The Miracle of Birth: Monty Python Style

For some of you younger readers, Monty Python may not be a dominant sub-script in your life, but for those in my boat, the voice of John Cleese is a friend who shows up nearly daily.  As with most parody, Monty Python is able to speak truthfully about cultural problems and trends without being offensive (or perhaps overly offensive...).  The scene is a hospital delivery room:

Nurse: Mrs. Moore's contractions are more frequent, doctor!

OB: Good! Take her to the Fetus Frightening Room

OB: So, it's a bit bare in here today, isn't it? More apparatus, please, nurse: the E.E.G., the B.P. monitor, and the A.V.V.

Nurse: Yes, Certainly, Doctor.

Dr. Spenser: And, uh, get the machine that goes 'ping'.

... Doctors (speaking to pregnant patient): Hallo. Now, don't you worry.  We'll soon have you cured.  Leave it all to us. You'll never know what hit you.

Pregnant woman: What do I do?

Dr. Spenser: Nothing, dear. You're not qualified!

(After you read this article, go watch the whole scene.  It's great for a laugh)

In the 30 years between 1920 and 1950, one of the biggest shifts in motherhood occurred: the change from home birth to hospital birth.  Now, I am neither idealizing home birth nor defaming hospital birth in this article (you can have a terrible home birth or a beautiful hospital birth), but rather looking through a broad lens at how this shift radically changed our cultural perspective about where the battlefield of motherhood lies.  Let me explain.  

Prior to 1950, the majority of births for the history of mankind happened at home and were attended by midwives, aunts, grandmothers, and sisters.  Sit with that thought for a moment.  Human culture has predominantly believed that a woman's own home was the normative place for the life-changing transition from womanhood to motherhood.  And that motherhood was saturated in the voices of Mother-wisdom.

As this began to shift in America, a monumental assumption also shifted: the passage into motherhood became something that was managed from the outside rather than achieved from the inside.  Stirrups, episiotomies, sterility, lying in a "manageable position" for labor and delivery.... having a child was no longer about becoming a mother but rather avoiding an emergency.  

However, this isn't about whether you have a home or hospital birth, but rather the undercurrent philosophical change.  I believe the most important thing that changed was this: women began to doubt their ability to be mothers.  The mindset shift may be subtle, but it sure is powerful.  If we are told (indirectly through the evolution of Western Obstetrics) that we aren't "qualified" to do something as mammalian and innate as laboring our babies in the world, then how could we possibly be qualified to make a trillion other mothering choices??  Over the course of not so many years, the ancient voice of grandmother wisdom speaking motherhood into our souls was drowned out by the voice of Medicine.  And our confidence as mothers was shattered.

I see in my practice and have have felt it myself in those early years of motherhood: doubt driven by fear.  What do the experts say about the chemicals in diapers?  Which brand of wipes is the least damaging to my baby's skin?  Do I have to buy organic clothing?  What is the best baby wrap? Is co-sleeping better than crib-sleeping?  What should the first solids be and when should I start them?  How do I discipline my child or should I let him do whatever he wants?  Is it okay for me to sleep train my baby or must I live in sleeplessness until my child decides to wean?  Or maybe I decide to wean when I'm ready rather than letting my baby decide?  I DON'T KNOW HOW TO MOTHER MY CHILD!!!

yes, you do.

Don't feel guilty about these feelings because that won't get you anywhere.  

Accept that the confidence of knowing how to be a mother has been drained from our culture for a while now.  

Engage with the growing number of us who are trying to reclaim Mother-wisdom.  Start with binge-watching mammalian births on YouTube (no, seriously, do it) and embrace that you are oh so much more capable than that giraffe at knowing the hows and whats of bringing your babies through this lion-filled jungle of people trying to steal your maternal peace and confidence. 

Stop using Google instead of a grandma/mother/aunt/mentor.  If you don't have a wise woman in your life - find one. 

Be Cautious of making identifying statements that lock you into a "type" of mothering ("I do attachment parenting", "I only eat organic", "I'm a cloth-diapering mom", etc...) - replace those statements with just being the kind of mother that is best for each of your children (this will grow and change just as fast as they do if you allow for the fluidity of life).

Find a medical provider who helps you feel confident as a mother, or respectfully tell the one you already see that you would like them to help you feel more confident as a mother.  (Most doctors really respond well to this sort of respectful direction!)

Tune out whatever seems like noise.  If that is social media, stop using it.  If it's a fearful person in your life, spend less time with them.  If it is coming from within, start meditating and breathing for 5 minutes a day to find stillness.

Tune in to the present and to the needs of your family right now.  These needs will change tomorrow, so just focus on today.  Plan for today only.  Remember, babies will go with the flow as much as we will allow.

Connect with your spouse, partner, friends who will give and receive love without making you feel guilty.  Join or build a tribe that empowers women to be the mothers they are.

 

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Your Intuition is.....Yours

A beautiful bulging belly, the image of fruitfulness and love, sat before me.  Her eyes were brimming with the life growing inside of her, a life which would soon burst through her heart and shatter it into thousands of droplets filled with colors and light and make a rainbow of her soul.  There were other feelings there, in the pools of her eyes: fear, insecurity, doubt.  A wise man once told me, “God gives children to the most inexperienced people" - truth.  Here was a woman turning mother, wondering how the never-ending nine months could have flown by so quickly.  Ready or not (as all parents learn, firmly “not”), this baby is coming and coming soon.

She was my client and her question seemed simple, though her voice was anxious and taut,  “what do you keep in your home medicine cabinet?  I want to make sure I’m prepared.”  Being a leaning-towards-hippy-and-all-things-natural midwife who was also raised in the rurals of Northern California by a saintly woman with solid nutritional, herbal, and medicinal values, I should have had a ready-answer.  But, being a real life mother, there was this rush of panic, self-consciousness, and insecurity.  Who was I to tell answer this question for her?

This is not about what’s in my medicine cabinet.  It’s about stepping into the wardrobe behind the medicine cabinet and choosing who to trust in a wide and unfamiliar world where you are the monarch responsible for taking care of little lives.  You discover during pregnancy that everyone feels the freedom to tell you what you just have to know and just have to do and just have to…  And then you wade (or drown) into parenthood and there are even more voices telling you what you should do or think.  How and who do you believe? How do you choose who to trust?  What do they know, anyhow?  Pretty soon you’re requiring everyone’s credentials, background, and philosophical position on modern medicine before you lend them an ear. And THEN you realize that you’re not one bit closer to making a decision and really everyone is out to confuse you and how, oh how, can there be so many opinions about every tiny piece of parenting? (If you don’t believe me, just speak the word “immunizations” publicly and experience the torrent of opinions that follow).

In my professional opinion, there are things that a pregnant/laboring/breastfeeding woman should do (eat well, drink plenty of water, stay active…) and shouldn’t do (smoke, drink diet soda, run a marathon after 36 weeks…).  Everyone agrees, these things are sound and smart and will always be true.  Science is not what we as moderns tend to think it is – it is not static or infallible or universal.  Wisdom, however, is.  We need both, but not equally.  Wisdom is a gift; science is learned.  Wisdom is unpalpable; science is experimental.  Wisdom is unprovable; science is theory proved to law.  Wisdom emanates from the Creator who alters scientific “law” upon His whim (or request, sun standing still and all).  Wisdom transcends us yet is deeply personal, piercing to our conscience and ordering our ways.

When someone says something like, “you should try using essential oils when your child has a fever and you’ll never use Tylenol again” or “you really shouldn’t give any vaccinations before your child is one year old, my 5-month old had a terrible reaction when we vaccinated,” this is confusing wisdom for science and making intuition a universal law.  I am, you are, responsible for the little lives given to our stewardship.  For an indefinite amount of time, they are ours.  Mine are not yours and yours are not mine and the woman in Target or at church or at playgroup does not know what is best for your family.  We need community, we crave input, and it’s good to seek advice from a couple trusted people, but both the decisions and consequences of our family’s health are responsibilities given to us as their parents.

I am not saying to trust your intuition and throw all else to the wind.  I am encouraging you to do your research, talk to others, ask questions of professionals, soak these things in and seek wisdom.  Attach yourself to your mom/aunt/grandma or to an experienced mom you respect - ASK THEM INSTEAD OF GOOGLE.  Do not be driven by guilt or insecurity, there is no shame in having (or not having) Benadryl, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, homeopathy or any other medicine/non-medicine in your cabinet.  Vaccinate or don’t vaccinate based on research or trusting your care provider.  Don’t make these decisions from fear, for in parenting the fear threatens to run deep and cloudy through all things, marring joy and stealing peace. You have the intuition for your family. Incline your ear and learn to trust.  

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America! Maternal Mortality on the Rise

The United States is one of eight countries where Maternal Morbidity is on the rise.  In fact, our rate of maternal mortality has tripled since 1980.  Defined as "maternal death that is associated with pregnancy or childbirth", America now has the highest rate of maternal mortality amongst developed countries.  What a thing of horror.   

There are several reasons that this is occurring, including an increased number of surgical deliveries (which are three times riskier than a vaginal delivery), complications from augmented labors, and dietary deficiencies leading to a rise in preeclampsia and eclampsia.  This is only part of the list that we can see and study.  But the particular issue I want to address today is that of rural healthcare, as maternal death is disproportionately high in rural areas.

Living in a very isolated area, I can attest to the state of rural maternal health in America today.  The nearest hospital is 15 minutes away, a larger one is 40 minutes away, and the nearest urban hospital is an hour and a half drive.  Due to the increasing cost of obstetric services in the US, the closest hospital had to stop offering them a decade ago.  This has left people in my community with the option of driving 40 minutes to a hospital where OB services are offered by on-call family practice doctors OR drive the hour and a half to the "city" where there are in-house Obstetricians.  Add into the equation that 5 months out of the year our area is shrouded in beautiful but dangerous driving conditions.  

This situation leads women into a few undesirable predicaments:

  • delivering on the side of the road, back of an ambulance, in a  rural unequipped Emergency Department OR
  • arriving at the hospital in early labor to find they are 2-3cm dilated and being admitted (they can't very well be sent home!).  Subsequently, for every hour they spend in the hospital during early labor, their chances of interventions and surgical delivery increase.

Let us not forget that rural areas are often very impoverished areas.  Many of these women cannot afford to travel the distance needed to receive prenatal care.  This leads to missed visits (particularly at the end of pregnancy), and therefore, missed diagnoses of possibly fatal conditions such as pre-eclampsia (one of the big killers of mothers), hypertension, and fetal mal-position.

This is a serious problem.  Thankfully, the gravity of this issue has caught the public eye:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been one of the forerunners in offering possible solutions to Maternal Mortality.  Along with AmnestyUSA and countless other respectable organizations, the WHO has offered that an increase in midwifery care will improve outcomes for mothers and babies worldwide, particularly in rural areas.  Indeed, they have said that, "Increasing the number of midwives by 25% will reduce maternal mortality by 50%)."  Properly trained midwives are a very feasible and effective solution to the problem of Maternal Morbidity.  As French Obstetrician, Dr. Odent, has said, 

“If we want to find safe alternatives to obstetrics, we must rediscover midwifery. To rediscover midwifery is the same as giving childbirth back to women.” 

We, as Americans, need to re-evaluate maternal healthcare in this country.  For most, birth is normal and natural, not a condition needing treatment. Do not for a moment imagine that interventions are conveniences without consequences. 

 For the 15% of women in this country who have high-risk pregnancies, I am deeply grateful for a medical system equipped to save lives.  But for the 85% of women who are low-risk, having a baby is the epitome of wellness. Whether you deliver in or out of the hospital, be aware of the benefits and risks of both.  We live in a country where we have many choices, be thankful for them and make wise decisions that are the most comfortable for you.  This is your body and your baby and you have been given the intuition to care for both.  Listen to your instincts, don't ignore them even if medical professionals do.  Find care providers that you can trust and that trust you.

“Experiences have clearly shown that an approach which 'de-medicalizes' birth, restores dignity and humanity to the process of childbirth, and returns control to the mother is also the safest approach.” -Dr. Odent, MD, OBGYN

 

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