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This week we are thrilled to feature licensed midwife Maria Iorillo as she discusses the transformative power of birth. 

When I became a professional midwife 23 years ago I had an idealized version of transformation and how wonderful birth is. I just thought that birth was groovy and becoming a midwife was a wonderful way to change people’s lives. I didn’t have much experience with midwifery and hadn’t had a child then, either. 23 years later, I think I can finally answer that question based on what I’ve seen – it’s no longer just a philosophy.

I’ve seen it over and over again, women and their partners are telling me the same words after they have a really good, satisfying and empowering birth experience.  They say, “that was the most incredible moment of my life”, “that was the most powerful moment of my life”, “I feel so different”, “I feel so changed”, “I never knew that I was so strong, I never knew that I could do that”.

Pregnancy and birth are a process of growth and self-awareness, that’s where the transformation comes. Especially the first time; this woman who has never been through birth before comes out the other end as a mother.  Birth prepares us for everything that comes after. Suddenly, a mother is thinking, “I can do this – I can change a diaper. I can deal with a crying baby, I can work through the challenges that lay ahead of me because I went through pregnancy and labor and now I know how strong I am.”

I will also say that someone asked me recently to describe my birth philosophy. It was a great question. My birth philosophy is simply that women deserve to birth with respect and kindness and honoring.  The baby has the right to be born gently.  I believe that this kind of birth support is what allows transformation to take place. If you encourage each women to honor her own unique experience of birthing – then birthing is the teacher. We don’t have to add anything to that.

Just honor birth for what it is.  That’s where we learn about ourselves, that’s where we learn about our partners, that’s where we learn about our community, we learn about our babies.  You learn so much just being in the process.  Just being present in it.

Women are smart and they can make their own decisions. It’s important that a mother can honestly say, “I was never manipulated along the way”, “I was never pressured into doing anything that I didn’t want to do”, “This was my experience, I own this, I own the way that I went through this experience.”

Maria Iorillo, Licensed Midwife Catching babies at home and assisting hospital births in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1986.

This is an excerpt from an interview conducted by Mindful Mama and is re-printed with permission from Mindful Mama.

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This week, we are thrilled to feature the voices of two leading birth advocates, Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein. The below interview features Ricki and Abby as they speak to overcoming traumatic past birth experiences.

It is so important that women are able to have safe, empowering births in whatever manner they feel best suits their needs and the needs of their babies.  Having a traumatic or less than ideal birth experience can affect a new mother in a variety of ways, such as impeding her ability to bond and breastfeed, contributing to post-partum depression or lowering her confidence.

So many women have come to us to share their birth stories.  Many have shared some rather distressing first births where they were given a cascade of interventions that ended in unnecessary Cesareans.  It’s getting more and more common for women to go into a hospital setting, be given some sort of interventions, such as Pitocin or Cervadil, to speed up the process of labor.  The problem is that if a woman is given one intervention, the chances of them needing another intervention for some reason or another will vastly increase.

We hope to empower women who have had traumatic or less than ideal previous birth experiences to overcome them by digging down deep and doing the research necessary to prepare for a more positive, gratifying and gentle subsequent birth.

Ricki: Although I wouldn’t classify my first birth as traumatic, because a lot of things went right, I was able to give birth vaginally and I had a lot of skin-to-skin contact with my baby right away.  I had a beautiful healthy baby when all was said and done, but there were definite reasons why I chose to do my second birth completely differently.  In retrospect, I had a lot of interventions that I really hadn’t needed the first time around, like Pitocin and regular cervical checks.  I got to thinking about whether or not these types of routine interventions were really necessary.  When I became pregnant with my second baby, I had done a ton of research and decided to have a water birth at home with a midwife.  I trusted my body.  My second birth was so gentle.  Completely different from the first.

Abby: Although my first birth (an emergency C-section) was traumatic, I never felt that my baby and I were in any danger or that my birth team couldn’t handle the situation. I surrendered to the birth my baby needed, and I never felt disappointed. When I became pregnant again, I chose to stick with the same practitioner whom I trusted and I was able to have a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). I can’t say that my VBAC itself was a transformative or healing experience for me – it was a difficult birth for me and my son. But immediately after the birth — I was empowered to realize that I was made of stronger and tougher stuff than I knew.  And I have really felt the benefits from the VBAC over the first year of my son’s life as we have been able to bond and breastfeed in a more gratifying way that I was able to do after my first birth.

We truly hope that our stories encourage mothers to listen to their hearts and trust their bodies, so that they can heal from traumatic past experiences and have the birth that is best for them and their babies.  Our biggest suggestion for overcoming previously traumatic birth experiences and preparing for your next birth is to do the research and decide what kind of birth is best for you and your baby.  Be at peace with your decision and surrender to the birth, even if things don’t go as planned.  Trust your body and your baby.

And… please stay tuned for our soon-to-be released “More Business of Being Born,” a four part DVD series that will feature midwife Ina May Gaskin, Vaginal Birth After Cesarean, and tons of amazing celebrity interviews, including Gisele Bundchen, actress Molly Ringwald, actress Alyson Hannigan and musician Alanis Morrisette!  Please join us on MyBestBirth.com to stay up to date.

Have you had a traumatic birth experience that was difficult to overcome?  How did you come to celebrate the miracle of birth?

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To conclude our series on giving birth after sexual abuse, we’ve decided to share the story of Erica, a survivor who contributed to Mickey Sperlich’s advocacy. Erica shows the evolution experienced in her four births, and shares how each progressively moved her through the healing process, and to a place of true empowerment.

The atmosphere I grew up in was wide open and sexually supercharged. I don’t remember ever not knowing about sex, and based on my parents’ behaviors, it seemed to be the entire goal of adult life. My father was by far the most powerful person in our home, so for survival, I adopted his view of the world. I learned to see my body as my currency — it was what I had to surrender to be wanted. My mother taught me to be careful of the tender feelings of men, but no one taught me that I had the right to say no to sexual advances, or that I might actually want to. As a result, I began experimenting sexually when I was 10 years old. It began with pornography magazines my older brother gave me, and moved into partners who were boys and girls my age or a little older — usually my parents’ friends’ kids.

When I was 12, I was seduced by an older man — a med student who was the son of my parents’ friends. Years later, he nonchalantly shared with me vivid details about the experience, commenting on how none of his girlfriends ever “let” him do such things — though I don’t even remember all of these “things.” It was all very antiseptic, very calculated, and I had no frame of reference to know that it should be different. I had my first pregnancy scare when I was 13, and continued to live the only way I knew — seeking the attention of men.

The summer after my sophomore year in college, I became pregnant. I didn’t think I had any other choice but abortion. I believed that once I had given birth, I would no longer be desirable to men. So, I dutifully marched myself down to a clinic and aborted my baby. The unexpected outcome of having an abortion was that I stopped caring so much if a man wanted me. In fact, I stopped caring about pretty much everything. Given my mental state, it is not surprising that I didn’t give the next guy I met a lot of thought. Nor is it that difficult to understand why it took me years more of running to realize that he was the man I wanted to marry. Or that it took me a few more years after that, even into the marriage, to realize that I really did love him.

Almost immediately after marrying Bill, my desire to get pregnant became overwhelming. I wanted a baby so badly, but he wasn’t ready. When I finally did get accidentally pregnant, I was ecstatic. I thought I knew so much about pregnancy — I assumed that if I told my doctor I wanted natural childbirth, I would have a natural childbirth. I wanted to deliver my own baby more than anything, to finally feel like I was a real woman — to finally heal the wounds that had accumulated over the years.

Four weeks before the end of a healthy pregnancy, my doctor discovered that my baby had turned breech. A c-section was quickly scheduled. Once again, I climbed onto a table and let a doctor cut my child out of me. I came home with my baby and a frozen heart.

By the time I became pregnant with my second child, I had already embarked on the long, exhausting process of revisiting my past through counseling — I had let the tears out, and was set on planning the birth I had always dreamed of. Twenty hours of active labor and four hours of pushing would have in most cases earned me another trip to the surgical suite, but I was lucky to have wonderful, caring midwives who believed in me — and instead of another cesarean, I gave birth to my child naturally at home. As I held my sweet son, a surge of something came over me that I’d never felt before: true power. Power that came from having done something difficult and important, not the false power that I had experienced in the past as men used my body.

I believe that God used the birth of my first child (and the loss of a lifetime of dreams that came with it) to take down the walls that I built to survive my childhood. My second birth — it began the reconstruction process.

My third labor and birth was the sort that women would forfeit body parts to experience. I had learned something from the previous two births. I had learned to relax into it, so much so that I was able to doze between contractions. I essentially woke up ready to deliver, and the midwife didn’t even get her coat off before my daughter slid into the world. I was the first to notice she was the daughter I had longed for, that I had wondered if I was too unworthy as a woman to deserve. Again, fear too deep to name dogged me, but each birth restored a damaged part of me. I sat in my rocker for a month straight with my daughter, so incredibly delighted I didn’t want to move.

When I was 42 weeks pregnant with my fourth child, the midwife did a heavy-duty manual exam to see if we could get things going, and discovered that I was having another breech baby. We were living in Dallas at the time, had no back-up doctor, and not much time to make any decisions. We went through with the birth as planned, since we both thought this baby would be relatively small. I remember this labor as a time of song — I was overwhelmed with a supernatural peace. While it wasn’t quite as fast as my previous baby’s birth, the breech birth was in some ways less difficult. When it was all over and we weighed my “littlest” baby, she was a full pound heavier than my firstborn breech — the one who doctors said I could never have delivered myself. I laughed such a laugh of freedom, of pleasure, and yes — of power.

Each birth brought back a piece of me that had been distorted by the fear and shame that resulted from my turbulent sexual past and abuse. Each birth reaffirmed, in a way much deeper than just knowing so, that women are powerful — extremely powerful.

Erica’s story was repurposed with permission from Mickey Sperlich’s blog, Survivor Moms Speak Out.

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Mickey Sperlich, well-known midwife and childbirth advocate, speaks about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in sexual abuse survivors this week. Mickey shares with us her experiences with “survivor moms,” and provides hope that post-traumatic stress can become post-traumatic growth with a safe, healthy, fulfilling birth.

MA: Many women who experience sexual abuse suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Can you tell us about your experience with PTSD?

MS: I’m a semi-retired midwife. I had a home birth practice for 20 years, and my interest in working with what I call “survivor moms” really grew out of my practice. So, some very powerful experiences that I had with my clients caused me to realize that survivor moms were bringing particular issues to the whole childbearing process, and needed care and attention that I wasn’t necessarily educated to give them [at the time].

I can give you the example of working with a woman who was pregnant for the fourth time. I’d helped her with three babies prior to that, and they were all boy babies. Everything had been super smooth for her first three pregnancies. This time around, she intuitively sensed that she was carrying a girl. We ended up having an experience late in pregnancy where I was examining her, and she suddenly flashed back to being a little girl. I was no longer her supportive, loved midwife that she knew really well — I was her abusive mother. And, that was a really challenging experience, not only for her obviously, but for me too — to be cast in that role where it certainly wasn’t my intention. Thankfully, I had enough trust established with her that we really worked on this and what had happened. … What she had experienced, that re-experiencing or flashback, that’s one of the hallmark features of post-traumatic stress disorder — which I found out later, in the process of trying to educate myself about this. This happens quite frequently to women, so I just determined — I’m going to find out everything I can.

MA: Speaking of survivor moms, tell us a little bit about your book, “Survivor Moms: Women’s Stories of Birthing, Mothering and Healing After Sexual Abuse.”

MS: I started a survey project around the country where I began asking women, “How do you feel that your history as a survivor of sexual abuse has affected your pregnancy, or your birth, or the post-partum period, or how you feel about yourself as a mother?” I got hundreds of responses, and then I invited those women to write their story in a narrative form, and eventually published a book on that — which is the result of their stories. More than 80 women reported their life story to me within this context. … I was [then] fortunate to hook up with my co-author, Julia Seng, who is a certified nurse midwife, and got her Ph.D. looking at post-traumatic stress disorder and its affects on childbearing outcomes.

For more information on “Survivor Moms,” please visit Midwifery Today.

MA: How would a pregnant woman or her care provider recognize PTSD?

MS: One of the hallmark features would be the re-experiencing … it may be that they feel as if the trauma is happening all over again. A classic example during pregnancy might be if a woman has to have an internal examination for some reason, and in the midst of that, feeling as if she’s triggered back to a rape scenario. And even some of the terminology we use, like telling her to relax and all of that — it seems like a good thing for us to say, unless you consider the [possible] context. When was she told that before? So, some of the language we use can really be triggering. Women, when they’re pregnant, can [also] feel sort of invaded by the baby — out of control. One of the features of having been traumatized, especially sexually traumatized, is feeling like it [the situation] was out of your control. Being pregnant for some women is just a very wonderful, rosy situation, and for other women, they feel like: “Here’s my body — not under my control again.” That would be an example of the re-experiencing.

Then you also have the numbing — that’s another feature. So, feeling like you’re not there, like you’re not connected to what’s going on. Some women might report, “I don’t really feel pregnant,” or just feel really disconnected from their bodies. … Also, just anxiety, fear, anger, irritability — those things come along, as well.

MA: In the wake of PTSD, how can women empower themselves to move forward — specifically during pregnancy and birth?

MS: Something that I’ve found while practicing midwifery is that pregnancy is a wonderfully gestating transformative time — just in its very nature — so it actually is a really good time to work on your psychological issues, and to seek help. Many women reported to me in the narrative project that they saw a great opportunity to stop the cycle of abuse. They were like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to be a mother. I know that I don’t want to be this kind of a mother — that’s real clear. I know what that looks like, so how can I envision how I do want to be?”

And they’re going to need a lot of support, so reaching out — that’s where maternity care providers can really be helpful, by modeling healthy relationships, listening to women — that’s key, being listened to. When you look at the data about who is resilient or not growing up in an atmosphere of abuse, a little girl or a little boy needs to have one adult in their life who they trust, and who they know really deeply cares about them and wouldn’t harm them. And it doesn’t have to be a parent. It can be a teacher, it could be a friend — it doesn’t matter, but we have to be able to connect in that way. And so, being able to connect in that way is one of the things that allows us to connect with the infant, to be able to attach with the infant.

MA: Is it actually possible to move beyond PTSD?

MS: Absolutely. There’s a lot of talk now about post-traumatic growth. One very cool thing is that many women have reported to me how utterly healing becoming a mother was. Especially for women who had been sexually abused, and that’s how they developed PTSD. To take this space that was formerly violated — a violated space — and to have this beautiful transformation of the baby coming through. Growing a baby, and then birthing that baby, and then having this precious life that you fall in love with — that that in and of itself was transformative, and healing, and fostered their growth — their post-traumatic growth in ways that they had never dreamed possible, actually. And that’s a wonderful opportunity we as midwives have, to foster that, to protect that space for the woman so she can have the kind of pregnancy and birth experience that would allow for something like that.

This interview, originally video-taped for Mindful Mama, was transcribed and re-purposed with permission from Mindful Mama.

Mickey Sperlich, a certified professional midwife with nearly 20 years of experience, helps women on the journey of pregnancy and birth. Mickey is the mother of two grown children, and has been married since 1980. She appreciates being a midwife and mother, and learning so much from the women and families she has served, and also from her own children. Mickey is recently retired from full-time midwifery, but continues to focus on women’s health issues. She currently manages various research projects that look at the effects of post-traumatic stress on childbearing at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Read more on Mickey’s blog, Survivor Moms Speak Out.

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With optimal labor support, women can birth with a sense of pride, confidence and fulfillment. This week, Penny Simkin, inspirational author, childbirth educator, birth counselor and co-founder of DONA, joins the Mother’s Advocate blog to discuss the value of love, encouragement and support during labor.

MA: Can you speak to the importance of having supportive loved ones present during labor?

PS: Women need to feel safe during labor, and in today’s maternity care climate, the hospital is a rather strange place for most people — full of machinery and beeping machines. But also, there isn’t much continuity of care. She may not have a doctor that she knows, or may not have a midwife that she knows if she’s having a hospital birth — the nurses come and go. And so, there’s not continuity. Having her loved one nearby gives her that continuity.

MA: What roles can familial labor support play?

PS: The role that the partner, the father or loved one would play really depends on how the two of them perceive his or her role, but also how comfortable he (or she) is. It can be anything. From being a companion who is assisting her with every breath she takes — in terms of being present and being in the rhythm of her breathing. To sitting by and encouraging maybe a doula or someone else to do most of the labor support. But as far as I’m concerned, a woman who is alone in labor feels alone. Even with a partner who isn’t very present for her. She’s very unlikely to feel very fulfilled in her birth experience.

MA: How does labor support affect birth outcomes?

PS: The importance of labor support can’t be overestimated. We have studies of doula support — many of them — like 17 of them. Randomized control trials comparing women — the outcomes of women who have a doula with them with women who have no doula but usual care. In a nutshell, all the studies have found benefit — benefit in shorter labors, less requirement for pain medications, more satisfaction with the birth, and in some cases, better newborn outcomes. Some have also found less postpartum depression six weeks later, and better breastfeeding incidence. And, it seems strange that some of those postpartum outcomes would be improved by having a doula present during the birth, or having excellent labor support during the birth. But I think what we find is that a woman has great emotional needs during labor. If those are not met, she’s depleted. She may become depressed — we’ve found that there’s more depression in women who have not had adequate labor support. So this can have ramifications that go far beyond the birth experience. When she feels well supported, valued, respected, cared for, nurtured, guided — she feels empowered. And after a birth like that, she’ll say, “I did it.” She knows that she has that strength. I would hope for every woman, however she chooses to give birth, that she comes out of it feeling the sense of power, capability — accomplishment.

MA: Your DVD, “Comfort Measures For Childbirth” offers more than 40 ways a laboring woman and her partner can work together to achieve a comfortable birth. Can you one of these measures with us?

PS: I’ll show you an easy but very appealing hand massage. This is something that might be particularly useful if a woman has been gripping the sheets, or her partner’s ears (laughs), or the side of the bed in the need to fight through the contractions — it isn’t a good way to use her energy. So, her partner or her doula might say, “May I massage your hand?” — because she’s getting something out of this squeezing of her hands together. So, have her relax her arm. Place your two thumbs above her wrist and the rest of your fingers below, in (clasping) her palm. Put pressure on her palm, and increase pressure until she says it’s enough. Now, do a friction rub over the top of her hand, maintaining pressure on the palm and stroking firmly over the top of her hand. Many women will say that when you do that, the tension just kind of — you can feel it going away right up your arm. And so, that’s something that could be done during contractions or between, but I always look — if a woman is gripping, there is a purpose for that. There’s stimulation of her palms, but (with this massage) I can do it for her and she can relax.

MA: Any words of wisdom for expectant mothers?

PS: The birth of a baby is a lot more than the birth of a baby. It’s the birth of a mother, father, grandparents, siblings, etc. When a woman approaches birth, I think she probably has very little idea of how important that’s going to be to her, in her development as a human being. But the birth experience brings the woman to some of the deepest, most profound physical sensations and emotions that she’ll ever have. It’s a mix of joy, anticipation, excitement, pain, exposure, vulnerability. And, I think in going through that rite of passage and coming out on the other side, a woman is transformed. She’ll never be the same. And of course, we’re all hoping for every woman that she will have a satisfying, fulfilling birth experience that she can look back on with great joy, but also one that will give her a sense that — well, some women have said, “I can do anything after having a baby.” So that’s what I hope that we can look forward to for many women, and that’s what I see as part of my role is — to be a part in preparing her for that.

Penny Simkin, PT, is a physical therapist who has specialized in childbirth education and labor support since 1968. She estimates that she has prepared more than 10,000 women, couples and siblings for childbirth, and has assisted hundreds of women and couples through childbirth as a doula. She is the author of many books and articles on birth for parents and professionals, co-founder of DONA International, and member of the editorial staff of the journal, “Birth.” Today, her practice consists of childbirth education, birth counseling and labor support, combined with a busy schedule of conferences and workshops. Penny is married, the mother of four, and grandmother of eight.

This interview, originally video-taped for Mindful Mama, was transcribed and re-purposed with permission from Mindful Mama.

Who was on your labor support team? What comfort measures did your loved one(s) and/or doula provide?


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Karen Brody, brilliant playwright, birth activist and mother of two, gives us a glimpse into her stirring play, birth movement and ‘My Body Rocks Project’ in this week’s blog. We’re excited to present her empowering voice and ventures that are undoubtedly making an impact.

MA: Your journey began with the play, ‘Birth,’ evolved to the BOLD movement, and has led to The My Body Rocks Project. Can you tell me a little bit about each, and how they evolved from one to the other?

KB: I became a mother in 1999, with my first son, Jacob. I had been a writer for the last 10 years, and when I was pregnant with him, I was going to take a break from it. My next project was going to be my son. I had a very profound birth experience with midwives in Little Rock, Ark. — it was a home birth, and it went very well. I was in tune to, and very much in power with my body, and had a lot of clarity about what I wanted. I didn’t know anything about the politics, what the birth culture was, or that women were going into the hospital with their eyes halfway or completely closed, until I sat on the playground with my son. Moms would tell me their birth stories, and I was horrified about how many (educated) women were having bad birth experiences.

I began to interview women about their birth experiences, and thought I’d write a book about it, or at least a magazine article. I was very close to writing a magazine article about it, when the editor told me that her senior editor has stopped the article because he said, “We’ve done childbirth,” which seemed completely inaccurate to me. So, I decided that I was going to write about it definitely, then I just started feeling it as a play. A book wasn’t going to have the impact I wanted, and I wanted to put women’s voices front and center — the experts and statistics were there, but what wasn’t were women. I wanted to put mothers’ voices center-stage.

I wrote the play, ‘Birth’ from the interviews, and it had a really positive response, but not only from the birth community — I realized it was a movement. The stories were really so poignant. Storytelling is such a powerful medium — the impact stays with the audience. I wanted people to go in with one frame of mind, and come out thinking more deeply about birth.

I put ‘Birth’ out in 2006 on Labor Day weekend, for whatever community wanted to produce it. Some 20-odd locations produced multiple shows over the 4-day weekend — it was all over the world, from India to Bozeman, Mont. to Seattle. My goal was to raise awareness and money for maternal care, and BOLD (Birth on Labor Day) has brought in more than $250,000. Everyday, it astounds me how many people are using the play to rally their local community to raise awareness, and to hear mothers’ voices. The power women have in a good birth experience is a moment in the life that they can take, and a make into a forever power center within.

This is where The My Body Rocks Project comes in. I want to help women feel their personal power — in their own lives, in their families, in their communities, and of course, in the world. I help women get to that place through movement, performance and storytelling, and yoga nidra, an ancient yogic sleep technique that’s really a guided meditation as you sleep. The My Body Rocks Project comes from a character in ‘Birth,’ Amanda, who knew she was in power and that her body rocked as she gave birth. She kept chanting, “My body rocks.” When you know your body rocks, your authentic voice shines. You know your options and keep your eyes wide open.

MA: You interviewed more than 100 women to collect stories for your play, ‘Birth.’ What did you learn from those women that surprised or motivated you?

KB: Well, I think I learned a lot. There was a lot more coercion of pregnant and birthing women than I had suspected, and it was very subtle. Many of these women interpreted something a professional said in a negative way — whether it was meant that way or not — and it heavily influenced the women in their birth experiences. I learned that words matter — what we say when a woman is giving birth can influence a woman so much. I also learned that it’s important to keep a birth space intimate and positive, and affirm that a woman can do it. The women who brought that into their birth rooms could achieve what they wanted to achieve. They set the intention, which made it possible.

I also found it so beautiful to hear women talk about how transformative a good birth experience was — until then, I don’t think I had really analyzed my own birth experience much. I knew it was great, but hadn’t thought about how transformational it was. For a woman to have the birth she wanted was transformational and very important.

MA: Why is it important to empower women to share their birth stories?

KB: Well, I think it’s critical that others share their birth stories for a couple of reasons. One is sisterhood. Certainly all mothers are different, but we are all mothers, and if we don’t connect on this level of being mothers, it’s very lonely — we need the sisterhood. Also, to have your birth story witnessed is so profound. I’m finding it so much in the BOLD Red Tents, and then in The My Body Rocks Project workshops. Women thank each other so much for listening to their stories. They need a place, especially because we have such a high percentage of women who experience birth trauma. We need to have a safe place for women to tell their birth stories, so they feel witnessed and honored.

MA: How does The My Body Rocks Project prepare women for birth, both physically and emotionally?

KB: Well, we’re not a childbirth education organization, although I do think it’s a form childbirth of education. We don’t do kegels, but certainly do a lot of movement to prepare for good births. We also help women prepare spiritually and emotionally by ‘walking through birth baggage.’ A character in ‘Birth,’ Jillian walked through her birth baggage, and got to a place where she was in power at the end of the play. That’s what I’m trying to get women to do before they have a baby for the first time, or if they had an experience that wasn’t what they wanted it to be the first time. We need to be empowered to know who (and what) we want at our birth, who (and what) we don’t want, and to know the truth of our body, voice and actions. That’s the mantra of the project — we experience it in the body, give it a voice through storytelling — whatever comes out, a word, a dance — then we commit to an action by the end of the session. It really is magic, because when a woman does the work, she has an opportunity to really be in her power, in a way that is so different than where she was at before.

MA: How have your two births inspired your activism?

KB: I think it was good to have more than one birth, because I said, “This is how I give birth,” then I had another birth and said, “That’s not how I do it at all!” My first birth had a very long pushing period — just over two hours — and my son did swallow meconium, so there was some concern. My other labor was very short, but much more painful. I had horrible back pain, but he came out in about eight minutes when I actually went to push. I experienced a really different pushing stage — I was in a different place.

These two experiences made me feel very connected to women — to mothers in particular — and made me realize how miraculous this moment is, how important it is to believe birth is normal, that women should always be respected when giving birth, and that we must, we must, we must know that our bodies rock. When these things happen, women can have a pleasurable birth. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a world of women giving birth in pleasure?

Karen Brody is a writer, activist and mother of two boys. Her critically-acclaimed play about childbirth in America, ‘Birth,’ and BOLD Red Tent storytelling circles are seen by thousands of people worldwide every year as part of BOLD, an arts-based global movement raising awareness and money to improve maternity care for mothers. Brody is the founder and Artistic Director of BOLD. In 2010, Brody founded The My Body Rocks Project, with the mission to help mothers connect with their bodies, voices, and then take action. She teaches workshops around the world and has a private guided meditation practice, focused on helping mothers. Karen can be contacted at: Karen@mybodyrocksproject.com.

We would love to start a community dialogue that empowers women to embrace their bodies, so please share with us: How does your body rock?


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This week, Mother’s Advocate is proud to present well-known and respected childbirth educator and author, Nicette Jukelevics. Nicette is blogging on behalf of the Coalition of Improving Maternity Services (CIMS), and has given us a straightforward, detailed look at labor induction.

Although there is no evidence to show that non-medically indicated inductions improve outcomes for babies, inductions for non-medical reasons have been on the rise in the U.S. Increasingly, labors are being induced for psychosocial reasons and for medical convenience. What’s more, the majority of expectant mothers are not aware of the risks of elective induction when they request one or when their caregiver schedules it.

We are learning, however, that with a healthy pregnancy, not waiting until labor starts on its own may have far greater health consequences for babies than we knew. Research shows that when births are induced or cesarean sections are scheduled — especially before the 39th week of pregnancy — newborns may appear mature, but they are at greater risk for short- and long-term complications.

Labor Induction: Alarming Statistics

In 2005, 22.3 percent of all U.S. births were induced — a 50 percent increase since 1990. A national survey by Childbirth Connection showed that 21 percent of U.S. women who gave birth in 2005 tried to self-induce labor because they were tired of being pregnant. They wanted to induce to avoid a medical induction, to control the timing of their birth, or because their caregivers were concerned about the size of the baby.

Elective induction rates vary widely among hospitals (12 percent to 55 percent) and among individual physicians (3 percent to 76 percent). But more than four out of 10 mothers (41 percent) reported that their caregiver tried to induce labor. For some women, an elective induction can almost double the risk for a cesarean, depending on the individual physician’s practice style and medical specialty. And all of these statistics are even more frightening when compared to the World Health Organization’s recommendation that appropriate induction rates in any geographic region should not exceed 10 percent.

Labor Induction: The Risks

With an elective induction, babies are more likely to suffer from hypoglycemia, to be admitted to a special care nursery, and to need ventilator support. A recent study of a U.S. healthcare system showed that babies born at 37 weeks were 22.5 times more likely to need a ventilator at birth, and babies born at 38 weeks 7.5 times more likely, when compared to babies born at 39 weeks. Babies born too soon are also more likely to experience serious complications, including fever, infection, respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), and transient tachypnea of the newborn (TTN).

These babies may look normal, but have an increased risk of difficulties with vision and hearing, feeding and digesting their food, regulating their body temperature, and are more likely to need phototherapy to treat jaundice.

The newest research on babies born before term indicates the potential for neurological problems and learning difficulties that may not show up for years. The March of Dimes is educating healthcare professionals and mothers alike about the important brain growth and fetal neurological developments that take place in the very last weeks of pregnancy. At 35 weeks, a baby’s brain weighs two-thirds what it will weigh at 39-40 weeks. At 37 weeks, the brain weighs only 80 percent of its weight at 40 weeks. The cerebral cortex — the part of the brain that controls functions such as cognition, perception, reason and motor control — is the last to develop. Researchers have found that babies born pre-term are more likely to have learning difficulties at school age. It’s essential for baby’s brain development that the pregnancy goes to full-term.

Labor Induction: Consider This

An induction of labor is a complex process that often requires additional medical interventions to keep the mother and baby safe from successive potential complications. Inducing labor with pitocin when the cervix is unripe (long and closed) sometimes causes the mother to labor for long hours with little progress. Subsequently, confining the mother to bed, using continuous fetal monitoring and IVs, and administering an epidural for pain are commonplace with an induction. Shoulder dystocia (when the baby’s shoulders cannot fit through the pelvis), and the use of forceps or a vacuum extractor are also increased with induction. All of these interventions and complications can lead to higher risk of cesarean section — failed inductions are not uncommon.

Labor Induction: When it’s Helpful

Regardless of all the risks, there are several medical indications for inducing labor — when the mother or the baby’s health would benefit more from the induction than from continuing the pregnancy. These may include diabetes, pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure), or a uterine infection in the mother. Or when a baby in utero is not growing at a normal rate (small for gestational age) or the pregnancy is post-term (more than 42 weeks). Induction may also be favorable when the bag of waters breaks prematurely (also known as PROM, premature rupture of the membranes).

Labor Induction: Questions to Ask Your Provider if it’s Suggested

  • Why are you scheduling an induction of labor?
  • What are the risks of inducing my labor?
  • I know that my due date is only an estimate. What precautions will you take to make sure my baby is not born too early?
  • How do you plan to induce my labor?
  • How will an induction affect my labor and the health of my baby?
  • I know that compared to waiting for labor to begin on its own, an induction is more likely to lead to a cesarean section. What measures would you take to reduce my odds for a cesarean?

If both you and your baby are healthy and stable, don’t hesitate to take time to consider your caregiver’s recommendations and explanations. Feel free to leave the appointment, with a follow-up scheduled — or to get a second opinion. After all, this is your birth.

The last week or two of pregnancy may be difficult. Priorities at work, or scheduling maternity leave to accommodate childcare or family needs may be a priority. However, waiting for labor to begin on its own is safer for you and your baby — and safety is of the utmost importance!

Nicette Jukelevics, MA, ICCE is a childbirth educator, researcher and author of “Understanding the Dangers of Cesarean Birth: Making Informed Decisions.” She is also the founder and publisher of VBAC.com. Nicette is past-chair of CIMS, and now serves as chair of the CIMS Coalition Building Committee. She has also served on the Board of the International Childbirth Education Association and DONA International. For more than 25 years, Nicette had the privilege of helping thousands of expectant families prepare for childbirth, VBAC and early parenting. She has presented on cesarean and VBAC issues at national conferences, and for advanced doula trainings across the U.S. With co-author, Henci Goer, Nicette recently published “The Risks of Cesarean Section & Expectant Mother’s Checklist,” a Coalition For Improving Maternity Services (CIMS) Fact Sheet.

Other resources: California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative

Tell us about your labor. Did (or will you let) your labor begin naturally? Was (or are you planning on having) your labor induced? We’re looking forward to hearing about your experiences!


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