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Monday, July 20th, 2015
There is the way you picture your birth going, and then the way it actually goes, and rarely are those two the same.
But the premise of a new documentary called The Mama Sherpas is that maybe, perhaps, our country can inch toward a model where mothers work with both midwives and doctors to have births that are more comfortable, calm, and less of a surprise than, say, the emergency C-sections we so frequently hear about, or the induced births.
Because the documentary is executive-produced by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, the team behind The Business of Being Born (and the executive producers of the documentary Breastmilk) I first thought The Mama Sherpas might be another championing of home births and natural-everything. But it’s entirely focused on several medical centers where doctors and midwives work side-by-side, in medical settings. There is always an emergency team on the premises if needed, which is reassuring as you watch, for instance, a woman attempt (successfully!) a vaginal breech birth.
Related: Is a Certified Nurse-Midwife Right for You?
The film chronicles plenty of mamas’ labors—yes, there is a C-section, and yes, there is a water birth, and everything in between. The director, Brigid Maher, was motivated to do the film on her quest for a VBAC, a vaginal birth after having had a Caesarean, and she is entirely understanding of the fact that there is a time and place for every kind of medical intervention. Her objection is to women being pushed into a birth they don’t want strictly for the convenience of the doctors and hospital staff. And her love of midwives seems to come from the fact that they are able to devote more time and patience to educating their clients, explaining when something is necessary and when it is a choice.
The takeaway, if you’re pregnant or planning to have another baby, is that finding a midwife who will assist your birth is, at the very least, likely to give you more options than you would probably have working only with doctors and nurses whose job is to standardize the births they facilitate.
Use the firm to be inspired to ask questions, and to appreciate that perhaps we can all have a little more control of our births than we think. It will be available on DVD ($19.99) and iTunes ($4.99 to rent) tomorrow, July 21. In the meantime you can watch the trailer or check them out on Facebook to follow the rollout of the film.
Jessica Hartshorn has been an editor at American Baby magazine for 17 years and yet is still sort of shocked when watching video footage of babies being born.
Image: Courtesy of The Mama Sherpas
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Friday, March 27th, 2015
When I share the story of my second birth, I’m often met with stunned faces and questions about how I did it. I gave birth to a healthy, but huge, 11-pound, 2 ounce baby boy at home. I’m no superwoman, but I like to think I had one by my side. For both my births (the first was to a “normal” sized baby at the hospital), I had a doula who helped, comforted, and gave me strength.
Research shows that women who have doulas present at birth tend to have shorter labors with fewer complications and less of a need for caesareans, Pitocin (a drug which induces labor) and other medical interventions. In honor of World Doula Week, I wanted to share what my personal experience taught me about doulas.
1. It’s really, really nice to have someone focused on you.
During labor, the doctor or midwife is focused (mostly) on your baby. Your husband or partner is focused on not freaking out. And the doula is there simply to focus on you. Whether it’s helping you with pain relief, talking you down from the ledge when you find out you’re “only” three centimeters dilated or simply turning off that music that is suddenly SO annoying, she’s got your back.
When I experienced complications post birth, I was scared and started going to a dark place mentally. My husband was with the baby, the midwife was focused medically on me, but luckily my doula was emotionally there with me. She explained what was happening, held my hand and gave me what I very much needed in that moment.
2. They are marriage-savers.
At some point during labor, you’ll probably hit the point where you need to lash out at someone. And that person is probably going to be your partner. Hearing your husband (who got you into this predicament) tell you to “just relax and breathe” when you’re in active labor can make you want to breathe fire. Yet hearing a doula say the same thing can sound lovely and helpful.
When my husband pulled the car around to take us to the hospital, I was in active labor and leaned over the hood to get through a contraction. While leaning down, I noticed we had a flat tire. Suffice it to say, it was good to have a level-headed third party present in that moment.
3. When you forget everything about your birth plan, they’ll remind you.
I wasn’t sure whether I wanted an epidural with my first birth—I wanted to play it by ear. I’d never experienced labor so how could I know in advance how it would feel? As it turned out, by the time we got to the hospital, I felt like the idea of the epidural was scarier than just continuing to ride out the waves of contractions. But, the hospital wanted me lying flat in bed with monitors on and I couldn’t manage my pain in that position. I needed to be able to walk. Though I knew my rights and what I could ask for or refuse, all that knowledge left me in the moment and I felt confused and pushed by hospital staff. Terms like “intermittent monitoring” weren’t on the tip of my tongue while in the throes of back labor. While the doula won’t speak to doctors directly for you, she can helpfully whisper in your ear that you don’t have to do that or you could ask for this instead.
4. It’s comforting to see a familiar face during delivery.
With my first labor, I knew there was a good chance my doctor wouldn’t be present at my birth. She was part of a big practice and whoever was on call would attend my birth. I tried to meet as many of the other doctors as possible during my office visits, but still when it came to the birth, a stranger was there to deliver my baby. With my second birth, one of the reasons I decided to use a midwife was because I wanted to know the person who’d deliver my baby. I also wanted my doula to be there again because I liked having someone there who knew how the first birth went down—there was something about the continuity that was comforting. But, as these things go, my baby was two weeks late, my midwife was at another birth when I went into labor, her back-up was also attending another birth and I once again had a stranger deliver my baby. But, I had my doula there whom I knew and trusted and felt a sense of security that helps you to relax and open yourself to birth.
I found my doula to be invaluable at both my births. Not everyone wants or needs one, but if you’re hoping for a natural birth, it’s your first birth, or maybe your last birth didn’t go as planned, you might want to look into hiring a doula. If you’d like to find a doula, a good place to start is with DONA International, an organization that trains and certifies doulas. You can also ask friends, your doctor or midwife, or childbirth educator for recommendations. I found mine at a prenatal yoga class she teaches.
Tell us in the comments: Did you use a doula – what was your experience like?
Image via Shutterstock
Tracy Odell is the General Manager of Parents Digital and mom of two boys who were most definitely worth all that labor pain. Follow her on Twitter at @tracyodell.
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Thursday, July 31st, 2014
Whenever I need a quick, mindless break from life and work, I like to scroll through Instagram. Among pictures of majestic London cityscapes and my friends’ adorable
cats and new apartment decor, I happened upon a picture of a newborn baby , who had tubes connected to him in every place imaginable. My heart broke as I read the photo’s caption.
The baby’s mother, Amelia Barnes, recounted the tragic highlights of her son’s birth. On July 8, Amelia was due to give birth to a healthy baby boy. But the baby’s heart rate monitor start going off after eight hours of labor. Amelia had an emergency C-section. Seven minutes later, Landon was born, but his heart still wasn’t beating. Medical personnel resuscitated him after 15 minutes, but his brain and kidneys began to fail along with his heart.
After two days, Landon was removed from life support and shocked his parents by living for 17 more hours. In those magical hours, Amelia and her husband, Justin, were able to have a photo shoot with their son, and Amelia shared many on her Instagram and blog called Landon’s Legacy. Looking through the beautiful family photos, you almost forget the baby has never cried, will never meet the family dog or leave the hospital in a car seat.
Amelia isn’t the only person who has experienced such a loss. With the power of Instagram, she was able to connect with other people in similar situations and create a virtual support system.
In addition to helping others heal with her, Amelia is creating a dialogue on postpartum bodies with the help of social media channels like Instagram. In a world where celebrities grace covers with instantly thin post-baby bodies, Amelia’s photos of her still-swollen belly are refreshing and honest. Even as a woman who has never given birth myself, I’m inspired by her body confidence — even during the hardest time of her life.
Instagram can be more than a way to pass time. Filtered photos and hashtags can reach across the world to tell her story to people she will never meet. To read more about Landon’s Legacy, visit http://ameliakyoga.tumblr.com/.
Image: Red heart with cross sign in female hand, close-up, on light background via Shutterstock
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Thursday, January 2nd, 2014
My wife jokes that we’ve now experienced the labor-and-delivery trifecta: One C-section (unplanned), one vaginal delivery with epidural (a planned VBAC, which I almost missed), and one unmedicated birth (very much unplanned). This is the story of that last experience and what it says about our medical system when it comes to hospitals and labor.
Stephanie’s contractions began in the middle of the night on Nov. 5 and were still far apart—about 10 minutes—when we called the doctor. She suggested we come to her office first thing in the morning, rather than heading straight to the hospital. Hours later, the contractions had not increased in intensity or frequency, and so we went to the doctor’s office. Her doc confirmed that everything seemed fine and healthy and said she’d normally suggest we return home. But we live about a 45-minute drive from the hospital, and she said, with a third baby like ours, things can change very quickly from slow to fast. Oh, how right she was.
The doctor suggested we stay close by–her office is just blocks from the hospital–and so we spent the morning having a lovely time on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, just Stephanie, me, and our doula. We went out for a luxurious brunch and took a walk. I was the one who was most agitated, feeling like we should be settled in the hospital, but contractions remained eight to 10 minutes apart and Stephanie was feeling OK. She, her doctor, and our doula all agreed that we had plenty of time.
We eventually made our way back to the doctor’s office, where she put Stephanie on a fetal monitor and we continued waiting, a surreal day getting stranger.
At one point, we went out for another walk, but things were clearly starting to progress. Still, nothing seemed imminent. The doctor said she’d do a quick exam, and then we’d head to the hospital. Stephanie, however, said it was time to go—NOW.
Then her water broke.
The baby was coming. Fast.
Our doula ran out to hail a taxi. (She later told us she put all our bags in the trunk before telling the driver that a woman in active labor was coming. Smart woman.) The doc and I escorted Stephanie, slowly and carefully, to the waiting car. I later found out that the OB had grabbed gloves and an emergency receiving blanket. You know, just in case of a street-side NYC taxicab delivery.
We were off, eager to go the very few blocks between the office and the hospital. However, this being New York, nothing is quick, and the streets were clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic the entire way. Our driver did his best to weave and dodge, but with nowhere to go, we inched along as the doc called ahead to let the hospital know to be prepared. I started to feel weak and nauseous and just kept thinking: All that planning, and we’re going to have this baby in a cab. I didn’t sign up for this.
Finally, we turned the corner to the final block of our trip, and traffic remained at a stand-still. The OB got out to literally negotiate with the cars in front of us to move over just a few inches so we could get by, but then I noticed a school bus half a block ahead—and suddenly, its red lights turned on. No one was passing until those lights went off. It felt like a ridiculous movie, where the director piles on a hopelessly implausible set of challenges and obstacles.
Our doctor called ahead once again, and suddenly our taxi was swarming with nurses. They helped Stephanie into a wheelchair, and we ran full force the half block to the hospital. The doctor and I ran just ahead, gesticulating for people to move and screaming like maniacs, “Out of the way! Out of the way!”
We finally made it inside. The nurses shooed everyone away from the elevators and used their powers to summon an emergency elevator. Once in a delivery room, they got a gown on Stephanie, and told her to start pushing. She asked, repeatedly, for the anesthesiologist, for her epidural, but there was no time. Just a few pushes, and I saw the head; in about 10 minutes, our baby was born. Little Sophia made quite the entrance. It was 3:11 p.m.; I’d made a phone call to my parents at about 2:20 telling them that Stephanie’s labor was just starting to speed up and that we’d be going to the hospital soon. That’s how fast this happened.
It was not the birth we planned for, for sure. But there were benefits, besides a great story. No need for an IV, for one thing: Immediately after Sophia came out, the nurses were about to put in an IV port—because that’s what they do for all women in labor—but our doctor stopped them. What purpose would it serve, now that the delivery was over? And despite the pain, Stephanie said she had fewer lingering side effects after, and the baby seemed more alert at birth.
It can often seem like labor is a battle. You go in with a plan and a set of expectations (hopes, really) and try to stick to it, even as circumstances dictate otherwise. We were prepared to navigate the rules of the hospital–issues such as whether the fetal monitor is worn constantly or intermittently and how long someone can labor before a C-section is warranted–and, of course, to follow the advice of Stephanie’s doctors.
But we also knew from experience that these rules are sometimes constraining. For instance, a fetal monitor can inhibit the someone from laboring in certain positions, which in turn can make labor longer and more painful, which in turn can lead to additional, potentially avoidable interventions, including a possible C-section.
So we decided to stay away from the hospital as long as we felt we could. In the end, the extraordinary speed with which Stephanie’s labor turned from slow to baby-coming-now, not to mention the challenges of New York traffic, conspired to make this birth dramatic. Perhaps that could have been avoided if we felt like the hospital experience would be more collaborative and supportive, in which case we may have gone in earlier. Instead, however unintentionally, we were able to experience a completely unconstrained labor–Stephanie was able to walk, eat, and drink, whatever was most comfortable for her–which resulted in a successful vaginal delivery with no complications. But obviously, we’d rather not have had the last-minute scare. If only we could have the benefits of an unconstrained labor and the support for the laboring mother’s needs and choices in the safety and comfort of the hospital.
After it was over, we asked the nurses how often this sort of thing happens. They told us that a baby was born in an ambulance on the way just that morning. I’m grateful that Sophia made her debut in the hospital, and of course, that everyone is safe and healthy. Our doctor gave me the blanket she’d taken along in the taxi as a memento. Happily, it’s still wrapped in its packaging.
Plus: Download our easy birth-plan form.
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