Portrait of a Home Birthing Couple: Guest Post

I’m currently on hiatus from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but want to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. For a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

This guest post comes from Courtney who blogs at A Life Sustained.

Portrait of a Home Birthing Couple

If you had asked me a year ago to envision a “home birthing couple” I probably would have described a pair of long-haired back-to-the-land hippies living in a cabin in the woods and shunning any and all medical advances. That, or some sort of religious extremists. I definitely wouldn’t have described myself or my husband, we’re far too run-of-the-mill, but that’s exactly what we’ve become. As of this February we have become a home birthing couple.

I’ll fully admit that I never really gave much thought to what my birth experience might look like. I assumed that I would go to the hospital, scream a lot like they do on TV, and then be handed a swaddled little bundle o’ joy. But by the time I got around to seriously considering having a child, my life had begun to change in much larger ways. After a quarter century or so of flitting from one thing to another, never having a real job, and pretty much just coasting through life, I decided that that was no longer how I wanted to live. I was desperate for something deeper. More meaningful. I wanted to take more responsibility and make actual decisions rather than just falling into the next stage. Words like “mindful,” “sustainable,” and “deliberate” took on new and profound meanings for me. All elements of my life were suddenly under a critical lens and my plans for childbirth were no exception.

My mother was 30 years old when she gave birth to me. She wasn’t particularly planning on having a natural birth, but ended up with one because the window of opportunity for any drugs had already closed. After a very short labor, I was handed to her still covered in vernix and she had an intense urge to lick me clean. She held me to her chest, drank in my new-baby smell and was immediately ready to have another one, she said. This is the story of my birth and it has completely shaped my notions of what a “normal” birth looks like. I thought that all births looked this way.

It was at a fundraiser for my local women’s clinic that I saw the film The Business of Being Born. It didn’t necessarily convince me that I wanted to birth at home, but it did show me that I had made a lot of assumptions about attitudes and practices towards birth in the hospital setting. It also made me realize that if I thought my birth experience was an important thing, and I did, then I needed to take responsibility for that experience, educate myself, and come up with a plan.

After much, much reading and visiting with other soon-to-be-mamas, I took the easy way out. That’s right. I chose a home birth because, for me, it was the easy option. I knew that I wanted a natural water birth. I also knew that I cave easily under pressure and all it would take would be a stern word from anyone in a white coat and I would abandon my plan. Even just a “why don’t you get that epidural, honey,” I knew, would cause me to falter and I just didn’t want to deal with that pressure. I talked it over with my husband, who, although skeptical, trusted me to make an informed decision and was willing to surrender to the fact that I was the one giving birth and so I should be the one to have the final say in where that birth took place.

Not too long after I turned 30, I got pregnant. And I panicked. What should I do? Who should I call? I didn’t even know how to go about finding a midwife who would attend a home birth (Direct Entry Midwives, those who usually attend home births, cannot legally practice in my state, making finding care a bit more challenging). I did, however, remember that a friend of a friend was a doula (a word whose definition I didn’t even know a year prior). Even though I didn’t know her very well at that time and I am incredibly shy, I contacted her, shared our good news, and begged her for help. She, like most midwives and doulas that I’ve met, was incredibly kind and compassionate and she set up a time for us to meet with her and the midwife with whom she works.

We met in the warm and welcoming environment of her home and I knew immediately that these two women (well, and my husband) were the only people that I needed next to me when I went into labor. I didn’t need time to think it over. It just felt right.

Over the next nine months they provided in-depth and personalized care. There was no waiting in waiting rooms and each appointment lasted at least an hour. During this time, the midwives did all that would be done at a prenatal appointment at the hospital (check weight, blood pressure, urine, listen for fetal heart tones, etc.) plus a lot of time was spent giving full answers to our many questions. A lot of time was also spent laughing. These women were fun and they helped me to see that labor, although an intense experience, could actually be enjoyable, something to look forward to, and nothing to fear.

I should have known that I would soon be going into labor because I stereotypically cleaned my house from top to bottom. I justified this uncharacteristic behavior, however, with the fact that we had a prenatal the following day and I didn’t want the midwives to see just how lackadaisical we really were with housework. At 1:00 A.M. I woke up with contractions, although I didn’t really recognize them as such. I was more annoyed than anything because for the first time in three months I was actually comfortable and was having a fantastic night’s sleep, but then these cramps just kept waking me up.

In denial that this was it, I labored alone for three hours and let my husband sleep. When I finally needed some help coping with the contractions I woke him up. Even at that point I didn’t really think that I would be giving birth that day. My contractions were 5 minutes apart and a minute long, so we called the midwife to let her know. Normally this would be the point when things are just getting rolling, but when she heard the vocalizations I was making, she said that she would be right over.

Because I was at home I was able to move around as I wanted. I spent most of my time in a half bend over a waist-high dresser, but also spent some time on the floor and kneeling on the bed. I felt completely free to make as much noise as I needed to (which turned out to be quite a bit) without feeling self-conscious. I believe both of these things were really key in how quickly and easily I dilated. I felt safe and my body took that as permission to do what it needed to do.

My water broke three hours later after which I got into the tub and after two hours of pushing my son was born and laid naked on my chest. He was perfect and I was without words. I’m pretty sure the first thing I said was, “it’s a baby!” and of course, I cried.

Throughout most of the labor my midwives mostly just stayed out of my way. They offered constant reassurance and support, but they let me move and proceed as instinct dictated, offering gentle suggestions on how to modify what I was already doing to make it more effective. They monitored the safety of the situation, intermittently checking fetal heart tones and came prepared with emergency equipment. At no point did I ever feel that this wasn’t a safe decision. I was confident, and I still am, that birth is a natural process that our bodies are perfectly designed to cope with.

For the 90% of pregnancies that are low risk, like mine, birthing at home is such an opportunity. It was an opportunity for me to find out how strong I am. To share an intimate experience with my husband. To bring my son into the world in a manner that was calm, gentle, safe, warm, and loving. After we were all cleaned up, the midwives tucked the three of us into bed, made us breakfast, and started a load of laundry. They came back to the house to check on us (Housecalls! I didn’t have to figure out how to transport a newborn to the doctor’s office in the dead of winter!) the next day and again at one week, two weeks, and six weeks.

Our home birth was such a positive experience, but it was also so…normal. When people ask us about it, I think they expect to hear some long nail-biting tale in which we “almost didn’t make it” or for me to start talking about what a moon goddess that I am. They are always surprised by how simple and straightforward the whole thing was; exactly as it should be.

Courtney is a Midwestern mama who is striving to create a home that is simple, mindful, and full of nature and beauty. She is passionate about treading lightly on the Earth, supporting local craftspeople, and all things natural and handmade. She blogs about her transition to living a more sustainable life as well as her transition to motherhood at A Life Sustained.

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For Better or For Worse? Childbirth in Popular Culture

After watching the live cesarean birth on the TODAY show last week and then the commercial for Jennifer Lopez’s new movie The Back-Up Plan during the Superbowl*, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way childbirth is portrayed in popular culture – on TV and in the movies – and how that influences us. In a perfect world I’d like to believe that women (and men) would learn about childbirth from reading books and websites and talking to their care provider (doctor or midwife), to a doula, to their mother, aunts and friends, but the truth is that unless ya live under a rock, women (and men) also learn about childbirth every time they are bombarded with images on TV and in the movies that depict childbirth as something scary, painful and out of control. Whether we want to believe it or not, our perceptions of birth are bound to be influenced – for better or for worse – by what we view and hear in popular culture.

Movie: The Back-Up Plan, photo credit: Jezebel

On Rixa’s blog Stand and Deliver she lists 61 film clips she compiled for a conference presentation about depictions of childbirth in cinema. That’s just movie clips. Think about all of the episodes of A Baby Story, or ER and many other TV shows where women are giving birth. Each one further reinforces popular culture’s birthing stereotypes.

Birthing Beautiful Ideas believes:

it’s pretty foolish to dismiss the effects that popular culture has on a woman’s beliefs and decisions about pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, I would venture to say that these effects are pretty widespread. Of course, I’m not saying many of us literally turn to pop culture when we’re deciding whether or not to consent to an episiotomy or to request pain medication in labor or to choose one care provider over another. That would be stupid, right? But that doesn’t mean that what we see on television or read in a (non-birth-related) book or watch in a movie has no effect at all on our thoughts about pregnancy and childbirth. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Because every time a woman reads that she “won’t be able to make it without an epidural”…

…every time she sees natural childbirth portrayed as something only for hippies and freaks…

…every time she sees a movie in which birth is a crisis or a catastrophe or a comedy of errors in which the mom is a crazed, expletive-hurling woman who is seriously out of control…

…those images and words start to affect the way she thinks about birth in general, and they may even have an effect on her specific beliefs about birth.

She goes on to give a real-life example (a positive example) of how a TV show changed her beliefs about birth. She describes an episode of Sex and the City where Miranda gives birth. Miranda asks Carrie to be there for the birth and tells her that when it’s time to push, she doesn’t want everybody getting all “cheerleader-y” on her and shouting “PUSH! PUSH! and shit like that.” She said that when she saw that scene, “it signaled a major change in the way I thought about how I was going to give birth some day.” Her birth paradigm shifted and she believes she has the ladies of Sex and the City to thank for that. She’s currently a doula and future lactation educator who’s working on a PhD in philosophy.

Not all examples of how popular culture influences women are as positive though.

Heather from A Mama’s Blog told me that watching TLC’s A Baby Story – which she described as “high drama” and ending more often than not in a c-section – “seriously warped” her view of childbirth.

The Feminist Breeder said:

When I first found myself pregnant, I was just like the vast majority of pregnant American women who never get truly informed about the birth process, and instead spend their pregnancies watching “A Baby Story” and reading Jenny McCarthy books. I got my hands on “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy” by Vicki Iovine, which told me that Lamaze was useless, as were all other birthing classes, and what I really needed to focus on was how quickly I could get the epidural.

Yeah — I got the epidural. The epidural that only went down half my body, that caused me uncontrollable shaking, that shut down my labor, that necessitated more pitocin, which put my baby in distress, which then necessitated a nice, traumatic cesarean surgery. Yep. That epidural.

Honey B., in her post Childbirth: Hollywood’s Take, wrote that after year of watching A Baby Story, 18 Kids and Counting, Knocked Up, Four Christmases, etc., she realized how much of what she thought she knew about childbirth was based on TV. She then shares sarcastically all that Hollywood taught her about birth. (The descriptions are longer on her blog.)

Natural Birth: The choice of masochists, women who don’t shave their armpits and have children named Moon Flower, and optimistic first-time mothers who don’t know any better. (My note: Case in point, The Back-Up Plan‘s home birth scene)

Birth with Epidural: This is the smart woman’s choice. This is what she does for the second birth, after going through the above ‘Natural Birth’.

C-Section (Emergent): These are completely normal, and happen all. the. time. And the doctor always knows best.

C-Section (Planned): This is the choice of the truly enlightened woman, the Real Housewives of Orange County type who view pregnancy as an invasion of their body. (My note: Perhaps this is why, according to the most recent data available (from 2006), the United States’ c-section rate was 31.1%, ranging from 21.5% in Utah all the way up to 37.4% in New Jersey. The World Health Organization actually recommends that the cesarean section rate should not be higher than 10% to 15%. When the rate is higher than 15% there is some research which shows it results in more harm than good. But who wants to talk about that in movies?)

Mallory who blogs at Pop Culture believes, “Childbirth in Hollywood movies is from a male perspective; rarely does childbirth show angles from the female viewpoint during the actual birthing.

We show killings, bombings, shootings, rapes and torture in movies, so why not show a woman giving birth accurately? Is it really that obscene and disgusting?”

Naomi, a birth doula, wrote her top 10 suggestions for an easier birth. Number two is “Prepare for an easier birth, now!” She cautions:

Don’t watch A Baby Story! Instead (if you are interested in watching birth videos), watch movies like The Business of Being Born, Orgasmic Birth, Pregnant in America, Water Birth, Special Women, and normal birth videos on YouTube which represent birth as it usually is. TV specials on birth are designed and promoted to offer drama and attract viewers, not to support women preparing for birth.

I also want to add What Babies Want and Birth Into Being to that list.

Teba told me that her sister was there when she had a home birth two months ago. “She said after seeing birth in movies she never imagined it could be so peaceful.”

That’s just it. Birth can be peaceful. It doesn’t have to be a hysterical emergency, but as a result of popular culture, most women are never exposed to anything that suggests a peaceful birth is even a possibility.

How has popular culture affected your beliefs and decisions surrounding childbirth?
* I didn’t actually watch the Superbowl, but have Lynn to thank for telling me about The Back-Up Plan commercial.

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Birth plan? Doula? Natural birth? Not here you don’t.

A sign posted at the Aspen OB/GYN Women’s Center in Provo, Utah has many women up in arms. What’s so offensive? Read for yourself.

The sign reads as follows:

Because the Physicians at Aspen Women’s Center care about the quality of their patient’s deliveries and are very concerned about the welfare and health of your unborn child, we will not participate in a “Birth Contract”, a Doulah Assisted, or a Bradley Method delivery. For those patients who are interested in such methods, please notify the nurse so we may arrange transfer of your care.

I first learned of this sign from Naomi, the Denver Doula, who posted it on Facebook. Being a doula (which is misspelled on the sign) herself, she took a particular interest in it. When she called the Center and inquired with the receptionist as to why the sign was posted she was told, “in case there is an emergency we don’t want anyone to get in the way of the doctor doing what he has to do.”

Annie from PhD in Parenting was inspired by the sign to write How Not To Have a Natural Birth and believes the center might as well have said:

Because Physicians at Aspen Women’s Center care only about doing things their own way and making as much money as possible from unnecessary birth interventions, even if it poses greater risks to the welfare and health your baby, we will not participate in a “Birth Contract”, a doula-assisted, or a Bradley Method delivery. For all patients who have done any research into having the safest birth possible, please notify the nurse so that we can transfer you to a facility that cares less about control and money.

Annie added, “I guess we can at least credit them with warning women in advance. Many hospitals with the same attitude don’t have a sign hanging out front.”

Amber responded, “I always thought the big ‘trust birth’ poster in my midwives office was a little cheesy. Now that I’ve seen the alternative, I think it’s truly marvelous. Really.”

Miriam Zoila Pérez of Radical Doula wrote a post called Signs You Don’t Want to See at Your OB-GYN’s Office. She believes the sign could be translated to say:

We don’t care at all what you want as a parent, or a person in labor. We want a patient who will sit quiet and do what we say–no matter what. Oh and if you have a partner you want involved, tough. Your desires don’t matter.

Miriam adds, “They should change the name of the center to the ‘Unborn Children Center’ since they don’t seem to care too much about the women involved.”

A commenter named Janna responded saying, “That’s what bothered me most about this hateful little sign–not once is the “welfare and health” of the MOTHER mentioned, just the “welfare and health” of the “unborn child” and the “quality” of the “deliveries.” Who would want to give birth in a place where they’re the lowest priority on their caregiver’s list? I hope women in this area have other options and the opportunity to have safe, healthy, supportive births.”

Does no doula, Bradley Method birth or birth “contract” equal no women’s rights?

Summer who writes at Wired for Noise says signs like this one and stories like the lack of choice with regard to our reproductive health and doctors’ personal “birth plans” make her sometimes think Doctors Hate Women.

What does it say when women have to escape, have to run away in order to do something as normal as give birth? What does it say when women are treated like children, talked down to, insulted, lied to, and handed letters telling them what the god-head doctor will allow or not allow. When all you want to do is give birth and you’re doctor is more concerned with telling you to sit down and shut up, what is that if not hatred?

I have to agree with Annie that at least some doctors are upfront with what they will and won’t “allow” as part of their practice. Kudos to them for being honest. Hopefully that will allow women to look for another care provider while she’s still early in her pregnancy.

Rest assured if the OB/GYN I had at my daughter’s birth would have given me a piece of paper with her “rules” or had a sign posted like that at the Aspen Women’s Clinic, I would have found another care provider pronto. Instead, however, she paid me lip service and acted like she cared about my birth plan (though she didn’t act very well and that should have been a big clue for me) and said we could “try” Hypnobirthing, etc. However, when push came to shove (no pun intended), it was her way or the highway. I had my healthy baby girl at the end of it and for that I am truly thankful, but I also got a lot more than I bargained for (and not in a good way). Then again it was that experience lead me to pursue a home birth for my second child and become a home birth advocate.

Although I admire the Aspen Women’s Center’s honesty, I find it truly offensive that they imply that if a woman wants a doula, natural birth, or has a birth plan, she is not concerned with the welfare and health of her baby (so much more personal than “unborn child” don’t you think?) or is even putting her baby’s life at risk. Studies have shown that when doulas attend birth, labors are shorter with fewer complications, babies are healthier and they breastfeed more easily. And how exactly is choosing a Bradley birth not good for the health or welfare of the baby? “Bradley® classes teach families how to have natural births. The techniques are simple and effective. They are based on information about how the human body works during labor. Couples are taught how they can work with their bodies to reduce pain and make their labors more efficient.” What about a birth plan or “contract?” Is that harmful to the “unborn child?” The American Pregnancy Association suggests, “Creating a birth plan can help you have a more positive birth experience.”

There are other things I find offensive as well, like Janna mentioned above, the mother does not seem to be included in the equation at all. Is there any concern for her “welfare and health?”

Who’s time money welfare are they really concerned with? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. I’ve obviously already drawn mine.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Babies come out of where?! Explaining childbirth to kids

I was due to give birth to my son when my daughter Ava was 2 1/2 years old. Since my husband and I were planning a home birth, we felt it was important to discuss with Ava how the baby would be born. Because she would be within earshot if not in the room when Julian was born, I wanted her to know what she may see as well as hear.

One of the ways I prepared Ava for what would happen was by reading “Welcome With Love,” a beautiful children’s book about natural childbirth. We also watched some childbirth videos (natural and water births) together, including “Giving Birth: Challenges and Choices” by Suzanne Arms. I made sure to explain what was going on and reassure her that although the mommy might make some loud or funny noises, even yell, she was OK. In “Welcome With Love,” the older brother speaks of his mother’s noises during labor but he’s not afraid because she had told him beforehand that although she “might make a lot of noise,” he mustn’t worry because “that’s what it’s like when babies are being born” and that she’ll feel better if she yells and screams.

I kept things fairly simple, but because she was likely going to be present, told her what I felt she needed to know to feel safe and secure during Julian’s birth. It worked well for us. Ava was never scared even though mommy made some very loud noises while giving birth to her brother.

I realized the other day that Julian is now older than Ava was at the time he was born, but because I am not pregnant (and have no plans to become so) and the subject hasn’t come up, he has no idea how babies are born. I will probably remedy that soon by reading Welcome With Love to him and another book I recently received to review called We’re Having a Homebirth!

A friend (who is expecting) recently pondered on Facebook how she will explain childbirth to her 5- and 3-year-old daughters, and I began to wonder how others handle the subject.

I came across a discussion on a BabyCenter message board where the original poster posed the question How do you explain childbirth to a child? Here are some of the responses:

  • One person admitted that she has been “skirting around this issue” even with her 9-year-old. She said she has told her most of the details, but doesn’t “want to freak her out too much or gross her out for that matter.”
  • Another said, “I tried to skirt the question by answering…that the doctor takes the baby out.”
  • Another said, “I have a child psychology book called The Magic Years. They say to be truthful, but give as few details as necessary.”
  • Yet another said, “I found it was quite easy to explain things using the correct words at a young age. And I’d rather explain it while my kids aren’t embarrassed by it and will ask questions instead of having a 10-year-old blush or roll her eyes and not wanting to ask questions about things she doesn’t understand.”
  • From another, “better he hears it from me than his peers at school.”

After I browsed the ‘net, I asked my favorite audience (Twitter) and got some more answers.

Many feel that honesty is the best policy.

@OneFallDay said: If my 7-year-old asks, I answer. I’ve always felt if they are old enough to ask they deserve an honest answer.

Jackie from Belen Echandia said, “[I] don’t have personal experience. But would like to think I’d tell the truth in a beautiful, non-frightening way.”

Penny from Walking Upside Down said, “[I] told mine they came out of a hole between my legs. :) Honesty is the best policy. Did not show them said hole tho’. ;)”

Jessica from Peek a blog said, “I spoke to the doctor about what to say. We told my 3-year-old that mommies have a special place where babies come out when ready. Just enough info with more details on an as-needed basis, but totally truth.”

Cate Nelson said, “I told my then-2.5-year-old that baby was going to come out of Mama’s yoni. (our term for it) I also told him his own birth story, bit of the pain, but how it helped Mama push him out. He loved his (natural) birth story!”

Others think along with being honest, it’s important to use proper terminology with children.

@ColletteAM said, “I always tell the truth about bodily functions and use proper terms. I don’t want my kids to feel ashamed of their bodies.”

Mandie from McMama’s Musings said, “My 4-year-old can tell you about ovaries, eggs, sperm, uteri, birth canals, and c-sections. He calls egg+sperm a ‘seed.’ LOL”

@JenniferCanada said, “I got great advice from @babyREADY to prepare son [for] our home birth. We watched a lot of birthing shows. We talked about what would happen. He can tell you babies come from vaginas and you push them out. He has actions. He is 3 years old.”

Others prefer a more vague approach:

Lee from CoupleDumb said her son was 3 and “I told him that his brother would come out of me when I went to the hospital. That’s it.”

Kristie from Tilvee said she was asked how babies come out last night by her 6- and 3.5-year-old daughters. She “didn’t lie, just told them we would talk about it in 5 yrs?!”

One person thinks explaining a c-section is easier than explaining vaginal birth:

Beth from I Should Be Folding Laundry said, “I’m up for a c-section, so that makes the explanation very easy.”

Another thinks a c-section makes it more complicated:

@Loudmouthedmom said, “I haven’t been pregnant again but have always been honest with son, either vaginally or c-section. He took c-section much harder. Learned the hard way not to tell a 4-year-old a c-section involves mom being ‘cut open.'”

The reactions kids have about childbirth are often amusing:

Kailani from An Island Life said, “My 3-year-old thinks the baby will come out of my mouth. :-)”

Krista from Typical Ramblings, Atypical Nonsense said, “When I was pregnant with E, my older kids were 11 and 8 when he was born. I told them how the baby came out. My daughter asked if it hurt, I said yes but once it’s over the pain is gone. She says she is adopting kids. ;)”

Ann-Marie from This Mama Cooks said, “[I] told Nathan how babies got out when he was 7. He told me he wasn’t having kids. Truth is good birth control.”

Childbirth education props: Dolls and Children’s Books

If you are looking for some props to help you explain childbirth, you might be interested in these dolls. Thanks to Kellie, I learned about this childbirth education doll that can be custom ordered or the experience crocheter can make it herself. There’s also a Waldorf doll that gives birth and nurses. According to Droolicious, instead of just sitting there looking pretty, this doll “gives birth complete with placenta, and she nurses too. This Waldorfian handmade plush doll comes from Brazil where it is used to teach girls about natural childbirth.”

There are also lots of books that tackle the topic of explaining childbirth to kids. From books about home birth like Welcome With Love and We’re Having a Homebirth! to more mainstream childbirth books like What to Expect When Mommy’s Having a Baby, How You Were Born, and How Was I Born?: A Child’s Journey Through the Miracle of Birth, there is likely a book out there for your family. And for parents who are looking for some age-appropriate information about “the birds and the bees” check out It’s Not the Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends and a review of it over on Punnybop.

There’s more information on how to prepare siblings for the birth of a new baby over on babyReady where they suggest: make a game out of the kinds of strange noises that you may make when you are in labour, try not to make too many changes to your child’s routine close to the delivery, let your older child open the baby’s gifts, and take your older child to your doctor (or midwife) visits, and more.

Ultimately your childbirth explanation to your child has to be one that you feel comfortable with. I think it is important to answer children’s questions – about childbirth, puberty, dating, sex, etc. – as honestly as possible while making sure it is age-appropriate. Mactavish said to me on Twitter, “I can’t imagine not being old enough to know how babies are born” and I have to agree. Candace concurs, “I generally assume that if she’s too young, she won’t ‘get it’ anyway and if she ‘gets it’ then she’s old enough for truth.” Sounds like a good philosophy to me.

Cross-posted on: BlogHer

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Lookout BlogHer, here I…tiptoe (an intro to me)

BlogHer '09 In Real Life

Tomorrow afternoon I will embark on an adventure unlike any I’ve had before. I will kiss my kids and husband goodbye and travel alone (for the first time in more than five years) to the windy city of Chicago. I will arrive at the Sheraton hotel and likely not know what hit me as I join 1,500 other women bloggers for the sold-out Fifth Annual BlogHer Conference. There will be general sessions and break-out sessions, the community keynote, hugging, swag, friendships forming, more swag, networking, and more parties than you can shake a stick at.

I had been feeling really overwhelmed and anxious about it all, but honestly right now I am mostly just excited. This definitely isn’t something I do everyday and I’m excited to be a part of it all – to learn and grow as a blogger and to meet sooooo many women who, up until this point, I’ve known only virtually.

Yes, I will still be nervous and will be keeping my bottle of Xanax on hand just in case, but I am hoping I can push through the anxiety and turn it into an unforgettable experience.

Over at BlogHer, Denise recently suggested folks write a blogging primer on themselves as a pre-BlogHer get-to-know-you kind of post and here’s my go at it:

My name is Amy. I live in Colorado with my husband Jody (yes, he’s a guy) and our two kids Ava (5) and Julian (2.5). I’m currently a stay-at-home mom (hence the “Domestic” part of my blog name) and I also write as a contributing editor for BlogHer. I love finding new ways to “green” the way we live (hence the “Crunchy” party of my blog name) – from organic gardening to composting to cloth diapering to biking to using environmentally-safe non-toxic cleaners to making my own yogurt and granola (the best!) and much, much more. I like to post the occasional Green Challenge to motivate others (as well as myself) to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

I try to raise my kids using the Attachment Parenting philosophy, though I admit most of what I do is just parenting by instinct. I sometimes make mistakes though and am thankful that tomorrow is another day.

In addition to writing about parenting and eco-friendly living, I also enjoy writing about maternal health. I am a big believer in the power of a woman’s body (both to give birth and to nourish her baby) and I had my son at home with the help of my midwives.

I also consider myself an activist and most recently was involved in campaigning for Barack Obama and trying to get my city to allow backyard chickens. (I finally got the OK to get a permit!)

I grew up in an alcoholic family which is something that, after years of repressing, I am tackling head-on now. I kind of felt like I had no choice after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder at the beginning of 2009. There are a lot of things in my life I am tackling head-on now (thanks to therapy) to help myself be a mentally and emotionally healthier person.

I sometimes struggle with how much information to share on my blog. There is a lot that I want to share that I don’t feel that I can out of respect for others who are involved. However, I often find myself sharing quite a bit anyway (things about myself and my anxiety disorder) and feel comfortable doing so as long as it’s not going to harm anyone.

Anyway, I bring up the alcoholism in my family’s past because growing up in those kind of conditions definitely shaped who I am today – which is a mostly quiet, reserved person, at least until you get to know me (or I have a glass of wine *wink*). Sometimes people thing I am just being snobby or stuck-up because I don’t talk much (especially in larger groups), but I’m just shy like that. I prefer one-on-one or small group conversations to those with several people. I feel more comfortable that way.

I love to write and am also a photography nut (and did portrait photography professionally for a while), though I haven’t picked up my SLR in months. I imagine that I will get back into again someday soon. I consider myself kind of crafty, but just don’t have the time to do much. However, after Jody recently suggested I make my own business card holder for BlogHer because “it would be the ultimate crunchy thing to do,” I had to take him up on the challenge. I sewed that by hand last night with some fabric I had and I cut a button off an old shirt. ;) It’s not perfect, but, provided it doesn’t fall apart, should work just fine.

My favorite quotes are, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” – Gandhi (I had that printed on some stickers I will be passing out at BlogHer) and “Knowledge is power.” I try to live by both of those mottos.

I’m looking forward to meeting many of you at BlogHer (tomorrow, eeep!!!). Please remember that if I don’t immediately jump into a conversation or run up and introduce myself to you, it’s not because I’m stuck-up, I just move at my own pace (though would welcome you running up to me to introduce *yourself*). ;) If you have time, write up a “getting to know you” post of your own and then link to it over on BlogHer and leave me a comment here with the link too so I can read about you before I meet you. :)

And if you aren’t going to BlogHer (I will miss you!), but want to know what I’m up to (hiding in a corner? sneaking away for a nap? eating some Chicago-style pizza? partying with my roomie PhDinParenting?), I plan on tweeting while there so be sure to Follow me on Twitter. You can also search flickr for photos tagged “Blogher09” – maybe I’ll turn up in some. :)

Lastly, a big THANK YOU to my sponsor Stonyfield Farm for helping me with my trip expenses. If you are interested in trying some of Stonyfield Farm’s new organic Oikos Greek Yogurt, track me down at BlogHer and I’ll give you a coupon for a free container of it. :)

Home birth advocate’s baby dies during free birth, prompts questions

Janet Fraser, a home birth advocate and founder of the site Joyous Birth, recently experienced a personal tragedy when her baby died at her home in Australia on March 27 during her free birth or unassisted childbirth (where a woman gives birth at home without the aid of a midwife or doctor).

When a tragedy like this occurs, people are often left scratching their heads wondering how something like this could happen, what went wrong, and lastly, who’s to blame? I don’t know if we need to point a finger to make ourselves feel better, but it seems to be human nature to ask, “why did this happen?”

While I did not consider giving birth at home without a midwife in attendance for my home birth, I know a handful of women who chose an unassisted birth and I respect them for it. I believe these women did a great deal of research in advance, knew what they were doing, trusted their bodies and their babies and were prepared to go to the hospital if any issues arose. Although I don’t know her, I trust that Janet Fraser would fall into this category as well. Not everyone agrees with me though and some, like Amber Watson-Tardiff, are suggesting that what Fraser did by having her baby unassisted was “reckless, neglectful and borderline criminal.”

Jessica Gottlieb of Eco Child’s Play says, “I support women who chose a home birth. But a free birth? I cannot see the wisdom in it. Neither can Ms. Fraser’s baby.”

Watson-Tardiff goes on to say, “I hope she is at least subject to an investigation for child endangerment.”

Ronda Kaysen of MomLogic says she sees the value of home birth as a way of reducing medical intervention, but believes giving birth without medical assistance is “absurd.”

Fraser’s “free birth” argument, which on the surface appears feminist, is actually the opposite. It doesn’t empower women to take control of their own bodies. It sends them and their babies into the dark ages of medical care – where women give birth with no medical care at all and face the very real possibility of death as a consequence.

For the record the police are investigating the death and have said “it was not clear whether the baby was stillborn or died after delivery. If a baby is stillborn, there is no autopsy. If a baby is alive at birth and dies soon after, it is considered a matter for the coroner.”

I guess I give Fraser the benefit of the doubt and assume that like most mothers she was doing what she thought was in the best interest of her baby. Although she coined the term birth rape (birth interventions done against the woman’s wishes), I don’t believe she would put her child in harm’s way rather than accept a potentially life-saving intervention. Then again I don’t know Fraser and have not spoken to her, so I can only speculate just as others are doing, but I prefer to give her the benefit of the doubt. However, I do believe that whenever a child dies, there should be an investigation into the death.

While many are blaming Fraser for her baby’s death since she did not have a doctor or midwife in attendance, no one seems to mention the fact that babies die in the hospital, where doctors are present, all the time.

Laura Shanley, author of the book Unassisted Childbirth and owner of the Bornfree! website who blogs at Letters from Laura – Thoughts on Unassisted Childbirth, brought up that point and shared another perspective many of us may not have thought of when she shared the following statement with me:

I don’t know Janet, but of course my heart goes out to her. An Australian friend of mine has told me that despite what the media is saying, Janet’s baby was stillborn and the outcome wouldn’t have been different had the baby been born in the hospital. Regardless of whether or not this is true, I find it sad that so many people are blaming Janet for her baby’s death. A baby is stillborn in an American hospital every fifteen to twenty minutes. According to a story on my local newscast, this is double what it was ten years ago. Yet almost no one blames hospital birth mothers (nor should they) for these babies’ deaths. This is because it’s assumed that if a baby dies or is stillborn in the hospital, everything possible was done to save the baby’s life. The possibility that at least some of these deaths might have been caused by early inductions, c-sections and other interventions is rarely discussed.

I can tell you, however, that as a homebirth advocate I have received numerous letters over the years from grieving mothers who wonder if their hospital born baby might have survived (or avoided injury) had they been born at home. The fact is, in most cases we may never know. Sometimes medical intervention saves lives, and sometimes it takes them. This is why I encourage parents to do their own research and decide for themselves where and with whom they want to give birth. In my case, I chose to give birth at home unassisted because from the research I had done I felt that the majority of problems in birth – both now and in the past – could be traced to three main causes: poverty, unnecessary medical intervention, and fear which triggers the fight/flight response and shuts down labor. Despite what most people believe, the act of birth itself is not dangerous. But our cultural beliefs and practices can make it so. In the end, it’s a personal decision. And just as the death of a hospital-born baby doesn’t mean that no baby should ever be born in the hospital, the same should be said for babies born at home. Regardless of the outcome of this case, I will continue to speak out about unassisted childbirth as I believe that in most cases it’s the safest and most satisfying way to give birth.

Genie, an Australian blogger who writes at Home Is Where the Heart Is, blogged extensively about her thoughts regarding Janet Fraser and defends her choice to have her baby unassisted at home. She feels the insinuation that women who birth at home do it to feed their own ego at the expense of their child is “a crock.”

Women choose to homebirth with their baby’s best interest at heart. They do it FOR the baby, not in spite of the baby. Yes they want to feel empowered and blissed out, but the lack of trauma and the satisfaction a mother gets after a natural birth all benefits the baby too. A mother’s health and well being has a HUGE impact on the baby. So why should we ignore the interest and well-being of the mother?

In the wake of this tragedy and surrounding media coverage, some feel the need to point out that there is a difference between home birth and free birth. Dr. Meredith Nash of The Baby Bump Project says homebirth and freebirth are not the same.

The media has failed to differentiate between freebirth or unassisted birth (no midwife or doctor) and homebirth (a birth at home, usually with a midwife or homebirth doctor). For the most part, for low-risk births that are attended properly, homebirth has been proven to be a safe alternative to hospital birth. Freebirthing is significantly more risky (sorry, I’m a supporter but also a realist). It is essential to make this differentiation. Now that homebirth is on the precipice of being banned given that independent midwives are likely going to be denied indemnity insurance from next year, the suggestion that all women who homebirth are crazy radicals or that homebirth represents the majority of birthing women in Australia (only about 2%) is ridiculous. If anything, midwives and their ability to attend homebirths will be the saving grace of the Australian maternity system. Rather than convincing the small proportion of women who avoid a medicalized birth, why not support these women in their choices by making homebirth safe and easy?

Summer Minor, who blogs at Wired for Noise and gave birth to her daughter at home a little over a week ago, references the recent Nederlands study that says home birth is as safe as hospital birth. “A new study is out from the Netherlands that gives us home birthing mothers a nice little pat on the back. Despite the labels of ‘dangerous’ and ‘unsafe’ by some, once again it’s been found to be just as safe as giving birth in a hospital.” From the BBC:

The largest study of its kind has found that for low-risk women, giving birth at home is as safe as doing so in hospital with a midwife.

Research from the Netherlands – which has a high rate of home births – found no difference in death rates of either mothers or babies in 530,000 births.

I think that Shanley said it best when she said, “In the end, it’s a personal decision. And just as the death of a hospital-born baby doesn’t mean that no baby should ever be born in the hospital, the same should be said for babies born at home.” We all must do our research and make the choices that we feel are the best for ourselves and our babies and then, find peace with our decisions.

I offer Janet Fraser and her family my deepest sympathy. My thoughts are with them.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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