The Sweat Lodge

This Christmas Day, I offer you the gift of a story told by a new client:

I see that going into the sweat lodge in remote northern Ontario when I was 17 is something that I can use to propel me through birth. The experience was a powerful one then and now, as I face a long pregnancy and its culminating labour, the event is taking on new significance and its power is spinning in the expanding darkness of my womb.

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Rituals

When my daughter and her husband were married, a strand of beads was held in their hands. From a crystal bead that came from Great-great Grandmother Sarah's necklace to a stone from their favourite beach, each token holds a message from those who will support them in their marriage.

Just like birthing beads in Africa, where each woman attended by a midwife adds a bead to the midwife's strand, increasing its power and significance, this strand of beads gains its power from the wishes and love of each person who contributed a bead.

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Ten Questions

I think there’s a purpose behind the nine long months of pregnancy. This time is vital for introspection, reflection, setting boundaries, and discovery. As I’ve said so many times before, birth is not a “body” act...it’s an act of the soul and the mind and the will.

Yes, I have a checklist of the things that I need to discuss with clients...and worksheets for them to fill out if they’re “paper people”. But, in order to serve my clients well, I need to go further, deeper. So, over the months, we talk on the phone discussing everything from diapers to spirituality. I often ask couples some unusual questions to help them uncover how their life experiences may affect them during the birth and postpartum. Usually, the deeper we go, the greater the understanding, resulting in a much more positive emotional experience for everyone.

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Peasant Feet

I usually get at least one or two phone calls a day from clients upset about the pregnancy comments and “war stories” that other women feel the need to share.

“I don’t want to hear it any more!” said a woman to me this morning.

Another client said she was literally trapped by a cousin at a family gathering...wedged in at the back of a table, locked in between a great-aunt and the story-telling cousin. “The baby’s head was SO BIG that they had to...(insert whatever horror story ending you like here).”

These comments, so freely given, can stick with you, and really hurt. Or they can turn what was a carefree pregnancy into a time of anxiety.

“Wow, you’re big!” or “Boy, you look small for your dates!” or “Make sure you get an epidural in the parking lot!” or “I’m just going to book a cesarean next time! You should, too!”

The endless combinations of horror stories and thoughtless comments are awe inspiring.

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Body Surfing Mama

We were sitting on the sand at Po'olenalena Beach in Wailea, taking a break from snorkeling and boogie boarding. I looked up and saw a pregnant woman. She looked about 6 or 7 months. She must have been having the "last fling" holiday. There she was, boldly heading into the surf with her husband, just glowing.

She lined up with the other couples trying out body surfing, waiting for that "just perfect" swell. She went for it on a big wave, and got totally tumbled in the surf. She came up for air, laughing and laughing, then bounded back into the water to wait for the next wave.

It was glorious to see her, tummy shining, fearless.

I sent her a wish that, on the day of labour, she draws on that fearlessness, and leaps into the waves just like she did at Po'olenalena Beach.

An Argument for Non-Linear Thinking

I just love how our brains work. Well, I actually only know how my brain, a woman's brain, works. And it's totally non-linear. My daughter's brain works like mine, and people laugh when they hear us talking, shifting from one subject to another without any apparent link. Ah, but we independently followed the link from five minutes earlier in our conversation.

Birth is also feminine, non-linear. It works like a woman's brain. There are multiple tasks being accomplished at any one time - descent, rotation, softening, opening. Almost ESP-like communication can take place between a woman and a wise caregiver - this is the "monkey-brain" or "reptile-brain" at work. Thoughts, memories, past experiences, and current understanding are accommodated, merged, drawn upon.

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On "Beyond Evidence: The Complexity of Maternity Care"

I must say that I've had a long-standing passion for Murray Enkin. I was first "introduced" to him in 1987, when he was an obstetrics professor at McMaster University, and was writing "A Guide to Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth". His book became my "bible". The underlying thesis of the book is that evidence from well-controlled trials should encourage the adoption of useful measures and the abandonment of those that are useless or harmful. The full text of the 2000 Edition is available online, courtesy of the authors!

Dr. Enkin's insightful comments in the "Guide" made me respect his judgment. His pragmatic review of the research helped to guide me in my role as a doula. I would photocopy pages of the book to give to clients, to help them negotiate the best care during pregnancy. Over the years, I have always checked in on his current research, and tried to follow his teachings.

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Birthing from Above

From the desk of Jacquie's daughter

Growing up surrounded by my mum's work in childbirth, I had a slightly different introduction to the subject of reproduction than most children. Instead of reading "Where Did I Come From?" I looked through a plethora of illustrated Sheila Kitzinger and midwifery texts. I thought it was fascinating that the egg that was fertilized to make me was in my mum's ovaries when she was born, and was thus formed inside my grandmother! Wild. When she taught prenatal classes, I would come along and play with the infant-sized dolls in her teaching materials, using the plastic pelvis as a cradle. Then, as she began to do more labour support, I would act as her secretary and run into the kitchen to intercept calls before anyone else, often to hear a flustered dad drop the phone, with his wife moaning in the background -- "Mum, it's for you."

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"window children/with protective parents/sit and watch/other kids go out and play"

When I had my daughter, obstetric ultrasound was relatively new. My British obstetrician proudly told the story about the Glasgow obstetrician who saw the potential in ultrasonic testing for cracks in submarine hulls. I had one scan late in my pregnancy because the obstetrician suspected that my baby was quite small. The images were unsettling – at 28 weeks, her body was too big to completely fit on the screen, so it appeared as if her legs, arms, and torso were unconnected. I left the room, shaken. After waiting for the results for a day, I heard that the verdict was in – she was growing normally. (Her birth weight was a decent 8lb 8oz.) Even with the good news, it was hard to reconcile those images with the feeling of her inside me.

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"The only real valuable thing is intuition" - Albert Einstein

Oh...the remaining three babies...I never talked about them... Sorry! Here it is...

It's interesting how women often have a sense of how their labour will go, even weeks before the due date. Some women have dreams of a spider web (baby wrapped in cord) or a rock climber (cord again) or a square peg in a round hole (positioning problem.) Are these premonitions or self-fulfilling prophecies? I don't know. I like to think that the body is giving the woman a clue about what is currently happening, and that these dreams are reality-based, not fear-based.

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