Wednesday, February 23, 2011

These don't belong on a birth blog...

...but I'm putting them here anyway, because I want you to be delighted by them. How to make them relevant? Oh, how about "something fun to do on bed rest" or "watch this with your kids." You'll thank me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Should I take an online childbirth class?

Sure, go for it, be well informed -- but take a real one too, in your community. There are three things that you just cannot get from your computer.

1. Some of the most useful content is experiential. It just doesn't translate onto a screen.

2. Local knowledge is essential when you are choosing care providers and exploring local resources.

3. The best thing about childbirth classes is hanging out with other people who talk the pregnant talk, and walk the pregnant walk. You will learn things from one another at least as much as you'll learn from the instructor. And one of the most essential things you need to raise a child is your COMMUNITY. A childbirth class is a great place to meet your pregnant neighbors and maybe make some lifelong friends.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What's on the older posts?

There are 3 things from 2010 that you might find interesting:

"Frantic Antics" is an article about birth scenes on TV.
"The Most Useful Thing Ever" might be! Or not.
"Ruminations on Radicalism" is kind of a personal mission statement.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Giving birth in jail

I didn’t know that tears could fall out of eyes three at a time. One from the center and one from each side, times two eyes, is six tears falling.

Falling on the formica table, falling on the prison-issue denim jacket, falling on the orange pants worn by those awaiting sentencing, falling on the long brown hands, falling on the clenched paper towel. And one more falling out of her nose.

The baby is four days old. The mother is back in jail. It will be ten more days before mother and child have their first Visiting Room encounter.

Someone asked me what it’s like for incarcerated women to be separated from their babies. I wonder why she asked – was she hoping that somehow these women are tougher, or colder, or used to such things? Was she hoping that, with advance notice, a mother could prepare herself for handing her baby over to a relative or a DCF worker?

The tears fall six or seven at a time.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Car Birth Story

In my film, "Laboring Under An Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs. The Real Thing," I made fun of those silly TV shows where babies get born in cars. Then it happened to me.

Dear Estrella Luz,

You were born in an unusual way!

Your mom’s water broke late one night, so I came over just in case her labor got serious and she needed a ride to the hospital. It looked like not much was happening, and your big brother Marco was sleeping, so I took a little nap.

Looking back on it, I think it might have been smarter to drive to the hospital right away, but the way things turned out it was perfect and everybody was happy, so it doesn’t matter. Sometimes these things can be hard to judge, but your birth reminded me that birthing is something we women are built for.

I woke up when I heard your mom get out of bed. I found her in full-blown labor, kneeling on the floor. I helped her and Marco and Marco’s favorite stuffed animals into my car. Your mom couldn’t sit down, so she rode backward in the front seat on her knees! Marco was buckled in the back seat.

At first, Marco was worried about the noises his mom was making, but then she told him “That’s just the noises it takes to get a baby born.” So Marco comforted her by saying, “There are lots of stars out tonight, Mama! Think about the stars!” It was a lovely thing to say, and in fact you were born under a clear and starry sky, and that’s why your name is Star Light.

We hadn’t gone very far at all when your mom told me to pull over. At first I said, “No, we have to get to the hospital!” But she said it two more times, so I called 911 to tell the ambulance to meet me.

I pulled over on the side of the road and put on my car’s blinkers so the ambulance could find us easily. One very nice policeman got there just before you were born, and the ambulance came after. Your mom said, “The baby’s coming!” I looked and saw the top of your head, and I said, “You’re right!”

A few seconds later, you came rocketing out into my hands. You were very slippery and wet, but I held on! It was dark and starry, around 4 am, and we were next to a sunflower field. Marco and your mom were very excited and happy. You cried just a little, and the policeman shone his flashlight in your pretty little face, and you were nice and pink and breathing well. I wrapped you in a towel to keep you warm.

Your mom really wanted to see you and nurse you, but she was in a funny position, and you were behind her, still attached by the umbilical cord! Finally, the ambulance people came and cut the cord, and they gave us more blankets to keep you warm. Your mom could finally see you and kiss you.

Your mom went to kneel in the grass to birth the placenta, but it didn’t come out, so we all went together in the ambulance to the hospital.

As I was climbing up into the ambulance, I asked an EMT to hold you. He said, “I’d be honored! It’s my birthday!” All the EMT’s and the policeman were glad to be part of your birth story. Usually their work isn't so much fun.

The ride was about half an hour, your mom on her knees, your brother up front chatting with the driver, an EMT helping your mom, and me holding you. Your mom kept looking at you and saying, “She’s so cute!”

When we finally got to the hospital, your mom got up on the bed and birthed the placenta. You were an hour old. I unwrapped you so your mom could be the first on to see that yes, you really are a girl!

Then your mom held you and nursed you and she was very, very happy. Marco was amazing throughout the whole thing – very calm and cheerful and happy to welcome you! He will be a terrific big brother!

You stayed in the hospital with your mom and brother for a couple of days, and then you all went home to start your new life together.

It was a surprise to be the one to catch you when you were born, but I will always treasure the memory of meeting you. You are indeed a very cute and healthy baby!

Getting born: Babies are not passive passengers

I remember my firstborn kicking me in the diaphragm as her head was coming out -- exactly like a swimmer pushing off the side of the pool with her feet.

A baby is an active swimmer trying to find her way out. A vertex-presenting baby (head-down -- that's the most common) has to fit his/her head, which is wider front to back, down through his/her mom's pelvis, which is wider side to side at the top and front to back at the bottom. So s/he starts out facing his/her mom's side, and then turns to face her spine, all with the crown of the head coming first. They have to keep their little chins tucked onto their chests until crowning, when they lift their heads, their faces sweeping their moms' perineums. Then they "restitute" back toward the side again, so the shoulders can be born.

(For some reason, most babies face the right side. Somebody asked me once if in the southern hemisphere they face the left side -- don't look at me, I have no idea.)

Imagine what it's like for a baby to work his/her way down through the cervix, the bones, and the birth canal, like figuring out a puzzle. All the while there are these very big rhythmic squeezes, and then...the world of light, air, blankets, hats, breathing, and big noisy people.

You can see why a tender newborn might appreciate skin-to-skin contact with his/her mama, and why newborn examinations and procedures are best done in mama's lap whenever possible. Mom's just the right temperature. Her voice is familiar. She is hormonally and spiritually primed to fall in love with the baby. And...she has milk.

Cute baby, even with those tentacles

Well, that was pretty surreal. There I was, with a mom laboring beautifully by spontaneously dancing her baby down through her pelvis, when the birth scene from "Men in Black" came on the TV.

A lot of people watch TV during labor at the hospital where I volunteer. I think that labor itself is more interesting than staged brawls on Jerry Springer, or even brain autopsies on CSI (that episode has played during TWO births I've attended as a doula). I don't judge people whose cultural norms include nonstop TV, but I'm still startled when they reach over the two-hour-old newborn gazing wonderingly up into their faces, and grab the remote to turn the thing back on.

And I know that the more we watch TV (and text, and Facebook -- do I sound like an old lady here?), the less we're connecting with other human beings face to face or on the phone in real time. And there are studies popping up every day that connect that fact to anxiety, social ineptitude, language learning delays, and voting against one's own interests.

Anyway, so there we were, and Will Smith was attending an alien in labor, which meant that he was being thrown in the air by her enormous tentacles, while Tommy Lee Jones ignored the whole thing. This birth scene didn't make it into my film, "Laboring Under An Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs. The Real Thing (, but if it had, it would have been in the hilarious and disturbing section on "female violence against men."

My film didn't have a section on "what if the baby is really weird," but maybe it should have -- with "Rosemary's [Satanic] Baby" and this little tentacled creature with big, endearing eyes and an annoying slime-squirting tendency. And then there was Bart Simpson, whose first act as a newborn was to set Homer's tie on fire.

I didn't draw the laboring family's attention to the birth scene -- at that moment, they were contentedly resting between contractions and getting ready to dance some more. I mentioned in the post about "what really works for labor" that dancing is great in labor, and it really was for this mama. She said it hurt less when she was moving, and she could feel the baby finding her way down through the bones.

Appropriately, the next movie to come on was “Happy Feet.”