Oh Oh, Baby Boy!: Engaged Fatherhood

I so badly want this book to be created! I want to be able to recommend it to all of my future clients. I want to have copies in my office.

I want us to keep talking about this, it’s so important.

Frustratingly, WordPress won’t allow me to embed this type of video, so go see the video and donate here.

HT to Racialicious for information about this Kickstarter Campaign.

Call for Submissions: Transpregnancy and Conception

So so so excited about this! Stephanie Brill is calling for submissions for a book on Transpregnancy and Conception. From the MAIA Midwifery Website:

Call for Submissions!
Stephanie Brill is currently calling for submissions for a book about transpregnancy/conception. This book will ilnclude:
• using transwomen as donors
• transmale pregnancies
• transmale partners of biowomen
• transmen/transwomen parenting together
Please send submissions to: info@genderspectrum.org

HT to Doula Right Thing for this info.

Queers and Homebirth

I’m in the middle of reading Confessions of The Other Mother: Nonbiological Lesbian Moms Tell All! by Harlyn Aizley. I’m reading it because it was recommended to me. I’m not very far into the book but so far I’m enjoying it. It’s filled with stories that don’t normally get told, ones that I very much want to hear. However, I couldn’t even get through the introduction by Aizley before I found myself rocketed out of this happy little homebirth world I’ve been cocooning myself in. Aizley says “[g]ranted I was doped up on hormones, painkillers, and fatigue” when recalling her immediate postpartum period and describes life with children as a “Cheerios- and Elmo-filled, world.” These phrases leapt out at me from the page. It’s not that these two phrases aren’t descriptive of many people’s experiences with birth and parenthood. Of course they are. It’s just that I find the simplicity with which they were stated as a matter of course and the lack of reflexivity that accompanies this sort of writing staggering. It comes across as so shocking because this is not what I envision for myself as a future parent, nor is it the reality I see most of our homebirth clients engaging in. I’ve gotten myself so buried in this alternative birthing and parenting world that I didn’t even notice I was doing it.

I like that my world is filling up with beautiful homebirths, happy children, and alternative parenting. But I also don’t want to lose site of the rest of the population. I love the stories told in Confessions of the Other Mother and think it is crucially important that these stories be told. I wish more families would choose the type of beautiful gentle births I’ve been attending lately, especially queer families. While anyone laboring in the hospital could face injustices, indignities, and less than subpar care, it is more likely to happen if you are not white, straight, middle class, etc. etc. etc. Reading Confessions of the Other Mother has reiterated to me the importance of providing decent, caring alternatives to a typical hospital birth as well as the importance of educating my own community about their labor and birth options.

I remember back to the first doula birth L. attended. The clients were a lesbian couple having their first baby together. It was particularly long and grueling labor filled with hours of back labor, nurses who were sometimes just unfriendly and other times overtly homophobic, as well as a few other complications. At the end of this difficult labor and birth, L. recalled that social workers immediately came in to assess the situation and determine whether the nonbiological mother was fit to continue with their planned second-parent adoption. I just can’t imagine having that happen my or my partner’s birth, let alone after such a difficult labor. Having to battle institutionalized homophobia and heterocentrism at that moment – one of the most tender and sweet moments of life – sounds like a nightmare to me.

Not to say that homebirth midwives have it all together when it comes to serving queer families. They don’t. You have to be choose carefully just like everyone else. But with the right care provider and the right circumstances, you could have the kind of sweet, powerful, humbling, and divinity-filled homebirth that I’ve been witnessing lately. Complete care providers that protect and honor your bonding time afterwards. You will still have to go through the bureaucratic bullshit, but later and at a more appropriate time.

Having Faith and Ovulation

I have long been a fan of Sandra Steingraber. I read Living Downstream my very first semester in college and it opened my eyes to an incredible world of government and industry disregard for our very human and fragile lives as evidenced by the chemicals they continued to pump into the air that damaged us and made us sick. Now, we have read Having Faith for this current semester in midwifery school and again I am in love.

Steingraber’s writing about the most complex ecological and biological facts is nothing short of poetic. Last semester, I spent a lot of time learning all sorts of things about human ovulation that I had never learned before. It was fascinating. The way Steingraber tells it, it is nothing short of an epic symphony orchestrated on a grand ecological scale:

At the end of a period, the lining of the uterus is thin and bare – like a layer of silt left behind after flood waters have receded. The ovaries, too, are smooth and quiet. Then, high in the brain, the pituitary gland begins to drizzle into the bloodstream a substance called follicle stimulating hormone. True to its name, the hormone awakens in one or the other ovary a whole choir of follicles. Like bubbles, they rise to the surface in unison. Each one is a sack that holds a single human egg. Typically, only one follicle will ultimately surrender its singular possession, but all participate in the task of turning testosterone into estrogen, and it is this collective effort that makes the next step possible.

The assembled estrogen seeps from the follicle-studded surface of the ovary and swirls around in the bloodstream. Some reaches the brain, and, in a second round of call and response, the pituitary gland replies by releasing back into the blood another substance called luteinizing hormone. Like the initial hormone that set the whole process in motion, this, too, is received by the ovary, and it induces one of the swollen follicles to break through the ovarian surface. An egg is delivered out into the headwaters of the fallopian tube. Ovulation. All this in less than two weeks.

If you haven’t read Having Faith yet, you should. Maybe you will fall in love too.

Vegan Yum Yum

In Borders today (I rarely frequent big box chain bookshops but sometimes it can’t be avoided), I was so excited to see the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook on the shelves!! If I had had any money, I would have bought a copy immediately. Not only am I excited because the author went to my college, although I never met her – she was a senior when I was a first year. But I’ve been following her blog for over a year now and I love it! I’ve made many recipes I found there and been really thrilled and pleased each time. Check out the book and if you haven’t checked out the blog, head on over there right now.

What is Labor?

Labor is much more than the physical process by which women give birth and by which babies are born, awesome as those experiences are in and of themselves. Labor is also the transformational opening of a woman’s entire being. Women who give birth unhindered are open to the elemental forces of nature that bring the baby forth. Heart, mind, spirit, emotions and sexual self, as well as the woman’s physical body, open to allow another life to begin an independent existence on this planet. Thus, labor is a spiritual experience of enormous importance to both the woman and her baby. While women experience various life-changing events during pregnancy. the experience of giving birth is so significant that most women in old age continue to remember their birth experiences as though they happened yesterday. This makes the totality of the birth experience one of the most pivotal in a woman’s life.

Barbara Katz Rothman as quoted in Anne Frye’s Holistic Midwifery.

Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent

One of the books we need to read before arriving at school is Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent. It’s a book I read before and had mixed feelings about. My school encourages us to read it because it will inspire and engage us for the coming year.

This second time through, I have to say that I liked the book better. Most of Vincent’s stories in the book are inspiring, many of them riveting. When she talks about the baby who wouldn’t start breathing until she began mouth to mouth resuscitation, or the birth her 6 year old daughter observed and fell in love with I find myself moved, no question about it. She is clearly an experienced midwife with plenty of seniority in the Bay Area midwifery and obstetrical communities.

However, I am also less willing, this second time around, to overlook some pretty hefty faux pas on Vincent’s part. When it comes to race, class, sexuality, and gender identity, I can confidently say that Vincent does not quite get it. Let me state here that I am, at heart, an incredibly black and white thinker. Any shades of gray I have added to my mental capacities have come from hard work and lots of sweat on my part. I’d like to think that at this point I’m pretty decent at seeing and understanding nuances and non-clear cut categories, but it hasn’t always been easy. So on this second read I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are definitely many merits to this book, but there are enough areas that give me pause that I would not recommend it as an all around inspiring, introductory read for a midwifery program.

Vincent loves using metaphors to describe situations, and typically uses these metaphors appropriately. For example:

When I awakened the day before my second child careened into the world, I waltzed around the house to songs from My Fair Lady. I could have danced all night, but by noon I’d decided that pregnancy was not at all my cup of tea. Pour the dregs down the drain, wash the cup, and put it away.

And then there are those times when the metaphors she uses to describe things that are entirely inappropriate, such as in this passage:

Nadine’s little fellow nursed happily, and then each child took a turn holding him while their dad used up a whole role of film. The baby showed admirable patience as they shifted him from one small pair of arms to another. Finally Sandi laid out her supplies for baby evaluation: tape measure, scale, thermometer, stethoscope. I unwrapped the baby from his cocoon of blankets – and laughed.

Nadine’s son had pooped so copiously that it squished between his toes. Wriggling around inside his flannel nest, he’d smeared the stuff so far up his back that it soiled the hair at the back of his head. In front, slimy meconium – the medical term for the bowel movement of fetuses and newborns – completely covered his genitals, legs, and feet. This little boy had viscous, black meconium plastered absolutely everywhere. I could have obtained a perfect footprint without using an inkpad.

He didn’t care at all, but his three older siblings screamed and fell on the floor laughing. His four-year-old sister, the oldest child in this close-knit family, declared, “Oooh, that’s yucky! We need to give him a bath right now.” I agreed. Leaving Sandi to supervise Nadine’s shower, I said “I’ll take this little tar baby into the kitchen.”

Tar baby? Really Peggy Vincent? You could say poopy baby, sticky baby, mucky baby, or dirty baby, but you chose to use a racially loaded term to describe this (probably white) meconium-covered infant? Really?

Ready to tackle a mess of sex, gender, and race with me? Read on:

… behaving calmly in the presence of San Fancisco’s flamboyant patient population often put an extra twist in my knickers.

When Vinnie and Rosebud waltzed into the exam room, I blinked rapidly and grabbed a blank chart to give me something to focus on. Vinnie seemed to sense my discomposure.

“Honey, you’re not in Kansas any more,” he said, his fuchsia boa nearly slapping me in the face as he tossed it over his left shoulder… I’m sure my astonishment glowed as brightly as Dorothy’s yellow brick road when he introduced me to his pregnant girlfriend, a four-hundred-pound black prostitute named Rosebud.

She’d gotten pregnant by Vinnie two months before he began hormones in preparation for a sex change operation. New breast implants already bulged on his bony chest. Vinnie wore tight-fitting gold lamé pants, purple high heels, a snug, purple-knit tank top, and that six-foot fuchsia boa that he just couldn’t leave alone. False eyelashes, impeccable makeup, and a short, androgynous hairstyle topped his flashy outfit.

… Only the telltale bulge in his snug pants revealed his original sex.

Rosebud, an enormous women [sic] whose skin and face you couldn’t help but admire, sat quietly smiling at his antics. Where Vinnie’s skin glowed so black he looked almost blue in certain light, Rosebud’s face and arms reminded me of coffee with lots of rich cream.

When Rosebud entered the hospital in labor five months later … an eight-pound baby slid from between her thighs with the ease of chocolate melting on a Chevy’s dashboard in August. Vinnie pranced and danced in the background, garbed in a cowgirl outfit that would have made Annie Oakley blush. With the short skirt flaring around his slim thighs, I couldn’t tell if he’d completed the sex change surgery. Although I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded my asking, it didn’t seem appropriate, given the circumstances.

Let me pause right here to scream a little inside. Vincent’s insistence on using a male pronoun to refer to Vinnie is deeply insulting and dehumanizing. Especially when, as Vincent describes, Vinnie left little doubt as to her public gender identity and chosen pronoun.

And what is with her obsession with Vinnie’s genitalia? She continues to mention her genitals and surgical transition several more times in this book. Not that Vincent is alone in her fascination, cisgender folks the world over are strangely obsessed with the genitalia of trans folk. The physical presence of male or female genitalia does not make someone male or female, it runs much deeper than that. Regardless of whether Vinnie physically transitioned (and Vincent’s account assumes that she has), it shouldn’t matter. It was almost as if Vincent needed proof of Vinnie’s surgery before she would use her preferred pronoun.

So I ask Vincent the question I always ask when it comes to things like this – would you have felt at liberty to describe in such detail the genitalia of any of your other clients? No? Well then don’t do it here. The same goes for Vincent’s bad habit of describing someone’s skin color only when they aren’t visibly white. We’re talking anti-racism 101 here

And yet, she delivers a touching, poignant, sensitive story about two interracial, married Muslim teenagers who choose to give birth at home with the father catching his daughter as she emerges from the womb. It is hands down my favorite story from the book and one of the most beautiful. Not once does she make disparaging or offensive comments about the parents’ age, race, or religion. At times like these she is at her best.

The bottom line: midwives need to be extra aware or race, sex, gender, and sexuality issues. If they want to operate outside of the typical top-down heirarchical system that is western medicine (and particularly modern obstetrics), they need to be able to work effectively and sensitively with groups that are marginalized by these same systems – people of color, queers, transfolk, immigrants, refugees, etc. Vincent’s book is not exceptional in her misunderstanding of these important issues, which is why it is so important that we educate ourselves and consciously work to create space within our practices that is welcoming and affirming to all of our clients.

Birth is

Birth is, I learned and I can say with clarity now, about women. That’s what the midwives taught me, and that’s what my own experiences have shown me. Birth is not about babies. Babies get born. But women give birth. Giving birth is awesome. Babies are miracles, and cute besides, but birth is an Event. It is Something. It is a life-shaking, developmental moment that makes you who you are, that teaches you who you are. Sometimes people say they want to become midwives because they just love babies. Wrong. Midwives who actually go through with it, the women and a few men who go through all the training, the learning, the growth and change and fear and power of becoming midwives, do it because they love women. They are in awe of the power of the birthing woman.

Barbara Katz Rothman, Laboring On

Your Best Birth Reviewed at Dooce

If you haven’t read Dooce, you really should. It’s one hell of a funny blog. The author, Heather B. Armstrong, is clever and down to earth and writes in a style that makes you think you’re talking to your best, funniest friend.

Armstrong wrote a brilliant and moving review of Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein. I’ve written about Your Best Birth before and I’m so pleased to see someone else (especially such a widely-read someone else) giving it such a good review.

Armstrong says:

And then, oh God, the worst thing happened. And I didn’t even see it coming, but I’m sitting there reading that book, gritting my teeth, shaking my head when all of a sudden it started to make sense. I started to see just how medicalized labor and birth have become in America AND THERE GOES MY WORLD VIEW.

I’m not going to get into the specifics and the really convincing and at times jaw-dropping statistics of it here, there are so many other places and people who can write about it better than I can, but I will say this: if you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, GO READ THAT BOOK. From now on when someone asks me what is the one piece of advice I would give to a pregnant woman, it will be: GO BUY A COPY OF THAT BOOK. Listen, I am not affiliated with that book in any way, I do not know Ricki Lake, she and I do not vacation in St. Tropez together (although if she’d like to come ride four-wheelers at my Mom’s cabin in Duchesne, Utah, THE OFFER STANDS), I do not owe that publisher any favors. But IT CHANGED MY LIFE. I’m not even kidding, I’ll say it again: IT CHANGED MY LIFE.

Read the whole blog post here. I can’t wait for her to write the second part of her birth story.

H/T to Unnecesarean.

Your Best Birth

I recently finished reading Your Best Birth: Know All Your Options, Discover the Natural Choices, and Take Back the Birth Experience by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein. Of course, they are the wonderful ladies who also made The Business of Being Born. I don’t mean to sound gushy about this book, but it is absolutely the best book I have read for moms-to-be. If I were to recommend a single book to pregnant women and their partners, this would be it.

Of course, I would recommend plenty of other books, including The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin (I think it’s a bit less dated than her classic Spiritual Midwifery although that’s an incredibly beautiful book too), and anything by Sheila Kitzinger. However, if I knew an expectant mom would read just one book, I would without a doubt recommend Your Best Birth.

There are several reasons for this. First, the book is unabashedly about reclaiming the birth experience for yourself. Lake and Epstein are clear and upfront that your birth experience is yours, no one else’s. These days, especially if you choose to give birth in a hospital, you have to come armed with all of the tools and a great support team to get the birth you want for yourself.

Secondly, Lake and Epstein walk the reader through all of the options and, for a change, give fair and balanced look at each. They lean a bit towards a birth with as few interventions as possible, but they give good reasons and examples of why women would choose each intervention, why women would choose to forego them, and when they are medically necessary. They do so in a way that is not shaming to mothers who chose or wound up with interventions and also give great stories and explanations of when it was a wise and prudent choice for mothers to agree to the epidural or C-section. Lake and Epstein set the scene for this delicate balance by telling their very different birth stories at the beginning of the book. Lake’s births were largely intervention free and increasingly non-medical. Epstein’s planned homebirth, on the other hand, wound up as necessary but hectic C-section delivery in a hospital. Both women talk about in what ways they were empowered and disempowered by themselves, their support team, and the medical hegemony.

Thirdly, I love this book because Ricki Lake is so accessible. She is a household name and many people have watched her talk show and/or The Business of Being Born. She is real and believable. And she is no nonsense. I feel like I could give her book to any woman on the street and she would be comfortable taking birth advice from Ricki Lake, no matter what her views on childbirth. As groundbreaking as Ina May Gaskin’s work was and as incredible as it still is, it does not have the widespread appeal that Lake’s fame and celebrity status affords her. Which is why I am so happy that Lake is using her cultural currency for a cause as important and central to our daily lived experiences as this is.

I’ll finish by sharing some choice passages from the book:

On how amazing the uterus is:

… the uterus is the only organ in the body that can generate new cells as it expands; those cells are reabsorbed into the tissue as the uterus shrinks down as the baby is born. During the strong contractions of labor, the uterus produces seven hundred pounds of pressure per square inch. At that time it’s the strongest muscle in the body. This is why it is especially cruel to read how on ultrasound reports technicians characterize a normal uterus as “unremarkable.” For some legal reason they can’t call it normal, but if they were being honest, they’d call it incredible.

On why women are misguided who have elective C-sections to keep their vaginas “tight”:

The vagina was designed to stretch out and snap back. Men don’t seem to have any problem with the idea that they have an organ that can expand dramatically (or not so dramatically) and then shrink back to its former puny size, but some women feel as though they have to apologize. Some even consider reconstructive surgery after vaginal birth.

And finally, on the slow C-section movement, something I had never heard of before:

Speed seems to be the most important concern in the C-section, with the whole operation very impersonal.

In response to this, Dr. Nick Fisk, an obstetrician in the United Kingdom, has pioneered something he calls the skin-to-skin cesarean… Dr. Fisk decrie[s] the fact that even with planned C-sections, the parents never [get] a chance to participate in the arrival of their baby. The skin-to-skin C-section is different in the following ways:

  • The drape that typically obscures a mom’s view of her body is withdrawn as the baby emerges so she can see her baby being born.
  • At first, only the baby’s head is removed from the uterus, allowing the baby to receive a few minutes of the benefit of a body massage as the uterus contracts.
  • Instead of quickly clamping and cutting the cord, the doctor leaves it intact and allows the baby to slowly acclimatize to the surroundings with support from the placenta’s blood and oxygen.
  • As the baby seems to become more alert, the doctor hands the baby to the mom, who places her little newborn on her chest for skin-to-skin contact. This way bonding can begin. The baby awakens to the world hearing Mom’s voice and smelling Mom’s smell instead of being on a resuscitation table.