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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The Baby is Breastfeeding - Not the Mother

Hot off the press! In the March 2008 issue of Birth, check out the article "The Baby is Breastfeeding - Not the Mother" by Dr. Lennart Righard. The ending sums it up:

"In natural birth the woman is moving around in upright positions trying to find the most comfortable position and turning to herself to find her own inner strength. Such a woman is not so easy to control! She follows her own impulses and intuitions and her own body’s signals. She relies on nature. The same is valid for breastfeeding. The mother does not know how much her baby is eating, she has to rely on nature. This is the secret of success in the triad of reproduction (coitus, giving birth, and feeding from the breast): rely on nature, relax and let go, and you will be amply rewarded."

Then, take some time to view the WHO/UNICEF Breast Crawl video. Perhaps we all need reminding that instincts work! 


This Madonna collage will always remind me of the couple (both artists) who gave it to me as a gift after their daughter's birth. It's a treasure. It will always remind me of all the births I have attended - the layering of experience, the significance of cherished objects, the importance of history, the value of memories, the power of nature.

I see an old family portrait, a pomegranate, the impermanent dandelions, the water lily, the doll I had as a child, that special bike, that beautiful floor fragment, a cupola with light streaming through to the ground. We each see those things in the collage that hold meaning for us.

Labour is like this. Fragments, layers, images - all confusing, deeply challenging, yet breathtakingly beautiful. Our births are not "the pain." Our births are not physical. Ultimately, they are not of the body, they are of the mind. They are personal, they are dependent upon perception, they are ours. We birth as we live.

Birth is not "paint by numbers." Each birth is like a collage - totally different for each woman, each birth.

I've been at 5 births in the past three weeks, with each teaching us new lessons to draw upon. I will look at the collage and name a part for each woman.

- With love and thanks to Tanis and David

Walking the Labyrinth

"You are a gift to me beloved
trust my body
trust my baby

Last night, friends and family painted the labyrinth in the living room of a woman in early labour, hoping that she would have a chance to walk the labyrinth as the labour progressed. But her labour skyrocketed and her baby was born sweetly before the paint had time to fully dry!

But I think she had been metaphorically "walking the labyrinth" for a long time and was fully ready. There were no blocks. She trusted her body, trusted her baby, and held firm and fast to her husband, whose hands held the baby's head as it slid out into the flickering light of a candle.

With a labyrinth there is only one choice to be made. The choice is to enter or not. With the smooth and quick birth of this beautiful boy, the choice was made. What a joyful entry to the world.

October 2, 1940

Hear my mother's voice

Maurice was born
during the Battle of Britain
gave birth to him in a basement
nurses helping
having walked to work
after going to the pictures

falling on the engineering works around the hospital

the babies were put in boxes
pushed into the cabinets in the wall
of the morgue

the new mothers sat together
in their nighties on the floor
incendiary bombs falling

dad took us
to the bottom of the road
‘that’s where your mother is’
as we watched the flames
all red
rise in the dark sky
across Manchester

the next day
we walked
to see the new baby
walked the road
five miles past the burning
past the rubble
past the children running in pyjamas

say welcome to the new baby
in the hospital
all by itself
in the city

This is just one of the many family stories of birth that I have collected over the years. My own mum told this story about her brother's birth during one of the heaviest bombing raids on Manchester during the Battle of Britain. As a child, I loved hearing this story because it told me that the people in our family are strong, resilient.

I used to love hearing that my grandfather kept his family together. He wouldn't let the children be evacuated. "If we go, we all go together." I like to think that our family is stronger as a result - that my own children are stronger because of this.

But it also told me that we are profoundly impacted by the stories of our births - that we believe certain personality traits are borne out of our experience of that day. Is Maurice constantly nervous because he was born in a bombing raid? Or is he nervous because it has been an expectation of the story that has been told over and over again? What are your family stories of birth? What stories will you be telling your daughters and sons? Are they stories of resilience and empowerment? Are they stories of loss or victimization?

I hope that we carefully frame the stories that we tell, so the listeners will find strength in our words. We need to especially watch the particular words that we use when we talk to our daughters about birth, remembering that these epic stories will weave themselves into her thoughts as she is giving birth. I know that I saw visions of the bombs falling around the hospital as I gave birth to my own children. It didn't make me fearful, it made me strong. "Gran did it...I can do it... Gran did it...I can do it..."

We Rode the Ling Ling Storm

Five babies came as Tropical Storm Ling Ling washed across the Pacific.

Three at home - Anna, Ruby and Sami...

Two at hospital - Jack and Thompson...

Was it the low pressure system that made these babies - due from September 27 to October 28th - come in one week? Did they surrender to the draw of the new moon? Was it both? Or did these babies just tumble to earth in this month's enthusiastic group arrival?

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...she jumped up and grabbed onto the edge of the note.

Singing in labour is sacred. In the middle of a contraction, without warning, the note rises out of the woman. She sings to the baby, to herself, to all women. Her song can connect her to both the earth and the sky.

This past week, without planning, each woman has found her voice in labour, grabbed onto the edge of a note, and used it to take her through to the end of the contraction.

On Monday...we might not have heard her sing aloud in labour, but my first client this week drew power from the Dixie Chicks and others, by candlelight...

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Why do babies come in groups?

Do they get inspired by other babies that have made it through recently, and decide to come early just to join in the fun? It's a funny image, but it kept coming to me recently as seven babies came in a steady stream. The due dates ranged from August 28th to October 14th...but they all decided to come in a 10 day period. So funny :)

When I have time, I'll write more about the amazing lessons that we all learned from these babies...

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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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7 in the month before 7/7/07...things are going swimmingly...

In the month before 7/7/07, I attended 7 births.

To honour these families, here are the condensed stories...

1. In labour, trying to make sure the men renovating her house wouldn't notice ("we waited so long for them to come and do the fireplace"), she dashes over to the contractor's house...only to be told by me to run down the stairs, get into a car, and meet me at the hospital. I could almost hear the dilation in her voice, and feel the baby's descent... So, we did perhaps the first "doula on headset" birth, dad and I driving to converge at the hospital, my voice quietly speaking into her ear through each contraction...and calling the hospital and doctor on my other cell phone. Dad remained calm...mum remained calm...and the baby was born in short order upon arrival at BC Women's. Phew!

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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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