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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 several cultures where childbirth is understood to be a rite of passage. Beliefs surrounding this transformation are important because they inform the way in which women give birth.

The first culture that jumps to mind would be the Kung of the Kalahari Desert, where young men and women practice rituals that bring them into adulthood.  The most significant right of passage for the Kung men is to hunt and kill their first large animal. For women, the right of passage is giving birth. The Kung is a very subtle tribe who don’t honor bragging.  For example if a young man comes back from a hunt and boasts about making the big kill they will be ignored.  Instead they will quietly start passing out meat, indicating that they accomplished this feat.  For women to gain the same kind of honor, they go off on their own to give birth in the bush without saying anything to anyone. Once the child is born, they very quietly come back and start nursing their baby under a tree.  At this point everyone notices and comes by to congratulate her.  She is then honored for her stoicism and her warrior like abilities in her right of passage.

Another great example is Japan.  Most births still take place in the hospital, however there are maternity homes with live-in midwives where women go for pre-natal care and birth.  The Japanese and the midwives who work in these maternity homes have a specific saying about labor pain; they call it “metamorphic”.  They say that going through labor is a metamorphosis because it changes the woman into a mother the way that crawling out of the cocoon changes the caterpillar into a butterfly.  They adhere to an old story that states if you help the caterpillar out of its cocoon it will die.  It has to emerge by itself in order to survive and to be strong.

Japanese midwives approach birth with great patience.  They believe that the struggle and pain of labor helps the mother to grow and transform herself. The mother must look deep down inside herself and find out who she is.  The baby also needs the struggle of being born; the work is what transforms both the mother and the baby into separate beings with the power and the strength to go on and to be the mother-baby pair that they need to be.

The babies muscles will get exercised during birth which will prepare the baby to be ready to breastfeed.  This will also enable the baby to be aware of the smells and hormones needed to latch on.  If it’s born by cesarean section for example or if there are drugs at birth the baby’s consciousness will be reduced as well as the flow of necessary hormones.

The mother’s metamorphosis releases massive doses of oxytocin while she’s in early labor. Late in labor a flush of adrenaline gets her on a high and gives her the power and strength to push the baby out. Right after this stage comes another flush – the biggest flush of oxytocin she’ll ever get in her entire life.  This will transform her and the moment of suffering, pain and pushing.  If you watch women’s faces at this moment there’s a suffusion of joy and ecstasy in their expression.  Then the milk lets down, the prolactin comes and the hormones all work together to make the caterpillar turn into the most beautiful butterfly.

This excerpt is part of a video interview with Robbie Davis-Floyd and is being re-published 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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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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This week, Elizabeth Davis  – midwife, women’s health care specialist, educator, consultant and co-author of Orgasmic Birth: Your Guide to a Safe, Satisfying, and Pleasurable Birth Experience answers your questions on sex during pregnancy.

The number one priority in preparing for birth is to understand the physiology of birth and to know in advance that wherever you will be the most physically and emotionally comfortable is where you should labor.

There is a powerful player in birth called oxytocin, otherwise known as the “love hormone” because it is the hormone that we release with sexual activity. Even more, this is the hormone we release at the mere thought of sexual activity. Just thinking about a lover and becoming aroused, that’s oxytocin.  New mothers, just hearing a baby cry – even if it’s not their own – will let down their milk, and that’s oxytocin.

Never in a woman’s life is oxytocin higher than in pregnancy and during labor, as well as the moments immediately after birth (when it’s at it’s all-time peak).  Therefore if you think of birth as a sexual event, then you begin to understand how important the setting and the set of people around you really are.  It’s not too far afield to say “imagine yourself having sex with a room full of strangers parading in and out of your room.” Could you change positions spontaneously? Could you move and groan and moan and do the things that are natural in birth if you’re being observed?

In fact, we have plenty of research that makes clear that if women feel observed by relative strangers in the room, even by the fetal monitor and not least of all themselves (“Am I doing all-right? Am I doing it right?”), her labor will be affected. Think of what that does to sexuality – all it takes is a few minutes of “Oh my god am I doing it right?” and the orgasm is shot.

Birth is very similar, women become frightened or over-analytical or anxious about their progress.  They start releasing adrenaline and high levels of adrenaline stop oxytocin production and that turns the experience into a whole different event where there can be quite a lot of pain and anxiety, not a lot of oxygen to the baby, and we see a cascade of interventions that is leading all too often to cesarean births.

A renowned expert on women’s issues, Elizabeth Davis has been a midwife, women’s health care specialist, educator and consultant for over 30 years. She is internationally active in promoting motherbaby-centered birth and is widely sought after for her expertise in midwifery education and organizational development.

She served as a representative to the Midwives Alliance of North America for five years and as President of the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council for the United States. She holds a degree in Holistic Maternity Care from Antioch University, and is certified by the North American Registry of Midwives.

Her mission is to help women embrace an integrated view of birth, sexuality, family and ecology. She travels widely, lecturing and presenting workshops on women’s health, sexuality, intuition, and midwifery. She can design a workshop or keynote to meet your group’s needs–references on request.

This interview was originally filmed for Mindful Mama Magazine and has been transcribed with permission from Mindful Mama Magazine.

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Choosing the right care provider is critical to having your best birth.  This week we are so excited to feature writer Meagan Church who discusses the importance of aligning your birth ideals with your care provider.

Shortly after I discovered I was pregnant with my first, I met with my family doctor. He had stopped doing obstetric care a few months prior, so I knew he wouldn’t be my care provider for my pregnancy. Even still, I felt compelled to meet with him. I believe that meeting shaped my journey to finding the right provider for me and set the course for a more desirable birth experience.

During the visit, I asked if he had any recommendations for a care provider. Since my husband and I wanted to wait to share the pregnancy news until after the first trimester, I couldn’t turn to family or friends for advice. My doctor simply asked, “What kind of provider do you want?” I hesitated for a moment, not knowing how to respond. Basically I wanted someone who would be covered by my insurance. What else was there to know? He then said he sometimes recommended a certain OB/GYN, but I should first consider that he takes a very patriarchal approach. Then he asked if I’d ever considered a midwife. My doctor said his wife had an at-home birth with a midwife, so perhaps I should consider whether a midwife would more closely match my desires. Essentially what he was asking me to consider is what my birth philosophy was.

Before that conversation, I had never thought of there being such a thing as a birth philosophy. But in the days and weeks after that appointment, I soon learned that practices and philosophies definitely do exist. I needed to understand my thoughts on birth and find a provider who matched those, and not base my choice solely on my HMO. Thankfully my research led me to a great midwifery practice.

As I’ve talked to more and more moms, I’ve come to realize that many women enter pregnancy with the same misconception that I did, not realizing that differences other than personality quirks separate providers from one another. It’s not until much further along in the pregnancy and sometimes even after a traumatic birth experience that some women have realized their birth philosophy and their provider’s did not align. Unfortunately, I have a good friend whose story is precisely that.

From the outset, my friend’s provider showed signs of being very keen on intervention, which concerned me since I knew my friend wanted a natural birth. Throughout her low-risk pregnancy, she had more than five ultrasounds. During one of those, the doctor felt the baby looked too big and that a c-section should be considered. This was a few weeks prior to her due date. My friend called me, asking for advice. I told her to seek a second opinion. She did not want to do that so late in the pregnancy, but after doing her own research and soul-searching, she knew she could not consent to her OB’s assessment. So she sought a second opinion. She took her research and second opinion back to her doctor and said she did not feel a c-section was necessary at that time. The doctor permitted her to wait. Spontaneous labor finally did occur, but it came with the stress of timelines and interventions that my friend had hoped to avoid.

Now, of course every labor is different, but with more research and introspection up front, those last few weeks and even labor could’ve been less stressful and more empowering. So what can you do to avoid a similar situation? First of all, don’t look to an insurance company as the main way of choosing a provider (as I nearly did). Instead, understand how you hope to experience labor (with or without drugs, for instance) and how active a role you want to take in the process—the difference between a team effort and a patriarchal provider. It is not necessary to go as far as to create a birth plan in the first month, but even a general idea of how you feel toward birth can help. The more you ask questions up front and interview providers before making a choice, the better understanding you will have of not only the provider’s philosophy, but also your own. If things go south even at the very end, seek a second opinion. Unless the baby is crowning, it’s not too late.

A midwife once said to me, “You never forget having your baby, so it should be the best experience ever.” And it all starts with a first-trimester decision that could have lasting impact beyond the delivery room. Choose wisely.

Meagan Church is a writer, a reader, a black coffee drinker; a runner, a golfer and a lover of nature; a wife, a mother and a wanna be world changer. Meagan is currently working on a book about the realities of birth, babies and beyond. To learn more, visit www.Unexpectant.com. She also writes about her experiences of motherhood outside of clichés and inside the reality of it all at www.DefiningMotherhood.com.

Did you feel supported by your care provider? Who made up your labor support team?

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This week Stacey Scarborough, certified Childbirth Educator, Lactation Educator, Labor and Postpartum Doula and Doula trainer through DONA, Int. and L.E.A.N. Coach, shares her top nutrition tips for moms-to-be!

When you found out that you were pregnant, was one of your first thoughts (after, “OH boy, I’m having a baby!”) “Oh goody, I get to eat anything I want for the next 9 months!”???

It’s not uncommon for expecting women to think that pregnancy gives them license to eat as much as they want because they are ‘eating for two’.  In the last few months, there has been a noticable shift in the thinking of how much and the type of food you are eating. The awareness that you are now eating for your growing child should be the first thought in your mind as you decide what to eat, not “I get to eat whatever I want”.  We are seeing the signs of proper nutrition all around: from nutritional guidelines in the super markets, to Michelle Obama promoting breastfeeding as the best choice for our growing babies.

I am recently certified as a L.E.A.N.  Coach. What is “L.E.A.N.”? It is a program based upon scientific research and designed by Dr. William Sears, “America’s pediatrician”. The letters L.E.A.N. stand for Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitude and Nutrition. These four areas work together to make families healthier-at any age and any stage of life.   L.E.A.N. means understanding and living a healthy, active lifestyle. Now more than at any time of a woman’s life, she should become L.E.A.N.

The average weight gain for a pregnant woman is between 25-35 pounds and 35-45 pounds if carrying multiple babies. But it is not just how much you can eat. A pregnant woman needs to remember that whatever she eats her baby is getting also, so the better the nutritional value of her food, the healthier the baby will be in utero.  Moms-to- be who practice L.E.A.N.:

  • Make lifestyle choice that protect their babies and give them the best possible start in life.
  • Gain the right amount of weight by eating the right kinds of nutrient-dense foods and avoid foods that are high in saturated or trans-fats and sugar.
  • Take care of their minds and bodies through exercise
  • Pass L.E.A.N. principles on to their children.

So what are some of the concepts of a LEAN lifestyle and how can you get started?

Dr. Sears feels that the USDA Food Pyramid focuses too much on the quantity of food, and his program specifically addresses and focuses on the quality of food. His method of teaching about this is called “Traffic Light Eating” and is a simple, easy way to remember how to choose wisely. Classes are available that will provide you with tools to help you make good choices as you are shopping and eating.  L.E.A.N. coaches teach this concept of Traffic Light Eating:

Green Light Foods are GO foods: eat as much and as often as you would like: all grown, not manufactured, and include all and any vegetables and fruits.

Yellow Light Foods mean SLOW DOWN : these foods make up the bulk of what helps to comprise a balance of nutrients, carbohydrates, proteins, and means to eat these every day, but not too much.

Red Light Foods are STOP and THINK: these are foods that should be avoided by making a healthier choice and these include foods high in fats, sugar, hydrogenated oils, eg: cookies, candy, fatty meats, white bread, etc.

Along with nutrition information for a growing baby and healthier children, the classes also focus on ways to get the kids moving, instead of sitting so much. With the growing obesity rate in our country, it is important for parents to set a proper example of ways to get active and incorporate exercise, or how we like to call it: PLAY in to the everyday life.

Having the proper attitude is important also.  Parents who live a healthy lifestyle of activity and good nutrition will feel better, be happier and allow their bodies to work in the most efficient state, which will allow for an easier delivery, faster recovery, and healthier babies that will grow into healthier adults! One of the best gifts you can give to your children!

For more information on where to find a LEAN Coach and classes in your area, please refer to www.drsearslean.com

Stacey Scarborough is a certified Childbirth Educator, Lactation Educator, Labor and Postpartum Doula and a Doula trainer through DONA, Int. She recently completed her certification as a L.E.A.N. Coach and is excited to teach expectant and new parents about the L.E.A.N. program in San Diego and Southern California. She can be contacted at doulastace@cox.net and her website is http://www.preparingtheparents.org

What have your nutritional struggles been? How are you supported in this?

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