Tag Archives: childbirth education

“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.

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Preconception Planning III: More Trying and Less Conceiving

TTC can be the most emotional time of a woman’s life, especially when trying for several cycles. The moment your uterus begins to shed its lining you feel that nature has betrayed you. For some, it feels as deeply as the loss of a child.

We’ve all memorized Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and know by heart which links to click on Mayoclinic.com. We can read basal body thermometers in the dark, and chart temperatures with our eyes closed. And when we realize that we touch our cervixes more frequently than scratching our noses, it’s clear that we’re experts in knowing what’s going on with our bodies to recognize ovulation signs.

There’s advice about the best time to take your temperature, how often you should check cervical mucus (CM), how to interpret your charts, and the best time of day to use an ovulation predictor kit (OPK). But what happens when these things aren’t coming together like the beautiful celestial chart that they’re supposed to form? Shouldn’t these methods be fool proof?

Here’s what you don’t get along with the advice: not every woman has egg white cervical mucus (EWCM), and the OPK may not detect your hormone levels clearly.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to begin charting your temperature months before you begin actively TTC, especially if your cycle isn’t very predictable (I hate to think of my cycle as irregular!). Become comfortable with analyzing your charts, and seek expert help when things don’t make sense to you. Pay attention to the moistness of your vulva the days following menstruation, and try to notice whether or not you feel any slight cramps the more moist you become (without stimulation). Before you know it, you’ll be able to feel your body releasing an egg (or two!).

Learn to differentiate between your own CM. Recognize that as your body matures your CM can change (I haven’t had EWCM since my early twenties!). Some women go from dry, to watery to creamy and never experience sticky or EWCM. Some women go from dry, to watery, to EWCM, to creamy then sticky. Some women’s bodies may do something different all together. If you’ve been paying attention to your body for months before trying, you’ll know your cycle and won’t be waiting for EWCM when watery may be your ovulation sign.

Practice peeing on different brands of OPKs. You may notice that as you approach ovulation a faint pink line appears, grows darker over the course of the next 3-4 days, but never quite matches the test line. Does that mean you’re not ovulating? It could mean a number of things, and you should speak to a specialist to help you understand what’s going on. Some women never match the test line, and the faint line is their ovulation sign. I’ve only tested positive once with an OPK, and the positive result appeared after my temperature had already spiked. Go figure!

Sometimes we end up trying so much (unsuccessfully) because we aren’t interpreting our signs accurately. Sometimes we don’t trust our bodies enough to believe what they’re telling us instead of an OPK or someone else’s assessment. There are also times when this isn’t so cut and dry, and that may be a sign of something else going on. It can be hard to stay positive when you try cycle after cycle, especially when it seems like people around us get pregnant without even trying. But staying positive is a must!

Here’s to more conceiving after so much trying.

Get Your Insurance to Pay for Your Doula!

Every once in a while I get a call from a mom who is really interested in having a doula attend her birth, but she doesn’t think she can afford it.  In NYC the average experienced doula charges around $1,000 per birth.  There are doulas who do frequent volunteer births, and others who work on a sliding-scale or a flat-rate low fee.  Wouldn’t it be great if women could interview doulas and not have to worry about money?  There are tons of lists floating around online about the questions you should ask your prospective doula, but very few remind you to ask if she has an NPI number.

What’s an NPI?

It’s been about a year since doulas have been able to apply for National Provider Identification (NPI) numbers.  The NPI number tells insurance companies that an individual is an actual service provider, and is used to process payments and/or reimbursement.  If you interview with a doula who is out of your price range, ask if she has an NPI number.  Having the NPI number alone doesn’t guarantee reimbursement, but it’s one major step in the right direction.  If you’re searching online and have come across doulas with whom you’d like to set up consultations, you can check to see if they have an NPI number here.

How do I know if my insurance covers doulas?

With this big advancement in the doula profession comes big confusion.  Coverage and reimbursement by insurance companies are different areas.  Coverage means that your insurance company will pay your provider’s fee when services are rendered.  I’m not aware of any insurance companies that cover doula services.  Reimbursement, on the other hand, requires that you pay your provider’s fee when services are rendered and your insurance company sends you a check after the fact.  Reimbursement can be in full or for a portion of what you actually paid.  I’ve heard of moms being reimbursed $375 of the $400 their doula charged, and a few other instances where reimbursement was within $200 of the doula’s fee.

Getting reimbursed

Get in touch with your insurance company and ask what the process is for reimbursement.  Your doula may be able to give you this generic form, but if your insurance company prefers that you use their forms it would be good to know that beforehand.  Your doula will provide you with the necessary information like the NPI number, and her S.S.# or EIN to help you complete the form.  In addition to the claim form, ask your doula for an invoice and a letter that describes her services.  The letter is helpful, because it shows the insurance company how the doula may have actually saved them money.  Many moms report having to submit twice before being reimbursed, so don’t desist in the process if you’re not approved the first time around!  Your doula does not have to be certified by any organization in order for her services to be rendered reimbursable.  However, if she is a member of a certifying organization she may be able to get advice from them with regard to helping you get some money back.

When expectant moms get in touch with me, but have concerns about how to pay for a doula, I remind them about the possibility of being reimbursed by their insurance.  Usually, they feel more at ease knowing that they may be able to get their insurance to pay for their doula!

Preconception Planning II – spiritual understanding

As soon as I completed the previous article, “Preconception Planning,” I remembered a great story that a sister doula – Amadoma Bediako – shared at a Health Conference. She recounted:

There are a people in West Africa where a baby’s birthday isn’t the day she’s born, but rather the day she became a thought in her mother’s mind.

The story continues:

Very Early Parenting: An African Model
A Child’s Song

There is a tribe in Africa where the birth date of a child is counted not from when they’ve been born, nor from when they are conceived but from the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind.

And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him. And then, when they make love to physically conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invite it.

And then, when the mother is pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or hurts its knee, someone picks it up and sings its song to it. Or perhaps the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song.

And it goes this way through their life. In marriage, the songs are sung, together. And finally, when this child is lying in bed, ready to die, all the villagers know his or her song, and they sing–for the last time–the song to that person.

You can read more about the author, Sobonfu Somé, here.  I thought this was so amazingly beautiful, and made perfect sense to me.  The moment we begin thinking about TTC, a connection is made.

As she told this story, it made me think of traditional Yoruba concepts of preconception.  Two key principles of Yoruba traditional religion are the beliefs in reincarnation and destiny.  It’s believed that, before we are born, our souls reside in heaven with a spiritual twin.  When we are born, so enters our soul into the world with the first breath we take.  The spiritual twin, however, remains in heaven awaiting our return (death).  During gestation, our souls are in heaven completing specific tasks and rituals to seal our destinies before taking the journey to earth.  You can read more about this process here.

What does this have to do with preconception planning?  For those following the Yoruba spiritual path, it’s important to remember that our pregnancies are joint journeys.  Understand that your baby chose to reincarnate into your family, and is experiencing spiritual development throughout your pregnancy.

I often tell moms that I believe birth is spiritual.  No matter what your spiritual or religious tradition is, wouldn’t it be cool to know the beliefs around pregnancy while you’re TTC?  We watch our health to prepare our bodies to house, protect and nourish our babies, but it’s equally important to watch our spirits.

 

Preconception Planning

We often tell mothers to treat their bodies well while pregnant, but what about women who are trying to conceive (TTC)?

This article from MayoClinic.com has some great information about getting your body ready for pregnancy, but there is so much more to consider!

In my mid twenties I was the take-out queen.  I ate frozen pizza at least 3 nights a week, and delivery or drive-thru the other 4.  Cooking was a rarity that occurred on special occasions, and I thought the lettuce that came on my burger was a sufficient vegetable substitute.  For breakfast I’d have a roll with sausage, egg and cheese, or a bagel topped off with cream cheese – if I had breakfast at all.  I’d drink 3-4 cups of black coffee throughout the day, and eat a ton of sweets.  I didn’t think that I was doing that much harm to my body, because on the outside I looked healthy.  Oh, and did I mention I smoked?

As a part of my spiritual journey, I learned to take better care of my body.  I started cooking more often, and even brought my own lunch to work.  Bringing healthy snacks saved me from the drive-thru by giving me something to eat on the way home from work, and the temptation to stop became easier to resist.  And then I discovered free-range and organic food…although I continued to smoke.  Quitting was a tough battle to fight.

Now, when I cook, just about every meal has at least one vegetable, and often it’s a leafy green.  I stopped shopping at big chain supermarkets so my sweet tooth wouldn’t cry out for attention at the turn of every aisle.  I would say that 90% of what we eat in our house is organic, we don’t keep soft-drinks around, and the majority of our sweets are homemade.  It’s definitely not easy to eat healthy in African-American communities; not because people don’t want to, but because there are simply no healthy choices available.  Fruit stands are sometimes far and few between, and those that exist often have fruit of sub-standard quality.  Grocery stores don’t sell free-range or organic, and there are more fast-food joints (owned by outsiders to the community) than bookstores or libraries.  I was the fast-food queen in my twenties, because that’s all that I knew.  If I didn’t have a car, I would be stuck shopping at major chain supermarkets that are within walking distance with very little choice for whole foods.

Why am I ranting about supermarkets and diet?  It all goes back to what we learned as children: you are what you eat!  Eating healthy, staying hydrated and getting exercise are key to getting our bodies ready for the miraculous task waiting ahead.  If you’re TTC, the planning is so much more than charting fertility and falling in love with baby names.  The healthier you are, the better your conception chances.  The healthier you are, the healthier your pregnancy and subsequently your baby.  Don’t wait until you find out that you’re pregnant to get your body together; do the research and holistically prepare.

When my wife and I decided to start TTC, I became meticulous about my diet.  I’m not the biggest fan of pills, so I do admit to not being so great about taking vitamins.  However, I use herbs and try to eat well to give my body what she needs.   Here’s what I eat just about everyday to give you an idea:

Breakfast – oatmeal & almond milk

Snack – fruit

Snack – mixed nuts

Lunch – Soy yogurt & granola, or left-overs, and fruit

Snack – fruit

Dinner – starch, poultry or fish & vegetables

and TONS of water throughout the day.

and I quit smoking!

Not so bad, huh?  It just takes a little planning to treat your body well.  There have definitely been days when I rushed out of the house without enough snacks to get me through the day, and reasoned that stopping for fries wouldn’t be so bad (that is, until I read this article about fast-food decomposition).  But, most days I’m pretty on point.  With perinatal mortality rates where they are in the United States for Black women, we can’t leave anything to chance.  It’s never too late to get it together, but please get it together.

The Importance of Breastfeeding: a Traditional Yoruba POV

In planning my childbirth education classes, I’ve been reading every book that I can get my hands on.  One of the few books I’m reading at the moment is Ikunle Abiyamo by Ṣ. Ṣolagbade Popoọla and Fakunle Oyesanya.

When it comes to traditional African practices, we often get the “what” but not the “why.”  The what, in this instance, is breastfeeding.  We know that many African mothers breastfeed until their children are toddlers.  We know that the research and recommendations tell us to exclusively breastfeed our babies for their first six months of life, and to continue to at least their first birthday when possible.  We know about the developmental and nutritional benefits to babies who are breastfed.  What better arguments could be made?

…Ifá says that a child who fails to suck the mother’s breastmilk will find it extremely difficult, if not totally impossible, to have the type of spiritual elevations comparable to those of his/her colleagues who had the benefit of sucking their mothers’ breastmilk – 172

This is written negatively, so let’s flip it and make it plain and simple: Ifá says that a child who is fed breast milk will find spiritual elevation with ease.  I think that’s amazing!

So what?  For starters, families raising their children following Yoruba traditional religion (and variants, Lukumi, Candomble, etc…) take the spiritual lives of their children very seriously from the moment they are born.  Mothers may undergo rituals to ensure the well being of the baby while still in the womb.  Some families will whisper prayers into the baby’s ear welcoming her into the world for having traversed a safe passage (from Orun to Aye, Heaven to Earth).  Some families will consult with a priest through divination to have a better understanding of the child’s destiny and to choose a name that befits the child.  We want the best for our children, and that includes what’s best for them spiritually.

It’s no mistake that sexual intercourse is discouraged in Yorubaland (and probably elsewhere) for as long as a mother nurses; we don’t engage in sexual activity when we’re involved in spiritual work.  Our vital life force energy (aṣè) changes, it shifts and divides when we share intimacy, so the aṣè must be preserved and enhanced to be effective.

Yoruba traditionalists (and variants) have quite the challenge maintaining an ancient lifestyle in our modern world.  After all, Yoruba traditional religion isn’t just “what you do on Sunday,” it’s how we live everyday.  Sometimes we forget that our bodies truly are our temples, and how important our spiritual energy is in everything we say and do.

Now what? Formula boasts of being able to be nutritionally just as good as mother’s milk.  Until they can figure out the chemical makeup of spiritual enhancement, I’m not convinced.

Inauguration

I’m excited to begin this blog at a moment when I’m really enjoying being a woman. As a doula and childbirth educator, I find myself thinking about my body and what it’s doing on a very regular basis. In thinking about what the focus of this blog is, I’ve decided to dedicate the first post to menstruation.

There’s so little that we understand about what happens to our bodies during menstruation from our uterine contractions (cramps) to the blood flow.

I recently made the switch from tampons to The Diva Cup, and it’s been a life-changing move for me. I’m more aware of my vagina (more about the vagina later), cervix, and the amount of blood that my body releases in a 5-8 hour time span.

So what is The Diva Cup (TDC)? It’s a menstrual cup that’s inserted into the vagina, and caps the cervix so it can catch the menstrual blood and uterine lining. With super tampons, I would need to change every two hours. I was under the impression that I had an extremely heavy flow, and was even concerned that my flow was abnormal. I thought that for the 3-5 days that I menstruate there was a continuous flow of blood being released from my uterus. After switching to TDC I realized just how little I knew about my own flow. I’m actually not a heavy bleeder, I have a clearer sense of the color of my blood (important!) and my cervix isn’t a cracked floodgate.

The female body is such an ironically taboo subject in the U.S. We can show off our bodies, but we can’t talk about them. Men can scratch their balls in public until the cows come home, and women are made to feel dirty for simply being curious about our goodies – not to mention taking a mirror and checking her out, or heaven forbid touch her outside of bathing. So let’s get back to some basics:

The vagina is actually inside of our bodies; it’s the birth canal. What we typically call the vagina is our vulva.

The cervix is the passageway into/out of the uterus. In terms of menstruation, I like to think of the cervix as a faucet that’s leaking my blood and lining. Now, if we think of putting a tampon into the vagina it sits at the mouth of the cervix (depending on the position of your uterus and how your cervix tilts, which changes daily, the tampon may or may not work correctly). If the cervix is a faucet, let’s think of the tampon as a finger trying to plug the faucet. Go ahead and try it in your sink! Now understand why tampons can be so leaky and not completely absorbant like in the commercials. Unlike that funky blue liquid, menstrual blood has a totally different consistency that’s not as easily absorbed. That’s another reason why I love TDC, it’s the cup under a faucet catching the liquid and not a finger trying to plug it.

So, after the rant here is my plea: love menstruation. Love your uterus and vagina, and thank the universe for each menstrual contraction you feel. Take a moment to read and fall in love with The Red Tent, and keep an eye out for herbal remedies for menstrual discomfort.