Saturday, July 11, 2009
Please click on the title of this post and observe the YouTube video. It is an excerpt from a new film out about childbirth for fathers. I am so pleased to hear an obstetrician speak of these thoughts and am proud to say that my own OB concurs. Enjoy.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
A trip to the perinatologist, obstetrician, gynecologist while pregnant is usually uneventful, save for the whimsical little photograph you get to take home and stick on the fridge. This blurry snapshot will live there with distinct purpose to be admired by intermittent friends and/or remind you what you're in for every time you fetch your morning orange juice. But there are pieces of these stories which are conveniently left out by most women where they float and fester in the mysterious world of "nobody every told me THAT before." This world is so full of delicious charms and anecdotes which have been left out of stories by women of all ages but also which, had embarrassment not superceded the need for expression, would color the realm of "pre-natal and well woman care" quite vividly indeed. So it is understandable why a story like this one might be told. Humor me.
It's tuesday afternoon in Beverly Hills, a town esteemed for its solid gold doorknobs, teased hair, and pink hotels. It's actually just a run-down beat up area with ONE street which makes it appealing, next to the scores of lovely rich homes--Rodeo Drive. Anyway, I'm on my way to see Dr. Silverman, a short little mid-fifty year old with a boyish smile that wraps around a cute little bulbous nose. This nose undeniably looks out at people with pride as it shrugs like Atlas to hold up his tortoise shell 'Buddy Holly' glasses. Dr. Silverman jokes that the salt and pepper which has accumulated in his hair is just but one more thing with which being a doctor has blessed him. He uses phrases like, "Let's take a look at the kid" or "you've definitely got a good-looking kid here." Nonetheless, he is a down-to-earth treat who is nothing short of entertaining and, at the very least, extremely endearing. Equipped with ultrasound probe in hand, all he does all day long is take sneak peak snapshots of unborn babies, guesstimating their size, weight, gender, all of which he has become extremely skilled at performing but, being a perinatologist, his real job is to look for anomolies that may pose a risk to mother or baby. All in all he has an important job and we, as patients, do respect his expertise. The reason I was seeing him instead of Dr. Chin had to do with a little blood, a short jaunt to the hospital a few days before, and a considerate midwife who wanted to make doubly sure that my diagnosis of 'cervical changes' was indeed correct. This doc had already performed my 20 week structural ultrasound so I knew what to expect. Maybe. One key difference during the first ultrasound was that, during the procedure, I was graciously allowed to leave my pants on. Oh the little treats in life we so take for granted. During this visit, though, the requests were a bit different as I was instructed to "undress from the waist down and put this (a flimsy piece of paper) on." I was then instructed to sit on the table on another flimsy piece of paper while I waited for the doctor. This wait, statistically and commonly, lasted around 10 minutes. All the while, my bare bottom was slowly sweating a sweet little obnoxious ocean into that thin thin paper which "protected" me from the table below which has kissed the bottoms of thousands of naked women with goodness knows what living between the crevasses of their skin. A good solid mind would expect these tables to be wiped down with disinfectant between every patient, would be convinced that organisms can't live on vinyl, or at least live for very long, would trust the establishment who used this 'paper' and the company which manufactured it. Even with all of that, I was beginning to get nervous that the paper was eluding me, disintegrating right beneath my very bum and exposing me to the throes of diseases living on that table. And then the first doctor came in. Her name was Dr. McCarthy, a young British gal with gentle hands and a calm smile and a 15 minute long ultrasound. She did not find anything wrong with anything. She took a 4D snapshot of our baby's face for our enjoyment, blubbering herself how cute a babe we have in there. Yeah, whatever. I know she's cute. Get the hell out of here so Silverman can come in and get things moving. I'm sweating sweating! She leaves. Another 10 minutes slides in and out of time. Dr. Silverman enters, talks to me for a bit, and then starts his own procedure. At this point, I'm sure the paper is no longer there. I can feel it crumpling up and ripping with every movement. Because my diagnosis was cervical, he had to check my cervix. So I was famously instructed to lie down and "scootch forward. Just a little more forward. Just another scootch. Good." Well, this scootch resulted in the thin wet paper lifting off the table and ripping to stick to my leg like an insecure child. My bottom was now completely bare on the table. So what, as a distraught patient, do you do? What do you say? You can't keep your mouth shut. YOU know what's happened. HE certainly knows what's happened. So do you break the ice? Well, I did. I thought about a joke, but then realized that he has heard many a joke break forth from the mouths of exposed and vulnerable women and how much funnier could something be coming out of my mouth than the sight before his very eyes? Really. So I calmly apologized (??!!) for sweating and ripping the paper and having my bare, but very clean mind you, ass resting on the table. "Perfectly fine," he stated. "Perfectly fine." Is this what he says to everyone? If so, then why even HAVE the paper there?!?!? Why even squirt the Purel on the hands before the dressing of the latex gloves? Why even put on a white coat?? I pondered this for a few moments until he broke my train of thought with, "I can't find anything wrong with anything here. You just have a vascular cervix. Nothing is wrong." He then proceeded to 'predict' when my labor would begin, "in the next few days." Yeah, that was 2 weeks ago. Thanks doc. Lovingly, of course. :)
So basically, if you are a woman over the age of 18 you have had this experience in some way at these doctors offices. Unless you don't ever sweat 'down there.' But who doesn't when you have some guy or gal RIGHT IN THERE with your legs spread eagle, that obnoxious light that does not flatter any fold, flap, or dimple, and that one helpful little nurse who painfully tries not to look, but does because she must so she knows when precisely to administer the KY onto the speculum she hands to the doctor. A word of advice? Bring a towel, ladies. It's YOUR vagina. :)
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
It's that time of year and spring is well underway with the summer looming over the corner like the next wave of an ocean rhythm; it's waiting to bring us a surprise. What I love about summer is that no matter what we are doing it sort of forces us to slow down and stop. Indeed, it is a season of yang and heat and movement but when we move too much in the summer we feel it and we must sit and rest. Things are hotter, the concept of hydration becomes a close friend again, and ultimately we are involved with less required activities than during the average course of the year. Vacations are carefully planned, taking up valid space in our datebooks and planners, and it's almost as though biologically we know that we must give ourselves a break to prepare for the impending wintery cold months. One may certainly wonder, "How, dear, do you even FEEL the summer in lowly southern California?" And I would respond to the inquiry by stating that the summer is definitely felt energetically out here. Though we have mild autumns and winters, which make me pine desperately for the snow, our springs and summers are politely intriguing, peppered with more colors than a rainbow can contain, and ultimately bathed in that 'feel-good' sensation we all get from one thing or another that makes us stop and say, "Yes. THAT is what I needed." It also doesn't hurt that I was born in the summer, my body is used to that buildup of energy that comes as July approaches and another humanly measured year gets added to this 'age' thing. So it wouldn't be entirely inappropriate for me to be excited and terrified and ecstatic that this July I will be creating another age to grow beside me and add years, the way I do, the way we all do, while I watch in utter amazement with my jaw hanging wide. Our daughter will be born this July and we are preparing bit by bit this little outside world of which she will become a part. However, all we can really prepare are things like crib bedding, diapers, changing tables, swings, strollers, car seats, etc. while we wait to see her reaction to our weird little habits we've picked up over the millennia. I'm almost certain she will laugh at us, knowing that the womb is a much less awkward and intimidating place, a safe cocoon that she can deem as far away from the world as she sees fit. Yes, our child likes it in there. And it would be a lovely pleasure if I were to climb in there and join her just so I could remember where I came from.
I take walks. Long walks. Sometimes Jack comes with me, but often I am alone. In Los Angeles, it may seem that walks around the city are tirelessly dormant and beige, with no real satisfaction of nature or clean air. What is difficult to realize (I sure didn't know it when I first moved here) is that, though large, LA is filled with little pocket-sized communities and neighborhoods that bring that small town feel to this huge abundant city. I have found a walking route that I stick to and it travels through our little neighborhood of Mar Vista with which Jack and I have truly fallen in love. Mar Vista has its own neighborhood association (complete with president, secretary, treasurer etc.), neighborhood watch, public library, fire station, and police station, yet it takes up a total of maybe 15 square blocks. So we walk though the town on this little road called 'Mountain View' from which, when you look to the right, you can see downtown LA and, when you look to the left, you can see the ocean. While I'm on this walk, which is blanketed in thousands of flowers and paved roads, perfectly groomed lawns and little league fields, I cannot help but slow myself down and think think think. I used to bring flash cards and study but have since realized that if I'm not conscious of my walking, my baby is not conscious of it and it could decidedly ask, with a large amount of argumentative proof, if I were on a walk at all. So I have since just walked and looked and talked to her. It's glorious and is perhaps the best decision I have ever made regarding this pregnancy.
The other day I was walking my usual route, which is an even 5.1 miles, and I connected with our little girl. I wondered what it must be like for her, enamored by the fact that fetuses can decipher the difference between real and artificial light, as I walked through the sunny streets of Mar Vista. Almost immediately, I felt a little sad for her, a little sad for me, and for every other human on the planet, as I realized that this wonderful world of womb that is so protected by nature and guided by God does not get to be consciously remembered by the human species. Of course, we remember it in other ways with our subconscious minds as we literally carry out habits throughout our lives that we developed in this watery womb, we relive our mothers' ups and downs as she was building our lives for us on the outside, we connect with warmth and water and nakedness and security. But we don't remember what it must have been like to have everything a pinkish hue, scrunched up and close to the rhythmic dance of our mothers' bodily functions, pressed against her diaphragm, pinned against her pubic bone, upside down for months in this floating world which seems more normal to us than bedsheets seem to our mothers and fathers. I thought about how every single human being on this planet who is alive and who has lived and gone has had an experience of being in a womb. Of course there are millions who did not realize that the outside of that womb was extremely less than ideal, and there are many who learned after birth that this outer world could be even more glamourous and fabulously overflowing with love and abundance. I realized that, if we look back at the history of the species and did the math, perhaps the world has seen an even number of both these extremes. I tried to think of all the 'huns' of the world, the Hitlers, Husseins, King Henrys, the Darfurs and the Congos and the south-central LAs and realize that all of these people spent a fair amount of time kicking their mothers from the inside and deciding that there was nothing better than that pink fleshy soft bed in which they were floating. It really helped me to connect to humanity a bit and find the strength to see the good side of the evils. It forced me to revel in my discovery of the REAL differences between nature and nurture while seeing the world as a balanced whole for the first time. I wondered what my baby was thinking. "This cord thing is just in my way, or I love my connection to my mother. Why must I be constantly upside down, or those people on the outside walking around on their feet outside of water have NO idea what they are missing." It was here where I also realized that judgement is man made. Babies in the womb really have no concept of a greener grass and so must be deliciously content with all that is their precious life thus far. I was able to lift my judgements of these evil creatures for a bit and see them under their skin for what they really were, vulnerable humans who just wanted a bit more time in the womb. Wouldn't it be fabulous if we could all revert back to our state of mind in the womb and just exist like that for a few minutes a day. Wouldn't it be grand if we could lift the judgement and the stress and the money and the 'needs' we are convinced must consume us? I wonder, then, what kind of world we would have. Or do we need the evil to exist in order to string the beauty and peace in the balance? Do good and evil REALLY TRULY exist? Or are they just entities we have created to hide our vulnerabilities as humans? Do they help us to? Or are they simply a product of our frustration at leaving such a healthy, pink, self-sustaining, naked waterworld? I returned home, climbed the stairs to my apartment, and thanked my baby for being so wise.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Many people ask me why Jack and I have chosen to work with a midwife for our prenatal care and birth. While I am, of course, particularly biased due to the amount of information I know I do make it a point of stressing that I support any decision an expectant mother makes as long as she feels completely confident and safe in that decision. Some people feel safest with OBs even if they know they are not guaranteed to have that doctor with them at the birth of their child. It doesn't really matter, I suppose, who is there; the baby knows who it wants to have in the room. But ever since I was little, I have not been okay with the strange concept of doctors and nurses coming and going in shifts during my labor while I would be constantly having to readjust myself to the environment in the events of those changes. It was good that I did not understand this protocol at such a young age as it prompted me to explore other options. And boy, there are so many.
I will spend much of this post quoting the book Jack and I are currently reading for our birthing class, "Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way." I could write an exhaustingly long post about how this approach is different from the 'famed' Lamaze approach, but this post is merely about why we chose to work with a midwife instead of an OB. In the Bradley Method, we are taught to preface everything with 'as long as everything is okay.' This is where the CNM (certified nurse midwife) excels. She is way m ore of an expert in natural normal pregnancy and childbirth than an obstetrician any day and she is also privy to a larger range of normalcy than the average OB so she can help the woman's body naturally deal with labor much more effectively without need for intervention. It is only in the face of abnormality (which she will catch during the prenatal care) that she refers her patients to be exclusively cared for by an obstetrician. A lot of people mention to me that they feel more comfortable with a doctor 'in case anything should go wrong.' What they may not realize is that a midwife is trained to recognize early warning signs of emergencies BETTER than the average OB, often with hours to spare. The labor, to the midwife, is innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, the opposite applies in the minds of many an obstetrician simply because they are trained to look for pathology. A good midwife spends much time getting to know her patients and makes the proper measurements throughout the prenatal care to ensure that these women are candidates for normal natural birth. A good healthy pregnancy has a very very good chance at culminating in a good healthy normal birth. It pains me to realize that women in this country are taught from the get-go that inevitably something should be wrong with their beautiful bodies. We are told this in so many ways other than just pregnancy and childbirth; it is just one of the burdens we must bear as the females species. It can do one of two things: cripple us under the guise of the amused 'experts' or make us stronger and more adamant at finding answers to our questions of 'WHY shouldn't I trust my body the whole way through? Why must we WAIT and see what might go wrong?' With this distorted mindset, the woman is set up for so many birth complications already such as prolonged labors due to fear or early intervention by medical staff who deem them 'unfit' to give birth normally even though their pregnancy has been problem-free. Don't get me wrong. I love doctors. They are necessary and important and work wonders in emergencies. But there are other avenues for a more natural approach to the NON-pathological function of childbirth. A lot of women who are under the care of OBs are simply not taught to trust their bodies. They are more often taught to fear them and trust the doctors more than nature. This is apparent mainly in the due date calculation and weight gain estimation. Due dates are averages. The apex of a bell curve. Normal gestations RANGE from 38 to 42 weeks. Some midwives use the range of 37 to 43 weeks. Essentially, the body and the baby know when it's time to be birthed and most often in a normal pregnancy the baby will not grow too large for its mother. When a woman is tagged with a due date she already stresses herself out as soon as that due date lurks around her and as soon as she 'goes past it.' She loses faith in her body and offers herself more strongly into the arms of the medical establishment to 'rectify the situation' and fix her subpar body. This concrete due date nonsense should be obliterated, especially with the amount of ultrasounds doctors due nowadays. Instead, women should be told the range of time during which their child can be normally and healthfully born. As far as weight gain goes, it's different for everyone. The BMI should also be obliterated as it is only based on averages and does not take muscle mass into account. It is this BMI which tells the health practitioner the 'proper' amount of weight to gain for that body type. It is this which leads to much confusion, depression, and loss of faith in mothers who feel like they are just 'getting too heavy.' Dr. Brewer says that a woman's body will gain what it needs to and to restrict a mother's diet (particularly in the third trimester when the fear of gaining too much weight takes center stage) can actually INCREASE her risk of developing toxemia which can be life threatening. So doctors are humans, too. they are often wrong and it's important to understand that. Midwifes can be wrong also. Therein lies the importance of being physiologically and emotionally aware of one's own body and how it reacts in the face of challenges. This, to me, was a core difference between my midwife and other OBOs in that at the end of the day she teaches me that my body knows the answers more than she. She has enough humility to let my body do the work and just monitor my progress to make sure I am moving in a healthy direction in my pregnancy. Women's bodies are wise. And unborn babies are wise. They know what to do and how to do it; it is their first choreographed dance with their mother as the two work in unison for this mystery we call life. Midwifery care is so much different than obstetrical care and is based around the previous sentence. Instead of seeing 6 patients an hour, my midwife sees 1. We have her full attention and she gives us proper advice that will help us to avoid any unnecessary medical interventions. She educates us on nutrition and exercise physiology and informs us that many psychological things arise during pregnancy and birth while providing us with many resources to combat anything we might be facing. She implores us to delve deeply into our spirits, connect with our baby, thank it, talk to it, dream with it, walk with it. After all, we are parents already. We don't just suddenly become parents when the baby is born. She asks us to speak to our own mothers about OUR births and how WE were brought into the world because often a woman in labor can be caught off-guard by a snapshot of a memory from her own birth that had been buried in her mind since day one of life and the same goes for fathers. Yes, babies DO remember how they were brought into this world. With this guidance, it is impossible for me to explore any other avenue of prenatal care. As Susan McCutcheon puts it in the book we are reading, "Study after study has shown that the quality of care by the certified nurse-midwife is superior to the average doctor's care. The CNM is a registered nurse (RN) who has continued her education to study nurse-midwifery. When she finishes her training she has more experience than most obstetricians in normal childbirth. An obstetrician's training focuses on abnormal childbirth, which requires intervention. In their training, many obstetricians never see a woman give birth naturally without an episiotomy, the use of forceps, or a vacuum extractor...In fact, during labor a midwife can often spot problems more quickly than the OB. This is simply because the midwife spends hours with the laboring woman, while the average busy OB may manage labor over the telephone, checking with the labor-and-delivery nurse to see how you are doing. The ordinary RN on duty has less training than the nurse-midwife in spotting problems. We know that many obstetricians leave standing orders with nurses not to call them to attend a birth until the baby's head is showing. Then the woman often has to wait for the doctor to get there before she is allowed to push. this makes for an unnecessarily hard pushing stage for the mother. The nurse-midwife, however, is there all along, waiting to take her cue from the mother. Delaying birth is definitely NOT in the interest of the infant's health or the mother's." To me, as long as things are progressing normally, there is no WAY I would prefer an obstetrician over a midwife. And God help the person who is demanding that I WAIT to push!!
So this is sort of my beef about the whole process. I was a little reluctant to post this entry as there are so many of our family members involved in the medical establishment who may differ in opinion but then I remembered, I TOO am involved in this establishment, am entitled to my own educated opinion and choices, and I appreciate the opportunity to make my voice heard and understood. Again, and I can't stress this enough: I am happy to support any woman's decision as long as she has thought long and researched hard on that decision. Many women spend a lot of time reading about how to be healthy during pregnancy, and how to keep their kids healthy after birth (therein lies the vaccine debate) but not many women take the time to research their options about HOW this child's birth can be the best birth possible for that child and that mother, often because our society does not teach women that they have so many options. Importance is not stressed on how strongly the method in which the baby is brought into this world affects the long term health of that child. This is a realm I hope to change in our society because it does not serve us and, as the rest of the world shows us (the US has the highest rate of infant mortality in the developed world and we spend the most amount of money on maternity care), it does not have to be this way. My favorite quote about birth is from the film "The Business of Being Born," where it states that "People spend more time and energy researching a camera, a car, a stereo system, than they do at checking out what their options are for birth!" There are so many. So many. Just a few off the top include: doctors' personal c-section rates (an OB with a 3% c-section rate is a god in the midst of a hospital with an overall 40% rate), the choice to avoid silver nitrate eye ointment (which is ONLY needed if the mother has an active gonorrheal or chlamydia infection but is still routinely given to all or most infants as a means of precaution and has even caused a few babies to go blind), the choice to decline a routine episiotomy (which has been shown more and more to contribute to incontinence and postpartum fistulas moreso than a natural tear and has been a culprit of the unchanging rate of maternal mortality, a subject that is rarely discussed but very real in the US), the option for assuming any position during labor AND pushing (for instance, most women squat on the floor when they are being attended by either of my backup OBs at Cedars), skin to skin contact IMMEDIATELY after birth (not just 20 minutes after the baby is 'cleaned and disinfected.'), delayed cutting of the cord, avoidance of separation of mother and baby, immediate breastfeeding initialization (which releases more oxytocin in the body and naturally contracts the uterus to help expel the placenta). The list is vast and I will probably expand on it in future posts. I often wonder what would happen if childbirth choices were ranked in Consumer Reports. I encourage you to read up and question question question your caregivers. Know your caregiver, know his or her intervention rates and policies, and what routine interventions he or she demands. Know what is and is not okay with you. It is YOUR child. It is YOUR body. It is YOUR choice. A woman in labor does not need to be rescued. She must be held and supported and told that she CAN do this, that no one will do it for her and that her body is a perfect mechanism of miraculous mystery.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
An interesting word, right? It kind of sounds like the word placenta, but what is this 'phagy' suffix at the end? Placentophagy literally means to eat (phagy) the placenta (placento) in Greek. This practice has been around for millions of years, though it has waned tremendously among the human species in recent centuries as we have become more domesticated, civilized, and less connected to our animalistic roots. Many people wonder why this action exists among most mammals. It is not uncommon in the wild for the birthing mother to consume her placenta just following the birth of her offspring. Speculated theories abound, but the strongest one that is held is that a mother performs this task to simply replenish the blood, energy, and nutrients she lost during birth. Animals do not usually eat much food during labor (they certainly cannot go hunt and forage for it) and they are acutely aware of the fact that they must have enough energy following birth to escape any lurking predators that may attack their helpless infants. The placenta is rich in blood vessels, vitamins, minerals, and hormones which help the mother to recover from such a long and daunting feat. Another theory that has been postulated but is really not strongly held is that the mother simply consumes her placenta in order to remove her scent from the area around which she has given birth. This is thought to confuse or even prevent predators from approaching her. This theory is weak, however, because we all know that the placenta is not the only material which is expelled during birth. Amniotic fluid, blood, and other substances pour from the mother throughout the process and they seep into the earth leaving a scent behind. A predator would easily be able to locate this area if the mother had not taken great pains to find a safe place in which to give birth. Also, in observing the science of animal behavior (which I studied intently in college. Can you tell?) if an animal feels threatened immediately following birth, she is more likely to consume her offspring than anything else if she does not deem the situation safe to transport them. So moving onto humans: Placentophagy, as mentioned earlier, is a somewhat rare practice among the civilized world although the tribal communities throughout the earth do continue to do it. The question looms: "Are YOU going to do this, Steph?" Of course I am!! It is known that women who consume their placentas after birth have less occurrence of postpartum depression (due to the leftover hormones in the tissue), less difficulty with milk production, less postpartum anemia, and other things as well. It also helps that we actually use placenta in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a chinese herb. Now of course we do not use human placenta since the dawn of HIV/AIDS, as quality control of sanitation is difficult to uphold; it has been replaced with sheep's placenta and is usually administered in prepared, powdered form. In TCM, we call this a "Yang Tonic" or a hormonal balancer. We prescribe this to patients who have had recurrent miscarriages, patients with irregular menstrual cycles, patients with enlarged prostates, and even patients with incontinence. These physiological processes are all 'Yang' processes and are heavily influenced by the thyroid, liver, and adrenal system all of which the placenta supports. Jack and I have already located a woman who prepares placentas so she will be preparing mine. I don't know that I'm brave enough to eat mine raw so this woman has developed a special dehydrating process which allows for the least amount of hormonal and nutritional disturbances and then she powders the prepared placenta and places it into capsules for me to take as pills during my postpartum period. Her hygiene is impeccable and she never prepares more than one placenta at once so we are guaranteed to receive our own from her (a point that left me a little worried at first until she stated this). It is just one of the many things that our bodies provide for us and, to me, I don't see any better way to support my health than by using something that has been created and sustained by my own blood and tissues. So after all of this are you still squirming at people who consume their own placentas? It's perfectly fine if you are! I encourage you to research this practice and draw from it your own opinions. It does remain to be a controversy in the medical model of maternity care. I'm lucky to have the resources at my fingertips out here in Los Angeles to educate myself properly and unbiasedly and decide to do practically anything I want during this process. Enjoy the future posts!
Saturday, March 14, 2009
This post is about two friends of mine who have begun a remarkable company which revolves around organic, all natural, preservative-free, botanical skin care. Their products have changed the way I look at the largest organ in the body, the skin. What I have learned from them is that the skin absorbs 60% of what is put on it. So the body absorbs any phthalates, parabens, sulfates, etc. where they travel through the blood stream to the liver and are filtered. This is fine, every once in a while. But when we use products that include more chemical ingredients than actual working ingredients, our livers become overworked, clogged and stagnant thus causing disease to ensue. What is difficult to admit in this realm is the fact that "We've been using these products for so long and everyone is fine. What is the big deal?" Are we fine? More and more research is being done on the effects of these chemicals, which abound in many of our favorite skin and beauty products with cheap cosmetics serving as the greatest culprits, and the results of these studies report haunting evidence. Cancer, respiratory problems, endocrine system problems, reproductive diseases and more have all been linked to the 'common' chemicals found in our everyday beauty and cleaning products. When I learned this, I made a huge effort to change this aspect of my life. I now no longer wear makeup, unless I have a special occasion that calls for it, and the makeup I do wear is composed of completely organic plant-based materials while lacking parabens, phthalates, and other toxic chemicals. I even have mineral-based mascara! Nonetheless, I have also converted our shampoo supply, hand soap, dish soap, body soap and household cleaners to those which are composed of organic materials with little to no preservatives. This can be done for just around the same price (sometimes cheaper!) as the old products we used to use. And it makes a difference in the clarity of our skin. What I have learned is that our skin is an outward display of our internal alchemy, our internal organs. If we have dirty skin, acne, dryness, oil, usually it stems from our livers begging for a breath. Of course many other organ systems come into play but from a TCM perspective, all organs are connected and the Liver is often guilty of causing diseases to present like phantoms where a direct link to this organ cannot be seen. In TCM, we say the liver is 'responsible for smooth flow of qi.' What this means is that the liver is responsible for the proper synthesis of hormones, the adequate production of adrenal, pituitary, and thyroid hormones, the filtration of blood, the synthesis of vitamins and many many other things. When we consume unnecessary chemicals (unsafe cosmetics, inorganic food, alcohol, smoke, OTC medications--many of which can be safely replaced with herbs--and household cleaning products) our livers must move the normal jobs they were given to the back burner in order to abate the actions of the chemicals from these products. Multiply this effect by years and years of use and our livers begin to look like remarkable little organs who have excelled at even keeping us alive, but our bodies are screaming help. It's the only organ in the body that can regenerate itself, which is why we can go on drinking binges for days at a time without dying. However skin, our largest organ and most beloved protector, can also regenerate itself. By supplying the skin with products containing properties to aid in this regeneration it is much happier, healthier, more supple, younger, and less toxic. I have included a link to the title of this post where, if you are interested, you can order products from Golden Path Alchemy, my friends' company. I currently use the purify and refine lines, but I have sampled all of their other products and can attest to their utterly satisfying efficacy. These products are all made fresh, with no preservatives, by these two women out here in California. They pride themselves in belonging to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, PETA (the organization for keeping cosmetic products cruelty free--my personal peeve), and they have recently been approved by Green America which is an organization that recognizes companies who exemplify the promotion of social justice and environmental sustainability. How does this relate to the baby blog you ask? Ashley and Minka, these two remarkable entrepreneurs, have also made me a custom belly oil that I rub on my belly every day to keep the skin supple, relieve itching, and reduce the possibility of stretch marks. Based in olive oil (the only oil that penetrates all seven layers of the skin) and sweet almond oil, it also includes neroli, frankincense, geranium and lemongrass essential oils which all contribute to sustaining the healthy quality of the skin. Frankincense and Myrrh are actually widely used in traditional chinese medicine to aid in wound healing, combat postpartum uterine hemorrhage, and stop pain. Those wise men certainly knew what they were bringing Mary and Joseph. Ashley is also a homeopath and I have been seeing her for many needs during pregnancy when something occurs and I do not want to take an OTC med. There are so many remedies and I am learning so much about this wonderful medicine. Check out the GPA website and see what you think!
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Labyrinths. They have been around for eons. They represent every aspect of nature and natural order. They teach us how to connect with the present moment and guide us through obstacles with gentle encouragement to merely place one foot in front of the other. They are about much more than a simple film starring David Bowie. On wednesday, Yana gave us all easels and large pieces of art paper. We were to sit there and draw our own labyrinths per her instructions. We opened our new crisp boxes of chalk pastels, the colors pouring out so vividly it was difficult to choose which ones to use, and began to scratch and rub and color our ways toward our creation. We had no idea how or why we were doing this, but our trust in Yana yielded our inquisitions. When we were finished, our creations stood before us. It was so wonderful to finally get my hands dirty again, nurture my creative edge, and explore what was in my head that has needed so desperately to come out since I've been involved in the dreadful suppression of my art during such a daunting medical program. I could not believe how liberated I felt to just be able to let loose and draw! It was, indeed, a passion about which I had almost forgotten. My favorite part was actually looking around the room and seeing the creations of the other students. The colors they used, the straightness of their lines, the width of space between them, all defined to me the ways in which they move in the world. It was very profound. After our labyrinths were drawn, Yana instructed us to trace through them with our finger or a piece of chalk until we reached the center. The difference between a labyrinth and a maze is that a maze has many routes and sometimes does not result in a successful exit, but a labyrinth has only one entry, one route, and one exit. I began tracing and felt my finger move through the lines intently. However, my mind started threatening to take over and began rationalizing how I was going to get through the labyrinth: Did I draw it correctly? Are my lines okay? How will I get all the way over THERE? It was here that I had the epiphany. I had to force myself to focus on my finger, to focus on where I was in the tracing and recognize and acknowledge the corners I was turning over and over, the obstacles with which I was faced. I could not deal with the obstacles if I was looking at the end. (This approach was also what I used during the horrendous--and awesome--hike up the Precipice in Acadia National Park. The entire hike involves scaling a mile high cliff with just enough width on the rock for a shoe or two. I thought I would die until I realized that I had to just pay close vivid attention to my feet and they would take me where I needed to go. Talk about a honeymoon marriage challenge!) We later were told that this LABORinth represents labor itself and that we must treat labor like we treat our fingers running through the lines and scaling cliffs and corners without looking up or back. Genius. By practicing this, we are better able to maintain our presence and persevere in the face of all the obstacles we may face.
Yana spoke about the birth fairy, a little character who represents trouble. The story goes that her friend was having a baby and so the friend threw herself a shower and invited everyone but the fairy. She had just forgotten to add the fairy to the list. The fairy was so upset that she decided to crash the party anyway and she brought gifts that were not so pretty. This represents obstacles for the laboring mother. When her labor slows, or the pain increases, or she just feels like it is too much, or she needs drugs, or she needs a c-section, or she needs to be assisted in some way because of some complication or another, these all represent 'gifts' from the birth fairy. So what do we do? We welcome her in. (It's rude to turn away guests that show up with a gift, no?) By inviting her in and acting like she has done nothing wrong, we take away her power, we stop judging her, and we are better able to progress through our labors smoothly. Yes, wednesday had many acute surprises which peppered the rest of our evening with introspection and thought. The LABORinth will be upon us before we know it and we pray that our tools will help us reach our destination.
So Monday evening we had our second Bradley class. It was all about nutrition. If anyone knows me well enough, they know that I like to eat healthfully but I HATE to keep track of the food I have eaten. It seems as though all I've been doing for so long is keeping food logs for people when they really aren't benefiting me. However, the log we must keep in this class is much different. It's only for tracking protein. I can deal with that. Also, Jack is a wonderful coach making sure he asks me what I've eaten that day so he can write it down in the log and keep track of my protein grams. It is the coach's job to track down what we eat so this makes it much easier for me. We are supposed to consume between 80 to 100 grams of protein each day (though my midwife tells me 70 - 80 is fine) to combat the risk of and prevent the development of metabolic toxemia. Dr. Brewer, a close working physician with the members of the Bradley method team, has devised a diet that, when applied correctly, has shown to abate any occurance of this life-threatening disease. Most doctors will state that the etiology of toxemia is not known, but more and more physicians are realizing that what a woman eats (especially in the third trimester) has a HUGE impact on her overall health during the pregnancy. The Bradley method is focused on keeping all mamas as low risk as possible and the diet is the easiest thing to control in this realm. Mainly using protein and then describing the role of all the whole food vitamins, Dr. Brewer's approach is rather simple. This protein should be well-rounded from all the food groups including dairy, meat, nuts, fruits and veggies. I had no idea that 3oz. of watermelon had one gram of protein in it! That being said, I've found that my fear of not getting enough adequate protein has now been surrendered to the fact that if I actually write down what I'm eating I can see that I am consuming the proper amount of food for a healthy baby and a healthy body.
I'm still in strict abandonment of the couch and Jack makes sure of that. I now either sit on one of our meditation cushions on the floor with the soles of my feet together, or I sway and rock on the stability ball. We are continuing to do our exercises each day together. Lot's of squatting is being done (the pelvis has been shown to open up to 20% larger for the birth when this is practiced regularly and also when it is used as the birthing position). Squatting, along with adequate vitamin C intake, perineal massage, kegels, and walking walking walking all work to reduce or even eliminate the risk of tearing and/or the need for episiotomy. We also do leg exercises to help strengthen and stretch my hips and last night's relaxation exercise was absolutely divine with Jack talking me through a series of tasks, the most wonderful of which involved me inhaling a midnight blue light to nourish my body and our baby and exhaling the yucky brown light that harbors any fear and does not serve me. It has been an astonishing experience for both Jack and myself as we move forward to the birth of our child.
Friday, March 6, 2009
On wednesday evening, Jack and I attended a workshop that is run by our doula, Yana. It is called 'Birthing From Within' and is an artistically and intuitively based workshop/class that teaches couples the values of self-exploration before birth. Completely enamored by its contents, I had read the book by the same name years ago in my exploration of birth and it is (NOT!) a coincidence that we happened to choose a doula who teaches this to people. During this session, Yana talked about ways in which we can approach our labors like an empty cup with nothing filling our minds, and harboring no judgements about what enters and exits them. We went around the room (4 couples including Jack and me) and were asked to say a word that represents the truth of birth to us. Words on the page consisted of, adventure, overwhelming, joy, scary, mystery, confusing, anatomical, natural, etc. We were then instructed to each write one word from this list that had positive meaning to us and one word that had a negative meaning. About two hours later, we came back to these words and practiced looking at them without judgement. It was here that I realized that they were just words, curves and lines on a paper, and they really didn't define anything more than my intuition needed to know. It was here where I realized that I CAN give birth; I CAN push a baby out. We also did an exercise where we were instructed to hold an ice cube for 1 minute and use the tools we have learned throughout our lives to combat the discomfort from that. This was pivotal. I was able to mute my senses and the more empty I remained, the more I did not feel that stinging cold ice cube. Yana told us that holding this ice cube and practicing how we combat the pain from it can teach us our mechanism for how we adapt to the pain of labor. If we have trouble holding the ice, perhaps there are other ways we can learn to help us to better handle it. So she taught us those ways and we held another cube. What was cool was that everyone had a different perception of pain and a different method of handling it. Some people breathed deeply, some laughed, some closed their eyes. I don't even know that we knew how we handled pain before this exercise. By honing in on the details, we are able to remain an empty cup. This class also involves us creating our own birth art, something that is right up my alley. Throughout it, we are to draw how we picture our birth, how we picture the most complicated birth, how we fear different aspects of it, and how we embrace them. By artistically conveying our thoughts on paper, we are able to empty the cup and create a space that is whole and secure for our labors, no matter how they go. I am so thankful for the opportunity to take part in this workshop and I encourage anyone who has given birth, wants to give birth, or will never give birth, to read the book of the same name 'Birthing From Within.'
Thursday, March 5, 2009
On monday night, we had our first birthing class. We have decided to learn the Bradley Method of childbirth, a childbirthing technique that revolves around drug-free labors and husband/partner-based labor support. This practice, created by Robert A. Bradley after his extensive research in the 1950s, has an 86% rate of unmedicated vaginal births. Dr. Bradley grew up on a farm and witnessed many animals give birth there. He closely observed the ways in which they moved, went into themselves, and dealt with pain and realized that humans had this same innate ability. This is what fueled his desire to become and obstetrician. Through careful study, he realized that humans differ from other animals in the sense that we possess a fair amount of intellect which, while it serves us in so many situations in the world, can often get in the way of our parasympathetic nervous systems when we are trying to perform bodily functions such as childbirth. So Dr. Bradley developed tools to help couples navigate this intellect and connect with their physiology to combat pain. With the help of the laboring woman's partner, she is better able to make decisions about labor, pain medication, and birthing positions all in the midst of the challenges of that pain. Jack and I were interested in this approach and decided that we wanted to learn the method. It takes 12 weeks to become Bradley trained and it's a very proactive course. In addition to my being banned from any more couch sitting (I'm supposed to sit on a core stability ball), Jack and I have been given a series of exercises which we are to perform together daily, including squatting, inner and outer thigh work, pelvic rocks, and relaxation techniques involving Jack talking me out of tension. What this is doing is teaching us how we can work together in stressful situations and is giving us the tools we need to take on labor TOGETHER. After all, we are both giving birth; it is a collective, altruistic process. Unlike a lot of Bradley teachers, ours is not only focused on NO DRUGS NO DRUGS! She also teaches us the affects of drugs on both pain and the baby and which ones are the safest to use, should we choose them. She will also be briefing us on cesarean sections, when they are necessary, and why they are so good in emergencies. We like this approach because I think it is a bit dangerous to go into this without preparing for every case scenario. Nonetheless, we are happy to have chosen this method and look forward to the next 11 weeks. We'll let you know how it goes in July!
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
One of the things that has changed my entire perspective about birth is a book by Tina Cassidy, a former Boston Globe reporter, entitled 'Birth: The Surprising History of How we are Born.' In this book, she recounts historical events that have molded the current medicalized model of childbirth. Instead of situating my opinion right here in this paragraph, I'm going to leave it up to the reader here to go onto her website, read her other articles, and formulate their own. http://www.tinacassidy.info/ After reading this book a couple years ago (which, by the way, should not be read by currently pregnant women), I decided to do my own research on the subject, which culminated in a research paper I wrote for my Medical History class on the dawn of obstetrics, the repression of modern midwifery, and the comparison of two prominent physicians in the profession--Joseph B. DeLee, who popularized forceps delivery, and Grantly Dick-Read, who wrote the now out-of-print book entitled 'Childbirth without Fear.' In my research, I realized the kind of birth I wanted to have and midwifery spoke volumes to me. Midwives do every single thing that obstetricians do, including recognizing emergencies, administering pitocin for uterine hemorrhage, and other things, except perform cesarean sections, which are wonderful and necessary in emergency situations. Midwifery care is a bit more personal and comprehensive and includes many other realms than just checking the health of the mother and baby. For me, I knew that I only wanted the OB for an emergency case and if you have a good midwife, she knows how to recognize these emergencies earlier and has a very close working relationship with her backup OB. My midwife's c-section rate is 2-3 percent for all her deliveries, compared to the general 29-40 percent at most American hospitals. This statistic was huge for me and I wanted the best care possible for this entire process. Currently, I am an advocate for a woman's choice in this realm and am constantly filled with the goal of gently educating people about what choices they actually have and how to weigh the risks and benefits. I always say, "I'm fine with someone who chooses to schedule a c-section so her busy husband can plan to be around for the birth as long as she is completely educated about all her choices and how they affect future outcomes." I think, above all, a woman must feel comfortable and safe no matter what is going on. I support this, and honor this because women's health is my passion! Tina Cassidy, having a violent c-section for her first birth and then a safe home-birth VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) for her second, currently sits on the board of the Business of Being Born team with Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein. She is a vast resource and has devoted her career to this bountiful subject. She is one of my heroines.
I have been advised by my midwife to walk 5 miles daily as this is the best way for pregnant mothers to work with the hormone Relaxin and properly loosen their hips to prepare for birth. It also strengthens the pelvic floor lessening the risk for tearing and the need for episiotomy. I'm up to about 4 miles right now and it's a welcome change to my long days of sitting behind desks or puncturing people with needles. I am constantly enamored by the grace and beauty of the California landscape with its rolling mountains (when it's not smoggy) and vocal ocean waves. I am in the process of studying for my comprehensive pre-clinical examination, a test that will make or break my future in the program, so I have tons of flashcards that accompany me on my walks. Jack comes when he can and, between snippets of conversation, exhibits his patient self by asking me TCM questions to quiz me along the way. We keep discovering new little neighborhoods that make up Mar Vista and Santa Monica and it's endearing to explore our surroundings in such a new way.
I'm also doing a yoga video that is produced by Shiva Rea, a prominent yogi out here in LA. She teaches at my yoga studio, 'Exhale,' in Venice as well. I'm finding that walking and yoga, which I have been practicing for five years, are teaching me so many things about my body and what it can do as they empower me to take charge in the physicality of my pregnancy and birth. I really want to get in the water, but have not yet successfully located a swim shop that sells maternity suits to try on. Truthfully, I have not had much time to look. My midwife also joins in the prenatal yoga team at 'Golden Bridge Yoga' in Hollywood. More based in the Sikh tradition, this yoga is much more mindful and spiritual than that at Exhale (though I believe that all yoga, even Ashtanga, is mindful and spiritual on some level). It is nice to take a break from the heavy workouts I usually do which involved lifting very very heavy weights in all directions while combining it with metabolic conditioning. Pregnancy, we are both finding, is such a transformative time.
On February 10th, we met with Yana for our first of two prenatal visits. She stayed with us for 2.5 hours while getting to know us as people so she can best serve our needs before, during, and after labor. She was very thorough and asked us questions about what we like and dislike, our personalities, our hopes and fears, our reasons for choosing parenthood, and other things without judging a single thing we said. It was quite moving to be in her presence because I could really see that her profession was so dear to her. Being a mother to two children herself, she was even faced with a challenge from her 3-year-old daughter that evening when her husband called Yana to inform her that this little munchkin had shoved 3/4 inch nut up her nostril! As soon as she realized that her husband had taken control of the situation, she did not even hesitate to continue our session. She provided us with so many resources that I know we will utilize whenever we see fit. What I liked most about her was that, after heeding my warning that I tend to have a temper in stressful situations, she gleamed and exclaimed withOUT sarcasm, "Oh I'm going to LOVE working with you!" She is on call 24/7 for 2 weeks both before an dafter my due date and provides us with one more prenatal visit, discounted birthing classes, and one postpartum visit. She informed us that she is the last one to leave the room after the birth, making sure we are settled, cleaned up, and comfortable in our new role as parents. Then, when she returns about a week after the birth for our postpartum checkup, she makes sure we can adequately bathe, change, and feed the baby and she teaches us different techniques like swaddling, baby wearing, and even grocery shopping for the first time with baby! To put it in my sister-in-law's words, "Doulas are worth every penny."
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
We have also hired a doula for the birth. Yana Katzap-Nackman is another well-respected birth professional in the area, sitting on the board for DONA (Doulas of North America), serving as the VP elect for DASC (Doula Association of Southern California) and teaching childbirth and postpartum wellness classes, such as 'Birthing from Within' and 'Happiest Baby on the Block' out of her home here in Mar Vista (our neighborhood!). She comes from an empowering place of feeling like this is her mission in life, having left the film industry after 10 years of solid income and 'security.' She has attended close to 100 births in her short span of being a certified doula and is highly trained. We are both so excited to be working with her and we are lucky that she has already attended a number of births with our midwife! Doulas are a wonderful way for women to have objective support at their births. They are trained with many different tools to help a woman through labor and research has proven that they reduce the risk of cesarean section, reduce the need for pain medications, and increase the chances of having a normal vaginal birth. These women serve as roots for this winding, crazy tree that is labor where branches can take the working mother physically and psychically to many depths and heights. She knows how labors are like snowflakes, every single one different, and has the ability to deal with each one appropriately. She comes prepared with a suitcase full of tools--essential oils, massagers, aromatherapy candles, honey sticks, music, ideas for birthing positions, books just to read aloud to pass time, and a birthing ball just to name a few!
Jack and I decided to implore a certified nurse-midwife for the entirety of our prenatal care and birth, save for the ultrasounds which are being performed by her wonderful partner obstetrician Tony Chin at Cedars Sinai in Beverly Hills. What I was most impressed with about Tony was his gentle compassion that was so apparent, even upon the handshake. When Jack and I were completely floored to see such a miraculous little heart blinking like a star on the screen, I said to Tony, "You probably get sick of the constant awe-filled reactions of first time parents seeing that initial 2D image of their baby," to which he replied, "Actually, I am still in amazement every time I see this. I'm right there with you." It was clear to me that Dr. Chin absolutely loved his job, a prerequisite we have with ALL our chosen health care professionals. I was also impressed to see, as I was looking around his office with walls covered in certificates and awards, a simple DVD on his desk called 'Birth Into Being,' which is a video about natural childbirth, laboring in water, and it's benefits. It was refreshing to see a western MD with such a broad sense of what birth can be like. I immediately felt safe in his care. Our midwife is pretty famous, actually, attending the births of about 200 women a year. She owns and operates her own women's center in Beverly Hills where she provides prenatal care, delivers babies, and also provides Well Woman Care for annual pap smears and lab tests. She has been in practice since the 90s, before which she was an RN in the NICU and labor in delivery for close to 15 years, and her private practice is continuing to flourish. An American, she converted to the Sikh ('seek') Hindu religion, which teaches others the concept and power of equality, humanity, and universality among all energies and things, including other religions. We wanted this mentality to surround us during such a transformative experience, as it is congruent with Taoism and our choices of spirituality. At our pre-conception interview with her, she recommended we meditate together nightly while calling upon God for guidance and safety in the creation of this new being. This conscious conception is what has made this pregnancy feel so incredibly powerful to us. It was so important to us to be cared for by someone who is not only an apt medical professional, but someone who shares and understands our concept of life. After all, is that not what we are trying to create?! It is quite an honor to be in her presence, and an even greater one to have her touch my belly! After the routine blood and urine tests, she patiently holds either the doppler or fetoscope to my belly and, upon the rhythmic sound of the heartbeat, cheers ecstatically at our baby thanking it and praising it for being so perfect. During the last appointment, she held a quartz crystal above my belly to see which way it swung--the wive's tale of predicting the gender. Jack is welcome at every visit, all of which are held in a cozy home-like room with two plush chairs, an oriental rug, soft lighting, scores of thank-you gifts and family pictures of babies she has helped deliver, a scale, cabinet of medical supplies, and an exam table. The appointments are all an hour or longer and I never ever feel rushed or compelled to disengage from asking any question I can imagine. I feel so safe and abundant with her; it is quite awesome.
My first trimester culminated with a trip back home to Pennsylvania during which time I felt the first tiny movements of our growing child. Christmas was enchanting this year as the baby soaked in the energy of both Jack's and my loving friends and families. We felt so blessed to be surrounded by so many gentle people and to be exposing our new child to their open arms which were patiently awaiting to shower hugs and kisses.
When I initially wrote this post, I was 19 weeks pregnant. Currently, I am almost 23 weeks along and my belly is growing at a rapid pace. At least, it feels rapid as I am beginning to toss a favorite shirt or pant aside for lack of a better fit. I've been feeling the baby move around since week 13 which is apparently early, but not unheard of, for a first-time mom according to many of the health professionals with whom I've consulted.