Today I began the next step on my journey to becoming a midwife. I think I am in for a wild wide. A busy, wild ride. I spent my day in class, pumping during breaks, doing laundry, playing and caring for my 9 month old son Sid when the day was done and then creating a calendar of what the next two months have in store for me. The up side is that after having worked on a political campaign, I know that I am capable of working long hours - ha, not to mention that I am a doula - I have supported women at the births . 9 years later however, I believe I am going to be able to achieve a bit more balance. Here goes nothing!
This is an amazing explanation of what birth looks like U.S. hospitals. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHW17Dx8ajY&feature=related.
Ina May Gaskin discusses how childbirth in and of itself is a preparation for being a mother and how trying to have a vaginal birth in a U.S. hospital significantly decreases the chances of achieving an act that is as natural as breathing.
I wanted to post this video of an unassisted human birth that really demonstrates how human beings are mammals, capable of giving birth, just like other animals. Try and place your judgements to the side while watching, and just take in what a human being coming into the world looks like side by side say a giraffe or an elephant coming into the world. Pretty similar aye!
So, you better sit down, cause what I have to share might just knock your socks off! Guess what the Finland government gives to all new parents with babes? A maternity package filled with everything you need to get your child off to the a right start! The baby box is unique in the world and has been available in Finland to low-income mothers since 1937 and to all mothers since 1949. The contents of the package changes every year, creating allegiances of nostalgia among parents with kids born during the same year for those special items shared during infancy!!! The maternity package contains clothes for the baby and other useful items such as bodysuits, romper suits, leggings and overalls, blanket, cover, towel, sleeping bag, mattress, hairbrush, nail scissors, picture book. To see what is in the 2011 package - click here!
Incredible no? What does the U.S. government give you when your bundle of joy shows up on the scene? Um, 3 months of UNPAID maternity leave and a tax break... Now I know what some of you might be thinking - Finland is a much smaller country than the United States with a much smaller population. It would cost too much for us to invest in the health of children and the nurturing of new families in this way. To that I say, that this type of devotion and care, might just be what all new parents need during this stressful transition of ushering a new life into the world. A care package from the government that ritualizes this awesome event in a parent's life! Go Finland!
Folks in the U.S. like to believe that we provide the best care possible to pregnant mom's. But in reality, we don't stack up to other industrialized nations. The United States ranks 41st in maternal mortality among nations. That means in 40 other countries, women are less likely to die from pregnancy and birth related causes. The CDC also states that half of the reported deaths were preventable and that death rates are underreported by almost a third.
My friend Nicole brought to my attention this BBC article, Save the Children: No expert birth help for millions, which speaks to how the global shortage of midwives inhibits the health of women and babies worldwide. It is a story I am all too familiar with: violence against women packaged in the form of lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care tied up with a big red bow. It is a reality that infuriates me. It also is the beginning of how I find myself working as a birth doula today.
Throughout my journey to supporting moms in birth, I had the pleasure of working in three different African countries. In Malawi, I collected data on maternal and child healthcare and HIV in some of the world's poorest hospitals and clinics for the Millenium Cities Initiative. In South Africa, I conducted an evaluation of an integrated conflict resolution and women's empowerment program in the townships outside of Cape Town . I also worked with a grassroots organization in rural Tanzania to foster awareness regarding what HIV is, how it is transmitted and how it can be prevented. My desire to grasp the vast inequality among nations first brought me to these countries, coupled with a strong will, hell bent on figuring out what to do about it.
When I was in Malawi in 2007 it became clear to me that a more robust health infrastructure coupled with an investment in healthcare providers was badly needed - this is something that development organizations were not created to fund. One day while at Queens Hospital in Blantyre, the biggest hospital in the country, I witnessed a woman being carried to the hospital for care by her sister because they lacked the funds for transport She had been hemmhoraging after giving birth (50% of women in Malawi are supported in labor by a traditional midwife who lacks the supplies to manage excessive bleeding) and need medical attention or she would likely die. The head nurse for maternal health, Mrs. Matola, happened to be outside talking with me and rushed to make sure she received medical attention as quickly as possible. This scene stuck with me, but it was just another day at work for Mrs. Matola. The need far outweighs the capacity of the healthcare system in Malawi. The public healthcare system is funded with foreign aid funds and is the only option for the vast majority of Malawians - an option dependent on the ability to physically get to a provider.
When women are able to seek and attain medical care they are met by healthcare workers who are overworked and with overpacked facilities struggling to function. Joanne Jorissen Chiwaula a U.S. trained midwife catching babies in Malawi demonstrates this reality on her blog. The data abounds relative to this issue, however the money and political will to train more healthcare providers and create a health infrastructure in "developing nations" does not. Mothers and babies are not at the forefront of our leaders minds and until they are, folks will continue to die.
I tried my hand at policy work. I thought influencing U.S. foreign aid policy might be a worthy goal for an educated - white citizen of the United States who cares deeply about the vast inequality in the world. So I climbed in the belly of the beast and learned how policy is made. What I found were bugs buzzing in the ears of those worried about the next election cycle, who owe favors to those who have their back. I left confident that I could never be that bug and fell. I went with my gut this time - not that voice in my head that wants so badly to all by herself and because it is right - make the world a different place - I went with the gut that said you need to take all that love and desire to help and support people that want to listen, who are in need of that kind of heart and that can benefit from it moment to moment. Now I stand at a crossroads with folks at major turning points in their journeys and assure them that they are safe and loved and cared for. The structure becomes the individual if you let it. For me, right now I am able to, and that feels really good. I feel blessed.
March 3 is International Sex Workers Rights Day. Learn more about why the sexual health and rights of marginalized folks are vital to the health and rights of all of us. http://blog.soros.org/author/rachel-thomas/
Anyone check out the article in the NY times, Cameras, and Rules Against Them, Stir Passions in Delivery Rooms, a few weeks ago discussing yet another way that hospital risk managers are shaping the birth experience in the U.S.? Apparently, hospitals all over the country are now putting the kibosh on parents' ability to use technology (cell phones, video and photography cameras) in the labor and delivery room.
It definitely got me thinking about motivations and how vantage point really changes priorities. For hospitals and doctors with liability concerns it makes perfect sense to create rules around the use of technology at birth; but for woman and families welcoming new life, documenting their labor experience through video and photography feels like a right that everyone should be able to carry out if they so desire.
I was attending a birth at Beth Israel last week and took out the parents' camera to photograph their child only a few seconds after she was born, only to be told by the nurse that I was not allowed to take pictures (the midwife was still navigating cord blood banking and the delivery of the placenta). Despite the fact that I had just read Keh's article, I could not help but feel taken aback - I just wanted to catch baby Sophie on camera in her first moments of life - It was an act motivated by joy. The attending nurse's declaration however seemed to stem from fear. When we allow fear to mediate our rituals - how does that shape us as a people? As a society?
One of the reasons I provide my clients with their child's birth story is because of the real power that storytelling holds. Birth as a normal event cannot take hold in our society unless we pay tribute to the stories of our births. I put the camera away that morning as I pondered the many restrictions that have been placed on birth in our country as it moved from home to hospital. Throughout history only when women stood up (literally) and spoke out about what procedures and policies were acceptable to them have institutional practices around birth change.
Stories can be told through words, but they are also told through pictures and through video. Are hospitals going to further entrench our fear surrounding birth by restricting our ability to tell our birth stories? Are we going to let them?
She is there to offer support in the awesome adventure of your child's birth and the birth of yourself as your child's mother. She is all yours. She is there to advocate for you - not for insurance companies or hospital policies.
She knows the immense strength from which you can draw. She trusts in your intuition. She believes that you should be at the center of your birthing adventure. What works for you is what should guide the process.
Find your doula and then spread the word about why you hired her. There is a doula out there for everyone - no matter the cost. In the NY Metro Area birth doulas' offer their services for a fee of between $200-$3000. There are doulas in training who offer their services for free and most doulas work on a sliding scale.
Empower Yourself! Trust your doula!