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When you pass through the waters

I’m reading Michel Odent’s book, Water and Sexuality.  If you aren’t familiar with Odent, he is a French surgeon who began to explore birth as a midwife.  He noticed women were drawn to and influenced by water during birth.  You don’t need to be around birth long before you notice that phenomenon.

He is also incredibly provocative.

He tosses about Japanese tradition, Greek mythology, sexual theory, and futuristic aquatic adaptation.  In the same chapter.

Like I said, provocative.

IMG_2686In terms of waterbirth, he describes how women are drawn to the water and will sometimes enter the tub before it is barely filled.  In Odent’s observations, the presence of water “releases the brakes” on birth; inhibitions melt and the neo-cortex turns off.

I started thinking about a question I ask all my clients:  If you could birth your baby anywhere in the world, without worrying about logistics or safety, where would your fantasy birth take place?

I knew many women included water in their answer but I decided to find out how many.  I pulled my last 50 client files and went through each one of them.

38 out of 50 said they wanted to birth either in water or near water.

Some of the answers were creative and specific.  Here are a few:

  • A cottage by the ocean in a rain storm
  • Floating on a bamboo raft in Hawaii
  • In a tree house over the ocean in Fiji
  • By Bull Sluice on the Chattooga River in the daytime
  • On a blanket at the ocean in Italy
  • In a Swiss Alps cottage with the sound of water

Three women mentioned dolphins and four mentioned mangoes.  Is there some symbolism in those images?

My favorite was a woman who would birth at a coral reef at night.  Probably the scariest place I could imagine but for her it was a peaceful, safe haven.

Only 12 did not involve water.  So what did those 12 answer?

  1. At home in bed near a fire.  Dim lights.
  2. At home with candles
  3. At home in the living room.
  4. Home
  5. At home in bed.
  6. At home beside the fireplace.
  7. Somewhere comfortable and private
  8. Hospital (interesting, at her birth she spent much of her time in the hospital shower)
  9. Mountain top
  10. Outside
  11. and 12.  No answer

I don’t have a big revelation in these numbers.  I’m not surprised by them.  Personally, it’s difficult for me to imagine having a “land birth.”  At my first birth, when the midwife said the tub was ready, I stripped my clothes off in a room full of people and almost dove headfirst into the aquadoula.  The tub created a boundary around me, it gave a physical space that was mine.

Not everyone wants to immerse in water, certainly.  Still, ocean sounds, waterfalls, and thunderstorms resonate in many of these fantasy births.  We grow our babies in water, we dream vividly of it in pregnancy, and it may release the brakes in our births.


Redux: Birthy Posts from the Past

So You Want to be a Doula (2008)

Preparing for a Smooth Hospital Birth (2009)

Doulas and Cesarean Birth (2011)

Dads and Doulas (2010)

Sacred Moments (2011)

I Heart My Perineum (2010)

A Word or Two about Homebirth (2009)

Accepting Your Birth Environment (2009)

Why I Wish Doulas Didn’t Exist (2008)


Catch my breath

I’m still here!  Happenings:

I had an epic birth to end the year.  40+ hours unmedicated and unaugmented with 5 hours of pushing!  Births like those affect everyone in attendance.  Watching a woman of determination and faith.  Witnessing her power.  Oh, it was incredible.  I hope she’ll permit me to blog a bit more about it. 

I’m prepping to spend almost three weeks in Thailand and Cambodia.  Skulking around “travel with children” forums.  It seems there are two attitudes regarding flying with children.  1)  Don’t.  Children are demon spawn and belong in the cargo hold.  or 2)  “I’ve never had a problem with my children because they (and I) am perfect.”  When kids misbehave, it is clearly the parent’s fault. 

There are also strong, judgemental opinions on medicating children for flights.  So, will I be medicating my fiery 2-year old who freaks out when riding an elevator?  Well, I won’t be sharing it here!  Too many strong opinions on that one! 

I’m teaching two classes this week.  Tomorrow (Tuesday) is “Sleeping Like a Baby” and this weekend is “Positive Discipline for Toddlers and Preschoolers.”  While I’m an educator for the first class, I’m a facilitator for the second.  In other words, I would not presume to teach discipline.  Ha!  I’m simply facilitate learning for that one!  See the difference?

Norah’s birthday is this weekend.  She doesn’t like change so that makes it easy.  We simply replicate what we do every year.  Small, family gathering.  Scott will leave a scavenger hunt for her while he is at work.  I’m tentatively adding a few changes.  Norah does not approve of a hot chocolate bar but I’m doing it anyway. 

I put together a “Breastfeeding Support Basket” for an online auction.  My friend, Rachel, is adopting.  Go bid!  The auction closes Dec. 9!

Scott is spending his spare hours playing Santa in his workshop.  I love the smell of wood shavings. 

Sword swallowing and sphincters

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast on sword swallowing. No, I’m not considering a new career in the circus. Just curious about how it works.

Turns out sword swallowers can control the involuntary muscles in their esophagus. They train the gag reflex to stop working. How? I mean, the gag reflex is controlled by the brain stem! The brain stem controls reflexes. The sword swallower triggers the gag reflex over and over until it stops working. Then the sword swallower learns to relax the involuntary muscles of two sphincters–one at the top of the esophagus and one at the base. This control allows the sword to enter the stomach.

I’m absolutely amazed at this ability.

Some sword swallowers even drop a sword into their throat (or, in one case, shoot it from a gun!). To keep it from, you know, killing them, they “catch it” by contracting their esophageal muscles and sphincters.


You know where I’m going with this, yes?

The cervix is a sphincter. Can we train it? How? I would have women lining up to take my class if I unlocked the secrets of the sword swallowing sphincter tricks.

Maybe I need to buy tickets to the circus.

Bait and Switch

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“Yes, we support natural birth.”  Knowing full well that most first-time mamas are induced so it is a moot point entirely.  The average gestation for a first time mama is 41 weeks 1 day.  When do most OBs start suggesting induction?

“Yes, we support VBAC.”  Until you fail to follow the standard protocol and suddenly you’re told (in LABOR!) that you can no longer have a VBAC.

“Yes we welcome birth plans.”  Until you submit yours at 38 weeks and the OB crosses a line through the things she won’t do.  And it is awful tricky to find a new OB willing to take you (the difficult patient) after 38 weeks.

Think I’m exaggerating?  Think I make this stuff up?  No.  The families I work with are handled this way all! the! time!  I have so many stories.   

Let’s take today, for example. 

My student switches to a practice recommended for their wonderful VBAC support.  She cancels her regular prenatal appointment because she believes she is in labor.  She is told to go straight to the hospital with her bags packed. 

Her contractions are just 1o minutes apart.  This may be a practice run.  This may take a couple of days.  She decides to stay home awhile.  And then a receptionist calls to tell her she will no longer be “allowed” to have a VBAC since she didn’t go in when they said. 

How do you disallow someone from having a VBAC?  The baby will come out.  There is no stopping it.  It is a normal, bodily process.  It would be like telling someone they were not allowed to digest their lunch. 

This manipulative and insulting treatment has got to stop.  It must.

What’s Your Hurry?

As the wonderful Karen Strange says, ” birth was designed to work in case no one was there.”

Birth is a big package.  Hormones are released at just the right moments to serve special functions, baby does things to help mama, mama does things to help baby.  The team is the mother/baby.  They are working together in an ancient process.  The biology of birth does not assume that anyone else is required or essential to the process.  Or any special equipment. 

My point is not that we should give birth alone.  My point is that for most births there is time to take a step back when the baby is born.  To give some space to the mom/baby team.  Do we need to suction every baby before placing her on mama’s chest?  Do we need to clamp the cord right away?  Even 2 minutes later?  Do we need to give mom a shot of pitocin?  Do we need to tug on the cord to get that pesky placenta out?  Do we need to dry the baby vigorously with a towel?  Does the baby need to cry?   


Maybe not. 

Obstetrician Michel Odent warns, “Don’t wake the mother” during this stage.  She is releasing an enormous hormonal cocktail and loud voices, bright lights, flurried activity, Pitocin, suturing (especially suturing!) can interrupt this release.   

Here are just a few of the awesome things that happen when the baby is born:

  • Skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding release oxytocin which helps the uterus contract and birth the placenta.
  • Babies use their vision and smell to find their way to mom’s nipple which has darkened during pregnancy (studies show babies are attracted to circles) and emits a smell similar to amniotic fluid. 
  • Blood vessels in mom’s chest expand causing her chest to heat up significantly so she can warm her baby.
  • The pulsing cord gives the baby a final boost of oxygenated blood.
  • When baby latches onto the breast, the hormones prolactin (milk-release), endorphins, and dopamine are released.
  • A combination of colostrum from the breast, bacteria from the mom’s vagina, and the vernix coating the baby’s skin all work to protect the baby from harmful bacteria. 

Such a beautiful interdependence.  Such a beautiful start to a lifelong interdependence. 

The thing I love MOST about homebirth is how this stage is honored.  At the hospital, there is flurry and procedure.  I understand that–it is a medical environment.  At home, there is an unquestioned acceptance of the connected purpose of mom and baby.  Even in emergencies, midwives often keep mom and baby together.   

When you pick your birthplace, be mindful of this stage of birth as well.  You might talk to your doctor or midwife about how you can keep the first hour following birth low-key and hands-off.  Ask your doula how she can help guard the space around you.

Gaining Confidence from Labor

I wanted to share (with permission) two beautiful pictures from a recent birth.  Emily’s first birth left her feeling disappointed by all the interventions that were used and lack of support surrounding her.  We talked about how a natural birth does not mean you have to grit your teeth and just suffer through it!  For her second birth, she chose to stay at home for most of the labor.  Here she is in active labor experiencing a contraction.


Yes, she is smiling.  I have many more pictures of her smiling through contractions.  She said to me, in between the waves, “Each contraction I go through and stay calm, I gain confidence.”  And she pointed out that this experience would become a wonderful memory to savor.    





Soon, we felt it was time to head to her birthplace.  She paused a moment before rising from the tub to gain even more confidence from her labor.

Emily had been adamant that she did not want photos of her labor.  I’m so glad she let me change her mind! 


The Gamut

Two back-to-back births that ran the gamut.  One striking difference was the OB management of delivery. 

Dr. Masked Man:  He showed up only when baby was crowning.  He involved a surgical tech who draped the mom’s legs and torso in blue sterile paper.  To hold her legs, I had to fight with the ridiculous paper and I did get “the look” from the tech when I rubbed the mom’s thigh over the paper.  The dr. wore a surgical mask, a face shield, a scrub cap, long gloves, full scrubs, and boots.  It could have been anybody under that getup!  The surg tech kept pouring soapy water on the mom without warning and scrubbed her down with antiseptic.  The room was bright and filled with people.  When baby was born, dr. immediately clamped the cord.  Baby was held up (for the photo shot maybe?) and then handed to a nurse for twelve million footprints and procedures.  Then dr. applied strong cord traction for the placenta. 

Dr. Polo Shirt:  Wore casual “street clothes.”  Called the mom by name.  In fact, he called all of us by name.  The room was dim and the only other person was the nurse.  When baby was born, dr. handed her to the mom.  He patiently waited for the cord to stop pulsing while the mom breastfed.  Cord clamped (and cut by me–my first!), mom cleaned up, and dr. patiently waited for the placenta.  He quietly respected the postpartum time by slipping out of the room.  He came back later to quietly bid us all goodnight.   

Which would you choose?  And how would a newly pregnant mom know to even ask the questions to find the right choice? 

Till Human Voices Wake Us, Or Why I Wish Doulas didn’t Exist

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I imagine if you visited a culture in which birth was considered a normal event–a visible part of the community–the idea of hiring a doula would be laughable.  Your intuitive knowledge of birth would be intact.  You would believe that since you figured out how to digest your food and how to wake up after sleeping, you would, indeed, know how to birth.  And the people around you would let you.

In our culture, birth is private.  Typically we retreat into the den of medicine, technology, and malpractice to celebrate our journey into motherhood.  Once entangled in this trinity, we are pinned and wriggling on the wall so how should we presume?

And we need instruction and authority and equipment to deliver. 

Some families hire a doula.  A woman who has attended many types of births.  A woman who can navigate the intricacies of the system.  I do believe that whether planning a medicated birth, a cesarean, or a low intervention experience, families can enjoy the best outcomes with a doula at their side.  The doula becomes the surrogate community that is missing in our culture–she provides support from early pregnancy coffee shop talks to postpartum home visits.  And she is the advocate–working for the family and no one else; no hidden agendas, no judgement, and no insurance company to answer to.  And–she is pretty inexpensive considering she is on call 24/7 for you.  She’s less expensive than an epidural and probably less expensive than the bill from your wedding florist.  

The fact that the profession of doula exists is merely one symptom of a deep isolation, fear, mystery, and sterility surrounding birth.  So while I love being a doula, I’m sad that the profession is necessary.  I wish that our community guarded the sacred transformative power of birth instead of timing it, numbing it, sterilizing it, insuring it, managing it.

Midnight Arrival

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Long Drive.

Strong Mama.

Great Music.

15 Minutes of Pushing.

Healthy Baby.

Immediate Breastfeeding.

Long Drive.

Tired Happy Doula.