Monthly Archives: June 2010

In the News: Stories About Childbirth

We all know it:  the collective media including television, radio, newspapers (and, in my mind, the film industry, too) has enormous power.  Even if its various news companies have consolidated under a couple massive corporate umbrellas. So when I see articles or images about childbirth–newspaper blogs, print media or otherwise– I perk up right away, my interest tainted by an undercurrent of pessimism.  “How bad is it going to be, this time?”

Although I’d like to think that folks are becoming progressively savvy about the mass of information flooding their consciousness on a regular basis, I know there are still plenty of other people out there who accept “the news” as gospel truth.

Just think for a second on how childbirth tends to be represented in film and media.  What images come to mind?  Blue gown-draped women strapped into narrow hospital beds raised half way up to the ceiling so everyone in the room has a front row view of her intimate space…wide opened legs secured into stirrups…sweating, screaming and panicking as a ten-pounder comes barreling out the birth canal?  If we’re talking mainstream media and film, this is the type of image most typically portrayed.

Thankfully, there are more and more documentaries arising that demonstrate the softer side of birth–the emotionally empowering, life celebrating, ecstatic side of giving birth. Unfortunately, the mainstream media refuses to embrace this image of women during labor and delivery.

This morning, I came across a newspaper blog post in which the author, a mother of a three-year-old who is pregnant with her soon-to-arrive second child, comparatively discusses her emotions during her first baby’s birth, and the impending change in her family’s life as baby #2 arrives.  The title of her post: Childbirth Means Your Life’s Forever Changed.

A great title, really.

Suddenly optimistic, and hoping to read about how this woman might have been empowered during her first baby’s birth–how she scaled her own personal wall of difficulty, only to emerge on the other side stronger and more confident in her ability to handle the difficult challenges life will inevitably throw her way–how childbirth changed her for the better, having given her a glimpse into the true depths of her being… I read about a woman who approached her first birth encompassed by fear and hesitation.

In her own words, recalling her emotions prior to her first child’s birth, “The path is set and you have few options but to grin and bear it. Or in my case, hit the epidural early and hit it hard.”

Few options?  What a regretful mindset to be in.

When I read an article like this, my response is two-fold:  1) What a missed opportunity this person bypassed to learn the true depths of her strength as a woman, a mother, an individual.  2) How many women have read this same article and, once again, have had reiterated for them the unfair notion that childbirth is little more than a sentence to hours of optionless misery that you can do nothing other than “grin and bear it” through?

For women who are so frightened of birth, I wish them the time, courage and opportunity to watch films like this and this and this. And then, perhaps one or even a few of those women would be willing to go here for ongoing support in seeking/considering/planning for a gentle childbirth experience.

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Filed under Childbirth Issues, family, From One Mother to Another, Mommy and Motherhood, natural childbirth, pregnancy, prenatal health

Exploring Cultures: The Indian Caste System

Abandoning my original planned topic, I feel compelled to refer you to this blog post about the Indian caste system.

Why?  Because I find it fascinating.  And because I couldn’t imagine our children being born into a system in which they would have absolutely no chance to become anything other than the most lowly members of their culture.

Just last night, I prepared a huge Indian feast for our family and Kate, our visiting teenage neighbor/friend who will be here with us from Montana for the summer.  This was Kate’s first Indian meal.  Her first taste of curries and dal and khorma and spicy paratha.  I dressed myself in scarves, toe ring, anklets, etc. to “play the part” of an Indian hostess, and Ellie helped out by retrieving red stick-on dots for us to wear on our foreheads–the stickers we used to label prices on garage sale items last year.

I was careful to look up the “red dot” before dinner, so I could explain to the family about its purpose and intent.  We weren’t making fun.  I made that clear to our children.  We were learning about one of the many other cultures we’re gladly being exposed to since our move to the SF Bay area.  Call it a cultural immersion lesson.

This morning, while preparing to write a post, I found this article about the Indian caste system–a system of delineating citizens into predetermined groups, ranging from priests to “untouchables.”

The thing I don’t understand about the Indian caste system is the idea that a person is born into a certain caste because of the degree to which he or she obeyed the laws of the dharma (righteous living) in his/her previous life.  At the same time, caste membership (probably not the right word, here) is passed down from one generation to the next.  So, if I understand correctly, an Untouchable woman–Untouchable being the lowest segment of the population, so low in fact, that it isn’t actually even considered part of the caste system– could spend her entire life being as pious as the greatest of saints, and still her child would be born an Untouchable–worthy only of growing up to become an agricultural field worker,  a toilet cleaner or dead animal retriever.  Perhaps, however, her spirit would be reincarnated into a higher group.

I’m hoping someone who knows far more about this system than I, will happen upon this post and shed some light for us all.

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Are Maternity Units Too Noisy?

Check out my guest post on Lamaze International’s blog, Science and Sensibility.  It’s about new research being done on noise in hospitals, and how that impacts women and babies during and following birth.
Enjoy!

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Money for Maternal Child Health: The Gates Foundation’s Newest Project

I am assuming by now, you’ve heard about the announcement Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation made this week about the $1.5billion the Foundation is poised to spend over the next five years for the purpose of saving maternal and child lives surrounding childbirth, as well as improving over all maternity care, in developing nations.

Gates’ announcement was made at the Women Deliver 2010 conference this past Wednesday, and according to the Women Deliver website, on a global scale, “at least one woman dies every 90 seconds from [childbirth] and another 20 suffer infection or disability, while four million newborns die every year. These grim numbers actually represent improvements over the last 20 years….”

What’s important to understand here, is that a majority of these deaths (particularly in developing nation environments) are EASILY prevented–given access to basic medication (antibiotics), trained birth attendants (in most cases, we’re not talking about trained surgeons, we’re talking knowledgeable midwives) and simple postpartum hemorrhage tools and techniques.

Again, from the Women Deliver website:

  • Every year, between 350,000 – 500,000 girls and women die from pregnancy-related causes. Almost all of these deaths (99%) occur in the developing world.
  • Ten million women are lost in every generation.
  • Four million newborn babies die every year, also from causes that are mainly preventable and typically linked to the mother’s health.
  • Huge disparities exist between rich and poor countries, and between the rich and poor in all countries.
  • One in eight Afghan women will die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and one in seven in Niger.
  • One in 4,800 women will die of these causes in the United States, and one in 17,400 in Sweden.

Map of women who will die due to complications during  pregnancy

If that doesn’t give you pause, it darned-well should.  Imagine seven or eight of your girlfriends…your aunts/sisters/mothers…which one of those seven or eight can you imagine losing to pregnancy-related causes?  Despite efforts by people like famed midwife Ina May Gaskin who continues her work on the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project, many of us living in developed nation environments can scarcely imagine what it would be like to lose a loved-one during the perinatal time period.  And those of us who do know someone who died following a pregnancy-related complication, may have experienced that tragedy as an aberration rather than a commonality.  Imagine the anxiety surrounding that time in a woman’s life when the stakes are so much higher than which we here in the US, UK, Australia, or most of Europe will  ever experience.

(Interestingly enough, considering the amazing access to medicine and well-informed maternity care, US women are still at an unacceptably increased risk when it comes to pregnancy and birth, especially when you compare our statistics to places like The Netherlands where the maternal perinatal mortality rate is approx. 9/100,000 births compared to our ~16/100,000.  In our reality, the problem most often boils down to overuse of technology…but that’s a whole different story.)

I’m excited to see what improvements will be orchestrated through The Gates Foundation contribution, and the global work being undertaken by researchers, activists, care providers, educators and citizens who choose to exercise their voices…all for the sake of improved outcomes for mothers and babies!

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Gettin’ Back into the Kitchen: A Mother’s Gastronomic Success Story

Once upon a time, I really loved to cook.  So much so, that for several years running, I received for Christmas an annual subscription to Cooking Light Magazine, and its partner, Cooking Light Annual Recipes Cookbooks from my mother-in-law and mom, respectively.  I took Indian cooking classes and French wine tasting classes while still living in Pittsburgh.  I hosted dinner parties for which I’d pleasantly spend the preceding twenty-four hours chopping, sauteing and baking the meal’s components I hoped to nurture my guests with.

Then, our daughter was born.  And a son.  And another son.

Seven years of parenthood later, I am beginning to find myself in the kitchen again–and not always to throw together the most banal meal possible–a frozen pizza with a side of warmed up, frozen peas.  I’d love to say I’m cracking a cookbook every day and whipping up extraordinary meals with all locally grown goods, but on gymnastics and swim class days, brief supper prep still reigns supreme.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the local farmer’s markets and specialty food shops are enough to inspire anyone–especially me.  Last night’s dinner consisted of sautéed onion, garlic, organic baby  spinach and plump Romano tomatoes tossed over bucatini pasta and topped with Old By seasoned, pan seared scallops.  YUM.

Also, being a habitual banana saver, I recently discovered eleven dark brown bananas in the freezer that were all but demanding usage (in the form of taking up too much freezer space).  Having found this banana bread recipe, I altered and increased it, accommodating ten out of the eleven bananas, making it dairy free, chocolate-lovers delectable, and overall accomplishing gustatory success.  Here’s how it went down:

Kimmelin’s version of Banana Bread

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups chevre, softened
2 cups fine-grained baker’s sugar
1 cup turbinado sugar (“Sugar in the Raw”)
10 large ripe bananas, mashed
~ 2 teaspoons Madagascar vanilla extract
6 eggs, slightly beaten
4 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking soda
75g of high quality dark chocolate (75% cacao or higher)

Directions:

1. Cream the goat’s cheese and sugars. Blend in the bananas, vanilla and eggs.

2. Whisk together the dry ingredients.

3.  Chop chocolate roughly–into small shards  (smaller than dime-sized)

4. Add to the bread mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate pieces.  DO NOT OVER MIX so as to avoid ending up with dry bread.  Pour into greased pans. (you can use ~ 3 9×5 loaf pans, or put into muffin cups–muffin cups require approx. 1/2 – 1/3 the baking time as the loaf pans.

5. Bake at 350F. Check on the bread after 18 minutes, if baking in muffin tins, or 35 minutes if using bread loaf pans ( loaf pans may take up to 60 minutes). Banana bread is done when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool the banana bread in the pan for 10 minutes then cool completely on a wire rack.

ENJOY~

Note:  I’m planning to use one of my loaves of bread for a celebratory End of School breakfast tomorrow–sliced and prepared as french toast.  Double YUM!!!

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Lamaze International Organization’s Healthy Birth Practice #6: Keeping Mothers and Babies Together After Birth

Amy Romano, a Certified Nurse Midwife, mother of two and multiple venue contributor to Lamaze publications, including the blog Science and Sensibility is a fantastic example of a woman on a mission.  In short, she is working to make improvements to the maternity care system in our country.

Amy recently invited me to participate in a Bloggers Carnival regarding the Lamaze International organization’s sixth Healthy Birth PracticeKeep Mother and Baby Together (following birth): It’s Best for Mother, Baby, and Breastfeeding

This particular topic reminds me of the dozens of conversations I’ve been involved in–with my own students and with childbirth education colleagues of mine– regarding how to maintain mother-baby contact following a cesarean section birth.

The research on this issue is crystal clear:  babies do better in the first minutes, hours and days, the more time they spend in skin-to-skin contact with their mothers.  Their breathing and heart rates remain more stable.  Their body temperatures fluctuate less.  Ditto for their blood sugar levels.  They cry less and they nurse and sleep better, too.

In her wildly successful book, A Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, birth activist Henci Goer pulls together data from multiple national and international studies that all report similar findings with newborn decreased APGAR scores, respiratory rate variability and poor oxygenation, in the event of a cesarean birth.  Basically, a baby born by c-section loses out on the pressures associated with a normal, vaginal birth–pressures that result in massaging and squeezing excess amniotic fluid from her lungs, enabling improved air flow and oxygenation.

So, if a baby born by c-section is already three times as likely to suffer breathing difficulties than his vaginal birth equivalent, why would we would make it common practice to separate mom and baby seconds after the birth, when maintaining mother-baby skin-to-skin contact improves the very functions threatened by the cesarean process?  Is it not equally possible for someone (dad/partner/nurse/doula/etc./etc.) to lift away mom’s hospital gown and help hold baby skin-to-skin on mom’s chest while the cesarean procedure is completed, thus helping to stabilize the infant in the moments following his birth?

Another hurdle to maintaining close contact between mom and baby following a cesarean is the question of anesthesia.  Depending on the hospital in which a woman is giving birth, it may be very likely a common practice for the woman to receive an IV sedative following her baby’s birth–forcing her into a “twilight” sleep for the remainder of her surgery, and rendering her groggy (and sometimes violently nauseated) for upwards of two hours thereafter.  With mom cast off into la-la land and baby whisked away to the nursery, some mother-baby duos find themselves separated for upwards of two hours after birth–a critical time when skin-to-skin contact would otherwise facilitate stabilization of baby’s vital signs, mother-baby bonding, initiation of nursing (which, by the way, significantly slows mom’s uterine bleeding) and stabilization of the woman’s birth and post-birth hormonal fluctuations.

In the Lamaze classes I taught up in Bozeman, I got to the point that I encouraged expectant parents to ask for several things in the event a cesarean delivery became imminent:

1.  Request baby be placed on mom’s chest following delivery AS SOON AS POSSIBLE and perform any support measures for baby at that location (yes, the anesthesiologist will have his or her space cramped up at the head of the operating table but they can cope if they really want to).

2.  Request that mom NOT be given a sedative of any sort (she will be entirely numb from nipple line down due to a spinal block, anyway) during or following the surgery.  Encourage other relaxation measures if anxiety surrounding surgery should arise:  relaxation breathing, soft music in the OR, partner and/or doula present near mom’s head at all times…

3.  If separation of mom and baby DOES occur for any reason (newborn needing extra resuscitation measures, etc.) request reunion between mom and baby within no more than 30 MINUTES of birth, and make sure baby goes directly to recovery room with mom, rather than to the nursery.

4.  Request two people accompany mom into operating room, such as her spouse/partner and a doula, midwife, friend or other family member so that there is plenty of emotional support and advocacy for maintaining mother-baby contact following birth.

With the national rate of cesareans creeping upwards of 30%, there are a lot of moms and newborn babes out there who are missing out on important minutes and hours of each others’ time…unless educated consumers LIKE YOU start requesting different practices.

Do me a favor, pass the link to this post along to anyone who will at some point, has, or is about to give birth.  Join the conversation.  Make your voice heard.

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Filed under breastfeeding, Childbirth Issues, family, From One Mother to Another, Kids, Mommy and Motherhood, politics, pregnancy

Dinosaurs, Crude Oil and Seashell Beach

Every Wednesday, our daughter has an early release day from school.  Since moving to California, I have instituted “Wednesday Adventure Day” to take advantage of this free half day, mid-way through the week.  Our adventures don’t take us as far as I described in yesterday’s post, but we do get out and about and find something new to explore.

Yesterday, we made our way to a little beach area in Foster City, which borders the San Francisco Bay.  The cool thing about this beach?  It’s made entirely of crushed sea shells.

The kids initially came along, moaning and groaning about wanting to stay home, about me not telling them where we were going, about being too cold in the 70 degree weather with a little wind kicking up off the Bay (come on–they’re still Montana kids…too cold?  They’ve been outside in -20 degree weather before!  Give me a break!).  But once we got down onto the beach, their usual New Adventure Glee kicked in.

Seven-year-old Ellie has acquired the addictive habit of searching for sea glass.  Yesterday, we found a monster piece of pale blue, ocean-tumbled glass for her collection.  We discovered that when a handful of shattered shells are scooped up and then blow slowly out of one’s hand by the wind, the tinkling sound is like sea shell wind chimes found at an ocean side community gift shop.

Walking along, searching for shells, glass and whatever else might catch our collective eye, five-year-old Landon spotted a partially dried jelly fish the size of a salad plate.

Amidst the broken shells were also huge masses of dark gray, semi-dried mud…the sludge brought in by the bay and deposited along the shore lines and at the bottom of the fingerling lagoons that weave their way throughout Foster City and nearby Redwood Shores.  Ellie slipped on the mud, revealing a black under-layer.

“Maybe it’s oil from the Gulf of Mexico,” I falsely surmised.

Up to that point, the kids had been calling the mud “dinosaur goop.”  We launched into a discussion about the fact that crude oil is exactly that–thousands of years old decomposed materials of living things, including dinosaurs.  (Actually, the crude was made from plankton that lived during the Jurrassic period…but that was more info than I could work into the discussion).

As things usually do with young children the conversation migrated.

“If oil is made from natural stuff, than why is it such a big deal for it to be leaking into the ocean?” astute Ellie asked.
“You know, I was just thinking the same thing earlier today,” I answered her.

The best explanation I could come up with, after hearing a story on NPR about a similar oil spill in the gulf that occurred in 1971, was this:

“Even though the oil is a natural substance, it doesn’t belong outside the rock underneath the ocean floor.  It would be like taking an entire lake or ocean-worth of water and dumping it on a desert.  Even though the water would be a natural substance, it would cause problems for the desert ecosystem, because the plants and animals that live there wouldn’t be used to having that much water there.”

Maybe a bad comparison, but a comparison all the same.

This whole oil spill thing has gotten me very frustrated.  At what point will human beings learn that we can’t continue to use and abuse the earth without there being a high potential for irreparable results?  And from a mother’s point of view, how much damage can we inflict on this planet until we are leaving behind nothing but a caustic environment for children and grandchildren to live in?

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