Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pregnancy update: 28 weeks

I haven't taken any belly shots since I was 20 weeks along. Today I rigged up an elaborate tower with the camera on top and asked Zari to push the button.
Here's me 28 weeks with Dio...
27 weeks with Zari:
30 weeks with Zari:
How much bigger will I get this time???

This pregnancy's theme is "get things done." I've nearly finished Dio's birth quilt. I machine quilted most of the squares; the rest will need hand quilting because of the designs. I definitely plan to have it finished and hanging up before the next baby comes.

We've also decided to entirely renovate our downstairs bathroom. Demolition begins in mid-December, and we HAVE to get it finished quickly. A) because I have to pee in the middle of the night and it's a long, long trek all the way across the house and up a very steep staircase to our other bathroom, and B) because, after all, I'm having a baby in February and won't be able to work on it after the baby is born. I'm really excited about the renovation. Right now it's a cramped, poorly designed room with ugly, cheap fixtures and no tub at all, just a shower. I drew up plans that make a much larger, open space with an oversize whirlpool tub plus a shower, sink, and toilet and higher ceilings (our bathroom's ceilings were dropped to 8', but they could go back up to the original 10' height). All without moving any walls, except for a small bumpout into our master bedroom for the sink. I bought a jacuzzi tub on Craiglist (exactly the size & style I was looking for, 72"x42") for $100, including a nice faucet. Because we saved so much on the tub, we decided to hire a plumber to help us get the bathroom done faster. We'll do everything else ourselves, with some help from my dad.

I read a lot of pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding books during my other pregnancies, but this time around I haven't read any, except ones I'm reviewing. I have practically memorized all of the birth books I own, so it's just not as interesting reading them again for the fourth or fifth time.

I've been leaving this baby alone more than my other pregnancies. (Or should I say neglecting?) Because I had such a hard time locating heart tones earlier on, I stopped trying for a while. Two days ago, I listened again and found the heartbeat quickly and easily. I guess the baby is big enough now that it can't hide any longer! I'm not going to worry about the baby's position until at least 34 weeks or later; I had too much self-inflicted stress when I was pregnant with Dio over whether he was breech or transverse.

I had about 2 months of fairly decent sleep, but now my hips are starting to ache more and more at night. It's not the pelvis or joints, just a muscle/pressure point ache on the outside of my hip/leg from sleeping on my side. The last few hours of sleep are really fitful, because both sides ache equally bad by that point and I can only stay on one side for a few minutes at a time. What I really need is a mattress or mattress topper with a bowl-shaped hole right where my hips go...I've seen inflatable maternity mattresses that do this, but never anything designed for a real bed.

I'm just reaching that threshhold where, instead of the birth seeming far off in the future, it's coming up almost too quickly. Am I ready for another baby? Another labor and birth?
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Sprout Change giveaway!

I am excited to host a giveaway from a Sprout Change cloth diaper! If you're new to my blog, you can review review of the diaper here. The winner will receive:
  • a Sprout Change shell in the color combination of her choice, AND
  • an insert of her choice: organic hemp/cotton fleece topped with organic cotton fleece OR microfiber topped with wicking microfleece
To enter (new comment per entry, please)
  • Entry #1: Leave a comment with your favorite color combination & insert
  • Entry #2: Follow The Willow Store on Facebook, Twitter, or blogger
  • Entry #3: Mention my Sprout Change review and this giveaway on a blog, website, Facebook, Twitter or discussion forum. Please include the link in your comment.
Giveaway rules:
Contest open to residents of US or Canada
Giveaway ends Friday, December 3, 2010

Happy cloth diapering!
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sprout Change cloth diaper review

A month ago, I contacted the Willow Store to see if I could review their Sprout Change diapers. I first heard about them at Baby Makin(g) Machine and was intrigued. A fluffy package soon arrived in the mail!

So what exactly is a Sprout Change cloth diaper? I've heard it called an all-in-two system or a hybrid diaper combining the best of AIOs, pockets, and covers. I would describe it as a cover + absorbent inside...but unlike any other cover system.

One of my favorite features of the Sprout Change diaper is that the cover or "shell" is fully reversible. You get two colors for the price of one! My diaper was a BlueBerry: medium blue on one side and aqua on the other. There are 12 different color combinations, from chili pepper (fiery red/olive green) to sweet corn (sage green/pale yellow) to grapefruit (lavender/pale pink). As with all diaper covers, you can re-use them multiple times and just change the wet insert. Once the diaper is soiled, you change both the cover and insert.

The diaper shell is made of 2 layers of PUL (polyurethane laminate, the waterproof, breathable fabric used in most cloth diapers). To keep the diaper from trapping water between the two layers during a wash cycle, there is a small opening left unstitched in the front. This allows excess water to exit the diaper when the washing machine begins to spin.

Another great feature is that the Sprout Change system is one-size-fits-all, from 5-40 lbs. How does this work? The legs and waist both have buttonhole elastic that cinches as tight or as loose as you need it. At the edge of each snap tab, there's a small access pocket. You simply open it up, pull the elastic to the right length, and fasten it to the hidden button. Tuck the extra elastic back inside and you're done! You'll probably need to adjust the diaper 3-4 times from your baby's birth until she is potty trained.

I wasn't able to try out the diaper on a real newborn; I'll have to wait for a few more months for that! But it fit Dio quite well right out of the package.

So now onto the inside of the diaper. You can buy a huge variety of absorbent insides: one-size serged inserts, one-size organic hemp "insides" that fold either horizontally or vertically to fit any size baby, traditional organic hemp sized prefolds, and more. You can also buy Soft Sleeves that you insert other absorbent insides into--great for re-using really worn, but still functional, prefolds.

My Sprout Change Shell v2 came with an organic cotton fleece Super Saver insert: several layers or organic cotton/hemp fleece, topped with a layer of organic cotton fleece. It's really absorbent--great for holding lots of moisture, but definitely the longest to dry in my entire diaper stash. For faster drying, you could choose the microfiber/microfleece Super Saver insert. This insert mimics the feel & function of a stay-dry pocket diaper, since the microfleece wicks moisture away into the microfiber layer.

You can also buy just the shells and use your own inserts or prefolds.

My only critique is that the diaper is sewn with white thread, rather than matching thread on each side. This reveals even the slightest imperfections in stitching.

I lent the diaper to a friend who has cloth diapered her 18-month-old since birth. She has used a wide range of diaper brands and systems. She really liked the Sprout Change as well. Her only suggestion for improvement would be adding snap-in liners; she's used to those and almost tossed the insert into the toilet when she was shaking off the soiled diaper!

I also tested the Sprout Change shell and insert several times (plus more of my own inserts, since you can re-use the shell several times until it gets soiled). I had no problems with any leaks, even when I double stuffed and put it on for overnight. The shell dries very quickly while, as I mentioned earlier, the organic insert takes a while to dry. Using a foldable insert (either the one-size inside or the prefold) would cut down on drying time.

Because the Sprout Change shell fits any size baby or toddler, you only need to buy 6-8 shells, plus 24-36 insides, for a lifetime of cloth diapering. The upfront cost of cloth diapering can turn many parents away, especially if they have to buy 24 diapers in 3 or more sizes. With the Sprout Change system, your initial investment is much more modest, and there's nothing else to buy as your baby grows. If you bought 8 shells and 24 Super Saver inserts, it would cost $270. If you bought just the shells ($16.95 each) and used your own inserts or prefolds, it would cost $136. And because the shells are reversible, buying 8 shells gives you 16 different colors to choose from.

Want to a Sprout Change diaper for yourself? Stay tuned for a Sprout Change Giveaway!
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Birth Around the World: Birth at 37,000 feet

Earlier this month, a woman gave birth on a Korean Airlines flight headed for the Philippines. Talk about a birth around the world--literally! Fortunately, CPM Vicki Penwell was on the flight and lent her assistance.

I contacted Vicki to see if I could repost her story and feature her non-profit organization Mercy in Action. She graciously agreed. Here is more information about Mercy in Action:
Mercy in Action is a non-profit organization that focuses on the crisis in Maternal/Newborn/Child health care worldwide. We have been establishing and funding free birth centers for poor families in the Philippines since 1992, and to date more than 12,000 babies have been delivered free of charge for the poorest of the poor in Mercy In Action's Birth Centers, and literally tens of thousands of lives have been helped and healed in the medical outreaches.
Mercy in Action also trains midwives, nurses, medics, and support personnel, helping "provide compassionate health care throughout the developing world." As the Christmas season approaches, you might consider donating to Mercy in Action. I feel humbled at the incredible service this and other organizations (such as MamaBaby Haiti) are providing to women and babies around the world.

Here's Vicki's story of the birth at 37,000 feet:


Korean Airlines Flight #12 on November 15, 2010 took off from LAX on time with Scott [Vicki's husband] and I on-board, en route to Manila to start a new charity maternity clinic for the poor. We scored the exit row seats in economy, so had plenty of leg room and slept for a few hours.

When I woke up about 6 hours into the flight, I noticed a flight attendant was bringing a woman to the jump seat in front of us, and she was sitting like she was in pain. My subconscious brain immediately recognized the unique type of squirming and sideways twisting that I had seen thousands of times...but my conscious brain said "no, people don't go into labor on airplanes except in the movies!" and anyway, in the dark I could not even tell if she was pregnant. But being medically trained in emergency and primary care as well as being a midwife, and being a generally helpful person, I got up and approached the scene to see if I could lend assistance.

A short history revealed that the woman (a Korean citizen named Jannie, who lived in Los Angles) had boarded the plane feeling fine but had been having stomach pains the past 4 hours, and had just gone to the bathroom and discovered she was bleeding. This was her third baby, due Jan 1. Her squirming had now turned into low moaning as well, and the steward looked terribly uncomfortable, unsure of what to do. He helpfully approached her with an oxygen mask, which is what you do for heart attacks, but was not much help for this situation. I told the steward we needed to get her to a private place, that she was going to deliver. He looked shocked and in denial and so did the woman. I insisted he think of a plan for a private place...perhaps clear out the back row of seats?

Finally making up his mind, the steward turned and led the way, so we walked forward, me supporting the laboring woman, all the way through the plane to the very front (the part I had never seen) where the first class passengers live in a world apart. It was like a small apartment, with wide seats that made into fully reclining beds, and very wide isles. We got the woman situated on a makeshift bed. By now she was really in hard labor. The steward in charge came up and demanded some medical ID from me, which Scott produced out of my handbag. It was pretty obvious the word "midwife" did not register with them. They were scared, understandably; they called on the intercom for any other medical assistance, and a Korean cardiologist came forward. However, since delivering babies was not in his scope of practice, he deferred to me and seemed very relieved at my answers to all his questions: "Had I done this before, because he had not"..."Yes," I said, "over 2,500 deliveries"..."Did I know how to resuscitate a baby?"..."Yes, I am trained in Neonatal Resuscitation"..."Did I know how to stop bleeding if she hemorrhaged?"..."Yes," ...and on and on.

The woman's water broke with a splash at this point, and discussion ceased. They all agreed I was in charge and they seemed very happy for it. The stewardesses tripped over each other each time I would ask for something, and rounded up every bit of medical supplies they had on the plane, though most were for heart attack emergencies. Since by dates the baby would be 6 weeks premature, I asked for lots of blankets, and told everyone we would be doing kangaroo care, with the baby skin to skin on the mother covered by blankets after birth. Since the doctor was worried that we had no anti-hemorrhage drugs, I told them all we would use breastfeeding and massage to contract the uterus. Since we had no resuscitation equipment or suction, I figured out a plan how to do that if necessary with what we had on hand.

At the time of the birth, there were about 6 stewardesses up there helping, holding the woman's hands, wiping her brow, giving her sips of water through a straw. it was like a homebirth and they were all her sisters! Scott was standing at my shoulder to hand me the improvised items I had found to use for emergencies should I need it. Fortunately I did not.

Ten hours after take-off, and with 4 hours left to go before landing, a nice baby boy was born, and with a little stimulation he cried and pinked right up. The stewardesses clapped and laughed and cried. The Apgar score was 9/9, meaning he transitioned well to extra-uterine life at 37,000 feet! By exam the baby was 38 weeks, meaning her dates had been a month off and he was really full-term. The placenta came after about 45 minutes, and the baby began to nurse like a champ. Airline policy actually forbids cutting the cord after an in-flight birth, so that was great; I just wrapped it up in a first class linen napkin and tucked it in the blankets, preventing any chance of infection.

For the rest of the plane ride into Seoul, Scott and I sat up in first class and I monitored the mother and baby. It was a very joyful atmosphere. The mother was so thankful and happy, and appreciative, and so were all the airline personnel. Scott took a short video using his laptop computer after everything was cleaned up and the mom and baby were relaxing. (Click the link to watch a few seconds of post-birth video.)

An ambulance crew came on and got the mother and baby when we landed, and Korean airlines officials guided Scott and I personally to our next gate on to Manila, and changed our tickets to business class. The pilot himself on the Manila leg came back and said thank you for my help. It was pretty great, even though I landed in Manila exhausted with that unique feeling all midwives know of having been up all night at a birth, with jet-lag on top!

The really interesting thing is, a few days ago I was wondering why we had decided to leave the states a week before Thanksgiving holiday, and was pondering if we had made a mistake...now I see that God had a plan that I was to be on that particular airplane on that night...nothing happens by chance when our lives are totally given over to God to be used for His good purposes in the world. In mysterious ways He leads and directs our every step, and puts us in position to be helpful to those in need.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Birth story: cord prolapse at home

A reader recently sent me an incredible birth story, and I wanted to share it with you. After a few irregular contractons, she had a cord prolapse at home. She wrote to me:

"This was a planned homebirth...we had called the midwife as soon as my water broke to have her come out (my water had never broke previous to the pushing stage before). Then when I stood to get up, I saw the cord. Feel free to post and link back to me, I thought it was a story you might be interested in hearing. Amazingly, when I went in for my postpartum visit with the OB who did the c-section, the first thing he said to me was, 'You know, nothing would have been any different if you had planned a hospital birth. You still would have been at home when your water broke and the cord would still have prolapsed.' I was amazed at how positive he was and how willing he was to admit this was not a 'home birth' issue. I think Apollo's story is important for people to hear...being knowledgeable about that one issue (what to do in case of a cord prolapse) is what saved his life."


Friday night after we put the children to bed, Chuck and I sat down to watch a movie. As I sat idly rubbing my belly, I noticed the baby had once again turned transverse. I had a head bulging on one side and bottom bulging on the other. We looked at each other and sighed…

The movie ended and I headed to bed at 11:20. Sometime after midnight I woke up to a strong contraction…I had a few more, very strong but infrequent (12-20 minutes apart). I was uncomfortable so I kept making trips back and forth to the bathroom. At one point I finished up in the bathroom and was about to stand up when my water broke with a pop and a gush. The water just poured out of and wouldn’t stop. I called to Chuck (who had headed to bed only 10 minutes before) but he didn’t hear me. Once the flood slowed a bit I put a towel between my legs and waddled down the hall, gushing fluid the whole way. I flicked on our bedroom light and told Chuck my water broke. I headed back the toilet where the fluid continued to pour out.

We were immediately on high alert. If you read my previous birth stories, you know my water has never broken before I was fully dilated and ready to push…and in every case except Hezekiah, the water broke as the baby was emerging. Was I in for a long, long labor? Or were we going to deliver this baby in the next ten minutes by ourselves???

Chuck got the phone and called the (back-up) midwife and asked he to come out to the house and check me. He turned and headed down the hall and I stood up…I glanced down and saw a good 3 ½ inches of umbilical hanging out of me.

This was the single worst moment of my life. A prolapsed cord = death of the baby…the only way this can be prevented is with an immediate c-section…and I was alone in my bathroom.

Nightmare or not, I didn’t hesitate for one second. I grabbed the cord and stuffed it back when it belonged, then slid to lie down on the bathroom floor. I yelled down the hall to Chuck, “Chuck, the cord’s prolapsed, call 911 NOW.

He came back in and said he needed to call the midwife. “No, call 911.”

“I need to call the midwife first,” he said. He still had the phone in his hand- he had only made it down the hall a few steps when I realized the cord was prolapsed.

“Call the midwife, then 911.”

The conversation with the midwife was short. “The cord’s prolapsed.” “Call 911 and get to the hospital,” the midwife replied. As he called 911, I crab walked into the playroom, holding the cord in the whole time. I lay on the couch with a couple of pillows under me and soon realized I could not keep holding the cord in. Chuck needed to do it. With out a moment’s hesitation, up went his hand to keep the cord safe in my uterus. Soon I realized I couldn’t keep holding up my pelvic area so I slid down until my bottom was on the couch and my head on the floor. Chuck shoved another pillow under my bum.

It of course seemed to take forever for the ambulance to arrive but Chuck said it only took 10-12 minutes. Once we heard them on the property, we realized we had no way to unlock the door. No one else in the house was awake…after a moment of deliberation, Chuck let go, dashed across the room to unlock the door and ran back to me. Up went his hand again.

The paramedics were a bit shocked by the scene they fell upon…by this time I was hanging halfway off the couch--upside down, jammies around my ankles and Chuck was holding the cord in. “Can you see the head?” they asked. “NO! The baby’s not being born- the cord is prolapsed.” It took several explanations to get them to understand the situation. All the while I was trying to stay relaxed…so I wouldn’t bring on more contractions. Once Chuck could hang up the phone, he called a neighbor to stay with the kids. There we were--headed away in an ambulance in the middle of the night. Chuck had no wallet, no shoes (a paramedic grabbed a pair for him and our neighbor his cell phone). Off we went.

Once in the ambulance, Chuck called my mom to come out to the house with the kids and get everyone she knew to pray--the baby’s very life was on the line. The ride seemed to me to take forever (but by checking his cell phone record, we saw it took only 19 minutes to get from our road into the OR). As soon as we arrived they wheeled us straight through the front doors of the childbirth center at the hospital and through the lobby. I can only imagine what the visitors thought as they saw me rushed in on a gurney, Chuck’s hand inside me, and the paramedics running full speed.

The OB was waiting for us and ushered us into a room with an ultrasound machine. After it warmed up he put it on my stomach and said, “There’s a heartbeat--we’re doing surgery. Code Purple!” They of course had the room all set up and ready to go for us. In we went (I heard them yell, “Entering the room at 2:45!”) They of course had no time for an epidural. It took about five minutes to prep me and put me out. As they were prepping me, they noticed my jammies around my ankles and someone removed them. Meanwhile, Chuck was still holding the cord in place.

The doctor elected to do a “bikini cut.” Despite coming c-section, Apollo still refused to come out! In fact, he came out breech and had his feet caught up under my ribs. Chuck was able to remove his hand just as they maneuvered Apollo out and had a great view of his gender. They warned Chuck ahead that he needed to stay back as they worked on Apollo. He wasn’t crying, was floppy and of course had lungs and a tummy full of fluid. He had to be transported to the nursery because his lungs were “wet.” Chuck spent the first hours with Apollo, holding his hand, rubbing him and talking to him.

Chuck likes to tease me about how after finding out the baby was alive, I came out of the anesthesia hollering for pain medication because my stomach hurt so bad. I’ll admit it--I was yelling and insisting they give me something for the pain, which they did. I was wheeled back to a room and Chuck stayed with Apollo.

There is no doubt that Apollo surviving the prolapsed cord at home is a miracle. Thank God I knew what a prolapsed cord was and thank God Chuck had the courage to do what he did. I only had one contraction after my water broke--another miracle. Contractions would have moved Apollo down and pushed on the cord. It took only nineteen minutes to get from our house the operating room. It took 14 minutes from entering the operating room until Apollo’s birth. The doctors and nurses all told Chuck he saved Apollo’s life by holding his cord in and allowing him to breathe. A maternity nurse on duty said she has never heard of a baby surviving a prolapsed cord that started at home.

I have no regrets. I don’t regret the c-section, not seeing him for his first few hours or anything else about the experience. I am only grateful to have my beautiful baby alive and healthy.

Our son is a miracle, and my husband a hero.
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Sunday, November 21, 2010

DIY furniture projects

My sister-in-law introduced me to Ana-White, which features DIY furniture projects using standard dimensional lumber and minimal carpentry skills. I am seriously addicted! Here are some of my favorites:

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Blog redesign

I recently revamped this blog's look. Nothing drastic, just subtle changes to make it more streamlined. Some of the improvements:
  • I added another sidebar on the left side. 
  • I now have sponsors, so be sure to check them out!
  • Information about advertising and product/DVD reviews.
  • Horizontal tabs underneath the header: about me, publications, conferences, advertising & product reviews, book reviews, blogroll, resources, and more
  • Popular posts: did you know that the all-time most popular post was the pregnant pumpkin carving?
  • Topics of interest (left sidebar, underneath the sponsors): If you click on the buttons, they will open another tab with a fairly comprehensive list of all posts on that topic, arranged by category. So far I've done the Birth Around the World series, breastfeeding, unassisted birth, and induction. You can also use the search box or labels functions, but these buttons are more comprehensive and faster to navigate.
Any other changes you'd suggest?
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Recent births & new pregnancies

I wanted to share some recent births and pregnancies from those I'm connected with via blogging or real life or both.

Jane of Seagull Fountain is a friend from college and just wrote up the story of her fourth birth (her first unmedicated birth). I'm happy to have played a part in her brainwashing decision to try things differently this time around.

Natalie of M&N+C (and also the sister of a sister-in-law, whose birth story I reposted here) wrote to me when she was nearing 42 weeks and facing a lot of pressure to induce. Fortunately she went into labor right before her scheduled induction--here's her story.

Two other SIL's recently had babies. One just had her third birth/fourth baby! (Babies 2 & 3 were twins born vaginally, the first on vertex and the second one a breech extraction). And another had her fourth baby earlier this year.

Finally, I've been corresponding with Desiree of Hitting My Stride about her pregnancy. After several miscarriages, she was diagnosed with two different clotting disorders. Thanks to daily heparin shots, this pregnancy is going smoothly. She really wants a natural, spontaneous birth (see Statistics do not matter to the individual and Dangit dangit dangit) but faces a higher likelihood of induction because of her clotting disorders. She had a frank conversation with her OB recently, and her doctor seems very supportive and understanding of her desires.

I love the connections that I've been able to create through blogging! Thanks to everyone who writes to me to share their stories or ask questions. I try to respond to everyone, but occasionally an email falls through the cracks. So if you're waiting to hear back from me and it's been a while, shoot me another note. 
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tips for a successful induction

A reader emailed me yesterday with questions about how to increase her chances of a successful induction. I thought this would be a good opportunity for a discussion. Let's look at her situation in particular, and inductions in general, and share ways to make them more likely to succeed--i.e., to end in a spontaneous vaginal birth.*

My reader has a few extenuating circumstances: a previous cesarean section (followed by a VBAC), which means prostaglandins are out of the question. She also has a history of malpositioned babies, so she wants to keep her bag of waters intact.

I am wondering if you have information on how to minimize intervention during an induction and tips on how to have a successful induction.

I am 42 weeks 2 days today and my OB is letting me prolong the induction for 2 more days, so I'll be 42 and 4 days. My first child was an induction at 41 weeks with the OB rupturing membranes and then Pitocin. It ended in a C- section for fetal distress. My second child was a VBAC with a spontaneous labor at 42 weeks 2 days.

Mentally I feel that 42 and 4 is as long a I can go, but I am so anxious about an induction. My OB said he could rupture my membranes and see if labor starts, but I have had poorly presented babies in the past (both posterior) and I think this third one is following suit. So I do not want my membranes ruptured; I want them kept intact as long as possible. I will be induced with Pitocin because my OB feels the cervical gel has too great of a uterine rupture risk. So my question is: what can I do to promote a successful, safe, vaginal birth with a Pitocin induction? 
I already emailed her back with some ideas. I'd like to hear from you now!

*Meaning a birth without cesarean section, forceps or vacuum extraction
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Holiday sling orders

I have a big exciting project starting in mid-December (more about this soon!). I will be taking some time off from making slings during the Christmas season. If you would like a Second Womb sling in time for the holidays, please place your order by December 10th.

I offer ring slings, children's play slings, infant scale slings, custom slings with your fabric, and DIY sling kits. You can also order gift certificates.
From now until December 10th, shipping is free on all US & Canadian orders. International shipping is also discounted!

Perhaps you'd like to buy an infant scale sling to weigh your baby. It's also the perfect gift for a midwife.

Or how about this vintage linen mother-child sling set?

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Articles on breast milk composition

A reader recently wrote me looking for information on breast milk composition. She's looking for journal articles about how stress and maternal diet affect breast milk composition (especially cortisol levels).

Can anyone help with this? If you don't have any specific articles to point her to, which search terms would be most fruitful for a PubMed or Medline search?

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dinner co-ops

4 pm is my witching hour. Naps and quiet time are over. The kids need to run around and play. They're also hungry. It's time to start thinking about dinner. I go through the same mental routine just about every afternoon:  

Great, I have no idea what we're going to eat tonight. I could make _______ if only I weren't out of ______ (beans, milk, eggs, onions, etc). My blood sugar is low and I need to eat soon. The kids are restless. I wish food would magically appear so I could just spend the afternoon outside, rather than keeping my energetic children in the kitchen and trying to cook while they're whining and begging for something to eat and throwing fistfuls of flour onto the floor....

A month ago, I decided to do something about my dinnertime frustrations. I enjoy cooking--when I don't have children to look after and when I have all the ingredients on hand. I especially enjoy eating good food and trying new flavors. How could I find a way to enjoy cooking, to eat good meals, and to avoid the 4pm doldrums?

I invited two other families to join a dinner co-op. Once a week, we cook and deliver a meal to the other families. Then twice a week, we have dinner delivered to us. We kept our rules simple:
  • Meals should be healthy and balanced
  • Dessert is optional
  • Dinner delivered by 5:30 pm
We are all adventuresome in our cooking and enjoy a wide variety of flavors and foods. None of us eat a lot of meat, so we decided to keep the meals mainly vegetarian. The co-op runs every other weekday on Mon/Wed/Fri. We all live within 5 blocks of each other, so delivery only take about 5-10 minutes. To have enough dishes & containers for both families, I stocked up at a local thrift store.

Here's a rundown of the past two weeks of meals:

  • Me: Chipotle black beans with masa dumplings & greens; garlic rice; mesclun topped with with avocados, toasted pumpkin seeds, bacon, queso fresco, & honey/lime/chili dressing.
  • The O Family: Thai-style stir fry (lots of veggies & fried tofu) with peanut sauce; basmati rice; pear crumble.
  • The P Family: Indian dal (lentil) dish; homemade naan; sauteed vegetables.
  • Me: Meatloaf Wellington (a small amount of local pastured beef, herbs, and lots of grated potatoes, carrots, & onions, topped with a crust); arugula & tomato salad; lemon tart.
  • The O Family: Butternut squash risotto with parmesan (Cook's Illustrated recipe...mmmm....); sauteed green beans; chocolate chip cookies.
  • The P Family: Enchiladas stuffed with sauteed zucchini, beans, & cheese; salad with fresh mozzarella, red onions, cherry tomatoes, and homemade dressing.
I LOVE the dinner co-op! Love it! Once a week, I get to cook a meal that I'm really excited about--and prepared for. Then twice a week, a delicious hot dinner magically arrives at my doorstep. I rarely need to cook on Tuesdays and Thursdays, because we often have leftovers. And on weekends, Eric can cook.

Dinnertime has turned from the bane of my existence into something I really look forward to--both the days I cook and the days I receive meals.

On the menu for next week: wild rice soup (I'm a Minnesotan, after all!), homemade bread, and either a salad or dessert. 
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Birth Around the World: New Global Breast Milk Sharing Network

Emma Kwasnica, a mother of three and midwife in training in Canada, recently started a worldwide breastmilk sharing network. I met Emma at last year's International Breech Conference in Ottawa. The Times Colonist recently reported on her efforts in Quebec program matches breast milk donors with recipients. Below is a press release about her efforts. (Version française plus bas.)

World's Largest Breast Milk Sharing Network 
Spreads Across Facebook: 
"Eats On Feets" Goes Global


Emma Kwasnica
Eats On Feets GLOBAL
(514) 656 1560
Montreal, CANADA

Within a matter of days, women around the world have mobilized on the social networking site Facebook to organize an international, woman-to-woman milk sharing network. Human milk is for human babies, and formula-feeding is associated with risks to both the mother and infant. Women today are aware of this fact and are taking their life-sustaining power back into their own hands --they are now converging on Facebook to freely share their breastmilk with one another.

Montreal, Canada, November 7, 2010 - The announcement last month from internet health guru, Dr. Joseph Mercola, of his plans to launch his own brand of powdered infant formula onto the US market, has spawned the Eats On Feets GLOBAL breastmilk sharing network. In retaliation against yet another needless and harmful artificial breastmilk substitute to hit the market, mothers on Facebook from around the world have come together to take a stand for infant health. They have now established the world's largest human milk sharing network, an initiative spearheaded by Canadian lactating mother and passionate breastfeeding activist, Emma Kwasnica.

The "Eats On Feets" name is the brainchild of Phoenix, AZ midwife, Shell Walker. A mother to young children in the '90s, Walker and her friends had this thought: "Hey, why don't we just become wet-nurses? Instead of 'Meals on Wheels', we can call our business 'Eats On Feets'." Walker took this idea and made it a reality in July, 2010, when she created a Facebook profile page under the same name, and began a free, community-based breastmilk sharing network for mothers in Phoenix. She has since been successful at matching up local women who have an excess, or are in need of, human breastmilk.

Meanwhile, Kwasnica has also been using her personal profile page and her large network of international birth and breastfeeding activists on Facebook, in order to match up human milk donors and recipients around the world. One such story involves a fellow Canadian friend, living in Bandung, Indonesia; the school teacher and single father to a newborn son wondered if he could source human milk for his baby instead of feeding his son a powdered breastmilk substitute. Aware of his situation, Kwasnica put the call out to her vast network via a simple status update on Facebook, and a breastfeeding peer counselor in a neighbouring city in Indonesia responded. A string of lactating women on the ground was assembled to provide human milk locally for the infant boy. Now three months old, this baby has never tasted anything other than human milk.

The announcement of Dr. Mercola's plans to market formula was the final catalyst that spurred Emma Kwasnica on to convene with Shell Walker and launch Eats On Feets GLOBAL. Regarding the inception of this initiative, she states: "Shell Walker is a friend and the midwife in Phoenix, AZ who came up with the name 'Eats On Feets'. She graciously allowed me to use her catchy name in order to launch the global initiative: a woman-to-woman, grassroots milk sharing network here on Facebook. As for Dr. Mercola, he should be injecting his burgeoning wealth into breastfeeding support, not trying to make more money off a product that is harmful to infants and their lifelong health."

With the help of nearly 200 women online from the global mothering Facebook community, the initiative has taken off. Donor and recipient milk matches are being made right now all over the world on the pages of Facebook. There are now 87 Eats On Feets chapter pages spanning 18 countries (a quick Facebook search for "Eats On Feets" yields dozens of results). This movement is proof that Facebook can, indeed, be used for the good of humanity. By encouraging the biologically normal way of feeding babies, and reviving an age-old practice of human milk sharing, it is clear that social networking has the power to revolutionize infant health.

ABOUT Eats On Feets GLOBAL - The Eats On Feets GLOBAL network chapter pages on Facebook provide an online space to facilitate woman-to-woman milk sharing. We assert that women are capable of making informed choices and of sharing human milk with one another in a safe and ethical manner. Eats On Feets GLOBAL does NOT support the selling or corporatism of human breastmilk.

For a current list of all of the Eats On Feets chapter locations in operation around the globe, or to find your local Eats On Feets Facebook chapter page, please see this document at the following URL: http://tinyurl.com/EatsOnFeetsGLOBAL

To listen to the radio show podcast (from October 30) where Emma Kwasnica discusses the events that lead to the launch of Eats On Feets GLOBAL, and how the ethics of Dr. Mercola were the catalyst for this initiative, visit: http://kopn.org/archive and click on "Momma Rap".


Le plus grand réseau mondial de partage de lait maternel 
se propage via Facebook: 
"Eats On Feets" devient Global



Emma Kwasnica
Eats On Feets GLOBAL
(514) 656 1560
Montréal, CANADA

Depuis quelques jours, les femmes du monde entier se sont mobilisées sur le site du réseau social Facebook pour organiser un réseau international de partage de lait maternel, de femme à femme. Le lait humain est pour les bébés humains, et nourrir au lait infantile est associé à des risques pour la mère et le nourrisson. Aujourd'hui les femmes sont conscientes de ce fait et reprennent à nouveau dans leurs propres mains leur pouvoir de survie - elles se retrouvent maintenant via Facebook pour partager librement leur lait avec d'autres.

Montréal, Canada, le 7 novembre, 2010 - L'annonce du mois dernier faite sur Internet par le "gourou" de la santé, le docteur Joseph Mercola, de son intention de lancer sa propre marque de lait en poudre pour bébés sur le marché américain, a engendré la création du réseau de partage de lait maternel "Eats On Feets GLOBAL". En réaction contre cet énième substitut artificiel de lait infantile inutile et néfaste à venir attaquer le marché, des mères du monde entier se sont réunies sur Facebook pour défendre la santé des nourrissons. Elles ont maintenant mis en place le plus grand réseau mondial de partage de lait maternel, une initiative dirigée par la Canadienne, mère allaitante et militante passionnée pour l'allaitement maternel, Emma Kwasnica.

Le nom de "Eats On Feets" est une idée originale de la sage-femme, Shell Walker, de Phoenix, Arizona. Alors qu'elle était mère de jeunes enfants dans les années 90, Shell Walker et ses amies ont discuté : "Et pourquoi ne pas simplement devenir nourrices? Au lieu de « Meals On Wheels » (traduit "la popotte roulante", c'est le nom d'un service de repas apportés à domicile pour les personnes âgées en Amérique du nord), nous pourrions appeler notre entreprise « Eats On Feets»”. Shell Walker a eu cette idée et en a fait une réalité en juillet 2010, quand elle a créé une page de profil Facebook sous le même nom, et a commencé un réseau communautaire et gratuit de partage du lait maternel pour les mères de Phoenix. Depuis, elle a réussi à apparier localement des femmes qui ont un excès, ou qui ont un besoin, de lait maternel.

Pendant ce temps, Emma Kwasnica a également utilisé sa page de profil personnel et son vaste réseau international de militantes pour la naissance et l'allaitement sur Facebook, afin de faire correspondre des donateurs et des bénéficiaires de lait maternel dans le monde entier. Une de ces histoires concerne un de ses amis, un compatriote canadien vivant à Bandung, en Indonésie; instituteur et se retrouvant père célibataire d'un tout jeune nouveau-né, il s'est demandé s'il pourrait trouver du lait d'origine humaine pour son bébé au lieu de nourrir son fils avec un substitut artificiel en poudre. Informée de sa situation, Emma Kwasnica fit appel à son vaste réseau à travers une simple mise à jour de son statut sur Facebook, et l'une de ses pairs, conseillère en allaitement maternel dans une ville voisine en Indonésie a répondu. Sur le terrain, une chaîne de femmes allaitantes a été mise en place pour fournir du lait humain au niveau local pour le petit garçon. Maintenant âgé de trois mois, ce bébé n'a jamais goûté à autre chose que le lait humain.

L'annonce des projets du Dr. Mercola au sujet du marché des laits artificiels a été le catalyseur final qui a incité Emma Kwasnica à se réunir avec Shell Walker pour lancer "Eats On Feets GLOBAL". En ce qui concerne la création de cette initiative, elle déclare: "Shell Walker est une amie qui est sage-femme à Phoenix, en Arizona. Elle a inventé le concept et le nom de "Eats On Feets". Elle m'a gracieusement autorisée à utiliser ce nom accrocheur pour lancer cette initiative au niveau mondial : un réseau de partage de lait maternel de femme à femme, ici, sur Facebook. Quant au Dr Mercola, il devrait attribuer sa fortune naissante au soutien à l'allaitement, et ne pas chercher à faire plus d'argent avec un produit qui est nocif pour les nourrissons et leur santé à long terme."

Avec l'aide de près de 200 femmes en ligne de la communauté mondiale de Facebook sur le maternage, l'initiative a pris son envol. Des rencontres entre donateurs et bénéficiaires de lait maternel sont en cours actuellement dans le monde entier sur les pages de Facebook. Il y a maintenant 87 pages de "Eats On Feets" de chapitres dans 18 pays (une recherche rapide de "Eats On Feets" sur Facebook donne des dizaines de résultats). Ce mouvement est la preuve que Facebook peut, en effet, être utilisé pour le bien de l'humanité. En encourageant la façon normale et physiologique de nourrir les bébés, et la relance d'une pratique séculaire de partage de lait maternel, il est clair que le réseau social a le pouvoir de révolutionner la santé infantile.

A PROPOS DE "Eats On Feets GLOBAL" - sur Facebook, le réseau des Chapitres "Eats On Feets" offre un espace en ligne pour faciliter le partage du lait d'une maman à un bébé d'une autre maman. Nous affirmons que les femmes, que les familles, sont capables de faire des choix éclairés et de partager du lait maternel de manière sécuritaire et éthique. "Eats On Feets GLOBAL" ne soutient pas la vente ou le corporatisme de lait maternel.

Consultez la liste à jour de tous les Chapitres "Eats On Feets" mis en place dans le monde entier, ou trouvez la page de votre Chapitre "Eats On Feets" local, via le document à l'adresse suivante: http://tinyurl.com/EatsOnFeetsGLOBAL

Pour écouter le podcast de l'émission de radio (du 30 octobre), où Emma Kwasnica discute des événements qui ont abouti au lancement mondial de "Eats On Feets", et comment l'éthique de Dr. Mercola a été le catalyseur de cette initiative, visitez le site: http://kopn.org, dans la section "archives" et cliquez sur "Momma Rap".
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Birth Around the World: A primip breech birth in Germany

For those who don't subscribe to comments, I am reposting the story of AstroYoga's vaginal breech birth in Germany. I also suggest reading about breech birth in Frankfurt, Germany via the 2nd International Breech Conference.


I had a great pregnancy and birth experience in Germany with my first daughter. I am pregnant with the second now. The systems are a bit different state to state in Germany. I live in Bavaria where there are no birth centers, and in the town I live, there is only one midwife who does home births. Most women seem to chose hospital births here, so I have been able to book her for the second.

I also found that the type of care you get can vary greatly even from hospital to hospital. I had a natural breech birth in one hospital, but any other hospital in town would have pushed for a c-section. Only the hospital we chose specialized in vaginal breech deliveries, and much of that was due to a team of midwives who have been able to work with the doctors to keep their hands off of the breech deliveries.

The open nudity and the"chair of exposure" are exactly the same in Bavaria! When I was back in the US a few years ago and went to an OB, I kept taking off my clothes at the wrong time because I didn't wait for the doc to leave the room! I guess I got used to just stripping down in the middle of the room.

It is worth saying that one thing I found really impressive about the system here is that my choices about my prenatal care and birthing have been respected by the doctors and midwives I've worked with.

I had a lot of fear in my mind because I had a strong desire for a natural birth experience and had read so many stories of women being coerced by the medical community (usually stories written by people in the US). Given that my daughter was breech, I felt that I would be under more pressure to have interventions.

However, I made my desire for a natural birth very clear to my doctors and midwives, and they were all supportive. I was presented with the information I needed to make choices about things like possibly having an attempt at an external rotation of the baby (we opted out of that), but my doctor did not push at all and made sure we understood the potential risks from the procedure. In the end, we tried some alternative, non-invasive methods like acupuncture and Moxi. Even the doctor at the hospital who I expected to put some kind of pressure on for a c-section said she didn't see any reason why we couldn't do a vaginal delivery. I also requested that I not be hooked up to an IV during labor, and there were no restrictions placed upon me regarding food or drinks. I was active the entire labor and never left the room where I eventually delivered.

The midwives were happy to support my labor if I needed it, and a doctor was present for the birth (a protocol for breech deliveries), but she simply sat back with her hands folded and watched me deliver while the midwives were by my side. I delivered on hands and knees; no one touched my daughter, and after she was born, I was the first person to touch her. I held her for quite some time before the midwife asked to take her across the room for a brief exam (assisted by the new daddy). We went home together 4 hours later by our own choice. The midwife was by later that day to check on us and came by every day for a little over a week to help with nursing issues and check on my body.

This experience me not be the norm here, but I appreciated that my choices were supported (and covered by my insurance without question). Most of my friends here have had much more medical intervention in hospital births here and stayed at least one night, but that was also their choice.

This pregnancy, my doctor knows I am planning a home birth, and though most of her patients don't chose this option, she was completely supportive. Likewise, my midwife (who often does all of the prenatal care for her clients) has not shamed me for also wanting prenatal care by a standard OB and the ultrasounds and other medical interventions that come with it. I meet with both of them at the moment and am very happy with the care.
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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Birth Around the World: Having a baby in Germany

I just discovered a fascinating (English-language) German newspaper series about Motherhood in the Fatherland. In The Local, Sabine Devins, a Canadian ex-pat and expectant mother, explains what it's like to have a baby in Germany.

The author's growing belly

The series has 6 parts:
Below are short excerpts from each.

"When you move into the examination room, there is probably some sort of screen for you to undress behind, but don't expect it to be private. If you've lived in Germany for awhile you'll know Germans aren't particularly shy about nudity. After disrobing, you walk over to the doctor's chair in all your glory. This can disturb some expats on their first trip to a German obstetrician. Unlike a visit at home, I was not shielded from the sight of the examination by a paper towel. I sat in a chair and the exam began. Oh right. The chair.

"While there is an examination table in most offices, for some visits you're in a chair specially designed for gynaecological purposes. You sit down and recline, but you're still face-to-face with the doctor, while all of those medical instruments remain in plain view. As is what he or she is doing down there. Oh — and German doctors seem to like to make conversation."

"If I were back home in Canada, I’d probably walk into a pharmacy and purchase a suitable medication thought safe for pregnant women. But in Germany doctors and chemists encourage a more natural remedy. Yes, to cure what ails during pregnancy, there's a tea for that.

"'It's a tea-drinking culture here,' the pharmacist at my local Apotheke explained. 'It’s very old, dating back to when monasteries were also healing places for the sick, and now it’s practically a tradition to turn to tea first.'...

"After discussing digestive issues with my obstetrician-gynaecologist, she wrote me a prescription, but told me to try fennel tea, or Fencheltee, first. I have yet to fill the prescription and will probably stick to the tea.

"Against the leg cramps that I'm waiting to start any day now, I'm to drink chamomile tea, or Kamillentee. To combat the increased mucous my body produces ('A totally normal thing,' says my doctor), I drink the occasional cup of thyme tea, or Thymiantee.

"There is even an herbal tea mixed specifically for pregnant women, appropriately called Schwangerschaftstee, or “pregnancy tea.” I got my leafy mixture at my local Apotheke, where the pharmacist explained that the particular brand, mixed by Bahnhof Apotheke, came highly recommended by Ingeborg Stadelmann, midwife and author of a well-known German guide to pregnancy. You can also find the tea at organic grocery shops and local drug stores."

"When Baby is born, residents must head down to their local Standesamt (civil registry office) to officially register the vital details of their new addition. There German parents find themselves at the mercy of bureaucrats who decide whether the name they put on the birth certificate will get the stamp of approval.

"Many of my Canadian friends are choosing gender-twisting names like 'Charlie' or 'Devon' for girls. But here in Germany, if a name does not properly reflect the baby’s gender, parents had better have a feminine name that lends itself to a gender-bending nickname to put down on the books instead.

"Also verboten are names that could cause future humiliation to the child. Along the same lines, babies cannot be named after corporations, though I did recently overhear a new mother introduce her daughter Nike in my OB/GYN’s office. Apparently the bureaucrats will make an exception for babies named after a Greek goddess who also happens to represent a sports equipment company."

"Here in the Fatherland, it's bad luck to celebrate an event before it happens, especially a birth.

"While North American mothers would begin receiving gifts a few weeks before their due date, German friends and family won’t bring presents until after the newborn arrives. I have yet to encounter a shop that offers gift registries for mothers-to-be planning a baby shower. It's just not done here.

"That's why my Oma Eva was horrified when I told her my Vancouver family members wanted to host a little baby shower when we visited in July. 'You can't do that!' she yelled into the phone. 'It's bad luck!'"

"In North America, midwifery is coming back into fashion, but isn’t the norm. Some of my Canadian friends have used a doula for physical, emotional or spiritual support before and after the birth process. But doulas are rare in Germany where midwifery is the common practise - even hospitals keep them on staff. In fact, midwives run the birthing show in the German healthcare system....

"In a previous column I wrote about my choice to see an OB/GYN for the duration of my pregnancy, but many women simply seek the services of a midwife for the routine pre-and postnatal check-ups. Not all Hebamme

"Most midwives work freelance. They usually have an in-home office or a Hebamme Praxis, where a group of midwives share an office and sometimes clients. Other midwives are employed in the birthing wards of hospitals, though they sometimes also take clients on a freelance basis...

"A regular Hebamme deals only with pre- and postnatal care; [the] deliveries will be supervised by whatever hospital or birthing centre midwife is on staff during labour. (Obstetricians are only called to attend births requiring surgery.)

"A Beleghebamme, or 'attending midwife,' will be with parents throughout the entire process, supervising pre- and postnatal care and delivery. These midwives usually have contracts with one or more birthing centres, which provides them with the insurance to legally deliver babies or specialize in home births.

"But the Beleghebamme often have an on-call fee that insurance won’t cover, according to Sue Travis, a Berlin-based midwife who hails from Australia. In Berlin, it’s usually around €350, she says.

"'For the weeks around your due date, even if she isn’t delivering your baby, the midwife’s life is disrupted. She can’t drink wine with dinner and she can’t go on holiday or even spend a day out of town in case she gets that call. The fee is just to make up for the inconvenience,' said Travis, adding that there are plenty of benefits that come with that fee.

"'If you do seek the service of a Beleghebamme, they don’t just deliver the baby, but act as an advocate on your behalf at the hospital, making sure you have the kind of birth that you want,' she said. ...

"After the baby is born, the relationship with the midwife remains important. During the postnatal period, or Wochenbettbetreuung, insurance will cover 26 visits or phone calls for up to eight weeks after the birth, "Travis says. For the first 10 to 14 days after the birth, the midwife will visit every day. During these visits, she ensures both mother and baby are in good health and advises anxious new parents on feeding and other questions....

"Finally, when mothers adjust to life with their new baby, some midwives offer a fitness class to help get their body back to 'normal,' called Rückbildungsgymnastik. (Finally the answer to how German women get back in shape so quickly after having a baby!) Babies are, of course, invited and incorporated into the class. Health insurance usually covers at least 10 hours of these courses."

"In Germany there are three options: hospitals, birthing houses, or at-home births....Similar to my midwife search strategy, I got a plethora of literature about where to deliver in Berlin. It included hospital and birthing house locations, whether they employ Beleghebammen, or attending midwives, and when they host information evenings for expecting parents...

"While [hospital] delivery rooms are almost all equipped with the traditional hospital bed, many also have an alternative available to aid in more comfortable labour. I've seen delivery rooms with big jacuzzi tubs for water births, a king-sized bed allowing dads to take an active role in the delivery, birthing stools and chairs, and a curious round bed that supports a host of delivery positions....

"If I didn't want a hospital birth, I could have just as easily choose a birth house, or Geburtshaus, for a 'home away from home' setting. For many people, a birth house is a compromise between a home birth and hospital.

"These facilities offer a more intimate and private environment for the delivering mother. The births are attended by a midwife and the delivery rooms are cosily furnished for a homey feel, with a few extra tools to help with delivery. As with some hospital rooms, birthing houses are often also equipped with big tubs for delivery, or just helping women relax during the process. Mothers can also choose birth stools, various positions in bed and using other specialised equipment to help them deliver as comfortably as possible.

"Birthing houses intend for women there to have natural births, so they are less likely to administer Pitocin and they don’t do epidurals. There is also no option to overnight at a birth house. Women who deliver at birth houses do so only on an outpatient basis...

"Home births are also an option in Germany and, like hospital and birth-house deliveries, are covered by medical insurance....Not all midwives attend home births, so it may take some time to find one. Mothers who want a home birth can also find a midwife practise or birth house that has the insurance to deliver in-home...

"Women who plan on a home birth will have to do a little more preparation, as they'll be expected to have all non-medical supplies on hand. Most midwives have their own foetal heart rate monitors and basic medical kits containing clamps for the umbilical cord and stitches, but they will expect parents to gather a checklist of other supplies."
Read more ...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Review of DVD "The Big Stretch"

The Big Stretch by Alieta Belle and Jenny Blyth
60-minute DVD plus 20-page educational booklet
Produced in Australia
The Big Stretch by Alieta Belle and Jenny Blyth is different from any other birth film I've ever seen. It's not an educational film about the birth process. It's not an advocacy film promoting a certain kind of birth. It's not an exposé of what is wrong with our maternity care system. It's not really a film about natural birth, or home birth, or midwives (although incidentally that's what all of the women featured in the film chose). It's not a documentary with a clear narrative arc. There are no experts or "talking heads." Besides a woman's reflective voice-over weaving in and out of the film--such as There's a lot of stretching going on and a lot of stretching to do. Am I ready? Will I ever be ready? Does birth wait for me to be ready?--there is no narrator.

So what is The Big Stretch about? If I could answer that question in one sentence, it would be this:

The Big Stretch explores how women and their partners prepared--physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally--for the "big stretch" of pregnancy, birth, and mothering.

Set in the lush Australian landscape, The Big Stretch follows over a dozen pregnant women as their bellies grow, as their babies are born, and as they become mothers. Some of these women are expecting their first babies, while others already have several children. The women share how they accommodated and embraced the stretching work of pregnancy and birth. Haunting, hypnotic music sets the stage for the honest and moving conversations about the changes brought about by motherhood.

The movie evolves organically in a loose chronological fashion, exploring issues related to pregnancy, labor, birth, and finally postpartum adjustment. It feels more like a woman-to-woman chat or therapy session than a "how to" or "why to" film. The women talk openly and spontaneously about their fears, excitements, and emotions as they are becoming mothers. Some of the themes the women address include:
  • Body awareness: learning more about your breasts, vagina, and breathing
  • Preparing siblings to be present for the birth
  • Pain: what it means, what it feels like, how they understand it in the context of birth, how to embrace rather than fight it
  • The emotions of labor
  • Dads/partners talking about their emotional and physical preparations for the new baby
  • Self-awareness: becoming more in tune with yourself, with your fears, and with your thoughts and attitudes
  • The power of positive affirmations and mental discipline in helping you through labor
The Big Stretch is roughly divided into three segments: pregnancy, labor & birth, and postpartum. The birth footage is quite moving. It includes both videos and still shots from the families in the film, plus a montage of many other couples' births, all at home. Surrounded by loved ones, the women labor and birth in a range of upright, mother-chosen positions. Their faces show intense focus and concentration as they are bringing their babies earthside. Then the mood shifts to bliss, ecstasy, transformation, and satisfaction as the mothers and fathers meet their new babies. It's a really powerful re-make of how we imagine and conceptualize the work of birth. Overall, the lessons a viewer would take away from the birth section are that:
  • Birth is intense, rewarding work
  • Birth works better when you embrace, rather than resist
  • Surrender and accept whatever situation arises. In one case, a woman transferred to a hospital after 12 hours of extremely intense labor but no dilation. With the help of the available technologies, including an epidural, she had a joyful vaginal birth after 28 hours of labor.
  • Your emotions and fears can have a dramatic effect on the course of labor
  • Birth just happens all by itself
The third section explores the changes after giving birth and becoming a mother. One woman commented that in the process of having a baby, she grew from a girl into a woman. Birth allowed her to find her solid core, connected her to her body, and gave her the most amazing natural high of her life. Now, when she experiences challenges or doubts, she can tap into the power from the birth.

The women also emphasize the need to ask for and accept help in the postpartum period. If you don't take time to nurture yourself, you will deplete yourself and may face physical as well as emotional obstacles: mastitis, postpartum depression, etc.

The film concludes with advice for women preparing to give birth. The women stress the importance of being conscious about what you want and who you are, of taking control of your pregnancy and birth, of remaining at peace and centered, of tapping into your intuition. You shouldn't worry about the things that you cannot control. Be prepared for birth to surprise you. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Remember too, they counseled, to prepare for what happens after the baby is born; you will need a lot of support as you're learning how to mother your baby. Don't let fear overcome you. One of the fathers remarked, "Birth is one of the greatest athletic feats. We should revere our women."

My thoughts and reactions:
The Big Stretch feels very foreign and exotic to me, a North American viewer. It isn't just the Australian accents, but the totality of the women's environment and appearance. The vegetation is lush and green and filled with plants that don't grow in most places over here. Most of the film was shot outdoors--again, something that simply couldn't happen much of the year here in North America (unless you filmed us in snow boots, snow pants, mittens, hats, scarves and ski parkas!). Many of the women have beautiful tattoos, piercings, brightly colored hair, or artfully disheveled clothing. Most of all, there is a lot of nudity in the film. Not just birth- or breastfeeding-related nudity, but numerous slow shots of pregnant women undressed to varying degrees. At the very end of the film, there's even a scene of a father and two children riding a bike. The kids are clothed, but the father is completely undressed, and you see everything. I am very comfortable with the contextual nudity of birth and breastfeeding. However, some of the nude scenes in the film, although quite beautifully done, seemed to me a bit too much.

I mention this because I am always conscious of audience. This film is wonderful because it isn't preachy or agenda-driven, something really hard to find in birth films. It feels real and honest. However, the extraneous nudity might turn away some people who would really benefit from watching this film.

There was one short scene about vaginal awareness (preparing your vagina for the literal "big stretch" of crowning and birth) that made me giggle. There were funky 1960s-style illustrations of a vagina swirling around while a woman sang "Sacred cave, deep and raw. Step inside, it has no door. Come with me, explore inside. Open heart and open eyes." My husband exclaimed, "Look! It's Monty Python meets the vagina!"

I loved how the film wasn't dogmatic and did not push any certain agenda. In fact, you don't know that the woman are planning natural births--let alone home births--until you actually see them laboring and birthing. The words "natural birth" and "home birth" and "hospital birth" were spoken only once in the film, in passing. Most importantly, I loved how The Big Stretch painted a positive, vibrant, and realistic portrait of the work of pregnancy and birth.

How to purchase:
In Australia: Birthwork ($50 AUD)
In the US/Canada: What Babies Want store ($39.95 USD)
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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Pregnancy update: 24 weeks

I was going to finish my review of The Big Stretch tonight, but then I realized that I'm already a bit behind for a 24 week update and didn't want to put it off any longer. I'm glad I've been working on this DVD review, though, because it's made me think more deeply about how I'd like to relate to this pregnancy and prepare for the birth.

Physically, I feel very good. I'm sleeping well and waking up only once, occasionally twice, to pee. All measurements are spot-on. Fundus is 24 cms, BP is stable and low, weight gain is right about on track with my other pregnancies. I do need to up my protein and water intake, though. I am not in the habit of drinking fluids very often, so I tend to ignore my thirst.

I really feel pregnant now, both in my mind and my body. My belly is getting bigger and I'm unmistakeably pregnant. It's also getting in the way of bending over and moving the way I'm used to. And the baby is really moving, which I love. I had some anxiety about whether or not I was even pregnant--even though all the signs pointed to it--and this baby's movements were much slower to be felt at first. Plus I wasn't able to find heart tones when I normally would have. With both Dio and Zari, I found heart tones easily and consistently at 16 weeks. I still haven't heart a proper heartbeat with this baby! I've heard a second or two of something that might have been the heartbeat, but then it faded away. I listened again tonight and nothing but lots of maternal sounds and that initial elusive snatch. There's very obviously a living baby in there, since it was moving around and kicking at the fetoscope when I was listening (Dio did the same thing, too).

At my midwife's visit a few weeks ago, she listened with her Pinard and then with a fetoscope and heard nothing but that same elusive tease of sound. I actually asked her to give a really quick listen with the Doppler, just a few seconds tops. She said, "Are you sure? I'm now concerned about anything right now." I think she was a bit surprised at my request! But at that point, I'd decided that I'd feel less anxious just to know, for sure, there really was a baby inside of me. A second or two later, she found the heartbeat. It sounded fairly deep inside the uterus, she said, which was probably why I haven't been able to pick it up on the fetoscope.

So the last month has been a time for me to really accept that I'm pregnant. On the other hand, the reality that I will have another baby in just a few more months still hasn't sunk in at all! And it probably won't entirely until the baby is earthside. There's such a mental disconnect for me between the baby I feel moving inside of me and the baby that actually comes out.

I'm feeling the need to start preparing myself for this baby--for the birth, for becoming a mother again, for taking care of three children instead of two. I'll probably start listening to Hypnobabies again around 30 weeks. I loved how much it relaxed me last pregnancy. I don't have a lot of physical preparation for this new baby. At first, my babies wear the same clothes anyway, mostly long nightgowns with elasticized openings at the bottom for easy diaper changes. I have diapers, clothes, a nursing pillow, slings...all the essentials. I have clothes for both genders now, so I don't need to buy anything for this baby. I have way too many baby blankets so I really hope I don't get too many more this time! There are a few items I'd like to buy or make, though. A white noise machine (for Dio) so I don't have to run the fan in the winter. One or two more ring slings from my fabric stash--after all, you can never have too many! A few pocket diapers in NB and S sizes, for helping the baby feel drier when it's sleeping.

At my last visit, my midwife asked me, "Is there anything you'd like done differently for this birth?" I really couldn't think of anything in particular. In part because she was the perfect silent, unobtrusive presence that I wanted. In part because I see every birth as a new adventure and as a clean slate. I try really hard not to recreate the last birth, no matter how perfect it was, but to let the current one unfold how it will. My midwife remarked that it would be fairly dull to have the same birth experience anyway. I definitely agree!

I have a really exciting opportunity for this birth that I'm mulling over. The OB that my midwife works with (unofficially, as his hospital will not allow him to officially collaborate with her) has asked to attend a home birth with her. She says he's an intellectual genius and absolutely dedicated to his patients. He'll go the extra mile for them and really stick his neck out for what they want. He attended her last two births, in fact. One (baby #4) was a hospital VBA2C waterbirth, even though his hospital doesn't "allow" waterbirths. It was also the birth after the loss of her third child. Then the last (baby #5) was a planned home birth with non-progressive labor and then a surprise breech. She decided to transfer in for a c-section and he did the surgery. She also worked with him when she was doing her CNM clinicals, so she knows him quite well.

Anyway, I told her that I would definitely consider having him present. She said his role would be "to sit in a corner and say nothing and do nothing." He is a very skilled photographer and videographer, so I could also ask him to take over those responsibilities. That actually sounds really appealing; I would have liked more pictures & video last time. I'm going to meet with him soon and get a feel for whether I'd mind having him in my space.

Part of me laughs at the irony of this all, since I was so gung-ho about being totally alone when I had Zari. And at that time, I definitely needed just that. But like I said, every birth is a new adventure for me. As long as I feel confident that he won't disrupt my own concentration, I'm definitely open to it. And I think of all the good it could do for many other women--and for him as a birth attendant--to have him witness what birth can really be like.
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