Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Very Early Miscarriage

Another one of my collaborators is known around the blogosphere as Buscando La Luz, or Busca for short. She is a kindred spirit and a great writer. Her blog, Birth Faith is full of excellent information, well-thought out perpectives, and all delivered with kindness. The specific post I am pointing you to is Very Early Miscarriage. If you have ever had a late period and wondered if it was actually a miscarriage, you may find this post helpful, as I did. If you know you've had an early miscarriage and don't know where to turn for support, she has some great resources.

While you're there, make sure you check out her birth stories and some of Busca's other greatest hits (on the right side bar), such as Little Known Facts About Pitocin and Breastfed Baby Growth.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Spiritual Significance of Birth

One of my collaborators is known in the blogosphere as Heatherlady, who writes the Women in the Scriptures Blog. Heather is a self-described scripture nerd and her knowledge of women in the scriptures is already proving so valuable to this book. Heather knows the ins and outs of every birth story in the scriptures as well as every midwife, every mother, and every prophetess. Her most recent post, The Importance of Birth is mind-blowingly awesome and a must read. I have linked to it rather than having her repost it here because there are many other valuable things on her site that you might enjoy once you're there. Heather also had two incredible and spiritual births, and I am so happy to have her insights in this book.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The (Family) Tree of Knowledge

When I was a few months into my pregnancy and feeling alone, I came across this quote by Harriet Lerner:

“We are never the first in our family to wrestle with a problem, although it may feel that way…. Learning how other family members have handled their problems similar to our own down through the generations, is one of the most effective routes to lowering reactivity and heightening self-clarity."

I thought, “Yeah right? Who does this happen to? No one else in my family has been abandoned three months into a planned pregnancy.” I kept reading.
“If we do not know about our own family history, we are more likely to repeat past patterns or mindlessly rebel against them, without much clarity about who we really are, how we are similar to and different from other family members, and how we might best proceed in our own life.”

Since I was already passionate about genealogy and family history, I decided to test out this idea and have a look at my family tree to see if there were any single mothers that I had overlooked, and what, if anything, I could learn from them. To my great surprise, there were more than a few, and the details of their stories left me dumbfounded. For the purpose of brevity, I will share only two here.

The first was Ellen (my great-grandmother). She lived for a time in the Mormon Mexican colonies (that’s why I feel Mexican inside). She had four daughters with her husband, but after the fourth, he accused her of cheating on him. He said that Violet was not his child. With this announcement, he left her and moved back to the United States.

Life in Mexico at this time (early 1900’s) was tense. Pancho Villa, the revolutionary general in Chihuahua was suspicious of the white Mormon settlers. According to the colony’s history, he threatened to kill the white people if they did not leave. So Ellen and her four daughters, and the rest of their colony, fled Mexico with a few days’ notice--on foot. Ellen returned to the United States to her parent’s home in Cedar City, Utah, and lived with her family. She worked hard to support four children. Sometime later, she met her childhood sweetheart, married him, and had four sons—one of which is my grandfather.

If pioneer stories bore you, this next story is much different. It is from my father’s side. My father was adopted by his step-father (I guess that means my grandmother was a single mom for a while, too), and I had been trying to track his real father’s line for some time. A few years before, I had already discovered the big surprise—I am (blonde little me) of slave ancestry (that’s why I have always felt black inside). But I will save that story for another time and cut to the single mother: Maria Johns, my third-great-grandmother.

I found her in an 1860 census in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. She was listed as a single, black woman living with her young daughter, who was listed as Mulatto. Her occupation was “washer woman” and she was listed as owning property.

If your hair isn’t already blown back, I’ll give you a few more details. Maria was born in Virginia, so she was almost certainly born into slavery. Her child was mulatto, and she was never married, so I can only speculate about what master impregnated her and whether or not she was willing. How she escaped or earned her freedom is also speculation. What I do know is that 1860 was pre-emancipation proclamation, and it was rare even for white women to own property in 1860.

What this tells me about Maria Johns, is that she was awesome.

I found a few clues and rumors that Marie was a Quaker, which I believe, because the Quakers were in large number in that part of Pennsylvania, and were also the only group that would be accepting enough to embrace a black woman into their community and let her own property.

After learning these stories about my ancestors, I felt much less alone. I felt connected to these powerful women and inspired by them. I looked to what both of them (and others I found) did in their time of trial and saw that those who turned to their family and their faith were the most successful. I knew I would be wise to do the same.

By meditating on these and other strong women in my life stream, I felt them draw nearer to me. They would help me and lift me up. When my daughter was born, I felt them all surrounding me—my mother, my grandmother, Ellen, Maria and many more I didn’t even know, but who knew me and knew my daughter.

This was just the beginning of my journey with my ancestors. Since then, with each major struggle in my life, I consult my family history to see what I can learn. The results continue to amaze and humble me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The process of writing this book has been an interesting journey. It all began more than 3 years ago when I was lying in my final resting pose in prenatal yoga class and I knew that I needed to write a spiritual birthing book for LDS women. Beyond that, I didn't know much. For the next couple of years I read as many birth books that I could find that fell under the category of "spiritual" (these were from many different faiths). I also wrote a book proposal and started writing sample chapters. I worked on it in occasional spurts, but it was largely on the back burner until this summer, when I couldn't turn off the spigot of inspiration. Since then, I have been led and directed at every turn. This fall, I felt that I needed to collaborate with other women who had different strengths that me and was immediately, upon acknowledging this inspiration (and letting go of my ego, pesky thing that sometimes wants to control things), I was led to who, and eventually, to how (logistics). I'll write more about this later, I'm sure.

There are currently five other women who are contributing to this book. Some of them are bloggers and I have linked to their blogs, but I have also asked them to contribute guest posts, because their spiritual insights are totally unique and different than mine. I am so excited to "introduce" them, and to share their wisdom with you. So, in the next few days and weeks, look forward to some awesome posts.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Request for "Other" Stories

A few weeks ago I had the inspiration that there needed to be a "Healing After Miscarriage and Other Loss" chapter in this book. That a woman goes through psychological and spiritual upheavals (and hopefully, eventually, growth) after a miscarriage seems like a no-brainer. Why didn't I think of it before? I am so grateful to those who have sent me their stories on this deeply personal topic. For the last week, however, my thoughts keep returning to the other stories--specifically, healing after abortion and sexual abuse.

Abortion is a sensitive topic everywhere, and so I hope to treat it sensitively in this book, but also not ignore it. Since the beginning, our faith has strongly affirmed the sanctity of life, and I also affirm it. The fact is, however, women who may read this have had abortions--either before they joined the church, during periods of inactivity, or for other reasons. My own mother had to have one when she found out she had an advanced stage of cancer. Heartbreaking--and even more so because of the taboo around talking about it.

I'm sure that being pregnant again after an abortion, even if it was years ago, can trigger all kinds of difficult emotions that you may have thought were behind you. I feel very strongly that there are more than a handful of women who need to read about what another woman went through and how she ultimately healed, emotionally and spiritually. If you have a story you are willing to share, I can make it anonymous, and I will be totally confidential. Someone else out there needs to know that they are not alone.

Sexual abuse is another heavy topic, but it affects birth in so many ways, because the sex organs that are the primary focus. Women who have had sexual trauma in their past may also find birth traumatic, or on the contrary, they may find it empowering and healing. What I'd like to focus on in this book is healing. I am looking for women willing to share their stories of how pregnancy and birth healed them from the scars of sexual abuse. I can also make your stories anonymous. I know it is difficult to write about these things, but writing (and then publishing) is also away of letting go.

Please let me know if you have a story and are willing to share it. If you need support writing it, or would prefer to tell it on the phone and have me write it, we can do that, too.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tree of Life Images

Since reading about the Heavenly Mother, I have been obsessed with Tree of Life images. If you do an image search, it's a deluge. The Tree of Life is an important symbol in many religious traditions. Here are some of my favorite images. I have tried to give credit where credit is due.

Found at absoluteartuk

By Susan "Esther"

David Freidman

i wish i knew who took this. I want to go here.

This photo is by David rose. The tree is made of old weapons.


by Gustav Klimt

unknown artist

Found this one as

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Babymoon

Traditionally, a honeymoon is a time when a newly married couple—a new family unit—remove themselves from their everyday world, relax, and bond physically and emotionally.

The babymoon, though less in practice, has a similar function. It is a seclusion, a removal from the world, and a time for a new family unit to bond. A child’s first 40 days in this world are very important. When I worked on the sheep ranch, I learned how important immediate secluded bonding time was for the sheep. If the mother’s didn’t get it, they were more likely to abandon or be inattentive to their lamb(s).

But what exactly is a babymoon and why is it important that it last 40 days?

As far as I can find, the term babymoon was first coined in 1996 by Sheila Kitzinger in her book The Year After Childbirth, but the concept has been around in different forms for eons. In the last few years, the travel industry has tried to change the meaning to: a trip one takes as a last hurrah before the baby comes. Don’t be confused. Traveling is not part of this kind of babymoon.

Probably the most well known reference to the 40 day postpartum babymoon is the 40 days of purification that Mary observed, as part of the Law of Moses, after giving birth to Jesus.

When it comes to the Law of Moses, I don’t usually think too much about the what and why because we don’t have to live it anymore—but this is interesting for many reasons. Heather has some great insights on this and why Mary needed to make a sin offering after giving birth (by bringing life she also brought death), but what I want to focus on is the idea of purification. When I looked up purification, it was synonymous with Sanctification and Hallow. When many of us think of purification today, we think of taking something dirty and making it clean—like tap water. But sanctification is the process of taking something ordinary and making it holy, hallowing it.

As we know, Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses. His Atonement made a sin offering no longer necessary. But the 40-day postpartum period is still uniquely bracketed in time because we bleed for 40 days after having a baby. So even though we don’t live the Law of Moses anymore, what is the significance of these 40 days?

40-day time periods occur in the scriptures many times. Here are just a few of the things that happen in 40 day periods:

  • The Flood – Rained for 40 days and nights (Gen 7)
  • Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days (Matt 4)
  • Jesus taught his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection (Acts 1)
  • Jonah gave Nineveh 40 days to repent (Jonah 3)
  • Moses was on the mountain 40 days (Duet 9)
  • The spies were in Canaan for 40 days (Numb 13-14)

What I found about the 40-day period in all of these references was that they were a period of purification/sanctification, and also a preparation and transition from one mission or role to to another. For example, Jesus fasted for 40 days right before He begins His ministry. It is also symbolic that He is led by the spirit into the wilderness to fast--separating Himself from the world. Then, at the end of His ministry, after His resurrection, He spends 40 days to prepare His apostles for when He will leave them. This also happens away from the world.

Of course, 40 years is also a recurring theme in the scriptures and if you are wondering if there is a connection, there is. 40 years is also a purification and denotes a generation. In Numbers 14:34, God speaks directly of a connection when he says that 40 days (that the spies were in Canaan) symbolized 40 years (that Israel would wander in the wilderness).

Using days to symbolize larger units of time is interesting when you consider that normal pregnancy is about 40 weeks, and there are 40 days of bleeding afterward. I don't believe this is arbitrary. God is a master. And while bleeding for 40 days isn’t my favorite thing, I am convinced it is a blessing. It is a reminder, and a reason (excuse), to stay home, remove yourself from the world, bond and get to know your baby (and your spouse as a father) so that you can go forth into your new role with confidence and preparation.

So, how does one observe a babymoon? That is something individual, but I believe it is much like Sabbath observation. During my 40-day babymoon I didn’t work, didn’t go to any stores or events. (I bought everything online or sent willing friends and relatives who came to stay). I didn’t cook much (thanks R.S. sisters!). I didn’t even drive my car because dealing with a car seat and traffic was too much of the world for me. I took walks, lots of baths, had my favorite people over for short or long visits, figured out nursing, napped, read my scriptures and some good literary fiction while my little Bunny napped on my chest. I also kept the lights low and played soothing music. It was a veritable love nest.

I was very lucky to find the perfect pediatrician only 2 blocks away so we walked to her check up. I even got my hair dresser and my therapist to come to my house. (If you tell people it is your spiritual practice to observe 40 days at home they are surprisingly awesome about helping out).

I should mention that I also did not go to church for 40 days. For those who have never missed a Sunday, you can feel better knowing that Mary didn’t go to the sanctuary for 40 days either. While I believe that the sacrament is an essential part of the sanctification process, I also knew the reality of my situation. My daughter was awaited with as much anticipation as any celebrity baby, and I knew it would be too much for both of us. I also didn’t want any little kids breathing on her (things change when you have two, I know). In retrospect, I should have asked to have the sacrament brought to me, but I still had a hard time asking things of the priesthood—and none of them have figured out how to read minds like the sisters can. Next time I will.

I can’t express to you how fast the 40 days passed. It was just the right amount of time, but I was so sad when it was over. When I got into the car to go to my 6-week check up and then to the grocery store, I felt the world closing in and sweeping us into a fast current that would only take us farther and farther from that place. I am so glad I took the opportunity, though. I healed quickly, and felt prepared when I did jump back in to the world with a baby.

I haven’t found any official surveys, so I’d like to conduct an unofficial one. Did you observe 40 days at home? How did you observe it? What was it like for you?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thinking on the Heavenly Mother and Trees

I just read a fascinating article about the Heavenly Mother. The author does a good job in laying out known references for a Heavenly Mother, both in modern and ancient text. I had no idea there were so many references to her in the Old Testament. There is enough in this article to blog about for a lifetime, but the one thing I am thinking about right now is the symbol of the tree.

God's wife or Heavenly Mother, known as Asherah, in ancient Hebrew has many different symbolic words, epitaphs, metaphors and such associated with her, such as Happiness, Blessedness, Sanctuary, Breasts-and-Womb, Fertility, and Lady Wisdom, but according to scholars and archaeologists the tree or sacred pole or stump of sacred tree, has been the way in which she was both worshiped and idolized.

When you look at our scripture cannon, there are so many trees: the Tree of Life (in the Garden as well as the one in Nephi's dream), the Tree of Knowledge, numerous olive tree references, fig trees, the sticks (wood) of Jesse and Judah, and many more.

When God commands Adam and Eve with regard to childbearing he says, "be fruitful," using the tree analogy. Trees are also a symbol of the earth in general. On Earth day we plant trees. We refer to the Earth in the feminine, as Mother Earth. In his article, Barney shows that the Hebrew translations of the Old Testament suggest that the Mother in Heaven was present and aided during the creation of the earth. Thus, the term Mother Earth feels even more appropriate. (p. 14)

Whether one goes in for scholarship or not, I think we can all appreciate the idea of having something to represent our Heavenly Mother. His article specifically denounces idol worship, but just as we use, hymns, art, and other things to edify us and remind us of Heavenly Father, Jesus, the prophets, and holy women in the scriptures, I think it totally appropriate and even necessary to have some way of honoring our Mother in Heaven.

One of his suggestions for how to honor her, which I think is appropriate at this time of year is to change our association with Christmas trees and think about Heavenly Mother as we are thinking about the birth of the son of God.

He also suggests that we can have art that represents Her and our love for her. I have a beautiful piece of art on my wall, by an artist named Jackie Brethen Lieshman. Her work is mixed media, photography and collage and this particular piece is of a tree. She photographed many trees and sewed and glued the different pieces of photography together to make this collage that all hinges from the trunk of one tree. It is one of the most precious things I own. I look at it every morning and think how blessed I am to have such a beautiful piece of art. Now it has even more meaning to me.

Another thing that I am thinking of is how after my daughter was born, I bought a tree and planted her placenta under it. I thought this was a lovely symbolic gesture of giving back to the earth and using the placenta, which nurtured her, to nurture the tree which would then bear fruit and nurture her again. I never thought of it, then, but it is also a way to symbolically honor the Heavenly Mother.

How has your understanding of the Heavenly Mother changed with pregnancy/motherhood, if at all? I'd like to hear about it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Links to Interesting Birth Stories

I have had the flu and pneumonia, and though everything else is not working right, the flow of inspiration doesn't stop--to my amazement or dismay. Today I dragged myself out of bed to write some things down and 3 hours later, I realized that I was all aglow. I didn't feel sick at all. Now, however, it is time to rest. Here are some stories I was sent recently, and they are so good, I can't keep them to myself.

Stephanie Coleman, mother of 6 kids, and now a midwife, has some interesting experiences that are worth reading:

Here is a great post about her daughter's recollection of being born (via c-section). It is amazing what kids remember, and a gift to her mother that she was able to articulate it just then.

Stephanie also had an intense experience when she was on the way to the hospital to give birth to her 5th baby. Stephanie is a great example of someone who was able, despite lots of stress and vulnerability, to make conscious choices about her care and rely on the Lord.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Giving - A Review

I have often struggled with some aspects of writing a book and blog of this nature because it excludes maybe people. I keenly remember how it felt to be the only childless woman in a group of moms talking about their birth stories. For many years I feared that I would never be able to have children, and I have been with many friends and relatives through the emotional roller coaster of trying and failing to conceive. I met Mary and David when I moved into my current ward 8 years ago and we were fast friends. They had one adopted daughter already, and a few years later, they were able to adopt a boy. It was the closest I had come to the adoption process, and I honestly thought it was preparing me in case I couldn't have children. As it turns out, however, my body is a great baby maker, and Mary turned out to be a great film maker.

When I put out my call to LDS filmmakers, I forgot to give a shout out to Mary Durnin Firth for the important work that she has done. As an adoptive mother, Mary always felt like people misunderstood birth mothers. She told me this many times.

Mary and her husband moved to Montana shortly after they adopted their son, and Mary started a Masters Degree in Fine Art at the University of Montana. When it came time to do her thesis, Mary tried to shoot some PSAs but nothing was working. I remember when they visited Los Angeles that summer to meet Jason's birth mother, Mary told me that what she really wanted to do was make a documentary on birth mothers, but she was afraid she couldn't do it well enough. "Whatever," I said. "Nothing else is working because this is what you need to do."

Mary's documentary, The Giving, now a four-time festival winner, is a brave and beautiful exploration of adoptive mothers and why they make the choices they make. She interviews six different women. Some were young, others were older. One women was married with two children when she decided to place her third child up for adoption. The film shatters any stereotype one might have of women who give up their babies.

The women share their feelings from the moment they found out, to the decision to place their child, signing papers (the most heart-rending chapter), and life afterward. There is one scene that I can't forget where a birth mother tells about the birth of her daughter. Her husband decided not to be there so the adoptive mother was her support person. When they put the baby girl on her chest, the adoptive mother throws her arms around both of them and the three of them are frozen there in this amazing lovely moment that I think captures what the film is really trying to say about adoption.

The Giving is an incredibly emotional documentary that shows the amount of love and selflessness and maturity it takes to be a birth mother. I recommend it not only to anyone who might be thinking of adopting, placing for adoption, or is adopted, but to all mothers and young women.

You can watch a preview and buy it here:
You can also buy it on Amazon.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What the Proclamation on the Family Says About Pregnancy and Birth

I was reading the Proclamation on the Family today and am in awe of how well it is written. It is short and succinct, yet covers everything. It is specific and leaves no room for misinterpretations. I can only describe some of the word choices as perfect. For example, the word “entitled” in paragraph seven. Normally I dislike this word, but in this case (“children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony”), it is the only correct word. Deserve wouldn’t work.

There is one line, however, that I always thought was repetitive. Let me set it up for you: In paragraph four, it says “…God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are only to be employed between a man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”

The next paragraph say:

“We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed.”

I always thought this was a repeat of the chastity admonishment, but I notice now that it being in its own paragraph is significant. On closer study, it is apparent that “the means by which mortal life is created” includes pregnancy and birth.

I am amazed that this sentence that has been in front of me all this time. Heavenly Father is affirming that the process of gestation and birth are divinely appointed--that we were created in the image of a Heavenly Mother, who has done it herself, and has blessed it.

Maybe this is obvious to some people, but to me it was a huge rubber bat to the head.

I have always thought of procreation, and therefore sex, as our one divine power—hence the reason Satan has attacked it so hard, and not subtly. Sex is money nowadays. It is commercial, recreational, fun, and anything but sacred. Now I see that pregnancy and birth are and extension of that divine power, and their sacred nature is being attacked/undermined in more subtle ways. The spiritual, sacred nature of the gestation and birth process has been slowly pushed into the background in favor of a more scientific, medical or mechanical focus. There are almost no books at the mainstream bookstore that speak in-depth about the spiritual journey of pregnancy. Even with the knowledge we have as Latter-Day-Saints about the divine nature of women and motherhood, when it comes to pregnancy and birth, many sisters are still floundering.

Seeing the de-sanctification of birth as a tool of the adversary shocked me a little, and put a new urgency on this project. I am not in favor of bashing all modern American maternity care, because I believe there are exceptions to everything, but it is, to put it precisely, a disaster—especially when compared to other countries. Reaffirming the sacred nature of pregnancy and birth is a slow, grassroots effort that I have often heard compared to missionary work. And after reading the last line of the Proclamation I am at it with a new zeal.

So spread the word: Our physical bodies were created after the image of our Heavenly Mother, and the process of pregnancy and birth ("the means by which mortal life is created") are divinely appointed. Amazing.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

In-Between Time

Whenever I read an interview with a writer, or other artist, people often want to know the story of how the book came about. They want to know how long it took to write, where they worked, what time of day, what they ate and drank, where they came up with their ideas, etc.

I have thought about this over the years as I have sat slogging through the middle of a book. And I have come to this realization: There is what happens, and there is the story of what happens. This is true of everything, and especially pregnancy and birth. There is what happens, and there is the story of what happens.

When we tell a story, we leave all the boring bits out. (Day 89 I got a pedicure and went to the grocery store.) We skip all the in-between time. This is just part of good storytelling, and I'm not suggesting that we change it, but recently, I have been thinking about in-between time in a new way. I was reading the story of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. Most of you know the story:
Potipher's wife accuses him and he is thrown in jail, then he interprets the butler's and baker's dreams, the Butler later puts in a good word for him with the king, and Joseph becomes 2nd in command in Egypt.
As I was reading, I was surprised to find that the Butler did not remember to put in the good word for Joseph for two years. I can't imagine how long two years must feel in prison. And yet I skipped over it in just a word.

I am sure that at some point during his imprisonment, Joseph must have thought it might never end. If it were me in prison, I would have quoted Elder Oak's talk "Good, Better, Best" and told the Lord that I could do His work so much better outside of prison. But we don't hear anything more about these two years, just as we don't know much about all the years between when Joseph Smith learned about the gold plates and when he actually received them.

Even though we skip over these in-between times, I'd like to propose that waiting is not wasted time. The times that seem to be inactive, monotonous, or otherwise boring bits that we will leave out of the final story, are actually profoundly active. We can't fully understand how much we are being molded or prepared when we are deep in it, but looking back, I often see how I needed each day--or each prayer, each temple visit, each episode of family home evening, etc--piled upon the one before, to get me where I needed to be. In the case of pregnancy, this is true both physically--we need all those days to get to a full term pregnancy--and spiritually. Elder Bednar uses the example of brushstrokes on a painting. Individually they are uninteresting, maybe even a mess, but from far away, all that spiritual preparation is turning us into something much better. A masterpiece?

So, for those who are feeling impatient or mired in blah days, I offer one of my favorite quotes from Rilke. I have substituted "artist" with "divine pregnant woman."

"Being a [divine pregnant woman] means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn't force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient. Who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast."
And this from Alma:
"But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life." Alma 32:41.

Spring comes.

Film Updates

Thanks to the people who have commented or sent me emails in response to my most recent post about making a film. It am in awe and grateful to everyone for their prompt responses with ideas, connections and promises to help. For now, to keep this blog primarily focused on spiritual childbirth education and not movie making, I will post updates about the evolution and production of the film on the new Facebook page. You can view status updates in the widget on the right, and if you become a fan, you can participate and comment. I truly appreciate any and all communications. Without contributions from real people, none of this would could happen.

Love and light,


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Gift of Giving Life - A Call to Film Makers

Last week I had a huge a-ha moment at the temple and I have wanted to write about it, but thought I should let it process a little longer. However, Busca's recent post made me realize that it is time to share.

My other work, besides spiritual childbirth educator and mother, is as president of a boutique personal history service. We have been writing memoirs for private clients for almost 8 years, and I had always toyed with the idea of doing a film component, but never did because I didn't want to do anything second rate, and had no experience in film making. Then, almost two years ago now, I was looking for a new salesperson, and in that process met a girl who was so excited about the idea of personal documentaries that she convinced me that I should do it and she'd help me sell it.

Once I decided to do it, everything started to work like it was pre-arranged. This was during the writer's strike (remember that? None of your shows were on), and I live in Los Angeles, so a lot of editors and cinematographers were out of work and were desperately, humbly taking projects for a lot less than normal. When I interviewed editors and cameramen, I told them flat out that I didn't know what I was doing, but I wanted to do it well. Because I was so open and not a poser (like a lot of people around here) they were eager to share their knowledge. I thought it would be impossible to choose an editor without knowing much about editing, but God sent me clear (comically clear--I'll write about that another time) revelation on who to pick, and it was an ideal match. My editor then helped me find a great cinematographer, who taught me all about lighting and a whole lot more.

Over the next few months, working hands-on making our sample documentary, I basically got a free film school education. Okay it wasn't free, because I invested a lot of time and money. But the greatest thing about this whole experience was that I felt so invigorated and alive and inspired every step of the way. Deep down I have always wanted to make documentary films, but I always thought it was something that wouldn't ever happen. Also, living in Los Angeles with all the "Hollywood spirit" as I call it, can sometimes be annoying, so I always tried to distance myself from all the wanna-be filmmakers and screenwriters. But suddenly I was making documentaries (simple, one subject, hour-long--think A&E or Biography channel), and I was a natural at it. I am by no means an expert, but I learned that with a great team, and no fear, I can do great things. If you want to see a sample chapter, there are two here.

When we finished the sample film we started the trial and error process of marketing our personal documentary service to high-wealth people and families. (Sadly, I had to choose between making an affordable product and making a professional, broadcast quality product. I chose the latter.) Anyway, to cut to the end of this story, after a lot of frustrating and hard work, nothing big happened. Then the economy tanked. Then I had a family crisis. Then things got busy in other areas of business/life and I stopped trying to market it.

For some time I have been wondering why God inspired me to do all that if it was not to make me and my company rich while we did his will by preserving family legacies and turning the hearts of the children to their fathers. I just couldn't understand it.

This last week as I was sitting in the temple thinking about The Business of Being Born, What Babies Want, and a few other documentaries I had watched again that week, I felt an urgent need to call LDS filmmakers to make more films like these--films that will affect women, mothers and families in good ways. I kept thinking, someone should do something. Then came the feeling, you should do something. This surprised me at first, but then I said, A-ha. That is why.

The someone-should-do-something feeling is what first inspired me to write this book. And now, though I don't exactly know what it looks like yet, I know that there needs to be a film counterpart to this book. In fact, while meditating on the direction of this book over 2 years ago, I got the clear revelation that there ought to be a DVD and/or CD to go with it. I took it in, but I also sort of laughed (this was before I got all the above mentioned film schooling) and said, Okay God, we'll see how that happens.

I don't know why I am constantly amazed at how he works things out, or that he can see far ahead of me? He is God after all.

So there you have it. As I said, I have no script or concrete vision of it yet, but I am putting it out there that this is what I will be working on as soon as I finish the book (pray for March), and I am looking for an executive producer (a person to fund the project), a producer, cinematographer, editors (Tracy if you are reading this, I want you!), an accountant, assistant, babysitter, and a whole slew of other people to help out. If you are a filmmaker or other just want to be helpful in some way, please contact me.

I also felt inspired to put the Donate button on the left, so that individual people can donate to the film. Anyone who donates more than $50 will get a credit in the film as an associate producer or co-producer. I made the dollar amount for credit very low because I think it would be awesome to have tons and tons of associate producers rolling up the screen (slowly of course) so that people see that this is a project that is a result of not just a few passionate people.

I will keep everyone posted about how this progresses.

Behind the scenes.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Call for Pregnancy and Postpartum Stories

I am so grateful for the many women who have shared their birth stories with me (keep sending them) and for all the support that I'm receiving for this project. However, I have been so focused on birth stories recently that I don't think I've put enough emphasis on the big picture. Labor and delivery is just the climax of a year-long physical, emotional and spiritual journey. Since my book touches all aspects of pregnancy, birth and beyond, I am also looking for other kinds of stories. Below. I have listed some of the topics/chapters that still need a personal story or two. If one of these topics resonates with you and you have something you'd like to share, please email me. And feel free to pass on this call for stories to other LDS women. Anyone who considers pregnancy a spiritual journey, regardless of how they birthed, should feel free to share their stories.

I am looking for personal stories about the following topics:

Bridging gaps - How has pregnancy or motherhood healed relationships in your family or in other areas of your life?
Prayer - how you used it during your pregnancy and beyond
The Scriptures - how your reading of them changed with pregnancy and motherhood
Morning Sickness - What if anything was gained or learned from morning sickness?
Meditation - How do you meditate? How did you use meditation during your pregnancy/postpartum?
Miracles - Great and small--that specifically relate to your pregnancy/birth/postpartum time.
Priesthood - in what ways did it work in your life?
The Atonement - how your understanding of the atonement changed, how you used it during the child bearing year
Your Own Birth - I would like to know if/how knowing the story of your birth (you as a baby) effected the labor and birth of your child.
Changing the Pattern - women who chose to birth differently than their mothers
Motherless Mothers - I am a motherless mother and I would like to hear from other women who went through gestation and birthing without a mother in this world.
Birth as Rebirth - I am interested to hear from people who have been dramatically transformed by motherhood. Tell me what you were like before/what you're like now.
Body Image - how did your spiritual knowledge inform/affect/change your body image during pregnancy.
Healing After Miscarriage - How did you heal physically and spiritually?
Constant Nourishment - How did you nourish yourself spiritually during your pregnancy
Ancestors - How has your understanding of your ancestors evolved?

This is not a complete list by any means, so if you have a story about something important to you that is not on this list, don't hesitate to send it to me. If you are planning to send a story, please do it sooner than later. I'd like to have all these chapters squared away before Christmas. You can email me at

Love and light.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Kelsey's Story

Kelsey F sent me her story several weeks ago and has agreed to let me share it here. It is a great example of how preparation can melt away fear. Kelsey had her baby at home in Provo, Utah (she says it is a good thing she didn't scream because she lives in a duplex). I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did.

"Like most people in our society, I grew up with a “healthy” dose of fear surrounding birth and motherhood. It wasn’t just the television shows where a woman in an ugly hospital gown yells “you did this to me!” that perpetuated this fear. It seemed from my perspective that jokes and complaints about the difficult nature of kids, and the pain of birth, was a sort of sport among adult conversations whenever the topic came up. The beauty and joy of motherhood seemed a topic reserved for young women’s lessons that came up every couple of months or so. Even so, I found it interesting that for all the talk of the divinity of womanhood that sex, birth, and breastfeeding still were treated like embarrassingly taboo subjects.

"So it happens that when my husband and I had a pregnancy scare, I spent my time trying to decide if my need for an epidural would outweigh my fear of needles. Nobody talked about any alternative choices. That probably would have been the extent of my research if the pregnancy hadn’t turned out to just be a case of newlywed “where-is-my-period!?” paranoia. The shock of realizing I could have had a child without knowing anything about it sent me on an information hunt that eventually revealed the option of natural birth.

"The things I researched made sense to me in every way. Logically, emotionally, and spiritually I felt that there was a better way to birth than what society assumes is necessary.

"I wondered why, if we were made in the image of God, would so many women need delivery by surgery? Why would so many of us need inductions and drugs and tools just to do what we were divinely appointed to accomplish? Would God give all of us broken bodies? Of course there would always be some emergencies and some complications, but why were so many women “needing” them now when not so many years ago they didn’t even exist. Didn’t Eve, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Mary all give birth without Pitocin?

"Why do we no longer trust in God, but in the arm of flesh? We see every pregnancy and every birth as dangerous and life threatening. Our decisions are guided by fear and worry. I just don’t believe that God would make one in three women faulty to the point of being unable to birth. Yet one in three births is a cesarean.

"I felt quite drawn to natural birth, and became obsessed with it three years before I would even experience it. I feel like this was an important time for me to cleanse my feelings and emotions toward birth. I believe that being spiritually, emotionally, and mentally prepared has made all the difference than if I had given birth before this process of self-discovery.

"Our son was ready and excited to come into this world. We talked about “not trying and not preventing to see what happens.” We talked about how we’d let Heavenly Father decide when the right time was to send us a baby. We expected it to take several months at least. The very next month I got a positive pregnancy test.

"I had a wonderful pregnancy. I feel like working through my doubts and fears also helped me avoid being more physically ill than I could have been. I would attribute my lack of sickness and pain partially to being blessed with good genes, but more importantly to feeling positive about my upcoming birth and about motherhood. I always felt worse physically when I was more worried or stressed. I truly believe that the spirit and body are connected and influence each other greatly. In any case, I couldn’t credit any particular diet or exercise program as I didn’t exercise and probably ate worse than was wise.

"It was also important to me to select the right midwife. I interviewed a few midwives that just didn’t feel like a good fit emotionally or spiritually. When I found Sherri, I knew she was interested in me as a person and had the Spirit with her. We were more in-tune with each other than any one else I had interviewed. I was comfortable giving birth with her.

"When I was in my 36th week, I decided it was time to document my pregnancy. I felt big and beautiful. I planned on making a belly cast and doing a pregnancy photo shoot. It was Thursday the 17th of September that I went to get a new hair cut for the pictures I planned to take on Saturday. They were never taken.

"The very next morning at 1:00 AM my water broke. I called my midwife and we rechecked my dates. I was at 36 and a half weeks—barely far enough along for Sherri to feel comfortable attending a home birth. If I had gone into labor the day before we would have been in the back-up hospital instead. My son came at the earliest time possible while still allowing me to labor at home.

"My husband and I were both nervous about going into labor before term. However, as we talked it over, a feeling of calmness came over me. I told him that Sherri was willing to let me labor at home as long as the stats stayed good. I also said that even if we had to transfer I was grateful for the technology available, and I knew that everything would be okay, even if it wasn’t my preferred way to birth. I also felt like I would have a good experience regardless of where I ended up. I knew I had done my part, and trusted the Lord to do his.

"The contractions came on hard and fast. They varied between 2 minutes and 5 minutes apart and generally lasted around a minute. We asked Sherri and Melissa, my doula, to come as quickly as things seemed to be getting quite intense. Sherri later told me that as she got in her car and said a prayer that she knew she was going to be a part of something special.

"I spent most of my time in the bathtub holding my husband’s and doula’s hands and trying to cover my belly in the shallow water. I couldn’t fill it very high without using all the hot water. I had hoped for a water birth, and was waiting for Sherri to bring a birth pool. I wanted to make sure we had enough warm water to fill it.

"She came at 4:35 AM and I climbed out of the tub for a check. I was nearly complete! Because we didn’t have time for the pool, we set up a birthing stool in the living room instead. I sat down and, after only four and a half hours of labor, at 5:37 in the morning my sweet, eager little boy was born. He was 6 pounds, 13 ounces, and absolutely perfect. I am thankful to have been able to birth naturally in the comfort of our own home.

"We were blessed not to have any complications with him, even at three and a half weeks early. I know the Heavenly Father was with me, and I know that I was so very blessed. I also know that birth can be normal, simple, and even easy if it is the Lord’s will. I learned that with birth as with every other challenge, it’s important to prepare ourselves, do our part, fear not, and leave the rest up to God."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Self Portrait

This is a self portrait I made almost exactly one year ago. It was modeled after one of my nude pregnant pictures that I took at 22 weeks.

I'm trying to figure out how to put it or some other art in the background (as two separate borders) on this blog, but after hours of trying, I am giving up. Cascading Style Sheets beat me. If you have any expertise in this area, it would be most welcome.

The Experimental Child

I hear a lot of mothers say to me, "Well, for this first baby, I think I'd like to give birth in the hospital, with a doctor." Their logic is that they don't know anything about giving birth and the hospital must be the best place for inexperienced pregnant ladies. That is kind of what I felt going into pregnancy. Then I began to hear from a lot of women who had only found the path to natural birth after a disconnected, disappointing, or traumatic first birth experience.

As an oldest child, you can understand why I am not too keen on the idea of using the first child as an experiment. I also knew that I might not get another chance to give birth (my husband left when I was pregnant). But even if I did, I kept hearing this phrase over and over in my mind: "you only have one first birth."

You will only have one first birth. And your child will only have one birth experience. Make sure that you own it. You can't control everything that happens, but you can make informed, conscious choices and make sure that your child's experience getting into this world is as gentle as possible.

"I Make Milk. What's Your Superpower?"

At a Halloween party, my friend saw a new mom wearing a shirt that said "I make milk. What's your superpower?"


But this post is not about the awesomeness of breastfeeding or of breastmilk--another time. This post is about health changes, specifically eating organic foods. I'm going to make it short and sweet and easy for men to understand, since they are ones that I find are the biggest skeptics.

  • Most people would agree that certain foods are superior to others (health and nutrition-wise). For example, a roasted carrot vs. a french fry.
  • If you agree with that, then you agree that people who eat mostly superior foods are healthier than others.
  • And if you understand that vitamins and nutrients as well as most chemicals and toxins are passed through breastmilk, then it makes sense that women (and other mammals) fed superior food will have healthier breastmilk.
I once heard a friend of a friend who is both a holistic doctor and an MD, say that "if you can make only one health change, switch to organic dairy." This surprised me. He did not say exercise daily or any number of things I can think of that would seem like really important health changes. He said switch to organic dairy.

  • Not only does milk from organic cows eliminate harmful antibiotics and hormones, it has also been shown to contain higher amounts of nutrients-- omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, beta carotene and other antioxidants--than from conventional cows.
  • Children are most vulnerable to the impact of synthetic chemicals. Think about it, if you accidentally eat a gram of poison, you might be okay, but a gram of poison is a lot more deadly if your body weight is 10 lbs.

I understand that organic foods have a reputation for being expensive. In reality, organic fruits and vegetables don't cost much more, and sometimes less, if you buy them in season and from local growers at farmers markets, or if you are lucky enough to have one near you, at Trader Joe's.

Organic dairy, however, is often twice the price of regular milk. There are a few reasons for this. The food that the cows eat has to be organic, pesticide and chemical free, and the cows themselves have to be free from growth hormones or antibiotics, so it is organic on two levels. It is also more expensive because organic dairy farmers don't get subsidies from the government.* Therefore, it is doubly important that we support organic farmers with our dollars. I know that everyone can find a way for their budget to accommodate it, if they want to. As my friend James, the healthy chef, says, you can pay it now, or you can pay it later--to the health care system.

(*If you would like to know the political milk scandal, I highly recommend watching The Corporation. It is a very well researched documentary. There is also a great story in there about a high school for "bad" kids which was put on an organic lunch program and the kid's behavior and grades improved markedly.)

If you want to make further health changes, try to eat as organic as possible, but if that isn't practical for whatever reason, it is good to know which conventional fruits and vegetables are the safest and which ones you and your children should try to avoid or eat organic.

Highest in pesticides:

  • apples
  • bell peppers
  • celery
  • cherries
  • grapes (imported)
  • nectarines
  • peaches
  • pears
  • potatoes
  • red raspberries
  • spinach
  • strawberries

Lowest in pesticides:

  • asparagus
  • avocado
  • bananas
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • corn (sweet)
  • kiwi
  • mangos
  • onions
  • papaya
  • pineapples
  • peas (sweet)

I am convinced that the increased use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in conventional farming is one of many reasons that our prophets have counseled us to grow a garden. Of course, if you live in an apartment, this isn't going to happen--at least not on a large scale. But no matter how urban your city, there are community gardens and farmer's markets near you. If you have never been to a farmer's market, they are great fun. There is usually some form of wholesome entertainment for kids and free samples of all the fresh food. The growers can also give you good cooking or recipe ideas.

To find a farmer's market near you, visit this website:
And here is a cute Friend article about a community garden.

Me at farmer's market. 8 mos pregnant.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Poop on Due Dates"

There was one line in Martha's birth story that made me laugh out loud. I don't think I include it in the original blog post, so here it is:

"Due dates are a stupid, cruel thing. They mess with your mind and make everyone under the sun badger you about why your baby’s not here yet. Poop on due dates. I’m not telling anyone mine next time."

Normal gestation is 38-42 weeks. Medical practice is to assign you a "due date," right in the middle at 40 weeks. But technically, if your baby comes at 39 weeks, he is not early, and if he comes at 41 weeks he is not late, overdue, overcooked, or doing anything wrong. I have heard that 40 weeks is the magic number because it is the "average." I'm good at math. If seven out of ten babies are born after their due date, or guess date, as I like to call it, how is that an average?

There are slight risks associated with going past 42 weeks (truly overdue), but here is no evidence of a benefit of routine induction at less than 41 completed weeks of pregnancy.

I have to agree with Martha that the rigidity that has developed around guess dates is stupid, and it is cruel for doctors to threaten patients, or entice them, with induction if they don't make it by 40 weeks. Not all practitioners are this rigid, but around here, many doctors will induce the day after the due date and even the day of, if the woman requests it.

I am thinking of a story in 3 Nephi, when the wicked threatened to kill the righteous if the signs prophesied about Jesus' birth didn't happen by a certain date. Essentially, they made up a due date for a woman a hemisphere away that they knew nothing about.

The problems with induction are numerous. First, there is the drug, Pitocin, which the most abused drug in the world today. It was designed and approved by the FDA for helping produce the contractions that close a woman's uterus after delivery in the case of hemorrhage. And for this purpose, it works very well. (Midwives carry it for this purpose.)

Since it was not developed to induce labor, there is no recommended dosage and it is completely unregulated as far as I know. The dangers and side effects of Pitocin, (including fetal distress, increased risk of uterine rupture, c-section, jaundice and more) are not widely know. When I investigated why women in the hospital are not informed of possible side effects the same way a pharmacy is obligated to inform you, I learned this: Not much. Possible reasons are that when you sign in to the hospital, it is assumed that you are being advised by your medical professional.

The second problem with induction is that once you're at the hospital, if your baby/body is not responding, they get annoyed. They have already invested all that time in you, so now they are going to have to try something else, like breaking your water. Once they do that, they won't let you go more than 24 hours or they'll cut you open.

In Natalie's guest post, she raised the question of how doctors get women to come in for induction. It is a good question. Why do we listen to them? They are not the police. They can't physically make us do anything, and yet women have given them that power. When Natalie spoke about her mother's "gravitas" I had to laugh. I know her mother. She is a tiny woman who barely speaks above a whisper. She's not the type one can picture standing up to a doctor, but there is more to her than is at first evident.

I can think of another friend who reluctantly consented to be induced so that she could give birth while a certain doctor was in town. When the induction didn't work, she realized the whole thing was wrong from the beginning, so she went home and told them she'd come back in when she was in labor. The hospital staff was shocked. But she was right, and she was under no obligation to stay.

I understand that there is a lot of pressure to plan. Relatives want to fly in, etc. And I understand not wanting to be pregnant any longer--boy do I. But these are reasons that have nothing to do with your baby. The best advice I ever heard and that I wish I had taken was to lie or be vague about my guess date. For example, if your guess date is March 5, when anyone asks, tell them the baby is due mid-march. If you are vague with others and with yourself on this point, you can avoid much unnecessary stress.

As I said, I understand wanting to get things started based on pure discomfort or impatience. For those who are desperate, as I was, there are many natural methods for getting labor going that are effective, safe and even enjoyable. (Doesn't this make sense that it should be enjoyable to entice the baby out?) Here are the ones I know of. I'm sure there are more.
  • herbal supplements and teas
  • eating spicy food or pineapple
  • walking/other exercise
  • acupuncture, acupressure, or massage
  • enema or Castor oil (Castor oil is not pleasant, but an enema could be if you are constipated)
  • sex (releases oxytocin, and semen has prostaglandins, which soften cervix)
  • nipple stimulation (releases oxytocin)
  • sweeping membranes
  • a long talk with your baby
  • fervent prayer
I was a fan of acupuncture, even before my pregnancy, and my midwife prescribed it weekly after my 35th week for help with my circulation, swelling, and other issues. I begged the woman to induce me the week before my due date, but she made me wait until the day before. I was curious to see what she would do differently to "induce" me. Different practitioners do it differently, but she used a few more needles in my hands legs and feet and she also used a very mild electro-stimulation (it feels awesome) and did cupping on my back to send the energy downward. It worked. Labor started about an hour after I left her office.

There were a few moments during labor, when I wondered if I had done the wrong thing by trying to rush my baby, but my gut feeling, and my midwife agreed, was that just like chemical induction, natural methods won't work if your baby is really just not ready to come.

(Note: If you have never done acupuncture before, you should try it a few times before you try to use it as a method for induction. Also, use a practitioner who has plenty of experience with pregnant women. Ask a midwife for referrals.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Guest Post from Natalie Willes - Giving Birth in NYC

Manhattan Temple

My mother was raised in Argentina with 14 siblings. Her mother gave birth with a real, live midwife. I don't mean to say that the midwife I used was not "real," but the woman that delivered my mother was probably not educated at the Columbia College of Nursing.

When my mother was pregnant with my sister in 1974, things (in Argentina) were as bad, or worse, than they are now. My mother was overdue with my sister and was forced to enter the hospital 9 days before she gave birth. From what my mom recalls, they pretty much also forced her to stay in her bed. When she did finally go into labor, the nurses wouldn't let her move from the bed (no epidural, just Pitocin). All my mom wanted was to use the bathroom to pee, but they wouldn't let her. She finally got so fed up she got up and waddled to the bathroom, shut the door and started to pee. My sister finally dropped into the birth canal and was born shortly thereafter.

My mom came to the US in 1982, and in 1984 gave birth to me. During her pregnancy they discovered she had a heart arrhythmia. I only learned a few weeks ago that the doctor called her each day for the 10 days before I was finally born to remind her that she had missed her inducement date. Of all the things my mom has accomplished, this is something that gives me particular pride. There's a certain gravitas necessary that, sadly, most woman lack to essentially say to their doctor, "F you, I'll come in when I'm in labor." It never ceases to amaze me that doctors can make a woman come in to be induced. I hope I'm never in that situation, because I think I'd probably say something to the effect of, "No thank you. I understand that you won't be able to attend my birth unless I come in to be induced at XYZ time. I'm sure the doctor on call will be able to take good care of me. I really appreciate your help up until now." Then, I would wait until I was in the pushing stage before I drove to the hospital.

These were the only birth stories I knew about growing up. I think I thought those were different times and that I would have a modern, medicated birth, and hey, why don't you throw in a c-section while you're at it?

I believe Felice moved into my ward when I was about 16 years old. I have always, always looked up to her. To this day she is probably the single most inspirational individual I personally know. When I learned she had successfully given birth using the hypnobirthing method (I was away at college at the time) I instantly gravitated to it, probably because she did it and I wanted to do it, too.

In October of 2006 I miscarried at 7 weeks and didn't try to become pregnant again until my husband and I moved to NYC. When I first moved to the City, I hated it. My feelings have not really warmed towards Manhattan, but they have become more bearable. I think the two major problems I have are: 1) I am so far away from my family, and 2) The entire city suffers from too many people and not enough space or resources. I became pregnant about 5 months after I moved here, and I had a close friend who had
almost succeeded in having a natural child birth who was very supportive of my natural birth ideas. This friend had conceded in having a c-section after 30 hours of labor. In retrospect she felt that had she had the support of her husband and birthing companions she would've been stronger in rejecting the doctor's repeated proposals for a c-section.

Around that same time I also had lunch with a friend who had given birth the "regular" way at the hospital I was going to use. She told me that her labor was "typical" in terms of interventions, but it was her recovery that was supremely traumatic. There is not a single hospital on the entire island of Manhattan that has single recovery rooms, which means you have a roommate - and all her visitors - for your entire hospital stay. If you try to leave before the mandatory 48 hour stay for vaginal, 72 hour for c-section because of how terrible the conditions are, they will sign you out Against Medical Advice, which means if you suffer any problems related to your child's birth, your insurance will not cover your care.

Anyway, my friend gave birth and could feel nothing because of her epidural. No one is allowed to stay with you after visiting hours, so once 8:30 pm rolled around, her husband left. About an hour later her epidural wore off. That's when her problems began. Her roommate had already tried calling the nurse to no avail and her request for help were also unanswered. It was her first birth and my friend had no idea how to take care of herself. The nurse had left her a basket of the typical accouterments necessary to take care of oneself after birth, but had not explained how to use any of the items. Because no one answered her call to the nursing station, and because she still couldn't safely walk, she had to call her sister in Utah, and ask her how to use everything.

As she recalled her story, I sort of felt sick to my stomach, kind of the way I would feel if a woman recounted her sexual assault. I honestly felt she had been violated. She must have felt the same way because she said that the next time around she was giving birth at the Birthing Center. "What's The Birthing Center, I asked?"

The Birthing Center is the only traditional birthing center in the area. It is located on the 11th floor of the St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, 59th St. Besides being physically located at the hospital, the only other connection this Center has to a traditional hospital setting is that it is extremely easy to be "risked" out of giving birth there (just about anything will get you risked out such as anemia, twins, Strep B positive, etc.) Other than that, it is as if nearly every medical professional in the region has washed their hands of the Center. There is no pain medication available. If you require an epidural you have to go to the normal labor and delivery floor.

It is extremely challenging to actually be allowed to give birth at the Center. In the first place, the Center requires your doctor or midwife be present from the moment you check in until you give birth. That fact alone removes almost every OB-GYN in NYC, because no doctor wants to be tied to one patient for their entire birth without being able to hurry it up. Ergo, there is a tiny, itty bitty handful of providers associated with the Center. Then, you have to have the type of insurance these providers take. THEN, and this is probably the biggest barrier, you have to convince them to take you. I only had one provider who accepted my insurance who worked with the Birthing Center. One.

I called when I was four weeks pregnant and was told, "sorry, we're already booked." I was flabbergasted. How could they be booked? How can there be that many women who even know they are pregnant? I ended up calling back a few days later and by the grace of Heavenly Father got through and got some uninformed front desk person to make me an appointment. I was in! It turns out that the midwife team I was using had one member on maternity leave. Anyway, every time I went to a visit I had to wait between 90-145 minutes to be seen. Just another thing about living in New York where there are too many people for too few resources.

Thankfully, the rest of my pregnancy and delivery went very much as planned. I was able to stay in the birthing center, but had to be prepared to fight ever step of the way. I had to be extremely proactive and informed, and I had to stand up for myself.

I can think of five women that I know here who would have never considered natural child birth were it not for the atrocious conditions involved in giving birth in the regular hospital setting in NYC. They have heard the story of the 1st counselor in the bishopric's wife who recovered in the hallway behind a make shift tent made out of a sheet, and of the other sister who did a majority of her labor in the waiting room with 30 other laboring women because there were no beds available for her. There was the story of the third time mom [in your ward] who felt so bad for her roommate (who had a terrible birth) that she walked her roommate's baby up and down the hall so her roommate could rest because the nurse was no where to be found.

Another woman in our ward didn't know her water had broken, so by the time she reached the hospital, she had been in labor for about 24 hours. Because she had hit the magic 24 hour number, the doctors pumped her and her baby full of antibiotics and were legally required to keep her son at the hospital for 7 days. But there was no room for her, so she had to stay in a hotel next to the hospital and have her husband wheel her back and forth in a wheel chair every three hours to nurse around the clock. (She was unable to walk because she had a c-section.) All And these are just the few stories I know from our ward. There are millions of women in this city.

It is no wonder that women who would have never even considered natural child birth are realizing that their recoveries will be much more traumatic and painful than any pain endured during child birth. I have known women who have been risked out of the birthing center move back to their home towns and stay with their parents for a month prior to their due dates so they could have a chance at the birth they wanted.

Spreading the word about the joys and benefits of natural childbirth is like a missionary effort for me. Once the door is open in someone's heart to consider natural child birth, I can tell them all the wonderful things that come with it. I can tell them that they can do it, because I did it. I can tell them how empowered I felt and how great I felt afterward. Not only that, but I had a private room with my baby, my husband stayed with me, and we checked out when we wanted, about 24 hours later.

Incidentally, I talked to that friend who first told me about the birthing center after she had her second baby there. "How was it?" I asked her. "Did you do hypnobirthing? What did you do to prepare for natural birth?"

"Nothing," said said. "I just did it."

My mom says the same thing. I have thought about this a lot since then. I think that many of us, when we chose to go against the current way of doing things, need classes and months of preparation and affirmations just to unlearn all the fears and negative thinking about birth. Don't get me wrong, preparation is not something I recommend going with out--but in her case, there was just no other option in her mind. She didn't going in saying, I'm going to try to do it naturally this time. She just did it. I think making up our minds is a bigger part of it than we know.

Natalie and Olive

Thanks for this post, Natalie. It is sad that it takes horror stories or bad experiences to motivate women to take charge of their births, but I don't judge how one gets to natural birth, so long as they do. I am so glad that your friend had a better birth the next time.

Having lived (and loved living) in New York City, I feel for the women there on a personal level. I am a huge home birth fan, but knowing the city, I also know that home births aren't always the ideal they would be elsewhere (homes are often very small, have almost no amenities, and are in extremely close proximity to everyone else). I had a fantasy last night about a dreamy, five-star LDS birthing center in Manhattan, (on the floor above the temple--wouldn't that be fantastic?) that took women of all faiths but gave preference to LDS women. Of course, it would still be booked and if you weren't a member it would be as hard to get into as the other birthing center. Thinking about this, I thought that, given the hospital conditions in NY, and how desperate pregnant women (and New Yorkers) can be, women might even investigate the church just to get a spot in the birthing center.

Hey, I don't judge how people come to natural childbirth and I certainly won't judge how they come to the gospel.

News from New York

Today I got a call from a friend in New York City who read yesterday's post. After reading the part from Lani about how "Heavenly Father is extremely saddened by the way women are treated as they give birth in highly medicalized settings," she knew she had too much to say in a comment or an email.

She told me some really horrible stories about how women are treated in New York Hospitals (not just the C-section and intervention rates, but the recovery conditions--to paraphrase: a nightmare), and how, as a result, many of the women in her ward, who would never have considered natural birth, are now asking her questions about her birth in a birthing center.

I have asked her to write a guest post, so I won't go into all the details, but it saddens me that conditions have to get that bad, before women sit up and say, that's not okay with me. But the medical world has done a good job of convincing women that they don't know how to birth. They have scared us by talking about the safety of our babies, and our lives. But the truth is, birth outside the hospital setting is as safe and most often, safer. In Europe and other industrialized nations, 70% of births are attended by midwives, and they have a lower infant mortality rate and lose fewer mothers.

I was just watching the Business of Being Born, (a great documentary and a great introduction for people who don't have a lot of time to learn all about birth in this country--watch instantly on Netflix) which also happens to be filmed in New York City. There is so much good stuff in there, but the one thing that resonated the strongest with me as I watched it this time was this quote:

"A woman, for as long as she lives, will remember how she was made to feel at her birth."

I cannot begin to express how true this was at my birth. For the most part, the birth of my daughter was an amazing and empowering homebirth (even though it didn't go as planned), but there was one thing that happened--something someone said that made me feel horrible--made me feel like a failure, and it effected me and my labor and I will never forget it. I don't even remember what she looked like or who she was, but she was in my path at a pivotal moment in my labor and I will never forget it. I think that it is the one thing that keeps me from writing my full, uncensored, unabashed birth story. I'm still pissed at her pissy little comment. See. It's hard to shake even the small things. I can't imagine if I had had the kind of care that Natalie tells me is going on in New York City Hospitals.

There is something else I have been thinking about that is the other side of this. It has to do with how our babies feel about all this. Even though our children may not remember their births or the first years of their lives, I feel certain that the way a baby is birthed and cared for, affects him or her for years to come. What Babies Want is a great documentary that has some recent cool studies on this. There is one story of twins who were seen, by ultrasound, playing a game in the womb. These twins were followed into the first few years of live and seen playing the same kinds of game at 1 or 2 years old. That story always blows me away. How can anyone think that children don't remember the womb, or that what goes on outside doesn't effect them? You can see that story and the first 10 minutes of the film on Youtube. I will try to embed it here. Enjoy.


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