Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category



Revisiting: Breast Intentions

My own life hasn’t been incredibly interesting lately - a little laundry here, a little errands there.  So while I try and make myself more interesting for your sake, I’m going to put up an old post from my now-defunct old blog.  This was written a couple of years ago and while I *SO* no longer relate to what I wrote here, I still enjoyed the trip down memory lane.  Insecurities exposed and all, I’m still pretty proud of this post.  A few words here and there changed for context.

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The 4th of July marked two weeks away from a very important date for me. On July 18th, I will be undergoing a hysterectomy. I’d mused about it earlier…in rereading it I remember how I felt somewhat unsure for so long about doing the surgery, and this post was my way of explaining why I had decided to finally do what I am now about to do. Today, though, I am 100% sure about my decision. However, I didn’t expect to have some additional feelings about losing the central core of my being as a woman and how that would affect me.

The surrogacy thing (I seem to have an unnatural urge to offer to have a baby for anyone I know dealing with fertility issues) is definitely a symptom of my about to lose my ability to have children. A woman recently surprised me. Through a girlfriend, she let me know that if I were still interested, she would actually like to have me be her surrogate. As much as I love the idea of helping someone in such a wonderfully giving way, I’ve decided that my reasons for doing so are probably not the right ones. The reality of such an undertaking is much more complicated than it is on paper. And my husband doesn’t think it is a great idea - I think he worries that I would become too emotionally involved in the little child growing inside me that would never be my own. He knows me well - I worry about that too.

Another symptom I seem to be having is my perceived loss of womanhood with the upcoming loss of my uterus. Of course this is ridiculous. I know that although I will no longer have a womb, I am a woman, and always will be. My emotions are not dealing with this on a conscious level - rather they are revealing themselves in ways I never imagined. Like my recent trip to the plastic surgeon.

I’ve carried and breastfed two children, and with that came the inevitable ups and downs in cup sizes in my breasts. I went from a C pre-pregnancy to a DD+ while breastfeeding. Now I am a small C, but the skin that developed to hold my huge knockers while I was pregnant is still all there. The result? Sagging and wrinkling - they call it atrophy in the business - that leaves me feeling less of a woman when standing in front of a mirror.

When I was preparing for post-op (picking out what movies to watch, what books to read, and how else to pamper myself while I pretty much lie around for 5 days without kids while I recover) I had an epiphany: what if I did something just for myself? I could add a little something to my breasts to fill them back up again - perhaps to a large C or possibly even a D - leaving me with firmer and perkier breasts similar to what I had before I had kids.

So, without really putting much thought into it, a girlfriend of mine (who had implants in already) and I went up to spend the day in the “big city” several hours from home to visit a well-respected doctor there. I checked out his website. The results looked impressive. I did a little research. It would be a pretty intensive procedure, and would require me to have childcare for my kids for a couple of weeks. As with any surgery there were risks and possible side effects. I felt unsure, but thought it would be interesting to get a professional opinion.

The office looked like any other doctor’s office. Older people, younger people, and families waited for their turn with the surgeon. I wondered what these people were going to have done, or what they had already had done. Do 80 year-olds really have body image issues? Perhaps she was there for breast reconstruction following a mastectomy. What about the dowdy woman with the three teenage boys tagging with her, complete with mullets? Wouldn’t a simple makeover suit her better than surgery might?

And why am I here in the first place? I thought. What would people assume about me?

I weigh what I should according to those awful doctor’s charts. I eat well and exercise often (when I am on an exercise kick that is). I feel pretty comfortable with my general appearance - I’m certainly not the most attractive thing out there, but I’m comfortable with who I am. I have a pretty crooked nose that I’m not terribly fond of, and I’ve got some love handles and a poochy stomach that hang over tight-fitting pants sometimes - but I think I’m friendly enough that when I meet someone my personality makes up for it. And if it doesn’t? I’m probably not talking to someone with whom I want for a friend, anyway.

We were called into a room where we watched a video about breast augmentation. The woman actor on the video was complaining about her breasts after pregnancy and childbirth - my same complaint - and was referring to her small children at home. She was at least 50 years old and looked a bit like Elizabeth Taylor a few years ago. The doctor was a young man who listened coolly and professionally to her issues and offered cookie cutter advice. “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV,” I whispered over to my friend, and we got the giggles. However I must admit that the video, as cheesy and unbelievable as it was, did open up a few questions for me, and my friend handed me a piece of paper and a pen so I could jot them down.

It was our turn into the exam room. I was asked to strip down to my panties and put on a robe. My friend pretended to read a magazine in the corner although in my head I was sure she was checking out my figure. Almost immediately after I donned the robe, the surgeon came in. He was not what I expected - probably well into his 70s and bald - and had a very nice calm demeanor. “Well, show me what you got,” he said in his soft southern drawl. I dropped my robe. It had only been on for 5 seconds while he was in the room. Why did they bother with it in the first place?

After discussing that I was more interested in getting rid of sagging and wrinkling than going up in size, the doctor examined my breasts. He asked me to stand in several positions: with my hands above my head, leaning forward (NOT the most flattering position), and arms out. “Your right breast is bigger than your left,” he informed me as he measured me with calipers. I had never noticed. While he was studying me, I was busy looking at him. His bald head was almost devoid of wrinkles, in sharp contrast to his age. Botox? Probably so. He didn’t seem the type, but I supposed that when you had easy access to these sorts of things it is easier to take advantage of them.

After the exam I put on the robe again and we sat down for a little chat. He told me that a breast augmentation, where implants are placed in, would be much less scarring than a breast lift, and possibly could fill me back up without having to have the heavy scarring of the lift. Then I got a chance to ask my questions. How long would I need child care? About 3 weeks - picking them up would jeopardize the healing process and make a noticeable difference in the outcome. What are the chances of some of the risks? Higher than I expected. What size would I be afterwards? That is really impossible to determine until you go bra shopping after surgery, but we could fake the effect right here in the office.

The nurse handed me a surgical unibra, the same flimsy cotton garment that I would have to wear day in and day out for about a month while I recovered. They handed me a couple of implants - one bigger and one smaller, of course, because of my lopsided figure. “Slip these into the bra then put your shirt back on. It won’t be perfect, but it will give you a general idea.”

I did as I was told, then stood in front of the mirror. A very well endowed woman stared back at me. Would I look like THAT? I looked more like a porn star than my regular self. “What about something smaller?” I asked.

“We can put you in a size smaller, but it may not take care of all the sagging and wrinkling. Then we might need to go back later to do a lift.” We tried them anyway. It was closer to the effect I was going for.

Since the appointment, I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching. I’m not normally a person who would have breast implants or any kind of surgery solely for cosmetic purposes, for that matter. What makes me want to do it now? Is it because of the hysterectomy? Am I afraid of losing my womanhood? I am still not sure.

I also don’t know if I will have the surgery. I flip-flop a couple of times a day.

On one hand, there are no promises that the surgery will fix my sagging. And it is up in the air how big I would actually get. I’m not really a flashy person in real life - I wouldn’t want to be obvious to friends and family that I had any work done. I just wouldn’t mind looking better naked. My ego is also getting in the way. I take great pride in the fact - rightly or wrongly - that everything about me is real. This is my real hair color, real eye color, and real fingernails. I am who I am. I love being able to claim that, and if I got implants in, there would be no going back from that.

Bigger than that, though, I feel a social responsibility not to do the surgery. Why is it that when men get crows feet and graying hair it is sexy, but when women show signs of aging it lessens their desirability? I’ve always said that I would age gracefully and be proud of it. I love an older woman with long, flowing gray hair. Her wrinkles in her face shows the years of smiles and battles that she has fought and that is womanhood at its finest to me. Why should I join the ranks of the pressures that make woman feel the need to look like society’s version of perfection?

Then there are the times I stand naked in front of a mirror and think, “Holy s—, Kristina, get over yourself. If you don’t like something about your body, why don’t you just change it already?”

Will I do the surgery at this time? No. But must admit I’m not taking it off the table completely. I’ll keep the paperwork in a file. Maybe someday I’ll get it out to use it. Maybe I’ll find it one day while cleaning out my files and have a good laugh, my long gray hair bouncing and wrinkles showing with my smile.

I hope for the latter.

Book Club: introduction

Hi.  My name is Kristina.  This is my friend Jen.

I love saying that.

Anyway, the three of us BFFs started a very exclusive book club.  Whether it’s very exclusive because nobody else wants to join it is beside the point.  We get to read stuff and have someone to talk about it.  And as in our usual fashion, there will surely be wine.  And possibly food.  (I’m on a healthy cooking kick at the moment.)

It all started when I was raving about this really cool book my dad got for Christmas from his sister.  The book listed out all the best books of several genres.  Children’s lit, classic lit, modern, etc.  It’s been a while since I’ve read much fiction, particularly classic literature, and there were many books from many genres that when I saw I would shout “oh!  I’ve always wanted to read that” and there were other books I’d never heard of but sounded awfully intriguing.  I found myself flipping through the pages, remembering fondly books I’d “had to read” in high school and college, and some I’d hated (but probably deserved a fairer shake).  I think it’s well established that I like lists and order so this book spoke to me.  I’m already working my way through all the Oscar Best Picture winning movies and the IMDB top 100 and had always coveted a list of books that I could similarly work through.  One of the Jens mentioned that it would be fun to do it together in the form of a book club.  The only problem?  Confining us to a list like that just seemed too - well - confining.  So I set the “rules” on how to pick the books.

1.  We’d each take turns.  Everything worth knowing we learned we learned in Kindergarten, after all.

2.  There is no limit to the type of book we can pick.  It can be classic lit, nonfiction, reference, IKEA assembly instructions, whatever.  It can be 100 pages or 1000 pages long.

3.  Whatever one picks, we have to read.  No complaining.  There is something to be learned from any book.

So, The Jane Austen Book Club” and was intrigued.  But some of us had read Ms. Austen’s major works - or at least seen the recent movies - so she thought it might be fun to pick a lesser-known, and shorter, book.  Jen works for a major online retailer based in Seattle and one day the complete works of Jane Austen showed up on my doorstep.  I called her up.  Which book?  She chose by where her bookmark ribbon was placed.  Mansfield Park it is.

I finally cracked the book open and started reading in earnest yesterday.  It can be challenging to follow, with all the social mores and language of old England (care to help us out movie watching.

And wine.  Of course.

Proof that I am no longer the Oscar Party diva

Not only did I not see very few Oscar-nominated movies, not only did I not even know it was Oscar night last night, but I was in bed at 8pm.

Kids do funny things to priorities sometimes.

Finally! A post where Kristina doesn’t mention vulvas!

This Christmas, our family received several thoughtful gifts from my brother and sister-in-law, the only faithful democrats in either of our families except for yours truly.  Inside of an “Obama for Peace” tote bag we unwrapped, among other things, the full DVD set of BBC’s Planet Earth.  Since we do not have cable we had missed the show - but let me tell you - we are in love with it.

In fact, Connor loves it perhaps even more than I do.  He saves up his screen time every day so he can watch an episode with the family at dinner.  Today, at the mall, he was the on the receiving end of several head turns when he asked me, “Mom, I want to play at the train table but if I do will we still have time to watch Planet Earth when we get home?”  Kid, you make me proud.

We have only two shows left to watch, but we’ve been blown away.  I cannot describe what it is like to see snow leopards on film that no one has seen for years, or crystal caves that are closed to humans forever, or a panda bear breastfeeding her young, or a polar bear close to starvation desperately trying to attack a herd of walruses for lack of its normal prey, or thousands of antelope or birds or whales in migration.  It’s all done in stunning beauty in a way that is hard to put into words.

But that’s not the real draw to the show.  The real draw is to see how big the world is, how complex, how detailed to the largest peak down to the smallest little bacterium’s elaborate world, and how all the pieces fit together perfectly.  And at the same time to contemplate how small the world really is, how close each species is to each other, and how easily the whole big, beautiful thing can be thrown out of whack by one species - namely, us.

With the voice of David Attenborough as our guide, our family of four has traverssed deserts together, dove to the bottom of oceans, flown over the tallest mountains, and looked over the world from the tops of rainforest trees all from our sofa.  Now we are on the last disk - where we contemplate the future of species, environments and what we can do about it.

I can’t help but think though, that the conservationalists have it a bit backward.  (Bear with me - you all know I’m an environmentalist.)

Instead of enforcing and micromanaging and preserving individual species at all costs - is there another way?  What about evolution?

What about just leaving existing habitats alone?  Really, truly alone?  Even the unglamorous ones?  And letting Darwin’s principles figure it all out?

Humans are destroying the earth and the habitats of plants and animals.  But what if we cut back - way back - on our energy use, on building roads through every available habitat, on cutting down trees for building a newer shinier planned community in previously undeveloped land.  Do we have enough faith in evolution and our planet’s natural balance to let it balance itself?  Then we wouldn’t have to be micromanaging the lives of each and every ivory-billed woodpecker, or having to cull some trees and plant others to manage forest health.

What if we put a moratorium on building where there were no buildings?   What if our national forests were no longer just a fancy name for tree farms, measured by the board-foot?  What if we just let what lives, live?

We’ve proven time and time again that humans do not excel at managing the environment.  What if we stopped?

Instead, what if we just learned how to manage - us?

I don’t know the answer - I just know that something has to be done to preserve our planet.  And what we are doing now - thinking that we can manage better than evolution - is just not working.

In reply to “2 sides of the story”

I received a comment on my last post, “Introducing the Mid-Columbia Birth Network” that I wanted a chance to reply to in detail. Go to my last post and read the comments there, then come back here for my reply. As it turns out, I don’t disagree with the commenter on the bulk of what they have to say. Actually I think we have quite a bit in common in our beliefs. I have no idea who this person is in real life, but chances are I’d bet we’d have a lot to not our heads in agreement over.

Like the commenter, It bothers me quite a bit when doulas, midwives and others prone to more uninterventive birth beliefs lump obstetricians and nurses into the “evil” category. I don’t for a minute believe that doctors and nurses are out to get women, wielding their evil epidural needles and their Pitocin bags as tools of torture and misogyny. I know obstetricians and L&D nurses personally and respect them immensely, although I won’t always agree with everything they practice (just as a group of nurses or a group of obstetricians might not agree on everything either).

It might surprise the poster that I have great memories of my own personal experiences with childbirth, but that they occurred at a local hospital with an obstetrician attending both times. I had planned epidurals - the first at 3 cm (it was an intense 5 1/2 hour labor, and I was just sooooo scared), and the second at 7 cm (I was able to cope the second time much better, partially because of the one-on-one support I received from the labor nurse assigned to my care).

That is not to say that there are not a ton of things I would change about the way I gave birth, knowing what I now know. (I have to wonder if I would still have a uterus if I hadn’t have chosen an epidural, consented to an episiotomy, and pushed with all my might during second stage, that resulted in uterine prolapse.) But I continue to learn about pregnancy and childbirth with every client I take, from every birth professional I meet (whether or not they share my own paradigm), and with every book I read. I do have to honor the person I was at the time of my births and remember that the hospital staff honored my wishes for what they were, and that I was treated with the utmost respect.

Doulas should never guilt a woman into not having an epidural. I never tell a woman if she should have an epidural or not. What I do is use the Pain Medications Preference Scale to assess where a woman’s desires are for epidural or other drugs. Then I help her achieve them. For a woman who strongly wants to avoid an epidural, if she says “I want an epidural!” during labor, I might bring up other things she might try, such as a bath or a massage or a change of position, or I might say “how would you like to try five more contractions and see how you feel after that”. For a woman who knows she wants an epidural as soon as she can have one, I might even tell her when she is a strong active labor pattern that it would be a good time to have her epidural now if she would like one. It is all based on her personal needs. Although I’ll tell her what the risks are with an epidural (which really, they are minimal), I have zero preference for if she has one or not.

I agree that my numbers from the World Health Organization I referred to on my last post are not stand-alone evidence to support a less interventive model of birth. As the commenter suggested, it is very hard and often unethical to perform randomized, controlled studies to determine how well a country is doing on maternal and fetal health as the topic is very complicated. However, I still think it is a valid part of the equation. I have a hard time believing that the countries that rank ahead of us don’t struggle with drug abuse during pregnancy or lack of prenatal care in similar numbers to our own country’s. It is interesting, however, to note that of the countries that the World Health Organization has labeled as “developed” countries, our country ranks toward the bottom on each of the lists. These countries can afford good health care, good drug education programs, and so forth as well as we can. Whatever the answer is, whether it be fixing the methods of birth or the health of women in general, I hope we can work toward finding the solution.

However, there is other evidence that shows that our current methods of obstetrical care might not be serving women in their best interests all of the time. Like most doulas I know, I try to keep up with what the medical evidence says so I can provide my clients with the best third-party information I have (and as I’ll expand on, let them make their own decisions with their practitioner about what is the best course of action FOR THEM). When I first started keeping up with the latest obstetrical research, I thought for sure I would find that there is solid evidence on both sides of the fence. And I vowed to support the evidence, whatever it said. I am finding that most often, the evidence I see coming through the obstetrical research news wire, shows a less interventive approach than what I currently see in the settings in my local hospitals is statistically the safest option for both mothers and babies with normal pregnancies, or at “worst”, shows that doing something and doing nothing carry about the same risk therefore the mother could choose the gentler approach if that is what works best *for her*. I often use the Cochrane reviews as a source of balanced medical research. Cochrane shows me that many interventions used in my area hospitals show no medical benefits or are actually more risky than doing nothing. For instance:

routinely breaking the bag of waters during labor actually does more harm than good

the use of continuous External Fetal Monitoring (EFM) did not reduce incidences of cerebral palsy (the primary reason EFM is used) but instead had a significant increase on the rate of the need of Cesearean birth or assisted vaginal birth

early skin-to-skin contact had greater benefits to a baby warmer alone (in a normal birth scenareo, fetal assessments can occur directly after birth just as easily on the mother’s chest, or even be delayed for an hour or so)

delayed cord clamping improves baby’s health

the risks and benefits of home versus hospital births are about equal

induction of labor before 41 completed weeks of a normal pregnancy has no medical benefit

there is not enough evidence to support using active vs. conservative management of fetal distress is a benefit

benefits to giving birth off your back include less pain, better fetal heart rate, less forceps deliveries and less episiotomies

there is not enough evidence as to the safety of misoprostol for induction of labor

If there are sources of information that I need to be checking for quality sources of obstetrical research, I sincerely want to know. I don’t want to ever give a woman information that isn’t backed by solid research.

The commenter mentioned many anecdotal stories of medical technology saving the day. I absolutely agree that these things happen all the time . I also absolutely believe that a less interventive method can save additional lives. I have many anecdotal stories where I have seen this happen or heard of stories where this has happened at births attended by people I know.  I also have seen and heard of countless stories where women were seemingly coerced into doing something that actually had the same or higher risks as the more gentle alternatives.  Or were made to feel inadequate or shamed by the medical staff.  Or were not given full medical information on which to make her own decision - or even told what was about to happen to her.

Doulas are not medical professionals, so we do not direct women what actions to take with their pregnancy. I try to present both sides of the information fairly and completely and always let the woman and her care provider make the decision together. Sometimes that means that I have to give information against my own personal belief system. I’ve given the pros along with the cons of routine use of an enema in early labor when it came up with a client, and I’ve given my unconditional support when a woman has chosen an induction based on no medical reason but because she was tired of being pregnant. But in the end, I always realize this is not my birth, it is hers. I haven’t lived her life, haven’t walked a mile in her shoes. Truly, although I might make a different decision, I feel only good will and understanding to the women I serve.As doula certified by DONA, I operate under both their “Standards of Practice” and “Code of Ethics” and it is clear that my job is never to perscribe, but to support:

“The doula should make every effort to foster maximum self determination on the part of her clients.”

The reason, though, that I and others have founded the Mid-Columbia Birth Network isn’t to attack practitioners who make decisions different than our own. (And if I see that happening, you can be sure I’ll voice my opinion to stop it.) When I said I might be a “pain in the ass out of the labor room” that was poor wording on my part. What I meant was that the Mid-Columbia Birth Network will probably be *perceived* as a pain in the ass. I sincerely hope not. I hope local obstetricians and nurses join us in our quest to improve birth outcomes and treat women as individuals in their care. We believe that the medical model of childbirth has been given over and over to women, but the less interventive midwifery model of childbirth is not so well known. We’d like to give a woman information so SHE can make her decisions based on more than pure trust in whatever her caregiver says. We’d like her to be a partner in her own care.

I should point out that when I say “medical model” and “midwifery model” I am only using those words for lack of better ones. Of course there are many doctors who operate by spending longer appointment times with their patients, who are interested in them in a holistic way (emotional health, family health, etc.), and who suggest such techniques as squatting for pushing, eating and drinking during labor instead of IV fluids, and intermittent monitoring. And of course there are midwives who practice more in line with I call the medical model - keeping labor on a timeframe with use of Pitocin or other drugs, using Cesarean birth liberally, and having shorter appointment times. And when, occasionally, I say “natural birth”, it is also because it slips out occasionally. See my older post on that subject. I try to use a term like “unhindered” or “physiological” or “mother-friendly” (refering to the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative) when I am trying to get my point across - yet sometimes the old language sneaks in as it is so prevalent in the doula community.

I hope this clears things up. I think we agree on much. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.

Introducing the Mid-Columbia Birth Network

In a former post, I mentioned that I’ve been working on starting a non-profit. Actually, I can’t take full credit - me and a few other local birthy-types have been working on this something. It’s part of why blogging has been unusually slow for me.

Back when I first started birth work - you know, WAYYYY back in June - I took a very hospital-friendly stance. I would not stand up to doctors, get in their way, respect their medical opinions. This is still true in many ways, as during a birth is, I still strongly feel, absolutely the last place I should be an activist. If I stand between her and her doctor, I’m just one more person speaking FOR her, telling her what’s best for HER, and she’s just another patient without an opinion or authority to speak for herself for her care. Although I know what a woman’s general birth preferences are when I’m at a birth, I also realize that a lot can change in the middle of it all. And I still think that my kindness and compassion to a woman is my biggest tool to help foster a positive birth memory. If I’m creating tension with doctors and nurses, I’m not doing my job.  My best tools in the room are to help the mother formulate questions they can ask the medical staff to get some answers about how urgent a situation is, what happens if they do nothing, what risks are involved, and what alternatives they have.  I can also suggest they ask about specific alternatives.  I will never talk for a mother.

However.

I’m also learning that there is a big difference in being a pain in the ass in the delivery room and being a pain in the ass outside of it. The more I learn about birth in our country, the more I realize that many things need to change. The United States, for all our wealth and technology, has pretty poor maternity statistics when compared to the rest of the developed world. Case in point - let’s check out the statistics from the World Health Organization in 2007:

Neonatal Mortality Rate (rate of death in the first 28 days of life, per 1000 live births):
The United States ranks behind Iceland, Singapore, Japan, the Czech Republic, Finland, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Slovenia, Sweden, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Spain, Andorra, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, Malta, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Belarus. We are number 31. Sure, the point spread isn’t horrible, but just tell that to the families whose child would have lived if it had been born in Iceland or Singapore.

Maternal Mortality Rate (rate of death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggrevated by the pregnancy, per 100,000 live births):
1) Ireland - 4
2) Finland - 5
3) Spain - 5
4) Austria - 5
5) Italy - 5
6) Canada - 5
7) Australia - 6
8) Denmark - 7
9) Switzerland - 7
10) New Zealand - 7
11) Qatar - 7
12) Sweden - 8
13) Portugal - 8
14) Czech Republic - 9
15) Germany - 9
16) The former state union of Serbia and Montenegro - 0
17) Japan - 10
18) Norway - 10
19) Belgium - 10
20)Greece - 10
21) Slovakia - 10
22) Croatia - 10
23) Poland - 10
24)United Kingdom - 11
25) Hungary - 11
26) Kuwait - 12
27) Israel - 13
28) The former Yugoslaw Republic of Macedonia - 13
29) United States of America - 14

The Netherlands and France are the only European countries who rank below us in this regard - Iceland doesn’t report maternal deaths, but looking at the rest of their numbers I would highly doubt they rank worse than us. Maybe Iceland doesn’t report this number because it is so low it isn’t even on their radar screen?

Yes, our numbers are still fairly high when compared to countries with poor nutrition and maternal care (Sierra Leone reports 2000 maternal deaths out of 100,000). But there is room for improvement.

We spend the most per person on maternal health care, but our outcomes are not representative of this. What are these other countries doing that we are not?

First off, American populations generally eat less whole foods and living more sedentary lifestyles, highly reliant on their cars to get even a few blocks. This could increase morbidity (general health), raising risk factors for things like preeclampsia, for example.

But sometimes, all that technology at our fingertips is actually getting in our way. We look at a machine to measure contractions instead of looking at the woman. We induce labor, just to be safe, but actually increase our odds of things going wrong, such as a prematurely born infant that we induced too soon or a stressed infant because of the strong, unnatrual contractions caused by Pitocin, Cytotec and other drugs used for induction. We use Cesarean birth far too often, sometimes because we can say that “we did everything we could” and avoid a lawsuit, but outcomes might have been better for that mom and child if her body was trusted that it knew what it was doing. We think of a Cesarean as no big deal any more as they are so common, but it is still MAJOR SURGERY. It leaves a woman with a poor start at motherhood: long recovery times impact her ability to parent, her ability to breastfeed and her chances of postpartum depression.

I’m not saying that all medicine in obstetrics is a bad thing. Far from it. Inductions, cesareans and the like have saved countless lives when things go wrong. I don’t think that OBs deserve all the hate that some midwives and doulas carelessly throw in their direction. They entered the field, most always, with a respect for women and a joy for childbirth.

It is interesting that many of the countries ranked above us heavily utilize a midwifery model of care for normal, uncomplicated pregnancies and births. Many countries give home birth as an option. And their success rates are higher than our own. How do they do it? Less interventions, not more. Every time we use a piece of medical equipment or perform a medical task, we are putting a woman at a risk (albeit small). And the more machines and cords a woman is hooked up to, the more she must remain in bed. Unable to move to cope with the pain. Unable to change positions much to facilitate a vertex (head down), occuput anterior (baby’s face towards the tailbone) position. Unable to use gravity to her advantage during the second (pushing) stage of labor. And cesareans have proven to be more risky than vaginal births, even if it is a repeat cesearean.

It’s hard to work with pregnant women when they don’t know all this information. I want to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. I want to help. So please welcome my latest entry in the world of activism. Welcome the Mid-Columbia Birth Network.

www.midcolumbiabirthnetwork.org

And if you live in my area, stop by the TRAC in Pasco at the Kidz and Baby Expo this weekend to say “hello”. If you are pregnant, you’ll get a free rice sock and a foot massage, and a whole lot of local support.

Meet the newest certified doula in town

I just got a phone call from the DONA certification committee…and although I totally tripped all over myself with a few of my answers and was as nervous as you can ever imagine, I’m now a DONA certified doula!  Just in time for the local Kidz and Baby Expo that I’ll be exhibiting at this weekend.

I’d been wanting to do this for so long.  I’m patting myself on the back for having the courage and bravery to follow a dream.

Kristina French, CD(DONA)  :)

Superwoman

We’re curled up together on the sofa - Connor, Siena, and I, enjoying an early morning dose of PBS kids while we shake the cobwebs out of our brains.  Miss Lori comes on, with a gaggle of caped children.  “We’re superheroes today! What kind of superpowers do you have?” she asks the miniature Superfriends around her.  “I can count backwards!”  “I can fly!” come the replies from the kids on the television show.

I lean over to Siena.  “What’s your superpower?” I ask her.

She excitedly lifts up her shirt.  “I have nipples!” she proudly proclaims.

As a feminist-lactavist-doula-mother, I have never been prouder.

(It’s even funnier to know that she actually pronounces the word “nipples” as “hippos”…)

Sorry I’ve been MIA.  Lots of stuff going on…just mailed off my doula certification, finished putting together birth stories for my clients, and I’m in the middle of starting a nonprofit group and preparing for an expo where a bunch of earthy-birthy types and I will be exhibiting together, amidst a not-so-earthy-birthy crowd.  I’ll catch up with you all later.  I can’t imagine it will be much longer…that “Part I” in the last title is haunting me…

Reclaiming our birth rituals: Part I

My first attempt at a belly cast

“Beneath the clouds lives the Earth-Mother from whom is derived the Water of Life, who at her bosom feeds plants, animals and men”

- Algonquin legend

Ancient rock carving in Israel of a woman giving birthBack before I ever contemplated a career as a doula, I would see episodes of “A Baby Story” on TV and occasionally there would be a woman who would get a belly cast.  I kind of liked the idea but couldn’t figure out any good reason to ever have one myself - would I really hang a 3D image of my naked torso up on my bathroom wall? - so I never had one done.   But now I get it.

Aztec goddess giving birthThroughout history and culture, there have been rituals to celebrate a woman’s pregnancy and birth.  A woman’s ability to concieve and grow a new human being inside her womb was seen as nothing short of goddess-like.  Images and icons of a pregnant or birthing woman resurface over and over in ancient culture.

In fact, the iconish image of the Great Mother has stayed with virtually every human culture, right up to the present-day images of the Virgin Mary. Not only was the Great Mother seen to birth her own children, but also to have controlled the “birthing” of the the fruit of the harvest, of fertility, or of the bearer of the fruit of all things earthly.

Stone Age carving of Goddess of Luassel - traces of red ochre representing menstration and birth, still visible on her bodyArcheologists have uncovered hundreds of Stone Age sculptures, yet only five of these are male.  These women are big and strong - reminders to us that human survival would not be possible for those millions of years if women were seen as physically and mentally weak.  Most of these icons are rounded vessels, portraying large bellies, breasts and thighs, but very small or nonexistent extremities such as feet and heads.  A headless pregnant woman - did the ancients understand the art of losing one’s thoughts and becoming one with the birth?

Intentionally headless icon of fertility, South IndiaDid our ancestors worship the pregnant body?  What customs and rituals were attached to seeing a woman into motherhood?  I suspect much has been lost, but we do know of a few modern birth rituals from other countries (From “Birthing From Within”):

Egyptian goddess Isis breastfeeding her son, HorusIn the Philippine islands, it is customary to put a key (unlocking) and a comb (untangling) under the laboring woman’s pillow; the moultings from snakes or other animals may be used to make a belt for the parturient woman; a house ladder may be turned upside down, knives unsheathed, recently made furniture unnailed, recently sewn seams ripped open and drawers, trunks and cupboards unlocked.

In Delhi villages all knots of clothing, ropes and the woman’s hair are loosened to relieve the pain of contractions.

Mary breastfeeding JesusAlso in India, prolonged labor may be treated by placing a tightly furled flower beside the woman in the belief that as it unfurls so will a woman’s cervix dialate.

The Vietnamese refer to birth in terms reflecting this - “the bud opens and the flower blooms.”

The Maltese keep a flower in water in the delivery room saying that when the bud blooms the child will be born, and in the Philippine villages the midwife throws a handful of flowers at the woman in labor when she arrives at the house.

Note how each of these rituals involve images of opening and relaxation that can be used by the mother in visualization during her birth.  Note also how often these symbols are procured by a woman aiding another in childbirth.

So, what are our modern-day images and rituals surrounding pregnancy and childbirth?  And what are they teaching us?  Stay tuned for Part II…

Opening the chrysalis

I went off my meds yesterday and haven’t felt this good in weeks/months.  Maybe they were just a safe resting place I needed to get through a particularly rough emotional week?  At any rate, I feel strong and back on the trail of self-discovery.  Many of the problems that landed on my trail which had looked like giant boulders are now just little rocks that look easy enough to hop over, and the clouds have cleared over the summit and it looks closer than I had thought.  I will continue with the counseling and will be doing a lot of self-monitoring and self-reflection, but it feels great to be my energetic, fun, silly, emotional, idealistic self again.  I’ve missed me :)

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