This photo says 773 words.

celestin by ~oye on deviantART.

I stumbled on this image the other day on Pinterest and it’s been haunting me ever since. Likely not so much because I’m pregnant right now (or maybe it is) but moreso because of how much, and how often, I think about the state of maternity care in our nation.

Though I understand the photographer was simply paying homage to another photographer, using her newly born nephew as the subject, I find it speaks VOLUMES about birth in hospitals. And yes, I recognize that this post may piss people off. The good ones usually do. They touch nerves, they elicit guilt, they bring up memories you’d might have rather not remembered. But the truth is that our maternity care is abysmal, we’re doing it to ourselves (yes, even those self-selecting OUT of hospitals), and we can change it, if we just choose to open our eyes to what’s really going on.

Maternal Mortality in the United States falls behind 40 other countries at 11 deaths per 100,000 live births. It’s defined as the death of a mother, from a number of various causes, within 42 hours after giving birth (1). Severe bleeding/hemorrhage is listed as the top cause of death. One of the most used drugs during labor in American hospitals is Pitocin. Why? Because it (can) speed labor up (why, I ask, must labor be sped up and not allowed to go at the pace the woman’s body deems it should go?). One of the side effects of Pit is post partum hemorrhage (2). Ironically, it’s also administered by midwives FOR post partum hemorrhage. The drug works, much like our own natural oxytocin, to create uterine contractions. This can be a good thing, or it can be a very, very bad thing.

The use of Pit often leads a laboring woman towards an epidural a lot faster than she might have gone on her own (if at all). Pitocin contractions are notoriously intense, moreso than oxytocin contractions, and can come on stronger and more suddenly than a woman’s body (and baby) are ready for. So she asks for an epidural. Though epidurals are considered generally “safe” by the medical community, they introduce a whole host of other potential problems to a labor (3). It is extremely controversial to say that the likelihood of a cesarean delivery is greater with an epidural, but it appears more and more that this may be the case. And, though a cesarean is again, generally considered a “safe” surgery, it is still major surgery. And with that comes another host of potential side effects, including blood clots and anesthesia issues, and placenta previa and accreta for future pregnancies (4).

Maternal death is highly preventable. Highly. If modern obstetrics would just LEAVE BIRTH ALONE, and let it develop as it needs to, most of the time, it would be fine. The WHO believes our cesarean section rate should be at 10-15%. It’s currently above 35%. I refuse to believe that all of those are true, true emergencies. Yes, I know, yours was. I understand that, and this post is not to undermine your birth, how you’re processing it, or how it has been retold to you. What’s hard for me to process is how many women are told their c/s was an emergency, needed to happen, baby might die, and it’s largely because of how we care for women in labor in hospitals. Care providers push, nudge, outright force babies out of wombs before they’re ready, and we are left to believe that our doctor saved our sweet baby (and likely ourselves) from the throes of evil, scary, deadly labor. Except that many of the hospital interventions LEAD TO that “life saving” c/s. Again, I DO NOT wish to undercut YOUR experience, how YOU felt about it, or how it makes YOU feel. What I wish to highlight is the culture surrounding birth, and how it’s so much more about an institution (a patriarchal one at that, believe that women are simply not capable of doing this whole “labor thing” without modern science to help it along) rather than an individual. And again, until the institution can change, there’s little hope for women and babies.

So where the hell was I going with this little lesson in the “snowball of interventions”? I was getting to the picture, and what it said to me.

And to me, it shows a newborn, alone, on a hospital bed and I wonder, where’s mama? Because I don’t know of many mamas who’ve just given birth and would voluntarily leave that sweet baby, lying there, alone. That is, quite possibly, the most tragic thing I can think of.


Unrelenting Passion

I love that I’ve found passion in life. It’s an amazing thing to be passionate about things, and to be able to delve wholeheartedly into ideas and topics that mean so much to me.

But where I find passion challenging lies in the sharing of said passion. I sometimes get, well, overly passionate about it all. And even more so after Finleigh’s birth. I know that my zeal for natural childbirth and breastfeeding turns people off. And part of me really wants to say eff it. It’s the way it’s meant to be done, and dammit anyway, you have to try. If you don’t want to have a go at childbirth, then don’t get pregnant. If you don’t want to have a go at breastfeeding, then don’t have a baby. I don’t say these things though, because I risk losing people in my zeal. This comes off a discussion in a group, where I, as a mommy, said something about breastfeeding that set someone else, a mom who had chosen not to breastfeed her child, off. She was bothered by the “digs” that formula feeding moms endure. And while yes, I respect people’s right to choose, and telling women that they HAVE to breastfeed or go through a natural childbirth, to me, is akin to telling a woman that she cannot have an abortion, or telling gay people that they cannot marry, I just wish (and hope that someday) it’s all considered normal enough that breastfeeding or natural birth aren’t considered just another option.

So, I try to tone it down. And really, as an educator, a bigger part of me does believe that women and families have to go through birth in ways that make them comfortable (not talking about physical comfort, but personal, mental comfort). Birth is such a personal journey and I can’t even begin to pretend that I understand all of the implications for each individual. I suppose that I would just beg people to do real research. And by that, I mean REAL, DEEP, INVESTIGATIVE research into childbirth. The methods, the politics AND the practice. A family’s choices go so much deeper than “epidural or natural” which is so often the debate I hear.

And then there’s breastfeeding. Yes, I’ve heard it before: “but I couldn’t”, “I didn’t produce enough milk”, “my baby was allergic to milk”. I don’t entirely buy it. And while I applaud a mother’s effort (because they’re all valiant), I still don’t entirely buy it. Breast isn’t just “best”, it’s normal. If we didn’t breastfeed our babies, civilization as we know it would not exist (hell, if we do, civilization might exist in an entirely different way as well). So it doesn’t jive with me to hear as many women as I do that “can’t do it” for x, y or z reasons.

What I do know is happening is that we don’t support women. We (as an institution) want women to breastfeed, but we don’t help them do it. We want our babies breastfed, but again, don’t support it. We hear of women being kicked off planes, out of restaurants, and being asked to cover up while breastfeeding their babies. I see women all the time covering up with those awful “Hooter Hiders” (kudos for a cute name, but it’s still a lame product), more obvious than the women who can nurse discreetly without one. I even see women covering up in a mommy and me class. What? Seriously? That’s the safest place to learn to nurse your baby in public. A place no one cares if you flash your boobs! And of course, part of me thinks that if those are what it takes to get more women to nurse, then great. Use ’em. But a bigger piece of me, again, believes that we have to walk our walk, and if we’re going to promote breastfeeding, we need to promote it for real. Without coverups or caveats.

And beyond support the breastfeeding mother, how can we support the women who do need to formula feed without making that the norm? Yes, absolutely, women who need to use formula, for whatever reason, deserve to be supported. But how can we support those women, without allowing formula feeding to become “normal”. Because while, yes, it’s ok to use if necessary, it’s far from normal. And it shouldn’t be considered such. It shouldn’t be considered the immediate alternative. And it certainly shouldn’t be marketed as such (but there’s another topic that’s already been blogged about beautifully in so many other places).

I had this post in my head when I stumbled on this post from “Blacktating“. The author describes her experience learning to nurse in public, yearning to nurse in public:

I saw how a baby might start to wiggle a bit and like Houdini the mom had unhooked her bra, lifted her shirt and latched the baby in seconds flat. It looked effortless and it also looked like there was a baby in her arms – no breasts hanging out, no cover ups – simply a babe in arms. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to feel that assured. I wanted to look that smooth and at ease.

And she felt comfortable enough, with her community, to learn and try. Most women today don’t, and I guess I don’t understand that. They feel pressure from all angles to breastfeed, or to have a natural childbirth, but aren’t offered ways to learn to do that. They see the research that shows that epidurals and inductions are dangerous, but hear from friends that labor hurts and the epidural is a godsend. They know that breastmilk is the perfect first food for infants, but don’t know how to get started, or are made to feel awkward about nursing. Where are our communities?

And as usual, women do other women a disservice. We are our own worst enemies. This hasn’t changed since elementary school. We cut each other down to make ourselves feel better. Heck, I may even be doing it right now. Telling pregnant women horror stories of 40 hour labors and tears from here to there, and nipples trashed by babies doesn’t help. No one needs to hear your train wreck story. There’s a time and a place for it, and your pregnant friend is not the right audience.

What she does need to hear is that birth is normal. That feeding your baby, from your  body, is normal; and while challenging, possible. And that being a mama, if it’s something you really want, is the best job in the whole world. Becoming a mama will transform you. It will give you passion for something new.

(A huge part of me feels like I might want to offer an apology for this post. But I’m not going to. Because I’m not really sorry. What I will say is that this post IS NOT at all directed at women who’ve had to, for TRUE MEDICAL REASONS had to have a cesarean, or not been able to breastfeed. Lord knows y’all don’t need to feel any more guilty for choices that you didn’t really get to make.)

One Happy Obama Mama

I’m surprised blogger is even working; I know so many people are out there doing what I am: telling their stories.

On this historic night, on this night that will be recorded in history books and web archives forever, everyone wants to put pen to paper (so to speak) about their own feeling on this election. If not for you readers to read, then for my own family to read someday. For my daughter to read in 20 years and know what she was like, what she did, on the day that the nation changed. The day our nation made a giant leap from a time when 40 years ago, a black man couldn’t vote, when 100 years ago, a woman couldn’t vote, to tonight, when we elect a black man as president.

I sobbed as I read his speech (missed it while working tonight). I’ll no doubt sob when I watch it later when it shows up on youtube. I am struck not only by his eloquence, but his ability to speak to all people, Republican and Democrat, men and women, black, white, Asian, Hispanic and other world citizens. He speaks to all of us when he says that we can change.

We can, and we have.

“This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight’s about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons — because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America — the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.

And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.”

I think tonight of not only this woman, who at 106 has seen more change in this world than you and I can even fathom. I think tonight of all the people I know who voted for the very first time in this election, because they finally felt it not only important enough to vote for change, but that they could actually affect that change. I think tonight of all the people who don’t believe they can affect change, and to them, I say, Yes We Can. If you didn’t vote today, I hope today’s election, and the surprise that it’s held will convince you to do so next time.

Tonight, November 4th, 2008, I think about how hopeful I am for the future. Hopeful that President-elect Obama will do what needs to be done. Hopeful that he’ll face few obstacles in affecting the change he (and so many of us) desire. Hopeful that he’ll be able to accomplish an economic turn around, an end to the current wars, and a positive environmental impact. Hopeful that he’ll protect the rights of women (and men) who seek choices, whether those choices are about equal pay for jobs, whether or not to have a child, or a union. Hopeful that after 4 (or preferably, 8) years in office, he’ll leave a country that I’m proud to offer up to RE, who will then be nearly 11 years old.

And speaking of her, since this blog is usually primarily about her, I’ll tell you her thoughts of the day.

Mommy: Ry, are you ready? We’re going to vote!

Ry: We’re going on a boat?

M: Noooo, we’re going to Vote. V. V. V.

R: Oh, Vote. Ok.

Get to polling station, very excited, because though I am a cynic, elections honestly make me swell with pride. And usually cry.

Get in, get stickers for us both, and set her up with a bag of goodies to play with while I vote.

R: What you doing, mommy?

M: Filling in bubbles.

R: On the boat?

M: Nope, kiddo. No boat. Vote. V. V. V.

R: Oh, vote. Can me see?

M: Sure. (put RE on back in Pikkolo so she can see over my shoulder)

R: Where bubbles come from mommy? There? (points to corner of voting booth)

M: Oh, shoot. Nope, no real bubbles, Ry. Just these bubbles, the circles on the page.

R: Oh.

So, all in all, while I was gushing left and right about how important it is to vote, and how our foremothers fought for our right to vote, she’s sitting there pouting because not only was there no boat, but no bubbles either.

So, today, RE, I voted for you. I voted for my grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, and for all the women in my family who weren’t able to vote, either because they were women, or because they were not yet American citizen. I take my citizenship seriously, though over the last 8 years I often joked about moving to Canada, and I take my ability to vote seriously. I choose not to take it for granted that people fought and died so that I could waltz into a polling station, in pants, with my two year old daughter, and cast my vote for change.

Tonight, I’m really proud to be an American. (cliche though it is)

Go out and vote.

“Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama is running so our children can fly.”
So said a man on NPR last week.

I don’t care who you vote for, but please, go out and vote.

For all the men, women and young people who fought for our right to do so, get out and vote.

(Yeah, I get all sentimental about voting. What can I say, I really am proud to be an American, no matter how stupid our elected officials sometimes are. At least I can say that without fear.)

Obama Mama

Ok, so I might not be a hockey mom, and I don’t really expect to be at any point (RE just isn’t coordinated enough to be on skates and hold a stick and try to hit a puck). But, I get these women, and I like their quick witted, funny, on point reasons to vote for Obama. And to vote against McCain/Palin.

To be honest, I don’t know that I totally hate McCain, it’s Sarah Palin I hate. Women or not, I don’t care what anatomy she has, she’s an idiot. I know I’m not the most brilliant woman on the planet, and I’m woefully ignorant in matters of foreign policy, and civics in general (I could use a go with SchoolHouse Rock Election DVD), but I’m not trying to run for VP. Which is, after all, an almost vote for P. And really, she’s the LAST person I’d want running our country. I’m not against a woman running, I’m against this woman. She’s a throwback, and relys on her looks and cute-ness to get her by the tough questions. She’s pulling the “I’m new here” card to get away with running circles around things she doesn’t understand. If you’re new, then you shouldn’t be on the damn ticket. And I don’t dislike her because she’s pretty (which she is). I don’t think a woman president should be unattractive. I happen to think Hilary Clinton IS pretty. I also thought she should have had the Democratic ticket. But alas, she hasn’t, and it’s Obama I stand behind now.

I know this might spark some debate, or make you hate me for my political views, but as this is my personal blog, read at your own risk, and love me anyway.