushrooms of all kinds, wild boar, and many species of medicinal herbs.
I believe that it is important to learn about birth in a beautiful place; to learn about herbs where they are growing; to reach your full potential in a place where you can breathe, rest, and heal as you are learning and studying.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Egypt

I spent time in Egypt years ago, when I felt free to roam where I wanted. We explored the pathways behind the tourist spots and made some good friends during our stay there. It's hard to believe that it is the children of our (then) young Egyptian friends who are now exulting in the possibility of change in their fascinating country. Egypt has a history of great and powerful regimes, great thinkers, and a physical reality based on extremes of sand and water. Whatever happens, it will resonate worldwide.


Change is always painful, though. We humans like stability and we are, most of us, creatures of habit. I have witnessed the change that happens when a new baby enters the world, and although it is an experience full of joy and exhilaration, and power, and love ... it almost always contains an element of pain, sadness, or regret. Ties are broken, new ones are created.



Whatever happens in a country, revolutions, wars, or a long stretch of peace and prosperity, children are always being born, and women continue to give birth. This physical reality never changes.


How we perceive that reality can change, and what we do with it. Are we to continue to suggest to women that the best way to bring a child into the world is to be drugged, to feel no pain, or to have the baby removed like a diseased organ? Or are we going to take hold of an exuberance, the joy of being alive, and recognize that birth is like life, powerful, transcendent, revolutionary.

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