Take Your Daughter to [Birth] Day

I’ll never forget my experiences as a young girl going with my mother and older sisters to work for Take Your Daughter to Work Day.  My mother worked in banking, and I was amazed to see how many responsibilities she had.  My time spent with her at work, while definitely detracting me from wanting to work in the corporate world, helped me see my mother in an entirely new light.  She was no longer simply the woman who made sweets on weekends and enjoyed her episodes of “Murder She Wrote,” and British dramas on PBS.  I learned to see my mother as someone other people depended heavily upon.

Although I don’t (yet) have children, I’ve brought my nieces and a mentee to work  with me so they could witness the life of a teacher from the other side of their report cards.  I’ve never thought, though, what it would be like to bring a young girl with me to a birth or to sit in on a childbirth education class.

We may not all see ourselves as activists, or “radical doulas,” but the work we do is definitely political.  We help women find and use their voices.  We help them act from a place of empowerment instead of repression.  We hold space for them so they feel safe during some of the most precious moments of their lives.  We provide information and education so women are making the most informed decisions they can during pregnancy, childbirth and ultimately in the rearing of their children.  Yes, we fight the good fight for women to birth as they wish.

The moment I realized that I needed to be a birth worker, I briefly lamented not having been exposed to the beauty of birth as a girl.  Surely, I thought, I would have become a midwife or OB/GYN.  Bringing our daughters to births may not seduce them into doing the work that we do, but just imagine how difficult it will be for anyone to say, “No,” to a girl who has seen birth up close and personal, and watched her mother make it happen.

Have you brought your daughter to birth?  Did you attend a birth at a young age? What impressions where you left with?

Children’s Books About Birth

As birth workers, we are often faced with helping our clients’ children prepare for birth just as much as we help prepare the parents and other adult relatives.  In celebration of National Children’s Book Day, I thought I’d share some resources for helping small children adjust to becoming older siblings.

 

 

 

National Goddess of Fertility Day

In celebration of National Goddess of Fertility Day, I thought it would be fitting to honor two Yoruba Orisha (goddess, for lack of a better translation), Yemoja and Oshun.

In the West when we think of goddesses, Aphrodite and Venus are among the first that come to mind.  However, in the Yoruba pantheon, Oshun and Yemoja are two of the most revered female Orisha that are worthy of much praise.  Women seek their help in matters of love, women’s health, justice, protection and, naturally, fertility.

Many women adorn waist beads that have been prepared with herbs or other elements that enhance fertility in the colors of Yemoja (blues and greens) and Oshun (yellow and white).  Young girls may receive such beads during adolescence to mark their journeys into womanhood.  Waist beads, traditionally worn underneath clothing invisible to the public, are often used to entice a lover to romance and intimacy.

In the coming installations, I will be posting stories about how Oshun and Yemoja have helped women with fertility in accordance to traditional Yoruba mythology.

Happy birthing!

Natural Disaster Labor

In the wake of hurricane Irene, the US’s East Coast is riddled with anxiety and fear. It’s been a tough week for us, given that natural disasters really aren’t our thing. The last hurricane to threaten the eastern seaboard was over 20 years ago when Gloria gifted us with a tropical storm in 1985. Add to that Virginia’s earthquake earlier this week that sent risidual tremors along the East Coast and many southern states, and we’re in panic mode here. News reports tell us what we should have on hand in the event of an emergency, but what about women who are full term in their pregnancies?

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Lakeisha Dennis, of Lighthouse Birth Services @DoulaonDuty, brought natural disaster births up on Twitter this morning. What happens to a mom if she goes into labor during an earthquake, hurricane or snowstorm? What does she do if she can’t get to her support, or if her support can’t get to her?

Here are a few things you should consider including in your emergency birth kit in case you go into labor without the ability to head to your birth place (or have your team come to you).

1. 3 gallons of water – mom will need to stay hydrated during labor, and will need extra water for cleaning both during and after the birth if she desires. Keep an additional gallon of water for each person present.

2. Canned fruit, nuts, vegetable chips, and other non-perishable healthy foods to last at least 3 days.

3. Disinfectant – in the event that you have no running water, you don’t want to waste your drinking water washing your hands.

4. Dental floss – you can use dental floss to tie off the umbilical cord once it stops pulsating if you choose to detach it.

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5. Large garbage bags – aside from their normal use, plastic bags can be used as lining for your furniture or floor as a protective layer against fluids.

6. Sheets that you don’t mind ruining – you can use these on which to labor, in addition to staying dry and warm. Old sheets are also great for cleanup, because you can toss them when it’s all over!

7. Towels – have several on hand for cleanup and staying dry/warm for both mom and babe.

8. A few sets of clothes – there’s nothing like searching through a dark, flooded or otherwise damaged home to find clean clothes in an emergency. Keeping protected, clean sets with your emergency birth kit will help you greatly in your time of need. Remember to include baby clothes and diapers

9. A mirror to go with the flashlight you’ve already got in your emergency kit. During labor, you may need to see what’s happening around your vulva, especially if you are birthing alone. With a 40-week belly, a mirror will help you get a handle on what’s going on down there.

10. An extra fully charged battery for your mobile phone – in the event that you have service, but no electricity, you’ll be happy that you set this aside to be able to reach out for help!

Although these are some great things to keep in your kit if you can, you’ve also got to be prepared to use them! Check out Penny Simkin’s Birth Partner; she’s got great advice for what to do during an emergency birth.

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Also, speak with your provider about a contingency plan. If you’re birthing at a hospital or birthing center, what happens if disaster strikes if you are either already there in labor or in labor at home en route to your birthing place? Speak with your midwife about what to do in the event that neither she nor her backup can make it to you during a disaster. Ask your doula about how her services might change during an emergency.

What Not to Ask Your Doula

There are many lists and resource guides about what to ask your prospective doula when you interview her. I’ve even included a post here about asking whether or not your doula can help you apply for reimbursement from your insurance company for her services. I can’t say that I’ve seen any lists advising parents what not to ask their doula, however. I’m happy to have the honor (grin).

Every woman comes to her birth filled with experienes that have gotten her to this point. Because of her experiences, she expects her birth, and conversely, her birth team, to pan out in a particular fashion. Birth plans are an important part of birth that are often overlooked, and I can’t think of one doula that I know that doesn’t promote them in some way. Women also want the members of their birth team to have a certain level of experience, whether professional, personal or both. For some women, that means being surrounded solely by other women. For others, it means hiring a doula that has attended a certain amount of births. Still, there are many women who prefer to hire a doula that has labored and given birth herself. These are all valid desires. Birth is an extremely vulnerable situation, and a woman absolutely deserves to have her needs met during labor.

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Part of our training as doulas includes effective communication. We learn to be aware of our facial expressions so we don’t offend clients as they share personal information. We learn to be active listeners so that, even if we have given birth ourselves, we allow our clients to have their own experiences. We even learn to keep our own tempers under control when something happens that would, under different circumstances, drive us crazy.

So, why this post? It’s been my experience that women who are TTC form bonds and support each other through the turmoil. However, it’s also been my experience that women with successful pregancies sometimes forget (and rightfully so!) the ups and downs they’ve shared with their sisters in the struggle for what, for some, has been years. Pregnant women have graduated TTC college, and have every right to enjoy their pregnancies with other pregnant women. Along with that, they have every right to want a doula who has experienced pregnancy and labor herself. But mamas, please consider the following.

A childless doula may not have children because she simply doesn’t want any. The doula you’re interviewing may not be able to conceive. The lovely woman sitting across from you at the coffee house as you feel out her qualifications may be overcoming the heartache of a miscarriage. She may be a single woman who wants children, but can’t afford artificial insemination or IVF. The woman who scores high in every area on your checklist except for whether or not she has children may have given birth to a baby that didn’t survive.

Does this mean you should stop caring about whether or not your doula has children? Absolutely not! Your desires are yours, and you deserve to have your needs met by all means. Do continue to ask ask, “Do you have chidren?,” as you interview. Please do not ask, “So, why don’t you have kids?” It may seem like a harmless question, but it’s one that could have devastating effects on a doula who planned to have a lovely afternoon chatting with you.

Hold that Baby!

Every year I spend the month of July in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with my religious family. When it comes to birth related news, Brazil is often criticized because of the country’s frighteningly high cesarean birth rate. Unfortunately, there’s far less press around child rearing and the amazing jobs many women do when it comes to breastfeeding regardless of socio-economic status.

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No matter where I am, pregnant women and families with small children catch my attention. However, for the first time I noticed women in transit with their babies. One rainy evening my godsister and her husband arrive at the temple with their 20 month old sleeping son. My sister is not wearing a sling, or baby carrrier. She hasn’t pushed him along in a stroller during their nearly 2-hour commute to the temple. My sister is carrying her son wrapped in a blanket in her arms. It was a strange sight for me.

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Most women in the United States use a wrap or sling to hold their baby while they’re active. Many use a car seat when they’re out shopping for groceries. It’s impossible to go to a park and not see a myriad of strollers that stand out among the greenery. So what’s the deal? Are strollers, slings and wraps too expensive for the average Bazilian woman? Not any more than for the average North American woman. There’s something quite cultural about holding one’s baby and sitting them on the lap rather than letting them rest in a swing, bouncer, car seat or play pen.

Could it be that Brazilian mothers have more intimate relationships with their babies than we do? Far be from me to make that assertion! However, it’s worth noting that Brazilian mothers are afforded longer maternity leaves than their North American sisters. A few months definitely help mother and child bond and grow into each other. Not to mention the time with which mom can devote to breastfeeding if she chooses. In the wake of World Breasfeeding Week, there are advertisements everywhere reinforcing the powerful message that breast is best for both mother and child(ren).

In the U.S. we seem to be thrilled by the next new thing. Moby wraps are suddenly all the rage when indigenous women around the world have been using fabric to carry their babies from the beginning of time. Right in line with our drive-thru microwave culture, we’re interested in the quick fix. Wearing your baby is definitely better than not, but does wearing your baby mean you’re interacting with your baby? Is wearing your baby the same as holding your baby?

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“Mother is Worthy to be Praised”

This Memorial Day Weekend I went to see Dance Africa at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  As usual, the dances were amazing.  What stood out to me most, though, wasn’t the dancing at all.  Through the clapping, shouting and audience participation, I noticed the stretchmarks on one of the dancer’s bellies.  Things suddenly began to move in slow motion for me, almost like when Maria and Tony see each other at the dance in West Side Story.

I realized that I was watching a mother, and suddently felt some cosmic connection to her.  I began to wonder whether her children were in the audience, how old they were, or if any were possibly sharing the stage.  I wondered how she was able to find time to do something so magnificent with herself while conducting a family.  I wondered whether or not she raised her children, or if they knew how talented their mother is.

At the end of the show I stood in applause. Of course, the round was for all of the dancers, musicians and singers who graced the stage.  There was, however, a special beat in my heart in praise of the woman I had identified as a mother.  I’m sure she wasn’t the only mother on the stage.  In fact, the audienced was sprinkled with mothers holding small – and not so small – children.  If I was surrounded by mothers, what made this one so different?

During a time where it’s almost impossible to watch television for an hour without a cocoa butter or other stretch creme commercial promising to help women either prevent or erase their stretch marks, I found it amazing that this mother proudly bore the marks of her birth(s).  Just as waist beads, hair style, or jewelry denote status and rites of passage for women in traditional African cultures, so, too, do stretch marks. 

Watching this mother’s belly flap to and fro across the stage brought me back to the precious moments immediately following birth where a woman bonds with her baby face to face for the first time, and took me to the moment that I observe in so many women when they realize their bodies have undergone an amazing change; she not only birthed her baby, but she birthed her motherhood as well.  So, I stood and clapped that Monday afternoon in praise of motherhood.

These last few days I’ve been in reflection mode.  In reviewing both business and personal goals, the one thing that keeps coming back is the Yoruba proverb that’s the inspiration for my doula practice:

Oria bi iya ko si, iya la ba ma a bo

There is no Orisha like mother, it is mother who is worthy to be praised.

Praise mothers.  Praise them for the weeks they carry and nurture their children in waiting.  Praise them for the sleepness nights they endure for so many years of their lives.  Praise them for the decisions they make that often leave them holding the shortest stick in the bunch.  Praise mothers, simply because they are worthy to be praised.