Midwifery Today ~ Men and Labor. An Interview with Ray McAllister, a Blind Male Doula.

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There comes a turning point in intense physical struggle where one abandons oneself to a profligate usage of strength and bodily resource, ignoring the costs until the struggle is over. Women find this point in childbirth; men in battle.” 
~ Diana Gabaldon

 

An Interview with Ray McAllister: A Blind Male Doula

by Mary Ann Lieser
From Midwifery Today, Issue 125, Spring 2018

Ray McAllister was drawn to doula work for some of the same reasons that many doulas are: awe of the miracle of birth, respect for the power expressed in the female body during labor, a desire to help enhance the experience by coming alongside laboring women to share their journey, and the wish to make a positive difference in the lives of new families.

Those underlying reasons were the beginning for Ray, but they are also where the similarities end. Not only is Ray male, he has been totally blind since the age of 12.

Like most of the handful of other male doulas, Ray began his journey to doula work through massage therapy. He had already completed massage training and was working as a therapist before he knew what a doula was.

After providing relaxation massage for several new mothers, Ray felt drawn to help with births and learned about the Massage Doula Support training offered by the Institute of Somatic Therapy. He promptly enrolled and found that the academic portion of the program and the written test weren’t difficult. But when he needed to attend three qualifying births for certification, Ray discovered it was a challenge to find pregnant women who wanted to work with him.

Having no success among his own network of acquaintances, Ray volunteered his services at a homeless shelter, where a soon-to-deliver woman was grateful to have his support. She then referred a pregnant friend, who referred another woman. “I attended three births in six weeks,” Ray says, “with the first two births only 10 days apart.” Like many of us, he found those births exhilarating and rewarding; he loved being a part of it.

The concept of a male doula remains controversial in parts of the birth community. The idea can arouse strongly negative—even hostile—reactions. Some supporters of male doulas counter with a list of potential advantages. Often a man is taller and has more upper body strength to lift, help reposition, and provide counter-pressure to the mother’s lower back and hips. Sometimes a male doula can work more effectively with a given family unit. Where a female doula might make the baby’s father feel replaced or left out of the exclusive women-only club surrounding the birth, a male doula can work with the father to help him be an active participant, with the doula providing physical support and the woman’s partner freed up to be there for emotional support.

Ray echoes those advantages when he recalls the births he’s attended. He also handles questions about his gender by pointing out that it is the birthing mother’s right to choose whomever she’s comfortable with to assist at her birth. Some women would never choose a male doula, and that’s fine with Ray. He just hopes that he won’t be judged solely on his gender. And he doesn’t agree with the idea that women are naturally more nurturing. “Being female doesn’t mean you’re magically qualified,” he asserts, recalling instances he’s witnessed of insensitivity on the part of female birth attendants.

Ray’s blindness has posed a greater challenge to his doula work, but it also provides tremendous advantages. Ray has a terrific support system of his own in place to help with the logistics of getting to appointments and births. His wife is a partner in his massage practice, providing aromatherapy alongside his bodywork. She is also his driver and guide for births, helping orient him to his surroundings before slipping away to leave Ray with the birth team until after the baby is born.

Like many blind people, Ray believes that his other senses and his intuition are heightened because he cannot rely on sight. That increased sensitivity led him to massage work—a field where visual limitations can be an asset when they result in increased sensitivity and more skillful palpation. There is a centuries-old tradition of blind massage practitioners in southeast Asia—from Malaysia to Thailand—and Ray was aware of that when he entered the field.

“We are hands-on people,” Ray says, speaking of the blind community and affirming that the tactile skills acquired through learning Braille result in an enhanced ability to glean information through palpation. He points out that reading Braille has prepared him for other hands-on endeavors in two ways: the first is the heightened sensitivity, and the second is objectivity in the use of his hands. Ray believes that blind people can be more objective when encountering their surroundings. “My hand is first an instrument of acquiring information. My hand touches everything—it doesn’t make a difference what it is—so I think I place fewer value judgments on the physical than a sighted person might be inclined to. I can be body-neutral and more quickly arrive at the place where I can say ‘It’s just a body—get over it.’”

Ray states that “A lot of men aren’t very mature when it comes to the female body,” but he also believes that he’s had advantages that some other men haven’t had. The tactile nature of Braille gave him a head start, as did the casual exposure he’s had to the medical world during his life.

His father is a physician and his wife is a nurse, and both have discussed body issues freely. Volunteering hours at the homeless shelter working with female clients was also an integral part of his education. He found himself instructing breastfeeding women in massage to increase milk production, and pregnant women in perineal massage, which was a real challenge. “They didn’t know the word perineum, so I had to learn street slang to be able to teach them. It was awkward at first, but got easier. I think the best thing for a lot of men, for their own maturity, would be to witness birth and breastfeeding. It resets your attitude, so you can start over, from a better place.”

Braille does have limitations as a means of learning, however. It is a strictly two-dimensional system, on or off, a dot in a given spot, or no dot. “There is no gray in Braille,” Ray points out, and no good way to convey the illustrations that play a big part in many birth and medical books. Ray overcame this obstacle by visiting a birth simulation lab in a local hospital, where he could use his hands to gain a better understanding of what happens during the birth process, including variations such as a breech presentation. He’d visited the anatomy lab of a medical school over a decade before, to learn more about anatomy, including the female body. Once he became involved in birth, he found that another hands-on encounter in a lab setting to learn specifically about birth was valuable. When he experienced a robot baby make its way down the birth canal of a robot mother, Ray had a series of “aha” moments:

“That’s how the head rotates, and that’s how the shoulder slips out.”

Ray has been reading Braille since he was 5 or 6 and first learned to read. He was born 42 years ago with Peter’s anomaly, a degenerative birth defect, and had his left eye surgically removed at the age of five. He had limited vision in his right eye until he was 12, when he lost the vision in that eye as well. His right eye was surgically removed when he was in his 20s.

Ray believes that all of our life experiences help us pull together what we can bring to a birth. For him, experiences with surgery, blindness, and the medical system have helped him get past the gender divide when it comes to birth. His own past has deepened his empathy and helped him connect with laboring women. “Pain is pain,” he says. And a lifetime of relying on his remaining senses has given him a different perspective on labor. “I have learned to listen for subtle changes in the woman’s breathing to help gauge whether the massage techniques I’m using are helping ease her pain. And even if no one vocalizes that it’s happened, I can tell by the odor when her water breaks. Be still and you can pick up on things. A lot of communication is redundant.”

More than anything else, Ray expresses gratitude for the births he has been involved in, loves that he was “part of a beautiful miracle,” and encourages anyone who feels led to work with birthing mothers to “go for it, learn it, do it.”

Even though it was difficult for him to process the news when he learned that one of the homeless mothers he supported during birth had died of a heroin overdose when her baby was a few months old, he is grateful he had the privilege of being there for her.

Maybe he isn’t so different from other doulas after all.

Mary Ann Lieser is a freelance writer and doula, and sells used books in Wooster, Ohio. She is the mother of eight homebirthed children.

 

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Christmas Births

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Editor’s Corner

Happy Holy Days

This is our last E-News issue of the year so I want to take this opportunity to wish you the most joyful holidays whatever and however you celebrate. You deserve a great celebration. The work you do for motherbaby is maybe the most important work being done in this world. How babies are born, how mothers are cared for affects how the world goes. I have great hope for motherbaby and families because the new knowledge of the microbiome and how it affects human babies for their entire life is an issue upon which change can be made.

Because you work so diligently for families, I hope you will consider subscribing to Midwifery Today. We make the greatest effort to bring you articles, poems, art and photos that will help inform and inspire your calling. We have wonderful authors such as Michel Odent, Sister MorningStar, Robin Lim, Susun Weed, Elizabeth Davis and many more. Also, please consider writing for us. You will receive a year subscription if your article is published. You can subscribe here.

~ Jan Tritten, mother of Midwifery Today

Jan Tritten is the founder, editor-in-chief and mother of Midwifery Today magazine. She became a midwife in 1977 after the amazing homebirth of her second daughter. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies throughout the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world, or join her online, as she works to transform birth practices around the world.

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Featured Article

My Most Memorable Christmas Births

My most memorable Christmas birth was a beautiful waterbirth, reminiscent of “Silent night, holy night.” It was a crisp, clear night, just a few days after Christmas. “The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow, gave the luster of midday…”

The family had moved the dining table into a spare bedroom and put the tub up next to the Christmas tree. It was a real tree, still smelling of pine. The only light in the room came from the lights on the tree. The baby slid into the world serenely and reverently and mewed a content new baby cry. All was well with the world.

To make it even more memorable, when we turned on the kitchen light to examine the placenta, there was a second smaller lobe attached to the main placenta. It had a tiny string of an umbilical cord leading off of it, ending in a small empty sac.

Then there was the primip who was in labor on Christmas Eve. In those days, my husband and I split up the Christmas duties with one of us taking the younger kids to the children’s mass and pageant on Christmas Eve while the other one of us stayed home and cooked dinner and then attended midnight mass with the older kids. The one who had gone to church earlier put the younger kids to bed and started putting presents under the tree.

So, this particular Christmas, I was planning to take the younger kids to the children’s mass, but I was still at the birth, so Hubby had to take them while the older kids stayed home and made supper. Surely, I thought, I’d be home in time to take them to the midnight mass. But no; remember, this was a primip. So the older kids had to walk to church while hubby stayed home with the littles. Meanwhile, my client labored on through the night. She had her baby in the morning. I stayed just long enough to see them settled and nursing well, not bleeding much. I looked at my watch and realized that if I left soon, I would be just in time for the 9 am Christmas morning mass, but there wasn’t enough time to go home and change first. Well, I got to church in the nick of time, sat down and promptly feel asleep!

Then there was the time my fellow midwife called me in labor, just after we finished opening Christmas presents. Her son was born that evening. I attended his wedding last year!

And I’ll never forget the time when all the kids were little (we only had three or four back then). We had procrastinated wrapping Christmas presents and as luck would have it, I had 8 births in 10 days, right around Christmas, so when I was called to a birth on Christmas Eve, most of the presents were still unwrapped. I got home at 3 am Christmas morning, just as Hubby was wrapping the last of the presents. We vowed to never wait to wrap presents again, and we haven’t!

That birth was memorable not only because of the present wrapping fiasco, but this woman did the opposite of what most women do. She would relax between contractions and then pace through each contraction. When it was over, I had rug burns on my knees from scooting behind her with a towel as she paced while the baby descended the birth canal. Thankfully, on the contraction that brought the baby out, she finally stopped and leaned on a chair as baby came out.

~ Marlene Waechter, CPM, is a pioneer Catholic midwife who has served in southern Ohio since the 1970s. She is mother of seven grown children, including five home-born, one of whom was born in water. She is also grandmother to 15 grandchildren, including two HBACs. Besides being a long-time contributor to Midwifery Today, Marlene has co-authored the book, The Joyful Mysteries of Childbirth, a practical and spiritual guide for Christian families.

 

Q: Tell us your Christmas birth story.

— Midwifery Today

A: My favorite Christmas birth happened years ago. In the wee morning hours, I was called to attend a labor on Christmas during an ice and snowstorm. We all drove very slowly to the birth and arrived in time to attend the birth of a 5+ lb girl into a family that had four boys. The parents were so surprised and elated they finally had a girl that they all were shouting Hallelujah. I felt like it was an angel announcement and baby, of course, was named Noelle. I drove to my family’s Christmas dinner with snowflakes falling and hot chocolate in my belly.

— Maryl Smith

A: The very first birth in my birth center was on Christmas! The mama was a VBAC hopeful and had transferred care to me three weeks prior. Then she birthed her precious baby in the wee hours of Christmas morning. It really was magical. Everything outside was so quiet (I’m in downtown Dallas) because all the families were home asleep…together. I got finished in time to get home and shower, slip into bed, close my eyes and have my door burst open with excited children yelling and laughing for Christmas! I got up, had coffee, opened presents and then finally got to nap.

— Kristine Tawater

A: I know a lass who at 23 years old was 3 weeks overdue. On Christmas Eve, her wise grandma made her walk for miles and miles looking for nutmeg that the grandmother then put in the young lady’s large champagne glass without her noticing at their family Christmas celebrations. The young lady left the party and got into bed and woke a few hours later all wet. After three contractions, she headed to hospital as the contractions kept coming back to back. Her mother, her grandmother and her doula all joined her at the hospital.

The contractions came and came, one after the other, nonstop and pinching her back, with no rest or respite. At 4 pm the midwives changed and in came an energetic lady with a very strong accent. She put in a catheter and got kicked and sworn at in Spanish, which she didn’t understand. Finally, a cone-headed baby was born. He was welcomed by the three generations of women behind him, his great great-grandmother, his grandmother, his mother, his godmother doula, his daddy and the tinsel-covered midwives with strong vibes. He is a prince amongst his family and his friends. And this 25th of December, he will be 25 years old and will be surrounded by his family and by his very proud mother, who will never forget every moment of that Christmas day, as she is me!

— Paula Gallardo

A: During my very first Christmas as a newly graduated midwife (I got my diploma on October 1), I worked at a birth center in Copenhagen. A young woman from Greenland came in to have her second child. Her first had been born earlier in the year in January, and this, her second baby, was to be born on Christmas morning! She came in early in the morning and the birth was speedy and beautiful. The mother had such a lovely spirit. Just after noon time, she announced that she was ready to go home again. She had put the Christmas duck in the oven on low heat before leaving for the birth center, and she was expecting dinner guests that evening! She promised me to lie on the couch and let her mother do the rest of the cooking and serve her dinner. I met her again a couple of years later; she told me that Christmas evening had been the best in her life.

— Tine Greve

 

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Breech Birth by Midwifery Today

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Editor’s Corner

Breech Birth

It is interesting that breech birth has become such a controversial issue. For centuries, it was considered normal and just another form of birth. It is surely something one needs extra training for and not something to be taken lightly. That is why we offer classes on breech birth at every conference. Babies can turn breech easily, so it is important to always be prepared for this possibility. Since most doctors no longer do breech birth, the medical world is losing its skill in the art of breech; the only option then is to have a cesarean or to find one of the few midwives willing to assist in a vaginal breech birth.

My dear friend Cornelia Enning, one of our conference speakers, does a class on breech in water because she says this is the best way to help breech babies. Cornelia says that breech birth in water is safer, in part because it improves fetal oxygenation by increasing uterine blood supply during immersion. Frank breeches need no special maneuvers because water alters the effects of gravity. Mobility of the mother in water allows better interaction of the baby through the pelvis and any maneuvers that may be required are easier in water. You can attend Cornelia’s breech workshop at our conference in Finland.

~ Jan Tritten, mother of Midwifery Today

Jan Tritten is the founder, editor-in-chief and mother of Midwifery Today magazine. She became a midwife in 1977 after the amazing homebirth of her second daughter. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies throughout the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world, or join her online, as she works to transform birth practices around the world.

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Featured Article

The Best Dream Ever: Otto’s Breech Birth

I woke up feeling tired and grumpy. By 8 pm I started having period-type pains, which came in irregular waves and were completely bearable, so I didn’t think much of them really.

My husband, Fin, fell asleep at about 11:30 pm and I tried sleeping, too, but couldn’t. I was suddenly really hungry and thirsty, so I went to the kitchen and ate some food and had a drink. The contractions were getting more intense, but still bearable—I really didn’t want to wake the midwives until I was completely sure that this was the real thing.

At around 1:30 am I asked Fin to get me a sick bucket and a hot water bottle. I think it was at this point that I realized this might be the real thing. I stayed in bed a while longer, just keeping calm and breathing through the contractions. I then got up and really needed the loo and had a huge contraction on the toilet. I was still breathing through them, but I started to get quite vocal and loud. I called Fin and he rushed out of bed and said, “Okay I’m going to call the midwives.” I remember thinking that I was making a bit of a pathetic fuss!

Just after 2 am I had two enormous contractions while standing up with my hands on the arm of the sofa. I was very vocal through these (read: “I shouted my face off!”). I was definitely on a different plane of consciousness and my body was taking over. When Fin was off the phone to the midwives he said he was going to call a cab so we could head to St. Mary’s Hospital for the birth, but after another big contraction I said, “You need to call an ambulance now!” I was still leaning on the sofa, and after the second big contraction I said to Fin, “This can’t be right—I am having urges to push!” One more contraction made me yell out, “I can feel something!” I put my fingers behind me and there was something, a bottom or maybe a leg, just starting to present itself. Fin got on the phone to 999.

I was now on all fours on the floor with my face on the sofa. It was at this point that another quite vocal contraction woke my 10-year-old daughter, and in the middle of a contraction, I became aware of her in the doorway. When that one was over, I didn’t want her to be scared (she wasn’t anyway!) and also I wanted her to feel part of things so I smiled and said, “‘Hi Star! Come and hold my hand!” which she did, although she was keeping a very curious eye on what was happening at the other end too!

The paramedics (five of them!) bundled into my flat and stood in a semicircle behind me. I had two contractions which pushed the baby’s bottom (still in the sac) out, but I felt it go back in again. I felt the bottom come out and go back in again twice, and it must have been during the second one that the sac broke and then the next contraction pushed the bottom out fully. The legs and torso followed, and then I felt the arms ping out one by one—a very odd sensation! Star said that seeing her brother’s body out while his head was still in was the coolest thing she’d ever seen in her life.

I suddenly realized that there were no midwives there to advise me whether to push with the next contraction or what to do, and I saw two paths ahead of me: either I could panic, tense up and try to push, or I could relax, trust my body and see what happened. The contraction, quite a mild one, came. I felt my vagina relax and get bigger to allow the head through, then close up when he was out. Otto Gaze-O’Brien was born at 2:33 am on November 9, 2010.

I had no stitches or anything. Bizarrely, it didn’t even hurt afterwards.

The paramedics passed Otto through my legs (I was still on all fours) so I could have a rather awkward cuddle. They tried to cut the cord straight away, but I refused, as I wanted it to stop pulsing.

Our midwife, Liz Noonan, arrived at our flat about 10 minutes after our baby was born, and Fin, Star and I sat on the sofa giggling like school children and asking each other, “Did that actually just happen?!” It felt like a dream—like the best dream ever. About 30 minutes after I gave birth to Otto, Star watched me squat to deliver the placenta. She said, “Mama, that was beautiful. It was…it was majestic!”

~ Ezmë Gaze
Excerpted from “The Best Dream Ever: Otto’s Breech Birth,” Midwifery Today, Issue 106
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Ethics in Midwifery ~ Midwifery Today

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Ethics in Birth Care

We now know so much more about overall health and the seeding of a healthy microbiome at birth that it would be unethical not to have the mother and baby skin-to-skin and undisturbed unless there is a life-threatening emergency. We find in life that many of the things we used to believe are not true anymore. We can really only take responsibility for what is known. The benefits of a healthy microbiome are now well known, and birth practitioners fail mothers and babies when they do not facilitate the best foundation for a healthy life.

Michel Odent wrote a great article for our next issue of Midwifery Today magazine where he talks about all of this in detail. He concludes that the best place to have a baby is in the mother’s home where her microbes flourish. We homebirth midwives are at a great advantage here but it is also important that we facilitate what we know. Since most babies are born in hospital, it is of utmost importance that practitioners there figure out the best ways to help families facilitate this right to a healthy microbiome!

~ Jan Tritten, mother of Midwifery Today

Jan Tritten is the founder, editor-in-chief and mother of Midwifery Today magazine. She became a midwife in 1977 after the amazing homebirth of her second daughter. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies throughout the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world, or join her online, as she works to transform birth practices around the world.

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The Voice of Reason

“Good luck with that cesarean section problem,” said my webmaster as he posted the beautiful home water birth photos of mother Kalista and baby Loki with father Trace and sister Sophie immersed in love, joy and newborn water. “It seems we were talking about that problem 30 years ago.” Yep, he’s right. We were.

By 2013, ACOG had released their new definitions for gestation, making 40 weeks term and paving the way for inductions at 39 weeks. California-licensed midwives received news of tighter restrictions for homebirth. National and world statistics worsened for infant and maternal mortality making it seem reasonable to move toward higher requirements for birth worker education and tighter control for standards in childbirth. ACOG seems to be the voice of reason.

I, however, am the voice of another reason. In all these rulings, standards, guidelines and laws, the voice of the mother is rarely seen as the expert. Her final knowing and final word ought to stand firm above the knowing of others about her; this is a human rights issue. As we midwives started to create a tiny space to serve mothers, serve our callings and serve ourselves without being thrown into prison, we thought the mother’s voice was heard through our midwifery voice; this was our initial mistake. The Cherokee made the same mistake in calling all men brothers as the foreign foot stepped onto this land. Another’s voice can never replace the one to whom actions are being taken or suggested, especially when the action is insisted upon with threats of death. This is why one must go deep and quietly into the presence of birth to see what miracles are possible.

In his latest book, Childbirth and the Future of Homo Sapiens, Michel Odent concludes, “Let us work as if it is not too late.” Some may work for legislation, others for research, some with colleagues and some with mothers, but may all work with heart and soul with little thought of self and much thought of the seventh generation. I have many passions, but intellectualizing and standardizing birth is not one of them. So I am the voice of undisturbed birth and I am saying, “Stop frightening birthing mothers.” May we learn how to speak our truths without frightening others and without frightening ourselves.

Meanwhile, I wonder, why can’t we see that the way we are handling birth and the very real correlating outcomes are making things increasingly worse? Who cares how much more qualified, educated, scientific, evidence-based, equal or superior we have all become if we as a collective motherhood and as a collective midwifehood are more afraid of birth and, therefore, act accordingly. I’m not sure anyone with any education or training is best suited to be with a birthing mother. If a mother can somehow escape the claws of a professional, she ranks in the numbers of those women who are birthing the last free human beings on our planet—the last human life free from needles, machines, drugs, plastic, spotlights and the coercion of fear.

The right to decline treatment, seek a second opinion, seek alternative therapies and change care providers is a human right available to all, including pregnant women. It is a bogus right if, when exercised, a woman is made to feel that she is stupid, irresponsible and dangerous to her own offspring. The use of threats, coercion, bullying, demeaning language and looks, withdrawal of care and downright meanness are used every day against the women who carry the future of their families and the future of our species inside their wombs under their heart near their instinctual nature. The right to humane treatment is more visibly applied to endangered species of zoo animals than to pregnant women.

Sister MorningStar
Excerpted from “The Voice of Reason,” Midwifery Today, Issue 110
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The Necessary Question of Infants’ Human Rights at Birth: Are There Vampires in the Birth Rooms?

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The Necessary Question of Infants’ Human Rights at Birth: Are There Vampires in the Birth Rooms?

To parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, families, midwives, doulas, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators and legislators: We are birthkeepers. It is our responsibility to ask the next question concerning human rights in childbirth. As birthkeepers, it is we who are given the sacred responsibility to protect mothers and their incoming humans, the newborns, at birth and as they grow, for they are the future earthkeepers.

Are we allowing our health providers to rob our babies of their full potential of health, intelligence, immunity and longevity at birth?

According to the American Red Cross, blood donors must be in good health, at least 17 years old in most states and weigh at least 110 lbs (50 kg). In Germany, children under the age of 18 are not eligible to donate blood. Blood donations are generally no more than 500 ml, which is 1/10 of the average adult blood volume. Clearly, newborn babies do not fit these criteria for donating blood.

At the time of birth, up to one-third of each baby’s blood supply is traveling from the placenta via the umbilical cord to the baby. Calling this blood “cord blood” is doublespeak and creates intentionally ambiguous language that is meant to fool parents into misunderstanding. The fact is that the blood present in the umbilical cord at the time of birth is truly the baby’s blood.

All over the world, in nearly every single medical institution where babies are born, newborns (usually weighing only between 2 and 5 kilos or 4.4 to 11 lbs) are being denied up to one-third of their blood volume. This happens when the umbilical cord is immediately clamped and cut by the doctor or midwife moments after the baby is born. Parents are encouraged to donate their baby’s “cord blood,” which in actuality is the baby’s blood. Although it may be a generous gift for someone who needs a transfusion, this precious blood supply is meant for the baby and should not be given away or sold.

At the moment of birth, newborn infants have a blood volume of approximately 78 ml/kg, which means about 273 ml at an average weight of 3.5 kg. This is the diminished amount of blood that almost all newborns are left with when their umbilical cords are immediately clamped and cut.

~ Robin Lim
Excerpted from “The Necessary Question of Infants’ Human Rights at Birth: Are There Vampires in the Birth Rooms?” Midwifery Today, Issue 116
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Midwifery Today ~ The Medicine of the Ukhu Pacha: Andean Sacred Teachings around Pregnancy, Birth and Postpartum

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Editor’s Corner

[Editor’s note: This issue’s guest editorial is by Sister MorningStar.]

I am very aware at present of the need for a paradigm shift toward our community involvement with birthing mothers. People are afraid of birth. Even ER docs and paramedics are afraid of birth. They would rather handle a gunshot wound. Grandmothers have become silent. Friends and family feel ignorant and helpless. We have lost the joy and wonder and celebration of birth that allows a mother to move through pregnancy and labor surrounded by calm loved ones and familiar environments. Indigenous people’s rites, rituals and prayers often don’t work when exposed to unbelievers. The natural mystery of life and birth is often undermined to breed fear rather than curiosity and trust. What to do? Learning more has not helped. Science proves and disproves on a daily basis and keeps everyone reading and confused. Meanwhile, mothers are growing another baby. Maybe the Cherokee can help. Maybe simplicity and sacredness can help. Maybe returning birth to community by way of village prenatals can help. [See MorningStar’s article on village prenatals.] Together, we can circle the earth and start a new wave of hope and joy.

~ Sister MorningStar

Sister MorningStar has dedicated a lifetime to the preservation of instinctual birth. She birthed her own daughters at home and has helped thousands of other women find empowerment through instinctual birth. She is the founder of a spiritual retreat center and author of books related to instinctual and spiritual living. She lives as a Cherokee hermitess and Catholic mystic in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Visit her at her website.

 

The Medicine of the Ukhu Pacha: Andean Sacred Teachings around Pregnancy, Birth and Postpartum

Andean culture and wisdom offer a deep and honoring approach to women’s bodies and their reproductive health, including the time/space around birth and becoming mothers. Birth is considered a rite of passage in itself, where one will no longer be the same. The time of pregnancy and birth is considered to be a chakana (bridge) into maternity and an entrance to another reality: the Ukhu Pacha, where one enters her darkness, her inner world, and finds her strength and her medicine. The Ukhu Pacha is associated with the world of the ancestors, with the dark (from which everything is born), with the feminine generative force, with the periphery and with the unknown. The wisdom present in this can help women understand the different emotions we experience throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum, which are not only emotional or mental states on the “bright side” but can include also sadness, grief, doubt, deep fears and confusion as we dwell in the waters of the Ukhu Pacha. As we will see, Andean cosmovision doesn’t understand these emotions as negative but as opportunities to better know ourselves, heal in deeper levels and strengthen our personal medicine.

It is starting with conception that the pregnant woman slowly enters this Ukhu Pacha as her pregnancy progresses, reaching its greatest depth at birth. She then slowly emerges from the Ukhu Pacha together with her baby. When we cross the threshold at the time of birth, diving in the deepest waters of the Ukhu Pacha, we experience a paramount transformation and are reborn at different levels of experience. When we cross the threshold of birth, we not only give life to a new being but we give birth to ourselves. We birth ourselves as new women, as we will not be the same again. Thus, according to Andean practices, to incorporate within the world of culture or the Kay Pacha (the here and now reality), the woman and her baby, as beings in transition, make a trance from one state to another, from one world to another, and must enter in the cultural world of norms (Lingán 1995). Thus, special care is given to the new mother by female community members in this rite of passage, as this is understood to be a very vulnerable state, not only physical, but emotional, mental and spiritual, where so much of her experience in the world as a woman is transforming. In a way, a woman in her state as a new mother after birth is weaving again, little by little, her new identity/identities and her place in the world. This personal transformation into becoming a mother must not be taken lightly (by herself and by her community).

The mother and baby during the pacha, or time-space after birth, are still dwelling in the Ukhu Pacha and going out little by little (and incorporating themselves) back to the Kay Pacha, or time-space as we know it, and they sense it normally. Thus, in the Andes, the common cultural practice is to have a one-moon or one-month retreat after the wawa (baby’s birth) to support this transitioning. The new mother stays in her house during the first days after birth just in her room, and she is cared for by close family and female community members. Her husband is a key part of this support circle, and he helps with household chores, as the new mother has to be in absolute repose and isn’t supposed to cook, wash laundry or dishes or clean the house. Although she is “on retreat” and has to follow some cultural norms during her time of seclusion (e.g., a special diet, minimum contact with water), she is not alone and she feels supported in this process. Certain cultural practices are followed by mother and baby to support the containment needed in this vulnerable pacha, such as the Andean practice of walta or walteado (swaddling). It is also advised that the household’s physical environment remains dark, and this is easy to attain as typical Andean houses aren’t illuminated; they resemble dark little wombs.

Reference:

  • Lingán, M. 1995. “El ritual del parto en los Andes.” Dissertation. University of Nijmegen.

Cynthia Ingar
Excerpted from “The Medicine of the Ukhu Pacha: Andean Sacred Teachings around Pregnancy, Birth and Postpartum,” Midwifery Today, Issue 118
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Allowing the Laboring Mother to Be Primal

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The Art of Midwifery

Lavender is popular amongst many midwives and doulas because of its varied uses in labor. It calms the entire birth team, lowers tensions and blood pressure and facilitates labor’s energy flow. Lavender oil contains a small amount of the ketone camphor, which can be emmenagogic, so some authorities recommend it be used with caution in early pregnancy. However, because it is a weak emmenagogue, it is unlikely to initiate uterine contractions in a healthy pregnancy.

~ Ashley Musil
Excerpted from “Labor Encouragement with Essential Oils,” Midwifery Today, Issue 107
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Divine Feminine

 

Allowing the Laboring Mother to Be Primal

I arrived at SG’s house at 6 am on Thursday. She was in labor. The day went on with her pains coming consistently but tolerable, allowing her to smile, eat and laugh and allowing me enough breaks to check in at home, have my weekly midwife student lesson and make plans for the evening.

At about midnight, SG’s pains changed, becoming far more intense. I called two midwife students—they stayed at SG’s bedside from then on, massaging her back, comforting and encouraging her as she started to yell and pull her hair. She even began to scratch at her face.

I wondered: Would the doctors and nurses have allowed this kind of behavior in the hospital? Would they have yelled at SG to stop? Why can we not look at someone doing this in labor, and does it need to be stopped?

I found myself wanting to stop SG immediately. What she was doing could not be helpful. She is freaking out, I thought. She needs to be more calm and collected. This needs to be a gentle, physiological birth. She is going to use up all her energy. I need to remind her how to breathe and tell her everything is okay so that she can relax (and so her behavior would be easier to witness and support).

What would happen if I allowed SG to let out her frustration at the pain, her lack of control, the unknowingness of time, the persistency of the contractions, her aloneness and her involuntary, spontaneous reactions to labor pains? What would happen if I stood by her, with complete faith in her body and the process, and I just supported her, reassured her and was there to allow her to be what and who she needed to be in that moment?

And then I remembered my labor. Involuntarily, I screamed and I shouted so loudly with each contraction. It was all completely contrary to my quiet nature. When a contraction came, I needed to scream to let that pain enter, move through my body and leave. Thank goodness no one told me to stop. As I look back, I understand now the many emotional reasons why I needed to express myself and my pain in that way. It was not only about the labor pains—it was about a lot of things that I had been dealing with throughout my pregnancy. When my baby was born, I felt peaceful and whole.

When we understand the physiology of labor, we know that this primal behavior is meant to happen in a physiological birth. It is, indeed, the primal part of our brain that controls and acts during labor.

~ Gauri Lowe
Excerpted from “Allowing the Laboring Mother to Be Primal,” Midwifery Today, Issue 113
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