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Month June 2013

Birth…it’s not just for pregnant people anymore!

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Here at Birth Philosophy, we feel that it is really important to not only invite, but highlight the voices of young students and professionals in our conversations about childbirth. As educators and advocates who support positive birth experiences and evidence based care we have to start including younger voices. These are the people who are emerging into places and positions where they can bring about change and influence their peers and communities. In her own words, Eliza Duggan explains why birth is not just for pregnant people anymore!

“Interesting! … What’s that?” This is a typical response that I received when I told people, especially my peers, that I was writing my senior thesis on midwifery. I became accustomed to saying, “I’m writing on midwifery – midwives,” since most people have at the very least heard the term “midwife.” The initial lack of knowledge was slightly discouraging, though unsurprising; however, the best parts of my project were the conversations that followed the introduction to midwifery. The more that I researched and wrote on midwifery, the more that it became clear to me that not only could young people be interested in birth and midwifery, this knowledge could be vital to our futures.

I have always been familiar with home birth since I grew up in a small town in Maine, a place where midwives are well known and well respected in the community. However, I did not really think about the political complexity of midwifery, nor the unique position that midwifery holds in relatively rural areas like mid-coast Maine, until I moved away. I went to Boston for college, and during the summer of 2011 took an internship with the women’s advocacy organization Our Bodies Ourselves. One of the projects on which I worked was promoting some midwifery legislation at the Massachusetts State House, work that I was proud to engage in. The more I dove into the issue, however, the more I became surprised at the ambivalent and sometimes even hostile reception I was getting to the very idea of midwifery. I was intrigued by this, since I had assumed that the famously liberal citizens of Massachusetts would generally have the same attitude towards midwives and home birth that I had. When beginning to brainstorm ideas for my senior honors thesis at Boston College, I felt compelled to investigate this issue further.

Thus, I began in the fall of 2012 by doing extensive research on the history of midwifery and how it had become so marginalized in Massachusetts. I then interviewed countless home birth midwives, nurse-midwives, childbirth educators, public health experts, and consumers in order to gauge the current state of maternity care in the state. One of the most troubling things that I found was that not only were few people (relative to the entire population) interested in this issue, the vast majority of the people who were involved had already had children. Not only were most people my age unfamiliar with midwives, they were generally unfamiliar with the topic of childbirth as a whole.

After any initial discomfort or confusion that my friends and classmates had, it was apparent young people are intensely curious about childbirth, and most people I talked with had a lot of questions. People are not invited to think about how they feel about childbirth before getting pregnant, so most young people do not have a sense of their options or a working knowledge of the process before the months they have to prepare. When talking with my friends and classmates about my research, I realized that there is need for more discussion about childbirth before getting pregnant, so that not only do we know our options, we can make informed decisions about how we want our children to be brought into the world. This, I believe, should be an easy fix, because young people are not averse to learning about these things. On the contrary, countless conversations I have had with my peers have demonstrated that pregnancy and birth are not only interesting to pregnant women; young men and women are eager for information.

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Eliza Duggan is a 2013 graduate of Boston College, where she majored in English and women’s studies. Her interest in feminism and home birth stems from her roots in Belfast, Maine, where she grew up. In college, she engaged with the Women’s Resource Center to help efforts like the Take Back the Night campaign against sexual violence on campus, and was a Teaching Assistant for the Introduction to Feminisms course. She also worked with Our Bodies Ourselves (The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective) on various projects, including advocating for midwifery legislation at the Massachusetts State House, promoting the Infertility Family Research Registry based in Dartmouth, and writing occasional guest posts for Our Bodies Our Blog. Her time at OBOS and her thesis work have inspired her to pursue women’s advocacy, which is why she will be a first year law student at the University of California at Berkeley Law School in the fall.  

Partners In Perinatal Health Conference Report

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I love continuing education opportunities and wanted to take some time to report on a few of the excellent sessions I attended at the Partners In Perinatal Health 24th Annual Conference in Norwood, Massachusetts last month.  This event featured a really impressive slate of presenters and session topics.

Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC was the keynote speaker for the morning session and gave a talk entitled “What Would Mammals Do?” where she discussed normal mammalian maternal-infant behavior as well as some of the common interventions many human mothers encounter and how they may interfere or introduce difficulties to the birth experience. Sophie Godley, MPH provided a pre-conference evening presentation called “Fifty Shades of Real” on the topic of authentic sexuality and strategies for promoting sexual health. I was unable to see either of these presentations (although I have seen Diane Wiessinger in the past and she is always great!) but if you click on their names above you can redirect to those links and learn more about these speakers and subjects.

The first session I got to was “Heal the Mother/Heal the Baby: Microbes, Gut Health, and the Enteric Nervous System & Breastfeeding”, by Jennifer Tow, IBCLC, Founder of Intuitive Parenting Network.  WOW! This session was really jammed packed with incredible info:  neither I, nor the nurse sitting next to me, could take notes fast enough! It was really interesting to hear about all the cases where she has been able to trace back and /or treat various breastfeeding issues by addressing gut health. This topic is also part of a broader set of conversations around discoveries many health care practitioners are starting to discuss widely in terms of the links between gut health/flora and many chronic health issues that children and adults of all ages experience. Jennifer lists some upcoming webinars on her website linked above if you are interested in this topic.

I then listened to a presentation called “Pre-Birth Acupuncture-A New Standard of Care” by Kathy J. Seltzer, BA, Licensed Acupuncturist.  Learning about the simple, yet extremely beneficial, care that a pregnant mother can receive using Chinese medical theory/acupuncture was fantastic.  She shared that this type of prenatal care is very common in places like Germany and something that more and more women are looking for. Kathy is the Co-Founder of Acupuncture Birthing Associates along with Sharon J. Levy. This presenter was very well organized and did a great job of explaining this interesting topic. I plan to research more about this area of care as I know many women might not seek it out as they may not be aware of the benefits that acupuncture in pregnancy can be outside of moxibustion for turning a breech baby.

Kajsa Brimdyr, PhD, CLC, Director of Operations, Healthy Children Project, Inc. was the presenter of the last session I attended.  Her topic was “Supporting Newborns-The 9 Stages During Skin to Skin. She highlighted her work in a number of places including Egypt, Sweden and the US and outlined the 9 stages all babies experience if undisturbed and skin to skin with their mother in the hour or so after birth. The video The Magical Hour is a great resource for parents and this link also highlights a similar DVD geared toward hospital or birth center staff. It was quite fascinating to watch the footage of babies working their way through the 9 steps. Also good food for thought on how typical hospital procedures can sometimes interfere with a baby cycling through these stages undisturbed. The baby then will need to attempt to start again from the beginning which is possible but never as simple or ideal as in that first hour immediately after birth.

There were many other really wonderful presenters and topics and I will definitely be planning a return trip next year for the 25th Annual PIPH Conference!