Saturday, August 30, 2008

Birth Story

This is another cross post from my other blog, The Whining Puker. I thought that it was actually more appropriate over here; and regardless, this entry (my birth story) is basically the reason for this blog! So I am going to cross-post it here for fun.

Here goes...

Today I thought I'd take (another) break from hyperemesis gravidarum and try to post my birth story. Why? Because it's fun!!!! I love birth stories. When I was pregnant I read them compulsively (still do, actually, whenever I can get a minute). Just as a matter of form, here's my favorite site for birth stories:

Anyhow, my birth story. I don't think I'll get very far, as it's almost time for C. to get up, but it's worth a try - I can always do two installments.

I'm also going to write from memory rather than copying my own official birth story - something for which my faithful readership should be extremely grateful, considering that my "official" birth story is something like 15 pages, typed (or more!).

And those who are squeamish about birth stories should feel completely justified in moving on to the next entry and skipping this one. But I'll keep it modest. :)

We had my last prenatal on Monday, June 20, 2006 - my due date. We were worried because Wendi was leaving the country for six weeks that Saturday, and didn't want to have to have another midwife if we were a few days late. Wendi, bless her, wasn't a bit worried, and she was right. I lost my mucous plug the next day, so things were in motion.

(I should mention how I came to choose a midwife - When I got pregnant, we didn't have maternity coverage. In my cherubic innocence I thought that "no maternity coverage" meant that while our insurance wouldn't cover hospital birth, they would cover other services (such as homebirth midwifery). Well, I was wrong - they wouldn't cover any of it. But by that time I'd done enough research and read enough stories that I was hooked!!! I didn't care at that point - I knew I wanted a midwife.)

On Wednesday night I took a firm hold on Joe and told him that we were going to get our to-do list done, as I was tired of putting things off indefinitely. So we hung our clothesline, set up our bassinet, and did several other things. My one and only instance of nesting!!!

Thursday morning I awoke with a start at 4:28 a.m. with the odd dual sensations that (a) I really needed to use the restroom, and (b) I was already doing so! It didn't take me too long to realize that my water had broken. I was nervous and excited! I got up and cleaned like a maniac and then got dressed, being very careful to do my makeup and clothes nicely, since our midwives would be coming over! (Ha! As if that would last!!!)

My contractions immediately made themselves known. I had had rolling Braxton Hicks contractions since my second month of pregnancy, but as soon as my water broke they became much more intense and uncomfortable - labor had started.

When Joe got up, he immediately freaked out and insisted on calling Wendi. After that we had breakfast, and then I headed back to bed. Getting up at 4:30 a.m. and cleaning wildly had been tiring! So I slept lightly, waking up for contractions.

Sometime that morning the toilet decided to overflow, so there I was trying to help Joe clean up a flooded bathroom in between contractions. Rather amusing! We called for emergency maintenance help which, as expected, never came, so the carpet had to dry on its own. We were too busy to fuss with it anyway.

Our doula came over in the early afternoon. Sometime during the afternoon, Wendi came over to check on us. I asked her if I could labor in water, and she said yes, so I immediately headed to the bathroom and stayed there - first in the shower, and then in the bath.

I have to put in a plug here for laboring in water. This may sound weird, but when I got into the tub/shower, labor pain initially vanished. Completely. It was wonderful. Of course it built again from there, but I don't think I could have done it out of water. It is, after all, reputed to reduce labor pain by about 40%, and I highly concur.

Another amusing thing was my total loss of modesty. When I initially got in the tub and Joe asked if our doula could come in to say hi, I was really reluctant. Well, it went downhill from there! By the end of the night I was walking around stark naked in front of everyone and not caring a bit! So funny.

One thing I also learned about myself was that I am loud in labor. Very loud. Think male sea lion during mating season. Or maybe a wounded bull moose. Many women are. I'd read enough birth stories to know this, so I didn't try to fight it (couldn't have, probably, anyway). So I yelled my head off with each contraction! Thankfully, none of our neighbors seemed to notice.

Somewhere during early evening, Joe and Jennie set up the birth pool in our living room and filled it up with warm water. I immediately headed in there, and the relief was once again great. Wendi and her back-up, Sue, arrived about this time. However, I was never actually able to say hi to them. It is true that in labor you do loose a lot of functions you normally have - such as conversation. Your whole body is focused involuntarily on labor, and all extraneous functions cease. Makes sense.

However, after going through childbirth, I realize how important it is to have an advocate with one - an informed husband or doula. A woman is really helpless during a lot of childbirth - she is vulnerable to suggestion and unable to fight for her rights. If I'd been with an unscrupulous caregiver, he/she could have given me pitocin, an episiotomy, whatever they'd cared to, because I wouldn't have noticed and/or been able to stick up for what I wanted.

This last part of labor was not a lot of fun. Everyone just sat around quietly, giving support when needed, while I dealt with things (loudly!). During the worst part I had a massive throwing-up spell, signaling transition (gotta love it!). It was during this time that I broke out in the standard "I can't do this anymore, dang it!!!" lingo. However, I was giggling inwardly at being so stereotypical - breaking out the typical transition phraseology like I'd been reading it from a script!! LOL

Our cat was totally freaking out. She had no idea what was going on - we have some great pics of her going around sniffing everything.

When I would ask "Am I almost finished?", Wendi would wisely say, "Soon!" I'm so glad she didn't tell the truth - I couldn't have handled it. She also told me that the only way she could know for sure was to do a vaginal exam. I refused each time. I knew that I couldn't handle it emotionally if she said something like "2 centimeters!"

When my vocalizations changed from yelling to grunting, Wendi said she'd like to check to see how things were going. She did, and not only were we fully dilated, but Caleb was at a station of +4! Almost there!

I should say that it is one of the proudest points of my pregnancy that the first vaginal exam of my entire pregnancy was an hour before Caleb's birth. Wendi is so, so hands-off (not all midwives are), and I loved that about her. No fuss!!!!

She tried to help me push more effectively in the water, and then after a while suggested I get out. Wendi mentioned later that most primips (first-timers) don't end up giving birth in water, as they tend to find the lack of gravity confusing. I concur!

So we went in the bedroom and pushed in a variety of positions, ending up with seated. I pushed like heck for one or two hours. It hurt like anything!!!! At the very end I just gave up and pushed, because I wanted it to be over more than anything. And Caleb was born!! At 10:35 p.m. - 18 hours of labor. We'd refused prenatal ultrasound, so the first big excitement was finding out that he was a boy!! Joe had desperately wanted a girl, but he immediately fell in love with Caleb and hasn't looked back since.

We'd discovered mid-labor that our video recorder had quit, so our doula only caught the last minute or so on her camera. Big disappointment. Next time we're going to check it before labor starts!

One of my big disappointments was that I (through some odd act of divine intervention) missed out on the birth ecstasy - that "my baby, my baby!!" moment. I was really bummed. I wasn't actually that interested in Caleb. I just wanted to go to sleep! But he was pretty cute, and we spent the next couple of weeks falling in love.

Wendi and Sue and Jennie and Joe took turns cleaning up, getting rid of the birth pool, bathing Caleb, and doing a gentle newborn exam (we refused eye prophylaxis & vitamin K, and delayed newborn tests). I myself had only torn slightly (nothing to worry about), so I went and showered while they changed the sheets (after eating an enormous bowl of strawberries and cottage cheese, I should mention) and then went back to bed. They all left a couple of hours later.

(I should mention that midwives don't forbid eating during labor - in fact, they encourage it - but after breakfast, I hadn't wanted to eat anything. I just drank Gatorade. So I hadn't eaten since about 6 a.m. that morning!)

So that's my birth story! I have a feeling that I'm going to be coming back to my blog every couple of hours today to input little details I've forgotten, but that is the main!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

BOLD Event in Phoenix

Anyone in the Phoenix area might be interested in this:

The play "Birth" by Karen Brody will be performed twice on Monday, September 1st in Tempe as part of the Phoenix BOLD Project (Birth On Labor Day). In between shows there will be a birth fair with booths from local birth professionals (midwives, doulas, etc.) plus lots of other great stuff (birth photography, birth/baby paraphernalia, books, etc.). Should be fun! We won't be going to the play, but we're going to try to make the birth fair. Our wonderful midwife will have her own booth, as will lots of other fun friends and people, so it should be a wonderful day.

Hope to see any and all of you there!

Here is more information:

Media Review: "Giving Birth: Challenges & Choices"

"Giving Birth: Challenges & Choices"
Christiane Northrup, Suzanne Arms
1998, 35 minutes

This video comes from two renowned women - Christiane Northrup (author of "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom" - the reading of which is a coming project for me) and Suzanne Arms (author of "Immaculate Deception").

What can I say? It's great! It's very basic, simple and short. It's hard for me to review it from the standpoint of the general public, because nothing in it was new or novel to me. I know all the drawbacks to typical intervention-filled Westernized birth (emotional, social, physical, spiritual) and the corresponding benefits of natural birth. So this video was nothing new to me! But for the general public it might be something of a shocker.

There are good interviews with an OB, midwife, doula, mother, labor & delivery RN, etc. - Short and to-the-point.

There is only one birth video in this production - a midwife-attended homebirth in which the mother births on a birth stool and the baby is caught by the husband and midwife. It's not the clearest birth, as the view is obstructed by the position of the attendants in front of the mother. In fact, it's kind of funny to watch the person with the video camera trying to squeeze in shots around shoulders and under arms! But he does a pretty good job, although there are clearer videos out there.

This is a great video. I highly recommend it for childbirth educators and for expectant mamas and their husbands and families.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Book Review: "Unassisted Childbirth" by Laura Shanley

"Unassisted Childbirth"
Laura Shanley
1994, 151 pages

Just when I think I've caught up with my book reviews, I finish another book!

Of course, I'm only fooling myself. I have 30+ books waiting to be reviewed that I read before I started this blog. I could review books 24/7 for the next week and not be done! And I know I'm not reviewing books as thoroughly as I could. My reviews are more "mini-reviews" - regrettable, but more fitted to the time constraints of the mother of a toddler.

And so, on to "Unassisted Childbirth"!

Unassisted Childbirth (UC) refers to homebirth at which there is no doctor or midwife present. The UC movement is a small subset within the homebirth/alternative birth movement. It is regarded by the alternative childbirth movement with mixed emotions - some love it as the ultimate free expression of birth, some rue it as that which gives homebirthers a bad reputation.

I should state that I am an unequivocal supporter of unassisted childbirth. A mother has the inalienable right to birth her children in any location and in any manner which she wishes. If she wants a hospital birth, she has the right to a hospital birth. If in a birth center, at a birth center. If at home with a midwife, then at home with a midwife. If at home with her husband, then at home with her husband. If alone under the moon in Yosemite, then alone under the moon in Yosemite!!!! This isn't too hard of a concept.

I have several friends and acquaintances who are unassisted birthers, and I respect their methods and philosophies highly.

Unassisted birthers are generally pretty underground, just because of the strong social disapproval which generally follows the announcement that one is planning an unassisted birth. So this movement is not a particularly visible movement.

I find unassisted birth intriguing, but it's not for me. When I'm in labor, I want to be surrounded by women. Lots of women. Lots and lots and lots of women - and I LOVE midwives. The more the merrier!


I first met Laura Shanley last year at a birth conference and have been absolutely in love with her ever since. It was rather interesting how I met her. I had actually never heard of her up until the evening before the conference, when DH and I decided to watch a birth video I had picked up randomly from the library. Ta da! It was all about Laura Shanley. Me: "Hey, I think that's the woman who's speaking tomorrow!" And the next day, there she was in the flesh!

I got to speak to her for about ten minutes and absolutely loved her. Laura Shanley is a woman who is beautiful both in person and in spirit, and I have been an admirer of hers ever since.

You can see Laura's website "Born Free" here:

Born Free

(There are some great UC videos on this site).

You can see Laura's current blog here:

Letters from Laura

Laura is, somewhat unintentionally, the unofficial leader of the unassisted childbirth movement. The two phrases are inextricably linked together! If you read up on Laura Shanley, you're basically reading up on unassisted childbirth.

This book is not a "how-to" manual. I had rather hoped that it was, but it is not. If you're looking for a how-to guide, I suggest instead Elizabeth Davis's "Heart and Hands," which is not a UC guide but which is a beginning midwifery text written at the level of lay understanding.

Laura spends time in her opening chapters detailing the myriad problems with modern hospital birth: induction, insistence on the supine position during labor and delivery, IV, pubic hair shaving and enemas (less common now but still performed in about 10% of births), amniotomy, fetal monitors, drugs used in labor/delivery, directed pushing, artificial labor augmentation, frequent vaginal exams, episiotomy, instrumental delivery, cesarean section, suctioning, early cord clamping, insistence of immediate delivery of the placenta, vitamin K and eye drops and separation of mother and baby after birth. This section is clear and accurate and well-documented.

Laura includes a chapter of unassisted childbirth stories, some intentional and some accidental, and completes the book with the stories of her own unassisted births (all of her children were birthed unassisted).

Laura and her husband David have been put through the wringer over their beliefs. Besides all of the negative publicity they receive, they had the charming experience of having their firstborn baby taken from them by force by the police for almost a week for the crime of birthing outside of a hospital. They were harassed by law enforcement and attacked verbally. Problems also developed after one of the Shanley's babies died after birth due to birth defects, something which would have happened even if Laura had birthed in a hospital, but which was attributed in the media to her "irresponsible birth practices." One way or another, this family has had a tough time of it!

The rest of the book is devoted to an explanation of Laura's worldview and explanation of thought processes leading up to the decision to birth unassisted. It is complicated and definitely unorthodox. Do I agree with her? Hmmm... no, not really. As a conservative Christian, I cannot agree with many of her beliefs and views. However, I do agree with her in some aspects: Women do have the right to birth how they want to. Childbirth can be pain-free (usually isn't, but can be). Childbirth is not as dangerous as it is portrayed in the media. The mind is a powerful instrument over the body. And childbirth is an ultimate expression of love.

I recommend this book with some reservations. It's a great resource; I don't agree with it all, and I'm not sure that all the worldview material was necessary. But I love Laura Shanley and respect her greatly, and this is a good starter book toward understanding the UC movement.

Book Review: "Gentle Birth Choices" by Barbara Harper

"Gentle Birth Choices"
Barbara Harper
1994, 268 pages

"Human birth is the most miraculous, transformational, and mysterious event of our lives.... A gentle birth begins by focusing on the mother's experience and by bringing together a woman's emotional dimensions and her physical and spiritual needs. A gentle birth respects the mother's pivotal role, acknowledging that she knows how to birth her child in her own time and in her own way, trusting her instincts and intuition." (Harper 1994: 7)

This book has a new edition, released in 2005. I would love to have read that edition, but my library only had the 1994 edition - still great!

This book is truly the classic among classics in the alternative childbirth arena. It will give you top-notch information that is meticulously well-documented and is a must-read for all prospective parents. I highly recommend this book. I'm actually surprised that it took me this long to get around to reading it, as it is such a timeless classic.

Barbara Harper does such a great job with this book that it is hard to know where to begin. Let's start with a basic overview.

The forward to this book is written by Robbie Davis-Floyd, an eminent anthropologist and specialist in birthing anthropology and politics (I am reading one of her books right now, "Mainstreaming Midwives," and it is already an all-time favorite). I learned a ton through her short forward! I never realized how important birth practices are from an anthropological point of view, and how important the study of anthropology is to a true understanding of the meaning behind cultural birth practices. Here's a great quote from Davis-Floyd:

"We in the United States live in a technocracy - a society organized around an ideology of technological progress. The core values of the technocracy center around science and technology and the institutions that control and disseminate them. In every society, core cultural beliefs and values are most highly visible in the rituals that accompany important life transitions like birth, puberty, marriage, initiation into a religious or occupational group, parenthood and death. Rituals at the most basic level are enactments of these core cultural values and beliefs. Thus it is not surprising that the core values of our technocratic society would be most visible in the rituals with which we surround the birth process.

"Basic to initiation rites across cultures is the removal of the initiate from normal social life. Once so removed, initiates are stripped of their individuality - their heads are often shaved or their hair clipped short; their clothes and adornments are taken away and they are dressed in identical gowns or robes. They are then subjected to hazing processes designed to break down their normal ways of thinking. Once this cognitive breakdown is well underway, the initiate is bombarded with messages about the core values of the culture. These messages are conveyed through powerful symbols.... These symbolic messages serve to rebuild the belief system of the initiates in accordance with the dominant beliefs and values of the group of society into which they are being initiated.

"It is not difficult to see striking parallels between this cross-cultural initiation process and hospital birth. Birthing women are removed from their social setting and taken into the hospital - a powerful institution organized around our culture's supervaluation of science and technology. Their clothes are taken away, they are dressed in hospital gowns, and their pubic hair is shaved or clipped, symbolically desexualizing the lower half of their body and marking it as institutional property. Labor itself is a natural hazing process - the pain of contractions leaves women disoriented and wide open to internalize the symbolic messages they are sent. The powerful cultural symbols that convey these messages are the intravenous (IV) line, the electronic fetal monitor, the Pitocin drip, and all other myriad technological procedures through which most birthing women in the United States must undergo during their rite of passages into motherhood. What messages do such procedures convey into the bodies and emotions of birthing women?"

(David-Floyd, "Gentle Birth Practices, xi-xii)

Wow! How interesting! And, I believe, how often accurate.

Harper begins her book with a list of "ingredients for gentle birth" - a list including preparation through education, a reassuring environment, freedom to move, quiet, low lighting, gentle first breaths and caresses and early breastfeeding and bonding - an excellent list with all ingredients well-explained.

Harper then goes on to give a history of childbirth, including a great explanation of how the United States got into the current mess with childbirth that we are currently still experiencing. She covers the witch hunt for midwives, the move of childbirth into the hospital, and the take-over of technology over the normal physiological process of birth.

Harper then has a great chapter in which she unpacks and dispels common medical myths, citing evidence proving these myths unfounded and showing how the opposite is actually true:

The hospital is the safest place to have a baby
Maternity care should be managed only by a physician
The electronic fetal monitor will save babies
Once a cesarean, always a cesarean
Birth needs to be sterile
Drugs for pain relief won't hurt the baby
An episiotomy heals better than a tear
It's better not to eat or drink during labor
Family and friends interfere during birth
The baby needs to be observed in a newborn nursery
If you are over thirty-five, your birth will be difficult

Here are some great quotes from that section:

"The results from this particular study (Mehl, 1976) show that the mortality statistics for hospital birth and homebirth were identical. Aside from mortality rates.. this study also dramatically revealed that complications and interventions during birth were far greater in births that took place in the hospital than in births that took place at home. Five percent of home-birth mothers received some form of pain medication, whereas 75 percent of hospitalized mothers received medication. There were three times as many cesarean sections in hospital births as there were in the planned homebirths with subsequent transfer to hospital. Hospital-born babies suffered more fetal distress, newborn infections, and birth injuries than home-birth babies. The episiotomy rate was ten times higher for mothers in the hospital, and they suffered twice as many severe perineal lacerations. The increased episiotomy rate and severity of perineal lacerations was most likely the result of the use of forceps and the lithotomy position for birth." (Harper 1994: 54)

Numbers which have remained constant in the years since this book was written. Wow.

"In addition to the medical competency of midwives, an important aspect to consider is the psychological support that midwives provide... Pregnant women are also less likely to be overly dependent on a midwife, who generally assists women in becoming educated about the birth process and encourages them to trust thier instincts. In comparison, it is common for pregnant women to see their doctors as authority figures and for doctors to readily assume that role. Even the language that most midwives use differentiates their views of childbirth from those of physicians. Physicians have patients but midwives have clients. A physician "delivers the baby," which implies control, while a midwife helps the woman "birth her baby."

I have noticed all of the above big-time in my interaction with the birth world, and it is extremely important. As a client of my midwife, I feel all the equality that the word implies. For my next pregnancy (assumed) I will also be under the care of an OB for help with hyperemesis, and am considered a "patient." After repeating the phrase a couple of times, I have rejected the terminology and the subservience it implies and now call myself a client of my OB - much better!

This is an AMAZING quote by Dr. Edward H. Hon, inventor of the electronic fetal monitor:

"Dr. Edward H. Hon, inventor of the EFM, asked his colleagues to consider the causes of the rising cesarean rate in the United States. He stated that he never intended the EFM to be used in routine obstetric management. 'If you mess around with a process [birth] that works well 98 percent of the time, there is a potential for much harm... The cesarean section is considered as a rescue mission of the baby by the white knight, but actually you've assaulted the mother.'"

A little-known fact about EFM is that the widespread introduction of EFM into normal labors has done absolutely NOTHING to reduce fetal mortality or morbidity - the rates have remained the same. What has changed is the c-section rate, which has skyrocketed. The EFM gives ridiculously high rates of both false positives and false negatives in terms of detecting fetal distress, causing physicians to perform vast numbers of unnecessary sections - and giving unethical physicians the opportunity to perform sections for personal convenience or simply to avoid lawsuits.

The process for many modern labors is described below (described verbatim by many of my friends):

"A typical hospital scenario during a slow labor [personal note: or oftentimes, a prematurely induced labor] is to administer the drug Pitocin, a synthetic version of oxytocin, which a laboring woman's body produces naturally. Pitocin is given in order to speed up and intensify contractions. Thus, when women are given Pitocin, they are often offered a painkiller as well. While the Pitocin works to quicken the labor, the drugs for pain relief have the opposite effect. In addition, the administration of Pitocin effectively restricts the movements of the laboring woman because she is required to have an intravenous (IV) line and an internal fetal monitor w. These restrictions can slow labor even further. If the Pitocin does not work within a certain time limit, a laboring woman will often hear statements like, 'We've tried everything' do you want to do this for another twelve hours?' or 'You just weren't meant to have this baby vaginally.'" (pp. 66-67)

I'd love to say that this was a thing of the past, but too many of my friends are coming home from the hospital with the exact same story.

Harper then gives great chapters on guidelines for gentle birth, including birth preparation techniques and a wonderful chapter on waterbirth, as well as chapter on the mind-body connection, homebirth and the creation of gentle birth. Here's one quote from a physician well-versed in waterbirth, which applies to all facets of gentle birth:

"'Waterbirth is a reasonable thing to do, and there is only one way it's going to happen. It will not come from universities; it will not come from doctors; it will come from consumers, that is, mothers and fathers who demand it. As more birthing places offer water birth as an option, women will walk away from doctors who say no. The establishment will be forced to change because the consumer demands it.'" (p. 146)

This is true of all gentle birth practices. Change only comes by consumer demand.

Rosenthal also notes that moving waterbirth into the hospital does not erase all of the problems of modern hospital birth.

"The beautiful new Jacuzzi tubs installed in the Santa Monica Hospital maternity unit in 1991 are a case in point. Women are 'not allowed' to enter the bath if their water has not broken and the baby's head has not descended into the pelvic cavity. They are also 'not allowed to enter the bath after their water has broken. Rosenthal does not think American hospitals will widely adopt water birth as an option: 'The problem is removing obstetricians from normal birth. The problem remains of educating doctors on how to surrender into this normal process. How can a doctor, traditionally trained, even conceive of any other way to give birth if he has only seen a thousand women on their backs, hooked to fetal monitors, with legs up in stirrups?'" (p. 165)

Along the same lines, here's a great quote from Marsden Wagner:

"'Change won't come easy. We have an incredibly obstinate obstetrical profession. It's all about territory. It's all about power. It's all about control. And at the end of the day, it's about money.'" (p. 215)

Personal note: Again, there are lots of great OBs out there who work toward gentle, respectful birth practices. This does not apply to you!!

Harper concludes her book with a great section of additional resources and questions to ask prospectives physicians and midwives.

I loved this book! It's a definite keeper and will be going in my library soon. I recommend it to all pregnant mamas and daddies and natural-childbirth aficionados. There is a wealth of knowledge contained in this book and I can't say enough about it!

Book Review: "Body Mutiny" by Jenna Schmitt

I am cross-posting this review from my hyperemesis blog. For anyone who has never heard of it, hyperemesis is a severe, potentially life-threatening form of morning sickness. My other blog deals with it exclusively, but I cross post my hyperemesis book reviews on this site since hyperemesis is without doubt a pregnancy issue.

"Body Mutiny"
Jenna Schmitt
2006, 150 pages

I first met Jenna Schmitt four months ago, when she and another HG-mum (Sarah, whose story is on this blog) and I became acquainted. Jenna and Sarah met online; Sarah and I met through our midwife, and the three of us then hooked up as a threesome and eventually met in person. We are all Phoenicians (more or less) and live within an hour of each other. I now regularly correspond with them both and have learned a ton from them - and I value their friendship!

Jenna is an amazing woman. She endured what was probably one of the most intense cases of hyperemesis in history - and lived to tell about it, which is nothing short of a miracle. She tells her story in her book's introduction, and it is truly an amazing story.

"Body Mutiny" is not an informational book like Ashli McCall's "Beyond Morning Sickness: Battling Hyperemesis Gravidarum." It is an experiential book - a book of verse (one section per week of pregnancy) written about the individual experience with hyperemesis and that is deeply introspective and very intense.

I got a real kick out of this:

"When I turn my head, things shift like vertigo -
and my belly
down off an unseen edge;
drool releases,
followed by a full-body heave
which elevates me well off of the throne.

Into the depths of a white wastebasket
I retch boundlessly and enthusiastically without yield -

In fact, I retch joyfully with every muscle, strained from shoulder to toe,
all in obeisance to the great and holy
demands of early life.

My head swirls and
I feel as if I am an honored vessel
of divine consecration
glowing like the Madonna
in my lavatory splendor

I resolve to be humble and accepting,
happy to bear discomfort and
eager to bend the obstinate ego
to a higher love:
'Not my will but thine'

I glisten really at the very thought of it.

These glorious moments of sacred contortion
soon fill my days with the same results:

Prolonged retching within the bowels of self
soon voids up any arrogance that remains."
(Schmitt 2006:35-36)

Oh, that made me laugh!! I did the very same thing. I guess we all have (I hope - I don't want to be arrogant on my own). One is so proud to feel those first faint twinges of nausea - one even wants to feel more in order to feel more pregnant, more self-sacrificial, more like a mother. "Oh, yeah!! Bring it on!!!" And then one's world comes crashing down as one realizes that this is not going to be controllable; this is not going to stop; and no, it is not manageable and cute. That is when your world falls apart.

Although I know somewhat what Jenna has been through, I am by no means in her league. Jenna's case was ten, twenty, fifty times worse than mine. She spent a huge portion of her pregnancy in the hospital with a PICC line. She has been on every antiemetic drug in the book. She dealt with life-threatening staph and e-coli infections from infected PICC lines and skin infections, as well as an infected gallbladder (common side-effect of HG) and the side-effects of an induction leading to a c-section (done to shorten her term with HG). She had to wilfully struggle with enormous temptations toward both suicide and abortion (and she is a devout Catholic who would never consider either thing normally). I pray that I am never where Jenna has been with this horrible disease.

I highly recommend this book. It is not a book that will be useful in terms of finding help for hyperemesis - stick with Ashli McCall for that. It is, instead, a book that is highly useful for emotional healing post-HG and for finding out that there truly is someone out there who knows what you have been through.

Jenna told me that several customers have bought multiple copies of this book to hand out to unbelieving/non-understanding friends and family, and I would highly recommend this book for that purpose. It is a great way to induce understanding without having to get into arguments or involved explanations of hyperemesis.

I highly recommend this book for all HG-mums and their libraries! I am thankful to have had the opportunity to read it and will recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the subject.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Birth Survey

CIMS (the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services) has released a new survey, "The Birth Survey" to gather data on birth experiences of women around the country. If you've given birth within the past three years, please take a minute to take this survey! I did it yesterday, and it wasn't too bad. :) CIMS is a great organization that works ceaselessly to, as they say, improve maternity services, and I love to help them out.

Love to all,

Monday, August 18, 2008


This weekend, at the prompting of my midwife, I attended one session of the Phoenix La Leche League conference and heard Dr. Robert Sears speak. It was fun! I loved it, and it was fun to hook up with a bunch of people that I know and hang out for a couple of hours. I also got to meet another really cool local midwife whom I had not previously met.

There are actually two Dr. Sears, which I didn't know - Dr. William Sears, father, and Dr. Robert Sears, son. Each has written some of his own books, and they've coathored some. Dr. Robert was here to speak on his latest book, and he did a great job. He had to seriously skim the material, as he only had an hour and a quarter to speak, but it was still fun - and I am going to read the book anyway.

I have not gotten into La Leche League yet. When I was in my Babywise stage I was taught to despise them, and though I've thankfully gotten over that and now think they're great, I just haven't jumped into the breastfeeding community as much as I have the homebirth community (strong overlap, but distinct entities). Perhaps I will! My friend S. is looking into breastfeeding consultation, so I'll see how it goes for her. I really enjoyed this conference and would encourage anyone I know to attend one.

Cheers for now!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Book Review: "The Natural Baby" by Janet Balaskas

"The Natural Baby"
Janet Balaskas
2002, 183 pages

This is a wonderful book!

This is the last book in my current Janet Balaskas reading-kick, and it is just great. It is formatted in the same manner as "New Natural Pregnancy" - a large page size with gorgeous color photos on each page. It is a very attractive, easy-to-read and well-formatted book.

Janet always has a very gracious approach to advice-giving. While she has her opinions, she is not militant, condescending, or demanding. She gives information graciously and then permits parents to make their own choices without feeling guilty.

I might have found her approach a little too extremist pre-baby, when I was all into Babywise and schedule-feeding, but since I had my baby and found that attachment parenting (in moderation) is just wonderful, I fall right in line with this book.

One of my favorite things in this book, as in "New Natural Pregnancy," is the index at the back listing common baby conditions (allergies, skin problems, respiratory problems, etc.) with information and suggestions for alternative therapies. I love that! So many times I want to try alternative therapies but am confused as to how to do it. This book gives you the resources you need! Janet lists therapies including homeopathy, herbal remedies, aromatherapy and cranial osteopathy, all of which are great for babies. The format is clear and easy to use - a real keeper!

One section I really loved was the chapter on Water Babies. Most people don't know about the dive reflex - the ability that newborn babies (up to 4 months) have to swim underwater completely safely. I was truly amazed when I saw this in a video a couple of years ago - newborn babies being tossed back and forth underwater by their parents in the Black Sea! It was amazing! I wish that our little guy had had swimming opportunities, but alas, he didn't get in a pool till he was two years old, at which point his dive reflex was long gone.

I think that there was a waterbabies movement quite a while back, when having newborns swim was quite popular, but it's definitely not "in" right now - must have faded out, like all fads. Too bad!

This is a wonderful resource, and I will definitely be on the lookout for one for my library!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Homebirth Friendship

Some good friends of ours, J and A, have decided to have a homebirth! They are fifteen weeks pregnant and have signed on with a wonderful, wonderful local midwife. This midwife is not our midwife, but she was, incidentally, at our birth as a back-up midwife, and we love her as madly as we do ours. We've kept in touch with her occasionally ever since our birth.

I'm really hoping that their decision to have a homebirth was their decision and not influenced by my enthusiastic prognostications. I try to keep from talking people's ears off about my interest in homebirth (with varying degrees of success). For one, homebirth is not for everyone - some people like hospitals and wouldn't feel safe birthing outside of one. Secondly, I would never want to talk anyone into a homebirth and then have them show up on my doorstep the day after with a shotgun!!

Don't get me wrong - homebirth is wonderful (that's why this blog exists!). But the truth is also that childbirth is extremely painful (let's just be honest about this, people), and I was not a fan of natural childbirth for the first 24-48 hours after my son's birth. Thankfully I had no one to blame but myself for my decision!

I really hope that they have a good experience. I know that their midwife is a great midwife and a terrific person. A's sister and sister-in-law have already had great homebirths with the same midwife, so it's definitely not unfamiliar to them.

I think that, in the end, one of the worst things about homebirth (no pain meds) ends up being the best thing about it. First of all, when one wants a natural birth, one doesn't have to spend hours vacillating between "should I, shouldn't I?" - one doesn't have a choice! So it allows one to just get on with the job rather than fighting the temptation to take pain meds. Secondly, because one doesn't have the choice of pain meds, one finds out (by force!) that one is stronger than one knew. This is, to me, one of the greatest spiritual transformations of childbirth - "Oh my gosh, I am AMAZING! I didn't know I could EVER do something like that!" I am digressing - that is the subject of another blog entry. So I will desist for now. But it's true!

So, best wishes to J and A, my first friends to choose homebirth! May you have a wonderful, wonderful experience!!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Recommended Viewing List

This is another entry that will be constantly updated......

The Best
"The Business of Being Born" (this one is TRULY the BEST!!!)
"Gentle Birth Choices"
"Orgasmic Birth"
"I Watched My Brother Being Born" (book & video set for children)
"Born Into Water"

Really Good
"Happiest Baby on the Block"
"Birth Day"
"Homebirth: The Spirit, the Science, the Mother"
"Giving Birth: Challenges and Choices"
"Sacred Birth"

"Having Your Baby!" (The Lamaze Method)

Pretty Bad
"The Dummies' Guide to Pregnancy" Series

Worst of the Worst

Media Review: "Gentle Birth Choices"

Gentle Birth Choices

Considering the tens of birth videos that I have watched, I was so surprised that I hadn't seen this one! (I'll have to start reviewing birth videos as well when I have time.) I found it randomly at the library and eagerly snagged it, as I am in the process of reading the companion book, "Gentle Birth Choices" by Barbara Harper.

My hubbie and toddler and I ended up watching the whole thing in one evening, and it is truly excellent. Aside from the atrocious hairstyles (why, oh why, did people go outside in the '80's?), it is truly a classic and a must-see for any natural-childbirth aficionado.

This video focuses more on birth center births than homebirth (although there is a homebirth), and there are some really great births shown - waterbirths, a birth in the all-fours position, a posterior baby, etc. The doctor and midwives who attend are simply wonderful. To be honest, I'd never seen a male OB (or, let me be non-sexist, any OB) attending births who was respectful and hands-off, and this OB was was featured in the birth center videos was simply great.

(In all fairness, though, I should make a note on my above comment.... I tend to limit my birth-video viewing to primarily homebirths and birth-center births. I have watched some hospital births, but frankly, I have found them too deeply disturbing and angering to want to watch any more. Thus, while I know that there are plenty of respectful, gentle, OB's out there, I just haven't seen a lot of them. But they are there, and here's to them for their good work!)

One interesting thing was the opportunity to watch a couple of births where the baby had to have a bit of stimulation. Most birth videos that I have seen have babies who come out either crying or alert, but there were two births here where the baby needed stimulation to get going, and one who needed a bit of neonatal resuscitation. I found myself holding my breath anxiously!! Both babies were just fine within a couple of seconds.

This movie also boasts the advantage of having interviews with both Marsden Wagner (I LOVE that guy!!) and Michel Odent, both of whom are wonderful men and outstanding obstetricians who support midwifery and midwifery-style births and are outspoken advocates of homebirth and gentle birth.

I truly wish that more birth centers were available for birthing mothers in this nation. They are a great in-between for mothers who want a natural, non-interventionist birth but aren't comfortable birthing at home. Every city should have a couple! Now that Phoenix's one-and-only birth center has closed, the millions of women here in the Phoenix valley have only two choices - hospital or home, and I know that many women who fall in the middle in terms of childbirth choices would love to have the opportunity to birth in a birth center. It's too bad. I hope that Phoenix will soon get another birth center.

This is an awesome movie! Dated, of course, but a wonderful resource. If I ever see one hanging around, I am definitely going to snag it for my library!!

Homebirth in the Media

Today someone posted an article from Time Magazine on Giving Birth at Home which was actually fairly balanced and fair. True, they did have the usual naysaying doctors telling horror stories, but they also provided the homebirthing community a chance to tell their story. All in all, a good article!

Someone also posted that Dr. Phil is going to be doing a show on home vs. hospital birth - you can see that here. Even though I have never seen the show (I generally find talk shows to be boring, insulting, degrading and embarrassing), I was really excited and went off and wrote a letter to post to the show about the benefits of homebirth.

However, some members of the forum posted later that they were not hopeful about the opportunity that this show will present. According to those who have actually watched Dr. Phil, he never presents issues unbiasedly - he always has an agenda. That agenda will then be acted out as such:

(1) Pick the least educated/prepared person for the side that he dislikes.
(2) Pick the most educated/prepared person for the side that he likes.
(3) Do everything possible, through badgering, questioning, belittling and editting to make the person for the unfavored side like like a complete idiot, while exalting the favored side.

I sincerely hope that this will not be the case, but apparently Dr. Phil has a really bad track record with this - and his bias (if history proves correct) is against anything natural (such as homebirthing). I don't plan to watch the show, but I'll be interested to see what other people say about it when it comes on.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Waterbirth and a Book Review: "The Water Birth Book"

I vacillated on how to write this entry - I wanted to write a review of this book, but doing so would lead me to writing of my own experiences with waterbirthing, which I had planned to save for another entry. For now, I am going to combine the two and see how it works.

The Water Birth Book
Janet Balaskas
2004, 294 pages

This book is definitely going on my "buy as soon as possible" list. It's a keeper! I loved it.

Water birth is one of the world's best-kept secrets. It is a low-cost and pretty much risk-free method of reducing labor pain and encouraging physiologic birth without the use of drugs or harmful obstetric interventions. The statistics on the success and safety of both laboring and birthing in water are absolutely phenomenal.

With all of the positives (and the lack of negatives) surrounding water birth (and by that I mean both the practice of laboring in water and the practice of birthing in water), one would logically conclude that most hospitals would be well-equipped with facilities for allowing birthing women to labor and birth in water, right?


Waterbirth is virtually unavailable in American hospitals. Although some hospitals are equipped for waterbirth, most are not. In our area, I know of only one midwife in one of all our local hospitals who does waterbirth, and as of last month the hospital was planning to revoke her waterbirth privileges. (Grrrr.....)

Unfortunately it isn't too hard to look for the answers to that...

Answer #1 is pride on the part of hospital administrators - "No one can tell us how to do our jobs, and this is the way we've always done it!"

Answer #2 is money. Waterbirth is virtually cost-free (fill a tub, and there you are!), unlike other costly methods of pain control (such as epidurals and other drugs, which are quite pricey). Taking it further, waterbirth then reduces the need for other obstetric procedures which are drug-induced, for example, caesareans due to "failure to progress" after an epidural, forceps and episiotomies due to a mum with an epidural laboring on her back with no urge to push, pitocin due to epidural-weakened contractions, etc. etc. etc. Furthermore, waterbirth virtually eliminates the need for obstetric procedures such as episiotomies or stitching tears (waterbirth mums almost never tear). So although waterbirth is absolutely wonderful for mothers and babies, it is not good for hospital incomes (hospitals usually make most of their money out of their maternity wards). Thus, hospitals have relatively little financial interest in installing waterbirth facilities.

Waterbirth is more commonly available in freestanding birth centers staffed by midwives. Unfortunately, our only valley birth center closed last year, and there are no plans to open a new one (although I don't know if that birth center offered waterbirth or not).

Most waterbirths in America are homebirths attended by midwives. That's pretty much the only way to get a waterbirth here. Thankfully I love birthing at home, but it makes it rather tough on women who want to birth in hospitals. I hope that someday the American medical system will wake up enough to make waterbirth facilities available to in-hospital birthing women.

My own experience with laboring in water was wonderful. My labor lasted from 4:28 am. till 10:35 p.m. I got into the shower sometime around midday and took a long shower, and it felt amazing. I don't know how it happens, but water has a remarkable effect in reducing labor pain. I had been really uncomfortable, and I felt great! When I got out of the shower, I started feeling yucky again.

When my midwife came to visit mid-afternoon, I asked if I could labor in the tub. She gave the okay, and I headed straight for the tub and stayed there for several hours. It was great! It sounds unbelievable, but all of my labor pain vanished when I entered the water. Unfortunately it started building again from there, but the relief factor was still amazing. (The quoted value is a reduction in pain of 40%.) From there I moved, sometime mid-evening, to the birthing pool which my hubbie and doula set up in our living room (our "birthing pool" was a large inflatable pool), and I stayed there until about 9:30 p.m. I did end up birthing on land due to being rather confused and needing the help of gravity to push (something our midwife said is quite common with first-time mums), but the majority of my active labor was spent in water. If we are ever blessed with another child, I hope to have a complete waterbirth for that baby.

I could not have done childbirth without laboring in water. Frankly, I don't know how anyone can. My friend labored for eighteen hours on land before getting an epidural, and I take my hat off to her - I could not have done it. Water is what made labor possible for me.

Waterbirth is unparalled in terms of safety. Although there are conditions that make waterbirth unadvisable, laboring in water is completely safe for most women and babies.

"The Water Birth Book" is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in waterbirth. Janet Balaskas, as usual, does a phenomenal job of telling the history and practice of waterbirth, and giving guidelines for safe waterbirth. Subjects include:

- History of waterbirth
- Benefits of water during labor and birth
- Preparing for birth
- Using water during the different stages of labor and birth
- Testimonials
- Complications that preclude waterbirth
- Other methods of pain relief

Janet gives in-depth thought and discussion to the safety of waterbirth, giving guidelines for safe waterbirth (temperatures, etc.) and describing the biological mechanisms which keep a baby safe during a waterbirth.

I love Janet's writing. She is thorough, balanced, clear, concise and well-organized. Despite how much I loved this book, I don't have too much to say! Just, "Buy this book!" If you are at all interested in having a waterbirth or learning more about waterbirth, this is a great book for your library. I highly recommend it! I am definitely going to add it to my growing library, and it will definitely be worth the time and money.

Highly recommended!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Book Review: "New Natural Pregnancy" by Janet Balaskas

At the moment I am feeling rather overwhelmed with book reviews!! I have several books waiting to be reviewed for each blog, not to mention all the pregnancy/birth books I have read in the past, and combined with the busyness of life, it's quite a lot to wade through! Here goes with another one....

"New Natural Pregnancy"
Janet Balaskas
1990, 93 pages

I fell in love with Janet Balaskas when I read "Active Birth," and have been devouring all of her other books ever since. This book is also a good one, although "Active Birth" and "The Water Birth Book" remain my favorite books of hers.

One of the things that I like best about Janet's books is the beautiful pencil drawings (and, in this book, gorgeous photographs). A lot of pregnancy books will spend paragraphs and paragraphs describing things which can be much more easily communicated by a single picture. My knowledge of pregnancy anatomy, birthing positions, pregnancy massage, and childbirth exercises has grown by leaps and bounds in the month since I discovered Janet's books. I have finally been able to visualize many things which were a mystery to me before (such as the anatomy of the female pelvis, the human spine, etc.). If nothing else, read these books for the pictures! They are so helpful!

Especially helpful in this book was a little index at the back listing naturopathic remedies for various pregnancy ailments. She also gives descriptions of various naturopathic healing modalities, such as osteopathy, aromatherapy, shiatsu, hypnotherapy, massage, Bach flower remedies, and others. I learned quite a bit about those modalities which had been previously puzzling to me.

Janet is big on yoga during pregnancy, and her chapter on yoga exercises for pregnant women is superb (see also "Active Birth").

I wish that there had been more detail in this book. However, I am a self-confessed pregnancy/birth-junkie, and the books I tend to like best are those which are almost textbooks. For the average pregnant mama who wants basic information without being deluged with details, this is a great resource.

This book falls nicely in the middle, ideologically. It leans obviously toward the side of midwifery, natural pregnancy, etc., but it is not militaristic or judgmental. It's very balanced. I would recommend this book to any pregnant woman.

One note - There is absolutely nothing in this book regarding childbirth, natural or otherwise. The subject matter deals exclusively with pregnancy. In some ways I was disappointed, but I realize that since Janet has already published a book which is exclusively on childbirth and childbirth preparation ("Active Birth"), to put childbirth information in this book would be reduneant and overlapping. Just buy both books!

I really liked this book and would recommend it highly!