Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Cows and Chickens - Guest Post from Heatherlady

For my doula certification I had to sit in on a childbirth education class for a few weeks. During the course of the class, the teacher, a midwife, shared a story that one of her first time fathers shared with her. The young man was a cattle rancher and managed a large herd owned by a man who lived out of the state. For some reason, the owner of the herd was really terrified about the cows giving birth. He was certain that things were going to go wrong and that he would loose his cows. He told this young man that he needed to bring the cows close the barn when it was time for them to give birth.

The young man refused adamantly saying, “It is gonna bug em.” But the owner insisted and so when the cows were ready to calve the young man brought them in out of the far pasture where they normally calved and into a pasture closer to the barn. They hadn’t ever had any problems with the cows calving before but that year they had to do a c-section on one of the cows who was unable to birth her baby.

That made the owner even more afraid that something was going to go wrong with the births so he insisted that the young man bring the cows in the barn when they were ready to calve. The young man refused saying, “Now that is really gonna bug em.” Yet since he didn’t want to loose his job he drove the cattle into the barn when calving time came around. That year they had to do five c-sections and numerous manual assists; it was the hardest calving season the young man had ever had in all his experience on cattle ranches.

The next year knowing that the owner was going to want the cows in the barn again during calving season the young rancher drove the entire herd up to the pasture furthest away from the barn and left them there. He purposely waited until the very end of calving season to go up and check on them. There he found that all the cows, even those who had had c-section the previous year, had all given birth safely and without assistance.

This story struck me because I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to our modern maternity system. There is so much fear surrounding birth that we have this urgent need to monitor it, observe it and control it. Yet when we start controlling it, all of the sudden things start to go wrong, making us more scared of birth, making us want to control it more, and well, you can see how things have spiraled out of control until we have nearly a 36% c-section rate in the United States.

In all honesty, women aren’t much different than these cows and being closely observed, monitored and controlled during birth just “really bugs em.” In my experience a doula, the easiest and most peaceful births have been the ones where the woman either labored at home for most of the time or was left almost completely and totally alone (except for her husband and doula) until the baby was born. The times I’ve seen the most problems is when a woman is strapped up to lots of machines and is constantly being checked by the nurse to make sure she is making progress. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place and a time for interventions, monitoring and control, but in the majority of cases, women’s bodies and babies are perfectly capable of giving birth on their own power.

I can’t help but wonder how different women’s birth outcomes and experiences would be if they were allowed to just simply give birth—without all the commotion, without all the machines and without all the checking, poking, prodding, and control that goes on in many birth rooms. What if women were sent out to their “farthest pasture,” a place beautiful, full of good food, surrounded by loved ones who had faith in them, and were left by themselves to birth.

I’ve also had another experience this week that has turned my thoughts towards birth. My hen, who had been sitting on seven eggs for the last three weeks, just hatched four little beautiful babies. It was such a beautiful thing and the doula inside of me was having a hard time between knowing I should step back and let the natural process unfold and wanting to see the whole thing happen. The doula in me won and left the hen alone as much as I could.

In the end I only got to see one of the chicks hatch from its shell, and it took a really long time. I couldn’t help but think “Man, if this baby chick was in the hospital they would have given him a c-section by now.” I’ll admit that a part of me wanted to reach down and pull away part of the shell from him so he could come free. Yet, I knew from high school biology class that the motions a chick goes through pecking and wiggling out of it’s shell is vital to it’s development and therefore survival. If it isn’t allowed to do it by itself, then it won’t thrive and often dies. So, as much as I wanted to help the chick I just let things unfold and eventually that little chick did it just fine.

As I watched this little chick fluff out its feathers and run around the brooder box I couldn’t help but wonder why many people in our society seem to have so much more faith in a chicken’s ability to be born than we do a human baby. Humans are the greatest of all God’s creations. Unlike any other creatures on this earth, we are created in the image of God. We alone have the ability to reason and to make choices just as the Gods do. We are Gods and Goddesses in training and have so much divine potential. Why is it then that we mistrust women’s bodies so much? Why do we have more confidence in a cow’s ability to give birth than we do a potential Goddess’s? Why, when we know that a chick must go through the process of pecking and hatching from it’s own shell in order to thrive and live, do we assume that human babies can be cut from wombs, pulled out with forceps, or induced with drugs without having it affect them spiritually, emotionally and physically? Why do we assume that God made childbirth safe and easy for other animals, but that we, His literal children, aren’t made as well as a cow?

I have a great testimony of women’s innate divine power, physical and spiritual. I know that if we tap into this power, if we don’t allow anyone to “bug” us, and if we have faith in God’s natural plan, birth gives us an incredible opportunity to reclaim and rediscover the powerful connection between our bodies and our spirits.

Heatherlady is a contributor to the book and is mildly obsessed with chickens and babies. You can read more from her at her blog Women in the Scriptures.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Allomaternal Care - Another Plug for Relief Society

Raise your hand if you like stability?

Seems like a given, right? According to many studies, being a good mom has more to do with stability of resources than with the amount of resources. Studies in all animals showed that youngsters in a stable environment with plenty of food got the most nurturing from their mothers. Those who had scarce but consistent amounts of food received almost as much nurturing. But those in an unpredictable environment--sometimes they had a lot, some times it was scarce-- not only did they receive the least amount of nurturing, but were also subject to abuse or aggression from their mothers.

When I think of stability of resources in humans, I think of money and food, but there is so much more.
"According to the primatologist Sarah Hrdy, human evolved as cooperative breeders in setting where mothers have always relied on allomaternal care from others. So whatever a mother does and others do to help her, inside or outside the home, to ensure the predictability and availability of resources--financial, emotional, and social--may ultimately secure her children's future well-being." (Brizendine, p. 110)

An allomother, or substitute mother, can also help break the cycle of inattentive nurturing. Louann Brizendine says, "Families tend to inherit their mothers' maternal behavior, good or bad, then pass it on to their daughters and granddaughters." It is not passed on genetically, but through what is called epigenetic imprinting. But women who were born to an inattentive mother but then raised or influenced by a nurturing allomother tend not to behave like their genetic mother.

The saying "it takes a village" is not just a cliche. When I review all of the women who have come to help me or my daughter at just the right times, it adds up to more than a village.

Me v pregnant with two of my oldest friends, Beth and Mindy.

Though the Relief Society may not always function ideally and not everyone there will be your best friend, I would like to invite you to just remember and be amazed at what a great organization we belong to, and what we can do for each other, and women outside the church.

I would love to hear your stories. How has allomothering been important in your life?

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Mommy Brain

I realized that I am fascinated not only with the mind (hypnotherapy, meditation, etc) but also with the brain. Since I heart science, I wanted to share some fun facts about what happens to your brain when you get pregnant and after you have a baby.

These interesting facts come from Louann Brizendine's book, The Female Brain:

  • "Progesterone spikes from ten to a hundred times its normal level during the first two to four months of pregnancy, and the brain becomes marinated in this hormone, whose sedating effects are similar to those of the drug Valium." This helps protect against the stress hormones that are also being produced in large quantities in the body. (p. 99)
  • During pregnancy, the size and structure of a woman's brain are changing too. Her brain actually shrinks. No, she is not losing brain cells. Scientists believe that this is to make room for the restructuring. Some parts of her brain get larger and others get smaller. You will be happy to note that this gradually returns to normal by 6 months after birth. (p. 100)
  • "For the human mother the lovely smells of her newborn's head, skin, poop, spit up, breast milk, and other bodily fluids that have washed over her during the first few days will become chemically imprinted on her brain and she will be able to pick out her own baby's smell above all others with about 90 percent accuracy. This goes for her baby's cry and body movements, too." (p. 102)
  • "Mother's may have better spatial memory than females who haven't given birth, and they may be more flexible, adaptive and courageous.... Female rats, for example that have had at least one litter are bolder, have less activity in the fear centers of their brains, do better on maze tests because they are better at remembering and are up to five times more efficient in catching prey. These changes last a lifetime, researchers have found, and human mothers may share them. This transformation holds true even for adoptive mothers. As long as you're in continuous physical contact with the child, your brain will release oxytocin and from the circuits needed to make and maintain the mommy brain."(p. 103)
  • Mother love looks a lot like romantic love on a brain scan.
  • Breastfeeding is better than cocaine-- In one study mother rats were given the choice between pressing a bar to get a squirt of cocaine or another to have their baby rat suck their nipples. You guessed it. Breastfeeding. It stimulates dopamine, oxytocin, and prolactin in the mother's brain. No wonder women get depressed when their babies wean.
And this fact is from How God Changes Your Brain:

  • Spiritual experiences stimulate the brain in a unique way, because they cause a person to feel elated and also peaceful. Though these are both positive feelings, neurologically they do opposite things. One is an upper, the other is a downer. The authors of the book note that it is very rare to have an experience that both arouses and also calms. (p. 75)

As far as I know, no drug can replicate that same brain activity or feeling of a spiritual experience. I don't think even orgasm does that, though some people compare ecstasy and orgasm. There is, of course, always the happy possibility that orgasm may be accompanied with a spiritual experience. But for the purpose of birth, ecstatic birth is possible for everyone, whether or not it is orgasmic, because birth is spiritual--we know that pregnancy and birth were divinely appointed. All you have to do is open yourself to His Spirit. Of course, that then means you may then have to do whatever He inspires you to do--like banishing fear, learning to surrender, reading our book when it comes out (hee hee) and whatever else, but I have found that is always worth it.

Sad as the Coming of Spring

Last Friday, my neighbors who live across the street had a party in the back yard of their new house a few miles away. They had just closed escrow that day. There was no furniture in the house, and it still needs some renovations, but the back yard is big and lovely. We were eating and playing basketball and toasting with champagne, or orange juice for the Mormons and recovering alcoholics. Six or seven kids were running around or making chalk drawings. I sat on a camping chair and looked up at the sky.

Weather changes are subtle but impactful here in Los Angeles, and April has been vacillating between sweater and t-shirt weather, between overcast and gorgeous. Okay, so it's often gorgeous here, but each time, it is different. For instance, just in the last week I noticed that the jacarandas are starting to bloom, and the week before, on the way to the beach, I noticed there were fields of wildflowers where there used to be just tall grass. We have flowers year round, but now they are everywhere.

As I sat looking up at the sky, I was trying to figure out what was so strange about this back yard, and then I realized that it had no power lines running through it. I looked up and saw only blue and tress. It was lovely, and yet, there was something melancholy in it. I was trying to tell the woman sitting next to me that spring is sometimes sad. She thought I was crazy and told me that I need to change my attitude and be happy, and it’s all in the way you look at things.

This frustrated me. I know all that. I am in the mind changing business. I’m a hypnotherapist. I had a hard time communicating to her that I don't hate spring, but she didn't really want to understand what I was saying.

Rilke has a quote somewhere that says “...sad as the growing of boys and the coming of spring.” Whenever I come across it, I just nod. With any transition, even one as lovely as spring, that symbolizes new beginnings, there is always something left behind that makes it bittersweet. I’m not a fan of winter or snow (that’s why I live in Southern California) but even when I lived in snow, spring time still had a tinge of melancholy. Sometimes it meant the end of a school year, or the end of the nightly herbal tea ritual. In Los Angeles it means the end of brilliantly clear skies (our winter skies here are unbelievable). Last Friday it meant that my favorite neighbors would soon be moving.

My daughter is also about to turn four (not till June, but she keeps reminding me) and I am happy she is getting older and not younger (Benjamin Buttons style) but it is also as Rilke said-- sad as the growing of [children] and the coming of spring.

This is, I suppose, the plan of happiness in action. Not only must we feel sadness to appreciate joy, but sometimes, we feel them at the same time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Banner Contest!

Okay folks, I keep saying I'm going to get around to it, but the fact is, my creative skills and my computer graphic design skills don't exactly overlap. Want me to decorate your house or whip up a summer dress, dinner or an awesome sandcastle? No problem. But creating graphic design-y things in Photoshop or Illustator could take me a whole weekend and I will never really feel like it's right. So, I'm hoping someone out there has the skills and wants to donate them to the cause. I need a banner for this blog. It can either match the existing background pic or if you send me convincing evidence of something better, we can re-do that, too. The only parameters are that it has to say what it says now. Ooh, and if you want to make a matching button for people to add to their sites, that would be awesome.

If you would like to enter this so-called contest, email me your masterpieces (ldsbirthstories@gmail) for consideration by April 25, 2010. The winner will receive:

a shout out on the blog
a free copy of the book when it comes out
all my love
blessings and good karma

Is that enough? How about dinner?

Okay. Dinner, too.

The judging criteria will be whatever pleases my eye and gladdens my heart most. I can't wait to see what you will come up with.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Processing Everything

I haven't posted much the last few weeks not because I have nothing to say but because I have too much to say and am not yet sure I can say it. I like to let things distill so they are coherent before I spew them out in writing. I should take the same precautions before speaking. Ha. But here is a little bit of what I am processing and what you can expect to see more of in the near future:

1) I was led through coincidence (yeah right) to this book at the library which I am now reading. It is called How God Changes Your Brain. It was written by some neuroscientists who wanted to see how spiritual practices affected the brain. I plan on writing a thorough review when I am done, but just to give you a preview, some of the things they found were that meditation (several different kinds, but basically contemplating on a loving God) for 12 minutes a day actually changes your brain structure. It enlarges one part of the brain and shrinks another--it shrinks the part where fear and anger come from. Thus enabling us to feel more compassion. It also improves memory and cognition--and so much more that I won't go into just now. The cool thing, though, is that it doesn't take years. They tested subjects who had never meditated before and had them do it for 12 minutes and day and saw changes on their brain scan in just 8 weeks time. 8 weeks. But I'm sure the changes took place sooner. Perhaps 40 days. That seems to be the magic number everywhere in the scriptures. Anyway, I look forward to reading more and seeing what I may be be able to use in the Spirit/Mind/Body chapter of the book.

2) I have had a miracle happen to me with the aid of hypnotherapy. I have been trying to work on an issue for almost 4 years. Consciously, I wanted to change my behavior, but since the behavior was unconscious, I kept getting the same bad results over and over and it was causing a lot of problems in my life. In 2 sessions of hypnotherapy and some reinforcement between sessions, the behavior is totally gone. I can't believe it. This can change everything in my life. I know it's unfair to be vague for all you people who love concrete details, so I promise to give as detailed an account of this as I can in the near future--particularly the role Jesus Christ played in hypnosis. Yes, Jesus was very involved in my hypnotherapy. It is awesome. In fact, I think this is why it was so effective. More on this later.

3) A while back I read a book called Step Families, by James Bray and John Kelly. I read it because I was thinking of getting remarried (still thinking) and wanted to know what I didn't know, and this book was highly recommended. Recently, I keep feeling like I need to write a review of it, so you can look forward to that in the near future, too. Though most readers may not be in the situation of blending a family, you most likely know someone that is. I found this book incredibly interesting (depressing at first and then totally filled me with hope). It is based on a 9-year study of real families and analyzes why some (most) step families don't make it and why some do, thus, sharing the much needed information about what you can do to be in the most-likely-to-succeed category.

4) I started teaching Khalsa Way pregnancy yoga at my local YMCA. The Y community is very different from a yoga studio, which is challenging in that some of the members know nothing about yoga or about conscious pregnancy--but also cool, because they are the ones who can be most dramatically effected by the teachings and be most transformed in their spirits, minds, and bodies. Last week was my first class and two ladies showed up. At the end of class, I was saying thank you to the babies for bringing their moms to yoga and one of the women said, "She just kicked!" I nodded all-knowingly. Of course they are listening. And they are stoked to be doing yoga with their moms.

Did you know that there are 94 positions in yoga and that babies make all of them in the womb?

Here is a picture of my little bunny doing probably the most famous of all yoga poses, downward dog, on a beached surfboard two summers ago.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Learning Lessons From the Past

As part of the book, The Gift of Giving Life, we plan to include a chapter about our legacy—specifically, our legacy in regards to pregnancy and birth. In my mind, this legacy logically starts with our Heavenly Mother, then Eve, and some other Biblical greats like Mary. After that, we plan to include information about our early LDS legacy, which will include much of the cool info that Heatherlady wrote up in her guest post, Midwifery as a Calling. If we continue moving through time this way, it naturally leads us to our own legacy—our ancestors, of whatever faith or origins, our mothers, and our own birth and personal history.

I have been thinking a lot about this more recent legacy (our mothers and us) and wondering what it is I am supposed to write about it. There is so much about our own stories that influences the way we birth. There is our own birth story--most of us tend to birth how we were born, whether we know it or not. There is our own history, such as sexual abuse, how past pregnancies and births went, and so much more.

Last Sunday in Relief Society we studied Elder L. Tom Perry's talk, The Past Way of Facing the Future. I think that the story of the early saints who built the Manti temple is fascinating. They knew nothing about building a roof, but they used their shipbuilding knowledge (they were immigrants from the Netherlands) to make a watertight roof. This is the kind of story that I love. It is a great example of how God gives us things to do that seem totally not congruent with our talents or abilities, but when we examine all that we know and have learned from or for other sources, we often find that we have the exact skills necessary--they just need to be turned upside down.

I wish I had a cool picture of the roof blueprints here.

The lady who taught our R.S. lesson is an older woman who likes to marvel about how things have changed. She gave this example:

“In 1916 every female over age 14 was a Beehive girl until she entered Relief Society. A Beehive girl had a possible 374 requirements to earn her individual award. Some of them were:
1. “Care successfully for a hive of bees for one season [and] know their habits.”
2. “Cover 25 miles on snowshoes on any six days.”
3. “During two weeks keep the house free from flies, or destroy at least 25 flies daily.”
4. “Without help or advice care for and harness a team at least five times [and] drive 50 miles during one season.”
5. “Clear sage-brush, etc., off of one-half acre of land.” (1)

She chuckled about how silly these things were, but I think, because we ran out of time, we missed the whole point of the lesson, which was, what we can learn and use today. While this list seems crazy to us 100 years later, it would be comparable to asking a girl to learn how to change a car tire, change her own oil, or participate in a 16-mile hike at girl’s camp (all of which I did as a young woman). All of the activities on this list from 1916 required intense commitment, physical stamina, and mental focus. These are the lessons that these women would need to draw on in the future when they had children and raised them.

It is the same for us. We have all learned lessons from the past that, whether you know it or not, have prepared you, or are preparing you, to birth and nurture children. Hiking for more than 12 hours and climbing the sheer face of a granite mountain when I was 15 years old certainly taught me about labor and delivery, though I didn’t know it at the time.

Just last year, I went back and climbed Half-Dome again, and the whole way, I found myself comparing it to labor. There was a point, right before I reached the top, where I felt I couldn’t do any more. I took a video diary of myself at that point and I look just like I did in labor. I even said to the camera, “this is like the point of every woman’s labor when she says, I can’t do this—and that is usually when she is crowning.” And sure enough, the top was in sight as I rounded the next bend.

Yes those are people climbing up the side...

Here's a close up.

I made it.

I still had to climb all the way back down. I made that, too. Though there were casualties. I lost two toenails which took about 9 months to grow back.

Another simple example of lessons learned from the past are the keep-up exercises we do in pregnancy yoga. We do an exercise with our arms for 3 minutes (like holding them out straight or flapping or rotating the wrists in a figure 8). Three minutes is a long time, and the sensation in the arms starts to feel very intense by the end. But by tuning into our breath or a mantra, we can get through them powerfully, even smiling. This gives the mind a "known" for power and grace through intense physical sensations. The lesson being, if you can do a 3-minute keep-up, you can do labor—because no surge, or contraction, will last longer than one minute.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are so many lessons from our past that we can draw upon during this critical time, and they are all just as unique as you are.

What is really cool, though, is that on the other side of this experience, after a woman has an empowering victorious birth, it then becomes her lesson for the future--because she now knows she can do anything. And you can! You are doing great things. Along my journey to birth this book, I have been connected to so many amazing women who, as I like to say, don’t take impossible for an answer.

I would love to collect and hear other examples of from of lessons you have learned from the past, or what you have been empowered to do since having that victorious birth.


1. Martha A. Tingey, Hand Book for the Bee-Hive Girls of the Y.L.M.I.A. (1916), 36–46.


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