Monthly Archives: September 2009

The History of Midwifery

Check out this awesome post on the history of midwifery.

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When Grief Strikes: Thoughts on Miscarriage

I’ll start this post by confessing that I am writing from the perspective of an observer–a well informed observer, perhaps, but an observer nonetheless.
I have never experienced the tragedy and grief that accompanies having a miscarriage.

My husband came home the other night and informed me that the wife of someone he knows recently suffered a miscarriage.  The sorrow, relayed from person to person, was evident in the brief announcement he shared with me.

Truth be told, a large percentage of women will experience a miscarriage at some point in their life:  fifteen percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage while a full fifty percent of fertilized eggs actually fail implantation–resulting in miscarriages that women aren’t even aware of.  The majority of miscarriages occur early in pregnancy–usually within the first trimester (twelve weeks).  Only one percent of miscarriages occur after twenty weeks of gestation–the event is then referred to as a stillbirth.

Now, it’s all fine and dandy for me to talk about these issues in such a practical, emotionally-removed way, but for the woman who has experienced the grief of losing a baby–even if that baby is still smaller than a dime–statistics are likely unhelpful at the very least,  and callous at the very best.

In our culture, it is common practice to keep a pregnancy–even a much wanted pregnancy–a secret until passing that magical 12 week mark.  Why?  All of the above.

As far as I can discern it, women (and their partners) want to keep their pregnancies under wraps so that if they fall into that fifteen percent–if they lose the pregnancy–they won’t have already told the world about it.

But really, at a micro level, I still have to ask the question–why?

I have a few theories about this, and hope to receive feedback from others to expand this list of theories.

1) For practical, work-related reasons, a woman may choose to delay announcing a pregnancy to her employer/co-workers until she has:
a.  figured out what she will do, work-wise, after the baby is born.
b.  figured out how her employer will handle her as an employee with an       assumed, up-coming  maternity leave.
c.  figured out the likelihood of her job security in the event that she opts for an extra-long maternity leave.  (In our country, 6-8 weeks is pathetically considered a “typical” maternity leave.  If you’ve already had children and are reading this post, you will know how small and vulnerable; how needy and young a six-week-old infant is.  I can’t wait for the day when a “typical” maternity leave in the good ol’ US of A is three-six months, and a “long” maternity leave is a year.)

2.  Social/emotional reasons
Let’s face it:  only fifty percent of pregnancies are planned.  And when the unplanned fifty percent of pregnancies occur, there tends to be some consideration to undertake.  If the pregnancy occurs outside of a committed relationship or (God-forbid) as the result of an act of violence, the woman likely has a lot of soul-searching to do before she starts announcing to her partner, friends and family members that she is “in the family way.”  Perhaps a pregnancy occurs between two people who are in a committed relationship–but the pregnancy is still very much a surprise:  a drastic change from whatever set of plans the two people had arranged between themselves.  This too may require soul searching:  how do we get our minds around this drastically different  path on our mutual road map?

3.  A woman’s ( or couple’s) fear of emotional vulnerability:
“If we tell everyone about our pregnancy, and we end up miscarrying–then we’ll have to tell all those same people about losing the baby.  There will be questions, unsolicited comments and well-meant pieces of advice that will cause us to re-live our agony again and again.”

This is the part of the equation I find so perplexing.

In other scenarios, when we experience the loss of a loved one, it is socially acceptable to immerse ourselves in the comfort of others; to wear our grief on our sleeves and accept the nurturing that others willfully offer us.  It’s OK, expected and encouraged to talk through the details of that person’s death–moments spent in the hospital with him or her.  Details of a sudden or prolonged illness.  Difficult, peaceful or comforting good-byes.

But when it comes to the loss of a not-yet-born baby (I know, I know…I’m sounding very Right Wing, here) we expect ourselves to bear our grief in relative silence…disallowing friends and family the opportunity to know about our loss and comfort us.

Is this emotional holding others at arm’s length about stoicism?  Or is it just about protecting oneself from the unfortunately idiotic things that (well-meaning) people end up saying in what they feel is an awkward situation?  Conversely, is it about protecting oneself from the isolating silence that may arise from the friends, family and colleagues that would have known about the pregnancy–evidence that members of that particular woman’s support system is poorly qualified to walk with her in her time of grief and loss.

From friends of mine who have had miscarriages, these are the types of comments/suggestions they had been in receipt of in the days/weeks/months following their miscarriage(s):

“I’m sorry for your loss–are you going to start trying again soon?”

“You know, it’s for the best:  there was probably something wrong with the baby to begin with.”

“It must have been God’s plan…”

“Good thing it happened so early on in the pregnancy…”

My suspicion, in the face of a miscarriage, is it’s probably better to start with simply acknowledging the person/couple’s loss by saying something like,

“I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you…”

and offer your emotional availability,

“I really want you to know that I’m here for you…anytime, day or night.  If you want to talk, or if you want someone to be with in silence, please know you can call anytime.  Is there anything I can do for you right now?”

Another interesting twist to this whole dilemma is how parents who’ve already birthed one or more children handle their pregnancies.  Call it feeling cavalier, relaxed or (can you even believe it?) confident in the body’s ability to carry a child…some women/couples announce subsequent pregnancies from the moment the woman has peed on the stick and come up with a positive result.

We certainly found this to be true with our second and third pregnancies.  Perhaps this has to do with trusting that if the woman’s body had successfully carried a baby to a healthy birth in the past, that there’s no reason to doubt that same course again and, therefore, announcing the good news feels safer.  Statistically, this doesn’t necessarily make sense, but the point here is that something shifts in this woman’s/couple’s psyche–allowing her to open herself up to sharing her good news with friends and loved ones.

I am thankful to have never suffered the deep grief that accompanies the loss of a much-wanted baby.  I am thankful to have carried to near-term all three of our children (albeit with a few glitches along the way).  I’m also thankful for the gift several of my friends have given me in sharing their experiences with miscarriage.  Not because I’m interested in voyeurism.  But because I believe their naked honesty has allowed me to be more compassionate and, when suitable, more willing to listen rather than talk in the face of someone else’s personal tragedy.

What are your experiences with miscarriage?  What do you have to add to this topic?

Lastly, here are some links for you:

From the Cleveland Clinic

On-line Support Group

Ideas for supporting someone who’s had a miscarriage

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Filed under Childbirth Issues, Depression and Other Pregnancy Complications, family, friendship, From One Mother to Another, Writing and Publishing

When A Kids’ Neurons Start Connecting

A couple months ago, my kids and I met an old college friend for lunch at a park.  She brought her infant son.  We brought more food than we could possibly devour–especially once the food had been thoroughly soaked by the sprinkler system heads that went off without warning.

Over the course of an hour or so, this friend and I haltingly chatted while I wrangled my three ruffians and she coerced her little one to take in a few ounces from his bottle.

Truthfully, there wasn’t anything tremendously remarkable about the day (aside from the sprinkler debacle), I would have imagined, from my kids’ perspectives.  We were at a park we’d been to countless times before.  It was a mid-summer day like any other–except for the odd flying thing soaring overhead just prior to our departure.

My friend and I hadn’t been able to decipher what it was–the thing. A glider?  An oddly shaped helicopter?  A weather balloon?  My friend had pointed it out to our four-year-old son, in hopes that his likely superior vision, compared to hers or mine, could clear up the confusion.

But no such luck.

Six weeks later, this evening, while eating cheap, baked frozen pizza and green bean-edamame-tomato salad (I know, quite a combo, right?) Landon started drawing all sorts of wild connections together.

“Remember the story on the news about the two fire fighters who died, Mom?”

I wasn’t  immediately sure if he was referring to the firefighters who’ve recently died in the fire north of LA, or if he was referring to something he’d heard on NPR’s 8th anniversary of 9/11 coverage.  Regardless, I just went with it.

“Sure, honey.  I remember.  What about it?”

“It’s sad that they died, isn’t it, Mom?”

“Of course it is.  It’s sad when anyone dies–especially when they die doing their job, which involves helping other people.”

“I’ll bet God is sad that they died.”

“I’m sure you’re right, honey.”

The ensuing long pause was punctuated by a thoughtful crunch of over-cooked pizza crust.

“That was probably them flying over head that day.”

“What?  What day?  Flying overhead where?”

“You know, that day at the park.  It was probably the two firefighters we saw flying overhead.”

“What park?  What are you talking about, honey?”

“At the park.  When we got wet from the sprinklers.  We saw something flying in the sky.  It was probably the two firefighters on their way to go live with God.”

Do you have the chills, yet?

I read a book, long before I was a parent, called Old Souls by Thomas Shroder.  The book was written by a journalist who traveled to the Middle East — Beirut, to be exact, to research a rumor he’d heard about the inordinate amount of children who seem to posses old (insert reincarnated) souls.

Now, I’m not entirely convinced of the whole reincarnation thing.  But I’m also not entirely against its possibility.  The fact is, I just don’t know.  I think there’s a heck of a lot out there that many of us won’t even be able to grasp until we’ve passed on to the other side.  And, then again, there are probably some uberly enlightened folk that are able to grasp far more than the rest of us.

But one of the wonderful things about that book–and other sources on similar topics which I’ve read–is the idea that children maintain a much greater connection to the spiritual world than adults.  Some even argue that certain children are still able to remember what heaven is like–perpetuating, of course, the idea that each individual soul comes from heaven to earth and therefore there must be some opportunity for memories to have formed and perhaps even been maintained.

I’m not claiming here that I think this particular son of ours is an old soul.  Or clairvoyant.  Or anything else related.  But, wow–what a connection to make.  Especially after a run-of-the-mill day at the park that no one in our family has talked about since (Except for the sprinklers.  That seemed to make an impression.)

Other than in the catacombs of the mysteriously amazing brain, where neuronal connections occur with lightning-like speed and unbelievable permanency, where do children come up with these fantastic connections?

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Why I Do What I Do

Inevitably, upon making a new acquaintance, I face that age-old ritual: plugging each other with the question, “What do you do?”

I’ve addressed this issue before regarding what it takes to be willing to call oneself  “a writer.”  But, interestingly enough, I still stumble through a decent amount of hemming and hawing when I’m asked the ‘what do you do’ question.  My response tends to go something like this:

     “What do I do?  That’s a good question.  ‘What don’t I do’ might be even more appropriate. 
     “I’m a stay-at-home-mom, mostly.  But I also write.  And I teach childbirth preparation classes.  I mean I run my own private childbirth education program.  And I do a lot of community volunteer and education stuff.  I write about pregnancy and motherhood and childrearing.  I’m kind of a Jack Janet of All Trades.”

God have mercy.

Poorly-defined descriptions aside, I do find that the further I delve into creating my professional life, the more certain parts of it resonate with me.  At the end of the day, whether it’s through print form, blog form or a public speaking format, I like to encourage people to think…outside their own self-made proverbial box, that is.

I suppose it’s fair to say, I enjoy commanding a room.  Not all together different from the satisfaction a surgeon might experience at maintaining responsibility for the goings in within the operating suite, I like crafting group dialog and directing a large group journey into new consideration.

While teaching my Lamaze classes, I love the moment when I offer a tidbit of advice or information and I witness neurons forming new connections.  You know the look:  a person across the room from you, corners of the mouth turned down, head cocked to the side just-so, eyebrows raised and in coordination with a contemplative nod and verbal, “mmm.”  Teaching childbirth classes and delivering keynote speaking addresses on topics like “Modern Day Motherhood” and “Challenges of Parenting in the First Year,” are all about the same thing, really:  opening peoples’ eyes and giving them permission to feel what they really feel.

This type of work certainly isn’t all altruistic.  There are elements of teaching, writing and speaking which I perform simply for my own benefit:  interacting with other adults after a day spent looking after young children; building my name as a community resource and business person; further honing my writing skills in gradual pursuit of the golden pie in the sky known as “making it.” 

And, there’s also the education part of things.  I am constantly learning from the people with whom I interact and teach.  I learn from their questions, life situations and choices made.  I learn each time a former student of mine calls with the good news of their baby’s birth–and the ensuing details of what transpired during the course of labor and delivery.  I learn about people’s religions and career challenges, marital strife and overt joys. 

Certainly, tidbits of my work and life experiences may find their way into my writing–be it in novel or nonfiction form.  But it is the inspiration of the human condition that will more likely inform my writing, my teaching and speaking.  What more could you ask for in a job?

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Filed under Balancing career and motherhood, Childbirth Issues, From One Mother to Another, Living, Mommy and Motherhood, natural childbirth, pregnancy, Writing and Publishing