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Posts Tagged ‘natural childbirth’

This week, Mother’s Advocate welcomes doula and artist Amy Swagman. She began making mandalas to prepare for the birth of her third daughter. Creating these pieces helped her to envision (and ultimately create) her ideal birth as well as meditate to prepare for labor.  Since her daughter’s arrival the mandala project has broadened to draw from other women’s experiences of their births. Through her art she hopes to change the climate of birth from fear to empowerment and convey feminine energy. 

I like to say that my first daughter Haven, made me a mother which was as earth-shattering as any experience could be.  My second daughter Lyric made me a doula and birth activist, and my third daughter Seren made me an artist.  Each pregnancy and birth, all different in their own ways, gave me immeasurable gifts.

When I became pregnant with Seren, I was surprised to find that even though we had planned for her I was feeling overwhelmed and unprepared.  I did not expect that to happen with my third!  I felt very trapped, helpless, and disconnected to my little babe.  I took it out on my husband, who is so wonderful and patient. It was a very stressful few months.

We were planning a much-wanted home birth but I felt like my emotions, fears, and anxiety were getting in the way.  Counseling didn’t help.  Talking to friends about it didn’t help.  I needed something else to center me.

I remembered going to a talk called “OPENING to the Art of Birth” presented by friend and fellow doula Alahna Roach.  In it she described the functions of the right and left brain.  They are as follows:

Left Brain Right Brain
logical / rational intuitive
sequential random
analytical holistic
objective subjective
structured fluid (especially with time)

Alahna said that the state of mind you’re in when you’re doing something creative (right brain) is the same state you’re in when laboring and birthing.  Time flies by without you sensing it as acutely.  You are very porous and intuitive.  You aren’t as easily able to answer questions or communicate logically.

To illustrate this she had us do a blind contour drawing.  Without looking at the paper we had to draw all the lines, cracks, details in our opposite hand.  After a few minutes of this Alahna came up to me and said, “Amy, what year is it?”  I had absolutely no idea.  The only thing running through my head was “Uhhhh, I should know the answer to this question!”  Anyone who has given birth or attends a lot of births has seen this written all over a laboring mama’s face.

So I decided to create a small mandala (image within a circle) every day during the last few months of my pregnancy to help me center, process, and prepare for my home birth.  Each one would take anywhere from an hour to four hours, though I hardly noticed.

I loved it.  I craved it.  There was so much solace in taking time for myself, doing something creative, getting lost in symmetry, turning off any worrisome thoughts.  I created images based on what was going on in my head that day.

For example, this one was created to help me connect and envision my baby:

This one was done to help me embrace my “mommy body”:

  As you can see, this image played out almost exactly in Seren’s birth!

Creating artwork, getting into that free, meditative mindset, helped me have the beautiful, peaceful, gentle home birth I had wanted for so long.  To read Seren’s birth story please visit my doula website here.

How to create your own birth art:

Quieting the “Inner Critic” –

Oftentimes I hear people say, “Oh I’m not an artist” or “I don’t know how to straight line.”   Well that’s ok, that’s what rulers are for!  The most important thing is to get involved in the creative process, not have a perfect-looking finished product.  Birth art can be a powerful and surprising tool.  You may discover aspects of your creativity that you haven’t tapped into or even realized yet!

Getting into the Groove –

Sometimes starting out with a right-brained exercise (like the contour line exercise I mentioned before) can be a great way to start.  Another one that I’ve found helpful is to start inside a pre-existing shape or pattern.  Coloring books are great for this, and starting inside a shape like a circle or triangle can make things flow.  You can divide up the shape into pie segments or concentric circles (like a bulls eye) and repeat your design around the circle keeping things symmetrical.  You’d be surprised at how easily the image takes shape!

For an example of this technique and symmetry you can visit my album here.

Creating Birth Art –

Some materials to get you started:

•  Pastels – These are great because they are very tactile and can easily be smeared

•  Watercolors – A great way to explore wet medium, covers areas well.  You can draw with a pen or pencil and use the watercolors to fill in areas

•  Polymer Clay (like Sculpey) – a great 3D medium as you don’t need a kiln to harden it, just your oven.

A valuable resource is Pam England’s amazing book Birthing From Within and the accompanying workbook.  In their pages you’ll find many prompts to help you process what kind of birth experience you want or work through any past birth trauma or preconceptions.

Examples from Birthing From Within:

•  Create a birth “power figure”.  What symbolizes strength for you?  What are the attributes that this figure possesses?

•  What do you know about birth already?  What have people told you?  What was the first birth story you ever heard?  What images come to mind?

•  How do you see your baby inside your womb?  What do they see, taste, hear?  Draw your reactions.

Whether pre-conception, pregnancy, birth, or beyond, art is a powerful tool for any woman in the childbearing year.  Tap into that creativity, you may be surprised what you learn about yourself!

I would love to see what you create and add it to my birth art gallery!  If you wish to be a part of it please email me at amy@birthingbody.org with the following:

•  Photos of your piece

•  A brief description about it (optional)

•  A photo of you (optional)

•  A short bio of you (optional)

Author, Amy Swagman

Amy Swagman resides in Denver, CO,  with her husband Kyle and three beautiful girls.  She is a birth doula and  graduated with a BFA in Illustration in 2005.

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This week we are thrilled to feature Diana Lynn Barnes, Psy. D, with an excerpt from her book The Journey to Parenthood: Myths, Reality and What Really Matters where she discusses the importance of recognizing the psychological experience mothers go through during pregnancy and birth.

Most women would not dream of going through nine months of pregnancy without the requisite prenatal care – regular doctors’ appointments, special vitamins, a well-balanced diet, and diagnostic tests to check on the health of the baby. Yet they do not devote nearly the same amount of time or attention, if any, to the psychological aspects of impending motherhood. They fail to recognize how this profound role they are about to assume will alter their lives forever.

Typically, when a woman plans for life after pregnancy, she considers only her work and childcare arrangements. By the last trimester, she has probably already lined up a nanny or selected a day-care center, or at least thought about it. She also may have arranged for a more flexible work schedule in order to meet the demands of her new family life, which is just around the corner. But women generally do not take the time to reflect on the journey to motherhood, although they seem to have plenty of time to attend prenatal Pilates classes and register for the latest baby paraphernalia. They do not stop to ask themselves, “Am I ready to become a mother? What are my biggest fears regarding motherhood? What might it be like to stay at home alone with a newborn all day during those first few months? How can I begin to integrate and prioritize my different roles? And what does my relationship with my own mother have to do with any of this?

Today much has been made of the “supermom” phenomenon, the pressure for a woman to achieve perfection in each of her roles – mother, wife and professional. As a result, many women approach motherhood n overdrive, believing they must “accomplish” something at every point along the path to parenthood. The ideal pregnancy is one in which a woman exercises such control over her body that she does not need to wear maternity clothes until her eighth month. The gold standard for labor and delivery is a quick, easy, epidural-free birth. And the model for new motherhood is a woman who immediately bonds with her newborn, has no difficulties breastfeeding and knows exactly how to interpret every one of her baby’s coos and cries. During the first few months postpartum, the perfect new mom nurtures her child in such a way that he is the first kid on the block to roll over, walk, talk and hum along with Bach’s Prelude in D Minor. This accomplishment-focused mother is so busy trying to achieve what she considers to be the essential goals of motherhood, that it is no wonder she is left with no time to contemplate what being a mother means in the context of her own personal universe. And that self-analysis can be crucial as a woman attempts to navigate the postpartum period and life with an infant.

Throughout the transition to motherhood, a woman may ponder the question, “Who am I?” as she tries to incorporate the unfamiliar role of mother into her identity. An expectant mother’s changing view of herself is just one of the many things that can affect her adjustment during this transition. Others include the degree to which she desires to become a mom, her earliest childhood experiences with her own mother, her general reflections of family life, and her relationship with her husband or partner. The extent to which she buys into societal expectations regarding motherhood also influences how she will experience the shift to her colossal new role.

Mothers and daughters

Pregnancy and birth can trigger a flood of memories for an expectant mother about her own upbringing and, in the process, reveal a wealth of information about her relationship with her own mother. All of a sudden, a woman may recall how supportive her own mother was, what her mother sacrificed for her, or how her mother attended every one of her sporting events. A new or expectant mother may also face painful or sad memories, instances when her on mom somehow failed her, constantly criticized her or disappointed her. A woman uses these experiences, both positive and negative, to start to define what type of mother she would like to be. She determines how she wants to be like her own mother and how she would like to be different. This evaluation becomes part of the foundation for her ideas about motherhood.

Excerpted from The Journey to Parenthood: Myths, Reality and What Really Matters (2007). Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing pgs. 27-29

Author, Diana Lynn Barnes, Psy.D

Diana Lynn Barnes, is an internationally recognized expert on the assessment and treatment of women’s mental health, particularly around concerns pertaining to the reproductive years. She is the past president of Postpartum Support International and currently sits on the President’s Advisory Council for that organization. She is also a member of the Los Angeles County Mental Health Task Force.

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Dr. Linda F. Palmer is an author and speaker specializing in nutrition of pregnancy, lactation, and childhood, and in infant health and bonding.  She joins the Mother’s Advocate blog this week to discuss the many benefits of natural labor.  

Natural labor is not simply something for mothers to endure; the process provides key mental and physical benefits for mother and baby. When not interfered with, natural labor helps to protect the fetal brain, prepare his lungs, and build his immune system. When uninterrupted, hormonal interplays provide imprinting and attachment between mother and baby, protect mother’s mood, and initiate instinctual parenting behaviors.

Oxytocin and the Mother

Oxytocin is a feel-good, bonding hormone that acts throughout our lives in response to togetherness and especially to skin-to-skin contact. Oxytocin’s strongest employ by far is during and immediately after birth. Its release during labor provides the contractions needed to expel the baby. As mother’s body feels the vaginal passage of the child, further oxytocin surges are stimulated and much higher levels now remain in the brain.[1]

This exceptionally high brain oxytocin just after birth provides for a powerful imprinting between mother and newborn as they smell each other and gaze into each others eyes. Remaining quite high in the brain for an hour or more after birth, oxytocin provides mother and baby with feelings of trust, calm, and well being, while also causing a little impairment in memory so they forget some of the discomfort experienced. When not impaired, this hormonal high also sets the stage for successful initiation of breastfeeding. The first nursing attempts then lead to continued oxytocin release. When occurring shortly after birth, this serves to help shrink the uterus, preventing hemorrhage.

This entire oxytocin experience acts in mother’s brain to initiate affectionate maternal behaviors,[2,3] helping first attempts at nursing to feel quite natural and teaching mom to want nothing more than to hold her baby and respond to his cries. While brain changes occur during pregnancy and in response to later physical contact, especially nursing, this post-birth window created by natural labor leads to some valuable reorganizing of receptors in mother’s oxytocin and stress responding portions of her brain.

High oxytocin in the female brain has also been shown to promote preference for whatever male is present during its surges,[4] (one good reason for dad to hang around after the birth).

Interrupting the Body’s Plan  

Pitocin is an imitation oxytocin used to induce or enhance labor. This synthetic agent does not cross mother’s blood-brain-barrier and hence artificially induced mothers miss out on a large part of oxytocin’s bonding, calming, mood elevating and amnesic benefits. If anesthesia is used during labor, there is no maternal oxytocin response to the vaginal passage, hence the mother misses the rest of her opportunity for the beneficial brain effects, and her maternal behaviors are not naturally switched on.[5] Cesarean section without labor fails to produce any of this extraordinary oxytocin experience, while labor before C-section provides a portion.

When a baby is born highly drugged, he is less able to partake from the oxytocin-provided benefits of calming, bonding, and drive to breastfeed.

Preventing mothers from these potent oxytocin surges in their brains can lead to increased risks of postpartum depression and poor bonding.[6-9] It has been found that the oxytocin levels secreted during nursing remain low for at least two days following a C-section, with a notable increase in mother’s anxiety level and decrease in her breastfeeding success.[10,11]

Many other hormonal interplays occur during labor, and most are affected by interventions in the natural process. Endorphins, the body’s own natural pain reducers, increase steadily throughout natural labor, however, use of Pitocin prevents their increase.[12] Maternal stress during labor, generally caused by a lack of continual, compassionate maternal support, causes heightened release of stress hormones. This alters mother’s stress handling for some time and raises inflammatory factors associated with the development of postpartum depression.[13]

Protecting the Baby

Mother’s oxytocin crosses the placenta into the fetal brain during labor, silencing the brain so the child is less stressed by the birth process. In addition, the brain is made to be less vulnerable to damage from periods of reduced oxygen or blood sugar. Even if Pitocin can enter the fetal brain as well, any natural regulation of appropriate levels would be absent. It is known that excess uterine stimulation typically seen with Pitocin use creates dangerous episodes of oxygen depletion in the fetal brain. Maternal protection of the fetal brain is not bestowed by Cesarean delivery without labor.[14,15] Mother’s body also supplies very important sugar to baby’s brain during labor. This provision is often impaired, however, when mothers are restricted from food and liquid intake during the birth process.

Baby receives certain antibodies from mother during the last term weeks in the womb but the majority of this transfer occurs during labor.[16] The lack of antibody transfer may be one factor in the reality that infants born via low-risk elective cesareans have a tripled death rate in the first month of life, versus vaginal births,[17] though the lower success in breastfeeding after Cesarean is likely a larger factor.

The hormonal changes of natural labor help to quickly clear fluids from the fetal lungs through a process of absorbing fluids out of the lungs, along with some mechanical clearing from the contractions themselves. When labor is artificially induced, infants suffer from breathing distress more than twice as often as with spontaneous labor.[18] In Cesarean section without labor, an infant is 4 times as likely to suffer respiratory distress.[19-20] This impact on the lungs is evidently long lasting as babies born via C-section are shown to suffer from allergies twice as often as those delivered vaginally.[21]

Striving for the Healthiest Outcome

All is not lost if the birth process does not go entirely as planned, yet birth choices affect a momentous first chance for attachment and breastfeeding success. Natural delivery determines a major cornerstone in preventing infant illness, while boosting mother’s parenting satisfaction. A child is born seeded with specific potential (nature), yet parenting choices (nurture) will greatly influence whether these latent abilities will come to fruition.

1. K.M. Kendrick et al., “Cerebrospinal fluid and plasma concentrations of oxytocin and vasopressin during parturition and vaginocervical stimulation in the sheep,” Brain Res Bull 26, no. 5 (May 1991): 803-7.
2. G. González –Mariscal et al., “Importance of mother/young contact at parturition and across lactation for the expression of maternal behavior in rabbits,” Dev Psychobiol 32, no. 2 (Mar 1998): 101-11.
3. J.A. Russell et al., “Brain preparations for maternity–adaptive changes in behavioral and neuroendocrine systems during pregnancy and lactation, an overview,” Prog Brain Res (2001): 133-38.
4. T.R. Insel and T.J. Hulihan, “A gender-specific mechanism for pair bonding: oxytocin and partner preference formation in monogamous voles,” Behav Neurosci 109, no. 4 (Aug 1995): 782–9.
5. F. Lévy et al., “Intracerebral oxytocin is important for the onset of maternal behavior in inexperienced ewes delivered under peridural anesthesia,” Behav Neurosci 106, no. 2 (Apr 1992): 427-32.
6. J.E. Swain et al., “Maternal brain response to own baby-cry is affected by cesarean section delivery,” J Child Psychol Psychiatry 49, no. 10 (Oct 2008): 1042-52.
7. H.J. Rowe-Murray and J.R. Fisher, “Operative intervention in delivery is associated with compromised early mother-infant interaction,” BJOG 108, no. 10 (Oct 2001): 1068-75.
8. K.D. Scott et al., “The obstetrical and postpartum benefits of continuous support during childbirth,” J Womens Health Gend Based Med 8, no. 10 (Dec 1999): 1257-64.
9. I.D. Neumann, “Stimuli and consequences of dendritic release of oxytocin within the brain,” Biochem Soc Trans 35, Pt. 5 (Nov 2007): 1252-7.
10. E. Nissen et al., “Different patterns of oxytocin, prolactin but not cortisol release during breastfeeding in women delivered by caesarean section or by the vaginal route,” Early Hum Dev (Sweden) 45, nos. 1–2 (Jul 1996): 103–18.
11. E. Nissen et al., “Oxytocin, prolactin, milk production and their relationship with personality traits in women after vaginal delivery or Cesarean section,” J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol (Sweden) 19, no. 1 (Mar 1998): 49–58.
12. A.R. Genazzani et al., “Lack of beta-endorphin plasma level rise in oxytocin-induced labor,” Gynecol Obstet Invest 19, no. 3 (1985):130-4.
13. K. Kendall-Tackett, “A new paradigm for depression in new mothers: the central role of inflammation and how breastfeeding and anti-inflammatory treatments protect maternal mental health,” Int Breastfeed J 2 (Mar 30, 2007): 6.
14. R. Tyzio et al., “Maternal oxytocin triggers a transient inhibitory switch in GABA signaling in the fetal brain during delivery,” Science 314, no. 5806 (Dec 2006): 1788-92.
15. R. Khazipov et al., “Effects of oxytocin on GABA signalling in the foetal brain during delivery,” Prog Brain Res 170 (2008): 243-57.
16. S. Agrawal et al., “Comparative study of immunoglobulin G and immunoglobulin M among neonates in caesarean section and vaginal delivery,” J Indian Med Assoc 94, no. 2 (Feb 1996): 43–4.
17. M.F. MacDorman, “Infant and neonatal mortality for primary cesarean and vaginal births to women with ‘no indicated risk,’ United States, 1998-2001 birth cohorts,” Birth 33, no. 3 (Sep 2006): 175-82.
18. J. Lee et al., “Evidence to support that spontaneous preterm labor is adaptive in nature: neonatal RDS is more common in “indicated” than in “spontaneous” preterm birth,” J Perinat Med 37, no. 1 (2009): 53-8.
19. A. Ramachandrappa and L. Jain, “Elective cesarean section: its impact on neonatal respiratory outcome,” Clin Perinatol 35, no. 2 (Jun 2008)::373-93, vii.
20. S. Farchi et al., “Neonatal respiratory morbidity and mode of delivery in a population-based study of low-risk pregnancies,” Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 88, no. 6 (2009): 729-32.
21. M. Pistiner et al., “Birth by cesarean section, allergic rhinitis, and allergic sensitization among children with a parental history of atopy,” J Allergy Clin Immunol 122, no. 2 (Aug 2008): 274-9.

Dr. Linda Folden Palmer is an author and speaker specializing in nutrition of pregnancy, lactation, and childhood, and in infant health and bonding. She is dedicated to raising awareness about how powerfully early parenting and healthcare choices can influence a child’s mental and physical outcomes.

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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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There are a lot of scary myths surrounding childbirth, which can cause women to become afraid. Fear triggers the “fight or flight” response and can shutdown the birthing process. Laura Shanley discusses the importance of overcoming fear and provides insightful tips for mothers who are preparing for birth.

Fear, Stress and the Birthing Process

Did you know that your face turns white when you’re afraid because the body thinks the blood and oxygen are needed in your arms and legs to fight a perceived danger? This is part of the “flight or flight” response. If we feel that we are in danger, blood is drained from the face and other internal organs; digestion shuts down. This is why you can have stomach problems if you’re in a constant state of stress and fear.

There’s a book called “Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers” – that really explains how well our bodies would function if we didn’t keep triggering fight-flight.  Because of fear and stress, we keep sending blood and oxygen away from our digestive organs, our sex organs, etc. If we were not on high alert all of the time, then our bodies could function at a much higher level. This is true every day of our lives, but is especially important during pregnancy and birth.

Our natural, physiologic response to stress and fear can actually make birth traumatic, causing a host of problems. This begins building long before a woman conceives. Our society focuses way too much on the different things that could go wrong in birth. We should spend more time focusing on how well our bodies really will function when we are in a relaxed state.

Overcoming Fear

For me, overcoming fear was a spiritual process.  I know there are women that have given birth to healthy babies without having spiritual beliefs, but I found strength and courage through the realization that there is a larger consciousness. I also believe that the human body was created intentionally; That we aren’t just a mass of chemicals that accidentally came together – that there is great intelligence to creation and we can somehow feel that within ourselves.

My advice to other moms?

1.    Ask for direction and inner help. Look within yourself for guidance and direction – trusting that it’s there.

2.    Simply believing that courage is available actually makes a big difference in your birth outcome.  Affirmations can be very powerful in this way.

3.    Pay close attention to how you’re feeling throughout the day.  For example if you start feeling anxious during the pregnancy ask yourself “what was I just thinking about?”

4.    Surround yourself with positive thinking people.  If you go see a friend or family member who is continually telling you about the danger and possible complications of birth, I would say that you have the right to not be around that person.  Often times, these people are trying to convince themselves and others around them of their decision, and their remarks have nothing to do with you or your birth experience.

5.    Research. Read positive birth stories. This will help to remind you that other women have stood in your shoes, and they’ve succeeded.

6.    Pay attention to your dreams. I had a dream about how I should give birth to my son standing up, which I had never thought of because I was on my hands and knees for my first birth.  He ended up being born breech (vaginally). This opened my eyes to the idea that dreams are just another resource.  Do not discount your dreams, intuition, impulses, emotions, etc.

LAURA KAPLAN SHANLEY is an author, freelance writer, speaker and childbirth consultant widely recognized as one of the leading voices in the natural-birth movement. Her expertise is frequently sought out by television and movie production companies, as well as media outlets around the globe. She has been featured in media outlets such as ABC News, “20/20,” “The Doctors,” BBC, Discovery Channel, Disney, The New York Times, Reuters, and The Washington Post, among many others. In addition, she works with women on a one-on-one basis, providing them with childbirth education and emotional support before and during pregnancy. She is a frequent speaker at childbirth conferences, providing her unique perspective and inspiring insight. Laura maintains a website dedicated to natural childbirth, www.unassistedchildbirth.com, and has published articles for an array of news outlets. During her free time, Laura enjoys hiking, writing poetry and spending time with her four adult children and one grandchild.  

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Ani DiFranco has written hundreds of songs, played thousands of shows and is no doubt an icon for strong and fearless women. This is why we are thrilled to share her thoughts on birth, motherhood and strength in this interview:

MA: Tell us about your decision to have a home birth.

Ani: Birthing is a very unique and profound event, and my choice to have a home birth was not because I’m independent (or something), it’s because essentially I’m an animal and I’m very affected by my environment. I’ve always got my feelers out and I know that the animal in me is very easily intimidated – I know this from making twenty records in awkward situations where I don’t feel comfortable, and then you have to sing and then there’s that moment when you’re not really in your own skin.  I didn’t want to give birth to my baby like I had given birth to some of my records thinking “help I’m alone among strangers in this alien environment”. The hospital environment would have been really counter-productive to me.

In retrospect I think that my midwife actually had a perception of me that I was very independent and knew how I wanted to birth because that’s my M.O., but having babies was something I had never done before and I had no idea how I wanted to do any of it.  I’m really happy that I did it at home, even though it was long and extremely challenging for me. In retrospect I think I would want more guidance.  No matter who you are, giving birth is going to kick your ass – in one way or another.

MA: So how did you get through it?

Ani: You know I think that I went into it with a lot of expectations about the power and the beauty and the transformation, and then when the labor really picked up, I was just scared and in pain. Then of course it was powerful and beautiful and transformative.

I think that one of the things that hurt the most afterwards was not my broken tailbone but my ego. I thought birth would be easy for me somehow and the fact that birth was (really) hard made me feel like “maybe I’m not as strong as I thought. Maybe I’m weak”. So, I had to go through an ego recovery process and address those feelings and my misconception of my role as a woman and myself as a part of nature.

MA: What’s it like to be a mama?  

Ani: It’s really something the way the babies teach us to nurture – to be nurturing and to transfer that sort of love and respect and caring to everybody’s babies. We’re all somebody’s baby and I think that everything we need to know about being mindful mamas our babies will teach us eventually, whether we want it or not.

Ani DiFranco has written hundreds of songs, played thousands of shows, captured the imaginations of legions of followers, and jammed with folkies, orchestras, rappers, rock and roll hall-of-famers, jazz musicians, poets, pop superstars, storytellers and a martial arts legend. Ani started her own music label Righteous Babe Records and because of this decision she’s been called “fiercely independent” (Rolling Stone), “inspirational” (All Music Guide), and “the ultimate do-it-yourself songwriter” (The New York Times).

This interview has been republished with permission from Mindful Mama

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Are you experiencing too much stress during pregnancy? Not sure how much stress is too much? To answer your questions we are proud to feature Laurel Wilson, Injoy Birth and Parenting Customer Advocate, Executive Director for Lactation Programs with CAPPA, doula, childbirth and lactation educator, prenatal yoga instructor and board certified lactation consultant.

During my first pregnancy, my husband and I moved to a military base in Guam, which had just been struck by the worst typhoon in a decade and looked like a warzone. This is what we would call an “acute life stressor”. And yet, terrified as I was to be 5000 miles from my family, I had a deep sense that my baby was counting on me to remain calm and peaceful – my inner life affected how he would grow.

For the sake of my baby, I braved broken glass in the streets and smiled kindly to the worn-out looking locals in Guam. I went to the beach almost every day. I held my belly, sang to my baby, breathed deeply and focused on trying to be as present and connected as possible. I focused on the things that were grounding and comforting – cuddling with my husband, looking at pictures from home, and baking banana bread.

Today there is a body of evidence to show that my gut was right.  Stress impacts the health of the baby, the pregnancy and the mother.  While short term stress that is relieved quickly is proven to have benefits for the growing baby, the type of stress that most mother’s encounter today (including those who spend their entire pregnancy in familiar surroundings) is not normal and can change the way the baby reacts to its new world when she is born.

Short bursts of stress that are quickly resolved tell the baby that life has bumps in the road, but it’s all going to be okay. In the right doses, stress makes our babies hardy. In fact, the slight normal increase in the mom’s stress hormone cortisol in the last two weeks of pregnancy actually prepares the baby to come into the world.  It accelerated the baby’s brain development and is associated with better motor and developmental skills at age two.

What is not healthy for the mother and baby is unrelenting, chronic stress.  Unfortunately, many mothers today are chronically stressed.  They live their lives constantly on the go, jumping from task to task, engaged in activity from sun up until they drop in to bed in state of exhaustion well past sun down. This environment of stress impacts mothers’ ability to sleep (which also effects their risk of developing postpartum mood and anxiety disorders), the blood flow to the placenta, and increases the risk of preterm delivery.

There is plenty of documentation now that both chronic and severe/acute stress change baby’s brain development.  The Children of the 90’s study has shown that children exposed to chronic stress prenatally have significantly more behavioral problems and emotional disturbances as children.
So what is today’s mom to do? With the increasing pressures of today, how do we lighten our load? The good news is that it’s actually quite simple to help the body relieve stress. Below is a list of proven techniques that ANY pregnant mother can use to relieve the effects of stress:

  1.  Yawn. Yes, yawn. Repeated yawning resets the brain, releases our “happy” hormones and helps the body process cortisol.  Ever notice how you feel the need to yawn when you need to pay attention but just can’t find the energy?  Yawning is like a natural, gentle boost to our brain.  It helps us feel better.
  2.  Move! Talk a 10 minute walk, swim for half and hour, dance to your favorite music in the living room after you get home from work, take a prenatal yoga class!  Movement improves circulation, releases beta-endorphins and releases stress!  What? You are on bed rest? Do deep breathing. Circle your ankles and wrists, do some static stretching.
  3.  Smile and laugh.  Have your best friends over for tea and giggle! Better yet, ask them make the tea and have you over, you are the pregnant momma after all! Watch your or favorite funny movie with your partner.  Do things that make you HAPPY!!!! Laughter is one of the best antidotes for stress.
  4.  Nap. Allowing yourself to get at a minimum of 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night and having just one 10 minute nap a day helps everyone deal with stress better.  Getting the brain into the delta state of relaxation allows for body rejuvenation and improved immune functioning. Take an eye mask and your iPod to work and instead of talking at the water cooler during your break, lean back, close your eyes and rest deeply for ten minutes.

While you may not be able to remove your stressors during pregnancy, you can help remove their effects from your body. My Rx for a happier, healthier, cooing baby: yawn a bit, take two bursts of laughter, nap for ten minutes and call me for tea in the morning!

Laurel Wilson is the Customer Advocate for InJoy Birth and Parenting. She has been working with families during the childbearing year for over sixteen years as a doula, childbirth and lactation educator, prenatal yoga instructor and board certified lactation consultant. She is also the Executive Director for Lactation Programs with CAPPA and is the co-author of upcoming book, The Greatest Pregnancy Ever: Keys to the MotherBaby Bond due in the fall of 2011.

 

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