Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Aoibheann's Birth

Well, what to say? Aoibheann (pronounced Eve-een) has surprised me throughout this pregnancy. I honestly thought she was a boy, especially with how active she was.
I ‘planned’ that she would come a little later in the week, closer to her due date, but this little girl fooled me. I knew I had been getting closer to giving birth. Saturday, February 28, 2009 started out normally for me: I went to the gym, where I had a bit of a run and a good spinning class. I listen to my body and I don’t push it too hard, but I do get a good workout going, which I did Saturday as well. Kim and I went to the temple in Cardston in the afternoon for a session, and my mum watched the children for us. Everything was fine; I didn’t feel uncomfortable or anything. No signs!
As we were leaving the church around 20:45, I felt my first sensation. I wasn’t too sure what it was, initially thinking baby was being funny moving around as she was wont to do. It was low down, which kind of confused me. A second thought told me this might be labour. I realised I hadn’t cleaned the washroom yet! It was on my to do list for Monday.
After getting the children into bed, we did some preparations; although it seemed like there would be plenty of time. I was tired, expecting to go to bed, but first I washed dishes, cleaned the toilet and switched laundry. I had a few sporadic sensations, which varied in intensity; some were light, some were stronger.
I decided to have a bath, and that felt good. The sensations didn’t give me any sign things were progressing; although I could tell I was dilating. To what degree I didn’t know. I did go to bed and though I didn’t sleep, I was able to relax some. Kim got the crockpot going with washcloths to support the perineum and put the plastic sheet on the bed.
Off and on I woke up, using the washroom. The timing of my sensations varied: sometimes 10 minutes apart, other times 20–30 minutes apart. I did need to relax through them, but they weren’t too painful. Well, I realised in spite of not doing hypnobirthing preparations, I knew how to relax and what I needed to do. I focused on staying as relaxed as I could and told myself it didn’t hurt. It certainly didn’t hurt as it normally had in my other births. The last time I got up, I realised I needed to stay up. I wasn’t sure I was close to anything. It had already been about 6 hours of fairly moderate and sporadic labour. I did a quick self check and did feel the head. I didn’t venture to guess, nor did it concern me because I know how dilation works. You seem to be hardly dilated and then dilate considerably in a short period of time. I have not checked dilation before in labour, yet it always progresses!
Close to 03:00 Sunday morning, I had Kim come into the washroom. I was labouring rather intensely while standing over the toilet, which felt the most comfortable to me. I knew I was in transition. I started vocalising through stronger sensations, and I could feel the head moving down. Checking myself again, I felt the bag of waters, which first kind of confused me (remember, I had never checked myself before, but then my other births, after transition hit, were all hands and knees so I couldn’t check myself at that point). I thought I was wrong and she could be a frank breech! I wasn’t unduly concerned though knowing we could handle it if so.
It felt good to either sit on the toilet seat and lean forward with each sensation or to stand and lean on Kim. He brought me water, let me lean on him and encouraged me of course. My water was leaking and it was good I was over the toilet because of that! Less clean up.

The head was moving down, and as it got closer and the pressure built, I tried to hold myself back from pushing, but I felt a need to though her head moved back and forth somewhat. A few more sensations and I wasn’t standing over the toilet anymore. We had put chux pads on the floor and as the birth was becoming imminent I moved to stand a little away from the toilet, but still beside it. I was even feeling during transition that this was a much easier birth than my others had been. Even in transition, I felt more in control. I was focusing on being as relaxed as I could. It worked to a degree!
I was supporting her head and after a few more sensations, her head came out, quickly followed by her body. I had hold of her, and Kim’s hands were there too, to help and support. This is the first of my children I have been able to catch myself! That was pretty wonderful. We realised she was a girl and not a boy as we had been expecting throughout my pregnancy!
She still had some vernix on her, and we didn’t even have the syringe in the washroom. Hadn’t thought of having it there! We didn’t need it; she breathed easily right away. We untucked the cord which was around her arm and shoulder (and a short cord again).
Before I even had a chance to sit down, there was Sinéad at the door. She had been sleeping on the couch because she had vomited twice shortly after we came home. She heard Aoibheann make a sound and came to investigate. I found out later she had heard me from transition until the birth. We got her to check the time and it was 03:38 Sunday, March 1, 2009. Shortly after this, Aisling and Regan woke up and came to meet their sister. I sat waiting for the placenta to come out, and it did about 40 minutes later. A little while after this, Kim clamped and cut the cord. Aoibheann had tried to nurse some, but wasn’t quite getting it yet. She did want to be wrapped up though!
After my being able to shower off and cleaning up the washroom, we headed off to bed at about 05:30. No sleep for me though :)
It turned out Sinéad heard me the whole time I was labouring in the washroom and realised I was having the baby, so the moment she heard her, came to investigate.
My afterpains were much less painful this time, which I attribute to Polly Block’s formula, calcium, and Floradix. I felt so good after the birth, much more energetic and my recovery was much better. This was really a great birth and a wonderful learning experience for me. We are so blessed to have our little Aoibheann Bree Holly.

Mary Siever is a Nutritional Consultant, Natural Family Planning teacher & childbirth educator who has had unassisted births with her 4 children.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thoughts on CoSleeping from a Fierce Mama of 3

The first days and weeks of parenting my first child, Nicholas, were a blur of fatigue and endless hours of breastfeeding. Day and night, I nursed that sleepy little baby and prayed that I'd get enough sleep to feel rested at some point.

After a few weeks, I discovered the beauty of side lying nursing which quickly turned me into a co-sleeper. Gone were the long dark hours in the middle of the night where I would perch on the side of my bed, trying not to doze off and fall over! Gone was the feeling of dread I'd feel when my sleeping baby woke up minutes after being placed in his crib! Instead, I basked in the beauty of snuggling in bed with this delicious little baby and feeling rested in the mornings.

During one of Nicholas' well-baby visits with his pediatrician, I mentioned that we'd begun co-sleeping. The pediatrician cautioned me with tales of “trying to break the habit later on” and told me I needed to get my baby sleeping in his crib again. Being a young single mom, I didn't feel confident enough to speak up with my protests so I did the next best thing: I ignored the advice and found a new pediatrician.

In the nine years since that moment I discarded the warning against co-sleeping, I have not regretted my choice. Co-sleeping with Nicholas, and eventually with his sisters Lily and Olivia, has been an immensely satisfying experience. From the ease of nighttime nursings with young babies to the important snugglings with older children who don't get enough physical touch during their days, co-sleeping has been an important part of my parenting.

We've various configurations of beds in different rooms as the years go by and people's needs change, but the one constant has been the message we've sent to our children: their needs are important no matter the time of day or night.

Tonight as he was dozing off, Nicholas curled around his sleeping baby sister and whispered to me “I love waking up next to her in the mornings when she's lying in bed cooing”. My heart went completely to mush as I thought “Me too, Nick. Me too.”.

By Kim Johnstone

*Editor's note: For research & information on safe co-sleeping practices, see Dr James McKenna's work at the Notre Dame University Mother-Baby Behavioural Sleep Laboratory

Sunday, November 22, 2009

An interview with Heather Cushman-Dowdee

Fierce Mamas is so excited to have our first celebrity guest interview with one of our inspirations, Heather Cushman-Dowdee. Heather is known and loved by many as the creator of Hathor The Cow Goddess. Her latest project is a book entitled Simply Give Birth

Tell us about your book- Who needs to read it? What are you hoping
it will do for the birth community?

I specifically wanted the book to be for any newly pregnant mother, not just those that have made the paradigm shift to homebirth. The birth stories are mostly unassisted, but I chose them for their tone. These are stories that are told from the mothers point of view and aren't interrupted by outer voices (except for the occasional husband). They are accessible for anyone who wants to know what it's like to give birth.

How have your births informed your current life? How did you
transform between births?

Fo me each birth built on the last and I became more and more self-sufficient. The first was a hospital birth, the second was a midwife attended homebirth, the third was an unassisted birth (my husband was a constant assist though) and my fourth was unassisted (except for a bit of back massage from my guy ;o)
My transformation took stages, I'd hear about a 'new' way to birth, I'd wonder if I could do it, research like crazy, convince everyone around me that I was indeed crazy, and then I'd simply give birth.

How do you think the events at birth can impact a couples' sex relationship?

This is a difficult one for me to answer, because I have no idea what goes on in men's heads. But, I do have a working theory that fear during birth can impact sex, far more than anything visual. The fear and powerlessness that men feel during birth can have a real negative impact but a homebirth takes a lot of that out of the equation. It's difficult though to parse out the changes that occur in the sexual relationship that are due to breastfeeding, exhaustion, depression and all the other new mama things.

The important thing to remember is that sex does happen again and with a baby in the house and all the hiding and secretive stuff it actually gets fun again too.

Describe how you feel about the current birth environment in North
America. What would you change?

Just like all other environments in North America, I think the birth environment suffers from being 'for profit'. Insurance companies, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, all are on the take. If there wasn't so much money to be made then perhaps everyone could take a deep breath, clear their brain and see what is truly best for mothers and babies.

What is the one thing you want women to know about birth?

That it's a physiological process and can happen whether you actively do anything or not. Also, that if you want to push a baby out of your wazoo the way your great grandmother did and her great grandmother and hers, then you shouldn't go to the hospital, because they don't sell that there anymore.

How can professionals working with new parents improve the situation?

Ah, now that's a question! I think we need to start getting to people before they're pregnant. 9 months isn't a lot of time for a paradigm shift.

What could we be doing differently?

talking straight and using humor to sell the ideas of homebirth and breastfeeding.

What do you think is needed for empowered birth?

For me it was Eddie Veder's Into the Wild soundtrack.

What is the largest
detractor from it?

Outside voices, people telling the mother what to do, thinking that she's an invalid and needs to be talked down to or belittled. happens all the time.

How would you describe a fierce mama?

Someone who tells the truth and doesn't worry about causing others guilt. Everyone knows that guilt is an internal emotion and can't be caused by others. Also, someone who is mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore. (see my hathor comics 2002- 2009 ;o)

Heather Cushman-Dowdee, long-time creator of the comic, Hathor the Cowgoddess, is now creating all new comics over at www.mama-is.com. Come by and see what's happening, last I heard Mama is...breastfeeding her new baby!
AND, you can still see all of the Hathor comics at www.thecowgoddess.com, too.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bowden's Birth Story

Bowden’s birth story started while I was on the phone with my best friend. I commented that Rhett, my then 15 month old, was nursing “all the freakin’ time!” I could hear Nancy grin over the phone: “You’re pregnant!” I protested for a few minutes, since another pregnancy was certainly not in my plans for the year. Nancy pointed out that the last person she’d talked to who told her their toddler seemed to be nursing constantly had been pregnant- her toddler had been busy trying to keep up a milk supply changed by pregnancy hormones. She was sure this was what Rhett was doing. I brushed the idea off, certain that it couldn’t be true.
The next time I saw Nancy, she sent me home with 2 pregnancy tests. I was so concerned about being pregnant that I let them sit in my diaper bag for 2 weeks! I finally decided to try them after being reminded that they were expiring soon. Test one didn’t seem to work quite right- the sample line didn’t show up. Test two was…positive. Hmm, I thought- that can’t be right! I called my husband to tell him that the wonky test was telling me I was pregnant. He didn’t really believe it either. As we were talking, I noticed the first test, which I’d thrown in the garbage can- it was positive now too!
Uh oh. My next call was to the midwife I had hired with my second pregnancy. She quickly sent a request to the lab in the town closest to me.
I ignored the looks from the lab tech as I hauled my almost 4 year old & my 15 month old in to take my third pregnancy test of the morning. He was unable to do the test that day, but obviously felt sorry enough for me to send me home with a test kit to use on my own.
Test three…positive. Called my husband, called Nancy (who knew all along), called the midwife.
I found myself with a lot of thinking to do. My first 2 were 33 months apart which was closer than I would have liked. My comment to people who asked me about their spacing was that “I wouldn’t do that again on purpose!” These 2 would be 22 months apart-good grief! This being said, we planned a big family so it probably didn’t matter when our third was born. My husband, Jesse and I were excited about a new baby to look forward to, but I was still feeling very overwhelmed at the thought of having three kids under 5. I had made lots of new commitments over the past while, some in-depth volunteer positions and plans to start a new business.
The more I tried to assimilate a new pregnancy, the more I found the idea of all the work a pregnancy can entail to be completely overwhelming. After much soul searching, I decided that what I needed most was to just carry on with life and pay minimal attention to “being pregnant”. This wasn’t denial, it was simply the reality of my very busy life. I needed to get on with things, and the baby would arrive when it was ready. I realized that this meant that I needed to make some changes in how I planned to give birth. Luke, my oldest, was born in March 2002, a midwife assisted homebirth. Rhett, born in January 2005, was also born at home, but came before our midwife arrived- a freebirth. After he was born, reading Dr Michel Odent’s forward to the book Adventures in Birthing, helped me understand that Rhett’s birth had gone so quickly and smoothly because it was physiologically correct. I’d slept through most of the labour and had not been directed by anyone at any point; these had allowed the fetal ejection reflex to take over. Rhett slid peacefully into the world, caught by our doula friend Annemarie shortly after she arrived. I wanted to do everything I could to duplicate his short and relatively comfortable birth. For all of this to happen, it became clear to me that I needed to have an unassisted pregnancy and a freebirth. I had no space in my calendar for the usual schedule of prenatal appointments. In my heart, I knew that the only way I could make this pregnancy work for me was to manage the whole thing myself. Jesse was fully supportive of the idea, as was my family doctor, who offered his encouragement to us. It was bittersweet to tell the midwife- I was confident in my decision, but knew I would miss many of the aspects of being in the care of a midwife.
For me, an unassisted pregnancy meant that I planned my own prenatal care. During my pregnancy, I sought out the opinion of others when I felt I needed some help in interpreting what my body was telling me. I saw my family doctor a couple of times and a friend helped me to figure out the baby’s position. I saw a massage therapist regularly during the last few months, which did wonders for my ability to relax!
A new group was being created at the time, Friends of Freebirth. The support and wise woman encouragement I received from its members was invaluable. I was lucky enough to be pregnant at a time when some close friends were also planning freebirths.
I learned everything I could about using herbs during pregnancy & birth. I gathered the tinctures I felt would help me, along with some other supplies I thought I might use during the birth.
Then I waited for the baby. There was quite a bit of question as to when the baby might be due. The earliest estimate we had was October 18, but I felt that the beginning of November was most likely. Because of this uncertainty, we spent a lot of time with our life on hold, waiting for the baby. October came and went, no baby. Beginning of November came and went, no baby. I went to events I assumed I would miss because I would have a brand new baby. I made a to do list of the things I needed to accomplish in order to make sure I wasn’t putting off the birth. I finished everything on the list. My husband decided we needed a new truck before the baby could come. We bought a new truck, still no baby. I was secretly convinced that the baby would be born on a Tuesday, since that was the day I had gone into labour with Rhett. I worried that I was trying too hard to duplicate his birth.
Finally, on Monday evening, November 13th, I had a few twinges. I knew that was it- the baby would be coming soon! I went to bed, with the intention of letting labour establish itself. Rhett peacefully fell asleep curled up next to me and I enjoyed my last night with him as my youngest baby. I remembered the quiet work we had done together during his labour. During this time, my contractions were steadily increasing their intensity.
Jesse was outside plowing the driveway so the friends we had asked to help us out during the birth wouldn’t get their cars stuck in the snow. I was finding it very hard to let my primitive brain take over with a tractor running under my window! I got up, yelled at my poor husband to stop and went back upstairs to try to settle into my contractions again. A few minutes later, my cat started playing with something on my bed, disrupting my peace. I shooed her away, but she was back again a minute later. I sat up to see what she was playing with and discovered a dead mouse on my bed. Lovely. I shrieked at Jesse to come upstairs, then stormed down. As I passed him on the stairs, I roared “I can’t do this!” Jess was talking to Nancy on the phone at the time- she assumed I was in transition when she heard me yelling! Not so much. Jesse changed the bedding for me, helped me settle Rhett back down, and we all went to bed for the night. I felt very disturbed, frustrated that the baby wasn’t coming that night after all.
Jess stayed home from work Tuesday, since it seemed obvious we’d be having our baby at any moment. The day passed slowly, with nothing happening. I was sure that I’d labour and birth at night, but again wondered if I was basing my assumptions on what had happened at Rhett’s birth. I found myself second guessing everything. Mid afternoon, I hit a bit of a wall. There was way too much activity and tension in our house, which was totally counterproductive. It’s my belief that to have a safe birth, I needed to be closely in touch with my body, which was impossible in the atmosphere I was in. Wisely, Jess decided to take the boys out for a drive to allow everyone to change their frame of mind. We invited Nancy over so I wouldn’t be alone.
I rested in bed for awhile, then got up and talked with Nancy when she arrived. I’d been taking diluted black and blue cohosh to try to get contractions going, and, at Nancy’s chiding, skipped the diluting part and downed the vile tasting tinctures straight. I lunged up and down my staircase for good measure. The herbs and the stairs seemed to work at causing mild contractions every now and then. We sat down with some red raspberry leaf tea and talked quietly about birth and babies, pausing every few minutes when I would have another mild contraction. I kept commenting on how odd I felt, not really knowing if I was in labour or not. My first two labours had begun by my water breaking, and I’d only ever experienced strong contractions. Nancy pointed out that contractions feel very different before your water has broken.
Jess came home with Luke and Rhett, and they roared around the house for awhile. Everyone was in a much better mood. When Nancy left around 7:00pm, she made the most helpful comment, “I don’t care when you have this baby. It can be tonight if you want, or next week if that’s better for you.” She obviously knew how much stress I was feeling; hearing her say that was such a relief. Just then, I had the first contraction that I actually had to stop for. I decided to have a shower. While I was showering, I thought I might have felt a trickle of amniotic fluid. Jess and I went over what we would do if the baby came quickly and was born with just us in attendance. I resisted asking our birth helpers to come, feeling very confident that I was completely ok with being alone while giving birth. “If the birth is that fast, I won’t need the help anyway!”
I called Annemarie to let her know what was happening. She was planning to come to help me during labour if I needed it. I sat on my birth ball in my darkened bathroom while we chatted. I had 4 contractions during our conversation; when I shut off the phone, the call timer said 19 minutes. Hmmm- those contractions are 5 minutes apart.
I went to bed, dozing in and out while having contractions. I had been having horrible pain in my left hip all day, and my contractions seemed to be centering there as well. I lay on my left side, hoping whatever was causing the pain would correct itself.
Every now and then, I would have a really difficult contraction and think “if the next one is that hard, I’ll get up and call Annemarie”. Then the next couple of contractions would be manageable again. Finally, during a contraction, I felt a huge shifting- suddenly I felt the pain across my abdomen, instead of in my hip! It was 10:00pm. I got up, roared down the stairs and yelled at Jess, asleep with Rhett in a chair, to wake up. This of course woke Rhett too- he started crying. Between contractions, I told Jess what was happening and asked him to call Annemarie to come so I had some physical support. I locked myself in the candlelit bathroom, using massage tools to help myself through the back pain I was now experiencing. Jess tried to take the boys up to bed, running back and forth between them and me. Rhett was howling in protest whenever his dad went back downstairs, and I remember thinking “Poor Rhett” in between contractions.
I felt a pop, and knew that my water had broken. Soon after, I needed to push. I yelled at Jesse to come help- one huge push brought the baby down- I wondered out loud if Jess could see the head. He said no, and ran back upstairs to help Rhett. One more push brought the baby to crowing. I supported the baby’s head with my hand and sat back on my heels to better catch him. I felt stinging and the head was out! The hardest part was over! I told Jess that the head was out, but he didn’t seem to have heard me. One last small push, and the baby was out. I laid him down on the towel below me, and discovered…another boy! I was so happy he was a boy, and instantly knew his name would be Bowden Morgan, as we’d planned.
Jesse came in a moment later and asked what was happening. I told him the baby was here and that it was a boy- in the dark, he hadn’t noticed the new person in the room! The cord was loosely wrapped around his neck a couple of times, so we carefully unwound it. He checked the time- 10:48pm – and brought Luke and Rhett in to meet their new brother. We all welcomed him, and said Happy Birth Day! I wrapped Bowden up in towels and sat back to nurse for the first time.
Annemarie and her kids arrived, just in time for the placenta. She commented on how long the cord was (36 inches!) and helped me with Bowden while Jesse took Rhett up to bed. We cut his cord, and weighed and measured him (8lbs, 13oz, 20 ¾ inches long), then Jess dressed him in the same first sleeper that Luke and Rhett had each worn. I had an herbal bath with the baby and Annemarie made placenta prints for us. It was amazing to show Luke the placenta- he was very interested in where his new baby brother had lived. It was getting late, so we said goodbye to our friends and headed off to bed.
Bowden is 5 months old as I write this. Looking back, I’m amazed by how intuitive my experience was. I’d never had any concerns with the birth itself, only with coping with labour and dealing with the details afterwards. It’s no coincidence that my friends were there for just those moments! He was born on Tuesday, November 14, 2006 (my maternal grandmother’s birthday; the first one after her death the previous winter) in the evening, as I’d imagined. I truly had a freebirth, just Bowden and I working together to assist his entry into our world. His first sights and sounds were of his parents and his brothers. We made our transition from a family of four to a family of five with the help of two of our dearest family friends. Perfect! Welcome Bowden- we love you!

Posted in honour of Bowden's 3rd birthday, while he sleeps in a woven wrap on my back.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009


We have a strange way of framing responsibility in our culture. Experts, because they are invested with financial, institutional, intellectual and cultural power, are expected to know what is best for us, and to tell us what to do. And, we are expected to seek them out and comply with their opinion. Many spend years of their lives becoming experts, and they certainly know things. But most of the time they don’t know us, they don’t know our children, and they don’t have to live with the consequences of our decisions, that they tend to want to make for us.

The experts can take many forms, they are everywhere. And this isn’t about judging individuals or professions but more about the cultural power we’ve imbued them with. Most obviously in the world of parenting, doctors, nurses, teachers (and I am one), but also the mother sitting next to you at playgroup, a well-meaning relative, the books we read etc. can all end up being “experts.” Certainly they are often important and helpful, but we’ve come to a place where we’ve completely skewed our sense of responsibility. Experts should be resources we seek out for information so that we can make informed decisions. The decision making should not be wrested from our hands.

As parents we have to live with the consequences of our decisions regarding our children. We are fundamentally responsible for them, until they can take responsibility for themselves. And in fact one of our most important jobs is to raise children who can take responsibility for themselves once they are adults. Modeling that process is essential. But it is easier said than done.

Culturally, we have some significant issues with taking responsibility for ones’ sexuality, and yet that is where our kids literally begin. Once pregnant, a mother is frequently pressured and coerced in so many ways, shapes and forms. Everything from medical testing, to who is providing care, to what type of maternity clothes, to what she puts in her body. The perfect stranger in the grocery aisle acts like they know better than the mother whether or not she’s having a boy or a girl, where to have her baby, what to feed herself and her baby etc. Suddenly her body is considered the responsibility of everyone else. There is an underlying assumption that she may not actually be doing everything “right” and that if we don’t keep close tabs on her she might deliberately harm her baby! There is a strong underlying message that the mother is bad for her baby, and that the baby is bad for her. So it’s everyone business to make sure they don’t cause each other too much harm (or others too much legal liability)!

Everyone around her takes responsibility for something that is not theirs to take, but the mother is encouraged to abdicate power and give her body and baby over to the experts. This situation is only exacerbated during birth, post-partum care and continues through early childhood and schooling. (It is also still there as we age and in most aspects of paid employment, home making, politics, economics etc.) That stranger also knows when our baby needs a hat. The doctor tells us our sick child is “fine.” The teacher tells us our child needs Ritalin. Our media and our institutions are constantly pummeling us with a myriad of ways that we should abdicate our responsibility for our children and hand over power to anyone and everyone but ourselves. Ironically, at the end of the day, if a parent falls short (or even is perceived to have fallen short), the blame falls squarely on their shoulders – because we are responsible, whether we accept it or like it or not.

Unfortunately, under so much pressure, parents frequently accept this state of affairs and turn to the experts instead of looking at their child and listening to their instincts. When things don’t work out blaming the children is often not far behind, or we become litigious and sue the experts. Sometimes we get mired in guilt and self-flagellation. None of this actually makes for raising healthy, happy, responsible adults.

A central part of this process is a hefty dose of fear. The media is currently selling fear like candy around H1N1, but every aspect of parenting is loaded with potential fear (and frankly so are most other parts of our lives!). It is impossible to make good decisions in a place of fear, and yet we are regularly terrified into decisions, instead of supported and informed and allowed to hear our hearts.

“you’re too (old, young, fat, thin) to have a baby – you are high risk”

“you have a low lying placenta”

“your baby is too big (or too small)”

“you must sign up for daycare before your baby is born to get a good spot”

“you must stay at home/you must work for pay”

“you must be induced”

“you must be on bed rest”

“you must be monitored at all times”

“you must get the epidural”

“you’re too late for the epidural”

“you must have monthly appointments”

“do you want your baby to die?”

“you don’t make enough milk”

“you’re eating the wrong food”

“you must send your child to preschool – or better yet to this “elite” preschool”

“your child must not watch TV”

“your child must be stimulated with black and white”

“your child must be socialized”

“your child must stay home with you”

“your child must play soccer, or ballet, or art, or swimming, or basketball, or all of the above and finish their homework, and know how to read by 5”

“your child must never bite, whine, cry, get up at night, pee in their pants, reject the creepy/or not so creepy relative or stranger”

“your child must be potty trained at (insert age here)/you can’t potty train yet”

“your child must sleep through the night and go to bed at 7pm”

And it goes on… and on… and on. It doesn’t matter whether it’s H1N1 (virus or vaccine), or potty training or which university your child “needs” to go to. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the media, experts, institutions, relatives, or me telling you what to do. Fundamentally, parents need to take responsibility for raising their own kids. That means making tough decisions, with no obvious right answers, from our hearts and our guts, after doing our own research and then accepting and living with the consequences of our actions. In the end, we actually know what is best for our families and it’s not necessarily what is best or right for someone else. The rest of us, need to back off and give real support without all the judgment and fear. This isn’t too popular these days, but we’re the ones living with our decisions whether we like it or not… so we might as well own the decisions we’ve made. And the truly liberating part, let others own theirs too!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nursing Leah

I grew up with a mother who nursed all of her six children, the last three of whom were born at home. At the age of ten I was able to watch my youngest brother’s birth. My aunts and older cousins all nursed their children as well. That’s how it was in my family and that’s how I would raise my children. When I was fifteen I was diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma (breast cancer) which resulted in a mastectomy, my right breast and nipple were removed. I decided that I would still be able to nurse, after all if a woman could nurse twins with two boobs, I could easily nurse one baby with my one boob.

Ten years later, I’m pregnant and reading all the breastfeeding books I could find, dragging my husband, Andrew, to breastfeeding lectures, consulting with a breastfeeding specialist and attending La Leche League meetings. To add to my concern about having one boob, my only nipple was inverted. But as Andrew reminded me more than once; ‘it’s breastfeeding, not nipplefeeding.’ I was also practicing positive thinking and so was confident (most of the time) that nursing would come easily to me and my baby and I would have plenty of milk. Despite the breastfeeding specialist and various members of the medical community mentioning a drug given to women to increase the amount of milk produced. Not to mention friends and family voicing concern over whether or not my baby would be getting enough milk. I’m stubborn by nature so those nay-sayers were effectively tuned out.

Leah was born in late December, 8 pounds 13 ounces. After all the reading and advice I was given I was eager for Leah to self latch, and was allowing her to do so when the nurse bustled over and said “No, this is how you do it.” and pushed Leah’s face into my boob, which made Leah scream and refuse to try again. Eventually she did latch on and my midwife said she was latching well. She nursed for about an hour, I was surprised at how well and how strong she sucked. I remember how happy I was, nursing my baby. Nursing Leah tingled a bit and was a little painful, when I mentioned this to the mid-wife she told me that was normal but if it continued past three or four days to get help.
The first few days went well, even with her having jaundice and the nurses coming for three days to poke her. The first doctor advices’ us to give her formula to ‘flush her system’ because my milk hadn’t come in yet. A different doctor, the next day, after being told my milk had come in said to keep nursing, it was probably only breastfeeding jaundice and nursing will clear it up. The totally opposing opinions given by the doctors made me really mad.
By then, Leah had discovered how much she loved nursing, but I was starting to be apprehensive about letting her. I would hold her just centimeters away, hold my breath, count to three and then let her nurse; my legs straight out from the rocking chair, toes curled. She patiently kept her mouth wide open waiting for her mom to be ready. Sometimes I would count to three a few times; that wide open mouth scared me so much. I started calling her my little monster muncher.
I didn’t realize how much pain I was in until our one week appointment. That morning I discovered a scab on the side and one long crack the whole way across the top of my nipple. When we got to the office and went in to see the mid-wife (unfortunately, a different woman from when Leah was born) I burst into tears as soon as she asked me how things were going. She examined my nipple and was astonished that I had lasted this long nursing since the damage was pretty bad. Andrew was upset that I didn’t tell him I was hurting, but until that morning I thought it was normal. The mid-wife watched Leah nurse and said “Her latch is good, but, maybe you should give yourself a break and feed her formula for a day to let your nipple heal. Maybe buy a nipple shield too.” I’m still haunted by those words.

We went home that day with bottles, formula, nipple shields in varying sizes and me in tears. I was really apprehensive about giving her formula. I wanted to maintain my milk supply, and after all my research I knew it was best for Leah and myself. But, even through my tears, the thought of not having her latched on and sucking was appealing.
We gave her formula soon after we got home, and later when she got hungry again. I think it was three feedings in a row, at least six hours without nursing. After that we would nurse with the nipple shield for about ten minutes and then give her formula. When Leah was two weeks old we went to see the breastfeeding specialist. She gave us the proper size nipple shield and told me how to treat/medicate my nipple; lanolin, lanolin and more lanolin, going topless and airing out helps too. Once again, I was in tears the entire time. I felt like I was failing Leah by not being able to nurse her. I had done so much research and had such high expectations; I was expecting it to be easy and totally painless. The reality was so different; it was like battling cancer all over again, I had no idea it would be like that.

We continued to give Leah formula after a few minutes of nursing. The amount of milk I was making was quite a bit lower than it had been and I was very adamant about keeping some milk. I had appointments with the breastfeeding specialist (BFS) weekly, she was very kind and helped me see I was doing the best I could.
It took a while but eventually my nipple was healed. I’m pretty sure I cried the first time I nursed Leah without the shield, even if it was for only ten minutes. Our routine was ten minutes nursing without the shield, ten minutes nursing with (sometimes longer because I loved nursing her) and then formula.

My goal was to wean Leah from formula as we built up my milk supply. When I told the BFS my goal, she was initially skeptical but told me to bring Leah in for a check up in four weeks. I went to my sister’s bridal shower shortly thereafter and forgot Leah’s formula, I nursed her the whole time (luckily I did remember our nipple shield, I think I might have done some serious damage without it) and spent the next two days entirely on the couch nursing Leah whenever she wanted. I had been thinking I needed to do that to build up my milk supply and I guess subconsciously I was ready. My milk as back!

We were still giving Leah about two ounces of formula in the evening. That’s when she was fussy, and we figured it was because she was hungry and for some reason my milk was gone by the end of the day. A few days later Leah and I went to a LLL meeting and Arie reassured me that my milk couldn’t ‘dry’ up like I was thinking it could. She mentioned that two ounces is only a fraction of what Leah needs and she was probably just tired or it might be any number of reasons babies cry in the evening. Another thing she told me which made me smile: in France, during the time of wet nurses, a law was passed that limited the number of babies a woman could nurse to seven. I stopped giving Leah formula that night.

At our next visit to see the BFS, she was below her growth curve, neither myself nor the BFS were concerned because she was still very happy and content. I think she was re-learning how to suckle, drinking from the bottle is much easier than nursing and she had to build up those muscles again. I remember worrying about how on earth can I help her re-learn that skill, and in a moment of clarity realized that continuing to nurse would be the best way. If she’s hungry she’ll suck, and the harder she sucks the more milk she’ll get. Leah was nine weeks old by now and after another four weeks of exclusive nursing she had gained a terrific amount of weight, a happy chubby breastfed baby.

Leah was only about 7 weeks old by the time we were nipple shield and formula free. Looking back it doesn’t seem like long, but at the time it felt like an eternity. I thought we would never be a complete nursing mother and baby. It was a daily battle: maintaining my belief that eventually it would all be over, reminding myself that I wasn’t failing Leah as a parent, being strong and not giving in to pressure that I might not make enough milk and/or my nipple couldn‘t handle nursing. Sometimes I wonder how things would have turned out if I asked for help earlier or if we hadn’t given Leah formula and just used a nipple shield. But, I don’t like to dwell on ‘what ifs’ and things have turned out wonderfully. I remember saying to my aunties that being able to nurse Leah was harder than giving birth to her. Now, when Leah is about to nurse she gets really excited and has the most wonderfully beautiful laugh. I love to hear it and every time I do I am grateful. Nursing Leah is the best thing I have ever fought for.

By Nicole Chatelaine

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Breastfeeding Through Surgeries

One would think that having had one child would better prepare you for the challenges of having another. Only mothers of multiples truly understand how unique each child is even from the womb. My second child, my son, took half a year to conceive compared to my first who took only one try. After months of frustration of disappointments, I let go of my desires to hold a child, and it was then when I became pregnant. The first 6 months were typical of my pregnancies, 3 months of horrible nausea followed by 3 months of high energy and drive. However, when I hit my last trimester, I started having terrible contractions, and I was hospitalized then on bedrest for the last few months.

That should have signaled to me that my second pregnancy would not be the same as my first. Despite the different experiences, I still held on to my belief that I wanted to give my son the best of what I could provide as it was my belief with my first. I wanted to breastfeed my son the moment that he came into the world. It seems like such a simple desire, but I knew that it wasn’t going to be without challenges.

My son came into the world the day after the doctor stopped my meds. After my nurse cleaned him up, he came straight to my breast and latched on like it was his rightful place. Even she said to me, “He’s so good at that!” I looked proudly down at him suckling away, and I hoped that this time it would be perfect.

All was well for a few months until my right breast started giving me trouble. I had always had problems with that breast even with my daughter when I had several infections. It was the same with my son. I felt very frustrated by the pain and perhaps the thought that I would not be able to produce enough milk for him to go strictly with breastmilk. The pain persisted, especially under my armpit even though I went through several rounds of antibiotics. So my doctor prescribed an ultrasound exam at the breast clinic to just make sure that there wasn’t anything going on.

I expected a routine exam, nothing too serious, but after doing the ultrasound, the tech seemed worried, and she asked me to stay longer so that the lead doctor could take a look at the results. They came back to tell me that they needed to do a full digital mammogram. I thought that I wouldn’t have to do one until I was much older, so it was quite a shock. Numb from the possibilities, I went through the painful exam, and then sat as the doctor explained that I had micro-calcifications of unusual patterns in the right breast, and it looked like pre-cancer. They wanted to schedule a stereotactic core needle biopsy of the breast just to make sure. I just couldn’t accept that this was happening to me.

I ended up doing a biopsy on the right breast the following week, and it was extremely painful. What was more painful than the procedure was when right after the biopsy, the male doctor said with a straight face, “I want you to be prepared. It is most likely cancer, and you should prepare for a mastectomy as you don’t have much breast tissue and a lumpectomy would be useless. Good news is that it’s 100% curable.” I could not believe what he said to me. I sat there shaking, then the tears flowed. “I HAVE CANCER” was all I thought. The wonderful tech ladies tried to console me, and they seemed shocked as well as most people my age don’t often get cancer.

So many people prayed for me during that time. It was awesome to see so much support from people of all aspects of my life. There was a lot of bleeding as the needle from the biopsy punctured a duct, and I could not feed my son from that side. Fortunately, my left breast produced more milk in the first place, so though difficult, I was able to continue breastfeeding him. Through it all, many people kept telling me to just quit, that formula is as good, and I’ve gone through so much. There was no information whatsoever in print material nor online about how to breastfeed while recovering from a biopsy. I had to figure it all out on the fly, but my son just adapted to the changes.

Thankfully, the results came back negative; however, the radiologist felt it wasn’t conclusive enough, so I was scheduled for another biopsy to gather more cells in a different area. With my breast having been traumatized so much, there was no way I could continue to breastfeed from that side. With the knowledge I gained from my first experience, I recovered from my second biopsy much faster. I was elated when the results came back negative for the second test as well despite the radiologist’s surprise. He didn’t factor in the power of prayer and my faith.

My right breast dried up over the next few months, but I have been exclusively breastfeeding from my left side. Yes, I’m a little lopsided, but when I see the joy glowing in my son’s face after feeding, I don’t notice that at all. He will be 2 years old in January. All I wanted was to be able to feed him for the first year; I never expected so many challenges, but I am so thankful and glad that I held on to my desire. With the help of my friends and my community, I was able to accomplish my plan and so much more. I have truly been blessed.

Michelle Eunjison Schlensker: wife to Marriage & Family therapist hubby, mama to two beautiful half Korean and half German children, daughter to two dedicated and hardworking parents, owner of www.uhboohbahbaby.com , www.greenthumbfabrics.com & www.3treedesign.com Wow is she busy!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Safe Positioning in Slings

Consumer Reports blog this week announces the heartrenching death of 6 day old Derrik Fowler in an Infantino Slingrider. He died of positional asphyxia- when a baby asphyxiates due to the airway being compressed by the weight of his own head.

This happens when babies are poorly positioned in all types of products: car seats, baby chairs & yes, baby carriers. When babies chins are touching their chests, their airway is compressed. They lack the muscular control to lift their heads to prevent asphyxiation, placing them in an extremely dangerous situation- one Derrik's parents must be devastated about.

I cannot imagine their feelings when they learn that his death was completely preventable. In 2006 & 2007, informal tests were done on the respiration rates & oxygen saturation rates of babies in Infantino Slingriders. They were performed by a former RN & babywearing educator. She sent her findings, along with supporting information, to Infantino & to the American Consumer Product Standards council. Further detail can be found at www.thebabywearer.com

While the Infantino sling is obviously a disaster waiting to strike again, poor positioning in any carrier places infants at risk. It is essential that babies faces are never covered by the fabric of a carrier & that their heads are angled back, keeping their chins well away from their chests. The photos on the Infantino product site are a good indicator of the unsafe positioning that must be avoided.

While some brands of carrier are designed in a way that does not allow the possibility of safe positioning, many excellent brands that do allow for it are used in a position that I no longer consider safe or biologically correct- the cradle hold.

There are a number of reasons I will no longer teach this position. In most photos of babies placed in the cradle position, the baby's chin is down at its chest. It is very difficult for most parents to safely position the baby while it is in the cradle hold.

Second, the cradle position does not place the baby in the position it expects to be in- vertically, between its mothers breasts. Dr Nils Bergman, a physician & researcher who has extensively studied the immensely beneficial practice of keeping babies in their habitat- vertically, between the mothers breasts, says: "The baby is in the right place and therefore has the right behaviour."

As a Lactation Educator (LE) & a Babywearing Educator, I often help parents resolve difficult breastfeeding problems by simply recommending Kangaroo care- ie, time spent skin to skin, vertically, between the mothers breasts.

When babies begin a nursing session in the vertical position (moving themselves over to actually nurse), they are best able to effectively coordinate their suck/swallow/breathe reflexes (for more information on these concepts, see the work of Dr Suzanne Coulson , Kittie Frantz, Dr Michel Odent as well as Dr Bergman)

If babies orient vertically, I believe placing them at an angle, or horizontally, can disorient them. In my experience, this can lead to, or exacerbate, breastfeeding difficulties.

The cradle position continues to be taught by manufacturers & educators, but I recommend you avoid using this positioning. It makes it difficult to position the baby safely & appears to contribute to breastfeeding problems.

Instead, newborn babies should be positioned tummy to chest, with their legs in a frog position, knees higher than bum. The carrier should support them well enough that they are not slumping down in it, potentially compromising their airway.

Babywearing is a wonderful tool that gives babies the minimum they expect- to be carried by their mother. It is also a learned skill that requires a bit of background knowledge to safely perform. Please always be certain that your baby is safely carried.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Moment of Clarity

Thinking back to the time when I was pregnant with my now four-year-old, I feel so blessed to have been able to enjoy the pregnancy in the way I did. Not that I didn’t have morning sickness, or extreme angst about some things that were happening in my life, but my memory of the pregnancy (which hormone is it that makes you forget the rough stuff?) is thoroughly beautiful.

I wandered the trails around Calgary’s Glenmore Reservoir, my belly pressing warmly against my winter coat. When I remember the time, I have this Utopian vision of my cheeks rosy and shiny, my hair gently blowing in the wind, my belly glowing sun-like right through my coat, and a smile that just wouldn’t stop glistening on my perfectly plump face. My hands, for 9 ½ months, were both on my belly, just below my belly button for the majority of each day.

I consciously chose to be outside as often as possible during my pregnancy, and I made that time a special time to deeply connect with the baby in my belly, and with nature. I sang to the trees and the river and the sky, and to my baby, vaguely self-conscious that my singing would be overheard by the many walkers, runners, and cyclists passing along the trails.

One cold morning I got to my usual walking place a little earlier than normal. This felt like a gift. Everything was so quiet and peaceful, no chattering joggers and no bikes whizzing by. I started to sing, listening to my voice echoing the song of my baby’s possible names out into the trees. I headed down the hill into a more excluded wooded area, and about halfway down the hill my thoughts started to churn.

First, I had images of somebody jumping out of the woods, demanding all my money. I held tightly to the cell phone in my pocket, considering storing 911 in my quick-dial as I continued my walk. Then my mind jumped to the time someone had come across a bear on the trail just a bit away from where I was walking. My thoughts flipped to the realization that I would be more frightened of a person than a bear, in that situation. Finally, I realized that people don’t usually carry money while jogging or biking, so anybody jumping out of the woods would be doing so with more horrible intentions.

In the midst of these thoughts and images racing through my mind, both hands went to my belly, and my fear jolted me through to a fight-or-flight response. For a moment, as I considered turning to run back up the hill, I stopped and stood still, tingling with the awareness of danger.

In that moment, a powerful image entered into my mind – I could see a man, obviously of ill-intent, heading up the hill toward me, and I saw myself reach forward, into his chest, and hold his heart in my hand. His eyes looked into mine, and he knew, in the depth of his being, that I would kill him if I needed to.

In that split second, I knew it too, in a way so absolute that the peace of the moment was overwhelming. I knew that if it was necessary, I would growl words that made the incredible, life-giving power of my love for my unborn baby so clear that my attacker would back down and run for his own life. And I knew that, if necessary, I would use my unwieldy body in such a way that any person threatening my baby would be hurt or even killed. I knew also that the power of my love would extend into mercy, and that as soon as an attacker’s intention shifted, he would be released, and encouraged to run.

The image passed, and I exhaled my held breath, my eyes still open wide. The woods shifted back into the warm arms that held my walk and echoed my songs, and the path seemed to open up ahead of me. I continued that walk, and the many more that followed it, drenched in awe for the life journey I was embarking on, and completely confident that the mama in me had access to whatever would be necessary to protect my baby.

Lisa Kathleen is a parenting coach and parent educator in Calgary, Alberta. You can find her on her website at www.fullcircleparenting.com

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Transformation Through 4 Births

Chantelle’s Birth Stories

Baby #1

March 8, 2003 (Due date March 10)

My bloody show started in the morning. Contractions started around 8:45pm, 2 min long and 10-12 minute apart. I called Dean at work and told him to come home. I had a false alarm the previous week so he was skeptical, but came home anyway. I kept telling him to have a shower but he did not believe that this was the real deal. Suddenly my water broke at 9:50pm and like a flash Dean was in the shower. Contractions went to 2 minutes apart. We rushed Molly (our dog) down to Dean’s parents and then continued on to the hospital. I called the hospital in our local town to tell them we were coming. I was in so much pain. It was a cold night and I remember running my fingers across the cold window of the truck hoping to ease my pain somehow. Forgot about all the breathing we had practiced in prenatal class as I was unable to get on top of it. The doctor on call checked me in the midst of a contraction (grrrrrrr!) and I was 4cm. They decided to try to send me by ambulance to the Misericordia (hospital in the city nearby). They gave me Demerol to help with the pain in anticipation of an uncomfortable trip. By the time the ambulance was ready, after about 20 minutes, I was already 7cm. The doctor abandoned the idea of Edmonton and admitted me. Dean filled out the hospital papers while I screamed bloody murder. I felt like I had to poop. I asked if it was too late to go in the shower, nurse said yes. I was so lost, with no guidance from the nurse, Dean was clearly overwhelmed and I had no idea how to handle the pain. Meanwhile the Demerol was kicking in. Checked me again and I was 10 cm and ready to go. Dean is still filling out papers while in delivery room. I remember being so out of it and not wanting to cooperate, sleeping between contractions because of the Demerol. I was afraid of the pain if I pushed and of damaging my vagina. Finally I made some effort after the doctor threatened to give me some meds to increase the strength of the contractions. I told him I would try harder although I just wanted to go home. Because I was so reluctant to push she had major swelling and bruising on her face, once her shoulders were through, I couldn’t help but push as the doctor told me not to. One final push and out she came at approx 1am, the nurse exclaimed “a beautiful baby girl!!” Paige Jean was 8lbs 13ounces and I was so shocked that it was a girl as I was certain it was a boy the entire pregnancy!!!

Postpartum: lots of blood (at the time, it seemed extreme, I know better now)

Stitches were painful.

Nurses were bossy.

Baby #2

August 9, 2005 (due date August 4)

Overdue by 6 days, I was scheduled for an appointment in Edmonton to meet with the doctor. I was absolutely desperate to get this baby out, incredibly uncomfortable. Could not walk or sit, and absolutely constipated. BLAAAHHH!!! He stripped my membranes and instructed me to head over to the Grey Nuns for induction. Checked in and nurse set me up with a stress test. I was under the understanding that I was being induced right then and there. Then the head nurse comes in and says they are too busy and do not induce in the middle of the afternoon anyway. They would put me on the list for the following morning. I was devastated! We stayed overnight at Dean’s brother and sister-in-law’s. I did not sleep at all, cried most of the night and had a bath to try to get some sleep. The following morning we waited for the phone to ring, they said they would call around 7:30am. I felt completely out of control and at the mercy of the nurses. Dean came in the bathroom to let me know finally they had called at 8:15am, while I was in the shower bawling my eyes out. PHEW!!! What a huge relief, this baby was coming out today! We called Alana, my coach and friend and she met us there, I had enlisted her hoping for a better, more focused birth.

They started the pitocin around 9:30am. Then the doctor on call (don’t recall his name) breaks my water, contractions come around 2 minutes apart, getting stronger and stronger. Breathing worked well for a while; I remember Alana had spearmint gum and kept breathing hard right in my face, keeping me focused. Contractions become so strong I was screaming, the synthetic pitocin still pumping through the IV. They tried giving me the gas which is a joke BTW, to be effective you have to inhale the gas during the contraction. How are you supposed to inhale when you’re screaming???!!! The nurse suggests that I get up to go to the washroom to move my bladder and dilate the last 2 cm and I thought this was outrageous!! How am I supposed to walk?? But they talked me into it, and it actually was not that bad. I sat for a while on the toilet, and then slowly made it back to the bed, with my cart of wires & IV. Ready to push and when I pushed it felt so much better!! 6 pushes @ 3-4 pushes a piece. The baby had shoulder dystocia and there was some panic for a minute or so. Alana and Dean pulled my legs up by my head and the nurse pushed on my stomach. Out came a huge baby boy, 9 lbs 13 ounces at approx 1pm. The doctor commented all he needed was a lunch box and was ready for school. Reese Douglas was nicknamed “lunch box” for a year or so. As the nurses wheeled me to the maternity ward, they commented how I was welcome back anytime as I was such an excellent patient. I understand that more now, 4 years later.

Postpartum: Lots of blood and a bit of a risk because of bigger baby. All worked out fine. Nurses were excellent. 187 pounds pre-labour, 175 pounds 24 hours later.

Baby #3

November 5, 2007 (due date November 7)

The doctor put me on a waiting list for induction at about 39 weeks due to the bigger baby and shoulder dystocia risk, and I was bumped day after day for about a week. Once again I turned into a psychopath waiting for these nurses to pick me! Of course, they call us shortly after Dean decided to go to work after waiting around at home for days.

Arrive at the hospital and the IV is inserted for the pitocin and Alana, Dean and I hung out for a few hours in the room, laughing and joking around. Quite a bit of time elapsed as compared to Reese. Finally Doc on call broke my water, and then things progressed quickly. Suddenly there is no more joking or laughing. Spent some time in the hot shower, and then moved back to the bed. I began pushing around 4:50pm. As I am pushing I remember being very alert compared to past births. I wondered why there were so many people in the back of the room leaning against the wall. I even asked why, someone said “They are learning.” I was annoyed by this, unfortunately, this was just the start!

Pushing with Hayley was difficult and I really had to work, again on my back. But they were slow and steady. Out came Hayley, 8 lbs 13 ounces. She was born at 5:08pm. The nurses commented how wonderful I did and how surprised they were with my strength. I found this a bit unusual. There must be more women giving birth without painkillers???

Postpartum: I began hemorrhaging and mild Shoulder Dystocia. I also had stitches. I should also note that I was unable to have comfortable sexual intercourse for the following 10 months, cause unknown. I had 2 nurses, one quite bossy the other a bit of a follower. They inserted a catheter to empty my bladder, certain it was in the way of my uterus contracting. The after pains were horrible. The pushing on my stomach was equally or more so horrible!!! Finally after a few hours, I was moved to recovery. New unit, so the room was brand new. I didn’t get out of bed until following morning around 9am, which was hugely detrimental to my recovery.

In one instance a nurse came on shift and said she wanted to check my spine where the epidural was inserted. I told her I had no epidural, “oh” she says “that’s a first.” What???

After the slow start I was convinced I was not going home that day but finally by around 5pm I decided I was ready. So we loaded Megan Isabelle into her car seat. Then Dean said “Let’s go home Megan.” We looked at each other and knew she was not a Megan. We went and found the nurse and our government form and the black pen, scratched out Megan and wrote Hayley. Now we were ready to go home. As we left the parking lot, I felt sad that I would never be back to deliver another baby...or so I thought.

When we discovered I was pregnant for the fourth time, which was completely unplanned and a HUGE oops on our part, I was a mess. Things with our 3 children were just beginning to become easier and a trip to Vegas or somewhere tropical was on the horizon, among that was the idea of working my way out of the infant stage. I cried a lot and it took me months to warm up to the idea as our youngest was only 13 months old when we discovered the news. I was very sick and incredibly tired.

Also, I was terrified of what was ahead of me as far as another evasive labour. In my mind, I was getting too old for this; my body was trying to tell me that I shouldn’t have more children and I interpreted that as, if I did, medical intervention was the only way. In order to avoid a big baby and the complications that come along with it, I began to contemplate an elective c-section. I didn’t necessarily want one; I just didn’t think I had any other choice. I knew that another induction was out of the question as they were getting increasingly more risky.

Then along came Arie. She and her close friend ran an online website that sold cloth diapers, baby carriers and many other products. I had bought cloth diapers from her for Hayley and had spoke with Arie on a few occasions for advice on the products she offered. She had mentioned to me in the past how she had delivered her 3 children at home, which at the time, I thought was crazy!! Then one evening while on facebook I saw she had posted a link regarding c-sections and the risks they pose including the aftermath and potential effects they can have later in life.

I decided to call her the next day and talk to her about my dilemma. Shortly into our discussion she said to me “Did you ever think that the complications you experienced were a result of being induced?” Wow! I had a complete “ah-ha” moment. It all made sense, complete sense. I pushed the doctors to induce me, I wondered over and over why they didn’t seem concerned about my situation, until I was 41 weeks, then they wanted to take control for example with Reese. (Which looking back, I totally believe that it was a “pit to distress” attempt that thankfully did not work out in their favor.) The doctors weren’t concerned because there was nothing to be concerned about. I was making it all into a huge deal, a crisis out of being pregnant. Essentially, I viewed it as a disaster waiting to happen. All of this made me incredibly sad, I had three births under my belt and I knew nothing of my choices and had learned nothing about having a birth that meant something. All this time I bragged of my drug-free births, pushing them out vaginally, when really I had tons of intervention. I had pitocin with 2 births and it doesn’t get more intervening than that, next to a c-section. Just because I didn’t have painkillers (with the exception of course to the Demerol I never consented to), I thought I was doing it naturally. I begged for those inductions, I would have camped out in the labour and delivery ward had they let me. I was not going to wait for the baby to come when it was ready, I didn’t trust my body or my baby. I had basically lost all faith that I was able to go into labour on my own.

So, after this conversation, I set out to find myself a doula and possibly a midwife. I began reading books regarding intervention-free births and books about choosing your own birth. One of the books was “Your Best Birth” by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, I strongly recommend this book. It took me until about 30 weeks before I found a doula, which I ended up not going with after Arie offered her services to me. She was not a registered doula but she had attended a few births but her knowledge surpassed the 3 doulas I had previously spoken with and I trusted her completely. I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and I began to have an incredible feeling of entitlement. I was entitled to a birth of my choice, a pregnancy of my choice, and I realized that I do not need doctors. We need them when we are sick, or there is an emergency. But I was not sick and there was no emergency. I was pregnant, and that was all.

I have to mention that most people that I told about my revelation thought I had completely lost my mind. It is increasingly disturbing that many people question the safety of a natural birth more than the safety of an unnecessary elective c-section or induction.

As the weeks passed I became anxious at the thought of even stepping foot in a hospital. I dreaded the thought of the doctors and nurses taking the control away, and crapping all over my birth experience. After much discussion with my own thoughts and my husband and doula, I knew that the hospital was the best answer. I was not prepared to take responsibility for the result should something unforeseen happen during a home birth. We began working on our own issues and preparing ourselves to demand the experience we wanted and stand our ground. Occasionally getting a little carried away as I had even contemplated labouring in the parking lot of the hospital or even delivering in the parking lot as I would be close should I need assistance, and then arrive at the ward full out pushing or even carrying a baby in my arms. Then they couldn’t possibly intervene.

*The following are some journal entries close to the end of my pregnancy.

August 10, 2009. Now at 39 weeks and knowing that my one and only choice is a no intervention birth, I am once again being tested to the max, emotionally and physically. I strongly believe that this is the best for my baby and myself, however, I now need to be prepared to wait it out. I have been in latent labour for what feels like 2 weeks. I have had to reassure myself that I have the ability to go into labour on my own, that I need to trust my baby and my body.

I have been confident that one of the false labour experiences I have had in the past few weeks was the one, and I did it! I went in on my own! Then every morning I wake up, still pregnant. And although, I still have a week to go, I am fighting my own internal battle. Feeling the need to perform for all those that doubt this choice I have made, and with the growing feeling inside that I am utterly and completely tired of being pregnant and this baby could not come soon enough. The more I research and learn how psyche has a lot to do with labour, now I am trying not to stress about being stressed... “Allow myself to introduce myself”. At this stage it is all enough to make me nuts! What happened to my “cool as a cucumber” outlook?? “The baby will come when it is ready” philosophy?? Nobody can understand this late-pregnancy syndrome until you are up to your eyeballs in it; I can tell you right now, it is not pretty.

August 13, 2009 I had some show this morning and then nothing. However, I am refreshed and ready to relax after my appointment with a reflexologist this afternoon. I have been in a labour forum this morning, reading other women’s posts, who are 36-38 weeks, and going bonkers and begging for help on how to naturally induce their labours. I keep thinking, you have no idea what is still ahead of you! So I feel like I have a grip again and ready to push through the rest of today and hopefully get through to Monday with this same attitude. At that time I will maybe think of experimenting with some castor oil or other herb at the advice of my doula. I have doctors breathing down my neck telling me to be prepared to be induced at 41 weeks. I don’t dare book another appointment as I’m afraid this will seal my fate. I guess it is time to step up and become uncooperative.

Aug 17, 2009 Due date has arrived and is almost over. I have put my children to bed early in hopes of having some quiet time before Dean gets home. I need to have a chat with this baby and remember why I chose this route to begin with. I have been in tears twice today with fear that I will not go into labour on my own and the baby will have to be removed via C-section or medical induction. I am afraid the baby will go into distress. I am afraid I will be denied care after 41 weeks. I am most afraid that my willpower will not persevere and I will give in and have my membranes stripped, etc. I wish I could be as surprised as I was when my water popped with Paige. I was relaxed and doing a puzzle that afternoon. Not analyzing every little pain in my belly. Being 2 days early certainly helped as well.

Within minutes of writing the above entry, shortly after 8pm, I felt a funny pop in my abdomen. It wasn’t my water but it got my attention. I got up and went to the washroom, I noticed some pink on the tissue after, and so I wiped again some more…nothing. As I sat there analyzing this small pink blot on the tissue, I stood up and accepted it was likely another false sign. I am about to flush and notice pink and red drips in the toilet. I wipe again and more pink, more red. YES!!! I smile and phone Alana. I hang out on the toilet and chat with her, telling her labour is likely only 24 hours away. I get off the phone with her and start to notice that I am out of breath, I am having a contraction. It is weak, but nevertheless, a good contraction. I check my underwear and there is more show on my panty liner. Holy crap! I call Dean and there is no answer, so I try again, no answer. I call the company he was working with and tell them to send him home, I am in labour. Next, I call Arie and tell her what is going on, she is going to get child care and meet us at Dean’s brother and sister’s house in Edmonton. At that time it is around 8:30 pm and the contractions are becoming stronger and closer together, between 4-7 minutes apart. I check my panties again, I feel a spark of panic, the show is so plentiful that I need to change my panty liner. I call Dean and ask him if he is coming, he says he is crossing the bridge, about 20 minutes away. I call Alana again; her husband, Jim answers and I tell him that she needs to come now. As I am walking around the house trying to put the last minute things in my suitcase, I keep forgetting to put on some pants. Jim calls a couple times to check on me as I am waiting for Alana, Dean, Dean’s mom and grandmother to arrive, I get through a couple contractions while talking to him. At 9:10pm they all arrive within seconds of each other. Dean quickly showers and Alana jumps in her vehicle while Dean and I jump in our truck and head to Edmonton, about an hour drive, leaving Marj and Great Grandma with the kids. The contractions are difficult and about 4 minutes apart and all of us are questioning if we are going to make it.

I try to sit hard on my bum in attempt to close my pelvis and I felt like I have a full bladder, which slows down my labour. Stretching it out 7-8 minutes apart and weakening the contractions. As we pass through Nisku, I start to panic, I don’t know the route Dean is taking and I am unable to talk through the contractions. We go through Beaumont and I freak out again that we are lost, we also run out of windshield washer and the windshield is a disgusting bug-gut mess so Dean has to pull over and re-fill. Finally we make it to the hospital. The thought of having to walk anywhere was so overwhelming. It proves to be impossible; I have to sit on my knees on the ground during a contraction. A nurse spots us and brings us a wheelchair. We have to go through emerg because the main doors are locked at night. ER is packed and we have to stop to be admitted, also wait for someone to come down from L & D and come get us. Suddenly I feel someone’s hand on my shoulder; it is Alana clearly out of breath and relieved to be there. I was so happy to see her; we had lost her on the way as Dean was driving 180km/h at times. As we get up to L & D, the nurses see us and we are guided into a room. I tell them I need to go pee. I go into the bathroom and hang out there for a while as I am afraid that they are going to take away the control. I get back to the bed and the one nurse explains that she looked over my birth plan and wants to give me an IV because of the hemorrhage and shoulder dystocia. No, I don’t want an IV. She responds well and then checks me to see my progress, kindly waiting until the contraction stopped. She tells me I am fully dilated with bulging membranes. She calls for more help and they all start setting up.

Everyone was very cooperative with us and after the mention of the IV, no one tries to intervene again. Alana is at my side as I work through a few really difficult contractions, trying to breathe and keep me focused, I kept thinking “I need to get out of this bed!” As the nurse is trying to fill out paperwork and ask me questions, my water busts and shoots all over the floor and bed. That would have been messy had it happened in the truck. I find it difficult to explain how I felt after that, I rolled over to my stomach and got up on my knees. Someone gave me my birth ball and I flop on top of it. I knew that this was it, time to push. I didn’t say anything, or talk to anyone. My body was already pushing and I worked with it, sometimes pushing hard, sometimes just little grunts. I felt everything as the baby descended and the voices in the room that the doctor needed to come, that the head was “right there”. I was in total control and I knew that my baby and I were working together, just as I dreamed it would go and just as it should have gone with Hayley and Reese. Maybe a few more pushes, my guess would be 5 pushes total and our 9 pound 2 ounce baby boy, Brandt Holden, slid rapidly out at 10:46pm. I maneuvered back onto my bum and with the cord still attached I held our baby to my skin and rubbed him with a towel. The doctor cooperated and did not clamp the cord right away. They gave us 3 minutes and then clamped and cut the cord. The nurse then asked if I was okay with a shot of oxytocin in the leg to help my uterus contract, I agreed. Anytime in the past, I was never asked, I was given the shot without consent and possibly without knowledge until after the fact.

No shoulder dystocia, no hemorrhage. In fact, I had less blood loss than the past two births. At one point the nurse turned the lights down and it was dark and quiet. The nurses worked with my uterus and massaged gently. I was able to get up after half an hour and have a shower before we moved to recovery. Arie made it just before 11:30. We had a joke going that day that I was hoping for the baby to arrive on the due date. She gently reminded me that less than 5% of babies arrive on the due date. I told her I was hoping to wiggle in to that 5%, and 10:46 pm is about as tight as you can get! Arie helped with the breastfeeding and he was able to self attach within that first hour of life!! We moved to recovery and had some more opportunity to work on the breastfeeding. I felt great; I didn’t feel tired or wiped out. I felt elated and empowered, I felt that I had made great decisions and it had all paid off!

After being moved to recovery, the nurse told me she wanted to poke baby to check his blood sugar levels. I had this same experience with Hayley and Reese, as big babies sometimes have blood sugar issues. It was a horrible experience as they poke them repeatedly but I also remember them never having a problem. Arie suggested that I decline the test as I have big babies and they have never had problems in the past. One more intervention that nobody gives you an opportunity to turn down, they tell you that this is what they need to do and you feel you are protecting your child by agreeing, when that is not always necessarily the case. It is invasive; it interferes with your breastfeeding and rest, not to mention it being traumatic. My doula taught me, every instance that an intervention is recommended, I must ask myself what are the risks, will the complications of the procedure outweigh the benefits and what will I do with the knowledge I gain from the intervention. I was up walking around within the hour and had a shower in the delivery room. Then I was up to go pee without assistance about 2 hours after birth. This in itself shows me how the natural labour versus the induction has way less complications and an incredible recovery. As I worked through those contractions, though intense were completely natural. Labour is supposed to hurt, and any doctor that offers to take that pain away through medications is essentially taking away your experience and bond with your body and baby.

September 2, 2009

As I read my final birth story, I smile. This is something that I worked so hard for and it all paid off. Every day that I felt I was going to lose it was all worth it in the end. My doula had commented a few times that all of this is a process. The shifts and changes in our behavior, is all part of the early labour and in hindsight I would never do it any other way. I strongly believe that the moments prior to my labour starting were spent facing my fears and journaling them, and that was my final step in my own personal process. I was ready, mind, body and soul.

A drug free, intervention free birth!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What exactly do we have to gain from telling the truth about formula?

An article has been popping up in Canadian newspapers this month, with the dubious headline "Prepare a backup plan for feeding baby: Moms should learn about formulas as a nutritious option to breast milk." It reads as a thinly veiled ad for infant formula, heavily quoting an Ottawa pediatrician (pregnant with her first, of course, & due any day) who recommends that parents plan for breastfeeding failure by having formula at the ready before baby is born. Let that sink in. A pediatrician & mother to be is suggesting that you have at the ready a product that will increase your baby's chance of death in his first year by 30% *

So, really, who benefits from this arrangement? It certainly is not the baby and it is rarely the mother. It has been well-documented that the free promotional formula & coupons handed out by doctors, hospitals etc decreases the likelyhood of successful breastfeeding. It is obvious that the formula (read, pharmaceutical) industry benefits when women don't breastfeed. It is also well-established that parents are apt to continue to buy the brand of formula recommended by their doctor.

So how do doctors acquire the information needed to recommend one brand of formula over another? Not in med school- the amount of education on either breastfeeding or formula feeding is negligent, if at all existent. They receive virtually all of their education on infant feeding from pharmaceutical companies, ie, the makers of formula. It is a drug & it is marketed as such. The pharmaceutical industry is a huge one, with vast marketing & advertising budgets. Chances are you know a drug sales rep- ask them what their job is like! A typical sales rep is expected to build & maintain positive relationships with the MDs in their territory. This is accomplished by spending time- appointments in the doctors' offices, lunches out, golf games. The entertainment is covered by the drug reps' expense account. During the time spent, the focus is on educating the doctor about your product- be it the latest anti-erectile dysfunction pill, or the newest infant formula. How it is different from competitors. How it is used. Swag- pens, notepads, measuring tapes are left (with the product logo on them), as are samples for the doctor to hand out to patients who might use the product.

Consider this when, as a new parent, you walk into your doctors office hoping for help with your breastfeeding questions. While a small industry around breastfeeding has cropped up (nursing pillows, breast pumps, other products) it is a tiny fraction of that of the formula industry. Frankly, the people selling those products are probably not the ones considered to be the Zealots, the Lactivists. The Nazis.

What on earth do the so called breastfeeding bitches(lactivists, nazis, whatever) have to gain? I was inspired by this quote from Edmonton doula Victoria Powell, in response to a "friends" complaint about a link she posted on her Facebook page:

"I don't agree whatsoever. Breast isn't best-it's just normal!!
To make the choice to use formula is absurd. I never know how to respond when I hear that a woman was made to feel guilty because she didn't/wouldn't breastfeed. The first I think is: what exactly do these breastfeeding "zealots" have to gain from telling the truth about formula?
Nothing. We don't spread the truth because we want women who formula fed to feel bad, we want them to rethink what they did, and do it differently with their next baby. And if they medically cannot breastfeed, I want them to still encourage breastfeeding for others. Because the mother who genuinely couldn't breastfeed uses formula to keep her baby from starving, that doesn't mean formula is a safe choice for women who can breastfeed. It is to be used in an emergency situation only. No one has anything to gain from a woman breastfeeding- except for that mother and her baby."

I ask you to consider this. We have nothing to gain. Ostensibly, there is the potential for reduced public health care costs, but that exists with any public health initiative. Frankly, it doesn't impact my bottom line as a taxpayer.
Those of us who speak out against the unethical marketing of formula, the misinformation, lies & spin that the industry perpetuates, have nothing to gain from it. Only one group stands to lose from our efforts- the formula industry itself. We know what happens when it feels threatened. Employees are assigned to stir up Mommy Wars in parenting forums. Companies attempt to bribe bloggers . Babies are lost in the shuffle as the disussion focuses not on how formula should be marketed, or on how it's safety can be improved for those reliant on it, but on the "lactivist agenda".

We have nothing to gain. Mothers & babies have everything to lose when they are not able to access accurate information about the risks of formula feeding.

"No one has anything to gain from a woman breastfeeding- except for that mother and her baby."

*This statistic was quoted by Teresa Pitman at the 2009 Birthing Breastfeeding & Bonding conference in Lethbridge Alberta. It is based on meta-analysis of the combined risks of infection & disease caused by not breastfeeding.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Saving My Baby

I gave birth on a February afternoon by repeat caesarean. A pink, squalling bundle was handed to me, and I gazed lovingly into eyes that seemed to recognize me. I whispered sweet words of belonging to this girl child of mine, and comforted her outraged cries. She was the daughter I so desperately wanted.

A week after her birth, a friend dropped off a ring sling. I snuggled my 7 lb bundle into it and went about my way with a mostly content baby. Within two weeks, I was wearing her constantly. Towards afternoon, she’d begin to sob and scream inconsolably. She would arch and thrash, refuse to nurse, refuse a soother, the swing, my arms. The only thing that would quiet her screams was the sling.

Screamy baby began to lose weight. I carried her – day in, day out – in the sling. Repeated trips to the doctor revealed nothing. She was unable to nurse, screaming hysterically within moments of latch on.I was told rudely “ Do breast compressions. Breast is best.” Breast compressions made her choke and gag... and scream. I began feeding her formula. We went back to the doctor. Reflux. Milk Intolerance. Delayed gastric emptying. Her weight gain was poor, and the screaming increased in volume. Nights were long, filled with arching, thrashing baby. There was many a night that I slept with her in the sling, sitting up on the couch, unwilling to move her from her comfort zone. People told me I was spoiling her. I told them “ We’re coping. This is all that works.” I was told to let her cry it out, but I had no desire to abandon my child to a dark room to cry out her angst. My responsibility to her did not end when the sun went down. I whispered in her ear that I couldn’t stop her crying, but I could hold her while she cried.

I paced the floors with her, snuggled tummy to tummy in the sling. At six months, I begged the doctor to hospitilize her – I knew something was dreadfully wrong. The paediatrician agreed. She was poked, prodded, xrayed, and force fed. The screaming continued.

A day before discharge, my pediatrician’s partner waltzed into our room with his holier than thou attitude. He told me I wasn’t putting in the effort to feed her, to put her in another room to sleep and let her cry it out. I banned him from treating my child.

I worked part time, baby in sling. I got a mei tai, two more ring slings. I carried her everywhere. In the shower. To the doctor, to the park, on playdates. People nastily asked me how she would learn to walk if I never put her down. I ignored them. Carrying her stopped the screaming.

Just before her first birthday, she developed a high fever and cough. I took her to the ER, still wrapped in my sling. We waited 7 hours. Xrays revealed her heart was enlarged. We were admitted. I carried her nonstop for the next few days – through a terrifying whirlwind of echocardiograms and finally a diagnosis. During one particularly memorable screaming fit, a nurse turned to me in tears, and handed me my sling. My daughter quieted, safe in her sling.

She was in heart failure. A rare and very serious heart defect had been causing massive heart attacks. Fatality rates were 90% in the first year. The screaming was her suffering from crushing chest pain. In the hallway, the cardiologist turned to me and quietly told me that it was my parenting – the constant carrying – that had allowed her to survive against all odds.

My daughter never cried alone, left in a room. Had I ever practiced CIO, I would have woken to a lifeless baby. I held her through months of gut wrenching doubt, moments when I cried too. But today, I watch my daughter play and run, and laugh. I carried her through a mom’s worst nightmare... and we both survived.

Sarah Kaganovsky

Updated- October 2010~

Mila is now a happily thriving three and a half year old. The scrawny screaming baby has grown into a confident and outgoing preschooler because of the constant babywearing. looking back, it amazes me... My trusty sling and I... We SAVED her.

Mila now has had two brain surgeries as well. And a little sister! The only way I've been able to care for them both is to be wearing one. In a way, babywearing has allowed us to cope as a normal family. The baby deserves Mommy. Mila requires hands on care. And I can provide both girls exactly what they need!

An Introduction

The experience of keeping (or retrieving) your power will make you fierce. As all mamas should be.

I’m pretty sure I’m post-feminist. I know many who will disagree so I’ll only speak from my experience. Is feminism still necessary? Probably- but I don’t believe I’ve ever been the victim of gender discrimination. I realize this is entirely due to the efforts of women before me (thanks Mom!). Things change, though. The feminist movement was about power- men had it, women were denied it, women took it. Women today are still in need of power, but these days, it’s not necessarily the men who are holding it.
Never is this so obvious as when women become mothers. The process of becoming pregnant, giving birth & parenting a young child seems to marginalize educated, intelligent women to the point where many will throw their power at anyone willing to catch it. Why is this? What makes a mother devalue herself as the least expert on her own body, her own baby? And why are the women who reject this system and keep their power for themselves so criticized? Worst of all, why are those willing to take the power the most likely to be those we’re encouraged to trust- our doctors, nurses, midwives, teachers? Is it human nature to take power when someone tries to give it to you? The answer to all these questions is summed up with one word: responsibility.
Power & freedom, to my mind, are two sides of the same coin. We all know that with greater freedom comes greater responsibility. What if all these power-abdicating women are actually giving away their responsibility? Such a system would work, if those taking the power also accepted the responsibility. But when was the last time the doctor who performed the c-section went home with the mother to help her recover? Do the specialists who give bad breastfeeding information pay for the formula when breastfeeding fails as a result of their advice?
This leads us to a big taboo that very few parents will acknowledge- they, & they alone, are responsible for their children. We can pretend we’re not. We can choose a hospital birth just in case. We can accept breastfeeding information that allows it to fail. We can place our children in daycare; send them to public school, countless other choices, big & small, that allow others power over our children’s lives. But ultimately, we are the ones left responsible for the outcomes of those choices.
Please don’t misread me here- I am not saying that those choices are irresponsible. In many cases, these would be appropriate. I am addressing those who might be making their choices based on fear of accepting responsibility. Is it easier to accept a negative outcome if it wasn’t your fault? I don’t think so. No one loves your kids more than you- why would you knowingly make a poor choice for them? Keep your power and trust that you know what you & your baby need. Your body can grow your baby, can birth your baby, can provide milk for your baby. You can educate your children. You can advocate for them. The experience of keeping (or retrieving) your power will make you fierce. As all mamas should be.
Maybe I’m more of a feminist than I think.