Monday, December 20, 2010

Where are the Birth "Grandmothers" and "Grandfathers"?

Dear Birth Peeps,
Let's continue with the cultivation of the birth "Grandmother" or "Grandfather" in our culture. Or perhaps we should begin with the "Missing Grandmother" report!

Elders (vs. Olders) emerge and thrive in consciousness and cultures where the young and the old are revered; where there is a purposeful relationship and interdependency between the young and the old. Why have our elders (birth elders) gone missing?

Let's face it: elders wear their long life experience, and their many trips to the underworld and back, in their wrinkles, on their "face map." However, in this culture, for decades, there has been a relentless marketing campaign that women should hide or alter their life face map; they should strive to remain "youthful."

In selling the proverbial "fountain of eternal youth" to generations of youth, the fashion/makeup/marketing/film industries have effectively blown up the relationship bridge between youth and elders. As women notice early signs of aging or their children leave the nest, instead of turning their intention inward to recapitulate their life and beliefs, or outward to begin sharing their wisdom, insight, and power with youth in need of mentoring, too many are preoccupied with striving to fit in, to not become invisible or marginalized.

An elder or a "Grandmother/Grandfather" is "One Who Knows." This kind of knowing is the "Know Thyself" kind of knowing. This knowing can only be had through living through ordeals, making many descents into the underworld, being a powerless witness as their beliefs and their "world" was dismembered--transformed--and put together in a new way. One Who Knows knows because she has learned (not from the unwished-for ordeals themselves, but) through a painstaking process of recapitulating those ordeals in order to internalized a soul-knowledge, a holistic viewpoint of life, and patience.

Olders tell worn-out old personal stories of wounding or conquest, or engage in mindless gossip. But elders are charged with telling Great Stories that heal, teach, and weave the listener back to her culture and to her purpose and place.

Where have the birth elders gone? We are living in a culture where young and old turn to the latest study and newest technology for guidance and entertainment. Our culture builds relationship with machines, technology, evidence-based stories (research is just another story) or being entertained--not with Grandmother Storytellers!

We are living in a time where many birth peeps start out in passionate service to birth work, inspired by a Calling. But without elders to harness that passion and slowly cultivate it to grow a strong inner container so the new birth peep can learn to hold the psychic power of birth, the hard work and unrealized dream of making a difference gradually morphs that passion into keeping a job or career security. Some birth peeps carry the activist/truth-telling torch for a while. In whatever role we begin our work, we begin by striving for an idealized outcome that is rarely realized. Year by year, we feel more and more frustrated, jaded, disillusioned, and burned-out.

In a sense, entering birth work is often an unexpected personal initiation. The Ordeal we undertake is never what we imagined; the very real disrobing and dismemberment of our ideals and efforts, is in fact our inner-initiation into the role birth-Grandmother. It is a gourmet "crock-pot" kind of initiation. To become a "Grandmother" one must slow cook in the cauldron until all the spices and juices have bubbled together; this can take decades! But modern people want everything to be microwave fast!

But, we do not know the way. We are like foreigners trekking in the Himalayas without an experienced sherpa who knows the way. Our culture misinforms us that when we teach parents or attend births we are serving, assessing, informing the parents, but there is little mention that while the mother is in a rite of passage, so is the new birth peep.

Without this understanding, too many good birth peeps, right in the middle of their own initiation--are overcome with futility, frustration, and powerlessness, and so, the need to do something new or more fun--wins out. Understandably, many "would-be Grandmothers" jump out of hot cauldron and go onto other ventures.

Their absence opens space for other "new initiates" to enter the work, to take up teaching because someone needs to do it and the elders have left. The youth take it up, doing the best they can, parroting what they learned but not what they "know." Without elders, youth are teaching youth before they are ripe and ready to teach.

What else can be done when so few stay long enough in the cauldron to become true elders.

I am speaking from my experience and point of view, it is not officially evidence-based fact. I myself almost quit birth work for the very reasons I have mentioned above. For a couple of years I went into a place of doubt and soul searching, asking myself, Would young people trust an older, menopausal, aging woman? I'm not so hip, I don't twitter... Customs and attitudes about birth are changing so fast--am I voice from the past that has no place in this birth culture? Maybe I should do something more fun....but then, fate put the lid on and I cooked a little longer in the cauldron. Now I embrace the new role I am growing into.

I am sharing this, not as a biographical note about me--but because I feel some of you who are reading this will identify with this and may be able to reconsider a decision or a self-image or self-doubt.

As Virginia and I lead workshops, everywhere we go we see newly-Called "daughters of birth work" slipping into their tepid cauldrons. We want to give them tools, stories, and processes that will support them when the heat gets turned up and the lid gets put on! We meet women who are experienced and wise Grandmothers in birth, but who do not know their worth--and are not sought out enough by youth (who are conditioned to turn to the "new" thing). It is my hope that the seasoned women in birth will not be marginalized, but utilized; we need your patient, far-seeing, wisdom, more now than ever.

Let us envision becoming "Grandmothers," doing our personal work while focusing on changing the world "out there." In due time, a generation of Birth "Grandmothers" will be revered, sought after, and trusted.


Monday, December 13, 2010


Good Monday Morning Birth Peeps,

In Change #14, we considered the importance of, and the absence of, rituals and ceremonies to mark thresholds for birth peeps and parents. Which brings us to the next logical call for Change: to call forth our elders, "Grandmothers" and "Grandfathers" to do what only they can do: patiently instruct through the telling of cultural and mythical stories, and to preserve and perform the deep essence of rituals that guide the youth across thresholds they might hesitate to cross on their own.

Bill Plotkin is one of the great visionaries and authors of our time, and founder of the Animus Valley Institute. Plotkin spent at least three decades developing his eight-stage soulcentric model of being human. In his book, Nature and the Human Soul, he addresses the “indigenous process by which a human child grows into soul-initiated adult.”

In cultures that utilize the wisdom, extra time, and patience, of its older members to initiate its youth, there is a Bridge by which youth can cross over into adulthood. Not just any older person can build that bridge, as Michael Meade, storyteller, mythologist, and author of a new book, Fate and Destiny, points out. Meade makes a blatant and humorous distinction between elders and “olders.” He says most people just get old and become “olders.” All of us become older without effort. Few become elders.

So what happens to a culture—a birth culture—with few elders? Just look! It becomes a culture populated by adults who are trapped in eternal victim, rebel, or princess-adolescence, following ego-centric whims, security-seeking, risk-age- and death-avoiding, depressed, and numb (either naturally or by medication). A culture without elders becomes a culture of eternal adolescence because when it was time to “leave home” and to leave adolescent identity, there was no elder or death-embracing/death-defying tasks or ritual to allow the child-adolescent to “die” --and to be “born” as an adult.

“Every step of leaving becomes a step of arriving,” Plotkin observes, “As you separate from your former society-centered identity, you claim more of your nature-and-soul-centered identity.”

What does an elder look like? Plotkin captures the essence of the elder, the “Grandmother”/”Grandfather”:
A genuine elder possesses a good deal of wildness, perhaps more than any adult, adolescent or child. Our human wildness is our spontaneity, our untamed vivacity, our innocent presence, our resistance to oppression, our rule-transcending vivacity and self-reliance that societal convention can never contain. We are designed to grow deeper into that wildness as we mature, not to recede from it. When we live soul-centrically, immersed in a lifelong dance with the mysteries of nature and psyche, our wildness flourishes.”

If you are young or not yet an elder, commit yourself to knowing thyself, to completing the tasks of each stage of life. Prepare yourself to become an elder, not just older. They are waiting for you!

If you know an authentic elder-mentor, and you are willing, please share your experience here. It is helpful for us to cherish and to remember how elders can touch us and make a life-long impression.

In Love,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

#14 continued: Learning How to Initiate Birth Peeps

Dear Birth Peeps,

We may need to start a new blog thread in 2011 for Rituals, Retreats, and Ceremonies for Birth Peeps--so that we can fully explore the potential of this much-needed change. We need an ongoing dialogue to fully understand what is needed, and to begin to deliberately and mindfully experiment to find out what would work in our culture--and then to do lots more of it. Perhaps in a decade or two, this idea of "initiating birth peeps" will have deep roots and bear fruit. It is not a change that can come quickly, or easily. This is because in the West we have not been raised to understand, expect,participate or lead, rituals and ceremonies for education/career transitions in life.

We must acknowledge that the holistic education of a Birth Peep must include personal and spiritual growth, and not merely the accumulation of facts, the demonstration of skills, or the passing of a certification/licensing exam.

There are many reasons and ways to experience ceremony. In general, Western people tend to think of ceremonies as "celebrations." Most of us have no training or tradition in creating ritual and ceremony, so we are experimenting--and this is a start. We like to keep things fun, light, and safe--so we set a date and place and invite people to come, including the "guest of honor." And then events, the "ceremony," the beading or singing....unfolds. Like being invited to a wedding where we "watch"...

It will not be enough to throw the Birth Peep graduate a party in which a novel ceremony is done "for" her or him. In traditional and wise cultures (now disappearing from the earth), the initiate had to fully participate in preparation for her/his ceremony. They were guided by "One Who Knows" (an elder), often put in seclusion, fasting, and had tasks to complete. Traditionally, a Great Story was told as "map," and preparation included risk, near death risk... so that the initiate's old self would die allowing a new self to be born. The preparation was itself a soulful journey, taking the initiate away from an old life, perhaps healing the wounds of the training itself, toward new understanding and self-knowledge.

We don't know how to do this anymore. We can't imitate it or we might cause literal loss of life as happened in Colorado with the "warrior" sweat lodge. We must learn it. Let us acknowledge that we are pilgrims on our own journey of preparation.

This Change is not everyone's Call. If it is yours, you must undergo patient preparation and training in order to plant these Seeds of Healing.

In-Respect, and in-Hope for Change,
I am,

Monday, December 6, 2010

#14 continued: Rituals for Entering, Immersion, & Return from Birth Peep Training

When I speak to birth peeps who are immersed in-training, or who have recently graduated, I am moved by the tears I see well up in their eyes, how their faces flush or they hold their breath as if to contain the hurt, the disappointment, as they describe the training and how utterly exhausted, drained, and confused it left them. “The training was not what I thought or hoped it would be,” many lament. And then they quickly talk about the next step: getting a job or starting a practice.

“Wait,” I think (sometimes aloud, sometimes) to myself, “You are still in the underworld. You, and everyone returning from the underworld, needs to go through a guided process of integration and healing before you attempt to lead or heal others.

Losing one’s innocence is part of the hero’s journey--but perhaps they did not expect to have their hopes and enthusiasm dampened so soon. Not realizing how common this is, many think there is something inherently wrong with them, a flaw in their character or commitment. So they try to put their broken spirit behind them and dive into orientation, into work…

Prisoners, soldiers, and students look forward to their release/graduation date. But when that long awaited day comes and they suddenly “return” to society or to a new job, they often suffer from culture shock. They have been living in one world, and without a transition process, they enter another where people do not know where they have been, or what they have lived through or are living. It is isolating. The tacit message is to put the past behind you and move on. And yet we are inevitably tethered to our past and to the stories we tell ourselves about our past. Most of us long for meaningful recognition and integration time when leaving one world or role in life—before beginning another.

Other than a form letter of acceptance or a graduation party, presently our birth peep schools offer few soulful rituals or personal retreats for birth peeps entering training or transitioning to the work place. Change #14 is not an easy change or a "quick fix." Still it needs to happen.

If you know someone who is entering, immersed in, or returning from, birth peep training, if you can't create a retreat for them, consider offering them a little Water of Life (spiritual Food) or the Food of Life (physical plane support).

Perhaps it will be one of our birth peep readers Call to begin creating Birth Peep Transition Retreats.

In-Austin today, In-Love,

Thursday, December 2, 2010

#14 continued: Nurturing & Mentoring Our Birth Peeps

Good Morning Birth Peeps,
Today we continue considering Change #14. It is a fundamental change that must begin if birth in our culture is to truly heal and change. Otherwise we can only continue to rearrange the furniture in house built on a cracked foundation with a leaky roof.

The One that answers the Call to the work, training, or Ordeal, is not yet “the healer” or the “hero.” Rather it is the Child part of us that answers “yes.” The Innocent, Magical, Rebellious Child in us does have (and must have, in order to undertake the Ordeal of training,) a romantic notion of “the difference she’ll make,” how she will “save” others from the trauma she lived through, or whatever it is. In many cases, perhaps all cases, it is the wounded part of us in search of our own healing and understanding that undertakes the hero’s journey (in the name of helping or saving others). During our training, we also call on the Adaptive Child part of us because that part makes a “good student,” who gets all the assignments done, checks off the lists, gets our evaluations in…. almost on time anyway.

If we, as a culture, are to truly begin mentoring and initiating our Birth Peeps, we must understand deeply that every Birth Peep (and parent) begins this initiation-journey in her Child, and if she is mentored and guided to do her personal work, she has a chance of completing a (holistic) course in her Huntress-Love Warrior--and beginning her service to parents from a more intact, whole, centered place--not in her wounded, orphaned, exhausted, rebellious Child.

Consider that in our birth culture, many of our Birth Peeps (from doulas to doctors) complete training and immediately enter their professional work in a state of double wounding (the unhealed wounding that Called them plus the unhealed wounding from a course that demanded much of them but did not guide their personal growth). Because of the emotional, physical, and psychic demands of working in hospitals and clinics—which in the West rarely has any Mercy or personal growth support program in place for its worker-bees--it is almost certain that the already tender inner-Child of the new birth peep is destined to experience a triple wounding.

In the West, Birth Peep training is top heavy: we value, and therefore focus primarily on, “evidence-based” material, techniques, performance evaluations and outcomes, and being objective (i.e., impersonal, professional, in-service to the client or corporation—but not in-service to ourselves).

And yet, the real work in birth is holistic. The real work requires heart, soul, ego-strength, and a personal recapitulation (self-awareness) process to evolve spiritually and emotionally with the work, and not be perpetually exhausted, wounded, and slowly dismembered by it.

The image I want to leave you with today is this:
For birth to really change in our culture, Birth Peep training, certification and/or re-certification must welcome the Child and deliberately nurture, grow, and mature the Huntress-Warrior-Healer. The "Ones Who Know"(i.e., the Sage Fools who have made the Return themselves) must answer the Call to "heal the healers," not only in training but throughout the Birth Peep’s career.

Tomorrow we will continue Change #14


Copyright © December 2010, Pam England. This material cannot be reproduced without written permission.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Change #14 Birth Peep Training as Initiation & Hero's Journey (1)

Change #14 We Must See the Training of the Birth Peep
as a profound Initiation and the Hero’s Journey

Dear Birth Peeps,
If you were fortunate enough to be trained by kind mentors in a safe and supportive environment that nurtured you through every phase and fumble of your training, consider yourself extremely blessed—your experience is rare—but it has given you an insight and gift that you can share with us as we tackle another change our birth culture is in dire need of.

If you are one of the many who felt broken by your training and perhaps, you feel a part of you is still in that underworld, it is my hope that this week’s letters will be a sliver of light to help you find your way “home.” As we join together, and complete our Return from the underworld of our training-initiation, then, and only then, can we truly be the Ones Who Know, and who can guide other initiates into, through, and all the way “home” from a training process that is in fact a hero’s journey.

There is so much to say about this subject, it may take me several posts to convey it. Rather than attempt to condense it, and trivialize this, I will take my time. I look forward to your responses as we move through Change #14.

First a brief review of the hero’s journey so we can share language and ideas. In general the hero’s journey has three phases, (1) The Call and Preparation, (2) the Ordeal, and (3) the Return. It could be said that your whole life is this journey, and that within our lives we may be blessed to undertake several hero’s journeys through education, relationship, career, and illness.

When someone is drawn to birth work we could say, and often do say, they were “called.” It is not a “job” that kind of “falls in your lap,” you are called to it, you are compelled to choose, and re-choose, it. Don’t think of this Call in a romantic sense, but rather as a soul-calling—it is “soul work.”
What calls the initiate to birth work? Usually it is a tangible event in our life that awakens an interest in birth work, or in a particular aspect of birth work. Some philosophers say it is work we “agreed to do before we were born.” So, at some point we say “yes” to this Call, and off we go!

In Love,
(copyright(C)2010 Pam England)

Recording Songs of Healing and Opening: an idea

Dear Birth Peeps,
I am deeply moved by your responses this week. As I read each response, I could hear the songs--and imagined hearing them if I were weary in labor... I could feel the peace, the power, the healing.... and each one, each of you, opened my heart this morning.

Love Warriors "act," that is what distinguishes the archetypal Warrior from the Dreamer or the Victim who wishes things were different. Let us consider making a grass roots recording of the songs you mentioned, and maybe include the stories you shared along with them. I would like to make this available as a download... and maybe we could allow the download to "grow" as more people sing and contribute.

It is not a new idea. Maybe just put in the collective underworld for a while.
Thank you,


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Change #13 Sing Her Across the Thresholds of Birth

Dear Birth Peeps,

A few years ago I went to the hospital to visit a postpartum mom and stopped by labor and delivery to visit a midwife. We greeted each other in the hallway. I said, "Slow day? Nobody in labor today?" She looked surprised and said, "Every room is full!" I was genuinely confused. There were no birth sounds, no birth "songs. I listened again; except for the beeping of machines, it was as silent as the hospice ward my father-in-law spent time in. "How can this be?" And of course, every mother was medicated or had an epidural. The sound of her labor was clinical. Did the silence of that ward increase mothers' self-consciousness should she begin to make the primal sounds and "songs" of labor? Don't we all feel less self-conscious to sing and dance when everybody around us is doing it, loudly, badly, freely, and in-joy? Nobody wants to be the only one making a scene! Heaven forbid: we are conditioned to abide by the first lesson we learned in primary school.

So Change #13 may send waves of fantasy and resistance through birth peep-ville. If this takes off, it will probably change the very profit margin of the corporate birth world.

Have you heard about "Threshold Choirs?" This is a fairly new voluntary movement started by Kate Munger in the Bay area. It's a very simple idea. Two or three women form a local Threshold Choir chapter, they practice songs together every week, and sing to people who are struggling with illness or dying, often in hospice. Patients, their families, and the hospice nurses, respond positively to the singing. But then, people who work in hospice are already different, at the edge, and in a service-to-the-patient-(and their family)-mindset... so Threshold Choirs are welcomed there.

Threshold Choir members learn a range of songs so when they meet the patient, and feel into the mood in the room, their voices raised in song can meet that person at their Threshold, and assist by soothing or uplifting the recipients as each one crosses their psychic or physical threshold.

Threshold singing is a sacred gift, it is offered in humility, in absolute service to the one at the threshold. It is not an ego-driven "performance." Singers do not have to be "professional," or "trained." Singing may entrain all the scattered thoughts in the room, but the singers do not sing to bring about a particular mood change they believe would be best for the recipient(s). The Song is the Medicine, and they are the Instrument—when the Medicine is wanted.

Women in every stage of labor are crossing psychic and physical thresholds. So are their partners, and sometimes the staff. I can imagine birth threshold singing helping calm anxious, exhausted mothers in prodromal labor, perhaps allowing them to rest (or to allow medications to help them rest or ripen work better). Certainly, birth threshold songs might soothe and celebrate the mother/parents, still in birth shock, as she/they take the first psychic steps toward parenthood. What a lovely way to celebrate them.

What songs do you already know that could be Medicine for these Thresholds of Birth; in early labor; or postpartum? Perhaps repetitive chanting, non-English lyrics, spirituals, or lullabies? Please, write in your ideas so we can begin learning songs. Send in the lyrics, your sources where we can learn the melody.

What kind of music might help women cross the deep Thresholds in active labor, when they are deep in the trance of wordless-Laborland?


Layne Redmond is a musician, drum maker, and author of When the Drummers were Women. In her wonderful book she reminds us that drums were associated with fertility in ancient cultures, and that frame drums were associated with feminine sexual energy. Beating her drum connected her to the primal rhythms of life apparent in the sexual act. In ancient mythology, Goddess-priestsess’(Inanna, Hathor, Aphrodite, and Cybele) all played the frame drum to increase the energy of sexual attraction and the power of femininity. "In menstruation and birthing rites, certain drum rhythms caused the womb to contract, aiding the flow of menstrual blood or the birth of the child. A forceful beat of the dream could drive away evil spirits and purify a space where health and well-being could flourish."

Drumbeats send messages to the body, mind, and to others. In parts of rural Africa drumbeats may be used for long-distance communication, sending complex messages from village to village. When I hear the question (resistance) raised that singing or drumming for one mother might disturb another patient or doctor, I think it is equally possible that the music might also send a message of life, movement, joy to others, separated by walls, but sharing a similar journey in the hospital "village." But let's not let these individual possibilities stop us from dreaming a new dream; our dream must also include being sensitive to shared experience and finding solutions to problems as they arise.

We have all been energized and entrained by a drumbeat. Layne Redmond observed that, "Before the age of machines, in factory [and birth factory places], drums [and singing] linked people together, they measured the shared tempo of life, coordinated and energizing group effort. Since the Industrial Revolution, the grinding, discordant clang of … machinery destroyed the peaceable synchronization of natural rhythms and work."

I am suggesting that singing and drumming can help mothers find their own rhythm in labor and enter into the natural trance of Laborland. But, let’s also consider how singing or drumming would soothe and aid women who are birthing restrained, numbed, worried about their progress or well-being of their baby. Music could also be powerful Medicine for them as they cross their thresholds through labor, perhaps enhancing the drugs effectiveness as the mother relaxes and feels contained by rhythm of music.

Good Ideas Must Pass Through the Gate of Resistance

Let's go into the resistance that might come up in our own minds, or in the culture, when live music for birth thresholds is proposed. When we hear about how women in traditional cultures still hear drumming for them in labor, and how it helps them move their bodies to their own rhythm in labor.... perhaps we romanticize that bit of “National Geographic” news, or feel fleeting remorse that we don't have such a ritual, and then--we distance our selves from the idea, from our loss, and from our self-consciousness.

Perhaps we settle for a compromise, “I’ll bring a music CD,” and then further compromise, “… and wear headphones so it’s not too loud.” But women know the power of live music! We know it awakens the Divine Feminine in us. Live music is “alive,” and we are alive when we hear it and feel its vibration in our bones, and hips, and hair flying, and in our feet! Live music, not CDs, have always been used in rites of passage because it has the power to rock us and to entrain us.

Wouldn't it be great if every nurse, midwife, and doula had to learn to drum or sing as part of their holistic preparation to work with mothers in labor and postpartum. What if certification or re-certification required contact hours in music, singing, drumming? OUTRAGEOUS, I know! I can hear cries of resistance, "Has she gone mad? Are we supposed to go backwards? What if a mother doesn't want to be sung or drum across her threshold?" Alrighty then, we already know what to do, don't we? We can just sit there and watch the monitor and the clock and hope she “chooses” for the best.

And what if, worst-case scenario now, what if drumming and singing helped women and families (and staff) relax, and the rhythm made women move and go into trance... and the epidural rate fell... and this upset the corporate profit margins in obstetrics?
Hmmm... that would be a shame. Let's not upset this system.

For my American birth peeps, I wish you a happy holiday weekend.
For all of you, I hope you go out and hear, feel, and dance to live music… and write your fellow-peep revolutionaries here so we can get some tunes to start this change, change #13!


Monday, November 22, 2010

The Birth Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Dear Fellow Birth Changin'Peeps,
I was talking to an old friend yesterday, a midwife and birth activist, about this blog. I was telling her about the guidelines I set for myself. I told her I had to hold myself to my first "rule:" not to resist, blame, or try to change the dominant system directly. To see clearly: not to be naive or innocent while abiding by that rule. ...And how I question my own rule. Perhaps it will require "war."

When I was in college, I remember being fascinated how in ancient Greece, Greek gods, goddesses and the myths wasn't a "mythology" to that whole civilization, the myths were "real." What changed that? People stopped believing. When beliefs change, civilization changes. But, until then, when millions of people are conditioned to believe a certain logic, or to fear a certain consequence, then that conditioned belief becomes the current dream of the culture.

So, in denigrating and vilifying the medical mythology of evidence-based management, we must believe in its power. Resistance actually feed it. Individual and small group resistance often feels futile; especially when we discover the corporate machine is deaf and well-funded. Our purposes are crossed. Futility fuels the feeling of defeat.

When each of us dares to take action, small but pro-active steps that reflect what we do believe, then we feed the new dream of birth in our culture. When we stop believing we are hapless recipients under the thumb of medical corporations and insurance companies, when we are no longer afraid of being thought crazy or ostracized, what small thing will we dare to do differently, today.

WE are the dreamers and authors of the new birth culture that envisions a holistic vision of childbirth for parents and professionals. We have to know what we are dreaming, rather than wanting to change the dream of nameless someones in the tower of the soul-less corporate world. Our new dream is big, it also embraces the positive role that medical birth management plays, and knows (or is learning) when to embrace it wisely.

My old friend considered this, nodded, and reminded me, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Yes, indeed!

It takes kindling a Fire, then steadily feeding that Fire, to dream a new dream, together. We are narrating a new collective birth mythology. This requires millions of us to re-wire old beliefs and conditioned reflexes, to face our private fears, and to do this work, not for ourselves, but for greater good.

Tomorrow, we will sing across a Threshold.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Change #12: Prepare Mothers and Fathers for Cesarean Birth

Dear Peeps,

One way to change the experience women have giving birth in our culture is to warmly, honestly prepare them for all kinds of birth in our culture. That includes cesarean birth.

Have you noticed how many times the mother who is in birth shock or shame after a cesarean is the mother who did not read or ask about it, because she truly believed it would not happen to her? (With the rising cesarean rate, even if it "shouldn't" happen to her, it might.)

If you were to ask her (or the father) what would have helped, she (or he) might say--"I wish I had known what to expect. It was such a shock."

We must not put the onus of holistic preparation on uniniated mothers or fathers, i.e., "if they don't ask, we won't talk about it." Mothers and fathers who are not prepared suffer terrible emotional shock, not from the surgery itself, but from their own innocence, cluelessness, self-judgment, and being so overwhelmed, that they disconnect to get through it.

Even when the tide of unnecessary cesareans turns back, some women will have cesareans. So, cesarean preparation must become part of holistic preparation. All mothers, fathers, other mothers and their birth partners need to be prepared to give birth-in-awareness by cesarean.

In the birth trauma work I do, story after story, is not about the cesarean itself, but the shock of not knowing what to expect, or what to do, or what it means about her as a mother. On the other hand, BFW mentors have often heard thanks from parents who, because of the sensitive role-play class on cesarean birth-in-awareness, were prepared and much less traumatized.

Parents who see midwives, doulas, and take classes--and hear not a word about what to do during cesarean birth--often feel betrayed. Oddly, not talking about cesarean preparation prenatally adds to their feeling of shame because the people they trusted (i.e., the people who 'trust birth') did not talk about it. Silence sends a meta-message something like, "cesareans are something that happens to unprepared, uncommitted women, or women who don't have protection from information and doulas."

When birth peeps (or even friends) talk, straighforwardly and warmly, about giving birth by cesarean in-awareness, we model acceptance and strength. If we have rapport with the parents, they embody our acceptance and strength. Think of this as an emotional homeopathic dose of Medicine against shame, withdrawal, the pervasive feeling of failure. And, if she does have a cesarean birth, she knows she has an ally in us: we dared to talk about it!

If you are one of the people she trusts (one of the people who 'trust birth') and you talked about giving birth by cesarean, even if you are not with her in the operating room, she knows you are "with her." She knows she can come talk to you later.

Not all birth peeps can talk about cesarean birth warmly and without bias. Some need to first go through a period of healing their own birth trauma or agreements against cesareans or cesarean parents. Then, it can be done.

There are many ways of teaching about cesarean. Some send tacit or overt messages of judgment, with reasons and ways to avoid cesarean at all costs. The positive intention is to scare or motivate a woman not to "choose" a cesarean, but in labor, we all know that "choice"and informed consent are nebulous,gray areas.

When I teach couples about cesarean birth, I feel it is a ceremony, an initiation into self-acceptance and envisioning themselves coping--even with an unwished-for cesarean. The teaching is about embracing oneself, not about avoiding and regretting.

Fathers and other mothers experience cesarean birth from an entirely different perspective. They too need support and preparation; they too, can be traumatized by lack of preparation. If we don't tell them, they will be so overwhelmed by the surgery environment. This week I worked with a lovely couple who was unprepared for cesarean birth, but had one. The baby was born healthy, taken to the baby table for the baby dry and wrap ritual... then given to the father and escorted out of the room to the nursery. The mother never saw her baby. ... not until hours later in the recovery room. This father had no idea he could take it to his wife, the mother.... and help her see him, hold him, on the operating table. He was utterly overwhelmed and shepherded out of the operating room without a clue of the options. Their experience would be so different if ...if only.... they had been prepared for cesarean birth-in-awareness.

Some of you may already be doing this. And for some, it is so counter-intuitive, you can't imagine how to talk about cesarean birth without sounding like you are "approving" it or hypnotizing them to give birth by cesarean. These are important considerations. It can be done though. If you want to learn one way to do this, take an introduction to mentoring workshop, or contact Birthing From Within for a phone class.

There are many ways to change birth in our culture. It's not only about changing the medical protocols and rituals, but in preparing parents to birth in the culture they are actually birthing in, and not the one we wish they were birthing in.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Change #11 Row Row Row Your Boat in the River of Life

Dear Birth Peeps,

From childhood, millions of young women and men, including most of our fellow birth peeps (and myself), WE as a culture, are thoroughly, completely pacified, numb, and hypnotized by the medical model's rituals and beliefs--even in our resistance to it, we are hypnotized by its power. From time to time, a little voice in the back of our minds, or in the media, screams out to wake us from this trance, but is the power of ritual and hypnotic language, another message, study, story (after all, repetition is the food for ritual and trance) is sent and the culture--that has been entrained to believe birth is safer with monitors and medical magic, or powerless to change the rituals of birth, falls back asleep again.

It's time for all us to really wake up. There is power in numbers, and there is power in repetition, repetition, repetition, and love. If we keep repeating new rituals of preparation, change will come.

Resisting and resenting the medical model is not the way--because resistance affirms the very trance we resist.

We must put our attention and intention into a new dream, one that arises in us, from us. WE must create-and repeat frequently--our own new rituals that reinforce our emerging dream and self-worth. As a culture of mothers and fathers and birth peeps, we are indeed numb and shaky, dependent, hypnotized like children who want to be safe and contained, want to get approval, and avoid conflict, disapproval, and above all: death. In every revolution, there is risk. There is a price to pay for real change. Like children, a few rebel--and are used as examples to keep the other children in line.

Real change comes from the bottom up. There is power in numbers. We cannot wait for the medical model, hospital administrators, or insurance companies to come to its senses. We cannot wait for another study to prove ...whatever it is we want to prove; evidenced-based practice is kind of convenient myth.

If we are paralyzed and believe ourselves to be dependent and powerless, we need to restore our spirit, muscles, and faith. We need to find our own way on the river of life, un-learn old beliefs, and learn new stories. A solitary river trip for six-weeks would be a great re-education for every pregnant couple and birth peep.

I'd like to tell you a story about a man who took such a trip in a canoe down the Mississippi. He was born in 1901 and contracted polio when he was 17. He was very sick for a while (the doctors thought he would die), then very weak, unable to walk. To renew his spirit and self worth, he arranged to take a solitary, six-week canoe ride down the Mississippi River--with $5 in his pocket. He had to be carried and placed in the boat when the trip began.

On the river, on his own, he discovered as do many people who live on the river, that the River provided everything he needed. He met people who lived on the river, enjoyed campfires and storytelling. Day by day he was learning. Rowing strengthened his muscles. At the end of the canoe trip, he had developed upper body strength, and was able to walk on his own with a cane. Equally important, he gained a new world view. What the river taught him he was to use the rest of his life.

This man is Milton Erickson, truly a wounded healer, the founder of his own unique style of hypnotherapy. Erickson is a legend, he died in 1980.

What are you thinking about right now?
What does the living metaphor of Milton Erikson's canoe trip say to you?

It speaks volumes to me. We need to initiate mothers, fathers, and birth peeps in a life-validating way. Not from books, research, resistance--but in the body, in nature, from stories on the river of life. Wouldn't it be crazy if childbirth classes became a life-adventure, learning survival skills, facing our fears and surviving. Learning metaphors about life, opening, change...from Nature.

Another crazy thought from Pam, in Albuquerque, on the Rio Grande.
Radical change is what is needed. Not smoldering, petty resistance. Let's keep thinking, talking, daring to really feel again... and all the while, remember to embrace it all, including the medical model.

Remember that how you dream the medical model arises in your mind, not "out there." When we can embrace it without being in a trance, then we have real power to "choose."

Row Row Row Your Boat.
Life is but a Dream.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Change #10 Create Healing, Harmonious Space

Dear Birth Peeps,

Once Mullah was riding a donkey and the animal left the main path and started traveling the wrong way. One of the Mullah’s friends passed by and inquired where he was going. “I do not know,” said Mullah. “I’m going to the same place as this donkey.”

And that is exactly the energetic experience of expectant and new mothers (and fathers) who embody the mystery of life and birth--who might begin with the intention of celebrating their pregnancy and motherhood, and even birthing normally—but upon entering the chaotic, cluttered, often metallic environment of the medical clinic, they unconsciously begin following the donkey.

When we enter a space, the “space” enters us. Ambiance in clinical settings are an underestimated factor in our well-being, in our feeling welcome, perhaps even in our wanting to return to the space.

Years ago I worked in a public health clinic. It was a maze of long, winding hallways leading to cul-de-sacs of waiting rooms leading to examining rooms. But it was the blood draw room that sent me on a query about the messages clinic space sends patients, and also, whose space is it anyway (the patients or the birth peeps)?

Every inch of the walls of the little lab room was plastered with magazine cut outs of actor Tom Selleck (starred in Magnum PI); it seems the middle-aged lab tech was in a delayed adolescent crisis. The rest of the clinic was clean but drab; the cinder block walls were a uniform drab beige color. Old metal framed chairs lined in up in rows; a television in the corner blared. “Health” posters on the wall warned of dangers in pregnancy and oddly… promoted birth control. Women carrying life, about to give life, came to sit for hours on end, in this lifeless place.

My deepest question became, “Whose space is this anyway?” The state owns and maintains it, employees come to work in it, custodians keep it clean and in repair, parents visit it as patients. Probably many people think the space is cluttered, clinically “sterile,” even run down—wishing someone else would spruce it up. No one owns the clinic or takes ownership of its feng shui, yet everyone in the space is shaped by it.

Feng shui brings the environment, and the people in it, into harmony.
Atmospheric ch’i molds human ch’i. Ch’i must flow smoothly and near a person
to improve his [or her] ch’i. It must be balanced in yin and yang.
If the current is too strong or too weak,
it can have negative effects.”
—Sarah Rossbach,
Parabola, Summer 1993

I decided to make the corner clinic where I worked beautiful. I got permission to paint murals on a few of the walls. I brought paints from home. On one dingy cinder block wall I painted a big red healing momma bear carrying medicine and feathers on her back. On another wall I painted a sweet mother and baby. We hung a few plants. Immediately parents and co-workers noticed and smiled when they entered this space.

There is endless talk about changing the medical model of birth. How to do it? Can it be done? What can each of us do today, this week, that won’t involve a lot of red tape in the labyrinth of bureaucracy? What can each of us do for under $10, and little free time, that will make a big difference?

In the bureaucracy of corporations renovations cost thousands and millions of dollars, and there is miles of red tape to get it done. So we, the little people at the bottom, wait for someone else to initiate it and do it. Change #10 requires you to "think small:" the smallest change can make a difference.

If you work in a public space, make an effort to spend a few minutes each day reducing clutter, restoring order, and adding a touch of beauty.

Add a single living flower, a spray of aromatherapy, a beautiful picture on the wall.

Play soothing or happy music.

Notice messages sent by “teaching” posters or other images on the wall; make a change if you want to send another message.

If you don’t have an office, but you travel to appointments: create a small, simple ritual for creating harmonious space for the session. By doing this little ritual every time you make a visit, the recipient and you shift into a new space—together.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reminder: Labyrinth Booksigning at Ark in Santa Fe Thursday

Hi Santa Fe Birth Peeps,
Please help me get the word out and remind parents and birth peeps that I am giving a talk and booksigning for the Labyrinth of Birth on Thursday, November 11th, from 4-6 pm at the Ark Bookstore in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Change #9 Dream Incubation and Healing for Birth Peeps

Hello Birth Peeps,
Welcome new Peeps, and thank you for your responses to this idea. Let's continue.

I am inspired by ancient Greeks (500 BCE to 300 CE) who turned to "dream incubation" for healing. First the "patient" had to try to heal him/herself using traditional medical and herbal cures of the time. If a healing was not obtained this way, then they could go to an Asclepieion Temple. Asclepius was a healer who was diefied; he is also known as a god of healing.

When the patient went to the temple, they first spent time unwinding from their ordinary life and travel, and prepared for their dream incubation. Through bodywork, hot tubs, psychotherapy, special food or fasting, theatre, music--all in a setting of beauty--they underwent a symbolic purification and cleansing in preparation for their dream-healing.

When ready, in the evening a priest trained in dream healing, wearing white robes, would take the patient to his or her cell or abaton, a private room with a couch for sleeping. The patient would hear hymns being sung, the air had a light scent of incense... and the priest gave special instructions to prepare the patient to receive a dream...a dream to show the way to sacred healing, a communion with the gods to which the patient was now receptive.

In the morning, the priest would come and hear the dream. There are many many recorded stories of dreams and healings during this time, throughout the Mediterranean, Europe and the Near East. Treating the body mind in healing, and engaging the patient in their own healing, went out of favor as patriarchal medicine took hold.

In my dream, I see a return to this wisdom. I see a great need for our birth people to have a place to heal, to renew their body, mind, soul and their dedication to birth work. This can be done. It is time to do it. I am preparing to help revive dream incubation by going through training myself. I trust many of you are eager to help, to come, to dream a new dream.

In Love,


Friday, November 5, 2010

Acknowledging the Wounded Healer

Good Morning Birth Peeps,
I am spending this week in Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico in a "bear cave" with seven international "bears," otherwise known as advanced mentors (from Spain, Canada, US, South Africa and Puerto Rico!). These wonderful women, committed to changing birth in our culture) have come far to enrich their skills in childbirth mentoring. Working (and relaxing) in the serene and beautiful setting of Ghost Ranch takes us out of our ordinary setting, therefore out of our ordinary mind, and helps us reach inward and expand outward in our personal lives and professional work.

Being in the extraordinary place of beauty awakened in me the dream of creating Healing Retreats for Birth Peeps.

Women and men who work in birth give a lot, day after day, year after year. After receiving formal training, most professional conferences are geared toward informing the birth peep in the latest research or technique so they can better serve the mother/family during the childbearing year. The focus tends to be outward: serving, protecting, and healing the mother and family.

Birth work is not ordinary work. While it can be rewarding it can also be psychically draining and emotionally "wounding. After months and years birth work takes a toll; as birth peeps accumulate unprocessed grief, guilt, frustration or powerlessness, s/he begins to move further away from an initial intention (to heal) and deeper into despair, control, and negative assumptions about themselves, birth, and parents.
Who is healing, and nurturing, our birth peeps?
How can (or do) "wounded," burnt out, birth peeps serve expected parents?
What needs to happen next?

In the model of Birth as a Hero's Journey, one of the most powerful archetypes is the wounded, shattered, dismembered, hard-working, determined, but lost, person...who may yet become, but is not yet, a hero in her own myth or live. This person--like so many birth peeps who answered a Call to serve women/families during the childbearing year--started out eager, enthusiastic, full of hope.... and gate by gate, birth by birth, year by year, she/he lost her innocence, trust, and dream.

We cannot expect to change birth in our culture by solely focusing on parents--trying to empower them through information and resistance, or by healing "their" birth wounds--without also healing our own.

Change #9 coming soon, not only to this blog, but to our culture: I hope!


Thursday, October 28, 2010

#8 Dance Through the Childbearing Year

Hi Birth Peeps,
The blog arrested this week, needed to move again. Which brings us to Change #8:

I find it curious that the message is often sent to "move in labor," but in prenatal sessions and classes, parents "sit." In birth conferences, we "sit." Why is that? Perhaps like art, we leave dancing, and teaching dance, to the "stars" and coordinated experts!

But No! the new Birth Village must begin dancing.

Stephanie Larsen is an amazing woman who has created DANCING FOR BIRTH(TM), a refreshing, uplifting dance class for pregnant women, "Instructor Training," and an engaging DVD showing all the steps. After watching her DVD--I became really enthusiastic about dancing in pregnancy and birth. I loved the moves and the fun names she gives all the moves.

I asked Stephanie how dancing can help change birth in our culture. Here's what she had to say:
"When women start dancing, dancing brings a new connection with themselves--a connection that is not typically cultivated. Dancing increases acceptance of one's body, and love and respect for oneself; it increases self-esteem. Dancing informs a mother of what her body is capable of, and to feel pleasure to be in her body.
"In labor, women can experience an internal, intuitive, and ectatic state. This same state can be accessed while dancing. In labor, women rely on sensation and freedom of movement. Through dance a woman learns to feel sensation in her body rather than be numb to [or unaware of] sensations.

Women often feel suffering when they can't move in labor in the hospital, or they don't have the freedom to act upon the desire to move. Women can feel restrained by tubes, belts, and tethers of technology, but they can also lose their freedom to act, with or without medical tethering, by their own conditioning and disconnection with their bodies.

We give birth in our bodies. We cannot "think" and plan our way through labor. We give birth in our Dynamic Feminine energy and body; which means to move intuitively, mindlessly, and unself-consciously.

So Change #8 is about helping pregnant women and birth peeps to come alive in their bodies, to cultivate a new personal and collective relationship with our bodies by feeling pleasure and ecstacy and freedom to move--before labor and in labor!

I'm going to take one of Stephanie's DANCING FOR BIRTH trainings so I can bring her approach to my parents and workshops. I hope you will, too. Check her out at or call her at 866-643-4824.



Wednesday, October 20, 2010

#7 Another thought: Public Birth Announcements

As an after thought to #7, or another thought...

Several mothers have recently told me that newspapers in various places on the planet... still refuse to publish a birth announcement if the baby is born at home.

Why is this?! Whatever their reason, not announcing a home birthed baby keeps the notion out of sight, out of mind. Another way to bring change is to challenge and change this policy in your local newspaper--if it exists.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Change #7 A Multi-Billion Dollar Change: Home Birth Economics

Hi Birth Peeps,
I read today that an economic analysis predicted if just 10% of healthy women in the US gave birth at home with qualified midwives, it would save $9.1 BILLION per year. (Presently 1% of women birth at home.)

In the US, childbirth costs more than any other health (or medical?) condition; in 2000 the bill came to $86 Billion, half was paid by taxpayers. This tally is twice the amount paid by any European country.

You don't always get what you pay for. Although we pay more for childbirth than almost any country on the planet, the US has the worst birth outcomes, more preterm births, infant and maternal mortality and other problems than other developed countries.

Another way to change birth in our culture: make home birth with midwives the norm, not the alternative. Health insurance (public and private coverage) should cover home birth because it is a safe, even a safer, alternative for healthy women.

Today I reviewed current research on home birth. In the past thirty years, the studies here and abroad keep coming to the same conclusion: When healthy women birth at home with qualified midwives they have improved and safe outcomes: fewer lacerations, hemorrhages,induction or augmentation of labor, infections, or cesareans.

I am curious why there is a collective fervor to support "research-based" obstetric care--except when it comes to home birth.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Change # 6 Genuine Gratitude for Birth Professionals

Good Morning Peeps!

When we think of changing birth in our culture, most of us tend to think of informing women and stopping or reversing the escalating use of medical and surgical interventions in pregnancy and birth. This narrow vision for change pits two groups against each other; it might even be feeding an image of victims and oppressors. And, instead of cultivating real change and a collective healing, the opposing sides dig their heels in deeper to justify their stance.

Have you ever complained or felt that birth people "objectify" pregnant women, that they don't see or hear the moms?

You can change birth in our culture this week!

Look around at birth professionals in your circle or community. when you notice you have "objectified" a medical profession or professional, take a moment to deconstruct your assumption. Really "see" them as human beings. Perhaps really listen to what they are saying with beginner's ears. Feel their positive intention, even if you don't agree with their management or decisions.

Changing birth in our culture is not always about a fight or being right--e.g., "Lookie here, new research proves I'm right!" It's also about being human, being kind.

At least once this week, extend GENUINE gratitude to, or an acknowledgment of, a birth professional in your circle. It might be someone who:
* is "just doing his or her job,"
* took extra time with a patient,
* burned out,
* or even someone who is getting sued.

Perhaps healing begins by each of us seeing everyone and everything out there as a reflection of our own mind. When we have a change of mind, we have a change of heart. Change begins within and ripples outward.

Feel free to post how you changed birth in our culture this week.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Change #5 Continued: Year Long Initiation

Welcome to all the New Peeps joining us.

I want to be part of the Change in our birth culture.
Beginning in January, I will lead a Year Long Childbirth & New Parent Initiation Class. You will be able follow my class--and my learning curve--on this blog...

Virginia Bobro, my business partner and fellow BFW Mentor taught a Year Long Childbirth Class last year. How many of you are doing this, or have done it? We'd love to hear from you.

Ready for more CHANGE? Change #6 Coming on Wednesday.


Thursday, October 7, 2010


Hello Birth Peeps!

For over four decades, our culture has been entrained to take six or more childbirth preparation classes in the third trimester. The focus is on labor. Initially the focus was on relaxation and coping during labor; of late, many classes are no more than an orientation to what to expect in the hospital, management when things go wrong, epidural information, and "choices."

Childbirth classes used to be a "ritual" of childbirth preparation; in recent years the number of women who take childbirth classes has fallen.

Many birth peeps (parents and professionals) feel six weeks is not enough time for parents to un-learn cultural myths and conditioning, and to really embody new beliefs. Waiting until the end of pregnancy doesn't allow time for prenatal nutrition education, making informed choices about where to birth and with whom, and to awaken the Mother-Father archetypes within.

When classes focus on the medical model (whether in support or in-avoidance), the "Patient or Consumer archetype" is awakened--not the nurturing and fierce Mother archetype! My vision of YEAR LONG BIRTH INITIATION includes activities that awaken and strengthen the Great Mother and Father archetypes before the child arrives.

When I envision YEAR LONG BIRTH INITIATION for parents, it is a holistic feast of activities and experiences, friends who gather with elders and mentors. In addition to information would be the maturing of a woman or a couple before they experience birth as a rite of passage and parenting as a new relationship.

So much emphasis is placed on preparation for labor-day, little time is left for preparing for parenthood. Many classes do offer a token childbirth class reunion once after all the babies are born, or perhaps a breastfeeding class--but during the first few months postpartum, most mothers and fathers need much more emotional and social support, as well as information sharing. Even if more postpartum information was given prenatally, new parents aren't ready for it until after they are parenting their own child! So a new standard might include regular meetings for several months after the birth.

Many people like this "idea"... Many know this kind of immersion and ongoing support would really make a profound change in the heart and soul of new parents, and therefore, the culture. So why not just do this? Some of us have tried. But the idea is foreign to all of us, parents and pro's, so entrenched are we in thinking of classes beginning in the third trimester. And the cost. How much would it cost? Is it affordable? And the time investment! People are busy, overworked, and then there's television addiction in the evenings.

Many young people spend a year planning a wedding, making great fuss over that day. So what would it take to make Year Long Childbirth Initiation just something we do in our culture?

During the next week, let's envision a new model of Year Long Childbirth and Parent Preparation, Initiation, and Support. We have to be fearless here. We have to get past all the barriers that keep us complacent with six week classes that are simply not serving our culture.



Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thank you Dr. Fisk (change #4 continued)

Humane Cesarean, continued.

The idea of "humane cesarean" or "natural cesarean" was conceived by Professor Nicholas Fisk, formerly a consultant obstetrician at Queen Charlotte's Hospital in London, in response to the rising numbers of cesareans in the UK.

Fisk showed that when a cesarean is performed slowly the baby is able to “auto-resuscitate” - start breathing unaided - while still attached to the placenta, just as it would in vaginal birth. The baby is “half-delivered” by the surgeon from her body and the baby's vigorous wriggles allow the lungs to expel fluid in a similar way to a vaginal birth. This reduces the risk of the cesarean-born baby needing help to breathe (a common occurrence after a cesarean).

Please, learn more. Read more about this online. Google! And... take the next step. Start talking to birth people and parents about what is possible. Make it happen -- in your home town!


(Still in Melbourne, Australia. Be home soon!)

Monday, September 20, 2010


Virginia and I are about to close BIRTHING FROM WITHIN’s very first Introduction to Mentoring workshop in Australia!! We were privileged to meet 24 amazing and interesting women (one came all the way from Abu Dhabi), many of whom will join the BFW program and family—and become childbirth mentor ‘pioneers’ in Australia.

After presenting our module, “Cesarean Birth in Awareness,” Maggie, a warm and experienced midwife told us a story about a seed change in Australian birth culture.

Three years ago midwives at Canberra Hospital (Canberra is the capital of Australia) pushed for a humane change in how families experience cesareans. Now, at Canberra Hospital, cesarean-born babies are no longer separated from their mothers in theatre (operating room). When a baby is born healthy, it is immediately placed on its mother’s chest, skin-to-skin, wet and sticky. There is no blanket barrier between the mother and baby; the baby is not swaddled. Most of the time, the baby breastfeeds during the first half hour in the operating room! When the mother is taken to recovery, her baby is tucked inside her gown, skin-to-skin.

How did this change come about? It wasn’t easy. “There was a big fight before this could happen,” Maggie recounted. “Some of the midwives wanted to continue swaddling the babies before they were placed on the mother, while other midwives believed the babies could go directly to their mothers.”

Maggie told me her own story about adapting to this radical change in policy. She had taken a leave from her position as hospital midwife for a few years and returned after this policy had changed. During her orientation, Maggie’s mentor told her that now all babies—including babies born by cesarean—stayed with their mothers continuously and would be put directly on the mother after birth.

“So the first cesarean I attended, I dutifully took baby from surgeon, wrapped it, and then took it to mother. My mentor came over, unwrapped the baby and placed it on its mother so there was skin-to-skin contact. My mentor left the room and I swaddled the baby again because it was so engrained in me that babies had to be wrapped up because theatre is cold. So we had a dance: my mentor unwrapping baby, and I wrapping baby. It took me a while to understand skin-to-skin meant whole body contact,” not just the face.

The other change at the Canberra Hospital is making the theatre (operating room) warmer so the mother and baby are warmer. The new temperature is about 23°C, or 73° F. Other midwives in our workshop shared that a lot of hospitals in Australia no longer routinely separate babies from mothers, even in cesarean birth.


Stay tuned this week for more blogs related to changing birth in our culture by changing cesarean birth. Looking forward to reading your comments and experiences as we all “dance” between old thinking and new thinking.

Love from “down under,”
Pam and Virginia

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Good Prenatal Diet Prevents Puny Pancreases and Little Livers

Hi Birth Peeps,
This week each one of us can change birth in our culture by helping motivate (not guilt trip)--and lovingly feed--even one pregnant mom to eat well during pregnancy.

The pancreas normally secretes varying amounts of insulin in response to blood sugar levels. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not secrete sufficient insulin to regulate the blood sugar.

A lot of attention has been given to maternal weight gain and the baby’s birth weight as a measure of healthy growth and development. Research in the past fifteen years is showing how even a normal birth weight does not always reflect organogenesis—a fancy word that means the cellular development of organs in the fetus.

Diabetes is on the rise in young people. There are two kinds of diabetes. Type 1 (also known as Juvenile Diabetes, and thought to be primarily genetic) and Type II (also known as adult-onset) which is due to environmental factors. In this article, I am referring to Type II. There’s a lot of research being done to find out why some kids and adults develop diabetes, even when they are seemingly healthy, of normal weight, or without a family history of diabetes.

Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston found a link between prenatal nutrition and diabetes. Pregnant mice were fed low protein diets in the third trimester (many people mistakenly think that after the first trimester, nutrition doesn’t matter any more); not surprisingly, they gave birth to low birth weight pups. Fed a healthy diet after birth, the pups gained weight and appeared as healthy as the mice fed a prenatal diet rich in protein. However, as adult mice, the majority of the low protein (LP) group developed diabetes. Why?

Normally, the pancreas secretes the right amount of insulin in response to varying blood sugar levels. Scientists discovered that in the LP group, the pancreas could secrete insulin, but it could only secrete a limited amount of insulin regardless of the blood sugar levels. In other studies, researchers found that when the prenatal diet was low in protein, pancreatic cells were smaller and fewer in number. And, that even when fed a good diet after birth, the abnormal pancreas cellular damage was irreversible.

So, eat a well-balanced, protein rich diet throughout pregnancy—grow healthy organs in your baby.


The growth and development of fetal livers is dependent on many factors: genes, a healthy placenta, and maternal factors including a good diet. During the prolific growth and development of a baby's liver during pregnancy, the liver is sensitive to damange from malnutrition, infection and other chemical.

In one study where pregnant rats were give low protein diets in late gestation, the pups were born with smaller livers and abnormal liver function. 

The size and health of the liver is not evident at birth, or in the baby's birth weight, but the size and healthy function of the liver is set before birth and follows us throughout life.

Virginia and I are in Sydney, Australia today. I am pleased to see our Peeps are growing in numbers. It's a bit difficult to find internet in some places, so I may not be back for a few days... Thinking of all of you all the same,


Many references are available: 1

Saturday, September 11, 2010

#3 of 50 Ways to Change Birth in Our Culture: NUTRITION

Greetings Birth Peeps,
Today is our #3 way to change birth in our culture. Prenatal Nutrition. It may not seem all that exciting, and it is just that attitude that earned it top billing in our list of 50 Ways to Change Birth in Our Culture.

As a childbirth educator/mentor, I have been asking mothers for almost 30 years to tell me what they eat, and if they have received nutritional counseling from their doctor or midwife. This is how I know that our culture does not value the impact good nutrition has on the mother's health and well-being during the childbearing year. It is RARE to talk to a mother who has received sound nutritional counseling during prenatal care. Mothers more often report that their birth attendant dismisses their concerns about whether they are eating enough. One mother was told them to "trust her appetite," another was advised not to worry about it because "the baby is so small, it doesn't need much." (Both of these mothers were eating good food, but not enough protein or calories to nourish the baby and placenta, and all the changes occurring in their body during pregnancy.)

A lot of people think that after the first trimester, the baby is fully formed and is not as dependent on good nutrition. The baby's organs are continually growing and developing, not just in first trimester, but also important changes are still occurring in third trimester. So sound nutrition is important throughout the pregnancy.

Technology and advanced (intensive) baby care can do a lot for us... but as a culture, we shouldn't become passive and dependent on that kind of life-saving management. Instead, all of us--mothers, and people who feed and care for pregnant mothers--should do our part to nourish the mother and the life within.

If you have any inspired facts, research, good books or resources to motivate and feed our interest in this topic, please write in.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Magical Placenta Previa-Premie Story

Another peep for Birth Peeps,

I am enjoying reading your stories and insights. How can we make a really difficult birth into a Magical Birth Story? Fortunately, we have a few years to process and integrate what happened "to us" and "in us" before our child can understand language to hear the Magical Story. So, if you can't imagine anything about the experience translating into a "sweet story" at first, you have time to heal.

My mother had five children, she was Catholic and a nurse, so she knew hospital policy which becomes relevant in the story. During her third pregnancy she developed a partial placenta previa and began to bleed around the seventh month. She was admitted to the hospital. I never knew too many details about what happened except this one poignant scene she felt compelled to tell me:

"I was bleeding, weak, kept falling asleep [in labor]. When I opened my eyes, I saw your father sitting in a chair against the wall saying the rosary. They only let fathers into the labor ward when the mother was dying, so I knew I was dying, but I wasn't afraid."

What an image! But to my child mind, oddly, it was kind of a Catholic, romantic, love story. My mother was alive and well when she telling me, so her fleeting thought was not a reality. Her reverie was a reflection on a powerful moment in her life, and it translated in my mind that we often brush death but are not taken, and life goes on. And, I remember thinking how odd that a father only comes in if his wife is dying and not if she is birthing.

This little story also reminds me to tell you one more thing. The story a storyteller tells is not necessarily the one the listener hears. Not every child would take an image of philosophical musings from the story I just told you. Another child might have heard a message about birth being dangerous, or your birth almost killed me.

As we are learning from the postings on this blog, one of the most important tasks of prenatal preparation is to consider not only our First Birth Story (stories) but, what we told ourselves about the story and birth in general as a child! The second half of this task of preparation is to inquire if that childhood assumption, belief, or promise absolutely true, relatively true, and what else is true. This changes our dialogue, our listening, and our new learning.

Can you see that if we don't begin at the beginning and hear our inner-Child's old-thinking,  in some way, what we avoid and what we "choose," and the birth plan we are making now may be a comfortable continuation of the First Birth Plan made by the Child of little understanding. When we consider the meaning we gave our First Birth Story long ago, it may give our adult, or inner Love Warrior, a chance to show up, to step up, and and to participate more fully.

Coming Soon, Change #3 in 50 Ways to Change Birth in Our Culture.


P.S.  I almost forgot to tell you the Premie in the Oven part of the Magical Story. Over fifty years ago when my sister was born prematurely(because of the previa), there was little that could be done in the hospital. My tiny, frail, ruddy-skinned sister, around two pounds, was sent home--to live or die. To keep her warm, she was swaddled and placed in a drawer on the open door of our electric oven. She was fed with an eye-dropper for a while. My mother, grandma and aunties kept constant vigil, sitting in front of the bundle in the drawer on the open oven door. A tall priest came to the house in his black robes and funny hat with the pom pom on it to give last rites. There was crying and more waiting. ... My sister lived and was as healthy as the rest of us. It is a remarkable story.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My First Birth Story

Dear Birth Peeps,
Today Virginia read me a lovely story from a woman who recalled her own birth story through her father's eyes. It was deeply touching. I thought perhaps you would like to know my First Birth Story.

One afternoon, when I was seven or eight years old, I was watching a western on a black and white television. A pregnant woman was walking slowly around the camp at night, holding her back and looking uncomfortable. She climbed into a covered wagon. It shook a little from side to side; I could hear sounds of breathing, moaning, and suddenly the cry of a newly born baby!

My eyes opened wide as I realized this pioneer woman just had a baby by herself in a covered wagon in the middle of the desert! My hero!  This woman was so brave! A feeling of awe and respect for strong women stirred within me. As I instantly embodied this brief scene in a western, I imagined myself giving birth alone and being strong.

Within minutes, my mind began to turn a new question, “How did the pioneer woman give birth without a doctor?” It seemed impossible, brave, even dangerous all of a sudden. I ran to another room where my mother was ironing to ask her how it was possible for a woman to have a baby without a doctor.

My mother, in a matter-of-fact, almost impatient manner, said, “Women have been having babies for a lot longer than doctors have been around. We’ve had babies without doctors for thousands of years. Birth is just something your body knows how to do!”

Wow! My faith was restored. My body knows how to have a baby!  I am awestruck with this news. I tell myself, "One day I will be powerful and invincible like the pioneer mother."

Within minutes my mind began to turn this piece over and a few minutes later I went back to ask my mother another question; she was ironing sheets.  “Mom, did you give birth without a doctor?” I knew she had given birth in a hospital, but did she have a doctor? Suddenly there was a gap in logic or truth between her first answer and how she may have given birth—and like children do, I found the gap and latched on to it.

My mother answered, flatly, while folding the sheet, “No. I gave birth in the hospital. A doctor delivered all of you. But I was born at home, my mother had me in an apartment. And her mother [my grandmother] had seven babies in a small upstairs apartment in Chicago.”

In an unforgettable moment, I felt oddly betrayed by my mother. In contrast to the pioneer woman and my grandmothers who were (according to my innocent child understanding) self-determined and brave, I suddenly saw my own mother as “weak.” At seven years old, where did that perception come from? I remember walking out of the room, going back to the western on television, a bit crestfallen and confused.

On that day I think two things happened:  (1) The seed for being a birth activist was planted, and (2) I made my First Birth Plan: to be "strong and brave" like the pioneer woman when I grew up and gave birth. As children do, I quickly forgot about this little initiation. Yet, it seems this moment in time must have played a part in my decision to become a midwife so I could assist women in home birth, and my decisions to have a home birth (even after a cesarean birth). 

It’s a matter of timing and luck to be exposed to a certain message at a certain time. If my First Birth Story had been a traumatic birth story instead of the pioneer mother in the western—my first, core agreement about birth would have been very different. There is no telling how my experiences as a mother or my life-work in birth would have unfolded. 

Looking forward to hearing your First Birth Stories, and the agreements and promises you made to yourself.

In-Love and On the Birth Wagon!


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Change #2: Tell Children a Magical Story of Their Birth

Dear Birth Peeps,
As you are thinking about your first birth story (stories), I'll continue with a few more thoughts about how change begins with our children.


My mother told us several versions of her, our, birth stories. I relished the "magical" stories about the day we were born. For my younger sister, Laura, my mother would say, "You brought the first snow... You were born in the night and when the sun came up, there was a white blanket of snow on the earth." I still think of that story and image every year on the first snow, "my sister brought the first snow."

When a child hears a story that conveys that the day they were born was the worst, most painful day of their mother's life, that their birth hurt their mother, "almost killed her," or details of unwished-for interventions that she had to suffer--what do you think the child feels?

Young children are in "magical" thinking which means they think "they" cause things to happen, that something they did causes their parents to fight, cry, get divorced, or suffer in labor. They carry this guilt and grief, and from their innocent, misguided beliefs they create a constellation of stories about their world, relationships, who they are, and about birth.

No matter what happened in labor, a child wants to know about "their" birth and that their arrival was special. So, find something that was special about the day your child was born, something you thought about, something funny that happened, or something the child did that was endearing, funny, or cute.

Imagine telling a child their birth story as a child's version, a sweet, Magical Story of the day they were born.

A Magical Story is meant for the Child. It is not a medical, factual story, it's not fantasy, and it's not a "lie." It is a unique version of the story that focuses on something special about that child's birth-day: it is a story a small child can hear, and wants to hear. As the child grows up and becomes an adult, there will be plenty of time for adult stories about birth--when they have enough life experience to understand a more complex story.

Some parents tell the Magical Birth Story on the child's birth day, a kind of birth day celebration ritual. My boys love their birth-day story. Each year, it is told a little differently. Each year the child hears it differently. Maybe as they grow up, a few more details will be added. My 19 year-old son smiled when he heard his birth story this year, and he heard something he's never "heard" before. It is still his Magical birth story.



Saturday, September 4, 2010

Change #1: How We Tell Birth Stories To, or Around, Children

Hi Birth Peeps,

Over the years, you have probably heard a lot of birth stories. Perhaps you have heard so many, you almost take them for granted. When you listen to a story, you may even have the feeling you "know where this one is going" even before you hear the end of the story.  This is especially true for birth peeps, birth junkies, and birth activists who read, think, and talk about birth in our culture--all the time.

In fact, birth story telling has become very casual and impersonal. Birth stories are told everywhere and anywhere. Someone even felt compelled to tell me their birth story during a workshop break when we occupied adjacent stalls in the bathroom! Birth stories are told around children, who we think are playing and are not listening or don't understand. Children love stories, especially juicy ones; they are always listening. And it is true, they won't fully understand the story and that is where the problem begins.

I am proposing that the first way to change birth in our culture is to change how we tell children their first story, or stories, about birth. Not only the stories we tell children directly, but also to become aware of the birth stories we are telling adults within earshot of young children.

When an adult hears a birth story, they make mental pictures of it, or make sense of it, based on complex layers of life experience and adult understanding. If a hundred randomly chosen adults were to hear the same birth story (at the same time) and they were polled, I expect we would find shared agreement about what was said. Even so, based on each listener's past experiences and beliefs, there would be differences among listeners about how they felt about the story, about the mental images the story evoked, and their conclusions. 

What happens when a child hears a birth story? Try this:

1. Go back in time. Go back to a time, as a small child, when you were innocent, trusting, and had absolutely no idea or understanding about where babies came from, about doctors, hospitals, medical interventions or birth politics. Your little world was what was day-to-day; what was, was, always was, and always would be. Now picture yourself as a little girl or a little boy who knows nothing about  where babies come from. 

2. Think of the last birth story you heard or told, it could be "positive" or traumatic. 

3. As you replay the story in your mind, try to imagine hearing this story as that small child with no template for birth stories. Try to feel the feelings your "Little Child" might have, or the mental pictures you might make, and the meaning you might give the story--as that small child with little understanding.

4. Contemplate what you saw, felt or believed from a place of innocence. What assumptions or promises might you have made as a child hearing that story?

I welcome you to share your experience with this little exercise. We'll spend a few days on Change #1.




Good Morning Birth Peeps,

The first "theme" of this blog will be 50 Ways to Change Birth in Our Culture. I will present one to three change-ideas per week. I'm looking forward to hearing from you. Let us know how you used the idea to promote change and what happened, or if you found the idea outrageously ludicrous and why.

Tell everyone you know about this "project." When lots of people share an idea, tipping point is reached and collective thinking and behavior shifts.

It's time for that shift within each of us, and for the next generation!


P.S.  If you were hoping for one of the other topics to be the theme, you will have your wish fulfilled during the next phase of our journey together.