What is the purpose of midwifery education? What is your purpose for midwifery education?

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Has shifting it from the apprenticeship model to the formalized education model improved birth outcomes? Does making midwifery education stream through a formalized route create a profession and a professional that improves birth experiences for women? What does the effect of fear have on the birth outcome? Is there a causative effect of fear for safety that diminishes the goal of a positive outcome, as well as diminishing a mother’s perception of happiness in her birth experience? What long-lasting effects does a professional creation of fear for safety have on a woman’s happiness beyond the birth experience? Has safety become the yard stick by which midwifery education is researched and measured and globalized? Have we succeeded in creating a false sense of security in birth with the presence of a professional?

In the late 1970s and early 1980s in Missouri, you could have your baby at home but you couldn’t have anyone help you who knew what they were doing. By law, physicians (trained or not in birthing babies) could have helped you, but they wouldn’t. Truthfully, that difficult situation helped those of us who chose homebirth to be clear and strong and mutually supportive. Gandhi said, “If someone can lead you out of the forest, someone else can lead you back in.” There wasn’t anyone else to trust but ourselves, and that served us very well.

The same instincts that guided our ancestors and the animals in the woods around us became our guideposts. My daughters and the children of my friends birthed powerfully at home and those births included the modern-day terms of postdates, small for gestational age, large for gestational age, gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes, premature and prolonged rupture of membranes and meconium-stained fluids. When I was having babies, we didn’t know the names of those conditions, and I believe that lack of professional or official education was to our advantage. We watched for things like general well-being, general happiness, capacity for handling stress and presence of fear. We watched to see if the pregnant mother was feeling better or feeling worse, and we circled close when her time came near. She knew us by name and we knew how she slept, pooped and what she ate. We knew if she had made peace with people and circumstances that surrounded her birth and her baby. It never occurred to us that her body couldn’t do something that her mind was clear about. We didn’t have a point to prove; we had a baby to birth. Many of those stories are in a book I wrote about my nearly 30 years of experiences with instinctual birth, called The Power of Women.

My drive and purpose and intention when I began to seek out midwifery education in the late 1970s was to find a midwife with whom I could apprentice. I wanted to learn how to get to know a mother in seven or so short months so that her honesty, love and power would be comfortable revealing itself in my presence. I followed my mentor everywhere, including the grocery store. After every prenatal appointment and after every birth we would sip tea as I asked questions and she asked me questions. I would ask, “Why?” and “What if?” She would answer straightforwardly and then ask me deeper questions about what I would do and what I was thinking.

Sister MorningStar
Excerpted from “Midwifery Education?” Midwifery Today, Issue 105
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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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Childbirth: Due Dates and Induction

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As a childbirth educator, doula and student midwife, one of my pet hates is due dates! Whenever I meet with clients, my first task is to shift their thinking from pinning all their hopes on one day to looking at a broader period of time. It’s great to have a well-defined day to work around—we all like to be organized and having a deadline helps us to prepare, at least in the world of things humans create and control. This is not the case when we’re talking about a natural, physiological event.

~ Rachel Bee
Excerpted from “Due for Change?” Midwifery Today, Issue 98
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The Times and Tools of Induction

My people are Cherokee. My first exposure and my earliest memory of when a baby was to be born came from seeing fat-bellied animals and the adults commenting, “Oh, that foal (or cub or pup or kid or young one) will be coming in the spring.” Sometimes they said the baby or babies would be coming in the fall, but usually it was the spring. There was always much concern if babies were coming in the winter, whether they were kittens, pups, chicks or larger domestic animals. The woodland animals seemed to be smarter and their babies just always came in the spring or fall. I wondered about it all. Humans are animals, too, and the elders seemed to talk about us in much the same way. The elders would comment about how a woman was walking and that her time was nearing. As her habits of wanting to stay home or make baby clothes or rearrange the house became more obvious, I would hear comments like, “It won’t be long now.”

Labor is induced by right timing. I observed this as I watched the animals and later as I had my own divine daughters. I walked the hills and waded in the creeks of Missouri as my time grew near with my first daughter. Under the care of a family doctor, I was told a due date. When I told the date to my family elders, they all said, “Ah, but the baby will come when it is ready!” I was the generation that stood at the door of science and nature; they seemed to be at odds with one another. One stated things as if they were facts, but the real facts turned out to be different. My baby was due on October 5 and came October 10. Going over the date was a concern to my doctor and seemed to say something was wrong with my body or my baby. The elders were calm saying over and over, “Oh, she will come! When she is ready, she will come and you can’t keep her in!” They were right. My water broke one night at 11 pm while I was asleep. Contractions started at 1 am. Tabitha was born an hour and 53 minutes later at 2:53 am on October 10, 1975; a fourth generation first-born daughter who grew to give birth to a fifth generation first-born daughter, Ariel, born at 43 weeks in her own home and in her own time.

I’ve heard doctors tell mothers they must induce because there is little to no fluid left around the baby. They use big words that sound scary to mothers, who then experience a flood when their bag of water breaks a week later. Mothers are told they must induce because the baby is too big, but then the baby born is normal size. Mothers are told they must induce because the baby is too old, but the baby born is early and covered with vernix. Mothers are told they must induce because their blood pressure is too high and labor would be too stressful, but they aren’t told not to make love. Mother and babies are always too little or too big or too early or too late or too something until there is now seldom a mother that is just right for going into labor according to her own right timing.

~ Sister MorningStar
Excerpted from “The Times and Tools of Induction,” Midwifery Today, Issue 107
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